Tag Archives: urban

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin (Rachel Griffin #1)

Title: The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin

Author: Jagi L. Lamplighter

Series: Rachel Griffin #1

Rachel is excited to finally be attending Roanoke Academy, a prestigious school for arcane arts. As the youngest of her family, she’s got a big reputation to live up to, and she’s hoping to be just as brilliant in her own way. But all she really has is a perfect memory, which brings her into bigger mysteries than she ever expected . . .

I liked this, but I think certain conventions of genre or form made a few things much more obvious than they needed to be. For example, it was immediately apparent to me as soon as the defeated evil was mentioned that this would factor heavily into the current problems.

That said, it was still a lot of fun. I lost track of probably half the characters, but the ones I do remember were good. Siggy and Lucky were particular favorites. Sigfried is a teen new to the world of magic, who instantly became famous and wealthy when he slew a dragon and took over its horde, and Lucky is a small fuzzy dragon he befriended and later makes his familiar. They have the sort of interests typical to young men—that is, collecting treasure and burning people’s faces off.

Nastasia was another fun character. As the princess of Magical Australia, she’s dignified and proper. Unfortunately her father has a habit of doing crazy things like declaring Monopoly money to be their country’s currency.

It did feel like the plot happened rather fast. The whole story only covers about five days. In addition, some things that felt like they should be key (Rachel’s discovery of the angel statue, among others) end up going nowhere.

Overall, it was a good read, and very funny. I rate this book Recommended.

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Raven (Shadows #2)

Title: Raven

Author: Sam Blood

Series: Shadows #2

Phoebe is desperate to get a job at Cameron Technologies. Not only would it mean working under her idol, Melissa Cameron, but it’s also her chance to get off the streets. But the interview doesn’t go as planned, and soon she’s got far more pressing issues occupying her thoughts. Strange creatures have appeared, a killer stalks the streets, and someone is out to make Melissa Cameron pay. If Phoebe can’t unravel the mystery in time, she may lose everything she cares about.

This is an unusual second book because it actually takes place 11 years before the first book. That means both that this would be just as good a starting point for a new reader, and that returning readers will immediately tie this to the muddled images Griffin remembers in his own prologue (as well as a few things his brother told him later). So for a returning reader, a sense of tragedy overhangs even the happiest moments, because although we didn’t get the details, we know the important points of the conclusion.

Once again the characterization is very strong. It was fun seeing Melissa Cameron through the eyes of those closest to her—all her different roles leave her an open question right up until the end. Is she truly on the right side, or is there something more?

I adored Taylor and his snark.

“We’re not stupid,” Taylor agrees. “There’s no way we’re getting into a car with a stranger unless you give us lots of candy.”

Gecko was also a treat. Seeing him here, so much younger and more open than he was in the first book, is one of the many interesting juxtapositions. And the Shadows that appear are all such fun.

“Seriously? Seriously?” Ember cocks her head incredulously. “First field assignment with Human Relations, and I meet the girl with a fire phobia. I’m made of fire. This is going to be hard. Um, please don’t freak out. We’ll get past this. Somehow.”

I think this quote is the one that sums up the whole book. The exploration of this is what drives so much of the plot.

“Do you know what real love is, Phoebe?” Melissa says intently. “It’s noticing the bad parts in the people we love, and believing they can rise above their flaws. It’s seeing them as real people, not just who we want them to be. And it’s finding the good in them, even when we don’t recognize who they are anymore.”

I could never get behind Phoebe’s rants about homelessness, though (although I do think it’s in character for her to make them). Even without finding out that she HAS a home she could go back to, her disdain of the foster system and demand for the adult amenities she’s currently denied just strike me as incredibly self-centered. She wants the freedom of being homeless but blames the system for not providing things she by her own choices gave up. Even beyond that, her arguments lack nuance. There’s a balance between taking care of people that have gotten a bad set of circumstances and trying to erase the consequences of bad decisions (which is where I put Phoebe).

There were also several grammatical errors that detracted a bit from my reading.

Overall, though, this was another fantastic adventure that somehow managed to spoil the end from the very beginning due to the first book, yet still keep surprising me the whole way through. I rate this book Recommended.

More favorite quotes:

“I exist, you know,” Taylor says dryly, clearly feeling ignored in the conversation. “I have many interesting qualities.”

And:

“Oh, great,” she says, “dead birds. Phoebe, when I die, will you stuff me and pose me for strangers to show how much you love me?”
“Only if they pay me. I swear.”

Shadows (Shadows #1)

Title: Shadows

Author: Sam Blood

Series: Shadows #1

Griffin has spent most of his life trying to forget the non-human friend he had when he was little. Before the accident. Before he lost his mom and his brother turned into a stranger. But a moment of rebellion sends him straight through a portal into another world—a monstrous world where none of the occupants are humans, but they have a mysterious connection to humans. Just what is the relationship between Shadows and humans? Why do so many want to kill over it? And what will become of Griffin, who has inadvertently stepped in the middle of all of this?

This was amazing. First, I just love the concept behind the Shadow world. Every occupant is nonhuman, and they range from familiar mythological creatures like satyrs and phoenixes to more unusual creatures like the half-parrot/half-dragon Cirrus. These all come together in a civilized society very like ours, with some adjustments for things like aerial traffic. And that’s before the story even gets into what, exactly, the Shadows are and why that matters.

I like how this book handles soulmates. Too often it’s a solely romantic relationship, or one free of the most serious problems. Griffin and Cirrus have a soul-deep connection, but it’s one that freaks both of them out, and as much as they both want it at some level, they’re also running from it. Watching their friendship blossom was one of the best parts of the book.

The humor is also extremely good. It felt like every few paragraphs I’d stumble over something else that cracked me up.

“I don’t want to die. And if you died, I’d probably feel like, slightly bad about that too.”

And:

“That was awesome! I thought you were as uncoordinated as I am.”
“Lots of laser force practice. You know, a shooting game back home.”
“You played this with your friends?”
“I was a bit of a loner. I just turned up and shot strangers.”
“This explains so much,” Cirrus says.

I seriously need to reread this and pull all my favorite quotes.

The characters are another strong point. Griffin is an interesting choice of protagonist, because he’s not a hero. He sort of wants to be. He deludes himself into thinking he will be. But in the end, he’s a single person contributing to both sides of a conflict that’s much bigger than himself, and his decisions, good and bad, hurt both sides. In other words, he’s a normal kid in way over his head.

Cirrus, of course, is just awesome. Awkward teenage boy, even if he is a different species. I love his snarky conversations with Griffin, and the way he’s struggling to handle his own heart. He wants his best friend back, but what happened ten years ago impacted more than just Griffin, and now Cirrus is unsure how to approach Griffin.

Hanna is another interesting addition. She’s lust at first sight for Griffin, but even he has to admit she’s got some issues that could seriously complicate their relationship.

“My Mum used to tell me something,” Cirrus says grimly. “She said be careful when trying to put a broken person back together, in case you cut yourself on the pieces.”

Which is why I liked how it worked out in the end.

Overall this was a lot of fun, and I’ve already bought the sequel. Highly Recommended.

(And one more quote, which contains small spoilers)

“Oh, and for the record: high-jacking the laboratory filled with my life’s work and trying to crash it into my place of residence: not appreciated.”

Changing World: How It All Began

Title: Changing World: How It All Began

Author: Sergei Katz

Dave is a stock analyst with a disability. When he’s offered the chance to beta test a newly developed full-immersion virtual reality game, he’s all in. But a few early mistakes puts him at a disadvantage starting out, and it will take luck and cleverness to ensure his character isn’t eliminated early on.

I probably should’ve stopped reading when the first chapter was pumping the main character up as a super-awesome stock analyst with an unbelievable ability to make money. It would have been a more engaging story if it had focused more on his disability and how going into the game world changed that.

It was also a very odd choice for a disability–the inability to see colors doesn’t seem to be as compelling a reason to abandon your everyday life for three years as perhaps some others might have been. And Dave doesn’t seem like much of a gamer otherwise. His main draw for playing is supposed to be getting around this disability.

And that all ignores the fact that after the very beginning, his life and personality outside the game has no relevance.

The actual game begins the litRPG aspect. Unfortunately, the story has a tendency to play up whatever the main character is finding or doing as awesome, without giving a good sense of the strengths or weaknesses of others. This makes the story as a whole less interesting because the stakes are either not there or poorly defined.

The fights, for example, tend to describe what’s going on by what’s happening with HP bars, rather than focusing on specific skills or strategies by both sides (and when it does try to show what both sides are doing, it tends to give a tiny bit of detail and then go back to talking about HP bars). So the fights are no fun to read because of their vagueness and lack of detail in the important parts, and excessive detail on the unimportant parts.

Both of his pets bother me. The bird in no way acts like a bird, which could be partially explained by this being a game, except nothing really indicates this is pet behavior specifically.

Overall, this has the bones of an interesting story, but the execution falls flat in a number of areas. I rate this book Neutral.

Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 4 (Light Novel)

Title: Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 4

Author: Ryo Shirakome

Format: Light Novel

Hajime has rescued Will from an army of monsters, but no sooner are they home then the trouble starts all over again. This time it’s Myu, a small slave girl Hajime inadvertently rescues. And she’s not the only one in trouble—Kouki and the strongest of the transplanted students are still pressing towards the bottom of the Great Orcus Labyrinth, and they’ve stumbled into far more than they can handle.

Given that last book only a few of Hajime’s classmates found out he’s still alive, this book has a second (and equally amusing) reunion—this time including Kaori, the girl who never stopped believing he’d survived.

I really like how Hajime challenges Kouki’s heroism. To some extent, Kouki has the Hero class because he really is heroic. But his weaknesses are equally glaring, and have been pointed out since the first book: his inflexible thinking, his inability to even see things that don’t match his assumptions, and his lack of resolve. I love that Hajime points out Kouki’s unwillingness to kill an enemy has more to do with his own unwillingness to see someone die and not compassion or mercy.

Endou’s stealth skills were also good for several laughs. “And just who are you calling the king of invisibility!? I’ll have you know that the automatic doors at stores open for me one-third of the time!”

Kaori’s crisis at seeing Hajime alive but almost totally different was one of the best parts of the book. She’s waited and suffered so much for this moment, and yet it’s nothing like what she wanted it to be. She can’t keep her promise to protect him. In fact she’s rejecting who he is now more than anyone except Kouki.

Overall this is one of the better books in the series, as it mostly eschews the pandering for some solid plot development, intense action scenes, and strong character moments. I rate this book Recommended.

Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 1 (Light Novel)

Title: Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 1

Author: Ryo Shirakome

Format: Light Novel

Hajime never expected his class to get summoned to a fantasy world. But the dream-like awakening everyone else experienced never came for him—he’s just as average in his new life as his old. Worse, the prettiest girl in class won’t leave him alone . . . which results in him falling to the depths of a monster-infested labyrinth. He’ll need to change himself drastically if he wants to have any chance to survive.

This was more interesting than I initially expected, although parts of Hajime’s journey feel rather compressed.

I liked that Hajime loathes the way Kaori pays attention to him, because he’s not interested in her, and he’s also become the target of all the guys who are. Even when he finds out her true reason, he doesn’t seem interested in her at all as a girlfriend. He’s just trying to get her to go away in the nicest way he can think of. Because her attention is poisonous to him, and she either can’t see that or refuses to.

It’s also interesting that the biggest “villain” of the piece is likely Kouki, whose inability to accurately perceive and react to the world around him is causing all sorts of problems, even when he’s trying to be helpful. And because nearly the whole class got pulled over, Hajime remains the target of the people who tormented him.

The labyrinth part felt like it could have been several books, instead of about half of one. This is where I would have liked to see far more of Hajime’s adventures in the depths, but what we do get is still a lot of fun. I had to laugh when he starts lovingly describing the features of the various guns he’s creating, although my favorite moment by far was the exchange:

“Don’t mind me, shoot!”
“Wait, really? Thanks.” Bang!

Although the bit where he’s completely ready to ignore that sealed block is probably my second favorite scene. Him figuring that if someone went this far to hide something, it’s probably better off sealed was hilarious. Hajime is not interested in the typical heroic tropes for the most part. He’d rather avoid the trouble.

I’m not that fond of Yue. She’s more interested in sleeping with Hajime than anything else—and picking the middle of a fight to seduce the man is not conducive to anyone’s survival. I also really dislike the trope of making a very young-looking girl legal by saying she’s a few hundred years old, she just stopped aging early. And she won’t take him telling her no, so it feels like she rapes him in the end.

Overall, though, I’m at least interested enough to see where this goes next. I can’t wait for his reintroduction to the classmates who think he’s dead, as that should be entertaining in a lot of ways (Hajime’s stay in the labyrinth was brutal, and his body reflects that). I rate this book Recommended, as long as Yue’s visual age and sexual aggressiveness isn’t a barrier.

Crota (The Gods’ Game #1)

Title: Crota

Author: Rohan M. Vider

Series: The Gods’ Game #1

For ages, the gods have called mortals to champion them in a grand game. But for one such mortal, Kyran, the summons was unexpected on both sides. With no gods willing to sponsor him, Kyran steps in as a free agent, and selects the skills and abilities he hopes will allow him to survive. But his presence signals a potential shift in the stalemate, and the gods are eager to either recruit or destroy him.

This is a pretty solid litRPG about a modern college-age gamer who ends up living out something that’s a cross between a game and real life. I like how the game mechanics actually constrain the players more than the non-participants. Kyran is no exception, although he has somewhat less to worry about than a normal champion, because he doesn’t have a god sitting behind his every decision.

We don’t see too much of the world in this novel, although hopefully that’s coming. This book mostly paints some broad strokes about the game, a few of the gods and champions, and a small piece of Crota, the land where Kyran starts out. I like the fact that there are multiple demi-human races, and that Kyran chooses not to be a human. Given his location, it’s unlikely he’ll have allies for a while (although I have suspicions about the ending), but some of the other groups look like they’ll contain a mix of types.

I did think the stat windows should have only been shown once in full per chapter, towards the end, as some bits of the novel felt like table after table of information. And I’m not a huge fan of pre-chapter quotes, especially when they could get somewhat long. I would have preferred that off in an appendix.

The beginning also confused me as to which century the story was happening in. Stealing apples from a cart is a rather common trope for stories set in the middle ages, and calling the kid a “street rat” combined with a lack of setting details meant I originally read the prologue as a huge time skip before the first chapter, and was subsequently confused why they seemed to be referring to the same person.

Overall I liked this well enough that I would like to pick up the next book whenever it arrives to see where it goes from here. I rate this book Recommended.