[The Epic Crush of Genie Lo] F.C. Yee

Chinese folklore, action, and the threat of a demon invasion. That is what The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is made of. Epic Crush is the debut novel from F.C. Yee, and combines high school classes and college prep with hunting down demons and learning how to control sudden powers. The gods, goddesses, and demons from Chinese mythology were unfamiliar, but they were integrated into a modern setting in a way that introduced them to a reader who has little to no knowledge of them.

I know nothing about Chinese mythology, so this was my first introduction to the gods, goddesses, and demons. It worked for me and I enjoyed reading a book that also taught me something. Ultimately, I’m not sure if learning about folklore from a YA book is the best because authors sometimes pick and choose, but it was interesting enough for me! I enjoyed that both Chinese names and translated names were used. It was a good choice because had all traditional names been used, I think it would have had the tendency to run together, but if all names were translated, it would have given the book a childishness that the book doesn’t deserve.

I really like books that incorporate an older, mythological setting and characters into a modern one. I like the urban fantasy aspect that it creates for books. While I felt that the modern setting was a bit too vague and relied on the reader to supply what they thought the Bay area looked like, I was able to imagine the world of the gods that existed alongside the modern one through the descriptions given to me in the stories Genie learned about. So while I felt that the normal setting was a bit bland and unrealized, the mythology behind it made it much more interesting.

The main character in Epic Crush is Genie, a girl prepping for college by studying hard, going to an adviser, and generally doing any volunteer activities that will help her get into a college far, far away from her hometown. That’s her main goal. She’s kind of thrown for a loop when she’s suddenly told that she has powers, but they’re not exactly the standard ones. There’s a lot of adjusting, and then there’s even more adjusting when something is revealed that makes her question her whole identity. I thought it was an interesting take on the powers trope. It isn’t something I’ve read before, so I was pleasantly surprised by it.

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[Caraval] Stephanie Garber

Once people leave this isle, the things they’ve done here don’t just unhappen, no matter how much they wish them undone.

Well, I’m glad that I didn’t pursue the idea of buying a UK edition. While Caraval did suffer from the fact that I went through a major reading slump while reading it, it wasn’t just that. I feel like Caraval was far too long for a story where very few things happened.  We were promised a carnival-esque setting, but I feel like I didn’t see much of it. The story primarily focused on Scarlett and Julian instead of the scavenger hunt / performance of Caraval.

Anytime I heard anything about Caraval, I heard about carnivals and circuses.  The people who participate in Caraval are supposed to solve a mystery–the disappearance of Scarlett’s sister–by following a set of clues like a scavenger hunt. It was something that sounded so interesting–a carnival steeped in a fantasy world. At the beginning of the novel, we’re introduced to several characters who are participating in this scavenger hunt, so it seems like Scarlett will have to compete against people who only want the prize, where she has a lot more at stake because it’s her sister. However, as the novel progresses, the only characters we consistently spend time with are Scarlett and Julian. The other characters are somewhere else, only showing up when they need to give hints to Scarlett or reveal that another character is villainous. There’s been other novels where I’ve complained about this before, but Caraval was the absolute worst that I’ve read to date. It basically was Scarlett and Julian wandering around Caraval and happening upon clues. I was really disappointed that the novel ended up focusing on the romance (instant-love, by the way, no matter how much Scarlett feels it’s meant to be and complains about her sister doing the same thing).

I wanted to know more about the tattooed young man and the woman who records all of Caraval–both past and present–in her book. There were shops where you answered truthfully or lost a day of your life–in the sense that you literally die for a day and then wake up the next. Those little bits of fantasy elements that were thrown in were so fascinating that had they been focused on and expanded, I think I would have liked Caraval more than I did. Despite it being about a performance, we didn’t see much of any performance. It had so much potential that wasn’t met, despite the fact that it was heavily marketed as a fantasy-circus novel. I think that Caraval is a prime example of book marketing done right–in the sense that many readers, myself included, were eagerly looking forward to getting our hands on this book. I feel so disappointed that it disappointed me.

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[Shadow Run: Kaitan Chronicles I] AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller

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Shadow Run has been touted as Firefly meets Dune, a space opera that should draw fans of both. The Firefly tease was part of the reason why I requested an ARC of Shadow Run in the first place. Shadow Run had action and adventure, a touch of romance, and the looming threat of an increasingly powerful bad guy. I didn’t find it as episodic as Firefly, but Shadow Run functions as a nice stand-alone space opera novel, with a potential to continue the series.

One of my favorite parts of Shadow Run, and other space opera stories is the world. When done well, they can be rich and immersive. I feel that way about Shadow Run, although I still wish it had gone into more detail. There was plenty of detail to show the world to the reader, but I still wanted more. I really enjoyed reading about it. The few planets that were visited by the characters were described in ways that allowed me to really visualize the setting. When the world isn’t familiar or created entirely by an author, those details must be there. A reader doesn’t know what living on another planet will be like, so an author has to fully immerse them in it.

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The thing that really cinched the world-building for me were the differences between Nev and Qole’s planets. The weapons and clothing differs, the cities on Nev’s planet are unbelievable to Qole who is used to smaller buildings, and the characteristics of the people are extremely different. Qole’s culture shock is believable and expected.

This was helped along by the two viewpoints. Readers are shown both characters out of their element, but Nev’s adaptability is a little better than Qole’s. Although he’s always had everything, he was able to adjust to a lesser lifestyle rather quickly. In contrast, I loved reading Qole’s reactions to the high-fashion and careless lifestyles of the people around her. I feel like their voices–and their speaking patterns–were very clear.

While I have a clear picture of both Qole and Nev, I don’t feel the same about the secondary characters. They’re delegated into roles: Strong-arm, hacker, brother, androgynous member of the crew. I didn’t mind the first person narration because I feel that it showcased the differences between Qole and Nev, but it didn’t help with knowing other characters. I feel that there was a bit of a disconnect between the reader and the world because of the first-person narration; I was in Nev’s head to understand his world, then suddenly in Qole’s–and part of her point-of-view was her trying to come to terms with what Nev had said or revealed. It was a lot of back and forth and I feel like some of the action was lost in it.

However, I did have a favorite secondary character. Basra. I want to know more about him. He seems to be quite a chameleon and even at the end of the novel, still has his secrets. I liked that he actually had a backstory that was more explored (i.e.: shown) than that of Eton’s and Telu’s, who I feel were only marginally explained. I want to know Basra’s history. Story about that, please.

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[The Bone Witch] Rin Chupeco

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The Bone Witch was a novel with a nice premise but the execution was not strong enough to keep my interest. Told in two perspectives, The Bone Witch follows Tea, a Dark Asha, as she discovers her powers in the past and in the present as she tells her story to a banished storyteller. Her story begins when she accidentally brings her brother back from the dead and soon she is fully entrenched in her new life as a Dark Asha, one of the rare witches who can raise and command the dead, both human and daeva. Her training means that she gains more control and she must make decisions that will affect her future and that of those around her.

There were things I really liked about this novel. I thought that the fantasy part of it–the idea of it, at least–was something that was creative. I liked that the main character was ostracized even by other witches because of her powers and that she didn’t have control over them at first. I particularly liked the idea that you couldn’t hide the feelings in your heart–unless you literally hid it behind something–because you had a heartsglass that swirled with color. The little touches like this were really well done, but ultimately The Bone Witch fell too much to the side of information dumping.

The world, when it should have been interesting, was full of too much information at one time. Despite the amount of information given to me, I don’t feel like I know much about the world. Few things really stood out. I know a little bit about the daeva, these monster-like creatures that are reborn every so many years, terrorize the general populace, and need to be put down by the Dark Asha again. Then there are all of these places that were mentioned multiple times and are likely important, but I couldn’t keep any of them straight. I’m not sure if it was because of the information dumping, the point of view, or the storytelling itself, but I just couldn’t distinguish one from the other.

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[Throne of Glass] Sarah J. Maas

 

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Throne of Glass is the first novel in a series about Celaena Sardothien, an assassin who has been toiling in the slave mines of Endovier for a year when she is suddenly released under one condition: she must fight in a competition to be the King’s Champion. Only then will she win her freedom. As Adarlan’s Assassin, she strikes fear into the hearts of people who know her name; as Celaena, she’s only a girl to the men in the competition and easily brushed aside. As the competition continues, Celaena proves that she’s not easily ignored, but soon that’s the least of their worries. Something is killing the competitors–and it’s only a matter of time before it comes for her.

If you only read the synopsis of the novel, it sounds pretty good. It’s only when you open the pages and read the first few chapters that you realize it’s not that great. This novel came out a few years ago when I was still working at a bookstore, and I remember picking it up and dismissing it as something that I wouldn’t enjoy. That opinion held true to some extent. I still read through this book because I’d heard from several reviewers that I follow that this is one of their favorite series and that subsequent books are far better. This meant that as much as this book was overwhelmingly meh to me, I had to read it to see if the series is as good as everyone says.

That said, there were things that I did really like about this book. The idea of a female assassin was great, if poorly executed. I just didn’t believe that Celaena was that horrifying assassin. She focused entirely too much on sweets and outfits. There were more descriptions of the intricacies of Celaena’s outfits rather than her actions in this competition. That is what I was interested in. It made Celaena’s vanity–and frankly, stupidity–the focus of her character rather than her supposed talents of assassination. I do like that she is vain because it is a strange flaw for an assassin to have, but it became too much when I was looking for other aspects of her personality to shine through. I just didn’t buy that she was this feared assassin, even if she couldn’t come out and say it. However, I do think that it showed her age. She was vain and childish because she is a young character. It’s just too bad that I didn’t feel that I saw much of her mature side.

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[Dreamwielder] Garrett Calcaterra

Dreaming is magic in this one, and magic is forbidden. It seems like it will be an exciting mix of magic v. mechanical, so I'm pretty interested in getting into this one. We'll see if this first book makes me want to continue with the series.

Dreamwielder started in the middle of the action, set in a world that had already been conquered and one where magic is outlawed. I love that that it started in the middle, because we’re thrown into a world that is dealing with the aftermath of this–dealing with the aftermath of wars, usurpations, and failed rebellions–but that is not the entire focus of the novel. We meet Makarria, a girl who has strange power in her dreams, as one of the people trying to eke out a life with her family. Far from the Emperor’s realm, Makarria believes that life is only about the small farmstead by the sea. Forbidden to dream by her parents, Makarria does her best to obey. When her dreams create something that put her on the Emperor’s map, she flees and begins to understand that her life is not as simple as she had thought. With a well-written cast of characters, Dreamwielder surpassed my expectations of what sort of fantasy novel this was.

I was really impressed with the characters in this. Divided between several characters of different backgrounds, Garrett Calcaterra blended each of their stories and lives into a cohesive narrative that I loved. It was a little slow at first because of the world-building, but as the world and characters built, I eventually couldn’t wait to see what Calcaterra came up with next. The cast was diverse in age, so that meant that their experiences were all different. I wasn’t treated to a book with characters that were so similar they may as well have been one. One of them was a prince who was a hostage–my particular favorite because he had no magic in this world of magic. I liked reading how he coped with having a sister who had visions and dealt with being a protector who had no powers other than his own fighting talent. On the opposite side of that was Makarria, a girl who had lost her family and was slowly discovering just what her talents could do. All of the characters were strong, and I appreciated that the female characters didn’t wait around to be rescued. I liked that they surprised the male characters with their actions.

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[Ghost House] Alexandra Adornetto

19486754Chloe thought that the ghosts that used to haunt her were gone. She thought that she was strong enough to push them away, but in the days following her mother’s death, they come back in force. They’re harder to push away. Dealing with her mother’s death, the ghosts, and her father’s grief, Chloe doesn’t know how much longer she can keep it together. Whisked away to England by a worried grandmother, Chloe’s abilities draw her into a 157 year old mystery and the ghosts that have the answers.

I was super intrigued by the premise of Ghost House. It promised that there would be “hungry dead  [eager for] a chance to claim her for their own, ” and that there was a mystery at its heart. Chloe can see ghosts and is able to ignore them most of the time, but then she suddenly can’t push them away. She’s drawn into this world that exists alongside her own. Chloe struggles to figure out her place in both of the worlds because she’s torn between them. Due to the poor execution, I didn’t feel that this was the result of the book at all. This was very much a novel where the summary and publication team works really hard to make this seem readable. For most of my time reading it, I kept looking for that zest that made it as exciting as the summary sounded. It wasn’t there.

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