[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.

Unusual Planet wallpapers and images - wallpapers, pictures, photos

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.

I also really liked that Basra didn’t comment on his gender. The members of the crew he works with refer to him as a boy, (which is something that was figured out off page, pre-Shadow Run) yet in his past he’s been referred to as a girl. It was nice to have a character like that, although Nev’s introduction to him (Boy? Girl? Wha?) was a little unkind in my opinion. If it was meant to be clever it fell flat.

I really love books with a variety of characters and I’m glad that authors are becoming more aware that there needs to be better representation of different genders and races in novels. However, I feel that this book was awkward about it. It was like it was screaming See? We’re representing! every time something regarding race or culture was brought up. I was being told, rather than shown. Show me! It gave an awkward tilt to the novel. Any other reviewers feel this way? Perhaps someone else can better put words to my feelings.

One bad thing about characters is that I didn’t feel like there was anything new, other than Basra. Although I liked Nev and Qole, they fell under the stereotype of Prince and Commoner. As a result, a lot of their story line was kind of obvious, so I’m hoping that the next novel subverts that a bit more. The last bad thing about characters is that Qole’s power needs to be contained. It bothered me the longer I read.  It’s setting Qole up as an untouchable character, which strikes me a little like a deus ex machina show of power. Where is the stopping point?

Free Space/Galaxy Texture by Lyshastra

 

What was great about Firefly was how it was episodic. I imagine (since this is called Kaitan Chronicles, which typically means an expansive story) that we’ll see more of the Kaitan Heritage and Qole and crew. This wasn’t really episodic. It was more of a typical story of discovering that everything you believed in isn’t necessarily true, good, or fact.  I feel like this book promised more than it delivered, because the only similarities I saw to Firefly was that there was a curmudgeonly Captain piloting through space.

In the end, I enjoyed reading Shadow Run when I either got over or got used to the things that caused problems for me. I think it will do well with people who like science fiction and fantasy and don’t mind the fact that it recycles some of the often used tropes of the genre. Personally, although I liked it, I feel very neutral about the next novel. Usually the end of novels that I enjoy drive me straight into the pages of the second novel. For Shadow Run, I could either take or leave the next one. This is directly because of the ending: it can either function as an open-ended stand-alone or as an opening for the second novel. Readers will have to decide what it is for them. I still haven’t.

3. 5 stars.

I received a copy of Shadow Run from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Shadow Run will be published March 21st.

 

 

[When the Moon Was Ours] Anna-Marie McLemore

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I love that this looks like a screen print.

When the Moon Was Ours is a beautiful book that read like a fairy tale but had a firm place in today’s world. It follows Miel and Sam, two friends who met when she fell out of the town’s decaying water tower. They have only grown closer as they grow older and navigate their lives. A boy who paints moons and a girl who has roses growing out of her wrist, the two are viewed as strange by the townspeople but are largely left alone. When the Moon Was Ours is partially a love story between friends and family, a fairy tale, and a coming of age tale.

What I particularly loved about When the Moon Was Ours was that while McLemore was very upfront about what this book was trying to do, it wasn’t forcing it down the readers’ throats. I’ve read books that go this route and it ends up giving the book a poor taste and ultimately doesn’t succeed. McLemore succeeded in my opinion. Yes, there is a character who doesn’t identify as what they were born as, but the novel was deeper than that.  It was a very caring look into who they were as people, as a whole, rather than purely focusing on one part of who they are. McLemore is teaching through sharing moments of her personal life, and I could really see that as I was reading. It was extremely intimate. The novel takes its time revealing how this has affected the characters and how they are trying to figure out who they are. It is part of the story rather than the whole of the story, which I thought was a very important and natural way of telling it.

I thought that all of the characters were very dynamic and very carefully crafted. The characters who were good had their moments of bad, and the characters opposite of them weren’t all bad. Everyone, no matter where they fell on that line, had reasons for their actions. And often the cause of their actions were because of a fear that they had: fear of discovery, fear of not being enough, fear of being ignored…that made the characters all the more real to me. I really connected with the characters, even the ones who functioned as the “villains” in this fairy tale. I may not have felt as much for them as I felt for Miel and Sam, but it was really easy to see why they acted the way they did. I had sympathy and pity for them.

The character growth in this novel was amazing. There’s the concept of the good and the bad in this novel, and they all grow. I feel like that doesn’t often happen. The bad characters weren’t forgotten. They also traveled to the other side with our two main protagonists and all of them were able to come to an understanding both of their own self and of that of the others. I wasn’t left wondering why the “villains” were like that and what happened to them after the story was over. Everyone had a conclusion.

Magical realism wasn’t a genre I’ve read until recently and to be quite honest there were some moments in the beginning where I wasn’t sure if this book was going to work for me. While I loved the opening pages, there was also a bit of disconnect when the language was too flowery, which muddied up what McLemore was trying to say. As I kept reading I reached an understanding with the language and was able to enjoy the story and the language. It really made the story more fairy tale-like and enjoyable.

I’m not sure what more to say about this novel because I feel that other reviewers have been able to praise it better than I ever could. I also don’t want to say anything that could potentially spoil the experience because I want every reader to enjoy this the way that I did. When the Moon Was Ours was a beautiful novel and one of my favorite reads of 2016. I wasn’t sure if I would like it at first because I had heard that the writing was hard to get through, but I read this in a short amount of time. The characterization and setting was amazing. I highly recommend it for its caring portrayal of those who don’t identify as their outside appearance. The opening lines and the closing author’s note were extremely touching. This book deserves your time and your attention.

To the boys you get called girls, 
the girls who get called boys,
and those who live outside these words.
To those called names, 
and those searching for names of their own.
To those who live on the edges, 
and in the spaces in between. 
i wish for you every light in the sky. 

4 stars.

[A Darkly Beating Heart] Lindsay Smith

This is a book I wrote off as one I’d have to read after it was published. I was pleasantly surprised when I was given an ARC by the publisher and NetGalley, so this became an unexpected October read. Perfect for Halloween, because the book deals with a lot of darkness. A Darkly Beating Heart is going to be published next week, so now is the perfect time for a review.

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I love this cover.

Reiko didn’t go to Japan to enjoy herself. Packing herself away to a country where she doesn’t speak the language, Reiko allows the rage she has inside about the events preceding her senior year to fester. Consumed by thoughts of revenge, she manages day by day only because she is planning how to best get back at everyone. Comfortable with her routine, when her summer job requires her to go to an Edo-period town in Gifu prefecture, Reiko initially believes that leaving Tokyo is the worst thing that could have happened. It throws all of her revenge plans out the window.

Finding herself in a town with a curfew and deeply-rooted traditions, Reiko struggles with maintaining her revenge plot and coping with the anger that fills her head. Then she discovers a long-forgotten makeshift temple. It pulls Reiko back into the past into a time period rife with dangers. The connection that she feels with Miyu is immediate, her anger even more explosive than Reiko’s. But Miyu is keeping things from Reiko. And if Reiko doesn’t discover them in time, it’s not just Miyu’s time that will be affected.

This is a book that is odd to review. Lindsay Smith writes beautifully; the scenes she creates are so vivid that it’s very easy to see them in my mind’s eye. The setting just jumps off the page. Of course, it helps that I live in Japan. This book isn’t one that is “set in Japan,” where the setting isn’t realized. This setting is, and I loved it. This would have made me really nostalgic for Japan had I already moved back.

The world of modern day Tokyo and that of the Edo period were so clearly written that I had a very easy time picturing them. I’m such a fan of the Edo period of Japan that I was thrilled to read a story set in it. Or half set in it. Reiko is connected to both, and the differences and similarities in the town she finds herself in–and the times–is done really well. I liked how they both kept getting closer together and the connections that were being discovered. Despite the speed of the plot, the setting was built slowly and when it made sense for the readers to be given the information.

The writing itself is stunning. Each page seemed to have a beautiful description of a place or a spot on look at Japan or the characters that Reiko was spending time with. I was incredibly impressed with Smith’s writing style. It wasn’t too flowery or unnecessarily bogged down with details that didn’t matter. It was an absolute pleasure to read. When I first started reading this I was sure that I would love the book. However, beautiful writing is not the only thing I look for in a book.

That isn’t to say the story or premise wasn’t interesting. I just found that I was more interested in the Edo period parts rather than the modern day parts. While both are incredibly detailed, I’ve found that historical fiction novels are increasingly becoming some of my favorite books to read. I understand why the plot was divided between the two times, but I ended up wishing that the novel was completely set in the Edo period and was about Miyu. That was the story I was really interesting in. Whenever it switched back to Reiko’s point of view in the modern day, I was tempted to skim a little in order to get back to her.

The connection of the past to the present in this little Gifu town was done really well. There are a lot of places in Japan that place importance on the past, but Kuramagi takes it to the extreme. Something isn’t quite right about this town. They bury power lines (which actually does happen in some of these Edo-period towns), have a curfew, and place an emphasis on keeping the town as period correct as they are able. I liked that the town was the center of why the two different time periods were converging. I just felt like a great story was rushed.

A Darkly Beating Heart is a relatively short story, and that is where it fell a little flat for me. Because it’s short, a plot that I personally think should have been drawn out more feels rushed and half realized. In a book where the setting, writing, and emotions of the protagonist are written so well, a rushed plot (especially one that is actually really interesting) was disappointing. I did appreciate the element of Reiko missing half of Miyu’s story–I enjoyed that she only knew what she learned when she was in Miyu’s body and had to figure out what she had missed when the story had progressed without her–but ultimately I thought that it jumped back and forth too much without giving readers enough information about the two time periods and the conflicts in them.

I thought that the way that Reiko was pulled back into the past was really well done. There’s always an element of leeriness that I have when I go into a book that involves some form of time traveling, but I thought that the two story lines and the different time periods were perfectly intertwined. The time travel remained consistent throughout the story and it wasn’t made overly complicated just for the sake of making it complicated. More is revealed as Reiko shares a body with Miyu and becomes more comfortable with the past and I appreciated the effort that Smith made to show that there are consequences for every action.

Reiko as a character is…interesting. The entire time she is plotting revenge: on her family, the people around her, her former girlfriend. Things have happened to her that are given to readers IV drip like, and that was part of my eagerness to read. I really wanted to know where all this anger came from, because I have never read a book where the protagonist is this angry. It was really uncomfortable at times because Reiko is constantly thinking about harming herself and others. Yet, I found myself continuing the book, despite this darkness. Her anger wasn’t swept under the rug when it became inconvenient or when the novel ended. She is able to work through some things but also realizes that her life is far from perfect. But she learns how to manage her anger even as she still has it.

It makes sense that she connected so quickly with Miyu because of her anger. Miyu also functions as a way for Reiko to understand that holding in all of that rage will consume her to the point of no return. Although Miyu is also a different character, because they had shared experiences I felt like they were the same. That’s a reason why I wish the book had been longer. I think it would have benefited the plot to explore more of what Miyu was going through.

Smith also had a handle on the sometimes dual nature of those who are bilingual. Reiko overemphasized the negative nature of bilingual characters because she is so blinded by her rage. Moments where Reiko is treated kindly (in English) but later is treated cruely or like a child (in Japanese) is unfortunately familiar, though rare. This is an element of passive-aggressiveness that foreigners sometimes experience. However, I do think that Reiko is being overly judgemental and Akiyo and Mariko are viewed harshly through this lens of anger she has. Reiko reconciles with this issue by the end of the novel, suggesting that much of her interactions with these characters had been so tainted by anger that she wasn’t getting a proper read on them. There was closure with the promise to try harder to resist these moments in the future.

A Darkly Beating Heart had amazing words that had it sitting at a 5 star rating. Due to the rushed nature of the plot and what I believe could have been a longer story, I’m rating it a bit lower than that. I really recommend this for readers because it does have a very vivid setting and an interesting story that is plotted well. The only caveat I give is to be prepared for Reiko. Maybe I don’t read many stories with dark protagonists, but her nature was hard to read at times. She had a lot of issues that were very serious and may turn off some readers.

3 stars.

I received a copy of A Darkly Beating Heart from NetGalley and the publisher. A Darkly Beating Heart will be published on October 25th, 2016.

[Last Seen Leaving] Caleb Roehrig

 

Flynn’s girlfriend January has disappeared. Flynn has a secret. The cops think the two are connnected. Last Seen Leaving is a coming-of-age novel that is wrapped up in a mystery. Did January disappear or did someone take her? Feeling that the cops are looking in all the wrong places, Flynn embarks on an investigation of his own by talking to people that January was close to. Along the way he discovers that what she shared of herself with him was not what she shared with others. How can he know what she would do–this friend of years–when he’s discovering that he may not have even known her himself?

Last Seen Leaving was a quick, straightforward read. The mystery was a little light for me; I felt that it was rather obvious what was going to happen at several moments of the novel but it was still an enjoyable read. Honestly, even though this was a mystery, I felt like the bulk of the plot focused on Flynn growing up. Flynn had to deal with issues of identity while dealing with the larger problem of what happened to January. It made things really difficult for him and it was a nice way to have his character grow.

Although this book has many characters in it, it’s really only about Flynn and his various discoveries. Part of the problem and reason for this is that the book is written in first person. I didn’t feel that Flynn really looked beyond the surface at his friends, family, or the strangers that he interacted with. As a result, they were very flat and I didn’t much care for any of them. I wasn’t given a reason to. They existed for Flynn to have character growth or for him to uncover things about January, rather than for the characters to have their own growth.

The plot was primarily why I finished the book. Although I felt that parts were obvious, it wasn’t that much of a deterrent. I wanted to know if I was right about the secrets that weren’t immediately solved and I wanted to see what would happen to Flynn at the end. It had a readability that allowed me to read it quickly and enjoy it. It wasn’t slow at all. It was, however, very tidy. Everything was neatly tied up at the end, even though some of it was not entirely concluded. Another issue I have with the plot is the reactions of the characters. People are missing or possibly murdered, and I feel like no one really reacts loudly to that. They just seem to go about their normal days.

The thing I found strange about this novel is that it almost seemed to be for older teens, yet the protagonist was only 15. Flynn’s worries seemed a little more grown up than his 15 years. It could be that I ran with a different crowd than he did (mostly I kept to my books and hung out with my friends in their basements), but I couldn’t quite wrap my head around his age. It left me feeling disconnected from the story a bit because I couldn’t jump over that hurdle. I’m hoping that it’s because I’m older and therefore slightly out of touch with what it was like when I was 15, but I do suspect that readers around this age will enjoy this book. While this isn’t my favorite thing I’ve read this year, I do think that Caleb Roehrig’s technique was spot-on for what he wrote about in Last Seen Leaving.

3 stars.

I received a copy of Last Seen Leaving from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Last Seen Leaving will be available on October 4th, 2016.

[Carry On] Rainbow Rowell

 

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There’s been thousands of reviews written for Carry On, so I’ll try to make this brief.

Carry On is about Simon Snow, a powerful mage who’s meant to stop the threat against magic. The only thing he wants to do is finish up his last year at school in peace–if everything will stop trying to kill him.

I never read Fangirl. As I understand it through my review scanning, Carry On contains the characters and story that a character in Fangirl was writing fanfiction about. That’s the only thing that connects the two stories, because this is a story in its own right. It was a little frustrating reading this novel at first because I felt that it was a Harry Potter knockoff. This is sort of a last book in a series, but the problem is, the other books don’t exist. Simon took us through the past six years at the beginning of the book, and a lot of that had similar qualities to Harry Potter. Coupled with the fact that a lot of it was exposition, I was tempted to put it down.

Eventually it picked up and became enough of its own book that the only connection to Harry Potter I made was that it had magic in it. It was the gritty version of Harry Potter. Things advanced fairly quickly once the action started. There’s a sped up quality to the writing because there’s a ton of dialogue and not many action tags. I did end up liking the story line once it had become less like the aforementioned series and more of it’s own thing, but it took a little too long to properly enjoy it.

I loved Simon and Baz, and felt that some of the other chapters with different perspectives were not really necessary. Since the story is mostly about them I would have preferred it to be only in their perspectives. I would have actually been interested in reading a couple more of the books to see how their roommate relationship developed to what it is in Carry On.

I did enjoy the story and I’m willing to check out another Rainbow Rowell book–I’m thinking about Fangirl because it seems like I’d enjoy it based on what it’s about. Her books are definitely “devour in one sitting” worthy, but I haven’t quite found the one that I love yet.

3 stars.

I received a copy of Carry On from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

[The Myriad Carnival: An Anthology]

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The Myriad Carnival focuses on losing yourself among people who will accept you no matter what differences you have: whether that is having a winged arm, a form of magic, or loving someone in a time when you could only love certain someones; the Carnival accepts all. Oftentimes it is difficult to produce a short story that engages the reader in a way that novels can solely because of their short form. It’s more challenging than a longer piece, because you don’t have pages and pages to get the reader hooked; you have the first paragraph and perhaps five to ten pages. A majority of these stories succeeded, with Boxes,  Our Scalloped Bitch, and El Amor Brujo on the top of my list. They, along with others, were written beautifully, their styles bringing to mind the very Carnival they were set in. Others were not as successful, at least for me, but that is the nature of anthologies: the editor hopes that a mix of stories, styles, and authors will interest many types of readers instead of just one. Notably, the one that was the worst was the one entitled As Mephistopheles said…. It was lewd and full of gratuitous violence and sex, culminating in several rape scenes. I heartily wish the editor had rejected it for this anthology, because I felt that it brought down the stories as a whole by including it with the others. The writing was not good enough to get me past the garbage that was in the story, and it didn’t match as well to the theme of the Carnival.

On a higher note, I enjoyed that the stories reflected the transience of the carnival and the good and bad that comes with them when they roll into town. There were several stories and their authors that I will be interested in reading again. It’s a little difficult to review an anthology without ruining every story that is contained within, but as a whole, they fit together well as a collection.

 

Boxes, M. Regan: Set in a time when things were jake and you earned clams, Lenore loves the freedom that walking the wires gives her from her past and her present. Along with her friend Charlie, who fits himself into increasingly smaller boxes for the thrill that he gets from bursting out of them, they discover something unlikely on one of the funhouse mirrors: a chrysalis, the life inside just as delicate and beautiful as Lenore and Charlie’s acts at the Carnival. I absolutely loved the writing style of this one. M. Regan has a talent for spinning a setting with the words she chooses to use. I love alliteration and it was used beautifully here.
5 stars.

Our Scalloped Bitch, Michael Leonberger: It used to be difficult for Sharon to express herself due to a speech problem. Now that years have passed, she begins to think of a time when she ran with the Myriad Carnival and she loved a girl named Tricia. Now she has the words, yet she still struggles to speak of the time when Tricia went out into the night to save children and didn’t come back–yet at the same time, she did come back. Again, I really enjoyed the writing style of this story, which seems to be the theme for the ones I truly liked.
5 stars.

El Amor Brujo, Evey Brett: A mysterious boy shows up at the Carnival with powers that he struggles to control. As his past catches up to his present, he must solve a mystery that those at the Carnival don’t talk about. Doing so may put his life–and those of others–in danger. This story was one of the first stories in the anthology that I liked and felt had a coherent ending.
4 stars.

The anthology as a whole receives 3 stars.

The Myriad Carnival came out in February. I was provided a copy for an honest review.

[Mad about the Hatter] Dakota Chase

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I thoroughly enjoyed this retelling of Alice in Wonderland. I’ve never read any of Lewis Carroll’s work other than a few of his poems, but I know enough of Alice to find it familiar. Dakota Chase took the story and turned it on its head a bit. Instead of a young girl protagonist, we have her brother. There’s quite an age gap between them, and Henry proves to be just enough of an angsty 17 year old to appear real but not too angsty to become horribly annoying. Henry has heard stories of Wonderland since he was a young child. It’s always frustrated him that something bad happened to his sister and he’s never heard the truth. Henry believes that since he’s almost an adult he deserves the real story. Obviously, Wonderland is not a real place. Mad Hatters, endless tea parties, and violent, paranoid Red Queens are the things of fairy tales. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself face to face with a hookah smoking, talking Caterpillar?

Perhaps because Henry has always denounced Alice’s stories, when he finds himself in Wonderland he really can’t believe that everything that starts happening to him is truly happening. His misgivings, fears, and curiosity were nice to read. Finding yourself in another world is cool, but I find it unrealistic when characters don’t reflect on their new surroundings. They sometimes accept them too quickly. The changes in Henry are realistic and very gradual. They don’t happen immediately, and it allows his relationships with the inhabitants of Wonderland to progress slowly. Henry’s curiosity allowed us to see parts of Wonderland that Hatter would have had us pass through quickly.

This is the second male / male romance novel I’ve read, the first being Always Leaving, a short novel by Gene Gant that I received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. (Found here) It was a less than stellar romance, between stalking-like behavior and a not so amazing romantic connection between the two male leads. So I was a little worried that I’d find the same here: romance that was forced and not realistic. This was so lovely. Henry and Hatter were both very confident with their sexuality. There was no waffling about how they felt. It was very straightforward: love is just love. They’ve both had various romantic tangles with various genders. There was an emphasis on finding that person that gave them the spark and not so much on anything else.

I wish there had been more time spent in setting up Wonderland. Everything that was included was incredibly visual, but there just wasn’t enough. I would have loved to see more areas as Henry and Hatter journeyed all over Wonderland.  Mad about the Hatter was whimsical in its scene setting and had some of the most entertaining similes. I had a lot of fun reading this novel and would recommend it for people who enjoy retellings of fairy tales. It’s a nice companion to the original story. Mad about the Hatter is set in contemporary times with elements of the old mixed in.

4 stars.

I received a copy of this title from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Mad about the Hatter was available on August 20th, 2015.