Tuesday, February 14, 2017

ARC review: Miranda and Caliban

25670396Title: Miranda and Caliban
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:Miranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant. There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from? The wild boy Caliban is a lonely child, too; an orphan left to fend for himself at an early age, all language lost to him. When Caliban is summoned and bound into captivity by Miranda’s father as part of a grand experiment, he rages against his confinement; and yet he hungers for kindness and love. 

I am a huge fan of retellings/re-imaginings of classic stories, be it fairy tales or Shakespeare. I was naturally really excited to read this prequel/re-imagining to Shakespeare's The Tempest. Full disclosure, I didn't love the original but I thought it had a really cool premise and I was excited to see how Carey put a spin on it.

I liked how this book subverted the roles/morality of characters from the original; Prospero is a sinister patriarch, Ariel is a malicious spirit, Caliban is a wild yet innocent boy growing up under Prospero's tyrranical watch, Miranda is an intelligent young woman who learns that perhaps Papa doesn't know best.

This book is at its core a coming-of-age story of two children from very different backgrounds growing up in the same harsh environment. I liked how the writing style for the character's POV chapters evolved along with the maturity of the characters themselves. There were a lot of familiar elements in this book that I'd seen in books set in the Victorian era; emphasis on beauty and morality being intertwined, using phrenology and other strange pseudo-sciences to classify and draw lines between men/women/different people, rigid moral codes and sexual repression.

I generally did enjoy this book, but it wasn't as lyrical or engaging as I was expecting. Prospero's motivation and near-madness could have been fleshed out more; he was definitely mysterious and sinister but I wanted to get into his head more, or at least see more moral ambiguity. Caliban's development was largely centered around his discovery of his own sexuality and feelings for Miranda, and I wanted him to grow and mature outside of that context. Miranda herself was pretty dull, and I didn't really care about her until the very end. I also expected more of the book to tie into The Tempest, but those events only came into play during the last few chapters.

This was an interesting retelling, but I think it could have done a better job of playing with my expectations or adding a new spin to the original. I would definitely recommend it for people who love The Tempest, but not for people who just like retellings in general.

A free eARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
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Monday, February 13, 2017

Bullet Reviews: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Ancillary Sword, The Last Mortal Bond

I'm halfway through December reviews, I'm hoping to finish up some bullet reviews for December/January in the next week or two and then start writing actual reviews again soon!

This week is a little bit of a hodge-podge set of reviews; they are all loosely connected because they are all books that I didn't like as much as I thought I would. I had heard so much about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I liked it initially, but then I just got kind of bored with it. I was really enjoying Brian Staveley's Unhewn Throne trilogy, and I'd heard glowing reviews about the conclusion, but I liked the second book better than the third. And finally, I read the sequel to Ancillary Justice since I loved the first book so much, but the second just didn't compare.

Here are the reviews!

2429135The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Genre: mystery, suspense
Rating: 3/5 stars

What I liked:
  • I listened to the audio version, and I really liked the narrator. He had a perfect tone of voice for this story, I can't put my finger on why I liked it so much but the narration was a definite plus
  • This is sort of a plus and minus: I learned a lot more about random topics than I thought I did. This book goes into a lot of detail about everything from Swedish industry and economics, how the media works, and how guardians are assigned for the mentally ill. It was interesting, but it was also sometimes distracting/annoying because it slowed the book's plot down
  • Lisbeth is pretty cool, even if she's an unconventional protagonist. It was funny to see how so many normal social interactions went sideways when Lisbeth was involved. She is also really amazing at what she does, and I liked seeing how far she would go to achieve something she wants.
  • I was really scared to pick this book up because I'd heard there was a really terrible rape scene and I didn't think I could handle it; thankfully the scene wasn't horrifically graphic or long. It's definitely intense but the writing is dry and goes more into mechanics of the rape than the emotional trauma during the event, which makes it slightly easier to stomach (it's still horrifying though).

What I didn't like:
  • In general, I found the characters rather flat. I didn't really care about any of them, and they all could be described with 5 words or less. Even Lisbeth was just "pretty cool", not particularly compelling. I found her story interesting but I wasn't too emotionally invested in it (and considering the trauma she undergoes, that's saying something)
  • the suspense/mystery wasn't as surprising or compelling as I thought it would be. There are so many pointless interactions and subplots
  • The pacing was really wonky. Nothing much happens for the first quarter of the book, and then the climax happens about 3/4 of the way through the book. It's really hard to focus on picking up the pieces when nearly a quarter of the book is devoted to it instead of just a chapter or an epilogue.
Recommended for... 
People who are curious about the hype surrounding The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I honestly wouldn't recommend it to people who have read a lot of suspense/mystery novels

20753341The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley (Unhewn Throne #3)

Genre: fantasy
Rating: 3/5 stars

What I liked:
  • I like how every book just gets more and more intense. This book really ratchets up the stakes and intensity with every book; you think things can't get worse for the protagonists and then somehow they do!
  • I think my favorite part about this book was the epilogue. I kind of wish the trilogy was plotted so that the story of the first 3 books was compressed into the first 2, and then the third book was all about what happens in the epilogue. I would have liked that story much better :)
  • I really liked Gwenna's subplot and how she got more POV chapters in this book. The Kettral subplot was really cool, even without Valyn. In general the women of this series have grown from being accessories to being important and complex main characters, which I appreciated.
What I didn't like:
  •  I felt like the characters went through tremendous growth in Providence of Fire, but remained pretty stagnant in this book. They are pitted against one another and make difficult choices, but as characters they don't really change motivations or mature or change in any tangible way.
  • This book started to feel too much like a grimdark fantasy for my taste. Grimdark is so brutal, and just so hopeless. It spreads this message of futility and brutality in the world that just makes my bones weary and my soul ache. I don't mind dark stories, but I just don't enjoy this level of hopelessness and futility.

Recommended for: people who enjoy grimdark and aren't scared away by violence and gore.


Ancillary Sword (Ancillary Justice #2) by Ann Leckie
Genre: science fiction
Rating: 2/5 stars

What I liked:
  • Ummm...this is hard. Most of what I liked about this book was just residual feelings of what I liked about book one. I enjoyed the writing style and the world and playing with gender stereotypes
What I didn't like:
  • This book was a very blatant "Ann Leckie takes on racism" and I just felt like the message about prejudice and race was very blunt and unsubtle. I felt like I was being beaten over the head with it.
  • This story is told linearly, unlike Ancillary Justice. Most of the fun of Ancillary Justice was switching back and forth in time as you figured out what was happening and its repercussions, and that's just missing here. There aren't any really big reveals like book 1 either.
  • The complexity of the situation at the end of book 1 is sort of brushed aside. It's hardly addressed, there is literally no progress regarding the Anaander Mianaai situation at the end of this book, it's all about combatting racism/classism on one little planet.
Recommended for... people who don't mind heavy-handed preaching about why racism sucks? I don't know, I honestly wouldn't recommend this book but I do highly recommend the previous one.

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

ARC Review: Gilded Cage

30258320Title: Gilded Cage
Author: Vic James
Genre: Fantasy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.
Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England's grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.
A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.
Abi is a servant to England's most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family's secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?
A boy dreams of revolution.
Abi's brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.
And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.
He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

I was pretty excited about this book, but nearly everything about it wasn't as good as I expected or wanted it to be. I was really expecting to enjoy this, but I just couldn't get into this story.

The premise of Gilded Cage is pretty cool: the world is in a near-future Earth where everyone must provide 10 years of unpaid labor ("Slavery") in order to become a full citizen and obtain the priviliges and rights that a full citizen possesses. Most people choose to take this decade off in their adulthood, however sometimes children get roped into it when their parents choose to do their time but don't want to leave their children behind. This is exactly the situation that our main characters find themselves in. The catch is that most of the family gets to work as indentured servants at a rich mansion instead of common laborers in more dangerous conditions. Key word Most of the family.

I thought there was a lot of potential in this premise; how is self-worth and social status measured when people fluctuate between living normal lives, being laborers with no rights, and powerful members of society? How does someone's attitudes change towards fellow slaves when s/he finishes the 10 years and becomes a citizen? What keeps this system in place? It's interesting that the slavery is imposed on everyone regardless of race and other characteristics have historically and currently been cause for prejudice.

I was less than thrilled with the actual execution of this though. The conditions that the "slaves" went through were obviously not pleasant, but they were nowhere near as traumatic or hopeless as what actual slaves have gone through in history. I felt that the use of the word "Slavery" to describe what these fictional people went through trivialized the all-too-real struggles of generations of people, which I found very disrespectful. What these people went through is more like the work of immigrants and indentured laborers, except for the fact that they get no money instead of too little money to live on. What especially angered me was how being a maidservant or gardener to a bunch of magic-wielding rich people was also considered slavery. This book could have really taken an unflinching look at the cruelty we humans inflict on those we believe to be inferior, but this book never quite got there. It was all very watered down and I had a hard time sympathizing with any of the characters.

The clumsy handling of the slavery wasn't the only reason I didn't care for the characters. Most of them seemed extraordinarily self-centered and even the ones that were supposed to come across as intelligent or practical seemed pretty silly. Everyone was pretty flatly characterized; there was the angry brooding young man, the mysterious handsome stranger, the innocent little girl...just a bunch of cliches. I always have a hard time getting into a book if I don't connect with the characters.

I wouldn't recommend this book, it's not a very compelling portrayal of rebellion, it's not especially tightly plotted or engaging, and the magic just isn't that exciting. I was so disappointed after the amazing prologue, but the rest of the book just didn't live up to it.

A free eARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Bullet Reviews: Vampire Academy, The Magician King, Fool Moon

Round 4 of Bullet reviews features some not-quite-urban-fantasy books. I say not-quite because all three books involve our modern world and some paranormal creatures but none of them quite fit into the stereotypical UF mold. I was initially planning on making this set of reviews the last few books I read in November, but those three books were completely unrelated so I decided to grab a book from December to make the reviews fit better together.

18660669Vampire Academy by Richelle Meade

Genre: contemporary, urban fantasy
Rating: 4/5 stars

What I liked:
  • Full disclosure: I only picked this up because it started with a V and I needed to complete my A-Z challenge. That said, I had zero expectations going into this book and I ended up really enjoying it
  • I loved how it focused on friendship. Yes, there were a lot of messy romantic feelings and such but the core of this story is a bond of friendship, and I'm a sucker for stories about amazing friends
  • Lissa and Rose are both such badasses, and in general I loved how this book took a stance against slut-shaming and generally portrayed women as characters with agency and power over their own lives and decisions

What I didn't like:
  • For all her general awesomeness, Rose came off as vain and selfish sometimes. She put ridiculous emphasis on her figure and her clothes and how she enjoyed how people reacted to her, and power to her for being confident and loving her body, but it just got tiresome reading about such superficial things when there were actual life-altering and mysterious things happening
  • I don't know how else to describe this, but the writing of this book just felt kind of young. Like it was purposefully written to cater to slightly-less-than-intelligent teenagers. I get annoyed when YA books/authors feel the need to write "down" to their readers; yes, I'm not a teenager anymore and I'm older than the target audience but even as a teenager I would have been annoyed by how this book assumes the reader can't appreciate subtlety or complexity.
Recommended for... 
people who are looking for a light and fun story about female friendships, vampires, and mysterious happenings at boarding school.

10079321The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Genre: Contemporary, fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

What I liked:
  • I loved that we got to see Julia's story. Julia came to magic the hard way, and she goes through some crazy and intense things to get where she wants to be. Her flashbacks that paralleled the chapters from book 1 were far more compelling to me than Quentin's story in book 1.
  • More magic, more subversion of classic fantasy tropes. The Magician King continues to poke fun at fantasy readers' expectations and our general belief in goodness and heroism and "good will triumph over evil". It's never quite so simple, and things don't always happen the way we want them to.
  • Fillory has a much bigger presence in this book, it was really cool to see more of the Neitherlands and other magical worlds as well.
  • I'm enjoying how the TV show is adapting the first two books by sort of twisting some story threads together and branching other subplots off in new ways
What I didn't like:
  • There was still a point in the middle of this book where it was a little hard for me to focus just because Quentin is so unbearably useless sometimes and I just can't care enough about him to see how things are going for him. It was definitely easier to get through this book than the first one though, the pacing was much better
Recommended for: people who aren't turned off by a less glamorous version of their favorite childhood fantasy stories, anyone looking for subversive humor and very dark truths


Fool Moon (Dresden Files #2) by Jim Butcher
Genre: urban fantasy, science fiction
Rating: 4/5 stars

What I liked:
  • I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator did a fantastic job with this book. He sounds exactly like the Harry Dresden in my head.
  • This book was absolutely sickening in some parts, and unbelievably adorable in others. I liked how I got to experience a full spectrum of emotions as the story progressed
  • Very cool new revelations about werewolf mythology
  • I enjoy the humor in these books, there are funny moments throughout but it never gets heavy handed
What I didn't like:
  • Harry sighs a lot. Or the narrator sighs a lot. Somehow there was just a lot of sighing in the audibook and I got a little annoyed
  • I don't like how awkward and messy Harry's relationship with Murphy is getting. Harry is constantly trying to take care of the women in his life and be chivalrous, which I found annoying (and so did Murphy). It was like he assumed women can't take care of themselves or don't know what they're doing unless proven otherwise. I also didn't like how Murphy kept assuming the worst in Harry despite their sort-of-friendship, like why does she assume the worst in people constantly? I hope they manage to work things out soon :/
Recommended for... fans of urban fantasy and those not afraid of lots of blood and gore

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