July 30, 2015

Review: Half a War

Half the World Third book of the Shattered Sea trilogy
By Joe Abercrombie
Available now from Del Rey (Penguin Random House)
Review copy
Read my reviews of Half a King and Half the World

I was excited to finish the Shattered Sea trilogy since I enjoyed both of the first two books.  There's something so satisfying about finishing a series.

Each of the books shifts focus to a different narrator.  The main narrator of HALF A WAR is Skara, a princess who sees her family slaughtered.  She's traumatized and in exile, but she's also a queen now.  She must figure out how to be more than a figurehead and rescue her country from war.  Half a war is political shenanigans, and I love political shenanigans.  (What I didn't love is how many times characters express that sentiment.  Half a war, it's the title, we get it.)

The protagonists of the previous two books do appear.  Yarvi is used very well.  He's changed from who he was at the beginning of HALF A KING, and do many of the characters' points of view he's one of the villains.  Even though we only got a third of his journey through his eyes, it's been an intriguing one to watch.  I didn't think Thorn and Brand, from HALF THE WORLD, were used as well.  In fact, I rather disliked how they were treated in this book.

The Shattered Sea trilogy is composed of three very different coming-of-age stories.  Skara's story is probably my favorite of the three.  I admired the balance between her inexperience and her ability to learn quickly, listen wisely, and act decisively.  The co-protagonist, Raith, didn't impress me as much.  He's a brutal fighter annoyed at being traded to Skara like a thing, but he does think she's hot.  His character development felt inorganic, especially when Skara's was right there being done smoothly and neatly.

I thought HALF A WAR was a strong ending to the series.  The main storylines come to satisfying conclusions, but not completely neat ones that are false to what comes before.  The previous stories are built on, although too many elements from HALF THE WORLD fall to the wayside.  And Skara is the strongest protagonist of the series, which definitely gives the story a boost.  I think HALF A WAR will definitely satisfy fans of the Shattered Sea trilogy.

July 29, 2015

Review: If I Could Turn Back Time

If I Could Turn Back Time By Beth Harbison
Available now from St. Martin's Press
Review copy

It's hard to remember now why I picked up IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME.  I think it was the promise of time travel, which I tend to enjoy.  But the blurb hints at one of my major problems with the book.  IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME falls into that old pattern of successful, self-made woman figures out what she really needs is to be emotionally honest and find her soulmate.

In the end, I think IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME did some interesting things, but they tended to be too little, too late.  The execution of the beginning didn't grab me.  When Ramie wakes up after her disastrous 38th birthday party as a seventeen year old, she falls into a tendency to repeat information over and over as if the reader might've forgotten a detail from the previous two pages.  The timeline also doesn't quite work.  Ramie is clear that the first time she lost her virginity was six months after her eighteenth birthday, but that she and the guy broke up at their graduation party a few days after her eighteenth birthday.

The biggest problem is that all of the interesting stuff is rushed and crammed into the ends of the novel.  IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME starts to complicate things and introduce the idea that Ramie is driven and motivated and wouldn't be happy as just a housewife having children.  Her career doesn't get completely jettisoned, which I definitely appreciated, but the actual romance ended up being just a sketch of an idea after her romantic life was built up so much.

IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME has some interesting ideas, but I just couldn't get invested.  Does any almost forty-year-old woman really think that her high school boyfriend might've been the one?  I don't think Ramie was fulfilled at the beginning of the novel, but I was never convinced that focusing on her high school romance was a good focus for reflecting on her regrets.

July 28, 2015

Review: Thirteen Chairs

Thirteen Chairs By Dave Shelton
Available now from David Fickling Books (Scholastic)
Review copy

THIRTEEN CHAIRS starts with Jack, a young boy who has entered an (apparently) abandoned house to find a room filled with thirteen chairs, thirteen candles, and twelve people.  So he sits down, and then they each start to tell stories.

Each of them tells a ghost story.  Some, like "Let Me Sleep," are more traditional stories.  Others are set in the here and now, with taxis and cell phones.  I rather liked that touch, as it is harder to find ghost stories set in the present.  The tension builds nicely throughout the book.  I found the ending stories much scarier.  There are also interludes between each story, where the people talk to each other and Jack grows increasingly uncomfortable, ever more worried about more than the fact he'll soon have to tell a story himself.

I wouldn't say that THIRTEEN CHAIRS has twists, but the truth of what is going on in that old house does unfold at a nice pace.  There's a good balance of the frame story having a point and direction while still giving the individual stories their spotlights.

Each story opens with a woodcut-style illustration (done by the author, I believe).  I enjoyed all of the miniature ghost/horror stories, although some did particularly stand out.  The macabre "The Red Tree" was a true delight, as was "Unputdownable," which has an ending that bodes ill for anyone that comes into contact with a certain piece of literature.

If you like dark tales, and stories that build so that you start to feel a nice frisson of terror, then pick up THIRTEEN CHAIRS.  It's an excellent quick read with a decent amount of re-read value.

July 27, 2015

Movie Monday: Ant-Man

I'll admit it: I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It's had its ups and downs for me, but no true disappointment yet.  I was nervous going into Ant-Man.  I knew about the very public mess of Edgar Wright leaving the film.  At the very least I would get to enjoy Paul Rudd for two hours, right?

Paul Rudd is a big plus.  His charming on-screen presence is as evident as ever.  He's effortlessly funny and sweet.  He's not the only treat in the cast.  Evangeline Lilly is terrific as Hope, Hank Pym's estranged daughter.  She wants to be Ant-Man and has trained for it most of her life, but her father is firmly against it.  I love that even if her father wouldn't make her a suit she wouldn't stand idly by.  She'd risk her life as a civilian to make the world a better place.

One of the biggest delights of the film were the tip montages.  Paul Rudd's Scott Lang is a former criminal who just got out of prison.  His friend and former cellmate Luis is also recently released, and passes along rumors in a very roundabout way.  Luis's monologues, as delivered by Michael Peña, are a delight - especially with the way they're acted out.

The heist film structure of Ant-Man helps it stand out from the rest of the MCU.  It fits in, but it also manages to do its own thing.  Yes, it still ends in a climatic fight, but a much smaller one.  And a pretty imaginative one - Thomas the Tank Engine isn't the only delight in that final match-up (although it is a large one).

If you're looking for laughter, action, and redemption, then Ant-Man is a pretty darn fun summer movie.  It definitely exceeded my small expectations.

July 24, 2015

Review: Velvet

Velvet By Temple West
Available now from Swoon Reads (Macmillan)
Review copy

Swoon Reads has been around for more than a year now, but VELVET is still the first Swoon Reads book I've read.  On the website, you read, rate, and review YA manuscripts uploaded by users.  The best rated and most popular manuscripts get published by Macmillan's Swoon Reads imprint.  It is an innovative approach to publishing, so I'm surprised it took me this long to read one of the books.

VELVET starts when Caitlin Holte gets caught in a freak storm and rescued by an inhuman boy.  Readers soon realize she can't remember the incident, although she does know who saved her: her neighbor, Adrian.  Like her, he's an orphan who moved to the small town of Stony Creek, New York to live with his aunt and uncle.  He's also super hot, of course.  It's a pretty standard YA setup, but I like that Temple West took it in a few unique directions.

First, I loved that Adrian came clean to Caitlin about his vampirism pretty quickly.  He also let's her know that she's in danger from his father, who caused that storm at the beginning of the book.  His father is in a snit and Caitlin just happened to end up in the middle of things.  Adrian still keeps secrets because the vampire government makes him, but he's actually fairly open about what's happening because knowing the danger she's in helps Caitlin stay safe.  It's both logical and refreshing.

Second, I loved how lived-in Stony Creek feels.  Several of the girls Caitlin hangs with have their own romances going on, and school is a fairly important part of Caitlin's life.  As she starts to reconnect to her own life after her mother's death, she realizes that she has a lot to catch up on from those months she was tuning her schoolwork out.

Third, I loved that Caitlin's best friend Trish counsels her to leave Adrian if he isn't making her happy.  Being in love with someone isn't treated as the be-all end-all of relationships in VELVET.  However, that leads me to an aspect I didn't love, which is that Adrian and Caitlin get into fights all the time.  The seed, of course, is that their romance is forbidden.  Vampires aren't allowed to love humans, so his relationship with her is a fake to help him stay close and guard her.  Being a fake girlfriend to the boy she loves hurts Caitlin on top of the fact she's raw with grief and strange nightmares that plague her at night.  I got her emotions, I just got tired of fight, then make up, then fight, then make up.  It was an exceedingly repetitive story beat.

VELVET does end with a great hook for the second book, involving one of my favorite characters in danger.  I definitely want to read the sequel, especially since VELVET was a very quick and relaxing read.  I think I'll also try some of the other books published by the Swoon Reads imprint.  VELVET reflects well on their style.


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