October 22, 2014

Review: Rose and the Magician's Mask

Rose and the Magician's Mask Book three of the Rose series
By Holly Webb
Available now from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Review copy
Read my reviews of Rose and Rose and the Lost Princess

ROSE AND THE MAGICIAN'S MASK can be read alone, although it is best if you have read the first two books about maid and nascent magician Rose.  This book reveals more of her personal history, and delivers a thrilling plot.

Fans of the series know what to expect.  For those who are new, expect a practical heroine, friendship, and magicians versus magicians.  Gus, the talking cat, will be funny.  The adult-in-charge will be useless, leaving saving the day to Rose and her friends.  In this story, Venetian thieves who have stolen a mask of great power that must be retrieved.

This series reaches the point that so many series featuring magical kids (such as Harry Potter and Avatar: The Last Airbender) must reach.  As Rose becomes more powerful, and faces more dangerous enemies, she can potentially use lethal force.  This lends a bit more darkness to the final confrontation.

It's hard to say something new about the third book in a series.  But it is easy to repeat something old.  If you have a young reader in your life who enjoys fantastical adventures, I highly recommend this series.  Yes, even to the boys.

October 21, 2014

Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue

Blue Lily, Lily Blue Book three of the Raven Cycle
By Maggie Stiefvater
Available now from Scholastic Press
Review copy
Read my Maggie Stiefvater tag

Ever since I finished this book, I've been discussing it with fellow fans.  It's been a little hard since the book wasn't out yet and we had to keep the discussion quiet, so as not to spoil new developments for others.

But that is my number one reaction to this book, and this series as a whole.  I need to talk about it.  I need to pour over the details and make crazy theories about what I think is going to happen next.  I ponder each detail: Is that a clue? A red herring?  Just a bit of flavor?  It's hard to believe that there is only one book to go.

The Raven Cycle has a notably slow, meandering pace.  BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE picks up the pace.  I thought that it didn't go so fast as to be jarring compared to the previous two books, but one person I talked to thought it moved a hair to quick in the beginning.  It's very clear that things are getting serious.  One of Blue's greatest secrets is revealed (to some people), there are deaths, and the book ends with one very shocking revelation.

BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE adds several characters to the already crowded ensemble.  My favorite was Piper, wife to the apparent villain of the story.  (He comes on strong, but finishes weak.)  The banter between Piper and Greenmantle is hilarious, a wonderfully conscienceless counterpoint to the banter between the raven boys and Blue.  There is still time to develop the existing characters further.  This is really Blue's book, with a strong assist from Adam.  I particularly liked the focus on Blue's abilities and finding ways to be more than just a battery.  I also liked that it seems like Blue and Gansey's budding relationship might not explode into irrevocable drama with Adam.  Maybe Maggie Stiefvater could pull it off, but I am afraid of standard teen drama bogging the final book down.

So far, however, this series hasn't let me down yet.  I am in love with the characters, the tone, the unexplained magic of it all.  Okay, one development in particular strikes me as coming out of the blue, but I enjoyed it enough to roll with it.  (Plus, it led to an adorable scene of Ronan and Adam racing shopping carts in a parking lot.  Those boys.)  I can't wait for the inevitable doom that is sure to come with the end of the cycle, because I have enjoyed the lead up so much.

October 20, 2014

Review: The Dark Defiles

The Dark Defiles Book three of Land Fit for Heroes
By Richard K. Morgan
Available now from Del Rey (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

I'll be the first to say that I'm not a big grimdark fantasy fan.  I like more optimistic worlds.  And yet, I adore the Land Fit for Heroes trilogy.  It follows the adventures of Ringil, Egar Dragonbane, and Archteth, old war hero friends who get drawn back through a long and winding road for one last quest.

When THE DARK DEFILES opens, right after THE COLD COMMANDS ends, they are being separated again thanks to a sudden war and an ambush.  It's the final push for what the various greater powers in play have put into motion.

Richard K. Morgan doesn't give all the answers to his world, but he does give enough to satisfy me.  Nor does he give all of the endings.  However, it is clear enough where the characters are going for me.  Ringil, Egar, and Archteth are all sharply drawn characters, even if their world has deliberately shaded edges.  All of them meet ends that they can be content with.

I don't recommend this series to everyone.  The heroes, such as they are, commit almost as many crimes as the villains.  They are cruel, vengeful people.  At the same time, they aren't fans of slavery or mass murder or the extinction of the humans, which is something most readers can get behind.  It isn't a series with many happy endings, either.  Do not expect your favorite characters to escape unscathed.

But if you like intelligent fantasy that asks you to put the pieces together yourself, characters who are loyal to their friends even in desperate circumstances, and small snatches of love piercing the hardest hearts, then I recommend this trilogy.  The ending did not let me down.  I only wish I had time to re-read the trilogy and savor it altogether.

October 18, 2014

Why book bloggers use pseudonyms

Last January, I read NO ONE ELSE CAN HAVE YOU and thought it was a funny little mystery, just falling onto the right side of the twee line.  Yesterday, author Kathleen Hale published a piece for the Guardian, "Am I being catfished?" that reveals that a) she has no idea what catfishing is and b) stalked a book blogger without realizing she was doing anything wrong.

It is a horrifying article.  She finds the woman's address and work address.  I sometimes consider just going by my real name here, since it is a bit of an open secret.  But then I read this.

So yes authors, many of the book bloggers you interact with are using fake names.  Maybe lying about their personal details to muddy the waters.  Obviously, this is one incident with one disturbed person.  (See another article by Hale where she throws hydrogen peroxide in a girl's face and stalks her for two years and yet still makes herself out to be the victim.  Wow.)  Still, I think I'll keep my pseudonym. 

Also, kudos to HarperTeen for backing away from this mess.

October 17, 2014

Review: Avalon

Avalon First in the Avalon series
By Mindee Arnett
Available now from Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Review copy

I love YA science fiction, and I love Joss Whedon's short-lived space western Firefly.   Thus, I couldn't resist a YA sci-fi novel inspired by Firefly.  AVALON definitely wears its inspiration on its sleeve, which is sometimes a detriment.  (Every time there was a paraphrased Firefly quote I was jolted out of AVALON.)

At the same time quite a bit of the influence is good.  There's the obvious, like a close-knit crew and young girls with mysterious powers.  Then there's the less obvious tropes that Mindee Arnett cultivates, like being stranded in nothing and strange horrors at the edge of the universe.  It's all stuff I like and was eager to read about.

Jeth is a young captain working for a crime lord known as Hammer Defoe.  He and his crew take advantage of the fact that children aren't suspicious.  When a new job comes up that can only be performed by the Avalon, Jeth takes advantage of the chance to win back his ship and his freedom.  At the same time, he knows escaping Hammer won't be that easy, because Hammer has his own plans for Jeth's future.

Things quickly get complicated, and horrifying.  Worst of all, Jeth's crew is stuck with three survivors who aren't supposed to exist and who are being hunted from all sides.  It was fun to watch the characters come up with a plan, and then come up with another, and another, always adjusting to try to survive.  Not every step is brilliant, but there's some good problem solving going on.

I did feel like quite a bit of AVALON was set up for future books in the series.  There is plenty of action in the novel, but very little payoff for the secrets that are revealed.  I'm more curious about what the protagonists will do with what they've learned than satisfied with what they did in the immediate aftermath.  I also felt like Hammer's interest in Jeth was a bit overplayed.  Some of his other crew members had more unique skills, for instance.

Still, AVALON is a promising start to a new series that should satisfy science fiction fans.  I don't think it will be of much interest to readers outside of the genre, however.


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