Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

Title: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Series: Untitled, but a companion novel starring Felicity is in the works
Volume: 1
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Release Date: June 27, 2017

Monty's Grand Tour of Europe was supposed to be the last hurrah- his last chance for his wild lifestyle, last chance for drinking and gambling, last chance to flirt with his best friend Percy- before returning home to take over the running of the the family estate. He's going to make everything of it that he can, even with his bookish younger sister in tow. But when one of Monty's impulsive decisions turns the Tour into a manhunt across Europe, Monty finds himself reevaluating everything- his future, his relationship with Percy, and himself.

Out of Ten: 8/10

Review at a Glance: A fun historical fantasy adventure with a whirlwind plot featuring bold and diverse characters- including a fantastic narrator!

Review: A couple of my friends went into Toronto for Pride this year, and one of them picked this one up from the Glad Day Bookshop for me! This was one of the titles that I'd been anticipating, but that I hadn't thought to pre-order because I am excellent at planning, so I'm really glad she was able to snag a copy- especially because I had a lot of fun reading it!

I went into this mostly hoping for fun Victorian road-trip shenanigans with LGBTQIAP+ characters, and I definitely got that, but this book also touches quite a bit on a variety of more serious topics and issues. The combination of silly and serious made for an interesting, and sometimes slightly discordant, reading experience. It wasn't something I necessarily disliked, but it was just a little strange, I guess? I'm not even sure what I'm getting at with this observation... (great reviewing there, Kelly, 10/10 points for you).

This books somehow felt both well-researched and very fictional, at the same time- the adventure part kind of turns things up to 11. Historical fantasy, in terms of the overarching plot of the story? It actually wound up getting a little bit more fantasy there toward the end, which was unexpected, after spending the first half of the book in what came of as a non-fantasy world. It wound up a bit heavier on the fantasy-adventure component than I was expecting (silly me), and that was really enjoyable! (I mean, speculative fiction is my favourite genre, so... bonus for me, really.)

The strongest and most dynamic part of this book for me was the characters. Our main character comes off as a bit larger-than-life, in keeping with the plot of the story. Like, if this plot was going to happen of course it was going to happen to someone like him. Monty's a very ...amplified, maybe? person, both in terms of his good and bad personality traits, and it was fantastic seeing his character develop. He's someone who is doing his best, while struggling with quite a few things, and sometimes screwing up in a kind of spectacular way. He's vivid, multi-faceted, very funny, and also very dramatic, and made him both a fantastic character and a great narrator.

I also really liked how both Percy and Felicity were vivid characters in their own right, and I really liked both of them. They're both really strong personalities as well, living their own lives and facing their own challenges. (I'm pretty excited to see that Felicity is getting a book focused on her, because I have a strong personal preference for ladies of science!)  Over the course of the book, Monty really finds himself evaluating is relationships with and his assumptions about both of them. Those relationships both wind up changing a lot over the course of the book- especially the relationship between Monty and Percy, which was fantastic to see grow! They have such a great dynamic from the start, and the way their romance unfolded fit really well with the story itself.

Overall, I had such a fun time reading this book. I was impressed by the number of tougher subjects this book touches on, while still being a really funny, enjoyable read, and I'm delighted that there's a companion novel!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Review: Ash and Quill

Title: Ash and Quill
Series: The Great Library
Volume: 3
Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk
Release Date: July 11, 2017

Jess and his group have fled from London to the Burner-held Philadelphia, where they immediately find themselves imprisoned for being members of the Library, albeit rebellious ones set on changing the system. Their only bargaining is the plans for a printing press, which will free the distribution of information from the Library's stranglehold.

eARC received through NetGalley

Out of Ten: 8/10

Review at a Glance: A fast-paced and complex continuation of a series with a great premise and fantastic characters.

Review: I feel like I start a lot of my reviews like this, but look at this cover. Isn't it beautiful? This series is really upping it's game in the cover department- the first book was okay, the second book was lovely, but this one is really great. Okay. Now onward to the actual review part.

There is one thing I'd like to mention in terms of content going in. A main/predominant secondary character (not sure how to describe her character-status, but she's kind of my favourite, so main character to me, probably secondary character narratively?) in this book wears a hijab, and in this book, when the group are violently searched, the scarf is momentarily torn off. While this is clearly emphasized within the book to be a bad thing, and all of our lead characters are horrified and angered, it does still happen- something that may be upsetting for some people to read, especially in the world's current social climate of people being awful to Muslim people for no good reason.

This is the third book in what is to be a five-book series, and it dives right back into the action, essentially carrying on from where the second book ended. They've fled to a Burner-held city, where they're really not safe- one thing we see is the degree to which they aren't really safe anywhere. The enemy of their enemy, in this case, is not their friend, but more of another enemy. This book starts off fast, and doesn't let up- there's a lot of action, and, even when there isn't an actual action scene, Rachel Caine does a good job of maintaining the tension.

It's still impressive to me how BIG this world is. There's a lot going on, and things just keep happening. Last book demonstrated that the Library isn't a monolith, and many of the characters who are currently resisting the Library aren't doing so because they feel that it is 100% evil- sometimes the motivation is the opposite. In this book we also get to see more of that grey area- especially given that quite a few of the main characters are also somewhat grey, including Jess himself. I definitely found myself cringing a little at some of his choices in this book, but they were still totally understandable, especially given his character and history.

There are also A LOT of characters, and Rachel Caine does a good job of juggling her constantly expanding cast and making them distinct. Something that I find I really appreciate about this series is that there are adult characters who really do respect the autonomy and abilities of the main cast, most of whom are teens. (Wolfe and Santi have been two of my favourite characters since book one, so I've been delighted by their continued presence. And also concerned for their safety. Also that.) There's such a wealth of characters that I'm not great at picking favourites- you'll notice I've kind of already mentioned three favourites... The cast is also fairly diverse, as well- there are a few points where I think the author it's possible may have stumbled a bit in terms of representation, but overall seems to have done a fairly good job, especially in terms of making her characters individuals. (I can't speak to all of the representation of course, and am mostly speaking from an outsider's perspective. I'm hoping to read some reviews from those in the communities represented in these books to see how they felt, now that I'm done the book and don't have to fear spoilers!)

Similar to how a lot of the stronger parts are evident in the first two books, something that I disliked is also a carry-over: Jess and Morgan as a couple still... is kind of boring to me? I know it should have emotional resonance, especially as it was given more time in this book, but I still kind of feel like there's more nuance to Jess's relationships with basically everyone else- I think I just wish they felt more like he and Morgan were friends as well as the romantic component? So that still kind of interrupted the flow for me, but it's something I've kind of accepted is going to be something I might not really get.

Overall, this was a great contribution to an excellent series, and I'm really looking forward to the next book- especially with that cliffhanger, which was, frankly, stressful. I am stressed. I'm also really curious where the story is going from here, both from plot and character perspectives, but also from a storytelling perspective.

My reviews of the rest of the series so far:


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

You Know That Feeling When You Descend Into a Four Week Long Funk?

Or: An Apology, In Three Parts, and Where I'm Going to Go From Here

The Apology:

Part 1: I'm sorry about how catastrophically I failed at AsianLitBingo. I just. Didn't want to pick up basically any new books. I mostly reread for a large part of the month of May as a result, with the exception of the new Riordan book, which is a writing style and world so familiar, it kind of felt reread-y.

Part 2: I'm sorry to my co-blogger over at Paper Boulevard Lit Fae (look, it has a new name!) for not posting new review. I haven't read any new books, so new review are hard to come by. Sorry, Yani! I'm working on it!


Part 3: I'm sorry for the egregious blog-neglect. Sorry, blog. It's just that blogging has been feeling more and more like a chore, and it hasn't been getting done and I really hate the feeling of losing interest in something that I used to like so much, so I'm trying to find a way to keep that from happening. I mean, I've been doing this for... well, five years on this blog, longer if you count blogging prior.

Where to From Here:

1. I'm going to try to really give Instagram a proper try, because I've been neglecting it, even more than the blog, and it seems like it would be fun.

2. Find a challenge I can do! Just any challenge really of some variety! And probably someone to remind me to do it because I am the worst!

3. Maybe do something other than reviews?


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review: Dove Arising

Title: Dove Arising
Author: Karen Bao
Genre: Science Fiction
Release Date: February 24, 2015

Living in a colony on the moon, Phaet knows her path- keep working in the greenhouse, do well in school, eventually get a job in biochemistry. She'll stay as quiet as she's been since her father's death and let her best friend keep filling in the blanks.

Then her mother is arrested, and, in order to keep her family safe, Phaet must join the militia. The plan is to rank high and make enough to fund her mother's release and keep her family fed and safe, but things rapidly start to spin out of control. 

Out of Ten: 5/10

Review at a Glance: A really interesting setting, but suffered from poorly fleshed out characters and a dependence on tired tropes.

Review: Okay. Here's the thing. I wanted to like this one, but I from the start was concerned that I wouldn't. I just wanted to say that from the start because I might have had a weird bias going in or something. Anyway, onto the review. I think I mostly didn't pick this up earlier because I'm a terrible cover-judge, but also because so much of the plot sounded like it was more of the same. I wish that hadn't held true, but it kind of did.

This book did prompt me to randomly start researching moonquakes, which I hadn't realised were a thing because conventional wisdom when I went through my childhood "learning about the moon phase" (what, people don't have those?) was that the moon was tectonically dead. (That is to say, has zero tectonic activity.) Apparently, like most conventional wisdom, this isn't totally true. For one thing the moon has thermal quakes whenever the sun warms it's surface. For another it also just randomly has quakes measuring 5.5 or higher (on the Richter scale, which isn't really used anymore). Here's details on moonquakes, if anyone's curious. Also apparently the moon is simultaneously shrinking and being pulled apart, so that's fun.

Unfortunately the research this book prompted me to do on lunar geology was the most interesting part of this book for me. It just didn't grab me. Part of it was how much there was in terms of telling rather than showing. It made the story lag. The story also wound up feeling kind of forced- the characters felt like they had abilities or skills specifically to move the story along, rather than as an organic part of their personalities and histories. Despite the fact that they were ostensibly different, they all had a very similar feeling, which, I think, came from how forced their construction felt.

Other than being set on the moon, this felt kind of like just any other dystopia- I don't think it's really the book's fault that I've experienced a lot of that particular kind of dystopia, but the writing and characters weren't really strong enough to carry a story with a plot as formulaic as this one was. In the end I kind of felt like I was dragging myself through the story.

In all, I really wish I'd like this book better, but it just didn't pan out for me. The plot felt too formula and the characters just didn't pull the story along. I don't think I'll be continuing the series, especially with the direction that I see the story going.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

#AsianLitBingo: Update #1

I'm going to try to post about once a week with updates on how I'm doing with this reading challenge! So far I've finished two books and I'm about 2/3 of the way through a third. I'm going to try to get five in a row, but I'm likely to also just choose some randomly scattered ones too, just because.

To All The Boys I've Loved Before
Jenny Han

I enjoyed this, but it also felt like a lot of the reasons why my main strategy in high school one
of was non-engagement. All of the things that Laura Jean was experiencing and enjoying were things I very much didn't want to experience in high school. But, you know, Laura Jean and I are very different people, so to each their own, I suppose- it's more that it limited the degree to which I related to some of her experiences.

I did really enjoy the family aspect, though! Laura Jean's relationships with the members of her family are some of the most important ones she has, which was something I really appreciated, as well as how the girls made an effort to hold on to aspects of their Korean heritage.

The Ship Beyond Time

Heidi Heilig

I was kind of on the fence about picking this up. It wasn't that I hated The Girl from Everywhere or something, but I just... wasn't particularly drawn to continuing the story. In the end, I'm glad I picked this up, though, because I wound up quite enjoy this one! 

I really enjoying execution of the idea in The Ship Beyond Time- either because having read the first book I have fully wrapped my head around the concept, or just because if flowed better this time, I'm not sure. 

There were still a few things in the plot and execution that I didn't love, but I overall really enjoyed the story, and really appreciated Nix as a character this time around- she goes through an interesting arc and I enjoyed her journey! It's a very open-ended story, I do kind of feel like there could have been more...

Friday, May 5, 2017

#AsianLitBingo Sign-Up

Which I am making late because I am a terrible, terrible blogger.

This challenge, put together by a team of bloggers of Asian heritage, occurs over the month of May (which is Asian-American Heritage month in the States), focusing on reading books written by authors with Asian backgrounds starring Asian characters.

You can find the masterpost here.


I'm planning to read at least five books for this, but I'll probably be aiming for more. I always need to push myself to diversify my reading, so this is a good opportunity to do that, and hopefully to discover some new favourite books!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Review: A Crown of Wishes

Title: A Crown of Wishes
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Series: The Star-Touched Queen
Volume: 2 (companion novel)
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: March 28, 2017

Gauri is princess of Baharta, but, after a failed coup against her brother, she finds herself imprisoned in a neighbouring kingdom, pending execution. When last minute reprieve comes in the form of Vikram, an enemy prince who offers her her freedom in exchange for the use of her combat skills- in a magical tournament hosted by the Lord of Wealth that promises a wish to the victors. 

Out of Ten: 9/10

Review at a Glance: A fantastic return to the dazzling world of The Star-Touched Queen, with an intriguing plot and strongly crafted characters.

Review: I was so enchanted by this book. The world is breathtaking, and Roshani Chokshi's writing was even more dazzling in this that in The Star-Touched Queen. Where the first book faltered a bit for me, this one didn't miss a beat. The characters and plot both pulled the story along.

One of the marvelous things about this book is that Roshani Chokshi manages to craft a beautiful world and make if feel full, while also giving the impression that what the reader is experiencing is only the tip of the iceberg. The world was my favourite part of The Star-Touched Queen, and remained among my favourite things as I read A Crown of Wishes.

The characters were stronger for me in this one than the first book- they were both vivid and compelling, and weren't overshadowed by the stunning backdrop that the world provided. They're interesting in that their goals aren't unrelated and they have a lot of shared character traits, despite being very different people. This story is told from multiple points of view: Gauri's first person POV, and a third person viewpoint. I enjoyed reading both their personal journeys and the development of their relationship.

Overall, this was wonderful read! The world Roshani Chokshi describes is vivid and magical, and I was thrilled to see it again, especially through the eyes of an intriguing cast of characters.