The Last City of America by Matthew Tysz

This review was originally posted on Online Book Club, and the original review can be found here.

In The Last City of America, a virus has rendered most of the human race sterile, leading to widespread panic and chaos. The United States government has been disassembled and the Seven Cities of America, where corruption and oppression run deep, were established. Meanwhile, the secretive Rush University in Chicago, the birthplace of the original Hephaestus virus, has been working to further scientific advancement and destroy what’s left of humanity.

This book is macabre and depressing. In fiction, the villain is rarely out to ruin the world just for the sake of ruining it. They’re usually vengeful and angry, or they think that they’re doing something terrible that will eventually pay off in some great gain. Not in this book. The people in power in this novel are just crazy and they enjoy manipulating and ruining lives for the funsies. And while we’re talking about characters, it’s important to talk about how female characters are represented in the novel. There are few female characters, and none of them have any ambition. They’re placed as plot points to further the ambitions of the men in the novel. Language used to discuss these women is disgusting and gives me the heebie-jeebies. These women need to be fleshed out as full characters and less objectified in order to work.

Little effort is made at world-building. The reader is dropped into the Seven Cities with very few contextual clues as to the history and customs of this new post-apocalyptic world. The author does have a good understanding of long-term story development. Pacing is not usually the strongest skill in debut authors, but this author’s ability to effectively establish and follow the pace kept it moving along. I’m not usually a fan of point of view changes or the short chapters (think Dan Brown style), but it was an important tool in this story because of the geographic diversity and number of significant players.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars because it’s a decent story and the pacing is good, but I need more in terms of character fleshing and world-building.

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Becoming the Dragon by Alex Sapegin

Becoming the Dragon by Alex Sapegin, is the first novel in a fantasy series. When Andy was younger, he was struck by lightning. Now he can’t get anywhere near technology without it failing to work. That’s my theory about why his father’s teleportation device transported him to another world. In this other world, he is captured and tortured, but he also befriends a powerful dragon who, when Andy is mortally wounded, helps him be reborn as a dragon.

The writing was just confusing, but I don’t think it was the translation. The translation was actually handled really well; grammatically, everything made sense and the writing style was eloquent, but nothing made sense in terms of actual events and dialogue. For example, near the beginning of the story we find out that Andy’s dad works on a government project to build a teleportation device. I was not only surprised that Andy knew about his dad’s super secret, classified government project, but the internal dialogue he when he was transported someplace unfamiliar by accident was almost entirely non-sequitur. Things that were said didn’t fit well with events happening, so I had to read things multiple times to try and piece together what point the author was trying to make.

This author broke up the story too much with the star breaks. There was a set of stars at least every three pages. If you’re using that many breaks, you likely should consider adding more events to a certain time point, or not cutting to a different character. For example, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with the scene with Andy’s father at work. Leave your audience in the same position Andy is, wondering what happened. It could have been explained with more effect if it had been saved for later in the story, and it would have reduced the number of breaks and point of view changes that pull readers out of a story.

I like Andy a lot. Except for the fact that he’s good at everything (which is annoying), he’s relatable. He likes to frustrate people who deserve to be frustrated and his meltdown in the forest is almost exactly how I would react to the situation. His love for his family is also admirable. On that note, I wish we had spent more time with Andy than switching POVs. Switching back and forth is distracting, but also keeping readers in the dark about things going on elsewhere in the novel can be more powerful for building suspense.

I rate Becoming the Dragon 2 out of 5 stars. This story would be okay for younger teens or older children. It’s not quite complex enough for a YA designation, but the characters may be too old and the vocabulary too advanced for younger children to relate to. I didn’t enjoy the story mostly because it didn’t make sense most of the time. While there were few technical errors, there were many non-sequitur moments that made this story hard to follow. The story also had pacing problems and I don’t like changes in point of view. Some redeeming qualities were the likability of characters and the amount of fun the premise of the story is.

This review was originally published on Online Book Club and can be viewed here.

Superhighway by Alex Fayman

Superhighway is the story of orphan Alex who discovered his strange ability to travel through the Internet. He can Google the location, grasp a fiber optic internet cable and the next thing he knows, he’s there. He uses this strange power to act as a modern day Robin Hood, stealing from rich mobsters to gift to those in need. Along the way, Alex, the nerdy, orphan boy learns more about himself and his past. I give this book 2 out of 5 stars. It wasn’t an outstanding book, and was difficult to get through at times, but the storyline itself is original, and it had its fun moments.

The opening chapter was really off-putting. It was in medias res, which is usually a compelling way to start a story, but there simply wasn’t enough information about the character or his history or where he’s headed for it to have made sense. Additionally, the writing style is a little heard to get through, especially at first. It’s not technically wrong, but it’s clunky and clear the author is much more comfortable in an expository mode. When there are action moments, they’re rushed and incomplete.

His confidence in his abilities throughout the entire story is strange. Usually when someone is newly introduced to a power, they’re confused. And his lack of confusion doesn’t make Alex seem macho, just weird. Additionally, his characterization is inconsistent. In the arm parts of the novel, Alex is described as anti-social, nerdy and a book-worm. When he travels, suddenly he’s turned into a hunky habitual runner? I don’t believe it. Finally, every time he speaks about women disgusts me. His objectification is gross and his unearned confidence in himself is off-putting.

A sense of familiarity is not a bad thing. Alex didn’t need to leave the orphanage, and he didn’t need to do it when he chose to or the way that he chose to. Giving him a familiar home-base is good for humanizing him and helping the reader feel comfortable. I get it, the orphanage sucks. But the lady there is the only family Alex has ever had. That’s the only home Alex has ever known. Even when he lived there, he wasn’t disdainful, so it makes no sense that he became so bitter and left when he did. Not only is this problematic for Alex, who I already don’t like. But it’s problematic for the reader, too. Missing home is relatable, which is something Alex sorely needs in order to be a more fleshed out character. If you ever read a well known sci-fi novel, they learn massive truths about themselves and the world, but they almost always have a home to miss and go back to.

The author tried to be subtle with the foreshadowing, but it was thinly veiled and often pulled the reader out of the story. The author’s ability to build-up to any climactic moments could also be improved. There were also a lot of random side adventures that didn’t really add to the story, and it’s hard to build up to those small side-plots. It was clear they were meant for exposition, and they really were boring and made any build up to the actual climax less effective. Finally, the dialogue was poor. There was nothing wrong with it technically, but it was clunky and uncomfortable to read. The author should consider using contractions or fewer words in the future.

This review was originally written for Online Book Club and can be viewed here.

Solaris Seethes by Janet McNulty

Rynah’s world has been destroyed. Literally. And by her boyfriend. He stole the crystal that stabilized magnetic field on their planet, unleashing volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, storms and general apocalyptic chaos. In Solaris Seethes, Rynah is on a mission to beat her boyfriend to the other 5 crystals that exist on different worlds and prevent him from creating a dangerous weapon from the powerful objects. To do so, she’ll need the help of four Earthens, who she picks up with the help of her sentient ship, Solaris. I gave this book 1 out of 5 stars for issues related to writing style, pacing and character development.

The author is really wordy. And wordiness isn’t always a bad thing, but the word choice is often really strange. Using words like ‘heliotrope’ doesn’t help anyone understand what’s going on, it just makes them stop reading to check their dictionary. Additionally, so many of the sentences are run on, including unnecessary information that pulled the audience out of the story. This contributed significantly to the existing pacing problem.

Pacing was a real struggle. My reaction right from the beginning: what is going on? We open, and there’s no set-up and no given information. The audience is thrown face first into a firefight. This trend is pretty consistent throughout the story too. It’s normal for an ensemble cast to get in a lot of little messes like this crew does, but there is rarely any form of rising action to it. They go someplace. Suddenly there is trouble. The trouble is resolved just as suddenly. They move on. And in the interest of long-term pacing (like you’re looking for in a series), fewer climax points are more effective when it comes to audience impact.

When you’re writing sci-fi, there’s going to be a lot of exposition. You want to build a world, and you want that world-building to not pull the audience out of the story. For that reason, it’s often useful to have the main character act as the audience. The main character should be dropped into the middle of a new world (like the audience is) and needs the world explained to them by another leading character. The author doesn’t do that here; instead the story is primarily told in 3rd person with a focus on Rynah and what she already knows. This makes Rynah come off poorly. She feels like a cold know-it-all instead of a leader we actually want to empathize with.

On the topic of Rynah, she keeps doing this thing where she’s a sh*t, and then she’s scolded by Solaris, and then she doesn’t change anyway, so there was no point to the scolding. It makes her an uninteresting character and her lack of development through the story is really boring. Actually all of the characters lack development. They never learn anything or change as a result of anything. They all feel flat as a result, and nobody can relate to that. I like the story line, even if I don’t like the characters. I liked watching Rynah come to terms with the fact that all of her myths were the same as Earthen myths. That theme was pretty consistent and will likely play a role later. However, I feel like it’s worth pointing out that Hercules is a Roman myth, not a Greek myth. Heracles was the Greek version of the myth.

This review was originally published on Online Book Club and can be viewed here.

Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

 

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Freya is twenty-third (you heard right, 23rd) in line for the throne.  Tragedy strikes during a party that the current king was hosting and the whole line of succession before her is wiped out.  Suddenly, Freya is queen and insistent on finding the killer.  Oh and shes an inventor on the side.

 

The character development was nice to see in this book.  When we first meet Freya, she wants nothing to do with the ruling the kingdom or even going to the kings extravagant parties.  In fact, she would rather hole herself up in her make-do basement laboratory.  However, after she becomes queen and realizes the amount of debt the kingdom is in, she immediately starts thinking of new ways to fix their growing debt.  We also see that she is a compassionate ruler, after learning the town is being taxed for ridiculous reasons.

She goes from a timid character, letting her advisors do most of the work while she merely sits by and nods her head, to an outspoken queen who wants nothing in return other than knowing her kingdom is happy.

The mystery of who killed the line of succession is kept a secret very well.  I am impressed with how exceedingly difficult it was to figure out who the culprit is.  We also get to a look into basic chemistry whenever Freya conducts her expirements.

The small amount of romance is just that, small.  It doesn’t overwhelm the book, and it isn’t lacking either.   Fitzroy, who is the deceased kings bastard son, gets roped into helping Freya figure out who killed his father.  There is a bit of distrust in the two and Freya soon starts to trust Fitzroy with more than just information.   And Freya meets Madeline, who is her successor.

We know that Freya is a decent detective with all the information she throws at us.  She finds the back story and makes sure to make sure its a solid alibi before crossing any names off of a list.

I enjoyed this book.  It was definitely a good read for me.

  • 4/5 Stars
  • Mysterious and romantic
  • Great character development
  • Decent plot
  • Definitely recommended.

Frostblood by Elly Blake

Frostblood is Blake’s debut novel.

Frostbloods and firebloods are natural enemies in this world.  The king is being controlled by an evil entity called the Minax.  However the king is a frostblood with a vendetta to kill all of the firebloods in his hunt to find the Daughter of Darkness.

Ruby is a fireblood livng in a small village with her healer mother when the soldiers of the king raided the village and taking Ruby prisoner.  For half a year, Ruby is held prisoner until a handful of frostblood refugees break her out.  Confused, Ruby reluctantly agrees to go with and help the refugees destroy the throne, which wields the darkness, controlling the king.  Arcus and Brother Thistle, frostblood refugees, help Ruby control and master her fire.  However, some of the other refugees come to find out that Brother Thistle and Arcus are housing a fireblood.  Most of the residents are very iffy about Ruby putting their safety in danger.

Ruby is taken prisoner again but this time taken to the palace to be held prisoner.  She is forced to fight for her life against frostblood champions to get close to the king.  The king has his suspicion that Ruby is the Daughter of Darkness that he has been searching for.  Wishing to take Ruby as an ally, King Rasmus tried to convince her with the Minax’s help, they could rule the kingdom with an iron fist.  Arcus then storms the kingdom with this followers, claiming he is the rightful king Arelius Arkanus.

This is a page turner, however it is predictable.  Arcus turning out to be Rasmus’s elder brother, thought to have died in a fire, comes out of no where to claim his throne.

Ruby is a weak teenager who doesn’t know how to control her gift, or even summon it unless she is mad.  She is afraid throughout most of the book to even summon her fire, which grew irritating, especially when Arcus would taunt Ruby. Towards the end of the book she learned how to use her fire to kill the frostblood champions she was going against, which drew the Minax towards her even more.

Blake does a phenomenal job describing scenes and how the characters look in her head.  Arcus’s face is burned and scarred due to an assassination attempt on his life when he was young.  Brother Thistle took Arcus  under his wing when he was banished from the kingdom.  Blake made sure to leave no loose ends in this novel, leaving me satisfied with finishing it.  However, the predictability of the book is a bit of an upset.

The character development was meager.  There was little improve on Ruby throughout the story.  She was just as scared at the beginning as she was in the ending.  She never seemed to be brave, just a poor forced soul that went along with the plan unwillingly.

  • 3/5
  • Decent read, although slightly predictable
  • Little character development
  • Some romance 


Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval is one of the most anticipated books for 2017 and I’m so glad I got a copy so early!

Scarlett and Tella are forbidden to leave the small island that they live on with their ruthless father.  When she was little, Scarlett dreamed of Caraval coming to their island, where the audience takes part in the performance.  Their father arranges a marriage for Scarlett with a man she has never met.  A mysterious sailor comes and whisks the two girls away for a five night escapade, where Tella is the prize.

Scarlett starts out following all the rules, because if she doesn’t her father would beat up on the person she loves the most, Tella.  After their invitation to Caraval arrives we stumble across a sailor who has a thing for Tella.  Scarlett tells her sister that Caraval is performing on a close island in a couple days.  However, Scarlett is supposed to meet her fiance in a week.  Scarlett determines that they will not be able to go to the show with enough time to make it back to meet her fiance.

Scarlett starts out as a character who abides by the rules that are set to stay out of any unnecessary trouble.  However during the five days she is in Caraval she learns she needs to break a few rules to get the prize.  She grows more confident in herself and in her own opinions.  The character development was very well thought out and portrayed as the book progressed.  Scarlett breaks out of her shell.  She goes from slightly timid and shy to strong, demanding, and determined.

Julian, the sailor, is a mass of mystery.  Throughout the book he disappears many times and leaves Scarlett on her own.  He claims he’s been through the game before and is looking for revenge against Legend, the caraval master.  He definitely gives off the definition of mysterious.  Garber defines him as tall, tan, and handsome.  But really, who describes their characters as pale and ugly, other than Stephanie Meyers.

Julian and Scarlett’s relationship remains pretty rocky throughout most of the book.  Most of the time, you can tell there is something between them but neither of them want to admit to such feelings.

We don’t see much of Tella throughout the book because she is the prize.  But she comes off at first as very coy.  At the end of the book it is revealed how manipulative AND coy she is.

The plot left very few loose ends, except for the cliff hanger at the end.  All off the plot twists made sense and they were well thought out.  The clues that were left for the character to figure out were not easily predicted.

  • 5/5
  • Very well written
  • Read it!
  • Interesting plot and characters.