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.

Advertisements

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.

Feast by Hannah Howard

In Hannah Howard’s powerful memoir, she writes about her love affair with food. She writes about her tendency to hurt herself with food. Food fills an unfillable hole for Hannah, and when she doesn’t think she deserves to be hole, she deprives herself of it as a punishment. Hannah is open and honest about her experiences and she delivers one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read.

The writing in this novel is beautiful. She writes so descriptively, you can taste what the food Hannah is eating. Whether or not you’ve been through the things that Hannah’s been through, her thoughts and feelings are laid out so bare for the reader to see. It’s impossible not to empathize or relate. And for those who have been through something similar to what Hannah’s been through, she’s right. You feel so alone, until you realize that you aren’t alone, and then everything becomes about something so much bigger than you.

It’s so refreshing  to read a book featuring a person with an eating disorder that doesn’t end in the character having a starvation-induced, near-death dream sequence and realizing they want to live. The strength of Hannah’s story comes from her learning to love herself over time. Every thing she’s learned, every ounce of self-worth and perspective she’s gained, Hannah’s had to work for. That’s what’s so powerful about her story. That grit is the reason anyone who reads Hannah’s story should love it.

 

The Martian

Amazon Goodreads

Astronaut Mark Watney is the 18th man on Mars. He’s a member of the manned Mars mission Ares 3. Or he was, when the mission was aborted on Sol 6. After an accident during the crew’s unplanned departure, Watney is presumed dead and left alone on the desert planet. Many ordinary astronauts would have given up; the situation certainly seems hopeless. But Mark finds the will and resourcefulness he needs to keep fighting for survival.

 

I don’t feel bad if I spoil this for you. It’s a Matt Damon movie, and a damn good one. It also nearly follows the book to a T. Many of Watney’s clever one-liners even make it into the movie. If you haven’t seen it or read the book, you’re honestly missing out. 10/10 would recommend this story, in book or movie form.

Mark Watney’s voice is full of dry humor and life. He manages to maintain hope in a hopeless and dark situation. Like the psychology on staff in Weir’s NASA said, Mark’s response to extreme stress is to make light of the situation. Any time it feels like our hero is a goner, he cracks a joke, lightens the mood and then solves the problem. Watney is a protagonist in the most definitive sense of the word; he is the human we all want to be; kind, compassionate, intelligent. He’s forgiving and believes the best in humanity as whole. Even so, he’s not naive. He knows life isn’t fair, and he’s quick to point it out, usually involving some kind of humor, and moves on. My friends consider me to be one of the most cynical people they know, and I’d love to be a little more like Mark.

It’s initially very difficult to relate to the characters on the ground. Their voice isn’t as strong as Mark’s, so his story drowns theirs out. It’s not until they’re sure that Watney is alive and kicking that any of them develop any personality. Placed in contrast with Mark, some of these mere mortals come off as cowardly or selfish. They make questionable decisions and they fuck things up.

Finding Pathfinder was such an important step in this journey for a few reasons. 1) It established communication with NASA. This is very practical (now he can talk to the smarted people in the world. They might help him get out of this mess), but it’s also incredibly symbolic. Mark thought he was the only one who knew he was alive on Mars. Now he’s not alone. 2) It established just how resourceful Mark Watney is. Even the folks at NASA didn’t consider him finding Pathfinder until Watney figured it out. It’s the first time it makes you think, this man might make it out alive. 

Sure, this is a survival story. I could draw many parallels between The Martian and Life of Pi, or any other castaway story, really. But like Mark says at the end; he was never alone. His success and survival in this story hinged on the human tendency to help other people. Without thousands of people back on Earth working around the clock to save him, Mark would’ve never made it home. Without their unswerving determination that Mark Watney would not die alone on Mars, he would have. So yeah, this is an epic survival story. But the success belongs to the collective rather than one man whose life should’ve ended in a dust storm on a distant planet.

 

 

The Glass Spare by Lauren DeStefano

The Glass Spare by [DeStefano, Lauren]
AmazonGoodreads
You’re wind. You’re everywhere 

Wilhelmina Heidle is a princess. She is the third spare child of the king of the wealthiest nation, and she will never inherit the throne. Wil is a force to be reckoned with. Her greatest weapon is her anonymity. Rumors have the princess of Arrod sailing the seas or attending boarding school, but in reality Wil has been training with her older brother Owen and venturing into the slums of the capital city to retrieve chemicals for her other brother Gerdie. Her father sends her into the city to spy on his enemies and one day she hopes he’ll send her into the world.

When a deal goes wrong, Wil earns her first kill, and realizes her terrible power; any living thing she touches turns to gemstone. Soon after, tragedy strikes her family and she gets her wish. Her father banishes her, tells her that she’s cursed and if she ever returns to Arrod, he’ll kill her himself.

DeStefano, as always is original. Even when she’s appropriating a myth, like King Midas, her characters and settings are unique. Wil is not your average angry teenage protagonist. She’s connected to her family and relatively happy, relatively willing to ignore blatant injustice in her own kingdom, trusting that things will get better for her. Loom is not a revolutionary. He’s a boy who saw what was wrong with the kingdom he was meant to inherit, and he wanted to change something. His trust that Wil will make the same choice is refreshing.

So many will see Wil in themselves. Those struck with impossible wanderlust will see themselves in her need to get out and experience the world. Those who struggle with their own minds will appreciate the clear metaphor Wil’s curse is. Wil is proud and stubborn and fierce. Despite her belief that she is a monster, and time and again she makes personal sacrifices that prove otherwise.

I honestly had a difficult time writing this review, because the writing is so pretty and the premise is so interesting. But it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of development and memorability. It’s clearly setting up for a sequel, but in the process, it leaves many of the characters feeling flat and unrelatable. I’m excited to see where the rest of this series goes, but I was a little disappointed by The Glass Spare.