Posts Tagged ‘Skip’

It took me a few weeks to come to terms with this novel, but I finally did and this is what I decided: despite the hype about Station Eleven, or perhaps because of the hype, the book turned out to be a huge disappointment for me.

About :

It starts off brilliantly with an actor’s onstage death that, while seeming both tragic and horrible to the cast and fans, also feels right—this is an elderly actor, surrounded by his favorite people, doing his favorite thing amidst the glorious fanfare of playing King Lear, dying a completely natural death. Sad, but, in a sense, also normal and even enviable. The way a person wants to die. (This scene made me want to go pick up King Lear, immediately, which is a bonus. I love being inspired to read classics by reading modern books.)

Then, as the acting cast meets afterwards in a bar to take in the death of their lead, we get this line:

Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on a road out of the city.”

Whoa, what!? This compelling line introduces the coming apocalypse—which, we soon learn, will be in the form of an epidemic that causes collapse of human civilization. The actor’s death is indeed a happy mercy in comparison. The perfect prose sets up the drama of this revelation perfectly.

Unfortunately, the prose is the only thing I enjoyed about the rest of the book. My interest died fairly soon after that amazing intro, after which we find ourselves following a cast of narrators connected in distant and basically meaningless ways. The revelations about those character connections are supposed to somehow give the novel structure, but the strategy doesn’t really work. It just reads like a bunch of character sketches set against a relatively static “post-apocalyptic” background. We see the fall of humanity through the eyes of these characters, which is sort of interesting, but…

Thoughts :

For me, two problems killed the character-driven premise of “examining the individual and collective human response to apocalypse.”

First of all, the cast is boring, completely average and largely unchanging. These are normal people who make huge mistakes, but never redeem themselves. The two characters who do change only do so in flashbacks: the actor, imo the least sympathetic character, and the vaguely-Protestant-sounding cult leader. Although Mandel attempts to give the story structure by following the arcs of the actor and the cult leader, both are snoozeworthy. I’ve read so much more interesting and illuminating portrayals of religious nutsos (see Hazel Motes in Wiseblood or St. John Rivers in Jane Eyre or even Kelsier in Mistborn!), so this kind of religious stereotype completely bores me.

Second, Mandel wrote Station Eleven almost entirely from the viewpoint of non-religious peoples of European descent. A little more diversity would have gone a long way toward creating a more compelling cast. The lack of sane religious people in particular seems like an odd disparity in a post-apocalyptic population. So, in regards to religious people, either: (1) ALL of them are nuts; (2) ALL the sane ones died already; or (3) ALL the sane ones were raptured!

‘What about the post-apocalyptic setting?’ you may be wondering. Well…it’s largely static, like the characters, unfortunately. [Highlight to view SPOILER: After the initial fall, we just see everything collapse again and again through the eyes of the cast, and that’s where it stays. Nothing else happens, no clues about the future. Maybe that’s what Mandel is saying: the future remains static forever. I guess you could interpret it that way, but it’s boring and relatively hopeless and in conjunction with everything else I didn’t like about this story? MEH. ]

To end on a high point: several members of the cast belong to a troupe of Shakespearean actors traveling through the wasteland, and Mandel uses them to share the redeeming power of story. I enjoyed that theme, even if it is apparently the exclusive source of meaning and hope characters find in the world of this novel (which is just silly. I love my books, but I don’t base my identity and hope in them, and I certainly wouldn’t do so in the case of an apocalypse. That, in addition to the apparent Theophobia??, made it difficult for me to find myself anywhere in this novel). Still, imaginary bonus points for the lit love.

Overall :

Dull, dull, dull. I’ve read literary fiction that accomplishes all of this with far greater success, so I really don’t understand why people loved this one. There’s just such better stuff out there. For a much more compelling character-driven and literary post-apocalyptic novel, I would recommend Arslan by M. J. Engh. Happily, I just reviewed it two days ago and it’s fresh enough that I’ll guarantee a much more thoughtful reading experience than Station Eleven can provide. Still not much plot, but the characters are way more interesting PLUS they’re unreliable narrators, which, I mean, bonus points, right?

So I gave Station Eleven 1 star for the prose, 1 star for the terrific intro and a half a star for a half-way decent cast. But I rounded down because I was so disappointed.

2.5/5 STARS

Recommended To:

If you super-love post-apocalyptic fiction, you might still enjoy Station Eleven, especially since it’s so mainstream and popular now. It will likely come up in conversations about literary sci-fi, and sometimes it’s just fun to take part in a popular sci-fi fandom. My library is giving away free copies of it this year for the Big Read, which is really a big deal for a science fiction novel!

Station Eleven is adult post-apocalyptic science fiction authored by Emily St. John Mandel and published September 9th 2014 by Knopf. Hardcover, 336 pages. The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors.

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gildedcage

“Understanding slid into Luke’s brain and lodged its sharp point there…

‘We’re all going to do our slavedays.’

About :

Luke and Abigail Hadley live like normal teenagers all over Britain until their parents suddenly commit the whole family to their “slave days.” Every British commoner is forced to devote 10 years of service to the magically “Skilled” elite class that rules over Britain, a caste known as the “Equals.” At least the Hadleys manage to score a cushy group deal: all five will serve the richy rich Jardine family on their legendary estate of Kyneston.

At least, that’s what they’re told.

But when the bus arrives, Luke gets marked as “surplus” and sent instead to Millmoor, “Manchester’s filthy, unforgiving slavetown.”

Because in a “state of non-legal personhood,” you have no rights.

You are now chattels of the state.”

Gilded Cage was authored by Vic James and will be published February 14th 2017 by Del Rey Books.

Thoughts :

I requested Gilded Cage mainly hoping to read about the cool “Dark Gifts” of the series title (and based on Vic James’ exciting bio). But the meat of the first 50% focuses instead on the challenges you might find in a British drama. Maybe more like Downtown Abbey? With cruel lords and ladies making life miserable for their butlers, maids and slaves. (I haven’t actually seen much Downtown Abbey, as I don’t watch a lot of tv beyond Cops and 48 Hours, so this guess could be somewhat off.*) The publisher is clearly marketing the book to people who enjoy this sort of story, and I think the target audience would enjoy it more than I did.

I read to 50% before deciding to set it aside.

Why DNF?

The title Gilded Cage perfectly encapsulates the majority of narrative perspectives in this book: Abigail Hadley tells us of life Kyneston; her new masters, the Jardine men, also share their perspectives with us in the first 50%. The “Gilded Cage” refers mainly to a magical wall that surrounds the Kyneston estate, keeping slaves locked inside, although it may also refer to the British society at large that cages its commoners into servitude. So we spend a lot of time in this cage, reading the thoughts of both captors and captives.

This is unfortunate for two reasons: (1) The Jardine men are a largely despicable lot, and (2) Abi’s plot mainly consists of developing feelings for one of them. The plot summary suggests more to her plot, later in the book—she discovers the Jardine family secret and must decide whether to reveal it or not—but I didn’t get that far because I just couldn’t get into the story. The focus stays mainly on domestic and political troubles rather than magical, during the first half, and I had a feeling the focus wasn’t going to change.

But my main problems with Gilded Cage relate to the characters. First of all, I thought there were too many narrators for such a short novel. The first 50% cycles through enough narrators that I don’t remember who they were or how many I met. More importantly, none of the characters feel like authentic people (with the bare exception of Abigail, who feels like a legitimately moony teenaged girl). The Jardine men especially fell flat for me. I had a difficult time buying Silyen’s antisocial brilliance and everyone’s fear of The Young Master. I especially couldn’t believe that the violently angry Gavar cared most in the world about his baby daughter. No amount of Gavar’s POV could convince me of that, after he shot the mother while she held the child in her arms during the prologue. No caring father would do that. The unrealistic psychology and motivations of the Jardine men left me bored and unconvinced.

Luke Hadley is also unfortunately a very wooden character, although his scenes in the slave town of Millmoor are the most exciting to read. Luke takes part in a slave rebellion, and I enjoyed the action scenes in his perspective. Little things in his perspective did make the narrative lose credibility, though, such as when one character gets harnessed up and steps straight off a rooftop, instead of carefully lowering herself down. Ouch! That would give you quite a jolt and likely smash you into the side of the building. I would definitely not recommend doing it thataway.

Overall :

Unfortunately, Gilded Cage doesn’t appeal to the “Fantasy,” “Alternate History” or “British Mystery” parts of me and I couldn’t get into the characters. Very little surprised or interested me about the first 50%. The author focused on Abi’s romantic ambitions or the proceedings of the court of cruel lords when I was hoping for something more magical.

Recommended To :

Readers who like both YA and British dramas. From what the positive reviews are saying, readers appeared to most enjoy the “Britishness” of it. It does feel very British. Lots of class warfare. I can see the Dickensian influence, as another positive review remarked—but only in the class structure and relations. That particular comparison makes me a feel a little sick; Dickens is known for his characterization and this book has terribly un-lifelike characters.

Thank you so much to Vic James, Del Rey and Netgalley for this e-galley!

*In the comments, Maddalena @ Space and Sorcery kindly corrected my misconception about Downtown Abbey: apparently the house staff doesn’t get abused, which is a relief!

the-eterna-filesIt’s 1882 and an American research group is working to discover the secret to immortality. They’re finally making progress on what they’ve named the “Eterna” compound when an otherworldly force kills the lot of them.

But that won’t stop Queen Victoria, in London, from capitalizing on their work. She employs her own research team, Special Branch Division Omega, to find out what the Americans discovered and to succeed where they failed. Skeptic Harold Spire of the London Police force is assigned to the case by the queen herself, along with Rose Everhardt, who becomes Spire’s chief researcher.

Meanwhile, the Americans investigate the mysterious deaths of the research team. Clara Templeton, whose lover numbered among the dead, won’t rest until she gets answers.

Published February 3rd 2015 by Tor Books.

Thoughts :

I won this book—plus its sequel and another book by Leanna Renee Hieber—in a giveaway on Tor’s book blog. What a nice package! Thanks so much to Tor. I hardly had to look beyond Hieber’s impressive resume before knowing, just knowing I would love this book. The idea is sooo cool.

Unfortunately, it’s just not working out for me.

DNF AT 1/3 MARK

I hate to DNF any book, especially the first in a series or the first of an author new to me; but by page 105, I had read enough of The Eterna Files to know I wasn’t going to enjoy the book. And just to make sure, I read several detailed reviews of both this book and book II and decided I was right to go with my instinct to DNF.

Why DNF? :

The characters are the root cause of my problems with this book. The three or four narrators all sound exactly the same, to me. With the exception of Harold Spire, I can barely tell them apart—even the ones on separate continents—and I don’t like any of them anyway. While reading the first fifty pages, I kept thinking Clara and Sarah (er, I mean…what was her name? Rose, right) were the same woman. “But how does she keep getting back and forth to each continent?” I kept wondering. “And whoa—this American outcast is employed by Queen Victoria?!” You can see why this confusion might put a damper on my reading experience.

Part of the reason the characters all sound the same is because they all—including the males—mentally note the handsomeness of other men or complain about corsets and other social constraints on women. Keep in mind that this is a male narrating:

“‘Maybe that’s what this life is for!’ Clara said with a hollow laugh, hoisting up her skirts and jumping from the deck onto the dock, never letting feminine finery get in the way of an active spirit no matter how much the fashion of the age tried to limit her sex.” (56).

Does that sound like a guy to you? A Victorian guy? Heavy-handed condemnations of female oppression crop up multiple times throughout the first third of the book. It’s not that I disagree; it just gets old.

Aside from the characters, the handling of homosexuality—which was obviously very controversial at the time—doesn’t appeal to me. A gay woman character remarks, with a “winning” smile, to a clearly heterosexual and much younger woman,

“And don’t worry, if it’s a concern, I don’t seduce coworkers.”

I mean, good for you? Seriously, that would be sexual harassment. I don’t excuse sexual harassment just because you’re socially oppressed. This weird and uncomfortable humor didn’t help me warm up to the characters at all.

Beyond these concerns, I was also bored. The 100+ pages I read never sparked an interest in me. The narrative lacked tension and suspense.

Basically, the book underwhelms. I just didn’t feel like I was in the hands of a master storyteller and the mystery quickly lost interest, for me.

If you want to read a review from someone who actually finished the book, check out Mogsy’s great review over at The Bibliosanctum. (Seriously, go check it out. It’s one of my favorite blogs!)

Recommendations :

Other reviewers have been generous enough to say that The Eterna Files might appeal to a certain type of reader. It might. I’m not sure. If it sounds interesting to you, by all means give the first 100 pages a sniff and see if it might be up your alley. You should be able to tell fairly quickly if the style works for you or not. But I would recommend The Parasol Protectorate series over this book; Soulless is a much more fun example of Victorian fantasy. I do have my eye on one of the other books from the Tor giveaway, Hieber’s The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, which just sounds amazing. I know, I know, The Eterna Files did too, but I can’t resist the all these awards, can I?

Anyway, all three of the giveaway books are now on the shelves of my local library, so I expect plenty of readers to find and enjoy them. In fact, one man already told me he enjoyed The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker!

Premise :

Ramagar, the self-styled Thief of Kalimar, and his partner Mariana, accompany a mysterious stranger on a quest to free the land of Speca from its dread conquerors.

About :

This is an older book, originally published in 1979; but Endeavor Press is republishing it, along with several other books by the author, Graham Diamond, whose book The Haven apparently has a cult following.

I confess to some confusion about why Endeavor republished this one. I think a lot of men must have read and enjoyed it as youngsters (which I gather by reading the Amazon reviews, not through Goodreads where the current overall rating is a rather low 3.22), so perhaps Endeavor expects these nostalgic readers to buy copies for old times’ sake. Fortunately or unfortunately, stories and storytelling have changed a lot since 1979, and this book had little staying power, at least to my tastes.

I enjoyed the first half of this book quite a bit more than the latter half, even though none of it is really “my style” (by which I mean, “has a fast-moving, but character-driven plot and atmospheric prose”). In the beginning, the middle-eastern feel attracted me, and I found myself subconsciously nabbing books about Sindbad and Aladdin from library shelves.

But when the story leaves Kalimar for the north, all the charm stays behind. Soon after that point (perhaps some 15% later), the cardboard characters and the predictable plot got the better of my patience and I gave up reading this one.

DNF at 61%. Why?

The Characters :

They have no personal ambitions; or, when they do have personal ambitions, the plot quickly overpowers them. They also have no consistent personalities—they all hang their heads, sneer coldly, nod gravely and purse their lips in grim smiles. Needless to say, I couldn’t, could not connect with them.

I’m also not sure why this book is titled “The Thief of Kalimar,” since it’s really more about “The Prince of Speca.” (Except, of course, because the former title sounds way more epic and eastern. But the plot revolves around the prince’s agenda, not the thief’s, so the title doesn’t makes sense to me.) Perhaps the final 39% would have enlightened me, but even that (not so) compelling question won’t convince me to finish this one.

The Plot :

It was fun, at first. The heroes mentally and physically overcome a few entertaining obstacles, such as swimming through waist-high sewage; they also outwit a few clever antagonists, such as a terrifying and warlike race of baboons and a bevy of soldiers who, thankfully, do not have the benefit of fingerprint criminal databases.

But after about 50%, I lost interest. The “planning” sessions always go like this: someone suggests a “crazy!” plan; everyone pelts him with baboon poop; the man with the plan points out x, y & z, which clearly make the plan necessary; everyone else grudgingly agrees. I mean, if it were a bit…cleverer…I might still enjoy these scenes. But it was too formulaic to keep me interested.

Other Complaints Because I Spent Hours Reading This Thing :

(1) The new cover does not fit at all. (2) I would have like a map. (Maybe the finished version has one?) (3) Feminists, you will hate this book. Don’t even try it. (4) “Over the low wall jumped Ramagar, thief of thieves.” This is an actual sentence from the book. And I respond, “At the book laughed Christy, reviewer of doom!”

Overall :

The first half has some nice moments and adventures, but everything goes downhill in the second. I can’t imagine that anyone who has read much fantasy would find this book very interesting. Although…it’s actually not at all inappropriate for children and teens. It might be a bit long for the MG crowd, but if those Amazon reviewers are any indication, boy readers might eat this book up.

Read at your own risk.

1.5/5 STARS

Split_the_Sun

Premise:

We killed all independent planets outside house borders by extracting fuel from their cores. And once we burn through all the garnered energy, where do we think the next batch will come from? Right now, planets on the Brink are rationed down to five hours of energy a day, while here we gawk at nonstop ad-screens and control the temperature outside.

House Galton has a rebellion on its hands: citizens from independent planets want revenge on Galton’s empire for destroying their planets to steal energy for wasteful consumption. Unfortunately for Kreslyn “Kit” Franks, the Enactors think she’s involved in the rebellion. But unlike Kit’s mother, a terrorist who blew up the nation’s digital core, Kit herself was never involved in the rebellion. She just wants to survive the fallout. That becomes more difficult as her mother’s terrorism continues, and everyone looks to Kit for a solution she doesn’t have…or does she? YA Sci-Fi, Romance. Will be published December 6, 2016. Thanks to Tessa Elwood, Running Press & Netgalley for providing me with an eARC of Split the Sun.

That sounds like a cool premise, right?

What I Liked:

(1) The cover. Isn’t it gorgeous?

Splithesun

(2) The worldbuilding of book II was much improved over book I; although there was less emphasis on politics, until the very end, the author brings some texture to the blank slate of book I’s intergalactic milieu. (3) The premise. It’s a cool idea.

The Problem:

The premise was buried in distractions and I spent most of the first 70% trying and failing to decipher a plot line. I didn’t understand, for most of the book, that the real conflict came from energy politics.

Most of the conflict appeared to come from two places: Kit’s family dispute over the basic essentials of living off the streets—money, housing and drugs; and the romantic tension between her and Niles, a mysterious neighbor boy who won’t leave her alone, even as Kit says (over and over again) that she wants him to. Neither of these conflicts was very interesting and I couldn’t decipher the plot through their distractions. As a result, I was bored, confused and irritated throughout most of the book.

Let’s talk about Kit, for a minute. I liked her, at times. Case in point, her snark, exemplified here in her description of her apartment building:

“I swear something died in the elevators once, and you can always spot visitors by who hits the call button.”

She’s a tough, scrappy girl, eking out a living and caring for a thankless family. Her humor adds lightness to the heavy setting and tension.

But I didn’t enjoy being in her head. Her prickly, dark personality makes her difficult to get along with, even for the kind people in her life (few and far between though they are). Here’s a normal conversation between Niles and Kit:

“‘So, how are your feet?’ ‘None of your business.’ ‘Are you bleeding anywhere else?’ ‘Why do you care?’ ‘Just making conversation.’ ‘Don’t.’”

Can you guess which one is Kit?

I also found myself bored, reading from her perspective. In her plot arc, she’s a constant victim of other people’s avarice, instead of a proactive agent for positive change (like Asa Fane was, in book I, Inherit the Stars). During the first 70%, Kit doesn’t engage the real problem of the book—she avoids it; and it’s hard to root for her, if she’s not working on the problem and illuminating the clues for the reader.

I think the author withheld secrets (like the purpose of Kit’s mother’s terrorism) to keep readers wondering, in suspense, “Who is really the antagonist, here? Kit’s mom? The gang of goony kids who chase Kit around the city? [Highlight to read spoiler: The author doesn’t reveal until much later that these are the energy rebels.] The Enactors?”

Unfortunately, the lack of information left me in confusion, not in suspense. Kit wasn’t chasing “other” bad guys who turned out to be benign, or something like that; she was just trying to survive, which was completely unrelated to the real plot. As a result, her actions during the first 70% felt inconsequential and the pace felt like it dragged.

The last 30% of the book was a marked improvement, in my reading experience. All of a sudden, clues were making sense and I was much less frustrated. One of my favorite moments in the book was discovering the true identity of the philosopher Gilken.

But this book had so many problems, I would have DNFd it, if it wasn’t my very first Netgalley arc: I didn’t get the answers I was hoping for, after the cliff-hanger of book I; the prose didn’t improve much, if at all; and this sequel lacked the speed, tension and drive of book I.

Recommendation:

Book I, with its quick pacing, complex milieu politics and proactive, sympathetic protagonists might still be worth reading, since these books are standalones; but I recommend skipping book II.

*1/5 STARS 

City_of_BonesCity_of_AshesCity_of_glasscity_of_Fallen_Angels

This is a review of Books I-IV. Series unfinished.

Premise: Fifteen-year-old Clary finds herself launched into an urban-fantasy version of NYC when she witnesses the murder of a demon–by demonhunters.

Thoughts: I like a lot of the wordbuilding and mythology of this series. I LOVE SIMON.

But I don’t care for the City of Bones series. I wanted to like it, but I can’t finish it, even on audio. (It doesn’t help that I disliked the voice and style of the audiobook narrator of #5 City of Lost Souls, the book I tried to begin again with. Molly C. Quinn makes a melodramatic series sound even more melodramatic.)

This is one of those series that tells me I’ve lost touch with the genre, just a little bit, because every teen girl I talk to loves it. Like, “Hey girl, what have you been readi-” “OMG CITY OF BONES IT’S THE BEST THING EVER AND BANE CHRONICLES I LOVE IT SO MUCH <3<3<3”

I liked it well enough at ages 18/19, but I stopped after book IV because the series became a drag as I lost interest. I won’t read six (very long) books for the love of one character.

A couple adult booktubers seem to love this series and I just don’t get it. It’s melodramatic and angsty- she bit her lip until it bled; he stayed up waiting until five am when exhaustion finally took its toll; all of the teenagers are skinny or gorgeous. Does no one else get tired of the cliches?

And also, I really don’t like Jace. Sorry girls! Too arrogant for me. My final complaint: there’s too much focus on how everybody looks. That really doesn’t matter to the story…

Recommendation: But like I said, I enjoyed the series well enough, as a teen. If you can get a teen reading it, go for it—the worldbuilding is really smart. The series just doesn’t appeal to adult me.

** 2/5 STARS

GatesThreadStone

About: When her beloved brother Reev disappears from the Labrynth of Ninurta, Kai sets out beyond the city walls to find him.

Why I Picked It Up: The cover and the blurb.

What I Liked: (1) First things first, the gorgeous cover! Holy cow! (2) At its good moments, I enjoyed this book. For example, the ending came as a total surprise! I love that.

Disappointments: Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of other good moments for me. No real commentary on life, humanity or politics. I always hope a YA novel will live up to the genre’s potential for those insightful little gems. This book is a debut, but I still had high hopes for it, since it garnered some good reviews on Goodreads. I think the good reviews must have been related to the worldbuilding, which I occasionally appreciated; or perhaps readers liked the love interest, with his sort of “sexy-and-experienced-but-inexplicably-shy?” bit. I think the main ill was a lack of dialogue. I feel like I didn’t get to know the characters much, especially Avan. He still felt like a stranger to me, by the end.

Reev was probably my favorite character, or maybe Mason (which is unfortunate, as I’m rooting for a losing cause, in Mason’s case). Kai was okay…just okay. Likewise, the plot was…okay. Just okay.

And that’s really all I have to say about the book. It was okay…just okay.

Overall & Recommendations: Not for me. I’m not really sure who it’s for, either, because I really thought it would be for me.

Book II?: The description sounds really cool (does the plot come into its own?) and the cover is even more gorgeous than that of the first book; but it’s not on my READ IMMEDIATELY!!!!! list because I picked up the first book for the exact same reasons. If someone reads it, let me know your thoughts!

** 2/5 STARS

Currently Reading: Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone