book cover of Derek Milman's Scream All Night
Derek Milman, Scream All Night

Milman, Derek — Scream All Night

Jacket-flap

Dario, the youngest son of an eccentric filmmaker, is forced to confront his childhood after his father’s death places him in charge of Moldavia Studios, the castle that serves as the set and home for Moldavia’s cast, crew, and B-horror productions. Dario’s new position puts him at odds with his older brother, Oren, who expected to take their father’s place, as Dario struggles to make a film that will rescue the sinking studio and all those who have built their lives inside Moldavia’s gates.

Probably a stand-alone.

book cover of Derek Milman's Scream All Night

What I Think

The writing is pretty good, the plot, setting and most of the characters are interesting. I wanted to like it. It’s just that the terrible pacing kind of ruined it for me. The first three-quarters drag while the last quarter flies by, mostly told rather than shown. That being said, the writing is good and the book as a whole is surprisingly likable.

Three out of four stars.

Continue reading “Milman, Derek — Scream All Night”

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book cover of Caryn Lix's Sanctuary
Caryn Lix, Sanctuary

Lix, Caryn — Sanctuary

Jacket-flap (or rather, an alternate version written by me)

Kenzie, a citizen of the Omnistellar corporation, works and lives aboard the space station Sanctuary, Omnistellar’s prison for adolescents with superpowers. During a routine drill, Kenzie is taken hostage by the prisoners of Level 5, who have escaped from their cells, and promptly falls into an aliens-on-the-spaceship survival plot with a heaping scoop of romance on the side.

First book in a series.

book cover of Caryn Lix's Sanctuary

What I Think

This is where I’ll talk about what I think without including spoilers.

This book was mediocre, but like many mediocre YA books, it had the potential to be so much more than it was. It could have been a cheesy B-movie space romp. It could have been a serious-toned, suspense-based horror story. It could have maintained its steam through the ending. But alas, it went for typical YA mashup between an invasive romance subplot and random-genre-of-the-week; in this case, aliens attackers IN SPAAAACE.

The real jacket flap talks about Kenzie’s mother, who is the commander on Sanctuary, and how she is dedicated to following protocol even if her daughter’s life is on the line, which sounds like a we-don’t-negotiate-with-terrorists type plot, but actually it’s only a minor part of the story at most. The hostage situation is never anything more than a front for getting Kenzie and the prisoners to team up in the face of the real plot: the aliens attacking the ship.

The “revelation” that comprise the midpoint of the story is predictable, as is most of the character interaction, and really the plot at large. Kenzie does have one major screw-up I didn’t see coming, but not only is it glossed over in the moment, any potential for it to impact the story is also squashed. I found the end decision predictable as well. The fact that everything is so predictable means there’s no real tension in the story, and the writing, while fairly good, is not great enough to carry the story on its own,  and as a consequence, the book is boring.

Two out of four stars.

Continue reading “Lix, Caryn — Sanctuary”

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Plan Going Forward

Hey, I’m back! For the first time since high school, I’ve posted a review on this blog. You’ll notice it’s very long. Almost 7,000 words worth of long. As it says in my updated ‘about’ section, I tend to write what I think of as long-form reviews, so my plan is to keep them as much as possible within the 4,000 to 6,000 word range.

Since they are so long, they take a long time to write, and it takes me a while to read a book in the first place. So I’ll only be posting occasionally. Once a month is the plan. My next post will be November 1st, a review of Sanctuary by Caryn Lix.

Continue reading “Plan Going Forward”

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#24 = SEA OF SHADOWS by Kelley Armstrong

What I liked:

1) the worldbuilding was intriguing and believable. their country (whose name I forgot, if it was in fact mentioned at all) has one religion and a caste system. the country next to them has a different religion, and its unclear what its social order is.

one of the castes is the warrior caste, which is pretty important. warriors get special arm tattoos, usually depicting the animal symbol of their clan. in theory, warriors are all honorable and stuff. in reality, they’re people. and people can be manipulative and judgy, as one of the characters, Gavril, learns firsthand in his background. his father was very important within the warrior ranks, but then he did some stuff and was sentenced to die in the Forest of the Dead (I’ll get back to this). Gavril had nothing to do with it, but people still treat him on behalf of his father. if they hated his father, they hate him. if they supported his father, then they very openly stand by him.

that’s one example of believable world-building, another is how the Seeker and Keeper are supposed to be treated vs how they actually are.

the Seeker and Keeper rank very highly within the caste system. supposedly, they out-caste just about everyone, with the exception of the emperor and perhaps his family. but in reality, its more complicated than that; things usually are, and I appreciate the realism.

what are the Seeker and Keeper, you ask? well, they are basically twin shamans who top the religious totem pole, at least in the mortal world. not so much on the spirits’ end of things. and when I say ‘twin,’ I mean twin. literally. every once in a rare while, twins are born. identical twins. if they pass a test, wherein they are bonded to special giant animals—a giant Wildcat and a giant Hound—then they are, in fact, the Seeker and Keeper. if not then they die. this is a medieval-type world, remember. anyway, the Seeker’s job is to, essentially, purify the spirits of the damned and release them to the afterlife. the Keeper’s job is to protect the Seeker, and the world at large, from the evil spirits.

this isn’t as impossible as it sounds, because all the spirits of the damned are kept in one place: the Forest of the Dead. it’s basically a forest that looks alive, but has no life in it, and is surrounded by a wall made of cooled lava. criminals of the highest order are sentenced to live out one year in the Forest of the Dead. typically, there are no survivors, and even if one unlucky soul does manage to survive, they probably won’t be freed. why? because if you spend to long in the Forest, you contract swamp sickness, which is bad bad bad. so if someone does survive, and they get swamp sickness, they are put to death.

now, I mentioned the Seeker’s job was to release the spirits of the damned. those spirits are the spirits of the criminals who died in the Forest. the Seeker must go through the lava wall’s one opening and into the forest, with her Hound (the Keeper has the Wildcat) and a contingent of guards. there the Hound tracks down the dead bodies, and the guards take them out of the forest, where the releasing rights are done. they rarely find all the bodies, partly because they can only stay two days without risking swamp sickness.

2) I also liked the monsters. the monster were awesome. the main ones are the shadow stalkers, with a little side trip for giant scorpions, death worm things, and thunder hawks. none of which are supposed to exist. but they do. just like, the Forest isn’t supposed to have anything living in it, but it does. creepy, weirdly evolved things like rats—which is what, I assume, the few criminals who survived ate (assuming they didn’t eat each other. considering there’s at least one criminal, Ronan, who we’re supposed to root for, I think its fair to say they weren’t all cannibals).

3) the emperor was cool. I don’t know how many books go with the incompetent, usually fluff-brained emperor/ess type thing, but this one didn’t and it was a breath of fresh air. of course, he only appears near the end, so I suppose there’s still time for him to prove me wrong, as this is a series.

What I didn’t like:

1) the main characters were underwhelming. Moria and Ashyn. which I kept reading as Moira and Ashlyn by accident. but that wasn’t the problem, not really. the problem was that in the first chapter, the prologue (not told from Moria or Ashyn’s point of view), Moria seems like a really interesting badass—kind of like Ygritte from A Song of Ice and Fire, if you’ve read it. but then she’s just kind of…average. she’s supposedly a superbly trained women warrior, and yet she can never seem to fend for herself. and her Wildcat is supposed to be huge—like lioness-sized—yet it seems practically useless. so does Ashyn’s Hound.

and speaking of uselessness, supposedly Ashyn and Moria can communicate with spirits, yet its more like once-or-twice-I’ll-mention-spirits-muttering-something. and Moria supposedly has the ability to repel evil, but this ability is never shown in action, even against monsters like shadow stalkers and thunder hawks.

so, in essence, neither character nor their bond-beasts are useful in combat. and they encounter quite a bit of combat.

as for their personalities, I found them interesting. I thought they made some questionable choices, but I believed they were choices the characters would have made, and I think the characters recognized their mistakes and tried to move past them. the problem for me is, they didn’t really move past them. the characters didn’t develop over the course of the story.

Gavril, I thought, was especially frustrating. he waffles between decent and unlikable for most of the book, only to make a bizarre turn at the end. I’m not even sure what direction he turned in, but he turned and I didn’t quite believe it. possibly because the turn happened when Moria confronted him about his father, and the ensuing argument was confusing.

2) shadow stalkers and all these other monsters suddenly appear, and not just in the Forest and around it. they appeared in the Waste that lies between the Forest and the town outside of it, and the nearest city. I wondered why monsters weren’t appearing elsewhere, beyond the Wastes. it seemed just so other character could scoff at the main character’s story about the ‘mythical’ monsters.

3) the character’s ethnicity. I know; its a fantasy world, they’re not going to match any real-world ethnicity. come on, now. but still. there are Northerners, who had pale skin, blonde hair, blue eyes, and a stereotype of being slow and stupid. then there are various other skin tones.

but the “perfect” look tone is described as skin the color of golden sand, straight black hair, high cheekbones, slanted eyes. sounds east asian, to me. combined with the mention of a “kitsune” as one clan’s animal symbol, and the fact they have an ’emperor’ and not a ‘king,’ it makes me think all the characters have east asian features, with various skin, hair, and eye colors. after all, this is just one country. but then I’m not sure. for all I know, this is the world’s standard of beauty.

Overall:

overall, I liked it. it was engaging, and—if I hadn’t been interrupted by the night and having to sleep so I could get up early—I could have read it all in one sitting. I’ll be on the lookout for the sequel.

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DNF = Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland

I ditched a book called “Promise of Shadows” by Justina Ireland.

I gotta say, when I saw the cover and read the jacket-flap, my first thought was something along the lines of “more like Promise of Awesome.”

It’s about a harpy who avenged the death of her sister by killing the god who slew her. To do this ‘impossible’ task, she used a secret, forbidden power. Now she’s locked away in the Pits of Tartarus, basically a work-camp. But then she reunites with an old friend and learns, bam, she’s the Nyx, a “dark goddess who is prophesied to change the power balance.” Aw yeah, revolution. A harpy as a main character. Bring it on.

But almost halfway through the book I changed my tune. The inaccuracies are stunning. I mean, this book is 99.9% Greek mythology. But then there’s some random other stuff thrown in, too.

Number one being that half-god, half-mortals (which in this case includes ‘magical creatures’ such as harpies and dragons and minotaurs), are called “Vættir.” But “vættir” is a NORSE term for spirits, which the Norsemen then group into different clans, like the Aesir and Vanir (god clans), the Jotnar (giants), the Alfar (elves), and the Dvergar (dwarves). Why would a book steeped in GREEK mythology use a Norse term? Especially since, if use accurately, the term would pertain to both what the book calls vættir and what the book calls Æthereals/Exalteds/gods.

And then there’s some brief mentions of the Du’at (Egyptian) and Folkvangr (Norse) being parts of the Underworld.

The Du’at is the Egyptian underworld, where a dead person must pass through a series of guarded gates (12 gates, passed through by correctly stating the guardian’s name—sort of Rumpelstiltskin type of thing) and dangerous landscapes to read the afterlife. If the dead person made it, then their heart would be weighed. Those whose hearts failed were eaten by Ammit. Those whose hearts passed went on to live happily-ever-after in the paradise of Aaru.

Basically, the Du’at is not a permanent residence. It’s more like a dangerous obstacle course. Or maybe a salmon run. It makes you wonder if the author so much as pulled up the Wikipedia page.

Folkvangr, on the other hand, is a meadow ruled over by the very-important-and-occasionally-confused-with-Odin’s-wife-Frigga goddess Freyja. She, and her meadow, receive half of those slain in battle—the other half goes to Odin and his Valhalla. There’s no mention of Valhalla thus far in the book.

And then there’s a befuddling throwaway line of “I wonder if [Hades] has the power to see the stains on my soul, like Anubis.”

Am I supposed to infer, from all of this, that other mythologies, namely Egyptian and Norse, are real? Because other than these casual asides, there’s no evidence of them existing. And I’m nearly halfway through the book.

AND THEN, even worse, there’s the fact that the author doesn’t seem to know all that much about ancient Greece or Greek mythology.

For one thing, she describes an animal with a lion’s body, an eagle’s wings, and a scorpion’s tail as a chimera. A chimera is part lion, part snake, and part ram. What she describes was clearly a manticore. And she made this even weirder by having one character ask if it was a manticore, and then having the mentor character reply, no it’s a chimera.

And then there’s the fact that a character, a really old female character who supposedly lived during the time of the Trojan War in ancient Greece, was described as wearing a toga. There’s two problems with this.

One: in ancient Rome, tunics were almost always worn under a toga. They weren’t really a stand alone garment. It came, as I understand it, not from the Greeks but from the Etruscans.

And two: ancient Greeks DIDN’T WEAR TOGAS. In colder weather, they would wear an outer cloak similar to a toga called a “himation,” but it was not a toga. Women wore tunics called peplum (singular: peplos). In addition, there was a shawl—for women—called a epiblema, and a short cloak—for young men—called a chlamys. A man’s tunic was called a chiton.

And thirdly: even if the character in question had lived during the Roman times, there are several reasons she wouldn’t be wearing a toga. Number one, they were pretty much for men, particularly high-class men. Number two, they were awkward, cumbersome, and altogether hard to move in. The character is described as running, digging ditches, and fighting, all while in a toga, wearing nothing underneath it. She would not have been wearing a toga.

On a side note, according to Wikipedia (and supposedly the source, Catharine Edwards, “Unspeakable Professions: Public Performance and Prostitution in Ancient Rome”), after the 2nd century BCE, women were expected to wear a sola (over a tunic) to distinguish them from prostitutes who wore togas.

Take this sentence, “Cass stares at the clothes, like she can’t believe people would willingly give up wearing togas.” (page 148). Cass, let me tell you why people willingly, happily, gave up wearing togas. It’s for the same reason you cannot possibly be wearing one in any of your previous scenes; they suck. They’re uncomfortable, unwieldy, and ultimately a pain in the ass—much like this book.

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#23 = All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS by Cristin Terrill

jacket flap blurb

What would you change?

Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside the drain.

Only Em can complete the final instruction. She’s tried everything to prevent the creation of a time machine that will tear the world apart. She holds the proof: a list she has never seen before, written in her own hand. Each failed attempt in the past has led her to the same terrible present—imprisoned and tortured by a sadistic man called the doctor while war rages outside.

Marina has loved her best friend, James, since they were children. A gorgeous, introverted science prodigy, James finally seems to be seeing Marina in a new way, too. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future. Marina will protect James, no matter what. Even if it means opening her eyes to a truth so terrible that she may not survive it…at least, not as the girl she once was. Em and Marina are in a race against time that only one of them can win.

All Our Yesterdays is a wrenching, brilliantly plotted story of fierce love, unthinkable sacrifice, and the infinite implications of our every choice.

thoughts

Time travel stories are not easy to do. There is, inevitably, a long list of questions that accompany any plot point you try to create. But this book did really well. The dangers of time travel are outlined fairly quickly (mainly, time will try and pull you back to the present, so you don’t have all that long) and the paradox issue is covered (aka, it’s not actually an issue because of *interesting explanation*).

The book is written in alternating viewpoints between a girl called Marina, and her future self, Em. It’s interesting to go into both of their heads. They’re very different, and at the same time, its clear how Marina became Em. They are still the same person, but Em has been significantly (and believably) changed by her circumstances.

The story is basically this: Marina is in love with her neighbor, a science prodigy named James. James wants to build a time travel machine to help the world, to fix the mistakes of the past in order to make the present a better place. After suffering the death of his older brother, James’s interest transforms into full-blown obsession that eventually leads him to create a time travel machine (called Cassandra) and start to change time.

It sounds nice, but it swiftly turns really, really bad. Basically, James and his associate-with-questionable-morals go too far trying to protect everyone, and you end up with a police state where the government monitors everything. There’s also fighting and anarchists as the government clamps down, and some wars in the background, and stuff like that. Ultimately, James’s quest to create a utopia completely takes over his mind. He becomes the villain, the antagonist.

While it sounds a little far-fetched, it’s written very well and it’s completely believable. You can see the connections between the younger and older versions of the characters.

I did have a few critiques, though.

In the beginning, Em finds the list of things other versions of her have tried in the drain in her cell. She only finds this because of a weird obsession with that drain. Judging by the end of the book, I assume that the other versions of Em told the younger Marina when she was unconscious/asleep of something that the list was in the drain, or something about the drain. But it’s never explicitly said why Em knows there’s something up with the drain. If it had been explained, it wouldn’t have felt so weird at the beginning. Plus, it would have foreshadowed the end.

Also, the biggest problem with the book was that Em had so many chances to finish the mission (kill young James before he makes Cassandra), but she didn’t take them. Because part of her still loves James and she can’t bring herself to kill him and blah blah blah. And the explanation makes sense in theory, but in the book it didn’t work. It felt like the author was giving Em an excuse so the book wouldn’t end there and leave a whole bunch of things hanging.

I think, if Em’s hesitation had been written better, it wouldn’t have felt so awkward. In the book, at one point, she misses her shot. That worked, that made sense. But at another point, she’s watching Marina and James, through a window, sleep next to each other in bed, and she just stares at them and her hesitation is all internal dialogue. If there was more physical stuff—like maybe she is able to open the window, and line up the shot, but she can’t bring herself to pull the trigger—I think it probably would have worked.

But overall, the book was good. The characters were fleshed out, and they drove the plot forward.

rating out of five stars

★★★★☆