Catherine Lo, Easy Prey

Lo, Catherine — Easy Prey

JACKET-FLAP

Shortly after Mouse (the brain), Drew (the jock), and Jenna (good girl turned rebel) are assigned to do a group project on internet privacy, they discover their law teacher—unsympathetic when nude photos of Jenna were leaked online last year—has an account on a dating site. When they decide to set up a fake account to catfish their teacher, they don’t intend to procure racy photos from her, but when those photos are leaked anonymously online, well… they were the only ones with access, and someone has to take the fall.

Stand-alone.

REVIEW

Told in three alternating viewpoints, Easy Prey is a slow-burn revenge story where what happened gradually becomes clear until the climax, and then it’s a satisfying downhill rush to the end where the last questions are answered. It’s something of a twist ending, but it’s a twist ending done well, where the clues are laid out throughout the novel in each viewpoint, and you can guess before the details are explained, who did it and why.

The viewpoints, that of group project members “Mouse,” Drew, and Jenna, are all interesting and each of them is an unreliable narrator in their own way. At times the viewpoints could be a little bit awkward in how they dived into backstory explanations and flashback scenes, and I wish there had been a little bit more deception in who had done it. But the time the book was about halfway over, I was sure who had leaked the photos and all that was left was to figure out was the details of how they did and what they gained. I’m sure cleverer people than me could have seen what I saw even earlier. But the fact that it started to seem so obvious did throw me for a loop; I wondered if it wasn’t tricking me in some way and there would be another twist. Fortunately (since any other twist would have seemed out of place and without build-up) there wasn’t, and the latter half was still very enjoyable watching as it all played out and came together.

As a final note, over the course of the group project, the three decide to do two separate interpretations of a case. We hear a little about Mouse and Drew’s portion, but nothing about Jenna’s, which is played as a secret. I kept expecting to hear more about it at the end, since it was kept under wraps throughout the book, but it never happened.

4 out of 4 stars.

SPOILERS

I liked a lot about this book. This book starts off getting you to make certain assumptions about the characters. Because most books have main characters who are the heroes, we’re lead to believe that Mouse, Drew, and Jenna are the heroes. Because the jacket flap describes it as a “whodunit,” we’re assuming that’s what it is, but really that’s merely the surface level of what it is. At its heart, Easy Prey is a story about one girl who was unfairly treated getting revenge on the people who leaked her photos online and a hypocritical teacher.

The great thing is the way the book treats the people who are the subjects of the revenge. We see inside Mouse and Drew’s heads, and through the conversations between the teacher, Mrs. Bailey, and the fake account Tom Anderson, we see a little bit of Mrs. Bailey outside of the person she presents herself as in the classroom. Mouse and Drew are, basically, jackasses. But they’re also people, and they have redeeming qualities. They have struggles where they are the victims, where they deserve more.

Mouse is particularly interesting to me. His father is really mean to him; he dismisses Mouse’s intellect and his accomplishments, and really just dismisses him as a person. He constantly compares Mouse unfavorably toward Jenna’s boyfriend, Troy, who’s Mouses’s cousin. Mouse gets excellent grades, he tries to bring the school’s attention to the rampant cheating in Mrs. Bailey’s class, he wants to go to MIT and is saving money to apply (since his father blows up at him for even wanting to go or thinking he could have the brains to get in) and trying to get scholarships. And he’s an alright friend to Jenna; he doesn’t abandon her when she’s labeled as a slut, he tries to support her (lends her his things, gives her rides).

But ultimately Mouse is, well, still kinda misogynistic. Like Drew, Mouse has a crush on Jenna, and despite Jenna repeatedly telling him she’s not interested, his ignores her. He feels like because he’s spent so much time with her, because he (thinks he) ‘gets’ her, she should be interested him. He gets mad when he thinks she might be interested in Drew (even though she isn’t), as if he has some right to her that Drew is impinging on. He thinks if he just behaves a certain way, and does certain things, he’ll be rewarded with Jenna’s romantic, instead of platonic, love. He kisses her in the backstory, for instance, even though she’s repeatedly turned him down and has a boyfriend at the time. True, he’s high, but still, that impulse didn’t come from nowhere; he has it all the time, he just knows better than to act on it when he’s not high.

Furthermore, despite in some cases (see: cheating in Mrs. Bailey’s class) standing up for what’s fair and moral, Mouse still supports the basketball team’s creepy competition to get as many girls to send them nudes as they can. He designs and sells an app to help them implement and get away with this competition. This action is explained by the fact that Mouse needs the money to apply to colleges like MIT and to save up to go to them, but it’s still a skeevy thing to do, even though I sympathize with his reasons.

A third thing that makes Mouse kind of a shitty person is how he behaves towards Jenna during the group project. In regards to personal stuff, outside-of-school stuff, he generally actually listens to what Jenna has to say. But when it comes to the content of the group project, not so much. The project involves analyzing a real-life internet privacy law case and arguing it. Mouse insists they work on this case involving Heather Morningside, even though he knows this case will hit close to home for Jenna. The gist of the case is that Heather’s boyfriend filmed them having sex and then distributed the video to his friends, who distributed it to their friends, and so on until it had gotten all over social media.

Mouse’s hot take is that they should argue Heather’s parents were irresponsible by not monitoring Heather more closely, which presumably would have allowed them to prevent her from sending her boyfriend nude photos. Now, this is shitty of him to do as a friend, and also a shitty argument. First of all, sending nudes, while demonized, I don’t think is actually illegal, even in Canada, so people sending them is not actually the problem. People who are not the individual in the photo distributing the photo to third parties (that is, sending it to others without the individual’s permission) is the problem under consideration. Secondly, as Jenna points out, the case is about whether Heather’s boyfriend is in the wrong, and thus it is that question they should be arguing as per the assignment. Thirdly, Mouse’s father does monitor his phone activity. And you know what he did? He bought a burner phone from another student with which he could do whatever he wanted without his parent’s knowledge. So instructing parents to monitor their kids’ texts and such is not just an invasion of privacy (which admittedly is not what they’re discussing), but it also essentially useless if the kid goes off and acquires a secret phone, as Mouse himself did.

Jenna tries to call out Mouse for shifting the blame away from Heather’s boyfriend, who did the leaking, and to Heather via her parents (essentially, he’s saying Heather is to blame for sending photos, but actually her parents should be held responsible for her behavior rather than her), and Mouse completely dismisses and patronizes her. He even says maybe she’s not capable of thinking about the case rationally because she’s a woman, and that if she just thought about it objectively she’d see that he’s right. Basically, he uses the age-old misogynistic tradition of telling woman “if you don’t agree with me, it’s not because you have an argument against it, it’s because you’re an overemotional female who lacks higher thinking capabilities.” Shockingly, this does not go over well with Jenna and her reaction mystifies Mouse, who seems incapable of recognizing other people’s intelligence (he’s constantly dismissing others for not being a clever as him).

Somehow, despite knowing the case is enough like Jenna’s that he expects her to not want to work with it, Mouse still ignores the cases’s similarities in his argument and therefore doesn’t seem to realize Jenna sees him as blaming her for her boyfriend’s actions via blaming Heather.

(Further furthermore, we’re told Heather’s boyfriend distributed a video, and that he and Heather discussed taping themselves having sex, but we aren’t told what happened with that discussion—I assume Heather turned it down otherwise they’d point out that she agreed—and all the other things they talk about in relation to case are whether Heather should have sent nude photos to her boyfriend, instead of talking about the video thing. It’s weird.)

But more than how Mouse behaves towards Jenna and more than his involvement in the competition and even more than his dismissive and patronizing attitude toward Jenna’s opinions on the Heather case, there is one thing he does which really makes it clear where his heart’s at. In the backstory, Mouse and Drew and Jenna and Jenna’s boyfriend Troy are at a party. Mouse gets high with Drew, and the two of them find Jenna’s boyfriend’s phone in the couch cushions. At this point, the basketball team competition to get girls’ nudes is still going on, and Drew says they should check Troy’s phone to see if he really is as squeaky clean as he says (he insists he isn’t involved in the competition, although he also doesn’t speak out against it). On Troy’s phone, they find the nude photos that Jenna sent Troy, and this is where it happens: Mouse and Drew find photos they know are personal and they know neither Jenna nor Troy would want them to have and what do they do? They immediately try and figure out how to send the photos to themselves so they’ll have copies. This goes wrong, and Mouse inadvertently send a public tweet from Troy’s Twitter account containing a random selection of the photos.

Yeah, Mouse and Drew leaked Jenna’s nudes to the public while trying to get copies for themselves. It’s shitty and disgusting in every way, and colors their reactions with Jenna elsewhere in the book.

Now, Drew. Drew is not quite as filled out as Mouse, possibly because it was Mouse, not Drew, who actually made them public, and therefore it was more important for the story that Mouse be fleshed out. I don’t remember much of Drew’s family life; he’s parents consider him inferior in every way to his older brother, despite them being very similar, and constantly compare Drew to his brother and Troy. Drew’s desires are pretty simple, he just wants to grow up and get a good job and have a house and a family.

There’s not much redeeming about Drew. He’s interesting, he’s often fun, but he’s almost endlessly annoying. He almost constantly hits on Jenna despite her repeatedly turning her down. He accosts her at her place of work and causes trouble for her there, and he shows up unexpectedly at her house as well. He has no respect for her privacy. At one point, Drew tells his sister that no guy has respect for a girl who sends him nudes, and if we judge his behavior toward Jenna in light of the fact that he broke into his friend’s phone and got nude pictures of her, this admission seems pretty damn accurate. He tells his sister that she has to be careful because guys don’t have the best of intentions, which is horribly on-point because he is that kind of guy who doesn’t have good intentions.

Drew doesn’t have quite as many explicitly asshole lines towards Jenna as Mouse does, but that’s because he’s better at hiding it than Mouse is (see: getting girls to send him nudes). But at one point Drew actually tells Jenna that if she had just kept acting normal (not changed her look), this whole thing would have blown over by now, which seems absurdly unlikely given how all her friends, except Mouse, abandoned her, everyone calls her a slut, and the school is basically against her and refuses to look into or punish anyone but her. It’s also absurd considering she gets fired from her job after the manager finds out she’s that Jenna who was involved in that sexting thing, an incident which had nothing to do with Jenna’s wardrobe and everything to do with Mouse and Drew’s actions.

Drew’s also very insecure. Over the course of the story, Drew’s basketball skills take a dip (we eventually learn this may have something to do with Troy, who in retrospect knew that Drew had a hand in torching Jenna’s life and wasn’t getting along with him and so wasn’t passing to him and stuff), and Drew feels like there’s nothing special about himself except the fact that last year, during the competition, he got more nudes than anyone else. At one point, he complains to Troy how hard it is to be the only white guy on the basketball team, how he constantly has to prove his right to be there. I know this is Canada, but it still seems pretty tone-deaf.

Anyway, his declining performance on the court encourages him to go back to the only thing he considers himself special at: getting girls to send him nudes. The Tom Anderson/Mrs. Bailey deception turns into a challenge between Drew and Mouse when Jenna says she’ll give 100 bucks to whichever one of them first gets Mrs. Bailey to send nudes and then immediately deletes the photos.

Drew gets there first, but in Mouse’s company, and the two conspire to save the photos elsewhere before allowing Jenna to delete the only copies they think she knows about.

As for Jenna herself. I liked Jenna, but she does some shitty things on the course of her quest for justice. She uses Mouse’s friendship to ‘borrow’ his computer, which she uses to frame Mouse for what happens to Mrs. Bailey. And then of course, she humiliates Mrs. Bailey.

But I’m actually okay with these things. Mouse and Drew basically deserve it, Mrs. Bailey deserves it even more than them.

I mean, if everything had gone right for Mouse and Drew, they would have had private copies of Jenna’s photos which I don’t think they would have shared: Mouse wouldn’t jeopardize his future and Drew wouldn’t publicly cross Troy like that. So they’d still be skeevy jackasses, but at least they wouldn’t have knowingly, willingly leaked private photos all over the internet and tanked Jenna’s life and relationship with Troy.

As for Mrs. Bailey, well. She took Jenna aside and privately condemned her for sending those nudes to Troy in the first place, trying to get her to speak about how bad she felt in front of her law class so that ‘other girls would learn from Jenna’s mistakes.’ That’s a terrible thing to do as well, but what makes Mrs. Bailey deserve it is that she’s a hypocrite. Despite condemning Jenna for sharing nude photos, Mrs. Bailey still sends nudes to this anonymous Tom Anderson and then has the audacity to get pissed about them leaking and the audacity to appeal to Jenna to help her catch the people responsible even when Mrs. Bailey couldn’t give two shits about who was responsible for Jenna’s situation.

Mrs. Bailey is as much of the problem, if not more, than Mouse and Drew, because at the very least Mouse and Drew didn’t mean to distribute the photos and even though they victim-blamed Heather Morningside, they never to-her-face victim-blamed Jenna.

So is Jenna a pure, untouched soul? Not exactly. She does some questionable things in pursuit of justice and in the end, posting Mrs. Bailey’s private photos publicly is not moral. Yes, I understand sympathize and think Bailey deserved what she got, but that doesn’t make it the moral high ground.

Yet, if Mouse and Drew had simply deleted the photos of Mrs. Bailey straight off, like they promised, like the claimed, Jenna’s revenge scheme would have been impossible. It relied on either Mouse or Drew or both saving copies of those photos that Jenna could then use. If Mouse and Drew had behaved honorably, nothing bad would have happened to Bailey. And if Bailey hadn’t been a disgusting, hypocritical asshole, she couldn’t have been targeted and in fact this whole scheme may not have ever entered Jenna’s mind.

What I loved about this book was that, like John Wick, the people who deserve to get hurt do get hurt, but at the same time, it’s not pure black and white. Mouse and Drew are still interesting, engaging, and sympathetic characters. Even Mrs. Bailey is somewhat sympathetic; for example, we learn she knows and is constantly frustrated by her student’s cheating but can’t prove it, and even though I think she knows Mouse isn’t her biggest fan, when she gets ‘his’ (really Jenna pretending to be him) email asking to be a group project leader with Jenna and Drew, she honors that request. And by making Mouse, Drew, and Bailey well-rounded characters, we see how Jenna’s scheme hurts them and betrays their trust even though they kinda deserve it, and because of this, Jenna doesn’t get to be completely in the green, morally-speaking.

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City of Ghosts, Victoria Schwab

Schwab, Victoria — City of Ghosts

JACKET-FLAP

Cassidy, who can “cross the Veil” and see ghosts, and her best friend, Jacob, who is a ghost, travel to Scotland to shoot the first episode of Cass’s parent’s new project, a television show based on their hit book series about the supernatural. In Scotland, Cass learns the hard way that there’s more to ghosts, and crossing the Veil, than she’d imagined.

First book in a series, but mostly self-contained.

REVIEW

Three out of four stars. There was nothing bad about this book, I just wasn’t that into it. The characters are bland, especially the main character, Cassidy, who’s forgettable. The plot is straightforward, and it doesn’t have the depth of characters or subplots I’d want in something so simple to make it feel satisfying. It’s a pretty short book, but it still felt longer than it needed to be.

In short, it’s uninspiring but lacks any obvious flaws in the plot and the characters and their relationships aren’t complex enough (in terms of Cassidy and Jacob and the two of them and Lara, the English ghost-hunter they meet) or aren’t developed enough (in terms of Cassidy and her parents) to have any substance worth commenting on.

Probably it’s a middle-grade book, as these tend to be shorter and simpler. As a middle-grade book, well, it does what it needs to do. It’s not the worst nor the best middle-grade book I’ve read, but rather floating somewhere in the middle. I’d have liked the parents to be included more because they were more interesting to me as characters (personalities! opinions! conflict!) and I think they’re relationship with Cassidy had the potential for depth but couldn’t get there due to their small roles.

All of that being said, I liked the world-building, I appreciated the lack of a romance subplot, and I’m a fan of Victoria Schwab’s other works, especially the book Vicious written under the name V.E. Schwab, which was simply amazing. So I’ll probably read the sequel to City of Ghosts when it comes out.

Also, I think it would make a pretty good movie.

book cover - schwab, victoria - city of ghosts

SPOILERS:

A quick, somewhat spoiler-y comment on Cassidy:

The boring thing about Cass is that she’s actually quite a passive character. Yes, she feels this pull to look beyond the Veil, a pull towards ghosts. And in that way she’s more active than Jacob, who’d rather avoid other ghosts.

But she doesn’t have some great desire to see beyond the Veil. It’s more like it’s an instinct, something outside of her control. So she spends most of the book being pulled this way by her instincts and that way by her parents, but she doesn’t want anything. She’s not striving for anything.

She doesn’t want to see ghosts, but nor is she looking for a way out of seeing ghosts. She doesn’t know what to think or feel about what she sees beyond the Veil; she doesn’t want to try and help the ghosts or get rid of them.

She has a weak desire to document ghosts, but it’s not like she’s super into trying to get photos of ghosts. She occasionally gets images of ghosts, or ghostly smudges, on her photographs, but her thought is basically: ‘yeah, I guess that’s cool.’ She’s not excited about them, she doesn’t want to show them to anyone, she doesn’t fear her parents finding them and then pulling her into their supernatural-fiction-world as their own personal ghost photographer or something.

Even after she meets Lara, and learns about ghost-hunting and how because she can cross the Veil she’s supposed to be a ghost-hunter, her reaction is basically: ‘yeah, that feels right.’ But she wasn’t shown, or not shown strongly enough that it made an impact, to feel like she was missing something before she learned this information. To feel that her act of crossing the Veil and looking around wasn’t enough to satisfy the instinct. So when she does learn about it, it doesn’t feel like it’s solving some mystery or anything. And she doesn’t immediately glom onto the ghost-hunting gig, but nor does she reject it.

She’s constantly taking the boring middle road. Her emotions are weak and don’t lead to any action or conflict in the story.

Roughly the last quarter of the story is Cass trying to get her life force back from the Raven in Red, a ghost woman who hypnotizes and murders children and wants to use Cass’s life to bring her own body back from the dead. And somehow most of this still feels like things happening to Cass. There was only one time when I felt like she was really afraid of dying, of being trapped in her own Veil. Other than that, I still felt fairly removed from her, even though it’s a first person book.

Adib Khorram, Darius the Great is Not Okay

Khorram, Adib — Darius the Great is Not Okay

Jacket-flap

Darius, tea-lover, Fractional Persian, and endlessly-picked-upon schoolkid, travels with the rest of his immediate family to Iran to meet his not-so-immediate family—the literally and figuratively distant extended family on his mother’s side that he’s only ever communicated with over Skype.

Darius has never fit in at home, and his struggles continue in Iran; his tumultuous relationship with his father gets even more strained and his feeling of not belonging, of not being good enough, are exacerbated by the cultural divides and the fact Darius doesn’t speak Farsi. But things start to change as Darius learns more about his family, his heritage, and meets Sohrab, who quickly becomes his best friend and only person who’s not disappointed that he isn’t something he’s not.

A stand-alone contemporary novel.

book cover - khorram, adib - darius the great is not okay

What I Think

This was a well-written dramedy about depression and cultural identity and feeling like you don’t quite fit in. Despite starring a depressed, overweight character, it manages to avoid the ‘character meets bff and/or significant other who’s friendship cures them of their mental illness’ cliché as well as the ‘character feels bad because of their weight but then discovers some activity they like that slims them down and now they’re happy’ cliché.

The book shows off the beautiful Farsi language without overwhelming the non-Farsi-speaking reader with foreign terminology. It paints vivid pictures of Yazd, the Iranian city where Darius’s mother’s family lives, various Persian holidays and cultural norms, and Zoroastrianism. The book is not about politics, and manages to avoid being sucked into that swamp while still acknowledging norms like women’s veiling and Internet censorship and issues like the religious persecution faced by the Bahá’í, the minority faith Darius’s new friend, Sohrab, is a part of.

The frequent uses of Geeky™ vocab, like the phrase “non-passive failure”, calling things ‘Level X Whatevers’ (like “Level Five Disappointed Sigh” or “Level Six Awkward Silence”), and Important Capitalization can be a bit grating. I’m not a Geek™, so I can’t say for certain, but I just feel like no one outside of the Big Bang Theory actually thinks in terms like “Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy.” But like I said, I could be wrong. And being annoyed when characters name things that don’t need to be named (water boilers, a particularly bad pimple, cars) is probably just my own personal pet peeve. But if it’s also your personal pet peeve: it’s pretty common in this book.

Luckily, though, the things that annoyed me were much overwhelmed by all the things I liked: the Farsi tidbits, the dialogue, the relationships between characters—especially between Darius and his dad and Darius and Sohrab—and the setting descriptions. I liked a lot of the little things, too: that Darius was a tea snob who wasn’t actually snobby, how the Iranian customs officer was immediately pacified by the fact that Darius’s dad was an architect, and so on. But the highlight of the book was how it dealt with it’s principle topics: living with depression and what it’s like being an outsider in what is ostensibly your own culture and family.

Content-wise, it was a bit light, a bit “fluff”-like—perhaps the comedic elements kept it from diving too deeply into the subject matter—and it seemed a bit short. Like many “character spends time in another country, comes back” stories, the ending was a little too neat, but I appreciated the optimism.

Three out of four stars.

Conclusion

It’s a quick read (though a little dialogue-heavy) and not heavy-handed with its themes. I liked it.

Mirage, Somaiya Daud

Daud, Somaiya — Mirage

Jacket-flap

Amani’s world—her language, her culture, her history—is being erased by the Vathek empire, who conquered her star system before she was born. She dreams about life before the occupation, about illegal classical religious poetry, of being chosen by Dihya to do something great…. She doesn’t imagine that she’ll be kidnapped by the regime to become the body double of the half-native, half-Vathek princess, the mercurial and ruthless Maram. She doesn’t imagine that she’ll be forced to act as Maram in public and be ready to die in her place at the hands of an indigenous rebellion that Amani, in her heart of hearts, cannot help but support. She doesn’t imagine that she’ll fall in love with Maram’s fiancé because this is a YA, and yes, there’s a romance subplot. She doesn’t imagine it, but it’s her future. And if she wants to survive, she’ll have to embrace her new role, no matter what it demands of her.

First in a series.

book cover - daud, somaiya - mirage

What I Think

This was a beautifully written story with strong characters set in an engaging world. The science fiction elements are scant, but all the same, I appreciate seeing science fiction, and YA science fiction at that, set in a world whose inspiration is drawn from outside of the European/American norm.

As for the plot, the first half was quite dull as it struggled to set up the basis of the rest of the story despite not having anything particularly interesting to accomplish as it did so. The second half was more tightly woven.

The romance subplot threatened to take over the story at times, as there were altogether too many stretches when the main character and her romantic interest were on their own. All too often, these stretches didn’t really advance the plot and simply bogged down the story and slowed and already slow-paced story even further.

Ultimately, though, the writing quality and world-building save the day, and the main (non-physical) antagonist, cultural genocide, is a powerful and heart-wrenching force and its threat serves to keep the heart of the story—Amani’s culture and people—near the surface, where it belongs.

Three out of four stars, and I expect the sequel is likely to improve on the groundwork laid here.

Continue reading “Daud, Somaiya — Mirage”

book cover for Martha Wells' All Systems Red
Martha Wells, Murderbot Diaries

Wells, Martha — All Systems Red

Jacket-flap

On a remote planet, a team of scientists are conducting tests under the not-so-watchful eye of their Company-supplied security droid. Unbeknownst to them, the droid is a self-aware unit that hacked its own governor module to give itself free will; while it calls itself “Murderbot” (not out loud, of course), its primary desire is to watch TV and be left alone. If it doesn’t want to be scrapped, however, it’ll have to play its part—something that becomes increasingly difficult after a neighboring mission goes dark and the team, including Murderbot, must find out what happened lest they suffer the same fate.

First in a series, but can stand on its own.

book cover for Martha Wells' All Systems Red

What I Think

A surprisingly comedic foreign planet mystery, filled with fun characters and held together with tightly-paced plot. At 149 pages, it’s quite short, but it doesn’t feel rushed.

Four out of four stars.

Conclusion

I really liked it, and I’ll be picking up the next book in the series when I can.

Grace and Fury, Tracy Banghart

Banghart, Tracy — Grace and Fury

Jacket-flap

In pseudo-Italy, the only opportunity women have to rise above servitude and poverty is to be chosen to become one of the Heir’s wives, or Graces, who embody the ideal of womanhood, actually have a trace of power, and live in luxury. Because of her beauty, Serina has been raised her whole life to become a Grace. But when the time comes, it is her younger sister Nomi, with her rebellious desire for women to be equal to men and her secret literacy, that the Heir choses to be his Grace.

After Nomi steals a book from the palace library and Serina is the one who is caught with it in a highly contrived scene, Serina is taken to an island prison where different ‘crews’ of female prisoners are forced to fight Hunger Games-style for food and fresh water. It’s a horrible place, but on the bright side they ‘get’ to do un-womanly things and one of the guards is kind and good-looking. Nomi is left behind in wealth and splendor to wallow in guilt and go googly-eyes over the Heir’s suspicious younger brother.

First book a series.

book cover - banghart, tracy - grace and fury

What I Think

When it comes to scene-building, this book struggles to explain and to remember where characters and places are in relationship to one another—particularly when it comes to characters in a scene and transitioning between different parts of a scene.

When it comes to the characters themselves, they sometimes fail to react to something they should have some sort of a reaction to. They sometimes think about things in a certain way or feel a certain way about something that contradicts the thoughts and feelings on those subjects that they had in a previous scene, with no character development or anything in between to explain the change. When it comes to the viewpoint characters, it seems like we’re told they have certain character traits that don’t always, or just rarely, show up.

And then there’s the world-building, which rubs me the wrong way. I know it’s fantasy, but there were technological aspects of the world-building that seemed to come out of nowhere. I know you can’t explain every piece of technology, and very few people would be interested in reading that, which is why fantasy and sci-fi often rely on the real world and other established fantasy and sci-fi technology so that they can invoke, by mentioning a few sorts of technology, what other types of things exist in that world. I think you have more leeway in doing futuristic worlds, because I—and, I believe, most people—assume that if something seems to invoke a historical time period, it should keep only to the sorts of technology that such a time period would have. Which is why there are no bicycles in Lord of the Rings.

All of which is to say, there were a few key moments that confused me as to the historical time period this book is, technologically-speaking, set in.

One out of four stars.

Continue reading “Banghart, Tracy — Grace and Fury”

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”