Review: No True Echo

No True Echo
No True Echo by Gareth P. Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**Thank you to ABRAMS Kids for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley for the purposes of review**

I’m usually wary of time travel novels — time travel anything, really. I think the concept of time travel is a wonderful staple of science fiction, but at the price of being a kind of double-edged sword. There’s two-ish routes a creative may go: either take the time to explain all the time travel — even at least some of it, hence the “ish” — OR explain nothing at all and expect the audience to just roll with it. I don’t have a preference to either approach, given that I’m not particularly adept at science and so trying to even attempt at analyzing the scientific proposals for time travel is just not going to happen. If it sounds plausible enough, I can usually just shrug and say, “Sure. That works for me.”

NO TRUE ECHO is unique in that it’s time travel proposal was not only plausible to (the science-impaired) me, but had me doing more than just shrugging and rolling with it: I actually wanted to know more about it. The more “science gobbledeegook” that was spouted at me, the more fascinated I became.

It’s easy to guess that I found this book supremely clever. No, really, it’s clever. I won’t say much of anything because, after all, that would be serious spoilers, but I will say this: time travel is not quite what it seems in NO TRUE ECHO, and what it actually ends up becoming is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen/read before. A rare and welcome occurrence!

My only complaint is that it takes a while for the reader to realize just how clever this novel is; this is a slow-burner of a story, where the true “action” doesn’t pick up until the reader is already a significant way through the novel. I’ll be honest: I was almost ready to give up on this book until I hit that “moment”, that turning point where everything suddenly begins to really move. Of course, once it did begin to move, the multiple storyline threads and jumps made for a book equal parts schizophrenic, terrifying, mysterious, and just infuriatingly clever.

I think any fans of science fiction, especially those able to keep up with multiple storylines/timelines and fond of slower-paced novels, will enjoy this novel. I certainly did.

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Review: Black Widow: Forever Red

Black Widow: Forever Red
Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**Thank you to the Disney Book Group for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley for the purposes of review**

I’ll be honest: the last time i read a novel based on preexisting media, it was when I was in elementary school and I read the novelizations of various STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION episodes. Yeah, let’s just not talk about that. Anyways, ever since then I’ve never had even a wish to read something akin to those novels.

I’m really pleased I chose to read BLACK WIDOW FOREVER RED.

First off: the writing is superb. It’s simple and straightforward writing, but the voice of Black Widow — whom I forever now hear as the husky, sarcastic quipping of Scarlett Johansen — is spot on, and if they could manage to snag Ms. Johansen for an audiobook version, I guarantee you it would make a good story even better. The capture of the Widow’s voice is a highlight, alongside other familiar faces such as Agent Coulson (a personal favorite of mine) and even Tony Stark/Iron Man. It’s just good fun and I couldn’t help but smile whenever those players were on the page.

But the other great highlight of this book is its action. There’s a lot of it and it’s very well-written. There’s something in the way Ms. Stohl writes the various action set-ups that keeps the reader engaged and excited. I could easily envision the shootouts and stunts in my mind’s eye without ever feeling like things were getting drawn out or repetitive — something I’ve often found as an issue when reading action.

If I have any criticism, and it is a small one, it’s that I felt the ending didn’t quite live up to the rest of the novel. I usually tout that “The Ending is Paramount” and, yes, I still firmly believe that to be the case. However, in this case, the rather “meh” ending to BLACK WIDOW FOREVER RED, didn’t bother me as much as it could have. Everything was tied up neatly, but I was left feeling a little let down; however, in that same vein, I can’t exactly explain how the ending could have been improved or altered. So, I’m left just throwing my hands up in the air and saying that it wasn’t my favorite ending, but it didn’t spoil the novel in any way.

This is such a fun read, especially for those who are fans of Marvel, their MCU, or just good old-fashioned fun, kick-butt superhero action novels.

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Review: I Crawl Through It

I Crawl Through It
I Crawl Through It by A.S. King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**Thank you to Little Brown for Young Readers for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley in order to review**

Despite being familiar with A.S. King’s name, I had not yet had the pleasure of reading one of her works. I’m now, of course, rather irate with myself over this fact because if her previous work is even half as interesting as I CRAWL THROUGH IT, then it’s still better than most YA out there.

The blurbs are right in calling this a “boldly surreal novel”: it’s very bold and very, very surreal. This novel is surreal in the style of Kurt Vonnegut: everything is surprisingly plainly written, as if there is absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about, for example, a girl calling herself a stomach because she has swallowed herself inside out. Or, even better, that there is a helicopter that a person can only see on a Tuesday, and others can only see it if they believe. Unlike Vonnegut, however, there is a subtle shift in this novel where the surreal language becomes less; our potentially unreliable narrators shift in a new direction.

The surreality is punctuated by the raw emotional power of the characters. We follow the POV’s of several different teenagers, all coping with some kind of emotional trauma or grief — the circumstances of which, for each of them, I will not divulge, but will at least say that they definitely made my heart ache and hold tears at bay. Each voice is unique and distinguishable from each other, just as each teenagers’ surreality is unique to him/her.

All in all this is a beautifully crafted novel with genuine emotion running all the way through it. Those uninitiated in the world of surrealistic writing may find the prose daunting, but there is a definite rhythm and cadence into which you can easily slip. A wonderful novel that everyone should take a shot at reading.

Also, side note: as AMADEUS is my favorite film of all time, I was ecstatic at the constant references to it!

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Review: The Scorpion Rules

The Scorpion Rules
The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

*1.5/5

**Thank you to Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing for providing me with a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley for the purposes of review**

Alright, let’s get this out of the way: I was looking forward to reading this book. I remember seeing it pop up all over people’s ARC hauls even before, but especially after, BEA. I’m not normally one for dystopias – especially YA dystopias – but each time someone began describing this novel in their haul, I became more and more intrigued.

Ultimately in my opinion, this novel was a case of “great idea, poor execution.”

The premise is a good one: 400 years into the future, an AI named Talis has taken over the world in order to stop humanity’s incessant wars against each other. How has Talis done this, you ask? First: blowing up several cities. Once that got humanity’s attention, Talis demanded that the ruler of each nation offer up one of their children as a hostage. That way, if a ruler decides to start a war/conflict with another nation…off with the kid’s head.

Again. Great idea. Boring execution.

The best part of this novel is its opening pages – two pages, to be exact. The prologue — an excerpt from the fiction “Holy Utterances of Talis, Book One, Chapter One: ‘Being a meditation on the creation of the Preceptures and the mandate of the Children of Peace” – is simultaneously entertaining and chilling. I thought and hoped it was setting the stage for the tone and pace of the novel; I thought this character of Talis was going to be my narrator.

Unfortunately, not so. Talis doesn’t appear again until 69% of the way through the novel – according to my kindle – and the 68% before the AI’s reappearance is a brick of boring that was so intolerable, I almost put the book down. From forced-feeling “insta-love-triangles”, a plot that goes absolutely nowhere, and characters flat enough to make a sheet of paper look as multi-dimensional as 30-sided dice…this book was just boring. There’s no other word for it.

There’s been lots of talk about this book in relation to its diverse characters – and, yes, they are numerous and they are all diverse. However, diverse does not equal interesting. And none of these characters were interesting. The worst culprit was, unfortunately, our protagonist, Greta. For a character who thinks that she’s some “I am woman, hear me roar – I don’t need no man” kind of girl, she sure behaved like a delicate snowflake. This is compounded upon by the fact that literally every single other kid in this facility treats her like some special, delicate snowflake that is above everything and everyone else. Why? There’s no evidence given in this novel to illuminate this choice; all I saw a kid who thought far too highly of herself.

Then, of course, the ultimate disappointment: when Talis finally shows back up 69% of the novel after its initial introduction…all that snark and sass was transformed into uninteresting whining. Talis becomes a bore of a villain and the writing around it feels lazy. Actually, let’s talk about the writing: there’s nothing notable about it. It tries too hard and falls even harder. The similes and metaphors that the author invokes are ridiculous enough to make eyes roll – and this isn’t like in Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series, where he deliberately makes his protagonist bad at similes and metaphors. Nope, the writing really is just that ridiculous.

As much as I’d love to recommend this book to others, just on the basis of its diversity, I can’t. Unfortunately, there’s nothing else about this novel that could justify me recommending it to anyone with a clear conscience.

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Review: Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs

Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs
Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs by Erik Didriksen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

*Thank you to Quirk Books via Netgalley for providing me with an ARC of this novel for the purpose of review*

This is, without doubt, one of the funniest books I’ve read in a while. I’m a sucker for anything that plays with Shakespeare and/or modern culture — and plays with it well — in such a way that’s just downright clever. And hilarious.

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Review: An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Because Goodreads does not allow half-stars, my official rating of a 3.5/5-stars has been bumped up to 4* solely on the basis that I would, in fact, read the next book to see what happens next.

I make that little disclaimer above because this is where effectually the potential raging and ranting is about to begin. I know a lot of people like this book, so I’m probably going to say some things that will piss a lot of people off. Just…caveat emptor.

Let me start by not even talking about the book; I want to talk about the hype. Gingerreadslainey over on Youtube held a fantastic discussion video on overhyped pre-releases (www.youtube.com/watch?v=61izCx_ZeeM) and rightfully included AN EMBER IN THE ASHES into that discussion. This book has been all about the hype; I think I can recall hearing about it at least 6 months prior to its release date, at minimum. And then it was EVERYWHERE.

I am not usually one to subscribe to hype, but the “hype engine” — as I have come to call it — alongside the marketing/blurbs for the novel caught my eye and interest.

Here’s what I was promised in a nutshell: “A standalone YA-fantasy based on/inspired by Ancient Rome.”

I got neither a standalone YA-fantasy, nor something that feels like it was based on or inspired by Ancient Rome. I’m sure I’ll garner argument on the latter point, but let me just say plainly that simply appropriating Roman terms (“centurion”), Roman gentes (“Veturia”, et al.) and praenomenia (“Caius”, “Marcus”, et al.) does not mean your fantasy is either based on or inspired by Ancient Rome. That’s like saying The Hunger Games is based on Ancient Rome. Nor does creating a highly militant faction/world imply inspiration from Ancient Rome. Yes, Imperial Rome was a massive military power, but they were also known for assimilating culture they conquered; I’m sure even the craziest of emperors (see Nero and Caligula) realized that such a tactic is the easiest way to not only conquer a people, but maintain an empire. So the idea that “the military” conquered “the scholars”? Very against the idea of Ancient Rome, who were always trying to model themselves upon the Hellenic/Hellenistic Greek culture — especially the Athenians — who were notable thespians.

So, sure, continue to tell me this is somehow inspired by Ancient Rome. Go ahead and put “centurion” in the same sentence as “fatigues” and have your military commander where “mirror-bright boots” and “buttons.”

Very Roman, obviously.

My Classicist gripes aside, this book suffers from several other problems I couldn’t ignore.

Laia is not only a useless protagonist who serves to further Elias’ own personal growth/journey, but her POV chapters were far less interesting than her male counterpart’s. Elias’ chapters not only function more within what I can assume is the overarching Plot of this series, but demonstrate more character growth/actually potentially interesting characters, and are just overall more entertaining. Also, Helene is a far more dynamic and compelling female character than Laia has any hope of being — literally this (unfortunately delegated to) side character is a goddess who’s wonderfully complex and deserves POV chapters.

Because of the aforementioned problem and the chapters wasted in Laia’s POV, the entire story/Plot/worldbuilding/characterization — literally everything about this story is stretched thin. There’s no vertical development for any character save Elias (and maybe Helene) and the entire novel feels shallow as a result.

I find this disappointing not only because of the hype machine for this novel, but for what I feel is wasted potential. There are kernels of good things in here, but it’s not delivered upon. In splitting herself with the POV’s, Tahir didn’t really commit to either one of their stories enough. Actually, overall I just think Tahir didn’t truly commit to any aspect of this novel — from its protagonists, antagonists, plot, world building…everything felt shallow and underdeveloped.

Will I read the next book? Yes — in the same way I watched all of the second season of True Detective despite being filled with more and more crushing disappointment week and week. I’m a masochist and, so, I will finish. I do so with the barest glimmer of hope that the second novel (a) kills of Laia and/or her brother so we don’t waste anymore time with her POV; (b) gives me Helene POV chapters; (c) provides the depth its predecessor lacks.

PS. Why anybody ever thought of marketing this as a standalone…no, I won’t even go there. This is clearly NOT a standalone and marketing it as such was not only misleading, it was effectually a lie. Had things turned out differently in the finale a la Elias and Laia’s fates then, sure, it could be a standalone — a pretty gutsy standalone at that. But it’s obviously a setup for a series.

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Review: The Heart of Betrayal

The Heart of Betrayal
The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a YA literary world filled with “meh” second installments to trilogies, THE HEART OF BETRAYAL shines as a wonderful example of a second novel that might almost eclipse its predecessor.

The “gimmick” of the first novel is gone, but the beautifully lush worldbuilding continues to thrive; the characters continue to develop; and the plot grows ever thicker.

Also that ending.

I need the next book. Right now.

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