MadReviews

Hello, beloved internet, and welcome to my little blog. Here you will find reviews great and small on just a small fraction of the books that I read and things that I watch.

I am a “jack of all trades” and “master of none” kind of media enthusiast: if it grips me, I don’t care within what genre it resides. I will read or watch it.

You may also find some more academic pieces that I wrote at different points in my schooling and some that were written a little later. What can I say? I love talking about film/tv and books, so I use this small little corner of the internet to do so.

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Review: “A Court of Frost and Starlight” by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas
A Court of Frost and Starlight (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #3.1) 
by Sarah J. Maas (Goodreads Author)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars


You know, in many an anime there’s always the “beach episode”, where all the characters inevitably spend an entire episode wandering around a beach in their swimwear and, well, nothing really happens. There’s usually relationship or interpersonal drama, some character moments, et al — but on the whole, nothing really advances the story’s plot. The difference between a “beach episode” and this novella, is that at least a “beach episode” has the decency to be entertaining and fun.

This novella is utterly pointless. It reveals nothing new about these characters and is spent entirely in relationship angst, especially with two of the three Acheron sisters and their respective mates (blegh), that just adds nothing. Absolutely nothing. It’s like taking twelve steps back from whatever progress was made in A Court of Wings and Ruin, especially as it pertains to Nesta and Cassian.

Oh yeah…and about the entire back half of this novella is spent in graphic sex. It’s just smut. Like, if that’s what floats your boat: great, you’ll probably enjoy yourself. I spent that entire portion skipping all the sex and, well, let me tell you I very easily breezed through about half of this novella and still didn’t enjoy myself with the other half that I did read.

All I got out of A Court of Frost and Starlight is a reminder of how much I really don’t need more in this series. Really, truly…I don’t.

Review: “Obsidio” by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman
Obsidio (The Illuminae Files, #3) 
by Amie Kaufman (Goodreads Author)Jay Kristoff (Goodreads Author)

5 stars out of 5
This review has been truncated due to the presence of spoilers. You can read the review in its entire, un-redacted format on Goodreads.

AIDAN was the secret protagonist of this series and you cannot convince me otherwise.

Well, guys, we finally made it. We survived — or, at least, that’s what we’ll tell ourselves. What a ride this trilogy has been — we’ve endured blitz attacks on illegal mining operations, deadly pathogens, psychotic AI who like to muse philosophically on life and death, organised crime, psychotropic slime, rebellions, romance, and really just a whole lot of death and violence. I don’t want to actually contemplate the body-count this series racked up, because that might be a little demoralising. [Would it really tho?]

Obsidio picks up beautifully from where Gemina left off, showing both the aftermath of the Jump Station Heimdall incident as well as what’s been happening back on Kerenza IV — the latter of which, I am now realising upon a re-read of the first novel, was actually referenced sneakily in one of the Unipedia articles as a “see more”/“read further” element. I should’ve known that Kristoff and Kaufman wouldn’t obliquely mention a “resistance effort” on Kerenza IV without realising that we would, of course, see that resistance eventually. After all, who doesn’t love a good resistance story?

What’s interesting about the resistance story of Kerenza IV, for me, isn’t actually the resistance itself: it’s watching the change in the character of Rhys Lindstrom. He’s the character who must undergo the clearest shift over the course of the novel, given that he starts “on the side” of the series villain, BeiTech Industries. It doesn’t hurt that Rhys clearly possesses a moral compass and easily recognises, as well as calls out, the atrocities that his fellow “pounders” commit on Kerenza IV in the name of “direct orders” and “just doing their job.” It’s not hard to see parallels to, say, WWII in these portions of the novel.

And yet even more than Rhys Lindstrom, the small, yet significant change in the character of Oshiro, Lindstrom’s superior and sort-of-mentor, is the thematic backbone of the entire Kerenza IV portion. The resistance is morally in the right, and so Asha Grant doesn’t need to evolve or develop; Rhys pretty easily sees and fights against what is clearly (not even esoterically) wrong in what he is being told to do; and so it is up to somebody deeply entrenched within the BeiTech system to make the change. Oshiro is the perfect candidate, given that her father believed so emphatically in the idea that “a soldier is loyal to his conscience” above all else. As everything escalates and all hell breaks loose on Kerenza IV, it’s that idea which finally comes to the forefront, and it was something I actively rooted for, especially with Oshiro.

But let’s talk about AIDAN. We need to talk about AIDAN. Not only is it the maybe-not-so-secret protagonist of this series, but it undergoes the most significant development not only over the course of the entire trilogy, but Obsidio. I have to keep reminding myself to refer to AIDAN as “it” and not “he” — a habit I picked up from Illuminae due to linking its infamous “Am I not merciful?” line in my head to the similar line in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator — which is perhaps one of the most important things to always remember about AIDAN…it is not human. AIDAN’s logic would (and frequently does) appall humans because we are wired for empathy, whereas it is not. It is wired with a kind of twisted Spock-logic: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one,” which is how it so easily makes the decision to kill (read: murder) thousands of people.

AIDAN, however, does have some flaws — what frequently read as “errors” in its communication. And these errors are what add further dimension and depth to what could have been an easy HAL 3000 situation.

On the whole, Obsidio is a satisfying conclusion to what has been a phenomenally entertaining trilogy. Sure there’s a lot of “you are the one” true love confessions which make me roll my eyes a little, but it does tend to play well into the high drama of the series about 90% of the time, so it’s really only a small 10% of it that reminds me we’re absolutely in the land of YA fiction. And that’s a very small price to pay for the amount of fun and feel Is got from this series. It’s got everything that you want in a sci-fi adventure, and created what will remain, for me, one of the best and most iconic characters in AIDAN.

So…is Andromeda Cycle out yet?

Review: “A Book of Spirits and Thieves” by Morgan Rhodes

A Book of Spirits and Thieves by Morgan Rhodes
3 stars out of 5

This hovers somewhere between a 2.75 and a 3, but I’m feeling generous and bumping it up in my rounding.

What a disappointment. I really like Rhodes’ Falling Kingdoms series, and the promise of a spin-off tale set both in Mytica and in our own world was certainly tantalizing. Unfortunately, while there are sparkles of potentially good and interesting things in this novel, it doesn’t live up to what it could be.

The elements in Mytica range from dull to gag-worthy — especially when we throw in that oh so great instalove (do we feel my eye-roll?) — and the events in modern-day Toronto, while certainly more interesting, lead to very little.

Overall, it took a lot of effort to read this book, and I felt like I didn’t get much back in return.

 

Review: “The Cruel Prince” by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

5 stars out of 5

This review has been truncated due to spoilers. You can read the review in its entirety over on Goodreads.

“Nice things don’t happen in storybooks,” Taryn says. “Or when they do happen, something bad happens next. Because otherwise the story would be boring, and no one would read it.”

But, Mad, you say: I thought you didn’t like faeries?

Oh, fear not: I don’t — not really. As I say in many a review: it’s not so much a dislike as a general…annoyance. Usually it’s nothing more than apathy. We all have our things that we get excited for, and faeries/the fae/the Fair Folk just aren’t that for me. Unfortunately for me, they’re really in vogue right now, so it seems that everywhere I look I see faeries and goblins and elves and whatever else you can imagine.

Yet there are exceptions to every rule, and Holly Black is one of the few authors who 100% breaks my general rule of “I just don’t give a toss about faeries.” Holly Black, you see, tends to write fiction I enjoy. She gives me dark, twisty tales that do not shy away from violence and cruelty where necessary.

And cruel this world is — cruel, scheming, dangerous, and yet still magical in its most twisted, terrible way. Not a single character can be trusted, for no character is as they seem. Also, I mean, one should never trust faeries, especially not if they’re appearing in a Holly Black story, because you’re just begging for tragedy. So I tried — I really tried to keep every non-human character at arm’s length. I tried to not get attached…I failed.

I want to win. I do not yearn to be their equal. In my heart, I yearn to best them.

Our protagonist, Jude, is the type of protagonist I love: she’s violent and angry; she’s highly protective of her sisters, but also has a complicated relationship with them; she’s brave and terrified. She is a character with greater ambitions than I think she dares to admit even to herself. While her character does not necessarily change dramatically over the course of the novel, she does still change. It is small, incremental change, which excites me for the rest of the series, and I hope this means we’ll see a consistent incremental change in Jude over the course of the next two books. Because I likeher. I like her a lot. And I especially like that her interpersonal relationships are all very, very complicated.

For example, her relationship with Madoc. Here is the faerie that, in the very opening of the novel, murdered her parents before her very eyes, and yet then took her in to raise her in Faerie as point of honour. Yet, at the same time, one cannot help but feel that he genuinely cares for Jude and her twin sister Taryn. Vivi may be his blood, but Jude and Taryn are not, yet I swear to the gods, their relationship was very much like that a father and daughter and seemed like it had something like affection, perhaps even love, in there. And I’ll be damned if it doesn’t leave me conflicted — hell, it leaves Jude conflicted. She has long-since repressed such conflicts within her, and yet over the course of the novel, she must confront such conflicts within herself more and more. And her every-developing, ever-shifting relationship with Madoc was one that I found incredibly compelling.

“I am your elder sister,” she says. “You don’t need to protect me from my own decisions.”

Really, all of the family dynamics and family relationships were compelling and fantastic — and one of the great highlights of this novel is the strong, yet complicated relationships between the three sisters. Vivi, Jude, and Taryn are all incredibly different from each other, and no matter how much they may fight (with swords drawn!) and argue and disagree, there is no question about whether or not they love each other. Holy hell, I loved the family dynamics of this story, especially between the sisters, because I loved seeing their differences, and yet how not a single one of them thought themselves better than the others. They were just different, had different interests and attitudes towards the faeries.

Almost every relationship Jude has outside of her family is some form of an antagonistic one, and the one that is the most antagonistic is her relationship with the titular “Cruel Prince”, Cardan. Oh man is this kiddo an absolute asshole. I mean, to be fair, almost every faerie is some form of an asshole — which makes total sense, given they are not human and operate by an entirely different set of rules — and while he is certainly a grade-A asshole…Cardan is definitely not the worst person in Faerie. Somehow, he is not the worst. And if that doesn’t give you a clue as to how incredibly dangerous the fae are, I don’t know what will.

The story of The Cruel Prince is full of schemings and betrayals. I’m sure there’ll be more than one part that surprises readers — I’ll say that Holly Black even managed to get me at least once, but the rest of it I managed to figure out pretty well. Black certainly doesn’t telegraph her plot as many other authors do, but she leaves just enough hints and breadcrumbs to lead you to whatever twisty conclusion she has concocted.

I never thought I’d find someone who writes the fae in a way that would engross, entertain, and enthrall me. I guess I just like my faeries with a helluva lot of darkness, cruelty, and violence.

There’s always something left to lose.

Review: “All The Crooked Saints” by Maggie Stiefvater

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
All the Crooked Saints 
by Maggie Stiefvater (Goodreads Author)

5 stars out of 5

Guys. I’m…I’m honestly pretty shook right now, and I really have to resist the urge to just make this entire review a series of quotes from the book, because I swear Maggie Stiefvater is some kind of witch who sees into my soul and into my life and is able to make things FAR. TOO. REAL.

If you have never had a miracle performed on you, you cannot quite imagine what it feels like to have your invisible darkness suddenly given flesh.

All The Crooked Saints is probably Maggie Stiefvater’s most daring book to date, especially when it comes to narrative structure. The entirety of this novel is written in a third person omniscient voice, and that is not something that is easy to read for many a person — I’ve seen a handful of reviews note how it made the novel more difficult to get through. I, personally, did not struggle with the narrative structure, though I certainly was intrigued by it; it’s not something Stiefvater has ever attempted before, and certainly not with this style.

Saints is written in the style of a myth or a fable; it’s wandering and meandering and takes its time in slow unfurling its story. But I don’t mind, not in the slightest: I don’t expect a myth to rapid-fire me with its story. I expect it to wander the desert, to slowly tell me everything about all the characters, regardless of whether or not they’ll play a major role in the main story, and I expect the main story to not be nearly as important as all the things occurring to all the characters.

The intention of every Soria miracle was the same: to heal the mind.

Characters and atmosphere are where Stiefvater truly shines as a writer, and All The Crooked Saints is no exception. There is a vast cast of characters, ranging from terribly minor to overwhelmingly vital, and yet I’d wager just about any reader could find a character that represents some kind of dark mirror of themselves. As with myths, the characters are not often characters so much as personifications of abstract concepts — again, I want to repeat that I don’t mind this at all. I actually revelled in it. I loved the idea that these were very much people, but also they were also representations of things that any person can struggle with every day, except that their first “miracle” has made such anxieties and troubles flesh.

My personal favourites were, without question, Beatriz, Pete, Tony, and Joaquin. I suppose this isn’t all that surprising as at least three of those four jockey for the most page-time within the novel — but I still loved them. From the girl who claims to be “without emotions”, to the complete outsider that’s loved by the desert who doesn’t need or want a miracle, to the DJ who fears people looking at him while he eats, and finally to the aspiring DJ who manages to inadvertently foster change (for the better) in his family and their set-up. I fell in love with these four the most, and eagerly followed Stiefvater’s winding road which she concocted for them, as well as the rest of the Saints and Pilgrims along the way.

She didn’t realise that she was being torn to shreds inside.

But as I mentioned: Stiefvater is some kind of witch who has the power to peer into my darkest soul and the walls of my family home to reflect it all back at me. I cannot tell you how many times one particular subplot of this weaving narrative left me choked up and forced me to (however briefly) stop my reading to gather myself. And it all goes back to the Soria family, specifically, how Beatriz deals with the fraught emotions between her parents, Francisco and Antonia.

As someone who, along with my siblings, long-ago became the collateral damage of forever simmering household tensions, the entirety of that storyline hit me hard. It didn’t hit me in a way where suddenly I understood what was going on in my own world, but in the way where it was like somebody else had somehow walked into my life, observed it, and then reported back, while also perfectly articulating the complicated relationships and emotions that exist between spouses and between parents and children.

Beatriz deals with her world by closing herself to it; she does not acknowledge emotion to anyone for fear of seeing it destroyed, and she has done this for so long that she now believes herself as being without feelings — that she can never get upset. And what, for me, was also hardest to read, was not only how this very clearly, as Stiefvater noted, tore her to shreds inside, but also how Beatriz felt she could not speak to both of her parents about this. She could speak with one…but not both.

“Do you still love Mama?” She asked. This was a longer sentence in their language than it was in English or Spanish, as Francisco and Beatriz had developed several phrases to indicate all of the different forms of love they had identified in their study of humankind. The musical phrase that Beatriz used roughly translated to need of the sort that can only be fulfilled by one thing.…”I’m not asking if you will move back in with Mama. I just want to understand why it doesn’t work.”

“Have you asked your mother this same question?”

“No.”

“Would you?”

She imagined this scenario. Antonia, angry, and Beatriz, merely puzzled, both of these expressions feeding the other. It was exactly the kind of conversation that Beatriz spent much time avoiding.

“No.”

“That is why it doesn’t work,” he said.

I don’t think anybody can truly comprehend just how muchthis scene, in particular, left me weeping internally. Just internally, mind, ‘cause I was on my lunch break, and the last thing I need is to suddenly start weeping at work. I’ve done that before, and it’s not the most dignified thing to be caught doing. I may have culled the quote a great deal, but I think anyone who’s endured tensions between parents understands what Steifvater gets at in this scene, and in this subplot as a whole. It’s raw, truthful, heartbreaking, and yet also filled with the hope all children hold within their hearts when it comes to their parents.

Of course this was not the only plot line that left me choked up because, frankly, the entirety of the novel did that. I found myself wandering the desert that Stiefvater had dropped me into, with only her story, like my own owl, to guide me.

His journey before now had felt like a dream, and a dream can always be changed into something else. But when you are awake, the truth is bright and stark, not as willing to bend to the mind’s will.

By the end of this book, it took everything within me to not just fall to my knees and start praising some sort of God because GODDAMN…this book took me on a journey. It really was something like a religious experience — or, at least, about as close to one as I think I’ll ever get. Stiefvater took a big swing for the fences with this book and, for me, she just blew it well out of the park. This is a modern myth in the best sense of that phrase, and this book has now well-earned its spot as probably my second-favourite Stiefvater book, and that’s just behind The Scorpio Races, so I mean…tough competition to go up against.

Just…well done. Well. Done.

We almost always can point to that hundredth blow, but we don’t always mark the ninety-nine other things that happen before we can change.

Review: “Otherworld” by Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller

Otherworld by Jason Segel
Otherworld (Otherworld, #1) 
by Jason SegelKirsten Miller (Goodreads Author)

 

2.5 stars out of 5

Sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Okay, let’s talk about Otherworld. Um…it’s a thing? It’s…honestly not that great?

Were I to judge this book on most of the third act, maybe this would bump half a star, but unfortunately, I’m judging this book in its entirety and OH BOY do I have some complaints.

First off, the pacing. This book has god-awful pacing. It’s backloaded to a fault, which means you’re slogging through who knows how many pages to get to the point that narrative decides to explicitly lay out the entirety of the story in the biggest info-dump you’ve ever seen. Granted, some parts of the info-dump are actually interesting, if not particularly shocking.

Yes, this is a book that relies on “twists” that are so constantly telegraphed throughout the narrative, they shouldn’t even be called twists. It’s painfully obvious to see where the book is leading, and it makes me both sad and frustrated to say there wasn’t anything interesting enough about the world to help me see past this.

And it makes the backloading of the narrative even more obvious — Simon literally just runs around Otherworld with no sense of direction or purpose other than to “save the damsel in distress” (who’s not actually in distress and is taking care of herself but GODS FORBID he consider that option), and so I’m left reading like, “Okay…is the plot going to show up sometime soon?” When it does, it’s whenever Simon is outside of Otherworld, which made returning to it an experience I dreaded more and more as the novel progressed.

When the story kicked into high(ish)-gear at the end, I thought it was entertaining…until it did this so that it could sequel-bait the audience onto a cliffhanger that really didn’t need to be there. This novel did not need to be the first of a series. Perhaps had it been a little longer and had better pacing, the writers (and the publishers) would have realized that. Instead of an “eh”/very clunky book one of two…why not take the time and produce just one book of better quality?

Second, the characters. Most of the characters are consistently inconsistent. Our protagonist, Simon, is every other whiny, lovestruck teenage boy out to be the hero we’ve met before and, therefore, engages in wildly reckless and potentially dangerous behaviour to “rescue” his “damsel in distress.” And while Kat (Cat? I listened so I don’t know spellings) may seem worth it — i.e. she’s actually smart and can 3000% take of herself and really doesn’t need him to rescue her at all — the book literally pulls out one of the most wretched tropes at the end.

You know that trope where they’re trying to make the antagonist see the error of their ways and he attacks them and OF COURSE injures the girl to the point of nearly killing her and that’s what snaps the antagonist out of their shit behaviour?

Yeah, that trope. This book does that. And I wanted to screech in irritation. In a book filled with old, tired tropes, this is the one that really struck home and bothered me the most. It’s so stupidly unnecessary and really spoiled my enjoyment of the back third of the novel, which was proving to be, frankly, the only entertaining part until, you know, THAT TROPE happened.

The best character in this series is a side-character, Busara Ugubu, who is smart, ruthless, gusty as hell — oh yeah, and she’s asexual. I think she’s also aromantic, but either way HELLO TO THE ACE REP. This badass filmmaker chick needed to be in more of the story and I’ll sign any petition that wants to make her the protagonist for the unnecessary af sequel that this book is getting. Seriously, make Otherearth or whatever its title is about Busara’s quest to save her father. That’s all it needs.

This is a book that could have been so much better. It has glimmers of interesting aspects, including the effect of advanced virtual reality technology and the effect it has upon the brains and personalities of the users and even the dangers of becoming addicted to one’s form of escapism — but these aren’t explored in any meaningful way. It devolves into a simple story of “good teens vs money-hungry corporation” and goddamn was that boring because we’ve seen this all before.

If the two writers had taken the time develop their thematic content in a way that streamlined the plot, this could have been a really good standalone science fiction novel. Had they dumped their protagonist and instead focused on their side character whose familial motivations as well as skills both in and out of Otherworld made her the most compelling character in the story, this could have been a really entertaining story.

But, alas, this feels like a book that was pushed out to cash-in on the success of other popular virtual reality-based science fiction stories (*cough*Ready Player One*cough*) when it could have used some more thought put into what it was perhaps trying to do. It’s not terrible, but it’s certainly nothing special either.

Review: “Kill the Angel” by Sandrone Dazieri

Kill the Angel by Sandrone Dazieri
Kill the Angel: A Novel 
by Sandrone Dazieri

4 stars out of 5


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

Okay, before we say anything else, I need get something off my chest: that cliffhanger ending…was so rude. SO. SO. RUDE.Honestly, how dare you, Signore Dazieri. How dare you. I feel so betrayed. I trusted you — probably shouldn’t have, but I trusted you, and you just pushed me off the cliff in the last page.

I am distressed.

Keep in mind, though, this a good(?) distress. This is the distress of high anxiety that results from one or more of my favourites being in serious danger and Dazieri giving me no solace as to whether or not they are anywhere near the edge of the realm of “okay.”

If I had to guess: they’re not.

Kill the Angel is the highly-anticipated follow up to Dazieri’s previous novel, Kill the Father, which introduced us to snarky, neighbourhood badass, Colomba Castelli, and her unlikely partnership with the ever-strange and yet strangely delightful, Dante Torre. They were a seemingly mismatched pair that worked together so wonderfully both as an investigative team and as a duo of highly damaged people attempting to heal and function within every day life.

Something I highlighted as one of my favourite aspects of Kill the Father was that both Castelli and Torre suffer consequences of significant trauma in the form of PTSD-related panic attacks, claustrophobia, reckless and potentially destructive behaviours, et al. and yet none of these things feel like “quirks” slapped onto them for the purpose of being able to claim their haunted. These issues cause Castelli and Torre a significant amount of trouble throughout Kill the Father as well as here in Kill the Angel.

We see through their struggles how the road to recovery is not a simply slope up, but a convoluted road that winds around and how, sometimes, characters can also still “regress.” Castelli and Torre suffered significant trauma, and their issues with the aforementioned panic attacks, calustrophobia, and potentially harmful behaviour still plague them, yet in an wholly understandable and believable way. These are not behaviour put on them for the sake of shock or to make them “haunted when convenient” — so they can sit around a table and share their stories, yet never suffer consequences from their trauma-related issues — but things which even still cause them inconvenience or difficulty.

This book features all the great twists and turns that Dazieri brought in Kill the Father, including conspiracy theory elements, chases, explosions, terribly devious and intelligent antagonists, and more small glimpses into the past of just who is Dante Torre. Where I think this book stumbles in comparison to its predecessor is the pacing. It certainly starts off with a great bang, much like the first novel, but seriously languishes in the middle. I often found myself skim-reading large portions of the novel in order to move it along, which is something I definitely didn’t experience while reading Kill the Father.

Once the novel picks up again, however, it really picks up, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be yelling at Signore Dazieri for that ending until you’re metaphorically blue in the face before weeping that you’re probably going to have to wait a while for the third instalment.