Archive for 4 stars

Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Jan
13
2 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 4 stars, Dystopian, Fantasy
Review: Steelheart by Brandon SandersonBook: Steelheart
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Series: Reckoners #1
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release date: September 24, 2013
Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 386
Format: eBook
Source: Bought
AmazonGoodreads
Summary from Goodreads:

There are no heroes.

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.

But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills. 

Nobody fights the Epics... nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart—the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning—and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience. 

He's seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

Let’s talk about that boy…

All praise Brandon Sanderson for giving us one of the best male narrators in YA fiction. David is a breath of fresh air in a sea of Katniss and Tris wannabes. Maybe it’s just that I’ve become tired of the dystopian girl who has to meet a cute boy to help her cope with her depressing world, but it was nice to have a main character who took it upon himself to try and make his world better.

In the prologue, we meet David as a young boy, who goes through a harrowing experience while at the bank with his father. Two of the Epics – humans with superpowers that developed after an event called Calamity – get into a brawl with disastrous consequences. David spends the next ten years studying Epics in search of a way to defeat them, taking notes and forming theories. 

So about those Reckoners…

David is not the only one who wants to take down the Epics. Imagine if people started developing limitless powers, and couldn’t handle the God complex that followed from that? This is David’s world, where Epics rule with iron fists while the rest of the country falls into chaos and poverty.

The Reckoners are a guerrilla group that work to secretly eliminate Epics. They have no real presence – they don’t publicize their efforts, and they haven’t been able to take down any of the really powerful Epics that would draw much attention. David wants to join up with them to share his research and bring down the Epic that took everything from him. 

The mystery of Steelheart…

The problem is that although David knows that Steelheart can be hurt, he doesn’t know how. In the bank, as a boy, he witnessed one bullet that managed to make Steelheart bleed. When David joins the Reckoners they set out to try and figure out what was special about that bullet, that gun, or that moment that made him vulnerable.

And one of my favorite aspects of the book was that I could never quite figure it out. Most of the main characters have a different theory about Steelheart’s weakness, and they all feel convincing. The deeper they get in their plot to try and overthrow him, the higher the stakes become for getting the answer right. If they can’t find the answer before the showdown they are setting up, they’ll all be killed. This is a win or die scenario, and it was completely gripping to read.

If you want action…

…then this is the book for you. If they don’t make this into a movie, then the world is majorly missing out. The action scenes are crazy intense – chase sequences, guns, and explosions galore. The Reckoners have to meet with seedy black market weapons traders and sneak into heavily guarded buildings. Their headquarters are in a forgotten layer of underground tunnels, and the final showdown happens in one of the most iconic buildings in Chicago (or Newcago, as it’s known in David’s world).

It was the breakneck pace of the action that kept me turning the pages as fast as possible. I tore through this book and found it unbelievably hard to put down. Unfortunately, the pacing didn’t leave much room for explanation of the world. I felt there were a lot of pieces of information that we didn’t get which would have been helpful to understand how Newcago operates or how the world got to this point. No one seems to understand Calamity or how it led to the Epics, and even though it has only been ten years, I expected just a bit more information.

I’m hoping that information comes in with the next book in this exciting and promising new series. I adored David and can’t wait to see what’s in store for him and the rest of the Reckoners. 

Rating: 4/5 stars

4 Stars

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Review: Splintered by A. G. Howard

Jun
19
8 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 4 stars, Fantasy, Rating
Review: Splintered by A. G. HowardBook: Splintered
Author: A.G. Howard
Series: Splintered #1
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release date: January 1, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 371
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
AmazonGoodreads
This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl's pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers - precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother's mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice's tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice's mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

Alice in Wonderland is one of those tales that is so pervasive you feel like you’ve read it, even if you haven’t. Though I have never read Lewis Carroll’s classic book, I probably watched my old VHS tape of this ridiculously cheesy 1985 TV miniseries about a hundred times. I’ve seen the Disney version and the Johnny Depp version. And I’ve loved them all.

This modern take on Alice’s story imagines our protagonist, Alyssa, as a descendant of the Alice who lived and inspired Carroll’s stories. Along with a similar name, she is in line to inherit the psychological madness that is passed from female descendant to female descendant. Her mother is locked in an asylum, and Alyssa tries very hard to convince herself that she can’t hear the voices starting to appear in her head. She’s a cool skater girl into art and bugs and other Things That Are Dark And Twisty.

The coolest thing about this book is the brilliant display of imagination on the part of author A. G. Howard. I only wish I could think up stuff this vivid and exciting. When Alyssa goes down the rabbit hole, we get a version of Wonderland that is fresh and new without being unfamiliar. Carroll’s characters pop up, but in different forms than you might expect. I don’t want to spoil the fun of discovery, but I will say that the White Rabbit is not just a rabbit – he’s much creepier than that.

If you’re tired of love triangles, consider yourselves warned. Alyssa is into the boy next door, Jeb, and while in Wonderland starts to fall under the spell of the difficult and dark Morpheus. Morpheus acts as a sort of guide and childhood friend of Alyssa’s on the Wonderland side of things, while Jeb is her friend and protector on the reality side. Morpheus is certainly the more interesting and mysterious of the two, but his sketchy motives later in the story made me not like him as much.

If I had one complaint about this book, it’s that those motives, and the plot, got a little confusing toward the end. I had a hard time following what was happening because the history was so rich and complex. The politics of the Red Queen and White Queen and Morpheus’s place in the middle of all of it overwhelmed me, and I’m still not entirely sure I absorbed it all. I kept having to go back and re-read sections to track who supposedly did what and to what end, and what they really meant when they did them, versus what everyone else thought they were doing.

Did you get that? Yeah. Me either.

Fuzzy plot or not, this was a really enjoyable story. I loved seeing such a cool concept from a debut author, too! I picked this one up at the library because I couldn’t find it at the store, and the cover is absolutely stunning. The text is a beautiful dusty purple color. Normally I’m not a fan of colored print in books, but for some reason this really worked for me. If you’re in the market for a beautiful book for your shelf and want to support a debut author with a fantastic story, I recommend this one.

Rating: 4/5 stars

4 Stars


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Review: The Twelve by Justin Cronin

May
23
8 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 4 stars, Horror

Book: The Twelve
Author: Justin Cronin
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release date: October 16, 2012
Source: Borrowed from local library
Series: The Passage #2
 
Summary from Goodreads:

At the end of The Passage, the great viral plague had left a small group of survivors clinging to life amidst a world transformed into a nightmare. In the second volume of this epic trilogy, this same group of survivors, led by the mysterious, charismatic Amy, go on the attack, leading an insurrection against the virals: the first offensives of the Second Viral War.

To do this, they must infiltrate a dozen hives, each presided over by one of the original Twelve. Their secret weapon: Alicia, transformed at the end of book one into a half human, half viral but whose side, in the end, is she really on?

I know what you’re thinking. Why would I review the sequel to a book I didn’t like all that much?

Well, the ending to The Passage was exciting enough that I felt The Twelve was worth a try. I wasn’t going to spend money on it, but I’d put a hold on the ebook at the library and see what happened. If it didn’t hook me in the first 50 pages, then I could just accept that this wasn’t the series for me and go on my merry way.

So I put it on hold, and when the hold came through, I started reading.

And it completely hooked me.

THIS was the book I wanted to read when I was promised literary-style vampires. THIS was the book I wanted to read when I was promised post-apocalyptic viral mayhem. THIS was 100 times better than The Passage.

Though we are, frustratingly, introduced to even MORE new characters in this book, at least these characters didn’t stumble around incoherently through 50 pages of backstory for each one of them. We also get to spend the majority of the book with characters we know from the first book, and they get to do way more interesting things. I’m still not a huge fan of the author’s stylistic choices, but the narrative switches bothered me much less in this book.

Justin Cronin is juggling a large timeline (100 years or so), multiple locations separated by hundreds of miles, and an enormous cast of characters. While I found the scope to be somewhat disjointed in book one, here some of the puzzle pieces start to fall into place. He has certainly earned my trust that all of my investment in his world will pay off.

In this book, we slide one generation back in time to see some important lead-ins to the current action, and we also get to see a new side of Year Zero. This time around we actually experience the viral outbreak and its immediate consequences on the population. I absolutely loved seeing the government side of the story and how they tried to balance their resources in the face of a society-ending plague. How would they try to quarantine large sections of the country? Who would they sacrifice for the greater good? What would happen to the world economy and foreign relations? These are the kinds of questions I enjoy exploring in post-apocalyptic fiction, and Cronin finally delivers.

The mysteries and objectives facing the characters were thrilling. I was swept up in the story, and found myself trusting Cronin to lead us to where we needed to be. My familiarity with the main characters put me at ease while reading, but the new challenges they faced had me on edge. Life is bleak in this world, and just when you think you know where things are going they take a right turn into a new surprise. It’s very much an enjoyable ride.

Action-packed mayhem, deepening plot mysteries, and strong characters make this a book well worth a read. If you can slog your way through the first book, The Twelve will reward you in spades. I will absolutely be reading the final book when it releases next year, and it can’t get here soon enough.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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A lover of words and sparkly things.

A fan of historical, dystopian, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, mystery, steampunk, and young adult fiction, as well as any book that thinks smartly and imaginatively.

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