On Tap 4/30

Currently Reading

The Last Stormlord – by Glenda Larke

Granthon is the only Stormlord left in Breccia, the only one able to bring rain to the Quartern. Without him—all will be lost, the lands returning to dust and sand—the only rains that fall will be unscheduled, natural, wild. As Granthon’s son searches for an answer, a slave and a worthless boy may yet rise to save the world. Or doom it.

Now, after I abandoned a couple of things at the top of my TBR, I just decided to grab something and give it a shot. This was an impulse read. It’s been idling around on a shelf, and I’ve always meant to read it. I’m about 1/6 of the way through and so far, so good. I’m a fan of Larke’s writing, so maybe I’ll actually finish it.

Sea Change – by Nancy Kress

A climate-change thriller about a woman and her past, the same woman and her future, and the Organization that might yet save the world. A cell of environmental radicals, they might be the only hope the world has left. I started this novella just recently, and it’s alright thus far. I got an email from the publisher a few weeks back that they’d pushed the release date back to May, but I haven’t actually seen anything that corroborates this; anyone know?

Up Next

The Kingdom of Back – by Marie Lu

A book I honestly can’t remember anything about—automatically checked out from my library’s online section. Uhh, two siblings blessed with musical ability, but only one will be remembered forever. Apparently it’s historical fiction set in the 18th century… and I’ll just go in blind. Reading like that is fun every now and then.

It’s been a tough month for me, reading-wise. Everything I start I seem to stall out on; mostly I’ve only gotten through audiobooks, though I managed to clear a couple print books too. Even got through an ARC or two. Ranger of Marzanna was a DNF, sadly, so there won’t be a review of that. Sufficient to say it was BORING and nothing happened and I hated the characters. There’re a few ARCs I’m behind on, a few I’m too excited to wait patiently for, and I dunno what’s going to win out. I guess we’ll see.

What’s everyone else reading? Anything I need to get to? Let me know!

Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows – by John August (Review)

Arlo Finch #3

YA, Middle Grade, Fantasy

Roaring Brook Press; February 4, 2020

314 pages (ebook) 7 hr 20 min (audio)

3 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

Warning: Contains minor spoilers for the previous Arlo Finch books.

Arlo Finch is back—but something has changed.

Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows is the third book in John August’s series surrounding the young lad, Arlo, after his family move to the secluded town of Pine Mountain, Colorado. While the previous two entries in the series dealt with the exciting adventures of Arlo and his friends, the Kingdom of Shadows attempts to add more drama and suspense by throwing Arlo’s data-mining father into the mix, in an adventure that will change the fate of both the Long Woods and the Real World. But where the previous two books succeeded by trying to encapsulate children’s adventures while adding a bit of action and flair, the third book falls short by trying to do too much while ultimately delivering about the same sense of resolution. Ugghhh—I’ve tried to write this intro half a dozen times and it still sounds bad. Just… bear with me, yeah?

After an adventure at summer camp spanning thirty years, Arlo is back home in Pine Mountain, preparing to face a new school, new teachers and new challenges. In Rangers he is training hard, ready to leave Squirrel for a new rank—but has to compete with new additions to his troop, new techniques, and harder tasks than ever before.

But first, Arlo is going to undertake the most dangerous adventure he’s ever conceived. He’s going to rescue his father, bringing him home to Pine Mountain by traversing the Long Woods. But the Eldritch have plans for Arlo, and the way is already not without its dangers. Enemies—old and new—are all around him. Arlo must rely on his two best friends, his fellow Rangers in Blue Patrol, and his family to see him through it. And even with all of them on his side, it might not be enough.

Okay, so it’s a short blurb. The book actually contains two adventures: Arlo’s mission to rescue his father, and then whatever the Eldritch want. They’re loosely connected later in the text, but for all purposes, they’re really two separate tales. Coming into this I was expecting a rip-roaring gauntlet spanning from Colorado to China and back, with the Eldritch, the government, enemies new and old alike taking shots at Arlo in-between. What I got instead was one adventure, then a break, another adventure, and then a loose connection that sets up a conclusion somehow neither here nor there.

In terms of an adventure, Kingdom of Shadows is a typical Finch special. That is it blends enough action, drama and fun in a bag to create an enjoyable, entertaining, PG adventure. I had no more trouble getting into and through it than usual, which is very little. I had issues with pieces along the way, which I’ll get into in a minute. But the adventure itself, the setting are just as good as usual, the story no harder to read.

I had more issues with the book itself than usual, while taking into account that it is a middle grade story, after all. The first has to do with the story itself. But I’ve already discussed this a little. It’s mostly the pacing that I object to, and the plot. The starting one adventure, then another, only to blend them later on but somehow conclude neither adequately. The pacing gets going early only to slow and never build itself back up to the level it leads with—even during the exciting boss-fight toward the end.

My main issue with the book is Arlo’s father. Clark Finch is a hacker of some sort—never described fully as Arlo himself doesn’t understand it. In fact, Arlo doesn’t understand computers or technology much at all. Instead, he regards it as akin to magic. This is incredibly convenient in the story as there’re parts where Clark will whip out some device, give some generic techno-babble and then magic up a solution to whatever problem they face. As a reason for his exile, it’s a good, modern idea. As a plot point, it’s incredibly lazy—like having the main character carry around a bottomless sack full of whatever it is he might need. Other than this hacker persona, Clark really doesn’t seem to have much of a personality at all. He’s just… there.

Which brings me to my next point. Arlo, by this point, is in seventh grade—making him somewhere around 12-13. But he’s as much of a child as he used to be. The book clearly disagrees with this assessment, going out of its way to compare how he approaches problems now, versus how he would’ve in his year before Rangers. But this mostly regards things that he’s learnt, not any maturing on his part. And yeah, I understand that my maturity level didn’t improve between the ages of 10-14. It CHANGED, but didn’t exactly improve. I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that there should be some kind of character development at this point. But there isn’t. Arlo still goes through the same, simple, straightforward steps when he gets in trouble. While his skills have improved, the process itself hasn’t. And by this age, I would’ve liked to see some evidence of development, even if it’s just regression.

TL;DR

While it still tells a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows pales in comparison to its predecessors, promising a greater sense of drama and suspense and illusion, but delivering on little of it. The sense of fulfillment is equal to past books; no more, nor less. While the story regarding the Eldritch and the Long Woods is a good one, and the adventure to and from China entertaining—the two don’t blend well together, fighting one another for control of the book. Each would’ve made a good read on its own, but together they fell short of a complete story, failing to deliver a satisfactory resolution. Despite the fact that Arlo is now in 7th grade, little has changed from when he first arrived in Pine Mountain. He’s older—technically—and has different skills, though it’s difficult to see any character development. I know this is a Middle Grade book, but I would’ve liked to see SOMETHING. Though it falls short of perfection, short of its predecessors, and feels somewhat lacking upon completion, Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows is a worthwhile read for fans of the series. Hopefully from here it will just go upwards, but only time will tell.

TBR – April 2020

So, April’s been a fun month. But I’m not going to focus on that right now—there’s enough of that going around, well, pretty much everywhere else. But April was a tough month for me. I’ve had a bit of reading burnout, and in the last three weeks I don’t think I’ve made it through a print book of any kind.

Currently Reading

Skyward – by Brandon Sanderson

Though in all honesty it wasn’t really on my radar, I’m really enjoying Skyward. It’s no shock—there’s only been the one Sanderson book that I wasn’t completely in love with from the outset, never mind at the end. A YA scifi book, somewhat reminiscent of Ender’s Game among others, features a humanity decimated by the alien Krell, to a point where the remnants of the species are back to hiding in caves and defending their homes with complete desperation. Spensa—daughter of the most notorious coward in humanity’s recent history—has only ever wanted to fly. An amazing pilot, she’s devoured everything on the subject of spaceships, flying, and warfare. But due to her record (and that of her family), this is one dream that may be well beyond her reach. Just don’t ask her to give up on it.

Stalled

Blood of Empire – by Brian McClellan

Honestly can’t tell you why I’ve stalled on this. It’s not the writing or the plot—I’ve barely broken through the first 20 pages!—I’ve just been… having trouble with it. But I’m too darn stubborn to set it aside for now, so here it remains.

TBR for April

Two books I got out of the UK just before they stopped shipping across the pond top this list, with To Be Taught, If Fortunate at #1. Though I’ve heard mixed things about this, I’m really in a scifi mood right now, and it’s short enough that I might actually stand a chance of getting through it without losing interesting. Where Gods Fear to Go is the exciting conclusion to the West of West trilogy which features, among other things: love struck vikings, superpowered Amazonians, and telekinetic sasquatch. Sasquatches? Bigfeet. Things.

I’m feeling a little better about the Shattered Crown this time around, as I’ve gotten over the disappointment that River doesn’t appear in it. Mostly. If you haven’t read it, well, Herald of the Storm was exciting in a number of ways, but needed improvement in several more. I’m hoping #2 provides at least some improvements, paving the way for an epic conclusion. And last but not least… I had trouble deciding. Ultimately, the Tattered Banner makes an appearance since it really hasn’t yet. And since I now have a copy. And am hoping to read it soon. Ish.

TBR read since Last

Two since last time off my Top TBR for the year. I’m through five so far, which I’m pretty happy with. I’ll never mark off all 18, but then I never thought I would. Ten’s a good number though, and we’re halfway to that. To the point, Senlin Ascends has no review yet, but I liked it pretty well; my thoughts are just all muddied up recently. Witchsign was the disappointment of the year thus far—another excellent reminder that you should never judge a book by its cover.

I’m working on reviewing a few more titles right now but it’s slow going, for some reason. Some annoying reason. Might even get a game brief in, as I’ve recently finished Detroit: Become Human, the latest interactive filmish game from Quantic Dream. Having never played one of their games before I was anxious about getting through it, but turned out I had little trouble. I still suck at QTEs, however. But, well, we’ll see about getting on it and expect more in the coming weeks. To everyone out there: how’re y’all? Have you read any of these books? What’d you think?

Oh, and has anyone played Sniper Elite 4? I’m trying to platinum it and I need to get through some of the co-op and multiplayer sections, which I notoriously hate as I don’t get along with people. As well as sucking at (fair) combat.

Tunnel of Bones – by Victoria Schwab (Review)

Cassidy Blake #2

Supernatural, Paranormal, Middle Grade

Scholastic Press; September 3, 2019

304 pages (ebook) 5 hr 5 min (audio)

3.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

Trouble is haunting Cassidy Blake… even more than usual.

Thus begins Tunnel of Bones, the second Cassidy Blake story, following up City of Ghosts in 2018. Fresh out of Edinburgh, where she tangled with the Red Raven, a spectral lady with aims of becoming flesh reborn. She also met Lara, a girl that can also see and interact with the dead, and whom lets Cassidy in on a little secret. That they must use their power to send the ghosts on, lest they linger in our world and become a danger to it. Enter Paris: one of the most haunted cities in the world.

Not above ground—but below, in the catacombs, ghosts crowd the tunnels, haunting everything and everyone in reach. Fresh into Paris, Cassidy and her parents venture below, filming an episode for their TV show while Cassidy tags along, attempting very hard to slip between the Veil as soon as she’s able. And slip she does. While in the spirit world, Cassidy runs across more than she was prepared for, awakening a very powerful spirit who proceeds to follow her across the Veil.

Thus begins a cat-and-mouse haunting in the center of Paris—where Cassidy is most certainly not the cat. And as a cat, it delights in toying with her, breaking things, and sleeping in the sun. Well… two of those, anyway.

After speaking to Lara, she determines that the spirit is a poltergeist—a ghost of immense power and potential—something that remembers neither who it was nor how it died. Two things Cassidy must discern in order to stop it. And stop it she must—in only a few days. Otherwise, while Cassidy Blake will leave Paris behind, the poltergeist will always remain her problem, her doing, her mistake. And she will have to live with the consequences.

I was torn on City of Ghosts, which I found lacking polish, drama, and shine. I found it rather bland, uninteresting, and short. Tunnel of Bones had more character, polish, but was still short. There’s only so good a story can get in five hours. But Tunnel of Bones surely gets better, quicker than City of Ghosts. To compare the two: Bones had more polish, more charm, more character. Though neither provided the length, the thrill, the immersion that I like in a story.

Again, I found the actual ghost-hunting itself a little bland. Dismissing a poltergeist proved to be more interesting than the Red Raven, but only just. There was no boss-fight (not that I expected one), very little detective work (though there was some), and too much chocolate (only because I can’t eat any). Pretty much like an episode of Danny Phantom—short, less than very thrilling, and over before you realized there was a plot. Was better than the first, though, so it was a step in the right direction.

Jacob is… bland. Lara—who was a cynical, pompous brat in City of Ghosts—actually fleshes out some in this entry. She actually seemed a real person over Bones, something that I did not expect. Something that pleased and encouraged me. Actually may’ve been my most favorite element of the book itself. But while it was something, it was little enough as development goes. Not that there is much character development to speak of, but between the two books there is a little, and Lara accounts for most of it. Cassidy commands the remainder. Jacob… okay, I know he’s a ghost and all, but I would’ve liked to see something out of him. Schwab tries to nudge him toward it in the end, but it’s too little, too late by that point. Might set something up for the third book, but does nothing for the first two. Jacob is actually a little like an imaginary friend; there’s no change, no development—he’s consistent, for better or worse.

There’s one particular event that I need to harp on: late in the book, Cassidy literally mugs a ghost and steals his clothes to disguise Jacob—something that makes no actual sense. We’ve established that ghosts manifest beyond the Veil following their death, and that how they appear in death is directly related to both who they were in life and how they died. It’s their sense of self, basically. One cannot steal someone else’s sense of self and wear it around. And it’s an important plot-point, somehow! If an absolutely ridiculous one.

Audio Note: Reba Buhr is a solid narrator throughout the book. I wouldn’t read the series entirely to hear her voice, but it’s not like it ruined the reading or anything. She was a talented, interesting narrator who enunciated and pronounced everything quite well—both in English and French.

TL;DR

For better or worse, Tunnel of Bones continues on the same path City of Ghosts started, albeit with more polish and shine. There’s even a bit of character development, though not nearly enough. It looks like we’re going to continue in this vein—an episodic, city-to-city, traveling ghost-hunting show. There’s an overarching plot, but it’s thin; as befits a kids’ book, I suppose. Each book so far has shown its own subplot, which has been raced through in the (5 hours of) allotted time. Going forward, I would like to see a little more effort, a little more adventure, a little more intrigue, a little more legwork, and a little… MORE. While Tunnel of Bones is likely better than the original, it still leaves much to be desired. But in terms of readability—it’s good enough; a decent read, that does just enough but little more.

The series continues with Bridge of Souls, expected out in March of 2021.

By some amazing coincidence, I’ve posted this exactly one year after my review of the first one. Huh, weird.

Book Loot – April Edition

Went a little rogue this month after the library’s online catalogue got a little bit hammered, and I got a wee bit of stir-crazy burnout going. With a staggering amount of delays and postponements, I may actually get to most of my ARCs in time for release. If I recover from the burnout, that is. And since I’m off til at least May—and likely longer since large gatherings of children probably won’t be well-received for a while—this seems unlikely, at best. But whatever.

ARCs for May

Firewalkers – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (5/12)

Many thanks to Rebellion for the ARC! I can only hope this is as good as Walking to Aldebaran last year. With Tchaikovsky, it’s easy to just assume so and go from there. […]

The Bayern Agenda – by Dan Moren

While technically not an ARC, the good people at Angry Robot had provided me with the second book of the series but upon hearing I hadn’t yet read the first, were kind enough to throw that in as well! As usual, many thanks to them! The Bayern Agenda features a futuristic cold war, a compromised team, and a benched agent that must come through in the clutch.

The Aleph Extraction – by Dan Moren (5/12)

Still reeling from the events of the first book, the team is sent out on another improbable mission: to steal an alien artifact from a crime lord before their cold war rivals get to it first. Sounds like a good thriller, hopefully the first one will inspire me to read them back-to-back! Once again many thanks to Angry Robot for the ARC!

Purchases

To Be Taught, If Fortunate – by Becky Chambers

One of my top TBR for 2020, TBT,IF combines terraforming with post-humanizing to create, well, something in between but new altogether! I’ve heard mixed things about this one, but’ve wanted to read it since its release, so here we are. Both this and Where Gods Fear to Go narrowly escaped the UK before to stopped shipping out and I’m thrilled to have them!

Where Gods Fear to Go – by Angus Watson

The exciting conclusion to the West of West trilogy finds the combined forces of mostly good and somewhat good nearly upon their destination of the Meadows. But, between them and their destinies lie the Shining Mountains—seeming endless and uncrossable mountains populated by telekinetic sasquatches. Yeah, you read that right.

Age of Empyre – by Michael J. Sullivan

The final entry in the Legends of the First Empire series is nigh! And as each of the previous two has ended in a cliffhanger, I can hardly wait to read this! Suri holds the key to the world. Or does she? And if humanity can’t rescue her, will there be anything left worth saving?

Audio

Skyward – by Brandon Sanderson

What promises to be my… 18th? Sanderson book, Skyward is a YA Scifi series about a defeated human race in a constant battle for their survival against an alien threat. While I won’t catch up to most of the planet in number of Sanderson books read with this series, it will still put me roughly… 18 ahead of Tammy.

Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows – by John August

The third Arlo Finch book wasn’t quite as good as the first two, but still worth a go. While brining his father home through the Long Woods may have seemed like a good idea, Arlo quickly discovers it’s much more complicated than just that. There are many changes in this entry, and much to discuss. Review soon.

Retribution Falls – by Chris Wooding

While I loved the Ember Blade when I read it last year, Wooding’s been on my TBR for years before that. This steampunk action-adventure follows the Ketty Jay and her captain, Frey, as he somehow goes from nuisance pirate to public enemy #1 in an afternoon.

The Society of the Sword Trilogy – by Duncan M. Hamilton

Long on my TBR, the Tattered Banner begins the Society of the Sword trilogy—which just happened to be on sale this week. And since I figured a trilogy such as this was probably worth $5 (hoping, at least), and since I have some time—thought it was time to give it a go. In a world where magic is outlawed, ability with a sword can accomplish all one’s dreams. Soren wears his on his sleeve, and when he is chosen to join the illustrious Society, it’s the answer to his prayers. But like most opportune fortune, this may prove to be more than meets the eye…

Free Stuff!

Forsworn – by Brian McClellan

I’ve actually read a decent portion of Forsworn already—in pieces—but Brian McClellan has helpfully offered up a free copy to anyone adversely affected by COVID, and for once that didn’t feel terrible about taking him up on that. Technically, both the collection of short stories (which I already have) and the collected novellas (which I’ve read 3 or 4) are free to download, I only needed the one to complete my collection. If you or anyone you know has been hurt by the virus or the lockdown, send them over HERE to collect some free books. Many, many thanks to Brian McClellan for the reading material!

In the Village Where Brightwine Flows, A Wasteland of My God’s Own Making & The Doors at Dusk and Dawn – by Bradley P. Beaulieu

I’ve mentioned it before, but Bradley Beaulieu is giving away Shattered Sands novellas on his site every Monday during lockdown, and it’s given me a chance to catch up on the ones I had missed. While I’ve only just started Brightwine, all promise to be unique glimpses into the Shangazi, with interesting tidbits of lore attached. If you haven’t read any, nor picked up A Wastle of God’s Own Making this week, I’d recommend them. Many thanks to Bradley Beaulieu, just one of many authors being amazingly generous with their work so that we all make it through this in one piece.

Tales of Beedle the Bard – by J.K. Rowling

An audio freebie, Tales of Beedle the Bard are a sort of wizarding faerie tales alluded to in Harry Potter. If you don’t know what I mean, read Harry Potter. If you’ve read it already, you should know what this is. If you don’t and don’t want to, you’ve already mentally checked out of this and I’m just rambling at this point so it doesn’t matter what I say and I’m hungry and tired and bored but whatever.

Gaming

Finished AC: Odyssey this week. Took me 135 hours but I platinumed the main game—even did a little DLC as well. Now I have all this free time, and all these audiobooks to get through! Whatever shall I do??

Get more games, of course!

I picked up the Metro Exodus Season Pass at discount to play Sam’s Story, something I’ve been excited about ever since I first heard they were working on it. You play as Sam as he battles his way across Russia with the hope of finally returning home. If you don’t know what I’m talking about maybe give the Metro 2033 a try? Either the book or the game, really. Or just humor me: nod and smile. While the first two games (and three books) were set in the confines of the Moscow Metro tunnels, Exodus gives you the ability to actually traverse the wartorn world. Exodus got generally positive reviews, but drew a mixed bag from existing fans. I quite enjoyed it, though the open world and non-linearity meant a less immerse game world, and detracted from the overall horror experience. But since I find horror boring and the game was beautiful AND fun… Well. You also get the Two Colonels, which I’ve heard mixed things about, but hey, can’t be too bad, right?

So… a lot to keep occupied this month. Hopefully it works! I’m skeptical that the world will get back to “normal” anytime soon, but maybe it’ll prove me wrong. In the news, people continue to be stubborn idiots—which is why I don’t watch the news. I still don’t (think I) have the virus and I hope y’all are safe too! There’s a lot going on in the world lately and I hope you lot know I appreciate you and what this outlet means to me. So, if you’ve read or played or listened to or heard of any of the preceding and would like to talk about them, let me know! If you want to talk books or add me on playstation drop me an email or a comment. Otherwise, thanks for stopping by and thanks for looking out!

Also: allergies. Anyone else got them? I was kinda hoping that they’d be less awful this year, but I appear to be SOL.

Two Bits: Slab City Blues – by Anthony Ryan

Slab City Blues #1

Scifi, Cyberpunk, Mystery, Novella

Smashwords; April 1, 2011

35 pages (ebook)

1.9 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

An early work of Anthony Ryan—I believe his first published works—are the Slab City Blues. I got an omnibus edition from the author himself; it’s taken a while for me to get around to them. However much I tend to hate on everything that isn’t Blood Song—it all could be much, much worse. But then, this is an early work. Remember that.

Welcome to the Slab, a back alley of a station where the rats and trash piles grow big but the people only get older and uglier. There’s a stranger in town, but why he’d want to visit doesn’t make sense. No one visits the Slab. But this stranger is here for a reason. He’s killing assassins, with tooth and claw.

It’s up to Inspector Alex McLeod to find him. Detective, war vet and reluctant widower. 2,199 murders in the Slab a year and only 5% go to him. If only it was so easy to let his wife go. But she’s still around, which is impressive, her being dead and all. Maybe he’ll finally be strong enough to let her go. Or maybe not. Thing is, Alex’s no saint, and he can’t do everything.

It reads like a Richard K. Morgan story, where the reader is thrown in the deep end—no explanations, no hand-holding—just the story and the action and the slang and lingo and they have to piece everything together themselves. Well, for the most part Morgan pulls it off, but Ryan fails to. Why? Possibly because his intro to the world is under a hundred pages. Like, way under. I was only just wrapping my head around everything when it ended. And it ended suddenly.

As stories go, Slab City Blues #1 wasn’t terrible. It just wasn’t very good. Again, this had a lot to do with the length. Built around a hard-boiled, ex-mercenary, current detective that gets results but plays by his own rules—well, you see where this is going. Action heavy. I mean, the lead does his detective thing, a little, but it’s mostly about the action. Which is a shame. I would’ve liked to see a little more effort go into everything. The story is straightfoward: Point A to Point B, with very little in-between. And very little recap necessary. I guess that’s why half a page after we stumble onto the truth, the book ends.

I couldn’t get around to caring about the main’s relationship with his wife. She’s been dead for years and currently inhabits a simulation, which essentially is stealing her from death. For now. It’s not well explained, only that they’re fighting about it. And have been for a long time. Again, maybe if the story was longer, but whatever. I really think the author should’ve left it out, but I suppose he wanted to try to humanize his lead. But it doesn’t work. Especially since his lead isn’t human. This is just touched on briefly and then abandoned. Which, is frustrating.

Oh, and some of the language is… outdated? Like, some people are called straight “oriental” and other places where it’s “two Chinese were” doing something and… I dunno. It really could’ve been cleaned up.

TL;DR

Heavy on lingo, short on conclusions. Okay, okay, I guess we technically concluded the story. Then skipped through the bit where we tie everything together nicely and shot right to the emotional conclusion of the character’s arc. Which we did in a couple sentences. It was… it was almost as if the author ran out of time. Or couldn’t be bothered. Because who really runs out of time on a thirty page story? Especially when he took so much time setting the world up. Doesn’t take too long to read, though I’m not saying that’s a good thing. The best that I can say about Slab City Blues #1 is it’s not… horrible. It’s just not good. My copy was free, so I didn’t lose much by reading this. You can buy the first one for a buck, but I wouldn’t. Dunno whether it’s worthwhile to buy the collection, but I’ll update you after I read #2 (A Song for Madame Choi) and maybe 3. Til then, I guess.

The Fall of the Readers – by Django Wexler (Review)

Forbidden Library #4

Fantasy, YA, Middle Grade

Kathy Dawson Books; December 5, 2017

368 pages (ebook) 7hr 51min (audio)

4.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

So ends the Forbidden Library series. I’ve immensely enjoyed it, and am happy to report that Fall of the Readers was no different! While 2019 was the Year of Django in my book, it seems the future is bright for him. A pair of books out from him this year, with City of Stone and Silence following the debut of Ship of Smoke and Steel that I was a bit torn on. Ashes of the Sun is due out this summer, and my expectations are high. But let’s not (me) get distracted. So, the Fall of the Readers…

With Geryon defeated and imprisoned within a book, Alice reigns over the library. For now. The other Readers, sensing a shift in the balance of power, have come to take Geryon’s realm for themselves. While Alice thought she was prepared for what came ahead, she didn’t imagine just how hard it would be. Soon, the library is under threat. As are all the book realms within it. As are her friends; all the apprentices come under her protection. Alice is outmatched, and she knows it.

So when Ending—Alice and Geryon’s tentative ally—and the library’s labyrinthian, suggests an insane, last-ditch effort, Alice has no real choice but to pursue it. The goal is clear: she must free the labyrinthians, one and all, from their imprisonment. Then, together the free Labyrinthian and young Readers will turn their combined strength upon the elder Readers. And moving forward, the two can work as one to build a better world.

In theory, it’s a lovely ideal. But full of some pretty big “ifs”. Not to mention a mission that is almost certainly sure to fail. And with the old Readers closing in, Alice and her friends must hurry through it, just praying they have enough time to put the desperate plan into action. Because even if it works—and that’s a mighty big IF—and all of them survive, the old Readers are still a powerful enemy. There may be no way to defeat them, regardless of what Alice and the others do. And, well… Alice has more worries than just them. For even if her plan goes off without a hitch, what assurances does she have that Ending and the others will keep their word?

But then, what choice does she have, really?

As Wexler’s YA/Middle Grade series comes to a close, we’re confronted with some desperate, insane, and equally unlikely plans. Alice has always been an idealist, though in recent books, she’s begun to lose a bit of her luster. Her character development over the series has really been interesting, especially as it comes at a middle-grade level. But with all that has come and gone, Alice’s journey is far from over. And the final book may provide the biggest bombshell yet.

While I was sad to see the series end, I can report that it ends well. None of that cliffhanger or end-of-the-world/everyone-dies nonsense. There’s a bit of melancholy to it, but I don’t want to give any more away, so I’m going to leave it at that.

The pace of the book doesn’t let up. Being the final book in the series, it picks up early and never really slows down. There’re very few issues with lag, or the pace letting up, or even the story going off on a tangent. It’s pretty much straightforward to the end. More than one surprise is in store, and the (shall we say) “biggest” bombshell may not be the last. I didn’t have any problem rolling through this one, despite the fact that I lost my loan halfway through and had to start over a month or so later.

Audio Note: After four books, Cassandra Morris’s rendition of Alice has been perfected. Even halfway through the second book I had come to realize that I’d probably hear her voice in my head if I ever had to just read the books instead of listening to them. And while I didn’t have to (for very long, at least), even a few months between finishing the series and completing its review I can still her her voice in my head while I write this. While I was skeptical of her portrayal at first, I’ve certainly come around. Morris totally nailed Alice here, and I hope to read more of her narration later on!

TL;DR

The final entry in the Forbidden Library series was worth the wait. It was also worth reading the previous three to reach. The combined stories, along with those of its characters came together to create a lovely ending. Alice’s journey was a great one to travel. While her romance was a bit up and down (even here in the final book), her motivations, her story, her development as a character were all amazing. When compared with Wexler’s clunky start to the YA Wells of Sorcery, Fall of the Readers is even more of a triumph, and a must-read for anyone that enjoys middle-grade or even YA fantasy. With fantastic world-building end to end, relatable characters, an inventive setting, and provocative and thoughtful story, Fall of the Readers is a great end to a great series.

Two Bits: The Penitent Damned – by Django Wexler

Novella of the Shadow Campaigns #0

Novella, Fantasy

June 17, 2013

20 pages (ebook)

4 / 5 ✪

It begins with a discussion between the Last Duke and his assassin. A thief is coming to steal something very valuable, and they must be ready. But what is the item in question, and its importance to the thief? More so, the thief himself is an unknown. What abilities does he possess, exactly, and why would a careful man like him take on a dangerous mission such as this? To answer these questions, they must capture him.

Or her.

Alex is a master thief. And a master thief must have a masterful job before them. Anything less decays their skills and puts their talent to waste. And this job must be a masterwork. Anything less and she’ll die horribly. Even might die if she does everything perfectly—which means that Alex will cheat. Just a little.

I’ve not yet read any of the Shadow Campaigns, but I may have to remedy this very shortly. I have the first book sitting around somewhere (I think) and this glimpse into its world has me hungry for more.

A short, but lovely little read. Fast paced, thrilling and packed with heart-pounding action. I raced through it—shame it wasn’t longer. The magic system seems interesting; and while not new, isn’t the cliché version of point-and-shoot that just anyone can come up with on their day off. The surprising thing is that the characters showed depth. In a twenty page novella! While it wasn’t great depth, that can hardly be expected. But it did hint at more. Yes, I may have to read the Shadow Campaigns soon.

Recommended. You can read it for free here.

Witchsign – by Den Patrick (Review)

Ashen Torment #1

Fantasy, YA

HarperVoyager; May 22, 2018

450 pages (PB)

2.3 / 5 ✪

Despite a rather disappointing choice of narrator in Steiner, Witchsign was a lovely fantasy, complete with mystery and magic—the start of a great new series. Until… about its 200th page. At this point, the mystery and adventure dampened, the plot developed serious issues, and the story’s flow completely fell to pieces.

Seventy-five years ago, the dragons fell. The Synod overthrew the rule of fire and magic, hunting the mythic creatures to the ends of the earth until none remained. Thus was the Empire born.

Far to the north lie the Scorched Republics, flanked between the Empire and the Sommerende Ocean. Despite being independent, the republics belong to the Empire in all but name. Northmost of the northern republics is Nordvlast, where the brunt of our story takes place. Steiner lives in Cinderfell, a dreary town tucked up against the Spøkelsea, farthest distant from the Empire of any community on the continent. But even here—where the winters are frigid and the summers short, where ash falls from the sky and the sun rarely shines—the Synod still exert their influence. Every year children below the age of 16 are tested for the Witchsign: the ability to touch and control the elements. If such a child is found, they are shipped off by the Empire, never to be seen again.

Steiner is no witch. A blacksmith’s son, he spends his days in the forge and his nights at the tavern, his eye on the owner’s daughter, Kristofine. A girl who has just begun to return his smiles. A simple life, for a simple man.But he fears the coming Invigilation—the day of testing—regardless. It is not for himself that Steiner worries, but for his sister Kjellrunn. A carefree girl of sixteen, Kjell has always been different. Her hair is a tangle and her body immature, appearing to far younger than her actual age. She spends each day in the forests, communing with the trees, the rock, the ocean. She cares little for the townsfolk, and what they think. For they think she has the Witchsign. Steiner suspects so as well. And even so, Kjell has made it through every testing—all but the last. Steiner is sure this year will be the one she is found out, and taken from them. And he is willing to take any risk to protect her.

Any and every risk.

And he just may have to.

I was quite high on the beginning of this book. One of my top TBR for the year, Witchsign started off well, with a budding romance, a generally likable narrator, a mystery, a conflict, and the promise of much, much more. I was hooked and cruising through; a five-star read for sure.

But… Steiner isn’t the best narrator. Early on he and Kjellrunn share the load rather equally, but later on Steiner shoulders more and more of the story. And he’s… a bit dull. Rash, impulsive, stubborn. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, when it’s well written. But Steiner is not well-written. While the author portrays him as possessive of a keen mind despite his inability to read and write, his hulking frame and his reputation—Steiner’s actions betray him. While early on he seems a thoughtful youth possessed by an impulsive, stubborn streak, later he’s just impulsive, stubborn and rash. I guess this could be chalked up to his development throughout the story, but I just pegged it as bad writing. And though the author continues to paint thought and detail into the prose of Steiner’s chapters and descriptions, the character’s mood consistently contradicts this.

Kjellrunn, meanwhile, offers a thoughtful, provoking POV. Until she doesn’t. And then does, again. See, Witchsign works well enough through the first 300-plus pages. And then it breaks down. The next hundred twenty or so remind me a bit of the first Harry Potter—where the story skips around to the significant moments, while leaving the other parts out in the cold. While that worked (arguably) for Rowling, she used line- and page-breaks to indicate when the story would be taking a breather.

Witchsign doesn’t. I felt like the author was running short on time and provided a bare bones account of the middle, skipped forward to write the ending, and then came back to flesh out the rest. An acceptable tactic, when it works. When you GET to it all. Which e didn’t. What we’re left with is a hundred page gap of poorly written story (so bad in places that I ended up skimming through it a bit), followed by an ending that would’ve worked pretty well if it had matched the preceding events at all. So, while the set-up and middle of the book are good, the lead-in and final battle are nigh-unreadable. Then the wrap-up is back to good. It’s… very frustrating.

The story itself is well-thought out and the world well built—again, until it isn’t. The characters, the development, the plot, the flow—everything takes a break around the two-thirds mark.

Now, if you could just let off there and pick up at the end… but you can’t. Nothing would make sense. Believe me—I tried. Again, Den Patrick has me raving at the beginning and skipping chapters by the end. Quite an unusual feat to pull off more than once. Honestly, it was painful to see the read collapse like it did. And disappointing. A little more time could’ve made all the difference. But… t’was not to be.

TL;DR

Before beginning Witchsign I raved about its beautiful cover and interesting-sounding story. Right away I was hooked, and continued to praise the writing, the mystery and the story. But, like the Boy with the Porcelain Blade before it, that all changed. At around the halfway mark I became disillusioned with Steiner. At the two-thirds mark, became disillusioned with the story. Shortly thereafter, it became nigh-unreadable. If you tough it out to the end, you’re treated to a lovely post-battle wrap up, which only made sense when I figured that the author was running short on time and skipped forward to write the end first. But never got back to the middle. It gets the point across, carries the plot from Point A to B—but barely. And not well.

If you’re on the fence, I’d recommend against it. But, if you, say—have the next book sitting around somewhere already (it was free, which helps), and you want to tough it out… yeah, it’s doable. Wasn’t bad til the 300-page mark. The Ashen Torment continues in Stormtide, published last year. I’ll probably get to it eventually, so I’ll let you know how it goes. An important reminder though: you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Quick Update

So, I’ve finished Senlin Ascends and started on Tunnel of Bones, the 2nd Cassidy Blake novel, by Victoria Schwab. As an audiobook goes it’s a short one—only about 5 hours. Anyway, I figured I’d just do a quick update to cover a couple things.

  1. One of my favorite authors, Bradley Beaulieu, is offering free novellas over on his website (link here!) each week during the quarantined spring. This week’s novella, The Tattered Prince and the Demon Veiled, tells of Brama and his time immediately after returning to Sharakai following the events in Of Sand and Malice Made. If you’ve not read any of the Shattered Sands books, or you need a refresher, or if you just need some free, fantastic fiction in your life, I’d head over and check it out. Here’s a link to my review of it, if you’re on the fence.
  2. AC: Odyssey continues to impress, as I’ve surpassed the 100 hour mark and still haven’t completed the game. So, recommended, if you’re into that.
  3. I’ve had a hard time reading and sleeping lately, which is the reason behind a bit of a slow start to April. Those two things—combined with spring allergies (which have been a thing this week), quarantine & distancing and my job being shut down for the next month (financially, I’ll survive, but it’s not going to be much fun)—have been suuuper annoying. Which all sort of lead to this impromptu post.

Hope everyone’s doing well and reading and sleeping better than I’ve been! Hopefully it’ll get better soon. Hopefully a lot of things will get better soon.