Tuesday, May 21, 2019

5 Worlds: The Red Maze by Mark Siegel

Summary from Goodreads:
In book 3, Oona Lee is determined to light Moon Yatta's beacon and continue her quest to save the galaxy. But reaching the red beacon means navigating an impossible maze of pipes and facing devious enemies at every turn. Luckily, her friend Jax Amboy has returned from his adventures transformed! Now he must confront the owner of his former starball team, a ruthless businessman who will stop at nothing to get his best player back on the field . . . and who can grant them access to the beacon. Meanwhile, Oona and An Tzu find a mysterious rebel leader and release a surprising power within Oona's magic. Will they make it in time to stop the evil force seeking to rule the 5 Worlds?
These books are always just a pure joy to read. I recommend them to kids at my library all the time, when they are in book hangovers from the Amulet series. They are light, fun, and beautiful to look at. It’s been so much fun to read about a different world in each installment too. Oona is traveling to them to light all the beacons, and it’s so interesting to get such different characters, personalities, and politics on each planet. I also read the story in one sitting.
Oona has also come a long way. She’s not afraid any more. In this book, she does what she needs to do, stands up to evil characters, and finds the right people to help her in quest. It’s also nice to see the whole gang together again. I love the friend group between Oona, Jax Amboy, and An Tzu. I love watching their relationships grow. I almost wanted more time with the 3 of them.
That being said, this isn’t my favorite installment in the series. It didn’t have the family drama I’d come to love in the first two books. And Oona seemed maybe too focused on her job. Some of her personality from the past books was missing. It felt a little bit like a middle/filler book. I did love the art, the continuation of the beacons, and the setting. And I will most definitely keep reading the series and keep recommending the books. I give it an 8/10.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Summary from Goodreads:
To keep the family safe, Min’s mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times. Min feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She’s counting the days until she can follow her older brother, Jun, into the Space Forces and see more of the Thousand Worlds.

When word arrives that Jun is suspected of leaving his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is wrong. Jun would never desert his battle cruiser, even for a mystical object rumored to have tremendous power. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name.

Min’s quest will have her meeting gamblers, pirates, and vengeful ghosts. It will involve deception, lies, and sabotage. She will be forced to use more fox-magic than ever before, and to rely on all of her cleverness and bravery. The outcome may not be what she had hoped, but it has the potential to exceed her wildest dreams.
I loved this one. I’m finally getting back into the swing of things on my reading schedule. That, or all the books I’ve been reading as of late are just exceptionally good. This is definitely my favorite book so far in the “Rick Riordan Presents” series. And it’s my favorite middle grade book I’ve read this year so far.
I became a little fascinated by Korean culture when I took a Korean class in my senior year of high school. I discovered Korean food, Korean tv shows, and I learned that my brain is hardwired to learn languages. I’m relatively good at learning languages (a skill I forget). So, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a book was coming out about Korean mythology. I was even more impressed to see the story take place in space.
There are so many things that could have gone wrong with this story because there were so many things going on, but it actually almost seemed to improve the further I got into it, and the more levels of the plot there became. I loved that the main character wasn’t perfect. I loved her Gryffindor level bravery and that the love she has for her brother is what drives her. I love her powers and that as the book goes along, the stronger/more skilled she becomes at using them. I love her sense of loyalty and when she makes deals with someone (from shady bar owners, to ghosts, to fake friends, to annoying cousins) she always honors them.
The book expands worlds. There’s gambling dens, lots of mythological characters, space travel, epic space battles, ghosts, magical items, military school (that resembled Jedi training, kind of), and there really wasn’t ever a boring moment. The crazy plot always held my interest. And it’s the first book in the “Rick Riordan Presents” series that doesn’t read just like a Rick Riordan book. It doesn’t have his formula. Or if it does, there’s so many other interesting elements that blind me to the formula.
The characters were amazing. It was nice to see more representation in Middle Grade with a nonbinary character. I also loved the complexities of the good and bad characters. They all came off as believable and possible. Plus, it was great to learn about Korean mythology, and it was so cool to have characters that were both human and animal (or dragon). The world building was so cool too. I loved learning about the setups for the different planets, particularly the ghost one. I found the whole ghost element of the story to be really cool. And I can’t wait to see where the author takes this next in a book 2.
All in all, I was really impressed. I loved the characters, the story, and the setting. There’s not much I can say against this book. Maybe it was a little too predictable, but most Middle Grade books are for me. I still give it a 10/10.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu

Summary from Goodreads:
From #1 New York Times bestseller Cassandra Clare and award-winner Wesley Chu comes the first book in a new series that follows High Warlock Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood as they tour the world after the Mortal War. The Red Scrolls of Magic is a Shadowhunters novel.

All Magnus Bane wanted was a vacation—a lavish trip across Europe with Alec Lightwood, the Shadowhunter who against all odds is finally his boyfriend. But as soon as the pair settles in Paris, an old friend arrives with news about a demon-worshipping cult called the Crimson Hand that is bent on causing chaos around the world. A cult that was apparently founded by Magnus himself. Years ago. As a joke.

Now Magnus and Alec must race across Europe to track down the Crimson Hand and its elusive new leader before the cult can cause any more damage. As if it wasn’t bad enough that their romantic getaway has been sidetracked, demons are now dogging their every step, and it is becoming harder to tell friend from foe. As their quest for answers becomes increasingly dire, Magnus and Alec will have to trust each other more than ever—even if it means revealing the secrets they’ve both been keeping.
I’m a big Cassandra Clare fan. I know she’s not for everybody. But, I’ve always enjoyed her urban fantasy settings, her superb characters, her magical world building, and her super dramatic love stories. I’ve been reading her books since I was a teenager. Her books read like a mixture of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, and True Blood. They are aren’t the best YA out there, but wow they are addicting, dramatic cat nip for my fantasy deprived soul.
One of the things I always felt was missing from her original series was more romantic development for Magnus and Alec. Magnus and Alec are just my favorites. They might be the only reason I continued to watch the terrible Shadowhunters tv show. Getting to watch them fall in love on tv was worth all of the terrible places the writers of that show took this amazing story. Side note: why is it so hard to translate these stories to the screen? The movie and tv show were really not good. Clary and Jace always stole the spotlight. And I love them too. But I always wanted more of Magnus and Alec than I got.
When the book of short stories all about Magnus came out, I all but pounced on it. He is just one of the most interesting characters to probably come out of YA literature, ever. He’s not only the high warlock of Brooklyn, but he’s also this bisexual immortal, fun-loving, fashionable downworlder that doesn’t discriminate against anyone (including shadowhunters who most of the downworld hate). He’s kind, wise, intelligent, full of all the best one-liners, and he brings a delightful element of humor to all these otherwise highly suspenseful and dramatic stories. He’s also the son of a higher demon, and incredibly powerful. So many of the other main characters would be dead if not for him.
Yet, it always felt like his love story was pushed aside for the others. Finally, finally there is a whole book dedicated to his love story! And I absolutely adored it. I love that it takes place several books before where Clare is currently writing, so we can see the early stages of the love story. It’s a love story that travels from New York, to Paris, to Venice, to Rome, to back home again in New York.  And of course it’s not a simple romantic European vacation book either. There’s demon worshiping cults, insanely epic battle scenes on the Orient Express, lots of magic, meetups with international shadowhunters, new friends, and old friends (like Aline and Helen!), masquerade balls, double crossing plot twists, and all sorts of fun.
Like all parts of past stories and plots to involve Magnus, this was just a pure delight to read. I had so much fun getting to know him even more. And I had even more fun watching the early stages of Malec develop. A lot of their firsts happen on this trip. And I just feel like the author listened to her fans. What did everyone want? More Alec and Magnus. And here it is. I’m so glad there will be a series here too. I can’t wait to read more. I give this one a 10/10.

Monday, May 13, 2019

A Good Week in Books (203)

I’ve fallen behind in my reading. A huge reason why is my health. Frequent migraines make reading less fun. But, I think I’m finally figuring that all out. Cross your fingers.  I have been feeling weirdly creative lately and I’ve actually been working on some poetry (which I haven’t done in years). Any way, I hope to get back into the swing of things soon.

I did read one excellent Cassandra Clare book, and I’m halfway through another amazing middle grade novel. I have a HUGE stack of books calling to me right now, so once I get my chores done today (on my day off), I have a feeling the rest of my day will be spent how I like it best: in the company of books.
I received 3 new books for review this past week or so. And I’m so excited for all 3 of them. They are all on my radar of Must-Reads, so hopefully I’ll get to them soon. (Thank you Farrar Straus Giroux and First Second).
The new pretties:

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal
Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking up with Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Once and Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

Summary from Goodreads:
I’ve been chased my whole life. As a fugitive refugee in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur.

Now I’m done hiding.

My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.

When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.

No pressure.
This is a weirdly hard book to review and talk about. There were some crazy, amazing, remarkable things in this book, yet at the same time, it was choppy and way too easy to put down. I figured out my feelings about this book when talking to a co-worker about it. Sometimes I just have to voice stuff out loud to understand.
Any way, the good first:  The concept for this book was amazing. A girl King Arthur in space? Yes please.  A corporation taking over the universe one capitalist planet at a time? Awesome. And a future where it’s unacceptable to guess someone’s sexuality or gender because there is no normal? Even better.
This book is filled with so much diverse representation, it’s incredible. There are some characters I have never seen represented in books before. The main character is pansexual. There’s straight, gay, bi, pan, ace, and non-binary characters. I also love that the main character, the 42nd reincarnation of King Arthur, is a refugee revolutionary. And the best thing about all this diverse representation? It never felt over-the-top or forced, or even just there to check off some boxes. It all felt real, and I believe it all only added positive components to the story as a whole.
This was also a character driven story, and I loved getting to know everyone. The chemistry, banter, and friendships between everyone was fantastic. There was a suprising amount of humor added to it all also. I actually laughed out loud at several moments.
What did not work in this book was the plot. The pacing was choppy at best. Moments would build and then disappear…I literally put this down at least 5 times because I thought I skipped a page, but no…the story would just make these weird jumps and expect you to follow along. I had a hard time following the jumps in the story. There was also something that just felt missing.
Talking about this book out loud helped me realize what that was. There’s no overarching plot device/mission/end goal.  The end goal isn’t clear till the last 10% of the book, but I needed that end goal in the first 10%. I needed to know what I was hoping for/needing to happen. And because this end goal was missing, the choppy pacing felt even more confusing. I needed something to connect the dots from the beginning. I needed to know what Ari wanted to do. I needed to know what exactly Merlin hoped Ari would do. And I needed to want those things to happen. Instead, things just happened as the story went along, and I kept losing focus. I almost put the book down and stopped reading entirely.
The characters kept me interested though, and really it’s because of the characters that I finished the book at all. It took me about 2 weeks to read. Hence, all of my mixed feelings about this book. I loved the characters. I loved the diversity. I loved the concept of it. I just didn’t love the execution of the book. Some things needed to be made clear much earlier on. And if I was an editor, I’d have these authors seriously work on transitions. I guess I’d give this a 7/10.