Review: Mercedes Lackey – Apex (N)

Apex
Mercedes Lackey

After discovering the plot in the sewers, and protecting Apex from a mass invasion. Joy continues to protect the city with her Hounds. With new allies things seem brighter than ever. But there are forces among the Othersiders and within the city who are conspiring for their own agendas.

The third installment in the Hunter series give a good continuation to the second book. Not an easy task since the second book ended post a climatic battle and triumph. The tension stays high with Joy stepping carefully around the Psicorp leader who she encountered in the previous book.

We have Joy teaming up with new Hunters helping lend a hand to the Elite. This get more Hound descriptions! Which makes me happy, I loved the descriptions of the different hounds and their different abilities. Another aspect of this that I loved was that even though Joy and the other Elite are just that, they still ask for an get help from the other Hunters. It embodies the feel of its about teamwork first and foremost. And that there is nothing wrong with stating extra hands are needed.

We get more of an outside focus beyond the city of Apex in this book. Which is a nice expansion to the world. As well as a few more new characters from the Othersiders. It gives a small fraction of the other side of the fence so to speak. Like A small taste of the greater details. It’s a frustrating balance that Lackey didn’t quite manage this time around. I wanted to know more. Overall the book left me thinking that there must be another book coming because it felt like there were too many holes in the series overall.

I mentioned a few about Ace and about the plots Joy uncovered in the first and second books. we got a couple of those resolved but additional larger mysteries that we don’t manage to get answers to sadly. Another thing that bothered me was a couple of locations seemed to get rehashed. Joy visited a noodle shop in the second book. Then when she goes back here in this book its like she never had visited. More annoying is that we get a bigger issue with the Folk not being known to teleport and Joys surprise regarding this. Yet in the first book she notes the Folk mage she encounters early on teleports. It was frustrating to have such errors in what was otherwise an enjoyable read to me.

Overall, it really feels like there should be another book following up after this to really close out the series. But just because I want more detail about the behind the scenes plots doesn’t mean Joy will actually learn about the motives of other characters. Much like the real world. It was a relaxed low stress read for me, desire to know more aside.

Review: Mercedes Lackey – Elite (N)

Elite
Mercedes Lackey

Hunter Joy has largely settled in Apex. She’s managed to advance to Elite Hunter and now has a new mission from her Uncle, the city’s Prefect. However danger and conspiracy abound as she traverses the sewers beneath the city.

This makes for a nice follow up to Hunter. We get to see more details about life in Apex. Beyond the superstar treatment the previous book gave Joy for generally being a new hunter with impressive skills. There are additional characters we get to know as well as a clearing picture about some of the Othersiders only briefly mentioned before. We also get more information on some previous characters from the first book. They get additional time for us to get to know more than the picture they display the world which gives the world more depth and feeling.

One of the great things is the way different Hunters are portrayed with different skills. It gives a great element of team work between hunters, combining their skills and magic to overcome the odds.

We do see Ace again, after his previous downfall. Towards the end there is a feeling of more at play in the overall story but it doesn’t really eventuate in this book to anything concrete. It could just be a small detail that we will never know since the story is told from Joy’s point of view. Only time will tell.

As with the previous book definitely targeted towards the younger side of young adult. But a good leisure read for adults that don’t want something deep or heavy thought to read. Again sits somewhere between 3 and 4 stars.

Review: Mercedes Lackey – Hunter (N)

Hunter
Mercedes Lackey

Monsters came forth from the Otherside after the Diseray. The catastrophe destroying human civilisation. But something else came with them, the last hope, the Hounds. Joyeaux Charmand is a hunter for her small community and has been for a long time. Now called to serve Apex City, where the best hunters protect the most important people.

I’ve been a fan of Lackey’s writing since I was much younger so I’m always eager to read a new one of her novels. This one was a different feel to her Valdemar series. I enjoyed reading about the different Hounds that different hunters have and learning about the way the world was in this novel. I enjoyed a large degree of the descriptions – since Joy is essentially a newcomer to Apex she notices things in a lot of detail that provides some excellent fodder for imagining the scene. We learn a lot in the first few chapters in a way that is very sudden. So keeping it in mind through the book is a bit difficult. The writing is geared towards young adult readers but makes for a relaxing read for an adult.

Very post-apocalyptic feel, with a good helping of redevelopment of politics. Though there is only the barest fringe of that holding center stage in the book. I mostly enjoyed the characters, there were some oversimplifications between the main character Joy and the people she interacts with. But nothing that made the book unreadable. The characters that are clearly in Joy’s corner are notable and different. Though there is a degree of one-dimensional-ness to them that gradually begins to fade when joy interacts a bit more.

There was at least one loose end regarding Hunter Ace, a semi antagonist of Joy. Just a throw-away line that just seems to be mentioned and never brought up or explored again. I would have loved to know a little more background beyond him being arrogant for arrogance’s sake. Still it was nice to see how Joy approached and handled the pressure.

This was a re-read for me, as Lackey remains a good comfort read. But to give it a rating I think it was sit somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. It really can’t match with story depth that shows good and bad for all characters. But comfort reads have their place as well.

Review: Flynn Meaney – Bad Habits

Bad Habits
Flynee Meaney

Alex (she/her) doesn’t want to be at a Catholic boarding school. She wants nothing of gender traditions, boyfriends and study. In the spirit of getting kicked out, she decides to put on “The Vagina Monologues” to really shock the school into expulsion!

Alex is a badass young woman who speaks her mind and isn’t afraid to teach sexual education and action it. That being said, as the point-of-view is only hers, it was difficult to work out how much was her internal attitude and how much was her outer persona. At times, it seemed as if it was all a front – inside she’s just as scared about growing up as other kids.

There’s some lighthearted lol moments, yet this novel manages to get some important messages out. Sexual health? Tick. (ir)Responsible parenthood? Tick (and how I wish Australia had something like Planned Parenthood). Tampons? Yep, it has those too. Alex is a vehicle for change within her school and also somehow ignorant of the types of feminism that are equally valid. It’s a far better example of feminism than Juliet Takes a Breath, but it is still missing the trans* element that needs to be added to the feminist ‘agenda’.

What fell flat for me was a lack of actual action! Things seemed to be happening basically in a vacuum, with study and classes taking a back seat. That’s fine and all, but it seemed to me like all they did was plan extra-curricular activities. The play is supposed to be the highlight of the novel, but it never really happens. I also didn’t buy into the ‘best friends forever’ theme.

I’ve just realised that this is the third book in a row that had the setting of a boarding school. Now, maybe it’s just me, but boarding school always seemed to just be for rich people, and magicians! This novel doesn’t break the mold either. Still, it was a decent enough read that although I was somewhat embarrassed to read it (bright pink and yellow cover, anyone?) I did polish it off in a single sitting. For that, I’m going to give it 4 stars, and recommend it to teenage girls who need a strong female protagonist that isn’t afraid to say ‘vagina’.

Penguin Random House | 16th February 2021| AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Shivaun Plozza – The Boy, the Wolf, and the Stars

The Boy, the Wolf, and the Stars
Shivaun Plozza

Bo’s best friend is Nix, the fox – but that’s all he has in the world. His guardian Mads doesn’t really love him, and the nearby villagers think that he brought the Shadow creatures. When Mads dies, Bo has to decide for himself what he wants to do – follow the adventure he had no intention of beginning, or just try to stay out of trouble.

Bo is lied to and abused by almost everyone in his life. In fact, even the people he trusts lie to him – even if sometimes it is to protect him. The underlying theme of this novel is that sometimes life is unfair – but you don’t need to let the anger grow too much.

Something I didn’t understand was why Bo always needed to hide his face in his hood. In the village it seemed to make some sense, since he was recognisable to everyone. After he got into the main world though, I couldn’t understand how people knew he was different.

I put off reading this novel because I had forgotten that it was middle grade, and I thought it might follow the pattern of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I was pleasantly surprised that it was an entry fantasy novel that was light and quick to read – nothing like the YA offerings of this author ofΒ Frankie and Tin Heart.

I’m not the target audience, so with that in mind I would still recommend this book. It has a blatant message that it is bad to lie, and that forgiveness is hard to properly give, but it’s also fantasy so it is enjoyable to read. 4 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 20th October 2020 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Phil Stamper – As Far As You’ll Take Me

As Far As You’ll Take Me
Phil Stamper

Marty has always been the shy kid in the background, and he’s been happy like that. Being gay in Kentucky with a conservative community and Bible throwing parents isn’t exactly the best place to make waves. Marty decides to make the life he wants happen – he’s flying to London in order to play his beloved oboe and find a place to belong.

Did someone say that we needed more diversity in queer fiction? Even if they didn’t, this novel is a worthy addition to any gay teen’s bookshelf. It’s an accessible, friendly novel about Marty finally getting to live the openly-queer life he has always wanted since age six. The romance is a bit ugh, but I liked that it didn’t come to an obvious conclusion. Thank you, Marty, for not being a complete idiot.

I have suffered from anxiety in the past, and I could completely empathise with Marty that crowded spaces and new places freaked him out. However, the couple of times where he seemed to have a panic attack, and then had his new friends calm him down didn’t ring true to me. Thus, the ending to the novel seemed too neat.

Did I read this too fast, or something? I barely even picked up Marty’s disordered eating before his friends did. Yes, he seemed a bit obsessed about foods, but at the same time I felt like maybe it was harmless. I think that my sense of timing was off. The twelve weeks of summer seemed to go past faster than I realised. This was a complaint I had about The Gravity of Us as well.

I think that the blurb on this novel lets it down. I don’t think that Marty’s homesickness ever gets that bad, and he seems to be coping with his anxiety mostly ok. Also, I didn’t really get a sense of him running through his savings. And again, if it was so expensive to live in London, doesn’t that just mean that he should live at home with his aunt a bit longer? Certainly in Australia you are often expected to (or expect to) live with your parents for a while after you graduate high school.

I was very keen for this novel to come and I started reading it in short order. However, I took breaks in reading it because some parts just seemed too real and upsetting. I’m not sure that’s a complaint – just a comment that this book could potentially be triggering for some people. I won’t read it again, but I’d highly recommend it for any musically inclined travel-hungry teenager, gay or not. 4 stars from me.

Bloomsbury | 9th February 2021 | AU$15.99 | paperback

Review: Amy Tintera – Reboot Duology

Reboot and Rebel (Reboot Duology)
Amy Tintera

Wren 178 is the oldest Reboot in the system. She died once, and it took 178 minutes for her body to reboot and become superior to a human one – no emotions, no problems. Wren’s favourite part of the job is training new reboots to kill ‘bad’ humans effortlessly. She always gets her first pick of trainees, and she always picks the ones that took a long time to reboot – only the fittest and hardest can survive. In a fit of confusion, Wren chooses Callum 22 to train, and then finds that she isn’t quite the emotionless monster she thinks she is.

I felt some confusion on why the virus was only in Texas. I didn’t get a sense of anything in the rest of the global landscape. It would have been better, I think, if this had just been set in a new world. I spent a fair amount of time wondering what the other states/cities of the USA were doing about the virus. Is there scope for a sequel where Wren takes on other states that treat reboots like property?

I had some unanswered questions. Why wasn’t HARC looking into why adults that caught KDV went crazy? I feel like since some of the drugs they were testing on the under 60’s (Reboots that revived under 60 minutes) caused craziness rather than obedience, and the adult link could be useful.

This is a successful perversion of the fact that in some countries, war has created ‘child soldiers’. The ‘civilised’ countries can’t believe that someone would do that to an innocent child – but Tintera takes that concept and makes it worse. You only need to be 10 to train to be a Reboot soldier.

There’s a whole lotta kissin’ in these novels. Sure, two of the characters eventually have sex, and sex seems to be a sort of substitute for love/feelings earlier in the series – but it’s not satisfying. It’s not even that obvious, so you could even give this to a teenager who isn’t quite comfortable with the idea of sex yet.

I have to say that I was very disappointed in the ending of this. Riley was dealt with far too calmly, and the escape from HARC unlikely. I guess that it seems quite straight forward that the threat could be contained. This fits the feeling of the Ruina series (reviews here) where the first book was a fantastic 5 stars, but the later ones left me cold with only a 3 star rating. So it’s a 4 star average for this one – fun to read, but not a reread.

Review: Tui T Sutherland – The Winglets Quartet

The Winglets Quartet
Tui T Sutherland

“Fiercetooth, a NightWing obsessed with what could have β€” and should have β€” been. Deathbringer, desperate to prove himself as the next great NightWing assassin. Six-Claws, a loyal SandWing, who will soon find that loyalty comes with a price. Foeslayer the NightWing, a dragon in love turned kidnapper, and Prince Arctic of the IceWings, a runaway turned captive.”

This is a combined review from my daughter (11 years) and myself. She’s still getting the hang of book reviews, but I have great hopes for the future! Her comments:

This book was Wonderful, I enjoyed reading immensely. I think it’s one of the best books in the Wings of Fire series [Rose notes here that she has spent most of her pocket money buying these books, despite finding free copies online]. There are several different stories and I liked that the dragons then had some back story. The second and third short stories go together, which was pretty awesome.

The fourth was my favourite because I really like the ice kingdom and it’s really cool. [Rose: No pun intended!]. The third one was pretty good two because we met the Nightmare Assassin’s mother (the one that Glory met). The second one was a let down, the ending wasn’t as good.

Rose: From my adult standing, and the fact that I generally hate short stories, I felt frustrated by this book. It also didn’t help that I felt somewhat rushed into reading it because I needed to deliver it to my daughter (the new COVID-normal, apparently). I had finished reading the first three books of the Wings of Fire, but hadn’t started the next ones. I think it’s essential to finish reading those first five books to enjoy this one to its fullest.

Thanks for Scholastic for sending this one for my review! I’m not going to reread it (but I’m not its major audience), but my daughter would go out and buy it herself if she hadn’t gotten a copy. She’s also rereading all of these to the exclusion of other books – so they must be good. 4 combined stars. I’d recommend it to any book buyer who has a crazy dragon-fancier in their house. I don’t think you could go wrong buying this for budding dragonologists!

Scholastic | October 2020 | AU$6.99 | paperback

Review: Jason Segal & Kirsten Miller – OtherEarth

OtherEarth
Jason Segal & Kirsten Miller

You thought things were out there in OtherWorld? Well, they just got stranger. Simon’s made it out of the virtual world, and into the real one. Well, some of the time. OK, most of the time he’s still there. But he has Kat! And that means he can save the world. But which world?

I somehow didn’t have as much empathy as I could have for the Children. Real AI, that knows it’s alive and can think for itself? That hasn’t freaked me out for a while, I accept the inevitability of robot overlords eventually! And I’m quite cruisy with the idea from Questionable Content, and I care about the robots there. These Children were creepy, but also cool at the same time. But! How can they really be alive if they die when the servers turn off?

Jeeze, these writers know how to write a good cliffhanger. It’s a good thing I could find OtherLife online, otherwise I would have been really grumpy. It’s a second book, and it shows. The twists and turns seem to be thrown in just for the hell of it, and we don’t see any character development.

Somehow Simon is just as assholish as the first novel, plus we get Elvis who is just as bad. I just can’t believe this novel. Sure, dystopian future, but I’d like to see how it relates back to us now. I can’t relate to two rich kids who are hanging around with a couple of mill’ in cash, complete with mafia grandfather.

Alright, enough of a review from me. I’m going to go read OtherLife, and see if it draws the series to a successful end, or whether it leaves me just as tripped as this one.

Bloomsbury | 31st October 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Nina LaCour – Watch Over Me

Watch Over Me
Nina LaCour

Mila has aged out of the foster care system and she doesn’t know quite what to do next. She’s offered a job on an isolated farm where there’s the fog and the flowers to keep her hidden. But she’s being seen now, and Mila’s own memories are beginning to return. How can she survive by herself? Or will she need to trust others.

watch over meThis was almost real-world believable. Apart from the ghosts. But she hadn’t known about the ghosts. It’s fascinating how LaCour is able to step inside a tortured psyche and make it so that her readers are imprinted into the novel themselves. By this I mean that almost any person who has undergone trauma could see how this related to them.

It’s key here that even if the ghosts aren’t real, it can often seem so to someone who has experienced prolonged and extreme trauma. This novel makes it easier for the inhabitants of the farm by making it clear that they must face their ‘ghosts’ before they can move on with their lives. If only it was that easy to overcome past life experiences that way, rather than having to go to many years of therapy that may or may not work! I think something else that this novel highlights is that you have to be ready to face your demons, or they will continue to have power over you. It reminds me of the old saying ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’.

I should have reviewed this while it was really fresh in my mind, but I’ve been in a bit of a reviewing slump. I really quite enjoyed it, although my job was killed a little by reading an eBook version. I had previously enjoyed Hold Still and The Disenchantments, so maybe that set me up with high expectations? Perhaps I would read it again, but only if I had a paperback copy.

Text Publishing | 29 September 2020 | AU$19.99 | paperback