Because Good Books Never Get Old.
Cleverly disguised as a responsible adult.
I like books. A lot. I buy them when I should buy clothes, or you know, food. I like to talk about books. A lot.
I'm on twitter as @msjessieee.
I ramble on there a lot. There is also a lot of CAPS and puns in my timeline.
Say hi, and let's talk about books!
Last year, Jay burst onto the scene with his steampunkian fantasy of an almost-Japan (here called the Shima Imperium) with his debut novel, Stormdancer. The hype began early, built over months of anticipation, and swelled to immense proportions before the book dropped. And when it did, Jay delivered -- Stormdancer was a tour de force of fantasy, steampunk, kickass characters, and rebellion. Immense in scope, in creativity, and filled with unforgettable writing, and complex, realistic characters, it exceeded my expectations in every way -- and they were HIGH.
I am here to tell you that Kinslayer, book two in this Lotus War series, is even better. You want more death, destruction, struggle? You got it, in spades. The scale is bigger, the stakes are higher, and this is an author that can, and does, improve on his already-impressive first book. If you liked what Kristoff had to offer in Stormdancer - chainsaw katanas, a fresh and inventive take on steampunk technology, an incredibly well-drawn world, betrayals, secrets, conspiracies, rebellion, action aplenty - then you'll love what he serves up for round two. The Lotus War is a story told on a grand scale and one that doesn't shy away from making readers flinch.
While in book one we were told, "the lotus must bloom", now the rebels have modified it to the more ominous, "the lotus must burn." This is a darker book. The lines have clearly been drawn and a civil war is on the brink. Yukiko wrestles with her role, with what she has done, and with what she will do. People die. People you like will die. People you like will surprise you -- and not always in a good way. The risks that Jay Kristoff takes with his plotting and characters more than pay off. He creates suspense with ease as well a genuine fear that no one -- and nothing -- is truly safe with Shima on the brink. He writes with a clear eye for the visual and a lot of the action scenes read cinematically. The detail is dense, the worldbuilding intricate and complete, and it all serves to create an Empire that feels dangerously real and frighteningly familiar.
Kinslayer is epic. It's an epic story with several major plotlines across an empire; there's Yukiko and Buruu going about doing what they do (no spoilers!), there's the Kagé stronghold in the mountains, and there are the subversives hiding in Kigen city, waiting for a chance to hit back at the authorities. Widening the focus of the story allows for more prominent characters than just Yukiko and the antagonist of the soon-to-be-Emperor/Yukiko's former lover, Tora Hiro. Both Yukiko and Hiro play important parts, but they are mostly removed from the main action - Hiro through the dense administration system surrounding a clan Daimyo, and Yukiko through her own struggles to rectify what has happened to her life in the previous novel. Buruu remains a key participant in Yukiko's storyline, and remains one of the best animal characters to ever grace a page. However, even he is full of surprises as the hundreds of pages race by.
We've met Michi before as a minor character, but here in Kinslayer, she gets the time and pages to shine. Her storyline is taut, full of deception and suspense. While Yukiko has spearheaded the fight against the Guild and the Emperor, Michi is in the trenches (credit for that line goes to the lovely Christina at Reader of Fictions!) fighting however and whoever it takes to win. She emerges as a major player and easily surpassed Yukiko in my affections, due to her pragmatic and bad ass approach. Hana, another newcomer with more to her than meets the eye, also more than proves her worth. Between her characterization and Michi's, it's obvious there is more than one strong, dangerous woman in Shima. Yukiko may be the Arashi-no-odoriko, but these two women are capable, smart, cunning, and each play pivotal parts in all that plays out in the pages. While most of my appreciation, character-wise, is for these two newish characters, older and more familiar faces continue to operate in various functions. Akihito, Kin, Kaori, etc. all are prominent and important, but do lack the liveliness of Michi and Hana's storylines.
Though there are clearly the good guys and the bad guys, Kristoff creates a cast that is not black and white. Yukiko is the heroine, but not everything she does is heroic, or even right. The Kagé are the good side, compared the power-hungry Guild and the omnivorous Empire, but not all of its members are truly good people. Similarly, the people that surround Hiro, the book's clear antagonist and foil for Yukiko, are not all evil power despots. The shades of grey that the author imbues into his characters make them all more realistic, more complex, and thus, interesting. Clearly the most sympathy will lie with the Kagé and their struggle to topple a corrupt government, but I appreciated how deftly Kristoff handled the creation the characters on all sides of the conflict. I always say I want a complex antagonist over a one-dimensional psychopath, and that a conflicted heroine is better than a perfect paragon, and I am proved right by the layers each of these two key characters possess. I may not like either of them too much, but I can understand where both are coming from and what they hope to gain.
The worldbuilding is truly some of the best I have ever read in the fantasy genre. It's on par with series that have taken twice as many volumes to create their version of Earth. In just two books, Jay Kristoff has created a viable, deadly, believable world. He has shown how a once-prosperous country can find itself on the verge of failure. From the mythology to the government, there is more than enough detail to flesh out the culture of the Shima Imperium to a reader's satisfaction. No stone has gone unturned, no idea unexplored. New cultures are shown, and new ideas are explored. Above all, Kinslayer never stagnates or dawdles. While the steampunk technology is less featured here (exception: Earthcrusher, clockwork arm!), it retains its originality, usefulness, and flair. Jay proves that less is more and doesn't oversaturate his plotline with nifty gadgets and chainsaw katanas. This isn't a version of steampunk featured on dirigibles and tea -- this is steampunk focused on war, domination, and destruction. And it. is. AWESOME.
Kinslayer is a book with everything you could hope for in steampunk fantasy with arashitora and sea dragons. It's packed to the brim with action, drama, and suspense. It takes characters we know and changes them, makes them evolve and hopefully grow. It proves that in war, no one is safe and anyone can betray you. It shows all sides of a conflict and doesn't flinch from murdering off favorite, beloved characters. It's a brash, loud, completely fun read. It's dense, and detailed, and still the pages fly by. If you want originality, or an inventive fantasy, or a book that combines dire straits with a dash of humor, or all of the above, this is the book you want to read. This is one of my favorite books of EVER, and I will be rereading it for years to come.
My only worry is how Jay Kristoff will manage to top this.
--And when I can get a copy of the third book.
3.75 out of 5
Not a Drop to Drink is a strong, well-written, and evocative read. It smartly captures and portrays a world without easily-accessible water, and McGinnis ably spins her story of survival in desperate times. Main character Lynn is a striking protagonist and a memorable one as she grows up in this world where cholera is once again a deadly force and the thirsty dead roam free. With her third person narration and the story's creative spin on a post/near-apocalypse, Not a Drop to Drink is easily one of the better YA debuts for the latter half of 2013.
The premise itself is a clever one, and McGinnis explores it pretty well. There's not a lot of information immediately dispersed about the world Lynn and her mother live in, but details are slowly revealed through dialogue, conversation, and deed. The desperate atmosphere is palpable, the drama is intense, and above all, it's a believable scenario. Scarcity of drinkable water is something billions of people in the modern world already face, so it's easy to see the possibility in McGinnis's future. The author creates several clever ideas for her characters to be able to live and function in this world, so while Lynn and Laurel have done alright, they always live on the brink of disaster and dehydration.
Lynn is a more grown up, more mature character than a lot of YA protagonists out there. Her life is demanding and one of those demands is that she grow up fast and learn to defend what is hers, be it from other people or from the encroaching and increasingly bold wildlife. Threats come from all sides in McGinnis's world, and Lynn has been capable of killing to stay alive since she was nine years old. Her world is harsh, but Lynn isn't unlikeable. She isn't afraid to make hard choices and do what is necessary. I applaud that, and Lynn's pragmatic approach to survival. Going through the day-to-day chores Lynn performs to just stay alive is a refreshing change from how most authors would approach this kind of story. It makes for a quieter, less action-packed read, but it keeps everything realistic and fresh.
However, the characterization is the main reason I can't rate this book higher. There are more people than just Lynn and her mom in the novel, but none really came to life the way the first two did. Stebbs, a longtime neighbor, came closest, but the secondary cast needs some serious fleshing out. There is a love interest, but he was wooden and ill-defined. I wanted more from the characters -- Lynn is a powerhouse, and everyone else just kind of fades away. None possess her level personality, logic, or strength. It's frustrating because there is definite potential being wasted for the characters of Neva and Eli especially. Lucy straddles the middle - she's neither as well-rounded as Lynn, but she is not as one-dimensional as her mom and uncle.
If you liked Hatchet, or are a fan of teenage survivalism and self-reliance, Not a Drop to Drink is your book. It's a smart look at a realistic apocalyptic event, told ably and well by a strong debut author. Lynn will remain memorable for me for a long time. While this is a standalone with plenty of resolution, I wouldn't be averse to a sequel, or a companion novel.
The Accused: The Chaos of Stars' cast, writing, plotting
The Offense(s): Criminal waste of time, cover fraud, squandering a great premise, using cliches and juvenile writing
The Prosecution: Jessie, a disappointed reader
Opening Argument: Ladies and gentleman, I present to you a blurb that promises Egyptian gods, a creative new take for young adult supernatural fiction, and an interesting plot. The Chaos of Stars delivers Egyptian gods, sure -- but shallow, lifeless representations of them. Instead of a new, fresh plot, the same old tropes and themes are trotted out to the reader's exasperation. It is a boring affair - full of instalove, a cheesy romance, and lackluster execution.
Exhibit A: Isadora's lack of personality. Surliness and self-absorption do not a character make. She doesn't even qualify for antihero status. She's boring, she's immature, judgmental, and impossible to care about. If it doesn't directly concern Isadora herself, she is uninterested. It's hard to stomach such a badly-written character.
Exhibit B: The Chaos of Stars uses the same theme so many other young adult novels fall prey too - magical girl, who is beyond gorgeous (of course) must wrestle with familial expectations while trying to figure out what she wants from life. If you're going to use the Egyptian gods as your main characters, make use of them. Don't make them fade into the background until it's too late.
Exhibit C: The writing. It's juvenile. It's unpolished. There's no subtlety, no depth or any real emotion evoked in the nearly 300 pages of the book. You can skim the last 50ish pages and miss nothing. That is not good. There should be ethos, pathos, building tension, a dramatic conflict. There is sadly none of that to be found here.
Exhibit D: The plot. Where was it for most of the book? Your guess is as good as mine and I read the damn thing. For the most part, White focuses on a romance with an impossibly gorgeous Greek boy who is more than he seems to be (think about that for more than two minutes and you will have figured out a twist.) and who is in love with Isadora because...well... who knows.
Closing Argument: I was disappointed by this book from the beginning. For so much potential, the premise is neglected and the execution is lackluster. The characters are one-dimensional AND unlikeable or wooden, and the conclusion lacks emotion.
Verdict: Do not waste your time. It's not worth it, and you're honestly not missing anything by skipping this. Don't be lured in by that cover, or the promise of something original. There's none of that to be found in The Chaos of Stars.
The Ghost Bride is an evocative, eerie tale of one girl in 1890's Malaya (now known as Malaysia). Debut author Yangsze Choo writes with authority and with clear prose that lends well to picturing the important port town of Malacca. Part historical fiction, part supernatural tale of the Chinese afterlife, The Ghost Bride is a slow-moving but deftly written piece of fiction. Memorable and unique, Choo creates a vivid setting, peopled with interesting characters for readers to enjoy and explore. A small mystery plays its part in propelling the plot, but the experiences of Li Lan, both real and spiritual, are what makes the book special.
The first part of the novel is rather slow-moving and possibly the most difficult part of reading Li Lan's story. It can be hard to get into and I struggled to keep read initially. The slow pace, the meandering plot, and an admitted style of "telling" can hinder the reader's first impression. However, once Choo hits her stride and the plot emerges as more significant, The Ghost Bride greatly improves. Choo's style leans towards descriptive and detailed, and while that fosters a strong sense of place, it's hard to get a read on characters for a bit. Thankfully, that problem is remedied as the story progresses and the characters get more time and attention. I can't say that the entire cast is uniformly rounded or interesting as individuals, but Li Lan, her Amah, and her father, especially, feel real and complex.
As a historical fiction, The Ghost Bride excels. Where it fell apart for me was when the extended supernatural section began. I hadn't expected such a long experience in "the afterlife" with Li Lan comatose in the real world. She is still an active protagonist, but it failed to read as interestingly as her actions when awake. Choo picks and chooses, as well as invents parts of the Chinese afterlife to fit her story, but not enough information is provided for me to really follow all the rules and customs that govern Li Lan's actions while there. It was intriguing, but not fleshed out enough to satisfy. The mystery flags a bit as well in later chapters, and seems to conclude rather too simply and easily.
For all that, I greatly enjoyed this novel. Choo is a talented storyteller with a fresh and inviting style. Li Lan's story is fresh and unlike other novels I've read. The Ghost Bride is a neat, creative bit of fiction, and one that I feel good about recommending to friends who are fans of historical fiction and/or supernatural fiction. The writing is especially strong, and occasionally quite beautiful. For a debut author, Yangsze Choo acquits herself admirably. Several genres are meshed together, and while not all were carried off perfectly, Choo is more than capable of making them all work together rather well.Bonus: As a fun note, the author's website has Choo's story about personally recording the audiobook for The Ghost Bride. Her thoughts on the process of recording the story were fascinating to read, and she also provided the entire first chapter in audio form on the site. I'd listen to that to see if this is the type of book you would enjoy.
I liked this quite a bit. I didn't love it, but Amy Gail Hansen pulled me into her story easily and early. The mystery is intriguing, the characters are well-drawn, and the writing itself is sold. Part mystery, part thriller, the author blends together the various aspects of The Butterfly Sister into an interesting and compulsively readable novel. Fast-paced, with several, unexpected twists and turns, readers will find themselves drawn into Ruby Rousseau's complicated life. This is a short-ish novel, but Hansen packs a lot of punch into her three-hundred pages.
Ruby is a compelling protagonist - she's complicated, a mess, a shadow of her former self. She also believes herself to be mad, and with an attempted suicide in her recent past, it's easy to believe in her confusion and pain. Though the majority of the story is focused on the "now" timeline, there are frequent flashbacks interspersed to a year before, when Ruby was at college, and in a seemingly-better mental state. Both the past and the present narratives are connected in unexpected ways, and as Ruby tries to find Beth and figure out what happened to her a year ago, she comes to realize that life at Tarble was not exactly as she remembered. Her romance with an older man is nicely written and fraught with drama, if a bit squick-imducing when it's revealed her love is only three years younger than Ruby's own parents.
The disappearance of Beth is key to the plot, and as Ruby uncovers more about her former friend, the similarities between the two women become more and more apparent. Both were only children, both lost their fathers, and both made ill-fated romantic relationships. But while Ruby may be metaphorically lost, Beth is literally lost. The theme of feminine depression encompasses both women's lives in surprising ways -- Ruby herself is depressed, and while Beth remains unafflicted, another woman's depression has dire implications for her own life. Hansen handles the theme well, and without prejudice. Her even-handed depiction of depression is forthright and real, and never veers into political incorrectness. It helps that Ruby is shown to be a very smart woman, and a thorough researcher. She is much more than her illness, and it doesn't define her.
The final chapters of the book were weaker than the introduction. The mystery flags as the culprit is revealed and leads the characters on an increasingly hard-to-believe series of events. As it went on, The Butterfly Sister lost a bit of the subtlety that it had maintained earlier in the story, but I still couldn't put the book down. It wasn't perfect, but Hansen's first novel is an easy read that will definitely keep readers turning the page. It's unusual, compelling, and a bit weird -- and absolutely memorable.