26 April 2016

Manners & Mutiny

Author: Gail Carriger
Series: Finishing School #4
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

No, wait just a minute!  This series is already over????  They were only in finishing school for what?  Like two years?  Come on now.  While the Finishing School isn't going on my must read series list, I was looking forward to some more assassin training and Sophronia and gang getting into mischief at school.  And now, suddenly, it is over.  And it feels like it is all too soon.

Like its predecessor, very little of this novel takes place with the actual schooling (though the girl do learn to use a crossbow; what fun!).  The plot between the Picklemen, the vampires, and the werewolves takes center stage to wrap up the series.  I must profess, this saddens me a little.  I never really got invested into the whole 'control the mechanicals, control the world' plot that carries through this series.  I have always been more interested in the teenage assassins in training, and the wonderful prose that Carriger crafts in order to juxtapose the two different types of finishing they are learning in their school.

Also, thankfully, there is a lot less of the love triangle playing a role in the final installment, since the prick showed his true hand in the last installment.  I still found the romance with Soap, however, leaving something to be desired.  I think the issue steams from the fact that Sophronia is too proper and inexperienced to flirt convincingly.  So when she does interact romantically with boys, it feels out of character and forced, which I think is why the love triangle irked me all along.  I never felt any chemistry between them, though I do like the fact that Carriger pushes for love through diversity instead of picking the wealthy, handsome punk.  Though I will also say that inter-species dating grosses me out.

Overall, I still think the series failed to live up to the potential it could have had.  Sophronia is such a sassy and independent character; a nice change of pace when it comes to YA heroines.  And Carriger's writing style is unique and clever.  If only the plots for the stories could have been a little more interesting to leave a lasting impression once the series ended.

22 April 2016

Waistcoats & Weaponry

Author: Gail Carriger
Series: Finishing School #3
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I read somewhere where someone claimed this series was the female version of Harry Potter.  Not a fan of all the comparisons to the top rated series as of late (especially after some high disappoints), I wrote it off after the first novel.  Now into the third in the series, I can sort of see what they meant (or, perhaps, not what they meant, but where I draw my own conclusions).

For a novel in the Finishing School series, there is not much in this novel that takes place in the school.  Much like how Harry Potter is a series about a boy that goes off to wizardry school, but little of the novels actually have to do with learning to be a wizard in school.  This series is like Harry Potter in that respect.

Waistcoats & Weaponry finds Sophronia and friends bunking off their floating school for young assassins in order to attend the engagement ball for one of Sophronia's many brothers.  And since the love triangle in this series does not seem to want to leave me alone, it comes along for the ride.  Before the floating school docks and lets them off, Sophronia's sootie friend, Soap (I do love the irony of his nickname), tells her not to dance too many dances with the prat Felix.  And once Sophronia and Felix reunite to attend the engagement ball together, the sparks seem to fly there as well once more.  While the romance in this series isn't entirely stifling of the plot, and Carriger tries her best to weave it into the story as effortlessly as possible with the same charming prose she uses for everything else, Sophronia's relationships with her two love interests - Soap and Felix - is still just a bit too tiresome at the end of the day for the likes of me.

Departing the party early, the rest of the adventure in this novel takes place as Sophronia and gang hop aboard an almost empty train for a grand adventure of werewolves, Picklemen, and vampires.  Again, I think there are just one or two too many different aspects going on in this series.  Though I will say I understand the inclusion of the werewolves at the end of this novel.

A fun ride with enough excitement to keep the pace going, this third installment still falls folly the same as its predecessors.  A light, fun read, but still missing that last touch that would make it a classic in its genre.

15 April 2016

The Winner's Kiss

Author: Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #3
Rating: 3 / 5 starts
Verdict: Borrow

I have to say, one of my greatest literary peeves is when a cover doesn't match the novel.  The cover for this edition is a striking example of how to make a beautiful, stunning cover that has no place on a jacket cover.  For starters, this novel begins with Kestrel in an enslavement camp.  I don't want to get into too much of spoilers, but let's just say that the sleeveless, open back dress was a terrible choice.  Also, while the dress is beautiful, it doesn't resemble a single outfit she wears for the entirety of the novel.  Her eyes should be the brown of honey, as Arin describes them in the novel, yet they don't appear to be so.  And the sword?  Her signature weapon is a dragger.  So where in the world did they even scheme up the cover?  It's beautiful, true, but it's terrible.

Then there is the novel itself.  It is painstakingly slow for the vast majority of the tale.  The pace finally picks up in the last five to ten chapters, which bumped the rating up for me from this novel being a complete bust.  In fact, I think I would have loved this conclusion to the trilogy if the whole thing had been along the same lines as the final few chapters.  I do like the ending; I thought the series came to an eloquent closing, even if some of the plot lines come to somewhat unrealistic conclusions in order to give the story a happy ending.  Unfortunately, you have to wade through a lot of slow paced and low action story to get to this point, which almost makes it not worth it.

And then there is the issue of the love story between Arin and Kestrel.  While Rutkoski doesn't drag the reunion on for an ungodly length of time, she follows every cliche in the book to keep the story arc of their romance inconclusive for as long as possible.  Some of the plot ploys she enacts are almost downright laughable.  Both of the main characters at times feel so hot and cold in this novel, as they bend their characteristics to Rutkoski's liking in order to add unnecessary angst to the plot.

While Kestrel doesn't wholly feel like she sticks to her character from the first two novels in the series, I think she finally comes around in the end.  While I spent a fair amount of time scratching my head at her throughout this novel, I realize everything she does is a trick Rutkoski employs in order to further advice the story.  I only wish the characters felt more real in this conclusion.

Overall, I think it's a series worth a once read, especially for people who love the angsty teenage romance.   There was too much of it for my liking, which means I'm sure others will gobble it up.  At times, Rutkoski is so eloquent with her prose.  This novel is hindered by its plot, but you still see sparks of it here and there throughout this conclusion to the series.  I will say I was a bit disappointed with this final chapter to the trilogy, however.  I did expect more from it.

12 April 2016

Curtsies & Conspiracies

Author: Gail Carriger
Series: Finishing School #2
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I really think I would enjoy this series so much more immensely if it wasn't so busy.  Carriger should have picked about two or three of the main themes and stuck with it.  But we have Pickleman and werewolves and vampires, all while she's trying to learn how to finish people off in finishing school.  And, as if that wasn't enough, Curtsies & Conspiracies adds another element to the mix - the aethersphere that they are attempting to float ships through in this novel.

Werewolves and vampires are typical urban fantasy.  Definitely not my favorite and I think this series would be better off without it, but I can live with it.  The steampunk and the training assassins are perfect.  I wish the series would focus more on this.  But the aether adds a fantasy element to a series already overwhelmed that it just about pushed me over the brink.  The fact that the plot of this novel revolves around how the aether is going to play a role with the supernatural creatures, and Carriger almost lost me.  Only the cute little mechanicals, the sweet sooties, and Sophronia & gang kept me interested (plus, you know, the assassin training in billowing skirts).

This series has so much potential.  I hope Carriger can reel it all in and really do something with it in the next installment.

07 April 2016

Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

Nerdtastic they said, and they were right! (That almost never happens).  I'm not as obsessed with the 80s as everyone else in this novel, especially since I wasn't really around for that decade (of course, neither were any of these characters).  And I don't geek out over vintage video games, though I have played me some Pac-man and Galaga on classic machines.

The good news is you don't have to be an uber nerd to like Ready Player One, although it certainly wouldn't hurt.  If you are a casual nerd like myself you will enjoy the references to Whedonverse and other current nerd cult classics (the reenactment of Monty Python and the Holy Grail had me giddy with nerdiness).  A vast majority of the references to obscure 80s video games will likely fly right over your head, but I think Ready Player One will still be enjoyable for you.

You will find yourself rooting for Wade (and, in a few instances, almost rooting against him for a bit when he gets a little too self involved in his own problems).  He's got character depth, and not just a backstory for his avatar.  It's a classic underdog story, with Wade trying to win the inheritance of the recently dead eccentric billionaire who co-created the OASIS.  Wade is up against the evil megacorporation who wants to win to turn the OASIS platform into a money making cash cow (social commentary, anyone?).  The evil corp has an abundant amount of resources with money to buy whatever they want in the digital world of OASIS where they are searching for the hidden Easter egg.  Wade lives in a stack of mobile homes in one of the poor suburbs of the big city in a distraught futuristic civilization.

Root for Wade!  Root for his ragtag band of friends who is trying to beat him to the Easter egg to win.  Root for everything in Ready Player One.

03 April 2016

Riders

Author: Veronica Rossi
Series: Riders #1
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

This novel had great potential in my mind.  I was pleasantly surprised by Rossi's Under the Never Sky series and was anxiously awaiting this novel to start her new duology.  Apocolypse now, please!

Riders failed to deliver in multiple aspects.  It doesn't suck you into the origins of the Four Horsemen.  In fact, the horses play only a minor role and hardly appear, even though Gideon's appears smack dab on the cover art.  And the mythology behind the horsemen is tossed to the wind by the explanation that they are reincarnations and that this instance of their appearance in the modern day world doesn't follow the biblical tale.

Well, okay then.  What's left to get excited about?  There isn't much character development at all of our main character, Gideon.  He is defined by two major aspect of his life - his military background, though he never made it past training, and the death of his father.  Rossi goes for the sympathy vote with the latter, but the writing isn't strong enough to really rope in the empathy.  Daryn isn't given much in the way of character traits either, which makes the romantic relationship that tries to bloom between them as the main romantic storyline in the novel downright laughable the vast majority of the time.

The plot might have been able to pull the novel along by its feet, but I didn't find myself that engrossed in the story either.  It's told in Gideon's narrative as he is being interrogated after an incident in Norway (always wanted to go there), and it told through the story he tells his interrogators.  This setup alone takes a lot away from the novel, and the amount of detail and the parts he focuses on have little to do about what his captors would care about.

At the end of the day, it doesn't leave much left to get excited about.  I like some of the high octane action when Gideon flashes back to jumping out of airplanes during training, but these scenes are mixed in with unnecessary fist fights when he gets jealous of other guys pulling splinters out of his love interest's fingers so.... yeah.  I wouldn't bother unless you really have nothing else to read.