17 January 2017

Review: Martians Abroad

Martians Abroad Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Martians Abroad is a great story about kids being sent off to a boarding school and the sort of intrigue that goes on within their walls according to the relevant tropes. What's surprising is that this book is not marketed as YA while doing so.

The story follows two kids, one of which desires to be an interplanetary pilot. Being from Mars, this adds a collection of extra difficulties, both from the Martian educational system not being well-respected to Mars kids themselves having to adjust to Earth culture (never mind gravity). While Charles is perfectly willing to go along with whatever, his twin sister Polly is not so interested in simply going along with things, and we get to watch as her strong will both helps and hurts her along.

In terms of a straightforward boarding school story, this works really well. The science fictional elements are obvious, but spend a lot of time being secondary in favor of solid characterization and an interesting story with a lot of wrinkles. It reads as YA, though, and this might be a turn-off for some readers (including fans of Carrie Alexander), although it wasn't for me. In a time where Tor has marketed some adult stuff as YA recently, the marketing of this as "adult" is especially puzzling, but that's just one of the weird publishing downsides to this. If you're open to reading this sort of thing, you should absolutely get on board, as this was a fun ride.

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08 January 2017

Review: Heartless

Heartless Heartless by Matthew Rossi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Matt Rossi continues to make some interesting and compelling fiction, and Heartless, the second book in the Nameless series, takes a different tack that works really well for the series. Where Heartless felt like more of a focus on a traditional-style fantasy informed by video game narratives and interesting fantasy/horror tropes, Heartless succeeds in flipping the script around. It leads with some cool action and then moves into a narrative that is more about people coping with the world they're now in, complete with our heroes involved in romantic trysts and real-world scenarios while everything else around them is insane.

It's a way to handle a story that I can't say I've read before, and the result is a story with a different style of investment compared to other epics or urban fantasy tales. If you're looking for a lot more action similar to the first book, this might be a jolt to the system, but the character base here, and the way our heroes interact with each other? That's where the quality comes into play.

This isn't to say the book is perfect. The way the book handles its action sequences this time around does not have the same feel as the first book, and the dialogue sequences on occasion feel more informed by the setup in games than in real life, but these are more nitpicky issues than true dealbreakers for the story. At the end of the day, this book was a solid and enjoyable read. My only regret is that I didn't get to it sooner.

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07 January 2017

Review: At The Cemetery Gates: Year One

At The Cemetery Gates: Year One At The Cemetery Gates: Year One by John Brhel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this closer to Halloween (I'm...a little behind), and this collection of short tales by Brhel and Sullivan evoke a lot of solid nostalgia. Much like their collection Marvelry's Curiosity Shop, Cemetery Gates is absolutely a love letter to campfire tales and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark alike.

Plenty of short tales throughout this play up classic horror tropes, from situations in cars to familiar assailants, but what makes this work is the pacing, which provides a very specific tone while still tossing in some surprises and not taking too long. The result is a number of bite-sized horror treats that strike an equal balance between fun and creepy.

What's worth noting beyond the basic enjoyable nature of these stories is the way Brhel and Sullivan are improving as storytellers from their earlier work. Even if this wasn't a solid read, I'm definitely looking forward to whatever it is that comes next.

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Review: Love and First Sight

Love and First Sight Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was pretty excited to see Josh Sunquist diving into YA fiction. Sundquist's We Should Hang Out Sometime was a great, relatable memoir, and seeing a book that might have some of his signature humor and storytelling in fiction form was fun to see. The book isn't perfect, but it ends up being a fairly pleasant read nonetheless.

In this book, Will is a blind student entering a regular school for the first time. He's able to be largely independent, but he makes a series of mistakes that start things off weird, but he quickly settles in with a group of people and ends up falling for a girl. The girl is guarded, but when Josh receives a chance to take part in an experimental treatment that could give him sight, he's forced to confront a lot of what he thinks he knows.

It's an interesting story, for sure, and has a lot of good, basic messages about disability and acceptance that aren't a bludgeon. The writing itself is kind of simple, which is maybe a drawback for some but worked for the story being told, and the end result of a surprising science fiction element of sorts made it even more enjoyable for me, personally. I'm not entirely sure whether this will work for all audiences, but with the rise of disability lit throughout, this definitely deserves to be part of the broader conversation. Absolutely worth a look.

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Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Under Rose-Tainted Skies Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sick lit, as of late, seems to be moving back toward the mental illness realm after spending time with various terminal illnesses. Under Rose-Tainted Skies has some different things happening, from the OCD area to the whole shut-in idea, and it ultimately doesn't really offer much in the way of new ground.

It tells the story of a girl, Norah, who is so crippled by her agoraphobia that even going to the front porch is a problem. A new cute boy is across the street, tries to strike up a friendship, and it's just more and more complicated when feelings get involved.

The overall tone of this book is very straightforward, and I think the big flaw is that we don't ever get an opportunity to really feel sympathetic to Norah, as she's a character who doesn't seem to recognize anything happening to her and gets very "woe is me" while rejecting the help she needs. It's a realistic portrayal in a sense, but it's not one that lends itself to a quality narrative, especially in a genre that's littered with similar books, both modern and in the past. The love interest is almost too perfect in a way, as well, which simply plays off of Norah in a bad way as well. Some more obvious flaws would have helped.

Overall, this is fine. It's not great, but it isn't terrible, either. With so many other books in front of it along the way, this isn't one I would put at the head of the line, but if this is your favored genre, it might be worth a look.

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