Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Information

Goodreads: Firefight
Series: The Reckoners #2
Source: Library
Published: 2015

Summary

David did the impossible.  He killed a High Epic.  But in the process he lost another.  Now he’s on his way to Babylon Restored, formerly Manhattan–to try to find answers.  He needs to know that Epics can be redeemed.  But Regalia, ruler of Babilar, is waiting.

Review

If there is one thing Brandon Sanderson knows, it’s how to write a thrilling fantasy.  Firefight contains all the action, drama, and detailed worldbuilding a fantasy fan could want.  Combined with its cast of compellingly sympathetic characters, it’s sure to keep readers up all night.

Firefight expands the world of the Reckoners, bringing them out of Newcago and into Babylon Restored.  A new setting,  new crew, and new villain all ensure that the story stays fresh.  This is no repeat of Steelheart.  The Reckoners may kill High Epics, but each Epic is different.  And Regalia, ruler of Babylon Restored, seems to have bigger plans in mind than simply lording over what used to be Manhattan.  It’s a race against time as David and his friends attempt to solve the mystery before they find themselves in a trap they cannot escape.

Fans of Sanderson will need no urging to read this book or start the series.  They will know his unique ability to create complex worlds, intriguing systems of magic, and plots with twists it is hard to see coming.  This book contains all that while also delighting in its ridiculous adherence to all the best tropes of action films.  It almost feels campy–in the best possible way.  This is one of the few series that I wish contained more than three books.

5 stars

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Tortall: A Spy’s Guide by Tamora Pierce

Tortall A Spy's Guide-min

Information

*written with Julie Holderman, Timothy Liebe, and Megan Messinger

Goodreads: Tortall: A Spy’s Guide
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: October 31, 2017

Official Summary

The secrets of Tortall are revealed. . . .

As Tortall’s spymaster, George Cooper has sensitive documents from all corners of the realm. When Alanna sends him a surprising letter, he cleans out his office and discovers letters from when King Jonathan and Queen Thayet first ascended the throne, notes on creating the Shadow Service of spies, threat-level profiles on favorite characters, Daine’s notes on immortals, as well as family papers, such as Aly’s first report as a young spy and Neal’s lessons with the Lioness. This rich guide also includes the first official timeline of Tortallan events from when it became a sovereign nation to the year Aly gives birth to triplets. Part history, part spy training manual, and entirely fascinating, this beautiful guide makes a perfect gift and is ideal for anyone who loves Alanna, King Jonathan, Queen Thayet, Kel, Neal, Aly, Thom, Daine, Numair, and the unforgettable world of Tortall!

Review

As a longtime Tamora Pierce fan, I was delighted to hear about the release of Tortall: A Spy’s Guide.  It’s a beautifully designed and illustrated book that is supposed to be composed of papers from the files of George Cooper, the Whisper Man, himself.  This means that the collection of information is a bit more random than I expected (they’re seriously just papers he found jumbled together in a room next to his office), so I think the title A Spy’s Guide is slightly misleading about the content of the book, but overall this is a fantastic reference for fans and a lovely addition to any Tamora Pierce collection.

There’s an introduction by Pierce at the front of the book that welcomes fans and newcomers alike, but the book relies on reader recognition of allusions to characters and events from practically all of Pierce’s different Tortall series, so I see little value in recommending it to someone who hasn’t read Pierce’s other books.  For readers who do get the allusions, the volume is a treasure trove of information, including everything from letters from members in Alanna’s family to spy reports on characters like Thayet and Buri before they entered Tortall to the guide to how to spy itself.  Some of the information is more of a reference guide than something worth reading straight through, such as the descriptions of various Immortals and the timeline of Tortall’s history.

If you like Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series (and especially if you like George!), you will not regret buying this book.  It’s a great blend of new, exciting information and beautiful design, so it will be worthwhile addition to your shelves.

5 stars Briana

March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Information

Goodreads: March: Book Two
Series: March #2
Source: Library
Published: 2015

Summary

Following the Nashville sit-ins, John Lewis is now committed to helping the Freedom Riders integrate the buses.  Despite experiencing beatings and other violence, Lewis and the other activists continue to fight.  But the federal government is only willing to lend so much support.  And local law enforcement is often fighting against them.

Review

March: Book Two continues the powerful story of John Lewis’ involvement in the Civil Rights movement, picking up after the Nashville sittings and focusing on the struggles of the Freedom Riders.  Lewis’ words leave much of the violence to the imagination, fading away tellingly.  And yet the art does not allow readers to escape.  The violence, the brutality, the ugliness of it all is presented to readers so that they might not forget.

Lewis’ presentation of history is always compelling because he does not seek to provide an easy or straightforward narrative.  Rather, he discusses the internal politics of the Civil Rights movement, noting how the principles of non-violence that he believed in were questioned and ignored over time.  He acknowledges that he understands the frustration, but also suggests that there are some paths he simply cannot choose to take.  His version of history is not the textbook version, but the lived version.  And readers are privy to all the setbacks and maneuverings, as well as to the triumphs.

March: Book Two makes an obvious addition to any classroom library, but it is not a dull “educational comic.”  It is not a textbook with illustrations.  It is a vibrant living story that brings the reader from the past into the present, daring them to remember the struggles that came before–and to keep on fighting.

5 stars

Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside by Cameron Stewart et al.

Information

Goodreads: Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside
Series: Batgirl, Volume 1V #6
Source: Library
Published: 2015

Summary

Barbara Gordon is ready to start over.  She’s moving into Gotham’s coolest neighborhood, working on a thesis her advisor thinks could be great, and reinventing Batgirl.  She’ll have a new outfit, new equipment, and a new image–carefully curated for social media.  But Batgirl has enemies and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to steal her spotlight.

Review

Batgirl of Burnside is an intriguing mix of a Barbara Gordon who seems to be simultaneously living too fast like she’s desperate to be “cool” and “grown-up” and a Barbara Gordon caught up in drama reminiscent of high school.  The parties go late, the memories (and the hookups) fade under the influence, and adult responsibilities are forgotten in favor of pursuing both love and social media stardom.  It might not be a mix for everyone.  But I will say it’s a mix I have seen far too often in college students in real life.

I really appreciated this candid look at college life.  Stories often seem to divide characters into the “party girls” and the “studious students,” and yet many students straddle both lines.  It may be inconceivable to some that their darling girl, star of the field hockey team and member of an honor society, sometimes drinks until she passes out–and yet there it is.  Batgirl of Burnside is the university uncensored.  It doesn’t feel the need to pretend that its characters are perfect.

When it comes to Barbara’s other life however–the life she leads as Batgirl–the story does feel admittedly weak.  The villains are kind of laughable and certainly not powerful.  And too often they feel like a message.  Batgirl is literally fighting the urge to put her entire life on social media and pursue “likes” instead of focusing on what is really important.  Talk about heavy-handed.

Fortunately, the artwork is very good.  (Though I did grin a little because it’s just too much that every character here always looks sexy at an given moment–even after waking up with hangover!  And who stands with their butt and hips sticking out all the time?  But I digress.)  I enjoyed reading the story even when the story fell a little flat.  I’m not dying to get my hands on the next volume, but I’d be willing to see where it takes Batgirl.

3 Stars

Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

Information

Goodreads: Royal Bastards
Series: Royal Bastards #1
Source: Library
Published: May 30, 2017

Official Summary

Being a bastard blows. Tilla would know. Her father, Lord Kent of the Western Province, loved her as a child, but cast her aside as soon as he had trueborn children.

At sixteen, Tilla spends her days exploring long-forgotten tunnels beneath the castle with her stablehand half brother, Jax, and her nights drinking with the servants, passing out on Jax’s floor while her castle bedroom collects dust. Tilla secretly longs to sit by her father’s side, resplendent in a sparkling gown, enjoying feasts with the rest of the family. Instead, she sits with the other bastards, like Miles of House Hampstedt, an awkward scholar who’s been in love with Tilla since they were children.

Then, at a feast honoring the visiting princess Lyriana, the royal shocks everyone by choosing to sit at the Bastards’ Table. Before she knows it, Tilla is leading the sheltered princess on a late-night escapade. Along with Jax, Miles, and fellow bastard Zell, a Zitochi warrior from the north, they stumble upon a crime they were never meant to witness.

Rebellion is brewing in the west, and a brutal coup leaves Lyriana’s uncle, the Royal Archmagus, dead—with Lyriana next on the list. The group flees for their lives, relentlessly pursued by murderous mercenaries; their own parents have put a price on their heads to prevent the king and his powerful Royal Mages from discovering their treachery.

The bastards band together, realizing they alone have the power to prevent a civil war that will tear their kingdom apart—if they can warn the king in time. And if they can survive the journey . . .

Review

Royal Bastards starts off with a fabulous premise: a group of unwanted (well, bastard) teenagers accidentally witness their parents committing a terrible crime and then get framed for the deed.  Only by avoiding the death sentences placed on their heads and revealing the truth to the kingdom can they hope to prevent a violent civil war.  The first half of the novel focuses on this and on the character development of the main group the story follows, and it’s really strong YA fantasy.  The second half of the novel, unfortunately, unravels much of this good work, making the book overall a disappointment for me.

As I began Royal Bastards, I had high hopes.  In some ways it reminded me of typical YA fantasy (the genre is starting to have a distinctive feel that I wish it would break away from), but it offered enough originality that I was hooked.  Our protagonist has a distinctive voice (she’s rather fond of cursing), and the plot was fast-paced and gripping. And though “people on the run from bad guys” isn’t necessarily an original plot, the focus on the group of bastards is pretty unusual.

Unfortunately, the book ends up with two main flaws.  First, it veers away from the dramatic “save our lives and the kingdom” plot and devolves into an awkward love triangle.  I felt no chemistry from any combination of these characters, personally, and I really didn’t get why we were so fixated on teenage romance at what should have been really key points of the plot.  You know, if we’re interested in saving the kingdom and all that.  Secondly, the author destroys a lot of the characterization he established in the first half of the book to get some cheap thrills.  Apparently it doesn’t matter if people’s motivations no longer make sense, as long as the outcome is dramatic.

I wanted to like this, and I did for a decent portion of the story.  Then it all fell apart.  I can’t express how disappointed I ended up.  I was confused by some of the lower Goodreads ratings when I began reading the book; now I understand.  I am not interested in reading the sequel, which will be a hard pass for me.

3 Stars Briana

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Information

Goodreads: Steelheart
Series: The Reckoners #1
Source: Library
Published:

Summary

Ten years ago Calamity appeared in the sky and gave men superpowers.  Called Epics, they quickly used their powers to claim dominion over the Earth.  Dave watched an Epic named Steelheart kill his father.  And now he will do anything to end Steelheart’s rule.  His plan: to join the Reckoners, a group of ordinary men and women who dare to fight back.  Because he thinks he can give them the one thing they need.  A clue to Steelheart’s weakness.

Review

One of Brandon Sanderson’s great strengths is building a unique and intricate world, one where the rules of magic both seem to be surprising and to be perfectly natural.  In Steelheart, he begins a trilogy that seems to flip the superhero genre on its head.  What if, it asks, super powers did not lead to superheroes, but to supervillains?  What if ultimate power seemingly leads only to ultimate corruption?  Around these questions he creates a world where anything seems possible and yet where Epics still fall into scientific categories.  Each has a set of strengths, but each also has a weakness.  Comparing the Epics’ powers might just be the answer to stopping them.

Steelheart differs from some of Sanderson’s other fantasies in that it reads very much like the script for an action film.  Indeed, it begins with a high speech car chase, a beautiful yet deadly woman, and a whole lot of bullets.  It is difficult not to picture Sanderson cackling madly to himself as he writes in all the tropes–and makes it good.  I don’t even like action films and I was on the edge of my seat.

This momentum carries through the book as the Reckoners try increasingly dangerous and desperate means to stop the Epic who dominates the city of Newcago.  Along the way, however, they also ponder the philosophical and ethical consequences of what they are doing.  Why stop Steelheart if his city, if terrible, is at least better than most?  Are they responsible for chaos that will ensue after his fall?  Can they still believe that one day an Epic will come who will use their powers for good rather than for evil?  These questions help to ground the story, making it more than an empty book full of explosions.

Fans of Sanderson will likely enjoy the skill and action he brings to the this book.  But it will also appeal to those who like action, those who like superheroes, and those who like fantasy.  And it just  might make a lifelong Sanderson fan out of its new readers.

5 stars

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

Halloween Books 2017


Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Information

Goodreads: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Series: Between #1
Source: Library
Published: August 15, 2013

Official Summary

You stop fearing the devil when you’re holding his hand…

Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town… until River West comes along. River rents the guest house behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard.

Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more?

Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who takes naps in the sun, who likes coffee, who kisses you in a cemetery… who makes you want to kiss back.

Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it.

Review

I had been looking forward to Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea at the time of its release in 2013, due to its promise of a steamy romance combined with a Gothic horror plot.  However, the less-than-thrilled reviews I saw at the time convinced me to put my reading plans on hold.  Recently I’ve been on a mission to knock some books off my TBR list on Goodreads, so I decided to give it a chance anyway, armed with the knowledge that a lot of reviewers I trust noted that the book is heavy on the romance and light on the Gothic stuff.  However, even expecting an emphasis on romance, I was disappointed with what I got.

The short story is that Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is instalove X1000.  There’s attraction the second the two characters set eyes on each, and they’re taking naps cuddled together on the sofa the very same day, musing about how attracting they are to each other and don’t want to let each other day.  Without any actual build-up to the relationship, I was not invested. At all.

Worse, love interest River is not exactly attractive, at least in my personal opinion.  He’s apparently physically attractive, but his personality leaves a lot to be desired.  The protagonist even frequently reflects on how he’s a jerk and a liar and possibly a sociopath…but she just can’t bring herself to stop making out with him or loving him.  I just can’t bring myself to root for a romance where the girl is so clearly hooked on someone she shouldn’t be, someone who is big trouble, and not in a sexy “bad boy” kind of way.  (Because, seriously, this guy has issues he needs to work out.)

As for the plot, which is supposed to be part mystery and have a Gothic horror vibe, it doesn’t start until over halfway through the novel, and once it does, it doesn’t make any sense.  Sometime after page 100, I started asking myself when the main plot was going to start because, for all intents and purposes, it simply hadn’t yet.  Our heroes were too busy mooning over each other.  However, I wasn’t impressed once it started anyway.  Things happen quite suddenly, and not many of them are logical.  Certainly I wasn’t getting any deliciously creepy Gothic vibes.

Unfortunately, my general impression of this book was that it wasted my time.  I didn’t care for the romance, the plot, the characters, or really anything about it.  I suppose I can say the premise was good, enough that I gave it a shot even after reading a bunch of low-rated reviews, but I certainly won’t be recommending this to anyone.

Briana