“Mind Games” by Teri Terry

Luna is a Refuser. In a world where everyone uses Virtual Reality nonstop, she is one of the few who refuses to have an implant. Unlike her Refuser peers, she does not have a religious or medical exemption. Luna refuses to get an implant for a seperate reason. A reason she keeps secret. Why?

“Mind Games” is a science fiction thriller full of secrets. It is these secrets that keep the reader wondering who Luna is, who Luna’s mother was, who can she trust, what is the sinister company PareCo up to. The list goes on.

When Luna is taking for PareCo’s two standard tests, rationality and intelligence, she is forced to stop hiding from her abilities. She has to decide whether to work with the company or fight it.

I found this book relevant to today’s society where we are on the brink of developing virtual reality. Already, I find that the internet is addictive in itself and virtual reality seems that much more seductive.

Will humans prefer to escape constantly in fantasy worlds? Will we abandon our bodies entirely to live in our minds?

I wonder.

Although “Mind Games” is very concept-driven for a book, there are some interesting character connections as well. Particularly between Luna and Gecko, and Luna and her former good friend.

One small complaint I had with the novel was the treatment of Hacking. Certain Hacking was compared with magic. Although you could imagine that in virtual reality hacking may look more visual and awesome, in reality the virtual reality framework probably will involve lines and lines of code.

Coding can feel magical certainly, but the book took a more fantastical approach. Although there was nothing wrong with that! It could be boring hearing how Luna types code or reads code or destructs code or whatever. I just had difficulty understanding the ending because of it.

Overall, I liked the themes and concepts in the book. Certainly thinking about how virtual reality should be handled is a topical issue.

“Lord of Shadows” by Cassandra Clare (The Dark Artifices Book 2)

“Lord of Shadows” is enormous at 699 pages. Not that I’m complaining, because I definitely needed this latest Shadowhunter fix. The cast of characters is enormous and includes references and some appearances of my favourites from “The Mortal Instruments” and “Infernal Devices” series as well.

If you are reading Clare for the first time, “The Dark Artifices” series is not the place to start. It builds too much on the “Mortal Instruments” series. Start there, and read your way through.

“Lord of Shadows” builds more on the fairy world, including the Seelie and Unseelie courts. It is very reminiscent of “Wicked Lovely,” where fairies are sexy, dangerous, tricky and evil. Werewolves and vampires barely show, but I didn’t mind. The fairies are pretty interesting and anytime a deal shows up, you know the Shadowhunters will get the short end of the stick.

As always, the relationships shine in this novel. The Shadowhunter world is dominated by who they love and why they love them. Many ships will sail in this series. Many. Sometimes I wish the emphasis wasn’t just on who wants to date who, but it’s interesting and addictive. 😛

Emma and Julian’s relationship where they have forbidden parabatai love confuses me. I understand that parabatai are supposed to fight together and have a strong bond of friendship, but not have romantic feelings for each other. I understand that there is a curse if they fall in love. I understand that it’s taboo in Shadowhunter culture. But why Emma refuses to tell Julian all the details about why she can’t love him and pretends to date his brother instead, just… why? This obstacle towards them making their relationship official doesn’t quite work.

I really liked Christina, Kieran, Mark love triangle. How will be resolved in the future? I need to know.

“Lord of Shadows” has lots of diverse characters. Some are from different cultures, some have disabilities, many are LGBTQ. I really like the inclusiveness of the series and of Clare’s work in general. With a cast this size, I sometimes find it difficult to know all of the characters, but when I do get to know them, I generally like them.

Also, the latest threat in “Lord of Shadows” is a group of racist bigots trying to dominate the Clave and wipe out people who are different, like the Downworlders. Take of that what you will.

The more I read about Clare’s world, the more complete it seems. So much so, that when I’m finished I feel like I could buy a plane ticket to Idris.

If only. 🙂

 

“I am Princess X” by Cherie Priest (illustrations by Kali Ciesemier)

I love webcomics, like Dumbing of Age, Questionable Content, Yume Dream and Girls with Slingshots. In fact, an afternoon spent discovering a new webcomic and reading every single episode with a friend is my idea of an afternoon well spent. So, a YA novel with a webcomic in it is basically a marriage between two of the best art forms ever. It also helps that Ciesemier’s art is gorgeous in black, white and hot pink.

The two best friends in this novel make comics together. May writes the story, the Libby draws the art. The heroine of the comic – Princess X – beats stuff up with a massive sword. I definitely related to this a lot. (The comics, not the sword welding princess. (Actually, scrap that. I related to the princess too. She was awesome.)

When I was in middle school, I briefly drew and wrote a comic for my friends. I don’t know what the exact plot was – I don’t think there was much of a plot beyond my friends meeting all the cute cartoon boys we loved (like Inuyasha and Kyo from Fruitsbasket and maybe Spader from Pendragon, who isn’t a cartoon shut up) and freaking out because they were cute. Anyway, it was fun. It brought my friends and me together.

So I was feeling for May, when Libby and her mom drove over a cliff one night and died. No more friendship, no more comics. But here’s the creepy thing – many years later, May starts seeing Princess X around the city again. She becomes convinced her friend didn’t die and tries to find her based on a popular webcomic called – you guessed it – Princess X.

Another aspect of “I am Princess X” that really struck me is that it gets a lot done with a surprisingly small cast. Every sentence, every plot point, every character really counts. The writing is gripping and creepy, yet minimalist. Priest’s style works well. The pacing at the end will have you staying up “just a few more minutes” to find out what happens.

The one character I wasn’t completely sold on was May’s ally Patrick. Patrick’s main service to the plot was his made tech skills. Yes, mad tech skills were needed for the plot, but his connection to May wasn’t entirely clear to me. It didn’t seem believable that he would risk so much for a May’s old best friend. Especially since May and he just met.

However, the villain is complex. May’s backstory is realistic and gives the reader empathy. The scientific logic is solid. All in all, “I am Princess X” is a fast-paced read with beautiful illustrations.

“The Novice” by Taran Matharu (Summoner book 1)

Taran Matharu’s “The Novice” took me by surprise. Fletcher, a blacksmith’s apprentice, discovers he has a talent for summoning demons and after a nasty brawl with the village bully, flees his home forever. Soon enough, he is directed to summoning school and meets a diverse group of peers.

Although “The Novice” does have typical fantasy tropes, including a magic school, demons, and creatures from middle earth, it turns them into something refreshing.

If you like your fantasy to contain lots of world building, “The Novice” does not disappoint. Much of the dialogue revolves around discussing every detail of every demon and the culture of dwarves and elves, two species living often in conflict with humans. Often these descriptions become longwinded and the plot comes to a standstill. However, I didn’t really mind due to some unusual political commentary.

“The Novice” deviates from the norm in fantasy and frequently discusses race relations and inclusion. There are clear parallels between the dwarves and Sikhs. The message opportunities for foreign or disadvantage communities in education is clear. The only elf and dwarf in the summoning school encounter challenges due to discrimination and prejudice.

The hero Fletcher provides the reader with a role model. He never discriminates, although his peers can be cruel to elves and dwarves. He asks the elves and dwarves polite and curious questions about their culture and breaks down cultural barriers.

Compared to the racist nature of his peers, Fletcher’s open attitude seems to be an anomaly. And this was my small problem with the characters – there are very few morally grey situations. Either people are horribly racist or extremely politically correct.

Also, I’m curious about the main villain in the book – the orcs. They also are their own race with their own culture. And yet, dwarves, elves, and humans are convinced they are pure evil. (Although the summoning school investigates some of the orcs’ summoning practices.) Hopefully, this will be addressed in the next two books in the series.

I liked “The Novice” a lot. Often literary lovers complain that fantasy is pure escapism and “The Novice” definitely challenges that statement. Although, the demons are pretty cool and the final battle is epic, so if you’re looking for escapism the “The Novice” delivers that as well.

“And I Darken” by Kiersten White

I picked up “And I Darken” thinking it was fantasy. Much to my surprise, it turned out to be more historical fiction. This turned out to be pretty sweet.

This epic novel was inspired strongly by Ottoman and Romanian History, which fascinates me since my education neglected these countries and time periods. However, where the novel really shines are the characters.

The three powerhouse characters are:

1) Lada, the Wallachian ruler’s daughter. She is fierce and vicious, angry and cruel. Strongly independent, she bows for no one – especially men. Sometimes her unlikeable personality made her a difficult character to read about. However, she is placed in difficult circumstances when her family is forced to flee her country. Her father leaves her brother and her in Edirne with the Sultan, as agreement to support the Ottoman Empire. This somewhat excuses her dreadful behaviour. Also, she grows on you.

2) Radu, Lada’s younger brother. He is the most likeable of all the characters. Gentle and empathetic, he always thinks about other people over himself. He is a perfect foil to his violent sister. Although sometimes his softness also drove me crazy, since occasionally his failure to stick up for himself or say what he wants got on my nerves.

3) Mehmed, the third and least favourite son of the Sultan. He values friendship and loyalty, and often has to make difficult choices about who to trust and how to act. His personality really comes out when he interacts with either Lada or Radu. Without them, he is aloof and distant and barely has any personality at all.

These three characters drive the plot. There are some turbulent romantic moments that shine through the brutal betrayals and back stabbing and wars. The religious dialogue is fascinating, but it always comes back to these three. How they interact. How their views contrast. Whether they will support each other or come to blows.

In terms of writing style, the chapters and sentences are short, direct, and clear. Even though the book is fairly large, the pacing is fast.

I’m very much looking forward to reading the next in the series.

 

 

“Alex and Eliza” by Melissa de la Cruz

Love stories are universal. Everyone at some fundamental level wants to love and be loved. Novels about love and romance are somehow the most human and the most hopeful.

Unsurprisingly, I love a good romance – one that has you desperately hoping for the couple to get together the entire way. There has to be a first meeting full of such chemistry that you are swooning and later a list of painful obstacles that the couple has to overcome with each obstacle more impossible than the last. If only, you think, if only.

Which brings me to “Alex and Eliza.”

I loved it. It’s a historical fiction set in the good old USA – mostly Albany, New York and Morristown, New Jersey – from 1777-1780. Even though the setting takes place during the American Revolution, the times definitely have a Jane Austen like feel of propriety. It’s been awhile since I took a history class, and even then I definitely had more of a Canadian focus in school. However, you don’t have to remember your history to enjoy this novel.

The star really is the romance. And this story definitely isn’t as prudish as Jane Austen. Thank god. Haha.

Eliza is a strong, intelligent, patriotic young woman. She is dedicated to the revolution and her old money family. Alex is a handsome, proud, and literary. He has no family and is a self-made man. Since they are of different classes, however will they marry?

(And trust me, once you meet the characters, you’ll want them to marry.)

Of course, Alex and Eliza don’t hit it off right away. Alex reluctantly shows up at Eliza’s family party to inform her father he must appear in court. Not exactly the best foot to set off on.

However, when Eliza visits her Aunt in New Jersey and delivers the small pox vaccine Alex’s army encampment, things become more interesting. The obstacles the couple encounters are untimely and challenging and definitely transform this romance into a page turner.

Will they prevail and end up together? Or will their romance never come to fruition?

Read “Alex and Eliza” to have all the feels!

 

“City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve listened to Cassandra Clare’s “City of Bones” audio book three times in the past three months as I fall asleep. I’ve also awoken in the middle of the night to a scream of “JAYCE!” with the headphones still dangling from my ears. This doesn’t mean I find the book so boring that it puts me to sleep. Nothing could be farther from the case!

And the reviews on Goodreads seem to agree with me. People just can’t put this book down. I recommended it to someone a while ago, and she still can’t take it out of the public library because the demand is so high – and this book was written in 2007 peeps! That’s some serious staying power.

Although, I’ve read some scathing reviews on Goodreads about this book too. Anything from Clary being a Mary Sue character to “City of Bones” being a blatant Harry Potter rip off to the similes being too frequent. The truth is: I don’t care.

“City of Bones” works. It works so well that I am willing to listen to it time after time again. And that is testament to something that is pretty kick-ass.

So why is “City of Bones” so awesome?

This, my friends, is why:

1) The characters. You walk away from “City of Bones” thinking something along the lines of “why is Simon so annoying?” “Will Jayce and Clary ever end up together?” “Why can’t Alec just accept that he is gay and Jayce is straight?” “Could Jayce be gay? That’d be kinda hot.” “I wish I could be as badass as Isabel.” “Why isn’t Clary as badass as Isabel? Girl, get with the Shadowhunter program!!!”

2) The relationships. You become seriously invested in who ends up with who, and the betrayals, man. The betrayals.

3) The setting. Urban fantasy works on so many levels, because wouldn’t it be nice if this world right now contained magic and demons and warlocks and shadowhunters and possibilities? The reader sees themselves in Clary’s world right away. Urban fantasy takes “what if” to a level grounded in reality.

4) The action. “City of Bones” has a nice amount of fighting where the stakes are high.

5) Jayce. Is. Seriously. Hot. This books also is clearly inspired by anime with the whole demon fighting bad boys type thing. I don’t know what it is about the bad boy character, but jeez can they work the dialogue. I actually laughed more than once when listening to this book the first time. Also, the dialogue itself is excellent as a whole.

So, without trying to spoil this book too much, where does it fall flat?

The whole middle section involving a rat goes on for too long. Also, the big twist at the end that may remind you of Star Wars – you’ll know what I mean when you read it – nearly stopped me from reading the rest of this series. However, the desire to know what happened next trumped the annoyance with the plot and I did read the rest of the books.

In conclusion, I think virtues of “City of Bones” far out way its flaws and that it is worth a read for its dialogue alone.

“Dream On” by Kerstin Gier (The Silver Triology)

I greatly enjoyed German author Kerstin Gier’s Ruby Red Trilogy, and since her most newly translated series has hit the shelves, I’ve been reading them avidly. Fans of Ruby Red, the Silver Trilogy doesn’t disappoint!

What if you could travel the dream world while asleep and enter other people’s dreams? The Silver Trilogy takes lucid dreaming to a whole new level.

“Dream On,” the second book in the Silvery Trilogy carries out the whimsical themes of the dream world and the absurd humour that is so typical of Gier to perfection. Even though I enjoy my books dark like my soul, Gier’s writing has a lightheartedness to it that I truly appreciate.

Liv and her sister Mia make a hilarious duo as they adapt to living with their mother’s new boyfriend and his two teenage kids. Add a crazy extended family tea party to the mix and you have a very believable family dynamic which definitely made me laugh.

The nasty school gossip blogger, Secrecy, also makes a nice commentary on cyberbullying. The interlude of blog posts in between chapters is a funny and sarcastic summary and I’m still trying to guess which character is the blogger’s identity!

Also, Liv’s boyfriend Henry is equal parts cute and mysterious. The second book definitely leaves you wondering why he is so private about his home life and why he won’t reveal what he’s up to. I guess we’ll have to read the third book to find out.

My one complaint, and this is typical of second books in series, is that the threats in the dream world did not seem overly threatening. With Anabel behind bars, the new villain isn’t quite as harrowing, but still towards the end it did turn into quite the page turner. Also, I was left with a lot of questions, but as I’m sure the third book will reveal all, I guess I have to wait to discover the answers!

“Vampire Academy” by Richelle Mead

I must be the last person on the planet to read “Vampire Academy.” I know it came out a while ago, but holy crap is it good. Rose is such a kick-ass heroine and Lissa is such a gentle soul. Their halfway mind connection, where Rose can see her best friend Lissa’s thoughts but not vice-versa is a nice plot technique.

The world building of vampires with their damphir bodyguards (half-human, half-vampires who have serious martial-art skills) creates a lot of exciting action sequences. But it’s not all blood and guts. There is some serious romance.

Damphir Rose balances her bad attitude with loyalty to for friends. And her attraction to her older teacher Dmitri is H-O-T. Of course, maybe I have a slight bias towards shipping them, since I met my husband in a teacher-student relationship. Just like Dmitri and Rose, my husband-to-be was seven years older than me. But he didn’t teach me martial arts. He taught me calculus, which also led to some potentially lethal lessons, haha.

Anyway. I shipped Dmitri and Rose. Hard.

Also, this series has a unique approach to discussing mental illness. Lissa is a vampire who has an unusual power called spirit that is poorly understood. She basically has healing super-strength, which is great for other people, but not so great for herself. Using her powers, even though she often wants to, causes her to feel depressed. Even though Lissa is strong, she has to learn how to balance self-care with caring for others. Bringing the dialogue on mental illness into the fantasy arena surely will help reduce stigma for readers who suffer from the same conditions.

So yeah. “Vampire Academy” isn’t just about fighting and kissing, it has some additional depth. Although, honestly I like the violence and romance just as much as the deep parts.

 

“Winter” by Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles)

I just read Marissa Meyer’s “Winter” and it did not disappoint. Ever since “Cinder” stole my heart with her cyborg awesomeness, the Lunar Chronicles have made a serious impression on me. There’s a strong message of being yourself no matter your background and abilities. Each novel in the series introduces a new character and romance to the cast to overthrow the cruel Lunar Queen. And each is loosely based on a popular fairytale – Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White.

“Winter” is the final episode in the battle against the Lunars and is a hefty volume at 823 pages. Of course, the cast of characters at this point in the series has become quite large, so Meyer needed a fair amount of space to describe each of their contributions.

At first I found Prince Kai’s participation in the plot a bit tiresome – how many times must he attempt to bait the Queen into a marriage that will make her empress over the Commonwealth? And then, it hit me over the head with the brilliance of it. This complaint is usually one I have for female characters. Why is Princess So-and-so only valued for her marriageable eligibility and sex appeal? Why is her only plot device the betrothal and the wedding?

Here, Prince Kai is the sex muffin who is traded around in marriage, a typically female role. His love interest, Cinder is the one who has to save him – a girl who’s part cyborg, part human. Now, I’m back to remembering why I love this series so much. The feminine empowerment is incredible.

Winter, the newest character in the cast, suffers from mental illness. In spite of her struggles, she triumphs. Cress overcomes her shyness. Scarlet tames the beast. I found the parallels between the long list of couples to cause characters to become indistinct at times, however this didn’t freeze my heart to “Winter.” The message of loving someone despite of their flaws is a good one.

Will they all live happily ever after?

Read “Winter” to find out.