Warning: There are some spoilers!
I'm really enjoying this new genre that's popping up (Is it a new genre? it's probably not new at all and I'm just late to the game...) -- the "Oh hey, the video game I like is actually real" genre. I read Warcross earlier this year (really enjoyed it) and Otherworld plays into some of those same tropes as well.
Otherworld presents some intriguing ideas...what if your favorite MMORPG game (anybody for World of Warcraft?) was revamped to allow for VR headsets? What if the AI in the game becomes sentient? What constitutes "life"? I think these questions raised by Otherworld are the shining moments of the book and I wish more time was spent diving into them. The Children were a fascinating subset of characters that I feel we barely scratched the surface on. I think we will encounter them in future books...but I wish more time was spent fleshing out their dilemma and their origins.
If you've played any MMORPGs before you will probably appreciate the various realms within Otherworld. I chuckled at Mammon which translates to anyone who is interested in inventory management and wealth accumulation in game (*cough* me *cough*). The jungle realm is essentially one big PvP arena. And the list goes on. Fun little nods to those types of players who play MMORPGs.
The book is dragged down somewhat by typical young adult characters. We have the rebellious teenage boy who is just "misunderstood" by his out of touch family. We have the damsel in distress...but not too much distress...that the boy is trying to rescue. Evil parents - either through deliberate maliciousness or being out of touch - make regular appearances as well. The characters seem a bit flat in light of the Otherworld backdrop.
I had one big issue with the book's plotting (spoiler ahead!): We spend most of the book trying to find Kat...where has Kat gone...how do we meet her at the Glacier...where is Kat...etc... Then Simon plugs back in at one point and -BAM- there's Kat. She's just...there. I remember feeling really irritated when I read that. We just spent 2/3 of the book on a search for Kat and there's no reward for it. He plugs back in and she's just there whispering to him to wake up in Otherworld? How...anticlimactic. I wanted more from their reunion...more from Simon finally catching up with Kat. It felt like it kind of fizzled.
I was rather let down by the ending as well. I thought it was a solid build up with a decent plot (despite the flat characters) only to have a trite and forecasted young adult ending. I also think the story was designed to leave on a cliffhanger and anxious for the next book, but I did not really find it so. I re-read the last few paragraphs just trying to see if I missed the big cliffhanger...but didn't see anything indicating a cliffhanger. It almost ends like the end of a chapter rather than the end of the book.
This one is falls between a 3.0 and a 3.5 in my opinion. I originally rated it a 4 star read, but after more consideration I just find that the characters and the rather "meh" ending knocks it down a peg. I still really enjoyed the book and I think this series has potential - especially as we dive into the questions that the Otherworld raises. As the series moves forward I do hope that the main characters of the story become as multi-faceted as the AI characters who dwell in Otherworld
Let's talk about THE books from Sarah J. Maas -- A Court of Thrones and Roses (#1...aka ACOTAR), A Court of Mist and Fury (#2...aka ACOMAF), & A Court of Wings and Ruin (#3...aka ACOWAR). I read these over the course of last year and the beginning of this year (when ACOWAR came out).
Yes, I enjoy the Throne of Glass series by Maas, but I think I preferred this series (which was originally slated to be a trilogy but now may be a longer series?). I actually think that preference is largely based on HOW MUCH I enjoyed the second book - ACOMAF. A Court of Mist and Fury was such a turn around from ACOTAR that I almost got whiplash. I absolutely LOVED ACOMAF - a five star read in my opinion. It gave me such a book hangover it's not even funny.
I feel like the three books are like a sandwich made out of bread that starting to go stale. It's still a pretty good sandwich...and the middle bit (PB&J or whatever type of sandwich you like) is still really, really good...but the bread is still kind of OK but just not great. Maybe that's a good (if a bit weird) analogy for this trilogy? The first and third books are 2 star books in my opinion. Both have areas where they struggled and failed to keep my interest. The middle book was such a rockstar, though, that it kind of makes up for the staleness though. I had such high hopes for ACOWAR on the heels of reading ACOMAF only to find that it suffered the same stiltedness and lack of character development that the first book did.
It was also rather odd that the trilogy was expanded after Maas already had planned for a trilogy. I am sure she has story enough to fill an expanded story line, however, it's apparent that this was supposed to be a trilogy...and only a trilogy. In ACOWAR we have a sudden introduction of new characters and tension which, I am sure, will be the new focal point now that Feyre's story is complete. I just felt like one could tell that Maas is now suddenly preparing for a larger, expanded story when it probably should have stayed an independent trilogy.
If you are familiar with the Throne of Glass series or are curious about picking up one of Maas's books, may I recommend this series? If nothing else for the express purpose of reading ACOMAF...easily one of my favorite books of 2016.
Read my review of A Court of Thorns and Roses (Warning: it's super spoilery)
Read my review of A Court of Mist and Fury
Read my review of A Court of Wings and Ruin
Rating for the series as a whole:
So...this was unexpectedly amazing. I must confess that I wasn't too excited to read it. I heard a lot of the hype and read the blurb and just thought..."meh?". But, boy, was I wrong.
An Ember in the Ashes (by Sabaa Tahir) is told from two points of view -- Laia, the scholar woman who voluntarily becomes a slave in a last-ditch effort to save her brother, Darin...and Elias, the reluctant soldier who, while top of his class, is desperate to escape the clutches of the evil empire he is sworn to serve.
This book had all the elements I typically don't like or am a bit burned out on -- a potential love triangle, a competition to the death, multiple points of view, etc...
I loved this! I found the story compulsively readable and the characters engaging. Some of the story was just brutal to read, but I'm glad the story wasn't watered down.
Tahir incorporates those elements I considered tired, old but somehow they seemed to fit within the constructs of this plot. I am desperate to know what happens next and am almost glad that I'm so far behind the game on this one.
Unwept by Tracy & Laura hickman
If i could sum up Unwept in two words, it would have to be:
I've read plenty of books where the author(s) do not do an adequate job with character development/world building/magic system/etc and I am left with an overall question mark about what the book was even about.
I'll be honest - when I started Unwept I was worried that scenario was going to happen again. I hated that...I have fond, fond memories of Tracy Hickman's participation in the Dragonlance series and I have read and enjoyed a few of the books he has written in concert with his wife, Laura. So, when I started Unwept with absolutely no clue what was happening...well, it was worrisome.
But I kept reading.
And I am glad that I did! Unwept turned out to be a fun, surreal ride. In this novel we meet Ellis who has no recollection of her past. She comes to consciousness, waking from a horrific nightmare, finding herself on a train bound for a small, seaside town in Maine. Everybody she meets seems to have knowledge of her and her past...but the can't (or won't?) give her the answers she is desperately seeking. To make matters even more disorienting, Ellis is visited in the dark of night by a mysterious suitor who keeps trying to take her away from the small Maine town. Unsure of what is going on, Ellis embarks on a journey to discover her past...but is she ready for the answers she may find?
The reader is definitely in the same boat as Ellis. You discover Ellis' backstory along with Ellis. At times this can be frustrating...I would have enjoyed a little bit of insider knowledge at the start of the story. I think it would have made the book more enjoyable? But, really...I don't know. Maybe it really is best to be on the same page as Ellis. *shrug*
I think this book requires a little bit of patience to wait and discover the story along with Ellis. And the fact that Unwept starts a series should tell you that you're in for the long haul on this one. I devoured this story and am looking forward to seeing how the next chapter unfolds.
The one by Kiera Cass
And....this season of The (Dystopian-ish) Bachelor is now concluded.
I finally have my answer...Aspen or Maxon? Maxon or Aspen? Which dude does America end up with? And now I know. But you shall find no spoilers here...and don't go peeking at the end of the book to find out, either - it will definitely take a lot out of the story ('cause let's face it...the decision between the two is pretty much the whole story).
So, other than finally knowing who America ends up with...this was an ok book. Not my favorite of the three...I think I enjoyed the first book the best. I enjoyed the different characters floating in and out of the first installment. This final installment is (obviously) focused on wrapping things up and bringing the story to its conclusion. As it should. But there were parts that seemed flatter than I would have liked...lots of talking and whining (if I had a nickel for every time Maxon whined/wavered/wimpered, I would be a rich lady. Or I'd have a few bucks at any rate...enough for a frappucino at least...). Not as much plot movement in my opinion. Oh, a lot happens...it just wasn't as layered as maybe the first one was.
The One is still immensely readable and absorbing, just as the first two were. I enjoy Cass's writing style - it makes for a quick, fun read. I found myself wanting to know a little bit more about the conclusion than was written. The conclusion was satisfying, but I think it could have been fleshed out a bit more (especially with certain characters) to where the ending seemed all the more complete than it already was...and maybe tie up a loose end or two. I really can't go into detail lest I let something slip.
One thing I wish was tackled more in the trilogy as a whole (and definitely in the final installment) was the issue with the Northern and Southern Rebels. The potential was there to really delve into the worldbuilding and the politics, but we were given just enough to make it a plot point and then we moved back to the Selection. I understand...the trilogy is about the Selection, not the Rebels...but I think it could have added more depth to the story and given it an actual dystopian feel. As it stands, it's categorized as dystopian fiction, but without an emphasis on building the dystopian world it really just turns into a literary version of the Bachelor.
Which I am obviously ok with...because I devoured these three books. But still...the world building could have been more structured and detailed.
So, four stars for this one.
The Hunger by L.J. Smith
This book celebrates its 20th birthday this year. First published in 1994, The Forbidden Game starts my favorite series from L.J. Smith. In fact, this book has a treasured spot on my "all-time favorites" shelf.
In this first installment of the trilogy, we meet Jenny Thornton who is searching for a fun gift to bring to her boyfriend's party. She stumbles upon a store she never knew existed and meets the store's only employee, the oh-so-gorgeous Julian, who sells her a game in a plain, white box. Once she makes it to the party, however, Jenny thinks she may have made a mistake. Her friends decide to give the game a try, however, and in doing so they begin the fight for their lives.
This book is part Labyrinth and part Jumanji. A young David Bowie can easily be imagined as Julian. And a game coming to life and forcing its players to fight for their lives within the constraint of The Game? Well...that's obviously Jumanji (although I think Jumanji came a short while later?)
If you've enjoyed The Vampire Diaries or The Secret Circle, be sure to check out this other gem from L.J. Smith. This is easily my favorite Smith book/series.
Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
You know that recurring nightmare? The one where you spend days...weeks...looking forward to something special (a date? a wedding?) The day finally arrives and you get all dolled up and head out to your something special. Oh, and of course, your entire family/friend base comes with you to be witness to your something special. You show up to your thing...and wait. And wait.
The other person involved in the something special never shows up and you are humiliated before your entire social circle. What do you do then?
That's pretty much how Vessel starts off. Liyana has waited and trained her whole life to be the vessel of her desert clan's deity. Her life has been spent waiting. She has to preserve herself and her body to the best of her ability because she knows, one day, it will no longer be her own. When the ceremony finally arrives, Liyana does everything she's supposed to do and dances to her goddess. Only her goddess never arrives. Seen as an unfit vessel, Liyana is exiled by her clan into the harsh desert where she discovers Korbyn, the raven deity, and finds out that someone or something is kidnapping deities.
Vessel seemed more like folklore than a novel. Durst creates a vivid desert society filled with many distinct clans and cultures. There are several stories/fables throughout the novel that give the world a rich feel to it.
The story starts out at a really nice pace while the world is being established and as we get to know Liyana. Once those things were completed, however, the story really takes off in an almost hurried pace. I wish the story could have continued at the same pace throughout.
I did think Vessel was a nice departure from your "average" YA fiction. Yes, there was romance...but it wasn't the main focal point of the story. Yes, there were touches of the cliche YA love triangle, but since the romance wasn't the focus of the story, the triangle didn't become overpowering.
Definitely give Vessel a try if you are looking for a fantasy that's a little different than your average wizard/elf/fae variety.
The Guard by Kiera Cass
Whelp...this was just ok. The Guard is a short novella detailing some of the events from Aspen's point of view. It's an uber quick read and, to be honest, didn't really give a whole lot of new information or character development. I know that Cass has to make it standalone so as not to put those who don't read it at a disadvantage...but on the same token, I do wish we had learned a little bit more about Aspen. Instead, it was just him pining after America while we re-read what already happened in the second full-length story The Elite.
I guess I was hoping for some new content (even if it's totally unrelated to the overall plot), rather than just a rehashing of the last portion of The Elite
I really enjoyed the earlier two full-length installments in The Selection trilogy, but Aspen was never one of my favorite characters. (Which, btdubs, if he ends up getting the girl in the final book, I may be a little miffed. Not that my opinion will sway the book's final outcome...but yeah.)
I'm still looking forward to The One...mainly because I'm curious as to which guy America will choose. Only a few more months to go!
World After by Susan Ee
So, I raced through the second installment of Penryn & the End of Days. World After is the sequel to the immensely popularAngelfall which I read last week (was it last week? I think so...with Christmas and time off of work the days seem to blur together).
World After starts out shortly after the end of Angelfall. Paige has been rescued but something is just not right about Penryn's little sister. Penryn struggles to not only accept Paige in her new form, but to also accept that Raffe is gone and may never return. One thing leads to another and Paige is missing again with Penryn hot on her trail to try and rescue her little sister. Again. Will Raffe return? If he does, will he get his angel wings back from Beliel? And what's with those scorpion things? All questions that are answered in World After.
I enjoyed this installment better than the first one. It was just as quick of a read as Angelfall, yet I felt that Ee explored Penryn as a character a little bit more and the story didn't seem so rushed. The angels seem rather two-dimensional...for the most part they're arrogant, chauvinistic warriors. Raffe seems to be the only angel with any depth at all. I'm still rather "meh" about the romance between Penryn and Raffe...just doesn't seem believable yet. Hopefully as the series goes on I'll become more invested in the romance (if the romance continues? It probably will, but you never know...).
All in all, an enjoyable book and a solid continuation of the series. Let's see where this series goes!
Endless Knight by Kresley Cole
Endless Knight picks up right where Poison Princess leaves off...almost like it's part of one giant book that they cut in half at the end of a climactic chapter.
This second installment in The Arcana Chronicles is excellent...maybe even better than the first book. Endless Knight delves deeper into the world After the Flash and introduces the reader to more Arcana Cards ready to do battle.
I wonder if I liked Endless Knight better because you see less of Jackson in it? Oh, Jackson (or "Jack" as he's suddenly called in this book) is still there, no worries...but the focus is definitely on Death - when will Death show up/who is Death/what will Death do to Evie when he gets her/etc? Cole did a great job of creating a sympathetic figure...Death seemed to fall into the gray area of bad, but not quite bad.
While we're at it...let's point out the elephant in the room. Evie definitely has a type she goes for, doesn't she? This shouldn't be a huge spoiler since you can see the cover art and all...but inPoison Princess it's all about Jackson...now we are intoEndless Knight and she's easily distracted by Death and their previous history.
Yep...Kresley Cole has implemented the tried and true (and tired?) trick of young adult love triangle. So, let's go ahead and pick teams now...are you Team Jackson or Team Death? I know a lot of people are sick of the YA Love Triangle, but it doesn't seem to be a weary plot point in this story. Both guys are sympathetic enough that you can root for either of them and still feel bad that the other guy is going to lose out.
I'm curious to see where Cole will take The Arcana Chronicles. This next bit might be a spoiler so stop reading now if you aren't interested in my hypothesis...
Seriously - you've been warned - potential spoiler ahead.
Ok - so I did notice the one line thrown into this book about the Card that doesn't know he/she is a Card until he/she kills another Major Arcana. Pretty sure that will be Jackson. And I think Jackson will turn out to be the Sun Card. Evie as the Empress is attracted to Death because he is her antithesis...yet, the Sun is what would make the Empress (ie. life) grow and flourish...so the Sun seems like it might be the right choice.
I guess we shall see. Going to give this one five stars because it was a great read that stuck with me even after the last page was read. Can't wait for number three!