Book Review: Rook by Sharon Cameron

A fast-paced story of twisted loyalties and conflicting desires that I couldn’t stop reading.

3.5/5 stars

cover rook

Goodreads Description

History has a way of repeating itself. In the Sunken City that was once Paris, all who oppose the new revolution are being put to the blade. Except for those who disappear from their prison cells, a red-tipped rook feather left in their place. Is the mysterious Red Rook a savior of the innocent or a criminal?

Meanwhile, across the sea in the Commonwealth, Sophia Bellamy’s arranged marriage to the wealthy René Hasard is the last chance to save her family from ruin. But when the search for the Red Rook comes straight to her doorstep, Sophia discovers that her fiancé is not all he seems. Which is only fair, because neither is she.

As the Red Rook grows bolder and the stakes grow higher, Sophia and René find themselves locked in a tantalizing game of cat and mouse.

My Review

This has minor spoilers for Rook, mainly because I can’t talk about one of the character’s role in the book without spoiling a bit of the beginning. Proceed with caution.

This book started off slow for me. It took me a week to read the first thirty pages. This was because there were major problems with the exposition and the world-building. Sometimes I like it when authors just throw you into the action and leave you to figure out the world, but in this case, that format really didn’t work. I was confused and frustrated, and even once the book’s pace picked up, I was still unsure about the specifics of the world.

I did like some parts of the world building, however. It is something like a dystopian retelling of the French Revolution, focusing mostly on the Reign of Terror part. Since that time period was one of the most interesting ones that I studied last year, I loved the way that Cameron wove historical details into a new world, one that was revolting against technology and the rich a few centuries after an apocalypse.

Once the story got moving, I was able to focus on the characters. Sophie, daughter of a formerly wealthy merchant family and secret revolutionary, was an interesting protagonist, but I felt like there was always something missing that kept me from falling in love with her. She has all of the components I want in badass characters like this—sass, creativity, moments of weakness—but they never gelled into an awesome protagonist. She’s not a bad main character—far from it—but I would have enjoyed the story more if she had a few more layers, a bit more spark.

René, on the other hand, was an awesome character. Engaged to Sophie through an arrangement that neither of them like and with close ties to the dictator Sophie is secretly fighting, he starts off the book cloaked in mystery and distrust. I absolutely LOVED watching the truth of his character come out. I loved all of the intricacies of his character. René was definitely my favorite character in the book.

The romance that developed between Rene and Sophie was amazing. It takes a while, and it is always dominated by concerns over if they can trust each other, but their chemistry was impeccable and I loved them as a couple. It’s sweet and painful, and it really added to the book.

There are so many other characters in Rook. Amazingly, I rarely got them confused, but I also didn’t have much understanding of each character’s personality (mostly just their name and what role they play). Some of the more important characters stood out, of course, and added to the story. Benoit, in particular, was one of my favorite characters. LeBlanc was a terrifying villian—his religious fanaticism and lack of a conscience created a horrifying character, but one that was realistic (in an awful way).

Spear, the other kind-of love interest, was an annoying character. He was supposed to be annoying, so that was written well, but I still wanted to shove him out of the way so that Rene and Sophie could get together. I also wished there was more to his character than just his obsession with Sophie.

The most impressive part of this book is the web of interwoven loyalties and lies that binds the characters together. Throughout the book, you honestly have no idea who to trust. Everyone has another agenda, everyone is watching each other, and everyone ends up getting in each other’s way. It was actually stressful to read. I had to keep reading to find out who was good, who was evil, and what the frick everyone was doing.

Because of this, the pacing of this book is insane. Literally, the last half of the book is one massive scene. I couldn’t stop reading if I had wanted to.

While I was impressed with the breakneck speed of some scenes, there was something off about the overall book’s pacing. Maybe it was too many pages, maybe the last scene was too fast for too long, but when I finished the book, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something about the pacing hadn’t worked.

There isn’t much to say about the writing—it wasn’t amazing, but it wasn’t bad—but I loved the way that Cameron strung different scenes together by ending one scene and starting the next with similar wording. It’s hard to describe, but it helped different plot lines flow together and it sped the pacing up.

I would recommend this book to French Revolution buffs, dystopian fans (who want a semi-historical setting), or people who love not knowing who to trust. The romance is swoonworthy, the plot is complex, and there are a lot of surprises. Despite the book’s problems, it was still a really fun read, and I can see myself rereading it sometime in the future.

Book Review: Melophobia by James Morris

A unique dystopian story that captures the beauty of music.

4/5 stars

cover melophobia


The time–now; the place–America, but in a world where the government controls all forms of art and creativity. Any music sowing seeds of anarchy is banned–destroyed if found–its creators and listeners harshly punished.

Merrin Pierce works as an undercover Patrol officer assigned to apprehend a man who threatens the safe fabric of society, only to confront everything she thought to be true–her values, upbringing, job and future.

My Review

*I was given a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my review.*

I was intrigued by the premise of this book: a world without music—how would that work? The answer, in true dystopian fashion, is that it doesn’t.

I was simultaneously pleased by and frustrated with the world building. Essentially, a civil war broke out in the 1970s between anarchist music lovers and the established government, leading to the War on Moral Decay. The government won the War, establishing a strict, almost Puritanical world where music is illegal and any strong emotion is seen as the beginning of anarchy. Raised in this society, the protagonist, Merrin, fiercely hates and fears music.

It is the kind of premise you just have to accept. It was believable to me that Merrin would hate music if she had been raised on a diet of anti-music propaganda—but that didn’t stop me from countering all of her anti-music statements in the beginning of the book. As a member of modern society, all of the arguments against music were clearly authoritarian propaganda, and I had to remind myself that Merrin’s emotions were logical for someone in her position.

Other than that, I was fairly happy with the world-building. We don’t learn everything about how music was eradicated or the specifics of what else is illegal in their society, but I never felt like that lack of information created plot holes. One thing I really appreciated was how the world-building continued throughout the story; even in the later chapters, I was still learning more details of the world, which felt natural.

Merrin was an interesting protagonist. She starts off the book your typical hard-ass female character, focused on her job, fueled by a deep inner rage against music. Watching her character develop was fascinating as she transitioned into a woman, unsure of her place in the world, torn between competing loyalties, and questioning the society she had been raised to trust. The fact that her father was a high-ranking government official only added to the tension, creating a realistic moral battle within Merrin.

The rest of the characters in the book held there own. There’s Anders, her ex-bf and current partner, pining for Merrin and loyal to the Patrol. He was a fairly frustrating character, but that was the point, and I appreciated that we got to see different layers of his personality. Then there are the musicians that Merrin meets as she investigates. These characters were the most fun to read about, mainly because they actually embraced having emotions, unlike the rest of the society.

And then there’s the romance. Merrin’s assignment is to go undercover and find the Source, a musician who has been creating and distributing music. Though the set-up isn’t exactly original, their romance had a unique realism. I loved watching Merrin’s affection for the Source develop, even in the face of all her other values. I appreciated that Merrin didn’t drop all of her distrust of music as soon as she met the Source; even when their relationship was getting serious, she still had her reserves. Merrin’s inner conflicts felt real, and it wasn’t just romance that finally made her realize the problems in her society, but a slew of other incidents.

All in all, Melophobia is an interesting read, but it didn’t blow me away. Having not really listened to the music that the book was rooted in, I feel like I was missing some of the emotional significance. Also, the writing bothered me occasionally. It had a habit of switching POV without warning and a tendency to “tell” instead of “show” emotions.

The beginning dragged a bit; it took me a while to get into the story. Once the halfway point it, though, I was hooked. There were a few “oh my god” moments, and I loved how the plot affected every single character, not just Merrin. The climax of the book literally broke my heart and effortlessly set up a second book.

I’d recommend this book to music fans, especially rock-n-roll fans, who want an interesting NA dystopian with complex characters and a surprising ending.

Book Review: Angelfall (Penryn and End of Days #1) by Susan Ee

An interesting dystopian novel that suffered from less-than-great writing.

3/5 stars

cover angelfall

Amazon Description

It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back. Anything, including making a deal with Raffe, an injured enemy angel. Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco, where Penryn will risk everything to rescue her sister and Raffe will put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.

My Review

I’ve actually had this book for over a year, but I never picked it up. I’ve been in a phase where I don’t really want to read dystopians, and there didn’t seem to be anything special about this book. I’ve seen some positive reviews for this series, though, and I was in the mood for books with fight scenes, so I finally picked it up.

At first, I wasn’t sold. The whole evil-angel premise wasn’t terribly original, and the set-up reminded me of the Angel Burn series (which I love, btw, go check it out if you haven’t read it). I was disappointed that it wasn’t more unique, and the plot took a little while to get interesting.

I enjoyed Penryn’s character from the start. She was simultaneously stubbornly sarcastic and kind of awful at insults—(sort of) a unique combination for a YA heroine. I loved that there was a logical explanation behind her having taken a ton of self-defense classes (her mom’s paranoia). Her love-hate relationship with her mother was fascinating, and her love for her sister was palpable. (The whole mom-with-schizophrenia thing was really interesting, adding a lot of awkwardly funny-but-sad moments to the story.)

Raffe had his own quirks. He definitely fit the brooding male mold, but he also had a humorous side that caught me off guard. I wish that we had gotten to know more about his character in Angelfall, but he is a pretty reticent character for most of the book.

The plot of Angelfall is semi-free form. Basically, Raffe and Penryn agree to travel north together to get Raffe back to his home and to help Penryn rescue her sister. Most of the plot comes from the various things they encounter on the road, as well as their developing relationship. As far at plots go, it wasn’t the most gripping or well-paced one in the world, but it was a good framework for their budding romance, and there were enough fight scenes to keep me on edge. I wanted to keep reading to find out where the plot would go next, and it ended up going to Creepytown. Seriously, the climax of the book was so creepy and amazing and GAH I need the next book!

It took me a surprising amount of time to get on board with the Raffe-Penryn romance. It wasn’t until the climax of the book that I really started to feel their bond; before that, their relationship seemed more like a random crush than anything deep. Possibly with better writing, I would have felt Penryn’s affection for Raffe earlier, but it doesn’t really matter, because by the last pages, my heart was breaking over their relationship. 

My biggest problem with this book is the writing. Honestly, it was bad for a lot of the book. I am honestly frustrated, because this could be a new favorite book if the writing were better quality. As it is, I kept getting distracted by the awkward sentences and telling (as in not showing) of Penryn’s emotions. Side characters were cliche, and nothing about the world building struck me as new or surprising (until those creepy scenes at the end).

Also, a lot of the thing that happened in the plot were overly convenient. Like, inexplicably convenient. In a post-apocalyptic world, it is ridiculous that certain items they found would have been left in people’s houses. Again, I expected more from the author, and the story would have been stronger if certain plot holes had been sewn shut.

Angelfall is pretty good. I wasn’t amazed, but I also didn’t DNF the book. The ending was a great cliffhanger, and I really want to read the second book. The prevalent good/evil conflict with the angels was intriguing, and I want to know more about the angel politics. Honestly, I wish that the last quarter of the book had been stretched out to be half of the book, and that some of the beginning had been trimmed down.

Have you read Angelfall? What did you think? If you’ve read the rest of the series, does it get better?

Book Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Having accidentally read this book’s companion novel first, I was pleasantly surprised by the complexity and uniqueness of the plot and world-building in For Darkness Shows the Stars.

4/5 stars

cover for darkness shows the stars

Amazon description

In the dystopian future of For Darkness Shows the Stars, a genetic experiment has devastated humanity. In the aftermath, a new class system placed anti-technology Luddites in absolute power over vast estates—and any survivors living there.

Elliot North is a dutiful Luddite and a dutiful daughter who runs her father’s estate. When the boy she loved, Kai, a servant, asked her to run away with him four years ago, she refused, although it broke her heart.

Now Kai is back. And while Elliot longs for a second chance with her first love, she knows it could mean betraying everything she’s been raised to believe is right.

For Darkness Shows the Stars is a breathtaking YA romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.

My Review

For all that this book says that it is dystopian, in all honestly it does not belong in that genre–and I am sooo glad. The setting feels fresh and unique, a wonderful break from the mold of dystopias today.

On that note, I loved the world-building Peterfreund employed. It was simple and believeable, an interesting critique of the 21st century’s obsession with genetic modification without sounding preachy. The Luddite’s fear and hatred of technology made sense, as well as their juxtaposed willingness to turn a blind eye to new technology if it presented itself. I like that so much of this book’s setting focused on human nature and its interaction with technology rather than complex specifics of the new world.

Elliot was a great protagonist. Her character was relatable and loveable; I understood why she didn’t leave with Kai four years ago. Her sense of duty was believable, and her role as a leader was subtle but complex. I liked her interactions with technology and her discomfort with the social status quo of her estate. Her interactions with her family were tense, presenting the right conflicts to drive her character into desperation. She was appropriately heart-broken over losing Kai without it dominating her character. I loved that we got to see how having and then losing Kai had influenced her growth in the four years of his absence.

Kai comes back as a captain the infamous Cloud Fleet, a set of Post (lower class citizens who are treated like serfs on estates like Elliots) explorers who want to use the shipyard in Elliot’s family’s estate to build their next vessel. The tension between the two of them was instant and palpable–I was sucked in immediately. The romance drove the plot but didn’t dominate it; Elliot’s interactions with the other members of the Fleet and the various conflicts they presented her were also important. However, the reason I kept reading the book was the romance between Kai and Elliot–or the lack thereof. It was painful and literally drove me to tears at times. The forces keeping them apart were more than the stereotypical ones I’ve read in other books. Though the romantic tension could have made me hate the book, Peterfreund managed to balance enough conflicting forces and motivations for me love it instead.

We get periodic glimpses into Kai and Elliot’s past with a series of letters they wrote each other as they grew up. This simple story telling technique worked so well to convey their relationship. I understood that they were honestly in love, and that it had been developing for years before Kai left.

Honestly, the letters were the biggest source of insight into Kai’s character. In the present, I felt like his characterization was reliant on Elliot’s memories and explanations. Still, in the end, I felt like I knew and liked the guy.

None of the characterization was exceedingly complex. None of the side characters felt flat, but they weren’t exactly deep either. I would have liked to get to know the others on a more personal level, instead of just through Elliot’s eyes.

Probably my biggest complaint with this book (the reason it didn’t earn 5/5 stars), is the ending. It felt too easy, too sudden, after the strife and conflict of the 400 pages before. Of course it made me happy (though I kind of knew it would happen because I’ve already read Across a Star Swept Sea) but I wanted more from it. Peterfreund set me up for a super dramatic reveal of emotion that I felt like I never got.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a fresh take on a dystopian world and a dose of well-written romantic tension.

Book Review: The Murder Complex by Lindsay Cummings

I can’t decide what I think about this book. I read it quickly and it kept me entertained, but there was absolutely nothing special about it.

3/5 stars

More like a 3-minus, honestly.

cover murder complex

Amazon description:

Meadow Woodson, a sixteen-year-old girl who has been trained by her father to fight, to kill, and to survive in any situation, lives with her family on a houseboat in the futuristic Florida Everglades. The state is controlled by The Murder Complex, a secret organization that tracks the population with precision. The plot starts to thicken when Meadow meets Zephyr James, who is–although he doesn’t know it–one of the MC’s programmed assassins. Is their meeting a coincidence? Destiny? Or part of a terrifying strategy? And will Zephyr keep Meadow from discovering the haunting truth about her family? Action-packed, blood-soaked, and chilling, this is a dark and compelling debut novel by Lindsay Cummings.

The world-building of this book was interesting. Not jaw-droppingly unique, but the premise was enough to get me reading. I liked the dystopian world. It was simple but believable–you’ve got your powerful government, struggling citizens, and a disease that wiped out basically the entire world a few generations back. I liked that the world-building didn’t feel overly dystopian; I felt like the author at least tried to branch out of the stereotype in regards to the atmosphere of the book. Personally, the setting of this book felt like a combination of Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi and Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi.

The “Murder Complex” aspect of the book is unclear at the beginning and honestly is never really explained (even when, I think, it was supposed to be clear to the reader). I don’t want to spoil anything, but essentially a ton of people die every night (and the government is involved). This was the only part of the world building that really didn’t make sense to me–it just wasn’t logical how the citizenry responded to it, or when we learned more about it, the actual motivations and mechanisms behind it. Unfortunately, this was a major part of the world-building in regards to the plot.

I never really fell in love with either of the characters. Meadow was supposed to be this bad-ass, take-no-shit warrior, but there was no human element of her character to make her feel real. Even her relationship with her family–which was supposed to be a major portion of her psyche–felt flat and never pulled at my heart at all. I felt like Meadow was never anything other than a character who was given too many fight scenes and not enough development–by the end of the book, she was basically just killing everything that got in her way, but there were no emotional repercussions (more on that later).

Also, on a more petty note, her name really bothered me. “Meadow” made absolutely no sense for her–it just felt wrong for the character the author was trying to create. A few times, it actually distracted me from the story when someone called her by her name.

Zephyr was equally lack-luster, though perhaps a little more interesting. His place in the world as a ward of the government worked for his character, and I liked that he had a friend-based relationship with a girl (one of the wards he lived with) that didn’t involve romance. He was appropriately tormented over the people he had killed, and the times when the Murder Complex took over his body were some of the most intense scenes of the book. I cared about him more than I did any other character–though that by no means indicates that I had a strong emotional attachment to the guy.

The rest of the background were forgettable. I honestly didn’t like Meadow’s father, and didn’t care about her sister or brother. None of the characters felt well-rounded or real; they never came alive, which means I never gave a damn what happened to them.

The romance was…weird. It never fully developed, but at the same time it was Instalove-y. It’s hard to explain, but it ended up being very disappointing, especially because the main reason I decided to pick up this book was for a dose of unadulterated YA romance.

The plot was fine. It kept me entertained and I read the book in one sitting, but there were no “oh my God” moments. A few of the reveals were good–did not see them coming–but it kinda of felt like the author had sacrificed continutity and logic to surprise the reader. I liked the plot twist (there is one important one), but was the plot moved on past it, I kept picking at the logistics behind the reveal, and I was never satisfied that what the author said happened actually made any sense. Even the fight scenes failed to get my heart racing–another major disappointment from a book that is based around murder.

My biggest problem with this book was the killing aspect. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not opposed to characters killing people, and I’m fine with reading violent books. But the violence in this book had no emotional connection. Meadow kills a ton of people and never struggles with an internal moral conflict. What could have been a fascinating book was made flat and forgettable by the simple fact that the violence lacked repercussions and moral dilemmas. It failed to affect the plot, and actually started to get creepy (the lack of discussion over the number of people who died).

While it probably sounds like I hated everything about this book, it still strikes me as a 3 (minus, like an C-minus). Honestly, I kept reading the book, which counts for something. There was nothing remarkable about the book but there was nothing horrible. People looking for a random YA dystopia to read could look into this one–it’s possible someone who likes the genre as a whole more than I do might get more pleasure out of this book. I doubt I’ll read the second book.

Book Review: Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

I first read this book about a year ago, and remembered liking it enough. My sister read it for the first time this month and loved it, causing me to reread it. I liked the book a lot more this time, and I’m not really sure why I didn’t think more of it the first time, because it’s great.

4.5/5 stars

cover across a star swept sea

Amazon description of Across a Star-Swept Sea:

From Rampant and Ascendant author Diana Peterfreund comes this thrilling companion to For Darkness Shows the Stars, now in paperback. Across a Star-Swept Sea is a romantic science-fiction reimagining of the classic The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Centuries after wars nearly destroyed civilization, the islands of Galatea and Albion stand alone, a paradise where even the Reduction—the devastating brain disorder that sparked the wars—is a distant memory. Yet on Galatea, an uprising against the aristocracy has turned deadly. The revolutionaries’ weapon is a drug that damages their enemies’ brains, and the only hope is a mysterious spy known as the Wild Poppy. On neighboring Albion, no one suspects that the Wild Poppy is actually famously frivolous teenage aristocrat Persis Blake. Her gossipy flutternotes are encrypted plans, her pampered sea mink is genetically engineered for spying, and her well-publicized new romance with handsome Galatean medic Justen Helo . . . is her most dangerous mission ever.

When Persis discovers that Justen is keeping a secret that could plunge New Pacifica into another dark age, she realizes she’s not just risking her heart, she’s risking the world she’s sworn to protect.

First, I’d like to say that I didn’t realize this book was a companion novel. You can totally read it stand-alone (as I did), but now I want to go back and read For Darkness Shows the Stars.

Now, to talk about the book.

I love the world Peterfreund created. The Reduction disease is believable, and the cure’s own set of consequences is a nice addition to what have been a very simple backstory. The court of Albion is perfectly ridiculous and frivolous, the ultimate backdrop for Persis’s ditzy character. The revolution in Galatea was unique and interesting, because unlike pretty much every other book that has a revolution taking place in it against tyranny, you don’t like the revolution. This premise drew me in, breaking from the classic dystopian mold (the book is only dystopian in the loosest sense of the term). It’s possible I’ve just been studying AP European History way too much, but I found a ton of historical parallels and conflicts that made the revolution even more complex for me as a reader.

I loved the technological aspects of the world-building as well. Like the court of Albion, they are for the most part, completely ridiculous and unnecessary. Genetemps to change your appearance for a few hours, flutternotes that take nutrients out of your own body to fly away as physical manifestations of telepathic messages. However, they paint a clear picture of a civilization that has far surpassed modern day technology. Justen’s character, a medic and a scientist, also helps to ground the technology in the realm of the practical. His medical research into the Reduction balanced with the court’s gadgets to create a wide span of technologies–the way technology is in the real world.

Persis Blake is a wonderful character. She is an intensely smart girl who is the heir to her family’s estate. When her best friend Isla suddenly becomes the princess regent of Albion, Persis drops her studies to accompany her to court as her closest advisor. Persis adopts the persona of Persis Flake, a stupid airhead aristo, to disguise her nighttime exploits as the world’s most infamous spy: The Wild Poppy. The conflict between her two personas is so pronounced and creates a fascinating dynamic within herself. She’s still the brilliant girl she was when she was top of her classes, before Isla became the regent, but all of it is trapped inside of her as she has to give airheaded responses to court gossip and turn the conversation away from anything of substance.

The dynamic between Isla and Persis impressed me. The two girls have been best friends for years, and remain so. However, Isla is under immense pressure as a ruler, with almost all of her court doubting her leadership, and the stress puts a burden on their relationship. It is clear that Isla is Persis’s queen, and she uses her power throughout the novel. Persis, for her part, is keeping secrets from Isla and feels like her best friend doesn’t understand her. Still, they are steadfastly friends. I loved that Peterfreund didn’t give them a flawless relationship–it wouldn’t have made sense with both of their characters.

And Justen. Justen the grandson of Persistence Helo, the genius who created the cure for the Reduction, making him famous and revered by all. He starts the book trying to escape Galatea’s revolution, which he was closely involved with. His escape involves meeting Persis, and when he gets back to court and asks for asylum, Isla makes the two pretend to be in love as a cover for his real reason for coming to Albion: further research into his grandmother’s cure. Persis is forced to be Persis Flake around Justen, even as she marvels at his intellect and longs for substantive discussions of political affairs. Justen thinks she is an idiot and cannot believe he got saddled with her.

This book is a lesson in dramatic irony (defined as when the reader knows more than the characters). Justen and Persis’s relationship progresses as Justen realizes that Persis is stupid but also caring–but you as a reader are dying, because you know just how brilliant Persis is. There are a ton of conversations between the two about who the Wild Poppy is. Their relationship is sweet and powerful, but also freaking frustrating, because you know the reveal is coming and you want Justen to appreciate Persis!!!!

(A note: Normally, the premise of this romance would put me off a book, but Peterfreund totally pulled it off.)

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys slightly ridiculous stories, spies, dramatic irony, romance, court drama, sci-fi/dystopian-ish stories–AHH just read it!

Comments with spoilers:

I loved the fact that Justen created the revolution’s Reduction drug. It was the perfect device to create internal conflicts within himself, and basically the only thing that could rip Persis away from him.

Remy and Viana were really interesting characters. I loved how Remy joined the League of the Wild Poppy, as well as the moment she realized that Persis Flake was the infamous spy. Viana was a bitch, sure, but her character was complex and her relationship with Justen added to the story. The sibling dynamic between all three of them was well crafted.

The scene when Justen and Persis’s parents find out that Persis is the Wild Poppy was PERFECT. It was so simple and yet earth-shattering.

This book needed an epilogue. I wanted a longer happy ending!

Book Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

I picked up this book because it was by Brandon Sanderson, author of the Mistborn trilogy, currently my favorite series I’ve read this year. While this book was completely different from Mistborn, it was still amazing. I’m in love.

5/5 stars

Genre: YA dystopian, science fiction, action

Series: The Reckoners, book one

cover steelheart


Amazon description of Steelheart

How far would you go for revenge if someone killed your father?
If someone destroyed your city?
If everything you ever loved was taken from you?
David Charleston will go to any lengths to stop Steelheart. But to exact revenge in Steelheart’s world, David will need the Reckoners—a shadowy group of rebels bent on maintaining justice.
And it turns out that the Reckoners might just need David too.

Wow. I loved this book.

It is not Mistborn, which was almost-high fantasy, really freaking long, emotionally powerful, subtle, complex. A lot of this review will compare the two, but if you don’t know the first series, just ignore the extra bits.

The setting is a dystopia ruled by powerful beings called Epics. The city that he lives in, Newcago, is ruled by totalitarian Epic Steelheart, who murdered David’s father in his ascent to power, leaving David with a serious vendetta against him. It is an interesting dystopia however, because Steelheart’s regime has only been around for ten years. Most of the population has memories of what it was like before, something most dystopian authors cut out.

The story itself is action-oriented, with tons of fight scenes and gunfire. Elements of the world are science-fictiony. I definitely wanted a deeper understanding of how the science-y elements worked, how the technology functioned, but I trust that Sanderson will explain it in a later book (hopefully).

It is a fast, powerful read. As I said, lots of fight scenes, lots of explosions, lots of dodging bullets, but never in a cheesy way. Since they have advanced scientific technology to help them not get killed, it keeps the scenes from being totally unrealistic (AKA Steelheart is not like every episode of “Burn Notice” ever, which the cast totally should not have survived that many seasons of). The plot built quickly; Sanderson paced it well, and kept the reader guessing.

The characters were great. David is a lovable geek, with a seriously vindictive side. He’s impulsive. He’s horrible at metaphors. (More on that later). The Reckoners were characterized well, for me. Each one had a distinct personality and added something different to the book. Cody is by far my favorite, because pretty much everything he said had me laughing out loud. Sanderson created Megan’s character well, keeping her mysterious, keeping her in character. She was an actually strong female in a story that could have used her as a sexy body and nothing else. Her dynamic with David moved the story along without monopolizing it, letting the action be the focus of the plot (a novelty in the hyper-romanticized world of YA). Prof was a powerful character, the classic leader with a mysterious past. Though I saw hints of Mistborn’s Kelsier in him, Sanderson didn’t create a carbon copy, which helped to establish the differences between his series.

The plot twists! So many, so well executed. I can’t say more, cuz duh…spoilers. But seriously, guys, if you like surprising plots–Sanderson is your author.

Ooh! A note on David sucking at creating metaphors. It’s a running joke through the story, that he thinks way too much into his metaphors and they just don’t make sense. While it could have just been a running joke, for me it was more. I’ve spent so many hours in English classes disecting metaphors, analyzing the author’s diction. It was hilarious to read lines that really made me think about metaphors in our language, and why some work and others don’t. It’s kind of English-class-geeky of me, but I loved it.

I need book two, Firefight, to come out. I have to wait until January!!! The horror.

Book Review: Books I Read for English Class, part 2

When I started this blog in April I did a mass review of all the books I’d read in my freshman English class up until then. The school year is almost over, so I decided I should review the last two books I read: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Ayn Rand’s Anthem.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury:

I still can’t decide what I thought of this book. I enjoyed reading it, as much as I ever do when I have to annotate a book, but the more I thought about it after I read it, the more problems I had with it.

The plot, which feels exciting while you’re reading it, has a very simple progression. The main character’s, Montag’s, character arc is predictable in a frustratingly point-A-to-point-B way. The side characters–Clarisse, Faber, and the book men–though interesting in the moment, have no character arc at all, only appearing to influence Montag, then disappearing, to be replaced. It’s well-written, but a little heavy on metaphors for my personal taste (thought that might just be the overwhelmed and sleep-deprived student talking, trying to annotate at 11:00 pm talking).

Most of my problems with the novel come down to it’s length. It is about 50,000 words, about half the length of today’s YA novels (80,000-100,000 words). Which means it is short, something I loved as a student, but which eventually drove me to dislike the book.

Fahrenheit 451 is clearly a plot based book, focused on sending a message about the dangers of technology/over-stimulation/basically the world we live in. And on that note, it succeeds. However, I prefer character-driven books. I want to fall in love with not just the protagonist, but every person he meets. I want to be amazed by how they change, surprised by their actions, blown away when I compare them on the first page with them on the last page. Ray Bradbury’s novel was missing this for me. It simply wasn’t long enough for Montag to have a complicated arc, or for the backup characters to be anything more than cardboard cutouts of messages, like bad movie props. I understand why the book is so popular, but I wanted more from it, especially because it was the one book I actually wanted to read going into the school year.


Anthem by Ayn Rand:

Literally every person I’ve told we read this book says something along the line of, “They’re making you read Ayn Rand?!”


I didn’t like this book, though I’m not sure if it is for the classic, anti-Ayn-Rand reasons of most people who hated it.

As in the case of Fahrenheit 451, this book was heavily message based and way too short for characters or plot to develop.

I don’t think anyone can argue Anthem was written for a plot or character development reason. It was written to spread an anti-collectivist message during the rise of communism in Eastern Europe. Ayn Rand even explains that the title of the book is drawn from her feeling that it was an anthem to the Objectivism movement. I can respect that she looked to a literary device to spread opinions she clearly held strongly.

But couldn’t she have done it better? Instead of the heavy-handed slapping me in the face with your message, couldn’t she have subtly woven the message into the plot and the characters. It didn’t even have to be that subtle. It just would have helped if there was any plot.

Nothing about the novel makes sense. The modern world has collapsed and a totalitarian, collectivist government has taken over. There is no technology past candles and glass, and people are back to thinking that the world is flat. No one explores the Uncharted Forest. It is a society completely stripped of humanity.

Sure, that’s the point. But if you examine the book closely (again with the annotating), you break through a sort of backwards 4th wall, and you can see Ayn Rand trying to send messages be separate from the logic of her world.

For example, the character names: Equality 7-2521 and Liberty 5-3000. As we discussed in class, this is a gorgeous allusion to American values and the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”). But why would a totalitarian government hell-bent on destroying the past weave these allusions in. Equality’s name makes sense, but Liberty? The society is not based on freedom, but full obedience to the Councils. This is Ayn Rand talking, not caring about her plot, only the message.

Then some things just aren’t logical. There’s the prison that doesn’t have working locks on the doors or guards because no one would dare to escape. But presumably if people disobeyed to get into jail, they’d to it again to get out. The society reinvented candles and managed to call them by the exact same name. Equality stumbles upon electricity (again with the NO TECHNOLOGY ANYWHERE) and invents the light bulb in a few weeks. Only Scholars are allowed to read but everyone can. Wouldn’t a totalitarian government destroying independent thought keep people from reading in the most basic way possible? (However, this skill is useful when Equality finds books and learns of the past…so we can understand why Ayn Rand couldn’t keep her populace illiterate.)

And for a novel written solely for spreading messages throughout the world, it is stupidly misogynistic. (*Spoilers, though predictable*) Liberty falls in love with Equality, and there’s a quote that goes something like “And her eyes which defied the world looked at me as if they would do anything I asked” (sorry for the paraphrase, but you get the gist). Liberty, who starts out as a refreshingly rebellious female figure, turns complacent and practically worships Equality. Ayn Rand’s message that individual thought is the most important value apparently only applies to cocky, power-hungry males who consider themselves gods.

I’m fine with authors using their books to say things about the world. (Read Laini Taylor’s Smoke and Bone series and Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens.) But I won’t respect your message if the book doesn’t make sense and if it’s clear you thought you could get away with a half-assed plot because your themes are just so important.