Monday, June 1, 2020

Warrior of the Wild

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Warrior of the Wild is a 2019 young adult fantasy novel by Tricia Levenseller. It was published by Square Fish. The book was immediately met with praise upon its release. The novel can be purchased here from Bookshop.org

The novel is set in the Viking era and follows Rasmira, the daughter of her village's chieftain. Trained as a warrior her whole life, Rasmira is exiled from her village after her coming-of-age trial is sabotaged. In order to win back her honor and return home, she's tasked with killing the oppressive god who claims tribute from her village or die trying.

My favorite thing about this novel were the characters. The three main characters are Rasmira, Iric and Soren, who are exiled teens from another village. As the main character and the point-of-view character, I enjoyed Rasmira the most. An eighteen-year-old who has been trained as a warrior her whole life, she could've easily been written to be a token "strong female character" with no real personality or depth, but Levenseller avoided that pitfall. Rasmira is a fierce warrior, but there is a sensitive side to her. When she's betrayed during her coming-of-age trial, she doesn't only feel angry, she also feels hurt. Several times in the narrative, she references the fact that yes, she's a fighter, but that doesn't mean she's not allowed to be a normal teenage girl. She makes mistakes, but doesn't let those mistakes keep her from moving forward. The duality between her being a warrior, and also a teenager gives her character a great deal of nuance and made me invested in her story. Soren and Iric are friends and quasi-brothers from another village who have been banished for failing their own coming-of-age trials and given equally difficult tasks to complete in order to return home. They're both incredibly witty, which brings some levity to the story and have a fierce loyalty to one another, and later Rasmira. I love the dynamic of found families, which is what develops between these three young adults. They look out for one another and, thanks to Rasmira's determination to complete her task, gives each of them hope that they can complete their own. There is not much I can say about other characters without spoiling things. The majority of the plot follows Rasmira, Iric and Soren. The main villain is the god Peruxolo who isn't a terribly compelling character given that he's not given much backstory or examination. He's an evil, oppressive deity and Rasmira's quest to defeat him matters more than anything specific about him.

I enjoyed the tasks each character was given and the quest that results in each character trying to fulfill their tasks. Rasmira has to kill a god. Iric is tasked with killing a a sea monster and Soren must climb a mountain and steal the feather of a mythical bird. Since the tasks themselves are so simple, the author has room to write plenty of dynamic and surprising action scenes. It also allows a good deal of world-building and describing the creatures and atmosphere of the story. The wild is immersive and the world is fascinating. I love historical fantasy quests, and this novel gave me three quests in one. The pacing of this book was pretty good. It was a little slow in parts, but overall it kept a consistent and exciting pace. While I enjoyed the conclusion, I liked how the conclusion came about slightly more, which I know is confusing. I liked the final confrontation, but the scenes of Rasmira learning what she needed to and putting all of the pieces together in order to face Peruxolo were much more interesting to me. The explanation of everything was surprising in the best way possible.

While I enjoyed Warrior of the Wild overall, I do have a few criticisms. I felt like the romantic subplot in this book was a little boring and predictable. It wasn't terrible and I'm glad there wasn't some kind of love triangle happening, but I wasn't very invested in it. It just felt a bit unneeded in my opinion. I also felt like the way Rasmira's coming-of-age trial was sabotaged was very predictable and not the plot-twist it was meant to feel like. She's shown to be a very intelligent person who can read people pretty well, but she didn't even have slightest inkling that someone who she's only really known for a short time might be hiding something. If she'd been betrayed by someone she'd been friends with for years, the shock would've been more surprising. There were also some random plot contrivances that I rolled my eyes at, such as Iric just happening to be a master blacksmith when they need weapons and armor, which were clearly meant to move the plot along, but made things feel a bit too easy.

Warrior of the Wild is a great book. It's the first book by Tricia Levenseller that I've read, but it makes me want to read more of her work. I found myself really liking her writing style and the way the story unfolded. I'd recommend it to fans of young adult fantasy, especially anyone who enjoys Viking or Viking-inspired stories.

Rating: 4.2 Stars

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

May Wrap-Up

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It's the end of the month, which means it's wrap-up time. May wasn't a bad month, although it wasn't a record-breaking month. I did join a new book club, re-read an old favorite and was introduced to new authors. Now, let's get into the books.

Books I Read and Reviewed

The Summoned Ones by Darryl A. Woods- 3.9 Stars

The First Girl Child by Amy Harmon- 2.7 Stars

White Elephant by V. E. Ulett- 3.4 Stars

Galactic Mandate: The Sccream by M. R. Richardson- 1.9 Stars

Books I Read, Didn't Review

The Hobbit* by J. R. R. Tolkien- 5 Stars

Happy &You Know It *by Laura Hankin- 3 stars (Goodreads review)

The One & Only Dylan St. Claire* by Kamen Edwards- 5 Stars (Goodreads review)

Ella Has A Plan by Davina Hamilton- 5 stars (Goodreads review)

The Hollow Gods by A. J. Vrana- 3 Stars (Goodreads review)

Batman: Court of Owls* by Scott Snydrer- 4 Stars

Genres Read

Children's Books: 2

Fantasy: 4

Science Fiction: 1

Thriller: 2

Comic Books/Graphic Novels: 1

Figures

Number of DNFs: 1

Total Books Read: 10

Pages Read: 2,415

Average Rating: 3.6 Stars

What did you read in May? Any recommendations?

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Monday, May 25, 2020

Galactic Mandate: The Scream

Galactic Mandate: The Scream

Galactic Mandate: The Scream is a 2019 science fiction novel by M. R. Richardson. It was released in early 2019 and published by Room 10 Publishing. I received an advanced copy of the book in order to write this review.

The novel follows a clone named Mato. After being taken from the planet he calls home, he’s taken on a journey across the galaxy. During the course of his journey, he’s forced to decide between what’s best of his oppressed clone brethren and the greater good. When his journey leads him to encountering the sinister Scream, Mato and his allies must figure out what they want and what lengths they will go to to get it.

The first thing I want to say about this book is that the author clearly has a very expansive universe. This story doesn’t take place on just one planet, or even two. Mato seems to go from one end of the galaxy to the other over this rather short novel. There are a lot of big ideas that the author wanted to put on display. There are strong plot elements and a unique story to be found. Richardson’s ideas are very creative and even if plot elements are sci-fi staples, such as clones, he’s found a new way to tell a story about them. The action scenes were interesting and fast-paced and there were a few moments where the outcomes of battle scenes truly surprised me. The story had a lot of potential and a lot of great ideas it was working with.

The biggest problem with the novel, however, is its length. The e-book is under 175 pages, and there aren’t enough pages to fully do the story justice. Events seemed to rush by far too quickly. Mato goes from his home planet, to being in a sticky situation on a space station and there isn’t enough time for the author to elaborate on the context of certain scenes or the motivation of characters. Jay, one of the people traveling with Mato, has a history with a number of people they encounter over the length of the journey, but there’s barely information given explaining his history with them. Events don’t feel like they have any kind of weight because the reader isn’t given a chance to absorb them before the scene changes. I feel like I would’ve enjoyed this novel far more if it was a longer, giving the author time to do some important world-building and let the story breathe a little more. As it currently is now, I don’t know how I felt about the characters, because I barely got to know them. I can’t really say that I enjoyed the plot because it felt incredibly rushed. There were scenes that were important to the overall story that I didn’t realize were significant until the very end because they were treated the same as scenes meant to move the characters from A to B.

I finished the book with a lot of questions still unanswered. Questions that I thought I’d get at least a partial answer to, within the story. I wanted to know at least a little more about the clones and how they were created. I wanted a little more context regarding the past conflicts between the clones and the Acolytes. Names were being thrown around in the story, such as God-Wrath and Dark Reign, without an explanation of who or what they are and the reader is supposed to fill in the blanks with very little information. The author probably wanted the reader to have questions after the novel ended, but in my opinion, I had too many questions when I was done.  The story felt a bit incomplete as a result.

Galactic Mandate: The Scream was underwhelming to me. There was a lot of potential in the story and the author’s ideas, but there weren’t enough pages to do it justice. Scenes felt rushed, some felt like they were thrown in. Important moments weren’t given enough attention. I do feel like, if given a longer page count to work with, the author could’ve written an amazing novel. I hope M. R. Richardson’s next novel is given the length it deserves.

Rating: 1.9 Stars

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

In Defense of the DNF

Close Book GIFs | Tenor

I feel like both readers and authors take DNFs particularly hard. For those who don't know, "DNF" stands for "Did Not Finish" and if a reader DNFs a book, they started reading it and decided not to finish it. While I feel like readers and authors take DNFs hard, I can understand why. As a reader, you've chosen a book that you expected to like and it turned out not to be to your liking. It may feel like giving up. As an author, you've spent months or years working on a book only for someone to come out and say they didn't like it and didn't even finish it. Today, I'd like to share my perspective on DNFing a book and why I don't think it should necessarily be considered a bad thing.

I asked people on Twitter why they DNF'd the last book they chose not to finish. The majority said that they DNF'd the book because they simply weren't enjoying it. A few mentioned not having time, but most said they weren't enjoying the book and stopped reading to find a new selection. More often than not, that's the same reason why I've chosen not to finish a book. I love reading, I love books but not every book is going to fit every reader's tastes. It's unfair to the reader, and even more unfair to the book and the author, to be expected to finish a book the reader isn't enjoying. If I force myself to finish a book I don't enjoy and didn't want to keep reading, rather than just DNF it, when I go to rate it, as I do with every book I finish, it's not going to get higher than 2 stars, maximum. I don't think this is fair to the author when I might not be the book's intended audience. Or the novel might be one of my favorite genres, but I've decided I need a break from that genre. If I don't finish a book, I don't rate the book. Then, I continue on with my day.

Another important factor to consider, when discussing DNFing a book, is a reader's personal tastes pet peeves, and boundaries. This fits in somewhat with the above point, but I wanted to discuss separately. Some readers strongly dislike books written in the first person perspective; others love it. There are a few readers I know who started reading a specific book, realized they just really didn't like the first person POV and DNF'd it, even though they liked the story. Some readers don't enjoy novels written in vernacular language (a la Huck Finn) or with flowery language, and reach a point where they decide they have to stop. Sometimes, unfortunately, there is an issue with subject matter. Authors don't always provide information up front about a book's subject matter when it deals with heavier themes or topics, such as mental health, trauma and things of that nature. Readers may choose to DNF a book because they picked it up, not realizing it was going to be about such a heavy topic. Maybe they simply aren't in the right headspace to read it at that time. It's important to note that, in most cases, when a reader DNFs a book, they're basically saying "it's not you, it's me". The book hasn't "done" anything wrong.

There seems to be this unspoken assumption that if you DNF a book, that's the end-all, be-all for it. The reader is going to drop the book like a hot potato and never look back. That isn't necessarily the case. People change, their tastes change. If I DNF  a book today, I'm not barred from deciding to maybe give it another try in a year or two.

A book being DNF'd is an unavoidable part of that book being published. Just like how every book has at least one negative review, every book has at least one reader who elected not to finish reading it. It's just part of the process. On its surface, it's essentially a neutral thing, yet it's viewed as a negative. The stigma around DNFing books, or your book being DNF'd is undeserved in my opinion. It's unavoidable and better than the alternative: continuing to read a book you dislike and giving it a terrible, scathing and usually unwarranted review.

Do you DNF? What's your opinion about DNFing a book?

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Monday, May 18, 2020

White Elephant


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White Elephant is a 2019 historical fantasy novel by V. E. Ulett. It is the second novel in the Code Black series. While it’s a part of a series, the story itself is a stand-alone novel. I was provided with a free copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

The novel follows Miriam, a crew member on the airship Nonesuch. In order to keep her place on board, she must complete a mission for Lord Q and persuade the first white rajah of Sarawak to become loyal to the British Crown once more. When Nonesuch crash lands on the coast of Borneo, Miriam’s mission changes to one of survival. In order to rescue the crew of the Nonesuch, she must trek through the jungle guided by a team of elephants to the would-be empire builder’s capital. The jungle has it’s own laws, however, and Miriam may not emerge with her mission and loyalties unchanged.

Before I get into my review, I wanted to point out a few topics/themes this book deals with. There are multiple mentions of rape and allusions to it. There are scenes involving animal cruelty. There are a few scenes where medical discussions happen, and the description of some of the injuries and conditions might make the reader squeamish.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this novel, especially since it is the second book in a series and I hadn’t read the first Code Black book Golden Dragon. Thankfully, the novel works as a stand-alone book and I was easily able to follow the story without getting confused by the dynamics between characters. I suspect Golden Dragon provides a little more detail about Miriam’s backstory and fleshes out the character of Lord Q a bit, but doesn’t impact this novel beyond that.

I enjoyed the characters in this story a lot. Miriam, the main character, was smart, while also having an edge to her that I liked. She’s a Muslim woman from Tehran and her education and resourcefulness is why Lord Q recruited her. Her behavior and attitude were very realistic for the setting of the story and I enjoyed the journey she went on as a character. My second favorite character was Maximus Thorpe, Miriam’s lover and the captain of the Nonesuch. While most of the story is told through Miriam’s eyes, there are chapters told from Maximus’s as the story begins to come together and the truth about the white rajah starts to become clear. Maximus is very intelligent, and I appreciated the fact that he was skeptical of information he was being told and went with his instincts, on more than one occasion, rather than simply believe what others told him.  This novel has a very diverse cast of characters, including some transgender characters, which was surprising read as historical novels tend to focus on white characters with very few non-white characters included in the background or they’re written as one-dimensional. This is the first historical novel I’ve read to include a trans character.

While the novel is not intended to be an action or adventure story, the actions scenes are well-written and the author maintains the tension through all of the fast-paced action scenes throughout the book without making things seem repetitive. Each scene is unique and each fight feels just as intense, if not more intense, than earlier ones. The novel as a whole is very well-written. The story kept me engaged and the author clearly did a great deal of research in writing it. I was especially impressed when it came to how much information about elephants and their behavior patterns was included. While the elephants start as being just a mode of transportation, they soon become characters in and of themselves. One of the book’s subplot involves the plight of the wild elephants and their treatment at the hands of both the native population and the British hoping to colonize Borneo.  

While I enjoyed the novel overall, I do have a few criticisms. The dialogue can be a bit hard to follow, given that it’s written in vernacular English. For characters who either don’t speak English well or have a strong accent, their dialogue is written to imitate how they’d actually sound. For example, “Miriam” and “England” are spelled like “Maryam” and “Inglang” respectively on several occasions. It’s hard to follow at the beginning, but the more you read of the book, the easier it is to follow. This style also applies to Maximus, who’s Scottish and his dialogue is written to emulate a Scottish accent. I wasn’t a big fan of the climax of the story, due to the way it unfolds. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the reader isn’t able to witness as much of it as I’d hoped. Similarly, the antagonist is described as having gone mad, but the reader isn’t shown enough evidence of this. The reader is shown evidence of him being a terrible person, but the madness, the urgency of Miriam’s mission, really isn’t delivered on. Lastly, there are a few in-universe things that Miriam does that don’t completely make sense. Perhaps I wasn’t pay close enough attention, but for some events, I felt like a little more insight on Miriam’s thought process or feelings would’ve gone a long way.

Overall, I enjoyed White Elephant. It was an engaging read, which I ended up liking a lot more than I expected to. While there are some kinks that need to be worked out and things the author can improve upon, it’s a good novel. I might go back and read the first novel in the series now that I’ve read this one.


Rating: 3.4 Stars

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