Book Review: Adult Science Fiction: Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

Yesterday's Kin Cover

Aliens have landed in New York. After several months of no explanations, they finally reveal the reason for their arrival. The news is not good.

Geneticist Marianne Jenner is having a career breakthrough, yet her family is tearing itself apart. Her children Elizabeth and Ryan constantly bicker, agreeing only that an alien conspiracy is in play. Her youngest, Noah, is addicted to a drug that keeps temporarily changing his identity. The Jenner family could not be further apart. But between the four of them, the course of human history will be forever altered.

Earth’s most elite scientists have ten months to prevent a disaster—and not everyone is willing to wait.

Title: Yesterday’s Kin
Author: Nancy Kress
Category: Adult Fiction
Genre: Near-Future Science Fiction
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Format: Digital Review Copy via NetGalley
Length: 115 pages
ISBN-10: 1616961759
ISBN-13: 9781616961756

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Family, Panspermia
POV: Multiple Third Person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Atsiko Ureni

Where I Got It: Nick got a DRC from NetGalley which I was happy to review, since I’ve not had the chance to tackle this author before.

Review:

Yesterday’s Kin is a story of alien contact. Unlike many, it is not a war story, or about alien technology. I find that incredibly refreshing. I wish there was more near-future SF out there like this. It’s much more about the characters’ personal issue: for example, the fragmenting family to which both narrators belong. There was also some nice stuff about how people frame extraordinary events. The alien contact, in particular. Kress generally writes things that are closer to soft science fiction, and this book is no exception.

Something else I really enjoyed was the aliens. They had a very interesting focus in terms of what they valued. It was both understandable to humans and yet very few humans really share the values themselves. Instead of being ravenous world-conquering insects, these aliens were both human and inhuman in a way that involved positive values and yet creates a sense of discomfort in the reader. They’re sort of the “uncanny valley” of human values as opposed to appearance.

The book itself is fairly short, being more of a novella, so there’s not as much to analyse without getting into major spoilers. Suffice it to say the book had a nice twist ending that, although I saw it coming before it actually happened, wasn’t completely obvious from the beginning of the book, and did not involve any major plot-holes or deus ex machina. I was slightly annoyed at how it affected the stakes for the human characters, but overall I was okay with it. And I think most other readers would be, too.

Definitely pick this up if you enjoy soft science fiction. Also, if you mainly read short stories, or just like reading them at all, this book is a bit reminiscent of one, in a good way.

Conclusion: 81/100 (Overall, a great book)
Premise: 9/10 (Been done, but a nice variant)
Plot: 9/10 (No plots holes, nice if not uncommon twist)
Setting: 8/10 (Well-depicted, but so common it’s hard to be unique)
Main Character(s): 8/10 (Two everyday people with believable motivations)
Aliens 9/10 (Not unique, but quite interesting)
Science: 7/10 (Well-founded, if slight)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Thinly sketched, but well done)
Writing: 8/10 (As good as you’d expect from this author)
Themes: 7/10 (Appropriate but not incredibly engaging)
Resolution: 8/10 (Interesting but could have been better)

Buy Or Borrow: Definitely worth owning a copy.

Similar Books:
Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
Contact by Carl Sagan

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Publishers Weekly
John’s Notes
SFFWorld
Nerds in Babeland
Armed and Dangerous
Read What I Like

Buy Links:
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Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

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Book Review: Young Adult: Jackaby by William Ritter

Jackaby Cover

Jackaby sighed and drew to a stop as we reached the corner of another cobbled street. He turned and looked at me with pursed lips. “Let’s see,” he said at last. “I observed you were recently from the Ukraine. A young domovyk has nestled in the brim of your hat. More recently, you seem to have picked up a Klabautermann, a kind of German kobold attracted to minerals. Most fairy creatures can’t touch the stuff. That’s probably why your poor domovyk nestled in so deep.”

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

Title: Jackaby
Author: William Ritter
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Mystery/Paranormal
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
Format: NetGalley DRC
Length: 305 pages
ISBN-10: 1616203536
ISBN-13: 9781616203535

Series or Standalone: Standalone (as of now)

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Independence
POV: 1st Person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Nick Morgan

Where I Got It: A digital ARC from NetGalley. I’ve been looking for good paranormal YA similar to The Monstrumologist, and this seemed like it fit the bill. Calling it “Doctor Who meets Sherlock” is a bit of a big fat fib, and sort of does a disservice to the book.

Review:

I’m a bit on the fence about this book. The WhoLock comparison had my hopes higher than they might have been otherwise. I don’t think the book really lives up to that. Rather, it’s a combination of some of the more common cliches of the mystery and weird/paranormal genres. Not necessarily in a bad way, but I think the WhoLock claim stems from a bit of a misrepresentation. It’s not that it’s incredibly similar to WhoLock, it’s that they both draw from the same venerable traditions.

However, this book is like WhoLock in that it relies strongly on its characters to carry the story. And they do a pretty good job. Abigail Rook, our teen girl protag is a very nice female character. I won’t insult her by calling her “feisty”. Instead, she’s strong-willed and very down-to-earth. She’s a great balance for Jackaby’s eccentricity, and it’s quite believable that he finds her useful to counter some of his absent-mindedness. But rather than a Doctor/Companion or Holmes/Watson relationship, it’s just a general funny guy/straight man buddy cop relationship. THen we have a certain police officer. I liked his character quite a bit, although it sometimes seemed a little to convenient how he assisted the main characters in moving the plot along. There’s no major romance angle in this book, but he and Abigail do have a certain chemistry.

The villain in the book is quite fun, as well. And he has a reasonable motivation for his actions. Further, for the first half of the book, you’d never suspect him, although somewhere aaround the halfway mark I did figure him out, and I was then stuck with that annoying feeling of knowing the answer while the characters are still struggling along. A really good mystery can put that feeling off without it seeming like the author used cheap tricks. Jackaby is a good mystery certainly, but not a really good mystery by that criterion.

One the thing the author does quite well is mimic the atmosphere of an early Holmes or Christie mystery. I loved the sort of foggy pre-electricity feeling I got from the book. It’s more of an homage than a cliche-fest in my mind. Definitely the best part of the book. The paranormal elements play right into it, and you almost get a sort of Jack the Ripper feel from this novel. In a very positive way. All the paranormal elements are quite well-researched.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. It’s not a literary masterpiece, but it’s a good book that both adults, middle-grade readers, and young adult readers will definitely appreciate. Assuming the like the genre, of course. (I interpret this book as YA, but it might be considered upper MG.)

Conclusion: 77/100 (A nice read)
Premise: 7/10 (Seen it before, but handled okay)
Plot: 8/10 (Not bad)
Setting: 9/10 (The old-time small town atmosphere was great)
Main Character: 8/10 (Not a stand-out character, but I really liked her spunk)
World-building 8/10 (Really felt a sense of the town and the world around it)
Mystery: 7/10 (I figured out the culprit early, only Jackaby could guess the type of creature)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Loved the characters Jackaby collects around him)
Writing: 7/10 (Not bad, but not brilliant)
Themes: 8/10 (Well-done)
Resolution: 7/10 (Made sense, but a bit too neat)

Buy Or Borrow: Worth buying if you like the genre, otherwise it might not hurt to borrow it from the library

Similar Books:
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Publishers Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Good Books and Good Wine
There Were Books Involved…
Jenny Blenk Reviews

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Barnes and Noble
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Book Review: New Adult: The Vampires of Manhattan by Melissa de la Cruz

Blue Bloods Cover

Hero of this sexy, paranormal action tale is Oliver Hazard-Perry, former human conduit, and Manhattan’s only human-turned-vampire, now the head of the Blue Bloods Coven. When his all-too-human lover is found murdered on the eve of the coven’s annual Four Hundred Ball–a celebration meant to usher in a new era in vampire society, and to mark the re-unification of the Coven after decades of unrest and decay–Oliver is devastated.

Now, not only is he trying to create a new world order for the immortal elite, he’s the prime suspect and is stalked by the newly installed head of the vampire secret police. Because according to the new rules, vampires who take human life can now be executed. Burned.

How can an immortal sentenced to die fight back? He has to find the killer–and the answers lie deep in vampire lore.

Title: Blue Bloods
Author: Melissa de la Cruz
Category: New Adult
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Hyperion
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Format: Paperback ARC
Length: 225 pages
ISBN-10: 0786838922
ISBN-13: 9780786838929

Series or Standalone: Vampires of Manhattan #1

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Vampires
POV: Multiple 3rd Person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Marisa

Where I Got It: A friend of Atsiko’s managed to score a brace of YA and NA ARCs donated to a book fair by a distributor. I’ve been actively seeking New Adult titles to read, and a trade published series by a well-known author seemed like a great place to start, although I’ve never read the original YA series.

Review:

I picked this up because of a desire to read New Adult in general, not UF/PR or a Blue Bloods continuation particular. So that might color my review a bit.

The book was okay, and after the first half I didn’t have trouble turning the page, but it wasn’t particularly engaging, and the first half seemed like a lot of set-up for how the lives of the characters have changed from when the original series ended ten story years ago. Personally, I don’t accept that as an excuse. A really good book, especially the first in a new series, should not have to trade on the reputation of any predecessors. And it’s not like the book didn’t have words to burn on such a thing; it was fairly short.

With similar caveats, I didn’t find the characters particularly engaging. Or maybe this time it’s because I don’t find the rampant materialism of the upper classes interesting on a surface level. Either way, they seemed like fairly staandard PR/UF characters with little uniqueness to recommend them over other similar main characters in other series. There seemed to be a lot of sex and a lot of ruminating going on, and as I hadn’t read the original series, I didn’t feel pulled into that aspect either. The plot for the first half of the story was barely there, kind of humdrum, and not engaging.

In the second half, I think I had a better grasp of the characters, there were fewer references to the previous series, and the plot had finally got going somewhat. It wasn’t by any means approaching the top half of my enjoyable books list, but it wasn’t slogging through the dross anymore, either. By the end, I was still not impressed. It was a short book, and I don’t think I lost too much of my time reading it, but I would not personally pick up the next book.

I would recommend it to UF/PR readers and Blue Bloods fans looking for a quick fix, but I wouldn’t recomment it to anyone who hasn’t read the author and who doesn’t read a great deal in those genres.

Conclusion: 65/100 (Decent if you like the genre and read the originals)
Premise: 6/10 (Pretty cliche)
Plot: 7/10 (Was okay if quite confusing at first)
Setting: 8/10 (Well-realized)
Main Character(s): 7/10 (Okay, but not great)
Romance: 6/10 (Maybe if you’ve read the original series, but otherwise not interesting)
World-building: 7/10 (Understandable even to a newbie, but a bit cliche)
Supporting Characters: 6/10 (Decent, but not fantastic)
Writing: 6/10 (Competent, but could have been better)
Themes: 6/10 (There aren’t many clear ones, and I didn’t feel them very strongly)
Resolution: 6/10 (Major cliffhanger)

Buy Or Borrow: I’d say borrow, but it may be because paranormal isn’t my favorite genre. If you like it or liked the original series, this is probably worth the money.

Similar Books:
Not many, since YA hasn’t really taken off yet. But the original YA series, Bluebloods, or even Anne Rice’s Lestat books might be a good follow-up if you haven’t read them already.

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Publishers Weekly
Karen’s Addictions
My Friends Are Fiction

Buy Links:
Amazon Currently unavailable
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US Currently unavailable
Kobo
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Book Review: Young Adult: Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley

rites cover

Sam McKenna’s never turned down a dare. And she’s not going to start with the last one her brother gave her before he died.

So Sam joins the first-ever class of girls at the prestigious Denmark Military Academy. She’s expecting push-ups and long runs, rope climbing and mud-crawling. As a military brat, she can handle an obstacle course just as well as the boys. She’s even expecting the hostility she gets from some of the cadets who don’t think girls belong there. What she’s not expecting is her fiery attraction to her drill sergeant. But dating is strictly forbidden and Sam won’t risk her future, or the dare, on something so petty…no matter how much she wants him.

As Sam struggles to prove herself, she discovers that some of the boys don’t just want her gone—they will stop at nothing to drive her out. When their petty threats turn to brutal hazing, bleeding into every corner of her life, she realizes they are not acting alone. A decades-old secret society is alive and active… and determined to force her out.
At any cost.

Now time’s running short. Sam must decide who she can trust…and choosing the wrong person could have deadly consequences.

Title: Rites of Passage
Author: Joy N. Hensley
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Format: Paperback ARC
Length: 402 pages
ISBN-10: 0062295195
ISBN-13: 9780062295194

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Military, Family, Sexism
POV: First person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Marisa

Where I Got It: Another paperback ARC from Atsiko. I was a bit reluctant to read this one, because it did’t seem like my usual type of book. I was wrong.

Review:

I’m glad I read this book. The main character was a true strong female character. No excessive whining, knew how to handle a challenge, and was almost never unfair to her friends. That’s not to say she was perfect, which I would have hated. She had her flaws, but I was rarely angry at her for them. Plus, she felt completely like a real teenage girl, and not a stereotype, or an exaggeration.

The supporting cast was also wonderful. One of the great things about having a single limited perspective is that you get to see the various facets of a character, and you can really get in the shoes of the perspective character. For example, Sam’s brother was an incredibly frustrating character for most of the book, and I could understand why Sam felt the exact same way. And Kelly, one of her main trio of cadet friends had a similar feel. I loved how Hensley dealt with the idea of a good person causing trouble and pain for those around them. There are other characters I loved who I don’t want to spoil for you, but there was another female character in the book whose original connection to Sam only made the relationship they later developed more awesome. I happen to consider myself a feminist. And that means that the way this relationship passed the Bechdel test with flying colors made me really happy.

The only supporting character I disliked as a character was the love interest. He was a very nice person, and quite supportive, but I found him a bit dull, and while the relationship was perfectly healthy, I just didn’t care for it. I would have liked it better if Sam had just stayed single for the book. Especially because of the emphasis made on cadets not dating. It seemed like there was plot pressure and authorial intrusion because, as several other reviews have called it, the relationship was “off-limits”. A good way to describe the relationship without spoilers is that it greatly resembles Beatrice’s relationship with Four in Roth’s Divergent. So I’m sure many readers will like it. Take my dislike with a grain of salt.

Finally, I disliked the melodramatic lengths the story went to at the end. I think it could have been dialed down a bit without losing any of the impact. I just got really, really tired of the frustration I felt for the last two thirds, and I think it was unnecessary for the obstacles to be as huge as they ended up being. If you’ve ever seen any other military school stories–another review mentioned Cadet Kelly with Hilary Duff–or stories about crossing the gender barrier, you won’t find anything unique or original in this book, but the quality of the execution is very good. Definitely worth a read.

Conclusion: 77/100 (Loved reading it. Quite a roller-coaster.)
Premise: 7/10 (Not the most original, but very well-executed)
Plot: 7/10 (Standard and a bit melodramatic at the end)
Setting: 8/10 (Very well-portrayed)
Main Character: 8/10 (Awesome)
Love Interest 7/10 (Fairly standard)
Romance Sub-plot 7/10 (Sweet, but seemed a bit forced)
Supporting Characters: 9/10 (Loved or hated most of them. A compliment either way)
Writing: 3/5 (Good, but not inspired.)
Voice: 4/5 (Spunky!)
Themes: 8/10 (Fit with the story and were well-executed)
Resolution: 9/10 (Loved it, but it wasn’t perfect)

Buy Or Borrow: I’d say this one is definitely worth buying.

Similar Books:
It’s fantasy, but Mercedes Lackey’s Talia novels have a similar vibe and structure.
Divergent by Veronica Roth, for reasons explained in the main review.

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
Lit-Up Review
Alexa Loves Books
The Bookish Owl
Reading Lark

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
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Book Review: Young Adult: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

heir of fire cover

Lost and broken, Celaena Sardothien’s only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did. Any hope Celaena has of destroying the king lies in answers to be found in Wendlyn. Sacrificing his future, Chaol, the Captain of the King’s Guard, has sent Celaena there to protect her, but her darkest demons lay in that same place. If she can overcome them, she will be Adarlan’s biggest threat – and his own toughest enemy.

While Celaena learns of her true destiny, and the eyes of Erilea are on Wendlyn, a brutal and beastly force is preparing to take to the skies. Will Celaena find the strength not only to win her own battles, but to fight a war that could pit her loyalties to her own people against those she has grown to love?

Title: Heir of Fire
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Category: Young Adult
Genre: High Fantasy
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: September 2, 2014
Format: Paperback ARC
Length: 562 pages
ISBN-10: 1619630656
ISBN-13: 9781619630659

Series or Standalone: Throne of Glass #3

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Betrayal
POV: 3rd Person Limited, Multi-POV
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Astiko

Where I Got It: I have my sources. I’d heard of this series before, but never gotten around to reading it, so when the opportunity came up, I figured, why not?

Review:

I really wanted to like this book. I read the first two in preparation for this review, and though they had their issues, I mostly enjoyed them. And this book added some stuff I really felt was missing from the first two. It had tons more “gritty” content, and some cool plot twists, and some fun history/world-building tidbits. I liked that we finally got to see more of the world than just Endovier and the Capital. But this was clearly a middle book in a series, and lacked a complete beginning middle and end. Plus, despite some incredibly blatant lamp-shading about the fact that Celaena had sort of done the whole training montage thing a few times, we still got stuck with another one, and it followed the incredibly annoying “wise mentor” style of training montage, wherein the mentor yells a lot and is rude, and treats the trainee sorta like shit. And then some magical mental/emotional keyhole is found and with almost no actual training at all, the character gets really good control of their abilities. UGH!!! I was hoping for a lightly different structure than Throne, but it was basically the same story with some details changed. Plus, there was a lot of Mary Sue/Chosen One crap dripping all over the pages. In essence, it was every cliche of high fantasy ever dropped on top of what started out as a pretty decent continuation of the series.

There were some things I liked, though. For example, we are introduced to the character of Manon, an Ironteeth Witch, and she is pretty fun. Despite also following a few cliches, I just really loved her attitude, and it was nice to have another kickass female character to balance out the massive amount of angsting Celeana engages in in this book. Honestly, I started wanting to skip some of Celeana’s and Chaol’s chapters so I could get back to Manon.

Another new character is the Fae warrior, Rowan. Complaint One: Naming a Fae “Rowan”. Yuck. Also, he was a really annoying character. He had some potentially really cool back-story, including inner conflict and a past tragedy. But he suffered pretty hard from Edward Cullen syndrome, in terms of being a seemingly young but actually really ancient character. How can a powerful Fae warrior dodge so much character development over so many hundreds of years? I don’t know, but he manages.

Maas also manages to step up the bad guys in this book, and they also are potentially awesome. Who doesn’t love an ancient evil arising? But they come off kind of pathetic and boring.

This review mostly seems like complaints, but I did somewhat enjoy the book. It wasn’t a wall-banger, at least; I finished it. Fans of the series will probably enjoy this one. But it’s not any sort of serious contribution to YA fantasy literature.

Conclusion: 57/100 (I was hoping for more.)
Premise: 4/10 (Cliche and poorly-handled)
Plot: 5/10 (What little there is is a bit dull and predictable)
Setting: 6/10 (Nothing spectacular)
Main Character(s): 7/10 (Loved Manon, the rest I didn’t care for in this book)
World-building: 8/10 (Loved the world-building, but there seemed to be a lot of exposition)
Romance Sub-plot: 5/10 (Little existed and none of it was very interesting or satisfying)
Supporting Characters: 5/10 (Not spectacular)
Writing: 2/5 (Info-dumpy and not particularly elegant)
Voice: 2/5 (They were all so damn angsty…)
Themes: 5/10 (Not well-developed)
Resolution: 8/10 (Dramatic, if a little forced)

Buy Or Borrow: Borrow if you can, unless you plan to collect the series.

Similar Books:
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Sabriel by Garth Nix

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
The Guardian
Kirkus Reviews
Great Imaginations
priceiswong
Fangirl Daily
Snuggly Oranges

Buy Links:
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E-Books:
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Book Review: Young Adult: Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes

anatomy cover

Outside, Anika Dragomir is all lip gloss and blond hair—the third most popular girl in school. Inside, she’s a freak: a mix of dark thoughts, diabolical plots, and, if local chatter is to be believed, vampire DNA (after all, her father is Romanian). But she keeps it under wraps to maintain her social position. One step out of line and Becky Vilhauer, first most popular girl in school, will make her life hell. So when former loner Logan McDonough shows up one September hotter, smarter, and more mysterious than ever, Anika knows she can’t get involved. It would be insane to throw away her social safety for a nerd. So what if that nerd is now a black-leather-jacket-wearing dreamboat, and his loner status is clearly the result of his troubled home life? Who cares if the right girl could help him with all that, maybe even save him from it? Who needs him when Jared Kline, the bad boy every girl dreams of, is asking her on dates? Who?

Title: Anatomy of a Misfit
Author: Andrea Portes
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary
Publisher: Harper Children’s
Publication Date: September 2, 2014
Format: Paperback ARC
Length: 330 pages
ISBN-10: 0062313649
ISBN-13: 9780062313645

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Child Abuse, Family Problems, Slut-shaming
POV: First person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Marisa

How I Found It: Atsiko got his hands on a stack of illicit review copies, told me I might like this one, or at least enjoy reviewing it.

Cover Notes: Simple but effective. Very literary looking. If only the book had lived up to it more.

Soundtrack: After 10 pages, I decided on some late 90s/early 2000s teenager punk indie rock. Kind of like this book, catchy but not that good.

Review:

Several of the other reviews I’ve read have called this “Mean Girls Meets…” It is something like Mean Girls, but nothing like the John Green/Perks of Being a Wallflower second half of the comparison. It’s quirky like Green, but not cute like his books tend to be. It’s got darker themes like Perks but lacks the adolescent insight, and intriguing characters. Really, it’s got quirk and not a lot else. There’s lots of potential in the set-up, but the handling as the books goes on is not that great. For example, the big reveal at the end and the theme it plays on are really great. Anika’s response to it has some great moments and also a place or two where Portes edged too far into melodrama.

The romance sub-plot is a fairly standard love triangle with cliche reasons why Anika can’t just jump into one or the other of her options. The hot nerdy guy who would lower your social status has been around since before YA, and there’s really no new twist on it here. But! LOgan is actually maybe my favorite character in the book, and one of the few I actually liked, besides Anika’s mother. He’s actually a complex character with a great personality and a believable personal problem that flows into the only interesting conflict in the story. And Anika actually has a fairly believable relationship with him. He makes one cringe-worthy remark early on, but if you remember his relationship with Anika a few years before the story starts you could make a good argument it’s kind of cute, in context. I actually sort of like seeing such thin lines in novels, assuming the author doesn’t bumble the scene.

The main antagonist in the story is school Queen Bee Becky Vilhauer. If you can manage not to take her too seriously, she’s quite amusing as a character in a “yeah, right!” sort of way. But as a foil to Anika, she’s a bit ham-handed. And the in-betweener of the popular girls trio, Shellie, is also fun, even if her background is a bit ridiculous. I did wish she had a bit more agency, as she tends to switch back and forth between Anika and Becky.

I don’t think you can take the novel seriously as a realistic portrayal of young adulthood, and I don’t think it deserves all the buzz it’s apparently been getting. I can’t tell if Portes is just new to this whole YA scene or purposely playing on the conventions of the genre. I tend to think the former. But it wasn’t unreadable, and once i accepted is was not really anything like my favorite authors of realistic contemp YA, I did enjoy it in many places.

Conclusion: 75/100 (+10 for kind of enjoying it anyway)
Premise: 5/10 (Cliche)
Plot: 7/10 (Decent, if not inspired)
Setting: 6/10 (Not exciting, very shallowly-developed)
Main Character: 8/10 (Fun, but didn’t like her)
Romance Sub-plot 6/10 (A little too convenient)
Love Interest(s): 6/10 (Standard fare, no flare)
Supporting Characters: 4/10 (Caricatures, really, but consistent)
Writing: 9/10 (Liked the voice and writing)
Themes: 7/10 (Bad execution)
Resolution: 7/10 (Would be higher except for the too-“empowering” ending)

Buy Or Borrow: Probably borrow, but maybe buy if you really like these kind of books.

Similar Books:
Anything by Courtney Summers is like this but actually good.
Gossip Girl is similar but with more melodrama and less quirkiness.

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
XPresso Reads
YA Midnight Reads
This Blonde Reads
Turning Pages

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
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E-Books:
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Book Review: Science Fiction: Echopraxia by Peter Watts

watts cover art

It’s the eve of the twenty-second century: a world where the dearly departed send postcards back from Heaven and evangelicals make scientific breakthroughs by speaking in tongues; where genetically engineered vampires solve problems intractable to baseline humans and soldiers come with zombie switches that shut off self-awareness during combat. And it’s all under surveillance by an alien presence that refuses to show itself.
Daniel Bruks is a living fossil: a field biologist in a world where biology has turned computational, a cat’s-paw used by terrorists to kill thousands. Taking refuge in the Oregon desert, he’s turned his back on a humanity that shatters into strange new subspecies with every heartbeat. But he awakens one night to find himself at the center of a storm that will turn all of history inside-out.
Now he’s trapped on a ship bound for the center of the solar system. To his left is a grief-stricken soldier, obsessed by whispered messages from a dead son. To his right is a pilot who hasn’t yet found the man she’s sworn to kill on sight. A vampire and its entourage of zombie bodyguards lurk in the shadows behind. And dead ahead, a handful of rapture-stricken monks takes them all to a meeting with something they will only call “The Angels of the Asteroids.”
Their pilgrimage brings Dan Bruks, the fossil man, face-to-face with the biggest evolutionary breakpoint since the origin of thought itself.

Title: Echopraxia
Author: Peter Watts
Category: Adult Fiction
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor [Forge]
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Format: NetGalley DRC
Length: 299 pages
ISBN-10: 076532802X
ISBN-13: 9780765328021

Series or Standalone: Companion Novel (Blindsight)

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Consciousness, Free Will, Transhumanism
POV: 3rd person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Atsiko Ureni

How I Got It: I’ve always been a fan of Peter Watts’s fiction. So I was very happy when Nick told me he’d gotten approved for this book on NetGalley.

Cover Notes: This cover is not very emblematic of the content of the book. It’s not bad, but I think a less generic sci-fi cover might have been better.

Review:

This is a hard review in some ways. Much like Blindsight, Echopraxia is the quintessential science fiction of ideas. They’re there, they’re big, and they’re fascinating, whether you agree with Watts’s conclusions or not. Watts explores free will and consciousness from a very scientific and logical perspective. On top of the idea of digital reality. And his idea of vampires is one of my favorite from a sci-fi perspective. Well-done hard sci-fi is incredibly difficult to find, and from the concepts and themes side of things Peter Watts is one of the few authors who always delivers.

My major issue with the story was the story itself. Watts spends so much time on the ideas that the story gets less attention that it deserves. The reader is left to fill in many gaps, and the concept of determinism and the layers upon layers of external control over what would normally be seen as acts of free will can make the plot very hard to follow. I think the basis of the plot is sound, but the execution could use a bit more work.

As far as the characters go, I loved them. Watts manages to have many characters with very unconventional motivations and beliefs that are at the same time utterly believable and relatable, even if most of them aren’t very likable. Valerie the vampire in particular was one of my favorite characters, and Watts managed to give enough exposition of his vampire concept to make her consistent in all the right ways, and unpredictable in the same.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the book, but it may not be something the casual science fiction fan would be interested in.

Conclusion: 79/100 (Good, but not the best story-telling in the world)
Premise: 7/10 (If it was more clear, I might have given it more points)
Plot: 5/10 (Not the most coherent, was back-seated to the ideas/themes)
Setting: 9/10 (Great)
Main Character: 9/10 (Not the most likable, but well-crafted and interesting)
World-building 8/10 (Pretty good, and very interesting)
Science 9/10 (Very well-researched. That appendix was… frightening?)
Supporting Characters: 7/10 (Not bad)
Writing: 6/10 (Not awful, but not brilliant)
Themes: 9/10 (Great themes, well-executed)
Resolution: 10/10 (Loved it)

Buy Or Borrow: Borrow, unless you’re really into the science fiction of ideas.

Similar Books:
The Ware Tetralogy by Rudy Rucker
The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter
Queen of Angels by Greg Bear
Permutation City by Greg Egan

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
Speculiction
The Taichung Bookworm
Armed and Dangerous
Drunken Dragon Reviews

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