Monday, February 8, 2021

Review: Game Changer by Neal Shusterman

Game Changer
By Neal Shusterman
Quill Tree Books
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Publication Date: February 9, 2021

To Sum It Up: Ash Bowman is a high school football player with a seemingly normal life until a hard hit during a game leaves him with the feeling that things aren’t quite right—and they aren’t. Ash, however, appears to be the only person who fully realizes that the world has changed, and not necessarily for the better. Whatever is happening around him also awakens Ash to the fact that he truly hasn’t been seeing what life is like for people who aren’t as privileged as he is. As the world continues to shift, Ash discovers that he may be able to bring about positive change, but even the smallest slip could create a new, bleak reality that is permanent.

Review: Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe trilogy blew me away with its unique premise and brilliant writing, and so I was thrilled to dive into his newest release, Game Changer. One of my favorite things about the Arc of a Scythe series was its deft, multilayered storytelling, and Shusterman doesn’t disappoint in that department here with Game Changer.

At first Game Changer appears to be a novel about an archetypal All-American high school football player named Ash Bowman. But when Ash takes a particularly hard hit on a play during a game, it literally shakes his entire world. Blue stop signs are now the norm. Ash knows something is amiss, but most of his family and friends do not. As he maneuvers this seemingly new world, Ash begins to discover that blue stop signs are the least alarming aspect.

Finding out the impact of that single event during the football game as Ash does makes for compelling reading. What exactly is going here to cause these shifts in the world? The answer involves a sci-fi twist that I thought was well done, and I’m not much of a sci-fi reader. This book reminded me a bit of David Levithan’s excellent Every Day. As he did with Arc of a Scythe, Shusterman is so great at immersing you in a world that, sometimes very eerily, isn’t too farfetched from what we know.

The heart of this book, though, lies in its timely exploration of some of the most pressing social issues we face, including racism, homophobia, and sexism. At the beginning of the novel, the extent of Ash’s social awareness is his diverse circle of friends. As he finds himself thrown into alternate universes, his white, heterosexual male privilege becomes more and more glaringly apparent to him.

While some readers may feel that the novel tries to take on too many weighty topics at once, and granted, each of them individually could absolutely be the subject of their own book, for me the takeaway here was the overall development of Ash’s realization of just how privileged and comfortable his life was back in his original world. And although his attempts to effect sweeping change and correct the injustices he can now see more clearly are sincere, they can come off seeming a bit of a simplistic approach to extremely complex problems. On the whole, though, this is a thought-provoking read that challenges how we often view the world only through the lens of our own experiences and demonstrates the need to continue the work of truly seeing and listening to the multitude of perspectives that exist.

All in All: This is the fourth Neal Shusterman book that I’ve read, and I love how he blends an impactful look at societal issues with a sci-fi/alternate universe twist. I find that his books leave me thinking about them for some time after I’ve read the last page, and Game Changer will definitely be staying with me for a while.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Review: The Enforcer Enigma by G.L. Carriger

The Enforcer Enigma by G.L. Carriger
The Enforcer Enigma (San Andreas Shifters #3)
By G.L. Carriger
Gail Carriger
Format: eARC
Source: Author

To Sum It Up: After spending many years of his werewolf existence searching for a pack where he felt he truly belonged, Judd seems to have finally found a home with the San Andreas Pack. And then there’s Colin—Judd’s pack mate and the person whom Judd can picture himself being with for the rest of his life. Colin, however, is used to being invisible and doesn’t feel he has anything to contribute to his pack, let alone to a relationship. As the pair attempt to work through the obstacles in the way of their happiness together, they also find themselves caught up in some intrigue involving selkies who also happen to gangsters as well as a rather unwelcome figure from Colin’s past.

Review: The San Andreas werewolf pack has returned, and not a moment too soon! The Enforcer Enigma is the third book in Gail Carriger’s paranormal romance San Andreas Shifters series, this time centering around Judd, one of the pack’s enforcers, and Colin, the pack’s quietest member who was basically abandoned by his parents and as a result, struggles with finding a sense of worth not only to the pack, but also to himself. Kind and patient Judd would love nothing more than to call Colin his mate for the rest of their lives, but Colin’s insecurity and Judd’s hesitation over their age difference pose challenges to a possible future together. The book follows their burgeoning relationship while also featuring a subplot with an otter shifter/barista, a country music superstar/Alpha werewolf, and selkie mobsters. Intrigued? You definitely should be!

One of the hallmarks of this series is how much you find yourself rooting for the main character pairing to get together and get their happily ever after. Judd and Colin could not be sweeter as a couple. The development of their relationship is just so wonderfully written, with neither wanting to pressure the other into moving too quickly or making a long-term commitment. Seeing Judd, who has lived a long life as a werewolf, perhaps finally find love at last, and Colin, who has been starved of affection for the majority of his young life, become the center of another person’s universe will melt your heart.

As in the previous two books, the deep bond between the members of the San Andreas Pack shows its strength here. Not only does the pack have each member’s back, but it also embraces an extended family of supernatural friends. That circle widens with each book, and it’s simply lovely to see familiar faces from the other novels pop up.

I absolutely love, love, love the humor that Gail Carriger incorporates into all of her books, and The Enforcer Enigma won me over on the first page with a cafĂ© named Bean There, Froth That. I’m still chuckling typing that! And who wouldn’t welcome some laughs right now? Not only that, and more significantly, there’s also a sweet story about finding acceptance, love, family, and home and learning that everyone unconditionally deserves a family who loves and accepts them for who they are.

All in All: An excellent follow-up to The Omega Objection! And yes—still giggling over Bean There, Froth That!

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Review: Defy or Defend by Gail Carriger

Defy or Defend by Gail Carriger
Defy or Defend (Delightfully Deadly #2)
By Gail Carriger
Gail Carriger
Format: eBook
Source: Author

To Sum It Up: Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott, alumna of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, is now a seasoned intelligencer, skilled at espionage all while being irrepressibly effervescent. Settling down with a family is now very much in Dimity’s thoughts, though, and she already has a potential partner in domestic bliss in mind—Sir Crispin Bontwee, who’s previously looked after Dimity’s safety on missions. The two are assigned to work together again to investigate a vampire hive that has gone Goth. Armed with a prodigious eye for interior design, Dimity must put her talents into action quickly before time runs out for the hive.

Review: Sometimes you read a book at EXACTLY the right moment, and that was 100% the case with Gail Carriger’s Defy or Defend. This short novel is the second installment in her Delightfully Deadly series, which is set in the paranormal/Victorian steampunk world of Carriger’s Parasolverse works and follows the characters from the YA Finishing School series as adults. During this time of real world uncertainty, Defy or Defend was a most welcome escape and an absolute joy to read.

In Defy or Defend, we catch up with Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott, best friend to Finishing School protagonist Sophronia Temminnick. Despite being a stellar spy (code name: Honey Bee) for the War Office, Dimity finds herself contemplating leaving life as an intelligencer behind and settling down. She would love nothing more than to win the heart of Sir Crispin Bontwee, her security on some past missions, but he seems immune to her formidable charms. What Dimity doesn’t know is that Sir Crispin does in fact have a soft spot for the Honey Bee. When the pair must work together again, masquerading as a married couple no less, they’re given the perfect opportunity to make their feelings for each other known. There is, however, the not insignificant matter of their mission: to discover what has driven the Nottingham vampire hive to go Goth and to set things to right before BUR, the authority that oversees paranormal affairs, steps in and takes drastic action.

In addition to a very sweet romance, Defy or Defend features Goth vampires who are quite in the throes of gloom, the entire makeover of a vampire abode, overwrought poetry, and ballet. If all of that weren’t enough, there may be a familiar name or two from the Parasolverse. I love how existing characters are incorporated—there’s just enough of an appearance to thrill readers already familiar with the Parasolverse without making newcomers to the world feel that they need to have read previous books. If anything, I think that these cameos spark curiosity about the characters and entice new readers to pick up the other books.

As much as I rooted for Dimity and Cris, who are an adorable couple, to sort out the situation between them, I also rooted for the Nottingham hive to find some cheer (which mostly takes the form of Dimity). Dimity is truly a makeover maven with irresistible magic and every bit suited to Cris’s nickname for her, Sparkles. But I also love how Sparkles has her other, lethal side that honed her proficiency in all matter of deadly arts at finishing school.

Defy or Defend was perfect from beginning to end: the romance, the mission to save the hive, the friends from other Parasolverse stories, and as always with Gail Carriger’s books, the humor! This book and its wonderful heroine and her gallant tuppenny knight are just what I needed in my life right now.

All in All: 5 sparkly stars!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Eight Years of Blogging!

So I'm racing against the clock a bit to get this posted while it's still officially this blog's eighth blogoversary, lol. OK, so I spent a good chunk of my day playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons, OK? I think we can all agree 2020 has been suck-tacular thus far, and we all have our coping mechanisms. Mine has turned out to be fishing, collecting bugs, picking fruit, and constantly owing money to a raccoon. In that strange way that the universe works sometimes, I played the OG Animal Crossing on the Nintendo GameCube during an extremely stressful time, and it seems we've circled back around.

But enough about AC: it was eight years ago today that this blog launched! It's gotten quieter over the past few years as Ally, Melissa, and I have all gotten busier with our non-reading and non-blogging lives, but popping in every once in a while to post and chat books still brings me joy.

I'm really proud that I didn't recycle the same graphic for like the fifth year running, lol. Melissa very kindly agreed to utilize her artistic gifts to create this new, snazzy graphic for this year's blogoversary post. Thanks again, Melissa!

I hope that you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy and that books are bringing you some much needed comfort during these very uncertain times. ♥♥♥

Monday, March 2, 2020

Review: Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

* This review may contain spoilers for the previous book, Scythe. *

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman
Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe #2)
By Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased

To Sum It Up: Although they began their journey together as scythe’s apprentices, Citra and Rowan’s lives could not be any more different now. Citra has become Scythe Anastasia, an increasingly rare junior scythe who seems to adhere to the principles of the old guard amidst a growing new order that wants to glean without boundaries. Rowan, meanwhile, is now the notorious Scythe Lucifer, the self-appointed deliverer of justice to dishonorable scythes. As Rowan tries to evade capture by the Scythedom, Citra finds herself targeted by a yet unknown enemy. It seems that conflict within the Scythedom is inevitable, and the Thunderhead, the sentient artificial intelligence that benevolently rules over humanity, is powerless to do anything about it because it cannot intervene in scythe affairs.

Review: After the genius that was Scythe, I couldn’t wait to dive into the sequel, Thunderhead. Scythe was such a thrilling, exhilaratingly unpredictable read with a note perfect ending that I was a bit about nervous how Thunderhead would measure up to its predecessor. It turns out that I need not have worried for a second.

When we catch up with Scythe’s two protagonists, Citra and Rowan, we find them on rather opposite sides of scythe law. As Scythe Anastasia, Citra is following in the footsteps of her mentor, Scythe Curie, and doing her best to perform her duties with honor. This is even as the so-called new order within the Scythedom that wants to loosen restrictions on gleaning continues to gain traction. Citra and her mentor’s adherence to the old ways appears to come at a price when they become the targets of an unknown adversary.

As for Rowan, his path has detoured down a much darker road. He has taken it upon himself to mete out justice to nefarious scythes by gleaning them. Rowan’s vigilantism is not without consequences. In addition to being the Scythedom’s most wanted criminal, AKA “Scythe” Lucifer, his deeds cost him in ways he couldn’t have imagined.

While Citra and Rowan remain central to the series, we gain the perspectives of additional characters in Thunderhead, including the titular . . . entity? The Thunderhead is such a unique character. It’s essentially a highly evolved version of the cloud (as in cloud computing) that governs humanity except for the Scythedom. Not only is the Thunderhead an authority figure, but it also literally takes care of the people it rules. In the case of new character Greyson Tolliver, the Thunderhead has basically parented him.

As we see inside the Thunderhead’s thoughts, its concern over what is happening within the Scythedom grows significantly. A shift in political climate doesn’t affect just scythes; it inevitably ripples to affect every single human being. Although the Thunderhead cannot take direct action to protect its charges, it is more than clever enough to find ways to circumvent the separation between scythe and state. And Greyson Tolliver becomes a key figure in the Thunderhead’s plans.

At the beginning of the novel, Greyson is a nondescript student at the Nimbus Academy, training to become an agent under the Thunderhead’s authority. Having essentially been raised by the Thunderhead, Greyson is quite content with his career path. The Thunderhead, however, has other ideas in store for him, and by the end of the book, Greyson Tolliver has experienced quite the adventure.

One of the things I loved most about Scythe was its seemingly never-ending supply of surprises. Thunderhead ups the twists and turns exponentially. I’m not joking. When I finished the book, I needed a bit to process all that had happened between page one and the final page. It. Is. Insane.

The ending also makes you wonder where the story can go from there. Seriously—this ending changes EVERYTHING. Whatever follows, though, is sure to be just as brilliant as everything about Thunderhead.

All in All: This is no lightweight middle book! I loved reading from the Thunderhead’s POV, and I’m still in awe over how Neal Shusterman pulled off shocker after shocker.

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