Book Review: Ensnared

ensnaredEnsnared
Rita Stradling
Romance/Fairy-tale Retelling
419 pages
Published 2017

So I actually picked up this ebook because it’s by the same author as Colorless, a book on my to-read list, and Ensnared was on Kindle Unlimited. (So I could read it for free!) Long story short, I just spent the 99 cents to buy the ebook of Colorless, because I REALLY enjoyed Ensnared. I’ve always had a weak spot for retellings of Fairy-tales, and this was no different.

Ensnared is a rework of Beauty and the Beast – but with robots and artificial intelligence running rampant as well. The Beast, in this book, is a rich eccentric holed up in a tower away from all human contact. He commissions a robot companion from a genius inventor, and when it’s not done in time, Alainn chooses to go in its stead so her father won’t go to jail. Assured, by the robot itself, that she’ll only have to masquerade as a robot for a few weeks until the work can be finished and swapped out (the robot looks exactly like Alainn!) – she sacrifices her freedom to ensure her father’s.

Then, of course, the inevitable happens and Alainn and the recluse fall in love. Things quickly spiral out of control, with hacked AIs, killer robots, and monkeys. (Yes, monkeys! It’s great.)

It’s a quick read – I have a hard time believing that some of these ebooks are actually as long as they say they are – or perhaps 419 Kindle pages aren’t as long as 419 real pages, I’m not sure.

Regardless, it was a fun little romp, and free if you have Kindle Unlimited. I’m even more eager to read Colorless, now!

From the cover of Ensnared:

A Near Future Retelling of Beauty and the Beast

Alainn’s father is not a bad man. He’s a genius and an inventor. When he’s hired to create the robot Rose, Alainn knows taking the money is a mistake. 

Rose acts like a human. She looks exactly like Alainn. But, something in her comes out wrong.

To save her father from a five year prison sentence, Alainn takes Rose’s place. She says goodbye to the sun and goes to live in a tower no human is allowed to enter. She becomes the prisoner of a man no human is allowed to see. 

Believing that a life of servitude lies ahead, Alainn finds a very different fate awaits her in the company of the strange, scarred recluse.

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Book Review: Radio Silence

RadioRadio Silence
Alice Oseman
YA coming-of-age GLBT
474 pages
Published 2017

Representation MATTERS. Don’t let anyone tell you different. The two main characters in this book are GLBT – and asexual, which is a rarely-seen demographic. One of them is a WOC! And that’s IMPORTANT. We need representation of minorities in books, movies, TV, media – wherever it can be seen. So all those kids growing up, thinking they’re weird, or the odd ones out, or broken, can see themselves on the screen and realize that other people are going through the same things. That it’s NORMAL.

This book isn’t what I’d normally read – if I read YA, it’s usually YA fantasy, not coming of age stories – but because I’m making a conscious effort to read more diversely, and I’d heard it involved GLBT kids, I picked it up. I’m not sorry I did. It reminds me a lot of John Green – which is somewhat unsurprising, given he’s really the only other YA coming-of-age author I read.

I love the different formatting the author uses when representing texts, or phone calls, or the podcast that the kids create. It took me a few chapters to get used to the different school system they’re in – the book is set in the UK, and their school system is very different than the US system. But the writing and pacing is beautifully done, and the gentle mystery at the heart of it all is solved by the end of the book in an unexpected way. I really enjoyed this book.

From the cover of Radio Silence:

Frances Janvier spends most of her time studying. When she’s not studying, she’s up in her room making fan art for her favorite podcast, Universe City.

Everyone knows Aled Last as that quiet boy who gets straight As. But no one knows he’s the creator of Universe City, who goes by the name Radio Silence.

When Frances gets a message from Radio Silence asking if she’ll collaborate with him, everything changes. Frances and Aled spend an entire summer working together and becoming best friends. They get each other when no one else does.

But when Aled’s identity as Radio Silence is revealed, Frances fears that the future of Universe City – and their friendship – is at risk. Aled helped her find her voice. Without him, will she have the courage to show the world who she really is? Or will she be met with radio silence?

Book Review: A Hundred Veils

hundredveilsA Hundred Veils
Rea Keech
Historical Fiction/Memoir-ish
307 pages
Published 2017

I picked this book up as part of my effort to read more diverse books. It centers on a young American English teacher who falls in love with an Iranian girl at the University of Tehran in the 70s. It wasn’t until I’d finished reading it, and finally read the About the Author, that I discovered the author is actually local to me. And I mean VERY local. As in my county library system had an event starring him THREE DAYS PRIOR to my reading the book! So I’m a little annoyed that I missed that, as I’d love to know just how much of the storyline was based on his experience in Iran. (He did actually spend some time in Iran with the Peace Corps, and the book is based off that.)

The book is also the winner of the 2017 Maryland Writers’ Association Novel Contest for their Literary/Mainstream category. (And now that I know that’s a thing, I might have to read the winners of the other five categories!)

On to the actual review! So the book is set at the very beginning of the Iranian Revolution – Marco is an American English teacher who’s come to Iran for a year. While there, he falls in love with his roommate’s cousin. The book is really their love story, while surrounded by political and religious unrest.

The writing is excellent. I’m sure I would get more out of the book if I could read Farsi, as each chapter is begun by a few lines of poetry in Farsi, written in both Arabic script and English letters. But the pacing is perfect, the descriptions apt – I really enjoyed this book except for one thing.

He sleeps with the girl he loves, without having made a decision as to if they’ll actually be together. He’s not sure he wants to stay in Iran. She doesn’t want to leave. And he sleeps with her anyway. My immediate thought was “You might love her, but you don’t care about her very much.” At the time, it seems like it was more of a dishonor, rather than an outright death sentence for the girl, but it still would basically condemn her to a life of prostitution at best, if he declined to marry her.

Perhaps I’m more aware of how dire those consequences are than most people who might read the book – though the shame she could face is mentioned in the book. My husband was an Arabic linguist in the military, and spent years learning about their culture. He’d come home and talk about things he’d learned, so I absorbed a lot of it as well. So the fact that the main character slept with her with no plan for their future kind of pissed me off. It wouldn’t be HIM that faced consequences for it, after all.

And yes, it was the 70s, before a lot of the religious extremism took hold – there was, in fact, a lot of enforced secularism. Women at the University were banned from wearing chadors in class, and shared classes with men. It’s actually really disturbing, seeing how secular a lot of the Middle East was in the 70s, and then to see how far they regressed socially in the following decades.

Besides the thoughtlessness of Marco in this matter, I really enjoyed the book. It reminded me a lot of the things my husband told me about Afghanistan. I’d really like to get a chance to ask the author some questions, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for any other events he might do.

From the cover of A Hundred Veils:

A young American teacher at the University of Tehran falls in love with a beautiful Iranian girl and gets caught up in the social, political, and religious turmoil of the times.

What ecstasy to fly through the sky
Tearing a hundred veils with every breath.
–Rumi

Book Review: London Steampunk series

kissofsteelKiss of Steel/Heart of Iron
Bec McMaster
Victorian Steampunk Urban Fantasy Romance
400ish pages
Published 2012/2013

Holy crap. I have only read the first two of this series – I have three more to read. (My Lady Quicksilver, Forged By Desire, and Of Silk and Steam, with a second series in the same universe called The Blue Blood Conspiracy.)

THESE ARE SO GOOD.

Victorian Steampunk in London with vampires, mechs, and werewolves (sort of) with romance, a political conspiracy plot, and plenty of action? YES PLEASE. These books are excellently written, with a hefty plot that moves at a perfect pace. Both romances have been very believable and intertwined seamlessly with the larger world’s plot. Each book is a hefty length, enough to really get absorbed in and flesh out everything that needs to be covered, without dragging on and getting old. The characters are fascinating – even the side characters are interesting enough that I really hope future books focus on them.

I don’t have a single bad thing to say about this series, and I can’t wait to read the next books. I am forcing myself to take a break from the series, even though I have the next two books, because I have library books that are due sooner that I need to read.

The first book, Kiss of Steel, is available on Kindle Unlimited, my library had #2 and #4, and #3 is also on Kindle Unlimited, so they’ve been very convenient to read. This series is definitely going on one my list of best reads for this year, it’s that good.

If you like Steampunk, READ THESE.

From the cover of Kiss of Steel:

Honoria Todd has more secrets than most people and she’s hiding them in Whitechapel. Blade is the master of the rookeries and agrees to protect her, but at what price?

Most people avoid the dreaded Whitechapel district. For Honoria Todd, it’s the last safe haven as she hides from the Blue Blood aristocracy that rules London through power and fear.

Blade rules the rookeries-no one dares cross him. It’s been said he faced down the Echelon’s army single–handedly, that ever since being infected by the blood–craving he’s been quicker, stronger, and almost immortal.

When Honoria shows up at his door, his tenuous control comes close to snapping. She’s so…innocent. He doesn’t see her backbone of steel-or that she could be the very salvation he’s been seeking.

From the cover of Heart of Iron:heartofiron

In Victorian London, if you’re not a blue blood of the Echelon then you’re nothing at all. The Great Houses rule the city with an iron fist, imposing their strict “blood taxes’ on the nation, and the Queen is merely a puppet on a string…

Lena Todd makes the perfect spy. Nobody suspects the flirtatious debutante could be a sympathizer for the humanist movement haunting London’s vicious blue blood elite. Not even the ruthless Will Carver, the one man she can’t twist around her little finger, and the one man whose kiss she can’t forget…

Stricken with the loupe and considered little more than a slave-without-a-collar to the blue bloods, Will wants nothing to do with the Echelon or the dangerous beauty who drives him to the very edge of control. But when he finds a coded letter on Lena-a code that matches one he saw on a fire-bombing suspect-he realizes she’s in trouble. To protect her, he must seduce the truth from her.

With London on the brink of revolution, Lena and Will must race against time-and an automaton army-to stop the humanist plot before it’s too late. But as they fight to save a city, the greatest danger might just be to their hearts…

Book Review: The Wolves of Dynamo

wolvesThe Wolves of Dynamo
Gareth S. Young
Urban Fantasy
297 pages
Published 2016

This book arrived unexpectedly in the mail – I believe it was from a Goodreads Giveaway, but I was never notified I’d won one. It’s even signed by the author!

I am….a little puzzled on how I feel about this book. It has a bit of a confusing, dream-like quality to it, which fits the book, but left me a little less than satisfied. It always felt like I was forgetting details, or like the book assumed I knew things about the world that I didn’t. (Much like many dreams.) The plot was unique, the characters could have used more depth, the division between forest and city was indistinct, and the conclusion was unsatisfying. It could have been very good, but I think it needs a lot more polish.

The physical book itself felt like an ARC, even though it’s not. I think it’s the simplistic cover and the typesetting. It just doesn’t feel – finished. Like much of the book. I’d give this a pass, but I might be interested in future writings by the author, if his style matures and his editor improves.

From the cover of The Wolves of Dynamo:

Thirteen-year-old Eileen MacCormick has always called Dynamo City home. Its bustling streets, imposing Cathedral, and enveloping forest fascinate her, giving her solace after the death of her father. But after moving closer to the forest she finds so comforting, she discovers that it hides a dark, magical world.

Eileen’s life changes irrevocably when she crosses paths with a murderer who is terrorizing the city. Heartsick, she finds herself drawn back to the forest where an enclave of mysterious wolves reveal themselves to her. Eileen is shocked to learn she can communicate with the wolves and outraged when the ancient animals demand she lure the murderer to the forest.

How can these creatures ask this of her? How can a thirteen-year-old possibly catch a killer?

Bewildered by her role in this new magical world, and by the wolves’ extraordinary request, Eileen must battle her sorrow and find courage as she begins the most dangerous and incredible adventure of her life.