Flash Review: Aurora Burning (The Aurora Cycle #2)

Image from Barnes and Noble website

Synopsis

Our heroes are back . . . kind of. From the bestselling co-authors of the Illuminae Files comes the second book in the epic Aurora Cycle series about a squad of misfits, losers, and discipline cases who just might be the galaxy’s best hope for survival.

First, the bad news: An ancient evil—your standard consume-all-life-in-the-galaxy deal—is about to be unleashed. The good news? Squad 312 is here to save the day. As soon as they’ve just got to take care of a few small distractions first. Like the clan of gremps who are holding a serious grudge against the squad. And a bunch of illegit GIUTA agents with creepy flowers where their eyes used to be. Then there’s Kal’s long-lost sister, who’s not exactly happy to see him.But with the reappearance of the colony ship that Auri was found on, new clues about Auri—and her powers as a Trigger—begin to come to light. And just in time. Because if Auri can’t learn to master her powers, the squad going to be soooo dead. Shocking revelations, bank heists, mysterious gifts,inappropriately tight bodysuits, and an epic firefight will determine the fate of the Aurora Legion’s most unforgettable heroes—and, you know, the rest of the galaxy.

Barnes and Noble

Review

Read: March 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Spoiler warning!

Aurora Burning isn’t perfect, but like I said about its predecessor, it’s hella fun. Kristoff and Kaufmann seem to have ironed out the majority of their most annoying writing issues and replaced those with excellent character development. Leading the pack in this area is Zila. If you’ve read my review of Aurora Rising, you’ll know that I was peeved to have Zila included as a viewpoint character, only to find that her chapters were the length of my pinkie finger. Zila gets the spotlight in several chapters now, and damn, are those chapters engrossing. Readers finally get a horrifying glimpse into her tragic past and the reason for her emotional detachment; even better, they experience her blossoming out again as she bonds with her team. Finian too gets some truly heartwarming moments in his point-of-view chapters that show him blossoming as a friend and gaining confidence around people. Tyler also gets the opportunity to deal with his feelings for Cat and her loss. His interactions with Ra’haam Cat are dripping with angst. (I WILL GO DOWN WITH THIS SHIP.) Even without his crew, Tyler manages to hold his own, and I think that really reinforces his ability as a leader.

The plot is fast-paced (for the most part). The story opens with a confrontation with a gang of grempfs and barrels on to a skirmish with Kal’s sister Saedii, a bank heist, and another clash with the bad guys. (The bank heist, especially, is hilarious.) That said, I was underwhelmed by Auri and Kal’s time in the Echo with the Eshvaren. And as much as I enjoyed seeing Kal and Auri’s relationship develop in the Echo, those chapters felt… underwhelming, if not frustrating. Yes, Aurora gets her catharsis with her parents and sister, but the training is something of a slog – and training can be fun if it’s written right. Plus, I just dislike Esh as a character. I know that the Eshvaren is not meant to be liked, but they serve more as a annoying minor source of conflict and resolution rather than a fully fleshed out antagonist.

The huge reveal of Caersan being Kal’s father, unfortunately, is totally foreseeable. The handling (read: fumbling) of the crew’s reaction to Kal’s parentage is the main reason I’m knocking a star off this book. I guessed that Kal’s father was the Starslayer from his very first viewpoint chapter of the series, all the way back in Aurora Rising. That predictability renders all the ensuing drama in Squad 312 more contrived and even stupider than it already is. Yes, I understand that Caersan is a genocidal maniac, everyone hates him, how could Kal keep this from us, yada yada ya. But seriously, out of the four other people on board the ship, no one could see the big picture: Adams and de Stoy somehow were able to deliver exactly what was needed to the squad – and have that stash of supplies ready eight years prior to 312 ever needing it – and yet the squad thinks that Adams and de Stoy didn’t know about Kal’s parentage? Finian seems to be the only one even close to grasping this (at least prior to Aurora refusing to believe Kal is on her side until the Starslayer nearly kills her), but he still has not reached this conclusion. Aurora’s reaction is more than a little ridiculous too. When the Eshvaren enjoins her to break up with Kal so he won’t hold her back, her response essentially amounts to “Lmao, get fucked.” But when Caersan outs his son, she’s all jazzed up to ditch poor Kal – literally. On the other hand, the revelation about Tyler and Scarlett’s Waywalker mother is an interesting surprise, and one that Tyler takes in stride. I’m interested in learning more about the story of Jericho and his Syldrathi lover. In fact, I smell the potential for a gripping space opera romance novella.

Aurora Burning still has its kinks, but it’s a worthy read. I’m both eagerly anticipating and dreading the release of Aurora’s End.

Book Review: Aurora Rising

Image from Barnes and Noble website

Synopsis

The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the academy would touch . . .

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm
A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates
A smart-ass tech whiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder
An alien warrior with anger-management issues
A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem—that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline cases, and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

NOBODY PANIC.

Barnes and Noble website

Review

Read: February 2021

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Spoiler warning!

Over the summer I read Jay Kristoff’s The Lotus Wars series, and after finishing the excellent space opera Seven Devils just last month, I was finally in the mood to try out Aurora Rising.

This book almost made its way into my inglorious Did-Not-Finish pile. Almost.

Let me tell you, folks: The start of this book is rough. No, Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufmann, it is not necessary to have three or four flashbacks in the span of a thirty-minute chapter, particularly when said flashbacks take place mere hours prior to the present. It is irksome. It gives readers whiplash. Please don’t do it! (My guess is that Kristoff is responsible for this writing choice, given that his book Nevernight begins with a similar temporal pattern. That was one reason I decided against reading that series.) If rescuing Aurora weren’t the reason Tyler misses the draft, the spastic time flip-flopping certainly would be. How could the poor guy be expected to show up on time when the authors can’t even decide what time it is? Also, I can appreciate the occasional breaking of the fourth wall in a work of fiction, but overuse of that device tends to induce a sense of awkwardness in me. It gives the impression that the authors are trying too hard, and it can make the writing a little bit corny.

But that being said, Aurora Rising turned out to be a very enjoyable book. The authors plunge right in with the action, and it’s not all just firefights: There are visions, chases, sleuthing, and even a mini-heist. The enemies our heroes face are myriad and many, and danger arrives in a variety of forms. And if you love conspiracies (no, not the batshit ones people actually try to pass off as real – the fun, fictional conspiracies), you’ll find something to love about this book. The world-building is just the right level of intricacy for the series too. It’s interesting without being overly detailed. That might not make for my favorite kind of universe, but it fits well with the planned trilogy length and the general arc of the story. Plus, any necessary exposition that doesn’t flow well in the context of the story is occasionally given in concise snippets by Auri’s uber-futuristic iPhone, Magellan, circumventing potential information holes.

I’m surprised how much I’ve come to love the characters. At the beginning of the book, all I wanted was for Tyler – and everyone else – to shut the hell up about his magical dimples, Aurora to stop uttering the phrase “holy cake”, and Scarlett to calm down with her boy-craziness. But the characters turn out to be so likable that those flaws can be overlooked – and in some cases, those flaws become a tad endearing. The flaws make the characters more real. Each character is lovable in their own way. By the end of the book, if I’d been asked to choose a favorite character, I’m not sure that I could have. Kal and Cat would likely be at the top of the list, but Tyler and Finian have both found special places in my heart as well. I do feel compelled to lodge a complaint about Zila, though – not because she’s done anything (particularly) wrong – but because she seems very… sidelined throughout the story. She has so much potential, but her point-of-view chapters never exceed two minutes in length. The more I ponder how everyone else has point-of-view chapters that actually last longer than it takes me to make microwave popcorn, the more jilted I feel on Zila’s behalf. Hopefully, Kristoff and Kaufmann will flesh out Zila’s character in Aurora Burning.

Now here come the spoiler parts of this review, so move on to the last paragraph if you want to skip the spoilers.

Aurora Rising is not mainly a romance book, but there is still romance to be found. To tell the truth, I’m a diehard Cat/Tyler shipper. Needless to say, Cat’s “death” (consumption by the Ra’haam) absolutely breaks my heart. While my brain tells me that Cat likely won’t be resurrected the way I want her to be, my romantic optimist’s heart believes she might yet be saved and subsequently revived. The one thing that keeps me clinging to hope is the symbolism of Cat’s phoenix tattoo. I know, I’m pathetic. It looks like Fin and Scarlett are set up for a slow-burn romance too, which absolutely warms my soul. And Kal and Auri’s gradual bonding is the perfect thing to balance out the Pull that Kal feels toward Auri. I’m looking forward to their relationship developing further in the next book.

Aurora Rising isn’t the most unique book I’ve ever read. Nevertheless, it’s certainly interesting, and it’s undeniably fun. If you’re looking for an entertaining read that isn’t too heavy, give this one a try.

March Update: What to Look Forward To

Hello, everyone! Thank you so much for stopping by. I’m in my last two months of school, so things are pretty busy. Still, I’ve made time for books – I kind of need to in order to retain my sanity. Here’s what’s coming up on The Book Hawk.

Main Priorities

  • Aurora Rising: I’m just about done with it, so I should post the review later this week. Even though the beginning was rough, my decision to stick with the book has proven wise.
  • A Court of Silver Flames: Those of us who’ve read the A Court of Thorns and Roses series have spent the better part of the last four years eagerly anticipating this book. I’ve come to realize that I prefer Sarah J. Maas’s earlier (read: less super smutty) works to her newer stuff, but that doesn’t mean I’m not expecting a good story!
  • Sightwitch: Witchlands is one of my very favorite series, but I’ve yet to actually read Sightwitch. In preparation for the upcoming release of Witchshadow, I’m going to finally crack open Sightwitch – and then reread the other books!
  • Rhythm of War: Reviewing this one might be a challenge simply because of the sheer volume of material involved, but I’m up for it. I’ve been reading it slowly so I can prolong my enjoyment, since the next installment won’t be available until 2023 or something. If you haven’t read The Stormlight Archive yet, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Brandon Sanderson is a master.

Tentative Additional Content

If I have time this month, I’ll post some of this stuff. If not, I’ll push it into April.

  • Aurora Burning: Despite my initial doubts about its predecessor, I’ve decided I’m enjoying the series enough to continue on.
  • Dawnshard: What can I say? I’m on a Brando Sando binge.
  • Fractured Stars: I have no idea what this is. I bought it months ago and can’t recall what it’s about.
  • Firekeeper’s Daughter: The only reason this one is on this list and not the “Main Priorities” one is because I just discovered its existence last night. I’m eagerly anticipating its mid-March release, partially because the debut author, Angeline Boulley, is a member of the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians from my own state of Michigan!

If you have suggestions for me, feel free to share in the comments! Thanks again for visiting The Book Hawk.

Book Review: Seven Devils

Credit: BarnesandNoble.com

Synopsis

This first book in a feminist space opera duology follows seven resistance fighters who will free the galaxy from the ruthless Tholosian Empire–or die trying.

When Eris faked her death, she thought she had left her old life as the heir to the galaxy’s most ruthless empire behind. But her recruitment by the Novantaen Resistance, an organization opposed to the empire’s voracious expansion, throws her right back into the fray.

Eris has been assigned a new mission: to infiltrate a spaceship ferrying deadly cargo and return the intelligence gathered to the Resistance. But her partner for the mission, mechanic and hotshot pilot Cloelia, bears an old grudge against Eris, making an already difficult infiltration even more complicated.

When they find the ship, they discover more than they bargained for: three fugitives with firsthand knowledge of the corrupt empire’s inner workings.

Together, these women possess the knowledge and capabilities to bring the empire to its knees. But the clock is ticking: the new heir to the empire plans to disrupt a peace summit with the only remaining alien empire, ensuring the empire’s continued expansion. If they can find a way to stop him, they will save the galaxy. If they can’t, millions may die.

Barnes and Noble website

Review

Read: February 2021

Format: Audible audiobook

Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Warning: Spoilers ahead! Proceed with caution.

Alright, folks, I’m back! I’ve been pretty busy with school (I expect to complete my bachelor’s degree by the end of this semester), so I haven’t had as much time to write reviews. Now that I’ve only got two classes and have sorted out my volunteer hours at the animal shelter, I should be posting more frequently. I promise my next review won’t take six more months to appear.

Anyway, let’s get down to business.

Between stumbling across this book at my local Barnes and Noble and a Redditor’s recommendation, I finally decided to give Seven Devils a try. That was a decision I do not regret – unless, of course, you ask me how it feels to await the next installment of this duology.

This book is action-packed and fast-paced. The very first chapter opens the story with the first of many skirmishes aboard a spaceship. It’s not all melee combat though: Lam and May do an excellent job of balancing the action between physical fights and intrigue. Be prepared for battles, espionage, and subterfuge! Even the heroes’ downtime propels the plot forward, and exposition is woven into the story in a palatable manner that keeps the reader in the loop without overwhelming them. Part of that exposition is delivered in flashback format – a judicious choice, given the frequency and quantity of content set in the past. It’s also convenient that the flashbacks are isolated to their own chapters, each with the name of the viewpoint character and the time of occurrence clearly stated at the beginning of the chapter. (I have a special appreciation for this right now because I’m currently reading a book that fucks up flashbacks to the point of abuse. Suffice it to say that it’s difficult to follow that story where flashbacks are involved.)

From my heterosexual white woman’s perspective, Seven Devils does a solid job with representation. For all the diabolical crap the Tholosian Empire fosters, skin color of Tholosian humans is not one of their primary concerns. (That story is very different for non-Tholosians.) Even so, I really appreciate that this book features some racial diversity amongst its viewpoint characters. With Black and Hispanic people still patently underrepresented in STEM fields, I find it particularly awesome that Ariadne plays the role of the gifted, brilliant science whiz. The cast also includes three queer characters. Kyla, the co-commander of the Novantae resistance, is a transgender woman of color; Clo and Rhea, both viewpoint characters, are attracted to women. Although Kyla doesn’t have a viewpoint in this installment of the duology, my fingers are crossed for her to have one in the next book!

The characters are vibrant and intricate. Lam and May do an excellent job of connecting the characters’ past experiences and their present-day habits and mannerisms. Ariadne’s behavior reflects what you’d expect from a socially deprived but mentally acute teenager. (She’s not unlike Cress from the Lunar Chronicles.) She’s depicted as eager to explore and friendly, but the authors also highlight the social anxiety you might expect from a kid who grew up with minimal human contact. The inclusion of Eris’s point of view as Princess Discordia, her former identity, chronicles the transformation of Eris’s worldview while also underscoring the similarities between these two personas. The gradual change of Discordia into Eris emphasizes both Discordia’s and Eris’s inner turmoil – emotional turbulence that, although Eris conceals it well, plagues her to this day. Nyx is very firmly portrayed as a former soldier. That mentality shines through not just in how she describes herself, but also in how she acts and thinks. She wrestles constantly with the effects of chronic exposure to Tholosian propaganda while burying the guilt over the murders she’s committed in the name of the empire; her thought processes are tactical. Clo’s childhood of poverty, the loss of her mother, and her own amputation well explain the angry, stubborn, and determined woman whom readers encounter. And Rhea, although she still carries the scars of her old life as a sex slave, strives for freedom in her own way – even if it’s somewhat subtler than the methods of her comrades. On the other hand, the authors leave many questions unanswered about Sher, and Cato’s and Kyla’s backgrounds aren’t nearly as fleshed out as I’d like them to be. But then again, this is the first of two books, which leaves plenty of opportunity for character development in the next installment.

Rebellion can obviously serve as a riveting plot if it’s done right, but Seven Devils addresses several other themes. Relationships of all kinds are a recurring motif throughout the story. After all, it was a friendship that led Eris to defect from her totalitarian government. The romantic scene between Clo and Rhea near the end of the book is both intimate and wholesome, even without sex. And yes, we get to see the whole squad forming friendships and protecting each other. Colonialism and extractivism fuel the Tholosian Empire’s expansion and induce its citizens do commit horrific acts – crimes that most of our cast has partaken in one way or another. Finally, Seven Devils offers tales of the monumental endeavor to achieve redemption.

Even though it missed a few things, Seven Devils is a thrilling and worthy read. If you’re in the mood for science fiction, rebellion, and women supporting women, pick this book up now.

Review: Through Violet Eyes

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Synopsis

In a world where the dead can testify against the living, someone is getting away with murder. Because to every generation are born a select few souls with violet-colored eyes, and the ability to channel the dead. Both rare and precious—and rigidly controlled by a society that craves their services—these Violets perform a number of different duties. The most fortunate increase the world’s cultural heritage by channeling the still-creative spirits of famous dead artists and musicians. The least fortunate aid the police and the law courts, catching criminals by interviewing the deceased victims of violent crime.

But now the Violets themselves have become the target of a brutal serial murderer—a murderer who had learned how to mask his or her identity even from the victims. Can the FBI, aided by a Violet so scared of death that she is afraid to live, uncover the criminal in time? Or must more of her race be dispatched to the realm that has haunted them all since childhood?

Review

Ah, quarantine, you have brought me to some new stories, and Through Violet Eyes was one of them.

It wasn’t a good story. Fair warning: This book was dreadful and I’m hoping to spare you the misery of reading it, so this review is brimming with spoilers. If you actually want to read Through Violet Eyes yourself and be surprised, turn back now!

Through Violet Eyes portrays itself as a mystery tinged with a sci-fi/fantasy element: In this universe, there are people whose eyes are – you guessed it! – violet, and these folks can communicate with the souls of the deceased. This has potential to be interesting if combined with strong characters, a decently planned plot, and solid, creative execution of the premise. Woodworth just doesn’t deliver.

For one thing, there’s little that’s remarkable about the main characters beyond just straight-up weirdness or lameness. Although each undergo some level of character growth, those developments are so predictably induced and so shallowly conveyed that the reader reaps little satisfaction and enjoys scant emotional connection with the characters in question. Natalie Lindstrom is a young Violet who works for the government like just about every other Violet does for at least some portion of their life. At the moment, the suits are using her amazing powers to channel dead witnesses for jury trials. Her frequent contact with the deceased has caused Natalie to lead a restrained, overly cautious (read: paranoid) life in the interest of postponing death as long as possible.  Dan Atwater is an FBI agent who basically committed manslaughter on a person of color but is now back on duty. So logically, after such a massive blunder, Dan is assigned to guard an extremely valuable lead, Natalie, in a serial killer case in which the victims are all people who can talk to the dead.

The progression of Dan and Natalie’s romance is completely calculable. Although Natalie begins the book pining over her childhood sweetheart, Evan, whom she has not spoken to in eight years, she quickly falls in love with Dan in a matter of weeks. Dan, too, feels the love in that same time span. And when I say “weeks”, I mean less than a month – or at least, that’s what I’m assuming because Woodworth is really unclear about the passage of time. Let’s ignore the time span, though, because time is sometimes inconsequential. The real issue is that, from the beginning, everyone can guess that Dan and Natalie are going to end up together, and there’s little to the story of how that happens. It’s the kind of love story you’d expect from mediocre fanfiction. Their romance consists of fluffy carnival rides, climbing stairs, and flying. (Like, a lot of flying. Seriously, Dan’s superiors have no idea how to coordinate their agents to save some fucking taxpayer money and fuel.)  Dan learns to love again after his divorce, and Natalie learns to live a little and not be terrified of the carousel. It’s a win-win for both of them.

Secondary characters are not bestowed with the attention they deserve either. Those who are important enough to warrant a number of dimensions greater than two are deprived. Too often, characters aren’t fleshed out. Most of the supporting characters are already dead or are on their way there. The rest are just there to help without being characters in their own right, often while serving as diversity tokens. Sid Preston, the obnoxious reporter who’s been stalking Dan and Natalie as he researches the case of the Violet killer and whose only contribution to the case is a license plate number, arguably receives as much or possibly even more attention than Serena. For playing such an important role in the story – saving Natalie’s life, assisting Dan with contacting Sondra, and ultimately killing Dan while possessed – she’s just there to help and be a friend to the deuteragonists. That’s all. Oh wait, and she’s black – a fact that Woodworth feels the need to point out every third sentence when she’s on the page. Don’t get me wrong: Serena’s blackness is not the issue, nor is acknowledgement of her blackness. The problem is that she is repeatedly described as “the black woman” or “the black man” (the latter in reference to her appearance in a disguise) at a frequency that borders on annoying while little else is established about her character. It’s one thing to illustrate a character; it’s entirely another to continuously reiterate their race while also saying nothing about their race. What else would readers need to know about her? Who she is as a person? How her blackness is a part of her identity? Her motives for doing things, for joining Simon’s group? Nah. What relevance do those things have to the white people in the story? Serena, a former CIA associate and now a member of a cryptic group known to some as a cult, has the capacity to be one of the most intriguing characters of the story, but Woodworth suppresses that potential by pigeonholing her into the dreaded “magical negro” trope.

Compounding Woodworth’s fumbling of Serena’s character with regards to race is Dan’s spotty past. Prior to the events of the story, Dan shot an unarmed person of color in a case of mistaken identity, believing he was the suspect that had killed a couple of other police officers that night. He and the remaining two officers were charged and subsequently acquitted of murder. Dan was then somehow reinstated as an officer of the law and released back into the wild with a badge and a firearm in tow. No anti-bias training, no anything – just a trial, an acquittal, and a divorce. Look, I understand that the issue of racially-charged police brutality wasn’t as prominent in the media back in 2004 (then again, I was seven, so maybe I just wasn’t paying attention), but the way Woodworth handles the matter seems… insensitive. The whole matter is resolved with a fuzzy, feel-good moment of forgiveness when Dan’s and Allen’s spirits collide and they each understand the other’s perspective of the fatal incident. I mean, yeah, on one hand, forgiveness and empathy are often good things. Yet, the way Woodworth settles this conflict sugarcoats the awfulness underlying the event: a (white) law enforcement officer is not held to higher ethical standards for his occupation, his remorse is used as a get-out-of-jail-free card, and the victim is a person of color who was basically assumed to be the bad guy because he “looked like the suspect”. Big yikes. Call me a nitpicker, but one heartfelt moment doesn’t really make up for all of that shit and the systemic racism seething just behind the curtain. At this point, it’s quite fair to say that Woodworth is ignorant on matters of race – and this is coming from a white girl.

Woodworth manages to pound out a mystery plotline – albeit a lackluster one – but overall, his writing style is rankling and often straight-up odd. No, I don’t mean “odd” in either the whimsically charming or the rivetingly bizarre senses, but rather in the “cringe” context. Let’s start with the sex. For one thing, there is a scene in which Dan, upon witnessing Natalie doing yoga in the morning, gets an erection. When she steps out of the room to take a shower, he actually fucking talks to his penis aloud. Guys, do you really do this? Is this a thing that I’m just not privy to? Because I’m trying to imagine talking to my nether regions and it’s just… weird. Also, I don’t know what planet Woodworth lives on, but here on Earth, pubic hair is rarely “downy.” Yet for all his explicit descriptions of breasts, pubic hair, and erections, Woodworth shies away from a detailed sex scene when our two heroes finally succumb to their attractions and begin their relationship with a night of lovemaking. Given how awkward Woodworth generally is on matters of sex, though, it’s probably best that he spared readers the details. Woodworth also has no idea how to write about gay characters. The only non-heterosexual is a dead fifty-something guy who’s described as “squirrelly-looking” and who inhabits Natalie’s body without her consent to attempt to rape Dan. This incident is used as a plot device to demonstrate how Violets can be inhabited against their will, particularly when sleeping, and to further Dan and Natalie’s blooming romance by letting Russell Travers spill the beans about Natalie’s sexual feelings for Dan. There are literally a million different ways that Woodworth could have accomplished this goal without painting the only homosexual character in the book as a perverted rapist. Additionally, Woodworth turns to disabilities for adjectives, which he uses pejoratively or flippantly. Natalie is described as repeating a mantra “like an autistic eulogist”. Dan, at one point, attempts to cry Natalie’s name in “a Down’s syndrome slur”. Is it really that difficult for Woodworth to   crack a thesaurus and pick some words that aren’t insulting? He totally could’ve gone with “a drunken slur” and just left out the “autistic eulogist” part. Those faux pas are totally avoidable, and yet Woodworth careens head-on into them with zero regrets.

The bottom line is that Through Violet Eyes simply is a bad book. A hackneyed plot, feeble characterization, and some seriously gauche handling of basic social issues bury anything positive about this story. Hopefully, this review has spared you all from wasting precious reading time on such an unworthy piece. Countless other books are calling your names!

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Cover image and synopsis are from BarnesandNoble.com.

Book Review: Alien Minds

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The Blurb

On my seventeenth birthday, I wake up in the hospital to find I just survived a sketchy but terrible accident. My parents stand by my bedside—both are beautiful, wealthy, and super-nice. They tell me that once I leave the hospital, I’ll attend the prestigious ECHO Academy, where I’ll churn out equations for the government along with my mega-smart peers.

So, I’m living the perfect life.

Then why does everything feel all wrong?

My parents, my house and even ECHO Academy…none of it fits. Plus, what’s up with Thorne, my brooding yet yummy classmate who keeps telling me I need to remember my true past, which seems to have included a lot of us kissing? That’s one thing I’d really like to remember, except for the fact that I’m pretty sure Thorne is hiding a ton of nasty secrets of his own, including the fact that he may not be from this world. But considering how my own past seems alien to me, it’s not like I can judge. Plus, Thorne has dimples. That’s a problem.

And worst of all, why does it feel so yucky to work on these calculations for the government? It’s all supposed to be part of ECHO, but my heart tells me that I’m helping something truly terrible come to pass. Thorne seems to think that kissing him again will release my real memories.

Maybe it’s time to pucker up.

Review

Read: March 2019

Rating: 1 star out of 5

*Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC.*

Honestly, I expected little from Christina Bauer’s Alien Minds – and this book lived up to my expectations. I plowed through Alien Minds quickly, simply because it was tedious and jejune and I wanted to be done with it. 

Alien Minds plays host to a plethora of flaws, least of which is the sloppy editing. Although the writing is legible, Bauer’s strong suit clearly does not lie in grammar and spelling conventions, nor does her editor’s strength lie in noticing and correcting them. Several words are missing letters, have their letters transposed, or contain letters that transform them into different words altogether. Take, for example, Meimi yammering into her “smart witch” (smart watch) and explaining her “thughts” (thoughts) to the reader, and Thorne’s name being spelled “Throne” at one point in the book. Errors like that, while obvious, are easy enough to parse out, but missing or jumbling words in sentences are more difficult to deal with. 

Bauer also has a penchant for doling out the wrong amount of detail for the wrong subjects. Lush imagery and meticulously crafted lore are well and good, but it seems to me that Bauer gives more thorough descriptions of trivialities like clothing and appearances than of more important aspects of her story, particularly background information. Yes, I know Meimi is suffering from amnesia. Yes, I understand that some things will be left out as a result. That said, Bauer frequently just dumps readers into a scene, blathers about the sartorial choices of nearby characters or what color the walls are, decides, “Fuck it!” and then careens onward through her haphazardly assembled plot. To make matters worse, she tends to gracelessly insert information, frequently at inappropriate points in a scene. These interruptions compound with negligible buildup to events, adversely affecting the flow of the story overall. (Side note: In a futuristic science fantasy novel, never use the word “modern” when describing architecture. No one knows what “modern” means in the context of two-and-a-half centuries in the future.)

The characters themselves have little appeal. Characterization is anemic from the start, and there’s little character development to remedy that. Meimi is purportedly an adroit scientist, but readers don’t really get to experience her problem-solving – they just see the results. She’s portrayed as a perfect girl, a state of being established less by actions and events and more by statements about Meimi. Furthermore, Meimi is the queen of patent observations. More than several times she notes something completely obvious in the stupidest way possible. Thorne, her extraterrestrial love interest, isn’t a huge improvement. The son of an alien emperor, Thorne’s character centers around being in love with Meimi and dealing with his daddy issues, but mostly around being in love with Meimi. In fact, Thorne’s callow, near-constant exultation of Meimi is a major irritant. Thorne also has a creepy habit of smelling Meimi. Not catching a whiff of her scent in passing and remarking that she smells nice, but legit purposefully sniffing her. And when you sleep next door to someone, even if you’re concerned about their safety, it’s definitely obsessive to sleep on the floor directly in front of the door, not to mention imprudent. What if Meimi tries to run from danger and she opens his door and trips over him? Just sayin’. Their instalove romance is dull and moves way too fast. In one scene, while Meimi is still suffering from amnesia, Thorne purchases undergarments for her. Slow the fuck down, dude, she only kinda remembers you. Thorne is also overprotective of Meimi and, much to my vexation, calls her “my girl” about one million times throughout the book; Meimi, meanwhile, repeatedly chooses the term “yummy” to describe Thorne. This romance is so contrived that it would be fitting for Thorne to forgo the rose bouquet and instead gift Meimi an entire fucking bushel of corn. 

So much of the story focuses on instalove that the supporting characters are glossed over, and the antagonists aren’t well-constructed either. Zoe and Chloe Fine are useful but only superficially entertaining; the Hollow’s backstory is glossed over. Vargas, a Merciless soldier charged with marking society outcasts for execution – often with the unwilling aid of his poor Pokemon, Marro – is little more than a death-hungry lech with muscles and a pea brain. Dr. Godwin is basically the alternate-dimension Dr. Doofenshmirtz: he’s genuinely evil but completely cheesy and absolutely not subtle.

When all is said and done, I wouldn’t read this book again, nor would I recommend it. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have read it in the first place if it hadn’t been free. It’s definitely not my cup of tea, but if Alien Minds is yours, by all means, please read it.

You can also read this review on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2737340812

Cover is from BarnesandNoble.com.