Sunday, July 24, 2016

#CBR8 Review #20: Books of Adam – The Blunder Years by Adam Ellis

That transition into adulthood and finding your way can be a tricky one, and full of random shenanigans. I feel like that’s a common topic for a lot of stories today about finding success and where you want to go in your adult life: I am definitely sitting right in that stage, just trying to figure stuff out and not really sure the best way to go about it.

In The Blunder Years, a lot of those fears of failure and feeling lost and adrift come to life through little essays about various moments in Adam Ellis’ life, as he tries to make his way after graduating from art school. Stages of learning and progression are presented in the form of funny stories that are punctuated with humorous comics to illustrate the wackiness of some of the situations he found himself in. The drawings involved in this are cute and comedic, and Ellis definitely has a distinct style about how he portrays people. And if you haven’t checked out his other web comics, I would definitely suggest taking a look, as they can be quite funny. (He is now over at Buzzfeed, apparently). 

Topics that are hit on within this book include leaving town for something new, first apartments, finding friends, relationships, finding work, and general advice and lessons learned on the way. Some of the tales recounted are quite funny, and Ellis’ mannerisms and character throughout them really reminded me of myself at times. I will, however, say that overall I wasn’t really sure where this book was going or if there was a clear focus as to an ultimate conclusion. But maybe that’s the point of the whole thing, given the stage of life it represents: sometimes there isn’t a destiny to achieve or an overarching plan, but we are just blundering through things and figuring it all out as we go along. I know I certainly am. A human meatball disaster.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

#CBR8 Review #19: John Dies at the End by David Wong

You know when you’re dreaming and something absurd and surreal happens but your dream self is just like, “yeah, that makes sense”? That’s what the progression of this book and the characters’ reactions felt like to me. They just kind of rolled with everything, despite it being a ridiculous ride of the supernatural and things that don’t entirely make sense. A crossover between our world and another filled with monsters and other strange beings and seemingly arbitrary rules of what is possible and what is not. But I guess when things get weird, you learn along the way, which is exactly what the protagonists of this book do.

John Dies at the End follows a young man named David, and his friend John, as they become embroiled in a strange fight against evil paranormal forces from other realms. It all starts when John ends up taking a bizarre “drug” at a party, and begins to see things that not all people can see: other planes, if you will. David soon ends up accidentally having this drug enter his bloodstream as well, and well, wackiness ensues as they try to stop various demons, creatures, etc from attacking people and entering our world on a larger scale.

But the thing about David and John is that they are human disasters. You probably knew some guys like this at some point in your life: the young guys who are really lovely and fun, but don’t really have any huge motivations and are just kind of coasting into adulthood without having any of their crap together? I know some guys like that, actually, and they are really sweet but oh boy they are unmanageable.

And that’s exactly what makes this story really funny. It’s not just the absurdity of everything that happens once this paranormal stuff starts to surface, it’s how willing David and John are to just go with it. They might ask questions for a minute or be confused as to what’s going on, but they are very willing to just accept things as reality. David has to use a bratwurst to communicate with his friend like some kind of weird phone? Okay, I guess that’s just what has to happen. A strange jellyfish-like creature is floating through a local girl’s house? Right, let’s see how we can kill it.

Honestly, I love absurdist humor, as it catches my attention way more than any violence, sex, or anything else that’s simply mean to be shocking. At times I wasn’t really sure where this book was going, however, and am not sure where the sequel will go, but I enjoyed it enough to want to see what happens in the next book for sure. 

[Don't forget to visit the Cannonball Read main site]

Saturday, July 2, 2016

#CBR8 Review #18: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

“It came from the woods. Most strange things do.”

You know how horror movies can be super effective when they create a sense of unease just by making you know that something is not quite right? But you can’t determine what that thing that’s not right is, and therefore you have no idea what to do or how to fix the situation? How the idea of a monster is almost scarier than when you actually see what it is, because of the way your imagination runs wild and fills in the dark space with exactly what you fear? Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods, uses this idea of ambiguity and uncertainty to create an eerie set of visual short stories, all of which center around the concept of the dark and mysterious nature of the woods. What dangers might be lurking in there, unseen? What kind of monsters do our minds make up when we let it drift?

The five stories (as well as a short conclusion) are all presented in a way that never quite leaves a definitive end to the story: it is up to us to fill in the blanks as we see fit. While this has the potential to be frustrating, the ambiguity that I mentioned before really works here, as it creates a sense of unknowing to add to the overall mood of the collection.
The stories included in Through the Woods are as follows (and I’ll be brief in my descriptions as each story is pretty brief, and therefore I don’t want to give too much away):
- “Our Neighbor’s House”: Three young girls are left at home when their father goes on a hunting trip, but never returns.
- “A Lady’s Hands are Cold”: A woman marries a man, but begins hearing strange sounds from his house at night.
- “His Face All Red”: A man’s brother returns after being lost to the woods.
- “My Friend Janna”: A young girl acts as the town’s local medium.

- “ The Nesting Place”: A young girl does not take kindly to her brother’s new fiancĂ©. 

Each story is presented in a visual fashion, the artwork of which is absolutely beautiful and ties the whole thing together really well. I am particularly fond of all the artistic depictions of the woods, my favourite being a full, two-page spread of the woods at night found in the book’s conclusion section. Carroll also has a real knack for showing people’s exhaustion and unrest in their expressions, which is another thing that I think really works here as it illuminates how tired and drained people can become when they are stressed and afraid. She has a truly distinct style of artwork, which may not be for everyone, but I found it to be quite expressive and really love it personally.

The only thing that I could really bemoan about this book was that it reads very quickly, and therefore I almost wanted there to be more of it. I am not the fastest reader, but managed to finish it in one short sitting (possibly owing to there being not too much text on each page, as the artwork is really the main focus). It is not really like anything else I’ve read, and I thoroughly enjoyed this short and pretty book. I can see why some people may not love it, as it’s the kind of thing that’s not for everyone. I was also under the impression that it would be more of a “horror”-style book, but really I would just call it eerie or creepy, as that’s the mood I got through the whole thing, and it was really effective in maintaining.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Thursday, June 23, 2016

#CBR8 Review #17: Captain America, Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection by Ed Brubaker

I will admit that when it comes to comicbooks (and especially well-established characters), I have read far less than I would have liked. They all have so much history and so many appearances that it's hard to keep up or even know where to start! Therefore, a lot of my knowledge of these characters has come from just looking things up, talking to friends who are also into these worlds, and ultimately watching the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Along those lines, I must say that I absolutely ADORE the movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and therefore thought the Winter Soldier storyline might interest me in the comics. That being said, having seen the movie (and no I did not cry the last time I watched it, what are you talking about??), I can't help but now face the book without wanting to compare the two to one another. There weren't too many new twists to be found in this collection, having seen the general plot play out in the film, but how plot ultimately unraveled was a bit different. This is most notably in the presence and importance of certain characters throughout Ed Brubaker's collection. Some of these differences really worked for me, while some I was a little uncertain on, though that may also have to do with my gaps in knowledge of some of the backstory and history of certain characters.

The focus of Captain America: Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection is on Captain America facing the threat of a resurfacing cosmic cube, the power of which could alter worlds and be incredibly destructive in the wrong hands. Yet Steve Rogers' attention in this mission is drawn to the figure of the Winter Soldier, a soviet super-soldier and assassin, whose identity is... well.. you know.... Spoilers?????
.....

.....

.....

Bucky with the good hair.

Obviously, seeing his old friend anew and under the influence of Hydra mind-control does a number on Steve and puts a kink in his mission and makes him question what to do. Is Bucky still somewhere in there, or is it just his body with a totally blank mind? Can he be saved? Will he have to relive Bucky's death all over again in a new way?

As I mentioned, the way this story plays out is different than in the film, though ultimately leading to a similar end that can then continue on. One big difference that I really liked was the presence of Red Skull. He is important, effective, and just keeps going as a real threat and villain in the shadows, long after you think he is gone. I like having the actual figure present in the stories, and I know Red Skull was pretty important in a lot of comic books and story arcs throughout the ages.
Other characters that showed up that I didn't realize were around or a big part of Captain America's stories during the War are Namor and the Human Torch. They are seen in a few flashbacks of when Cap, Bucky, and the Howling Commandos used to work together, and it really adds to the history of Captain America and just how many battles he got into during the War, showing how he wasn't just an iconic figurehead for a short period of time, but actually quite active, along with all the other heroes who have become a part of American history in that universe.

One major distinction, however, that I am actually pretty hype about is Sharon Carter (Agent 13). While apparently she is Steve's ex-girlfriend, she is not simply reduced to love interest like she was in the Marvel movies, nor an egregiously forced one at that: she is actually an awesome field agent who Nicky Fury cares about, as well as Steve and all her other teammates. She is given her own work to do and her own character, and honestly she deserves it. It's almost as though she is the figure that Natasha plays in the Winter Soldier film.
Oh, and speaking of character differences, something else I didn't realize was that Sam Wilson (lovely as ever, and always down to help his friends out) as Falcon can actually listen to birds and get intel from them??? Amazing! I love this!

And now I come to the thing that always throws me off in the comic books: Bucky and Steve's relationship. They are clearly close friends who love each other a lot, but there is something that I just can't let go of from the film adaptations in how they grew up together and have been friends all their lives, that I just don't want to shake off for the "young boy who Cap took under his wing as a partner in war". Though as I said, they are still clearly connected and care for each other, making their dynamic and how Steve responds to finding out the Winter Soldier is Bucky very engaging.

So overall, there wasn't per say anything too new in this story that I had not seen before, but I did like all the variances and inclusions of other characters in the story as compared to the film. As a book alone, it is an interesting story with some twists to it to keep you going, and I definitely want to get more into this series and the Captain America comics themselves. (And no, not just because my friends and I have determined that I am basically pre-supersoldier Steve Rogers).


[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

#CBR8 Review #16 – The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

I feel like I’ve been saying this about a lot of books lately, but I just seem to want more. I’ve had The Sisters Brothers stashed on my e-reader for a few years now but haven’t gotten around to reading it until now. The writing is simple and easy to follow, and the story is interesting in that I wanted to see see what wacky antics would happen as the story progressed, but I ultimately wasn’t all that engaged by it. It’s as though certain scenes and interactions between people would be laid out with lots of detail as though they should be focused deeply on, only to not end up coming back up again or really meaning all that much in the end. Maybe that’s one of the themes, though: things happen and sometimes they don’t amount to much or lead us anywhere close to where we thought we would be.

The Sisters Brothers is set during the California gold rush, and follows two brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, as they perform a job for a man named the Commodore. These brothers are essentially assassins, assigned to take out a man who the Commodore claims to be a thief. But as time goes on, you realize that this may not in fact be entirely true, and the brothers continually end up in strange situation after strange situation that they never really expected on their journey.

The story itself is told from the point of view of Eli Sisters, who is essentially the second-in-command on the job, as his brother, Charlie, is much more hot-headed and likely to go along with the plan and job in any way that will benefit him the most. I grew to like Eli along the way, though was sometimes a little confused by his actions and tendency to change moods quite suddenly: but not as suddenly or as violently as his brother, Charlie. In a way, I couldn’t understand Eli’s loyalty to Charlie or his character, and didn’t like Charlie at all. I know that there is often a strong bond and loyalty between brothers, but using that as the only explanation to how they are so tight-knit despite their antagonistic behavior towards one another just wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more explanation as their relationship and how they got into this type of work, rather than seeming to just be plopped right in the middle of it and just having to accept that they are in it for the long haul with one another.

But as I mentioned earlier, I suppose the biggest sticking point for me with this book was that things would happen or seem to be leading somewhere, only to result in meaning nothing or having little consequence in the end. And that was really frustrating to me for some reason. We are made to see the brutal life and killings of the “old west” or whatever you want to call it but just as a plot point to move us on to the next. And maybe I’m just growing tired of stories like that, with so much death that just moves us on to the next stage without much thought. I don’t know. Because really this wasn’t a bad book at all! I just never felt like I was all that engaged in it or really caring all that much.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

#CBR8 Review #15: Damned by Chuck Palahniuk


I don’t know why I keep trying to read books by Chuck Palahniuk. That is not to say that he’s not a good writer, it’s just that his very distinct style and way of telling a story is not for me. I’ve given him a go with a couple of other novels, but I think I’ve just come to realize that while I can see why others might like his work, I just can’t seem to enjoy it. And that’s okay. Though I will say that out of the three books I’ve read by Chuck Palahniuk to date, this one was not my least favourite, so that’s a good thing!

Damned is about a thirteen year-old girl who has just died and is now in Hell. The story of how she died and what her life was like is told through almost a series of journal-entry type chapters addressed to Satan. Her accounts of Hell are vivid and include a lot of grotesque filth and imagery, as well as descriptions on how the whole operation is set up to run as she comes to learn more and more. Madison is intelligent and snarky, but definitely also a teenager. And as I read this book, I am reminded of a fact that I came to realize very clearly in myself earlier this year: I do not know how to age people properly. Particularly young people: two children or teenagers could be the same age and I could perceive them to be drastically different in age. Such as what kind of happens with Madison throughout this novel. At some times she seems much older than she is, but at other times she seems so young and innocent in some ways. But that, I believe, is somewhat intentional and reflective of her upbringing as the daughter of a well-known actress and film producer who themselves a bit eccentric, and try to keep their daughter within an infantilized image for public consumption, all while pushing her to experiment with drugs and other activities in her life as a way to experience life and come to know herself.

There are also a host of other characters present, particularly four other friends that Madison meets in Hell who, along with her, come to form a parallel image to those archetypes found in The Breakfast Club. These characters are all intriguing but I feel like we almost don’t get enough of them, or they don’t end up being as important as you think they are going to be, the way they are introduced and the roles they play near the beginning of the book. I also feel like there is some minor shifting in characters that doesn’t entirely make sense, or at least, I couldn’t make sense of as things went along.

Essentially, the whole novel revolves around Madison telling her story of how she got to Hell, coming to terms with being there, and learning the ropes of the place in order to make her time there bearable, and perhaps use all the potential her living life lost in this new setting. There are a lot of details included, both in terms of physical setting and background of Madison, which makes her and the universe seem very vivid and real, despite some of the information not per-say being completely necessary. It’s an interesting take on the conception of Hell and how arbitrary a trip there can be based on our lives. Yet there is still a bit of an inconclusiveness to the whole thing, both the ending and the story itself: I wasn’t really sure what the purpose was or where it was going. And yes, there is a sequel entitled Doomed, but based on my response to this first book, I am not inclined to really get into that one. It just didn’t engage me for some reason, and therefore, I think it’s time for me to break up my readership with Chuck Palahniuk. It’s not you, sir, it’s me. I promise you.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

#CBR8 Review #12-14: Half Bad Trilogy by Sally Green

Half Bad. Half Wild. Half Lost.

It sets itself up to follow the usual young adult series storyline, yet there was something really intriguing about this series to me, and I absolutely devoured all three of the books as fast as possible. It might be that I’ve never really experienced the mythology of witches presented quite in the way this book does, which made it interesting to me. There is also such a survival instinct present in these books, and a connection to nature that is really beautiful, particularly in relation to the protagonist and his father.

I also appreciate how a lot of young adult books nowadays don't feel the need to shy away from serious topics or from things that are a little grim. Of course, that's not for everyone, and despite there being quite a bit of violence in these novels, I found that it worked well with the tone of the story and the themes present. Also, I think it was very much a stylistic choice of Sally Green to describe things in enough detail for the reader to imagine the world, but not in super intense descriptions. This may come across as simple in some regards, but I found that it worked in a lot of ways, given that I personally could then imagine the world and just how gruesome any violence was, in a way that worked best for me. I mean, we are all going to imagine the story differently in our individual minds anyways, there might as well be some leeway. The only time when this sometimes more simple writing may be considered too basic is when the protagonist describes things by saying, "it was good," or "we did things," etc, but I think that really reflects the way a character of that age would actually talk about things. I'm no better at describing stuff at times, either. Sometimes the most basic words are what's best in a situation.


But now that I have that preamble out of the way, let's actually talk about what this book is about. You know the YA drill: a government system with questionable practices meets defiance by a young person who somehow doesn’t fit (or refuses to fit) within the established system. In this case, this takes shape in the form of a Council of witches. White witches, to be exact, who run a council in England that governs the activity of white witches, and also hunts down black witches for capture and trial with a team of trained hunters (all of which are white witches). In some areas of Europe, black and white witches generally just have their own territories and leave each other alone, but of course the influence of the council and hunters extend to these other areas as the story in the Half Bad trilogy progresses. Some half-blood witches exist, though these are mainly half-human/half-witch (black or white). There is only one Half-White/Half-Black witch on record: Nathan, a teenage witch around whom the trilogy centers. (You see what I mean about the typical young adult trope of him being the different one who can therefore defying the current order of things? Don’t worry, he’s an interesting character and there are only a few hints of the “special snowflake” feeling in these books. At least, that’s what I felt while reading them). Nathan's white-witch mother died when he was young, after she had an affair with a powerful and fearful black witch, Marcus, whom fathered Nathan. Marcus has since been on the run, often leaving a trail of bodies in his wake, and never contacting Nathan. Meanwhile, Nathan lives with his white witch grandmother and three half-siblings, who were all fathered by another white witch that was killed by Marcus. For the most part, these family members do not resent Nathan or what has happened, as he is just a young boy who had no hand in what his father did. Though Nathan's one half-sister Jessica obviously hates him, and wants nothing more than to see him suffer. Other white witches that Nathan meets at school or at gatherings, etc, also do not seem to like him because of his parentage, and he has to put up with a lot of cruelty and harassment from other witches.


So that is the setup for Nathan and his background. But where does the action begin? I'm going to give a preemptive *spoilers warning* for everything following, though I will try and be as vague as possible for most of it.
Being that Nathan is the only half-black/half-white witch on record, the Council obviously wants to keep tabs on him, as a way to make sure he can fit into white witch society, and not turn "too black". At least, this is what they say, as Nathan endures assessments year after year and is repeatedly asked about his father, whom Nathan soon realizes the Council wants to track down to kill, given his power and brutal track-record of killing other witches. Basically, the council wants to use Nathan as a tool to capture his father, despite Nathan having never met him. This results in some harsh activity from the Council, including imprisonment and training Nathan to be a fighter for their desires. Of course, because of his treatment throughout the years, Nathan has come to his own conclusions about the Council, and even who he is or where he fits in society. And you can be sure that he doesn't want to comply with everything the Council says, nor to do a lot of other witches (black witches, most notably, but some white witches have also faced poor treatment from the council as well). This ultimately leads to exactly what you might imagine: resistance from Nathan, fleeing the Council, meeting up with others who do not approve of what is going on with the treatment of various witches, and inevitable war and fighting. Nathan makes some serious enemies along the way, as well as some great friends and allies who play major roles in the outcome of everything.

Those are the basics for the premise though I must admit, a lot more happens in these novels than I was expecting, in terms of both where Nathan ends up and the different relationships that occur and change as time progresses. And with everything that happens, I love Nathan as a character in that he goes through so much, is such a survivor, and yet is given room to be angry: I feel like a lot of the time, the center of a story or the hero people look to has a particular persona and demeanor, but given everything that has occurred in his life, you would expect Nathan to be angry, and he really is, and in fact at times he is a bit unlikable, yet you still want him to come out of this and be fine. His past and what occurs may explain why he is the way he is, but Nathan himself often recognizes that what he does is not right; he may claim that his actions are out of necessity, but there is a conscience and there is hate and a lot of strong emotions that really are present in anyone's life, not just those of a teenager.

Along those lines, something that I also really liked in the last book of this series was the presentation of certain relationships with Nathan, given his personality and all that he strives to do in his anger. One character in particular who loves Nathan deeply wants to follow Nathan and support him in everything, yet does talk about how he doesn't particularly like Nathan at some times. It is a great illustration of the fact that you can love someone and support someone, while still not agreeing with them completely, and in fact even hating them or not liking them at times. There are times when you just need time away from people, even if you love them; you can love someone while still disliking them at certain times. 

I will also mention that I enjoyed how witch "gifts" and their powers were presented in this book. I have not read too many books focused on witches before, so I don't know what a lot of worlds do in terms of their witch mythology, but this one seemed to work really well in terms of how things played out in the novel. These witches do not have their "gift" or power until they reach the age of seventeen (though some do develop the ability to heal themselves before this age). At the age of seventeen, a witch must go through a giving ceremony, which involves the presentation of three gifts to the young witch, and the drinking of blood from an older relation who has already developed their power. From there, a young witch may take some time to determine what particular skill they have inherited. Many times, particular gifts run in families, or they are related to the witch's personality in some way. These may include anything from: potions skills, weather control, shapeshifting, invisibility, being able to immobilize people through sound waves, stopping time, having protective metal skin, or anything else you can imagine, really. Some gifts are obviously more rare than others, but there is such a wide range presented that really anything is possible, and particular gifts may even manifest differently in different witches depending on how they personally apply them. I liked that concept a lot, and was always interested to hear about more and more gifts, even imagining what my own would be (which is always a fun game, kind of like the "if you were an XMen what would your mutation be?" question I always pose to people or no reason whatsoever). 

But now that I've gone on a big sprawl of the things I enjoyed about this series, let us touch on those things that I didn't. First and foremost, there were a lot of characters who we didn't get to spend too much time with, seeing as they died not long after meeting them. Particularly powerful female witches, who were incredibly intriguing and I wanted to know more about them! But alas, they disappeared too soon, and some of them just when I was starting to like them or really want to spend some time with.

Also, while I really enjoyed the progress and overall story of these novels, and can understand why everything that happened happened, something about the ultimate ending just doesn't entirely jive with me. I think that may be a personal feeling of mine, but something at the end just seemed a little out-of-character for a few of the characters. I think the biggest thing was how little of a role Nathan's brother, Arran started to play in his story, and how disconnected they started to feel near the end. Maybe I just thought Arran would end up being a bigger part of everything than he was, and found there to be a shift in Nathan that was warranted but still felt maybe a little... stilted? Not entirely organic? I'm not sure, it might just be me on that one.  


But you know what? It's time to wrap this up. This book gave me feelings and I loved it. I love YA literature, and really enjoyed this series because it wasn't hard to read but still engaging and dipping into some great themes throughout. The pace of the narrative may zip at some points and then slow down at others, yet the pace with which I read it didn't shift one bit. I can't wait until my friend who initially got me to read this series finishes the last book (I overtook her in the reading of the final novel as she's been busy lately) because I need to DISCUSS THINGS that I know she will have strong feelings about as well. So basically, if you like YA series, don't mind the typical premise of them with the obligatory supernatural factor, and like engaging in well thought-out worlds that are still somehow related to our own, then I would definitely give the Half Bad trilogy a look. I certainly plan on rereading them at some point in the future. 

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Sunday, May 15, 2016

#CBR8 Review #11: Kings Rising (Book 3 of the Captive Prince Trilogy) by C.S. Pacat

After finishing the second book in the Captive Prince series, I scoot right along to dive into this one, rather than taking a break such as I had between the first and second books. And I definitely think that that was a good decision on my part, as I could basically just keep the action going and not forget any plot-points, characters, or intricacies, as there are many within these last two books. 

I must say that I ended up liking this trilogy a lot more overall than I initially thought I would after reading the first novel. I still wouldn’t say it is my favourite, as there are some things about the world in general that make me a touch uncomfortable. That is to say, being that these books are largely centered around the position of sex slaves, that can be a tricky subject to approach to begin with. Albeit, I think illustrating how uncomfortable and gross the world of slavery is (sexual slavery specifically) was the intent of the whole thing, and the author definitely tried to address this in a way that would show it in a negative manner, but at some points it was just a little hard for me to get around.

The plot and intrigue involved in it, however, was incredibly interesting and twisty, and sometimes I even had a hard time wrapping my head around it, but that made it all the more enjoyable, trying to work everything out and keep up with the clever characters. The political stuff in these books was definitely the high-point for me, which is unusual given that I knew going in that there was a romance involved, and that is usually what I like. But more on that later…

So here we are going to give a little *spoilers warning* for the remaining discussion of plot, etc. So turn back now if you don’t want to know! (Though I will try to be as mild with my spoilers as possible?):

Kings Rising begins where the previous book in the trilogy, Prince’s Gambit, left off. Prince Damen’s identity as the former prince/king of Akielos has been revealed, as a coalition is being made between troops from both Akielos and Vere, to go against the Regent of Vere and usurper king of Akielos. Prince Laurent, to whom Damen was acting as the bed slave of, is in the midst of a vicious plot and game of tricks with with uncle, the Regent, and Damen being sent to him as a sex slave is now known to be another piece of the overall puzzle that the Regent has set out to take over the prince’s position and rule Vere. Yet, as it turns out, Laurent was aware of Damen’s identity the whole time: he knew that this was the prince who had killed his brother years ago, and so the relationship between the two and every interaction that took place over the course of the past two novels suddenly takes on all kinds of new meaning. There were so many layers we were not aware of until now, and honestly just the revelation that Laurent knew who Damen was as their relationship developed as it did was a turning point for me.

Actually, the real turning point for me in looking at their relationship—which had previously been a serious sticking-point for me—was a moment where the two just go at it and let everything out and straight up fight. Because up until now, everything had been so cloaked, hidden, and controlled, much like everything about Laurent’s personality. And sometimes you just have to let things rip in order to move forward or get to a new place in a relationship; sometimes you just have to beat the shit out of each other (#CivilWar???) I mean honestly, everything in these books is so veiled and presented under layers of disguise and insinuation, that sometimes I got uneasy with how tense and inscrutable everything was, but once these two guys just had their super intense fight and let their emotions out, I suddenly felt like I could get more on board with it. I may not be 100% sold on their relationship, but I was getting there near the end of this final book in the series.

So overall, I have definitely come around quite a bit on the Captive Prince trilogy. I don’t know that I would read it again (at least not right away), as it is not my favourite and there was some pretty uncomfortable stuff throughout. I’m not saying I need everything to be good and easy all the time, that’s not it at all. I actually don’t know how to explain it at this moment… But in general I found that the plot was engaging, particularly once removed from the court of Vere to focus moreso on the political aspects of ruling and the twisted game between Laurent and the Regent, all while Damen is thrown into the mix. I don’t know that I’ve really read anything like it before, so it was definitely interesting in that regard.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Thursday, May 5, 2016

#CBR8 Review #10: Prince’s Gambit (Book 2 of the Captive Prince Trilogy) by C.S. Pacat

After reading the first book of the Captive Prince series, I was not exactly sold on it, and considered just stopping there. But after a little commenting back and forth with Narfna (aaayooo!) who had indeed read the rest of the series, I was convinced to keep going. And you know what, it has definitely improved and peaked more of my interest. There are still some things that I’m a little unsure of or uneasy about, but I am beginning to see a bigger picture that makes me want to know how everything is going to wrap up in the final book. Some of the “inevitabilities” and other things that I predicted in the first novel have indeed come to be, but there is still a lot that leaves me wondering, as this second book in the series was a lot more plot-driven and filled with so much political intrigue and interplay that I would never have anticipated (much like our protagonist Damen did not anticipate himself either?)

The previous novel in the series focused on Prince Damen of Akielos, who had just been usurped by his brother and sent to be a slave for the Prince of Vere, Laurent. Vere and Akielos have had a longstanding conflict, but at the current time there is tentative peace and treaty action. Regardless of this, Damen has been in danger trying to keep his identity secret, as he knows that if his true identity is discovered in enemy territory, this would likely be the end of him. Yet over the course of the novel, the cold as ice Prince Laurent has slowly come to trust Damen’s judgments and values his knowledge of Akielos, which may come in handy for him as he faces conflict with the King Regent (Laurent’s uncle) which is playing a game in attempts to garner himself more power.
 Where this second novel begins is exactly where the previous one left off, and I’m just going to go ahead and give a *spoilers warning* for everything following this point, though they will be very mild (at least I think they are mild):

Laurent and his troops are now riding to a fort which Laurent has command of for some patrol duties, at the insistence of Laurent’s uncle. Damen is coming along, as he knows some of the area near Akielos in the south of Vere better than most of the other men. Laurent and Damen, having spent so much time together begin to trust one another slowly, as they try to keep control of an unruly and little-trained group of soldiers who were given to Laurent by the Regent in a very strategic manner. In essence, this novel is entirely a huge game of chess between Laurent and the Regent, trying to constantly outmaneuver the other. Both slip back and forth between having the upper hand, and Damen is always the last to figure out the strategy upon strategy, which sometimes made it a little confusing for me as the reader, always being one step behind everyone else. It also does not help that I had taken a bit of a break between this novel and the last (reading a few in another series that I hope to finish and review altogether soon!), so I had forgotten a few of the characters names and positions, and therefore their importance in certain regards. That was my mistake, as I think it would be better to keep reading these all through as one, as they do continue on as one big story from one book to the other.

The political intrigue and movement of the army, including a few different battles makes this novel a lot more plot-driven than the previous one, so while there was a bit more confusion on my part, it was also a lot more interesting to see where everything was going to go next in terms of action. The setting was also removed from the atmosphere of the Vere court which improves things significantly for me, as the culture there made me a little uncomfortable in the previous novel. While I do think there is likely an end-game to this, or message regarding how normal things can seem when you are brought up in a particular culture, at the time it just came across as shocking for the sake of it.

Yet there was still a lot of unnerving tension, sexual violence and manipulation that makes me a tad uneasy in this novel as well, particularly in regards to the treatment of the young Aimeric, and also how is always so calculating in all of his moves. There is such a coldness and manipulative nature there that makes it hard for me to like him, even though his hard exterior does come down at some points. It is because of this that I am still conflicted about the relationship between Laurent and Damen (which I had thought was pretty inevitable to develop in the previous novel, even though I did not enjoy the prospect of this one bit). I can see how they could come to know each other and trust each other easily after spending so much time together, but Laurent is always so cold and has so much hidden that it’s hard to know what is honest and what it strategy. It is clear that he has suffered in his life at the hands of his uncle but there is still such a sting to everything he does and it’s hard for me to get past some of his actions (as well as those of Damen) to truly be okay with them coming together. But I guess that is kind of the point: they both have a lot of baggage and conflict between them that it’s hard for them to come to realize and accept how they feel about one another. And of course, Damen, from whom we get the point of view of the book, does not have all of the information at any given point, which makes it hard to know what exactly is true, exaggerated, or entirely at play at any given time.  

And so, I am definitely going to find out what happens at the end of this series! There is just so much interplay going on with double-cross over double-cross and strategy after strategy. So while I am perhaps not entirely sold on some of the relationships and interplay with characters, I am quite engaged now by the overall plot and want to see how this all plays out.

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Monday, April 11, 2016

#CBR8 Review #09: Captive Prince #1 by C.S. Pacat

I got about a third into the second book in this trilogy when I realized that I really did not care enough to finish it, despite zipping right through the first book to see what direction it was going to take. Turns out, I don’t seem to like the direction that things appear to be heading in (I mean, I can’t know for sure, but I have a pretty good idea based on some spoilers/stuff from fans that have popped up on my tumblr dash, which is where I first heard about this series to begin with). Consequently, I am jumping ship for a few reasons.

The Captive Prince trilogy is about a young Prince of Akielos named Damen, whose half-brother desperately wants the throne to the kingdom. So much so, that he announces Damen’s death, and sends Damen off to be a palace slave in Vere, a country that has had a long-standing feud with where Damen is from. This is supposed to be a sign of peace between the nations, as new treaties between them have just been signed. But Damen knows that if anyone were to discover his identity in this enemy territory, he would be dead. The rest of the tale focuses on Damen coming to learn about the culture of Vere, in particular the culture of sexual slaves or “pets” for royalty. Damen has essentially taken up the spot of the pet of the Veretian Prince, Laurent, who is cold, cruel, and manipulative. Yet, other manipulations and jostling for power seem to be taking place in this nation, and Damen has now found himself swept up in it. Yet, his main goal of escaping and returning to Akielos ever remains.

The tensions within this book are very real, Damen himself is a likable character, and the plot has a lot of potential to be very interesting. And yet, I don’t think I can continue reading it, as there are a few things that are off to me. 

The first thing that I noticed in this book was that it began with a list of characters and what titles/positions they held: rather than introducing and explaining characters as they came, most (though not all) are simply referred to by name, almost as though you are expected to remember everyone after a brief glimpse at the character list. Being that I was reading this on an electronic reader, it would be an ordeal to flip back and forth to refresh my memory when new people came up, and because of that, I came to not deem a lot of the side characters to be memorable enough or important enough to stay in my mind as I did not really have an introduction to them. It’s a nit-picky thing, but I found it to be a little annoying. 

Apart from this little nuisance, however, there are other things about this series that I just can’t get my head around or come to enjoy. One of these things comes in the form of the cultures present in the book, in relation to slaves and what most societies today consider sexual crimes: the Veretian culture is brutal, and has sport essentially based on the act of rape. I know that this is put in the story to contrast Damen’s view of slaves (yet there are still things in the Akielan culture that is questionable), and I know that it is meant to be shocking and showing how being brought up in different cultures makes you believe in different ways of life. But just because something is shocking does not mean it is good writing. That is not to say that C.S. Pacat’s writing is bad, but that if you are going to use the potential your story has to try and create shock-value, there needs to be something else with substance behind it to back it up. And I just don’t know that there was enough other substance for me, personally.

Another facet to this book is that it is very character-driven, so not a whole lot “happens” plot-wise, though the character development and happenings of this book lead to a new setting and more action within the second book (at least, that’s what it seemed like in the little bit of the second novel that I read before stopping). Damen and Laurent are both incredibly interesting characters, and Laurent especially I wanted to know more about: why he is the way he is and what some of his motivations are. There are a few clues about this dropped out so I have some idea as to what some of his background might be, leading him to his current state and personality. There is definitely a lot of potential here to make it an interesting character story, yet despite all the drama and slow chipping away at characters, I feel like there are some inevitabilities that you can easily see coming as hints are placed along the way. This comes especially in the form of the relationship you see forming between Laurent and Damen: I can’t help but feel like there is going to be some reveal to Laurent’s past and motivations, and that the two are coming closer and closer, despite the cruelty and humiliation that Laruent has inflicted on Damen. But that line from Brooklyn-Nine-Nine rings in my head: “Cool motive, still murder.” And so, I just don’t want to see certain things come into fruition that I feel are inevitably going to happen. Of course, I may be wrong, but I don’t know if I really want to find out. Earlier I said that I was jumping ship, but it turns out I may just not be boarding one particular ship to begin with, if you catch my drift.

All in all, this book isn’t bad, but I there were just a lot of roadblocks stopping me from really enjoying it. And perhaps the remaining two in the trilogy have some surprises and twists in store. But there are just so many other things I would be reading and so many other characters I would rather spend time with than those in this world. Which is unfortunate, as I was really excited to get into this trilogy. Maybe I’ll try again another day, as there is definitely potential and some good things about The Captive Prince, just not enough for me to want to keep going at the moment.

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