Monday, March 27, 2017

ARC Review: Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Title: Waking Gods (Themis Files #2)
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Publisher: Del Rey
Pages: 320
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Review for book 1

//I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review// 

When an alien vessel materializes in London, does it mean peace or war? Waking Gods is the gripping sequel to the ground-breaking thriller Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel. What's going on? Turn on the television. What channel? Any channel. An unknown vessel, not of this world, materializes in London. A colossal figure towering over the city, it makes no move. Is this a peaceful first contact or the prelude to an invasion? Every child has nightmares. But the only thing scarier than little Eva Reyes' dreams - apocalyptic visions of death and destruction - is the habit they have of coming true... Scientist Dr Rose Franklin has no memory of the last few years. The strangers she works with say she died, and was brought back to life. The question is not just how ... but why? Kara Resnik and Vincent Couture fell in love during war, and have found peace since. They are the thin line of defense against what is coming. But they do not know they have been living a lie. And a man who claims to have the answers has his own agenda. There are things he cannot say - and others he won't. All pieces of an epic puzzle. One we have been trying to solve since the dawn of time...

Last year a friend introduced me to Sleeping Giants and sparked an obsession. This year I heard there was an opportunity to read Waking Gods early and tripped all over myself trying to get a copy! Although I wasn't sure Sylvain Neuvel could deliver a second book as incredible as the first, I am excited to report that Waking Gods did not disappoint!

Sleeping Giants was a well-wrapped package. While there was a mind-blowing revelation near the end, there was no giant cliffhanger, so it wasn't surprising that Waking Gods opened with a time jump. I'll readily admit I was nervous about this at first. I tend to despise time jumps just because I feel so disconnected from characters ten years after I last saw them. I'm not sure if it's the unique format of this series or if Neuvel is a magician, but he totally pulled it off and managed to suck me back in immediately.

Kara and Vincent have been living their version of happily ever after since the conclusion of Sleeping Giants and it's exactly what you'd expect from these characters. Kara is happily childfree, Vincent does what he can to make her happy, and both continue to travel around the world showcasing their robot. But when a new threat comes to Earth, they jump right back into the action, ready to do whatever it takes to ensure the survival of the human race. The mysterious man at the center of everything is also back and I was thrilled that there was much more to him this time! Even a bit of backstory. Although the format of this series could make it difficult to connect with these people, there is no shortage of character development.

Thankfully, Waking Gods isn't short on conspiracy or action either. While the first book revolved around the worlds' shock of finding an alien robot, book two is about the panic that follows when several more of them show up - this time in tact, in major cities, and with alien pilots. No one knows what they're capable of and good people of Planet Earth are intent on testing their boundaries (as they do), inciting chaos at every turn. Sleeping Giants was exciting in its own right although there were lags, but Waking Gods is fast and sometimes feels like an action movie. I was never bored with this book!

The format of the Themis Files was something I really wasn't sure about when I finished the first book. While it worked well in audio, I said in my review that I didn't know if I would've been as intrigued if I'd read it in book form. As it turns out, I couldn't have been more wrong! The interview and log format of Waking Gods ended up being incredibly immersive and made me feel like I was in the middle of the action right alongside the characters.

I also loved that, while science was a big part of this book, it wasn't over my head to the point where I couldn't understand what was happening. There are also philosophical issues brought up in Waking Gods that you may not expect. Certain characters have to contend with some huge, life altering questions, but I always felt able to identify instead of being overwhelmed. Neuvel has written this in a way that it's understandable without being dumbed down or spoon fed to the reader.

Waking Gods is an incredibly intense sequel that did not let me go until the last page (and not really then). So often sequels suffer from second book syndrome but that definitely didn't happen here. I laughed, I cried, and I was absolutely on the edge of my seat! If you haven't started this series yet, you really need to give it a try! I cannot wait to get my hands on book three!

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Weekly Recap: 3/19 - 3/25

Happy weekend, everyone! I am happy to report that this week has finally been just a little bit less hectic, although we've still had our fair share of people in and out of the house to fix/deliver things. No one told me how insane moving into a new house was! But if this week was any indication I expect things to be back to normal fairly soon. In addition to house stuff, I finally finished a book, my husband and I saw the new Beauty and the Beast and LOVED it, and we went to Disney Springs to browse around and eat crepes. In the coming week I'm hoping to read ahead with Jane, Unlimited and get some blog posts queued up! 

Hi everyone! Happy weekend! I'm super glad it's the weekend. Things are still a little rough at work, so I'm pretty exhausted by the time the weekend gets here. Last weekend I bought books for the first time since the beginning of the year (I think). Thanks to gift cards and used bookstores, I ended up spending about $1 per book. The coffee I got at the end of the day was almost the same price as all my books! It was really fun, since I haven't purchased any new books for myself in a long time. Hopefully I enjoy some of these new books, because I have been stuck in a serious reading rut lately. I have been hating everything I read. I need to find some five star books! Let me know what amazing books you've read recently, and have a great week!

Monday ARC review of Blood Rose Rebellion
The topic was my shortest books I've read for Top Ten Tuesday
Wednesday guest book review of Empress of a Thousand Skies
 Thursday guest discussion on the importance of character names
Friday ARC review of The Gauntlet

We're linking up to Stacking the Shelves & The Sunday Post!
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Friday, March 24, 2017

ARC Review: The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

Title: The Gauntlet
Author: Karuna Riazi
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
Publisher: Salaam Reads
Pages: 384

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A trio of friends from New York City find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children in this action-packed debut that’s a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair.

When twelve-year-old Farah and her two best friends get sucked into a mechanical board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand—a puzzle game akin to a large Rubik’s cube—they know it’s up to them to defeat the game’s diabolical architect in order to save themselves and those who are trapped inside, including her baby brother Ahmed. But first they have to figure out how.

Under the tutelage of a lizard guide named Henrietta Peel and an aeronaut Vijay, the Farah and her friends battle camel spiders, red scorpions, grease monkeys, and sand cats as they prepare to face off with the maniacal Lord Amari, the man behind the machine. Can they defeat Amari at his own game…or will they, like the children who came before them, become cogs in the machine?

Farah and her brother Ahmed love to play games. Any and all games. The only problem is that Farah always has to let Ahmed win. So when she gets an opportunity to play a new, mysterious game, The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand, with her friends (and without Ahmed), Farah jumps at the chance without thinking. Her hasty decision causes some problems, however, and soon Farah and her friends find themselves trapped inside the game. They have to beat the game if they ever want to be free again. And they have to save Ahmed, who got himself trapped as well. Oh, and there's one more little one has ever beaten the Gauntlet.

When I first picked up The Gauntlet, I was really excited. The comparison to the story of Jumanji caught my eye and I was excited for the Middle Eastern representation in a Middle Grade story. But ultimately, I was really disappointed in The Gauntlet. The story had a lot of potential, but it fell very flat. I should include a disclaimer, however - I read the ARC and it was about 300 pages long, but on Goodreads the book is listed as 384 pages. It is very possible that a lot has changed and developed between the ARC and the finished copy, but I have to write this review based on what I read.

The characters were....ok. They weren't awful, but they weren't spectacular either. I didn't end up feeling any kind of connection to them at all. Ahmed was really annoying. Yes, he had ADHD, so I understand that the author was trying to represent that properly. But his entire family let him win every game they played with him to keep him happy. And every time someone received a gift, they gave one to Ahmed too, so he didn't get jealous and throw a tantrum. The result of all these things was that Ahmed became a seriously obnoxious brat. I almost decided not to finish the book very early on because he was SO ANNOYING. There were also some inconsistencies with some character traits that I think prevented me from really connecting with the characters. For example, Farah's friend Alex is terrified of heights. Yet, when he is granted a wish, he wishes to fly. Things like this left me confused and kept me from gaining an understanding for the characters.

The plot itself was fun and had a lot of potential, but it fell pretty flat. Especially in a Middle Grade work with Middle Eastern influences, I was expecting the author to use the opportunity to teach kids about other cultures. There were a lot of things that were glossed over, so I was left wondering what they were talking about. Even as an adult, I would have loved to get lost in the Middle Eastern culture, but barely anything was explained or expanded upon. I can foresee a lot of kids getting confused while reading this. Again, perhaps there was more description included in the final copy, but I can't say that for certain.

Ultimately, I ended up being extremely disappointed in The Gauntlet. There were many times that I almost put it down and decided not to finish it. I almost wish I had done that because the book never got better and left me wishing I had spent that time reading something I would enjoy more. I am so sad that I didn’t like this book, because it had such great potential and represents an important step forward in Middle Grade literature. Unfortunately, I wish it had been handled better. I am rarely ever disappointed by Middle Grade books, but The Gauntlet had too many problems for me to ignore.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Guest Post: How Important are Character Names? (And Why do I Forget them so Often?)

I recently read The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman for school, and if you've read that book before, you probably know that the main character doesn’t have a name. Of course that is, unless you're like me. I didn't notice the main character's namelessness until my teacher brought it up. A lot of people said it had bugged them a ton, meanwhile I hadn't even noticed it. That got me thinking, how important are character names?

Names can be powerful stuff. They can have a lot of significance and meaning. Take for example, Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, this series is a sci-fi retelling of four fairy tales: Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Each fairytale is reflected in the names of the characters: Cinder being Cinderella, Scarlet being Little Red Riding Hood, Cress being Rapunzel, and finally Winter being Snow White. (Personally my favorite name is Cress, as it's so incredibly clever. Cress's full name is actually Crescent, but she mostly goes by Cress, which is a type of vegetable like Rapunzel.)

Character names can also become much more than a name. Like Harry Potter. Yes, Harry Potter is the name of the black haired, green eyed, glasses wearing boy, but his name has also come to represent, for so many people, an important piece of their childhood.

However, despite how important I believe names can be, I still tend to forget them. Mind you, I've never forgotten any of the names of the four main characters of The Lunar Chronicles, and of course I'd never forget Harry Potter's name.

Sometimes, though, names can be unmemorable. I remember the names of Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter, because the meaning behind them, they stand out, their unique, they make an impression.

As for Mr. Harry Potter, his name is virtually inescapable. Even for the couple years when I didn’t really like the Harry Potter series (I know *gasp*), I still knew a lot of the key characters’ names, mainly, because, as I said before, they're unavoidable. It’s quite interesting how a fictional character’s name can come to mean so much to so many people.

The names I tend to forget the most are in contemporary novels, and the names I remember the most tend to be in fantasy novels. One reason might be that the names in fantasy are generally more unique, and the names in contemporary are the everyday ones that already slip through my ears on a daily basis (my ability to forget names is not confined to literature, unfortunately).

My habit of forgetting names can be annoying when I’m reading a book, and suddenly realize I have no clue what the mc’s name is (this happens more often than I'd like to admit). It most definitely is annoying when I’m in a new place, and I have to ask each person, at least 50 times, what their name is. However, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really effect my enjoyment of books (as I can still recognizing the name, just can’t recall it later too well), so it doesn’t really bug me all too much. Some names are memorable and impactful, and some names aren't, and that’s okay too.

Hello, I'm Cassidy. I've currently been on this earth for fifteen years, I know #tinychild. At the moment I'm working my way through high school, and I haven’t drowned yet, yay? (Though the next big looming thing, otherwise known as college, is already breathing down my neck.)

I’ve loved books from the moment my second grade teacher cracked open The Little House on the Prairie. She read it aloud to us over a span of a couple weeks, and ever since, it’s been nothing but wholehearted bookworminess. Starting Quartzfeather has helped me share and express my literary addiction, and I am forever grateful for the existence of the online bookish community.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Guest Book Review: Empress of A Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

Title: Empress of a Thousand Skies
Author: Rhoda Belleza
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
Publisher: Razorbill
Pages: 314
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The only surviving heir to an ancient Kalusian dynasty, RHEE has spent her life training to destroy the people who killed her family. Now, on the eve of her coronation, the time has finally come for Rhee to claim her throne - and her revenge.

ALYOSHA is a Wraetan who has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. Despite his popularity, Aly struggles with anti-Wraetan prejudices and the pressure of being perfect in the public eye.

Their paths collide with one brutal act of violence: Rhee is attacked, barely escaping with her life. Aly is blamed for her presumed murder.

The princess and her accused killer are forced to go into hiding - even as a war between planets is waged in Rhee's name. But soon, Rhee and Aly discover that the assassination attempt is just one part of a sinister plot. Bound together by an evil that only they can stop, the two fugitives must join forces to save the galaxy.

In this exhilarating debut for fans of Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles and Pierce Brown's Red Rising trilogy, RHODA BELLEZA crafts a powerful saga of vengeance, warfare, and the true meaning of legacy.

Empress of a Thousand Skies is a good beginning to a series that brings up important questions of surveillance and memory all framed by a storyline of intrigue and assassinations. What it lacks in atmospheric descriptions it makes up for in a compelling main character. While I had a few small complaints, overall I am looking forward to the sequel.

“The bully, the madman, and the empress” (115)
Empress of a Thousand Skies begins with an assassination attempt on Princess Rhiannon’s life that sets cards in motion and reveals a greater corruption. Her accused assassin, Alyosha, an outsider his whole life, becomes an instant fugitive and must run for his life, encountering an underground resistance he never knew existed, and a plot that has disastrous consequences for the whole galaxy.

In terms of characters, my favorites were Alyosha and Kara. Aly’s character is complex, prejudiced against, and incredibly clever. There are so many challenges he must undergo and the side characters we meet in his life, Vincent and Kara are so fascinating to me. However, I did not really enjoy Rhee’s perspective. She is particularly short sighted, in terms of her revenge, and I think she was incredibly impulsive. In addition, I did not really empathize with her the whole book, and I greatly preferred Aly.

I could get into their heads, but it was hard for me to close my eyes and picture it. Then again, if you’re one of those people who wants more freedom in your imaginings, then this would be good for you.

“Don’t confuse retaliation with fairness” (200)
 Actually my favorite part of the story was the idea of the memory storage. This piece of technology is designed to record all of our memories and we can play them back or relive them. My initial question was: how do we value our memories and experiences when we can never forget. It was great that even with a ‘perfect memory’ our experiences and memories are still fallible. Good old fashioned miscommunications are still around and we must still rely on our judgement.

Even in terms of plot I enjoyed Aly and Kara’s plot more than Rhee’s. To me, her plot just seemed typical and without a lot of complexity. The main story continuously twists and changes, surprising us and adding more complexity. However, from the inside cover we expect Aly and Rhee’s paths to cross and that is a misconception. Slowly the puzzle pieces are revealed and begin connecting. Threads that seemed light years away weaving together before your eyes until you’re caught up and cannot stop.

“Every death by your hand is different than the one that came before. You’ll be changed” (120)
This book is about the choices and sacrifices we make. Trust is dangerous and even in this advanced world we still underestimate ambition and what we truly would sacrifice for our family.

Utopia State of Mind was born out of my passion for books and critical discussions. As a former literature student, for my Bachelors and Masters, USOM has given me the perfect outlet to discuss books and share my opinions with fellow book worms. I began blogging about books only once a week, but is has grown quickly to over three times per week. I celebrated my first blog birthday yesterday. Being a book blogger has been a dream come true.  My favorite genres are science fiction, what I wrote both my theses on, and fantasy. If you love those genres, historical fiction, or diverse reads please visit my blog. I would love to say hello and talk with you about books. You can also find me on facebook, twitter, and instagram. Looking forward to seeing you!
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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday #140: shortest books I've read and enjoyed

Today's Topic: 
 Top Ten Shortest Books I've Read
(And Actually Liked)

Happy Top Ten Tuesday everyone! This week I decided to go with the shortest books I've read. I weeded out all the ones I didn't enjoy and kept the ten I rated 4+ stars. I'm excited about this week because I think all our lists will be pretty different! Not to mention it gave me a chance to feature some books that don't get a lot of love. Anyone else amused that the list of short books is full of really short titles? No? That's just me? Carry on then. 

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Fairest by Marissa Meyer
Floor 21 by Jason Luthor
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Insylum by Z. Rider

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Raft by S.A. Bodeen
Stargirl by jerry Spinelli
Stygian by Santino Hassell
Uzumaki by Junji Ito

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.
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Monday, March 20, 2017

ARC Review: Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves

Title: Blood Rose Rebellion 
Author: Rosalyn Eves
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pages: 416
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The thrilling first book in a YA fantasy trilogy for fans of Red Queen. In a world where social prestige derives from a trifecta of blood, money, and magic, one girl has the ability to break the spell that holds the social order in place.

Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.

As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romanies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever. 

Blood Rose Rebellion first caught my eye because of its striking cover (way back when it was blue). I'll admit it - I'm a sucker for a gorgeous cover. Then I heard that it was fantasy and set in Hungary and I knew I had to read it! Blood Rose Rebellion is a book with a ton of promise, but sadly it just didn't live up to my expectations.

Anna is the main character of this story and is, of course, special because of her lack of magic. She is "barren" in the magical world, the Luminate, or is she? After breaking her sister's super important debutante spell, she's shipped off to Hungary where she'll be less of a threat to society. Once there... things go downhill. Unfortunately, Anna is a really dumb character. Anna runs around in places she's been told are dangerous to prove she can. She makes stupid decisions despite the possibility that she could ruin things for everyone in the process. She puts her loved ones at risk for no good reason. Repeatedly.

Gábor is Anna's love interest who she falls for despite the fact that he's a "Gypsy" (Her internal dialogue, not mine.) Even after getting to know Gábor, Anna chastises herself for falling for him based on his ethnicity. She also continually uses the word "Gypsy" despite Gábor telling her the correct term is Romani. She is told that it's offensive and tells others that it it's offensive, but continues to say it - just not to his face. All of that being said, I actually did like Gábor. He was one of the only tolerable characters, although their romance leaves a lot to be desired.

Even if the main characters and romance are both crap, sometimes a great villain can carry a story. But that didn't happen here. The "Circle" was frankly a ridiculous threat and so were the individuals that Anna encountered up until I finally gave up.

To add insult to injury, Blood Rose Rebellion is incredibly slow. While things do happen and there is some magic, it all happened at a snail's pace and made this book difficult to get through. Despite the issues I had, I would probably have finished it if the pacing had been just a bit quicker. There was actually some really cool imagery and a unique magical world! Which brings me to my last point.

The one thing I really enjoyed about this book was the world building. Even if it wasn't a completely accurate representation of real-world Hungary, it was incredibly fun to read about and easy to picture. I also thought the off-limits magical place Anna visits was amazing and I would have liked to have explored more of it! Sadly, I just couldn't do it.

Blood Rose Rebellion should have been an amazing book! A setting we don't see very often combined with an interesting magical system would usually be right up my alley! I made it 65% of the way through this book before finally accepting it just wasn't for me and calling it quits.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Weekly Recap: 3/12 - 3/18

I made it through the week! Good grief, what a whirlwind. We moved into our new house a little over a week ago and ever since then we've had people in and out of our house delivering, installing, and fixing things. I am so ready for things to settle down! I haven't had many spare minutes to read, sadly. Yesterday my husband and I had our first real chance to get out since we moved and we spent the afternoon at Hollywood Studios! We intended to do a couple rides but ended up getting a nice dinner instead. I intend to spend today relaxing and catching up on commenting, blog hopping, and reading! 

Nothing new this week!

No books finished this week :/

Ahhhhh....I feel like I can breathe a little bit of a sigh of relief this week. Things are sloooooooowly calming down and becoming more normal. Maybe another week or two and spring will be here and my life will be a bit more normal. It will be wonderful. We had a big snowstorm come through here this week, so I had a snow day. It was the most productive I've been in a REALLY long time. I actually started to feel like I was getting my groove back. It felt great. Just have to keep myself going and cross my fingers that the cold weather disappears soon. I'm ready to be warm. Maybe I should go visit Tracy....

Monday ARC review of Hunted
The topic was my Spring TBR for Top Ten Tuesday
Wednesday guest book review of City of Thieves
Friday audiobook review of Champion
On Saturday I did the Beauty and the Beast book tag

We're linking up to Stacking the Shelves & The Sunday Post!
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