That Second Book Between the Other Two: Arch Enemies by Marissa Meyer

As I predicted would (but hoped wouldn’t) happen, Meyer wrote another book that’s just too slow to start. I understand that series need to have a certain amount of summary to start subsequent books off, but the summary in Arch Enemies felt as if it took up half of the plot. The first novel was a good deal of summary as well. Any scene Meyer didn’t want to create herself she could just summarize. But for large books like the Renegades series, that’s just unacceptable.

I’m counting it as part of Meyer’s style that she writes to get to the end. She forgoes a more well-rounded writing style in favor of churning out books, and I just don’t agree with that. Originally intended to be a two-book series, Meyer is now coming out with a third Renegades novel. This isn’t an extension of the story, however, but a delaying of it. My biggest beef with Arch Enemies is that the meat of the book, which occurs only in the last half of it, could have been tacked onto either Renegades or the upcoming third book. But it wasn’t, making Arch Enemies a vehicle between the first and last of the trilogy rather than a solid (or needed) addition to the series.

Adding to this, I noticed that there wasn’t much character development either. Maybe a little between Nova and Adrian, but for the most part characters continue playing their usual roles and acting the same way they’ve always acted. It seems like such a waste of space that absolutely none of them get arcs of their own. Especially because, and I’ve mentioned this, Meyer’s Renegades books are so. damn. thick. Some of Meyer’s characters even become so entrenched in their one trait that they become more cardboard. When a flimsy character from the first novel winds up dead, Meyer shoehorns a new, similar character into fulfilling that old character’s role in a turn of events I found thoroughly unbelievable. And she is far from the only character who acts unnaturally.

With the character work lacking, Arch Enemies must rely on its plot to see it through to the trilogy’s finale. Fortunately, if you can make it, the plot in the last half of the novel was even more entertaining than the entire plot of Renegades. It saved the book for me, and just in time. I was about ready to put it down before the halfway point, just as I had almost done with the first book.

You might remember the mention of “Agent N” at the end of Renegades. This tool of chemical warfare becomes the A-plot for Arch Enemies, and while some reviewers found the substance boring, I really think it raises the stakes. As we know, Renegades are the goodie-two-shoes of the prodigy-sphere, but now they have a radical weapon in their hands and are too full of hubris to use it correctly. And with Nova doing increasingly risky missions for the Anarchists, the last few pages are nail-biters.

Review and Recommendation

I give Arch Enemies by Marissa Meyer 3.5 out of  5 stars. It’s the lengthy summaries and hasty writing that bring down the average. I’m sure I’ll pick up the third book both to finish up the series and to watch Nova’s double life hit the fan. If you’re less picky about series and you enjoyed the first novel, by all means.

Enjoy my review? Want to talk about it? Leave a comment below! And check out my review of Meyer’s first book in the series, Renegades!

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Alice Isn’t Dead, She’s in Truck Driver Purgatory

Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink is described as a re-imagining of the podcast by the same name. Both are written by one of the co-creators of the popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale and novels Welcome to Night Vale and It Devours!

Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink is described as a lazy, worse version of the podcast by dedicated followers of the channel. Phrases like “didn’t try very hard,” and “just listen to the podcast,” seem to be popular among reviewers of the novel.

Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink is described as a barely-different and seemingly unnecessary addition to the podcast by me. I only listened to the podcast once prompted by the cashier who sold the book to me at Barnes & Noble. I started the first few episodes while I was about halfway through the novel, expecting something wildly different but with the same cast of characters. The disappointing truth is that most of the material is the same, right down to specific lines of dialogue. I could get through whole episodes of the podcast without any new information about the characters. And since a podcast is not a movie, it’s like I was listening to the audio book of a novel I had already purchased– not what I signed up for. The characters were even voiced by the same woman. Read: audio book.

The Plot

If you haven’t read or listened to Alice Isn’t Dead, here’s a summary: During her stint as a truck driver, Keisha Taylor’s wife, Alice, goes missing and is eventually presumed dead. Keisha attempts to move on with her life, until she starts seeing Alice’s face in the background of news reports on multiple TV channels. Both the book and the podcast begin with Keisha’s own quest as a truck driver. She’s taken up the job of her late(?) wife to solve the mystery of her disappearance. Travelling through strange towns all across America, she meets friends, enemies, serial killers, and mysterious hooded figures. While searching for her wife, Keisha gets caught up in a conspiracy even more sinister than she could have imagined…

What it Isn’t

Alice Isn’t Dead claims to be a road trip rather than a novel but I think there is just too much to be desired. Keisha Taylor is a professional truck driver, and Fink knows exactly what this means– driving across the country is nothing new or exciting to her. For that reason, Fink leaves much of the travelling parts out. The chapters in Alice Isn’t Dead are short and frequent, and a bold number of them begin with Keisha in a new state, as if America were a small city rather than a sizable country. That’s not what I was expecting when I read the summary. That’s not what a road trip novel looks like for me. 

I wanted Keisha to struggle to get to her next destination. I wanted each state or destination to have a theme, something to make them memorable. As it turns out, it didn’t matter where Keisha was when the action happened.  I definitely don’t remember where most of the showdowns or boss fights were, because the scenery and location weren’t part of the deal. In other words, Keisha didn’t have to be a truck driver at all– so what are we doing, here? 

What it Is

Fink may have botched the setting, but I thought the novel was pretty compelling. The mystery was definitely there. I kept turning the pages because I desperately wanted to find Alice at the end of them, just as I wanted to unravel the mystery of the “thistle” men (the novel’s main antagonists) and find out more about the trucking company that both Alice and Keisha have in common. 

The novel isn’t terrifying, but it does have some elements of thrill. Fink has a unique way of describing things– the thistle men descriptions were especially disturbing. There were no typical “pool of blood” phrases here, and I do appreciate the book for its original content. 

Mixed-Metaphors

As seems to be the theme with Night Vale novels (though, I know, this isn’t one) Alice Isn’t Dead uses abstraction and angst to strike at universalities that might be popular with its fan-base. Additionally it uses magical realism and strange situations as metaphors for real political strife. These extended metaphors are especially heavy-handed in Alice Isn’t Dead, and I know from reading other reviews of this book that it took a popularity hit because of it. 

All I’d like to say is that I know Fink had genuinely good intentions with his themes, but they both bludgeon and confuse, and there are simply too many of them. It’s like Fink allocated a different plot thread to each metaphor and they just don’t fit together very nicely. If what I just wrote doesn’t make sense, read the book. You’ll see what I mean.

The Rating & Recommendation

I give Alice Isn’t Dead 3.5 out of 5 stars. I reserve a 3 star rating for books that others might like and are written fine but absolutely bore me. Alice Isn’t Dead poses a unique problem in that I enjoyed reading it, but I don’t know that I’d recommend it. If you’re a die hard fan of Welcome to Night Vale or the Alice Isn’t Dead podcast, then I’d say maybe. But you might be disappointed.

Book on Deck!

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Arch Enemies by Marissa Meyer. Yeah, I broke down and bought the second one. And someday I will break down and buy the third.

Liked my review of Alice Isn’t Dead? Leave a like or a comment so we can chat! And check out my last review of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea!

20,000 Unnecessary References to Fish Phylums by Professor Jules Verne

DNF

This is my official letter of abandonment. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is not worth the time unless you’re a marine biologist from the 1800’s, and probably not even then. You may think I’m exaggerating about this, but characters actually banter about atmospheric math, like often. 

At this point, knowing the exact amount of pressure exerted on an underwater vessel at any given time is a solid B-plot. But don’t worry, the A-plot is sure to impress. Verne observes and categorizes every fish that ever existed and, um, well actually I guess that’s it. 

When deciding whether or not to drop the book, I looked up if the plot might be headed anywhere, and apparently the characters eventually make it to Atlantis. It was almost enough to make me want to read the rest of the novel. Here’s the thing though, Wikipedia described their experience in Atlantis as being transcendent. Can’t trick me– that’s a just fancy word for “looking at more things and describing them.”

So, I officially gave up on Jules Vernes’ 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which is disappointing. Actually if someone is willing to make an abridged version of the book where they take out all the fish classifications and the Hooked on Atmospheric Mathematics nonsense I’d love to give it another shot; but honestly there may be nothing left.

 

Thanks for the read, and sorry I couldn’t make it through this god-awful book. Did you like it? Let me know in the comments! And check out my latest review of Renegades by Marissa Meyer!

Book on Deck!

Alice isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink

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Written by one of the co-creators of Welcome to Nightvale, Alice isn’t Dead is a thriller/adventure novel that takes place as a road trip across the entire United States.

Review: Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Renegades: The Reboot without the Reboot

4 out of 5 Stars

I saw an Amazon reviewer describe this book as a superhero read for those who’d missed the train on the marvel comics (and at this point, honestly, the movies). I can’t help but agree. Marissa Meyer, author of the Lunar Chronicles and such hits as Cinder and Heartless, doesn’t do anything particularly new or innovative in Renegades that hasn’t been done in some comic or show somewhere, but sometimes you just want a classic, you know? I will say, the fact that she made one of the main, first person characters a villain (or Anarchist, as they’re called) is a fun new concept, and Nova is one of the coolest characters I’ve had the pleasure to read about.

On a special assignment from her makeshift family, the Anarchists, Nova must shirk her nightmarish alter-ego Nightmare and become Nova McClain, her Renegade (good-guy) counterpart. McClain, as Insomnia, goes undercover in the lions den: The Renegade Tower. She leaves her subway tunnel hideout to discover the secrets of five ridiculously powerful superheroes (The Council), and their dreamboat kids. The scary part is that Nova is destined to be discovered at every turn of the screw.

Renegades isn’t perfect, but it was one hell of a fun read. The prologue and the opening scene are intriguing and well choreographed. Young Nova Artino won me over immediately with her realistic thriftiness and penchant for seedy, back alley physics. Adult Nova is arguably even more charming, as she proves her villainous skills to the entire world at the Council Parade and then again as a mole in the Renegade trials.

The other characters are quite lovely as well, and though there are a lot of them, I found them sympathetic, kind, and entertaining on both sides of the schism. And it’s hard to balance a large cast.

The Characters

In the Anarchist Corner:

Nova (Nightmare): Makes guns out of pens, an excellent shot, can put people to sleep at a touch.

Ingrid (The Detonator): Sassy. Makes energy bombs.

Honey (Queen Bee): Wasp yielding drama queen. Still lovely AF.

Phobia (Phobia): The bodiless embodiment of fear itself. Also sassy.

Leroy (Cyanide): Just the coolest guy this side of the subway tracks. Will burn a ladies fingerprints off because he’s heckin’ classy.

And in the Renegade Corner:

Adrian (Sketch, and depending on who you ask, The Sentinel): Cringey-cute I guess. Goody-goody. Can draw anything and make it come to life, which no one sees as the most powerful power in existence despite the fact that it is.

Oscar (Smoke Screen): Walks around with a cool cane because of his disability, should have been the main character instead of Adrian.

Ruby (Red Assassin): Her power makes absolutely no goddamned sense. Constantly running to the scene of the crime, never actually at one to help out.

Danna (Monarch): Alice Liddel from Alice Madness Returns (she can turn into butterflies). Should have been an anarchist. Also, should have been in the book more and not in the med wing, Meyer.

Review

Those listed above were only the main characters. It goes to show that Renegades was just a really ambitious idea. As far as I’m concerned, Meyer did an excellent job balancing out what she could in the later half of the novel. Honestly, I don’t think she gets enough credit for the real story here: the gritty crime drama and all the details that go with actually tracking down a criminal. In her time infiltrating the Renegade tower, Nova catalogs guns, stakes out a library, interviews suspects, and chases leads. Not what I expected in your average superhero story. Very sneaky, Meyer. Very Jessica Jones.

Unfortunately, Meyer’s novel is a little tough to chew in the first half. You can see where she is getting the hang of writing from two perspectives– Adrian’s and Nova’s– because there’s a minute where she rewrites scenes she already wrote just to get the other character’s take on it. Additionally, much of those first few chapters is unneeded summary and the characters trying to reconcile their feelings in their head, which makes for dull reading.

I could have done with a book that was a little faster-paced, or one that slowed down at the right moments (like right before Nova had to do something nerve wracking, or an event that could reveal her identity) but I still had a blast reading this. The characters weren’t terribly fleshed out, but I still found myself enjoying their company. The tropes were there, but they weren’t overwhelming in my opinion. If anything, they served as a great jumping off point for Meyer to create something a little different in a world saturated with superhero stories.

I could see myself picking up the next two books in the series. I’ve heard that Meyer doesn’t write beginnings nearly as well as she writes the rest of a story and after reading Renegades I can definitely understand this. So maybe she’ll knock it out of the park with the rest of the trilogy? I was hoping against hope she would have finished the story in Arch Enemies so could finish up the Nova-Adrian arc quickly. I have other TBR’s waiting and only so much room on my bookshelf. But I can’t get Renegades out of my head, so it looks like Meyer won this one.

Book on Deck

Cover for Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues under the sea. Blue and green background, three suited-up figures traverse an underwater seascape amidst strange fish, creatures, and plants.

The next book up for review is Jules Verne’s ancient underwater action/adventure, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea! It’s an oldie and hopefully a goodie.

And don’t forget to check out my last book review, on Julia Fine’s What should be Wild!

What Should be Wild Brings Renaissance Vibes with a Modern Setting

What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine

4.5 stars out of 5

Julia Fine brings together logic, art, science, and magic in a way we don’t often see these days. For years, science has been antithetical to art; magic and faith to logic and reasoning, constantly divided– and those who belong on one side cannot possibly agree with the other.

I forget sometimes that it used to be different. And it’s weird that I’m only ever reminded of the Renaissance era when I see tacky Da Vinci reprints in corporate places like IKEA or Target. But education used to be an integrated whole: just as unbalanced if the music, humanities, or language arts were left out as would be if there were no science or mathematics. And yet students in higher education today are at odds with those who major in something on the opposite side of the science/art “spectrum.”

That’s why it was so refreshing to read Julia Fine’s What Should Be Wild. The novel follows Maisie’s daily existence. She’s a unique, experiment of a girl whose life revolves around her unusual curse: she can’t touch another living being without killing it. Her father, Peter, keeps Maisie confined to the old, mysterious house of their ancestors while Maisie is put through constant scientific tests under Peter’s well-meaning yet sometimes cold supervision.

But the story spans so much broader and wider than Maisie’s life alone. Fine weaves the tale of Maisie’s female ancestors alongside Maisie’s own story, travelling back well over a thousand years to when the old gods were in charge, when women were first and foremost wives and mothers. And somewhere among those ancient years is the secret to Maisie’s house, the evil forest that surrounds it, and her curse.

My favorite part of What Should Be Wild is the way Fine tells the story in parallel timelines. Every other chapter is the brief story of one of Maisie’s ancestors, and each chapter travels backward in time chronologically. It builds suspense in that Maisie’s curse is the mystery and the answer lies with the tale of Maisie’s oldest ancestor. But to get there you must first read the plights of each ancestor that kept the ball rolling on that curse, and how they were affected by it themselves.

Ritual, magic, family, feminism; these are all themes Fine tackles alongside Peter and Maisie’s obsession with the scientific method. And they’re all balanced so incredibly well. Honestly, I want to unpack the whole novel right here (and there’s so much unpacking to do) but I don’t want to give too much away. But here’s some discussion questions I thought about while reading the book: why are women treated as if they are so mysterious? Why are they infantilized? Experimented on? Most importantly, why do women (especially Maisie) feel the need to deny their own instincts?

Some might say What Should Be Wild is a touch convoluted. I half-agree. I think the plot has many facets, but most of them make sense contextually. But I’m not a total fan of everything. For example, Maisie should be quite emotionally stunted considering she’s never left her house ever. And yet, when two love-interests enter the scene she’s just as witty and easy to talk to as any social butterfly. Also, both she and Matthew (one of the love interests) are incredibly intuitive with one another. They understand things about one another that I felt was unrealistic. In other words, there were no misunderstandings and not a whole lot of room for conflict right off the bat. Later on, Fine has to resort to making Matthew a truly awful/annoying person just to get Maisie and him into a few fights.

Mostly, though, What Should Be Wild was an excellent book. I was pleased to find it in the adult section, because it read so much like a well-written young adult novel. And I’m getting a little sick of the pickings in the adult section. I never really liked thick multi-generational novels where huge dysfunctional families have affairs and divorces with each other and we’re supposed to like the characters when none of them are even remotely likable and no magic ever happens ever. So my thanks to Julia Fine for helping to fill that niche.

 

Have you read What Should Be Wild yet? Well you Should! And let’s Be Wild about it in the comments! And if you liked my review don’t forget to check out my last review of The Little Clan. 🙂

Main Characters Achieve Impossible Dream, Still Find Ways to be Petty

The Little Clan by Iris Martin Cohen

3 out of 5 Stars

Cohen’s The Little Clan takes place in modern day New York City, but you wouldn’t know it by the setting. Ava, Cohen’s main character, works in an old-as-time library building that boasts the Lazarus Club, an organization that seems to consist of old people existing in said building and nothing more. And Ava herself is content sticking to antiquated ways of living: using only quill pens, real stockings, dresses-only, refusing to pick up books written in the 1900’s and later.

The Literary Salon

Cohen certainly plays into her audience. What avid reader doesn’t imagine themselves working in the coolest most decrepit library in one of the most historically important cities in America? And to top that, Cohen’s premise includes Ava and her best friend Stephanie starting a business together– a 19th century literary salon.

But I can’t help but feel like I was lured in with a hook that was too good to be true. Stephanie and Ava do realize their literary dreams, but the entire endeavor is off-putting and rife with frustration.

Ava

The first thing the reader might notice is that Ava is cowardly and unhappy with everything. It’s a hell of a combination, because she never seems to lift a finger to change what she doesn’t like or opt out of situations that make her uncomfortable. Stephanie basically does all of the work to get the salon going, (between the pages, mind you, so none of this is a quest for the reader to experience) and Ava can only find reasons to complain.

This is an especially crushing blow to the reader who understands the cost of living– let alone of running a business– in NYC. Stephanie and Ava essentially luck into this incredible place to host an incredible club but they can’t get out of their own heads about it.

Stephanie

And Stephanie is a different can of worms. She’s an abusive friend who does her best to keep Ava away from the best parts of the club and then ends up resenting her for her absences. She verbally berates Ava every chance she gets and spends the salon’s money recklessly and without permission. And Ava is painfully complicit with her own downfall.

*eensy spoiler ahead*

Ava’s love-interest Ben is a piece of work, himself. During an event that Ava allows him to throw, Ben mistreats Ava and then gaslights her into letting him change the only event Ava had been allowed complete control over  for the entirety of the salon’s existence. But again, Ava was all too ready to give this chance up (it was her idea) just to win Ben’s affection.

*spoiler over*

The side characters may be the best thing about The Little Clan. Ava and Stephanie hire a college intern named George who’s lovely and talks in clipped old phrases. And other (very marginal) characters are quite likable as well, proving that Cohen can write non-insufferable people but not as her protagonists, apparently.

The novel gets at least three stars, though, because of the prose and the reality. Cohen is certainly not a bad writer. She didn’t write her characters this way because she simply doesn’t know how to write good ones. This much is obvious. She just made choices for her book that I (personally) didn’t enjoy.

In fact, much of Ava’s, Stephanie’s, and Ben’s existences are pretty realistic and uncomfortably human. I hated the lot of them, but that’s not to say that people like this don’t exist or that humans (myself included) don’t make unappealing and idiotic choices much like these main characters did.

I just wish that less of the book had focused on these terrible behaviors and decisions and more of it focused on the logistics, adventure, and friendship of the salon. So many of the good parts were condensed into summary, making Ava (and the author) seem too pessimistic to carry out the book’s adorable premise. For Pete’s sake, Cohen assumed that no one would want to go to a cool, old-timey book club in a beautiful library building with free wine. That only drunk rich people could ever have fun in a place like that, and only by ruining it completely first.

I don’t know. Reader’s exist, Cohen.

 

Let’s discuss The Little Clan in the comments! Did you like the book? Do you want to read it or no? And check out my post about Andy Weir’s, Artemis!

Andy Weir’s Latest Book should be an Addition to the Bioshock Series

Andy Weir, author of hit-novel-turned-hit-movie, The Martian, wrote a new book about humanity’s first lunar colony (of the same name), Artemis. I didn’t expect to like this book. I loved The Martian because it was science fiction, but reachable. And that’s what I admire so much in Weir. Before reading The Martian, I thought a mission to Mars was a little “out there.” But afterward, everything seemed within the realm of possibility. And despite Artemis sounding like a brand of science fiction I wasn’t used to from Weir, (a smuggler who lives in a moon city?) and the fact that it got less than stellar (ha) reviews, I wasn’t disappointed in the least.

I should mention: I love Star Trek and its adorable, Macfarlane’s-love-letter-to-StarTrek knockoff, The Orville; and I may still be chipping away at the Mass Effect series, (I swear I’ll finish it soon) but stories like those are content to leave their technology far, far in the future. Take The Orville for example. In one episode, Kelly and Ed have a conversation that goes something like this:

“Mmm.. I’m going to eat some food now.”

“Should be easy and free, as we have food synthesizers now that make food free of charge, and so we have solved world hunger. That was once a problem for our ancestors, but is no longer a problem for us. How, you ask? Why, because it’s hundreds of years in the future!”

“And even if we wanted to pay for this perfectly-synthesized food, we couldn’t because we don’t have currency anymore, because we don’t need it. It’s the future!”

“And so with world hunger solved, and no one wanting for money, we have also solved the world peace problem. Now we can focus on making peace with other planets, waaayyyy out here in space.”

(It should be noted that the above is paraphrased. A lot.)

And yes, I know The Orville is parodying the genre (is it really though? It’s been taking itself pretty seriously,) but that’s beside the point. What I’m getting at is this: if there’s a machine in the background of an episode of Star Trek and it goes ‘beep boop,’ chances are good that we won’t ever find out what that machine is doing. Why’s it there? How does it work? What happens if it breaks?

Not so with Andy Weir, and he doesn’t make exceptions just because his new novel is a little more complex than The Martian. Artemis isn’t just about a futuristic city on the moon, it’s about the logistics of living on the moon: why it can’t have its own currency, how young kids develop in lunar gravity, what happens when someone gets pregnant, how welding works in a vacuum; you know, all the things you didn’t know you wanted answers to until you got them.

So why do I compare it to Bioshock? Because Artemis could be Rapture’s sister-city. The story of Artemis is the story of Rapture in its heyday, which is a story we didn’t get. Except for that one DLC. Not enough, and definitely not if you hate stealth missions.

Artemis is a pioneer-town. It’s raunchy, unregulated, rife with smugglers and contraband. Half of the city is rich tourists and residents, and the other half is the desperate under-belly of the struggling working class. Jazz Bashara, our main character, weaves between both worlds with ease. She drives her trusty cart, “Trigger” from her apartment (the size of a coffin) to the seedy amusement parks of the wealthy, where they rub shoulders, smoke illegal cigars, and talk business opportunities.

And what happens when things go wrong? Jazz grabs a broken pipe (could easily be changed to a wrench!) and breaks bones.

Most importantly of all, Artemis could be the next city of the “Always a Man, Always a City” slogan (except Artemis was, in fact, developed by a woman.) Think about it, where else is the franchise gonna put a new city? They covered underwater. They covered way up in the sky. The Bioshock series is quickly running out of places to put cities. But have they thought of: The Moon? Exactly.

But I know. It’ll never happen. Artemis will be made into a movie and (ex) Irrational Games probably won’t be looking for Bioshock-esque books to make the next in the series (if they ever do.) But hey, if you ever want a book based on Bioshock, have no fear; John Shirley has got you covered. (Yes, I’ve read it. Yes, it was good.)