The Swan Riders

Hi Guys,

This weekend I finished listening to the sequel to Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules.

The Swan Riders by Erin Bow takes us back where we left off in book one. Greta and Talis are on their way to the Red Mountain, the Precepture has been released from tyranny and Elian has disappeared to find a new life. But things are not quite as wrapped up as they may seem.

Greta and Talis are accompanied by two Swan Riders, guards and soldiers loyal to the AI. But the road is long and Greta is losing her humanity bit by bit. Each time emotion begins to overwhelm her–to kill her, Talis takes them away until she is almost fully AI. But that’s not all, the group is uneasy and there are threats everywhere… even from within.

Will betrayal destroy the world? Will Greta lose herself entirely? And what happens when an AI goes insane?

This book made the first book feel like a prequel. There is so much history and story arcs that fill in a lot of blanks only alluded to in The Scorpion Rules. This does sometimes slow the whole thing down. Maybe it works better in book format but as an audio book, the flashbacks didn’t do much for me.

If Greta was the star of book one, Talis is the person who steps out from her shadow in book two. Greta and Talis share the stage in this book. We follow Greta’s struggles but we also follow Talis’ and we see the man, made AI, forged into something new. Both of these characters go through a transformation and it is interesting to see how it all plays out.

The end of this book really makes you think. In ways it is both abstract and emotional; it is heart wrenching and full of promises for tomorrow. I was not left wistful but I wasn’t completely satisfied either. It was a good ending and in the moment it makes you wonder.

My only big gripe about this series is that both books could have ended like 12 times before they actually do. There were so many perfect places to end the story and yet Bow keeps going. It felt a little like she couldn’t let go.

I don’t really know why this one doesn’t get more stars. It should. I don’t have that much to complain about and yet, I’m still stuck on 3.5 stars. C’est la vie!

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Scorpion Rules

Hi Guys,

I stumbled across this one on Goodreads the other day and decided to give it a go. The paperback was checked out so I gave the audio book a whirl. Let’s just say this book was a pleasant surprise.

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow is a YA dystopia with an unusual twist. In this world each ruling faction hands over one child to serve as a hostage to peace. If any country or ruling power declares war, then their hostage–their children–are forfeit. In this way world peace is kept…for the most part. Wars are still declared and children murdered for the “good” of all.

Greta is a child of peace. She is a princess in waiting and in less than two years she will be 18 and no longer under the collar of death. Greta has lived most of her life in the Precepture, one school of many for the worlds royal hostages. She knows death could come at any moment and yet she is the epitome of a child of peace. She is strong, smart, diplomatic, obedient, royal in every way. Greta accepts her fate and the fate of her friends and cohorts… that is, until a new child of peace comes to the Precepture and changes everything.

Will Greta bow to a seemingly all powerful ruler or will she play the game and change the rules?

This seems like a simple, girl meets boy, boy wakes girl up to world around her, girl changes world, they all live happily ever after… right? Yea, that’s what I thought too. Uh no. Don’t let the synopsis fool you, this book is so much more. For starters, the ruling power, the person who enforces the rules, is an AI. An artificial intelligence name Talis, who, years ago, took over the UN and enforced his rule on the world to “make it a better place.”

The technology in this book is a weirdly ok meld of high and low tech… AI’s, optical implants, data ports, intelligence possessions, zeppelins, horseback–you get the drift. And yet, this isn’t your usual AI, world domination. This is so far from the Terminator or any other robot takeover you can imagine. The AI’s don’t feel like robots, they are so very human. This book feels more like a fantasy then a sci-fi dystopia. So even if you don’t like robots, give it a try–you will be surprised.

I’m just going to say it… I loved Talis. Our “evil” all powerful ruler, was just fantastic. He is obviously psychotic, inappropriately witty, too charismatic for his own good and just plain likable. I liked him. A lot. He isn’t necessarily even a bad guy. He wants peace and has gone to extreme lengths to obtain it. All plans are flawed right?

The idea of keeping children as hostages for peace was really intriguing for me. Even without the AI’s this would have been an interesting premise and not super far fetched. History is full of holding hostages to sue for peace. So it was neat reading a book where every ruler had to handover a child.

This book gets 3.5 stars and as I am writing this is even creeping toward 4. However, there were a few chapters leading up to the conclusion that were just too slow for me. But for those of you that like all your ends tied up nice and neat, it probably won’t bother you.

If your looking for a fluffy romance, this isn’t really the book for you. If your looking for a sophisticated book with new ideas and stellar thought provoking characters, then enjoy.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Listen, Slowly

Hi Guys,

Got another middle school read for you all today.

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai is the story of one families quest for closure. Twelve year old Mai was born in California and grew up on the shores of Laguna Beach. This was going to be her summer; she can go to the beach by herself, hang out with her best friend and maybe even talk to HIM. But all of this changes when Mai finds herself on a plane to Vietnam with her father and grandmother.

Mai is stuck taking care of her grandmother while her father travels into the heart of Vietnam to do aid work. Mai and Ba travel to Ba’s village and there they wait. The purpose of this trip is for Ba to find out what really happened to her husband after the Vietnam War and hopefully some closure.

All Mai wants to do is get back to the beach. She’s never really connected with her heritage and adjusting to life in Vietnam proves difficult. The language, the customs, the mosquitoes plague Mai and she selfishly wants Ba to find closure quickly so she can go home. But things don’t go as plan and Mai slowly finds herself acclimatizing to her surroundings–she evens makes a “true friend.”

But finding closure for Ba isn’t going well and Mai must find a way to get answers. Will Ba come to terms with her husbands death? Will Mai embrace a family she never knew she had?

Listen, Slowly is a solid, strong middle school read. We get some history, some culture and a story with lessons that many kids can relate to. This book would actually be an excellent candidate for a middle school book club.

What really drew me to this book was the cover. It is just beautifully done. If I am being honest, I thought it was going to take place down on the bayou not in a small Vietnam village. But still, this cover just captures you.

There were a few things in this book that irked me but more from a, “would that really happen” standpoint. For a realistic fiction, some of the situations seems overblown or exaggerated. I kept thinking, “this doesn’t really happen,” and if I think that imagine what a middle school-er would think.

What this book does well, is the handling of languages. Mai can understand Vietnamese but can’t speak and many of the people she interacts with can understand English but don’t speak it. This barrier of languages, which we see everyday, was very thoughtfully done.

Overall, this was a good middle school read with some definite merit for discussion. It didn’t wow me but it was worth the read.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Dark Matter

Hi Guys,

From sorcerers to the Spanish Civil War, Vlad the Impaler to the Scottish countryside and now this. I think I may be suffering from genre whiplash. I haven’t had to think so hard about a book since Cloud Atlas.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch is a book of what ifs. What if we took a different path? What if we never entered that coffee shop or went on that blind date? Would we still be the people we are today? These are the questions Jason Dessen must deal with when he is kidnapped by a masked man and wakes up in a world that is not his own.

Jason’s wife barely knows him, his son was never born and his research is literally changing the world. Jason knows this life isn’t the one he remembers but what else could it be… an extremely elaborate hoax, a mental illness, a tumor? Or is there another explanation? A crazy, insane chance that he’s found himself in an alternate reality?

One thing is certain, somewhere out there his family is waiting for him and Jason will stop at nothing to get them back.

Dark Matter is one of those books that makes you crave understanding. You just have to know what is going on. I went into this book not really knowing what I getting myself into, so I made the mistake of picking up the audio book–it was available and sounded intriguing. Do yourselves a favor and get the book; it’s a lot easier to re-read pages then having to rewind while you’re in the car. And yes, you will want to rewind. This is one of those books that make you go… waaaait a minute. Not in a bad way though. It just makes you think.

This book was deep and exciting. Crouch inserts philosophy and theory into the text seamlessly, while keeping a fairly high level of action and excitement. I liked Jason, a lot–surprisingly so. He was your stereotypical, middle class family man and yet he was also this deep thinking, could-of-been a genius, kind of guy. There were layers to him that paralleled well with what he was going through in the story.

Dark Matter was full of surprise. Just when you thought you knew how it was going to go… bam! Crouch adds another layer to the plot. Honestly, I think the only part of the story I was unsatisfied with was a loose end with one of the supporting characters.

A word of advice, don’t go into this one thinking its just about a kidnapped man trying to make his way home. It is and yet it is so, so much more. Get ready to wrap your head around some science, philosophy and mind shattering what ifs.

This book is definitely worth a read. It was interesting and makes you think. Four stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Bookshop on the Corner

Hey Guys,

Books, book mobiles, quaint little towns , books, hot Scottish men, books, romance… did I mention books. Sigh. I just devoured a refreshing, lighthearted book that left me craving idyllic small town life even more then I already do. Again, sigh.

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan is a love letter to readers, wrapped in the freedom of taking a leap of faith and the fellowship of small town life.

Nina, 29, is about to lose her job as a librarian at the Birmingham Public Library (UK Birmingham) and instead of looking for something else to do, she hides behind her books. With only a few weeks left at her job, Nina’s roommate and friend pushes her to dream big, to take a risk and deal with the consequences later.

Knowing only that her life’s dream is to connect readers with the perfect books, Nina travels to a small town in Scottland to purchase a van she can turn into a mobile bookstore. But the town instills in Nina such peace, such belonging and that, paired with the difficulties and restrictions of owning a mobile bookstore in Birmingham, causes Nina to stay in Scottland and start a new chapter in her life.

Scottland changes Nina for the better and a town without books soon comes to rely on her. But something is still missing in Nina’s life. Will she be able to find her own happily-ever-after or will she move on to the next town?

This was one of those books you read when you need a break; a break from reality, a break from your usual genre, a break from anything that won’t leave you smiling. The Bookshop on the Corner, other then having a title that makes no sense, is a breath of fresh air. It is like going outside on a crisp morning and taking a deep breath. You don’t need to think, this book doesn’t make you anxious, it doesn’t require reflection or regrets, it is merely a book to enjoy in the moment.

The plot isn’t necessarily new, but that doesn’t matter. It’s a well written, lovely read that you could finish in one, two sittings at the max. Most of the characters were interesting… in fact, they all were minus Nina, she was fairly archetypal. But Marek, Lennox, Surinder and all the townsfolk were wonderful in my opinion.

I really don’t have much else to say about this one. It was a wonderful, light read and it is one I would read again with nothing to do on a cold morning, in front of the fire. Will definitely have to check out more of Colgan’s books.

That’s all for now!

-M-