Thursday, September 26, 2019

Believe in the Fantastical: A.M. Robin's Hidden Scales


Title: Hidden Scales
Author: A. M. Robin
Series: Merrows (book 1)
Published: September 1, 2019
Purchase on Amazon or Barnes and Noble

Goodreads Blurb:
Merrows are supposed to be extinct. No one has seen the water-breathing creatures in over a century.

That's all eleven-year-old Mira has time to think as she stares at the silver scales that have spread over her foot before she accidentally triggers a curse that will change her world forever. She and her best friend, Peter, are forced to embark on a journey across the kingdom, escaping from ruthless spies who will stop at nothing to capture them before anyone else learns Mira's secret.

With the help of a runaway scholar and a familiar young boy who reveals that he, too, has just discovered that he is a merrow, the children begin to train to beat the spies at their own game. Before they can truly find safety, Mira must learn to use the mysterious powers of her people, or else she and her friends may never be able to return home again.

My Thoughts:
I was immediately impressed by this book because it has illustrations, and they're good. Then I started to read, and it was also good. Gripping, even. I found myself already enthralled in the story and connected to the characters. It's hard not to like Mira upon first meeting her. She's cute, smart, and a bit of a social outcast because she's an orphan. But don't fret, she has a fantastic adoptive mother. Appoline is not only heavily involved in the city council, and a celebrated astronomer, but also a kind, albeit strict mother to Mira. And, not in most of the book. Once Mira discovers that she unexpected scales growing across her feet, her life becomes a whirlwind. One second she's playing chase in the woods and the next she and her friend Peter have joined the party of a flying horse, and are fleeing across the country. 

There is never a dull moment in this book. Anytime the group begins to relax, they are either attacked by the enemy's spies, or taught some new fantastical ability. And as the reader you can dive right into the lake alongside Mira and Kay. You too can ride Eola through the skies, and shoot arrows with Peter. You can even stroll through the Ripples and peek into Tonttu's shop. Hidden Scales is a great Middle Grade book because it's immersive. It's immersive, fun, and expands the imagination. I look forward to Mira's and the gang's next adventure!

My Rating:

Thursday, September 19, 2019

I want furniture that rearranges itself: review of Daniel McMillan's Eve of Ascension

Title: Eve of Ascension
Series: The Fall of the Ascendancy (Book 1)
Author: Daniel McMillan
Genre: Science Fiction / Dystopian
Pages: 270

What Goodreads has to say:


When an attempt at establishing a World Government seems destined to fail, the global elite seek refuge on a space station and crash an asteroid into the Earth to "bring the population down to a more manageable level".

Once the world was sufficiently healed from the Cataclysm, the elite reappeared and established The Ascendancy. They offered refuge in twelve new cities around the globe - all survivors had to do in exchange was give everything they could for the betterment of the government.

Baxter Clarke grew up in the city of Enswell, enjoying the highest comforts the Ascendancy provided thanks to his brilliant father's contributions.

But when Baxter discovers a connection that upsets the balance he has been familiar with all his life, he finds himself in a situation he never dreamed possible.

Now, with the fate of the Ascended attached to a device stolen from a government agency, he will have to run for his life and leave the city to save his people and rise to be the man he was meant to be.

What I have to say:

This book has fascinating concepts and super interesting characters. There's furniture that rearranges itself when you're having company over (like why have we not invented this yet in the real world, it would make life so much easier?) and makeup that adjusts automatically when the lighting changes or even better, when the person wearing it cries. (Seriously, we need this now, ok?)

The idea of an ascending order of cities is also interesting: most people start out in the outer cities, and as they advance socially, they're moved up into the inner cities. It can take generations for a family to move from one city to another, and if you screw up your chances, forget it.

Meanwhile, the Sylvans live outside the city, frustrating the Ascendancy (the central government) whenever they can, keeping hope of the resistance alive no matter the cost.

Right away, I was hooked: a rebel fighter was surrounded by deadly robots in a jungle, and his chances didn't look good. The story got off to a bang.

Then I was mesmerized by the two different spheres: the city-life of Baxter and his friends, plush with the latest technology and controlled by the government at every turn; and the rugged life of Raishann and her family, who live in much more humble circumstances but consider themselves free in a way the city people aren't. They even speak differently, using slang rather than highly polished, almost manneristic phrases.

So in the categories of freaking cool concepts, solid world-building, and really awesome, diverse characters (marry me, Laena), this book scores top marks.

But I had a problem with its style, and that kept me from giving it top marks all around. I'm a writer myself and a critic, so it could be that I just have a nitpicky disposition. I also enjoy thinking about how I would rewrite a book/play/movie to make it better. It's one of my favorite past-times.

If I were rewriting this book, I'd use a lot more active voice and follow the time-honored "show don't tell" rule. There were a lot of passages that read along the lines of: "Lila asked him what was on his mind and Baxter said that he wanted to go to the store, Lila agreed with him but pointed out that it was late, which caused Baxter to feel guilty and say they could go tomorrow."

Why tell us what the characters are saying? Why can't they just, like, say it?

Other times, we'd be told what a character was thinking when it would have been more effective to show us what they were thinking by the way they acted or by something they said.

I feel like this got in the way of character development and made it hard for us to get truly attached to the characters--which is sad because the author has put together a stellar cast here. There are some really interesting personalities and wide-ranging perspectives. So yeah.

At the end of the day, great story, fun characters, just needs some polishing up in the writing department. That's something that's easily overcome, and as the ideas and concepts are still super cool, I'm excited to see what this author gets up to next.


Until tomorrow.