7

A Review of Arena, by Holly Jennings

Arena

Goodreads Rating: 3.76 Stars
336 Pages
Ace Publishing
Get a copy here!

A fast-paced and gripping near-future science fiction debut about the gritty world of competitive gaming…

Every week, Kali Ling fights to the death on national TV.
She’s died hundreds of times. And it never gets easier…

The RAGE tournaments—the Virtual Gaming League’s elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a no-holds-barred fight to the digital death. Every bloody kill is broadcast to millions. Every player is a modern gladiator—leading a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses.

And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real.

Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world—until one of her teammates overdoses. Now, she must confront the truth about the tournament. Because it is much more than a game—and even in the real world, not everything is as it seems.

The VGL hides dark secrets. And the only way to change the rules is to fight from the inside…

– – – – –

4.5Penguins
Quick Reasons: THIS is the type of awesome virtual-gaming read I’ve been looking for!; epic, butt-kicking characters; lots of real-life drama, struggles, and honesty; this read touches on a very important, heavy subject throughout; action-packed, fast-paced from start to finish; lots of great imagery and world-building; just a bit of steamy romance and adorableness thrown in for good measure

Huge thanks go out to Holly Jennings, Berkley Publishing Group, and Netgalley for a free copy of this eARC in exchange for an honest review! This in no way changed my read or opinions of this book.

Crouched high on the tower’s parapet, I overlooked a sea of wheat fields. The scent of lavender and taste of wheatgrass wove together in the air, drifting with the breeze as it swept through my hair. I took a deep breath and smiled at the irony, as thick as the mountain air filling my lungs. Lavender. Wheat fields. Tranquility.

Peace, in a place anything but peaceful.

This was not the read I was anticipating going in. In fact, my expectations were not as high as they probably should have been. I have read a couple of novels with virtual reality recently, and been generally underwhelmed or disappointed by them. THIS book, though? I should have been much more excited about it.

It starts off in the thick of battle, the last before the tournament comes to a head in the virtual gaming world. Right away, Kali struck me as a complex, but selfish, character; throughout the entire beginning of this read, she was so focused on herself, she wasn’t really seeing—or connecting with—the rest of her team. I’ll be honest: I didn’t like her much at first. She was snarky, and confident…but it was the sort of negative attitude I’ve always despised in a character. She wasn’t snarky out of play, but out of meanness. She wasn’t confident in a positive way, but one that came off sort of spoiled and arrogant. She did NOT rub my nerves the right way at first. All of the characters face such trials and awesome growths throughout…but Kali’s stands out most to me. I had goosebumps scaling my skin many times during this read, it’s that powerful.

“You okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not. Most days, you’re so smooth, you move like a freaking ballerina with a sword. Today, you’re a mechanical wind-up toy.”

But like any good character (or wedding cake) Kali began showing her layers bit by bit after tragedy struck close to home. Instead of feeling annoyed by her, I began feeling sympathy and concern. Instead of suffering through the pages because I couldn’t find a way to connect…she leaped out of them, took my face in her hands, and said “you WILL pay attention to me.” And pay attention I did!

The rest of the characters also scream at you while you’re reading. While this remains Kali’s POV and story, there’s so much more happening in the pages. There are real life dramas, realistic relationships, and some heavy-handed, emotionally-charged situations. This book brings a certain taboo to the forefront, and immerses readers so fully into the plot, they won’t even realize they’re making connections to the real world until they close the cover having finished the final page. There are definite parallels to the real world made in this read that hopefully will not go ignored—they’re so important, and so beautifully done.

“There’s a well known Native American story about how we all have two wolves inside us fighting for dominance. One is full of hate, anger, and everything evil. The other is full of peace, clarity, and everything good. The one that wins is the one we feed. I’m not saying the virtual world is evil, but you’ve filled yourself with so much of it, you can’t see anything other than what’s fake.”

I really enjoyed this book—it’s a sort of virtual world of its own, to be honest, dragging readers into the thick of the story and refusing to let them go until the very end. While I didn’t fly through the pages—there are so many poignant, wisdom-heavy scenes pertinent to the read to speed-read—I did finish this in practically one sitting. I definitely recommend to lovers of video games, virtual reality, and crisp fantasy intertwined with heavy, realistic dramas. This is an awesome read!

 

3

Teaser Review: Arena, by Holly Jennings

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Goodreads Rating: 4.00 Stars
336 Pages
Berkley Publishing Group
Expected Publication Date: April 5th, 2016

A fast-paced and gripping near-future science fiction debut about the gritty world of competitive gaming…

Every week, Kali Ling fights to the death on national TV.
She’s died hundreds of times. And it never gets easier…

The RAGE tournaments—the Virtual Gaming League’s elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a no-holds-barred fight to the digital death. Every bloody kill is broadcast to millions. Every player is a modern gladiator—leading a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses.

And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real.

Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world—until one of her teammates overdoses. Now, she must confront the truth about the tournament. Because it is much more than a game—and even in the real world, not everything is as it seems.

The VGL hides dark secrets. And the only way to change the rules is to fight from the inside…

– – – – –

4.5Penguins
Quick Reasons: THIS is the type of awesome virtual-gaming read I’ve been looking for!; epic, butt-kicking characters; lots of real-life drama, struggles, and honesty; this read touches on a very important, heavy subject throughout; action-packed, fast-paced from start to finish; lots of great imagery and world-building; just a bit of steamy romance and adorableness thrown in for good measure

Huge thanks go out to Holly Jennings, Berkley Publishing Group, and Netgalley for a free copy of this eARC in exchange for an honest review! This in no way changed my read or opinions of this book.

I WISH I could give you all the nitty gritty, delicious review details now–I mean honestly, this read was AWESOME!–but rules are rules. Keep an eye out for my full review to come in late March. Sorry, guys!

10

A Review of Nirvana, by J.R. Stewart

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When the real world is emptied of all that you love, how can you keep yourself from dependence on the virtual?

Larissa Kenders lives in a world where the real and the virtual intermingle daily. After the supposed death of her soulmate, Andrew, Larissa is able to find solace by escaping to Nirvana, a virtual world where anything is possible – even visits with Andrew. Although Larissa is told that these meetings are not real, she cannot shake her suspicion that Andrew is indeed alive. When she begins an investigation of Hexagon, the very institution that she has been taught to trust, Larissa uncovers much more than she ever expected and places herself in serious danger. Her biggest challenge, however, remains determining what is real – and what is virtual.

Nirvana is the first instalment in the three-part “Nirvana” series, a fast-paced, page-turning young adult trilogy that combines elements of the romance, mystery, and science fiction genres. This first novel introduces readers to a heroine who refuses to give up on the man she loves, even if it means taking on an entire government to do so.

– – – – –

Rating: 2/5 Stars
Quick Reasons: shoddy world building; flat, one dimensional story telling; characters don’t leap from the page and are rather pigheadedly stubborn; no sense of connection to the main protagonist or her situation; weird time skips, awkward plot holes, and a whole lot of confusion

I received an ARC of this read in exchange for an honest review; many thanks to J.R. Stewart, Blue Moon Publishers, and Netgalley! (this in no way changed my rating, review, or opinions of this book)

So, okay. The cover is abso-freaking-LUTELY gorgeous. Like, I cannot handle how beautiful it is—the mysteriousness, the mist, the water, the buildings, the awesome pose… It all comes together so wonderfully, and made me want to pick it up because WHAT SORT OF BOOK could possibly be bad with a cover like this?!?! Just… Just LOOK at it! It’s so pretty!

I wish… I wish I could say the same for the writing. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Now, don’t get me wrong: the writing’s not BAD, necessarily. It’s a bit lackluster overall, but not bad. The story telling, though, I have a large bit of contention with. Because… Well, it’s pretty much nonexistant. The blurb makes this sound like it’s going to be this awesome, action-packed, gut-punching read about a girl who treads the line between reality and the imagination (or…the virtual imagination, I guess). Except this read? It’s more focused on Larissa’s obsessive need to prove her fiance is still “alive” despite all the proof to the contrary she’s been provided with. Because she sees him in Nirvana. Because obviously duh it’s a sign. Because damn it, if he was dead, she’d KNOW. I mean really… If you cross breeded a bull with a ram, she’d be the result: she’s THAT stubborn. Except she doesn’t actually DO anything about it, except ask questions and poke her nose into virtual worlds in an effort to “find” him (because apparently in this world, when you enter a virtual reality, your body goes with you? but the science behind this isn’t explained)

In fact, the science behind a lot of this world is left unexplained or half-reasoned. While I don’t usually mind books that break/bend the rules or leave some things up to chance…this book literally has no ground to stand on. The world is flat, the descriptions we do get are shoddy, and at times it feels as if the author was writing by guesswork instead of extensive plotting or plan-making. I feel like, if I’d had even an iota of explanation behind some of the things that happened, I might have understood this read and the characters better. Instead, details were either flung at readers at a pace almost too fast to comprehend or left off completely.

There are bouts of info dump between a lot of confusing, jumpy dialogue. The perspective starts shifting in really awkward, unexpected ways, giving readers a look into characters that don’t help to bring the story to life but instead leave them confused and congealed. It feels as if, during editing, J.R. Stewart was told she needed to include more to make the story breathe…and so, instead of focusing on the plot points or on the science, brought in a bunch of new, unnecessary perspectives to drive the characters. Which didn’t work.

Overall, I just am not a fan of this book. I couldn’t connect with the character, the story feels a bit like it’s made from cardboard and been left to soak in the rain overnight…and I just couldn’t get INTO it. I wouldn’t recommend, I don’t think; while the writing’s not bad, the story falls flat. Of course, this could just be my personal opinion, so if you’re interested in virtual reality/sci fi and the blurb speaks to you, give it a shot! You might enjoy it more than I did. It seems that old saying is true once again: don’t judge a book by its cover. In this case…the cover was about a hundred times prettier.