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05 May, 2017

The Witch’s Market

/ posted in: Reading The Witch’s Market The Witch's Market by Mingmei Yip
Published by Kensington on November 24th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Canary Islands

Chinese-American assistant professor Eileen Chen specializes in folk religion at her San Francisco college. Though her grandmother made her living as a shamaness, Eileen publicly dismisses witchcraft as mere superstition. Yet privately, the subject intrigues her.
When a research project takes her to the Canary Islands—long rumored to be home to real witches—Eileen is struck by the lush beauty of Tenerife and its blend of Spanish and Moroccan culture. A stranger invites her to a local market where women sell amulets, charms, and love spells. But as she learns more about the lives of these self-proclaimed witches, Eileen must choose how much trust to place in this new and seductive world, where love, greed, and vengeance can be as powerful, or as destructive, as any magic.


I loved the synopsis of this book.  A religion professor finding out that she is a shamaness in the Chinese tradition and then meeting up with witches from another tradition?  Yes, please.

It starts out delightfully creepy.  She is starting to have visions of the spirit world.  She meets a coven of witches who bring her into a ritual and abandon her naked the next day and she doesn’t remember what happened.  A horse takes her for a ride to meet a mysterious sculptor.

But then it turns into a murder mystery.  Yeah, didn’t see that coming.

I lost a lot of interest at this point.  The weirdness was gone.  She still talks to ghosts but they just want her solve the mystery.  Also, suddenly every man is falling in love with her and wants to marry her the moment they meet her.  This isn’t even based on romance or attraction or anything.  They just suggest getting married.

I wish there had been a better sense of place.  She went to a culture that is unfamiliar to her but she is conveniently fluent in Spanish so she has no communication difficulties.  She doesn’t really explore the islands.  She holes up in a castle and in an abandoned village that could have been set anywhere.  I never read anything that I felt could only have happened in this setting.

Her exploration of her Chinese spiritual heritage was much better but I wish there had been more exploration of the witches she came to find.

About Mingmei Yip

Mingmei Yip was born in China, received her Ph.D. from the University of Paris, Sorbonne, and held faculty appointments at the Chinese University and Baptist University in Hong Kong. She’s published five books in Chinese, written several columns for seven major Hong Kong newspapers, and has appeared on over forty TV and radio programs in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China, and the U.S. She immigrated to the United States in 1992, where she now lives in New York City.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Africa
  • POC authors
12 Apr, 2017

Borderline

/ posted in: Reading Borderline Borderline by Mishell Baker
Series: The Arcadia Project #1
Published by Saga Press on March 1st 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: California

A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she's sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.
For her first assignment, Millie is tasked with tracking down a missing movie star who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court. To find him, she'll have to smooth-talk Hollywood power players and uncover the surreal and sometimes terrifying truth behind the glamour of Tinseltown. But stronger forces than just her inner demons are sabotaging her progress, and if she fails to unravel the conspiracy behind the noble's disappearance, not only will she be out on the streets, but the shattering of a centuries-old peace could spark an all-out war between worlds.
No pressure.


Millie was a grad student in filmmaking at UCLA when a failed relationship led her to a suicide attempt.  She survived but lost her legs.  She has spent the last six months in an inpatient psychiatric facility learning to handle her borderline personality disorder.

“The symptoms of borderline personality disorder include: a recurring pattern of instability in relationships, efforts to avoid abandonment, identity disturbance, impulsivity, emotional instability, and chronic feelings of emptiness, among other symptoms.

The main feature of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image and emotions. People with borderline personality disorder are also usually very impulsive, oftentimes demonstrating self-injurious behaviors.”  – Steven Bressert Ph.D

 

That describes Millie.  She is working with a therapist but she doesn’t think that it is going well.  Then she is recruited for a job.

The Arcadia project manages human-fey interactions.  The branch in Los Angeles works with the fey in Hollywood.  The project is staffed by people who all have mental health issues.  During her probationary period she just needs to live in a group house and find one missing fey.  How hard can that be?


This is a fairly standard urban fantasy plot with a missing person that leads to a larger problem.  It is the characters in the Arcadia Project that make it stand out.  How many books have a disabled, mentally ill, bisexual main character who gets to be the hero?

Millie’s mental illness and her new life as a double amputee are huge factors in this book.  Her mobility challenges are taken into account whenever she needs to go out.  Even seemingly simple decisions like whether or not to take a shower have to be carefully considered.  If she gets her legs wet then she can’t use the prostheses for several hours.  If she needs to run she needs to get the hydraulics in her knee on the right setting and sometimes she messes that up.  Even small things like should she take her wheelchair up to her second floor room (no elevator) or leave it downstairs in the living room where it will be in everyone’s way are considered.  Trying to get to the house was hard by herself with a wheelchair, a cane, and all her bags.

Mental illness is a large part of this story.  Millie feels like she hasn’t made any progress in therapy.  Once she is out on her own though we see that she has learned how to help herself.  She uses several different techniques that she was taught to help her deal with rage and insecurity.  She isn’t perfect though.  She still lashes out at people.  She also clings to anyone who shows her kindness and feels incredibly insecure if she feels like they are pulling away.

Millie’s boss, Caryl, has been through extensive emotional trauma.  She is a wizard and she is coping by splitting her rational and emotional mind.  She keeps her emotional mind in an invisible dragon construct so she can be entirely rational while she is working.  This is working for her but Millie comes to see that it isn’t healthy in the long term.

The author has spoken about being mentally ill.  These are from her AMA on Reddit.

“I didn’t expect Borderline to get published. Honestly. It was the story I wrote because I needed to write a novel or I’d explode, and it was the only novel I could write at that point in my life. So I wrote it, and when it was finished I did what I did with the first four novels I’d written, and shopped it around. I was shocked when my first choice of agent offered to represent it. Slightly less shocked when he landed it with a big publisher (because that’s why he was my first choice agent). Extremely shocked when it got starred reviews, and the Nebula nomination just about broke my brain.

This is not false modesty. I actually spent a week in a psychiatric hospital for suicidal ideation in 2013, and a huge part of it was that I was 38 and had pretty much decided that I’d failed as a writer and was never going to make it, that I’d wasted my life. BORDERLINE was already out there. My agent was already reading it. That’s how little faith I had in it.”

“I was in a psych ward on October 1, 2013 because I thought my life was over.

I heard back from my agent with an offer of representation twenty-nine days later.

In a sense, the entire Arcadia Project series has become ABOUT this. About how we inevitably pick the stupidest, stupidest times to think our lives are “over.” What might we live on to do and accomplish if we give ourselves a second chance?”

 

I’ve already requested the sequel from the library.  I’m looking forward to seeing where this series goes.

About Mishell Baker

When Mishell isn’t convention-hopping or going on wild research adventures, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two changelings.  When her offspring are older, she will probably remember what her hobbies are.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
05 Apr, 2017

People of the Songtrail

/ posted in: Reading People of the Songtrail People of the Songtrail by W. Michael Gear, Kathleen O'Neal Gear
Published by Tor Books on May 26th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

On the shores of what is now northeastern Canada, a small group of intrepid settlers have landed, seeking freedom to worship and prosper far from the religious strife and political upheaval that plague a war-ridden Europe . . .
500 years before Columbus set sail.
While it has long been known that Viking ships explored the American coast, recent archaeological evidence suggests a far more vast and permanent settlement. It is from this evidence that archaeologists and early American history experts Kathy and Michael Gear weave their extraordinary tale.


I never know quite how to characterize the Gear books.  Historical fiction with magic?  Magical realism?  Historical fantasy?

The authors are archeologists.  They start with the archeological details of pre-Columbian American sites and build adventure stories from there.  This book is set on the east coast of Canada during the time of the Vikings.  A group of boats has sailed together from Greenland but were separated in a storm.  They make landfall up and down the coast.  The different groups have different experiences of contact with the Native Americans.

There have been Viking raids previously.  The Native Americans are rightly hostile to any landing on the shore.  Children have previously been taken as slaves.  These slaves have taught a few Vikings the language so they have translators.  One group talks to the Native Americans.  Another sets off a massacre of a village.

Now one boat with a judge on board tries to convince the Native Americans to trust him to deliver justice to them for the crimes committed against them.  Yeah, I wouldn’t have believed him either.

This isn’t my favorite of their books.  There is so much going on that it is hard to focus on a main plot.  There are political dealings in Scandinavia and England.  There is a Danish witch and a Native American spirit worker getting together to fight the bad guys.  There is fighting among the Vikings.

I think I would have liked this one more with a little more historical detail and less magic.  Those aren’t words that I say very often.  I was interested in how these groups of people interacted.  With all the magic flying around I knew that it didn’t go like that in real life.  No one was resurrecting people by riding into the afterlife on eight legged horses.

Read this one if you are in the mood for a historical fantasy that compares and contrasts Native American and Scandinavian spirituality and mythology. Look elsewhere if you want to know what really happened.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
02 Mar, 2017

My Favorite Magical Land

/ posted in: Reading My Favorite Magical Land Unquiet Land by Sharon Shinn
Series: Elemental Blessings #4
on November 1st 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

Leah Frothen has returned home. But she can scarcely catch her breath before she is summoned by regent Darien Serlast, the man who made her a spy. Leah is reluctant to take on a new assignment, but Darien has dangled the perfect lure to draw her in…
Leah finds she enjoys the challenges of opening a shop catering to foreign visitors, especially since it affords her the opportunity to get to know Mally, the child she abandoned five years ago.
But when the regent asks her to spy on ambassadors from a visiting nation, Leah soon learns that everyone—her regent, her lover, and even her daughter—have secrets that could save the nation, but might very well break her heart.


Years ago Leah left Welce under mysterious circumstances.  She fled to a neighboring country where she was recruited to spy for Welce.  In this series we first meet her in book three.  Now, because of the events in that book she is going home, but she isn’t able to escape spying as easily as she thought.

Each of the countries in this world have specific religions and magical systems.  I love the Welce system.  It is based on elemental affiliation.  If I had to pick one magical land from any book I’ve ever read to live in, it would be Welce.  It is fairly calm and peaceful and I love the magical system.

The Karkans are on a diplomatic mission to try to find an ally in Welce.  They have a very strict system of morality.  They believe that they need to atone for any wrongdoing.  However, they believe that if they atone properly and even in advance, there are no consequences to any behavior.  This leads to huge acts of charity that they feel allows them to do anything evil they want.  The ruler of Welce thinks that they are up to no good when huge anonymous donations start to show up in temples.  Leah is in charge of finding out what they are doing to do.

If you are interested in the series don’t start with this book.  This is a series that you should read in order from the beginning in order to properly understand the world and all the people in it.

If you could pick any magical place to live, where would it be?

About Sharon Shinn

“I mostly write my fiction in the evenings and on weekends. It requires a pretty obsessive-compulsive personality to be as prolific as I’ve been in the past ten years and hold down a full-time job. But I do manage to tear myself away from the computer now and then to do something fun. I read as often as I can, across all genres, though I’m most often holding a book that’s fantasy or romance, with the occasional western thrown in.” from her website

27 Feb, 2017

A Criminal Magic

/ posted in: Reading A Criminal Magic A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly
Published by Saga Press on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 422
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads

Magic is powerful, dangerous and addictive - and after passage of the 18th Amendment, it is finally illegal.
Joan Kendrick, a young sorcerer from Norfolk County, Virginia accepts an offer to work for DC's most notorious crime syndicate, the Shaw Gang, when her family's home is repossessed. Alex Danfrey, a first-year Federal Prohibition Unit trainee with a complicated past and talents of his own, becomes tapped to go undercover and infiltrate the Shaws.
Through different paths, Joan and Alex tread deep into the violent, dangerous world of criminal magic.


Prohibition in the 1920s recast as a ban on magic instead of alcohol?  Yes, please.

Magic has been driven underground.  After a person does magic they are able to focus their energy into liquid to make a magical brew called shine.  The more complicated the magic, the stronger the shine.  Speakeasies pop up where people can watch an illegal magic show and then buy the shine that the sorcerers make after the performance.  Shine can’t be bottled.  It doesn’t keep past a few hours.  The person who learns how to bottle it stands to make a fortune.

A group of powerful sorcerers are brought together to compete for the chance to be part of a high end speakeasy.  As the profits and the magic soars, the sorcerers find themselves kept captive by the criminal bosses that own the club.

This book had so much promise that I don’t feel like it fully lived up to.  It was good but at the end there was a vague feeling that it should have been more.  It might be The Night Circus effect.  Every book that involves setting up magical venues is going to pale a bit in my mind when compared to that book.

Read this book if you are more into 1920s stories with gangsters than urban fantasy.  It much more of a criminal story than a magic-first story.  Magic is the illegal substance that fuels the crime, not an end unto itself.

There are times of great imagination and other times the grand spectacles that the sorcerers are supposed to be making fell a little flat for me.  I mean, I’m sure making a sunset out of thin air would be cool in person but this is fantasy so I’d expect something grander for the highest-end club in Washington, D.C.

 

About Lee Kelly

“Lee Kelly has wanted to write since she was old enough to hold a pencil, but it wasn’t until she began studying for the California Bar Exam that she conveniently started putting pen to paper.

An entertainment lawyer by trade, Lee has practiced law in Los Angeles and New York.

She lives with her husband and son in Millburn, New Jersey, though after a decade in Manhattan, she can’t help but still call herself a New Yorker.”  from Goodreads

10 Feb, 2017

The Littlest Bigfoot

/ posted in: Reading The Littlest Bigfoot The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner
Published by Aladdin on September 13th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Goodreads
Setting: New York

Alice Mayfair, twelve years old, slips through the world unseen and unnoticed. Ignored by her family and shipped off to her eighth boarding school, Alice would like a friend. And when she rescues Millie Maximus from drowning in a lake one day, she finds one.
But Millie is a Bigfoot, part of a clan who dwells deep in the woods. Most Bigfoots believe that people—NoFurs, as they call them—are dangerous, yet Millie is fascinated with the No-Fur world. She is convinced that humans will appreciate all the things about her that her Bigfoot tribe does not: her fearless nature, her lovely singing voice, and her desire to be a star.
Alice swears to protect Millie’s secret. But a league of Bigfoot hunters is on their trail, led by a lonely kid named Jeremy. And in order to survive, Alice and Millie have to put their trust in each other—and have faith in themselves—above all else.

I picked up this book at BEA last year because I like Jennifer Weiner’s adult fiction.  I don’t read a lot of middle grade so I would have missed this one otherwise.

Alice is the neglected child of wealthy New Yorkers who don’t know what to do with her. She doesn’t fit into their vision of what a child of theirs should be.  She’s messy and clumsy and too big.  For some reason she never fits into the schools she’s attended.  Now she is being shipped off to boarding school in upstate New York.  The school is populated by other misfits who Alice keeps her distance from.  She knows they will eventually reject her too.

Millie is a Yare.  They are known as Bigfoot to No-Furs.  They are quiet and meek.  Millie is not.  She wants to meet a No-Fur so much.  Eventually Millie and Alice meet which brings the Yare tribe into danger from the local humans.

After I read this I thought that my stepdaughter would enjoy it.  She refused to even look at it so we read it out loud during a road trip.  She got mad and put her ear buds in so she didn’t have to hear a stupid story.  We did notice her listening every so often though.

Alice believes that she is fat and ugly and that her hair is a disaster.  She judges herself and everyone around her very harshly.  These judgements are presented as facts in the book.  She mocks people in her mind over any difference.  She learns to bully people to gain acceptance.

Eventually this all backfires on her and she is an outcast again.  She learns to accept people for their differences by the end of the book. But I can see people being uncomfortable with the mocking and harsh judging of other characters and viewpoints before this point.

Not all of the issues are resolved at the end so I hope this means that we will be reading more of Alice and Millie.

04 Oct, 2016

Everfair

/ posted in: Reading Everfair Everfair by Nisi Shawl
Published by Tor Books on September 6th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Steampunk
Pages: 381
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Congo

“Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.”


Laurie Albin has a complicated home life.  He has a wife named Daisy with whom he has children.  He has a secretary/mistress named Ellen living in his house with whom he also has children.  He has just brought home Lisette, another mistress.  He has also decided to move his whole family to Africa to help set up a new country.  He promptly then abandons Daisy, Lisette, and most of the children when he heads back to England with Ellen and one son forever.  They don’t really miss him though.  Daisy and Lisette have been lovers since Laurie brought Lisette home.

That’s just part of one family to keep track of in this sweeping stories that takes place over decades in many countries across Africa and with a huge cast of characters.

The British settlers are one aspect of Everfair. There are also African-American missionaries led by Mrs. Hunter.  She’s a woman who believes that absolutely nothing is more important than converting souls to Christianity.  She’ll stand in the way of humanitarian aid if it doesn’t include Bibles.  She’ll refuse to work with other people for the good of everyone if they aren’t Christian.  She also is upset with the French woman Lisette because she is mixed race but living the life of a European white woman.

Tink is a Chinese man who was being held by Leopold’s men.  He escaped and now is the mechanical guru of Everfair.  He loves making ever more advanced artificial limbs for people maimed in wars.  He invents better and better airships.

King Mwenda and Queen Josina are the African leaders of the area that Leopold seized and then sold to the colonists of Everfair.  They maintain that it is still their land to govern.  They were willing to work with the colonists to get rid of the Belgians but now they want to take control back.

Other characters come and go.  The book takes place between 1889 and 1919.  There can be large jumps in time and/or place between chapters.  It is important to pay close attention to the notations of where and when the action is taking place.

I think this book was ambitious in its scope and ultimately didn’t stand up to it.  There is so much going on that some story lines just disappear.  There are characters that are in the story and then you just never hear from again.

I enjoyed the characters and their interactions with each other.  But there was a time when a character heard that another war was looming and expressed frustration that there was yet another one.  I felt the same way.  It was one world conflict after another with a lot of the time in between compressed or skipped over.

The technology that is so important in the steampunk genre didn’t feel fully formed either.  The imaginative artificial limbs were wonderful.  Everyone had several to wear for different occasions.  Some were weaponized.  Others were just pretty.  I didn’t get a great feel for the airships though.  They were being powered with some sort of local magic earth that was never explained.  I wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be a nod to the uranium of the area or not.

This is a hard book to decide if I liked it or not.  What is on the page is interesting and worth reading but you are left with a sense that something is missing.  It could have been more.  Perhaps if the scope was narrowed, it could have gone more in depth and I would have liked the overall story more.

 

28 Sep, 2016

AfroSF

/ posted in: Reading AfroSF AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers by Ivor W. Hartmann, Nnedi Okorafor, Sarah Lotz, Tendai Huchu, Cristy Zinn, Ashley Jacobs, Nick Wood, Tade Thompson, S.A. Partridge, Chinelo Onwualu, Uko Bendi Udo, Dave-Brendon de Burgh, Biram Mboob, Sally-Ann Murray, Mandisi Nkomo, Liam Kruger, Chiagozie Fred Nwonwu, Joan De La Haye, Mia Arderne, Rafeeat Aliyu, Martin Stokes, Clifton Gachagua, Efe Okogu
Published by StoryTime on December 1st 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Africa

“AfroSF is the first ever anthology of Science Fiction by African writers only that was open to submissions of original (previously unpublished) works across Africa and abroad.”


Short story collections take me so long to read.  I’ve had this book on my iPad for years. Here are some of my favorites.

Moom by Nnedi Okorafor – This is the short story that was reworked into the opening of her novel Lagoon.  What if alien first contact on Earth was made by a swordfish?

Home Affairs by Sarah Lotz – I loved this story of a bureaucratic nightmare taking place in a modern city.  When I think of African sci fi I tend to think of monsters and countryside.  This turns those assumptions around and makes a nightmare out of the most annoying aspects of modern life – waiting in line.

The Sale by Tendai Huchu – Third world countries have been sold to corporations and citizens’ health is monitored at all times in these new perfect cities.  But what if you want to rebel?

Planet X by S.A. Partridge – A new alien society has made contact and the people of Earth are afraid.  One girl thinks that humans have more to fear from themselves than from the aliens.

Closing Time by Liam Kruger – Alcohol and time travel shouldn’t be taken together

 

Untitled-1

 

15 Aug, 2016

African Monsters

/ posted in: Reading African Monsters African Monsters (Fox Spirit Books of Monsters, #2) by Margrét Helgadóttir, Jo Thomas, Nnedi Okorafor, Dilman Dila, Tade Thompson, Joe Vaz, Vianne Venter, Chikodili Emelumadu, Nerine Dorman, Toby Bennett, Joan De La Haye, Jayne Bauling, Sarah Lotz, Dave-Brendon de Burgh, Tendai Huchu, Su Opperman, James Bennett, Nick Wood
Published by Fox Spirit Books on December 15th 2015
Genres: Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology, Fantasy
Pages: 198
Format: Paperback
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Africa

Speculative fiction, art and graphic stories from African authors, based on African folklore, myths and legends about monsters. African Monsters is the second in a coffee table book series with dark fiction and art about monsters from around the world. 


Monsters should be scary

African Monsters is a collection of stories where the monsters aren’t misunderstood or easily turned to the side of good. These are the stories of monsters from sub-Saharan Africa who prey on humans.

The locations of some of the stories in this collection.

Reviewing a collection can be difficult because not every story resonates with every reader. Here are few of my favorites.

On the Road by Nnedi Okorafor – An American policewoman returns to Nigeria and her grandmother but is confronted with a mystery surrounding an injured child.

Severed by Jayne Bauling – A camping trip to a remote lake goes horribly wrong

That Woman by S Lotz – A policeman investigates reports of witches dispensing punishments in the countryside.

After the Rain by Joe Vaz –  A man who left South Africa as a child returns and finds himself trapped in a bar in his old neighborhood by werewolves.

Taraab and Terror in Zanzibar by Dave-Brandon de Burgh – A man is brought from South Africa to Zanzibar to clean up a monster problem that he thought he had handled before.

A Whisper in the Reeds by Nerine Dorman – Water spirits tempt a man

Acid Test by Vianne Venter – After Johannesburg is evacuated due to an environmental catastrophe a team returns to monitor the recovery.

Thandiwe’s Tokoloshe by Nick Wood – A girl is put in a fairy tale and refuses to be satisfied with the typical endings.


 

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

This is a wonderful chance to familiarize yourself with some African authors.  I’m already a huge Nnedi Okorafor fan but I’ve added some of Nerine Dorman’s books to my TBR list too because they sound amazing.

 

4flowercan

15 Jun, 2016

Arabella of Mars

/ posted in: Reading Arabella of Mars Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine
Published by Tor on July 12th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in England and Mars three-stars

Ever since Newton witnessed a bubble rising from his bathtub, mankind has sought the stars. When William III of England commissioned Capt. William Kidd to command the first expedition to Mars in the late 1600s, they proved that space travel was both possible and profitable.
Now, one century later, a plantation in the flourishing British colony on Mars is home to Arabella Ashby. A tomboy who shares her father's deft hand with complex automatons. Being raised on the Martian frontier by her Martian nanny, Arabella is more a wild child than a proper young lady. Something her mother plans to remedy with a move to an exotic world Arabella has never seen: London, England.
Arabella soon finds herself trying to navigate an alien world until a dramatic change in her family's circumstances forces her to defy all conventions in order to return to Mars in order to save both her brother and the plantation. To do this, Arabella must pass as a boy on the Diana, a ship serving the Mars Trading Company with a mysterious Indian captain who is intrigued by her knack with automatons. Arabella must weather the naval war between Britain and France, learning how to sail, and a mutinous crew if she hopes to save her brother from certain death.


Arabella was born and raised on a plantation on Mars.  Her mother is from England and wants to take her daughters back to have them raised as proper ladies.  When Arabella’s father dies, she seizes the opportunity and takes them back to England, leaving Arabella’s brother in charge of the plantation.

Back on Earth, Arabella doesn’t fit in.  When a nasty cousin realizes that he will be heir to the plantation if her brother dies, he jumps on an airship to Mars to kill him.  Arabella realizes that she needs to get to Mars first to warn her brother.

This book felt a lot more like a sea-going novel like Horatio Hornblower than a space-traveling sci fi book.

The ships that travel to and from Mars are basically British naval vessels of the sailing era fitted with balloons.  Arabella disguises herself as a boy and gets a job on a ship.  Most of the book takes place on the ship on the way to Mars with aerial battles and possible strandings and mutinies.

I was interested to see how this wooden ship was going to be made able to withstand the rigors of space.  Were the balloons going to wrap around it and seal the ship?  Nope.  In this world science is different.

  • There is air in space so you don’t need oxygen.
  • There is wind in space to move the ship using the sails.
  • It isn’t cold.  You can wander about in normal clothes.
  • There’s no vacuum so you don’t explode.
  • The only thing different on Mars is lighter gravity.

Social issues discussed

  • The role of women in society
  • The captain of the ship Arabella works on is Indian and that doesn’t sit well with several of the white crewmembers
  • There are native inhabitants of Mars who the English treat as servants as they were wont to do when colonizing places.  The Martians are not pleased with this.

freetogoodhome

 

First come first served

 

three-stars
09 Jun, 2016

The Underground Railroad

/ posted in: Reading The Underground Railroad The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Published by Doubleday on September 13th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Indiana four-half-stars

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all slaves, but Cora is an outcast even among her fellow Africans, and she is coming into womanhood; even greater pain awaits. Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her of the Underground Railroad and they plot their escape.
Like Gulliver, Cora encounters different worlds on each leg of her journey...Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors of black life in pre-Civil War America. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage, and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.


Georgia

Georgia functions like a typical slave state.  There are large plantations that house many slaves.  Cora was born here and has been on her own since her mother escaped when Cora was nine.  All she has of her own is a very small plot of land where she grows some vegetables.  After she violently defends her plot from an interloper, she is an outcast among the slaves.

When the master dies and the plantation is in the hands of his sadistic sons, an educated slave convinces Cora to escape with him.  He tells her about the Underground Railroad.  This is a literal railroad underground with stations under houses of abolitionists.  There aren’t many stations now.  Service is erratic at best and no trains may come at all.  They run and catch the train.

South Carolina

Slavery is illegal here.  Former slaves are educated and given places to live.  They have jobs and the ability to live a peaceful and productive life.  But there is a strange tension.  There is a feeling of something sinister under the surface of this utopia.

North Carolina

African-Americans are banned here.  Labor is done by immigrants from Europe.  The penalty for an African-American being in the state or a white person helping a black person is death.

Tennessee

Tennessee is dismal and bleak.  The slave catcher finds her here but she escapes with help from some other escapees.

Indiana

In this free state, black people live happily on a prosperous farm but will they be allowed to keep their enclave?


This book addresses a lot in a short space.

  • The hierarchy of slaves
  • Torture
  • Slave catchers
  • White people reluctant to help to free people
  • Black people helping to catch escaping slaves
  • What is an ideal society?

My only issue with this book is that there is a jarring change of story structure in Tennessee that took me completely out of the story.  I had to work to get back into it.  I’ve talked to other people who have read this and they agree that it was strange.  That’s the only reason why I’m going with 4.5 stars instead of 5.

I loved the idea of making it a literal train and exploring each state as a different form of government.  It lets him examine what might have been after emancipation if different ideas took hold.

 

freetogoodhome

First come first served

four-half-stars
06 Jun, 2016

Ghost Talkers

/ posted in: Reading Ghost Talkers Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal
Published by Tor Books on August 16th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in France three-half-stars

Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Hartshorne, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force.
Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps can pass instant information about troop movements to military intelligence.
Ginger and her fellow mediums contribute a great deal to the war efforts, so long as they pass the information through appropriate channels. While Ben is away at the front, Ginger discovers the presence of a traitor. Without the presence of her fiance to validate her findings, the top brass thinks she's just imagining things. Even worse, it is clear that the Spirit Corps is now being directly targeted by the German war effort. Left to her own devices, Ginger has to find out how the Germans are targeting the Spirit Corps and stop them. This is a difficult and dangerous task for a woman of that era, but this time both the spirit and the flesh are willing…


I loved the premise of the British Army using mediums to communicate with soldiers killed in battle in order to find out more about enemy troop movements.  This takes place in 1916 during World War I in France during the Battle of the Somme.

This book is a great historical fantasy/mystery but it also addresses issues of class and race in the British Army at the time.

  • Ginger is the American niece of the titular head of the Spirit Corps.  She attends all the briefings because she is better suited for that duty.  Her aunt is in charge though because she is a Lady.
  • The most powerful medium is a West Indian woman named Helen.  She isn’t known to be the mastermind behind the program because she is black and the army command won’t consider listening to her.
  • Indian soldiers aren’t trained on how to report in after death.  They feel that it is a slight stemming from the fact that the white officers don’t feel that they wouldn’t be able to report accurate information.
  • Married women regardless of their abilities are not allowed to participate until things get desperate.
  • The women of the Spirit Corp are thought to be there to help morale in clubs like USOs.  No one outside knows that they also spend time talking to the dead.  No one thinks of this because they are women so how could they be doing anything vital?

I can’t talk much about the actual plot without giving away some spoilers.  No men know how the Spirit Corp trains soldiers to report in.  Only a few know who the mediums are.  The Germans know that it is happening but want to find out how it all works.  There is a spy and Ginger goes to investigate because she is one of the few people who knows all parts of the operation.

I loved the first half of the book.  For me the story bogged down a little in the second half so I gave it 3.5 stars instead of 4.  I’d recommend this to any historical fiction or paranormal fans.

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

I got this book at BEA this year.

freetogoodhome

The ARC has been claimed.

 

three-half-stars
26 May, 2016

Midnight Taxi Tango

/ posted in: Reading Midnight Taxi Tango Midnight Taxi Tango (Bone Street Rumba, #2) by Daniel José Older
Series: Bone Street Rumba #2
on January 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 319
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in New York three-half-stars
Also in this series: Half-Resurrection Blues (Bone Street Rumba, #1), Battle Hill Bolero

The streets of New York are hungry tonight... Carlos Delacruz straddles the line between the living and the not-so alive. As an agent for the Council of the Dead, he eliminates New York’s ghostlier problems. This time it’s a string of gruesome paranormal accidents in Brooklyn’s Von King Park that has already taken the lives of several locals—and is bound to take more.
The incidents in the park have put Kia on edge. When she first met Carlos, he was the weird guy who came to Baba Eddie's botánica, where she worked. But the closer they’ve gotten, the more she’s seeing the world from Carlos’s point of view. In fact, she’s starting to see ghosts. And the situation is far more sinister than that—because whatever is bringing out the dead, it’s only just getting started.


In Half-Resurrection Blues we met Carlos, a half-dead agent for the New York Council of the Dead.  He has no memory of the time before he was killed and sort of brought back to life.  He had a short fling with a woman he met who is like him and she left him when she found out that she was pregnant.  It is now several months later.

Kia is 16 and runs a Santeria shop after school.  When she was 7 she went with her beloved older cousin Gio to watch a house of a friend of his.  The friend said that there were strange men outside his house every night and Gio wanted to see what was going on.  That night the men, who appeared to be made out of bugs, attacked his friend Jeremy.  Gio disappeared a few months later.  Kia is still mourning him deeply.  When she is attacked by a ghost in a park, she gains the ability to see the dead and it unnerves her.  She also finds out that the bug men were real and that they are back.


Older writes great characters. In this book I particularly liked Reza.  She is a bodyguard for a prostitution ring.  She likes to dress in menswear and prides herself on being very dapper.  Four months ago her girlfriend went missing while on a job.  No trace of her has been found.  Now another woman from the company was abducted.  Reza and her boss decide to shut down the prostitution business and go after people that they decide are evil.  This brings them into contact with Carlos and Kia when their investigations overlap.

I liked this book in the series better than the first. I’m interested to see how this series develops.

#socksunday with Midnight Taxi Tango by Daniel Jose Older

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

three-half-stars

About Daniel José Older

“Daniel José Older is the author of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series from Penguin’s Roc Books and the Young Adult novel Shadowshaper (Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015). Publishers Weekly hailed him as a “rising star of the genre” after the publication of his debut ghost noir collection, Salsa NocturnaHe co-edited the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. His short stories and essays have appeared in the Guardian, NPR, Tor.comSalonBuzzFeed, Fireside Fiction, the New Haven Review, PANK, Apex and Strange Horizons and the anthologies Subversion and Mothership: Tales Of Afrofuturism And Beyond. Daniel’s band Ghost Star gigs around New York and he teaches workshops on storytelling from an anti-oppressive power analysis.” – from his website

25 May, 2016

Why I Binged on Air Awakens Books 1-3

/ posted in: Reading Why I Binged on Air Awakens Books 1-3 Air Awakens (Air Awakens, #1) by Elise Kova
Published by Silver Wing Press on August 27th 2015
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 377
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
four-stars

A library apprentice, a sorcerer prince, and an unbreakable magic bond...
The Solaris Empire is one conquest away from uniting the continent, and the rare elemental magic sleeping in seventeen-year-old library apprentice Vhalla Yarl could shift the tides of war.
Vhalla has always been taught to fear the Tower of Sorcerers, a mysterious magic society, and has been happy in her quiet world of books. But after she unknowingly saves the life of one of the most powerful sorcerers of them all—the Crown Prince Aldrik—she finds herself enticed into his world. Now she must decide her future: Embrace her sorcery and leave the life she’s known, or eradicate her magic and remain as she’s always been. And with powerful forces lurking in the shadows, Vhalla’s indecision could cost her more than she ever imagined.


I received Air Awakens from my OTSP Secret Sister.  I had heard that it was good but didn’t know much about it.  I figured this was a good time to start reading the series because I thought the last book was just released.  Turns out that book 4 was just released and there is a book 5 that is coming out in July.

I ended up binging on the first three books over the course of 2 days.  I finally made myself stop before reading book 4.  I loved this world and this story.  I was totally immersed in it.  You know how when you are deep in a story and you start thinking in the author’s style of writing.  That was me.  I had to force myself to come back to the real world for a while.

The books all end with cliff hangers too.  Actually in one case it is falling off of a cliff.  I knew that if I read book four and there was no option to find out what happened, I wasn’t going to be happy.  I had to make the decision to stop instead of it being made for me.

In the first book, Air Awakens, Vhalla is a library apprentice who more comfortable with books than people.  When she is called upon to help research a cure for a curse put on a prince it is discovered that she possesses magic.  Magic users are powerful but are shunned by most of society so she doesn’t want to be magical.  But now that her magic is starting to manifest itself she doesn’t have a choice.  She is trained by the Prince himself because he realizes that she has an affinity for working with Air.  There hasn’t been a sorcerer with that affinity since they were all slaughtered in a war one hundred years ago.  They were considered too dangerous and even now some powerful people aren’t sure that Vhalla should be allowed to live.

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

Fire Falling (Air Awakens, #2)Fire Falling by Elise Kova

Ok, so I’m moving to the next book so this might get a little spoilery. You’ve been warned.

To contain Vhalla’s power she has been made property of the crown and is being sent into the war as a weapon of mass destruction. She doesn’t want to go to war. In her mind she’s still a librarian. But she needs to learn to use her power to survive and to protect her friends who are marching with her.

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

Usually I hate, hate, hate romances in books. That goes double for romances in YA books. I think they are awful. This is one of the few romances that I actually love. The chemistry between the characters is incredible.

Earth's End (Air Awakens, #3)Earth’s End by Elise Kova

The Prince is greviously injured and Vhalla is the only one who will be able to save him. The lengths she goes to illustrates for everyone how much she loves him. His father is not having this so he tightens his control over Vhalla. Now she realizes that she will never be able to earn her freedom from him.

OMG, the ending! Nope. Nope. Nope. This is why I had to make a conscious decision to walk away after 2 days of nonstop reading. I needed to know what happened but if there is an ending like that in book 4 with no way to read book 5 yet, I would not be happy. Right now I’m telling myself that I used my will power to walk away.

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

Seriously, if you are at all into fantasy, go read this series.

four-stars
09 May, 2016

Terrier

/ posted in: Reading Terrier Terrier (Beka Cooper, #1) by Tamora Pierce
Series: Beka Cooper#1
on October 24th 2006
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 584
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
four-stars

Beka Cooper is a rookie with the law-enforcing Provost's Guard, commonly known as "the Provost's Dogs," in Corus, the capital city of Tortall. To the surprise of both the veteran "Dogs" and her fellow "puppies," Beka requests duty in the Lower City. The Lower City is a tough beat. But it's also where Beka was born, and she's comfortable there.
Beka gets her wish. She's assigned to work with Mattes and Clary, famed veterans among the Provost's Dogs. They're tough, they're capable, and they're none too happy about the indignity of being saddled with a puppy for the first time in years. What they don't know is that Beka has something unique to offer. Never much of a talker, Beka is a good listener. So good, in fact, that she hears things that Mattes and Clary never could - information that is passed in murmurs when flocks of pigeons gather ... murmurs that are the words of the dead.


Recently I’ve been seeing posts singing the praises of Tamora Pierce.  I had to admit that I had never heard of her even though she written a gazillion books.  (There are 79 distinct works listed on Goodreads.)  I decided to give her a try and Terrier was an available ebook on my library’s website.

I’m not sure what I was expecting.  Fantasy?  YA?  Whatever it was, it wasn’t this.

This book reads more like a crime story than typical fantasy.  There are fantasy elements.  It is set in a fictional world with its own unique idioms and cultures.  There is magic.  But those things are secondary to the story being told.

Beka is a police trainee.  Real police are known as Dogs and trainees are Puppies.  She is assigned to a rough part of the city by request and is partnered with a well known team of Dogs.  She wants to be here because she comes from these streets.  As a child she helped the Provost with a tip on a crime gang and when he went to thank her he found her living with her terminally ill mother and her younger siblings.  He took the family into his household.  Now her siblings are growing up with aspirations of a better life than Beka could have ever imagined for them but she is afraid that they are ashamed of her and where they came from.

Beka is also magical.  She can hear the ghosts that ride on the backs of pigeons.  She can hear the snippets of conversation that get caught up in wind swirls in city corners.  She has a feline companion named Pounce who may or may not be a God. He isn’t saying. She uses this information to find out about two crime sprees going on under the noses of the Dogs.

She has other issues too.  Twenty percent of puppies die during training.  A charming gangster who is new in town and his entourage decide to move into her boarding house.  Her childhood best friend has married into a crime lord’s family and now her son was murdered.

The policing skills she are learning are a bit questionable.  She learns the correct etiquette for taking individual bribes and how to collect the weekly bribes due to the Dogs as an organization.  She is learning the proper way to beat criminals into submission.  Bribery and police brutality are just how things are done in this world.

I enjoyed this first book in the Beka Cooper series. I will definitely be reading more. Thanks to Nori and everyone else who has recommended her recently.


Beka Cooper by CPattenon DeviantArt

four-stars
05 May, 2016

Half-Resurrection Blues

/ posted in: Reading Half-Resurrection Blues Half-Resurrection Blues (Bone Street Rumba, #1) by Daniel José Older
Series: Bone Street Rumba #1
on January 6th 2015
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 326
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in New York three-half-stars
Also in this series: Midnight Taxi Tango (Bone Street Rumba, #2), Battle Hill Bolero

“Because I’m an inbetweener—and the only one anyone knows of at that—the dead turn to me when something is askew between them and the living. Usually, it’s something mundane like a suicide gone wrong or someone revived that shouldn’ta been.”
Carlos Delacruz is one of the New York Council of the Dead’s most unusual agents—an inbetweener, partially resurrected from a death he barely recalls suffering, after a life that’s missing from his memory. He thinks he is one of a kind—until he encounters other entities walking the fine line between life and death.
One inbetweener is a sorcerer. He’s summoned a horde of implike ngks capable of eliminating spirits, and they’re spreading through the city like a plague. They’ve already taken out some of NYCOD’s finest, leaving Carlos desperate to stop their master before he opens up the entrada to the Underworld—which would destroy the balance between the living and the dead.
But in uncovering this man’s identity, Carlos confronts the truth of his own life—and death…


After reading Shadowshaper I was interested in reading more from Daniel José Older.  I liked the world building a lot more in this novel.

No one knows quite what Carlos is.  He has no memory of his life before the day he died.  He was picked up by some ghosts and taken to a safe house where he recovered.  He isn’t a ghost but can see and interact with them.  He was thought to be one of a kind until another person like him shows up and starts trying to harm some of the most powerful ghosts in New York.

I love the idea that there is a bureaucracy of the dead in New York.  Carlos works for the afterlife’s law enforcement.  His partners are actual ghosts and this leads to issues like never being able to hand anything directly to him in sight of the living because nothing upsets live people like seeing a coffee cup float through the air.

He also seeks help from a gay Santeria priest and the teenager that runs the priest’s store when he has spiritual and magical issues to resolve.  Add in a paramedic with interest in the occult and a Haitian trauma surgeon for physical help when needed and he is set.

My only quibble with this book is that the female characters aren’t written as strongly as the male ones.  I know that he gets better with this because I read later books first so that’s good, but in this one the love interest Sasha pretty much seems to exist only as an object of Carlos’ desire.  You don’t get a lot of insight into what she is thinking about the situation.  Even when an attempt is made to show her point of view, it is flat compared to the way he writes men.

This is a good start to a series.  I’m interested in seeing where he takes this.

three-half-stars

About Daniel José Older

“Daniel José Older is the author of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series from Penguin’s Roc Books and the Young Adult novel Shadowshaper (Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015). Publishers Weekly hailed him as a “rising star of the genre” after the publication of his debut ghost noir collection, Salsa NocturnaHe co-edited the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. His short stories and essays have appeared in the Guardian, NPR, Tor.comSalonBuzzFeed, Fireside Fiction, the New Haven Review, PANK, Apex and Strange Horizons and the anthologies Subversion and Mothership: Tales Of Afrofuturism And Beyond. Daniel’s band Ghost Star gigs around New York and he teaches workshops on storytelling from an anti-oppressive power analysis.” – from his website

02 May, 2016

Small Shen – The Book I Wasn’t Allowed to Have!

/ posted in: Reading Small Shen – The Book I Wasn’t Allowed to Have! Small Shen by Kylie Chan, Queenie Chan
Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Australia on December 1st 2012
Genres: Comics & Graphic Novels, Fantasy, Legends, Myths, Fables
Pages: 352
Format: Graphic
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
four-stars

SMALL SHEN is the amazing story of Gold -- a stone spirit and a chronic troublemaker in the court of the great Gods of Chinese mythology.
A mix of Kylie Chan′s brilliant storytelling and Queenie Chan′s beautiful illustrations, SMALL SHEN is a fantastic treat for fans of WHITE TIGER. Readers will be thrilled to discover the events leading up to John Chen and Emma Donahoe′s story in this wonderful prequel.
Shown through Queenie Chan′s stunning illustrations and comics, the story follows the stone spirit Gold′s entertaining adventures throughout history. His escapades include seducing a dragon princess, attempting to steal one of the Tiger′s wives, making bets with demons, and working for the Blue Dragon of the East.
Eventually, as a result of his crimes against Heaven and his constant philandering, Gold is ordered to join the household of Xuan Wu, the Dark Lord of the Northern Heavens. Xuan Wu is also known as John Chen, a Hong Kong businessman.
The story then follows Gold and Jade -- the dragon princess - in contemporary Hong Kong. The two small shen must help guard John Chen′s beloved human wife and baby daughter from demon attack.


I’m a fan of Kylie Chan’s series about the Taoist Gods. The series starts with White Tiger.

White Tiger (Dark Heavens, #1)White Tiger by Kylie Chan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“A young woman accepts a position as nanny to the young daughter of a handsome, wealthy, and mysterious Chinese businessman only to discover her new employer is really a god and every foul demon in creation is out to destroy him!”

This is a very complex world that is developed through a lot of books. I was excited to see that there was a standalone story about Gold. I wanted to get it to read for Weirdathon in March. So when March came around I went to try to find it. That’s when I discovered that I wasn’t allowed to have it.

This book is not available outside of Australia. Ok, but there is this thing called the Internet and you can buy anything… or not. It turned out to be surprisingly difficult. By this time I was determined. Nothing will make you want something like being told you can’t have it.

I finally found a store willing to sell me a copy and based on the cost of shipping they must have sent it on the back of a flying unicorn to get to my house.

It was worth it though. I love the style of having a written novel interspersed with sections of graphic novel. I want the rest of the series like this. For a series based on gods who have any different aspects and presentations this is a big help.

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

The cover copy says that this is a good introduction to the series. I don’t think so. It does take place before the series starts but you don’t get the gentle introduction and world building that happens in the first book. If you feel like seeing a floating stone carrying towels to the human wives of a white tiger and then finding a snake and a turtle lounging in the pool would leave you with some questions, read the White Tiger first. For fans of the series this is a fun read about one of the essential secondary characters that you really don’t get to know much about.

four-stars
28 Apr, 2016

The Good and The Bad about Uprooted

/ posted in: Reading The Good and The Bad about Uprooted Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Published by Random House Publishing Group on May 19th 2015
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 438
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in Fantasy Poland

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.


Ever 10 years the local wizard comes into the valley to choose a girl to live with him. Usually he chooses the most beautiful or talented. But this year, instead of taking Kasia who everyone knew was going to be the chosen one, he takes her friend Agnieszka because he recognizes her latent magical talent. He isn’t happy about having a student especially when Agnieszka can’t seem to master any spells.

There is a Wood at the end of the Valley. Monsters live in the wood. The wizard is supposed to protect the people in the valley from the Wood but there isn’t really much he can do. If anyone is taken by the monsters, they are dead.

When the Wood attacks Agnieszka’s home village and then takes someone that she cares for, she decides to use whatever magic she has to fight back.


The Good

  • I have a soft spot for non-World War II books set in Poland. This book is set in a fantasy version of Eastern Europe. The audio version of this book was done with a strong Eastern European accent which was a constant reminder of the world where it was set.
  • I like the fact that Agnieszka and the Dragon have very different systems of magic.  At first they don’t even recognize the power that Agnieszka has because it is so different than what magic is supposed to look like.
  • There is a great story of female friendship here.  That’s isn’t something that is always seen in fantasy books.
  • Spoiler – Highlight to read – She sleeps with someone and then goes on with her life when a relationship doesn’t develop.  She doesn’t sit around and pine. There is some resolution of this at the end but there isn’t a happily ever after.  That is refreshing.

The Bad

  • I’m not a person who routinely says that books are too long but this one started to really drag after a while.  I sped the audio up and powered through it.  There was a complex political world that Agnieszka was thrown into and it went on and on.
  • The Dragon is always written as annoyed or glaring.  Maybe he just a grumpy fella but don’t try to make sympathetic and a potential romantic interest while having him be nasty to the character that you want him to get romantic with.  That’s no basis for a relationship.
  • There is a point where a prince comes to visit them.  He attempts to rape Agnieszka.  She realizes her power at this point and not only fends him off but almost kills him.  The Dragon then explains this all to her by telling her that the Prince planned to insult him by raping her.  We are into some seriously problematic territory now.  Her personal autonomy doesn’t come into consideration at all.  Then it gets worse.  They decide to plant a false memory so he doesn’t realize that she was violent towards him.  The Dragon gives her a choice of letting him think that she complied enthusiastically to his sexual advances and they had a great time or that she complied but was really bad at it.  She half heartedly complains about this but no other options are considered.  I mean, if you can implant a false memory why not have him think he got drunk at dinner and went to bed?

Bottom Line

I liked it but it drug on audio.  Maybe read this one instead so you can go faster.  That’s sad because the narration was really well done.

20 Apr, 2016

Owl and the Japanese Circus

/ posted in: Reading Owl and the Japanese Circus Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish
Series: The Adventures of Owl #1
on January 13th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Urban
Pages: 432
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in Las Vegas, Bali, Tokyo three-half-stars

Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem—and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief.


Owl had a promising career ahead of her as an archeologist until she uncovered a supernatural site and her department made her a scapegoat. Archeologists don’t allow publication of supernatural sites. They keep them covered up.

Now Owl is using her knowledge as a very discreet and very expensive thief. It was going well until she accidentally exposed an ancient vampire to the sun during a job and his underlings are angry. Now she’s on the run and living off the grid with her Egyptian Mau cat, Captain. His breed was developed to sense and fight vampires.

The Japanese Circus is a Las Vegas casino that turns out to be owned by a dragon.  She did a job for him without knowing he was a dragon and now he wants another.  She can’t really refuse and stay alive.

This is a great start to a series that is different than other urban fantasy stories.  Owl’s friend Nadya got out of the archeology program too and now runs a bar in Tokyo.  You find out a lot about the host and hostess bar culture in Tokyo where having an attractive person pay attention to you is part of the provided atmosphere.  The creatures in this supernatural world are familiar but each has a few different characteristics that aren’t commonly seen.

Owl is stubborn and doesn’t listen well to advice.  She gets into trouble over and over because of it.  That can get a little annoying to read but the author has made it make sense in context.  I’m looking forward to reading more in this series.

 

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

three-half-stars
11 Apr, 2016

Fire Touched

/ posted in: Reading Fire Touched Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs
Series: Mercy Thompson #9
on March 8th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Urban
Pages: 352
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in Washington three-stars

Tensions between the fae and humans are coming to a head and when coyote shapeshifter Mercy and her Alpha werewolf mate, Adam, are called upon to stop a rampaging troll, they find themselves with something that could be used to make the fae back down and forestall out-and-out war: a human child stolen long ago by the fae.   Defying the most powerful werewolf in the country, the humans, and the fae, Mercy, Adam, and their pack choose to protect the boy no matter what the cost. But who will protect them from a boy who is fire touched?


 

Can I just say how much I hate the covers of these books?  Look at that picture.  Mercy in the books has a Native American father.  I appreciate the fact that they aren’t whitewashing the cover but come on.  Long feather earrings and two braids?  On a mechanic?  And what is with the clothes?  She never, ever is described as dressing in shirts tied into improvised halter tops.  She doesn’t show skin at all.  She also is described as having one small coyote print tattoo but look at her arms.  Impressive collection of tattoos but way off the mark.

Anyway, in this book Mercy is still trying to make some members of the pack accept her as their Alpha’s mate.  That gives her status over them.  It hasn’t been going well.  She isn’t a werewolf and she keeps getting them into trouble.  Now she has made a proclamation that the pack with protect any supernaturals in their territory from the Fae.

I don’t know.  I just wasn’t a huge fan of this one.  I like the series but this one felt flat to me.  I’ve read several reviews that said that the readers felt like this was a big leap forward in the relationship between Mercy and Adam but I don’t get it.  He did stand up for her in the pack but their interactions together sounded distant and strained.  Maybe it is because I’ve gotten used to the warmth of the relationships in Briggs’ Alpha and Omega series that the more subdued relationship here seems odd.

Nothing really happened in the plot either.  It sounds like there is going to be a war.  The beginning with a fight with a troll is action packed but after that it is all political maneuvering and sitting around waiting for things to happen until the end.  This definitely didn’t have a “can’t put down” quality in the middle.  The ending did have an unexpectedly sad moment though.

One highlight of this book for me was Baba Yaga.

Bilibin. Baba Yaga

I love her. She is an old witch in Russian folklore who makes an appearance here to help in the fight with the Fae whether anyone wants her help or not. The book picked up whenever she appeared.

Bottom line:

This is a weak entry in a great series but it still worth reading or listening to if you have enjoyed the rest of the books.

 

three-stars

About Patricia Briggs

“Patricia Briggs, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Mercy Thompson series, lives in Washington State with her husband, children, and a small herd of horses. She has written 17 novels to date. Briggs began her career writing traditional fantasy novels, the first of which was published by Ace Books in 1993, and shifted gears in 2006 to write urban fantasy. ” from her website

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