22 Oct, 2018

Castle Hangnail

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Castle Hangnail Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon
on April 21st 2015
Pages: 384
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade
Published by Dial Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

From the creator of Dragonbreath comes a tale of witches, minions, and one fantastic castle, just right for fans of Roald Dahl and Tom Angleberger.

When Molly shows up on Castle Hangnail's doorstep to fill the vacancy for a wicked witch, the castle's minions are understandably dubious. After all, she is twelve years old, barely five feet tall, and quite polite. (The minions are used to tall, demanding evil sorceresses with razor-sharp cheekbones.) But the castle desperately needs a master or else the Board of Magic will decommission it, leaving all the minions without the home they love. So when Molly assures them she is quite wicked indeed (So wicked! REALLY wicked!) and begins completing the tasks required by the Board of Magic for approval, everyone feels hopeful. Unfortunately, it turns out that Molly has quite a few secrets, including the biggest one of all: that she isn't who she says she is.

This quirky, richly illustrated novel is filled with humor, magic, and an unforgettable all-star cast of castle characters.

Goodreads

This book has everything I absolutely love about fantasy books.  It is chock full of imagination and whimsy.  There are also dragons.  You must have dragons.

Molly knows that she is going to be a Wicked Witch.  She can do some magic.  She has an over-the-top Good Twin.  So she steals an invitation to apply for the job of Master of Castle Hangnail.  Who cares that she is only 12?

The Guardian of the castle cares, for a start.  He knows the castle is in danger of being decommissioned if a new master isn’t found who can complete all the tasks assigned.  There needs to be proper blighting and smiting and defending of the castle and capturing the hearts of the villagers (probably literally if the new master is an Evil Sorceress or a Vampire).  Can a cheery 12 year old manage that?

I love the staff of the castle. 

  • The Guardian has served under many truly evil masters and knows how minions should be properly treated.  He isn’t prepared to be given an actual name and thanked for things.  It just isn’t right. 
  • Pins is a stuffed doll who can sew anything, including waterproof sweaters for his goldfish
  • The goldfish is a hypochondriac
  • Cook is a Minotaur who is very angry about the letter Q
  • Angus is Cook’s son and general helper
  • Edward is an enchanted suit of armor with rusty knees
  • There is a woman made of steam.  This happens when a djinn mates with a human woman who didn’t know she had mermaid ancestry.
  • There are clockwork bees and all kinds of bats including one insomniac bat who stays awake during the day and sleeps at night.

Molly is going to be Wicked but not Evil.  Wicked will punish a person to make them think about what they did.  Evil will hurt people for fun.  So she blights weeds and asks around to see who is being mean and is in need of a good smiting.  When she finds someone who is mean to his donkey, she uses a spell to turn the donkey temporarily into a dragon to scare the mean man.  After that all the animals want to take a turn being a dragon, of course!  

This book was absolutely delightful from beginning to end.  I read it in a day.  I was hoping that there was going to be a follow up to see what happens next at Castle Hangnail but so far, no luck.  

26 Jul, 2018

Baker Thief

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading Baker Thief Baker Thief by Claudie Arseneault
on June 26, 2018
Pages: 424
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

Adèle has only one goal: catch the purple-haired thief who broke into her home and stole her exocore, thus proving herself to her new police team. Little does she know, her thief is also the local baker.

Claire owns the Croissant-toi, but while her days are filled with pastries and customers, her nights are dedicated to stealing exocores. These new red gems are heralded as the energy of the future, but she knows the truth: they are made of witches’ souls.

When her twin—a powerful witch and prime exocore material—disappears, Claire redoubles in her efforts to investigate. She keeps running into Adèle, however, and whether or not she can save her sister might depend on their conflicted, unstable, but deepening relationship.

---------------BAKER THIEF is the first in a fantasy series meant to reframe romance tropes within non-romantic relationship and centering aromantic characters. Those who love enemies-to-lovers and superheroes should enjoy the story!

Goodreads

I picked this up because it combined a baker and a fantasy mystery.  There really isn’t as much baking content as I would have liked because Claude the baker is off being a superhero and keeps needing to close the bakery.

What I Liked:

  • This is a fantasy world based in a French worldview.  The author is from Quebec and it shows in the French blended into this story.  I don’t know that I’ve seen another book where this is so well combined.  Place names, official titles, etc are French.
  • There are witches in this world but they have been driven underground by persecution in the fairly recent past.  Nonmagical people think they are safe now because witches are gone.  Witches are not gone.
  • The main character is Claude/Claire.  They are genderfluid.  Generally, he is Claude during the day when he is baking and Claire at night when she is a thief.  That schedule of genders was working well until recently when Claude is starting to regret not being comfortable working during the day as Claire or spending the night as Claude depending on which gender feels most comfortable at the time.
  • It tackles issues relating to aromanticism and asexuality.  There are several characters at different places on the spectrum of aromanticism and asexuality so you don’t get a single point of view of these topics.  It shows how aromantic people have relationships which is important if readers aren’t familiar with this aspect of queerness.
  • The rest of the cast is also very diverse.  Many genders, sexualities, disabilities, and races are represented.  It is also very good at body acceptance of various sizes of people.

Things that are slightly off:

  • This isn’t the author’s fault but there is a major part of the plot that is very similar to part of the plot of Witchmark.  I loved that book so much and I read it first, so what should have felt like a surprising plot point felt like, “Oh, this again?”  The books came out about just about the same time so it is just a coincidence but it decreased my enjoyment a bit.

Things that I’ll probably get yelled at on the internet for criticizing:

  • Sometimes the supporting characters were very awkwardly introduced.  The author was working hard to include characters from many different backgrounds which is good but it turned every character introduction into a descriptive list.  It is a case of telling the reader instead of showing the reader through the character’s actions.  For example, you wouldn’t necessarily be told when being introduced to your new boss what her sexual orientation was or that she was polyamorous.  Maybe you would see pictures on her desk or it would come up in conversation later.  
  • Sometimes the plot seemed to be set aside in order for a lesson about identity.  The worst instance of this was when Claire ran into a burning building, past a female-presenting witch who was setting the place on fire, and into a room where other witches were being held captive, in order to rescue them.  The witches inside ask their friend is ok.  Claire refers to her as “Fire girl” in her explanation.  At that point, she is informed that the witch is agender and not a girl.  My thought reading that passage was, “This is why conservatives laugh at us.”  You are being rescued from a building that is literally on fire.  You were trapped and needed a person with super strength to get you out.  Now, while the fire is about to drop the whole ceiling on you, you take the time to admonish your rescuer for misgendering a person they literally saw in passing.  Run first – then figure out the proper pronouns of strangers you’ve never spoken to.  This book sometimes felt like an educational tome on identity more than a fantasy story.  That’s fine if that was the author’s goal but I would have liked to see both aspects blended together more seamlessly. 

 

19 Jul, 2018

Trail of Lightning

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Trail of Lightning Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
on June 26th 2018
Pages: 287
Series: The Sixth World #1
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Saga Press
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Arizona

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

Goodreads

I’ve been excitedly waiting for this debut novel ever since I read Rebecca Roanhorse’s story, Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience.

The book did not disappoint.

When most of the world flooded, the elders raised a magical wall around Diné land.  The gods and mythological beings are back.  Some people are manifesting clan powers.  Maggie’s clan powers make her a powerful monster killer.  She was taken in and trained by a mythological warrior after a tragedy until he left her a year ago.  Now she is a deeply emotionally damaged monster hunter for hire.

Now she is on the trail of monsters that she has never seen before.  They are wiping out whole towns.

This book reminds me a lot of the early seasons of the TV show Supernatural, if the lead was a no-nonsense Diné woman driving a 1972 pickup.  There are different groups of monster hunters.  There is even a safe house/bar/weapons depot/first aid station run by a older black woman and her children.

I loved a scene in a nightclub where Maggie is able to see the patrons as embodiments of their clan powers.  That is the type of imagination that I love to see in books.

The ending is magnificent and just a little bit of a cliffhanger.  I’m looking forward to the next book in 2019.

(There is a lot of graphic violence depicted including violence against children so if that bothers you a lot you might want to skip this one.)

18 Jul, 2018

Witchmark

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Witchmark Witchmark by C.L. Polk
on June 19th 2018
Pages: 272
Series: Witchmark #1
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Tor.com
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations, while one young man seeks only to live a life of his own.

Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family's interest or to be committed to a witches' asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans' hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is.

When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.

Goodreads

I heard about this book on Twitter and was intrigued by its cover.  I didn’t really know what it was about when I picked it up.  I laughed when I realized that it is basically about treatment for war-induced PTSD.  I was reading this during a week when that was a frequent topic of conversation at my house and now my fantasy books were chiming in too.

The world building in this book is extraordinary.  It is vaguely steampunk.  Horses and bicycles are the main modes of transportation.  The super wealthy have some cars.  Just reading about the system of bicycle transportation was fascinating and shows how much the author thought about how the world would work.

In this world some of elite are mages who control the weather.  Other mages have different talents but they are bound against their will to weather mages to be used as an auxillary power supply for their magic.  Miles has healing magic.  He knew he was going to bound to his sister so he ran away and joined the army.  Now he is a psychiatrist working in a veteran’s hospital and dealing with his own PTSD and that of his patients.  He doesn’t want to use his powers because either:

  • He would be found by his powerful family and bound – or
  • People would think he was a low-born witch and he would be incarcerated in an asylum

His carefully planned secret life starts to unravel when a poisoned witch is brought to him by a stranger.  The witch knew who he was and now the stranger does too.

There is so much going on in this book. 

  • There is a very sweet m/m romance with fade to black sex scenes.  (Thank you very much!  I want more romance books without sex scenes please!) 
  • There is the mystery of what the dying witch knew and what he wanted Miles to do about it. 
  • There is the drama with Miles’ family. 
  • There is an usual increase in the number of veterans committing violent acts when they come home.  Can Miles figure out the cause of that?
  • There is hatred from Miles’ colleague who suspects he is a witch and is trying hard to prove it.

This is the start of a series.  I’m looking forward to reading future installments.  Come for the magic.  Stay for the unfortunately-too-realistic treatment of post-war veterans. 

28 Jun, 2018

Djinn City

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Djinn City Djinn City by Saad Hossain
on November 2017
Pages: 413
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Unnamed Press
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Setting: Bangladesh

Indelbed is a lonely kid living in a crumbling mansion in the super dense, super chaotic third world capital of Bangladesh. When he learns that his dead mother was a djinn — more commonly known as a genie — and that his drunken loutish father is a sitting emissary to the djinns (e.g. a magician), his whole world is turned inside out. Suddenly, and for reasons that totally escape him, his father is found in a supernatural coma, and Indelbed is kidnapped by the djinn and delivered to a subterranean prison. Back in the city, his cousin Rais and his family struggle to make sense of it all, as an impending catastrophe threatens to destroy everything they know. Needless to say, everything is resting on Indelbed’s next move — and he’s got a new partner to help him: the world’s most evil djinn.

Goodreads

This book is long.  This book is dense.  Try to just breezily rush through this and you will miss things.  This book is also smart and sarcastic and snarky and everything else I love.

Indelbed is adorable.  He’s from the embarrassing part of a prominent family.  He’s pretty much being ignored by his alcoholic father who is in turn ignored by the extended family.  He’s just going about his life the best he can hoping that maybe someday one of his aunts will notice that things are really not ok in his life when he gets kidnapped by a djinn.

From here there are three stories taking place.

  1. Indelbed is thrown in a murder pit where he lives with a djinn prisoner for 10 years while they plot an ambitious escape.
  2. Indelbed’s father is in a coma and his spirit is watching the history of an epic battle through the memories of the people who were there.
  3. Indelbed’s aunt Juny and cousin Rais find out that djinn are real and set out to figure out what happened to Indelbed.

I liked storylines 3 and 1 the best.  Along the way there are wyrms that the prisoners tame in hopes that one will grow into a dragon to help them escape.  There are also djinn airships and submarines and hidden bases in the sky.  Djinns don’t physically fight amongst themselves any more.  Now they engage in legal wrangling that can go on for decades.  Breach of contract is their greatest sin.

It is a very hard book to describe.  It is one where the pleasure is in the journey, not the destination.  In fact, I’m quite annoyed by the end of this book.  Mostly I’m annoyed by the lack of ending of this book.  Obviously this is set up to have a sequel because the book just stops.  Storyline 3 turns in a whole new direction about to have an adventure in the last pages.  It isn’t even a cliffhanger.  It is a “Hey, let’s go look at this new thing……” and we’re out of pages.  The other two stories are likewise incomplete.  I actually kept looking for more pages of book because it was just, “Now we are done.”

23 Jan, 2018

Heroine Complex

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Heroine Complex Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
on July 5th 2016
Pages: 378
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by DAW
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: California

Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder.
Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco's most beloved superheroine. She's great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss's epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.
Unfortunately, she's not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.
But everything changes when Evie's forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest comes out: she has powers, too. Now it's up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda's increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right... or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion.

Goodreads

Annie and Evie have been friends since Annie first stood up for Evie against some bullies in elementary school.  Now as adults, Evie is Annie’s personal assistant.  Annie is San Francisco’s only superhero Aveda Jupiter.  She’s all about the glory.  She dumps everything else on Evie who takes it because she feels like she owes Annie.

Annie/Aveda is truly abusive to Evie.  Everyone sees it but her.  When Evie is forced out of the shadows she needs to rely on her own powers to save the city and find a life for herself outside of Aveda Jupiter’s orbit.

Good things about this book:

  • Asian female superheroes – Annie is Chinese and Evie is half-Japanese
  • The menace is fairly lighthearted and fun.  It starts with demons taking the form of cupcakes that bite and ends with demonic minions who complain about everything the boss demon does.  I could imagine this whole book as a technicolor comic strip.
  • Evie learning to stand up for herself is wonderful.

Annoying things:

  • Evie has been suppressing her emotions in order to keep her powers under control.  When she starts to get in touch with her feelings, the first one that she notices is lust.  She refers to her lack of lustful feelings as the Dead Inside-o-meter.  The idea that she hasn’t had sex in three years is considered proof of emotional problems.  I’m not a fan of stories that consider either asexuality or celibacy as the weirdest thing that ever happened.
  • Evie’s teenage sister is the worst person ever.  Well, maybe second worse next to Aveda.  It is hard to tell but then they start hanging out together and amplify each other’s behavior and it is everything horrible.  They are selfish and childish but Evie is supposed to be seen as no fun for objecting to it all.
  • I didn’t like the romances in this book.  They just seemed added because you have to have a sexual partner (see complaint 1).  Suddenly, she has feelings for a person who annoys her all the time?  The fact that someone annoys you is actually stated as proof that you probably deep down want to sleep with them.  No, maybe they are just annoying and you have the good sense to stay away from them.

 

18 Jan, 2018

Son of a Trickster

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Son of a Trickster Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
on February 7th 2017
Pages: 336
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Knopf Canada
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: British Columbia

Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who's often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he's also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can't rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)--and now she's dead.
Jared can't count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can't rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family's life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat...and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he's the son of a trickster, that he isn't human. Mind you, ravens speak to him--even when he's not stoned.
You think you know Jared, but you don't.

Goodreads

This is not the book that I expected from the blurb.  I expected urban fantasy with Jared finding out he’s supernatural in the beginning of the book and then he has adventures.  That doesn’t happen.  Instead this is a hard look at the life of a First Nations teenager who lives with his unreliable and violent drug dealer mother and her boyfriend.  This book takes you up close and personal into a life of poverty and crime.  There is almost no magic happening for the first 2/3 of the book.  

It even has two of my automatic DNF plots.  His dog dies of heartworm at the beginning of the book (with a very odd veterinary clinic scene that isn’t anything that would happen for real).  There is also a scene of his mother killing a dog with her truck on purpose.  Animal abuse is a DNF.

I also absolutely hate stories of teenagers who do nothing but drink and take drugs.  I hate it in real life and I hate wasting my time on that type of plot in books.

So, knowing all that, why did I finish this book and think it was great?

The writing pulled me in and kept me engaged with the story.  Jared looks like he has nothing going for him.  His mother is an addict and dealer.  He is doing some low-level dealing.  But he is trying to keep his mother’s bills paid while also trying to keep his father and his new wife’s rent up to date.  He even helps his elderly neighbors with their chores.  None of the adult relatives in Jared’s life are responsible so he feels that he needs to be.  The only person he feels like he may be able to rely on is his paternal grandmother but his mother has forbidden him to talk to her.  He does anyway and he really wants to go live with her in order to finish school but he feels that it would be a betrayal of his mother, even when she is continuously betraying him.  By the end you want to protect him from yet another person who lets him down.

As Jared starts to see manifestations of his traditional beliefs appearing before him, he decides that he has been doing too many drugs and decides to get clean.  I love that that was his response to an invisible bear in the living room and cavemen in his bedroom.  But the magic is real and has always been there even if it is just starting to get through to him.

The author did a good job depicting the charm vs the dangerous irresponsibility of a drug-involved parent.  Jared’s mom obviously loves him and dotes on him but she also exposes him to men who hurt him and she will disappear without warning.  She relies on him to get her through bad trips and lavishes presents on him when she is manic.  She’s horrible but draws you into her self-absorbed world. 

Jared’s friends feel real.  They are a mix of popular and unpopular kids.  Native and non-Native also.  Each is well fleshed out and are unique characters.  

Of course this book really started to pick up for me when the magic became more apparent.  And then it was over.  I feel like there wasn’t a resolution.  This is part one of a series so I know that there will be more to the story but I would have liked to see more of an ending than this.  

 

11 Oct, 2017

Oakland Arcana: Awakening

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Oakland Arcana:  Awakening Oakland Arcana: Awakening by Renae Jones
on October 2, 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

The world is complicated. Power is currency, lives are cheap.   Hephzibah Euphrasia Joséphine d'Albret hates her name. She hates the life she comes from, the fourth daughter of a legendary family—and, perilously, the one with negligible magical potential. And that suits her fine. Fleeing the Authority allows her to choose her own path: software engineer and startup founder. Finally, Zizi’s found a life she loves. One that doesn’t care about the magic she doesn’t have. Unfortunately for her, Zizi is all Oakland has. With misfit allies and lethal enemies around every corner, an encyclopedic understanding of magic theory, and serious amounts of snark, can this Sorceress possibly survive the summer?

Goodreads

Zizi is used to being considered a failure.  She’s the powerless youngest daughter of a powerful Sorceress.  Sorceresses bond with cities and use their power to protect them.  Zizi was trained for the role since birth just like her sisters.  But she never was able to do much magic and she left that world behind.  At least she did until that night a year ago with too much tequila when she bonded with the city of Oakland.

I heard about this book on Twitter.  I was in as soon as I heard the author’s description of Oakland (and all the cities) as distinct sentient beings.

This book was great.  Zizi hasn’t told anyone that she is bonded to Oakland.  She knows that is going to bring down all kinds of bureaucratic nightmares down on her.  No one suspects it because Oakland as been unbonded for thirty years.  But now there are all kinds of weird things going on in Oakland and Zizi needs help.  She needs an Arcana.

Arcanas are the groups of magical helpers that surround Sorceresses.  Zizi doesn’t want one.  Most Sorceresses use their power to bond their Arcana to them.  They can compel their people to do what they want.  The main way they do this is through Earth magic and sex.  Zizi wants nothing to do with this and starts to assemble a team that wants out of the old ways of doing things too.

The characters in this book are fresh takes on many of the common types seen in urban fantasy books.  The vampires are truly vicious but also do a lot of their business at Taco Tuesday/Cowboy Karaoke Night.  (“Don’t do Dolly if you can’t stick the landing” might now be my favorite mixed metaphor ever.)  There is a kraken in a lake raising an orphaned capricorn even though the baby is a vegetarian and the kraken is disturbed by that.  There is a weretiger pack in Chinatown.

The book starts with Zizi having been the secret Sorceress for a year.  Sometimes it can feel like maybe you missed a previous book when she refers to events in the past but this is the first one.  I loved the combination of sassiness and smarts that Zizi has.  She’s very smart and took her magical training seriously growing up so she has the theoretical knowledge she needs even if she doesn’t have the power that would help get everything done.  She’s very funny.  I found myself highlighting a lot of lines in the e-book.  I liked the idea of a sex-positive bisexual heroine who is adamant that she is not going to use sex to get things done.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this series goes in the future.

My only criticism is that there are a few typos, grammatical errors, and misspelled words in the book but I loved this book so much that I’m forgiving that.

About Renae Jones

Renae Jones is driven by an epic, multipart goal

  1. Invent the most fascinating characters she can.
  2. Put those characters in awe-inspiring science fiction or fantasy setting.
  3. Fit those characters together like we’re playing personality Tetris.
  4. And follow them through a complicated adventure of near-death experiences and self-discovery.

Bonus points if those characters are quirky, weird, cranky, neurotic, sassy or have anger management issues. 

Beyond writing, she also loves her dog, over-ambitious home improvement projects, painting, doing weird things to her hair, and data analytics.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
05 Oct, 2017

Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading by Anna Yates, Bernard Scudder, Laura Gallego García, Lindsey Davis, Vivian Shaw, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, Hachette UK, William Morrow
Format: Hardcover, Paperback
Source: Library

I’ve been reading.  I’ve been reading a lot.  But, I haven’t been writing reviews.  Honestly, I got a bit bored with them and I know they aren’t favorites.  It is especially hard when the book is entertaining but nothing mind-blowing.  How many ways can you can up with to say, “It was good.  I enjoyed it enough to read the whole thing. That is all.”

The thing is that I did enjoy these books.  Most of them I haven’t heard much about so they need to get some exposure.  I should stop slacking and write up some reviews.

So here are some books that I haven’t told you about from August.  Seriously, August, people.  Slacking.


Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
on July 25th 2017
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Contemporary
Published by Hachette UK

Meet Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead.
After inheriting a highly specialised, and highly peculiar, medical practice, Dr Helsing spends her days treating London's undead for a host of ills: vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta's dreamed of since childhood.
But when a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human undead and alike, Greta must use all her unusual skills to keep her supernatural clients - and the rest of London - safe.

Goodreads


This is a great idea.  A lot of the monsters from old horror stories are here.  Dr. Helsing is trying to keep a practice afloat while having to keep her patients a secret.

I had a hard time remembering at points that this is a contemporary story.  It kept feeling like it was a Victorian to me and then there would be modern technology.

It was well done.  There are sequels planned and I will definitely read them.


Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You The Third Nero (Flavia Albia #5) by Lindsey Davis
on July 11, 2017
Pages: 321
Series: Flavia Albia #5
Setting: Italy

In 90 A.D., following the Saturninus revolt in Germany, the Emperor Domitian has become more paranoid about traitors and dissenters around him. This leads to several senators and even provincial governors facing charges and being executed for supposed crimes of conspiracy and insulting the emperor. Wanting to root out all the supports of Saturninus from the Senate, one of Domitian’s men offers to hire Flavia Alba to do some intelligence work.
Flavia Alba, daughter and chip off the old block of Marcus Didius Falco, would rather avoid any and all court intrigue, thank you very much. But she’s in a bit of a bind. Her wedding is fast approaching, her fiancé is still recovering―slowly―from being hit by a lightning bolt, and she’s the sole support of their household. So with more than a few reservations, she agrees to “investigate.”

Goodreads


I’ve loved everything I’ve read by this author, which is over 20 books now.  This one seemed to have a lot of historical backstory that needed to be explained in order to understand the significance of The Third (Fake) Nero.  It wasn’t as well woven into the story as she usually does.  It felt like a bit of slog to get through all that in order to get to the story.

That said, I continue to love this series and its take on everyday life in Ancient Rome.


  Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You My Soul to Take (Þóra Guðmundsdóttir, #2) by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Bernard Scudder, Anna Yates
on April 28th 2009
Pages: 352
Published by William Morrow

“Top notch crime fiction.”
Boston Globe
 
American readers first met Icelandic lawyer and investigator Thóra Gudmundsdóttir in Last Rituals. In My Soul to Take, internationally acclaimed author Yrsa Sigurdardóttir plunges her intrepid heroine into even graver peril, in a riveting thriller set against the harsh landscape of Smila’s Sense of Snow territory. A darkly witty and continually surprising suspense tale that places Yrsa Sigurdardóttir firmly in the ranks of Sue Grafton, Tess Gerritsen, Faye Kellerman and other top mystery writers, My Soul to Take is ingenious Scandinavian noir on a par with the works of Henning Mankell and Arnaldur Indridason. Stieg Larsson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) fans should also take note.

Goodreads

The heroine of this book is a lawyer who did a land purchase deal for a client who wanted to build a spa.  Now he is claiming that the place is haunted and wants to sue the sellers.  The lawyer heads to the spa for a weekend to try to calm him down and gets mixed up in the mystery of what happened on the land years before.

This book was good.  It was the first Icelandic noir book I’ve read.  I read it for Women in Translation month.  I enjoyed the historical aspects of the story more than the present.  The lawyer was a bit too much of the pushy, “let’s hide things from the police” kind of mystery heroine for my liking.


Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You The Valley of the Wolves (Crónicas de la Torre, #1) by Laura Gallego García
on April 1st 2006
Pages: 336
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books
Setting: Spain

Dana attends a school of magic with only one other student. She has a great love only she can see. And only she can unravel these mysteries and become mistress of the Valley of the Wolves.
Ever since Dana was a little girl, Kai has been her best friend and constant companion--even though she's the only one who can see him. Then the mysterious Maestro comes to her farm and offers her the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to study sorcery in the Valley of the Wolves. And Dana knows she must go, for the Maestro can see Kai too....

Goodreads


This was another Women in Translation month read for me.  This book reads like a fairy tale.  There is a boy that only the girl can see.  Is he real or not? 

A magician comes and takes her away because he says that she will be a great magic user someday.  He trains her in his castle that is surrounded by vicious wolves who come out at night.  After years of training she realizes that she may not be able to leave if she doesn’t figure out the secrets of the castle and the valley.

This book is all about growing up and seeing your life and the people in it for what they really are.  It is a quick read with lots of fun fantasy and magical elements. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
23 Jun, 2017

InCryptid Series – Books 1 – 4

/ posted in: Reading InCryptid Series – Books 1 – 4 Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire
on March 6th 2012
Pages: 352
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by DAW
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

Ghoulies. Ghosties. Long-legged beasties. Things that go bump in the night... The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity—and humanity from them. Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she'd rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and is spending a year in Manhattan while she pursues her career in professional ballroom dance. Sounds pretty simple, right? It would be, if it weren't for the talking mice, the telepathic mathematicians, the asbestos supermodels, and the trained monster-hunter sent by the Price family's old enemies, the Covenant of St. George. When a Price girl meets a Covenant boy, high stakes, high heels, and a lot of collateral damage are almost guaranteed. To complicate matters further, local cryptids are disappearing, strange lizard-men are appearing in the sewers, and someone's spreading rumors about a dragon sleeping underneath the city...

Goodreads

I’m loving this urban fantasy series!  The Price family fled to North America several generations ago after they broke away from the monster-hunting Covenant.  The Covenant thinks the family died out.  The Prices have worked hard to make it seem like they did.

Verity Price isn’t sure she wants to spend her life as a cryptozoologist.  She has trained to be a professional ballroom dancer.  Now she has one year in New York to try to make a living dancing as long as she uses her spare time to survey the local cryptid community.  But her side job is taking up more time than her dancing.

There is so much great world building here.  There are ultrareligious mice colonies that live with the Prices.  There are telepathic cuckoos that can make humans give them things and not notice they did it.  There are boogeymen who know all the secrets.  Dragon princesses live to make money and gorgons have a hard time keeping their snakes happy under their wigs.

Verity comes face to face with a Covenant member.  He was sent to see if New York needs to be purged of cryptids.  Verity isn’t going to let that happen to her friends.


InCryptid Series – Books 1 – 4 Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire
on March 5th 2013
Pages: 338
Series: InCryptid #2
Published by DAW

Cryptid, noun:1. Any creature whose existence has been suggested but not proven scientifically. Term officially coined by cryptozoologist John E. Wall in 1983.2. That thing that's getting ready to eat your head.3. See also: "monster."
Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she'd rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and when her work with the cryptid community took her to Manhattan, she thought she would finally be free to pursue competition-level dance in earnest. It didn't quite work out that way...
But now, with the snake cult that was killing virgins all over Manhattan finally taken care of, Verity is ready to settle down for some serious ballroom dancing—until her on-again, off-again, semi-boyfriend Dominic De Luca, a member of the monster-hunting Covenant of St. George, informs her that the Covenant is on their way to assess the city's readiness for a cryptid purge. With everything and everyone she loves on the line, there's no way Verity can take that lying down.
Alliances will be tested, allies will be questioned, lives will be lost, and the talking mice in Verity's apartment will immortalize everything as holy writ--assuming there's anyone left standing when all is said and done.

Goodreads

This is book two with Verity. Now the Covenant is coming. Dominic has to decide where his loyalities lie and Verity has to decide if she can trust anything he is saying to her.
This book does a good job of picking up where the last one left off without feeling like a filler book that you see so often with second novels in a series.

 


InCryptid Series – Books 1 – 4 Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire
on March 4th 2014
Pages: 356
Published by DAW

When Alex Price agreed to go to Ohio to oversee a basilisk breeding program and assist in the recovery of his psychic cousin, he didn't expect people to start dropping dead. But bodies are cropping up at the zoo where he works, and his girlfriend—Shelby Tanner, an Australian zoologist with a fondness for big cats—is starting to get suspicious.
Worse yet, the bodies have all been turned partially to stone...
The third book in the InCryptid series takes us to a new location and a new member of the family, as Alex tries to balance life, work, and the strong desire not to become a piece of garden statuary. Old friends and new are on the scene, and danger lurks around every corner.
Of course, so do the talking mice.

Goodreads

It can be a hard transition in a series to leave the previous main character behind and start with a new one. I’m always a little bit leery of these transitions but this was done well.
Alex is Verity’s older brother. He doesn’t work with large cryptids like she does. He works more with cryptid wildlife. He’s identifying ecological problems that are increasing the likelihood of someone realizing that there are feathered frogs in Ohio.
If that wasn’t enough, someone turned one of his assistants to stone and seems to targeting him.
I thought this book was really well done. I wasn’t crazy about the girlfriend. Her name was also Shelby Tanner. That seemed really familiar to me. Then I realized that I knew a person with dogs named Shelby and Tanner and then I couldn’t unsee that.

 


InCryptid Series – Books 1 – 4 Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire
on March 3rd 2015
Pages: 352
Series: InCryptid #4
Published by DAW

Alexander Price has survived gorgons, basilisks, and his own family—no small feat, considering that his family includes two telepaths, a reanimated corpse, and a colony of talking, pantheistic mice. Still, he’s starting to feel like he’s got the hang of things…at least until his girlfriend, Shelby Tanner, shows up asking pointed questions about werewolves and the state of his passport. From there, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to Australia, a continent filled with new challenges, new dangers, and yes, rival cryptozoologists who don’t like their “visiting expert” very much.

Goodreads

This book moves the action to Australia. It is nice to see how the author imagines a different ecosystem and what cryptids evolved there.
There was a lot of “Daddy threatens the boyfriend for sleeping with the daughter” trope which I absolutely hate. The characters try to diffuse it but it doesn’t work. I could have done without all that.
I did miss the rest of the Price family in this one. Hopefully they come back in the next books.

 


A few complaints about the series:

  • The names of the books have absolutely nothing to do with the books.  You could call any one of them “Your Aunty Jane’s Peach Cobbler” and it would not change anything.  The word Ragnarok does not appear in Half-Off Ragnarok for example.  I don’t understand how they are named.
  • There are roughly a gazillion short stories in this universe.  I’m sticking with only reading the integers – books #1, #2, etc. – for now.

About Seanan McGuire

“Hi! I’m Seanan McGuire, author of the Toby Daye series (Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation, An Artificial Night, Late Eclipses), as well as a lot of other things. I’m also Mira Grant (www.miragrant.com), author of Feed and Deadline.

Born and raised in Northern California, I fear weather and am remarkably laid-back about rattlesnakes. I watch too many horror movies, read too many comic books, and share my house with two monsters in feline form, Lilly and Alice (Siamese and Maine Coon).”

  • from Goodreads

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • Books Set in the Rest of the World
07 Jun, 2017

Ghost Summer – Lyrical, Heartbreaking, Creepy Short Stories

/ posted in: Reading Ghost Summer – Lyrical, Heartbreaking, Creepy Short Stories Ghost Summer: Stories by Tananarive Due
on September 8th 2015
Pages: 335
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Prime Books
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

Whether weaving family life and history into dark fiction or writing speculative Afrofuturism, American Book Award winner and Essence bestselling author Tananarive Due’s work is both riveting and enlightening.
Due takes us to Gracetown, a small Florida town that has both literal and figurative ghost; into future scenarios that seem all too real; and provides empathetic portraits of those whose lives are touched by Otherness. Featuring an award-winning novella and fifteen stories—one of which has never been published before—Ghost Summer: Stories is sure to both haunt and delight.

Goodreads

Tananarive Due is an amazing writer.  She puts her stories together so beautifully and smoothly that you get sucked into her world even knowing that she is a horror writer who is going to pull the rug out from under you soon.

This is a collection of short stories grouped by subject matter.  It starts with stories set in a small Florida town where the local legends are something to be believed and feared.  It starts with a story from the point of view of a monster and moves into the origins of a town full of ghost stories.

There is a group of five stories set after the onset of a plague.  Several follow one woman at different points in her life as she lives in a world that has been destroyed.

What makes this collection different from other paranormal stories out there is that many of the heartbreaking moments are from real life playing out while there are monsters in the background.  Just because the world is falling apart doesn’t mean that you can abandon your grandmother who is dying of cancer.  The excitement of visiting your grandparents’ haunted town dims when you realize that you are there because your parents are splitting up.  She does an excellent job of keeping the supernatural grounded in the real which makes these stories even creepier.

I particularly appreciated the notes after each story that tells a little bit about the origins of the story.  I know authors always complain about being asked where they get their ideas but I find it fascinating to see what random thought developed into a story.

Even if scary stories aren’t what you normally read, consider picking up this book for the lyrical writing that isn’t always seen in this genre.

About Tananarive Due

“Due has a B.S. in journalism from Northwestern University and an M.A. in English literature from the University of Leeds, England, where she specialized in Nigerian literature as a Rotary Foundation Scholar. In addition to VONA, Due has taught at the Hurston-Wright Foundation’s Writers’ Week and the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. As a screenwriter, she is a member of the Writers’ Guild of America (WGA).” – from her website

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
05 May, 2017

The Witch’s Market

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

Goodreads

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
on March 1st 2016
Series: The Arcadia Project #1
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Saga Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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.

Goodreads

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
on May 26th 2015
Pages: 352
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Published by Tor Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

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.

Goodreads

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
on November 1st 2016
Pages: 400
Series: Elemental Blessings #4
Genres: Fantasy
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

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.

Goodreads

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
on February 2nd 2016
Pages: 422
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Saga Press
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

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.

Goodreads

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
on September 13th 2016
Pages: 304
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Published by Aladdin
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
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.

Goodreads

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

“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
on December 1st 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Published by StoryTime
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Africa
Goodreads

“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

 

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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
on December 15th 2015
Pages: 198
Genres: Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology, Fantasy
Published by Fox Spirit Books
Format: Paperback
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Africa
Goodreads

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.

 

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