Tag Archives For: fiction

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.”

21 Jun, 2018

Robots and Tea Shops and Magical Bakers!

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading Robots and Tea Shops and Magical Bakers! The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz
on March 16th 2016
Pages: 65
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction
Published by Less Than Three Press
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Setting: Washington

Clara Gutierrez is a highly-skilled technician specializing in the popular 'Raise' AI companions. Her childhood in a migrant worker family has left her uncomfortable with lingering in any one place, so she sticks around just long enough to replenish her funds before she moves on, her only constant companion Joanie, a fierce, energetic Raise hummingbird.

Sal is a fully autonomous robot, the creation of which was declared illegal ages earlier due to ethical concerns. She is older than the law, however, at best out of place in society and at worst hated. Her old master is long dead, but she continues to run the tea shop her master had owned, lost in memories of the past, slowly breaking down, and aiming to fulfill her master's dream for the shop.

When Clara stops by Sal's shop for lunch, she doesn't expect to find a real robot there, let alone one who might need her help. But as they begin to spend time together and learn more about each other, they both start to wrestle with the concept of moving on…

Goodreads

This novella tells the story of a humanoid robot who is keeping her former owner’s beloved tea shop running almost 300 years after her death.  Robots like her have since been outlawed.  Robotics technician Clara is thrilled to meet Sal and offers to help fix up her ailing software.  What does she want to have changed though?  What makes her HER? 

This book features a f/f romantic, asexual relationship.  


Robots and Tea Shops and Magical Bakers! Batter Up by Robyn Neeley
on June 15th 2015
Pages: 172
Setting: New York

Bakeshop owner Emma Stevens has a secret. A delicious premonition she shares every Monday evening with the bachelors of Buttermilk Falls as they gather at the Sugar Spoon bakery for Batter Up night.

Investigative reporter Jason Levine just found himself as the man candy for a bachelorette party in Las Vegas. Roped into attending the Vegas nuptials, was he hearing things when the groom shares that the only reason he’s getting married is because a small town baker conjured up the name of his soulmate in her cake batter?

Sparks fly when Jason tries to expose Emma as a fraud, but reality and logic go out the window as he begins to fall under her spell.

Goodreads

 


This is a fun read that works if you just suspend disbelief and embrace the magical realism of the idea.  Emma knows one spell.  There really isn't an explanation for that. 
I also wondered how they have Batter Up night every week in this very small town and never run out of bachelors who want to commit.
It is a fluffy, light romance with fade to black sex scenes and magical cupcake batter so if you are looking for an escapist quick read this one might be for you.
04 Jun, 2018

Baby Elephant Fighting Crime!

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Baby Elephant Fighting Crime! The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan
on September 15th 2015
Pages: 320
Genres: Fiction, Mystery & Detective
Published by Redhook
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Setting: India

On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra inherits two unexpected mysteries.

The first is the case of a drowned boy, whose suspicious death no one seems to want solved. And the second is a baby elephant. As his search for clues takes him across the teeming city of Mumbai, from its grand high rises to its sprawling slums and deep into its murky underworld, Chopra begins to suspect that there may be a great deal more to both his last case and his new ward than he thought. And he soon learns that when the going gets tough, a determined elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs...

Goodreads

I requested the first book of this series from the library as soon as I heard about a baby elephant helping in a detective agency.  Really, what more do you need?  Rush out and read this.

On his last day at work before his unwanted medical retirement, Inspector Chopra gets a letter saying that he has inherited a very special baby elephant from his uncle.  He hasn’t seen his eccentric uncle in years.  He has no idea why he had an elephant or even that his uncle had died.  He also has no idea why he would think Chopra would want an elephant.

That gets put out of his mind when he gets to work and finds a woman leading a protest in front of the station.  Her son died the night before and she knows that the police won’t investigate because they are too poor. He starts to look at the case but doesn’t get very involved because it is his last day and he won’t be able to follow through.

He doesn’t take to retirement well.  (Also the set up for the Indian series that starts with The Marriage Bureau for Rich People.)  He decides to go see what is going on with the case of the boy that died.  He realizes that no one is investigating so he decides to go have a look himself.  Soon he is splitting his time between trying to solve this crime and nursing this very sickly, very sad little elephant that was delivered to his apartment complex.

But how does a baby elephant help solve crimes, you ask?  Well, even a small elephant is an effective battering ram.  Elephants can also find people over long distances.  Ganesha is just a baby but his role increases in each book so far.

I’m not usually a fan of mysteries but this one is ok because even though his reason for investigating is mostly boredom and resentment at being made to give up his career, he is a real investigator and not just a busy body.  Well, I guess he starts out as a busy body but then formalizes it to be a real private investigator.  I’m not a fan of cozy mysteries with busy bodies messing up crime scenes.  I’m perfectly ok with elephants trompsing all over crime scenes.



		
		Baby Elephant Fighting Crime!
			
			
		
	The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown (Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation #2) by Vaseem Khan 
on May 5, 2016
Pages: 353
Setting: India

For centuries the Koh-i-Noor diamond has set man against man and king against king. Now part of the British Crown Jewels, the priceless gem is a prize that many have killed to possess. So when the Crown Jewels go on display in Mumbai, security is everyone's principal concern. And yet, on the very day Inspector Chopra visits the exhibition, the diamond is stolen from under his nose. The heist was daring and seemingly impossible. The hunt is on for the culprits. But it soon becomes clear that only one man - and his elephant - can possibly crack this case...

Goodreads

I love the covers of these books. They are so cute and colorful. I’m usually indifferent to covers but I love these.

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Mild spoiler for the end of the first book but not really – Chopra ends up opening a restaurant for policemen/detective agency office/place for Ganesha to live in the backyard at the end of book 1. The restaurant itself doesn’t play a huge role here but I’m claiming it for Foodies Read anyway because everyone needs to know about baby elephants.

Speaking of Ganesha, he considers himself a full-fledged part of the agency.  He has a special truck he rides around Mumbai in so he can go on stakeouts.  In this book he gets to go undercover in a circus performance and loves his sparkly costume.  He’s also making new friends at the restaurant and gets to help rescue one when he gets in trouble.

Meanwhile, Chopra is hired by an old colleague who was in charge of security for the Crown Jewels.  He’s been arrested and knows that he’s going to take the fall for this crime if the real criminals can’t be found. 

These books are fun.  I’m looking forward to reading more and seeing how this team learns to work together even more.

29 May, 2018

All Four Stars

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading All Four Stars All Four Stars by Tara Dairman
on July 10th 2014
Pages: 288
Genres: Fiction
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: New York

Gladys Gatsby has dreamed of becoming a restaurant critic for New York's biggest newspaper--she just didn’t expect to be assigned her first review at age 11. Now, if she wants to meet her deadline and hang on to her dream job, she’ll have to defy her fast-food-loving parents, cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy, and battle Manhattan’s meanest maitre d’.

Goodreads

Gladys loves food.  She loves to read about it, cook it, and eat it.  Her parents don’t care about food at all.  They pick up dinner from fast food restaurants every night.  If they do try to cook, they believe that everything can be cooked just as well in a microwave as on a stove or oven.

Because of this Gladys as been cooking in secret for years.  She gets caught the day that her parents come home early just as she sets the kitchen curtains on fire while trying to crisp the top of a creme brulee. 

Now she’s in trouble.  Cooking is forbidden for six months and/or until she makes some friends and gets involved with what her parents consider normal kids’ activities. 

She’s trying to comply but when her entry into a newspaper essay contest in confused for a job application for a freelance food writer, she gets an assignment to review a dessert restaurant.  Now she has to find a way to get to New York City from Long Island for her chance to make it big.

This book was really cute.  It would appeal to anyone who is more into food than the people around them.  If your family doesn’t understand why full fat is better to cook with than nonfat or why you can’t use coffee shop sweetener packets instead of sugar when baking, then you understand Gladys’ troubles. 

My only complaint is that I wish there were recipes for the desserts she made.

22 May, 2018

Girl in Translation

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Girl in Translation Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
on April 29th 2010
Pages: 290
Genres: Fiction
Published by Riverhead
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: New York

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition. Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.
Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about.
Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant-a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.

Goodreads

This book is heartbreaking.  From the beginning you just want to hug these characters and beat up anyone who wants to harm them.  It is immediately obvious that the author is writing about her life.  The details that are included about living in extreme poverty in a condemned building while relying on an illegal job that pays pennies for piecework have to come from lived experience and not research.

I was ready to fight the evil Aunt who oh so generously brings her little sister and niece to the U.S. and then knowingly dumps them in these conditions.  She pretends to be helping them SO MUCH out of the KINDNESS OF HER HEART while leaving them in a building with no heat.  She underpays them and then manages to steal back a lot of the money they earned.  She needed somebody to whup her.

Even people who were nice to them did not have the ability to understand what was happening to them.  One of her friends started to see but asked her wealthy parents and was assured that she must have the situation confused because no one lives like that.

This is a story that anyone who thinks that immigrants get handed new lives in the United States needs to read.  This is a story that wealthy people who think that children and poor people don’t work dangerous jobs that defy labor laws in the U.S. need to read. 

16 May, 2018

Dread Nation

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Dread Nation Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
on April 3rd 2018
Pages: 455
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Balzer + Bray
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Goodreads

When  the bodies of the dead come back and attack people, the fighting in the Civil War stops. What doesn’t stop is the racism that was inherent in the United States. Now, 20 years after the shamblers first appeared, black children are taken and trained for combat duty.

The system replicates the hierarchy of slavery.  “Better” girls are trained in elite schools to be bodyguards to wealthy white women. They guard them from shamblers and serve as chaperones as the white ladies socialize.  Other girls end up working in the fields clearing shamblers as they approach towns.  Those people don’t have a long life span.

For me the story got most interesting when Jane and some companions are sent west to a planned community run by a pastor and his son, the sheriff.  Everything is set up for the safety and protection of white families but it is all run on the forced labor of black people.  The white overseers are so terrified of their black charges that they deliberately undermine their ability to fight shamblers by not giving them adequate weapons thus weakening the defenses of the whole town.  They won’t listen to the advice and expertise of black women until it is literally life or death.

This book didn’t interest me as a zombie/horror story.  It was at its best when showing off the absurdities of racism.  From phrenology to tell who is white and who is black to medical experimentation on unwilling black people to unequal distribution of assets this book highlights many aspects of systemic racism by placing them in a fantasy setting where people should be more interested in working together for survival than upholding an arbitrary hierarchy.

08 May, 2018

Abby Spencer Goes To Bollywood

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Abby Spencer Goes To Bollywood Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj
on March 1st 2014
Pages: 256
Genres: Young Adult
Published by Albert Whitman Company
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: India, United States

What thirteen-year-old Abby wants most is to meet her father. She just never imagined he would be a huge film star--in Bollywood! Now she's traveling to Mumbai to get to know her famous father. Abby is overwhelmed by the culture clash, the pressures of being the daughter of India's most famous celebrity, and the burden of keeping her identity a secret. But as she learns to navigate her new surroundings, she just might discover where she really belongs.

Goodreads

This book was so cute!  I don’t read a lot of middle grade but I loved the sound of this one.

Abby’s mother found out she was pregnant after her college boyfriend moved back to India.  She was able to contact his family but he never returned her calls.  Now thirteen, Abby develops an allergy that starts her asking more questions than ever before about her father’s side of the family.

Her father changed his name and became a famous actor after he returned to India.  Attempts to contact him for his medical history are finally successful.  Now he wants to get to know her but it all needs to be carefully controlled because he is a huge star and he needs to control his image.

 

Abby’s a biracial child who has never had any contact with the Indian part of identity.  There is tension between her parents because of her father being absent for all of her life.  Her father is used to calling the shots in his life and her mother is not about to just go along with his ideas now that he’s back in the picture.  Abby’s also finding out that her wealthy father’s life in India is not typical for the country.

The book does a good job of making each of the characters multidimensional.  All of them have well developed concerns and personalities.  I really hoped that there was a sequel to see what came next in their lives because there is so much to explore but there isn’t a second book. That made me sad.  I didn’t want to leave these characters behind.

20 Apr, 2018

The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay by Nicola May
on April 9th 2018
Pages: 364
Published by Nowell Publishing
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Praise for Nicola May’s books
‘This book will twang your funny bone & your heartstrings’ – Milly Johnson‘A fun and flighty read’ the Sun‘A funny and fast-paced romp – thoroughly enjoyable!’ Rosa Larkin is down on her luck in London, so when she inherits a near-derelict corner shop in a quaint Devon village, her first thought is to sell it for cash and sort out her life. But nothing is straightforward about this legacy. While the identity of her benefactor remains a mystery, he - or she - has left one important legal proviso: that the shop cannot be sold, only passed on to somebody who really deserves it. Rosa makes up her mind to give it a go: to put everything she has into getting the shop up and running again in the small seaside community of Cockleberry Bay. But can she do it all on her own? And if not, who will help her succeed - and who among the following will work secretly to see her fail? There is a handsome rugby player, a sexy plumber, a charlatan reporter and a selection of meddling locals. Add in a hit and run incident and the disappearance of a valuable engraved necklace – and what you get is a journey of self-discovery and unpredictable events. With surprising and heartfelt results, Rosa, accompanied at all times by her little sausage dog Hot, will slowly unravel the shadowy secrets of the inheritance, and also bring her own, long-hidden heritage into the light.

Goodreads

The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay

It seems like I’m going with the unpopular opinion based on the reviews I’ve read from other people.  From the description I expected a light-hearted, funny read typical of the chick lit genre.  This book is not that.  It is surprisingly dark especially considering how it is being marketed.

The main character is self-destructive.  She drinks excessively and can’t keep a job.  Her main human contact is a series of one night sexual encounters.  She uses sex to help make up for the fact that she can’t always pay for the rent on her flat.  The only thing she loves at all is her dog, Hot.  Getting an inheritance is a way for her to get out of her current life and start fresh.

Usually in this type of book the small town the heroine goes to is full of lovely characters.  Here that isn’t the case.  In short order she is scammed, sexually assaulted, and her secret is outed against her express wishes.  Then she is threatened to provide someone with an alibi for a hit and run. 

She eventually finds some nicer people but they have secrets too.  Then people keep breaking into her house, she ends up with a pregnant teenager living with her, she gets scammed a few more times, she finds out about a decades old affair, and her dog gets hurt (but he’s ok).  This isn’t a bad book but I didn’t read it anything like the laugh a minute romp I’m seeing other people review it as.  I read it more as a cautionary tale about trying to keep secrets and the need to have someone who you can confide in.  Rosa is very damaged emotionally and trying to move past that in her own way isn’t easy.  Trying to open up and let other people in when you have learned over and over not to trust is hard.  When those people then repeatedly violate your tentative trust, what do you do?


I read an ARC so hopefully things have been cleaned up but there was an error in my copy.  She was reading letters about a person who was only referred to by an initial.  But when she thought about the person she thought of them by their full first name.  She had no way of knowing that.

The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay Full Banner

06 Apr, 2018

Spring at the Little Duck Pond Cafe

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Spring at the Little Duck Pond Cafe Spring at The Little Duck Pond Cafe by Rosie Green, Berni Stevens, Cara Armstrong
on March 2018
Pages: 127
Genres: Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Fleeing from a romance gone wrong, Ellie Farmer arrives in the pretty little village of Sunnybrook, hoping for a brand new start that most definitely does not include love! Following an unscheduled soak in the village duck pond, she meets Sylvia, who runs the nearby Duck Pond Café. Renting the little flat above the café seems like the answer to Ellie's prayers. It's only for six months, which will give her time to sort out her life, far away from cheating boyfriend Richard.

But is running away from your past ever really the answer?

Clashing with the mysterious and brooding Zack Chamberlain, an author with a bad case of writer's block, is definitely not what Ellie needs right now. And then there's Sylvia, who's clinging so hard to her past, she's in danger of losing the quaint but run-down Duck Pond Café altogether.

Can Ellie find the answers she desperately needs in Sunnybrook? And will she be able to help save Sylvia's little Duck Pond Café from closure?

Goodreads

Spring at The Little Duck Pond Café

Books set in cafes in England are my favorites. This story features both a bakery and a cafe.

This is the first of a planned series of three books in this small town.  This section has the task of setting up all the characters and situations which is a lot to do in such a small space.  As a result it felt a bit like the author was ticking off the boxes of what is expected in this genre. 

  • A woman who just was dumped by her long term boyfriend for another woman
  • A conveniently single man at her new location complete with an adorable child
  • An aging proprietor of a failing cafe who wants to take in a total stranger

The story was enjoyable but it never rose above the predictable.  There wasn’t enough depth of emotion in the story to draw me in fully.  This may be a series read best when it is all completed so the characters have room to develop and grow. 

I’m most interested in seeing the development of some of the secondary characters like the secret baker who is learning to stand up for herself. 

 

Spring at the Little Duck Pond Cafe Full Banner

03 Apr, 2018

Lady Helena Investigates

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Lady Helena Investigates Lady Helena Investigates on March 14, 2018
Pages: 391
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Mystery & Detective
Format: eBook
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

1881, Sussex. Lady Helena Scott-De Quincy’s marriage to Sir Justin Whitcombe, three years before, gave new purpose to a life almost destroyed by the death of Lady Helena’s first love. After all, shouldn’t the preoccupations of a wife and hostess be sufficient to fulfill any aristocratic female’s dreams? Such a shame their union wasn’t blessed by children . . . but Lady Helena is content with her quiet country life until Sir Justin is found dead in the river overlooked by their grand baroque mansion.

The intrusion of attractive, mysterious French physician Armand Fortier, with his meddling theory of murder, into Lady Helena’s first weeks of mourning is bad enough. But with her initial ineffective efforts at investigation and her attempts to revive her long-abandoned interest in herbalism comes the realization that she may have been mistaken about her own family’s past. Every family has its secrets—but as this absorbing series will reveal, the Scott-De Quincy family has more than most.

Can Lady Helena survive bereavement the second time around? Can she stand up to her six siblings’ assumption of the right to control her new life as a widow? And what role will Fortier—who, as a physician, is a most unsuitable companion for an earl’s daughter—play in her investigations?

Goodreads

AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE

 


04_Lady Helena Investigates_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

I loved Helena.  At the beginning of the book she has just been widowed for the second time although she is only in her early 20s.  She is the youngest daughter in a large family.  Because of that she has always been treated as a child.  They even call her “Baby” although her brother is younger than her. 

Helena is shocked by the death of her husband and is starting to get angry about the way her family has swooped in assuming that she is a problem that needs to be managed again.  She declares that she is not going to be married off again.  She is going to manage her own estate.  She is not going to be pushed out of her own life any more. 

Then her late husband’s doctor tells her that he doesn’t believe his death was accidental but that the other men on the inquiry panel ruled against him.  Most of those men are related to her.  What are they trying to hide?

There are several plot lines in this book.

  • How did Helena’s husband actually die?
  • Helena standing up for herself with her family
  • A tenant farmer’s death

I enjoyed reading about Helena’s relationships with each of the people in her large family.  She’s always accepted the surface version of things but now that she’s starting to dig deeper into her life, things aren’t always as she assumed.  Her little brother is overbearing and too enamored of his status as the head of the family but he isn’t always wrong about what she should do with her life.  Her mother and father may not have had the idyllic marriage that Helena imagined.  There may be more to her free-spirited artist sister than she expects.  All these relationships set up storylines that can continue into other books in the series. 

The book dives into disability during this time period also.  Helena’s mother is in the late stages of dementia.  She has a full time nurse but the mental toll on family members and on Helena’s mother is discussed in ways appropriate to the time period.  Helena’s brother reads as autistic.  At this time, that wasn’t a described condition so he is mostly considered odd and sometimes offputting.  But, his wife loves him and understands him and helps him interact with his family and the rest of the world.  Helena has a physically disabled nephew who she loves but who is treated as feeble-minded by his parents even though he is not.  She helps him learn to stand up for himself as she learns it for herself.

I’m not a fan of books where lay people investigate crimes unless the story sets up a good reason why the authorities can’t be involved.  In this case the authorities of the area are all family members who may be involved.  The doctor is French and may be a spy.  You never know quite who you can trust. 

I will definitely read the next book in this series. 

 


Giveaway

During the Blog Tour we will be giving away two eBooks of Lady Helena Investigates by Jane Steen! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on April 13th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US residents only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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About the Author

Jane Steen was born in England and, despite having spent more years out of the British Isles than in, still has a British accent according to just about every American she meets.

Her long and undistinguished career has included a three-year stint as the English version of a Belgian aerospace magazine, an interesting interlude as an editor in a very large law firm, and several hectic years in real estate marketing at the height of the property boom. This tendency to switch directions every few years did nothing for her resume but gave her ample opportunity to sharpen her writing skills and develop an entrepreneurial spirit.

Around the edges of her professional occupations and raising children, she stuck her nose in a book at every available opportunity and at one time seemed on course to become the proverbial eternal student. Common sense prevailed, though, and eventually she had the bright idea of putting her passion for books together with her love of business and writing to become a self-published author.

Jane has lived in three countries and is currently to be found in the Chicago suburbs with her long-suffering husband and two adult daughters.

For more information, please visit Jane Steen’s website. You can also find her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, March 12
Feature at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, March 13
Feature at To Read, Or Not to Read

Wednesday, March 14
Review at Pursuing Stacie

Thursday, March 15
Feature at Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen

Friday, March 16
Interview at Let Them Read Books
Feature at What Is That Book About

Tuesday, March 20
Feature at Donna’s Book Blog

Wednesday, March 21
Review at Rachael’s Ramblings
Feature at The Lit Bitch

Tuesday, March 27
Review at View from the Birdhouse

Wednesday, March 28
Feature at Susan Heim on Writing

Friday, March 30
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Tuesday, April 3
Review at Based on a True Story

Wednesday, April 4
Review at SilverWood Sketches

Thursday, April 5
Feature at A Bookaholic Swede

Wednesday, April 11
Review at What Cathy Read Next
Feature at A Literary Vacation

Thursday, April 12
Feature at Teaser Addicts Book Blog

Friday, April 13
Tour Wrap Up at Passages to the Past

 

28 Mar, 2018

A Princess in Theory

/ posted in: Reading A Princess in Theory A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
on February 27th 2018
Pages: 360
Series: Reluctant Royals #1
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Published by Avon
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Also in this series: A Duke by Default

Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.
Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.
The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?

Goodreads

I don’t generally read contemporary romance but people have been raving about this book.  I’ve also liked Alyssa Cole’s historical romances so I decided to give it a try.  I’m glad I did.

I laughed out loud to see that this story starts with a variation on the Nigerian Prince email scam.  Naledi receives an email claiming that she may be the long lost betrothed of a prince of an African country.  Now if she’s only send all the necessary information to establish her identity…..

There are many places where this book could have easily gone from entertaining to annoying.  The author did a great job with keeping the mystery/suspense up but allowing pieces of the puzzle to be revealed in a natural way instead of dragging out conflicts. 

There is a lot going on in this book. 

  • There is the Prince and the Pauper aspect as Thabiso tries to live as a normal person for a week.  He gains insights on how he’s been treating all the “little people” in his life. 
  • Naledi is having to deal with white male colleagues who use her for grunt work in their lab.  Any time she speaks up for herself she is afraid of being labeled a “difficult black woman.” I like the way another woman in the department was eventually able to stand up for her.
  • Naledi has a rich friend who overruns any boundaries Naledi tries to set up but who she knows cares about her. 
  • Then there are the mysteries of why her parents ran away from Africa with her and what is the new illness that appearing in Thabiso’s country.

That’s all without adding in the romance aspect. 

I’d recommend this book for anyone who likes romance books.  It is the start of a series.  Somewhere in this series I want a book about what happened with Thabiso’s assistant.  She travels with him to the U.S., starts a whirlwind romance with a woman she meets on Tinder, has some sort of bad break up that she refuses to talk about, and then heads back to Africa with Thabiso and Naledi.  There’s way more to that story than the teasing bit we saw in this book. 

via GIPHY

 

20 Mar, 2018

The Best Boomerville Hotel

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Best Boomerville Hotel The Best Boomerville Hotel by Caroline James
on March 13th 2018
Genres: Fiction
Published by Ruby Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Let the shenanigans begin at the Best Boomerville Hotel …
Jo Docherty and Hattie Contaldo have a vision – a holiday retreat in the heart of the Lake District exclusively for guests of ‘a certain age’ wishing to stimulate both mind and body with new creative experiences. One hotel refurbishment later and the Best Boomerville Hotel is open for business!
Perhaps not surprisingly Boomerville attracts more than its fair share of eccentric clientele: there’s fun-loving Sir Henry Mulberry and his brother Hugo; Lucinda Brown, an impoverished artist with more ego than talent; Andy Mack, a charming Porsche-driving James Bond lookalike, as well as Kate Simmons, a woman who made her fortune from an internet dating agency but still hasn’t found ‘the One’ herself.
With such an array of colourful individuals there’s bound to be laughs aplenty, but could there be tears and heartbreak too and will the residents get more than they bargained for at Boomerville?

Goodreads

This book wants to be a fun romp in the country with an eclectic group of people.  That’s a fun premise for a book.  I’m always on the look out for books with middle-aged or older protagonists. 

I got a bit thrown off right at the beginning of the book with her definition of Boomers.  She defines them as 50-69 which is a tad young for a book published this year.  She then makes her main character 50.  So this is supposed to be a book celebrating Baby Boomers yet she makes the lead as young as she possibly can.  Then there are several comments throughout the book about how they don’t want “elderly people” at the hotel.  Older women at the hotel are described as “ageing” in a disparaging way.  That all seemed odd for a book that is supposed to be celebrating Baby Boomers.

There is a party that is held at one point in the book.  They decide to have Indian food.  That’s fine.  Then they decide to make it a costume party where all these upper class white British people will be wearing saris, turbans, and other Indian styles of dress.  That’s pushing pretty far towards creepy and inappropriate.  Then they decide to make it a party celebrating the British Raj.  Yeah.  That’s pretty out of touch.

Then there is the Shaman.  He doesn’t have a name.  He isn’t seen often.  He has both a “gypsy caravan” and a teepee.  He does sessions of some kind in there.  They appear to involve getting people high.  Then he starts showing up and making mysterious pronouncements of doom while also healing people with a touch before disappearing from sight.  One time he turns up to do a Shamanistic wedding ceremony and the guest indulge it as “a cabaret with a difference.” 

So the guests are all rich white people who can take off for weeks at a time to stay at a hotel and putter about.  The entertainment is a mish mash of other people’s cultures for fun.  The “romances” in the book are pure insta-love.  Our main character had two men fall for her on the first day she was there.  They were just overtaken by her beauty.  Once people decide to look at each other as a potential romantic interest, that’s it they are getting ready to get married.  This is explained as people being old and not having much time left. I get not dawdling but this felt more like, “You’re breathing.  You’ll do.”

I’d love to see this idea with maybe fewer characters so each could be well developed as a person instead of a stereotype – flighty artist, dirty old man, etc. 

 

17 Mar, 2018

Ecstasy

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Ecstasy Ecstasy by Mary Sharratt
on April 10th 2018
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

In the glittering hotbed of turn-of-the-twentieth-century Vienna, one woman’s life would define and defy an era
Gustav Klimt gave Alma her first kiss. Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight and proposed only a few weeks later. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius abandoned all reason to pursue her. Poet and novelist Franz Werfel described her as “one of the very few magical women that exist.” But who was this woman who brought these most eminent of men to their knees? In Ecstasy, Mary Sharratt finally gives one of the most controversial and complex women of her time the center stage.
Coming of age in the midst of a creative and cultural whirlwind, young, beautiful Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. A brand-new era of possibility for women is dawning and she is determined to make the most of it. But Alma loses her heart to the great composer Gustav Mahler, nearly twenty years her senior. He demands that she give up her music as a condition for their marriage. Torn by her love and in awe of his genius, how will she remain true to herself and her artistic passion?
Part cautionary tale, part triumph of the feminist spirit, Ecstasy reveals the true Alma Mahler: composer, author, daughter, sister, mother, wife, lover, and muse.

Goodreads

I received this book from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

Alma Mahler was a very interesting woman. She was ambitious in a time and place that did not reward that in upper class white women.  She wanted to be a composer but was told that she couldn’t if she wanted to marry the man she wanted.

This book does a good job of highlighting the mental cost of requiring a woman to be a wife and mother if that is not their desire. Her depression and their martial troubles in the face of his refusal to see her as a creative human being was well written.

I wish this book had pulled me deeper into the story emotionally.  Great historical fiction should immerse you in the time and place.  It should take a little effort to get your focus out of that world when you put the book aside. This reading experience felt very surface level which is a shame. Early 20th century Vienna and the artistic world there could be a very lush setting for a novel.

I enjoyed learning about this woman that I had not previous been aware of.

08 Mar, 2018

American Panda

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading American Panda American Panda by Gloria Chao
on February 6th 2018
Pages: 311
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Simon Pulse
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.
At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.
With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.
But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

Goodreads

This book is so good!  

Conflict between immigrant Asian parents and their American-born kids is a staple in a lot of books.  What I appreciated about this book is that it took a deeper look at the people involved to figure out their motivations.  Mei is trying to be the perfect daughter because she has seen real world consequences of disobedience.  Her brother was cut out of the family years earlier for dating a woman with some health issues that may impact her fertility.  His parents would not accept a potential daughter in law who might not produce grandchildren.  Mei is raised on stories of a local Taiwanese-American woman who was cast out of her family and the horrible things had (supposedly) happened to her.  From an outsider’s perspective it is easy to wonder “Why doesn’t she stand up for herself?”  This book does a great job of showing where she gets the idea that she has no other options.

The book features other characters who have been in these situations and examines the results of their decisions.  There is:

  • A woman who became a doctor because her family decided she would be
  • A female relative whose life is taken up by caring for her mother
  • Mei’s boyfriend, who is from a Japanese-American family that has been living in the United States for several generations
  • Mei’s mother 

Mei’s mother’s story was amazing.  At the beginning she is portrayed as an overbearing, neurotic mother who has Mei’s schedule memorized and panics if she doesn’t answer her phone when she knows she should be out of class.  Her phone messages are played for laughs.  As the story deepens though we start to see her conflicts.  She’s the daughter-in-law of a very traditional family in an arranged marriage where her role is very sharply defined.  As she sees Mei start to branch out, she opens up a little about her life and you develop a lot of compassion for a character who very easily could have descended into a caricature.  

It’s great.  I would recommend this one to everyone.  Go get it and read it and pass it on.

22 Feb, 2018

The Belles

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Belles The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
on February 6th 2018
Pages: 448
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.
With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Goodreads

I wanted to love this book so much more than I did.  I’ve been hearing about it for so long and have heard such glowing praise of it that when I finished it and felt a bit blah towards it, I was disappointed.

The Hype

This book has been super hyped because of the use of a black model in a gown on the cover.  It was celebrated as a great step forward for representation in books and it is.  But because of that I thought that race would play a bigger part in this book than it does.  Skin color in this world is decided on a whim.  There is no change in status/power/importance placed on the skin color that you have.  It is a fashion accessory.  It just seemed like it went from “Yay for Black Girls” on the cover and in the promotions to “But actually, this doesn’t have anything to do with you specifically” in the story.  If I didn’t know anything about how this book was promoted, it probably wouldn’t have felt strange to me.

Worldbuilding

The author does a great job in the opening of setting up the world.  It is imaginative and vivid.  After that though the world building just seems to stop.  This is a long novel at 448 pages.  In most fantasy books that size you’d know about countries around the area, the basis of the economy, how people of different classes live, what is their technology based on, etc.  The main character is very sheltered but that isn’t unusual in fantasy.  Usually they find out more about their surroundings that she does in this book though.  At least they show some interest in what is going on around them.  Camillia really doesn’t.

Wishy Washy Heroine

Events happen to the characters in this book.  They do not direct the action.  I think this is the key to my dissatisfaction with this book. 

Every time she is asked to make a decision, she puts it off for days. Eventually she makes a decision but it is usually irrelevant by then because events have moved on.  When deciding between what is right/hard and what is easy/cruel, she always chooses easy/cruel if forced to make a choice in the moment.  She seems like she is supposed to be a nice person – she remembers servants’ names! – but she is so very weak.  Only after witnessing and participating in abuse after abuse does she start to think that something might be wrong.  I would be much more interested in reading a story about the one of her fellow Belles who threw a fit about what she was being made to do almost from the beginning.  

Series vs Stand alone book

It is fine to have a book designed to be part of a series but I hate it when there is no resolution at the end of a book.  Even just wrapping up some side storylines is more satisfying than a totally open-ended book.  In a way this feels like the story is just starting and the pages run out.  That’s fine if you can move right on to the next book but it is annoying here.  At the end I kept thinking of questions that weren’t answered and thinking, “Maybe that’s in the next book” instead of enjoying what was in this one.  

Overall

I think the idea was good.  There are some very creative details in the world building like teacup elephants and mail being delivered by small balloons.  It may turn out to be the beginning of a good series.  But it doesn’t stand alone well as a single book.  

07 Feb, 2018

Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies by Evy Journey
on November 29, 2017
Pages: 181
Genres: Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

Cooking a wonderful meal is an art. An act of love. An act of grace. A gift that affirms and gives life—not only does it nurture those who partake of the meal; it also feeds the soul of the creator. These are lessons Gina learns from her mother, daughter of an unfortunate French chef.

Gina is a young woman born to poor parents, a nobody keen to taste life outside the world she was born into. A world that exposes her to fascinating people gripped by dark motives. Her passion for cooking is all she has to help her navigate it.

She gets lucky when she’s chosen to cook at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area where customers belong to a privileged class with money to spare for a dinner of inventive dishes costing hundreds of dollars. In this heady, scintillating atmosphere, she meets new friends and new challenges—pastry chef Marcia, filthy rich client Leon, and Brent, a brooding homicide detective. This new world, it turns out, is also one of unexpected danger.

Goodreads

 

The main character is working at a restaurant.  She has a chance to serve one of the dishes she created to a favored client.  He is there on a date with her childhood best friend.  He immediately, like while sitting in front of his date, starts talking about his interest in the main character.  That’s super creepy behavior.  Then he starts to stalk her in spite of her repeated requests for him to stop.

Apparently every time her friend’s boyfriends meet our main character they immediately fall for her without her doing anything at all to encourage them.

 

 

 
I actually checked several times to confirm that this was written by a woman. You usually don’t see the ‘vapid heroine who doesn’t do anything to attract men but they fall all over her just for existing storyline’ in books written by women. You especially don’t see it to the point where other women are physically attacking her – repeatedly. This book also doesn’t really seem to consider stalking to be a bad thing. It is just proof he loves you. If he won’t stop, you just haven’t said no hard enough and why are you wanting to say no anyway?

I thought our stalking dude was obviously the bad guy of the story but I was wrong.  Our MC decides to move in with her stalker because he’s rich and she wants to live that lifestyle until he gets tired of her and kicks her out.  That’s her plan. When her mother tells her that it is a completely stupid idea she is presented as out of touch.

I didn’t care about anyone in this story except maybe Christi, the main character’s childhood best friend.  Everyone else was only out for themselves and didn’t give you any reason to root for them.  I’m not a fan of books with amoral characters.  Books where everyone is just using each other with no concern about the right or wrong of their actions don’t usually work for me.  That’s definitely the case here.


Evy Journey, writer, wannabe artist, and flâneuse (feminine of flâneur), wishes she lives in Paris where people have perfected the art of aimless roaming. Armed with a Ph.D., she used to research and help develop mental health programs.

She’s a writer because beautiful prose seduces her and existential angst continues to plague her despite such preoccupations having gone out of fashion. She takes occasional refuge by invoking the spirit of Jane Austen to spin tales of love, loss, and finding one’s way—stories into which she weaves mystery or intrigue.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest  

I received a copy of the book from IRead Book Tours.

06 Feb, 2018

Deborah Calling

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Deborah Calling Deborah Calling by Avraham Azrieli
on July 25, 2017
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: Jordan/Israel

Deborah’s father dreamed that, one day, she would become a prophet—a seemingly impossible dream for a woman in a patriarchal society. To see her father’s dream come true, Deborah made the cunning decision to become a man and sought out a mysterious elixirist who can turn women into men.
Under the elixirist Kassite’s tutelage and training, Deborah learns the essential traits of masculinity and steadily grows stronger, building muscle and willpower. But Kassite requests something in return: he needs Deborah's help to escape the tannery and return to his homeland. It is the beginning of another thrilling adventure through the desert—a cat and mouse chase between Deborah and her violent fiancé who still hunts her, a chance meeting with an ancient healer with a prophetic message, and a revelatory spiritual experience in an abandoned cave.
As she continues on the path God has laid before her, Deborah witnesses the darkness that can take hold in the hearts and souls of men—evil that causes her to reflect on the wisdom, insight, and inspiration she has gained from the women in her life. Will becoming a man truly help her become a prophetess, or might there be another path? Visionary dreams, a mysterious eagle, and an extraordinary band of ex-slaves will help Deborah find the answer . . . and ultimately her calling.

Goodreads

I haven’t read the first book in this series that imagines the life of Deborah from the biblical book of Judges.  I received this book as part of a blog tour but it was not difficult to understand what had come before.  We know in the bible Deborah is leading the tribes of Israel but how did a woman get to this position of authority?  This story posits that her father had a dream that said that she would be a prophet.  She can not imagine how this could happen as a woman so she decides to take a potion that would turn her into a man.  Obviously, hormone therapy wasn’t available then so she is getting scammed by the people who are supposedly helping her.

She has a lot of internalized misogyny.  This isn’t surprising given the thoughts about women in her time.  But the men who are supposedly helping her keep drilling it into her head.  Women are stupid and emotional.  Men are in all ways superior.  I started highlighting these comments as they came up in the book.

“Girls aren’t stupid.” “It is not a matter of stupidity, but of destiny. Women exist to keep the home—make food, sew clothes, bear children, care for infants. That is why the gods made women fit for domesticated submission—passive, temperamental, small-minded, and anxious.


Deborah’s face flushed with shame. The mere sight of someone resembling Zariz had caused her to cast off all masculine strength and posture, instantly regressing to the foolish girl she had once been.


Kassite might view it as yet another manifestation of feminine weakness.

 

There are more but that is the general idea.  They keep telling her that she needs to search inside herself to get the final inspiration to complete her transformation to a man.  I was hoping that this led to her realizing her strength as a woman and deciding that she didn’t need to change herself externally in order to be able to be a prophet.  The book could have easily had that be the outcome.  I thought that was what it was leading to.  Instead she decides to embrace her life as a woman because she has a magical dream where she sees herself dispensing justice as a woman.  What?

When she declares this to her “mentors”, they dismiss her ideas and no longer accord her the same respect as when she was trying to be masculine.

“I am disappointed,” Kassite said. “You still think like a girl.”

Obviously the constraints of the time and place restrict how “Smash the Patriarchy” the story can go but I wanted more realization of feminine strength than was seen in this book.

This is part of a continuing series.  You don’t know at the end how she rises in power.  This is a story that I would love to hear but I’m not sure that I will be satisfied with this author’s imagining of the story. This book works fine as an adventurous historical fiction tale but it was worrisome to read this much internalized misogyny that isn’t disputed in the text from a male author.

There are also some anachronisms in the story especially in regard to the horses.  I’m a horse history nerd so that might not bother anybody else.

 

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.  

 

17 Jan, 2018

Binti Trilogy

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Binti Trilogy Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
on September 22nd 2015
Pages: 96
Published by Tor.com

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.

Goodreads

I decided not to read any of this trilogy until they were all released.  I think that was a good decision.  I bought the first two novellas and preordered the third right after Christmas.  In the years since Binti came out I had heard a lot about it but somehow did not entirely understand what it was about.  I knew that she was a girl from Africa who was going to university on another planet.  I thought this was going to be the story of her schooling.  It isn’t.

Binti takes place almost entirely on the ship on her way to the university.  Binti comes from a insular culture.  Family and tradition are of the highest importance.  At the same time they are very technologically advanced and make advanced devices for everyone.  Binti is most comfortable working with mathematical formulas.  They help her focus and relax.  She can manipulate electrical current through formulas.  Sheis a harmonizer who can bring disparate things together.  She’s supposed to take over the family business.  Instead she runs in the middle of the night to go off planet.  This is an ultimate betrayal of her family and culture.

Every time I read a Nnedi Okorafor book what stays with me is the imagination in the fine details more than the plot.  It starts with Binti’s faulty hover technology that she uses to move her suitcases.  It extends to the interstellar ships that are actually live animals that look like shrimp.  They like to travel and are fine with taking passengers along.

This whole series is an exploration of what it means to be uniquely “you”.  Does Binti lose her identity when she leaves her family or is she changing into an expanded version of herself?  Is it right or wrong to change in that way?  The women of Binti’s tribe wear a mixture of clay and oils on their skin to protect it from the desert.  It marks her as an outsider from other cultures on Earth but it saves her when the ship is attacked.  She is the only survivor and has to learn to use her gift for harmonizing to help stop a war.


Binti Trilogy Home by Nnedi Okorafor
on January 31st 2017
Pages: 176
Published by Tor.com

It’s been a year since Binti and Okwu enrolled at Oomza University. A year since Binti was declared a hero for uniting two warring planets. A year since she abandoned her family in the dawn of a new day.
And now she must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and face her elders.
But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years, and the first ever to come in peace.
After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?

Goodreads


The events of the first novella were very traumatic for Binti.  She is still learning how to handle her nightmares in addition to the changes in her body after some Meduse DNA was placed in her.  Is she still Himba with the addition of alien DNA?  Will her family ever be able to accept her if she goes home?  She decides that she has to go back to Earth to see.  Her goal is to take part in a pilgrimage that will earn her place as an adult woman of the Himba.  Okwa, her Meduse friend, decides to go with her.  He will be the first Meduse to ever come to Earth peacefully.

Friends and family members turn their back on her.  Then she is prevented from going on the pilgrimage by the arrival of members of a desert people who the Himba have always looked down on.  They take her into the desert to explain their history to her.  Her father is one of the them but he turned his back on them to become Himba.  Again we get into questions of identity.  Binti was raised to stay in her own community.  Her world keeps expanding against her will.

While she is in the desert, her family and Okwa are attacked.  Now she has to try to make her way back to see if anyone survived.

This was my favorite of the series.  Binti is pushing through the boundaries that have been set for a woman of her age and tribe.  As she grows, there is a ripple effect in her community.


Binti Trilogy The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
on January 16th 2018
Pages: 160
Published by Tor.com

Binti has returned to her home planet, believing that the violence of the Meduse has been left behind. Unfortunately, although her people are peaceful on the whole, the same cannot be said for the Khoush, who fan the flames of their ancient rivalry with the Meduse.
Far from her village when the conflicts start, Binti hurries home, but anger and resentment has already claimed the lives of many close to her.
Once again it is up to Binti, and her intriguing new friend Mwinyi, to intervene--though the elders of her people do not entirely trust her motives--and try to prevent a war that could wipe out her people, once and for all.

Goodreads


I’m glad I read these almost back to back.  This story picks up immediately where the last one left off.  Binti is getting back to her village that has been attacked while she was gone.  She tries to rally the survivors but meets opposition from people who believe that their nature requires them to stay neutral and out of harm’s way while other more powerful groups fight.  Binti wants to use the power of her culture to bring peace.  She is ignored because after all she is just a girl and a very poor example of a Himba, in the elders’ eyes.   Binti is becoming a bit more used to her expanded world view though.  She can see how to bring people together even though it is going to cost her everything to do this alone.

These books do a very good job of combining traditional Himba culture, other West African beliefs such as the importance of Masquerades, advanced technology, and alien civilizations without making it feel like one is automatically better than any of the others.  Binti learns to incorporate all these aspects of herself into her idea of who she is even if she really doesn’t want to.

“I have always liked myself, Dr. Tuka.” I looked up at her.  “I like who I am.  I love my family. I wasn’t running away from home.  I don’t want to change, to grow!  Nothing … everything … I don’t want all this … this weirdness! It’s too heavy!  I just want to be.”

 

I would recommend this series for anyone who enjoys science fiction that is very personal instead of a vast epic.  It is for anyone who ever felt like they didn’t fix exactly in the space that they were born to occupy even if they really want to fit there perfectly.

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