Book Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

I’ve been reading a lot of short fiction this year, and that’s been good because it’s provided some variety.  I was very much ready for a sweeping, epic tale that would take me through multiple POVs, diverse settings, drama and intrigue.  Unfortunately, that craving hasn’t quite been satisfied.

The Priory of the Orange Tree

Rating:  ★★★

Description from GoodReads: The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.  Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

I didn’t hate this… I just wasn’t excited about it.  It started well enough.  The reader doesn’t have a ton of info dumped on them right from the start, and the urge to keep reading is strong.  By page 400 or so I was begging for the infodumps to stop.  These were so torturous and contributed so little that I started skipping them outright.  I was reminded a lot of The Raven Tower‘s affinity for: “Here is a story I have heard.”  It was too soon after reading that to then turn around and read this.  My brain was just inundated with story after story after story after another tedious story.

I get it.  Some people like that.  I’m just not one of them.  And just for the record, I had no trouble following the story without them.

The world building, as I’m sure you can imagine, is vast.  It should be when there has been that much lore imagined to back it up.  I guess my issue is, if I’m going to read about religious upheaval, I’d rather just read historical fiction.  There are few books I’ve read that feel like they encompass an entire globe, but this is one of them.  Deserts, seas, mountainous winter regions, it is comparable to Game of Thrones on that front.

That’s where the comparisons can safely stop.  The characters here are just not interesting.  At first I liked Sabran a lot, but I don’t know if that was a help to the book.  Sabran is one of the few characters without a view point.  Tane’s views are pretty useless until the last 200 pages.  I’m still not sure why Niclay’s was needed, and in listing these viewpoints I almost entirely forgot Loth.  Of the POV characters we’re given, Ead’s story is the most interesting, but again, around the halfway mark the plot just became utterly predictable and even she couldn’t save it.

The villains were cartoonish.  I didn’t even care enough about them to hate them.  I’m not a big Game of Thrones fan, but you can bet your ass I was cheering Joffrey onto his death.  It’s not my favorite way to feel about a book, but if you can’t give me sassy and fun, or interesting and complex, at least make me hate the bad guy.  The problem is, aside from one or two minor side villains- the big bad is a (minor spoiler) sleeping dragon.

In retrospect, it would have been a lot more fun if the dragon had woken up earlier.

Very general spoilers here: there are some character deaths.  I get the feeling they were supposed to make the world dark and gritty, shock the reader, but they were honestly wasted because so very little effort was put into building the relationships up between them.  People die and it seems like other characters, despite saying they cared about them, just shrug it off.  There’s no mourning time.  There’s no reflecting on it.  The saddest death in the book, the most loving relationship, happened like 10 years before this novel even takes place.  It’s just frustrating. (For the record, I enjoyed the passages about that particular relationship very much, and it was the only one that ever felt real.)

I ended up skimming the last 300 or so pages.  The climax felt like it was going to happen around the 60% mark and I found myself questioning how much content could possibly be left.  The ending was dragged out for far too long and could have been solved by better transitional scenes or fewer points of view.

One of the main reasons I picked this up was for the diverse representation and on that front it didn’t disappoint.  I felt that it was done very subtly without ever labeling any one, but giving the reader just enough to find a character they might be able to identify with.

I would recommend this to fans of slower paced novels who can appreciate the dedication to world building here.  I think lots of readers will enjoy this one, sadly, it just wasn’t for me.

I do have content warnings for this book but they are largely spoilers.  Please leave me a comment below or check out my review on GoodReads if you’d like to know what they are.

 

 

Can’t Wait Wednesday: The Deep by Rivers Solomon

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This is the first time I’ve done one of these posts.  Usually if there’s a new release I’m going to get excited about, I’m the last to know, but I’m currently working my way through all 800 pages of The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, so I figured I’d give Can’t Wait Wednesday a try.

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

Release Date: November 5, 2019

Published by: Saga Press

Length: 176 Pages

Description: Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.

Why I’m excited for it: The wonderful members of the Sci Fi Fantasy Book Club on GoodReads did a buddy read for Solomon’s other work, An Unkindness of Ghosts, and though I didn’t partake in that particular buddy read, the feedback overall seemed very positive.

I would like to check that one out at some point, but when I saw the description for The Deep I was enthralled by the premise.  It seems like at least some of it will be set underwater, which is one of my favorite settings for books.  The deeper you go, the less the world knows about life under the sea, so it’s always appealed to me as one of those settings where anything could happen.

It seems like it’s going to have merpeople of a sort.  I read Mira Grant’s (Seanan McGuire) Into the Drowning Deep last year and while it read like a B-movie horror flick, that’s sort of my jam, and I enjoyed the ride.  I’m fascinated by reports of the Fiji mermaid, especially those documentaries similar to Josh Gate’s expedition on Destination Truth.

But most of all it’s own voices, and it will explore the world and it’s history from a perspective we don’t get to see enough.  I’ve already planned the buddy read for release day, and I honestly can’t wait.

The Deep can be found on GoodReads here, or preordered on Amazon here.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Tweets

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s topic is Outrageous Things I’ve Done For Love of Books.  I guess I’m not reading hard enough because I really can’t think of a single outrageous thing I’ve done for love of books.  Like.. maybe I’ve been tempted to drive by Stephen King’s super awesome house whenever I visit my family in Maine, but then I realize he lives in Bangor and I don’t know his address and it’s too far to drive anyway… so yeah.

Instead, enjoy these fun bookish tweets I spent my Saturday scouring the interwebs for.

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That’s it!  I hope at least one of them brought a smile to your face!  Link back to your post below so I can come see all the outrageous things REAL bookworms are doing.

Book Discussion: Authors that have been on my TBR for way too long

I don’t know about you- but I have quite a few authors with multiple books on my TBR that have been there forever.  I’ve been thinking a lot about why I’m so hesitant to jump in and wondering if it’s just that I don’t know where to start.  I’m enlisting your help to get me started on some of these books!  Let me know if there’s one that’s better than the others or books that make for good introductions to these authors and their worlds.

Robert Jackson Bennett – Everything he writes sounds exactly like something I need in my life.  I even own his Divine Cities omnibus.  Still haven’t read him.

Chuck Wendig – I think I actually have read a short story by Wendig, and that was what put him on my radar initially, but I never ended up committing to any of his novels.  Now Wanderers is coming in July, and I’m positively giddy with excitement because it sounds epic.

Neal Stephenson – I see Stephenson’s books everywhere.  But I feel like people are pretty mixed on whether they like them or not.  To top it off, from what I understand, his books are all like 800+ pages long.  Where is the best place to start?!

Claire North – The book she’s probably most recognized for is The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, but for some reason that book doesn’t appeal to me so much.  These others  do.

Nancy Kress – Let’s be clear.  I want to read all the Nancy Kress books.  I don’t know if it’s her beautiful covers, or the descriptions or the possibilities for discussion, but every time one of her books pops up in my GoodReads feed. I add it.  Please, someone tell me where to start!

Joe Abercrombie – This is perhaps the most embarrassing one to admit to, because I love dark fiction and everyone recommends him as one of the top grimdark authors.  I think his blurbs are not doing his books justice.  Every time I look at one of them it turns into a TL;DR.  But now he has a new one coming out and I really just need to get on the bandwagon.

Other authors I need recommendations for: Brandon Sanderson (I know, I know), John Scalzi, and Richard Morgan.  Have you read any of these authors?  Can you tell me a good place to start?  Do you have any authors that have been on your TBR for way too long?

Book Review: The Test by Sylvain Neuvel

The Test by Sylvain Neuvel

Rating:  ★★★★

Sylvain Neuvel is one of those authors I’ve had on my TBR for way too long.  His work sounds interesting.  I only ever see glowing reviews from my bookish friends.  But I’ve had a hard time simply committing.  I think it’s because Themis Files is a trilogy?  I did the same thing with Ann Leckie and Jeff VanderMeer.  I waited for them to release a standalone before I went back and read their trilogies, so I guess this is a common issue for me.

When I saw the description for The Test, which I’ve very purposefully left out here, I knew this was something I needed to read.  Here’s all the blurb I’m including because to spoil anything about The Test is wrong: Idir is from Iran and he takes the British citizenship test.

I realize that doesn’t sound exciting, but what attracted me to it was the possibility for discussion of immigration and all the things that are wrong with modern immigration laws.  While the book is set in England, I felt it was a theme that I could relate easily to the U.S. (you know, minus discussions of The Wall, sigh).

I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint and started very much how I expected.  Idir is asked a lot of questions that the average British citizen doesn’t know.

Question 4: King Richard III of the House of York was killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field in what year?…I have a feeling only the people taking this test know the answer to that question. What could anyone possibly do with that information?

But Neuvel takes it one step further, and discusses the racism, the prejudice Idir experiences as a Muslim and Iranian.  How people can look at the color of a person’s skin and just assume they know everything about them.

We have been asked why we hate freedom, told to go back to the desert many times—I tell them I hear Dasht-e Kavir is breathtaking but I have never been. It is true—but not once has anyone asked me about famous battles of the fifteenth century. Maybe I should bring it up.

Idir’s resilience is admirable, and his character is immediately endeared to the reader because despite the fact that he takes it all in stride, even has a sense of humor about it, the truth is he shouldn’t have to put up with it at all.

From the very first chapter, you care what happens to him.  This is a short book, only 112 pages, and can be read in about two hours.  You want to see him succeed. So it’s saying a lot that you wanted to see him win after only one chapter.

Anyway, the book was very well written and the premise sucks you in right away with several unexpected turns, and I had a hard time putting the book down.  If it had not been a work day, I’d have read it all in one sitting.  Every chapter brought in some new element that had me on the edge of my seat.  The stakes are high, and the consequences far reaching.

I only deducted a star because of the ending.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s the ending that fit.  It’s the ending it should have, objectively speaking.  Subjectively, it isn’t the ending I wanted.  Everything else about this is a 5 star read and I’d encourage everyone to take a couple hours out of their day and read it.

There is a lesson to be learned here. We are all more alike than we think.

 

There is some potential trigger content here, so if you’d like to know what it is, please mention it in the comments below.  I wanted to avoid spoilers but I don’t want anyone to be caused unnecessary hurt by picking up the book either.

The Test can be found on GoodReads here, or purchased on Amazon here.

 

Book Review: Beowulf as translated by Seamus Heaney

Just a quick review today for a very quick read.  I’m ashamed to say this is the first time I’ve ever read Beowulf, Vikings fanatic that I am.  I am happy to say, I was not disappointed.

Beowulf Seamus Heaney

Rating:  ★★★★

Book description: This is the story of a famous Swede named Beowulf and his many amazing feats of heroism.

I read the Heaney translation because I see it recommended everywhere, and also because I have heard that it was the most accessible.  I have too much on my plate right now to spend a lot of time agonizing over the meaning of words, so I went with Heaney.  Sometime in the future I do think I’d like to check out the Tolkien translation and see how that pans out.

I am happy to report, it’s as readable as everyone says.  I didn’t have to puzzle much over words.  There were a few sections I had to re-read, just to be certain I had the gist of it, but nothing too time consuming.  It never hindered my enjoyment of the book.

The first thing I noticed was the presence of a very Christian God.  I don’t know why I didn’t expect this.  The likelihood that this was translated by a priest somewhere in time is very high, and even if it wasn’t a priest it still would have been someone of the Christian faith seeing as how the Norse didn’t have a system of written language outside of runes.  Though I’m certain some of them may eventually have learned, they likely would have been Christian too by then.

Yet the text still maintains many of it’s original Norse mythologies.  We see some references of giants and elves and omens.  It was a painful reminder about how many histories have been over or rewritten throughout time.  That’s just my guess though.   The Norse people did convert in the end so I suppose it’s equally as possible that the story was retold by one of their own.

I don’t know if one of my favorite authors or series was ever influenced by Beowulf, even if it was just the language, but my heart overflowed with joy to hear talk of the sword-Danes, spear-Danes and shield-Danes, along with gold givers and ring givers.  I was taken aback by just how much Beowulf probably has influenced in all the years to come.  I would very much like to re-read The Lord of the Rings and see what new meaning I can take away from it.

There are a lot of things about the text that are wholly unbelievable.  Early on, Beowulf claims to have swam in the water for five days straight while wearing mail and swords.  I just don’t believe this is possible for even the most in shape dude on the planet.  I think you’d have to be Superman or something.  So even though it was kind of silly, I still appreciated it as a way of having pride in one’s culture.

**WARNING: Here there be spoilers.***

I only deducted a star because the ending felt very disjointed to me.  Perhaps I misunderstood, but it seemed like we flashed forward to what life would be like without Beowulf and then flashed back to Beowulf lying dead on the beach.  Being that it’s in verse, the only real transition we get is one of Heanus’s “chapter” headings.  So it was very jarring.  In a novel, I think it would have been fine if these had been projected as a vision or something from Beowulf’s own mind.

***End Spoilers***

This is a must read for fantasy fans and history lovers alike.  It’s about the length of a novella/novelette so it can be read in just a day and is worth the time investment.

Next week I’ll be reading The Mere Wife, a modern suburban retelling of Beowulf and I can’t wait to start!

Beowulf can be purchased on Amazon here and found on GoodReads here.

 

Book Review: Our Dried Voices by Greg Hickey

Our Dried Voices by Greg Hickey

Rating:  ★★★1/2

Description from GoodReads: Several hundred years after their arrival, the remainder of humanity lives in a utopian colony in which every want is satisfied automatically, and there is no need for human labor, struggle or thought. But when the machines that regulate the colony begin to malfunction, the colonists are faced with a test for the first time in their existence.

With the lives of the colonists at stake, it is left to a young man named Samuel to repair these breakdowns and save the colony. Aided by his friend Penny, Samuel rises to meet each challenge. But he soon discovers a mysterious group of people behind each of these problems, and he must somehow find and defeat these saboteurs in order to rescue his colony.

The above description is accurate, but if I could take it one step further and compare it to something, I’d say it felt a lot like an unofficial sequel to H.G.Wells’s The Time Machine.  It’s not framed from the POV of a distinct narrator, but the setting, the tone, and the characters all felt very similar.

There isn’t a lot of action, or even dialogue in the beginning, but it does steadily increase as the story goes on.  What pulls you in here is the intrigue.  Why are the machines breaking down?  Who are the people that fix them?  What are all these notes about?  It felt like watching one not-so-smart person try to solve an escape room puzzle.

The writing was great and the description was really pretty.  I didn’t find a single proofreading or editing error, which is more than I can say for the past few books I’ve read.  It’s also a very quick book.  The chapters are short, there aren’t any side plots to contend with.  I was able to read it all in the span of 24 hours.  I appreciated that.  (My tolerance for 40/50 page chapters, or worse, books without chapters, has been exhausted for the year.)

I do think the reader will see the end coming long before Samuel does, but I also think that was half the fun.  There is an art to foreshadowing and Hickey used it well.  The characters are a little flat, but this is very much a plot driven story, so I was able to forgive it.

I do have a couple critiques, but they are minor.  Some of the world building was questionable.  For example, the colonists drink their water straight from the river. They have a food machine that spits out food cakes, but no filtered drinking water system?  It just seemed odd and I was sort of taken out of the story at any mention of drinking from the river.

The other thing I found a little questionable, is that words were used that I’m not sure Samuel would have known, given his experience with the world and the people he had been living with.  At one point, late in the book he says/thinks “technologies” and it felt very out of place.

Overall, this is a very quick read that I think is well worth checking out if you were a fan of The Time Machine.  Thank you to the author for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Our Dried Voices can be read for free with Kindle Unlimited or purchased on Amazon here.

Book Review: Moon Rising (Luna #3) by Ian McDonald

I’ll apologize, I haven’t been posting consistently.  To be honest, I haven’t been reading a whole lot.  Last year by April I’d probably read 25-30 books.  This year I’ve read 23 things, 3 of which were graphic novels and 5 of which were short fiction pieces.  I have a feeling I won’t make it to my usual goal of 100 books this year, and that’s okay.

I’ve been working on my own novel- which I’ve just about completed a second draft of, and I’m so excited to be putting finishing touches on it.  It’s more or less become my second child (third if we’re counting the dog).  On a side note, if any of my wonderful book buddies would be interested in beta reading even a portion of it, let me know!

Anyway, onto this week’s review: Moon Rising (Luna #3) by Ian McDonald.

Luna Moon Rising Ian McDonald

Rating:  ★★★★

The Cortas are the most egocentric, narcissistic, arrogant – outright weird – pack of fucks I have ever met.

These books have come up a few times on this blog, particularly in my Top Ten Tuesday posts, because it’s one of my favorite series.  It’s epic on the scale of Game of Thrones, gory on the scale of Stephen King, clever on the scale of Kaz Brekker, and diverse to boot.  I recommend this series every chance I get.

But that isn’t to say the books aren’t without their flaws.  There are definitely some things I would have liked tightened up.  The primary one being the amount of reading between the lines that’s needed to fully grasp these books.  I happened to read this with buddies, who were wonderfully patient with me, and I like to think I would have understood better if my time wasn’t so stretched and I could really sit down and pay attention, but the truth is you have to infer quite a bit of information from these books.  I had to re-read things a few times to figure out what I was witnessing.

I’ll be the first to tell you I’m really not that reader.  I like books that make me think about life, current events, philosophy, religion you name it, but I’d prefer if the events of the book are pretty straight forward.  This isn’t something I detract a lot of points for, because readers deserve to have books that challenge them.  (As an aside- another beloved series, Terra Ignota is written a lot like this.  Maybe it’s something I like more than I think I do.)

The second thing I would have changed is that, reading this, I felt like a lot of information was purposefully withheld from readers in the earlier books just to make them more suspenseful.  That does annoy me.  One example is Wagner and his “lycanthropy”.  It does finally get an explanation in this book but the explanation was so simple that the big reveal felt very anticlimactic.

Finally, there were some characters whose storylines I hadn’t really invested in in books one and two because their storylines take awhile to get ramped up and they never really felt like the focus.  Those storylines get some pretty thrilling conclusions in book three and I was cursing myself the whole time for not paying better attention to them.  Likewise, I found myself missing some of the characters who were more important players early on and sort of faded to the background here.

But in the end, these books are some of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read.  The world building is solid, and it’s never told in boring info dumps.  It throws you head first into this dark, ugly world with little more than a short dictionary to guide you.  The characters are whole and three dimensional, motivated by their own desires, with unique voices.  They’re colorful and vibrant and pop off the page.  I adore the “heroes”.  I love the justice dispensed to the villains.  I read the last 150 pages almost all in one sitting because the conclusion was so perfect, I couldn’t look away for even a moment.

I’m sad it’s over, but I’m excited to jump into another McDonald book knowing what he’s capable of, and even more thrilled by the possibility of a new series to sink my teeth into.  Perhaps most telling, is that I’m sincerely looking forward to re-reading them all when I have more time on my hands.

And every second I am away from them, it kills me.

Luna: Moon Rising can be purchased on Amazon here.

This is my Review of the Month for the review collection on LovelyAudiobooks.info

Top Ten Tuesday: Reasons I pick up a book

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s topic is reasons I pick up a book.  Pretty straightforward so I guess I’ll just hop right to it!

I know (and trust) the author.  I mean- this list consists of maybe five people.  Stephen King, Joe Hill, Bernard Cornwell, Sebastien de Castell, Ada Palmer (fictionally speaking) and Karen Marie Moning (okay that’s six).  (Yes I’m aware the Fever series has tanked, I’ll probably keep reading anyway.)  What’s interesting about this list is that at least four of these authors have books on my list that are 3 star reads or less.  The point is, even their worst books manage to entertain me.  Consistency means more to me than perfection.

Someone I trust, raved about or recommended it to me.  The operative word in both these instances being trust.  I get a lot of books recommended to me.  Usually it results in a smile and a nod and a polite thank you, because a lot of recommendations go something like this:

Random person: What are you reading?
Me: Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter
Random person: Oh you like vampire novels?  You should read Twilight!
Me:                                                                                Eye Roll

Sorry Twilight- it’s not you, it’s me!

FOMO.  Friends, the FOMO is real.  And the FOMO hurts.  This applies to pretty much every hyped book ever.  FOMO is Fear Of Missing Out, in case you haven’t heard it before.  (But I’m sure you’ve felt it at least once!)  I recently picked up The Priory of the Orange Tree.  Early reviews have led me to believe I won’t like it.  I want to read it anyway.  The only reason is FOMO. *shrugs*

Next in a series. I have no qualms about not finishing a series when I didn’t like the first book, or when the second book was just sort of meh.  But if I loved the previous book(s) it doesn’t take much convincing to get me to pick up the next.

It’s got diverse settings, characters and/or mythology. There are so many stories and mythologies and settings out there that haven’t been explored.  Can I get an adult LGBTQ+ Moana please?  Or something that explores ancient China or Japan?

It’s got Vikings in it.  I realize this is a relative contradiction of what I’ve stated above- but I would really love an Ivar the Boneless novel, or something that’s not strictly romance where they aren’t featured primarily as the bad guys.  What can I say, I’ve got a problem.

I gotta see (or have seen) the movie. A lot of the time the movie is a disappointment, but hey, it’s put a book or two on my radar before.  Conversely- there are some books I won’t read because I’m really worried it will ruin the movie for me (I’m looking at you, Hunger Games).

The cover. Sure I’m a little shallow.  There’s a reason I’m not up to date on the classics of SFF. Have you seen those covers?  Anyway- rest assured, covers might grab my attention but they can’t sell me on looks alone.

The book description.  If the cover gets me to pick it up- it’s the description that will make or break the deal.  I’m referring to the book’s summary here.  (What I am not referring to, is all those taglines claiming “XYZ book is the next Game of Thrones.”)

It was given to me. I’ve had pretty good luck with giveaways the past couple years.  My mother almost always gifts me a book or two for my birthday or Christmas.  And then there’s the gifts I buy myself… you know.  That sort of thing.

What about you?  What makes you pick up a book?