Book Review: The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

Rating:  ★★★★

I have no idea how to even begin describing this.  The publisher’s described as Orwellian and I suppose it is very Orwellian in tone, but the plot and world building are very different than 1984.

The premise is this: on an unnamed island, things sometimes “disappear”.  If the islanders don’t rid themselves of the things that disappear, the Memory Police may raid their house to take the items away.  Eventually the people forget all about the disappeared-thing (for example, if flowers disappear people stop remembering that flowers ever existed and don’t even know the meaning of the word).  But some people don’t forget.  Those people are eventually discovered by the Memory Police and taken away, never to be seen or heard again.

So we follow an unnamed protagonist as she navigates this surreal landscape and things and people disappear around her.  It’s a meandering sort of story that ultimately feels largely allegorical, but no matter how hard I think about what the story might mean I keep coming up empty handed (aside from the obvious message about memories).

The writing and the translation (done, I believe, by Stephen Snyder) are beautifully done.  It doesn’t seem like anything special at first, and I don’t recall any passages that made me think: ‘I need to save this for my review!’.  But at the same time it kept me consistently engaged despite the slow pacing and plot.  It whisked me away and offered me an escape.  Albeit, to a rather depressing sort of place, but I often had a hard time putting it down and found myself eager to keep going.

The characters will also stick with me for quite awhile.  This is fairly impressive considering the amount of distance placed between them and the reader.  None of them have names.  One is Old Man.  The other is simply R.  Other characters are identified by their professions.  The hatmaker.  The neighbors.  Mother or Father.

The main character is a novelist, and we are given glimpses of her WIP through out.  To be honest, I didn’t feel these parts added much to the overall novel.  The story itself largely mirrors what our protagonist is going through and didn’t reveal much else about the story.

I also will say I wasn’t a fan of the ending.  I can’t really expand on this without spoilers so I’ll avoid discussing it too much, but as I approached the end I remember thinking there weren’t enough pages to wrap up the story and while there is definite closure it was a disappointing sort of closure without much explanation.

The entire novel is ambiguous which is why I think I’m taking less issue with it than the last few ambiguously ended books I’ve read.  Everything is sort of surreal and dreamlike and the reader is just expected to take it at face value.  *shrugs*

For the most part I really enjoyed this and will likely check out other works by this author in the future.  I don’t think it will be a book for everyone and I don’t foresee myself recommending it often – but I think for some readers it could be an enjoyable literary diversion.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me an ARC for review.  The Memory Police can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

Book Review: The Alchemists of Loom by Elise Kova

The Alchemists of Loom by Elise Kova

Rating:  ★★★

The Alchemists of Loom has lots of action, fun characters and a fun setting, but I also had a lot of issues with the writing.  The setting is mostly steampunk, but we also see glimpses of a colorful sky city.

The plot is that a Dragon (seems like a human hybrid type creature, not an actual dragon), Cvareh, needs to meet with the Alchemists of Loom to deliver a message.  Arianna, chimera and the White Wraith of Loom, stumbles into his path and agrees to bring him to the alchemists if she receives a boon in return.  Backstory: The dragons are foreign invaders who have colonized Loom.  Naturally, Arianna hates dragons, and dragons dislike Fenthri (the other race of Loom).

I didn’t notice many errors in the text, but there were definitely some.  The book could also have used a developmental editor for continuity and consistency errors.  There were things that felt unexplained and unclear.

Additionally, the book does a fine job of showing character qualities.  However, the author also tells the reader, far too often, about the characters.  For many chapters, it felt like we were rehashing again and again, that Arianna is the best at what she does, she’s invincible, she’s stubborn, and on and on and on.  I was just so tired of these redundant, paragraph long entries.  And to make matters worse, once one character was done commenting on Arianna, they would then make comments on the other characters.  It was extremely frustrating.

The world was intricately detailed.  The different races had a multitude of differentiating qualities.  The cultures seemed substantially different.  Each had their own societal structure.  This is not easy to do and I was pretty impressed by the level of detail the author included without feeling like I suffered too many info dumps.  I haven’t read much in steam punk, but this novel easily surpasses any other I’ve read in the number of steampunk elements included, trains, airships, clockwork messenger birds… it’s all there and I easily envisioned a London-esque city running entirely on steam and clockwork.  This was easily my favorite aspect of the book.

There’s no obvious romantic plot line here, which could be a plus for some readers.  The book definitely seems like it will head that way at some point.  I was a little confused at the nature of Arianna’s relationship with her student, Florence, which I really didn’t like. It’s mentioned multiple times that the two share a bed, but there’s no other indication of romance between the characters.  Now maybe Fenthri sleep like puppies, all in a pile, but it was an odd detail to drop in without further explanation.  (If anyone is interested, Arianna appears to be bisexual pansexual, references to past f/f relationships are made.)

Finally, the ending felt like a big cliff hanger, but not in a chomping-at-the-bit-to-get-the-next-book sort of way.  It was more that the book simply felt unfinished.  I mean- if we look strictly at the plot, the arc is completed, but is traversing a map really enough to make a book?  I’m simply not convinced.

I may or may not continue with the series depending on whether I could get it from the library or pick it up on another sale, but I’ll have to be in the right mood for it.  I’m not necessarily eager to return to this book knowing how frustrated I was with the writing in places.

The Alchemists of Loom can be found on GoodReads or purchased on Amazon.

Have you read Alchemists of Loom?  What did you think?

 

Book Review: The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville

This was one of my June buddy reads with the Sci-fi Fantasy Book Club on GoodReads.  (If you enjoy buddy reads, it’s a great community, and there’s almost always someone that is happy to join in with you!)  Instead of including quotes with this review I’ve included some images of surrealist art featured in the book (and I’m giving credit to Nicky Martin’s Graphic Annotations from which I found them).

The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville

Rating:  ★★★

I think China Mieville is an author whose ideas I’m in love with, and then struggle to connect with.  I also think I’ve picked the wrong books to start with (the first one being Kraken).  The Last Days of New Paris is an alternate history of Paris after France falls to Nazi occupation.  A secret group of resistance fighters called the Main a Plume (I think) has brought to life various things from surrealist paintings (called manifs) to help them fight the Nazis.  We follow MC Thibaut, a member of the main a plume, as he wanders the ruins of New Paris searching for a way out.

I am an amateur of velocipedes by Leonora Carrington

“I am an Amateur of Velocipedes” by Leonora Carrington (1941)

My issue with a lot of this book, is that honestly, I just didn’t understand the narrative.  I understood the overall story arc, what happens to each character, how things came to be, etc. but if I was trying to put together a timeline and location of events for someone else to follow, I wouldn’t make it very far.  I constantly felt like I was missing some key piece of information- asking myself “where are we now?” and “why are we here?” and “who are you again?”.  It’s very frustrating.

The Elephant Celebes by Max Ernst

“The Elephant Celebes” by Max Ernst (1921)

I think I’ve said this before, I don’t mind working a little harder to understand a book, but the pay off needs to be worth it.  I didn’t feel like it was worth it here.  The characters, while they had some cool abilities, just weren’t anything special.  You ever meet someone who speaks, maybe not in monotone, but without a lot of inflection?  Rarely shows enthusiasm or feeling about anything in particular?  Never smiles or laughs? Thibaut felt that way for me (and granted, there probably wasn’t a whole lot to laugh about in Nazi occupied France).  Sam was better, but she’s more of a side character.

Psychological Space by Victor Brauner Wolf Tables

“Psychological Space” by Victor Brauner (1939)

The “magic” system (if it can be called that) is very cool and totally unique and I loved some of the imagery we are given, but magic systems alone have never been enough to sell me and there wasn’t a whole lot explained about this one.  There was a little bit of humor in the book too, which I appreciated.

My favorite part of the book was the afterword, in which Mieville tells a very bizarre story about how he came to write this very bizarre story.  I couldn’t decide if that story was truth or fiction, or if the person he talks about is some kind of dimension hopping hero or someone who suffered dementia, but it was still a cool addition to the book.  I wish Mieville had included it as a foreword, because I think understanding the context in which this was written goes a long way toward understanding the story overall (so if you decide to try this, read that first).

Exquisite Corpse by Andre Breton

an untitled exquisite corpse by André Breton, Man Ray, Max Morise, Yves Tanguy (1927)

Overall- a story worth reading if you are a fan of Mieville, but I don’t think I’d recommend it as a starting point.  I think I’ll give one more book of his a try (I already own The City & The City after all) but if it turns out to be another three star read I think I’m going to have to part ways with Mieville.

The Last Days of New Paris can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.

Book Review: An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass

Do you know I’ve read more fantasy this year than any other genre and I only have like three books I’d recommend from the 20 I’ve read?  My fantasy reading this year has kind of bummed me out.  Anyway, I am happy to have another book to add to that roster!

An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass

Rating:  ★★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): In Cantagna, being a sorcerer is a death sentence.

Romy escapes her hardscrabble upbringing when she becomes courtesan to the Shadow Lord, a revolutionary noble who brings laws and comforts once reserved for the wealthy to all. When her brother, Neri, is caught thieving with the aid of magic, Romy’s aristocratic influence is the only thing that can spare his life—and the price is her banishment.

Now back in Beggar’s Ring, she has just her wits and her own long-hidden sorcery to help her and Neri survive. But when a plot to overthrow the Shadow Lord and incite civil war is uncovered, only Romy knows how to stop it. To do so, she’ll have to rely on newfound allies—a swordmaster, a silversmith, and her own thieving brother. And they’ll need the very thing that could condemn them all: magic.

This sucked me in right away- not so much because of the plot, but I loved the characters and the world building/setting.  The setting is inspired by renaissance Italy.  Although we could detract points for it being a European setting, I do think Italy is one of the rarer European settings, and I also felt like Glass did an excellent job of it making it unique (this is a godless empire for starters, which was kind of refreshing).  Cantagna has seen it’s share of tyrant rulers and strife, so a decent portion of the population lives in poverty, keeping the setting dark and gritty.

Adding to that, Romy is a courtesan, and it was actually a relatively positive portrayal of a sex worker, so that was refreshing too.  I will say though: the Shadow Lord technically owns Romy, which we all know is wrong, but there is no violence, no rape, etc.  She is grateful and happy to be with him (her life before him sucked).  So it definitely delves into some muddy water there.  I’d compare the relationship to that of the one between Belle and Beast, just something I want to note because I can understand why this would be problematic for some readers.  I don’t want to say this is a small part of the book, because their relationship is integral to the plot, but it also manages to not be the focus.  As an aside, there are no sex scenes and very little romance.

Romy won me over right from the beginning as a character.  There’s a scene where the wife of the Shadow Lord is gloating about her being cast out, and Romy instead of responding in a catty or jealous way, offers to help his wife however she can should she ever need it.  In all their dealings with each other she always acted as the “bigger” person so to speak, and it was just nice that it never defaulted into the trope of two girls fighting over a man.

The main characters in this book are all sorcerers and I loved the variety of abilities they possessed among them (they only seem to have one ability each).  I also really loved the diverging arcs between Romy and her brother Neri.  Romy helps her brother grow a lot as a character, while at the same time, mourning the loss of her Shadow Lord and her old life, we see her enter a sort of downward spiral.  Again- it was a refreshing arc for a character to have.

It wasn’t quite a five star read for me for a couple of very minor reasons.  The first is that this is a slow burn sort of book where we don’t get to the heart of the plot until well after the halfway point.  Many of the things prior to that are all set up, and as a result the plot felt a little thin (the characters and setting were so great, I just didn’t care that much in this case).

My second issue is with a stylistic choice that was made, that makes perfect sense for the book and I can see why the author did it that way, but is one that I found really jarring and kind of took me out of the moment when I encountered it.  I can’t really say more than that without spoilers, but when it happened, it felt like I was reading an entirely different character.  It only happens in a couple of chapters so again, no big deal.

I am absolutely chomping at the bit to get my hands on the next book and highly recommend this to any fantasy reader.  An Illusion of Thieves can be found on GoodReads or purchased on Amazon.

Book Review: The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

I actually finished this last week, and I’ve dreaded writing the review.  I’m having a hard time reconciling the beauty of Gratton’s writing with the fact that this book is painfully bloated and over descriptive.  It also happens to be a retelling of one of my favorite Shakespeare stories: King Lear.

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

Rating:  ★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability, hungry to control the ideal port for all trade routes.

The king’s three daughters—battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Reagan, and restrained, starblessed Elia—know the realm’s only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign, proving a strong hand can resurrect magic and defend itself. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align and a poison ritual can be enacted.

Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war—but regardless of who wins the crown, the shores of Innis will weep the blood of a house divided.

This is a pretty exact retelling of King Lear in terms of the events that happen.  Where it is not exact is: A) the inclusion of magic and B) the lack of humor.  King Lear is really a rather dark play, that’s broken up by bits of humor from the Fool and Lear’s madness.

And that was one of the places where this book failed, hard.  It’s all dark, and not even remotely funny.  Combine that darkness with some very overly descriptive passages of setting and endless prattling about the magic of Lear, and the book really needed that injection of humor to pick up the momentum.

The magic felt a little pointless.  Some of the individual characters harness that magic to their own benefit by talking to trees and drinking root water, but no one ever really articulates what will happen if the magic dies.  Will the island sink into the sea?  Will the vegetation and wildlife die off thereby making the island uninhabitable?

Without knowing that- there weren’t any stakes and little suspense.  I wasn’t given a reason to care whether the magic on Innis Lear dies.  So what?  So Elia can’t talk to the trees anymore?  So the witch of Hartfare can’t foretell the future?  So those that use magic have to live a more mundane life?  To talk about the magic in the setting that much and never once give the reader a reason why it mattered was a big source of frustration for me.

I enjoyed some of the characters.  Elia didn’t make me feel any type of way.  She felt like a very typical, fresh out of the box heroine, embodying many virtuous qualities without having a lot of depth.  She’s the character we spend the most time with, and it was frustrating because she was the least interesting of the three sisters for me.

Gaela was my favorite- but even she has her issues.  I enjoyed her because she’s a female warrior, and refuses to let herself be silenced by the men in her life, be they her husband or her father.  My issue was that I’m not sure if she was supposed to be a transgender character.  She often genders herself as male, but then none of the other characters gender her that way, and she seemed uncommitted to being male when speaking to others.

I think it was great to see gender portrayed as fluid, but I also wish this had been explored a little more or made clearer.  It came off as wishy washy and because of that the message seemed to be that Gaela wanted to be a man because she wanted to be strong and powerful, and not because she really felt like a man (if that was even what she wanted).  I wish it had been recognized somewhere that kings aren’t inherently stronger than queens simply because they’re male.

Aside from the above problems, the structure was a huge issue for me.  We’d sometimes get some forward momentum in the story, and it would be immediately broken by a needless flashback to something that happened years ago that was already easily inferred from the previous text.  They didn’t enhance the story at all and detracted a lot from the pacing.  A good example is Regan and Connley.  Three quarters of the way in we get a flashback to the time when they first met.  By that time in the book, the reader already knows these characters are crazy in love with each other.  That flashback did nothing to move the story forward and didn’t help the reader understand their relationship in any more meaningful a way than we already did.  I was constantly frustrated and put off from reading whenever I’d read the header: TEN YEARS AGO.

Compounding the problem, there were way too many viewpoints.  I think everyone except the Fool and Brona gets their own POV chapter at some point.  It made the book feel like it lacked focus and also created a lot of distance between the reader and the characters, making it hard to connect with any one of them.  I think the story would have been infinitely stronger if we’d only seen the story told from the sisters POVs and maybe Ban’s.  At one point, about a hundred pages in I came to a POV chapter from Aefa.  I put the book down, and every time I went to pick it up again, opened it and saw her name I immediately put it back down again.  She didn’t have anything to add that couldn’t have been told from Elia’s perspective.

There were a few moments of brilliance.  The later scenes between Gaela and her husband for example, where she asserts her dominance over him, were wonderful and a definite highlight of the book for me.  If this had been a retelling solely from Gaela’s point of view with her remade as a sort of antihero rather than the villain I think I would have enjoyed it much more.

Finally, the writing really is beautiful, definitely worthy of Shakespeare.  I just wish those words had been spent more on the storytelling than the descriptions of scenery and magic, which became immensely redundant a third of the way in.

Gratton is releasing another book next year, Lady Hotspur, that I was very excited for. However, given my experience with this I’m undecided if I’ll pick it up.  I just don’t have the patience for books told this way lately.

The Queens of Innis Lear can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

Book Review: A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Williams

I am still slogging my way through The Queens of Innis Lear.  I’d DNF it but right now it feels like a battle I need to win.  Hoping to get it done this weekend.  So in the meantime, I haven’t been very motivated to read much else.

I did quickly squeeze in A Taste of Honey for a buddy read though.  This was part of Tor.com’s free novella offerings for Pride Month. Did you know they give away a free book every month?  You can visit that page here, and download a copy of The Murders of Molly Southborne by Tade Thompson for free until June 29th.

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Rating:  ★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): Aqib bgm Sadiqi, fourth-cousin to the royal family and son of the Master of Beasts, has more mortal and pressing concerns. His heart has been captured for the first time by a handsome Daluçan soldier named Lucrio. In defiance of Saintly Canon, gossiping servants, and the furious disapproval of his father and brother, Aqib finds himself swept up in a whirlwind romance. But neither Aqib nor Lucrio know whether their love can survive all the hardships the world has to throw at them.

This is told in three parts.  Part one I enjoyed a lot.  It’s lets the reader see how Aqib and Lucrio first meet and was a great set up for the romance.  It was pretty hard not to ship these two right from the start.  Part two I struggled with.  It’s told in alternating timelines that jump all over the place.  There’s a reason for it, but it doesn’t make it any easier to digest.  Part three is about the same length as part one and gives us the conclusion.

A lot of the time during part two I was frustrated.  I read a quote from another reviewer once (that I can’t find now, so this quote isn’t exact so I can’t credit correctly) that said something along the lines of: “There are two great sins an author can commit when writing a book: failing to meet expectations, or failing to set them.  Of those two, failing to set them is far worse.”  (Seriously, not exact- Google gives me nothing.)  I had been struggling with this in some stories for years, and never had words for it until I read that.

I feel like A Taste of Honey very much fails to set any expectations for the reader.  Throughout the entirety of part two I was just wondering why I was being told this story. I didn’t feel glued to the page or compelled to keep reading.  I can’t explain why without spoilers- but I will say that the plot of this story is not: Aqib and Lucrio must overcome  the prejudices against gay men in their society and amongst Aqib’s family in order to be together and get a HEA.  Is that a pretty straightforward and rather generic romance plot?  Yeah. It is.  But it comes with the suspense built in.  And readers would have read this story based on that alone, because these characters were fantastic, the world building was unique, and their relationship was beautiful.

Instead we’re given something else entirely that feels more like the saga of a man who’s life has big dramatic events, but in which he has no agency to change things.  Therefore there is no suspense.

The world building is super unique and I loved the parts with the animals.  Although magic isn’t really my thing, there do seem to be some vague rules about the system and that too, felt unique.  If you’re the kind of reader who enjoys piecing together the information about the world for themselves, this may be a great choice for you.

I’m not going to spoil anything, so I’m not going to set any expectations for you either, but if you can slog it through the middle to get to the end it does make up for some of the slow going middle parts.  A few of the other buddies that read this enjoyed it much more than I did so if you like, we can all just blame that other book I’m reading for putting me in a bad mood.

A Taste of Honey can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

Have you read this book?  What did you think of it?

 

Pride Month: Books on my TBR!

Last week in celebration of Pride Month I talked about some of my favorite queer characters in fiction.  This week I want to talk about some of the books on my TBR featuring more LGBTQIA+ characters.  I’m going to start with a few that have already been released and I’m hoping to catch up on, but I also have some exciting future releases too.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (and the rest of The Machineries of Empire series):  I am really scared to start this because I feel really confident that I’m going to love it and it will end up a new favorite read.  I am also scared to start this because I have a tendency to form expectations and then let myself down.  It’s supposed to be super complex and I’m hoping to see some elements that remind me of another favorite series, Terra Ignota.

tld_cs

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling:  My favorite genre mashup of all time is always going to be Science Fiction and Horror, and The Luminous Dead looks like the perfect combo of both.  I think space lends itself so very well to all kinds of horror situations.  Whether you’re just trying to survive the freezing desolate landscape of an undiscovered planet, being chased by alien creatures, or you’re adrift in a derelict space ship with no one to call for help, chances are, things will end badly.  I already have a buddy read planned for this one in September and I can’t wait!

Annex by Rich Larson

Annex (The Violet Wars #1) by Rich Larson:  This is a YA book about an alien invasion that somehow or other, leaves the world without adults.  At first, Violet and her friends think it’s pretty great to have so much freedom… but then the invaders come back.  One of my regular buddy readers enjoyed it and said it has trans rep (and that the character was one of her favorites), so I’m very excited to check it out. (PSA: this is currently $1.99 in the US Kindle Store as of 6/13.)

Love beyond body, space & time anthology

Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time Anthology edited by Hope Nicholson: This is a collection of indigenous short fiction all featuring LGBTQ+ characters.  It’s a pretty quick read (125 pages according to GoodReads) and I picked it up on sale awhile back.  Indigenous authors seem to be severely underrepresented in not only speculative fiction but fiction in general, so that makes this doubly exciting.

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne: Meena lives in futuristic Mumbai, but feels she must return to Ethiopia, her birthplace.  She’s not sure what’s waiting for her there, but she decides to cross using a forbidden energy bridge that spans the Arabian Sea.  Mariama, a girl from another time, is fleeing to Ethiopia from across the Saharan Africa in hopes of finding a better life.  It’s described as melding the influences of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Erin Morgenstern, and it’s been on my TBR for way too long.

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch:  This is a Joan of Arc retelling in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic landscape.  Do I really need to say more?

The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht

The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht (releases September 24, 2019): I talked about this one not too long ago, but I love the idea of lovers being villains together.    This is quickly becoming one of my most anticipated fall releases.

Overthrow by Caleb Crain

Overthrow by Caleb Crain (releases August 27, 2019): I stumbled across this on Edelweiss, and everything about the description had me falling in love.  The blurb is too long to summarize here, but buzzwords that caught my attention: telepathy, tarot cards, poets, the 1%, and utopian spirit, all featuring a m/m relationship that will be put to the test in a dystopian world that sounds similar to Orwell’s 1984.  Viking denied me the ARC, but luckily, August isn’t that far away.

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim (releases January 7, 2020):  A gender flipped Count of Monte Christo retelling with Ace and Bisexual rep in space.  I have a feeling this will be huge when it finally hits shelves.  Right now, January feels very, very far away.

The Seep by Chana Porter

The Seep by Chana Porter (releases January 21, 2020): The Seep is about an alien invasion that brings new technologies, dismantles hierarchies, destroys capitalism, and introduces utopia.  The story follows a trans woman after her wife, seduced by Seep-tech, leaves her.  I really wish utopian stories had the same popularity as dystopians.  Mostly because I’m curious what others imagine utopia to be and how human society could ever get there.  I’m super excited for this, but have been holding off reading it until closer to release day.

Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton

Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton (releases January 7, 2020):  I am reading The Queens of Innis Lear now, sheerly in preparation for this book, which I added entirely for the title without realizing that Hotspur is a character in Shakespeare’s Henry IV.  Fiery lady knight falls in love with a female military commander known as the Wolf of Aremoria?  I need this in my hands like, yesterday.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (releases September 10, 2019):  From GoodReads: “Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.”  To that I say, sold!  I’m already in love with the personality of Gideon from that one line alone.  Necromancy is usually not my thing, but if a character is well written I’ll read just about anything.  It’s already getting rave reviews and thank goodness I don’t have to wait until 2020 for this one!

That’s it!  I’ve already seen a few Pride Month TBRs floating around in the blogosphere, but please let me know if you have any additional recs- I’d love to hear them!

Book Review: Witchmark (The Kingston Cycle #1) by C.L. Polk

Witchmark C.L. Polk

Rating:  ★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): C. L. Polk arrives on the scene with Witchmark, a stunning, addictive fantasy that combines intrigue, magic, betrayal, and romance.

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

There’s a lot of hype surrounding this book, and it’s no wonder, having been nominated for the Nebula, Locus, and Lambda Literary Award.  Having been nominated for all these awards may have been a detriment to the book in the end.  I was expecting a lot.  Something like my reaction to The Wolf in the Whale.

I’ll be honest and say that I read most of this in one day, so it certainly started on a good note.  When I finished the book, I initially rated it 4 stars, but upon reflection felt like I should lower the rating.  It had an enchanting and cozy feel to it.  It feels like historical fantasy, but it’s technically a secondary world that feels a lot like London (though Kingston makes me think of Jamaica which would have been awesome).

The world building all seems very solid on the surface.  There are rules.  It’s not a free-for-all.  There’s structure and status.  However, by the time I reached the end, I was questioning how coherent and consistent those rules really were.

Some minor world-building spoilers ahead:  The super wealthy elite are all mages from powerful families, meanwhile, witches are persecuted.  I’m confused about a few things in this regard: A) Do the non-magical people know that the wealthy elite are mages? B) If they do know, why persecute witches and not mages? and C) If they don’t know- am I expected to believe that the mages are just immune to witch trials due to their class status?.  Either B or C is fine and acceptable, but it was never really explained and I felt like it was integral enough to the plot that it needed to be explained.  I kept reading thinking the author would get around to explaining it, but as I neared the end I understood she was expecting me to take it at face-value, which I didn’t appreciate.

Another issue I have is the conflicted messaging.  There are themes in this book pertaining to slavery, and the more I reflect the more issues I have with it.  I just don’t think the overall message was clear.  We know where Miles stands on the issue, but one of the antagonists in the book isn’t clearly an antagonist (she feels more like an annoyance), and their stance on the issue is very murky.  They say they want to help, but they have extremely misguided ideas on how they should help.  It just made me feel a little icky inside.

The romance was sweet, but definitely not as major a factor as I had expected. I enjoyed it, but wished there was more.  Additionally, the ending was super abrupt and a lot of the end scenes confused me.  One minute I thought we were in one setting, the next I was in a different place.  I had to reread a few times to see where the scene transition was and still couldn’t find it.  It could have used just a few more pages.

But overall, the entertainment value is always the most important factor for me, and it delivered in that regard. I found it hard to put down, and the writing was decent.  Polk did a good job of keeping me in suspense regarding the murder mystery and some of the strange happenings around Kingston.  There are pretty high stakes.  I’m currently undecided about whether I’ll continue with the series or not.

Witchmark can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

 

Library Book Haul

How do you bust a reading slump?

Read ALL the books.

So I went to the library and got ALL the books.

Okay not really.  Here’s what’s up next:

Witchmark C.L. Polk

Witchmark by C. L. Polk

Initial impressions: The writing is excellent.  I only read the first chapter but it was super atmospheric.  It was very easy to picture the setting: people riding bikes and horse drawn carriages in the streets.  A bustling city with soldiers coming and going.  The shadow of war hanging over them all.  The intrigue level is super high.  Nothing is really explained.  It starts out normal enough with a doctor leaving work for the day, and an emergency patient coming through.  And then the magic and witchery starts.  I was expecting more magical realism than straight up magic (which honestly is not really my thing) but I like it so far.  It seems to be hinting at an underground mage society so I’m excited to see where that leads to.  A promising start!

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Initial impressions: First of all- GoodReads told me this was 182 pages long.  It’s not.  I’m willing to forgive it in lieu of the fabulous introduction from Stephen King.  When he found this book, he said he was looking for a book about “how boys really are.”  Golding’s influence on King is obvious.  As I read through the first chapters I kept thinking it felt familiar. Finally I realized it was because it feels like King.  The characters feel real, the prose isn’t overly flowery (though more flowery than King’s).  I’m a little confused about how these boys got to this island, but so far that first chapter is the one that resonated with me the most, so I’ll be continuing with this one before the others.

Initial Impressions: This is confusing as hell.

Seriously- why do authors think writing without quotation marks is a good thing?  Not cool man. I had to re-read a paragraph like eight times, move on, and then double back when I realized there weren’t any quotation marks (and honestly I’m still not sure I understood the conversation).  Otherwise, the prose is spot on.  I’ve highlighted a couple quotes I love already, and if it wasn’t for Lord of the Flies, this would have been my second pick to continue reading.  I’m not sure what the judge’s deal is. I know he’s the big bad in this novel though, so I’m excited to see what it’s leading up to.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Initial impressions: I just read a book where a man gets shot in the chest, kills another man dead for taking his shoes, but pulling the wings off a fat little bumblebee bothered me more.  There’s something wrong with me right?  Anyway- I was immediately sucked in by the premise.  A little girl meets a strange man.  There’s something sinister happening with the strange man (Harper Curtis).  That much is obvious from the start.  He seems to hint that he’s acting under orders from some other organization, but that doesn’t make you like him any more.  The writing is great and I’m curious to see where it goes.

Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley

Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley

Initial impressions: I think I’ve only really read the introduction and the prologue so far, but I’m a little disappointed.  I’m still coming down from the high that was The Mere Wife, so I had high expectations.  My favorite type of writing, my favorite type of book, is one that I like to describe as unapologetic.  The author writes in a way that’s bound to make the reader uncomfortable, exposing all the ugly truths within a person or a society or practice, but so far this isn’t that.  It doesn’t carry the same level of force that The Mere Wife does. Still, I haven’t read much so I’ll remain hopeful.

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

Initial impressions: I wasn’t really interested in The Queens of Innis Lear when it first released.  The title, the name… it seemed like a pretty generic fantasy to me.  It looked and sounded similar to Four Dead Queens and Three Dark Crowns, which all released at about the same time. But I recently stumbled across the title Lady Hotspur which I added strictly because of the title.  When I checked out the blurb of that, it referenced this.  So I doubled back to TQOIL and read the blurb, and thought what the hell.  I liked King Lear, who not give it a go?  I hope it maintains the humor and wit of King Lear throughout.

So that’s ALL the books.

Have you read any of them?  Are they on your TBR?

Also- please send help.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Saga Vol. 4 – Vol. 6

I am not in a reading slump.  If I just keep telling myself it will be true right?  It’s a little difficult to blog about books if you haven’t read anything in two weeks.  However, over the weekend I did force myself to sit down and read the three graphic novels I think I’ve had checked out from the library for, I kid you not, nine weeks.

Rating:  ★★★★

I’ve reviewed a lot of books, and I like to think I leave decent, well-rounded reviews.  However, for whatever reason, it doesn’t translate well to Graphic Novels.  I think because there is less to comment on?

For anyone unfamiliar with this series, Saga is about two people who fell in love while they were at war against each other.  Everyone with a stake in the war wants them dead because it would be bad for people to know that there’s a chance that maybe they could all get along.  To top it off the couple gets pregnant.

I won’t spoil too much about the plot- it’s an interstellar adventure with some very tense moments.  I do think these last three volumes were significantly darker than the first three.  We see the deaths of some characters that I managed to get pretty attached to, and some of the characters arcs take hard turns into the darker side of things.

Along the way we are introduced to a few new characters here and there.  Some of which I enjoyed and others less so.  The representation Vaughan includes is pretty thorough.  There are characters of color and plenty of LGBTQ rep.

Fiona Staples is the artist and her work is amazing.  I love the way she uses color, and it’s always a treat when there is a full panel drawing or concept included.

I did have to wonder a little bit, with Hazel starting kindergarten and all, why the governments are still looking for them.  It seemed to me Alana, Marko, and Hazel would have fallen to the wayside what with the war going on and all.

One of my complaints about some of the previous volumes was that Marko talks in his own language which I’m pretty sure is made up.  That trend continued here.  I still don’t understand those panels, I’m not sure what they contributed, and I’m not sure why they were included.  There’s no other explanation of what might be going on.

All in all it’s a small complaint, and Saga is very much worth checking out.  I’m excited to see where these stories go in the next few volumes.