B&N Memorial Day Sale Book Haul

For Mother’s Day, my tiny human gifted me with books, via a gift card and her wonderful grandmother!  I hadn’t spent it because I was waiting for something I really, really wanted to buy, but then the Memorial Day sale popped up in my email and Barnes & Noble was offering an additional 20% off on top of sales… so I ended up getting five really good sounding books I hadn’t known I wanted.

 

Redemption Road by John HartRedemption Road by John Hart: This book looks as if it follows a few different characters and perhaps the general narrative of a whole town, which is the kind of story I love when it’s done well.  The blurb clues you into some dramatic sounding narratives: a boy plans to take revenge, a good cop gets out of prison, a body found on the steps of an abandoned church.. If Hart ties all these narratives together I think it could be amazing.  I did read the first few chapters, and it seemed like maybe it was turning into a mystery rather than the “literary thriller” it promised, but I remain optimistic.  It has a 4+ rating on GoodReads with a significant amount of reviews, so that’s usually a good sign.

The Couple Next Door by Shari LapenaThe Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena: I remember in 2016 when this book came out, I was seeing it everywhere.  I’ve been a little burnt out on my usual fare lately, so I figured I’d give a try.  It’s about a couple who attends a dinner party next door and leaves their child sleeping alone in their apartment.  They check on her every half hour- but when they come home. She’s gone.  The question is, whodunnit?  I read the first few chapters of this too- the writing is nothing fancy, but it’s not bad.  The action kicks off right away with a brief glimpse of the dinner party and the couple next door, before Anne and Marco return home to find their daughter missing.  Detective Rasbach immediately suspects the Conti’s, meanwhile, the reader is hoping he’s wrong.

The Dead Lands by Benjamin PercyThe Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy: This is the only science fiction purchase I made.  It caught my eye because I’d never heard of either the author or the book before.  I feel pretty well versed in the SFF genre- maybe not because I’ve read widely, but I’m pretty well aware of any releases in the past few years.  This has a decent number of reviews, but the overall rating is pretty low at 3.44.  Usually that’s a good reason for me not to put it on my TBR let alone buy it, but the blurb gave me serious Fallout vibes so I had to go for it.  It’s about an outpost set up on the ruins of St. Louis called the Sanctuary, and a rider coming in from the wastelands to bring them to a place where civilization is thriving.  Fingers crossed it’s better than a 3 star read for me.

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon: This is historical fiction based on The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhonthe true story of the disappearance of Judge Joseph Crater in New York in 1930.  I love all things Depression era.  The speakeasies, the organized crime, the cars, the clothes, the style, the music, the influx of Italian and Irish immigrants trying to live the American dream.. I think no matter what angle you take, this time period presents an opportunity to tell some amazing stories.  But mostly I’m excited for a trifecta of lying, cheating, maybe murderous women plotting (what I suspect is) the perfect revenge.  I took a peek at the first few pages, and the writing is absolutely perfect for this time period, moody and yet elegant.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice FeeneySometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney: This book has got one of the best hooks I’ve seen in a long time:

My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:
1. I’m in a coma.
2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
3. Sometimes I lie.

I sat down to read the first couple chapters and ended up reading the whole book.  It’s a twisty turny insane ride.  Is it far fetched?  Yeah.  Do I care?  Nope.  Full review up soon!

 

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.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: My First Ten Reviews

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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 was an interesting trip down memory lane for me.  Apparently 2016 was the year of the kindle freebie and bad romance.  On the upside- I realized my reviews have come pretty far!  I’ve gotten better at discussing elements I liked or didn’t like without necessarily talking about plot (although I still do that sometimes).  I’m significantly more aware of spoilers and content warnings and try to leave information that is actually helpful to others whether it’s positive or negative.

Most of these books are not relevant to my blog, so instead of talking about them I’m linking to their GoodReads page and reviewing them in stars and gifs.

The Warrior’s Wife by Denise Domning – Feb 27, 2015 – 3 stars

November 9 by Colleen Hoover – January 1, 2016 – 4 stars

Fifty Shades of Gray by E.L. James – May 1, 2016 – 1 star

The King’s Curse by Phillippa Gregory – May 7, 2016 – 3 stars

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill – May 15, 2016 – 5 stars

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – May 16, 2016 – 3 stars

Burns So Bad by Anne Marsh – May 26, 2016 – 2 stars

Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs – June 6, 2016 – 4 stars

Ash by Jason Brant – June 7, 2016 – 4 stars

Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King – June 9, 2016 – 4 stars

What about you?  Which ten books did you review first?  Leave a link in the comments below!

Book Review: Golden State by Ben H. Winters

This is actually not one of my throwback Thursday posts.  I read Golden State a week or two ago and somehow never got around to posting the review.  (So I guess it’s a throwback to a fairly recently read book.)

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“Our desire to know the whole truth is what makes us human.  Our understanding that it can’t be known is what keeps us alive.”

Rating:  ★★★1/2

The blurb says this is “Minority Report meets Chinatown.” Never read either but I have seen Minority Report the movie. This is not Minority Report. I think it’s what would happen if you took 1984 and mashed it up with the nonsensical nature of Brave New World and threw in a little Fahrenheit 451.

In the Golden State, The Record is sacred. Everything that can be known and knowable must be recorded for The Record. If it is unknown and unknowable, it must be dismissed, avoided like the plague. In other words, it does not exist. So we have a City-state where absolutely everything is recorded, where some types of people can detect lies, visually or physically. These people go on to be Speculators, truth enforcers. Fiction of any sort is forbidden, books, actors, you name it. History before the Golden State is unknown and unknowable.

So here we have Laszlo Ratesic, age 54, Speculator. He is tasked with investigating the death of a man who fell off a roof. At first it seems pretty cut and dry, no anomalies to be detected. But his partner Paige, knows differently. She’s a hot shot Speculator. Better than everyone else since Laszlo’s brother Charlie was part of the force. And she finds anomalies that Laszlo missed. And so the mystery begins.

It took me until about halfway through the book to really begin enjoying it. Winters’s writing style lacks any sense of urgency. Or maybe it’s not his style but police procedural style. The clues are unraveling but in this case they don’t seem interconnected at all. It’s an anomaly here and an anomaly there but none of them seemed to add up to any one thing, so it was difficult to get excited about picking the book back up until we had the full picture which comes at about the 50/60% mark.

Winters does do a good job with characters. I love that he writes average joes. Nobody extraordinary with special talents. Just an average, middle aged guy, with an average job, divorced, just bumbling through life from food truck to diner to donut shop. I know it doesn’t sound exciting, but it’s so very human.

I do appreciate the message he conveys. That a world based solely on truth is a sorry way to live, but also that a world built entirely on fiction is no good either. I also liked the feel of the setup. How Arlo is writing a novel to tell us the events (novels as we know them, i.e. fiction, are strictly forbidden in the Golden State). I liked the little pauses for reflections and how it was written in a different font. It gave me the sense that I was reading a lost artifact of the Golden State.

My issue was the ending. It felt very rushed. The rest of the book was content to take it’s slow sweet time, stopping to consider hot dog trucks and greet strangers with random facts like “Limestone is a sedimentary rock.” The ending is crammed into like 20 pages and answers absolutely nothing. It’s less ambiguous than Future Home of the Living God, but still not satisfying.

Ha- I guess that’s the point isn’t it? The truth of this novel is unknown and unknowable. *slow clap* Well done Winters.

Sigh. I give up on this review. I really need to stop reading dystopians.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

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Rating:  ★★★

Release Date: March 26, 2019

Preorder Link: A Memory Called Empire

I’m super disappointed to be giving this only three stars (no three stars isn’t bad- I’d just much rather give it four or five). I’m beginning to question whether it’s me or the books. (Disclaimer: This has been an off year for me. It might actually be me.)

I guess I’ll start at the beginning. One of the first pages said something along the lines of: “This is for all those who have ever fallen in love with a culture that was not their own.”

That one line pretty much sums up the whole book. Mahit (our MC) has spent her whole life training to be an ambassador from her home mining outpost (Lsel) to the Teixcalaani Empire. She loves everything about Teixcalaan, their language, their artwork, their holovision programs, their politics and their way of speaking. So when her opportunity to become ambassador finally comes, she’s over the moon with excitement. The only problem is- the previous ambassador is dead, and no one from Teixcalaan will talk about it.

The plot is sort of a murder mystery. I say sort of because the truth of the matter is that Yskander’s death doesn’t feel like it really has anything to do with the overall outcome. I feel like the other pieces of the plot were going to happen regardless if he had died or not.. so yeah. The more I’m thinking about it, the more the plot sort of falls apart as a whole (I mean- I guess he needed to die so Mahit could become ambassador but that’s about it.)

There are plot threads that are incomplete. I don’t want to call them cliffhangers because I didn’t feel like enough tension was built into those parts for me to feel like I’m eagerly waiting the next installment to find out what happened. To be honest- it just feels like a stand alone with threads that went nowhere or Mahit concluded were not necessary to discover.

The characters were fun. I loved the banter between Three Seagrass and Twelve Azalea. There was a tiny, tiny bit of romance in the book. I almost wished it had more of a focus because I could have totally shipped that pair. Minor romance related spoiler: The ending sort of killed that for me though… It seemed like Three Seagrass and Mahit were just going to go their separate ways which I thought was super sad. Yskander was probably my favorite character in the book although there wasn’t enough of him, and I loved Nineteen Adze. She was presented as a very powerful female character, and I think her story line, and her character, is probably the most interesting and complex in the book.

The tech and the world building were pretty cool. I liked the idea of the Sunlit (like police) being a part of the city and running on algorithms. It was very reminiscent of Leckie’s Imperial Raadch series in that way. I loved the beautiful scenery and imagery that was presented- gardens full of fountains and flowers, statues, and birds fluttering around.

There is another interesting piece concerning the language of Teixcalaan. Some words had double meanings which meant some sentences could be interpreted multiple ways. There’s also a big focus on poetry and drama and sagas told throughout the ages. Poets are very celebrated in this culture.

In the end- there is a lot to like about A Memory Called Empire, I just wish the plot structure had been tighter. I wish it had engaged me more, allowing me to solve the mystery and political intrigue along with Mahit. When I read this I was asking myself- what was the point? Why was this book written? And the answer circles back around to that first line. This is a novel about how one can love their own culture almost as much or more than they love their own and how love of that culture can sometimes make you appreciate your own that much more.

This is labeled as book one, so I’m expecting there to be a sequel (perhaps to wrap up those loose ends). I think I would give it a try. I’m hoping with the debut out of the way, and with me understanding the politics a little better, I would enjoy book two more. It would definitely help if the plot was tightened up a bit.

Thank you to the kind people at Macmillan/Tor and GoodReads who sent me this as part of a giveaway.

Top Ten Tuesday: Last ten books added to my TBR

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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.

Okay – so this post is going up super late tonight.  I didn’t have time to write it in advance this weekend, but I really wanted the chance to talk about something new because I feel like I do such a good job of beating everyone over the head with my favorite books.  These aren’t in order of favorites or anything- just the order they were added to my TBR.

The Phantom Tree by Nicola Cornick – Alison comes across an old painting in an antique shop.  She’s told it’s of Anne Boleyn, but Alison knows it’s Mary Seymour.  The daughter of Katherine Parr and Henry VIII who went missing in 1557…it holds the key to her future, unlocking the mystery surrounding Mary’s disappearance, and the enigma of Alison’s son.  As soon as I read the description I was pretty much sold. It seems like it’s a little bit fantasy, a little bit mystery, a little historical fiction.  I love genre benders like this, and I love anything tied to Henry VIII’s reign.  The dude was bat shit crazy and 450 years later- crazy kings bring me crazy joy.

God’s Hammer (Hakon’s Saga #1) by Eric Schumacher – This is a viking saga set during the making of England.  The fact that it’s vikings was enough to sell me- throw in a 4.17 rating on GoodReads and the current 99 cent price point, and I guess I’m pretty well sold.

Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin – This is one I’m actually less sure about then the others.  I added it because I saw a rave review somewhere and because it sounds pretty fascinating in terms of what it does with language, but the truth is it’s a 30+ year old book and that makes me hesitate.  The gist of it is: women are property again (a la Atwood) and when they are past child bearing age without children they must retire to the barren house.  Linguists are necessary to keep the interstellar economy afloat and Nazareth is the most talented linguist of all, but all she wants to do is retire to the barren house.  When she gets there, she discovers a revolution is brewing using an entirely new language the barren women have created.

Alien Virus Love Disaster by Abbey Mei Otis – This is one a collection of short fiction nominated for the Phillip K. Dick award this year.  I’ve been enjoying shorter fiction ever since this terrible reading slump hit and with a title like Alien Virus Love Disaster how could I say no?

Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson – As embarrassing as this is to admit, I’ve never read a single book by Sanderson, and I know he’s one of giants of modern fantasy fiction. I picked this one mostly because I liked the cover and because it was YA so I figured it would be a little easier to digest.

The Invited by Jennifer McMahon – My first love is and always will be, horror.  Ghost stories, monster stories, supernatural anything- I love it.  This is a book about a couple who buys a house, and discovers it has a violent and tragic past.  As the wife sources materials for her new home, she becomes obsessed with the lives of the Breckenridge women who occupied the home before.  It’s due to release April 30th, 2019.

The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan – This is a grim dark fantasy that I’ve seen getting rave reviews by book bloggers left and right.  From GoodReads: “When three thieves – an orphan, a ghoul, and a cursed man – are betrayed by the master of the thieves guild, their quest for revenge uncovers dark truths about their city and exposes a dangerous conspiracy…”  A thieves guild and three thieves that are an orphan a ghoul and a cursed man?  I don’t even need to read the rest of the blurb.

Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor – This is another book I’m not too sure about.  I added it on a whim after it was nominated for SciFi Fantasy’s Book Club monthly read.  “Historians” (read: time travelers) investigate major historical events in contemporary time from the Cretaceous period to World War I.  I’m not sure what the actual plot is but the hook seems interesting. (Please let there be dinosaurs.)

Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell – I really enjoyed last year’s The Silence of the Girls and Circe.  And while I didn’t love The Lost Queen, I do love the idea of giving women a voice in time periods and stories that are usually otherwise voiced by men.  Shadow on the Crown is centered on Emma of Normandy, wife of King Athelred of England in 1002.  Courtly drama, romance, viking invasions, and (hopefully) historically accurate (as possible) events could make for a truly fantastic story.

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The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids by Michael McClung – This book was the winner of Mark Lawrence’s first self published fantasy blog off in 2015.  I’ve only read one of his books- but I’m crazy in love with Mark Lawrence as an author, (for many reasons besides his wicked writing skills) so I added it for just that reason.  I’m told it contains plenty of gruesome violence, but between the spunky title and the purple watercolor cover, I’m getting more of a YA vibe.  Either way- I’m excited to read this and check out some of the other winners of Mark’s blog off.

What about you?  What have you recently added?  Link to your TTT below so I can check it out- I’m always looking to add more!