Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date Read: December 26, 2016 to January 12, 2017
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

Ever have a moment or several when you’re looking for something new to read and all you see are the same old stories and arcs being retold in marginally barely noticeable slightly different ways? That all you’re seeing is just the same stuff over and over again? I’ve been feeling that way for some time now, and I admit I’m more than fed up with fantasy’s preference for young protagonists and their foolhardy ways–not referring to just YA, I mean the majority of genre fiction. Every time I visit a bookstore, there’s a ton of coming of age stories, new and old, starring a special teenager or twenty-something or a group of them, and they’re always varying shades of stupid foolish, and it gets to a point where I’m like… get the hell off my lawn. Seriously. All of you. Gtfo.

Then this book came along at the right time and reminded me that, if I wanted to find books that actually interest me, that mean something to me, I had to look harder and dig deeper. The kind of stories I’m looking for are out there, they’re just buried under piles and piles of sh–stuff I can’t stand. And they’re most likely out of print or have been for decades now. So now, I’m gonna make an effort to look harder for lesser known genre fiction and dig ’em out.

Another thing that made this book the perfect read at the time I picked it up was its unconventional setting–reminiscent of ancient South Asia, most likely India–and its unconventional cast of characters–all of them older and world-weary and all have lived experience and sketchy pasts. It was refreshing to read about characters that have lived and lost and lived on to fight another day. And it was good to see that world-altering stories and callings don’t just happen to the young and “special.”

Maskelle used to be a priestess of the highest order in the city of Duvalpore, but then she had a falling out with the royal family and was banished from the city. It’s been years since her exile, and at the start of the book, she’s making her way back as a favor to an elderly priest to help solve a problem with an ancient rite/ritual that the city performs every century. Unsure of her welcome and the new political leanings within the city, she arrives quietly, meaning to stay out of people’s way, but then she finds evidence of sabotage that could ruin the ancient rite and destroy the world. Figuring out who or what is behind it takes up the rest of the book.

It’s an interesting mystery and I’m in awe of Martha Wells’ world building and plotting prowess, particularly how much she achieves in so few words. Her sense of world building is unique and succinct, and her prose concise. All scenes and dialogue are necessary and have purpose. I never get the sense I’m reading a meandering plot or pointless characterization or manufactured drama.

Although the stakes are high for Maskelle, there’s an unexpected humorous undertone running through the story that I really like. It keeps it from being completely downtrodden. And while there are serious moments, like the ending serving as a moment of reckoning no one saw coming, much of the story is wry, funny, and easy to read. Maskelle and her endearing ragtag companions run into and/or trip over trouble wherever they go. I would have liked to read more about their time on the road and in the city because it’s just shy of slapstick comedy.

Overall, this was a satisfying read and a good mix of fantasy and otherworldliness, but I already knew that going in because it’s by Martha Wells.

The reaction was more violent than she had anticipated. The counterweight smashed right through the floorboards, knocking her backwards. The arm swung and toppled, taking the railing, part of the gallery, and a dozen yelling rivermen with it.

“I meant to do that,” Maskelle muttered to herself, stumbling to her feet.

[…]

“So, there’s no chance of just stopping and drowning here, say?”

“No, I think we’ll keep moving for now and drown a little further up the road.”

[…]

“I suppose attempts on the Throne happen more often in the Sintane?”

“The Holder Lord executed two brothers, a sister, and a cousin for trying to take the Markand Hold, just in the time I was there, and that was a slow year.”

[…]

Maybe I’m too told for this, she thought. Too old for war, too mean-tempered for peace.

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His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire, #1) by Naomi Novik

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: January 15 to 23, 2017
Recommended by: book club’s pick
Recommended to:

Simon Vance to the rescue once again as he saves another book for me that I would have set aside for another time or probably indefinitely. Not the book’s fault though since it’s perfectly fine and well written for a historical fiction. It was more a case of bad timing when I picked it up, too much going on and not enough time or energy to spare and all that, but I made it through, with a lot of help from the audiobook which was superbly read by Mr. Vance, and I really enjoyed it.

The story reimagines the Napoleonic War years from the perspective of Will Laurence, an English captain, formerly of the navy, currently of the air force, and the dragon Temeraire which he took from a captured French ship. The pair bonded over a short period of time and grew to become a funny, sweet, interesting partnership by the end of the book. Some of my favorite moments consist of Laurence and Temeraire talking about books, battle tactics and strategies. There’s no magic or magic systems, no mysterious relics or quests, no coming of age farm boy set out to save the world since this isn’t high fantasy; dragons are the only fantastical elements here.

And the dragons in this world are intelligent and can communicate with their handlers and crew, and their interactions are really fun to read, or more accurately, really fun to hear Simon Vance read because he’s got a lovely voice and he has different voices for all of the characters, but the dragons’ voices are by far the best. The historical aspects of the story are well done and really immerse you in the time period, save for the part where there were dragons involved and both England and France used them like fighter jets, intelligent fighter jets with personalities and quirks. But this too, inserting dragons into this part of history, was also well done and really added to the overall historical feel of the story.

The reason I switched to audio was because of the slow beginning. Not much happened following the capture of the French ship as Laurence and his crew waited for Temeraire to hatch, and not much happened afterward when they left the navy to join the air force. While Temeraire was interesting, Laurence was not, unfortunately. Although a captain and in his thirties, he still had a lot of growing up to do and a lot of personal obstacles to overcome, and he didn’t become interesting until he fully gave in to the life and culture of the air force and dedicated himself to Temeraire (and dragons in general). By this point, more than half the book was over, and without Mr. Vance’s reading, I most definitely wouldn’t have made it this far or past all of Laurence’s shortcomings to really get into the story.

I’ve only read one other book by Naomi Novik and that’s Uprooted which was mostly okay, so I went into this book expecting it to also be mostly okay, but found myself enjoying it a lot, especially once more characters and dragons were introduced. They’re all a lot of fun except for Rankin whom I’d like to stab–repeatedly, but that’s another matter, unfinished business, saved for another time. Since there are 8 more books of dragon adventures, I look forward to continuing this journey with them.

“How did you come to see it?” [Laurence] said with interest, turning it over in his hands and brushing away more of the dirt.

“A little of it was out of the group and it was shining,” Temeraire said. “Is that gold? I like the look of it.”

“No, it is just pyrite, but it is very pretty, is it not? I suppose you are one of those hoarding creatures,” Laurence said, looking affectionately up at Temeraire; many dragons had an inborn fascination with jewels or precious metals. “I am afraid I am not rich enough a partner for you; I will not be able to give you a heap of gold to sleep on.”

“I should rather have you than a heap of gold, even if it were very comfortable to sleep on,” Temeraire said. “I do not mind the deck.”

*

* *

* * *

* * * spoilers * * *

Continue reading

Review: One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles, #3) by Ilona Andrews

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: December 20 to 23, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

Still a lot of fun, and I’m pretty sure I’ll say that about the rest of the books in this series.

There’s something nice and comforting about the ease of the writing that makes it fun to read. I’ve never found myself bored while in the middle of these books, and if the writing maintains its pace, I’ll never get tired of following along with these characters on their journeys across the universe. The writing, now that I think about it, mimics the atmosphere of an inn out in the country, but only on the surface. Behind closed doors? It’s all intergalactic chaos, all the time.

Now that much of the setting and world building is out of the way, the focus of this book is on family, relationships and their multi-layered dynamics. Never thought I’d ever say this, but the relationships–old, new, developing alike–and their dynamics were what I liked best about this book. We get to see Dena reuniting with her sister Maud and niece Helen, and Sean and Dena is officially happening, and to my surprise, Maud and Arland getting acquainted is hilarious. I could definitely see a spin-off happening for these two.

And I cannot wait to see what’s gonna happen in the next installment. I know it’s currently being written chapter by chapter on the Ilona Andrews’ site, but I’d rather wait and inhale the whole thing in one sitting.

“Are you going to war, Lord Marshal?” Please don’t be going to war.
“No, I was attending a formal dinner.” He grimaced. “They make us wear armor to these things so we don’t stab ourselves out of sheer boredom.”

[…]

“You know what else chicks dig?”
“Subatomic vaporizers?”
“And werewolves. Chicks really dig werewolves.”
“Poor you, having to smack all of those chicks off with a flyswatter just to walk down the street.”

[…]

“He said to tell me that taking this holiday would make him happy. I don’t want him to be happy.” Lord Soren pounded his gauntleted fist into his other fist. “I want him to be an adult!”

[…]

Caldenia closed her wooden box and patted Arland’s leg. “Do get better. You’re much more entertaining when you roar.”

[…]

“Did you know Draziri taste like chicken?” I asked.
Sean glanced at me, as if not sure if I was okay. “I had no idea.”
“Orro told me,” I told him. “We’re besieged by murderous poultry.”

[…]

Even Caldenia stayed away, which was for the best, because I didn’t want to explain Her Grace and her comments about the deliciousness of werewolves to Sean’s parents.

[…]

People do horrible things in the name of keeping things just the way they are.

*

* *

* * *

* * * some spoilers * * *

Continue reading

Review: A Promise of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #1) by Amanda Bouchet

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: December 24 to 26, 2016
Recommended by: Vaginal Fantasy Group’s alt pick
Recommended to:

Blech.

*ahem*

I mean, it’s not for me.

More on this later.

* * * * *

It is now later, and while I’ve had time to process, my initial kneejerk reaction still stands. This book just isn’t for me, in so many ways. I won’t go into lots of details because that could take awhile, but the main thing is the writing does not work (for me). I found it too awkward and modern, and it clashed too much with the culture and setting of the story.

This story takes place in a world that’s heavily influenced by ancient Greece–think ancient Greece plus sword & sorcery–but the characters’ speech and personalities are very distinctly modern. Not just their sentiments and motivations, but their actions and behavior too. I struggled with this all through the read and never got past it enough to get into the story, so I wasn’t able to connect to any of the characters… or anything else.

While the setting was supposed to be ancient, the speech and interactions were decidedly not what you’d expect people from that time to sound like. Sure this is a fantasy, so of course you can mix modern speech with an ancient setting–lots of authors have done it, or so people keep telling me. Maybe, maybe so, but that doesn’t make it any less awkward or jarring. I found it distracting and it kept me from taking the story seriously.

Something else about the writing I found awkward was the author trying too hard to work in references to ancient Greece. Olives, goat cheese, agora, cyclops, minotaurs. It was like yes, I got it–very very Greek indeed. The whole book is jam-packed with these very, very Greek things, plus references to the gods, to remind you that this is, in fact, almost like ancient Greece. Almost, but not quite.

“Now that that’s settled, you’re coming with me.”
“Never in a billion suns. Not even if Zeus showed up as a swan and tried to peck me in your direction. I wouldn’t go with you even if my other option was Hades dragging me to the Underworld for an eternal threesome with Persephone.”

[…]

“You either have an Olympian-sized sense of self-importance, or you’re overcompensating for a lack of confidence.”

[…]

Our gazes collide, and something in me freezes. His eyes remind of Poseidon’s wrath–stormy, gray, intense–the kind of eyes that draw you in, hold you there, and might not let you go.

[…]

If looks could kill, I’d be dead. I don’t respond well to threats, even ocular ones, and my spine shoots straighter than Poseidon’s trident.

[…]

Have I cheated death again? Hades must be allergic to me.

[…]

I cheated death again. Hades must really not want me.

There’s a ton more, but I didn’t highlight them all–that would take weeks. If I remember correctly, the phrase “dive-bombing” was used to describe a reaction to falling in love. And now I’m just nitpicking, so I’ll stop there.

Overall, not a terrible book, but it’s definitely for the more romance-inclined reader who can overlook these things.

Review: Faithful by Alice Hoffman

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: October 28 to November 13, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

People say if you face your worst fear, the rest is easy, but those are people who are afraid of rattlesnakes or enclosed spaces, not of themselves and the horrible things they’ve done.

[…]

Life was beautiful, everyone knew that, but it was also bitter and bleak and unfair as hell and where did that leave a person? On the outs with the rest of the world. Someone who sat alone in the cafeteria, reading, escaping from his hometown simply by turning the page.

[…]

I think of life as a book of stories. You move through the stories and the characters change. But once you have a name on your skin you are stuck with one story, even if it’s a bad one.

[…]

Don’t make me sit through reality.

Alice Hoffman has a nice way with words, even when those words are hard to swallow.

I don’t read contemporary fiction much these days or at all. I’m like the people who adamantly refuse to read genre fiction because sci-fi and fantasy? Ugh. But I’m like the exact opposite of those people.

Contemporary fiction? Ugh. About people? You lost me… fine. What’s so special about them? What do you mean none of them shift into animals or mythological creatures? What do you mean none of them are aliens crash-landing on our planet? What do you mean this city is set in our world and our timeline? What do you mean there’s no apocalypse in this story?!?!?!

I read contemporary fiction like I used to read assigned books: reluctantly and kicking and screaming all the way. Well, maybe not so much kicking, but there’s definitely screaming. And expletives. It’s all because contemporary fiction is too close to real life, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. It’s like a shadow of real life, without the weight or consequence or closure. And oftentimes, contemporary authors leave their stories wide open just so you have something to “think about” (e.g. gnaw on while you curse their books). If I wanted reality, I’d turn to nonfiction. It’s the better imitation of reality, anyway.

That’s why I rarely read contemporary fiction. So I just wanted to explain that while this book is, by contemporary fiction’s standard, a perfectly good book with lots of things that would interest readers who like contemporary fiction, such as sharp prose, strong willed but broken characters, haunted pasts, difficult relationships, deep explorations of those relationships, and some magical realism near the end, it’s not for me. Save for the magical realism, the other things are just not what I’m interested in or look for in my reads–to much drama, not enough otherworldly-ness, and I prefer the other way around. Personal preference and all that.

The premise is this: Shelby Richmond and a friend were involved in an accident years ago. Shelby walked away from it, and the friend didn’t. The rest of the book is about how grief and guilt, mainly how Shelby deals with both as she constantly carries them around, as they constantly loom over every aspect of her life. So she learns to live with them, and then later on when she moves away to New York, to deal with them. There she meets other similarly broken people, and they teach she valuable lessons about dealing with the past and moving on. But finally, it’s her friend’s mother who helps Shelby through it the most.

I couldn’t connect to this story, so I can’t sum it up in a way that really represents what it’s really about. Good thing someone at Kirkus Reviews did just that. Just a warning though, there are a lot of spoilers in that summary, but I think the last line sums up this book quite nicely: “A novel full of people—flawed, scarred, scared—discovering how to punish themselves less and connect with others more.”

All in all, this book isn’t as magical or beautiful as the cover led me to believe, but that’s on me. I shouldn’t have assumed it’s anything like Practical Magic.

Other than those few “minor” things, this is a perfectly fine book, and I’d like to thank Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy. It seems I won it from a Goodreads giveaway, but I don’t remember entering… Not complaining. I rarely say no to free books. It’s just weird that I don’t remember.

Review: Bloodring (Rogue Mage Series #1) by Faith Hunter

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Same book, different covers. I usually prefer one over the other, but here, I kind of like them both. Maybe if someone had combined them, the design would reflect the content of the book more.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: February 03 to November 04, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

Not quite 4 stars but close because of the apocalyptic ice age setting… which sounds pretty nice right about now, what with the last election we’re ever gonna have coming up and the world ending shortly thereafter. Just kidding?

(I wrote bits and pieces of this review days before the election, and now I’m looking back and, yeah, an ice age sounds nice right about now. Or any apocalypse. Just bring it. I’m not picky.)

Anyhow.

This book is an unusual blend of almost everything I like to see in urban fantasy with the exception of angels and biblical tie-ins. Am not a fan of angels and even less a fan of angels + biblical things. Though, here, they work for the most part. However, there were times I found it to be too religious–not preachy, just too much… religion–but the religion (Roman Catholicism) is woven into the magic and mythology. Sounds complicated and convoluted, and in some ways it is, but it also works… somehow.

The story starts out with Thorn St. Croix, a neomage living among humans. It’s against the law to have a neomage outside of controlled facilities called Enclaves, so Thorn is also in hiding, in plain sight. She lives a rather quiet life in Mineral City, North Carolina and runs an artsy jewelry shop with a couple of friends who don’t know who she is. But her quiet life is disrupted when her ex-husband Lucas is kidnapped by a mysterious cult raising up to challenge the heavenly host. This brings the angels down to earth, and where they go, the apocalypse follows. Thorn and her friends are caught in the middle. To save their town, their little piece of world that’s relatively peaceful and quiet, they must go against the literal forces of darkness.

That’s the basic plot. What I left out is a ton of world building. So let’s go back further.

Nearly a century before Thorn came into existence, there was an apocalypse (to end all almost-apocalypses) when the biblical angels of heaven descended to punish humanity for its wicked ways. This brought nearly complete destruction of the planet, biblical style, and nearly all of the human population on earth perished. The few communities that survived had to rebuild and conform to the new world order under the angels. The ice age is a byproduct of the planet getting nearly destroyed.

The new world order is what you’d expect from any orthodox governing body: no violence, no vices, absolutely no “sinning” of any kind. No fun, but people live in relative “peace” in the sense that they live and go about their lives with the fear of angelic wrath hanging over their heads. They’re also expected to attend religious gatherings every day. You can’t just observe, you must actively participate. Religion is not a choice but a way of life, and religious elders and leaders are cantankerous asses. I guess some things just never change.

What I found most interesting about this set-up is the inclusion of a gay couple in the main cast of characters. Given what we know of orthodox religions, you’d expect LGBT people to be shunned and/or executed, but that’s not the path this story took. For now, I’m glad for these two characters and liked that they lived to see the end of this book. It looks like they’re a big part of the next book too–I’m currently in the middle of book 2.

Oh, and there’s a budding romance and a few love interests, but they doesn’t take up the whole book. One of the guys is a cop who’s investigating the ex-husband’s disappearance and he’s a descendant of angels. Sadly no wings though. The other guy is also some kind of angelic hybrid–also no wings. I kinda wanted wings, to be honest.

The writing is decent, albeit slow in the beginning, but you get used to it as you read on, and it does gradually pick up speed. The characters are okay, as are the plot and mythology. I like the mixing of orthodoxy and magic. It’s a strange but interesting combo, although I’d prefer more magic, world building, ice storms, and much less religion.

This book may look like it’s all urban fantasy on the surface, but it’s something else underneath. I’m not sure how to categorize because, along with all the religious and new-age magical stuff, there’s also a government conspiracy to give the story a futuristic, sci-fi feel. Everything else, from the world to the angels to the way people live in this post-apocalyptic time, is interesting enough that I’ll most likely finish the trilogy. It’ll take some time getting there, but as I’ve learned, this book and most likely this whole trilogy is meant to be taken slowly, with frequent breaks in between.

The one thing that made this book stand out among the hundreds (or hundreds of thousands?) of urban fantasies of its kind–many of which I passed on simply because they looked too much like something I’d seen or read before–is the setting. It’s an endless, bitterly cold winter–and of course angels–but it’s an endless winter. The whole world is buried under a ton of snow and there hasn’t been any seasonal changes since the apocalyptic ice age hit. No one alive remembers the seasons changing. They speak of warm weather as though it’s a myth because all they know is winter, whereas the way things are going now in our world, we might one day speak of cold weather the way these people speak of the myth that was summer.

Overall, this was a good story with a slow burn, though not one I’d recommend unless you’re looking for something fairly different (but still somewhat the same) on the urban fantasy shelf. For me, though, it was a refreshing break from the usual dark and dank magical urban settings.

Review: The Midnight Mayor (Matthew Swift, #2) by Kate Griffin

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date Read: July 31 to September 21, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

Amazing. What a ride. Had to read it twice and will most likely reread it for a long time to come, just for the prose.

We’re back in London and some time has passed, but it’s good to be back underground wading through the muck with Matthew Swift leading the way. And it’s so good to feel the city being alive and pulsing beneath my feet and to breathe in all those delicious exhaust fumes… and to splash across murky-looking puddles… and to crawl for miles through the sewers… dig through mountains of landfills…

I may wax poetics about nature and the wilderness a lot, but I’m a city dweller through and through, and these books speak to me because… well, they just do. And they embrace the beauty and soul of a city and turn it into magic and wonder. These books make London come alive in ways even nonfiction or documentaries of London could not because the writing is just that good. I’ve never been to London, but it feels like I have.

Kate Griffin has created the perfect urban fantasy series, in my humble opinion, because it’s got everything I ever asked for in UF. If only she had written more and continued the series beyond the 4 Matthew Swift and the 2 Magicals Anonymous books. She writes about the illusions of a city being alive like no one I know, and she suffuses it with so much life. Everything I loved about the previous book, A Madness of Angels, is once again present in this book, but amplified to a pulsating level that you can almost feel through the pages. And did I mention I just love the writing?

Once again, we find Matthew Swift waking up injured and disoriented and finds himself being chased by another vile city incarnation that’s set out to kill him. The rest of the story is a whirlwind ride through almost every nook and cranny and crevice in London to find out who’s after him and why. Turns out, many people/creatures are, and they all have their reasons. Unraveling–pun intended–this little problem leads Swift and the blue electric angels to the mysterious Midnight Mayor and his aldermen, and saving the city while they’re at it is just another day at the office*.

They never lose sight or their sense of humor though. Here’s Swift and the angels being quippy and pragmatic, all the while the city is on the verge of yet another upheaval.

Coincidence is usually mentioned only when something good happens. Whenever it’s something bad, it’s easier to blame someone, something. We don’t like coincidence, though we were newer to this world than I. Inhabiting my flesh, being me as I was now us, we had quickly come to understand why so many sorcerers had died from lack of cynicism. I had been a naive sorcerer, and so I had died. We, who had been reborn in my flesh, were not about to make the same error.

[…]

It is our final opinion that the fusion of the sorcerer Swift and the entities commonly known as the blue electric angels during their shared time in the telephone wires, has resulted in the creation of a highly unstable entity in the waking world. The Swift-angel creature, while appearing almost entirely human, is at its core a combination of a traumatised dead sorcerer and infantile living fire, neither of which is fully equipped to handle living as two separate entities, let alone one fused mind.

[…]

“Let’s establish this right now. I am we and we are me. We are the same thought and the same life and the same flesh, and frankly I would have thought that you, of all entities to wander out of the back reaches of mythical implausibility, would respect this.”
“But it’s not healthy!” replied the Hag. “A mortal and a god sharing the same flesh?”
“You know, this isn’t why we’re here. I can get abuse pretty much wherever.”
“Yeah,” sighed the Maid, “but I bet a tenner I can make you cry in half a minute.”

[…]

I looked at Judith. “This sounds strange, but I don’t suppose you saw three mad women with a cauldron of boiling tea pass by this way?”
“No,” she replied. The polite voice of reasonable people scared of exciting the madman.
“Flash of light? Puff of smoke? Erm . . .” I tried to find a polite way of describing the symptoms of spontaneous teleportation without using the dreaded “teleportation” word. I failed. I slumped back into the sand. What kind of mystic kept a spatial vortex at the bottom of their cauldrons of tea anyway?

[…]

I got dressed. You can’t be Midnight Mayor in your underpants.

[…]

Never argue with the surreal; there’s no winning against irrationality.

Swift may joke a lot about irrationality and morality, but he (and the angels too) always does the right thing when confronted with a difficult problem, like whether or not to let someone die because he or she might become an uncontrollable magical risk to the city of London. I like that he’s mostly gray, except when it comes to matters of life and death.

*we may very well find Swift sitting in an office in the next book seeing as how he got promoted and all at the end of this one.

Romancing the Duke (Castles Ever After, #1) by Tessa Dare

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: September 06 to 07, 2016
Recommended by: the Vaginal Fantasy group
Recommended to:

A very light and sweet tale that’s at times adorable, but not precious or twee.

What started off as a light Beauty & the Beast retelling turned into something unexpectedly sweet half-way through the story.

After having lost her father to old age and his whole estate to a distant male cousin, Izzy is left penniless, save for a strange inheritance from an estranged godfather. He left her a castle, but not a dreamy, happily-ever-after kind of castle. It’s old and decrepit and on the verge of becoming a pile of rubble–so more of a fixer-upper–but it’s her castle officially, she even has the paperwork to prove it. However, there’s one big problem. The castle also comes with its previous owner, Ransom, Duke of something or other–I forgot, it’s been a few months. Anyway. He’s brooding, snarling, infuriating man who’s determined to kick Izzy out so he could reclaim his castle, but since the castle is her only shelter, she fights him for it.

They get off to a rocky start, but of course there’s simmering mutual attraction and I have to say their battle of witty repartee is pretty funny. Romance isn’t my preferred genre; cutesy historical romance written with the modern audience in mind is even less so, if that’s even possible, but I’ve been trying to read more to broaden my horizon and whatnot. When it’s done right, when there’s a balance between plot and romance, it’s pretty good. So I’ve been following along with the ladies of the Vaginal Fantasy book club for most of the year now and… meh. Their book picks have been all over the place in terms of content and quality of writing, and not one book has impressed me yet. That is, until this one came along. I found it very engaging, even with the rocky start at the beginning, and Izzy and Ransom are pretty good together. But still, I have yet to find books with that balance I’m always looking for.

Another thing is I don’t normally enjoy traditional happily-ever-afters romances–which is basically all of them, right? They contain too many unnecessary explanations of things that should be left up to the reader to infer or figure out, such as the heroine’s and the love interest’s mutual attraction, sexual tension, and budding relationship. No need to spell it out. I can’t stand it when these things are explained, sometimes almost to death, because it’s too much telling and gets to be repetitive further into the story. Another thing I can’t stand is how strickly heteronormative these types of romances are. It’s expected that the main couple are, but must every other character in the book be so as well?*

So in spite of all of that, I did like this book and found myself enjoying it for its many, rather noticeably modern, details and embellishment, which were definitely a bit jarring and took me out of the Victorian setting (or was it Edwardian?), like the characters’ modern sensibilities, specifically Izzy’s open-minded views of sex and relationships and her noticeably lack of uptight-ness, and the hilarious cosplaying troupe of devoted fans following the her around the country. And the humor. It was, once again, unexpected and enjoyable. I found it neither cheesy nor eye-rolling, and it was one of the things I liked most about the read.

“Every time you wake up, you let fly the most marvelous string of curses. It’s never the same twice, do you know that? It’s so intriguing. You’re like a rooster that crows blasphemy.”

[…]

Izzy was utterly convinced. Never mind Arabian horses, African cheetahs. No creature in the world could bolt so quickly as a rake confronted with the word “marriage.” They ought to shout it out at footraces rather than using starting pistols.

[…]

Why must this be so mortifying? Oh, that’s right. Because its my life.

[…]

Astonishing. In the morning, when she sat working at that table of correspondence, silhouetted by sunlight . . .

Her hair truly did look like an octopus.

It was the way she wore it, he thought. Or maybe the way it wore her. It all sat perched atop her head in that big, inky blob. And no matter how strenuously she pinned it, dark, heavy curls worked loose on all sides, like tentacles.

Of course, it was an entrancing, strangely erotic octopus. Ransom worried this might be how fetishes developed.

*And must they all get their own spin-off novels so they could all live out their own happily-ever-afters which pretty much mirror the first book’s plot? Why can’t some of them end up divorced or widowed and spend the rest of their lives partying from one country estate to another, from one affair to another? Oh, wait, that’s not a romance… but definitely something I would read.

Review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: August 12 to 24, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

Liked it much better this time around mostly because I chose to read it (for a book club), not because it was forced on me as a school assignment.

Back then, I didn’t–or maybe couldn’t–appreciate the sweeping nature of Emily Brontë’s use of language, but now I like it. She painted countryside scenery so very well, and she did the same with extreme characterization. I could read whole books about the wilderness and the moors and cliffs and crags of Wuthering Heights. More setting, less plot and even less on characters, and we’re good. The land on which the estate sat was painted with sweeping language as well, but with a haunting overtone. The scenery overall is beautifully rendered, and the characters and their relationships too, though tragically so.

I think it was this book that made me first realize I had an intense appreciation for stories that don’t end well, and the intensity of Bronte’s language makes experiencing her creation a deeply visceral–albeit somewhat satisfying, somewhat disturbing–journey.

“I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”

I admit my enjoyment of this book stems from my enjoyment of seeing melodramatic, first-world-problems characters suffer, mostly at their own hands. But the melodramatic prose is good too. Sometimes you’re just in the right mood for an over-the-top period drama with beautiful sweeping scenery and lots of people screaming. Nothing beats Wuthering Heights there.

Review: The Last Wish (The Witcher, #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: August 12 to 20, 2016
Recommended by: Milda
Recommended to:

A fast fairytale-filled book of short stories that’s just right for anyone looking for subversive retellings with a wry humorous undertone. A big thanks to Milda for the rec.

Last summer, I had an odd, several-month long fairytale craving and just had to read my fill. The odd thing about it was I was specifically looking for Beauty & the Beast retellings, which led me to that boring Court of Thorns and Roses thing. Fortunately, I branched out after that and found Beauty by Robin McKinley, which was a nice pleasant read and a throwback to the days when I used to read Robin McKinley for fun–Beauty & the Beast retellings are Ms. McKinley’s specialty; then there was Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, which was another pleasant read and a huge surprise because it’s got the same look and feel and marketing as ACoTaR but the writing was so much better; and finally Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier which was so lovely and amazing and easily the best of the bunch.

In the midst of that fairytale-filled summer, there was this Witcher book that a friend recommended. Fun fact: it’s actually the inspiration for the video games, not the other way around. I didn’t know that at the start, so I think I went in expecting something similar to Assassin’s Greed but with magic and magical creatures, and that’s basically what it is. But to my surprise, there was a lot of depth to the world and characters and an assortment of mythological and fairytale creatures, and the writing was good. I’m not a fan of short stories, unless they’re part of a series I’m currently following, but I enjoyed these short episodic adventures of the Witcher’s and found that they work really well for this particular character and the life he’s led.

A witcher is a magically trained and transformed exterminator of the supernaturally wicked. He travels alone from town to town getting rid of monsters, many of which are straight from fairytales and folklore. But the world is a different place now than it once was in the time of previous witchers, and these “monsters” are no longer a threat to everyday life like they once were, some of them even live among people.

Geralt is a witcher going through an existential crisis because he is one of the last of his kind in a world that no longer needs his expertise or services. We follow him through six stories in which he has to face down and defeat something supernatural, as well as confront himself and his dwindling place in the world. Each monster makes him question the purpose of his job and life. Sounds like a downer, but it’s not. It’s a fast, adventurous read, interspersed by unsettling bouts of an existential crisis, but you know, minor details.

I don’t remember what I expected–Assassin’s Creed with magic maybe–but I know I didn’t expect the writing to have any depth or to be a lot of fun, while at the same time quietly poignant. Existential crises in a high fantasy setting can ruin everything run the risk of being too maudlin or comical or both. It wasn’t the case here. I found both the short stories and Geralt to be engaging and strangely realistic, within the context of his world but also outside of it. There’s something about him that rings true.

“I manage because I have to. Because I’ve no other way out. Because I’ve overcome the vanity and pride of being different, I’ve understood that they are a pitiful defense against being different. Because I’ve understood that the sun shines differently when something changes.”

[…]

“Justice will be done!”
“I shit on justice!” yelled the mayor, not caring if there were any voters under the window.

[…]

“The demand for poetry and the sound of lute strings will never decline. It’s worse with your trade. You witchers, after all, deprive yourselves of work, slowly but surely. The better and the more conscientiously you work, the less work there is for you. After all, your goal is a world without monsters, a world which is peaceful and safe. A world where witchers are unnecessary. A paradox, isn’t it?”

Like Geralt, I too had to spend a lot of time questioning my job and purpose in life and whatnot, etc etc. So I empathize with him on many levels. And if I had to kill monsters to make ends meet but the rest of the world no longer needed to have that done, then I’d probably empathize more.