Two Serpents Rise (Craft Sequence #2) by Max Gladstone

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: January 8 to 13, 2019

I tried reading this book twice before with no luck, only getting as far as 10% before setting it aside. This time would have been my final attempt if I couldn’t get any further than that. Good thing I was in the right mood and frame of mind to appreciate it for what it is: a composite of magical legalities involving water distribution and municipality, and a short meditation on sustainable living and reconciling tradition and modernity in an uneasy post-revolutionary world where the gods are dead (because they’ve been killed off).

Whew. When spelled out like that, the reason I couldn’t get into this book in the past is crystal clear. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to enjoy the satire or the weirdness.

Dresediel Lex sprawled below: fifteen thousand miles of roads gleaming with ghostlight and gas lamps. Between boulevards crouched the houses and shops and apartment buildings, bars and banks, theaters and factories and restaurants, where seventeen million people drank and loved and danced and worked and died.

The interesting thing about the world of the Craft Sequence is that it’s very much like our own reality, except almost everything about it, from laws to institutions to money to mundane everyday things like public transportation, has a weird magical bent. People there live like we do. The over-populated, desert city of Dresediel Lex is also run by corporations; it used to be run by gods, priests, and ceremonial human sacrifices. The legal system is a tangled mess. The water system is like that as well. There’s nightlife, there’s an art scene, and soul-sucking corporate jobs. Their police force is made up of cloaked, ghoul-like figures that ride barely-tamed flying serpentine creatures.

But since the story is told from the perspective of a young professional, the sights and scenes and thoughts permeating the prose are rather prosaic and pedestrian, which takes the joy and wonder out of the conglomerate, magical, world-building efforts on display.

We put a fence around history and hang a plaque and assume it’s over. Try to forget.

The post-revolution atmosphere in this Aztec-inspired city, on the other hand, is well portrayed in the book. I particularly like how everyday life is shown as normal and mundane with the general masses going about their daily business, and no one seems to be aware of the undercurrents of the side that lost the God Wars simmering beneath the surface. Just because the fight part of the revolution is over doesn’t mean the revolution is actually over.

Sixty years ago, the King in Red had shattered the sky over Dresediel Lex, and impaled gods on thorns of starlight. The last of his flesh had melted away decades past, leaving smooth bone and a constant grin. He was a good boss. But who could forget what he had been, and what remained?

[…]

“You live in a grim universe.”
“That’s risk management for you. Anything that can go wrong, will—with a set probability given certain assumptions. We tell you how to fix it, and what you should have done to keep it from happening in the first place. At times like these, I become a hindsight professional.”

The book opens up with the main character, Caleb, a risk management manager for the King in Red who currently runs the city, at a poker game. Then he is called to investigate a death at a water reserve, which kicks off the central mystery. For about 40% of the book, we follow him around the city while not much is happening. We do get to see the city up close and hear about all the things that make it tick though.

“Should I be worried that it takes demons to break you out of your funk?”
“Everyone likes to be needed,” he said.

It seems someone has poisoned the city’s water with demons, and Caleb is tasked with fixing this problem before the city runs out of water, the demons escape, and people take to the streets. During the investigation, Caleb runs into an attractive but elusive cliff runner, Mal. His instinct tells him she is somehow tied up in this thing, but his hormones persuade him to look the other way and not to dwell on the details.

Then the backup water source located outside the city is also sabotaged. The plot gets a lot more complicated, layered, and circular from here with the introduction of Caleb’s estranged father, a former priest of the old world who led multiple insurrections since the God Wars to overthrow the King in Red, and his role in this whole business. The King in Red is in the middle of acquiring a new water-related asset, Heartstone, and the deal is settled but still shaky. Curiously, Heartstone is run by another former priest of the old world order, not unlike Caleb’s father, and the old man just wants to watch the world burn. The titular two serpents do rise at the end of the book before being put back to rest. Then, in the middle of it all, there’s Mal the cliff runner who is also an associate at Heartstone.

Everything is tied up in a tangled web. By the time Caleb unravels this mystery piece by piece, it’s almost too late to save the city from itself.

Caleb almost refused on principle, but principle had no place on company time.

I realize now the reason I couldn’t get into this book in the past was because Caleb reminded me too much of myself back when I used to work for a similar soul-sucking corp. Didn’t know the meaning of “soul-sucking” until I left that job. So Caleb’s narration, the monotony of the work, the gradual grinding down of one’s self, sounds awfully familiar. The moment he chased after Mal, I got it and the book started making sense for me. He wasn’t chasing after her per se, but after a spark that made him feel something again.

For Caleb, it was Mal. For me, it was an elusive foreign account that was flirting with a possible merger. No one in my department could land it, but I thought I could because I’d needed it more than everyone else. And it was during this chase that I realized I hated the job. Hated the office culture, hated the environment that bred that kind of culture, hated the people I saw every day, hated the people I had to answer to. And I hated helping a Big 5 corp become even bigger. So I left and found a home-grown, grass-root startup that was just starting out. (Later on, it got too big too fast and had to sell out to a Big 5, but that’s another story for another day.)

Anyhow. I’d like to take a moment here to thank Max Gladstone for not killing off Teo, Caleb’s queer best friend who stuck with him through thick and thin, even when she was tied on the sacrificial alter moments before almost having her heart cut out. It’s the “little things” like this that make me have faith in an author, their writing, and where they’re taking their series. It’s what makes me want to stick around for another book, even though this one wasn’t quite an enjoyable read. I appreciate the work and creativity that went into making it entertaining though.

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Wrapt in Crystal by Sharon Shinn

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Reading: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: August 29 to September 6, 2018
Location: Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport

Another surprising read of 2018. I expected to like this book, but didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did, and it was just what I needed to pull me out of my weird reading slump.

I bought this out-of-print book at a used bookstore because I liked the look of the cover and thought the brief summary on the back was interesting, but I had no idea what was inside. This was the best kind of surprise.

Can’t really say much about the plot or characters without giving too much away; I can only say that both are intertwined in an interestingly layered and nuanced way. In short, this book is about having faith and losing faith and finding your way back to what you lost. The brief summary on the back cover doesn’t do it justice, but I don’t know if there is a way to summarize this story and capture what it’s really about. I’ll work on it.

I had never read anything by Sharon Shinn before, only heard a lot about her over the years since I started reading genre fiction again. Now I look forward to reading everything she’s ever written.

The Duchess War (Brothers Sinister #1) by Courtney Milan

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: August 5 to 10, 2018

A well deserved 3.5 stars rating and perhaps one of the few books that surprised me this year. Looking forward to reading the rest of these books. Maybe not back-to-back because that would be too much, but in between longer reads.

“If Downton Abbey was a book series…” should be the hook for this series to reel potential readers in.

This book is a nice book in which the main characters are good people trying to do good things and be good people, all the while pushing against a social order that cements them into their “proper” place. They all have issues of their own and a dark, unsavory past looming over their lives and they each have to overcome those things before they can find their happily-ever-afters, and they do achieve that in the course of the book. The stakes are low: no one dies and there are no murders, kidnapping, wars, uprisings, mysteries, or supernatural things out to get anyone. The only danger here is loss of reputation and being shunned from society forever. Like I said, low stakes. But despite it all, I enjoyed the read. I even enjoyed the mostly boring parts of the plot in which nothing seemed to be happening. Most of all though, I enjoy the writing.

Incorporating sedition and the beginning of unions and setting the story in 1863 Leicester is an interesting touch. But since the story is told from a duke’s and genteel young woman’s points of view, we only get to see how the upper classes are almost affected by these things. This is not a critique, just an observation. The author, Courtney Milan, seems very aware of the social revolutions relevant to the time periods of her stories, and I like that she wrote them into the romance plot. It makes for a better, deeper, richer reading experience and it’s a constant reminder of the setting and time period.

I’m always weary of historical romances that feature huge ball gowns on the cover because it usually means the books are either really smutty in the classic bodice-ripper sense or really uptight in the classic Victorian sense, and so I was weary of this book long before starting it. I’m still weary of huge ball gowns on the cover, but no longer of Courtney Milan.

Jade City (The Green Bone Saga #1) by Fonda Lee

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: June 3 to 18, 2018

An excellent start to what will no doubt be an excellent series. I admit to not really feeling this book at the beginning, but it grew on me and gradually sunk its jaded hooks into me, and by the end, I was way deep in it. And this was the most fun I’ve had in awhile.

Readers familiar with The Godfather will recognize similarities between these two books–family, honor, tradition, revenge, war. Where this book diverges from crime family sagas that came before it is the inclusion of urban magic into the mix and setting the story during what looks to me like post-colonial Singapore, but the setting is ambiguous enough that any major city on an Island in Southeast Asia would fit. While still rooted in reality, with all the trappings of politics and urban warfare, the magic (of jade) adds an interesting brutality to an already brutal world, and Fonda Lee has done a great job bringing this vibrant world to life.

There’s just something about a bloody tale of vengeance that calls to me. But the thing is, I’m not normally a fan of blood and gore. It works for this story though. Fonda Lee has found the right mix of compelling storytelling and violence that takes this story to the next level. I found myself glued to the second half of the book and was deeply invested in the characters before I knew what was happening. I couldn’t NOT look away and had to stop my myself from flipping ahead to see if a certain character lived or died.

This was another great buddy read with Beth (her review), and what a ride it was.

Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire #1) by Yoon Ha Lee

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: December 30, 2018 to January 7, 2019

A frustrating read that eventually came together in the end in a fairly spectacular way. Or maybe I’m just saying that because I’ve been fighting with this book for over a week now, and the euphoria of reaching the end to find answers waiting for me is temporarily blanketing most of my initial frustration. Whatever it is, I no longer resent the amount of work I had to put in to get to those answers, although your mileage may vary.

This novel is the very definition of “your mileage may vary” because it’s hard to gauge, and I cannot think of one person I know, either online or irl, whom I’m certain would like it. That wouldn’t stop me from recommending it though, if only so I’d get to see someone else go through what I did… hee hee.

So what is this book about? I’m actually still trying to figure that out myself, and I’ve only gotten some of the pieces to fit in a way that makes sense. But let’s give it a shot anyway.

The basic plot is this: after leading an unsuccessful mission, young, talented, and extremely loyal Captain Kel Cheris gets another chance to save her career.

In a way each battle was home: a wretched home, where small mistakes went unnoticed, but a home nonetheless. She didn’t know what it said about her that her duty suited her so well, but so long as it was her duty, it didn’t matter what she thought about it.

Cheris, along with a few of her peers, are recruited to a risky, high-profile assignment in which they each offer a new solution to a constant problem–a tricky faction rising up on one of the empire’s planets. Cheris has an outrageous idea and it gets chosen almost immediately; she is too young and naive to give this much thought. The idea is to resurrect a dead general who never lost a battle, but who was also known for going mad and massacring a rebellion along with his own troops, to help her put down the current rebellion. So the spirit of dead, psychotic General Shuos Jedao is brought back to life as a consciousness that only Cheris can interact with. (He’s called “undead” in the book’s blurb, and that’s just misleading, especially for people who read a lot of paranormal or urban fantasy…)

The rest of the book is about Cheris and Jedao dealing with rebel forces all the while butting heads, battling over tactics, playing mind games, making hard decisions, and ultimately bonding. Literally.

This is the first time in Cheris’ life leading an operation of this size and caliber with the empire’s backing, and there are plenty of tense moments and close calls for her throughout the book.

Jedao himself is an enigma full of contradictions, and through him, Cheris begins to doubt, and later on, to realize that maybe she is fighting for the wrong side.

We do get to learn what happened to Jedao all those years ago that led to the massacre. A short but poignant end to this part of the trilogy.

None of this will make much sense though because you’re thrown into the deep end in the very first scene and things only get more confusing from there. The writing is full of jargon and offers very few explanations, so you just have to roll with it. But with repeated exposure to these terms, you get used to them. Or not–your mileage may vary.

There’s a lot of talk about calendars and mathematical equations, which might lead you to think there’s some kind of system or logic behind the tech, but there’s really not. The tech here is akin to an elaborate magic system without all the elaborate explanations.

Calendars are important because they are. Math makes this universe go round because it does. Heretics are those who dare to defy the empire by creating their own calendars to live by. New calendars are believed to weaken the empire’s hold on power and unbalance of the universe somehow. Therefore the heretics must be put down immediately. No exceptions. No mercy. 

“I’m not complaining about the guns,” [Cheris] said, “but guns change minds, not hearts. And calendrical rot is a matter of hearts.”

“It depends on what you shoot,” Jedao said dryly.

Which leads right into my next point: there is a high body count, as you’d expect with military fiction. And like good Mil-SF, the writing shows the mental and emotional toll the amount of killing and the methods of mass killing take on the people with their boots on the ground. In contrast, you get to see and compare that to those back on their home worlds plotting ways in which to use the death toll to further their own political careers. Hundreds of years in the future, and yet not much has changed on this front.

It was important to acknowledge numbers, especially when the dead were dead by your doing.

A big part of my frustration with this book was sympathizing with the heretics/rebel forces while having to read the story from the point of view of the leader of an invading swarm. It pushed all the right buttons to get my heckles up, but I was too busy fighting the frustration to realize what was happening or that I was being played.

I have a feeling I will appreciate this book more once I get through the whole trilogy. It’s the kind of story that has the potential to stay with me for years to come, as I can already feel it knocking around in my head.

The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad #2) by Tana French

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: March 2 to 9, 2018

Tana French’s writing will always captivate me with its realism and the way it skirts the edge of reality and fantasy, but unfortunately, it only captivates me as long as I’m reading it. When I put it down for a moment and go do something else, I always find myself reluctant to return to it, as though coming back to the stark, too realistic world she’s created is too much like returning to a real life situation I never wanted to experience for myself. And therefore there’s no real enjoyment in reading her books. There’s appreciation for the deftness of the writing, but not much enjoyment. At least, I think that’s why I can’t make much headway with this series unless I really push it or force myself to sit down to read.

Another thing that I can’t get into is French’s reluctance to embrace the sci-fi/fantasy elements in her books. Adhering to mystery standards is fine, albeit boring, so why not introduce some otherworldly possibilities, yeah? Just my opinion. Mixing realism and genre or hinting at an otherworldliness at work in the story is all well and good and makes for a thrilling read, but at the end of the books in this series, the reasons given for the strangeness of these murder investigations are flimsily explained away, often with no satisfying answers given. Ironically, I think I would be more inclined to believe / buy into these books if they were indeed SF/F.

In the first book, it’s the decades-old cold case directly involving one of the lead detectives who was currently investigating a present-day missing persons case that had many eerie ties to the cold case from his past. The cold case was never solved in the course of the book and the current case became a murder investigation that then turned to ruins when the two lead detectives mucked it up by getting their real lives mixed up in their investigation. What a mess–oh man, the lawsuits that would have rained down upon their heads if this info had gone public–and not at all believable by the end of the book. The cold case had several eerie fantastical elements to it, as unsolved mysterious disappearances often do, but since it never got solved, you don’t get to know what happened in the end or why.

In this book, it’s a doppelganger situation, or more precisely, the murder of a doppelganger. Lots of time is spent on showing the physical similarities between Cassie and Lexie, yet no believable explanation is given for the most important thing about this case–the reason these two strangers look so much alike or how Cassie knows how to “channel” Lexie and becomes her the instant she infiltrates Lexie’s life. And no one in Lexie’s life, not even her closest friends whom she was living with, suspects a thing? Not possible. Perhaps if there was a sci-fi or fantastical reason given for all this likeness, I would’ve been more inclined to buy into the story. But of course there isn’t. Because Tana French doesn’t like to give you a plausible reason. Or closure.

So, while I do appreciate the cleverness of this series and Tana French’s writing, I will always find it hard to get the books… as strictly contemporary murder mysteries. But as urban fantasies? They could be excellent.

It’s been a couple of months since I read this book in a buddy read (with Orient and Sr3yas) and I still can’t seem to figure out how I feel about it or whether or not to read the next book in the series.

2018: Year in Review

What a year. Feels like 35 years squeezed into one though. And I’m glad it’s almost over. Not confident next year would be any better. But it can’t get any worst, yeah? Hah hah… hah. *screams internally*

Really hard to choose the best read of the year at this point because they’ve all been great in their own way. So I chose to list the most memorable reads, the ones that meant the most to me, many of which deserve second or third read through.

Best of and most memorable reads of 2018 (in order of date read):

Touch
by Claire North
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (BOOM. 5 STARS. RIGHT OUT OF THE GATE.)
review

Sharp Objects
by Gillian Flynn
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
review

A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell #3) *
by Deanna Raybourn
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Taltos (Vlad Taltos #4)
by Steven Brust
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Phoenix (Vlad Taltos #5)
by Steven Brust
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Winter Tide (The Innsmouth Legacy #1)
by Ruthanna Emrys
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
short note

Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #1)
by Jodi Taylor
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
review

City of Bones by Martha Wells **
★ ★ ★ ★ ½
review
old review

The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad, #2)
by Tana French
★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
review

The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives *
edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
short note

Carnival
by Elizabeth Bear
★ ★ ★ ★ ½
review

An Unkindness of Ghosts
by Rivers Solomon
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
short note

Shadowfire (Birthgrave #2)
by Tanith Lee
★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
review

In the Lake of the Woods
by Tim O’Brien
★ ★ ★ ★ ½
review

Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs #1)
by Richard K. Morgan
★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
short note

The Iron Duke (The Iron Seas #1)
by Meljean Brook
★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
short note

The Witness **
by Nora Roberts, read by Julia Whelan
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
short note

Pride and Prejudice **
by Jane Austen, read by Rosamund Pike
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
short note

Night’s Master (Tales of the Flat Earth #1)
by Tanith Lee
★ ★ ★ ★ ½
short note

World of the Lupi
by Eileen Wilks
Tempting Danger ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
short note
Mortal Danger ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
short note

Books of the Raksura **
by Martha Wells
The Cloud Roads ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ (review of books 1-3)
The Serpent Sea ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The Siren Depths ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Stories of the Raksura, Volume 1 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (review)
Stories of the Raksura, Volume 2 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (short note)

Jade City (Green Bone Saga #1)
by Fonda Lee
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
review

Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries #2) *
by Martha Wells
★ ★ ★ ★ ½

Iron & Velvet (Kate Kane #1)
by Alexis Hall
★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
review

Mnevermind
by Jordan Castillo Price
The Persistence of Memory ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Forget Me Not ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Life is Awesome ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo *
by Jill Twiss
★ ★ ★ ★ ½
short note

The Governess Affair (Brothers Sinister #0.5)
by Courtney Milan
★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
review

The Duchess War (Brothers Sinister #1)
by Courtney Milan
★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
review

Obama: An Intimate Portrait
by Pete Souza
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
short note

Wrapt in Crystal
by Sharon Shinn
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
review

The Girl Who Chased the Moon
by Sarah Addison Allen
★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
short note

Babette’s Feast **
by Isak Dinesen
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
short note

Blackthorn & Grim
by Juliet Marillier
Dreamer’s Pool ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Tower of Thorns ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Den of Wolves ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

A Single Man
by Christopher Isherwood
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
old review

Pangs of Love: Stories
by David Wong Louie
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
short note

Circe *
by Madeline Miller
★ ★ ★ ★ ½
short note

In Midnight’s Silence (Los Nefilim #1)
by T. Frohock
★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

Lies Sleeping (Rivers of London #7) *
by Ben Aaronovitch
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
short note

The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal
by K. J. Charles
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Midnight Riot (Rivers of London #1) **
by Ben Aaronovitch
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
old review

Od Magic
by Patricia A. McKillip
★ ★ ★ ★ ½ (Almost 5 stars. A pleasant end to an awful year life-wise.)
short note

*new releases
**rereads

* * * * *

Before last year, I was a serial abandon-er of books that I just wasn’t “feeling” for whatever reason. It didn’t take much for me to do so either because, as I’d figured, I had more books to get through than time to spare, and any book that felt like it was wasting my time got dropped, often as soon as I had finished reading the sample chapter.

But then last year happened and it changed my whole outlook on abandoning books too soon. What really happened was I simply decided to stop abandoning seemingly boring books and instead push through them, and the result was what I’d initially thought of as boring actually turned out to be great and quite enjoyable. Half the year was over before I realized I would have been missing out on all these great reads if I hadn’t given them a chance to grow on me.

Of course, not everything I read last year was great, but a significant number of them were and they’d started out as “meh” or boring or just slow. Just to name a few: Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emerys, Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan, Jade City by Fonda Lee, Shadowfire by Tanith Lee, Circe by Madeline Miller. All turned out to be fairly great reads, and all had slow beginnings.

Mortal Engines (The Hungry City Chronicles #1) by Philip Reeve

Mortal Engines (The Hungry City Chronicles, #1)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: July 16 to 23, 2018

This book gets a solid OKAY from me: good for young adult, but just fine overall. There was one thing about it that I couldn’t get behind, and that one thing got in the way of my enjoyment. More on that below.

Generally speaking, this writing was too young for me, but this time I say that as an observation, not a critique, because it’s written/meant for a younger audience (middle-grade level). Readers who enjoy YA would enjoy it as well, but the writing gave me that feeling that it was written with young readers in mind. Almost everything about it was geared toward young readers, from the young wholesome protagonists who are eager to throw themselves into the fray, to their fight to overthrow a corrupt system, to their grand magnanimous ideals, to the industrialized dystopian setting, to the bleak look at an environmentally devastating future, to the mustache twirling villains, to the non-stop action, and the list goes on, right into the spoilers. So I’ll stop listing things here.

I would recommend this book to young readers and anyone looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation. It’s a little violent for YA, with some characters getting killed rather graphically, but the ideas and visuals and hydraulics this book inspire will look incredible on screen.

To get to that one thing that took me out of the story, I have to explain a little about the set-up. The conceit, Municipal Darwinism, is really interesting. The execution, though, is… not as interesting. Municipal Darwinism is basically big cities consuming smaller cities. Once consumed, the smaller cities get broken into parts and their resources are used to fuel the bigger cities. The people who are consumed either assimilate and resettle in the new city or they are enslaved; it all depends on how “ethical” the cities doing the consuming are.

Not all big cities are predators though. A few of them are peaceful, and survive by trading with smaller municipals. (I find them more interesting than the predators and wanted to find out more about them, but this story’s focus is on predator cities.)

“It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.”

These cities aren’t just cities stuck on land, though. They’re traction cities. Yeah, that’s right, they can move. They can run actually. Up to 100 km per hour, if I remember correctly. Yeah… This was where the book lost me. I could not imagine a city the size of London running around the world eating almost everything in sight at roughly 60 to 100 km per hour. I mean, the weight it carries alone would snap its appendages clean off every time it tries to move forward. Unless, somehow, the atmosphere is less dense and/or gravity is no longer a thing in this world… I don’t know. I could imagine everything this book threw at me, everything but cities running around on traction.

Apparently not being able to buy into this one thing unravels the whole book because I found the rest of the story hard to take in while I tried to work out how London was racing across the world, gulping down other cities.

I went through the same thing with Updraft by Fran Wilde. The ideas introduced–bone towers and flying contraptions–were really interesting, but the ways in which they were incorporated into the story and dystopian setting didn’t make much sense to me, and that took me right out of the world the author tried so hard to create. And once it lost me, I could not get back into it.

So that was my stumbling block for Mortal Engines. Wish I could have liked it more because it’s got four more books in the series, and I love series (but I love solid world building more). So not dismissing these books completely, just gonna put it on the maybe list for now.

Iron & Velvet (Kate Kane #1) by Alexis Hall

Iron & Velvet by Alexis  Hall

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: June 25 to 29, 2018

Kate Kane is a revised version of Sam Spade for our modern times. She’s a private eye living in urban fantasy London and she investigates cases involving vampires, werewolves, the fae, and other otherworldly creatures. The case this time is the murder of a werewolf outside a nightclub, and Kate is asked to look into it by an alluring vampire. She couldn’t resist.

This is a paranormal romance with a lesbian character at the center, and there’s more focus on the romance than the paranormal. Normally this wouldn’t interest me, but Kate is an interesting subject, so I didn’t mind following her around even when the investigation took various detours through her sex life.

The writing style is hardboiled and done very well, and I say that as someone who’s not a fan of hardboiled mysteries. But since I had heard lots of good things about the author, Alexis Hall, there were some expectations. Fortunately, they were met.

Since hardboiled is not my preferred genre, the writing was a little hard to get into at the beginning. I didn’t really get into the rhythm of the narrative or Kate’s voice until more than half the book was over, but by the end, it was an enjoyable read. A little too romance-heavy at times, but not a big deal.

What is a big deal is Alexis Hall not continuing this series. I think there’s a good thing here, and I was hoping there would be more. Oh well.

What stood out the most to me is the queer female detective angle, which I don’t see much in urban fantasy or mysteries in general, and I appreciate the work the author put into this character to make her seem real and not another tough-acting, hardboiled caricature.

Slave to Sensation (Psy-Changeling #1) by Nalini Singh

Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: May 25 to 28, 2018

A quick, unencumbered read and not bad for paranormal romance. Personally I think Nalini Singh is one of the few better (readable) authors in this genre. If you like PNR, there’s a good chance you’ll like her books, and you’ll have a long back list to enjoy. Her style is very consistent and predictable.

I’ve read 4 books from her Archangel series and thought the first 3 were fine–the 4th was awful but that’s another thing altogether. They’re a bit long and too romance-focused for my liking, but fine overall. She builds unique worlds very well and populates them with striking, beautiful, otherworldly creatures who are as beautiful as they are violent and vengeful, and she adds interesting alternate histories to these worlds and characters. The romance can always be counted on to be hot and heavy and instantaneous, if that’s what you’re looking for. If not, it can be suffocating.

The writing is almost always too focused on the romance for my liking, and I find it weird and awkward whenever it shows up in the middle of intense action scenes, like right in the middle of a chase scene. They’re easily overlooked, though, if you don’t mind these kind of things in your paranormal romances. I, however, do–there’s a time and a place for the sexy times. Not in the middle of a investigation or kidnapping is all that I ask for. How is this so difficult to NOT write…

Anyhow. This book is no different than any of the other books by this author because her writing, themes, and content are very consistent. Only major difference is it leans more towards sci-fi than fantasy and features shifters and characters with mind powers instead if angels and vampires. There are factions and conflicts, an enemies-to-lovers story line, various urban settings, and lots of action and sexual tension as usual. And also as usual, there are a lot of explanations. Every character’s motive and background is explained, as is every thought and feeling they have toward each other; this is another trait of this author’s writing style. You never have to wonder why. Everything is laid out in the open. No sense of mystery anymore; hence the 2-star rating.