The Hanging Tree (Peter Grant, #6) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: November 14 to December 19, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

The tag line on the cover says: Back in London, back in trouble which pretty much sums up this book. We’re back in London, and Peter Grant and friends are back in trouble. And it’s the same kind of trouble that’s been plaguing them since Moon Over Soho.

But finally, we stop chasing after ghosts and faceless mysteries and come face to face with the man behind the mask. And there really is a face behind that mask. This reveal was indeed a surprise, but whether or not it does anything for the series’ continuous arc will depend on how it plays out in later books.

This book picks up a month or two following the events in Foxglove Summer, and the trouble all started when one of the Thames sisters called in a favor from Peter. What started out as a simple, straightforward investigation into whether a teenage girl’s drug overdose was accidental or deliberate turned into a huge Falcon case, uncharacteristically complete with a huge revelation at the end. Not as big, imo, as the ending of Broken Homes, but it’s relatively seismic as far as revelations go in this series.

With that said, I must admit I’m mostly lukewarm toward this book in particular, and I’ve been mulling over it for a few months now, trying to figure out why that is. The writing isn’t that different from previous books.

“So when a bunch of fucking kids waltz into the building, the DPG wants to know how. And I get woken up in the middle of the fucking night,” said Seawoll. “And told to find out on pain of getting a bollocking. Me?” he said in outrage. “Getting a bollocking? And just when I thought things couldn’t descend further into the brown stuff–here you are.”

As a matter of fact, it’s very much in line with previous books in terms of quality, plotting, pacing, humor, adventures and misadventures. Peter and the rest of the gang are developing and progressing at their usual pace–I very much enjoyed every scene with Seawoll and Stephanopoulos.

“So he’s a French fairy tale,” said Seawoll and turned to look, thank god, at Nightingale instead of me. “Is he?”
“That’s a difficult question, Alexander,” said Nightingale.
“I know it’s a difficult question, Thomas,” said Seawoll slowly. “That’s why I’m fucking asking it.”
“Yes, but do you want to know the actual answer?” said Nightingale. “You’ve always proved reluctant in the past. Am I to understand that you’ve changed your attitude?”
“You can fucking understand what you bloody like,” said Seawoll. “But in this case I do bloody want to know because I don’t want to lose any more officers to things I don’t fucking understand.” He glanced at me and frowned. “Two is too many.”

[…]

Generally when you’re interviewing somebody and they seem remarkably calm about one crime, it’s because they’re relieved you haven’t found out about something else.

Plus, there are plenty of humorous moments scattered throughout the book, and Peter is still his usual funny, likable self. So it’s just like previous books.

Bollocks, I thought, or testiculi or possibly testiculos if we were using the accusative.

[…]

“What I’m saying here,” Seawoll had said, “is try to limit the amount of damage you do to none fucking whatsoever.”
I don’t know where I got this reputation for property damage, I really don’t–it’s totally unfair.

[…]

“I’m planning to blow up some phones for science.”

And yet…

Something’s missing. Something’s not quite there anymore. And I don’t know why.

Maybe the timing wasn’t quite right when I read it. Or maybe I’m just tired of chasing after faceless nemeses–both of ’em.

I’m all for more Peter and more (mis)adventures in London. But more faceless mysteries and/or conspiracies? Nah, that’s okay.

I could read back to back stories of Peter running around London solving all sorts of mysterious happenings, and they may even be unrelated to each other and the series’ arc, and that would be fine. Actually, I would love that. But more mysterious faceless happenings? Thanks, but no thanks.

However, I am looking forward to the next installment and being back in London and back in trouble because, honestly despite the gripe, this series is still one of best urban fantasies out there, and every single book is a blast.

Throne of Jade (Temeraire, #2) by Naomi Novik

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: February 17 to 22, 2017
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

I have never audiobook’d a whole series before, but I might have to for this one because Simon Vance is simply amazing. He should read all the books that way I could enjoy them all, even the ones I probably wouldn’t like–pretty sure he could make me like ’em. So 5 stars for him and 4 stars for the book itself because, honestly, I don’t know how far I’d get or how much I’d enjoy if I’d read these books on my own.

The writing is very descriptive, with long passages about early-19th Century culture and society of both Britain and China, and then there are more long passages about politics and intrigue. The previous book was mostly about Napoleon and his continued efforts to take over the rest of Europe; this book expands on that some more, but now there’s also China thrown into the mix as both Britain and France fight for the Celestial Emperor’s favor.

In middle of all of that, you have Temeraire and Laurence and their unbreakable bond. Or, well, what we thought was unbreakable. It was revealed at the end of the first book that Temeraire is a Celestial, the most prized breed of Chinese dragons, and here we learn that Celestials are companions only to Emperors and crown princes. Laurence is most definitely not royalty–he’s barely nobility–and so the Chinese disapprove of his bond with Temeraire, and they would very much like their dragon back. The British aren’t willing to comply with the request, but they see it as an opportunity to gain an alliance with the Emperor–and to one-up the French–and so they ship Temeraire, Laurence, and the rest of their crew halfway around the world.

Peking and Macao of the early-19th Century are a sight to behold for the British envoy and a whole new world full of wonder, for Temeraire especially who’s eager to learn of his birth country and discover his roots. The lives of dragons of the East are fascinating to him, and the more he learns about them, the more he’s pulled away from Laurence. Laurence, too, is fascinated by the treatment of dragons in Peking, and not just of the Imperials and Celestials, but of the smaller and less important breeds too. He’s surprised that they all can live among people so peacefully, and thus comes to understand why Temeraire is so taken in by what he sees. At the end of this book, Temeraire and Laurence are still in China.

I’m most impressed by how Naomi Novik inserted dragons into actual history, and with just a little adjustment, she’s inserted dragons into the tides of Chinese politics that will forever change the landscape of China for centuries to come. Colonialism is on its way, gradually at first but it’s coming nonetheless. I can’t help feeling a sense of dread, knowing what’s coming in just a few years, but since this story is told from the British perspective, there’s a sense of accomplishment and celebration in the writing, especially near the end, when the British envoy have permanently established themselves in China to open up more trading opportunities.

It will be interesting to see how much Novik sticks to or deviates from history in later books. I looked ahead and see some hints of Temeraire and Laurence traveling the Silk Road, visiting the Ottoman Empire, and making a stop in Russia. Lots to look forward to, and I can’t wait.

Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: January 31 to February 13, 2017
Recommended by: buddy read with Beth

Recommended to:

3.5 stars, though not sure if I should round up for the subversive narrative and character-driven writing style because I feel like I should judge this book by the standards of the time period in which it was written–the 80s–and not judge it by what I normally like/prefer in high fantasy–books written much later in the 90s and beyond.

Even though it’s called Dragonsbane and the Dragonsbane is a knight named John Aversin, the whole story is told from the perspective of his mageborn partner, Jenny. It’s through her that we see and come to understand this Medieval Scotland inspired world, the magic within it, and the dragons. And it’s through her that we see the hardship of the mageborn and we see who holds the true power, in this story and in this world.

As for John, he’s not only a knight, but a country knight and a pig farmer too, which comes much to the surprise of Gareth the crown prince when he comes seeking the Dragonsbane to slay the dragon. John is not at all what he expected, and all the hopes and dreams he had of the Dragonsbane as a noble knight in shiny armor are shattered upon their first meeting. It’s quite funny. I laughed all the way through that first scene of them together, and afterward every time John speaks, there’s cause for snickering.

John and Jenny have been together for awhile; they have two sons and have slain a dragon together. All in all, they’ve been through a lot together, and there’s a sense of ease, strength, and security in their relationship, the kind that can withhold all kinds of storm together. You don’t often see this kind of lasting bond in genre fiction, and it’s yet another thing that sets it apart from other of its kind.

Although neither John nor Jenny is what we expect of a knight and mage, Gareth the crown prince is exactly what we expect of a sheltered, inexperienced, starry-eyed young prince. At least in the beginning of the story, he’s like that. After meeting John and Jenny, he comes face to face with the reality of his dragon problem and grows up quickly. And then he accompanies them on their quest to slay the dragon and grows up some more, so that by the end of the quest there isn’t that much of that starry-eyed young prince left in him, for which I was grateful because that guy was annoying, especially when looked at from Jenny’s perspective.

The only weak link in this story that I could find is the man-eater antagonist Zyerne. She’s a bit too muahahahaha for my taste. I prefer villains to be subtle and to withhold information instead of flaunting it. Unfortunately, Zyerne is definitely in the flaunt-it camp. There’s not much depth or complexity to her, and I wished there had been more, more layers or more sides or more personality. Something to give her more purpose than just being the force of darkness out to get our heroes.

I liked this book a lot more upon first finishing it than I do now. But now? Now that I’ve some time to process the story as a whole, my interest and enjoyment of it is waning. I think it’s the combination of the slow pace–it took over half the book for me to get into the story and characters–and Zyerne’s shallow characterization that kept me from being fully engaged. But since this is the first book of the series, I understand the necessity of the slow pace and gradual world building effort Barbara Hambly had put in to lay the groundwork for the rest of the series.

One of my favorite scene is Gareth meeting John for the first time and realizing he’s the Dragonsbane:

Still Gareth had not spoken. Aversin, interpreting his silence and the look on his face with his usual fiendish accuracy, said, “I’d show you my dragon-slaying scars to prove it, but they’re placed where I can’t exhibit ’em in public.”

It said worlds for Gareth’s courtly breeding–and, Jenny supposed, the peculiar stoicism of courtiers–that, even laboring under the shock of his life and the pain of a wounded arm, he swept into a very creditable salaam of greeting. When he straightened up again, he adjusted the set of his cloak with a kind of sorry hauteur, pushed his bent spectacles a little more firmly up onto the bridge of his nose, and said in a voice that was shake but oddly determined, “My lord Dragonsbane, I have ridden here on errantry from the south, with a message for you from the King, Uriens of Belmarie.” He seemed to gather strength from these words, settling into the heraldic sonority of his ballad-snatch of golden swords and bright plumes in spite of the smell of the pigsty and the thin, cold rain that had begun to patter down.

“My lord Aversin, I have been sent to bring you south. A dragon has come and laid waste the city of the gnomes in the Deep of Ylferdun; it lairs there now, fifteen miles from the King’s city of Bel. The Kind begs that you come to slay it ere the whole countryside is destroyed.”

The boy drew himself up, having delivered himself of his quest, a look of noble martyred serenity on his face, very like, Jenny thought, someone out a ballad himself. Then, like all good messengers in ballads, he collapsed and slid to the soupy mud and cowpies in a dead faint.

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.

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.