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The Reading Jackalope

Sacrifice

Sacrifice - Cindy Pon Sacrifice is the follow up to Serpentine, and it’s a nice continuation of the story. It’s an enjoyable story, and the setting is unique and well developed.

I'm annoyed that the focus of the story shifted from the friendship between Zhen Ni and Skybright to a love triangle between Skybright, Stone, and Kai Sen. One of the things I really liked about the first novel was the depiction of female friendship, so to see that shifted in favor of romance was irritating. I don’t generally mind love triangles in YA, I find that they’re good short-hand for the conflict going on inside the protagonist, however they are a bit cliche at this point.

There is also some really icky consent issues in the latter half of the novel. It’s a side part of the story, and there’s a weak attempt to justify it at the end, but I don’t think the justification negates the consent issue. Charm magic is used against one of the characters to make said character more fond of another character. It is later described as a real, loving relationship even though the character acknowledges that it started with a charm spell. It’s gross. However, as I said this story line isn’t really touched on with any depth. It’s a side story and the love in question isn’t romantic love, so Pon ignores the issues of consent that the story raises. Honestly, it was quite a sour note in the story and I wish that it had been better dealt with.

Radiance (Wraith Kings Book 1)

Radiance (Wraith Kings Book 1) - Mel Sanders, Lora Gasway, Isis Sousa, Grace Draven It’s an ok novel and I breezed through it quickly enough. It’s certainly a harmless, fluffy book. But I’m not particularly feeling the need to pick up the next one. It’s a 2.5 star book for sure, enjoyable but only if you don’t think about it.
This one felt really rushed. And there were a couple of errors that should have been caught by editors, word choice errors mainly. I still really liked it, but McGuire can do better.

Reflections

Reflections - Seanan McGuire FINALLY! It's hard to separate out the actual thoughts about the novel from the method I read it in. Suffice to say that while I really enjoyed the story, I hated the two weeks between each chapter. McGuire writes action heavy novels and I don't think her style suits the enforced slow reading of a serial novel. I have no idea why it didn't bother me when I read Indexing, but I really detracted from this novel. But I like the world she's created and I like the characters quite a bit. If there is a third one, I think I'll wait until it's all released before reading it though.

Nemesis Games

Nemesis Games - James S.A. Corey LALKJSLKJHODIJHOIELSLIDFGOWLS. Stupid book and it’s stupid ending and stupid authors for not finishing the series yet. AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH

Which is not actually a review, I acknowledge. If you’ll allow me a moment to compose myself, let me see if I can put something coherent together. So yea, this book… GUYS I NEEED THE NEXT ONE NOW. Ahem, I mean it doesn’t really end on a cliffhanger, but it does a little bit and that is enough to make me want to scream. It’s close enough to a cliffhanger that I am salivating for the next book, for which I now have to wait 6-7 months. For all of you who waited a year, you have my pity. Part of the reason I’m just so antsy is that I didn’t see the end coming on this novel. There wasn’t really a wrap-up, more of a pause. And that’s partly because the events in the novel took a bit of time to get started.

This was not an easy book for me to get into. I’ve been in a bit of a book slump of late and nothing was really gelling. Which is really weird, because this book should have been catnip I couldn’t stay away from. This time, instead of new people to tell the story with we’re told the story through the POV of the four members of the Roci crew. Alex, Amos, Naomi, and of course Jim Holden all have a part to tell about the events in this book. The story took a long time to come together, and once it did it was so horrific that I had a hard time continuing. This is a book about terrorism, and guys it’s awful. Seriously, I’ve said before that the tensions between Belters, Martians, and Earthers come to a head and things go south in previous books. Well in this one, they just go someplace even worse. I mean, worse. But even with the horrific events in this book, I still think the story these guys are telling is a hopeful one. Things look terrible right now, but it’s the beginning of the third act of this story and things always look shitty at that point. Right? Someone console me.

And that is a terrible and horrible vague summary, but I really don’t want to give anything more away. Except to add that in addition the showing the POV of these four crew members, we also delve into their past and how that makes them who they are. Naomi’s is particularly poignant, but holy cow does it make her one of the strongest female characters. Plus Jim is doing his stupid nobility thing that just gives me hearts in my eyes. I really do just love him and his stupid sense of honor.

Kindred Spirits

Kindred Spirits - Rainbow Rowell really cute little novella about being a nerd and finding your people.

The Sword of Shannara

The Sword of Shannara - Terry Brooks I don't know if I'm just to old, but this was terrible. and boring. and badly written. and I love Tolkien so it's not just the endless descriptions. I'm actually sorry I picked this one up.

The Raven and the Reindeer

The Raven and the Reindeer - T. Kingfisher The Raven and the Reindeer is Ursual Vernon's (under her 'grown-up book author' pen-name of T. Kingfisher) retelling of The Snow Queen. It's fantastic, bloody, and dark without loosing the magic that is fairy tales. Vernon has a kind of no-nonsense, logic based method to her storytelling that appeals strongly to me. She also manages to incorporate animals in a way that makes perfect sense for those animal types, her raven feels very raven-y and her reindeer are very reindeer-y, yet still makes them unique characters- both archetypes and characters if that makes sense. This style is well-applied in this version of The Snow Queen.

This story follows the plot of the original Snow Queen pretty much verbatim. If you're unfamiliar with it, or only know Disney's version (though honestly, Disney's is so far from the original it might as well be an original story but I'm not going there, I swear I'm not. I'll never stop if I get started), Gerta and Kay are childhood friends and as they age up, sweethearts. One day the Snow Queen comes and Kay goes with her; having been infected by the ice and drawn to the perfection of the Snow Queen. Gerta goes to rescue him. Along the way, she meets many different people (often women) who help and hinder her journey in various ways. In this version she picks up a few travelling companions. There is a raven whose name is Sound of Mouse Bones Crunching Under the Hooves of God, shortened to Mousebones though he claims after the journey it's going to be sound of Frozen Mouse Bones Crunching Under the Hooves of God and ,oh, do I love him. There's also the robber girl Janna, whose role is much expanded in this version.

The Snow Queen is one of my favorite fairy tales. I love it for many, many reasons, though the original Hans Christian Anderson is heavily influenced by Christianity there is enough under that to entice me. I love the many, many retellings of the story that are out there, including Frozen even if I moan about how it's so very distantly related to the original. One of the things that I really enjoyed about this version is how Kingfisher doesn't ignore Anderson's Christian influences, but she weaves them into the story along with older traditions to create a wonderful cultural web.

I found myself thinking about winter spirits in this book and it made me wonder how much C.S. Lewis was influenced by Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen when he wrote The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe. There are definite similarities between the White Witch and the Snow Queen, especially in how they interact with Edmund and Kay. On the other hand, I wonder if there is an older tale of a winter queen that both Anderson and Lewis drew from. This has very little to do with this particular book, but the book is what made me wonder.

I did find myself wishing that the book had explored some of the self-loathing that Kingfisher gives Gerta in this story. She's a very mild type of girl, and not quite self confident and while I can see that part of the story is her gaining of the self-confidence, I wish it had been explored just a little more. That minor wish aside, it's a really good book about love and figuring out what you are worth. The character of Kay, who is essentially in the princess roll (i.e. he needs to be rescued and is Gerta's reward for succeeding) in the original tale, isn't much expanded in this book but his cruelty to Gerta is the cruelty of indifference which in part leads to her lack of self-confidence.

This last bit is a bit spoilery, but I want to include it. This version of the story is a LGBT retelling. Gerta doesn't end up with Kay, her romance builds through the later half of the book and it's a lovely, realistic one. The two women grow closer together as they work together to rescue Kay and it's one of the things I appreciate about the book. Children grow up, childhood sweethearts grow apart, and real love happens when you work with someone. I am a little amused that apparently my theme for October's books is lesbians. This is the seventh (out of fourteen, though technically one of those seven books is a sequel) book I've read this month that incorporated sapphic themes in some form or another.

Forty Guns West

Forty Guns West - William W. Johnstone I tried, I really did. But the terrible writing, the flat characters, the rather dated feel - just no. I can't even really rate it because I didn't get very far into the novel. Let this be a lesson, don't by cheap books just because they're cheap.

The Honey Month

The Honey Month - Amal El-Mohtar I so loved Amal El-Mohtar's story in The Starlit Woods that I went searching for other books by her. Sadly, it seems that most of her writing is in the form of short stories for various anthologies, however there was this collection of poems and short stories. I picked it up, and it's quite good. I enjoyed the short stories a bit more then the poetry, but I'm a bit out of practice with poetry.

El-Mohtar was given a sampling of honey and she spread the tastes out over a month. With each taste of honey, she wrote a story or poem. The stories and poems are influenced by the tastes and descriptions, and it was interesting to see the connection between the stores and honey. Each day starts with a description of the honey, from the color to the smell to the taste. While it might be tempting to skip over this more dry part of the book, don't. Each of these descriptions informs somehow the pieces that follow.

From Day 13 - Black Locust Blossom Honey

I did not seek a god

to make me mumble like a clod
as sweet within my mouth went sour.
When first I came to the land of Nod
I did not seek a god.

Other standouts I enjoyed are Day 15 - Hungarian Forest Honey and Day 1 - Fireweed Honey. I bought this on my kindle, but I'm thinking about getting this in physical form. I want to be able to flip through it and skip from day to day. I don't think there is a particular theme, aside from honey, in the collection and so each story is very different from the last.

The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales

The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales - Navah Wolfe, Amal El-Mohtar, Charlie Jane Anders, Max Gladstone, Naomi Novik, Karin Tidbeck, Dominik Parisien, Sofia Samatar, Kat Howard, Seanan McGuire, Genevieve Valentine, Aliette de Bodard, Daryl Gregory, Stephen Graham Jones, Margo Lanagan, Marjorie M. Liu, Jeffrey Standout stories in this collection are: Valente's Badgirl, The Deadman, And the Wheel of Fortune, which I initially thought ended poorly but has continued to haunt me long after I finished the story. Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar, which takes two fairy tales and combines them into an amazing feminist story about love and how women rescue women. I think my favorite story though is Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, which takes the Rumpelstiltskin story and simultaneously points out its rather antisemitic themes and then reclaims the story. For these stories alone, the book is worth it's price and there are stories I'm not listing here that were also just fabulous.

As with any collection, there were a few I wasn't impressed with. Even The Crumbs Were Delicious by Daryl Gregory attempted to reclaim the witch in Hansel and Gretel as the hero, however he recast the witch as a male in his story and earned some serious side-eye with that. The story is good, but well why try to reclaim the witch archetype and then remove one of the things which make her so reviled? I also wasn't fond of Charlie Jane Anders' story The Super Ultra Duchess of Fedora Forest, but I suspect that is mostly because Anders' writing just doesn't work for me. I don't enjoy it, I can see the skill and I can appreciate what she's doing, but I don't enjoy it.

In general this is a fairly feminist book, a lot of the stories tried to reclaim the more troublesome aspects of fairy tales and for the most part it works. I think if you like fairy tales, this might be worth a look. There are some stories in here that I wouldn't mind returning to and I would love an illustrated version of Spinning Silver. Most of the stories here are rather more adult, but that one would make such a good picture book for older readers.

Quick thoughts made after reading each story are are in the comments.

Black Swan, White Raven

Black Swan, White Raven - Ellen Datlow I didn't enjoy a single story in this collection. For a lover of fairy-tale retellings, that's quite an indictment.

Into Dust

Into Dust - B.J. Daniels I'm not quite sure what I was expecting when I picked up Into Dust, but it was not at all what I wanted or will ever want. To be fair, this is book five in a series and oh boy do you need to have read all five of those novels. In the interests of perfect honestly, I didn't completely finish this book, I read the first half and last chapter. I'm still completely confused as to what exactly is going on. I bought it because I'm a sucker, SUCKER, for westerns featuring Montana and I thought with a series name like "Montana Hamiltons" (and in my defense, the words 'book 5' was nowhere in the kindle information) that would be what I was getting. I was very wrong.

Buckmaster Hamilton is the Republican nominee for President, this is mentioned about 30 times throughout the book, and his youngest daughter (he's got six, guess how many books are in this series) Cassidy meets Texas cowboy Jack Durand when Jack foils a kidnapping attempt directed at Cassidy. There is some convoluted plot about mind control and memory replacement and people trying to control the presidential election and something about her missing mother and, and, and there was just SO MUCH PLOT and none of it made any sense. I can only hope that if you'd read the previous novels it might have made a touch more sense. Anyway, as Jack and Cassidy go on the run trying to find out more about why she was kidnapped the uncover the plot and then I got totally lost and stopped reading.

This entire, six book series was written in about a year and a half, starting in January of 2015 through October of 2016. I'm going to guess and say that the presidential elections happening during this time is absolutely no coincidence. However, I don't think that Daniels and I agree on politics and that's one of the detractors in the book. Well that, and the conspiracy theory stuff in the novel is on a level that I find really hard to swallow - I love fantasy novels guys. The ridiculous of the stuff that happens in this book is so out there that I, an avid reader of fantasy, have a hard time swallowing it. To be fair to fantasy novels, at least they'r telling you that you need to suspend disbelief at the start.

The thing is, I think I could have muddled through all of that and just laughed it off except that the writing is pretty terrible. It's stilted and choppy. Characters do things simply because the plot requires that they be in place X at Y time and it's not always believable for their characters. Well, as believable as you can get with one dimensional characters.

Hard pass on this book and the series.

The Suffragette Scandal (The Brothers Sinister Book 4)

The Suffragette Scandal (The Brothers Sinister Book 4) - Courtney Milan The Suffragette Scandal is the book six in Milan's Brothers Sinister series, of which I have read none of the previous volumes. The nice thing about romance series is that you can jump in and out of the series without loosing any context. I suspect there was a scene or two that would have been more enjoyable if I'd read the other novels, but I understood this one just fine. All in all, it's an excellent romance novel and I enjoyed most of it. I think it went on just a bit too long in some spots, and it might be time I admit that I just don't care for historical romances-the historical details and conventions that get ignored in the genre bother me.

Frederica Marshall is a suffragette running an independent newspaper; for women, by women. Edward Clark, the secret heir to the tittle of Viscount Claridge, is a rogue and forger back in London to protect a childhood friend. His brother, the almost Viscount Claridge, is pursuing vengeance upon Free's newspaper and because Clark's friend works for Free the two paths cross. Romance ensues. It's great. Plus there is an absolutely perfect sub romance between one of Free's fellow (female) reporters and a Lady's Maid. In general, the harsher aspects of suffragette life is ignored, but the ideals and values which pushed those women to fight are represented in wonderful detail.

Romance novels live and die on their heroes and heroines. I have absolutely no issues with Free, but Edward was super annoying. This is the third Milan novel that I've read, and I think it's safe to say that I don't care for her type of heroes, the 'woe is me, I have done terrible things and am unfit for human society but with the love of a good woman I will turn around' type just turns me right off. Especially when those 'terrible things' are really more along the lines of 'I was in a war' or 'I've forged documents and lied to people'. Really? REALLY? These kinds of heroes skirt the line of evil bastard while still remaining someone that women can dream about, it bugs me a lot in part because its a character trope that is used to excuse some terrible behavior. Though, fortunately Milan doesn't go quite that far in her books.

Oh, holy crap. I need to take back what I said about Milan’s heroes. While Edward is a good example of the kinds of heroes I was talking about, I had COMPLETELY gotten Milan mixed up with Tessa Dare. This is the only Milan book I’ve read, so I can’t comment on whether her heroes follow this mold or not. Dare’s heros on the other hand, definitely seem be more of the same. I know that a lot of romance heroes fit into the mold of ‘I am a terrible person and not good enough for love and I’m going to leave you for your own good’, but I can’t place Milan’s heroes in this category because I haven’t read enough of her books. And you guys, this is why Romance is not my genre.

I quite liked the novel. It was fun and full of escapism. However, I'm discovering that I just don't think Romance novels are really my favorite form of escapism. I've read more in this past year then I in all the the years since I was 13. They're fine, just perhaps not my cup of tea. And thus while I think this is a decent book, I just can't give it more then the three stars to indicate "I enjoyed it". If romance is more your bag, I really do think you'll love this one.

The Safe-Keeper's Secret

The Safe-Keeper's Secret - Sharon Shinn Sharon Shinn is one of my comfort read authors. I don't find her books particularly ground-breaking and they don't make me think too hard but they're comforting to read and I enjoy slipping into the worlds she creates. This one though kind of left a bad taste in my mouth, which is a shame as there were parts I really liked.

The book is really more world building then plot heavy, as nothing much happens beyond two characters growing up and discovering their place in the world. Fiona and Reed are the children of the village Safe-Keeper Damiana, though Reed isn't actually her son but a child left on her doorstep as she was giving birth. And they grow up, there are some sorrows in their lives and at the end the big secret of parentage is revealed leaving an opening for the sequel to further explore what happens next.

The world building is interesting, there are Safe-Keepers, Dream-Makers, and Truth-Tellers. All magical positions. Truth-Tellers cannot lie, and often know the truth of things unbidden. Dream-Makers can make wishes come true simply by being around those wishing. The Safe-Keepers keep secrets, all manner of things that people tell them and they will not reveal. And it's the Safe-Keepers where some of my distaste comes from. In this society they act very much like priests hearing confession, they bear the burdens of those terrible truths that people need to tell and there is no danger that those terrible secrets will be revealed. In order to show just how much a Safe-Keeper will keep a secret it's revealed that one of the secrets Damiana keeps is that a woman abuses her children, like leaves them bloody and tied to a door abuses them. But she doesn't tell anyone until that woman is dead. I, obviously, have a lot of issues with this. Especially as it's presented as a neutral thing, not good not bad, just neutral. Not my favorite.

The other thing is a bit more spoilery and it has to do with the romance that Shinn develops in the story between Fiona and Reed. I don't like it, and I think it's gross. I know they aren't technically blood-related, but even so they were raised as siblings.

As I said, Shinn's books are generally comfort reads, and aside from those two issues, this one isn't really that different. I liked it enough to think about picking up the next book in the series, but it's not my favorite work of hers.

Iron & Velvet

Iron & Velvet  - Alexis Hall The book isn't terrible taken all together, though if it hadn't improved half-way through this would have been a hate read, but it's just not particularly memorable either.

Kate is a private detective operating in London, despite this being a first novel, she's got quite a past involving vampires, the Wild Hunt, a dead partner, and other sundry things. Most of those things aren't connected and they all lead to info dumps about Kate's past. There's a murder in the alleyway behind a club owned by a vampire prince, and this prince hires Kate to solve the murder. The book is written in a pastiche of noir detective novels, which isn't my favorite type of writing when it's done well, and this one has enough purple prose to choke a unicorn.

Of note, Kate is a lesbian and the vampire prince is a woman, so is the were-wolf leader and the head of the witches in the city. Guess who flirts with and/or dates all three of them. I mean, props for being a f/f novel, but old tropes are tropey even when you add a new twist. Speaking of old tropes, I don't think that the one where a woman is kidnapped and needs to be rescued by a lover is all that improved if said lover is also a woman.

What irritated me most about the novel though is that it's not very original. It's a bunch of sci-fi/urban fantasy tropes and characters thrown together. There's Patrick the ex-vampire lover who sparkles and watches Kate sleep, for example. It's cute, but the novel is FULL of those kind of meta-references to various fandoms.

The story, despite my irritation at some of the plot lines, does pick up about half-way through and it was enough to wipe the irritation at lines like "Kauri's eyelashes swept across his eyes" from my mouth. It probably helps that by this time I was skimming the book and so most of the actual language of the book never made it to my brain, just the pertinent plot points.

Despite my frustrated and more negative review, I don't think the book is terrible. It was ok, the problem is that I can't really think of anything I enjoyed all that much but I can think of several things that irritated me. I suspect the second book is probably better, but I won't be picking it up. Plus I'm annoyed that the book isn't better because I think there is a wealth of material to mine for LGBT paranormal romance novels, this one just didn't do it very well.