Serena’s Review: “Storm Cursed”

9780425281291_StormCursed_FCO_mech.inddBook: “Storm Cursed” by Patricia Briggs

Publishing Info: Ace, May 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: My name is Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman, and I am a car mechanic.

And a coyote shapeshifter.

And the mate of the Alpha of the Columbia Basin werewolf pack.

Even so, none of that would have gotten me into trouble if, a few months ago, I hadn’t stood upon a bridge and taken responsibility for the safety of the citizens who lived in our territory. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. It should have only involved hunting down killer goblins, zombie goats, and an occasional troll. Instead, our home was viewed as neutral ground, a place where humans would feel safe to come and treat with the fae.

The reality is that nothing and no one is safe. As generals and politicians face off with the Gray Lords of the fae, a storm is coming and her name is Death.

But we are pack, and we have given our word.

We will die to keep it.

Previously Reviewed:“Moon Called,” “Blood Bound,” “Iron Kissed,” “Bone Crossed,” “Silver Borne,” “River Marked,” “Frost Burned,”and “Night Broken” and “Fire Touched” and“Silence Fallen”

Review: I had some trepidation going into this book. As a whole, the Mercy Thomson series has been on somewhat of a downward trend for me the last several books, so I was worried that would continue. On top of that, the last “Alpha and Omega” book introduced a new aspect to a beloved character who appears in both series, and one that influences Mercy’s own history more than anyone’s. And I had feelings about that. Not good ones. So I was worried how that might come into play here. And then, of course, my lovely Kate Daniels series just finished up, so now all of my urban fantasy hopes and dreams rest on this series. It was a lot. But I am pleased to report that what you have before you is a review where for once all of my worst fears were for naught and instead I found this book to be a happy return to what I always loved about this series in the first place!

Mercy and the Pack are busy protecting the territory that Mercy has claimed as theirs to protect. On top of that, she’s trying to re-open her car shop and help her husband, Adam, balance precarious negotiations between the powerful fae Grey Lords and the human political powers. These things barely in hand, Mercy is dismayed to find that a new group of witches have taken up residence in her neighborhood, bringing with them all the terrors and sorrows that accompany the dark magic they need for their powers. With tensions running high, this is just the challenge they don’t need. And on top of it all, Mercy and the others begin to wonder what role their own resident witch, the powerful Elizabeta plays in all of this.

The first thing that this book did right, in my estimation, is return to the original, single narrator format. I’ve always been here for Mercy and her story. And while the last few books have had a few interesting things to offer with the added POVs from Adam, overall, I’ve found these chapters to be at best distracting and at worst detracting from Mercy’s story overall. In the last book, for example, I came away from the story feeling that Adam’s portion could almost have been removed entirely with no other changes really needed. And as it was, those chapters just took away page time from Mercy herself.

So I was incredibly happy when I opened this book and realized that the entire thing would be from Mercy’s perspective alone. There’s not a lot of new things to say about her as a narrator, as we’re now so many books into the series. But the strengths that were there in the beginning were back again here: Mercy’s unique perspective on the supernatural world, her wit, and her practical approach to navigating challenges that are often far outside of her wheelhouse.

Overall, she was a bit more reactive to the events going on around her than proactive, but I think this is a natural change for her character, as the world she exists within has gotten so much bigger. With this expanding world has come an entire host of friends and allies to call upon, and I’m always glad when I see these individuals pulled in in creative ways. In particular, I enjoyed the return of Stephan, the vampire friend with whom Mercy now shares a complicated relationship that they are each still learning to navigate.

As for the story itself, I was pleased to find that no mention was made of the “reveal” that came up in the last “Alpha and Omega.” I’m hopeful that at the very least we can all go along pretending that that never happened, though I’d be happier still to find it categorically negated in some future book.

This book also felt much more dark than some of the previous entries. Witches and their black magic rely on inflicting pain and suffering on other creatures, so any book that features them as the primary antagonists is going to go to some pretty horrific places. For those animals lovers out there (among whom I count myself), definitely be prepared for some tears and cringe worthy scenes. At times it felt like a bit much. But on the other hand, I think I was also more invested in the downfall of the “big bads” in this book than in many of the previous ones due to the increased horror of their actions.

Accurate across all supernatural books/shows, it seems. 

I could have used a bit more Adam/Mercy time, and the book description with its focus on the negotiation between the fae and the humans is a bit misleading, as that feels like a more minor story line, ultimately. But overall, I greatly enjoyed this book, much more so than the last several in fact! It’s always great to see a long-running series prove that it still has something fresh and new to offer. This goes a long way towards reassuring my near panic about not having an urban fantasy series to look forward to any longer. Fans of the series should be pleased with this one!

Rating 8: Mercy Thomson and Briggs can still deliver!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Storm Cursed” is mostly on Goodreads book lists that have to do with new titles this year, so here’s one of those it is on: “2019 Paranormal.”

Find “Storm Cursed” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Clueless: One Last Summer”

38926467Book: “Clueless: One Last Summer” by Amber Benson, Sarah Kuhn, and Siobhan Keenan (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM! Box, December 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Cher, Dionne, and Tai set off for one last summer of footloose and fancy-free fashion and fun before college starts! 

The class of 1997 has left Bronson Alcott High School for good, and as the weather heats up, Cher and besties Dionne and Tai head off for their last summer vacation adventure together before, ugh, REAL LIFE! 

Picking up after Clueless: Senior Year, head back to the ’90s for summer fun and fashion from superstar writers Sarah Kuhn (Heroine Complex) and Amber Benson (The Witches of Echo Park), and illustrator Siobhan Keenan.

Review: It took a little while for my library to get this book in their catalog, but they did and I got it right in time for summer! As I mentioned in my review of “Clueless: Senior Year” (linked at the bottom of the post), “Clueless” is one of my favorite movies and no matter how many times I watch it I will never get sick of it. I was very excited for the next comic when I heard that it was coming out, and the sort of long wait was absolutely worth it. Just like “Senior Year” before it, “One Last Summer” brings back Cher, Dionne, Tai, and more, and gives them worthy stories of their fabulous characters. On top of that, we got some focus on characters we hadn’t even seen yet (still no Elton though. I get it, but I love that creep so much that I can’t help but be bitter).

Cher, Dionne, and Tai are the primary focuses of the story, as they all have their own conundrums to solve, while trying not to think about how things are going to be changing in their lives. Cher has taken on a summer internship as an assistant to an advice columnist (who is not a very good or honest person, much to Cher’s chagrin), Dionne is in charge of planning a beach party that her parents are helming, and Tai is preparing for her favorite aunt to come to town, and introducing her to Travis. On top of that, all three of them are hoping to solve a mystery for their friend Summer, who has a secret admirer. The stories are kind of simplistic to be sure, but the characters were just so in character and absolutely on point that I highly enjoyed every foray that they went on. I also enjoyed that for some of the characters, especially Dionne, the worries and anxieties about having to go to a new environment and leave people behind make things all the more stressful, even if they don’t totally get why. I found Dionne’s storyline to be especially compelling, as she and Murray are going to different schools across countries from each other. The anxiety and fear of a long distance relationship after high school was captured perfectly, and as someone who knows from experience hers was the story that I most related to. It’s also great seeing the spotlight being shared between these three girls once again, as they all are so endearing and different from each other.

But as mentioned above, “One Last Summer” also brings more attention to other characters that didn’t get as much last time. The biggest one is Summer, a character from the movie who is probably best remembering for her shining moments at the Valley Party, where she initiated a game of Suck and Blow, and snagged a lawn snowman for no discernible reason. I liked seeing her being brought into the main three friend group, and I liked how well she fit in. Benson and Kuhn made her a distinct and fun character who is similar enough to fit in with Cher, Dionne, and Tai, but different enough that she felt like she had her own complexities. And I mean, fine, if we can’t get Elton I was totally happy getting another awesome lady character. Along with Summer we did see a little more focus on other characters, like Josh, Murray, and Travis. And on top of that, they got to play roles that usually are reserved for female characters, which felt like a bit of a subversion and I REALLY liked it. For Josh, we got to see his own insecurities when it comes to his relationship with Cher and his worries that she still may judge him when he’s a bit of a geek. For Murray, it’s his fears about the long distance relationship, and not being sure of how to deal with Dionne when her anxiety turns into anger. And for Travis, HE IS JUST SO SUPPORTIVE AND ADORABLE AND SWEET, just there to love Tai like she’s the goddamn best thing ever. HOW WONDERFUL IS THAT?

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While Josh and Cher are my favorite couple, THESE TWO MELT MY HEART TOO. (source)

And the art continues to be very bubblegum and perfect for the tone. The characters look enough like their counterparts that it feels like the actors and actresses, but also show off Keenan’s unique style.

clueless_onelastsummer_ogn_interiorart2_promo
Awww. (source)

“Clueless: One Last Summer” was a bittersweet but lovely story for the characters from “Clueless”. I understand that Benson and Kuhn might stop here, but honestly they could keep telling these stories with these characters and I would be filled with joy.

Rating 8: Another fun and nostalgic story featuring some of my favorite movie characters, “Clueless: One Last Summer” brings back some classic characters, brings in new ones, and serves some cute summer stories!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Clueless: One Last Summer” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Summer Break Books for YA”, and “Comics & Graphic Novels by Women”.

Find “Clueless: One Last Summer” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “Clueless: Senior Year”.

Serena’s Review: “Fray”

40696990Book: “Fray” by Rowenna Miller

Publishing Info: Orbit, June 2019

Where Did I  Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Open revolt has been thwarted — for now — but unrest still simmers in the kingdom of Galitha. Sophie, despite having built a thriving business on her skill at both dressmaking and magic, has not escaped unscathed from her misadventures in the workers’ rebellion. Her dangerous foray into curse casting has rendered her powers unpredictable, and her increasingly visible romantic entanglement with the Crown Prince makes her a convenient target for threatened nobles and malcontented commoners alike.

With domestic political reform and international alliances — and her own life — at stake, Sophie must discern friend from foe… before her magic grows too dark for her to wield.

Previously Reviewed: “Torn”

Review: I enjoyed the political, magical-sewing, romance story that was “Torn,” so it was a no brainer to request a copy of its sequel. The first book had moved rather slowly, for all that it was introducing new characters and a new world, so I was hopeful that now that that groundwork had been laid, the pace would pick up a bit more here. Unfortunately no.

Sophie’s orderly life of quiet competence as a small business owner is quickly falling apart. Not only does she have a rebel leader for a brother, one whom she was tied closely to in the failed revolt that took place not too long ago, but her growing attachment to the Crown Prince is thrusting her into a completely new part of society, and one that doesn’t look too kindly on the doings of revolutionaries. On top of all this, after she used her magic in new ways in the last book, she has begun to lose control of it. These dueling priorities are often at odds with each other and it’s beginning to look like Sophie is going to have to choose a side eventually.

Many of my opinions from the first book carried over to this one, however, ultimately, I didn’t enjoy it as much. For one thing, the pace of the book is still incredibly slow. I enjoy a political fantasy novel as much as the next person, but much of the slowness here is spent on minute day-to-day details, rather than backroom scheming. Much of what helped the first book manage its slow pace was the fact that it was a first book and was throwing tons of new stuff at the reader simply due to that fact. With a second book, and an established world and main character, the story itself needs to provide the points of interest. Unfortunately, it didn’t really do that and I still feel like the book could have been edited down significantly.

I also still enjoyed the magic system, however. Especially now that it is getting out of Sophie’s control. In the first book, it was made clear that Sophie herself didn’t fully understand her magic, and when she pushed herself into new aspects of charming, she was exploring without much of a guide. Seeing the calm, controlled Sophie that we knew from the first book deal with the unexpectedness that is now her magic was fun to read. It was also interesting having her explore the morality of how she uses her magic and how that ties into the way the magic behaves itself.

The romance was also still fairly bland for my taste. But I did like how the book was tackling the sexist laws of the land that will prevent Sophie from owning her own business once she gets married.

However, the one big strike against this  book for me was Sophie herself and the way the brewing revolution seems to be being handled. One of the most compelling aspects of the first book was the honest look at what revolutions look like, the tough places where idealism and practicality meet and explode. The fact that there are good and bad people on both sides. And, even more importantly, there are people in the middle who can understand both sides but just want to get on with life. That was Sophie. Unfortunately, here, in the second novel, much of that nuance and layered exploration is thrown out. Sophie seems almost out of character with how much she sides now with the revolutionaries. And, conveniently, the story itself has molded the two sides to make this choice easier. The common people are fully in the right. The aristocrats are completely evil. It’s a really unfortunate loss, simplifying matters back into the easy good vs. evil conflicts we’ve seen a million times. And with the unoriginal “common folk vs. the evil nobility” theme nonetheless.

In the end, I don’t feel that this book moved the series in the right direction. Some of the flaws from the first one (slow pace, bland romance) carried over to this one. And the interesting additional layers to Sophie’s magic weren’t enough to make up for the fact that the complicated political philosophizing was thrown out the window for a more standard, less interesting, revolution of the good folk against the bad ones. If you enjoyed the romance and the pace of the first book more than me, perhaps this one won’t be as much of a let down. But unfortunately, it was a bit of a dud for me.

Rating 6: Loses its nuance, and with it, its point of interest.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Fray” is a newer book so isn’t on any Goodreads list but it, like “Torn,” should be on “Crafty Magic.”

Find “Torn” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Last Astronaut”

40881567._sy475_Book: “The Last Astronaut” by David Wellington

Publishing Info: Orbit, July 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a paperback copy from the publisher.

Book Description: Mission Commander Sally Jansen is Earth’s last astronaut–and last hope–in this gripping near-future thriller where a mission to make first contact becomes a terrifying struggle for survival in the depths of space.

Sally Jansen was NASA’s leading astronaut, until a mission to Mars ended in disaster. Haunted by her failure, she lives in quiet anonymity, convinced her days in space are over.

She’s wrong.

A large alien object has entered the solar system on a straight course toward Earth. It has made no attempt to communicate and is ignoring all incoming transmissions.

Out of time and out of options, NASA turns to Jansen. For all the dangers of the mission, it’s the shot at redemption she always longed for.

But as the object slowly begins to reveal its secrets, one thing becomes horribly clear: the future of humanity lies in Jansen’s hands.

Review: Thanks to Orbit for sending me a paperback copy of this book!

Perhaps you are all looking at the title and the primary genre of “The Last Astronaut” and are thinking to yourself ‘well hey now, isn’t Sci Fi Serena’s literary wheelhouse?’ And you’d be right. As a matter of fact, I tend to avoid Science Fiction unless it meets very specific characteristics. But when I was reading about “The Last Astronaut” by David Wellington, my interest was piqued. For one thing, a few of the early reviews used words like ‘terrifying’ to describe it. When you do that and throw around phrases like ‘large alien object’, something about ‘transmissions’, and ‘the future of humanity’, my mind is going to go to one place.

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Did he have the special? (source)

It turns out that “Alien” this is not, but ultimately that wasn’t a bad thing.

“The Last Astronaut” does mix some elements of horror in with sci-fi and character study, and it comes together to be an entertaining tale of slow burn suspense. We have the familiar scenario of a crew of different people with different motivations coming together for the purpose of investigating an alien object heading towards Earth, but the person at the forefront is astronaut Sally Jansen. Jansen was supposed to be the head of a mission going to Mars years before, but disaster struck and left other astronauts dead and Jansen in disgrace. Now she is hoping for redemption, and another chance at discovery. Jansen is a complex and strong protagonist, and has many layers that we slowly get to peel back as the story goes on and the stakes get higher and higher. She is competent and determined, but she is also headstrong and hard to trust, at least for the other crew members. Her actions had severe consequences for NASA and space exploration, but her talent is undeniable, even if her trauma and fall from grace is still haunting her. Her dynamic with the other crew members as they have to board the object is rife with tension, and their inherent mistrust of her makes for emotional conflict on top of the slow revealing other environmental conflict. While there were certainly other compelling characters, specifically ship scientist Parminder Rao who is elated at the prospect of alien life, this is Jansen’s story, and she is well centered and well developed.

The plot, while not as heavy on the horror as I had hoped, is still filled with suspense and tension, which made it an engrossing read for me in spite of the genre clash. The Alien Object is reminiscent of the recent space object ‘Oumuamua (and it is referenced in the book as well), but is larger and seems to have a clear path, heading straight for Earth. When the NASA crew finally encounters it in hopes of learning more, not only have they been beaten by the private company KSpace, but that the crew from the KSpace mission isn’t answering attempts at communication. And once they board the object, it becomes very clear, very quickly, that they are in way over their heads, and that this object isn’t what it seems. I really don’t want to spoil anything in this review, as the slow reveal is effectively creepy and well done. What I will say is that the alien being in “The Last Astronaut” is effective because it feels like something we haven’t really seen before. If you take elements from space horror classics like “Annihilation” and “Event Horizon”, you might be part way there, but Wellington has created a mythos that feels original, at least to this reader.

You may be wondering why this isn’t rated higher, as it seems that I liked a lot about it. And the reason is solely based on personal preference. At the end of the day, “The Last Astronaut” is still pretty heavy on the sci-fi, and it’s done in a way that didn’t really connect with me as much as I had hoped it would. I think that had the horror elements been ramped up more it would have left more of an impression, but as it was, this ultimately isn’t my genre. That said, I really do believe that sci-fi fans would probably find a lot to like about this book, as even I can appreciate the trajectory and story elements that it had. It may not achieve genre crossover as much as I thought it would, but don’t let my words discourage you from giving it a try if it has grabbed your attention!

Rating 7: While the story was more sci-fi than horror and therefore not my usual wheelhouse, I liked the originality that came with “The Last Astronaut” and its main character, and think sci-fi aficionados will find a lot to enjoy!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Last Astronaut” is included on the Goodreads lists “Upcoming 2019 SFF With Female Leads or Co-Leads”, and “Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2019”.

Find “The Last Astronaut” at your library using WorldCat!

Bookclub Review: “Kindred”

60931We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is ‘Books On Our To Read Shelf’, where we pick books that we’ve been meaning to read but haven’t gotten to.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Kindred” by Octavia Butler

Publishing Info: Doubleday, June 1979

Where Did I Get This Book: I borrowed it from my Mom!

Book Description: The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

Kate’s Thoughts

Usually when only one of us can read the book, we will forego our book club review. But even though Serena was otherwise indisposed for our book club meeting, I really, REALLY wanted to make a post about “Kindred” by Octavia Butler. One reason is that it has been on my personal reading list for awhile now, even though it was fellow book club member Alicia’s pick for this session. But the second, and more pressing, reason is that “Kindred” blew me away and I want to talk about it. Why did I wait so long to read this book? Why? It is still as powerful and relevant today as it was in the 1970s when it was first published.

While it may have similar conventions to what we’ve come to expect of time travel stories, “Kindred” pushes the bounds of what the reader thinks they are going to read. Our protagonist Dana is a 20th Century Black woman who keeps getting sent back to the Antebellum South to save her white ancestor, slave owner Rufus Weilan, from danger, as he needs to live to father her great great grandmother. Butler doesn’t explain why this is happening, nor does she go into the details of various time paradoxes, but honestly, that didn’t bother me at all when usually it really, really does. The more pressing and immediate danger for her, however, is not the existential crisis of her very existence, but whether or not her trips back will ultimately leave her broken, hurt, or killed because of the fact she’s a Black woman in a slave state, and a culture that treats her like chatel and property. She learns to care for Rufus, as her initial meetings with him are when he is a vulnerable child, but as he grows older and more entrenched in the violent white supremacy of his time period their friendship becomes more strained, toxic, and abusive. Dana has every reason to try and keep him alive, but doing so becomes more and more dangerous for her and for the slaves on his family plantation. Butler tackles this complexity with a lot of nuance, but doesn’t shy away from the horrors of chattel slavery in the American South, and the monstrous actions of many white people during this time period. From Rufus to his mother and father to patrollers, the psychological and physical abuse that many white people in this book throw towards the slaves is historically accurate, and therein very upsetting. She doesn’t hold back on the violence and cruelty, and there are many moments in this book that are hard to read, but also necessary to confront. “Kindred” has more gumption on tackling these issues than a number of stories about slavery that have been published after it, and it really says something to me that a book written forty years ago feels braver than more recently published books about slavery. 

On top of the compelling and powerful social commentary, the time travel story had a well developed and interesting system that I could fully buy into. When Dana goes back in time and lives out the timeline then, weeks for her could be minutes for the modern day. This is demonstrated by her relationship with her husband Kevin, who tells her that after her first encounter that she was gone for only a moment, while to her it felt like quite a bit longer. This plays out in more dire, and somewhat tragic, ways later, as a time separation extends for years for one of them, and days for the other. As mentioned earlier, we don’t know how this time travel happens, or what the origin of it is, but it’s well established and believable enough that you don’t find yourself questioning it. You know how she gets there, how she gets back, and that is all you really need to know. The rest doesn’t really matter. This is a significant piece of science fiction, and Butler completely owns and deserves the status of a Sci-Fi heavyweight.

I am so, so happy that I’ve finally read “Kindred”. I now absolutely have to take on other works by Butler, as while Sci-Fi isn’t really my jam, I have a feeling that anything she does in the genre is going to work for me. If you’re a science fiction fan and haven’t read this, you absolutely must do so. 

Rating 9: A stellar, gripping, complex, and compelling piece of speculative and historical fiction, “Kindred” remains one of the best science fiction books that seamlessly combines the all too real with the fantastical.

Book Club Questions

  1. “Kindred” was written in the late 1970s, but still has a lot of resonance today. If it was written today, what, if any, differences do you think there would be in the narrative? Do you think that the social commentary would be the same? Different?
  2. What did you think of the science fiction aspect of the story? Do you want more details? Did it hold up within the narrative?
  3. Dana’s husband Kevin is both a supportive, caring, and sensitive husband, but he also has moments of ignorance and naïveté when it comes to her experiences as Black woman. What did you think of him and Dana as a couple?
  4. Do you think that Dana ever had the ability to change Rufus? If you think she could, what do you think she’d need to have done?
  5. Slavery is a large theme within this novel. How does to content of “Kindred” compare to other slave narratives you’ve read?
  6. What did you think of the ending of the book?

Reader’s Advisory

“Kindred” is included on the Goodreads lists “Speculative Fiction by Authors of Color”, and “Best Time Travel Fiction”.

Find “Kindred” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan

Serena’s Review: “Kingdom of Exiles”

42366222Book: “Kingdom of Exiles” by Maxym M. Martineau

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Casablanca, June 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: copy from the publisher!

Book Description: Fantastic Beasts meets Assassin’s Creed in this epic, gripping fantasy romance from debut author Maxym M. Martineau.

Exiled beast charmer Leena Edenfrell is in deep trouble. Empty pockets forced her to sell her beloved magical beasts on the black market—an offense punishable by death—and now there’s a price on her head. With the realm’s most talented murderer-for-hire nipping at her heels, Leena makes him an offer he can’t refuse: powerful mythical creatures in exchange for her life.

If only it were that simple. Unbeknownst to Leena, the undying ones are bound by magic to complete their contracts, and Noc cannot risk his brotherhood of assassins…not even to save the woman he can no longer live without.

Review: This has been a sad run for me lately in the urban fantasy arena. First, the Patricia Briggs’ “Alpha and Omega” series introduced a new aspect into a beloved character that has some pretty unfortunate consequences not only for that series but for the “Mercy Thompson” one as well (though I’m working my way through the latest, so check back soon to see how that fares!). And then my beloved “Kate Daniels” series finished up. So, naturally, I’m on the look out for a replacement urban fantasy series and when I saw “Kingdom of Exiles” pop up on NetGalley, I requested it right away.

Leena values her magical beasts above anything. But when things get dire, she finds herself exactly where she didn’t want to be: deep in the underbelly of society, trading away her beats. And things only get worse when an assassin shows up on her doorstep with an order marking her for death. Luckily for her, Noc is too intrigued to simply off her right then and there, and they both find themselves caught up between several rocks and hard places, with their growing affection and love putting the other at greater and greater risk.

For me, the largest appeal of this story was the unique “charming” ability that Leena possesses and the super cool magical beasts who surround her because of it. Like the book description implies, there are a lot of similarities with these animals and the ways in which Leena interacts with them and keeps them that feels very similar to the “Fantastic Beasts” series. So if you’re a fan of that particular aspect of that story, the same will be found here. But I was glad to see there were some added twists to this version of the concept, namely the idea that these beasts can be animal familiars, essentially. And it is this fact that makes them so valuable and Leena’s ability to gather and control them so important.

The comparison to “Assassin’s Creed” is a bit less on the money, and this is where things began to fall apart for me a bit. The action of the story was quite a bit less than I’m used to finding in my urban fantasy/paranormal stories. Compared to the two series I mentioned earlier, this one has very little going on in that area. There were a couple of action-oriented scenes, but they felt very fleeting. This also added to the uneven read of the book, with the balance between plot and character moments felt odd at times.

I also didn’t love Leena or Noc, particularly. I could see how on their own they might be better, but for a book that is a paranormal romance story, it’s pretty important that they work well together. Leena, who comes across as pretty competent in the beginning of the story, immediately falls into the trope hole of becoming useless and making stupid decisions once the love interest shows up. Noc, for his part, talks on and on about how important it is to keep one’s distance from one’s target and then promptly makes zero effort to follow his own advice, quickly falling for Leena.

The romance itself was also not to my taste. It was a bizarre mix of the type of romance you would typically find in YA stories, full of angst and unnecessary drama. But then all of the steamy scenes one can expect from adult romance novels. The two did not mix well together, in my opinion. But I’m generally not a fan of angsty or dramatic romantic relationships, so this was going to be a hard sell for me regardless of anything else.

Overall, this book wasn’t for me. I think the world-building and fantasy elements were very interesting. And I could even wave away some of the pacing issues as simply the learning curve of a debut book. But my dislike for the main characters and the way their romance played out was enough to land this book solidly in the “meh”-to-dislike category. However, if you are more interested in this type of romance, this could potentially be a good paranormal romance series to get in on early! And to help you with that, make sure to enter our giveaway for a copy of the book!

Rating 6: More romance (and not my favorite kind either) than urban fantasy, this book was a miss for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Kingdom of Exiles” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Fantasy Romance” and “From Contest to Contract.”

Find “Kingdom of Exiles” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Bloom”

29225589._sx318_Book: “Bloom” by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau (Ill.)

Publishing Info: First Second, February 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band―if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

Writer Kevin Panetta and artist Savanna Ganucheau concoct a delicious recipe of intricately illustrated baking scenes and blushing young love, in which the choices we make can have terrible consequences, but the people who love us can help us grow.

Review: We’re getting near the end of summer (kind of?), and on the hot days sometimes you just need to have a cute, sweet, comfort read that you can enjoy in the sun… or air conditioning in my case. I saw “Bloom” by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau on a display at the library I was working at, and decided to pick it up on a whim. It had been a bit since I’d read a one shot graphic novel, and the look of it and the summer feeling the cover gave me stood out to me. I hadn’t heard of “Bloom” until I picked it up, and after reading it I wish I’d found it sooner. I really, really enjoyed “Bloom”!

The story involves two young adults who are both looking for some self discovery and paths for their future. Ari is determined to move away from his home and his family bakery to become a music star with his friends, while Hector is trying to wrap up his late grandmother’s affairs and move on from a needy relationship. While they are both starkly different, you can’t help but love both of them for what they are. Ari is over emotional and a little bit self centered, but also wrapped up in insecurities about those around him. You understand why he wants to go out and make his own life, but can’t help but feel for his parents, who want him to join the family bakery business. Panetta did a really good job of showing how people can be torn between by their individual dreams, and their familial expectations. Ari is complex and at times very frustrating, but he also is a character I think a lot of people can see themselves in. Hector, too, is a fascinating character, as while he isn’t as conflicted as Ari, he has his own insecurities, but is better at navigating them. That said, I liked the foil that he played, as his kindness and patience has led him to troubles in the past because of his compassion and empathy for people. I loved them both for who they were, and I loved seeing them interact with each other. The side characters were a bit more hit or miss for me. On the one hand you have Ari’s parents, who I really liked. Ari’s father was the strict and singleminded parent you tend to see in stories like this, who could have easily fallen into the box of being the ‘out of touch parent who doesn’t care about what their kid wants’. But instead, Panetta does a fantastic job of showing complexities there, and his worries and fears regarding his business, his livelihood, and his relationship with his son were definitely well defined, and brought tears to my eyes. Ari’s mother was a bit more of the supportive parent of the two parent dynamic, but I also liked that she had moments of stepping out of that box too and being stern and realistic. But while Ari’s parents were great and spot on, I thought that Ari’s and Hector’s friend groups were a little two dimensional. They tended to check off a lot of trope boxes (the aggressively quirky, the jerk, the snarky, etc), and while I didn’t mind seeing them I didn’t really get much interesting from them.

The romance and overall plot of this book was very sweet and rewarding. Ari and Hector get closer because of baking, and Panetta focuses as much on the slow burn of the love story as much as he focuses on the intricacies and art of baking. Passion, be it romantic passion of passions for hobbies, are a huge theme in this book, and you can see the passion of a number of characters, and how it drives them, and sometimes makes them forget about the potential consequences of said passions. You can’t help but root for Ari and Hector as their romance slowly blooms and comes to life. And you can’t help but think about the metaphors of baking and the patience that it takes, the time and care it can require, and how sometimes you have to restart when unanticipated problems arise. I loved every panel and every moment, and savored the story as it unfolded. And as I mentioned above, I definitely cried as I was reading it.

The artwork is understated and lovely. I loved the blue hues and the sketches, and how the art not only brings the people to life, but the food as well. The style sometimes looks like sketches that aren’t quite finished (with arrows denoting movement and bare boned sketches occasionally making appearances), but it only added to the charm of the story. Also, the occasional large splash panel would showcase both the people and their emotions, as well as the food that they were making.

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“Bloom” is an adorable and touching summer romance about finding yourself, finding love, and finding your passions. If you want a cute and satisfying love story, look no further than Ari and Hector!

Rating 9: A sweet, emotional, and mouth watering romance that has delightful characters, a lovely romance, and some tasty looking baked goods!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bloom” is included on the Goodreads lists “Pride Month! The Teen Essentials List”, and “Graphic Novels Centered Around Food”.

Find “Bloom” at your library using WorldCat!

Giveaway: “Kingdom of Exiles”


42366222Book: “Kingdom of Exiles” by Maxym M. Martineau

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Casablanca, June 2019

Book Description: Fantastic Beasts meets Assassin’s Creed in this epic, gripping fantasy romance from debut author Maxym M. Martineau.

Exiled beast charmer Leena Edenfrell is in deep trouble. Empty pockets forced her to sell her beloved magical beasts on the black market—an offense punishable by death—and now there’s a price on her head. With the realm’s most talented murderer-for-hire nipping at her heels, Leena makes him an offer he can’t refuse: powerful mythical creatures in exchange for her life.

If only it were that simple. Unbeknownst to Leena, the undying ones are bound by magic to complete their contracts, and Noc cannot risk his brotherhood of assassins…not even to save the woman he can no longer live without.

Giveaway Details: I received a copy of this book in the mail for review, and as I was on the look out for another urban fantasy series to pad out that section of my read (RIP “Kate Daniels” series), I was excited to pick it up. The book description also is right up my alley. I’ve played “Assassin’s Creed” and thoroughly enjoyed it. And I’ve watched “Fantastic Beasts” and enjoyed that as well. A marriage of the two sounded quite interesting!

The cover leaves a little something to be desired, in my opinion. But alas, that seems to be the state of must urban fantasy covers I run across. The “Kate Daniels” series, again, for example had these really terrible floating lion heads in the background. So here we have a…floating tiger head. Why? Why does these covers seem like good ideas? I mean, I guess because so many of this genre look similar, readers who are browsing will pretty quickly identify this book as urban fantasy. But there has to be a better through-line to choose than cheesy, neon colored big cats. Ah well, never judge a book by its cover!

My review for this book will be up this coming Friday. So in anticipation, I’m offering a giveaway for a paperback copy of this book. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends August 13.

Kate’s Review: “The Turn of the Key”

40489648._sy475_Book: “The Turn of the Key” by Ruth Ware

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, August 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Lying Game, and The Death of Mrs. Westaway comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fifth novel.

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, The Turn of the Key is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

For the most part, I have enjoyed all of the books that Ruth Ware has published since I discovered “In a Dark, Dark Wood”. True, “The Lying Game” was the weakest of the bunch, but I still liked it overall. I enjoy her mix of suspense and Agatha Christie-esque plots, and at this point she is someone I will always want to read whenever she writes a new novel. I was lucky enough to receive an eARC of “The Turn of the Key” from NetGalley, and I sat down one afternoon merely expecting to start the book. Little did I know that I would read it all in one go. “The Turn of the Key” has officially displaced “In a Dark, Dark Wood” as my favorite Ruth Ware story, which is something I thought would never happen.

While it isn’t exactly new for Ware to explore the Gothic elements of thrillers within her stories, “The Turn of the Key” goes full force, paying straight homage to Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw”. Rowan is our new governess, hired to watch over three children at an isolated country estate in Scotland called Heatherbrae House. You slowly get a sense of who Rowan is as a person, as the story is told through her POV as she writes to a lawyer while she awaits trail for the murder of one of her charges. It’s clear why she’s on edge as she’s writing, but those nerves were there long before her experiences at the job began to take their toll. Because of this, we have two mysteries to solve: what is going on at Heatherbrae House, and what is the deal with Rowan? I enjoyed both of the mysteries as they unfolded, and I thought that Ware did a good job of slowly building up the tension for both. Heatherbrae House already has a number of unsettling ‘quirks’, from a couple of bratty children, to the hyper Alexa-esque ‘smart’ capabilities of the house, to a grumpy housekeeper and a mysterious groundskeeper. Throw in strange noises at night, and a hidden room, and you have all the components for an effective Gothic story, but updated for a modern audience.

However, like “The Turn of the Screw”, Rowan may not be the most reliable of characters. She’s constantly on edge, putting up a facade for those around her to hide her anxiety and anger issues, and her desperation is palpable, desperation as she awaits her trial, and desperation as she hopes to do well at her new job. As she slowly tells the lawyer everything that happens, we get a very complex and unhinged character who could be capable of anything, even the murder of a child. I liked that I was kept guessing about her throughout the narrative. In terms of the other characters, I felt like Ware achieved the goal of making most of them interesting and well conceived. Mrs. Elincourt was saccharine and aloof, and while you get the sense that she does love and care for her children that she doesn’t feel a need to connect with them or bond with them. Jack Grant the handyman is charming and a calming presence for Rowan, but through small moments and actions you wonder if he has something he may be hiding. And as for the children, Maddie, the oldest of the three that Rowan is watching, is properly venomous and sociopathic, while still having a sense of the tragic around her personality so that she isn’t limited to “The Bad Seed” trope. While it may be the easy way out to just make her terrible, Ware decides to give her more, and to show her as a victim in her own right even when she’s going after Rowan in the most malicious ways.

“The Turn of the Key” is another home run for Ruth Ware. While it will probably please fans of old school Gothic themes, it is also a fresh and updated look at well worn territory. It’s the perfect read for the end of summer.

Rating 9: A tense and fun gothic thriller that has become my favorite book by Ware! The perfect read for the end of summer!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Turn of the Key” is included on the Goodreads lists “Mystery and Thriller 2019”, and “2019 Most Anticipated Releases – No YA”.

Find “The Turn of the Key” at your library using WorldCat!

Highlights: August 2019

It feels like summer just got here, and yet now it’s already August?! We only get a precious few consistently summer months here in Minnesota, and with autumn on the way so too comes change and transition. But hey, until then we have BBQs, outdoor sports time, and, of course, the Minnesota State Fair! So while we celebrate the last month of full summer, let’s highlight some books we are looking forward to that come out this month!

Serena’s Picks

41555968Book: “Turning Darkness Into Light” by Marie Brennan

Publication Date: August 20, 2019

Why I’m Interested: I haven’t read the “Lady Trent” series that is the original in this Victorian-fantasy series. But I’ve had luck before with reading series out of order, so I’m not letting that stop me! We’ll see how it goes. Really, what it comes down to is this awesome cover. I’m pretty sure I was placing a request for it before I even understood that it was by this author and had a connection to the other series. It is described as being the story of Lady Trent’s granddaughter and is told through a collection of diary entries, lists, and other media formats. I’m really intrigued to find out how this type of story telling pans out! But in the mean time, I have adorable baby dragons to look forward to!

43260625Book: “Tidelands” by Philippa Gregory

Publication Date: August 20, 2019

Why I’m Interested: I read “The Other Boleyn Girl” way back when and then a handful of Gregory’s books since then. Other than the first one, I found most of them to be a bit too tragic for my taste as history was often none to kind to many of these women. But I enjoyed her writing throughout. So when I saw she had the first in a new series coming out, I thought it was well enough time to dive back in to her books. This one even has hints of the mystical with the main character, Alinor, trying to survive the difficult reality for unmarried women who might know too much in a time when women who were different were easily labeled as witches.

42281646._sy475_Book: “Tiger Queen” by Annie Sullivan

Publication Date: August 21, 2019

Why I’m Interested: This book is marketed as an adaptation of the short story “The Lady, or the Tiger?” So, yeah. That sounds interesting! Of course, this is YA, so the lady in question is at the heart of all the action and not just hanging out behind a door as a prize. Instead, Princess Kateri must literally fight to prove her worth as a queen. But this quickly becomes the least of her concerns as desert raiders make inroads on her city and shortly she finds herself on the outside of its study wall as well. What she discovers turns everything upside down. I’m not quite sure how the tiger fits into this all, but there better damn well be an actual tiger at some point. If they team up, Jasmine-and-Rajah style, I’m even more on board!

Kate’s Picks

40489648._sy475_Book: “The Turn of the Key” by Ruth Ware

Publication Date: August 6, 2019

Why I’m Interested: Ruth Ware is one of my go to authors, as her books have mostly left me feeling fully satisfied. It was a guarantee that I was going to want to read “The Turn of the Key”, but that turned into an all out need when I read the description. Rowan is a nanny who is hired to take care of three children on a private, isolated estate. While the job seems to be the perfect opportunity, once she is at the house, things start to get strange and difficult. Not only are two of her charges badly behaved, the ‘smart house’ set up is hard to handle. And then the noises at night begin. Ware is shedding her usual Agatha Christie vibe and going for “The Turn of the Screw”, and I for one am here for it!!

36472241._sy475_Book: “Ziggy, Stardust and Me” by James Brandon

Publication Date: August 6, 2019

Why I’m Interested: Well, for one, I’m a fan of David Bowie, so anything that is going to reference it within it’s pages is probably going to be a good fit. But on top of that, seldom do I find myself intrigued by the premise of a romance… unless it’s historical fiction, has a healthy dose of angst, and has LGBTQIA+ themes. In 1973, Jonathan is a teenager who is living a lonely life and is grappling with his sexual identity. He likes to retreat into a fantasy world that has such characters as his dead mother and Ziggy Stardust help him cope. When he meets Web, a moody and out boy, Jonathan sees the possibilities of being honest with himself, and finding potential acceptance and love with someone like him. I’m ready for an enthralling love story, guys!

40864790Book: “Pumpkinheads” by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks (Ill.)

Publication Date: August 27, 2019

Why I’m Interested: Rainbow Rowell’s stories have always sucked me in, and I was happy to see that she decided to write an original graphic novel after taking on “Runaways”. And oh look, it’s another potential romance, though perhaps not between the two main characters (but we shall see I suppose)! Deja and Josiah work together at a pumpkin patch in their hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, and only see each other during the fall and up until Halloween. They are both graduating in the Spring, and this will be their last season together as best friends and partners in crime. Deja wants them to have the best last season ever, and that might include getting Josiah to talk to the girl he’s been crushing on all these years. I was lucky enough to read a sample from Edelweiss+, and let me tell you, I am ready to read the rest of it. I’m hoping that it’s going to be a perfect and sweet feel good story just in time for Fall!

What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!