Spring Reading Recap

I’ve been trying out book bullet journaling as a way to track my thoughts and do “mini reviews” of books, and I’m liking it so far. I love the concept of bullet journaling with regard to scheduling/planning, but I tried it a few years ago and it doesn’t work very well for me and how I like to organize. But the book review journaling is working out great. Also a nice way for me to feed my new washi tape obsession.

This is just a quick recap of a few of the books I’ve read this year that have stood out for me.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande

October 2014, Metropolitan Books

Reading Challenges: Book Riot- A book on social science. Badass Reading Challenge (BRC)- A book about a problem facing society today

It’s never too early to start thinking about end of life care. While the book does focus on the ageing side of mortality, there are also examples of terminal illness affecting “young” people, and the questions raised apply to everyone. It is sad, but ultimately, I think a hopeful book. Forewarned is forearmed. However, it also perpetuates the notion that disability is awful. There are several quotes from people in the book where they refer to using a mobility aid as feeling like failure. They would rather try to walk and risk a bone-breaking fall than use a wheelchair or a cane. And, I get it, sort of, as someone who acquired disability rather than being born disabled. Losing your ability is rough, and we all deal with it in our own way and at different speeds. But, I was disappointed that the book didn’t look at how mobility aids provide independence. And no, being disabled is not a fate worse than death.

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)

Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo

September 2015, Henry Holt and Company

Reading Challenge: BRC- book about or has a character with a mental illness

This was my first introduction to Bardugo’s work, and before I’d even finished Six I ran out and bought the sequel (Crooked Kingdom), and the first in her Grishaverse trilogy (Shadow and Bone) which takes place before Six. So, yea, I enjoyed it a lot. Great worldbuilding, fast-paced heist plot, and I loved all of the characters. Also, a YA novel with romances that didn’t annoy me! No love triangles, no being crap to your friends to spend time with the love interest you barely know. The relationships were all interesting for me and I liked that they were all at different stages—new love, relationship long-time in the making, tumultuous, etc. I don’t have PTSD, but thought it was portrayed well and respectfully. Kaz’s cane usage…didn’t read as realistically for me, a former cane-user, but this is a good place to point out that disability isn’t a monolith. It didn’t stop me from enjoying this book. And, for audiobook types, the husbeast listened to this and also enjoyed it a lot. He had his misgivings going in since there are a lot of narrators (6 or 7), and that’s not usually his jam, but he thought it was handled well and has already listened to (and liked) Crooked Kingdom.

The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor, #1)

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend

October 2017, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Reading Challenge: BRC- a book recommended by someone else in the challenge

This book is adorable. I loved the magical world, though I hope wunder is explored/explained more in the next book, because yes, there is a sequel supposedly coming out this fall and I can’t wait. I hate to call any book the “next” anything, but I think this series would be a nice successor to Harry Potter. It’s the HP for this generation of sixth graders, and beyond. There are a lot of similarities, but Nevermoor is still its own thing. I liked the characters a lot. Found Morrigan likeable and brave yet sensitive. I sympathized with her right away as she’s got to put up with some kind of heavy stuff for a middle grade book with regard to her crappy family. I’m always up for a platonic m/f friendship and got that with Morrigan and Hawthorne. But, I was disappointed that there wasn’t a positive same-age female friendship, though by the end there looks to be the start of one. Still, there’s a lot of mean girl-type rivalry going on and no same-age girls genuinely being friends.

The Ambrose Deception

The Ambrose Deception, by Emily Ecton

February 2018, Disney-Hyperion

This one isn’t part of either of the reading challenges, though in hindsight I’m realizing it would count for the BRC challenge under “a book published in 2018,” but I’m probably going to use The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton for that one. I’ve been upping my middle grade game this year and loving it. This is a clue-based mystery, and I was a little worried about how that would play out on the page. I think it worked quite well. The three main kids are all interesting and distinct from one another. I also loved the side character drivers who are assigned to each kid—they bring a level of “adult” humor to balance with the kid humor. I usually don’t like contemporary books set in a big city (*cough cough* anything set in NYC) because they tend to read like love letters to the city, and I usually haven’t been there and feel like I’m missing context for the book. This book takes place in Chicago, which I’ve never been to, and while there are some things that read like they’re Easter eggs for Chicagoans, I never felt like the location was keeping me at arm’s length. I recommend reading either the print or ebook for this one as it had a nice production budget for multiple fonts and images that tie into the story.

 

A non-reading challenge…goal, that I set for myself is to get through as much of the Nebula and Hugo nomination lists as I can. I’m nearly there with the novellas (JY Yang’s Black Tides of Heaven and Martha Wells’s All Systems Red are looking like my picks, but I still have a couple left between the lists to read), and midway through with novelettes. The short story categories are so strong for both lists. My heart is with Caroline M. Yoachim’s Carnival Nine, but all of the stories Are. So. Good. Not sure how many of the novels I’ll get through. And, what am I currently reading? Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond, because apparently, I’m good at saying “I must read X” and then promptly not reading it. I’m going to need something light and happy after this book though.

Advertisements

Review- Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

It’s already July. July! Summer is cruising right along, so I thought I’d get off my butt and write up a review for a book that I think makes for great summertime reading. I’m tempted to call the review section “Story time with Cogwheel,” for obvious reasons.

Cogwheel 6-22-15

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Tor Books, reprint June 2011, 320 pages

The first book in Mary Robinette Kowal’s (multiple Hugo Award winner/nominee, Nebula nominee, and all around pretty awesome person. She out-Rothfuss’d Pat Rothfuss once upon a time) Glamourist Histories quintet, Shades of Milk and Honey was a fun read. I’ll admit right up front, I don’t read many Regency/quasi-Regency/historical novels and I think the only work by Jane Austen I’ve read was Persuasion years ago, so Shades felt fresh to me. I’ve read reviews of people who were disappointed because it wasn’t “Austen” or “Austen-enough.” Well, it’s not Austen. It’s Kowal. It’s an alternate history Regency period but with magic (glamour)! I enjoyed it, but if you’re a die-hard Austen fan that wants something that is/feels Austen then this may or may not work for you.

I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. Again, don’t read much in this particular subgenre. The characters were engaging, though there’s room/need for further development, but since this was the first of five books I think the amount we got to know about each character was enough. The setting and magic element is what really sold me on this and kept me reading. Kowal defines glamour a bit more in the glossary as “[magic that allows people] to create illusions of light, scent, and sound. Glamour requires physical energy much in the same way running up a hill does.” I loved the subtle way glamour is woven into this alternate Regency world in a manner that’s noticeable yet reads as if it’s natural.

That’s not to say the plot is bad—it isn’t—but it is a bit slow to get going and the book reads easily. Again, not a bad thing, but if you’re looking for a book full of purple prose requiring you to reread a sentence over and over to glean every last ounce of meaning from it, then you should look for something else to put on the summer reading list. Shades is mostly about getting to know the characters, their world, and setting the stage for the big conflict at the end. For me, it worked. Even though as I was reading past the halfway mark and thought, “hmm, still not sure what the conflict is going to be/how it affects Jane,” I didn’t care because I was enjoying the journey.

This is the starting tale for Jane Ellsworth, plain in features and at 28 years old, resigned to being a spinster. Jane is skilled at working with glamour, and ultimately it’s her use of the magic that saves the day.

The sibling rivalry between Jane and her younger, prettier, charming sister Melody, sets up the characters and feeds the plot. Melody is well written as the annoying, spoiled, selfish brat that she’s capable of being, with a few dashes of redeeming self-awareness. She’s dramatic, but not unrealistically so. Readers can probably relate to Jane in some way because they either have a sibling or know someone who shares Melody’s flair for theatrics.

The supporting cast is interesting, and I liked them more once I got them sorted out by name. There are a few spots of dialogue that were hard to follow because multiple female Ellsworths were present, and both Jane and Melody are referred to as “Miss Ellsworth.”

Didn’t get a great feel for Mr. Vincent in this book aside from him being the brooding artist. I liked that he wasn’t too emo, but rather was absorbed in his art. It had a bit of snobby, misanthropic feel, but that was tempered by his interactions with Jane. On the one hand, I’d have liked to see their romance fleshed out more, but on the other, it’s more fitting at how it went in the book. Scenes of them courting or walking along a moor don’t fit his character at this point in the overall story. Maybe he gets more personality later on, I don’t know, but he was weird and artsy enough for me to be content with the ending.

And Jane. She’s unlike many of the heroines in the books I read because in some ways she’s not a “strong” character. She physically a bit weak, and though there are times I reallyreallyreally wanted her to hit someone, her character wouldn’t do that. I’m a barbarian. It’s not in Jane’s nature (thus far anyway), she’s too well-mannered, and that can be frustrating. But it fits her. She’s the epitome of “gentlewoman.” She relies on her wit (and some glamour) to enable her to save the people she cares about.

I thought I was going to be irritated and eye-rolling at how kind Jane is, but it was endearing. Her struggles against personal wants while trying to keep the peace felt real. She’s resigned to her fate to never find love, and the inner struggles she has between her own jealousies and wanting good things for her family gave her relatable depth.

The only time where Jane came off as utterly clueless and unrealistic was when she couldn’t begin to guess at who the man was behind Melody’s secret love. I mean, OMG, there’s only three men around their age mentioned in all of the book and one of them keeps hanging around at the house, and is already acting shady. Really, Jane? At 28 I’d think she’s been around the social scene long enough to see her fair share of scandals and love triangles. It’s shown earlier in the book that gossip keeps the social circle afloat, and Mrs. Ellsworth thrives on the stuff. Even if Jane had merely entertained the thought and dismissed it for whatever reasons, anything would’ve been better than her “oh dear, who could it be?”

Aside from that one bit of shaking-my-head-at-you, I liked Jane’s character and look forward to reading more of her adventures in Glamour and Glass. Have a safe 4th of July my fellow Americans, and happy Canada Day to the Canucks.

Two of Three Slices- Partial Book Review

Three Slices, 150 pages, May 2015

A Prelude to War, Kevin Hearne, Iron Druid Chronicles 7.5

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys, Delilah S. Dawson, Blud Novel Series 0.5

Interlude: Swallow, Chuck Wendig, Miriam Black 3.5

First off, there might be spoilers ahead. Two of these novellas come partway through their respective series. I’ll try not to so be spoiler-y, but if you’re worried then leave now. However, this is only a review for two of the three slices, as Kevin Hearne kindly recommended that I not start the IDC here. I was worried about Swallow, since it’s in between books 3 & 4, but Wendig commented on twitter that it would be fine so in I jumped.

Umm, three novellas incorporating tyromancy? I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical. Telling the future through cheese, seriously? But hey, these were authors I wanted to check out, novellas are a nice bite-sized intro, and Galen Dara is an amazing artist. The first thing that made me notice this project from the triumvirate of evil was the beautiful cover by Dara for NMC, NMM. What can I say, I’m a sucker for horses. Dara has prints (as well as the cover art for each individual slice) of her artwork available through her Etsy shop, but beware, because this could happen:

Galen Dara prints

Ok, people afraid of spoilers should be gone now. And honestly, I’m not sure how spoiler-y this will be because I didn’t read the IDC story. One day I’ll read Hounded and the rest of the IDC, but until then I was warned it would be confusing and spoiler-y to try and pop in between books 7 & 8.

 Buy the print here

So, Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys. Delilah S. Dawson is an author I’ve been following through social media, and have had her books in the queue of “I need to read this someday.” For my first time venturing into her world of Sang, I thought the tyromancy theme fit perfectly. Actually, it was kind of freaky how it played out because it felt so natural.

So, I went in with guarded expectations, and honestly thinking this wouldn’t be the book for me. Vampire/paranormal romance has been done a lot lately and it’s not really my thing, and I’m not all that fussed about circuses. But I love Dawson’s blog and the cover art pushed me over the edge. Because yes, I do judge books by their covers. I’m terrible.

Well, I walked out the other side of NMC, NMM having bought Wicked As They Come, the first novel in the Blud series. This slice prompted me to run off and join the circus, at least for now. NMC, NMM is the introduction to vampire magician Criminy Stain, and the tale of how he comes to acquire his own caravan.

Criminy (is it weird I read this as Crim-uh-knee instead of Cry-muh-knee?) is an interesting protag, a bit of a rake but with a romantic side. His dialogue is charming and witty. He can get a bit too lust-minded at times, but his charm and the plot kept things humming along. I’m intrigued by the circus world created for Sang, and Criminy’s ambitions for finding true love and a caravan of his own. I love the description of his magic and that he’s a vampire magician. That was fresh to me, though I admit I don’t read much vampire fiction.

The locket and Criminy’s “future” are a nice setup for the Blud novels to come, and leave me looking forward to more without feeling like the story didn’t have its own conclusion. The only part that seemed odd to me was that Criminy doesn’t seem to give much thought to the fact that his future love is a mortal woman.

 Buy the print here

Alright, Interlude: Swallow. This was my first introduction to Miriam Black, and I think it’s considered “3.5” in her series, falling in between Cormorant and Thunderbird. Chuck Wending gave it a nod when I asked if I should read it without having read the previous Miriam stories. Even though it falls a few books into her timeline it wasn’t difficult to grasp the big picture. At least, as I understood it, which could be completely wrong so apologies if this leads you astray.

The gist I got while reading Swallow, is that Miriam has a “curse” that enables her to see when and how someone will die if she touches them. I got the feeling that she doesn’t tend to see people dying peacefully in their sleep. Shocking, I know. In this slice, she’s looking for a person, Mary Stitch, in the hope that she can get rid of Miriam’s curse. Miriam has some whacked history with the Mockingbird Killer and his crazy ass family cult of killers. Something bad went down at the end of Cormorant in a river and Miriam thought the MK died, but no. That’s the summary I took away from Swallow, obviously missing some specifics that are in the books.

If you’ve read Wendig’s blog, terribleminds, then you’ve got a pretty good idea of how Miriam speaks. I got a Lisbeth Salander vibe from her, though more talkative. A lot more. Miriam is crude, darkly humorous, and might just punch you in the face because reasons. I’m not sure she can go much more than a couple of sentences without swearing. She has so much weird energy and a flawed personality that I had to read her in small doses because she’s a bit mentally exhausting. She’s gritty and real and broken. I liked this slice of her story because the length was enough to get a feel for Miriam while the pace zips her current situation along.

Swallow jumps back and forth over around a week, but each section has a heading indicating where in time we are so it isn’t confusing figuring out where/when we are in each “chapter.” It’s also great for sustaining the suspense as the timelines collide.

The tyromancy in Swallow works well too, though in a creepier manner than in NMC, NMM. Instead of having a weird-cool vibe of “ooh magic and cheese,” this was a bit more “ok this works, I’m buying it. I get it, wait, wait omg wtf are you doing with the…omg gorey cheese.” Different, but it works for Miriam’s story.

The title is fitting because this does feel like an interlude, an action-packed pause, in Miriam’s larger story. It still has an “end” for this part of the adventure, but nothing ground-breaking happens. I think that the people who move straight from Cormorant to Thunderbird, aren’t going to feel like they’re missing a part of the story. It’s more of a gift to readers who want more Miriam Black.

Starting With Book Two- The King’s Blood by Daniel Abraham

I know I know, THE KING’S BLOOD isn’t the first book in Daniel Abraham’s THE DAGGER AND COIN quintet; it’s #2. I didn’t take many notes back when I read the first one, so I’ll be lumping in some thoughts from THE DRAGON’S PATH here too. So, be warned, readers, that means there will be some mild SPOILERS about what happens in Book 1 in this review. If you don’t want anything spoiled, see you next time. Unless I review THE TYRANT’s LAW, which has much bigger spoilers about what transpires in Book #2.

Oh look, cover art for the books so that anyone who doesn’t want to read spoilers has time to find the exit.

Book #1, which won’t be addressed in great detail here.

THE KING’s BLOOD, 501 pages, pub. 1/1/2013, Orbit

This review is more about my thoughts on certain aspects of the book rather than a summary of what it’s about.

We see more of Geder’s rise to power/turn to the dark side in KING’S BLOOD. He’s still the sweet, geeky kid spurned by his peers, only now he’s getting some real power with seemingly no consequences. It’s making for a horrifying character change, but even though he’s got the makings of a train wreak, I can’t look away from the carnage. The last bits of free will he has are withering away due to Basrahip’s presence. It’s creepy seeing him become a mix of addicted and reliant on Basrahip and his “gift.” The stalker angle of Geder with Cithrin is going to make for some interesting complications. At this point I still want to like him, but am beginning to worry that I won’t be able to forgive the corruption.

Cithrin still rubs me the wrong way, but I see potential in her. I want to like her. I like her craftiness and feel her annoyance/exasperation with the interferences she encounters with her bank. Pyk Usterhall coming to “mind” her was amusing, and the deal struck with the Komme is interesting (definitely better once she has the mentorship in Book #3).

Dawson is one I’m torn on. I like how he’s written because I feel like I get where he’s coming from even if I don’t agree with all of his values and/or beliefs. But he gets a bit obsessive and overdone on this righteous crusade against the obvious evil of the spider goddess’ minions. It gets a bit hard to suspend my disbelief over some of the things he does or doesn’t do. Trying to be as un-spoilerish as possible, Dawson’s arc is ok with me and I’m more interested in what will happen from this side of things in Book #3.

Wester doesn’t seem that much different from Book #1. We see him show a little bit of his vaunted leadership skills during a skirmish with a pirate compound, but it’s not a big fight that leaves you wiggling the loose tooth you felt from that punch. I love his partnership with Yardem, so SPOILER ALERT the end of this book makes me feel all the sad feels. But they’re both big enough characters that I don’t believe Abraham would leave these two at loose ends (at the time of this review, I’ve read #3 and yes, Abraham has a resolution for them). I’m glad Wester reconnects with Kit and is set to start a new chapter in Book #3, because the daddy issues he’s having with Cithrin are ugh. I’m hoping they address that in the future so that there isn’t an unresolved tension floating for the next three books.

One of the things I’m enjoying the most about Abraham’s quintet is the diversity in the worldbuilding. When he writes about the thirteen races of humanity, we’re not talking about only colors. In fact, he doesn’t mean “color” at all–Firstblood to Kurtadam isn’t the same as White to Asian. These aren’t thirteen kinds of humans dressed up in different costumes. Except, wait, they are because the other twelve are crafted from the Firstbloods. In all seriousness, the races work for me without feeling forced or gimmicky. They are all sort of humanoid races, but each is given their own look and culture so they feel distinct.

So far, the worldbuilding is holding me in the series more than the plot. I’m curious to see how Abraham will stretch this story out over three more books (still felt this way after THE TYRANT’S LAW too) because the baseline plot seems to revolve around the dragons awakening and the spider goddess being defeated. By the end of Book 2, there’s still so much unknown about either the dragons or the goddess. But, there’s some great character development going on as Abraham sets up who I think are going to be the pivotal characters going forward.

THE DRAGON’S PATH was a bit confusing in the early going because there’s a lot of worldbuilding. We get a lot of places and races/cultures being introduced from the start, but Abraham does a good job “reminding” the reader of where you are and/or what a particular race looks like. It helps that we’ve got a decent spread of characters as our main POVs (Wester, Geder, Dawson- Firstblood, Cithrin-Cinnae (part), Yardem-Tralgu), and several supporting characters representing more of the races later on.

I’m divided on how I feel about the history and the dragon emperors. The history passages quoted in the story from “books” are written to read like old historical texts, so in a sense that’s clever…but it also makes them boring and tedious to read. They’re a bit more manageable here than I thought they were in THE DRAGON’S PATH, partly because Geder’s already discovered the spider goddess and isn’t reading quite so much.

In contrast, I like the bank system and how economics play out in the world. The trade guilds and banks were a part of the worldbuilding in Joe Abercrombie’s THE FIRST LAW trilogy (which I adore) that I liked a lot, and the system in DAGGER AND COIN is different and complex, but not so much that I tune out and skip over it. Math makes my eyeballs bleed. The banking system and challenges it produces keeps me going on the Cithrin story (in this book, I like her more by Book #3) because her alcoholic tendencies irritates me on an irrational level.

The dialogue flows for the most part, and has a few gem quotes that naturally I forgot to mark down. The only jarring part is that some of the slang and cursing reads a bit modern for my perceived time frame of the story. “Lick my ass” seems a bit present-day for an essentially sword and sorcery, middleish fantasy albeit with a modern flair.

The plot/pacing works overall, but I think they’re a bit disjointed when looked at together. The pacing feels alright in the moment, but when I look back over the book I’m left wondering how it’s going to take 5 books in total to expose the priests and kill the spider goddess. Then again, we’ve got Geder’s abrupt rise to power, societal upheaval, and more war brewing. Master Kit is absent for most of this story, but he returns near the end to pick up the thread and I’m excited to see how he and Wester will carry their end of the spider goddess plot.

A bit ramble-y, this will teach me to take better notes.

First Blog Post- Review of The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

I’m not a professional book reviewer so these reviews may be random or digress.  I’ll point out what I liked, what I didn’t, perhaps ways I thought things should’ve gone or could’ve been improved.  Star ratings aren’t really my thing so I’ll probably “grade” more along the lines of if I’d recommend the book or not.  I make no promises about being completely objective, but I will not be mean for funsies.

The Emperor’s Soul, by Brandon Sanderson.

Pub. 10/10/2012, 176 pages, by Tachyon Publications.  Hugo Award winner- Best Novella

I had the kindle format for this book and don’t recall any formatting boo-boos.  Refreshing, because I’ve read a few books that obviously weren’t formatted correctly (or checked over) for the kindle.

Emperor’s Soul takes place in the same world as Elantris, but the novella is a stand alone and you won’t be missing anything by not having read Elantris first.  Really, the only way they’re linked is through the mentioning of ethnicity and locales encountered in Elantris. 

This story follows Shai, a thief and skilled Forger–someone who can change the history of an object using soul stamps–who has been captured during a botched attempt to steal one of the empire’s relics.  She’s facing execution, but is given the seemingly impossible task of Forging a new soul for the brain-dead emperor in 100 days in exchange for her freedom.

This is a nice and quick read.  Plenty of worldbuilding for a short work, and the magic system is well thought out.  The description of the world and magic isn’t always delivered fluidly, as there are some long passages where it’s just Shai explaining how Forgery works via dialogue to someone else.  But the detail and way Shai goes about her Forging is interesting and described well.  I did think Shai was a bit too “perfect” because there are times in the story where she’s able to figure things out with no explanation, but unable to know similar things later on.

The antagonists are a bit one-dimensional, with the exception of Gaotona and the Emperor himself, but given the short page count it makes sense.  Otherwise, Shai has no trouble dealing with the other arbiters and their minions because they fit perfectly into her presumed mold.  It was all a little too neat for me, but Shai’s real conflicts were of a more personal/philosophical nature.

The only glaring issue that stood out to me was the complete lack of attention or explanation for the Imperial Fool.  This is the guy who supposedly turned on Shai and escaped while she got caught during the switheroo they were trying to pull with the scepter relic.  If he’s the “Imperial” fool, then I’d think the arbiters would be at least a bit concerned about his role in the attempted burgling of the empire’s treasures.  I understand the story is left open for Shai to go on and hunt him down if she pleases, but it’s a bit too unbelievable that his betrayal of the empire wasn’t seen as more of a problem.  I also thought she’d try to throw him under the bus upon her capture, but apparently not.

The pace is good and moves right along.  Never felt like there was a dull moment, which is good considering this novella clocks in at less than 200 pages.  The story progresses out by the day as it counts to 100 and Shai’s deadline, which fits well for the base plot of her needing to Forge the Emperor’s soul and escape.  There’s not much of a surprise to the ending, but I thought it fit well with the tone of the story.

Recommended, and I’d love to see Sanderson return to this world and flesh it out more.