Hello my lovely readers! Many book bloggers are familiar with Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings’ two big reading challenges he runs every year. I often participate in the fall challenge for reading horror/thriller/mystery/etc… but I have never participated in the spring challenge for reading fantasy, because I used to think I don’t like fantasy. I’ve discovered that I’m wrong. I do like fantasy, just mainly urban fantasy and fantasies that are not set in a Medieval Europe style setting. So I thought that this year I would participate in Once Upon a Time IX!
Once Upon a Time IX focuses on reading books that fit into the categories of fantasy, folklore, fairy tales, or mythology between March 21st and June 21st. I’m signing up for the level called “The Journey.” Read at least one book in any of those categories. I’m hoping to read more than one but I was worried if I signed up for a higher level it would feel like too much pressure to me. My personal goal right now is three books.
Books I already own that fit the challenge are listed below. I’d love to hear from you in the comments if there’s one you’d particularly like to recommend to me from my list!
- Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett
- Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King
- Deadtown by Nancy Holzner
- Fables Vol. 1 by Bill Willingham
- Fated by S. G. Browne
- A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire
- The Nonborn King by Julian May
- Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos by H. P. Lovecraft
- Unshapely Things by Mark Del Franco
- The Veiled Mirror by Christine Frost
- Watership Down by Richard Adams
- The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
Eugenia Markham is a shaman who spends her time sending the fae back to their own world. She hates the fae both for trespassing into our world and for kidnapping women into their own. When fae start referring to her by her given name, rather than her working name, she becomes concerned something is awry. What she discovers is a prophecy that will change everything.
I picked this up because I love Richelle Mead’s Georgina Kincaid series (review) so much. I wish any of the summaries I read of the book had even hinted at one of the big plot points, as I think how a reader responds to that plot point will dictate how much they enjoy the series overall.
Without revealing too much, early on in the book, fae start showing up and attempting to rape Eugenie. She finds out that there is a prophecy that her child will be the one to bring about large changes in the land of the fae. (This is not particularly a spoiler, it is revealed early on and there are even more plot twists later on to complicate this). What this means for the reader is that our main character must repeatedly physically fight off would-be rapists. If I had realized this was such a key plot point, I would not have personally picked up this book, and I think there are probably quite a few other readers who would be similarly bothered by this repeated scene of our heroine trying to fight off rapists. To be clear, this is not one single solitary incident. It is one of the main repeated problems for this character. Fae keep trying to rape her.
Another plot line is that the fae are known for kidnapping and raping young (this is specified, young, as in early to mid teens) human women. Because the fae have fertility problems. In fact, the case that Eugenie takes on early in the book is trying to save a teenaged girl who has been kidnapped by the fae. Eugenie normally doesn’t go into the land of the fae in a corporeal form (she does send her spirit via astral projection), but she agrees to in this case because she is so bothered by the knowledge that this teenage girl is facing a lifetime of rape.
These are just two non-spoiler examples of the rape plots, and there is at least one more that I won’t reveal as it’s a big spoiler. Readers who for whatever reason do not want to read either about rapes occurring off-screen or about the threat of rape or about a woman repeatedly having to physically fight off rapists should not pick this book up. These are key and frequent plot points in this book.
Having said this, I do not judge the book for including these plot points. Rape is a part of some fae mythology, and the author has every right to include it in an urban fantasy book based in fae mythology. I also think the author handles the inclusion of the rape and threatened rape well. Rape is never excused, rapists are denounced, and there are some fae characters who state they would never have sex with a human female who hasn’t consented. The author has a valid reason for including the rape plots, and she handles them well. I simply wish that it was clearer from the official book blurb what a large role rape plays in this book, and thus, in my review, I am being certain to be clear for potential readers the extent of rape plot points in this book.
So what about the rest of the book? Eugenie is mostly what one expects from an urban fantasy heroine. She is strong, talented, wears her hair short and hates dresses. She has a questionable roommate and a cover story of being some sort of private investigator. What makes Eugenie unique in urban fantasy is that she is a shaman trained by her step-father, and the only really supernatural humanoids in her world are the fae and some mythological shapeshifters from other cultures (think of Japanese myth’s shifters). Don’t come to this series looking for vampires and werewolves. You won’t find them. The fantastical world of this book is simply that there is another world of fae, and sometimes they cross over into ours.
The prophecy at the center of the book has more to it than it originally seems, and the plot twists are surprising and exciting. Yes, many urban fantasy books revolve around a prophecy that has our heroine at the center, but this is the first one I’ve seen in a while that’s more about the heroine’s child than the heroine herself.
As is to be expected, Eugenie has two potential love interests, a half kitsune (shape shifting fox) half human man and a fae. Personally, I didn’t like either of her love interests. One is too bourgeois/royal, and the other is too macho for my taste. But I can see how other readers would enjoy one or the other or both of them and appreciate Eugenie’s difficulty in deciding who has her heart.
The audiobook narration by Jennifer Van Dyck starts out a bit awkward and gets better with time. For the first half or so of the book, her narration can sometimes be a bit stilted. She almost sounds like she’s reading lists. She pauses at odd times. Also, her voice sometimes comes across as elderly, which doesn’t suit the tone of the book. For the most part, though, the narration doesn’t detract too much from the book, it simply doesn’t elevate it either.
Overall, this is an entry in the urban fantasy genre that sticks closely to the well-loved trope of a strong, non-girly woman battling supernatural forces while also adding on some unique elements, such as a prophecy about her future child and sticking to the fae of mythology. Readers should be aware that attempted rape and rapes occurring off-screen feature frequently in the book. The plot itself is twisting and exciting, with enough unique elements to keep regular readers of urban fantasy engaged. Recommended to urban fantasy fans looking for a universe that sticks more closely to the traditional mythical depiction of the fae world and who don’t mind the inclusion of rape and attempted rape in the plot of the book.
3 out of 5 stars
Every year, I wrap up the old year and start the new one here on the blog with a look back at my reading stats. You can see my stats for the years 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 by clicking on the years.
Total books read: 66
Average books read per month: 5.5
Month most read: September with 9
Month least read: Tie between August, June, and April with 4 each
Longest book read: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King with 531 pages
Fiction: 57 (86%)
Nonfiction: 9 (14%) (I read slightly less nonfiction this year.)
Series: 32 (48%)
Standalone: 34 (52%) (This was an exact flip-flop from last year.)
–traditional print: 17 (26%) (Most of these were Bottom of the TBR Pile books.)
–ebook: 34 (52%) (This went up again.)
–graphic novel: 0 (0%) (I really need to read the 3 graphic novels I have sitting on my shelf.)
–audiobook: 15 (22%)
–Fantasy: 23 (I was shocked by this win after 5 years in a row of scifi winning. I can only say that urban fantasy and non-medieval fantasy works for me, and I’m glad I’ve found the type of fantasy that does.)
–Scifi: 22 (A close second!)
–Urban fantasy: 8
–Historic fiction: 6
–Time travel: 5
–Contemporary fiction: 4
–Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge: 4
–Nonfiction history: 4
–Nonfiction lifestyle: 3
–Nonfiction diet: 2
–Nonfiction fitness: 2
–Nonfiction food: 2
–Nonfiction psych: 2
–American classics: 1
–Chinese lit: 1
–Middle grade: 1
–Nonfiction memoir: 1
–Nonfiction relationships: 1
–Paranormal romance: 1
–Short story collection: 1
Aliens vs. Demons vs. Vampires vs. Zombies
–demons: 8 (A tie between demons and aliens! Not really a surprise given that fantasy and scifi were numbers one and two in the genres I read.)
Number of stars:
–5 star reads: 6 (9%)
–4 star reads: 28 (42%)
–3 star reads: 23 (35%)
–2 star reads: 9 (14%)
–1 star reads: 0 (0%)
Glancing at my stats, I am happy to say I succeeded at my goal of getting to at least the lowest level of my Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge. I read four books for the challenge, which puts me at the Acquainted level. I am sorry to say that I totally failed to read a graphic novel again this year, which I find baffling since I have three of them on my bookshelf at the moment.
I am sad to see so few 5 star reads this year. They went down by 8%. Thankfully, my one star reads didn’t increase at all, but my 2 star reads went up by 9%. Looking at it, I can see that most of my 2 star reads were either ARCs or Bottom of the TBR Pile reads that disappointed me. I was working quite hard on getting through both of those piles, and while it’s sad to me that a number disappointed me, I’m still glad I got the piles smaller. By the middle of last year I had set up a cycle of reading one ARC, one Bottom of TBR Pile Book, then one book just for fun. I plan to continue this cycle, as I really need to get through my piles. My piles are smaller each year, thanks to purchasing and requesting fewer books, and I’m hopeful that by next year I will be back to mostly reading just for fun.
As for the genres, I’m glad I still had a wide variety, although I would like to see my nonfiction reads increase to 12 (one per month). Maybe I should enter nonfiction into the official rotation. ;-)
Other than my reading cycle, I have a couple areas of interest I would like to read more on. I’m going to keep these areas a secret for now so you can be surprised by the new genres and information working their way in. Suffice to say, it might have something to do with history and science.
Happy 2015 everyone! I hope you have found fun reading goals for yourself. Remember it doesn’t matter how much or what you read, just that you do!
It’s time for the second gift list here at Opinions of a Wolf (see the first, 10 Non-book Gifts for Book Lovers here). I thought with Hanukkah next week and some holiday parties already happening that it would be interesting to provide a list of cheap ebooks. Ebooks make great last-minute gifts, as you can purchase them literally on your phone on the way to the party and have them arrive in your recipient’s email with them none the wiser that you waited until the last minute. Since you can schedule when the gift email arrives, no one needs to know that you scheduled it only 5 minutes ago. Ebooks are also great because you can find them for very cheap but a reader who loves ebooks doesn’t care how much the ebook cost. A book is a book is a book! I’m not just going to tell you a list of cheap ebooks though. I’m also going to give you a little reader’s advisory–tell you who the book would be best for. Without further ado, here is the list, in order of cost from least to most.
For the lover of YA who enjoys a touch of fantasy:
Initiate by Tara Maya
Dindi is about to undergo her people’s initiation test and ceremony that not only welcomes her to adulthood but also will determine whether or not she is a member of the Tavaedi. The Tavaedi are a mix of religious leader, healer, and warrior who cast magic spells by dancing. Since Dindi can see the pixies and other fae, she thinks she has a chance. But no one in her clan has ever successfully become a Tavaedi. Meanwhile, an exiled warrior, Kavio, is attempting to shed his old life and the haunting of his father’s wars and his mother’s powers. But he slowly discovers a deadly plot that brings him directly to Dindi’s initiation ceremony.
This is a unique piece of YA fantasy set in a tribal world inspired by Polynesia. The romance is light and slow-building, and the focus is primarily on growing up and becoming an adult. See my full review here.
For the urban fantasy reader without a lot of time:
Cursed by S. A. Archer
London works for hire doing investigations mostly for parahumans, and her best friend is a vampire who keeps hoping she’ll consent to being turned. Her life isn’t run-of-the-mill, but it isn’t too bad either, until one day she gets Touched by a Sidhe and finds herself sucked into the Fey world bubbling just beneath the surface of the regular one.
This fast-paced novella is perfect for the reader without a lot of time who still wants to get some urban fantasy into their day. See my full review here.
For the lover of the style of classic scifi:
The Coin by Glen Cadigan
When Richard’s physicist professor uncle dies tragically in a plane crash and leaves him his coin collection, he is shocked to find a brand-new dime from 2012. The only thing is, it’s 1989. A note from his uncle states that the coin is important. Richard thinks the answer to the mystery might be in his uncle’s personal diaries he also left him, but he’s not a physicist and can’t decipher them. As the year 2012 approaches, Richard increasingly wonders what the coin is all about.
This novella is a fun new take on the storytelling methods of classic scifi. The science is strong enough to be interesting but not too challenging, and the result of the mystery is surprising. See my full review here.
For zombie fans who enjoy a touch of romance:
Hungry For You by A. M. Harte
A collection of zombie-themed short stories and poetry with the twist that they all have to do with romantic relationships in some way, shape, or form.
This short story collection is different and fun simultaneously. It will appeal to zombie pans, particularly women. See my full review here.
For the reader of lesbian romance who loves fairy tale retellings:
Braided: A Lesbian Rapunzel by Elora Bishop
A lesbian retelling of Rapunzel. Gray, a witch’s daughter, visits Zelda every day. The witch switched Gray’s fate into Zelda, so now Zelda is the one entwined with the spirit of the tree that the people worship. She must live on the platform and every day lower her hair for people to tie ribbons and prayers into. Gray feels horrible guilt over their switched fates, but she’s also falling in love with Zelda.
this is a fun retelling of Rapunzel, particularly if you’re looking for a non-heteronormative slant or enjoy a more magical feel. Note that this is part of a series entitled Sappho’s Fables, which consists of lesbian retellings of fairy tales. The novellas may be mixed and matched. See my full review here.
For the reader of women’s fiction with an interest in Scotland:
Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard
Rose is a textile artist with bipolar disorder who for years found her medication dulled her ability to work. After a stunning betrayal that landed her in a mental hospital, she has moved to a quiet, extraordinarily rural island in Scotland in an attempt to control her illness with as little medication as possible so she may still create her art. Her life isn’t quite as quiet as she imagined it would be, though, with a warm neighbor, Shona, who introduces her to her brother, a teacher and poet.
This is an emotional, challenging, touching read for fans of contemporary fiction with a heart. See my full review here.
For the horror fan:
Gargoyles by Alan Nayes
Amoreena is determined to be a doctor and help people. She’s a hard-working, scholarship student on the pre-med track in her third year of college. Unfortunately, her single mother just got diagnosed with metastatic cancer and lost her health insurance. With no time for a job and no money for the bills, Amoreena is grateful when she is approached by a surrogacy clinic to be a surrogate for $50,000 with payments upon successful insemination and each trimester. But after she’s successfully inseminated, Amoreena becomes increasingly concerned that something is not quite right with her baby.
If your horror fan loves Rosemary’s Baby and is particularly freaked out by evil pregnancies, they will love this book. See my full review here.
For the lover of noir and urban fantasy:
One Death at a Time by Thomas M. Hewlett
Jack Strayhorn is a private eye and a member of Alcoholic’s Anonymous. Only, he’s not an alcoholic, he’s one of the vampires who meet in a secret vampire group that exists under the umbrella of AA to learn how to control their urges and feed on humans without killing them. He’s just returned to LA, his death site that he hasn’t been back to since he had to run in 1948 after becoming a vampire. When his current missing person case shows up dead next to a Fae politician, Jack gets dragged into a mixed-up underworld of Faes, werewolves, drugs, and a group of vampires determined to rule the world.
This is a delightful mix of urban fantasy and noir and is a strong first entry for a new series. See my full review here.
For the reader of thrillers and fans of Gone Girl:
I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead by E. A. Aymar
Tom Starks has not been the same since his wife, Renee, was brutally murdered with a baseball bat in a parking lot. He’s been struggling for the last three years to raise her daughter, who he adopted when he married Renee. When Renee’s killer is released after a retrial finds insufficient evidence to hold him, Tom becomes obsessed with dealing out justice himself.
This is a unique thriller, with its choice to cast the opposite of a bad-ass in the role of the main character. This grounds the typical revenge plot into reality, lends itself to more interesting, unique plot twists, and has the interesting aspect of a flawed, nearly anti-hero main character that the reader still roots for. See my full review here.
For readers of multi-generational family dramas and GLBTQ lit:
The Value Of Rain by Brandon Shire
Charles hasn’t been home since his mother and uncle sent him away to an insane asylum at the age of fourteen after he was found in the embrace of his first love–Robert. Now, ten years later, his mother, Charlotte, is dying, and he comes back to take his revenge.
This is one of those genre-defying books. Shire explores the devastating effects of prejudice, hate, secrets, and lies throughout family generations, and that is something that is simultaneously universal and tragic. See my full review here.
I hope this list helps you find a read for yourself or a gift for another. Feel free to ask questions about any of these books or ask for recommendations for books for particular recipients in the comments!
Lizzie and Dimitri are back from their honeymoon and are all moved in to their new California oceanfront home. Lizzie is loving married life, even if she has to deal with keeping her talking dog Pirate’s pet dragon out of trouble. But one night someone dumps a purgatory creature on their beach, and their search for who did it and why leads Lizzie right back to two of her worst nemeses: a big bad demon and her birth father.
I was really excited to be able to get an advanced reading copy of this book, since I’ve been a fan of the series from book one. I also was happy to see that Fox wasn’t going to stop the series just because Lizzie got married. I think more urban fantasy needs to acknowledge that you don’t have to be single or have a dramatic love life in order to be bad-ass. This book demonstrates quite well that just because Lizzie got married doesn’t mean that the series will stagnate.
The book’s strength is its opening sequences demonstrating Lizzie’s married life, as well as the first time we see the biker witches’ new permanent digs. Both show that while everyone is still the characters we first met and fell for, they are also progressing and changing as their life situations change. The scenes of Lizzie and Dimitri’s new married life are a pleasure to read, seeing them settled into being a partnership and Pirate accepting of the fact that he is now banned from the bedroom. It’s also pretty hilarious to see them trying to hide the supernatural from their homeowner’s association. Similarly, the biker witches are still quirky and funny but now they have made a real home out of a motel, including a surprisingly beautiful magical courtyard out back. These are the characters we love in new situations, and it’s quite well done.
The plot is a bit meh this time around. We’ve seen this big bad demon multiple times before, as well as the problems with Lizzie’s birth family. It feels a bit like a recycled plot, in spite of some of the finer details being different. I think it’s high time Lizzie gets a new big bad to fight. Additionally, I think a lot of readers will have a problem with the direction the plot goes at the end of the book. Fox pulls up this thing that is earth-shattering to readers, and should be to the characters, but they kind of just brush it off and don’t really deal with the consequences. I’m hoping that they will in the next book, but even if they do, it’s still a rough plot for this book. It starts out ho-hum as something we’ve seen before then in the final third goes suddenly off the rails in a direction a lot of readers won’t like. Kind of a difficult plot to deal with when it’s wrapped in such cute characters, scenes, and overarching series developments.
For those who’ve read it, I seriously question the plot having Lizzie kill Pirate with such vehemence when she’s possessed, only to have him brought right back to life. Now, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the idea of having Lizzie possessed after all of her loved ones were possessed by the same demon in the prior book. That’s an interesting direction to go. But having Lizzie actually kill Pirate? Gut-wrenching to read. And then she faces no consequences because he is just brought back to life, and everyone instantly forgives her? It felt like Fox ripped my heart out for no reason, and then I didn’t forgive Lizzie as fast as her family and friends seemed to. It was a tough ending to the book.
The sex scenes are the perfect level of sexy and romantic. They feel just right for newlyweds but also don’t overwhelm the plot. One character from a prior book is explored more in-depth, and a new character is added. I wasn’t a fan of the latter, but I enjoyed the former.
Overall, this book handles its urban fantasy heroine’s new married life quite well, balancing the romance with the fighting, dangers, and sexiness readers expect. Some readers may be bothered by the fact that the plot starts out feeling like a do-over of previous plots, and some may be bothered by the ending of the book. However, fans of the series should definitely pick this one up to see where Lizzie and the gang are heading, and they will be left wanting to pick up the next one as quickly as possible.
4 out of 5 stars
Previous Books in Series:
The Accidental Demon Slayer, review
The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers, review
A Tale of Two Demon Slayers, review
The Last of the Demon Slayers, review
My Big Fat Demon Slayer Wedding, review
Rachel is a doctor in the slums outside of London. It’s not a great place to live, but it’s safer than a lot of the other options available. She’s also a Reacher with telepathic powers. Since she was a young girl, she learned to hide her abilities and always know her exits so she could run at any time. But when two brothers show up, one a wounded Reacher, and tell her a mobster sent them looking for her, she has to decide whether to run again or trust the brothers.
Near-future dystopias will never cease in their appeal to me, and so I was fairly quick to accept this one when I was choosing ARCs to read for 2014. The book offers a grim dystopia but far less running than one would imagine from the title.
The book establishes the overall dreary setting of a dystopia fairly quickly. Rachel’s work at the hospital and commuting home from it is dirty and grimy. Society is clearly barely functioning, a fact that is smoothly and clearly established. It takes a bit more time to learn more about the over-arching world, and the fact that Rachel is a “Reacher,” a person with some form of telepathic powers. For some reason, the government is seeking to eradicate all Reachers, whereas the church, which is illegal, views them as angels sent from above, metaphorically speaking. It’s an interesting world but our view into it is quite narrow, so there’s a lot of questions left unanswered.
Rachel is a good, strong character who is well-rounded in spite of knowing little of her backstory. The brothers, on the other hand, are kind of annoying and two-dimensional. They and the general crime lords/corrupt cops feel much more cookie cutter than Rachel does. In a way, they drag her down. It’s hard to root for her when she chooses to cast in lots with this bunch.
Similarly, the plot focuses in on what feels more like a standard crime thriller plot, rather than a dystopian one. It’s a good crime plot, but it’s not a dystopian one. The title implies a much more dystopian style book, such as Rachel using her powers to outwit the government and start a new colony or something like that. Instead it feels a bit more like an urban fantasy style crime plot that just so happens to be surrounded by society breaking down, somewhere out there. I think marketing it as a running game, rather than as the crime mystery plot it really is hinders the book a bit. Readers who would like an urban fantasy style futuristic crime novel might miss it, because it sounds so dystopian. The title and summary give the vibe of a Logan’s Run or Maze Runner style book, when that’s not what it is. What it is is a perfectly good futuristic crime novel, but that’s not what it sounds like.
Overall, this is a quick-moving tale of futuristic crime with a dash of telepathic powers and an easily imagined setting. Fans of near future, fantasy, and crime will enjoy seeing the three intertwine. Those looking for more of a scifi or dystopian focus should look elsewhere.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review