‘Mancy (magic) is illegal in this parallel world where people find their obsessions turn into magical powers. Paul Tsabo has spent his life fighting to keep ‘mancers off the street and instead brainwashed into a military force. See, the universe hates magic, and if you use it too much, it will retaliate. By doing things like destroying Europe. So the brainwashing is safer. The only problem is that Paul has found himself obsessed with bureaucracy and has developed into a bureaucromancer. A series of unfortunate events leads him into agreeing to make Flex–magic distilled into crystal form for the non-magical to get high on. Paul has officially turned into what he once hunted.
This is a pretty cool concept. It sounds like it’ll be Breaking Bad: Urban Fantasy Style. Unfortunately, a lack of world building and a lack of focus in the plot made the book fall flat.
Let’s start with what I liked. The concept of how magic comes to be is pretty neat. I like the social commentary that magic is outlawed and the only magical people are the ones with an abnormal level of obsession with things. Using the urban fantasy magic element really highlights how different can be both beautiful and dangerous.
A key part of the plot revolves around Paul, who is recently divorced, and his wife trying to figure out how to co-parent. Paul is a majorly invested father. He doesn’t just walk away after the divorce. That’s nice to see. Also, it’s an inter-racial family. Paul is white, his ex-wife is black, and their daughter is obviously bi-racial.
Romance is really not a part of this plot. I thought at first it might be when a new character is introduced but it actually turns out that she’s introduced to develop a friendship with Paul. How often do we get to see genuine friendships between men and women in literature? Not often.
Unfortunately these positives were hurt by other aspects of the book. The worst is that the book reads like it’s one book for the first half then completely changes course halfway through. Essentially, the first half of the book is about drugs and is basically Breaking Bad. The second half of the book that plot is totally dropped and instead the characters are pursuing a Big Bad Buffy the Vampire Slayer style. It’s jarring and makes it feel like you’re reading a draft rather than a final version of the book. Plus, the book is heavily marketed as the drug book, when in fact the drugs are just dropped in the middle of the book, which is disappointing if that’s what you were reading the book for.
The world also isn’t built enough. For instance, we know Europe disappeared but we don’t know precisely how or when. This is a parallel universe to our own. You’d think that something like Europe disappearing would lead to some major changes in the world, but no. It reads like New York City is precisely like how it is in our world just with added ‘mancers. This is illogical. It can’t be both ways. It can’t both be a world with major changes like no more Europe but also simultaneously exactly like our own.
The book reads like the author has an agenda that comes through too clearly at times. How much that will bother the reader will depend upon if the reader agrees with the agenda or not, I’d imagine. I didn’t so it bugged me more than it might bother others. I also felt that some of the descriptive writing was weak or lazy, leading to a two-dimensionality that veers dangerously toward being offensive.
Overall, this is a good idea that was poorly executed. There are some individually cool scenes, particularly if you like seeing an interplay between our world, magic, and videogames. Recommended, then, to readers who seek out scenes like that and don’t mind the other weaknesses laid out in this review.
3 out of 5 stars
New Release Friday: Hell Holes: Demons on the Dalton by Donald Firesmith (#apocalyptic #paranormal #fantasy)
I know Opinions of a Wolf readers love a strong female lead (I do too!), so when Don contacted me about his new release, I was excited to feature it. Take it away, Don!
When huge holes mysteriously formed in Alaska’s North Slope, a research team went to discover their cause. But when an army of invading demons erupted out of these hell holes, only two scientists and Aileen, the team’s secretive photographer, survived. Now in this exciting second book in the Hell Holes series, they must flee south along 350 miles of the Dalton Highway, one of the world’s most treacherous roads. Aileen, a member of an ancient order charged with defending humanity from Hell, must save the two scientists, but who will save her?
Genre: apocalyptic paranormal fantasy
What makes this book unique in its genre?
The book is strongly grounded in reality and based on real life locations, which helps to make the fantasy elements (e.g., magic and invading demons) more believable. For example, in addition to the book’s beta readers and two editors, its military aspects were based on the inputs of three military advisors and a tour of the relevant parts of Eielson AFB including the Wing Commander’s conference room. Another interesting aspect is that each of the three books in the trilogy is written from the first person viewpoint of a different major character.
Could you tell us more about some of your research? It sounds like you did a lot!
I very much like to ground my science fiction in science fact, and that also carries over to my fantasy books. This book was largely driven by the flight of the three survivors of the first book (Hell Holes 1: What Lurks Below) down the Dalton Highway as they are chased by the invading demon horde. In addition to driving part of this dangerous road in real life, I have also “driven” it using Google Maps street view, and major locations along the way were often used to drive the plot to its logical conclusion.
But wait! Now through June 30th, get the ebook for free (that’s 100% off you guys) using the coupon code HE54A on Smashwords. Get it here.
Thanks so much for being featured here on Opinions of a Wolf, Don!
Would you be interested in being featured on New Release Friday? Find out how here.
New Release Friday is a sponsored post but I only feature books on New Release Friday that I believe would interest readers of this blog. Book reviews are never sponsored. Find out more about the sponsored post policy here.
Mo and Lesley, girlfriends since they were teenagers, have spent the last two years apart awaiting their Chosen papers. Meanwhile they both continue to pursue their careers. Mo as a pilot and Lesley as a member of the Interior, ensuring Rymellans continue to follow the Way. When their Chosen papers finally arrive, they think the uncertainty is finally over. But what they reveal is just another form of it.
I enjoyed the first book in this series so much that I picked up the second immediately. The first book ends on a cliffhanger, and I just had to find out what happened with Mo and Lesley next. Would they be each other’s Chosen? Would they defy the Way to be together? Was a giant revolt coming? The answer was definitely not what I was expecting, and it certainly keeps the series unique.
While I continued to be deeply invested in Lesley and Mo’s relationship (on pause as it was during much of the book), I was disappointed to find that this book doesn’t explore deeper into any of the questions I had in the first book. I feel that the second book, particularly with its context of Lesley and Mo waiting for papers and both of them in adult jobs with more power and access to information, lends itself perfectly to explaining more about Rymel. Yet this exploration and information reveal never happens.
My questions in the first book revolving around where Rymel comes from, why it’s so not diverse, and the origin of the Way were only added onto. Who is this enemy Rymel is always preparing for? What about the bisexuals? If Rymellans aren’t actually related to us (Earth humans) at all, that’s fine. They might just only have monosexual identities. But if they are related to us, the lack of the Chosen Way dealing with bisexual/pansexual attractions is frustrating. For that matter, what about trans* people and gender non-conforming people? How exactly are children handled in the same-sex couples? People keep mentioning same-sex female couples having daughters but no one talks about how. And what about same-sex male couples? It’s such a fascinating world, and I found myself like a thirsty person a desert wanting to know more about it and how it works.
The plot goes a direction I really was not expecting. That’s not a bad thing. It surprised me and kept me engaged. There are two aspects of the plot that were unexpected. One isn’t a spoiler so I’ll talk about that first. It’s fairly clear early on in this book that Mo and Lesley aren’t the rebelling sort. They’re going to kowtow to this dystopian regime, and they believe that’s the right thing to do. It’s a different perspective to get. Usually there’s rebellion. But that doesn’t always work out for people in the real world. A lot of people choose to live their lives in safety obeying the state to stay safe, and it’s interesting to see that reflected in literature.
The Chosen Council puts Mo and Lesley together, but in a Triad. A third person, Jane, is Joined with them. Triads historically haven’t succeeded, and they are extremely rare. But they do exist because sometimes the perfect match actually goes three ways. The Triad is extra complicated because Jane’s parents were famous for committing a Chosen crime (they committed adultery). They were killed and Jane was orphaned young due to this fact. Many Rymellans believe the apple won’t fall far from the tree, so Mo and Lesley being matched with her is controversial. On top of that, there’s an allowance where if two of the three believe the third will cause the Triad to commit a Chosen violation then they can say so and have the third member killed before the Joining Ceremony. That puts interesting added pressure on the group. None of this was a plot I was expecting, but also the acknowledgment of non-monogamous people was something I could see a lot of readers enjoying seeing represented in literature. Plus, it’s a good conflict to add!
Ultimately, I was still happy I read this because I was desperate to find out what happened to Lesley and Mo (and continued to be at the end of this book), but I was disappointed not to find out more about Rymel and its history here. Readers primarily interested in the romance who don’t mind the world-building being pushed to the side a bit will most enjoy the direction this series is going.
3 out of 5 stars
Book Review: American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans by Eve LaPlante
Anne Hutchinson, a forty-six- year-old midwife who was pregnant with her sixteenth child, stood before forty male judges of the Massachusetts General Court, charged with heresy and sedition. In a time when women could not vote, hold public office, or teach outside the home, the charismatic Hutchinson wielded remarkable political power. Her unconventional ideas had attracted a following of prominent citizens eager for social reform. Hutchinson defended herself brilliantly, but the judges, faced with a perceived threat to public order, banished her for behaving in a manner “not comely for [her] sex.”
I love US History. I have a degree in it, and I particularly enjoy reading about women in US History. I remembered studying a bit about Anne Hutchinson in some of my coursework, so when I saw this book going more in-depth into her life in a used book basement, I picked it up. I ultimately was disappointed to find a book that somehow managed to make reading about a woman with such an interesting life boring.
Anne Hutchinson was what I like to think of as a quiet rebel. She did things like hide the birth of a grotesquely malformed stillborn so that the mother wouldn’t be judged by the community as somehow entangled with Satan or being punished by God. She led Bible studies/prayer meetings in her home, and these groups she led didn’t consist of just women. Men sought her out for advice and knowledge in these groups in a culture where women were only supposed to advise other women. Most fascinating to me was the dynamic between her and her husband. He clearly loved her and gave her basically the reins over their lives. He was known as a quiet person and happily stepped back and let her make the noise. When she was banished, instead of complaining, he just packed up and moved with her to Rhode Island. It’s not that I think that’s the ideal marriage but I do think it went directly against the gender norms of the time, and they were both brave for being true to themselves and what worked best for their own relationship.
However, the writing in this book somehow managed to take such an interesting woman and bore me to tears. I dreaded picking up this book. I eagerly anticipated when the author would quote primary texts because they were exponentially more interesting than her own. The other issue I had with the book was that the author is a descendant of Hutchinson and clearly lets this bias her own perception of Hutchinson the historic situation. On top of this, there’s a lot of talk about genealogy (far too much for my taste), and sections read like someone writing a family history for their own family, not for public consumption. I understand being interested in someone you are descended from, but who you are descended from doesn’t automatically make you a cooler person. People who are proud of themselves because of who they happen to be descended from infuriate me to no end. Do something worthy of being proud of yourself. Don’t rest on your ancestor’s laurels.
Overall, while the historic facts are accurate and Anne Hutchinson herself is an interesting historical figure who deserves to be talked about, the writing of this book is boring and it is colored by the author’s obsession with being descended from Hutchinson. Readers interested in Hutchinson should consider looking elsewhere, perhaps starting with Unafraid: A Life of Anne Hutchinson, which is available in its entirety thanks to Hathi Trust Digital Library.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Brookline Booksmith
Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge
Book Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (Audiobook narrated by Rebecca Lowman, Cassandra Campbell, Mark Deakins, and Robertson Dean)
Libby Day testified that her brother murdered her mother and sisters as part of a Satanic cult ritual when she was just 7 years old. Twenty-five years later, running out of money, she agrees to help a group known as The Kill Club investigate the murder. Their members disagree on how actually killed her mother and sisters, and with her connections they think she can help them crack the case. Libby is sure her brother Ben did it, but money is money, and it sure beats a regular job.
This is my third Gillian Flynn novel, and I must admit it was the one I liked least. I was actually suspicious it was a first novel, as it had that feel–a lot of what works in her other novels is present but it’s less well-executed. However, it actually was published after Sharp Objects (review), so who knows what happened here. Regardless, while I found the mystery intriguing and I definitely listened to the audiobook every chance I got, the plot is not as tightly told nor is the central mystery as believable as it is in her other works.
What worked the best for me was Libby, a childhood survivor of a gruesome murder, as some sort of modern day noiresque private investigator. A woman PI with a personal connection to the murders was just delicious to read. I’d love to see more of that in literature. I also liked seeing a thriller that included a queer person (her aunt is a lesbian) without that being used as a way of othering someone strange or being attached to a perpetrator. Her aunt is a bystander in every sense of the word. She is never a suspect, she provides Libby with a home environment after the murders, and her sexual orientation is just a part of who she is, not a plot point. I also liked the changing perspectives among Libby present, Libby past, her mother, and her brother. I thought it added to the mystery since seeing these other perspectives did not immediately reveal precisely what was going on. I also thought it made it harder to judge her mother than it might be if the reader hadn’t had her perspective.
However, this was the first time that I was both sure who the perpetrator was quite early in a Flynn novel and also that I was disappointed by who the murderer is. I thought there was nothing creative or exciting about it, and honestly it kind of bugged me a little bit. There is also one trope that shows up here that bothered me. It could be a bit spoilery (not too bad) so skip the next paragraph if you’re concerned about that.
Libby at the end of the book ends up in a scenario that is very similar to the first murders that she survived. It’s basically a trauma survivor finding that all their fears were right by improbably having almost the same scenario happen a second time. I think it was supposed to be scary, but it just irritated me.
I also must say that I felt the whole Satanic scare thing was very dated. Yes, I get it that was a huge thing in the 80s and this is a story about murders that happened 25 years ago but something about it just made the whole book feel dated to me. I couldn’t get into it partly because I was certain that the book would ultimately reveal Satanism had nothing to do with it, since that’s just the way that plot point always goes. I suppose you could sum up most of my issues with this book as the plot was too predictable to be much fun.
Overall, if you’re a big Gillian Flynn fan and just want to experience some thrills, this book will provide some of them with the dash of strong female characters you’ve come to expect. However, do expect to be a bit disappointed by a more predictable plot and twist that isn’t all that twisty.
3 out of 5 stars
Lesley and Mo can’t imagine life without each other. If it were up to them, they’d settle down, raise daughters, and lead happy, fulfilled lives. But they live on the planet Rymel, in a strict society that selects life-mates for its citizens and executes those who violate their life-bonds. Girlfriends since their teens, Lesley and Mo know they should break up but can’t let each other go. They dread the day the state summons them to meet their selected mates.
This type of book is exactly the reason I collect review requests year-round from indie authors and publishers and then select a few to review the next year. It gives me a bookstore style shelf of indie books to browse through, letting me find unique books that i might otherwise have missed. This read like feel-good chick lit, only set on another planet in a strict society with a female/female main romance, and the ending left me clamoring for the next book in the series.
One thing that really stuck out to me in the book was that the central issue coming between Mo and Lesley isn’t that their (let’s face it, totalitarian) culture is against same-sex relationships. Same-sex relationships are endorsed and seem to have been part of the culture for quite some time. Potentially forever. No, what is coming between our main couple has nothing to do with homophobia, but instead everything to do with marriages arranged by the state. It’s not that Mo and Lesley can’t be with a woman. It’s that they can’t be with a woman the state hasn’t chosen for them. While plots about homophobia keeping people in love apart are valuable and needed, we also need plots like this that have nothing to do with the sexual orientation. People in same-sex relationships deserve to see themselves in a crazy scifi world where their problems come from the scifi world and not their orientation.
The book starts with Lesley and Mo in high school and falling in love. In their culture, at the age of 18 people receive notification of whether or not they are a Chosen. When they get older (sometime in their 20s….I can’t recall the precise age), from a certain age onward they could receive their Chosen Papers at any point. So basically, everyone expects Lesley and Mo to break up at that age or sooner to be fully prepared for their Chosen. Obeying this law is just one of several ways in which Rymellans follow The Way. The Way is supposed to protect Rymellan culture and make the society the strongest it can be. There isn’t just pressure to conform to The Way. Those that don’t, as the subtitle of the book suggests, will be executed. This is a totalitarian regime after all.
Beyond the relationship and world set up, I also liked how the book follows Lesley and Mo through their young adult choosing of career paths. This transition from high school to career preparation felt very new adult in a good way. Plus, Lesley and Mo both end up choosing career paths that I feel aren’t often represented in literature, and I liked seeing that career path both shown and respected.
Throughout the book I felt compelled to keep reading for two reasons. I was really rooting for Lesley and Mo to be together, and I wanted to know more about this society. Why is The Way such a thing? Will they end up fighting it? What is the big enemy that Rymel is so afraid of and lives constantly preparing for fighting? Are Rymellans related to people from Earth? Are they humanoid aliens?
Readers should be aware that this is what would be considered a clean romance. The feelings the characters have for each other are central and no sex is shown, although it is assumed that people have it and kissing is seen.
Part of these questions were driven by a lack of racial and cultural diversity in the book. I can’t recall there ever being a non-white character or a non-European last name. It made me wonder if this planet was colonized by a small group of white Europeans exclusively, and if so, why? The lack of diversity on such a large planet and in locations with what one would presume is a cross-section of Rymellans did bother me but I also assumed that there was a world-building answer for it. Additionally, the Rymellan culture struck me as so evil and awful that of course the lack of diversity would later come up as one of the many awful things that The Way had enforced, and I eagerly anticipated (in an oh gosh that’s going to be an awful scene way) seeing the answer to this question.
Of course, the book ended with no answers to these questions, which didn’t surprise me since it’s the first in the series. In fact, I would say it ends on a cliffhanger and left with me with even more questions, but of course I then just felt compelled to immediately pick up the next book in the series.
Readers looking for a female/female clean romance with a scifi setting and something keeping the characters apart that isn’t homophobia should pick up a copy right away. If there was some way to send out a bat signal to precisely that demographic, I would, because I know people looking for that often struggle to find it in among the many options of f/f books. So, if that at all describes you, pick up the book! And if it describes the reading preferences of a friend, tell them about it. I’m sure they’d be grateful to you. And the author.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
This giveaway is now over. Congrats to our winner!
There were 3 entries, all via twitter. Random.org selected entry 1 as the winner, and the first to tweet the giveaway was @helenadamop. Congrats to Helen!
Thanks to the generosity of the author, one lucky Opinions of a Wolf reader can win a copy of this ebook.
How to Enter:
- Leave a comment on this post stating if you would trust Rymel to pick a spouse for you.
- Copy/paste the following and tweet it from your public twitter. Retweets do not count:
Enter to win RYMELLAN 1 by @SarahEttritch, hosted by @McNeilAuthor http://buff.ly/1rnSyjP #ff #scifi #romance #lesfic
The blog comment gets you one entry. Each tweet gets you one entry. You may tweet once per day.
Who Can Enter: International
Contest Ends: May 18th at midnight
Disclaimer: The winner will have their book sent to them by the author. The blogger is not responsible for sending the book. Void where prohibited by law.