When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.
There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.
Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.
Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?
A fantasy written from a queer, female perspective that explores race and social justice featuring the common trope of multiple parallel worlds.
The basic plot is an intertwining of two common to fantasy: 1) there’s multiple parallel worlds 2) political intrigue warring societies etc… These are both done to a level I appreciate. They make sense without overwhelming me with world building and pages of explanations of how a society that doesn’t really exist works.
Both of these basic plots are used to explore queer viewpoints, feminism, and race, all through the lens of social justice. How much you’ll enjoy this lens depends upon the reader. I think the queer part is fairly well-done with a broad representation including: bisexual (by name!), lesbian, trans*, and polyamory. I’m not big on polyamory plots but I thought its inclusion in a parallel world made sense and was clearly not written from a perspective intended to purely titillate, rather, the emotional aspects of these relationships was explored. I do think the explorations of race lacked some of the subtlety present in the explorations of queerness. The white Australian girl being thrust into a parallel world where the majority race is black who is guided by another “worldwalker” who similarly fell through but decided to stay because she’s black and this world is better than Thatcher’s England struck me as a bit heavy-handed and overly simplistic. I’m also not sure how I felt about the black character being put into a secondary role as guide. I kept finding myself thinking how I would have preferred to have read her story. (You quickly find out she stayed in the world, gained some power, joined a polyamorous marriage, had a child, and more! What an interesting life!)
All of that said, I don’t often enjoy traditional style non-urban fantasy, and this one did keep me reading and interested. It’s fun to read a book about political intrigue and multiple worlds dominated by women, touched by dragons, and with no male gaze. I doubt I will seek out the second entry in the series, though, because I feel I’ve already got everything out of the story I’m going to get.
4 out of 5 stars
Dinosaur Tales is a Magnificent Collection of Famous Tales by RAY BRADBURY, One of America’s Best-Loved and Best-Selling Authors. In This Elegantly Designed and Illustrated Book, Bradbury Presents All of His Dinosaur Stories in One Volume! “I have an idea that Bradbury’s work would have given Edgar Allan Poe a peculiar satisfaction to have written them himself.” -Somerset Maugham
Ray Bradbury clearly loves dinosaurs. This collection of short stories just about dinosaurs was obviously a labor of love. The introduction to the book where Bradbury discusses at length his deep love of dinosaurs and complete disbelief that anyone could possibly not love them is one of the best parts of the book and totally sets the tone. Heck, I love dinosaurs myself but even I found his tone infectious and sent my own love soaring higher than I thought possible.
The collection consists of 5 short stories and a poem. The short stories range from a little boy who wants to be a dinosaur when he grows up to a time-traveling business that obviously goes awry to a lonely sea monster who mistakes a lighthouse for a friend. They alternate between hilarity and bitter-sweet, all touched with pure Americana. In news that surprises no one, the poem was my least favorite but I didn’t hate it (and that’s strong praise for a poem). All of the stories (and poem) are lovingly illustrated by a team of illustrators, with each one receiving its own unique style. It’s definitely a book that I think is well worth owning in print, and it’s taken up residence on my shelf as a reminder that I don’t always dislike short stories. They’ve just gotta be the right ones.
Recommended to dinosaur fans, and to quote Bradbury, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?
4 out of 5 stars
When a rabbit low on the totem pole has a bad premonition, he and some friends run from their warren just before man intrudes wreaking havoc on their once-home. What follows is an adventure of evading predators and foes and looking for a new home.
Let me preface my review by saying that I know a lot of people either: A) love this book or B) find this book to be very traumatic. My experience was neither of these. The fact that this was not my experience does not negate yours. But neither does your love or traumatizing by this book mean that I felt the same way about it.
One of the risks of reading a book that is widely-known and loved (or remembered as traumatic) is that you have a pre-existing notion of just what that experience might mean for you. I came at this book with some trepidation and excitement because I absolutely love bunnies and I also love semi-realistic depictions of wild animals. Those that are accurate about scientific information but also personify them somewhat. I wound up being greatly disappointed because it gave me neither a world of bunnies to get lost in nor an experience of great trauma and drama. What I wanted was a highly emotional experience, and instead I got a bit of boredom and my main emotion being disappointment.
Let me start with what I think was well done. Adams clearly paid a lot of attention to the real science of how wild bunnies live and function, and I appreciated that. I also like the allusions to mythology. But there’s lots of reviews that talk about why they love this book, so let’s get down to why I didn’t.
1) I found it to be way too wordy.
I want cuteness and bunnies and plot not overly long descriptions of fields. This is a really thick book (my copy was 479 pages) and just…not that much actually happens. I don’t like to feel like a book is wasting my time, and I felt that a lot with this one. You could argue that it just felt long because I didn’t emotionally connect to it, but I think part of my lack of emotional connection was because of the lengthy descriptive passages.
2) I was expecting a great mythos of a story, and what I got was WWII with bunnies.
I love WWII. Do not get me wrong. I did an entire course for my History BA in just WWII. But I don’t think bunnies particularly pair well with WWII. A large overarching mythos? Sure. Basically the Battle of the Bulge with rabbits? Not so much. I don’t want my bunnies acting like British colonels and their optimistic soldiers, and I certainly don’t want an evil bunny who is basically Hitler coming into the story. (I mean…who makes the enemy another bunny who is basically Hitler? ? What? Why??)
3)It just isn’t all that tragic (sorry guys).
I thought that basically the bunnies fight to survive all book and then all die at the end. Of the core group of rabbits, only ONE dies. There are many epic battles but just no true peril except for the warren that the rabbits leave at the beginning of the book. They are, true, pretty brutally killed by the farmer, but the problem is we never had a chance to get to know them, and we hear the story of the killing from someone who saw it. We don’t see it first-hand. It’s all very distanced and just not that tragic. This would obviously bother me less if I wasn’t expecting a tragedy from everyone saying how sad Watership Down is. But honestly to this day I don’t get why everyone is so sad. The rabbits get a new warren. They successfully find female bunnies and make more bunnies. One main character dies. That is it. I just. What. Why does this traumatize you people?
So, if you are a person who doesn’t mind WWII told through rabbits, quite long passages of description, and will welcome a tale lacking in great tragedies, you might have a better experience with the book than I did. Lord knows many people the world-over have loved it. But for those who come to it expecting to find a great tragedy or a fast-moving tale or warm and cuddly rabbits be warned that it’s not what you’ve heard about it.
3 out of 5 stars
Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge
Vlad the Impaler, a Wallachian prince, inspired the story of Dracula with his bloodthirsty, iron-handed ruling. This, though, is the story of his long-time consort, Ecaterina Floari, mother one of his sons and a daughter. She loves him deeply but is haunted by his ruling style, as well as spirits in a helmet he brings into their home from one of his battles.
I picked this up during the Smashwords Summer/Winter sale years ago but it took a while for my mood to be just right to read it. It is a historic piece set in 1400s with splashes of the fantastic, and I tended to be in the mood for one or the other but not both. Finally in the heat of the summer, I was ready for a dark historic fantasy that would take me away to heavy gowns and ancient rulers. I was surprised by the level of historic research and detail in the book, as well as the tie-in to the Dracula story, making it a marriage of two genres.
This is a long book with a lot of rich setting detail. That doesn’t tend to be my style but it works with the feel the book is going for, and many readers will enjoy the pace at which the book moves. The dark fantasy elements take time to set up, but when they get into motion they really add to the story. The story strikes a nice balance of Ecaterina working with the culture of her time-period and being bothered by certain things Vlad does. For instance, it bothers her that he has mistresses, but she comes to accept it as is expected of her in the time-period. This trajectory acknowledges the feelings the modern reader may have about the situation but also lets the character be true to her time-period.
The author toes a finely-held line of showing Vlad’s cruelty but also keeping him human and not demonizing him. He was a cruel ruler but he wasn’t a monster. Similarly, although Ecaterina loves him she is still disturbed by his actions when ruling. This lends both characters depth they would not have if Ecaterina’s love was blind or Vlad was monstrous.
In spite of appreciating the historic fiction plot covering many decades, I did sometimes feel that the plot meandered a bit too much. I also felt that sometimes the book told too much instead of showing. Similarly, there were a few too many typos and grammatical errors for a book that is in its final version. It was not enough to make me stop reading but it was enough to detract from my overall enjoyment of the story.
I appreciated how much of the book is from women’s perspectives. Not just Ecaterina’s but her mother’s, servants, and other consorts and even a spy are featured. The female cast is strong, and that would be easy for a less thoughtful writer to pass over in favor of showcasing the men history chose to record more thoroughly.
Overall, readers seeking to learn something about the 1400s in Romania will be pleased by how much they will learn reading this book. Those who come to it due to the Dracula connection will enjoy the fantastical elements toward the end in particular. Recommended to readers of historic fiction and fantasy who do not mind a long book with a slow burn.
4 out of 5 stars
Book Review: Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Julia Whelan)
Pen’s life was destroyed when an Earthshaker took away her family (even their dog) and destroyed the Los Angeles she once knew. She’s now on a quest to save them from the monstrous giants that rose up after (or with?) the Earthshaker. Along the way she finds other teens who’ve miraculously survived, each with secrets and talents of their own.
This book left me completely torn. I loved, oh how I loved, the representation of both bisexual (Pen) and trans (Hex, her boyfriend) teens. But the story to go with these teens failed to live up to both these wonderful characters and the beautiful title.
Let’s talk about the good first, because I don’t want it to be overshadowed by what didn’t work. Pen is a bookish teenager who generally prefers to stay in reading the Encyclopedia or The Odyssey to going out to parties. But she still has two close friends. She’s not a loner. She’s brave, open, loving, and sometimes makes rather short-sighted decisions. And it is gradually revealed throughout the book that she is also bisexual. The scenes exploring Pen’s bisexuality, and how it’s hard for her to be out about it, in spite of being completely comfortable with herself, are wonderfully done. Pen acknowledges that even though her parents have always told her that it doesn’t matter a whit if she is straight, lesbian, bisexual, or trans, that the world at large doesn’t always think that, and that’s part of what makes being out hard for her. The world is not always the welcoming place her family is.
The book early on establishes that Pen currently has a crush on a boy, so the reader may perhaps be surprised when she reminisces about an earlier crush on a girl, and how she first realized she liked girls too.
Thinking of how I once kissed Moira on the lips. We were drunk and dancing, and our lips just brushed for that electroshock nanosecond, and then she smiled at some boys who were watching us, laughed, and danced away from me like it was a joke. But I’d had an epiphany, even though I hadn’t fully accepted it at the time. I wanted to kiss girls. And it was no joke. (loc 2:14:53)
Similarly, Pen struggles with self-editing her past when telling Hex about her life before the Earthshaker. She is not sure if he’ll understand or accept the fact that she’s perfectly capable of having crushes on girls as well as boys like himself, so she edits herself when speaking to him. She’s telling him a story about a party she didn’t go to, and the picture that her friends sent her of a boy with her friend, Moira:
I went to sleep staring at the last image wondering not what his mouth tasted like but hers. This part, this last, I don’t tell Hex, although I trust him enough to tell him anything. Don’t I? So I’m not sure why I don’t. Because I don’t want him to know I had a crush on a girl? Or because I have a crush on him. (loc 1:39:44)
It’s rare to see a book explore so eloquently what it is to be bisexual, and these feelings Pen has while not universal still explore the difficulty of coming out and being out as a bisexual person, and they were so wonderful to see in a book that I had to restrain myself from jumping up and shouting “Yes!” when they showed up on my audiobook on the bus.
Similarly, Hex, Pen’s love interest and eventual boyfriend (this is not a spoiler, when Hex shows up he may as well have a giant neon “future boyfriend” sign over his head), is a FTM transman. Hex is just as nervous about being out to Pen and their other travel companions as Pen is about being out to him, probably more. Being cis myself, I can’t say as definitively about the quality of FTM representation as I could about bisexuality, however, the author certainly tries to broach topics that I believe would be of interest to a trans YA reader reading this book: acceptance (or not) by family members and impact on romantic relationships with other teens. Hex comes out to Pen as a transman only because she has fallen for him, and he wants her to know precisely who he is before anything more *ahem* romantic happens. Pen immediately accepts him and tells him he is clearly a boy to her, and this changes nothing about how she feels about him. They then have to navigate their sex life. Hex, like many trans people, is uncomfortable with his body. He would rather touch Pen than allow Pen to touch him. Eventually, they reach an arrangement that both supports and asserts Hex’s maleness and allows Pen to give the pleasure back to him that she wants to. I was glad to see a YA book “go there.” I frankly haven’t seen much of that even in adult literature including a trans person. It both addresses the “how do they….” question some YA readers would certainly have after learning about Hex and also serves a purpose in the story to demonstrate a mature, healthy, loving relationship between the two characters.
In addition to Hex and Pen, they also wind up with two male travel companions who become a couple. The characters themselves point out at one point how odd it is that the minority before the Earthshakers is now the majority (none of them are straight AND cis). I was glad the author acknowledged the quirk and had the characters process why that may be. The answer they decide upon is a positive one, rather than the potentially negative one of punishment.
So now let’s talk about what didn’t work. The plot and the setting. The book is meant to be a magical realism style story told in a non-linear way. This could have worked if in the end the overarching plot, when reassessed by the reader from beginning to end, made sense. But it doesn’t. For most of the book, Pen refers to everything in fantastical ways, such as saying “Earthshaker” for what appears to the reader to be an earthquake. Why is she saying “Earthshaker”? Was there something different about it? Does she just like prettying up her language? What is going on with that? Later it is revealed that an earthquake seems to have happened when some genetically engineered giants escaped (showed up? were released?). The whole world basically goes to shit overnight, though, and it just doesn’t seem logical that that would happen from just a few giants escaping. Similarly, there are other fantastical creatures who are never explained.
Similarly, although it is indicated early on that this is a modern retelling of The Odyssey, it doesn’t line up well with the original. In the original, Odysseus is trying to come home after a war and keeps getting swept into side-quests. In this book, Pen starts out at home and then quests away from home. It would have made more sense for Pen to be somewhere away from home (maybe on a school trip or something), have the disaster occur, and then have her have to find her way home encountering fantastical things along the way. Starting her at home just doesn’t work.
Several elements feel like they are just thrown in because they look pretty or work with the scene even though they don’t work with the book as a whole. For instance, butterflies appearing around people who can be trusted pops up in the middle of the book, but isn’t particularly present at the beginning or the end. Similarly, some characters are revealed to have magical powers toward the end of the book, with no foreshadowing about that, only to have them….not use them much beyond the scene where it’s revealed.
Also, I’m sorry, but the whole some evil scientist genetically engineered giants to be his children and now the giants are out to destroy us but also the whole world inexplicably now resembles a myth just really doesn’t work. First, it makes no sense why a scientist would even want to engineer a giant. To be his children? Really? Why would anyone want giant children? Second, to give the mystical elements that started this whole thing a scientific explanation but then leave the rest fantastical doesn’t work. Either they’re all explained by science or they’re all fantastical. I really felt the book went way downhill for me when there was suddenly a “scientific” explanation for the giants. But just the giants and nothing else.
Finally, we need to talk about the name of the book. It’s a beautiful title but it’s really wasted on this book. First, global warming doesn’t come into play in the book at all, so why is it mentioned in the title? Second, it’s clearly a send-up to Love in the Time of Cholera, but it has nothing in common with that book save both having elements of magical realism in them. It feels as if the author came up with a title that sounded pretty and couldn’t bring herself to let go of it in spite of it not fitting the book she actually wrote.
Overall, this is a short read featuring four well-rounded and written teen characters on the LGBTQ spectrum. YA readers looking for positive representations of bisexual and trans characters, in particular, and who don’t mind some inexplicable fantasy elements will enjoy this quick read. Readers who will easily be bothered by the title not matching the content, a mixture of magical realism and scientific explanations for things, and/or nonlinear plots that when told linearly don’t make sense should probably look elsewhere, in spite of the positive representations of underrepresented letters in the LGBTQ spectrum.
3 out of 5 stars
Aiyana Gamelle has been sleepwalking, waking up on the beach of the half Gullah, half Native American Sa’Fyre Island off the coast of South Carolina. But she knows she’ll soon be transitioning to being Queen of the Gullah half of the island, due to being directly descended from both the founders and a mysterious African goddess, so she brushes it off and focuses on the festival she’s organized on the island to bring in more revenue. But when an important island guest is murdered and her grandmother passes away before the official crowning ceremony, an unwanted family curse is slowly revealed.
This is one of the six indie books I accepted for review on this blog in 2015. Everything about it from the title to the description stuck out to me both as something that I hadn’t seen a mainstream publisher get around to trying in many years and also as something that piqued my interest. An island that’s half Gullah and half Native American? (Never heard of the Gullah? Check out this informative article about them). A woman inheriting a position of power from another woman? A family curse? Yes please! I am happy to say that the book more than lived up to my expectations, it also had some unexpected elements that I was delightfully surprised by.
The known history of the island and the Gamelle family is well told early in the book. It comes through in bits and pieces at just the right times. There is never an info dump. Similarly, Aiyana and her siblings are slowly revealed, going from how you may first perceive them to more well-rounded characters throughout the book. The island and the people on it are incredibly well described. I had no trouble imagining what this island may be like, despite having never been to the Carolinas myself.
One thing that caught me by surprise in the book and that I think should be promoted more in its promotional materials, as it’s something that is often sought after, is the romance between Aiyana (who is half-Native American and half-Gullah, since her mother dated her Native American father against the wishes of both sides) and one of the Native American men on the island. It’s an inter-racial relationship….with no white people. I can’t remember the last time I saw that in a book, frankly, and I was happy to see it.
This is primarily a mystery/horror book though, so let’s talk about the mystery plot. It takes many twists and turns, none of which I expected but all of which ultimately made sense. I found it at times grotesque and at other times it kept me on the edge of my seat. All the time I was always rooting for Aiyana, which is exactly what I generally want out of a mystery.
One negative I would say is that it’s a bit unclear if the book is the first in a series or a standalone. Amazon mentions it being the first in a series, but neither the GoodReads record nor the page about it on the author’s website mention it being the start of a series. If it is the start of a series, the book’s slightly abrupt ending works. If it’s a standalone, then I would want a bit more closure at the end. If it is the start of a series, then I’d say perhaps a quick “Look for more Sa’Fyre Island adventures coming soon!” at the end would be an excellent addition to help the reader know to expect more and to keep them coming back.
Overall, this is both a fun and a quite different entry into the mystery genre. A Gullah woman takes the center stage of the mystery, rather than being a prop. The mystery is well crafted and told, and there’s even the bonus of a bit of romance in the book. Recommended for readers looking for a completely different mystery from what they may be used to reading and who don’t mind a bit of the fantastical showing up in the plot.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review