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February 2018 Book Reviews – The Lakota Way (#nonfiction), The Empty Room (#alcoholism), Before We Were Yours (#historic), The Gravity Between Us (#newadult), The Nonborn King (#fantasy)

April 11, 2018 3 comments
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Some breakfast reading at my in-laws’ in Michigan. For more shots check out my bookstagram

Hello my lovely readers! I’m a bit behind in my book reviews (as usual) because life just keeps happening. But I’ve still been finding time to read (obviously). Looking back on it, I’m kind of amazed I got so much reading done in February seeing as I had the flu and also took a trip to Michigan to see my in-laws and had a very busy work month. (When I’m busy at work I often find myself too brain tired to do much reading). But obviously I did get a lot of reading done! Let’s take a look at what I read.

The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living by Joseph M. Marshall III was a gift from my husband when we were first dating. I had been trying to read it mindfully and slowly a chapter at a time but clearly I kept forgetting about it instead. This happens to me when I read digital books sometimes. So I decided this month to just pick it up and finish it off. The author of this nonfiction is a member of the Lakota nation, and here he shares the wisdom of his people for us all to benefit from. I am honored and humbled by the fact that he chooses to do so when so much was wrested away from the Lakota by colonization. Reading this book was like sitting down with a wise older uncle who tells stories that may seem disconnected at first but ultimately all revolve around a theme (like love). The stories are also connected with the history of the Lakota people (before and during colonization). I found the entire collection to be moving, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the Native Peoples of the Americas.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: gift)

Next, I tore through my first 5 star read of the year – The Empty Room by Lauren B. Davis. This is a fictional telling of one day in the life of a woman with alcoholism. Davis is in recovery herself, and her first-hand experience is obvious here. I tore through this in just one day. It’s the most realistic depiction of alcoholism in women I’ve seen. Gritty and dark yet compassionate and hopeful.

She was always 5 minutes away from being the person she wanted to be.
(location 14%)

Alcohol, the man said, had first given him wings then taken away the sky.
(location 55%)

Just writing about it now makes me want to pick it up and read it again. If you’ve ever struggled with alcohol yourself or struggled to understand someone who does, give this read a chance.
(5 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Throughout the month I was working on my audiobook – Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. I call this a historic fiction but really it’s one of those dual setting books with a narrator both in the present and in the past. If you’ve been on book blogs at all in the past year you’ve heard of it. This book looks at a dark history of adoption in the United States, with children being snatched from their families under the guise of the law in the name of eugenics (in this case, the idea that beautiful children are better raised by the rich). I very much appreciate the importance of this history being presented and how well-researched it is, but I must admit that both of the main characters rubbed me the wrong way, which wasn’t something I was able to get past.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Audible)

Next I picked up The Gravity Between Us by Kristen Zimmer. This book was at the disadvantage of being my first read after having my soul touched by The Empty Room. I often find that after a read that touching I struggle to enjoy my next read, so keep that in mind when considering my thoughts. This new adult romance looks at two best friends who fall in love with each other but struggle to admit it to each other. Complicating factors include they’re both women, in their late teens, and have just moved to LA. Oh and one is a break-out movie star. It’s a great premise but the execution didn’t work for me. Alternating chapters between the two main character’s perspectives took a lot of the tension out and sometimes left me confused about who was feeling what and who was talking. I also felt like both Kendall and Payton really mistreated their friends around them (a straight guy and a bisexual gal who help them keep the relationship under wraps) and while people make mistakes they never really apologize for this or make up for it to them.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Finally I wrapped up the month by finishing my print read of the month: The Nonborn King by Julian May. This is the last in a fantasy trilogy with four disparate plots that ultimately come together in the end of course. I wasn’t into half of them, so that made it a bit of a slog. I also had read the previous two books in audiobook format with multiple narrators, and I wonder how much of my feeling of this being a slog was that it wasn’t being performed at me. I hadn’t realized how much the performance enhanced the books. I still very much enjoy the world of The Pliocene Exile but the direction it went here was puzzling.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: PaperBackSwap I think?)

It looks like the month started strong then went mediocre. Since I got the flu at the end of the month, I wonder how much of that vibe was just a bad flu mood? Hard to say! Regardless, I know I’ll be readingThe Empty Room again.

My total for the month of February 2018:

  • 5 books
    • 4 fiction; 1 nonfiction
    • 4 female authors; 1 male author
    • 3 ebooks; 1 print book; 1 audiobook
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January 2018 Reads – #fantasy, #scifi, #nonfiction, #mystery

February 9, 2018 3 comments
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For more shots check out my bookstagram

Happy New Year everyone! I started my new year off with a reading bang reading a total of 6 books. I can’t say I’m too terribly surprised as the weather has been pretty…gross in New England. I’m not anti going outside in the cold but even I struggle to enjoy it when it’s so cold you’re at risk of frostbite if you’re out for more than 30 minutes. (It’s dangerously easy for me to tip over into that range with my commute using public transit). Anyway, nothing feels cozier than reading inside while it’s awful outside. While I had a range of reads this month, overall I read a lot of fantasy.

I started off the month with Honeyed Words by J. A. Pitts. My husband picked it up for me at a used bookstore in the $1 pile based on the cover and the fact that it was an urban fantasy starring a queer woman. That man knows me. Unfortunately, it turns out it was the second book in the series, and unlike a lot of urban fantasy, not enough was explained for me to be able to follow along very well. Sarah, the main character, is a blacksmith who also has a magical sword and fights dragons who run the world but usually appear as people? It was very confusing but I did enjoy the different (for urban fantasy) main character.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: gift)

Next I read the audiobook version of Connie Willis’s new scifi Crosstalk. This is about a near future with a surgical procedure to let partners feel each other’s feelings but when Briddey has it she finds herself able to hear the thoughts of the company weirdo and nothing from her boyfriend. I loved Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog but I was disappointed in this one. The plot was predictable in most ways. I didn’t actually like either of the main characters. The female main character in particular was disappointing…very little intelligence or self-starting. I did really like the little niece but I felt the adults who were supposed to be the heroes pushed her around far too much and refused to listen to her. Let’s put it this way: if this was my first Connie Willis read, I wouldn’t be seeking out more. So thank goodness I found To Say Nothing of the Dog first, or I’d have missed it.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Audible)

I picked up a print book next, which I originally acquired from an indie publisher thanks to hearing good things about its YA fantasy with LGBTQ content – Valhalla by Ari Bach. Set in a near future where corporations run everything, a teenage girl finds herself with the opportunity to get vengeance for her parents’ death but only if she legally dies and lives with a group who work to keep the world in order. This was a weird book. I really had trouble getting past the ability to resurrect a person in their entirety so long as you have their brain in-tact, and I also found the politics odd and the plot ridiculous. It was readable and action-packed but I did a lot of eye-rolling. I won’t be continuing with the series.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: PaperBackSwap)

Our trip in December to the Grand Canyon reminded me of a book I’d bought a while ago on the history of the US National Forest Service (not to be confused with the National Park Service) – The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan. I already knew a bit about the history the NPS and NFS thanks to my time in service in Americorps. While I enjoyed everything I learned in the book, it is confusingly organized and repetitive. It needed more editing. For instance, I thought I was reading a book about a fire but a large part of the book was about literally everything about the Forest Service surrounding the fire. While that was informative, it wasn’t what I thought I was getting. Similarly there were passages of the parts of the book about the actual fire that really dragged–how many times do I really need to read about what the burned corpse of a horse looks like? So while I did learn a lot, which I appreciate, I do feel like it could have been better organized and streamlined.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Amazon)

One of my reading goals is to read two print books a month, so I picked up a second after finishing Valhalla. I have a bookshelf of all my print books and I use random.org to randomly generate a number to select one. So my next read wound up being The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell a British mystery told in dual time-lines, one being modern day with a woman recovering from a horrific miscarriage and the other being in the 80s with five college friends sharing a cottage and trying to go off-grid basically. The women in the modern day dealing with her grief is given this same cottage, and the mystery is how the two timelines will intertwine. While the ending did surprise me, everything leading up to it was boring and predictable and led to me skimming a lot. I’m glad I read to the end because I found the twist interesting but the experience leading up to it wasn’t fun for me per se. I also think that consequences weren’t explored enough.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: PaperBackSwap)

I finished up my month by finally picking up the third book in a series I started ages ago – the Riders of the Apocalypse series by Jackie Morse Kessler. This YA fantasy series explores the four hoursemen of the apocalypse as beings who have to get replaced occasionally by new humans who take on the role and in this series each is being replaced by a teenager. Famine was replaced by a teenager with anorexia in the first book, and War by a teenager who self-injures in the second. The third horseman is Pestilence, and I wondered what mental illness would go with this. I thought maybe Factitious Disorder (previously known as Munchausen Syndrome) but it turns out the main character in Loss is a victim of bullying and a partial caretaker for his grandfather with Alzheimer’s. I wanted to like this so much but I just didn’t. I didn’t identify with the main character at all, and I also felt like the representation of sickness and health was overly simplistic (with a weird huge focus on the bubonic plague). Nothing felt as fully fleshed out as I would have liked it to have been, and I don’t think relating bullying to Pestilence works the way anorexia to Famine or self-injury to War did.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Amazon)

Hm, turns out in spite of all the reading this was a bit of a mediocre month! Here’s hoping something strikes my fancy more in February.

My total for the month of January 2018:

  • 6 books
    • 5 fiction; 1 nonfiction
    • 4 female authors; 2 male authors
    • 3 ebooks; 2 print books; 1 audiobook

September 2017 Reads – #fantasy, #nonfiction, #chicklit

December 29, 2017 4 comments
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For more shots check out my bookstagram

The end of September was our second wedding anniversary, and I feel like you can see my romantic mood reflected in the last two books of the month. I started out the month, though, with a fantasy and a nonfiction.

The fantasy was Kushiel’s Chosen Jacqueline Carey, the sequel to Kushiel’s Dart that I read in May. In this entry the main character is now a noblewoman instead of a bondservant but she still ends up sucked into the schemings and plottings of the those who would change the course of nations. While I overall enjoyed this entry in the series I felt that the length and action weren’t as well-balanced as in the first book. There was too little plot for the sheer length of the book.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: purchased)

I’ve always been interested in learning more about how to manage money so I picked up a copy of the nonfiction Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki. This book seeks to compare and contrast the advice given by a rich mentor and a poor mentor and take the best of each world. While the initial concept is good what is lacking in the book is an ability to understand others and other life situations. There’s not one way that will work for everyone but the book presents the idea that everyone can achieve wealth in exactly the same way. And in all honesty the way presented, while it has some good ideas (such as to ensure you’re investing in assets rather than liabilities) it also relies a lot on other people not managing their money well (for instance in the case of being a lender to someone else or owning property and renting it out to others). While I’m not saying how the author achieved his money is wrong per se I will say that it’s not a way I personally would be comfortable running my own affairs from an ethical perspective. I would also say the book doesn’t necessarily age well. It reflects an ideal property investment market which we do not have currently. I did take away a few good tips from it though, such as the understanding what’s really an asset and what’s a liability tip mentioned before, so it wasn’t a total loss of time to read.
(2 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

Next I decided it was high time I read the book one of my favorite chick lit movies is based on–Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. The basic plot of this is a 30-something in London keeps a diary for a year documenting both her attempts at self-improvement and her romantic exploits. I found Mark Darcy to be far more likable in the book than in the movie, and I understood Bridget’s attraction to him better. (In fact, reading the book version of him made me like him better in the movie version too. I was able to see the subtleties going on in the acting I’d missed before). I thought the plot with Bridget’s mother was much more well thought-out and a situation that made me have more empathy for Bridget than in the movie. I also liked how it’s very clear in the book that Bridget is obsessed with her weight but is actually a healthy weight and her friends will actually say something to her when she gets too thin. There was just something touching about her neuroticness in the book. As I said in my short initial review on GoodReads: v. good.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: purchased)

I rounded out the month with the Liane Moriarty chick lit from Australia – What Alice Forgot. Interestingly, this made it onto my wishlist long before the Big Little Lies miniseries hullabaloo. I just thought the plot sounded interesting. I didn’t even realize it was the same author until I had to wait in line for the book at the library. I decided to stick with starting with the book I was initially interested in, and I’m glad I did. It was such a hoot. Alice is 29, married/madly in love and pregnant with her first child. Then she wakes up and discovers she’s 39 and in the middle of a divorce. (Of course she has amnesia, she hasn’t actually time-traveled). What happened to make her marriage fall apart? It’s a giant mystery for her to solve. I really enjoyed this book. If you’re someone who really believes in marriage then the mystery of what happened to Alice’s really sucks you in. There’s also quite a bit in there about how you change over the course of your 30s and which of these changes are good or bad. I will say the ending was a bit meh to me. It felt kind of rushed and epiloguey and I’m just not sure how I feel about it in the long-run. It didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the experience of the read, though.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

My total for the month of September 2017:

  • 4 books
    • 3 fiction; 1 nonfiction
    • 3 female authors; 1 male author
    • 3 ebooks; 1 print book; 0 audiobooks

July 2017 Reads – #fantasy, #thriller

December 27, 2017 Leave a comment
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For more shots check out my bookstagram

July saw me seeking out a bunch of thrillers – 3 in fact, plus 2 dark fantasies.

I started the month with the much talked about Irish lit The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle. This book is somewhere between fantasy and mystery with an unreliable narrator leaving the reader uncertain if the fantastical things are really happening or just in the main character’s head. I was quite disappointed by this book in multiple areas. First, I felt queer-baited by this book as it was buzzed about having great queer content but in actual fact all of the queer characters are secondary characters with little “screentime.” It also has pacing issues. It starts really slowly and most of the action happens in the last 25% of the book. I also didn’t feel the fantasy elements added to the book at all; they just made it more confusing.
(2 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Audible)

Next I read another much talked-about book The Girl on the Train a thriller by Paula Hawkins. If you haven’t heard much about this one, it’s about a woman who commutes on a train and watches a couple in their backyard when she goes by every day but then she sees something shocking and finds herself getting involved in their lives. I loved this book and felt it totally lived up to the hype. For me there was something just delightful about listening to this woman’s train commuter life and problems while also commuting on a train. Similarly, I really enjoyed how Rachel’s alcoholism isn’t the point of the story but the problems it causes (or issues it makes worse) are also acknowledged. This is a book I would read again even knowing the ending. (Indeed, I did watch the movie, although I must say moving the setting from London to NYC removes a lot of interesting plot points).
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Audible)

Next I decided to finally get around to reading a Richelle Mead series I hadn’t started. I love her Succubus series so I thought this would be a great bet. I picked up Gameboard of the Gods, the start of another of her fantasy series, but unfortunately this one didn’t do it for me. The plot is almost too complicated to explain quickly. Suffice to say, there’s a future world with competing large governments, one of which has outlawed many religions. An exile is brought back in to investigate supernatural claims. My issues with this book mostly boil down to it being way too much set-up and not enough plot. It feels like the set-up to an epic series but it’s setting up a society I didn’t enjoy about learning about or visiting, which is problematic. I learned after reading this that the series is held up as it was dropped by the publishers due to low sales so I’m also not sure it’s worth investing the effort into reading this much set-up only to never get resolution.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

Up next was another thriller What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross. This covers one of my favorite thriller plots – the abduction of a child. In this case, it’s the snatching of a baby from a distracted mother in a supercenter (that is clearly meant to be Ikea). What happens when the child grows up and figures out that her mother is not her mother? I absolutely loved this book right up until the ending. The ending was awful. I had to go back the next day and re-read it to ensure I hadn’t misread it. Let’s just say, the ending felt very out of touch with reality to me.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

I wrapped up the month with one final thriller, Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson. I read Swanson’s first book and really liked it – he sets most of his thrillers in the Boston area and New England and since I live here, I find it even more thrilling to see the areas I know rendered so well and having such thrilling things occurring in them. This thriller revolves around another of my favorite plot devices – the house swap. Kate swaps houses with her distant cousin in Boston and while she enjoys his posh Beacon Hill residence she soon starts to suspect not everything is as it seems. Kate suffers from PTSD and high anxiety and I loved seeing her as a heroine sometimes in spite of and sometimes because of these things (her anxiety makes her more attuned to certain things in the house). While I did know whodunit early on, there were enough plot twists that I wasn’t expecting to keep me entertained.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

My total for the month of July 2017:

  • 5 books
    • 5 fiction; 0 nonfiction
    • 4 female authors; 1 male author
    • 3 ebooks; 0 print books; 2 audiobooks
Categories: Book, Review Tags: , , , ,

May 2017 Reads – #chicklit, #fantasy

December 25, 2017 1 comment
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I had so many of these monthly reviews piled up that I decided to just post one a day through the end of the year so I can start 2018 on track. I hope you enjoy!

May saw me finishing just two books but that’s because one was a chunkster and my longest read of the whole year.

I started the month off with a quick read, the chick lit Cocktails for Three, which I previously reviewed in haiku form here.

Then I picked up a book that had been languishing on my tbr pile for a long time with multiple recommendations from friends – Kushiel’s Dart. This is a fantasy by a female author set in an alternate universe version of Europe where France is a slightly different country built around a religion that is an offshoot of Christianity that honors and respects prostitution, essentially. I wasn’t sure what I would think of it but I did ultimately enjoy it. While I thought it started out slow and that its worldbuilding could use more creativity (all of the fake nations are basically just other versions of modern-day nations like the UK), it was still quite enjoyable. I think the most enjoyable part for me was the wonderfully creative new religion the author came up with, but I may have enjoyed that more than others might as I was a Religious Studies minor in undergrad.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: PaperBackSwap)

My total for the month of May 2017:

  • 2 books
    • 2 fiction; 0 nonfiction
    • 2 female authors; 0 male authors
    • 1 ebook; 1 print book; 0 audiobooks

Book Review: An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows (Series, #1)

26225506Summary:
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?

Review:
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

Source: NetGalley

Buy It

Book Review: Ashes of Honor and Chimes at Midnight by Seanan McGuire (Series, #6 and #7)

September 5, 2016 Leave a comment

 

Summary:

Book 6

Etienne has a mysteriously powerful changeling daughter no one else knew about who goes missing and now Toby must find her.

Book 7
Goblin Fruit is being sold on the streets and Toby in her grief seeks to eradicate it only to discover the Queen is behind it. Then she gets hit in the face with a pie made of it and since it’s only addictive to humans and changelings she’s now addicted to basically the fantasy equivalent of heroin. Oh also she becomes fixated on reestablishing the rightful heir to the throne, and not just because she’s been exiled by the current Queen

Review:
So here’s the thing. I love reading a good series but generally so long as everything is continuing along at the same quality level as the first couple of books there’s not too much to say about them. But also if you just stop reviewing them it makes it seem like you stopped reading the series, which isn’t the case. So I’m going to be sticking to short reviews for my series reads, and I might start lumping them together, unless there’s one that’s particularly good or one that’s particularly bad.

I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that I’m tired of the series looking for missing kids. This happens again in book 6, and yes it kind of bugged me, but it was different enough that I kept reading. I think having the added factor of learning more about how changelings work and also how Toby’s particular type of fae work helped keep it interesting.

I’d say that book 7 kept me more on the edge of my seat than book 6 because Toby is in more genuine peril and also she is more honest about her feelings for the King of Cats. I find overthrowing one royal person to instill another to be rather boring but Toby’s personal peril helped keep it interesting for me. I also really enjoyed one particular reveal about a longstanding character. That said, all of the political intrigue and the fact that the next book promises only more made me decide it was time to take a break from the series until I’m ready for a read that will be exactly what I am expecting. There’s always room for that in my reading but it can be a bit dull if you read a few too many in a row.

Both of these reads hold enough of what long-time readers of the series have come to expect and new information to be both engaging and not disappointing. It’s a good series but not one that builds intrigue over the course of each book throughout the series.

4 out of 5 stars (each)

Source: Library

Buy Book 6

Buy Book 7

Previous Books in Series:
Rosemary and Rue, review
A Local Habitation, review
An Artificial Night, review
Late Eclipses, review
One Salt Sea, review