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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
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November 2017 Reads – #chicklit, #mystery, #urbanfantasy

December 31, 2017 Leave a comment
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For more shots check out my bookstagram

I picked up the pace a bit in November reading a total of 6 books, mostly chick lit but with a mystery and an urban fantasy tossed in there for good measure.

I started the month off with the end of my Liane Moriarty kick with her chick lit The Hypnotist’s Love Story. This book is about a practicing therapeutic hypnotist who meets the man of her dreams except for one thing…his ex-girlfriend is stalking him. This book did not at all go in the direction I was expecting and I’m still not sure the ending counts as a happy ever after (even though I’m pretty sure it was supposed to). If you’re looking for a different chick lit read, you should definitely pick this one up. The story is quite unique.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: purchased)

Next I decided to return to the Bridget Jones series so I returned to Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding (see the first in the series reviewed here). Written in the same diary style as the first and again covering a year, this looks at Bridget’s on again off again romance with Mark Darcy. Normally on again off agains irritate me, but it kind of works in this case, I think because the on again off agains don’t happen too terribly often and are more reflective of things each of them have to work on rather than entirely stupid misunderstandings. I also must say this was much better than the movie. The kind of loathed Thailand interlude comes across much better in the book and makes way more sense.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: purchased)

At the same time as I was reading this I was finishing up my audiobook, the second in the Fredrika Bergman and Alex Recht mystery series – Silenced by Kristina Ohlsson (see the first in the series reviewed here). This isn’t necessarily a series you need to read in order. It surrounds a police investigative team in Sweden and each book regards a different case. The investigator’s personal lives are present but just barely and aren’t the focus of the book. This entry in the series looks at the mysterious death of a pastor and his wife. The story is intertwined with the immigrant/refugee crisis in Europe. While I thought the audio narrator was again phenomenal, I couldn’t get as into this mystery as into the first one. I thought it verged a bit too far into preachy mode as opposed to just telling a story. But that said I’m sure I’ll return for the third entry in the series because the mystery telling is just so different from a lot of the American mysteries. It keeps me on my toes.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Audible)

I jumped right back into another chick lit with the next book in the Bridget Jones series – Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy. It is not a spoiler to tell you this as you discover it in the very first chapter: Mark Darcy dies tragically young so this book surrounds Bridget as a widow with two children. This is clearly a dichotomizing choice. Some readers are fine with it and others aren’t. I’ve never been that into Mark Darcy so I didn’t mind he was gone but I am married and I hated having the idea of losing a partner so young all unexpectedly up in my face in what was supposed to be a relaxing read. Do I think Fielding did a good job telling the story she chose to tell? Yes. Do I think widows deserve to be represented in literature and given a happy ending? Yes. Do I wish I’d known this in advance before picking it up? Absolutely.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: purchased)

I changed pace a bit next by picking up the next book in the Demon Slayer urban fantasy series I adore – Night of the Living Demon Slayer by Angie Fox (see the first in the series reviewed here). Lizzie gets called to go undercover in New Orleans to stop the rise of an evil voodoo church (not to be confused with good voodoo). This was a great entry in the series that delivered exactly what I’ve come to expect. Entertaining and unexpected action sequences, real peril, unique bad guys, and a strong monogamous relationship at the center of it all.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: purchased)

Finally I read the contemporary chick lit Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen. Julia and Michael fought hard to get out of their hardscrabble West Virginia life and now are millionaires living in D.C. But when Michael survives an unexpected heart attack his priorities start to change. Can their marriage survive his change of heart? I was expecting something very different from this book about priorities and marriage and what really matters in life. What I got was….much more fantastical than I had imagined. I could have handled that if it had just taken the final leap into truly over the top but it toed the edge so much that it landed in ho-hum.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: purchased)

My total for the month of November 2017:

  • 6 books
    • 6 fiction; 0 nonfiction
    • 6 female authors; 0 male authors
    • 5 ebooks; 0 print books; 1 audiobook

 

2017’s Accepted Review Copies!

January 12, 2017 Leave a comment

2017's Accepted Review Copies!

Here on Opinions of a Wolf, I accept submissions of review copies via a form between February and December.  The books I accept will then be reviewed the following year.  So, the books accepted for review here in 2017 were submitted in 2016.  You can view more about my review process here.  You may view the accepted review copies post for 20142015, and 2016 by clicking on the years.  I view the submissions I receive as my own mini-bookstore of indie books. I browse the shelves and pick up however many spark my interest.

This year there were 60 submissions, and I accepted 2 books. This means books featured on this post only had a 3% chance of being accepted.

I actively pursue submissions from women and GLBTQA authors, as well as books with GLBTQA content.

Before getting to the accepted books, I like to show the demographics of books submitted to me. This helps those submitting this year for review in 2018 see what I had an overload of and where they might stand a better chance of getting accepted. It also allows for a lot of transparency of my review acceptance process.

screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-1-44-54-pm

Although there are still fewer women authors submitting to me than men, the proportion of women is up from last year’s 38.7%. I would really like it if this could hit at least 50/50 next year. Of the two books I accepted, one is by a woman author.

2017's Accepted Review Copies!

This went way down from last year’s 24.2%. I would very much appreciate any help getting the word out to LGBTQA authors that I’m actively seeking their submissions. Of the two books I accepted, one is by a GLBTQA author.

2017's Accepted Review Copies!

This also went down from last year’s 29%. One of my top three genres of books read last year was GLBTQA lit, so I obviously would hope for more of this in the future. Also of note: both of my accepted books have GLBTQA content.

2017's Accepted Review Copies!

The top three most frequently submitted genres were:
1) Fantasy (including urban) 31.7%
2) Horror 30%
3) Scifi 28.3%
Note that books fitting into multiple genres had all genres checked off on their submission. I actually didn’t accept any scifi or fantasy books so remember when submitting that the most frequently submitted genre doesn’t necessarily correlate to most likely to get accepted.

The review copies are listed below in alphabetical order by title. Summaries are pulled from GoodReads or Amazon. Both books will feature giveaways thanks to the author at the time of review. These books will be read and reviewed here in 2017, although what order they are read in is entirely up to my whim at the moment.

31415667

The Eighth Day Brotherhood
By: Alice M. Phillips
Genre: Historical Fiction, Horror, Mystery
Notable GLBTQA Content
Summary:
In Paris, 1888, the city prepares for the Exposition Universelle and the new Eiffel Tower swiftly rises on the bank of the Seine. One August morning, the sunrise reveals the embellished corpse of a young man suspended between the columns of the PanthEon, resembling a grotesque Icarus and marking the first in a macabre series of murders linked to Paris monuments. In the Latin Quarter, occult scholar Remy Sauvage is informed of his lover’s gruesome death and embarks upon his own investigation to avenge him by apprehending the cult known as the Eighth Day Brotherhood. At a nearby sanitarium, aspiring artist Claude Fournel becomes enamored with a mesmerist’s beautiful patient, Irish immigrant Margaret Finnegan. Resolved to steal her away from the asylum and obtain her for his muse, Claude only finds them both entwined in the Brotherhood’s apocalyptic plot combining magic, mythology, and murder.

Why I Accepted It:
It struck me as a queered up historical version of The DaVinci Code, and what’s not to like about that? Plus the excerpt was well-written.

31829144

Peacefully, In Her Sleep
By: Milo Bell
Genre: Mystery
Notable GLBTQA Content
Summary:
June Godfrey is a widowed crime writer living a well-ordered life in Barling, a village in Sussex, England. An anonymous letter, received by June’s friend Angela, reveals that the peacefulness of the quiet community may be illusory.

The letter’s author alleges that Angela’s aunt, Jacqueline Sims, was murdered. June is doubtful, yet when she begins a tentative investigation into the letter’s origins, she discovers that Jackie Sims was no sweet old lady. Jackie had been an unscrupulous blackmailer, and many could have wished her dead.

June uncovers startling secrets, and becomes entangled in the disappearance of an enigmatic teenaged girl. She crosses paths with the kindly, gentle Detective Inspector Guy Taverner, and when they join forces, they uncover a staggering and unexpected truth.

Why I Accepted It:
What struck me first was how well-written the excerpt was. When I saw that it’s a mystery set in an English village and had notable GLBTQA content, well, I had to read it.

Congratulations again to the accepted authors for 2017!

Interested in submitting for 2018? Find out how here.

 

Book Review: The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer

October 9, 2016 4 comments

Book Review: The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate HamerSummary:
Carmel Wakeford becomes separated from her mother at a local children’s festival, and is found by a man who claims to be her estranged grandfather. He tells her that her mother has had an accident and that she is to live with him for now. As days become weeks with her new family, 8-year-old Carmel realises that this man believes she has a special gift…

While her mother desperately tries to find her, Carmel embarks on an extraordinary journey, one that will make her question who she is – and who she might become.

Review:
I picked this book up after seeing the title for kind of a ridiculous reason. I’m a big fan of the tv show Pretty Little Liars, and at the time I was in the season where the Big Bad is known as “Red Coat.” I was so stoked to see another mystery surrounding a woman/girl in a red coat that I just had to investigate it. Of course I discovered that it was also a missing/abducted child mystery/thriller (one of my favorite mystery/thriller subgenres), so it quickly ran up my tbr list.

This book tells the missing/abducted child story from both the grieving parent’s and the child’s point of view simultaneously. This is interesting because we can see how they are both changing as time passes, and the mystery becomes not “what is happening to so-and-so” but more “will these two ever find each other again and will they be able to salvage their relationship if they do?”

The mother’s storyline deals with parenting, guilt, and complicated grief. It acknowledges her faults without demonizing her for them. I truly found reading about her struggle to accept and move on without losing hope to be heart-wrenching.

The daughter’s storyline deals with a small girl feeling angry at her mother, grief at her supposed injury and death, and then dealing with having everyone around her believe she has the power to heal through laying on hands. Laying on hands in Evangelical Protestantism is the belief that God can work miracles through you if you lay your hands on a sick person and pray for them. What’s interesting here is that the book takes the position that Carmel does have some sort of mystical healing power, it’s just that it’s not directly related to Jesus and shouldn’t be used to get money from people, the way the man who abducted Carmel uses her to get money out of people. It’s an interesting position to take — that some people can just heal others. I’d say this might be the first magical realism book that worked for me. Because I was really ok with Carmel having this ability just randomly in our world. I also thought that the book manages to not demonize religion. It’s not that religion is bad per se it’s that bad people can twist it to harm others (ain’t that the truth though).

What I found most interesting was the underlying question throughout the book. Carmel and her mother were just not getting along before she was abducted. They didn’t get each other. Is that something they would have been able to get past? Is it something they could get past now if they find each other again?

I think the book answers the most straight-forward questions but it stopped too soon to answer my questions about particular relationships. I think the book either needs a sequel or needed to continue along longer. The point isn’t will this child return physically but rather is this a relationship that could ever be healed.

Recommended to those looking for a child abduction story told from both the parent and the child’s point of view.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: Three to Get Lei’d by Jill Marie Landis (Series, #3)

Book Review: Three to Get Lei'd by Jill Marie Landis (Series, #3)Summary:
A jigger of tranquility is all Em Johnson wants, but now that her beloved Tiki Goddess Bar has been chosen as the location for Trouble in Paradise, TV’s hot new reality show, life is anything but tranquil. When a member of the camera crew is found dead in her kitchen-stabbed to death with Chef Kimo’s sashimi knife-the scene on the sleepy North Shore of Kauai goes from eccentrically crazy to downright dangerous. Suspects lurk behind every paper drink umbrella.

Review:
This book brought back all the strengths from the first book with the added delight of everyone at the Tiki Goddess Bar being featured on a reality tv show. As a (not-so-secret) lover of reality tv for the over-the-top ridiculousness and a lover of cozies for their delightful tongue-in-cheek puns and ability to not take themselves too seriously, the marriage of the two in this book was sheer delight.

A couple of scenes in particular struck me as the type of mad-cap tom-foolery seen in older 1920s romps, only with the added twist of reality tv cameras following the moves. I honestly would love to see a “The Office” style take on this series…a fake reality tv show version of the Tiki Godess Bar. That’d be a hoot! Anyway, one scene I really enjoyed involves the Hula Maidens in hula costume sneaking around on a golf course. Delightful.

I also like that the plot, although a bit predictable, weaves in a few different elements of various characters’ lives and stories. Em’s life moves forward, as does her uncle’s. Nothing is stagnant, just because murder is happening. I also thought grief and concern for loved ones’ safety were depicted well and realistically without slowing the plot down or removing the joy from the narrative.

All-in-all, a fun entry in the series that left me eager for the next one….and hoping the reality show will be back!

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

Buy It

Previous Books in Series:
Mai Tai One On, review
Two to Mango, review

Book Review: Berried Secrets by Peg Cochran (Series, #1)

August 8, 2016 2 comments

Book Review: Berried Secrets by Peg Cochran (Series, #1)Summary:
When Monica Albertson comes to Cranberry Cove—a charming town on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan—to help her half-brother Jeff on his cranberry farm, the last thing she expects to harvest is a dead body.

It seems that Sam Culbert, who ran the farm while Jeff was deployed overseas, had some juicy secrets that soon prove fatal, and Jeff is ripe for the picking as a prime suspect. Forming an uneasy alliance with her high-maintenance stepmother, Monica has her hands full trying to save the farm while searching for a killer. Culbert made plenty of enemies in the quaint small town…but which one was desperate enough to kill?

Review:
So I just had to pick this up for three reasons:
1) I love me a punny title.
2) I had just harvested cranberries with my husband friend and her wife on a farm in MA.
3) It’s set in Michigan where my husband is from.

That’s a lot going for it, and I don’t have too high of a bar with cozies (I just want to be entertained, for the resolution to the mystery to not be painfully obvious, and for the main character to be likeable OR someone you love to hate). This one didn’t meet the bar, though, which was a bit disappointing.

The plot itself was good. I didn’t fully guess it before the end, and I liked the small town secrets aspect of it. But the main character. Yeesh. What a judgmental woman. Sometimes it seemed like all she did was judge people who had never done anything to her. And not even just the people in the small town who she judges and then comes to love by the end of the book. No, no. She’s judgey of everyone. Even people she’s known for years. The one repeated instance of her being judgey that really rubbed me the wrong way was the main character loathes her stepmother, and the only reason I can decipher is because she doesn’t like the way she dresses. And she makes snarky asides about that a lot. The stepmother is actually a very kind woman who goes out of her way to help the main character, which makes the behavior even more inexcusable. This may not bother some readers, but the main character struck me as an uptight “I know what’s best for everyone” snob, and I didn’t get the impression that readers were supposed to feel that way about her. She felt very much like a character we were supposed to admire and identify with. So. That really spoiled the rest of it for me.

I didn’t regret the read, but I won’t be going back for the rest of the series. Honestly, there’s enough other cozies out there that I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to read this one, but if you’re hurting for one currently and just love any and all cozies then you’ll probably find a way to enjoy this one, in spite of the main character.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (Audiobook narrated by Rebecca Lowman, Cassandra Campbell, Mark Deakins, and Robertson Dean)

Book Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (Audiobook narrated by Rebecca Lowman, Cassandra Campbell, Mark Deakins, and Robertson Dean)Summary:
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.

Review:
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.

*spoilers*
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.
*end spoilers*

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

Source: Audible

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