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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

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Book Review and Giveaway: The Fair & Foul by Allie Potts (Series, #1)

December 29, 2016 1 comment

Book Review and Giveaway: The Fair & Foul by Allie Potts (Series, #1)Summary:
Juliane has a supercomputer for a brain and she isn’t afraid to use it. Perhaps she should be.

Juliane Faris is a brilliant programmer determined to change the world through scientific and technical advancement. Blinded by ambition, she will do whatever it takes to secure her legacy including agreeing to participate in an experimental procedure. The procedure grants her unprecedented knowledge and cellular control over her body but threatens everything she holds dear including her sanity. When others undergo the same modifications it becomes apparent that not everyone can afford the price that this technology demands.

Review:
This is my final accepted ARC of 2016 (well, there was one more, but the author never sent me the book). I thought what better last review of 2016 than a review and giveaway of my final 2016 ARC. I picked this up right before going on vacation, and I found it to be the perfect vacation read. Tightly paced with an interesting plot and memorable characters I found it easy to remember and relaxing to come back to between vacation activities.

This is scifi of the type where scientists do a thing and it turns out that thing might not be so great after all (but we’re not sure yet). I really enjoy this type of scifi but it’s often hard to find one where the main character (the main scientist) is a woman. I knew from the plot summary that a woman was supposed to be the main character but I admit to being concerned that she would wind up overshadowed by a secondary male character. These fears were unfounded, as Juliane (Dr. Faris) stayed at the center of the story at all times. It truly was her tale at all times.

Now, Juliane is flawed, but that’s as it should be. Just because a female scientist is successful doesn’t mean she’s perfect, and it fits within the genre for the main character to have deep-seated flaws. I appreciate how well-rounded Juliane was, even though I often disliked her as a person. There is an awareness of the times she is unlikeable, as well, as seen through secondary characters’ eyes and sometimes even her own self-awareness. This reassured me that they were intentional flaws and not being held up as something to strive for.

The plot was fun, putting a fiction twist on real scientific research. It takes time for some things to develop but this is well-handled with the story being split into three parts divided by time. For instance, one section detailing a scientific discovery then another 5 years later looking at its impact. The plot was well planned and managed to surprise me a few times without venturing into the realm of the ridiculous.

The only things holding me back from a 4 star rating were the dialogue and a few editing issues. The dialogue was primarily unrealistic and stiff. I do work in academia and know how scientists and researchers speak, and the way they do in this book is too stilted and formal. There were also some editing issues throughout the book, such as: using the wrong homonym, spelling errors, and words that were probably from a previous draft that no longer belonged in the sentence in the new draft. Neither of these slowed down my reading or ruined my enjoyment of the book but they did knock it down a bit. The book has a lot of good bones, and both of these are issues that could be easily addressed in the sequel, which I intend to read (I need to know what happens to Juliane!)

Overall, if you’re a scifi reader looking for fast-paced tale of scientists inventing something that could be more dangerous than they realize and would love to see that story told with a woman at the center, you should pick this book up.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for honest review

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Giveaway!

This giveaway is now over. Congrats to our winner!
There were 2 entries, one via blog comment and one via twitter, both by the same person, so she is our winner. Congrats to Katie of Doing Dewey!

Thanks to the generosity of the author, one lucky Opinions of a Wolf reader can win a copy of this ebook.

How to Enter:

  1. Leave a comment on this post stating what type of scifi story you’d like to see more women characters in.
  2. Copy/paste the following and tweet it from your public twitter. Retweets do not count:
    Enter to win THE FAIR & FOUL by @alliepottswrites, hosted by @McNeilAuthor http://buff.ly/2htJ2XG #scifi #womenauthors #giveaway
  3. Repost the Instagram giveaway announcement and tag my Instagram.
  4. Tag one of your friends on the Instagram giveaway announcement.

Each options gets you one entry. Multiple tweets/Instagram posts do not count as multiple entries.

Who Can Enter: International

Contest Ends: January 5th 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.

Book Review: Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea (Series, #1)

December 18, 2016 1 comment

Book Review: Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea (Series, #1)Summary:
Everyone in the broken-down town of Chelsea, Massachussetts, has a story too worn to repeat—from the girls who play the pass-out game just to feel like they’re somewhere else, to the packs of aimless teenage boys, to the old women from far away who left everything behind. But there’s one story they all still tell: the oldest and saddest but most hopeful story, the one about the girl who will be able to take their twisted world and straighten it out. The girl who will bring the magic.

Could Sophie Swankowski be that girl? With her tangled hair and grubby clothes, her weird habits and her visions of a filthy, swearing mermaid who comes to her when she’s unconscious, Sophie could be the one to uncover the power flowing beneath Chelsea’s potholed streets and sludge-filled rivers, and the one to fight the evil that flows there, too. Sophie might discover her destiny, and maybe even in time to save them all.

Review:
I feel like if you’re a queer person in New England, you’ve heard of this book. A magical realism read featuring queer characters and a diverse cast set not in Boston but in the nearby town of Chelsea. Its art is gorgeous, and I’ve spotted print versions of it in every single local bookstore. The locals are proud of this book, that’s for sure. With everything I’d heard and the pictures I’d seen when flipping through print copies, I was expecting something a bit different from what I got. Maybe more queer content? Maybe magical rules based in the here rather than in the “old world”? Regardless, I enjoyed it. It just wasn’t what I was expecting.

First, let’s talk about my favorite thing which was how much the author evokes the reality of the place of run-down New England towns in spite (or because of?) the magical content. My skin prickled when I read about Sophie and her best friend going to Revere Beach in the summer. It was just so damn accurate. I had a similar sensation when she talked about the feeling of being in a town that was once booming and now is struggling. There’s no doubt about it, the New England towns that were once booming from manufacturing and are now struggling simply feel dirty, and the author really evokes that. (I should know; I grew up in one). Oddly enough, this magical realism book brings out the feeling of small town struggling New England life more than a lot of realistic fiction I’ve read. If you want to know what it feels like to grow up in one of those towns, read this book.

Second, there’s the magical content. I was expecting something steeped in the local as well, but instead the magic was based entirely in countries parents and grandparents emigrated from. There’s nothing bad about that, it just wasn’t what I was expecting from a book so steeped in place. I also must admit that I found the whole vibe of “magic can only come from other places” to be a bit disappointing. America may be a young nation, but we have our own magic. I’d have liked to have seen a mix of both, rather than the magic be exlusively the domain of immigration.

Third, there’s the queer content. I think I was expecting it to take a more central role, particularly since this is ya (and was talked about a lot in the LGBTQ book reading community) but actually I found it to be more like how the local PCP just so happens to be Asian-American. It’s a thing some people just happen to be and not much is made of that. That’s not a bad thing, again, it just wasn’t what I was expecting.

Overall, this is a fun read steeped in local flavor that I recommend to anyone seeking a fantastical twist on struggling New England town life. That said, the second book in the series promises a journey to Europe, and personally what I liked best about this book was the local flavor, so I don’t think I’ll be continuing along.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: Loud is How I Love You by Mercy Brown (Series, #1)

December 16, 2016 2 comments

Book Review: Loud is How I Love You by Mercy Brown (Series, #1)Summary:
Twenty-one-year-old front girl Emmylou knows that getting her band noticed in the ‘90s indie rock scene will be no easy task. She definitely knows better than to break the number one rule of the band: Don’t sleep with your bandmates! But after she ends up having the best sex of her life with her guitarist, Travis, she finds following that rule is a lot harder than it sounds.

When the band gets the gig of their dreams, making it big seems just within reach. But Emmy’s inability to keep her hands off Travis threatens everything they’ve worked for. Can Emmy find a way to break the rules and not blow the chance of a lifetime?

Review:
It took me a moment to get past the fact that 90s now count as historic fiction. *pours one out for the 90s* But then again Fresh Off the Boat is set entirely in the 90s, much like That  70s Show, so it appears the time has come. I was not a “new adult” (refers to those post high school but pre having your shit together) in the 90s (I was solidly a kid coveting a tamagotchi) but I vaguely knew about all the fads the older kids were into like….flannel and grunge. This book oozes that, and the characters get to have the problems that arise from not having a cell phone or YouTube to promo your band. That was fun.

For those who don’t know, New Adult means to expect more sex. And oh man. The sex scenes in this book. There are a lot of them. They are explicit. I like that sort of thing, and even though I rolled my eyes occasionally at some of their more interesting bedroom pursuits (like “tattooing” with permanent marker), I still thought they were hot, well-written, within character, and, most importantly, made sense within the plot.

What I think could make people love or hate this book is the main character, Emmy. She narrates it in the first person and she is, well, she’s a 21-year-old. She makes problems where there shouldn’t be any problems. She gets all up in her head. She thinks in black and white. She is, basically, young and acts and talks like a young person. Yeah, sometimes it’s infuriating to see her fucking her own life up, but that’s realistic, especially for a character who’s supposed to be a passionate artistic type in a band. I was able to appreciate her for who she is and have faith that she’d grow and get past her issues, but I do think that not everyone would be able to see past that and enjoy it in the same way.

The series will follow other people involved in the indie rock scene, and so we’ve already met them in this book as secondary characters. I’m excited to see what hot shenanigans they get up to and hear a new voice’s take on everything going on for the various bands.

Recommended to those who want to take a visit to the 90s through the eyes of a passionate new adult.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: Grass by Sheri S. Tepper (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Dina Pearlman)


Book Review: Grass by Sheri S. Tepper (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Dina Pearlman)Summary:

Generations ago, humans fled to the cosmic anomaly known as Grass. But before humanity arrived, another species had already claimed Grass for its own. It too had developed a culture……

Now a deadly plague is spreading across the stars, leaving no planet untouched, save for Grass. But the secret of the planet’s immunity hides a truth so shattering it could mean the end of life itself.

Review:
I wanted to say “I’m sure this was super progressive when it was first published” but actually it was first published in 1989 so….actually not so much. I think if I read this in print I might have flown through it faster and not noticed how kind of all-over-the-place it was but actually…it’s kind of all-over-the-place.

First there’s the weird backwards planet that for some reason has decided to revert to medieval European ways of being in spite of being settled at some point in the future when people figured out how to travel through space and colonize planets. Then we jump back to planet Earth which has been taken over by both Catholicism and some weird new religion that I still haven’t figured out but that seems to believe in saving the soul to computers? But also has forced monk servitude?

So some Catholics go to Grass (the medieval planet) because some evil flesh-eating plague is spreading all over the galaxy and Grass is the only place that doesn’t have it. Somehow Grass is blissfully unaware of the impending plague. The Catholic family consists of the mom who used to work helping people who didn’t obey the two child mandate, the father and his mistress, and their two teenagers (one boy and one girl and the girl is of course super sullen).

Then we have a long diatribe about this weird Fox Hunt the Grassians do using entirely alien species. Riding the aliens gives the women orgasms, and this is dangerous. I couldn’t help but feel like the author had some huge problem with horseback riding, and what is with that in scifi? HORSES ARE GREAT, SCIFI WRITERS. STOP WRITING THIS PLOT. Anyway so then somehow this plot of maybe the alien Fox Hunt is saving the Grassians from the plague takes a super weird religious turn involving morals and ethics and what are the aliens actually and the Catholic lady has some weird religious dream after she whacks her head and the aliens start attacking the humans and somehow they find a scientist/doctor person in the midst of all this who can help them with the cure yadda yadda. See? All over the place.

Ultimately it’s realized that this whole thing was basically Catholic lady’s mid-life crisis, and she finally comes into her own as a result of the whole thing and wow. I just kept thinking….who is so out-of-touch with themselves that it takes this whole huge interplanetary incident to sort your shit out? In the end I sort of felt like this is the book version of that random old lady you meet on the bus who talks to you through your headphones to tell you her “tragic” life story and you sit there nodding because you think she might be just a bit coo-coo and well her story is all-over-the-place but at least it’s moderately interesting and then at the end you realize her life has been awful because she is awful.

So…..if you’re a person who didn’t sort your shit out until mid-life and you have a lot of empathy for people who claim to be trapped by their own damn choices then you’ll probably enjoy this book. Also if you have some weird problem with horseback riding you’ll probably enjoy this book.

Why three stars? Because while I found it annoying and disappointing the plot was at least interesting, it was well-written on the readability level, and it was an audiobook but I read the whole thing, so I think that’s saying something.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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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

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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

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

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