The Stone Sky, N.K. Jemisin

Well, I can’t believe it’s come to this. I so dearly loved The Fifth Season. It was the best book I’d read in years. The Obelisk Gate was ALSO pretty frigging good– they both have five star ratings from me. Regrettably…. I did not finish The Stone Sky. I read The Obelisk Gate in five days or something over Christmas last year, and started The Stone Sky shortly after in January. Well, it’s Christmas again. After picking this book up multiple times, putting it down, forcing myself to pick it back up, putting it down again (etc), I’ve come to the conclusion that I will never make it past page 159, and that’s ok.

To be quite frank with you all, this book is boring as shit. At the 1/3 mark, we’d walked through the woods, walked down some roads, walked toward a desert, chatted, and had flash backs. Not only do I LOATHE flashbacks normally, but when they are super boring intricately detailed flashbacks about obscure metaphysical theories, then I DOUBLE LOATHE them. Anyway I have to be honest, I read a summary online about the rest of this book since I was SO torn on giving up on it (I tried for a WHOLE YEAR!!!!!), and even reading the summary was super boring??? The summary (past where I had gotten so far in the book) was 2 paragraphs and one full paragraph was detailing flashbacks… COME ON!

Suffice it to say if you are like me and can’t stand slow-paced books, this isn’t the one for you. It was chock full of infodumps via conversation and flashback. If you are REALLY a true lover of worldbuilding who doesn’t mind a lack of action, and you enjoyed the first two, hit this book up. If you can’t stand being bored until your eyes rot out of your skull, read the summary.

La Belle Sauvage, Phillip Pullman

La Belle Sauvage the first book in a new series by Philip Pullman and a prequel to his super popular and awesome His Dark Materials trilogy. I understand that The Book of Dust will also be a trilogy. The first book follows a boy who gets drawn into some shadowy underworld stuff because a sweet little infant, Lyra, is living at the priory near his parent’s pub/inn, and he gets caught up in the adventure or whatever.

Disclaimer: I found this book super boring and the characters uninteresting. And following that, confession: I don’t remember the main character’s name . LOL. Martin maybe? John? I dunno, he had a boring little boy name because he was a boring little boy. This book isn’t ultimately awful, it just doesn’t intrigue the way the first series does. Perhaps my hopes were set too high. The most exciting parts of this book are parts when characters we recognize make small appearances, such as Lord Asriel (aka love of 12 year old Heather’s life). Otherwise, none of the new characters really inspired me to care about them much, except maybe the old nuns who were so sweet. There’s an interesting villain dude, who’s super insane and beats his own daemon (!?!?!), but because this is a YA book, Pullman doesn’t really go full-dark on us. Instead we get merely a glimpse of this dude’s true depravity. It’s like, go hard or go home, you know? And it kinda feels as though Mr. Pullman just wanted to go home.

Plot-wise, this book suffers from being split into two distinct plots, but not really being clear on that front. We spend an ETERNITY slumming it around whatever little podunk English suburb our main character lives in, and then by the time we are finally like, adventuring, the adventure takes TOO goddamn long and is SO boring. Like, are we going to London or not? Why have we stopped at every small island along the way and had inane and stupid adventures? You really spend a LOT of time in a boat with these characters, which might be bearable if the characters were likable or interesting, but as I’ve previously established, they aren’t.

What this book does WELL is the sort of political maneuvering that was awesome in His Dark Materials. There are little children-led spy organizations wherein children rat out their friend’s parents for certain behaviours, beliefs, etc, which is a super sinister way of monitoring the citizenship. I mean… they’re kids. They’re everywhere.

Ultimately I give this book a cat-sleeping-all-day: pretty much what the cat was gonna do anyway. Not good, not bad.

Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan Maguire

“Every Heart A Doorway” by Seanan Maguire was a light, fun read but really rather disappointing. Even though it won like a billion fantasy awards. It has a really awesome premise. The main character is attending a school for those children (mostly girls) who find themselves drawn into- and then out of- other worlds, and helps them learn to cope with life in our world afterwards. And of course there’s lots of delicious little tidbits about the other worlds which is very interesting. So, with the premise being that tantalizing, your mind is racing and you’re like WOW, there’s so much amazing stuff that you could do with this, you want to know more, you want to read all about the other cool worlds and you’re really impressed by the vision and how the worlds are categorized. There’s High Nonsense, High Logic, High Magic, etc, like every possible fairyworld is possible to get to. And I mean, from a mental health standpoint, what DOES happen if you go to Narnia and you can’t ever go back? But the story ends up being just a basic murder mystery, so you’re like.. Eh…

The main character doesn’t even go through much of a journey on her way to the end of the book. I can’t REMEMBER HER NAME right now and I read it like three days ago. Lydia? Sarah? I honestly would have to find the book. So the main character is probably the least interesting of the cast, and doesn’t develop like, at all, but the other characters were various shades of cliche, and only Jack seems to make any forward progress. Every Heart A Doorway did have a diverse cast in the way of having one trans character (who was kicked out of a fairyland when they discovered he wasn’t a princess), the main character is asexual, and some other characters cross-dress. (And one of them has a girlfriend who is a skeleton ……???) It ends up being like a buddy-buddy team up to uncover the mystery, (and dispose of some bodies), and then at the end (TOTAL SPOILERS), Lydia/sarah/main girl, ends up going back through her doorway (fairyland portal or whatever) to the Halls of the Dead where she will be happy(?).  I even feel kind of guilty ragging on the book, like maybe I should just appreciate it for what it was? But you’re like OMGGG, the potential, the whole time you’re reading it.

So even though it’s like a quick light romp (if you don’t count the brutal murders), there’s obviously some heavy themes as people are coping with being totally unable to return to a place that really resonated with them.Mostly their parents think they are actually insane after their experiences, so that’s pretty rough. But the themes were presented heavy handedly imo so you’re like rolling your eyes.

It reminded me of heavily of The Invisible Library series, with their ordering of different worlds as High Reason/High Chaos, and obviously of the Magicians, and Quinn’s obsession with returning to Fillory. The Invisible Library is of a similar quality (like- just not that good? but still enjoyable?) and The Magicians is much better but not YA. Every Heart a Doorway is like YA quality/text but .. brutal murders, lots of ’em, so I’m not even sure how to classify it.

 

Still interested in  Every Heart a Doorway? Find it on Amazon

Rather delve into the epic world of The Magicians & sequels? —> Click here

Ooo, the Invisible Library sounds good?! —> Find it here

City of Lost Fortunes, Bryan Camp

THIS BOOK… my people, this book is what urban fantasy is all about. City of Lost Fortunes follows Jude, whose uncanny gift for finding lost things gets him tangled up in a high stakes game played by the gods. I definitely recommend people keep a watch out for this book, set to release April 17. It’s Bryan Camp’s debut novel as well, which means I am gonna be keeping an eye out for whatever he has coming next.

Something I can’t gush enough about is how perfectly the urban part of urban fantasy is emphasized in this book. New Orleans is basically a character in and of itself, struggling to recover after the devastation of Katrina six years prior to the start of the novel. I loved that the New Orleans itself, its history, its vibe, was so prominent both in the lore and the plot of this book. It matters that it takes place in New Orleans. Katrina is a constant shadow over the characters and the story. It’s obvious that Camp is a New Orleans native—you can see it in the little details and the offhanded way the characters knew the vibe of the different parts of the city.

Camp writes a really vibrant and exciting fantasy culture too—gods and demigods make up the cast, with the occasional human thrown in. What I liked best about the cast is that Camp strikes a perfect balance between all-powerful terrifying gods and simply fun to read characters who it’s not uncomfortable for other characters to interact with. Of course Haitian Vodou was a significant aspect of the lore, but there were whole other pantheons of gods and demigods as well, and they intermingle pretty seamlessly.

I have literally only ONE complaint with this book, and that would be Camp’s insistence on starting every chapter with a couple of super vague paragraphs that I think are meant to be deep/insightful but mostly just annoyed me because it takes you out of the plot a bit. I did have to muscle my way past those, especially in the beginning before I was really into the book, but I am so SO glad I did.

Despite that this book continues to rack up the points in other areas: cool lady characters who don’t bone our scallywag protagonist (even though I was kinda cheering him on at some points…); no End of World Prophecies—just a dude trying to save his city and his own ass; definitely could be standalone; talking dogs (!!!); AND, importantly, villains who are just… gross. And creepy. It makes a huge difference in a novel if the reader is genuinely creeped out by the villains, and I WAS.

Honestly, set your alarms for April 17. This book earns the rarely seen 5 paws up. Find it for pre-order on Amazon.

**I received an advanced reviewers copy of this book. The contents of this review are my honest opinion.

Carry On, Rainbow Rowell

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a novel in possession of a YA plot, must be in want of a Chosen One. Unfortunately for Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, Simon is like, the Worst Chosen One Ever. This is good news for us readers though because it makes for a really hilarious and entertaining book.

So Carry On can kinda be summed up as gay Harry Potter if Harry was actually pretty crap at being a wizard and Harry/Draco was a thing outside the world of fanfiction. The fact that it’s a HP spoof doesn’t take away from the novel though. Some spoofs you can’t read without constantly thinking of the original, but despite the obvious similarities in setup, I found it very easy to immerse myself in this world and not constantly be thinking of how X or Y thing relates to the source text. There were only two real exceptions. There’s at least one character who is basically just a HP character with her name changed (but since it’s Hermione who is one of the best HP characters it is nice to spend more time with her). Some of the plot twists were a little predictable, not so much because they were unoriginal as because I could kind of figure out exactly which Harry Potter tropes were going to be subverted. Still, I really liked the story that evolved and I wouldn’t have wanted the plot to go a less predictable way because I appreciated the message that came out of it.

The relationships (platonic, romantic, and familial) and characterizations in this novel were beautifully done. Simon is definitely a teenage boy, but even when he was doing stupid teenage boy stuff it felt very honest and justifiable. I didn’t have the usual YA reading experience of being like “OH, MY, GOD, I know you’re a teenager but you can’t be THAT stupid!!” I genuinely got where Simon was coming from and appreciated the ride watching him grow along the way, which I think is indicative of masterful writing. The romance was cute and ultimately believable since I can totally buy that two teenage boys would actually be that dense in their romantic approach to one another.

Really enjoyable read for people who like easy, quirky YA fantasy and good LGBTQ+ rep! I rate this book sunbathing kitten slowly moving across the floor to stay in the light through the window because that’s what I was for the bulk of the afternoon refusing to put this book down.

Interested? Find Carry On on Amazon.

 

Caraval, Stephanie Garber

Stephanie Garber’s Caraval is the story of Scarlett, who enters a dangerous, confusing game– the Caraval– in order to find her missing sister. Along the way there’s some intrigue, romance, and even a little bit of magic. I heard so many good things about this book. It was one of the finalists for the GoodReads Choice Awards, and it’s been all over most of the book blogs I enjoy. I can see why people love Caraval, but for me, it didn’t live up to the hype.

I love the concept behind Caraval. The game itself was a delight to read. The contestants follow clues to lead them to the final prize, but the world of Caraval works in strange ways and it’s difficult to know who can be trusted, since some players will do whatever it takes to win. On top of that, the mystery of the Caraval’s master, a man named Legend, keeps you guessing throughout the novel.

What sucks most about the novel is the same thing that sucks about most YA novels: the romance. I’m super over novels where young girls fall for dark, mysterious, brooding guysHoney, he’s just a douchebag, and revealing alternative explanations for someone’s crappy behaviour after the fact doesn’t justify those behaviours or make them any less crappy. “Cool motive, still murder,” right? On top of that, the romance– or lack thereof– was super dull. There is literally zero genuine chemistry between Scarlett and Julian. The moments where Scarlett questions whether or not she likes him come at you out of left field because there’s literally nothing preceeding them that would give her reason to like him, other than his pretty face.

The ending of Caraval left a lot to be desired for me, as well. There were a ton of twists and reveals which is normally cool, but multiple times I felt like, “wow she really went there! gutsy!” and then Garber pops up and she’s all “nyeaahhh! psych!!” The ending we get is ultimately too safe and too boring for me, considering what we could have had.

Caraval will definitely remain a hit with certain types of readers. If you like your romance steamy if not necessarily with much substance, if you’re into intrigue and puzzles, or if you’re a sucker for happy endings, this may be the book for you. A fun and fast read, definitely, but a little too on the light side for me. I rate this book: poolside-lounging cat…. 3 and half stars.

Have a poolside snooze with Caraval, on Amazon.

A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne was fun to review. I am a lover of urban fantasy so I’ve been familiar with Kevin Hearne for his super long Iron Druid series. I have to admit that I wasn’t a big fan of Iron Druid. It felt like a less interesting Dresden Files.  Anyways, given my previous lack of interest for Hearne’s most famous work I was a bit leery of A Plague of Giants but I shouldn’t have worried cuz it was a-maaaaazing.

The basic premise is that a bard is telling a city of refugees after a bloody war the story of how they got there, all the key players who contributed to them overcoming not one, but two invasions by giants from across the sea. The bard tells his story through several people who played key roles in the war, so there are several POV’s. Usually the problem I have with multiple POV’s is that there is always one character who is much more interesting than the rest. Abbi quickly grew to be that character even though he was a very boring pacifist at first. Fortunately all of the characters were interesting in different ways so you weren’t like “UGH, a Cersei chapter”; you wanted to read them all. I also love that the cast was diverse and it wasn’t just all young hot straight warriors. There are scholars, merchants, stoneshapers, warriors, bards, warlords and viceroys among the POV characters. I was most excited to read about Abbi, a boy on the cusp of a huge discovery, and Nel, because she is Nel and she is amazing.

The magic system in A Plague of Giants is basically that there people can receive kennings or blessings which grant magical powers. To get them, seekers go to a place where they believe the god is testing them. There’s a good chance of catching death, but if you don’t die you can get some sweet powers. The first kenning, mastery of fire, can be gained from jumping into lava pools. The second kenning you get by throwing yourself into an underwater tunnel/cave, if you don’t drown, congrats you’re blessed. Throw yourself off a cliff to get air blessed, etc.  Surrender yourself to the roots of a tree which will either eat you or bless you.  Within each  kenning there is specialities, some better suited for war and some better suited for building/healing/transportation/what have you. Within the water kenning for example, you can be a hygienist, who can purify water, detect and cure infections and diseases; a “rapid”, who can manipulate water and swim extremely quickly by becoming part of the water, or a tidal mariner- super strong warriors who can manipulate water and possesses great destructive power.

Each blessing site is in a different country, and their societies have been shaped around these different kennings. This was reflected in the choice of language of the PoV characters and was a nice touch. The writing is great- moves fast, describes enough, each character felt unique. The POV characters all mostly drift together into two groups around two major events which shaped the “victory” of the war, but there are rumblings that a civil war may be happening and that the plague of giants might not be totally eradicated. This sets you up perfectly for another book, which I can’t wait to read because I really want to read more about the way Hearne imagines the magic system operating. Altogether, I give this book the highest possible rating.  This is another book that made my poor cats orphans.

MOMMMM

Check out A Plague of Giants on Amazon.

Moroda, L.L. McNeil book review

 

Moroda is L.L. McNeil’s self-published debut. In Moroda we have a high fantasy novel that essentially follows a ragtag band of travellers who’ve come together by accident, swept into a war that pits races and nations against one another. While McNeil has all the most basic elements of an excellent fantasy here—vivid world-building, a strong cast of characters, and a decent story to tell—it is obvious from the start what this novel is missing: a good editor. I think 90% of the complaints I have for this book could be solved if McNeil found herself a professional editor.

The strengths of this novel lie in the foundation McNeil has laid down. The world she’s built is expansive, and she’s accounted for culture and history that influences the current climate our characters exist in. There’s some incredibly interesting lore especially DRAGON GODS (well… kind of…). Anyone who has read my reviews know I appreciate a good dragon tale, and Moroda does not disappoint in that regard. There’s an extremely interesting cast of characters. It’s an ensemble cast, with one main character and several “supporting mains.” I have a tendency to gravitate toward characters who are persecuted, so I immediately took to Kohl and Sapora as my favourites.

Another thing I really want to draw positive attention to about this novel is that it was unpredictable. There’s an obvious enemy set up, but the solutions the characters used to fight him weren’t ones that I would have guessed, which can be hard to find in a fantasy novel nowadays. Additionally, the different political styles and cultural norms of the different races made for a lot of seemingly “wildcard” events, because we are looking at very different groups of people interacting with one another.

The big issues I have with this book are almost all technical, and most of it, I feel, would be solved if the author invested in an editor with a good grasp on characters/characterization. The pacing needs tightening up; in particular, there are times where there’s excessive exposition done through dialogue, and I think it would be better if the author were to let the characters discover some things on their own rather than having other characters explain it to them. Because of the ensemble cast, it sometimes is hard to really determine who’s narrating, i.e. it switches very suddenly from one character’s POV to another to the point where it feels like the author didn’t want to do the work of having character A guess/develop insight regarding character B’s motives, so she simply switched POVs and described what’s going through character B’s head. Character motives also aren’t always clear, or the author hints at them but doesn’t actually convince me that the character’s actions make sense given the explained motive, especially with Moroda and Eryn’s initial involvement in the whole thing. The motive is there– there’s nothing left for them in their hometown, they’re desperate and alone– but instead of further developing this meaningful, deeper motive (which would be far more convincing), the author kind of falls back on having them chase after a few coins. Some characters are also just under-developed, but this I think is because McNeil is grappling with a large cast of central characters. I’m excited to see that one of the characters I consider under-developed is the lead of the next novel, so hopefully we will get to know him better then.

Ultimately this book was definitely worth the read, despite the technical issues.  I think McNeil is a very creative and promising author and I’m looking forward to the next installment in this series, though I’d like to see her grow as an author and put forward a more polished product next time. Verdict: one cautiously optimistic kitten waiting on the next book.

 

Interested? Moroda is available on Amazon.

Updraft, Fran Wilde

So Updraft by Fran Wilde (see on Amazon || see on Goodreads) follows a young girl, Kirit, through her initiation into a powerful… agency? group? I dunno– the Singers, who supposedly keeps her people safe. This is a novel, so obviously she uncovers an Evil Plot, and we the readers are dragged along for the merry ride. I enjoyed this book, actually a fair bit more than I expected.

Wilde crafts a brilliant world here, and since it should be obvious to anyone who reads these dumb reviews that worldbuilding is something I put a lot of stake in, this book gets major points for that alone. Our characters live high in the sky, in bone towers that can be grown taller using the magic of the Singers. They fly using wings that they strap to their backs. The city has a complex culture, each tower specializing in different things. This is not so well-developed as other aspects, mostly because Kirit spends the bulk of her time in the center of the city, rather than out in it. The worldbuilding is without a doubt the best part of this novel, because I can honestly say a lot of the other aspects are kind of mediocre.

None of the characters are particularly compelling or, erm… well-characterized, as it were, except maybe Kirit herself and one or two others. A lot of the characters are sort of two-dimensional and dull, and there were very few characters that I was really rooting for or would have been really devastated to see die. Those character deaths that did occur mostly got a “huh, ok” from me.

The pacing is, at the beginning of the book, dreadfully boring. You have to read a lot of shit you can just tell isn’t really going to factor into the main plot later, and it’s mostly an exercise in frustration. However, once we get into the action things become a lot more interesting. The main outline of the mystery of this book is easily solved from about 3 miles away, if not all the little details like how exactly things happened in the past. But the major revelation about the Singers’ most awful deed is one I literally spotted within the first chapter, like genuinely within the first few pages of the books. And that’s the big reveal so like… that kinda sucked, but I also felt really satisfied with myself and super smart so. Win/lose I guess.

I think I’m making this book sound worse than it is, because I want it to be clear that this was definitely an enjoyable read, even if it’s not one of my favourites ever. This book is what a teacher of mine once called “a poolside read”. You’re just chilling by the pool, kinda reading, kinda sunbathing, you don’t have to think too much, y’know? Twilight stuff. Pulp fiction, as it were. It’s the first of a series but can be read as a standalone, which always leads me to give a book a little more respect. I also have to say that this book has something really unique that is so hard to find in fantasy novels: this book ain’t about saving the world. Kirit doesn’t have a mythical quest of epic proportions. She’s just a girl with a talent that made her useful to the Singers, and she wants to do right by the people of her city. It’s low-key fantasy, which is so hard to find and so refreshing to read.

While technically lacking in elements like characterization and pacing, I do ultimately think this book deserves 4/5 cats because it’s easy to read and enjoyable, and because the worldbuilding is spot on and nobody’s gotta save the world or fulfill any prophecies.

A God in the Shed, J. F. Dubeau

When I read the description of God in the Shed by J. F. Dubeau, (see on Amazon || see on Goodreads) – ” The village of Saint-Ferdinand has all the trappings of a quiet life: farmhouses stretching from one main street, a small police precinct, a few diners and cafés, and a grocery store. Though if an out-of-towner stopped in, they would notice one unusual thing―a cemetery far too large and much too full for such a small town, lined with the victims of the Saint-Ferdinand Killer, who has eluded police for nearly two decades. It’s not until after Inspector Stephen Crowley finally catches the killer that the town discovers even darker forces are at play.” –  I was like, HOLY CRAP, this is going to be awesome. Rural Quebec setting? A God trapped in a shed? Decades of crazy serial killings?? Sign me up! The premise seemed amazing but I was just let down after reading this book. I felt like I was reading one of the shitty serials on /r/nosleep that are like “I found a god in my shed… Part 18!” Where they keep obviously making it up as they go and incorporating whatever the highest upvoted idiot in the comments suggests they should do. I don’t really recommend you read this book, so, spoilers ahead.

First thing that turned me off was it was just gory for no reason and people start to be okay with it??? Like the evil “god” at the center of the book is making a big disgusting mural ~made out of people~ which apparently attracts/traps souls which is his ultimate goal. Like he makes it out of birds, part of someone’s cat, the main character’s DAD, and theyre like “It’s so beautiful…” Umm no it’s just made out of intestines and shit. It’s gross. Don’t play with that. The main character is like thiiiiiis close to making deals with the god through most of this and you’re like NO??? I thought you’re supposed to be smart???

The other thing is that EVERYONE dies. Like seriously do not get attached to ANYONE. I’m not even sure how enough people keep populating this town, the death count is so high. So you become a bit blasé to people dying after a bit, because nobody is safe. I got bored of people dying in horrible ways, that’s how bad it was.

One of the main characters is established as like a straight laced hard nosed cop or something but then he just goes nuts for no reason as “it all falls apart around him” (Thanks to some teenagers? Come on…)

All in all it was a pretty disappointing read and I felt could have been a lot better. I did enjoy the writing but didn’t think it was too remarkable. I did want to keep reading and find out what happened but I felt like it went towards an inevitable and obvious conclusion. I don’t even have much to say about the main character, Venus, as she was also pretty unremarkable, an average kid who rebels against her parents and is “destined” to save the town….

Yawwwnnnn.