Wednesday, November 24, 2021

October/November Books

A number of my reading projects finished up at around the same time right when life got really busy, and I never wrote the reviews. Since then, all the other books I've picked up have either been duds or are children's books that I won't be reviewing. So here's some short reviews with close to a month space from when I read them...

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

- A thriller involving gentrification and the idea that it's more sinister than just upper middle class white people moving into a predominantly poor black neighborhood. 

The book moves at a decent clip with all the writing conventions designed to keep you reading. The story wasn't fully that farfetched especially as more white people are becoming aware of the systemic racism that built, shaped, and continues to exist in our country. I especially liked the resolution and who was involved in helping save the neighborhood. I don't know that thrillers are much of my wheelhouse, but this was definitely a welcome read post the book I'd read before it.

A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

- I came across this title in late September on a reddit thread of all places. Someone mentioned they read it one chapter a night every October. I had no idea what I was in for, but I grabbed it all the same.

Told from the eyes of Snuff  the dog, companion to Jack the Ripper, we discover a group of eccentrics living in the Victorian English Countryside participating in The Game. Will the Openers bring the Old Ones into the world, or will the Closers manage to keep them out? Each chapter takes place in the span of one day in October. 

This book was delightfully quirky and perfect for Spooky Season. Recognizable characters such as Dracula and Frankenstein make an appearance. The Lovecraftian influence was perfectly creepy. There was plenty of humor in the right places. I particularly enjoyed how the story unfolded as each night progressed. Reading only a chapter a night was kind of fun. It really added to the flavor of the text with the beginning of the month being set up and then having things ramp up as Halloween was around the corner. I don't know that I'll read this every October as some do, but I could pick it up again.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

While this probably should be its own review, it took me almost two years to read this book with some hefty breaks in between. It started out strong for me. I was invested in the characters and wanted to see what would happen. There was even some humor in the writing. But then we'd get to Levin's chapters and the treatises on Russian farming, and I found myself losing interest. 

Levin's Arc: I felt that I needed a primer on late 19th century Russian history while reading his arc. Obviously there was a lot about tradition vs. modernization that played into his story, but knowing little about the politics and social climate at the time in Russia, I found myself just bored with the arc. But in the end, he found happiness, and I'm glad the book ended with his happy though a bit morally preachy story.

Anna's Arc: Ooof. So much drama! And so much hypocrisy. Seriously? Oblonsky can sleep with all the women and still be in society but Anna cannot! I know. 19th century and gender etc... But Anna. Oh my goodness Anna! It seemed like she chose the most self-destructive action at every turn to the point where she ended up killing herself. And boy did Tolstoy make her as unlikeable as possible. 

In the end, I feel like this book would have gone better for me had I read up a bit on the time period, and if I had read it in a shorter time span. There was just so much information to keep up with! I didn't find any of the characters particularly enjoyable. And while that shouldn't be criteria for a book being good or not, it can make it difficult to enjoy the book.

Since reading it, I'm finding many mentions of how amazing this novel is. Much like Count of Monte Cristo and Wuthering Heights, I feel as though I'm missing something. Perhaps the issue really is that I just don't like reading unlikeable characters. 

Up next on my nightstand are a couple fantasy books that I'm looking forward to. We'll see what comes of those!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

Title: Smoke
Author: Dan Vyleta
Pages: 448
Finished: August 2021

A bit of a lighter review here. I read this back in August and never wrote about it, but by now my thoughts are a bit more fleeting. 

I picked the book up due to the premise. The idea that smoke issues from people when they lie or sin. Between that and the Dickensian feel of the novel, I was intrigued. 

The book moved quickly enough. I kept reading in order to find out more. However, I feel like what I expected the book to be was different than it actually was. I was more interested in bits that were mentioned but not pursued. Perhaps the sequel explains more of what I'm looking for, but I'm not interested enough to move forward with it. 

Monday, August 2, 2021

The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker

Title: The Hidden Palace
Author: Helene Wecker
Pages: 469
Finished: August 1, 2021

First Sentence: Of all the myriad races of thinking creatures in the world, the two that most delight in telling stories are the flesh-and-blood humans and the long-lived, fiery jinn.

Summary: The Golem, Chava and the Jinni, Ahmad continue their exploration of humanity following the events of the first book. The Jinni pushes Chava to do things for herself while Chava tries to get the Jinni to actually care about others around him. Meanwhile, Sophia Wilkes travels to Syria to try and find a cure for her illness, eschewing her family name in the process. News of the Ironbound Jinni Travels through the Jinni communities, capturing the interest of a jinniyeh who's immune to iron. And in New York, a girl helps her father build a Golem. Over the course of 15 years, their stories intertwine set in the backdrop of the early 20th century. 

Thoughts: I read this book in two days. Much like the first one, it swept me along it's journey and didn't let go until I finished it. Wecker's writing style is very lyrical which always draws me in. The addition of the mystical over a very detailed real world is very compelling as well. Her characters are well thought out and develop well through the story. Her sense of place is fantastic. This is a stunning follow-up to The Golem and the Jinni. Honestly, I don't know what else to say other than go read it. After reading the first one of course.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Five Books

I've read plenty in the past few months. Instead of giving full reviews for each one (considering some were from months ago and have fuzzied out a bit in my mind) I'll put some thoughts here.

The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin

- Essun knows she must travel to the other side of the world in order to catch the moon even as she helps Castrima make their way to Rennanis. Nassun and Schaffa, meanwhile, make their way to Corepoint in order to break the world. Meanwhile Hoa takes us to his past with the story of how the Seasons started.

Dedication: To those who've survived: Breathe. That's it. Once more. Good. You're good. Even if you're not, you're alive. That is a victory.

Much like the first two, I found myself compelled to read to the end and figure out what the hell had happened to this world even through the ugliness of the characters. In particular, I was very interested in the story Hoa told of how he and his people broke the world and became the first Stone Eaters. The mirrors between his life and Essun's were interesting to catch though depressing when one realizes that few things change. People dislike those who are different. They distrust those who are different. And they will do horrible things to those they think they are better than. 

The book concluded the story satisfactorily for me. I definitely recommend this to anyone who likes dark, high fantasy. But be prepared because it is dark.

The Memory Theater by Karen Tidbeck

- The denizens of The Gardens spend all their time partying, playing croquet, and hunting their servants whose time has come to an end. Dora and Thistle escape the gardens even as Thistle's mistress is cast out for bringing Time to the Gardens. It's up to Dora and Thistle to find Augusta to retrieve Thistle's real name, while Augusta will do just about anything to make her way back to The Gardens.

Another dark fantasy, this one tells of a world outside of ours. A Fairyland of sorts. Though the people who live in this world of Faerie, known as the Gardens, are cruel. The Gardens part of the plot is somewhat disheartening and definitely not for those with a weak stomach. However, once the main characters escape from the garden, things pick up. I particularly enjoyed seeing the titular theatre. 

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

- The Swan Inn on the Thames is famous for its storytelling. One Midwinter's Eve, the locals gather around to listen, only to be interrupted by an injured man carrying a corpse. Hours later, the corpse comes to life as a girl. A girl who's claimed by three different families. 

This one was hard to put down. In general, the writing style was lovely. It felt like I was reading a fairy tale or legend even though it's a modern book set in turn-of-the-century England.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
- Chava, a golem made of clay to serve a master, finds herself masterless in New York at the turn of the century. Ahmed, a jinni from Syria, also finds himself in New York with his only memories from his life thousands of years ago. Both feel out of place as they struggle to find their way in this giant city where they don't fit in.

Blech... that's a horrible summary for an exquisite book. This is a reread as the second book is coming out this year. I neglected so many of my responsibilities in order to read this! Wecker writes a compelling story about two very lost people. I thought her cast of characters to be very interesting. I particularly enjoyed how everyone came together by the end. Poor Chava is particularly interesting. The Golem only wishes to help everyone, but to do so would completely give away that she's not human. And so she's stuck helping as she can without being noticeable. I really liked how she rubbed off a bit on the jinni as well. I have the second book on hold for whenever it is that it arrives. 

The Witch's Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

- A witch refuses to tell Odin the information he wants about the end of the world. As punishment, her heart is torn out of her body and she's burnt at the stake three times. The witch crawls to the edge of the forest where Loki gives her back her heart. She renames herself Angroboda, and there she makes a home for herself, Loki, when he visits, and her eventual children. But Odin is a hard man to deceive and it's only a matter of time before he gets what he wants.

This one started off a bit rough for me. The flyleaf (and my description) make it seem like Angroboda's punishment is a huge part of the book. In reality, it's mentioned in the first couple of pages to set the scene. As Boda's relationship with Loki starts out, it felt very immature. In fact, I was struggling with the very YA feel of the book. However, once her children were born, I found myself more invested.

The story is a retelling of Norse mythology events from the point of view of Angroboda. Her view of the gods is a very negative one. The book moved slower than I expected. Recommended for fans of mythological retellings particularly from a women's perspective.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Children's Books Read in March

The Golden Specific by S. E. Grove

Book 2 in the Mapmakers Trilogy. This was incredibly compelling, and I could not put it down. I found it to be a great continuation of the story with a satisfying ending point for part of the story. I'm still fascinated by this world and the different Ages. 

The Crimson Skew by S. E. Grove

The conclusion to The Mapmakers Trilogy. This book takes place almost immediately after the second part. I found the storylines to fall in line quite nicely though I do feel that two side characters were a bit forgotten. Still, the trilogy concluded satisfactorily for me. I'd definitely recommend the entire trilogy to middle grade fantasy readers.

Cathedral of Bones by A. J. Steiger

A horror novel in the Lovecraftian Mythos. I picked it up actually thinking it was fantasy, and I suppose it does kind of fit that bill. But it's more horror. A little slow to start, but once the main character left town, things picked up. The book is billed as Middle Grade but I definitely feel it's more 7th grade and up. Main character is 16 and the storyline is pretty dark. A good bridge for kids wanting more than the standard middle grade affair but not quite ready for YA.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin

Title: The Obelisk Gate
Author: N. K. Jemisin
Pages: 391
Finished: March 17, 2021

First Sentence: Hm. No. I'm telling this wrong.

Summary: As Essun struggles to fit in at Castrima, the Comm is threatened by an Equatorial Comm that wants nothing to do with orogenes or roggas. Meanwhile, her daughter Nassun finds shelter in Found Moon with Schaffa, the corrupted Guardian.

Thoughts: The dedication in this one is "To those who have no choice but to prepare their children for the battlefield."

This book picks up almost entirely where the first book left off though we now add Nassun's story into the mix. I feel about her much the way I feel about all the other characters. I may sympathize with how things have happened, but I don't find her all that likeable. 

This book is a strange balancing act of compelling and depressing. The world-building is top notch and I really want to see what these obelisks are and how Essun is going to solve everything that's happening. There's a number of mysteries at play that will hopefully fall into place in the third novel. And there's a Revolution brewing that I desperately want to end happily.

The prejudice, the hate, and the acts of violence that come from that are just depressing. I don't trust most of the characters, and I start crying when certain bits come across. Which is the point. I must say, Jemisin manages to really do a fantastic job of portraying the anger of a class of people who've been enslaved, mistreated, and attacked simply because they're different. But if you're not looking for that, then this may not be the book for you.

After finishing this book, I immediately started the final in the trilogy. I'm so very curious to see where this is all headed.

Monday, March 15, 2021

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Title: The Fifth Season
Author: N. K. Jemisin
Pages: 449
Finished: March 7, 2021

First Sentence: Let's start with the end of the world, why don't we?

Summary: This is the story of Damaya, a young orogene sent to the Fulcrum for her ability to control rock. This is the story of Syenite, a 4-ringed orogene sent to be a mate to the mighty ten-ringed orogene Alabaster. This is the story of Essun, orogene in hiding who must hunt for her husband, the man who killed her son all while the world ends.

Thoughts: The book opens with the body of a toddler who was beaten to death by his father. I have to admit, I considered dropping the book then and there. It's not a happy image, nor is it one I particularly want in books I read for fun. I pressed on, however. The prologue includes someone ripping the world apart by controlling the bedrock of the continent, a boy made of rock being born out of a geode, and a woman who must enact revenge on her husband. Happy stuff.

This isn't the happiest of books, but I found myself engrossed in the story. Right off the bat, this is a book with its own world, its own vocabulary, and its own social system. It's not explicitly spelled out either. There's a glossary in the back, and with careful reading, you can pick it up fairly quickly, but if you don't like that, this may not be for you. 

If, however, you're of fan of worldbuilding, then this could be right up your alley. It's billed as an epic fantasy, but I feel it runs into more dystopia than anything. The world they live in is clearly a far-future version of our world

The characters are frustrating. All of them were a bit tough for me to like. I don't know that you have to like a character to make a book rewarding, but I found them to be on the acerbic and standoffish side. Of course, it did make sense considering they were members of what is essentially an enslaved people. And those that enslaved them are such masters of gaslighting it makes your skin crawl.

The writing style was interesting. Two of the characters' POVs were in the third person while the third was in the second person. I've never read a book in second person POV. It took a few chapters to figure it out. 

N. K. Jemisin is a black author. Her dedication reads  "For all those who have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question." She's also described herself as an author who likes "to write about ordinary people -- all kids of ordinary people -- in extraordinary situations, preferably in non-Earth worlds which nevertheless reflect our own. I'm trying to write decolonized fiction, for our postcolonial world. And at the end of the day I just want to tell a good story" (from her author blurb on Amazon). It's very clear that that's what she's doing with people in power controlling others. And it's interesting to see what happens when the controlled end up in communities where they can control themselves.

Also interesting to note, the characters are default darker-skinned. This is one of those things that shouldn't be surprising, but if you read enough fantasy, it seems in general that characters tend to be default white, so that was cool to see once I figured it out. I was also pleased to see LGBTQIA+ representation as well. 

The book ends on a cliff-hanger so if you find yourself enjoying it, make sure you have the second one either checked-out or on hold already so you can keep moving along. I have a feeling the books are going to move along as one big story.

I'd recommend this for anyone who enjoys epic fantasy or dystopia and maybe even sci-fi fans.