Tag Archives: book review

Book Review: In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

Book review: In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire (4.25 stars)

If you’re not already reading Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, it’s one I’d highly recommend. It’s a series of novellas that explores the adventures as well as the consequences of portal fantasy, where children are spirited away from our world to other, stranger worlds better suited to their individual natures, and then are often forced to return to reality afterwards and deal with the loss of the world they have been made to abandon. In An Absent Dream is the fourth installment of this series, which has followed different main characters in every iteration, and focuses on a girl named Lundy and her escape into the rule-bound yet treacherous world of the Goblin Market. There, deals and bargains are struck according to the invisible hand of the concept of fair value, and incurring too much debt means losing pieces of your humanity.

It’s hard to say for sure, since I’m a big fan of the Wayward Children series as a whole, but I think that In An Absent Dream is my new favorite of the four books. It’s probably because I identified more with Lundy, our protagonist, more than I have with previous characters. Like many of us bookworms, I grew up reading constantly, like Lundy; like Lundy, I also tended to follow the rules and do well in school, although I also always searched for loopholes and ways to be creative while still staying out of trouble. When I was younger, I also believed strongly in karma, our world’s version of the concept of fair value–that the actions you put out into the world would eventually come back around to you, if not always directly, then in some form or another. And so I loved reading about the intricacies of the rules governing the Goblin Market and about Lundy falling into deeper understanding of them as she grows older.

Books that fall into the category of fairytale retellings or re-imaginings of classic concepts like portal fantasy can sometimes struggle with whether to imagine a retelling that is darker or sweeter than the tales they pay homage to. In the case of In An Absent Dream, I thought that Seanan McGuire perfectly balanced the wonder and beauty of a traditional portal fantasy with the darker edges of growing up in a world where even the concept of fairness itself may not even be truly fair. The result is a story that becomes more and more urgent as Lundy gradually approaches the age of eighteen, where she will be forced to permanently choose between the real world and the Goblin Market, which seems to have become her true home. It’s a story that feels true in the way that great fantasy literature sometimes can, because it makes a strange kind of sense; my only wish is that it could have been longer, and some of Lundy’s adventures in the Market explored further. I’d highly recommend this book and series to fans of portal fantasy and books like In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, and the Magicians series by Lev Grossman, that lovingly critique and explore classic tropes of the genre while making them into something entirely new.

 

Thank you so much to the YA Cafe Podcast and to Tor.com publishing for the opportunity to win an ARC of In An Absent Dream.

December Reading Wrap-Up

December ended up being a busier and less reading-heavy month than I anticipated, but that’s okay, since I did finish the two books that my goal was to read and review. I celebrate Chrismakkuh, which means that there are generally a lot of holiday-related things going on throughout the month of December–even more so this year, as Hanukkah and Christmas were so far apart. But overall, it was a good reading end to 2018, especially as I managed to sneak in one last book from my top 10 TBR for the year as my last book for 2018.

Stats:

Total books finished: 5

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Audiobooks: 0

ebooks: 0

A Very Large Expanse of SeaThe Nine (Thieves of Fate, #1)AutonomousThe Similars by Rebecca HanoverThe Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill

Reviews:

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill (4.25 stars) – The Lonely Hearts Hotel follows simultaneously lucky and unlucky orphans Rose and Pierrot, who are artistically gifted but coming of age in Montreal during the Great Depression. It follows them through their childhood at a harsh orphanage, their separation and descent into different aspects of Montreal’s underworld, and path toward their dreams of a show together. I had mixed feelings throughout a lot of this book, but I ended up really loving Rose’s character and her arc, particularly towards the end. I thought that the writing was fairytale-esque and often beautiful, but sometimes became almost too silly, so that took away from the rating a bit. But there’s a lot of really wonderful aspects to this book, and I’d recommend it overall. It’s definitely difficult to read at times, especially due to the instances of child abuse, but it exposes a lot of essential truths that are often difficult to articulate.

The Nine by Tracy Townsend (4.25 stars) – I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this unique fantasy novel, which features tons of action and plot twists along with unique and morally grey characters. I did a full review of The Nine here.

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz (3 stars) – Autonomous imagines a future where crime seems to revolve around pharmaceutical piracy, as prescription drug costs have skyrocketed and only the rich can afford to live long and healthy lives with the aid of medication. We follow Jack, a pirate whose distribution of a reverse-engineered drug reveals the fact that the original drug is deeply flawed and causes deadly addition to its consumers. As Jack flees the authorities tracking her down, she’s also trying to find a cure for the dangerous drug she unwittingly distributed. I thought that the premise of Autonomous was really interesting, and the scientific aspects were well-thought-out and detailed, but the actual plot left something to be desired for me as it was mainly an extended chase that focused alternately on Jack and her pursuers.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi (3 stars) – I’m a huge fan of Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series so I was really interested to check out her contemporary YA debut. A Very Large Expanse of Sea follows Shirin, a Muslim teenager who has just moved to a new town and a new high school a few years after 9/11. While pursuing her passion of breakdancing, Shirin is forced to deal with rampant prejudice from the people around her. I absolutely loved Shirin as a main character. I loved that she was complex and passionate, with a bunch of diverse interests and hobbies (breakdancing, sewing her own clothes, art, journaling) yet she finds it really difficult to connect with other people due to the racism she experiences on a near-constant basis. I would have been happy reading a book entirely focused on Shirin, her family, her breakdancing crew, and her opening up enough to make friends, but unfortunately the book focused much more on her romantic connection with Ocean, the star of her school’s basketball team, who I found to be a much less interesting character.

The Similars by Rebecca Hanover (3 stars) – I received an ARC of The Similars at BookCon, and will be posting a full review within the next week. Essentially, I really liked the book’s main character, but I had a lot of issues with the plausibility of the plot.

 

How was your reading in December? Are you already looking ahead to your reading in 2019, like I am?

Book Review: The Nine by Tracy Townsend

Book Review: The Nine by Tracy Townsend

4.25 stars

            I’d like to start off by saying that this relatively lesser-known low fantasy adventure was a completely surprise to me, and in the best way possible.

The Nine is set in the city of Corma, at the heart of an empire that centuries ago decided to merge science and religion together and now adheres to scientific principles with religious fervor. In this city, humans coexist—sometimes peacefully, oftentimes not—with treelike creatures called the lanyani and also with ogrelike beings with their eyes on the heels of their feet called the aigamuxa. The story follows a large cast of viewpoint characters: Rowena Downshire, a young girl working as a somewhat illegal courier in order to pay off the debt that holds her mother in prison; her employer Ivor, the sadistic head of the courier operation; Bess, a courier attempting to escape her trade and work her way upward; Rare, a skilled and admired thief and her sometimes-lover, Anselm Meteron, a retired mercenary turned criminal entrepreneur; Haadiyaa Gammon, the somewhat moral and somewhat corrupt chief of police; the Alchemist, a mysterious former mercenary and current purveyor of knowledge and possibly magic; and Philip Chalmers, a reverend doctor (a sort of religious scientist) researching arcane and potentially earth-shattering aspects of the world they exist in. These characters all connect with the emergence of a mysterious Book that promises to hold answers to questions that humankind has been asking for centuries, and for that reason, the Book is something that many people would kill for.

I don’t want to give away any more of the plot, but I was completely caught up in the story of The Nine from the very beginning. The book’s frenetic pace and constant perspective-switching makes it an addicting story to read; new reveals come as quickly as constant plot twists. If you’re more of a fan of character-driven fantasy than plot-driven fantasy, like me, I also think you’ll love this book because its cast of characters is so broad and filled with a lot of depth. I think that fans of Game of Thrones in particular might be drawn to this book not because they’re similar in plot (they’re definitely not, plus I liked this book a lot more than Game of Thrones) but because all of Tracy Townsend’s characters, like George R.R. Martin’s, are morally grey. It takes a lot of courage to create a cast of characters who aren’t exactly “good guys” by any stretch of imagination—they’re criminals, opportunists, and even cowards—but as a reader, you root for them anyways. Well, you root for some of them—although this story may not have good guys, it definitely has bad ones.

Townsend’s skillful writing and creative worldbuilding also help carry you through a world that might be initially confusing—it did take me a little while to understand the motivations of the different species in play, and to understand the organization of science as religion, but once I was on board, I was really impressed with how Townsend kept all the moving pieces of the book’s plot cohesive and yet surprising at the same time. It’s a world that I didn’t want to leave when the book ended, and I’m so glad to have received an ARC of the second book in the Thieves of Fate series, The Fall, which I’ll be picking up soon so that I can dive back in. I’d highly recommend The Nine to fans of original fantasy worlds with a lot of action and unique characters.

I received a free copy of The Nine from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
3 stars

Empire of Sand is the story of Mehr, the illegitimate daughter of a governor who serves the powerful Empire and a woman from a persecuted group of desert-dwelling people called the Amrithi. Growing up in her father’s household after her mother leaves, Mehr struggles to preserve the traditions of the Amrithi even as they are hunted down throughout the Empire. Her life changes rapidly when her actions during a magical storm bring her to the attention of the Empire’s spiritual leader and his mystics, and she is forced to confront harsh truths about the Empire she inhabits and the power she possesses.

I love fantasy novels centered around strong female characters, and I was so intrigued about this book when I first heard about it at BookCon. I think that Empire of Sand’s worldbuilding and its magic system are some of its strongest aspects; over the course of the novel, we are introduced to magical, mysterious desert beings called daiva who once walked the earth like humans but who now take on other forms; the magic stemming from dreaming gods; and Amrithi magic created through dance and sigils. Mehr is a protagonist you want to root for in her struggles against a corrupt, discriminating Empire, and I was fascinated by one of the side characters, Mehr’s friend and surrogate mother figure Lalita, an Amrithi woman who survived for years in disguise and supported herself as a courtesan. I also thought that Tasha Suri’s writing was quite good; I was able to easily visualize everything she was talking about, and her writing flowed nicely throughout the book.

There were also several aspects of Empire of Sand that I felt weren’t as strong. It’s not very long for a fantasy novel, but its pacing is very slow, and the plot is sparse. A great deal of the book involves repetition; the same concepts and actions are reiterated over and over again, which in my opinion wasn’t necessary to convey meaning and didn’t add anything to the story. I generally don’t mind books that are slower-paced and more focused on ordinary life than action, but in this case the structure really didn’t work for me. I also wasn’t a fan of the romance, which felt forced, and I wish that both protagonists had more charisma.

If you’re looking for a new, well-written fantasy series with a unique concept and setting, you may really enjoy Empire of Sand. Personally, it’s not a series I’m planning to continue with, but I’ll definitely be interested to see what Tasha Suri writes in the future.

*I received an ARC of Empire of Sand from the publisher at BookCon.

September Reading Wrap-Up

In September, I basically only read SFF and nonfiction, with the exception of my favorite read of the month, which I would classify as magical realism. I didn’t feel like I did a great job with reading from my physical bookshelf, and my reading in general felt slower and less productive than normal. I was out of town for two of the weekends in September (I was in Montreal for Labor Day weekend, and Toronto last weekend) and although both weekends were very fun, they didn’t leave a lot of reading time. On the other hand, I enjoyed every book I read this month!

Stats:

Total books read: 8

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

Audiobooks: 2

Ebooks: 2

Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and TrumpI'm Afraid of Men by Vivek ShrayaMagic Triumphs by Ilona AndrewsRecord of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers, #3)An Easy Death by Charlaine HarrisFear by Bob WoodwardThe Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee BenderBannerless by Carrie Vaughn

And here are my reviews, from most enjoyed to least:

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (4.5 stars) – Due to its cheerful cover, I’d always thought this book was going to be a light, summery read–which was why I wanted to finish it during the summer. I knew that the premise was a reverse-Like Water for Chocolate situation (If you haven’t read either of these, in Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel the main character is able to imbue the food she cooks with her emotions, whereas in Lemon Cake the protagonist gains the ability to taste the emotions of others, such as the people who have picked, packaged, or prepared the dish, in the food she eats) but I didn’t realize that the book as a whole focused closely on an unhappy and dysfunctional family. It’s a book about growing up and slowly finding out who you are, and a lot of the time it’s deeply sad. That being said, it’s a novel that builds, and by the last third of the book I was completely in love and fascinated. Bender explores the implications of tasting emotions every time you taste food and the impact it would have on a person, as well as how it would help her gain insight into the issues of her family members. The novel starts with our protagonist as a child and follows her into young adulthood, and we grow with her as family secrets are exposed and also as she comes to better understand the people she sees every day. I absolutely loved the ending and the direction the book took, and I was left thoughtful and entranced. I’m very glad that I started reading Aimee Bender this year, and I’d highly recommend this book to fans of magical realism.

Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews (4 stars) – It’s really difficult to rate or review the tenth and final book in my favorite fantasy series, but I’m trying. I really can’t say anything at all about the plot, except that it builds on a lot of things that have been happening throughout the series, and that almost every character we know and love showed up at some point. I thought that it set things up really nicely for both the Iron Covenant trilogy (which focuses on Hugh, who’s sort of a villain throughout most of this series; the first book came out earlier this summer and I really enjoyed it) and a possible spin-off series focusing on Julie, Kate’s adopted daughter. Basically, if you enjoy fantasy with strong female characters, found families, and a lot of action and humor, you should really be reading this series, and know that Andrews does not disappoint with the finale. I can’t say that I loved every single thing about how the plot of this book went, but overall it’s been a wonderful ride, and this is a series I’ll continue to revisit in the future. I’m glad that Andrews isn’t ending things with this world or these characters for good, even if she won’t be putting out anymore Kate-centric books.

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers (4 stars) – This is the third book in the excellent Wayfarers series and was one of my most anticipated books of 2018. This book focuses on the Exodus fleet of spaceships, which originally was how humans fled a dying Earth and discovered a greater universe of other peoples, and now exists as a home for humans not interested in living on Mars or other planets among alien species. We follow five characters as they mediate on the values of tradition versus exploration and innovation, and what the purpose is of a fleet of ships that technically completed its mission decades ago.

I love Becky Chambers’ writing style, and her universe is a place I want to continue to read about in many books to come. That said, the pacing in this book felt too slow to me, and I wanted to hear more from members of non-human species since their cultures and perspectives are some of the most interesting things in Chambers’ books. I really enjoyed reading this one, but for me it wasn’t as good as The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, which is one of my all-time favorite science fiction reads.

An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris (4 stars) – It’s been awhile since I’ve read a Charlaine Harris book, but for years and years, I devoured every book of hers that I could get my hands on, starting with the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Mysteries series. She’s still #1 on my most-read authors feature on Goodreads (although Ilona Andrews has recently caught up, and they’re currently tied for first place with 28 books each). When I heard that she had a new book coming out, though, and that she would be signing copies at BookCon, I was so excited to be able to dive back into her writing. And An Easy Death definitely did not disappoint; the premise is a lot different than Harris’s other books, but it has her signature cozy mystery-esque writing style alongside plenty of action and lovable characters.

An Easy Death is hard to classify, genre-wise; it’s sort of an alternate history Western with fantasy elements. It’s set in a version of a fractured United States that splintered apart after the assassination of FDR and a series of disasters, and at the time the book is set, pieces of the U.S. are now owned by Canada, Mexico, and England, and the exiled tsar of Russia has settled on the West Coast with his army of grigoris, or wizards. Our main character Lizbeth Rose lives in the southwestern country of Texoma and works as a gunnie, sort of a gunslinger/bodyguard hired out to protect people. She gets drawn into a search for a missing grigori when she’s hired by two wizards as a guide and protector, and although she’s not a fan of magic or the Russian wizards that brought it with them to her country, she’s determined to see her mission through.

There are really no dull moments in An Easy Death; it’s action-packed and does have a high body count. Lizbeth Rose is a badass, street-smart heroine who’s easy to root for, and she faces down a series of bandits, wizards, and rival gunslingers head-on. The worldbuilding is gradual and fascinating; the concept of the Romanovs surviving an assassination attempt and fleeing Russia for California is a particularly interesting one, as well as the idea that Rasputin had actual magical powers that he taught to a host of other magic-wielders. The book sets up a sequel well, as there’s still a lot left to explore at the end of the book, and I really can’t wait to return to this world. I think that this book would work really well for fans of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (which I also loved) as well as urban fantasy fans looking for something different. Highly recommend!

*I received an ARC of An Easy Death at an autographing session at BookCon.

Yes We (Still) Can by Dan Pfeiffer (4 stars) – I listened to the audiobook of Yes We (Still) Can, which is half a memoir about working for President Obama during his campaign and presidency and half an advice guide for Democrats on how to move forward and beat Trump. Dan Pfeiffer was President Obama’s Communications Director (prior to that the Deputy Communications Director and traveling Press Secretary on the campaign) and he has some great stories of what it was like to work in the Obama White House. This book made me miss President Obama even more than usual, and I’ll definitely be checking out Pfeiffer’s podcast Pod Save America next.

I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya (4 stars) – this was an extremely short, extremely personal memoir about Shraya’s experience as a transgender woman, both before and after her transition, and her experiences with how men have treated her throughout her life. It’s very short–you could call it a long essay, or a very short book–and very powerful.

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward (3.5 stars) – I listened to the audiobook of this one because, as a liberal who faced a rude awakening after the 2016 election, I almost felt like I had to. I want to understand as much as I can about why Trump was elected and what’s been going on since then, and how we can turn things around and repair what he’s been doing to our country. I thought Woodward’s book was a very interesting read and a necessary piece of the puzzle; he clearly had a bunch of very high-level sources in the administration speak to him about this book, and it paints a disturbing picture of a disorganized White House with an incompetent bully at the helm. If you’re interested in politics, or if you’d like to read a book that’s sort of like a written version of an episode of the West Wing or Veep, then you should definitely pick this one up.

Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn (3 stars) – I didn’t really dislike anything about this post-apocalyptic mystery, but I wasn’t in love with anything about it, either. Bannerless follows Enid, a young investigator living in what’s now called the Coast Road communities, a collection of towns along what was once the West Coast of the U.S. The book is set a few generations after what’s known as the Fall, when the countries and societies of our current world were destroyed by a combination of epidemics, natural disasters, and prolonged financial crisis, and people in this part of the world have re-organized themselves into a society strictly based on division of labor, conservation of resources, and population control. Only households and communities that have proven themselves able to sustain an extra mouth are given a banner, which is an indication that they are allowed to conceive a child; it’s based on the idea that overpopulation, waste, and greed were the main factors leading to the Fall.

Enid’s job as an investigator is to expose and punish those who violate the communities’ laws, and the book begins when she is called in to investigate a possible murder in a seemingly thriving town. Since murder has become a rarity in this world of interdependency and communal living, the prospect is daunting, and we follow Enid through her uncomfortable investigation in a community that doesn’t seem to want her there, interspersed with flashbacks to a younger Enid meeting her first love and discovering her independence as an older teen.

For me, this book was interesting; I love a good post-apocalyptic story, and I’m always interested in hearing about an author’s interpretation of how society is likely to collapse and what they imagine humanity’s response to be. Post-apocalyptic SF is often fairly dark, and Bannerless definitely isn’t; as readers you can see flaws in how society is organized, but for the most part the people of the Coast Road are healthy and happy, and there is no exploitative ruling class. It was nice to see something different in that regard, but I kept wanting more from the book. More reveals, more depth, more exploration of the implications of strict reproductive control. And I just never got them. The writing is good and solid, but didn’t blow me away. I enjoyed the read, for the most part, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one.

 

And here are the books I purchased during the month of September:

July Reading Wrap-Up

So, where did July go? Seriously, guys. Anyways, it’s the end of the month, and we all know what that means–wrap-up time!

My reading in July was a little bit weird and out of the box for me (what else is new). I participated at least a bit in three separate readathons (!), dove headfirst into a new-to-me genre, and finished a book that’s been sitting on my shelf staring at me for over 2 years. I also went on a road trip to Portland, Maine and while there discovered my new favorite indie bookstore: Longfellow Books, which has an amazingly curated combination of new and used titles, along with bookish merch. Seriously, their used book section was the best I’ve ever encountered, with recent titles and everything in great condition. I may or may not have bought 8 books there, seven of which are used books.

To go into a little more detail about the readathon side of things, I kicked off July by participating in the Tome Topple readathon for what I think is the 4th time. I’ve had The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell on my TBR for Tome Topple literally every time I’ve done it, but I was never quite in the right mood for it so I always ended up reading something else. Until now! I feel so accomplished. Tome Topple focuses on books over 500 pages long, and lasts 2 weeks, but due to my mood-reading tendencies, it usually takes me more than the 2 weeks to actually finish the tome since I’m picking up other reads in between.

And then I also decided to participate in both 24 in 48 and the Reverse Readathon, even though I knew I wouldn’t actually have that much time to read during those weekends since I had other plans too. Basically, I just tried to read as much as I could and was in the mood for around what I had planned. In my opinion, as long as you read, you’re technically participating in a readathon, and even if I’m not able to fully commit I sometimes use it as motivation to help me read more than I would have otherwise. I spent the Reverse Readathon at a lake beach with friends, so I got in some nice beach reading during that one.  Usually I’d be doing separate blog posts for these readathons, but since my participation wasn’t super enthusiastic this time around, I didn’t. (I will be actually participating in and doing blog updates for Bout of Books in August, though!)

Anyways, here are my stats:

Total books read: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

Audiobooks: 0 (technically I listened to some audio for 2 of the physical books)

ebooks: 3 (a lot of ebooks for me!)

Iron and Magic by Ilona AndrewsNot That Bad by Roxane GayThe Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean WeirThe Bone Clocks by David MitchellOf Light and Darkness (Of Light and Darkness #1)Hate to Want You by Alisha RaiThe Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret KilljoyWrong to Need You (Forbidden Hearts, #2)Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

And here are my reviews!

Not That Bad by Roxane Gay (5 stars) – Roxane Gay never fails to blow me away, and this anthology of essays examining different aspects of rape culture was no exception. A difficult read emotionally that should be required reading for everyone. I’d recommend spacing out your reading of this book; I listened to the audio all in one sitting (during a road trip) and it was really rough. If I could do it over again, I’d read one or two essays at a time over a few weeks.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (4.5 stars) – This book is long and complex, and reading it was a journey. I love long books, but they do require a big time investment, so I was very glad this one was worth it. I’ve only read one previous David Mitchell book (Cloud Atlas) and I’d definitely say I preferred The Bone Clocks overall. The Bone Clocks is about Holly Sykes, who we first meet as a rebellious British teenager in the 80s and follow through shifting perspectives and the frame of a mysterious psychic war that she becomes entangled in. It’s hard to talk too much about the actual plot without giving anything away, and I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll leave the summary at that. Mitchell’s writing is consistently strong and he’s so adept at switching perspectives that you never second-guess the authenticity of each new voice. I honestly can’t even imagine the amount of research and time that it must have taken to craft a story as intricate as this one and decide the best way to tell it, but Mitchell did an amazing job. That being said, I did of course enjoy some sections and plot twists more than others, and there were a few things that I wish were revisited a bit more closely toward the end, but overall this is a fantastic book and I’d definitely recommend it.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (4 stars) – I received an ARC of Spinning Silver at BookCon at an autographing session; I will be posting a full review here in the next few days (I’ll link it here when I do), but I haven’t had a chance yet since I just finished it last night. Basically, I really, really enjoyed this historical fantasy novel told from multiple perspectives; I found it to be really well-written and to have a nice blend of magic, political maneuvering, and explorations of how women and marginalized groups were treated during the time period. The reasons it didn’t reach 5 star status were that I felt like 3 of the 6 viewpoint narrators really didn’t need to narrate (the story would have been better told by just the 3 main female characters) and the scenery descriptions tended to be overly long. Overall, though, this was great and I’d highly recommend it. It’s actually a really good and atmospheric winter read, and at times reminded me of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden.

Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews (4 stars) – Ilona Andrews can do no wrong in my eyes, but I still had some skepticism heading into this new spin-off series featuring one of the villains of the Kate Daniels series as its main character. I shouldn’t have been concerned! They knocked it out of the park as usual with a whole new cast of intriguing, snarky, lovable characters, and there were some guest appearances from characters from the KD series as well. I never thought I would say this, but I really liked Hugh as an antihero, and Elara is an awesome new female lead. This book also has a ton of action, and as soon as I was done I immediately became super impatient for book 2. To summarize, Ilona Andrews crushes it every time, and I will continue to read every single book they come out with and love them. Oh, and I do not recommend jumping into this new trilogy without having read the Kate Daniels series–definitely read those first, because major spoilers.

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this contemporary romance (which isn’t a genre I usually pick up!). After reading The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang last month and loving it, though, I’ve been wanting to give more romance a try, and this one (the first in the Forbidden Hearts series) came highly recommended. It follows Livvy, a tattoo artist, and her ex-boyfriend Nicholas, who broke up ten years ago when tragedy struck both of their families and who have been secretly meeting up every year on Livvy’s birthday for, um, some fun. When Livvy moves back to town, all of the emotions they’ve been suppressing rise to the surface and they’re forced to actually confront all of their angst and family drama. All of the characters in this book–including all of the side characters, not just the two leads–are really well-developed, and I thought there was a good level of angst with all of the family conflict. I loved the central relationship as well, and I’m really looking forward to picking up more from Alisha Rai in the future! I’m so glad to find an author that lives up to the hype. I received a free copy of Hate to Want You from the publisher at BookCon.

Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai (4 stars) – I also really enjoyed the second book in Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series. I have to say that I wasn’t as much of a fan of the romance in this one compared to Hate to Want You, but I LOVED the female main character and her family. This one focuses on Sadia, a single mom whose husband died tragically a few years before the book begins, and Jackson, the brother of both Sadia’s husband and the main character from Hate to Want You, a chef who fled town ten years earlier after he was accused of a crime and condemned in the court of public opinion. I’m very much looking forward to picking up the third book in this series, Hurts to Love You.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy (3.5 stars) – This is a novella set in the near future in an anarchist town that summons a guardian spirit, a three-antlered deer, for protection. Our main character shows up in town looking for information about the death of her friend, and discovers that the spirit may turn out to be more of a threat than a protector. It’s an interesting, unique premise, and there were some good eerie moments, but it did feel somewhat rushed.

The Book of Essie (3 stars) – This was a fast-paced read that worked well for me on audio during a road trip; the premise drew me in and I was absorbed throughout. I did, however, guess all of the major reveals very early on, and I had some issues with how certain things were handled later on in the book. It also felt a bit strange that this book was told in three perspectives; one of the storylines, the journalist’s, felt like it should have been its own separate novel.

Of Light and Darkness by Shayne Leighton (3 stars) – There were aspects of this fantasy novel that I enjoyed (especially the setting and concept) and that I didn’t enjoy (the characters and romance). You can check out my full review of this book here.

And here’s my book haul for July, which is mostly indie bookstore finds:

Have you read any of these? How was your reading in July? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: Of Light and Darkness by Shayne Leighton

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Book Review: Of Light and Darkness by Shayne Leighton

3 stars

Warning: this review contains minor spoilers!

Of Light and Darkness by Shayne Leighton is a fantasy novel about a young woman named Charlotte who was abandoned as an infant and taken in by an unconventional guardian—a vampire. The vampire, Valek, a skilled healer, raises Charlotte in an occult city in the Czech Republic. There, they live surrounded by supernatural creatures of all varieties, including witches, shapeshifters, Elves, and fairies, but Charlotte is the only human present due to a strict code of laws that segregate magical society from interacting with the outside world. As Charlotte grows up, her feelings for Valek become more complicated than those between a guardian and his ward, and she must face these feelings as well as a society whose laws are rapidly becoming more strict and restrictive when it comes to vampires.

My favorite part about this story was easily the fact that the author was so inclusive of different types of supernatural creatures and so creative when it came to developing and populating her world. Not only do we have the standard sorts of monsters like vampires and fairies but we also get to meet a living scarecrow (who is sweet, gentle, and works in a store) and a half-man, half-spider (who sounds like he would be terrifying but actually isn’t scary at all). The idea of occult cities that exist alongside modern human ones but are hidden and sequestered was fascinating; the city that Charlotte and Valek live in is more like a small supernatural village, and the way the author described its preparations for fall celebrations made me picture it a little like the movie Halloweentown, which was sort of a delightful image. I also thought it was interesting that the main conflict of the story came from the fact that some of the supernatural creatures were trying to gain more power by scapegoating the vampires; the political maneuvering and propaganda that went into this was well thought-out and created very hateful antagonists.

Although I loved the setting and concept of this book, and I am in general a huge fan of vampires, I do have to say that I wasn’t a fan of the central romance between Charlotte and Valek. Valek has raised Charlotte since she was a baby and has always been a father figure to her, so it was hard for me to get behind them as a couple because they were essentially family. I also had a hard time pinning down Valek’s character in general; he’s portrayed often as an intellectual, kind-hearted, soft-spoken man whose main goal is protecting Charlotte, but he kills all of the humans he feeds on, and judging by his age, this means that he’s killed quite a lot of innocent people. He also never expresses remorse for doing so, or discusses the idea of feeding on humans without killing them, which is often an alternative for vampire characters. There is some discussion of feeding on animals instead, but this is not something he seems willing to do long-term. Charlotte, as well, is shown to be generally a brave and good-hearted person, but she’s also responsible for abducting humans for Valek to kill. I think that this attitude toward feeding on and killing humans would have fit better in a darker, grittier novel, but it seemed out of place in this story and with these characters.

In general, I’d describe Of Light and Darkness as a vampire novel with a fairytale vibe and the development of a found family at its core. It’s a story about love and magic and fighting against prejudice.

I received a free ebook copy of Of Light and Darkness from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.