Review: Tell The Wind And Fire

Tell the Wind and FireTell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a city divided between opulent luxury in the Light and fierce privations in the Dark, a determined young woman survives by guarding her secrets.

Lucie Manette was born in the Dark half of the city, but careful manipulations won her a home in the Light, celebrity status, and a rich, loving boyfriend. Now she just wants to keep her head down, but her boyfriend has a dark secret of his own—one involving an apparent stranger who is destitute and despised.

Lucie alone knows of the deadly connection the young men share, and even as the knowledge leads her to make a grave mistake, she can trust no one with the truth.

Blood and secrets alike spill out when revolution erupts. With both halves of the city burning, and mercy nowhere to be found, can Lucie save either boy—or herself?

Celebrated author Sarah Rees Brennan tells a magical tale of romance and revolution, love and loss.

Full disclosure, I have never read A Tale of Two Cities. I KNOW, I should, and I’ve lost some Brit Lit cred in your eyes. This book is a fantasy retelling of the Dickens novel, set in an alternate future where Dark and Light magic have torn society apart, to the point that the two cities are vastly different parts of New York.

The protagonist, Lucie, differs from the Dickensian Lucie Manette in that she is the central figure and the narrator. She also has a lot of dark secrets. For being 17 in the book, Lucie is incredibly mature, and very socially adept. She is famous on both the Light and Dark sides for being “The Golden Thread in the Dark,” a symbol of hope and devotion, and also of resistance.

The romance between Lucie and Ethan Stryker, the son of one of the most important men in the city, is a constant source of conflict and drives most of the plot. Despite this, the emotions she carries didn’t become cloying, in my opinion, although it did seem a bit unrealistic that a 17 year old could be so steady and self aware.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has read A Tale of Two Cities, and those who have not but would be interested in a female protagonist with an unwavering focus.

Advance Review: Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

Mask of Shadows (Untitled, #1)Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class—and the nobles who destroyed their home.

When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand—the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears—Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.

But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.

My short, to-the-point review is that Mask of Shadows was good, but it was trying too hard. Not in reference to the plot and writing, not at all! Linsey Miller cooked up an interesting world, an entertaining plot, and one of the most memorable, ultra immersive romances I’ve read in quite a long time. Unfortunately, what could be one of the most interesting aspects of this book, the gender fluidity of Sal, the, protagonist, is thrown into the mix in a strange way.

Sal’s nonbinary gender is almost nonchalant for a character who grew up in the streets. There’s a strange unreality to a character growing up with such an impoverished, desperate background not having experienced any discrimination for not conforming to a gender expectation, which would lead a reader to ask if the society in which the character lives has a general acceptance for nonconformists. This question isn’t addressed in Mask of Shadows; at least, not in a clear way. In addition to being sort of unscathed by society in regard to gender, Sal is remarkably well-spoken, to the point that Elise, the love interest, remarks upon it. Sal quickly puts Elise in her place, by calling out her assumption that Sal couldn’t be articulate, rather than addressing the unlikeliness of a street kid attaining an education while trying to stay alive and conduct a life of petty crime. I have to take a step back and acknowledge that yes, this is a fantasy world, therefore the society, from bottom to top, can operate any way the author dictates. The issue then is that it’s not clearly dictated. Miller is a good writer, and subtle, but the choices Miller made in choosing not to replicate the way human societies in reality work makes it difficult to relate to as a Eutopian goal. The reader is shown a great deal, but not told a whole lot, and in this one particular aspect it hinders the book. In every other sense, Miller’s style and writing are super.

The romance between Sal and Elise was really enjoyable to read. It’s difficult to really nail down the roiling emotions of a crush but Miller does it perfectly. The romance is also not a terribly huge part of the plot, not the entire focus of the protagonist’s arc. It’s just a nice, delightful little detour in the the otherwise action packed plot.

Very similar to Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass, Sal and a number of other hopefuls are competing to be the monarch’s assassin.The competition takes place at a royal estate and there is murder, intrigue, and mayhem. Sal is kind of disappointingly good at everything, having never done much of what she learns before. The other competitors are unfortunately not very likeable nor are they easy to get attached to. Miller does make it feasible that Sal might lose and not become one of The Left Hand, which was believable enough to me to make me want to find out how the plot ends.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of the competition plot, books that go light on the fantastical aspect while still incorporating elements of the genre, and strong, non-entirely-masculine characters. Disclosure: I received an ARC of Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller from the publisher via NetGalley.

Review: Star Witch by Helen Harper

Star Witch (The Lazy Girl's Guide To Magic #2)Star Witch by Helen Harper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Helen Harper is a gem and a fantastic writer. That being said I’m not a huge fan of Ivy Wilde, which makes zero sense given how much we have in common, i.e. we are both quite lazy.

I think that three inconsistencies make her difficult to like. First, the way other characters react to her is all over the place, and this makes it difficult to determine much about what she is like, as if she were a real human. I appreciate that Harper didn’t spend paragraphs describing Ivy, but I am the sort of reader that needs a lot of context to form a solid picture of a character.

The second inconsistency is Ivy herself. Harper is funny, so it follows that Ivy might be funny. However, in this book it’s sometimes hard to tell if Ivy is making a joke or is just having a stupid moment. Is she clever? Is she of average intelligence? I couldn’t tell you.

The final inconsistency is that Ivy is supposed to be a talented witch, but in this book she doesn’t do anything particularly clever. In fact, at one point she nearly dies of exhaustion from doing spells. Is magic supposed to be like a muscle? Didn’t she just spend the entirety of the previous book working out/using magic? I’m confused.

Still going to read Spirit Witch. But confused.

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Review: The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen, #1)The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I saw The Dark Days Club title I was intrigued. That it was by Alison Goodman, who wrote Eon, probably the best damn YA fantasy book I’ve read in the past five years, I was over the moon excited.

Unfortunately I ended up being disappointed somewhat. First of all the setting, Regency London, is so t i r e d. Enjoyable still? Yes, but I have read so many books set in this time period and social sphere that even Goodman’s carefully researched 1812 fell flat. Not to mention she emulated the writing style of so many contemporary authors writing in this time period that I often forgot it was freaking Alison Goodman writing these characters, this plot. It read a lot like something Libba Bray wrote.

Don’t mistake me, the book is good. The plot is a bit thin and the characters a bit flat. Even the Reclaimer/Deceiver premise and the mention of alchemy didn’t draw me in. But I look forward to reading the sequel. If you start this book and hate it, I suggest the Gardella vampire series. Similar setting and plot, but much more complex and riveting.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Why I Swiped Left On You

Hell to no, to the no no no no no
Ironically, this photo was linked to a much less funny but similar post on HuffPo, written by a dude.

  • You have a lot of weird facial hair in every single picture. I interpreted this as an extreme commitment to your beard/mustachios/mutton chops. Like more commitment than you’ll have to an actual human relationship
  • you have no photos
  • you have one photo
  • you have all group photos
  • it is unclear who you are in each photo
  • your first picture is you and your extremely hot friend. The comparison is not flattering. Also can I have his number?
  • you are holding a fish and you’re not a marine biologist
  • you are petting a drugged tiger
  • you are posing with an extremely cute dog you don’t own, which I will therefore never get to meet
  • you have a shirtless photo and you’re not at the beach
  • you have a shirtless photo and you’re not even outside
  • you have a shirtless photo (leave me some mystery)
  • All of your photos are with girls
  • Any of your photos are with a girl. Oh, she’s your roommate/sister/cousin? Too bad you’ll never get a chance to explain that because I swiped left.
  • All of your photos are with one specific girl. Why are you on this app?
  • You’re smoking a tobacco product
  • You’re drinking in all of your photos.
  • Your first photo is at the gun range. I admire your Beretta but I am not interested in dating the Beretta.
  • You have sunglasses on in every picture. Why? Do you not have eyes? What’s wrong with them?
  • You have a hat on in every picture. I get it, some men have hair loss. I’m going to find out eventually.
  • Close-lipped smiles in every picture. I don’t have dental insurance either, bruh, but I’m going to notice your teeth like, right away, when we meet.
  • All of your selfies are taken from lap level. While I’m pleased to see there’s nothing in your nose, this is an extremely unflattering angle.
  • All of your selfies are exactly the same.
  • None of your photos show your actual face. I get it, you hate selfies, but I can’t see what you look like from 30ft away/with snow goggles on. Sick rail though.
  • All of your photos are “funny.” Like, Halloween costume, ladies heels, morph suit, you passed out on your friend’s couch. What a sense of humor!
  • You did something ironically in a photo and I thought you were serious. Esp. if you’re making fun of women.

Editor’s Note (I am the editor): As of like, one week after I initially wrote this in March ’17, I completely changed my swiping criteria. Here are the updated auto-left swipes.

  • You’re not a dog
  • or a cat.
  • You’re a human man.
  • You’re human.
  • No.
  • I deleted all of these apps.

I plan to die alone with cats.

Review and Rant: Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop

Daughter of the Blood (The Black Jewels, #1)Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I visited the main branch of the Denver Public Library this week, so naturally I left with armfuls of books. Bless you, library card. One of the books I checked out was Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop, the author of The Others series, which I adore. Daughter of the Blood is a markedly different type of novel, more high fantasy, but I quickly noted one very similar characteristic of Bishop’s writing.

*Spoiler alert* Both central protagonists in the series are young girls who have suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of depraved men and this hampers them from developing their powers and forming friendships, familial bonds, as well as romantic and sexual relationships with the intended love interest of their respective series, all of which are much older than their object of romantic and sexual desire, and take the role of guardian, mentor, and at times, paternal figure.

It bears mentioning that I stayed up all night long to read this book. It is good, but I do find the choices made in regard to character development a bit disturbing, mostly because I recently encountered it while reading nearly the entire published works of author Connie Suttle, whose female protagonists are, without exception, victims of mental, physical, and sexual abuse. Notice I didn’t say survivors. The abuse is continual throughout the entirety of their story arcs.

When I examine my reaction to the use of abuse as a plot device and character development, most of the aversion comes from the fact that it is extremely common in Western Literature. Anne Bishop herself makes reference to the archetype of Cassandra, Princess of Troy, who in the myth was punished by Apollo, the Greek god of light and music, for refusing him as a suitor. Cassandra was cursed with prophesy that no one would heed, and was later captured by the Greeks during the Trojan war and sold as a slave. In Bishop’s The Others series, the cassandra sangue is a female seer who prophesies through self-mutilation, which will ultimately kill them. In addition *spoiler alert* the majority are enslaved and used for sexual pleasure in addition to having their visions sold for profit.

Daughter of the Blood starts in a world that is tenuously clinging to a magical and political matriarchy that is slowly being dismantled by a tyrannical female ruler bent on complete domination of her world, at the cost of killing every woman with enough power to challenge her. She’s enslaved the most powerful living men of the Blood (a magical nobility) and as a result the entirety of their magical lineage is declining. The book centers around a young girl, Jaenelle, who is a, or the, Queen of the Blood. She is only seven years old at the start of the series, but already possesses the power of the Black Jewels, which are a combination of indicators of power and also like magical power banks.

The entire plot line of Daughter of the Blood revolves around three powerful men who are determined to shape her future to become the Queen the realm needs. Their names are Saetan, Daemon, and Lucivar. I am not kidding. Only Saetan and Daemon have much of a part to play in this first installment, but the enslavement of Daemon and Lucivar is a major plot device, in that both are fitted with “Rings of Obedience,” magical metal cock rings controlled by the women (witches) who command them as sex slaves. The men take great pleasure in killing the witches, and do so many times throughout the story, and the sense I perceived was that the reader was expected to condone their homicide as justifiable because of the cruelty they experienced in being used as sex slaves. Many, many times throughout the book the term “shave” or “shaved” is used to refer to genital mutilation. It is used as a form of entertainment by the more despotic members of the Blood. This practice is reacted to with much more horror than that of sexual assault, with a subtle implication that the value of the person lay fully in their sexual commodity. Daemon is repeatedly noted to be impotent, and experiences no small amount of self-hatred because of it, even going so far as to compare his lack of sexual arousal to being shaved, though it is made clear that his flaccidity is due to his contempt and hatred for the women who use him.

Throughout the book, the men often express a desire to serve a worthy Queen, but every single adult witch of the Blood introduced is either cruel (those who use them), or a victim of sexual or physical abuse. Tersa, the first character introduced, has slid into madness because of a violent rape. Bishop uses the euphemism “spearing” to describe the act of rape, and witches of the Blood may be “broken” and lose their powers as a result of rape. This is problematic given the removal of agency of the women, many of whom possess powerful magic, but only until the loss of their virginity. Without exception, none of the rape survivors are able to mentally or magically recover from their assault. Whether this was intended to underscore how severely the culture of this world has backslid in terms of gender equality, or Bishop deliberately constructed the nature of the female power this way is unclear in this book. Perhaps this will be further developed in the series. I doubt this however, given that one of the major point of view characters, Surreal (yes, that is her name), a high-end prostitute, is repeatedly told her profession is shameful and immoral, and despite being powerful and well educated, she is looked down on by her society, including by men who patronize her services.

Another troubling element is that Jaenelle is a child throughout the entire book, making her first contact with the three men at age seven and then for the majority of the story at age 12. Daemon, as previously mentioned, feels no arousal with any of the women in the books, except for this child. He repeated chastises himself for his sexual attraction to a child, but continues to think of her sexually and romantically throughout the book. He is territorial and jealous of the other men who pay her any attention, despite the fact that Jaenelle is the bastard child of a man who refuses to claim her, to the point where Jaenelle is punished for revealing her paternity to her mother, grandmother, and uncle. In addition, the unprecedented acquisition of enormous power at an unheard of young age sends the major players in her world scurrying to form some sort of authority or control over her. Even the most benevolent characters, in terms of Jaenelle’s mental and physical well-being, Saetan and Daemon, both step into roles of mentor-ship, the former more paternalistic than the latter, given his romantic and sexual desires. Both set rules and chastise her for her behavior, while acknowledging how beyond their knowledge and control she is growing, refuse to give her the information she might use to make determinations for herself, such as explaining innuendo or the nature of romantic and sexual relationships, and about the dangerous consequences of misusing her enormous powers. This contrast is troubling because the male characters often note that they find her oddly precocious, and that her stare seems “ancient,” yet they make many attempts to retain her perceived “innocence.”

The penultimate plot point is that the hospital where Jaenelle has spent much of her childhood is discovered to be a front for many of the male antagonists to gather female children, under the guise of treating them for emotional disturbance, and then sexually assaulting and killing them. Jaenelle is drugged and brutally raped, and it is inferred that this particular assault, the loss of her “virginity,” though her innocence was probably lost years earlier, will cause her to slide in to madness if her body doesn’t succumb to the mortal wounds she has suffered.

Rape as a plot device is unfortunately common point of character development in fantasy. The fear of rape equally so. I don’t say this to downplay the horror of such an act, but to point out how misogynist it is that the ultimate violation is that of being treated as a sexual object. Women can be equally traumatized by other violence, but the continual removal of agency, and the fact that in this case and many others the female characters are never able to overcome the circumstances that led to this trauma paint the characters as intrinsically weak.

That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy this book. I did. I stayed up all night reading it. I devoured all of Bishop’s The Others series, and I have read numerous other books that employ the same tired tropes, and enjoyed them. But I do find it concerning that modern writers are still writing for medieval readers, no matter how well they do it.

Thanks for reading!

The Year of Finishing Things

Ah, 2017. I’m excited to be in you.

Last year was long and eventful and a lot of stuff happened. For me, a lot of last year’s events were good! I got a job as a flight attendant, moved to a new state, made new friends, did a ton of traveling, and worked my tail off. I was very goal oriented and had a lot of personal growth and very little backsliding on things like eating a whole pizza in one sitting. One could call it a success.

I’m especially proud of how determined I was to write more in 2016. I worked a lot on the urban fantasy book I started in 2013. I attempted NaNoWriMo and actually did pretty okay for the first half of the month, given how much I was flying. November is always the busiest month. I wrote about 15,000 words, which is kind of a lot. And I’m not done. (btw, if you’re one of my super excellent beta readers I’ll start posting the newer bits soon!)

I also wrote poems and blogs and started a memoir/collection of stories about the funny experiences I had dating in LA while I was living there. I’ve only done about 7 tales/chapters but I made myself laugh and that’s the ultimate goal, non?

I also failed at a lot of things in 2016, but I’m not too torn up about it. I need adversity to really thrive, because let’s face it, I’m lazy as hell. Adversity gets me out of bed in the morning.

So, cheers to The Year of Finishing Things! Whether it’s the book I swore I’d complete in 2016, my Goodreads Reading Challenge (150 books was extremely ambitious, 100 is much more my speed for this year), projects I promised to undertake and didn’t, my laundry, and a good K.O. in Mortal Kombat, my only resolution for 2017 is to finish things.

Also: I’m not a quote person but I’m getting more and more basic so this quote by Brad Paisley. I keep thinking if I can just write a little bit every day I’ll have a Harry Potter length book by next year. Let me have this dream :p

How I read ebooks for free part II

Read part I

Method 2: BookBub

Bookbub.com is a subscription email service that sends you a daily email listing free or discounted ebooks. It’s a free service that helps millions of readers discover limited-time deals. Members receive a personalized daily email.

homepagescreen

Join for free by choosing your favorite ebook genres and retailers at BookBub.com. Once signed up, you get BookBub’s daily email with limited-time discounts on ebooks matching your preferences. When you see a deal you like, click through to the ebook retailer of your choice and download the book from there.

Pros:

It’s super easy to set up your preferred genres. The emails you get will be tailored just for your preferences.

Occasionally you’ll get author suggestions. Once you follow them, you’ll get notified when their books are free or discounted.

FREE! WE LOVE FREEEE. You’re going to discover a lot of new books by authors you might have not checked out if you had to pay for their books.

Cons:thedailyemail

It’s a daily email. If you, like me, are constantly drowning in a sea of unread emails (and books) this might be a bit much for you.

Some books are in the public domain (so you don’t need to pay for the format, it’s already available online) or self published, so I would definitely recommend looking into reviews and checking to see if they are quality worth reading before you begin.

Not all of the books in your list will be free. Some days you’ll get emails that are all books from 1.99-0.99. Which is fine. But we want freeeeeee.

Happy reading! Check out Part I!

 

p.s. This is not an ad. BookBub did not pay me to tell you about them, I actually use this service and I love it.

Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut's Windlass (The Cinder Spires, #1)The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.

Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.

And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…

Truly wonderfully fantastic.

I like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Quite a lot. But I ADORE this book.

I can’t gush enough. I was recommended this book by a friend and didn’t take the recommendation seriously enough.

The raw creativity of this world, the complexity of the plot, and the perfection of the characters.

Just, read it. There are cats.

View all my reviews

Sci-fi vs. Reality and Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies Series

Uglies (Uglies, #1)I don’t think I’m the only person who gets books stuck in their head like songs. I’ve had Scott Westerfeld’s YA series stuck in my brain for years, and I think a big part of that is because it is so prescient about modern society and the direction human nature is taking us.

The series is set in a future North America where at a certain age privileged teenagers undergo cosmetic surgery to erase all of their flaws. The books go more into the philosophical and ethical consequences of this, from the personal level to that of government, but I think even at the surface level it’s an interesting question to ask yourself. If you could become “perfect,” would you?

In Uglies, Tally Youngblood, the protagonist, spends her free time thinking about what her future face will look like, comparing the symmetry of either half of her face. When I read the books years ago I thought about it myself, but today as I was scrolling through a makeup group I follow on Facebook, a user had posted a set of photos of herself, one unedited, one retouched, side by side, and I was inspired to try it.

I picked a photo (left) from a day I thought my makeup looked really good.

img_2809 img_3350

Surprisingly, the right side of my face when doubled looks more like the original photo. I am right handed, so the features on the right side of my body are all slightly larger. I prefer the photo on the right, which is my left side doubled. You can tell because I have a freckle under the pupil on my left eye. My face is narrower and my forehead is smoother, but despite this I wouldn’t ever voluntarily have a symmetry surgery done, like in the books.

I made my face symmetrical using a free app called Square Instapic. It’s available on both Android and IOS img_3351platforms. I mostly use it for fitting an entire rectangular photo in a square for Instagram, but it makes nice collages too.

With so much emphasis on cosmetically and surgically changing the way we look these days, it’s no wonder Uglies  popped into my head. I’ve seen so much lip lining and contouring and general makeup brujeria recently. Not to mention actual surgery, and photo retouching; the premise of Westerfeld’s book isn’t far off.

I don’t see anything wrong with changing the way you look to feel like your most authentic self, but I think the underlying warning of both the book and my own opinion is that the single-minded focus on image can make humans blind to other, very important things.

Extras (Uglies, #4)However, in a society that is becoming much more like the last book in the series, Extras, image is everything, including livelihood, for a growing number of people. In Extras,  Aya lives in the same world as Tally, but in a different culture, where everything is filmed and broadcast, and social status and resources are allotted by popularity. Sound familiar?

Thousands of people have gained notoriety, sponsor-ships, and sometimes even fame and fortune from popular photos on social media, or viral videos. Some people come to it by chance, and some work very hard and almost single-minded-ly toward these goals. There are tons of marketing and traffic growth experts who have spent years developing know-how and web techniques to create viral content. Marketing is a cornerstone in the American economy and I can imagine it will only grow bigger and more essential as society and technology grow together. It’s exciting and a bit scary to think about, no?

Thanks for reading!

And, just in case you’re wondering, yes, Scott Westerfeld does have an Instagram.