Review: Heirs of Grace by Tim Pratt

Heirs of GraceHeirs of Grace by Tim Pratt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Recent art school graduate Bekah thought she’d hit the jackpot: an unknown relative died, and she inherited a small fortune and a huge house in the mountains of North Carolina.

Trey Howard, the lawyer who handled the estate, is a handsome man in his twenties and they hit it off right away-and soon become more than friends. Bekah expected a pleasant year to get her head together and have a romantic fling. Problem is, the house is full of junk…and siblings she didn’t know she had are willing to kill her for it.

More important, the junk in her new house is magical, she’s surrounded by monsters, and her life seems to be in mortal peril every time she ventures into a new room. As Bekah discovers more about her mysterious benefactor and the magical world he inhabited, she’s realizes that as tough and resourceful as she is, she might just be in over her head…

Heirs of Grace is a tale of family and magic, action and wonder, blending the strong heroine, cheeky humor, and dark fantasy that have become the hallmarks of Tim Pratt’s writing.

Sound the alarms, I’ve found a new author to obsess over! Tim Pratt did such an amazing job with this book, I really can’t emphasize that enough.

Such a good book! It combines all of the elements of a book I’d love to read into a perfectly executed mélange of I-want-to-read-this: The South, big old magical inherited houses, cool objects of power, female protagonists that are kick ass, etc.

Tim Pratt writes like Ilona Andrews and Diana Wynne Jones had a beautiful, witty, male, also-writerly baby. Bekah, the protagonist, is so refreshing. It’s strange to say that I loved a female character written by a man so much more than any female characters I’ve read written by anyone else, recently, but I really did. Granted, men have been writing good female characters for the entirety of human history. It’s just rare, like most excellent things.

Also, the setting of the story being in and around Boone, North Carolina was just funny, because one of my best friends in Denver lived there and talks about it every now and again, so I feel like I know it.

Also, I had a fun exchange after the laugh I got on the second page:

The old woman gestured vaguely at me. She was wearing white gloves, which fit her general level of dress, but seemed better suited to high tea or church than general sitting around. She clarified: “Are you [so]me kind of Mexican?” That was a new one. Sometimes on forms I check “Other” and sometimes I check “Pacific Islander” and often other people mark me down as “Black” (which my adoptive parents are, and almost certainly some of my biological ancestors, too), but I’d never been self- or other-identified as “some kind of Mexican.” Welcome to the South, I guess. I hadn’t spent much time in this part of the country, and the first person I spoke to in my temporary new home wasn’t making me look forward to future human interactions. “Sure,” I said. “Some kind of Mexican.
Buenos días and vete a la chingada.”  

I laughed so hard I had to call my coworker Val over to laugh with me.
Me: “Wouldn’t it be ‘va te a la chingada?'”
Val: “I don’t know, I don’t really write in Spanish.”
Me: “Well how would you tell someone to go fuck themselves?”
Val (with a completely straight face): “Go fuck yourself. You gotta say it so they understand.”

Val is great. Anyway, you should read this book. It probably won’t change your life but you will probably like it and laugh at least once. I almost never laugh at books. I think Ilona Andrews, Jim Butcher and JK Rowling are the only other writers who have ever made me laugh. Pratt has a series about a woman named Marla Mason which I intend to start reading immediately. Well, immediately after the 37 other books I have waiting in the wings. We will see which priority wins out.

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.

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Review: Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout (Lux, #1)

Obsidian (Lux, #1)Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Published May 8th 2012 by Entangled Publishing, LLC (first published November 23rd 2011)
ISBN 162061006X

When seventeen-year-old Katy Swartz moved to West Virginia right before her senior year, she’d pretty much resigned herself to thick accents, dodgy internet access, and a whole lot of boring, but then she spotted her hot neighbor, with his looming height and eerie green eyes. Things were looking up…until he opened his mouth. Daemon Black is infuriating. Arrogant. Stab-worthy. It’s hate at first sight, but when a stranger attacks her and Daemon literally freezes time with a wave of his hand, well, something…unexpected happens. The hot guy next door? Well, he’s an alien. Turns out that Daemon and his sister have a galaxy of enemies wanting to steal their abilities and Katy is caught in the crosshairs. Daemon’s touch has lit her up like the Vegas Strip and the only way she’s getting out of this alive is by sticking close to him until her alien mojo fades. That is if she doesn’t kill him first.

You know how sometimes a book is just exactly what you needed and is so particularly good at what it is that you just…

You just read it until 3am.

That’s how good this book is. What it does, it does perfectly. I’m so blown away by how excellently the twisty, embarrassing, infuriating feelings of adolescence are crystallized in this book.

And there are also aliens. Come onnnnn this is too good.

Katy is so likeable, and very real. She has insecurities, but they aren’t crippling or overdone. She’s beautifully admirable in her courage. She’s so many things I was at her age but she manages to overcome them.

Let’s not even get me started on the chemistry. Hnng. Hnnnnnnnng.

Can I just say I’m glad I was a hopelessly abstinent loser in high school because if I had a boy like Daemon living next door, taunting me like that, I would have spent all of my spare time scratching at his bedroom window. Hooo lawdy.

Jennifer Armentrout does rocky, awkward, embarrassing, douchey relationships well. She does action and mysterious backgrounds well. Action, check. Banter, check. Mean teenagers, check check.

Just…read this book so we can fangirl over it together.

And yes, before anyone asks, I AM jealous that fictional, seventeen year old Katy’s book blog is more popular than mine.

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Review: Magic Bites (Kate Daniels #1) by Ilona Andrews

Magic Bites (Kate Daniels, #1)Magic Bites
by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Published April 1st 2007 by Penguin  
(first published March 27th 2007)

ISBN 0441014895 

When the magic is up, rogue mages cast their spells and monsters appear, while guns refuse to fire and cars fail to start. But then technology returns, and the magic recedes as unpredictably as it arose, leaving all kinds of paranormal problems in its wake.

Kate Daniels is a down-on-her-luck mercenary who makes her living cleaning up these magical problems. But when Kate’s guardian is murdered, her quest for justice draws her into a power struggle between two strong factions within Atlanta’s magic circles.

The Masters of the Dead, necromancers who can control vampires, and the Pack, a paramilitary clan of shapechangers, blame each other for a series of bizarre killings—and the death of Kate’s guardian may be part of the same mystery. Pressured by both sides to find the killer, Kate realizes she’s way out of her league—but she wouldn’t have it any other way…-from Goodreads

I waited too long to review this book, and now I don’t really remember enough of my first impression to give an objective review.

Kate Daniels is a mercenary-for-hire in a world where magic and technology vie for dominance in waves, kind of like large scale power outages (which do happen when the magic is on). Civilization, left reeling when buildings began collapsing and cars and airplanes became unreliable, has had to adapt to the resurgence of mystical, mythical forces in their world.

Interesting set-up, non? The world-building is pretty excellent. The concept takes a bit to warm up on you, but luckily this book has an excellent protagonist and otherwise solid characterization to keep you company while you adjust. Kate is a bit of a mysterious character at the outset, and there are details about her you don’t discover by the end of the book. Not so enigmatic that it drives you crazy, but just intriguing enough to make the details stick in your head.

There are few weaknesses about this book, and if I’d reviewed it right away I may not have mentioned them at all, the first being that nearly every male character in this book is described as somewhat attractive. The mind reels. It’s not a romance novel, and it’s not trying not to be either. Nearly every single one of these attractive men propositions Kate at some point. She turns them all down, naturally, because trope. It sounds unkind, but you want to think that this protagonist is different from all of the other self-sufficient women protagonists who are super hot and extra caustic. She is and she isn’t. Unfortunately you don’t find out until later books why she ISN’T quite as unreasonably chaste and trope-y as she comes off. So in this context, the romances are a bit silly.

Fortunately, this book has something very few others do, aside from well executed writing from multiple authors. It has legitimately funny moments. I’ve mentioned before how difficult it is for me to read really joke-y books, because either the humor doesn’t lift off the page or because it just doesn’t ring true with me specifically. I’m weird. But Magic Bites DID make me laugh. More than once, less than five times. The acerbic wit Kate spouts is spot on. The punch lines are punchy. I can’t even believe I am saying it. I NEVER say this. But it was.

Sickle claws shot from the tips of his stubby fingers. He spread his fingers in a catlike kneading motion, scraping the wooden surface of the table. “Oh boy,” I said. “How do you fluff your pillows at night?”

And later, a conversation between Kate and The Beast Lord, Curran:

“What happened to the alpha-wolf?”
“Legos?” It sounded Greek but I couldn’t recall anything mythological with that name. Wasn’t it an island?
“He was carrying a load of laundry into the basement and tripped on the old set of LEGOs his kids left on the stairs. Broke two ribs and an ankle. He’ll be out of commission for two weeks.” Curran shook his head. “He picked a hell of a time. If I didn’t need him I’d kill him.”

I dimly recall chortling for several seconds over that one. There are other, funnier moments in subsequent books, these are just the ones I remembered to highlight here.

The final thing I really liked about Kate Daniels as a protagonist and the reality of this fictional world, was how realistically and humanly Kate and other characters reacted to things. If she was in danger, Kate was afraid. REALLY afraid. Not paralysed, but decently fearful. Monsters were monstrous – the vampires, for example, are horrifying in this universe. No Edward Cullens here. If someone got hurt (and didn’t have super regeneration powers) they didn’t miraculously push through it (though I suppose this is debatable. I tend to pass out from shock if I so much as sprain an ankle).

All in all this was a GREAT book and it opens a GREAT series. I eagerly await the latest.

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Review: Quicksand by Nella Larsen Quicksand by Nella Larsen

QuicksandQuicksand by Nella Larsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m not sure how confident I am about the five stars just yet, this novel hit far too close to home. Quicksand is a bit like a modernist black Madame Bovary, if one wishes to be reductive, and I loved Madame Bovary.

Helga Crane is an unhappy schoolteacher at Naxos in Tennessee, chafing at the isolation and ostracization she feels being a bi-racial, class conscious woman in an all black institution in the South. She’s 23 at the opening of the novel. I am 23. Too close!

However, Helga lacks a home and sense of identity, her white mother, an immigrant from Denmark, died when Helga was fifteen, leaving her alone but for her Uncle Peter, a white man who arranges for her education but otherwise remains the racially correct amount of distant toward her. Helga’s father is absent but to my memory never finally accounted for. I presume he died when she was very young.

In the novel’s opening Helga decides suddenly after two years at Naxos she can’t bear another day of the place, quits without reference, breaks off her lukewarm engagement, and sets off to Chicago to apply to her Uncle Peter for a loan to get her on her feet. It’s the beginning of a journey for Helga, a quest for something she can’t define. Led astray by her own folly and inevitable inability to know her own mind, Helga searches for a home, an identity, and a balm to sooth the racial friction of her very being.

I read this novel for a literature class, and my classmate pointed out immediately how distasteful and unlikeable Helga is as a character. I may have to disagree, being that Helga is, for me, a caricature of possibility, a warning sign writ large. Likeable or not, she is the focal point of a series of very complex internalized issues, and a very interesting novel.

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Review: The Sparrow (The Sparrow, #1) by Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow (The Sparrow, #1)The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel is amazing. Probably the best Science Fiction novel I have ever read, and if not that, certainly in the top five. Hard-hitting theological questions detailed by tight knit interpersonal relationships and speculation about first contact with other sentient species. Very few flaws come to mind just after the first reading, but if I had to name one it would probably be how difficult it was to mentally picture Emilio Sandoz as a real human being, given how detailed his characterization is at the start, and how much he changes. I doubt it would trouble too many others. Though, speaking of troubling elements, this book is not fluffy and NOT for the faint of heart. Still, read it. READ IT.

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Review: Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist

Faerie TaleFaerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having previously read Feist’s Riftwar Saga and giving it a solid meh, I can confidently say this is Feist at his best.

Fans of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods will enjoy this book, which was published about ten years before Gaiman’s exploration of the fantastical in different kinds of folk tales.

Great pacing, solid characters, masterful weaving of the paranormal and mystical elements. Loved it.

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Review: White Cat (Curse Workers, #1) by Holly Black

White Cat (Curse Workers, #1)White Cat by Holly Black
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such a good book! I was reluctant to read it for a very long time because of my opinion of the other Holly Black books I’ve read (Tithe, Valiant, Ironside). They were okay, good even, but kind of lacking. I didn’t really connect with them and they didn’t impress me.

White Cat totally did. The concept is refreshing, and I liked how the mob elements gave a very gritty, realistic urban feel to the story.

I’m reading Red Glove now, and I’m happy to report: my trust in Holly Black’s writing has been fully restored.

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Review: Eon by Alison Goodman (Eon, #1)

Eon (Eon, #1)Eon by Alison Goodman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I vacillated between four and five stars for this book, and I ended up going with my *feels* instead of being hoity-toity and and judging it purely on its very few imperfections (of which I can’t call up an example at the moment, go figure).

Eon is written well, to start off. I was turning pages with an elevated heart rate, desperate to see what happened next. It was awesome. I was so sucked into the story and I felt Goodman gives the reader just the right amount of exposition about the geography and culture of Eon’s world. The history, not so much. This is crucial to the plot, however, as the reader begins to become aware, slowly, that a destructive patriarchy has erased and tried to rewrite the mystical laws and history of the world.

Speaking of, I really, really liked how Goodman confronted many feminist topics in a fantasy setting. Clearly, this is nothing new, especially YA fiction. I chose this book on Tamora Pierce’s recommendation (her quote is on the cover), and she has been writing pro-feminist YA fantasy for like, almost 30 years now? I think the major difference I would draw between a Pierce novel and Goodman’s Eon is that Tamora Pierce’s worlds sometimes have pockets of equalized cultures and traditions, in which women are protected. This is only hinted at in Eon, in which the eponymous character faces death with no quarter in hiding her sex. There is more hardness in Goodman’s reality, which seemed more realistic to me than Pierce’s style of tart practicality.

The other thing I really liked was the treatment of Lady Dela’s character. I won’t go into it to avoid spoilers, but suffice to say that I thought she was very well done by the author.

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to reading Eona, and I’m glad to have discovered another author who does fantasy so very well.

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Review: Chime by Franny Billingsley

ChimeChime by Franny Billingsley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ok, so five stars, and here is why: this book richly deserves five stars. It is BEAUTIFULLY written. It is not, however, going to seem beautifully written to many or even most people, for the very reason it is a dark-twisty-wonderful mess of beauty.

I won’t lie, it almost lost me. I was about 30% of the way through when I stopped reading and started looking for something else. Reading the first half of this book, to me, was a lot like a reading assignment for school. I’m an English major who enjoys poetry only when it is not force fed. And that (being an English major) gives me the authority to refer to the twisty rabbit warren mind of Briony, the narrator, in this first part. It is complex, it is boring, but BOY HOWDY will it all start to make sense later.

Take it in, slowly. Small chunks. Pace yourself, take your time, be patient with this book. Let yourself get bored, but please please try to finish it, because it is so worth the effort!

Usually I have trouble immersing myself into anything that isn’t info-dump-tastic and incredibly oversimplified without massive distrust of the author’s skill, and to a certain extent that happened here. Once I started to figure out what was going on in the story, my brain was highjacked, my disbelief suspended.

The characters were really well done. My favorite part of the story is Elderic. I am usually not so susceptible to male characters, but I couldn’t help but be charmed. He was just so dang understanding and raffish and frankly calling any man leonine is enough to make my imagination do implausible things.

Ok, now I’m just gushing and not saying anything particularly useful. My final remark is that I liked this book for the same reason I love Diana Wynne Jones’ Fire & Hemlock. There are some similarities, but mostly I am referring to the fact that it’s hard to tell exactly what is going on but you love it all the same.

Just read it, all the way through. I probably will again soon.

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