Tag Archive: book review


I’m late! Sorry all, long day yesterday, I didn’t get as much done on this as I wanted to then. I’m really excited for this review though. Back when I was dealing with my being at a low point I kept putting off reading this because I adore Seanan McGuire’s writing and I didn’t want to start it only to find that I wasn’t enjoying it, like every other book I was picking up at the time. That I’ve finally read it and enjoyed it as much as I expected if not more so is a great thing for me. So, thanks to the awesome folks at Tor, here’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones. Enjoy!

Down Among the Sticks and Bones cover

Jack and Jill, sorry, Jacqueline and Jillian, were their parents’ perfect children. Jacqueline was her mother’s daughter, soft and well mannered and always dressed like a fairy princess, a pretty decoration for the society ladies to coo over. Jillian was her father’s sporty tomboy, fearless and brave and almost as good as the son he’d wanted, at least he could talk peewee sports with the guys at work. They learned early that adults couldn’t be trusted. They learned early that what’s said isn’t always what is. But they never learned to lean on each other. When they find an impossible staircase in the room their grandmother abandoned years ago what they’ve learned won’t be enough for the world they find at the bottom or the choices they’ll have to make once they’re there.

Seanan McGuire’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a deeply interesting thing to me. It feels like it’s nearly all character study, which I love to pieces. It’s a story about choices and at the same time a story about being shaped by circumstance. It’s a story about expectations and how being forced into them can break someone without them realizing it, but also about how jumping to escape those expectations can hurt just as much. It’s a story about sisters, twins, split by expectations and choice and circumstance.

A big thing I like about Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the way things echo down from the beginning. Jacqueline is constantly told as a young child not to get dirty, to keep her dress clean, it’s part of her mother shaping her into the perfect society daughter. Once she’s on the other side of the door Jack has a phobia of getting dirty, even after years of working with Dr. Bleak as a mad scientist’s apprentice, it still effects her. Their dad does his best to shape Jillian into the ultimate tomboy, to make up for not having a son, but kids are cruel and the boys she was friends with as a kid abandon her as expectations tell them that girls are gross and not fun. She gets to see people calling her sister the pretty one without being allowed to be anything but the tomboyish one, the trouble maker with the same face as the prettiest girl in class. So she has no support structure on our side of the door and thus, once in the Moors, Jill clings to the adult authority figure who promises her comfort and pampering. She clings to him and idolizes him even as it’s revealed that he’s not concerned with her well being. Old resentments grow into a gulf of frustrations with consequences of their own.

I do feel like, ultimately, Jack pushes the story a lot more than Jill does. It tends to happen in stories with sibling protagonists that one gets more focus than the other. That said though, that feels more like a feature than a bug here. Jack chooses to go with Dr. Bleak, so Jill is left with the Master. Jack was tired of being just pretty and so jumped at the chance to learn, while Jill was tired of feeling like second pick and decided to be whatever the Master wanted to convince him she’d chosen him. That this also gave her a chance to be the pretty one is, if not significant to the initial choice, a fantastic bonus. Jack does more in story because she chose to be Dr. Bleak’s apprentice and so works with more people. Jill is the Master’s pampered daughter and so has little she has to do, which leaves her to soak in more of how fantastic it is to be the town ruler’s child and so above it all. It can leave Jill hard to care as much about, since we see her less versus seeing Jack grow.

Another thing I want to talk about real quick is the setting. The book takes place in this sort of fairy tale world, but it’s more gothic literature than the Disney stuff most of us have grown up with. The sun is seldom out from behind the clouds and night comes far too early. The mountains are full of wolves and what lurks beneath the ever stormy sea must be placated. The Moors are a dangerous place, something that the reader is reminded of regularly, but the danger is a fact of life. People plan for it and work around it. The Master is terrifying and dangerous, but so are the things behind his city’s walls. It’s dark, but not oppressive. It’s dangerous, but not paralysingly so. It’s really well written.

I don’t have a lot of wrap up here. I adored this book. I enjoyed the characters. The setting was great. Even the stuff that bothers me works in terms of the story itself, and I’m totally going to go find the one that came before this one. It gets a five out of five and if you can find it you should give Down Among the Sticks and Bones a read.

Hey all, check it out, I’m on time this week. Super impressive, I know. I have a review for you all. It was a little hard to write, because spoilers, and I’m not totally happy with parts of it but the whole isn’t half bad. Thanks to the nice folks from Harper this is The Book of Joan. Enjoy!

The Book of Joan cover

Ciel was meant to be a haven for the chosen few of humanity. An Eden away from an Earth wrecked by wars and over consumption. That ended almost as soon as it began, when the charismatic Jean de Men took full control. When the wars started back up because Earth didn’t want to, couldn’t, send the supplies Ciel demanded he lead ruthless attack after attack. The rebels had one hope, a girl with a glowing mark on her face and a song pulsing in her being, Joan. They never stood a chance. Earth fell, Joan was martyred, and only the faintest memory of her song remains. But there is power in songs and more in stories. Jean de Men’s rule is iron fisted, but rebellion is stirring again even among the withered denizens of Ciel. A story can light the fires of rebellion, and a song can shake the heavens, but not even Joan can know how either will end.

So, Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan is a really weird book. It wants to be smart and literary and all that. It wants to explore what it means to be human and humanity’s relationship with the Earth. But it has a lot of spinning its wheels and drama on the way there. It also doesn’t mesh well with its blurb, which made writing the summary a little iffy.

Let’s just jump in on that. When I say this book wants to be literary but spins its wheels, I am mostly talking about the way words get used. Everyone is overly verbose, everyone uses five dollar words where something more common would serve just as well. Just as well or better, honestly, since everyone includes the foulmouthed child soldier. The use of SAT-esque vocabulary makes the whole reading experience feel clunky and obtuse, which of course makes for a really dull read.

I do feel like a lot of the big, look at how smart I am, words are part of the wanting to be literary thing. The Book of Joan wants to impress you with how literary and important and think-y it is, but then doesn’t have a solid line on what it wants to say and what it wants to make you think about. It is sound and fury signifying nothing, and that is unfortunate because there are some nifty ideas buried in the text. A side effect of that is that there winds up being a ton of sex and gender weirdness.

In the early parts of the book we are introduced to the idea that the people of Ciel have been warped by radiation. Their hair has fallen out, their skin is bleached, and their genitals are either sealed shut or shriveled. This leads our point of view character for the Ciel bits, Christine, to contemplate humanity and the loss thereof. Which means she talks a lot about sex and how that’s lost to the people of Ciel. This could have been something about a loss of connection in a better book but, given how The Book of Joan also keeps going over how withered and useless the remaining humans’ genitals are, it doesn’t land well enough to work on any level.

There’s also some gender based stuff that really rubbed me the wrong way, especially towards the end. Because spoilers, I’m not going to go super into it here. Basically though, the end winds up throwing in stuff about women being around to be mothers out of nowhere. It also really didn’t work, because there wasn’t anything to support it as part of the narrative. It also didn’t work for me personally because that’s just not a sentiment I can get behind. There was also an eleventh hour character reveal that pissed me off so badly I nearly threw the book.

There were some ideas I found interesting. The grafts, particularly the stories rather than the skin art, were a nifty idea that I’d have liked to see more about. The change from humans as we know them to the hairless withered version of the book, if that hadn’t happened in a laughably tiny timeframe, I would be super interested in. Ciel itself strikes me as a place very similar to Bioshock’s Rapture, with only the best of the best and the richest able to go there but then also having such a reliance on the world they left behind. That kind of stuff fascinates me and could have been the base for a really interesting story. But it wasn’t.

So, where does that leave me with this book? The Book of Joan is sci-fi that wants to be literature when it could have been fantastic genre fiction if only it felt comfortable being genre fiction. It wants to be big and important and smart and fails utterly on all counts. I do still think some of the ideas from this book could have been good, if they were handled by another author. I admit, my score for this is pretty heavily affected by the thing at the end. That took the book from a meh three to a one out of five.

I’m late again. Not going to lie, this one was hard to write. LArgely because a lot of my issues with the book stemmed from spoilery things that were hard to write around and I didn’t want to do a spoiler filled review. This one’s from NetGalley. Enjoy!

Moonbreaker cover

Eddie Drood, former head of the Drood family and very secret agent, is a dead man. He was attacked and poisoned by Dr. DOA and cannot last much longer. To prevent anyone else getting hurt Eddie and Molly Metcalf, former magical terrorist turned ally and love interest, are going to do whatever it takes to stop Dr. DOA. If that means dealing with the Unforgiven God, fighting the Drood family’s past mistakes, or even going to the moon to prevent a world ending weapon from being used, well that’s just business as usual.

Moonbreaker is another book that is far into its series, leading to me having a number of issues with both the characters and story. That makes me worry a little about being fair to the story, especially given that I can’t help comparing it to books from Simon R. Green’s Nightside series which is set in the same world.

The characters, particularly Eddie himself, were a fair part of my issue here. Imagine that James Bond knew that he was kind of awful and was perfectly happy to explain that to his companion and, by extension, the reader. Also MI6 has not only hunted Bond in the past, but also has a habit of hording all the dangerous things and people they’ve managed to capture. Just in case. That’s the Eddie and the rest of the Drood family. For a first time series reader this makes Molly the reader’s view into the Drood family’s whole deal, and her horror with some of the things the family does just sort of gets brushed aside. It’s what and how they do things and it’s always been that way. That annoys me. I’m good with protagonists that aren’t golden heroes who do no wrong and help everyone, those guys get boring, this isn’t that. The Droods feel so married to the grey area that I just couldn’t get invested in them or Eddie.

My other problems is that the plot feels almost fractured. There are several conflicts that crop up that have little to do with stopping Dr. DOA or could have done better as the main conflict of another story. There are enough of those that by the time we get to the climax of the story there just isn’t any tension. Eddie’s presented as pretty boringly unstoppable for most of the book’s run due to his Drood armor, only being weakened by the poison in any meaningful way in the last quarter or so of the book, which doesn’t help with all the little conflicts feeling unimportant. Then the book was over and I could only be disappointed.

Molly was pretty awesome though. I kind of want to read a series about her. What didn’t work with Eddie being so, so over powered because of his armor, sort of worked in Molly’s favor. She’s also supposed to be super powerful but, because all the Droods have this ridiculous armor, she stands out more for holding her own despite being so much weaker by comparison. She’s also the one who wants to look for an antidote or something instead of just letting Eddie have his death. Trying to find a cure would have actually worked better for me as the B conflict that a lot of the other stuff and it could have hit a lot of the same beats the book did anyway.

Where does that leave Moonbreaker? Despite my best efforts, I know that my enjoyment of the older Nightside books leaves me more disappointed in this one than I would otherwise be. That’s not really fair to this book as a standalone and, again, it being later in the series doesn’t help things. I feel like there were a lot of good ideas here that wound up being used as padding instead of explored as well as they could have been. But it is rushed and disjointed, so it gets a two out of five. I would read Simon R. Green again, just not this series.

Mormama

Hey all, I’ve got a review for you today. It’s a little late, just due to general life stuff, but still up on Wednesday. So I’m happy with that. Thanks to the nice folks at Tor, this is Mormama. Enjoy!

Mormama cover

Sometimes the past doesn’t like to let go. The Ellis house has been standing for three generations, a rotting shrine to fabulous wealth and festering greed.  The house keeps its own, drawing them back when they try to escape. Lane escaped once, until her husband walked out on her and her son. She had to go back to the house that nearly devoured her as a child. Memory less, Dell can only hope that the card in his pocket will take him home to the Ellis house and a family that could be his. Theo, Theo wants out, away from the elderly Aunts who haunt the house like a trio of ghosts, away from his mom being stuck unable to care for either of them, and away from the thing that whispers to him at night. Away from the Mormama who tells him about the house’s tragedies and the darkness that presses in on its residents. Sometimes the past doesn’t like to let go. Sometimes it refuses to.

Southern gothic isn’t a genre I’ve done much with before. Based on Kit Reed’s Mormama, it’s not quite horror, and it’s not quite genre literature, but somewhere between the two. There’s a lot of almost character versus atmosphere going on and, more than that, a character versus past thing. I really dug both of those aspects. The downside to how atmospheric and into how trapped the characters feel by their situations is that the book can be very easy to put down.

So, what do I mean by that? Part of the atmosphere for the book was this sort of floating hopelessness. It seeped into little corners of the characters lives and pulled them more tightly to the house. Lane wants out as soon as possible, but she can’t find a job to allow that. Dell wants his past back, wants to know where he came from, but he’s so desperate for it to be this one version of him that he can’t accept anything else. He also can’t bring himself to use the one source he has that might tell him everything. Even the Aunts are trapped in their past and the bitterness they have over merely being caretakers of the house rather than the belles they had been in their youth. It’s both something that slows down the book and cuts its readability and also, ultimately, really cool.

That’s kind of my feeling on a lot of the book ultimately. It’s a slow read with a lot of bits that don’t feel super important to the story but that absolutely build the characters and atmosphere. Which makes for an interesting read. I do feel like some of the supernatural bits could have been tied in better, but that’s a little thing for the most part. The fairly slow pace over can make the ending feel a little too fast, but that’s not a huge deal, that little too fast can also make it feel cataclysmic. It’s a scale thing I guess. I actually don’t have a ton to say about this one so on to the score I guess?

Like I said earlier, southern gothic isn’t a genre that I have a ton of experience with. That’s part of why I don’t have a ton to say about it. There’s also a lot of almost fiddly bits that would probably count as spoilers, so I’m not talking a ton about those. That said, I did quite enjoy this book. While it can get slow at points that works for the overall feel of it. I’m giving Mormama a four out of five and would read Kit Reed again.

And, in a turn of events I’m sure no one saw coming, I am late posting my postponed review. Who would have thought, right? I’d have had it if not for that sleeping curse. But it’s here now, much to everyone’s delight. Thanks to the awesome folks at Tor, here’s The People’s Police. Enjoy!

the-peoples-police-cover

When Officer Martin Luther Martin was ordered to serve his own eviction notice he didn’t expect to wind up the face for the following police strike against the loan lizards trying to foreclose on everyone. When bordello owner J. B. Lafitte called the strike on being self serving, only helping the police, he didn’t expect them to agree. When MaryLou Boudreau first woke up from dancing with a full hat and no memory of how it wound up that way she never expected to wind up as Mama Legba, television personality and horse to the Loa. No one expected Papa Legba himself to address Luke on tv or the question he would ask. “What do you offer?”

This one might get a little weird, there may also be a few spoilers so heads up. Norman Spinrad’s The People’s Police is a bit of an odd duck as far as fantasy or urban fantasy novels go. It’s well written in many respects, but I’d have a hard time calling it a fun read. It’s got definite fantasy elements, but is also almost cynical in its approach to politics and the way we’re governed. It’s got a really political thesis, but then avoids a lot of what makes that thesis political, becoming sort of a preaching to the choir deal. It’s actually a little hard to come up with much of an opinion on it because of all that, I’m really not used to that.

So, start from the beginning, does the story live up to its blurb? Yes and no. The actual blurb for the book doesn’t really say much, so it’s hard for the book to not fall into it. At the same time the book lacks a certain degree of coherency for much of its run which, in addition to making it feel like it could have been trimmed a good deal, also leads to it feeling very scattered in places. Several characters could have been worked in much better, but instead weren’t introduced until the last probably fifth of the novel. The same can be said for certain events not having enough lead up and so winding up feeling misplaced.

We also get some weirdness with the language of the book both in that Spinrad occasionally chooses to write in characters’ accents, something I’m not a fan of, and that multiple characters will more or less verbatim use really specific wording. That bit is very like being beaten over the head with propaganda, like video game levels of it that you’re supposed to know what it is so you don’t take it seriously, which doesn’t fit because it’s part of the book’s main idea. It feels clumsy or like Spinrad doesn’t trust his audience to get it.

Here’s the kicker, none of that singly or grouped together runs a serious risk of killing a book for me, at least not usually. He’s also got some stuff that’s usually near guaranteed to get me invested. There’s good character work, any number of scenes are strongly written and play well to the reader’s senses, and the weird cynical optimism often works in the book’s favor. It doesn’t set though. We get a lot of back story in the first half of the book, but a lot of its told rather than shown. The supernatural aspect is interesting and the in book discussion had potential, though I feel like maybe Spinrad could have used something other than the Loa or done more to actively show his work. I know next to nothing about Voodoo, so I could easily be missing the mark entirely on that one, but still. Even the character work falls flat in places with a later character’s focus on his religion making him feel very cardboard where he, if introduced earlier, could have been much more dynamic.

I’m sitting at the point where I can easily see people getting really into The People’s Police and any number of other people reading two chapters and reselling it. Its writing is technically pretty good but lacks flavor, for lack of a better word, and has enough little things that I’m just neutral on the whole thing. So that said, The People’s Police gets a three out of five.

I am spazzing about finals not at all yet.  That’s going to change in the next couple of days, but at the moment I’m fairly chill about it.  I’m looking at trying to finish my Christmas shopping tomorrow afternoon and then seeing if I can find some wrapping paper that isn’t the daily newspaper and duct tape.  I’m still stuck at about a third of the way through with the Thor scarf in all it’s ridiculously wide glory, but that just means I’ll have a project for next term too. Help me, I think I have been infected with optimism.  It’s fatal and I do not want to succumb to it.  On to the review!

Audrey Callahan is determined to escape her former life as a grifter in the Edge and live a nice, normal, legal life in the Broken.  At least until her father comes to her for one last heist with a pay off she can’t afford to pass up.  Kaldar Mar is an agent of the Mirror, a lady’s man, a scalawag, and a gambler.  His latest assignment has him searching for a powerful artifact stolen from an impenetrable fortress in an enemy country full of terrifying monsters.   Not that any of that is a problem.  No, Kaldar’s problem is Audrey, the stubborn redhead who broke into the nearly impenetrable fortress and stole the powerful artifact.  He’s going to need her to survive, but can he let her go once the mission ends?

Before Fate’s Edge I’d never read an Ilona Andrews novel.  I’d looked at their Kate Daniels novels, but any time I could find the first one I’d be too broke or too busy to get it.  That’s something I’m going to have to rectify.  Fate’s Edge made me laugh far more than I’d expected.  Audrey and Kaldar’s constant attempts at figuring out each other’s angle were just cute.   Audrey’s issues with her family were fairly well written and touched on enough to be believable without getting annoying.  Kaldar manages to strike a balance between serious business government agent and freewheeling gambler that makes him both charming and rather frightening.  The character interactions are top notch with a blend of serious moments and humorous back and forths that serve to humanize the characters.  The world is fantastic, all three of them in fact, the Edge and the Weird are every bit as thought out as the scenes in the Broken.  The only characters who weren’t terribly interesting were the villains, and that’s forgivable in the grand scheme of things.

One of my only issues with Fate’s Edge was that I’d have liked to have seen more regarding the differences in the way that Kaldar thinks of his family as compared to the way Audrey thinks of hers.  My other thing goes back to the villains; they came across as being evil for its own sake as opposed to the heroes who were out for family and country.  It would be nice to see them get more development in future books.

By the end of the book I definitely wanted to read the rest of Ilona Andrew’s bibliography and I’d definitely had a blast reading this one.  I’m giving this a four out of five because of the thing with the bad guys and some nitpicky things about characters thinking in circles, but I’m also definitely going to pick up the next in the series when it comes out.

Holy cow it’s been a while since I posted a review.  Can’t promise that this won’t happen again soon, finals start next Tuesday and will be devouring my time, energy, and possibly will to live.  Since you guys have been so good as to put up with me though, I’ve finally got that one review written.  More should be coming between now and the heat death of the sun, so stick around!

Clay Cove lives with the memory of the day he was viciously attacked and left for dead.  He remembers nearly bleeding out and the helpless feeling of jumping at shadows afterward.  Clay knows that no matter how dependable the rest of his gang, the Locals, are he can’t count on them to be there every time something goes down.  Violence is increasing as the Hakers and the Shawns push into the Locals’ turf.  Old friends are becoming suspect, family is under attack, and the only thing Clay can count on is that it can always get worse.

It Can Always Get Worse by Shandy L. Kurth is very much like one of those books that my high school made us read in 9th grade English.  It’s trying to say something but falling flat on all sides.   It’s not about the gang violence, though that takes up most of the plot, and it isn’t character driven enough to be about making it in a violent world with the family you choose.  It isn’t about trying to find something better, though that gets lip service.  The Locals stay stubbornly in their turf while getting pounded on all sides by enemies that seem to only want to watch the world burn.

It Can Always Get Worse is the safe for work version of a gang story written from the other side of the camera.  This is the kind of thing you walk away from a well meaning college program about how we are failing today’s youth and then write while feeling bad about being a middle class college kid.  It’s white washed up one side and down the other, I can’t remember any characters who aren’t Caucasian.  It’s got the emotional impact of wet cement, and it really loses what could have been some good moments because of that.   These characters don’t talk like real people much less kids from the bad part of town, no they talk like the kids from the suburbs who’re trying to be deep but just falling into broken prose.  My biggest non-writing problem with this is how very outside looking in it is, that other side of the camera thing, there is no visceral feeling that anyone could die at any moment.  It feels like a high school play version of The Outsiders put to paper again.

That said, there were some moments that could have been really good if more had been done with them.  Kurth really needs to work on amping up the emotion of a scene rather than navel gazing about how terrible the world it or describing her characters.  She could also probably do with a better editor or a more critical publisher.  I wouldn’t read her next book or the one after it, but if she made it to a fourth book or got published by one of the big name publishers I’d take another look.  In and of itself, It Can Always Get Worse earns a two out of five and some grousing over how bland it was.

Hotwire

This is so late I cannot even.  Getting ready for the up-coming term has been kicking my butt so hard I’m amazed that I can still sit down.  The good news is that I’ve got a couple of books ready to review soon and I’ll be getting to do another giveaway later this month along with a guest post by the book’s author, the bad news is that I’ll still have to take the time to pack and unpack everything and get back into classes mode.  Things should be back to something like normal within the next few weeks.

On a peaceful night in western Nebraska a group of teenagers looking to film themselves getting high are attacked by a mysterious creature.  The attack leaves them apparently electrocuted with only mysterious scorch marks as evidence.  Maggie O’Dell has to make sense of differing accounts of the evening and her witnesses being killed off one by one.  Meanwhile in Washington, D.C. Benjamin Platt is called in on an outbreak of an unknown contagion at an elementary school.  What connection is there between the two cases?

Alex Kava does a really excellent job of balancing analytical science based story telling with jabs of high octane action and high emotion.  Hotwire, while a little slow at the start, builds on itself with connections between O’Dell and Platt’s cases resulting in a read that barrels towards its conclusion at a break neck pace.  We also get character development for Racine whose first name is Julia apparently, I’d forgotten that.  One of the really interesting things in Hotwire is seeing the differences in how characters view each other, this is shown especially well in Platt and Racine’s interactions throughout the book.

I’ve only got one problem with Hotwire and unfortunately it’s a big one.  The story telling is excellent, as good as anything Kava’s done before, but the plot leaves way too many dangling threads.  Characters who turn out to be really important to the plot don’t get the characterization to carry their importance and bits of dead end plot happened that could have easily been cut out without hurting the story in the least.  It didn’t hurt the story while I was reading it, but it did lead to a ton of fridge logic and a feeling that this was a bit less streamlined than some of Kava’s earlier books.

I’m giving Hotwire a solid four out of five.  This one’s worth re-reading later.