The problems of foreign aid

The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly

A prepublication Big5+ review

r/suggestmeabook: I want political intrigue where a not terribly politic warrior princess is fighting to save her country.

Movie rating: PG-13

Publication date: 1/12/2021

Publisher: HarperVoyager

ARC courtesy of NetGalley

From the publisher: A princess with a powerful and dangerous secret must find a way to save her country from ruthless invaders in this exciting debut fantasy, the first novel in a thrilling duology packed with heroism, treachery, magic, and war.

Greta Kelly spins an engaging yarn about Askia, a woman with a claim to a crown who has had to flee her country because her cousin has been installed as a puppet king by a foreign power—and that foreign power has been absorbing its neighbors for years. The favored weapon to bring each country to its knees? Sealing up a city and burning all the inhabitants to death. Desperate, Askia seeks help from her godfather, the emperor of a major empire to the south, hoping he will save the present for the sake of the past.

Our homeland, pillaged and burning and crawling with invaders, lay less than a mile north of here. But with the jagged peaks of the Peshkalor Mountains shading my back, I might as well have been a hundred miles away. The strangled screams of everyone I’d left behind echoed through the passes, reverberating through my skull.

Greta Kelly, The Frozen Crown

How Kelly handles powerful women is interesting. The protagonist, Askia, is something we see a lot in fantasy: the warrior maiden who has learned how to fight like the boys and basically shoots the finger at the dominant patriarchal society. She does this well, for even though she sounds suspiciously contemporary, it’s not problematic for me, because, despite the setting, everyone sounds pretty contemporary. The other powerful woman, Queen Ozura, must exercise her power indirectly from the harem, which is a much more traditional way women had to exercise power—from the shadows. But Kelly doesn’t treat her as somehow lesser because the society she’s in has required her to take a less straightforward approach.

I let their indifference slide off me. I wasn’t in Eshakaroth for them. I was there for the Vishiri envoy. My father once told me the Vishiri emperor had a weakness for the exotic and the strange. So I would do my barbarian best to catch his interest from a thousand miles away.

Greta Kelly, The Frozen Crown

The main characters are clearly drawn and likable, despite the fact that they tend toward stock characters. Stock characters are fine when well done, as Kelly has—none of them feel forced or clunky. I’d have liked to know more about some of the secondary characters, but since this is a first person narrative, Askia’s lack of interest in the backgrounds of the people around her works. She’s so focused on solving her immediate problem, and doesn’t always think through how to best utilize the contacts she has, that it makes sense to me that she doesn’t sit down and ask, say, Nariko, the woman who is her primary contact with the local culture, about her life and motivations.

It was being done so casually, so openly, that I could ahve kicked myself for not realizing it sooner. Queen Ozura hadn’t sent Nariko to serve me. She’d been sent to spy. I knew I should be angry, but it was all so ridiculous, I couldn’t muster the emotion.

Greta Kelly, The Frozen Crown

The book is paced well and has clean, clear writing. This is a book that plays into the expectations of the reader in a good way—not exactly predictable, but definitely solidly within the genre. There are some nice twists, and Kelly does a nice job of making you feel as though Askia is being pressured into a corner.

The biggest problem I’d predict someone would have is that it’s definitely a first installment, so if you don’t like waiting to find out what happens next, you may want to wait until the entire series has been published. Overall, this fantasy is well-executed and fun, and I can’t wait to see how it ends.


#FridayFlashbook: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

A bookblogger roundup on a book that’s been around

Many thanks to Gary Mitchelhill of Rapidsnap at Deviant Art for the banner picture!

On Fridays, I’m going to be sharing reviews on a book on my TBR that I keep hearing about. Today I’m sharing reviews for Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, often cited as an optimistic choice and nominated for many awards that don’t typically give the nod to a self-published novel.

Today’s roundup includes a thumbs down, which I’d generally prefer to do. Reviews are in alphabetical order—the audiobook review is at the bottom.

From the publisher: When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The ship, which has seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.

Grab the Lapels

A rave review.

Everything about this novel is phenomenal. Not one character is alike, and all are engaging in their own ways. Chambers manages to write about culture, xenophobia, homophobia, colonialism, science deniers, religious extremists, consent, love, the nuclear family, language — just loads of stuff. And the author weaves it in so carefully that the book is never heavy handed. 

Melanie, “The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers,” Grab the Lapels

Logos con Carne

Not a fan.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like this book at all.

There are matters of taste versus quality, and there certainly are quality things not to my taste. I want to be clear that I do have complaints about the quality of the storytelling. If it was up to taste, I probably would have liked this book.

On paper, the framework is exactly the sort of thing I enjoy — a “small scruffy crew of misfits on an independent spaceship.”

Wyrd Smythe, “Chambers: Small Angry Planet,” Logos con Carne

Muse with Me

A somewhat critical review.

It’s rare that I feel so utterly positive about a book that I had a somewhat glaring issue with. Within the first 50 pages or so, as Rosemary becomes acquainted with her new crewmates and job, I was ready for the story to kick into a higher gear. Worldbuilding and introductions had been laid down, and I was ready to get a sense of what the underlining conflict to this novel might be. The titular “small, angry planet” that they’re traveling to serves more as a foreboding presence to be confronted at the climax of the story, so in the meantime, I kept waiting for a more persistent, present conflict to make itself known.

Ryan Carter “Book Review – The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers,” Muse with Me

Space and Sorcery

A review from a reader who expected “Firefly vibes.”

The overall tone of the novel might appear overly rosy-hued at times, painting a picture that goes even beyond the theme of the unified, strife-free galaxy envisioned by Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek: as the crew of the Wayfarer is on warm and friendly terms with each other, so are the various alien races peopling this universe, and even the few exceptions don’t seem able to shatter this balance.

Maddalena, “The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet  (Wayfarers #1), by Becky Chambers – #SciFiMonth,” Space and Sorcery

A Take from Two Cities

An audiobook review of the version narrated by Patricia Rodriguez, and somewhat negative.

Sadly I’m feeling rather underwhelmed by this series starter when I really expected to enjoy it. I’m a lover of sci-fi and the idea of a fun bunch of species romping the galaxy sounded right up my street and in some ways it was.How I wish, so fervently, to rise like Lazarus from the yawning depths of my shelves, that I may reach you before you sail downstream to the thread of future wherein you chance upon, This Is How You Lose The Time War. Though under the glittering constellations of my own beloved worlds, I still long to be your vanguard of yet unseen worlds, to carry once more the banner of warning upon which I break both time and heart.

Micky, “The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet,A Take from Two Cities

Someday I’ll get through that TBR and have a chance to review it myself—it sounds like a solid escapist read.

Happy Friday!

Heresy, destiny, and free will

Morgan Le Fay: Small Things and Great by Jo-Anne Blanco

Love Book Tours Blog Tour

r/suggestmeabook: I want an Arthurian-cycle-based adventure with a precocious 5-year-old Morgan and a suspect Merlin.

Movie rating: PG-13

Pages: 302

Publisher: Publish Nation

Fata Morgana Series Book 1

Advance Reading Copy provided by Love Book Tours

From the publisher: Morgan is a little girl who lives in Tintagel Castle by the sea, loved and sheltered by her noble parents, the Duke and Duchess of Belerion. An extraordinarily clever child, extremely sharp-eyed, exceptionally curious. A little girl unlike other children.

One stormy night a ship is wrecked off the coast, bringing with it new friends – Fleur the princess from a far-off land, Safir the stowaway with a secret, and the mysterious twins Merlin and Ganieda. Morgan’s visions of another world awaken her to the realisation that she can see things others cannot. That she has powers other people do not possess.

The shipwreck initiates Morgan’s technicolor adventures, which move rather quickly, as you find yourself running into names from the Arthurian cycle such as Igraine, Merlin, Pellinore (offscreen). Other names are bandied about up as the book progresses, including Uther Pendragon (in this version, Ambrosius is his brother). Then there are the Celtic elements visiting Cornwall at the outset, such as the Great Hunt and Cernunnos.

The mix of worlds and the writing itself were enjoyable, and the twist on the Arthurian legend is clever. The characters, for the most part, are all off-the-shelf mix and match, but when the protagonist is a 5-year-old, it’s unlikely that a close POV would provide much nuance about character, so I wasn’t much bothered by that. Instead, the parts of the book that stuck out to me were factors that interfered with my suspension of disbelief.

The black clouds swirling above her seemed to breathe fire; as Morgan watched, she began to see fiery eyes appearing one after another, like evil stars, glaring down.

Jo-Anne Blanco, Morgan Le Fay: Small Things and Great

From around my junior year in high school through a year or so after I married, I was obsessed with the Matter of Britain. To name a few books off the top of my head: The Once and Future King, Idylls of the King, The Crystal Cave, and Merlin’s cameo in That Hideous Strength. Around this period, the movie Excalibur came out. When possible, I chose Arthurian themes for papers in school, both high school and college.

At the time, I was firmly ensconced in an evangelical Christian community, trying to explain how magic could be reconciled with Christianity, comparing Merlins across various books. (I also liked to work on how different English kings used the Arthurian legend to bolster their reigns.) I ended up choosing to have magic in my life, but that’s a different story.

After a very long period of reading very little Arthuriana, here comes Jo-Anne Blanco’s version. She’s a heretic, but an interesting one.

First, Morgan Le Fey is the protagonist, a solid feminist choice. Given the overall gloomily misogynistic tropes in Arthurian legend, it’s a nice change of pace. And Merlin, well, Merlin is clearly going to be a Bad Boy.

Merlin’s eyes went cold and his mouth twisted. Taliesin saw the look and said hastily, “I should go, Lady Morgan. I’ll be back before nightfall.”

“Yes, go, page boy,” Merlin said before Morgan could reply. “No one will miss you.”

Jo-Anne Blanco, Morgan Le Fay: Small Things and Great

I’m guessing that in the many, many years since I last read a novel related to the Arthurian cycle, there have been other attempts to rewrite the stories to have a feminist conscience, but as it was new to my experience, I found myself resisting the portrayal more than I would have expected. From an intellectual point of view, I’m really good with the change, but from an emotional standpoint, it’s kind of like pointing out to me that my best friends in high school were actually bullies. There’s a lot of motivation to preserve the nostalgia, no matter how irrational.

Perhaps part of that resistance could be attributed to my problem accepting that a 5-year-old as the originator of the thoughts and actions described in the book. It’s always tough with kids because people will tend to compare them to the children of the same age when they visualize them, and my granddaughter is six. Not only that, child developmental theory is a pet interest—in no way an expert, but one of those annoying people with just enough knowledge to spread discomfort.

Ignoring Sebile’s infuriated shouts, she scurried along the stricken coast and shoreline, the wind buffeting her small body so hard that she couldn’t walk straight. She searched for anything that might look like children from the ship.

Jo-Anne Blanco, Morgan Le Fay: Small Things and Great

Anyway, I bounced my resistance to young Morgan’s precocious apprenticeship and her participation in rescue efforts off my husband, and he reminded me of the early chores and duties that fell on children in subsistence farming, and the upped the ante by reminding me of a friend of my father’s.

This man, whom I only knew as a fighter pilot in my dad’s squadron and my piano teacher’s husband, had been separated from his grandmother in Berlin during WWII and ended up having to survive on the streets. He was three. THREE! I never learned any more details than that they were parted while getting on some form of public transportation and he was able to reunite with his family after the war was over.

So, okay, kids can be capable of far more than we see in environments dissimilar to what my granddaughter sees. But what about her ability to deal with complex moral issues, an ability to see more than black and white, and her altruism? Her friend Fleur’s inability to see past her religion is much more developmentally accurate than Morgan’s attempts to reconcile Druidism and Christianity.

The other problem is that the relatively flat characters are consistent with a 5-year-old’s black and white thinking, but when she is able to experience altruism and see greys in the moral spectrum, it’s more troubling that there’s not more depth to the characters, and makes it harder to stay in her world.

So I’m not as convinced of the historical/environmental differences part of this one, but, hey, magic? Morgan (and seemingly everyone around her, to lesser extents) is the Chosen One (as one can surmise by the publisher’s blurb), so she may just be ahead of the game. It’s magic, right?

“You were not exchanged for anyone, Morgan. You can do all of these things because you are special. Unique. One day you will understand. There is no one like you, my child, and there will never be anyone else like you.”

Queen Diana, Jo-Anne Blanco, Morgan Le Fay: Small Things and Great

I suppose. I’m interested to see how this mega-novel* goes (as this book is clearly just a resting point and not a complete story) and if there was a compelling reason to have Morgan quite so young. Even a few years older, and I’d have had less head cocking at certain passages.

Yes, Morgan as the Chosen One is also heresy. Centering her in the Arthurian legend is different than also giving her the mantle of superiority, at this point seemingly above Merlin and with Arthur not in the picture. But I rather like an approach that tacitly says, no, the chroniclers and oral historians got it all wrong, they erased Morgan’s contributions from the narrative, demonized her.

The other heresy arises because Morgan is almost desperately trying to reconcile the Christian beliefs with the Druidical—and with her own experiences. The book opens with a nightmare that would be chilling for an adult, much less a 5-year-old, and she correlates them with the fall of Lucifer and the biblical Flood. (No telling what they are at this point.)

“My lord, there are many of my fellow Christian priests who unfortunately cling to stories of devils and demons to try to explain what they cannot understand. But I assure there is almost always a reasonable explanation for situations such as this.”

Elfodd the priest to Duke Gorlois, Jo-Anne Blanco, Morgan Le Fay: Small Things and Great

This approach appears to be modeled on her father, the Duke, who is trying out freedom of religion in his little corner of the world, allowing both the Christians and the Druids to exist without interference. But Morgan, whose parents at least are nominally Christian, has the daily input from her mentor, of the Druidic persuasion, and her best friend, the rigidly Christian Princess Fleur.

Fleur spoke up. “There was an old Druid man there. He was saying things, Aunt Igraine. Horrible things. He said you were a Druid and a heathen and that you learned heathen things.”

Jo-Anne Blanco, Morgan Le Fay: Small Things and Great

Not surprisingly, there’s also a skulking hardline priest running around who’s got it in for the live and let live crowd.

In addition to the theme of competing beliefs, free will features prominently, with many references to higher powers being confined by the free will of the creatures beneath them. Not all that surprisingly, no one addresses the fact that Morgan has been gifted with additional powers, and Morgan is understandably confused by the choices less fortunate children make about their fates.

Since this was a difficult book to critique in terms of the writing—it’s stolidly competent—the issues of Morgan’s credibility, of the Chosen One, of the discussion of tolerance and free will are more high profile for me, but if you are more someone who likes plot more than character development and those bits don’t trouble you, check the book out. I’m not entirely sure where Blanco is going with the somewhat overt moral of the story, but I’m a little concerned I’m not going to like where it’s headed. However, I liked it well enough to read the next one!

* Thanks to Ria Cheyne, who used this term in reference to ASOIF in “Fantasy: Affirmation and Enchantment,” Disability, Literature, Genre: Representation and Affect in Contemporary Fiction, 109-34. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2019. Accessed November 29, 2020. doi:10.2307/j.ctvsn3pp7.8.

Alone

A Big5+ review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

r/suggestmeabook: I want a wistful, melancholy stroll through the life of a perpetually young and alone woman.

Movie rating: PG-13

Pages: 442

Publisher: Tor Books

From the publisher: France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

I had a hard time reading this book.

No, it has absolutely nothing to do with V.E. Schwab’s writing style, which is some of the most elegant writing I’ve read. She manages the balance between explicit and implicit, decorative and spare in a way that makes her books a pleasure to read. Not only that, her exercise of her craft never makes you feel as though she’s self-conscious of her mastery, like a master cook making a simple classic perfectly (yes, I just finished the season of GBBO).

She will not remember the stories themselves, but will recall the way he tells them; the words feel smooth as rivers stones, and she wonders if he tells these stories when he is alone, if he carries on, talking to Maxine in this easy, gentle way. Wonders if he tells stories to the wood as he is working it. Or if they are just for her.

V.E. Schwab, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

No, it wasn’t just the melancholy that pervades much of the book, although that was what I told myself when I broke off and read three other books from when I started The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and when I ended it. Granted, I didn’t realize that The Fifth Season would be such a kick to the solar plexus, and The Salt Fields punched over its weight class, but, even so, neither of these books got under my skin the way The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue did.

The words ache, even as she thinks them, the game giving way to want, a thing too genuine, too dangerous. And so, even in her imagination, she guides the conversation back to safer roads.

V.E. Schwab, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

The problem was the shape of the melancholy in The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. The Fifth Season and The Salt Fields both included tragedies that have touched on my life, and had I known that, I might have avoided them, but those reads were still important for the paths to understanding they offer. However, in both reads, the oppression that girds those stories is one I can get enraged and shamed and indignant about, and rail against the inhumanity that shapes that pain, but it is not a pain that I, in my more privileged status, have often experienced, and certainly not one that shaped me from childhood.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue was an extended view of a more personal type of pain, that of the perpetual outsider. It resonated far more with my own psychological pain, and, thus, was much more uncomfortable for me. It’s not an uncommon type of pain among those of us prone to depression. I felt this book like an ache in the bones.

There is a rhythm to moving through the world alone. You discover what you can and cannot live without, the simple necessities and small goys that define a life.

V.E. Schwab, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

So as I took up the book for the final siege, at about 80% (thanks for nothing, Kindle) of the way through, Schwab’s skillful foreshadowing kept ratcheting up the tension I don’t usually experience in a non-horror, non-thriller book, a book someone described as “slice-of-life,” a description that doesn’t work for me because I experience those as more impersonal.

I was so tense even talking about it I couldn’t relax enough to turn that prior sentence into shorter ones. I kept taking breaks, checking Twitter and Discord to relieve that tension. How was this story going to resolve in a way I wouldn’t be crushed?

However, my initial response upon finishing the book was “Well played, Ms. Schwab, well played.” Poor endings often have a devastating effect on how you feel about a story; here, the satisfying ending had the effect of retroactively soothing me.

Books, she has found, are a way to live a thousand lives—or to find strength in a very long one.

V.E. Schwab, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

Someone on Twitter asked last night “Why do you read?” My response was that it’s the closest thing you’ll get to a mind meld—that it lets you see the world from someone else’s perspective. But the more honest response would be, to paraphrase the words William Nicholson put into the mouth of C.S. Lewis, I read to know I’m not alone.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue did not give me that in the same way, because I over-identified with the theme of the perpetual outsider. But it gave me something else: a heroine with courage and intelligence, someone that a perpetual outsider can look at with admiration. Someone that gives you hope.

Fear and loathing in the Stillness

A Big5+ review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

r/suggestmeabook: I want a gut-wrenching tale of the end of a world that has enslaved its most powerful magicians.

Apocalyptic climate fantasy

Movie rating: R

Pages: 378

Publisher: Orbit

From the publisher: This is the way the world ends. . .for the last time.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

You probably already know all this, but some of us are perpetually late.

The Fifth Season is of those reads where you’re so blown away you can hardly form the words to discuss it immediately after finishing. It’s searing and beautiful and tragic. I’m sure a fictional world has affected me like this before, but I can’t think of one. It’s more like after the first time I saw Schindler’s List, where the horror, strength, and beauty of humanity so potently mixed.

Essun, a mother who has tried so hard to live among the stills (the normies or muggles of this reality), is reeling from unspeakable tragedy. Damala, a young girl whose world has been shattered by her unexpected power, is betrayed by bigotry allayed with fear. Syenite, a young woman who has scrabbled for each jot of dignity, who is ordered to do something all her work should have exempted her from, but her talent is too precious to waste.

The world building is exceptional, mortared stone by stone. The characters are fully realized. The magic functions in a coherent way. The world is true to itself–none of those moments where you are pulled out of the story by internal inconsistency.

And it does what fantasy and science fiction are uniquely suited for: it holds up our societal ills in a way that enhances our view of reality through carefully planned fiction. The Fifth Season illuminates the realities of ignoring our environment as well as the cruelty of an oppression which masks itself as protection, but does it so artfully that you are compelled to keep reading through to the conclusion.

An amazing, emotional read, but not for the faint of heart. Will I read the two remaining books in the trilogy? I am equal parts desire and fear.


#FridayFlashbook: This Is How You Lose the Time War

A bookblogger roundup on a book that’s been around

Many thanks to Gary Mitchelhill of Rapidsnap at Deviant Art for the banner picture!

On Fridays, I’m going to be sharing reviews on a book on my TBR that I keep hearing about. Today, it’s the widely admired epistolary novella published by Saga Press (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) that shows up frequently on r/fantasy, Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s This Is How You Lose the Time War. Today’s roundup includes a thumbs down, which I’d generally prefer to do. Reviews are in alphabetical order—the audiobook review is last.

Before We Go Blog

An analysis supported by quotes. Ryan Howse is often very funny, although you can’t necessarily tell from this particular review.

Some people have said there’s not enough plot in this book, but I disagree. It’s just that the plot is essentially a romantic drama with science fictional conceits mixed in. The last act of the book does start putting the screws to the characters after their relationship has been built up, but it’s not a nail-biting thrill ride because that’s never what this book was about.

Ryan Howse, “Review – This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone,” Before We Go Blog

The Fantasy Inn

A brief, but evocative, rave.

From the moment Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone announced they were co-writing a novella, it immediately became one of my most anticipated SFF releases. I was dying to get this book, blurb unseen – because with these two authors, there was no doubt it would be amazing. And weird.

Sharade, “This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar et Max Gladstone,” The Fantasy Inn

The Thirteenth Shelf

A clever critique in the form of a letter. Review includes “Notable Aspects,” rating, and a TL;DR section.

How I wish, so fervently, to rise like Lazarus from the yawning depths of my shelves, that I may reach you before you sail downstream to the thread of future wherein you chance upon, This Is How You Lose The Time War. Though under the glittering constellations of my own beloved worlds, I still long to be your vanguard of yet unseen worlds, to carry once more the banner of warning upon which I break both time and heart.

Rin, “Book Review: This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone,The Thirteenth Shelf

Tiny Navajo Reads

An audiobook review; narration by Cynthia Farrell and Emily Woo Zeller.

 I honestly didn’t realize it was written by two authors until I started listening to it. I could hear the differences between the two letter writers and when they were read aloud, I could image Red and Blue indulging in their letters to each other, letters that are forbidden, letters that acknowledge there are differences in the other side, even if it doesn’t always seem like it.

Ashley, “Tiny Navajo Listens: This Is How You Lose the Time War,” Tiny Navajo Reads

Someday I’ll get through that TBR and have a chance to review it myself—I’m not sure I’ll like it, as I’m generally not a fan of epistolary fiction, but it seems like I really need to have checked out to be able to call myself a fantasy bookblogger.

Happy Friday!

#FridayFlashbook: Wintersteel

A bookblogger roundup on a book that’s been around

Many thanks to Gary Mitchelhill of Rapidsnap at Deviant Art for the banner picture!

On Fridays, I’m going to be sharing reviews on a book on my TBR that I keep hearing about. Today, it’s the self-published book that made it to the semifinals of Goodreads Fantasy category, Will Wight’s Wintersteel, and it’s a rave fest. Reviews are in alphabetical order, and I want to include at least one audiobook review each time.

The Book Dude

An audiobook review broken down into categories. Includes trigger warnings.

I have read a lot of books this year (Wintersteel being number 65), and quite a few of them were excellent (The Library at Mount Char, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Gideon the Ninth, etc). I can, with some measurable degree of certainty, say that Wintersteel was amongst my very favorites of this list. In fact, Wintersteel is probably one of my favorite books, period. I could not stop listening to this book. 

Jeff Chandler, “Wintersteel by Will Wight, a review,The Book Dude

Bryce Moore

A writer and librarian’s perspective with some good analysis.

So the fact that I bought Will Wight’s Wintersteel the very night it released, cleared my schedule to read it, and finished it two days later, says all you really need to know about the book. 

Bryce Moore, “Book Review: Wintersteel,” Bryce Moore

Feminist Quill

Packed with quotes that places the book into its context within the Cradle series. Depending on your information tolerance, might contain spoilers.

I think I remember complaining Uncrowned was too short. Wintersteel more than makes up for that. And the book isn’t just long. It is also insanely packed with story.

Anonymous, “Cradle #8 – Wintersteel,Feminist Quill

Novel Notions

A very thoughtful evaluation, with quotes, rating, and genre labels.

Wintersteel, in every sense of the content, is a direct continuation of Uncrowned, and I know it would go against the nature of the series to do this, but I did feel that both Uncrowned and Wintersteel would’ve been even better as one tome. Unlike many readers of the series, I actually considered Uncrowned to be one of the best installments in the series despite the abrupt ending. If you’re reading this review but haven’t started the series or read Uncrowned yet, I strongly suggest you binge-read Uncrowned and Wintersteel back to back.

Petrik Leo, “Book Review: Wintersteel (CRADLE, #8) by Will Wight,” Novel Notions

Someday I’ll get through that TBR and have a chance to review it myself—these guys have made me want to check it out.

Happy Friday!

A changed man

An Xpresso blog book blitz & review

r/suggestmeabook: I want a fast-paced adventure through Hollywood with human turned avenging angel, private first class.

Urban fantasy

Movie rating: R

Pages: 337

Publisher: White Sun Press

Register to win a $25 Amazon gift card at Rafflecopter during the book blitz!

From the publisher: I never asked to be an angel. Truthfully, being an angel kinda sucks.

But some angels don’t get harps. We hunt demons.

I might be a social weirdo. And okay, I black out whenever I fly and wake up naked in random places. I can only sleep in windowless rooms. I have that gun problem. Oh, and I can’t drink alcohol, since I randomly start fires.

But I, Dags Jourdain, do good. Sort of. I mean, I try.

When I’m not hunting demons, I work as a P.I. in Hollywood, California.

One night, I get in a demon fight in an alley, and accidentally save the life of a movie star, and everything changes for me.

Meanwhile, someone opened a hell portal under the Hollywood sign, a dead guy left me his dog, and a homicide detective who hates me from high school is trying to decide if I’m a serial killer.

Did I mention being an angel kinda sucks?

Thank you, Xpresso book tours, for the advance review copy.

Review

The worst part about this book: It ended before I was ready for it to. The fast pace, the clever dialogue, and the fun characters made it a ride I wasn’t ready to get off yet. Part of it was that there are so many unanswered questions, although it was a logical break point.

Be prepared, though—given the blurb about the book was done in first person, I was a little thrown when I started reading and it was a third person narration. But that lasted only momentarily, as I was immediately drawn into the story.

“You’re going to keep the dog of the guy who tried to kill you? Really?”

Dags shrugged, deadpan. “It’s not the dog’s fault.”

Julie Light, I, Angel

If you want long, lyric passages, this probably isn’t your book—but that’s not what this book is about. It’s about discovery. How to figure out what’s happened to you and your environment on the fly as you cope with what life is throwing you.

She held herself still, almost unnaturally still as she stared up at the two of them, her eyes lit by the red light in the hot tub and the firelight from the torches on either side.

Now she looked like Hell’s Queen.

Julie Light, I, Angel

It’s also not for you if you’re not fond of riddles. Most of them are not solved by the end of the novel, but it’s not like some of the books I’ve read, where it’s as if the book just stopped.

Instead, this feels almost like the end of an episode of a television show, perhaps along the lines of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the beginning of the season—or most of Joss Whedon’s series—where you’re learning about the characters and getting exposed to the world, but you’re still not sure what the hell is going on.

“Damn it, Dags. You’ve got to know it looks weird. All of this looks weird. You’re like a magnet for bad things—”

“I’m aware of that,” Dags growled.

Julie Light, I, Angel

But like Whedon, Julie Light has got you hooked and anxious to see what’s next. I have high hopes that the next installment will be even better.

The good vamp

r/suggestmeabook: I want a series with a hunky, emotionally unavailable vampire guiding me through his unwilling quest to stop being a lone wolf.

Paranormal mystery

Rated: R

There’s a giveaway for the blitz for Book 5: books, audiobooks, and swag.

Book 5 blurb: Miriam Murphy loves being a librarian. It’s all she’s ever wanted—to eat, breathe, and sleep books. But when she hired Michael, a handsome college student, she had no idea he was a four-hundred-year-old vampire.

I haven’t read more than the summary of Book 5, being promoted right now, nor 2-4. I just completed the first of the series, so my rating is based on Book 1 as a representative.

The voice of Michael Vanderhorst, the vampire in question, is strong—he’s the narrator of the series, so it strikes me as odd that the blurb is from Miriam’s point of view. At any rate, Mimi Jean Pamfiloff has done a great job of making it easy to believe he is older than his apparent years. He’s a little repetitive at times (yeah, yeah, not into any emotions, all about the loyalty), but generally well done.

There are also some lovely supporting characters—I, for one, am mostly interested in seeing more of Mr. Nice, the idiosyncratic eldest of vampires.

But I have a couple of issues, which may be addressed in later volumes. First, there’s virtually no character development of Miriam—all that exists in the first volume is her klutziness and the projections of Michael. We really don’t get to know her at all. I hope that has changed by the fifth volume.

Next, the climax of the novel seemed to be over far too fast. It felt like a lot of build up to a rushed conclusion.

However, all in all I was pleasantly surprised. The cover and blurbs reeked of Romance with the capital R, but it deftly avoided most of the tropes it could have fallen prey to.

So if your thirst for vampire love hasn’t been quenched yet, check the series out. You may find Pamfiloff’s version of vamps a nice change of pace: socially responsible with a taste for spicy wrongdoers.

Thank you, Xpresso Tours, for providing me with an advance review copy.

Humor: check. Violence: check. Lovable: check.

Adventures in reading and writing from Big5Plus, lesson the first

r/suggestmeabook: I want a Swords and Sorcery adventure that will make me laugh—and occasionally choke up.

Rating: R

Pages: 464

Publisher: Orbit

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Yes, I loved this book. The effortless with which Nicholas Eames moves from smartassery to makemewannacry is impressive. He even throws in some wisdom here and there:

Clay suspected the booker had bullied the midwife that pulled him from the womb, but there wasn’t time to speculate now.

Nicholas Eames, Kings of the Wyld

I didn’t expect to love it—which may, in part, explain why I did. There’s nothing like overly high expectations to ruin a book for you. I don’t naturally gravitate to Swords and Sorcery, but enough posters on Reddit (r/fantasy) had mentioned it that I decided to pick it up.

He has an interesting technique that he uses pretty consistently: almost every chapter ends with a teaser (that often sounds like a spoiler), and it’s picked up in the next one. Sometimes the teaser is misleading; sometimes it’s not.

This technique definitely makes it hard to put the book down. Each time I thought, “Well, I’ll stop at the end of this chapter,” dammit, there’d be one of those statements and I just had to find out what the hell it meant.

The characterizations are consistently good. He can sum up minor characters quite well with descriptions, as in the one of Etna Doshi:

She was short, stocky, and walked with the telltale Phantran swagger that was one-quarter useful for staying balanced on a ship’s deck and three-quarters cocky bravado.

Nicholas Eames, Kings of the Wyld

It helped me escape the current existential angst, so it’s a good read in and of itself, as well as one of those that you read to learn about good writing.