Review: THE MERCIFUL CROW (#1) by Margaret Owen (2019)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: Teeth, vomiting, blood, attempted murder

I’m sorry for having sat on this novel for a little too long. Fie is the chieftain’s daughter of a nomadic caste of mercy killers called Crows which are at the frontlines of protecting the land from a plague. They arrive at a home, thinking that the prince and his guard are dead, when they are very much not. On the run, the trio work together to deceive the Vultures on their trail to get to the prince’s aunts realm of mammoth riders.

This book was so fun for a multitude of reasons. The magic system might seem gross at first, but it fits the rituals of the Crows. There is lore and there is an established learning curve that comes with it. Unlike many fantasies where the main character stumbles upon The Magic, Fie had been training for it her whole life. If anything, it felt like she was taking her final exam and needed to use all the tools and cleverness at her side. Moreover, Jas and Tavin provided support but also deference when necessary when Fie’s rage clouded her judgment. The chemistry among the three of them as the central characters really worked for me and helped move the story along in a way that felt organic both for the plot and for each of their development.

In addition, the world is very thoughtfully constructed. There is a diversity among the cast (the prince is gay and his guard is pansexual). It is implied to be queernorm, which for me, is always refreshing. This work is another to add to the list of young adult studies which are wonderfully sex positive. Not only are periods addressed, but it is also implied that Fie had partners before the love interest, and consent is on the page. All the tension comes from secrets of an interpersonal nature which nod to some tropes, but ultimately only make sense for this cast.

Well-paced, great characters, and a fantastic world I can’t wait to visit in The Faithless Hawk.

Review: RULES FOR VANISHING by Kate Alice Marshall (2019)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Horror
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: Missing teens, some gore, family violence, mention of suicide

A few of my friends had read this book and since it’s officially spooky season, I am so excited to have this be my first read of October. Sara’s adopted sister Becca disappears and a year later, Sara and her groups of friends receive a text invite to “play the game” which involves going down haunted roads and solving puzzles. What comes next are the terrors of the woods, sordid history, and questioning the bonds that keep us together.

I really liked the focus on reliability as it relates to friendship in this novel. There were many blood-curdling scares and many moments where neither the reader nor the characters know exactly what reality has morphed into. Adherence to rules matters, but what really determines survival is trust. And with Sara having withdrawn from her friends due to her sister’s disappearance, that trust is fragmented from the start, which dials up the tension.

In addition to the storyline of the quest to find Becca by finding Lucy Gallows, there are segments which take place later. These are told in multi-media, which gives this novel a very Blair Witch Project feel. I found effective, especially when it throws a wrench in the reader’s understanding of the relationships and situations in the linear timeline. The ending is absolutely harrowing and makes phenomenal use of photo descriptions, texts, and other supplemental materials.

No one had told me before reading, but Sara is bisexual and one of her friends is a lesbian. The character development in general is great. The characters are complicated, and it was hard to predict who would be next to fall.

It’s Silent Hill meets The Blair Witch Project in this queer YA horror that had me genuinely spooked.

Review: SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard (2016)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Year Release: 2016
Source: Library audiobook

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: Discussions of violence and rape

The depth of my knowledge of ancient Rome starts with a loose understanding of Romulus and Remus, and ends with Shakespeare’s plays.

Beard’s account of Rome’s first millennia is full of colorful characters, dissections of different accounts, and touches on the myriad relics that continue to be found to this day. This book is so easy to listen to. The stories flow into each other and each chapter builds on what came before it. SPQR manages to hold the story of early Rome, while managing to go into depth on certain stories. The fact that this is not a Cliffs notes account of all the politics, intrigue, and conflict is really something to behold.

What really endeared me was how funny it was in places. Perhaps it was my own ignorance, but the dead pan way Beard presents the tales really worked to tickle me. My personal favorites include the truth about the assassination of Julius Caesar and several attempted murders on collapsible boats.

In terms of minor gripes, if you enjoy a plethora of rhetorical questions, this is the nonfiction work for you. Some of them do eventually get answered, if only tangentially. But there is enough material proposed to fill another 500+ page book. In addition, my favorite chapter was the one about the haves and the have-nots. It covers unseen aspects of culture that get overshadowed by the nigh-legendary political stories. This discussion, however, can also cover another 500+ page book.

A fantastic, easy-to-read primer on early Rome with enough material to encompass further exploration and learning.

Review: ECHO NORTH by Joanna Ruth Meyer (2019)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult fantasy
Year Release: 2019
Source: Library physical copy

Starting with the wolf attack that left her scarred from age seven, Echo Alkaev’s life has the makings of a fairy tale: magic, strange curses, a selfish stepmother. When she meets the same wolf almost ten years later while searching for her missing father, Echo must house sit for a year with the wolf or else her father dies. But there is far more to this promise.

This story is steeped in folklore and fairy tale. From the Wolf Queen to the boy trapped in stories to the settings, it all seems so familiar. Atmosphere and magic sustain every page. I find it interesting how there was a micro-trend of library magic, but in this story, books are mirrors and you can inhabit as if they were movies in VR. These had been created by one of the characters, but that’s spoiler territory and it’s an unnecessary detail for most of the narrative. Because the world-building was otherwise so light, it was easy to follow along with internal character struggles of Echo and especially Echo’s perspective of Hal.

If you’re looking for something Beauty and the Beast (1999), this book captures the same magic, right down to a wonderful library and enchanted ball.

 

Review: THE AGE OF ICE by J.M. Sidorova (2013)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult fantasy
Year Release: 2013
Source: Library physical copy

Alexander Velitzyn was born in a palace constructed from ice alongside his twin brother Andrei. He suffers from some kind of affliction that makes his skin literally cold as ice. The rest of the book is his life, in addition to finding literally answer to why he had been cursed.

The voice here is so Eastern European: deeply sarcastic, sort of self-pitying if it all weren’t true. Because of the cold disposition his turn as Old Man Frost granted him, his personal relationships suffer, until he learns that they can actually thrive besides the frost of his skin. The side characters had been fairly well-developed. I found myself thinking about them during long intervals during their absence. The consistent introspection gave weight to the personal touchstones in his life, which is hard to convey in a narrative that spans so many years.

In addition the relationships, I greatly admired how Sidorova omitted greater events of historical history. In fact, Alexander runs away from Russia in the 1800s to go to Persia. He even spends a good decade in the Arctic, trying to discover ice’s secrets and the relationships there are simply fascinating.

Icy in its sarcasm and coverage of smaller political stories mostly set in the 1700s, The Age of Ice perfectly covers the exhaustion that comes with long, unnatural life.

 

Review: CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS by Lila Bowen (2016)

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Adult speculative fiction/fantasy western
Year Release: 2016
Source: Library physical copy

The Wild West reimagined with more monsters and queer folk definitely is having a bit of a moment. Wake of Vultures, the first installment of The Shadow quartet, introduced us to Nettie Lonesome. In this sequel, Nettie fully becomes Rhett Walker, a truth which helps him get better at shifting. This book also introduces other shifters and new characters.

Much like the first installment, this book is so much fun. The monsters are terrifying, the villains are dastardly, and everyone has survival on the mind so no one can really be trusted. Rhett undergoes so many excellent sequences of self-discovery throughout. They range from him spending quality time with his gender identity and having a variety of romps with several characters.

The antagonist of this novel is also so good. A true robber baron stealing blood from magical creatures (seriously, there’s a unicorn). Bowen does a great job outlining the rules of magic, so the twist is both shocking but makes the reader feel smart for figuring it out.

A rootin’, tootin’, shapeshiftin’ time in the weird west with some decent trans rep.

 

Reading Recap: December 2019

Dec2019RR.pngIn December, I made it a small goal to get my Currently Reading List down to zero. While I failed at that, I got most of the way there, even reading two additional books. I start 2020 with a four-book-long backlog, which honestly, it pretty good. Anyway, here is the last recap of the year.
Continue reading

Reading Recap: November 2019

Nov2019RR.pngInstead of doing NaNoWriMo this year, I decided to plot out a book instead. It didn’t mean I didn’t have time for some excellent reads. This month featured such an assortment of genres and formats, I feel like my understanding of craft expanded in ways I didn’t expect.
Continue reading

Reading Recap: October 2019

Oct2019RRUnfortunately, I am nursing a wicked headache so there will be only one long reading recap. October featured some travel, excellent reads, and more lessons to be learned by reading. Continue reading

Reading Recap: September 2019 (Audiobooks)

SeptemberAudiobooks2019RRSince I had taken several walks during break times of my September hell writing time, I wound up listening to quite a few audiobooks. Here are the highlights. Continue reading