Dindi is about to undergo her people’s initiation test and ceremony that not only welcomes her to adulthood but also will determine whether or not she is a member of the Tavaedi. The Tavaedi are a mix of religious leader, healer, and warrior who cast magic spells by dancing. Since Dindi can see the pixies and other fae, she thinks she has a chance. But no one in her clan has ever successfully become a Tavaedi. Meanwhile, an exiled warrior, Kavio, is attempting to shed his old life and the haunting of his father’s wars and his mother’s powers. But he slowly discovers a deadly plot that brings him directly to Dindi’s initiation ceremony.
It takes something special for me to pick up either a YA or a fantasy book, and this one is both. But Jessica’s review over on The Bookworm Chronicles had me intrigued. A fantasy series based on Polynesian tales and traditions is unique in fantasy. Plus the idea of magic from dancing really appealed to the dancer in me (years of tap and jazz, also many lessons in ballroom, zumba, etc…). When I found out the first book in the series is free on the Kindle, I had to try it out, and I’m glad I did! I really enjoyed the book, and its presence highlights many of the strengths of indie publishing.
The world is richly imagined and well described. The tribes and clans have clearly defined and described cultures that vary from stable farming to warrior to cannibal. The structure of the societies make sense and are rich without being overly detailed. I particularly appreciated that this is a tribal culture fantasy without ever claiming to be the real or imagined history of any known to exist (or to have existed) tribe. It is inspired by Polynesian culture but it is still a fantasy, similar to how medieval fantasy is inspired by the real Middle Ages but never claims to be what happened. This lends itself to rich world building without ever venturing off into ridiculous “historical” fiction.
The plot slowly builds Dindi’s story and Kavio’s story, gradually bringing them together. This is good since Dindi is still young enough that she doesn’t see much of the intrigue going on around her. Dindi’s perspective shows us the day-to-day existence of people in this world, whereas Kavio shows us the higher-ranking intrigue. It didn’t bother me that Dindi starts out a bit innocent because it is clear she will grow in knowledge with time. Meanwhile, bringing in Kavio’s perspective helps establish the world for the reader. There were also enough smaller clashes and twists that I never felt that I knew precisely what was going to happen next.
Although the characters at first seem two-dimensional, they truly are not. Everyone is more than what immediately meets the eye, and I liked that this lesson occurs repeatedly. It’s a good thing to see in YA lit. Dindi is strong, kind, and talented, but she still has her flaws. She is good but she’s not perfect, which makes her a good main character. I also appreciate that what will clearly be a romance eventually between Kavio and Dindi starts out so slowly with longing glances from afar. It’s nice that Dindi and Kavio get a chance to be established as individuals prior to meeting each other, plus the slowly building romance is a nice change of pace for YA lit.
Sometimes the chapter transitions were a bit abrupt or left me a bit lost. With changing perspectives like this, it would be helpful if the chapter titles were a bit less artistic and gave a bit more setting. It’s nice that when perspective changes the cue of the character’s name is given, no matter where it happens, but a bit more than that would be nice at the chapter beginnings. Similarly in scene changes, the break is three pound signs. I think using a bunch of centered tildes or even a customized drawing, such as of pixies, would be nicer. At first when I saw these I thought there was some coding error in the ebook. There also are a few editing mistakes that should not have made it through the final edit, such as saying “suffercate” for suffocate (page 144). As an indie author myself, I know it is incredibly difficult to edit your own book, so I give a pass to minor typos and things like that. However, the entirely wrong word for what the author is trying to say should be fixed. There were few enough that I still enjoyed the book, but I hope that there are less in the future installments of the series.
Overall, this is a unique piece of YA fantasy set in a tribal world inspired by Polynesia. The romance is light and slow-building, and the focus is primarily on growing up and becoming an adult. A few minor formatting and editing issues detract from it being a perfect escape read, but it is still highly enjoyable. I intend to read more of the series, and I recommend it to fantasy and YA fans alike.
4 out of 5 stars
Note: the Kindle edition is free
Will Henry states that this is a story that Dr. Warthrop did not want told…and proceeds to tell it anyway. When a British man shows up with a package being delivered under duress, Dr. Warthrop is ecstatic to realize it is the nest of the Magnificum–the holy grail of monstrumology. Dr. Warthrop decides to leave Will Henry in New York while he pursues this beast. But when his monstrumologist companion returns claiming that Warthrop is dead, Will Henry and two fellow monstrumologists travel to Europe to track him–or his body–down.
Not as engaging or thought-provoking as the first two books in the series, I can only hope that this third entry is suffering from the common penultimate book malady where the book which must set everything up for the finale of the series can sometimes drag.
There are two problems in this entry that make it fail to be as engaging or thrilling as the first two books. First, Will Henry is left behind in New York for a significant portion of the novel. We are thus left with a whiny teenager bemoaning Warthrop’s choice to be responsible for once and keep him out of danger. We also are left with very little action for far too large a portion of the book. The second issue is perhaps a bit of a spoiler but suffice to say that the monster is disappointing and its disappointment is easily predicted. If we had a lot of action with a disappointing monster, that’s still engaging. If we had less excitement with a surprising, phenomenal monster, that’s still thrilling. The combination of the two, though, prevents this thriller from being as thrilling and engaging as it should be.
Of course there are other elements that still worked, which is why I kept reading it. Yancey’s writing is, as ever, beautiful to read (or listen to) and contains much depth.
“So many times we express our fear as anger…, and now I think I wasn’t angry at all, but afraid. Terribly, terribly afraid.”
The settings are unique, and the characters are strong and leap off of the pages. Will Henry becomes more fully fleshed-out in this entry as we start to see his descent into a love affair with monstrumology. We also get to see Warthrop at what he himself perceives of as his lowest point. It’s a dark bit of characterization but it works very well for the story Yancey is telling.
Overall, I was a bit disappointed, purely because the first two entries in the series were so phenomenal. The third book is still a very good book. Fans might be a bit disappointed, depending on how attached they are to the unique thriller aspect of the series, but the characters and writing still make this well worth the time. Fans will remain in eager anticipation of the final entry in the series.
4 out of 5 stars
A lesbian retelling of Rapunzel. Gray, a witch’s daughter, visits Zelda every day. The witch switched Gray’s fate into Zelda, so now Zelda is the one entwined with the spirit of the tree that the people worship. She must live on the platform and every day lower her hair for people to tie ribbons and prayers into. Gray feels horrible guilt over their switched fates, but she’s also falling in love with Zelda.
I’m a sucker for fairy tale retellings, although I can be fairly picky about whether or not I like them. But Rapunzel is a tale that is not redone often enough, in my opinion, and the fact that it was a lesbian version made me jump at this novella.
It’s nice that the retelling doesn’t just change the genders of the main romantic pairing and leave it at that. In the original version, a married couple steal from a witch’s garden and in payment they must give her their unborn child who she then locks up into a tower. She would let her long hair down for her witch/mother to use as a ladder to get into the tower. A prince years later hears her singing in the tower and helps her escape. In this retelling, the people worship a tree. When the tree starts to die they tie its spirit into a person. That person lives on a platform in the tree and the people pray to him/her. When the person dies, the fate to be tied to the tree randomly chooses a baby by putting a tree pattern on their chest. This fate is supposed to be Gray’s, but her mother somehow acquires another baby, Zelda, and with magic cuts the fate out and ties it to her instead. Gray knows this and at first visits Zelda out of guilt but eventually falls in love with her. This version, surprisingly, is actually a lot more fantastical and magical. There is even a quest within an alternate dimension/dream world. I enjoyed the increase in the otherworldly feel, and I liked that it lent the twist of a parent trying to protect her child rather than a mother smothering her child.
The writing has an earthy, magical quality to it. It’s definitely language that is looking to be pretty, and it mostly succeeds. The romance between Zelda and Gray is sweet and very YA. Their passion revolves entirely around kissing and holding. I like that it gives a soul and connection to the romance without ignoring the physical aspect. It’s the perfect balance for this type of story.
While I enjoyed reading the story, I must admit it wasn’t my ideal retelling of Rapunzel. I didn’t like the religious aspect that was drawn into it, and I did feel that Zelda falling for Gray was a bit fast, particularly given the fate switching aspect of the story. I was also disappointed to see that in spite of all the other changes in the story, the Rapunzel character is still blonde. I’m not sure why no one ever seems to change this when retelling Rapunzel.
Overall, this is a fun retelling of Rapunzel, particularly if you’re looking for a non-heteronormative slant or enjoy a more magical feel. Note that this is part of a series entitled Sappho’s Fables, which consists of lesbian retellings of fairy tales. The novellas may be mixed and matched. Recommended to GLBTQ YA fans who enjoy a fairy tale.
4 out of 5 stars
Last year I decided to dedicate a separate post from my annual reading stats post to the 5 star reads of the year. I not only thoroughly enjoyed assembling that post, but I also still go back to it for reference. It’s just useful and fun simultaneously! Plus it has the added bonus of giving an extra signal boost to the five star reads of the year.
Please note that if the 5 star went to a book in a graphic novel series, I am just listing the whole series. If it’s a non-graphic series, then the individual book is listed with a note about what series it is in. With no further ado, presenting Opinions of a Wolf’s 5 Star Reads for 2012!
Acacia: The War with the Mein (Acacia, #1)
By: David Anthony Durham
Publication Date: 2007
Themes: the complexities of good and evil
The Akarans have ruled the Known World for twenty-two generations, but the wrongfully exiled Meins have a bit of a problem with that. They enact a take-over plot whose first action is assassinating the king. Suddenly his four children are flung to different parts of the Known World in exile where they will need to come to terms with who they are, who the Mein are, and the wrongs past generations of Akarans committed in order to help the Known World make a change for the better.
I have to catch myself whenever I start to say I don’t like high fantasy now, because I do like it. I like it when done right. When it questions patriarchy and race and tradition in the context of a fantastical world. I definitely feel like this book has cross-over potential, so I recommend it to anyone with an interest in multi-generational epics.
Dark Life (Dark Life, #1)
By: Kat Falls
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: YA, Post-Apocalyptic, Scifi
Themes: ocean exploration, pioneering
Ty was the first person born subsea. His family are settlers on the bottom of the ocean, a new venture after global warming caused the Rising of the seas. Ty loves his life subsea and hates Topside. One day while adventuring around in the dark level of subsea, he stumbles upon a submarine and a Topside girl looking for her long-lost older brother. Helping her challenges everything Ty believes in.
I still sometimes think back to the delightfully creative underwater world that Falls presents in this book. This is a YA book that manages to avoid the painful tropes that a lot of them fall into, plus it has a great setting. I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.
Diet for a New America
By: John Robbins
Publication Date: 1987
Publisher: Stillpoint Publishing
Genre: Nonfiction–Diet, Nonfiction–Environmentalism, Nonfiction–Science
Themes: health, responsible choices
John Robbins was born into one of the most powerful corporations in America–Baskin-Robbins. A company based entirely on selling animal products. Yet he took it upon himself to investigate the reality of animals products and their impact on Americans, American land, and the world overall. This book summarizes his extensive research, including personal visits to factory farms.
Although I already knew a lot of this information before reading this book, I believe that Robbins does an excellent job both of writing it out clearly and backing it up with respected, academic citations. It’s my go-to book to hand to people who want to know why I’m so against factory farming and what the scientific arguments in favor of vegetarianism are.
A Dog Named Slugger
By: Leigh Brill
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Themes: animal/human relationships, disability studies
Leigh Brill recounts in her memoir her life before, during, and after her first service dog, Slugger, a golden retriever with a heart just as golden. Leigh had no idea her cerebral palsy could even possibly qualify her for a service dog until a similarly disabled fellow graduate student gave her some information. Her touching memoir tracks her journey, as well as the life of Slugger.
My love for animals means that any book about relationships with them tends to top my list. This one stands out for its focus on issues for the disabled, and I believe that Brill’s love for her dog, both for his personality and how he helps her, really shine through. I’d recommend this to any animal lover or to those curious about life with a service animal.
The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change
By: Roger Thurow
Publication Date: 2012
Genre: Nonfiction–Social Justice
Themes: hunger, farming, global warming, putting a face onto the issues
Smallholder farmers make up the majority of Kenya’s food production and yet they face multiple challenges from inefficient planting techniques to bad seed markets that lead to an annual wanjala–hunger season. One Acre Fund, an ngo, saw the gap and came in with a vision. Sell farmers high quality seeds and fertilizers on credit, delivered to their villages, on the condition they attend local farming classes. Roger Thurow follows four families as they try out becoming One Acre farmers.
I credit this book with giving me perspective in the worldwide hunger and GMO debate, and of course with giving me that ever-useful reminder that in some ways I have been very lucky. What I tell people in order to get them to read this book is one of two things. Either read this book because it will show you the true face of hunger or read this book to understand why some GMOs are necessary. Most of all, I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the worldwide food debate.
Sisterhood Everlasting (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, #5)
By: Ann Brashares
Publication Date: 2011
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Themes: the pain of growing up and maturing, changing relationships
The Septembers are all 29 years old now and spread out all over the globe. Bee is expending her energy biking up and down the hills of San Francisco while Eric works as a lawyer. Carmen has a recurring role on a tv show filming in NYC and is engaged to Jones, an ABC producer. Lena teaches art at RISD and lives a quiet life in her studio apartment, except for the one day a week she practices Greek with an elderly woman. Tibby took off to Australia with Brian months ago, and everyone else is in limbo waiting for her to get back. They all feel a bit disconnected until Tibby sends Bee, Carmen, and Lena tickets to come to Greece for a reunion. What they find when they arrive is not what anyone expected.
It’s unfortunately rare that a series grows up with the characters, but Sisterhood has. Although a lot of women’s fiction with similar themes frustrates me, this series works because I started reading it as a teenager when the women were teenagers. I understand where they’re coming from and am more willing to give them a chance. If you ever read any of the Sisterhood books but neglected to finish the series, definitely pick them back up. It’s worth it.
To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War
By: Tera W. Hunter
Publication Date: 1997
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Themes: race, class, gender, Atlanta, domestic workers
Hunter examines the lives of southern black women, particularly southern domestic workers, by narrowing her focus in on the development of the city of Atlanta after the Civil War. Since many ex-slaves moved to Atlanta and then migrated again north during the Great Migration decades later, this makes for an excellent focal point for the topic. By examining black women’s lives in Atlanta both in and out of their employer’s homes, she is able to dissect the roles of race, class, and gender in the elite’s attempts to maintain dominance in America.
This book not only gave me the thought-provoking examination of the intersection of race, class, and gender, but it also gave me an awesome historical introduction to the city of Atlanta. I always think of this book whenever Atlanta comes up. It’s also a great example of readable, accessible nonfiction history writing.
Vegan Vittles: Recipes Inspired by the Critters of Farm Sanctuary
By: Joanne Stepaniak
Publication Date: 1996
Publisher: Book Publishing Company (TN)
Themes: down-home cruelty-free cooking
A farm sanctuary is a farm whose sole purpose is to save animals from farm factories and slaughter. The Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York was started in 1986. In this cookbook, one of the proprietors has gathered vegan recipes inspired by farm life. Think down-home cooking that is cruelty-free.
The recipes I selected out of this cookbook have solidly entered my repertoire and are repeated hits with omnis and veg*ns alike! They are simple, easy, and adaptable. They also fill that comfort food niche I had honestly been missing. Highly recommended to anyone who loves comfort food.
The Walking Dead
By: Robert Kirkman
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre: Graphic Novel–Horror
Themes: creation of a new society, living in fear, unjust wars, truthiness, self-protection, zombies, Georgia, survival
When cop Rick wakes up from a coma brought on by a gun shot wound, he discovers a post-apocalyptic mess and zombies everywhere. He sets off for Atlanta in search of his wife, Lori, and son, Carl, and soon teams up with a rag-tag group of survivors camped just outside of Atlanta.
I’m still working my way through this series, but it just progressively gets better and better. Although the beginning is cliche, it does not take Kirkman long to become unique, surprising, and thought-provoking. This now also features a spin-off, non-graphic, prequel series about the villain, The Governor. I consider these to all be the same series, in spite of different formats, and I’m finding that spin-off just as enjoyable.
Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies, #1)
By: Isaac Marion
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Themes: hope, love
R is a zombie, and he remembers nothing about his life before he was one–except that his name starts with the letter R. He and his group of the other living dead inhabit an old abandoned airport and are ruled by the bonies. They hunt the living not just for the food, but also for the memories that come from ingesting their brains. It’s like a drug. One day when he’s out on a hunt, R eats the brain of a young man who loves a young woman who is there, and R steps in to save her. It is there that an unlikely love story begins.
This book reminds me that even a post-apocalyptic story can be hopeful. I also still look back on R’s unlikely love story with a warm heart and smile. I recommend it to those looking for an off-beat love story or a different take on zombies.
The Wind Through the Keyhole (The Dark Tower, #4.5)
By: Stephen King
Publication Date: 2012
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Themes: growing up, leaving aside childish things
There’s a tale we have yet to hear about the ka-tet in the time between facing the man in the green castle and the wolves of the Calla. A time when the ka-tet hunkered down and learned a special billy-bumbler talent, an old tale of Gilead, and the first task Roland faced as a young gunslinger after the events at Mejis.
The Dark Tower is just a series that is flat-out worth getting into a fan girling over. I could never ever perceive of reading and re-reading it as being a waste of time. I’ve also noticed that growing up is a recurring theme in King’s books, and apparently is one that I enjoy.
Y: The Last Man
By: Brian K. Vaughan
Publication Date: 2003
Genre: Graphic Novel–Scifi–Post-apocalyptic
Themes: gender, gender norms, organization of society, Boston, United States, Israel, coming of age
The world is changed overnight when all the men and boys in the world mysteriously drop dead. Factions quickly develop among the women between those who want the world to remain all female and those who would like to restore the former gender balance. One man is mysteriously left alive though–Yorick. A 20-something, underachieving magician with a girlfriend in Australia. He desperately wants to find her, but the US government and the man-hating Amazons have other ideas.
Another series that I am currently in the middle of. It is also steadily improving from the first volume. It is colorfully illustrated, consistently funny, and thought-provoking.
Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century
By: Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher: Penguin Books
Themes: getting what you want out of life, debt slavery, finances
Dominguez achieved Financial Independence at the ripe old age of 30 and proceeded to provide his method to friends who encouraged him to offer it as a class. He finally wrote a book, and this edition is revised and updated for modern times by his friend and fellow achiever of Financial Independence, Vicki Robin. Offering steps and mind-set changes, not magic formulas, they promise that if you follow the steps, you can be Financially Independent in 5 to 10 years, no matter how much debt you are currently in or how much money you make.
This is definitely not a quick-fix book. It’s a realistic look at your finances and debt and ways to come out on top financially independent. Following the steps is time-consuming and, admittedly, difficult to do on a month-to-month basis, but even just reading the book and following the steps for a bit gave me more of a solid structure for my finances. I paid down a significant amount of my debt in 2012 and am hopeful to pay down even more in 2013. I’m not sure I’d have been so successful with that without this book. Plus it gives hope when you’re feeling buried in debt.
Hello my lovely readers! I know you can all tell I’ve been very busy since there hasn’t been a Friday Fun from me in….over a month. I am pleased that I managed to at least keep a few posts trickling in, but even so I have three books waiting to be reviewed. No one thing in particular has kept me busy, it’s just….life is busy! So, beyond my usual work, reading, exercising, cooking, general hanging out, what have I been up to?
First off, a friend told me all about Boston Organics, and I signed up for it! Basically you get a box of fresh produce delivered to your door either every week or every other week. You can choose organic or organic and local. I chose organic and local. So far it has been totally awesome and removed my sense of boredom I had recently acquired over choosing recipes. Getting produce chosen and sent to me challenges my cooking skills, and I’m really enjoying it! Plus knowing that my food is coming locally, organic, and fresh makes me feel good both about what I’m feeding myself (and my boyfriend), but also makes me feel good about supporting local farmers.
Of course Halloween also happened. Friends of mine are on the organizing committee for a Boston area scifi/fantasy group (I am so nerdy), and so boyfriend and I went to their costume party. We were Gem and Sam from Tron, and it was awesome. My friends did a great job organizing, and it was the nicest Halloween I’ve had in a while. We also carved pumpkins! Since my current work in progress is set in the Lovecraft universe, I decided to do Cthulhu!
Hurricane Sandy also arrived. Thankfully, it really did not affect Boston very much. Most people either didn’t have work or got sent home mid-day. The T stopped running partway through the day as well. I briefly lost power, but frankly Nstar did an amazing job maintaining power to homes in Boston during this storm. I was a bit disturbed that my building was shaking, but truly nothing adverse happened. My cat spent the morning trying to dive out the window to chase the wind-whipped leaves (her survival instinct is clearly amazing *eye-roll*) but by afternoon needed some serious snuggles. I actually had to wrap her up in her favorite fuzzy blanket to calm her poor little kitten nerves. I was saddened to see that the National Park I worked at through Americorps in New Jersey suffered severe damage. Almost every single historical building was flooded, but more importantly, the dunes that the endangered piping plovers nest on were demolished. It’s very sad, and I can only hope that Americorps will have enough funding to send larger conservation teams than usual there in the spring.
Currently, I’m revving up for Thanksgiving this week! Since neither boyfriend nor I can make it home to our respective home states to visit, we’ll be making our own vegetarian Thanksgiving. The planned menu is chili and pumpkin pie with vegan maple whipped cream. Nom!
Be expecting some book reviews to come up! I’m hoping to get caught up writing them this weekend.
Happy weekends all!
Something strange is happening in Spokane, and the US military has taken control of the city, closing it and its happenings to the press. Dean sees this as the perfect opportunity to break into photography before he graduates from college and is forced into giving up on his artistic dreams to work a regular 9 to 5 job. So he sneaks into Spokane, where he meets an intriguing young woman and her rag-tag household of survivors, and quickly starts to see the inexplicable things that are going on inside the city.
Dark fantasy is one of my favored genres, but unfortunately not a ton comes out in it in any given year. So when I saw this title available on NetGalley, I just had to snatch it up. I’m glad I did, because it’s a truly enjoyable read.
The basic plot uses a trope of dark fantasy–a creative outsider comes to a town where bizarre things supposedly happen then starts to document them happening. The twist here is that the creative type is a photographer, so the art form being used is photography. This was an incredibly refreshing way to approach the topic. Each chapter opens with a description of a shot that Dean will get at some point in that chapter. It’s fascinating foreshadowing, and also Gropp shows real talent in describing photographs of both the fantastical and more ordinary varieties. The descriptions also talk about more technical aspects of photography, and these show up within the story too (such as lighting and shutter speed). Describing instead of showing the photographs was a choice that I at first was not certain of but I ultimately appreciated. By not reproducing the photographs, Gropp leaves quite a bit of the mystery up to the reader and doesn’t spoil whatever images the reader has already established within her own mind. But the descriptions are also so well-done that the impact of seeing one brief moment in this surreal world is still rendered. It’s a unique and well-done choice, and I’d recommend this read to people based on that creative storytelling aspect alone.
It’s also great to see a story centering primarily around 20-somethings. Often literature tends to stick to YA (teens) or jump right over those of us who are in that truly young adult phase of our lives and into 30-somethings. Although the primary focus of the story is what precisely is happening in Spokane, conflicts frequently faced by 20-somethings come up within this framework–what to do for a career, do you give up on your dreams and settle down into a cubicle or not, when and with whom should you settle down, should you settle down at all, when should you respect your parents and their experience and when should you stand up to them, etc… Long-time followers know that one reason I enjoy genre literature is it addresses these real life issues within the context of the fantastic, and the good ones do it integrated and in a thought-provoking manner. This book achieves that.
The main character also is bisexual, while being primarily interested in a woman. It was so awesome to get to see a bi male main character and have it be presented as just a part of who he is and not a big deal at all. Although there is certainly a need and a place for the coming out tales and stories where the character’s sexuality is a central issue, it is also nice to see glbtq characters where that is just one aspect of who they are and is not dwelled upon much. It is just a part of who Dean is.
As for the central plot–what is happening in Spokane–I admit that I hoped for slightly more answers than we ultimately get. Readers looking for nicely tied up endings or even a hint at an answer will be left wanting. I enjoy an ambiguous ending, but I also felt that perhaps the plot could have been a bit clearer. In particular, without giving anything away, I felt that the scenes revolving around the hospital while powerful left me feeling a bit like perhaps even the author doesn’t really know what’s going on in Spokane. Perhaps that is the point, but it did leave me feeling that the plot was not as up to par as the world building and characterization.
Overall, this is a wonderful addition to the dark fantasy genre. Gropp gives us a unique main character and also utilizes writing about photography in a creative manner. I highly recommend it to fans of dark fantasy, particularly 20-somethings and those with an interest in photography.
4 out of 5 stars
Yelena is on death row for killing a man in the military state of Ixia but on the day of her execution she faces a choice. Become the Commander’s food taster and face possible death by poison every day or be hanged as planned. Being a smart person, Yelena chooses the former. Now that she has admittance to the inner circle of the military state, she quickly comes to see that not everything is quite as it seems….not even her own personal history or her heart.
*sighs* You guys. I have got to stop letting people convince me to pick up books using the phrase, “I know you don’t like [blank] but!” That is how this book wound up on my tbr pile. “I know you don’t like fantasy, but!” and also “I know you don’t like YA, but!” oh and “I know you don’t like romance in YA, but!” A reader knows her own taste. And I don’t like any of those. I still came at it with hope, though, since I did like one fantasy book I read this year (Acacia). There’s a big difference in how they wound up on my pile though. I chose Acacia myself because its reviews intrigued me. Poison Study was foisted upon me by well-meaning friends. So, don’t get my review wrong. This book isn’t bad. It’s just what I would call average YA fantasy. Nothing made it stand-out to me, and it felt very predictable.
The world of Ixia felt similar to basically every other fantasy world I’ve seen drawn out, including ones friends and I wrote up in highschool. Everyone has to wear a color-coded uniform that makes them easily identifiable. There are vague similarities to the middle ages (like Rennaisance-style fairs). There are people in absolute control. There is magic and magicians who are either revered or loathed. There are all the things that are moderately similar to our world but are called something slightly different like how fall is “the cooling season.” Some readers really like this stuff. I just never have. I need something really unique in the fantasy world to grab me, like how in the Fairies of Dreamdark series the characters are tinkerbell-sized sprites in the woods who ride crows. That is fun and unique. This is just….average.
Yelena’s history, I’m sorry, is totally predictable. I knew why she had killed Reyad long before we ever find out. I suspected early on how she truly came to be at General Brazell’s castle. I didn’t know the exact reason he had for collecting these people, but I got the gist.
And now I’m going to say something that I think might piss some readers off, but it’s just true. What the hell is it with YA romance and exploitative, abusive douchebags? This may be a bit of a spoiler, but I think any astute reader can predict it from the first chapter who the love interest is, but consider yourself warned that it’s about to be discussed. Yelena’s love interest is Valek, the dude who is the Commander’s right-hand man and also who offers her the poison taster position and trains her for it. He manipulates her throughout the book, something that Yelena herself is completely aware of. There are three things that he does that are just flat-out abusive. First, he tricks her into thinking that she must come to see him every two days for an antidote or die a horrible death of poisoning. (Controlling much?) Second, he sets her up in a false situation that she thinks is entirely real to test her loyalty to him. (Manipulative and obsessive much?) Finally, and this is a bit of a spoiler, even after professing his love for her, he asserts that he would kill her if the Commander verbally ordered it because his first loyalty is to him. What the WHAT?! Even the scene wherein he professes his love for Yelena he does it in such a way that even she states that he makes her sound like a poison. There’s a healthy start to a relationship. *eye-roll* All of this would be ok if Yelena ultimately rejects him, asserting she deserves better. But she doesn’t. No. She instead has happy fun sex times with him in the woods when she’s in the midst of having to run away because Valek’s Commander has an order out to kill her. This is not the right message to be sending YA readers, and yet it’s the message YA authors persist in writing. I could go into a whole diatribe on the ethics of positively depicting abusive relationships in literature, especially in YA literature, but that should be its own post. Suffice to say, whereas the rest of the book just felt average to me, the romance soured the whole book. It is disappointing.
Ultimately then, the book is an average piece of YA fantasy that I am sure will appeal to fantasy fans. I would recommend it to them, but I feel that I cannot given the positively depicted unhealthy romantic relationship the main character engages in.
2 out of 5 stars
In a world where the 1% has taken over the government and resources and the rest are left to fend for themselves, the Symmonds siblings seek to keep starvation at bay with their divining abilities. Everyone knows diviners can find a water source with two rods, but the Symmonds siblings can find much more, including lost people. When they are asked to find girls most likely stolen by the government for sex slavery, they must face a choice. Should they risk it all to save them?
I actually hesitated over whether or not to review this book because it does not appear to be available for sale anymore in spite of coming out just this February. This shows me that perhaps the author is already aware that it wasn’t quite ready for publication, so why pile it on? But I did promise a review in exchange for a copy, and I also review everything I read, so I ultimately decided to review. But I will keep it short and try to offer simply constructive criticism.
There are two issues with the book. One is some awkward sentence structures and flat-out wrong grammar. This is something that could be quickly fixed in another editing pass, which I recommend. The other is larger, though. The world building is confusing and weak. It took me until around 75% through the kindle book to finally figure out what was going on in this world, and some of it was still unclear. For instance, what I think is a branch of the government (still not sure) is called the “Jacobs,” but they are just called the Jacobs for so long with no other information that at first it seems that they are a rival family or something. The little information the reader does get about the dystopian world is delivered via information dump. It’s not smoothly written into the story. It is told to the reader like a confusing history book. If this wasn’t a review copy, I would have quit in the first chapter, because it’s simply not pleasant to receive information via info dump. The dystopian world itself, though, is interesting and timely. It’s based around the Occupy movement’s rhetoric about the 1% with the wealthy ultimately blatantly taking over. I could see a lot of people really enjoying the mix of that with the more fantastical element of divining. The characters are also fairly well-rounded and easy to tell apart.
Overall I would say it’s a good idea and a good first draft, but it needs some reworking and editing. I hope that’s what this author is doing and that she keeps at it, because her ideas are definitely unique.
2 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
Currently unavailable to buy, but check out the author’s website
The group from the first two Halcyon adventures are resting up in Marrakesh, albeit in their own separate mini-groups, when a mysterious assailant with a fiery sword shows up and manages to kill Don Lorenzo. Immediately bent upon revenge, Qhora takes Mirari and an old enemy with an interest in the famous seireiken (flaming swords) on a new airship piloted by Taziri on a chase not just to avenge the Don’s death but also to free his soul from the aetherium.
I discovered the hidden gem in the steampunk world that is Joseph Robert Lewis’s indie series The Other Earth back when he offered me the first copy in the series for review. The series consists of two trilogies and a set of companion novels. He sent me one of the trilogies for review, and I picked up the fourth book in the series (first in the second trilogy) on one of his frequent 100% off coupon code/giveaway days he has on his site (which you should definitely follow if you’re into the series and want a chance to flesh it out without buying them all at once). All of which is to say, I clearly am a fan of the series. I would certainly hope so. I can’t imagine reading a series beyond book 1 or 2 if you didn’t like it.
In any case, I’ve come to expect two things from Lewis’s writing that make me enjoy it so much: strong world-building and editing and creative stereotype-defining characters. Alas, these weren’t quite so strong in this entry. I think perhaps the book suffers from the classic third book in the trilogy problem that is seen in many many trilogies. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it. I simply found the earlier books to be better.
Part of what I enjoyed about the earlier books was the unique marriages going on, particularly Qhora and Lorenzo’s. They had just finished sorting out their differences, so killing off Enzo felt a bit like an odd choice to me. While I enjoyed the plot of the seireikens and discovering more of the East in this reimagining of the world, I wish that we hadn’t lost the unique pairing of a religious, pacifistish Caucasian man with a fiery, independent Incan woman. I know characters die, but it still took that unique aspect out of the book that I had so enjoyed. In fact, we now verged a bit too close to stereotype, what with a terrorist-style Aegyptian and a revenge-seeking Native.
Similarly, I don’t feel that Aegypt was as creatively built as the other alternate history areas of Marrakesh and Espani. Espani keeps some semblance of its Catholicism with its more conservative culture and following the “three-faced god,” but it still is creative with its vastly different climate of ice and culture that creates. In contrast, Aegypt is still a desert. It is full of undesirables and criminal culture from everywhere. People wear what appears to be the same clothing as one would expect in Egypt today, and women are still oppressed. If we’re imagining an alternate vision of Earth, why couldn’t we have a progressive Middle East? Maybe one where the women wear scarves for a practical reason (such as to keep dust out of their hair) but hold positions of power within the culture and city. That’s the sort of thing I was expecting from Lewis, so I was a bit disappointed to see such a stereotypical portrayal of the Middle East. Remember. This is an alternate history series. The whole idea is how things might be different if a few aspects of history were changed, such as weather and disease transmission. He’s not tied to reality, which leaves room for a lot more creativity than is seen in this reimagining of Egypt.
In contrast, the fantastical and scientific concepts are still strong. The idea of the seireiken–a sword made from aetherium that steals the soul of those it touches–is a great addition to the world Lewis has built. Similarly, Taziri’s new airship is yet again surprising, in spite of seeing two airships from her before. Another element of fantasy enters that I won’t reveal, because that would ruin the surprise and flair, but that I felt fit in well with the world and was a nice touch. Similarly, the fight scenes are well-written with neither too much description nor too little. Also, although more new characters are added, it never feels overwhelming or hard to keep track of them. Readers with an interest in having differently abled people represented will be pleased to know that one of these new characters is a well-written Little Person.
One other thought, I have to say that I was disappointed in this cover. Qhora does not look like a Native Incan woman to me. She struck me as Caucasian. In fact, it wasn’t until I was reading the book and realized that Turi (the eagle) only rests on Qhora’s arm that I realized this woman is supposed to be her. (Google Image Search “Incan woman” to see what I mean).
Overall then, although this book is not as impressive or thought-provoking as the first two in the series, it still tells an engaging story with lots of action. I’m hopeful that Lewis’s ability demonstrated in the first two books to see multiple possibilities for various cultures and peoples will return to its previous strength in the next books in the series.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review