Take A Peek Book Review: Discount Armageddon (InCryptid, #1) by Seanan McGuire

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Ghoulies. Ghosties. Long-legged beasties. Things that go bump in the night… The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity—and humanity from them. Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she’d rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and is spending a year in Manhattan while she pursues her career in professional ballroom dance.

Sounds pretty simple, right? It would be, if it weren’t for the talking mice, the telepathic mathematicians, the asbestos supermodels, and the trained monster-hunter sent by the Price family’s old enemies, the Covenant of St. George. When a Price girl meets a Covenant boy, high stakes, high heels, and a lot of collateral damage are almost guaranteed. To complicate matters further, local cryptids are disappearing, strange lizard-men are appearing in the sewers, and someone’s spreading rumors about a dragon sleeping underneath the city…

My Thoughts:

So… you may have noticed that I’ve been reading a lot of Seanan McGuire lately. I got totally obsessed with the October Daye series, and before I knew it, I’d read the 11 books in the series straight through. (Okay, with breaks for eating and sleeping, but otherwise, no stopping!)

Given how much I loved that series, I thought I’d try the author’s OTHER urban fantasy series, InCryptid. First impression after reading book #1, Discount Armageddon? A) Seanan McGuire can do no wrong; and B) this series is promising to be altogether lighter and sillier than the Toby Daye books. Just take a look at the cheese-a-rific cover image — if that doesn’t scream “don’t take this too seriously”, I don’t know what does.

The basics: In Discount Armageddon, we meet Verity Price, wannabe professional tango dancer and for-real deadly monster hunter. But also a monster protector — the Price family split from the Covenant generations earlier, because the Prices believed in studying and preserving “cryptids”, while the Covenant just believes in wiping them out. Verity works as a cocktail waitress in a strip club while she’s not chasing creatures across the rooftops of Manhattan, and gets embroiled in a dangerous quest to locate the last living dragon and prevent the bad guys from treating her friends as human (or non-human) sacrifices.

The plot is fast and clever, Verity is tough and funny, and I really liked the surprising ways that ballroom dancing skills can come in handy when engaged in hand-to-hand (or foot-to-chin) combat. The writing is full of McGuire’s trademark humor, and the banter (and constant encounters with weird creatures) keeps the book moving right along, start to finish.

Based on Discount Armageddon, I’d say that this isn’t a series that demands deep emotional investment (unlike how Toby rips out my heart from time to time). And that’s fine. Sometimes, I need light, fluffy adventures. And talking mice. Did I mention the talking mice?

Awesome.

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The details:

Title: Discount Armageddon (InCryptid series, book #1)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: March 6, 2012
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Library

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Book Review: Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman

 

Carol Evers is a woman with a dark secret. She has died many times . . . but her many deaths are not final: They are comas, a waking slumber indistinguishable from death, each lasting days.

Only two people know of Carol’s eerie condition. One is her husband, Dwight, who married Carol for her fortune, and—when she lapses into another coma—plots to seize it by proclaiming her dead and quickly burying her . . . alive. The other is her lost love, the infamous outlaw James Moxie. When word of Carol’s dreadful fate reaches him, Moxie rides the Trail again to save his beloved from an early, unnatural grave.

And all the while, awake and aware, Carol fights to free herself from the crippling darkness that binds her—summoning her own fierce will to survive. As the players in this drama of life and death fight to decide her fate, Carol must in the end battle to save herself.

What a strange book! The concept is pretty cool. Carol is a wealthy, well-loved woman, esteemed by the townsfolk of Harrows, but her husband fakes affection while yearning for her money. Dwight knows her deepest secret — that every once in a while, with no predictable pattern or symptoms, Carol falls into a coma indistinguishable from death. When Carol’s closest friend dies, she realizes she should take someone else into her confidence, in case she should have an episode while Dwight is away or too ill to intercede, but before she can share her secret, she goes under again, and Dwight launches his dastardly plan.

But all is not lost. Carol’s faithful maid alerts the man Carol once loved, the outlaw James Moxie. Moxie sets out on the dreaded, dangerous Trail to rescue Carol before she can be buried alive. But Moxie doesn’t ride alone — he’s pursued by a deranged, deadly assassin known as Smoke, who seems unstoppable and completely devoid of humanity. It’s a race against time, as James tries to reach Carol, Dwight tries to get Carol buried before she wakes, and Smoke keeps on coming and coming and coming.

There are some horrific moments, especially the scenes with Smoke. I won’t tell you why he has the name that he has, but trust me, it’s well-deserved and awful. As James rides to Carol’s rescue, we learn more about their sad history together, and meanwhile, we accompany Carol as she lies helpless in what she refers to as Howltown, the coma world she inhabits in which she’s aware of what’s going on around her, but unable to speak, move, or save herself from the terrible fate Dwight has planned for her.

The writing gives a classic Western twang to everything — gritty and profane and swaggering, with hints of violence and danger all at the same time.

It once was he rode into town and people blanched. Men avoided his eyes and women turned their backs, hoping not to be seen. It once was the domesticated dogs of the Trail-towns barked at him from afar. It once was he was whole, he was awesome, he was dread.

But he had no way of knowing that his loose lips, wet still with whiskey, had allowed powerful words to escape, words that would travel, mostly innocently, all the way to Sheriff Opal, who would consider it very odd indeed that someone with as many bedrooms as Dwight Evers would keep his dead bride in a cold, drafty storm room in a cellar.

There’s a difference between bad and evil, John Bowie once told her, his voice slurred with brandy. Bad is when you ignore the one you love. But evil is when you know exactly what that person wants, what means most to them, and you figure out how to take it away.

I liked the swear-words and cusses and exclamations the characters all use, such as “hell’s heaven” and “heaven’s hell”, and once (my favorite), “Lord of all hogs and pink piglets…”!

The drama mounts as the book progresses, as the stakes get higher and higher. We see the local sheriff trying to balance suspicion and facts, the maid who loves Carol drinking herself silly over her horror, Moxie’s reluctant return to his days of inspiring awe and terror in all he meets, Dwight’s mounting desperation, and Smoke’s unrelenting pursuit of Moxie and torment of anyone who crosses his path. It took me a while to get into the rhythm of the storytelling and the writing itself, but once I did, I was hooked.

I’m not usually much of a fan of the Western genre, but this odd book ended up appealing to me in an unexpected sort of way. I liked the grimness and the feel of listening to an old-timey story about legendary figures of a by-gone time. I haven’t read anything else by this author, but I understand that Unbury Carol is quite a different feel from his other books (and yes, I know I need to read Bird Box!).

Overall, I found Unbury Carol really weird and off-beat, but in a good, creepy way.

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The details:

Title: Unbury Carol
Author: Josh Malerman
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: April 10, 2018
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Western/horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: Feedback (Newsflesh, #4) by Mira Grant


There are two sides to every story…

We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we unleashed something horrifying and unstoppable. The infection spread leaving those afflicted with a single uncontrollable impulse: FEED.

Now, twenty years after the Rising, a team of scrappy underdog reporters relentlessly pursue the facts while competing against the brother-and-sister blog superstars, the Masons.

Surrounded by the infected, and facing more insidious forces working in the shadows, they must hit the presidential campaign trail and uncover dangerous truths. Or die trying.

Feedback is a full-length Newsflesh novel that overlaps the events of the acclaimed first novel in the series, Feed, and offers a new entry point to this thrilling and treacherous world.

Okay, first things first: DO NOT pick up Feedback thinking that you can start the Newsflesh books at this point. I would absolutely not consider Feedback “a new entry point”, as the blurb says. Instead, it’s a story set within the world of Newsflesh, telling a story that parallels the story of Feed (book #1 in the series). A knowledge of the world of Newsflesh is required in order to enjoy Feedback… and Feedback will absolutely spoil the original trilogy for you. So there — we’ve gotten the warnings and disclaimers taken care of right from the start!

So basically, the deal is this: Feedback starts at about the same point in time as Feed, 20 years after the Rising, just as the presidential campaign is kicking off. The Masons — stars of the original Newsflesh trilogy — are the stars of the blogging world, and have just gotten the sweet gig of following the Republican candidate expected to grab the nomination, and maybe even the White House. Meanwhile, in Feedback, we meet Ash North, an Irish expatriate who’s an “Irwin” — a daredevil blogger who goes out in the field and pokes zombies — along with her team. Ash and company would love to be anything close to as successful as the Masons, but they remain in the crowded field of lesser bloggers until they get chosen to accompany one of the Democratic candidates, Governor Susan Kilburn.

Ash is a sassy redhead, married platonically to her partner Ben and in love with her other partner Audrey. Along with their techie/makeup guru Mat, they hit the road with the campaign, and immediately find themselves in all sorts of horrifying and life-threatening disaster situations. With lots of zombies. And death. And zombies. And carnage. And, you know, zombies.

I was a little nervous about starting Feedback after reading some fairly negative reviews… but you know what? I liked it! While Feedback includes enough context to explain the origins of the zombie Rising and what’s happened since, it doesn’t feel like a repeat. It’s pretty cool getting another take on the events of the presidential campaign, as seen from the more limited viewpoint of Ash and friends. Ash, Ben, and Audrey stumble pretty quickly across similar clues to those unearthed by Georgia and Shaun in the first three books, but they don’t get as deeply involved in the ghastly conspiracies at play behind the scenes of the US political system.

The plot moves along quickly, and it was interesting to note the parallel events here, and to line those up with the events we know about from Feed and the later books. I liked Ash well enough to enjoy her company, and thought her relationships with Ben and Audrey were unusual enough to keep things fresh and different.

As a fan of The Walking Dead, I will mention that there was a section toward the end of the book that felt a bit too Negan-ish and Savior-y for me… but I suppose the idea of a strong, well-armed man taking over and setting up his own society, with himself at the center, isn’t that unusual for a post-apocalypse tale.

As always, Mira Grant’s writing is sparkly and shiny, alternating between describing scenes of incredibly disturbing zombie attacks (and yes, there are a few truly gruesome, terrible attacks in this book) and applying humor even to tense situations, so I never had to go too long without a laugh (or a snort or a chuckle)… in between wincing in horror, cringing at the gore, and being struck by the devastation to the characters’ souls.

Some light and not-so-light snippets:

“Hello, and welcome to the Huntsville Convention Center,” said the attendant. “We’re so very sorry that you’ve been exposed to a biohazard. Please, pick your preferred scent profile and drop the tabe into your shower as you enter. Your shampoo and body wash selections will be set to match.”

The all-terrain vehicle trundled through the woods like an armored bear: fast enough to be better than walking, bulky enough to make driving a continuous adventure, and sturdy enough to give no fucks when I overcompensated for the slopes and side-swiped a tree…

(what I pictured while reading those lines… )

I hoped [he] and the others had had a moment — just a moment, because sometimes a moment was everything in the world — to call their loved ones and say they were sorry, that they’d always known it would end like this, but that they’d been hoping it wouldn’t end quite so soon. There were always things left unsaid, undone, and I wanted, desperately, for them to have had the time to say at least a few of them.

Our part in this tale was done, and we were getting the hell out. Leave the lies to the living and the truth to the dead. Nothing ever stays buried for long.

 

I’m really glad that I read Feedback, and recommend it — but only if you’ve already read the other Newsflesh books. I love the world that Mira Grant has created, and reading Feedback allowed me to stay in it just a little bit longer.

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The details:

Title: Feedback
Author: Mira Grant
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: October 4, 2016
Length: 560 pages
Genre: Horror/science fiction
Source: Purchased

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Take A Peek Book Review: Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega, #5) by Patricia Briggs

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

In her bestselling Alpha and Omega series, Patricia Briggs “spins tales of werewolves, coyote shifters, and magic and, my, does she do it well” (USATODAY.com). Now mated werewolves Charles Cornick and Anna Latham face a threat like no other–one that lurks too close to home…

They are the wild and the broken. The werewolves too damaged to live safely among their own kind. For their own good, they have been exiled to the outskirts of Aspen Creek, Montana. Close enough to the Marrok’s pack to have its support; far enough away to not cause any harm.

With their Alpha out of the country, Charles and Anna are on call when an SOS comes in from the fae mate of one such wildling. Heading into the mountainous wilderness, they interrupt the abduction of the wolf–but can’t stop blood from being shed. Now Charles and Anna must use their skills–his as enforcer, hers as peacemaker–to track down the attackers, reopening a painful chapter in the past that springs from the darkest magic of the witchborn…

My Thoughts:

I love this series, and I love Anna and Charles as characters. I love their complicated relationship — as husband and wife, and as mated werewolves. I love their pack, and I love their interactions with Charles’s father Bran, the ruler of all werewolves of North America.

Despite my undying love for the Alpha & Omega books, Burn Bright felt a little weaker to me than some of the other books in the series. Perhaps it’s just that the story took a bit too long to really build momentum, or maybe it’s because Anna and Charles have been together long enough that their relationship here seems like more of a given, rather than something to be explored. In any case, while I enjoyed the story and my “reunion” with these beloved characters, the plot and pacing felt like a little bit less than what I’ve come to expect from this outstanding series.

Side note (without spoilers!): There’s a certain conversation early on in the book that has fans of this series (and the Mercy-verse as a whole) very up in arms. Yes, I also found it upsetting… but I guess I’m busy compartmentalizing and deciding that I’m going to ignore it, because otherwise it will make me feel differently about people I don’t want to feel differently about. Ugh, why???

Okay, beyond “the conversation” controversy riling up Briggs’s readers…

I raced through Burn Bright in about 24 hours, was very hooked by the end, and will absolutely read each and every book in the Alpha & Omega series (and Mercy Thompson too) for as long as Patricia Briggs chooses to keep writing them… which I hope will be for a long, long time.

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The details:

Title: Burn Bright
Author: Patricia Briggs
Publisher: Ace
Publication date: March 6, 2018
Length: 308 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased

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Audiobook Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

A word of warning right from the start: There will be some spoiler-ish discussion later on in this review — but I’ll put a big spoiler warning on top when we get there!

 


Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari’s features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.

But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.

My Thoughts:

I was completely engaged throughout my listening experience, and thought both Ari and Dante were charming as hell. The story is touching and emotional, with lots of humor as well. At the same time, I realized at the end that the story I thought I was listening to was not in fact the story I was getting. I’ll explain — bear with me!

Ari and Dante are both of Mexican descent, living with their parents in El Paso, Texas. The story is set in the late 80s, which is important to keep in mind in terms of situations within Ari’s family as well as societal norms and prejudices of the time. Both boys are only children — Dante in fact, Ari in terms of circumstance, as his siblings are significantly older and he’s the only one living at home. Both sets of parents are loving and supportive, but in Dante’s case, this is tempered by the walls of silence he experiences around the two forbidden subjects in his home: his father’s wartime experiences in Vietnam, and anything and everything to do with his incarcerated older brother.

Ari loves his parents and they love him, but he finds them unknowable, as their secrets create barriers. Ari is an angry young man with no  friends, but something in him connects to Dante from their very first meeting, in the summer when both boys are fifteen. Dante is friendly and outspoken and honest, and he likes to talk about everything. Something about his willingness to accept Ari for who he is forces Ari to see Dante as a friend. They’re soon inseparable, connected and honest and supportive in ways that Ari has never experienced.

Here’s where I’m getting into spoiler territory, so look away if you don’t want to know more!

As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Dante’s feelings for Ari go way beyond friendship. As the boys mature over the course of the book, Dante is pretty forthright about where he stands — he’s interested in kissing boys, not girls, and no, it’s not just a phase. Finally, he confesses his feelings to Ari, but Ari isn’t interested in boys — or Dante — in that way.

And that’s where things stand for most of the book, until close to the end, as Ari’s emotions and anger threaten to finally get the best of him. By the end of the book, the walls between Ari and his parents have started to come down, and his parents have started to open up to Ari about their family’s past and all the secrets between them. Finally, his parents confront Ari and tell him that they know that he’s in love with Dante. After tears and a huge emotional release, Ari acknowledges this too.

And I mostly felt… huh? I did not see that coming.

Earlier, I alluded to the fact that I thought I was reading a different book than the book it turned out to be. And here’s what I meant by that: The book is told through Ari’s first-person narration. We get to hear this thoughts on his life and his family, on his frustrations and anger, and on his friendship with Dante. And there’s just nothing that I heard that made me feel that what he felt for Dante went beyond friendship. He talks about Dante’s good looks, but not in a way to make me think there was physical attraction. He talks about the closeness he feels for Dante, but I didn’t have the impression that there was romantic love behind it.

So, I thought I was reading a book about how friendship — real, true, deep, strong friendship — could be possible between a straight boy and a gay boy. And I thought that was really cool. So different, so refreshing. What a great way to break down barriers!

And I have no problem with reading a book about a romance between two teen boys. Coming out stories, first love stories — done well, these can be so sweet and moving, and it’s so important to have these stories available in the YA market. But that’s just not what I thought this book was going to be!

Don’t get me wrong — I loved the book. The writing is marvelous, and I loved the characters. I thought it was so interesting to see how the boys’ Mexican heritage came into play in different ways, and to see how having a loving home isn’t the magical answer to all the problems in a young man’s life. Given the setting in the 80s, it’s also very clearly a different world than the one we live in. Being gay in the time period of the book is something to be hidden, something dangerous, and not an identity to be worn openly and proudly. My heart absolutely broke for Dante when he ended up in the hospital after being on the receiving end of a major beating simply because of being spotted kissing another boy.

End of Spoilers!

Still, I ended the book feeling a little let down. The ending is romantic and hopeful, but it just didn’t match my expectations for where the plot was going. I have to wonder whether part of this is due to listening to the audiobook rather than reading the print book.

The audiobook is amazing, thanks to the insane talents of LIN-MANUEL FREAKIN’ MIRANDA as the narrator. He breathes life into the characters, giving personality to Ari, Dante, and their parents with drama and flair. I did have a hard time in spots keeping track of the dialogue, as there are lengthy exchanges full of quick back-and-forth comments and quips, and despite the different voices given to the characters, I occasionally got lost.

In terms of why I expected the story to go in a different direction (as described in my spoilery section above), I wonder if I’d been reading a printed edition of the book whether I would have absorbed more of the subtext and nuance of the language. The writing is really lovely, and being inside Ari’s head is a roller coaster of thoughts and emotions — but by listening to the audiobook, perhaps I didn’t focus and really spend enough time with the words that build the story. Does that make any sense?

In any case, I really and truly enjoyed this book and recommend it highly… despite feeling both puzzled and a little out of sorts about how it all works out. I’m full of admiration for the author, and will definitely be seeking out more of his books.

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The details:

Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author:  Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Narrated by: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: February 1, 2012
Length (print): 359 pages
Length (audio): 7 hours, 29 minutes
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Audible download

 

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Book Review: Pride and Prometheus


Pride and Prejudice meets Frankenstein as Mary Bennet falls for the enigmatic Victor Frankenstein and befriends his monstrous Creature in this clever fusion of two popular classics.

Threatened with destruction unless he fashions a wife for his Creature, Victor Frankenstein travels to England where he meets Mary and Kitty Bennet, the remaining unmarried sisters of the Bennet family from Pride and Prejudice. As Mary and Victor become increasingly attracted to each other, the Creature looks on impatiently, waiting for his bride. But where will Victor find a female body from which to create the monster’s mate?

Meanwhile, the awkward Mary hopes that Victor will save her from approaching spinsterhood while wondering what dark secret he is keeping from her.

Pride and Prometheus fuses the gothic horror of Mary Shelley with the Regency romance of Jane Austen in an exciting novel that combines two age-old stories in a fresh and startling way.

My thoughts:

The classic/monster mash-up may seem played out by now, but I promise you that Pride and Prometheus is something quite different, and definitely worth reading.

This isn’t a case of an author putting otherworldly creatures — zombies, werewolves, vampires — into an existing story. Sure, those are fun, but once the charm of the gimmick wears off, so does the entertainment value.

Instead, Pride and Prometheus is a continuation of two stories, Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein. The author takes two narratives, and imagines what might have happened to these familiar characters if their paths crossed.

We begin more than a decade after the events of Pride and Prejudice. Mary Bennet, at age 32, has mellowed and grown since we last saw her. She’s learned more about herself and others. From the scorn and dismissal she experienced as a teen, she’s learned to be more thoughtful, to understand how her lectures and self-righteousness come across to others, and as a result, she’s become a young woman who’s more self-contained. She knows her own mind, but imposes less on others. Meanwhile, Kitty too remains unmarried, and the sisters live at home with their aging parents, growing closer to one another but neither particularly happy about their approaching spinsterhood.

Meanwhile, the story of Victor Frankenstein and his Creature picks up soon after the events in Frankenstein. The Creature has sworn vengeance on Victor, threatening to destroy everyone he holds dear, unless he makes a mate for him so he’ll no longer be so alone in the world. In Pride and Prometheus, we follow Victor as he travels to England to try to escape his suffering — and we also follow the Creature, who pursues Victor relentlessly.

Mary has developed an interest in science, and when she meets Victor in a social setting, they seem to hit it off. He responds to her interest in his work, and she’s enamored of his intellect, his scientific curiosity and daring, and his treatment of her as if she were both intelligent and interesting. But with the Creature stalking Victor, things soon take a dark turn, and Mary becomes embroiled in the drama of Victor’s attempts to keep his promise to the Creature, while at the same time developing sympathy for the Creature and becoming convinced that he too is a soul worthy caring for.

The author’s writing approach in Pride and Prometheus is just so clever and well-done. In alternating chapters, we see the story from Mary, Victor, and the Creature’s points-of-view. As the narrator changes, so too does the writing style. The Mary chapters, told in 3rd person, have an Austen-esque tone, and the Victor/Creature chapters, told in first-person, have the gothic feel of Mary Shelley.

Familiarity with both original works — Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein — is helpful if you truly want to enjoy Pride and Prometheus, although maybe not completely essential. The story would still be entertaining, I suppose, without having read the original works, but I’m not sure the reader would get as much out of it. For me, it’s been many, many years since I read Frankenstein, and I realized soon after starting this book that I needed a refresher. Of course, there are tons of synopses available online, which helped, but reading Pride and Prometheus piqued my interest in going back and reading Frankenstein again.

Pride and Prometheus stands on its own as a creative, moving, and engaging story, and it’s also an absolute treat for anyone with a fondness for the original works that inspired it. With terrific writing that manages to capture the flavors of the originals while also telling a story that’s new, startling, and compelling, Pride and Prometheus is a great read that I hope will find an appreciative audience. I know I really enjoyed reading it… and I can’t wait to find other people who’ve read it too, so we can talk about it!

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The details:

Title: Pride and Prometheus
Author: John Kessel
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: February 13, 2018
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Speculative/science fiction/classics
Source: Library

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Children’s Books: Two terrific girl power books by Chelsea Clinton

 

 

Sometimes being a girl isn’t easy. At some point, someone probably will tell you no, will tell you to be quiet and may even tell you your dreams are impossible. Don’t listen to them. These thirteen American women certainly did not take no for an answer.

They persisted.

If you’re looking for easy-to-follow kids’ books to empower and inspire, check out this pair of picture books written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexander Boiger.

Each book offers a selection of profiles of women who persisted — women who were told “no” or faced major hurdles, whether legal or cultural or physical. Each of these women followed their dreams, and made their marks on history by achieving something that no one thought possible.

She Persisted tells the stories of thirteen American women, among them such luminaries as Harriet Tubman, Florence Griffith Joyner, Sonia Sotomayor, and Sally Ride. Each gets her own two-page spread, with images lovingly drawn to show each woman’s progress and achievements, and often, a childhood image to show where she started. A brief, easily digestible paragraph tells each woman’s story. What I especially loved is that for each, there’s a quote, so the young reader will get to hear each woman speak in her own words.

 

Wonderful selections include:

“I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with.” (Sonia Sotomayor)

“I have never written a word that did not come from my heart. I never shall.” (Nellie Bly)

“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.” (Helen Keller)

 

It’s not always easy being a girl — anywhere in the world. It’s especially challenging in some places. There are countries where it’s hard for girls to go to school and where women need their husbands’ permission to get a passport or even to leave the house. And all over the world, girls are more likely to be told to be quiet, to sit down, to have smaller dreams.

 

Don’t listen to those voices. These thirteen women from across the world didn’t.

They persisted.

In She Persisted Around the World, Clinton chooses thirteen women from all over the globe, all of whom made a difference against the odds. Highlights include Malala Yousafzai, J. K. Rowling, and Marie Curie — but really, they’re all wonderful. The Around the World book follows the same format as the first book, and once again, I really loved the pages with the quotes.

“We are tired of having a ‘sphere’ doled out to us, and of being told that anything outside that sphere is ‘unwomanly’… We must be ourselves at all risks.” (Kate Sheppard)

“I don’t really know why I care so much. I just have something inside me that tells me that there is a problem, and I have got to do something about it.” (Wangari Maathai)

“The more I did, the more I could do, the more I wanted to do, the more I saw needed to be done.” (Leymah Gbowee)

I do have one complaint about these books, and it feels almost petty to bring it up… but I found it odd and kind of frustrating that no dates are provided for any of the stories. I’m not sure how young readers would know where these women fit into American and world history without providing some sort of timeline or dates as context.

Other than that, I think these are wonderful additions to the world of children’s literature. Both books are lovely, thanks to the clear, intelligent writing and the colorful, eye-catching, girl-positive illustrations. In some ways I loved the Around the World book more, simply because it introduced me to the names, faces, and stories of women whom I hadn’t heard of before. But really, I do recommend both, and hope that lots of parents and teachers will make these books available to the girls and boys they love, nurture, and inspire.

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Take A Peek Book Review: The Flight Attendant

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Cassandra Bowden is no stranger to hungover mornings. She’s a binge drinker, her job with the airline making it easy to find adventure, and the occasional blackouts seem to be inevitable. She lives with them, and the accompanying self-loathing. When she awakes in a Dubai hotel room, she tries to piece the previous night back together, already counting the minutes until she has to catch her crew shuttle to the airport. She quietly slides out of bed, careful not to aggravate her already pounding head, and looks at the man she spent the night with. She sees his dark hair. His utter stillness. And blood, a slick, still wet pool on the crisp white sheets. Afraid to call the police–she’s a single woman alone in a hotel room far from home–Cassie begins to lie. She lies as she joins the other flight attendants and pilots in the van. She lies on the way to Paris as she works the first class cabin. She lies to the FBI agents in New York who meet her at the gate. Soon it’s too late to come clean-or face the truth about what really happened back in Dubai. Could she have killed him? If not, who did?

My Thoughts:

I’m usually a big fan of Chris Bohjalian’s novels, but The Flight Attendant was only so-so for me. Maybe it’s the premise itself: A woman with a history of drinking until she blacks out wakes up in a strange bed beside a dead body. I feel like I’ve seen this before, either in movies or TV shows. And maybe it’s just the fact that I’m not a big fan of thrillers, so it takes a really unusual and exceptional one to draw me in.

In any case, the story was engaging and kept my attention, but it still felt like a fairly flat reading experience. I had a hard time sympathizing with Cassie. If ever there’s someone who could be described as her own worst enemy, Cassie is it. Between drinking, sleeping around, and lying, it’s no wonder Cassie finds herself in a world of trouble. The only surprise is that it’s taken this long for her drinking problem to get her into something that can’t be laughed off or talked away.

I found the espionage aspects of the novel somewhat impenetrable. The details didn’t really come together for me, although I suppose if I’d been more interested, I could have tried harder to follow the ins and outs. Still, it’s really Cassie’s story that matters, and I followed all of that just fine. The ending was a bit pat, despite a few surprises.

Chris Bohjalian is an amazing author and I’ve loved so many of his books. This one, however, was mostly a miss for me, although I can see it being of much greater appeal to readers who really enjoy the thriller genre.

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The details:

Title: The Flight Attendant
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication date: March 13, 2018
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Audiobook Review: The Midwife of Venice

 


Hannah Levi is known throughout sixteenth-century Venice for her skill in midwifery. When a Christian count appears at Hannah’s door in the Jewish ghetto imploring her to attend his labouring wife, who is nearing death, Hannah is forced to make a dangerous decision. Not only is it illegal for Jews to render medical treatment to Christians, it’s also punishable by torture and death. Moreover, as her Rabbi angrily points out, if the mother or child should die, the entire ghetto population will be in peril.

But Hannah’s compassion for another woman’s misery overrides her concern for self-preservation. The Rabbi once forced her to withhold care from her shunned sister, Jessica, with terrible consequences. Hannah cannot turn away from a labouring woman again. Moreover, she cannot turn down the enormous fee offered by the Conte. Despite the Rabbi’s protests, she knows that this money can release her husband, Isaac, a merchant who was recently taken captive on Malta as a slave. There is nothing Hannah wants more than to see the handsome face of the loving man who married her despite her lack of dowry, and who continues to love her despite her barrenness. She must save Isaac.

Meanwhile, far away in Malta, Isaac is worried about Hannah’s safety, having heard tales of the terrifying plague ravaging Venice. But his own life is in terrible danger. He is auctioned as a slave to the head of the local convent, Sister Assunta, who is bent on converting him to Christianity. When he won’t give up his faith, he’s traded to the brutish lout Joseph, who is renowned for working his slaves to death. Isaac soon learns that Joseph is heartsick over a local beauty who won’t give him the time of day. Isaac uses his gifts of literacy and a poetic imagination—not to mention long-pent-up desire—to earn his day-to-day survival by penning love letters on behalf of his captor and a paying illiterate public.

Back in Venice, Hannah packs her “”birthing spoons”—secret rudimentary forceps she invented to help with difficult births—and sets off with the Conte and his treacherous brother. Can she save the mother? Can she save the baby, on whose tiny shoulders the Conte’s legacy rests? And can she also save herself, and Isaac, and their own hopes for a future, without endangering the lives of everyone in the ghetto?

My Thoughts:

I found the plotlines revolving around Hannah’s midwife practice very compelling. It was fascinating to learn more about the role of midwives at that time (1575). Of course, we know that childbirth was a hazardous undertaking for women prior to the advent of modern medicine, but seeing it up close through Hannah’s experiences really drives home how risky it was and how closely death would hover for both mother and child. On top of the risks of childbirth, in The Midwife of Venice we get a stark portrayal of the status of Jews in Venice. The anti-Semitism of the time is commonplace, ordinary, and frightening. The threat of the inquisitors arresting Jews in violation of the law is an ever-present danger. When Hannah agrees to deliver a Christian nobleman’s baby, she’s putting the entire ghetto at risk, because if a Jewish woman can be blamed for causing the mother or baby to die, it’s likely that the people of Venice will invade the ghetto and slaughter the Jews.

Woven throughout Hannah’s story are chapters focusing on her husband Isaac, held prisoner on Malta with a ridiculous and unattainable sum set as his ransom. His efforts to earn his own freedom come to nothing, and the best he can do is try to stay alive until he can either escape or get rescued.

While the story as a whole held my interest, there are some oddities in the narrative that kept it from being more than just an okay read (listen) for me. It was often hard to tell how much time had passed from one chapter to another, so that a messenger might bring Isaac word of something that had happened in Venice — word that would presumably take weeks or longer to travel that distance — while only days had passed in Hannah’s part of the story. I wish the sections dealing with Hannah and her estranged sister Jessica had been better developed; their relationship is very layered and complex, yet it seemed to be dealt with much too quickly. Some of the action sequences happened much too quickly as well, leading me to believe that the author isn’t quite skilled enough in this type of writing: She’s very good at creating mood and characters, but putting together scenes of suspense or physical danger doesn’t seem to be a strength.

On the whole, there are some believability issues as well. Characters change course and act in ways that seem illogical and not in keeping with what we know about them. There are story beats that seem to come from nowhere, keeping the drama high, but almost without connection to the scenes that came before. A few moments of high drama keep the tension ratcheted up, but at the same time, at least one in particular seems to have no impact on the plot whatsoever, so why even include it?

Overall, The Midwife of Venice presents a very interesting story and setting, but the execution isn’t as good as I would have hoped. As for the audiobook, I didn’t particularly care for the narrator. She does a good job with the Italian phrases and names, but the depiction of the rougher folks of Malta was off — there were times when I thought the people in the crowd scenes sounded like New Yorkers! Also, the audiobook experience makes certain repetitions more glaring — why, for example, is it necessary to begin every chapter by identifying not only the location of the chapter (helpful to know whether we’re in Venice or Malta), but the year? It’s 1575 in every single chapter, so why repeat it in EVERY SINGLE CHAPTER?

The Midwife of Venice was my book group’s pick for March, and I’ve enjoyed hearing others’ thoughts on the book. I understand this is the first in a trilogy. Because of my issues with The Midwife of Venice, I’m not planning to read the follow-up books — but I’m interested enough in the outcome for the characters to be glad that one of my book group friends is reading the whole trilogy and has promised to let us know how it all turns out!

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The details:

Title: The Midwife of Venice
Author: Roberta Rich
Narrated by: Antoinette LaVecchia
Publisher: Anchor Canada
Publication date: January 1, 2011
Length (print): 336 pages
Length (audio): 9 hours, 7 minutes
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased

 

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Series check-in: October Daye, book 11 — The Brightest Fell

Well, here it is, folks — my last October Daye review post until September. Because after an eleven-book binge, I’ve run out, I’ve caught up, I’m done for now! I finished book #1, Rosemary and Rue, on February 3, 2018… and here I am, not quite two months later, and I’m head over heels in love with Toby’s world, and I don’t want to leave it!

This book series — 11 novels, lots of related stories — creates a world that’s rich in mythology and great characters, where the people we come to know and love grow and develop, and where secrets hinted at early on end up having major impacts down the road. Suspense, tears, laughter — the October Daye series has it all.

As for book #11, The Brightest Fell

I give you fair warning:

I’ll be talking about my reaction to events in this book, the questions I’m left with, and what I’m hoping for in future books. So yes, there will be spoilers — you have been warned!

Book #11: The Brightest Fell (published 2017)

For once, everything in October “Toby” Daye’s life seems to be going right. There have been no murders or declarations of war for her to deal with, and apart from the looming specter of her Fetch planning her bachelorette party, she’s had no real problems for days. Maybe things are getting better.

Maybe not.

Because suddenly Toby’s mother, Amandine the Liar, appears on her doorstep and demands that Toby find her missing sister, August. But August has been missing for over a hundred years and there are no leads to follow. And Toby really doesn’t owe her mother any favors.

Then Amandine starts taking hostages, and refusal ceases to be an option.

My thoughts:

Wow. Insane. And did this book really end on that kind of note?

The Brightest Fell starts off silly and happy, with an all-gender, all-Faerie-species bachelorette party for Toby. While she and Tybalt (sigh… I love me some Tybalt) haven’t set a date yet or figured out the politically fraught subject of where to hold the wedding, they’re in agreement that they want to get married, and soon. What better way to celebrate than with a drunken karaoke party attended by Toby, her nearest and dearest, and even a Bridge Troll? The highlight for me is when the Luidaeg (aka the Sea Witch) gets up to sing “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid, but I digress.

Whenever things seem like they’re going well in Toby’s world, whenever she’s about to settle in for some happiness and relaxation, you just know that something’s about to break or get ugly or end up bloody. So yes, it’s no surprise that post-party bliss is interrupted by the arrival of Amandine, who will never win a mother-of-the-year award. She orders Toby to go find her long-lost sister August, and when Toby refuses, Amandine takes Tybalt and Jazz (one of Toby’s housemates and the girlfriend of her adopted sister) as hostages, in pretty much the cruelest way she possibly can. The only way Toby can get her people back is by fulfilling the quest for Amandine, and to accomplish the task, she’ll have to work with Simon, her long-time enemy that she’s only recently starting to realize might have a shot at redemption.

The adventure itself feel like an epic road trip, as Toby, her squire Quentin, and Simon set off through various lands of Faerie under all sorts of enchantments, encountering old friends and enemies and swarms of menacing pixies before landing right back in San Francisco. When they finally do find August and learn what she bargained away in order to set out on her own adventure 100 years earlier, there are no easy solutions, and it’s all rather heartbreaking.

Okay, enough with the plot summary Here’s my reaction, which may not mean much to anyone who hasn’t read the book:

  • Simon’s sacrifice is so sad! Toby finally sees that Simon still has good in him, and the corruption at his core has finally started to wash away. So of course, in the end, he loses all the ground he’s gained. I understand that he had no choice but to sacrifice himself for August, but it’s really tragic and awful nonetheless. And now, Simon goes back to being Toby’s enemy, so that’s not good.
  • Every time someone messes with Toby’s blood, I absolutely freak out. This has happened in several books now, where the balance of Toby’s blood is shifted away from fae and more toward the human/mortal end of the spectrum. Even though I felt fairly certain that she’d get her magic back, I just can’t stand the tension of Toby losing her mojo and her powers and her fae essence! It’s just so upsetting. Please, please, please — stop doing this to her! My heart can’t take it.
  • Amandine is awful and I hate her. There, I said it.
  • I still want to know who Amandine’s mother is. She’s Oberon’s daughter, but isn’t descended from Titania or Maeve. More mysteries to unravel.
  • I know it’s not really August’s fault, but man, I wish she’d never entered the picture. The amount of suffering caused by Amandine’s insistence on finding August is unbelievable.
  • It’s always nice when we get another visit to Borderlands, one of my favorite book stores (and yes, it’s a real place here in San Francisco, and quite awesome).

And finally, let’s talk about the end. As far as I can remember, almost every book in the series has ended with the end of the quest/adventure/major threat, and then things more or less get back to normal. Yes, there have been losses and bad times, but Toby usually lands on her feet. But in The Brightest Fell, we end with so much damage! Tybalt is not okay, and I am not okay with Tybalt not being okay! It hurts my soul to see him so tortured and hurt. I just want him and Toby to be happy! Is that too much to ask for???

We stood there, wounded, frozen, exhausted, and waited for home to start feeling like home again. We waited for the safety to come back.

We were going to be waiting for a very long time.

And oh yeah, what about the wedding? The engagement has lasted a few books now. I’m ready for Toby and Tybalt to make it official, celebrate, get some much earned happiness, and move on to the next chapter in their lives. If something happens to ruin their future, or if anything (further) happens to Tybalt, I can’t be held responsible for the objects I may throw and break.

I’m so worked up over that ending, and I cannot believe that I’ve run out of books for now! How am I possibly going to wait until September for book #12? The downside of book binges is what comes after, when you have to just sit and stew, wait and wonder, and count the days until the next new release.

And that’s all, folks! I’ve reached the end (for now) of the October Daye series, and now must return to the mortal world and find something else to read.

A footnote:

Included in The Brightest Fell is a novella from the Toby-verse, Of Things Unknown, starring Countess April O’Leary. It’s always fun to see supporting characters take center stage in the Toby short stories. This one includes some sad moments, weird interludes inside April’s unusual mind, and a twist at the end that should shake things up in future books. Don’t skip it!

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