Book Review: The Heroine’s Journey by Gail Carriger

Title: The Heroine’s Journey
Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Gail Carriger LLC
Publication date: September 28, 2020
Length: 322 pages
Genre: Non-fiction – literature/writing
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Tired of the hero’s journey?
Frustrated that funny, romantic, and comforting stories aren’t taken seriously?
Sad that the books and movies you love never seem to be critically acclaimed, even when they sell like crazy?

The heroine’s journey is here to help.

Multiple New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger presents a clear concise analysis of the heroine’s journey, how it differs from the hero’s journey, and how you can use it to improve your writing and your life.

In this book you’ll learn:

* How to spot the heroine’s journey in popular books, movies, and the world around you.
* The source myths and basic characters, tropes, and archetypes of this narrative.
* A step-by-step break down of how to successfully write this journey.

What do Agatha Christie, JK Rowling, and Nora Roberts all have in common?
They all write the heroine’s journey. Read this book to learn all about it.

From Harry Potter to Twilight, from Wonder Woman to Star Wars, you’ll never look at pop culture the same way again.

I’m not a writer… so why am I reading a book about writing? Because it’s by Gail Carriger, that’s why!

Gail Carriger is a favorite writer, and her books own prime shelf real estate in my personal library. I adore her characters, her plots, her world-building, her dialogue, and her silliness. (She’s also unfailingly welcoming and warm at book signings, which can’t be easy…)

In any case — after reading about The Heroine’s Journey through Gail’s social media and newsletters, I was intrigued enough to want to check it out. Lo and behold, it was a fascinating read, even for a non-writer like me!

In The Heroine’s Journey, Gail explains in details how a Heroine’s Journey differs from the much better-known Hero’s Journey. Surprise #1 — the heroine of a Heroine’s Journey does not have to be female! The concept of the hero and heroine, at least as Gail explains, has much more to do with the types of journeys they’re on, the obstacles they encounter, the resources they use, and their ultimate goal, than with a definition based on gender identification.

Through the use of literary and pop culture references, Gail clearly identifies the key elements of a Heroine’s Journey, and explains the tropes, characters, and beats that provide the journey’s framework. She also provides excellent examples of different techniques to use to bring characters to life, get readers involved, and provide a satisfactory payoff for devoted readers.

As an avid reader, and someone who loves genre fiction of all sorts, I found this book so interesting! It really helped me understand why certain types of stories and plots resonate, and taught me a lot about structure and underlying themes as part of understanding a writer’s craft and accomplishments.

And as for the geek in me, I adored the fact that she used Harry Potter throughout the book to explain different facets of the Heroine’s Journey. It’s fine to provide a writerly explanation of different points, but the examples are what really brought the points to life for me.

The Heroine’s Journey is a great read for anyone who enjoys learning about the craft behind the stories we love. I’ll be pushing this book into the hands of a few writer friends of mine too!

Book Review: We Came Here To Shine by Susie Orman Schnall

Title: We Came Here To Shine
Author: Susie Orman Schnal
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: June 16, 2020
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

At the iconic 1939 New York World’s Fair, two ambitious young women—a down-on-her-luck actress and an aspiring journalist—form an unlikely friendship as they navigate a world of possibility and find out what they are truly made of during a glorious summer of spectacle and potential…

Gorgeous Vivi is about to begin filming her first starring role in a Hollywood picture when the studio head ships her off to New York as a favor to a friend. She’s assigned the leading role in the heralded Aquacade synchronized swimming spectacular at the World’s Fair, a fate she believes will destroy her film career. If she performs well, she’ll have another chance at stardom, but with everything working against her, will her summer lead to opportunity or failure?

Plucky Max dreams of becoming a serious journalist, but when her job at the New York Times doesn’t pan out, she finds herself begrudgingly working for the daily paper of the World’s Fair. As her ideas are continually overlooked by her male counterparts and her career prospects are put in jeopardy, Max must risk everything to change the course of her life.

When Max and Vivi’s worlds collide, they forge an enduring friendship. One that teaches them to go after what matters most during the most meaningful summer of their lives.

We Came Here To Shine takes place at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, bringing the spectacle to life through the experiences of Max and Vivi, two very different women who find themselves drawn together as they each battle sexism and misogyny.

Max is a journalism student at NYU, whose dream is to become a star reporter for the New York Times. As part of the coursework, each member of the class is assigned to a summer internship with a New York publication. Max is crushed when she loses out on her first choice with the Times, and is instead assigned to Today At The Fair, the daily paper produced at the World’s Fair to highlight the days’ events and generate buzz and excitement.

It gets even worse when she and her classmate Charlie show up to work on the first day, only to be told that Charlie will write all the articles, and Max will be responsible for the daily event listings. When she protests, she’s told that women aren’t suited for reporting, and are much better at doing detail work like lists and calendars. Max is furious, especially because she and her classmates are competing for a scholarship that will be awarded based on submission of articles written during the internship. Without the scholarship, Max doesn’t see a way that she can afford the next year’s tuition.

Meanwhile, Vivi is on track as a rising starlet in the Hollywood studio system. After supporting roles in a few films, Vivi is about to start filming a starring role in a new movie — until the studio chief informs her that she’s being replaced, and is instead being loaned out to Billy Rose, the producer of the Aquacade swimming show at the World’s Fair. The Aquacade’s star (in the role of Aquabelle Number One) has been injured, and they need someone to replace her and draw in the crowds. Vivi isn’t a movie star yet, but the producers all agree that the Hollywood cachet will boost ticket sales.

Vivi is dismayed and hurt, but has no choice. She’s under contract to the studio, which means they can do as they want with her. They also dangle a promise that after the summer, they have another starring role all lined up for. Do what they want, and she’ll get that chance. Don’t do it, and the studio will be done with her, ending her Hollywood dreams for good.

There’s a lot to like about We Came Here To Shine, but it fell flat for me in several ways.

First, what I liked:

  • Being introduced to the wonders of the Fair, which at that time would have been mind-boggling. New technologies, glorious buildings and gardens, international pavillions, glamorous restaurants, and the Aquacade — the book does a great job of conveying the awe of experiencing the Fair for the first time.
  • I liked Max and Vivi’s friendship and how they supported one another through their lowpoints, helping each other figure out how to get out of terrible situations and take control of their own paths.
  • The sense of the impact of the Depression, as shown by Max’s family life as well as by some of the negative reactions to the Fair around the ticket prices making it beyond the reach of many families.
  • The photos and historical notes included in the book, which really helped me appreciate different attractions mentioned in the story, as well as explaining which of the issues and people are real and which are created by the author.
  • The inclusion of the National Women’s Party (a real organization) as an inspiration for both Max and Vivi.

The bits that didn’t really work for me:

  • For someone who’s described as being top of her class in journalism, the tastes we get of Max’s writing just aren’t impressive. In fact, the pieces she submits for the scholarship competition are sensational without including sources or diving beyond the surface.
  • It doesn’t actually make sense that Vivi would be chosen to take on the high-profile starring role in the Aquacade. She was on her high school swim team, but has never done choreography or synchronized swimming, and is initially given just four days to rehearse before her first performance.
  • Vivi’s family drama, which drove her to Hollywood in the first place, isn’t explained well enough. We know the basics of what happened, but (see below), the presentation left me feeling that I was reading about stock characters, rather than unique people and dynamics.
  • SPOILER: Vivi, with Max’s help, finds a way to get out of her contract and leave the Aquacade and Hollywood in her past. It’s clear that she’s been mistreated, cheated, and controlled by the various powerful men who run the industry and have absolute power over her career, but I couldn’t quite accept that Vivi’s need to take back her life would include giving up her career and switching aspirations quite so suddenly. It reads as if she never really wanted to become an actress in the first place, but that’s not the impression I had at the start of the book.

The biggest issue I had with the book is the writing. The writing style makes the story feel bland, even when there’s something dramatic happening. In fact, this is probably what bothered me the most: Even as certain events unfolded, I felt like I was being told about what happened, rather than actually seeing them happen. Again and again, I felt like I was reading a summary of the big moments — some key parts felt too short or glossed over, and I never got the sense that I was there.

Still, I did enjoy enough aspects of We Came Here To Shine to make me glad I read it. I’ve now spend some time browsing images and videos to get a sense of what being at the Fair was like. To learn more about the Fair, check out https://www.1939nyworldsfair.com/index.htm. Also, here’s a short video highlighting the Aquacade (silent, but still fun to watch.)

We Came Here To Shine is my book group’s pick for January — yet another book that I likely would not have come across otherwise. Despite the problems mentioned above, it’s worth reading to experience the time and place of such a unique and exciting event.

Book Review: A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey

Title: A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow
Author: Laura Taylor Namey
Publisher: Atheneum
Publication date: November 10, 2020
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Love & Gelato meets Don’t Date Rosa Santos in this charming, heartfelt story following a Miami girl who unexpectedly finds love—and herself—in a small English town.

For Lila Reyes, a summer in England was never part of the plan. The plan was 1) take over her abuela’s role as head baker at their panadería, 2) move in with her best friend after graduation, and 3) live happily ever after with her boyfriend. But then the Trifecta happened, and everything—including Lila herself—fell apart.

Worried about Lila’s mental health, her parents make a new plan for her: Spend three months with family friends in Winchester, England, to relax and reset. But with the lack of sun, a grumpy inn cook, and a small town lacking Miami flavor (both in food and otherwise), what would be a dream trip for some feels more like a nightmare to Lila…until she meets Orion Maxwell.

A teashop clerk with troubles of his own, Orion is determined to help Lila out of her funk, and appoints himself as her personal tour guide. From Winchester’s drama-filled music scene to the sweeping English countryside, it isn’t long before Lila is not only charmed by Orion, but England itself. Soon a new future is beginning to form in Lila’s mind—one that would mean leaving everything she ever planned behind.

A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow was one of Reese Witherspoon’s YA book club picks, and I can see a lot of what makes it appealing — romance, family, grief and recovery, friendship, and cultural diversity and celebration.

The girl of the title is Lila Reyes, a 17-year-old with a broken heart who has suffered too many losses in too short a period of time. Her boyfriend breaks up with her, her best friends makes plans to work in Ghana after graduation without telling Lila, and most devastating of all, Lila’s beloved abuela dies unexpectedly.

Her abuela was the heart and soul of the family, and she taught Lila everything she knew about food and baking. Lila’s plans were set in stone already — after graduation, she and her older sister Pilar would take over the management of the family bakery. But when Lila’s grief leads her down a self-destructive path, her worried family sends her to a small town in England to spend the summer with a cousin at her family’s inn.

Lila is mad and resentful at first, and so stubborn that she refuses to alter her Miami dress code of tank tops and strappy sandals, even when confronted with chilly English weather. Slowly, though, Lila finds the beginnings of a routine for herself, baking her special Cuban pastries and treats in the inn’s kitchen, becoming friends with a local musician and her group, and getting to know Orion Maxwell, a lovely local who is determined to show Lila all the best sites and tastes of Winchester.

The story is sweet and occasionally moving, as Lila, Orion, and others deal with sorrows and challenges, and learn the various ways true friends can hold each other up when they need it most. And oh, the food! Each chapter is filled to the brim with Lila’s nonstop cooking and baking, and it all sounds amazing! Take me to her bakery now, please, so I can fill my stomach with absolutely everything!

So why only 3 stars? (And, I’ll be honest, I wavered between 2.5 and 3 for quite a while.) It’s simple — I just couldn’t get into the author’s writing style.

You know how in some books, the sentence structure or use of words is so unique or special that it makes you stop and admire it while you’re reading? This isn’t that. Instead, I was constantly pausing because I was befuddled by the odd syntax and use of language, and had to try to puzzle out what certain descriptions and phrases actually meant:

Blond hair — a dark variety his creator dyed in a murky rain puddle — curls slightly on top of a cropped cut.

Before my mouth even closes, my words strike faces.

Gray, dim, shade — those are the colors on his face before he thumbs his chin and half-smiles for me.

My culture also has too much wanting to die out in the new.

Miami. The third heart on this pavement, trying to love me harder.

The story is nice and moves pretty quickly, but I just didn’t love it enough to want to rave about it, and the writing issue definitely affected my overall enjoyment.

Recommended for the amazing food and the tribute to Cuban Miami culture, but not a must-read.

Audiobook Review: The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

Title: The Exiles
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Narrator:  Caroline Lee
Publisher: Custom House
Publication date: August 24, 2020
Print length: 370 pages
Audio length: 10 hours 17 minutes
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Orphan Train returns with an ambitious, emotionally resonant novel that captures the hardship, oppression, opportunity and hope of a trio of women’s lives in nineteenth-century Australia.

Seduced by her employer’s son, Evangeline, a naïve young governess in early nineteenth-century London, is discharged when her pregnancy is discovered and sent to the notorious Newgate Prison. After months in the fetid, overcrowded jail, she learns she is sentenced to “the land beyond the seas,” Van Diemen’s Land, a penal colony in Australia. Though uncertain of what awaits, Evangeline knows one thing: the child she carries will be born on the months-long voyage to this distant land.

During the journey on a repurposed slave ship, the Medea, Evangeline strikes up a friendship with Hazel, a girl little older than her former pupils who was sentenced to seven years transport for stealing a silver spoon. Canny where Evangeline is guileless, Hazel — a skilled midwife and herbalist – is soon offering home remedies to both prisoners and sailors in return for a variety of favors.

Though Australia has been home to Aboriginal people for more than 50,000 years, the British government in the 1840s considers its fledgling colony uninhabited and unsettled, and views the natives as an unpleasant nuisance. By the time the Medea arrives, many of them have been forcibly relocated, their land seized by white colonists. One of these relocated people is Mathinna, the orphaned daughter of the Chief of the Lowreenne tribe, who has been adopted by the new governor of Van Diemen’s Land.

In this gorgeous novel, Christina Baker Kline brilliantly recreates the beginnings of a new society in a beautiful and challenging land, telling the story of Australia from a fresh perspective, through the experiences of Evangeline, Hazel, and Mathinna. While life in Australia is punishing and often brutally unfair, it is also, for some, an opportunity: for redemption, for a new way of life, for unimagined freedom. Told in exquisite detail and incisive prose, The Exiles is a story of grace born from hardship, the unbreakable bonds of female friendships, and the unfettering of legacy.

It’s been a few days since I finished listening to this fascinating, moving, and well-written story, and I feel like I’m still catching my breath.

In The Exiles, author Christina Baker Kline tells a powerful story of women displaced by the rules of others, struggling to survive and to find a place to call home. While the story is uplifting, it’s often so heartbreaking that it made me want to stop and sit quietly for a while to regroup and get my emotions under control.

The book starts by focusing on two very different characters: First, we meet Mathinna. At the opening of the story, she’s eight years old, already living in a sort of exile along with her tribe, who’ve been removed from their lands and forced to relocate to the harsher landscape of Flinders Island. Even there, their lives aren’t peaceful. They’re ruled by British governors, forced to adopt English speech and dress, and limited in their abilities to live as their people always have. When young Mathinna catches the visiting governor’s wife’s attention during a schoolchildren’s performance, Mrs. Franklin decides that Mathinna will be her next experiment. With no consent needed, Governor and Mrs. Franklin leave instruction for Mathinna to be brought to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), to be raised in their home as a test subject — to see if “savages” can be civilized enough to fit into proper society.

At the same time, back in London, we meet Evangeline Stokes, the inexperienced, orphaned daughter of a vicar, who seeks work as a governess with a wealthy family in order to survive after her father’s death. Evangeline is seduced and impregnated by the elder son of the family which employs her, and after she’s found with his ring in her possession, she’s arrested and imprisoned. (He, of course, is such a cad that he never lifts a finger to help her.)

Evangeline is sentenced to transportation, and begins the harrowing four-month sea voyage from England to Australia. To survive, she forges friendships with some of the other women convicts, but the voyage itself is dangerous, as are some of the crewmen onboard the ship.

During the voyage, the character Hazel is introduced as well — a teen girl convicted of robbery, after her alcoholic mother sent her out to pickpocket for their survival. Hazel is a trained and gifted midwife, and her skills become invaluable to Evangeline and the other women on the ship, as well as providing Hazel with a way to improve her own life once she arrives in Van Diemen’s land.

The relationships among the women are complex and important. While their backgrounds vary widely, all find themselves at the mercy of an unfair justice system that deprives them of their voices and their freedoms. As becomes very clear, poor and powerless women have no one to defend them, and no ability to contest or avoid the judgments handed down against them. And as one woman points out to Evangeline, it’s not just about punishment — as British colonizes the Australian territory, they need more women to build a society with, so why not solve two problems at once?

The story alternates in sections between the experiences of Evangeline, Hazel, and the other convicts, and the strange and awful half-life Mathinna is forced into. Again, here is a young woman with no voice and no power, treated as an object of curiosity and a plaything, but all too easily cast aside when her novelty wears off.

All of these women truly are exiles, removed from their homes and families, given no choice about where they’ll go or how they’ll live, forced to give up everything they’ve known and start over in a foreign land. In Mathinna’s case, of course, it’s not just the story of a personal tragedy but the tragedy of a people, as British colonization decimates the lives of the native people of Australia.

The Exiles is a beautiful and powerful read. I don’t want to talk too much about the individual characters and what becomes of them, because the specific storylines are best discovered by reading the book. Overall, this is a tragic and lovely story, and it left me wanting to learn more about the actual history of Australian settlement.

Book Review: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

Title: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
Author: Marie Benedict
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: December 29, 2020
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Marie Benedict, the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Only Woman in the Room, uncovers the untold story of Agatha Christie’s mysterious eleven day disappearance.

In December 1926, Agatha Christie goes missing. Investigators find her empty car on the edge of a deep, gloomy pond, the only clues some tire tracks nearby and a fur coat left in the car—strange for a frigid night. Her husband and daughter have no knowledge of her whereabouts, and England unleashes an unprecedented manhunt to find the up-and-coming mystery author. Eleven days later, she reappears, just as mysteriously as she disappeared, claiming amnesia and providing no explanations for her time away.

The puzzle of those missing eleven days has persisted. With her trademark exploration into the shadows of history, acclaimed author Marie Benedict brings us into the world of Agatha Christie, imagining why such a brilliant woman would find herself at the center of such a murky story.

What is real, and what is mystery? What role did her unfaithful husband play, and what was he not telling investigators?

A master storyteller whose clever mind may never be matched, Agatha Christie’s untold history offers perhaps her greatest mystery of all. 

In this fascinating new release, author Marie Benedict creates an Agatha Christie-worthy mystery out of a real-life mystery from Christie’s own life.

Agatha Christie really did disappear for eleven days in 1926, and when she was located, her missing days were attributed to amnesia. That was it — a rather vague and unsatisfying resolution to a headline-making missing person story. (Read more about the actual events, here.)

But what really happened? Is there more to the story than meets the eye? In The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, we get a tantalizing view of a possible (and highly entertaining) answer.

The novel follows two narrative streams in alternating chapters: Agatha’s courtship and marriage to Archie Christie, told from Agatha’s perspective starting in 1912, and Agatha’s disappearance in 1926, told from Archie’s point of view. As the two weave together, we come to understand Agatha’s brilliance, and just how much of herself she sacrificed in order to please her moody, controlling husband.

I laughed at his rare joke, a mad cackle that I knew was a mistake the moment it escaped my lips. It sounded brash and overreactive, and Archie wouldn’t like it. It smacked of disorderly emotions.

I really don’t want to give too much away, so I won’t talk about outcomes at all. What I will highlight is the shock and dismay I felt reading Agatha’s narration of how she devoted herself to her husband, pushing down her own successes, her natural vivacity, and even her love for her daughter in order to cater to a man who demanded to be constantly at the center of his wife’s attention. It’s heartbreaking.

On those nights when I longed to hold my baby in my arms, even sleep with her in my bed, I told myself that this distance was necessary practice. How else could I ensure that Archie maintained his position at the center of my affections?

Even after her beloved mother dies, Agatha is made to feel responsible for neglecting Archie and causing his infidelity:

It was likely my fault that he’d become fascinated with Nancy. Hadn’t Mummy always warned me never to leave my husband alone for too long? And hadn’t I emotionally and physically abandoned him this summer in my grief? Even when he was in Spain, he knew my heart and mind weren’t with him but lost to my sorrow over Mummy.

Argh. It’s just so upsetting to see this amazing woman tie herself in knots as a result of her husband’s passive-aggressive, emotionally manipulative and abusive behavior. He even manages to suck the joy out of Agatha’s early writing successes, making her feel unsupportive of her husband if she became too happy about her publishing contracts and the beginnings of her fame.

I mostly write because I adore creating worlds and puzzles, and I want to succeed at it wildly. But ambition is a dirty word when it’s used by women; it’s decidedly unladylike, in fact.

The author weaves together the historical facts to create a police procedural crime investigation in the chapters set in 1926. If it starts to feel like we’re in an Agatha Christie novel, well, kudos to Marie Benedict! She employs Agatha’s wittiness and intelligence to create a puzzle out of Agatha’s own life. According to The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, Agatha first started writing her stories as a result of a dare from her sister, who just didn’t believe that Agatha could create an unsolvable puzzle for readers — so naturally, she had to prove her sister wrong. As in an Agatha Christie mystery, this book delivers clever plotting and intriguing twists that manage to surprise and delight.

I was a little hesitant about reading The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, as I’ve only read one Agatha Christie novel (And Then There Were None), although I’ve seen adaptations of several others. I needn’t have worried. The Mystery of Mrs. Christie is perfectly accessible for a Christie novice like myself, and I imagine that it’ll be very enjoyable for the great lady’s more ardent fans too.

And now, of course, I need to read more Agatha Christie books! Do you have any favorites? Where should I start? I’m also definitely going to want to read more by Marie Benedict! So far, I’ve only listened to an audiobook novella written by her, Agent 355, and I loved it.

For anyone who’s a Christie fan, or for those who just enjoy a good literary puzzle with a strong, smart woman at its center, I highly recommend The Mystery of Mrs. Christie.

Book Review: The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal

Title: The Relentless Moon
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: July 14, 2020
Length: 544 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Mary Robinette Kowal continues her award-winning Lady Astronaut series, which began with The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, with The Relentless Moon.

The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.

Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.

The Lady Astronaut series is an absolute favorite, so I’m thrilled that I finally read my copy of The Relentless Moon.

In the first two books in the series (The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky), we’re introduced into an alternate version of 1950s and 1960s America, in which a catastrophic meteor strike has wreaked havoc on the world. Scientific analysis shows that the planet is on its way to becoming uninhabitable due to the climate change that followed the meteor, and this brings about a global focus on developing a space program. The future of humanity rests on finding a new home for people among the stars.

In books one and two, scientist Elma York is the main character. Here in book #3, The Relentless Moon, a supporting character from the earlier books takes the lead role.

Nicole Wargin is a glamorous politician’s wife. She’s also one hell of a pilot, a former WASP who entered the space program as one of the initial women allowed into astronaut training. Nicole is beautiful, polished, and full of grace, always knowing the right thing to say to the right people. She’s also much more than she appears to be, with secrets from her professional past as well as her own personal struggles that she usually manages to mask.

As the book opens, Nicole is about to join the next launch to the Moon. Her husband Kenneth, governor of Kansas, is poised to announce his candidacy for President. On Earth, protests by the group Earth First are becoming more dangerous and violent day by day — demanding that the space program be abandoned so that government dollars can be focused on helping those who lost so much due to the meteor, and those who — whether for lack of privilege, access, or health — will never be candidates for traveling into space.

Despite the threats, Nicole journeys to the Moon, but things go badly, quickly. The landing mechanisms are damaged, forcing a life-threatening crash landing. It could be an accident… but it could also be sabotage. More problems arise, as small mechanical problems and power outages escalate into situations of increasing danger. Nicole is assigned to help determine if there truly is Earth First sabotage going on, and if so, to stop the perpetrators before the damage becomes catastrophic.

At 500+ pages, The Relentless Moon is a long book, but it flew by. I was completely engrossed in the discussions of life in space and on the Moon, as well as the whodunnit aspects of the hunt to find the saboteurs.

That alone might make for dry reading, but Nicole is a fabulous character with so many layers, and it’s getting to see beneath her surface that makes this a terrific book. She’s smart, sophisticated, and experienced, yet also vulnerable in unexpected ways. Her perspective on the space program, her colleagues and friends, and the pressures of being a public figure are all fascinating, and her personal struggles and tragedies in this book are incredibly moving.

The events of The Relentless Moon happen in the same timeline as those in The Fated Sky, so here, Nicole and her fellow astronauts on the lunar base hear about some of the events from the earlier book as they happen, and we get a different look at what happened and why, as well as information that Elma was not given in The Fated Sky. I love how these two books work together.

A final reveal at the end of The Relentless Moon made me so happy. That’s all I’ll say about it!

The fourth book, The Derivative Base, is due out in 2022, and I don’t want to wait that long! I can’t wait to see how the author wraps up this incredibly masterful and exciting series.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books of 2020

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Favorite Books of 2020.

2020 was a dismal year in so many ways, but on the bright side, being stuck at home most of the year meant lots of time for reading! I read so many great books this past year — here is a selection of my favorites. (Some of these are 2020 releases, and some are older — but all are books I read in 2020).

  1. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  2. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  3. Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald
  4. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
  5. Hearts of Oak by Eddie Robson
  6. Plan Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
  7. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab
  8. The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
  9. The Glamourist Histories (series) by Mary Robinette Kowal
  10. The Folk of the Air (series) by Holly Black

 

What were your favorite books of 2020?

Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

All the books I meant to read – 2020 edition

It’s time for my annual end-of-year tradition — all the books I meant to read! Here’s a look back at all the books I purchased in 2020, but just didn’t get around to reading for one reason or another.

To keep things simple, I’m focusing here on new physical books I bought or received as gifts — no ARCs, no e-books, no $1 books from the library sale or used copies picked up along the way.

Here’s a salute to my unread books of 2020!

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Book Review: Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir

Title: Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower
Author: Tamsyn Muir
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Publication date: November 30, 2020
Length: 216 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When the witch built the forty-flight tower, she made very sure to do the whole thing properly. Each flight contains a dreadful monster, ranging from a diamond-scaled dragon to a pack of slavering goblins. Should a prince battle his way to the top, he will be rewarded with a golden sword—and the lovely Princess Floralinda.

But no prince has managed to conquer the first flight yet, let alone get to the fortieth.

In fact, the supply of fresh princes seems to have quite dried up.

And winter is closing in on Floralinda… 

The idea of the princess rescuing herself isn’t exactly new anymore, thanks to the (incredibly welcome) surge in grrl-power fairy tale retellings. Still, in the hands of Tamsyn Muir, this princess story feels fresh and so, so entertaining.

Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower is a slim book (with a wonderful cover!), but it’s jam-packed with humor and adventure (and all sorts of guts and gore, but in a FUNNY gross way).

A witch has imprisoned the beautiful princess at the top of a tower. It’s a classic concept — princes will come, battle their way to the top, and win the lovely princess (and a rocking golden sword). The problem is, the very first flight is guarded by a fearsome diamond-coated dragon, and for the first several days, all Floralinda can hear from way up in her tower is the crunch-crunch-crunch of prince bones. Eventually, the princes stop coming, and Floralinda’s tower prison starts to feel dismal.

Joined by a wayward fairy named Cobweb, Floralinda is spurred into action. If the two of them don’t do something about it, she’ll be stuck in the tower forever — and the magically regenerating bread and oranges that felt like a treat at first are just not enough to sustain a princess forever.

Floralinda and Cobweb begin to battle their way down the flights of the tower, crafting weapons and poisons, using their wits and their muscles (Cobweb assigns Floralinda a workout regimen) to defeat sirens, goblins, giant rats, and sorts of other ghastly, deadly adversaries.

I love how Floralinda sheds her princessy exterior, becoming grimier and tougher, turning her silk gown into bandages and her curtain rods into spears, turning into a warrior without ever really meaning to. The relationship beween her and Cobweb is funny and sweet, even though Cobweb spends most of her time hating on Floralinda (even while making sure she’s got the weapons and training needed to kill all the monsters that stand between them and freedom).

Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower is a funny delight, and I’m so glad I treated myself to a copy. I think I’m the last person on the planet who hasn’t read Gideon the Ninth yet, but now that I’ve read this short treat by Tamsyn Muir, I definitely want to read her full-length works too.

Book Review: How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black

Title: How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories
Author: Holly Black
Illustrated by: Rovina Cai
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: November 24, 2020
Length: 173 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

An illustrated addition to the New York Times bestselling Folk of Air trilogy, that started with The Cruel Prince, from award-winning author Holly Black.

An irresistible return to the captivating world of Elfhame.

Once upon a time, there was a boy with a wicked tongue.

Before he was a cruel prince or a wicked king, he was a faerie child with a heart of stone. #1 New York Times bestselling author, Holly Black reveals a deeper look into the dramatic life of Elfhame’s enigmatic high king, Cardan. This tale includes delicious details of life before The Cruel Prince, an adventure beyond The Queen of Nothing, and familiar moments from The Folk of the Air trilogy, told wholly from Cardan’s perspective.

This new installment in the Folk of the Air series is a return to the heart-racing romance, danger, humor, and drama that enchanted readers everywhere. Each chapter is paired with lavish and luminous full-color art, making this the perfect collector’s item to be enjoyed by both new audiences and old.

A beautiful, wonderful book — a must for anyone who loves the Folk of the Air trilogy!

You many have seen my lovefests about Holly Black’s excellent trilogy (which I ended up reading twice in 2020!). I was delighted to treat myself to a hardcover copy of this new book, and so happy to finally have a peaceful day to sit and enjoy it.

In How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories, we are treated to ten brief tales about Cardan, the High King of Elfhame. While the first and last stories in this book take place after the events of the trilogy, the other stories follow Cardan from childhood into adulthood, showing how he became the “cruel prince” we first encounter in the trilogy. This book is told entirely from Cardan’s perspective, so we get a different view of some of the incidents we read about in the trilogy, and understand a little better why Cardan acted the way he did.

The book is illustrated by the very talented Rovina Cai, and it’s gorgeous! I especially love her artwork showing Cardan, but every page has special flourishes and treats to make the entire book a delight.

I loved, loved, loved this slim but lovely book! Don’t start here if you haven’t read the Folk of the Air books — but why not dive into the trilogy, and save this book for dessert?