historical fiction · Magical Realism

Creatures of Want and Ruin – Molly Tanzer

4 stars

Creatures of Want and Ruin is a sex-positive historical magical realism novel set in the roaring twenties. Creatures of Want & Ruin is apparently a sequel to Creatures of Will and Temper but stands alone perfectly. (I have not read Creatures of Will and Temper and never felt like I had missed anything.)

Amityville baywoman Ellie West fishes by day and bootlegs moonshine by night. It’s 37570551.jpgdangerous work under Prohibition–independent operators like her are despised by federal agents and mobsters alike–but Ellie’s brother was accepted to college and Ellie’s desperate to see him go. So desperate that when wealthy strangers ask her to procure libations for an extravagant party Ellie sells them everything she has, including some booze she acquired under unusual circumstances.

What Ellie doesn’t know is that this booze is special. Distilled from foul mushrooms by a cult of diabolists, those who drink it see terrible things–like the destruction of Long Island in fire and flood. The cult is masquerading as a church promising salvation through temperance and a return to “the good old days,” so it’s hard for Ellie to take a stand against them, especially when her father joins, but Ellie loves Long Island, and she loves her family, and she’ll do whatever it takes to ensure neither is torn apart.

Creatures of Want and Ruin is a book about watching people change around you. That bewildering feeling where you turn around and suddenly people you thought you knew are almost strangers and the dawning horror that when you give it some thought, you can see the slow evolution of how they came to be this way, but there wasn’t anything you could do to stop it.

Ellie is a strong woman, working hard to put her brother through medical school. She fishes and crabs and runs liquor on the side. Her father surprises her one day by spouting terrible things about how women should be in the home not working and her shock is palpable – after all, he taught her everything she knows.

Fin is the rich wife of a new money man who quits his law job to be a party boy. Her friends are perfectly happy to while away the hours having a grand old time and Fin can’t seem to go along with it all. She misses philanthropy and making a difference. Over the course of the story, she has to confront both her own privilege and her own happiness.

Creatures of Want and Ruin may be set in the roaring twenties, but it felt like it was mirroring political feelings today. One day you know someone and then suddenly they start spouting things that feel uncharacteristic and suddenly you question if you ever really knew them at all or if they have been possessed.

Creatures of Want and Ruin is on shelves now!

Thank you to John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

Advertisements
Urban Fantasy

Lies Sleeping – Ben Aaronovitch

4 Stars

Lies Sleeping is the 7th novel in Ben Aaronovitch’s stellar Rivers of London series. I was first introduced to this series on my honeymoon, when I stumbled into the fantastic Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in San Diego. The bookseller pointed me to three new-to-me series and I’ve been hooked on Rivers of London ever since.

The synopsis below contains some spoilers for previous books, though I did try to edit out some of the biggest bombshells.

Join Peter Grant, detective and apprentice wizard, for a brand new case . . .36534574.jpg

[Spoiler], aka the Faceless Man, wanted for multiple counts of murder, fraud, and crimes against humanity, has been unmasked and is on the run. Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard, now plays a key role in an unprecedented joint operation to bring [Spoiler] to justice.

But even as the unwieldy might of the Metropolitan Police bears down on its foe, Peter uncovers clues that [Spoiler], far from being finished, is executing the final stages of a long term plan. A plan that has its roots in London’s two thousand bloody years of history, and could literally bring the city to its knees.

To save his beloved city Peter’s going to need help from his former best friend and colleague who brutally betrayed him and everything he thought she believed in. And, far worse, he might even have to come to terms with the malevolent supernatural killer and agent of chaos known as Mr Punch . . .

Lies Sleeping is the conclusion of the first major act in the Rivers of London series, and neatly sets up for the beginning of another act.

Lies Sleeping is not as action packed as previous Rivers of London books and instead focuses more on character growth and connection. This isn’t to say that the stakes aren’t high and there are no magical battles or chases – it’s impossible to leave out those elements completely, but the story finds most of the development in conversations between Peter and other characters, especially those of the demi-monde. Just as Peter says, most of the work in solving a crime is talking to people, and that’s how he spends most of his time in Lies Sleeping. 

Like most RoL novels, there’s a lot of history and architecture packed into the story, but for the first time it felt like too much. The story kind of dragged and meandered and I found myself skimming some of the esoterica rather than raptly absorbing it as context for the larger story.

All that being said, I really enjoyed Lies Sleeping and am already desperate for another installment. I’ll have to tide myself over with the comics in the meantime.

Lies Sleeping hits shelves in the US on November 20.

Thank you to  DAW for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

Fantasy · YA

Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire *Buddy Read Part 2*

5 stars

Welcome to part two of the first buddy read of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series! For this read, I am teaming up once again with Marzie’s Reads and a new guest commenter, and friend of the blog, Janelle.

Every Heart a Doorway is the first in the Wayward Children series of novellas if you read the books in publication order, and the third book chronologically. We’re reading the books in publication order for this discussion.

Head over to Marzie’s Reads for part one of our discussion and  be sure to come back and read part two below!

25526296.jpg

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

Every Heart a Doorway is one of those books that crept up on me. The first time I read it, I thought it was nice, a good story, enjoyable enough – but then I kept thinking about it. And finding reasons to recommend it to people. And flinging copies at people. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Every Heart a Doorway is the book that everyone needs.

Starting at about 8th grade I became painfully aware of how dissonant the world is from how I feel the world *should* be. Every Heart a Doorway embraces that feeling fully, acknowledging that for some people, our world just doesn’t fit. Every Heart a Doorway says to us “It’s okay if it doesn’t fit. It’s okay to imagine another place that does fit, and it’s okay to long for that place.” Not only does Every Heart a Doorway acknowledge this, but it also acknowledges the reality of our world by featuring a diverse cast. There are characters of color, old characters, young characters, queer characters, nice characters, mean characters, shy characters, exuberant characters and characters of many different backgrounds. Every Heart a Doorway reflects our world where so many of the books we encounter erase and ignore diversity, or include token characters to tick boxes. In this, it offers people a chance to be seen, to be represented in fiction and that is a powerful thing just by itself. It resonates deeply within us and for me, created a burning longing for a place I can’t ever go….unless I find my door.

There’s a reason Every Heart A Doorway has won just about every literary award it’s eligible for.

If you haven’t read part one of our discussion at Marzie’s Reads, click over and be sure to come back and read part two below!

Continue reading “Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire *Buddy Read Part 2*”

Fantasy

The Phoenix Empress – K. Arsenault Rivera

3.5 stars

In The Phoenix Empress we finally learn what happened to O Shizuka in the eight years that she and her wife Shefali were separated.

Since she was a child, the divine empress O Shizuka has believed she was an 36216359.jpguntouchable god. When her uncle, ruler of the Hokkaran Empire, sends her on a suicide mission as a leader of the Imperial Army, the horrors of war cause her to question everything she knows.

Thousands of miles away, the exiled and cursed warrior Barsalyya Shefali undergoes trials the most superstitious would not believe in order to return to Hokkaran court and claim her rightful place next to O Shizuka.

As the distance between disgraced empress and blighted warrior narrows, a familiar demonic force grows closer to the heart of the empire. Will the two fallen warriors be able to protect their home?

Shizuka and Shefali are together at last, but they’ve both changed so much. Shefali wonders if Shizuka has changed too much, and struggles with Shizuka’s imperial duties. Shizuka haltingly, painfully shares her story with Shefali who grows to understand that her wife did not live eight years in pampered safety while Shefli was exiled from the Empire. She learns just how strong her wife is, for all that their strengths are opposite.

The Phoenix Empress expands upon and fleshes out the racism that was first introduced in The Tiger’s Daughter between the Hokkarans, Xianese and Qorin. It’s pretty violent and bloody and The Phoenix Empress explores those feelings from all sides. Shizuka is a benevolent ruler who tries to improve things by breaking up the Empire and allowing conquered lands to become sovereign again, to the horror of the Hokkarans.

Unfortunately for the reader, Shizuka is not as interesting a storyteller as Shefali so the story dragged on somewhat during her retellings. The Phoenix Empress bounces between the past and present struggles better than The Tiger’s Daughter did, and the present-day struggles were are more compelling than those of drunk Shizuka from the first novel which almost makes up for Shizuka’s storytelling style.

This book won’t be for everyone, but I enjoyed it enough that I’m looking forward to the third book.

The Phoenix Empress was released October 9 and is on shelves now.

Thank you to Tor Books for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

Fantasy

The Tiger’s Daughter – K. Arsenault Rivera

3 Stars

Have you been looking for an epic fantasy, set in a second-world heavily influenced by Chinese history and full of lesbian romance and badass women? If so, The Tiger’s Daughter is the book for you.

29760778.jpg
Cover from Goodreads

The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.

Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.

This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

O-Shizuka and Barsalayaa Shefali are wonderfully constructed characters (as are the rest), full of fire and passion and different kinds of strength. They are both incredibly gifted warriors, but where Shizuka is arrogant and firey, Shefali is quiet and steady. This is the story of their shared youth.

Told mostly through a single letter from Shefali, with short asides from the letter’s recipient Shizuka, their entire history is recounted from Shefali’s point of view. Through the letter, we are privy to Shefali’s inner thoughts about Shizuka and their escapades.

I have to admit, I found the letter construct a challenge. I really struggled with understanding WHY Shefali was writing a letter that basically recounted her entire history with Shizuka TO Shizuka – especially when it’s clear partially through the book that not much time has passed. Only a few years. It’s not like Shizuka would have forgotten all of this in the brief three years that have gone by. I really struggled with understanding where the letter was going and what its point was. (I struggle with books where I don’t see the “point” of the book by about halfway through. What are they supposed to be accomplishing?) The letter didn’t really relay much “new” information between Shefali and Shizuka. Obviously it’s all new information to the reader, but it’s really only the last chapter where new information is revealed.

Structural challenges aside, it’s a wonderful story with incredible characters and a well-fleshed out world.

The Tiger’s Daughter is available now through Tor. Come back next week for my review of the sequel, The Phoenix Empress.

Thriller

Zero Sum Game – S. L. Huang *G I V E A W A Y*

4 stars

I picked up Zero Sum Game on the recommendation of Yoon Ha Lee, the author of Ninefox Gambit, and enjoyed the jaunt outside of my comfort zone. I don’t usually read spy/thriller novels but Lee’s recommendation was so compelling I couldn’t resist requesting an ARC.

Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good. The vector calculus blazing through her 37534869.jpghead lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight, and she’ll take any job for the right price.

As far as Cas knows, she’s the only person around with a superpower…until she discovers someone with a power even more dangerous than her own. Someone who can reach directly into people’s minds and twist their brains into Moebius strips. Someone intent on becoming the world’s puppet master.

Cas should run, like she usually does, but for once she’s involved. There’s only one problem…
She doesn’t know which of her thoughts are her own anymore.

Zero Sum Game is as much about the characters as it is about the sinister conspiracy plot to take over the world.

Our main character Cas is incredibly good at shooting things and math, but not so great at being any kind of normal person. For a contract fixer she’s absurdly naive and unprepared for what comes her way. Girl needs to learn to put up walls in new places, take down some existing walls and build some better coping mechanisms. It’s going to be a painful remodel.

Checker is my absolute fave, precious cinnamon roll. I loved that even though he’s a supporting character, he’s not sidelined completely and brings a lot to the table.

Rio was the character I struggled with the most. He’s written so mechanically, and if I didn’t know he was supposed to be a person, I’d have thought he was an AI. I really struggled with his motivation combined with his bland and flat personality. He didn’t feel fully fleshed out to me. More of a convenient escape hatch or roadblock when the plot called for it.

Arthur drove me nuts, but at least he was consistent. His motivations made sense and he’s an interesting, flawed character.

The plot does center a lot on Cas’s mathematical abilities and I’ll give S.L. Huang credit, as someone who doesn’t understand a lot of advanced mathematical concepts, I was able to follow the action in Zero Sum Game easily. The calculations Cas goes through added tension to the plot and helped move it along nicely.

Baked into the plot is a struggle about ethics and morality and the value of life. It was interesting watching the characters struggle with ethical dilemmas and try to choose between two wrong decisions.

So, the giveaway part. To enter to win a copy of Zero Sum Game of your very own, comment below with the best thing you’ve read in the last six months. The giveaway is open to the US only, sorry! Please make sure your email address is captured in your entry comment so I can contact the winner. The giveaway is open until Thursday, October 25 at noon PST.

Originally self published online, Zero Sum Game is out now from Tor.

Thank you to Tor books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. 

 

Cookbook

Cooking With Scraps – Lindsay-Jean Hard

4 stars

I am a member of Food52’s wonderful online Cookbook Club. Each month we choose a different cookbook to collectively cook from and share our experiences. We’ve cooked from Simple by Ottolenghi; Salt Fat Acid Heat by Saimin Nosrat; Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden and Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perelman among many others. For a long time, the main administrator of the group was Lindsay-Jean Hard. Coincidentally, in that same group at the beginning of the year we made food-resolutions. One of my resolutions was to throw out less food. I was unaware of her column at Food52, but when I saw that Lindsay-Jean was putting out a book on just this topic, I was delighted. (Though it would have been MUCH better for my resolution if I’d found the column months ago.

In 8537585542.jpg innovative recipes, Lindsay-Jean Hard—who wrote the “Cooking with Scraps” column for Food52—shows just how delicious and surprising the all-too-often-discarded parts of food can be, transforming what might be considered trash into culinary treasure.
Here’s how to put those seeds, stems, tops, rinds to good use for more delicious (and more frugal) cooking: Carrot greens—bright, fresh, and packed with flavor—make a zesty pesto. Water from canned beans behaves just like egg whites, perfect for vegan mayonnaise that even non-vegans will love. And serve broccoli stems olive-oil poached on lemony ricotta toast. It’s pure food genius, all the while critically reducing waste one dish at a time.

The book is organized by food, so finding a recipe to use up the scrap you have on hand is easy. Hard also includes useful tips on storing different vegetables to maximize their lifespan, and tips on composting for when there’s something you really can’t fully use up.

The recipes in the book seem a little bit odd at first, if like me, you haven’t made much of an effort to use the scraps of food before. I’ve been privileged enough to grow up with plenty of food, so I’ve never had to resort to using scraps out of necessity. However, as I paged through the book, I found myself positively inspired by the clever uses for things I’d never have thought to use. Apple cores to make syrup for pancakes? Outrageous at first, but after reading further, it sounds delicious. I am also now obsessed with the broccoli stem ricotta toasts and the cheddar nub pub cheese.

Cooking With Scraps is veggie focused, but it’s not a vegetarian book, nor is it just 80 variations on vegetable soups. Many of the recipes are as inventive and exciting as you’d find in any other inspired cookbook, but they’ve got the added benefit of leaving you feeling responsible. By cooking with scraps you’re not only making an eco-friendly decision, but a wallet-friendly decision as well. You’re making the veggies you buy stretch farther. Waste less, spend less.

Cooking With Scraps hits shelves on October 30 and is absolutely worth picking up if you’re looking to reduce your food waste and enjoy tasty results.

Thank you to Workman Publishing Group for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.