Fantasy · historical fiction

The Philosopher’s Flight – Tom Miller

5 Stars

Lately, it seems like I’ve been accidentally gravitating toward books that have an element of “reverse-sexism” in them. In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan with her gender flip in Elven society and now, The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller, his debut novel. Let me tell you, I was blown away.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

The Philosopher’s Flight is an epic historical fantasy set in a World-War-I-era America where magic and science have blended into a single extraordinary art.

Eighteen-year-old Robert Weekes is a practitioner of empirical philosophy—an arcane, female-dominated branch of science used to summon the wind, shape clouds of smoke, heal the injured, and even fly. Though he dreams of fighting in the Great War as the first male in the elite US Sigilry Corps Rescue and Evacuation Service—a team of flying medics—Robert is resigned to mixing batches of philosophical chemicals and keeping the books for the family business in rural Montana, where his mother, a former soldier and vigilante, aids the locals.

When a deadly accident puts his philosophical abilities to the test, Robert rises to the occasion and wins a scholarship to study at Radcliffe College, an all-women’s school. At Radcliffe, Robert hones his skills and strives to win the respect of his classmates, a host of formidable, unruly women.

Robert falls hard for Danielle Hardin, a disillusioned young war hero turned political radical. However, Danielle’s activism and Robert’s recklessness attract the attention of the same fanatical anti-philosophical group that Robert’s mother fought years before. With their lives in mounting danger, Robert and Danielle band together with a team of unlikely heroes to fight for Robert’s place among the next generation of empirical philosophers—and for philosophy’s very survival against the men who would destroy it.

The Philosopher’s Flight was an unexpected hit for me. I had been told it was good by a friend and added it to my library holds list. It came in and sat on my nightstand as I passed it by to read other things. Until two days before it was due back at the library, and I couldn’t renew the book. I finally sat down to read it and I am regretting my tardiness.

I loved everything about this book, except for one little thing. I just don’t understand why sigilry is called empirical philosophy. Something like “applied theoretical physics” would have made more sense to me. Calling it philosophy just never clicked for me, and kind of turned me off from the book at first. Philosophy evokes this sense of the guys at my college who were philosophy majors and absolutely insufferable. However, that is not the case here and that small nitpick aside, I LOVE LOVE LOVED this book.

Robert Weekes is such an earnest man. His mother is his hero and he wants nothing more in the world than to join the US Sigilry Corps and fly Rescue and Evacuation in the wars. But, he’s a man. So there’s no way he can keep up with the women. It’s women’s work and he should be content to stay home and keep house.

This is where that delicious reverse sexism element comes into play. Robert faces challenges that are easy for women to relate to. They’re challenges that women have faced in society time and time again – and continue to face even now. An additional element to this is the Trenchers. They were an interesting foil to the Sigilrists. They read like religious anti-abortion activists, feeling a lot like today’s Men’s Rights Activists.

The Philosopher’s Flight doesn’t shy away from including other elements of the political atmosphere of the time. The people of color in the book still face racism and discrimination but in a twist, the civil rights movement, women’s rights movement and sigilrist’s rights movement seem to be working intersectionally, if not in unison, at least with some cooperation.

This book was just so well written and fleshed out so beautifully. I am already tapping my foot with impatience for the next book in the series, which is slated for June 2019.

 

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Fantasy · YA

Rosemarked – Livia Blackburne

3.5 stars

Fans of Maria V. Snyder’s Poison Study series will find a lot to love in Rosemarked. There are a lot of similarities between the two series – poison, political intrigue, tribal culture pitted against Roman-style culture – but enough different to keep Rosemarked from feeling like nothing more than a new iteration on an already used idea.

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Cover from Goodreads

A healer who cannot be healed . . .

When Zivah falls prey to the deadly rose plague, she knows it’s only a matter of time before she fully succumbs. Now she’s destined to live her last days in isolation, cut off from her people and unable to practice her art—until a threat to her village creates a need that only she can fill.

A soldier shattered by war . . .

Broken by torture at the hands of the Amparan Empire, Dineas thirsts for revenge against his captors. Now escaped and reunited with his tribe, he’ll do anything to free them from Amparan rule—even if it means undertaking a plan that risks not only his life but his very self.

Thrust together on a high-stakes mission to spy on the capital, the two couldn’t be more different: Zivah, deeply committed to her vow of healing, and Dineas, yearning for vengeance. But as they grow closer, they must find common ground to protect those they love. And amidst the constant fear of discovery, the two grapple with a mutual attraction that could break both of their carefully guarded hearts.

In addition to themes of rebellion and loyalty, Rosemarked also explores identity and what makes a person. Is a person their personality, or their experiences? How do our experiences shape our personalities, our desires and our paths? It’s a complex concept to tackle, and Rosemarked handles the topic with care and thought, making for surprisingly deep moments in the book.

There’s also an admiration and acknowledgment of what quiet strength looks like. Zivah doesn’t want to take her condition lying down. She’s determined to fight to the end in the only way she knows how, and through her actions, she demonstrates what quiet strength means in the face of layers of danger and intrigue.

Rosemarked was an interesting read, but it didn’t blow me away or feel particularly groundbreaking or fresh. 3.5 stars because I liked it well enough.

Fantasy · YA

The Diminshed – Kaitlyn Sage Patterson

4.5 Stars

I’m not sure what exactly I expected from Kaitlyn Sage Patterson’s debut YA novel The Diminished, but I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

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Cover from Goodreads

In the Alskad Empire, nearly all are born with a twin, two halves to form one whole…yet some face the world alone.

The singleborn

A rare few are singleborn in each generation, and therefore given the right to rule by the gods and goddesses. Bo Trousillion is one of these few, born into the royal line and destined to rule. Though he has been chosen to succeed his great-aunt, Queen Runa, as the leader of the Alskad Empire, Bo has never felt equal to the grand future before him.

The diminished

When one twin dies, the other usually follows, unable to face the world without their other half. Those who survive are considered diminished, doomed to succumb to the violent grief that inevitably destroys everyone whose twin has died. Such is the fate of Vi Abernathy, whose twin sister died in infancy. Raised by the anchorites of the temple after her family cast her off, Vi has spent her whole life scheming for a way to escape and live out what’s left of her life in peace.

As their sixteenth birthdays approach, Bo and Vi face very different futures—one a life of luxury as the heir to the throne, the other years of backbreaking work as a temple servant. But a long-held secret and the fate of the empire are destined to bring them together in a way they never could have imagined.

Between when I first heard about The Diminished and the time I actually sat down to read it, I had completely forgotten the synopsis. The only thing I could remember was that it had something to do with twins.

I found a delightful book with heart. Both Bo and Vi are complex characters. Bo is in line for the throne and takes his job seriously. He believes himself to be a servant of the people. He is motivated by what he thinks will best serve his country. Vi has lived in the Anchorite temple her whole life leading a very different life. She is motivated by a desire to have some kind of say in her own future, even if it means changing one pair of confines for another.

Full of rebellion, conspiracies, and power plays, The Diminished is a fantastic read. Patterson’s accessible writing style flows beautifully across the page and I found that I didn’t want to put the book down. I did knock off half a star because there were some predictable tropes at play, but they didn’t take much away from the book.

The Diminished is also full of casual representation. There are characters of color and more than one queer relationship fully confirmed, not just alluded to, on the page.

The Diminished hit shelves earlier this month on April 10, 2018 and I can’t waiiiiiiiit for the sequel to come out next year.

I received an eARC from NetGalley and HarlequinTEEN in exchange for my honest review. 

Blog Housekeeping · That Reading Life

March Challenge Progress Report!

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Oh, this is so late. I’m sorry. I’m still making progress on my 2018 Reading Challenges! Now that March has left us, let’s see what I accomplished this month!

My Goodreads Reading Challenge goal is 175 books, and so far I’ve completed 45/175. GR tells me I’m 2 books ahead of schedule. Woohoo! We’ll see how long that lead lasts for.

Next, let’s check in on the Literary (&) Lacquers Reading Bingo, over in the Literary Lacquers facebook fan group. So far I’ve checked off 3/16 prompts. (If you participate, there are discounts for completion!)

  • A Graphic Novel – Paper Girls Vol. 1
  • A Book Written by an Author From a Different Country – Markswoman
  • A Book With a Green Cover – The Book of Life

On the Book Riot Read Harder challenge, I haven’t checked much off. 4/24, a little behind.

  • A Book About Nature – Our Native Bees
  • The First in a New To You YA or Middle-Grade Series – Markswoman
  • A Comic Written or Illustrated by a Person of Color – Paper Girls Vol. 2
  • A Sci-fi Novel With a Female Protagonist by a Female Author – The Tea Master and the Detective

*I realized I had read one of the prompts incorrectly and had to dock myself a prompt. 😦

I’ve made more progress for Popsugar’s Reading Challenge. 13/47

I also added my local library’s 10 To Read challenge and have made no progress this month. 3/10

  • A Young Adult Book – Godsgrave
  • A Book Set in a Place You’ve Never Been – Tricks for Free
  • A Book About Food – Acid Trip

I did my third buddy read of The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone with my blogging buddy Marzie. Check out the discussion posts of Full Fathom Five. Part one was over at Marzie’s Reads and part two was on my blog here. Look for our reviews and discussion posts of book four, Last First Snow later this month!

The Hugo nominees were announced over Easter weekend so I will be starting to hit that reading hard soon. If you missed the announcement, the list of nominees is here. I’ve read some of the nominees already.

Here’s what I’ve read so far:

  • Best Novella: Down Among The Sticks and Bones
  • Best Short Story: Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience TM
  • Best Graphic Story: Bitch Planet, Vol 2: President Bitch; Monstress, Vol 2: The Blood; Paper Girls, Vol 3
  • Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form: Star Wars: The Last Jedi; Thor: Ragnarok; Wonderwoman
  • Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form: The Good Place, Michael’s Gambit; The Good Place, The Trolley Problem
  • Best Series: InCryptid, The Memoirs of Lady Trent (minus the final book.)
  • Best YA (Not A Hugo): In Other Lands

I…..have a LOT of reading ahead of me. From this list, I’ve read maaaaaaybe 10% of nominated works.

In addition to all that, I am hosting an 11-book Read Along of the entire October Daye series as we prepare for book #12 Night and Silence to release in September. Over in the Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant Fans group on Facebook (which I help admin), we’re discussing one book every three weeks. We’ve made it through books 1-4, and will be tackling book 5, One Salt Sea on April 22.

What have you been reading this month?

Science Fiction

Space Opera – Catherynne M. Valente

4 Stars

Space Opera is the kind of book you’d get if you threw Eurovision, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and a book of adjectives in a blender and pulsed it around a bit.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

IN SPACE EVERYONE CAN HEAR YOU SING

A century ago, the Sentience Wars tore the galaxy apart and nearly ended the entire concept of intelligent space-faring life. In the aftermath, a curious tradition was invented-something to cheer up everyone who was left and bring the shattered worlds together in the spirit of peace, unity, and understanding.

Once every cycle, the civilizations gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix – part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. Instead of competing in orbital combat, the powerful species that survived face off in a competition of song, dance, or whatever can be physically performed in an intergalactic talent show. The stakes are high for this new game, and everyone is forced to compete.

This year, though, humankind has discovered the enormous universe. And while they expected to discover a grand drama of diplomacy, gunships, wormholes, and stoic councils of aliens, they have instead found glitter, lipstick and electric guitars. Mankind will not get to fight for its destiny – they must sing.

A one-hit-wonder band of human musicians, dancers and roadies from London – Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes – have been chosen to represent Earth on the greatest stage in the galaxy. And the fate of their species lies in their ability to rock.

Let me preface this review. I have never read anything by Cat Valente before, other than a short story here and there when included in an anthology.

That being said, I felt like the writing got in the way of the story. Valente constructs sentences that are 90% adjective and 10% content. A full half of this book is adjectives. Space Opera is an absolute avalanche of adjectives. It was fairly overwhelming and I often found myself having to reread sentences, skipping the endless stream of adjectives, in order to find The Point of the sentence. A friend told me this is how Valente writes. She just loves words. That may be true, but the nonstop barrage of descriptors was overwhelming and distracting and took away from the overall story. The lists of adjectives did add a frantic energy to the story, but after a few pages of this, it was Too Much. Too many descriptions, too much fluff, and not enough actual content. Very often I found myself frustrated because Would She Just Get To The Point Of This Sentence Already.

Additionally, parts of the book were told in a parallel story structure where Valente would start a chapter with a description of something on another planet at another time that had little actual relevance to the plot. The book felt super episodic, but not in a good way.

Those frustrations aside (and if you like that kind of thing) Space Opera was a fun ride. All the glitter and pomp of a Galactic Eurovision and all of the ridiculousness of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy birthed a book as silly, sparkly, absurd and sweet as you’d expect from that kind of combination. Decibel and Oort are lovely, heartfelt characters that are just the kind of introspective you’d expect from former British rockstars. They’re charming, even when they’re not trying to be and I found myself rooting for them, even without the extra pressure of them being responsible for the survival of all of humanity. I loved that the alien species were varied and inventive and were all distinct from one another and from humanity.

I also enjoyed the exploration of what it means to be sentient. It’s something that we as a species wrestle with more and more frequently as we discover just how intelligent dolphins, elephants and other species truly are. At what point is something sentient? Where is the line between intelligence and actual, true sentience?

Space Opera hits shelves April 10, 2018 and you should definitely check it out if you’re looking for something fun to read.

I received an eARC from Saga Press and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Urban Fantasy

Late Eclipses – Seanan McGuire

5 stars

Over in the Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant Fans group on Facebook, we’re doing a Re/Read Along as we prepare for book #12 in the series, Night and Silence, to be released in September. It’s newbie friendly, as we’re keeping our discussion limited to just the books we’ve read so far in the Re/Read along. We recently discussed Book #4, Late Eclipses.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

October “Toby” Daye, changeling knight in the service of Duke Sylvester Torquill, finds the delicate balance of her life shattered when she learns that an old friend is in dire trouble. Lily, Lady of the Tea Gardens, has been struck down by a mysterious, seemingly impossible illness, leaving her fiefdom undefended. Struggling to find a way to save Lily and her subjects, Toby must confront her own past as an enemy she thought was gone forever raises her head once more: Oleander de Merelands, one of the two people responsible for her fourteen-year exile.

Time is growing short and the stakes are getting higher, for the Queen of the Mists has her own agenda. With everything on the line, Toby will have to take the ultimate risk to save herself and the people she loves most—because if she can’t find the missing pieces of the puzzle in time, Toby will be forced to make the one choice she never thought she’d have to face again…

 

Late Eclipses is the first book in this series that I found myself unable to put down. Books 1 and 2 are important, but a slog. Book 3 gets better but still drags a bit. Book 4, Late Eclipses is a non-stop ride. Page after page, there’s action, adventure, and Toby finally starting to deal with some of her past. I stayed up waaaaay past my bedtime reading the book, despite already knowing what would happen.

Late Eclipses is particularly powerful on a re-read, after reading The Brightest Fell. TBF adds a ton of context to some of what happens in Late Eclipses. (There are also many little comments and actions from a certain character that make so much more sense from the distance of later books. *eyebrow wiggles*) 

We are introduced to two of my favorite characters in the Toby Daye series in Late Eclipses: Walther and Jazz. I love them so much, for different reasons. It also doesn’t hurt that they’re both great examples of diversity within the pages of the Toby Daye series, even if it’s not immediately obvious.

Check back later this month for a review of One Salt Sea, book #5 in the series. (Or if you can’t wait, join our discussion for that book Sunday, April 22!)

Fantasy

School for Psychics – K.C. Archer

3 stars

I was super intrigued by the description of School for Psychics, but the reality was a letdown.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

Teddy Cannon isn’t your typical twenty-something woman. She’s resourceful. She’s bright. She’s scrappy. She can also read people with uncanny precision. What she doesn’t realize: she’s actually psychic.

When a series of bad decisions leads Teddy to a run-in with the police, a mysterious stranger intervenes. He invites her to apply to the School for Psychics, a facility hidden off the coast of San Francisco where students are trained like Delta Force operatives: it’s competitive, cutthroat, and highly secretive. They’ll learn telepathy, telekinesis, investigative skills, and SWAT tactics. And if students survive their training, they go on to serve at the highest levels of government, using their skills to protect America, and the world.

In class, Teddy befriends Lucas, a rebel without a cause who can start and manipulate fire; Jillian, a hipster who can mediate communication between animals and humans; and Molly, a hacker who can apprehend the emotional state of another individual. But just as Teddy feels like she’s found where she might belong, strange things begin to happen: break-ins, missing students, and more. It leads Teddy to accept a dangerous mission that will ultimately cause her to question everything—her teachers, her friends, her family, and even herself.

Set in a world very much like our own, School for Psychics is the first book in a stay-up-all night series.

School for Psychics has a definite X-Men feel to it; psychic young adults are recruited to the elite Whitfield School where they are trained to join police, military or national security forces after graduation. They are trained in police procedure, tactics and simultaneously trained to use and expand their psychic gifts. I was really interested in the concept, but the plot is a little slow going.

I just didn’t seem to connect to Teddy, or really care about her struggles. The plot was kind of predictable, but at the same time, I had a hard time continuing to read because I couldn’t see what the story was building toward.

School for Psychics wasn’t bad, just not a book that spoke to me, or felt particularly engaging. It was a slog to read, dragged out over days where I just couldn’t bring myself to pick the book up to finish. For a book pitched as “…the first book in a stay-up-all night series.” I felt quite let down with the actual resulting snooze-fest.

School for Psychics is on shelves April 3, 2018. If you pick it up, let me know what you think!

I received an eARC from Edelweiss and Simon & Schuster in exchange for my honest review.