Anthology · Fantasy · YA

Toil & Trouble – Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood

5 Stars

It’s a rare thing to come across an anthology where every story is as strong as the last. Toil & Trouble is a witchy YA anthology packed with 15 stories as strong as the young women contained within the pages.

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Cover from Goodreads

Scorn the witch. Fear the witch. Burn the witch.

History is filled with stories of women accused of witchcraft, of fearsome girls with arcane knowledge. Toil & Trouble features fifteen stories of girls embracing their power, reclaiming their destinies and using their magic to create, to curse, to cure—and to kill.

A young witch uses social media to connect with her astrology clients—and with a NASA-loving girl as cute as she is skeptical. A priestess of death investigates a ritualized murder. A bruja who cures lovesickness might need the remedy herself when she falls in love with an altar boy. A theater production is turned upside down by a visiting churel. In Reconstruction-era Texas, a water witch uses her magic to survive the soldiers who have invaded her desert oasis. And in the near future, a group of girls accused of witchcraft must find their collective power in order to destroy their captors.

This collection reveals a universal truth: there’s nothing more powerful than a teenage girl who believes in herself.

Toil & Trouble is an anthology that feels necessary. It fills a gap I didn’t know was there, and it fits in with today’s young adult culture as if it were custom made (which of course it was.) Toil and Trouble is full of stories of different kinds of love, power and women. No two stories are alike, but they’re all cut from the same cloth of strength.

Each story explores a different problem, magical and mundane and through those issues, explores power both figurative and literal and the relationships our protagonists have with those powers. Each story is exquisite.

Even in an anthology as strong as this, I can’t help but have favorites. My two favorites were “Death in the Sawtooths” by Lindsay Smith and “The One Who Stayed” by Nova Ren Suma. Both of these stories spoke to me in different ways.

“Death in the Sawtooths” left me wanting so much more of the universe that Lindsay Smith has introduced. I found the world fascinating.

“The One Who Stayed” was perfection in length and completeness. This story’s strength is in its completeness and in the raw power of women supporting other women.

Toil and Trouble is on sale now and is not to be missed.

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

 

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Fantasy · Mystery · Urban Fantasy

Night & Silence – Seanan McGuire

5 Stars

Night and Silence, the 12th installment in the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire, is full of bombshells and might be the most explosive entry in the series to date. I don’t know what I expected from Night and Silence, but this wasn’t it. Hold onto your leather jacket folks!

Things are not okay.

23243695.jpgIn the aftermath of Amandine’s latest betrayal, October “Toby” Daye’s fragile self-made family is on the verge of coming apart at the seams. Jazz can’t sleep, Sylvester doesn’t want to see her, and worst of all, Tybalt has withdrawn from her entirely, retreating into the Court of Cats as he tries to recover from his abduction. Toby is floundering, unable to help the people she loves most heal. She needs a distraction. She needs a quest.

What she doesn’t need is the abduction of her estranged human daughter, Gillian. What she doesn’t need is to be accused of kidnapping her own child by her ex-boyfriend and his new wife, who seems to be harboring secrets of her own. There’s no question of whether she’ll take the case. The only question is whether she’s emotionally prepared to survive it.

Signs of Faerie’s involvement are everywhere, and it’s going to take all Toby’s nerve and all her allies to get her through this web of old secrets, older hatreds, and new deceits. If she can’t find Gillian before time runs out, her own child will pay the price.

Two questions remain: Who in Faerie remembered Gillian existed? And what do they stand to gain?

No matter how this ends, Toby’s life will never be the same.

Night and Silence is a book about family. Biological family, chosen family and the ties that bind us together and the lies that hold us apart. Toby’s family is fractured and she’s doing her best to hold the pieces together, but in typical Toby fashion, the edges are sharp and there’s blood everywhere.

The seeds Seanan planted way back in book one are starting to come to fruition. Questions that grew in the first few books have borne fruit and we’re finally getting answers to some of the biggest questions in the series. But as each answer is plucked from the vine, another blooms in its place.

Oh is it satisfying to finally get some answers, some resolution and to see the shape of things to come.

It’s clear that Seanan planned major plot points out carefully and early on. I can see that she has A Vision and knows where she’s going with the story. What I’m not sure about is some of her decisions on how to get from Major Point A to Major Point B. Some of the plot decisions she’s made in Night and Silence feel recycled. She did some of this in The Brightest Fell as well, and for the plot to feel recycled two books in a row was a disappointment.

As a standalone book, Night and Silence is excellent. As an entry in the October Daye series, it is one of the most important books to the plot, but is a weaker entry than I’d have liked because of the plot recycling.

Night and Silence is on shelves now wherever books are sold.

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

Fantasy

Grace & Fury – Tracy Banghart

2 stars

I wanted to like Grace and Fury so much more than I actually did. I’d heard such great things. “A fierce, feminist read!” “SO much fun!” “Compelling characters!” and found none of it to be true.

36546635.jpgIn a world where women have no rights, sisters Serina and Nomi Tessaro face two very different fates: one in the palace, the other in prison.

Serina has been groomed her whole life to become a Grace – someone to stand by the heir to the throne as a shining, subjugated example of the perfect woman. But when her headstrong and rebellious younger sister, Nomi, catches the heir’s eye, it’s Serina who takes the fall for the dangerous secret that Nomi has been hiding.

Now trapped in a life she never wanted, Nomi has only one way to save Serina: surrender to her role as a Grace until she can use her position to release her sister. This is easier said than done. A traitor walks the halls of the palace, and deception lurks in every corner. But Serina is running out of time, imprisoned on an island where she must fight to the death to survive and one wrong move could cost her everything.

The world Serina and Nomi live in is frustrating and sexist as all get out – which I expected from the synopsis. It’s loosely based on Italy and Pompeii, and had really interesting elements. It was a solid foundation for an interesting story.

Grace and Fury certainly has a strong argument to be made for being a strong, feminist story, unfortunately the feminist elements made for a predictable read. Exactly none of the “twists” in Grace and Fury were surprising. It was delightful to see women supporting women and taking power into their own hands, but it was so predictable as to be boring. A particular twist at the end had me throwing my hands in the air exclaiming “WELL DUH!”

That being said, there were some great elements to Grace and Fury I wanted to call out. Serina is chubby. She is not lithe and thin, she is a Rubenesque beauty, with curves – which is the ideal in this universe. As an aspiring Grace, she is expected to live to the cultural ideal, so it was refreshing to find a cultural ideal that wasn’t stick-thin. (That being said, she’s chubby not fat which is a distinction, so I can’t really call it fat-rep.)

I appreciated the accurate-feeling portrayal of women’s oppression, and how hard it is to fight the status quo, and how awful the consequences for doing so can be.

All that being said, Grace and Fury was an unsatisfying, predictable read. If you’re looking for a feminist book where your every narrative expectation will be met with no surprises, Grace and Fury is that book.

Thank you to Little, Brown for providing  me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

Fantasy

The Girl in the Green Silk Gown – Seanan McGuire

4.5 stars

I am TRASH for anything Seanan McGuire writes and Rose Marshall is no exception. I’m dying for more already.

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Cover from Goodreads

The second book in the Ghost Roads series returns to the highways of America, where hitchhiking ghost Rose Marshall continues her battle with her killer–the immortal Bobby Cross.

Once and twice and thrice around,
Put your heart into the ground.
Four and five and six tears shed,
Give your love unto the dead.
Seven shadows on the wall,
Eight have come to watch your fall:
One’s for the gargoyle, one’s for the grave,
And the last is for the one you’ll never save.
 
For Rose Marshall, death has long since become the only life she really knows. She’s been sweet sixteen for more than sixty years, hitchhiking her way along the highways and byways of America, sometimes seen as an avenging angel, sometimes seen as a killer in her own right, but always Rose, the Phantom Prom Date, the Girl in the Green Silk Gown.

The man who killed her is still out there, thanks to a crossroads bargain that won’t let him die, and he’s looking for the one who got away. When Bobby Cross comes back into the picture, there’s going to be hell to pay—possibly literally.

Rose has worked for decades to make a place for herself in the twilight. Can she defend it, when Bobby Cross comes to take her down? Can she find a way to navigate the worlds of the living and the dead, and make it home before her hitchhiker’s luck runs out?

There’s only one way to know for sure.

Nine will let you count the cost:
All you had and all you lost.
Ten is more than time can tell,
Cut the cord and ring the bell.
Count eleven, twelve, and then,
Thirteen takes you home again.
One’s for the shadow, one’s for the tree,
And the last is for the blessing of Persephone

Bobby Cross is a mostly-off screen villain and boy do I want to run that jerk over and give him a taste of his own medicine. Stalker-dude schemes to get Rose once and for all, and if he weren’t actually good at it, it’d be comically cliche.

Rose has been dead for so long she can’t cope with the problems of the living and oh, does she describe them to us in all their squishy detail. To thwart Bobby’s schemes, and he’s got them coming and going, Rose will have to team up will familiar allies and familiar enemies. There’s a lot on the line if she doesn’t pull this off.

The Girl in the Green Silk Gown is more linear than Sparrow Hill Road, which makes sense once the story gets going. Time doesn’t mean much to the dead. Despite being more linear, it’s no less melancholy, romantic, nostalgic and full of moments both heartwarming and heartbreaking. You might want to have a box of tissues nearby.

I do have to note, I knocked off half a star in this rating because the ending was abrupt. We were truckin’ along and then suddenly there are no more pages, no more story and it was as if Seanan had slammed on the brakes, turned off the car, jumped out and run down the road with her hands in the air, leaving me stunned in the passenger seat with a minor case of whiplash.

That aside, I still LOVED the story, and am looking forward to a third book in the series (I hope, oh goodness please tell me there’s another!)

 

Blog Housekeeping · That Reading Life

July Challenge Progress Report!

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July is at an end and the Hugos are looming. How am I doing on my 2018 Reading Challenges?

My Goodreads Reading Challenge goal is 175 books, and so far I’ve completed 117/175. GR tells me I’m 16 books ahead of schedule. I gained back my lead! It sure doesn’t hurt that short stories and novelettes count on GR as a single book.

Let’s check in on the Literary (&) Lacquers Reading Bingo, over in the Literary Lacquers facebook fan group. So far I’ve checked off 8/16 prompts, so I’m right on track for halfway done, though I didn’t check anything new off. (If you participate, there are discounts for completion!)

  • A Graphic Novel – Paper Girls Vol. 1
  • A Book Written by an Author of Color – Markswoman
  • A Book With a Green Cover – The Book of Life
  • A Book Written by an Author From A Different Country – The Illuminae Files
  • A Book With a Color in the Title – The Black Tides of Heaven 
  • A Book That’s Been on Your TBR for Over a Year – A Conjuring of Light 
  • A Book About a Topic That Makes You Uncomfortable – Anger is a Gift
  • A Book Set in a Non-English Speaking Country – Bookburners
  • A Book from a Genre You’ve Never Read – Ask A Manager

*On to the Book Riot Read Harder challenge, where I’ve made no new progress this month. 6/24, still behind. I need to start actively looking for books to meet the different criteria.

  • 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
  • A Book With A Cover You Hate – Lustlocked
  • A One Sitting Book – A Court of Frost and Starlight
  • A Comic That Isn’t Published by Marvel, DC or Image – Wires & Nerve Vol 2.

I’ve made more progress for Popsugar’s Reading Challenge. 23/47, a bit behind. I REALLY need to start actively looking for books to meet the different criteria.

  • A Book About a Villain or Antihero – Godsgrave
  • A Book With An Animal in the Title – Our Native Bees
  • A Book by a Female Author Who Uses a Male Pseudonym – The Silkworm
  • A Book by an Author of a Different Ethnicity Than You – Markswoman
  • A Book You Borrowed or Were Given as a Gift – Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance
  • A Book by a Local Author – Tricks for Free
  • A Book That’s Published in 2018 – Tempests & Slaughter 
  • A Book You Meant to Read in 2017 But Didn’t Get To – Strange Practice
  • A Book By Two Authors – The Tangled Lands
  • A Book with a Time of Day in the Title – An Artificial Night
  • A Book with an LGBTQ+ Protagonist – In Other Lands
  • A Book with a Weather Element in the Title – Daughters of the Storm 
  • A Book with an Animal in the Title – Sparrow Hill Road
  • A Book With Characters Who Are Twins – The Diminished
  • A Book With an Ugly Cover – Lustlocked
  • An Allegory – Last First Snow
  • A Book About A Problem Facing Society Today – Anger is a Gift
  • A Book Involving a Heist – The Ruin of Angels
  • A Book Set in a Country That Fascinates You – Bookburners
  • A Book Set At Sea – The Serpent Sea
  • A Book About or Involving Sports – Brief Cases
  • A Cyberpunk Book – Lifel1k3
  • Your Favorite Prompt from the 2015/16/17 Popsugar Challenge: A Book With A One Word Title – Torn

I am also participating in my local library’s 10 To Read challenge and made no progress this month. 4/10

  • A Young Adult Book – Godsgrave
  • A Book Set in a Place You’ve Never Been – Tricks for Free
  • A Book About Food – Acid Trip
  • A Biography
  • A Banned Book
  • A Book by a Native American Author – Trail of Lightning
  • A Book Recommended by KCLS Staff
  • A Book in Translation
  • A Book That’s Been Made Into A Movie or TV Show

I did my sixth and final buddy read of The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone with my blogging buddy Marzie. Check out the discussion posts of The Ruin of Angels. We’re planning to pick up a new book to buddy read in September!

Voting for the Hugo Awards has just closed and I got through a lot, but not all of the nominees. The list of nominees is here.

Here’s what I’ve read so far:

  • Best Novel
    • Raven Stratagem
    • The Stone Sky
    • The Collapsing Empire
    • Six Wakes
  • Best Novella
    • Down Among The Sticks and Bones
    • The Black Tides of Heaven
    • All Systems Red
  • Best Novelette
    • “Children of Thorns, Children of Water”
    • “The Secret Life of Bots”
    • “A Series of Steaks”
    • “Extracurricular Activities”
    • “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time”
    • “Wind Will Rove”
  • Best Short Story
    • “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience TM”
    • “Carnival Nine”
    • “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand”
    • “The Martian Obelisk”
    • “Fandom for Robots”
    • “Sun, Moon, Dust”
  • Best Graphic Story
    • Bitch Planet, Vol 2: President Bitch
    • Monstress, Vol 2: The Blood
  • 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
      • All of it, even the short stories
    • The Memoirs of Lady Trent
      • All five books
    • The Books of the Raksura
      • The Cloud Roads
      • The Serpent Sea
      • The Siren Depths
      • The Edge of Worlds
  • Best YA (Not A Hugo)
    • In Other Lands

I got through a lot, but there are definitely many stories I just couldn’t fit in.

In addition to all that, I host 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 1-9 and will be tackling book 10, Once Broken Faith on August 5. We’re so close to the end!!!

What have you been reading this month?

Fantasy · Hilarious

Kill the Farm Boy – Delilah S. Dawson & Kevin Hearne

4 Stars

I apologize in advance for the insufficiently punny review that is about to follow. Nothing I could write could ever compare to the hilarity contained within these pages.

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Cover from Goodreads

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, a hero, the Chosen One, was born . . . and so begins every fairy tale ever told.

This is not that fairy tale.

There is a Chosen One, but he is unlike any One who has ever been Chosened.

And there is a faraway kingdom, but you have never been to a magical world quite like the land of Pell.

There, a plucky farm boy will find more than he’s bargained for on his quest to awaken the sleeping princess in her cursed tower. First there’s the Dark Lord who wishes for the boy’s untimely death . . . and also very fine cheese. Then there’s a bard without a song in her heart but with a very adorable and fuzzy tail, an assassin who fears not the night but is terrified of chickens, and a mighty fighter more frightened of her sword than of her chain-mail bikini. This journey will lead to sinister umlauts, a trash-talking goat, the Dread Necromancer Steve, and a strange and wondrous journey to the most peculiar “happily ever after” that ever once-upon-a-timed.

If you’ve been reading fantasy or been on the literary parts of the internet basically ever, you should be familiar with the concepts of tropes. They’re a little like cliches, but usually a bit more extended. “The chosen one saves the princess” or “Elves are beautiful and wise” and so forth. Kill The Farm Boy is constructed almost entirely of tropes.

HOWEVER….they’re almost entirely upside down and the result is hilarious.

On occasion, the banter, the puns and the trope flipping feels a little forced and contrived, which is why I knocked a star off. The “trying too hard” was distracting. But overall, the effect was, well, magical. Dawson and Hearne have given us a gift that not only skewers common tropes in fantasy, but also draws in elements of current internet culture and absolutely eviscerates them. For an example of this, please see the chapter with a troll. (OH EM GEE I LOL’d SO HARD I COULDN’T BREATHE.)

But, just as Kill The Farm Boy is making fun of the Fantasy genre, it’s still absolutely a fantasy story, full of action, adventure, romance and clever escapades. Dawson and Hearne DO know how to write a story.

Kill The Farm Boy will appeal to fans of Douglas Adams, Monty Python, and Hearne’s Oberon character from his Iron Druid series.

Kill The Farm Boy is on sale now, and I am eagerly awaiting the sequel, No Country for Old Gnomes.

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

 

Fantasy · historical fiction · Horror

Deep Roots – Ruthanna Emrys

5 Stars

The sequel to the stunning Winter Tide, Deep Roots explores more of Lovecraft’s mythos. Aphra and her confluence are on the trail of a mist-blooded relative and find so much more than they expected.

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Cover from Goodreads

Aphra Marsh, descendant of the People of the Water, has survived Deep One internment camps and made a grudging peace with the government that destroyed her home and exterminated her people on land. Aphra’s journey to rebuild her life and family on land, as she tracks down long-lost relatives on land. She must repopulate Innsmouth or risk seeing it torn down by greedy developers, but as she searches she discovers that people have been going missing. She will have to unravel the mystery or risk seeing her way of life slip away.

Deep Roots wrestles with so many of the things we wrestle with in our own lives, especially when confronted with our loved ones choosing paths we’d rather they didn’t. How do we believe that they haven’t been coerced? When is it right to let someone go, and when do we cling to them and hope they forgive us at the end? When is it right to walk away, to call someone out, or to ask them to reexamine their deeply held beliefs? Now, more than any other time in the last thirty years, many of us find ourselves wrestling with these questions within our own families as political rhetoric threatens to tear us apart by othering each other into separate camps.

One of the myths that Deep Roots tackles isn’t from Lovecraft’s mythos, but rather from current Western society. Emrys shows us that the idea that “One who has been othered, can’t also be othering” is false. I see the sentiments that “I can’t be racist, I’m black” or “I can’t be a lesbophobe, I’m gay” or “I can’t be a misogynist, I’m a woman” or “I can’t be ableist, I’m also part of a marginalized community” pretty frequently. These aren’t true statements, but I hear variations of them all the time. Deep Roots explores how even groups that have been othered can have and hold othering beliefs about groups, cultures and people not their own. This is why intersectional activism is so crucial. Despite their own experiences being discriminated against Aphra and the Deep Ones hold strong beliefs about the Outer Ones that are explicitly called out as offensive within the narrative. Aphra is forced to rexamine her beliefs in order to navigate the situation at hand.

I am SO glad to get more of Aphra, Neko, Audrey, Charlie, Specter, Dawson and Caleb. Emrys writes them so vividly, the time between books felt like missing friends. Deep Roots felt like opening a letter from someone who had gone on a long trip into a remote place without technology.

I am impatiently waiting for my next letter from the Confluence. I can’t wait to see what they get up to next.

Deep Roots is on sale now!

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