Fantasy · Magical Realism

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance – Ruth Emmie Lang

5 Stars

I have really struggled to put into words just how much I loved this book. I am reduced to flailing in the direction of my phone, wildly gesticulating.


Cover from Goodreads


Let me start by saying I don’t read a ton of Magical Realism. I tend to want to go all-in with fantasy, to be immersed in a world that I either don’t recognize at all or only lightly recognize (such as in Urban Fantasy). But the magical realism of Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance drew me in so completely.

Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads.

Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was.

That tornado was the first of many strange events that seem to follow Weylyn from town to town, although he doesn’t like to take credit. As amazing as these powers may appear, they tend to manifest themselves at inopportune times and places. From freak storms to trees that appear to grow over night, Weylyn’s unique abilities are a curiosity at best and at worst, a danger to himself and the woman he loves. But Mary doesn’t care. Since Weylyn saved her from an angry wolf on her eleventh birthday, she’s known that a relationship with him isn’t without its risks, but as anyone who’s met Weylyn will tell you, once he wanders into your life, you’ll wish he’d never leave.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance tells the story of Weylyn Grey’s life from the perspectives of the people who knew him, loved him, and even a few who thought he was just plain weird. Although he doesn’t stay in any of their lives for long, he leaves each of them with a story to tell. Stories about a boy who lives with wolves, great storms that evaporate into thin air, fireflies that make phosphorescent honey, and a house filled with spider webs and the strange man who inhabits it.

The story unfolds in sections, from different parts of  Weylyn’s life. Through the perspectives of others, we get to see different interpretations of Weylyn and some of the situations he finds happening around him. These different points of view sections tell the poignant and heartbreaking stories of not only Weylyn, but the person telling us the story. They remind us that everyone is the protagonist of their own story, living with their own challenges, heartbreak, and victories. Weylyn is the central thread tying all of these other, richly developed characters together.

My only gripe with the book was that Weylyn is a serial abuser of the “leaving for others own good without talking to them first” trope. So much heartbreak and lost time could have been avoided if he’d just TALKED to Mary. But, that might not have made for such great reading. And great reading it was.

I listened to the audiobook, lent to me by a friend and I highly recommend it. The recording is done by four different narrators, and they all knock it out of the park. If you’re an audiobook listener, definitely make an effort to listen to Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance.

Ruth Emmie Lang’s debut novel is poignant, moving and full of beautifully wrought sentences crafted with care and full of metaphor. I will absolutely be watching for what she puts out next.



Fantasy · YA

Markswoman – Rati Mehrotra

4 Stars

Markswoman is the first in a new YA series (Asiana) and debut novel by Canadian author Rati Mehrotra.

The publisher’s synopsis:

Kyra is the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, one of a handful of sisterhoods of highly trained elite warriors. Armed with blades whose metal is imbued with magic and guided by a strict code of conduct, the Orders are sworn to keep the peace and protect the people of Asiana. Kyra has pledged to do so—yet she secretly harbors a fierce desire to avenge her murdered family.

When Tamsyn, the powerful and dangerous Mistress of Mental Arts, assumes control of the Order, Kyra is forced on the run. She is certain that Tamsyn committed murder in a twisted bid for power, but she has no proof.

Kyra escapes through one of the strange Transport Hubs that are the remnants of Asiana’s long-lost past and finds herself in the unforgiving wilderness of a desert that is home to the Order of Khur, the only Order composed of men. Among them is Rustan, a disillusioned Marksman whose skill with a blade is unmatched. He understands the desperation of Kyra’s quest to prove Tamsyn’s guilt, and as the two grow closer, training daily on the windswept dunes of Khur, both begin to question their commitment to their Orders. But what they don’t yet realize is that the line between justice and vengeance is thin . . . as thin as the blade of a knife.

Markswoman is set in what appears to be a future version of India so far away as to be largely unrecognizable as our world. I enjoyed getting to know the world and learning to understand the Orders and meeting Kyra and Rustan. Kyra and Rustan both face moral quandaries, where they must wrestle with what is right and wrong and the shades of gray. The emotional journies they face are directly tied and sometimes at odds with their lives as Markswomen/Marksmen – assassins.

There is also evidence – the Hubs – of an alien presence far in the past, which adds an interesting element that I’m excited to explore in future books.

All the elements of a story I like are present, and I enjoyed reading Markswoman but I found the story to be a bit predictable. Mehrotra laid down threads to carry the story forward, through this book and into sequels, but those threads are obvious to someone who reads a lot of YA fantasy, so I found myself reading almost for confirmation that I was right than out of a sense of discovery and curiosity.

I appreciated the diversity of a novel set in India and featuring a largely non-white cast, something sorely lacking in mainstream media, but that alone isn’t enough to move Markswoman out of an average story.

I’m looking forward to the second book in the series, if only because I want to know what happens to Kyra and Ruston after the bloody ending of the book.

Markswoman hits shelves Tuesday, January 23, and while it isn’t groundbreaking, I did enjoy the read.

I received an eARC of this book from Edelweiss and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.


Three Parts Dead – Max Gladstone

5 Stars

Three Parts Dead

Every time I read one of Max’s Craft Sequence books, I am in awe of the scale of things. He works with things as complex and nebulous as faith and economies but then turns around and hides Gods in the details. And on both scales he has so much going on around the everyday(ish) lives of the main characters. The Craft Sequence is a fascinating examination of power, morality, justice and so many other part of our lives wrapped up into a gripping murder mystery complete with epic romance and subterfuge. Oh, and did I mention the main character is a black woman and most of the main cast is fantastically written women?

three parts dead

Cover from Goodreads

In order to motivate myself and justify a reread of The Craft Sequence, I am teaming up with Marzie’s Reads and guest commenter, and friend of the blog, Jenni for a buddy read! We started with Three Parts Dead, the first of the series to be published, but the third book chronologically within the series.

For the first part of our discussion, check out the post on Marzie’s Reads at Fair warning, our discussion is *FULL* of spoilers.

Here’s part two, picking up right where we left off!

Alex: I want to talk about Elayne a bit more. Throughout the book, it becomes clearer and clearer that Denovo is the worst kind of abuser, one that is enabled and even encouraged to continue and refine his abuses. Both Tara and Elayne are victims of his abuse, and Elayne was his first victim. I really loved the twist at the end, when she got her revenge. But how did you feel about how that was handled.

Marzie: The ending, where Denovo gets his just desserts, is wonderful. And so perfect for this moment, where #metoo is everywhere. This is so much the way things go when abuses are reported, and especially when abuse is reported by women against men. Maybe we’re on the cusp of change, but when Three Parts Dead released, women were still in the thick of things with respect to this type of behavior- men abusing women in the work or academic setting. All that said, the handling of Tara’s accusations against Denovo at the Hidden Schools is pretty galling.

Alex: I loved the ending so much. I was furious at the school too.

Jenni: The ending was extremely satisfying. And I found the school’s complicity infuriating – although to me, what really struck me was how they allowed their ends to justify Denovo’s means. His abuse resulted in a phenomenally powerful source of Craft, and that was more important to the School than the way in which he was generating it. They cared more for destroying the Gods than they cared about the well-being of their students.

Marzie: Does Alexander Denovo in the end seem less human and humane than Kos, who wants his Seril back? I’m still seared by the image of Denovo cutting out Seril’s eyes. So awful.

Alex: I agree with you there, I think there’s a massive failure on Denovo’s part to have any humanity. Kos is certainly more compassionate and motivated by emotion rather than the acquisition of power. Kos and Seril were lovers, they had been separated by man, by Craftsmen. The Gods are much like the gods of different pantheons we’re already familiar with – the Greek Gods loved and hated and warred. The Craftsmen were so obsessed with destroying the gods that they didn’t care that they were destroying the WORLD, so what chance did Tara or Elayne have in convincing The Hidden Schools that Denovo’s craft was doing harm, and it was harm enough for them to care about stopping.

Jenni: I agree that the primary issue was Denovo’s utter lack of humanity. It stood in such stark contrast to Kos. Not that Kos wasn’t godly, but that his emotions made him seem more humane than Denovo, an actual human. He was a much more fundamentally decent being than Denovo, and seemed warmer than the Craftspeople; emotions do not automatically equal human.

Alex: I think it was deliberate, pitting a loving Kos against the unloving Denovo. I think the idea is that despite being a god, Kos was more human-seeming than Denovo who WANTED to be a god.

Marzie: If we are talking about Denovo’s lack of humanity, can we discuss what is up is with the Hidden Schools allowing him to teach and devastate their student population? How is that sustainable? To me, Denovo is shackling potential competition. He’s stripping the world of any potential competitors for his God-dom.

Alex: I think you’re absolutely correct that the school was allowing Denovo to shackle and hamstring his competition in pretty much every sense of the word. It’s Horrifying.

Marzie: My big question is why?

Jenni: I think it’s because they are just potential when they’re students. They may or may not be able to significantly advance the School’s goals after having years of intensive training. If Denovo harnesses them and bleeds them dry, yes, some of them that would have become great Craftspeople will not be as useful as they could have been otherwise, but on average, it probably works out as a win for the school. They’ve got a guaranteed return on all the warm bodies, and don’t have to worry about independent thinking.

Marzie: I mean why is the school allowing it? It will destroy the school. This is my one problem with the Denovo plot. Denovo isn’t running the entire school, is he? In an amusingly modern day nightmare, he is a narcissist. But that doesn’t explain what is going on in the school and how it is permitted to continue.

Alex: Yes, there’s other faculty. But who’s to say he doesn’t have them in the same thrall he has his students in? And to be fair, lots of companies know about corruption and let it happen rather than address and fix it because in the end, the corruption is lucrative.

Jenni: Exactly, Alex.

Marzie: I guess I feel it is the sole weak spot in the plot. Denovo destroying the student body with the knowledge of the Hidden Schools and Craft firms around the world makes little sense to me, as ultimately it will finish the school, and deplete the pool of potential craftsmen and women for the workforce.

Alex I agree that it’s a weak spot. I think this might be something to ask Max about in a Q&A sometime. 😉

Jenni: But was it the entire student body? Or just select ones? And also – if Craftspeople are as long-lived as the story suggests, then they don’t need a particularly rapid replacement rate.

Marzie: I think it was the most talented students? In which case, still unchecked, the Denovo plan destroys the Hidden Schools, and ultimately depletes Craft workforce. Craft workers aren’t bulletproof… I think they can be killed. I have to say that I would LOVE to see one of the future books set in the Hidden Schools themselves, so we can get a feel for what has been going on over the past century or so.

Alex: Okay, final thoughts. The Craft Sequence is one of my favorite series, and Three Parts Dead is an incredible introduction to the world. Gladstone takes complex concepts and mashes them all together and the result is a stunning universe with interesting characters.

Marzie: I can say without hesitation that Max Gladstone’s Craft world is one of the most unique concepts I’ve encountered in fantasy. It’s brilliant, savvy, and finds ways to poke at our modern culture and values from the vantage point of a far removed fantasy world. Kudos!

Jenni: It’s been a long time since I read a book I felt had something new to add to the fantasy genre. This book certainly manages to do that, and packages its new concepts in wonderfully fluid prose and well-drawn characters, as well. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the next one!

Join us next month for our reviews and discussions of the second book in The Craft Sequence, Two Serpents Rise!

Home & Garden · Nonfiction

Our Native Bees – Paige Embry

5 stars

There’s so much more to the story than honey bees. In the last few years, at least for me, bees have been in the news more and more frequently. Bees dying! We’re all going to starve! No one knows how to stop colony collapse! Mites, fungus, and disease – oh my! And then, on the edges, I started hearing about mason bees. And then leafcutter bees. And then suddenly I owned a house, and keeping bees was suddenly something I could explore for more than just curiosity’s sake.

Cover image from Goodreads

Our Native Bees by Paige Embry is a thoughtful introduction to some of the 4,000 bees native to the United States. Embry’s wry sense of humor and storytelling keeps this book from being a dry textbook recounting of bee facts and instead is an engaging book that will endear our tiny neighbors to anyone with a passing interest in our most efficient pollinators.

Embry’s book is full of anecdotes of bee hunting adventures and stunning photographs. From likely-extinct Franklin’s bumblebee to blue orchard bees, and even the ubiquitous European honey bee, Embry profiles the different species in such a way that I can’t help but want to install a mason bee house in my backyard as soon as the weather is appropriate.

In a wondrous turn of luck, Embry lives in Seattle, where I also live, so her personal beekeeping anecdotes are applicable directly to me, and where I live. In her section about blue orchard bees (also called mason bees), Embry references Crown Bees, a company based in Woodinville Washington, just across Lake Washington from Seattle, and a company I’m already familiar with. Crown Bees is the company that kicked off my interest in mason and leafcutter bees, and where I intend to purchase my cocoons and supplies from this spring.

Along with profiling the different bees, Embry also outlines the many challenges facing our bees – natural and manmade.

A fascinating read for gardeners and bee enthusiasts alike, Our Native Bees is on sale February 7 from Timber Press.

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

Fantasy · YA

Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff

5 stars

Oh, Readers that was good. Godsgrave is the second novel in Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight Chronicle and I just can’t wait for the third and final book to be released. I’m so mad that I have to wait for the next one.


Cover from Goodreads


As in the first novel, Nevernight, Kristoff employs a dual storytelling structure, weaving past and present together, but Kristoff is a master of suspense and twists. I certainly didn’t see half of this book coming. Twist after surprising twist. Even when I thought I knew where things were going because of the dual storylines, I was surprised again and again.

Mia murders her way through any obstacle between her and her ultimate goal of retribution against the men who murdered her family – though something more is going on around her. The body count is high, and the pages bloody, but oh, the adventure is good. Mia isn’t a hero (or is she?) but it’s sure fun to follow her as she slits throats and takes no names as she climbs over literal mountains of bodies toward her goal. She might think she’s the spider at the center of the web, but others are pulling strings that she’s still unaware of.

Despite the violence and high body count, Kristoff finds room for raw vulnerability, emotional connection and even a little romance. An LGBTQ romance even! (And boy does Kristoff write some sexy scenes. I did a little face fanning here and there.)

The Nevernight Chronicle is a fully rounded dark fantasy like nothing else I’ve read.




Anthology · Fantasy · Science Fiction

Robots Vs. Fairies – Navah Wolfe & Dominik Parisien

4.5 stars

Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe edited and collected one of my favorite anthologies to date, The Starlit Wood so when I saw they were releasing another anthology together I just couldn’t wait – especially once I saw the title: Robots vs Fairies. I thought to myself, “Oh, this is gonna be goood!” and oh, was I right. Many of the stories are poignant and thoughtful. Many of them left me with things to sit and mentally chew on, as all the best do.


Cover from Goodreads


Read on for brief reviews of individual stories. Or, go pick up a copy for yourself! Robots Vs. Fairies hit shelves January 9.

“Build me a Wonderland” by Seanan McGuire

Ahhhh this was such a great story to start off this anthology with! Fairies AND robots all mashed into one fantastic read. Seanan’s writing definitely shines in Build Me A Wonderland. Tightly written, I don’t feel like I need more of the story – I got exactly the right amount. A really strong beginning to this anthology.

“Quality Time” by Ken Liu

In “Quality Time” Ken Liu takes the time to explore the pitfalls of Silicon Valley’s philosophy that technology can solve anything. How does solving one problem create other problems? Can you take a solution too far? I enjoyed Liu’s exploration of these questions and the world he built.

“Murmured Under the Moon” by Tim Pratt

I really liked the concept of this story, but had a real problem with the dialog. It came across as stilted and amateurish, which is surprising from an author as published as Pratt. I love stories of libraries, and enjoyed Pratt’s story, aside from the strange dialog.

“The Blue Fairy’s Manifesto” by Annalee Newitz

An interesting exploration of moderate vs extreme points of view on social injustice, through the lens of robotics and Pinnocchio. Thought provoking.

“Bread and Milk and Salt” by Sarah Gailey

Dark and bloody, as I understand is typical of Gailey’s writing. The ending, while disturbing was satisfying. “Be careful what you wish for” goes both ways.

“Ironheart” by Jonathan Maberry

At its heart, Ironheart is heartbreaking take on how badly we fail our veterans in the U.S. Mix in some robotic magic and you’ve got a moving story with heart. There were definitely tears in my eyes.

“Just Another Love Song” by Kat Howard

Yes, yes and yes. What a story. Play Regina Spektor’s “Love Song” on repeat while you read this one.

“Sound and Fury” Mary Robinette Kowal

A fun space adventure containing one giant robot and much eyerolling. The eyerolling was not on my part. I really enjoyed the exhausted snark of the crew.

“The Bookcase Expedition” by Jeffrey Ford

I enjoyed it, but Ford himself admits it’s not really a fairy story in his author’s note following the story. I struggled to keep my attention on this one.

“Work Shadow/Shadow Work” by Madeline Ashby

I really enjoyed this one. When robots are sufficiently advanced to be called AI, what separates them from humans – do they have souls? Does it matter?

“Second to the Left, and Straight on” by Jim C. Hines

As you might be able to tell, Hines’ story is a take on the classic Peter Pan story, but in wonderful Hines fashion he twists the familiar tale into something new. A heartwrenching, stunning story.

“The Buried Giants” by Lavie Tidhar

This one was a bit weird. I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. I got Truman Show vibes from parts of it.

“Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind from the Era of Humans for the First Time” by John Scalzi

Hilarious! I literally laughed out loud at the end. That’s all I need to say.

“Ostentation of Peacocks” by Delilah S. Dawson/Lila Bowen

Somehow, I’ve never imagined a fairy western before, but after reading this, I’m surprised there aren’t more of them, but now I want more.

“All the Time We’ve Left to Spend” by Alyssa Wong

Heartbreaking and kind of disturbing in a gorgeous way. Celebrity replica robots but not one the way you expect.

“Adriftica” by Maria Dahvana Headley

A retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream mashed up with rock and roll. A really fun retelling.

“To A Cloven Pine” by Max Gladstone

A chaotic, robotic reimagination of The Tempest that is going to haunt me for days. Magical, even though Max is on Team Robot.

“A Fall Counts Anywhere” by Catherynne M. Valente

Literally Robots vs Fairies in a bloody deathmatch! The introduction to this story was too long, and capslock can be hard to read for such long chunks. Unfortunately, Valente managed to make even a deathmatch boring. A really weak ending to an otherwise fantastic anthology.

I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

That Reading Life

Reading Challenges for 2018!

In an effort to round out my reading and tackle my TBR, I’m participating in a number of reading challenges for 2018.

First, I’m hosting the Literary (&) Lacquers Reading Bingo, over in the Literary Lacquers facebook fan group. This reading bingo will run all year long. Once a month, within the group, I’ll post a check-in thread.

Literary Lacquers 2018 Reading Bingo.jpg

I hit my 2017 Goodreads Challenge goal of 150, so I’ve set my Goodreads Challenge to 175 books in 2018, 25 books more than I read in 2017.

I’m also participating in Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge and Popsugar’s Reading Challenge. I tried to do both of those last year, and only made it through a little over half of each, so this year I’m hoping to actually finish one, if not both.

In addition to these reading challenges, look for the first post in my buddy read of The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone with Marzie’s Reads and a guest commenter coming later this month! We’ere starting with Three Parts Dead, the third book chronologically, but first of the series to be published. We’re reading one book in the series each month – feel free to join in!

Finally, it’s not exactly an official “challenge” but I’m once again participating in the nominations and voting for the Hugo Awards, so I will be challenged to read as many of the nominated works as I possibly can.

Are you doing any reading challenges in 2018?

That Reading Life

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, Readers!

2017 has come and gone, and it has been one of the busiest, craziest years on record for me. I started off the year with my husband undergoing some serious eye surgery, met an internet friend in real life, found myself in the surprising situation of buying a house, moving, adopting a kitten, drowning in yard work, and among so many other things – starting this little blog.

Thanks for being here with me, Readers! As 2018 kicks off, I’m looking forward to even more reading with you!

I like to start the year off by setting a few goals for myself. In 2018, I’m planning to:

  • Beat my 2017 Goodreads goal of 150 books and hit 175.
  • Complete the Literary (&) Lacquers book bingo I’m hosting.
  • Knock out at least 15 books on my TBR list from before 2018.
  • Keep up with the buddy read of The Craft Sequence I’m doing with Marzie’s Reads and WishfulThinking129. (Starting this month!)
  • Blog more regularly.
  • Host additional giveaways!

Do you have any reading #goals for 2018? Share them in the comments!