Blog Housekeeping · That Reading Life

February Challenge Progress Report!

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I’m still making progress on my 2018 Reading Challenges! Now that February 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 25/175. GR is telling me I’m still 2 books behind schedule.

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 Classic Genre of Fiction – The Silkworm
  • A Comic Written or Illustrated by a Person of Color – Paper Girls Vol. 2

I’ve only made a little more progress for Popsugar’s Reading Challenge. 9/47

  • 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 (review next week )
  • 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

I also added my local library’s 10 To Read challenge and have made reasonable progress. 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 second buddy read of The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone earlier this month with my blogging buddy Marzie. Check out the discussion posts of Two Serpents Rise.  Part one was on my blog here and part two was over at Marzie’s Reads. Look for our reviews and discussion posts of book three, Full Fathom Five next month!

The Hugo reading hasn’t kicked in yet (soon, I imagine) but because I am a masochist, I guess, 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. Last month we started with Rosemary & Rue. On February 18, we discussed book #2, A Local Habitation. Next up is book #3 An Artificial Night on March 11.

What have you been reading this month?

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Fantasy

Two Serpents Rise – Max Gladstone

5 Stars

Welcome to part one of #TheCraftBuddies buddy read of Max Gladstone’s Two Serpents Rise! For this read, I am teaming up once again with Marzie’s Reads and guest commenter, and friend of the blog, Jenni.

Two Serpents Rise is book two in The Craft Sequence, whether you read the books in chronological order or publication order. We’re reading the books in publication order and you can check out our discussion of Three Parts Dead here for part one and here for part two.

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Cover from Goodreads

Before we jump into the review and discussion, here’s the publisher’s synopsis:

Shadow demons plague the city reservoir, and Red King Consolidated has sent in Caleb Altemoc — casual gambler and professional risk manager — to cleanse the water for the sixteen million people of Dresediel Lex. At the scene of the crime, Caleb finds an alluring and clever cliff runner, crazy Mal, who easily outpaces him.

But Caleb has more than the demon infestation, Mal, or job security to worry about when he discovers that his father — the last priest of the old gods and leader of the True Quechal terrorists — has broken into his home and is wanted in connection to the attacks on the water supply.

From the beginning, Caleb and Mal are bound by lust, Craft, and chance, as both play a dangerous game where gods and people are pawns. They sleep on water, they dance in fire… and all the while the Twin Serpents slumbering beneath the earth are stirring, and they are hungry.

New readers to the series might be surprised to find that Two Serpents Rise is largely disconnected from the first book in the series, Three Parts Dead. It’s an entirely new city, new cast of characters and completely new issues. Two Serpents Rise is packed full of people of color and features two queer relationships.

I found that I liked Two Serpents Rise better than I liked Three Parts Dead because the core issue of the book was more relatable to me – keeping the water supply safe and sustainable. It’s something anyone can understand. We depend on clean water for our lives and livelihoods. Book one was more abstract and harder for me to connect to, though I feel like it gave us a better understanding of how the world works. I’m not sure I would have fully understood some of the ramifications in Two Serpents Rise without the context and worldbuilding from Three Parts Dead.

Fair warning, our discussion beyond this point is *FULL* of spoilers.

Continue reading “Two Serpents Rise – Max Gladstone”

Anthology · Fantasy

The Tangled Lands – Paolo Bacigalupi & Tobias S. Buckell

4 Stars

The Tangled Lands is made up of four distinct short stories, tied together by a common land and a common problem. Calling The Tangled Lands a novel is a bit misleading and left me somewhat disappointed in the end result.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

From award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell comes a fantasy novel told in four parts about a land crippled by the use of magic, and a tyrant who is trying to rebuild an empire—unless the people find a way to resist.

Khaim, The Blue City, is the last remaining city in a crumbled empire that overly relied upon magic until it became toxic. It is run by a tyrant known as The Jolly Mayor and his devious right hand, the last archmage in the world. Together they try to collect all the magic for themselves so they can control the citizens of the city. But when their decadence reaches new heights and begins to destroy the environment, the people stage an uprising to stop them.

In four interrelated parts, The Tangled Lands is an evocative and epic story of resistance and heroic sacrifice in the twisted remains surrounding the last great city of Khaim. Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell have created a fantasy for our times about a decadent and rotting empire facing environmental collapse from within—and yet hope emerges from unlikely places with women warriors and alchemical solutions.

The four stories are loosely tied together by place and problem, but not character. Each story has distinct characters, and while each story was very good, the overall novel doesn’t seem to have accomplished much. At the end of the book, I was a little let down. Each story contained loss and victories, but those losses and victories didn’t seem to add up to a cumulative effect.

My issue with the structure aside, the stories were well written and fit together thematically and in style.

The idea of an environmental effect from the use of magic is an interesting metaphor for energy usage in the world today. The use of magic creates bramble infestations in the world, and bramble is a nasty, murderous plant that kills those that it touches. Small magics hinder larger magics because the effect is compounded. This is a thoughtful and powerful comparison to using energy that doesn’t come from “clean” sources. The more we use “unclean” energy, the more damage we do to our environment and eventually what we’re left with will be deadly and have a devastating effect on our world.

The Tangled Lands hits shelves February 27, 2018.

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

Fantasy

The Book of Life – Deborah Harkness

4.5 stars

The conclusion to Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy is quite excellently done. Harkness neatly wraps up the various plot threads she’s been laying all along into a tidy package. This tidy, completeness doesn’t feel forced or convoluted in any way.

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Cover from Goodreads

After traveling through time in Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’ enchanting series, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches—with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency. In the trilogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowledge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.

I’m knocking a half a star off because Matthew Clairmont drives me nuts. His character is so controlling that I had a hard time listening to some of the things he says. I was definitely yelling back at my speakers, especially in the first third of the book, and when Diana’s best friend Chris comes on the scene. I have no patience for unreasonable, controlling people – especially men.

Despite Matthew, most of the characters in the series are what I love about the book. There are varied personalities and they’re allowed and able to change. The characters are written as believable people and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I was elated last month when a spin-off story about Marcus’s adventures during the Civil War was announced, Time’s Convert should be out this September.

Ultimately, the All Souls Trilogy is what Twilight wishes it were. There’s ancient intrigue, forbidden love, family and magic all wrapped up into a well written and satisfying story.

Fantasy · Urban Fantasy

Strange Practice – Vivian Shaw

4 stars

I love stories about human outsiders mingling in the world of the supernatural, and Strange Practice didn’t disappoint.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Meet Greta Helsing, fast-talking doctor to the undead. Keeping the supernatural community not-alive and well in London has been her family’s specialty for generations.

Greta Helsing inherited the family’s highly specialized, and highly peculiar, medical practice. In her consulting rooms, Dr. Helsing treats the undead for a host of ills – vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta’s been groomed for since childhood.

Until a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human and undead Londoners alike. As terror takes hold of the city, Greta must use her unusual skills to stop the cult if she hopes to save her practice, and her life.

Strange Practice will appeal to fans of Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series, as there are many similarities. Greta is human, but her clientele is not. She treats vampires, vampyres, (yes those are different kinds), mummies, ghouls, selkies and more. When Greta responds to a house call, she finds herself pulled into the schemes of a murderous sect of monks. Along the way she works with friends and makes some new ones as well.

It’s a fun, interesting story. Strange Practice is not as silly and lighthearted as McGuire’s InCryptid series but has the same kind of feel. Also, despite the feel of Strange Practice it is set in modern times, not the Victorian or Edwardian eras.

I enjoyed the book, but not at a 5-star level. I am looking forward to the sequel Dreadful Company, out later in 2018.

Fantasy · YA

Fire and Bone – Rachel A. Marks

2 stars

Here’s the synopsis from the publisher:

Sage is eighteen, down on her luck, and struggling to survive on the streets of Los Angeles. Everything changes the night she’s invited to a party—one that turns out to be a trap.

Thrust into a magical world hidden within the City of Angels, Sage discovers that she’s the daughter of a Celtic goddess, with powers that are only in their infancy. Now that she is of age, she’s asked to pledge her service to one of the five deities, all keen on winning her favor by any means possible. She has to admit that she’s tempted—especially when this new life comes with spells, Hollywood glam, and a bodyguard with secrets of his own. Not to mention a prince whose proposal could boost her rank in the Otherworld.

As loyalties shift, and as the two men vie for her attention, Sage tries to figure out whom to trust in a realm she doesn’t understand. One thing is for sure: the trap she’s in has bigger claws than she thought. And it’s going to take a lot more than magic for this Celtic demigoddess to make it out alive.

No, no, no and no again. Authors and publishers really need to stop writing creepy, stalker characters and wrapping it up in a pretty bow with “my love.”

You know who calls an unwilling woman “my love” despite repeated rejections? Stalkers. Creepers. Sexual harassers. It’s not sexy. It’s not cute. It’s disgusting. I kept reading in hopes the Fire and Bone would pull a Court of Thorns and Roses and flip the script, but nope. It sort of tries, in that Kieran doesn’t end up being QUITE as awful as he seems the first 4/5 of the book, but in the end, not being a totally awful person doesn’t negate KIDNAPPING AND STALKING Sage.

All of the characters are uninspired rehashings of the same YA archetypes we’ve been seeing over and over the last few years. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the archetypes, but they’re not well done.

Sage, the main character is so naive and clueless. She is given the world on a platter. Plied with riches. Rags to riches, boring boring boring. Reading the scenes from her POV was grating.

Faelan is no better. Literal protector, sexually repressed, predictably attracted to Sage. Angry and dark and brooding. Snore.

Kieran, the dark prince, acts disgustingly, as I described above, and then is upset when Sage fails to fall for him, despite calling her “my love” over and over. She doesn’t even know him and he is calling her “my love”… GROSS.

The story finally got somewhat interesting in the last 20 pages, but it wasn’t enough for me to want to read more in the series. I was really disappointed in this one.

I received an eARC from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Fire and Bone comes out on February 20, 2018. 

Mystery

The Silkworm – Robert Galbraith

5 Stars

My husband is not much of a reader, so as a huge reader, I constantly struggle with the desire to share books with him and the knowledge that he just isn’t going to sit down and read it no matter how highly I recommend something.

Enter: Audiobooks

I have found that if I really, really, REALLY want to share a book with him, I can get him to listen to an audiobook with me. We generally save the audiobooks for when we have a lot of driving – like when we go visit my parents 2.5 hours away or know we’ll be doing a lot of running around locally.

On one such trip in 2016 we listened to The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling. Last year, we moved on to book two of the Cormoran Strike series, The Silkworm.

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Like The Cuckoo’s CallingThe Silkworm follows disabled private investigator Cormoran Strike as he works to solve a grisly murder. Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days—as he has done before—and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives—meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before…

Both novels are wild departures from Harry Potter series, more similar in tone to her other novel under her real name The Casual Vacancy. Under the pen name Robert Galbraith, Rowling writes bleak, bloody novels with little hope for happy endings for any of the characters. The lens through which we view our cast of characters is what I think of as British Depressing; people lead small, unhappy lives made from strings of petty, small victories and equally small and petty defeats.

Despite the depressing lives of the main cast of characters, The Silkworm was enjoyable. The story is a bit slow, building the mystery and the action carefully. My husband and I were kept guessing right up until the very end. The twist at the end was artfully done. We only guessed half of it. The narration was superb, and I highly recommend the audio version. I find that with generally slow mysteries, audiobooks are a great way to stay connected to the narrative and not miss tiny, telling details.

In The Silkworm Rowling demonstrates an ability to jump from genre to genre with finesse. Had I not known the truth of Galbraith’s pseudonym, I’d never have guessed it. But, I’d likely never have picked The Silkworm or The Cuckoo’s Calling up in the first place.

Fantasy · historical fiction

The Plastic Magician – Charlie N. Holmberg

4 stars

Is there such a thing as cozy fantasy? If so, The Plastic Magician would be a shining example of the genre. The book is so cozy, heartwarming and wonderfully written.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

The synopsis from Goodreads:

Alvie Brechenmacher has arrived in London to begin her training in Polymaking—the magical discipline of bespelling plastic. Polymaking is the newest form of magic, and in a field where there is so much left to learn, every Polymaker dreams of making the next big discovery.

Even though she is only an apprentice, Alvie is an inventor at heart, and she is determined to make as many discoveries—in as short a time frame—as she can. Luckily for her, she’s studying under the world-renowned magician Marion Praff, who is just as dedicated as Alvie is.

Alvie’s enthusiasm reinvigorates her mentor’s work, and together they create a device that could forever change Polymaking—and the world. But when a rival learns of their plans, he conspires to steal their invention and take the credit for it himself.

To thwart him, Alvie will need to think one step ahead. For in the high-stakes world of magical discovery, not everyone plays fair…

The Plastic Magician is a standalone spin-off from Holmberg’s Paper Magician series and is totally readable by itself. Even if you’ve never read the Paper Magician series (you should though, it’s great!) you’ll still be able to enjoy The Plastic Magician.  

I love stories with interesting magic systems. I really love when they’re set in the time of the Industrial Revolution and the revolution is in part magical. The Plastic Magician is just such a book. The system of magic is based on materials. A magician bonds to glass, fire, plastic, rubber, metal or paper and from then on, their career is based on that material.

Alvie is a delightful character. She is often lost in her own thoughts, self-conscious, and dedicated to her craft. She’s genuine, positive and genuinely lovely to read. The Plastic Magician is a light, lovely story. It’s an easy read and a heartwarming adventure. I did knock a star off for predictability. The villain and some major parts of the plot were obvious. In this case, however, it wasn’t something that made me want to quit reading. Sometimes it’s really satisfying to read something that goes more or less exactly as you expect it to – that’s what makes it cozy.

The Plastic Magician comes out May 15, 2018. There’s plenty of time to read The Paper Magician series beforehand if you want. I really hope more books in this universe are forthcoming.

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

Home & Garden

Veggie Garden Remix – Nikki Jabbour

5 stars

Just in time to start planning my 2018 garden, I found Nikki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix. An inspiring book full of ideas that will excite gardeners at every experience level.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

From the publisher:

Best-selling author Niki Jabbour invites you to shake up your vegetable garden with an intriguing array of 224 plants from around the world. With her lively “Like this? Then try this!” approach, Jabbour encourages you to start with what you know and expand your repertoire to try related plants, many of which are delicacies in other cultures. Jabbour presents detailed growing information for each plant, along with fun facts and plant history. Be prepared to have your mind expanded and catch Jabbour’s contagious enthusiasm for experimentation and fun in the garden.

I’ll be upfront about the fact that I am not an experienced gardener. My garden this year will be my first attempt at anything bigger than a single pot of lettuce and a tomato plant. But I haven’t been inspired by traditional veggies. My husband and I don’t enjoy eating a lot of the traditional vegetables such as squashes and zucchini. Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix is a wonderful compendium of alternative options for us to grow. I’m excited about my garden this year.

I love the way Jabbour organizes this book as well. It’s set up in easy to browse “If you like this, try these other options” sections so you can quickly jump directly to tomato alternatives or squash alternatives. In each section, she helpfully gives you a rundown of the pros, cons and other “good to know” facts about the plants she’s recommending. As a beginning gardener, I found her photos of the plants in different maturity stages to be incredibly helpful. I like to know what I’m looking for in a ripe fruit.

Many of the alternative fruits and veggie’s Jabbour is recommending are heirloom varieties or ethnic varietals from far-flung parts of the world. Japanese squashes, Mexican and Armenian cucumbers and Egyptian beans are just a few of the fun and funky plants Jabbour profiles in this accessible, easy to read book.

Nikki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix hits shelves February 6, 2018 and is a must-have for any gardener looking to do something new in the dirt this year.

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

Fantasy · YA

Tempests And Slaughter – Tamora Pierce

5 Stars

Way back when I was wee, I didn’t actually like reading very much. My mom would buy me books, and I’d look at them, set them aside and forget about them. One day, I finally picked up Magic Steps from Tamora Pierce and something about it drew me in. I was eight, in third grade and I finally fell in love with reading. I devoured the book and begged my mom to buy me the rest of the series. What I found was not just a couple more books, but enough to keep me busy reading for months. Magic Steps was the first book in the second of Pierce’s quartets set in her fictional world of Emelan. But, Emelan is not her only universe – there’s also Tortall. Tortall is the world of knights and magic and strong women, and the world in which Tempests and Slaughter takes place.

 

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Cover from Goodreads

 

The synopsis from Goodreads:

Arram. Varice. Ozorne. In the first book in the Numair Chronicles, three student mages are bound by fate . . . fated for trouble.

Arram Draper is a boy on the path to becoming one of the realm’s most powerful mages. The youngest student in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak, he has a Gift with unlimited potential for greatness–and for attracting danger. At his side are his two best friends: Varice, a clever girl with an often-overlooked talent, and Ozorne, the “leftover prince” with secret ambitions. Together, these three friends forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. And as Ozorne gets closer to the throne and Varice gets closer to Arram’s heart, Arram begins to realize that one day soon he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie.

In the Numair Chronicles, readers will be rewarded with the never-before-told story of how Numair Salmalín came to Tortall. Newcomers will discover an unforgettable fantasy adventure where a kingdom’s future rests on the shoulders of a talented young man with a knack for making vicious enemies.

Fans of Tamora Pierce will be delighted to find that the story of Numair, of Arram Draper, is both familiar and new. All the elements of classic Tamora Pierce that we know and love are present. A lovable protagonist, standing up for others, study groups in the library, magical animal sidekick, frustrating and meddling god, adventures, magic and a wry sense of humor about describing the realities of growing up and growing bodies. There are even a few easter eggs along the way to delight fans of the other books set in Tortall. But the story is fresh and still unpredictable. Despite “knowing how it will end” from reading the books that take place after Tempests and Slaughter, I still bit my nails and worried about our lovable cast of characters.

But readers new to Pierce’s work shouldn’t be afraid they’ll be lost or find themselves alienated. Tempests and Slaughter takes place before the events of most of the other books set in Tortall, and hundreds of years after books set earlier in the universe’s timeline. One need not know anything about Tortall or Pierce’s writing to be welcome and enjoy the delight that is Tempests and Slaughter. Pierce is a master of her craft, writing stories that are heartfelt, gripping and hilarious. Her characters have depth and diversity, and she tackles tough storylines with finesse. In Tempests and Slaughter, Pierce is on top of her game and hits a homerun with the first installment of the Numair Chronicles.

I’m already dying for the second installment, but Tempests and Slaughter hits shelves February 6, 2018.