historical fiction · Magical Realism

Creatures of Want and Ruin – Molly Tanzer

4 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creatures of Want and Ruin is on shelves now!

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

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Urban Fantasy

Lies Sleeping – Ben Aaronovitch

4 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lies Sleeping hits shelves in the US on November 20.

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

Fantasy · YA

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

5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No matter the cost.

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

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

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

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

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

Fantasy

The Phoenix Empress – K. Arsenault Rivera

3.5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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