Urban Fantasy

The Turn – Kim Harrison

3 Stars

I wanted to like this story much more than I actually did. I’m a big fan of The Hollows, and was excited to learn more about Trent Kalamack’s parents. We certainly learn about them, and they are disappointing.

Trisk is a brilliant geneticist outshone by her mediocre and conniving rival Kal. Everything to do with Kal is boring, except for his interactions with Orchid, the pixy who thankfully doesn’t feel like a knockoff Jenks. And then Harrison shoehorns them together. It’s not clear why Trisk and Quen can’t be together despite obvious chemistry, and it’s even more frustrating that Daniel is thrown into the mix to make it a love quadrangle, rather than just a love triangle. (JUST a love triangle isn’t a sentence I relished the thought of ever writing.) In the book and as a character, Trisk still manages to shine despite her counterparts in the story as she perseveres against an incredibly sexist society.

The end of the world scenario was interesting at least – it will be interesting to watch society rebuild itself. I can only hope the next book is more compelling than The Turn.

The Turn is the first book in a series by the same name, a prequel series to Harrisson’s hit Urban Fantasy series The Hollows.

A version of this review was first published on Goodreads on June 26, 2017.

Horror

Final Girls – Mira Grant

I received an e-ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. I also purchased a Deluxe Edition of this novella from Subterranean Press.

4 Stars

When I first started reading the book I had to keep double checking that I was reading the book that I thought I was. The opening scene is more fantasy than science fiction and similar enough to other books Mira Grant has written under her real name, Seanan McGuire, that I wasn’t sure I was reading the correct book. However, once I got through the opening scene it all made sense. But until that point, I was seriously confused. “Where is the sci-fi horror I was promised?”

A photo of the cover of Final Girls.
My copy of Final Girls.

The novella definitely has the feel of a good horror movie:  innocent enough beginning; a turning point where you want to shout at the characters, “You shouldn’t have done that and you know it. Bad stuff is going to happen and it’s all because of this One Thing!”; and creeping anxiety as you wait for the shoes to drop.

My only complaint is that I wanted more. Once the “action” part of the story began, it was over far too soon. I wanted a little bit longer to be creeped out and kept in suspense while the main characters ran and battled for their lives.

Aside from my confusion at the start, I really enjoyed Final Girls. If you’ve read other works by Mira/Seanan, some elements of the story are familiar – not in a “been there, read that” kind of way, but a more of an “I’m definitely reading a Mira/Seanan book” kind of way. I recommend this book even to people who don’t usually enjoy horror (like myself).

Mira Grant is the pen name under which Seanan McGuire writes the majority of her horror stories.

This review was originally published on Goodreads on March 31, 2017. 

Cookbook · Uncategorized

Hey There, Dumpling! – Kenny Lao

5 Stars

I originally checked this book out from the library, as I often do with cookbooks. I’m such a collector that I have to do *something* to limit my purchasing. So I generally check cookbooks out from the library before I decide whether or not to buy. Often I’ll find one or two, maybe four recipes from a book, try them out and return the book. In this case, each page held a new treasure and I had to purchase a copy for myself.

A photo of the cover of Hey There, Dumpling!
My copy of Hey There, Dumpling!

Lao, the man behind the famous dumpling restaurant Rickshaw, writes in a fun voice and has a really beginner friendly approach to dumplings. Lots of tasty, easy to follow recipes of dumplings and more. I really appreciated his troubleshooting guide for common dumpling making and cooking mistakes. We’ve made some of the recipes in this book and they’ve all turned out deliciously awesome. I love the variety of dumpling, sauce and sides as well as the pre-planned menu suggestions.

 

A version of this review was first published on Goodreads on February 4, 2017.

Science Fiction

Ravenscroft Conspiracy – Vic Connor

I received an e-ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Zero Stars

I made it through 25% of this book before quitting.

The premise of the story is interesting: Kid falsely convicted of his own parents’ murders escapes death row when recruited to help test virtual world, virtual world also full of conspiracies. This is the kind of fiction I like. I’m often pretty forgiving about what I’ll read.

The execution of the story was unbearable. The main character Nico is obnoxious and obnoxiously written. He’s smart (genius level IQ….), tall, strong, has a perfect memory, religious, blah blah blah snooze snooze snooze. The book did a lot of telling, but not showing. Descriptions of other characters are uninteresting and one-dimensional. I rolled my eyes just about once per page. I had to stop reading or I was going to hurt myself from all the eyerolling.

The plot plods along. A quarter of the way through the book and he finally gets into the virtual world. This is essentially the third scene. It takes a quarter of the book to reach the third scene. Zzzz.

I wanted to like it, but unfortunately, Ravenscroft Conspiracy just isn’t for me.

A version of this review first appeared on Goodreads on March 21.

Home & Garden

The Backyard Gardener – Kelly Orzel

I received an e-ARC from Netgalley in exchange for my unbiased review. 

4 Stars

I recently bought my first house and it just so happens to have raised garden boxes already. So when I saw this book pop up on NetGalley, I thought, “What timing!” and requested the ARC.

In reading this book, I learned a lot about gardening – soil, plants, bugs, additives, tools, etc. I did end up spending a lot of time looking up new terms. “What is a cucurbit?” From a technical writing background and a beginner’s standpoint, I wanted the author to define terms to me in the text or as sidebars. She did occasionally define a term, and often when she did she’d repeat the definition more than once.

Definitions aside, this was a great book with a lot of useful information. I wouldn’t recommend it for casual reading, but if you’re planning to have a garden for the first time, it’s a great place to start and keep as a reference. I really loved the monthly “garden checklists” the author included at the end. It’s helpful to have a monthly guide. As soon as I’m done tearing back the overgrowth, I’ll be using them to help me plan my garden.

If I could ask for one other thing, it would have been sample garden plans. For example, if you have just one box, here’s what to grow together; if you have two boxes, grow these; and so forth. She describes in the book what kinds of plants grow together, but it’s still overwhelming to try to pull all that information out of the book and build an actual garden plan for the first time. 

A version of this review first appeared on Goodreads on April 5, 2017.

Fantasy · Science Fiction

The Clockwork Dynasty – Daniel H. Wilson

3 Stars

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

In my mind, the word “clockwork” in the title of a novel evokes an expectation of a steampunk novel. The Clockwork Dynasty isn’t a steampunk novel. Once I got over that mild disappointment, I found I really enjoyed the story.

In chapters alternating between the past and the present, and two different narrators, we follow the origins and struggle of automated human-like beings.

From the Amazon synopsis: 

Present day: When a young anthropologist specializing in ancient technology uncovers a terrible secret concealed in the workings of a three-hundred-year-old mechanical doll, she is thrown into a hidden world that lurks just under the surface of our own. With her career and her life at stake, June Stefanov will ally with a remarkable traveler who exposes her to a reality she never imagined, as they embark on an around-the-world adventure and discover breathtaking secrets of the past…

Russia, 1725: In the depths of the Kremlin, the tsar’s loyal mechanician brings to life two astonishingly humanlike mechanical beings. Peter and Elena are a brother and sister fallen out of time, possessed with uncanny power, and destined to serve great empires. Struggling to blend into pre-Victorian society, they are pulled into a legendary war that has raged for centuries.

I really liked the two main characters. They had interesting internal struggles and felt well constructed. Peter has a much more fleshed out backstory since the past chapters are literally his backstory, so his character feels much more developed than June does, but June doesn’t feel flat in comparison.

The way the story bounced back and forth between present day and the past, combined with the “mysterious, ancient origins” of the automated beings reminded me heavily of the Assassin’s Creed video games.

I had a hard time with the pacing of the story. The present day sections are fast paced and move along quickly, but just as soon as something happens, a chapter break appears and the story slows down. The sections set in the past are slower going. They’re very valuable backstory, but they do disrupt the feverish pace of the present day storyline in a way I found frustrating at times.

A solid three-star story. It was a fun read but didn’t leave me with that “Aaah, that was so good” feeling.

The Clockwork Dynasty was published August 1, 2017.

Fantasy · YA

Ash and Quill – Rachel Caine

4 Stars

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

Like many bibliophiles, I have a soft spot in my heart for libraries. Because of this, I am always intrigued by stories set in, around, or about these great storehouses of knowledge. The Great Library series, by Rachel Caine is no exception to that attraction.

Caine has built a world in which the great library of Alexandria did not burn, and where the library’s reach is far and deep. Not only does the Library give of its scholarly discoveries but it also hoards information and power. Here is the beauty of the series – an exploration of what happens when the Library loses sight of its mission to be a storehouse of knowledge and crosses the line into a perversion of that mission into the land of censorship. Once that line is crossed, what lengths will the Library go to in order to preserve its own power?

As dry as that idea may sound, Caine folds it into an addictive series with realistic well-crafted characters, a twisty plot, and a dash of romance. The story follows a group of former Library employees as they struggle against the Library’s machinations. At times the story feels a little predictable, but Caine makes up for it by dropping in surprising twists. The third installment doesn’t suffer from “middle-book syndrome” like other mid-series books sometimes can. The story clips along at a nice pace and has its own distinct goal to achieve and its own satisfying ending. A short-lived ending, of course, because the book must set up for the next installment in the series.

I read Ash and Quill in one evening and am very much looking forward to the next installment.

Ash and Quill is the third in The Great Library series by Rachel Caine and was published July 11, 2017.