Urban Fantasy

Rosemary & Rue – Seanan McGuire

3 Stars

It seems that’s it’s Seanan McGuire week here on Alex Can Read! I’m finally getting around to posting my reviews for the first two novels in Seanan McGuire’s beloved October Daye series.

Over in the Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant Fans group on Facebook, we’re doing a Re/Read Along as we prepare for book #12 in the series, Night and Silence, to be released in September. It’s newbie friendly, as we’re keeping our discussion limited to just the books we’ve read so far in the Re/Read along. We’ll be discussing book #3, An Artificial Night on March 11.


Cover from Goodreads


October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant and renew old alliances. As she steps back into fae society, dealing with a cast of characters not entirely good or evil, she realizes that more than her own life will be forfeited if she cannot find Evening’s killer.

Rosemary & Rue was the first book Seanan McGuire ever wrote, and it shows. Of everything she’s written, it’s the roughest and hardest to get through.  It’s not amazing and is fairly standard urban fantasy fare.

Our heroine, October “Toby” Daye is a weak blooded changeling trying to avoid faerie as much as she can. McGuire hints at a noble, honorable past full of feats of service enough to earn Toby her knighthood, but when we meet Toby she’s far from that high station.

Over the course of the book, as she reluctantly responds to the demands of duty, Toby frustratingly spends most of the book bleeding, unconscious, or working herself down to the ragged edge. Toby is slogging through the plot and the read itself is a bit of a slog.

But now, as I reread the book, having read everything else in the series, I see the breadcrumbs that Seanan has laid out, to be picked up later in the series. Little references that don’t mean anything until connected to later events in the series. From the very beginning, Seanan has been carefully laying the groundwork for the larger arcs that tie the next 11 books together.

While book 1 is a slog, it’s definitely a series that gets better as it goes along.

Come back later this week for my review of book #2, A Local Habitation. 

Fantasy · Urban Fantasy

Tricks for Free – Seanan McGuire

5 Stars

Tricks for Free is quite possibly the best installment in the InCryptid series so far, which I am sort of surprised I’m saying. I love Verity and loved the Hollywood aspects of her books, while Antimony, the main character in Tricks for Free, reminds me of my own little sister and I’m just not that into theme parks. But somehow, the combination of Antimony, theme parks and a special kind of Seanan magic, and I was HOOKED.

I couldn’t put the book down.


Cover image courtesy of the publisher


The publisher’s synopsis:

Penance, noun:
1. Punishment for past actions.
2. An attempt to pay for what can’t be bought.
3. See also “exile.”

Antimony Price is on the run. With the Covenant on her tail and her family still in danger, she needs to get far, far away from anyone who might recognize her—including her own mice. For the first time in a long time, a Price is flying without a safety net. Where do you go when you need to disappear into a crowd without worrying about attracting attention? An amusement park, of course.

Some people would call Lowryland the amusement park. It’s one of the largest in Florida, the keystone of the Lowry entertainment empire…but for Annie, it’s a place to hide. She’s just trying to keep her head down long enough to come up with a plan that will get her home without getting anyone killed. No small order when she’s rooming with gorgons and sylphs, trying to placate frustrated ghosts, and rushing to get to work on time.

Then the accidents begin. The discovery of a dead man brings Annie to the attention of the secret cabal of magic users running Lowryland from behind the scenes. They want the fire that sleeps in her fingers. They want her on their side. They want to help her—although their help, like everything else, comes with a price.

No plan. Minimal backup. No way out. Annie’s about to get a crash course in the reality behind the pretty facade. If she’s lucky, she’ll survive the experience.

All of the InCryptid novels are wild, wonderful rides of mystery, magical creatures and mice and Tricks for Free is *almost* an exception. There are almost no Aeslin Mice in this book. If it weren’t for the bonus novella at the end (first available to Seanan’s Patreon supporters and now available to the public for the first time here!) there would have been no mice. (Thankfully, we’re spared THAT horror.) That’s honestly my only complaint. Not enough mice.

Antimony is holding it together, mostly, and just trying to make it from one day to the next. But of course, the universe won’t let Annie fade away. She’s a Price, after all. And Prices are always up to their neck in one thing or another. Tricks for Free is a very strong entry in the InCryptid series and I’m already dyyyyyying for the next book in the series.

Somehow, despite my general ambivalence toward theme parks, McGuire’s description of the day-to-day and behind-the-scenes inner workings of Lowryland makes the setting interesting and engaging. There’s something about seeing below the facade and shine that draws me in. Add in Annie’s struggle to understand and control her magic, keep her identity a secret, and not crack under the loneliness of being completely disconnected from her family and from Sam and you’ve got a complex, layered, rollercoaster of a novel.

Tricks for Free is out in the wild on March 6, 2018. This is one ride you definitely want to be tall enough for.

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


Sparrow Hill Road – Seanan McGuire

4 Stars

For someone who doesn’t drive, Seanan McGuire can sure wax poetic about the open road.

Sparrow Hill Road was first released in 2014, with the cover on the left, but is getting a gorgeous new cover (on the right) in anticipation of a sequel! In my own anticipation, I reread Sparrow Hill Road.


Covers from Goodreads, and while we’re there, let’s review the synopsis:

Rose Marshall died in 1952 in Buckley Township, Michigan, run off the road by a man named Bobby Cross—a man who had sold his soul to live forever, and intended to use her death to pay the price of his immortality. Trouble was, he didn’t ask Rose what she thought of the idea.

It’s been more than sixty years since that night, and she’s still sixteen, and she’s still running.

They have names for her all over the country: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Mostly she just goes by “Rose,” a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom. After all, it’s not like it can kill her.

You can’t kill what’s already dead.

Sparrow Hill Road is set in the InCryptid universe but is completely detached from the events of any of the InCryptid stories, so even if you’ve never read a single InCryptid story, you’ll feel right at home in these pages.

McGuire is absolutely in her element in Sparrow Hill Road, her poetic prose driving the story forward, one heartbreaking page at a time. Part love poem to the open road and freedom, part ghost story, Sparrow Hill Road is gripping and lovely and made me cry while keeping me on the edge of my seat.

The story isn’t entirely linear and is full of interconnected vignettes that form the skeleton of Rose’s ghostly existence. Instead of her day to day existence, we visit Rose during the most important parts of her unlife.

The Girl in the Green Silk Gown, the sequel to Sparrow Hill Road, is due out July 3, 2018 and I am so excited!

Cookbook · Nonfiction

The One Bottle Cocktail – Maggie Hoffman

2 stars

My best friend had her housewarming party this weekend. We were talking about the drinks she’d have on hand, and that she wanted to offer gin and whisky, but maybe do something a little more than a gin and tonic and a whisky with ginger beer. I mentioned that I had a copy of this neat-sounding cocktail book and that I’d peruse the pages for ideas.


Cover from Goodreads


Here’s the description from the publisher:

A collection of 80 wonderfully creative, fresh, and delicious cocktails that only require a bottle of your favorite spirit, plus fresh ingredients you can easily find at the market.

In The One-Bottle Cocktail, Maggie Hoffman brings fancy drinking to the masses by making cocktails approachable enough for those with a tiny home bar. Conversational and authoritative, this book puts simple, delicious, and inventive drinks into your hands wherever you are, with ingredients you can easily source and no more than one spirit. Organized by spirit–vodka, gin, agave, rum, brandy, and whiskey–each chapter offers fresh, eye-opening cocktails like the Garden Gnome (vodka, green tomato, basil, and lime), Night of the Hunter (gin, figs, thyme, and grapefruit soda), and the Bluest Chai (rye whiskey, chai tea, and balsamic vinegar). These recipes won’t break the bank, won’t require an emergency run to the liquor store, and (best of all!) will delight cocktail lovers of all stripes.

Unfortunately for me, this book is a flop. While each of the drinks does only require a single spirit, many of the other ingredients are things I’m even less likely to have on hand. The recipes are pretty complex and many have odd things in them. Every single one of them would have required a special trip to the store. None of these are spur of the moment drinks. This book might work for those with a tiny home bar, but you’d need to have a robust fridge with many funky ingredients (who just keeps green tomato on hand?). You would want to make these drinks only when you’ve got friends over, and there’s a lot of effort put forth per drink.

I wouldn’t say this is a beginner friendly cocktail book. Definitely more for an experienced yet adventurous home mixologist who wants to make a specialty cocktail or two for a special event. These are definitely not “Tuesday night after work” drinks.

My friend stuck with her original plan for the party since neither of us wanted to be stuck playing bartender all evening.

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


Blog Housekeeping · That Reading Life

February Challenge Progress Report!


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?


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.

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.


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.