Grace & Fury – Tracy Banghart

2 stars

I wanted to like Grace and Fury so much more than I actually did. I’d heard such great things. “A fierce, feminist read!” “SO much fun!” “Compelling characters!” and found none of it to be true.

36546635.jpgIn a world where women have no rights, sisters Serina and Nomi Tessaro face two very different fates: one in the palace, the other in prison.

Serina has been groomed her whole life to become a Grace – someone to stand by the heir to the throne as a shining, subjugated example of the perfect woman. But when her headstrong and rebellious younger sister, Nomi, catches the heir’s eye, it’s Serina who takes the fall for the dangerous secret that Nomi has been hiding.

Now trapped in a life she never wanted, Nomi has only one way to save Serina: surrender to her role as a Grace until she can use her position to release her sister. This is easier said than done. A traitor walks the halls of the palace, and deception lurks in every corner. But Serina is running out of time, imprisoned on an island where she must fight to the death to survive and one wrong move could cost her everything.

The world Serina and Nomi live in is frustrating and sexist as all get out – which I expected from the synopsis. It’s loosely based on Italy and Pompeii, and had really interesting elements. It was a solid foundation for an interesting story.

Grace and Fury certainly has a strong argument to be made for being a strong, feminist story, unfortunately the feminist elements made for a predictable read. Exactly none of the “twists” in Grace and Fury were surprising. It was delightful to see women supporting women and taking power into their own hands, but it was so predictable as to be boring. A particular twist at the end had me throwing my hands in the air exclaiming “WELL DUH!”

That being said, there were some great elements to Grace and Fury I wanted to call out. Serina is chubby. She is not lithe and thin, she is a Rubenesque beauty, with curves – which is the ideal in this universe. As an aspiring Grace, she is expected to live to the cultural ideal, so it was refreshing to find a cultural ideal that wasn’t stick-thin. (That being said, she’s chubby not fat which is a distinction, so I can’t really call it fat-rep.)

I appreciated the accurate-feeling portrayal of women’s oppression, and how hard it is to fight the status quo, and how awful the consequences for doing so can be.

All that being said, Grace and Fury was an unsatisfying, predictable read. If you’re looking for a feminist book where your every narrative expectation will be met with no surprises, Grace and Fury is that book.

Thank you to Little, Brown for providing  me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review. 

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. 


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. 

Anthology · Fantasy

The Overneath – Peter S Beagle

2 stars

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

The Overneath is the latest work from Peter S Beagle, famous for writing The Last Unicorn and is a collection of short stories – most, if not all, were previously printed elsewhere.

I love anthologies and short stories – it’s a love that came upon me suddenly a few years ago. Before 2012 I had no time for short stories. I felt that they were just teases of something more and was often disappointed that they weren’t longer or accomplished more. Then, in 2012 I found myself with a long commute by bus and discovered that short stories were perfect for my commute. I could finish one or two stories in a single day’s commute and realized with great delight just how complete a short story can be. Short stories can be masterful works of craft, honed and tightened to fit into a neat little package.

Unfortunately, The Overneath isn’t full of masterful little stories. In his own introductions to the stories Beagle all but apologizes for the sorry state of some of them. These shorts felt like leftovers repackaged for those too much in a hurry to look closely at the label.

Some of the individual stories were lovely little gems in amongst some that were frankly nonsensical.

The Overneath hit shelves November 17, 2017.

Urban Fantasy

Booke of the Hidden – Jeri Westerson

2 stars

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

This book was just not for me. I couldn’t connect with the characters and wasn’t held by the plot. Jeri Westerson’s writing was solid, I just didn’t connect.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

To get a fresh start away from a bad relationship, Kylie Strange moves across the country to open a shop in a seemingly quiet town in rural Maine. During renovations on Strange Herbs & Teas, she discovers a peculiar and ancient codex, The Booke of the Hidden, bricked into the wall. Every small town has its legends and unusual histories, and this artifact sends Kylie right into the center of Moody Bog’s biggest secret.

While puzzling over the tome’s oddly blank pages, Kylie gets an unexpected visitor—Erasmus Dark, an inscrutable stranger who claims to be a demon, knows she has the book, and warns her that she has opened a portal to the netherworld. Kylie brushes off this nonsense, until a series of bizarre murders put her, the newcomer, at the center. With the help of the demon and a coven of witches she befriends while dodging the handsome but sharp-eyed sheriff, Kylie hunts for a killer—that might not be human.

I found both Kylie and Erasmus to be incredibly frustrating characters. I didn’t enjoy spending time with them and found the other characters to be somewhat thin.

Booke of the Hidden hits shelves today. If you pick it up, let me know what you think!

Science Fiction

Artemis – Andy Weir

2 stars

I was given an eARC by NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Artemis is the sophomore novel from Andy Weir, famous for his first novel The Martian, which was a hit movie in 2015, and boy is he suffering from the sophomore slump. I’m going to say this right up front, I did not finish the book. I made it through chapter 4 before I couldn’t read any more.

I have two major complaints about Artemis but before I go into them, here’s the publisher’s blurb.

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

So, of course I read that blurb when I first heard of the book and expressed my interest in reviewing the book, but time passed between then and when I sat down to read, and I didn’t reread the blurb. I like to go into books as blindly as possible. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

The main character of Artemis is named Jazz, which is a fairly gender neutral name. I was SHOCKED when at the end of the first chapter someone refers to Jazz as a “gal” because up to that point everything Weir had written gave me the impression that Jazz was male. (This is problem #1) As I kept reading, Weir’s characterization didn’t get better. Jazz reads like Weir wrote the story with a male character in mind at first, got halfway through the book and then decided that he wanted to “add diversity to sci-fi” so he changed a reference and pronoun here and there and had himself a female character. It reads as though not a single woman read or edited Artemis throughout the publication process – or if they did Weir discarded any feedback they gave him. This is not the kind of diversity we want, for the record. We want BELIEVABLE female characters, not male characters with boobs pasted on.

My second issue is the lazy worldbuilding. While the scientific accuracy won Weir much admiration and praise for The Martian, I found the scientific details to feel really shoehorned in. In the first chapter, Weir goes on about the 1/6 gravity on the moon at least six times. And he continues to mention it FREQUENTLY throughout the next three chapters. He also adds little scientific details that don’t really add to the story. Additionally, Jazz has a lot of really random knowledge that doesn’t entirely make sense for her character to know, giving her a bit of a Mary Sue vibe, in the worst way. Finally, Weir uses a weird penpal letter exchange at the ends of chapters to add in more details about the world and to squeeze even more science into the story. It feels like Weir couldn’t figure out a better way to fit ALL THAT SCIENCE into his book.

Artemis might have been a good book with better editing – especially with regards to his female characterization, which is why it got two stars instead of just one.