Fantasy · historical fiction · Uncategorized · YA

The Gilded Wolves – Roshani Chokshi

4.5 stars

Are you in the mood for a lush, richly imagined, fantastical heist set in historical Paris and featuring a team of talented protagonists with secrets, agendas and well-written depths? If so, have I found the book for you. The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi is an absolute delight.

39863498Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can’t yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much.

Together, they’ll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive.

First, can we pause to drool over this gorgeous cover? Because I haven’t stopped drooling since I first laid my eyes on it. The rich green, the lovely, lush texture. /swoon

If Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and Robert Bennet Jackson’s Foundryside were tossed in a blender and set in 1889 Paris The Gilded Wolves is what would pour out. I can’t help but compare The Gilded Wolves to Six of Crows because The Gilded Wolves fills the hole in my heart Bardugo left when Six of Crows ended. Severin and his team are not cheap copies, but rather polished contemporaries of Bardugo’s crew. That said, The Gilded Wolves is less dark, less bleak and just as fierce.

The system of technological advancement in The Gilded Wolves is called Forging and is controlled by Houses and is absolutely magical. Chokshi’s mashed up elements I’d never have thought to combine myself. Vines that bloom cocktails and champagne chandeliers. Her imagination is delightful and I loved all the wonderful things she poured onto the page. This system also serves to enable technological advancements that would have been hundreds of years out of place, but necessary to the heist plot in a clever way.

Chokshi also weaves in themes of racism, classism and sexism in interesting ways. The diversity is deftly woven into the motivations and desires of her characters.

The Gilded Wolves is on shelves now and you’ll be missing out if you don’t add it to your TBR yesterday

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

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Essay Collection · Nonfiction

Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies – John Scalzi

4.5 stars

In a departure from what I generally review here at Alex Can Read, I had the opportunity to review Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies, a collection of essays from John Scalzi’s Whatever blog. It is political, thoughtful, funny and searing. Scalzi impresses me with his introspection and self-awareness.

“‘Virtue signaling’ is a phrase the dim and bigoted use when they want to discount 41828591.jpgother people expressing the idea that it would be nice if we could all be essentially and fundamentally decent to each other.” — John Scalzi

For twenty years now—yes, twenty—John Scalzi has been writing on his blog Whatever, writing about, well, whatever: Politics, writing, cats, the internet and the great social and cultural events of our times. In that time he’s gone from being just another crank online to being a bestselling, award-winning crank, i.e., the very best kind of crank there is.

With Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies, Scalzi looks back on the years 2013 through 2018. In this volume, Scalzi delves through the final term of Obama and the ushering in of the Trump years, surveys the increasingly-hostile online landscape, goes to the movies, and talks on subject ranging from #MeToo to the teachers who shaped him growing up. Through it all, Scalzi’s distinct voice—funny, sarcastic, passionate, sometimes angry, and honed by two decades of daily writing served up to hundreds of thousands of readers monthly—is on full display.

Virtue Signaling: A chronicle of a turbulent, momentous moment in time, from one of the most acclaimed science fiction authors of his time.

Limited: 1000 signed numbered hardcover copies

If you’re like me, and find reflecting on the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath painful, you’ll also find that parts of Virtue Signaling are very painful to read. There are essays from before the election where Scalzi exclaims that a Donald Trump presidency Cannot and Will Not be. There are essays ranking the Republican nominees and essays making the case for Hillary Clinton. How wrong he was, and how painful it is to revisit that hope.

That being said, there are really thoughtful and provocative essays about male privilege, sexism, allyship and being a good parent and partner. Scalzi recognizes that he’s been dealt a really great hand in life and that he played his cards well. He also acknowledges that his understanding of the world and his privilege is imperfect and that he has room to improve. These essays are where the gold of this collection are mined.

It’s absolutely worth your time to read this collection of essays.

Virtue Signaling and Other Heresies is sold-out in hardback, but the ebook is available now from Subterranean Press.

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

Fantasy

Foundryside – Robert Jackson Bennett

4.5 Stars

Foundryside is a hefty novel that is a satisfying read from beginning to end.

37173847.jpgIn a city that runs on industrialized magic, a secret war will be fought to overwrite reality itself–the first in a dazzling new series from City of Stairs author Robert Jackson Bennett. 

Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle. 

But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic–the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience–have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims. 

Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them. 

To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.

I just loved the world building in Foundryside. Wow was it satisfying. There’s a rich, well thought out history, an interesting class system, and I loved the interplay between magic and technology. I love stories where industrialization and magic intertwine and Foundryside is a shining example of how to pull that off well. Belief and words and the collision of the two fuel the world of Foundryside and any lexophile will have a hard time resisting the charm of this magic system.

It was like all the machines and devices that made the world run experienced a fleeting moment of paralyzing self-doubt, and they all whisperedWhat was that? Did you hear that? 

The downside to such a heavily built world and this being the first book in a series, is that it takes a little while to get going. Reasonably, RJB has to spend a good amount of time at the beginning explaining the world to the reader which while necessary, made getting into the book a bit tough. It wasn’t until about the 20% mark that I felt fully up to speed and could begin blazing through the book. I knocked half a star off for that, but this is an otherwise fantastic book.

The characters in Foundryside are also wonderfully fleshed out. Sancia, Gregor and Clef are all well built, interesting characters with pasts, futures, desires and motivations. They’re practically jumping off the page. There’s even a little queer romance on the side in an other-wise romance-plot free book.

This was the first of Robert Jackson Bennett’s books I’ve read, and I’m looking forward to jumping into his Hugo-nominated series City of Stairs. (Which I should have done before the Hugo ballots closed in July. Ooops!)

Foundryside is on sale now and definitely worth picking up.

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

Fantasy

The Girl in the Green Silk Gown – Seanan McGuire

4.5 stars

I am TRASH for anything Seanan McGuire writes and Rose Marshall is no exception. I’m dying for more already.

36384411.jpg
Cover from Goodreads

The second book in the Ghost Roads series returns to the highways of America, where hitchhiking ghost Rose Marshall continues her battle with her killer–the immortal Bobby Cross.

Once and twice and thrice around,
Put your heart into the ground.
Four and five and six tears shed,
Give your love unto the dead.
Seven shadows on the wall,
Eight have come to watch your fall:
One’s for the gargoyle, one’s for the grave,
And the last is for the one you’ll never save.
 
For Rose Marshall, death has long since become the only life she really knows. She’s been sweet sixteen for more than sixty years, hitchhiking her way along the highways and byways of America, sometimes seen as an avenging angel, sometimes seen as a killer in her own right, but always Rose, the Phantom Prom Date, the Girl in the Green Silk Gown.

The man who killed her is still out there, thanks to a crossroads bargain that won’t let him die, and he’s looking for the one who got away. When Bobby Cross comes back into the picture, there’s going to be hell to pay—possibly literally.

Rose has worked for decades to make a place for herself in the twilight. Can she defend it, when Bobby Cross comes to take her down? Can she find a way to navigate the worlds of the living and the dead, and make it home before her hitchhiker’s luck runs out?

There’s only one way to know for sure.

Nine will let you count the cost:
All you had and all you lost.
Ten is more than time can tell,
Cut the cord and ring the bell.
Count eleven, twelve, and then,
Thirteen takes you home again.
One’s for the shadow, one’s for the tree,
And the last is for the blessing of Persephone

Bobby Cross is a mostly-off screen villain and boy do I want to run that jerk over and give him a taste of his own medicine. Stalker-dude schemes to get Rose once and for all, and if he weren’t actually good at it, it’d be comically cliche.

Rose has been dead for so long she can’t cope with the problems of the living and oh, does she describe them to us in all their squishy detail. To thwart Bobby’s schemes, and he’s got them coming and going, Rose will have to team up will familiar allies and familiar enemies. There’s a lot on the line if she doesn’t pull this off.

The Girl in the Green Silk Gown is more linear than Sparrow Hill Road, which makes sense once the story gets going. Time doesn’t mean much to the dead. Despite being more linear, it’s no less melancholy, romantic, nostalgic and full of moments both heartwarming and heartbreaking. You might want to have a box of tissues nearby.

I do have to note, I knocked off half a star in this rating because the ending was abrupt. We were truckin’ along and then suddenly there are no more pages, no more story and it was as if Seanan had slammed on the brakes, turned off the car, jumped out and run down the road with her hands in the air, leaving me stunned in the passenger seat with a minor case of whiplash.

That aside, I still LOVED the story, and am looking forward to a third book in the series (I hope, oh goodness please tell me there’s another!)

 

Fantasy

The Girl in the Tower – Katherine Arden

4.5 Stars

“Come in, Vasya,” the man said. “It is cold.”

 

tower
Cover from Goodreads

 

The perfect book for winter reading, The Girl in the Tower, much like The Bear and the Nightingale is set during the depths of winter and you can feel the cold winds blowing over you as you read.

The Girl in the Tower picks up right where The Bear and the Nightingale left off, and continues the adventures of firey Vasilia. Vasya is a charming heroine, ironically full of fire for a book about the cold and winter.

Katherine Arden debuted admirably with The Bear and the Nightingale and her second novel, The Girl in the Tower is only stronger. Unlike The Bear and the Nightingale, I had no problem jumping right into The Girl in the Tower. I had a hard time with Bear’s slow start and felt that the pacing lagged. Arden clearly learned as she went along and Girl is tightly paced. I was turning pages as quickly as I could, but didn’t find myself so beset with suspense that I needed to skim pages just to find out what happened.

In The Bear and the Nightingale Arden explores the strict gender roles in medieval Russia, and those roles – the literal confinement of women – is even more starkly on display in The Girl in the Tower. 

The Girl in the Tower is a fantastic read for any lover of fairy tales. Grab a hot drink, put on some thick socks and settle in against the cold – you won’t want to put The Girl in the Tower down.

The second in the Winternight Trilogy, The Girl in the Tower hit shelves December 5, 2017. I’m already dying for the third, and can’t wait to see what Vasya will get up to next.

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

Anthology · Fantasy

The Emerald Circus – Jane Yolen

4.5 Stars

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

The Emerald Circus is a delightful collection of short stories and poems from Jane Yolen. She has been called the Hans Christian Anderson of America and I can see why.

In this collection, Yolen retells familiar stories in ways that still managed to surprise me. She masterfully jumps from style to style and lends cunning imagination to familiar stories. Alice in Wonderland and Arthurian legend are the stars of more than one short story each in The Emerald Circus, but each take is fresh and new. More than once I thought I knew where the story was going, only to be completely surprised in the end.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Emerald Circus, though I’d have liked Yolen’s notes about each story to accompany the stories, rather than be in their own section at the end.

The Emerald Circus was published November 24, 2017.