Giveaway winner!!

The random.org gods have spoken and the winner of the Tor Books/Jacqueline Carey Starless swag bag giveaway is…

TIFFANY B!

Please email me so I can get your info to the Tor Books publicist so she can send your loot to you!

Advertisements

#FearlessWomen Blog Tour: Starless by Jacqueline Carey Excerpt, Review, and Giveaway

FRIENDS!! YOU GUYS! Jacqueline Carey has a new stand-alone fantasy out, titled Starless, which was released this past Tuesday. Starless is part of #FearlessWomen, Tor Books’ celebration of sci-fi/fantasy books by women. How much more awesome do you want it? More? Ok, then. Ask and ye shall receive.

First of all, I get to be part of a blog tour for this book, which is rad. Readers get to participate in a giveaway for a Starless swag bag for playing, which one lucky person will get to snag! The swag bag will include: a Starless quote postcard, hawk feather, #FearlessWomen sticker, #FearlessWomen pen, and star confetti! Just leave me a comment below, and the random.org gods will decide who wins. I’ll leave the giveaway open until June 18, 2018.

Don’t forget to check out the other awesome blogs that participated in this blog tour as well:

Monday, June 11    Fantasy Cafe

Tuesday, June 12    Utopia State of Mind

Tuesday, June 12    If the book will be too difficult

Wednesday, June 13  Bibliophibian

Thursday, June 14   Between Dreams and Reality

About Starless

In the world of STARLESS the gods have been cast down to earth by Zar the Sun for their rebellion. Born during a solar eclipse, Khai has trained his whole life in the arts of killing and stealth by a warrior sect to prepare him to serve as protector of the princess Zariya. But when the dark god Miasmus rises Khai and Zariya join an unlikely crew of prophecy-seekers on a journey that will take them farther beneath the starless skies than anyone can imagine.

In addition to Carey’s standard incandescent prose, rich world-building, and complex characters, which are just expected for any of her works, Starless has a wonderful focus on gender norms and self-identity. I think these issues are highly relevant, charged topics in today’s society, and couching them in a fantasy setting allows a certain distance from which readers can perhaps more comfortably analyze them.

I loved the structure of the book as well. While I love a good series as much as the next person, sometimes I just want one book that tells one story and that doesn’t leave on a cliffhanger or with a never-ending story arc that just goes on ad infinitum. That Starless is a stand-alone novel is a huge plus in my opinion. I also loved that it was set up in three main parts, which should also appeal to those of us who love a good trilogy as well. Each section has its own main theme and feels, to me, almost like its own separate novel. The first section focuses on Khai and his training. The middle section sees Khai leave the desert and go to the palace, meeting Zariya for the first time. It is also where gender identity comes more into focus, as well as themes of friendship and companionship. The final section continues the discussion of companionship while traveling the world with the prophecy-hunters, seeing various peoples and places. I actually liked this part the best because it reminded me of travel writing and travel narratives I’ve read, though I don’t think the deep bonds between the characters was quite as well detailed here.

Additionally, and I have NO idea if this was intentional on Carey’s part or not, but this book felt like a quasi-Middle Eastern setting, which I really appreciated. It ties in to my earlier comment about how sci-fi/fantasy is ideal for discussing social issues. Placing the novel in a setting reminiscent of the Middle East might create a situation that causes readers to become more empathetic to real life events. And isn’t gaining empathy and learning more about the human condition really what good literature is all about?

I think Jacqueline Carey has written just about a perfect fantasy novel for our time. I have loved her writing since Kushiel’s Dart, and Starless is no disappointment. The vivid landscapes, detailed world, and rich characters combine to immerse me in a completely new world, something I intensely crave when reading fantasy. You will not be sorry if you just run out and buy it forthwith!

Read an excerpt of Chapter Three below.Read More »

Maiden’s Quest: The Hero’s Quest and Cycle of Feminine Power in _The Princess and the Goblin_

I wrote this paper for a class I am taking on the history of The Hobbit. I was rather pleased that I still remember how to write academic papers… 

 

Maiden’s Quest:

The Hero’s Quest and Cycle of Feminine Power in The Princess and the Goblin

Faerie stories are replete with women whose underlying message is often that they must be divorced from their power to be of true worth. Traditionally, faerie story heroines depend on their ability to secure a man’s protection. One story that may be viewed through a more empowering lens is George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin. Princess Irene and her Great-Grandmother each serve as two separate facets of the Triple Goddess cycle of feminine power, representing the Maiden and the Crone, respectively. Irene undertakes a Maiden’s Quest and in doing so, manifests her own feminine identity and power.Read More »

Exit West

34389628Exit West  by Mohsin Hamid

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Mohsin Hamid

Source: library

Length: 4 hrs 42 min

Publisher: Penguin Audio

Year: 2017

Exit West takes place initially in an unnamed country that begins peaceful and then erupts into violence and warfare. Though it is explicitly not named, I read it to be a place like Syria, though really it is so politically relevant that pretty much anywhere in the world could be the setting. The narrative follows Saeed, a fairly traditional and sweet young man, and Nadia, a feisty and independent young woman. They meet in a class they are taking together and begin a relationship. When their city breaks out into violence, Nadia and Saeed are torn as to whether they should stay, or if they will try to escape. Then they learn about mysterious doors that are opening around the city which will whisk people away to faraway places of safety. However, the doors are usually found quickly and are heavily guarded, either by the military and thus forbidden, or by the rebels and thus exorbitantly expensive to get through. Nadia and Saeed eventually decide to try their luck with the doors and flee the city, joining the flood of refugees worldwide, not knowing where the door will take them or if what they find on the other side will be worse than what they left behind. Read More »

Introducing Kids’ Corner!

Welcome to Kids’ Corner, where we will feature exclusive book reviews written by children. This is a space we’ve designed specifically to encourage children to read more books! Reading is a skill which hones critical thinking, empathy, and a variety of social requirements. Reading from a young age helps to foster these vital skills keenly. When children read books they choose for themselves and are interested in, it contributes to a sense of empowerment, accomplishment, and helps to create lifelong readers, as well as improving vocabulary, developing empathy, and teaching valuable life lessons. We are excited to work with young readers in this project and are eager to help a new generation get started on the path to becoming lifelong readers!

A Roman Death

511jtbjspil-_sx327_bo1204203200_A Roman Death by Joan O’Hagan

I read it as an: ARC

Source: Discovering Diamonds / Helen Hollick

Length: 256 pp

Publisher: Black Quill Press

Year: 2017 (2nd edition; originally pubbed in 1988)

In Joan O’Hagan’s novel A Roman Death, set just prior to Julius Caesar’s assassination, two families become embroiled in a feud that has the potential to bring both to ruin. The young daughter of the wealthy plebian Quintus Fufidius is betrothed to Lucius Scaurus, the son of the all-but-bankrupt patrician Marcus Scaurus. At first, it would seem a good match, for the young Fufidia is besotted with Lucius, and her dowry would bring his family out of debt and back into good standing among the Roman nobility. However, evidence soon reaches Cinna, Fufidia’s uncle, brother of her mother Helvia, that Lucius is a coward in battle and sexually submissive to men, both of which are viewed as horrific acts at the time. Cinna, who is both an officer and an accomplished poet, writes a poem and contrives to have Lucius read it aloud at a public poetry reading held by Eucharis, a freed slave and long time mistress of Fufidius. Lucius takes his revenge for the humiliation against Fufidius’ son, who vows to himself to tell no one but to seek his own revenge. After a pre-wedding feast for Lucius and Fufidia, Lucius drops dead of aconite poisoning. Helvia, who had never hidden her hatred for Lucius, is charged with his murder and brought to trial. She is defended by her kinsman Cicero, who naturally gets her off the hook with his logic and rhetoric. More plot twists and revelations occur after the trial concludes, though, wringing out the drama – and the reader – a little bit further.

This novel was, I confess, really hard to get through. I don’t normally mind slow pacing and I usually love complex political intrigue. However, this one was plodding and fairly pedantic. The actual mystery wasn’t terribly mysterious, though a couple of the revelations at the end were mildly surprising. The characters were all excellent, though, if mostly unsympathetic. The historical detail was also impressive and delightful. The latter part of the plot did flow more swiftly, with the trial and various machinations of the families being the most interesting, if you can make it that far. Based on the plot, I would give it 2 stars, but on the historical details it would get 4. I suppose that balances out to 3 stars in my world.

Eventually you will be able to read this review on Discovering Diamonds.

Lock In

51wy8fspwcl-_sx304_bo1204203200_Lock In by John Scalzi

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Wil Wheaton

Source: my own collection

Length: 9:57:00

Publisher: Audible Studios

Year: 2014

FUN! So far, John Scalzi is 100% for me. I know he has a shitload of books and I haven’t read nearly all of them, but all the ones I have read have been a kick in the pants. Lock In is no different. Well, I think it IS a little different from his other works in terms of style, but a) you know what I mean, and b) I could be wrong since I haven’t read the entirety of Scalzi’s canon. This one had a slightly darker feel than the others I’ve read, but it was an excellent story and covered a variety of social issues in an interesting manner.

In the near-future, a flu-like pandemic called Haden’s Syndrome decimates the global population. In the first wave, billions die. In the second wave, some of them get sick again with meningitis. Some recover. Some die. Some are locked in, fully conscious but unable to move or speak or do anything at all with their bodies. Eventually, scientists collaborate to create a neural net that connect to personal transports, robot-like devices affectionately known as “threeps.” Chris Shane has been locked in since he was a toddler. His father is a billionaire ex-NBA player-turned-real-estate-baron and so he was able to help fund a lot of Haden’s research. As a result, Chris is one of the most famous people in the world, after the First Lady Margaret Haden, for whom the disease was named. Chris is an FBI agent and is assigned to work with FBI veteran Leslie Vann on a murder that looks like it might be Haden-related. As they investigate, it becomes apparent that someone is using “integrators,” people who survived the meningitis phase of Haden’s without being locked in and can allow locked in people to use their bodies, to commit crimes. Chris and Vann get drawn into a highly organized and complex corporate and political scheme.

This wasn’t ALL that much sci-fi, it just happened to have android-like creations into which Haden’s patients can link in so they can walk around and interact with other people who are not locked in. It’s at heart a police procedural, but I wasn’t bored with it as I am with many others. I felt that the overall ideas addressed some interesting concepts of social equality and justice, to which sci-fi is imminently well suited to discuss. There are questions of whether Haden’s are disabled or not, if they are deserving of special accommodations or not (if they have a threep), and the development of their own unique culture. As I was reading, it actually put me in mind of Deaf culture, and then I saw that many others had also considered this aspect as well. Not sure if Scalzi did that on purpose or not, but it was interesting.

I also really liked that Scalzi didn’t make much note of race in this story. It wasn’t until quite far into the book that I realized Chris is black, and it didn’t make a difference one way or the other. I love that Vann is a woman in charge and she makes no apologies for her heavy drinking and promiscuity.

The characters were all well developed and complex. Chris, as well as every other Haden we encountered, very much had his own personality and there was no hint of “robot” to him. They are people and not robots and that is a big element in the story.

The only thing I didn’t really like is that there were a few story holes, bits that were hinted at and never explained, or overtly said would be explained and then never were. For example, we never learned why Vann and Det. Trinh hate each other. Maybe it wasn’t terribly relevant to the story, but it would have been nice to know, especially since Vann said she would tell Chris why one day. If it is just because of a stereotype – federal agent and local law enforcement officer hate each other – then maybe leave it it, because that’s kind of overdone and boring if it serves no real purpose.

I listened to this on audiobook, narrated by Wil Wheaton. He is one of my favorite narrators and, as with the other books he’s narrated, he did a fabulous job on this one. The audiobook also included the novella “Unlocked” at the end, which was excellent (though not narrated by Wheaton). The novella explained a LOT of things that weren’t necessarily explained by the overarching narrative of the novel. The novella apparently wasn’t included in the print version of the book, so I included a link to it here, from Tor.com: https://www.tor.com/2014/05/13/unlocked-an-oral-history-of-hadens-syndrome-john-scalzi/

Overall, I loved it (though maybe not as much as Redshirts or Agent to the Stars) and am looking forward to reading another Scalzi novel.

Children of Blood and Bone

Children of Blood and BoneChildren of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 525 pp

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co

Year: 2018

Zelie is a maji, a class of people who could wield magic, before it had been taken away from them by the despotic king, Saran. Her brother Tzain has no magic but is unswervingly loyal to Zelie and her desire to overthrow Saran and restore magic to the kingdom of Orisha. Along with them on their journey is Amari, the runaway princess and younger daughter of Saran. They are all hunted by Inan, Saran’s son and heir, who has a dark secret of his own.

On its surface, Children of Blood and Bone is an epic fantasy about a young woman who goes on a quest to restore magic to her people, interwoven richly with West African mythology. Under the surface, it is a story of racial violence and oppression, gender violence, and political corruption. It is highly relevant social commentary couched as fantasy.

Throughout the novel, characters’ worldviews are challenged and changed based on their experiences. Many things in the story are horrific. There is rape and torture and callous degradation of living beings for entertainment and because others simply don’t see them as human. Some characters have kind hearts but fail to do much to help because they never thought about it. Others have good intentions but are led astray by conflicting or confused desires. Some of the strongest points are when Inan realizes that Zelie is afraid all the time because of things that his father has caused to happen to her, and that he never would have thought of her as a human being, let alone a good person, if he hadn’t had to spend time with her.

The world-building in the novel is lovely and rich. Drawing from African mythology, Adeyemi is able to create a world that is complex and beautiful and which may also feel very unique to readers who are unfamiliar with anything other than Western European mythology. I liked that the geography was based on actual places in Nigeria but for me, I don’t know that it necessarily added anything to the story. I’m entirely unfamiliar with Nigerian geography so it wouldn’t have mattered to me one way or another, but maybe it added a layer of meaning to readers who are more familiar with the region.

One thing I felt was a major problem is that the main characters – Zelie, Amari, and Tzain – had such similar voices that they were all but interchangeable. Each chapter was told from their own first person POV. Multiple 1st person POV is not my favorite way to narrate a book, and this was no exception. The chapters were titled with the character who was speaking, but even so, it sometimes took a minute to figure out who was speaking because the characters each needed to have stronger, more well defined personalities of their own. It seemed odd to me that these characters lacked a well defined personality since they each held such wildly different roles, but when they were speaking, there really was little to differentiate them, which was disappointing. Maybe more development will come in the next book, now that the world-building has been more or less established.

I am looking forward to the next book, especially after the way this one ended. I think everyone is pretty fucked. It should raise some very interesting and complicated questions in book two. I do still wish fantasy authors could write a self-contained, standalone novel, though. I get tired of series. Can no one write just one story anymore?

 

Star Trek: DS9: Ascendance

25111017Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Ascendance by David R. George III

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collective

Length: 351 pp

Publisher: Pocket Books

Year: 2016

This definitely wasn’t my favorite Trek novel. It took forever to grab my attention. I found this to be generally a meandering, hodgepodge example of a book that was a struggle to pay attention to. What should have taken me maybe three days to read took me closer to three weeks, literally. I found myself procrastinating, doing housework, writing other things, to avoid reading this book. At one point, I even did yard work, which I loathe. Possibly it would have been better on audiobook, but for whatever reason, Star Trek seems not to do full length audiobooks on any but the most recent books, which is disappointing for those of us who enjoy a good audiobook. Just saying. Dear Star Trek/Simon and Schuster: If you want a narrator for Star Trek books, I am available. Just not for this one. This one was not my favorite. I have a list of older ones I’d love to read for you, though. Feel free to contact me. 🙂

There was a lot of action in the first part of the book, then not so much. It was like two entirely different narratives crammed into one. I think it would have been better served as two separate books. Both narratives could have been fleshed out better that way. I felt there were quite a few unanswered questions, or spots that just could have been addressed more thoroughly if it had been given its own book. And the whole thing with Vic Fontaine just felt tacked on. What was even the point of that at all, other than VF is a popular character? Just delete the program already.

A quirk DRG3 has is that he recaps stuff that we literally just read. Like a couple pages previously. It’s annoying. It is understandable when referencing events that happened in previous books, but I find it intrusive to have a reminder from just a few pages back.

There’s some really good discussion about religion, which I did enjoy. I think it has always been a strength of DS9 that religion was a focal point in so many story lines, and that it shows how religion can impact politics in so many ways. Sci-fi is so well suited to discuss social topics like this in a meaningful way because it provides distance to examine what can be sensitive issues with something approaching logic and critical thought. It was probably the most interesting part of the book.

HOWEVER. Ro Laren finds religion? No. That was so out of character. A couple sentences thrown in saying she had thought about it a bit does not make a convincing argument in favor of her conversion, especially after a lifetime of being an unbeliever. If it had been explained better, maybe I could buy it. People do have conversion experiences. But the way Ro’s was handled was, to me, unsatisfying and unbelievable. Asking questions and wondering and doubting is one thing, and believers and skeptics alike can do it. But it didn’t seem like that was the case. It seemed that Ro had become a believer, or was very soon going to become one, and it just doesn’t really fit with her in a way that I can see. On the flip side, her super religious first officer, Cenn Deska, lost his faith based on the same evidence that was making Ro have questions in the other direction. He had to face evidence and ask some hard questions and he had a difficult time dealing with it, but if he is a logical being, he will find a way to reconcile the evidence with his belief, if he still wants to be religious. Plenty of people manage to be religious as well as scientific. It gives me cognitive dissonance, so I’m atheist, but you do you and I know plenty of people who have no problem reconciling the two. Deska will probably manage it. Or he’ll sink into a pit of despair and blow himself out an airlock. Whatever.

It was good to see Taran’atar, who is an interesting character anyway. I kind of have to give a side eye to the way the Ascendants were taken care of. Kind of similar to how David Mack took care of the Borg a little bit, isn’t it? I mean, yay for not killing everything all the time forever! And it was interesting that THAT’S where that wormhole planet came from! But absorbing/changing big threats has been done now. I do like that it was Taran’atar who figured out how to do it without destroying everything forever, though. That was pretty shiny.

Also, this totally isn’t DRG3’s fault, but the font in this book was fucking tiny. I thought it was just me being an old, but I got another recent Trek mass market paperback off my shelf to compare and nope. The font in that one was noticeably larger and easier to read. What, they couldn’t add 30 pages and use a bigger font? It made an already fairly tedious reading experience that much less enjoyable.

Overall, though I didn’t hate this book, I didn’t love it, either. I’m disappointed – I had been so looking forward to reading some Star Trek, now that I had time to do so, and I was just underwhelmed. I really miss the old days of the numbered, stand-alone Trek novels, actually. The writing seemed tighter and didn’t involve a floppity billion interwoven crossover novels that you have to read all of them or you have no fucking clue what’s going on. If I go a long time between reading the relaunch novels, as I do now because of various and sundry adult reasons, I feel like I almost have to reread all of them to keep things straight, and it’s not because I’m old. It’s because they are convoluted now.

 

The Girl in the Tower

51wy6en8tdl-_sx327_bo1204203200_The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Kathleen Gati

Source: my own collection

Length: 13:02:00

Publisher: Random House Audio

Year: 2017

The second book in Arden’s Winternight Trilogy picks up right where The Bear and the Nightingale left off. Vasya is fleeing her home village, where her father is now dead and the villagers, at the urging of the nasty priest Constantine, are calling her a witch. Vasya plans to go to Moscow to her older sister Olga. On the way, though, Vasya discovers groups of bandits raiding and burning villages, stealing children, murdering the folk who live there, and is determined to put a stop to it. She dresses as a young noble boy and begins harrying the bandits and recovering children as she can. Eventually, she encounters her brother, Sasha,  who is out with their cousin Dmitrii, also hunting the bandits. Although Sasha is horrified that his sister is dressing as a boy, they have to maintain her ruse because Dmitrii is fooled and charmed by the boy he thinks Vasya is, and it would cause him to lose face to admit he had been fooled, as well as ruin Vasya’s reputation. As they continue the hunt, they are joined unexpectedly by another, unknown young nobleman, Kasyan, who offers his aid in hunting the bandits because he claims his own lands have also been raided by them as well.

In time, Vasya and the men return to Moscow where her sister Olga is brought into the secret of her sister’s traipsing across the country as a boy. Olga is furious and only with great reluctance goes along with continuing the ruse, for she understands the political ramifications, but eventually, of course, Vasya is found out. She is called witch and thrown in the women’s tower, as sure a prison for her as any dungeon cell, and is bound for a convent when she learns the truth about one of the noblemen and his plans. Vasya has to find a way to help save her family and the rest of Moscow before an evil demon can take over as Grand Prince of Moscow.

There are few things I didn’t love about this book. It’s pretty unique for the second book of a trilogy not to be mostly fluff and filler, but this one was outstanding. It had a solid plot, tons of character development, and action all the way through. Paired with Arden’s ability to craft gorgeous atmosphere and intriguing characters, this is a masterful work in its own right.

I love the lyrical style of Arden’s writing. I listened to this on audiobook, which I mostly do while driving, so I didn’t get a chance to bookmark any spots. I wish I could have done so because there were dozens of times that I thought to myself, “That’s a beautiful line” or “What a cool word” and would have included some quotes in my review. But alas. In general, though, the writing added a sense of surrealness that heightened the magic in the story.

Vasya’s development throughout was strong. She started out as a girl, but not a child, and by the end had grown into a young woman. She had some hard lessons to learn in this novel, and being who she is, she had to learn them all the hardest way she possibly could. Everything that happened to her has served a purpose, and will help hone her into a strong woman that is able to face the challenges that will come in the final book of the trilogy.

The focus on gender roles throughout the novel is empowering. I love a good feminist fantasy! Vasya throws traditional roles out the window when she refuses to marry or to go to a convent, which were the only two options available to a girl of her social status at that time. She further tromps on them when she dresses as a boy and goes gallivanting around the country all by herself. Well, she has Solovey, her sentient magical horse, as her companion, but most people she knows wouldn’t count that. Her freedom when she is passing as a boy serves to underscore the stifling life that highborn women have to endure once she gets to Moscow and sees how her sister lives her entire life in the women’s tower, never leaving or going outside except to go to church. There is also the accusation of “witch” that follows Vasya from her village to Moscow, which is traditionally given to women. Sasha said as much near the end whe he told her that men call some women witches because they have no other name for them. In a way, Vasya is a witch because she can, indeed, see the nature and house spirits that many others cannot, and she can speak to horses, and she is fearless and bold. She is a role model for brave girls, not meek and timid ones, and so a witch she must be. All girls should have a role model like Vasya.

Also, all girls should have a horse like Solovey.

I cannot wait until the third book comes out! I’m preordering the audiobook as soon as I get my credit for the month from Audible.