The Weaver by Emmi Itäranta

26198181Eliana is a model citizen of the island, a weaver in the prestigious House of Webs. She also harbors a dangerous secret—she can dream, an ability forbidden by the island’s elusive council of elders. No one talks about the dreamers, the undesirables ostracized from society.

But the web of protection Eliana has woven around herself begins to unravel when a young girl is found lying unconscious in a pool of blood on the stones outside the house. Robbed of speech by her attackers, the only clue to her identity is one word tattooed in invisible ink across her palm: Eliana. Why does this mysterious girl bear her name? What links her to the weaver—and how can she hold Eliana’s fate in her hand?

Review:

I picked up The Weaver thinking it was perfect for Women in Translation Month… but it looks like the author rewrote her own book in English, so I don’t think it counts.

Things starts off great – an interesting world doled out in manageable chunks!  An easy-to-like character that’s caught up in Happenings!  A mystery with a sure to be gruesome villain!

But as much as I like the beginning the book stalls.  It’s not the plot, exactly, or the character development, but the lack of love given to the world they’re inhabiting.  The what is lovingly explained, but Eliana’s lack of interest in the why means we don’t get many answers.  Who are the people who came to this island, and what drove them to make such segregated groups?  Why does the council have such power, and where did that power come from?  Ships travel between the island and other places, so what holds the inhabitants here?  And so on.  The ground level world building is solid enough, but there’s little added to that foundation.

I like that there’s a main female/female relationship and the fact that it’s f/f doesn’t raise any eyebrows. A side character is gender queer/fluid/trans, perhaps, but it’s barely examined so I don’t want label them.

While the set up and idea are interesting when more depth is required we find ourselves stuck in an ill-woven web.

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

25489134At the edge of the Russian wilderness Vasilisa spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Review:

I haven’t read much straight up adult fantasy lately and this books reminds me – why the hell not?! Reading like a grown-up fairy tale, The Bear and the Nightingale wove its spell around me just when I wanted to get away from the world.

So much is satisfying – the prose is weighty in the right places and beautiful throughout. The story could feel segmented but holds together well, having a cohesive instead of episodic feel. And perhaps above all, Arden trusts the reader. There is no semantic break down of character nicknames; we figure them out for ourselves. Plot threads are put aside until they are needed instead of being needled to death. If there is a romance it’s a super slow burn… I love slow burns! And while there’s a solid ending it leaves the door open for more books. Once I finished I learned it’s going to be a trilogy – callooh! Callay!

A strong recommendation for anyone who loves fantasy, especially for those who are looking for more than YA can offer. I’m excitedly looking forward to the next installment.

Everneath by Brodi Ashton (Everneath #1)

9413044Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath. Now she’s returned—to her old life, her family, her boyfriend—before she’s banished back to the underworld . . . this time forever. She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can’t find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these precious months forgetting the Everneath and trying to reconnect with her boyfriend, Jack, the person most devastated by her disappearance—and the one person she loves more than anything. But there’s just one problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who enticed her to the Everneath in the first place, has followed Nikki home. Cole wants to take over the throne in the underworld and is convinced Nikki is the key to making it happen. And he’ll do whatever it takes to bring her back, this time as his queen.

Review:

Complicated feelings about this one.

The good:

  • A mythology-based story that I don’t want to throw against the wall! This is super rare.
  • The plot was pretty interesting, and the world has been thought out. Things stay pretty consistent… but are not sufficient. More on that below.
  • I like love triangles in general (don’t hate!) and this one is particularly well balanced. The good guy/bad guy roles are stereotypical (high school football star vs rock musician dressed in black) but the affection each has for Nikki shines through.

The not-so-good:

  • While the world is thought out I had a bunch of niggles and questions that aren’t addressed. If Feeding fuels an Everliving for 100 years, why does Cole feel so drained within a year of topping up? It seems like everyone Feeds at the same time so all kinds of Everlivings on the Surface, as well as the people they Feed on, disappear from Earth at once. Wouldn’t that sudden spate of missing persons cases get noticed? What is the point of letting Forfeits return for an arbitrary six months? And so on.
  • On a similar note, the characters’ motivations are muddled or unclear.
  • The book could have done with a better edit. It felt like people jumped around in their actions – like someone sitting is somehow lying in bed half a page later. I didn’t spend time dissecting but it was still there.
  • The writing didn’t get in the way but it didn’t add anything to the story, either. The prose is simple, even for YA.
  • Each section starts off mentioning not only a time reference (good as the plot bounces around) but also a wholly unnecessary place reference. From chapter nine:

NOW
My bedroom. Four months left.

“Time’s flying for you, Nik.” Cole was sitting in the darkest corner of my bedroom….

  • I don’t remember a single person of color or minority character of any sort. It’s set in Utah so my hopes weren’t high, but still.

I don’t see myself continuing the series as the jacket copy for the next two books tells me pretty much everything I want to know plot-wise. I would like to read Ashton in another context, and am excited to see she’s one of the authors of My Lady Jane. It’s currently on hold at my library, so hopefully it’ll arrive before too long….

Love and Gravity by Samantha Sotto

31564042Andrea Louviere is seven years old the first time he appears. While she’s alone in her bedroom, practicing her beloved cello, the light shivers and a crack forms in the wall. Through the crack, she sees a candle, a window, a desk—and a boy. Though no sound travels through the wall, the boy clearly sees Andrea, too. And then, just as quickly as it opened, the crack closes, and he vanishes.

Over the years, summoning the bright, magnetic boy becomes something of an obsession for Andrea. Then, on her seventeenth birthday, she receives a three-hundred-year-old love letter from Isaac Newton. Andrea knows that Isaac will change the world with his groundbreaking discoveries; the letter tells Andrea that she will change him.

As Isaac’s letters intensify in passion and intimacy, Andrea grows determined to follow his clues to their shared destiny—despite a burgeoning romance in the present. Only when she discovers the way into Isaac’s time does Andrea realize that she faces a heartbreaking decision: between what was . . . and what might be.

Review:

I loved and was flummoxed by this book in turns but it always, always kept me reading.  I finished it in less than 24 hours so while I have Things to say know that Love and Gravity is hard to put down.

Also be rest assured that I’m not going to spoil anything… here.  If you’d like to read a more detailed, spoiler-filled version of this review head over to the goodreads version where I give those spoiler tags a run for their money.

Now that that’s out of the way…

~takes a deep breath~

Wow.  What a book.

The good:

  • Time travel and time slip plots can get hairy as far as sequence of events go, but Sotto keeps events mostly on the rails. (Caveats below.)  Each chapter starts by telling us which character we’re following, Andrea or Issac, and places them in time by date and/or age.  In the narrative we’re reminded which years are important, so even when the chronology jumps around we can keep things basically straight.
  • The cast is small so there aren’t too many people to keep track of.  We watch them all grow over time in strikingly realistic ways.
  • Yea for epistolary (ish) novels!
  • If you don’t know much about Issac Newton’s life you’ll find yourself going down delightful wikipedia rabbit holes out of curiosity.
  • Even when things are crazy, even when you’re yelling “What?” and “How?!” at the pages, you will be compelled to read on.
  • Do you need a cathartic cry?  I hope you need a cathartic cry.

The neither-good-nor-bad:

  • This is a novel with a romance, not a romance novel.  If you know what that means then you know what I mean.

The not-so-good:

  • Anachronisms, we haz them.  Spoken British English in 1666 sounds a bit too close to modern American speech for my liking.  There are others but they have to go in the spoiler-ful review.
  • The curse of working in medicine is finding medical goofs in novels.  Won’t bother everyone, I’m sure, but I had to put down the book and vent to my partner before continuing.
  • Events and sequencing get more complicated by the end and I have the feeling that if I looked I would find something that doesn’t check out.  Sotto earned just enough of my trust for me to gloss over inconsistencies, and man there are a lot of balls in the air, but the nagging feeling that something is wrong won’t go away.
  • The whole book stemmed from a plot bunny in a chest, and at times it feels like revisionist history. Andrea is can be seen as a wish-fulfillment Mary Sue – Newton was a great guy and never got married, so let’s go back and put a woman in his life!
  • An apple or gravity reference is cute once or twice but there are so. many. I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes.

In sum my reading experience went like this:

Beginning – Ooo, interesting!  Tell me more.
Third of the way through – I’m not sure I’m on board but I want to see how you manage this…
Halfway point – Hello, anachronism.
Middle-ish – I saw this coming but what the hell was that?!
Last few chapters – ~sob~ No, I’m fine, it’s just that… ~sob~
End – ~runs to write review posthaste~

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (Wayward Children #1)

25526296Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

Review:

This book is the perfect way to get out of your brain and set aside the world for a time. It will only be a short while but oh, how wonderful it is.

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is for children who have slipped away into different worlds. Some went to fairy lands that are akin to Alice’s Wonderland. Others visited darker places, or weirder places, or places that weren’t happy to see them. For various reasons they have returned to the real world, and many would do anything to find that door out once again.

The story is short with a simple whodunit at its core. But, much like Palimpsest, I wasn’t here for the plot. The various words described are intriguing and I want to know more about them. The characters are simply drawn but still deep and flawed and human. I especially love how the main characters cover a full range of gender and sexual identities.

And the writing! Overall it’s not difficult, pitched at the lower end of YA with a few expletives thrown in, but McGuire pops in observations that make you gasp and say “Yes, this”.

Call it irony, if you like, but we spend so much time waiting for our boys to stray that they never have the opportunity. We notice the silence of men. We depend upon the silence of women.

Some are like life lessons:

We don’t teach you how to dwell. We also don’t teach you how to forget. We teach you how to move on.

So good. As much as I loved this book, though, there are some things I would change. First, I wish it were longer because 1) I’m greedy and 2) a subplot would have helped round out the narrative. The plot felt thin for a world this rich and well thought out. Second, the characters annoyed me with their obsession for categorizing the worlds they visited. The basic classification is interesting and helpful, but the characters’ preoccupation with it drove me nuts. Granted, this has parallels with the real world (pigeonholing, stereotyping) but still. Grah.

I’m excited to see that this is the first in a planned series – I can’t wait to return to McGuire’s world.

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

31843383San Francisco in 1940 is a haven for the unconventional. Tourists flock to the cities within the city: the Magic City of the World’s Fair on an island created of artifice and illusion; the forbidden city of Chinatown, a separate, alien world of exotic food and nightclubs that offer “authentic” experiences, straight from the pages of the pulps; and the twilight world of forbidden love, where outcasts from conventional society can meet.

Six women find their lives as tangled with each other’s as they are with the city they call home. They discover love and danger on the borders where magic, science, and art intersect.

Inspired by the pulps, film noir, and screwball comedy, Passing Strange is a story as unusual and complex as San Francisco itself.

Review (short version):

Guaranteed to be one of my top books of the year, if not number one.  I actually made myself put it down after a chapter or two each night so I wouldn’t finish too quickly.  Part of the joy is going in blind and I suggest you do the same, so if the blurb interests you go read it.  Now-ish. :)

Review (long version):

I’m going to say as much as I can while giving away as little as possible.  Characters live and breathe in a city that does the same.  The plot is wonderfully paced within an intriguing structure and the writing is as beautiful as it is unobtrusive.

Our heroines live the best life they can despite the homophobia and racism and other miasmas that hang over San Francisco in 1940.  They struggle, but they are not defined by that struggle.  They aren’t damaged or any less themselves.  These women do what they can, do what they must, and above all, persist.

I know I haven’t done the book justice so… go.  Read it.  An enthusiastic, wholehearted recommend.

Thanks to Tor and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

Rogue Magic by Kit Brisby

32714776While trapped in a stalled subway train on his morning commute, PR rep Byron Cole flirts with Levi, a young waiter with adorable curls. But Byron’s hopes for romance crash and burn when Levi saves him from a brutal explosion—with outlawed magic.

When Levi is imprisoned, Byron begins to question everything he’s ever believed. How can magic be evil when Levi used it to save dozens of lives? So Byron hatches a plan to save Levi that will cost him his job and probably his life. If he doesn’t pull it off, Levi will be put to death.

Byron must convince Levi to trust him, to trust his own magic, and to fight against the hatred that’s forced him to hide his true nature his entire life. The more Levi opens up, the harder Byron falls. And the more they have to lose.

Ooo boy, is this book timely.  In a world very much like our own magic is a real thing.  Not everyone can use it, and those who can are forced to register with the government and are vilified by the public.  (See that? Yup.)

Bryon works for the company that confines mages and believes the party line until he meets Levi, who saves his life with a well placed magical shield.  Bryon wrapping his brain around this new information is one of my favorite parts of the book.  We watch him struggle with long held beliefs, do his best to open his mind, and become friends with people he formerly would have brushed aside.  The process takes time and feels right.

Brisby’s New York is delightfully rooted in the reality of our own, and I appreciate that the medical details are (to my knowledge) accurate.  The friendships are especially satisfying, maybe even more than the insta-romance that pops up.

The world building is good early on but, like the plot, it loses steam. I would have liked more info about the history of mage suppression or theories on where the magic comes from and why only some people can use it. A lot gets swept under the rug with ‘it’s outlawed, so we don’t know’ which works in the beginning but gets frustrating as the story goes on. In a similar vein the ending left me with some unanswered questions as well as doubts that everything could have changed so quickly.  And if you like your allegory subtle this is anything but.

Still, I enjoyed Rogue Magic.  A diverse, escapist urban fantasy that manages to both address and take my mind off of current events?  I’m here for that.

Thanks to Riptide Publishing and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente

Synopsis:

3973532Between life and death, dreaming and waking, at the train stop beyond the end of the world is the city of Palimpsest. To get there is a miracle, a mystery, a gift, and a curse—a voyage permitted only to those who’ve always believed there’s another world than the one that meets the eye. Those fated to make the passage are marked forever by a map of that wondrous city tattooed on their flesh after a single orgasmic night. To this kingdom of ghost trains, lion-priests, living kanji, and cream-filled canals come four travelers: Oleg, a New York locksmith; the beekeeper November; Ludovico, a binder of rare books; and a young Japanese woman named Sei. They’ve each lost something important—a wife, a lover, a sister, a direction in life—and what they will find in Palimpsest is more than they could ever imagine.

Review:

I love setting-driven novels. It sounds absurd – a place providing the thrust for a book? – but think The Night Circus. That was my first love, Palimpsest is my second.

The titular place is kind of like an STD and is passed from one person to another in just the way you’d expect, and you visit in your dreams.

“The frog pushes them out of her shop like a mother urging her children toward the coach on their first day of school: Never fear, my darlings! All these horrors are yours to survive!”

Images are placed before us: places I’d love to visit, places I’d rather never see, normal moments made beautiful for being what they are.

“She often felt that she chased the ideal cup of coffee in her mind from table to table… Every morning she pulled a delicate cup from its brass hook and filled it, hoping that it would be dark and deep and secret as a forest, and each morning it cooled too fast, had too much milk, stained the cup, made her nervous.”

We follow four characters as they make their away around and grapple with the world before them. If you demand a plot and answers as you read you’ll be annoyed and disappointed. But if you’re like me and revel in exploring a magical landscape you’ll love every word.

Valente adds just enough of the real world to ground the entire experience but the sections set in Japan ended up bothering me a lot. She’s obviously going for fact in her descriptions and while some parts are accurate (the Golden Pavilion was really burned down by a monk) others are way off base (the Silver Pavilion never got coated in silver leaf and the monks would never let it tarnish if it were). I could make a huge list but suffice it to say I got cross more than I would have liked.

The writing is worth it, though. My review isn’t doing the book justice so if you like The Night Circus get thee to Palimpsest, stat.


You may also enjoy:

11337018   The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Menagerie by Rachel Vincent (Menagerie #1)

Synopsis:

27277167When Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger’s Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus big-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she’s forced to “perform” in town after town.

But there is breathtaking beauty behind the seamy and grotesque reality of the carnival. Gallagher, her handler, is as kind as he is cryptic and strong. The other “attractions”—mermaids, minotaurs, gryphons and kelpies—are strange, yes, but they share a bond forged by the brutal realities of captivity. And as Delilah struggles for her freedom, and for her fellow menagerie, she’ll discover a strength and a purpose she never knew existed.

Review:

When I read the cover copy I was like, woo-hoo!  Carnivals are basically circuses, and I like circuses.  Fantasy, otherworldly creatures? I’m there.

But holy cow the first half of this book was hard to get through. Looking back this was probably the most telling thing – I should have finished two or three books in the week plus it took me to read Menagerie.  I had trouble bringing myself to the page.

Delilah is deemed to be a cryptid and therefore not a person.  For over two hundred pages she deals with this.  Vincent is trying to drive home the horror of slavery by having it happen to a white middle class woman but it’s way too heavy and obvious.  At one point she even has a water hose turned on her.

And for these two hundred pages there’s basically no plot other than, “Argh, the injustice!”  At the midpoint the book turns into a more run of the mill fantasy with a story and some action.  Delilah gets a purpose but stinks at planning.  She has plan A, talks with one person and goes, “wait wait, we should do this other plan!”  Then halfway through that plan she goes, “no no no, we should really do this much more dangerous thing that would take a lot of forethought that we don’t have time to do right now!”  So much side eye.

And the ending wasn’t even satisfying.  It’s not a cliffhanger, thank goodness, but I was left thinking, “Oh, that’s one long, boring road you’re headed down”.  I’m afraid I won’t be following.

Thanks to MIRA and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney

Synopsis:

23492495Anna Francis lives in a tall old house with her father and her doll Penelope. She is a refugee, a piece of flotsam washed up in England by the tides of the Great War and the chaos that trailed in its wake. Once upon a time, she had a mother and a brother, and they all lived together in the most beautiful city in the world, by the shores of Homer’s wine-dark sea.

But that is all gone now, and only to her doll does she ever speak of it, because her father cannot bear to hear. She sits in the shadows of the tall house and watches the rain on the windows, creating worlds for herself to fill out the loneliness. The house becomes her own little kingdom, an island full of dreams and half-forgotten memories. And then one winter day, she finds an interloper in the topmost, dustiest attic of the house. A boy named Luca with yellow eyes, who is as alone in the world as she is.

That day, she’ll lose everything in her life, and find the only real friend she may ever know.

Review:

This book is not what I was expecting, and sadly not in a good way.

Normally I think of fantasy as a story-driven genre.  The language can be elevated (like in The Last Werewolf) but the plot never stops.

In The Wolf in the Attic, though, the plot doesn’t even start until the 25% mark.  There are some Odd Goings On, the sort that usually build to a crescendo, but each is forgotten for fifty pages or more.  At 25% the story starts at a leisurely stroll and around 50% it finally gathers enough speed to see you through to the end of the book.

If you love pretty language you may not even notice the dragging action.  Kearney does a great job giving Anna some beautiful lines and insights that feel natural despite her young age:

But we cannot choose what we remember and what we forget.  All the lovely bright moments of our lives get forgotten except for remnants here and there, like the leaves blown from a tree in the autumn, and the terrible things, they stick with us forever, as bright and raw as the day they happened.

I noticed, however, that nearly all the pretty parts were quaint Britishisms (“I tramp down the road”) or similes (“The song is… as piercing and beautiful as a sunlit shard of ice”).  Nothing wrong with either, but I would have liked more variety.

One of the most troubling unexpected elements, for me, was the religious tone.  Anna’s journey is set up as a struggle between good people and bad people… I’ll let you guess which side god is on.  I was ready to cheer when one character declared himself an atheist, but he went on to say, “And I pray too, from time to time.  It is a thing I cannot help.  It is a need that is embedded in us all.  That is man’s condition.”  So you, agnostic reader, your lack of faith is unnatural.

Boo, book.  Boo.

The relationship that develops between Anna and Luca is cute but without a strong foundation.  Someone makes a life-changing decision based on it but the choice doesn’t feel earned.

The more central characters are to the story the better they are drawn, which makes sense.  That being said I would have liked some more depth to the secondary characters, as they exist for one purpose each – to guide Anna, or to hate her, or to give her a reassuring smile.  Only the governess kept my interest, as she both rapped Anna’s knuckles and showed her kindness.

One peeve at werewolf books in general – why do they reduce women to a womb?  The issue is dealt with well here, for which I am thankful, but it keeps nosing its way into the genre.

Finally, we have the end which, frankly, gave me whiplash.  The happily ever after is nice if you don’t think about it too long, which may be why things wrap up so quickly.  It’s a deus ex machina, remembering that ‘deus’ means ‘god’.  God is good, so everyone’s happy.  The end.

…right.

Even though The Wolf in the Attic a fantasy/paranormal book it ended up firmly in the “not for me” column. However, if you have a thing for language and don’t mind religion in fiction it may just be your thing.

Thanks to Rebellion Publishing and NetGalley for providing a review copy.