Tuesday, August 6, 2019

THESE WITCHES DON'T BURN by Isabel Sterling



Rating: A sterling silver pentagram with no embellishments

Highlight of note: Lesbian witches?

Will you read the next one in the series? Probably not unless I'm really bored.

This book underwhelmed me, I'm afraid. Yeah, it's about a magic user who likes girls, but that's where I stopped being terribly interested. There was a LOT of backstory. It didn't all get info dumped on us, but that was almost more annoying than if it had been. The main character kept talking about the awful thing her ex had done in New York and dragged this out for a good fifth of the book before telling us what had happened. And that thing didn't make me hate the ex like it was apparently supposed to. (It was one of a series of things that together are bad, but by itself? Not so awful really.)

I'll admit the book and I started out on a bad foot because "I'm a REAL witch! Who lives in Salem!" just irks me. Likewise, "I'm a REAL witch! Who works in a store selling things to silly non-real witches!" annoys me.

The ending was so thrilling that I was called away from the book halfway through it and forgot I hadn't actually finished reading the book yet.

There were multiple places where I was like, "Why are they doing that? Oh, right. Plot progression," as though the characters were aware they were in a novel so did things that they had no reason to be doing just to move things along.

It's been a few weeks since I finished this book and I can hardly remember anything about the characters. I dimly recall there was a love interest, but the romantic arc left no lasting impression.

This is one of those books that makes me sad because I wanted it to be awesome. Was it as bad as I'm remembering? Probably not? I mean, I finished it. Eventually. But I'm not anxious to get my hands on the promised sequel.

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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes

The description states the MC, Hannah, is a witch "but not the type you think" and goes on to explain she does serious magic. But ... If I meet someone who introduces themselves as a witch, I assume neo-pagan, yes. But if a book character is described as a witch, I assume we are talking about Bewitched-style possession of powers and not alluding to her religion.

5% I'm not sure why Hannah is so sure she isn't bi. She apparently didn't know she was into chicks until about a year ago, so did she think she was ace or what?

9% There's a really large and a bit confusing amount of backstory here. This really feels like the third book in a series. Book 1 introduced the series and hooked Hannah up with Veronica. Book 2 was about whatever the hell happened with the blood witch in NY, ending with the girls breaking up. And now we're here. Yet this is listed as the author's first published work. I guess it's supposed to be mysterious and compel you to read on and figure out what happened, but it's just really annoying me.

11% I find it difficult to take Hannah's side in this disagreement with Veronica when we haven't been told what Veronica supposedly did.

16% So, I understand a little more about the breakup. Apparently Veronica was always dominant and selfish and the New York incident was just the example with the most obviously dire consequence. (Hannah nearly got murdered as a consequence, although I'm not so certain it wouldn't have happened anyway.) That Veronica didn't try to apologize or even acknowledge this is a mark against her. Nor did she challenge the statements. She just kept saying she wants to get back together without making any claims that it would be different. In fact, she seems convinced things would be exactly the same.

26% Ok... Morgan is interesting. I'm guessing her family is blood witches.

33% I can't think of any reason for Detective Archer to think Hannah started the house fire other than her being taken to the station progresses the plot.

52% No way would I even consider leaving my underpowered teenager home alone the day after another kid in my coven was attacked by a witch hunter. I'm not sure I'd be willing to be in my house at all. This person knew where the friend lived and someone has thrown a rock through the window. Once again people are doing something where the only motive could possibly be the plot progression.

53% I'm think Benton is the witch hunter. He didn't throw the brick, clearly, but he did take the note off it. And whoever it is recognized Hannah. But that would mean the witch hunter didn't set the fire. At least not on purpose... Maybe he was the target of Morgan's parents, who are actually council witches?

54% Oh, that's right. Benton has a mysterious new tattoo he never got a chance to explain... Yeah, that sounds like a witch hunter thing to me.

63% If the detective is a witch, I'm even less sure why he'd think Hannah started the fire earlier or had something to do with the racoon.

64% um..  I'm pretty sure your don't spend a day unconscious in the hospital and then get released without a heck of a lot of ado.

81% I'm surprised the hospital staff would tell a minor this much.  I feel they would have said, "Your dad is alive and we'll tell your mom more when she gets here."

81% Morgan's a witch! Yay! A blood witch! (I called it!) I'm going to go with an assertion that they aren't all evil.

83% The witch hunter is here because if Morgan's family? I should have figured that out since I thought she was a witch... Although that would take the Halls off the hook and I'm not sure they aren't involved.

86% The detective has an assistant. I'm guessing it's Cal.

87% And now we have to wonder whether what Morgan did actually caused harm... Maybe she broke up a blood clot. Or maybe she formed one. Why is Hannah not wondering about this?

90% Witch Hunter dude has the same tattoo as our friend Benton. Who would have thought? (Other than me?) Still not sold he started the fire he nearly died in though. How confident was he someone would save him? Or was that just when he realized they were witches and someone else started it?

95% And they're saved by the grownups? Really? That's disappointing.

96% Yep, Cal's the detective's assistant.

96% And I officially feel asleep midday partway through the resolution. That's not a good sign... Then I went the test of the day forgetting that I hadn't actually finished the book.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

BINGO LOVE by Tee Franklin


Rating: A dagger of emotion straight to your heart

Highlight of note: I cried all the way through this book and loved every second of it.

Will you read more by this author? Yes!

Hazel met the love of her life in a bingo hall during middle school and they fell hard and fast for each other. There was just one problem. This was the 1960's and they were both girls.

When their homophobic families force them apart and influence them to marry men, the girls start on decades of separation. But then one day, now grandmothers, they walk into the same bingo hall and realize they never got over each other.

This romance is beautiful. And heartbreaking. And sweet. And happy. And gutting. It hits hard and keeps hitting until the very end.

If this had been prose, it might have seemed long and melodramatic. However, it's a graphic novel, which allows us to cover huge amounts of plot in a swift fashion that never drags.

I'll freely admit I don't know how to judge artwork, so all I can say is that the style of drawing in this novel worked well for me. The colors are bold and the lines have a curviness I enjoy. Although it's the plot and characters I'm left reeling over, the artwork enhanced the experience.

Overall, I can't recommend this work enough.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

STRANGE GRACE by Trisha Gratton


Rating: A gorgeously bejeweled dagger and a milkshake with three straws

Highlight of note: This is the story of a boy and the girl he loves. And the boy they both love. Believe it or not, this is only the second novel I have ever come across that portrays a polyamorous triad in a positive light. (Feel free to recommend others!)

Will you read more by this author? Absolutely. Although I don't think the others are poly books.

We start off with a town where everything is idyllic. The weather is perfect for crops, wounds heal overnight, no one ever gets sick, and all pregnancies go well. There's a price for this, of course. Every seven years a young man is sent into the forest and only occasionally does he survive meeting with the demon therein.

It's a trope I've seen before, an ancient story archetype, although I'm stumped on remembering the name for it.

The curse gets triggered earlier than expected. A horse is sick, there's a blight in the wheat field, and a child is born premature. Sure enough, the blood tree turns read to signal it's time for a new sacrifice. Three teens now come together to work out why the sacrifice is being called for early and to try to save the boy who "wins" the right to enter the forest under the full moon.

I'm gonna get a tad spoilery now, so you might want to skip the rest and just go read this book. The writing is almost lyrical, the plot is captivating, the characters are detailed, and although it's a little on the dark side, the gore and violence are actually pretty lowkey.



Okay.... Spoilery talk in...

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Our leads are the daughter of the local witch, the boy so wonderful everyone has been certain he will be the next sacrifice for years, and an angry hunter who was raised as a girl for the first years of his life because his mother didn't want him in the running for death-by-demon. The cover copy didn't present this as a romance, but it very much is. It's a love triangle, but an actual triangle and not the v's people call love triangles. My first hint that this was more than it seemed was when Rhun thinks of Mairwyn and describes her as "the person he loves who he is allowed to love." My eyes went wide and I may have shrieked happily over the implication that he loved more than one person and that's there's something others consider unsuitable about the other one. It's obvious from soon thereafter that Mairwyn knows her boyfriend is into their mutual friend and is absolutely cool with it, perhaps because she also loves the other object of his affections.

I was scared for a little that this was going to be a "gay boy tries to force himself to love a girl because he's scared of being out in a middle ages society and winds up hurting people" story, but was very happy to be wrong about that. He absolutely does love and is attracted to Mairwyn. He just also loves and is attracted to Arthur.

I'm not going to tell you if the story goes so far as to allow all of them to survive and live together happily ever after, but I did want to confirm that this is a positive polyamory novel and I will say I found their end state quite satisfactory.

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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes

5% Mairwen is the person Rhun loves who he is allowed to love. So he loves someone else he's not allowed to love? That's interesting. I wonder if it's the other boy in their group.

6% Arthur doesnt know if he's in love with Mairwen or if he wants to set her on fire. Lol.

6% Yeah, Rhun and Arthur definitely have a romantic history

10% The Lord answers his own door? Curious. Also, he seems strangely attached to Mairwen.

15% Mairwen refuses to love Arthur because of Rhun... If this doesn't turn out to be a triad romance, it's missed an excellent chance at polyamorous representation.

27% Mairwen throws herself at Rhun and he doesnt want to have sex because Arthur isn't there. And says he wouldn't want Arthur without her. 

37% With all the emphasis on life, death, and the breath between, it makes a lot of sense for all three of our triad to go into the wood to rework the magic.

41% The final hour already? They're not spending nearly as many words in the forest as I'd figured they would. I wonder what aftermath the second half of the book.

42% The demon ties a boy to the tree.... But then both the boys who went in come out. Followed by Mair, who isn't alone. Who did she bring out? A previous Saint? The demon? The original Grace witch?

59% I love the image of the three of them holding hands in a circle.

60% Is the lord really getting younger or was that Rhun's perception? It seems someone else had commented recently in him seeming young even before the group went into the forest.

62% Mair is returning to the forest without any of the boys? That doesn't seem wise.

63% The old god left and then the boys started being sacrificed... I'm wondering where the Lord of the valley fits into all of this. Could he be descended from (or actually) the original forest god?

65% All this with Mair kissing the saint/devil makes me wonder if this is a triad story or a wider polyamorous tale.

66% It's interesting that the first ordeal seems to have made Arthur more mellow like Rhun and Rhun more tense and angry like Arthur. The boys have both described Mair as having grown into her true self but I wonder if they have as well.

68% I don't know why this just hit me, but shouldn't Mair have grandparents? Why no mention of them? Especially her maternal grandmother, who would have been a Grace Witch... How old is her mother?

73% The triad sleeping together scene is really sweet.

77% Mair's mom is bi. Interesting. I still want to know why her parents aren't around. Is she older than indicated? She almost has to be since people don't die young here.

77% Mairwen's father is in the door? HE'S NOT DEAD?! Hetty screamed... Is he the true devil or the Saint we thought was her father?

80% I'm worried about all these evil forest creatures merrily traipsing after Arthur as he goes to kill the tree...

82% And the Lord is missing one scene after the devil says he's back in the forest...

83% Yep, the Lord is the devil. And Mair's father, judging by the portrait of her as a girl in his house and how fond of her he's always seemed.

99% A lovely ending! Mairwen is a goddess. Or a demon, depending on how you look at it. And our triad is happy and together. Yay!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

HOT DOG GIRLl by Jennifer Dugan

Rating: A glittery carousel horse

Highlight of note: The main character is a bisexual in a hotdog costume at a low-end theme park. What more hook do you need?

Will you read more by this author? Probably. Her earlier works are comics and have an odder vibe (they apparently start with the rather cliched dream-lover-is-real concept) but are still LGBTQ (the lover the MC shares dreams with is nonbinary) and I liked her style, so I'm willing to check them out when I get time. I put them on my "Want to Read" shelf on Goodreads.

If you look at the cover of this book, it was obviously something I would have been willing to read as soon as I saw it. I mean, that image! Poor girl in the hot dog suit! I needed to know more!

I'm pretty sure I saw this book on an LGBTQ recomendations list, but I'd forgotten that by the time I actually got to read it. Consequently, while I knew the best friend character was sapphic, I didn't realize the main character was bi until about a quarter of the way through. Up til then she'd been pretty focused on the crush she had on the diving pirate guy who was dating the park Princess, only mentioning exes and never discussing names or using pronouns for them. (We'll ignore for a second what it says that a panromantic such as myself was assuming heterosexuality in a character...)

This book seems like it would be predictable, but I was actually uncertain who Hot Dog Girl was going to end up with for much of the story. I assumed at first that the crush would be an ass and there was another love interest, but when he turned out to be a great guy, I thought maybe it was just a "hooking up with your crush" book and the main conflict was from other aspects of growing up and dealing with impermanence. But then I learned the MC was bi and suddenly started wondering about some of the sapphic best friend's attitudes, especially when a "Let's fake date to make him jealous!" plot was hatched about a third of the way in. Was this a "Grabbing your crush" book after all or a "hooking up with you best friend / ending up with the person you fake date" book? It really could have gone either way for most of the story. I won't tell you which one it is, but I will tell you I was absolutely happy with the ending. The couple goes into a happy zone and the person Hot Dog Girl doesn't end up with is also in a pretty good place.

The book is mostly about changes and how to accept them. This is brought about by the closing of the amusement park. The teen workers are upset, especially our main character, who has abandonment issues thanks to her mom leaving when she was young and who consequently views the park as a more stable place than her home. She launches into a drive to save the place, dragging the other characters along with her enthusiasm even though the park owner isn't interested in keeping the place open no matter how much money she raises.

The main character is sometimes clueless and sometimes rash, but she's convincing as a teenager whose passions sometimes kick in before her logic. The rest of the cast is likewise realistic, relatable, and likeable.

Overall, this is a fun book that leaves the reader with a happy fuzzy feeling, so I highly recommend it to those who like contemporary YA romances.


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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes

6% I'm not sure I'm sold on Eloise's obsession with a guy who's into someone else, but I'm loving that his car broke down in the rain and she rescued him.

9% A tragic backstory involving the MC's mother. Sigh.

19% Heat stroke during a job that would be a nightmare for me. I feel much sympathy.

25% Everyone is doofy, straight, or in love with her friend? Is Lou into girls? The only person she's named herself as being interested in is the one guy, but she could totally be bi...

27% Hmm. Lou took a class because a girl she liked was in it. I guess she is bi.

30% Oh, dear. So Lou's fake dating her best friend to make a guy jealous. And presumably the bff is going to go along with it to give her an excuse not to date the girl she went out with last night? Who will probably be all hurt but also confused because Lou's the one who set them up.

31% I'm really happy bff isn't wanting to go along with this horrible (and cliched) idea. Although I'm kinda starting to hope she's pissed because she'd rather date Lou for real... And Lou has repeatedly described Seeley as attractive... So BFF could actually be the love interest...

41% Yeah, I don't know there's a way to convince a guy to keep a business he doesn't want going. They could maybe become a co-op? But who would run it? I don't see things going well in the save-the-park arc.

41% Whoa. The yelling at her dad here is so seriously uncool. At least she figured that out as soon as she'd said the hateful things.

43% Yeah, I think the tension with Seeley could be romantic...

47% Elouise still hasn't asked Mr P WHY he's closing the park...

49% I can't help but think that a GoFundMe to help Mr P would do better if we had any idea what his actual problem is...

58% I can see how all of Seeley's talk that people see and value Eloise could be seen as just being a friend, but it really seems love-interest level of passionate.

59% And we have confirmation that Nick's girlfriend is cheating on him. ... I'm really liking Nick, but I'm not so sure about Lou ending up with him. I really do want her with Seeley.

62% Yeah, I officially feel bad for Ari. The girl he's been into for five years is finally willing to kiss him, but is officially dating someone else. Apparently has something to do with her whackjob mom. So he gets to watch her being all cute with this other guy while not being able to acknowledge him.

68% "If he's your Seeley, you should be with him." Uh huh. Apply that to yourself, please, Louise.

72% Yeah, it's starting to be implausible that Lou doesn't realize she's into Seeley in a girlfriend kind of way.

73% Okay, after a kiss like THAT she's gotta figure this out.

83% And she's finally talking to Mr P! And lo he is closing the park for personal reasons and not because he needs money. And lo the microchip plant would provide more energy to the local economy than his theme park.

90% That's a pretty good apology.

93% I'll take all this making out at the apology being accepted. :)

100% The end

Everything ties up pretty well with lots of cute happiness. 

Saturday, May 25, 2019

THROUGH THE WHITE WOOD by Jessica Leake

Rating: A large scoop of gourmet vanilla bean ice cream in a waffle cone

Highlight of note: The main character freezes things, something I liked well before Elsa ever appeared. :) And she's followed around by a remarkably intelligent eagle, which is just nifty. Not as good as being followed by a dragon, sure, but still interesting.


Will you read more by this author? Most likely, yes. There is a previous work that centered around two of the secondary characters in this book that is on my to-be-read list.

This is another fantasy set in a historical Russia. It seems like there have been a fair number of these recently. In this case, the time is approximately a thousand years ago and the place mostly Kiev.

The action starts with our main character, Katya, tied up by her village. The local prince's representatives sweep in and whisk her away to the capital. Despite the fact that they treat her very nicely, even to the point of welcoming the eagle who always follows her around, she assumes she's be taken to her execution. Why execute her? She has magic powers, the power to turn things to ice. It's soon revealed she has used this power on people in her village, so execution would seem fitting if one believed she was truly in control of her power and knew what she was doing. But she wasn't and she didn't.

At this point, I rather wished I hadn't read the description of the book because I would have had no idea where things were going. So in that spirit, I will go ahead and tell you that I recommend this book. The writing is lush and engaging, the characters likable and strong, and the plot engaging. If you want to start it with no spoilers at all, I wouldn't blame you for ignoring the rest of this write-up and finding a copy without knowing anything else.

So... Let's get a little more spoilery....

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Okay. They're not leading her to her execution. Which you probably guessed because that would make this book really short considering that our MC is also a first person narrator. The people who were sent after her are knights in the prince's court. They can't freeze things, but they have their own magic powers and are tasked with helping her to understand and control hers. One of them can travel through shadows. One can block magic users from their powers. One can manipulate plants. Eventually, we meet people who can control earth and fire.

The knights are detailed characters and their interactions with each other, the prince, and Katya all seem very genuine. The prince is intriguing and I found myself really pulling for him and understanding why the others follow him. Katya herself is also likable and plagued by personal mysteries that I found myself intrigued by, even though a few of the answers were obvious to me well before she figured them out.

The romantic arc was cute and heartfelt. Was it realistic? Depends on what you mean by that. But it played out well I thought.

The conclusion was satisfactory. It was solid enough to make this very much a stand alone novel, but leaves plenty of opportunity for a sequel. The fact that we saw characters from one of Leake's previous works in this one makes me suspect we may see more of Katya even if she isn't the star of another book.

I did find the villains to be a little too simplistic, which I think may be what made this a book I liked rather than a book I loved. I would have loved to have seen better motives out of them and more conflict with the character who was once close to the prince but betrayed him.

Overall, I found Through the White Wood enjoyable and will be looking for other works by Leake.

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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes
6% I really like this bird. The only way to make her more awesome would be to turn her into a dragon

8% I really wish I hadn't read the cover copy and this didn't know this mysterious prince has similar powers to Katya. It would add a bit more suspense not to know that 

18% Whoever selected these tapestries was certainly morbid.

22% Keeping birds of prey on hoods all the time has always struck me as cruel. That puts a damper on this scene, which I assume is meant to humanize the prince by showing him caring about his birds.

28% So fire and ice must work together to save the land. I'm guessing the prince is a fire elemental.

32% Yep, the prince wields fire.

34% This secret exit, which is presumedly also an entrance, does not seem at all secure.

38% The destruction of the village is really gory. Also, our girl should have stolen a horse. Or, hell, asked for one. The prince was begging her to fight these invaders, so he would presumedly have helped.

44% How does this party not have a healer? I mean, I guess maybe the healers died, but they should have been keeping to the back. And, really, shouldn't most of the soldiers have basic first aid if not something better? And shouldn't there be a pack of clean strips for wounds even if the healer did die? These people seem very poorly prepared for arm conflict considering that they were riding out because of an invasion force.

45% I had assumed that Gosudar was a title or honorific people used for addressing the prince, but now they're using it as though it's his name. As in, "Take this to Gosudar." The absence of an article there is confusing me. Google says the word is Russian for prince, so it doesn't seem likely that it really is his name, but then shouldn't people be saying THE gosudar?

 47% The prince's name is Alexander. And Grigori isn't just a jerk but actively a bad guy.

54% All this talk of never seeing someone transform into an animal combined with the disclosure that Katya has never seen Elation poo had me convinced the bird isn't really a bird. But it she Katya's mother, her father, or someone else?

63% So... Elation may be her dad. Because apparently Spring could not return his human life and that he's a shadow of what he was and being a bird of prey would fit that.

72% Everytime Katya talks about riding with Elation on her arm, I wonder how hard that is. Just holding your arm out for more than a hours would be really hard, but with an eagle on it? That seems extreme.

75% The Emperesses are pretty dang hurtful. I don't know they really think Sasha killed his folks, though. I suspect they just want an excuse to brush him off.

78% There's something really sexy about the prince's new power.

83% Nice battle scene. Nicer kiss.

85% Elation is male and had more advanced thoughts than animals ever do. So, yeah, pretty sure he's Katya's dad.

86% Yep, confirmed by mindmeld.

THE END
I'm not sure why Katya even tried to leave without Sasha. He knew where she was going and would obviously have followed her. 

The ending is sweet. And solid enough that it doesn't require a sequel while being open to one.

Monday, May 20, 2019

THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN by Roshani Chokshi


Rating: A tiara decorated with constellations

Highlight of note: This is a fantasy inspired by Hindu myth. I've always thought there should be more of those.

Second Highlight: There's a demon horse that goes around asking to nom on people the way regular horses look for apples and sugar cubes. I simply adored her.

Will you read more by this author? Yes! In fact, the companion novel to this one is on my To Be Read List already.

(Note: I had thought I wrote about another novel by Ms Chokshi, The Gilded Wolves, when I read and loved it, but apparently that was just before I started this blog rather than just after. It was a magical realism set in 1800's Europe and I highly recommend it.)


Maya was born with a horoscope that said her marriage was linked with death. You might think that would mean she'd never be married. And it did for many years, but then her father, the local raja, decides it's politically important to hold a wedding. He's going to hold a big ceremony with a long list of potential husbands appearing. Maya will get to pick one. Which is better than any of her sisters were afforded as their marriages were completely arranged.

At the wedding, an unexpected suitor appears. As violence breaks out, Maya chooses the mysterious stranger, Amar, and is whisked away to another realm. He tells her that due to some magic regarding the phase of the moon, he can't tell her who he is or give her any of the details about his country. She's not happy about this, but his throat visibly seizes up when he says too much, so there doesn't seem to be much to do about it.

Over the next month, the couple grows to know one another, but a mysterious voice seeds doubts about her husband's goodness in Maya's mind. Is it possible that she is but one in a series of doomed brides? Could this be a Vedic version of the story of Bluebeard?

The setting is the ancient India of myth, and I cannot express how happy I was to see that. Hindu mythology is fascinating to me and is rife with amazing stories, characters, and mythic beings. It is, honestly, a setting I would love to write in if it didn't feel like cultural appropriation, so I'm obviously happy to read things set here.

Maya is highly likable, as is Amar. In fact, I almost found Amar too likable because when Maya started to doubt him, I didn't share her concerns. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time silently lecturing her for acting like a silly twit. Also, I felt she acted a bit too much like a twenty-first century girl dropped into an ancient epic rather than someone who grew up being treated like property and led to expect constant disrespect from men.

The villain of the piece is, to me, the weakest point. Quite frankly, I found their motivation to be flimsy and boil down to "Something bad happened and drove me insane for revenge on the person I image wronged me." But it worked alright within the context of myth, as the bad guys in mythology are frequently ruled by such motives.

And the story moves along well. It's adventurous and fun and frequently funny. The conclusion is both emotionally satisfying and solid. Maya's story is over now and the sequel is about her sister rather than her.

Overall, it was a highly enjoyable book and I look forward to reading more from the author.


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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes
3% Maya's shadow is missing. That's interesting. Although she seems to find it merely odd rather than incredibly freaky.

7% I'm a little confused that Maya's to be married for political reasons but gets to pick who to. Presumedly who of a preselection, but who did the preselecting?

8% I have no idea where she's thinking to run away to... This doesn't seem like a great time/place to be a young single woman.

13% Locked up and now told to poison herself. And seeing demons. This is fun.

15% I am incredibly intrigued as to who/what Amar is. A shinagami maybe? (I'm sure there's a Hindu version of those.)

20% I'm now sure why she hasn't pegged Amar's kingdom as death. He's a guardian who most people think take things and you get to his kingdom through the Night Bizarre just like she told her sister is how you get to the land of the dead. (Yes, she made that up, but other things she made up have been proven true so it's more like she just knows things.) AND she was prophesied to marry death. Or that her marriage would lead to death or something like that. Seems logical to assume her husband is the lord of death.

20% Although I do wonder why he took her JUST AFTER the new moon if he can only talk about his role on that one night. Does he hope she'll react better if she's used to him before he can explain? Could he not take her to his kingdom until she was on the brink of death? (Did she actually take the poison and is actually dead without knowing it?)

22% Servant guy reminds me of Alfred from Discworld. I wonder if he's secretly human...

23% If I looked at something that was shaped like a mirror which did not show reflections, then I would call it a window and not at mirror.

24% "You look like edges and thunderstorms. And I wouldn't have you any other way." DAMN! The assertion that this guy sucks at flattery is WAY off.

34% VERY nice kissing scene.

39% I'm really not sure why Maya is so angry with Amar here.

40% I mean, really. She's apparently angry because he's kept stuff from here BUT SHE ALREADY KNEW THAT. She even knew that he CAN'T tell her everything. He has, in fact, choked trying to tell her more than he's allowed to. Not to mention the fact that he's treated her roughly a thousand times better than she had any reason to believe a husband would. So why is she trusting some stupid malicious door over him? It's even a locked door, which we have very no reason to believe aren't really dangerous like she was told they are. She's really seeming like an immature brat here. And also like a modern girl dropped into what I'm guessing is the Late Vedic Age.

41% Ok... I am officially curious who the hell Nritti is. Is she from a different thread line? Or is our narrator unreliable did to amnesia?

41% Well, she's finally seen dead people. Will this clue her in that she's in the world of death? ... Yes, she has figured it out. Akaran is Naraka. Not a very clever means of hiding a name. I expect Amar honestly thinks of it backwards. Or maybe the humans write is backwards to avoid bad luck or somesuch.

42% Ok, she's figured out Amar is Death. I still don't think he's betrayed anything since HE IS PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO EXPLAIN YET. Unless he could have taken her on the new moon and deliberately waited to manipulate her, I'm still not sure what she thinks he's done wrong. (Unless maybe he forced her to forget her friend/sister/lover/whoever.) And why does she assume Death is evil?

45% I don't trust Nritti at all. I think the other woman was in Maya's memories because that was her previous incarnation. I think Maya is buying all of this insistence that's she's one of hundreds and not important because she's afraid it's true.

46% Surely if Amar was tricking Maya into thinking she had power he would have told her she had power early on rather than waiting for her to discover it herself. I repeat that I really don't trust Nritti. I think she was the scary voice from early on and that she's a threat. She admits she's an aspara, which doesn't seem like something particularly trustworthy.

47% Hmmm.  Okay, so Gumpta saying "Now that she's here, you can get rid of her like you've always wanted," does sound ominous unless he means two different she's. As in, "Now that Maya is here, you can get rid of Nritti like you always wanted."

48% Amar refuses to have sex with Maya until she knows everything. This is not the mark of someone running a con or trying to hurt her.

50% Yeah... I was right. Amar adored her and was keeping secrets because of a divine limitation. (Not waiting for the new moon, waiting for sixty moons to pass in the human world. Still, something he had no choice about because he would have told her immediately if it wouldn't have killed her.) Maya is the reincarnation of his wife. And Nritti is Bad News. Maya's seriously messed things up.

6?% Kamala saying she wants to eat anyone who upsets Maya is just really sweet.

78% So distrusting Amar is something she did in her last life too. I thought you were supposed to learn as you went through lives, but I guess that only works when you remember them 


82% THE END
It's a good ending. Very sweet. Especially Kamala saying she won't eat anyone if she's allowed to stay. But why are we still at 82%?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

SISTERS OF THE WINTER WOOD by Rena Rossner



Rating: A loaf of fresh challah bread

Highlight of note: Jewish shapeshifters. Need I say more?

Will you read more by this author? Absolutely!

Warning: The main characters face a lot of antisemitism, the depiction of which is vital to the plot but which may be disturbing to some readers.


It's been a while since I finished this book and I'm not sure why I took so long to sit down to review it. I think part of what happened was that the day after I finished reading, while my mind was composing something that would discuss the irrational hatred the Jewish characters in this book face, a man walked into a synagogue and attacked the people worshipping there, very much bringing hope the heartbreaking and infuriating fact that the world is still full of dangers for those of Jewish persuasion.

Clearly, the faith of the main characters is part of what is sticking with me about this book. I felt Judaism was portrayed in a loving light, which is appropriate as the author is herself Jewish. I was reminded more than a bit of Niomi Novik, who also writes strong Jewish leads in magic-touched historic European settings. It makes me happy to see an uptick in this sort of Jewish magical realism.

The tale is told in alternating chapters by two sisters, one of whom inherited her their father's ability to shift into the form of a bear and the other of which takes after their mother and can become a swan. The swan-sister's chapters are told in poetry, which makes it really easy to see who is speaking when.

Early in the story, the sister's parents are called away to another town. Lacking travel permits means that the journey is inherently dangerous, so they leave the children at home. Almost immediately, both of the girls are thrust into romantic arcs. The bear-sister is courted by a boy who is properly Jewish but of whom she doesn't think her father will approve while the swan-sister becomes involved with a mysterious fruit seller. Despite the horrible antisemitic things the fruit seller and his brothers say, the girl becomes obsessed with him to a degree that is clearly unnatural.

I found both sisters to be well portrayed and sympathetic. I really liked the character of Dovid, the bear-sister's love interest, who was very supportive and understanding. The swan-sister did a few things that didn't make much sense, but it's easy to explain them with the magic that was clearly going on the entire time.

The plot was engaging and ended in a satisfactory way. I did feel the ending was a little open for something that doesn't seem like it would have a sequel, but it wasn't upsettingly so. It was more in a way that makes it clear life is going to continue and lets you decide how that will happen yourself.

The antisemitism goes beyond unkind words. The Jewish characters are actively targeted by multiple people in multiple situations due entirely to their religion. It's alarming, to say the least, but most certainly an accurate portrayal of history. And, as we saw this Passover, of the present. I don't feel that the book dwelled overly much on these issues though, but rather treated them as something that the characters were forced to accept and live around. 

All in all, I recommend this book to people who enjoy a good historical setting for fantasy tales. The only thing I would change would be to put the guide to Yiddish at the front of the book rather than the back as there were multiple words I couldn't get from context and felt compelled to google as I didn't realize there was a glossary in the book.

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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes
2% I liked the opening about the cemetery. It was a nice piece of mood setting. Not sure about the second chapter. Is everything from Laya's viewpoint going to be poetry?

8% Whoa. Their mother is a were-swan? That's cool. And their daddy is a bear! Even cooler! I had thought it was the converted-to-Judiasm thing his family was being snoby about, but apparently she's the wrong kind of shifter.

12% I don't like this "he's not your real father" wording. He raised her and clearly loves her. She's his daughter. He just wasn't the one who sired her.

28% I wonder why the otherworldly fruit sellers care of girls are Jewish or not.

31% It's the next day? Did Dovid come over or not? Why isn't this established in the opening paragraph?

42% I really want to know who/what these fruit sellers boys are. Golblins maybe? They remind me of goblins from another book I read recently.

48% I'm curious about the bear that came into the house. Could he be tryings tonpqrotect the girls while their parents are away or is he a threat?

51% the swan's shadow breaks the illusion. Interesting. Too bad Laya's too far gone to notice. I wonder why the swan doesn't interfere more.

55% Laya's realizing the fruit boy doesn't love her. That's good. Will it lead to her seeing through the enchantment?

56% Is this vision in Laya's head or really happening? Is this young male swan her mate?
... I'm going to go with it was in her head but the male swan is real.

59% I really do wonder what's up with the fruit boy's antisemitism. Perhaps Jewish people have special powers they can use against whatever these guys are? Wouldn't that be cool? Special Jewish anti-goblin magic?

59% Fedir will help her? Really? He doesn't seem to want his brothers to know he said that, so maybe? He does seem sad, presumedly about Laya.

62% Holy shit. Fedir turned into a cat. I did not expect that.

63% Koroleva? Google says that's a name. Does Laya have a different name in Swan?

67% Ok, I can get why no one's thinking, "This is the work of vampire cats!" But how are the justifying thinking it's a bear?

77% The cat shifters don't just hate Jews; they hate humans. I didn't actually expect they were trying to get humans to destroy themselves.

82% "In general, I find that when you want to get to know a girl, it's best not to kidnap her first." Excellent observation.

85% Huh. I guess Fedir really does love Laya.

88% So Fedir died because he let Laya go? Whoa.

89% And the parents are suddenly back! Yay?

90% Wow. The genocide has started. :(

94% I wish we'd gotten to know Sasha better.

95% THE END
I'm curious how the Rebbe is going to react to Dovid, but I guess he already didn't kick the boy out of the house during all this resolution.

I'm worried about where things left off, but I guess it's a good enough stopping point. I would have liked a last poem from Laya, perhaps in America or at her wedding.


AUTHORS'S NOTE: The afterword is interesting and provides historical context. Apparently not only is the town, Dubossary, real, but the Christian kids who died were too and one of them was drained of blood before being left in a fruit orchard. Apparently Jews were blamed because of a belief that they use goy blood in matza. (WTF? How could anyone believe that?) The local Jewish community successfully fought off a murderous mob, but in several twins nearby the Jewish communities were slaughtered.

35 years later, the Nazis arrived and slaughtered the entire Jewish population of Dubossary. All six thousand of them.

The author mentions this because she didn't chose her setting at random. This is where her family was from. Her great-uncle immagrated to try US in 1905 and convinced most of his family to join him, including the author's grandfather.


...And then there's a Yiddish guide that I rather wish had been linked from the words used in the novel. Most of the usage was followable by context, but there were a few u wanted defined and wound up googling since the onboard dictionary didn't know them.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

JUST ONE OF THE BOYS by Leah and Kate Rooper


Rating: A sheet of ice that's serviceable but could stand seeing a zamboni

Highlight of note: A classic Shakespearean-type twin-swap but with hockey!

Will you read more by these authors? I already own the next book in the series, so yeah.


I picked this up because I needed something light and cuddly after having a negative experience with Fan Girl triggering my anxiety disorder. (Or possibly some sort of PTSD-like response.) So I wasn't wanting something deep or complex. That's good, because this is neither deep nor complicated.

The basic principle is one the authors tell us is from Korean dramas but which I know from Shakespeare: once upon a time there were twins who looked exactly alike despite being different genders and people couldn't tell which was which and hijinks ensued.

At the start of the book, twins Alice and Alexander try out for a junior league hockey team, the Falcons. Alice is much better at hockey than her brother, so it's not surprising that she makes the team and he doesn't. But, whoa! The coach realizes "Al Bell" is a *gasp* girl and quickly insists he meant the other Bell, even though the league rules don't prohibit women. Al is rightful pissed, although she ignored this later in the story.

Before Xander gets a chance to meet the team at his first practice, he breaks his leg. So no hockey for Xander, who kinda sucks at it anyway. But in sweeps Alice! She'll save his career by playing as him this season!

Yes, it is as silly as it sounds. With help from a team medical volunteer who knows Xander from theater, Alice binds her boobies, pretends to be allergic to soap to excuse herself from showers, and goes around talking in a voice that the other narrator describes as ridiculous. So, yeah... Not really the most believable tale, but a fun one.

Al shares first person narration duties with Hayden. He's the star of the Falcons, and the brother of the captain of the local NHL franchise. Is he as good as his brother? Everyone wants to know, and as one might expect this pressure causes problems, mostly with his attitude. He missed the ending of the last season due to misconduct and finds himself in the penalty box as often as he finds himself scoring.

The pair learn to play together, then become friends. And eventually realize they love each other. I fully approve of stories where the couple prove themselves as friends first, so I mark that in this story's favor.

Unfortunately, for character complications, the authors relied on the shortcuts of past traumas. Hayden's parents died a few years ago and Al's dad abandoned the family when she and her twin were in preschool. All of their issues can really be traced back to these events.

Al has a lot of conflict with her mother, who I never fully understood. Both the mother and Xander are constantly accusing Al of being selfish, but she honestly doesn't seem any worse than they are and it somewhat annoyed me that she eventually decides she needs to do better but they show no signs of improvement. I would have expected to feel more sympathy for Al's mother because she seemed to want to be more connected to her kids than she was, but she was so stubbornly insistent that they connect on her terms that it was hard to really feel bad for her.

Hayden's brother was actually very well done, I thought. He seemed both real and smarter than anyone else in the book. I'm a little sad that the story wasn't about him hooking up with his wife.

Overall, this was a cute book that I don't regret reading, but there were two things that I think would have vastly improved it. They're the sort of thing that really makes me wish I was friends with the writers and had been able to give this as beta feedback. I'll talk about them after a cut since they're most certainly spoilers.

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Spoilers follow

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Okay... My biggest problem? No one ever catches on Al's an Alice until they're told at the end.

I was really hoping the coach had the sense to figure it out as soon as he saw her play, since he'd also seen her brother, but let the charade continue because she was good. He could have had a whole arc where he comes to accept that he should have let her join as a female from the get-go. There could have been a lovely scene where he admitted he knew she was a girl, but tells her that what's important is that she's a damned good hockey player. And maybe he said that when she told him. That happens after the book ends, so we'll never know. But what if the news that she was a she broke before the last game and he got to give a while speech to the boys about, "Don't be idiots. She's part of the team and you WILL respect her as such."

I would have also loved to see at least one of the teammates catch on. Maybe the playboy character, who could have called her on it but said he'd happily keep her secret if she kept on scoring. Or, hey, maybe he doesn't realize she's playing a con and just figures he's talking to a transboy. Perhaps he tells her about his cousin, because his cousin is trans and the family is having mixed reactions. Maybe then she could feel some complex emotions in regards to how for some people body dysmorphia is a real thing and she could wonder if she's lessening their experience with her playacting.

Also... Hayden thinks of Al as a friend up until he finds out she's a female and suddenly he's in love with her. How much better would the story have been if he'd spent a long time questioning if he's really as straight as he thinks he is and eventually decides that he loves Al, and if Al's a guy then that means he can love another guy? Why is it only romantic love when he realizes she has girly-bits? To me, that makes it seem both more shallow and more sudden than the gradually evolving affection Al developed for him.

So, I wanted Coach to figure out what was going on and I wanted Hayden to decide he loved Al regardless of Al's gender. And I wanted some acknowledgement that while Al isn't trans, there are people who are. I think that those things would have taken this book from acceptable fluff and made it something actively good.

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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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NOTES:

12% Ok, I knew this book was going to be silly. But she bought hair extensions to avoid her mom knowing she cut her hair? Does the author have any idea how long hair extensions take to put in? This plan requires a wig. Yes, it would be an expensive wig, but that many extensions are also expensive.

15% Um... If Alice is telling people she's Al, what are they going that think when Xander comes back? I mean, technically he is Alexander, but he doesn't answer to Al.

16% "Do you know who I am?" "Yeah. You're someone who lost the puck." ROFL. This is going to be fun. I just hope Hayden doesn't get all homophobic when he starts listing after this upstart rookie.

17% Ha! Coach says it's better not to have a Captain at all than to name Hayden. That oughta be a wake-up call when Hayden stops being pissy. (For the record, I agree with the coach even though he's a sexist twit.) ... Except Hayden's not pissy. He's depressed. That's not as motivating.

21% Coach needs to put Hayden on a different line from Al if he isn't going to pass to her. ... Actually, now that I think about it, I don't understand how this team does lines. They don't really seem to have them.

22% I'm not sure why Al skating in the figure skating event is such a big deal. It doesn't sound like she's done any competing in figure skating, so who knows who she is? How's she rate the closing number? Chicago actually has a figure skating scene.

29% Xander has a secret he wouldn't want the league to know. My money's on him being gay.

33% Um... Al was supposed to go on a date with the cheating guy who's blackmailing her brother. Did she do that? Or did she make up an excuse not to go? Because no mention is made of this.

33% Hey! Hayden refered to Al being on his line! Lines do exist on this team!

61% Hayden is upset thinking Al is with Madison even though he still thinks Al's a dude. Does he just figure he should have been told before catching them together or has he admitted to himself he has feelings for Al and hasn't acted because the gay thing is new to him?

66% His hands are all in her hair and he doesn't notice the extensions? How drunk is he?

77% The reveal went about as well as one would expect.

The End
Cute.

Would have liked for Coach not to be too stupid to figure out what had happened. Would also have liked Hayden to do more examination of his sexuality. He didn't realize he loves Al until after finding out she was Alice. What if he'd realized it and faced a realization he might be bisexual?

Thursday, April 18, 2019

THE PRINCESS AND THE FANGIRL by Ashley Poston


Rating: A rare figurine of a galactic superheroine and a lanyard full of con badges.

Highlight of note: The LGBTQ geek rep in this book is both abundant and highly positive.

Will you read more by this author? Absolutely!


The cover of this book says it's a Geekerella Fairy Tale whereas Goodreads lists is as Once Upon a Con book two. This leaves me unsure what the series title is but certain it's a fun universe worth reading. In Geekerella, we were treated to a loose retelling of Cinderella with elements of Little Shop on the Corner. Now we get the Prince and Pauper as a hollywood starlet finds a double amongst the fandom of her new sci-fi film. Honestly, the reasons for switching seemed a little dubious to me. Something need investigating, but the starlet never does anything the fangirl couldn't have done for her if fangirl hadn't been busy pretending to be a movie star. (Other than fall in love with her opposite's friend...) Nevertheless, the tale was funny and cute and uplifting, so it's easy to forgive a questionable premise, shrug, and maintain that even if it was a silly thing to do, it was what they thought of doing.

Like Geekerella, this book is told by alternating first person narration. However as the two narrators are not love-interests in this novel and the books are of comparable length, each romantic arc receives less pagetime. I think this made it more difficult for me to feel as invested in them as I wanted. It was nice to see both arcs, one a boy-girl pairing and the other girl-girl, be treated in exactly the same manner though. Both girls found their love interests attractive, both had good conversations, and both felt sparks. It truly lives up the "love is love" motto that I fully believe in.

The narrators' characters are both well defined and vibrant. The male love interest was a little more filled-out than the female one due to him having pagetime with both narrators, but the female love interest showed some hints of complexity. The fangirl is the more likable narrator, at least if one assumes the target audience is those of us who embrace being geeks. The starlit spends a lot of time being dismissively confused by people's passions for their fandoms and the con, and I certainly found it hard to root too hard for someone who feels loving sci-fi and fantasy franchises is silly. She does come around, but I think a lot of people would be fed up with her by the time she did.

I continue to be sad Starfield isn't a real show. Maybe one day we'll get lucky and Poston will write a novel in that universe.

Overall, I didn't love The Princess and the Fangirl as much as Geekerella, but I still enjoyed it and look forward to other books from Poston. I can think of at least one co-star who could easily be the focus of their own book.


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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes
13% I am officially jealous that this convention has a venue that allows unaffiliated food venders. That stains my suspension of disbelief far more than random girl passing as a famous actress.

14% Why is she so uncurious about the envelope? Even if it's contracts (and not the script as the cover material has me assuming), shouldn't she want to see what the studio is trying to get her to do?

15% What Jess wants in a make is incredibly different from what I want... Also, I can't help but compare her to Dare, who is SO much more likable. We saw him briefly and it made me want more of him.

21% Why did Jess just refer to her chai as coffee? I've never heard of chai coffee before. The spices don't seem like they'd go well. (Note: someone responded to a beta read for me by saying "Isn't he allergic to coffee?" when a character ordered a chai latte and I realized not everyone knows a chai latte is tea. So I guess I shouldn't be amazed this got it wrong, but that's at minimum an author and an editor who lack this basic piece of information that my son could have provided by age six.)

28% "She really does detest him." And yet it's pretty obvious they'll be smooching by the end of the book. I'm assuming Jess will hookup with the boothmate, although I guess it could be the ex. Or possibly nobody if the cover material was misleading.

30% Imogen just said contacts are like condoms for her eyeballs. I had rather pegged her as someone inexperienced with condoms...

32% At this point, I'm surprised Jess can identify a sailor scout uniform.

35% "Clearly Ethan is cosplaying as a douche with a giant stick up his butt." The line is funny primarily because that's exactly what he's doing: cosplaying a professional assistant. I'm wondering what will tip Imogen off that this isn't the real him.

36% I question whether Dare is being nice because he's Jess's friend. He is. But I think he's caught on that this is the same imposter from before.

37% I'm actually wondering if the director is the leak. The last page of the script introduced the bad guy but didn't say who he was. At the same time he's being revealed at a panel. That seems a big coincidence.

38% Yeah, Dare knew she wasn't Jess.

40% Imogen's impressed Ethan caught a Hamilton reference. Her bar for being impressed is pretty low.

42% Pretzel Man is wise. He totally abides! (He just informed Jess she's too young to be comfortable enough with herself to truly love a scifi franchise.)

43% I'm hazy on the timeline, but it looks like the director was in the area the last leaked tweet came from. So he's either the leak or a deliberate red herring. Runner up in my mind for likely culprit is the actress who originally played Amara, who is also in the right place.

44% Okay, Jess telling people she's cosplaying Jessica Stone on Vacation was cute.

48% Yep, Jess is totally bi and into the boothmate chick.

49% Oh, no, Imogen. Do not go out with the skeezy actor. That will not go well. Ethan will wind up having to punch him like a Nazi or something. (And, really, she noticed how Ethan was looking at her but thought he forgot she wasn't Jess? How clueless can a girl be?)

55% Actor guy didn't call. Or called Jess maybe. Either way, Imogen dodged a bullet there, I'm thinking.

67% Another script leak during a panel. It's really suspicious timing. But now the lead is dying? That's... An odd direction for a series to take.

67% And director guy is late for the panel, so he wasn't in sight when the leak posted.  So, yeah, it's either him or we're supposed to think it's him.

73% And now Imogen's going out with skeezy actor. Who also missed the panel where the last leak was, but who wasn't mentioned as being near the scene of the one by the dress. Also not there was the guy who plays their version of Spock, who is also an asshole and who would be petty if people were getting copies of the script and he wasn't one of them. But my money is still on Director Guy.

77% Yep, skeezy actor turned out to be a skeeze.

86% Wise Old Pretzel Man is the guy who originally played Dare's character! I did NOT predict that.

88% And the leak is... The director. Do I win a prize?

90% That speech was a lovely end to Jess's redemptive arc.

90% Imogen just asked if "that old guy from Star Wars" sounds like the Joker to anyone else. I really hope that was tongue in cheek and she recognizes that Mark Hammil voiced the Joker. Otherwise she just lost a lot of geek cred.

92% Taking a megaphobe to the top of a food truck to blare your apology to your love interest is an excellent grand gesture.

97% And the stair thing was cute. Kinda predictable, but cute.

98% And Jess will be there for filming the next movie, which will now be directed by the woman who originally played her role! Happy ending!

The End

Friday, April 12, 2019

FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

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Thing of Note: Needs a trigger warning for anxiety. 

The main character's social anxiety is described accurately enough for me to have a panic attack in response to it. This is also the reason I'm marking the book Did Not Finish and moving on in the third chapter. The book isn't bad, but I can't handle this level of triggering right now.

I didn't read enough of this book to feel that I should give it things like ratings. It's probably a good book; a lot of people think it is anyway. And it's the book Simon Snow was born in and I quite liked his book, Carry On. But this girl is me.

To be fair, Cath's not reacting as poorly as the me who's reading about this is. (I'm crying as I type this, but think it's important to get out. Both for my mental health and to help others understand.) But she's doing things I did in my high school dorm. The only reason I survived there with my anxiety was that I had a room to myself after the first month. (That month was HARD. I was with my sister, who doesn't actually trigger my anxiety, but she had a constant stream of friends, many of whom were there to play games on my computer since this was before most students had one. I spent a lot of time huddled in the corner of my bed hiding in a book as I struggled not to sob until I was alone. My fellow dormies weren't bad, scary people. They weren't toxic or anything. If anything, they were unusually nice people in general. But even when I had my own room, my anxiety was a constant. More than once I'd cower next to my door desperately needing to pee but waiting until I couldn't hear anyone in the hall to sprint to the bathroom.)

The spot I broke off in features Cath sitting at her computer. She wants to write but can't because there are Other People moving around behind her. She's starving, but can't eat. Why? Because she hasn't managed to force her way to the cafeteria yet (I spent two years not eating meals because I couldn't handle mine) and she doesn't want to break out her jar of peanut butter in front of the roommate and the roommate's boyfriend.

Maybe Cath pulls out of this, although if she does it for any reason other than obtaining a proper diagnosis, suitable medication, and an excellent therapist, I'd call it abilist bullshit. As she doesn't even seem to recognize she has an anxiety disorder, I'm not optimistic. It's also possible she winds up in a hospital, but my money is on she makes some friends and suddenly everything is better because that's the sort of inane thing people have advised me to do. It's the exact same crap as telling someone with depression that they'd be better if they watched more comedies.

The cover material describes Cath as "outside of her comfort zone" which I feel was a significant understatement. If it had been more honest about the degree of "discomfort" I probably would have avoided it, or at least not tried to read it while I was going through a period of increased anxiety.

I'm not going to bother adding my notes because I've shared most of what was in them anyway. I related to Cath. Then I related too much. Then I couldn't breathe or see the screen through my tears. Then I was meditating in the dark trying to calm down enough to possibly go to sleep.

This morning, I told someone, "I think I have to abandon the book I'm reading. It's triggering my anxiety." She stopped me there and said, "Do it. You're crying just saying that much and no one is forcing you to read this thing."

So... Yeah. I'm going to post this, cry a little, and start a cheesy hockey romance novel I bought a while back because everything in my library reading queue is too serious and dark for today.

And maybe tomorrow I'll review the book I read before starting this one. I renjoyed it and it didn't make me cry at all.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

LOVELY WAR by Julie Berry


Rating: An enormous heart-shaped box of gourmet chocolates suitable for the goddess of love Herself.

Highlight of note: The two mortal love stories in this novel are expertly narrated by Aphrodite as she testifies before her husband, with occasional sections where the narrative is taken over by another deity. Aphrodite is an omniscient narrator who blatantly interferes with events from time to time as part of her mission to spread romance through the mortal world.

Will you read more by this author? I absolutely intend to.

Favorite Quote: "Marriage was simpler, he realizes, when the game plan was 'catch her in a net.'"


The Canaanite goddess Astarte, often seen as a predecessor of Aphrodite, was a goddess not only of love but also of war. So it's not really news that romance and war are often linked, nor that love stories in times of war have poignancy and power.

This tale starts in a hotel in New York during World War II, where Hephaestus catches his wife, Aphrodite, with his brother Aries, the god of war. Apollo and Hades are both brought in as witnesses. As the goddess begins to explain herself, Aphrodite delves into the stories of two mortal couples who met during the last year of the first World War. The deities provide a chorus-like commentary throughout the novel, but also have their own story. Aphrodite is the principal narrator for the mortal tale, but the duty of storytelling shifts in some sections to Apollo, Hades, and Ares, who take turns when things delve more into their realms.

The four members of the two mortal couples are all interesting and vibrant characters. James and Hazel are young and English. They'd hoped the war would be over before they were old enough to deal with it, but it wasn't. They meet just before James ships off to France and, with some meddling by the goddess of love, embark on a romance that stretches through his time in service. The other pair are Collette, a survivor of the German invasion of Belgium that slaughtered most of her hometown, and Aubrey, an African-American jazz musician who fights not only the Germans but the appalling racism of his era. They realize fairly quickly that they belong together, but the reality was that an interracial relationship in 1918 was something that could be met with a life-threatening level of intolerance. For a good part of the book I was worried not that the Germans would kill Aubrey but that a white American would.

The deities are all characters I was highly familiar with and I feel they're portrayed excellently. At one point Hephaestus is described as not knowing whether to laugh or smash a window, which is exactly what I imagine being married to Aphrodite is like. In another spot, Aries puts on a shirt to recognize the solemnity of the occasion, but doesn't button it because he doesn't want to deny the world the sight of his abs.

I can't say enough about how effective Berry's writing is. I laughed, yes, but I also cried on multiple occasions. Usually, I don't particularly care for books making me cry, but with this one, the tears just seemed part of the art.

The voice of this book is something I can't really describe but absolutely adored. It's serious and full of beauty, but also contains large amounts of whimsy and clever turns of phrase. I'm definitely eager to read more from Berry.

In short, I adored this novel.

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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes
6% We open with Aphrodite being caught in a hotel room with Aries by Hephaestus. She declares that she can neither love not be loved. She is now going to explain by telling two stories. This is a truly fascinating start. I love the deities and the concept but also the voice.

8% Okay, I am absolutely loving the way Aphrodite is telling this story as an omniscient witness. And I love that some humans can see her.

12% These few paragraphs that focus on Hephaestus are interesting. He compares Aphrodite's work to his craft and seems to really be respecting it.

20% Oh, man. Called in early to the war without having kissed the girl because he was supposed to do that the morning he was supposed to leave. My heart hurts. This is really well told.

24% Ares puts on a shirt because "a court appearance demands decorum." He doesn't button it though.

35% I'm liking the Aubrey / Collette romance. And adoring Aubrey in general.

40% I'm rather worried the racist southern asshats are going to kill Aubrey before the Germans get a chance...

50% Oh. Wow. Aubrey's declarations to Collette really reasonate emotionally. This is remarkably effective writing.

51% Ah, shit. Did they just kill Joey?

53% Dangit. Joey's afterlife scene made me cry.

57% This book keeps making me cry! This time it's the scene in the church were they light candles for the Germans James shot.

67% I am literally sick to my stomach with worry about Operation Michael. I remember it being ultimately unsuccessful but that more Alliea died than Germans.

68% It's unfortunate that decades after these events someone would make a sci-fi film where the bad guys, who wear silly face-covering helmets and can't hit a target to save their Empire, are called storm troopers because it makes what was very tense and terrifying sound a little silly to someone of my generation or younger because the narrative keeps going on about the storm troops swarming the lines.

70% Poor broken James... But he seems to have survived. That's something.

77% I feel that maybe I should be upset at James for  refusing to see Hazel, but I hurt for him. I wonder what the sister is going to do. There's no way she's following her mum's order not to interfere.

78% I love Aphrodite and her meddling.

86% Aphrodite says we can end here, with both our couples happy. I kind of want to, especially as it's Ares who wants the stories continued.

87% Holy shit. Exploding train. I'd somewhat foolishly figured the girls were safe.

89% Saved by Aphrodite's pleas to Hades. Literally a deus ex machina. And I'm okay with it.

91% The gods are crying. Even Area took a handkerchief. Can't say I blame them.

92% What a beautiful ever after story for Hazel and James. <3

93% So sad about Jim Europe. Note to self: research if he was real. The bit about being the first black man to have a funeral from the City of New York makes me think he was.

94% Not as much a happy story for our other pair. Thank you, American racism. But I'm happy they had each other even if they were having to deal with hate and ridiculousness from others.

95% Aphrodite using her boon to ask Hades to protect the children of our couples in the new war made me cry again.

96% Aphrodite cracks me up. I knew the frame story was also a romance, so I should have realized she was behind the entire set up.

"He doesn't know whether to laugh or smash a window." ROFL. Yeah, that sounds like what being married to Aphrodite would be like.

"Marriage was simpler, he realizes, when the game plan was 'catch her in a net.'"


THE END
An amazingly sweet ending. Aphrodite and Hephaestus are going to meet up some morning for coffee and lemon cake, just like Hazel and James. And I'm very happy for them.

97% HISTORICAL NOTE
Jim Europe was, in fact, real. He's credited for starting France's love of jazz, whiich means he's indirectly responsible for the fact that one of the few things I know how to say in French is "I listen to Jazz records."

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE by Tehlor Kay Mejia


Rating: A campfire that keeps going out and needing to be rekindled.

Highlight of note: It's a sapphic romance with Latinx flavorings.

Will you read the next book in this series? Possibly. If I notice when it comes out and still remember this book. (There's no release yet, but I'm assuming sometime in 2020.) 

I was really excited when I read the prologue for this book and found out the society I was going to be reading about imitated a god who had two wives. Was this a polyamorous YA novel? If so, it would only be the second one I'd come across. Sadly, it was not. Although the families at the upper end of the society all feature men with two wives, he's only sexually involved with one of them and the women aren't expected to be more than friends. It's actually really insulting as one wife, the Primera, is expected to be intelligent while the other, the Segunda, is expected to be sexy. Because according to these people, women can't (or shouldn't?) be both.

The polygamy is set up to be one of the broken things about the governing class of the island. It's better to be lower class and love one person. The notion that there could be triads out there where they all love each other is never floated, despite the fact that the parents-in-law in this novel are presented as having a well functioning marriage. Part of this is the upper class people not marrying for love trope, but since the polygamy is limited to the upper classes, it comes across as undesirable and something people shouldn't be cool with. And, honestly, the way they do it is messed up to me.

The story focuses on a teen named Dani. We meet her just before she is married to a young man who may be destined to be the next leader of their nation. The husband never shows any sign of redeeming qualities, being a shallow spoiled brat sort of villian. The other woman in their marriage is Carmen, who has been bullying Dani the entire five years they were at wife school. (Yes, wife school. They called it something else. I forget what. But it was wife school.) She is the love interest.

I was actually a little surprised and happy Carmen wound up as the love interest. I had thought it was going to be the male revolutionary who showed up just before the wedding to provide Dani with fake identification papers and enlist her in the rebel cause. And they could still end up as a triad, although I doubt it as the author really doesn't seem to like the triad idea very much. If she did, she would have arranged the school differently. The girls go through taking separate classes for Primeras and Segundas, and having little to do with each other except in passing. Someone who thought a three-way marriage was something that could be achieved happily would probably have set the school up so that the girls were paired earlier and allowed to bond with each other before meeting their husband. As it is, the only reason I can see for them being at the same school was to allow Dani and Carmen to have a history of hurt and antagonism.

I thought while I was reading it that I liked the book, but now that I'm writing about it I'm starting to think that maybe I didn't. I wasn't really very invested in Dani, so waiting over a week to write the review means I've forgotten some of what kept me going and am just remembering the things that bugged me. They're bugging me more now that there's no story to distract me from them. Looking over my notes, it seems I was more caught up in the romance than I remember being, so I suppose it worked well enough but lacked something that would make it truly memorable.

This is really a fairly standard dystopian YA. The teens are outraged about injustice and unfairness, and have valid reasons to be because the government is incredibly bad. Whole sections of the population are walled off to starve while the rich insult them for existing, the girls are trapped in a relationship with an arrogant and potentially violent creep, and the leaders of the resistance are all under twenty.

The vilains make little sense. The only reason the Garcia family indicates for choosing Dani to marry their son is that they think it will give them political pull to have him married to someone low class. (She's worse than they know. They think she's from near the wall, and thus undesirable. She's actually from over the wall, and thus not legally able to be near them at all.) It's never indicated that this really matters. While the leader of the government is called a president, it's pretty obvious that he's not the sort that makes it into office by popular vote. None of them have any depth, being caricatures of nasty elitist snobs.

Neither Dani nor Carmen really engaged me all that much, although I can't say why really. Yeah, Dani tries too hard to be an ice queen; she was trained to be one. But the problem there is the society, not Dani. I suppose that's the heart of my problem with the novel: it's less about overcoming oneself and more about destroying an evil society/government. A society/government that will, I'm sure, eventually be brought down by teenagers deciding to care. Maybe I'm just getting too jaded and old to believe in that sort of tale anymore.

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Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.

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Notes
3% Romantic triad in the prologue!

4% Whoa. So the MC's society expects everyone to be in a triad. This will either make me very happy or very annoyed. I'm already concerned about the society. It's not openly polyamorous. It's just that men all have two wives. So what happens to the other half of men? And what about a woman who wants two wives? How would a man with three wives be treated? Or one with a single wife for that matter? 

(Note from later: apparently only ruling class men get two wives. Lower classes enter two person unions, but I suspect they're bitter about it because they'll have fewer available women than if rich guys didn't get two.)

(Note from even later: apparently the Primera's aren't sexual with anyone? Not the husbands, not the Segundas, not random gardeners... That's messed up, because I'm pretty sure they aren't all asexual and a lot of them would like to have sex lives.)


8% An attractive rebel. His name is Sota, but I'm going to call him Love Interest.

11% So, what are the odds on this obnoxious Carmen person being the Segunda in Dani's marriage? It seems that should have been mentioned, but her counterpart hasn't been mentioned at all. Does she not know who it is? In which case it's almost definitely Carmen.

13% The marriage ceremonies are pretty sweet if you ignore that they're all arranged by people who aren't the participants.

13% Yep, her Segunda is Carmen.

20% Carmen is intriguing me. She's clearly smarter than a Segunda is supposed to be. And the line about the protesters will stop when they're not hungry anymore shows sympathy, or at least awareness of problems people unlike herself have. (Or are they unlike herself? She's supposed to be from a wealthy background, but she was on Dani's bus to school. I'm sure it went to other neighborhoods, but I doubt it went too far up the mountain.) Almost wondering if Carmen is the Love Interest rather than Soto. Or if they're supposed to be one of these "high class" triads that don't exist on the other side of the wall.

23% Yeah, I'm with Dani that it's freaky how Mateo is looking at Carmen. It's also a little weird that a Primera doesn't have to have sex. I wonder if some of them do or if that's looked down on. Also, it sucks that the Segunda is supposed to serve meals like she's a servant. Is that regular or just this messed up family?

28% Nice tearing of a new asshole, Dani! Soto is clearly too used to being able to get girls to do what he wants them to.

29% Carmen saw Soto leave. Somehow I'm not surprised. I am surprised she was out collecting caterpillars.

42% After knowing her for over five years, Dani still knows nothing of Carmen's background. That supports my theory that Carmen isn't what she pretends to be 

43% Um, yeah, so Dani definitely seems to be attracted to undressed Carmen...

51% Mateo just becomes less and less likable. He started out spoiled and insincere but is in danger of being a caricature of a bad guy at this point. I'd like to see him have a bit of personality beyond being odious.

53% And, yes, Carmen was on the bus way back when because she was from near the wall too. I really don't understand how the otherwise intelligent Dani never figured that out. It does make one wonder though; why did the Garcias, who are the worst of elitists, pick the two girls from the wall? The Primera choosing Dani for political appearances almost makes sense, but Mama Garcia is openly hateful about salty blood, so why pick a girl from the wall to bear her grandchildren?

Also... Yeah, Carmen is most definitely a love interest.

54% Mama Garcia knows someone's been in contact with someone. My bet is she has something on Carmen, not Dani. I'm thinking both the marriages were designed as traps.

55% Hmm... Why does Mama Garcia smell funny? Something floral over something metallic... perfume to cover up illness? Or poison?

58% This date the girls are on is adorable.

61% I like the transformation in Dani's grit.

63% I somehow doubt Carmen is buying the pretense behind this trip. But even if she is, this seems like the sort of like it's easy to get caught in. What happens when the family tries to send flowers to someone who isn't in the hospital and never was?

76% The scene with Carmen and Dani assuring each other their feelings are real was intense and touching. Very well done.

85% Mama Garcia's having an affair with the driver??? I did NOT see that coming.

87% Yeah, I have a lot of questions about Alex knowing Carmen. Because she really seems to.Was I right about her being a spy?

97% THE END
The lovers separate. Dani's mission goes on. Carmen is with the resistance. Sucks to be Dani right now.