Writing again

Review of Trailer Park Fae

3.5 of 5

First, the blurb:
Jeremy Gallow is just another construction worker, and that’s the way he likes it. He’s left his past behind, but some things cannot be erased. Like the tattoos on his arms that transform into a weapon, or that he was once closer to the Queen of Summer than any half-human should be. Now the half-sidhe all in Summer once feared is dragged back into the world of enchantment, danger, and fickle fae—by a woman who looks uncannily like his dead wife. Her name is Robin, and her secrets are more than enough to get them both killed. A plague has come, the fullborn-fae are dying, and the dark answer to Summer’s Court is breaking loose.

Be afraid, for Unwinter is riding… ”

Now, my words:
3.5 of 5 stars. This title is a poster child for how I pick books. Not by cover, not by blurb, not even by first chapter. (Although I do check all those, in that order to form a baseline opinion.) My decider: a random 5-10 page read from somewhere in the middle of the book.

Here’s how this acquisition occurred. Cover picture. grabbed me. (Yum.) Blurb put things back on the cusp of Nope. (It’s catchy,  but I’m getting picky in my old age about which fae adaptations I’ll bother spending time on.) The first chapter/random page check was a solid maybe. Oh, but that random read? Bliss. The dialogue and descriptions in the scene I read utterly drowned me in reader happies.

I loved the language. The story– if you want the plot, read the blurb, it’s all there–doesn’t break new ground in any way. But it does present all the British Isles faerie standards in a wonderfully skewed, carnival-mirror perspective. The way characters speak and thinks  gives the fae the truly creepy, alien unearthliness they very rarely get in contemporary fantasy.

And the plot is so well-crafted and slides from beginning to climactic end as smoothly as water poured from a glass. It’s quite satisfying, but that’s not where the  real strength of the book lies. It lies in the inhumanity of its inhuman characters.

I’ve long enjoyed this author’s blog, and I’d read a couple of her other urban fantsies, but her characters never caught me hard. Until this time. This series is on my do-not-miss list.

Bottom line:  I enjoyed it far more than I expected, and that takes a lot.


Writing again

Review: The Raging One by Lexy Wolfe

3.25 of 5 stars.

I’m trying something new:  starting my review with the blurb from Goodreads:

Still reeling from an ancient war, the world has begun showing signs of unraveling. To save their world, a select group of the most gifted elite must form an alliance and find a solution before it is too late.

But, can these historically incompatible members of the remaining nations cooperate despite their ancestral biases and distrust? Or, will shadows consume them before they uncover the secret of The Raging One?”

This book is complete in itself, but it left me with the pleasant sense that I’d explored only one room of a huge mansion full of treasures yet unseen. The epic scale of the tale piqued my interest, but the difficulty of cramming so many big ideas into the limits of a single novel may be the reason some things did not satisfy me.

I’ll start with what I enjoyed in a handy list format:
1. Character interplay: phenomenal dialogue & excellent, realistic tension. Superb.
2. Magic & religion: detailed, intriguing systems, complete and coherently presented.
3. Culture: often the downfall of epic fantasy, the quality of this really stood out for me. The nations and societies are built on familiar foundations without ever falling into stereotype or cliche.
4. Characters: the protagonists are all clearly designed to fulfill epic roles, but they fill their big hero shoes with verve and style. I never felt that minor characters were minor. Everyone had lives and motives and pasts, and as I pointed out in #1, they spoke and reacted to events in ways that made emotional sense.

I really enjoyed the way relationships developed — or didn’t — over the course of the book. Life is complicated, change is hard, and trust takes courage. All those truths were handled with sensitivity and realism.

As for the points that bugged me, I will again default to a simple list:
1. Saidisms: action words like “seethed” or “frowned” used as dialogue tags. I know reader feelings run high about these, pro and con. I only notice when they make no sense to me, but then they set my teeth on edge. I nearly put down the book when I hit a “Stupid beast,” the middle rider seethed, on page 1. I’m immensely glad I continued, but if saidisms are like fingernails on a blackboard for you, it might be a deal-breaker.
2. Terminology & naming conventions: I struggled to stay afloat in the first few chapters. The flood of jargon and job titles, deity names, place names and other proper nouns overwhelmed me. Usually I love immersion reading–diving straight into worlds full of new words is a vocabulary adventure, but this book taxed my ability to assign meaning by context, especially early on.  The glossary at the end of the book became my best friend. (oh, how joyful I was to discover it!)
3. Villain. I love a good bad guy, even a melodramatically mustache-twirling black hat who is clearly Up To No Good from the beginning, but…but.  I had a hard time with one of the antagonists. The elements of the plot that revolved around the most obvious bad guy in the mix disappointed me, especially compared to the larger, sweeping war of greater powers that took shape over the course of the book.

I am thoroughly intrigued by the direction the Bigger Story is taking.  I can recommend this novel to anyone who loves a sweeping story with big ideas, bonds with heroic heroes and heroines, and enjoys juicy, complex interpersonal conflicts.

Final note: the star rating will bump to 4 for Amazon because that’s their version of “I liked it,” and I cannot justify less. This book is good with gems of real brilliance in it.

See all the books I’ve given an in-depth blog review here: My book reviews


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Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

4.5 of 5 stars

Uprooted is on my Best of 2015 list. It’s astonishing and lovely. I loved it hard.

The cover design and blurb from Gregory Maguire hinted at fairy tale involvement, and the first paragraph sealed the impression. My expectations plummeted. Fairy tale-derived fantasies have been popular for a long time, and I am a sucker for picking them up and being disappointed. I do have my favorites; Jim C. Hines’ Princess series and Robin McKinley’s assorted re-imaginings come to mind, as does Stephen Brust’s Brokedown Palace, which remains my benchmark for judging the effectiveness of a new story built on the bones of older ones.

I loved Uprooted more than all those.

Why? Let me count the reasons: richly descriptive world-building; layers and layers of history and meaning peeled back and presented with loving care; magic that isn’t all about systems and structures and science-y trappings, a narrative voice full of personality; and characters so real I could imagine hanging out with them.

I won’t go into details about the plot. It has one. It has several. They are all delightful. The classic standards are all just a little twisted, the tropes and archetypes just a little subverted, and everyone is very aware of the power of myth and folklore, not to mention the magic of names and blood.

It’s all so very, very good. Events don’t move fast at first, but the tension builds and builds beautifully, the stakes go from personal to political to world-shaking, and the resolution was everything I could have asked…and yet I still wished the story went on.

As an added bonus, the lyrical, intimate style is light years away from the formal, stiff C. S. Forster-esque prose of the Temeraire series. I decided Naomi Novik had stunning talent after reading His Majesty’s Dragon, but now I have tangible proof in hand to wave at people who think she “only writes those dragon books.” She is a versatile word genius. So.

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Review: Menagerie by Rachel Vincent

Menagerie by Rachel Vincent

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first thought on opening this one was “Oops.” I picked it up by mistake, thinking it was a new book by Eileen Wilks,* author of the Worlds of the Lupi series. (which I also highly recommend.)

Best mistake I’ve made in a long time. I never got hooked into Rachel Vincent’s Shifter series, but only because I was tired of were-animal stories. I knew her writing to be top-notch and her characters very relatable, so I thought, “Not what I wanted, but okay, I’ll give it a look.”

And two hours later, I finally managed to put it down long enough to eat.

This is the start of a new series in a different setting from the Shifters books, and it is EPIC good. Oh, it starts off like basic contemporary fantasy, taking place in a world like ours with a typical collection of legendary species living openly with humanity. Then it takes some excellent twists.

This story of kidnapping and revenge takes place in a deeply thought-out, incredibly intriguing world whose history and details stay were they tease best: lurking behind the plot curtains, revealed in hints, asides, and unfolding events. I can’t give it props for inventing a new cuisine, because it doesn’t stray too far away from the usual crowd pleasing twists and tropes (protagonist learns she isn’t who or what she thought she was, loses everything, must fight to make a new life for herself and learn all about the paranormal side of reality)

Still, its refreshing blend of All The Usual Ingredients makes for a delicious, rich treat. I won’t pinpoint what kind, just imagine your favorite decadence. Cheesecake? Creme brulee? Flourless chocolate cake? It’s that.

The BEST part? It’s labeled as #1 of a series, and the ending leaves the possibilities wide open the way any truly good ending does–but it wraps in such a satisfying way that it doesn’t require reading a sequel. So I can recommend it to EVERYone, even all my friends who don’t like reading series.

Extra bonus, that. Makes me super-happy.

*Note: I have no rational explanation for getting the two authors confused, no more than I can explain getting the actors Giovanni Ribisi and Vincent D’Onofrio mixed up. Which I also do.
I found Kay Hooper by similar serendipitous accident after mistaking a book by her for one of Iris Johansen’s. (Both do great mystery thrillers which otherwise are in no way alike.)

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