Book Review: Curved Horizon

Curved Horizon (The Camellia Clock Cycle, #2)Curved Horizon by Taylor Brooke

Since I got an ARC of Curved Horizon on NetGalley, it has kept me warm on some bitter New England nights. As wind gusts across a frozen lake just outside my window, my mind is still in the warmth of Laguna beach and the characters Taylor Brooke brought to life on it’s shores.

I read Curved Horizon slowly, savoring the gorgeous sentences packed with emotions I seldom feel in real life. I drank in the passion and pain the words evoked, the bruised kisses of new love, and imagery that made me crave summer.

Curved Horizon is a book about friends, soulmates and the kind of family you choose for yourself. It may not be the fastest paced, most suspenseful book, but I like it just the way it is. I enjoyed lingering in little moments, watching the characters grow and bloom from both good moments and challenging ones.

There was one big plot event described in the cover copy that came much later in the book than I was expecting, so while I was not forever wondering what was going to happen, I was wondering when it was going to happen, holding my breath, waiting for the weight to drop. And when it finally came, it was flawlessly executed.

I could go on and on about how good this book was, but I’m not going to. Want to know more about Curved Horizon? Pre-order.

Support the author by pre-ordering it, reading it, and leaving a review of your own.

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Another Book Review: Shadowshaper

Shadowshaper (Shadowshaper, #1)Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper series has been in my TBR list for a while. I bought it a few weeks ago, but had to work through the ARC’s I had to review before I got to it. I don’t know why I waited so long to read this. It is amazing, and I am going to try really hard pinpoint what I loved about it without just saying it was awesome.

At first, the book seemed to play into the classic YA urban fantasy trope of teen finds out they are part of some supernatural world, but this book was so much more than that.

Yes, Sierra Santiago, spunky Puerto Rican protagonist, did get drawn into a supernatural world her family had hid from her, but her personality, and her friends, were enough to make the story unique. Of course, Older didn’t just leave it at that. Sierra has a powerful internal struggle against racism and expectations. While she struggles against terrifying enemies, she also has to learn to love herself for who she is — to embrace her culture and identity.

This is all painted in colorful detail against the backdrop of a diverse, alive, sensual Brooklyn, where gentrification and hipsters are creeping up on old school neighborhoods where old men play dominos in vacant lots.

Hailing from different parts of the Caribbean, the supporting characters, including a lesbian couple, added more flavor to cultural melting pot this story happens in.

Not only did I enjoy this story, but I learned from it. I was reminded of somethings that should be obvious but aren’t always. I’m “white” and sometimes we (me and other white people) stupidly tend lump “people of color” into a few categories, and/or don’t always think about how someone who might be Puerto Rican, like Sierra’s aunt, might be a bigot towards someone who was Haitian and “darker.” It reminded me of how one time, I overheard a Dominican student whisper, “I thought that kid was black, not Dominican” to one of their friends as class was ending.

Books like this one, are so important for so many reasons. They represent a groups neglected in literature, allowing more people to see their people on the page. They are also a way educate people who are culturally illiterate or blinded by whiteness. By saying this last thing, I worry even that I am taking value away from this book by partially making it “for white people.”
I always worry I am going to overstep my place when talking about race and other people’s cultures, but being silent only fuels oppression.

Anyway, culture and race issues aside, this is an awesome book. The plot, while a little formulaic, engaged me, the magic concept was unique and the characters were deep. So if you like YA urban fantasy, books like Mortal Instruments, Chronicles of Nick, and Tithe, read this book, because it is even better than those.

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Book Review: Seven-Sided Spy

Seven-Sided SpySeven-Sided Spy by Hannah Carmack

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of Seven-Sided Spy from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review and was pleasantly surprised to find it’s science fiction element was a more prominent part of the story than I initially expected.

When I read the cover copy about once attractive spies deformed and on the run from the KGB, I thought normal scarring, not superhuman abilities and blue skin. The later is much more exciting, at least in my mind.

Yes, it has speculative elements, but Seven Sided Spy is also firmly grounded in reality and history. The slang, cars and clothing really ground me in the time period. The deep character development grounds me in humanity.

I loved how the characters’ past, present and future were all woven through the novel, but felt that at one point, having characters tell each other stories as a way to do that was used a little too much. It worked, though, because a lot of the “present” narrative was the characters stuck in the woods, trying to figure out when or if it would ever be safe to leave.

I honestly was not sure how this was going to end. I had a clear idea of how I wanted it to end, but my ideal ending would not have been the best for the stories true hero, so when I got to the end, the one I didn’t quite expect, it left me a little sad. It almost made me cry. However, it was also happy for at least for one characters. And it worked. I’m just a baby when it comes to endings.

While I am sure there are comparable novels like this one out there, I have not read once recently enough to make comparison. However, if you have ever wanted something like a darker, more grounded, queer Agent Carter, or if you just like spy novels with deep characters and a slight speculative element, then read Seven-Sided Spy.

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Book Review: Smoke City

Smoke CitySmoke City by Keith Rosson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I got a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. And I’ll admit, after the first couple chapters, I didn’t think I’d be giving it five stars, but I read on, and was won over the by the characters, subtle magic and tightly woven plots.

The end to this book left me feeling pretty good — in fact, this one was one the rare occasions where the book ended almost exactly how I hoped it would. Something that started our grimy and depressing had a surprisingly happy ending.

But enough about the ending.

It took me a little while to engage with this. The protagonists were two middle aged men who were more or less a wreck, way more of a wreck than I am now, but as I read and thought about how they were the kind of wreck I could be if I wasn’t careful, I found common ground with the characters.

Meanwhile, the gritty, grimy realism was being seasoned with the paranormal. I was intrigued by the smokes and specters and the snippets of Marvin’s past lives. There were lots of threads in this novel, but they were also tightly knit together.

It’s a hard novel to describe ( if you want a better idea of the premise, read the back cover copy that comes with book). However, if I had to compare it to other books, I’d say it’s a strange blend of Breakfast of Champions, Cloud Atlas and American Gods.

It may have a slow build, but Smoke City is worth it in the end.

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Book Review: Run in the Blood

Run in the BloodRun in the Blood by A.E. Ross

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Run in the Blood is like a breath of crisp, salty air proving you can have sword and sorcery fantasy set in a medieval-ish world without loading it up with sexism and misogyny. And you know what makes this book even better? Quite a bit of the rainbow was represented in a positive light with no one picking on them for being themselves.

I received a free copy from NineStar Press in exchange for a fair and honest review. I want to give it ALL THE STARS.

It had dragons AND pirates!

I was hooked from the first page watching in close third person as Aela engaged in a classic pirate battle and after a sweeping victory, was sold out to a king of a cold, snowy mountain nation.

Instead of forcing the reader to keep track of way too many characters, Ross alternated between three whose actions were closely intertwined, making the plot easy to follow and allowing me bond with and root for all three of them without being a strung along by some other random person’s story.

While a little predictable, the plot was full of fun twists and turns, all narrated by three very distinct voices, though my favorite is definitely Aela’s. The descriptions were detailed but not overdone, and little details, butter tea and spear guns, really brought the world to life.

The end wrapped up the plot’s important threads, but I really really hope there is a sequel because this book was so fun to read.

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Book Review: The Girl in the Tower

The Girl in the Tower (The Winternight Trilogy #2)The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A slow start, an epic middle and a bittersweet end describe The Girl in the Tower.

When I read the first book in the Winternight Trilogy last year, I hadn’t realized it was a series, but enjoyed it enough to request a copy when I realized there was a book 2, and it was on NetGalley.

The opening was loaded with gorgeous prose and historical detail, but it was a long time before I got to read a chapter from the hero’s (Vasya’s) point of view. However, once she showed up in the book, she swept me away like wind from a wild winter storm and hardly let me put the book down an end that almost made me cry.

While the historic setting was detailed and well researched, it was also incredibly frustrating. I wanted to punch almost every male in the story at one point or another for being misogynistic jerks. The difference is the way Vasya was treated when people thought she was a boy versus new she was a girl really captured the sexism of the time period. However, since this book was also laden with magic and folklore, I kept waiting and hoping for that historically accurate sexism to be subverted.

I liked that Vasya put on her pants in the wild woods long before she re-entered human society. It made her character and identity feel more genuine. However, my problem with female characters that “cross-dress” or “pretend” to be boys when live in a society like this makes wonder if they do that because their culture’s view of women is oppressive, or if it is simply because of who they are. If Vasya lived today, would she still want to play the role of a man? Or would she be content a woman?

I’m always looking for books with human characters that subvert gender binaries, but historical fiction can blur or even invalidate that because it is so hard to tell how much of the character’s desire to cross-dress is internal and how much is external.

Either way, I still love how wild and determined Vasya is, curse her when she makes bad decisions, and root for her to in. I can’t see how she can find peace and be alive in the world she lives in, but now that I know it is a trilogy, I am okay with the way things ended in this book, but I do not expect any kind of happy ending where she survives the end of the trilogy.

If you are looking for a darker fairytale or historic fantasy, then you will enjoy this, but don’t pick it up if you want a disney-worthy happily ever after.

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A Review: Gender Identity in Queen of All Crows

The Queen of All Crows (The Map of Unknown Things, #1)The Queen of All Crows by Rod Duncan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Queen of All Crows

When my request Queen of All Crows was approved on NetGalley, I was thrilled to hear that the wait to see what happened with Elizabeth Barnabus and John Farthing would be over. However, my experience reading the newest story in the world of the Gas-Lit Empire was a little different than it was last year. It is impossible to review without touching on how gender is portrayed in it.

Now, I’m more open about my gender identity, and am more engaged in conversations about gender and sexuality. Even though Elizabeth is referred to as “she/he” I’ve always thought “they/them” would be better suited as far as pronouns go. Barnabus was one of the first characters whose gender identity seemed to come close to mine — not really man or woman, but something fluid and in between.

Yes, pretending to be a young man was labeled as a disguise, but to me, it always seemed like it was more part of Barbabus’ identity than a disguise, and I think part of why my review is four-stars, not five, was because of the phrase “disguise herself as a man” being present in the back cover copy and the manly appearance being referred to as a disguise in general. Narratives where a character presents a different gender just for an external purpose sometimes make non-binary and fluid identities less valid. However, the saving grace in this series is that Elizabeth’s “disguise” is so much more than a disguise. And in Queen of All Crows, it becomes even clearer that not even Elizabeth truely understands their own identity.

I read slower than normal, rereading every sentence that hinted at Barnabus’ true gender identity. Some lines made me angry by placing Barnabus’ in a binary, but then there were twice as many that proved my theory that whether the author intended it or not, Barnabus was genderfluid.

The role gender played in this book went far beyond one character’s identity. I could write a twenty page paper analyzing gender in this book. Much of the plot was driven by power and perceptions of power: power over technology and weapons, but more importantly, the balance of power between men, women and those who are both or neither.

As anyone who has read the other books knows, the Gas-Lit empire, is not a place women have much power or agency. However, in Queen of All Crows Barnabus travels to an island made up of all women, which unfortunately, fell into the trope of a complete reversal — women enslaving men, and claiming they are better than them when they are really no different. I was a bit annoyed at this, but even here, the characters did not lack depth, and this little bubble of reversal did seem necessary to the larger plot at work throughout the serie. Since the characters were varied and not all raging idiots, and the description and integration into the world was so well done, I was able to forgive this.

The book did not have too many other flaws. The opening was slow, but once the plot picked up it was difficult to put the book down. The descriptions were detailed and gorgeous. The emotions and tensions high. The characters were tested and changed. The role of power and technology really got me thinking, and at times, I had to stop mentally debate ideas before diving back in. It has all the makings of a classic read that will endure for centuries.

Yes, there are some flaws, but every book has flaws, and this ones just make it more revealing in so many ways. I highly recommend it, but also reccomend you read Custodian of Marvels trilogy first.

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A Review of Love, Hate & Other Filters

Love, Hate & Other FiltersLove, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

I received a free copy of Love, Hate, and Other Filters from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. I rarely read contemporary YA, but thought this might be a good book to use in one of the classes I teach at community college. Reading this book did not feel like work. It felt like “I don’t want to go to work because I don’t want to stop reading this book.”

At first, as the narrator pointed out in a well crafted, self-aware manner, it felt like Rom-Con, where the geeky girl has to choose between two boys. However, things got more serious as tension grew between her and her parents, and they got a lot more serious when a terrorist attack happened in their state. Here, the book ceased to feel like rom-com and became more literary. Then there was a twist that I absolutely loved and made me think, “yes, this is a book for today, and it is a book so many people need to read!” The end was bittersweet, giving choky feels that only a good book can give.

I love that this book made think while it kept me turning pages. How the excerpts at the beginning of the chapters left bread crumbs for the twist but didn’t fully give it away. I enjoyed how the narrator was a little self-aware, but it didn’t really break the fourth wall because she was a filmmaker and it just felt like how she thought.

My only complaint is that there was one scene when a girl was being attacked by a boy, and another boy saved her. From a romance plot point of view, I can see why the writer chose this. It doesn’t stop me from wishing either the girl saved herself, or her female friend kicked the assaulter’s ass.

I learned a lot from reading this, and I had a lot of fun while doing it. I hope it becomes a bestseller, because it is a perspective so many American’s need to learn to see from.

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Book Review: Walking on Water is a gorgeous and validating read.

Walking on WaterWalking on Water by Matthew J. Metzger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up an ARC of Walking on Water. I asked to review it because I love merfolk stories as long as they are not Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and have been hungry for own voices fantasy featuring trans and non-binary characters.

I admit, I was skeptical of the first two chapters because the book was set in the past, in societies that were even more binary than the modern world, especially for princes like the two mc’s.

It’s too easy, when writing women in a misogynistic society, to make women want to be men simply because a society treats them like crap. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case in Walking on Water.

Yes, Calla was oppressed by her controlling father and foiled by her girly sisters. She didn’t fit with other mermaids or accept the role women were supposed to play in her society, but it wasn’t until she found herself in the body of a human male that she fully realized she wasn’t a she, but a he. That moment was raw, beautiful and true. It was uplifting and validating to read about someone discovering their gender as an adult.

From that moment forward, I could not put the book the down. The tension was beautiful, and so was the depiction of two people communicating without words better than many people communicate with them. I kept hoping for a happy ending, and with every twist and turn, I wondered how the characters were going to overcome the obstacles that stood in front of them. As soon as I thought I knew how it would happen, something would change to make me second guess where the story was going. I suspected – hoped – it would have a happy ending. I just didn’t know how the heck the characters were going to get there. I won’t say anything else about the end, other than that it worked.

The prose were as gorgeous as the story, and the voices of the different narrators were so distinct that I never second guessed whose POV I was reading. Each narrator saw the world a little differently because in some ways, they were each from different worlds, and the author stayed consistent with this throughout. It included some stunning nautical imagery. Of course, I won’t deny my bias towards that. The ocean is in my blood. If merpeople and past lives exist, I was probable in a merman in one of my lives…

If you are looking for a good fantasy, a beach read, a romance, a just good rep of a trans character, and/or just something good to read, then you will enjoy this book.

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Book Review – Ardulum: Second Don

Ardulum: Second DonArdulum: Second Don by J.S. Fields

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second book was just as good as the first, and I am very thankful I was able to get a free digital ARC.

The characters were constantly growing and being pushed to evolve. They were all flawed in ways that made me want to root for them. The obstacles thrown at them were believable enough to accept but big enough to pose a significant challenged.

The romance subplot is is picking up a bit, though it is still going at an incredibly slow, frustrating pace. This really puts the slow in slow burn. However, the romance really is a subplot, and there is so much more to this book.

The main plot was faster than the romance. I was reading on my kindle. One minute I was at 54%. The next time I looked at my progress, I was 77%, 95% and then I was done. It flew by, and I really wish book 3 was already out. The little teaser at the end of this made me want to read it now!

I may have already said this in the first review, but I loved how different pronouns were used for different species who had members that were neither male nor female, but while the idea of a true third gender was awesome, it wasn’t with the humans.

I have no complaints about this book. I had been reading more fantasy than science fiction, but the authors and editors at NineStar press, with books like the Ardulum series, Dalí, and Trans Liberty Riot Brigade, are reminding me how powerful science fiction can be when it involves complex characters and issues.

Ardulum was entertaining. It kept me on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what was going to happen next, and got me through a bad day, but it also made me think. It made me think about gender and sexuality, about human rights, religion, faith, diversity and where technology and advancement can build society up and break it down. Second Don was a little darker than First Don, but it wasn’t bleak and hopeless. Yes, it exposed some nasty flaws, but also offered hope that they might begin to heal in Third Don.

I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

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