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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Book Review: Phaethon

PhaethonPhaethon by Rachel Sharp

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From Holly Black to Jim Butcher, I read a lot of books that involve Faeries of one kind or another. Still, this one felt fresh. It had the folklore grounding of a Holly Black novel, but a tone and humor more likely to appeal to Butcher fan’s.

The characters were cute and believable – people I could picture myself being friends with.

The plot was fast paced, and for the most part, I was able to suspend my disbelief and enjoy the ride.

As far as flaws go, sometimes things seemed a little too easy. I laughed a little when one of the characters said humans were fixing Earth, but reminded myself that the political climate may have been more…optimistic…when this book began.

The rest of the story was fun and well thought out, so I can forgive those flaws.

If you like a good blend of science and fantasy, then you will enjoy Phaethon.

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A Review of Wings Unseen

Wings UnseenWings Unseen by Rebecca Gomez Farrell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received an early copy from NetGalley for a fair, honest, review.

Wings Unseen got off to a slow start with a first chapter that almost made me put the book down. However, I am glad I kept reading. I loved watching how a character that repulsed me on the first page transformed into someone I was rooting for, and she was just one of many fascinating characters.

Characters were one of many things I liked about this book.

The juxtaposition of two opposite realms was a fascinating way to explore gender roles, the relationship between the people and the government, and what people can come to accept as normal.

The world was exquisitely developed and describe with language that was beautiful and readable.

Once I got past the first quarter of the book, the pace picked up and suspense made me want to keep reading. The romance subplot was not what I expected, and near the middle of the book, when combined with the pacing the way the writer alternated between pov’s, made me want to cry, yell, or throw the book across the room.

Even though I wanted the characters to take different paths, but the end, the author convinced me they had made the right choice, and the emotions I experienced mid book were probably just a smidgen of what the characters would feel were this real.

Overall, it was worth read, and I would reccomend it to anyone who likes epic fantasy and has patience for a book that burns slowly.

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Professional Reader

Don’t Judge this By Its 1st Chapter: A Review of How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin’ Days

How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin' DaysHow I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin’ Days by Megan O’Russell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you enjoyed Chronicles of Nick by Sherrilyn Kenyon, you will probably enjoy How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin’ Days as they both feature a snarky, sort of whiny, self-aware narrator who wants to be like Deadpool but isn’t quite as cool.

At the beginning, I was not a fan of this book, or Bryant, its narrator/main character. My first impression was that he was a racist dick because made a comment about “old black ladies” watching out for him. That opening chapter really made me think the book drew unnecessary attention to race, and made me want to punch Bryant in the face.

But Bryant grew on me. He made me laugh. I loved the idea of the magic cell phone, and the world was well built. That first chapter was really the only one that had a racist vibe. There were some lines that were a bit too corny, even for this character, but in the end, the plot and the world drew me in. Bryant did grow and change throughout book, and he learned something in the end, which more than I can say for the characters in Valerian.

Speaking of the end, it wrapped up the main storyline, but left plenty room for a sequel, which I would probably read. However, I never read the second book in the Chronicles of Nick, so maybe I will be content to leave Bryant with one book. Books, like all arts, are subjective, and Bryant’s voice just wasn’t one I connected with. That doesn’t mean it was bad — just not my cup of tea.

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P.S. I received a free copy of this through NetGalley.

Book Review: The Dying Game

The Dying GameThe Dying Game by Asa Åvdic

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

This one is going to be hard to review without spoilers, but I’ll do the best I can.

I received an ARC of The Dying Game through the First to Read program. I initially chose it because I thought it might eventually be a good comp for one of my novels. It was thriller set in the near future and it had a female protagonist trying to get over something bad. That part of the concept seemed neat. The whole set up with people disappearing from a secluded house filled with secret passages was cliche.

Overall, the book wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. I get part of the thriller genre is to keep people guessing, but some of the details the author choose to leave out were downright distracting. For example, I never quite figured out the main character actually did at her job. I was constantly thinking about this instead of the story, and as a result, found myself constantly getting pulled out of the story. While the author skimped on details that seemed important, there were large swaths of back story that was just told, and more info dumps than I could count.

I kept thinking that all this was going to be relevant when I got to the end. Some of it was — but the end would have been far more surprising had the backstory been woven through in a more subtle way. Because of the info dumps and long, told, segments of flashbacks, the end was pretty much exactly what I was expecting, though, I admit, there were a few times in the middle where I thought I was wrong, and found myself hoping in vain for a more optimistic ending.

I also felt most of the characters were unnessarily sexist and binary. After reading two books with intersex and genderfluid leads, this felt like a slap in the face. I can see a female writer making the men seem a bit misogynistic to make a point, but there could have been at least one female character who wasn’t a stereotype of one kind or another…

Despite the many flaws of the The Dying Game, I did keep reading until the end, even though I considered giving up a couple times. The prose were pretty — there was good literary scenary that made it a little less painful. I also wanted to know if I was right about where the plot was going, and really hate to leave a novel unfinished (House of Leaves is still siting on my book case, mocking me. It doesn’t need a friend.) So I kept reading, and got to the ending I really wished I had been wrong about.

I my head, this book is 2.5 stars, but Goodreads and Amazon don’t give that option, so I’m rounding up when I review on those sites.

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