Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"Sebastian (Ephemera #1)" by Anne Bishop

I was very excited to read another Anne Bishop series- perhaps a tad too excited (as per usual). It's hard to know what to expect from an author whose current series I adore (The Others) and whose past series I couldn't get into (The Black Jewels). Although the cover purports this to be darker fantasy with "sensual" elements, for the most part this reads like an original fantasy with some romance (but it isn't by any of the stretch of the imagination that "sensual").

The concept of this book is a great one- instead of a vast world, what if it were broken up into little Landscapes, and to get to different Landscapes, you had to cross a Bridge. To those of us who like video games, the concept should come easily- instead of a sandbox-type world, it's a scattered one where you have to plan how you'll journey from place to place (and you're never quite sure where you'll end up). Taking care of the Landscapes are the Landscapers (who seem to all be female) and the ones who build Bridges are called Bridges (and again, all male).

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'A world of shifting lands connected only by bridges, Ephemera has been kept stable by the magic of the Landscapers. In one land where night reigns and demons dwell, the half-incubus Sebastian revels in dark delights. But then in dreams she calls to him: a woman who wants only to be safe and loved-a woman he hungers for while knowing he may destroy her.
'But a more devastating destiny awaits Sebastian, for in the quiet gardens of the Landscapers' school, evil is stirring. The nearly forgotten Eater of the World has escaped its prison-and Sebastian's realm may be the first to fall.'

Sebastian is only half-incubus, but seems to be very much a human male. Although one would think even a part incubus would be busy seducing women physically, for the most part he seems to prefer appearing to women in their dreams and indulging their fantasies. Meanwhile, the female main character, Lynnea, manifests as a near carbon copy of Meg Corbyn (of Written in Red fame), but without too much backstory, which is part of why I love Meg in the first place. I'm not sure if the author plans to include her much in the second book, but based on the title and cover I'm guessing not. Lynnea was easily the most disappointing character in the book- not because she didn't have the potential to be a great character, but because her backstory was so vague that she wasn't that compelling.

The thing that turned me off in this book was the thing I expected to like a lot: the Landscape of Den of Iniquity, which serves as Sebastian's home. When you think of that Den, chances are you may imagine some dark place illuminated by flames, filled with all sorts of sensual delights. So imagine my surprise when, despite the author asserting that this Den is pretty darn devilish and sensual, it ends up being like a corny, cheesy version of Vegas. There are rolls that you dip in cheese in the shape of phalluses (Phallic delights), and stuffed mushrooms that have some odd, boob-related name and look like, you guessed it, breasts. Despite Sebastian and Teaser having to "shield" these poor innocent people that come to the Den, I have to say, other than the "lewd erotic statues" (which, who cares- that's art, people) and supposed debauchery on the streets (which is never really shown, and never stumbled upon) there is nothing that wrong (or devilish, evil- take your pick) with the Den. Sure, it's always night and the sun doesn't shine there, but for those of us who are sun sensitive that almost sounds appealing.

Despite the flaws, there was something about this book that had me reading it almost nonstop. One would think I would be too annoyed with my above grievances, but in actuality, there's just something about this book that was addictive to me. Maybe it was the awesome worldbuilding (once one ventures past the Den of Iniquity), or even Sebastian himself (who wasn't half bad for a half incubus)- regardless of either of those, something compels you to read this book. Personally, I think the demon cycles (sentient demon motorcycles, sans motor) were a charming touch.

Sebastian was a gripping read that opened up new Landscapes for me. Beyond its shortcomings, something about it makes me hopeful for the next books in the series- perhaps the frenetic pace or the mystery who is Glorianna Belladonna. If you're looking for a unique series starter that doesn't feel like that urban fantasy you read last month, Sebastian definitely fits the bill.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a page-turning series starter that didn't quite fulfill its potential.

Content: Ages 18+ for cheesy rolls, violence, and strange monsters that suck you in and feed you to their pets.

Page Count: 436 pages in my mass market paperback edition.

Monday, March 28, 2016

O.o.O.C.: "Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence" by Doris Pilkington ~ Nugi Garimara

Out of Orbit Critiques are the reviews on books that stray outside my usual genres. Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is a nonfiction account of three girls of Aboriginal and Caucasian heritage traveling back to their families across Australia.

This book is told in a style that isn't quite a memoir and not quite nonfiction. The result is a slightly unevenly paced novel, which is actually quite a short read at 136 pages (or so Goodreads professes). I had seen some of the movie version of this, so my opinion may not reflect what some first time indulgers in this story might feel about reading it. Just something to keep in mind.

That disclosed, I have to admit the true story behind both the book and the film is absolutely incredible (and horrifying to those of us who want the best for children). Molly and her cousins Daisy and Gracie are taken from their home to a "school" (that resembles either an institution or a prison) to learn a trade (a trade they likely could've learned better from their parents). If you aren't just a little bit mad to learn this is a true story, well, you have more Vulcan-like emotional restraint than I do.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'This extraordinary story of courage and faith is based on the actual experiences of three girls who fled from the repressive life of Moore River Native Settlement, following along the rabbit-proof fence back to their homelands. Assimilationist policy dictated that these girls be taken from their kin and their homes in order to be made white. Settlement life was unbearable with its chains and padlocks, barred windows, hard cold beds, and horrible food. Solitary confinement was doled out as regular punishment. The girls were not even allowed to speak their language. Of all the journeys made since white people set foot on Australian soil, the journey made by these girls born of Aboriginal mothers and white fathers speaks something to everyone.'

A problem I had with the novel was in part due to my own negligence- the author uses many Aboriginal words and phrases, often not mentioning what they mean. However, there is a glossary in the back, that, had I known it was there, I would have used much more often. Google does not seem to know any of the Aboriginal words in this book.

Since I already knew the trajectory of this book, some of the revelations were anti-climactic to me, and because the writing was on the nonfiction side of things (keeping to the facts and not inserting many flowery phrases) I was a little underwhelmed with some of the book. Luckily, there were things I hadn't recalled happening to surprise me, as well as descriptions of scenery I can scarcely imagine. This is one of my Travel the World in Books picks that really showed me places I have never been before- all through the imagery of the written word.

A glimpse of the writing style:
Patrol officers travelled far and wide removing part-Aboriginal children from their families and transported them hundreds of kilometres down south. Every mother of a part-Aboriginal child was aware that their offspring could be taken away from them at any time and they were powerless to stop the abductors.
       ~Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington ~ Nugi Garimara, about 29% Kindle edition

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is an epic story of the power and perseverance of girls. Having been the same age as these girls were when they made the trek, I have to admit I feel in awe of their ability to keep going, despite their goal seeming insurmountable. Beyond girl power, this story also educates on the history of the Aboriginal people: I had no idea that many of the things mentioned briefly in the beginning of this book even occurred- and I watched some of the movie version(!). So if you want to learn about the Aboriginal culture and the history of early Colonial Australia, but also want a story of three young (and very determined) girls, there is no other book I'd recommend except this one.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars for a great (and short) eye-opener into a darker time in the history of Australia.

Content: Ages 14+ for racial injustices (including violence and death), hunting and gathering, and survival.

Page Count: 136 pages

Sunday, March 27, 2016

SFF: The 5 Résumé-Worthy Talents of the Average Book Blogger

Sunday Fun Five #50:

#48: The 5 Paper Books You Treasure Most
#49: The 5 Books That Had You at "Hello"
#50: The 5 Résumé-Worthy Talents of the Average Book Blogger
For the 10th of April: #51: The 5 Books that Make Profound Statements in 300 Pages or Less

A Countdown of

The 5 Résumé-Worthy Talents of the Average Book Blogger

5. Copying and Pasting
When I started blogging, I thought copy-and-pasting snippets of text was straight up lazy. Now I know that without that talent, most of the information on my blog would be wrong (particularly book titles). For some reason, I either omit "The" or add it in most titles, even when they don't need it. Yes, copy and pasting this well takes some serious blogger skills.

4. Time Management Skills
How do you read a book, which will be published in two months, and preferably have the review done prior? Mad blogger time management skills is how. Even if you don't feel pressure to review ARCs prior, there's also setting aside time for reading books, responding to comments, visiting other blogs, and you know, actually blogging (which I haven't been that good at of late). If only your average homo sapien were thusly gifted...

3. Rad Computer Skills
I had never attempted or imagined myself computer coding (in my life) until I became a book blogger. Nor would I have known how to screenshot webpages, make images (that didn't involve actual pictures I took), and then figure out ways to make my blog look less like your average blah Blogger template, had I never picked up this hobby. Did I mention I now know (at the grand old age of 23) how to use most social media sites to my advantage? Yes, blogging has improved my computer skills- skills I thought didn't need to be improved until I began this journey.

From Wikipedia
2. Reading Comprehension
I don't know about your experience, but I feel my reading comprehension has improved since I started book blogging. Not only am I reading more books: I'm also reading a wider range of books with topics and prose of varying difficulties. Beyond the books, I also read a wide variety of blog posts, book reviews, and a gamut of articles, many of which I stop to comment on. To comment intelligently (and without boring one's host blogger/author into their grave) one must comprehend the main gist of the post and find something meaningful to add, preferably something that hasn't been written in a previous comment.

1. Spelling and Grammar
Although I do lapse into folksy colloquialisms on occasion, I do my best to keep this blog without murky spelling and grammar in my blog posts and reviews. I'm not sure to what extent my spelling and grammar has improved, but when I began this blog I doubt I would know how to use colloquialisms in a sentence, much less spell it correctly on the first try. In short, book blogging is "for the win".

What are some other talents attributable to the average book blogger? Have you ever mentioned book blogging in your résumé?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

"Royal Assassin (Farseer Trilogy #2)" by Robin Hobb

This review is of a book that is the 2nd in the Farseer Trilogy. There may be spoilers for those of you who haven't read Assassin's Apprentice. My review for the first book in the series, Assassin's Apprentice, is here.

With sequels I tend to brace myself for a let-down. I've had so many sequels fail me in the past that when I read one like Words of Radiance I celebrate by reading it in a week (despite its lengthiness). Although one always hopes for the best, I had this feeling Royal Assassin would let me down. As a human with limited prediction capabilities, naturally I was wrong.

During most of Assassin's Apprentice, Fitz spends his time doing what other people want him to do. With this book, Fitz goes a bit rogue- he's more of his own person, even though he does things mostly for people (again) he does it in his own way. By anticipating needs and strategies, he does get himself into trouble, which is part of what makes this book so good- Fitz makes his own choices, with his own consequences. Normally in a book, that wouldn't be a cause for cheer, but with Fitz having his unusual upbringing and unseemly doses of loyalty running through his veins... it was about time.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'Fitz has survived his first hazardous mission as king’s assassin, but is left little more than a cripple. Battered and bitter, he vows to abandon his oath to King Shrewd, remaining in the distant mountains. But love and events of terrible urgency draw him back to the court at Buckkeep, and into the deadly intrigues of the royal family.
'Renewing their vicious attacks on the coast, the Red-Ship Raiders leave burned-out villages and demented victims in their wake. The kingdom is also under assault from within, as treachery threatens the throne of the ailing king. In this time of great danger, the fate of the kingdom may rest in Fitz’s hands—and his role in its salvation may require the ultimate sacrifice.'

Beyond Fitz being his own person in this book, Fitz also endures more struggles than before when he was an apprentice. The events of the past book have left their mark on him, causing seizures and moments of weakness that make him less of a fearsome assassin. I didn't find Fitz very relatable in the first book, but the illness he endures in this one mimics some of what I have to contend with daily. Sure, I've never had a seizure (that I know of) but I do have days where I hide in my house for fear of fainting in public (on that vein, I'd like to applaud authors who have the dreaded "fainting heroines" because dammit, that's my life some days). Fitz also adopts a wolf puppy (not a Wolf puppy, an actual wolf puppy) to save him from the trapper who kept him in a cage. Cub, who is later known as Nighteyes, becomes a key part of the book- and naturally, I loved him.

Another feature this book won me over with was the more prominent presence of female characters. There's Patience, queen-in-waiting Kettricken, and Molly (who is undoubtedly the smartest). Kettricken comes into her own in this book as well- at first, it seems like an ill-fated match between her and Verity, but as the book progresses, it becomes clear she was destined to be queen. Molly is as cautious as ever, though with Patience's help, she also grows stronger.

A favorite of mine from the first book, the Fool, is also a prominent character in this book. Something about him just speaks to the obscenely pale side of me that wishes I were a court jester/prophet as well. Although he is a wise one, he is without the profound knowledge of Burrich, as evidenced below:
"Many people have to live with worse. Most of the time you're fine. You're not blind. You're not paralyzed. You've your wits, still. Stop defining yourself by what you can't do. Why don't you consider what you didn't lose?"
              ~Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb, page 10

Royal Assassin was much, much better than I had anticipated. Although I had a slight ambivalence toward Fitz during the first book, I loved how he progressed as a character during the course of this one- he's still single-minded and serves others before himself, but he gains an independent streak. With Nighteyes at his side, he endures despite terrible odds, making this book a "white-knuckle" read. If you've read Assassin's Apprentice, this book is really a must read- I hadn't anticipated the series improving, and yet here I am, rating a sequel five stars.

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars for an extraordinary epic fantasy sequel that kept me reading until morning light!

Content: Ages 18+ for torturous scenes, gore, and unusual courage.

Page Count: 675 pages in my mass market paperback edition

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Fortnightly Update #6: I'll Make This One Quick!

Depending on my body's capabilities (but likely nonetheless) I will be in Montana when this is posted. I've been prepping for the trip for the past week- writing up post ideas (though not entire posts in one sitting), cleaning the house, making sure every scrap of clothing I own is clean so I can wear or pack whatever I wish. It's always nice to have a clean house to come home to. As per usual, I procrastinated on writing posts/reviews so this will be the last until I've recovered from traveling.

Recent Acquisitions (or the Piling of the-Piles):

the-pile Additions:

See "Better World Books" Haul Round 2 if interested. Also, for cat vs. dog goodness from my own clan- on video.

the-invisible-pile Additions:

Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston
Since I loved Their Eyes Were Watching God, I decided it was paramount to collect anything and everything she wrote. I was browsing the "About" page on her website and was shocked to learn although she did achieve fame in her lifetime, she went without a headstone for 13 (freaking) years. Thanks to fellow author Alice Walker, her work was put into the spotlight again, and she got her headstone.

Sunbolt (The Sunbolt Chronicles #1) by Intisar Khanani
Memories of Ash (The Sunbolt Chronicles #2) by Intisar Khanani
Since I enjoyed Thorn (but haven't reviewed it... yet), I was thinking of looking up the author's other works and adding them to my Amazon wishlist (which is filled with all the things I want to buy, but I wait until they go on a really good sale). As it happens, her books were already in "Litha Must Buy" territory at the price of $0.99 each (although Memories of Ash is a preorder). If you're interested in her books, you may want to head over to La La in the Library for her Cover Reveal and Giveaway for Memories of Ash: there's also an interview with the author.

NetGalley Approved Requests:

Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey
Expected Publication: June 14th 2016
The blurb name-dropped both Alice Hoffman and Anne Bishop. I don't expect much of it yet, but I couldn't resist hitting "request".

Currently Reading (As of Friday):

See Right

Assassin's Quest (Farseer Trilogy #3) by Robin Hobb
This one is so addictive, I intended to make progress "packing" and instead read the first two hundred pages today in one sitting. My poor animals felt neglected by the time I looked up and realized it was their supper time.

Finished These Books:

The Incarnations by Susan Barker
Rating: 4 Stars
This has a review, but the short summary is I enjoyed it, despite it's graphic content and characters I was slightly ambivalent to. It takes you on a time-traveling journey through the ages of China, but there is NO time-traveling involved, just reincarnation and past life biographies written by a mysterious stranger who claims to be another's soul mate.

Rating: 3ish Stars Each
I gathered two of Julia Quinn's Bridgertons series that I hadn't had the pleasure of reading prior, and read them both in short order. I really don't have any physical historical romance books (that I know of- most are historical fiction), so I devolved from my "physical book only" phase to read them. No one would really know from looking in my library that I like historical romance- I'm mostly a non-romantic fiction hoarder (although, truth be told, most of the books that constitute my classics collection could be considered romantic).

Rating: 2ish Stars
I was disappointed by this one due to the ending- it seemed to drag on forever. There's a certain point in some of the historical romances I dislike when I start muttering along to Katy Perry's ridiculously addictive "Hot N Cold" song, and then I know it's pretty much a given that I won't rate it above 3 Stars, if even that. Something about imagining that music video set in the Regency era appeals to me, though the lyrics would have to change.

Royal Assassin (Farseer #2) by Robin Hobb
As I professed to the Twitterverse, I haven't read an epic fantasy this good (AKA amazing) in too long. It reminds me of the good ol' days when I would read every day in summer from noon until midnight. Lately I've had a lot of focus problems with reading- I like the books, I just can't focus on them enough to read more than an hour at a time, but with this book that didn't factor in, as evidenced by my inability to sleep before reading the "finale".
Also, major plus: there was a wolf puppy/cub in this book.
Rating: 5 Stars

In the Blogosphere:

Heather @ Based on a True Story reviews Bitch Planet. I want it, and a foam finger too.

Guiltless Reader posts on #BookmarkMonday (238): Colouring bookmarks from @BookDepository!... you know, just in case you need incentive to buy books.

Erin @ The Paperback Stash reviews Magic Stars by Ilona Andrews, a Kate Daniels series novella I haven't gotten around to yet.

La La in the Library hosts a Cover Reveal and Giveaway for Memories of Ash, Intisar Khanani's newest addition to her Sunbolt Chronicles. As it turns out, the author and I have some favorite books from our formative years in common.

Becca @ A Little Penguin's Bookshelf posts her thoughts on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, a book I've been considering adding to my wishlist.

In My Life:

Unit #1 of the Minion army is beginning to assemble, Unit #2 (nicknamed the Flower Children due to all of them being flowers) needs a little more time to fully deploy.

These pictures were from Day 10 (March 15th) and both of Unit 1 but I didn't have time to run down there and take and edit photos like I normally do. Anyways, I'm super happy with my plants so far, and I'm so excited to see the colors I get with the rainbow varieties I've planted (both rainbow heirloom tomatoes and rainbow coleus).

Hope your week and weekend were wonderful- happy reading!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

"Better World Books" Haul Round 2

Since I found quite a few gems last time when I ordered from Better World Books, I decided I would indulge in another round of mad book hoarding cheap book acquiring since they were having a 24 hour sale.

Sebastian (Ephemera #1) by Anne Bishop
Belladonna (Ephemera #2) by Anne Bishop
I was going through my list of favorite authors and searching them to see if they had books available when it occurred to me to search for Anne Bishop. Although I had tried and discarded her Black Jewels series, I wasn't sure if she had anything else I hadn't read yet. As it turns out, she also has written the Ephemera series, which sounded interesting enough for me to purchase the first two. Normally I wouldn't be too interested in reading about an incubus, but again, this is Anne Bishop- therefore, I'll try it.

Among Thieves (Tales of the Kin #1) by Douglas Hulick
I do enjoy a good con- set in a fantasy world, of course. I have had this on my wishlist for what seems like forever, but I was glad to find it finally at a decent price.

Luck in the Shadows (Nightrunner #1) by Lynn Flewelling
This is another thief fantasy (or so I think...) but with a gay main character. Since it's unusual to find that in traditionally published (and older) fantasy, I thought I might give it a try.

The Liveship Traders Trilogy by Robin Hobb
I found myself coveting The Liveship Traders trilogy by Robin Hobb that I had passed on last time due to the notion that I could probably skip it. Since I'm loving Royal Assassin, it really didn't make sense to skip another of her series I might enjoy, especially when that series looks to have a female protagonist.

The Grand Total: $18.66 for three hardcovers and four paperbacks, and free shipping!

The animals "helping" me unbox.

Last but not least, the video debut of George and Torrie (with a brief glimpse of Keisha), who are "boxing" for the honor of the Better World Books box:

As it happens, it is also St. Patrick's Day and Torrie's Unofficial Shelter-Sanctioned Birthday. She is now 7ish years old (although I frequently tout her to be older or younger, depending on the day). I'm ever so glad I adopted her from the shelter: she's such a fun police-dog (she ruins all of George's fun).

Have you had any book buying sprees recently?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

SFF: The 5 Books That Had You at "Hello"

Sunday Fun Five #49:

#48: The 5 Paper Books You Treasure Most
#49: The 5 Books That Had You at "Hello"
For the 27th of March: #50: The 5 Résumé-Worthy Talents of the Average Book Blogger

A Countdown of

The 5 Books That Had You at "Hello"

Seldom do I sit down and start reading a book until I have to sleep/eat/do human things, but with these books, well... they were very hard for me to put down once I polished off the first chapter.

5. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Usually, longer books don't hold my attention too well with their beginnings because I know I'm in for a long read, but this one was different. Maybe it was the setting or the mythology, but something about it was just magical- it had me hooked.

4. Vicious (Vicious #1) by V.E. Schwab 
I had been anticipating reading this book for what seemed like ages until I was able to get it for a decent price. Generally, that means my expectations are too high to be met, but not with this book. Maybe because I'm a supervillain at heart?

3. The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter (The Fall of the Gas-lit Empire #1) by Rod Duncan
My favorite alternate history/steampunk crossdresser, Elizabeth Barnabus, had me salivating over her adventures from the start. I hadn't known what to expect going in to read this book, and that's likely why I liked it so much and why it was so addictive. It was very much my cup of coffee.

2. My Man Jeeves (Jeeves #1) by P.G. Wodehouse
This one is unusually well-paced for a classic, perhaps because it is 1) a comedy, 2) short stories, and 3) delightfully zany. It is also a relatively short read, so if it ends up it isn't your thing, you haven't wasted too much time. I was surprised how quickly I gobbled it up- usually, even with books I love, they take a while for me to read.

1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium Trilogy #1) by Stieg Larsson
This one could almost go into the category of macabre thrills like watching a car accident. You can't help but look/read on after a few chapters, wondering what might happen next. When something happens, you think, "No, that couldn't have happened- this has to get happier," a sentiment which continues throughout the book. This one is definitely not for the faint of heart- I felt it the level of content was "worse" than A Game of Thrones... and yet I still enjoyed it.

What are some books that you couldn't stop reading from the first chapter? What was it about them that had you hooked?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

"The Incarnations" by Susan Barker

I received a free (and gorgeous) hardcover copy of this book via Goodreads' Giveaways. My opinion remains as impartial and forthright as ever.

With magical realism, generally you expect some rather happy-go-lucky magical elements along with a more disturbing storyline. For example, with one of my favorite authors, Alice Hoffman's work, generally the storyline could be strictly fictional, but the magical elements are what boost it out of the ordinary, enhancing the plot. With this story, the plot wouldn't work (at all) without the magical elements in place, unless you're a huge believer in past lives and reincarnation, in which case, disregard that assertion. The plot would not make sense in a strictly fictional setting of historical or contemporary, even in one of those odd, choppy, past-present overlap books. The Incarnations is dependent on a relationship between two souls throughout times and places, regardless of the shells those souls might be inhabiting.

This isn't one of those books you read because you are particularly in love with the characters- or at least, in my case it wasn't. I found myself none too sympathetic with Wang, even having seen his past incarnations. Every character in this book is decadently flawed, which is part of why I enjoyed it so much: I didn't enjoy the characters, but the flaws made them perilously mortal, so in a way, I did. I admired their humanity, frailty, and spirit, but it was difficult (if not impossible) to admire their actions.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'Who are you? you must be wondering. I am your soulmate, your old friend, and I have come back to this city of sixteen million in search of you.
'So begins the first letter that falls into Wang’s lap as he flips down the visor in his taxi. The letters that follow are filled with the stories of Wang’s previous lives—from escaping a marriage to a spirit bride, to being a slave on the run from Genghis Khan, to living as a fisherman during the Opium Wars, and being a teenager on the Red Guard during the cultural revolution—bound to his mysterious “soulmate,” spanning one thousand years of betrayal and intrigue.
'As the letters continue to appear seemingly out of thin air, Wang becomes convinced that someone is watching him—someone who claims to have known him for over one thousand years. And with each letter, Wang feels the watcher growing closer and closer…
'Seamlessly weaving Chinese folklore, history, and literary classics, The Incarnations is a taut and gripping novel that sheds light on the cyclical nature of history as it hints that the past is never truly settled.'

Beyond the imperfections of the characters, what makes this book compelling is the breadth of history and settings it covers. Most of it is set in China, with a few possible outlying meanderings. The characters, or the soulmates, are constantly at odds with each other throughout their reincarnations and always seem to have this unusual sibling rivalry (as best I can describe that relationship) going on. In most books, I would assume all these short snippets of past lives would make the entire book feel like a bunch of short stories, but with this one, the characters seem themselves (and are themselves) in every stage of their past lives. You wouldn't think Wang the taxi driver would be like he is in his first incarnation, but put a soul through a different set of circumstances and I think the answer would be yes.

I think what shocked me (despite having been warned of it beforehand) was the sheer harshness of the content of this book. Although I was easily drawn in from the first page, after the first 50-ish pages I had to stop and read something else because it was so blatant and unabashed. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just that my review won't prepare you to read the book, even if I listed all the content I could think of, like with my A Game of Thrones review. It's like falling asleep snug in your bed and being doused at midnight with a bucket of ice cold water. This book isn't for those who are sensitive to adult content- even halfway through, I kept being surprised with the turns in the story. A lot of people refer to such things in fantasy as grimdark- well, this is grimdark magical realism.

The Incarnations is magical realism that expands its bounds to romp in both historical and contemporary settings. Don't let it's cover fool you into thinking it's like a million other books, because this one is definitely a special shade of gray, gray morality, that is. If you enjoy unusual books without characters that seem particularly heroic (in either the anti- or plain hero fashion), set in a familiar country that seems unfamiliar once you finish reading the book, The Incarnations may be just the book you're seeking.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for a magical realism with exquisitely flawed characters.

Content: Ages 18+ for all kinds of sexual content (rape, incest, castration, masturbation, and everything else you can dream up), violence, and the eating of strange meat.

Page Count: 371 pages in my hardcover edition

Thursday, March 10, 2016

"Bayou Moon (The Edge #2)" by Ilona Andrews

This review is of a book that is the 2nd in the The Edge series. There are minor spoilers for those of you who haven't read On the Edge. My review for the first book in the series, On The Edge, is here.

You meet one of the characters from this book, William in On the Edge, but Cerise and the majority of the characters are new. Still, I recommend starting with On the Edge because 1) it's shorter, 2) I liked it slightly better, 3) series are less confuzzling when you don't read them out of order. William is an odd sort of shifter-man: he was raised in an orphanage/military school in the Weird, and for reasons revealed in On the Edge, doesn't exactly fit into that world anymore, if he even did in the first place.

My favorite thing about this book is all the characters that are brought into the series: Cerise's family, the Mars, are rife with every sort of misfit you can imagine. Being a resident of the island of misfit toys myself, I found it amusing to follow their antics (and battles, and unusual forms of revenge). If you find yourself in the Mire area of the Edge, I'd steer clear of them, as beyond their tendency to lock their "guests" up for the night, they also make deadly things that may seem innocuous, but definitely aren't.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'The Edge lies between worlds, on the border between the Broken, where people shop at Walmart and magic is a fairytale–and the Weird, where blueblood aristocrats rule, changelings roam, and the strength of your magic can change your destiny…
'Cerise Mar and her unruly clan are cash poor but land rich, claiming a large swathe of the Mire, the Edge swamplands between the state of Louisiana and the Weird. When her parents vanish, her clan’s long-time rivals are suspect number one.
'But all is not as it seems. Two nations of the Weird are waging a cold war fought by feint and espionage, and their conflict is about to spill over into the Edge—and Cerise’s life . William, a changeling soldier who left behind the politics of the Weird, has been forced back into service to track down a rival nation’s spymaster.
'When William’s and Cerise’s missions lead them to cross paths, sparks fly—but they’ll have to work together if they want to succeed…and survive.'

While I did enjoy William and Cerise's partnership, there was a slightly spoiler-ish issue with plotting that puzzled me. They had a love/hate thing going on, and on the day before a "big battle" that they were anticipating, they decided to fight each other to see which one of them was the better fighter. It would have been fine if they were sparring, but for two supposedly rational minded human beings to cut each other up the day before their "big battle" that they weren't sure they would win...

Yeah, that puzzled me.

There are many more positives with this book, not limited to Cerise being a magically bladed badass, but they were overshadowed by that odd plot piece. Kaldar Mar (conman lawyer extraordinaire) is introduced in this book, and I had worried he may not end up being featured in the series again, but guess who has his own book? The villains in this book become a key part of the series, giving it a slightly steampunk-ish vibe (I've only ever seen monsters like this in steampunk and/or horror books).

Bayou Moon is an excellent sequel that had an issue with plotting that made it falter a bit. Regardless of its failing(s), it adds to the Edge series by advancing the plot and introducing some of my favorite characters... and having a Princess Bride reference (page 53). If you've read On the Edge, I definitely recommend continuing the series- Bayou Moon is a key to many of the plot points in the series, which is likely why it's the longest of all the books.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an urban fantasy sequel with some minor issues.

Content: Ages 18+ for sexual content, macabre violence, and gruesome abominations.

Page Count: 462 pages in my paperback edition

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Fortnightly Update #5: The Seedling Horde Awakens

These past two weeks have been relatively uneventful blogging and book-wise: I am continuing to read paper books so far for March (that may change, as I really need to start reading more, which ebooks help me do). As for real life, my mom recently purchased a foldable, semi-recumbent exercise bike that I've been hogging, and yesterday I started my seedling army (more on that 'In My Life').

Recent Acquisitions (or the Piling of the-Piles):

the-pile Additions:

The Incarnations by Susan Barker
As I wrote of on my month in review, I won this beautiful copy on a Goodreads giveaway. It did take forever and a day getting to my house, but given it was free (and it is beautiful), I have no complaints.

the-invisible-pile Additions:

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington/Nugi Garimara
I watched some of the movie version of this, so I couldn't resist adding it to my pile (especially considering I've yet to read a book set solely in Australia). It's really an amazing (and horrifying) story of what lengths people went to 'whitewash' (for lack of a better term) the Aboriginal culture. Sadly, this sort of cultural demonization/obliteration went on many places, including America.

A Crown for Cold Silver (The Crimson Empire #1) by Alex Marshall
I read Rachelle (@Fortified by Books)'s review of this a while ago and added it to my Amazon wishlist. I had seen this on NetGalley, but due to the blandish cover, I was unsure if it was historical fiction/mystery or fantasy, and therefore passed it over. Once I verified it was fantasy and had a female heroine, on to the wishlist it went. Recently the price took a dive into "Litha Must Buy" territory, so naturally it is waiting for me on my Kindle's carousel.

Currently Reading:

The Incarnations by Susan Barker (as seen above)
The way this is told makes it a very interesting read, but sometimes makes it easy to put down. I like that it's set in Beijing, and even from the little I've read it's clear this is an 'adult' adult book (with lots of unusual adult content, like castrations).

Finished These Books:

The Edge Series by Ilona Andrews, including:

On the Edge (The Edge #1) by Ilona Andrews
Bayou Moon (The Edge #2) by Ilona Andrews
Fate's Edge (The Edge #3) by Ilona Andrews
Steel's Edge (The Edge #4) by Ilona Andrews
I loved Fate's Edge the best (due to some conning and scheming), but the others were pretty excellent too. What I liked about the series was there are recurring characters and the heroines are just as 'strong' as their male counterparts (if not a little stronger). Also, pet raccoons (although, having met many raccoons, I would never trust one to be my pet).

In the Blogosphere:

Not as many links this week, as I've been mostly blogging and reading books, but not as many blogs (*gasp*).

Val @ The Innocent Smiley has an excellent discussion post: Is It OK to Love a Problematic Book?

Charlotte @ Bookmarks and Blogging shares her take on Colouring Books... For Grown Ups?! I, as you may have noticed, heartily endorse the practice.

Not really a blog or bookish, but I found this article so nice: You're Not Imagining Your Chronic Illness — Don't Believe Anyone Who Tells You Otherwise. I can't tell you how many times I've had people judge me by my looks (I look like a normal, healthy person) and then grow wide-eyed when I described my insomnia, pain, and other maladies that coincide with my invisible illnesses. When I say I can't work or go to college, I can see the wheels turning in their heads: "She doesn't try. She's just another woe-is-me Millennial." Luckily, I realized long ago that their opinion doesn't matter, because though they may have some of the invisible problems I have, they have never experienced it full time for nine and a half years. I may not have any of the big scary name diagnoses, but my pain and symptoms are just as real.

In My Life:

I've started some of my seedling minions, including two types of tomatoes (a big and early, and my standby heirloom rainbow mix), Thai basil (a gorgeous green with purple basil that smells like licorice), zucchini (if you leave your car unlocked in North Dakota during summer, you will find one in the back seat), royal carpet alyssum (tiny purple flowers in clusters), a trailing variety of lobelia (which will be a lovely royal blue), and a rainbow variety pack of coleus (those leafy colorful shade plants). Last year I started them a little too early and they didn't do as well, so this year I started them in March again. My mom just came back with more seeds, so I guess my army isn't quite fully assembled yet. I started a hashtag on Twitter for my 'minion army' to chart their growth progress: #LithasMinionArmy.

And, in other good news, with help from my mom's aforementioned exercise bike, I am able to work out more regularly. It's nice to have something so convenient to use.

Which books have you been reading? Are you gardening this year?

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