Review: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock

I’m not sure how this book popped up on my radar, but when I saw it on NetGalley the cover at least was familiar. And obviously, if the cover was familiar, it was because someone whose opinion I trust had said this book was good. Whoever that was, thanks for the tip, because boy, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors was seriously fun. My husband asked what I was reading the other night, and I told him, “This book with airships and blood magic and math. Oh, and also musketeers.” Oddly, I think it was the addition of the musketeers that made him laugh.

A polymath princess and her faithful musketeer must unravel the plot of a thousand-year-old madman in order to save an a foreign kingdom from a disastrous civil war.

Caelum is an uninhabitable gas giant like Jupiter. High above it are the Risen Kingdoms, occupying flying continents called cratons. Remnants of a shattered world, these vast disks of soaring stone may be a thousand miles across. Suspended by magic, they float in the upper layers of Caelum’s clouds.

Born with a deformed hand and utter lack of the family’s blood magic, Isabelle is despised by her cruel father. She is happy to be neglected so she can secretly pursue her illicit passion for math and science. Then, a surprising offer of an arranged royal marriage blows her life wide open and launches her and Jeane-Claude on an adventure that will take them from the Isle des Zephyrs in l’Empire Céleste to the very different Kingdom of Aragoth, where magic deals not with blood, but with mirrors.

Anyone who knows me, probably also knows that I… am not a math person. Number do not behave for me—unless, oddly, I’m multiplying. Basic addition? Definitely don’t count on me for that. Friends of mine still make fun of me for the time I added 8 + 3 and got 12. It wasn’t really until I’d started reading this book that I realized that “polymath” was literally in the blurb and I’d just sort of… glossed over it. Happily for me—and possibly for other people who are interested in reading this book—actual numbers don’t really make an appearance in this book. Instead, “polymath” seems to be code for, “incredibly smart with an interest in math, science, and natural philosophy.”

The heroine, our polymath princess Isabelle, then proceeds to demonstrate all of those things without losing either my interest or my understanding, a feat both appreciated and admired. Isabelle is a delightfully fleshed out character whose mind was fun to inhabit for a time. Of course, she isn’t without her flaws, as all well-written characters are. But those “flaws” are believable and become strong parts of her character, rather than devices the author is using to prove that his character isn’t perfect. She hesitates where others might not, she hopes—a quality that literally walks her into danger—and is less vicious than both everyone hopes she will be and than everyone around her actually is.

Isabelle is also a disabled protagonist, born with a birth defect. It’s something that colors her entire existence—but that’s mostly due to social and religious biases that are a part of the world she inhabits. She herself has learned to live with the disability and works around it, using her body the only way she knows how. Without giving away anything that would certainly ruin a plot point, there is a really nice moment when even that is taken away from her, and she’s momentarily devastated. Although the recovery from that devastation smarts a little of a deus ex machina, it also manages to still be a reasonable recovery within the world of the book, as well as setting up future schemes for subsequent books.

Like most readers, I like to try and guess at the mysteries a writer teases as I read. I think the best executed plot twists are the ones that lead the reader along at the same speed as the rest of the characters, and this book delivered on that. There were things that I started to guess at just as the Isabelle and Jean-Clause started to get suspicious too. And for the big reveals, I guessed at them within a page or two of the characters figuring it out for themselves. There was even one character who wasn’t who he said he was and I never saw it coming.

Another thing that I really liked about this book was that the romantic subplots are almost non-existent. By the time the main action of this book begins, Isabelle is 24 years old—old enough in the structure of her world that she has given up on the idea of marrying anyone. Of course, much of the plot revolves around an arranged marriage for her, and she does dream that love might blossom in that marriage, but it’s a brief dream and she returns her focus to the fact that people are trying to kill her. There is absolutely set up for romance to do some blossoming in future books, and given the characters said blossoming might happen between, I’m looking forward to seeing how it could develop.

The one hiccup in this book, for me, is the world itself. Not the cities or the religion or most of the other world-building things that make a fictional land feel like a real one, but that actual geography. The landscape of this book’s world is intriguing, yes, but doesn’t feel relevant. Airships and floating landmasses and odd wind patterns that play havoc with said airships and sometimes even those landmasses are all sort of present in the book because they’re facts of life for the people who live there—but you could probably swap out airships with real ships and put those landmasses in the ocean and nothing structurally would change. The history of how those landmasses came to be is hinted at, both in the blurb above and within the book itself, but it doesn’t play an integral part in anything. Maybe this is something the author is working towards, since we do get those hints, but from just the one book it seems like an unnecessary “coolness” device.

All that being said, I’m really excited for the next book in this series. The love story that has the potential to play a larger role in future books is with a character that we didn’t get to learn nearly enough about, but who still managed to make me like him almost instantly. Not to mention the political ramifications of this book’s plot on future plot lines. I do hope that we get a little more about the world itself, but since it seemed like the author was setting that up anyway, I’m not worried. Who knows what Isabelle and Jean-Claude are going to do next time?

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is written by Curtis Craddock and will be published by Tor Books on August 29, 2017. It is the first book in the Risen Kingdoms series.

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Review: Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

miranda-and-caliban I haven’t read everything Jacqueline Carey has ever written, but I’ve read a decent chunk of it. And I’ve always liked it. Kushiel’s Legacy is one of my favorite series, one that I reread every couple of years. The Agent of Hel Urban Fantasy trilogy is a fun romp that I couldn’t read fast enough, and wish there was a lot more of. Like many readers, when I read one thing by an author that I like, I’ll read more of their works because I want to find more things that I like. With authors whose MO is to explore the various subgenres of Fantasy, that desire to like everything they write can be hit-or-miss. I wanted to like Miranda and Caliban as much as I liked the rest of Jacqueline Carey’s work that I’ve read. But I just didn’t.

A lovely girl grows up in isolation where her father, a powerful magus, has spirited them to in order to keep them safe.

We all know the tale of Prospero’s quest for revenge, but what of Miranda? Or Caliban, the so-called savage Prospero chained to his will?

In this incredible retelling of the fantastical tale, Jacqueline Carey shows readers the other side of the coin―the dutiful and tenderhearted Miranda, who loves her father but is terribly lonely. And Caliban, the strange and feral boy Prospero has bewitched to serve him. The two find solace and companionship in each other as Prospero weaves his magic and dreams of revenge.

Always under Prospero’s jealous eye, Miranda and Caliban battle the dark, unknowable forces that bind them to the island even as the pangs of adolescence create a new awareness of each other and their doomed relationship.

There’s nothing technically wrong with this book. The writing isn’t bad, the story isn’t full of holes, the world is consistent. At the same time, the pace was almost unbearably slow. I was more than halfway through the book and still wondering when they story would start. The characters weren’t unlikeable, they just weren’t particularly interesting either. I wasn’t exactly bored by this book, but neither was I so excited to read it that I raced through it as fast as I could.

The story begins when Miranda is six, and for that age she’s an incredibly eloquent child. But as the story progresses, Miranda doesn’t. Despite the story making a point of her education by her father, she never seems to grow intellectually. Part of that is Prospero keeping his daughter ignorant for his “great working,” but another part of that is simply that there’s not much room to grow given the starting point. Even harder for me to read, she is—for much, if not all of the story—content in her ignorance, even knowing that she is such.

There’s a reason for much of this, of course. The whole story of this book takes place within the framework of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a play whose action occurs all within a single day. So while it builds some new things within that frame, it never expands outwards—because it can’t. Many readers will know how the play ends, and so this book had to end that same way. Because I knew where the story was building to, it lacked some of the dramatic tension that I have previously enjoyed in Carey’s work. Though it has been long enough since I last read The Tempest that I only remember the barest outline of that story, I wonder if I might have liked this book better if I had never read the play, or if I had read it more recently.

The rest of the cast—Caliban, Ariel, and Prospero—has such potential to be interesting, but they don’t really do much. Miranda and Caliban narrate the story in alternating first person perspectives, but Prospero and Ariel take up so much of the story still, given that the cast of the story is limited by to the occupants of the island. Even Ariel’s Shakespearean language patterns don’t quite make him a fuller character, and the play’s constraints on the book make Propsero’s “great working” is mostly done off-screen, so while we get to see the inevitable results, we don’t see much of the working itself outside of the observations of Miranda or Caliban.

Don’t get me wrong. There are definitely people out there who are going to love this book. This is certainly a departure from what I’ve read of the rest of Jacqueline Carey’s books, which was part of its appeal. Of course it’s always a pleasure to read the next book in a beloved series, but its where authors allow themselves to depart from the familiar and learn new things that readers can really get a sense of their skill as writers.

The one thing I found myself getting really into in this book was the magic Prospero uses. It’s an interesting mix of alchemy and astronomy, and the Greek and Roman pantheons. Carey herself said that she did a lot of research into the magical practices of the time, picking and choosing the ones that allowed for a consistent magical system, and I would happily read another book that used the same magical construction.

Miranda and Caliban is written by Jacqueline Carey and was published by Tor Books on February 14, 2017.

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Book Stats: 2016 Retrospective

2016 was a pretty decent year for me in terms of reading. I read a fair amount of books, and that makes me happy. Maybe I didn’t read as many as I would have liked, but I did average a little over 5 books per month for the year, and that’s pretty good. Obviously the goal this year will be to beat 2016’s numbers, but I think that’s doable.

I always keep track of the books I read in a year, but this year I tracked a few other things as well. In addition to books I read for the first time and books I reread, I also tracked the gender of the author and whether the book was published in the year I was reading it. Anyway. Here are some numbers.

In 2016 I read 61 books. Of those 61, 29 were books I’d read before, and 32 were new to me.

Of those 32: 5 were written by men and 26 were written by women; 17 were published in 2016, and 1 will be published in 2017 (tomorrow, actually).

Broken down by month, this is total number of books I read and the number of those books that were rereads:

  • Jan 2/0
  • Feb 3/0
  • Mar 8/6
  • Apr 7/3
  • May 5/3
  • Jun 8/6
  • Jul 1/0
  • Aug 9/7
  • Sep 2/0
  • Oct 9/1
  • Nov 4/3
  • Dec 3/0

Not too shabby, really.

So, my goals for this year are 1) to read more books total (65 is a nice round number, I’ll aim for that), 2) to have my ratio of first reads to rereads favor first reads more heavily (maybe I’ll cap the number of books I reread this year), and 3) to read at least 4 books every month. This all seems reasonable to me, so as The Doctor would say… Allons-y!

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Best Books I Read in 2016

We’re once again coming up on the end of the year. Everybody seems to be happy to say goodbye to 2016, but there were some nice things about this past year too. My personal highlights include moving to a new state, starting a new job, and getting engaged. And also reading some awesome books. So here’s my “Best of 2016” book list. As before, these books are listed in the order I read them and aren’t necessarily books that were published this year (although some of them, of course, were).

25489443 Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip
Hidden away from the world by his mother, the powerful sorceress Heloise Oliver, Pierce has grown up working in her restaurant in Desolation Point. One day, Heloise tells her son the truth about his father, a knight in King Arden’s court; about an older brother he never knew existed; about his father’s destructive love for King Arden’s queen; and, Heloise’s decision to raise her younger son alone.

As Pierce journeys to Severluna, he learns that things are changing in that kingdom. Ancient magic is on the rise. The immensely powerful artifact of an ancient god has come to light, and the king is gathering his knights to quest for this profound mystery, which may restore the kingdom to legendary glory—or destroy it.

Patricia McKillip is hands down one of my favorite authors, and any year when she has a new book out is probably a year when she’ll have a book on my “Best of” list. In some ways, this books seems a little more accessible than her other books, in that there are modern conveniences that are familiar to the reader, like cars and cell phones which aren’t really in her other books. It’s an interesting mix, but this story still feels like much of her high(er?) fantasy that I love. One of my favorite thing about McKillip’s writing is all the strange and delightful twists that she comes up with, and this book certainly has its fair share. For more of my thoughts about this book, you can read my review here.

cnng6ieuiaaj-cg A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift—back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games—an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries—a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

This book certainly suffers from Second Book Syndrome more than any of the other second-books-in-a-series that might be on this list. By which I mostly mean that this book ends on a cliff-hanger that might have made me howl in despair over not immediately having the next book in the series available to read. (I cannot confirm or deny these allegations.) If you’re at all hesitant about picking up this book based on that recommendation, rest assured that the next book in this series is set to come out in 2017, so you can read the first one and this one without the fear of experiencing book withdrawal like those of us who read it as soon as it comes out.

traitor-baru The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Tomorrow, on the beach, Baru Cormorant will look up from the sand of her home and see red sails on the horizon.

The Empire of Masks is coming, armed with coin and ink, doctrine and compass, soap and lies. They’ll conquer Baru’s island, rewrite her culture, criminalize her customs, and dispose of one of her fathers. But Baru is patient. She’ll swallow her hate, prove her talent, and join the Masquerade. She will learn the secrets of empire. She’ll be exactly what they need. And she’ll claw her way high enough up the rungs of power to set her people free.

In a final test of her loyalty, the Masquerade will send Baru to bring order to distant Aurdwynn, a snakepit of rebels, informants, and seditious dukes. Aurdwynn kills everyone who tries to rule it. To survive, Baru will need to untangle this land’s intricate web of treachery—and conceal her attraction to the dangerously fascinating Duchess Tain Hu.

But Baru is a savant in games of power, as ruthless in her tactics as she is fixated on her goals. In the calculus of her schemes, all ledgers must be balanced, and the price of liberation paid in full.

I try not to give spoilers in any of my reviews—these tiny ones or the longer ones that I post here—but the one thing I will say about this book is that if you’re looking for a Happy Ending, this may not be the book for you. Or maybe set a comfort read aside for after this book, because this one is sure to leave you feeling gutted. As far as I know, Seth Dickinson isn’t planning a sequel to this book, and while this story doesn’t necessarily need a follow up, the characters and the world he created are thoroughly intriguing and definitely left me wanting more. Not the least because I didn’t want that to be how it all ended.

every-heart-doorway Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
No matter the cost.

I tried several times to write a review of this book, but could never quite get the swirl of emotions to settle enough for me to articulate them. So I’ll say this: If you were ever that kid who read fantasy books during recess, who longed for Narnia or Middle Earth or Valdemar or the Enchanted Forest, this book is for you. Even more than reading about those worlds, this book is all about what it might be like to be those kids who go somewhere else, who find their portals. I alternately wildly grinned and tearily sniffled my way through this book, and I know you will too. We’re even getting a sequel to this book, because Seanan McGuire loves us all just that much.

a-court-of-mist-and-fury-by-sarah-j-maas1 A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

The first book in this series was on last year’s list, and this book is even better. While A Court of Thorns and Roses was a fairly close fairy tale parallel, A Court of Mist and Fury left that structure behind and moved forward with the characters and the story that the first book began. And it works. It works so well. We meet a whole host of new people and get new perspectives on characters we already know—and some of those perspectives aren’t so favorable. But I really loved those surprising turns. Without spoiling anything, it was the change in perspective of one particular character that I loved the best about this book. I can’t wait to read book three and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up on next year’s list.

hs3cover No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished by Rachel Aaron
When Julius overthrew his mother and took control of his clan, he thought he was doing right by everyone. But sharing power isn’t part of any proper dragon’s vocabulary, and with one seat still open on the new ruling Council, all of Heartstriker is ready to do whatever it takes to get their claws on it, including killing the Nice Dragon who got them into this mess in the first place.

To keep his clan together and his skin intact, Julius is going to have to find a way to make his bloodthirsty siblings play fair. But there’s more going on in Heartstriker Mountain than politics. Every family has its secrets, but the skeletons in Bethesda’s closet are dragon sized, and with Algonquin’s war looming over them all, breaking his clan wide open might just be the only hope Julius has of saving it.

Let me say right now that the end of this book really knocked my socks off. This is another book with its preceding book on last year’s list, and you might think that just means I really like these authors. Well, I do, but I also haven’t read any of Rachel Aaron’s other series’ (yet). This series, though. It has such a great world and such great characters, and it just keeps getting better and better with each book. In particular, this book finally allows the reader to get to know some of the characters we’ve been really curious about from other books, opening up whole new schemes for the dragons we’ve come to love. And holy crap, that ending.

eos-cover Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those don’t.

As the kingdoms of Erilea fracture around her, enemies must become allies if Aelin is to keep those she loves from falling to the dark forces poised to claim her world. With war looming on all horizons, the only chance for salvation lies in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.

Aelin’s journey from assassin to queen has entranced millions across the globe, and this fifth installment will leave fans breathless. Will Aelin succeed in keeping her world from splintering, or will it all come crashing down?

I read the entire Throne of Glass series shortly after finishing A Court of Mist and Fury because I wanted more of Sarah J. Maas’ writing. And while I would recommend doing it the other way around, this series features one of my newest favorite characters: the witch, Manon. Maas does in this series the same reversal of perspective on characters that she did in A Court of Thorns and Roses and its sequel, which has quickly become one of my favorite things about her books. And while the first four books in this series are certainly good, this book ended with a really shocking finale that made me both smile at the deft way in which it was written while still cursing the author who had written it. (Are we sensing a trend with this year’s books?) If that isn’t a mark of a good book, I don’t know what is.

the-bear-and-the-nightingale-katherine-arden_coverThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

This book was recommended for me through NetGalley based on my review of Uprooted last year, and it definitely hit a lot of those same highlights. Fairy tales and larger than life characters and a deep immersion into the world those tales and characters come from. If, like me, you tend to be cold all the time, I might hold off on reading this book until the warmer months, but definitely find a copy. For more of my thoughts about this book, you can read my review here.

You can find all my “Best Of” lists here. Enjoy!

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Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

the-bear-and-the-nightingale-katherine-arden_cover I don’t really know why I’m surprised, but NetGalley is learning my tastes. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in the back end of that site, there was a note in my profile that said, “Loves fairy tales!” Or maybe there’s just stats on what books I request. Either way, since I enjoyed Uprooted last year, someone thought I would enjoy The Bear and the Nightingale this year. Well, they weren’t wrong. Maybe I should be more creeped out by the prospect of computers learning more about me… except that it keeps providing me with excellent books. What’s not to like about that?

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles nearer, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

What I was expecting from the book and what this book actually provided turned out to be two separate things. But in the end, that wasn’t a bad thing. I really liked this book—possibly better than I would have liked the book I thought I was going to read. Most of those foiled expectations seem to come from the fact that I was expecting a similar story structure to Uprooted. But while the two stories probably do share a subgenre—fairy tale retellings, perhaps—the way in which those fairy tales are retold is vastly different.

To begin, this book moved a little slower than I expected. I tend to think of books as either action-driven—by which I mean that the plot tends to move forward by virtue of the characters taking various actions—or character-driven. The latter is usually more, let’s say, cerebral. In general you spend a little more time in the characters’ heads, learning who they are and what they want. They might take actions, which will certainly move the plot forward, but the bulk of the story centers around character. The Bear and the Nightingale felt more character-driven to me than Uprooted, which likely accounts for the perceived slow pace.

Now, don’t start thinking that all of that means I didn’t like the book. I’ve already mentioned that I did, and despite my personal issues with its pacing, this book delivers a fantastic story. In case it’s not obvious, I’m a huge fan of fairy tales, and the various ways authors can manipulate them into something new. I’m not overly familiar with Russian fairy tales, but I enjoyed getting to know this particular tale through the lens of this book. Perhaps one of the best things Katherine Arden does in this book was making it accessible to those unfamiliar with the cultural genre. Almost immediately after I was done, I went to see what sort of books on Russian fairy tales Amazon had to offer, which just shows how well the author draws the reader into the world.

Another thing that really draws the reader into this book was the weather, and the permeating cold of the Russian winter. Everyone in the book is cold, almost all the time, and even in the brief warmer seasons, there is always the looming reminder that it won’t stay that way for long. And while Winter himself is a character in this book, it’s more than that. In a very real way, Winter is this book. Katherine Arden then combines that cold with the almost palpable fear of her characters—which also makes use of the more character-driven, inside-their-heads sort of storytelling. All in all, it makes for a chilling read—in more ways than one.

The Bear and the Nightingale is written by Katherine Arden and will be published by Del Rey on January 10, 2017. It is the first book in The Winternight Trilogy.

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Thinkin’ About: NaNoWriMo (again).

Well, it’s about to be November again, which means it’s about to be National Novel Writing Month again as well. As always, I’ll be joining in the fun. I have two projects that I’m excited about, and I’ll work on whichever one happens to make me happiest when the clock rolls over from October 31 to November 1.

My new job will start midway through November, but I hope it won’t come home with me very much. Of course, I don’t know anything more at this point, but we’ll see. The same weekend that the new job starts will also be a weekend that I happen to have a house guest—but I wouldn’t exchange that for anything. And then of course there’s Thanksgiving and the traveling I’ll be doing connected to that.

All of this means that November is going to be ganging up on me, making this year’s NaNoWriMo all the more difficult. But I’m going to try my best. And I’m going to have fun.

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Thinkin’ About: Bullet Journals

Bullet journaling is supposed to be good for people who are anxious. This article claims that is has a soothing effect on those of us whose brains are constantly running like a hundred hamsters in a hundred wheels. And there’s definitely some truth to the idea that the creative energy put into creating a journal/planner/book of notes be be calming for the soul—in the same way that the adult coloring books can be calming, I suppose.

But here’s the thing.

It’s not calming. I bought a few coloring books and some pens and tried it out. As it turns out, I get anxious about accidentally coloring outside of the lines.

The first night after my Leuchtturm 1917 (the journal of choice for many a BuJo junkie) had arrived, after the initial excitement had worn off, I went to sleep more anxious than usual about starting this new adventure. I tossed and I turned for what seemed like hours (and what was, in reality, probably a lot less before I wore myself out) thinking about all the things I could possibly do… and not knowing how. What was the best layout? What was the best pen? What if I messed up? I’m not all that visually artistic, so would that mean that my bullet journal wasn’t “good enough”? Wasn’t “pretty enough”?

That’s how my brain works. And I know that. I know that my brain likes to make me anxious and afraid, when there’s no real cause for it. So I moved on. I talked to a friend who had started a bullet journal recently and was enjoying it and asked for some photos of her spreads. That helped. We have similar needs from the BuJo, even if our brains work a little differently. But it gave me ideas for what I might need, what I might want.

The first thing I thought I needed was the planner aspect. This next month is a month of transitions, with our move coming at the end. I loathe moving. Even the thought of putting all my things into boxes, hauling those boxes to a vehicle, driving, hauling the boxes out of the vehicle, and then unpacking it all churns my stomach, makes it clench with anxiety.

So of course I thought maybe I could use the bullet journaling system to make this upcoming move easier, and slightly more organized than… the chaos that normally happens. So I sat down, and started. I picked a planner layout. This is the layout I want for my planner, I thought, the one that will work the best for me. So I made my weekly spreads for the month of September.


My carefully crafted pages don’t work. Not for the sort of tracking and listing I want to do. Which means that’s 15 pages I’ve wasted. Which means I’m vaguely sick to my stomach with anxiety over “ruining” my new bullet journal, over not doing it “right” or “well” or “pretty” enough.

It’s the error part of trial and error that has always been the hardest for me, even knowing that I will learn from it and get better. That’s how my anxiety works. I’m trying to get over it. And I will. And I’ll find something that works.

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Wow, it’s been a while since I wrote anything here.

But life changes are in the works! At the end of the month, I’ll be moving across a state line with my now-fiancé. New state, new house, new job, new life. I’ve also started a bullet journal which I’m hoping will allow me to both plan better and make some good habits. (More on how that’s going tomorrow.)

Anyway. I’m hoping that with all the changes in the air, I can add a few more.

More soon!

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Review: Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

tellthewindandfire-1 Of all of Sarah Rees Brennan’s books, I had only read The Demon’s Lexicon before I read this one. I liked it, but because I read it when it first came out, by the time the next two books in the trilogy came out I’d already forgotten what happened in the first book. Which is how I never got around to finishing that trilogy. While I liked her writing, I was still wary of her novels in the same way I’m wary of all Young Adult novels, so they remain on my ever-growing To Read list. Still, Tell the Wind and Fire appeared on NetGalley and enticed me with it’s dual magical system of Light and Dark, and so here we are.

In a city divided between opulent luxury in the Light and fierce privations in the Dark, a determined young woman survives by guarding her secrets.

Lucie Manette was born in the Dark half of the city, but careful manipulations won her a home in the Light, celebrity status, and a rich, loving boyfriend. Now she just wants to keep her head down, but her boyfriend has a dark secret of his own—one involving an apparent stranger who is destitute and despised.

Lucie alone knows of the deadly connection the young men share, and even as the knowledge leads her to make a grave mistake, she can trust no one with the truth.

Blood and secrets alike spill out when revolution erupts. With both halves of the city burning, and mercy nowhere to be found, can Lucie save either boy—or herself?

This book is apparently a retelling of A Tale of Two Cities. I say “apparently” because I didn’t know this until I went onto Goodreads to update my progress through the book and happened to see something about it in another review. I haven’t actually read A Tale of Two Cities, haven’t seen whatever movie or TV adaptations might have been made of it, or even really learned what the general plot of the novel might be through osmosis. I… gather there are two cities? Still, knowing that this book was supposed to be a retelling of another wouldn’t have told me what to expect. Honestly, from early on in the book I might have guessed this had shades of The Prince and the Pauper, but it didn’t go there in the end.

While I don’t think you need to read A Tale of Two Cities to understand and enjoy this book, I can’t help but wonder how my reading experience might have been different if I had been familiar with the source material. As it was, I enjoyed the book’s concept—and specifically it’s magic system—even if I was somewhat less interested in the welfare of its main characters. In any James Bond movie I’m never actually concerned that 007 will die. He can’t. He’s the main character. Similarly, with this particular story, I never really worried about Lucie or Ethan—although there were plenty of opportunities to worry about Ethan. But, possibly because of it’s genre and all the things authors can and cannot do in that genre, it always felt like whatever danger they were in was always temporary, would be overcome, and safety would be found.

That being said, one of the things that I though this book handled really well was its love story. I don’t usually read Young Adult books—even Young Adult Fantasy books—because the immaturity of the love stories is something I’m easily bored with. The “will he notice/kiss/proclaim his love for me?” angst of teenagers isn’t something I care to relive and the general age range—both of the characters and the readers—prevents much more from happening. But this book sidesteps all of that really neatly: from the very beginning, the main character is already in a relationship. It is that relationship, that love, that drives the plot forward. Even better, there’s not really time during the book for the characters to really think about sex. Taking it a step further, the book doesn’t specify one way or the other where Lucie and Ethan are in their relationship, and it seemed entirely possible to me that they might have consummated their relationship just previous to the book’s opening. I liked the ambiguity in this, since it dispensed with one of the things that I usually dislike in books in this genre.

I really wish I liked this book better because it’s clear that Sarah Rees Brennan is a very capable storyteller. But I think my general apathy towards this particular genre meant that I didn’t let myself really get emotionally invested in either the characters or the story. I sort of feel like I’ve failed in some way. But at the same time, I know a lot of people are going to really like this book. Which, even though I didn’t, is just as it deserves.

Tell the Wind and Fire is written by Sarah Rees Brennan and was published on April 5, 2016 by Clarion Books.

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Lucifer: Really, you should just pretend the comic doesn’t exist.

imageIf you’ve at all taken a look at my Twitter feed in the last few months, it’s entirely possible that you might have noticed that about once a week I use it to live tweet my reactions to Lucifer. Well, the first season (first half of the first season?) of Lucifer just ended, which means I can now attempt to pull all of those stray thoughts about this show into something more coherent. Beware, spoilers ahead.

But first, a little background context. My first job, started in the summer after high school and continued into my first year in college, was at a comic book shop. I loved this job. There was, of course, actual work involved in said job, but part of why I loved the job so much was that I was also encouraged to read comics (often while I was at work) as a way of learning more about the field I was working in. At that point I had already read most of Neil Gaiman’s works in novel form, and was still working my way through his comic Sandman, but that was one of the comics that never seemed to be in the store for very long. So my manager handed me Lucifer. There are 11 TPB (trade paperback) volumes in the original comic by Mike Carey, and I went through them voraciously.

Lucifer the TV show and Lucifer the comic bear only a superficial resemblance to each other, let’s be very clear about that right from the start. There are characters who bear the same names, and the general premise of why the Devil is out and about in Los Angeles has remained the same, but that is where the similarities seem to end. If the show wasn’t at all related to a comic that I quite love, I would imagine that I would like this show quite a lot. As it is, I find the disconnect between the things I loved so much in the comic and the reality of the TV show is enough to make me bristle.

There is a rant I keep going through—most often to myself, but sometimes to whoever can be corralled into listening (most frequently this is my boyfriend, he should probably be sainted). This rant has to do with TV and movie adaptations, and the subsequent changing of a story that the original material has already provided for the screenwriter. The story provided in the comic would have made an amazing TV show, but a much more complex one than the one we got in the end. It’s not a show, I think, that FOX could have gotten away with airing—which in the end might have had something to do with the direction the show ultimately went in. (In case you’re wondering, yes, this rant rears its ugly head every time a new trailer for Suicide Squad comes out.)

  1. Mazikeen. I have really mixed feelings about this character. I love Mazikeen in the comics, and I love the casting of Lesley-Ann Brandt. But at the same time, I’m not entirely sure I like this character. In the comics, Mazikeen isn’t actually that complicated of a character very early on. She’s utterly devoted to Lucifer—for reasons that we later learn—and hardly ever even speaks a word against him, much less would ever collaborate with an angel to force Lucifer back into Hell. Some of my immediate reservations about this character was about her appearance—but not her race; again, Brandt is fabulous in this role. In the comics Mazikeen wears a half mask over the right side of her face, and the face beneath it is almost nothing more than just a skull. I spent a fair amount of Twitter time demanding to see Mazikeen’s true face. And, in all fairness, we did get a glimpse of it in episode 5. Still, I continue to be disappointed that it’s not a permanent feature of the character.
  2. Lucifer’s wings. I’ll probably start a lot of my issues with the show with this particular phrase, but… In the comics there’s a whole plot arc around Lucifer regaining his severed wings. And when I say “regaining” I don’t mean that they were stolen from him and he regains possession of them as happens in the show. I mean that he reattaches them, and after that uses them to fly as any angel. In the show however, he burns them. It’s disappointing.
  3. Magic and the Supernatural. While the Sandman/Lucifer universe of the comic books (oh yeah, spoiler, they’re related) isn’t exactly filled with magic, it is filled with various pantheons and the various supernatural creatures that come with that. The first plot arc—and a recurring one—is a magical tarot deck, the plot arc that involves his wings has him interacting with part of the Japanese pantheon, and shortly thereafter Lucifer makes himself a new creation, with himself as god. There are all sorts of demons, angels, and various other creatures running around, so basically my point is that the TV show is mundane, and took a lot of what makes the comic universe interesting out entirely.

I imagine that a whole blog post might be devoted to the finale alone*, but I’d like to avoid spoilers as much as possible here. I will say that in many ways the finale redeemed the show for me. Half of that is that it’s such a huge deviation from the comic that it’s easier for me to separate the two in my head and enjoy the show for its own merits. But the other half is that the cliff the finale left the viewers hanging from really piqued my interest. I will absolutely be tuning in when Lucifer returns to see where the show goes next.

Relatedly, DC/Vertigo has a current comic continuing Lucifer’s story from where it ended years ago, and Holly Black is doing the writing. If you’re at all interested in the comics, I recommend starting with the originals and then continuing with the newer ones since the stories are related; and if you’ve already read the original comics but haven’t checked out the new ones, definitely do. Both the writing and the art is great, and the TPB will be released on July 26.

* I thought might have just such an article, since they frequently do TV episode recaps, but instead I found this: How to Make the Devil Boring. Lucifer. In general, I agree that most of what makes the show interesting isn’t Lucifer himself (with the occasional exception, of course).

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