Review: A Climate for Death

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Synopsis

A thousand miles off course, a private plane grazes a historic lighthouse and crashes on a snow-covered precipice a hundred feet above Lake Superior. There’s a dead pilot on board, but three VIP passengers are missing. The FBI, NTSB and others head to the crash site in remote Lake County, Minnesota, where the locals are dealing with one of the coldest winters on record.

A deadly snowmobile accident, an upstart candidate for Congress, and alarming discoveries in Isle Royale National Park add to the challenges confronting local sheriff Sam MacDonald as the solitude of the North Shore is disrupted by events that could have national and international repercussions. The weather is just one of the circumstances that create a climate for death.

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Review

Read: June 2021

Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

At this point, I’ve become familiar with reviewing a book that I badly wanted to like but ended up having to force myself through. The disappointment is especially strong when someone offers you their work to review because I feel disappointment on their behalf too, I think. But an honest review is warranted, and so honest I shall be.

If A Climate for Death were adapted as a movie or a series, I honestly would watch it. A murder mystery? And it’s set in the Great Lakes? Sounds good. I know that sounds contradictory to what I just said, but I’ll explain. The plot of this book is its strong point. The concept for A Climate for Death isn’t bad at all, and Lund generally has a firm grasp on how he wants the plot to play out. The motives for the murders are wild, but I’ve watched enough Dateline and listened to enough My Favorite Murder to know that people are fucking crazy and do insane things for insane reasons. Lund even goes so far as to openly address this via Hinton, albeit regarding an incorrectly named suspect:

“That’s because you’re trying to attribute rational thoughts and motives to an irrational, desperate man.”

My most prominent stumbling blocks were Lund’s writing style and characterization. Lund loves to infodump, and he loves to do it in the worst possible way. He doesn’t just spout relevant information in unwieldy lumps: He tells you all the shit you don’t need to know and probably won’t care about. No, Lund, I do not need to know the alma mater of every character who ever appears on your pages. I don’t need to be told that the wife of the lighthouse keeper is beautiful and intelligent when she only appears on like five pages. I certainly don’t need to know the fucking life story of the guy from whom Redman purchases his new car. It’s almost like when Lund introduces his characters or paints their backgrounds, he just copies his notes on their biographical profiles into paragraph form. This has the unfortunate effect of making the reader feel less like they’re reading a novel and more like they’re reading an entire wiki about the novel. Yes, details are important to illustrate characters, but for shit’s sake, please skip the biography of each Tim, Terrance, and Kathy who so much as farts on-page.

Lund also has this weird habit of throwing in a detail that is completely out of left field and just… never mentioning it again. For instance, in the beginning of the book, an exhausted Sheriff MacDonald is asleep at his desk, and his coworkers/employees wake him up and brief him on their findings. When his detective asks if he’s paying attention, we get this insight into MacDonald’s dream:

MacDonald had been watching his six-year-old daughter practice a dance routine at the Little Gym in Falls Church, Virginia. His first wife and their daughter had been decapitated when her car slid under a braking semi-trailer during a snowstorm in McLean in January of 2013.

I understand how this horrific incident could really shape a character’s life, but MacDonald doesn’t expand upon that. This is a particularly gruesome and traumatic event to just toss out to the readers like some kind of morbid steak and then never touch again beyond MacDonald having a couple of bad dreams or vague memories. I don’t even think the wife and daughter were ever named (but maybe my memory is fuzzy on that matter). Speaking of weird, an odd number of characters are involved in relationships with huge age gaps. I know (adult) people sometimes find love with someone significantly older than themselves, but it’s a tad strange when most of the couples have an age gap of eleven years or more.

The writing style is largely responsible for this book’s other major flaw: characterization. The Wikipedia article-type exposition Lund employed – Lund’s preference for telling instead of showing – failed to connect me with the characters. Near the end of the book, Hallie, MacDonald’s second wife (not the one who got decapitated), announces that she’s pregnant. And I just don’t care. If the characterization were better, I would have squeaked with joy for Hallie and Mac. The strongest emotional response I can muster up is the halfhearted, perfunctory “oh good for them” that I’d typically associate with learning that a cousin’s cousin’s cousin was expecting. I guess I kind of like Redman, but that’s mostly because he adopted a dog shortly before he’s introduced in the book. Liz, Jenny, Jeronimas are intriguing, but in a distant sort of way. Everyone in this book has the potential to be much more interesting than they are in the book.

While A Climate for Death definitely didn’t tickle me right, it has a strong plot. (Bonus: It’s also pretty cool to hear a sexagenarian bash a thinly-veiled stand-in for Donald Trump, support liberal policies, cheer on a gay trans couple, and use the phrase “sat his privileged fat ass.”) With a little work on his delivery and his characterization, Lund could blossom into a truly powerful novelist.

Disclaimer: I won this book in a giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

Spoiler-Light Review: Rule of Wolves (Nikolai Duology, #2; Grishaverse, #7)

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Synopsis

The wolves are circling and a young king will face his greatest challenge in the explosive finale of the instant #1 New York Times–bestselling King of Scars Duology.

The Demon King. As Fjerda’s massive army prepares to invade, Nikolai Lantsov will summon every bit of his ingenuity and charm—and even the monster within—to win this fight. But a dark threat looms that cannot be defeated by a young king’s gift for the impossible.

The Stormwitch. Zoya Nazyalensky has lost too much to war. She saw her mentor die and her worst enemy resurrected, and she refuses to bury another friend. Now duty demands she embrace her powers to become the weapon her country needs. No matter the cost.

The Queen of Mourning. Deep undercover, Nina Zenik risks discovery and death as she wages war on Fjerda from inside its capital. But her desire for revenge may cost her country its chance at freedom and Nina the chance to heal her grieving heart.

King. General. Spy. Together they must find a way to forge a future in the darkness. Or watch a nation fall.

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Review (Spoiler-Light Version)

Read: May 2021

Rating: 5 stars out of 5!

Spoiler warning: This review will contain spoilers for all preceding Grishaverse books (Grisha Trilogy, Six of Crows Duology, King of Scars, and possibly even The Language of Thorns). I’ll try to be circumspect about the precise events of Rule of Wolves, but there will be mild spoilers for this book.

Spoiler version: Coming soon!

Two years of waiting have rewarded me with this enthralling, suspenseful, fulfilling masterpiece. Between finishing re-reading Six of Crows (via audiobook with my mother and sister) and reading Rule of Wolves, I’m reminded exactly why I love Leigh Bardugo’s stories so damn much.

This book is emotional. Be prepared for a hurricane of feelings. Be prepared to squeal with joy, and be prepared to sob. I don’t often cry over book character deaths, but the death in this book tore me apart. Yet, in love and friendship, there is still happiness to be found. This is especially true for fans of the canon ships. If you’re a diehard Kanej shipper like I am, even the brief allusions to their relationship will thrill you. And needless to say, the Zoyalai moments are smoldering, even without sex scenes. Bardugo has crafted an excellent romance in which she captures the intimacy between Zoya and Nikolai without much physical contact. Nina’s romance with Hanne, too, is natural, especially given how Bardugo balances Nina’s growing feelings for Hanne with her love for her deceased partner, Matthias.

Leigh Bardugo is skilled at handling multiple plot threads and bringing them together in a cohesive climax – which is fitting, because Rule of Wolves is, as I interpret it, meant to be a quasi-finale of the Grishaverse. (Bardugo has stated that this is a “farewell for now,” although she plans to return to the Grishaverse later.) While Nikolai and Zoya are in Ravka and Kerch preparing for war with Fjerda, Nina is also preparing for war from within Fjerda itself, and Mayu, Ehri, and Tamar head off to Shu Han to extirpate the kherguud. And all of it makes sense. The resolutions to our heroes many, many challenges are realistic and believable.

Rule of Wolves is one of those books in which you should pay very close attention to detail if you want a chance at correctly inferring any of the plot twists. I repeatedly would flip back through the book to refresh myself on details – partially because I’m a pedantic sucker for detail and partially because I wanted to formulate my best guess as to what would happen next. Everything is used – and there’s a lot of material to incorporate. Politicking! Magic! Spying! Mini-heists! War! Slow-burn romances! It’s all here, and Bardugo doesn’t waste a single scrap of it. If you haven’t read Rule of Wolves yet – or any of the rest of the Grishaverse, for that matter – you’re cheating yourself worse than Kaz cheats Pekka Rollins and Nikolai cheats death.

Mini Review: Sightwitch (Witchlands, #2.5)

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Synopsis

Sisters with the gift of Sight—Sightwitches, who can see into the future—are of a rare and ancient order. Raised in a secluded convent, they await the invitation of their goddess to enter the depths of the mountain and receive the sacred gift of foretelling.

But for young Ryber Fortiza, that call never comes. As the only sister without Sight, Ryber has devoted herself to the goddess. Surely, if she just works hard enough, she will finally be gifted like everyone else.

Until one day, all Sisters who possess the Sight are summoned into the mountain—and never return. Now Ryber, still Sight-less, is the only one left. Can she, who has spent her life feeling like th weakest, be the one to save her Sisters and the ancient power they protect?

On her journey underground, she encounters a young captain named Kullen Ikray, who has no memory of who he is or how he got there. Together they trek ever deeper, the mountain tunnels filled with mysteries and horrors. And what they find at the end will alter the fate of the Witchlands forever.

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Review

Read: May 2021

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This review contains spoilers for Truthwitch and Windwitch, and mild spoilers for Bloodwitch.

I’d heard that Sightwitch was extremely important to the rest of the Witchlands series. I mean, I never doubted that, but wow. Anybody reading the Witchlands series must read this novella. And when I say you need to read it, I mean you should read either a physical or digital text copy. While I haven’t listened to the audiobook, a friend of mine has, and I can imagine that he might have missed out on quite a bit. Dennard uses different fonts for the beginnings of diary entries and for notes, and without being able to see those fonts, listeners might feel a little lost. The fonts are an excellent choice for both aesthetic and storytelling purposes: They provide an extra means of understanding the characters, and they indicate who the narrator is.

When I read Truthwitch, I was heartbroken when Kullen cleaved and when Ryber mourned his loss and subsequently left Merik’s crew. In my opinion, readers encountered Ryber and Kullen often enough and in sufficient depth to be impacted by those events, but they didn’t know Ryber and Kullen as well as the two of them deserved to be known. Sightwitch is a marvelous explanation of Ryber’s origins and a poignant, bittersweet peek at Kullen prior to his cleaving.

On Ryber and Kullen’s end, this book is far from romance-heavy. Ryber is intent on finding her Threadsister, Tanzi, and the rest of the Sightwitches who have been her family for the majority of her life. Given that fact, along with the time span in which Ryber knows Kullen, it’s much more natural for a few brilliant sparks to fly between them than it is for a fully fleshed romance to form in this story. Eridysi, on the other hand, sees her romantic relationship develop into something solid. Despite Eridysi never writing out the general’s full name, their romance is compelling nonetheless.

Perhaps more than anything else, though, Sightwitch is a vessel of world-building – in the best way possible. Dennard has introduced readers to a variety of fascinating aspects of the Witchlands world, and here she explains the most important lore pieces to readers while telling two riveting stories. Vivia’s underground city, the Paladins, Eridysi, the doorways, Sightwitches, ice, the blade and the mirror, the Rook King – all of them are part of this intriguing tale. This is the kind of tie-in that prompts you to reread all the other books in the series just so you can pick up everything you missed before, and I intend to do just that. Even if you’ve already read Bloodwitch, this book is a major eye-opener that can’t be skipped.

Book Review: Firekeeper’s Daughter

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Synopsis

Eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. She dreams of a fresh start at college, but when family tragedy strikes, Daunis puts her future on hold to look after her fragile mother. The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team.

Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into an FBI investigation of a lethal new drug.

Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, drawing on her knowledge of chemistry and Ojibwe traditional medicine to track down the source. But the search for truth is more complicated than Daunis imagined, exposing secrets and old scars. At the same time, she grows concerned with an investigation that seems more focused on punishing the offenders than protecting the victims.

Now, as the deceptions—and deaths—keep growing, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go for her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.

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Review

Read: April 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars!

Before I begin this review, I just want to point out that this book is not fantasy, despite its categorization on Goodreads. My best guess as to why is the role that the Little People and Anishinaabe medicines play in the story, but I see these as religious and cultural elements rather than ones of fantasy. If Christian fiction is not classified as fantasy, Firekeeper’s Daughter should not be either. (Please note that I am equating the two faiths, not disparaging Christianity.)

Spoiler-free!

I didn’t even know about this book’s existence until a week or two prior to its release date, but as soon as I did, I knew I absolutely had to read it. A Native American protagonist from Michigan? An author from Michigan? A Native author from Michigan? Yes, please.

Guys, this book has everything a Michigander like me could ask for: hockey (bonus: Detroit Red Wings references), the Great Lakes, smaller lakes, beautiful woods, Yoopers, and insights about a community I only really know in passing, if I can even say that.

Angeline Boulley does a phenomenal job crafting her characters. Daunis is a complex, spectacular protagonist. She is magnificently intelligent, she is loyal to her loved ones, she is fierce, and she struggles with her ties to both her white roots and her Anishinaabe roots. Her observance and acuity render her a spectacular first-person narrator for a mystery of any kind. Jamie is Daunis’s crush, but he too stands on his own. He is sweet and smart, and he’s mysterious in a way that comes of as guarded rather than edgy just for the sake of having an edgy character. Like Daunis, he also grapples with his identity as part-Native, but his heritage is much less clear. Boulley doesn’t neglect her supporting characters either. From Lily to Levi Jr., from Seeney to TJ, from Travis to Teddie, they’re all evocative and lifelike. You will hate certain characters; you will love others. And yes, you will hurt when certain characters die. (I’m not telling you who.) Also, shoutout to Herri the cat. I love you.

Really, Boulley is simply an amazingly talented author in general. The plot is riveting and complex without seeming contrived; the events of the story are realistic. Boulley doesn’t include certain matters for shock value: The darkest, scariest happenings of Firekeeper’s Daughter are there either for the purpose of the plot or to depict vividly what it is to be Daunis Fontaine – and what being a Native American woman can entail. Additionally, Boulley has avoided the all-too-common pitfall of infodumping. The details about Anishinaabe culture are woven skillfully into the material of the story, so that readers to whom Anishinaabe culture is unfamiliar can comprehend the context of the book without getting the sense that they’re reading a textbook. Readers can lose themselves in her book. I can attest to this from personal experience.

Firekeeper’s Daughter has earned a spot in my list of top reads this year. The characters are fascinating and the plot is enthralling, and Boulley has a beautiful writing style that is at once concise and detailed. Boulley spent ten years chipping away this masterpiece, and the final product is a testament to her efforts. I can only hope that the world doesn’t have to wait another decade for her next book. Hopefully, she’ll write about Jamie and Daunis a few years down the road, or perhaps even a prequel novel about Teddie or Levi Sr. Even if she writes a book with all-new characters, I’d still read it. With a debut novel this successful, I think we can expect wonderful works from her in the future.

Book content warnings: racism/colonialism, drug use, sexual assault, murder, gun violence, sexism.

Flash Review: Aurora Burning (The Aurora Cycle #2)

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Synopsis

Our heroes are back . . . kind of. From the bestselling co-authors of the Illuminae Files comes the second book in the epic Aurora Cycle series about a squad of misfits, losers, and discipline cases who just might be the galaxy’s best hope for survival.

First, the bad news: An ancient evil—your standard consume-all-life-in-the-galaxy deal—is about to be unleashed. The good news? Squad 312 is here to save the day. As soon as they’ve just got to take care of a few small distractions first. Like the clan of gremps who are holding a serious grudge against the squad. And a bunch of illegit GIUTA agents with creepy flowers where their eyes used to be. Then there’s Kal’s long-lost sister, who’s not exactly happy to see him.But with the reappearance of the colony ship that Auri was found on, new clues about Auri—and her powers as a Trigger—begin to come to light. And just in time. Because if Auri can’t learn to master her powers, the squad going to be soooo dead. Shocking revelations, bank heists, mysterious gifts,inappropriately tight bodysuits, and an epic firefight will determine the fate of the Aurora Legion’s most unforgettable heroes—and, you know, the rest of the galaxy.

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Review

Read: March 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Spoiler warning!

Aurora Burning isn’t perfect, but like I said about its predecessor, it’s hella fun. Kristoff and Kaufmann seem to have ironed out the majority of their most annoying writing issues and replaced those with excellent character development. Leading the pack in this area is Zila. If you’ve read my review of Aurora Rising, you’ll know that I was peeved to have Zila included as a viewpoint character, only to find that her chapters were the length of my pinkie finger. Zila gets the spotlight in several chapters now, and damn, are those chapters engrossing. Readers finally get a horrifying glimpse into her tragic past and the reason for her emotional detachment; even better, they experience her blossoming out again as she bonds with her team. Finian too gets some truly heartwarming moments in his point-of-view chapters that show him blossoming as a friend and gaining confidence around people. Tyler also gets the opportunity to deal with his feelings for Cat and her loss. His interactions with Ra’haam Cat are dripping with angst. (I WILL GO DOWN WITH THIS SHIP.) Even without his crew, Tyler manages to hold his own, and I think that really reinforces his ability as a leader.

The plot is fast-paced (for the most part). The story opens with a confrontation with a gang of grempfs and barrels on to a skirmish with Kal’s sister Saedii, a bank heist, and another clash with the bad guys. (The bank heist, especially, is hilarious.) That said, I was underwhelmed by Auri and Kal’s time in the Echo with the Eshvaren. And as much as I enjoyed seeing Kal and Auri’s relationship develop in the Echo, those chapters felt… underwhelming, if not frustrating. Yes, Aurora gets her catharsis with her parents and sister, but the training is something of a slog – and training can be fun if it’s written right. Plus, I just dislike Esh as a character. I know that the Eshvaren is not meant to be liked, but they serve more as a annoying minor source of conflict and resolution rather than a fully fleshed out antagonist.

The huge reveal of Caersan being Kal’s father, unfortunately, is totally foreseeable. The handling (read: fumbling) of the crew’s reaction to Kal’s parentage is the main reason I’m knocking a star off this book. I guessed that Kal’s father was the Starslayer from his very first viewpoint chapter of the series, all the way back in Aurora Rising. That predictability renders all the ensuing drama in Squad 312 more contrived and even stupider than it already is. Yes, I understand that Caersan is a genocidal maniac, everyone hates him, how could Kal keep this from us, yada yada ya. But seriously, out of the four other people on board the ship, no one could see the big picture: Adams and de Stoy somehow were able to deliver exactly what was needed to the squad – and have that stash of supplies ready eight years prior to 312 ever needing it – and yet the squad thinks that Adams and de Stoy didn’t know about Kal’s parentage? Finian seems to be the only one even close to grasping this (at least prior to Aurora refusing to believe Kal is on her side until the Starslayer nearly kills her), but he still has not reached this conclusion. Aurora’s reaction is more than a little ridiculous too. When the Eshvaren enjoins her to break up with Kal so he won’t hold her back, her response essentially amounts to “Lmao, get fucked.” But when Caersan outs his son, she’s all jazzed up to ditch poor Kal – literally. On the other hand, the revelation about Tyler and Scarlett’s Waywalker mother is an interesting surprise, and one that Tyler takes in stride. I’m interested in learning more about the story of Jericho and his Syldrathi lover. In fact, I smell the potential for a gripping space opera romance novella.

Aurora Burning still has its kinks, but it’s a worthy read. I’m both eagerly anticipating and dreading the release of Aurora’s End.

Book Review: A Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #4)

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Synopsis

Sarah J. Maas’s sexy, richly imagined series continues with the journey of Feyre’s fiery sister, Nesta.

Nesta Archeron has always been prickly-proud, swift to anger, and slow to forgive. And ever since being forced into the Cauldron and becoming High Fae against her will, she’s struggled to find a place for herself within the strange, deadly world she inhabits. Worse, she can’t seem to move past the horrors of the war with Hybern and all she lost in it.

The one person who ignites her temper more than any other is Cassian, the battle-scarred warrior whose position in Rhysand and Feyre’s Night Court keeps him constantly in Nesta’s orbit. But her temper isn’t the only thing Cassian ignites. The fire between them is undeniable, and only burns hotter as they are forced into close quarters with each other.

Meanwhile, the treacherous human queens who returned to the Continent during the last war have forged a dangerous new alliance, threatening the fragile peace that has settled over the realms. And the key to halting them might very well rely on Cassian and Nesta facing their haunting pasts.

Against the sweeping backdrop of a world seared by war and plagued with uncertainty, Nesta and Cassian battle monsters from within and without as they search for acceptance – and healing – in each other’s arms.

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Review

Read: April 2021

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Spoiler warning! There are major spoilers in this review!

Content warning: sex scenes, gore, violence, sexual assault, torture. Some of these topics might be discussed briefly in the review.

So I waited the last three years for this? Count me among the disappointed. It took a lot of consideration for me to settle on a rating for this, and even now I’m uncertain about the score I’ve assigned. I have so many thoughts on this book.

A Court of Silver Flames isn’t without its merits. First off, I’ve been a Nessian shipper since Day One, and this book fulfills my dream of seeing them finally get together. Second, I appreciate the emotional healing that Nesta, Emerie, and Gwyn undergo. I love witnessing the blossoming of supportive friendship between these three – and I love how they absolutely kicked misogynist ass in the Blood Rite. Finally, I see a great deal of promise in Emerie’s and Eris’s characters. Steadfast, reasonable, brave Emerie already has earned a special place in my heart, and Eris is fascinatingly flawed. Hopefully both of them will be further developed as characters in the next installment.

Unfortunately, my complaints about ACoSF far outweigh what I enjoyed about it. Much to the dismay of my grammar-loving heart, Sarah J. Maas has evolved a weird predilection for overusing sentence fragments. Sentence fragments can add dramatic effect when used judiciously; once the author begins liberally tossing them in, they become an annoyance that can only be overlooked if the rest of the story is solid. Maas employs them with almost no discretion. They pop up everywhere. Here are just a few examples:

She felt it a heartbeat later. The presence creeping toward them on soft paws.

Nesta seemed to glow with the attention. Owned it. Commanded it.

Nesta let him see it then. That she bore no ill will toward Feyre or the babe.

I actually looked back in some of my old Throne of Glass books to see if Maas has always been so fond of this writing style, and I don’t think she has. I noticed the frequency of sentence fragments really began to rise in Maas’s books around the time of Empire of Storms and A Court of Thorns and Roses. As of ACoSF, it appears that Maas has fully embraced this irksome pattern and doesn’t intend to rein herself in. Imagine it. If I talked to you like this. In these jagged fragments. Fragments that are disjointed. Fragments that interrupt speech and thought.

That’s fucking irritating, isn’t it?

Speaking of reining herself in, fucking hell, Sarah, dial back with the sex and horniness. Yes, I expect sex scenes in a new adult romance, and while I’m personally a bit more conservative about sex than a lot of people are, I don’t consider myself a super-prude by any stretch of the imagination. My problem isn’t that there are sex scenes – it’s that Maas seems to utilize sex scenes as filler content. There is so much sex in this book that I started skipping sex scenes not because I was offended, but because they were repetitive and generally not important. There is so much sex in this book that it gets boring. Even when they’re not having sex, the characters still think about it with such constancy that it’s a bit disconcerting. The viewpoint characters are endlessly, incorrigibly horny, and Maas spends so many words on that fact that the writing suffers because of it. No one can go seven pages without thinking about themselves or someone else gettin’ busy – and Maas absolutely has to tell you in detail about those thoughts. Instead of incessantly rambling about sex and how hot everyone is, Maas should focus her energy on developing the non-viewpoint characters she left to languish in the corner, only to be brought out to prop up our heroes.

This book lacks the intrigue and action I expect from a Maas book. Although I liked the Oorid scene and the Blood Rite, ACoSF is relatively devoid of the excitement that its predecessors had. The politicking and scheming and world-building potentials of this book are painfully underplayed, and Maas tries to compensate for that by contriving bullshit drama. Given the opportunity to delve further into the threat of Briallyn and Koschei or better explain Nesta’s powers beyond nebulous uber-powerful magic, Maas instead fabricates a last-minute sort-of love triangle between Eris, Nesta, and Cassian that lasts for less than a hundred pages and invents a convoluted, phenomenally stupid subplot surrounding Feyre’s pregnancy.

Seriously, the pregnancy nonsense might have been the biggest fault of the entire seven hundred fifty-page book. Feyre conceives a baby with Rhys, but because Feyre was in Illyrian form during the baby’s conception, the baby has wings. The baby’s bony wings will get caught in Feyre’s birth canal and kill her because of her High Fae anatomy. So what? you shrug. Feyre can shapeshift. Problem solved. Cassian had the same thought.

“So let her change back into an Illyrian to bear the babe.”

Rhys’s face was stark. “Madja has put a ban on any more shapeshifting. She says that to alter Feyre’s body in any way right now could put the baby at risk.”

So wait. Let me get this straight. Feyre can shapeshift her damn eggs, and those eggs are still capable of producing a viable zygote. Rhys knows that the baby’s wings will most likely kill his wife (and himself because of that stupid bargain they made to leave this world together). There are documented cases of High Fae women being killed by their half-Illyrian babies, and if they aren’t killed, they almost certainly will never bear another child. Grievous morbidity or death is certain. Yet even despite all of that, it’s still deemed too great a risk for Feyre to shapeshift so much as her pelvis.

How is the pelvis problem solved? Nesta – who has the power to imbue the House of Wind with a soul, Unmake a Made queen, and Make a brand-new Dread Trove, and who is capable of wielding all three components of the original Dread Trove simultaneously – must relinquish most of her power back to the Cauldron because she “doesn’t know how to save” Feyre from bleeding out. She unwittingly Made a new Dread Trove, but she has to “know” exactly what to do to save Feyre? Even with that weakness in her power, Nesta is somehow conveniently able to transmogrify both hers and Feyre’s pelvises to accommodate half-Illyrian babies with her power – never mind that Feyre can transform her own damn pelvis after she recovers from nearly dying in childbirth. This all becomes even dumber and more unnecessary when you consider the Blood Rite and the confrontation with Briallyn could have served as an adequate climax (although the Briallyn arc struck me as underdeveloped to begin with).

One of the worst parts about this whole thing is that Feyre is ignorant of the danger the fetus poses to her, and Rhys chooses not to share this information with her and orders his friends to shut the hell up about it. He loves Feyre and encases her in a fucking shield for much of her pregnancy because he wants to protect her so badly (um, ew), but he actively keeps this knowledge from her at her peril. Nesta tells Feyre, and his reaction is to tell Cassian to get Nesta out of Velaris “before I fucking kill her.” In addition to all of that shit with Feyre, he pulls rank on his brothers for asinine reasons, he’s unsympathetic to Azriel’s romantic situation, and he interferes in Elain’s love life out of concern for politics. In previous books, Rhysand is arrogant, sarcastic, and sometimes a bit too big for his britches, but ultimately he’s compassionate, loyal, and just. In this book, I hardly even recognize Rhys because he’s such a fucking prick.

This book is one of the biggest letdowns I’ve ever read. I consider myself a fan of Sarah J. Maas. Throne of Glass is one of my absolute favorite series, and I thoroughly enjoyed the first three books of A Court of Thorns and Roses. Sadly, A Court of Silver Flames fails to live up to – let alone exceed – my expectations of a Sarah J. Maas book. The pacing is inconsistent, the sex scenes are absolutely absurd, and two-thirds of the plot is stupid and/or underbaked. I’d like my twenty-eight dollars back, please.

Book Review: Dead in the Water

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Synopsis

Camille Ellis is the Earthen Conclave’s golden girl. Her peculiar talent solves cases with a touch. She isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty, but every bright star casts a shadow, and her deepest scars lurk just beneath the skin.

A routine consultation goes sideways when a victim’s brother gets involved in the investigation. Riding the edge of grief, the warg will go to any lengths to avenge his sister’s death. Even if it means ensuring Cam’s cooperation at the jaws of his wolf.

When the killer strikes again, Cam is caught between a warg and a hard place. To save the next victim, she must embrace her past. Even if it means dragging her darkest secrets into the light of day.

Amazon

Review

Read: March 2021

Rating:

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Spoiler warning!

This is one of those books that I read just for the sake of meeting my Goodreads goal this year. I never thought it looked spectacular, but what the hell, it was short, so why not?

Here are my highest praises for Dead in the Water: It isn’t an agonizing read, and I don’t wish death upon all the characters. In fact, I’m rather fond of Harlow and Dell and would almost be interested in learning more about their stories.

Edwards seems like she might have a grasp on how to write mysteries, but her potential is obfuscated by her terrible world-building. I actually had to check Goodreads to ensure that I was definitely reading the first book in the series or double back in the book itself because I felt like I was constantly missing huge chunks of information. Edwards has stints in the book where readers flounder for information and others that consist mostly of amazingly awkward infodumps. For instance, there’s a scene in which Cam scores a gigantic lead in her case – a moment when readers should experience vicarious triumph and realization through her. Instead, the prospectively intriguing conversation is repeatedly interrupted by Cam’s lengthy explanations about the book’s setting and system. There’s a balance between providing background to readers ahead of an event and filling them in as they go, and Edwards absolutely does not strike it.

I’m overall unimpressed with the characters too. I mentioned above that I kind of like Dell and Harlow, but it’s worth noting that that affection isn’t terribly strong. Cam is a prosaic protagonist – and an unimpressive detective. She’s just not that good at her job. The book I’m currently reading features a young woman who is decidedly not a career detective, and she is much better at solving mysteries, noticing details, reasoning her way through problems, and utilizing the tools at hand than Cam ever proves herself to be. Immediately following Dead in the Water with Firekeeper’s Daughter only highlighted Cam’s shortcomings as a detective. You know who else is a better detective than Cam? Her love interest. Cord Graeson has no access to all of the awesome law enforcement resources that Cam does, and he still puts stuff together much more quickly than she does. Also, if you’re a detective who routinely gets into cars with strange, grief-ridden people who can turn into wolves, you’re even more of a fucking moron than a civilian who does the same thing. And when she’s trying to figure out one female character’s motive for doing something for money, she reasons that the girl just wants the money to buy more makeup and clothes because that’s all that matters to that little hussy, right?!?! She doesn’t need food or shelter, just stupid shorts and expensive cosmetics! So yeah, I’d feel completely comfortable calling Cam an idiot.

I’m not rooting for Graeson as the love interest either. He is a smug, smarmy asshole – and he’s creepy. He follows Cam covertly because he needs her help and doesn’t trust her bosses. That’s a tad weird, but on its own I can understand that. But eventually his behavior descends into grabbing Cam and sniffing her and fucking abducting her. After kidnapping her, he tries to defend his behavior by arguing that Cam wouldn’t leave the case behind anyway. Well then, dickbag, if that’s the case, why didn’t you just ask her?? Bonus: When Harlow is getting attacked by magical hedgehogs, he stands around observing the event and inquiring whether Harlow, Thierry, and Cam need assistance. Oh, so now you’re good with asking before acting, pal? Fuck you.

When I began writing this review up, I intended to award it a whole two stars; as I wrote, however, I realized just how stupid this book is and downgraded my assessment to 1.5 stars. Only read this if you have a quota to fill. Otherwise, skip it.

Book Review: Aurora Rising

Image from Barnes and Noble website

Synopsis

The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the academy would touch . . .

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm
A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates
A smart-ass tech whiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder
An alien warrior with anger-management issues
A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem—that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline cases, and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

NOBODY PANIC.

Barnes and Noble website

Review

Read: February 2021

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Spoiler warning!

Over the summer I read Jay Kristoff’s The Lotus Wars series, and after finishing the excellent space opera Seven Devils just last month, I was finally in the mood to try out Aurora Rising.

This book almost made its way into my inglorious Did-Not-Finish pile. Almost.

Let me tell you, folks: The start of this book is rough. No, Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufmann, it is not necessary to have three or four flashbacks in the span of a thirty-minute chapter, particularly when said flashbacks take place mere hours prior to the present. It is irksome. It gives readers whiplash. Please don’t do it! (My guess is that Kristoff is responsible for this writing choice, given that his book Nevernight begins with a similar temporal pattern. That was one reason I decided against reading that series.) If rescuing Aurora weren’t the reason Tyler misses the draft, the spastic time flip-flopping certainly would be. How could the poor guy be expected to show up on time when the authors can’t even decide what time it is? Also, I can appreciate the occasional breaking of the fourth wall in a work of fiction, but overuse of that device tends to induce a sense of awkwardness in me. It gives the impression that the authors are trying too hard, and it can make the writing a little bit corny.

But that being said, Aurora Rising turned out to be a very enjoyable book. The authors plunge right in with the action, and it’s not all just firefights: There are visions, chases, sleuthing, and even a mini-heist. The enemies our heroes face are myriad and many, and danger arrives in a variety of forms. And if you love conspiracies (no, not the batshit ones people actually try to pass off as real – the fun, fictional conspiracies), you’ll find something to love about this book. The world-building is just the right level of intricacy for the series too. It’s interesting without being overly detailed. That might not make for my favorite kind of universe, but it fits well with the planned trilogy length and the general arc of the story. Plus, any necessary exposition that doesn’t flow well in the context of the story is occasionally given in concise snippets by Auri’s uber-futuristic iPhone, Magellan, circumventing potential information holes.

I’m surprised how much I’ve come to love the characters. At the beginning of the book, all I wanted was for Tyler – and everyone else – to shut the hell up about his magical dimples, Aurora to stop uttering the phrase “holy cake”, and Scarlett to calm down with her boy-craziness. But the characters turn out to be so likable that those flaws can be overlooked – and in some cases, those flaws become a tad endearing. The flaws make the characters more real. Each character is lovable in their own way. By the end of the book, if I’d been asked to choose a favorite character, I’m not sure that I could have. Kal and Cat would likely be at the top of the list, but Tyler and Finian have both found special places in my heart as well. I do feel compelled to lodge a complaint about Zila, though – not because she’s done anything (particularly) wrong – but because she seems very… sidelined throughout the story. She has so much potential, but her point-of-view chapters never exceed two minutes in length. The more I ponder how everyone else has point-of-view chapters that actually last longer than it takes me to make microwave popcorn, the more jilted I feel on Zila’s behalf. Hopefully, Kristoff and Kaufmann will flesh out Zila’s character in Aurora Burning.

Now here come the spoiler parts of this review, so move on to the last paragraph if you want to skip the spoilers.

Aurora Rising is not mainly a romance book, but there is still romance to be found. To tell the truth, I’m a diehard Cat/Tyler shipper. Needless to say, Cat’s “death” (consumption by the Ra’haam) absolutely breaks my heart. While my brain tells me that Cat likely won’t be resurrected the way I want her to be, my romantic optimist’s heart believes she might yet be saved and subsequently revived. The one thing that keeps me clinging to hope is the symbolism of Cat’s phoenix tattoo. I know, I’m pathetic. It looks like Fin and Scarlett are set up for a slow-burn romance too, which absolutely warms my soul. And Kal and Auri’s gradual bonding is the perfect thing to balance out the Pull that Kal feels toward Auri. I’m looking forward to their relationship developing further in the next book.

Aurora Rising isn’t the most unique book I’ve ever read. Nevertheless, it’s certainly interesting, and it’s undeniably fun. If you’re looking for an entertaining read that isn’t too heavy, give this one a try.

Book Review: Scarlet (A.C. Gaughen)

Credit: Barnes and Noble

Synopsis

Scarlet is good at keeping secrets. To the people of Nottingham, she’s Will Scarlet, the young lad who protects those who cannot protect themselves. To Robin Hood and his band of thieves, she’s the girl with a tongue as sharp as her knives. But nobody knows the truth about Scarlet’s life before Nottingham–not even Rob, whose quick smiles have the rare power to unsettle her. And when someone from her past comes hurtling back into her life, everything she’s fought for is suddenly at risk, including her own life . . .

BarnesandNoble.com

Review

Read: April 2020

Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Spoiler warning!

This book might share the title with Marissa Meyer’s fantastic Scarlet, but readers will find no such entertainment here. Those of you who’ve read my previous blog posts know that I frequently buy books when the Nook Store has them on sale in their “$2.99 and Under” section. Scarlet is one such read. It took me almost three days to finish reading this book – and not because the story was so intricate and riveting that I wanted to savor it. I was only able to stomach so much each day.

It’s difficult to choose a starting point from my litany of complaints, but I’ll begin with the narration. The narration is first-person, which wouldn’t be a problem if Scarlet could adhere at least somewhat decently to grammar. Yes, I am a self-described grammar snob, so it really rankles me that Scarlet talks like this through the entire book:

“The words fell soft between us, and they settled and grew till all I could think of were the quiet.”

“It were Rob, sitting with his back against the door.”

I understand that Scarlet speaks this way in an effort to dissociate from her former life as a noble, but it drives me absolutely crazy to read two hundred pages in which the narrator pretends that she’s never so much as heard of an adverb. It’s not impossible to capture Scarlet’s manner of speaking in a way that’s much more palatable to readers. Brandon Sanderson’s character Lift from The Stormlight Archive cannot read or write but is one of the cleverest characters in the series. Sanderson manages to convey all of that through Lift’s third-person narration. Narrating Scarlet from a third-person perspective and highlighting Scarlet’s speech patterns through dialogue with other characters might have made the book more bearable while still capturing her voice and character.

The descriptions and diction could use some work too. Gaughen seems overly fond of maritime metaphors and similes when it comes to Rob’s eyes.

“Loving him felt like drowning in his ocean eyes, like a tide I couldn’t hold back…”

“My cheeks felt hot and red under his fingers, and he smiled, his eyes heavy like the weight of the ocean.”

“All soft wet-wheat hair, eyes that were gray blue like the English Channel…”

“His ocean eyes…”

If she had described Rob’s eyes using the English Channel simile once and then maybe referred to his eyes as “blue” now and again, that would’ve been fine. But for the love of God, this book is only two hundred pages. Readers do not need to be constantly reminded how fucking “oceanic” Rob’s eyes are. At least utilize the numerous free thesauruses available on the web. They’re there for a reason. For all the effort Gaughen exerts reiterating the exact hue of Rob’s eyes, the imagery for the rest of the story is mediocre at best. The story and setting aren’t immersive – they feel distant and second-hand.

Perhaps most importantly, my feelings about the characters – with the exception of Much, who is an absolute gem – run the gamut from “you’re moderately annoying” to “I despise you.” Scarlet falls into the former category. I hate the way she talks, and her character is just drab. But Rob and John, who are both attracted to Scarlet, have the dubious honor of falling into the “holy hell, you’re horrible” category.

Honestly, I’m not sure who is worse. Rob is a brooding, mercurial jackass who thinks he’s hot stuff for being the town hero. He has a very obnoxious tendency to unnecessarily pull rank on others in his group. For instance, he doesn’t seem to think twice about butting into Scar’s business with John beyond what she’s asked him to be involved in. He offers to head off John if his advances become obtrusive and proposes not pairing off John and Scar for scouting because she appears uneasy around John; then he almost immediately turns around and tells Scar to quit playing John and choose because she’s disturbing the band’s dynamic. Scar has actually been pretty straightforward with John, so this comment is ridiculous – and it reduces her to tears. When Gisbourne shows up and it’s revealed that Scarlet was engaged to him by her parents against her will, Rob tries to comfort her by reassuring her that she’s not property to be returned to its rightful owner but then promptly blames her for concealing her unwanted engagement from him. Never mind that Scarlet’s creepy fiance, whom she’s been avoiding for two years, is plotting to kidnap her and marry her. Naturally, this is all about Robin. Then comes this beautiful exchange:

“Because you’re engaged, and because even if you weren’t, you’re with John.”

“I’m not,” I said.

His hand pushed me away, and he sounded angry but his eyes just looked like I’d stabbed him. “Well, then that makes you a whore.”

Wow, Rob. Way to win a girl’s heart.

At the end of the book, as Rob and Scar are discussing their relationship, Scarlet reminds him of this insult. His justification? He’s punishing himself by being an asshole to her and he was just jealous of John. I don’t recall him ever truly apologizing for that jab, by the way. If my memory serves, the phrase “I’m sorry” never crosses his lips – at least not regarding that incident. Plus, he faults Scar for Gisbourne’s capturing of two dozen people, even though she’s clearly not responsible for the situation.

Don’t start thinking John is a better option either. He’s interested in Scar. That’s fine. He kisses her. Okay. She’s trying to work out her feelings about this; he wants to define their relationship. Alright. But his behavior leaps over the line between reasonable and creepy to land firmly on the creepy side. After Scarlet explicitly tells him that she cares for him but does not want him to kiss her, he sees fit to respond like this:

“And you do want to be kissed by me. Don’t lie.”

At another point, John, being the smooth operator that he is, thinks it’s appropriate to ogle at Scar and make sexual comments about her while she’s being treated for a serious wound. Are you shitting me? Scarlet doesn’t deserve either of these louts.

Fairy tale retellings hold a lot of potential, but Gaughen fails to tell a good story altogether. Between the irritating narration, the lackluster imagery, the slut-shaming, and the boorish love interests, there’s not much to love about this book. The only thing it really had going for it when I read it was quarantine – and if the only reason I’m reading a book is just to kill time and nothing else, it’s just not good.

Book Review: Seven Devils

Credit: BarnesandNoble.com

Synopsis

This first book in a feminist space opera duology follows seven resistance fighters who will free the galaxy from the ruthless Tholosian Empire–or die trying.

When Eris faked her death, she thought she had left her old life as the heir to the galaxy’s most ruthless empire behind. But her recruitment by the Novantaen Resistance, an organization opposed to the empire’s voracious expansion, throws her right back into the fray.

Eris has been assigned a new mission: to infiltrate a spaceship ferrying deadly cargo and return the intelligence gathered to the Resistance. But her partner for the mission, mechanic and hotshot pilot Cloelia, bears an old grudge against Eris, making an already difficult infiltration even more complicated.

When they find the ship, they discover more than they bargained for: three fugitives with firsthand knowledge of the corrupt empire’s inner workings.

Together, these women possess the knowledge and capabilities to bring the empire to its knees. But the clock is ticking: the new heir to the empire plans to disrupt a peace summit with the only remaining alien empire, ensuring the empire’s continued expansion. If they can find a way to stop him, they will save the galaxy. If they can’t, millions may die.

Barnes and Noble website

Review

Read: February 2021

Format: Audible audiobook

Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Warning: Spoilers ahead! Proceed with caution.

Alright, folks, I’m back! I’ve been pretty busy with school (I expect to complete my bachelor’s degree by the end of this semester), so I haven’t had as much time to write reviews. Now that I’ve only got two classes and have sorted out my volunteer hours at the animal shelter, I should be posting more frequently. I promise my next review won’t take six more months to appear.

Anyway, let’s get down to business.

Between stumbling across this book at my local Barnes and Noble and a Redditor’s recommendation, I finally decided to give Seven Devils a try. That was a decision I do not regret – unless, of course, you ask me how it feels to await the next installment of this duology.

This book is action-packed and fast-paced. The very first chapter opens the story with the first of many skirmishes aboard a spaceship. It’s not all melee combat though: Lam and May do an excellent job of balancing the action between physical fights and intrigue. Be prepared for battles, espionage, and subterfuge! Even the heroes’ downtime propels the plot forward, and exposition is woven into the story in a palatable manner that keeps the reader in the loop without overwhelming them. Part of that exposition is delivered in flashback format – a judicious choice, given the frequency and quantity of content set in the past. It’s also convenient that the flashbacks are isolated to their own chapters, each with the name of the viewpoint character and the time of occurrence clearly stated at the beginning of the chapter. (I have a special appreciation for this right now because I’m currently reading a book that fucks up flashbacks to the point of abuse. Suffice it to say that it’s difficult to follow that story where flashbacks are involved.)

From my heterosexual white woman’s perspective, Seven Devils does a solid job with representation. For all the diabolical crap the Tholosian Empire fosters, skin color of Tholosian humans is not one of their primary concerns. (That story is very different for non-Tholosians.) Even so, I really appreciate that this book features some racial diversity amongst its viewpoint characters. With Black and Hispanic people still patently underrepresented in STEM fields, I find it particularly awesome that Ariadne plays the role of the gifted, brilliant science whiz. The cast also includes three queer characters. Kyla, the co-commander of the Novantae resistance, is a transgender woman of color; Clo and Rhea, both viewpoint characters, are attracted to women. Although Kyla doesn’t have a viewpoint in this installment of the duology, my fingers are crossed for her to have one in the next book!

The characters are vibrant and intricate. Lam and May do an excellent job of connecting the characters’ past experiences and their present-day habits and mannerisms. Ariadne’s behavior reflects what you’d expect from a socially deprived but mentally acute teenager. (She’s not unlike Cress from the Lunar Chronicles.) She’s depicted as eager to explore and friendly, but the authors also highlight the social anxiety you might expect from a kid who grew up with minimal human contact. The inclusion of Eris’s point of view as Princess Discordia, her former identity, chronicles the transformation of Eris’s worldview while also underscoring the similarities between these two personas. The gradual change of Discordia into Eris emphasizes both Discordia’s and Eris’s inner turmoil – emotional turbulence that, although Eris conceals it well, plagues her to this day. Nyx is very firmly portrayed as a former soldier. That mentality shines through not just in how she describes herself, but also in how she acts and thinks. She wrestles constantly with the effects of chronic exposure to Tholosian propaganda while burying the guilt over the murders she’s committed in the name of the empire; her thought processes are tactical. Clo’s childhood of poverty, the loss of her mother, and her own amputation well explain the angry, stubborn, and determined woman whom readers encounter. And Rhea, although she still carries the scars of her old life as a sex slave, strives for freedom in her own way – even if it’s somewhat subtler than the methods of her comrades. On the other hand, the authors leave many questions unanswered about Sher, and Cato’s and Kyla’s backgrounds aren’t nearly as fleshed out as I’d like them to be. But then again, this is the first of two books, which leaves plenty of opportunity for character development in the next installment.

Rebellion can obviously serve as a riveting plot if it’s done right, but Seven Devils addresses several other themes. Relationships of all kinds are a recurring motif throughout the story. After all, it was a friendship that led Eris to defect from her totalitarian government. The romantic scene between Clo and Rhea near the end of the book is both intimate and wholesome, even without sex. And yes, we get to see the whole squad forming friendships and protecting each other. Colonialism and extractivism fuel the Tholosian Empire’s expansion and induce its citizens do commit horrific acts – crimes that most of our cast has partaken in one way or another. Finally, Seven Devils offers tales of the monumental endeavor to achieve redemption.

Even though it missed a few things, Seven Devils is a thrilling and worthy read. If you’re in the mood for science fiction, rebellion, and women supporting women, pick this book up now.