June 2021 Update

Hello again, and thanks for visiting!

Sooo last month I’d planned to post more often, but my final paper got in the way. The good news: That paper is out of the way now.

And the even better news:

I FINISHED MY DEGREE. I’M GRADUATING!

I’m both excited and anxious to begin my searches for jobs and remote master’s programs, but honestly, after the last year of school, one thing I’ve been very much anticipating is reading whatever the fuck I want. I’ve been doing just that, and you will be hearing about those books here on this blog.

Blog Announcements

As I announced in last month’s update, I am planning to renovate this blog – give it a little facelift. Now that I have more time on my hands, those renovations are getting underway. Again, you will see some changes on the Book Hawk, but bear with me while I straighten everything out.

For books that I thoroughly enjoy and therefore want more people to read, I’ve been trying to keep my reviews light on spoilers. Limiting spoilers, however, can curtail the material that I can discuss; it leaves me feeling constrained. Hence, I’ve settled on a compromise: For select books, I will post two versions of my review – one light on spoilers and one loaded with them. That way, you, my reader, can take your pick of how much you want divulged about a book, and I can cover the topics that I think need to be addressed. Please note that I will be incorporating the spoiler-light review into the spoiler review. (I’m not going to write a whole new review for the same book.)

Upcoming Reviews

Priority Content

  • Rule of Wolves (spoiler-light version): I promised you guys this one last month.
  • Libertie: I just finished the audiobook.
  • The Burning Blue: This nonfiction account of the Challenger disaster of 1986 was my first physical ARC won from a Goodreads giveaway.
  • Truthwitch: In preparation for the release of the next book in one of my favorite series ever, I am rereading Truthwitch, Windwitch, and Bloodwitch.

Tentative Additional Content (or The Stuff I’ll Get To If I Have the Time)

  • Rule of Wolves (spoiler version): I already have this review in the works.
  • A Climate for Death: I really wanted to love this Great Lakes-based thriller/mystery, but I can’t say I’m terribly impressed.
  • Windwitch and Bloodwitch: Whether or not these are reviewed this month will depend on how fast I read.
  • The Lost Apothecary: C’mon. I finished this two months ago.

And now, without further ado, I present to you my review of Rule of Wolves.

Mini Review: Sightwitch (Witchlands, #2.5)

Credit: Barnes & Noble

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.

Barnes & Noble

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

Image from Barnes and Noble website

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.

Barnes and Noble website

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)

Image from Barnes and Noble website

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.

Barnes and Noble

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)

Image from Barnes & Noble website

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.

Barnes & Noble

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.

Review: Through Violet Eyes

ThroughVioletEyes

Synopsis

In a world where the dead can testify against the living, someone is getting away with murder. Because to every generation are born a select few souls with violet-colored eyes, and the ability to channel the dead. Both rare and precious—and rigidly controlled by a society that craves their services—these Violets perform a number of different duties. The most fortunate increase the world’s cultural heritage by channeling the still-creative spirits of famous dead artists and musicians. The least fortunate aid the police and the law courts, catching criminals by interviewing the deceased victims of violent crime.

But now the Violets themselves have become the target of a brutal serial murderer—a murderer who had learned how to mask his or her identity even from the victims. Can the FBI, aided by a Violet so scared of death that she is afraid to live, uncover the criminal in time? Or must more of her race be dispatched to the realm that has haunted them all since childhood?

Review

Ah, quarantine, you have brought me to some new stories, and Through Violet Eyes was one of them.

It wasn’t a good story. Fair warning: This book was dreadful and I’m hoping to spare you the misery of reading it, so this review is brimming with spoilers. If you actually want to read Through Violet Eyes yourself and be surprised, turn back now!

Through Violet Eyes portrays itself as a mystery tinged with a sci-fi/fantasy element: In this universe, there are people whose eyes are – you guessed it! – violet, and these folks can communicate with the souls of the deceased. This has potential to be interesting if combined with strong characters, a decently planned plot, and solid, creative execution of the premise. Woodworth just doesn’t deliver.

For one thing, there’s little that’s remarkable about the main characters beyond just straight-up weirdness or lameness. Although each undergo some level of character growth, those developments are so predictably induced and so shallowly conveyed that the reader reaps little satisfaction and enjoys scant emotional connection with the characters in question. Natalie Lindstrom is a young Violet who works for the government like just about every other Violet does for at least some portion of their life. At the moment, the suits are using her amazing powers to channel dead witnesses for jury trials. Her frequent contact with the deceased has caused Natalie to lead a restrained, overly cautious (read: paranoid) life in the interest of postponing death as long as possible.  Dan Atwater is an FBI agent who basically committed manslaughter on a person of color but is now back on duty. So logically, after such a massive blunder, Dan is assigned to guard an extremely valuable lead, Natalie, in a serial killer case in which the victims are all people who can talk to the dead.

The progression of Dan and Natalie’s romance is completely calculable. Although Natalie begins the book pining over her childhood sweetheart, Evan, whom she has not spoken to in eight years, she quickly falls in love with Dan in a matter of weeks. Dan, too, feels the love in that same time span. And when I say “weeks”, I mean less than a month – or at least, that’s what I’m assuming because Woodworth is really unclear about the passage of time. Let’s ignore the time span, though, because time is sometimes inconsequential. The real issue is that, from the beginning, everyone can guess that Dan and Natalie are going to end up together, and there’s little to the story of how that happens. It’s the kind of love story you’d expect from mediocre fanfiction. Their romance consists of fluffy carnival rides, climbing stairs, and flying. (Like, a lot of flying. Seriously, Dan’s superiors have no idea how to coordinate their agents to save some fucking taxpayer money and fuel.)  Dan learns to love again after his divorce, and Natalie learns to live a little and not be terrified of the carousel. It’s a win-win for both of them.

Secondary characters are not bestowed with the attention they deserve either. Those who are important enough to warrant a number of dimensions greater than two are deprived. Too often, characters aren’t fleshed out. Most of the supporting characters are already dead or are on their way there. The rest are just there to help without being characters in their own right, often while serving as diversity tokens. Sid Preston, the obnoxious reporter who’s been stalking Dan and Natalie as he researches the case of the Violet killer and whose only contribution to the case is a license plate number, arguably receives as much or possibly even more attention than Serena. For playing such an important role in the story – saving Natalie’s life, assisting Dan with contacting Sondra, and ultimately killing Dan while possessed – she’s just there to help and be a friend to the deuteragonists. That’s all. Oh wait, and she’s black – a fact that Woodworth feels the need to point out every third sentence when she’s on the page. Don’t get me wrong: Serena’s blackness is not the issue, nor is acknowledgement of her blackness. The problem is that she is repeatedly described as “the black woman” or “the black man” (the latter in reference to her appearance in a disguise) at a frequency that borders on annoying while little else is established about her character. It’s one thing to illustrate a character; it’s entirely another to continuously reiterate their race while also saying nothing about their race. What else would readers need to know about her? Who she is as a person? How her blackness is a part of her identity? Her motives for doing things, for joining Simon’s group? Nah. What relevance do those things have to the white people in the story? Serena, a former CIA associate and now a member of a cryptic group known to some as a cult, has the capacity to be one of the most intriguing characters of the story, but Woodworth suppresses that potential by pigeonholing her into the dreaded “magical negro” trope.

Compounding Woodworth’s fumbling of Serena’s character with regards to race is Dan’s spotty past. Prior to the events of the story, Dan shot an unarmed person of color in a case of mistaken identity, believing he was the suspect that had killed a couple of other police officers that night. He and the remaining two officers were charged and subsequently acquitted of murder. Dan was then somehow reinstated as an officer of the law and released back into the wild with a badge and a firearm in tow. No anti-bias training, no anything – just a trial, an acquittal, and a divorce. Look, I understand that the issue of racially-charged police brutality wasn’t as prominent in the media back in 2004 (then again, I was seven, so maybe I just wasn’t paying attention), but the way Woodworth handles the matter seems… insensitive. The whole matter is resolved with a fuzzy, feel-good moment of forgiveness when Dan’s and Allen’s spirits collide and they each understand the other’s perspective of the fatal incident. I mean, yeah, on one hand, forgiveness and empathy are often good things. Yet, the way Woodworth settles this conflict sugarcoats the awfulness underlying the event: a (white) law enforcement officer is not held to higher ethical standards for his occupation, his remorse is used as a get-out-of-jail-free card, and the victim is a person of color who was basically assumed to be the bad guy because he “looked like the suspect”. Big yikes. Call me a nitpicker, but one heartfelt moment doesn’t really make up for all of that shit and the systemic racism seething just behind the curtain. At this point, it’s quite fair to say that Woodworth is ignorant on matters of race – and this is coming from a white girl.

Woodworth manages to pound out a mystery plotline – albeit a lackluster one – but overall, his writing style is rankling and often straight-up odd. No, I don’t mean “odd” in either the whimsically charming or the rivetingly bizarre senses, but rather in the “cringe” context. Let’s start with the sex. For one thing, there is a scene in which Dan, upon witnessing Natalie doing yoga in the morning, gets an erection. When she steps out of the room to take a shower, he actually fucking talks to his penis aloud. Guys, do you really do this? Is this a thing that I’m just not privy to? Because I’m trying to imagine talking to my nether regions and it’s just… weird. Also, I don’t know what planet Woodworth lives on, but here on Earth, pubic hair is rarely “downy.” Yet for all his explicit descriptions of breasts, pubic hair, and erections, Woodworth shies away from a detailed sex scene when our two heroes finally succumb to their attractions and begin their relationship with a night of lovemaking. Given how awkward Woodworth generally is on matters of sex, though, it’s probably best that he spared readers the details. Woodworth also has no idea how to write about gay characters. The only non-heterosexual is a dead fifty-something guy who’s described as “squirrelly-looking” and who inhabits Natalie’s body without her consent to attempt to rape Dan. This incident is used as a plot device to demonstrate how Violets can be inhabited against their will, particularly when sleeping, and to further Dan and Natalie’s blooming romance by letting Russell Travers spill the beans about Natalie’s sexual feelings for Dan. There are literally a million different ways that Woodworth could have accomplished this goal without painting the only homosexual character in the book as a perverted rapist. Additionally, Woodworth turns to disabilities for adjectives, which he uses pejoratively or flippantly. Natalie is described as repeating a mantra “like an autistic eulogist”. Dan, at one point, attempts to cry Natalie’s name in “a Down’s syndrome slur”. Is it really that difficult for Woodworth to   crack a thesaurus and pick some words that aren’t insulting? He totally could’ve gone with “a drunken slur” and just left out the “autistic eulogist” part. Those faux pas are totally avoidable, and yet Woodworth careens head-on into them with zero regrets.

The bottom line is that Through Violet Eyes simply is a bad book. A hackneyed plot, feeble characterization, and some seriously gauche handling of basic social issues bury anything positive about this story. Hopefully, this review has spared you all from wasting precious reading time on such an unworthy piece. Countless other books are calling your names!

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Cover image and synopsis are from BarnesandNoble.com.

Flash Review: Willow the Wildcat

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Synopsis

Willow the wildcat kitten and her brother Corrie live in a cozy den in the forest with their mom. But disaster strikes when a nosy sheepdog collapses their den. Can the kittens stop fighting long enough to learn how to work together and find a warm, safe new home?

Written in lively rhyme, this charming tale of two siblings learning to appreciate each other and work as a team features dynamic watercolor illustrations of forest wildlife and two adorable wildcat kittens, which are endangered in Europe.

Review

Read: November 2019

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Reviewing a children’s book can be truly refreshing. The task staring you down is unimposing – I mean really, it only takes a few minutes to read a picture book – and it’s relaxing to partake in a story accompanied by such delightful illustrations.

What I appreciate most about Willow the Wildcat is that it introduces children to a subspecies of animal that most adults haven’t even heard of: Felis silvestris silvestris, the Scottish wildcat. Instead of inundating their young audience with excessive information, Rickards and Harris-Jones adhere more to the route of entertaining the readers with a story and include a brief external snippet about the Scottish wildcat and the threats it faces. Given the intended audience’s age range, this strategy would be more likely to hold the readers’ attention than the information strategy. The story is short, of course, but it has distinct exposition, rising action, climax, and conclusion. The authors neatly wrap up their tale with a happy, heart-melting ending.  And can I just say: The illustrations are adorable!

Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC!

Image and synopsis are taken from BarnesandNoble.com.

Book Review: Fluffy’s Revolution

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Synopsis

The fate of the world rests on the haunches of one small cat.

It’s 2135. Fluffy is a super-intelligent GAB (Genetically Altered Brain) cat. Like many dogs, cats, mice, and the occasional pig, her brain is the product of genetic tinkering by humans that started more than a century ago. With their powers of telekinesis, the animals can manipulate physical objects without being able to grasp them. They can speak to each other telepathically without audible voices. Now, people have begun to fear them and to systematically capture and exterminate them. Fluffy leaves the safety of her home to look for her lost brother and joins a band of animal revolutionaries. After a series of brushes with death, Fluffy and her friends find a secret university for GAB animals. There, they work with enlightened humans to save Earth from certain destruction.

Review

Read: October 2019

Rating: 1.5 stars out of 5

Spoiler warning!

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I’m a sucker for animals – especially cats. I’ve read Erin Hunter’s Warriors for the last ten years; I’ve fostered numerous cats over the last fifteen; my current shirt has a screen-printed image of a cat on it (perfect for Halloween!).

I began reading Ted Myers’s Fluffy’s Revolution fully anticipating a completely corny yet genuinely entertaining story. The reality is disappointing: Fluffy’s Revolution only fulfills half of those expectations.

Myers’s tale is one about a world where some animals, called genetically altered brain animals, have rapidly evolved to have superhuman abilities and humanoid intelligence. Because people are people, an anti-GAB campaign has arisen: animals both normal and mutant are being targeted and killed. That premise definitely has some potential. Unfortunately, Myers neuters it by cramming everything into just one hundred forty pages. With so much to explore and so few pages, the storyline is simultaneously hectic and underdeveloped. Rising action leading to important events is severely diminished, resulting in the impression that stuff just… happens in this book.

There’s scant buildup to the action points and climaxes of the story, and the various conflicts are solved with far too much ease. For example, a jaundiced classmate at Animals U (a university for GABs) traps Fluffy somewhere so she can show off by taking point on a world-saving endeavor, thus endangering the entire planet with her petty jealousy. Fluffy defeats this obstacle in like three pages – and a good deal of that text focuses on everybody else going “Where’s Fluffy?” and Pandora doing her best impression of a shrug emoji. All in all, fewer than five pages are expended on the entire arc involving Pandora. The raids on numerous places are trite and hurried. And the solution to the potentially planet-demolishing meteor hurtling toward Earth?

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Likewise, Myers fails to adequately explore his characters. Almost everyone in this story suffers from second-dimensionality. Fluffy herself is just too perfect – and does way too well on the streets after not leaving her condo for five years (basically all of her life). All the “good guys” seem to be there simply to help Fluffy out, rather than being characters in their own right. Professor Riordan, her owner, is a drunken middle-aged mess of a bloke whose wife passed away around the same time he adopted Fluffy. The guy manages to pull through for his beloved cat and get his ducks sort of in a row, but Myers doesn’t spend a great deal of time discussing Riordan’s grief for his deceased wife or his recovery from alcoholism. Indira, an assistant for the professor who spotted a gargantuan meteor careening towards Earth, seems to function only as a plot device and a love interest for Riordan. As for the first three humans that Fluffy meets in the resistance, two of them have backgrounds that are barely touched upon, and the other has a tale that, while interesting, is sloppily presented in a rushed manner. By the time these three die, the reader doesn’t really know enough about these folks to be truly upset. Even the villain, Epps, lacks a compelling motive for his atrocious behavior – which in turn makes for a feeble redemption arc. And no, I don’t want a Trump descendant to be a villain – not because I love Donald Trump (he’s fucking terrible), but because he’s already the antagonist of today’s world so I want to read about someone else.

The romances are also worth mentioning for how… weird they all are. Even the one between two humans – Riordan and Indira – is kinda odd. While an age gap within legal constraints isn’t always a bad thing – think Tom Branson and Sybil Crawley – it’s worth noting that Riordan is probably two decades older than Indira. Also, their relationship is expressed in the story in eloquent sentences such as “She kisses him, and they start making out.” Fun fact: This occurs in a scene where the two of them are executing a mission to extract from the bad guy’s lair an important astronomer who knows about the apocalyptic meteor. Another human pairing is introduced in one sentence (“Rudy has more than a little compassion for Janet; everyone knows there was chemistry going on between them, although it was never spoken of”) and then is never touched on again. The animal romances are leagues more bizarre. Again, I will hark back to Erin Hunter’s Warriors to emphasize that animal romances in fantasy series can be handled with grace – or at least absence of cringe. Myers does neither of those things. For instance, a cat named Tigger flirts with Fluffy like this: “Wow, you’re a looker! Do you have reproductive organs?” I’m assuming that the bit about gonads is a reference to spaying/neutering, but it still seems like an invasive question to ask anybody within five seconds of meeting them. Finally, in the weirdest, most cringe-inducing example, Fluffy’s friend Sally goes into heat for the first time in the middle of a school dance; several toms surround the poor thing, who doesn’t even know what’s happening; and school authorities step in and explain that the animals at the university have a sort of marriage and practice monogamy. Fluffy’s brother, Jack, professes his eternal love to Sally, who reciprocates; they then sneak off to fuck, thus consummating their partnership. Yyyyyup. That’s how it happened. Like, congratulations on practicing marital fidelity, but seriously, what the FUCK???

Overall, this story is a complete train wreck of craziness. I did manage to get a couple of laughs out of it and to finish it, but those positives don’t outweigh the stultifying writing style; grammatical inconsistencies; the hustled, muddled plot; and overall random weirdness. At least it’s short.

Synopsis and cover image from BarnesandNoble.com.

GIF from http://thatsridicarus.soup.io/tag/patrick.

Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC!

Book Review: The Seventh Sun

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Thrust into leadership upon the death of his emperor father, young Prince Ahkin feels completely unready for his new position. Though his royal blood controls the power of the sun, he’s now responsible for the lives of all the Chicome people. And despite all Ahkin’s efforts, the sun is fading—and the end of the world may be at hand.

For Mayana, the only daughter of the Chicome family whose blood controls the power of water, the old emperor’s death may mean that she is next. Prince Ahkin must be married before he can ascend the throne, and Mayana is one of six noble daughters presented to him as a possible wife. Those who are not chosen will be sacrificed to the gods.

Only one girl can become Ahkin’s bride. Mayana and Ahkin feel an immediate connection, but the gods themselves may be against them. Both recognize that the ancient rites of blood that keep the gods appeased may be harming the Chicome more than they help. As a bloodred comet and the fading sun bring a growing sense of dread, only two young people may hope to change their world.

Rich in imagination and romance, and based on the legends and history of the Aztec and Maya people, The Seventh Sun brings to vivid life a world on the edge of apocalyptic disaster.

Review

Rating: 2.25 stars out of 5
Read: October 2019

It’s so satisfying to see a fantasy novel with a non-European setting. The representation isn’t the only thing to cheer about, though: There is a bevy of fantasy books written about medieval white people, so a novel focusing on people of color often speaks to some creativity on the part of the author. Lani Forbes’s The Seventh Sun centers on the fictitious Chicome people, whose culture is based on those of indigenous Mesoamericans. While I can’t speak to the Forbes’s historical or cultural accuracy, I can say that I appreciate the change of pace.

For the most part, though, this book is lackluster. The characters are mediocre at best and obnoxiously dull at worst. Mayana struggles with her moral objections to ritual sacrifices, which the religious leaders of the Chicome empire have essentially enshrined as dogma. This powerful internal conflict could have propelled a very interesting narrative had it been paired with a well-constructed character. I don’t despise Mayana – I even connect to her on some level – but she is just kinda bland. Prince Ahkin, the fantastically handsome and high-status love interest, is even emptier. For all of Forbes’s insistence that Ahkin is an intelligent man governed by logic, his behavior doesn’t match her claim. Not only is he apparently prone to tantrum-like outbursts and impetuous behavior, but he also overlooks critical information an alarming number of times, all while sporting the naivety of a child. He literally decides to kill himself immediately after hearing from a captured enemy solider that the sacrifice of his life is what will bring the sun back. He doesn’t bother to even consider this for a day or think about who might have ulterior motives; he just asks the high priest for his opinion and promptly marches off to the pit entrance to Xibalba, the underworld, to stab himself in the gut. The guy is repeatedly played like a fiddle – which is fair to say even if you factor out reasonable trust in the perpetrators. It’s no wonder Ahkin can’t swim: he’s got a head full of rocks. The supporting characters are way more interesting than the main characters. I would much rather hear how Yoli or Zorrah became who they are, or how Yemania has struggled with her father’s mistreatment, or Teniza’s story – a far more intriguing love story than the rushed romance in this book.

The plotlines – both romantic and not – are too foreseeable for my liking. While I enjoy the satisfaction of finding that my inferences are correct, it’s no fun if there’s no challenge to it. I smelled Coatl and Metzi’s game miles away. Maybe I just watch too much Dateline, but when a politically powerful, perfectly healthy man drops dead for no apparent reason, chances are there’s perfidy; who better to execute the crime than the palace healer? And Coatl’s potential motives are quickly elucidated when his sister Yemania arrives in the capital to be a bride/sacrifice and Princess Metzi requests to sit next to Coatl. Once Metzi is introduced, her shady, manipulative behavior promptly singles her out as a suspect. The whole scheme is so transparent that the “big reveal” lacks the wonderful coalescent effect in which the reader sees all of the details that they’ve overlooked crystallizing in one epiphanic moment. Instead, the moment of truth comes as absolutely no shock to anybody who’s been paying attention. Even the battles are unexciting. Honestly, I found the four-way catfight more interesting than the actual skirmish with death-worshippers that Ahkin takes part in.

Neither is Ahkin and Mayana’s romance in any way surprising. It seems crazy that Ahkin and Mayana have fallen madly and irrevocably in love in the course of like six seconds. It’s easy enough to figure out that Ahkin and Mayana end up together, which would be fine – except that the progression of their romance is just as trite and stupid as its beginning. A few tests and couple of illicit makeout sessions later and the deal is sealed: Ahkin and gorgeous, sweet Mayana are meant to be. The bummer is that Forbes could have explored one of a few other romances instead, one of which she herself actually mentions in the book. Instead of focusing on Mayana and Prince Hissyfit the Dumbfuck, Forbes could have written a new version of Stockton’s “The Lady, or the Tiger?” by delving into Teniza’s tragic love story. In my opinion, another more interesting romance would have been Ahkin (if he wasn’t such a mega clotpole) and Yemania, who is the plainest and shyest of the princesses but truly a diamond in the rough. Sadly, she opted for the cliche.

The long and short of it is that a lush jungle setting can’t compensate for a dull plot and equally dreary characters. If you’re a fan of The Bachelor, you’ll probably love this book, since that’s essentially what it is. Otherwise, stay away.

Synopsis and image are from BarnesandNoble.com.

Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC!

Book Review: The Blue Road

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Synopsis

In this stunning graphic novel, Lacuna is a girl without a family, a past, or a proper home. She lives alone in a swamp made of ink, but with the help of Polaris, a will-o’-the-wisp, she embarks for the fabled Northern Kingdom, where she might find people like her. The only way to get there, though, is to travel the strange and dangerous Blue Road that stretches to the horizon like a mark upon a page. Along the way, Lacuna must overcome trials such as the twisted briars of the Thicket of Tickets and the intractable guard at the Rainbow Border. At the end of her treacherous journey, she reaches a city where memory and vision can be turned against you, in a world of dazzling beauty, divisive magic, and unlikely deliverance. Finally, Lacuna learns that leaving, arriving, returning — they’re all just different words for the same thing: starting all over again.

Review

Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC!

Read: September 2019

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

This book definitely feels like it’s written for a younger demographic. Think elementary and middle school kids. But that doesn’t preclude adults from appreciating it – particularly if they’re like me and follow politics.

Art style can really screw up a graphic novel. Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist is one of my all-time favorite series – not just for the plot, but also for the gorgeous yet realistic (for manga, anyway) line art. On the other hand, while I comprehended the purpose of Octavia Butler’s Kindred, my enjoyment of the graphic novel (adapted by Damian Duffy and John Jennings) was seriously hampered by the art style. De la Noche Milne’s art does not follow the refined, crystalline style you might see in a museum or the starkly inked fashions typical of manga. Her illustrations have a smudgy, myopic quality that meshes with the fable genre of the book. Fables tend to be vague things: their details are minimal. Their audiences are given just enough information to follow the story, with elaborations forgone in the interest of creating concise stories that can be traded easily and often without muddling the central idea. In choosing a style that does not rely on details, de la Noche Milne bolsters the “fable” theme of the tale without making the background seem barren.

Immigration has been a major subject of debate for as long as I can remember. In particular, the firestorm has grown hotter since 2015, when a witless, bigoted motherfucking Oompa Loompa Donald Trump entered the presidential race. Trump and his immigration adviser Stephen Miller have been wreaking havoc upon immigrant families, whether they’ve been long established here in America or come to our border seeking protection and better lives. So many people write off crossing the border legally as “easy”. “Just come to the border like you’re supposed to,” these folks will argue. But even the slightest bit of research unveils a hellscape for people seeking entry into the U.S. – and a continuing looming threat over the heads of those who do gain legal entry.

Compton has clearly kept all of this in mind as he crafted his various allegories for the struggles facing immigrants. Despite their symbolic nature, Lacuna’s trials aren’t difficult to connect to real-world obstacles. The thicket of tickets through which Lacuna must travel represents the bureaucratic nightmare of obtaining the proper documentation to enter the country. The mirrors allude to the constant worry that surrounds temporary statuses and the plight of Dreamers: the so-called “mirror people” must constantly look over their shoulders in order to partake in the world. Perhaps the most poignant allegory is that of the faceless people, who sometimes would escape the regime of the northern kingdom and then bear children who were not faceless themselves but to whom their parents were faceless. This could apply to a number of scenarios, chief among them the tragic tales of forced family separations by the Trump administration and the suffering of the unaccompanied minor.

Don’t think, however, that simply because these ordeals are encapsulated in allegory means that the story is devoid of some harsh elements: In one scene, the border guard quite literally slices a bird in half because it flew across the border. The slaughtering of the bird is depicted on-page, and its corpse is shown lying broken on the blue road. In refusing to shy away from this draconian act, Compton and de la Noche strengthen the narrative of the brutal tribulations endured by the immigrant.

It’s also worth noting that the main character is a woman of color. Opting to portray the main character as a white person might have been the obvious choice to some because -let’s be honest – this story is aimed at folks with anti-immigrant stances, particularly white people, and children who might lack exposure to other cultures and races. Perhaps it would be easier for these particular audiences to identify with a white person, but that kind of pandering would do the real-world component of the story no justice. One aim of The Blue Road is to evoke the audience’s sympathy for Lacuna, even if she does not look like they do. Her skin is brown, she is a young woman, and she’s an immigrant, but Compton and de la Noche impress upon the audience that none of that renders her any less human or less capable than someone who is white, male, and a “natural-born” citizen.

Overall, The Blue Road is a powerful story about a strong young woman who fights against the odds to make a life for herself and ultimately succeeds. The Blue Road is more than just some graphic novel though: It’s life for numerous people. Immigrants might not literally have to drink ink or keep their eyes glued to mirrors at every waking hour, but they are forced to grapple with even worse realities. We can do something about that, though, Compton argues. This book is perhaps his way of encouraging us to take that first step to speak up for immigrants: to both look beyond our border to understand others, and to look within the border to correct the wrongs that persist here.

Synopsis and cover image are from BarnesandNoble.com.