4 Stars · Book Review · China · Favorite Authors

Adventure abounds in Jeff Wheeler’s latest novel, The Killing Fog

41SJKIH2+DL._SY346_Hey friends!  How are you?  Are you reading a lot more lately?  I’ve seen a lot more posts in the books subreddit  on Reddit and a ton more book discussions between friends on Facebook.  It looks like most of us are dealing with these stay-at-home orders by indulging in lots and lots of reading.

So tell me, what are you reading?  I don’t have the stomach for anything dystopian at the moment, but Jeff Wheeler’s newest book just arrived and it was like Christmas morning on my kindle.  Y’all know how much I enjoy Jeff Wheeler’s world building and The Killing Fog just really took me in completely.

One of my favorite things about Wheeler’s writing is that he takes familiar-ish stories, locations or times and gives them a very magical supernatural spin.   His world building skills are incredible and The Killing Fog delivers completely in this sense.  The characters were much stronger than in The Harbinger Series  and the writing itself was almost as strong as that of The Kingfountain Series.    I’ve always find it interesting that Wheeler’s main characters are almost always strong capable young women and that he tends to write them fairly well for a middle aged man.

Hands down, The Kingfountain Series is still my favorite of Wheeler’s works (and I HIGHLY recommend these books if you’re in the mood for something well written, intriguing and magical), but The Killing Fog comes in at a strong second.  While the Harbinger Series, Muirwood and Mirrowen were good young adult fiction, The Kingfountain Series and The Grave Kingdom Series are better suited for mature readers and really show Wheeler at his finest.

Wheeler’s books are meant to be read as a series, they’re not standalone books, which can be a little bit annoying.  Especially since the next book in The Grave Kingdom series isn’t out until June, but it’s also nice to have something to look forward to.

Take care!  until next time, cheers!

-R

5 stars · Book Review · Sci-Fi · Science · series books · thoughts

The Last Dance is an accessible and entertaining intro for Sci-Fi newbies and hits the spot for nostalgic Sci-Fi readers

41LvyukIvVLIf you love the old Star Treks, Star Gate and anything 80’s sci-fi, The Last Dance by Martin L. Shoemaker is a must read.  This was one of my favorite Kindle reads of the year.  It was well written, fun and incredibly intelligent.  You can tell Shoemaker loves space and the book maintains a good grasp on the science involved with space travel as well as the complexity of human behavior and emotions when millions of miles away from home.  There’s nothing I hate more than a book that glosses over science completely (unless it’s magic..of course!) so I really appreciated Shoemaker’s approach in The Last Dance.  The true emotion elicited by this book was reminiscent of reading “The War of the Worlds”…i.e..it totally could happen.

Set on the Aldrin, a space craft that shuttles people from Earth to the Mars colonies in 2083, The Last Dance untangles the very complicated story of Captain Nicolau Aames who is accused of treason and his loyal crew, accused of mutiny.

As Inspector General Park boards the Aldrin and conducts her investigation into Aames and his crew, she encounters the true complexity of space travel, the nuances of human interactions and the explosive political tensions between the Mars/Earth and Civilian/Military bureaucracy. 

Aames, by all accounts is an asshole.  But he is consistent, incredibly competent and exceptionally fair.  He’s also stubborn, arrogant and routinely pushes people to their breaking points.  His list of political enemies reaches from Earth to Mars.  His crew, however, is unswervingly loyal and exceptionally competent themselves, leaving Inspector General Park to dig for an unbiased truth from the testimonies of a crew who respects their captain and stands by him, even against accusations of mutiny and treason.  

The Last Dance was so much fun to read and I cannot wait book two: The Last Campaign.

5 Stars because I love retro sci-fi.  🙂

Until next time, happy reading friends.

-R

3 stars · Book Review · Historical Fiction · WW1

In a Field of Blue reaches beyond romance to the ravages of war

in a field of blueIn a Field of Blue by Gemma Liviero was a Kindle first read and despite a confusing and slow start, it was an enjoyable historical romance set in 1922 England.  With the slow start of the first few chapters, it felt like Liviero really struggled with finding the voice of her male narrator.  Starting out, I thought the main character was female and had to read back a few times in confusion before realizing the narrator was male and named Rudy.  That wasn’t a great start.  I read a lot and have never encountered a book where the narrator’s gender and name were unclear or confusing.  Luckily, Liviero found her footing and I was able to follow the story easily after realizing who Rudy was.

Set in England post WW1, In a Field of Blue swirls around three brothers and their mother.  The youngest son, Rudy, and his mother live precariously on the edge waiting for the return of Edgar, the eldest brother whose gone missing during the war and the heir of the family fortune.  Their future depends on Edgar’s return, as his death means the entire family estate would be lost to the wildly irresponsible Lawrence, the second born and next in line who wants to sell their home and move on with life.  As the third born, Rudy has no claim to anything except the mess his older brothers leave in their wake.  When a strange French woman arrives with a small boy in tow,  claiming to be Edgar’s widow arriving with his son, the family drama ensues and Rudy begins an investigation into the strange woman, named Mariette, the boy and Edgar.

While In a Field of Blue is classified as Historical Fiction, it definitely teeters closer towards historical romance without every falling into that category.  Liviero did a fantastic job bringing forth the emotional trauma of war and presenting it in a way that is both respectful and powerful.  This book is worth reading just for Liviero’s approach to mental health.  The characters are incredibly well developed, it’s impossible not to fall in love with them, and the backdrop she paints across Europe is beautifully done.  The story does flip between four different narrators, and I wish Liviero had stuck to Mariette as her narrator.  Her writing was so much stronger and easier to follow with Mariette than the other characters.  This book could have also done with some heavy editing, particularly through the first 30% to help with clarity and ease of reading.

Overall, In a Field of Blue was a very enjoyable book, perfect for a winter day snuggled under a blanket.  I give this one 3 stars.  Incredible characters, beautifully written, needed a lot of help with clarity those first few chapters.

Until next time, happy reading friends!

Cheers, -R

 

3 stars · beach read · Book Review · Bust · Secret Hideout · spoilers · Summer Read · thoughts

Unpopular Opinion: Where the Crawdads Sing is a beautifully written book with a stupid plot.

Thank goodness it’s a snow day because I stayed up late last night finishing up “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens and I need a nap.  This book is crazy popular right now and I was actually lucky enough to snag a copy from the library’s “Lucky Day” shelf last week.

So first things first, Where the Crawdads Sing has over 37,000 reviews on Amazon right now, with about 87% of those being 5 stars.  I’ve honestly never seen a book have so many reviews.  It’s just incredible.

*I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but with 37,000 reviews and a full Wikipedia synopsis of this book, I’m not sure what’s spoiler and what isn’t for this book.*

Set somewhere in the marshes of the North Carolina coast, the novel weaves together the story of the young beautiful feral marsh girl, Kya, with the suspected murder of the town’s golden boy, Chase.   As Owens takes readers through history and into the marsh, the chapters flash back and forth across the years of 1952-1969, eventually catching up to each other in 1969-1970.  The use of short chapters and flashing back and forth in time was well done.  Unlike Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, Owens was able to maintain her momentum and storytelling with ease throughout the entire novel.

The book is full of rich descriptions of the natural world and it’s no surprise that Owens is actually a zoologist.  While I enjoyed reading about the mashes’s flora and fauna and the incredibly world Owens creates in the marsh, it eventually burned me out and I wish there had been more editing to cull down the descriptions a bit.

The entire plot of Where the Crawdads Sing is set upon Kya’s abandonment, first by her mother who leaves six year old Kya and her four older siblings in the marsh shack with an abusive drunken father.  Her mother’s departure is followed by a slow trickling of abandonment by the four older siblings who vanish down the road without a trace until seven year old Kya is left alone with a man she fears and can’t count on to provide food or stability.  After a truce of sorts in which her father teachers her to fish and boat, he too disappears, leaving Kya to fend for herself in a shack in the middle of nowhere with no food and no money.

Depending on the skills taught by an older brother and her father, Kya survives alone for almost 17 years, a feral child living in the marsh surfacing only for meager supplies and gas for her boat.  Kya’s vulnerability draws readers in, the rich natural descriptions of the coast blending with the loneliness and heartbreak of a little girl left completely alone in the world.  Flashes of racism and prejudice flicker heavily across the pages and I couldn’t help but think that everyone in Barkley Cove comes across as a coward, an asshole or both.

In the midst of Kya’s desperate bid to survive, two local boys find Chase Andrews, the town’s hero, dead in the marsh.  The town searches desperately for a cause of death and eventually lands on a suspected murder.

Without spoilers, I found Where the Crawdads Sing to be a quick and easy read.  The story drew me in but left me wanting more rooted in reality.  I couldn’t get past an entire town knowingly and willingly leaving a little girl to survive out in the marsh alone for years.  I couldn’t get past older siblings knowingly and willingly leaving a little sister alone with a drunk abusive father.  I couldn’t get past the long list of skills that a six or seven year old would need to survive alone without food, running water or electricity in a North Carolina marsh.

I couldn’t get past Kya’s prodigal art talent or her seemingly instantaneous ability to read after 14 years of illiteracy once someone finally taught her the basics.  I couldn’t get past a child not only surviving but thriving on grits, mussels and a few random vegetables for years.

I couldn’t get past the middle-of-nowhere marsh shack being fitted out with plumbing and electricity without any details of how exactly that happened.  I couldn’t get past the terrible inconsistent accents.  I also hated all of the random poems and over technical explanations tossed into the book to make Kya appear much smarter and more cultured than the town folks.

I couldn’t get past the characters suddenly and shockingly changing character in ways that just did not make sense.

For all of my wanting to accept the story, I could not get past the absurdity of the trial or the eventual revelation of who killed Chase Andrews.

Overall, most of this book just felt too implausible.  Where the Crawdads Sing started out beautifully but left me reaching too far from reality to feel grounded in the story and too far removed from characters that seemed to flip personalities seemingly instantaneously.  This one rings somewhere around 3 stars.  Beautiful written.  Stupid plot.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers- R

3 stars · Book Review · Western

Emulating the Klondike Gold rush, “Toward the Midnight Sun” promises more than it delivers

Written by Eoin Dempsey, Toward the Midnight Sun promises adventure and romance against the rugged backdrop of the Klondike goldrush in 1897.  The story follows the young protagonist, Anna, as she embarks on a wild trip from Seattle to Dawson City to join her betrothed, a stranger twice her age.

As a native Coloradan, I LOVE westerns and the gold rush and anything about rugged mountain adventures.  After reading the description, I couldn’t wait to pick up this book and dig in.

After a very slow start and a slow build up, the action picks up when Anna finds herself stranded with dishonest chaperones and a pair of strangers her only allies.   The story really picks up and gets interesting as Anna starts her trek across the land to Dawson City.  I enjoyed the description of life on the trail and all of the work involved in getting yourself and your supplies across an unpredictable landscape with winter breathing down your back.

Things take a turn for the worse in Dawson City, and Toward the Midnight Sun moves from a slow starting adventure novel towards a cheap romance novel that loses the plot.  Things start to tumble together quickly and eventually characters are thrown into situations and reactions that don’t make sense for the story or their personalities.  Dempsey tries to be inclusive and empathetic towards the plight of women but it ends up feeling unnatural.  Anna becomes a young woman whose primary thoughts revolve around showing everyone she could do survive.  Rather than inspirational,  her inner monologue quickly gets boring.

About 3/4 of the way through the book, things start to feel too big to wrap up with just 25% of the book left and Dempsey steamrolls through to a quick ending.  The last portion of the book feels like Dempsey realized he needed to finish in a certain amount of pages and did anything to get there.

Overall, this book was a quick read.  I enjoyed the subject and the trail adventure.  However, the girl-power factor was overdone and the book was slow too start and too quick to end.   3 stars for me today.

Until the next time, happy reading!

Cheers- R

beach read · Book Review · Romance

“Selkie” is more than romance, it’s a love affair with Scotland itself

41XT86jn39LIt is with the greatest pleasure that I got to read and now review my friend’s debut novel!  Reading someone’s work can be such an intimate activity, especially for something like a romance.  Luckily, Selkie by Dacia Dyer is a beautifully written PG-13 romance, so no awkward friend moments required.  🙂

Set in Scotland, Selkie weaves together the mysterious threads of an old folktale with the modern day lives of Connor, a brokenhearted fisherman/bar tender and Talia, a broke freelance writer turned house sitter.  Connor and Talia are young and sweet and very simple while also avoiding the trap of becoming one dimensional and predictable.  Dyer’s knowledge of Scotland and local colloquialisms bring a welcome authenticity to the novel.

I’m fairly new to the romance genre and while I prefer historical fiction romances, Selkie was very enjoyable and I am happy to recommend this book to others looking for a quick and easy read.

Until next time, happy reading y’all!

-Cheers, R

0 stars · Book Review · Bust · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · Psychology

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen

51ZM2Qv8x5L._SY346_It’s not often I give up on a book.  And I don’t think I’ve ever given up a book in the first two chapters.  But goodness gracious, y’all.   The Light of the Fireflies is a book that I just don’t have the stomach for.  While the book excerpt leads one to believe this book is some sort of post-apocalyptic drama, it’s more of a suspenseful thriller.  Typically, I love me some good dystopia or thrillers.  However, in the first two chapters, The Light of the Fireflies jumped right into forced imprisonment, emotional abuse, and implied rape and incest.  That’s a whole lot for the first two chapters.

In addition to the emotional crap this book shoots right out the gates, there are a lot of disjointed realities presented in the first two chapters.  The world is supposedly destroyed and inhabitable.   Yet, the family has water, electricity, fresh food, crayons, colors, and even a cactus.  Where does that stuff come from?

No one has a name in this book and each person is referred to by their station in the family.  Father, Mother, Sister, Brother, Grandma, The Baby.  It’s hard to empathize and connect with a bunch of nameless characters.  It’s also odd to imagine seven people existing in such close quarters without ever using one another’s names.

Every family member was supposedly disfigured by a fire before the move to the basement.  The narrator and the baby were born in the basement, so they do not have any scars and know no other way of life.  I had a hard time picturing an event in which every family member was burned and disfigured without any details or explanation from the author.

The final straw for me was the fact that the entire plot centered around one character not knowing anything and everyone else knowing everything.  Even after two chapters, it was obvious this was a book of waiting it out and following crumbs throughout each chapter to piece together the story.  I absolutely hate when entire plots are written around a single character (or in this case a group of characters) who knows everything and the reader and/or main character are left to fit the pieces together.

Yes, I know many mysteries and dystopian books utilize this method.  However, in The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game and The Maze Runner, someone else knowing what is going on is part of the surprise of those books.  The same is true for most mysteries.  Gone Girl definitely utilized this method, but that book was VERY well done and the reader watched the story unfold from the knowing person’s point of view, which is what made it such a fantastic read.

0 stars for this book.

Until next time, happy reading and cheers!

 

3 stars · African American Lit · Book Review · Uncategorized

Halsey Street by Naima Coster

Halsey Street

Halsey Street, by Naima Coster, takes on a whole lot of life in a single book.  Mother-daughter issues set the tone for Halsey Street, a clear angry discord thrumming throughout the entire book, which then wraps itself up in main character Penelope Grand’s life of sexuality, gentrification, aging parents,  failed dreams and a father’s love.

Penelope Grand, is a young, half Black-half Dominican native New Yorker with a chip on her shoulder.  After a lifetime of hero-worshiping her Black father and engaging in a negative and disappointing relationship with her Dominican mother, Penelope quits art school and rambles around Pittsburgh working as a bar tender and enjoying casual sexual encounters with bar patrons.  When Penelope returns to Brooklyn to care for her ailing father, her home turf is in the process of being gentrified, her father’s record store replaced with health foods, old haunts replaced with sushi restaurants.  Back home, Penelope is forced to face the ugly truth of her situation.  Her father’s record store has shuttered and been replaced by a health food store, her mother has abandoned her family and the Brooklyn home, and she has quit art school and is substitute teaching, no friends, no lovers, no future.

While Coster is a fine writer who gave herself plenty of material to work with, Halsey Street is not a book I’d recommend to friends.  Penelope is an angry, insecure, a-hole and she’s difficult to read.  Her actions and judgement are questionable at best, downright awful at other times.  She treats every other character in the book like crap and then validates her behavior with stunningly ridiculous justifications.  Penelope is boring in her anger and negative responses to everything.

The underlying thread of gentrification never seems to build into anything meaningful or poignant.  Aside from Penelope’s anger at her white landlords and the casual mention of a few new restaurants, gentrification isn’t really addressed head on in this book.  Penelope seemingly hates her hometown, so the anger, fear, resentment and other normal emotions experienced during gentrification aren’t really addressed here.  In fact, Penelope’s anger and hate towards everything takes away a lot of the power her anger and hate could have had if it had been better directed.

In an odd twist, every other character is quite well developed.  I wish Coster would have focused more on Penelope’s parents, Ralph and Mirella, and how an orphaned black boy grew up to become a successful business owner married to a significantly younger and beautiful red-headed Dominican.  Both Ralph and Mirella were interesting and complicated and their relationship left a lot to be explored.  Ralph seemingly loved Mirella with his whole being.  Mirella, on the other hand, spent her days avoiding her family and eventually bailing to another country.  Halsey Street would have been more enjoyable if we’d followed them instead of their cranky daughter.

All in all, 3 stars.  Great writing.  Main character sucks. The fantastic supporting characters make the read worthwhile.

Until next time, happy reading and cheers!

4 Stars · Book Review · Historical Fiction · Spain · Summer Read · thoughts · WWII

The Snow Gypsy by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

51Wi2vWaM4L._SY346_The Snow Gypsy, by Lindsay Jayne Ashford, was one of the best books I’ve read this summer.  In this beautiful novel, set at the closing edges of WWII, Ashford leaves both Germany and Britain behind, forgoes the soldiers and war torn lovers and takes readers high into the mountains of post WWII Spain.

The Snow Gypsy follows Rose, a British veterinarian as she searches for her beloved brother who disappeared in Spain while fighting with Gypsy partisans eight years prior.  Rose’s search leads her directly into the heart and home of Lola Aragon and her gypsy family, and sends  them both head first into the complexities of a small mountain community grappling with their communal wounds after the war.

Ashford is the master of simple complexity.  The Snow Gypsy has a handful of characters who are rich and well developed and as complex as the flamenco rhythms Ashford employs throughout the book.  Each chapter is layered with emotion, joy, fear, pride, happiness, anger, love, lust, confusion, guilt, each landing on top of the other in a complex pattern of humanity.  I was particularly appreciative of how the book felt so authentic, as if Ashford was a witness to the times rather than just writing about them or putting her own romantic spin on what she hoped life would be like for Spanish Gypsies or women in the 1940’s.  Unlike Yaquian in Theads of Silk, Rose’s actions and decisions were both strong and strange, but they made sense for her character, the times and the location.

The story is strong and shocking, many events were unexpected and felt true to life.  I always appreciate when an author takes on a very popular subject like WWII and provides an entirely different angle from another perspective.  Like The Last Train to Istanbul, The Snow Gypsy further expanded my understanding of the true reach and depth of WWII and all of those impacted.

Great beach read.  4 stars.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

R

 

 

 

3 stars · Book Review · Fantasy · Favorite Authors · series books

The Harbinger Series by Jeff Wheeler

Jeff Wheeler is without a doubt one of my favorite fantasy writers.  His stories are generally based on a real life historical occurrence and then fleshed out fully into a world of magic and fantasy.   His talent lies in world building and weaving his series together across centuries and worlds.  When reading anything by Wheeler, I’m dorkishly happy to find the exact moment when a completely new series with completely new characters ties seamlessly into a previous book.  I also love when a great character from another series finds their way into a new series.  Wheeler’s writing makes this incredible feat seem effortless.  Y’all know how obsessed I was with Wheeler’s works last year, and as soon as The Harbinger Series came out, I was on it.  I have been obsessively reading each book as it is released.

Unfortunately, if we’re being honest, The Harbinger Series is by far my least favorite of Wheeler’s works.  Unlike the Kingfountain Series which was a very well developed story with incredibly engaging full-bodied characters, The Harbinger Series feels like it has a lot of potential but wasn’t edited down and buttoned up.  In addition to the main characters, Cettie and Sera, there are a lot of characters and two worlds to keep track of in this series, along with monsters, politics, lost history, war, romance and friendship.  There are so many story lines running at once that the reader tends to lose and pick up the story again and again.

While Sera grows, develops and matures in a way that is consistent with her character throughout the series, Cettie changes drastically and starts making decisions that are in no way aligned with what we know her character to be.  Wheeler never fleshes out why Cettie starts behaving so oddly, so the series loses a lot of plot consistency with her waffling.  Wheeler normally writes young women well, so to see Cettie go from a strong smart young woman to a very insecure one, was terrible.

The Harbinger Series also introduces  a new type of magic that allows entire estates to float in the air.  As a reader, the floating estates caused too many issues.  I wanted to know what these estates actually looked like, how the plants managed to survive, how big they were, what the weather was like, how people got from one place to the other.  Wheeler, rather than getting into the details on these, explains them away with “it’s one of the Mysteries”.  Supposedly, no one in the entire world knows how these estates float, except when the owners go too far into debt, the estates crash back down to the ground, putting everyone below in danger.  The floating estates are also accessed by “Hurricanes”, a type of sky ship that is powered, again, by “The Mysteries”.

One of my biggest issues with The Harbinger Series is how the technology and magic doesn’t seem to align.  They have floating estates and sky ships, but not indoor plumbing.

In addition to all of the alignment and consistency issues, The Harbinger Series is darker than all of the other books, making for a very long read.

I love Jeff Wheeler and I really wanted to love the Harbinger series.  Unfortunately, it’s a 3 star rating this time.  Still a good series and good books, just not breathtaking like The Kingfountain Series.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

-R