Book Review: Grace and Fury

grace and furyGrace and Fury
by Tracy Banhart
Young Adult
311 pages
Published July 2018

I didn’t actually have high hopes for this book – the description hits a lot of standard YA tropes. Sisterhood, switched roles, Royal/pauper juxtaposition…but WOW. No, this book blew me away.

In Serina and Nomi’s world, women are second-class citizens, forbidden to read, have romantic relationships with each other, or have careers of their own. Serina plans to be a Grace, effectively a concubine to the Prince, with her sister as her handmaiden. But it is Nomi who catches the Prince’s eye when she stumbles into him in a hallway, and Nomi that he picks. In a moment of weakness, Nomi’s secret is discovered and thought to be Serina’s, and rather than jeopardize Nomi’s new position, Serina capitulates and takes the fall. She’s sent to a volcanic island prison while Nomi struggles to tame her own rebellious nature long enough to gain enough influence to free her sister.

The book is about oppression and sisterhood, whether it be with those that share your blood or not. Along the way, we discover a different history of the nation than what is normally taught, and find a few men who sympathize with the women’s plight. (And eventually step up to take action alongside the women.)

It’s a quick read – the action starts on page one and never stops. Chapters alternate between Nomi in the palace and Serina on her island prison fighting for food, and both girls learn that what they saw as weakness in each other can be strengths in different circumstances.

The only downside to this book is that it ends with things unfinished. Not a cliffhanger, exactly, but the story is most definitely not done, and the sequel doesn’t come out until July of 2019! I will be snapping that up as soon as it releases because I NEED to know how these two sisters overcome their trials.

From the cover of Grace and Fury:

BOLD
BRUTAL
BEAUTIFUL

Serina Tessaro has been groomed her whole life to become a Grace – someone to stand by the Heir to the throne as a shining, subjugated example of the perfect woman. It’s her chance to secure a better life for her family, and to keep her headstrong and rebellious younger sister, Nomi, out of trouble. But when Nomi catches the Heir’s eye instead, Serina is the one who takes the fall for the dangerous secret her sister has been hiding.

Trapped in a life she never wanted, Nomi has only one option: surrender to her role as a Grace until she can use her position to save Serina. But this is easier said than done . . . . A traitor walks the halls of the palazzo, and deception lurks in every corner.

Meanwhile, Serina is running out of time. Imprisoned on an island where she must fight to the death to survive, surrounded by women stronger than she is, one wrong move could cost her everything. There is no room for weakness on Mount Ruin, especially weaknesses of the heart.

Thrilling and captivating, Grace and Fury is a story of fierce sisterhood, and of survival in a world that’s determined to break you.

Book Review: Starless

StarlessStarless
by Jacqueline Carey
Fantasy
587 pages
Published June 2018

Jacqueline Carey has been a little hit or miss for me lately. I loved Kushiel’s Dart, read that years ago. Wasn’t fond of the second trilogy in that world. I read Miranda and Caliban a while back, and it was alright. This, though, blew me away. First, the idea that there are no stars in the sky. They have three moons and a sun, but no stars. Their mythology is that the Stars rebelled against their father, the Sun, and he threw them all to Earth, including one who hadn’t participated as it had been a babe in the womb during the rebellion! The stars now walk the earth as gods and goddesses, and we meet several in the book. (And hear about a few more.) The one god that hadn’t been part of the rebellion, but was punished anyway, has been nursing his hurt and resentment until, prophecy states, he will eventually wake and try to kill everyone. The problem is the prophecy was shattered into as many pieces as there are gods, and spread across the world. There are prophecy seekers that try to collect all the bits, but they’re not very successful.

In Khai’s country, the sacred twins are their gods. Pahrkun the Scouring Wind and Anamuht the Purging Fire. They can be seen on occasion striding across the desert. It is by Pahrkun’s will that Khai is bound to the youngest princess as her soul twin; very rarely the royal family gets one of these, and they are always meant to be bodyguards. So Khai is sent to the temple of Pahrkun’s warriors, deep in the desert, and trained in the many ways to kill. The warriors are all men, but Khai turns out to be non-binary, and this is what lets him guard the princess in a culture that includes harems and eunuchs. I love the relationship between Khai and Princess Zariya, and Zariya is no typical princess.

The book follows Khai and Zariya’s adventures in court intrigue, marriage proposals, sea battles, and prophecy-chasing. The action is perfect, the world breath-taking, and the people beautifully written. I’ve always enjoyed the fantasies where the gods show up commonly enough that people know how to identify them and how to treat them. From the Wind and Fire of Zharkoum’s arid country to the shape-changing Quellin and the terrifying Shambloth, the people that live near them build governments and societies around their gods, which makes each society stand out in their own way. World-building is definitely something that Carey is an expert at.

Starless is an amazing fantasy with a lovely queer romance at its heart. It’s full of varied cultures and enigmatic gods and goddesses and I just LOVE IT. Definitely one of my favorites this year.

From the cover of Starless:

“I was nine years old the first time I tried to kill a man . . .”

Destined from birth to serve as protector of the princess Zariya, Khai is trained in the arts of killing and stealth by a warrior sect in the deep desert; yet there is one profound truth that has been withheld from him.

In the court of the Sun-Blessed, Khai must learn to navigate deadly intrigue and his own conflicted identity . . . but in the far reaches of the western seas, the dark god Miasmus is rising, intent on nothing less than wholesale destruction.

If Khai is to keep his soul’s twin Zariya alive, their only hope lies with an unlikely crew of prophecy-seekers on a journey that will take them farther beneath the starless skies than anyone can imagine.

Book Review: The Great Zoo of China

great zoo of chinaThe Great Zoo of China
by Matthew Reilly
Action/Thriller
393 pages
Published 2015

I don’t typically read thrillers, and I haven’t read Jurassic Park because the movie gave young me nightmares for YEARS. (I haven’t seen ANY of the sequels, it was that bad!) But this was billed as Jurassic Park but with DRAGONS. And dragon-themed ANYTHING gets my attention, so in the queue it went! And I am glad for it, because this book was awesome. From the first glimpse of dragons flying above the tourist area, to the moment when everything starts to go wrong, to racing through the pages to find out how our hero manages to survive, this book had me entranced. The action just careens through the swamps and mountains of the park, almost as out of control as the dragons CJ is running from. And while we know CJ has to survive, because she’s the main character, she has a brother, a little girl she’s taken under her protection, old colleagues, and countrymen that she could lose at any moment.

And the dragons. Oh my, the dragons. They come in three sizes – Princes, about the size of a small car, Kings, about city bus size, and Emperors. Emperors are the size of passenger jets. With creatures this size, the action is supersized, too! Picture dragons picking up garbage trucks and flinging them at buildings, and you’ve got the idea! These dragons are intelligent, too. They have a language, and can plan and set traps together. They are devious and DEADLY.

If the dragons weren’t enough, the story is also set in China. China is known for squashing dissent, and it’s no different with the zoo. No one outside the zoo knows about the dragons, and until they have things under control, and the zoo up and running, they can’t let anyone know about it. Which means any witnesses to this dragon rebellion need to die, whether to the claws of the dragons or the bullets of the Chinese military.

The Great (Dragon) Zoo of China is one heck of a ride, and the action is amazing. I think this is one of my favorites of the year. It’s also the fourth book on my Summer reading list.

From the cover of The Great Zoo of China:

Get ready for action on a gigantic scale.

It is a secret the Chinese government has been keeping for forty years. They have proven the existence of dragons – a landmark discovery no one could ever believe is real, and a scientific revelation that will amaze the world. Now the Chinese are ready to unveil their astonishing findings within the greatest zoo ever constructed.

A small group of VIPs and journalists has been brought to the zoo deep within China to see these fabulous creatures for the first time. Among them is Dr. Cassandra Jane “CJ” Cameron, a writer for National Geographic and an expert on reptiles. The visitors are assured by their Chinese hosts that they will be struck with wonder at these beasts, that the dragons are perfectly safe, and that nothing can go wrong.

Of course it can’t….

Book Review: Goodbye, Paris

goodbye parisGoodbye, Paris
by Anstey Harris
Contemporary Fiction
277 pages
Published August 7, 2018

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m not a big fan of Contemporary Fiction. This, however, blew me away. Goodbye, Paris, is one of August’s Books of the Month, and as usual, it is outstanding. I don’t know how they consistently pick amazing books, but month after month they bring a bit of magic.

I started this book thinking “oh, she’s a musician, I can get into that,” but I didn’t know how much the author was going to explore that facet of her life. But right away, on page 14, our main character did something that made me gasp aloud and stop and actually write in my book. Which is a thing I don’t do. Grace plays cello the way I play piano. She’s far more skilled than I am, but – well just read:

My knees poke out, bony and white, cushioning the pointed lower bouts of the cello, and the scroll rests, where it belongs, against my ear. The cello takes up its rightful place and I become nothing more than a mechanical part of it.

This is what I have always done, how I have always found myself when I’ve been lost. When I first went to music college, eighteen years old and paralyzingly shy, when ringing my parents from the pay phone in the corridor just made me miss them even more, I would feel the strength in the neck of my cello, flatten the prints of my fingers into the strings, and forget.

I play and play; through thirst, past hunger, making tiredness just a dent in my soul. I play beyond David’s marriage, his holiday, even how frightened I was when he disappeared below the platform.

I play on until the world is flat again and the spaces between my heartbeats are as even as the rhythm on the stave in front of me.

This is how and why I play piano! To see it so gorgeously described on the page was breathtaking. I am not a concert-level pianist by any means, but I’m decent, and playing piano brings me back to myself. When I’m angry or frustrated or hurt or simply feeling down, the music centers me and makes me focus until everything else falls away. From this point on, I was enthralled with this book and with Grace.

Grace’s partner, however, I was not so enthralled with. Grace and David have been together for eight years when the book opens. David has been married for all of those years, which Grace knew the night they met. (Though after they fell in love – it was one of those lightning-bolt-from-above things) He had two children with his wife, though, and a third on the way, and because of the crappy way he grew up, he was absolutely unwilling to divorce and mess up his children’s lives. Which, okay. Noble. (Though honestly, most children know when their parents are unhappy and wish they’d just divorce already, as Nadia, one of Grace’s friends, illustrates.) He and his wife both know their marriage is only for the children at this point, and are totally okay with relationships outside the marriage. Grace, however, is unaware of this arrangement, and THAT’S where my irritation at David comes in.

I don’t talk about it much on this blog, (though I have mentioned it) but my husband and I are polyamorous. He’s had another partner for almost five years now, plus other occasional dalliances. But everyone knows this. His other partner and occasional flirtations all know about each other and about me. David, on the other hand – his wife appears to know about everything, but Grace only knows about his wife. We’re never told what his other girlfriends know about. This isn’t ethical non-monogamy. He lies to everyone about his intentions and relationships. I think he’s probably incapable of monogamy – some people are – but he needs to be truthful about it. There are ways to make that work without ruining peoples’ lives and breaking hearts!

So David is not a character I like.

Mr. Williams and Nadia, however, are amazing. So besides playing the cello, Grace also makes cellos. And violins, and double-basses. Nadia is her shopgirl, and Mr. Williams is an old man who brings her a violin to repair. These three become such an incredible little trio! Nadia and Mr. Williams are the ones who put Grace back together when her life gets turned upside down, and are saved themselves in turn. Nadia is a little prickly, but I think it was her way of protecting herself. Mr. Williams is too old for games – at eighty-six, he doesn’t fool around anymore.

I loved this book. Book of the Month has once more made an outstanding pick. The characters and emotions are beautiful and heart-rending and magical. I think this is one of my favorites of the year!

From the cover of Goodbye, Paris:

Will Grace Atherton fall out of love . . . and into life?

From the simple melody of running her violin shop to the full-blown orchestra of her romantic interludes in Paris with David, her devoted partner of eight years, Grace Atherton has always set her life to music.

Her world revolves entirely around David, for Grace’s own secrets have kept everyone else at bay. Until suddenly and shockingly one act tips Grace’s life upside down, and the music seems to stop.

It takes a vivacious old man and a straight-talking teenager to kick-start a new song for Grace. In the process, she learns that she is not as alone in the world as she had once thought, that no mistake is insurmountable, and that the quiet moments in life can be something to shout about . . . 

For fans of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Jojo Moyes, Goodbye, Paris is the story of a woman who has her heart broken but then puts it back together again in the most uplifting and exquisite way.

Book Review: Trail of Lightning

trail of lightningTrail of Lightning
by Rebecca Roanhorse
Fantasy/Dystopia
285 pages
Published June 2018

Okay, first off, this cover is AWESOME. I’ve been following the author on Twitter for a few months now, and was extremely disappointed when my library didn’t order this book. But one of the other libraries in the state did, so this showed up recently as an interlibrary loan and MADE. MY. DAY.

The story and writing is EXCELLENT. The reader is thrown into the world of the Diné, with little to no explanation of what the Dinétah words mean. I think that only comes across as weird because it’s a real language; if the words were some made up fantasy language’s words, we wouldn’t think twice about it. I saw someone on Twitter mention that they really enjoyed the book because they spoke the language, so having the Dinétah words meant something to them. I think I like that they’re not explained; so much in this world is created for white people’s consumption. It’s nice that this isn’t. It’s no less understandable to those that don’t understand the Navajo language, it’s just a little extra thrown in for those that do.

I do know a little bit about Native American mythology, so to see Coyote show up made me grin. What we learn about him through the course of the book doesn’t surprise me at all. I knew about Changing Woman and the Sun, but I’d never heard of their son, so I wonder if he was made up for the novel or if he actually exists in the mythology too.

Overall, I absolutely loved this book. It has a sequel, Storm of Locusts, due out next year, and an unnamed third book already planned. I can’t wait!

From the cover of Trail of Lightning:

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

Book Review: Spinning Silver

spinning silverSpinning Silver
by Naomi Novik
Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retelling
466 pages
Published July 10, 2018

I had previously read Uprooted, and adored it, so I was eager to get my hands on this book as soon as it came out. I was very excited to see it as a Book of the Month choice for July, and quickly made it my pick!

I received the book last weekend while I was at Anthrocon, so I didn’t get a chance to sit down with it until yesterday. (It officially came out Tuesday.) I proceeded to read straight through the entire book because it was SO. GOOD. Novik writes absolutely ENTHRALLING fairy tales. And in Spinning Silver, she has written fae as beautiful, alien, capricious, and as absolutely bound by rules as they should be. Doing a thing three times, even by normal means, gives one the power to ACTUALLY do the thing; in Miryem’s case, turning the Staryk’s silver into gold (by creative buying and selling) means she gains the power to LITERALLY turn silver into gold. Which then gets her into the trouble the rest of the book is built on.

One of my favorite lines was very near the end of the book, about the Staryk palace:

The Staryk didn’t know anything of keeping records: I suppose it was only to be expected from people who didn’t take on debts and were used to entire chambers wandering off and having to be called back like cats.

My only real quibble with the book is that it shifts viewpoints between at least five characters, and doesn’t start their sections with names or anything, so it takes a few sentences to figure out who’s talking. It never takes too long, but it did occasionally make me go “Wait, who is this….ah, okay.”

The plotlines weave in and out of each other’s way for most of the book before all colliding into each other at the end and showing how everything connects. I was definitely confused on occasion, but it was that enchanting Alice-in-Wonderland kind of confusion more than actual puzzlement. The book is, by turns, a mix of Rumpelstiltskin, Tam-Lin, Winter King vs Summer King, Snow Queen, and a little Hansel and Gretel. I love seeing elements of so many fairy tales woven together and yet still remaining recognizable.

And the ending! Oh, the ending was absolutely, marvelously perfect.

I loved this book, just as much as I loved Uprooted. I can’t wait to see what fairy tales Novik spins next!

From the cover of Spinning Silver:

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty – until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.

When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk – grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh – Miryem’s fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar.

But Tsar Mirnatius is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and her two unlikely allies embark on a desperate quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power, and love.

Channeling the vibrant heart of myth and fairy tale, Spinning Silver weaves a multilayered, magical tapestry that readers will want to return to again and again.