Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley Reads

I have been terrible at keeping up with blog reviews ever since late last year, so I am playing catch-up now and make more of an effort! I felt like I was doing really well for a while, and then a whole bunch of things happened and my brain just kind of went blah and that was that. ANYWAY, onward to these short but sweet reviews.

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear
Series: Lotus Kingdoms #1
Published by Tor Books
Published: October 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 367
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

The Stone in the Skull, the first volume in her new trilogy, takes readers over the dangerous mountain passes of the Steles of the Sky and south into the Lotus Kingdoms.

The Gage is a brass automaton created by a wizard of Messaline around the core of a human being. His wizard is long dead, and he works as a mercenary. He is carrying a message from a the most powerful sorcerer of Messaline to the Rajni of the Lotus Kingdom. With him is The Dead Man, a bitter survivor of the body guard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate, protecting the message and the Gage. They are friends, of a peculiar sort.

They are walking into a dynastic war between the rulers of the shattered bits of a once great Empire.

Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull is the start to a lush fantasy trilogy that felt a lot at times to be the fantasy counterpart to Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness as it explores gender and identity against the backdrop of political intrigue and upheaval. I hadn’t realized it is the start to a sequel trilogy of a previous series of Bear’s. While I think that I probably could have benefited from being a little more familiar with the world before diving into this one, I don’t feel like I was alienated in any way from the enjoyment of The Stone and the Skull‘s story because this story is set several decades after the first trilogy. My only issue with the book was that it took too long for the heart of the story to really reveal itself. I was more than halfway through the book before I felt as if I could connect with almost any of the characters. My favorite characters, however, are the Gage and the Dead Man, so I’m looking forward to seeing how their story progresses in the rest of the trilogy!

Review copy provided by Netgalley/Tor; all opinions are my own!

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy #2
Published by Del Rey
Published: December 5th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 363
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

After I finished reading The Girl in the Tower, all I could think was wow, what an amazing followup, because much like The Bear and the Nightingale, Arden’s second title in the Winternight Trilogy satisfies some of the questions left at the end of the first book and leaves a lot of questions to be answered in the upcoming final book. The writing and atmosphere is both foreign and familiar, like a fairy tale you’ve only heard on the peripherals of the familiar stories we’ve grown up with. Arden expertly weaves and subverts those familiar fairy tale tropes while managing to make her tale fresh and exciting. After such a stunning followup to the already incredible The Bear and the Nightingale, I’ll certainly be picking up anything Arden writes in the future without any hesitation.

A review copy provided by Netgalley/Del Rey; all opinions are my own!

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Series: The Hazel Wood #1
Published by Flatiron Books
Published: January 30th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood turned out to be everything I’ve been hoping for lately in recent YA fantasy. Dark fairy tales, believable characters, and all of those twists and turns to keep you glued to the page. This is a fairy tale about a mother-daughter bond and the strange, wild lengths one goes for family and truth. The major issue I had with this, though, was the pacing. The first half is a little slower-paced, allowing for us as the reader to get to know Alice and the world in which she leaves and the world she was told to avoid, but the last half had so much going on in it that I felt a lack of development for the Hinterlands. Knowing now that this is the first in a series, I’m hoping we get to see more of the Hinterlands in later stories because I wanted to know more! This is going to be perfect if true-to-the-source dark fairy tales are your thing and for those who enjoy a well-crafted YA fantasy.

A review copy provided by Netgalley/Flatiron Books; all opinions are my own!

BOOK REVIEW: The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

BOOK REVIEW: The Collapsing Empire, by John ScalziTitle: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Series: The Interdependency #1
Published by Tor Books
Published: March 21st 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 333
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed
Goodreads

The first novel of a new space-opera sequence set in an all-newuniverse.

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible -- until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.

Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war -- and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

The Flow is eternal -- but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals -- a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency -- are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

 It worked because on a social level, apparently enough people wanted it to, and because at the heart of it, billions of humans living in fragile habitats prone to mechanical and environmental breakdowns and degradation, and with limited natural resources, were better off relying on each other than trying to go it alone. Even without the Interdependency, being interdependent was the best way for humanity to survive.

I feel like I should preface this by saying that other than this I have only read Old Man’s War (and his twitter/blog), so for a second excursion into someone else’s work, I was hoping for the same kind of humor, wit, and intelligence that I saw in Old Man’s War. And I did. I also felt like his writing strengthened all around, which is an excellent thing to see going from a debut novel to his most recent. (And now I feel like I really should get the ball rolling on reading everything else he’s done!) His work was pitched to me as SF101, something easy enough for the unseasoned science fiction to access but something even well-read science fiction readers will enjoy for the references and subversions of the genre’s tropes. Fun fact: I teach Old Man’s War in my science fiction freshman seminar!

The Collapsing Empire is the start to a new space opera series about a whole smattering of planets across the universe connected by something called the Flow, which bends the rules of physics and allows for relatively speedy space travel between systems. As one might imagine, trade develops between the planets, an interplanetary government is set up (called the Interdependency), and everything appears to be stable. But stability apparently is only an illusion.

In addition to his accessible science fiction, Scalzi is a master at creating a cast of characters with whom you’ll laugh and for whom you’ll root. Kiva, who swears like it’s going out of style, is probably one of my favorite characters in sf. Cardenia is the newly-throned Emperox who is easy to relate to because no matter how hard we try, we’re never really prepared when the big, difficult things happen.

The Collapsing Empire reflects on current events, especially climate change, political leaders, interplanetary/international politics, and the consequences of those things if we’re not careful and considerate. It also shows us the humanity behind those making the decisions and those affected by those decisions. The private lives of these characters are explored in an unrestrained way and are allowed to be whomever they are, and it feels weird to write that even today because a lot of sf tends to fall into “traditional” tropes of black and white ideologies. It’s nice not to bat at eye at the idea of bisexual characters, or characters on any part of the spectrum. It’s nice to find humanity in double-crossy, deviant, sweary merchants. And while feeling fresh on many levels, it feels like an homage to traditional space opera stories, making it a lot of fun.

My only major qualm with it is that the first book ends abruptly. Like literally right when the action ramps up. I wouldn’t mind it so much if the second one was coming out soon, but the wait is going to be agony! I need to know what happens next!

BOOK REVIEW: A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab

BOOK REVIEW: A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. SchwabTitle: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Series: Shades of Magic #1
Published by Tor Books
Published: February 24th 2015
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Kell is one of the last travelers--magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city.
There's Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad King--George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered--and where Kell was raised alongside Rhy Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London--a place where people fight to control magic and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.
Officially, Kell is the Red traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.

 Some thought magic came from the mind, others the soul, or the heart, or the will. But Kell knew it came from the blood.

Blood was magic made manifest. There it thrived. And there it poisoned. Kell had seen what happened when power warred with the body, watched it darken in the veins of corrupted men, turning their blood from crimson to black. If red was the color of magic in balance—of harmony between power and humanity—then black was the color of magic without balance, without order, without restraint.

As an Antari, Kell was made of both, balance and chaos; the blood in his veins, like the Isle of Red London, ran a shimmering, healthy crimson, while his right eye was the color of spilled ink, a glistening black.

I feel like there are so many reviews and praise of this book everywhere that I am going to make a list of all the things I like about this book.

  1. The writing. It’s concise, sharp, witty, and engaging. Sometimes I feel like I’m reading a book word for word, but Schwab manages to make reading absolutely effortless and a heck of a lot of fun.
  2. LONDON. Like I mentioned in my last post, if there’s a book set in London, I’m sold, please give it to me to read, and this series has FOUR LONDONS. FOUR!!! The world building never seemed confusing to me, didn’t seem forced, and I found it one of the most effortlessly magical worlds built in my recent reading experiences!
  3. Kell’s magical coat. I want a coat with that many sides and that many pockets. Just think of the snacks and books I could carry with me if I had a coat like that??
  4. Lila’s lifelong dream of being a pirate. Who doesn’t want to be a pirate?! And her missing eye? Is she possibly an Antari?? omg
  5. It’s violent and stabby and bloody.
  6. The magic. It seems simple and not very complex on the surface, but by the end of this, I feel like so much more can be explored in the scope of the magic, and I hope it is in the rest of the trilogy!
  7. The characters. They’re so varied and engaging and sassy and everything I like to find in a cast of characters.

I waited to read the second until the third one was released, and now that I have all three, I’m reading the rest of the trilogy this year! It’s an incredibly hyped trilogy, but I find it’s well deserving of the hype it receives.

Little List of Reviews #3

Little List of Reviews #3Title: Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn
Published by Tor Books
Published: January 17th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

A great new stand-alone science fiction novel from the author of the Kitty Norville series.
Polly Newton has one single-minded dream, to be a starship pilot and travel the galaxy. Her mother, the director of the Mars Colony, derails Polly's plans when she sends Polly and her genius twin brother, Charles, to Galileo Academy on Earth—the one planet Polly has no desire to visit. Ever.
Homesick and cut off from her desired future, Polly cannot seem to fit into the constraints of life on Earth, unlike Charles, who deftly maneuvers around people and sees through their behavior to their true motives. Strange, unexplained, dangerous coincidences centered on their high-profile classmates begin piling up. Charles may be right—there's more going on than would appear, and the stakes are high. With the help of Charles, Polly is determined to find the truth, no matter the cost.

 Carrie Vaughn’s Martians Abroad reads like a science fictional school story in which two Martian-human kids are sent to Earth to a prestigious school and things go amok. It’s a well-written, yet straightforwardly simple story following Polly’s mishaps as she attempts to integrate into Earth’s way of things at this boarding school. A set of orchestrated, predictable events prove Polly’s worth to herself, her mother, and the other students as she risks her life to save a handful of the other students. While I was expecting more depth as it was marketed as an “adult” science fiction novel, I think this is a great introduction to science fiction for the younger YA set and a great bridge from children’s fiction to “older” science fiction. The story reads easily, doesn’t feature sex or explicit language, and the violence is on par with most violence found in books marketed to the middle grade and young adult crowd.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tor Books for a review copy!

Little List of Reviews #3Title: Invaders: 22 Tales from the Outer Limits of Literature by Jacob Weisman
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: July 12th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 384
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Invaders is a collection of stories written by “literary” writers exploring the concept of invasion in science fictional settings. While some of the stories didn’t grab my attention (and that can probably be attributed to timing and my state of mind more than anything else), it’s a solid effort to show that writers bleed through genre lines more often that we realize. I did, however, really enjoy the following stories: “Portal” – J. Robert Lennon, “The Inner City” – Karen Heuler, “Topics in Advanced Rocketry” – Chris Tarry, “A Precursor of the Cinema” – Steven Millhauser, “Monstros” – Junot Díaz, and “Near-Flesh” – Katherine Dunn. These explore the weirdness of human psyche and will linger in my mind for a long time.

Thanks to Netgalley and Tachyon Pub for a review copy!

Little List of Reviews #3Title: The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham
Published by Bloomsbury Paperbacks
Published: January 24th 2017
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 176
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

 The White Cottage Mystery, initially published in 1927, is a straightforward, classic mystery following the murder of a man who lives in a white cottage. The characterizations are simple, the story is simple, but the writing compels one to keep reading to figure out what happened. It’s shorter than I expected, and I finished it in a sitting and a half. While I was reading it, I was hoping for more depth in characterization, but it’s a solid, traditional mystery with all of those conventional twists, turns, and red herrings. Margery Allingham is part of those writers from the Golden Age of mystery writers and is one to whom Agatha Christie admired. If you’re a fan of Christie’s mysteries, you may be interested in this one!

Thanks to Netgalley and Bloomsbury for a review copy!