The Unquiet House by Alison Littlewood

The Unquiet House by Alison Littlewood

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tense and strange, grounded in solid and specific details, but ultimately left me less than satisfied. I never felt like I fully knew or cared about the characters, or the house. I didn’t feel like anything was at stake other than the usual “oh no, get out honey” at every person who walked through the door, oblivious or aware of how dangerous the house is. Didn’t reach true levels of disquieting for me.

View all my reviews

Age of Ash (Kithamar #1) by Daniel Abraham

Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley for the e-arc in exchange for a review. (I was really excited to get to read this early.)

What a stunner of a book! Pure joy to read. Abraham’s ability to drive big story and large drama with small characters and private intrigues shines here: Tregarro’s and Sammish’s unrequited loves, Elaine a Sal’s clandestine and doomed affair, Gray Linnet’s daycare treasure hunts. Even the side and small characters have their impact on the story. The lives of the main characters feel full and lived in, particularly Alys and Sammish and the people of Longhill.

Alys’s coming of age is so effective and powerful, her longing to find her place in the world as she grows combined with her grief for her bother and what it drives her to. The crucible of her journey was so enjoyable to follow her through, and the scenes where the impurities burn away and leave only Alys’s essence behind are some of the best in the book. I loved the conversation and confession between her and her mother.

I didn’t see the shape of this book until halfway through, and that is so refreshing. I value the lack of exposition at the beginning to set up the story, the absence of clues to give the game away. The choice of Alys and Sammish as the reader’s entry into the story, the dramatic framework, the gateway for information is brilliant. That distance between the two sets of characters, the two parts of the story, allows the story to unfold, allows an ambiguity and uncertainty about who is the hero and who is the villain. BY the time it becomes clear which is which, you feel every inch caught in the trap along with these characters, wondering how they’re going to solve this, fearing that every scene may be their last. Abraham uses the knives in the story for theme as well as plot devices, and keeps the characters, the whole city, and reader on the edge of the blade.

Thrilling to see the cracks already forming as Andomaka goes forward into the next phase of this story. While there is a victory at the end of this book, it’s unclear how long it will hold, and what complications wait on the horizon. Can’t wait for the next volume.

View all my reviews

Emotionally-Complex Romance Summer

I completed my vaccination at the end of June and looked forward to a summer of COVID dwindling down. Sadly, my hopes were dashed. While other people were trying their best to make Hot-Girl Summer and No-Mask Summer and whatever else the world wanted from their summer happen regardless of the Delta variant, I mostly stayed at home and did a lot of comfort reading. Meaning I reached for many books with romance at the core, because I wanted happy endings resulting from people making good choices for themselves. But as with everything I read, I have high standards. I demand great prose, great characters with interesting and complicated motivations and emotional landscapes, solid plotting, and interesting themes. It’s hard to find books that do it all and deliver the happy ending.

I did find several books that met my criteria and were romance-centered or romance-adjacent. I didn’t keep up with posting reviews for the past several months, so please enjoy this round-up of my Emotionally-Complex Romance Summer reading:

I finally started The Sharing Knife series by Lois McMaster Bujold. I love Bujold, and these were really solid books. I haven’t felt the urge to pick up the rest of the series yet, but when I need more fantasy romance comfort reading, I’ll return to Fawn and Dag’s adventures.

Beguilement by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Loved the Western flavor, the subtle magic, the adventure-turned-domestic-drama. This is a true fantasy romance, emphasis on the romance. Looking forward to reading more, and following the characters from the mundane world where they’ve solved Fawn’s difficulties into Dag’s magical world, where more drama and more magic awaits.

Legacy by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Serious Tamora Pierce vibes. Difficult to read about Dag’s family turning on him and being racist toward Fawn. Satisfying to read about people solving problems and making decisions to break with old habits that don’t serve anymore and set out on an adventure. I like romance stories that intersect with a character realizing they need to make a significant personal change, because their family, professional, or personal life doesn’t serve anymore. The Sharing Knife series is turning out to be a coming-of-all-ages story where Dag and Fawn, who are at very different points in their lives, make choices about how the rest of their lives are going to be, by choosing each other and embracing the consequences of that choice.

As promised in my review of “St. Valentine , St. Abigail, St. Brigid,” I went on a C.L. Polk binge and read all four of her novels in three weeks. I was riveted and delighted from start to finish!

The Kingston Cycle

Witchmark by C.L. Polk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Snappy and inventive use of the Edwardian period for a secondary-world gaslamp fantasy. World-building and themes went hand-in-hand, as we explored the impact of modern warfare on soldiers, emergent technology and the adjacent social ills it creates or brings to light, how poorly society treats veterans, slavery, systemic social injustice and inequity, the right to self-determination, and how difficult it is to separate from a toxic family. Utterly refreshing to read an emotional male character who gets a romantic happy ending, instead of the big-bad-magical-powers/chosen one narrative.

Stormsong by C.L. Polk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
More political intrigue! More magic! More romance! A true pleasure to get more of this world and these characters. Love how hard Grace works to fix her own perspective and the world around her, using her power and privilege for good. The thing I love most about her character is also the most frustrating: her unapologetic intelligence is balanced by a destructive naivety. It makes the character very real, but gets her in trouble again and again.

Soulstar by C.L. Polk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book packs a punch. Polk finally takes us from the powerful upper echelons of society down to the working class clans and families struggling within the systemic abuses of power our more privileged protagonists from Witchmark and Stormsong have been trying to escape and dismantle. Robin’s political, social, and personal journeys to repair what’s broken in her country, her community, and her long-paused marriage was extremely satisfying to read. She worked for it; it was hard; nevertheless, Robin persisted.

And Polk’s standalone latest novel:

The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Bridgerton, with magical scandal instead of sex scandal. Blatantly and unapologetically feminist (no subtext here!). Thank you to C.L. Polk for including different takes on feminist thinking, including multiple women from different levels of societal privilege and representation, and a man in the process of becoming a feminist. Compulsively readable and delightful, with moments of dreadful tension leading to a very satisfying happy ending. Escapist fantasy on many levels.

I don’t usually go for contemporary romance, but I was enjoying pushing my romance comfort button so much, I picked this up on a recommendation from a friend. Really glad I did. Turned out to be one of the best reads of my summer:

Beach Read by Emily Henry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Made me laugh out loud (the book club purse wine!) and then gave me all the feels (emotionally devastated characters crossing paths as they sort out the wreckage of their lives!). I will have all of this, please. Henry effectively blends the rom-com and serious-drama modes, all while blatantly critiquing the publishing industry’s treatment of not just romance but most fiction written by women. I am happy to say I do not regret lifting my ban on reading stories about writers for this book.

View all my reviews

Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events by Brent Spiner

Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events by Brent Spiner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley for a free e-arc of this book.

Despite the legitimately scary subject matter of violent stalking, this was enormous fun to read. Brent Spiner’s sense of humor and wryly comedic voice shine through. His all-in-good-fun skewing and skewering of his Star Trek: The Next Generation castmates added another flavor to a blend already including noir, old Hollywood bedroom comedy, and absurdism. On the whole, this is more Who Framed Roger Rabbit than Raymond Chandler, so if you’re coming for some straight dark noir with the “inspired by true events” memoir shading, you’ve got another thing coming. But if you like a good mash up and want some deftly-written Real Person Fic, this is the book for you.

View all my reviews

“Shock of Birth” by Cadwell Turnbull

Shock of Birth by Cadwell Turnbull

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loved this episode of Levar Burton Reads. Turnbull has such a way with vivid details of person that draw me into the scenes and characters – the hands, the mug, the Anne Rice book, the jean cuffs. I usually dislike when stories don’t resolve a plot, but this one so masterfully ratcheted up the tension and then drew it down into that beautiful ending. Really lovely.

View all my reviews