Traitor to the Throne (Rebel of the Sands #2)

Traitor to the Throne

Rebel of the Sands (#1)

Fair warning, right from the get go there are gong to be a lot of spoilers for book 1. It would be impossible for me to describe what is happening in this book without saying things that were revealed later in the first book. So get out now while you still can.

***

Amani has been captured and is carried across the sea to Izmani, the capital city, to meet the Sultan himself. He binds her using old Djinni logic, and compels her to summon her father, an actual Djinni, which Amani assumes is for the purpose of quelling Ahmed’s rebellion. With her indifferent father stuck in the basements of the palace, and herself stuck in the dangerous, political confines of the harem, Amani must figure out a way to get information from the palace and out to the rebellion to try to help and to beg for help escaping.

Usually I don’t enjoy the middle child of a trilogy. It’s the messy middle of a sandwich where stuff from the first book is wrapped up and stuff from the third book is foreshadowed. While these things are true about Traitor, I was pleasantly surprised to find an actual story all its own nestled in the heart of this second book.

The Sultan has embedded iron within Amani’s skin to prevent her from using her powers, and he has embedded other metals inscribed with the name of her Djinni father as well to bend her to his will. If he makes a command, she must follow it. Yet, even with this control over her, he shows compassion and honors her skills in the midst of his treaty negotiations with the visiting countries. It was interesting to see the villain that was painted in the first book be softened into slightly lighter colors. I mean, he’s still doing terrible things, but you get to see why those actions are being taken.

I have to admit that, given what I know about government and what I’ve read in other books, I really appreciated Hamilton giving life and humanity to the man we are supposed to be hating and rebelling against. It’s relatively easy to scream hope and change, A New Dawn/New Desert! but it’s entirely another to broker peace agreements with countries that want to annex you and take you for their own. With great power comes great responsibility, and while different people handle that power differently, most find that some kind of distasteful decision must be made for the good of all, as opposed to the choice that might have been made based on an individual’s beliefs or morals.

The complexity of this second book was what kept me reading. My alliances changed a few times as I read, and I am excited to see how the trilogy concludes in the most recent and final book – Hero at the Fall. Go get you some.

The Colour of Magic (Discworld #1)

The Color of Magic

In preparation for writing my own fantasy series, I’ve been working several new fantasy series that I have never read into my repertoire. The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett is the next one I have to explore.

I have never read such a nonsensical conglomeration of happenstances, and I mean that in a good way. In a short 200 pages, Pratchett introduces us to a failed wizard, a strange visitor with luggage that walks and bites and a picture box run by a small imp who takes and processes pictures like a camera, and an entire city caught on fire. Death (the actual being) follows our wizard Rincewind around, just waiting for him to die and seems to be thwarted at every turn by a game of dice that the gods are playing (think Clash of the Titans) and dragons which are created out of thin air with those that wield the power of imagination.

I KNOW.

Every two paragraphs you are assaulted by some new twist or turn, placing Rincewind and Twoflower into the path of danger time and time again. It’s almost as though Pratchett just thought of the most severe non-sequitur that might follow the recently concluded action sequence and went with that. Did we just escape from an ancient demon’s underground temple maze? Why don’t we fight the dragon lords of the upside down mountain next? And never mind that all these lands exist on a spinning disc, which itself exists on the back of a giant space turtle, moving toward a big bang mating ground IN SPACE.

He also allows for the possibility of multiple timelines, when in the midst of a very stressful battle, Rincewind and Twoflower are ripped from their own world into a TWA flight where they have similar but different names that we might find in our own Earth, before their consciousnesses are pulled back into the Discworld.

You won’t have time to get bored in this fast-paced, wild-eyed, story of wonder that tests your imagination at every turn. When you’re done you’ll even believe it’s possible to will a dragon into being out of thin air. Go get you some, and I’m gonna get me the next one!

Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1)

Rebel of the Sands

How many teenagers do you know? Of those that you know, how many want to escape their hometown? To overcome their circumstances and find something better, something bigger than their beginnings? This novel by Alwyn Hamilton will speak directly into the heart of anyone who has ever wanted to escape or rise above where they started. It goes without saying that it spoke to me.

More than this, it speaks to the idea that we all have something special about us that we might overlook due to our upbringing and childhood circumstances. Amani is a young woman who grew up learning to shoot a gun as well as a man – raised by her aunt and uncle because her mother was hanged for murder – and is now facing marriage or escape. The setting is very Middle Eastern and includes a vast desert, calls to prayer, and multiple wives/harems, so prepare yourself for an environment that is not very woman-friendly.

Her salvation comes in the form of a foreign stranger, Jin, who also needs to escape – but from the approaching army seeking to capture not only him but one of the First Beings which reside in the remote desert of Amani’s birth. This world contains humans, Djinni, Ghouls, Nightmares – many magical creatures that interact with humans in both positive and negative ways. You will also learn about Demdji, the children borne of human mothers and Djinni fathers endowed with dangerous special abilities.

The Sultan at the center of all of this has a multitude of children who have taken sides, either with the Sultim (the heir apparent) or with the rogue Prince Ahmed, who is leading a rebellion to reclaim the throne from his father who seems to be giving too much power to neighboring countries. He promises a new dawn, and a new desert.

A war for the heart of a country, magical beings, a heroine discovering her own abilities (both personal and magical), extreme danger, all set in the middle of a never ending desert? SIGN ME UP YES PLEASE.

I think I enjoyed this more than An Ember in the Ashes, which is similar in taste and setting, although not completely. I am moving to the sequel to Rebel faster than I’ve moved to Ember’s #2, and I couldn’t really tell you definitively why that is. I think I liked the main character better, and the plot seems less cookie cutter rebellion like Ember or even Legend. There is also something to say about the fact that I couldn’t put this one down.

A fantastic beginning to what promises to be a lush, magical series. Go get you some.

 

The Parking Lot Attendant

Parking

Debut novel – April 2018

I have really been striking out with books lately. Yet another is The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat, which is an ARC provided to me by Macmillan Publishing Group in return for an honest review.

I read more than I expected to of this strange “girl hangs out in parking lot with older man” book. All parties involved have ties to Ethiopia, and you sense an undercurrent of the mob or a gang, at least some unsavory goings-on. A sentence on the back of the book claims that this would be “an unforgettable, haunting story of family and fatherhood, national identity, and what it means to be an immigrant in America today.” Really? I read 60% of this book and it’s mostly this girl hanging out in a parking lot where the attendant, Ayale, lets her do her homework in the attendant booth and eventually involves her in “package delivery” when she seems to be hanging around enough to pick up what’s happening.

Her father is largely absent, and when he is present he’s upset about how much time she spends with Ayale but doesn’t take steps to prevent her from going there. I guess she kind of goes to school too? And the book begins with her and her father escaping to an unnamed island to start over, which I suspect is a kind of witness protection, but I am okay never finding out.

If this is what it means to be an immigrant in America today then I apparently don’t get it. This book is written well enough to keep me hooked longer than others have lately, but it is not compelling enough to make me feel guilty about not finishing it. I became tired of the short chapters revealing nothing, and stringing me along without revealing anything. Perhaps this story is too personal to what it’s like to be an immigrant in Boston, and so alienates readers outside the limited sphere of influence. We’re not in on the joke. We’re not in the know enough to connect.

I guess I just didn’t get it. There is an immigrant story to be explored, but this book seems to be reaching out to a very small audience. The writing was good enough to keep me going, but eventually I got tired of Lucy pulling the football out from under me and set the book down. If you are looking for a book about the immigrant experience in America I would seek out Americanah, Homegoing, or Behold the Dreamers, among others.

 

 

Heads of the Colored People

heads of the colored people

New release, coming out 4-10-2018

All right everybody, it’s time for me to face the facts. I’ve tried, I’ve read them, and I continue to put them on my TBR, but I think the simple truth is that I don’t like short story collections.

In Heads of the Colored People, you’re presented with a collection of situations that black people of all different backgrounds might find themselves in. The stories help us to realize that black Americans are multifaceted and live a myriad of lifestyles that people may never assign to them based on the established stereotypes and preconceived notions. I am 100% here for this.

These stories were weird though. Well written, but very strange. And not interesting strange, more like “how did you think of these stories other than knowing someone first hand that experienced this” kind of strange. I finished the book, but just barely. I almost gave up a couple of times, once during a story about a white woman who was a fruitarian and working with a reality show to complete her PhD research on distance parenting with her black husband(?) (boyfriend?) and their daughter. We enter the story when the dad takes the daughter to get a sleeping bag so their home can look more desperate to get a crossover episode with the home improvement special, but as they move through WalMart he realizes that something about what they are doing is wrong and after buying her the Elsa Frozen sleeping bag she wanted and lunch at McDonald’s, he returns to the home to let his wife know that he’s leaving and to deal with it. It was…it was really weird.

I think it’s really fun when these theme weeks happen to me without purposefully setting them up, but I think that this is another book that I’m not smart enough to get. This is the kind of book a seminar instructor would assign and then discuss/pick apart with a group of upperclassmen – it’s not a book you read for fun.

But I want to get back to the idea that short stories are not for me. When I say short stories I don’t mean essays that are collected into memoir/creative non-fiction. I mean fictional short stories. I think it’s because I didn’t read a lot of them growing up, and so when I sit down to read a book I expect a connected journey from beginning to end. Short stories make me feel like I’m on a hike, and I know I’m about one chapter into my journey, but when I start chapter 2 I find myself back at the beginning of my hike again. It’s a lot of starting over, and for some reason my mind does NOT like that very much.

This is one of those reviews where I hope that by describing what I didn’t like, you might hear something you do. This was not a bad book, it just wasn’t to my taste – both in structure and content. If you enjoy short stories that challenge how you think about relationships, you might really like this book. I just didn’t.

The Friend

the friend

New Release 2-6-2018

This is one of those books that sucked me in with the jacket description, but once I was inside the book reading the contents, I felt hecka bamboozled. The only explanation I can offer is that I must not be smart enough for what this book was trying to tell me. I thought it was going to be about how we deal with grief, but then it was about sexual things like rape, assault, affairs, and lust. Also this book is about being a writer and how being a writer is multifaceted and difficult and yet unchanging over time.

I’ve read about 5 pages max about the dog. If I am being honest with myself, I was expecting this book to be about how pets help us process grief and move forward.

That is not what this book is about. I mean, I guess it kind of is but it’s sneaked in between all this other…junk.

Hecka bamboozled. I put it down at page 77, just over 33% or so Goodreads tells me. There are so many good books to read; I’m not going to spend my time reading one that feels like it would be assigned for a deep post-feminism writing seminar for which I have not completed the prerequisites. Hard pass.

The Dry

The Dry

The Dry is set in the drought-ridden rural Australian town of Kiewarra, a locale outside of Melbourne. It is the first in a series of Aaron Falk detective novels, and involves Falk returning to his hometown to deal with prejudices from the past, and the murders in the present. Falk has become a federal agent who deals with financial crimes, and so the parents of his now deceased best friend Luke think that he is the best one to root out why Luke might have killed his wife, oldest child, and himself; their family farm was in trouble due to the drought.

If you have been reading my reviews you know that I am very difficult to trick. I don’t read a lot of mystery or thriller novels because my mind often figures out whodunnit early on and then the rest of the book becomes either an exercise in finishing what I start or I get bored and give up.

Jane Harper set up a story where anyone could have done it, and not in the basic “confuse you” kind of way – literally everyone in this terrible little shithole town could be capable of murdering anyone else. Kiewarra feels backwoods and old west and small town insular all wrapped in a nice neat package that is being beaten about by the financial strain brought onto a farming community by a prolonged drought. Most of these people are just terrible, but maybe not by choice but by virtue of their location so you’ll feel a shred of sympathy for some characters too.

I had no idea how this book was going to end. Every time I thought I had it figured out something happened that made me doubt my assumptions. Harper kept my curiosity peaked for 320 pages and I absolutely had to keep reading until I knew who the murderer was because I had to know if I figured it out. The intensity of this book lies in the reader’s need to know. You will find yourself demanding answers alongside Aaron Falk, because this this fucking backwater town isn’t going to stump you or run you out before you get justice.

The sequel to this book is sitting in my office as an ARC and I may just move straight to it because this first one was so good. If you love mystery, if you love a detective novel, if you like a WOAH moment, you should go get this book. It’s intellectually challenging and fun to boot. Go get you some.