The Heart Forger (The Bone Witch #2)

The Heart Forger

The Bone Witch (#1)

The first novel of this series, The Bone Witch, has been sitting in the back corners of my mind for a long time. The book itself was good, but not ‘blow my socks off’ good, so I didn’t run to the sequel right away. But it was good, and so every so often I would think back to it and wonder what happened next.

The Heart Forger tells its story the same way The Bone Witch did: alternating between the perspective of a Bard (whose identity we do not know) and Tea’s point of view. The Bard’s experience is happening now, while Tea’s is the story leading up to the current situation. You might think this wouldn’t work, especially because the Bard’s story often spoils things that haven’t happened yet in Tea’s timeline, but I was surprised by how much I liked it, and it made me read faster to find out how these relationships and choices came about.

Dark forces are at play across all the kingdoms, and the enemy we only know as the Faceless are discovered to be attempting the forging of shadowglass, a heartsglass that would make its wearers immortal. To do this they need certain ingredients that would connect them back to a mythical trio: The Blade that Soars, Dancing Wind, and Hollow Knife of the darashi orun, a dance/play that is traditionally performed every year in the kingdom. The band of asha, deathseekers, and friends travel around the kingdoms trying to discover what is going on and to thwart the efforts of their enemies.

I really love revenge stories, and Tea’s use of her powers to get revenge on these Faceless and bring the kingdoms back into some semblance of balance, possibly at great cost to herself, is totally my jam. This story is full of strong women and supportive men and reading it was smooth as silk in terms of character building, plot progression, and magic use. The setting is beautifully described, and I felt like I was there sitting next to the asha in some scenes.

Be careful reading the last 100 pages or so in public. One death scene is described so emotionally that I had to fight my own urge to cry. Just one more friend to avenge with her pack of daeva. Go get ’em Tea, I’m rooting for you.

The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1)

The Poppy War

The Poppy War is a book about tests and schools and usually those are totally my jam. Runin (Rin for short) is a war orphan from the second poppy war. Her foster parents tell her at age 14 that she will be marrying a much older man once she turns 16, so she makes a deal with her tutor and her foster parents that if she take’s the country’s placement test and tests into the tuition-free military academy, that she can leave and not have to marry. She studies and memorizes and crams for two straight years and manages to score high enough to place into the Sinegard Academy.

When she arrives she experiences what you would expect from rich, pampered kids who are trained from birth to come to this academy – her skin is darker and she’s from one of the poorest provinces – they think she cheated to get in or that she was let in to make the test seem fair, and she would be sent home after the Trials that all first years must pass. She works hard and discovers a unique power within her along the way, something that hasn’t been seen since the end of the Second Poppy War. Rin can meditate and reach the Pantheon of gods to call on their power and use it as her own, but with a price.

It’s a very enjoyable book through about the first hald. It gives glimpses into Chinese history through a fantasy story and map, and I find that it’s much easier to learn things that way, or at least to prompt questions that I can ask the husband, who is am expert in world history topics. The story about the school is neat, and the topics they study are interesting. I found myself thinking of The Name of the Wind as I was reading this book: poor person tests into school they shouldn’t belong at, must impress a particular professor in order to remain at school, gets banned from a certain aspect of the school so they have to adjust and train themselves, trains to discover something/skill/knowledge people thought was long dead, now has a dangerous power they don’t know how to control, etc. etc.

My only confusion came when Rin’s motivation abruptly shifted from “be the best I can be so I don’t have to marry or have kids” to “REVENGE.” Like, revenge against who? It was such a fast shift in her narrative that it was like hitting a brick wall in her character development. The only way a revenge story works is if I feel like I want revenge too on the character’s behalf. I get her thirst for power over her own destiny, but I feel like the hunger for revenge isn’t earned in the plot.

Also the second half of the book gets bogged down in a new war that we only see through Rin’s perspective, and most of that time is spent agonizing over her powers and whether or not she should access them. I found myself getting bored toward the end, if only because war is pretty boring on the page without some kind of action or fighting. When most of it was just hanging around the camp being angsty about gods, I lost interest. The most interesting developments happen in the last twenty pages, but the fact that they came after such a down period made them less exciting. I won’t spoil it for you, but by the end I didn’t have anyone I was rooting for, barely understood what was going on, and just wanted to send the book back to the library.

I have the sequel as an advanced reader copy, so I’ll let you all know if the series gets better in book 2. If you’ve read my reviews for awhile though, you know that rarely happens, as book 2 tends to lag even worse than book 1. There was enough in this first installment to get me to read the entire story, but now I wish I could go back and undo the reading of it so I could try something else. Take from that what you will.

Invasive (Zer0es #2)

Invasive

This book showed up on a number of top science fiction lists, and so I requested it from the library. It is my first Chuck Wendig novel, and I feel bad because I did not realize that Invasive was #2 in his Zer0es series. To be honest it stands on its own well, and you don’t have to read the first book to enjoy the second (although the beginning of this book does spoil the first one, so if you’re a purist you might want to read the first book Zer0es first).

The plot is this: someone made a hybrid ant a la Jurassic Park that eats Candida (yeast) on people, basically skinning them alive, and Hannah Stander is an FBI consultant that is called in to research and discover who is behind their creation and distribution. Her search takes her to the secluded island of Kolohe, part of the Hawaiian islands, and she is caught on island when the culprit decides to release the ants and escape with more colonies, supposedly to bring about an ant apocalypse (think when Nedry steals the embryos and tries to escape but dies and the power on the entire island shuts down, and chaos ensues – it’s really similar to that but with more bodies).

This story is not character driven. The characters could be named with letters of the alphabet and this story would still be compelling. I kept reading because what was happening was horrifying and I had to know how it would all end. There were some points toward the end where I thought it might end with the ants actually taking over and destroying everything. I won’t spoil what actually happens; maybe they do take over and destroy everything. Ants are terrible creatures.

If you like mystery, thrillers, or science fiction, you should definitely give Invasive a go. It’s a quick read by virtue of its fantastic story – you won’t want to stop until you’re done. Go get you some.

Red, White & Royal Blue

Red, White, and Royal Blue

Red, White and Royal Blue was provided to me as a digital ARC by St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in return for an honest review. Red, White and Blue is available for preorder now, and is scheduled for publication release on May 14, 2019.

I started hearing about this book around Valentine’s Day and when I saw some of the early reviews, the word JOY seemed to be in all of them. Casey McQuiston is an author who is new to me, and Red, White & Royal Blue appears to be her debut novel. It is an adult rom-com and honestly McQuiston grabbed me by the heart and the funny bone and refused to let go of either until the very end.

Alex is the first son of the first woman president and he has a long standing grudge against Prince Henry of England. They are about the same age, and he has always felt like they were compared to each other in the news and tabloids. Alex feels as though he could never measure up to Henry’s smooth, distant charisma, and the riches that he has access to don’t help either. So when the first family attends the royal wedding of Henry’s brother Philip and Alex gets drunk and trips into the table holding the $75,000 wedding cake, pulling Henry down with him, it creates a media firestorm that can only be quelled by a staged friendship between the two. The forced interactions become a close friendship, which eventually becomes more as Alex comes to realize that he is bisexual and Henry is definitely gay.

The physical interactions are good, but I think I enjoyed reading their emails and texts to each other more. The intimacy with which they talk to each other, even with an ocean between them, was just as powerful as their physical bond. If I’m being honest, I felt like I was eavesdropping and as their relationship continued, I became more and more worried about their information pinging around on the internet, given how high the stakes were: Alex’s mom running for re-election and Henry having been told that he would not embarrass the monarchy with his “depraved urges.” If even one text gets out, one email sent to the wrong person, someone overhears them, the world could absolutely explode. (That probably made everything that much hotter though, tbh, no regrets.) I won’t spoil the ending for you but WOW. It’s something.

My heart, you guys. My heart was in love with all the characters from the very first pages. This is one of those books where I don’t want to describe every detail to you, I just want to hold the book out to you until you take it and agree to read it. There is so little light and joy in this world right now and this book is a bright beacon in the darkness and you must let it wash over you and take you to a place that is pure and delightful, if even for the short amount of time that you will be reading this book. It’s a fast read by virtue of the fact that you won’t want to stop reading. Your eyes will race over the page, hungry for just one more chapter of these wonderful men. Go get you some.

 

Conspiracy of Ravens (The Shadow #2)

Conspiracy of Ravens

Wake of Vultures (The Shadow #1)

The first book of this series Wake of Vultures was so fantastic that I knew I was going to continue with the series. Book 2 seems to have the book two blues. The Book Two Blues is when an author had all the time in the world to write the first book, query it, pitch it, and sell it, but then book 2 is under a heckin’ deadline and sometimes quality suffers because of it. That’s just how publishing rolls.

The beginning of this book feels a lot like the middle of the first book: Nettie Lonesome wandering through the desert, only this time she’s doing it as Rhett Hennessy and it soaring through the desert in her new gigantic bird form, eating dead things and scaring other predators off. She comes across a donkey/Irishman skinwalker who is searching for the Rangers to help with a problem back East, so they team up and travel to reunite with the Rangers. This mirrored her experience with Coyote Dan almost to a T, which made the first third of the book a little bit draggy and repetitive for me.

Luckily at about page 100 we’re off to the East to take on a crooked private railroad owner who employs a doctor who can cut off monster limbs to fuel the railroad’s progression, and then heal them back, something that Nettie/Rhett and others like her have never seen done. There is some dark magic afoot and Nettie, her friend Sam, Coyote Dan, his sister Winnifred, and Earl the donkey go to meet it and hopefully defeat it. The Shadow is pulled to trouble and her destiny once more.

But then we get sidetracked by other “monsters” that are different than the one we are actually setting out to deal with, and so you’ll be at about page 200 or so (out of 350!) before you even get to the main objective of the book – the railroad tycoon who experiments on monsters. It just got to be too much description and banter and not enough action so I decided to stop reading.

***

On a side note, this series seems to be playing with the idea of what it means to be trans or maybe gender fluid and definitely bisexual. At the start of the series we see Nettie identifying as a woman who uses the guise of a man to survive and find purpose in a world that is not kind to women. But then, in this second book, she continues using the male name but then the pronoun changes, but she/he still views him/herself as a girl and wishes she was a man. It’s unclear though whether this wish is due to existing as a black/Native American woman or because psychologically Nettie is a man in a woman’s body.

This book was published in 2016, and so I’m not sure how it escaped the ‘woke af’ discussions that I am sure would have swarmed around it concerning trans/bisexual representation. The maleness Nettie puts on feels like a costume and not her real identity. She seems tired of being a woman (see: 10 pages straight on how she’s having her period out on the journey) and wants to escape into being a man, which is very different from gender fluidity or trans identity as we have come to understand it. Not that I fault Nettie for this instinct at all – if I was a woman in the Wild West I would want to try to pass as a man myself. It’s just an odd story to tell and to read. I came in with the understanding that it was a girl power type story – breaking boundaries and things like that. It is not that at all anymore, and I found myself frustrated with a story that was about this asshole dude and that I definitely didn’t sign up to read.

Between being bored and confused and disappointed, I just stopped reading and I’ll be skipping the rest of the series.

 

The Raven Tower

The Raven Tower

I want to be up front about the fact that I did not finish this book. When I don’t finish a book it’s for one of three reasons: (1) I’m bored, (2) I don’t care about the characters, or (3) It’s due back at the library and I can’t renew it. In this particular case my boredom was so strong as to make me reread the same page for five minutes without realizing it because my brain was entertaining me with other thoughts because the book was so boring.

The idea is interesting. There are many gods – big gods, little gods, strong gods, weak gods, traveling gods, stationary gods, gods that speak through animals, gods that communicate with stones, gods that have gone silent but are still terrifying – I got bored just making that list.

And you get endless descriptions of these gods and how they came to be since before the Ice Age. Oh and in between the descriptions of the evolution of gods we get glimpses of the story we are supposed to be interested in that takes place in the present, but it’s not told from the point of view of any of those characters. The narrator of the story is a god we are not familiar with, speaking to the aide to the prince we are supposed to be invested in, but she can’t hear it (or it might be a he, it’s implied that there are bindings which I assumed are being used to hide breasts). It speaks to her using “you” and I was not a big fan of this storytelling style. I can’t get into the head of a narrator I don’t even know.

We are introduced to a society that sacrifices a king called the Raven’s Lease to the raven god once a generation. The Lease’s heir takes over and speaks with the newly born god once it hatches from an egg until it dies, and the system repeats. But the Lease’s heir, to whom our MC is an aide, is away defending the borders when his father supposedly runs out on his responsibility to sacrifice himself, and his uncle steps into the Lease’s job in his place. When they return from war and find this, the current Raven speaks and says that there will be a reckoning for what has happened, but all they can do is wait for the new bird to hatch to hear what comes next.

This would be a pretty intense story if it wasn’t nested in pages and pages of history description. I got 30% of the way through this book, so it was interesting enough to hold me that far, but I got to the point where I was reading it out of some sense of obligation and not a spirit of enjoyment so I gave myself permission to stop. I have so many other books to read.

Under the Table

Under the Table

I have to be honest with everyone here. I may have confused Stephanie Evanovich with Janet Evanovich, writer of the Stephanie Plum series where she becomes a bounty hunter. When I was perusing Edelweiss+ for ARCs I saw this book and went “I remember liking those bounty hunter books, it’s cool she wrote some standalones! I’ll try it!” but my subconscious just combined the Stephanie from Stephanie Plum and Evanovich from Janet Evanovich and I got stuck with this turd of a book.

Zoey is on a one year legal separation from her husband and leaves his verbally abusive ass behind in Cleveland, Ohio to live with her sister Ruth in New York City. She starts a cooking service for small groups and personal chef needs, and is doing pretty well about 3 months into her New York separation. She puts a Craiglist ad up for her services as a personal chef, and a man answers it asking for a Creole-themed meal for a small business gathering at his home.

Tristan turns out to be a grown man-child who grew up with his grandparents in the US Virgin Islands after his parents died when he was 3. He was homeschooled until he was 16 and was completely sheltered from all things pop culture and also how to take care of himself apparently. His home is spotless but he doesn’t know how to dress himself and he doesn’t own a tv. Zoey focuses in on his “cute buns” but I couldn’t quite get over the descriptions of this man who came into great wealth by writing a governmental computer spying program who dresses himself like a golf champion all the time because that’s all he ever saw his grandfather do.

I want to be very clear about something. I have been close to men who are assholes and men who are babies and while the former might be more immediately dangerous, the latter is like a parasite who will suck out your will to live from the inside until you don’t have the strength to leave and you feel the obligation to take care of them forever. Zoey jumps from the frying pan into the fire when she falls for Tristan in New York – she buys him a Playstation 3 for crying out loud. The “I’ll take care of you/Mom”-vibes should be a cautionary tale and not something to aspire to.

The one good thing I can say about this book is that the brief sex scenes are pretty good, but not anything to write home about when there are so many better options out there. One of the two scenes involves Tristan letting Zoey buy an outfit at the golf store and she giggles through buying an outfit that she describes as “Catholic schoolgirl – golf edition.”

All of this happens over the course of like, a week. As I’ve written before, I have a real problem with fast love stories. Fast sex, sure. But “change my life for this guy I just met and basically had a fling with instead of staying single and figuring my life out post-divorce from this asshole I left” is a story I just do not find compelling in the year 2019.

Please just go read Jasmine Guillory. She’s new and fabulous and her stories are based on real relationship struggles over real-world timelines with believable attraction and conflict that make you interested in the story and invested in the characters. Under the Table was not believable and kind of cringey. Skip it.

Note: I need to remember to avoid books set in New York. I don’t know why, but I never like them and they tend to frustrate me.