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.

Descendant of the Crane

Descendant of the Crane

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He was provided to me as an advanced digital reader copy by Albert Whitman and Company via NetGalley in return for an honest review. Descendant of the Crane is available for purchase as of April 9, 2019.

Something that I have become a little tired of is reading story that could be a full, adult fantasy novel, or even just a murder mystery novel like this one is (with fantasy elements) but someone along the way said it might survive better in YA. This isn’t to downtalk YA, keep in mind that much like ‘millennial’ is misused to describe teenagers, people assume YA is meant for teenagers too, and it is, but it is also for young adults such as people in their early to mid twenties. So I get that YA can be adult, I expect that. The elements that tire me about YA is that the main characters have to be 16-18 years old. I’ve mentioned before that the kind of YA I like the best is when the story is compelling and interesting and I forget all about how old the main characters are – it’s mentioned so infrequently and everyone acts so maturely that the story and characters stand on their own independent of the YA indicator. I haven’t been requesting many YA ARCs because of this. I’m tired of reading the same beginning of every book: “She was only 16 when she faced this terrible choice/journey/job” or “She had just turned 18 with her whole life ahead of her when…” and now that I’ve read too many, I see it everywhere and I can’t get past it.

This story escapes this particular criticism through the clever use of royal succession. Hasima’s father the king dies, and the royal doctress rules it a natural death and sends a decree out to the people of this, but Hasima discovers poison during his autopsy and decides to use her new powers as queen to call for an investigation into his death. Only problem is that her kingdom works under strange rules based on a history of fearing soothsayers and magic wielders. In an attempt to make society safer and more just, her kingdom is ripe for misuse and corruption, especially after the king’s death. Many people have knowledge of how the system works, and can therefore take advantage of its loopholes and dark places.

Many of the decisions made in this book are based on a set of Tenets written by the Eleven, a group of revolutionaries that overthrew the soothsayer Emperor and “freed” the people from the “evil” influence and oppression of magic. The philosophy behind these tenets is questioned, discussed, and sometimes ignored, but I really enjoyed thinking about how such clear teachings could be used to oppress and scapegoat a people in favor of saving a separate people. I like to think about how people can take advantage of things and about whether or not those actions are justified.

The major reveal, which I won’t spoil here, comes in several parts. More people are involved than you think, and the truth isn’t anything you could possibly have guessed until it happens and you’ll be like “oh right, duh, of course.” I was very sick for the past week and a half or so, and it’s possible that my usual instincts weren’t up to snuff here, but Joan He did a great job keeping me interested and reading, and unfurling the truth slowly enough that reading the entire book was worthwhile and rewarding.

I am confused about how a sequel might address the ending. There is a lot left undone, and only vague indications of how it’s going to get dealt with. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything because most of the charm of this book is its mysteries, but I’m not aching for a sequel. Honestly the way this book ends just made me say “yeah, that’s what happens. Now everyone can get what they want and live their lives.” Maybe I feel this way because this story was more plot-driven than character-driven, and I feel less connected to the characters so I don’t care as much about what happens to them. My only loyalty was to the mystery, and now that I know the answers, the characters don’t seem to mean as much.

You should definitely pick this one up if you like murder mysteries. The magic that would make this a fantasy novel is ancillary, the real action is in the whodunnit and overall it is masterfully done. Go get you some.

Seven Blades in Black (The Grave of Empires #1)

Seven Blades

Once in awhile I read a book that I identify with so deeply and so completely that I wish I could live within the pages and be the main character. The feelings of regret and suffering, of revenge and perseverance just emanate from the pages and make me drool and moan with pleasure like the smell of freshly baked bread or maybe Calvin Klein Infinity cologne (I’m SO CLASSY). I live vicariously through the main character and find satisfaction in ways I could never find in real life. *slaps faces of enemies with a pure, white glove*

Salazanca a.k.a. Sal the Cacophony is brash, ferocious, and a woman on a mission. She has made a deal with the spirit of her gun (named the Cacophony) that she would kill everyone on her list, everyone who attempted to sacrifice her to meet their own magical ends. Her own history with the individuals on her list is slowly revealed as she tells her story to her captors, Revolutionaries who seek to upend the Imperium and its Empress in favor of a human-run government.

The political backdrop to the story is just as compelling as Sal’s own vendetta. The Imperium has always had mages as Emperors and Empresses. The Revolution is made up of “nuls” – humans with no magical abilities, who seek to make their own government where mages are not in control. In the middle are mages gone Vagrant, mad that the Empress has given birth to one heir, a nul who will one day become emperor. They refuse to support a nul emperor after giving everything to set up and support the current Imperium, so they are fighting to bring about their own future separate from the Imperium and the Revolution.

It’s important to note that this is not your typical revenge story. Along the way it’s made apparent that Sal has her own choices to atone for, and has made some shady deals that she may not walk away from in pursuit of her goals. The realness with which Sykes presents this anti-heroine is so welcome and refreshing that I am already ready to accept her past if it means I get to follow her into the future. She is an unreliable narrator, and she leaves details out of her story as she tells it to her executioner because she sees them as unnecessary, but you will discover that she’s lying by omission, and there are some very disturbing actions she’s taken/taking that we only hear a whisper of before the story ends, leaving you begging for more.

It would be difficult for me to express to you how much I loved this book. When I initially opened it on my Kindle (I received it for free as the winner of a Goodreads giveaway) it said it would take me 12 hours to read it. This was daunting, but from the very first page I was in love with Sal the Cacophony and wanted nothing more than to see her succeed and get revenge on those who had wronged her. I gave what little mental energy I had left over in the past 3 weeks to moving forward inch by inch in the 30 minutes before I fell asleep each night, and every moment was worth it.

My only criticism? I hate the cover art.

You absolutely must read this book. While I wait for the next installment to this series, I’ll be seeking out the rest of Sam Sykes’ works. If his writing is this amazing, I cannot miss out on anything else written by him up to this point. GO GET IT QUICK WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR???

Monster Books

I am currently reading some very long books. The one I’m really into right now is about 800 pages and I’m only 41% of the way through it and it says there’s still 6-7 hours left even though I’ve been reading so fast because it is SO GOOD but it’s just SO LONG.

Seven Blades

Guys this book is spectacular. The world is cool, the main character is AMAZING, the magic system is really original and it has a kind of magic versus no magic vibe that I am really into, and her quest is a mystery that is being revealed slowly as I go, so each glimpse tells me (a) what she’s doing, and even more rarely (b) WHY.

I wish it came out earlier in the year so I would have the mental energy to read more, but this time of year I’m just so mentally exhausted that being able to read for about 30 minutes before bed is all I can muster. To get a review out quickly for this kind of book I need to be reading for at least an hour a day, minimum, and more on weekends. That kind of schedule just isn’t possible for me right now, but I’m doing my best and it helps that I really love the book so far.

I’m in the grind now and it’s gonna be tough all the way through about mid-May. I feel bad about slowing down the reviews but it’s just a normal part of my year.

I can’t wait to share this book with you. 🙂

Wake of Vultures (The Shadow #1)

I have been meaning to read Delilah S. Dawson’s work for quite some time. She writes fantasy as Lila Bowen, so I went to the library and checked out the first book in her Shadow series, to see what I would see.

This is one of the best beginnings of a book that I have ever read. In the span of three chapters our heroine Nettie Lonesome murders a vampire, proves her worth to the neighboring ranch, and escapes her life with her adoptive, drunk “parents” to be a bronc breaker under the name of Nat (everyone assumes she is a boy). It begins as a western that quickly becomes a fantasy quest.

Just when we think our heroine is safe, well-fed, and living her dream, a mostly dead Indian woman finds her way onto the ranch, gets Nettie to agree to seek her revenge for her, and then rides off on a mythical ocean steed, vowing to haunt her until the Cannibal Owl is destroyed. Nettie’s not real sure what the Cannibal Owl is, but she knows she doesn’t want to be haunted by an old Indian woman and in danger of being drowned by ocean water hundreds of miles away from its source.

Eventually she is forced from the ranch an discovers there are more horrors out in the desert than vampires. She’s pursued by a harpy, saved by a skinwalker and his sister, and brought to the rangers to see if they will train her(him) and accompany her on her mission to kill the Cannibal Owl. They agree, and share stories about what the Cannibal Owl has done, mostly stealing children from towns and eating them, one which was just a newborn baby.

There are a million reasons to love this book. You don’t have to be half black, half Native American to identify with Nettie Lonesome. Her entire attitude of zero fucks to give about being a woman, about being a tool of revenge, about possibly being a mythical Shadow being – all she wants to do is be a man and work with horses. Every step of her journey is one less thing she has to do before she can go home or find a place on a nearby ranch to do what she loves.

This narrative tackles gender and being able to choose the gender you identify as, in addition to LGBT relationships. It shows us what perseverance and trust can mean in the face of a destiny you do not want. One of the intricate issues Bowen/Dawson explores is what it might mean when the gender you choose to present confuses those who might be gay or bisexual when you are not. What happens when a male character who is gay falls for Nettie when she is pretending to be a man? This part of the book made me think about this situation, it was one I hadn’t considered before, and the communication, understanding, and delicacy that the miscommunication required was amazing to read. Even within the community of LGBT there is patience that is required as everyone navigates their identities and their sexualities.

The worldbuilding was wonderful, the characters were compelling and interesting, and the story held me in my seat until the very end. It’s a book that tackles important issues in a normal way in the midst of a fantasy quest. Go get you some.

 

Suddenly Single

Suddenly Single was provided to me as an eARC by Canelo via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Suddenly Single is a story about a writer in the UK who has just left her husband, published her debut romance novel under a pseudonym, earned a hefty advance and is now moving to the country to write in peace and quiet. She also has some kind of social anxiety.

I don’t read a lot of romance, but what I do read has to be GOOD. Nora Roberts is my steady go-to, but recently I’ve also fallen in love with Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Date and The Proposal were excellent, and I’ve already preordered The Wedding Party out this July).

Suddenly Single reads like Carol Wyer is writing a book report about a romance novel. The characters are one dimensional, the setting is bland and centered around barns and cow pats (which the MC’s dog eats a ton of – you are treated to a lot of descriptions of her dog eating, escaping, farting, and vomiting). I made it 25% into the book and I WAS SO BORED. There is one scene where she seems to be watching porn for research on her next book (she has writer’s block because of all the stress of relocating and getting over her last relationship) and the man who might be the love interest comes in to do something (he’s the son of the man she bought the house from and they are doing work on the property) and catches her watching porn and he’s like “sure, research” and leaves.

There is no chemistry at all in the first quarter of this book, and I don’t feel like it’s unreasonable to expect that there be an inkling of desire or interest or tingling or something. She just goes out and does things, takes her dog out, and sits at home trying to write. If you’re going to market this as a rom com book then I should either be enjoying the Rom or laughing at the Com, but neither were happening in the first quarter of this book.

I chose this book on a whim when I was logging into NetGalley. I should have checked the publisher or the other reviews before I based my request on the cute cover and premise. You probably won’t encounter this book in the wild, it appears to be ebook only or self-published, and if you are in the mood for a rom-com I would strongly suggest that you pick something else and not this.

Stay Up With Hugo Best

Stay Up With Hugo Best was provided to be as an eARC by Scribner via NetGalley in return for an honest review. SUWHB is scheduled for publication on April 2, 2019.

I’m gonna be quick with this review because I feel like this book insulted my intelligence and doesn’t deserve the full Angry Angel treatment.

This is the most boring, pedantic book I have ever read in my entire life. Oh my god. I got to about 20% on the Kindle and almost threw the small black brick across the room out of frustrated boredom.

A writer’s assistant loses her job when the late night TV show she helps write for has its last episode. She is resolved to going back to stand up but when she finishes her set at the local Comedy Cellar-esque dump, she finds herself face to face with the host of the now shuttered show, Hugo Best. He invites her to accompany him to his house in the *someplace I don’t care about outside of New York City* as a way to pass the time while the reality of the show being over sinks in.

Oh jesus the whole first quarter of this book is them talking to each other. CONVERSING. First in the chauffeured car to his house, then at his house. We’re treated to a description of an empty fridge with mustard jars that have crusted on caps and an unopened Sodastream in the cabinets. My brain is melting just thinking about it. This mundane bullshit just absolutely misses me by a mile. WHERE IS THE STORY IF I WANTED TO READ DIALOGUE THAT GOES NOWHERE I WOULDN’T BECAUSE I DON’T WASTE MY TIME WITH NON-STORY STORIES.

NO. Just…no.