Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Book Review: We Sold Our Souls

We Sold Our SoulsWe Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the book that Queen of the Damned should have been. We Sold Our Souls is engaging, exciting, bloody, romantic and musical all at once. I absolutely loved it and cannot wait for my husband (a big music fan and horror buff) to read it as I think he will also adore this story. For sure I will be purchasing a paperback copy to add to our library and strategically leave on his side table to read.
The only 'problem' I could really find with Grady Hendrix's story is that I want the fictional band(s) to exist so bad! 

It's rare that someone can write a story in which you can hear the music they are describing. I don't know if it's because the lyrics are prevalent throughout the story, or that our characters describe the feeling of being lost in the heavy metal music so well; either way it's like We Sold Our Souls is belting out a metal lyric from its static pages. I could see musical geniuses like Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour), Jonathan Davis (Korn) or Tobias Forge (Ghost) being perfect to write the music to go with the lyrics. It would also be ironic as both Taylor and Davis are in bands that are mocked in the book as not being 'metal enough'.

Music Snobbery
Which brings me to the one thing that might bug some readers, music snobbery. If you are not a big music fan you might not really understand the elitist attitude that our (primary) lead gal has (a member of the main fictional band). In the music industry, especially in metal and punk, there are things you just don't do or compromise on (generally with a record label). These are what will get you labelled a 'sell-out'. That said, as someone who knows a fair bit about the music industry, the reality is that generally well known and successful bands in these genres are mocked because everyone is jealous of their massive success. Like it or not when we are being snobby it's usually because we desire something someone else has that we wish we did or are trying to justify why we haven't made it big. I believe that is exactly what is happening to our lead gal here. So take the snobbery with a grain of salt and you'll coast past this issue.

Genre all it's own
If there was a genre that encompassed music, horror and fantasy all together then We Sold Our Souls would be at the forefront of it. It's so hard to say where this book should sit in a library or bookstore. It has magic, bloody killings, musical influence (including as many fictional bands as real ones mentioned) and an overall atmosphere that bleeds dread. It could be called a thriller. I could even see some calling it an inspirational story about doing what you know is right. Seriously it just has so much rolled into it.

Premise Seems Silly?
When you read the blurb to Hendrix's novel you might think to yourself that it sounds cheesy. It's true that at times it comes off that way. But I dare anyone not to get sucked into the reality presented in We Sold Our Souls. Once you accept things for what they are; I guarantee you will be unable to put this book down. It's one of the fastest reads I have had this year to date; and yet I wanted it to never end.

Characters, Plot, Symbolism, etc.
I could probably write a whole term paper or thesis about all the meanings and symbolism in We Sold Our Souls. It's got a depth you just wouldn't expect from a horror story about musicians. I love how the lyrics of the songs are intertwined with the events of the book and feelings of our characters. At times, especially in the lyrics of the songs, Hendrix really spoke to my Pagan soul. (side note: it amuses me that the author's last name is Hendrix and they wrote a book with a musician lead. I wish one of the characters was named Jimi, even if only a minor one, lol).

If you love metal music, read this. If you love horror, read this. If you love reading the personal journey of a character to 'find themselves', read this. Like a lot of music is, this is a look into the soul of selfish, snobby musicians and the ultimate price they (seemingly inevitably pay) to be successful.
But seriously, can someone please make this into a movie and create the fictional band's music?

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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Monday, October 21, 2019

Book Review: The Parting Glass

The Parting GlassThe Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm surprised that more people don't put this into the Romance genre. Surely it's Historical, taking place in the early 1900's in New York City (think Gangs of New York movie timeline and you're perfectly in its place); but it's got some steamy lesbian moments and the majority of the story revolves around our characters having infatuations with one another.

Easily the best part of The Parting Glass is the lesbian representation. It's honest and sincere. Gina Marie Guadagnino has also given us a lens into how impossible it was to be gay in the 1900's. If we all think it's hard today; we've got nothing on our ancestors. From a couple steamy lesbian scenes, to stolen kisses and forbidden thoughts Guadagnino doesn't leave anything unsaid or uncontested for our lead gal about how difficult life is being Irish, an immigrant and a lesbian.

Historical Context
It's clear that Guadagnino has done some research in order to understand the time period, it's societal challenges and linguistics. There is a moment in which our gal passes through Five Points and I couldn't help but imagine her walking next to Leonardo DiCaprio in Gangs of New York. We encounter the Irish struggles from two viewpoints in a way; even though the story is only told through the eyes of our lead gal. As a ladies maid whom can hide her Irish accent we see how high society feels and reacts; and on her nights off we see how an Irish gal might struggle to get by in this rough landscape. I felt the descriptions and context given to New York at this time were well done. However, I can't help but wonder how much of that is because I've seen Gangs of New York many, many times.

There were lots of things to love here from casual mentions of the penny dreadfuls (stories of horror in the day) to descriptive clothing styles to the challenges of horse drawn transportation and more. But I must say that without the lesbian representation I think I would have become bored. Maybe a good forbidden romance (regardless of sexual orientation) would have worked here no matter what; but for me I felt like I just wanted to know about our lovely girls and their destiny's.
Not a bad read; but not one I'd be quick to recommend. The Parting Glass gets 4 stars because of its LGBTQ+ representation where it otherwise probably deserves 3 stars.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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Book Review: Blind the Eyes

Blind the Eyes (Threads of Dreams #1)Blind the Eyes by K.A. Wiggins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blind the Eyes is a very unique book and one that requires a lot of patience. I was quite confused throughout the entire book up until the last 75% or so. There are many odd things happening to our lead gal and it's difficult to determine what is actually happened, what might just be her perception or imagination. It's the problem (and yet fun) of an unreliable narrator.

Like I said above don't expect to really follow along with much. What you will know quickly is that there is a gal and she is trying to figure out how to function under the regime of a dystopian society. It is not nearly as clear-cut as she wants it to be. There are people 'helping' her; yet she is never sure who is helping and who is tricking her. Hence as the reader we are never sure who or what is happening.

K.A. Wiggins has done a good job of creating imagery that allows us to perceive the world the same way our lead gal does. As Blind the Eyes is written in first person we only get as much information as our lead gal is able to provide. If she can't see then we can't see. If she's confused then so are we (which is a lot of the time!). What we do get descriptions of are the smells, touch feelings and visuals of what our heroine experiences. It kind of reminded of being in a bit of a drug fog. From lost time to being uncertain on who is even speaking there is a trippy confusion throughout.

The Ending
It's very rare I stick with a book this convoluted until the end. In the case of Blind the Eyes I really wanted to know what was happening. Almost every chapter I had a different theory of what was transpiring. From wondering if our gal had a major mental illness to her being drugged 24/7 to her being unable to interpret her surrounds (maybe like someone autistic...) to magical powers to some sort of telepathy or telekinesis to her just being unable to perceive the world and then all the way back to the first theory I had which was that our lead gal was just being lied to by those in power.
I'm obviously not going to tell you what, if any of my guesses above, are correct. What I will say is that it makes perfect sense at the end. One of my personal pet peeves with books are convenient or illogical endings. Blind the Eyes had neither of these and I felt very rewarded when I flipped the last page.

This is not an easy book. But it is quite clever. I think if I were to read it again I would pick-up on many of the things that weren't clear to me on first read. If there are small inconsistencies then my mind overlooked them out of desire to plow forward and find out what on earth was going on!
After I finished Blind the Eyes I realized that Wiggins has written her story in the way that I wish Carnaval (which I hated) was put together. Sometimes it's appropriate for the reader to drift lost for awhile. So long as the hook is good enough to keep them reading it's okay. I nearly gave up twice and for that reason I give this four stars instead of five. That said, bring on book two ASAP please!

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley and Voracious Readers. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Book Review: The Masked City

The Masked City (The Invisible Library, #2)The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman
Book 2 of The Invisible Library series

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Invisible Library. And so my hopes were high (perhaps too high) for Genevieve Cogman to deliver on her second book starring Librarian Irene. Unfortunately I was ultimately let down and disappointed in many aspects of the story.

On page 2 we find out that Kai has been kidnapped. If like me you tend to read a couple books (or more) in-between books in a series to keep things fresh then you might also feel like page 2 is a bit abrupt and sudden for a major plot point. I had barely remembered who Kai was before he was the pivotal point in the story. I prefer a book in a series to ease me in for a couple pages and allow me to reorient myself. The Masked City did anything but give me space to remember the world. Perhaps reading this immediately after book 1 would mitigate the issue; but for me it felt far too rushed.

Cast of Characters
Irene remains our leading gal through book 2; just as in book 1. However in The Masked City we lose Irene's comrades in arms. Without Kai and Vale directly involved in the activities and missing for the majority of the entire book I was not as taken in. Irene is fairly witty and clever on her own; but let's face it, we all love a good witty banter between friends. I really missed this aspect here. It may also have something to do with my unabashed love for Vale. I will confess I have a crush on a yummy Victorian-esque detective. Irregardless of Vale being more present I think having Silver or Kai at least present with Irene would have helped. And while each of them does have a presence of sorts in the novel; overall we are stuck with lonely ol' Irene.

Chaos Realm
The best part of Cogman's second book is the chaos world and how she has set it up inside her multi-dimensional world. Chaos worlds are well chaotic. Subject to fewer laws of physics, gravity, etc. and worlds that are easily manipulated by the Fae. The way your own 'story' leads your destiny in the chaos realms is very interesting and it actually worked for me. There was some order to the chaos but it was subtle and hard to manipulate. I liked the way Irene navigates this world and how Cogman has given the reader a way to connect with a world unlike our own.

Yes there are Dragons, Fae and magic galore in The Masked City. And normally that might be enough for me; but after the smashing success of Invisible Library I felt ultimately let down by Cogman. I'm not so turned off that I won't keep reading the series. I'm hoping this is a one-off issue and that Cogman is able to revive her style and tone from the first book. This is the kind of book that I'd say everyone needs to read if reading the whole series; but that on a re-read I might skip over (depending on relevance to next books in series). Fingers crossed that book three and I get along much better!

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Book Review: King Mouse

King MouseKing Mouse by Cary Fagan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This story has the illustrations and feel of an old children's book. From the pencil drawings with no bright colours to the use of animals as the characters to the simplicity of the moral. It reminded me of stories that starred Peter Rabbit, Mr Toad, and others. So many of those stories were found by me in the 1980's in my Grandmother's farm house. They were on faded pages and had more complex phrases than I might have been used to at age 5; but I loved them all the same. In some ways I think I loved them because they were old and felt special. As much as I love the rainbow, bright, colourful stories of today; there is something about that old school look and feel that I will always be in love with.

The question becomes whether or not children today (in 2019) will find this vintage style story engaging enough. It seems to me that those children that love reading, old things and asking continuous questions are likely to enjoy this one. In fact you might find out if your child is an old soul just by reading them this book. And if they don't like it; then it's perfect for your own bookshelf to be read on those sleepless nights.

I am definitely going to try and find a copy of King Mouse to add it to my visiting children's library/toy box as I would look forward to this simple story (that has a snake in it!! awesome!) and it's gorgeous illustrations every time a child picks it up.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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Monday, October 14, 2019

Book Review: Elevation

ElevationElevation by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First, this is not horror. Let me say that again, this is NOT horror.

Now that we've got that out of the way let's talk about Stephen King's latest short story. King has done some really great things with Elevation. We get a lovely older lesbian couple, an average middle aged man and an elderly doctor all set against the backdrop of a small town in Maine (what a shocking location for King to take us to, lol). And throughout this story we follow our fairly average man who just so happens to be losing weight, without actually losing weight. Now obviously one cannot, in reality, loose weight without it being obvious and noticeable that said weight has been coming off. And yet that is exactly our scenario is Elevation.

For me it was clear from the get-go that this was a story about aging and death. Would you change how you live your life is you were 90% sure you were going to die (or cease to exist in some unknown way) within a certain time period? Many of us think we would say yes. But like King's character I actually think (with the exception of maybe not working) that I might try to keep things somewhat normal. After all if we truly love our lives as they are today then spending the last of our days as we are should be satisfying. King does an excellent job of highlighting this and making the reader think about their mortality as our characters come to terms with their own.

The side story in Elevation is also wonderful. We have a lesbian couple running a restaurant in small town Maine. I'm guessing I don't need to tell you that not everyone in town is happy about their presence. We feel their highs and lows, and experience the mental anguish that some town members pile onto them. All I can say is that I felt very, very protective of these two women and was (many times) more concerned about their welfare than that of our leading man. Call me bias but I wanted the ladies to kick-butt and tell the town folks off. Thankfully not all of the town is ridiculous and I'm happy that in the end I didn't have to write hate letters to King.

I think the older you are the more likely you are to really 'get' something from Elevation. Or if you're like myself and my husband (who also read this one) with a morbid fascination with death. We had a great conversation at my home about this short story. At 108 pages this is an easy afternoon of reading to help bolster your reading challenge if nothing else.

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Book Review: Trail of Lightning

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the tale of two books. The first half is mediocre at best. Very repetitive, cliche and just all around boring. Yet the second half of Trail of Lightning is wonderful! It has spunk, excitement, and intrigue (Coyote is sooo interesting!).

Native American Representation
Without a doubt the best part of Trail of Lightning is Rebecca Roanhorse's use of her Indigenous culture to give us a look at what a dystopian society, based in (what was) the USA which has since been taken back by the Navajo, might look like. Roanhorse gives us a truly unique and wonderful insight into Indigenous stories and beliefs. It feels natural and cyclical that in 'the end' of society as we know it the Indigenous return to the land, protect themselves and ultimately survive. Certainly no one else in North America is likely to be able to return to the land the way someone who has grown up learning about the land could.
I loved the use of myth, magic and story here to populate the Navajo land with elements and entities that currently aren't known to the world. For this reason alone I will definitely read book 2!

While the second half is much better than the first half; the one thing that doesn't change is the writing style. Unfortunately Roanhorse's writing feels a little like an early-on, amateur writer. That's not to say that she can't improve; it's only to say that this story comes off as simple in it's use of language. I know it's strange to say anything critical of the writing from someone who has been nominated for a World Fantasy Award; but to me it just lacked the depth I'm used to from fantasy writers.
For example:
""I know you never gave me an answer on that ‘being friends’ thing, but after everything that’s happened . . . ?" He leaves it hanging."
Did we really need the "he lives it hanging" comment? I feel like other authors would have left that out and allowed the ellipses to do the work of letting the reader know our character trailed off.

Here's the thing; amazing writing or not, reading Roanhorse's own voice and having her relate Indigenous culture, tellings and lore via her characters is well worth reading book 2, Storm of Locusts. While you may find many typical or cliche dystopian pieces in Trail of Lightning; what you won't find is any deities, myths or lore you've likely encountered before. And you may pick-up some Navajo words along the way! I love when authors use another language just enough to give the book a flavour and culture that helps build the setting and characters. That is one thing Roanhorse has done perfectly, in my opinion, is incorporate a level of Indigenous culture that allowed me to learn new things but also follow along (and feel fairly comfortable) in this clever dystopian world.
If nothing else read this to learn more about Coyote. I won't say anything more as I fear spoiling even a tiny portion of the magic.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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Monday, October 7, 2019

Book Review: The Black God's Drums

The Black God's DrumsThe Black God's Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely stunning!! The biggest disappointing is that this is a short story and only 111 pages long. While a good little story Black God's Drums really feels more like the introduction to a new larger world that could have many books written it it. From airships, voodoo, southern culture, strong heroines, steampunk influences and more; there is a lot here to love.

Alternate History
While P. Djeli Clark (sorry I don't have accents accessible on this keyboard) doesn't specifically call it out by the end of the book I was fairly confident that our story was set sometime within 100 years of Napoleon having power. Given there are airships and other awesome steampunk items throughout the book; I'm going to say this is a sort of alternate history. Usually I'm not a big fan of alternate history because it's not creative enough. But that definitely cannot be said about Clark's short story. Instead I had to really think about it when little tidbits that gave hints to the timeframe and world came up. I would have been totally okay if this was a whole new fantasy world to learn. But it does work elegantly the way it is and you can apply many of our social norms to the scenarios successfully which cuts down on the explanations needed.

New Orleans
Setting is such an important part of a fantasy story and when the items around you and magic that may (or may not) manifest is dependant on the landscape it's almost a character all of it's own. Think of Game of Thrones and consider each of the major strongholds of Westeros as characters. The Eyrie, Winterfell, Harrenhal, Kings Landing, etc. all have their own tone, cultural expectations, weather and location that affect everything and everyone around them. The Black God's Drums is like that as well. Where we are and how our location(s) are being approached affects so much around them.
Ever since Sookie Stackhouse gave me some of my first 'real' introduction to Louisiana culture and history in books I have loved learning more about New Orleans (and area). I've also found myself really into blues music over the years and so that has helped with my immersion into understanding this unique area of the United States.

As if the above wasn't enough to be engaging we also have two of the strongest and most interesting heroines I've read about. Each has their own skill sets and a spirit, magic or goddess (whatever you'd like to call it) that speaks inside their head. The struggle between each of the women and their way of dealing with the voice in their head are starkly different and represent the difference between people's approaches and reactions to similar situations. There is a wonderful Psych paper to be written somewhere in here about how people cope and handle the exact (or similar) situation differently.

I absolutely understand why The Black God's Drums was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Locus and World Fantasy award. I'm sad it didn't win any of them! It's definitely more than deserving of any one of these prestigious awards. That said I know the competition is fierce out there these days. It has all the right elements and is elegantly put into 111 pages without feeling rushed, squished or inadequate. If Clark was trying to see what people would think of this concept he has used then I'd say he should immediately write everything possible about these two heroines, their world and it's challenges.
Clark is definitely an author to watch. I will be keeping a close eye on him and keep hoping that TOR and him have a full novel in the works! Too bad I don't know how to do voodoo, like practiced in the story, to ensure more writing is guaranteed from Clark in the future.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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Sunday, October 6, 2019

Book Review: Songlines

Songlines (The Sentinels of Eden, #1)Songlines by Carolyn Denman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When you pick-up a book with a subtitle about the Eden you (probably) expect a certain amount of religion. I prepared myself for this, as Christianity and I have a tumultuous relationship (to say the least; raised Christian but follow a very different religion today). I was pleasantly surprised that the use of Eden and religion in Songlines was extremely well done.

Religion and Eden
Yes the Garden of Eden, the Bible and God are all factors in Songlines. But unlike most books with these elements, Carolyn Denman hasn't written a Christian or even overtly religious book. Instead she's taken some well known aspects of Christianity and used them to bring magic into our world. The use of religion here isn't intrusive to the story; and wasn't a problem for me at any point. It's actually a positive point of the story in that it allows our characters to easily accept many of the 'magical' things happening as it's a part of their accepted life long religion.

Cheesy YA?
For the most part Denman manages to keep things relatively non-cheesy. With one exception regarding a floating sword (all I could think of was Legend of Zelda and Link grabbing spinning swords). However there is no doubt that Songlines is YA. It has many of the typical aspects you'd expect including: awkward friendships and possible love interests, lack of authority/power over situations, and a spunky, stubborn lead gal. As I always say, you cannot complain that when you read a YA book it reads like YA; as that is the entire point.

Lead Heroine
Our leading teenage girl is fairly resilient. I like how she doesn't immediately give into believing what she is told about Eden existing and she doesn't allow herself to be manipulated by the adults or situations around her the way some YA heroines do. Denman has given us a teenage girl that is easy to cheer for and respect without ever forgetting that she is still a teenager with awkward moments, difficult thoughts and lots of confusion about everything.

I give this four stars because it is a really good read for what it is. It's the kind of book where you read the blurb and you get exactly what you are expecting. There's nothing too intense or trigger worthy that I can think of. It's a solid good ol' YA book that is well-written with a clear plot. It's hard to fault a book when all the pieces fit together so nicely. The thing that Songlines isn't is all that special or something above and beyond the average YA book; and for me that's okay but does make it only four star worthy and not five stars. It's missing that special something. I will definitely carry on in the series and read book 2 as it is a good story, I like the characters and while religion sets the basis for the book it's not preachy at all.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley and BookSirens. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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