Saturday, March 27, 2021

Book Review: A Vow so Bold and Deadly

A Vow So Bold and Deadly (Cursebreakers, #3)A Vow So Bold and Deadly 
by Brigid Kemmerer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At 38 years old you’d think I’d have gotten past devoted, unconditional love stories. Brigid Kemmerer has reminded me that I haven’t. And maybe it’s because for 12+ years I’ve had my Grey/Rhen next to me; so I know love exists. Or maybe it’s because the 16 year old version of me is bawling her eyes out at how poignant and amazing these characters and their stories are. Either way I’m glad to still be able to enter a fantasy world made for teens and fall in love with it.

My personal notes:
- As a lover of Grey, from early in book 1, I can honestly say that his character progression is lovely. And I love him even more after every page I flipped
- Rhen and Harper still annoy me... in the last half of the book I got over it without even realizing it until I was at the end. Lol
- Noah and Jake are adorable and I wish there was so much more of them
- Virginity is lost! It’s YA rated but still pretty steamy
- Blood is spilled. Like a lot of blood. And yes I loved that too. Give me a tortured soul any day
- Beauty and the Beast has never been my favourite story. But this series is proof it can be done without it seeming totally inappropriate or wrong. I’m impressed.

If you’d read the first two books then you don’t need me to tell you to read this. Just know that the ending is lovely. And as someone who hates most endings it’s nice to smile and put this third book down, content with where we are at.
Although already dreading the possibility of a follow-up series... because I’m paranoid to touch good things in case they get messed up. However, as Kemmerer points out to us many times during this series, you cannot gain anything without risking something as well.

There are many lovely lines and adages to take to heart in this last book of the Cursebreaker series; but I think my favourite one is this one; because in real life people make mistakes and we hurt one another. Trust is always so hard to gain; and yet easily lost. Kemmerer reminds us to give others a break sometimes; as we need one ourselves at times:
”One choice shouldn’t undo a thousand good ones.”

Excuse me while I go kiss my husband and thank him for all our wonderful years together; and all those to come. Don’t forget to love those around you openly and unabashedly. Just as Rhen and Grey do their ladies.

Follow me on Goodreads

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Book Review: Wicked As You Wish

Wicked As You Wish 
by Rin Chupeco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a difficult one to review. On one hand I liked it. It's a fast paced teen fantasy with an (actually) tolerable romance, diverse group of characters (including a non-binary one!), and a rich world to build the story around. Yet, on the other hand, the use of existing stories, characters and worlds was really disappointing. I might read the second book in this series, maybe, if I find myself caught up in the hype or am intrigued by its blurb; but honestly I could easily see skipping over it entirely.

Use of Existing Characters and Settings
The first thing that absolutely shocked me was that this is a fantasy world that is not 100% unique. Nowhere on the blurb or in the promotions for this book do I recall ever reading that it has Camelot, Wonderland, Neverland, Russian history, mythology and so many more known worlds, stories and characters mashed together onto Earth. This really threw me off when I started reading and I cannot figure out why it wasn't marketed as what it is. I was disappointed by this realization as the one element of Rin Chupeco's The Bone Witch I really enjoyed was her unique world building. And while this world is still odd and different; it's not quite the same as starting from scratch.
For example; I immediately do not trust Loki, Cheshire Cat, and others because of how untrustworthy they are in their original stories. And I wanted to meet Rasputin sooo bad; but now suspect that the Russian history piece used isn't going to result in a bad guy like I had hoped. Additionally I am, personally, over Camelot and Arthur stories. Have been for years. I read far too many as a teen in the 1990's and they just keep multiplying. Every second teen fantasy book I pick-up seemingly has a Camelot connection. I don't care to invest anymore time in Arthur's immoral world. On the other hand I'm usually read for Alice stories and Loki is a beloved super villain (hero?) of mine. So it's really down to personal preference. Either way I think the marketing is misleading on this series and should reflect that it is not an all new fantasy world.

Too Much Prophecy
Has no one learned that too much prophecy is bad? Between LOTR, Sword of Truth, Wheel of Time, and dozens upon dozens of books published this century it should be well known that having too much prophecy is a poor narrative choice. It confuses readers, makes the story seem predestined (which of course it is but why would you want to ruin that ride for the reader), and rarely makes the author look smart by twisting the words around. We all know prophecy is never what it seems to be so don't pretend it might be. This is a used up tactic in my mind. If you are going to use prophecy then have one prophecy for the whole world or future. Definitely don't have a prophecy for each individual character in your core party. Not only can I not keep track of it all but why does every character need a prophecy or is even worthy of one?
Yes there are lots of Seers in this story world and perhaps Chupeco wants to show that she has an end in sight (a big complaint of fantasy fans, including myself, are the never-ending series) but a prophecy per character is just too much.

While it's clear that Rin Chupeco has learned a lot about writing since her Bone Witch trilogy; I do think she still has a ways to go before being able to contend with Brigid Kemmerer, Sara J. Mass, and others in this genre. In a very diluted fantasy teen genre it's important to stand-out. Unfortunately re-tellings are so over done now and Chupeco would be much better served to start a new series that is wholly unique.
Irregardless of my personal thoughts, I think this is a decent enough start to a series that if you are intrigued at all then pick it up. A good library choice so you can see if you like it enough to really purchase it. I'm sure there will be people that will adore this take on melding fantasy worlds together into our own. The politics, characters, setting, narrative, story, etc. are all good enough that I wouldn't judge anyone for loving this. For me it was just alright; a 3.5 star read that I rounded up to 4 as I did enjoy reading almost every time I picked the book up.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Book Review: The Paris Library

The Paris Library 
by Janet Skeslien Charles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's early in 2021 still; but I feel this is likely to be one of my top historical fiction recommendations of the year. I absolutely loved it. The Paris Library takes a slightly different approach to telling the story of the occupation of Paris during WWII than most novels in this highly saturated genre. WWII fiction has boomed in the last few years and certainly there are millions of stories to be told that are all different. It's appropriate that as many of them be told as possible; not only so that we can learn from history, but I find that I always appreciate my current life more after reading about the harsh conditions of that time.

Perspectives & the American Library Setting
Before we get into the deep war talk, I just want to touch lightly on some of the super cool ways that Janet Skeslien Charles narrates this novel. This is a split perspective book from the past to 'current day'. We have our core story during WWII in Paris that features Odile's perspective most of the time. The second story is in the 1980's and features a teen girl's view of the world where her neighbour is Odile; obviously later in her life. While the split perspective with years in-between is super common in historical fiction these days it's rare that the main character of the past is a support character to the future. I really enjoyed this view of Odile and her choices.

The cutest part of The Paris Library is the Duey decimal system references that Charles uses. When Odile is struggling to relate or trying to remember something she will often indicate a word or phrase followed by it's top or secondary Duey decimal number (ie: Shakespeare, 822 or Infidelity, 306). This was adorable and it intrigued me at times as you could see that the topics were in the same batch of numbers or were very different from one another. A clever way to keep reminding us that this library has no computers, no easy searching, and is laid out in the same order libraries or bookstores were at one time. As someone who had a Duey decimal catalog for their libraries into my early teens I really loved this throwback. If you're too young to remember the Duey decimal system then take a quick look on Wikipedia to understand the layout and use.

We are also reminded of the set-up and use of the library many times as Charles refers to our characters updating sign-out cards, adding bookplates to new books, bundling holds, and delivering them to those who can no longer enter the library. For most of our characters the library is a refuge and an essential piece of keeping sanity and mental health in check during the war. For others it becomes a reminder of what is forbidden to some by the Nazi's and how everything is now censored. For me, the reader, the library represented a fixture that was so changed by the Nazi's occupation of France that it was never the same again; just like our characters. So in a way it was a character in the story. And really what book lover doesn't want to read about a library?!

Why The Paris Library is Different?
Let me be very honest and clear, the violence and gruesome moments of the war are significantly toned down. While there are still beatings, mass killings, etc., when we are in the past; it's not near as difficult to read as many WWII stories of late. We never see or encounter a concentration camp, we see people put on trains a couple times; but it's from Odile's perspective (whose only 20-something at the time) and her view of the world is very tinted by rose coloured glasses.

This view is really what makes Charles story so different. It's the war from the perspective of a woman just starting her life. She's naive and trying to make huge life decisions about a career, marriage, and shaping her life. How the war affected those decisions and shaped Odile's later life are the real 'learning's' (if you will). I feel like many of us, including myself, that live in first world, non-war torn countries, are very lucky to live the way we do. But also that we are just as naive as Odile was about our own surroundings.

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly brought circumstances surrounding many of us to light in a lot of ways. For example I knew, but didn't really understand what it meant to: have neighbours who are using the food bank every week to feed their children, coworkers who live alone and see no one without an office or event to attend, friends who get groceries and carry them on transit every couple of days. These are difficulties, of varying degrees, that many of us perhaps were 'aware of' but didn't really understand until the pandemic hit. I'm much more empathetic towards others these days; and want to be more aware of reality than ever before. It's difficult and overwhelming; and frankly depressing, but it's critical we are all in this life with eyes wide open so that we can change the circumstances.

It was the same for Odile who heard rumours of 'death camps' and people stripped from their homes; but she never truly understood it until it was late in the war years. She too feels guilty and helpless once she starts to see what is actually happening. This is a story we could all benefit from as it reminds us that we should not assume certain things and be sure to seek the truth.

The Moral
Many historical fiction books have strong morales at the end of them that are almost child-like in nature. WWII fiction usually focuses on the importance of life, individuality, freedom, and what I'll call (as a Canadian) multiculturalism (be it in race, religion, sexuality, etc.) as things we must focus on and ensure we provide to everyone.

In the Paris Library our morales are a bit different. While certainly the library is full of interesting foreign characters we meet; it's also about how important knowledge is. A giant building full of books is only truly valuable when certain 'subjects' or texts haven't been stripped out. Knowledge is power. Had many known what was truly happening, or believed those rumours (almost all of which were true) about what the Nazi's were actually doing to people, we can't help but wonder, could more have been done? It's impossible to argue either way as we must remember that people were at gunpoint, at risk of starving, at risk of being persecuted themselves if they defied the orders given. Yet Charles ask the question of the reader that I have often asked myself; would I have acted different knowing what I know today?

I could talk about this book for thousands of words. The characters are vibrant and relatable (given most of them were real people that makes sense); the setting of the American library itself is unique from other WWII books, the naivety of Odile and others is refreshing, and the way Odile teaches our 'current day' teen is commendable. There is something for everyone to learn from The Paris Library.

This is a WWII book I can recommend to absolutely everyone as the gruesome events in it are toned down or only alluded to in comparison to those in say The Tattooist of Auschwitz or The German Girl. While I know that may disappoint some people to hear; but I think it opens things up for many people to read a WWII historical fiction book that otherwise might not be able to stomach it. Don't get me wrong there are still awful things, history is still abided by, and the war is still obviously brutal; however, this perspective is one that many readers are likely to be able to relate to and I believe can learn from.

Kudos to Charles for the extensive research done for this book. I loved the afterward notes, the biographies of the real characters, and admitting to where she may have altered things to hit her story. This is often my favourite part of any historical novel and Charles certainly delivered to ensure it was clear what is truth and what is not.

My final note on The Paris Library is to add it to your TBR for sure if you read a lot of historical fiction, consider adding it if you are intrigued, and if you usually avoid war novels maybe try it out. You might find this one a little more palatable without diminishing how awful the conditions were.

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

Follow me on Goodreads

Monday, March 8, 2021

Book Review: The Last Smile in Sunder City

The Last Smile in Sunder City 
by Luke Arnold
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ultimately I am disappointed by this, relatively, hyped new series. I was looking forward to an ‘urban’ setting in a fantasy world with a gritty, bitter leading male whom took down the bad guys for the greater good. This was really not what we receive in The Last Smile in Sunder City; instead it's a testosterone fuelled mess that just lacks true emotion.

Setting, History & Magic
It feels like Luke Arnold had a clear intent with his new debut series: create a grim dark fantasy world, add in a complex magical history (that our leading man had a major role in affecting), plus a large disparity between races/species; all which culminates into a beautifully put together setting. This complex world and history is easily the best part of Arnold’s opening book in the Fetch Phillips Archives. I love the intertwined magical abilities that each species has (or had) at any given point; and how it affected the stereotype of each group of characters. From wealth, typical job, community lived in, etc. Arnold gives us a messy society that mirrors our own in so many ways. From unfair disparities to societal expectations to rules/laws, etc.
If the actual plot itself had been better and our leading man Fetch Phillips had more personality and intrigue then I believe this would have been a brilliant opening book to a series.

Leading Man, Fetch Phillips
Unfortunately our leading man Fetch misses the mark. He feels close in the beginning. But put him up next to say, Geralt of Riviera and suddenly he feels like a poor archetype of a macho man who messed up badly and is attempting, fairly badly, to ‘redeem’ himself. I know we are supposed to have sympathy for Fetch and feel like everyone else screwed him over and set him up; but to me I feel like if he was as “clever” as Arnold seems to want him to be, then he would never have made the mistakes of the past that dominate his current situation. There is a careful balance that needs to happen between young and reckless versus plain stupidity that doesn’t match up, even considering his experience over the years, with the man we know in the current timeline.

Supporting Roles & Masculinity
As with most fantasy stories, the characters around our lead(s) are super important. This is another place where Arnold almost makes it but then ultimately misses. It’s a bit frustrating as Arnold is an actor himself (in Black Sails) and should know how important every voice and person are in a story. Given he has played many minor characters I would have expected him to know that each of them needs to feel genuine and have a rapport with the leading man.
It becomes particularly relevant just past halfway that there are only ‘macho’ male characters in this book. It’s a typical pre-1990’s issue in fantasy; but I’m super disappointed to see it happening in 2020. There is no reason why some strong female characters or at least a few LGBTQ+ ones couldn’t have been put in some of the placements where we encounter more ‘manly men’. And while many of them are enemies I still don’t see why the testosterone level has to be so high on almost every character.

Silly Language
I’lll confess I have a pet peeve against ridiculous metaphors, similes, and absurd language. There are so many in The Last Smile of Sunder City that I could write pages of them for you. But here is the one that annoyed me the most:
”The last thing I remember was the sound of the landing,
like someone stepping on an egg full of snails.”
Let’s just break this sentence down for a minute…
  1. Snails are not born with hard shells, they are soft and so there is no sound of a breaking snail baby (it’s too squishy),
  2. Like snake eggs the shells of snails are gelatinous or very soft; they don’t have the crisp break of a chicken egg like we are used to, and
  3. why on earth would you use a comparison that no one has probably ever heard (even if the shells were hard)? I just don’t get it and it drives me crazy.
  4. I literally put the book down upon reading this line just to post on Goodreads about how ridiculous it is. Anything that takes me out of a book so abruptly is a fail.

I really did want to love this book. I had high hopes for a new grim dark, gritty series with a sarcastic leading detective that would be a good break between intense historical or in-depth fantasy stories for me. This is Arnold’s debut novel and it is possible that this series will improve. I will likely wait for further reviews of book 2 (just recently released) or further releases in the series to see if other reviewers feel the story and writing improves. However at this time I have to say that if you are desperate for a detective story that is different in a complex world you might like this one. But if you are just fulfilling books on a TBR that were/are hyped or new; The Last Smile of Sunder City could be passed over for now. If you want a super witty, sarcastic, and disillusioned character I have to (continue to) promote Murderbot as the best choice in the last few years or pick-up any Jim Butcher series for some fun.

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

View all my reviews

Monday, March 1, 2021

Book Review: Alpha Bots

Alpha Bots 
by Ava Lock
Series: The Womanoid Diaries
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a very weird book. If you're looking for off-the-wall, bizarre AI robots that act and think like humans this is for you. I want to say our lead gal is a bit like Murderbot, but the reality is that she is not nearly as clever, witty, or interesting. I'd say this is the sub-par sister series to Murderbot. Ava Lock has given us the Stepford Wives meets I, Robot meets Handmaiden's Tale meets Fight Club. And yes there is a literal Fight Club at one point.

The Plot
Surprisingly for a bit of a silly book the plot is fairly complex. I won't go too far into it as there are spoilers that would ruin the first 100 pages or so but essentially all the women in the town are AI bots whom are in service to the men. And yes when I say 'in service' it's quite literal. There is some sexual actions that take place and so this is one for mature readers only.
From there we learn that our lead gal can be freed from some of her protocols (enter I, Robot), and the way to make that happen fastest is by fighting (enter Fight Club). Really the premise of the entire Alpha Bots story feels like a number of pop culture references stuck together to make it's own odd, but unique world.

The Message
There are a lot of different messages and morals you could infer from Lock's writing here. The largest is easily that men are pigs. But the core of this story, and substance lies in the motivation for why humans do what they do. Imagine a robot that has protocols; it knows what to do based on a situation. For example: husband in bed turns over and starts kissing, to the bot this equals sex. Dishes are dirty in the sink, to the bot this equals clean them. But what happens when the protocol is stripped away? Now you are in a situation where the AI is choosing what to do. So we wonder how do humans decide? Generally with our emotions. Maybe some logic, or based on societies standards; but let's face it how many of us have said to ourselves "I don't feel like doing X." This is determination by feeling/emotion. And so a true AI would need to have emotions:
" 'Why would anyone give a computer feelings? It seems like a major design flaw.' 
'Emotions help you set your goals. Every you feel drives your decision-making process. That is how you prioritize... Your heart decides what truly matters.' "

This is not a stellar book. I won't lie, it's fairly silly, at times ridiculous, and certainly a 'light' read. But it's got moments that will make you think (like any good science fiction). There are actually times where I stopped reading and considered a concept that Lock had alluded to. While I want to say I loved this; I was just along for the ride really. It was a good palate cleanser and perfectly mindless for the week I got a new 10 week old puppy introduced to my house (as chaos ensured, and continues to ensue today).
So if you want some sci-fi, woman power fiction. Grab this one. If you miss out on it; that's okay. You know this story likely; just in bits and pieces of others over the years.

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

Follow me on Goodreads