Monday, May 20, 2024

Book Review: Godly Heathens

Godly Heathens 
by H.E. Edgmon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 - 4 stars. I didn't love everything about this... about 75% of the way through I felt like I lost the thread and didn't really get back to it until closer to the end. However I'm glad I stuck it out as I suspected at some point this confusion was intentional. H. E. Edgmon is making the reader feel as disoriented and confused about who is who (as each character has multiple names, memories, and recognition of themselves) in such a way as it is the closest I (as a bisexual woman) may ever come to having even an iota of understanding what it might be like to be confused about gender and sexuality as a teen (my own understanding of being bisexual was helped along by some key late 90's, early LGBTQ+ Internet pages) .

I'm looking forward to recommending this to my trans cousin and seeing what she thinks. I am confident she will want to read it when I tell her it's complex like Gideon the Ninth (Tamsyn Muir), as godly as Banewrecker (Jacqueline Carey), and as teenage romantic as Aristotle and Dante (Benjamin Alire Sáenz). It also features realistic physical moments between a trans character and their partner; such as running fingers over top surgery scars. I shivered a little at this at felt so genuine and definitely very intimate.

All that said... there are three important things to know, in my opinion, going into Godly Heathens: 
1) The ending is abrupt and a cliffhanger. I was lucky to have book 2, Merciless Saviors at my fingertips to start immediately. You are likely to want to do the same. It is about one minute between the end of the first book and the opening line of book 2. I greatly dislike this, as it gives no reminder of the story if there has been some time between books (it's also just rude to readers to give no real ending at all...). I'm also not a fan of reading books one after another for fear of getting tired of characters or the story. That said, her I am making the exception for the first time in years.

2) There are a lot of characters with different names, abilities, memories, and situations. It's a lot to keep track of. I did not realize, until near the end, that there is a cast of the god characters at the back of the print book. However it should be noted that the list has spoilers for events in this first book.
One thing that does help a lot with this issue, and perhaps saved me at times, was listening to some chapters on audio. The narrator does a brilliant job of defining the characters and being consistent with the voices of each. In the end it helped me keep things together enough to keep going and not feel like I needed to reread/listen to sections, or just give up on the whole story. I did swap between audio and print a few times, and I'm glad I did. This gave me time to absorb some of the story in my head in print; but the audio helped define the different characters when I was lost. Kudos to the narrator for keeping the voices consistent and distinct (without being silly or obnoxious).

3) Morality and love are brilliantly put in opposition of one another in Godly Heathens. Edgmon takes us on a crazy journey and confuses us as much as the leading POV character is. It is brilliant; and it is frustrating. At times I wanted to yell at our non-binary lead to tell them to just do something!! Yet I also understood why they didn't (generally because of their heart being in the way). At the end of the day I love Edgmon's continuing message: "Surviving does not make us evil".

And now I am doing something I almost never ever do... I am heading into book 2 immediately. As I went to listen to the first chapter or two; and now I'm sucked in. (Insert a maniacal winning laugh here from Edgmon and the publisher that I'm caught in their web, lol.) So I suppose they win this round as I break my usual rule of waiting a book or two before heading into the next in a series.

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, May 12, 2024

Book Review: A Haunting in the Arctic

A Haunting in the Arctic 
by C.J. Cooke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this in two halves (essentially) because I was very busy for about 3 weeks in April and barely read anything at all. I think that affected part of enjoyment. This is the kind of book that would be best read in a weekend or over a short period of time. Thus what was maybe a 3 star read for me, I’m upgrading to 4 stars. I think there is a lot of great pieces to The Haunting in the Arctic in terms of the spooky atmosphere, the simulated isolation, and thus desperation for attention that both the reader and our characters are feeling. I also loved the use of the selkie fable/myth and its integration into the core story.
Overall the book is worth reading…

But here’s where things get tough… in order for me to really talk about this book and my feelings there is a good chance you will figure out the twist… so fair warning from here forward there is a possibility of SPOILERS.

Again, possible spoilers below.

As I have discussed many times before when it comes to cold settings authors constantly get the details incorrect. Whether the overall effect of cold, snow, ice, etc on the body or how your brain starts to slow and mania or insanity sets in.
For me there was only two outcomes for this book:
1) I either knew the twist within the first 100 pages, or
2) Cooke was doing a terrible job of handling the bitterly cold conditions on the ship in the 2023 timeline.

At one point hear the end I had convinced myself I had the twist wrong and therefore posted a rant about how poorly written or understood cold is, and how disappointed I was in Cooke making such a rookie mistake. Then, lo and behold, a couple pages later the twist is revealed. And I was super annoyed. Held off to the last 10 pages of the book, so transparent (if you know what should have happened after certain events) that it was comical to me, and yet I had convinced myself out of it and that Cooke was just a poor fact checker on biology.

So where does this leave me?
I think it leaves me in a spot where a reread would be good (not right away) as now that I know the outcome I will not be bothered by numerous details like the first time. Perhaps I might be able to appreciate more of the atmosphere, timeline linking, and character processing of trauma.
Ultimately it leaves me with a very unsure feeling towards this book. Yes it’s good, yes lots of people (non-cold climate folks for sure) will likely not pick up the hints to the final twist, and yes the writing is superb. I’m almost sad that I know the cold so well that I knew what could or could not be ‘happening’ at times.

Overall I’d say if this book interests you then pick it up. It’s not bad, it’s quite well written and intriguing. For myself, I will definitely still look forward to the other Cooke novels on my shelf and hope that my knowledge of a particular subject doesn’t sink me like it did here. I will also keep it on my print shelf to possibly reread, and because the book cover itself is gorgeous.

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Book Review: The Year of Return

The Year of Return 
by Ivana Akotowaa Ofori
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a clever little story this is! I want to get a million copies and put this in the hands of everyone, but especially white folks (like myself) so they can begin to understand that generational, racist trauma stems deep. Ivana Akotowaa Ofori does a brilliant job of bringing together many of the key events during the height of the COVID pandemic and putting them in a science fiction short story that anyone could relate to.

From the lockdowns (where we saw the privileged of society whine the most), to disproportionately increased Asian discrimination, to Black Lives Matter protests; Ofori brings these elements together and uses them to show the generational trauma from African slavery. It’s so smart to take feelings we (as a world) have recently felt and change them subtly enough such that the reader can start (at least) to understand (or hopefully appreciate) some of the trauma involved in continuing (forever and ever) to atone for slavery. The weaving of this story brings elements together so well that it’s impossible (in my opinion as a white girl, for whatever that is worth) to deny the huge weight slavery still has today, especially on a population subject to diaspora around the world.

Ofori gives us a relatable main character with a degree in African Studies, from an Ivy League university (something her Ghana mother thinks is ridiculous) who is now a journalist. This gives our leading gal the ability to report on the many theories of the odd appearance of ‘ghosts’ and use the Internet to compile sightings, research, and provide her own theory and commentary on what is happening in the story. There is a cleverness to the core story that I also admire. I don’t want to say much about it as it could take away the creepiness and impact of each revelation that comes about.

This is the second short story by Ofori I have read and I am keeping my eye on her! She has an amazing way of sucking the reader into the story and feeling instant empathy for the characters and situation. If anyone can make people start to understand, even a fraction, of the trauma POC have experienced between generations of trauma, and the awful racism of today, I believe Ofori has the magic in her writing. Her stories and characters are relatable and current in a way I have not experienced before. I would put this story in the hands of every single white person in the world if I could, and even if only 1% of them started to think more about the long term, never going away, trauma of slavery then it would be well worth the effort.
Watch this writer! She has talent and I cannot wait to see what she brings us 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, May 5, 2024

Book Review: Magical Elements of the Periodic Table

Magical Elements of the Periodic Table Presented Alphabetically by the Elemental Dragons 
by Sybrina Durant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is super cute AND could be infinitely helpful. If someone had given me a book that incorporated dragons with learning the periodic table of elements I might have done a lot better in science classes!!

Highly recommend this for anyone really. Even a high schooler trying to learn the table might find some acronyms, comparisons, etc here that help them remember what is where. Regardless of how you memorize things like common calculations, table elements, multiplication/division, conversion factors, etc. it can help you be quicker with answers and a better problem solver to know this information on a quick recall.

As someone who still can’t do 6x7 quickly (I have trouble memorizing number combinations ) I would encourage an device (like this super cute book) that helps kids not only learn but remember what they have learnt!

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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Friday, May 3, 2024

Book Review: The Last Bloodcarver

The Last Bloodcarver 
by Vanessa Le
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With twists and turns, romance, friendship, and injuries to all; The Last Bloodcarver is likely to thrill any teen/YA reader that picks it up (and most of us YA adult readers too). In her debut novel, Vanessa Le introduces us to the unique magical power of our leading girl in the confines of a private home where she is using her magic in secret. From there we are whisked away on a journey where: hiding is necessary, betrayal is looming, a hint of romance presides, and a larger than life friendship keeps us company.

The magic here especially interested me as I have fibromyalgia, a nerve condition with no cure, no known cause, and only current offerings are medications to help get ‘quality of life’ as high as possible. Therefore hearing of our girls power to turn her pain receptors off, repair physical damage to many organs, including the brain, or the vascular system, greatly appealed to me. What I wouldn’t give to have this ability myself, or for someone with it to bless me with relief!!

Interestingly, and brilliantly, Lee shows us that this same magic can be used to kill and destroy just as readily as it may heal and save. Where one might use it to for healing individuals ailments; another might use it to decimate their enemies. Putting ultimate power of life and death in the magic welder’s hands.

This was the point at which I wished I wasn’t reading a YA fantasy (with some typical romance, of course) and instead wished this set-up in the hands of a writer of grimdark adult fantasy. Where an author could really elevate the game and discuss the morals and options posed to our characters at a level that would leave interpretation open to the reader.
Alas this is a YA novel, and so instead we get some typical romance on the side, the uncertain confidence of a teen, and the reluctance to become an adult (and having to take responsibility for your actions). As a YA novel it’s bang on to the genre. My difficulty is l see how it could be so much more!

That’s not to say this isn’t good; because it is. And I could definitely see many a pre-teen/teen becoming obsessed with it (especially if it’s one of their first gripping fantasy reads). I hope future novels in the series take a closer look at the politics and conundrums of society as it relates to the magic I n The Last Bloodcarver. I have great hope for the future books promised to come and that Lee will open up the discussion of morality, good versus evil, and the cost of healing over death. At the end of the day I will be seeking the sequel next year and definitely picking it up sooner rather than later.

A solid choice in the teen fantasy realm and one that is well written by a debut POC!! A refreshing breath of fresh air compared to so many in this genre that are stale or stagnant of late. Just remember it’s written to its audience (as it should be) even if it could be so much more!

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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Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Book Review: Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl

by Renée Rosen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting fictionalized version (based on lots of direct resources from Estée Lauder herself and her son, friends, etc.) of Estée Lauder’s time from nobody to becoming a beauty icon. I really enjoyed the anecdotes and tidbits of Lauder’s philosophy on sales, beauty, and refined society. I don’t agree with her; but it was a well written story that showed both the strengths and flaws of Lauder in the end.

What’s confusing about Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl is how little there is about WWII. Given this story happens simultaneously with the war it seems odd that so little of the war situation (even though we are in America) affected our leading ladies. It’s as though a piece of the story is missing to give it true historical context. Unfortunately that makes me wonder about some of the truth in the story. While well researched, and a good authors note in the end; the element of war being such a non-factor kept taking me out of this story and making me wonder if it could be true that Lauder was so sheltered from the war activities (before and after Pearl Harbour). Thus only a four star rating from me. That said, I would absolutely try another book by Renee Rosen 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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Book Review: The American Queen

The American Queen 
by Vanessa Miller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first 75% of this was wonderful! Beautifully written, great story telling, characterization, and wonderful analysis and inference of what each character may have been thinking. I both read in print and listened to some of the audiobook. Both were equally joyful ways to consume this story.

Unfortunately, the last 25% got too preachy for me. I tired of hearing how our leading lady, Louella, would just have to hope that God would hear her need. My weariness continued as she spoke/thought of the forgiveness she gave everyone around her, constantly, even after they had ruined everything. The best writing in the world cannot make up for when I feel talked down to, preached at, or otherwise ‘told’ that I should feel or do things a certain way. I can assure you I would have felt much differently than Louella in the end given all the circumstances.

That said my 3 star review should not stop anyone from reading this book. It’s an interesting history, about a relatively unwritten time period from the viewpoints of those freed during emancipation. In no way would I discredit the story told here and its importance. I just would have liked to have the last pieces of the story told with a little less required faith; and a little more common sense on how our leading lady and her ‘followers’ came to be where they ended up.

I realize now that this author is a devoted Christian herself and was merely justifying the actions as she finds reasonable. However, I would challenge any author (regardless of religious affiliation) writing a story based on historical fact to be careful how much of their own beliefs they inject to justify actions. Lastly, it was odd to me that freed slaves so readily put all their faith in the god of those who enslaved, oppressed, murdered, and tortured themselves and their loved ones. It just felt a bit too much for me to swallow in the end.

I would love to read a non-fiction book about Louella and William, and their socialist practices that built a beautiful sounding community.

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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