Review: The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, by Zen Cho

I feel like I’m reading half a dozen books at once at the moment (probably because I am!) and I needed a break, so 2 days ago I went and put on this quick audiobook, to give me a sense of accomplishment at finishing something. I had tried it before but I was sick at the time and just uh, fell asleep on it. (Which isn’t a sign of it being bad, I just… do that, with audiobooks.) This time though it kept me awake instead, and I read it all in one evening!

I need a high quality poster of this cover art, it’s so neat! – Cover art by Sija Hong

The Story

Zen Cho returns with a found family wuxia fantasy that combines the vibrancy of old school martial arts movies with characters drawn from the margins of history.

A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. Guet Imm, a young votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, joins up with an eclectic group of thieves (whether they like it or not) in order to protect a sacred object, and finds herself in a far more complicated situation than she could have ever imagined.

The Review (with some spoilers)

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Continue reading…

Review: Seven of Infinities, by Aliette de Bodard

Seven of Infinities was on my TBR list since before it came out, I think, but I wanted a paper copy… Nikki gifted me a gorgeous one and I did a buddy read with Tessa, which was quite fun! I wanted to post the review on Friday but lack of spoons happened so… here we are! I finished reading it on Wednesday and I’m still quite thrilled about it.

The Story

Vân is a scholar from a poor background, eking out a living in the orbitals of the Scattered Pearls Belt as a tutor to a rich family, while hiding the illegal artificial mem-implant she manufactured as a student.

Sunless Woods is a mindship—and not just any mindship, but a notorious thief and a master of disguise. She’s come to the Belt to retire, but is drawn to Vân’s resolute integrity.

When a mysterious corpse is found in the quarters of Vân’s student, Vân and Sunless Woods find themselves following a trail of greed and murder that will lead them from teahouses and ascetic havens to the wreck of a mindship–and to the devastating secrets they’ve kept from each other.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

First off, I should say, althought this is part of de Bodard’s Xuya universe, you don’t need to have read any of it to understand and enjoy this novella. I’ve read The Tea Master and the Detective (as well as a short story collection, Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight), so it was nice to be able to draw parallels, but it’s not necessary at all!

I absolutely enjoy those novellas, because they mix scifi/space opera with murder mystery and queerness, and if that weren’t a recipe to my heart already, there’s food and tea involved. I joked on twitter that Aliette’s books need to come with a tea recommendation, but what makes them work for me is the atmosphere. The universe itself is a bit Out There, as scifi goes, with ships that are borne of human mothers, and deep Space that will make you mad, but it feels realistic because of that mundane atmosphere of foods and tea and rituals that make these people real to you.

Like Fireheart Tiger, women are also all the characters that matter in this book: the scholars and the thieves and the villains, the mothers and generals and future government officials. I especially loved the two leads, but the best of all was Uyen, Vân’s student. That kid kicked ass in all the best ways!

I also love a good bit of miscommunication, so it was fun watching both Vân and Sunless Woods hesitate on how much they can and should trust each other, and trying to guess the other’s real intentions while having half the truth. I always enjoy when there’s drama even on the good side. And I thought it made the growth of their relationship more interesting and real.

The murder mystery itself was intriguing and good, though it’s hard to say much about it without major spoilers. You’ll just have to trust me on that part.

Overall another great story by Aliette de Bodard, and one more reason to read more of her writing! It’s one of those books that stay with you for a while after.

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Portal Bookshop | or listen to it on Scribd*

*this is an affiliate link, I may receive a free month if you sign up, at no extra cost to you

Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune

I started this book during my holidays a week or so ago, and I wasn’t really sold on it at first, but then I found myself reading (listening to) it til 1-2am to get more of it. It did take me a while to get around to reviewing it because I’m of two minds about it in a way.

The Story

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I heard so much good about this book, and both the title and the cover really intrigued me, but I gotta admit I did not read the synopsis at all and I did not know at all what to expect. I found the beginning quite hard to get into, Linus is basically a cog in a very Kafkaesque, administrative machine that oversees magical youth, and he keeps telling us that he loves children and that’s why he does what he does, but it sounds like he’s pretty happy not to know what happens to them after his cases, and I could not like him like that.

The Antichrist bit had a little bit of a Good Omens feel to it, and in a way Linus and Arthur are a bit like Aziraphale and Crowley in their weird friendly/antagonistic relationship and overseer role, but that’s about where the comparison stops. But what really drew me in were the kids. They were funny, and cute, and yes, murdery too, and you could see that there was so much more to them than what the administration wanted to hear.

Even then, I found Linus hard to get to like, because he was scared of the kids for a good long while, and like, straight up fainting at the mention of Luci… which felt quite ridiculous to me. But by the end of it I was invested, especially in what he would do and whether he would help these kids, and I do think he as a character is a good egg who just needed a nudge (or a shove) to see things properly. And he does stand up to bullies, which did it a lot of credit in my eye.

By the second half I was really invested, and by the last few hours of the audiobook I was riveted and I pretty much made myself finish it in one evening, even if it meant going to bed very late. So in this sense it was very much a good book, but I’m still meh about the beginning even in retrospect. It made sense for the story Klune was telling, and it was definitely a criticism of that kind of administration, but I can see that and still not fully enjoy it. It does work well in contrast with the island and the orphanage’s own way of caring for the children, though.

Overall a good read, worth sticking through the beginning to get to the more interesting bits!

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | or listen to it on Scribd*

*this is an affiliate link, I may receive a free month if you sign up, at no extra cost to you

Review: Stormsong, by C.L. Polk

I reviewed the first book in the Kingston Cycle the other day, but I feel like the second in the series deserves its own review, as the mood is entirely different, and yet it’s also really enjoyable.

The Story

After spinning an enthralling world in Witchmark, praised as a “can’t-miss debut” by Booklist, and as “thoroughly charming and deftly paced” by the New York Times, C. L. Polk continues the story in Stormsong. Magical cabals, otherworldly avengers, and impossible love affairs conspire to create a book that refuses to be put down.

Dame Grace Hensley helped her brother Miles undo the atrocity that stained her nation, but now she has to deal with the consequences. With the power out in the dead of winter and an uncontrollable sequence of winter storms on the horizon, Aeland faces disaster. Grace has the vision to guide her parents to safety, but a hostile queen and a ring of rogue mages stand in the way of her plans. There’s revolution in the air, and any spark could light the powder. What’s worse, upstart photojournalist Avia Jessup draws ever closer to secrets that could topple the nation, and closer to Grace’s heart.

Can Aeland be saved without bloodshed? Or will Kingston die in flames, and Grace along with it?

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If Witchmark was mainly a fantasy murder mystery/romance, this second tome is more like political intrigue/romance. With a side of murder mystery, too. I quite like novels that have some political intrigue, or rather I love to hate all the despicable politicians, so this worked really well for me.

I was not expecting the point of view character to change between books, so I was unsettled at first. Miles was a likeable character from the start, but Grace… She takes some warming up to. She’s a much more complicated character, morally speaking, and she can be Wrong sometimes. I found that I actually enjoyed that a lot more, because she was really struggling with how to do the right thing, which was not always obvious to her, while in the first novel it was very clear to Miles what The Right Thing was. So, sometimes I really wanted to slap some sense into her, and yet she was not despicable. Her logic was flawed, and she could be offensive, but my favourite part about this book was seeing her realise her upbringing left her to believe some things that were entirely false, and that the people she respects are perhaps not worthy of it. I found myself liking this a lot more than I do most straightforward good characters.

It also helps that the novel is narrated by Moira Quirk, who also read Gideon the Ninth. I find that I really enjoy her voice, and the way she brings out the humour in a book.

I also was more interested in the romance in this one. Grace’s interest in Avia, the very journalist who might ruin her career if she’s not careful, was a lot more entertaining, and also played a great part in Grace’s realizations around morality.

There were a lot of moving parts in this one, but they all come together in a way that makes a lot of sense. You can see that CL Polk has this all plotted perfectly, even if it means the ending is just a Happy For Now. I’m only sad that we won’t be following Grace in the last book, because it switches narrators again and follows Robin, apparently. And like I said in my Witchmark review, I love Robin! I’m excited to read from her point of view and it makes sense for where the story is going. But I’d have loved to see Grace’s relationship with Avia blossom even more, and especially to see them work through whatever will no doubt be thrown at them very shortly. When your main complaint is “I want more of this” though, you know the book’s a good one!

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | Or listen to it on Scribd (affiliate link)

ARC Review: Heartbreak, Inc. by Alex de Campi

I’m writing this with a cold, and I finished it at about 2am, so I may not be fully coherent. Please bear with me! It was one of those books you have to read in one sitting, even if it won’t fit in one sitting.

This cover is amazing and more than half the reason I requested this book!

The Story

From acclaimed comics writer Alex de Campi, a sexy (prose) novel about an agency that specialises in breaking up relationships, with a side hustle in the occult.

Evie Cross had big dreams of becoming an investigative journalist but at 25 and struggling to make it in New York City, she’s finally starting to admit that her dream is her side hustle and her day job is actually… her job. That is, until she signs on as a temp for a small consultancy whose principal, Misha Meserov, specializes in breaking up relationships. Misha is tall, infuriatingly handsome, and effortlessly charismatic—he can make almost anyone, man or woman, fall into bed with him. And he often does.

But the more Evie is exposed to Misha’s scandalous world, the more she becomes convinced that he’s hiding something… when a wealthy San Francisco tech CEO with a dissolving marriage starts delving into the occult and turns up dead, Evie has to decide between her journalistic desire for the truth and her growing desire for Misha.

The (somewhat spoilery) review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Continue reading…

Review: Witchmark, by C. L. Polk

I kept hearing so much good about this series, and I was looking for a cool, romance/light fantasy audiobook so I landed on this. I’ve now just finished audio-reading the second one in the series, and looking forward to the third!

The Story

In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations, while one young man seeks only to live a life of his own.

Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family’s interest or to be committed to a witches’ asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans’ hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is.

When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.

The Review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I normally review books right after I read them, and I’m finding that reviewing book 1 after reading book 2 is quite difficult. I think this is especially the case here since there’s a narrator switch between books.

I really enjoyed the mix of genres in this, between what I believe is called gaslamp fantasy, romance, and murder mystery. It’s a nice mix of three of my favourites.

I found Miles really compelling, and the overall plot kept me guessing the whole time. I think it is, at the core, a story about discrimination and oppression for people who aren’t as rich and powerful as a baselessly chosen elite. The poorer witches are persecuted, while the powerful ones sit in government and control everything. It was infuriating, but in a good way.

I quite enjoyed the romance itself, but the main draw for me was the mystery and political plot, to be quite honest. And the resolution exceeded all expectations, I truly did not see any of it coming, and yet there were enough clues laid out that I felt like I should have. I also really liked some more minor characters, including Tristan’s staff, and Robin, who I’m very glad to see is the narrator of book 3.

Overall it was a lot of fun to read/listen to, and I jumped on to the next book. I think the only reason it’s not getting a full 5 stars is that the second book in the series felt even better and somehow even more tightly plotted, and I preferred it overall. But both were great reads and I fully recommend it!

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | or listen to it on Scribd*

*this is an affiliate link, I may receive a free month on Scribd if you subscribe through this link, at no extra cost to you.

ARC Review: The Jasmine Throne, by Tasha Suri

I was so lucky to get this ARC, but due to some circumstances unrelated to the book, I struggled to get to it and then finish it (part of it is really my struggle with ebooks). But I did finish it as part of my mini-readathon this weekend, and I’m very glad I stuck with it, because every bit of it is just brilliant.

The Story

Exiled by her despotic brother when he claimed their father’s kingdom, Malini spends her days trapped in the Hirana: an ancient, cliffside temple that was once the source of the magical deathless waters, but is now little more than a decaying ruin.

A servant in the regent’s household, Priya makes the treacherous climb to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to play the role of a drudge so long as it keeps anyone from discovering her ties to the temple and the dark secret of her past.

One is a vengeful princess seeking to steal a throne. The other is a powerful priestess seeking to save her family. Their destinies will become irrevocably tangled.

And together, they will set an empire ablaze.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I received this ebook for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

I’ve a lot of feelings and I’m not sure where to start. What I can say for sure is that all the raving reviews it got are not exaggerating one bit. It’s an absolutely brilliant piece of epic fantasy and whenever I picked it up I found it so so hard to stop again, even if it was like 2am and I had work in the morning.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from it except wlw, an Indian-inspired universe, and something like enemies-to-lovers but not quite? I’m still not sure how I’d describe the plot but it exceeded all my expectations.

The main characters (the women, I mean) are both relatable and flawed, realistic people, who’ve been hurt by what they’ve been put through and have to put the pieces of themselves back together. The men, and especially Chandra and Ashok, the main heroines’ brothers, are deeply flawed but in a cruel and unusual way, which makes for great antagonists. Ashok at least has some deep trauma and reasons for acting that way, but he’s never given a pass, which I really appreciated. But you also get to see the baseless cruelty of some people, out of fanaticism or just plain hatred, in Chandra, and I thought that was just right too. Yes, some villains have their own story and redeeming qualities, but some really are just horrible people, and that is that.

This is also a book about patriarchal oppression and colonialism, and in that way it hit all the right notes for me as well. Following the stories of three women who’ve all been deeply wounded by the empire felt right, and the difficult positions everyone had to take at one point or another, while not necessarily moral, felt just within the circumstances they’d been dealt.

The prose is amazingly good, and I was 100% invested the whole time, whatever was happening. There’s not a boring moment in the whole book! But I think my favourite part was trying to guess at Malini’s intentions and what she would do next.

As the book grows towards its ending, I kept thinking we’d reached the climax, only for the next chapter to hit an even higher note! I’m quite impressed at how tightly plotted the whole thing is, and how all the cards lay just right at the end. True craftwomanship! Makes me super excited for the next one!

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Waterstones | Portal Bookshop | Kennys

mini readathon: a recap

So I planned to do this yesterday but i ended up finishing past midnight instead of 5pm like I said, soo it was a bit late.

While I didn’t read quite as much as I’d planned, I did finish 3 books I’d already started:

-Stormsong by C.L. Polk (I’ll be posting a review of the first in the series shortly)

-Jasmine Throne, by Tasha Suri, which keeps blowing my mind that much later. Also got a review ready to go

-Best SFF of the year (2018). Like all story collections there were great hits, and there were some misses. I allowed myself to skip some, but I enjoyed most of it

I’m currently on holidays for a few days in the countryside, and typing this from mobile. I’m excited to be out of the house for a bit, even if it looks like the weather won’t be on my side. My holiday read is gonna be The Unbroken, and I’m really looking forward to that!!

A life update (and mini readathon)

I’ve been unusually silent the last couple of weeks, mainly because i’ve struggled to read pretty much anything. I’ve started half a dozen books, and only finished one audiobook (The Truth, by Terry Pratchett, which I’d feel odd reviewing considering. you know. It’s been published for years and years.

On the why side, there’s not really a reason, I was not really busier than usual, I’ve just been dropping things on account of how tiring the first 5 months of this year (and the whole of last year) have been. And we can go out again, which means I do, sometimes, plan to do stuff other than reading during the weekends. And then my health hasn’t been the best, sometimes the chronic pain is not just “can’t hold a paper book” but “can’t focus on an audio because pain” so I’m learning to deal with that and cut myself some slack

But! I’ve got the next week off work, and while I’ve got Plans, I also want to make the most of this weekend where I’ve nothing to do. So I decided to do a readathon, 5pm today (Friday) to 5pm Monday. You can also join in this storygraph challenge if you’re tempted to do the same.

I’ve a few ebooks lined up (2 ARCs, manly) but this is mostly it:

  • finish Stormsong audiobook (5 hours left give or take)
  • Jasmine Throne ARC (70% in!)
  • Best SFF of 2018 (I’m 1/3rd through?)
  • A Desolation Called Peace (barely started)
  • Pyramids (read or DNF, I’ll decide once I get started)

Then the “I’m not likely to get here but I’ll try” ones:

  • HEartbreak Inc, another ARC I’m really excited about
  • Either The Galaxy and the Ground Within, by Becky Chambers, or Ancestral Night, by Elizabeth Bear, as the mood strikes me

I’ll be talking about this on Twitter, and hopefully updating you here on Monday night!

Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers

I’ve been a bit quiet lately. On the one hand the weather’s been gorgeous, and on the other, I’m lacking the spoons to actually write… and that includes blogging :/ But I’ve still been reading, and I’m very happy to tell you more about the 3rd Wayfarers book today! Becky Chambers is one of my, if not the, favourite queer authors, or favourite authors altogether. Her scifi is very human and I just adore the worlds she builds!

The Story

Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat.

Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened.

Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn’t know where to find it.

Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong.

When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question:

What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I read this in preparation for the last of the series coming out (I already own it but I take forever to read at the moment).

I love every one of the books in this series – the first one maybe most of all – and this one was no exception. It really punched me in the guts at one point too, I had to put it down and take a few deep breaths, but I just couldn’t stay away from it for very long. Just be aware it comes with a TW for major character death.

It can easily be read as a standalone, although if you’ve read the previous ones you’ll be happy to meet Tessa, Ashby’s sister.

I sometimes have trouble with ensemble casts because there’s always one or two I don’t particularly like, but this wasn’t the case at all here. Just loved every single one of them, and was invested in all their stories. I also especially liked the diversity involved, from the unruly teenager to the mom of two, to the queer archivist in her 70s or 80s. It’s very rare to read about older queer people, especially, and it just warmed my little heart!

But most of all for me, with any Becky Chambers book, is the worldbuilding. Here, the Fleet is the perfect alternative to capitalism, a place where everyone has food and a place to sleep. It’s also a place where sex work is not taboo, where death is made meaningful… I have a lot of feelings about the Fleet, and most of them can be summed up as “I want this, for myself, like yesterday”.

It was a hard read at times, but it always felt just right and was very satisfying in the end. Just a perfect cosy, low stakes scifi novel about normal people trying to find their way in life.

The Links

Barnes & Noble | Waterstones (signed copies!) | Kennys | Portal Bookshop