Did Not Finish: 2015 Year End Edition

So. Yeah. This isn’t exactly what I was planning my last post of the year to be, but DNFing about three books in a row (I read City of Lights in between the first and the last two) is pretty unusual and so worthy of documentation. Don’t worry. My first review of 2016 will definitely be more positive 🙂 So let’s do this.

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Summary:

MAGICAL TRICKS. DEMONIC TREATS.

After narrowly escaping her fate as a sacrificial scapegoat, Arcadia Bell is back to normal. Or at least as ordinary as life can be for a renegade magician and owner of a tiki bar that caters to Earthbound demons. She’s gearing up for the busiest day of the year—Halloween—when a vengeful kidnapper paralyzes the community. The influential head of the local Hellfire Club taps Cady to track down the fiendish bogeyman, and now that she’s dating red-hot Lon Butler, the Club’s wayward son, she can hardly say no.

Cady and Lon untangle a gruesome thirty-year trail of clues that points to danger for the club members’ children. But locating the person behind the terror will require some metaphysical help from Cady’s loyal bar patrons as well as her potent new Moonchild powers—and she’d better figure it out before the final victim disappears and her own darkest secret becomes her biggest enemy.

Why I didn’t finish:

Of the three books here, this definitely was the biggest surprise for me. I honestly enjoyed Kindling the Moon for the same reason that I did enjoy parts of this book: Cady’s relationship with Lon which felt healthy and loving and a fresh of breath air in a genre where dysfunctional relationships are the order of the day. That being said, the main plot was fairly rote and didn’t do anything that different. When I read the first book, it had been early 2015 and I hadn’t been reading much Urban Fantasy. It wound up being one of my most predominant sub-genres of 2015 and I found a lot that I really loved and it absolutely raised the bar on what good urban fantasy was for me. When I came back to this series in December, then, I realized that the series just couldn’t reach to that new level of expectation that I now had. I still enjoyed Cady and Lon and Jupe and their relationship and interactions, but the main plot that drove the action? Not so much. The relationship wasn’t enough to salvage the rest and so I put this one on ice.

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Summary:

If Night falls, all fall . . .

In the far north of the world of Haarth lies the bitter mountain range known as the Wall of Night. Garrisoned by the Nine Houses of the Derai, the Wall is the final bastion between the peoples of Haarth and the Swarm of Dark—which the Derai have been fighting across worlds and time.

Malian, Heir to the House of Night, knows the history of her people: the unending war with the Darkswarm; the legendary heroes, blazing with long-lost power; the internal strife that has fractured the Derai’s former strength. But now the Darkswarm is rising again, and Malian’s destiny as Heir of Night is bound inextricably to both ancient legend and any future the Derai—or Haarth—may have.

In a moment of “I really should have been more careful,” I realized that Daughter of the Blood was actually the third book of a trilogy that I hadn’t read. Oops.  The first two books happened to be on sale for $1.99 each so I figured why not? I could then pick up the ARC fully in on the plot. Or so was the plan. Instead though, yeah. Malian’s father is kind of a jerk, the Houses have stupid arbitrary rules. Malian is clearly a Chosen one who is wise beyond her 14 years of age. There’s a POV switch that is probably not needed but is there for the sake of complexity and I just found myself not caring for any of these people. I actually tried to read this before The Martian and set it aside. I went back to it this week and didn’t get much further. This is pretty old school style high fantasy that I know has its audience, but I also know that I’m not said audience.

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Summary:

What is worse: Being so broke you can barely afford food, getting hired for dangerous missions way out of your league, suffocating under mountains of unanswered questions—or wanting to sexually dominate someone who can kill you without lifting a finger?

Lu Delong is a mercenary who evaluates antiques most of the time and deals with the paranormal on rare occasions—even though it’s supposed to be the other way around. When he joins a dangerous quest for an ancient artifact, he meets and becomes strongly attracted to a mysterious and powerful immortal named Cangji. Despite his friends’ warnings and Cangji’s icy, unsociable demeanor, Delong is unable to resist befriending him. However, Cangji is deeply involved in a matter beyond mortals, and Delong is drawn into a chaotic struggle by both visible and invisible forces.

Always the pacifist who wanted to live a simple human life, Delong never imagined he’d end up involved in a conflict that will affect everything from the lowest insects on earth to the highest gods in heaven.

Yeah. This book is as broken as the summary for it. I should have seen the summary for the red flag that it was. Still, sometimes indies like this can have good content to help make up for the technical flaws. Unfortunately, our introduction to the protagonist is him jeering at a refugee vegetable seller: he dismisses her as an incurable gossip with nothing else to do, “like other women,” and then bullies/all but blackmails her into selling him her food at a fraction of the value before preening over how pleased he was with his accomplishments. He may be broke, but that doesn’t make the behavior any less despicable. And this book was written by a woman, folks! So yeah, this was a non-starter.

Out of curiosity, I went to the publisher’s website and it’s clear to me that Dreamspinner Press is barely a half-step above a vanity publisher. They claim their books go through a “16-20 week” editing process with no less than four different editors, but broken English abounds in this text and it’s obvious that if suggestions were made, they were not taken. Covers are generic at best and poorly Photoshopped at worst. Some authors have nice head shots, some use candids (Yeyu used a selfie of herself on a train) and some are just icons of random objects. The whole thing just feels unprofessional. I’ll give ’em half a point for apparently not charging their authors to publish, but that’s about it.  Shame too, the world could use some more decent LGBTQ-friendly genre publishers.

Next time: the next Alex Verus novel,  Hidden because I’ve earned myself a book I know I’ll enjoy.

Review: City of Light (Outcast #1) – Keri Arthur

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Summary:

When the bombs that stopped the species war tore holes in the veil between this world and the next, they allowed entry to the Others—demons, wraiths, and death spirits who turned the shadows into their hunting grounds. Now, a hundred years later, humans and shifters alike live in artificially lit cities designed to keep the darkness at bay….

As a déchet—a breed of humanoid super-soldiers almost eradicated by the war—Tiger has spent her life in hiding. But when she risks her life to save a little girl on the outskirts of Central City, she discovers that the child is one of many abducted in broad daylight by a wraith-like being—an impossibility with dangerous implications for everyone on earth.

Because if the light is no longer enough to protect them, nowhere is safe…

Review:

There’s no way around this: City of Light is a disappointment. The concept is cool, but it feels like that: just a concept, and a wasted one at that.

We meet no humans. We see no shifters other than Tiger actually shift. Tiger is supposedly a lure – a dĂ©chet bred to seduce the enemy – but all that seems to mean is that she is a walking sack of hormones who gets horny when someone with the right DNA walks by with no input from her own emotions at all. What this ultimately feels like is a world where Tiger has plot convenient powers because the plot demands them, leaving the actual differences between humans and shifters and the dĂ©chet as little more than a thinly veiled allegory about racism. Outside of one instance where Tiger shifted her form, there is no reason for her to be a shifter. Outside of her ability to become one with the shadows, there is no reason for her to be part vampire. She could have just been a witch or a psychic and it would have had the same impact on the story.

Also, can I say that her constantly referring to the ghosts as her “little ones” wound up being a bit more creepy than endearing?

The other thing that didn’t really work for me was the fact that the people that she is roped into helping ultimately all come off as complete and utter assholes. The cause may be a good one, but they’re basically blackmailing her throughout the book directly and indirectly into having her help. Maybe this wouldn’t have been such a bad thing if Tiger herself had more personality, but for me she just felt flat on the page.

I don’t think the book is a complete failure – the story was at least interesting enough that I read through to the end as opposed to just setting it aside – but the things that should have made this book stand out and shine just fell completely flat. The ending of this book is a complete and obvious set up for a sequel, and I have to say that I have no real desire to actually keep an eye out for it, let alone read it. I just don’t care.

Based on the early reviews upon Goodreads, this book seems to be developing a solid fanbase, but I am just not one of them. The only thing worse than a book devoid of any fresh ideas at all is one that has them but squanders them.

City of Light just did not work and I can’t recommend it.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: January 5

Stacking the Shelves #13

Now that I’ve done my Best Of list, it seems to make sense to do a final Stacking the Shelves for the year. I have to say, there seems to be something about the month of December where I get book crazy. It’s been a little less than a month since my last post, and yet I’ve managed to acquire some twenty books in that time frame! And that doesn’t count one that will arrive in January and that I think I still have 3-4 ARCs out for request on NetGalley and Edelweiss that I’m hoping to get my hands on. Yikes. Maybe I should be sliiiightly more choosy for a while? My TBR pile would thank me 🙂

For the last time in 2015, let’s do this.

ARC

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My first unsolicited ARC. I feel all grown up :* It’s pure sci-fi, which I’m looking forward to. I played in the YA end of the pool in 2015, so looking to dip my toes more in the adult end in 2016.

DRC

There’s definitely a broad assortment of books in this group. In the YA camp we have The Prophecy of Shadows (Greek mythology-inspired), Daughter of Blood (epic fantasy), Seven Black Diamonds (faery) Burning Glass (romance/fantasy), Beyond the Red (sci-fi) and Flawed (dystopian).  On the adult side we have Submissive Seductions (erotica) A Girl’s Guide to Landing a Greek God (Greek mythology based) and Masks and Shadows (historical).  It’s a fun mix. The books here are posted in order of publication date; though it’ll take me a while to get to Daughter of Blood. It’s the the third in a trilogy and I managed to pick up the first two for $1.99 each on Kindle and will be reviewing those first. The others are all stand-alones/first in series, so there is that :*

physical books traded for by me

I picked these up in a blog sale. These are all young adult except for The Forbidden Library which is more middle grade, but Django Wexler was an enticing thought. Becoming Jinn got a lot of love when it came out and others sounded like fun (angels! steampunk!). Given the size of my TBR pile though, these are definitely going to be lower on the totem pole for when I’m looking for something different to mix it up.

eBooks bought by me

Another hodgepodge of adult and young adult. The Strange Maid is the sequel to the just-reviewed The Lost Sun. Hidden is the next Alex Verus novel. The Heir of Night/The Gathering of the Lost are the first two in the Wall of Night books. These Broken Stars is a sci-fi/romance The Rook is a fantastical thriller and Tooth and Claw is a novel of manners…with dragons.

Twenty-one books. Twenty-one. I think I need to slow down just a wee bit. LOL. So. Have you gone as crazy as I have? What have you added to your shelves?

Top 10 of 2015

Where has the year gone? It seems like yesterday that I was writing 2014’s list. Then again, isn’t that how it always goes? Anyways.

Before we get into it, once again here are the criteria I use:

1. Must have been reviewed in 2015 (so older titles qualify)

2. Only one book per author or series

3. Must have been rated as a “Buy It” by me.

Without further ado, let us begin !

Honorable Mention:

Alex Verus Series – by Benedict Jacka

I really wanted to put at least one of these books on my list as it is now one of my all-time favorite Urban Fantasy series. I debated breaking my own rules to put this on the list, but then I realized that this series is unique in that the sum is really greater than the individual parts, with each book I love it just a little bit more. These are quick easy reads with a protagonist that is much more gray than UF heroes/heroines are allowed to be with a great supporting cast including women who only grow stronger as the books pass. I know that the first book can seem derivative, but stick it out and give the series a chance. It may just grow on you the way it’s grown on me.

10.

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Read the review here

A mash-up of historical fantasy, secondary world fantasy, with a dash of science-fiction, The Philosopher Kings poses some great philosophical questions within its text that invites the reader to ponder over just as the characters do. I do think the appeal is too niche to really place it higher on this list, but for those who like philosophy or are looking for something a bit heavier, this is a book well worth checking out.

9.

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Read the review here

Yes, I know I just reviewed this the other day, and this would be the spot I was having trouble deciding what book to put here. The Lost Sun is Young Adult fantasy with Nordic flair and engrossing story of friendship and destiny and is well worth checking out.

8.

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Read the review here

A lush dark fantasy that builds up a wonderful atmosphere of tension that leaves you as unsettled as the heroine as she tries to navigate this world that she suddenly finds herself thrust into. Though not strictly Gothic horror, it has that lovely sense to it. If you like dark fae, give this book a look.

7.

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Read the review here

Urban Fantasy that has a) a completely average male as a lead, b) has no trace of the paranormal nor c) romance make this grounded tale a wonderful and unique read within the genre. If you’ve got a friend that you’re trying to lure into reading Urban Fantasy, this is an excellent series to start with.

6.

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Read the review here

The winning formula for this series is simple: take all your Urban Fantasy tropes and give them a twist. Vampires aren’t the main bad-guys, Charish mouths off and people get pissed at her. That kind of thing. A very fun ride and worth a read if you like the old favorites but want to see a hint of something new.

5.

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Read the review here

A secondary world epic fantasy that combines lush world building and one of the strongest, most sex-positive female characters I’ve ever seen. Even if you don’t read on, anyone who reads epic fantasy should give this book a look. It’s reputation is well earned. Plus, the refreshed covers are simply stunning.

4.

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Read the review here

A historical fantasy that is audacious enough to make Lucifer the hero of our tale – and does so in a manner that is absolutely respectful to the religion in the process. Any and all fantasy writers that want to take on Christianity should use this as a guide on how to do it right. I’m thrilled it’s seeing a stateside release in 2016.

3.

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Read the review here

Combining characters you love and a sense of wonder as you travel the Zodiac’s galaxy, this is a rare sequel that surpasses the original. Fans of YA and sci-fi/fantasy blends should absolutely read this.

2.

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Another piece of YA sci-fi, the complex themes and the beautiful writing make me wonder if this wouldn’t have been better served on adult shelves. Complex themes, a bittersweet ending and a delicate balanced lesbian relationship make this a must read. Oh, and Talis is everything.

1.

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Read the review here

The most audacious book I’ve quite possibly read, even taking on J for the complexity of its story telling. The best part is that there is as much substance to it as there is style. One of the rare books that absolutely deserves the hype it’s received.

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So there we have it! I’d never guess I’d have three YA sci-fi titles as my top three this year, which makes it all the more awesome that I do. I think that niche of the genre really came alive this year and gives me hope that it’ll continue to mature and producer a richer cannon of books that stray away from the typical YA tropes. Aside from that, I don’t feel like 2015 was quite as strong a year for me as 2014 was, but as always, if you look, you will always find some gems.

So tell me, what were your favorites?

The Lost Sun (Gods of New Asgard #1) – Tessa Gratton

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Summary:

Fans of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” and Holly Black’s “The Curse Workers” will embrace this richly drawn, Norse-mythology-infused alternate world: the United States of Asgard. Seventeen-year-old Soren Bearskin is trying to escape the past. His father, a famed warrior, lost himself to the battle-frenzy and killed thirteen innocent people. Soren cannot deny that berserking is in his blood–the fevers, insomnia, and occasional feelings of uncontrollable rage haunt him. So he tries to remain calm and detached from everyone at Sanctus Sigurd’s Academy. But that’s hard to do when a popular, beautiful girl like Astrid Glyn tells Soren she dreams of him. That’s not all Astrid dreams of–the daughter of a renowned prophetess, Astrid is coming into her own inherited abilities.


When Baldur, son of Odin and one of the most popular gods in the country, goes missing, Astrid sees where he is and convinces Soren to join her on a road trip that will take them to find not only a lost god, but also who they are beyond the legacy of their parents and everything they’ve been told they have to be.

Review:

At the same time I was devouring this book, I’ve been working on my Best of 2015 post. And though I’ve had most of my list for quite some time, the bottom few books were giving me trouble. While I managed to sort out most of it, I had one spot remaining where I was never quite happy with the YA fantasy title I had been putting in there. It just didn’t feel right. But then I read this book and suddenly the solution to my dilemma seems clear. Perhaps it was fated, handy, for a book about fate.

The Lost Sun is a book about fate. It is a book about embracing who you are, what your destiny is, and that the path we take to get there is never quite as we might expect it to be. While some consider the notion of Fate to be somehow unkind as it seems in theory to be inherently opposed to the idea of Free Will, this book does not take that path. If anything, this book shows us how we meet our Fate because of the choices that we are forced to make. Nothing that ultimately occurs in this novel unfairly thrust upon them. The choices – aid Astrid or do not. Aid Baldur or do not. Embrace being a Berserker or ask Odin to relieve him of this burden – are laid about before our characters, and it is through our characters choices that the future that Astrid sees comes into being. And as a reader, you eagerly follow as our hero Soren makes his decisions. It has been quite some time since I so eagerly devoured a book, longing for a moment to steal so I could read more. And that we can thank the excellent job Gratton did in developing her protagonists.

All of the main characters in this book are well developed and distinct. Soren fights what he is because he fears winding up like his father, and yet his courage and devotion to his friends remains ever true. Astrid is devout in her belief and yet her budding love for Soren is no less strong. Vidir is wild and lively, a good foil to them both.

Rounding out the good characters are the world she places them in. Familiar and unique all at once, it posits the idea of a United States that grew from the descendants of the Vikings who landed in North America centuries before the Europeans and where the Old Ways never quite died, and yet is fully modern with everything from televisions, the internet and fast food.

The author has recently re-released the books and with a newbie friendly $5 price tag, if you YA fantasy or are a fan of Norse Mythology, you owe yourself to check this series out. I know I’ve already bought the next book.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

Did Not Finish – Rift (Nightshade Prequel #1)

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Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Ember Morrow is promised to a group called Conatus after one of their healers saves her mother’s life. Once she arrives, Ember finds joy in wielding swords, learning magic, and fighting the encroaching darkness loose in the world. She also finds herself falling in love with her mentor, the dashing, brooding, and powerful Barrow Hess. When the knights realize Eira, one of their leaders, is dabbling in dark magic, Ember and Barrow must choose whether to follow Eira into the nether realm or to pledge their lives to destroying her and her kind.

With action, adventure, magic, and tantalizing sensuality, this book is as fast-paced and breathtaking as the Nightshade novels.

This book is everything that I hate about Young Adult fantasy. I read 150 pages of the 430 before I gave up. Let’s list this bitch.

  1. Noblewoman Ember Morrow just hates to be a noblewoman and wants to be a warrior. Because.
  2. A healer from the Conatus just happens to appear at her father’s manor when the labor goes wrong. It is a miracle she arrives, and later suggested that her birth is a portent for the future of the order. AKA she’s a Chosen One.
  3. When she gets to the order, she undergoes the following rite: examine three rooms. Go through the door of the room that looks neat and undergo a trial there. There is medieval Europe (not even secondary world medieval Europe) the amount of craftsmanship and labor that would be required to make this happen is absolutely absurd.
  4. She is the only one of the six to pick War as her avocation.
  5. During her trial she successfully uses a dagger to kill that which was set against her. She has never had any actual training other than a few moves shown to her and practicing on some straw. On the other hand, her friend Alastair, who was trained to fight since he was probably five or six, was not successful in his attempt. Obviously, she’s a natural.
  6. Warrior order has zero issues bringing a girl with no training and no real strength of stamina from living a life of relative leisure into their order, despite the fact that she is way too old to start such training when her life would basically be half over at the age of 16.
  7. Order uses magical incense to induce hallucinations to help the smithy divine the weapon to produce for the knight.
  8. “The horse picks the rider.” And in this case, a stallion picks her. Despite never having had any experience horseback riding, within an hour she can successfully control said stallion at both a cantor and a gallop. Anyone who has ever ridden a horse will laugh at you and tell you no.
  9. Ember gets upset when she’s told to stay out of a fight because she hasn’t had any training – hey, she fought (aka got lucky) that one time in the trial, okay?? – defies her master and throws her dagger into the side of the beastie giving her mentor the time he needs to finish it off. Has the author ever SEEN a throwing knife? The balance of a dagger is completely off. Is it theoretically possible to use a dagger like a throwing knife? Sure. In theory. Would a girl with zero experience have gotten anywhere near close to doing what she did? Hahah. No.
  10. Crushing on your mentor.

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Look. Some of these tropes can be done well, but this is like a guide on how not to do any of them. Learning how to fight takes years of practice and no amount of “being a natural” can change that. Heck, look at Buffy. Once Giles finds her, he starts training her formally because he knows that being the Chosen One is only going to get her so far. The stuff with the horse and the knife is just absolutely insulting to anyone who knows anything about either one of the topics. I get that this is meant to be escapist fun, and I’m sure for some it is, but to me? It’s just stupid. This is the kind of stuff where you need to have some grounding in reality to make work and this has none of that. The book seems to have some fans, but for me, it’s just a no go.

 

The Martian – Andy Weir

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Summary:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills — and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength – he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive – but Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.

Grounded in real, present-day science from the first page to the last, yet propelled by a brilliantly ingenious plot that surprises the reader again and again, The Martian is a truly remarkable thriller: an impossible-to-put-down suspense novel that manages to read like a real-life survival tale.

Review:

Did I really need to put that summary here? Aren’t I the last person to have actually read this book? Maybe! I wanted to give myself some distance between the book and the movie to give both versions of the same material a fair shake. Comparison is inevitable, but comparing too soon and you can irrevocably change your opinion of one version, even if it isn’t necessarily fair to do so.

Either way.

The Martian is the tale of Mark Watney, an astronaut mistakenly left beind on Mars after a freak sandstorm causes a freak accident that makes his commander think him deceased.  It is the ultimate man-versus-natural survival tale where instead of laying down to die, our hero goes full American, says “fuck you, Mars” and proceeds to keep finding ways to survive despite the horrendous odds.

This is a book that is very much worth the hype and if you’ve been living in the stone age with me, I’ll tell you to go and pick it up now. How can you not respect a hero who saves himself not through violence, but through keeping his head on straight and not willing to let the enormity of his situation or the solitude crush him? It’s nothing short of miraculous and remarkable and shows a dedication and a steadfastness that I think the rest of us could hope to obtain.

So really, I feel like the issue here isn’t so much is The Martian a good book (because it definitely is) but did the movie do it justice?

And to that I say: yes. Yes it did. I’d almost even say I think the film is slightly better than the book.

*ducks things thrown at monitors*

I know, I know. I’m sure had I read the book first I wouldn’t be saying that, but hear me out:

Do the situations that get cut out result you in respecting Watney any less?

No.

Is the tension any less for them having been cut out?

No.

If anything, I think the cutting of those few scenes just helped tighten up the pacing which is good, because I did feel like there were a few parts where it dragged. Also, having that human doing the monologues really helps invest you in the story because you get that added inflection that comes from an emotional being reading it. Otherwise, it can be a bit hard to get through. Now that isn’t to say the movie is perfect. The genderswapping of Mindy’s character is completely unnecessary as was the whitewashing of many cast members. Of course, the I could have also done completely without the sappy and anticlimatic ending of Watney on Earth, but still. On the whole, the film did what a good adaptation does: take the best parts of the book and put it on the screen without changing the tone or heart of the book, and that’s what this movie does.

So do I recommend the book? Yes. Do I recommend seeing the film? Absolutely.

Both the book and the film are worth the hype.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now.