Unless otherwise noted I ordered all of these books through my local indiebound bookstore or occasionally picked them up at B&N on a shameful shopping splurge.
MY LIST IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER IS LIKE SO:
- Salt & Silver, a modern paranormal romance by Anna Katharine
Disclaimer: I totally crashed on the author's couch last week and it was awesome, but I read this before I even knew she had a couch, so!
Recently I talked about how my genre education is sketch at best. This is especially true of romance, and maybe truest of all for paranormal romance. Salt & Silver by Anna Katherine (the pen name of adroit authors Anna Genoese and Katherine Macdonald) is the first adult paranormal romance I've ever read, and holy crap, I have a feeling my first was the major genre-bending exception.
(Kinda like when I decided I'd read Agatha Christie for the first time so I randomly picked one up. "Oh, hey," I thought, "Curtain! I wonder why it's called that!" *headdesk*)
Because I'm just guessing that most paranormal romances aren't so dark, and by "so dark" I mean "holy shit this is a dark book." I'm just guessing most paranormals aren't quite so bloody and deadly, don't have such a striking mix of romance and sheer horror. I'm also going to guess most paranormals don't pack nearly as much social commentary into their routine mix of demons and worldsaving, and it's this above all that makes Anna Katherine's tale about a girl who defends her diner basement and the world from the forces of evil such a striking and really impressive debut.
I WOULD LIKE TO QUOTE:
- "This is the worst thingi to ever happen in your whole life," he told me, and I didn't believe him. I still don't, because -- this sounds terrible. This sounds terrible, but as hideous as the Door is, and as horrible as everything that's happened has been, I just can't regret meeting Ryan. I can't regret leaning abuot everything he's taught me.
All the things that being poor are supposed to do, like teach you to be strong and self-reliant and resourceful? I learned all that by fighting demons with Ryan.
From where I'm sitting in the back seat of a cab, Ryan pressed up against me, Brooklyn looks as beautiful and peaceful as it did the first time I drove through it, that first day of work at Sally's. It is beautiful and peaceful. It's full of culture and cool shit completely ignored by tourists, like the botanical garden and the tiny Italian restaurants in Bay Ridge and all the old Greek diners and the Verrazano Bridge. But it's also got a couple of Doors to Hell hanging around, and they ruin everything.
I love this quote because it tells you about the heart of this book: New York with its seedy lovely underbelly, and the ways we become who we are through the punches life throws at us, not the comfort retreats.
The heroine of Salt & Silver, Ally, comes across at first as part Buffy, part Woody Allen; but her defensive New York Slayer voice almost immediately, systematically, starts getting stripped away to reveal a character whose frail determination to be her own person is deeply endearing. And just completely atypical for romance. Her hunk demon-hunter love interest, Ryan (who i promptly cast as Taye Diggs in my head, and I am delighted that the text never told me I couldn't) is more typical standard romance fare: tall, hunky, gorgeous, with a troubled past and a terse yet sensitive side. He's easy to like and the chemistry between him and Ally is real.
Even more atypical for romance is the fact that Salt & Silver is hellbent on giving you dark social satire with your demonslaying. In addition to populating the book with a host of complex, dark, memorable characters of all sociocultural backgrounds (and a side-character bromance that is totally gay, that's my story & i'm sticking), the authors have gone one further and taken us on a taut, well-paced journey straight from our privilege zones directly into Hell; and, you guys, Hell is New York City, with all its excess and oblivion and disconnection from reality on display in horrific, compelling beauty.
Salt & Silver: I loved it. I cried. I totally shipped the main het pairing, I totally wanted slash. It was awesome, and I can't wait to see what Anna Katherine does next.
You can read the 1st chapter of Salt & Silver online here, and you can buy it at your local indiebound.
- Fade by Lisa McMann - YA urban fantasy, 2nd in the Dreamcatcher Trilogy
DUDE THIS WAS SO DISAPPOINTING. The charm of Lisa McMann's terse and flowing 1st-person present tense POV just wasn't there in this sequel. I had no love whatsoever for the kind-of horrifying plot which involved the main character going undercover to catch a ring of paedophilic school teachers, i mean. what. could they not get the FBI to go onto the internet. Or get a short recruit to pose as a school girl, I mean. Why would you send an unexperienced teenage girl into such a dangerous situation without extensive training, it just felt so random and bizarre and skeevy kldjfkasfj. I mean, yes she can see into people's dreams; how would this help her catch a serial rapist?! The pace was good and the story flew along, but I felt like I was really so thrown off by the premise that I couldn't move along with it; the ending felt contrived. I do think the love story between Janie and Cabel was well done, but it couldn't really save this middle book for me, and I don't think I'll be returning for book 3. Sadness!
- The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, epic literary fantasy
Everyone loves this book and I am having a hard time coming up with a way to do it justice. It is rare that I read epic fantasy, and it is even rare that I love it.
I feel like Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is standing about 5 decades of fantasy tropes firmly on their head. I say that mostly based on the suspicion that there have been many, many otherworld politicalscapes and maneuverings and many cultural shifts played out before our eyes in fantasy; but I'm betting that there has never been a main character who navigated her own life quite like Yeine does, with full agency and control despite her completely overwhelming circumstances. And I'm betting there's never been a mix quite like this one of religion, myth, and power that you could visibly see reaching out and impacting the action in front of you.
There are the twists I couldn't see coming from miles or even paragraphs away; and then there are the characterizations that have stayed with me ever since I read, nearly 6 weeks later--especially Yeine, daughter of an exiled heiress who is summoned back to the city of Sky to fight for her right to rule; Sieh, the child-god who struggles to stay childlike at all costs; and Nahadoth, the night god, who has the power to seduce and destroy in the same moment.
But mostly I think I loved the legend, the folklore and the way that gods and the tales men tell of them are still very much alive and well and transforming every moment. Hundred Thousand Kingdoms never forgets that, and even more than a month after reading, I can't forget it either. I'm still transfixed, and can't wait until the sequel is published in November.
You can read the first chapter of Hundred Thousand Kingdoms online here, and you can buy it from your local indiebound. :)
- The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong, YA urban fantasy, concluding the Darkest Powers trilogy
SIGH SIGH SIGH. Okay I loooooooooooooooooooooooooved this trilogy, I was so excited about reading this final installation, and CHLOE/DEREK OTP OMG.
And! what? what? WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU, KELLEY ARMSTRONG? WHERE DID MY GRIPPING EXCITING SUSPENSEFUL PLOT GO?
Here is what happened in this book:
Derek: WE CAN'T TRUST ANYONE.
Chloe: Oh yes we can, we can trust these people who've helped us narrowly escape from the last people we trusted who tried to kill us! Also I should talk to more dead guys, they might have information!
Dead people: *try to kill them*
People They Trusted: *try to kill them*
The Group: *flees for their lives*
Chloe: oh, hey, new people to help us! We can trust them!
*REPEAT AD NAUSEUM LIKE A GAZILLION TIMES*
Seriously I felt like I was just going in giant circles, like, WHERE WAS THE PLOT? Running around fleeing from the same conflict you were fleeing in book 2 while doing nothing to further the development of the story or resolve it is not plot! I was so surprised because KA had such great pacing and control over plot in the first 2 books, but this ENTIRE BOOK consisted of our band of heroes running around fleeing for their lives until they literally ended up in exactly the same place they started, fleeing from EXACTLY THE SAME PEOPLE in EXACTLY THE SAME CONTEXT as the end of book 2.
Just. what. what! OH KELLEY ARMSTRONG NO. i mean, I didn't literally toss the book across the room, and I totally read to the end for my chloe/derek resolution, but despite the fact that my OTP totally OTP'd themselves (no surprise there), i mean. just. this was not the resolution I was expecting. Plus the author totally left a couple of key things unresolved in the anticipation of spinning off many more books in this universe; which is totally her prerogative, but which did not help me feel any more satisfied by the end of this trilogy. IN SHORT, D:
- Zuko's Story: the Prequel to Avatar, the Last Airbender, by Alison Wilgus, Dave Roman, & Nina Matsumoto, manga-style graphic novel & epic fantasy franchise tie-in.
Disclaimer: I once crashed at Ali's place for a week and her room had walls in this amazing burnt-orange color and it was pretty rad, and also her bookshelves were amazing.
I am a casual Avatar fan--I've only read a handful of fics, I adored the series (but still have not seen the last 3 episodes, I was moving when they came out & missed them, then decided to wait for an epic rewatch that hasn't happened yet!). But I love Ali's writing, and obviously Nina Matsumoto (aka SpaceCoyote, whose DA gallery is so popular that you have probably been linked to it at some point in your life) is amazing, so obviously I had to read this.
Because this is a tie-in, it had to stay pretty general and accessible, and I totally think it did these things extremely well. The artwork was beautiful, the story was deliciously fanon, and, like. okay. Zuko is totally Draco In Leather Pants, he is the uber-ultimate example of the Emo Redeemed Anti-Hero Everyone Swoons Over, and I love so much that this story was written by a trio of hardcore fans who knew exactly what tropes they were playing with. Things i loved included the reveal of Azula and her sly brother-baiting ways, Iroh totally losing his cool with Zuko (because COME ON, how often did we want to see that happen, haha), and lots of subtle throwbacks to later season moments that I didn't even think I'd remember. And ANG :DDDDD at one point I turn the page and GASPED WITH DELIGHT.
This was totally a manga (comic...graphic novel....thing) and the whole structure was extremely well-done. The pacing was great and the whole story just made me smile and smile and smile. Also I want to note that Zuko's pre-series characterization was spot-on and exactly, exactly what I'd expect it to be. I expect the writers had a challenge trying to keep him sympathetic and open to the reader, but it worked, it worked SO WELL. <3
tl;dr YAY AVATAR, YAY ZUKO, YAY FOR ACTUAL AVATAR FANS WRITING SERIES TIE-INS, LET THIS BE THE WAY OF THE WORLD FOREVERMORE, WHATEVER YOU DO DON'T GO SEE THE MOVIE, AMEN.
You can read a 5-page preview of Zuko's Story online here, and you can buy it from your local indiebound.
- Think of a Number by John Verdon, mystery/suspense
Disclaimer: swag bag gift from BEA!
This book had rave reviews and blurbs all over it, and the hook was extremely enticing: a guy gets a mysterious letter instructing him to "think of a number." And sure enough, the anonymous letter-writer knows what's in his head.
Think of a Number falls victim to a trend I see happening often, and usually in these kinds of detective suspense thrillers, where the narrative voice is so dryly detached that it robs the entire story of emotion. Think of a Number is aiming to pass itself off as suspenseful literary fiction, but it has neither the quiet emotional resonance of a Kate Atkinson nor the completely invigorating pacing of a Stieg Larsson, so it only manages to seem vaguely bored of itself as it works its way through its paces. I know it's trying to sell me a story about a tired ex-detective whose estrangement with his wife gradually fades as they both become involved in a series of increasingly strange stalking-cum-murders; but there's just no passion here. The big twist was easily seen and predictable, and there was so much telling-not-showing, at every step of the way, that I nearly gave up reading at several points in frustration. Example: an early scene in which the detective receives an overly long, dry, logical letter, which he then analyzes in his overly dry, logical way for 3 or 4 pages, only to eventually arrive at a conclusion which anyone with a brain could have put together simply by intuitive reasoning at first glance. Alas, it served rather as a microcosm of the whole experience of reading this book.
- Mistwood by Leah Cypess, YA fantasy
Okay, so Kirkus gave this book a review that was basically like READ THIS OR YOU WILL DIE so i went 'woah okay' and broke my self-imposed rule about only buying books if i already know i like the author's reading/ or it comes highly recced by someone whose writing & taste i trust. SORRY KIRKUS, YOU NO LONGER FALL INTO THAT LATTER CATEGORY.
just. okay, this book, ARGH. Basically it functions around the premise that the narrative character has lost their memories, which always tends to irritate me if it's not done well, because WHOLE CHUNKS of the plot can basically be held back from the reader until the author feels like it's time for the POV char. to magically get all their memories back, in the correct order which the author needs them to return in order to make their plot make sense. So, yeah, tricky stuff to pull off at the best of times, much less when the author is also balancing double-triple-quadruple crossing that occurs every step of the way in the book.
Mistwood is basically about a magical creature called the Shifter who gets dragged out of the Wood and into a string of turbulent political events. The problem? Neither her memories or the Shifter power that binds her to the throne are returning. Strong premise, except that Mistwood reads like an emotional blank page. Things happen to the protagonist one after the other without any initial connection--moreover, her loyalties shift more than she does, without, again, any apparent motivation or logic. She's like, "okay, this happened, that means i must be loyal." Then something else happens and she's all, "no, that means I must betray." Then something else happens and she's loyal again. And this is all pretty well plotted and the writing is lovely, but there is no real explanation for what any of this means to her, or why we're supposed to care.
The entire emotional thrust of the book hinges around her connection with each of the people she is supposed to protect; but we're never really shown why we should root for her loyalty to stay with one character over another. Mistwood has a good reason to keep its main character detached--she's not human. But the narrative just doesn't succeed in showing us what there is to love about any of these people. That drives me crazy.
I was also completely confused about why every contender for the throne of the kingdom seemed to put literally all of their hopes of success on the shoulders of a creature they had never even seen before. Like, do they not have a bevy of advisors? Valets? Friends? The emphasis on the Shifter and her powers without *anyone* occupying an advisory role (much less a bodyguard) was just frankly bizarre. I also hated the depiction of women. Like, there were only 3 women in the entire story: the Shifter was presented as largely inhuman, and the other 2 spent the entire time showing divided loyalties, playing multiple sides, using sex to manipulate the men around them, and incurring the wrath and suspicion of the Shifter for doing things like wearing beautiful clothes and putting on face paint. Everything either of them did was done with the goal of either manipulating or seducing a man to obtain power; but then the Shifter's entire purpose was to protect the men in her life, so after a while her judgment of them got really, old really fast.
And in the end, I still had no idea why I was supposed to understand and believe in her choice. I didn't root for anyone in this book. I didn't feel a thing.
Other books I've read lately: the first 2 books in the Song of the Lioness quartet, Cover Her Face by P.D. James, Ice by Sarah Beth Durst (I think i will just never buy any modernization of a fairy tale where a polar bear stalks a girl from birth and climbs into BED with her, just. NO WHAT NO; also i seriously want a story where the guy/bear/wolf/mancub/whatever who's been stalking his destined whatever from birth finally gets to talk to her and then realizes that THEY HAVE NOTHING IN COMMON AND HE DOESN'T EVEN REALLY LIKE HER THAT MUCH, god), White Cat by Holly Black (A++!).
Also, the other day I was in Barnes & Noble and it just hit me out of the blue that they shelve "Romance" in the VERY BACK OF THE STORE across from the cookbooks & self-help, miles away from all the other fiction sections, like some kind of shameful stepcousin: you have to let it sleep in your house, but you really only have space in the attic, that's okay, right?
And along with this lightning bolt came the instant reaction: SCREW THIS. I WILL READ ROMANCE. So I did. Which means shortly to come I will have ROMANCE REVIEWS, yay. including Wicked all Day by Liz Carlyle, A Lady's Guide to Improper Behavior by Suzanne Enoch, Monkey Business by Sarah Mlynowski, and Proof by Seduction by Courtney Milan. Hurrah!
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