Categories
Historical Fiction Young Adult

The Silent Unseen by Amanda McCrina

Thank you to Bookish First and the publisher for my free copy of The Silent Unseen in exchange for an honest review! I don’t remember entering this raffle. I also don’t regret the read, even if it ultimately fell flat for me

I am a terribly myopic history reader, so a book about WW2 era Ukraine + Poland + Russia was hard to put into context.  Apparently the Germans were mining the area for slave labor and worse, and once they left, the Russians were coming in to mop up the forces still fighting (Polish transplants vs native Ukrainians)?

This is the setting, with Maria and Kostya on two very different sides of what seem like the same page, yet having to work together. Both had villages ruined by war, dead family, and were fighting for whatever they had left.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  •  Title: The Silent Unseen
  • Author: Amanda McCrina
  • Publisher & Release: Farrar Strauss & Giroux (BYR) April, 2022
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟 yes for YA readers

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Poland, July 1944. Sixteen-year-old Maria is making her way home after years of forced labor in Nazi Germany, only to find her village destroyed and her parents killed in a war between the Polish Resistance and Ukrainian nationalists. To Maria’s shock, the local Resistance unit is commanded by her older brother, Tomek—who she thought was dead. He is now a “Silent Unseen,” a special-operations agent with an audacious plan to resist a new and even more dangerous enemy sweeping in from the East.

When Tomek disappears, Maria is determined to find him, but the only person who might be able to help is a young Ukrainian prisoner and the last person Maria trusts—even as she feels a growing connection to him that she can’t resist.

Tightly woven, relentlessly intense, The Silent Unseen depicts an explosive entanglement of loyalty, lies, and love during wartime

I feel like this book is SUPER YA and missed it’s emotional impact due to the rushed and somewhat silly romance and ending. While I learned of some of the horrors (forced labor and murders and kidnappings and such) that happened, I had trouble with the broader historical context.

First let me say a few good things.  It was a quick read and the action (if not confusing at times) was constant.  I couldn’t keep the three resistance/military groups apart in my head very well without understanding their conflict and governmental reach.  It was an exciting plot though and I would like to know more about this area during the end of WW2.

Also I liked the characters.  Maria was brave and a little silly at times (like a teen) but I liked that she and Kostya showed both their strong and scared kid sides.  That made them feel like real people.

I wasn’t buying the romance though, not one bit, not at all. Even becoming friends would have been challenging for the two main characters, and meaningful, but they hadn’t even trusted each other before they started having feelings and it went from enemy to romance nearly instantaneously.

I also think the book wrapped up super quickly like it just glossed over the plot points towards the end, not explaining a lot.of things, and then ended. Maybe there’s meant to be a sequel but this ending was just silly to me and felt like it shrugged off the gravity of the rest of the novel.  That said though, the author probably did not want to leave YA readers feeling depressed afterwards so she gave all of the characters something to be hopeful about.

I didn’t dislike it but didn’t love it either. Would recommend for YA / WW2 readers who like YA romance elements.  The content (minus some violent acts and descriptions of violent acts) is appropriate for the age group and I think she left a lot of room for a sequel in Kostya’s storyline.

Categories
Fiction Suspense Thrillers

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson (Book Thoughts)

I won a copy of Mother May I  in a Bookstagram giveaway when it was first published and finally got around to reading it! Coincidentally the paperback just released and there is a book tour going on so definitely check that out if you’re interested!

This is a terrifying domestic suspense novel in which a baby is abducted, and then a battle of which female character is the craziest ensues.  That’s my one sentence summary anyway 😂

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Mother May I
  • Author: Joshilyn Jackson
  • Publisher & Release: William Morris, April 2021
  • Length: 336 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for fans of that domestic suspense / thriller genre!

Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon:

The New York Times bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Never Have I Ever returns with an even more addictive novel of domestic suspense in which a mother must decide how far she is willing to go to protect her child and the life she loves—an unforgettable tale of power, privilege, lies, revenge, and the choices we make, ones that transform our lives in unforeseen ways.

Revenge doesn’t wait for permission.

Growing up poor in rural Georgia, Bree Cabbat was warned that the world was a dark and scary place. Bree rejected that fearful outlook, and life has proved her right. Having married into a family with wealth, power, and connections, Bree now has all a woman could ever dream of.

Until the day she awakens and sees someone peering into her bedroom window—an old gray-haired woman dressed all in black who vanishes as quickly as she appears. It must be a play of the early morning light or the remnant of a waking dream, Bree tells herself, shaking off the bad feeling that overcomes her.

Later that day though, she spies the old woman again, in the parking lot of her daugh­ters’ private school . . . just minutes before Bree’s infant son, asleep in his car seat only a few feet away, vanishes. It happened so quickly—Bree looked away only for a second. There is a note left in his place, warning her that she is being watched; if she wants her baby back, she must not call the police or deviate in any way from the instructions that will follow.

The mysterious woman makes contact, and Bree learns she, too, is a mother. Why would another mother do this? What does she want? And why has she targeted Bree? Of course Bree will pay anything, do anything. It’s her child.

To get her baby back, Bree must complete one small—but critical—task. It seems harmless enough, but her action comes with a devastating price.

Bree will do whatever it takes to protect her family—but what if the cost tears their world apart?

The trophy wife of a rich lawyer, Bree decides to follow the kidnapper’s demands instead of going to the police. When she discovers that the kidnapper is also a mother, things get both weird and more interesting as we learn why the old woman would want to harm a innocent child.  Who is she really targeting?

Through stories and flashbacks we learn about Bree, her husband, their history and family.  There are a few sultry parts with mild adult content.

Seeing as the backstory related to the plot and didn’t slow things down too much, I didn’t hate it.

The book also raises an interesting debate about sexual assault and power in the context of race and class, and the influence of money and privilege in general. A poor girl with no resources might be derailed, while the rich male students involved aren’t so much as chastised. So, does one event (in which the girl initiated it and brought the drugs) make the men criminals? Do they deserve to be persecuted in the future?  I have mixed thoughts on these situations, like wtf is the girl thinking vs wtf are any of them thinking. Jackson definitely succeeded in provoking thought around these different characters from different backgrounds and I found it quite interesting

I also think Jackson provided a rare accurate description of a resuscitation effort and the violence of the encounter, right down to pretty much how the person’s body looks. This is something that most authors gloss over but I loved how it added a measure of finality to the sequence of events.

Character wise … I definitely liked pretty much all of the side characters (Marshal, Gabriela,0 the kids, Marshal again), more than Bree and Trey.  There were a lot of complicated feelings going around in the book and to emphasize how I feel about Trey, I was pretty satisfied by the ending of the book.

I guessed parts of the outcome but not all!

Definitely one to check out if you like thrillers, suspense, morality, family drama, moms in momma bear mode

Categories
Adventure Science Fiction

Exit Strategy by Martha Wells (Book Thoughts)

I was bummed out by Rogue Protocol, but Exit Strategy was my favorite of the novellas so far!

Murderbot is finally going to confront both enemies and friends, taking on GrayCris to rescue Dr. Mensah and hopefully bring those fuckers down!  MB has interpreted messages that imply Mensah is being held for ransom while the PreservationAux team stalls until she can be retrieved or rescued

Enter one planetary sized standoff between GrayCris, the Corporation (MB’s original owners), and one more private company hired to bring down Murderbot

It would have been hilarious if I wasn’t about to die. Ok, it was still a little hilarious

It’s gonna need a heck of an exit strategy 😉

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Exit Strategy
  • Series: The Murderbot Diaries – #4
  • Author: Martha Wells
  • Publisher & Release: Tordotcom, October 2018
  • Length: 163 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ since I could read on Libby.  I 100% think the publisher should be ashamed for splitting one book up into 4 novellas and charging so much!

Here’s the synopsis via Am*zon:

Murderbot wasn’t programmed to care. So, its decision to help the only human who ever showed it respect must be a system glitch, right?

Having traveled the width of the galaxy to unearth details of its own murderous transgressions, as well as those of the GrayCris Corporation, Murderbot is heading home to help Dr. Mensah—its former owner (protector? friend?)—submit evidence that could prevent GrayCris from destroying more colonists in its never-ending quest for profit.

But who’s going to believe a SecUnit gone rogue?

And what will become of it when it’s caught?

This final novella in the original series was fast paced and action packed from start to finish.  The security standoff on the corporate planet was crazy. I was as surprised as Murderbot to see a corporation gunship there!

With the evidence against Graycris out, they were desperate and somehow thought they could kidnap Mensah and end up not destroyed.

I think this one had the best action scenes too by far.

I was having an emotion, and I hate that.

What we really have to focus on is Murderbot itself!  It was definitely afraid/awkward to face Mensah and the team after leaving.  MB had to pull on all it’s human experiences so far to navigate that reunion show. It was nice to see all the original side characters again too!

You can hug me if you need to

Also I did enjoy the planet itself, Wells created a lot of cool imagery with businesses fighting for consumer attention and of course, all the hacking.  Alll the hacking.  The hacking is way too easy but fun to read anyway.

So the plan wasn’t a clusterfuck, it was just circling the clusterfuck target zone, getting ready to come in for a landing

I think the last thing to note is that as much ad MB tends to act like a human, this one reminds us of it’s background and we got a glimpse of how it communicated and behaved as a SecUnit construct.  I liked watching it interact with the company ship because it drove home how the Units interact and process information and we see how far it’s come since

You don’t know what I am

Categories
Adventure Science Fiction

Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells (Book Thoughts)

Continuing my read of The Murderbot Diaries, I finished Rogue Protocol!  Murderbot experiences an emotion (the horror..) and gets one step closer to helping Dr. Mensah and the PreservationAux team.  It encounters an annoying pet robot, truly pretends to be a human, and of course all things go to complete shit during a rescue mission.

My least favorite of the three so far but a solid installment

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Rogue Protocol
  • Series: The Murderbot Diaries, #3
  • Author: Martha Wells
  • Publisher & Release: Tordotcom, August 2018
  • Length: 150 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ everyone should at least try the series

Here’s the synopsis (from Am*zon):

Rogue Protocol is the third entry in Martha Wells’s Hugo, Nebula, Alex, and Locus Award-winning, New York Times and USA Today bestselling series, The Murderbot Diaries.

Starring a human-like android who keeps getting sucked back into adventure after adventure, though it just wants to be left alone, away from humanity and small talk.

Who knew being a heartless killing machine would present so many moral dilemmas?

Sci-fi’s favorite antisocial A.I. is back on a mission. The case against the too-big-to-fail GrayCris Corporation is floundering, and more importantly, authorities are beginning to ask more questions about where Dr. Mensah’s SecUnit is.

And Murderbot would rather those questions went away. For good.

Rogue Protocol is another quick, exciting installment in the series, but my least favorite of the three so far. I liked how Murderbot has to really, really fall in with humans and then have to compare that new freedom with it’s complex feelings of the life of Miki, the “pet robot”.

Everything was annoying right now and I had no idea why – MB

First s*xbots then Miki, I’m probably reading into it too much but I feel like Wells is making some PC statement about how various entities fit into societies and can end up being more than they appear.   I did like Miki though, she gives MB another type of human + bot partnership context and reminds us how even the simplest bots can be pretty bad ass.

Anyway, Murderbot is off to an abandoned terraforming site to gather incriminating evidence about GrayCris and it’s illegal alien biofarming exploits for.”strange synthetics”. I liked how MB had to improvise and really get those people out of a hard situation alive. We see how corrupted GrayCris is and also learn that Dr Mensah is captured, which sets up the next book.

I know in the telling it sounds like I was on top of this situation but really, I was still just thinking, Oh shit oh shit oh shit – MB7

I just didn’t care about the new set of human characters.  There were too many names thrown out with no relevance to the story, which got confusing quick.  The plot and rescue and banter were up to par, the snark was still there, just soo many people. The end confused me too – I think Abene would have helped but MB decided to just sneak away 😳

My biggest gripe, as with many readers, is this is clearly one book chopped into four parts. And yet they’re charging full book price even for the electronic version of each novella. I will just hold out until they come up on Libby, thanks

“I am at eighty-six percent functional capacity.” It held up its arm stump. “It’s only a flesh wound.” – Miki

I approve of the Monty Python nod!

Anyway, I definitely recommend that pretty much anybody that likes action fiction and snark should at least try the series!

Categories
Science Fiction

Stringers by Chris Panatier (ARC Review)

Thank you so much to Angry Robot for the free early read of Stringers by Chris Panatier! As always, all opinions are my own!

It took me a while to read this intergalactic sci-fi adventure – the tour has already kicked off! I am posting my review now and thrilled to share that Chris Panatier is kicking off the reboot of Sunday Brunch on 4/24 as a later part of the Stringers online tour!!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Stringers
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Chris Panatier
  • Publisher & Release: Angry Robot, 04/12/22
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡ yes for fans of weird sci-fi!

Here’s the synopsis:

A genius is abducted by an alien bounty-hunter for the location of a powerful inter-dimensional object. Trouble is, he can’t remember a thing.

Ben isn’t exactly a genius, but he has an immense breadth of knowledge. Whether it’s natural science (specifically the intricacies of bug sex), or vintage timepieces, he can spout facts and information with the best of experts. He just can’t explain why he knows any of it. Another thing he knows is the location of the Chime. What it is or why it’s important, he can’t say.

But this knowledge is about to get him in a whole heap of trouble, as a trash-talking, flesh construct bounty hunter is on his tail and looking to sell him to the highest bidder. And being able to describe the mating habits of Brazilian bark lice won’t be enough to get him out of it.

***synopsis taken from Am*zon***

(((Dear Angry Robot – why is 400 the perfect page number??)))

Stringers features two friends, just regular guys on Earth that get abducted by an exceedingly snarky space bounty hunter. Ben knows every factoid ever about bug sex, Patton is a stoner, and the bounty hunter lures them into a trap to sell Ben to an inter-dimensional alien race

So…wow. I mean just wow. The book is dense on the science and puzzle content which slowed the reading down.  Some of the really technical parts I was tempted to skim, but I stuck with it and felt rewarded.

There is also plenty of adventure, banter, brutality, and discovery to keep the plot moving. The bounty hunter, named Aptat, is a great example of a morally gray character that kinds of just ends up being self serving.

In not skimming, I learned that Stringers is actually a super smart book where the layers are revealed slowly and expanded on slowly as the characters learn their own mysteries.  There are two points of view, Ben and Naecia, as well as interludes that make sense later on

Character wise – Ben is pretty funny and Patton is the loyal friend.  If nothing else his friendship and loyalty make him a worthy character, always looking out for Ben whether or not he deserves it.  I enjoy books where everyday beings are forced into heroics, or discover their capability for bravery and heroics.  Naecia just wanted to help her family and probably got the shit end of the abduction spectrum, but none of the Stringers fared too well.

The only thing I didn’t love was a weird but blessedly brief episode of feeding and excrement tubes, it went wayyy beyond toilet humor into something a little gross.

One thing I did love? A jar of pickles that oddly enough became a character in itself for a bit.  Also – mixing serious themes with humor is always good, if not mentally draining.

With new alien races, technology worthy of a sci-fi classic, and enough bug sex facts to keep it relatively light – even if I don’t want to know what the author’s search history looks like 😂 – this is also a surprisingly deep story of a galaxy in extreme danger

And.you definitely want to read the footnotes
#imwithpatton

File Under: Science Fiction -Bloom of God – Patton you on the back – Eels Aplenty – Some Aliens Just Suck [[Angry Robot]]

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor (Book Thoughts)

My entire adventure into YA fantasy started because of Bookstagram. Strange the Dreamer was put on that reading list very early and I’m glad I finally had a chance to read it. A solid follow-up to the DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE series -which I apparently never blogged about – let’s take a look at what I loved (and didn’t love) about Laini Taylor’s magical book

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Strange the Dreamer
  • Series: Strange the Dreamer, #1
  • Author: Laini Taylor
  • Publisher & Release: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers – March 2017
  • Length: 544 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐for those who like lush fantasy worlds where the romance may or may not make sense

Here’s the synopsis from Amazon:

From National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor comes an epic fantasy about a mythic lost city and its dark past.

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around–and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared his dream chose poorly. Since he was just five years old, he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the form of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? And who is the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams?

In this sweeping and breathtaking novel .. the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage.

The answers await in Weep.

Alright I don’t want this to turn into a 5 page long essay so I will hit the mainstays –

The Worldbuilding: One thing I’ll say for Laini Taylor is that she is a master of lush world building.  The settings are so vividly described, the buildings and architecture, weather, terrain, food, mood of the citizens, everything you could want from the micro world building is present.

On a larger macro level, there is also lots of history and custom given.  Many stories and folklore and popular legends are given through Lazlo’s storytelling, which really adds another dimension to the world

One of the main mysteries – where the Gods came from and what they are doing -will likely be discussed in Muse of Nightmares. 

The Characters: speaking of the Muse of Nightmares – let’s do characters next. I really applaud Taylor for starting the book out the way she did –

How can you turn away from a book after learning that a blue girl falls out of the sky?  Sarai and the other godspawn had a complicated and interesting dynamic.  Their imprisonment and survival chipped the humanity away from some, while it seemed to flourish in others.  I liked Sarai and felt for Minya, they were all just surviving in the world of their parents. And wearing their underwear. 

Lazlo is one of my favorite YA MC’s ever, except he is around 20 or so.  While completely appropriate, I think this book falls into that NA age category.

I love this quote almost as much as I love Lazlo. He was an orphan who was swallowed by the Great library. He is funny and has a wonderfully vivid imagination, is deeply caring, and might be “just a librarian” but definitely has a sense of adventure.  He always sought out the good that he could do regardless of whether or not it would benefit him in turn.

A lot of the side characters had important rules as well. No one was there just to be a plot device. Master Hyrrokkin was one of my favorites, just because his old man banter was not what you would expect from an ancient librarian.  It was also funny when his Warrior friends were giving Lazlo mistranslations and having him say silly things 

The magic:  tying into the world building, Taylor also created a lush magic system. Each of the god’s children had an ability, some of which were kind of cool. All the abilities were useful for survival. Sarai’s involved moths and Nightmares, and if that doesn’t make you interested in the book I don’t know what will.

What I didn’t love: I enjoyed the book immensely up until the point where the action was ready to boil over, and Laini grinds it to a full halt. A *screeeech*ing halt.  Then takes something like 10 chapters to expand on a true insta love – OMG HE *SAW* ME – gag. I hate insta-love. It was a cute sequence but I don’t think jumping at the first (second)? boy she’s ever interacted with constitutes a romance that I care about.  It just seemed like an excuse for Laini to add more magic into an already magical world, where that page time could have been spent trying to help keep the peace, keeping the action going, or literally anything else.  Seeing each other and being fascinated doesn’t constitute a romance, even if Lazlo did have a wonderful mind to spend time in. One other thing is that I actually spotted ‘The Twist’ this time, as soon as it was said. No spoilers but it’s pretty rare that I actually get the hint so I thought it was worth mentioning

Random:  I also liked that there were some harder themes tackled, such as survival

That’s how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can – Sarai

And hard truths like justice

You think good people can’t hate? .. You think good people don’t kill? […} Good people do all the things bad people do, Lazlo. It’s just that when they do them, they call it justice – Sarai 

Don’t forget found family!

“You two idiots,” said Azareen, and Lazlo felt a curious twinge of pride to be called an idiot by her, with what might have been the tiniest edge of fondness

One final parting quote, even though half of the book is quotable-

“Dream up something wild and improbable. Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

“Beautiful and full of monsters?”

“All the best stories are.”

Overall – stupid “romance” in an otherwise  wonderful world.  The plot unravelled mysteries as it went and created (minus the block of “romance chapters”) a fantastic reading experience.  The banter had me laughing out loud, the writing is beautiful, and the magic felt real within the world. Check it out!

Categories
Adventure Science Fiction

All Systems Red (Book Thoughts) by Martha Wells

Ahhh I had to restart the novellas before reading Network Effect. I know they don’t really affect the full length book but it feels right and they are quick reads (or listens).

For those unaware, The Murderbot Diaries is a series of 5 novellas and one full length novel set prior to those events, about a security bot who hacks itself and would rather watch tv dramas then do its job.

It’s snarky, at times funny sci-fi that reads more like adventure fiction as the actual science is pretty limited.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: All Systems Red
  • Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1
  • Author: Martha Wells
  • Punlisher & Release: TorDotCom – May 2017
  • Length: 160 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ☀☀☀☀ sure for scifi/adventure fans!

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

A murderous android discovers itself in All Systems Red, a tense science fiction adventure by Martha Wells that interrogates the roots of consciousness through Artificial Intelligence.

“As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure.”

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid ― a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

I really love Murderbot.  There is absolutely Nil for world building which is where I perpetually dock a star, but the action, plot, mystery, snarky characters, and AI ethical struggles won me over pretty quickly.

As in most novellas, the plot and action move quickly.  We get what we need about The Company and the function of Security bots, while the rest is characters and banter and action.

I enjoyed the plot too, we get plenty of danger and an added mystery / who dunnit as well.  Murderbot might prefer not to interact with humans but it surprisingly is quite good at it’s job, when while epically half-assing it

It’s hard not to like Murderbot as a character too. It just rolls it’s eyes and snarks at the humans – but lord forbid someone tries to kill the humans because then it’s all NO YOU WONT HURT MY HUMANS!! Mensah and the others are interesting too, in the glimpse we get some complicated crew dynamics as they deal with their terrible situation ( and rogue SecUnit).

I love the moment when MB is like – These are my humans! I also appreciate Murderbot’s sentiments towards humans, AKA it’s favorite quote time – because honestly I relate to the not caring parts 😂

Yes, talk to Murderbot about its feelings. The idea was so painful I dropped to 97 percent efficiency

 

As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure

 

I don’t know why, because it’s one of those things I’m not contractually obligated to care about

 

I was the one who was supposed to keep everybody safe. I panic all the time, you just can’t see it, I told her. I added the text signifier for “joke.”

All in all – definitely check out Murderbot if you like snark and adventure and quick reads.  I will add that All Systems Red won a boatload of awards in 2018 – The Hugo, Nebula, Alex, AND Locus! For all that the Hugo and Nebula have given into the PC crowd, this book wasn’t terrible. Murderbot has no sexy parts (I picture an amorphous Ken doll) and identified as “It” – which makes blessed sense to me – but otherwise the book is not terribly PC and the awards are well deserved in my opinion!

Categories
Fantasy

The Killing Fog (Book Review) by Jeff Wheeler

I read The Grave Kingdom series back in 2020 as ARCs, and found that oddly enough the first review never made it into my blog!  Now that I am trying to organize back content I definitely had to rectify that situation.  I am back writing this based on my Instagram thoughts and notes from my reading journal!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Killing Fog
  • Series: The Grave Kingdom #1
  • Author: Jeff Wheeler
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North, March 2020
  • Length: 413 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of the Kingfountain series conjures an epic, adventurous world of ancient myth and magic as a young woman’s battle with infinite evil begins.

Survivor of a combat school, the orphaned Bingmei belongs to a band of mercenaries employed by a local ruler. Now the nobleman, and collector of rare artifacts, has entrusted Bingmei and the skilled team with a treacherous assignment: brave the wilderness’s dangers to retrieve the treasures of a lost palace buried in a glacier valley. But upsetting its tombs has a price.

Echion, emperor of the Grave Kingdom, ruler of darkness, Dragon of Night, has long been entombed. Now Bingmei has unwittingly awakened him and is answerable to a legendary prophecy. Destroying the dark lord before he reclaims the kingdoms of the living is her inherited mission. Killing Bingmei before she fulfills it is Echion’s.

Thrust unprepared into the role of savior, urged on by a renegade prince, and possessing a magic that is her destiny, Bingmei knows what she must do. But what must she risk to honor her ancestors? Bingmei’s fateful choice is one that neither her friends nor her enemies can foretell, as Echion’s dark war for control unfolds.

The Plot: This is an Asian based fantasy where a young girl is training to become a warrior after watching her family be slain by an invading band. The book starts on a sad note and introduces an interesting tale of magical weapons, ancient curcses, martial arts, political maneuvering, lost kingdoms, and devious dragons.

I believe this is Wheeler’s longest book and also the most slow burning of all of them.  There is a lot of magic and world building to introduce (and a LOT of characters and martial arts) although I found the last 25% to be quite rewarding.

The Worldbuilding: I think the world building is the strongest element.  Each Kingdom has a unique flair, with smells and foods and attitudes unique to the problems and geography of the region.  I enjoyed this and it becomes important in later books as these regions and their rulers are brought back later on.  I think the histories, lore, and general atmosphere of the book were quite cohesive and added a lot to the read.  There is language and symbols used too (with a glossary – thank you)! Looking up the words can slow the pace down a bit but I found it worthwhile and learned soon enough.  My only thing is that if anyone is listening on audio (I am not) this might become hard.

I do love Wheeler’s descriptions of settings and buildings and even climate too, everything about the environment is fused into the action and creates a very strong world build.

For more on the world and aesthetic:

Grave Kingdom

The Magic: I honestly don’t remember how much is given in The Killing Fog about the Grave Kingdom and the Death Wall, but it is as if a wall separates the world from the spiritual realm.  The magical weapons, curses, artifacts, and of course dragons! all add to the action

The Characters: I saved this until last because Wheeler’s biggest weakness as an author is introducing child characters.  Owen and Evie (Kingfountain) Ransom (Argentines)  Lia (Muirwood) – despite having tons of kids, Wheeler just does not do kids well.   They end up with incredible character arcs while the initial presentation simply never hits home – so – my advice is give Bingmei time if she doesn’t ring true at first.

That said – Bingmei is introduced as a young girl who is motivated by revenge after the murder of her grandfather and devastation of her family’s quonsoon.  She is presented as a bit of a blank slate, then grows and learns quickly as she has a bit of a destiny attached to her and is thrown into a role of sacrifice vs savior, with huge decisions that no one ever wants to make.  Her growth and character arc  is one of the high points of the series

The other members of the group (I don’t remember individuals) all had unique personalities, struggles, and abilities too.  I enjoyed the banter and how many fierce women there were, including the leader of the fighting school! There is a male counterpart who becomes Bingmei’s travelling companion (and friend – my favorite, a friend and supporter without a romantic interest)!

I can’t talk much about the romance because it comes with a different character in later books, but, there is one dashingly tragic rebel Prince who was total book boyfriend material.

Random things: another big check for the clean, more wholesome content I come to expect from Wheeler.  Issues – the fight scenes got a little repetitive by the end, I was joking singing “Wheeler goes kung-fu fighting”!  Bingmei also has an innate ability using smells that is cool, but doesn’t seem to fit with anyone else’s magic or abilities so it threw me off.  The length and pace dragged a bit although ultimately paid off, resulting in this being my least favorite Wheeler book to date. It wasn’t bad by any means but I do not recommend starting his books with this series!

For fans of found family, crews, discovery, atmosphere, tragedy, magic, new worlds, legends, strong women and more – definitely check out The Grave Kingdom trilogy!

Categories
Adventure audiobooks Suspense Thrillers

The Pursuit (Book Thoughts) by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

I decided to finish out the Lee Goldberg portion of the Fox and O’Hare series and was not disappointed.  Book 4 – The Scam – was my least favorite in the series and I almost didn’t read The Pursuit but now I’m glad I did.

The action was back.  The heist and con were dangerous, exciting, and interesting, and the bad guy was actually pretty dark in how he treated his employees (and was planning on killing tons of Americans).

A new character was introduced, if anyone remembers the robbery that the team accidentally botched in The Chase – the leader is brought back as a sewer expert.  Oh my gosh he had me cracking up with laughter because he took himself so seriously, but he did his job.  It was also nice to drop back in on Montreal, one of my favorite cities!

The regular team is back as well, Willie and Boyd and the crew.  We finally see some chemistry and action between Kate O’hare and Fox too, which *even I* was ready for at this point.  I’m glad Jake (her dad) approves too.  I’m also glad that he got to pass his love for rocket launchers onto Willie!

The characters carry these books for sure even when all else fails.  Jake always manages to bring in some amazing old military buddies and the entire team has great chemistry at this point. I always say there is banter for days but it’s true!.  There’s a new office assistant type character as well that I think was a Goldberg addition 😂

I think what finally set this one apart was the ultimate danger and complexity of the con – I do love medical things and the bio terror / terrorism angle was something new for the series. Also it seemed like a lot of bad guys got shot and killed – and the FBI was like GUYS YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN! 

Overall: if you think there’s a book 3-4 slump, I would keep reading for this one.  You can always check out the audio as well, Scott Brick can do no wrong and delivers a solid no frills narration with plenty of vocal variety!

Categories
audiobooks Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

When You Are Engulfed in Flames (audio thoughts) by David Sedaris

Continuing my simultaneous quests to read outside my lines and pick up random popular authors that I haven’t read yet, I turned to one of the many essay collections by David Sedaris.  This is his sixth, and while I heard that some of the earlier ones were more funny, I thought a “recent” collection might be more pertinent to today’s issues. Whether or not that is true, it was interesting to “throwback” to some of the things happening “back then” without today’s lens!

It is HARD to pick nonfiction these days when there is so much of it out there. I first heard the Sedaris name on Bojack Horseman, as his sister Amy voices a prominent character, and she seems like a hilarious person and decent actress.

Having gone to the Van Gogh exhibit recently and almost purchased a tote with the painting on the cover of When You Are Engulfed in Flames on it, i thought “hey this will be a good place to start”

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: When You Are Engulfed in Flames
  • Author: David Sedaris
  • Publisher & Release: Little, Brown & Company – June 2008
  • Length: 336 pages
  • The Audio: self narrated by David Sedaris, 9 hours from Hachette Audio

I think it is a little bit hard to rate humor because everybody has a different sense of humor.  While I have a feeling that Sedaris’ personality won’t go over well with the 2022 “woke” crowd, I personally find him funny and admire the way that he can make everyday embarrassment into something worth reading about.

If you are looking for a lighter read with funny observations about life and personal experiences, Sedaris seems like a regular go-to for many people and I would certainly read & listen to more of his writings.

I laughed the most when Sedaris was *convinced* that his husband wanted a human skeleton for Christmas, when his mother – in – law had a worm in her leg with a penis-shaped head, and, at the many mistakes that happen when the literal translation of languages leaves something to be desired.  This happens a lot between Japanese and English and we see the best of it as Sedaris tries to quit smoking by immersing himself in Japanese culture

There is also some heavier commentary on his early drug and alcohol use, getting out of the closet, and many things that he probably wasn’t laughing at at the time but now can reflect back on and find the story to tell.

The audio is great too, I think he is a great orator and kept it interesting. The live recording portions were of good quality too.  Why was Sedaris sitting mostly naked in a urology waiting room? Well – you’ll have to read to find out