This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone

36516585._sx318_Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

And thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more.

Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

*****

Review:

As a blogger, you occasionally come across a book where, upon completion, you think to yourself: I have no idea how to review this. This is How You Lose the Time War is one of those books. How do I review a book who’s plot I barely managed to follow, who’s prose both captivated and confused me, and who’s world-building confused the everloving fuck out of me? Well, I suppose I’ll start with the basics.

This is How You Lose the Time War is a love story. A romance between two agents on opposing sides of a war that spans the length of time. The classic to enemies-to-lovers trope, if you will. They meet in one lifespan, fight each other in many others, and occasionally pass love letters through the formation of DNA in a handful of berries, the arrangement of rings in a felled tree stump, and… wait what? Yeah, that’s about where I got lost.

But let’s set the plot and time-travel shenanigans aside. Those aren’t the reasons I gush about this book. No, the reason I gush is due to the sheer beauty of the letters (and eventually love letters) Red and Blue pass each other. I have never read love letters so beautifully and intricately crafted that I wanted to just pause after each one to let myself just sit and take in what I’d read. Because truly, the prose in those letters is simply gorgeous. And while each letter reads unique to the life Red and Blue are living at the time, they still manage to capture Red’s brashness and Blue’s subtleties.

Similarly, I also adored is the slow-burn surrender as these two characters find themselves further and further entangled with each other. Admittedly, both characters are spending most of their time trying to out-do each other’s plans for a particular timeline, with no actual direct contact. However, there’s this slow development as the two get to know each other better and when the first ‘I love you’ is written, it became the most beautiful thing I read.

Overall, I rate this book a 5/5. This is How You Lose the Time War is a beautifully crafted novel with gorgeous prose and fascinating characters. Definitely one of my favorite reads in 2019.


/r/Fantasy 2019-2020 Bingo Squares:

  • SFF Novella
  • Title with 4+ Words (Hard Mode)
  • Published in 2019

Publication Date: 16 July 2019
Publisher: Saga Press
Format: Paperback, ARC
Pages: 202
Word Count: ~37,000
ISBN: 1529405238

The Hanged Man by KD Edwards

38224713._sx318_The last member of a murdered House tries to protect his ward from forced marriage to a monster while uncovering clues to his own past.

The Tarot Sequence imagines a modern-day Atlantis off the coast of Massachusetts, governed by powerful Courts based on the traditional Tarot deck.

Rune Saint John, last child of the fallen Sun Throne, is backed into a fight of high court magic and political appetites in a desperate bid to protect his ward, Max, from a forced marital alliance with the Hanged Man.

Rune’s resistance will take him to the island’s dankest corners, including a red light district made of moored ghost ships; a surreal skyscraper farm; and the floor of the ruling Convocation, where a gathering of Arcana will change Rune’s life forever.

*****

Review: 

This review will not have spoilers for The Last Sun

With how much I raved about The Last Sun (you can check out my review here), this is probably this book I missed the most during my 6-month hiatus. I’m almost sad I missed the promotional cycle for The Hanged Man because I literally would have gotten on my knees and begged for an ARC. Nevertheless, I finally got my hands on a copy and damn, the sequel was well worth the hype.

The Hanged Man takes place several months after The Last Sun and really dives deep into the fucked-up actions of Arcana member the Hanged Man. Where The Last Sun gave glimpses, this book really throws the curtains wide open. Edwards is truly unafraid to explore the depths of abuse of power some of the Arcana can wield, and there were entire sequences where I could feel myself mentally numbing to the horrors Rune and company were encountering.

That being said, if I had could have any character with me as I read, it would have to be Rune. Rune, the absolutely pure cinnamon roll who Doesn’t Deserve This™, who encountered horrors far too early in life and yet has a level of mental fortitude I truly admire. Rune’s strength and his on-going banter with Brand and occasionally Addam give lightness to the book’s otherwise fairly dark tone and subject (namely, attempting to rescue a 17-year-old from being married to the Hanged Man, known for marrying and subsequently disappearing many many under-aged children).

I really fell in love with the cast in The Last Sun and this book just re-affirms my love for them. Addam and Rune’s relationship have progressed since book 1 and one of my favorite parts of this book is how stable and reliable they are for each other. There are these beautiful tender moments between the two of them, even in the midst of all this horror, and I really have to give kudos to the author for them. Rune’s found family in this book is just so perfectly written.

We also finally get to meet the full Arcana, a moment I’ve definitely been waiting for, as well as more about their powers and how the different courts function. There’s also more on the magic of the Arcana (as well as Rune’s ever-present lack of Sigils). My favorite of the Arcana remains Lord Tower (powerful, badass, slightly scary, definitely overprotective mentor!) but as we meet the other major players, I really want to learn about Hierophant and Justice.

Overall, I rate this book a 5/5. The Hanged Man takes the cast and world that Edwards built in his first book and elevates them to a new level, bring the cast closer and the dangers more apparent. The writing is fun and witty, and Rune, Brand, Addam, and the rest of the cast are as lovable as ever. Naturally, I can’t wait for book 3!

TW: implied sexual violence and rape (flashbacks), pedophilia,


/r/Fantasy 2019-2020 Bingo Squares:

  • SFF Published in 2019

Publication Date: 17 December 2019
Publisher: Pyr
Format: eBook
Pages: 383
Word Count: ~124,000
ISBN: 1633884929

Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

31140332._sy475_One of the most cunning and ruthless warriors in the history of the Galactic Empire, Grand Admiral Thrawn is also one of the most captivating characters in the Star Wars universe, from his introduction in bestselling author Timothy Zahn’s classic Heir to the Empire through his continuing adventures in Dark Force Rising, The Last Command, and beyond. But Thrawn’s origins and the story of his rise in the Imperial ranks have remained mysterious. Now, in Star Wars: Thrawn, Timothy Zahn chronicles the fateful events that launched the blue-skinned, red-eyed master of military strategy and lethal warfare into the highest realms of power—and infamy.

After Thrawn is rescued from exile by Imperial soldiers, his deadly ingenuity and keen tactical abilities swiftly capture the attention of Emperor Palpatine. And just as quickly, Thrawn proves to be as indispensable to the Empire as he is ambitious; as devoted as its most loyal servant, Darth Vader; and a brilliant warrior never to be underestimated. On missions to rout smugglers, snare spies, and defeat pirates, he triumphs time and again—even as his renegade methods infuriate superiors while inspiring ever greater admiration from the Empire. As one promotion follows another in his rapid ascension to greater power, he schools his trusted aide, Ensign Eli Vanto, in the arts of combat and leadership, and the secrets of claiming victory. But even though Thrawn dominates the battlefield, he has much to learn in the arena of politics, where ruthless administrator Arihnda Pryce holds the power to be a potent ally or a brutal enemy.

*****

Review:

A Quick Discloser: My first, and so far only, experience with the character Thrawn is through this new Thrawn trilogy. I have not read the Extended Universe Thrawn trilogy, nor have I watched the SW:Rebels TV show. As such, my opinion on this character and these books has been solely influenced by this series.

Holy hell, what a book. I’ve heard a lot of acclaim for the new Thrawn trilogy on the internet these past several years and it’s been loaded on my Kindle for a while now, but even with all the hype, I was blown away. This was the series that dragged me out of my 6-month reading slump and acted as a great distraction from an otherwise fairly disastrous family Christmas vacation. My EmpireDidNothingWrong side has been rekindled and Thrawn now tops my ‘Favorite Imperials’ list (sorry Director Krennick).

So just what made Thrawn so damn good? For me, it was largely because of how well  Thrawn and Eli Vanto work together. The subsequent sequels’ lack of this pair is also why I rate both 4 stars instead of 5. I was expecting myself to like Thrawn, marketed as a non-Force wielding, highly analytical Imperial Admiral. However, Eli Vanto endearing himself to me (and so quickly!) came completely by surprise. Eli works as the Watson to Thrawn’s Sherlock Holme’s, providing the reader into the tactical, almost uncanny, brilliance of Thrawn. However, Eli himself is a fully fleshed-out character: a yokel from the wild spaces, joining the Imperial forces for his family, and diverted from his intended path to essentially play PA to Thrawn under the guise that Thrawn needs a translator. It’s through Eli we feel the emotional connection to the pair, and I damn near cried during a certain event later in the book.

Of course, that’s not to say Eli overshadowed Thrawn or vice versa. Thrawn himself is a fantastically written character and I really appreciate in a universe where Evil™ characters like Vader, Palpatine, and Moff Tarkin share a stage, they can work with, and even respect a much more even-tempered and frankly reasonable character like Thrawn, who doesn’t slaughter peons upon first mistake.

Thrawn is fun to read for the same reason murder-mysteries and stories where the full plan isn’t revealed til the end are fun to read. We know Thrawn will have a plan, and we know he’ll end up out-smarting his opponents, no matter how dire the situation or how much Eli is internally panicking. Zahn does a great job bringing the pair through a series of seemingly unrelated events as they attempt to police the Wild Space, only the tie everything together in the end, with the seemingly smallest, unimportant details become the key to solving the situation.

The worldbuilding, of course, is Star Wars. However, Zahn writes in a way where even a non-Star Wars fan will very quickly be able to pick up on the terminology and objects. I think this book does a really good job fleshing out the edges of Imperial Territory, as well as highlighting the discrimination Eli faces as a Wild Spacer and Thrawn as an non-human serving in the Imperial army. Of course, with the introduction of Thrawn, the Chiss Ascendency, and this new, unknown threat looming in the Unknown Regions, there are a lot of possibilities of what roles these new groups will play in Disney’s Star Wars universe.

The one part of the book I didn’t really like were Arihnda Pryce’s chapters. At first, I found them annoying because we go from Thrawn and Eli trying to not get kicking out of the Imperial Academy to this random woman complaining because her family’s mine was getting taken away and I just didn’t care. After the first chapter, I just started skipping them entirely and I don’t think not reading them made any difference to my overall understanding of the plot. Bring Thrawn back! Around the middle, she got more interesting as the two plot threads merged, but in the end, I just wasn’t a huge fan of her character.

Overall, I rate this book a 5/5. I think Thrawn is a fantastic novel that’s great for Star Wars fans and non-Star Wars fans alike. Thrawn and Eli are incredibly well-written and lovable characters. I’m also excited for what the implications of the world-building in this book will mean for the rest of the Star Wars universe.


/r/Fantasy 2019-2020 Bingo Squares:

  • Media Tie-In Novel

Publication Date: 6 April 2017
Publisher: Random House
Format: eBook
Pages: 427
Word Count: ~130,000
ISBN: 1780894848

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by KS Villoso

“I murdered a man and made my husband leave the night before they crowned me.”46207682

Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart. Her upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s rival heralds peaceful days to come.

But his sudden departure before their reign begins fractures the kingdom beyond repair.

Years later, Talyien receives a message, urging her to attend a meeting across the sea. It’s meant to be an effort at reconciliation, but an assassination attempt leaves the queen stranded and desperate to survive in a dangerous land. With no idea who she can trust, she’s on her own as she struggles to fight her way home.

****

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a book I have seen passed around many a ‘Top XXX self-published books you should read’ list. Having gotten the chance to meet the author through various blogging circles, I was delighted to hear that Orbit picked this book up. I’m glad to say that my support for this book was not unfounded. The Wolf of Oren-Yaro finds its life in its main character Talyien, and while Talyien is brash and at times unlikeable character, her force-of-nature personality makes it hard to pull away.

Read More »

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, Translated by Ken Liu

20518872The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

****

Review:

The Three-Body Problem has been a book on my To-Read shelf for years. A highly acclaimed, Chinese Sci-Fi novel that caught the eye of even President Obama. That checks a lot of boxes for me. Having finally read the book, I come out with mixed opinions. On one hand, the worldbuilding and the science are both phenomenally written. On the other, the characters come off as flat and wooden, as if merely going through motions instead of actually interacting with the world.

Read More »

The Slow Descent of Falling Behind

I have a confession to make.

I’ve fallen behind on my book blogging, fallen behind in the book community in general. My Goodreads has been left all but abandoned. The last four posts on this blog were queued from May. I didn’t even know SDCC was occurring, let alone filled with so many publishers and authors, until I checked Twitter for the first time in ages, and I live in the damn city.

I’ve fallen behind and I didn’t even notice.

It starts with noticing the reading pace slowing down, until you find yourself barely getting through ten pages a day. It’s the gradual slip of book-related websites and communities like NetGalley and /r/Fantasy, sliding further and further down the recommended websites list in Chrome. It’s the creeping feeling of guilt that comes every time you open up Twitter, berating you for not staying caught up on the latest news in publishing, not picking up references to new drama and events, not recognizing new names and authors and debuts and what the upcoming catalog of every publisher in your sphere is. It’s the indifference, yet shame felt every time you check your blogging email and see the number of unopened emails, notifying you of author updates, new blog posts, publisher newsletters, grow and grow and grow.

It ends when even looking at the Twitter icon showers you in a wall of shame and guilt, when the simple act of picking up a book to read during a lunch break trips you up with guilt over Netgalley requests left unfinished. It ends with the knowledge that you’ve probably been blacklisted from every publisher and author you love and follow because of requests left untouched and ignored for months.

To me as a reader, it’s saddening. To me as a blogger, it’s crushing.

Because I like to read. Because I enjoy blogging. Because I enjoy this community and the people I’ve met and the conversations I’ve had. I enjoy getting to share my love for books I’ve been enthralled by, and encouraging others to read something they otherwise would not have.

But sometimes it becomes overwhelming.

I don’t plan to stop reading, or posting (hopefully), but I don’t think I’ll be able to maintain that book-a-day pace that I used to be able to manage. I won’t use this as a formal announcement for anything, but this simply has been something I needed to get off my chest.

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

31372178

San Francisco in 1940 is a haven for the unconventional. Tourists flock to the cities within the city: the Magic City of the World’s Fair on an island created of artifice and illusion; the forbidden city of Chinatown, a separate, alien world of exotic food and nightclubs that offer “authentic” experiences, straight from the pages of the pulps; and the twilight world of forbidden love, where outcasts from conventional society can meet.

Six women find their lives as tangled with each other’s as they are with the city they call home. They discover love and danger on the borders where mystery, science, and art intersect.

*****

Review:

Why yes, I did buy this book purely for its beautiful beautiful cover (I actually put down a copy of Foundryside to buy this one instead.) Passing Strange crossed my radar when I saw the cover on the nominee list for the Nebulas two years ago, which told me it was probably hella gay and very little else. Buying the book, I still didn’t know much other than that the main characters were probably lesbians and boy was I right.

Read More »

Anticipated July 2019 Releases

July coming in with yet another strong month of publications. I feel like I’m never going to make one of these posts where I’ll only have one or two books.


The Heart of Hell – Wayne Barlowe – 2 July 2019

41555933

I have a certain fondness for evil protagonists, demons especially, that I really don’t get to read enough of in traditionally published fiction. I’m not sure if this book is a sequel (it’s not marked so on Goodreads but the author has an earlier book that mentions one of the characters in this summary), but either way that’s an extra book added to my TBR!

Sargatanas has Ascended and the doomed, anguished souls have found themselves emancipated. Hell has changed…hasn’t it? The demons, wardens of the souls, are free of their inmates…

And the damned, liberated from their terrible torments, twisted and bent but thankful that they are no longer forced to be in proximity to their fearsome jailors, rejoice. But something is stirring under the surface of Hell’s ceaseless carnage…and into this terrible landscape come three entities:

Lilith, the former First Consort to Beelzebub and her Sisters of Sargatanas trying to find a way to save Hannibal…again;

Boudica, a brick no more, forever in search of her lost daughters;

Adramalik, the former Grand Master of the Priory of the Fly reduced to serving a new lord, Ai Apaec, and seeking his destiny as Prince of Hell. (more)

Read More »

The Art of Taxidermy by Sharon Kernot

38581969Publication Date: 13 August 2019
Publisher: Text Publishing
Format: eBookc, ARC
Pages: ~24,000
Word Count: ~21,000
ISBN: 1925603741

Summary:

Lottie collects dead creatures and lovingly cares for them, hoping to preserve them, to save them from disintegration. Her father understands—Lottie has a scientific mind, he thinks. Her aunt wants it to stop, and she goes to cruel lengths to make sure it does.

And her mother? Lottie’s mother died long ago. And Lottie is searching for a way to be close to her.

The Art of Taxidermy is a heartbreaking verse novel exploring love and death, grief and beauty, and the ways we try to make sense of it all.

****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

This is one of the few non-SFF novels that will appear on this blog, but like the main character, I have a fascination with death and so when a title like The Art of Taxidermy appeared on NetGalley, I knew I just had to read it. What I did not expect was that this novel is actually a collection of poetry that together make-up one complete story: a story about a girl who experiences death too early in her life and finds herself inexplicably drawn to dead animals at a young age, much to the chagrin of her aunt. The book itself is a quick read, but it packs quite an emotional punch that I was not expecting to hit on a flight at 2AM. The cast of characters around Charlotte, our young taxidermist-to-be, become quite well fleshed-out and very realistic. Primarily, this book deals with grief, and how different people handle it, and how they let it change their behavior. I won’t spoil anything, but this ending is happily ever after. Overall, I rate this book a 4/5.

The True Queen by Zen Cho

32671617Publication Date: 12 March 2019
Publisher: Ace Books
Format: eBook, ARC
Pages: 384
Word Count: ~104,000
ISBN: 0425283410

Summary: 

When sisters Muna and Sakti wake up on the peaceful beach of the island of Janda Baik, they can’t remember anything, except that they are bound as only sisters can be. They have been cursed by an unknown enchanter, and slowly Sakti starts to fade away. The only hope of saving her is to go to distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal has established an academy to train women in magic.

If Muna is to save her sister, she must learn to navigate high society, and trick the English magicians into believing she is a magical prodigy. As she’s drawn into their intrigues, she must uncover the secrets of her past, and journey into a world with more magic than she had ever dreamed.

 

***

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

DNF@25

This is a weird one for me, because I didn’t really dislike it. The main characters, Muna and her sister Sakti were quite compelling main characters and the overall worldbuilding, the combination of Malaysian and English cultures, was quite interesting. There’s a lot to like in this book. However, for some reason, I kept finding myself straying whenever I tried to read it, and after the fifth time trying to pick it up, I had to call it quits. I think a large part of it had to do with the writing style, namely the Regency-style prose. I adore Regency-era settings, but I’ve learned through high school English classes that I can’t stand that era’s writing style, and there was just a little too much of that in here. Perhaps in the future, I’ll try to give this another go.

2019-2020 Bingo Squares:

  • SFF featuring an ocean setting
  • SFF published in 2019
  • #OwnVoices