Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

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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.

Through this novella, we follow the lives of three queer women navigating their way through 1940s San Francisco. There’s Helen, a Chinese lawyer/club dancer, Haskel,  semi-famous painter known for her pulp fiction covers, and Emily, a newcomer who’s introduced to the two through mutual acquaintances.  Through certain circumstances, Haskel and Emily start seeing each other early on and much of this book is a slice of life following of their interactions.

Characters aside, what really makes this book unique is the setting. 1940s San Francisco has its aesthetic and charm (see: the cover), which is explored quite well as we follow the characters. However, it also has its downsides: the racism and Orientalism that was occurring nationwide, but especially San Francisco due to the number of Asian immigrants, as well as the abysmal treatment of queer women during the time. The book does not shy away from those topics and while some terms used may be triggering to readers today, I found it extremely powerful that Passing Strange, not only addressed those topics, but showed how women of the era thrived despite their oppressors.

Overall, I rate this book a 5/5. Not only do we get a fantastic depiction of the lives of three queer women in 1940s San Francisco, we also learn about the darker side of that era and how these women were able to thrive nonetheless.


/r/Fantasy 2019-2020 Bingo Squares:

  • Slice of Life Fantasy (hard mode)
  • SFF Novella
  • #OwnVoices

Publication Date: 24 January 2017
Publisher: Tor.com
Format: paperback
Pages: 131
Word Count: ~113,000
ISBN: 0765389517

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

We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett

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Publication Date: 2 April 2019
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 400
Word Count: ~100,000
ISBN: 0316417270

Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Revna is a factory worker, manufacturing war machines for the Union of the North. When she’s caught using illegal magic, she fears being branded a traitor and imprisoned. Meanwhile, on the front lines, Linné defied her father, a Union general, and disguised herself as a boy to join the army. They’re both offered a reprieve from punishment if they use their magic in a special women’s military flight unit and undertake terrifying, deadly missions under cover of darkness. Revna and Linné can hardly stand to be in the same cockpit, but if they can’t fly together, and if they can’t find a way to fly well, the enemy’s superior firepower will destroy them–if they don’t destroy each other first.

We Rule the Night is a powerful story about sacrifice, complicated friendships, and survival despite impossible odds.

****

Review:

Book three of my finals-what-finals reading binge, We Rule the Night was a solid YA novel about military sexism, overcoming disabilities, and female friendships. It features two of the most realistic female YA characters I’ve read in a while, as well as some fantasic character development when said two characters are forced to put their differences aside to prove their positions in the military. The book pulls clears inspiration from the Russian Night Witches, an extremely successful squadron of all female squadron of bomber pilots from WWII, which just made me love it all the more.

We Rule The Night centers about two girls, Revna Roshena and Linne Zolonov, whose lives could not be more different yet find themselves in an experimental group of female bomber pilots. Revna is a “second class” citizen who works long hours in a military factory manufacturing war machines for the Union. She’s a Good Union Girl who tries her hardest to support her family after her father’s treason stripped them of “Protector of the Union” status (aka normal citizenship) and despite her confinement to a wheelchair due to an accident that cost her both legs. Linne is a “not like other girls” and starts the book having been caught for disguising herself as a boy to enlist in the army to fight the Elda. She’s a practical realist who hates the facts that the other girls in this experimental regiment refuse to behave like soldiers (and dare I say a little edgy). Her father is also one of the commanding generals of the military.

When the two meet, saying they don’t hit it off well would be an understatement. Linne doesn’t think Revna belongs in their regiment because her disability will slow them down and hold them back. Revna dislikes everything Linne represents (privilege due to her family’s high status and the contrast between her image and everything the propaganda posters have taught her) and also because she’s kind of an ass to the other girls. There’s a strong difference in perspective for the two girls, and given their experiences, they’re both extremely justified. What I loved was that there’s never just one magical moment where the two suddenly realize the other is right. They bicker and they argue and they constantly try to prove the other wrong, yet they acknowledge that they work extremely well together.

What I also loved about this book was the scope. This isn’t a mission-to-save-the-world kind of book. In fact, the actions of the book’s climax are barely significant in the grand scheme of the war the Union is fighting. Yet, it’s so satisfying because of the personal victories the characters win for themselves and for each other. It also acts as a fantastic set-up for potential future books in the series (*crossing fingers*) as a first show for the girls to spread their wings and prove to their male counterparts that yes, they do belong in this war.

I am hoping that in future books, the history of the Union and Elda are explained a little more. Currently, we know as much as the characters know, which is basically propaganda and that the Union isn’t doing all that well. There’s a whole underlayer to the war and motivation that’s barely been touched on and it’s all stuff that I think would be really fascinating to read.

Overall, I rate this book a 4/5. I thoroughly enjoyed both the female friendships and the ever-changing relationship between Revna and Linne as they (slowly) learn to work together. I did find myself agreeing with Linne more often, but I could definitely see Revna’s side. I’m fascinated by the worldbuilding and I can’t wait to read more.

Bingo Squares: Character with a disability (hard mode), 2019 Publication (hard mode), Title with 4+ Words,

/r/Fantasy 2018-2019 Bingo Squares:

  • Character with a disability (Hard mode)
  • 2019 Publication (hard mode)
  • Title with 4+ words

The Last Sun by KD Edwards

36466732Publication Date: 12 June 2018
Publisher: Pyr
Format: eBook
Pages: 368
Word Count: ~113,000
ASIN: B075PW1YQN

Summary: 

Rune Saint John, last child of the fallen Sun Court, is hired to search for Lady Judgment’s missing son, Addam, on New Atlantis, the island city where the Atlanteans moved after ordinary humans destroyed their original home.

With his companion and bodyguard, Brand, he questions Addam’s relatives and business contacts through the highest ranks of the nobles of New Atlantis. But as they investigate, they uncover more than a missing man: a legendary creature connected to the secret of the massacre of Rune’s Court.

In looking for Addam, can Rune find the truth behind his family’s death and the torments of his past?

*****

Review:

How much did I love this book? Enough that I was sitting in a Cirque de Soleil performance and literally wishing intermission would happen faster so I could get back to reading. Damn this book was fantastic. Fun fact, Cirque de Soleil performances have no intermission.

What really makes this book is the main character Rune. He’s a sassy hot mess that absolutely refuses to back down from a challenge and I love him for it. Rune has a lot of depth and a lot of anger due to being the sole survivor and heir to a family that was massacred for unknown reasons, yet he manages to hold himself so well. I loved his interactions with Brand, his sworn human protector, and Lord Tower, an older(?) mentor-like figure after the death of, well, his entire household.

This is one of the few times I’ll ever say this, but I loved the romance in this book. The Last Sun blurbs itself as an M/M Urban Fantasy and the budding romance between Rune and Addam is just adorable to read. When I started reading, I was under the impression that Rune and Brand were together purely based on how much shit they gave each other, but nope, turns out they’re just extremely close childhood friends. Instead, Rune (slowly, very slowly) finds getting flirted at and it was fun to see him just ??? when trying to figure out how to respond.

The part I wasn’t expecting to jump out at me with this book was the worldbuilding. The magic and the “fantasy” part of this book comes from the personification of the Tarot Cards Arcana. (not sure if that’s the right term, I know very little about tarot cards but the art is pretty). Each of the 22 Major Arcana are represented by houses with a ruler as that Arcana personified. Rune, being the last of his family, is the heir to the Sun House (Number??). Lord Tower acts the Tower personified. We got a little backstory into the Arcana history, but there’s a whole layer of Tarot Card Politics that I just cannot wait to read more about.

Overall, I rate this book a 5/5. I admit I read very little urban fantasy, but I think I can already say this book is one of my favorites of the genre. Between the fascinating Tarot/Arcana worldbuilding, the M/M romance, and the absolutely amazing cast, this book is a must-read.

/r/Fantasy 2018-2019 Bingo Squares

  • none 😦

Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto

35715518Publication Date: 12 February 2019
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Format: eBook, ARC
Pages: 496
Word Count: ~155,000
ISBN: 1534424628

Summary: I had a sister, once…

In a world ruled by fierce warrior queens, a grand empire was built upon the backs of Phoenix Riders—legendary heroes who soared through the sky on wings of fire—until a war between two sisters ripped it all apart.

I promised her the throne would not come between us.

Sixteen years later, Veronyka is a war orphan who dreams of becoming a Phoenix Rider from the stories of old. After a shocking betrayal from her controlling sister, Veronyka strikes out alone to find the Riders—even if that means disguising herself as a boy to join their ranks.

But it is a fact of life that one must kill or be killed. Rule or be ruled.

Just as Veronyka finally feels like she belongs, her sister turns up and reveals a tangled web of lies between them that will change everything. And meanwhile, the new empire has learned of the Riders’ return and intends to destroy them once and for all.

Sometimes the title of queen is given. Sometimes it must be taken.

****

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

Review:

Move over dragons, phoenixes are the new cool in ridable fantasy creatures. Crown of Feathers first piqued my interested when I saw the (absolutely beautiful) cover at BookCon last year and I’m so thankful I was able to get an early copy to read through NetGalley. Aside from a couple of small details, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this debut novel and it ranks among my top 5 favorite YA novels.
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The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu

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Publication Date: 9 April 2019
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s UK
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 350
Word Count: ~98,000
ISBN: 1471162141

Summary: All Magnus Bane wanted was a vacation—a lavish trip across Europe with Alec Lightwood, the Shadowhunter who against all odds is finally his boyfriend. But as soon as the pair settles in Paris, an old friend arrives with news about a demon-worshipping cult called the Crimson Hand that is bent on causing chaos around the world. A cult that was apparently founded by Magnus himself. Years ago. As a joke.

Now Magnus and Alec must race across Europe to track down the Crimson Hand and its elusive new leader before the cult can cause any more damage. As if it wasn’t bad enough that their romantic getaway has been sidetracked, demons are now dogging their every step, and it is becoming harder to tell friend from foe. As their quest for answers becomes increasingly dire, Magnus and Alec will have to trust each other more than ever—even if it means revealing the secrets they’ve both been keeping.

****

Review:

I never thought I’d read another Shadowhunters novel, but after reading the excerpt on NetGalley, I just knew I had to read the full thing. Magnus Bane was easily my favorite character of the original trilogy and that position has only been solidified after reading this book. The Red Scrolls of Magic is a solid romp starring a fantastic couple.

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Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

37569318Publication Date: 6 November 2018
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 384
Word Count: ~91,000
ISBN: 0544530942

Summary: Each generation, a competition is held to find the next Empress of Honoku. The rules are simple. Survive the palace’s enchanted seasonal rooms. Conquer Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Marry the prince. All are eligible to compete—all except yōkai, supernatural monsters and spirits whom the human emperor is determined to enslave and destroy.

Mari has spent a lifetime training to become Empress. Winning should be easy. And it would be, if she weren’t hiding a dangerous secret. Mari is a yōkai with the ability to transform into a terrifying monster. If discovered, her life will be forfeit. As she struggles to keep her true identity hidden, Mari’s fate collides with that of Taro, the prince who has no desire to inherit the imperial throne, and Akira, a half-human, half-yōkai outcast.

Torn between duty and love, loyalty and betrayal, vengeance and forgiveness, the choices of Mari, Taro, and Akira will decide the fate of Honoku in this beautifully written, edge-of-your-seat YA fantasy.

***

Review: 

Empress of All Seasons attempts to weave together a daunting number of plot threads. There’s Mari, an Animal Wife yōkai attempting to prove to both her and her village that she’s worthy of being an Animal Wife by stealing the ultimate fortune: the Emperor’s son. There’s Taro, the prince who doesn’t want to inherit the throne and dreams of a world where he can be left alone to engineer mechanical animals. And there’s Akira, half-human, half-yōkai who finds himself enveloped in a yōkai Rebellion to overthrow the Emperor and (justifiably) take back their rights. Unfortunately, I just didn’t think these three storylines properly meshed into one book.

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Hazel and Holly by Sara C. Snider

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Publication Date: 16 May 2019
Publisher: Double Beast Publishing
Format: eBook, ARC
Pages: 452
Word Count: ~144,000
ISBN: 9187657074

Summary:

Nestled within an enchanted forest is the Grove, a community where witches and warlocks practice elemental magic, brew mystical potions, and lock their cellars against beer thieving gnomes. Life is quiet and uneventful. Well, except when Hazel’s long-lost father uses necromancy to trap her dead mother’s soul.

That simply won’t do. Necromancy is forbidden in the Grove, and for good reason too. Nobody wants filthy corpses shambling around, mussing up one’s garden. Hazel is determined to find her father and undo his treachery.

But despite Hazel’s plans of becoming a one-woman army, she can’t do everything alone. It’s not until wild sister Holly convinces her to leave the house for once and go to a party that Hazel finds a pair of unlikely allies in two bickering warlock brothers.

Together, the four of them go on a journey that takes them out of the Grove and into a world where necromancy reigns and the dead won’t respectfully stay in the grave. Hazel will do whatever it takes to stop her father and save her mother’s soul. Even if it means turning to necromancy. Even if it means losing her friends. Because they would never help a necromancer. Would they?

*

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

Review: 

DNF @20%

The characters I dislike to read about the most are ones with zero self-awareness, appear to act intentionally against their own interests, and just generally behave stupidly. Unfortunately, Hazel and Holly was full of those characters.

Hazel and Holly follows two witch sisters, Hazel and Holly, as older sister Hazel attempts to hunt down her missing father in order to restore her mother’s soul and younger sister Holly …exists. Mostly, my problem with this book was with Holly and her utter lack of any self-awareness. The first several conflicts Hazel gets into (or anything before the 20% mark) are pretty much all due to Holly insisting Hazel do something potentially life-threatening, probably illegal, and definitely rude task for her. There’s stealing buttons and other trinkets from another witch’s house because Holly doesn’t think her own supplies are good enough and hiding a (cellar?) gnome from guards after he and Holly go on a looting trip in a warlock’s mansion just because. It was borderline painful to read about a 17-year-old who has such little maturity and an older sister who, admittedly, raised her this way.

Overall, I rate this a 1/5. I very very rarely DNF books, but I found myself counting down to the 20% so I could put it down. The author appeared to correlate whimsical behaviour with nonsensical behavior and I simply couldn’t stand the characters.

The Tiger’s Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera

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Publication Date: 3 October 207
Publisher: Tor Books
Format: eBook
Pages: 526
Word Count: ~155,000
ISBN: 0765392534

Summary:

The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.

Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.

This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

*****

Review:

I went into this book expecting a grand epic fantasy with a historical Asian setting featuring two female leads who were hopefully lesbians. Instead, I got the gayest slow burn romance I’ve ever read with a side dish of demons, warfare, and political intrigue. Damn straight I liked this book just as much.

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