NetGalley Review: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

The Thinking Woman's GuideThe Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Baker
Read: July 17 – July 25, 2013
NetGalley selection.

Many thanks to Penguin Group – Viking for sending me this advance review copy via NetGalley!

Release Date: August 1, 2013
ISBN:
9780670023660
Price: $27.95 USD
Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Book Blurb: Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman.  During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty.  Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.

Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic.

My Opinion: When I saw this book on NetGalley, I had to have it. Something I have been craving lately is a strong female character, particularly in a fantasy setting. I requested this book and was so excited when I was approved.

Unfortunately, my excitement only lasted about 100 pages into the book.

With a title like The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, I imagined the character to be a headstrong woman who was secure in herself and her opinions. I thought she wouldn’t take any bull from anybody, and that she would be an accomplished magician by the end of the book. Nora was none of these things.

A lot of the time, her lack of matching characterization to the promises made in the title were written off as being tied to enchantment. This didn’t fly with me. I think in the end, the title was just a really bad choice for the book.

There is another reason for this. Not only did Nora not present as a “thinking woman”, the book didn’t have much in the way of magic in it, either. For a book titled The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, this was nothing short of a tragedy.

Emily Croy Barker’s book is the first one I have read recently that features what I have dubbed the “constructed-patriarchy trope“. In writing fantasy, authors have so many options open to them. Why do they fall back on creating an oppressive patriarchy for their characters to overcome? In this instance, it may have been an effort to make Nora seem more like a “thinking woman”, but it fell flat.

Another character I had a very hard time liking was Aruendiel. He was the typical alpha male, very much a jerk, yet somehow endearing. The only difference in The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic is that he is not stunningly good-looking.

Writing-wise, Emily Croy Barker is good. The prose was decent, but the storytelling was lacking. There were a lot of tangential  things brought in that did nothing for me with regards to the whole story, and instead just bogged down the book bringing it in at over 500 pages. I love long books, but this one could have easily been shorter.

Not having read any Austen myself (I know, I know, bad Erin) I found the Pride and Prejudice references overdone and tiresome by the end of the book. They also seemed really out-of-place to me, but that could also be because I haven’t actually read P&P, and don’t know the story.

Even knowing this is a part of a planned series, the ending really aggravated me, as open-ended endings tend to.

Bottom Line: The title was a bad call on this one. Inherently it is not a horrible book. The writing itself is good, and some of the imagery is wonderful. But I had such high expectations of it because of the title that it really fell flat for me. As always, I encourage my readers to make their own call. But if you decide to pick up Emily Croy Baker’s book, imagine it is titled differently, with no reference to magic or amazing female characters.

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NetGalley Review: Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts

Tumble & FallTumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts
Read: July 12 – July 17, 2013
NetGalley selection.

Many thanks to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group for sending me an advance copy for review via NetGalley.

Release Date: September 17, 2013
Price: $17.99 USD
ISBN: 9780374378615

Goodreads Book Blurb: A novel about the end of days full of surprising beginnings. The world is living in the shadow of oncoming disaster. An asteroid is set to strike the earth in just one week’s time; catastrophe is unavoidable. The question isn’t how to save the world—the question is, what to do with the time that’s left? Against this stark backdrop, three island teens wrestle with intertwining stories of love, friendship and family—all with the ultimate stakes at hand.

My Opinion: In theory, this was a great book for me. In practice, it was anything but.

The biggest thing I really missed in Tumble & Fall was a sense of urgency. The world is ending in a week, and while there is nothing anyone can do about it, that doesn’t need to translate into a lack of urgency. Even if there was nothing I could do about it, the impending end of the world would send me into a tizzy.

The characters were a little thin, and I wasn’t entirely sold on their reactions. Part of this could be the narrative style Coutts chose, opting for a three-way shared narrative. If a two-way shared narrative makes it hard to connect to the characters, a three-way was even worse. And the connection between the narrating characters was tenuous at best.

I didn’t find anything groundbreaking in the prose in Tumble & Fall, though there wasn’t anything technically bad. The words were right, the grammar was correct, but the story lacked the sparkle and magic that makes stories come alive and live within the reader.

One thing I did really like was the ending. Normally I hate endings that don’t tie everything up nicely, but I was so intensely afraid that Coutts was going to end Tumble & Fall with something akin to “And the asteroid missed Earth. Hooray!” that I was pleasantly surprised with the ending. This was also a spot where I feel like Coutts finally came into her strength with prose, and the final twenty pages or so read very hauntingly.

One plot hole I found really aggravating. If the asteroid is large enough to do damage akin to ending the world (or so they think) and is aimed for a direct hit… wouldn’t it be visible to the naked eye?

The Bottom Line: Not an end-of-the-world/apocalypse book by any real stretch. That whole plot point could be removed with minimal rewrites and no real damage to the main stories. Triple narrative makes the characters hard to connect to, and their motives hard to follow. The whole book lacks urgency.

If slow-paced contemporary romance is your thing, I would suggest checking this book out when it is released. For me, that is very much not my thing, so I found little enjoyment in Tumble & Fall.

Advance Review: Parasite by Mira Grant

ParasiteParasite by Mira Grant
(Advance copy courtesy of Orbit Books/Hachette Book Group via NetGalley — Thank you!)
Read: June 13 – June 23, 2013
Release Date: October 29, 2013
Price: $20 USD

Goodreads Book Blurb: A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite – a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the Intestinal Bodyguard worm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system – even secretes designer drugs. It’s been successful beyond the scientists’ wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives . . . and will do anything to get them.

My Opinion: I. Love. Mira. Grant. Her Newsflesh series is hands-down one of my absolute favorite series of books of all times.

This is not Newsflesh. But it is still an excellent piece of work by an equally excellent author. I am constantly floored by how well she crafts her characters to be believable and flawed. Do I always like them? No. But I always believe that they could be real people, and not just the workings of a talented woman’s mind.

I guess I shouldn’t have said that this isn’t Newsflesh because that isn’t entirely true. There are shades of Newsflesh in Parasite in the form of the medical side of things. Once again, Mira Grant (who, for those of you who don’t know, is the horror alias of Seanan McGuire) has done her research. I am no expert on parasitology, but not once did I read something and go “Pfft, yeah right!”. It was all done and explained very well, if some of the science went over my head.

Parasite takes us through the twisting tunnels of truth, consequence and identity. And they all intertwine. The descriptions are gritty and don’t skimp on the gory details, Grant pulls no punches when it comes to the twists and turns, and the whole book left me wanting more. Which is totally unfair because the first book isn’t even officially published yet.

Prose-wise, Mira Grant has definitely progressed from some of her other works. One of my main beefs with her books was always product placement. In InCryptid it is Ace Bandages. In Newsflesh it is Skin So Soft. But there is not even a shade of that in Parasite and I was thrilled. One thing that kept pulling me out of the story was the use of guns. For some reason, even though the setting is near-future and not all lunar colony, the guns didn’t fit for me.

If you like medical thrillers, this book is very much for you. If you like Mira Grant or Seanan McGuire you will not be disappointed.

I strongly recommend you check out Parasite by Mira Grant from Orbit Books when it is published in October, 2013!