NetGalley Review: A Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon

A Thousand Perfect ThingsA Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon
Read: August 11 – August 18, 2013
NetGalley selection.

Many thanks to Premier Digital Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book via NetGalley!

Goodreads Book Blurb: In this epic new work, the award-winning Kenyon creates an alternate 19th century with two warring continents on an alternate earth: the scientific Anglica (England) and magical Bharata (India). Emboldened by her grandfather’s final whispered secret of a magical lotus, Tori Harding, a young Victorian woman and aspiring botanist, must journey to Bharata, with its magics, intrigues and ghosts, to claim her fate. There she will face a choice between two suitors and two irreconcilable realms. 

In a magic-infused world of silver tigers, demon birds and enduring gods, as a great native mutiny sweeps up the continent, Tori will find the thing she most desires, less perfect than she had hoped and stranger than she could have dreamed.

My Opinion: Where do I even start with this book? Well, let’s go with the beginning. Everything in Anglica was really cool. I followed it, and I enjoyed it. I like steampunk alternate settings. And the bridge was a really neat idea, though I got tangled in imagining our world as it is. No bridge would connect England and India in our world, as there are continents in between. But apparently not in this world.

This was the second book I read recently that made me wonder about constructed patriarchies. This one, being alternate history, probably had a little less wiggle room, but it still had some. And why is it that every time a woman wants to be her own woman she has to not want to get married? I am married, and I am still my own woman!

However, feminism is one of the lesser things that Kenyon tackles in A Thousand Perfect Things. Once the characters find themselves in Bharata, we are confronted with the heavy subject matter of cultural appropriation, which is rampant in today’s society. While I feel like this book was a decent staging ground for the battle, I found it bogged down the prose at times.

To be completely honest, most of what happened in Bharata was completely confusing to me. I think it got to a point where it was just… silly almost. By the end of the book I was skimming.

Tori was likeable enough in that she knew what she wanted, but I really hated her club foot. It was a crutch, both to make her imperfect and to give her something that needed healing. As someone with disabilities, I found this very unnerving.

Kenyon has a gift for description, and the scenery of A Thousand Perfect Things came alive for me… but that was pretty much it.

Bottom Line: I was lost after the characters left Anglica, and Kenyon began speaking of cultural appropriation and religion. It was too much for me, and bogged down the story.

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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.

Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Lies of Locke LamoraThe Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Read: May 27 – June 25, 2013
Book club selection – fantasy genre.

Goodreads Book Blurb: In this stunning debut, Scott Lynch delivers the thrilling tale of an audacious criminal and his tightly knit band of tricksters. Set in a fantastic city pulsing with the lives of decadent nobles and daring thieves, here is a story of adventure, loyalty, and survival that is one part “Robin Hood,” one part Ocean’s Eleven, and entirely enthralling….

And orphan’s life is harsh–and often short–in the mysterious island city of Camorr. But young Locke Lamora dodges death and slavery, becoming a thief under the tutelage of a gifted con artist. As leader of the band of light-fingered brothers known as the Gentleman Bastards, Locke is soon infamous, fooling even the underworld’s most feared ruler. But in the shadows lurks someone still more ambitious and deadly.

Faced with a bloody coup that threatens to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the enemy at his own brutal game–or die trying…

My Opinion: I really enjoyed Lynch’s debut novel. It was fantasy without being cliché. It is everything the review promises with being part “Robin Hood” and part “Ocean’s Eleven”. It is chock full of adult humor, swearing that actually fits the storyline, and characters you can’t help but love.

I really enjoyed that Locke and Co. weren’t really the “good” guys. They were like Robin Hood, but not really. It was a nice twist to not have the protagonist be the altruistic good guy. Locke is self-serving, cocky and lovable. He is the character we see most of, so it is good that I liked him.

The writing, stylistically and technically, is excellent. While the story took me a little bit to get into, once I was hooked, I was a goner.

Now, onto things I didn’t like. I wasn’t a huge fan of the alternating timelines. Chapters swapped between past and present, and sometimes it was hard to tell what was going on, and at times it was hard to see what the point was.

While the characters present are great, and I am OK with books not having a female character… Lies of Locke Lamora lacks a female character. It is worth noting.

Continuity was lacking in some aspects of the story. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling it, but this is not written in the same style as most epic fantasy. There is no circle.

Bottom Line: A solid debut, and a very enjoyable high fantasy read.

Review: The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines

The Stepsister SchemeThe Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines
Read: June 2 – June 5, 2013
Personal read.

Goodreads Book Blurb: You know how all those old fairy tales take you through lots of scary adventures till you finally reach that inevitable line: “And they lived happily ever after…” Guess what? It’s not true. Life in never-never land isn’t all sweetness and light. Cinderella – whose real name is Danielle Whiteshore (nee Danielle de Glas) – does marry Prince Armand. And (if you can ignore the pigeon incident) their wedding is a dream-come-true.

But not long after the “happily ever after,” Danielle is attacked by her stepsister Charlotte, who suddenly has all sorts of magic to call upon. And though Talia – otherwise known as Sleeping Beauty – comes to the rescue (she’s a martial arts master, and all those fairy blessings make her almost unbeatable), Charlotte gets away.

That’s when Danielle discovers a number of disturbing facts: Armand has been kidnapped and taken to the realm of the Fairies; Danielle is pregnant with his child; and the Queen has her very own Secret Service that consists of Talia and Snow (White, of course). Snow is an expert at mirror magic and heavy-duty flirting.

Can three princesses track down Armand and extract both the prince and themselves from the clutches of some of fantasyland’s most nefarious villains?

My Opinion: This was such a fun read, I just want to jump up and down and squeak about it. Yet at the same time something didn’t quite grab me about it.

I had been hearing such amazing things about Mr. Hines as a person, so I finally took it upon myself to check out one of his books. He definitely has a knack, and I really adored that the fairy tale aspect in these books is not entirely the watered-down version we get via Disney.

The characters in The Stepsister Scheme were likeable enough, though a little too one-dimensional for me at times. They each had a stereotype or flaw and they stuck to it pretty steadfast, and it made them a little flat. Snow was a flirt, Talia was distrustful, and Danielle was insecure. At times they became these qualities, rather than characters with these qualities.

The action was very fast paced, if a little uneven. There were points where I wasn’t sure exactly how we had traversed the space from point a to point b, but there we were. The sad thing is, though, I didn’t care enough to go back and re-read to find out. I think if I had been more invested in the story and the characters, I would have.

Bottom Line: A fun read, and a series I am looking forward to continuing. However something was off, and I didn’t fall madly head over heels for it.

NetGalley Review: 14 by Peter Clines

1414 by Peter Clines
Read: June 10 – June 11, 2013
Personal read.

Many thanks to Peter Clines and Permuted Press for the review copy via NetGalley!

Goodreads Book Blurb: Padlocked doors. Strange light fixtures. Mutant cockroaches.

There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment.

Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much.

At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbor across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment. And Tim’s. And Veek’s.

Because every room in this old Los Angeles brownstone has a mystery or two. Mysteries that stretch back over a hundred years. Some of them are in plain sight. Some are behind locked doors. And all together these mysteries could mean the end of Nate and his friends.

Or the end of everything…

My Opinion: I really struggled with writing this review, because I don’t really know what genre this book falls into. It kind of defies them all. It is horror without being particularly horrifying. It is science-fiction without treading too heavily into the realm of science. I thought at first that it was so great that 14 skirted all the genres, but in reality, I think it was just trying to be included in as many as possible without committing to one and doing it exceptionally well.

There is some Lovecraftian influence here, which I don’t feel like I can comment on, because I haven’t delved into the world of Lovecraft yet (I know, bad Erin, right?). Though I will say, I was impressed with Clines because being the fact-nerd that I am, I Googled some of the names he threw out, and I found that the connections he claimed checked out. So kudos to Clines on the research front.

The book was good, but not great. It was twisted, but not twisted enough. The character reactions didn’t feel very real to me, and there were aspects that I really wished had been explored more. The entire last third of the book or so was very slow for me and didn’t seem to have much purpose. It just… dragged, even though that was where the action was.

Bottom Line: A genre bender, and enjoyable enough, but didn’t quite deliver on all fronts.

Review: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

City of BonesCity of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Read: April 29 – May 12, 2013
Book club selection (Fantasy genre)

Goodreads Book Blurb: When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing — not even a smear of blood — to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know…

My Opinion: OK. I have put off writing this review for long enough. My mom bought these books for herself a while ago, and then she passed them on to me. I had heard mixed things, and so I didn’t really prioritize them until my book club decided to read it for the fantasy selection.

I am just going to come right out and say it. I pretty much hated this book. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but I did.

It could be that the characters were entirely one-dimensional. Clary was obviously a failed attempt at the strong female main character. But unfortunately, a strong female character is not made by having her act like a brat. She didn’t treat anyone with respect, herself and her supposed best friend included. She slapped people a lot (which, by the way, doesn’t make you tough) and she just grated on my nerves. I think the name also put me off. The author’s last name is Clare, the main character is Clary. Coincidence? I think not. Other character-based transgressions included talking about everything the character was thinking without regard for if it was realistic, being jealous for no reason, everyone being in love with Clary, etc.

The plot is not original. The world is not original. Clare has taken aspects of many different stories and mashed them all together to make City of Bones. But, as with paint, add too many things and all you get is a muddy mess.

For those who don’t know, there is a very large claim against Cassandra Clare on grounds of plagiarism. She used to write fanfiction, which is of course a derivative work in itself. However, Clare was cited as taking entire chunks of text from other works. TV shows, literature, etc. She just, copied and pasted it. And there are chunks of her fanfiction used in her published works. So where does the plagiarism stop?

There is no such thing as an “original” idea anymore, but that doesn’t mean that plagiarizing someone else’s words verbatim is in any way OK. Though it is also worth noting that I personally don’t know of any straight cases of plagiarism in City of Bones, the whole situation makes me upset as an aspiring author.

The whole tone of City of Bones grated on my nerves. I almost felt like someone was reading the book to me. A very big fan of the book. It exuded a sense of “Check out how clever this is!” and “Isn’t this neat?”… and I just wanted to be able to form my own opinions without being bludgeoned over the head with that of the narrative voice. Also, Clare repeats herself. A lot.

Bottom Line: While I didn’t completely hate the book, I definitely didn’t enjoy it. I own most of them, but I don’t know if I will be reading the rest.

Advance Review: The Wrong Girl by C.J. Archer

The Wrong GirlThe Wrong Girl by C.J. Archer
(Advance copy courtesy of C.J. Archer via NetGalley)
Read: May 24 – May 25, 2013
Release Date: June 1, 2013
Price: 3.99 USD

Goodreads Book Blurb: It’s customary for Gothic romance novels to include a mysterious girl locked in the attic. Hannah Smith just wishes she wasn’t that girl. As a narcoleptic and the companion to an earl’s daughter with a strange affliction of her own, Hannah knows she’s lucky to have a roof over her head and food in her belly when so many orphans starve on the streets. Yet freedom is something Hannah longs for. She did not, however, want her freedom to arrive in the form of kidnapping.

Taken by handsome Jack Langley to a place known as Freak House, she finds herself under the same roof as a mad scientist, his niece, a mute servant and Jack, a fire starter with a mysterious past. They assure Hannah she is not a prisoner and that they want to help her. The problem is, they think she’s the earl’s daughter. What will they do when they discover they took the wrong girl?

My Opinion: Going in to reading The Wrong Girl I had no real expectations. It caught my eye on the NetGalley catalog because I love me some Gothic mystery with a touch of paranormal. In that sense, I wasn’t disappointed.

However, at a mere 139 pages long, I did find The Wrong Girl to be a little disappointing overall. The action moved at a good pace, and I remained engaged with the story and the characters. But at the end, there just weren’t enough pages to answer all the questions that were raised throughout the course of the book. I recognize it is only the first book in a series, and I hope the questions are answered at a later time, but I wasn’t instilled with any sense of urgency by the end that the questions I wanted answered were of high priority.

I was impressed with the fact that Archer did her research with the time period, and there weren’t any discrepancies, barring a few involving propriety. I noticed that dialogue and behavior bordered on irreverent for the times without crossing over into simply being wrong. I also really appreciated that with so few pages, Archer didn’t devote any words to the trite young adult romance that seems to take precedence in literature these days.

I found Hannah repeated herself a lot, as the book is written from her perspective. She meditated on being the wrong girl for a good chunk of time, and later on other things. I wish those words had gone elsewhere. Overall, though, I didn’t find Hannah’s mind a hard place to be. She is a likeable character.

Bottom Line: I found this to be an enjoyable read, though I wish it was at least double the length. There are a lot of dodgy self-published works out there, but this is the first I have read that gives me hope for the market as a whole.