Review: The Masked City (The Invisible Library #2) – Genevieve Cogman

the masked cityLibrarian-spy Irene is working undercover in an alternative London when her assistant Kai goes missing. She discovers he’s been kidnapped by the fae faction and the repercussions could be fatal. Not just for Kai, but for whole worlds.

Kai’s dragon heritage means he has powerful allies, but also powerful enemies in the form of the fae. With this act of aggression, the fae are determined to trigger a war between their people – and the forces of order and chaos themselves.

Irene’s mission to save Kai and avert Armageddon will take her to a dark, alternate Venice where it’s always Carnival. Here Irene will be forced to blackmail, fast talk, and fight. Or face death.

Rating: 3/5

“Here’s to being a secret agent of an interdimensional Library!”

Which, I feel, pretty much sums up this book, and the series as a whole, thus far. I think one of the strong points of this book is it’s very in-depth, original and thought-out world building. The author has really spent time figuring out how things work in her imaginary world, and pre-empting many of the questions from her readers. The flip side of this is that sometimes the prose can feel a tad bogged down with detail – there’s some telling, not showing, taking place – but it’s an understandable catch-22.

In this instalment, the ever-unflappable Irene embarks on a rescue mission to an alternate Venice, where her kidnapped assistant, Kai, is being held. She’s pretty much on her own, as this mission technically involves breaking a number of official Library rules. I think the book suffers somewhat from the absence of Kai – the interactions between him and Irene were one of the highlights of the previous book, and without him, we’re subject to a helluva lot more of Irene’s internal thought processes. And while I am appreciative of her cool, calm demeanour – no hysterics or dramatics here – I felt very detached from her character and emotions.

It’s worth noting that the action takes place over two days, if I’m not mistaken – which can make things feel quite drawn out at times. And although this review seems full of criticism, I really am appreciative of the concept and the lack of urban fantasy cliches and tropes. It’s definitely worth checking out, both for the world building and the practical Irene, who adapts to whatever shenanigans are thrown in her way – of which there are many.

Review: Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

americanahFrom the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a dazzling new novel: a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.

As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.

Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.

Fearless, gripping, at once darkly funny and tender, spanning three continents and numerous lives, Americanah is a richly told story set in today’s globalized world: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s most powerful and astonishing novel yet.

Rating: 4/5

If you’d asked me when I was like a third of the way through the book what I thought, you would have received an unenthusiastic ‘ehhhh’. But I powered through, and as I became more involved in the lives of the characters, the novel really grew on me. Let’s be clear, it didn’t blow me away, but such is the weight of heavy hype and expectations.

But of course it makes sense because we are Third Worlders and Third Worlders are forward-looking, we like things to be new, because our best is still ahead, while in the West their best is already past and so they have to make a fetish of that past. Remember this is our newly middle-class world. We haven’t completed the first cycle of prosperity, before going back to the beginning again, to drink milk from the cow’s udder.

And while the author’s writing is good, what really sold it for me was the biting commentary on the subject of race in America. And, while I am neither an immigrant nor a person of colour in that particular country, it felt like she really nailed it. I bookmarked so many quotes that stood out for me, in their wit and their anger and their overall speaking truth to power.

In America, racism exists but racists are all gone. Racists belong to the past. Racists are the thin-lipped mean white people in the movies about the civil rights era. Here’s the thing: the manifestation of racism has changed but the language has not. So if you haven’t lynched somebody then you can’t be called a racist. If you’re not a bloodsucking monster, then you can’t be called a racist. Somebody has to be able to say that racists are not monsters.

And while race features heavily in this book – racism in modern America, racism as a concept that doesn’t exist in most African countries, the language of racists – it would be a disservice to reduce Americanah to a book solely about race. It’s also a coming-of-age, a tale of immigrant experience, of family and found friends and love lost and found again. It’s a blistering critique of academia and masculinity and wealth and mental health. And it has downright hilarious moments to boot, in case you were put off by what seems like rather heavy subject matter.

Academics were not intellectuals; they were not curious, they built their stolid tents of specialized knowledge and stayed securely in them.

In fact, this is a book that could easily work as non-fiction as well. I did think that telling the tale chronologically would have made for an easier reading experience, at least for me, because there were characters I didn’t pay as much attention to in the beginning as I should have.

“But she was uncomfortable with what the professors called “participation,” and did not see why it should be part of the final grade; it merely made students talk and talk, class time wasted on obvious words, hollow words, sometimes meaningless words.”

WORD indeed.

Perhaps best known for her “We Should All Be Feminists” speech, a cynical part of me says the author is probably the only other Nigerian, or indeed, African writer most people can name, apart from Chinua Achebe. But she certainly has a way with words, perhaps even more so in her essay writing, and I’m glad I finally got around to trying out her fiction work.

Review: A Court of Mist and Fury – Sarah J Maas

a court of mist and furyFeyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

With more than a million copies sold of her beloved Throne of Glass series, Sarah J. Maas’s masterful storytelling brings this second book in her seductive and action-packed series to new heights.

Rating: 4/5

I’ll admit it – while I find some aspects of the author’s writing problematic, she’s as entertaining as hell. I mean, I am rather tired of the manly muscle-y growly fairy men and I know she likes to switch popular love interests, which are two of the most common complaints – but there’s a lot to be praised as well.

For starters, I like how she depicts different kinds of female characters who represent different kinds of female strength – some use physical prowess or powers, others use their bodies or minds or wit or manipulation. I adore the sisterhood that is incorporated into her work. And the equally wonderful friendships. I like that her female characters aren’t relegated to sticking with their first loves, and that they are free to experience physical pleasure without shame or obligations.

Now, for the particulars of this book. MILD SPOILERS AHEAD.

I admit, I didn’t like Rhys in the previous book. And I don’t particularly care that he had justifications for his behaviour and actions, he was still sleazy AF. But I adore the new characters in this instalment. That’s another strength of this writer – she can introduce you to a new character and five chapters later they’re a new fave. I love the loyalty between the Night Court Crew, as I have officially named them. (But sheesh, does anyone NOT have a tragic backstory? Although I suppose that makes for a boring narrative, yes?)

I did like how the author handled the destruction of the relationship between Feyre and Tamlin. I thought the explanation made total sense, and was well depicted – how the person she was before her ordeal was completely different to the person she was now, and her needs and wants had changed accordingly.

I had loved the High Lord who had shown me the comforts and wonders of Pythian; I had loved the High Lord who let me have the time and food and safety to paint. Maybe a small part of me might always care for him, but…Amarantha had broken us both. Or broken me so that who he was and what I now was no longer fit.

I like how hints that were dropped in the first book came full circle. I was sucked into the story despite my misgivings, and it paid off. Maas is particularly good at vivid imagery, which really came through strongly in this book. Her love scenes are alternately scorching and cringeworthy, but she really knows how to bring the swoons. So yes, in short, while I am not blind to her faults, I think she’s also a strong storyteller, with fresh ideas and flawed female characters.

Mini Reviews #3

Happy Tuesday, everyone! I hope you are all fabulous.

northern lightsThe town of Lunacy, Alaska, was Nate Burke’s last chance. As a Baltimore cop, he’d watched his partner die on the street – and the guilt still haunts him. With nowhere else to go, he accepts the job as chief of police in this tiny, remote Alaskan town. Aside from sorting out a run-in between a couple of motor vehicles and a moose, he finds his first few weeks on the job are relatively quiet. But just as he wonders whether this has been all a big mistake, an unexpected kiss on New Year’s Eve under the brilliant Northern Lights of the Alaskan sky lifts his spirits and convinces him to stay just a little longer.

Meg Galloway, born and raised in Lunacy, is used to being alone. She was a young girl when her father disappeared, and she has learned to be independent, flying her small plane, living on the outskirts of town with just her huskies for company. After her New Year’s kiss with the chief of police, she allows herself to give in to passion – while remaining determined to keep things as simple as possible. But there’s something about Nate’s sad eyes that gets under her skin and warms her frozen heart.

And now, things in Lunacy are heating up. Years ago, on one of the majestic mountains shadowing the town, a crime occurred that is unsolved to this day – and Nate suspects that a killer still walks the snowy streets. His investigation will unearth the secrets and suspicions that lurk beneath the placid surface, as well as bring out the big-city survival instincts that made him a cop in the first place. And his discovery will threaten the new life – and the new love – that he has finally found for himself.

Rating: 3/5

I only read my first Nora Roberts earlier this year, but I can see why she has such a cult following. It’s not highbrow literature by any means, but its highly entertaining and certainly has some substance to it. I also enjoy how she takes time to set the scene, instead of delving straight into the action like many other mystery novels. I particularly liked the atmospheric setting in this one – the icy Alaskan weather and the coziness of the small town were almost tangible.

eats shoots & leavesNow, we all know the basics of punctuation. Or do we? A look at most neighborhood signage tells a different story. Through sloppy usage and low standards on the internet, in e-mail, and now text messages, we have made proper punctuation an endangered species.

In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Truss dares to say, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. This is a book for people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled. From the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to George Orwell shunning the semicolon, this lively history makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with.

Rating: 3/5

Who knew a book about punctuation could be interesting? Quite a timely read as well, since I’m currently doing a copy-editing course. There were a number of amusing anecdotes, rule explanations and historical accounts, but the humour was a tad overdone, and some sentiments were repeated a little too often for my liking. The apostrophe stickers at the back though, I’m going to have fun with those!

the foreshadowingIt is 1915 and the First World War has only just begun.

17 year old Sasha is a well-to-do, sheltered-English girl. Just as her brother Thomas longs to be a doctor, she wants to nurse, yet girls of her class don’t do that kind of work. But as the war begins and the hospitals fill with young soldiers, she gets a chance to help. But working in the hospital confirms what Sasha has suspected–she can see when someone is going to die. Her premonitions show her the brutal horrors on the battlefields of the Somme, and the faces of the soldiers who will die. And one of them is her brother Thomas.

Pretending to be a real nurse, Sasha goes behind the front lines searching for Thomas, risking her own life as she races to find him, and somehow prevent his death. 

Rating: 3/5

This book should have been a hit for me – I love WW1/WW2 fiction, along with plucky female protagonists. Unfortunately, it just felt all too bland for me. I think my biggest issue was suspension of disbelief – a teenage girl lying her way to the front in WW1 just doesn’t fly with me, no matter how realistically the author wrangled it. The quiet horrors of war were well depicted though, in the changed personalities of those who returned. I especially respect the sheer fortitude of the nurses, who had to deal with so much death and human destruction and still keep on, day after day, sometimes in horrendous conditions.

alice hoffmanPeople tend to stay in their place in the town of Haddan. The students at the prestigious prep school don’t mix with locals; even within the school, hierarchy rules, as freshman and faculty members find out where they fit in and what is expected of them. But when a body is found in the river behind the school, a local policeman will walk into this enclosed world and upset it entirely. A story of surface appearances and the truths submerged below.

Rating: 1.5/5

I am usually so intrigued by Hoffman’s work, but this was an anomaly of note. It’s by far one of the author’s poorer novels, and I found it a slog to get through. Nothing really happens, to be honest. One of the things that grated on my nerves was that the perspective switches within same chapter and I sometimes wasn’t aware of this, which made for a frustrating reading experience. Also, I could have done without the annoying instalove.

 

Blog Tour + Giveaway: October Daye series – Seanan McGuire

seanan mcguire blog tour

I was lucky enough to be asked to participate in a celebratory pre-release tour for the latest installment in the bestselling October Daye series by Seanan McGuire. I reviewed book 10,  Once Broken Faith, last week, and you can read my glowing review here.

Suffice to say, I don’t take part in blog tours unless I can wholeheartedly recommend the authors work, so consider this my full endorsement!

Each stop of the tour focuses on one of the books in the series – my precious is book 6, Ashes of Honor.

Synopsis:

ashes of honourIt’s been almost a year since October “Toby” Daye averted a war, gave up a county, and suffered personal losses that have left her wishing for a good day’s sleep. She’s tried to focus on her responsibilities—training Quentin, upholding her position as Sylvester’s knight, and paying the bills—but she can’t help feeling like her world is crumbling around her, and her increasingly reckless behavior is beginning to worry even her staunchest supporters.

To make matters worse, Toby’s just been asked to find another missing child…only this time it’s the changeling daughter of her fellow knight, Etienne, who didn’t even know he was a father until the girl went missing. Her name is Chelsea. She’s a teleporter, like her father. She’s also the kind of changeling the old stories warn about, the ones with all the strength and none of the control. She’s opening doors that were never meant to be opened, releasing dangers that were sealed away centuries before—and there’s a good chance she could destroy Faerie if she isn’t stopped.

Now Toby must find Chelsea before time runs out, racing against an unknown deadline and through unknown worlds as she and her allies try to avert disaster. But danger is also stirring in the Court of Cats, and Tybalt may need Toby’s help with the biggest challenge he’s ever faced.

Toby thought the last year was bad. She has no idea.

Top 5 Scenes from Ashes of Honor

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Otherwise known as the book in which my ship finally sets sail, most gloriously, into the – well, not sunset, but the Shadow Roads, maybe? Ha.

Instead of doing a traditional recap, I thought I’d highlight some of my favourite scenes from the book.

1. Toby + Tybalt

“You handed me a hope chest in a dark alley. You took my heart as collateral, and you’ve never returned it.”

The long-simmering tensions between them finally come to a head, but it’s been a long rocky road to get to this point – different species, and duties to the realm, not to mention ex-lovers, misconceptions and general obstacles in the course of love. But there are heartfelt declarations combined with the snarky and banter that we all know and love – a recipe for happy shippers everywhere.

“Oh, October. Toby. My Toby.” He pulled one hand from mine, reaching up to tuck my hair behind my ear. His fingers were shaking. That was what I focused on, more than anything else. His fingers were shaking. “Do you think I’m cruel enough to do that to you?”

I sniffled. “No,” I admitted.

“Thank Oberon,” he said, and pulled me close, and kissed me.

2. Toby + Bridget

“It’s lovely,” I said, taking an involuntary half step back. “Really, though. I don’t like to handle other people’s cookware.” 

“That’s the best you can manage? That’s your bright, bold lie?” 

“Look, lady, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had somebody corner me on a dark street and try to hand me a frying pan before,” I snapped.

Initially a comic meeting of note, Toby and Bridget have more in common than they might think – both mothers of changeling children who have been under threat; both prepared to go to the ends of the earth to protect the ones they love. But the frying pan had me chuckling despite the seriousness of the situation.

3. Tybalt + Raj

April frowned, irritation evident.

“I did not consent to your presence,” she said peevishly. “Please depart, and attempt your political assassination on someone else’s property.”

There’s nothing I love more than a healthy father-son relationship, or in this case, a complicated sort-of uncle-nephew relationship. Raj, Tybalt’s heir, is put in an impossible position by his biological father, and Tybalt handles it with typical feline grace. Yay for found family! Yay for thwarted assassination attempts!

4. Toby + Quentin

“Being a King sort of sucks,” I said.
Quentin wrinkled his nose, “So does your outfit.” 
“Blood is in this season.”

Again, I adore the mentor-mentee relationship between Quentin and Toby. She tries to protect him from the worst of the faerie world while still conscious that he needs the eduction and real-world training, and Quentin in turn is utterly devoted to his knight, while still having moments of standard teenage behaviour.

5. Toby + The Luidaeg

The Luidaeg has such a fascinating backstory, which is revealed in bits and pieces throughout the series. She’s like Toby’s incredibly scary fairy godmother, albeit one with many secrets, and who always charges a price.

“It’s good to see you, too.”
“Uh-huh.” She went stomping towards the kitchen. “I’m making some fucking tea.”

GIVEAWAY TIME!

Stand the chance to win an epic prize pack, which includes all 10 October Daye novels signed by Seanan McGuire, a Seanan McGuire tote bag and a map of the Kingdom of the Westlands signed by Seanan McGuire and artist Priscilla Spencer! (If I could enter, I totally would!)

It’s a rafflecopter giveaway, which you can enter HERE. 

If you’d like to stand the chance to win a copy of book 6, Ashes of Honor, send an email with your mailing address to fullybookedreviews[at]gmail.com. Open to US/Canada only.

Once Broken Faith, book 10 in the series, releases 6th September 2016.

Review: The Hawkweed Prophecy – Irena Brignull

the hawkweed prophetThe babies were born as the clock struck twelve. A bat fell from the air mid-flight. A silver salmon floated dead to the surface of the river. Snails withered in their shells, moths turned to dust on the night breeze and an owl ate its young. The spell had been cast.

Poppy Hooper has managed to deceive her father into believing that there is nothing mysterious or unnatural about her. He ignores the cats that find her wherever she goes, the spiders that weave beautiful lacy patterns for her, even her eyes – one blue, one green with an extra black dot orbiting the pupil.

Ember Hawkweed is a pitiful excuse for a witch. When the other girls in her coven brew vile potions, Ember makes soap and perfume. Fair and pretty, Ember is more like a chaff than a witch. One of the Hawkweeds will be queen of the witches – but everyone knows it won’t be Ember.

When the two girls meet, Poppy discovers her powers, and finds out the truth. Bound by their unlikely friendship and the boy they both love, the girls try and find their place in the world. But the time of the prophecy draws nearer – and the witches won’t give up the throne without a fight.

Rating: 1/5

DNF @ 30%.

Unfortunately, this was one of those YA books with little cross-over appeal for adults, at least in my opinion. The synopsis intrigued me, and the prologue had me hopeful that this would an edgy, creepy read, but sadly I found it riddled with cliches and very much aimed at a teenage audience. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course – it’s the risk you take as an adult who enjoys a large amount of YA – but in this case, it didn’t work for me.

We have a girl who always knew she was different. We have another girl whose traditionally attractive traits make her “ugly”, a device which annoys me no end.

To fit in with her clan, you had to be strong and coarse like rope – but Ember’s curves were plump and soft as pillows. And if you wanted to fit in with the night, your hair had to be dark. Ember’s was like a lamp, lighting up her inadequacies for all to see.

There’s a sadistic, over-the-top villainous teacher:

Mrs Walters smirked at her, enjoying Poppy’s discomfort….Poppy shrugged. She stared at Mrs Walters, perched on the table so condescendingly…Mrs Walters rolled her eyes at the class in an exaggerated expression of exasperation…The teacher gestured to the heavens despairingly, an actress on her classroom stage.

And the writing is incredibly frustrating. Eye-rolling is a known gesture of exasperation. You don’t need to tell me that!

I was also unimpressed with the amount of naivety displayed by the characters, despite their age. Ember, who is supposed to keep the existence of her clan a secret, spills her guts at the first opportunity. Poppy meets a strange dude in the street, he appears outside her house the next day, and she’s completely cool with it, and invites him in. Self-preservation is lacking here. And then there’s the typical instal-connection, with sparks and electricity and the whole shebang. There’s a cringeworthy scene over the pizza:

They both went for the same piece and their skin touched accidentally, and he could swear he felt a charge of electricity and she felt it too as she sprang back. He took the pizza slice and gave it to her, then grabbed her wrist and held on. Her eyes fixed on his but she didn’t pull away. Slowly she put the pizza down so their hands could entwine. 

Honestly, I felt more chemistry with the pizza than anything else.

Finally, there’s a love triangle, but at that point I had neither the energy nor the inclination to read further. Definitely not a book for me.

ARC received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.

Review: Once Broken Faith (October Daye #10) – Seanan McGuire

once broken faithPolitics have never been October “Toby” Daye’s strong suit. When she traveled to the Kingdom of Silences to prevent them from going to war with her home, the Kingdom of the Mists, she wasn’t expecting to return with a cure for elf-shot and a whole new set of political headaches. 

Now the events she unwittingly set in motion could change the balance of modern Faerie forever, and she has been ordered to appear before a historic convocation of monarchs, hosted by Queen Windermere in the Mists and overseen by the High King and Queen themselves. 

Naturally, things have barely gotten underway when the first dead body shows up. As the only changeling in attendance, Toby is already the target of suspicion and hostility. Now she needs to find a killer before they can strike again—and with the doors locked to keep the guilty from escaping, no one is safe. 

As danger draws ever closer to her allies and the people she loves best, Toby will have to race against time to prevent the total political destabilization of the West Coast and to get the convocation back on track…and if she fails, the cure for elf-shot may be buried forever, along with the victims she was too slow to save. 

Because there are worse fates than sleeping for a hundred years.

Rating: 4/5

I think it’s fairly obvious to long-time readers of my blog that I’m a giant fan of Seanan McGuire. I adore the sheer scope of her crazy wonderful imagination. She’s given me one of my favourite urban fantasy series (and couples!) of all time. She’s a writing machine, with an extensive list of titles and series behind her. I appreciate the diversity that she incorporates into her books. I highly respect, and applaud, this blog post of hers, where she outlines exactly why her female characters won’t be raped to meet some people’s warped ideas of “realism”. (If you haven’t read that post yet, do it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

Furthermore, once you get so far in a series, and invested in the characters and the world that you inhabit, it gets to the point where you’d be happy to read 300 pages of your faves sitting around eating breakfast, or something equally as mundane. So I fully declare myself a biased reviewer at this point. Of course, this is the world of Toby Daye: changeling, hero of the realm, affianced to a shape-changing cat, secretly squired to by the heir of the kingdom, living with her death omen… things are never destined to be quiet for too long.

But the tenth book in this series starts out with one of this delightful mundane slices-of-life that we fans covet so much – Toby arranging a slumber party for her teenage squire and acquaintances, a chance for them all to be normal and forget the responsibilities of life for a few short hours. And then, of course, Things Get Real, and Toby is forced into the world of pureblood protocol and politics, a direct result of the discovery during the events of the previous book. But alas! There is murder! Mayhem! Mystery! And some unfortunate near-death experiences, as is par for the course.

“What happened?” she asked.
“The same thing that always happens,” I said. “We were having a perfectly nice evening until it got ruined by a corpse.”

What I like about Toby’s character is that even as she’s become pretty much indestructible over the course of the series – it comes with a price – pain. Not that I’m a sadist, or anything, but it makes a refreshing change from the heroines who can instantly shake off some kind of injury that would fell the rest of us mere mortals and continue on as if nothing has happened.

Without giving away too much of the plot of this instalment, fans can rest assured the series is continuing on strong. We get more insight into some of our regular favourite characters, along with the appearance of some new players. Toby and Tybalt continue to make my heart flutter without becoming boring. While this book wasn’t a game-changer, the Luidaeg certainly hints at a major role that Toby will be playing in the grand scheme of things, a role that will directly affect our favourite snarky fearsome sea witch.

“When you decide it’s time to make enemies, you don’t fuck around,” said the Luidaeg. “I’ve always respected that about you.”

Finally, I must mention that I adore the Shakespeare-inspired titles. Long live the Bard! If you haven’t checked out this series, and you enjoy urban fantasy, do give it a chance. There’s tons of snark, creative world building, and fallible but lovable characters.

ARC received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.