Review: Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

three_parts_deadRating: 4/5 dead gods

A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.

Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.

Review: I tried to read one of the books in this series–Two Serpents Rising, I think–a couple of years ago and bounced off it pretty hard. I don’t think this is a series that’s particularly readable out of order. Or at least, I don’t think it’s readable without having read this, the first one. Because instead of bouncing off it, I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were characters I really liked (Tara, Abelard), characters I thoroughly disliked, and a host of characters who are too complicated to put into simple like/dislike buckets.

The world-building is top-notch, but it’s also the reason I think this one needs to be read first no matter what order you pick after. Gladstone does a great job of explaining enough of a very strange world fast enough to keep the reader invested without providing obvious info-dumps, but he leaves enough unknown for the reader to want more at the end. There is a sense of a world that’s too vast for one story, with too much history behind it, but its history is also an important part of this story. Gladstone doesn’t try to explain all of it, though. He fills in the details of what we need, sketches in the rest, makes sure we understand the rules, and then trusts us to keep up.

The story in Three Parts Dead is given a satisfactory ending, but he doesn’t tie up everything in such a neat bow that it leaves the reader uncertain how an entire series can be maintained. If anything, he pulls off the neat trick of writing a satisfying story and leaving it open, which is a difficult thing to do.

The ending took me by surprise, but when I thought back, the clues were there all the way through. This is a mystery at heart, woven into a fantastical story that’s grounded in reality in a way I didn’t expect. I was torn between giving this a four or a five, because it’s really very, very good. But there were also one or two places where I thought Gladstone was a little too clever for his own good and he almost lost me, so I couldn’t call it perfect. He also claims it should be possible to pick this series up at any point, but I’d dispute that based on past experience.  I’ll definitely be going back to read the rest of the series, though, and I’ve been promised that it only gets better. Now that I’ve found my jumping on point (I learned my lesson about starting things mid-series, even if an author says it should be doable), I need to read more, which is the best sign I know of a good first book in a series.

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Review: Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

Rating: 4.5/5 grumpy demons

In this NOVELLA set in The World of the Five Gods and four years after the events in “Penric’s Demon”, Penric is a divine of the Bastard’s Order as well as a sorcerer and scholar, living in the palace where the Princess-Archdivine holds court. His scholarly work is interrupted when the Archdivine agrees to send Penric, in his role as sorcerer, to accompany a “Locator” of the Father’s Order, assigned to capture Inglis, a runaway shaman charged with the murder of his best friend. However, the situation they discover in the mountains is far more complex than expected. Penric’s roles as sorcerer, strategist, and counselor are all called upon before the end.

Review: It’s Lois McMaster Bujold, so the writing is excellent: clear, bright, vivid, beautiful. Bujold doesn’t do flowery and over the top, she does compelling and highly readable, but she doesn’t talk down to the reader. She expects us to keep up, and thankfully, we always can. I loved Desdemona (Penric’s demon) and I loved the maturity Des and Penric both show compared to the first novella in this series. I think this can probably be read as a standalone, but it’ll have more depth if you’ve read Penric’s Demon first and that novella is so great, I don’t think it’s a hardship.

In this one, Bujold does a little more world-building and gives us a glimpse of another culture in the world she’s created. The plot is strong and doesn’t go where I expected it to go, but it’s the characters that always keep me coming back to Bujold’s work. Her characters are never one dimensional, never simple, but they’re always people you want to know more about.

The only reason this didn’t quite get a five star is because I think her full-length novels in this world have scope for depth, but that’s such a tiny thing and possibly a symptom of my preference for novels than an actual flaw in the work.

Review: Down Among the Sticks and Stones by Seanan McGuire

sticks_and_bones

Rating: 5/5 portals to strange moors

Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

Review

I loved Every Heart a Doorway last year. It was one of my top reads for the year and I felt it was really important because of all the people it represented. An asexual main character is so rare, and it was so beautifully written.

That makes me feel slightly guilty about saying I liked this one even more. I shouldn’t have favourites!

Except I do, and this has become one. Every Heart a Doorway was brilliant, beautiful, and spoke to a lot of people. Down Among the Sticks and Bones spoke to me. 

I didn’t feel like I knew Jack or Jill well at the end of Every Heart and that’s fine. They weren’t the MCs. I didn’t need to know their deepest thoughts and fears, because it wasn’t their story. It was Nancy’s story.

This book is their story and I discovered that I adore Jack, Jill terrifies me, and they’re both amazing characters. In fact, I immediately picked up Every Heart to see how that changes now that I understand these people better!

The big theme in the book is the ways that parents and parental figures can fuck us up but they can also put us back together again. Sometimes they don’t put us back together right, and sometimes we’re too broken to be put together no matter how hard our parental figures try. Sometimes they helps us to put ourselves together exactly as we need to be.

The theme that really spoke to me, though, was about gender. The idea that trying to fit inside rigid definitions of gender can be damaging and that it’s okay to be a mixture of girl things and boy things and it doesn’t make you any less (or any more) a girl or a boy. It’s not about being trans (I think that should be Kade’s story, if McGuire ever writes it), but it is about finding balance and finding what works for us in a world that can put hard lined around gender expression. It’s about the damage that parental expectations and definitions can do and the ways that rebellion against those expectations can be as damaging as the expectations.

I can’t explain why this book felt so much like my book, because my parents were nothing like Jack and Jill’s parents and I didn’t get transported to the Moors, but it did. I think it’s because Jack spoke to me. I know Jack because a part of me has been Jack, is still Jack in places, and that’s what this book connected to.

Review: Do You Want to Start a Scandle? – Tessa Dare

start_a_scandal

Rating: 4/5 demon horses

On the night of the Parkhurst ball, someone had a scandalous tryst in the library.

  • Was it Lord Canby, with the maid, on the divan?
  • Or Miss Fairchild, with a rake, against the wall?
  • Perhaps the butler did it.

All Charlotte Highwood knows is this: it wasn’t her. But rumors to the contrary are buzzing. Unless she can discover the lovers’ true identity, she’ll be forced to marry Piers Brandon, Lord Granville—the coldest, most arrogantly handsome gentleman she’s ever had the misfortune to embrace. When it comes to emotion, the man hasn’t got a clue.

But as they set about finding the mystery lovers, Piers reveals a few secrets of his own. The oh-so-proper marquess can pick locks, land punches, tease with sly wit … and melt a woman’s knees with a single kiss. The only thing he guards more fiercely than Charlotte’s safety is the truth about his dark past.

Their passion is intense. The danger is real. Soon Charlotte’s feeling torn. Will she risk all to prove her innocence? Or surrender it to a man who’s sworn to never love?

Review

This is part of both the Castles Ever After and the Spindle Cove series from this author, but you really don’t need to be familiar with either to read this. I haven’t read any Spindle Cove books and it wasn’t a problem, and I didn’t realise it was linked to Castles until a character was mentioned that reminded me. So don’t be put off by that!

Tessa Dare writes really fun romances. I always end up laughing at some point while I’m reading, because she has a flair for the ridiculous and she’s not afraid to use it. That adds a delightful element to her books and keeps them rolling along merrily. Charlotte and Piers were both characters I immediately rooted for, which helps a lot with buying into a romance, and their situation was both ridiculous and quite plausible, which is a feat. More importantly, the chemistry between them is hot and Dare writes the growing relationship between them beautifully.

The side-plot about discovering who the secret lovers are was so good–and so unexpected in its reveal–that I might have punched the air and giggled wildly. Possibly.

It’s not perfect. I felt a couple of aspects of the resolution got a bit rushed, but not enough to spoil my enjoyment of the book. My only complaint is…where is the book about Delia? I really hope Dare writes it, because she was the secondary character I most wanted to know more about.

Weekly reading, 3 August 2016

Last book finished: Rise by Mira Grant. I’ve already squeed a fair bit about this, but it’s worth squeeing again. The Newsflesh books are great–fun, intelligent books about the post-zombie apocalypse rather than the actual zombie apocalypse. Rise is a collection of short stories set in that world, and they’re terrific gap-fillers. The stories set during the Rising are amazing–heart-wrenching and real, in a way I didn’t expect because they’re about ordinary people rather than the superheroes. Or about ordinary people and the way they become heroes. Grant examines the mythology of a hero in most of these stories, which is fascinating to me.

Many of the other stories examine the recovery process and the ways having zombies as a constant threat changes society. The story that breaks my heart every time is “The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell”, because it’s about schools, and somehow, that cuts even deeper than the story of the final San Diego Comic Con. It’s not a story for the fainthearted, and you won’t be able to sleep easily after reading it, but it’s important for too many reasons to count. Reading all those stories in one swoop, instead of bit by bit as they were released, made the breadth of what Grant has done really stand out.

There are two never-published-before stories in this collection, too, and they’re both terrific. Oddly, it was the story about the elder Masons that caught me the most. I expected it to be the story about Georgie and Shaun, the protagonists from the original trilogy, which really got me, but no. It was Michael and Stacy Mason, recovering from everything they’d had to do to survive Berkley during the Rising. They’d been characters I actively disliked in the original books and although this story doesn’t make them nicer, better people, it makes me understand them and feel sympathy for them. That’s an impressive feat and may be why I took more out of “All The Pretty Little Horses” than I did from “Coming to You Live”. Not that Georgia and Shaun’s story was bad or weak–far from it–but I didn’t feel I learned anything new about them, while I did with Michael and Stacy Mason.

This is definitely a book where you need to read the original trilogy first, but I highly recommend it, which means you probably need to get onto the Newsflesh books if you haven’t already.

Current read: Still working on Russian History: A Very Short Introduction. This will always be my status. I’m setting myself a deadline: must finish it before I go to England next month. Argh, only a week to go!

I’m in kind of a fluffy phase right now, and simultaneously reading two books by the same author: Class and Sweetshop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan. Hugely enjoying both of them.

And like the rest of the world, I’m also clued to The Cursed Child, which I was lucky enough to score from the library on release day. I’m going to need my own copy…

Next read: I have Imprudence by Gail Carriger sitting on my coffee table. As soon as my current library read is done, it’s mine!

What are you reading this week, and would you recommend it?

Weekly reading, 27 July 2016

Last book finished: Hounded by Kevin Hearne. It’s the first part in his Iron Druid series and I found it a lot of fun. Not the best book I’ve read this year, but definitely entertaining and with enough promise to add the next one to my wishlist. Actually, it was a character introduced late in the book that really got me interested in continuing, but that’s because she grabbed me in a way the viewpoint character hasn’t (yet). I’d say it’s a fun distraction for an afternoon, particularly if you like your urban fantasy with some Celtic influences, but don’t go in expecting huge universal insights into humanity. This is strictly a magic and adventure book.

Current read: Still working on Russian History: A Very Short Introduction. This will always be my status. I’m setting myself a deadline: must finish it before I go to England next month.

I’m onto the never-seen-before short stories in Rise, by Mira Grant, and OMG SQUEE. A story about Michael and Stacey Mason and suddenly they make so much more sense. I’m loving this. I also finally started Justice Calling by Annie Bellet, which was free a while ago and has been sitting on my Kindle ever since. It’s another fun distraction, on the short end for a novel, and I’m enjoying it more than I expected. If you’re an RPGer, particularly DnD, I suspect this book will be even more entertaining.

Next read: I have Imprudence by Gail Carriger sitting on my coffee table. My Hugo reading is almost done and I’ll have done my vote by the weekend. Yeah, I’m diving into steampunk joy next.

What are you reading this week, and would you recommend it?

Weekly reading, 20 July 2016

I know, I didn’t post a report last week. It was a weird, busy week, and blogging slipped by me. I’m claiming the Hugo progress report the week before as that week’s weekly reading post, too. So this is the first “proper” report since…uh…June. Shockingly, I only seem to have finished one book since my Hugo binge. At least it was a good one!

Last book finished: Trade Me by Courtney Milan. I’m a big fan of her historical romances, but this is the first (and so far, only) contemporary she’s written, which may be why it sat unread for so long. I’ll pick a historical over a contemp every day, but I did finally get started on it (because it’s Courtney Milan)…and consumed it very fast as soon as I did. Milan’s trademarks are all here: fun, witty writing, protagonists who don’t fall into stereotypes, and a plot that isn’t just about their relationship. She did it in a modern setting, though, and she did it really well. Tina Chen is a wonderful heroine, clearly drawn from some of Milan’s own background, and I instantly liked her. Blake Reynolds was harder to like initially, but I began to have sympathy for him very quickly and could absolutely see why Tina fell for him. One thing I particularly liked is that for both of them, their issues stem from their parents and it would be very easy to have drawn their parents as unrelenting bad guys. It’s a popular trope. Milan examines those issues and relationships more closely, though, and I ended the book really liking all the characters even though I could also see how they had led to so many of the problems Tina and Blake have.

And speaking of problems, this is a book that deals with mental health issues and eating disorders. Not the ones you’re thinking, though. It’s Blake dealing with an eating disorder, and Milan writes it sensitively and beautifully. Tina can’t heal him on her own, any more than Blake can fix Tina’s problems, and I always appreciate a romance where sex isn’t the magical heal-all. This is a book that’s a lot of fun, a bit painful at times, and completely compelling. I stayed up way too late a couple of times because I couldn’t put it down, which shows how much I loved it.

Current read: Still working on Russian History: A Very Short Introduction. This will always be my status. I read a page, though. An entire page. Maybe if I reach for it instead of my Kindle during my sessions of pacing around to relieve back pain…

I’m reading Rise by Mira Grant, but I’ve learned that zombies are definitely not good bedtime reading, so progress has been a little slow. I’m also most of the way through Hunted by Kevin Hearne. He’s coming to my local comic con in November, so it was clearly time to dig this out and read it. So far, it’s fun. Not the height of brilliance, but entertaining with a lot of promise, so I’ll probably be checking out more in the series.

Next read: I got a lot of Hugo reading done, but I still have a few short stories to dig into. Must get to those this week.

What are you reading this week, and would you recommend it?

Weekly reading, 29 June 2016

Last book finished: Out on Good Behaviour by Dahlia Adler. It’s wonderful. An f/f new adult romance that manages to be hot and sweet at the same time, which I think deserves applause. It doesn’t fall into the “BFFs with kissing” territory that some YA/NA f/f books can, but the sex isn’t hard core erotica, either. It’s exactly the balance that worked for me. The plot happily dives into the player/virgin trope in the best way possible and made me smile the whole way through, even during the slightly angsty parts. Although coming out is a part of the story, for Sam anyway, the real plot is about Frankie–the player–learning that being in love can be wonderful and doesn’t change who she is. I loved this book so much, and I can tell it’s going to be a happy comfort read for me.

Current read: Still working on Russian History: A Very Short Introduction. This will always be my status. It got buried under a recipe book avalanche this week, so I need to do some tidying up and get reading on it!

I gave up on Seveneves. I made it further than I expected–page 364–but I just couldn’t do it to myself any more. So much over explaining. So little characterisation. Such awful pacing. I started to rant about it for the fiftieth time and realised that I was only reading due to bloody minded determination, so I put myself out of my memory. Onto the DNF pile it went!

I picked up Rise by Mira Grant instead, and it’s such a relief to be reading something with better writing. Grant knows how to get characterisation and pacing right, while writing compelling plots that are as scientifically rigorous as a zombie novel can be. And she does it without throwing every damn piece of research she’s ever done into the text.

I’m also reading Poison or Protect by Gail Carriger, which is pure joy and hilarity.

Next read: I’ve got to make some headway on the rest of the short Hugo works, so that’s going to be my task over the long weekend. Wish me luck.

What are you reading this week, and would you recommend it?

I don’t have a pre-order problem, really!

In a discussion on Twitter yesterday, a friend and I were cheerfully looking forward to the books we’ve pre-ordered and are expecting to have over the next month, and we decided to compare lists. And how better to share lists than through a terrifying blog post listing them?

Mine isn’t quite as bad as I imagined. Mostly, I suspect, because so many of my pre-ordered books were/are June releases. Heh.

  • A Study in Sable – Mercedes Lackey (June 2nd)
  • League of Dragons – Naomi Novik (June 14th)
  • Rise – Mira Grant (June 21st)
  • Poison or Protect – Gail Carriger (June 21st)
  • Imprudence – Gail Carriger (July 19th)
  • Ghost Talkers – Mary Robinette Kowal (August 16th)
  • The Obelisk Gate – N. K. Jemesin (August 16th)
  • Feedback – Mira Grant (October 4th)
  • Crosstalk – Connie Willis (October 4th)

And now that it’s all listed…huh, I don’t have any November or December preorders. That’s most unusual! Usually there’s at least a couple, because some authors are lovely and release books right around my birthday.

I’m the lack won’t last 🙂

So, which releases are you looking forward to this year?

Wednesday…er, Thursday reading, 16 June 2016

I got so engrossed in my current read that I forgot to do this yesterday. Woops! At least I have a good reading-related excuse for forgetting to post about my reading?

Last book finished: An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear. I like the Maisie Dobbs books–historical mysteries are one of me things and the protagonist is great in these–and it wasn’t a really bad book, but it wasn’t a good one, either. It was a ‘meh’ book for me, with a few elements that felt a bit troubling because I don’t know enough to know whether the representation of the Rom was as problematic as it felt. Maybe I’m just overly sensitive to that, after seeing so many people talking about the bad depictions, but I felt uncomfortable in each scene because I couldn’t tell how good or wrong those parts were. The mystery plot was intriguing at times, but the resolution felt too easy and too clean. I did appreciate some long-running plots being tied up, giving room for new developments, and was what saved this book. Overall, it’s not awful, but not one that I can wholeheartedly recommend. Hopefully this is just a dip and the next in the series will be back to its usual standard.

Current read: Still working on Russian History: A Very Short Introduction. This will always be my status. Bribes still aren’t working. Maybe I need to put a reminder in my calendar, block out fifteen minutes a day for it.

I’m reading The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua and I’m loving it. It’s a book of joy and wonder. I can’t decide whether it’s the footnotes or the endnotes that charm me the most. Maybe it’s the way Ada Lovelace is firmly places as the heroine. I don’t know, but I cannot say enough good things about this. Hopefully it sticks the landing!

I should finish The Great Hunt soon. Maybe even this weekend. One of the things that fascinates me is that Jordan writes such fascinating, vivid women, all with agency and complexity, but the way his male characters think about them is so different. It’s a running theme that the men don’t know how to talk to women and constantly feel the need to protect them. And then we’ll get a chapter from one of the women’s POVs and they’re entirely capable of looking after themselves, thank you very much. The men have rather old fashioned ideas about the women, which can grate a little after spending too long in Rand or Perrin’s head. This may be why the chapters with Nynaeve, Egwene, or Moiraine are some of my favourites.

Or it could be due to this being Rand’s most tiresome book. Honestly, he’s not the brightest hero ever. Selene is clearly sign posted in every way possible as evil, but a pretty face is enough to turn Rand’s head. Maybe this is why Rand is my least favourite character. Thank goodness Jordan gave the other characters more and more chapters per book as the series went on. Too much time in Rand’s head is a recipe for frustration.

Next read: Seveneves just arrived at the library for me, so I guess that’s my next read. I’ll probably pick something fluffy and fun on my Kindle as an antidote for all that hard SF. Maybe a light F/F romance, that seems like a good thing to read right now.

What are you reading this week, and would you recommend it?