Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

Monday, April 10, 2023

Review: The Bone Shard War (The Drowning Empire #3) by Andrea Stewart

The Bone Shard War (The Drowning Empire #3) by Andrea Stewart
Publication Date: April 20th, 2023
Hardcover. 624 pages.

About The Bone Shard War:

"The Bone Shard Daughter was hailed as "one of the best debut fantasy novels of the year" (BuzzFeed News). Now, Andrea Stewart brings us the final book in this unmissable, action-packed, magic-laced epic fantasy trilogy, The Bone Shard War.

Lin Sukai has won her first victory as Emperor, but the future of the Phoenix Empire hangs in the balance – and Lin is dangerously short of allies.

As her own governors plot treason, the Shardless Few renew hostilities. Worse still, Lin discovers her old nemesis Nisong has joined forces with the rogue Alanga, Ragan. Both seek her death.

Yet hopes lies in history. Legend tells of seven mythic swords, forged in centuries past. If Lin can find them before her enemies, she may yet be able to turn the tide.

If she fails, the Sukai dynasty – and the entire empire – will fall.

There will not be any spoilers for The Bone Shard War in this review, but there may be minor spoilers for the previous two books. You can find my reviews for those two at the following links:
The Bone Shard Daughter (#1)
The Bone Shard Emperor (#2) 

I realized after starting The Bone Shard War that I desperately needed a recap for this book because there isn't much guidance provided, so admittedly I was a little confused at times during the first couple chapters, but eventually I found my way again. We pick up about two years post events from The Bone Shard Emperor, which is partially what caused me to take a little time to regain my grips in the world as we slowly learned that status of each character and what had happened int he interim time between The Bone Shard Emperor and this book.

I loved getting to revisit Lin, Thrana, Jovis, and Mephi the most, largely because I just love the relationships between them and their "animal" companions. Thrana and Mephi are the real stars of this show, as I'm sure we can all agree. I've enjoyed seeing Lin evolve over the course of these books from someone relatively naive in the first books to an emperor who is now ready and capable of ruling an empire (well, for the most part). There's been a lot for her to learn and I think we really see it all come together in this book, particularly her growing maturity and ability to see the grander picture and make decisions that are the best for the most people. Similarly, Jovis has really evolved from a smuggler trying to make his way and save tithed children to an imperial guard to now a prisoner, but who internally has grown so much and has much more strength than ever before. Both Lin and Jovis have really been given opportunities to learn more about who they are, what their desires and motivations are, and much more. I was never an overly huge fan of Phalue or Ranami's storylines, but I do think Stewart did them justice in this book and continued their storylines in a strong way that really kept me engaged in their roles. It's been a continuous source of intrigue to see how they interact with Lin and one another in order to work together while still maintaining their own goals and motivations.

This book also deals with a lot of different types of grief, from different types of death to loss of ideas or dreams to loss of memories and everything in between. Stewart does an excellent job at creating complex characters, and that has been apparent throughout this entire trilogy, especially when dealing with these different forms of grief. All of the characters, from the 'good' to the 'bad' are so very human and struggle with a variety of different issues. We really get a sense that these characters have to work through difficult things and do grow from them in different ways. Morals are put to the test and everyone has to figure out where they stand and what they are willing to do to maintain their choices, and dealing with the outcomes of each and every choice.

One discussion that I really liked seeing explored in this trilogy, and especially in this book, was around having an empire and emperor in rule versus having a different form of governance such as council or something with less power concentrated in one place. Lin really wanted control of the empire to, in her opinion, make it strong, generous, and be able to responsibly and kindly take care of its inhabitants. Her opponents, however, didn't want any type of singular ruler at all–no matter how "good" they may be–because they don't believe power should ever rest with one person, and that subsequent rulers after Lin could be just as bad as previous times, if not worse. I really liked seeing this struggle play out and getting to see the arguments from both sides. I also appreciated getting to see Lin come to terms with how she feels about the empire and what she wants and/or is willing to do for the betterment of everything. I think Stewart handled this rather enormous topic really well, and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey to where we end up when the story concludes (which I'll leave spoiler free!).

I've seen a few people mention that this book was a little repetitive, and unfortunately I have to agree with that. The pacing was very hit and miss for me due to this, and I felt like there were a number of scenes that were added almost more as filler than were actually necessary to the story, or that the information gleaned from them could have been obtained in another way or another scene. There were a lot of scenes of one of our main characters running into Ragan, Dione, Nisong–basically, any one of the antagonists–have some sort of (often violent) interaction, and then part ways without actually attempting to kill one another or with promises to "meet again." It felt a little silly to me at times and made me think of movies or books when they leave the bad guy (or good guy) alive, which only ends up being a problem later as well. It was almost as if the stakes overall felt lower, because it got to the point where they'd meet with an antagonist and I didn't feel worried because I figured they'd just meet again some other time. Maybe this latter part is just something that bothered me, but I did feel like quite a few of these fights were rather pointless because of this.

We do finally get a lot of answers regarding bone shard magic and more of the intricacies of the magic system itself, though I'll admit there were still areas that left me feeling slightly confused or that I didn't fully understand how some things worked. There are plenty of twists and turns throughout, however, that keeps things interesting and this really helped to keep the pacing up from other times when it slowed more.

Overall, I found The Bone Shard War to be a very satisfying conclusion to this trilogy, and I look forward to seeing what Andrea Stewart will be writing next! For me, this was not as good as The Bone Shard Emperor, but still much better than The Bone Shard Daughter and I'd definitely recommend this trilogy as a whole to any fantasy fan. I've given The Bone Shard War four stars. 

*I received a copy of The Bone Shard War courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Monday, April 3, 2023

Review: Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee

Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee
Publication Date: April 11th, 2023
Hardcover. 160 pages.

About Untethered Sky:

"Ester’s family was torn apart when a manticore killed her mother and baby brother, leaving her with nothing but her father’s painful silence and a single, overwhelming need to kill the monsters that took her family. 

Ester’s path leads her to the King’s Royal Mews, where the giant rocs of legend are flown to hunt manticores by their brave and dedicated ruhkers. Paired with a fledgling roc named Zahra, Ester finds purpose and acclaim by devoting herself to a calling that demands absolute sacrifice and a creature that will never return her love. The terrifying partnership between woman and roc leads Ester not only on the empire’s most dangerous manticore hunt, but on a journey of perseverance and acceptance."

Untethered Sky is a novella so I'll probably keep this review a little shorter so as to avoid giving too much away!

Untethered Sky follows Ester, a young woman who is on her way to begin her training as a rukher. A rukher is someone who trains with and is eventually paired up with a roc–a large bird of prey type of animal–in a long and complex process. Rukhers, along with their rocs, then train together to hunt the terrifying manticores which pose a large threat to humans and can wreak havoc on villages. Being a rukher is a dangerous job, and even the pairing process with a new roc can be a fatal endeavor if things don't go well, as rocs are also highly dangerous animals.

In this story, Ester is especially determined to become a rukher because of a deadly manticore attack in her childhood that killed her mother and brother, so she wants her own revenge against the manticore and to help ensure that this doesn't happen to anyone else. One thing that I think endeared Ester so much to me was how much she felt like a real, generally balanced person. A lot of protagonists tend to suffer from being so incredibly irresponsible or bullheaded that I find it hard to even relate, and I was so pleased to find that Ester wasn’t irresponsible and didn’t really take any unnecessary or poorly planned risks. She’s really a smart character and had so much nuance within her thoughts, motivations, and actions that I found myself unable to look away from her story.

I loved how much time and attention Lee put into describing and walking us through the training and bonding process between Ester and her roc, Zahra. It reminded me a lot of training a dog, but obviously far more intense and with a much wilder beast that comes with much greater potential consequences when things go wrong. I think there was a part of me that wondered at times at the notion of capturing these beautiful wild beasts and "taming" them to be hunters, but Lee makes a good case for them in this story and human's purposes for doing so. It was really interesting to see the dynamic between rukhers and their rocs and how seriously rukhers take their jobs and have such immense respect for their rocs.

The world created in Untethered Sky is vibrant and incredibly well-developed for the short amount of time we spend in it, which is usually something that I find to be a main issue in most fantasy novellas. There wasn't actually an excessive amount of world-building or description at the start, but somehow it still managed to feel fully realized and slowly expanded as the story progressed and we explored some new locations. I found that I could easily imagine the world outside of Ester and the King's Royal Mews location and really liked getting to learn a bit more about the world. I only wish this story would have been longer so that I could learn even more about the world because I liked it so much.

It’s hard for novellas to get a good balance of plot, character development, world-building, and a strong ending, but Untethered Sky really excelled at all of these, especially the latter. I thought this was one of the strongest endings to a story I’ve read in a while and fit the rest of the story perfectly. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending and it left me feeling incredibly satisfying with how much it both hurt and was beautiful at the same time.

It must be a testament to Fonda Lee's writing how much I loved this novella because I managed to read it in one day, and that happens very rarely these days! The fact that this book was able to hold my attention for so long is fairly remarkable, and speaks to what a compelling story this was. Not one word felt wasted and the pacing was exceptionally consistent throughout the entire story. Overall, I've give Untethered Sky five stars!

*I received a copy of Untethered Sky courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Review: The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill by Rowenna Miller

The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill
 by Rowenna Miller
Publication Date: March 28th, 2023
Paperback. 416 pages.

About The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill:

"There is no magic on Prospect Hill—or anywhere else, for that matter. But just on the other side of the veil is the world of the Fae. Generations ago, the first farmers on Prospect Hill learned to bargain small trades to make their lives a little easier—a bit of glass to find something lost, a cup of milk for better layers in the chicken coop. 

Much of that old wisdom was lost as the riverboats gave way to the rail lines and the farmers took work at mills and factories. Alaine Fairborn’s family, however, was always superstitious, and she still hums the rhymes to find a lost shoe and to ensure dry weather on her sister’s wedding day. 

When Delphine confides her new husband is not the man she thought he was, Alaine will stop at nothing to help her sister escape him. Small bargains buy them time, but a major one is needed. Yet, the price for true freedom may be more than they’re willing to pay."

If you've read and enjoyed Rowenna Miller's The Unraveled Kingdom series, then you'll probably also adore The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill and know exactly what to expect. If you haven't, here's a taste of what's in store: strong female characters, a cozy setting and plot, magic in the best ways from the subtle to the overt, and beautiful writing that makes each page fly by. I really loved this latest release from Rowenna Miller and was so glad to see her writing something just as dazzling as The Unraveled Kingdom series, but with a much different setting and plot. 

The Fairborn family has lived on Prospect Hill for generations as farmers, and it is where they now still own many acres of land and a healthy orchard. These farmers also learned that it was possible to bargain with the Fae folk for various boons, though the need for careful thought and consideration when making these bargains has always been critical so as not to be tricked. Alaine and Delphine have grown up on the land and Alaine now lives in a house built there with her husband Jack, and daughter Emily. Delphine is recently engaged to a wealthy man and will be leaving Prospect Hill. Alaine is saddened by this and concerned about Delphine's future, but is supportive and happy for her... until both she and Delphine discover that her new husband is not the man they thought he was. 

The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill has a fairly slow start where we really take the time to get to know each of our main characters and the world they live in. The slow start is definitely worth the wait for everything that eventually happens, and I enjoyed experiencing this somewhat quieter fantasy novel that has hints of magic in every page. This book has an incredibly charming tone and atmosphere to it, full of whimsical notes and an abundance of folktale energy throughout. Within this cozy atmosphere, however, is a very persistent undertone of something a little more serious and even sinister, in a sense. 

Alaine is a very determine and headstrong–I may even go as far as calling her stubborn–woman who has a lot of responsibilities between the orchard, her daughter, and seeming to feel a need to take care of everyone. She bargains a good bit and does more than she should. Delphine also has some of that stubbornness and it very compelling to watch both Alaine and Delphine come to terms with their own conflicts in order to help one another int he best ways possible. I liked getting a chance to see how these two women managed to handle very different struggles in ways that worked best for both of them, all while maintaining their loyalty and love for their family. 

I loved Miller's creation of the Fae world and the rules around bargaining. There are of course many folktales about the Fae that exist in our own world, all of which come with their own unique rules and general customs. I appreciated the detail that Miller included in the bargaining rules in this book, which added so much life and authenticity to the story by doing so. These are not simple bargains or trades, but very rich and intricate exchanges between the human and Fae that have very real consequences if not done in thoughtful manners. I really appreciated how Miller crafted all of this and managed to create something that felt true to folktales and intelligent in how the Fae and humans interacted.

As mentioned, this is a bit of a slow burner of a story, and I found that this also played into the fact that we don't really get to interact much with the Fae world itself until near the very end of the story, which was a little disappointing to me because I knew it would probably be one of my favorite parts of the story–and it was. Much in the same way that Miller crafted the Fae bargaining, she also did an excellent job of developing a captivating Fae world that effortlessly captured the intensity, fearsomeness, and wonder that embodies any Fae world. This is not some cute Fae world where there is magic and fun, it is a harsh yet playful world that is not for the faint of heart, which is how a Fae world should be. Miller seems to take inspiration from a lot of the more traditional views of the Fae and how Fae worlds and bargains work, and it all worked beautifully in this story.

The only things I didn't love as much about this book were the pacing and some confusion around the setting itself. I don't mind a slower paced story at all, and in fact the style of this story is exactly what I expected from Miller Miller (in a good way!), but I do wish there had been just a bit more going on in the first or even middle portions of the story to keep things more engaging. As it stands, much of the action occurs in the final third part of the book, and while that generally works, it made me wish there had been more stakes or more intrigue in general to earlier parts of the book. With regard to the setting, my main complaint is that it felt a bit grey about when exactly this story takes place, and I wasn't even sure at first where this was meant to take place (such as in a real world or a fantasy world, in North America, Europe, etc.), which left me feeling a bit surprised whenever we'd hear about a historical event or something similar and I had to reorient how I perceived the world. 

Outside of those minor issues, I really had a pleasurable time with this story! I think Rowenna Miller will continue to be an author whose work I will always pick up and will likely always enjoy. Her writing flows beautifully and always manages to include incredible women, themes that are both relevant and meaningful without being overdone, and storytelling that brings everything to life. Overall, I've given The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill four stars!

*I received a copy of The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Review: A House with Good Bones by T. Kingfisher

A House with Good Bones by T. Kingfisher
Tor Nightfire
Publication Date: March 28th, 2023
Hardcover. 256 pages.

About A House With Good Bones:

"'Mom seems off.' 

Her brother's words echo in Sam Montgomery's ear as she turns onto the quiet North Carolina street where their mother lives alone.

She brushes the thought away as she climbs the front steps. Sam's excited for this rare extended visit, and looking forward to nights with just the two of them, drinking boxed wine, watching murder mystery shows, and guessing who the killer is long before the characters figure it out.

But stepping inside, she quickly realizes home isn’t what it used to be. Gone is the warm, cluttered charm her mom is known for; now the walls are painted a sterile white. Her mom jumps at the smallest noises and looks over her shoulder even when she’s the only person in the room. And when Sam steps out back to clear her head, she finds a jar of teeth hidden beneath the magazine-worthy rose bushes, and vultures are circling the garden from above.

To find out what’s got her mom so frightened in her own home, Sam will go digging for the truth. But some secrets are better left buried.

I just love T. Kingfisher, I really do. 

There is something very special about T. Kingfisher's brand of horror, and A House with Good Bones captures that quality extremely well. A House with Good Bones contains fairly ordinary people in ordinary settings where nothing exceptionally outlandish happens–at first–and a slow creep of dread slowly settles in, but you are almost always caught off guard by it because of how well the story is able to incorporate humor and endearing characters that make it impossible to put the book down. 

This is very classic T. Kingfisher horror and so for me that means it's brilliant and I'm going to love it. If you have read and enjoyed any of T. Kingfisher's other horror books (or even non-horror ones), then you will definitely want to check this one out as well because it is very much written in the same style and with all the trademark humor, creepiness, and intelligence as her previous books. 

In A House with Good Bones, we follow Sam Montgomery as she makes her way back home during some time off from work to check in on her mom after her brothers calls and tells her that their mom seems to be acting a little... "off." Sam arrives home in North Carolina and soon realizes that things with her mom are, indeed, a bit odd. Things in the house also seem to be just a little bit odd, and Sam can't figure out why her mom seems to be acting a lot like her Gran Mae used to act–especially since neither her mother nor Sam herself particularly liked Gran Mae. 

T. Kingfisher is an absolute master at creating the most creeping, slow burn horror. I remember when I first read The Hollow Places by Kingfisher, the first book of hers that I read, and I was so immersed and blown away by how unbelievably unnerving and creepy the story was and how her writing was able to make me feel so incredibly uneasy, and that is the case in A House with Good Bones as well. There's not all that much in the way of action in the first portion of the book, but there is still so much that happens with regard to the weirdness of Sam's mother's actions and the house itself. Not to mention the fact that there is a weird amount of wild vultures in the neighborhood that seem particularly interested in Gran Mae's house, which also lays out a perfect atmosphere for this eerie story.

Sam is an incredible protagonist, and her humor and deadpan narrative delivery remind me a lot of the protagonists in The Hollow Places and The Twisted Ones. She is an entomologist living in Arizona, but often travels for various archaeological digs, and her entomologist expertise definitely comes in handy in this book in some very surprising ways, but also in ways that I found very interesting. I love when characters are specific experts in a topic and I get to learn a little bit secondhand from their narrative, which happens quite a bit here–but I promise it's all interesting and not at all dry. Sam is the perfect horror companion because she's very rational and always looking for a reasonable explanation for things, especially since she is scientifically-minded, as well as because of her ability to have a very dry-witted remark for just about everything. I laughed as much as I felt creeped out in this book, and that is my favorite type of story because I love humor and being entertained, but I also love getting creeped out by things. I felt like I was friends with Sam in this book, and that made for an even more enjoyable experience. 

I can't tell you anything that happens because it absolutely needs to be a surprise, so just know that as you form theories and opinions about what's happening, you are probably somewhat on the right track... but also a little wrong and there will be big surprises to keep things interesting. I genuinely could not put this book down. In a time when I've been struggling to get through a single book in any short amount of time, I read this book so quickly and so easily that it helped remind me why I love reading so much. Although there is a lot more I could potentially say about this book, I'm going to stop here and keep things relatively brief because I'm not sure what else I could say that wouldn't just be outright overenthusiastic gushing about it, and at this point I think my point has been made.  

Overall, it's another five stars from me for A House with Good Bones. This was brilliant, entertaining, timely, and has so much to love about it. I cannot recommend A House with Good Bones (or any T. Kingfisher book, really) enough. 

*I received a copy of A House with Good Bones courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Monday, March 20, 2023

Review: Rubicon by J.S. Dewes

 by J.S. Dewes
Tor Books
Publication Date: March 28th, 2023
Paperback. 480 pages.

About Rubicon:

"Sergeant Adrienne Valero wants to die. She can't.

After enduring a traumatic resurrection for the ninety-sixth time, Valero is reassigned to a special forces unit and outfitted with a cutting-edge virtual intelligence aid. They could turn the tide in the war against intelligent machines dedicated to the assimilation, or destruction, of humanity.

When her VI suddenly achieves sentience, Valero is drawn into the machinations of an enigmatic major who’s hell-bent on ending the war—by any means

Rubicon is a fast-paced, adventurous, and exciting action story, while also being very thought-provoking and full of many heavy topics to explore. There is an incredible balance of fast-paced adventurous military sci-fi with deep character exploration and world-building.

I read and absolutely loved J.S. Dewes' The Last Flight a couple years back and was so excited to see a brand new world and story for her latest book, Rubicon. I don't read all that much military sci-fi on a regular basis, but I do read it from time to time and Rubicon is a perfect example of how much I can love some military sci-fi!

It's hard to succinctly summarize Rubicon, so please bear with me while I do my best. The story starts off with an action-packed beginning where we follow Sergeant Adrienne Valero on a typical mission in the 803rd unit, which ends with her and her crew dying and "rezoning" back to life into a new body. This might sound intense, but fear not–this is the 96th time that Adrienne has rezoned, so she's pretty much an old pro at this point. All memories remain intact, it's simply a new shell for the minds to be placed. This rezoning is a tool that humans have been using for a number of years now since the human population has dwindled and they need to stay ready to fight the Mechans. Humans have been battling the Mechans for a couple decades now to get past their blockade, but the Mechans are extremely strong, have great technology, and–due to being essentially robots–very hard to beat. 

Our story begins when Adrienne is reassigned to a special forces unit where rezoning is much rarer and there seems to be more importance placed on the lives of the crew within the unit. In this special forces unit, members are required to have a virtual intelligence aid installed, which is basically like having a really smart, intuitive, and more useful Alexa-type device in your head that's meant to assist on missions and give crews a better chance at success. Somehow, Adrienne's VI achieves sentience, thereby giving her a huge edge and additional abilities that takes all of her missions to the next level. I personally really enjoyed seeing how these VIs interacted with the characters and how they managed to assist them in so many critical ways, and I loved seeing how Adrienne interacted with hers, especially as she began to realize that it acted in ways that didn't seem similar to how her crewmates' VIs were interacting with them. 

Adrienne is a fascinating character. She's tough, she's strong, and she's real. She's very human and she has very human problems. No matter how many times she rezones, her struggle with alcohol seems to remain at a constant, and it's hard to blame her for this when her recent life has consisted of 96 rezones. She always seems to want to care more about her life and find more purpose and meaning in it, but struggles due to the nature of her job. I think Dewes did a really great of showcasing how Adrienne was regularly affected by the constant rezones and living such an intense, yet also somewhat monotonous life. It's hard to imagine what it would be like to go through such a lifestyle on a regular basis, but Dewes captures the mental and physical struggles extremely well and really made me empathize with Adrienne's circumstances, as well as the circumstances of many of the other characters stuck in a similar loop. 

In essence, this really is a bit of a dark story. It essentially takes place in a seemingly endless, almost hopeless battle where the humans just keep dying–and even though they get rezoned, it's not like it doesn't take a toll on everyone. Because of this premise, Rubicon is able to tackle some really hard questions, such as purpose in life and discussions of immortality. For instance, what does this particular type of immortality mean? You're still human, but no matter how many times you die, you'll keep being brought back in a rezone. Is there a purpose to life if you never really die? Are there any stakes involved and what is the motivation? How are you supposed to find the strength to get back up and keep living this life over and over? And for Adrienne, once she is reassigned to the special forces unit, how is she supposed to cope with the fact that she now has a significantly better quality of life while the rest of her old friends and many other people are still stuck living a very lonely, dark life?

All these topics and more are explored in very thoughtful and complex ways by Dewes, and I think it is really these questions that made this such a compelling read. There is plenty of action throughout the story to keep readers entertained, but there's also a lot of heart and a lot of complicated dynamics involved that add incredible depth to the story. The characters are also crafted really well, and I think this a strength I've noticed with Dewes' work, as she always managed to create characters that I can really connect to and find myself invested in. Outside of these things, Rubicon also has a truly compelling plotline centered around the fight between humanity and the Mechans, and I loved getting to explore the world and technology of this universe through this plot. The pacing is also wonderfully consistent, not too fast but also not too slow, and I found there to be a perfect balance of action and calmer moments. There's a lot to love about this book, and I'm really glad I had the chance to read it.

Overall, I've given Rubicon five stars! If you're looking for a new sci-fi read to lose yourself in, definitely give Rubicon a shot. 

*I received a copy of Rubicon courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Review: Chaos & Flame by Tessa Gratton & Justina Ireland

Chaos & Flame by Tessa Gratton & Justina Ireland
Publication Date: March 28th, 2023
Hardcover. 336 pages.

About Chaos & Flame:

"Darling Seabreak cannot remember anything before the murder of her family at the hands of House Dragon, but she knows she owes her life to both the power of her Chaos Boon and House Kraken for liberating her from the sewers where she spent her childhood. So when her adoptive Kraken father is captured in battle, Darling vows to save him--even if that means killing each and every last member of House Dragon.

Talon Goldhoard has always been a dutiful War Prince for House Dragon, bravely leading the elite troops of his brother, the High Prince Regent. But lately his brother's erratic rule threatens to undo a hundred years of House Dragon's hard work, and factions are turning to Talon to unseat him. Talon resists, until he's ambushed by a fierce girl who looks exactly like the one his brother has painted obsessively, repeatedly, for years, and Talon knows she's the key to everything.

Together, Darling and Talon must navigate the treacherous waters of House politics, caught up in the complicated game the High Prince Regent is playing against everyone. The unlikeliest of allies, they'll have to stop fighting each other long enough to learn to fight together in order to survive the fiery prophecies and ancient blood magic threatening to devastate their entire world."

Chaos & Flame is a fantasy adventure filled with political intrigue, magic, and plenty of characters with lots of conflict. It wasn't an overly memorable fantasy for me, but I found it perfectly entertaining and is still a YA I enjoyed much more than others. 

Darling Seabreak's family was murdered when she was a young girl, and as a result she has no real memory of her childhood with them. Fortunately, House Kraken swooped in and saved her from destitution and raised her as one of their own, where they worked tirelessly to overtake the indomitable House Dragon. House Dragon is home and family to Talon Goldhoard, also known as the War Prince, and his brother Caspian, who is now king. House Dragon rose to power many years ago after some political drama led them to taking their revenge on others, and it is now only under Caspian's rule that instability has started to grow within House Dragon. An unexpected and highly unusual event and reason eventually draws Talon and Darling together, and this is where our story begins as they discover that they must work together to prevent some much greater things from happening in the world around them. 

In Chaos & Flame, we follow the alternative viewpoints of Darling and Talon. While both characters had interesting backgrounds and development arcs throughout the story, I have to say that I didn't find that either one particularly stood out, and in fact both often had relatively similar voices for their narratives. That being said, I did enjoy getting to know both of these characters, and I particularly liked following Talon and learning more about his family interactions and history. As quick note, I just have to say that since this is a not in any way related to Peter Pan, the name Darling was oddly distracting to me and kept making me wonder why everyone was being so inappropriately friendly with her all the time. I also really liked getting to know more about Caspian, the 'mad king' who embodies that trope exceptionally well. He's not necessarily one of the main characters, but he has such a fun role that I think really added some incredible depth to the political intrigue and general character development of the story. 

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book, and it largely comes down to two main things: 1) It was a lot of fun overall and I really was entertained and felt like it didn't take itself as seriously as other YA fantasy books–in a good way. And then we have 2) It felt underdeveloped and really didn't feel like anything overly memorable. Chaos & Flame doesn't necessarily have anything overly new to offer to the YA fantasy or fantasy genre in general, but the story that it does provide is very well done and perfectly engrossing, and when compared to other YA fantasy I've read recently I did enjoy it quite a bit more. I haven't read anything from Justina Ireland before, but I already knew I loved Gratton's writing and storytelling, so I'm glad to see that the two form a fantastic team with this book. 

The pacing of Chaos & Flame is a little hit or miss at times, but overall it's a very fast-paced adventure with plenty of things going on to keep you turning the pages. The first third of the book felt a little rushed to me compared to the rest of the book, and there's one major plot progression point that felt exceptionally rushed and incorporated in a that felt as though the characters just accepted it and moved on much more quickly than made sense to me. This pacing and tone created a slight mismatch with the latter half of the book's pacing where there were more times when it felt like the story dragged slightly and not much really happened. 

I think my biggest issues with Chaos & Flame was that the world didn't feel as expansive or fleshed out as much as I'd have liked or expected, which seems to be a common issue lately in a lot of the books that I'm reading. We travel around the world a bit and are introduced to a few different areas of this world, but something about it still felt as though it was very isolated overall and I never got the sense that there was all that much else going on outside of our main characters' storylines. 

Despite the negatives, I did actually did have a good time with this book overall. I didn't really expect to like this book as much as I did, but something about it just made for a very casual, quick, and entertaining read. I would definitely recommend this for any YA fantasy fans or someone who is maybe looking for a fantasy with political intrigue, an interesting plot, and intriguing characters, but that isn't overly heavy or complex. The latter half of the book was exceptionally compelling and leaves readers on a cliffhanger that makes it hard not to commit to the sequel, and I would probably be open to reading the sequel. I don't think this will be a favorite or anything, but I had plenty of fun with it and found it an easy and enjoyable read. Overall, I've given Chaos & Flame 3.5 stars!

*I received a copy of Chaos & Flame courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Review: Makanuele Rumble (Jekua #3) by Travis M. Riddle


Makanuele Rumble (Jekua #3) by Travis M. Riddle
Independently Published
Publication Date: March 14, 2023
Ebook. 712 pages.

About Makanuele Rumble:

"Summoners travel from all over the world to compete in the biggest Jekua tournament in the Volukho Isles: the Makanuele Rumble.

Alani's sacred pilgrimage brings her group to bustling Makanuele at this crucial time. Her next stop is at the heart of the city, deep within an ancient crater. The Church led her along this path, but as the journey grows more difficult, she questions whether it is a path she wants to walk at all.

Meanwhile, Balt and Niona have been training for weeks just to earn a spot on the tournament bracket, but the competition is fierce. Facing savage Jekuas and harrowing environments, every battle may bring them closer to the champion's title – or else bring their journey to a premature end.

Yet as the group struggles with their inner demons and the mounting pressures of the tournament, greater dangers are prowling in Makanuele's streets.

This review will likely contain spoilers for the first two books in the Jekua series, so if you haven't read those already, you can find my reviews for them at the following links: 
Book #1: On Lavender Tides
Book #2: A Fracture in the Qwisdeep

Reading Makanuele Rumble was the most fun I've had with a book in months! It came at the absolute perfect moment for me to read. I'd been saving it to read in March closer to its publication, and I'm so glad I did because I went through a pretty rough February and this book really helped me through that time because it was just so much fun and such a genuinely enjoyable read that I was able to fully lose myself in. I just always knows that I'm going to have a great time every time I sit down and crack open one of Travis M. Riddle's books. 

Makanuele Rumble picks up right after the end of A Fracture in the Qwisdeep with Balt and Alani traveling around for Alani's pilgrimage. This time we are stopped in Makanuele where it is time for the Makanuele Rumble, a huge Jekua competition that Balt has been eager to compete in. Almost the entirety of this book centers around the competition itself and at 700+ pages, you might think that's overkill, but I absolutely promise you that it is not. Instead, it is an steady-paced, highly compulsive read that fully explores the world of Jekuas and immerses readers in a series of high-action Jekua battles and is filled with compelling characters that make it a lively read. 

As with the first two books, I really loved seeing Balt and Alani's relationship grow even more in this book. They've gone through some pretty tough times together, and here we can see them be what they really are–close friends who love each other, care about each other, and can move forward from conflict with one another. It was also really nice to see them interact with more people and friends as well. Seeing Balt and Niona's relationship grow in different ways has also been really interesting, and I've enjoyed how Riddle has crafted their interactions so far. Similarly, we see Alani meet up with an older friend, Aeiko, and it was nice the see her interact with someone new and different, especially since it is someone who she has her own confusing personal feelings about. Aeiko was a really welcome addition to the bunch; they aren't overly outgoing, but they bring a nice sense of normalcy to the bunch and have a very laidback demeanor that I think fit in well with the rest of the characters. We also meet a side character named Holly, also Aeiko's roommate and ex, and all I have to say about Holly is that she definitely helped facilitate some bonding among the rest of the group. 

The tournament was so much fun! I think this tournament really brought the entire world to life in such a strong way because everything really comes together with regard to the world and Jekuas. We've heard about all the competitions, summoners, Jekuas of higher levels and caliber, different areas people are from, etc. in previous books, and this book is where we really get to see it all. We get to see Jekua summoners from all over and we finally get to see what a real tournament looks like firsthand through our own characters we're following. This feels like a perfect mid-series book where you just get to hang out in this world that has been created. We aren't traveling much at all in this book so there isn't too much additional world-building in that regard, but I felt like this was a great break that let's us enjoy a setting while knowing there will be more world exploration later on. 

Initially, I thought that maybe getting the play-by-play detail of so many battles over and over might get a little repetitive, but I was very, very wrong. I was riveted by literally every single battle. I'm not entirely sure how Riddle does it, but he somehow makes each battle and Jekua incredibly unique to the point that I just couldn't help but feel excited, intrigued, and unbelievably curious to find out which Jekuas would appear for each battle, what they would be able to do, if any would be modified, how the summoners would handle them, and much more. This was a great setup for this book, and I liked that we really got to dive in and experience it all through each step from eliminations rounds through to the end. 

I also think this book was a nice sort of breather after how intense the last book felt. Balt and Alani had quite a bit of conflict in A Fracture in the Qwisdeep and I think this book worked really well for the overall pacing of the series. I could see where this might seem like a slightly slower one-off book in the series, but I think when considering the overall arc it works really well as a realistic cooling off period. Characters seem to be somewhat recovering from the past events, rediscovering their interests, and Alani is able to slow down a little and face the newfound challenges relating to the church and how she feels about her connection to the church and future with it. Honestly, this might sound a bit much, but I almost feel like this is one of the best plotted/paced/character-developed series I've read in a while. It feels very apparent that Riddle has planned things out for this series extremely well, and I look forward to seeing what else is in store. 

There is also major plot progression that occurs in this book, so don't let me make it seem like nothing happens because some big things happen–arguably some of the biggest things that are setting up for later books– but it feels mellower overall with the lack of traveling. All the subtle foreshadowing that we've been getting in the previous two books have finally really started to come to fruition and I'm thrilled about it. I love feeling like I'm finally vindicated that there is definitely something sinister and weird going on in the background of our seemingly happy-go-lucky pilgrimage (well... except for the attacks on the shrines, of course). I know it's somewhat obvious with everything going on with the attacks on the shrines, but the eeriness has felt deeper than that and has been growing. Some very big events happen in this book that really takes things to a new level, both character-wise and greater plot-wise, and it's made me that much more excited for future books.

I believe Riddle has said that this is a planned six-book series, and I'm really hoping that six books is enough to sate my appetite for this series because I really feel so close to it at this point and have been having way too much fun with. It's continuously captured me and always seems to help me take my mind off of other things happening in my life in all the best ways. It's hard to convey how I feel because sometimes because I say (a lot) how fun this series, but it really is more than just fun. This is a really close character examination of these two characters at an important crux in their lives as they go from teens to young adults and continue going on with their lives. Alani is moving into a really big potential future career with the church, and Balt is really getting a start with his summoning and leaning into this new particular path of being a more professional summoner. I cannot wait to see what's next for these two!

Overall, it's an easy five stars from me! It's out today in paperback, ebook, and it is also available as an audiobook if that's more up your alley. 

*I received a copy of Makanuele Rumble courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon

Monday, March 6, 2023

The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Ann Older


The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Older
Publication Date: March 7th, 2023
Hardcover. 176 pages.

About The Mimicking of Known Successes:

"The Mimicking of Known Successes presents a cozy Holmesian murder mystery and sapphic romance, set on Jupiter, by Malka Older, author of the critically-acclaimed Centenal Cycle.

On a remote, gas-wreathed outpost of a human colony on Jupiter, a man goes missing. The enigmatic Investigator Mossa follows his trail to Valdegeld, home to the colony’s erudite university—and Mossa’s former girlfriend, a scholar of Earth’s pre-collapse ecosystems.

Pleiti has dedicated her research and her career to aiding the larger effort towards a possible return to Earth. When Mossa unexpectedly arrives and requests Pleiti’s assistance in her latest investigation, the two of them embark on a twisting path in which the future of life on Earth is at stake—and, perhaps, their futures, together."

    The Mimicking of Known Successes is a short novel that is, at it's core, a partner murder mystery set on Jupiter. In this world, Earth has been destroyed and everyone now lives on Jupiter, which may not be the most comfortable for human life, but it gets the job done. We follow Investigator Mossa as she travels to the area of Valdegeld where she is set to investigate the disappearance of a man at the Univeristy–and an area that is also home to Mossa's former girlfriend, Pleiti. 
        What I liked: I had a lot of fun with this setting! I liked learning about this non-Earth world and learning about the history of how and why humanity moved to Jupiter after Earth has been destroyed. I also really enjoyed the dynamic between Mossa and Pleiti; it was really interesting to see them interact after having such a close past together. There was plenty of awkwardness and also plenty of cute moments between them, and it was rather captivating to see how they managed to work together on this investigation. I think a lot of the strengths of this book centered around the characters and they are what really helped to keep the story moving. I'm not always the biggest fan of mysteries featuring some investigative team, but the characters in this were compelling and fun to follow and made it a fun read. 
            What I didn't like: There was a lot of info dumping at various points that just felt a little bit too long. Some of it was interesting, but at times it ended up feeling like too much and I'd lose my interest a bit, which thus interrupted the pacing as well as it didn't feel as though it was incorporated as well as it could have been. Despite the info dumping, I sometimes had a difficult time orienting myself in this world for some reason, and often felt a little unsure about where our characters were at different points. I think things just weren't quite as developed as I'd have hoped they would be, and the author just tried to do a bit too much for such a short novel. There's so much that has be developed and explored in a setting and world such as exists in this book, and unfortunately it didn't feel overly cohesive. I'm not really sure if I would continue this series because I think the overall storytelling didn't really work for me, and since I'm not the biggest investigative-team-mystery reader, there isn't too much keeping me hooked. 
                Overall, I've given The Mimicking of Known Successes three stars! Although this didn't click with me as much as I'd hoped for, I still really enjoyed following the characters of Mossa and Pleiti and found the general world and concept really fun. If you like a mystery set in a unique setting with some entertaining characters, then you should give this one a read!

                  *I received a copy of The Mimicking of Known Successes courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

                  Buy the book: Amazon |

                  Thursday, March 2, 2023

                  Review: The God of Endings by Jacqueline Holland

                  The God of Endings
                   by Jacqueline Holland
                  Flatiron Books
                  Publication Date: March 7th, 2023
                  Hardcover. 480 pages.

                  About The God of Endings:

                  "By turns suspenseful and enchanting, this breathtaking first novel weaves a story of love, family, history, and myth as seen through the eyes of one immortal woman.

                  Collette LeSange is a lonely artist who heads an elite fine arts school for children in upstate New York. Her youthful beauty masks the dark truth of her life: she has endured centuries of turmoil and heartache in the wake of her grandfather’s long-ago decision to make her immortal like himself. Now in 1984, Collette finds her life upended by the arrival of a gifted child from a troubled home, the return of a stalking presence from her past, and her own mysteriously growing hunger.

                  Combining brilliant prose with breathtaking suspense, The God of Endings serves as a larger exploration of the human condition in all its complexity, asking us the most fundamental question: is life in this world a gift or a curse?

                  The God of Endings is a tragic, beautiful, and incredibly thought-provoking story. It's a melancholy and compelling story that grabbed me from page one and took me on a journey I never could have predicted. 

                  This story follows Colette LeSange who is, of course, a vampire, as well as an artist and the head of a fine arts schools for children in New York. Her story of getting to New York is a long one, and is also one that plays very strongly into her present place in life. We follow Colette in the present as a teacher, her life has been fairyl consistent until she begins to have a growing hunger for blood that is stronger and more demanding than she usually experiences. This new development coincides with the start of a fresh school year with a new slate of students, and one boy in particular who grabs Colette's attention. 

                  The God of Endings has a dual timeline narrative taking place in both the present and the past, the first taking place in 1984 in New York as a teacher, and the latter following Colette starting in the 1830s as a child through her transformation to a vampire, and all the way through her life up until the present. In general, I found the present day narrative much more compelling simply because I loved seeing Colette work with the children and manage her life as a vampire. As much as Colette's vampirism is obviously key to her identity, it is at the same time not something overly heavily focused on in a way–it's more just a part of who she is. We have many small explanations and explorations into how she manages being a vampire living in a mortal world and how she manages to keep others and herself safe, though this is not something that too much time is spent on. 

                  The chapters set in the past started out strong and I was captivated by the events that led up to her being turned into a vampire and how learned to cope with what is a conflicting and terrifying experience. The middle portions set in the past at times did start to feel slightly repetitive and really slowed down the pacing in these chapters, but fortunately Colette herself was an interesting enough character to keep me turning those pages. I think all of the background we get to explore  is incredibly vital to understand how she got to the place she is today and how in ways she seems very contended and settled in her life, but is also simultaneously extremely unhappy in her life and is constantly yearning for a connection with someone. Colette really embodies of sense of acceptance in realizing that her life is just sort of one that's mean to be a lonely existence, and that no matter how much she fills her life with the beauty and delights of her art and the children around her, she will also have to keep going through this life alone.

                  I felt like a lot of this book was about following Colette and watching her experience her life while trying to figure out exactly what to do with this life that she's been given. The God of Endings plays with the question of immortality and whether it's a gift or a curse, and I think that's really something that is what's at the heart of the story–and I really liked that. I found Colette to be an incredibly engaging character whom I loved learning more about. I think she has an incredible head on her shoulders and found her voice to be extremely strong throughout the entire story. I absolutely adored seeing all of her interactions with the children and how she treats them in a way that showed respect and care. Her interactions with a young boy named Leo especially captivated me with regard to how she tried to help him feel comfortable and encouraged him to talk to her about his home life. She's not perfect by any means and certainly makes mistakes at times, but she is never afraid to acknowledge those mistakes and keep trying, and I really appreciated that. 

                  What I really loved about The God of Endings was that this wasn't a typical vampire story. There's really not a huge focus on the sheer aspect of vampirism and killing people or animals or anything like that–there are actually only a select few moments that have any real violence in them, which might be contrary to what most people expect in a vampire story. This story felt much more like a character study into a very unique woman's life. The vampire aspect plays a much heavier role in the past storylines than they do the present, though that doesn't mean it didn't play a prominent role in the present as well, it was just more subtle in ways. Because of this and the lack of explicit explanation of vampire rules or how they worked, there was a bit of mystique that enveloped the story, and it worked so well. I had questions here and there throughout the story, such as how does a certain thing work with Colette being a vampire or how she managed to do something, and we never really get solid answers to some of those things. But because of how this story is written, I didn't ever feel like I was missing out on that information because it didn't feel like it was actually necessary to the storyline. That's not what this story is about. 

                  This story is not about vampire survival, it's about the bigger questions and themes surrounding vampirism and immortality and what it means to be turned into this creature against your will that is both human and not human, a creature that can connect with other humans but is also forever divided by other humans because, at the end of the day, you're always going to be the one to keep living and experiencing things that they will never experience. Jacqueline Holland explored all of these things incredible well and created an incredibly captivating story that might not be everyone's cup of tea, but was absolutely the perfect book for me. It's slower paced throughout most of the story and if you like character studies or contemplative, more thought-provoking novels, then this is definitely the story for you. 

                  Lastly, I just want to touch on the ending (with no spoilers!) and say that this was one of the most perfect endings for my taste I could have hoped for. I genuinely could not be more satisfied with this ending even if it's not exactly the nicest and is in fact a bit messy. It couldn't have fit the story better.

                  Overall, it's probably apparent that The God of Endings is getting five stars from me! Even if you're someone that doesn't typically like vampire novels, I would still encourage you to check this one out since it doesn't feel like a typical vampire story (I'm not even a huge vampire fan myself!). This is certainly a book I expect to remain a favorite and I highly, highly recommend it. 

                  *I received a copy of The God of Endings courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

                  Buy the book: Amazon |

                  Monday, February 27, 2023

                  Review: The Foxglove King by Hannah Whitten

                  The Foxglove King
                   by Hannah Whitten
                  Publication Date: March 7th, 2023
                  Hardcover. 400 pages.

                  About The Foxglove King:

                  "When Lore was thirteen, she escaped a cult in the catacombs beneath the city of Dellaire. And in the ten years since, she’s lived by one rule: don’t let them find you. Easier said than done, when her death magic ties her to the city.

                  Mortem, the magic born from death, is a high-priced and illicit commodity in Dellaire, and Lore’s job running poisons keeps her in food, shelter, and relative security. But when a run goes wrong and Lore’s power is revealed, she’s taken by the Presque Mort, a group of warrior-monks sanctioned to use Mortem working for the Sainted King.

                  Lore fully expects a pyre, but King August has a different plan. Entire villages on the outskirts of the country have been dying overnight, seemingly at random. Lore can either use her magic to find out what’s happening and who in the King’s court is responsible, or die. Lore is thrust into the Sainted King’s glittering court, where no one can be believed and even fewer can be trusted. Guarded by Gabriel, a duke-turned-monk, and continually running up against Bastian, August’s ne’er-do-well heir, Lore tangles in politics, religion, and forbidden romance as she attempts to navigate a debauched and opulent society.

                  But the life she left behind in the catacombs is catching up with her. And even as Lore makes her way through the Sainted court above, they might be drawing closer than she thinks.

                  The Foxglove King
                  is an exciting new fantasy full of courtly intrigue, poison, necromancy, and much more. I read Hannah Whitten's For the Wolf a couple years back and found myself not enjoying it quite as much as I'd anticipated, but I still wanted to give more of her work a try. I'm glad I did because I had a much better time with The Foxglove King and found myself following along with the story more smoothly. There are still plenty of tropes and somewhat predictable events in this book, but it was a fun ride overall and great option for anyone looking for an exciting new fantasy to dive into. Whitten has clearly matured as a writer and this book is proof that her storytelling is even better than it previously was. 

                  In The Foxglove King, we follow Lore, a poison runner whose illicit use of the power of Mortem leaves her constantly in hiding and on the run from the Church. Mortem, the power to raise the dead, is highly regulated by the Church and no non-regulated non-Church members can use it. When Lore is one day caught by the Church, she is then forced to work for them to help them find out why random villages across the land have been dying out overnight. To do this, she is paired up with monk-guard Gabriel, whose strict adherence to the Church's rules leaves her frustrated, and she is also required to try to get as close as possible to Bastian, King August's heir who is believed to be a traitor. 

                  The magic system in The Foxglove King is very promising and had a lot of really neat elements that kept me wanting to know more. Mortem was a really interesting concept to explore, and I liked learning more about it and how the magic system was tied so strongly to the religious components of this world. The religious aspect itself, however, did not really grab me and left me feeling a bit more lost, as it felt both convoluted and also somewhat cliche'd in how it functioned in society. I also thought the concept of the poison itself was really interesting in how people could essentially dose themselves on various poisons for highs and other effects, but I wish that was explored a bit more. Because of this, the magic felt somewhat contained in the sense that I don't think it was explored to the extent that it could have been, and for that reason I found myself wishing for just a bit more from Whitten much in the same way I felt while reading For the Wolf. That being said, I could certainly see where all of these things could be further explored in future installments in ways that would make everything much more cohesive and compelling. 

                  Whitten's prose is very approachable and makes this a fantasy that has depth and personality but also remains very unpretentious and easy to follow along. The dialogue also felt very modern, which sometimes made me forget that we were actually in a fantasy world that is apparently inspired by a historical time period. I know this isn't historical fiction so there's no need to adhere to any historical accuracies or anything of that sort, but it did draw me out of the world at times and it felt somewhat jarring to have such modern dialogue and actions thrust into this highly religious and historically-inspired world. 

                  The main issue I had with this book is an issue that I similarly struggled with in For the Wolf, and that is depth of the world-building. I never really got the sense that there was much more in this world, and it felt as though people outside of the court and main plot of the story didn't really exist or matter outside of their use as a plot device. It felt very much like the world existed for this particular court and plot rather than the world existing and us finding this story within it, if that makes any sense. Characters would mention what it was like for those outside of the court to struggle with access to things like medical care, etc., as well as hearing from Lore about her own experiences growing up, but outside of that there wasn't really any time when we saw these issues. It felt as those though they existed for our characters to talk about them. There just seemed to be a lack of interest in things that did not directly affect the main characters and their troubles, which led to the world feeling a bit compressed. 

                  The romance aspects were also a bit overdone and somewhat cliche, but as the same time I think for those that like this type of triangle-esque romance it will be a big hit. It's not my favorite thing, but I know a lot of people will really like it, and I appreciated that it didn't completely overtake the story. Gabriel was very typical of his typecast: big, beautiful, naive, innocent, dunce-like; and the Sun King was his own typecast: bad boy, quirky, always in trouble or breaking the rules, etc. It's very much what you'd expect, and if that's what you like then you'll absolutely love it. 

                  Despite the many issues I had with this book, I do think this is one I'll probably continue to see what happens next and where Whitten will take this plot. I think there's potential within this world for expansion if done right, and I would love to see more of this world and learn even more about the magic system. The Foxglove King was a perfectly entertaining story and had some really fun moments that left me feeling intrigued and curious about what was going to happen. Overall, I've given The Foxglove King a solid three stars. 

                  *I received a copy of The Foxglove King courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

                  Buy the book: Amazon |

                  Thursday, February 23, 2023

                  Review: Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton

                  Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton
                  Farrar, Straus and Giroux
                  Publication Date: March 7th, 2023
                  Hardcover. 432 pages.

                  About Birnam Wood:

                  "Birnam Wood is on the move . . .

                  Five years ago, Mira Bunting founded a guerrilla gardening group: Birnam Wood. An undeclared, unregulated, sometimes-criminal, sometimes-philanthropic gathering of friends, this activist collective plants crops wherever no one will notice: on the sides of roads, in forgotten parks, and neglected backyards. For years, the group has struggled to break even. Then Mira stumbles on an answer, a way to finally set the group up for the long term: a landslide has closed the Korowai Pass, cutting off the town of Thorndike. Natural disaster has created an opportunity, a sizable farm seemingly abandoned.

                  But Mira is not the only one interested in Thorndike. Robert Lemoine, the enigmatic American billionaire, has snatched it up to build his end-times bunker--or so he tells Mira when he catches her on the property. Intrigued by Mira, Birnam Wood, and their entrepreneurial spirit, he suggests they work this land. But can they trust him? And, as their ideals and ideologies are tested, can they trust each other?

                  I've been seeing more and more eco-thrillers pop up these days, and although it's not always a category I'm overly drawn to, I have to say that Eleanor Catton's eco-thriller has really nailed it. If you're looking for compelling characters, thoughtful and thought-provoking discussions, and a plot that just keeps twisting and giving readers more, then you might want to stick around and find out a bit more about Birnam Wood

                  Birnam Wood is actually a very hard book to summarize because it's many different things at once. It's a story about an environmental activist collective–Birnam Wood–whose main act is guerilla gardening, or the planting of various crops in random places, some of which may belong to other people. This collective is not exactly failing, but it's not exactly thriving either and members are looking for ways to grow their reach and impact. It's also a story about different characters going through various life transitions and trying to find their place and their worth in the world, as well as figure out what they really stand for. It's also a much bigger story about politics, the environment, types of government, when it's okay to compromise and when it's not, and what it means to be a human in today's modern age. All this is to say that there's a lot going on in this story, but it's also very readable and fairly easy to follow along with. 

                  We start off following Mira Bunting and Shelley, both members of Birnam Wood trudging along with their lives, and eventually meet up with Tony Gallo, a former member who has been away studying abroad for the past couple years and is now back in town. We also meet Robert Lemoine, an American billionaire who has a very unique interest in a specific area in New Zealand where Birnam Wood has decided to move in on. Each of these four characters were given vibrant, full-fleshed out personalities and motivations for just about every action they undertake in this story. I really feel as though I got to know each and every character, and I enjoyed watching them navigate all the unique situations that arose throughout the progression of this story. I also particularly liked watching each character interact with one another, as each relationship was very unique, precise, and had some key elements at play that made each one compelling to watch develop. 

                  There are some big crime/thriller elements in this story, though I wouldn't describe it as being a cut and dry thriller novel. This is more a mix of what I would call a literary style with some heavy mystery elements that really helped to push the plot along. If you've read Catton's The Luminaries, then you might be familiar with this type of mystery mixed with character study and literary style. It works extremely well for the story and I think is what prevents it from ever feeling too slow while also providing reason for the excessive attention to detail present throughout Catton's prose. 

                  Birnam Wood has all of Catton's trademark style. If I hadn't known this book was written by Eleanor Catton, I would've been able to figure out from page one due to her trademark style. It's a very long-winded, almost stream-of-consciousness writing style that I think fans of Donna Tartt (particularly The Goldfinch) would enjoy, or if you've read Catton's The Luminaries. I was immediately transported into Catton's narrative via her sharp voice and attention to detail. If you like reading narratives that feature a character basically talking nonstop for a long amount of time without a break, or narrative voices that seem to keep rambling on in a way that has a clear train of thought, but is quite long and meandering at times as well, then this is the book for you. 

                  Overall, I've given Birnam Wood four stars! This was an incredibly engaging story that covered a lot of really interesting discussion points about environmentalism, morality, capitalism, and much more. If you're looking for a longer story to really sink into where you can really get to know characters and consider some interesting topics, then I highly recommend you check this one out. 

                  *I received a copy of Birnam Wood courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

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