February 2020 — A Wrap-Up

Book cover of, Side Jobs: Stories from the Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher

Side Jobs: Stories from the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

Find my review here.

Book cover of, A Devil in Scotland, by Suzanne Enoch

A Devil in Scotland by Suzanne Enoch

Classic romance and tropes we’re all familiar with. I read this story for a challenge and it was a quick read. Another good thing about the books is that you can read them as stand-alones or out of order. In this one, a man loses his childhood friend when she marries his brother. The next time he sees, his brother is dead and he left behind a widow and child whom some pretty bad guys are trying to cheat out of their inheritance.

Book cover of, Nine Lights Over Edinburgh, by Harper Fox

Nine Lights Over Edinburgh by Harper Fox

An m/m romance. Short and not badly written. However, it was too short to fit in or deliver the impact of the events that take place within. The romance felt rushed and unrealistic even though I loved the couple itself. I also liked that one of the protagonists wasn’t afraid to share their raw grief with the other when the bad guy kidnapped his only child.

Book cover of, Brief Cases, by Jim Butcher

Brief Cases by Jim Butcher

Find my review here.

Book cover of, Hex Appeal, by Various Authors

Hex Appeal by Various Authors

Reviewed here.

Book cover of, The Nation, by Terry Pratchett

The Nation by Terry Pratchett

I aim to read everything Pratchett wrote and published Here’s a review of the Discworld novel I read last month. When I bought Nation, I buried it deep behind the other, more “fun” books by him. Didn’t think I’d like it as much and decided I’d try reading it some time before I died.

But a reading challenge made me take the book out and dust it off. I loved it from the very first line. It opens on an adolescent boy completing a ritual that lets him join the ranks of “men”. And when he returns to the island he calls home, a tidal wave has obliterated everything. He performs the last rites on the bodies of everyone from his village. And the way the scene is written breaks your heart. But that’s just the beginning of the amazing thing that this book is.

There are characters raising questions about religion — ones that we daren’t ask. And characters rebelling against their place in the society. There are elements of the plot related to colonialism and the rape of cultures by the victors. There is humor at the expense of the practice of getting royalty as inheritance. There is an absence of a non-native character who knows better than the “savages” and civilizes them. There’s growing up of children far earlier than they should have had to and forming a society. And finally, there are teenagers who are capable of taking practical decisions like they do in real life.

All of it is packaged with Pratchett’s characteristic sense of humor, wittiness, and well…Pratchettiness. Don’t NOT read this book if you love satire and Pratchett!

Book cover of, Hero in the Highlands, by Suzanne Enoch

Hero in the Highlands by Suzanne Enoch

An Englishman inherits property in the Highlands when a distant uncle kicks the bucket. He goes out there to inspect the losses it is incurring and finds out more than he bargained for. While the plot isn’t unique and quite trope-y, I did like that the heroine had a backbone. Another book from this series that serves well as a stand-alone.

Cover of the book, Archangel's Viper, by Nalini Singh

Archangel’s Viper by Nalini Singh

The one thing that the books not focusing on the power couple bring is a sense of respite. With the Cascade going on and archangels fighting over stuff, it feels good to be able to focus on other things. This book is Viper and Holly’s –previously Sorrow and a survivor of Urram’s homicidal rage.

I liked the first half, which wasn’t as extra as most books in this series. The protags bantered with each other. It was funny and let Holly vent some of her rage since Venom didn’t take any of it to heart.

I also loved seeing how Dmitri was with Holly. Illium is always a sight for sore eyes although we didn’t get to see Aodhan at all. Then the weird Alien-like elements entered and ruined the plot.

By the second half, I had rapidly begun to lose interest. It took far too long for them to break into Michaela’s stronghold. Then it took as much time to come back. Then there was some loving. And then they went back. After Alien, this next part was sloughed off Harry Potter books–complete with a shriveled baby-like creature.

In the end, I was more than ready to read about Lijuan and her evilness.

Cover of the book, Carnacki: The Edinburgh Townhouse and Other Stories, by William Meikle

Carnacki: The Edinburgh Townhouse and Other Stories by William Meikle

If I understand correctly, Meikle continues in the footsteps of the author who created Carnacki. Carnacki is the last hope for people who have no one to turn to. In this compilation, we meet supernatural bugs, phantom sharks, and get to peek into the world beyond the veil. Although, I’m not reviewing it in my usual way, i.e., a review for each story, I can tell you that I liked all the stories and the way they were written. The old-world feel takes you back to the time you read Poe and MR James as a kid.

The author has two other collections featuring Carnacki, and I’ll be reading them for sure!

Cover of the book, City, by Clifford D. Simak

City by Clifford D. Simak

Maybe February being the shortest month is perfect for short stories. Because I just realized how many anthologies feature in this wrap-up! Anyway, I fell in love with Simak’s writing the first time I read something by him. That didn’t change with this anthology.

Presented as a set of dog myths, it tries to answer a question for the canine civilization: did Man ever exist or is humanity a myth? When viewed from this perspective, even the simplest of stories would regain a new charm. But Simak’s stories just sparkled.

I signed up for Netgalley and requested two books featuring AI, recently. One is The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu. The other is Made to Order edited by Jonathan Strahan. I don’t think I’d be wrong if I said that any of these stories can be a part of those anthologies. Bear in mind, these were written in the 2020s while Simak’s work dates back to 1940s!

Anyway, if you like the softer side of SF, you’ll like these stories too.

Cover of the book, Magic for Liars,
by Sarah Gailey

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

I soon realized that while Tor Books may tout all their releases to be out of this world amazing, not all of them are. So, while they sang praises of Sarah Gailey, I both wanted to and dreaded trying something by her. In the end, the want won. So, here are my thoughts on this book:

What I Liked:
We read about two sisters–one of whom is magic and the other isn’t. Imagine the rift that magic created between Aunt Petunia and Lily. Rowling didn’t dig deep enough to find the hurt–the movies made Petunia almost cartoonish. This book by Sarah Gailey does go deeper. The non-magic sister wants to hate her sister and yet can’t. The sister wants to not manipulate her but can’t help herself.

Hand magic to teenagers and they’re going to use it to bamboozle adults. That’s what the students did in this book and even the Head of the school didn’t catch on.

What I Didn’t Like:
Ugh the self-pity that coursed through the non-magic sister LIKE. ALL. THE. TIME. It is very difficult to not only like her but give a shit about a character that annoys a reader so much.

The ending. You don’t let someone who can literally dissect another person unfeelingly walk away. Sure, the sister with magic agrees to stay away from students. But if she has lied and manipulated her own blood so blithely, who’s to say she will honor that promise? And, a crime committed due to the most honorable intentions isn’t any less of a crime.

No likable characters–at least, none of the major ones.

There was no worldbuilding. I wanted to know what students or people with magic did after they graduated. But maybe that’s too tall an order for a standalone?

I wanted to like this book but I found it slow and dull.

Cover of the book, She Is Not Invisible,
by Marcus Sedgwick

She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

What I Liked:

The protagonist is a blind teenage girl. She’s smart, resourceful, and kind to her little brother. All of these made her a likable character.

What I Didn’t Like:
Almost everything else. From the theme of coincidences to the randomness of the events that kept happening to the brother-sister duo. Then there was the real reason why their dad was attacked. It was so flimsy and the consequences of it so over the top. Finally, the whole I don’t see color spiel that the girl gives to a black character she meets. We don’t just become racist with our eyes. It can be a part of our DNA and how we’re raised. Brings to mind that episode of BBT where Penny claims a deaf girl can’t be a golddigger.

Cover of the book, Woven in Moonlight,
by Isabel Ibañez

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez

Ugh, this book has so much going for it. Diverse characters, an author who has experienced what refugees go through — secondhand, but close enough — and being based on a real-life corrupt Bolivian politician. What’s not to love. Right?

But that’s where the awesomeness ended and the frustrations I typically associate with YA began. I’ll share some of them below:

A very annoying protagonist. She was taken off the streets supposedly with the express purpose of serving as the Condesa’s doppelganger. It means she was trained until she knew how to fight, the royal etiquette, how to present herself as royalty, and so on. Does the author accept me to buy that she wouldn’t have learned political intrigue and diplomacy? Well, then why would she behave like a complete idiot one minute after she walks into her enemy’s stronghold?

And keep on acting like that throughout most of the book? Oh, and you’d better not give me the, “it’s because she is a teenager,” excuse. Because it doesn’t fly. Teenagers aren’t idiots; they can be sensible when they know what’s at stake. Hell, they spend most of their teenage, exchanging one mask for another just to fit in.

For argument’s sake, let us say that the heroine is an idiot and good things happen to her because she is effin lucky. What about the rest of the rebels? Their general and her right-hand person are missing. The only one who could lead the army is the general’s daughter. And yet, when the Condesa has to go to the enemy, she chooses that person to accompany her. Two seconds after they arrive, that person is shot dead. I mean, ever heard of strategizing?

Likewise, the real condesa doesn’t know how to manage her people. They run wild around the countryside, thieving and pillaging. Consequently, the enemy’s soldiers constantly arrest them and put them to death. Planning for the long-term anyone? Does she even deserve to rule?

The only thing I can appreciate is the protagonist learning the roots of the racism responsible for the civil war in the empire. She educates herself and that was refreshing. But other than that, the book was a huge disappointment.

Cover of the book, Reasons to Stay Alive, by Matt Haig

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

The Humans by the same author was funny and heart-meltingly cute book. I thought I’d try more of his work — good decision. Picking this book to read — a very bad decision. In it, the author writes about his experiences with depression and anxiety. And oh man, it made me cry so bad.

I know, saying that everybody going through these challenges feels almost the same way is gross generalization. I do. So, I’d say even if there’s not much common between my experience of these disorders and others, one thing remains the same. The way they isolate us and make us feel distanced from the people we love and who love us back. It is the main reason why it is so hard to return from a particularly bad episode of depression. Someday, I hope we’ll understand that in isolation and loneliness, we’re united.

Beautiful book and the only reason I’m not giving it a 4-star rating is because I found it a bit preachy towards the end.

Cover of the book, Undead and Undermined, by MaryJanice Davidson

Undead and Undermined by MaryJanice Davidson

So right after I was finished with the previous book, I knew it would be hard to continue with this series. This book proved me more than right. Betsy’s always been irritating but now she has become infuriating. But it’s more than that. The nonsense future that we see in one of the previous books is part of the plot in this one. Her friend, Marc’s alternate version pops into this one and then even stupider things happen. There is zero character development. In fact, whatever development there was is also being done away with.

If I read the next one, I’m either not going to review it or just mention a one-liner review, indicating it’s the same load of crap.

Cover of the book, My One True Highlander, by Suzanne Enoch

My One True Highlander by Suzanne Enoch

So, this one I hated. Here’s why: the hero — and I use the word very loosely — is losing his lands and house to disrepair and has no money to fix it. His younger brothers think that if they kidnapped a woman who is the sister of their Duke’s enemy and hand her over, they will be rewarded for that. They put the plan into action. The hero is stuck with her and chains her to the bed. But does he try to bring it home to his brothers that what they did was wrong? Barely. Now, the woman in question. She has been kidnapped on her way to her brother’s. And like all Stockholm-struck people, she falls for her kidnapper. The whole thing made me want to smack the both of them!

Cover of the book, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, by Ken Liu

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Find my review here.

Cover of the book,, The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

A touching story written in a lyrical language. When a couple who have recently lost their child moves to Alaska to start afresh, they underestimate how hard things are going to be. The landscape is unforgiving and survival next to impossible.

But they meet good people and begin to adjust when the snow child appears. The little girl looks ethereal enough for the couple to believe she may not be human. They raise her as best as they could and she loves them back as their own child would have.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The ending was heart-breakingly sad but expected. My recommendatin? Don’t read it for the plot; read to enjoy!

Cover of the book, The Woman Who Died a Lot, by Jasper Fforde

The Woman Who Died a Lot by Jasper Fforde

When we left, Thursday Next, she wasn’t herself. In this one, she’s back to being her old self — old being the operative word here. Due to her age and the fact that she cannot read herself into the BookWorld anymore, she is passed over for the job of heading the Literatec. Instead, she becomes a Librarian.

Sure, the capitalized title indicates that her job doesn’t require sitting at a desk all day or something. But what I wanna know is the one thing that most readers loved about the series, i.e., BookWorld, is not possible anymore. So, what’s left?

The humor, thank God! The scene with the nun from a lobster-worshipping order, for example, was hilarious.

Effectively, this book is the last in the series since it is 8 years later and a new one has yet to come. So, while I was sad to say goodbye, I was also glad that I wouldn’t witness any more mangling of a favorite series. In short, the randomness that drew me to these books doesn’t attract me anymore. It had gone overboard.

Goodbye, Thursday Next series!

Cover of the book, Turn Coat, by Jim Butcher

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

Reviewed here.

Cover of the book, Silent Pantheon, by Eric Nierstedt

Silent Pantheon by Eric Nierstedt

My review is here.

Cover of the book, Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life after Which Everything Was Different, by Chuck Palahniuk

Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life after Which Everything Was Different by Chuck Palahniuk

Second book by this author and again, I loved it. It is full of fun anecdotes — he’d be one author I’d really to meet while he’s touring — and some really good advice on writing.

One piece of advice that stuck with me was about how to-be published authors can start by dividing the chapters in their novel into short stories. Mr. Palanhniuk recommends publishing those shorts and showing them to other people. After polishing them, the would-be author can combine them and have a novel in their hands.

The thing about writing advice is that all of it won’t work for you. So, I marked the places that spoke to me the most. And I’m going to try them out and see how they suit me.

Cover of the book, Tales from Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Tales from Watership Down by Richard Adams

I liked Watership Down a lot. It has charmed generations of kids and I could instantly see why. This anthology, though, left me with mixed feelings. I enjoyed reading what the characters from the previous book were up to. So, those stories were fun. The shorts about the mythical El-ahrairah were boring affairs. If you pick up this anthology to find out more about the characters, I’d recommend skipping the latter and enjoying the former.

Looks like I got quite a bit of reading done in February. Yaay me!

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