Review: “Walk the Earth a Stranger” by Rae Carson

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
Walk on Earth a Stranger (The Gold Seer Trilogy, #1) 
by Rae Carson

 4 out of 5 stars


It took me far longer than it should have to read this book. It’s sat on my kindle for who knows how long, started at at least three different points in time, and only just finished now.

I don’t know why — okay, well, that’s not entirely true: I sort of know why?

This book is a slow burn, and something about the notably slow start made me antsy. Where was the adventure? The search for gold and the survival? Definitely not in the opening quarter-to-third of the book. It wasn’t until I was over halfway through the book that I realized how vital that slow start was: it allowed me to spend a lot of time with our protagonist, Leah Westfall, and to empathize with her before being flung into some rather harrowing situations with her.

And, wow, does the back half of this book PICK. UP. and pick up fast. The moment the wagon trains start heading west, that’s when the real adventure starts. There’s action, adventure, romance, births, deaths, and plenty of drama that never feels ridiculous. Despite the one element of magic — Leah’s “gold sense” — this is more historical fiction than it is anything else, and I, for one, cannot wait to see where the other two books take this story.

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Review: “Tower of Dawn” by Sarah J. Maas

Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas
Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass, #6) 
by Sarah J. Maas (Goodreads Author)2.5 stars out of 5

I. Hate. Everything.

Cards on the table: I love Chaol. Chaol is my favourite character in the Throne of Glass series followed immediately by Celaena. Yes. Celaena. Not Aelin. Celaena. They are basically different f-ing characters by this point, so I had to make the distinction.I wish I didn’t have to make the distinction. But, alas, that is what has happened with this series.

I loved the first two novels of the Throne of Glass series: they were mindless, fun fantasy-action stories where I figured: “Great. Now the assassin and her captain of the guard lover and the crown prince boy-toy will team up with our QUEEN Nehemeia (RIP) to take down the evil king and it’l ll be great.”

I was a sweet summer child, who knew nothing of the winter that is the (by this point) toxic relationship I have entered into with Sarah J. Maas’ writing.

Yes, I said toxic. I almost said abusive. And here’s why: Maas has a habit of inducing brain-damage in her characters — specifically, her male characters who are initially the main love interest before she writes some new dominant, extremely testosterone-filled, overly-masculine male hero to “dominate” and likely magically mate with her female protagonist.

Did you catch the bitterness in my tone? Get a taste of that saltiness? Oh, good. I just wanted to make sure it came through.

Now, here’s the thing (and why I say toxic): I can still enjoy Sarah J. Maas books, despite acknowledging a systemic problem like literally almost every single romance that shows up in all of her books — and that’s a lot of romances. They are trash. By the end, very action-packed trash…but trash, despite my constantly wishing that they were better than they were. That, somehow, someday, I will be able to say “YES. YES THAT IS ACTUALLY A GOOD BOOK AND I FEEL FREE!”

They have sentence structure that makes me wonder if she even actually has an editor checking on such things; they have “foreshadowing” that requires air-quotes because she likes to smash you over the head repeatedly with a fucking anvil until the moment of the “reveal” so that you can go “Oh, wow. Much surprise, very twist. I never could have predicted.”; and she also likes to assassinate her characters.

Not necessarily kill them, but assassinate their character in such a way that you cannot like them. You cannot like them because they were a previous love interest and we’ve now moved on to a new one.

This nugget bothers me more than anything else, specifically, when it comes to the Throne of Glass series. It bothers me because I love Chaol. He was an interesting character with a backstory I was intrigued by, especially when you used it to understand his personal code of ethics and the majority of his actions. But obviously we cannot have nice things, so Maas induced brain-damage in Chaol so that, in Queen of Shadows, he would behave entirely out-of-character in such a way that Celaena-who-is-now-Aelin (don’t even get me started) would never be at fault, and we could just say, “Eff Chaol, bring on Rowan.”

Unless you’re me, in which case, you’re still standing on the deck of the sunken USS Chaolaena, having never (and I do mean never) warmed to Rowan, and dreaming of what the series could have been.

What does this have to do with Tower of Dawn? Well, Tower of Dawn, is the “Chaol novel.” It is here to explain away his absence in Empire of Storms, and Sarah J. Maas’ attempt at retconning some of the brain-damage she induced in her otherwise great character. Because, you see, now he’s crippled and physically helpless, so we can very heavy-handedly make this story of physical healing also about inner healing — oh, and let’s throw in another new love interest, and make sure that his previous love interest goes off to fuck a prince, because gods forbid anyone be single in a Sarah J. Maas book.

I’m not giving it side-eye, what are you talking about?

This book grates on the very fibre of my being in so many ways I don’t honestly have time or energy to write them all down. Needless to say: it’s dull, it’s predictable, it doesn’t make me feel any better about what has happened in this series — and were it not for a few, very brief moments of interesting mythology/world-lore, I think I might have actually screamed as opposed to, you know, screaming internally and imagining myself spontaneously combusting.

Augh. Just…just release the last Throne of Glass novel already so I can finally stop seeing more of this garbage

Review: “Tess of the Road” by Rachel Hartman

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
Tess of the Road 
by Rachel Hartman (Goodreads Author)
3.5 stars out of 5


**Thank you to Random House for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via Netgalley for the purpose of review**

Cards on the table: I love Rachel Hartman’s Goredd universe. I remember first picking up Seraphina on a whim back in late 2012 and was swept away by Hartman’s elegant prose and richly-imagined world. From the creative way in which Hartman introduced and created her dragons within the human society to the way in which she introduced and integrated Goredd’s religion and its various Saints, as well as all the way to the characters.

After all, a rich world is nothing without characters to fill it, especially characters in whom I am deeply invested. I loved Seraphina and all the other characters that circled around her, whether it be her dragon uncle, the prince, her close friend — it didn’t matter, I was invested. They were without doubt one of the strongest elements of the novel, not only due to their complexity, but in just how much I cared for them; I wanted nothing but happiness for them. It made Shadow Scale one of my most anticipated reads of 2015, and getting access to the ARC of that novel was enough to get to cancel any and all plans I had and hunker down to read the entire novel in one sitting.

So getting the chance to return to Goredd, and from a different perspective…yeah, it didn’t take much to convince me I needed to read this book.

The first thing that struck me while reading Tess of the Road is how I had completely forgotten about Seraphina’s family. I had vaguely remembered her father, but — and I’m ashamed to admit it — her stepmother, stepsisters, and stepbrothers had entirely slipped my mind. I didn’t remember them at all. Needless to say, it took me a moment to realize that Tess was, in fact, one of Seraphina’s younger stepsisters.

And, unfortunately, Tess is no Seraphina. I feel it’s unfair to say as, of course, there’s no way that Tess could be Seraphina — to start with, she’s not half-dragon — and so to compare these two protagonists is an exercise in futility. They are incredibly different from each other, which is put into even sharper relief when Seraphina herself actually shows up, more than once to my great delight. The problem with Tess is not necessarily that she’s unlikeable, but that, for me, she’s grating. At first, I couldn’t grasp how Hartman could have written a character like Tess, one who was such a drag to follow and who did nothing to either endear me to her or invest me in her journey. Of course, the entire point of Tess of the Road is that it’s more a journey of inner self-discovery and healing more than any sort of plot, so starting with Tess as she is, it’s worth it to follow her journey. I still never quite warmed to her, but I most certainly softened towards her, especially by the end when she had come to terms with herself.

Also, I just had to add: wow, I really loathed Tess’s mother (Seraphina’s stepmother). I really, truly dislike that woman.

But moving on to the plot…there isn’t much of one. That’s not necessarily to the novel’s detriment as it makes it fairly clear that this is more an inner journey of self-discovery for Tess than it is a true road-trip novel of adventures — there is a road trip, and there are adventures, but they’re not necessarily the novel’s true focus. While that certainly does drag the pacing of what I had hoped would be a faster, more “fun” novel, part of me was willing to continue powering through some of the many points where I considered pausing my reading. Of course, I know that if I pause a Goredd book and then attempt to go back to it, it’ll be a struggle, and so, rather like Tess on her Road — capitalized by our heroine herself — I continued walking on.

Ultimately, this book lacked, for me, some of the magic of what made the original Seraphina duology so wonderful and borderline mind-blowing; there was a spark that just wasn’t present, and it made Tess of the Road a far more difficult reading experience than either of its predecessors. That being said, I still think that Tess of the Road is a phenomenal story of self-discovery and learning to live with, as well as love and forgive, oneself. The raw, personal journey of Tess is one that may not always endear the reader to her, but will certainly strike home and true with more than one person.

It just takes a bit of effort to get to that point.

Review: “The Fifth Doll” by Charlie N. Holmberg

The Fifth Doll by Charlie N. Holmberg
The Fifth Doll 
by Charlie N. Holmberg (Goodreads Author)

4 stars out of 5


**A digital copy of this book was provided to me for free via a Goodreads giveaway**

It’s no secret: I’m a fan of Charlie N. Holmberg. From first picking up The Paper Magician on a whim via the Kindle First Reads program who knows how many years ago, I’ve loved her charming prose and inventive, magical stories.

Charming is, truly, the one word I use above all when describing any of Ms. Holmberg’s book — they just are! I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s the one word that always springs to mind, no matter how dark her tales may get at times.

And don’t get me wrong: they can stray into some dark territory. The Fifth Doll is no exception. Whether or not you can entirely predict where the story is going end as it twists and turns along, there’s no denying the dark undercurrents of much of certain characters’ actions, as well as the backdrop of the story when its most inner self is ultimately revealed.

If I have one critique of the novel it’s that it took a little while, for me, to get going. Just a bit longer than previous Holmberg novels, but probably not noticeable to anyone else. Once the story gets going, however, it moves at a steady pace, ebbing and flowing as the actions of the characters dictate.

It was an easy one-sitting read and one that I recommend to anyone who wants a slightly-darker-than-most tale of magic, of knowing one’s most inner self, and of making difficult choices when it comes to the truth.

Review: “The Home Front: Life in America During World War II” nar. by Martin Sheen

The Home Front by Audible Original
4 stars out of 5


I am both astonished and excited that this was, for a limited time, free from Audible. Astonished, because hello this is Martin Sheen giving us an amazing insight into what it was like at home during WWII.

I’ve read a good number of books on WWII in my time, but listening to this series — which is presented as a single audio piece, “episodes” broken into “chapters” — made me realize just how few of the books I’ve read or series’ I’ve seen are actually dealing with what it was like for those who weren’t off fighting in the European or Pacific theatres.

What was it like for the people at home?

Well, pretty interesting, actually. In its different parts, the series covers a myriad of social topics and pieces of history that, I think, don’t often get enough coverage, and it has no problem calling out a whole host of the societal issues that plagued 1940s America (racism, anti-semitism, sexism, et al.), because it wouldn’t be a proper series on “the homefront” if that weren’t addressed.

Sheen is a delightful narrator/host/guide and the audio taken both from the period and later interviews from various eye-witnesses, historians, and scholars create a series that’s both informative and entertaining to listen to.

Review: “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky  Chambers
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1) 
by Becky Chambers


4.5 stars out of 5

What a riot of a book!

They weren’t kidding when they said this book is one that fans of the short-lived television series, Firefly, would enjoy. While it lacks the “we weren’t kidding about the ‘western’ part when we called this a ‘space western’ show” aspect that the show possessed, it’s got much of the same energized pacing as well as that ever-popular “rag-tag crew that’s more than a crew, they’re a makeshift family” element that, when done well, makes you feel ALL THE THINGS for the characters.

It’s done well. It’s done so well in this novel. Every character has is given equal page-time — an impressive feat — and you learn the ins and outs of each person. We learn their pasts, their loves, their fears, and in such a way that these characters feel less and less like characters as the story goes on. They’re individuals whose crew we’ve somehow joined like some kind of omniscient stowaway. Bonus points for the amount of profanity that gets used because, as a well-educated young woman who happens to say “fuck” a lot, I can appreciate that these characters all sounded like, well, any self-serving spacer with the mouth of a sailor.

Few books have that ability to so easily slip the reader into the world, but somehow The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet does it, and does it to a degree that I’m left annoyed at myself for not reading this book sooner.

There’s so much more to discuss, such as the book’s ability to touch on a myriad of social issues in only the way that truly good science fiction can, but I think that one should discover these great nuggets for oneself.

This is a book not to be missed. So strap in and hop aboard The Wayfarer for a wild, raucous ride.

Review: “The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors” by Dan Jones

The Templars by Dan Jones
The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors 
by Dan Jones (Goodreads Author)

5 stars out of 5

 

Wow. What a book.

I’ve been a fan of Dan Jones’ history books since listening to his fantastic novels on the Plantagenets and the Wars of the Roses, though I was introduced to him through Netflix’s acquisition of his documentary series entitled Secrets of Great British Castles. Jones has a way of telling you fact-laden history as if it’s nothing more than a story — I suppose, there’s an argument that, yes, anything is a story, but too often I find that history and facts are just given as is and, well, I tend to find that so dry that my attention runs away, rarely to return in any significant manner.

But this book is truly fantastic, and it doesn’t hurt that Jones narrates the audiobook version himself. This is a story that could have easily fallen into repetition and just a recitation of facts, but Jones has found a way to tell a relatively chronological tale of, as the subtitle says, “The Rise and Spectacular Fall” of the Templars.

I think what I appreciate most, beyond Jones’ dedication to telling the story not only of what happened, but how it was perceived by the outside world as well as a great deal of context, is that he uses the epilogue to discuss the romanticization and mythologization of the Templars, dating back even to their own lifetime. Most of this is information with which I was shallowly aware — I’d sort of figured that the Templars’ link to the Holy Grail was based more in fiction than fact — but it was great to have Jones go from Parzival to present day, discussing the various ways in which the Templars were made into something more/different than what they actually were. He does not write it as a dragging of things like, say, Da Vinci CodeAssassin’s CreedIvanhoe,or Kingdom of Heaven (to name a few), but as a way of showing how an organization like the Templars, who in their lifetime maintained a level of secrecy for practical reasons that, ultimately, came back to cost them dearly, are ripe for both romanticization and mythologization.

I encourage anyone who’s got even the scantest interest in who the Templars were, from their foundings to their “spectacular” fall, to pick up this book and settle in for a tale of more than one Crusade, a pretty dickish French king (lookin’ at you, Philip IV), and a whole of fact that’s, for the most part, even more incredible than fiction.