The Black Khan

•November 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I will read anything Ausma Zehanat Khan writes. She is not only a skilled, talented author, but also an amazingly kind, generous, and thoughtful human being. If you’re looking for an unbiased, critical review of the second book in Khan’s epic fantasy series, The Khorasan Archives, you will not find that here. I am a devoted fangirl, and meeting Khan IRL is high on my bucket list, although I know I would likely be paralyzed with nerves should that ever happen.

I finished reading The Black Khan today and have spent the last hour trying to wrangle my thoughts together to form a coherent thread. I’m failing miserably. Thankfully, I added notes to Goodreads as I read, so I have a little help. The Black Khan is the sequel to The Bloodprint, which was released last year. It picks up right where the first book left off and starts with absolutely gut-wrenching action scenes. I spent much of my time reading with my fist between my teeth to keep from gasping or crying or yelling. The plot is dark and twisty and you’re never sure who to trust.

The major players from The Bloodprint are here, along with a large cast of new characters. The new characters are well-developed, each with his or her own set of complex motivations. They feel real. That is, perhaps, the best compliment I can give – this feels like a living history. You can see, smell, and hear everything that occurs on the page because Khan breathes life into her world. She carefully crafts this world in such detail that it plays like a film in the reader’s mind, but without getting so bogged down that it feels like a dry textbook. At the heart of The Black Khan is the magic of language, The Claim. Khan’s own use of language in her storytelling is just as magical.

While The Bloodprint introduces us to Khorasan and a world where women are subjugated by the Talisman, The Black Khan is even darker. Here we get an up close look inside the borders of the Authoritan’s lands of north of the Wall, his prisons, and systems of torture. We see the machinations of the courtiers in Rukh’s lands of West Khorasan, and get an even more detailed look at the inner workings of Hira. It’s dark and violent, but we also meet the resistance groups. The ending promises hope, and that is what will keep me reading. I’m sure there is more death, pain, suffering, destruction, and heartbreak to come, but there is also a light that offers hope, a promise of salvation for the people, and I cannot wait to see what comes next.

This is a planned four book series. I know there are a lot of people who don’t like to start series until they are all finished, and I understand that. I do. I hate the wait between finishing a book and the publication of the next installment of the story of a year (or more). I have shed more than one tear over a press release stating a book’s publication date has been delayed. But allow me to throw a plug out there for all authors – even if you don’t want to start reading the series until all the books are written, buy the ones that are out now and buy the others as they are released. Authors are not guaranteed their subsequent novels will see the light of day, regardless of the plans they have for their fictional world, and publishers make those decisions based on sales of the previous  books. If everyone waited until the entire series was published, it would never happen. So, on behalf of one of my favorite authors and, in fact, on behalf of all authors, if you’ve read a blurb of a book that intrigues you and you are the kind of person who buys books, pick up a copy even if you don’t crack the cover until the story is complete. Help ensure we all get to hear the ending.

I Hate Fairyland Vol. 4: Sadly Never After

•November 5, 2018 • Leave a Comment

In the final volume of I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young, Gertrude is trapped in Hell, a new Evil has come to destroy Fairyland, and Gert is the only one who can save the realm. Will she agree to battle the villain and save Fairyland? Will she finally get to go home after 40 years? I won’t tell, but I will say that I’m saddened by the fact that the series is over. Young has other commitments and wanted to give Gert the ending he envisioned for her now, rather than let the quality of Fairyland suffer. I can respect that even as I mourn the loss.

This final volume is full of the same great art, wild colors, and graphic gore that I’ve come to expect from Fairyland. When I read the first volume, I remember being both horrified and unable to look away. Fairyland is violent, gross, and oh-so-wrong, and Gert is an absolute menace, but I love her and I love the story.

Lumberjanes Issues #41-44

•November 3, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I did not read comic books when I was a kid. It just wasn’t a medium that appealed to me. Thanks to the magical bookish community that is Litsy, I finally gave comic books and graphic novels a go about two years ago, and Lumberjanes was my gateway drug of choice.

Lumberjanes is an all-ages comic created by Shannon Waters, Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, and Brooklyn Allen, published by BOOM!Box. It’s set at a very special summer camp for girls: Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types, and focuses on the adventures of Roanoke Cabin’s five campers and their long-suffering camp counselor.

I believe these issues, which form the “Time after Crime” story arc will be bound into Vol. 11, which has not yet been released. While I know I’m not the target audience, I love these comics. The characters are wonderful, quirky, smart, and loving girls. Each issue has great life lessons on acceptance (of self and of others), leadership, love, friendship, and hard work. These are girls who aren’t perfect, but who are doing their best, and I think they make good role models. If I had kids, I’d absolutely encourage them to read this series.

The art has changed significantly over time. Originally illustrated by Brooke Allen, issues 41-44 are drawn by Ayme Sotuyo. I prefer the original style, but the coloring is still done by Maarta Laiho, and the colors are gorgeous and inviting. The storylines remain strong and true to the theme of “friendship to the max” introduced in the very first issue. If you are looking for a fun escape that will leave you smiling, I highly recommend this series.

Mandela and the General

•October 29, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing’s early reviewer program in exchange for my honest review.

Mandela and the General is a brief history, in graphic novel format, of the end of apartheid in South Africa and how that came to pass. It’s based primarily on an interview the author conducted with General Constand Viljoen. The book does have some good details, but I feel like this is a case where less is not more, and I was left feeling dissatisfied. I wanted more information on this pivotal time in South African history, as this barely scratched the surface.

Part of the problem may be that I am not the target audience, and I can see where this would be a good introduction to Mandela’s history for a middle school student, something that would whet their appetite for further study. It lacked real depth. Another issue for me was the artwork. I didn’t care for it, and when you don’t like the art in a graphic novel, that makes it difficult to enjoy the story.

Overall, I’d give it 2.5 of 5 stars. I can see its value for a younger audience, but I wanted more.

Firestarter

•October 29, 2018 • Leave a Comment

FirestarterStephen King is a hit or miss author for me. It seems that I either love his novels or am so bored by them that I bail. I’m late to the party for Firestarter. I remember seeing the movie at an inappropriately young age, but I never picked up the book. Instead, my first foray into the King canon as a teenager consisted of It (bailed), “The Body” (enjoyed – but it was the only one of the short stories in Different Seasons that I read), Pet Sematary (bailed), and The Eyes of the Dragon (LOVED!!). In my early 20s, I read The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three, but didn’t make it through The Wastelands. I own two complete sets of the The Dark Tower series. Maybe someday I’ll try again to read them.

I took a break from King’s work for decades and once again, thanks to Litsy, have started dipping my toe back in the water. I read Duma Key earlier this year, and loved it. I bailed on The Stand (do you see the pattern here?). Then, October arrived. The Litsy buddy read that I co-host, which is attempting to read all of Stephen King’s works in publication order, finally came to Firestarter. Because I have a vague recollection of the film and I adore Drew Barrymore, I decided I would not “ghost host” this month. Instead of  just posting the discussion thread for the book, I would actually read along with my fellow book lovers.

I cannot fully express how glad I am that bought a copy of this book and cracked it open. Despite severe migraines Friday and Saturday, I had trouble putting Firestarter down. The prose is brilliant. King sucks you into the story from the very beginning and never lets go. The story opens with two college students who sign up to be part of a one-day experiment to earn some extra cash. If this book doesn’t serve as a warning on the dangers of signing up to be a guinea pig for medical trials, I don’t know what will! The two students end up getting married and have a child, a daughter, who is born with special “gifts” thanks to the effects of the drug her parents both received as part of the experiment. The most obvious and terrifying of her gifts is pyrokinesis – the ability to start fires with her mind.

The scariest part of this novel to me isn’t Charlie’s ability to start fires. By far, the most terrifying aspect is the government hunt for her family, the lengths the Shop goes to in order to capture her and study her. Even before that, just the fact that the government is engaged in the initial drug study, testing hallucinogens, trying to build super soldiers, is so believable and frightening.

I don’t want to say anything more about the plot, as I really think you should read the book for yourself. My mass market paperback copy is 564 pages, but believe me, they fly by and the book is over before you know it. Often, I feel like King needs a stronger editor to cull his books down (I’m looking at you, The Stand), but Firestarter is a taut thriller that I sped through. I’m not sure if it’s enough to knock The Eyes of the Dragon off the all-time favorite Stephen King novel pedestal, but it’s definitely top three. 4.5 stars.

The Princess Saves Herself in this One

•October 26, 2018 • 1 Comment

princess

I hate poetry. There. I said it. Take away my English degree if you must, but it’s just not a genre/writing style that I enjoy, as a general rule. Every time I encounter a poetry category on a reading challenge, I groan. Last year’s Book Riot Read Harder challenge had a category that was something along the lines of “a book of poetry in translation on a subject other than love”. What? That was a challenge to find and an even bigger challenge to get through.

This year, The Reading Women challenge has a category for a collection of poetry written by a woman. Thankfully, being written by a woman is the only restriction. What’s even better is that this challenge is the only one out of nine that I’m participating in that has a poetry-only category. I went onto The Reading Women’s Goodreads page to try to find ideas and had originally thought to read Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur because it’s available on Hoopla (free through my library, yay!), but there’s another category on that challenge that it proving challenging to find a fit for, and I’m going to use Milk and Honey for that. So, I decided to give Amanda Lovelace’s poetry a chance.

I feel like I have said this a lot lately, but it was not at all what I expected. This collection is broken up into four sections. The entire thing reads very quickly, but I question how well the eBook is formatted compared to print. I think it would be better to read this in print, but I was looking for easy, instant access and free, so I went with borrowing it from Hoopla. Maybe stop reading here if you are worried about spoilers, because I don’t know how spoiler free I can be. You’ve been warned. I take no responsibility if you continue and hit a spoiler.

This starts out with some really gut-wrenching writing about abuse that the author suffered. It is not an easy read, by any means. I was horrified and deeply saddened, and if it hadn’t been for the challenge prompt, I’d have walked away. Lovelace does a brilliant job of evoking emotion, sharing her pain, with very few words. She goes on to write poems about finding oneself, being one’s own knight in shining armor, losing family members, and love. I didn’t enjoy all of it, but even the ones that  I didn’t directly connect were still dripping with sincerity and emotion. Best of all, it ends with a very positive, hopeful note, so while I initially wanted to run away from it, I was able to turn off my iPad and go to sleep feeling happy.

I will continue to say that I hate poetry. I will not go out of my way to read it and will whine whenever a reading challenge has a poetry category. It’s just who I am. However, I am not sorry that I gave this one a chance, and if you’re looking for a quick option to check a box, I don’t think you can go wrong with this one. Be prepared to feel like you’ve been kicked in the stomach, especially if you are an empathetic person.

(Screenshot credit from Hoopla on my iPhone with background from PicCollage)

Ghostland

•October 25, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey is a book I picked up in 2016 thanks to Liberty Hardy and her podcast, All The Books. I must not have been paying attention when she gave her glowing recommendation because this book is not anything like what I expected. That’s not a bad thing, though.

This is less a tale of hauntings and more a look at why we attribute supernatural events to certain places. It’s more psychology/sociology focused than I anticipated, and it’s wonderful. Dickey looks at a variety of places, from homes to hospitals, prisons to entire cities, and discusses how elements of architecture and historic events play into the development of lore and tales of hauntings. The concept of “ruin porn”, particularly as it relates to cities like Detroit, was especially interesting and heartbreaking.

If you have an interest in history and what it says about the human condition, I highly recommend this book. It’s not scary, in a horror novel way, but it will make you think. Real people are the scariest monsters in my opinion.

Inheritance

•October 23, 2018 • 1 Comment

My grandmother passed away on Labor Day. In part because my mother was with her when she passed, her dog has become part of my household. You could say I’ve inherited a 7-year old, 10 lb chihuahua. His name is Scooter, because he stretches out on his tummy and scoots at a high rate of speed across the floor. It’s hysterical. What’s even funnier is when he and Bailey do it together.

It’s been a challenge merging the two households because Bailey is still adjusting and Mom was gone for so much of the time Bails has been here, that they are getting used to each other, too. And poor Scooter is seriously traumatized. He’s lost his #1 human and his home, and relocated to the other side of the country. He has to get used to an entirely different climate and learn to share room and board with a really big dog.

Bails still isn’t entirely sure what to make of this relatively new addition, and I’ll be honest, I’m not either. I’ve never been a fan of small breed dogs. I’ve been bitten twice by a dog that wasn’t my own, and both times were by small breeds. I’m actually more scared of small dogs than I am of Dobermans, Rottweilers, or Pit Bulls. Many of the ones I’ve encountered are Napoleonic terrors. But, Scooter seems to have accepted me, and with the help of a trainer, we are all learning how to be a cohesive pack. They are now actively playing with each other, including play bows, and apparently they have a game where Scooter runs full tilt into Bailey and she rolls him over with her nose. As I type, Bailey is snoring at the foot of my bed, and Scooter is curled up on the large dog bed down below.

I’ve often heard that you may not get the dog you want, but you always get the dog you need. Bailey has helped heal my heart after I lost Pilot and Scooter is definitely teaching me lessons in compassion, patience, and understanding, and chipping away at my small breed prejudices. I think Gammy would be pleased.

Shutter Island

•October 22, 2018 • Leave a Comment

This is going to be an unpopular opinion, from what I’ve seen on Litsy and Goodreads, but I was disappointed in this book. It’s my first Dennis Lehane and I received it in a thriller/horror themed book exchange, and it’s touted as a great psychological thriller. I kind of wish I’d seen less hype and enthusiasm for it, as maybe that would have  managed  my expectations a little better.

The premise is two U.S. Marshals head to an island which is basically a prison/hospital for the criminally insane to investigate a missing patient. All is not what it seems on Shutter Island, and Teddy Daniels, the lead investigator, has a secret agenda of his own. I won’t say more, because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who wishes to give this a chance.

Now, I will admit that I did not guess all of the details surrounding the resolution to the book, but I knew there would be a twist, and I guessed some of it. Knowing that there had to be something along those lines coming, took the tension out of the tale and as I read the last hundred and fifty pages, I mostly just wanted the book to be over so I could move onto other things. I had only a vague interest in the plot details. Maybe the book was groundbreaking when it was first published, and maybe I would have been on the edge of my seat had I read it then, but I did not and I was not.

Halloween Audiobooks

•October 22, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Audiobooks

Last week, I barreled through several Halloween appropriate audiobooks. Rather than do individual reviews, I thought I would do a quick summary of each in a combined post. I hope you don’t mind, but I doubt I have enough to say about each one to justify individual posts.

First up is The World of LORE: Monstrous Creatures by Aaron Mahnke, narrated by the author. This is the first in a series of books based on Mahnke’s podcast, LORE. I’m not a huge fan of podcasts, most just don’t work for me, even though audiobooks do, so I’ve only listened to an episode or two of the original podcast. Mahnke’s voice isn’t my favorite, but at 1.25 x speed on the Audible app, it was pleasant enough. I’ve heard that most of the stories in the book can be heard on the podcast, but I liked having them all in one place. Not too spooky overall, but there were definitely a few tales that made me uneasy. 3-4 stars, depending on my mood when you ask me, and I am sure I’ll be listening to the rest of the series.

The second audiobook I finished last week was Washington Irving’s classic Halloween tale, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, narrated by Tom Mison, who played Ichabod Crane in the recent FOX television show based loosely on the same tale. I cannot hear or read this story without thinking of the wonderful 1949 Disney animated version that was part of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Disney was amazingly faithful to the original tale and Tom Mison does a good job of narrating the audiobook. It’s short – an hour and 15 minutes – but entertaining. 4 stars, definitely, and I’m considering making it an annual October listen/reread.

The third and final listen completed last week brought Agatha Christie’s most famous detective, Hercule Poirot to my ears via the excellent narration of Hugh Fraser. Hallowe’en Party is a solid mystery, nothing less than one would expect of Mrs. Christie. A young girl is murdered at a Hallowe’en Party after bragging about having witnessed a murder. Everyone Poirot speaks to claims the girl is a known liar, so supposedly no one at the party believed her claim. Someone must have been worried, though. I was disappointed in some of characters, who seemed either very flat or gross caricatures, and Poirot is detestable, in my opinion. The more of his books I read, the less I like the Belgian detective. I’m committed to reading all of Agatha Christie’s books, though, so at least I have Hugh Fraser to  read many of them. I highly recommend his narration.

I started The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter on Friday, and got about 60% of the way through. Short stories are something I have long struggled with and this collection is no exception. It’s a collection of fairy tale retellings, that are surprisingly risque. I went into this without any real knowledge of the subject matter, and I think that’s the best way, but I admit to being a little surprised and uncomfortable. These are NOT the Disney versions. I find that I am not enjoying them much at all, despite the exquisite voice of Richard Armitage narrating half of the tales. The other half are narrated by Emilia Fox, who I like as an actress, but abhor as an audiobook narrator. Unless something significant changes, this is going to be a 1.5/2 star listen for me. I’m just hoping to get through it by the end of the day. The audible app says I have 2 hours and 14 minutes remaining, which sounds like 3 hours too many.