DNF Reviews: Tarnished are the Stars & The Good Luck Girls – Why does YA Hate Me? (I’m Open to Suggestions)

Here’s a fun stat for you: I DNFed 5 books in the past month and a half, and four of them were YA SFF. And I’m pretty sure they’re at least 60% responsible for the reading slump I’m currently in.

Conclusion?

1) Recent YA SFF is just missing a lot of the stuff I crave. Also, I should be more selective about the books that I request, and for god’s sake, read some reviews beforehand.

or

2) I’ve been (VERY UNFAIRLY) cursed by the bookish gods and now I must travel to the heart of the Northern Canadian woods to capture a Wendigo and make an offering–

Yeah, clearly 2 is the way to go.

 

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(Stopping point: ~45%)

You say “steampunk” and “divided loyalties” and “cat and mouse” and “queer”; I say,  “Please–I offer you my first born.”

Well, I hope the bookish gods accept cancellations because Tarnished are the Stars is definitely not worth my first born. Or any of my born for that matter.

I always say that I can forgive poor worldbuildng if I’m able to connect with the characters. But there’s a limit to that. And my limit is this book. I found the writing to be so sparse of detail to the point where it felt like a slice-of-life contemporary than a sci-fi–heavy with dialogue and a vague sense of setting, which isn’t at all helped by how short each POV chapter is.

And a slice-of-life-esque worldbuilding is fine if the story itself is slice-of-life. This book? Nothing close to that. It’s a steampunk space opera with intrigue and a organics-versus-technology plotline, and therefore I want to see something more than Scene A – generic store, Scene B – generic mansion, and Scene C – generic field.

 

 


Now, this next book has the exact OPPOSITE problem. So at least my DNF reads were…varied? Yay?

The Good Luck Girls

(Stopping point: ~38%)

ME: So, it’s kind of weird how there are no characters in The Good Luck Girls…but at least the setting is neat!

*vague whisperings in brain cavity*

ME: Uh, what do you mean I’m looking at the characters?

Ah yes. The good old problem of “interesting worldbuilding, flat/invisible characters.” This is a more familiar territory for me.

Let’s get to the positive first: the worldbuilding and the general premise of the story is super fascinating. There are two groups of people who live in Arketta, dustbloods and fairbloods, and they’re more or less alike in appearance minus one little detail: dustbloods don’t cast shadows. And while fairbloods are offered privileges and opportunities, dustbloods are forced to live in indentured servitude–as prostitutes, for example, which is what the Good Luck Girls are.

The writing itself is really solid and descriptive, and all the little details about the setting are a nice touch. Also, copious descriptions of food equal a very happy Kathy.

All of this was negated by the characters. Holy friggin’ coconuts, the characters. You have this cool western setting–rich and dusty and unforgiving–and it’s somehow populated with characters with less personality and depth than the back of a cereal box. They were just…blank. And eerily so. I couldn’t find myself caring about any of them, or their predicament, and well, that was that.

 

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So. What books should I pack for my Wendigo-hunting trip? And what’s your go-to remedy for bookish curses?

(I’ve been a BIT sleep-deprived this week–I don’t know if you can tell??)

Blog Tour Spotlight + Giveaway (US): Tarnished are the Stars | Feat. Character Art

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Tours, tours, tours! I forgot that I signed up for so many of them. I’m still on a semi-hiatus right now, but there are majorly exciting news coming in the next couple of weeks, and I CANNOT WAIT to tell you all about it. I’ll just say…if you’re a fan of a certain fantasy series that revolves around tarot cards, then you might want to keep your eyes peeled on the blog and on Twitter. *goofy grin*

Now, for the book in question! Tarnished are the Stars is an ownvoices steampunky scifi story (which is the best kind of story, really). It wasn’t for me, unfortunately, and that’s 100% a “ME” thing–I’ve been intensely picky about books lately, and if I can’t get into the writing style, I just can’t get into the story.

I’ll be posting a mini review after the tour ends, so in the meantime, enjoy this spotlight!

 

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Author: Rosiee Thor
Release Date: October 15, 2019
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre(s): YA Science Fiction
Subject and Themes: LGBTQ+, Steampunk

 

A secret beats inside Anna Thatcher’s chest: an illegal clockwork heart. Anna works cog by cog — donning the moniker Technician — to supply black market medical technology to the sick and injured, against the Commissioner’s tyrannical laws.

Nathaniel Fremont, the Commissioner’s son, has never had to fear the law. Determined to earn his father’s respect, Nathaniel sets out to capture the Technician. But the more he learns about the outlaw, the more he questions whether his father’s elusive affection is worth chasing at all.

Their game of cat and mouse takes an abrupt turn when Eliza, a skilled assassin and spy, arrives. Her mission is to learn the Commissioner’s secrets at any cost — even if it means betraying her own heart.

When these uneasy allies discover the most dangerous secret of all, they must work together despite their differences and put an end to a deadly epidemic — before the Commissioner ends them first.

 

 

About the Author

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Rosiee Thor began her career as a storyteller by demanding that her mother listen as Rosiee told bedtime stories instead of the other way around. She lives in Oregon with a dog, two cats, and four complete sets of Harry Potter, which she loves so much, she once moved her mattress into the closet and slept there until she came out as queer.

 

 

 

Character Art

 

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Left to right: Anna, Eliza, Nathaniel

 

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The Commissioner, Thatcher

 

Giveaway

The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Ends October 29th. Enter HERE.

 

 

Tour Schedule

You can check out the rest of the tour stops HERE.

 

Blog Tour Review: We Rule the Night – Came for Girl Friendships, Stayed for Girl Friendships

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Title: We Rule the Night
Author: Claire Eliza Bartlett
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 2nd, 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Steampunk
Subjects and Themes: Female Friendships, Feminism, History-Inspired
Page Count: 400 (hardback)

Rating: N/A

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Seventeen-year-old Revna is a factory worker, manufacturing war machines for the Union of the North. When she’s caught using illegal magic, she fears being branded a traitor and imprisoned. Meanwhile, on the front lines, Linné defied her father, a Union general, and disguised herself as a boy to join the army. They’re both offered a reprieve from punishment if they use their magic in a special women’s military flight unit and undertake terrifying, deadly missions under cover of darkness. Revna and Linné can hardly stand to be in the same cockpit, but if they can’t fly together, and if they can’t find a way to fly well, the enemy’s superior firepower will destroy them–if they don’t destroy each other first.
We Rule the Night is a powerful story about sacrifice, complicated friendships, and survival despite impossible odds.

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A fantasy military story with an all-female regiment and a “soft-spoken girl with a blunt, tight-laced girl” dynamic? Gosh, Claire, it’s like you know me.

I’ll be starting off with short bullet points for this beauty because this is so, so very last minute:

♥ This is a fantasy telling/dressup of the WW2 Night Witches, Soviet Union’s all-female bomber regiment (which seems to be a popular topic in fiction lately). I love the way the author constructed the world–the way it feels like a WW2 setting but with a steampunk flair. The girls pilot planes that are made of living metal, which means they can use magic (Weavecraft) to control it. Really cool stuff.

♥ The two main characters, Revna and Linné, are as different as they come. Revna has lost her legs in a factory accident and her use of prostheses makes Linné question whether she’s fit to be a pilot. Linné, on the other hand, is the daughter of a celebrated general and carries a “I’m better than this, why am I here” attitude. Their dynamic is a fascinating one, moving from hostility to respect and friendship.

♥ Girls risking lives for each other. Girls fighting alongside each other. Girls learning to trust each other. And girls supporting each other in an environment that believes women shouldn’t get involved in wars. (I hope you’ve been nodding furiously with each sentence.) It has it all and it does it well.

♥ My only real main problem was with the ending which I thought was rather shockingly abrupt.

Okay, well, awesome! That sounds pretty great, right? So why am I not giving it a rating?

Right. This is 100% on my end. We Rule the Night had the unfortunate timing of coming immediately after the most personal and emotionally draining book I’ve read in the past two years. My brain was (and still is) utterly scrambled and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else, especially other books. I mean, I would read a paragraph and ask myself, “Wait, what did I just read?” It’s ridiculous. It’s like trying to date just days after the (second) worst breakup of my life.

So I couldn’t give this book the full attention that it absolutely deserved, and any rating I give right now wouldn’t feel…fair. But make no mistake, this is a strong debut and I’m definitely going to be doing a re-read once I get my brain pieces back in order. And you should also pick it up because we need more stories about female empowerment floating around in our collective memories.

 

“That was the secret they shared as they held out their cups and got another splash of strong tea and tangy liquor. That was the secret they smiled over when they went to dinner. Not that they could fly, not that they could use the Weave. We can do anything.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Claire Bartlett lives in an enchanted forest apartment in Copenhagen with too many board games and too few cats.

Get more detailed information, like how many board games is too many, how many cats is too few, and what book-related beauties I’m working on by signing up for my newsletter.

 

TOUR SCHEDULE

Check out the rest of the tour stops HERE!

 

Review: A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery – AncestryDNA: Three Musketeers Edition

Hey, everyone! Sorry for being rather absent for the last week and a half. I’ve been super busy preparing for a neuroscience conference and it’s been kind of a mentally taxing endeavour. But I’ll be back on Monday to catch up on posts and comments! Meanwhile, enjoy this slightly overdue review!

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Title: A Labyrinth of Scions of Sorcery (The Risen Kingdoms 2)
Author: Curtis Craddock
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: January 22nd, 2019
Genre(s): Fantasy, Steampunk
Subjects and Themes: Court Intrigue, Family Drama
Page Count: 416 (hardback)

Rating: 7.5/10

Add to goodreads

 

 

Isabelle des Zephyrs has always been underestimated throughout her life, but after discovering the well of hidden magic within her, unveiling a centuries-long conspiracy, and stopping a war between rival nations, she has gained a newfound respect amongst the cutthroat court.

All that is quickly taken away when Isabelle is unfairly convicted of breaking the treaty she helped write and has her political rank and status taken away. Now bereft, she nevertheless finds herself drawn into mystery when her faithful musketeer Jean-Claude uncovers a series of gruesome murders by someone calling themselves the Harvest King.

As panic swells, the capital descends into chaos, when the emperor is usurped from the throne by a rival noble. Betrayed by their allies and hunted by assassins, Isabelle and Jean-Claude alone must thwart the coup, but not before it changes l’Empire forever.

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(Note: If it’s been over a year since you last read Book 1, you might benefit from a reread because holy hell, I couldn’t remember who 70% of the characters were.)

As the sequel to Craddock’s wholly underrated debut An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors, which was one of my favourite reads of 2017, I had pretty high expectations for it. And while I can’t say the book met them, there’s still a lot to like about it. So let’s get the good bits first!

The worldbuilding is as delightful to read about as it was in Book 1. For those who are new to the series, the books take place in a steampunk fantasy version of Renaissance France and Spain (if Renaissance France and Spain had been floating sky nations, that is). We also get airships, sorcerers who can make use of shadows and mirrors, dashing musketeers, and feathered people-creatures who retain all the memories of their ancestors. It’s brilliantly imaginative and somewhat reminiscent of Jules Verne, and I’ve not found anything quite like it in fantasy.

So obviously the book will appeal to fantasy readers who are tired of medieval settings and want to see some sky high swashbuckling action, but I think it’ll also hold appeal to all you genealogy buffs out there because so much of the story is about tracing family history and heritable traits.

The writing also continues to delight. Craddock’s prose holds such an effortless charm that makes it an absolute joy to read, and it shines most brightly when it comes to Jean Claude, our protagonist’s bodyguard, who is one of the sassiest, most loyal protector one could wish for. And his protectee Isabelle is as clever and wonderfully independent as I remember.

My disappointment mainly comes from two things: plot and love interest.

As much as I liked exploring this world more, I wasn’t super invested in the main plot. It’s got a lot of intrigue and mystery revolving around family ancestry, which had also been present in the first book, but while book 1 had tension and a sense of immediacy that I found compelling, the storyline in Labyrinth is rather meandering and had me wondering what it was all leading up to or why it mattered.

The second point is what frustrates me the most because it’s a matter of squandered potential. The end of book 1 had more or less set up Prince Julio of Aragoth (fantasy Spain) to be Isabelle’s love interest in Labyrinth. And though we didn’t get an in-depth look at him then, I definitely liked what I saw and was very much looking forward to seeing how their relationship would develop in the sequel.

Instead, he gets shoved to the wayside in favour of a new love interest, a man called  Bitterlich, and he and Isabelle are…pleasant, sure, but bland and their romance too quickly developed.

And okay, yes, Julio is admittedly a little vanilla, especially compared to Bitterlich who’s a shapeshifter. He’s also very proper and reserved and tightly-wound and harbours a not insignificant hero worship for his dead father. And for some strange infuriating reason, fantasy characters with those traits usually get saddled with one of three roles: martyr, cannon fodder, or just plain chopped liver. Hardly ever long-term love interests.

But you know what would have been interesting to see? Julio and Isabelle actually interacting and figuring out how their personalities mesh when outside of life-threatening situations. We get none of that here and it ends up feeling like a waste of a perfectly set up character.

At the end of the day, though, this is the kind of book that I feel good about reading, even when the plot and characters don’t quite meet my expectations, and that has everything to do with the charm and the heart of Craddock’s writing. And that is really what makes this series stand out from others.

I’m very excited to see what adventures the author will take these characters next (hint: there will be airships).

Review: The Gutter Prayer – A Dark, Imaginative Debut

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Title: The Gutter Prayer (The Black Iron Legacy 1)
Author: Gareth Hanrahan
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: January 17th, 2018
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy, Steampunk
Subjects and Themes: Deities
Page Count: 544

Rating: 8.0/10

Add to goodreads

 

 

The city of Guerdon stands eternal. A refuge from the war that rages beyond its borders. But in the ancient tunnels deep beneath its streets, a malevolent power has begun to stir.

The fate of the city rests in the hands of three thieves. They alone stand against the coming darkness. As conspiracies unfold and secrets are revealed, their friendship will be tested to the limit. If they fail, all will be lost and the streets of Guerdon will run with blood.

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There has been a great buzz about The Gutter Prayer and the slew of blurbs from well-respected authors and reviewers praising its name should tell you that this is, in many ways, a pretty damn great debut.

And I can tell you the same thing…with some caveats.

Let’s talk about the worldbuilding first, because that’s hands-down the book’s biggest strength.

I wrote in my notes that the way that Hanrahan presents his world–like the origin of the Ghouls and Stone Plague–reminds me a lot of video games. As in, they’re presented in succinct and easily digestible chunks while still being interesting and attention-grabbing (and later I found out that the author writes gaming books, so that was an “Aha” moment). This has the downside of being a little info-dumpy in places, but considering how interesting the world is, I didn’t really mind it.

Comparisons to China Mieville has been made and for good reason. He’s one of the best when it comes to city building and transforming locations into living, breathing characters. And The Gutter Prayer has that in spades.

But I think this world is a little more…Lovecraftian than Mieville’s work (and not just because of the tentacles). And for that reason, it really, really reminds me of the Gothic browser game known as Fallen London.

And you have no idea how ecstatic that makes me.

I won’t get into the details of the game (that’s for another day), but one of the million things I adore about Fallen London (and its spinoffs) is its total embrace of the weird, the foreign, and the terrifying. Various creatures roam the streets and underbellies of its city and while some might see you as their noonday snack, others just want to go about their lives in peace. There’s something new and exciting waiting for you around every corner and the city is just begging you to explore it all.

The same thing applies here. We have the Tallowmen, humanoid wax creations made from the remnants of condemned criminals that are now used as hunting dogs for criminals (and yes, they have a wick running through them–that’s how they come “alive”); worm-colonies that hire themselves out as sorcerer mercenaries; and on and on.

And we get all these different, colourful districts and their rich history and colourful inhabitants–some friendly, others distinctly murdery, and nearly all of them strange and fascinating.

I fucking adore the imagination of it all.

As for the plot, the main one takes a while to materialize (which can be frustrating) but when it does, it begins to resemble the best of Robert Bennett Jackson’s Divine Cities trilogy–warring gods, trapped gods, and mortals who would kill or free them to further their own agenda.

Now, here comes the caveats. My problem with loud and rich worldbuilding is when the characters aren’t quite as loud and rich enough, so the former ends up drowning them out. This is fine in the early stages of a story–everything is new and shiny and we’re gawking at everything like overexcited tourists–but after a certain point it starts to resemble a lonely stroll through an art museum.

This isn’t to say the characters aren’t interesting–quite the opposite, really!

There are three main characters the story revolves around:

Spar is the leader of the trio and the son of the man who’s founded the Brotherhood–a group of thieves who were meant to be the Robin Hoods of the city, a beacon of hope for the common folk–and also a victim of the Stone Plague, an incurable disease that slowly turns the infected into stone. And he just happens to be my favourite (“The idealistic character with an unbending sense of loyalty who’s also tragically dying is your favourite? Why am I not surprised?”)

Rat is a young ghoul who feeds on the carcasses of the dead.

Cari is the only human/non-infected of the group. She’s left Guerdon many years ago and never looked back. But now she is back and some…disconcerting things are happening with her.

So these are characters with diverse backstories and I enjoyed getting to know them and the lore they bring with them, but I feel like they never developed beyond the surface-level of interesting. Spar in particular never quite reached the potential that I think he has.

And I think the following two points contribute to that:

  1. The three characters spend half of the story separated from each other (and Spar spends a good chunk of that stuck alone in a cell), so we never really get a good sense of their dynamic.
  2. Hanrahan doesn’t have the same knack for emotional character-driven scenes as he does with city building. There are moments, especially near the end of the story, that could have been rousing and vindicating but are curiously glossed over. Tragedies come and go in a blink, leaving you feeling detached and going, “Wait, what?”

All in all, though, Guerdon is a joy to experience and the problems with meandering plot and characters are things that can definitely be ironed out in the sequel. Gareth Hanrahan has stormed into the genre with a deceptively complex debut that’s chock full of imagination, and it sets up a strong foundation for what I hope will be an equally strong trilogy.

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Top 5 Wednesday – My Favourite Types of Covers

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes in which you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s topic is “favourite covers” but it felt a little too general, and then I saw that Acqua from Acquadimore Books did a post on the types of covers she doesn’t like. So I thought I’d talk about the five kinds of things I love seeing on covers.

 

Airships

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My obsession with airships started when I was in my early teens with the Final Fantasy games, which then branched off into my obsession with steampunk in general. So nothing gets me going like seeing one (or multiple ones *swoon*) plastered over the cover of a book. If I could be reborn in a steampunk world, I’d want to pursue a career as an airship engineer (no, not the captain; I wouldn’t trust myself to lead us anywhere other than the fiery arms of death).

 

Corvids Birds in Flight

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Fantasy is as obsessed with crows and ravens as it is with using “Blood” and “Assassin” in its titles, so it’s only natural that we’d see them in so many covers. I see that as a good thing because I love those beady little critters. They’re ridiculously clever and they teach you to treat all living things with respect because, otherwise, they’ll dive-bomb you (and your dog) to hell and back.

You may notice that The Ninth Rain bucks the trend by showing not a corvid, but–*gasp*–an eagle on the cover. The nerve! Clearly the black sheep of the family.

 

Black, Red, and White

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Say what you will about Twilight series, but the covers are a brilliant display of simplicity and colour contrast and I used to salivate over that apple. There’s no sexier colour combination to me than these three.

 

White Space

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Who says white is boring? Sometimes a white background is louder and more impactful than a busy, colourful one, as it allows allows the objects on the cover to “pop”. It’s again, super sexy–but in the opposite spectrum.

 

Celestial

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There’s a reason why humans have stared up at the night sky for so many millennia dreaming of things greater than ourselves. I love star-gazing–it fills me with calm and wonder and just a bit of loneliness (but the good kind)–so it’s no surprise that I’m drawn to covers with celestial themes.

These types of covers never fail to be awe-inspiring, whether you imagine yourself as a spaceship captain chasing starlight or just a person on Earth gazing up into the possibilities of what might be, could be, will be. The three above covers are my favourite examples this year.

 

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A special shoutout to “wolf” covers which I also love but couldn’t find enough examples of! What are some things you like seeing on book covers?