[Book Review] In which I re-evaluate my bias against magic libraries

 

Book Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Canaries, this is the book I was looking for when I had my ill-fated encounter with The Eyre Affair in 2017 and swore off all book-themed fantasy novels. Little did I know that The Invisible Library was out there.

Two years later, here I am, eating my words. Fantasy books about books can be excellent.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (and the rest of the series) combines the high stakes of a spy thriller with the shenannigans of fantasy novel, populated with colorful characters, an intriguing and competent main lead, and several series level mysteries that kept me hooked. Continue reading

[Book Review] Girl meets cyborg, starts a war

Book Review: Wanted and Wired by Vivien Jackson

wantedandwired

A mercenary running from a past she can’t remember, a renegade scientist running from a past he can’t forget. What more can you ask for? Throw in a double-cross, explosions, hacking, cyberpunk shenanigans, plenty of heat, and you got something.

It’s a fun read, light on the plot, good with the pacing, with a kind of space opera romance vibe without the space part (well, mostly). It’s a partners-to-lovers story with sizzling romance that builds on the characters’ long history of working and relying on each other. Continue reading

[Book Review] Will the real Sherlock Holmes please stand up?

Book Review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

a-study-in-scarlet-women

“With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.”

This is definitely a What If book. What If Conan Doyle’s famous literary detective Sherlock Holmes was actually a woman? The rest of the book flows from that premise.

I am a lifelong Sherlock Holmes fan. Seriously, I’ve read and watched ’em all. And in this new addition to the Sherlockian multiverse, all my favorite characters from the series make their reimagined appearance. There’s Lady Holmes, but also a new Watson and Mrs. Hudson. A new version of the inspector, a bare hint of archenemy Moriarty, and an intriguing Mycroft-based character who promises to play a larger role in the sequel.

A Study in Scarlet Women is also one of the few books I’ve read told from the perspective of Holmes, rather than the average-minded Watson. Here, though, we get an inexperienced Holmes, trying to break into the detective business in a world that is not forgiving to women who try to make their respectable, independent way in it. She is also liable to make terrible, silly mistakes when the world – and people! – do not conform to her logical expectations of them. Continue reading

Buddy Read with Tash | The 5th Wave

Last month, I dove into The Handmaid’s Tale and talked genre drift and the flavors of oppression across the books different international covers. (Check out Tash’s great insights here.)

thefifthwaveThis month, we decided to go in the Teen Alien Invasion Romance direction and tackle Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave. After all, the movie version just came out, it’s streaming on Amazon, AND the trailer promises an alien invasion with aliens taking over human brains. Who’s infested? Who’s still human? NO ONE KNOWS.

And also because, clearly, I learned nothing from watching The Host. Continue reading

Flavors of oppression and the covers of The Handmaid’s Tale

Anyone who has ever gone to the bookstore with me knows that I love covers. So when Tash and I decided to dive into The Handmaid’s Tale last month, one of the first things I did was pull the cover images. The covers a book goes through says a lot, both about the story the publisher thinks its telling, and the audience it thinks it’s selling to.

First published by the Canadian McClelland and Stewart in 1985, the original cover is cubist bold, colorful, and utterly grotesque. The main character, Offred’s relationship with the Commander takes center stage, and it’s damn uncomfortable to look at. One year later, the iconic U.S. first edition from Houghton Mifflin came out, and the world hasn’t been the same since.

Fast-forwarding to today: While the 1985 handmaids-by-the-wall cover is still, by far, the most common and recognizeable, the 2006 release from McClelland & Stewart went in an airy direction, the 2009 went full on body parts (a common enough tactic in YA, and part of a long-standing tradition of representing women through body parts: the arm, the hand, the legs, the neck and chin. The most recent re-release from 2010 Vintage Classics, though, the last in the images above, bucked the trend by going full conceptual.

Some books pivoted away from both the literal depiction of what happened in any given scene to a more symbolic representation.

Continue reading

[Book Review] One soulmate, too many space princes

Shrouded by Frances Pauli

“When Vashia arrives on Shroud as an indentured bride, Dolfan recognizes immediately that they are meant to be together. Broken, lost, and on the run, she trusts no one, but Dolfan has enough faith for the both of them… Until his people’s sacred ritual gives Vashia to someone else.”

“This one looks right up your alley,” my friend told me. “It’s science fiction full of planet royalty and court machinations and forbidden romance.”

“Nnnngghh,” I said. At that point, I may have been lying on the floor, holding a pillow over my face.

“Four words: Arranged Marriage Space Opera.”

Oh. Well, why didn’t you just say so? Continue reading

[Book Review] Not your grandmother’s San Diego: Dogs, dragons, and shady dealings

Black Dog Blues by Rhys Ford

Wowza. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed an urban fantasy novel that packed this kind of punch.

Here’s the setup. Kai is a Stalker, a freelance mercenary who hunts down deadly magical beasties for a bounty, in a California where our world and the fae world merged and magic and technology exists side by side. When a sidhe lord named Ryder arrives in San Diego to set up his own Court, Kai is strong-armed into doing a job for him. It’s supposed to be a simple escort run up the coast, but becomes something so much more as Kai’s secrets, sidhe politics, and family feuds collide.

Looks like Black Dog Blues was Ford’s first foray into fantasy, and it’s a gorgeous, action-packed piece of work. This book hits all the right notes for me. An alternative modern day world that combines high tech with magic, a main character with terrible secrets and a brutal past he’s trying to escape, fast-paced action, dangerous and deadly monsters, vicious plotting, magic, smart dialogue, clever characters, an array of possible romantic entanglements, and some painful questions of identity, family and humanity. Continue reading

[Book Review] Space romance, running from aliens, and lots of suspicion

When I first launched theCanaryReview a few years back, I was going to make it a blog dedicated solely to space opera books. Then, I realized I’d never be able to sit still within one subgenre.

But I still love them. And so I bring you a couple more fun reads from this delicious sci-fi romance gene.

Enemy Within by Marcella BurnardEnemy Within (Enemy, #1)

Captain Ari Rose is the only person to survive being a prisoner of war of humanity’s alien enemies. Ever. Stripped of her command and banished to her father’s scientific expedition to finish a Ph.D. she doesn’t want, Ari wonders why she bothered to survive. But when pirates commandeer her father’s ship, Ari once again becomes a prisoner.

As far as pirate leader Cullin is concerned, if Ari hasn’t been brainwashed and returned as a spy, then she must be part of a traitorous alliance endangering billions of lives. Continue reading

[Book Review] A sleepless night and a clever, clever book

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg

28418764“I’m just gonna read 15 pages before bed.”

Famous last words, right? 275 words later, I’d polished off this clever fairy-tale and it was way past my bedtime.

Here’s the setup:  Maire lost her memory four years ago but managed to make a life for herself in a small town. Then she loses her bakery. Then her family. Then her freedom. As a slave to a deranged master, the only thing Maire has left is her mysterious ability to infuse her cooking with her magic. The ante goes way up as her new master forces her to use her magic for evil purposes.

Add in a winged spirit-creature and maybe-lover, lots of gingerbread, vicious marauders, escape attempts and cosmic creation.

With a bakery set-up (and the girly cover), I was expecting chic-flick lite – something whimsical and dramatic and funny. But the story was darker, deeper and more mature than I expected, certainly far from humorous. It moved between themes of compassion and forgiveness to real moments of bleakness despair. Everything that happens in fantasy adventure happened, but with a this is real life, and it’s not always pretty turn to it. It was an odd and clever combo of low fantasy grit and lovely fairy tale.

We follow resilient, strong-hearted Maire through her trials. It’s a spark of Cinderella minus prince, with a dash of amnesia, a sprinkling of abduction and torture, with a side helping of a strong current of importance-of-family. Think: a grittier Robin McKinley.

That said, in an odd way, things came both too hard to Maire, and too easy. What could have had simple answers, took the entirety of the book. When the book decided to be hard on Maire, it didn’t do things halfway.

The mystery kept me reading, but I figured a bunch of things out way ahead of the big reveal, so there wasn’t much to feed the mystery-guesser in me until the very, very end.

Overall, I’m of mixed opinion on the story. It’s a cool story that explores some pretty dark and deep places. But…Take all that together, give it a shake, and you get a canary rating that’s a bit mixed. I’d recommend this to anyone wanting traditional fantasy + romance lite + a smart, mature character with a Jane Eyre level of compassion in the face of suffering.

Canary rating:

(I enjoyed the read, but I probably wouldn’t pick up a sequel…)

Book provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Today’s Book Blurb: And you thought this was a good idea how?

“Alpha werewolf Konrad Wolfensen sees it as his duty to protect the citizens of Boston, even if it means breaking into their businesses just to prove their security systems don’t work. But when his unsolicited services land him in trouble with the law…”
The Werewolf Upstairs by Ashlyn Chase