The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

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What a wild ride. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix was my kind of crazy though. If you visit this book’s page on Goodreads you will see two very different top reviews. The top review (written by a white man) claims that this book is harmful, racist, and not at all a feminist book. The second top review (by a white female) is completely the opposite. I side much more with the female reviewer, but in my review I will reference some of the points made by the male reviewer just in case you read that review and are put off by the accusations. I will speak in vague terms, but there may be slight spoilers about scenes or some of the horror elements.

But first let’s take a step back and explain the basic plot. The book takes place in the American south during the 90’s. Several women in a very white, suburban community have decided to host a book club where they read thrillers, true crime, and horror, much to the annoyance of their husbands. A rich stranger moves into their community, and one of the book club members, Patricia Campbell, finds some strange coincidences and occurrences tied to this man. Her fellow book club members doubt her and hold onto their perfect lives, while the husbands view Patricia as an unstable influence on their wives. But what if Patricia is actually on the right track? What if this man really is a too goo to be true presence in their town?

I loved the plot and characters so, so much. Patricia and her book club members are innocent of a lot about the real world because they are just housewives. Even Patricia, who was once a nurse, has her days filled with vacuuming the curtains, polishing the good China, and making lunch for her children. Despite that, you can see some fire in their personalities even early on. Patricia certainly has a hunger for something more in her life. Overall, I felt that the women were realistically portrayed and varied in personality, which made them all unique.

As for the plot, it takes place over several years, so you see the characters and community change over time, which I really liked. However, I found it to be a fairly fast read. It was hard to put down with several twists and turns. Some of the main characters’ plans get thwarted, so they have to pick up the pieces and decide where to go from there. I liked that things weren’t easy for them, and many external forces complicated their decision making. The plot progressed realistically for the time period, though the fantastical elements required some suspension of disbelief. The horror elements included gore, bugs, and things that were emotionally horrific, which I will explain in more detail below. One thing I didn’t understand was the fact that Nazism was brought into the plot. I didn’t think it made sense, and there was already so much going on in the plot and themes that it could have been dropped. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the strange happenings in novel began mainly happening to non-white characters? Or that the evil in the novel that build up over time was parallel to the evils of the rise of Nazism?

The next few paragraphs will touch on some of the critism the novel is getting about sexism and racism, so there may be slight spoilers below. Skip to the last paragraph for my final thoughts.

First, is the novel sexist? Their husbands are mostly stereotypical for the time and place. They are domineering, abusive, and honestly think little of their wives and their interests. They don’t take the wives concerns about the new stranger seriously at all. All of this certainly makes the men sexists, and even the way the women treat each other at times stems from this internalized misogyny. However, I think that the book makes it pretty clear that this is wrong. I was legitimately angry and frustrated at how Patricia and the other women were treated and how they treated each other. Their husbands gas lighted and belittled them constantly, but if there is one thing I learned from horror authors like Stephen King, sometimes the most disturbing and chilling horror comes from everyday injustices. That doesn’t make the author or the book sexist; it just shows how awful humans can be to each other, which makes great horror in my opinion. The book ends on a hopeful note, and shows the women taking charge to improve their lives, so I can’t see how the book or author reads as sexist when the characters grow and shed the toxicity they experienced from others and from themselves.

I’ll also touch on the racism accusations in the view I mentioned, but being white myself, I wouldn’t take my opinion as infallible. So, there is one main character who is black, and she is hired as a maid and caretaker by a few of the white women in the community. There are scenes where the white women visit the black woman at her home. The black woman’s home and community are poor, and when the white women visit they are confronted by some young black men who threaten them. The black community was being hit the hardest by the strange happenings in the area, so it makes sense that the young black men were wary of the strangers in their community. (They also experienced some displacement by white building developments, and there was a rumor in their community that a white man had been creeping around their children.)The young men were easily dispersed when the black woman told them she knew the white women. So, I think that the young men being intimidating was not a racist portrayal. They had good reasons to act that way toward white strangers, and the white women (though startled) were unharmed. Some white characters had misgivings about visiting the black community, but that was realistic for the time and setting, and the characters who felt this way were not portrayed positively by the narrative.

There are accusations that the “white savior” trope was part of the novel because Patricia and her friends sought to help the black community when the strange things began happening. I disagree with this as well. Though Patricia tried, she largely failed to do much, and the black characters tell her exactly that. The white women do not really get involved in solving what is going on until their own homes and families are threatened. The black characters call them out for that, and Patricia is able to convey this sentiment to her friends and finally call them to action. And during the climax of the novel, though there are more white characters taking part than black, it is the black character who does more to resolve the situation than several of the white characters.

So, with all of that being said, I would not be put off by some of the reviews you might see floating around (says the book reviewers herself). Try the book (perhaps through your library like I did) and form an opinion for yourself. If you liked Out by Natsuo Karino but want something with vampires and some American southern flair, try this. It was creative with multiple kinds of horror and with a dash of humor. Four and half out of five stars.

Series Review: The Dreamblood Duology

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The Dreamblood Duology consists of The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun by N. K. Jemisin, who is one of my favorite authors. The duology takes place in the fictional city of Gujaareh where peace takes precedence over all else. Within this city are priests that serve the goddess Hananja who rules over the realm of dreaming. These priests harvest dream ichors to both heal and harm citizens in order to keep peace in the city. This series is marketed as an Egyptian-inspired fantasy, and though I agree that this is a loose way to explain it, the world building and magic system are themselves very unique.

In The Killing Moon we follow the Gatherer Ehiru, his apprentice Nijiri, and Sunandi, a diplomat of a neighboring city-state. Gatherer Ehiru is tasked with eliminating those in Gujaareh who are deemed corrupt. But although Sunandi is judged as corrupt, Ehiru finds that the two of them actually have similar goals, and in fact there may be corruption within Gujaareh itself instead. The characters struggle between what they feel is right for themselves and the city and what is their duty.

The Shadowed Sun takes place about a decade after the events in The Killing Moon. Readers get to see the aftermath of the changes in Gujaareh from book one, which is something you do not see too often in fantasy, and it made the world feel more realistic because things are always changing. In the sequel we travel the lands beyond Gujaareh’s walls, explore other paths in the worship of Hananja, and see more of the magic that the priests wield. I don’t want to spoil too much, but this book deals with more political maneuvering in Gujaareh as well as a mysterious dreaming sickness that is spreading around the city.

These books are some of Jemisin’s earlier works, but you can clearly see she excels in both world building and character building even at this point in her career. The world and the magic system are very unique and well developed. I could see the Egyptian influence, but I quickly forgot about it and enjoyed the culture and magic as separate, new entities. To me, she perfectly built off of real life ideas and histories but made them stand on their own. Too often I see authors draw too much or not enough from their influences, but Jemisin hits the balance here perfectly.

Although I love her characters in The Broken Earth Trilogy because they are truly human and jump off of the page with personality, The Dreamblood Duology shows her progress in character development. I have seen several reviewers say that they preferred The Shadowed Sun to The Killing Moon, but I would disagree. I just found the characters in The Killing Moon easier to connect with and enjoyed their personalities and stories more. However, in both novels the characters make believable mistakes and grow from them. Many have grey moral areas, and being true to life, not everyone survives the trials they face.

I fell in love withe culture and magic system in book one, and I really enjoyed seeing both of them fleshed out in the sequel. The fact that peace is what guides the city’s decisions made for a thought-provoking reading experience. I enjoyed considering the practices and beliefs in Hananja’s teachings and how they compared to those in modern America. For example, though someone was judged as corrupt, the Gatherers tried very hard to give even their enemies peaceful deaths. Both books have intricate plots that involve politics, religion, family (both biological and found families), love (romantic and otherwise), and questions of morality.

I would give the series as a whole four to four and half stars out of five. It is hard to find fault with either novel, and they are both well above average in terms of what is available in the genre, but I find Jemisin’s later works a notch above this one in all of the aforementioned areas. If you enjoyed any of her other works, you’ll very likely enjoy this series as well.

The Deep

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I recommend listening to the song that inspired this novella. I would also like to share a review of the book that I enjoyed.

The Wajinru are mermaid-like people, descendants of pregnant African slave women who were thrown overboard during the slave trade. The children inside the slavewomens’ wombs transformed and were birthed with gills and fins. Since the Wajinrus’ past is so traumatic, they do not all remember how their people came to be and how their ancestors’ culture developed. Instead, only one of their people is tasked with remembering their history. Since her 14th birthday Yetu has been the Wajinru’s historian. Yetu isn’t particularly happy about her position because she is consumed by visions of past trauma and the memories of previous historians. She must sacrifice her own identity to be their historian. The historian must lead her people through a ritual of Remembering their past, but Yetu is unsure if she can bear this responsibility.

For such a short read, this packed an emotional punch on many levels. It is easy to feel for Yetu herself. She sacrifices a lot to be the historian, and her position wasn’t something she had much choice in. It requires a lot from her, both physically and mentally, and her people do not fully appreciate or understand what she goes through. Because of this she rightly feels alone, and since she is the only one to remember her people’s past, she shoulders the full force of their people’s trauma. I liked that she met another character that was a foil to her: a character who lacks a family and ancestral knowledge and hungers for it when Yetu herself runs from her people. This puts Yetu’s personal struggles into a broader perspective and was ultimately what drove the plot.

The narrative jumps between Yetu’s present experiences and the Wajinru’s history. The writing is beautiful, and even though the book is short, the Wajinru are quite developed in their culture and history. The plot centers on Yetu’s internal struggle and her people’s understanding of what she is going through. Both come to appreciate each other while Yetu makes connections outside of the Wajinru, which helps her understand her identity and her people even more. The climax was also very powerful.

Whether you will like the novella or not really depends on what you’re looking for. If you just want a fantasy novel about mermaids, you may not like this very much. But, if you are interested in something a little experimental, something more about exploring historical and social concepts within a fantastical lens than a more traditional plot and its characters, then you might like this. I gave it four out of five stars because it was so unique and emotional, yet I still would have liked to have more time in the world or a more complex plot. Perhaps instead of the Wajinru’s history being told in flashbacks, the novella could have taken place during those events and covered several generations instead? Regardless of my wants or needs, the novella is definitely worth a read so that you can make your own judgments.

The novella approaches a number of heavy subjects: slavery, shared and personal traumas, the individual vs. the collective, and the importance of family ties, to name a few. I read The Deep as an audiobook, which I would also highly recommend. It is read by Daveed Diggs from the musical group clippings and the musical Hamilton.

Senlin Ascends

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The Tower of Babel stretches up into the clouds so far that no one on the ground can see the top. While Senlin has taught his students about the tower, he has never been there himself. However, he and his new bride Marya are heading to the Tower for their honeymoon. The Tower is advertised as an exotic entertainment paradise with shops, plays, baths, and much more in each of the floors or “ringdoms.” However, Senlin very quickly loses his bride in the crowds around the Tower. Senlin makes his way up the Tower alone in order to hopefully reunite his wife.

This series is getting rave reviews on Goodreads, and I’ve seen it popping on a few “underrated reads” lists too. Considering the book is a little odd and meandering, I am surprised at the high reviews. I often read weird books, and they often have middling to low ratings because of their oddities, but that isn’t the case here. Maybe this isn’t the right kind of weird for me because I just couldn’t get into the book.

As I said, the plot is a bit all over the place. Shortly after the book begins Senlin loses his wife. I wouldn’t have been nearly as calm or collected as Senlin if this happened to me, and all he has to go on is an itinerary that he and his wife agreed to follow and his wife’s last words about meeting her at the top of the tower if they get lost. I’m not sure what I would do in that situation, but I don’t think I would continue with the planned activities if it were my spouse who got lost in this strange and sometimes frightening place. However, the ringdoms were interesting and described in good detail. Senlin’s journey has some surprising twists within it because the Tower is not what he expected from his research. I can tell the author put a lot of creativity into the development of the Tower.

As Senlin goes up through the ringdoms of the tower he encounters thieves, murderous actors, harsh punishments for those who break the rules, and only a handful of trustworthy people. We see Marya only through Senlin’s memories as he thinks back on how they met, courted, and married. I disliked this as it felt like Marya was reduced to being the quest item Senlin seeks instead of his beloved wife who is missing in an unfamiliar and dangerous place. The secondary characters that he met along the way had personality and were fairly memorable. Senlin himself is a headmaster who is serious, timid, and at times naive. I did not connect with him as a character and found myself wishing that Marya was the one on the quest to save Senlin. As much as I give Senlin a hard time, his character developed as he climbed the tower. He becomes less timid and can use his intelligence effectively.

You’ve probably noticed that the review is fairly positive, but I gave the book an unexciting rating of three stars. Many readers will find this to be a refreshingly unique book, but I’ve concluded it just wasn’t right for me.

The Tiger’s Daughter

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This was the third and final book that was recommended by Tailored Book Recommendations (TBR).

O-Shizuka is the last member of her royal bloodline in the Hokkaran empire, and she is a fierce warrior empress who isn’t afraid to go against her family. Barsalayaa Shefali is an equally fierce member of the nomadic Qorin tribe who is a very accomplished mounted markswoman from a young age. O-Shizuka and Shefali’s parents were friends, and their daughters were raised together for many of their formative years, making the bond between the women very strong. As they came of age it became clear that demons were returning to their lands and threatening their people. O-Shizuka and Shefali believe that they can rid the world of the demon threat if they are fighting side by side, but the demons are not the only threat they will need to worry about.

This is a tough one! Give me an Asian-inspired fantasy any day, but this also promised a Lesbian romance! So, why didn’t I enjoy it? For one, the novel was mostly written in the form of a letter from Barsalayaa Shefali to O-Shizuka. From the start, we know that they grew up together, but they are now separated. The letter tells us why, but it is written in second person. I can imagine that some readers will dislike the fact that it is written in second person, but what bothered me more was that the letter recounts everything. If this were actually a letter to O-Shizuka, would Shefali really recount every instance of them together like this? Shefali’s perspective obviously would give O-Shizuka some insight into her lover’s mind all those years ago, but at times I felt that the amount of detail included in the letter would be redundant to O-Shizuka if she were indeed the reader.

My other main issue was that the Asian influence wasn’t utilized in the best or most respectful way. However, I will let the top review on Goodreads that explains the cultural issues speak for itself. I am not from the cultures that the novel is inspired by, nor am I an expert myself, but from what little I do know, a few of the aspects mentioned in the linked review bothered me too. Maybe you feel differently? Feel free to comment on this post if so because I’d love to hear about more perspectives on this to educate myself better.

That aside, I did enjoy parts of this reading experience. I haven’t read a lot of epic fantasy that has had lesbian romances, and I actually liked the romance itself. It is clear that the warrior women are very committed to each other, and they are stronger, both mentally and physically, than many of the other characters give them credit for. Their romance is fiery and bold, and I loved that. Although, personally, I just prefer romance as a subplot in fantasy, so I wanted more of the fighting and demons in addition to the romance. I also enjoyed what we saw of the characters’ abilities in battle and in magic, but I just wanted to see more of it all! The magic isn’t well explained in the first book, but since this is a trilogy, there is a lot of room for development and growth of these aspects in the subsequent novels.

All that being said, I am not overly excited to read the second book in this series after finishing the first. The Tiger’s Daughter was just a three star read for me, but if you prefer more romance in your fantasy and don’t mind the somewhat epistolary format of the novel, you might enjoy this book more.

 

The Night Tiger

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This was the second book I was recommended by Tailored Book Recommendations (TBR).

The Night Tiger follows two characters in 1930’s Malaysia, Ren and Ji Lin. Ren is a houseboy who assists doctors practicing medicine in Malaysia. Before Ren’s first master died, he told the boy that he needed to be reunited with his severed finger within 49 days of his death. Otherwise, his master’s spirit would restlessly roam the world forever. Ren is also haunted by strange dreams of his dead twin brother. Ji Lin dreams of being a doctor, but she is held back because she is female, her family’s personal problems, and her mother’s gambling debts. Because of all this, Ji Lin works as a dancehall girl to escape her household and earn money for her mother. Though she only dances with her customers, being a dancehall girl has negative connotations, which complicates her romantic prospects as well. Through mysterious circumstances and a dream-like connection, Ren and Ji Lin’s worlds collide.

This book ticked so many of my boxes. First, the writing was just my style. There were some beautifully written and descriptive lines, though nothing was overly flowery, and the way the mythology was incorporated in the narrative seamlessly blended it with reality. If you like books that are unclear whether the magical realism parts are real or not, you’ll enjoy this aspect in The Night Tiger. It felt like there was more distance between the characters and the reader in the structure of the narrative than I would have liked, but the characters themselves are well written and believable. Ren’s chapters are in third person perspective, while Ji Lin’s are in first person. The way the author plays with their perspectives was also very interesting. For example, a secondary character might be viewed very differently by Ren and Ji Lin because they have had different experiences with that character. These different experiences impact the way the characters act in events and dialogue.

The plot and pacing were also well constructed. The plot is primarily driven by the mystery of the missing finger with its magical realism elements peppered in, but along the way we see that Ren and Ji Lin have problems in their personal lives. I found it easy to be invested in their struggles, and I enjoyed seeing how the mystery impacted their lives and their futures. I found the pacing steady but slightly on the slower, more literary side. There is a romance that develops, and I found it to be a satisfyingly slow-ish burn, which I really liked.

This book will definitely be one of my favorites from this year. I would give it 4.5 stars out of 5. Although, maybe I should just give it 5 since I’m not sure how to express what I didn’t like about the novel. Either way, I would highly recommend this to lovers of quiet, magical realism novels that have historic and mythological influences.

 

Mexican Gothic

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Earlier this year I read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s novel Gods of Jade and Shadow, which I really enjoyed but had a few minor problems with. However, I think Mexican Gothic really shows the writing talent that Moreno-Garcia has, and she seems to be getting a lot of well-deserved hype for her newest novel.

Mexican Gothic takes place in Mexico in the 1950’s. Noemí Taboada loves parties, fashion, and flirting, but when her father takes her aside and tells her that her cousin, Catalina, has sent an erratic, strange letter, Noemí gives up her city life to visit her cousin in the Mexican countryside. Catalina had married into an English family (the Doyles) a few years before and moved into her husband’s family home called High Place. Once upon a time High Place was funded by a bustling, rich silver mining operation that employed many locals. Now High Place is a rundown, moldy mess of a house with no electricity and only a few silent servants. Catalina’s new family claims she is sick with tuberculosis, but Noemí has other suspicions. Noemí must navigate the family’s strange rules, the possibly haunted house, and the patriarch’s odd beliefs in order to find out what has happened to her cousin.

My personal life has been very stressful lately, which has greatly impacted my reading. I guess I’ve been in a reading slump, but this book pulled me out of it. I could not put it down once I got past the first few chapters! It felt like each chapter hinted a little at what was going on in High Place, and I kept thinking “just one more chapter, I’ll get some answers, then I’ll stop.” The sense of suspense and unease was woven throughout the narrative, and I really wasn’t sure if the author would kill off the characters I liked. The novel was very atmospheric. I’d call it “creepily claustrophobic.” I really enjoyed the novel’s pacing and the tension was addictive. The climax was satisfying, and the explanation for all the strange events was delightfully devious, if unsettling.

I also really enjoyed the characters, but Noemí was of course my favorite. I loved how she was so un-apologetically herself. She liked fine clothes, parties, flirting, her cigarettes, and she didn’t really care if other characters judged her for it. She was also so committed to her cousin and the people she cared about. She was also much more brave than I would have been in that situation. Catalina was unfortunately not given much time on the page. She is mentioned in Noemí’s flashbacks and memories enough that you get a sense of who she is, and her actions within the novel showed what a strong person she really was, but I thought she could have been developed more. The Doyles are also an interesting bunch. It was fun trying to figure out who to trust in the house and what all of their motivations were. The “bad guys” were pretty terrible, which made them satisfying to dislike and cheer against.

Though perhaps not an all-time favorite, I have to give it five stars. One small thing I didn’t like would be the romance. Although I actually liked the idea of them being together, it felt a little out of place and could have been developed more. Also, as I said earlier, I think Catalina could have been utilized more. I would have liked to hear more about how she fared in the Doyles’ household before Noemí arrived, for one thing. But with the book only being about 300 pages, it could have felt odd for Catalina to have her own chapters or to be centered on more. Having Catalina be more passive added to the suspense since the reader only knows what Noemí has found out, but I was interested in the goings on in High Place when it was just Catalina by herself. Like I said, those are just small gripes compared to how much I enjoyed this novel. If you’re looking for a spooky, quick read with a great lead character, pick this up!

Shades of Milk and Honey

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I recently discovered a book recommendation service called Tailored Book Recommendations (TBR) from one of my favorite YouTube book reviewers, Kayla from BooksandLala. She did a video in which she used the service, read the recommended books, and reviewed the experience. I thought it was a great idea, so I also used the service. I specified that I wanted recommendations that were a mix of historical fiction and fantasy because I love that mashup of genres. So, I was recommended three books by the service: Shades of Milk and Honey, The Night Tiger, and The Tiger’s Daughter. I will be reviewing all three on my blog so that you can get a sense of the recommendation service experience. I’m of course not sponsored by them. I just wanted to try something new!

This novel takes place in Regnecy era England in which magic exists and is considered a worthy skill for a woman to have. Jane Ellsworth has just about given up on finding a husband for herself because of her plain looks, but her younger sister, Melody, has a few possible suitors. Jane is a skilled glamourist, meaning that she can use magic to create sensory experiences to entertain at parties, cloak herself in darkness, or make a room look, smell, and feel like another place. Melody is very beautiful, but she lacks talent at glamour and is jealous toward her talented older sister. Jane gets caught up in her sister’s scheming and a friend’s secret, and along the way she just might find love of her own.

I liked this novel, but it didn’t blow me away. The overall tone of the story is light. No one is saving the world from an ancient evil. Instead, the plot is more concerned about who will end up marrying who and if so-and-so’s party will be a success or not. The stakes were low, but the reading experience was actually fun and relaxing. My main complaints are that I wanted to know more about the interesting magic system, I wished the writing and plot had more depth, and that the romance was less of a plot point.

The main characters were developed well enough, but I wouldn’t have minded spending more time with them and the secondary characters to learn more about them. Jane is our main character, and she is level-headed, talented at glamour, and cares a lot about her friends and family. Her sister, Melody, is a little more flighty and flirty, and she loves having the attention of her suitors. The men in the story could have been fleshed out more though. One man is a young, handsome playboy, another is a mature and polite gentleman, and another is a mysterious and prickly glamourist. I was happy with the romantic outcome, but I’m just not one for romance, especially when the romance is really the driving force of the novel.

I was very intrigued by the magic system, but the explanation for it was a little vague. It seems like it has something to do with being able to see and bend strands of light like strings of thread? There was a lot of talk about light and how the threads could be “tied off” to do certain things. Though I do not need a Brandon Sanderson-style magic system where all the rules are laid out, I would have liked to know more about how the glamour worked because many times Jane could see the inner workings of the magic, but the reader was not given much information about how she could do this or what it looked like to her. How the magic was used was also very cool. There were a few parties and gatherings in the book and the entertainment for the parties could be a short play put on with glamour or the party location could be spiced up by using glamour to make the room look and smell like a forest. There are several books after this first one, so maybe the magic and world are expanded more later on, but I don’t think I am interested enough to continue reading.

With the world on fire, it was nice to escape to a simpler time with a low stakes story. I gave Shades of Milk and Honey three out of five stars.

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors

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An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is my most recent dive into steampunk SFF. Set in a world with floating islands, skyships, clockwork “priests,” musketeers and other French influences, shadow and mirror-related magics, and political maneuvering, this novel was a surprisingly good little adventure. Princess Isabelle des Zephyrs was born with a deformed hand and without her family’s bloodshadow magic. Luckily she has her trusted musketeer and father figure, Jean Claude, to help her survive and flourish despite her family’s cruelty. When Isabelle is offered a strange marriage proposal, she and Jean Claude fall into a complex battle for the throne of the Kingdom of Aragoth.

I recently acquired several first books in lesser-known fantasy series. An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors was the first one I tried, and it put my experiment off to a good start. This is a slower, character and politically driven fantasy novel. The character development is quite strong, and both of the main characters are fleshed out and likable. I really enjoyed Isabelle in particular. She is interested in science, math, and philosophy, but these subjects are not permitted to be studied by women. She finds ways to work around this, and she uses her appearance to make others underestimate her. I haven’t seen many disabled main characters in epic fantasy, but since I am not disabled and the book was not “own voices,” I cannot say for sure if the representation was done well. As for Jean Claude, he an old soldier with a good heart. It is easy to see how much her cares for Isabelle, but he doesn’t coddle her. Isabelle doesn’t need Jean Claude and isn’t a damsel in distress, but they work together well and learn from each other over time.

The plot starts a bit slow as we get to know Isabella and Jean Claude, but once Isabelle receives a surprise marriage proposal from a prince of Aragoth things really heat up. The king of Aragoth is dying, and there is no clear successor because the oldest prince has yet to have an heir but refuses to remarry another woman. In this world the royal families possess different kinds of magic in their bloodlines. The Temple oversees the marriages and chain of succession in order to keep the bloodlines healthy. There is a prophecy that “the Savior” of their world will be born from the right royal pairing. Despite Isabelle’s lack of magic, her bloodline is still desirable, and the Temple has taken an interest in her potential to mix with Aragoth’s line. To be honest, the “breeding” part of the plot was a little strange, and I didn’t like Isabelle’s worth being based on the capabilities of her womb, but I think the point was to show that the “breeding” was a bad thing for everyone involved. Isabelle knows her worth is more than that of a broodmare, and she values peace above all else. With her quick wit and resourcefulness she seeks her own freedom from the political schemes of those around her and tries to bring peace to both her and her betrothed’s kingdoms with the help of the ever-loyal Jean Claude.

It took me some time to get into this novel. There is a lot going on, and it took a lot of time for me to absorb everything. A lot of time is spent getting to know the characters, the magic types, and the world building. All of these aspects are explained in detail and not all of it is important later. It felt like the author was trying to do a little too much at once, and some things just couldn’t be fully utilized in 400 pages, but I suspect that some aspects will be explored more in future books in the series. As I said, I am not sure how good the disabled representation is, and I can’t say if the author mishandled the French and Spanish influences. What I can speak on is that there were often lengthy sections of dialogue in which the characters argued or planned something. It felt like the dialogue was used to dump some information on the reader, but it wasn’t always done in the most engaging way. The ending was also abrupt. I would have at least liked an epilogue that explained a little more about what happened after all of the climatic action. I’m sure subsequent books will explain more, but I felt a little robbed by the short reunion at the end of the novel!

All in all, this was a unique and creative fantasy novel that had a complex and satisfyingly twisty plot. I may continue the series later, but at this point I am satisfied with this 4 star read. Feel free to comment about how you felt about the French, Spanish, or disabled representation in the book if you’d like to share your insight!

Big Little Lies

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I will be moving across the country soon, so I have begun to really look at my bookshelf, book buying habits, and the books that have been on my To Be Read list for ages. All this led to me reading Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty because it has been on my shelf for way too long. This book got a lot of buzz a handful of years ago when it came out, but since then the hype has died down. Is it still worth a read? In my opinion, sure it does, but I don’t think it is anything particularly special.

The book begins with the knowledge that someone has been murdered. We follow Madeline, Celeste, and Jane through the events leading up to the death. Madeline is an outspoken woman who lives in the same town as her ex-husband and his new, younger wife. Coincidentally, Madeline’s youngest daughter is attending the same kindergarten as her ex-husband’s daughter. Celeste is a beautiful woman who appears to have a perfect marriage to a very rich man. Celeste and her husband have twin boys who also attend the same kindergarten. Lastly, there is Jane. Jane is the new and mysterious single mom whose son is attending the same school. During the kindergarten orientation, Jane’s son is accused of assaulting another student, which turns nearly all of the other kindergarten moms, except for Celeste and Madeline, against her. The drama intensifies as Madeline, Celeste, and Jane deal with the residents of their small town and their personal issues within their families.

It was a nice change to read something other than fantasy or science fiction, and this was a very fast read for me, but it also didn’t capture my interest that much. The book opens with a murder at an after-school function, and the rest of the novel covers the events that led up to that fateful night. It deals with themes of motherhood, family, domestic abuse, identity, and feminism, but it is very focused on middle to upper class white moms and their often petty problems. I am of course not belittling the domestic violence in the book, but most disagreements except the domestic abuse felt shallow and trivial. I kept picturing all of these “Karens” squabbling over misunderstandings that could be solved with communication, and they often spent their time inventing their own crusades and drama to get caught up in. However, the descriptions and inner monologues of the characters impacted by domestic abuse resonated with me. I feel as if I have recovered from my own experiences with domestic abuse, but I still found myself becoming emotional at times. If you’ve recently been through trauma, it could be a little upsetting.

Despite how much I might have disliked some of the pettiness of the characters, the main three women were well developed, if not always likable. And even if I disagreed with them, the decisions made by the characters aligned with their personalities and motives. I can see real-life competitive moms act the same way as these characters. The kids were also written well. It was clear that the children were often unconcerned about their parents’ drama and cared about only what applied to them, but the kids were also not as blind to their parents’ actions and feelings as their parents might have believed, much like real children. One thing I really liked about the characterization and multiple perspectives was that, for example, Character 1 might wear something she thought was beautiful, but Character 2 in the next chapter would make a passing comment that what Character 1 was wearing was ridiculous or that they were secretly jealous of Character 1’s style. Throughout the novel there are also short interviews with other moms and townspeople who all have different perspectives of the same event. This gave the reader hints, provided more characterization, and it was often funny.

So, my verdict is 3 out of 5 stars. Big Little Lies was like reality TV. It wasn’t extremely deep, but it was entertaining and easy/fast to consume. It certainly isn’t a diverse read, which makes it feel a little dated by today’s standards, but it does offer some good discussion on female camaraderie and how domestic abuse can be hidden very well by those involved.