Solutions and Other Problems

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I’m not usually one to follow a book’s publication closely, but I read Allie Brosh’s blog Hyperbole and a Half during a rough time in my young life. Her blog made me feel understood, made me laugh, and contributed in a small way to me having my own blog later on. I still think of her post about the “Alot” whenever I see someone online misspell the word. I bought her first book right when it was released, and I eagerly awaited her second when I saw that it was coming. But, if you have also followed her, you probably know that the second book’s release date got pushed back again and again. Just when I thought that it might never be published, Solutions and Other Problems was finally released in September of 2020.

Both of Brosh’s books include comically illustrated stories about her personal life and struggles in a darkly humorous tone. Her first book was a little more lighthearted, but it still dealt with topics like anxiety and depression. Her second book is darker still, but it still made me laugh out loud a few times. In Solution and Other Problems she shares about her divorce, a medical scare, and the loss of her younger sister. It is easy to understand why her second book took so long to be published when she went through so much in the last few years. Her humor isn’t for everyone though, so I would encourage you to view her blog a little before reading either of her books.

Each chapter is about a different story in her life. Some are from her childhood, while others are from more recent years. No matter the topic, her artwork fits perfectly with the text. I think she has even improved in the way she tells her stories and illustrates them. Her art style may look simplistic, but the comedic timing and expressions on her characters’ faces always cracks me up. Even her more series stories’ illustrations excel at being emotive in just the right way. Though some of her drawings are more abstract and easily overlooked for their artistic value, some of the backgrounds and more realistic scenes show that she truly does have artistic talent.

As for the content of the stories, as I said several are on darker subjects. The ones about her sister were more heartfelt than funny, but the way she spoke about grief and regret was completely relatable. I found the story about her ex-husband fighting over a ski trip and a grocery store trip funny but also sad. It reminded me of the decline of my own past relationships, and I appreciated how she could find humor in such a sad moment. The melancholic feeling that that story gave me has stuck with me even weeks after reading it. Of course there are also some very funny stories, like how her family’s home had mysterious piles of poop appearing in it day after day and how she was overly curious about a neighbor as a child. Whatever the subject, Brosh is able to bring the reader into her memories through her conversational writing and bright illustrations.

If you liked her first book and her blog, you’ll like this one too. It definitely has a heavier tone, and at times I felt like she was trying too hard to make a sad moment funnier, but I really enjoyed both the funny and heartfelt stories. I am definitely a person who shares her sense of humor and her ability to find humor in the darkest moments of life. I appreciate how open and honest Brosh was with her feelings and her struggles. As always, she made me laugh, cry, and by the end I wanted to give her a big hug. This was a great book to start off 2021.

Locke and Key Vol. 1-3

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As 2020 comes to a close, I have found myself in a reading slump. I haven’t read a full novel in several months now. Luckily, I read a lot more during the spring and summer and had several reviews scheduled ahead throughout the year. This has been my worst reading year since I got back into reading in my 20’s, so as I struggle to meet my 50 book reading goal, I have turned to graphic novels. (If you’re struggling to read even 1, 2, or 3 books this year, I’m not putting you down of course. Everyone has different goals!) But that isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I have been wanting to watch the Locke and Key series, but I wanted to read the graphic novels first, so it worked out.

Locke and Key is about the Locke family. After tragedy upends the family’s life, they move to an intricate New England manor called Keyhouse. The youngest son begins finding strange, magical keys throughout the manor, and what the family thinks is just a heinous crime turns out to have occult origins. The Locke kids must combat supernatural forces as well as the more normal trials of growing up and surviving trauma.

To begin, the series does deal with tough topics and disturbing scenes, like murder, alcoholism, and abuse. It is a horror graphic novel, though the kids are the main characters. Speaking of the kids, there are three Locke children, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode. I’m usually not a fan of child characters, but I like this group. They all have well developed characterization. They feel like realistic children, but they aren’t grating or annoying. Tyler, the oldest, puts on a brave face and carries a lot of guilt and pain, but he is the rock of the family in a lot of ways. Kinsey is just becoming a teen and is struggling with fitting in and knowing herself on top of what her family has gone through. She would rather repress or remove her pain and fear than confront it, but I wouldn’t call her a coward. Bode, the youngest, still has childlike wonder and immerses himself in the mysteries of the house. He takes a lot of the craziness and dysfunction in stride, but his family doesn’t always listen or have time for him. Other characters, like their mother and uncle, are also fleshed out well and will likely continue to develop as the series progresses. I love good character development, and I think this series delivers.

Plot-wise, I found the first volume to be very cohesive and engaging. The next volumes meander a little, and I wasn’t sure where the series was going, but were enough twists and mysteries to keep me interested. The concept of the different magical keys is very interesting too. Some keys open doors where crossing the threshold turns one into a ghost, while others can open up a person’s mind. I wouldn’t say that the use of the keys made anything too convenient, and I don’t think (so far) that they are over used as a plot device, which was a concern of mine. By volume three I am wondering just how everything will come together in the end, but I trust Joe Hill as an author since I’ve loved several of his novels. I have high hopes for the series as a whole.

So, if you’re like me and need something quick, short, and satisfying to read, I would recommend this series. I don’t find it scary as much as sad or slightly disturbing or unsettling at times. Overall, I would rate the first three volumes four out of five stars. The overall plot could be tighter, but I still enjoy the side plots that develop the characters and expand the world. The artwork is also very colorful and creative, and I enjoy the art style more than many other graphic novels.

The Umbrella Academy Vol. 1-3

Rating: 2 out of 5.

It’s rare for me to watch TV series, but I fell head over heels for The Umbrella Academy on Netflix. I didn’t realize that it was adapted from a graphic novel until I finished season 1, so of course I had to go read the series after finishing season 2. I usually prefer to read the source material before watching an adaptation, but in this case I didn’t even know it existed. However, had I read the graphic novel series first, I might not have bothered to watch the TV show. I won’t spoil the series or the TV show, but I will compare aspects of the two in this review.

The premise of the graphic novel is that several children around the world were born with extraordinary powers, and a rich, eccentric man named Reginald Hargreeves was able to adopt and train seven of them to become a team of superheroes. However, over time, the children grew up and parted ways. The siblings reunite when Hargreeves dies to save the world again.

From the book to movie/TV show adaptions I’ve read and seen, generally the written material has more plot and character depth, while the film adaptions favor more action and often cut out some of the slow moments in the books. This wasn’t the case for the The Umbrella Academy. I love character development, and I love the characters on The Umbrella Academy TV show so, so much. They are funny, very flawed, and the siblings have complex relationships with each other. They have a lot of trauma, communication issues, and big egos. The graphic novel does not portray the siblings’ relationships and personalities well at all. There’s very little chemistry between them, the banter is stilted, and they just lack emotional depth. I only saw a few flashes of who the characters are in the show. For example, Luther’s, Allison’s, and Diego’s struggles are hinted at but not focused on in any depth. Vanya was very underdeveloped compared to her TV portrayal, Klaus and Five are nowhere near as interesting or charming, and other side characters from the show are either entirely absent or only mentioned in passing. The TV show utilized the characters, their personalities, powers, and backstories much more effectively.

My feelings for the plot are much of the same. The plot in the graphic novels is often unclear or shallow. I often wondered why we were fighting an enemy, and many aspects of the world went unexplained. I wasn’t sure what was happening or why, and the dialogue and illustrations didn’t clear up much of my confusion. I will say that the illustrations are nicely done, but the writing and perhaps how the panels themselves were planned out just didn’t work well for me.

The graphic novel has so many of interesting elements, characters, and ideas, but nothing really comes together well. When I watched The Umbrella Academy I thought the weakest point was the plot, because at times it was unclear or had moments that were too convenient and probably there just to move the plot along, but I actually have more respect for the show’s writers and the actors now. They were able to take the disjointed story and flat characters in the graphic novels and put together something that made much more sense and explored the characters and the setting in engaging detail.

So, unfortunately, I gave The Umbrella Academy‘s first volume 3/5, the second volume 2.5/5, and the third volume 2/5 stars. If you really love the show, it is interesting to see the source material, but it just doesn’t stand strongly on its own.

The Turn of the Key

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It has been a quite while since I read a thriller, but I usually get in the mood for them around this time of year. A couple of years ago I read Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10. I certainly didn’t hate that novel, but I thought it had some imperfections that bothered me. Since then I have heard many people rave about Ware’s other books, so I thought I would take a second look at the author’s work by reading one of her newer books that appealed to me.

The Elincourts purchased Heatherbrae House, an old home in the Scottish countryside with a violent and mysterious history. They have used their architectural and technological knowledge to make it into a “smart home.” All they need now is a reliable nanny to take care of their four children while they are busy with their demanding careers. They have actually had several nannies, but each one has made a hasty exit after experiencing odd, possibly supernatural, experiences within the home. With the high salary and a chance at a new life, Rowan Caine decides to apply to be their newest nanny. What could possibly go wrong?

The novel opens with Rowan writing to a lawyer who might be able to get her out of prison. She is in prison because she has been accused of killing one of the Elincourt’s children, but she claims she is innocent. Throughout the novel she narrates her tenure as the family’s nanny. If you do not enjoy an epistolary format, don’t worry. It is very easy to forget that Rowan is writing the story for someone else. She only addresses the lawyer by name a few times in the beginning and a handful of times throughout the rest of book.

I love a good haunted house story, and not only does Heatherbrae House have a mysterious history but it being a smart house makes for even more unsettling situations. The rooms being filled with security cameras, everything being controlled by a phone app, and being able to talk to people in different rooms via the speaker system all lead to many crazy and creepy happenings. In my opinion, the best parts of this novel were the atmospheric and suspenseful scenes. The author is talented at drawing you in and making you question everything, including the narrator herself.

However, as with The Woman in Cabin 10, I sometimes got annoyed at the main character’s decision making. Admittedly, Rowan isn’t nearly as frustratingly stupid as The Woman in Cabin 10‘s lead, but there were still a couple of instances that made me angry at Rowan. I also noticed that both main characters in Ware’s novels turned to alcohol or made mistakes because of alcohol, which sometimes felt like a lazy plot device in my opinion. Maybe just don’t drink on the job?

Anyway, one other thing I disliked was the way the novel wrapped up. I’m a big fan of thrillers where it is unclear if a supernatural force is really there or not, and I actually love when the novel doesn’t answer whether it is there or not at the end. This novel makes a clear distinction about the cause of the strange occurrences, which is fine, but the twist is somewhat easy to guess and wasn’t a twist I particularly liked. I didn’t quite understand Rowan’s motivation for taking the nanny position by the end, and I felt that the conclusion wasn’t as interesting as the journey. I know that is rather vague and subjective, so I definitely encourage you to pick up the novel and form your own opinions.

Despite my gripes, this was a fun, atmospheric, and fast-paced book that I ultimately enjoyed reading. Three and a half stars out of five for The Turn of the Key.

The Only Good Indians

This was an extremely unique read. I went in knowing that it was written by and about Native American men, specifically Blackfeet, and that there was a killer elk after several of the characters. Honestly, that was more than enough to interest me. I mean, seriously, have you ever heard of something like that before in traditional publishing?

Ten years ago, Lewis, Ricky, Cass, and Gabe went hunting where they were not supposed to be. Like anyone who is young and stupid, they thought they wouldn’t get caught. What happened was much worse than they imagined. They survived the hunting trip, grew up a little, and some moved off of the reservation. Ten years later Ricky is standing outside of a bar miles and miles away from the reservation. Not long after that moment, he is dead. The reports claimed that he was beat up in a bar fight, but when strange things begin happening to Lewis, he questions the media’s mundane narrative.

So, let’s start with the pros. This is a super unique premise with characters you don’t see very often in fiction in general, let alone in horror. I really enjoyed the characterization in the novel. All of the Blackfeet men were well written. I got a clear sense of each one’s personality and what they cared about. The story is told in a few different perspectives, but each voice felt different. The book went by quickly because I kept wanting to turn the page and figure out what was happening. It was gripping for sure, but there was ample time to get to know everyone. I also really liked the writing style itself. It was almost conversational or casual in tone. It felt like the story was being told to me instead of me actually reading it. I didn’t check out the audiobook, but if it is read well, I think that the writing would lend itself really well to that format.

I’ll admit that what I didn’t like was all up to personal preference, so there’s a good chance that you might disagree with my small “cons” list. I usually go into my books pretty blindly without wanting to know too much. So, though I usually don’t mind some gore, there was quite a bit in this novel. If you don’t like descriptions of blood, guts, and dead animals (dogs, if that bothers you), you might not want to read this. There was just a bit too much gore description for me, personally, but I could have easily looked up the amount of gore or trigger warnings if I hadn’t wanted to go in without knowing anything. The was creepy and tense, but I wouldn’t call it scary, and I think that the imagery would be great for a slasher movie. However, what I found the scariest, and what hooked me and made finish the rest in one sitting, was one character’s decent into madness and how the other characters heard about and interpreted the subsequent events.

So, to sum it up, if a Blackfeet-inspired slasher sounds like something you’d like this spooky season, don’t hesitate to read this!

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.