Book Review: Cold Mourning

Once again, diving into my library’s “available now” reserves. We’ll see if this worked out any better than the last one.

The Book

Cold Mourning
Author: Brenda Chapman
2014
Amazon Link

There isn’t anything in this book you wouldn’t expect from a murder mystery. You have buddy cops, some murder, some innuendo and bad-people-stuff on screen, but you get what you expect.

Though, this is probably the first Canadian book I’ve read without any reference or similarity to that bear story whatsoever, so I’m going to go ahead and give her kudos for that.

Non-Spoiler Review

I’m not a huge fan of mystery, but this was “available now” on my library’s ebook page. I did not go in expecting to like this, but went in with the attitude of, “well, it’s available.”

I’ll go ahead and say that I didn’t know who was the murderer until the perp was revealed. That’s a good thing.

I probably shouldn’t have watched the <i>South Park</i> episode “Informative Murder Porn” before reading this book. All I could think of, the whole time, was about people who enjoy the spousal/domestic murder stuff. Perhaps because of that or my general opinion of spousal/domestic murder as entertainment, I was sorely disappointed.

The final clue that “brought it all together” was too convenient. It made the vast majority of the book not feel important, since it was really that one convenient clue that did the work. Rather than seeming a genius, I think the final solution made Stonechild – who up until that point had seemed reasonable and underutilized by her police force – seem more lucky than skilled. I was disappointed by that.

I wasn’t fond of any character aside from Stonechild. I think part of this was because Chapman set up pretty much every character as a suspect, which meant their worst attributes were focused on. Still, by the end, I didn’t really care who was the killer even though I also didn’t follow the trail of clues myself.

2/5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

I’ve been reading modern trash for enough weeks in a row. Time for a classic: Oliver Twist!

Book Review: Ninth House

Dark fantasy is a genre I can get behind. I needed something to listen to at work, and this was listed as “Available Now” on my library’s audiobook site. I was skeptical, though, because this was the first adult book from an author that had only written YA so far. I went ahead and decided to do it because it wasn’t terribly long.

The Book

Ninth House
Author: Leigh Bardugo
2019
Amazon Link

This book cannot have enough trigger warnings. You name it, it’s got it, and it doesn’t really seem to have much impact on the plot of charcterization. Child rape? There. Gore? Got it. Evil, evil, evil stuff? Present.

It’s definitely not for kids, and parents who let their teens read it are a little bit foolish. Parents who read it are in for some horrible events, themselves. Not at all for the faint of heart or even those who want a protagonist that isn’t a piece of crap.

Non-Spoiler Review

Honestly, I can’t think of anything I liked about this book. I could go on in an endless rant about what I didn’t like, but it wouldn’t be helpful to anyone because it would sum up to being “everything.” The book oscillated wildly between “rape and murder horror, including on-screen rape of children” and a theoretical Yale experience that boggled my mind as to “why do I care.”

Because I didn’t care. The main plot, all the way through, felt incredibly YA but peppered with weird “adult” scenes that were “gritty” or gruesome and unfit for a YA audience. If you took away the rape and on-screen bloody murder and made it a special boarding school rather than Yale, you’d get a perfectly acceptable YA book. Because of this, it felt like it didn’t really have an audience – or at least that the audience was definitely not me.

This book was a hair’s breadth away from being abandoned the whole way through. I disliked it only the slightest bit less than Outlander, which is probably the only reason I finished. At least in this book the tone acknowledged when rape was rape and said it was bad. I did set the book down a couple times when the main character, Alex, murdered people and the tone of the book sounded like “oh, it’s ok, they deserved it.”

I didn’t like the characters, the plot, the sentence structure, the world, the purple prose, anything. Anything.

Oh! As I was writing that last sentence, I realized: I think there was a theme. So good on her for trying to have a feminist theme, but boy was it weak sauce because of all the resultant murder. Zero. Snowcones.

0/5 Discoball Snowcones, but 1 on Goodreads because there is no 0

Next week:

I think I’m a glutton for pain because I’m just reading a bunch of “available now” crap. Next week is Cold Mourning, a crime mystery (which isn’t even one of my genres of choice).

Book Review: Dread Nation

Read the blurb of this on Amazon or Goodreads. How does this not just sound like one of the craziest, most hardcore things you’ve ever seen? How does this not just sound like a book I’d love?

Of course I was going to pick this up. I kept moving it back on my TBR in order to read things I found to be “more important”, but dude. Nothing’s more important than entertainment.

The Book(s)

Dread Nation
Authors: Justina Ireland
2018
Amazon Link

Good amount of fantasy/sci fi gore in this one. It’s suitable as YA, though, as long as you’re not too squeamish. Like a lot of books I’ve read recently, this one does have quite a bit of racial tensions that could cause those who experience negative race-based events to feel bad. That being said, I think Ireland’s book is very empowering and just HARDASS overall. There’s definite payoff to reading through the hard bits.

On With the Review!

This book was one of the most creative things I have ever read. Not only was it a fantastic alternate history (and fantasy/sci-fi, since it didn’t really try to explain the zombie disease mechanics too closely), it was YA I could get behind. There was a palpable sense of horror ever looming, but the bold and brash Jane McKeene almost protected the reader from it just as she did other characters in the book. Jane was very hardcore, and her struggle for survival and respect was a drive I could get behind. Jane was just wonderful.

Not just Jane, though; Katherine, Gideon, and the complicated and not-present character of Jane’s mother were very well done. Ireland made them all complex and filled with life. She gave them powers and flaws, and she gave Jane – the narrator – snap judgments that were sometimes proven and sometimes disproven. Her use of Jane’s limited perspective to investigate personal and societal relationships was fantastic.

Also, the twist about Jane’s backstory? I didn’t see it coming, but I could see after the reveal how Ireland had planted all the clues earlier. While that was the biggest twist (in my opinion), there were many twists as we learned more things that weren’t initially within Jane’s first-person-limited view. The build to where Jane starts to see multiple other characters more clearly and understand herself in relation to them was, undoubtedly, one of the best parts of the book.

What would I have changed? I’m not a huge fan of the way vaccines were represented in the book. The research undertaken by multiple scientists was both sketchy and bad science. Ireland was genius in a thematic way to include allusions to illegal and horrifying medical experimentation on black people, but the goal of the vaccine was never really seen as a good thing. It was always suspicious. Perhaps this 2018 anti-vaccine premise didn’t age well post-pandemic, but this part bothered me.

As a whole, great book.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

What I’m Reading Next:

Got bored, decided to check out an audiobook on the library’s “available now” list, which is always a crapshoot. Stay tuned for Ninth House!

Book Review: This is How You Lose the Time War

This book seemed to have an interesting title and premise. It also had dual authors, which isn’t terribly common. At the same time, I was skeptical because it seemed to be fitting the in-vogue, Twitter SJW stuff a bit too neatly. Still, it was at my library, so I picked it up.

The Book(s)

This is How You Lose the Time War
Authors: Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
2019
Amazon Link

This is an epistolary romance with a lot of sci-fi. There was, if I recall correctly, nothing especially gruesome, sexy, or outside the typical PG-13.

That being said, it’s a hard read. Probably not for children or less mature teens, or pretty much anyone who isn’t fine with “boring”.

On With the Review!

This epistolary romance was intriguing in how the characters’ romance stemmed from one taunt into a flagrant love story. Since the Time War required the warriors Red and Blue to travel back and forth across the ages and universes, the timing of their escapades and how one event affected another was interesting. There was an essentially linear method to how the characters interacted, but the linearity of time itself was questionable.

And I just kind of didn’t get the story.

I didn’t find the romance believable. The characters never really met each other, and their teasing letters did not seem enough to foster deep feelings. The risk-reward ratio was entirely skewed against them, and there just was not enough reasonable communication for me to really get into the romance elements. The artfulness of the book did indicate it as a sort of sci-fi retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but the social elements were not compelling to me. The relationship between Red and Commandant and that between Blue and Garden didn’t seem right. The whole time war didn’t make sense, and the sci-fi elements felt like magic rather than science. Sure, there were plenty of sciency words, but it didn’t really come together in my opinion.

I found the book to be filled with some of the most beautiful purple prose I’ve ever read. The characters of Red and Blue had unique voices despite the excellent word choices of both narrators and letters, and it contributed to a very sensual book. At the same time, I thought it dragged despite being such a short book. It had altogether too many passages describing the act of taste and hunger and too few building to a storyline.

As a whole, I wasn’t really a fan, but I didn’t hate it and there were some good elements to it.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

What I’m Reading Next:

This is a book I’ve moved backwards on my To Be Read list far too often: Dread Nation is a zombie book, and I look forward to it!

Book Review: A Dark Genesis

I like to frequent Berthold Gambrel’s review site, and once in a while I find a book that I think is going to be a very worthwhile read. This was one of those books, so I got a copy and set it where I wanted it on my to be read list.

The Book(s)

A Dark Genesis
Author: Cheryl Lawson
2020
Amazon Link

There are some medically gruesome scenes, body horror, and some violence. If you can do Star Trek or Farscape without cringing, though, this won’t have any effect on you. The only thing is that there’s quite a bit of that body horror; even if it’s light, some people may not like that.

On With the Review!

Sometimes, you just find an indie author and an indie book that is so smooth and likeable that it makes you think it should have been published traditionally. This book had all the cleverness of a GOOD episode of Star Trek, but the alien was truly alien. The humans were truly human (and highly varied). The challenges of space felt real rather than “just the wild west”. The only reason I think this would have been hard to publish traditionally is the length: novellas just so rarely have a place to go.

One of the best decisions Lawson made was to have a main character that wasn’t 100% likeable. Sure, you could get behind Sage and root for her, but she had pretty massive flaws and social quirks that allowed her to make mistakes without it feeling cheesy. A policy I believe in is that if good or bad things happen to characters in a book, it shouldn’t feel like coincidence. Many times, poor communication creates these unlikely coincidences in stories. I think Sage’s sometimes abrasive personality allowed for the poor communication, disbelief, and competition between humans to flourish. Just who Sage was made all the subsequent events fall into place realistically, whereas I believe they’d have been considered “coincidence” if Sage were a better person.

Next, the alien. I love non-humanoid aliens (though, sadly, non-humanoid aliens often put them out of the reach of TV or movie budgets). This alien seemed so close yet so far away from communicating with the crew. Without spoiling much, the plot was centered on the invasion of an alien onto a generational ship. The alien didn’t board through traditional means; it entered the ship as a spore on tiny space debris (think hail-sized or smaller) that the ship ran into. Slowly, the spore turned into A LOT MORE THAN A SPORE, and the ship went into crisis mode. This invader reminded me a bit of the Solaris alien, but way, way more defensive. Though some characters wanted to communicate with it, the alien was also extremely invasive and dangerous. Do the mains ever succeed at cracking into the alien’s ways and talking to it? Well, I’ll let you read it and find out how they solve the issue.

The body horror was good. The description of the “infections” was horrifying and brutal. The punch to the gut when certain characters get hurt and bite the dust is fantastic, especially given the short length of the book. Cheryl builds relationships between her characters, and they all make sense given they’re on a generational ship controlled by a very prim and conservative computer.

Though it’s on the back end of my TBR now, I have also purchased the second book in the series and will be reviewing that soon. Lawson’s good, y’all.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

What I’m Reading Next:

Interesting choice for the next one: How to Lose the Time War, another newer book that’s in vogue with the zeitgeist!

Book Review: Ashlords

Not going to lie, that cover really attracted me. After successfully enjoying Gilded Wolves last week, I was also ready for another magic, steampunk-esque YA (though this seems more wild west than Victorian England steampunk).

The Book

Ashlords
Author: Scott Reintgen
2020
Amazon Link

This is pretty reasonable YA. It’s actually got quite a lot in common with Hunger Games.

Non-Spoiler Review

Some parts of this were interesting.

Most parts of this were The Hunger Games.

If you replace the battle to the death in The Hunger Games with a really lame horse race, and if you replace the sci-fi elements with magic, you’d get Ashlords.

As well, two of the three main characters (Adrian and Pippa) I found unsatisfying, and I couldn’t root for them. Because Imelda was pretty much cursed from the beginning, I found her choice to “not compete” as an interesting but also unsatisfying one.

Other than that, the book was… pretty standard fare. Nothing really special in the worldbuilding caught my eye, no element of the plot stood out to me as worth noting. It was a horse race with unlikable riders. There was a backdrop of “maybe war” that never happened in this book but always promised a second volume.

2/5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

I accidentally posted this one. It was supposed to come in a few weeks, soooo… eep! We’ll be doing Cheryl Lawson’s Dark Genesis.

Book Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

I haven’t been posting as much recently (thank you, work), but I have been reading.

Mostly reading THIS BOOK.

You can see from some of my previous posts that I’ve been working my way through this. It is available as an ebook at my library, so I could just keep checking it out as long as I want to read it.

The Book

The Ten Thousand Doors of January
Author: Alix E. Harrow
2019
Amazon Link

I have no real warnings surrounding this book, but I suppose it could “trigger” someone who has experienced race-based violence, discrimination, or other negative event. While the book is clearly anti-racist, there are some events in which evil and racist characters do bad things.

Do I think they’re well done? Uh, actually, not really… that being said, I’m as white and pasty as they come, so I might not be a great judge of that. If you want to read what I think is a much, MUCH better anti-racist book with weird magic, I’d suggest Whitehead’s Underground Railroad.

Non-Spoiler Review

This book simply bored me. I made it through, but I stopped midway, read another book in the middle, came back and was still bored, stopped and read another book in between, then finally finished this one. I just couldn’t keep my attention on this because I found it dull.

Why? I guessed the entire plot after getting about a quarter of the way through. The main character wasn’t very active (the whole way through) and just whined a lot. The book contained a lot of purple prose that didn’t even have artistic significance. It was just there and extended the book for a reason I couldn’t fathom.

As well, if you’ve read my review of Fahrenheit 451, you know what’s coming next: the idea that the words are powerful and that the other worlds are kind of like “stories”, even though the other worlds were proven to be real rather than conjectures of a madwoman in the back end, was kind of like an author circle-jerk. I am not a fan of writers including too many explicit references to writing and puffing it up to strange proportions. This book was supposed to be anti-racist, but I found it weird that you could pick out bad guys by them being white men. I found it to be a little weird and a bit too cliché (or opposite-of-cliché) to be appreciable. It was just too easy. I don’t know why, but this book felt like something written by a white person trying to make up for being white. I’m not an expert in race or anything, but something was just… off about it to me.

But mostly just hideously boring.

2/5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

An indie book reviewed earlier by Berthold Gambrel is coming up next! Prepare yourself for A Dark Genesis!

Book Review: Lord of the Flies

This book is on the Amazon’s 100 Books to Read Before You Die list that I’ve been working on. It came available at the library, so I snatched it up.

The Book

Lord of the Flies
Author: William Golding
1954
Amazon Link

This book is a classic, so you probably know a little bit about it already. I like to read some classic books just to make sure I’m not some sort of barbarian, and this book has long been on my list of things to finish.

Non-Spoiler Review

This is one of those books that my weird high school didn’t read. After having imbibed this, though, I’m very much on board with having high schoolers read it. It’s really fun, has characters of the age high schoolers would be interested, is somewhat more intense than a book parents would want a kid to read without guidance, and is literarily sound. It has great analogies about human society and government, and I guess there is some analogy to WWII (though I don’t think it’s as pronounced or purposeful as some analysts do). I thought there was a lot to do with the barbarism vs. civilization trope of warfare and societal advancement.

I felt for Piggy. I loved Piggy. That kid was the only one on the whole stupid island who was worth a damn, and yet they treated him like garbage. The whole time he was around, I thought of the quote from one of my favorite movies, The Flight of the Phoenix:

“It’s almost mid-day and he’s still working. He’s right about one thing, though. The little men with the slide rules and computers are going to inherit the earth. It’s kind of sad that Dorfman won’t be there to see it, but then I guess he doesn’t need to see it. He already knows it.”

Shiver, man! Piggy was like that. He was one of the “little men” with a brain and no chance in the anti-nerd age where bullying was king (bullying has changed now, but it’s often the little men with the computers who do it). To me, that kind of goes along with the main message of the book: don’t be awful. Don’t be mean. If you do resort to barbarism and meanness, you lose an essential element of humanity that makes you less than an animal. Even poor protagonist Ralph figured that out.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is at long last up next!

Book Review: Ringlander

Honestly, I have no idea where I found this book. My mind vaguely recalls me clicking a link on Twitter, but I have absolutely no recollection of exactly what tweet I stumbled upon. This is a $0.99 book, though, which meant I spent money on it; usually I remember where I found books I spend money on.

Either way, this is an indie book with a great cover and a great premise.

The Book

Ringlander: The Path and the Way
Author: Michael S. Jackson (a white, British guy, not the singer)
2021
Amazon Link

This book isn’t terribly gruesome, sexy, or full of cursing, but something about the way it feels and the way it presents its themes makes me think it’s clearly an adult work. Even with younger mains, like teen Kyira, this is probably not a great YA work. However, your teens can probably appreciate this book, especially if they have a maturity of spirit.

Non-Spoiler Review

Ringlander is an epic fantasy. While the world sometimes has a gritty feel, the book itself is clean compared to a lot of other epic fantasy of the era. It does have some of the good elements of the Game of Thrones feel while avoiding the unnecessarily gory or sexy parts that I thought ruined the popular series.

The storyline itself was pretty straightforward, even if the complex cast of characters made it twist and turn around such that it kept me on my toes. At times, I wasn’t sure if any certain character was going to survive. Enough characters did bite the dust that, like in Game of Thrones, you couldn’t feel like anyone was safe. I did like the main character, Kyira, and was interested in her story. She was plucky, dutiful, and a great unwilling protagonist. There were other points of view, however, I was less interested in; I think this is inevitable when making use of a complex cast, but I found myself longing for the Kyira chapters during some of the Fia chapters.

I enjoyed how the fantasy elements were very obvious and how well interwoven they were into the story. The people within the world smoothly interacted with the magical elements and treated them like they were always supposed to be there, not like a new thought or object they needed to explain to the reader. I especially liked how magic was integrated into the politics without it being the typical “magic people are oppressed” or “magic people oppress the non-magical.” By choosing to have non-human characters that have a strange opinion on the value of humans, Jackson created something very new and different.

The front end of the book was well-edited and tight, but this became less true as the book went on. Some additional edits to the book would make it smoother. As well, there were places where it moved a bit too slowly for my tastes. If you like epic fantasy that doesn’t mind mulling over some minutia and taking its time with character interactions, that won’t bother you, though.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

I finished it a while back, but boy have I gotten behind on making review posts. Stand by for Lord of the Flies! After that, I promise I read The Ten Thousand Doors of January and will have a post on that soon.

Book Review: The Anatomist’s Apprentice

I enjoyed The Alienist, and this looked to be similar: a forward-thinking doctor, even one who mostly just deals with corpses, works to solve murders or other ungainly crimes. This, however, is set in a different time period and place, and I think it could be entertaining. As it is set in the 18th rather than 19th century, medicine is even more of a mystery to the people. Heroic medicine is in play, and I was intrigued by the possibility that the titular “Anatomist” may come against people who think his ways against God.

The Book

The Anatomist’s Apprentice
Author: Tessa Harris
2012
Amazon Link

Fair warning: this book can be really, really gruesome. It’s not all the time, but it does happen often enough that someone sensitive to gore would find issue. There are some steamier scenes, but they’re not that bad. Violence does occur against women and children, but it is a relevant part of the plot and does not necessarily serve only as “motivation for a male character.”

But then I saw it was supposed to have Theodore Roosevelt as a character.

Y’all know I’m a complete and total sucker for presidents.  I had to read this thing.  I checked that audiobook out, regardless of any regret I may later feel.

Non-Spoiler Review

This book was fine. I thought a lot of the clues and mystery elements were interesting, but the “let’s go dig up a body and do a post-mortem partially for the gruesome explanations!” was a little… weird? Some of the autopsies, as well, just didn’t seem necessary or they found things that should have been obvious in the first place.

The interesting part, to me, was the historical bits. I enjoyed listening to the author’s take on 18th century medicine and practice, even if I don’t know enough about that history to tell if it was accurate. I’m pretty sure the main character wasn’t a real person, but the story surrounding him was cool. It didn’t seem like the American Revolution was affecting him much despite it going on at the time, but I think that might be saved for a later book.

The plotline as a whole did keep moving, and it held my attention well enough that I didn’t stop in the middle of the book. Even when it got a bit gruesome (there was a death of a 12-year-old in it, and it was very not good), I was able to keep going.

I also thought the ending was very weird, and I’m not sure the person “whodunit” was a good, satisfying solution. The love interest and romance parts of the story absolutely boggled my mind, and I didn’t understand why they were included at all. Whenever the story tended toward a smut angle, it just didn’t make sense. You have this gruesome autopsy-on-rotten-corpses bit adjacent to sexy times? The genres just didn’t blend, in my opinion, and I’m not sure the romance was well-done. A lot of the tension in the romance was predicated on the era’s social norms, but the norms weren’t felt strongly enough until after the romantic problem had ensued.

If you want a medical history mystery, I would suggest reading The Alienist instead. If you want a historical romance, read a Jane Austen.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

Next week:

I might finish The Ten Thousand Doors of January… but then again I might not. As a spoiler, I’m having a hard time paying attention, and I keep setting it down.