October’s Patreon poll theme is young adult speculative fiction (I know, it seems like it should have been Halloween/horror themed, but I couldn’t find many books on my shelves that seemed applicable!). The choices were as follows:

The October book is…

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

The hardcover is a beautiful book, and I’ve heard such good things about this!

November’s theme will be science fiction due to it being Sci-Fi Month hosted by Rinn Reads and Over the Effing Rainbow!

Tooth and Claw
by Jo Walton
336pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 8.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.1/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.92/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.84/5
 

Tooth and Claw, one of Jo Walton’s earlier novels, won the 2004 World Fantasy Award. Though it is often compared to Jane Austen’s work, the author cites Victorian novels in general and Anthony Trollope’s Framley Parsonage in particular as inspirations in her Dedication, Thanks, and Notes, adding “this novel is the result of wondering what a world would be like…if the axioms of the sentimental Victorian novel were inescapable laws of biology.” She imagined this by populating Tooth and Claw with dragons who literally grow stronger by eating the flesh of weak or deceased dragons—yet are very aware of propriety—and the result is surprisingly delightful!

As the Dignified Bon Agornin lies near death, his family gathers to observe the rituals: his son Penn, a parson, will attend him through the final moments of his life, and after his passing the entire family will distribute his wealth according to his will and devour his body. Since Penn and his sister Berend are already established, it’s Bon’s wish that they each take one memorial piece of gold and divide the rest among their three siblings who are not yet settled. Penn reassures his father that this will be so and that these three will also receive the greater portion of his corpse since they need his strength most.

However, the traditional feast does not go according to plan. Berend’s husband Illustrious Daverak believes the allotment of Bon’s wealth does not include his remains and refuses to stop gorging when he’s told he’s already had his share. The local parson supports Illustrious Daverak’s assumption unless Penn divulges the entirety of his conversation with his dying father—which he cannot do without bringing shame upon himself since he allowed Bon to make a confession as practiced by the old religion. Penn has no choice but to step aside since he cannot fight the other dragon either, and Illustrious Daverak, Berend, and his dragonets leave less than half the body for those who were supposed to consume most of it.

The three yet-to-be-established siblings feel robbed of their inheritance, and Avan decides to take Illustrious Daverak to court even though his two equally wronged sisters cannot contribute funds, being dependent on the gold for their dowries—and each is being sent to the household of one of their established siblings until a suitable marriage can be arranged, meaning one of them is also dependent on the goodwill of Illustrious Daverak.

Though I’ve often heard that Tooth and Claw is wonderful, I was still a little skeptical about its premise. It seemed like it would be difficult to imagine dragons in a world of “politics and train stations, of churchmen and family retainers, of courtship and country houses,” as described on the back of the book. I was also doubtful because dragons literally eating the weak and deceased to gain strength also sounded like it may be full of not-so-subtle social commentary. Having now read it, I can say that both of these are true—it is not at all easy to visualize large dragons riding trains and carriages, writing letters, or donning fashionable hats and it is full of rather literal social commentary—and yet Jo Walton somehow makes it all work beautifully. Tooth and Claw is a charming story of family, courtship, and survival as seen through the eyes of flesh-eating (but often very proper!) dragons.

It took two or three chapters for it to hook me, but I soon found it a quite immersive book that I didn’t want to put down. The narration is delightful and occasionally entertainingly self aware, and the social order and characters are quite interesting to read about. The stories of all three sisters highlight the problems they face because they are female dragons, as does the disparity between their treatment and concerns and those of their brothers. Selendra’s emphasizes the double standards of sexism and how easily a female dragon’s reputation can be destroyed while the male’s stays intact for similar indiscretions. In Tooth and Claw, female dragons actually turn pink when too close to a male so all can see an unmarried dragon is no maiden. Selendra encounters this when a suitor leans on her as she’s turning down his proposal, and though she finds a cure, she has to worry that it will work too well and she won’t blush if she does want to become betrothed later.

Selendra’s story is most prominent, but Haner also has some time in the spotlight as she confronts apprehension about her dowry, marriage prospects, and Illustrious Daverak. Seeing how her brother-in-law treats his household makes her realize just how wrong an institution she’s taken for granted throughout her entire life truly is: that of servitude. Haner seeks to discover others who share her views and who have radical ideas about the wrongness of binding the wings of those who do not choose to be bound.

Although I enjoyed reading about both Haner and Selendra, Berend (whose story is the most heartbreaking) was the most interesting character of the three. After overhearing Penn and her husband arguing about the portioning of her father’s body, she impresses Penn by taking “a most diplomatic bite” (pp. 29) that should satisfy both sides of the argument: a single chunk of flesh encompassing much of the chest. During a later conversation with Haner, it becomes quite clear that Berend thoughtfully analyzes her situation and tries to make the best of the unfairness in the world.

The two brothers also have obstacles, with Penn worrying about honoring his father’s wish for confession and Avan with taking his brother-in-law to court and trying to keep his position in his office. There are also a host of other wonderful characters, especially Sher. He’s the son of the Exalt, an older dragon who is quite snobbish about social class, but he’s carefree and not at all like his mother—and he sets his sights on Selendra despite her meager dowry and the fact that the Exalt does not think her father’s origins are fit to be discussed in polite company.

Tooth and Claw is utterly enchanting despite taking a little bit of time to become engaging. Though its explorations of gender and class are not subtle—and are, in fact, about as literal as possible—they fit with the story and world, shedding a bright light on the wrongness of how some are treated. It’s also a thoroughly entertaining Victorian-esque tale with delightful narration and an endearing cast of dragons, and I recommend it highly.

My Rating: 8.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

This book is September’s selection from a poll on Patreon.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week brought a few books, including a 2017 debut that sounds quite intriguing!

There’s still a lot going on due to my recent move (so much unpacking!), but I did post a review last week of a book that was also released last week: Magic Binds (Kate Daniels #9) by Ilona Andrews. This is one of my favorite ongoing series, but I was disappointed in it. The first half was entertaining and there was some really fun dialogue, but the second half bored me and I thought there were a lot of problems with it.

I’m reading the September Patreon book selection, Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw, and will start reviewing it after I finish it. After that, I plan to start my review of Crosstalk by Connie Willis, which is thoroughly entertaining and now on my list of favorite 2016 releases.

On to the latest books!

Heartstone by Elle Katharine White

Heartstone by Elle Katharine White

This fantasy debut novel will be released on January 17, 2017 (paperback, ebook). The description mentioning ties to Pride and Prejudice certainly captured my attention!

 

A debut historical fantasy that recasts Jane Austen’s beloved Pride & Prejudice in an imaginative world of wyverns, dragons, and the warriors who fight alongside them against the monsters that threaten the kingdom: gryphons, direwolves, lamias, banshees, and lindworms.

They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay—and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters.

Passionate, headstrong Aliza Bentaine knows this all too well; she’s already lost one sister to the invading gryphons. So when Lord Merybourne hires a band of Riders to hunt down the horde, Aliza is relieved her home will soon be safe again.

Her relief is short-lived. With the arrival of the haughty and handsome dragonrider, Alastair Daired, Aliza expects a battle; what she doesn’t expect is a romantic clash of wills, pitting words and wit against the pride of an ancient house. Nor does she anticipate the mystery that follows them from Merybourne Manor, its roots running deep as the foundations of the kingdom itself, where something old and dreadful slumbers . . . something far more sinister than gryphons.

It’s a war Aliza is ill-prepared to wage, on a battlefield she’s never known before: one spanning kingdoms, class lines, and the curious nature of her own heart.

Elle Katharine White infuses elements of Austen’s beloved novel with her own brand of magic, crafting a modern epic fantasy that conjures a familiar yet wondrously unique new world.

Morning Star by Pierce Brown

Morning Star (Red Rising #3) by Pierce Brown

The conclusion to the Red Rising trilogy will be released in trade paperback on September 27. The hardcover, ebook, and audiobook editions all became available earlier this year. An excerpt from Morning Star can be read on the series website.

Pierce Brown is also writing a second trilogy that follows the events in this one.

I haven’t read Morning Star yet, but I enjoyed Red Rising despite some reservations and loved Golden Son. It was quite intense and I couldn’t put it down!

 

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Red Rising thrilled readers and announced the presence of a talented new author. Golden Son changed the game and took the story of Darrow to the next level. Now comes the exhilarating conclusion to the Red Rising Trilogy: Morning Star.

Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.

Finally, the time has come.

But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied—and too glorious to surrender.

Additional Book(s):

Magic Binds is the ninth—and penultimate—novel in the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. It’s been one of my favorite ongoing series since reading the phenomenal third and fourth volumes, and I was particularly impressed by how the author(s) balanced plot and action with character development and relationships. The world mythology and the mystery and revelations surrounding Kate’s power and family were also quite well done. However, I’ve been disappointed in the series since book seven, and this trend continues with Magic Binds: despite a thoroughly entertaining first half and a lot of new developments, I found myself underwhelmed by it in the end.

Kate’s wedding day is rapidly approaching, but flower arrangements, cakes, and bridal gowns couldn’t be further from her mind. Roland has been building what he calls a “small residence” on the edge of her territory (I suppose when one has been alive for thousands of years and lived in palaces, thirty thousand square feet may seem small), but Kate goes from aggravated to furious with her father when she learns he kidnapped Saiman. She cannot let him take whomever he wants any time he pleases, especially a resident of her territory, and she decides that she must confront her father.

Kate sets out after being warned not to burn any bridges but returns declaring that there is no longer a bridge. Not only did Roland refuse to free Saiman but Kate also learned that he’s been trying to influence her kid and has a field full of people he had crucified, and Kate let her fury fly without mincing any words about what she thinks of her father’s tyranny. To make matters worse, the Witch Oracle summons Kate about her visions of the future, all of which show a battle in which Atlanta is destroyed and Roland kills someone Kate loves—and the only person who has even the slightest chance of altering the course leading to this outcome is Kate herself.

Magic Binds had its moments—like world domination!—yet I thought that its more entertaining qualities masked a lot of problems. It does contain plenty of Ilona Andrews™ dialogue that made the first half fun to read, but I was bored throughout much of the latter part. The plot and characterization are uninspired, the pacing is rushed, and worst of all, it just didn’t make me care despite what should have been high stakes.

Earlier parts, especially the first chapter, are immensely entertaining. There are some hilarious, memorable lines, largely aided by the return of Roman and the prevalence of Roland. I did love the focus on Kate and Roland’s relationship and that it’s not simple: Roland is proud of Kate and does seem to love her in his own bizarre way, and Kate’s surprised to discover she does have affection for her father despite his being a tyrant. Kate also struggles with her power and the fact that she is her father’s daughter, which is a great personal conflict.

However, I was let down by the lack of actual character development. Though Kate does face some obstacles that make her seem less one note than she did in the last couple of books, they don’t actually end up showing much about her personality that we didn’t already know. On the one hand, it seems fitting with her character and I do love her spirit and drive to do what’s right, but on the other hand, she does seem rather stagnant, especially when compared to her growth earlier in the series. Recent books have mainly been focusing on her traits that have already been established, and though this novel is chock-full of revelations, they tend to have more to do with background and history than anything new that cuts to the heart of who any of the characters are as people. The secondary characters once seemed vibrant and fresh, but it’s starting to seem as though it’s just more of the same old snark and attitude whenever they show up.

This may be related to another issue I had: the pacing. There is so much packed into this book that it’s incredibly rushed, and that includes some of the character moments (although there were some I liked, such as Mahon’s change of heart). It flits from scene to scene without taking time to breathe, and some major revelations are conveyed in a brief conversation that came across as a way to fit in an infodump before dashing into the next scene. In particular, the ending was anticlimactic because it was so brief after all the buildup leading to it—but then, the main plot was rather unexciting.

Plots revolving around preventing a terrible future are difficult to make compelling, and even with the high stakes, I found this one rather dull. There’s been enough of an ongoing pattern of playing it safe lately that I just don’t feel any tension when a major character may be in danger anymore, and even aside from that, this was a lazy method of plotting since the visions sometimes propel the actions. Although Kate does at least have her own idea about how she can attempt to change the future, she executes some details based on what the oracle sees. There’s also another time she ends up in a specific place only because of a vision, and this is such a frustratingly transparent way to move characters from point A to point B without actual motivation beyond “it was seen.”

One of the many revelations in Magic Binds addresses an issue I’ve had with the series since Roland’s introduction in the seventh book: how someone as powerful as Roland tried but failed to kill Kate. However, I didn’t feel that the explanation made it more sensible. Since he’s human, I can absolutely understand the matters of the heart involved that led him to make a mistake in the first place, but I find the reasoning given for why he merely tried rather weak. It sounds as though this being (who is, after all, thousands of years old) doesn’t understand how his own magic works, and this just doesn’t fit with the way Roland has been portrayed at all.

Despite some promise and some thoroughly entertaining parts, I thought that Magic Binds fell flat overall. The authorial hand is too obviously hemming in the characters and plot instead of letting them flow naturally and it comes across as calculated, especially the “subvert the prophecy” story and the unconvincing depiction of Roland as extraordinarily powerful unless it suits the need to keep him from defeating Kate before she has a chance to level up. In my opinion, the books were much stronger when teasing the mysteries than they’ve been at providing answers and I found Magic Binds sometimes fun but mostly disappointing.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

A couple of books showed up this week: one of which looks quite interesting and one that I’ve already read and loved!

I did start catching up on some reviews last week with All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. It’s quirky and difficult to describe, and I enjoyed it a lot!

Now, for the latest books!

Cloudbound by Fran Wilde

Cloudbound (Bone Universe #2) by Fran Wilde

Cloudbound, a companion to Fran Wilde’s debut novel Updraft, will be released on September 27 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The publisher’s blog has an excerpt from Cloudbound.

Updraft won the Andre Norton Award for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy and the Compton Crook Award and was also nominated for a Nebula Award. Tor. com has an excerpt from Updraft.

 

After the dust settles, the City of living bones begins to die, and more trouble brews beneath the clouds in this stirring companion to Fran Wilde’s Updraft.

When Kirit Densira left her home tower for the skies, she gave up many things: her beloved family, her known way of life, her dreams of flying as a trader for her tower, her dreams. Kirit set her City upside down, and fomented a massive rebellion at the Spire, to the good of the towers—but months later, everything has fallen to pieces.

In Cloudbound, with the Towers in disarray, without a governing body or any defense against the dangers lurking in the clouds, daily life is full of terror and strife. Naton, Kirit’s wing-brother, sets out to be a hero in his own way—sitting on the new Council to cast votes protecting Tower-born, and exploring lower tiers to find more materials to repair the struggling City.

But what he finds down-tier is more secrets—and now Nat will have to decide who to trust, and how to trust himself without losing those he holds most dear, before a dangerous myth raises a surprisingly realistic threat to the crippled City.

In the sky-high city of living bone, to fall beneath the clouds is to be lost forever. But Nat Densira finds more in the grey expanse than he ever expected. To survive, he must let go of everything he believes.

Crosstalk by Connie Willis

Crosstalk by Connie Willis

Crosstalk will be released on October 4 (hardcover, ebook). The publisher’s website has an excerpt from Crosstalk (the link is below the cover image).

I already featured this book toward the beginning of July and normally wouldn’t include the cover and description again, but I couldn’t resist since I just finished reading the ARC shortly before this finished copy showed up and LOVED it! After reading the first couple of chapters, I wasn’t sure how much I’d like it but soon I was hooked and found I quite literally could not put it down. (Seriously, I still have lots of unpacking that needs to be done and yet I had to spend every spare moment reading this until I was finished!)

Since it’s not out until next month, there are some other books I’m going to try to review first so I just wanted to take this opportunity to gush about how much fun this book is!

 

Science fiction icon Connie Willis brilliantly mixes a speculative plot, the wit of Nora Ephron, and the comedic flair of P. G. Wodehouse in Crosstalk—a genre-bending novel that pushes social media, smartphone technology, and twenty-four-hour availability to hilarious and chilling extremes as one young woman abruptly finds herself with way more connectivity than she ever desired.
 
In the not-too-distant future, a simple outpatient procedure to increase empathy between romantic partners has become all the rage. And Briddey Flannigan is delighted when her boyfriend, Trent, suggests undergoing the operation prior to a marriage proposal—to enjoy better emotional connection and a perfect relationship with complete communication and understanding. But things don’t quite work out as planned, and Briddey finds herself connected to someone else entirely—in a way far beyond what she signed up for.

It is almost more than she can handle—especially when the stress of managing her all-too-eager-to-communicate-at-all-times family is already burdening her brain. But that’s only the beginning. As things go from bad to worse, she begins to see the dark side of too much information, and to realize that love—and communication—are far more complicated than she ever imagined.

 

Charlie Jane Anders has written several science fiction and fantasy short stories plus a Lamda Literary Award-winning novel (The Choir Boy), but All the Birds in the Sky is her first speculative fiction novel. It’s a quirky, thoroughly absorbing story, and although I thought the first part was stronger than the second, I found it quite readable throughout—in fact, when I looked through it again to prepare for writing this review, I found myself rereading much of it because it drew me in all over again!

All the Birds in the Sky follows two main characters whose lives collide at a young age: a witch named Patricia and a technological genius named Laurence. It’s the story of how their lives intertwine beginning with their childhoods and resuming after the two meet again as adults.

Patricia discovered she had the ability to communicate with animals when she was only six years old. She sought to protect a sparrow with a broken wing, and after finding he could understand Patricia, the sparrow informed her this meant she was a witch. The bird instructed her to take him to the Parliament of Birds, but this congregation was concerned that the sparrow broke the rules by leading an ordinary human to them—and decided it was necessary to prove she was indeed a witch by making her answer the Endless Question: “Is a tree red?” Flummoxed by the riddle, Patricia barely had time to consider it before she was found and harshly punished by her parents, and it’s not until she’s older that she rediscovers how to speak with animals and learns about her witchcraft.

Laurence has always been gifted with technology, and even some rocket scientists found it impressive that he was able to make a two-second time machine at a young age. To his great chagrin, his parents were not so thrilled with his proclivity for computers and forced him to do activities involving nature, concerned that he was spending too much time indoors staring at screens. After he and Patricia literally ran into each other at school, Laurence learned that she loved these types of activities and convinced her to make up stories about all the amazing experiences they had in the great outdoors after they had actually been hanging out at the mall. Both social outcasts without anyone else to talk to, Patricia and Laurence became good friends until they were split apart by the plotting of their new school counselor: an assassin who foresaw that these two children would grow up to play central roles in a terrible battle between nature and technology.

All the Birds in the Sky is a unique book that covers a lot of ground, making it quite difficult to summarize. It’s largely about two people—one gifted at magic and the other gifted at science—and the impact they have on each other and the world, but it’s also about relationships: the longing for connection and the struggles to achieve it. There’s some ethical and philosophical discussion and problems caused by climate change. Plus, there are witches, scientists, conversations with animals, an AI, and an assassin. This may sound like a lot, and it is absolutely scattered and hard to describe, but it works. Although I did have some issues with it, All the Birds in the Sky is an extraordinarily readable, compelling, memorable story.

The earlier part focusing on Patricia and Laurence’s childhoods is more cohesive than the later part, and it balances between lighthearted and difficult situations. There are some fun moments, such as Patricia’s encounter with the bird who realizes she’s a witch, and there is a good dose of narrative humor, but their classmates are cruel and both are misunderstood by their parents. In particular, Patricia’s family is terrible: her parents lock in her room for extended periods of time as punishment and her sister deliberately tries to get her into trouble. Laurence also has a lot of problems that make him a sympathetic character, but he’s not as loyal to Patricia as she is to him so I found her easier to like during their childhood years, especially since she is compassionate through and through.

After the two are reunited as adults, there is still a focus on their relationship but it’s also about how they’ve integrated into their respective groups: Patricia with the witches and Laurence with the scientists. Of course, the beginning foretold of a battle between these two and the science/technology vs. nature/magic trope is not one I particularly like since it can be simplistic and too black and white. However, I think that summarizing it as a book about science vs. nature would be overlooking the point when there were so many examples of people discovering those they thought of as opposites were in fact stronger together. I actually quite liked what Charlie Jane Anders did with this trope in the end.

Although I thought the outcome was fantastic, my main issue with All the Birds in the Sky was the conclusion. The novel is wrapped up quite hastily, and I also felt like it didn’t provide satisfactory explanations for the recurrence of the question “Is a tree red?” throughout the story. As I mentioned earlier, the second part of the novel doesn’t come together quite as well, and I think this is largely because it feels like there are some gaps after spending so much time on their childhood and then skipping over their time actually becoming a witch and a scientist. Enough information on the past is provided that it didn’t bother me as much as the rushed ending, though.

Despite these quibbles, I found All the Birds in the Sky to be an utterly charming book with a delightful narrative voice and blending of fantasy and science fiction, and I especially appreciated how it handled a common trope that often irritates me. I’ll be very surprised if it isn’t still one of my favorite 2016 releases by the end of the year!

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt