Magpie’s Song

Title: Magpie’s Song

Author: Allison Pang

Read harder Challenge: Yes possibly :); A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author (If steampunk is sci fi!)

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

Guys, this book was going to be two stars.  I swear it was.  It started and my eyes rolled so hard.  But something magical happened, and I was drawn in, and now I’m left feeling upset that I finished it before the obvious sequel is ready.  That’s a good problem to have!

Mags is a Moon Child, member of a downtrodden caste in a steampunk world.  Moon Children are exceptional because they are unable to catch The Rot, a disease that infects the other 2/3 of the book’s population.

Hijinks ensue, one thing leads to another, and Mags finds herself in a conspiracy to overthrow the government (or at least the social structure), she has an automaton dragon that seems to be intelligent life, and everyone keeps looking sideways at her one-of-a-kind mechanical heart that was probably put there by the most famous inventor/scientist of all time.  You know, as one does.  I can’t read that and not want to keep reading, so I don’t think you will either!

This reads a bit like a grittier (but not much grittier) Cinder, which is a good thing.  The world-building’s pretty good, the character development is solid, and I’m invested in Mags and her ragtag group.  The misadventures that happen hit hard, as they should.  No one should be able to change the fate of the world without a few losses.

There are a few moments in the book that made me raise an eyebrow of incredulity, but the piece as a whole works without stressing out my suspension of disbelief too much.  At the end of any book that’s intended to have a sequel, there’s a spectrum of endings that run the gamut between total resolution and total cliffhanger.  My preference is solidly in the middle.  This book ignores my preference and goes for absolute cliffhanger, while I don’t love.

I’d recommend this book for fans of YA fantasy and sci fi, or fans of steampunk.  If you liked Cinder, or the Red Queen series, this would be great for you! It’s different enough to enjoy but gives you a new world to escape into and a new “Strong Female Lead” to love. It climbed its way from 2 to 4 stars, which is hard to do! I really enjoyed this and I’m looking forward to the next one.

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Magpie’s Song

All Things Bright and Strange

Title: All Things Bright and Strange

Author: James Markert

Read harder Challenge: Yes; a book about nature

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

Why:

This book is hard to categorize.  There are elements of the gothic (Southern gothic), some magical realism, there is some Lost Generation throwback, there are moments where this book grapples with racism, sexism, homophobia, discrimination and bigotry of all sorts.  Despite all those big concepts, it is a book that is light on its feet and imminently readable. It asks us to consider how, exactly, the collective can continue to push forward and progress without losing the best parts of itself in the process.  Since I think that’s a question worth addressing, I really found value in this book. There is a wry humor to this book (the main character reminds me of a Hemingway character), with a good dash of whimsy, and the language is at times lush and evocative. There are characters to fall in love with, be angry at, and appreciate for the people they are and the choices they make.

 

Ellsworth signs up for the War (that would be WWI to us) as a way to process his grief over losing his wife in a fire.  He comes back damaged, as did many young men. We come to realize that Ellsworth’s life is not one that could simply be explained by the known forces in our world.  As his town struggles to find ways to heal and unite after war, slavery, and in the face of a changing world, they discover a little chapel in the woods. Although not all can see it, this chapel does not live up to its promise of salvation.  Ellsworth and the team he assembles, so very far from perfect, must work together to be their best selves in order to help the town that they love and the people in it.

 

I would recommend this book to: anyone who struggles to accept themself as a result of perceived difference.  Anyone who has wondered about their purpose. The first half is a slow burn as the reader gets to know the characters, but the plot quickly runs downhill starting at about the 50% mark.  I found this book relevant to the current climate, and so someone looking for a way to encapsulate preoccupation about tolerance in a fiction novel would do well to read this one.

 

I received this book free of charge in exchange for my honest opinion.  This did not affect the content of my review.

All Things Bright and Strange

Norse Mythology

norse mythologyTitle: Norse Mythology

Author: Neil Gaiman

Read harder Challenge: No

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥♥ /5

Why: First of all, I love Neil Gaiman.  I picked up this book because I love Neil Gaiman.  This is a slim book containing Norse mythology (as the title may suggest).  It is not new information and the stories contained within are not Gaiman’s stories.  So why did I read this, and why is it worthy of 5 stars?

First, Gaiman is uniquely positioned to write this story.  His extremely well-reviewed novel American Gods borrows heavily from Norse mythology.  I knew that he would treat the topic with respect, as he has shown a deep interest in it.  Additionally, Gaiman is in my opinion one of the best story tellers in the 21st century.  From adult novels like American Gods to children’s tales like Fortunately, the Milk, Gaiman has shown himself to be singularly adept at weaving a tale.  Norse myths deserve such tales to be told.  And finally, I love Norse mythology – my father, who I adore, has a tattoo of Odin on his bicep.  So, what else was to be done than devour this quick read?

This collection of short stories is peak Gaiman, with beautiful turns of phrase, simple syntax, and clever bits to smile at if you’re paying attention to what you’re reading.  I can’t recommend it enough for that reason, since any book of mythology has a penchant toward being dry as it is shoved full of details (sorry, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, but it’s true), and Norse mythology itself has a tendency to end of a little bloody and violent, so some dry humor helps the medicine go down.

I will recommend this book to anyone and everyone.  I recommend it to you, without hesitation.

I’ll leave you with some Thoughts of Thor: “I’m not happy about any of this,” said Thor. “I’m going to kill somebody soon, just to relieve the tension. You’ll see.”

Norse Mythology

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

ocean_at_the_end_of_the_lane_us_coverTitle: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Author: Neil Gaiman

Published: 2013

Read Harder Challenge: Could Be (Fantasy novel)

Star Review: ♥ ♥♥ ♥ (+½) /5

Why: Neil Gaiman’s writing has captivated me since I read American Gods many years ago.  I actually haven’t read nearly as much of his work as I would have thought, having yet to venture into his comic books such as the well-received Sandman series. That being said, I always have high expectations going into any Gaiman story, this one being no exception.

A small boy all grown up comes to visit a friend and remembers suddenly how they separated years prior.  The ensuing pages chronicle his memories of a lodger’s suicide unraveling an evil menacing the world. The boy’s mistake when he was young puts an otherworldly friend to sleep … or something like it.

What I love most about Gaiman’s writing is that it’s like what he seems to be as a person – both British and a complete weirdo.  In this book, as in much of his writing that I’ve read so far, there’s the sweetness of a pure child-oriented fantasy world, mixed with the grittiness that makes of every day life, and the taste of wrongness that exists in subtle horror.  Gaiman’s genius lies in his unveiling of a story, and in his turns of phrase.  He takes a reader on a journey from unknowing to understanding and it’s truly a thing of beauty to witness or, even better, be caught up in.  The way Gaiman writes makes me half-smile more than half the time I’m reading.  I can’t recommend going on this particular journey with Gaiman enough.  I left this one thinking about the nature of youth, good and evil, magic, time, memory, and guilt.  Not bad for under 200 pages.Read it now!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Outlander (Voyager)

gabaldon-voyager-220x332Title: Voyager (Outlander Series #3)

Author: Diana Gabaldon

Published: 1993

Read Harder Challenge: No

Star Review: ♥ ♥ ♥ /5

Why: This book is the third in the Outlander series.  I began reading this series at the recommendation of a coworker. The recommendation coincided with the time that the series was regaining popularity (thanks, Starz television show!), and it came with the label of a “historical fiction” story, so I was in.  When I read it, I was concerned that a professional colleague had suggested it for me – there are some sexy scenes in there!  Essentially the series follows Claire, a WWII nurse-cum-wife who accidentally steps through some magic stones to a time two hundred years prior, where hijinks ensue and she falls in love with a headstrong Highland Scot.  She has gone back and forth in time a few times thus far in the series, and in the third one, she has come back to the 20th century for what she thinks is the last time.  However, in her research on her 18th century husband, she realizes he still lived in his continued timeline (she thought he had died after she left), and so she must return.  This book chronicles her return and the all-new hijinks that they involve themselves with.

I am invested in the main characters, Claire and her love/18th century husband, Jaime.  This love story is impactfully told by Gabaldon, and I shed tears over their commitment to one another.  That said, the length of this particular installment was a challenge for me.  I enjoyed meeting new characters, as I generally do.  An example is Lord John Grey, who I suspect will make a reappearance in subsequent books.  I do fear, giving the shifting focus of this book, that it will be only natural for Gabaldon to spend less time with Jaime and Claire and more with other partners and characters that are appearing as time goes on.  The book itself had just enough historical relevance and barely plausible plot to remain entertaining despite is length.  At the end of the book, they wash up on the shore of America in the 1770s, so I am sure it will be another historically interesting romp that scrapes the bottom of the plausibility barrel for the new setting.  As an American, this one will be slightly more familiar to me, and whether that’s a good thing remains to be seen.

An interesting note: Claire (and Jaime’s) daughter Bree – who was raised in the 20th century – and her future husband could both “hear the stones” when they helped her mother back to Jaime’s time.  I suspect they will be doing some time traveling of their own soon enough.  I will read the next book, but may tire before the sequel ends, hence the noncommittal rating that leans just over the line of average.

Outlander (Voyager)