Monday, December 6, 2021

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Under the Whispering Door by T. J. Klune

 




Under the Whispering Door is the second adult novel by author T.J. Klune, author of last year's highly acclaimed The House in the Cerulean Sea (Reviewed here).  The House in the Cerulean Sea was a delight, the story of a man from an bureaucratic agency that deals with the running of orphanages for children with magical talents, who falls in love with an orphanage keeper of some of the strangest children possible, in a heartwarming gay romance with a set of characters who you couldn't help but fall in love with.  So I was very much excited to read this book, which in its description sounded in some ways like the last one.  

And Under the Whispering Door is indeed going to be a little bit familiar to readers of Klune's last book - it also features a heartwarming M-M relationship between a man whose heart defrosts throughout and another with tremendous empathy, and a cast of really great characters who form a very cute family.  However, the tone of the book is very different, with this book dealing heavily with the impact of Grief and guilt and how people react to it all, and what they need to try and move forward.  It's pretty well done for the most part, both different and similar to the last book, so if you liked that The House in the Cerulean Sea, you'll like this - and if you haven't read that book, it's worth giving this one a try.  

Trigger Warning:  This book deals with Death, Grief, and a few death tropes, including Suicide and Death of a Child.  

Romance Anthology Review: Fools in Love (Edited by Ashley Herring Blake & Rebecca Podos)

 



Full Disclosure:  This book was read as an e-ARC (Advance Reader Copy) obtained via Netgalley from the publisher in advance of the book's release on December 7, 2021 in exchange for a potential review.  I give my word that this did not affect my review in any way - if I felt conflicted in any way, I would simply have declined to review the book.    

Fools in Love is an anthology of young adult romance short stories by a number of rising authors, with each story taking a pretty well known romance trope and running with it.  For those who come to my blog for SciFi and Fantasy reviews, rest assured that Fools in Love comes with a bunch of Fantasy and SciFi Romance stories, although not every story fits in this category.  What they all do have, like any good romance story, is a Happy Ever After ending (HEA), even as they feature a bunch of very different backgrounds for those relationships to emerge.  

And this is an absolutely lovely anthology that's a lot of fun and has just the right amount of charm you'd hope for stories like this.  The romance stories feature people and relationships of all backgrounds - Straight and Queer, Cis and Trans, different Religions, Races and Cultures, etc. - and they're generally all done well.  A few stories are merely good rather than great, but some are real highlights, and even the more basic ones at least are charming and enjoyable, as you'd expect from romance stories.  

More specifics and highlights after the jump:

Thursday, December 2, 2021

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Chariot at Dusk by Swati Teerdhala

 





The Chariot at Dusk is the conclusion to the Swati Teerdhala's young adult fantasy trilogy which began with "The Tiger at Midnight (which I reviewed here) and continued with "The Archer at Dawn" (Reviewed Here).  The series is inspired by (per the marketing of the first book) ancient Indian history and (Hindu) myth, and features as its heart two protagonists: a young woman who survived the massacre of her family to become the resistance fighter and assassin the "Viper" and a young man, a soldier, with a kind heart and a secret past who struggles with his role and his need to do what's right.  The setting also featured two related countries with a breaking but shared magical bond, jealous princes and foreign rulers, and enough background to keep it interesting and a little different from other stories.  Still, book 2 ended on a cliffhanger that was a bit hard to believe, so I didn't rush to pick up this trilogy ender when it first came out.  

And....The Chariot at Dusk is fine as a trilogy ender, although very much an anticlimax in how much it rushes through closing off all the relevant plot points.  The 2nd book ended with the main duo separated and on the outs for various reasons, with enemies new and old popping up on all sides forcing the pair into strange new alliances, but this book rushes to reunite the pair and never really deals with how strange and uncomfortable these new allies could be.  Thankfully the main duo's relationship, although not particularly unique, is still done decently well and the ending is solid if pretty standard, so the book isn't bad by any means.  It just feels like this book needed to be about 33% longer to really hit home the way it should have.  

Spoilers for Books 1 and 2 are below:

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat

 





Dark Rise is the type of Young Adult Fantasy I haven't read in a long time - the type of classical British/Western YA Fantasy featuring a chosen one, a Dark force returning to power, and group of teens discovering they're maybe the only ones who can stop it.  In fact, as you might have guessed from the title, it's very much a book channeling elements from a specific classic YA Fantasy series: Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising (although it's definitely dealing with tropes more general to the genre as well).  That said, this is not a straight forward take on the genre, and it's one that certain people i respect on social media had been hyping for a bit, so it piqued my interest for a while.  

And well, Dark Rise is certainly a really interesting take on the genre, especially once it gets into its second act and begins to subvert genre expectations.  The book's main duo - chosen one Will and orphan girl with evil blood Violet - form a really strong pair as the two are drawn in to the conflict between light and dark and soon learn that things are not only dire, but are far more complicated than they seem.  You will be able to guess how some twists will turn out, but not others, and the book finishes in a satisfying place that also will leave you curious on how things will turnout in the next book in the trilogy.  Still the book is relatively short, and really could've used a bit more development for a couple of other important characters to make those twists really land, which prevents it from being really great.  

Trigger Warning: Discussions of Assisted Suicide/Euthanasia.  

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Hunting by Stars by Cherie Dimaline

 




Hunting by Stars is the sequel to indigenous Canadian author Cherie Dimaline's 2017 young adult novel, The Marrow Thieves.  The Marrow Thieves was a really strong young adult novel, featuring a dystopian post global warming world where nearly all of humanity has lost their ability to dream...with the exception of those of indigenous descent.  And so the story focused on a group of indigenous adults and teens on the run from a world seeking to harvest them for their marrow, as they form a found family and search for peace all the while keeping their old stories and cultures alive.  It was a really interesting if tough to read, especially as it showed little interest in obeying classical plot conventions of character development - with main character French wavering quite often as he and his group tries to figure out what to do next.  So I was really surprised and pleased to see this sequel pop up after it seemed Dimaline had moved on from this world.  

And well, Hunting by Stars is just as strong as its predecessor, and incredibly more brutal with what it portrays - that same found family torn apart when prior main character French finds himself taken to one of the new Residential Schools, where he's given the choice of either having his marrow stolen....or to turn traitor.  It splits the narrative into three, following three groups of characters instead of just one, and showcases some brutal treatment of indigenous peoples in ways that will ring very familiar to those aware of both the past and the current present.  It's very hard to read at times, but its characters and themes are really well done, making this a worthy successor to the first novel.  

Trigger Warning: A significant part of the story takes place in a Residential School, so starvation, torture, brainwashing are all major elements of this story, along with serious racism, just as you should expect after the first book.  

Mild Spoilers for The Marrow Thieves, although nothing that will spoil anything that would ruin your enjoyment of that book, is below.

Monday, November 29, 2021

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: A Queen of Gilded Horns by Amanda Joy

 




A Queen of Gilded Horns is the second half of a YA Fantasy duology by author Amanda Joy, following up on last year's "A River of Royal Blood" (My review here).  I liked some of the things A River of Royal Blood did - the setting featuring a fantasy people who used to rule who are now oppressed, the other fantasy races who mixed in, the deadly human magic, and the way the main protagonist seemed to understand how difficult things would be to change - but the book had some issues.  Namely the book failed to develop the secondary characters - especially its protagonist Eva's sister of Isa, who Eva is supposed to kill in order to grab the throne, and is meant to be somewhat tragic....but instead just comes off as evil.  Still, I was interested enough to grab this book from my e-library, since it was short enough as a read to finish. 

And well, A Queen of Gilded Horns is another good installment that frustratingly had the potential to be more than that, albeit in very different ways than its predecessor.  The book splits its narrative to include the points of view of various other characters, and works all the better for it mainly, and its protagonists Eva and Isa are really strong as they try to figure out what to do going forward in an unjust world where only they can kill one another.  The book particularly manages to redeem Isa in a way that I wished would've been done sooner, and the setting's themes of oppression and fighting back work decently well.  On the other hand, the book isn't long enough to contain all its plot threads, with one major plot thread early going absolutely nowhere, and this duology really could've been a trilogy to explore all of those ideas.  

Friday, November 26, 2021

Fantasy/Horror Novella Review: Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

 



Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

Nothing but Blackened Teeth is the latest horror novella by author Cassandra Khaw (author of two prior lovecraftian subversion horror novellas).  I've had mixed feelings in my reading of Khaw's works - on one hand, their works are very much driven by descriptions and a style of prose that I haven't loved, often finding it unnatural and stilted - on the other hand, I really really loved the themes and characters in their last work, The All-Consuming World (see my review here).  So when many writers I really respect were praising this new horror release, I decided to give it a try, despite it likely not going to be in my wheelhouse.  

And well, the result was very much what I expected, with this story being a short horror novella that very much relies on descriptions to set the atmosphere (not really my thing) for its horrors - horrors that are mostly a group of friends with substantial issues between them - jealousy, privilege, depression, and abandonment - when pressed by the supernatural....in this case a supernatural built from Japanese mythology.  The relationships are done really well, and so if you like atmospheric horror a bit more than me, this will really work for you.  

Trigger Warning:  Depression.