Book Review: Spinning Silver

spinning silverSpinning Silver
by Naomi Novik
Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retelling
466 pages
Published July 10, 2018

I had previously read Uprooted, and adored it, so I was eager to get my hands on this book as soon as it came out. I was very excited to see it as a Book of the Month choice for July, and quickly made it my pick!

I received the book last weekend while I was at Anthrocon, so I didn’t get a chance to sit down with it until yesterday. (It officially came out Tuesday.) I proceeded to read straight through the entire book because it was SO. GOOD. Novik writes absolutely ENTHRALLING fairy tales. And in Spinning Silver, she has written fae as beautiful, alien, capricious, and as absolutely bound by rules as they should be. Doing a thing three times, even by normal means, gives one the power to ACTUALLY do the thing; in Miryem’s case, turning the Staryk’s silver into gold (by creative buying and selling) means she gains the power to LITERALLY turn silver into gold. Which then gets her into the trouble the rest of the book is built on.

One of my favorite lines was very near the end of the book, about the Staryk palace:

The Staryk didn’t know anything of keeping records: I suppose it was only to be expected from people who didn’t take on debts and were used to entire chambers wandering off and having to be called back like cats.

My only real quibble with the book is that it shifts viewpoints between at least five characters, and doesn’t start their sections with names or anything, so it takes a few sentences to figure out who’s talking. It never takes too long, but it did occasionally make me go “Wait, who is this….ah, okay.”

The plotlines weave in and out of each other’s way for most of the book before all colliding into each other at the end and showing how everything connects. I was definitely confused on occasion, but it was that enchanting Alice-in-Wonderland kind of confusion more than actual puzzlement. The book is, by turns, a mix of Rumpelstiltskin, Tam-Lin, Winter King vs Summer King, Snow Queen, and a little Hansel and Gretel. I love seeing elements of so many fairy tales woven together and yet still remaining recognizable.

And the ending! Oh, the ending was absolutely, marvelously perfect.

I loved this  book, just as much as I loved Uprooted. I can’t wait to see what fairy tales Novik spins next!

From the cover of Spinning Silver:

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty – until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.

When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk – grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh – Miryem’s fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar.

But Tsar Mirnatius is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and her two unlikely allies embark on a desperate quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power, and love.

Channeling the vibrant heart of myth and fairy tale, Spinning Silver weaves a multilayered, magical tapestry that readers will want to return to again and again.

 

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Book Review: When Katie Met Cassidy

when katie met cassidyWhen Katie Met Cassidy
by Camille Perri
Contemporary Romance
262 pages
Releases June 19, 2018

This was one of my Book of the Month picks this month, so I got it a little early. It’s a very quick read, and a sweet story. Basically, it’s lesbian romance fluff. We need more fluff with non-heterosexual romances, so this is great stuff!

The book touches on gender issues – Cassidy is a woman, and seems happy to be so, but abhors feminine clothing and instead dresses solely in men’s suits. (The scene with her fabulously gay tailor was an absolute delight!) She flashes back a little onto her childhood when she wasn’t allowed to wear the clothing she felt best in. She also has a few conversations with Katie about gender roles. Katie is much more traditionally feminine, wearing dresses and heels and long hair.

I’m a little torn on whether I dislike the use of the trope “straight woman turned gay after breakup” or like the point that Katie isn’t sure she likes women, but she knows she likes Cassidy. Cassidy’s gender is secondary to her personality. And it’s not like Katie decided to go hit on women after her fiance cheated on her; she got practically dragged to the lesbian bar by Cassidy, who saw how much she was hurting and decided to help her.

I enjoyed seeing that Cassidy has casual sex partners, many of them former sex partners, who are still good friends with her. Granted, she has lots of one-night stands who are upset with her since she’s quite the player, but there are several women who she’s been involved with before the book opens, who are close friends of hers and care about her future. I wish we saw more relationships like this in heterosexual romantic fiction instead of only in GLBT fiction! These kinds of relationships do exist in heterosexual groups, but it seems like romantic fiction is always divided between “heterosexual monogamy” and “everything else.” I did read an exception in Next Year, For Sure, but I greatly disliked the ending.

I really loved this book. It was sweet, and light-hearted, and a pleasant breath of fresh air from a lot of what I’ve been reading recently!

You can find a list of all of my Pride Month reads here.

From the cover of When Katie Met Cassidy:

When it comes to Cassidy, Katie can’t think straight.

Katie Daniels, a twenty-eight-year-old Kentucky transplant with a strong set of traditional values, has just been dumped by her fiance when she finds herself seated across a negotiating table from native New Yorker Cassidy Price, a sexy, self-assured woman wearing a man’s suit. While at first Katie doesn’t know what to think, a chance meeting on a West Village street later that night leads them both to the Metropolis, a dimly lit lesbian dive bar that serves as Cassidy’s second home.

The night offers straightlaced Katie a glimpse into a wild yet fiercely tight-knit community, one in which barrooms may as well be bedrooms, and loyal friends fill in the spaces absent families leave behind. And in Katie, Cassidy finds a chance to open her heart in new ways. Soon their undeniable connection will bring into question everything each of them thought they knew about sex and love.

From the acclaimed author of The Assistants comes another gutsy book about the importance of women taking the reins – this time, when it comes to love, sex, and self-acceptance. Written with Camille Perri’s signature wry writ and charm, When Katie Met Cassidy is a fun, fast-paced romantic comedy about gender and sexuality, and the importance of figuring out who we are in order to go after what we truly want.

Book Review: The Kiss Quotient

kiss quotientThe Kiss Quotient
by Helen Hoang
Contemporary Romance
317 pages
Published June 2018

This was one of three books I got through Book of the Month this month – the other two were The Book of Essie and When Katie Met Cassidy. I’m reviewing this today instead of another Pride Month read because today is Autistic Pride Day! The Kiss Quotient both stars and is written by a woman on the autistic spectrum, so I thought today would be a fitting day to tell you about it!

So The Kiss Quotient is basically a gender-swapped Pretty Woman, as Hoang mentions in the Author’s Note. Our heroine, Stella Lane, books an escort to teach her about sex. Stella is thirty years old, has only had sex a couple of times, never enjoyed it, and is worried about not being good at it and therefore not being able to get or keep a boyfriend. She’s an incredibly successful econometrician, or someone who uses data and statistics to model and predict economic trends, in her case predicting what people will want to buy from clients. (She’s the kind of person responsible for those “Amazon started marketing baby products to me before I even knew I was pregnant!” incidents.) So she has more money than she knows what to do with, and offers Michael, an escort, $50,000 a month to teach her about sex and relationships.

Because this is a romance, we know what’s going to happen here. They fall in love with each other, but are sure that for the other one it’s just a business arrangement.

I was NOT expecting this book to be as explicit as it is! I think because it is a Book of the Month, I wasn’t expecting the standard trope of romance book with hot sex scenes. But that’s what I got! I can’t say I’m unhappy with that – god knows I like my guilty pleasure romance smut – but it was definitely unexpected. I’m not sure why it surprised me. The book’s premise is all about Stella wanting to learn about sex; if that wasn’t conducted on screen we’d lose a third of the book!

A sequel has already been announced, and it’s about the other autistic character in the book, the hero’s best friend’s little brother, Khai, who we only see in one scene. Who I’d also like to know more about is the best friend, Quan! So I’m holding out hope for a third book.

One last thing that I found important – in the Author’s Note, Hoang mentions her daughter was diagnosed with AS, and in reading about Autism, she realized she is also on the spectrum. This is something I’ve seen in three different books now. It’s so common for women, especially, to go undiagnosed. They might be better at modelling allistic (non-autistic) behavior, or their special interests might be more “acceptable” to allistics, or sometimes they just get looked at as introverts when they’re young instead of getting the help they might need. This is starting to change, as researchers and doctors are realizing Autism presents differently in women. But it seems autistic adult women are often discovering they’re autistic through a diagnosis of their children. I found that interesting.

I did really enjoy this book. I think it’s a great debut novel, and a great romance. I really like the recent trend of more diversity in lead characters in romance novels. Bring on the people of color! More disabled main characters! There’s got to be a romance somewhere with a deaf heroine, right? More alternative sexualities and relationship structures! Everyone, everywhere, wants to be loved, and I want to read about it. The thing is, I’m sure these books exist, but they don’t get the kind of publicity they need for people to know about them. We have to actually go looking for them. I feel like I’ve been better about that recently, but it’s definitely a place where the publication industry could improve.

You can find my full list of Autism books, most of them by Autistic authors, here.

From the cover of The Kiss Quotient:

Stella Lane comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases – a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s or that French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice – with a professional – which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. With the looks of a K-drama star and the martial arts moves to match, the Vietnamese-Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer. And when she comes up with a lesson plan, he proves willing to help her check off all the boxes – from foreplay to more-than-missionary position.

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all of the other things he’s making her feel. Their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic…

Book Review: The Book of Essie

book of essieThe Book of Essie
by Meghan Maclean Weir
Contemporary Fiction
319 pages
Releases June 12, 2018

It’s so hard to decide where to start with this book. First: it’s amazing. Second: Content Warning. For a number of reasons. Rape. Incest. Gay Conversion Therapy. Suicide. Nothing extremely graphic; the most graphic concerns the conversion therapy, which is where the suicide occurs. That section was hard to read. A lot of sections were hard to read. But the book was SO GOOD. It’s about Essie and Roarke’s escape from all that, so ultimately it focuses on the future, and it’s a hopeful, light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel kind of book. But daaaaang these topics.

I loved so many of the characters here. Essie and Roarke, Roarke’s best friend Blake, Liberty, the reporter, her boyfriend and her camerawoman. They’re all amazing. Essie’s determination, Roarke’s courage, Blake’s understanding – every character has something to offer in this book. The way Liberty’s history entwines with Essie’s, so she knows where she’s coming from and can offer advice from experience, and how Liberty flashes back to her childhood so the reader understands her conflicts – it’s all just so amazing.

I identify pretty closely with a lot of this book myself; I was raised very conservative Christian, though at least not in a crazy cult like Liberty was. But the way Liberty talks about her boyfriend challenging her beliefs and waking her up from them hit very close to home. It was weird to see it on the page.

“I had been home as well, a painful few months during which I began to see my parents, our family, and our church as Mike might see them, as anyone who was not us would see them. I still loved my parents, very much, but I was also deeply ashamed. I began to wonder what would have happened if I’d seen it earlier….I decided that I would not go home again.”

I was cheering for Essie as she broke free of her bigoted family. Every step of the way. And Roarke – oh, Roarke, who my heart broke for, who stepped up to the plate and loved Essie in his own way, and gave Essie what she needed. It helped that Essie offered him precisely what he needed, too, but I didn’t expect how their relationship evolved.

I loved this book, start to finish. This is definitely one of my favorites of 2018.

I received this book a little early, through the Book of the Month club. It releases this Tuesday, June 12.

From the cover of The Book of Essie:

Esther Anne Hicks – Essie – is the youngest child on Six for Hicks, a reality television phenomenon. She’s grown up in the spotlight, both idolized and despised for her family’s fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. When Essie’s mother, Celia, discovers that Essie is pregnant, she arranges an emergency meeting with the show’s producers: Should they sneak Essie out of the country for an abortion? Pass the child off as Celia’s? Or try to arrange a marriage – and a ratings-blockbuster wedding? Meanwhile, Essie seeks her salvation in Roarke Richards, a senior at her high school with a secret of his own to protect, and Liberty Bell, an infamously conservative reporter. 

As Essie attempts to win the faith of Roarke and Liberty, she has to ask herself the most difficult of questions: What was the real reason her older sister left home? Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom?

Written with blistering intelligence and a deep, stirring empathy, The Book of Essie brilliantly explores our darkest cultural obsessions: celebrity, class, bigotry, and the media. 

Book Review: Circe

CirceCirce
by Madeline Miller
Mythological retelling
400 pages
Published April 2018

Circe was my April Book of the Month club pick, and WOW was it epic. I haven’t read Song of Achilles, but I just put a hold on it with my library, because this book was amazing. So amazing, in fact, that it sent me into a bit of a reading slump – what book could follow up this masterwork?

This is actually going to be a pretty short review because I’m just in awe of this book. Circe begins as a somewhat naive child in her father’s household, unaware of her own power until her brother points it out to her. For those powers, she is banished to a deserted island, but her powers only grow from there. We meet many figures of Greek mythology – from gods and goddesses to mortals and monsters like Scylla and the Minotaur.

I just don’t even know how to properly review this book other than it was amazing. If you like Greek mythology at ALL, you should read this book. It’s captivating.

From the cover of Circe:

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world.

Book Review: The Astonishing Color of After

astonishingcolorThe Astonishing Color of After
by Emily X. R. Pan
Fiction – Magical Realism
470 pages
Published March 2018

So I finally subscribed to the Book of the Month club. Every month they select several books, and you get to pick one or more. (It’s an extra $10 for each one past the first, but they are GORGEOUS hardcovers, it’s worth it!) So for my first box I chose The Astonishing Color of After and Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine, both books I’ve heard a lot of great things about. They’re also both debut novels, which is something I’ve had a lot of really good luck with. And that held true for this one, certainly!

Just WOW. The Astonishing Color of After is about a teenage girl, an artist, dealing with her mother’s depression and ensuing suicide. Part of what makes the book so fascinating is Leigh’s constant description of colors. She uses color as shorthand for emotions – her grandmother might have a vermilion expression on her face, or she might be feeling very orange while staring at her mother’s coffin at the funeral. Between colors-as-feelings and her insomnia-induced hallucinations (or magic – the book is deliberately, I think, noncommittal on whether some things only happen in her head or not) the entire book feels a little surrealistic. But grief and mourning DO feel surrealistic. The book is amazingly evocative and emotional and I absolutely adore it. This, along with City of Brass and Children of Blood and Bone, are definitely on my Best of 2018 list.

As an added bonus, the author is the American child of Taiwanese immigrants herself. So all the ghost traditions and folklore from Leigh’s journey to Taiwan are from her ancestry as well.

This book was gorgeous. It may need a trigger warning for depression and suicide. If you can handle those themes, read it.

From the cover of The Astonishing Color of After:

“I didn’t cry. That was not my mother. My mother is free in the sky. My mother is a bird.”

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between reality and magic, past and present, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a stunning and heartbreaking novel about finding oneself through family history, art, bravery, and love.