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City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

“Greatness takes time, Banu Nahida. Often the mightiest things have the humblest beginnings.”

I will start off by saying I am a true lover of fantasy, and while I like the medieval England-ish trope as much as the next person, it I does get tiresome. When I discover a well-written fantasy based in a culture not my own I get very excited. City of Brass (the first title in The Daevabad Trilogy) did not disappoint.

The story starts out with Nahri (our female protagonist) a con woman extraordinaire in Cairo. She has an unusual talent of sensing illness, which she uses to her advantage as a ‘healer.’ Her greatest dream is to go to school to be a real physician.

While holding a Zar, a sort of exorcism, Nahri gets more than she bargained for. Suddenly she is thrust into the world of the djinn. She is attacked by an ifrit, a fallen djinn, and rescued by Dara, a daeva, or fire elemental.

As Nahri and Dara get to know one another, Nahri finds out that she is at least part Nahid, a thought to be extinct class of daevas known for healing. Dara convinces Nahri to travel with him to the city of Daevabad.

About the first half of the book is about Nahri’s and Dara’s travel to Daevabad. This is not a boring road trip, however. They travel on a flying carpet and encounter and battle many mythological beasties.

After arriving in Daevabad, they discover the city is rife with problems: a tyrannical ruler and long simmering political and racial issues.

I found the pacing to be great, the world building to be fantastic, and the author is a master of showing and not telling. The characters are well-developed and sympathetic. I felt for all of them, even when they were in conflict with one another.

I finished City of Brass in the wee hours of Saturday morning. I started the second book in the trilogy, Kingdom of Copper, almost as soon as I woke up Saturday. I am having a hard time putting down Kingdom of Copper, just as I did with City of Brass, and I can’t wait to see what the final book in the trilogy, Empire of Gold, brings.

Overall, I rate The City of Brass 4.5/5 stars.

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The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind by Jackson Ford

“What happened to you….what you are, you didn’t chose any of it ……We may not always know the exact effect we’re having on a particular situation, but I can tell you…we’re making a difference.”

Teegan Frost is the only person in the world (or is she?) with telekinetic powers. Actually her preferred term is psychokinesis, or PK, which she will be quick to point out.

After spending many years in government testing facility Teegan is finally sprung. By the government. To do secret government missions. Her group is located in Los Angeles, and Teegan is the only member of the group with special powers. Everything is going fine until a body shows up at the site of the group’s last covert break in. The body is killed in a way that on Teegan could have accomplished, and she has 24 hours to clear her name with her handler.

Everyone in Teegan’s group has something to lose if the group is disbanded – jail time, deportation, etc. So the big question is, do they let Teegan take the fall and get locked for more testing culminating with an autopsy, or do they help her and risk being disavowed themselves? It should be mentioned that not everyone is crazy about Teegan.

This story is about family, friends, betrayal, and found family, all of it to varying degrees of dysfunction. The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind involves covert government, even covert-er government, black ops, MS-13, cops, wildfires, some very shady bad guys, and more twists and turns than a male duck’s family jewels.* It does have some pretty salty language, if that sort of thing bothers you. I imagine the title would clue even the least discerning reader to that fact, though. Me, I have taken cussing to a high art form, so it didn’t concern me in the least.

I have one very favorite thing about Jackson Ford’s book that is a bit personal. There is a hacker with a spinal cord injury in a wheelchair. My father is also in a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury. (He’s not a hacker, though. As far as I know.) This book got every single thing right about some of the special challenges faced by that community. Mr. Ford even used the term ‘incomplete quadriplegic’ a term I don’t think I’ve ever heard out of a medical setting. On top of this being a fan-damn-tastic book, those little details he got right about incomplete quadriplegics made my little heart swoon.

I would rate The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind 6 out of 5 stars if I could.

Happy reading y’all,

Wendy

*If you are not familiar with the mating habits of ducks, Google it at your own risk. It’s horrifying.

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The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

“Men like the Prophet, who lurked and lusted after the innocent, who found joy in their pain, who brutalized and broke them down until they were nothing, exploiting those they were meant to protect. The Church, which not only excused and forgave the sins of its leaders but enabled them: with the Protocol and the market stocks, with muzzles and lashings and twisted Scriptures. It was the whole of them, the heart of Bethel itself, that made certain every woman who lived behind its gate had only two choices: resignation, or ruin.”

I’ve read many reviews comparing The Year of the Witching to The Handmaid’s Tale, but I don’t think that is quite right. They both share the theme of the subjugation of woman and girls justified by religion, to be sure, but The Year of the Witching goes further. It is more of a treatise on sexism, classism, polygamy, and racism.

The female protagonist, Immanuelle Moore, is the product of the union between her mother and and an outsider of another race. While her mother dies in childbirth, the rest Moore family is cast into disgrace. They are stripped of there lands and income.

Immanuelle tries her best to live by scriptures, teachings of the Prophet, and the protocol of the town of Bethel, but due to her mother’s actions, she is cast as an outsider with dark powers.

Bethel is surrounded by the Darkwood, where the first Prophet killed the witches living there, but it turns out the witches may be more powerful. Once Immanuelle goes into the Darkwood she is given her mother’s diary. After that, things go sideways for Immanuelle and Bethel.

The Year of the Witching is a haunting, atmospheric, brutal, and dare I say, bewitching tale. The horror creeps in with a slow burn that steadily increases into a roaring flame.

Maybe it has flavors of The Handmaid’s Tale, the FLDS cult, Salem, and VVitch, but ultimately The Year of the Witching is it’s own original tale.

And you know the old saying ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover?’ Well, you can in this case. The Year of the Witching is as beautiful and haunting as the cover art promises it to be.

5/5 stars

Happy reading y’all,

Wendy

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So Many Books, So Little Time

I am usually monogamous reader. Sometimes I’ll read two at time, one audio book and one hard copy. I’m reading so many books right now that I’m surprised that I can keep all the plots straight. Instead of a book review I’m just gonna give a run down of what I’m reading.

How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi – This is actually a reread. The first time through I listened to the audio book. I really loved that it was read by the author. I could feel his passion coming through his narration. The problem is that I binged it. It was so good and had so much good information in it that I listened to it straight through. It was very eye opening for this white girl. I,of course, knew that systemic, institutional was rampant, only I didn’t realize how bad things really were. This time through I am reading a chapter a day with journal, pen, and highlighter in hand. There is a lot in information for me to take in without taking notes. As a side note, I think this book should be required high school reading.

Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis – As soon as I found out video essayist Lindsay Ellis was writing a book I’ve been chomping at the bit to read it. I decided to listen to this one, mainly because one of the narrators is Oliver Thorne of the YouTube channel Philosophy Tube. I am a little bummed that he uses an American accent rather than his actual British accent. That’s not too much of a quibble; he’s still very dreamy. I used to inhale science fiction, but I haven’t been able to get into it for the past couple of years; this book has broken the spell. I started it yesterday, and I’m about three quarters of the way through it. Axiom’s End is a fresh take on the first contact trope.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Mass – I’m about half way through the second book in the series. ACOTAR is so far outside of my usual genres, but I wanted to see what the hype was all about. I went in with very low expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised. I mean, it’s not great, deep literature, but sometimes I need to read something that I don’t have to think too hard about. ACOTAR fits that bill.

The Sandman audio book – by Neil Gaiman. I used an Audible credit to preorder it as soon as it was available. It is a full-cast reading with ambient background noise. Now I understand why everyone crowded around the radio back in ye olden days, It’s so good that I’m limiting myself to one episode a day. I want to savor it. I’ve read the graphic novels at least four times, and I would put the audio performance on par, if not better, than the graphic novels.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert – I’m only three chapters into this one, but I think I’m really going to love it. It’s chock full of witty British banter, which is always a plus. I also like that the protagonist is a little overweight and has an invisible disability. Both of those plot points are highly relatable to me.

Real Men Knit -by Kwana Jackson – Real Men Knit has gotten many bad reviews. I’m not far enough into yet to say whether or not I agree with the reviews. The only thing I do as much or more than reading is knit socks, so I’m attracted to any book with the word ‘knitting’ in the title.

All this is in addition to the 20 books on my TBR cart, my lifetime project of reading every Pulitzer Prize winning fiction/novel category book, and the seven books I picked up at the library today.

It’s a tad overwhelming but overall a good problem to have.

What kind of readers are y’all? One or two books at the time or everything you can get your grubby little paws on all at once?

Happy Reading,

Wendy

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Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun By Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke

“Her mother said fairy tales didn’t have anything to do with the world, but Ofelia knew better. They had taught her everything about it.”

I love fairy tales, not the sanitized Disney versions, but real fairy tales. Gritty and raw. I’m rapidly galloping toward 49, and they still haven’t lost their charm for me. I also believe fairy tales are one of the most important things you can share with your children. Fairy tales stoke the imagination and provide a bit of a scare within safe confines.

I’m just going to put this out there: I stan (as my kids would say) Guillermo del Tor (henceforth known as GDT for the sake of brevity and because it’s 1:30 AM.) Hellboy, the first Pacific Rim, The Shape of Water, and, of course, Pan’s Labyrinth. In fact, Pan’s Labyrinth is my all-time favorite movie, so you can imagine my delight when I found the book version at Barnes and Noble. The book is so gorgeous that I checked it out of the library to read. That way my beloved copy would stay pristine. Some of you get that, I’m sure. I keep it in my curio cabinet with the GDT Funko Pop my boyfriend bought me as a just because present.

GDT’s incredible movie + Cornelia Funke’s achingly beautiful reimagining = Perfection

Pan’s Labyrinth is set in fascist Spain in 1944. The protagonist, Ofelia, is a thirteen year old girl, the beloved daughter of a tailor and a seamstress. Her world is changed for the worse when her doting father dies, and her mother marries a cruel officer in Franco’s military force. Ofelia’s mother is going through a high-risk pregnancy, and has to spend most of her time in bed.

The book has brave rebels, fairies, quests, a morally ambiguous faun, and a possible long lost princess. It has tragedy and beauty, and it gives me all the feels.

I think this the first book adapted from a movie that I have loved as much as the movie. I highly recommend the book and movie. The movie is in Spanish with English subtitles. If that’s not your thing, read the book. It follows the movie to the T.

One caveat: it is sold as a children’s book, but I would suggest reading it first yourself before reading it to a child younger than about fifth grade. There are some violent scenes that could be deeply troubling to a young, sensitive soul.

Happy Reading Y’all,

Wendy

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Fair Warning by Michael Connelly

Fair Warning is the third, and most recent, installment in Michael Connelly’s Jack McAvoy series. Our plucky, serial killer hunting reporter is now working at a consumer watchdog blog called Fair Warning.

When a woman Jack had a one night stand with over a year ago is brutally murdered, Jack is inexplicably named a suspect. While researching the murder to clear his name, against the advice of his editor, the police, FBI, and his cohort Rachel, Jack stumbles onto the world of DNA sharing.

A second party lab is screening DNA samples to find commonalities for people with addictions or who engage in risky behavior. The DNA of women with these markers is then being sold on the the internet to Incels (involuntary celibates.) This subset of men hate women and think women owe them sex. The DNA samples are therefore used to nefarious ends.

This book will make one regret ever using a service such as ancestry dot com or 23 and me.

I hope Michael Connelly writes more Jack McAvoy novels in the future. Until then I shall bide my time with Harry Bosch and The Lincoln Lawyer.

Happy reading,

Wendy

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The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly

The Scarecrow is the second book in the Jack McAvoy series by Michael Connelly, famous for his Bosch and Lincoln Lawyer books.

Even though I am a huge Michael Connelly fan, I had never heard of his character, Jack McAvoy, until the newest book in the series came out this year. I’m sad that I missed these books, but I’m very happy to have discovered them. I reviewed the first book, The Poet, earlier this week. It was a good book, with a great story line, but it bogged down a bit in the middle. Well, with The Scarecrow, Jack McAvoy hits his stride. The characters are well fleshed out, and the story is top notch.

The Scarecrow picks up about ten years after the events in The Poet. Our man Jack has just been given two weeks notice at his job at the LA Times. The only reason they give him two weeks is so he can train his replacement, a recent college graduate who is willing to do Jack’s job for about half of Jack’s salary.

The same day Jack is told of his pending loss of job he receives a call from a very irate mother. Her son, Alonzo Winslow, has confessed to a murder he didn’t commit. As Jack looks into this he uncovers something much, much larger.

The Jack McAvoy books follow technology. The Poet was set in the early days of digital photography. Written in 2009, The Scarecrow, deals with internet farms and identity theft. I can wait to see what Fair Warning Brings.

CW/ These are crime novels about serial killers. They deal in violence against women and children. I, personally, love crime novels. Maybe it’s the intrigue; maybe it’s about the bad guy being caught and punished at the end. I don’t really know why they appeal to me so much. Maybe I just have a warped mind. lol

Happy reading.

Wendy

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The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sympathizer is the second book I read as part of my grand lifetime goal to read all the books that have won The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction/Novel since the award was created. The Sympathizer won the award in 2016.

The narrator is a Viet Cong double agent who comes to America after the fall of Saigon. Once in America he still reports back to his commanders about the actions of his fellow Vietnamese refugees. It reads somewhat like a very well written spy novel, and while it is fiction, it also reads like a memoir.

The plot is by turns achingly beautiful and terribly harrowing.

I never learned anything about the Vietnam War in school all the way through the college level, so The Sympathizer was very eye opening to me.

It is said that history is written by the victors. From what I can tell Vietnam had neither victors nor losers, only victims.

Until Wednesday,

Wendy

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The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

After reading Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friends’s Exorcism two years ago, I was delighted to see that Hendrix had released a new book. I suppose I may be a tad biased, because both books take place near where I grew up and currently still live.

I’ve seen this book described as “Steel Magnolias combined with Dracula.” Um, sorry. Nope. These are real southern housewives in the early 90s. They have oppressive husbands who treat them as sweet southern belles, not to be taken seriously. The women’s biggest job is keeping up appearances.

I especially loved the beginning, when the book club forms. The women are give a high brow book to discuss that no one actually reads. Watching the main character try to voice her ideas on a book she hasn’t read is all too relatable. Eventually the women go on to read true crimes books, such as Helter Skelter. In the end, their true crime knowledge comes in handy when they plot to go after the bad guy.

The first victims are Black children from a poorer part of town. Due to the victims’ skin color, and their family’s lack of wealth, neither the police nor the media take an interest. I fear not much has changed here in that respect. The only difference is the Black neighborhood has been ‘gentrified.’

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is a fun and engaging romp with an undercurrent of exposing sexism, racism, and classism.

Happy Reading,

Wendy

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Mexican Gothic

Book cover: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Set first in Mexico City and then the mountains of Mexico in the 1950s, Mexican Gothic is a slow burn of creepiness. After receiving a troubling letter from her newlywed cousin, socialite Noemí Taboada is sent by her father to check on her cousin in High Place, a mansion in the Mexican countryside near their defunct silver mine. The decrepit house is owned by a shabbily genteel and very controlling British family.

The house has very little electricity, Noemi is forbidden to smoke, and the wallpaper is covered in mold. The longer Noemi stays, the harder it is for her to leave, let alone rescue her cousin. She only has one potential ally in High Place, and he is rather sickly and weak.

I was hooked from the first paragraph, and then I couldn’t put Mexican Gothic down. In fact I read it straight through in one day. I highly recommend this fresh take on the Gothic genre, It will have you on the edge of your seat, and you may want to sleep with the lights on upon finishing the book.

Happy reading,

Wendy