The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (Annhilation, Authority, Acceptance)

4.5 Stars

In Annihilation we meet the biologist, clumsy with language, often reactive. Lacking nomination as part of a greater social experiment. Through her somewhat awkwardly dispassionate gaze we are introduced to a world that is secretly being cleansed by an unknown force. A force which, in spite of its clear ability to fix that which humans have broken, is being resisted by the Southern Reach.

In Authority we meet Control. Another dispassionate voice lacking nomination whose slow battle with self-control, and exerting control, is overwhelmed, literally and figuratively, by the secrets of Area X and the terror (terroir) of the Southern Reach. Control, who is given back his name (takes back?) as he navigates being dropped into a social construct dependent on secrets, lies, and machinations, none of which he is part of.

In Acceptance we are finally introduced to Area X, and to an island, and (in a way that at times felt a little too pat) we are given the answers. In a drastic shift from the first two books, we are presented with four narrative voices, voices embodying their nomination, inalienable from notions of self, which shed light into all the dark corners and uncertain spaces, onto the leaps of internal logic that might otherwise have problematized the world-building in this trilogy. And of course we are shown the truth of Area X, its inception, growth, and purpose.

I did not read the omnibus edition of this series, and in fact, discovered the series via a Netgalley request for Annhilation, a request which has the expectation of a review of the book as it is. That said, I have found myself unable to consider them as separate books. Having read the whole series (which I don’t always do before a review) I feel more certain than ever that to review them individually is to do a disservice to their inherent symbiosis, and to the fact that that symbiosis is part and parcel of the overall power of the series and is tied exquisitely to the thematic arc of the trilogy. Even those things which I struggled with as a critical reader (disruptions in grammar or phrasing) have a commonality across all three books and are clearly designed, differently in each instance, to emphasize the character of the narrator. The shift and slide from magical realism into the space of normalcy is seamless and compelling throughout these novels, no matter the voice, and is, in my opinion, the most interesting aspect. VanderMeer maintains differing narrative voices while creating the same narrative shifts throughout the series and it is a fascinating and ingenious display of craft.

An amazing and engaging read on many levels, if this series is not on your to-read list, it should be.

Published 2015 by FSG Originals

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The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan

4.5 Stars

This is one if the loveliest books I have seen in a very long time, a true artifact.

It is rather on the large side and somewhat heavy, not a book for carrying around at any rate. If anything I would liken this to a coffee table book, though smaller in scale. Its nature requires a long sitting, a true sustained perusal. This is a book to be savoured. Each tale and sculpture must be given their due, and understood in context with each other and within the greater context of the book as a whole. The format of the book lends itself to this kind of understanding.

Each sculpture is prefaced with the Grimm tale that spawned it, making the book a true testament to a relationship between the arts, the one that inherently exists, and the ones that are sought after and deserve to be fostered. It is also a testament to the ekphrastic nature of creativity. One thing this project strives for, and attains (alongside many other attempts in contemporary media, some more successful than others), that I particularly enjoy, is a kind of reclaiming of the Grimm tales from where so many other retellings have taken them in contemporary culture. This book leaves me with a firm impression of a very unique and insightful voice, and one I hope to see tackle more ekphrastic projects.

Published September 1st 2016 by Walker Books Ltd.

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In the Blood by R. L. Martinez (The Witchbreed Series 1)

4 Stars

I really enjoyed this book. It is a solid 4 stars, original, interesting, and well-paced. While the world built feels, a little too often, like it is built on unstable ground, it is a captivating world nonetheless, filled with great characters that you cannot help but care about. One of my favourite elements is the way Martinez just drops the reader into the end of a conflict and allows us to experience the new reality thus formed alongside her characters.

Ottilde and Oriabel Dominax, identical twin sisters fighting their way back from concurring disasters, enemies and suspect friends on all sides, are great leading characters. The love interests and others that get drawn in their wake (or draw them in theirs), along with these sisters, are the strongest and most engaging part of the book. That said the magical elements and the national behaviours of the kingdoms in this world, also drive a strong narrative voice.

These two factors were so strong that the disruptions I did encounter (suspect character motivation/behaviour, some lapses in internal world-building) were much less disruptive than they might have been. I’m looking forward to reading what happens next to the Dominax twins, and I think this book is definitely worth the read.

Published March 21st 2016 by Lakewater Press

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The Choice by Allison J. Kennedy

4.5 Stars

The thing about this book is, the thing it really does amazingly well is, neutrality. In a book confronting serious and difficult topics, rape abortion, reporting sexual assaults, among others, neutrality from a narrative perspective is as necessary as it is hard to achieve. While characters clearly have opinions (religious and otherwise) about these topics, opinions that are strong and many-faceted, the fact that as a reader I never felt preached at or manipulated into valuing any one opinion above others by the narrative is fantastic. This narrative decision (not to mention its exquisite execution) allowed me to feel and question The Choice internally. There was room for me, as a reader, to decide for myself how I felt about the sequence of events, the characters, the choice(s) made. This crafting of space for the reader is finely wrought, and, to my mind, a crucial part of why this story is so captivating and so compelling. Had it demonstrated a clear stance on the issues, had it attempted to sway, cajole, lure, or lecture me, the alienation would have been absolute, immediate, and irreversible.

Of course there is more than just this narrative choice that lends itself to enjoyment of this book. The characters, and the relationships between the characters, have dimension and realism, particularly in the flaws that are revealed in the individuals as the story moves along. In addition to the crafted neutrality, the writing is crisp, well-paced, and often quite lyrical, making for a very comfortable and engaging read. This book would make an excellent required reading text for middle and high school age kids learning about consent, though it is a wonderful read for all.

In short I heartily recommend this book!

Published by Allison J. Kennedy LLC  July 2016

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Portrait of a Conspiracy by Donna Russo Morin (Da Vinci’s Disciples 1)

4 Stars

A fun and adventurous story, equal parts mystery, historical fiction, and secret society thriller. Set in Leonardo Da Vinci’s Florence, it begins with the infamous assassination of Giuliano de Medici in the Duomo in April of 1478. Told through the eyes of women who secretly gather and paint—a thing forbidden women at the time—the tale follows the investigation of the plot and the suspected involvement of one of their number. Thus is the stage set for a well-researched, well-written book. I really enjoyed the scope of the novel, told through the eyes of women from all different stations, in all different circumstances of life this novel gives the reader a quite varied and detailed vision of life in Renaissance Florence in all its political, artistic, and financial realities. The characters are believable to their time while still staying relatable to a contemporary reader, and their varied perspectives keep things interesting.

I felt invested in the characters from the beginning, especially Lapaccia. While the narrative did drag from time to time, and there moments that felt like digressions rather than interesting addition to the main plot, I would still recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction and mystery alike. I hope the next one is as gripping.

02_The Portrait of ConspiracyPortrait of a Conspiracy: Da Vinci’s Disciples – Book One
by Donna Russo Morin

Publication Date: May 10, 2016
Diversion Books
eBook & Paperback; 290 Pages

Genre: Historical Mystery

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One murder ignites the powderkeg that threatens to consume the Medici’s Florence. Amidst the chaos, five women and one legendary artist weave together a plot that could bring peace, or get them all killed. Seeking to wrest power from the Medici family in 15th Century Florence, members of the Pazzi family drew their blades in a church and slew Giuliano. But Lorenzo de Medici survives, and seeks revenge on everyone involved, plunging the city into a murderous chaos that takes dozens of lives. Bodies are dragged through the streets, and no one is safe. Five women steal away to a church to ply their craft in secret. Viviana, Fiammetta, Isabetta, Natasia, and Mattea are painters, not allowed to be public with their skill, but freed from the restrictions in their lives by their art. When a sixth member of their group, Lapaccia, goes missing, and is rumored to have stolen a much sought after painting as she vanished, the women must venture out into the dangerous streets to find their friend and see her safe. They will have help from one of the most renowned painters of their era the peaceful and kind Leonardo Da Vinci. It is under his tutelage that they will flourish as artists, and with his access that they will infiltrate some of the highest, most secretive places in Florence, unraveling one conspiracy as they build another in its place. Historical fiction at its finest, Donna Russo Morin begins a series of Da Vinci’s disciples with a novel both vibrant and absorbing, perfect for the readers of Sarah Dunant.

“A riveting page-turner unlike any historical novel you’ve read, weaving passion, adventure, artistic rebirth, and consequences of ambition into the first of a trilogy by a masterful writer at the peak of her craft.” – C. W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici and The Vatican Princess

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About the Author03_Donna Russo Morin

Donna Russo Morin is the award winning of author of historical fiction. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, she lives near the shore with her two sons, Devon and Dylan, her greatest works in progress.

Donna enjoys meeting with book groups in person and via Skype chat. Visit her website at www.donnarussomorin.com; friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @DonnaRussoMorin.

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Tuesday, May 10
Review at Unshelfish
Review at The Maiden’s Court

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Spotlight at Passages to the Past

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Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

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Review at Let Them Read Books
Review at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book

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Review at Just One More Chapter
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Review at Seize the Words

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Review at Flashlight Commentary
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book

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Review at Worth Getting in Bed For
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Review at Broken Teepee

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Review at #redhead.with.book
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Review at Book Lovers Paradise

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Review at Puddletown Reviews

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Review at The True Book Addict

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Review at A Bookish Affair

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Guest Post at A Bookish Affair

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Review at The Book Connection

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Review at Book Nerd
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Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog

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Camelot’s Queen by Nicole Evelina (Guinevere’s Tale 2)

3.5 Stars

This book, in most ways, fulfilled the promise of Daughter of Destiny, carrying forward the engaging characters and storyline, the history and lore of Camelot and Arthur. Camelot’s Queen, the second instalment of the Guinevere’s Tale series begins directly after the marriage of Guinevere and Arthur. Following the early years of their reign the plot is exciting and well-paced and the writing, mostly, is smooth. We begin to see the fortitude and depth that shape this Guinevere and this Guinevere is worthy of the legend that has lived for well over a thousand years. That said, I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of polish compared to the first book (and in general). I encountered multiple typos in addition to some disruptive and awkward moments.These alone might not have warranted comment, but these in addition to some other aspects do. First, there is a reference to Bedlam (the Bethlehem Royal Hospital in London for the mad), a hospital that was not even founded until 1247, and a term (Bedlam) whose earliest recorded  usage in this context was 1598. Taking place in the late 490s and early 500s, the usage in this book is something that should have been caught in the editing process. This kind of anachronism, in such a beautifully researched and written story, is really disheartening. Another concern that came up, again something that really should have been caught by the author, editor, publisher, anyone, is the use of a phrase that is the beginning of the most popular quote from one of the most popular fantasy series of all time: “as the wheel of time turns” is the start of the binding phrase that pulls through all of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. It is a phrase used so much and so well that it might only be second to Winter is coming. To use it in a book of a similar genre is dangerous. If nothing else it invites a comparison. I did wonder if it might be phrasing from a Druid tradition, but my research only found it as a ritual concept from Buddhist and Hindu traditions. I still loved the story, and I am looking forward to the next book in the series, but I hope that it will be scrutinized a little more carefully before publication to catch these little sloppy mistakes that bring a 5-star story down to a 3.5-star book.

02_Camelot's QueenCamelot’s Queen (Guinevere’s Tale, Book Two)
by Nicole Evelina

Publication Date: April 12, 2016
Lawson Gartner Publishing
eBook; 358 Pages

Series: Guinevere’s Tale
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy

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History remembers Guinevere’s sin, but it was Arthur who transgressed first.

Forced into a marriage she neither anticipated nor desired, Guinevere finds herself High Queen, ruling and fighting alongside Arthur as they try to subdue the Saxons, Irish and Picts who threaten Britain from every direction. Though her heart still longs for her lost love, Guinevere slowly grows to care for her husband as they join together to defeat their enemies.

Meanwhile, within the walls of Camelot their closest allies plot against them. One schemes to make Guinevere his own, another seeks revenge for past transgressions, while a third fixes her eyes on the throne. When the unthinkable happens and Guinevere is feared dead, Arthur installs a new woman in her place, one who will poison his affections toward her, threatening Guinevere’s fragile sanity and eventually driving her into the arms of her champion.

Amid this tension a new challenge arises for the king and queen of Camelot: finding the Holy Grail, a sacred relic that promises lasting unity. But peace, as they will soon learn, can be just as dangerous as war. As the court begins to turn on itself, it becomes clear that the quest that was to be Arthur’s lasting legacy may end in the burning fires of condemnation.

This highly anticipated sequel to Daughter of Destiny proves there is much more to Guinevere’s story than her marriage and an affair. See the legend you think you know through her eyes and live the adventure of Camelot’s golden days yourself – but be prepared to suffer its downfall as well.

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About the Author03_Nicole Evelina

Nicole Evelina is a St. Louis historical fiction and romantic comedy writer. Her debut novel, Daughter of Destiny, the first book of an Arthurian legend trilogy that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view, has been short-listed for the Chaucer Award in Early Historical Fiction. Camelot’s Queen is its sequel.

Later this year, she will release Been Searching for You (May 10), a romantic comedy that won the 2015 Romance Writers of America (RWA) Great Expectations and Golden Rose contests, and Madame Presidentess (July 25), a historical novel about Victoria Woodhull, America’s first female Presidential candidate, which has been short-listed for the Goethe Award in Late Historical Fiction.

She hopes to have the final book in Guinevere’s Tale available in late 2016 or early 2017.

Nicole is one of only six authors who completed a week-long writing intensive taught by #1 New York Times bestselling author Deborah Harkness. Nicole has traveled to England twice to research the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy, where she consulted with internationally acclaimed author and historian Geoffrey Ashe, as well as Arthurian/Glastonbury expert Jaime George, the man who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon.

Nicole is a member of and book reviewer for the The Historical Novel Society, and Sirens (a group supporting female fantasy authors), as well as a member of the Historical Writers of America, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Romance Writers of America, the St. Louis Writer’s Guild, Women Writing the West, Broad Universe (promoting women in fantasy, science fiction and horror), Alliance of Independent Authors and the Independent Book Publishers Association.

She spent 15 years researching Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain and the various peoples, cultures and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome. Other historical interests include the Middle Ages and women who made their mark on history. She’s also a frequent visitor to Chicago, where Been Searching for You takes place.

Her website/blog is http://nicoleevelina.com and she can be found on Twitter as well as on Pinterest, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram and Tumblr.

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Monday, April 25
Kick Off & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

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Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective
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Review at Broken Teepee

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Review & Excerpt, & Giveaway at Book Lovers Paradise

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Review, Excerpt & Giveaway at Laura’s Interests

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Review at Eclectic Ramblings of Author Heather Osborne

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Review at The Baking Bookworm

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Interview & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

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Interview at Author Dianne Ascroft’s Blog

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Review at Curling up by the Fire

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Review & Giveaway at Singing Librarian Books

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Review at One Book Shy of a Full Shelf

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Review at Book Nerd
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Review & Excerpt at Jorie Loves a Story
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