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In the Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie Brennan

In the Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie BrennanIn the Labyrinth of Drakes (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #4) by Marie Brennan
Series: The Memoirs of Lady Trent #4
Published by Tor Books on April 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 352
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads
five-stars

The thrilling new book in the acclaimed fantasy series from Marie Brennan, as the glamorous Lady Trent takes her adventurous explorations to the deserts of Akhia.

Even those who take no interest in the field of dragon naturalism have heard of Lady Trent's expedition to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia. Her discoveries there are the stuff of romantic legend, catapulting her from scholarly obscurity to worldwide fame. The details of her personal life during that time are hardly less private, having provided fodder for gossips in several countries.

As is so often the case in the career of this illustrious woman, the public story is far from complete. In this, the fourth volume of her memoirs, Lady Trent relates how she acquired her position with the Royal Scirling Army; how foreign saboteurs imperiled both her work and her well-being; and how her determined pursuit of knowledge took her into the deepest reaches of the Labyrinth of Drakes, where the chance action of a dragon set the stage for her greatest achievement yet.

I am caught up to the final book, which won’t be released until the 25th.

I adored this book. As far as my enjoyment goes, the pacing of this series has been remarkably effective. Although the tale is being told as a memoir, Marie Brennan has done an outstanding job letting the intellectual development of Isabella unfold. We get some of the most frankly feminist moments in this book. Lady Trent, at this point, is a woman with no fucks left to give about propriety. She has learned, in the hardest way possible, that it does not matter how amazing she is, how accomplished she is, how much BETTER she is than the man. Her womanhood forever excludes her from being part of the old boy’s club.

I highly recommend reading Brennan’s free short story, available on Tor, before jumping into this one. It is a slender thing of a tale, told in letters, between Isabella and a man who is so clearly her inferior in all things important, but who is just so smug about his superiority.

The tagline for this book could be: “Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white male.”

I’m going to share a few quotes here, because they are so awesome.

“Shall we get to the point? You are afraid that I will disgrace Scirland by carrying on with an unmarried man.”

“I would never suggest that.”

No, he would only imply it. I ground my teeth, then said “Colonel, do you make a habit of querying your men about their involvement with every woman they meet? I assure you that many if not most of them have done far more to merit censure than I have. I know it may be difficult to believe, but dragons truly are my concern here. I have not undertaken their study in the hope of attracting a new husband; indeed, such a thing would be an inconvenience rather than a benefit, as there are few husbands who would accept my life as I have become accustomed to living it. As for scandal outside the bounds of marriage…that would be even more inconvenient, as people question my professional integrity quite enough without such justification to encourage them. So you may lay your mind at ease, sir: I have no intention of disgracing our nation. Not when there are dragons to be studied.”

This is a conversation between Isabella and the Colonel Pensyth, who is basically in charge of her new research project, which is an effort to breed dragons in captivity for use in military combat.

In this book, Brennan has laid bare the struggle of women to be taken seriously in their chosen field, both in the past, but as well, in the present. In a conversation with Isabella’s older brother, Andrew, they are discussing her undeniable attraction to Suhail, who reappears in this book. Andrew is commenting that Isabella need not choose between her attraction to Suhail and her work as a dragonologist. Isabella corrects him:

I felt weary, as if I were ten years older than my brother, instead of a year his junior. “Yes, it doe. You and I are not held to the same standards, Andrew. People will forgive a slip, a weakness, a minor personal folly — when it comes from a man. They may click their tongues at you, even gossip about your behavior…but at worst, it will only reflect on you.

“If I misstep, it goes far beyond me. Errors on my part are proof that women are unsuited to professional work.”

And, when Andrew goes on to point out that Isabella is “not like other women,” she pointedly states:

“Ah, yes,” I said ironically, “I have made myself exceptional. It is a wonderful game, is it not? Because I am exceptional, anything I achieve does not reflect on my sex, for of course, I am not like them. Strange, though, how that division seems to vanish when we are speaking instead of my shortcomings. Then I am a woman, like any other.”

One of the things that I’ve really loved about this series is Isabella’s platonic relationship with Tom Wilker. As fellow scientists, they both carry a stigma. Tom is low-born, not one of the peers who are encouraged to take up science as a hobby, and who are given opportunity after opportunity on the strength of their ancestry, as opposed to their talent or work ethic. Isabella, of course, is a woman. Tom’s lot is, actually, not so difficult as Isabella’s, although he certainly doesn’t have it easy. But even though he has to scrap and struggle, he considers Isabella to be his colleague, and there is never a suggestion by him, although Isabella does suggest it once or twice, that he take credit for her work in order to get it published. He is intent on pulling the two of them up together, and if she can’t go too, he isn’t interested.

So, when they make the scientific discovery of a generation, Isabella, Tom and Suhail (another character who defies the path laid for him by birth and sex), I literally cheered. I almost wept. Never has this book and these characters felt more real to me than in the section where they discover the “Watcher’s Heart,” as the site became known, a monumental archeological treasure of the Draconean civilization.

Near the end of the book, Tom bursts out, angrily:

“We have to achieve twice as much, in order to get half as much reward.”

There was no answer I could make to that. It was true…but neither of us could do a thing about it. Except, of course, to achieve four times as much. To be so exceptional, they could no longer shut us out, and having done that, to hope that those who came after might be judged on equal terms with those who should be their peers.

It is not a dream easily attained. We have no truly attained it in my lifetime. But I was more determined than ever to do my part.”

In The Labyrinth of Drakes is an exceptional book, which I loved. Brennan has built this series into something amazing, each book frankly becoming better than the last, which is a rare thing in series, in my experience. I am waiting for the end of the series with delight.

five-stars

The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie BrennanVoyage of the Basilisk (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #3) by Marie Brennan
Published by Tor Books on March 31st 2015
Pages: 352
Goodreads
five-stars

Devoted readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoirs, A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, may believe themselves already acquainted with the particulars of her historic voyage aboard the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk, but the true story of that illuminating, harrowing, and scandalous journey has never been revealed—until now. Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, Isabella embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found. From feathered serpents sunning themselves in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics, these creatures are a source of both endless fascination and frequent peril. Accompanying her is not only her young son, Jake, but a chivalrous foreign archaeologist whose interests converge with Isabella’s in ways both professional and personal.

Science is, of course, the primary objective of the voyage, but Isabella’s life is rarely so simple. She must cope with storms, shipwrecks, intrigue, and warfare, even as she makes a discovery that offers a revolutionary new insight into the ancient history of dragons

I had been awaiting this one with enthusiasm because Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle has always enthralled me. I’m not particularly a ship/boat person, but the idea of a scientist travelling ’round the world studying the natural world is extremely appealing to me. So, this book would be, I hoped, the opportunity to read of such a fictional voyage.

A cross-section view of the hold of The Beagle

It was quite a satisfying tale, although there wasn’t quite as much travelling as I had hoped. Natalie doesn’t join her on this trip, although her son, now nine-years-old, does, and becomes entirely obsessed with ships.

Lady Trent has the opportunity to swim with the dragon turtles!

But I did not need to be a champion swimmer to see the dragon turtles, for they are both huge and relatively fearless of human company. In shape they are more like enormous turtles than anything else. Their shell alone is often two meters or more in length, and when they extend their flippers, a swimmer feels positively tiny in comparison. The name “dragon turtle,” however, derives from the shape of the head, which is indeed like that of a Dajin dragon: a thrusting, squarish muzzle; flaps of skin depending from the jaw; long whiskers which dance in the current as the turtle swims.

And she visits an island where she ends up becoming embroiled in a political scandal, after scaring the natives who are convinced that she is “dragon-spirited” because her refusal to behave in a traditionally feminine manner. There’s a rather amusing part of the book where she ends up “married” to a local woman because that’s the only way to satisfy the native population that she’s safe to keep around.

“Do you believe you are neither male nor female?”

I almost gave a malapert answer, but caught myself in time. We had an established habit of intellectual debate, and I valued it; I would not discard it now. “So long as my society refuses to admit of a concept of femininity that allows for such things,” I said, “then one could indeed say that I stand between.”

Finally, Lady Trent rides a dragon. Well, a sea serpent who is a dragon, but still.

Whereupon I realized that we were, indeed, riding a dragon. I cannot honestly recommend the practice to my readers. Apart from the number of Keongans who have been killed attempting this very feat, it is not very comfortable. The ragged cuts on my knees and elbows stung unmercifully. Every time the serpent dove, I was buffeted by the water until it realized the error of its ways and surfaced once more. Again and again it drew in water and expelled it in a blast, for that was its defense against what troubled it, and the beast’s mind could not encompass the fact that this annoyance could not be disposed of in such fashion; but it came near to working regardless, for the shuddering of the serpent’s body whenever this happened threatened to dislodge us. There was no moment of the entire experience that was not a precarious struggle to stay aboard. And yet for all of that, it was one of the grandest experiences of my life.

At this point in the book, she becomes embroiled – once again – in a royal Scirling government scandal, and is basically sent home subject to the official secrets act after saving the life of a grateful Princess. I should probably also mention Suhail, a foreign archaeologist from a vaguely middle eastern country, with whom Isabella is quite taken, and from whom she is abruptly separated at the end of this book when his father, the Sheikh, dies unexpectedly and he is called home. All in all, this was an incredibly satisfying outing in the series, and I’m looking forward to the fourth book, In The Labyrinth of Drakes.

five-stars

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette KowalShades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories, #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal
Series: Glamourist Histories #1
Published by Tor Books on August 3rd 2010
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 208
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads
two-half-stars

The fantasy novel you’ve always wished Jane Austen had written
Shades of Milk and Honey is exactly what we could expect from Jane Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: Pride and Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality.

Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attentions of eligible men, and while Jane’s skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face. When Jane realizes that one of Melody’s suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right—and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

Overall, I found this book to be a disappointment.

I started out listening to the audiobook, and kept getting distracted because it moved so slowly that I decided to read it instead. I did finish it last night, rather quickly, so this is one of those rare occasions where my initial chosen format didn’t work for the story.

When I decided to read the book, I expected to like it a lot, because Jane Austen + magic sounds like the bomb. The problem that I had with the book was that the magic seemed incredibly weak and pointless to me. All anyone seems to be able to do with it is make their drawing rooms look extra pretty.

I also hated, hated, hated Jane’s sister Melody. She’s all of the worst parts of Lydia Bennett with none of the madcap charm. She was a total snot to Jane and I wanted someone to slap her into next Tuesday. I did not buy her whiny explanation that she was just jealous of all of Jane’s accomplishments for one minute. She was an unredeemably shallow, self-centered bitch, and it totally marred my enjoyment of the story. And Jane’s constant woe-is-meeeeeeing about her plainness was also pretty annoying. I kept wanting to tell her to buck the fuck up.

I also found all of the love interests to be unconvincing. We’ve got an obvious Mr. Wickham/Mr. Willoughby/Mr. Churchill stand-in who was even more obviously rotten than the other three. There’s also the romance between Jane and her suitor(s), which I again found pretty difficult to buy. The wrap-up of the romance was so quick that I couldn’t figure out how the two of them (and I’m not going to say who the ultimate winner of Jane’s hand was, since that’s a primary plot point that shouldn’t be divulged) actually ended up together. It was emphatically not as convincing as the Darcy/Lizzie pairing or the Emma/Mr. Knightly pairing. I couldn’t see it.

A lot of my bookish friends read and enjoyed this book much more than I did, and they saw depths to the book that I frankly missed, so I wouldn’t take my review as the final word on the subject. I also found the writing to be quite lovely. In addition, I’ve read that the series improves significantly after the first book, but they remain pretty expensive, so unless I can grab one on sale, I doubt I will be continuing. I may give the series one more chance with Glamour and Glass, but I’ve not decided yet.

two-half-stars

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods by Neil GaimanAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman
Published by William Morrow on June 21st 2011
Pages: 565
Goodreads

First published in 2001, American Gods became an instant classic—an intellectual and artistic benchmark from the multiple-award-winning master of innovative fiction, Neil Gaiman. Now discover the mystery and magic of American Gods in this tenth anniversary edition. Newly updated and expanded with the author’s preferred text, this commemorative volume is a true celebration of a modern masterpiece by the one, the only, Neil Gaiman.
A storm is coming...

Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life.

But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.

Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined—it is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own. Along the way Shadow will learn that the past never dies; that everyone, including his beloved Laura, harbors secrets; and that dreams, totems, legends, and myths are more real than we know. Ultimately, he will discover that beneath the placid surface of everyday life a storm is brewing—an epic war for the very soul of America—and that he is standing squarely in its path.

I decided that the time had come to read this in preparation for the Starz series, which looks amazing. I’ll start by saying that I really liked this book, although I don’t think that it has tipped The Graveyard Book out of it’s Numero Uno spot as my favorite Gaiman. One of the most noteworthy things about Neil Gaiman is that each of his books is so unique. American Gods is very much an adult novel, and not simply because of the sexual content. The themes are grittier, and it lacks that undercurrent of sweetness that runs throughout The Graveyard Book.

American Gods is ambitious, setting out to do nothing less than put gods in the context of America. The book begins with an epigraph:

One question that has always intrigued me is what happens to demonic beings when immigrants move from their homelands. Irish-Americans remember the fairies, Norwegian-Americans the nisser, Greek-Americans the vrykólakas, but only in relation to events remembered in the Old Country. When I once asked why such demons are not seen in America, my informants giggled confusedly and said “They’re scared to pass the ocean, it’s too far,” pointing out that Christ and the apostles never came to America.

At the end of the book, Gaiman mentions that the question he’s never been asked, that he thought he would be asked, was “How dare you.” But the “how dare you” isn’t the one that I personally expected, in the sense of “how dare you be such a heretic, talking about small g gods in the old U.S. of A, the most Christian nation in the world,” but the question was “how dare you – as someone who is not an American – write a book about America.

I don’t have a problem with the idea of Gaiman – someone who very much stands outside of America – writing a road trip novel set in America. I think he did a terrific job of getting at some of what makes America inexplicably different:

“No, in the USA, people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited, or by erecting a gigantic bat-house in some part of the country that bats have traditionally declined to visit. Roadside attractions: people feel themselves being pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.”

I’m not sure, are we the only place with roadside attractions? The corn palace, the Wall Drug, the bizarre shrines that pop up in the middle of nowhere, where people towing travel trailers stop in enormous parking lots to buy tiny commemorative spoons, paperweights and elephant ears? Maybe. I thought that aspect of the book was simply wonderful.

And, I loved the old gods. This was a whirlwind tour of folklore and myth, with Whiskey Jack, Czernobog and Mr. Nancy. Reading the book on kindle was tremendously helpful to me – I could highlight a name and wikipedia would whip out an entry that gave me an origin and a basic outline of the myth. Gaiman’s creative use of non-standard mythology was inspired. I also enjoyed the roadtrip with Shadow – this book unfolds in layers, peeling back one at a time.

There were, however, two areas that I felt like the book struggled. First, while the old guys were drawn with depth and drama and pathos and humor, the new gods were . . . not.

“Now, as all of you will have had reason aplenty to discover for yourselves, there are new gods growing in America, clinging to growing knots of belief: gods of credit-card and freeway, of internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon. Proud gods, fat and foolish creatures, puffed up with their own newness and importance.

Perhaps that was Gaiman’s point: what we worship now, in 21st century America, is all flashing lights and emptiness. But, I have to say, there was nothing about the new gods that convinced me that they were actually being worshipped. If the gods come into being and power from belief and sacrifice, then the new gods should have had power. They should’ve been electric with it. And yet, they were bland and boring and ultimately sterile beings of nothingness. A dead woman dispatched them with ease, and they were outsmarted by the diminishing old gods. The most minor kobold operating in Lakeside had more power than the most powerful new god. And then, what happens when the new gods die? I’d like to know. Did the lights blink out? Did the television go black? Did the credit card machines stop functioning? Or are all of the gods, ultimately, sound and fury signifying nothing? Illusions, brought to life?

And, the other problem that I have with the book – and it’s a biggie – is the utter absence of Christianity. Gaiman has him as just a guy walking down a road in Afghanistan. If Americans can conjure a god out of their credit cards simply by believing in them, then it is inconceivable that American Jesus wouldn’t have a presence among the American Gods. We are a consumerist society, it is true, and Gaiman nailed that part of us, but we are also a deeply religious society. Much more so than his native England.

For better or for worse, for truth or for lie, for sacred or for profane, for sincerity or hypocrisy, American Jesus was absent from this book and that did not make sense to me. If this book were possible, I would expect there to be a hundred slightly different versions of Jesus presiding over parts of America, like the images in a funhouse mirror receding into mirrored infinity. You’d have your Lutheran Jesus, who eats jello salad with shredded carrots in church basements all around the midwest, and you’d have your angry abortion-clinic-picketing Jesus wandering randomly around the south with a gun, ready to shed blood for the babies, and your capitalist Jesus, dressed in an Armani suit, preaching the virtues of selfishness, a la Ayn Rand, surrounded by acolytes who all resemble Paul Ryan and who can’t wait to shove the impoverished Americans out of the lifeboat. Without the many versions of Jesus Christ who are ubiquitous in American religion, the book feels incomplete.

What I’m trying to say is that America is like that. It’s not good growing country for gods. They don’t grow well here. They’re like avocados trying to grow in wild rice country.”

Gods may not grow well here, but old time religion certainly does, and that was absent from this book. I feel like it should’ve been in there, although that would’ve been a dangerous narrative choice for sure. Although anyone who would read this book would have to be willing to tolerate heresy, so I’m not sure that it would’ve made the book more likely to be controversial.

So, overall, I really liked this book, but I feel like it left some money on the table. It could’ve been better and didn’t fully realize its promise. But it was damned good anyway!

The Falconer by Elizabeth May

The Falconer by Elizabeth MayThe Falconer (The Falconer, #1) by Elizabeth May
Series: The Falconer #1
Published by Chronicle Books on May 6th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, YA, YA - Fantasy
Pages: 378
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
three-stars

One girl's nightmare is this girl's faery tale

She's a stunner. Edinburgh, 1844. Eighteen-year-old Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, has everything a girl could dream of: brains, charm, wealth, a title—and drop-dead beauty.

She's a liar. But Aileana only looks the part of an aristocratic young lady. she's leading a double life: She has a rare ability to sense the sìthíchean—the faery race obsessed with slaughtering humans—and, with the aid of a mysterious mentor, has spent the year since her mother died learning how to kill them.

She's a murderer. Now Aileana is dedicated to slaying the fae before they take innocent lives. With her knack for inventing ingenious tools and weapons—from flying machines to detonators to lightning pistols—ruthless Aileana has one goal: Destroy the faery who destroyed her mother.

She's a Falconer. The last in a line of female warriors born with a gift for hunting and killing the fae, Aileana is the sole hope of preventing a powerful faery population from massacring all of humanity. Suddenly, her quest is a lot more complicated. She still longs to avenge her mother's murder—but she'll have to save the world first.

The first volume of a trilogy from an exciting new voice in young adult fantasy, this electrifying thriller combines romance and action, steampunk technology and Scottish lore in a deliciously addictive read.

I received a free e-copy of this book from netgalley.

I requested this book because I’ve been seeing the series by Elizabeth May popping up everywhere. Overall, I liked the book – it was sort of an 18th century Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with fae instead of vampires. I do have a few issues with the book, however.

First, it is awfully similar to the Karen Marie Moning Fever series, which makes it feel a bit derivative. In addition, one of the strengths of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was her relationship with her posse – Xander, Willow and Giles. It would’ve been nice to see some development of the supporting characters so that they could’ve been more active participants as opposed to being essentially window-dressing. I also like the Scottish themes.

Finally, I do have an issue with the title of the book – it’s a bit strange to call a book “The Falconer” when it doesn’t even remotely involve falcons, no matter the historical context. I suppose calling it Aileana the Fae Slayer would’ve been too obvious, however! I’m curious about book 2, and will likely continue the series. This one was enjoyable, but slight, and I doubt it will leave a lasting impression

three-stars

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie BrennanThe Tropic of Serpents (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #2) by Marie Brennan
Series: The Memoirs of Lady Trent #2
Published by Tor Books on March 4th 2014
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 331
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads

The thrilling adventure of Lady Trent continues in Marie Brennan's The Tropic of Serpents . . .

Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career.

Three years after her fateful journeys through the forbidding mountains of Vystrana, Mrs. Camherst defies family and convention to embark on an expedition to the war-torn continent of Eriga, home of such exotic draconian species as the grass-dwelling snakes of the savannah, arboreal tree snakes, and, most elusive of all, the legendary swamp-wyrms of the tropics.

The expedition is not an easy one. Accompanied by both an old associate and a runaway heiress, Isabella must brave oppressive heat, merciless fevers, palace intrigues, gossip, and other hazards in order to satisfy her boundless fascination with all things draconian, even if it means venturing deep into the forbidden jungle known as the Green Hell . . . where her courage, resourcefulness, and scientific curiosity will be tested as never before.

This was the third time I’ve read this book, and each time I like it a little bit more. I reread it in preparation for the third book, The Voyage of the Basilisk, because for some reason, I haven’t kept current on this series, in spite of the fact that it is one of my favorites on the strength of the first two books. Books 3 & 4 have been released, and the final book in the series, Within the Sanctuary of Wings, is scheduled for release on April 25.

In terms of the the plot, if you plan to read this series, and you haven’t finished book 1, it’s really impossible to discuss this book without spoiling two significant changes in Isabella’s life. When we left her at the end of book 1, she had just returned from Vystrana, after undertaking her first voyage of discovery as a “naturalist.” She returns, not as a wife, but as a widow, Brennan having conveniently disposed of Jacob, her husband. She also returns pregnant. The Tropic of Serpents picks up three years later, after Isabella’s son is born, as she begins to hunger for dragon-based adventures and discovery once again.

This series is actually more about women in science and in public life than it is about dragons. Dragons are the fiction around which Brennan builds her society, which is modeled on our own, late 19th century, world. Isabella’s scientific aptitude, her ambitious, intrepid nature and her unwillingness to be relegated to a traditional female role is the true north of the series. Everything else is an exploration of this – from her unfeminine interest in dragons (as opposed to more socially acceptable interests like horses or dogs) to her lack of interest in maternal things (which is acceptable in ladies only when their interest is diverted by frivolities, like dresses and gossip). Isabella is a deeply substantive woman, in a culture that doesn’t really know what to do with substantive women. And, aside from Lord Hilford, who manages to see her as a fully-realized human being and more than simply a walking womb, the men who surround her really have no idea what to do with her. She is changing the men she encounters as much as she is changing herself.

Reading that Mike Pence refuses to consume a meal alone with a woman peer immediately after reading this book is a disheartening reminder that, while we’ve come a long way baby, we apparently haven’t come far enough, and that there are still plenty of 21st century men who seem to be unable to view women as anything other than an ambulatory, speech-capable vagina.

On this outing, Isabella heads to the fictional Eriga, which seems to be somewhere in Africa, and gets involved in local politics. She manages to muddle about, immerse herself in the local (native) culture, and accomplish a feat of great environmental conservation all the while coping with a culture that is just as skeptical of women who act like men as her own. She plunges headlong into the swamp known as the Green Hell, and learns to fly, both literally and figuratively. We also meet Natalie, another young woman who is entirely disinterested in a typical female life, and I hope to learn more about Natalie in later books.

I am very excited for the Voyage of the Basilisks, as it sounds very much like the trip that Charles Darwin took on the The Beagle, a voyage that has captured my imagination since the moment I heard about it.

The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro

The Last of August by Brittany CavallaroThe Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on February 14th 2017
Genres: YA
Pages: 336
Source: Borrowed: ebook
Goodreads
one-star

Watson and Holmes: A match made in disaster.

Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are looking for a winter-break reprieve after a fall semester that almost got them killed. But Charlotte isn’t the only Holmes with secrets, and the mood at her family’s Sussex estate is palpably tense. On top of everything else, Holmes and Watson could be becoming more than friends—but still, the darkness in Charlotte’s past is a wall between them.

A distraction arises soon enough, because Charlotte’s beloved uncle Leander goes missing from the estate—after being oddly private about his latest assignment in a German art forgery ring. The game is afoot once again, and Charlotte is single-minded in her pursuit.

Their first stop? Berlin. Their first contact? August Moriarty (formerly Charlotte’s obsession, currently believed by most to be dead), whose powerful family has been ripping off famous paintings for the last hundred years. But as they follow the gritty underground scene in Berlin to glittering art houses in Prague, Holmes and Watson begin to realize that this is a much more complicated case than a disappearance. Much more dangerous, too.

What they learn might change everything they know about their families, themselves, and each other.

I am so annoyed. Since I gave book #1 three stars, I hoped for another three star read or higher this time. But due to the lack of any mysteries to solve and just more teen angst and a love triangle that only one person was interested in (Jamie) I was over this book before the end.

I haven’t read all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock stories, but I never got from him a sense of disdain for Watson. Or that Sherlock didn’t know right from wrong. I don’t know if putting this in the YA setting is the issue or what. I really enjoyed “A Study in Scarlet Women” so you can have a gender flipped Sherlock Holmes that doesn’t make you loathe the character.

As others may recall based on the last book, the Moriarty family realizes August is alive and they want him back and Charlotte Holmes and her family punished. Charlotte and Jamie head back to England for the holiday break and while there stay at both their homes. While at Charlotte’s family home, Jamie finally meets Leander Holmes. Leander is currently undercover looking into some art forgeries and then goes missing. Jamie and Charlotte believe it may be the Moriarty family or the case he’s working that’s behind his disappearance. The trail leads Charlotte and Jamie to go to Berlin to figure out what’s going on. This leads to the not dynamic duo staying with Milo (Charlotte’s older brother) and Charlotte connecting with August Moriarty again.

Good things:

We get to meet August Moriarty in this one and he’s more developed than most of the other characters. He has a lot more patience for Jamie’s jealously than I would have and the fact that he even speaks to Charlotte is a point in his favor. It’s like everyone but Leander Holmes gets what Charlotte did was wrong with ruining August when he rejected her romantically. He’s too good for Charlotte and I felt the most for him since he is torn between the Holmes family and his. Even with everything we readers get to see, Jamie constantly keeps needing him to be a villain and sorry I was not here for that.

Leander Holmes is another character I enjoyed we just didn’t get to spend much time with. He definitely has a better sense about things than any Holmes besides Charlotte’s mother. We get more insight into him due to emails he sends Jamie’s father, but I don’t think anything Jamie is reading sinks in at all.

I liked the cover.

Everything else:

Dear authors, if one of your characters is raped, and another character who wasn’t raped keeps complaining about how that rape is affecting him throughout the entire book your readers may hate the character. I know I did. As readers know we find out that Charlotte Holmes was raped in the last book. She rightfully is still dealing with the aftermath of that. But due to Jamie being in love with her and wanting to be with her “that way”, he’s frustrated. I hope you enjoy teen fights since that’s a good 2/3 of this book. And Jamie stating he loves Charlotte, but gets angry at her every five seconds. Honestly he acts like a spurned lover and I started hoping something would fall on his head.

Charlotte was a contradiction throughout the book. We do her her POV in this one against me it was welcomed since I wasn’t reading about Jamie and his feelings anymore. But, this character says plainly what she needs from Jamie a lot and then he ignores her. She has bad reactions from him touching her sometimes and tries to do tests to see if she can cure herself of that. I don’t know why, but scenes like that bugged. When we switch to her POV and she mentions seeing Jamie like a knight errant I maybe laughed out loud. Okay I did laugh out loud. Her depiction of him doesn’t gibe with the Jamie we’ve been given for two books.

I wish that Cavallaro had shown more of Charlotte and August interactions when the action moves to Berlin. But we unfortunately do not get that here. And once again we get a book showing Charlotte is not as great as deductions as she think she is.

Cavallaro has pretty much depicted the Holmes family as monsters, the Moriarty’s too, and the Watson’s just enablers of the Holmes.

I actually got Emma Holmes (Charlotte’s mom) more at the end and wished we had gotten a chance to spend more time with this character. Also even though Milo is supposed to dangerous and intelligent he does something beyond stupid at the end of the book that doesn’t even fit.

We get Tom and Lena in this one again and they were not necessary. Actually they felt shoehorned in.

The writing was repetitive after a while. The majority of the book is told from Jamie’s first person POV. He’s in turns rude, angry, jealous, and sad throughout the book. When Jamie meets August he seriously becomes more of a pain, and I didn’t know it was possible. The POV told from Charlotte’s POV was welcome so you could get out of Jamie’s head for a bit. We also get to read emails from Leander Holmes to Jamie’s father and that definitely gives us more clues into their friendship. And honestly I be more interested reading about them then the younger generation at this point.

Also can I say that based on how Jamie’s father acts, he wants Jamie to show up Charlotte and solve the case (Leander’s disappearance) but it definitely doesn’t sound like anything that he would have done while working with Leander.

The flow is actually okay in this one. It’s just nothing happens for a good majority of the book. You find out the how behind the forgeries right away, but solving Leander’s disappearance takes a while.

Moving the setting from the school to England and then Berlin was a bad idea. I didn’t get any sense of Germany in this one. We don’t get much details while they are in Germany besides Jamie describing rooms.

The ending was a travesty. I think this book was set up to be along the lines of His Last Bow maybe. I honestly don’t see how there can be a third book in this series. Jamie and Charlotte have a highly toxic relationship and I am not here for them together. She needs therapy and he needs to get over himself.

one-star

Bridges: A Daphne White Novel

Bridges: A Daphne White NovelBridges by Maria Murnane
Published by Kindle Press on April 4, 2017
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 194
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

It’s a piece of news Daphne never expected to hear: Her globe-trotting friend Skylar, who vowed never to get married, is engaged! Time to celebrate in Manhattan—Skylar’s treat, of course. After years scaling the corporate ladder, she can more than afford it.

Daphne arrives in NYC with news of her own—the novel she’s finally finished appears to be going nowhere but the trash bin of every publishing house around. She’s devastated but plans to keep her disappointment under wraps, something that becomes trickier when she sees Skylar’s spectacular apartment. Could her life have been like this if she’d chosen a different path?

What Daphne doesn’t know is she’s not the only one with a secret. Skylar and their friend KC are also holding something back, but what? As the trip unfolds, the truth about each woman emerges, along with tears.

And laughter. And love.

The fun-loving trio readers fell for in Wait for the Rain is together once more. Here's to the power of friendship!

Please note that I received this book from the author via NetGalley in return for a honest review.

I previously read the first book in this series, Wait for the Rain, and really enjoyed it, you can see my review here: Wait for the Rain review at Goodreads. So I was happy to see that Maria Murnane had a follow up with Daphne, Skylar, and KC. The only reason why I gave this four stars and not five was that I wish that Murnane had explored going with another POV with this one like Skylar. I would have really enjoyed that. And I thought the ending with things working out for Daphne would have been better if Murnane had actually kept up with the theme of how hard it is to break into being a published writer.

In “Bridges” it’s been about a year since our 3 Musketeers got together and had a vacation in the Caribbean. After the three women have a video conference call and Skylar lets them know that she is engaged and she wants to fly them to NYC in order to celebrate with her. Daphne is happy to celebrate Skylar’s good news, but hoped that she would have good news of her own to share. She took a year and started to write her own novel, based on her adventures with her friends in the Caribbean as well as the relationship she found after her divorce. Unfortunately, Daphne is getting a lot of rejection letters and is worried that maybe her dream of being a published author will never be realized. And she doesn’t know if she is going to be able to fake being happy surrounded by her two friends who are the moon about different things in their lives at this point.

I have to say that once again Maria Murnane nails female friendships. I really enjoyed how she showcased them in this book and her Waverly Bryson series. A lot of the conversations and ability to read your friend when something is off reminds me of my togethers with my two best friends. I also felt for Daphne while reading this book. Feeling stuck after a divorce, and in a so-so relationship with a guy with her daughter about to go to college leaves Daphne at a crossroads. With her best friend seeming to hit pay dirt and finding the one and living the high life in New York would be a lot to take in and be happy for at the same time. What I liked most about Daphne in this one, is that she comes to a couple of different realizations about herself and also about letting go of things with regards to her daughter.

I have to say that I love Skylar the most in this group. Maybe because I am dancing towards 40 and at this point I have not met one guy who has made me even think about forever. I loved that hard nosed Skylar who had a dating rotation fell hard and fast for what appears to be a really great guy. And I got serious house envy reading about how her home was set-up. I can get why Daphne was jealous.

KC is still the uber cheerleader who loses her shine a bit in this one. No spoilers, but there’s a reason.

We also get introduced to a best friend (in NYC) of Skylar’s that I would love to read more about. Her dating adventures had me laughing out loud. Maybe because I have a few stories as well and I think that this fictional character has gone out with real life guys i have went out with too.

We also get some reappearances of secondary characters in this one that Daphne knows. Once again no spoilers. I will say that I was happy with how things resolved though.

The writing was really good. I have to say that it was just nice to read about a group of women being themselves with each other. You can see why these three women have been friends since college. And I am very excited to see if there will be another story starring them in the near future.

The flow was really good. This was a pretty short book for me, so I was able to finish it in under about 3 hours all together.

The setting of New York really comes alive. We have Hamilton references, discussion of the High Line in New York (it’s really fun to do if you have a chance) Shake Shack which had me hungry, and just a dozen or so more references that shows that the author has been in the city and has explored these places. It really makes the book come alive. Due to this, i emailed one of my friends and now we are trying to set up a trip sometime this year to go to NYC and catch a show. Not Hamilton, I do not have Hamilton money, unlike Skylar.

The ending was great, though as I said above, I think it would have been better without the neatly wrapped ending. Not every book has to be wrapped up in a bow at the end. Or at least I prefer it when they are not.

four-stars

Roman Crazy by Alice Clayton and Nina Bocci

Roman Crazy by Alice Clayton and Nina BocciRoman Crazy by Nina Bocci
Published by Gallery Books on September 13th 2016
Genres: Romance
Pages: 326
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads
one-star

Avery Bardot steps off the plane in Rome, looking for a fresh start. She’s left behind a soon-to-be ex-husband in Boston and plans to spend the summer with her best friend Daisy, licking her wounds—and perhaps a gelato or two. But when her American-expat friend throws her a welcome party on her first night, Avery’s thrown for a loop when she sees a man she never thought she’d see again: Italian architect Marcello Bianchi.

Marcello was the man—the one who got away. And now her past is colliding with her present, a present where she should be mourning the loss of her marriage and—hey, that fettuccine is delicious! And so is Marcello…

Slipping easily into the good life of summertime in Rome, Avery spends her days exploring a city that makes art historians swoon, and her nights swooning over her unexpected what was old is new again romance. It’s heady, it’s fevered, it’s wanton, and it’s crazy. But could this really be her new life? Or is it just a temporary reprieve before returning to the land of twin-set cardigans and crustless sandwiches?

A celebration of great friendship, passionate romance, and wonderful food, Roman Crazy is a lighthearted story of second chances and living life to the fullest.

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If I had been feeling better yesterday and this morning I would have been rage updating all freaking day at Booklikes and Goodreads. This book has ticked me off in so many ways that it’s going to have to be a spoiler review because otherwise you won’t get why this whole book irked me and was even called a romance. Too bad it wasn’t in the New Adult genre so I could at least blame something else on that genre.

“Roman Crazy” starts off with Avery Bardot walking in on her husband (Daniel) having sex with his secretary. She thought they were happy all these years (not really, we will get to that in a second) and can’t believe she’s expected to just ignore what he did in order to get jewelry (per her mother in law). So after having her best friend Daisy on mute during this whole insane conversation, Daisy tells Avery to come to her in Rome and get away from the craziness that is Daniel and Boston at the moment. So far so good right? I liked the beginning and liked Daisy. I stupidly thought the book was going to be differing first person POVs from both Avery and Daisy. Oh, how I wish.

Instead Avery arrives in Rome and is whisked out to meet Daisy’s coworkers and comes across a man named Marcello. See several years ago when Avery was abroad studying, she had a crazy hot affair with Marcello. Problem was that Avery was dating Daniel at the time so she was still keeping in touch with him while doing hot and heavy things with Marcello.

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So I told myself at this point okay, maybe it will get better. I am not a fan of cheating, but maybe this can get cleaned up a bit. No dear friends, it gets worse.

We find out that Avery returned to Boston to break things off with Daniel, but you know, felt comfortable with him again, had sex with him, got pregnant and then promptly ghosted the hell out of Marcello. Daniel proposed, they got married, and they lost their child. I maybe rolled my eyes a million times at this. This all is apparently supposed to be used as reasons why Daniel and Avery were not really meant to be with each other instead of reasons why they both should have saw a damn counselor.

Anyway, tra la la, Avery is back in Italy with Marcello and these two fools start dating. And Avery never tells him that she’s technically still married and anything that really went down years ago.

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So you are reading this book in disbelief at times because I think Clayton thinks we are supposed to be rooting for these two when all I can see is trouble ahead. And trouble we get.

Of course eventually Daniel shows up and everything is resolved in like 5 seconds there. But, what you don’t know is that a woman that Avery saw Marcello with the night they re-met was seeing him the whole time and Marcello has been sleeping with both of them. When Avery finds out to confront him, he calls her a hypocrite due to what she did to him years ago with sleeping with him and still dating Daniel.

I HATE THEM BOTH.

And then Avery runs to Daisy who has the nerve to act like Avery is in the wrong here. I wanted Daisy to tell her that you both are too immature to even date each other and leave each other alone. Nope, Avery goes and apologies and they have some sex and then tra la la, happy ending. There was some other stuff in there, but honestly I hated this book.

The characters were not well developed, and frankly I wish that Clayton had just broken this up into a dual POV with Avery and Daisy. I was wondering what Daisy’s backstory was since she had left Boston behind. Was she in touch with her family (didn’t sound like it). Sounded like she came into her own in the country too. Avery was one dimensional and she sucked. I had to keep reading about how she gave everything up for Daniel, but no one asked her to, she apparently did that herself after the death of their baby. I wish she had been more honest about it and maybe realized she wasn’t ready to be with anyone, let alone some damn guy who was sleeping with another woman cause he didn’t trust her to ghost him again.

The writing was typical Clayton, some raunch here and there. I was just bored and was wishing I could go back and re-read “Nuts” or “Cream of the Crop” again. I honestly got through this one pretty quick. Who knew rage made you read faster? Apparently it does.

The setting of Italy felt stereotypical as hell by the way. Clayton doesn’t really add any depth here unfortunately. I have been to Rome and recall being kind of disappointed it wasn’t all glamorous people all over. I got that when I got Milan and Florence it felt like.

The HEA ends up with Avery deciding to stay in Italy to work and Marcello giving up a great opportunity cause they are in love. I dry heaved. Mainly though cause I was still sick, but also cause this book.

one-star

On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins

On Second Thought by Kristan HigginsOn Second Thought by Kristan Higgins
Published by HQN Books on January 31st 2017
Genres: Romance
Pages: 480
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads
four-stars

Ainsley O’Leary is so ready to get married—she’s even found the engagement ring her boyfriend has stashed away. What she doesn’t anticipate is being blindsided by a breakup he chronicles in a blog…which (of course) goes viral. Devastated and humiliated, Ainsley turns to her older half sister, Kate, who’s struggling with a sudden loss of her own.

Kate’s always been the poised, self-assured sister, but becoming a newlywed—and a widow—in the space of four months overwhelms her. Though the sisters were never close, she starts to confide in Ainsley, especially when she learns her late husband was keeping a secret from her.

Despite the murky blended-family dynamic that’s always separated them, Ainsley's and Kate’s heartaches bind their summer together when they come to terms with the inevitable imperfection of relationships and family—and the possibility of one day finding love again.

The biggest issue for me in this romance was besides there not being that much romance to really sink my teeth into, I ended up disliking one of the story-lines in this book. One of my friends who adores romance has one rule that she never breaks. She hates reading romance books when a spouse either dies during the book or has died before the book. That’s because she hates how the authors always either change the backstory of the spouse (ie all of a sudden they had a secret life and didn’t really love the wife/husband as initially thought) or she hates how fast an author has them getting over that death. I tend to not mind it that much. Until now. Now I think I may have to add that rule to my romance reads cause I was a bit incensed while reading this book this past weekend.

“On Second Thought” has half sisters Kate and Ainsley having to deal with sudden changes to their lives. For Kate, she gets hit with sudden widowhood to man (Nathan) that she has only been married to for four months. For Ainsely, it’s realizing (and God one wonders how she just realizes it) that the man (Eric) she has devoted herself to for almost 12 years is a self absorbed asshat that dumps her in order to figure out his journey. FYI, these are not spoilers, this shows up in the synopsis for the book.

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Now per usual when there are multiple characters, there tends to be one that I like more than the other. For me, it was Ainsley this time through. Ainsely reminded me a bit of me honestly. She has to deal with the most surreal upbringing ever (will not go into it here in the review) and due to that has an overwhelming need to belong. Even though a blind man could see that Eric was not about a damn thing she still kept hanging on since he kept telling her that one day they would get married and have kids. It doesn’t help that she adores his family and they adore her. I have to say that all the parts with Eric are rage inducing and they will make you laugh, but also make you wish he was a real life person so that you could knee him over and over again in his crotch.

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I initially liked Kate’s story. I can’t imagine being married such a short time and losing your husband like that. But though Higgins goes a different way in showcasing Ainsley’s storyline, I don’t know why she went for the old you don’t know who your husband really is because reasons. I won’t go into them here, but I had a hard time not rolling my eyes. I rather have seen Kate interact more at her therapy group since it reminded me no lie of “Go On” and I loved that show on NBC.

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If there had been more of that I would have loved it. Instead we get an entirely outrageous story-line resolution for Kate that I had a hard time with. I maybe coughed “BS” a few times and went happily reading Ainsley’s parts.

Higgins does a great job rounding off the other characters in this book. Kate’s mother and Ainsley’s stepmother was a hot mess. I mean seriously. I would love it if someone made this into a movie or tv show cause I was just floored by these people.

Kate and Ainsley’s dad though was not present very much in the book, but you get why when you read the whole story. Kate and Ainsely’s brother though was missing a lot, and I didn’t get a good sense of him or his family besides the fact he and his wife are doctors and she’s African American. I would have loved another perspective in this book from him. It would have maybe rounded it off a bit more for me.

We also get the specter of Nathan (sorry dude, I have nothing good or bad to say about you) and the asshatery of Eric (I swear to you all I have dated this idiot in real life) and also Ainsley’s boss who was written very well too.

I loved the writing cause like I said I was cracking up a lot while reading this book and also shrieking. I shrieked a few times. I can’t say that I cried once though. Maybe if we spent more time with Kate and Nathan and oh yeah if Kate’s storyline didn’t take that left turn for me I would have cared more, but instead I just shrugged and went on my way.

I wish I had my book in front of me to add in some hilarious quotes from the book. But I unfortunately left it at home. Honestly just read the sections when Ainsley starts to realize what a nightmare she has been dating for years. I was snort laughing.

The flow was a bit off due to switching to Kate and then Ainsley’s POV. I also didn’t like how Higgins ended the book and with us finding out about Ainsley via Kate’s final POV. I would have liked it if both sisters got their own goodbye to us readers. And as I said before, Ainsley’s chapters were so funny to me that things didn’t flow back and forth between Ainsley and Kate very well after about the 50 percent mark to me.

The setting of the book is some suburb in New York. I have never heard of it and am too lazy to see if it exists. There is some discussion of Brooklyn a lot though.

The ending of the book ends with Kate and once again I wasn’t buying her storyline resolution. I did love how things ended with Ainsley though.

four-stars
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