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NetGalley Feedback Ratio

For those of you who receive books from NetGalley, how are your feedback ratios doing? Judging from other people’s blog posts and tweets, it appears I’m not the only reviewer who struggles to attain that golden 80% ratio.

I only started requesting books at the tail end of last year and I made a rookie mistake: I requested pretty much anything and everything that piqued my interest. To say I went “request happy” would be an understatement. A few were declined, but about two dozen were approved. This is basically how it went down:

Declined:
“Why do they hate me??”

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Approved:
“Hooray!!!”

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Realizing I had two dozen books to read in just a few weeks:
“Oh god what have I done”

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Then of course I still requested promising books as they popped up on my dashboard. I’ve managed to claw my way up to 65% but I’m still really behind especially with several publication dates looming. I’m determined though! And I’ve certainly learned my lesson about requesting books en masse.

How are your NetGalley ratings? Let me know in the comments!

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Travel

Away with the Fairies

In my last post I told you about my favorite beach, Capitola. What I didn’t tell you is that the drive to Capitola is just as beautiful.

To get there from my hometown of San Jose you have to drive through the Santa Cruz mountains- which is home to many of Northern CA’s redwood trees.

Now that I don’t live in California anymore I realize how truly special it was to grow up surrounded by these majestic trees. No matter where you are in the forests, there’s something awe inspiring at being in the shade of the massive ancient redwoods. I spent a lot of my teenage years hiking and camping in these unparalleled forests.

So whenever I read stories that take place in forests, especially fairy tales, I always picture them taking place in the redwoods. Usually somewhere like this:

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Keeping in theme with this beautiful forest, what are some of your favorite fairy tales or re-imaginings?

A few years ago when I was visiting my parents, I went into the local bookshop where I spent at least half my childhood. I was pretty broke that trip, but I splurged and bought myself a book there as a treat. What better splurge is there afterall? I had a hard time deciding what to buy until the cover of this one jumped out at me:

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At the time, I was obsessed with the TV show Grimm so there was no way I wasn’t buying this book. A charming and sometimes harrowing mish-mash of fairy tales, I devoured A Tale Dark and Grimm in one night. It’s exactly what you would expect from something inspired by the Grimm stories, but its written with a witty modern edge. From Goodreads:

“In this mischievous and utterly original debut, Hansel and Gretel walk out of their own story and into eight other classic Grimm-inspired tales. As readers follow the siblings through a forest brimming with menacing foes, they learn the true story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches.

Tell me about your favorite fairy tales or reimaginings in the comments!

Travel

Your Beach Reads

This little nerd is currently in California! I’m visiting my friends and family back home so I won’t be posting any reviews while I’m gone. Instead, I thought we’d have a bit of California & Vacation themed book fun over the next few days.

Even though I’m only home for a couple weeks, I’ve brought several books and my Kindle because of course I have. My schedule is pretty packed with meeting up with people I haven’t seen in awhile, but I also have plans to do some quality reading in the sunshine. Lordy how I’ve missed the California sun.

My first reading stop is Capitola Beach, my favorite beach in the world.

I’ve been coming here with my parents since I was 6 months old so it’s a tradition to go here whenever I’m in town. Capitola is just a small piece of the Northern California coastline, but it’s a beautiful one. It’s changed a lot over the years but has still managed to retain its historic charm with its colorful houses and small, locally owned shopfronts. The majority of the shops I’ve been visiting since I was a kid are still there so it’s a wonderful excursion in nostalgia.

After having lunch at our favorite taqueria in Capitola, El Toro Bravo (I would gladly take a bullet for their rice), we head to the beach with our books. My parents aren’t very keen on sand, so they hang out on benches on the promenade with their books while I plonk down near the water with mine.

The weather today was a little windy, but it was still beautiful out. There were only a few dozen people on the beach but when I glanced around I realized most of them were reading. It was a nice sight to see!


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A lot of people have preferences when it comes to what they read on vacation, especially if they’re sprawled out on a beach. I generally just bring whatever I’m currently reading, which this time was The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.

I’d love to know what you all read when you’re working on your tan. Do you prefer something like a fast paced thriller, or maybe a light hearted chick-lit novel? Or do you try to bring something that takes place in a similar location to where you’re visiting?

Let me know in the comments!

Travel

Birthday Book Afternoon

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Reader, it’s my birthday! I’m currently stateside visiting my family and also catching up on my overwhelming TBR pile. I spent today soaking up the sun with a book and my inflatable swan.

Growing up, I spent most my free time out there reading in an inflatable ring or raft. Even when I was in college I’d be floating in the pool with textbooks and highlighters.

I don’t have a pool at my house in the UK but reading in water is still my favourite. So instead I take an obscene amount of baths and lock myself away with bubbles and a book.

Where are your favourite reading spots? Tell me in the comments!

Book Reviews

Little Darlings by Melanie Golding

Released: April 2019
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 304
Rating: 5/5


“The child is not mine as the first was,
I cannot sing it to rest,
I cannot lift it up fatherly
And bliss it upon my breast;
Yet it lies in my little one’s cradle
And sits in my little one’s chair,
And the light of the heaven she’s gone to
Transfigures its golden hair.”

From “The Changeling” by James Russell Lowell

Lauren Tranter has just given birth to twins. It was a difficult labor and she doesn’t feel the magical glow she was promised motherhood would bring. She just feels tired.

Once home with her babies, things don’t get easier. The twins never stop crying, never stop wanting. While the other moms from her birthing class are able to get dressed, put makeup on, and leave the house, Lauren can barely manage to get out of bed.

Eventually she forces herself to take the babies for a walk, but has to sit down after a short time when the exhaustion overcomes her. Jolted awake several minutes later, she realizes her babies are gone.

After a harrowing few hours, the twins are found unhurt nearby. Yet when Lauren goes to hold them she’s stopped in her tracks. Despite what everyone keeps telling her, they aren’t her babies.

I do most my reading at night in bed hoping to read myself to sleep. This thoroughly engaging but also thoroughly haunting book was probably not the best choice for late night reading in the dark. I stayed up till the early hours of the morning reading Little Darlings, too freaked out to sleep but too engrossed to stop reading. I was sent this as an ARC several months ago from the publisher and I’m still shook. Like another reviewer said, “You can’t unread it.”

From the author’s introduction to the satisfying yet disturbing end, I was utterly enthralled with Melanie Golding’s modern take on folklore. I’ve read a lot of books with myth in them but except for YA and fantasy I can’t think of many that take place in the present “non-magical” world like this.

Which brings up an interesting thought- fairytale and folklore were accepted truths in the not so distant past but in today’s “modern” thinking world, things like fairies and changelings have no place. Yet does that mean they don’t still exist?

This book was an incredible blend of fantastical and everyday life horrors. Our poor new mother of twins was being bombarded on all fronts from dangers outside, in her head, and in her home. It shook me to my core on so many levels.

As a personal side note, the night I started reading this my husband and I had broached the subject of having kids, something I’ve always been wary of. After the first few chapters of Little Darlings that dealt with the traumatic birth followed by post-partum depression and the general uselessness of her awful husband, I’m not only terrified of changelings but also kind of terrified of having a kid. I think I might have to hold off for a few more months before having the kids discussion again.

Book Reviews

Breaking the Lore by Andy Redsmith

Released: April 2019
Publisher: Canelo
Pages: 321
Rating: 3/5

“How do you stop a demon invasion… when you don’t believe in magic?”


Nick Paris is a police inspector in Manchester with a reputation for closing cases. His days are filled with solving crimes, while his nights are filled with whisky. A bit of a loner, he is plodding through life quite grumpily until a bizarre case throws his world into chaos. At first believing it to be some kind of prank, Paris is called to the most unbelievable murder scene of his career: a crucified fairy.

Pathology quickly determines that the fairy is no hoax. It’s tiny, but it’s real. Yet fairies simply don’t exist… right?

Then a chain smoking crow, an elf, and a rock troll come literally barreling into his living room. Soon he discovers there is a lot more going on here than fairi-cide. As more mythical beings come out of the woodwork, his precinct becomes the de-facto headquarters against a demon invasion pouring in from the very real mythical realm. The portal to which just happens to be behind a shed in suburban Manchester.

All the elements for an awesome urban fantasy were there: magical creatures crossing into our world, a dry sense of humour, and a couple of quirky mysteries to boot. Yet it just didn’t quite get there for me. It was a fun and quick read and I did enjoy it, just not nearly as much as I’d hoped.

My main problem with Breaking the Lore was that it felt like the author was trying too dang hard to be clever. The jokes were often quite funny, but they were just so incessant. Several times I felt as if I was reading a 300+ page book of Dad Jokes.

All the other characters were delightful and funny in their own right, but the internal monologue of Nick Paris is where the author seemed to never stop trying to be clever.

Your mobile’s as much use here as a town crier with laryngitis.”

Cute, but nearly everything Paris thought and said ended with a one liner like this. Not as cute.

Our main character is the only reason I didn’t like this book more. He was so rude to everyone around him, especially poor Sgt. Bonetti who was nothing but loyal and sweet. I get having characters who are unlikable, but for me Inspector Paris had no redeeming qualities till the end. I have no idea why everyone around him put up with him for so long.

I’m not trying to be disparaging. I’m sure this humour works for a lot of people. It usually does for me, god knows I love dry British humour, but Nick Paris’s constant eye rolling and snarkiness were over the top. The advertisements for the book liken it to Douglas Adams and I can see why, but this wasn’t in quite the same class. Not for lack of trying, though.

That aside, all the other characters were fantastic. I mean, who wouldn’t love a demon with a heart of gold or a crow who does wicked Queen covers? The magical cast in this were endearing and hilarious, so it was a shame they were all brought down by a certain inspector’s grumpiness. I would love to see more of the motley crew of elves, dwarfs, demons, and fairies that filled this story.


Breaking the Lore was a charming and fun urban fantasy that I definitely enjoyed reading even if I had some problems with it. It’s a great pick if you’re looking for something light with a bit of whimsy this summer, although the constant snide jokes did get very tedious very fast.

Still, there were some truly hilarious moments that had me chuckling out loud. I also absolutely fell in love with the wacky mythical beings that scampered around the pages of this novel.

I already miss that chain smoking crow.

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Book Reviews

55 By James Delargy

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Released: April 2019
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 423
Rating: 4/5


I’m always wary of books claiming to have twists because usually you can see the “twists” from a mile off, but with this one I kept second guessing myself. It’s a really unique take on the thriller crime genre, not only in its location in the harsh Australian outback, but in that we have two men claiming to be the victim of a heinous kidnapping and attempted murder. Except one of them is lying and the other one is the killer.

synopsis

Chandler Jenkins is the Police Sergeant of a remote town in the Australian outback where the majority of his job is dealing with farmer disputes and noise complaints. A single father, Chandler is mostly happy with his simple life. Then everything is turned upside down when a bedraggled, blood soaked man stumbles into the station begging for help.

Named Gabriel, he claims to have been drugged and kidnapped by a man called Heath while hitchhiking just outside of town. When he came to, he was bound in a remote cabin where Heath informed him would be the 55th victim. By a stroke of luck, Gabriel managed not only to break free but to survive the unforgiving elements to get back to civilization.

It’s a wild tale, one Chandler isn’t sure whether to take at face value or not. How could a serial killer have murdered 54 people in his backyard without him or anyone else noticing?

Before he can investigate any further, another man in a similar state comes into the station telling the exact same story word for word- except that he’s the victim. Calling himself Heath, he swears he’s the actual victim and that Gabriel is the one who took him.
Which one is it? Gabriel, Heath, both of them, neither of them?

Soon Chandler is in over his head. After calling in for reinforcements, his past comes crashing down around him when his former best friend Mitch, a hot shot police official in the big city, swoops in and takes over the case. Now not only is Chandler’s career on the line, but soon his family is in the cross hairs too.

review

55 is a slow burn with a solid pace. It flips between present day and a harrowing period in Chandler’s past. Even though the flashbacks didn’t seem so at first, they ended up being devastatingly relevant not only to show the history between Chandler and Mitch but also to bring the events in their lives full circle.

Throughout the book I found myself really rooting for Chandler and totally sympathized with his rage and irritation at the way that pompous ass Mitch was parading around. God how I wanted Mitch to somehow be the killer as I was reading this.

By about the halfway point, it became pretty clear to me who the culprit was but that didn’t really diminish how much I was enjoying reading this thriller. It took some interesting turns that kept me reading late into the night.

The only thing that really irked me about this book was a part of Chandler’s backstory. He is presented as this typical “good guy” single father we’re supposed to like, but we find out early on that the mother of his children was underage when they started dating. He was an adult, A COP, who went to break up an underage boozefest and instead he starts drinking with his future wife- only to get her pregnant a few months later. This episode is described nonchalantly and is quickly glossed over, which makes it even worse. In this day and age, why write this? It added nothing to the story and made me really dislike Chandler and the author for awhile. The Woody Allen stuff isn’t okay anymore (not that it ever really was).


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I’m not going to lie, that ending was gut wrenching. Endings like that I expect in the genre I usually read, sci-fi, but crime thrillers are almost always neatly tied up with a predictable bow by its conclusion. I was fairly taken aback by this at first but the more I think about it, the more impressed I am with the bold direction the author chose. I hope they don’t change it when the movie comes out. spoiler



Okay, you’re safe from spoilers now.

thoughts

Assigning a star rating to this has been difficult, I kept going between 3 and 4 stars but I eventually landed on 4 because while I have some issues with the book, they haven’t really affected the overall impact it left on me. I read this a few months ago, but from time to time that ending creeps up on me and I’m hit like a freight train all over again. I liked the setting, it was a unique story, and even though I’m still miffed about the underage stuff, James Delargy really sucked me into his dark tale.

Already optioned for a movie, 55 is available now online and in print.

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Book Reviews

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

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Released: April 2019
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 352
Rating: 5/5


Ah, the age old story of daughter-in-law pitted against mother-in-law. It’s a tale as old as the institution of marriage. Well whatever you think you know about this dynamic, you’d be best to leave it all at the door when you read this intense domestic thriller. 

synopsis

When Lucy falls in love with Ollie, she is over the moon not just about her relationship but also about her future family. Having lost her mother at a young age, she yearns for a close relationship with her new mother-in-law, the crisp and even-tempered Diana. Diana comes across as someone with very little emotion or regard for others, including her own family,  but Lucy is determined. That is until Diana is found dead of a suspicious suicide. As the secrets and lies of this seemingly picture perfect family are suddenly unwound, all of them become suspects in Diana’s shocking death.

review
Until recently, I hadn’t read very much fiction based in Australia. This and 55 by James Delargy (review to come soon) are my first forays into Australian thrillers. I have to say that based on these two novels, I’m pretty impressed.

I read The Mother-in-Law in only two days because I just couldn’t put it down. I even read it while standing in line at the market! Every time I thought I knew what was going on I quickly found out I was completely wrong – a rarity for me when it comes to these types of thrillers. I was kept guessing right till the startling end. 

The book shifts from the points of view of most of the family, really giving us insight into everyone’s motivations. Sometimes that can get a bit tedious, especially when you don’t care about what a certain character has to say, but the plot device worked well within this story. After nearly every chapter my assumptions and feelings about the characters did an about-face as we learned more about their pasts. 

Aside from the ending, the most surprising part of this for me was how strongly I started to feel about the titular character. As we learn more about Diana through flashbacks you begin to realise why Diana is the way she is and start to feel sympathy and attachment toward this outwardly standoffish woman. Despite how her actions made her seem, her intentions were usually pure. So many times I wanted to shake Diana and yell “JUST SAY WHAT YOU MEAN, YOU’RE ACTUALLY DOING A NICE THING WHEN IT’S IN CONTEXT” 

The only niggling thing about this book for me were the decisions Diana made toward the end. They were really questionable and didn’t seem to fit with her persona at all, however it would be Spoiler City to go any further into this. So I’ll just leave it for you to read and if you feel the same way I did, let me know in the comments.

 

thoughts
By the end of The Mother-in-Law, I was utterly brokenhearted and wanted to scream in that amazing way only the best of books can make you feel. Fellow readers will understand what I mean: “This book totally destroyed me, you have to read it.”

Honestly, five stars aren’t even enough. I read The Mother-in-Law a few months ago when I was sent an ARC from the publisher, but I still often find myself thinking about this book. It wasn’t just a suspense novel, it was an emotional one too that did a deep dive into the complexities of blended families.

I think Sally Hepworth captured it best when writing about why mothers and daughters-in-law have tougher relationships than their male counterparts:

“Sons-in-law and fathers-in-law don’t care enough to have issues.”
“So we have issues because we care?”
“We have issues because we care too much.” 

 

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Book Reviews

The Flavors of Other Worlds: 13 Science Fiction Tales from a Master Storyteller by Alan Dean Foster

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Released: March 2019
Publisher: WordFire Press LLC
Pages: 188
Rating: 4/5


An impressive collection of science fiction short stories that take place both here on Earth and in the far flung reaches of the universe. All but the final one have previously appeared in other publications, but this was the first time I had read any of them (or anything by this author).

synopsis

The book’s official synopsis sums this collection up better than I could:

From fighting giant bugs to defeating an interstellar empire without firing a shot; from scientific idiot savants toying with the universe to how the robots will really win the robot apocalypse, these thirteen flavorful tales are guaranteed to entertain, amuse, awe, and maybe even enlighten.

Includes the first appearance in print of the Icerigger novellete “Chilling” and a new novelette, “Valentin Sharffen and the Code of Doom.”
review

Up until recently, short fiction wasn’t a genre I really spent much time with. I have so many full length books on my never ending TBR that I didn’t really see the point. I had tried reading some in the past, but found I preferred novels more. Clearly, I was reading the wrong short stories.

In the past year, I’ve been trying to read more short stories and novellas, including Strange Weather by Joe Hill and The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson. Both were amazing! So slowly but surely I’m becoming a convert and Flavors of Other Worlds is only cementing that fact. I haven’t read anything by this author before, but he has been on my radar for awhile and I think this was a great introduction to his writing. If these stories are any indication, he’s not only hilarious but an extremely talented science fiction writer.

Each story has a short introduction from the author explaining the thought processes or inspirations behind it. This sounds like it could ruin the stride of the book but actually it’s really endearing and made me appreciate the stories all the more.

Inevitably with these types of collections, some stories are better than others. Within Flavors, the first and last were my favorites but to be honest I enjoyed all of them. The first, “Unvasion,” had me laughing so much I ended up reading it aloud to my family. Aliens take over Earth not through lasers or bombs, but by acquiring all our businesses- starting with a McDonald’s franchise in Arizona. The theme is brought up again later through the humorously titled, “Pardon Our Conquest,” where we’re the alien invaders, albeit seemingly polite ones.

The final story, “Valentin Sharffen and The Code of Doom” was the longest but also one of the best. We talk a lot about robots gaining sentience, but what would happen if video game characters did as well?

Quite a few were more what I would call speculative fiction, really shining a spotlight on humanity. “Seasonings” was a great example of this: the robot apocalypse taking a more subtle form through the automation of the food industry. Humans are basically dulled into submission through the luxuries of automation as well as through additives the robots have added to the food to make us more complacent. No one much cares though because life is just so easy now, why shake things up? As someone who has an (irrational?) fear of robots, this was far more terrifying than the more violent uprisings we see in the movies.

thoughts
Flavors of Other Worlds was released last month, but I only got my hands on it a few days ago. It’s a quick and ridiculously fun read. Despite their length, the stories were all very detailed and immersive, aided by the brief introductions the author had for each one. Even if you aren’t that big of a science fiction enthusiast, the stories are clever enough that I think they would appeal to a wider audience. I’m really glad that I finally read something by Alan Dean Foster and if these stories are anything to go by, I’ve really been missing out.

 

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Book Reviews

Music and Malice in Hurricane Town by Alex Bell

Released: April 2019
Publisher: Stripes Publishing
Pages: 384
Rating: 4/5

“There are no angels in Baton Noir. Only devils.”


Music and Malice in Hurricane Town is a fantastical blend of folklore, magic, and mystery. It took a couple chapters for me to get drawn in, but once I did I lost two nights of sleep telling myself “Just one more chapter…”

synopsis

Baton Noir is essentially a mirror universe New Orleans teeming with witches, vampires, and Louisiana style Voodoo. The mythical beings inhabiting the city rule the land while regular humans (the lowly “Subjects”) struggle to get by in an increasingly corrupt and dangerous world.

Jude Lomax, a trumpet player in one of the city’s numerous jazz bands, is a frustrated young woman sick of the cards life have dealt her. She loves Baton Noir but wishes she could do something to stop its moral and physical decay. The city’s heyday as a cultural and architectural marvel are long gone due to the dark magic forces that now control it.

Despite being surrounded by magic, Jude vehemently avoids it. That is, until the day her band leads the funeral procession of the murdered Cajou Queen, Ivory Monette. After being possessed by the infamous Queen’s spirit, Jude unwittingly finds herself right at the pulsing heart of Baton Noir’s magical underbelly.

By about 50 pages in, I was intrigued. By 150, I was fully hooked. By 250, I had to come to grips with the fact that I would not be sleeping that night because there was no way I was putting the book down.

The world building in this was breathtakingly atmospheric. From the Gothic streets of Baton Noir to the cursed and eerie bayous, I was thoroughly drawn into the world of Jude Lomax. Alex Bell did well to describe it all because despite some of the more mind boggling things Jude saw, you could actually picture it. I often felt as if I was standing right there with her.

The characters within this enchanting setting were varied, rich and compelling. I truly cared about all of them (even the evil ones) and wanted to know what would happen to them next. Especially since as soon as I thought I knew what was coming, I quickly found out I was completely wrong. The mysteries cleverly intertwined within Music & Malice were as twisty as the Cajou Queen’s magical snakes.

And can we talk about the title and that cover? I try not to judge a book by its title or its cover, but with this one it’s really hard not to. Honestly, you don’t even need to read any blurbs about the book. Just look at that amazing cover and that’s all you need to know before diving in.

The only reason this isn’t rated 5 stars is because the book felt really white. With so much incorporation of the culture and religious practices of predominantly black peoples, there was a glaring lack of melanin in Baton Noir. Even the gods, who were clearly based on Voodoo religious figures, seemed to be described as being white. This is just not what you would expect in a book so deeply entrenched with New Orleans and Afro-Caribbean culture. It really felt like it was close to crossing the border from incorporation to appropriation.

Like I said before, it was hard for me to get into this at first. Jude was just so… angry at the beginning I had no idea why. It also took some time to come to grips with the incredible setting the reader is immediately thrust into. However, once the book got going, it got going. I had two very unproductive days at work because of this novel and I regret nothing.

When I finished Music & Malice, all I could think was, “Wait…that can’t be the end. Please tell me there will be more!” Luckily, according to a reply from the author on Twitter, this isn’t the last we will see of Jude. Thank goodness, because otherwise I was going to have to take some lessons in magic to conjure up a sequel.