Book Review – Skyward


So, I guess I should start by saying I’m not a huge Sanderson fan. I read Steelheart and got maybe halfway through The Way of Kings before my library loan ran out and I didn’t renew. But, my husband (a huge sci-fi fan), had this downloaded on my Kindle and basically demanded I read it on our last roadtrip.

Told from the first-person, Skyward follows a girl on a faraway planet besieged by aliens desperate to prove herself as a fighter pilot after living in the shadow of her father’s legacy as a coward.

Things I liked: this was a fairly quick read, the battle-mechanics of the ships were cool to imagine, it definitely kept me reading with my questions about the aliens and Spensa’s father, and the world-building (in the typical Sanderson fashion) is impeccable.

But… I did think it started off pretty slow, and the characters, in general, just didn’t do it for me. I didn’t really love any of them, and since there are a lot of characters, I didn’t really feel the super strong bonds I thought they probably had. Although I enjoyed how the plot came together, it just seemed like there was something missing for me. I think part of it too was the comedic relief of one character just didn’t quite hit for me, although my husband thought they were hilarious, so you know… to each their own. (Also, I feel like I may be currently under the influence of a reading slump… so I’ll put that disclaimer out there too.)

A solid read recommended for anyone that enjoys YA SFF. Although I probably won’t read the sequel, I can totally see how someone could love this series.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

I fear Locke has succumbed to the inevitable reading slump. Alas, what choice do we have but to press on!

Thanks for reading!

Audiobook Review – Where the Crawdads Sing


I have a coworker that shares my love of library audiobooks that recommended this one to me. And although this isn’t my usual pick, I decided to give it a go.

Where the Crawdads Sing follows Kya Clark, “the Marsh Girl,” as she grows up mostly on her own in the backwoods marshes of North Carolina. The story follows her from age 6 to her 20s while alternating with the investigation into the death of popular townie during Kya’s adulthood.

Strangely, I don’t have a whole lot to say about this book. It was beautifully written, but slow, and I didn’t really fall in love with Kya in any way (although this might partially be because I found the narrator’s voice/accent for her to be a bit grating.) While I was rooting for her, I found it difficult to connect with her, and although I found the mystery of the death investigation interesting, I found the ending (though heavily foreshadowed) to be rather unsatisfying, and I guess I thought the themes to be kind of predictable.

If there’s ever a movie adaptation, I’ll pass, but I’d recommend this book to those that are interesting in imagery-rich prose that takes its time.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Nearly guaranteed to make you want to go get lost in nature somewhere.

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – The Serpent that Swallowed Its Tail


The third book of The Panagea Tales, The Serpent That Swallowed Its Tail, follows Kazuaki’s crew after the climactic showdown at the end of the book 2, but I’ll keep this review short to try to avoid spoilers.

With the crew spread out, one prominent character noticeably missing, and Panagea, itself, trying to rearrange in the face of new world, Book 3 definitely takes on a slower, more morose tone than the last two books. This book tackles some heavy themes head on, and builds even further on the intricate world-building of the first two entries. The characters are more spread out here, and although they eventually connect in the end, their narratives feel much more independent in this book. Still, the story retains the epic scale and beautiful prose that makes the series stand out. I will say I did miss a certain missing character in this book, and I missed some of the crew interactions and comradery I loved in the first two.

A solid entry in the Panagea Tales that I would definitely recommend to fans of the first two, and one that definitely left me curious for Book 4!

 ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

Epic, dark, and unique. Let’s see what book 4 brings!

Thanks for reading!

Audiobook Review – Fable


Fable was another solid read that I didn’t love. Fable is the story of a girl abandoned by her ship-captain father on a rough island where she desperately tries to scrape together enough coin to escape and confront her father.

I really loved the concept of this book along with the found-family themes on the rough and tumble high-seas and the subtle magic in an intriguing, unforgiving world. But I found myself really wishing for more connection between Fable and the other characters, particularly the love interest. Told from the first person, Fable seems to stay in her own head a lot, and although everyone in this world is supposed to be reserved and guarded, I really found myself wanting more inter-character interaction and connection.

I think part of the problem might be that this book does not stand alone in any way. I’d say it ends on a cliffhanger, but honestly it doesn’t really feel like an end. It feels like we got cut off in the middle of the book – so maybe the second book would bring that depth and satisfaction I was missing. The audiobook narrator wasn’t my favorite voice, but overall I enjoyed the listen, and would recommend to fans of seafaring YA.

If I see the sequel ever pop up in the library, I’d probably pick it up, but I don’t think I’ll be pining for it.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

I think Tula has begun to dread the possibility of a reading slump! Ever hopeful, we continue to search the horizon for new, amazing reads.

Thanks for reading!

Audiobook Review – The Institute


I picked up this audiobook from the library after a coworker recommended it, citing big “Stranger Things” vibes. I have to admit, I was a bit reluctant, because I’m not a huge fan of Stephen King’s recent books (they’re a bit long and slower-paced for my personal taste), and when I saw this sucker was 15 hours long, I almost aborted.

But with a lack of any other audiobook ideas, I persevered, and honestly I can say it was a solid listen. The plot follows a *gifted* boy who’s stolen away to a cruel institute full of other gifted children, and basically has to figure out where he is, what they’re doing, and how to escape.

The writing was flawless of course, but everything else felt pretty average to me. The characters are likeable, although I didn’t fall in love with any of them. It had some tense moments, but the pacing, as usual was on the slower side, and I think it could’ve easily been about two hours shorter.

Overall, while it is HEAVY on the Stranger Things vibes, I guess I felt like the concept was a little tired, and I didn’t find my surprised by… well… anything. The narrator did a fabulous job bringing the book to life though, and there were times when he had me rapt. By the end, while I can say I enjoyed it, I don’t think it’ll really be sticking with me in any way.

Recommended to Stephen King and Stranger Things fans looking for a solid listen.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

I asked my K-niece houseguest, Locke, for her thoughts… and I got this. Interpret as you will.

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – People of the Sun


People of the Sun follows cautious John and adventurous Sarah on their third adventure through time. With their first journey to ancient Egypt, and their second to ancient Rome, I was curious to see the young siblings dive into the the Aztec civilization.

While the first two were definitely stand-alone adventures along the lines of magic treehouse, I felt like this story tried to weave together an overarching plot through their adventures. Instead of getting thrown back in time, and fighting to get home, John and Sarah had a new, grander purpose in this book.

While I really liked the concept that there’s now a bigger reason behind their travels through time, I felt like in the first half of the book we got bogged down with the details of time travel, with rules that were both specific and yet also leaned heavily on the “advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” philosophy, which made it feel inconsistent.

As always, I really enjoyed the effortless style of writing as well as the historical detail of the Aztecs, although I wish they had been able to spend more of their time there and get to connect the Aztec characters a little more. I thought John and Sarah’s moral dilemmas that come along with time meddling were an interesting touch as well, but with the sticky time traveling logic they were following, I don’t think it quite resonated as well I would have liked.

Overall, I think fans of the first two books will really enjoy the third installment of the Eye of Ra series as it continues John and Sarah’s high-stakes historical exploration, and I’m curious to see where they go next! People of the Sun launches 1 Feb 2022, and is available for preorder here.

Thanks so much to the publisher for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review!

 ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

Perhaps not quite as frightening as the Eye of Sauron, but the Eye of Ra still gives off a pretty intense vibe.

Thanks for reading!

Magazine Issue Review – Snake Eyes (Planet Scumm #11)


So this was a fun surprise! Planet Scumm is a sci-fi lit mag, and this issue featured eight short stories by femme, trans, or nonbinary authors. I don’t read a whole lot of short stories, but this was a well-written collection that trended towards darker stories with heavier themes, and always kept me guessing what would come next. I loved the artwork that went along with each tale and although a couple of the stories veered into the bizarre, I came away feeling super satisfied with the read.

My favorites were A Defiance of Violins by Ana Garden, Real Sugar is Hard to Find by Sim Kern, and An Eventual Feast by Lindsay King-Miller.

In A Defiance of Violins, I loved the subtle romance in the bleak world, where hope manages to wiggle its way through despite the odds. In Real Sugar is Hard to Find, the mother-son relationship that develops throughout their little adventure in their divided world really resonated with me, and left me with a smile. And the building tension and fascinating premise of An Eventual Feast were expertly executed, with the perfect ending to the bring the story and the collection to a close.

I definitely recommend this issue to anyone interested in darker, beautifully written science fiction that takes us off the beaten path into new worlds disturbingly familiar to our own. And I’m definitely curious to see what the next issue brings. Thanks so much to the publisher for the free copy in exchange for an honest review.

 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

Word to the wise, watch out for snake eyes.

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – The Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3)


Okay, so to review.
Book 1: I thought the first half was boring, and the second sucked me in. 4.5 stars
Book 2: Totally got me with the side characters, the enemies-to-lovers romance, and the plot. 5 stars
And now here we are at book 3.

So… I jumped right into this book from Book 2, excited and ready, and for about the first 30% I was riveted… and then we ran into some problems. First, the romance seemed to overwhelm the plot, which isn’t super problematic, but the MCs were square in the honeymoon phase for pretty much the whole book. Their relationship didn’t seem to grow, and the smut was honestly kind of repetitive. The inside jokes that were cute in book 1 and book 2 (Miss Willa’s diary and Poppy’s neverending questions) felt stale here, and the plot as a whole just seemed to stall with lots of talking and not much doing. There were also a few plot points (won’t give away without spoilers) that also didn’t really work for me.

I actually hesitated reading this book with #4 not out yet since I thought I would be dying to get my hands on it. As it is, I think I’ll read it once it comes to the library, but I’m really hoping it has more to it then this one.

 ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

There’s always hope for the next one!

Thanks for reading!

Audiobook Review – The Pursuit (Fox and O’Hare #5)


The Pursuit once again follows smooth ex-con Nick and intense FBI agent Kate on another one of their not-con (but very con-like) capers. Honestly, I think this one was a bit of a let down. Although of course there were more fun capers and banter, nothing really stood out with this one that was any different than the last four, and I was hoping for a little bit more of a satisfying conclusion for Lee Goldberg’s last entry in the series. While this has a been a short, light audiobook series, the formula does wear out after a while, and I don’t feel any need to continue the series. But now, I’ll have to spend some time exploring the library’s audiobook archives to find something new!

⭐⭐⭐⭐

So long Nick & Kate, it’s been fun!

Thanks for reading!

NYC Midnight Challenge Entry: When Lucky Means Sad Too

When Lucky Means Sad too

September 2021 (Round Three)
Genre: Open
Word: Grow
Action: Chasing Something
Time Constraint: 24 hours
Length: 100 words

We sit in the hard belly of the windowless plane, shoulder to shoulder with countless others. Although the sour reek of desperation followed us from the runway, the tension eases from Mother’s shoulders.

The plane rumbles forward, and the back door begins to close. Outside, the forsaken crowd chases the narrowing gap of hope through the dusty gunfire. Pleading hands thump against our unyielding savior, their cries growing increasingly forlorn.

The door shuts, and Mother sags, eyes glistening. “We are lucky.”

But that seems wrong. How can lucky mean sad too?

Perhaps that’s what it means to be a refugee.

JUDGe’s Feedback

This one didn’t place, but the feedback is below!

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY

{1846}  The specificity in the language and the detail are working wonderfully here to evoke emotion. For example, the detail of the windowless plane and its “hard belly” subtly reflects the hard bellies and hard lives of desperate refugees. Likewise, the description of the airplane as an unyielding savior is great. I loved the incredible image of “the forsaken crowd” that “chases the narrowing gap of hope through the dusty gunfire.” Wow! The detail of the mother’s body language, how she sags and her eyes glisten is fantastic. The lines “But that seems wrong. How can lucky mean sad too?” are heart rending, and wise.

{2059}  I loved the line “How can lucky mean sad too”. It’s such a  striking observation (and, on a side note, it’s the perfect line to incorporate into the title of this story). You also do a lovely job of fleshing out this scene (I especially liked “Outside, the forsaken crowd chases…pleading hands thump against our unyielding savior”).

{2035}  The setting details brought this world to life. I particularly liked the “sour reek,” the hands thumping against the plane, and the dust. All of it drove home the desperation and the “luck” of the protagonist’s family. 

{1943}  ‘When Lucky Means Sad Too’ was a very poignant, evocative story. I liked the description of the “sour reek of desperation” balanced against the physical signs of relief from the mother. The image of the people hitting the airplane in desperation to escape was very powerful. I loved the sense of the child processing her experience, wondering how they could be lucky in the midst of this human misery. This was powerful writing – very well done.

{1908}  I love the theme you have of luck versus sorrow. You do a great job of communicating both the relief the narrator’s mother has and the horror of the situation, especially of those left behind. It is a very moving story.

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK

{1846}  One possible approach to revision is to give a little slice of detail specific to the narrator as an individual, and what they are leaving behind. This might be a reference to a friend, a family member, a beloved place or object in the home, or even a tradition. In order to make room for this additional information, it’s possible to cut the final line from the narrative, and make it the title. Additionally, another approach to revision is to rewrite or reimagine the phrase, “although the salary of desperation followed us from the runway” by providing a specific sensory example or description of the smell rather than the abstract “sour reek of desperation.”

{2059}  I wasn’t quite sure that the last line felt necessary to me. It’s perfectly fine, but I wondered if this story might be better off not explicitly mentioning that these characters are refugees (you do a nice job of alluding to this before that last line). This is, of course, only one reader opinion, but I’d encourage you to think about what that last line adds.

{2035}  To me, those final lines made the character seem rather young. However, the rest of the lines made them seem like an adult, well aware of the situation around them. I think exploring every line from the same vantage point if it’s in the first person would really help deliver a sense of continuity into the world from start to finish.

{1943}  Your writing is very descriptive and well polished. I wonder if the next step might be to see where you could make some more unusual or unexpected word choices. I liked the appeal to our senses with the “sour reek of desperation”. Could you convey a sense of the other sensations in the plane? What about as the door shuts, could we hear how that sounds, rather than just “shuts”? I wasn’t sure that you needed your final line, which felt like it was there to explain your plot. It was clear that they were refugees, so maybe you could use those extra words to create more sensory images in the description of their escape?

{1908}  So much of the emotional landscape is clear and well executed here, but I think that the reason for the narrator’s sorrow could be a little more clear. There are obviously a lot of awful things happening in the background of the story, but it’s not clear what the narrator is reacting to when they say that lucky can mean sad. I think you could clarify this by showing the narrator’s reaction to just one of the things you described earlier in the story. You do such a good job of showing the mother’s emotions through tiny details that only take up a few words of space, so I think you could do something similar for the narrator and even replace some of the descriptions of the mother’s emotions if necessary. I have course would love it if you could keep all of the details, but that is what I would suggest looking at since you have such a limited word count.