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Reviews: Books

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Cole has been doing really fun things with the trope of “contemporary royalty romance” in both this and her Reluctant Royals series by creating an entire network of invented kingdoms throughout Africa and the Mediterranean through which her Black protagonists can romp without having to dodge around the legacy of European royal history. Both series now have an f/f entry. In this novella, two complex and difficult personalities clash (and encounter an awkward attraction) around the possibility that one of them is the heir to the mysteriously-disappeared ruler of an island kingdom.

I think the only word for this book is “delightful.” In a standard-issue medievaloid fantasy setting, a teenage apprentice baker and wizard finds herself thrust into the unexpected role of saving the city-state from plots and foreign invasion. With the help of an animated gingerbread man and a magical familiar in the form of a sourdough culture named Bob.  I mean, what more do you need to know? The protagonist is believably complex and flawed and the baking-based magic (indeed, the general premise of how magic works in the world) is well-realized and woven into the plot and its resolution.

A story in O’Dell’s world of River of Souls, but starting a different series (Mage and Empire) that combines threads of romance, adventure, and mystery. You get plunged into the world with its rich geography, history, and politics pretty quickly, so it may help to have read other books set in the world to have a solid grounding. For some reason I didn’t love it as deeply as I did the River of Souls series and I’m not entirely sure why.

Being a massive Jane Austen fan, I’m also something of a sucker for spin-offs that do fun things with her characters. Though I have strong opinions on some of the ones that didn’t work as well for me. This is a fun, reasonably fluffy, series in which Mr. and Mrs. Darcy play amateur detectives while encountering all manner of characters from other Austen novels in the context of cozy murders. The writing is competent, though not scintillating (and without a serious attempt to mimic Austen’s own prose).

I'm still trying to figure out the factors that broke through my "reading block" in the past month. One definitely seems to be adding hard-copy books back into the mix, which is how I picked up this one. Another factor I'm beginning to suspect may have helped was trying to stop think about reading as "reading to review" and just read. It's not like I have a significant "voice" as a reviewer, and I started out posting reviews of books just to have a space to think about them a little more.

Lately I’ve been plucking books almost randomly off my to-be-read bookcase (which really needs to be organized so it’s not quite so random). I’d rather forgotten about picking up this one. A somewhat dated (with respect to gender politics) short gothic with mystery elements, set in an ancient villa and the Etruscan catacombs beneath it. Archaeology, ancient mysteries, terrible family secrets, lots of peril that might have been avoided if people talked to each other more about the odd things they knew about the villa and its former inhabitants.

A novella(?) set in the author’s Dominion of the Fallen series, with a tight little murder mystery embedded in the familial/court politics of the underwater dragon kingdom. Lots of drama, angst, peril, and socio-political negotiation to provide distraction from the murder. And that’s just between our dragon & fallen angel married protagonists. I’m going to guess that this story might be a bit too in media res for any reader who hasn’t read the Dominion novels, but you should go read those because they’re really good.

A while ago I started working my way through reviews of things I’ve read in the last year or two. Ha, ha, yes, my up-to-datedness is that bad. And then in the last month or so, I finally seem to have broken through my “reading block”. So let’s spend some time getting reviews done, though they’re going to be briefer than I sometimes write. I’m scheduling 18 reviews (following my usual one-blog-per-day maximum) which gets me caught up with everything in my spreadsheet, though I need to comb through iBooks and other files to see if I’ve overlooked something.

Set in the same magical-Regency world as Cho’s earlier Sorcerer to the Crown, but overlapping only slightly in characters, this book tells the story of two sisters in Malaysia, struck by a curse that sends one on a quest to England and fairyland to find a cure for her sister’s fading. Along the way, she must conceal her own lack of magic, enlist the aid of the sorceress royal and a dragon, and untangle the mystery of her own identity.

This is a psychological study of the confined lives and expectations of women in post-WWII England. Using flashbacks, it traces the lives of a mother and daughter as every turn seems to snatch away what they felt they were promised, constantly requiring them to have less, to do less, and to be less (manifested as anorexia by the daughter).


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