Review: The Veil of Gold

The Veil of Gold by Kim Wilkins was good, but I can’t quite give it great.  It grabbed me pretty quickly, I didn’t hit 100 pages before I was carrying it around so I could read anywhere I found myself with a few moments.

The characters were interesting.  I wouldn’t give them all kudos on being well-rounded but they were definitely interesting and I really liked that the main male in the novel was in a lot of ways very anti-trope.  He was nervous and uncertain and very kind.  And yet I never would call him “whiny” (ok, not without really good cause– ’cause he had one!) and I would never think he wasn’t a man.

Ok, so let me get straight to my biggest beef.  The ending.  It was abrupt.  There was all this lead up and build and then in like 20 pages tried to tie everything into a bow that ended up being very messy instead of amazing.  The story kind of desperately needed a denouement.  It felt like the author knew she hit her 50k in NaNoWriMo and just tried to wrap it up ASAP instead of giving it the same depth and attention she had given the first 50,000 words.

It wasn’t a “bad” ending per say, just very, very abrupt and jarring in that abruptness.  So much of the rest of the novel had been more of a slow burn to have that sudden explosion and then nothing beyond it…. was jarring.  It’s the best description I have.

The plot was fabulous through 95% of the book.  REALLY compelling and awesome use of Russian folklore and history.  I loved the intertwining of the magical and real worlds.  The way the characters wove worked wonders.  Pun might be intended because of the wondrous nature of the plot….

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fairy tales but not to just anyone.  I would definitely say it’s more of 15+ age as there is some graphic language, descriptions of violence (Russian fairy tales are NOT generally nice), and sex – although it isn’t erotic or “sexy” but the topic comes up in enough ways I’d bring the age up a little more than I might otherwise.  If not for the sex & language, I’d probably put this at 13+ and then only because of the complexity of the journey itself.  But anyone who’s read Lord of the Rings (read it, not watched the movie) could definitely get through this book – except for the age-potentially-inappropriate content.

I think overall, I’d give this 3.5 out of 5.  Good, recommended to people who I think would enjoy it – but not a “if you don’t read this you are denying yourself pleasure in this life you should regret” level.

Manners: Remove Thyself!

I read this comic this week: https://questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=3837 (and if you don’t read QC – you should!)

And I don’t want to talk about the content per say – but rather when it’s time to remove yourself from a bad spot.  I definitely had that in 2 jobs.  I knew things were turning sour and I couldn’t see how to fix it without compromising myself/my ethics.  So it was time to start job hunting.

And this is true of relationships too.  Sometimes it’s a catalyst like Basilisk (the purple lady in the comic) experienced that just makes her see it.  Sometimes it builds up over time and one day you look at the mountain of evidence and say, “Oh. Wow.  Ok, that isn’t good anymore.”

Knowing this is hard though.  I’ve always been afraid I’m going to “give up” on stuff too quickly, which sometimes means I “stick with” it MUCH longer than I should.  I hate giving up.  I hate admitting defeat.  I hate admitting I made mistakes.

But you know what, I like seeing reminders that I should look for catalysts.  I should listen to the piles of evidence. So should you.

Review: Shopping eShakti

So this is NOT a book review – it’s a review of an online shopping site called eShakti.  I have looong avoided buying clothes online.  My luck with places like Wish or Amazon or even “traditional” stores like Macy’s or JCPenny was awful.  Mostly misses and rarely hits.  And returns…. ugh!

So when my Facebook began showing me super-cute dresses from this site called eShakti I was wary.  To say the least.  But one of them was just too perfect and so I took the risk.  I used my credit card I trusted would allow me to refute the charges if I did end up in some kind of fight and ordered 2 dresses (there was a Buy One, Get one 1/2 off).

So the huge boon to eShakti is for $9.95 ($10) they customize size, sleeves, length – whatever.  Even without $10 they demand your height and hem it accordingly.  I put the $10 on each dress and ended up at $82.75 – which at ~$40 per dress is at least as good as I would buy at a Macy’s or JCPEnny or Kohl’s (normally).  Yes, I love finding dresses on sale for $20, but let’s be honest – decent dresses run $39.99 on sale.

So I get the two dresses in July.  One of them I am in love with.  It’s a great green and has a POCKET – like a real pocket.  Like my 5″ phone disappears and doesn’t even screw up the line sized POCKET.  OMG.  It’s a great jersey-knit cotton that doesn’t wrinkle easily and I am obsessed.  I would wear it pretty much every day if I could.

The second dress did not meet my approval.  I had thought I was buying something casual, but when I got it – well the material was more “formal” of a polyester.  More of a chiffon than a cotton.  Fortunately, this gave me the perfect opportunity to make a return.  They say it’s easy but…

Well, it was.  They automatically include a return label and all I had to do was print off my return information from the website and mail the box.  It took about 2 weeks and they offered me either store credit or to return to the cost to my card.  I went ahead and took the credit and ordered another dress – another one I’m in love with.

So eShakti isn’t the cheapest – but between their $10 customization and constant sales, promotions & deals… They are running about the cost of a “professional” dress at most of the major stores around me AND they have real pockets.

Review: Hugo Winner Stone Sky!

N.K. Jemisin’s series The Broken Earth won the Hugo Best Novel for ALL THREE NOVELS.  And having just finished it – damn, I’m not surprised.

Jemisin throws you into the world and uses three voices to explore it so you see it from several viewpoints in the first book.  In the second book she narrows into just a pair of views and for books two and three she generally sticks with Essun and Nassun; but takes a side-line to explore how everything got here in the first place.

Ok, so Jemisin is amazing at two things in this series: her world-building and her magic system.

Let me start with the world.  The “complaint” I might have is she calls it “Earth” but I would find it much easier to have wrapped my mind around it if she had called it anything else.  I kept trying to put her “Earth” onto the layout of planet & continents I know – and I will go ahead and “spoil” and tell you not to do this.  Once I wrapped my brain around “oh, this isn’t MY Earth, they just CALL it Earth” I was able to accept the world much better.

So I like her magic and I struggle with it at the same time.  She semi-makes 2 systems, but they are intertwined.  Or one is a deeper level than the other.  I’m not sure which.  But I think she knows.  It’s a fascinating system as it develops through the series.

Personally, I think if Jemisin has a true weakness in the series it’s her characters.  The reader gets to know Essun exceptionally well, and glimpse other characters through Essun’s interpretation of their actions.  Nassun is less well fleshed out (hell she’s like 10, this isn’t the worst) but considering how important she is – I just wish there was more in Nassun’s head.

Ok – so now I’m going to get into something that broke every rule of writing I’ve ever heard.

All three books are written in second person.

“You.”

At first I was confused, by the end of the first book; I hardly noticed and by the end of the third book I was surprised when she wrapped it up with a pretty bow – and hit me with the sledgehammer of WHY.  Brilliant.  Without spoilers, I’ll just say that it’s worth getting used to the voice (it distracted me occasionally and kept me curious all the time).  I kind of want to go listen to the first book again knowing what I know now.

Definitely, for a fantasy book I give this a 5/5 across the series.  The second book might only be a 4/5 – there were a few times I wanted to yell at characters.  But I was definitely glued throughout the series and it’s worth any annoyance when a particular character (usually Essun) is being an idiot.

The series won Hugo Best Novel every year – go read it.

Review: Freedom

So I gave up 39.8% of the way through Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. One of few books I can say I’ve given up on.  It might help if I could skip ahead, but that’s really hard to do well in an audio book.  Especially since I generally listen while on my commute and I’m driving.

The characters are flat.  And there is a part of me that detests them because I’m afraid someone out there is like that.  The first third of the book focuses on Patty – through her college & married life.  She struggles with anxiety, depression, and alcoholism – and at 40% of the way through you have a hit (since it’s written like her autobiography) that she is aware of it “now” – whenever now is.  But then, a chapter or two before I stopped she stopped being the narrator (I think).  It switched to her husband’s best friend Richard.

Thus far both of them are looking at the third character,Walter – Patty’s husband & Richard’s best friend – with this weird lens of him being a supportive character but somehow also the glue that holds the three of them together and frankly the only pseudo-mentally-stable of the three.  This switch is where I really just fell off the bandwagon (pun intended) and had to go find something else.  I looked at my app and it said 38-something % and I went “shit.  I thought Patty was the character and I feel like her arc is so close to done. I can’t sit through another arc or whatever this dude is doing.  I have no idea what the plot is and no interest in these characters.”

Now, I will say that I had to read Prince of Tides in highschool and this books reminds me a lot of that.  and I will say, I don’t tend to enjoy books that try to rip me up emotionally – I have enough stress in my life, I like my books to be more escapist. Freedom reminds me a little of Prince of Tides.  Not like 100%, but that idea of exploring what made someone do something really messed up and emotionally manipulative and stupid… yeah, I think if Freedom is going anywhere it’s along those lines.

And the writing style was good.  The semi-autobiographical tone of Patty’s story was interesting, with those flares of exposition into her own growth since the moment.  The opening was my favorite part – it was a bunch of snippets of the gossip of the neighborhood about Patty and Walter and their son Joey.  And Patty’s little breakdown and her evolution from “perfect mom” to “crazy neighbor” was well done in that format.

Overall, I have to give this a 2/5 for me – but I could see someone else really getting sucked in and enjoying it more than I did.  I don’t want a story that makes me cry…

Review: Villains by Necessity

Villains by Necessity by Eve Forward has been on my reading list for years.  I read Animist when I was in HS and am still disappointed there hasn’t been a sequel. But to be honest, VbN is the better book.  Ironic that her debut novel is better than her second book – but it’s true.  I am sad she hasn’t written more novels because I really like her writing.

So, let’s start with VbN being a book where the “heroes” are all villains – assassin, dark sorceress, thief.  But in a world be subsumed by “goodness” those who want to live outside the lines ARE heroes.  Those who stand up against someone’s vision of “good” to demand they should be allowed to make their own choices to be good or evil as they wish.

The irony that this book comes into my life at a time where I am struggling with ideas of “free speech” isn’t lost on me.  It also makes me chuckle that this damn lens on my face colors EVERYTHING.  But the message is pretty blunt – villains shouldn’t be forced to be good people; it should be a choice people are allowed to make.  And make again tomorrow. And motives matter.  Someone who kills to protect is different than someone who kills for “pleasure” (ew).

The characters ARE tropes – but it’s part of the story to say that Forward explores the fact that every “villain” in the trope might have a reason or a past that makes it make more sense.  Heroes might be villainous to the villains and villains might be heroes when they do something “good” even if they do it for “evil” (usually selfish) reasons.  By playing UP the tropes, she explores them beautifully. Especially to anyone who has played RPGs like Skyrim or D&D they will recognize the classes used.  I can’t say it will make as much sense to someone unfamiliar with the genre, but I think almost anyone can follow the story and enjoy the adventure.

The plot is clear and crisp and even when I thought it was a little predictable, Forward pulled it together by doing a few different tricks – like flipping to the “heroes” and exploring some of their motivation.  She also plays into the story itself everyone understanding the way stories are “supposed to” happen – good guys win and bad guys lose. Right?

Overall, this book took me a bit to get into – probably the full 100 pages I give a book.  It was a book I actually kept in my bathroom for close to six months and managed to pick-up-for-a-page and come back the next day for the next page.  Because of the strength of the tropes, this worked really well.  It isn’t like some “bathroom” books I’ve tried where I have to constantly go back three pages because I’m always “lost” – the plot holds throughout.  It’s simple and yet the twists and turns keep it fascinating.

Seriously, find a copy of this book – it’s out of print or I would absolutely put links up.  Eve Forward deserves every dollar for this book!