The Summer Before the War – Helen Simonson

The-Summer-Before-The-War-Helen-Simonson
Source: Goodreads

 

Accepting the position of smalltown Latin teacher was a no-brainer for Beatrice Nash. Finally on her own, she can’t wait to make her own money and get out from under her stifling family’s thumb and her father’s shadow. But war is looming. A great, big, world war, the likes of which have never been seen. With men signing up left and right, it’s only a matter of time before Beatrice’s students and colleagues start to head for the continent, closely followed by the new officers comprised mostly of the lesser gentry. A young surgeon and a poet, a Romani and a scholar, the war keeps its distance from no one. And so beings the summer before the war.

 

Helen Simonson does it again. The author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – one of my favorite reads of 2017 – is back with another well-developed look at England’s less viewed history, and hits her mark. The characters are well developed and engaging, as well as incredibly refreshing. A book about an Edwardian surgeon! The first women authors! Single women living alone and working a respectable job! POETS. and so, so many underlying narratives about race and sexuality. Absolutely wonderful. 10/10 would read again.

I would like a prequel about Beatrice’s life with her father and then with her Aunt. Also, a novel purely about Aunt Agatha and her husband who works for the foreign office and who I am sure does spy things. I think they’re all just so interesting!

The book itself starts out relatively lighthearted, following the main premise of Beatrice settling into the town and her interactions with the townsfolk. About 3/4 of the way through, the war is finally upon us, with dire consequences for many. Simonson wraps everything up neatly, but not before she rips our hearts out and forces us to acknowledge that not everyone can live happily ever after.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

 

Other reviews for works by this author:
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1) – Marissa Meyer

Lunar-Chronicles-Cinder-Marissa-Meyer

Source: Goodreads

 

Cinder is just your average cyborg, living in New Beijing in an age where people like her are enslaved, and there is a plague sweeping the globe. Oh, and the queen of the moon wants to take over Earth. You know, normal stuff. So when the handsome Prince Kai visits Cinder’s mechanics booth at the weekly market with an android of national importance for her to fix, she naturally can’t say no. Everything that follows is nothing Cinder could have imagined, and her life suddenly has meaning beyond her wildest dreams.

We all know I love a good Cinderella retelling. I was excited when I first heard about this one, but after finding out it involved a war with the moon, a plague, and Cinderella being a cyborg, I was seriously worried it would collapse under the pressure of so many ideas in one book. I avoided it for years. Then I found the audiobook and decided to give it a go.

WOW. There was so much going on in this book. The war, plague, and cyborg aspects are only the tip of the iceberg here people. This book is beyond anything I’ve read in its sheer amount different topics, yet somehow they all fit together perfectly? How is that possible? It literally defies all expectations. ‘I am not a robot book’ it says. ‘Neither am I a war book, or a fairytale, or a plague story.‘ In fact, this book is everything. It’s like literary stone soup, and I loved every happy, miserable, hysterical second of it. I might have to listen to it again before I move on to the second book just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

This was a book I found myself thinking about constantly when I wasn’t listening to it. It’s the kind of story where you figure a few things out, and then the rest of the twists throw you off a cliff that only the next book can fix. Except each book follows different main characters and they’re all supposedly going to converge at some point. It’s a pretty cool concept, even if it is another thing to add to the pile of things going on already in this series. I get the feeling I am going to need flow charts and graphs to follow it all.

As far as the actual audiobook goes, I enjoyed the narrator almost always. Her pacing was good, the voice differences were good, and the pronunciations were clear. But the voice that was chosen for Cinder’s robot companion, Iko, still echoes painfully in my head.

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – Scarlet (Review Available 1/23)
Book #3 – Cress (Review Available (2/13)
Book #3.5 – Fairest (Review Available 3/6)
Book #4 – Winter (Review Available 3/27)

In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan

In-Other-Lands-Sarah-Rees-Brennan

Source: Goodreads

Elliot Schafer is obnoxious. No one at school can stand him, his father at home ignores him, and his mother left when he was a baby. Then one day his teacher drives him to the middle of nowhere and sells him to an oddly dressed woman because he can see a stone wall where his classmates cannot. What ensues is part adventure, part education, part self-discovery, and all about the love.

 

A review of this book popped up on Goodreads about two months ago, and I requested it from my library immediately. Blurbed by many well-known authors, including Leigh Bardugo, Tamora Pierce, Cassandra Claire, Gregory Maguire, and Holly Black, this book was a definite addition to my TBR. In Other Lands was published just under a month ago, on August 17th, and a copy arrived at my library a day early! I can’t even tell you how exciting that was.

Let me start by saying that there are no chapters. The book is sectioned by year, following Elliot from the ages of 13 to 18. The ‘otherland’ is a fantastic world full of diverse peoples and even more diverse cultures. This book is not only a play on the portal-world trope but also a narrative on how our culture is being constantly blended and added to with new words and beliefs. From sexuality to gender stereotypes to machismo and sexism, this book hits it all right on the head. With a Trigon ball.

Being CisHet and having people close to me who identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum made this book all the more dear to me. While I’m sure not everyone will agree, I felt that it did a good job of handling the differences in sexuality and not blowing them out of proportion, as often happens in literature and in other media. It wasn’t anyone’s defining characteristic, and that’s exactly as it should be. That being said, there is quite a bit of discussion throughout of intimacy and menstruation, as well as actual (but not overly detailed) intimacy. So, I wouldn’t recommend reading this if you’re under the age of, say, 14, or if you are uncomfortable at all with that kind of scene, whether CisHet or LGBTQ+. With the addition of a few of the other cultures whose major sexism is the reverse of humans, it can all become just a bit much all at once.

 

Overall I am glad to have read it and will be recommending it to many of my friends, CisHet as well as LGBTQ+, to read.

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella (Tyme, #2) – Megan Morrison

Tyme-Disenchanted-The-Trials-Of-Cinderella-Megan-Morrison

Source: Goodreads

 

Ella Coach doesn’t want riches or fame, only justice for a mother who died working in a sweatshop. Prince Charming isn’t looking for true love, but he’s done playing with people’s hearts too, now that The Charming Curse has been broken. Serge is an executive fairy godfather. He’s granted wishes beyond your wildest dreams, even made queens out of barmaids, but now he caters mostly to the rich and famous who pay to be on his list. Until one day a name no one knows appears on it. Ella Coach.

 

This second installment in Morrison’s Tyme series is just as fantastic as the first. Unlike Grounded, in which we follow the characters on an epic quest of sorts, Disenchanted deals with problems much closer to home. A prince who is finally free to act like himself grapples with the world who liked him better the way he was. A girl who knows first hand the horrors of a sweatshop sets out to make things right. A fairy uncovers a nefarious plot to overthrow a corrupted king. We also get a Cinderella who’s a person of color, and she’s not the only POC character! There’s also a Crimson Fairy who is dealing with everyone hating him base don his heritage, and then the normal class wars that you see in most fairytales. There’s a lot going on here, but it all melds together beautifully.

While I was disappointed at first that we weren’t going to explore multiple kingdoms this time around, I found the in-depth look at a single kingdom infinitely interesting. Because Ella is dealing with worker compensation, the reader gets a good hard look at the economy in the kingdom of Blue. Morrison has a talent for taking real-world problems and making them understandable to the average person, no matter their age. This narrative on the importance of all lives, not just the wealthy, is something everyone can relate to, especially right now.

The world building was wonderful yet again, and I can’t wait to see what else Morrison and her world of Tyme co-creator Ruth Virkus come up with for the next book in the series, which has tentatively been titled Transformed: The Perils of the Frog Prince and is due to be published in Summer 2018.

 

Curio Street Reads Rating:  5 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel
Book #3 – Transformed: The Perils of the Frog Prince (To be published in Summer 2018)

A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, #3) – V.E. Schwab

Shades-Of-Magic-A-Conjuring-Of-Light-V-E-Schwab

Source: Goodreads

The third book in the Shades of Magic series picks up where A Gathering of Shadows ends, with a familiar darkness spreading across Londons and our protagonists in peril.

I really wanted to love this book, but when I picked it up soon after finishing the second volume, I found myself burned out by the constant action. Book two was fairly fast paced, and A Conjuring of Light is a continuation of that same situation. I ended up having to put the book down for three months before I could pick it up without feeling completely drained. I don’t see this as a problem for the people who read the series as it came out because the books were released a year apart, but going forward, it’s important to note the potential for burnout if you plan to read the books back-to-back.

I enjoyed all of the characters, but much like the first volume, I found it hard to be invested in them when I couldn’t personally identify with any of them. The storyline was good, the fabric of the plot woven tightly, with nearly all of the ends getting bound up neatly in the conclusion while leaving room for universe expansion both forward and backward. Some bits, such as the history of Kell’s coat, would be entertaining to explore in the future.

While I was taking my reading break from A Conjuring of Light, my sister borrowed and devoured the series in its entirety while studying for finals. I feel that I must add that she loved all of the characters and never experienced the burnout that I did.

Overall, I enjoyed it, and it was a fitting end to the trilogy. I would definitely recommend it to fantasy readers of all kinds for its plot, its diverse characters, and its beautiful world building. V.E. Schwab has done great things with this series, and I only wish I hadn’t gotten burned out and had been able to enjoy it to its fullest potential.

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – A Darker Shade of Magic
Book #2 – A Gathering of Shadows

 

 

 

 

The Waterless Sea (The Chanters of Tremaris, #2) – Kate Constable

The-Chanters-Of-Tremaris-The-Waterless-Sea-Kate-Constable

Source: Goodreads

Half a year has passed since the crew of Fledgewing defeated the evil chanter Samis, but trouble still lurks in Tremaris. A man named Heben arrives on the secluded island where Calwyn and her friends have built their home. He is looking for help: chanter children are being kidnapped and only other chanters stand a chance of finding them. The harsh deserts of the war-torn Empire of Merithuros will test everyone’s strength, and the price of peace is higher than anyone could have imagined.

The Waterless Sea is the second novel in Constable’s Chanters of Tremaris series, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. With Darrow absent from much of the action this time around, we see Calwyn stepping up to plate to lead our band of heroes. She becomes much more confident in her decision making, even while she fights her ever-growing skill in learning the nine powers. Of course, that doesn’t stop her from wondering where Darrow is all the time, but hey, no one is perfect (especially Darrow).

The range of characters is much wider in this installment, but the storyline is also more straight forward, which I quite enjoyed. Character development was also on point. Given that this was a re-read for me, I wasn’t sure nearly 25-year-old me was going to love it as much as 12-year-old me did, but I needn’t have worried. IT’S STILL GREAT. I enjoyed this book so much that I’m not even mad anymore that Thriftbooks sent me an ARC copy instead of the actual copy I ordered. And as soon as I finish this review I’m going to start the third book instead of finishing the book I need to read for next week. My plan is to read The Tenth Power in about two days and then take next week’s review book, A Conjuring of Light, with me on my vacation Tuesday.

The Waterless Sea, for being so short, didn’t miss out on anything. It doesn’t suffer second-book-syndrome, which often affects middle books of trilogies and forces them into allowing absolutely nothing to happen. In fact, many things happen. Multiple people die. Calwyn grows up and takes charge. Darrow is still the weirdly jealous dude forcing himself to stand in the corner instead of partaking in everything life has to offer. New characters are painted into the story. It’s all very interesting but I can’t go into anything without spoiling everything, so I’ll have to leave it at that.

You should go read this series. It’s really good. I’m literally only taking points off because of Darrow.

HHC Rating: 4.75 Stars

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – The Singer of All Songs
Book #3 – The Tenth Power (Review available 6/27)

The Singer of All Songs (The Chanters of Tremaris, #1) – Kate Constable

The-Chanters-Of-Tremaris-The-Singer-Of-All-Songs-Kate-Constable

Source: Goodreads

Calwyn has only ever known a life inside the great impenetrable wall of Antaris. She knows there is more to the world – after all, where else would the traders come from? but she is content with her quiet life as a priestess to the ice goddess. Then one day a man appears claiming the impossible, that he has flown over the wall. Worse yet, he claims another is coming after him who seeks to rule all of Tremaris, and who holds the power to become the master of all nine magics – The Singer of All Songs. Now it is up to Calwyn, who must summon all her wits and courage, to brave the unknown world with the help of a stranger in order to stop an evil that could destroy not just Antaris, but all of Tremaris.

 

The first book in Kate Constable’s Chanters of Tremaris trilogy is deeply satisfying and wondrously spellbinding. Her magic system is powered by song; different notes and octaves having entirely different effects, from general elemental control to animal speaking and ice forming, to illusions and healing. The world of Tremaris itself is amazingly diverse and nuanced, especially for something published over 10 years ago now.

When I read this book brand new in 2004 during a Harry Potter dry spell, it captivated me, and I probably read the whole book in a day knowing my 12-year-old self. Rereading it a dozen or so years later was just as magical, even though I had to space out my reading a little more because I no longer have the luxury of summer breaks in which to devour six months worth of books.

Calwyn is a complicated heroine. She yearns to understand herself and her place in the world, which of course is in constant change because of the adventure she embarks on, but she also has more basic desires. She wants love, she wants family, and she wants peace. Her courage is always simmering just below the surface, ready to leap to attention at the slightest provocation. As the main character, Calwyn is a bit of “Chosen One” or “Special Snowflake”, but she also contains the vast mysteries of her unknown past, her mother’s life journey, and her clearly missing father.

The Singer of All Songs is on the fence of a Middle-Grade/Juvenile or Young-Adult label. Nothing overtly sexual takes place, but there are quite a few hints dropped as to what goes down during the festival of shadows, and relationships in general. The ‘romantic relationship’, if it can even be called that, between Calwyn and Darrow is pretty much only them looking out for each other and thinking about whether they like one another or not while being slightly possessive. That’s as far as it goes in the first book anyways. I’ll need to finish my re-read of the rest of the series before I can give you an accurate report. The storyline itself lacks the ‘lesson’ which most middle-grade books contain, so I would push this one a little closer to young-adult because of that, but otherwise there’s no objectionable content for the under 14-year-olds.

The only reason I would take stars off is that I think including some of the words or tunes for the magic system would have been extremely cool. I know that’s a ton of work to create and remember, but when books come out alongside Harry Potter, readers start wishing everything was just as immersive as J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World.

 

HHC Rating: 4.5 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – The Waterless Sea
Book #3 – The Tenth Power (Review Available 6/27)