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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Chosen: A Fantasy Collection

Kylie Quillinan, who wrote the introduction for Chosen: A Fantasy Collection said it was originally considered a genre sampler to make people aware of fantasy sub-genres they hadn't tried.  The expectation was that readers might find a new favorite.  I consider this a good attitude for authors participating in an anthology to take.   This means that I'm not expected to like every story.  I received this book from the publisher for review via Book Funnel.

                        

When I read the descriptions of the novelettes included in this collection, only one of them stood out as an unlikely contender for favorite in the anthology.  It deals with people taking refuge from dragons at a shopping mall.  I don't prefer fantasy that contains either shopping malls or dragons.   As I expected, this was the only contribution that I actively disliked.   I thought it was well-written.  People who think they would enjoy reading urban fantasy about attacking dragons might love it.   I'm just not the right reader for that particular novelette.

The contributions that I liked most had protagonists that I identified with.  It wasn't a matter of sub-genre.  I felt that these were character driven stories.   I really related to Agata and Fionn in Kylie Quillinan's fantasy romance, "Bard".   I also identified with Arabella in Alesha Escobar's historical fantasy, "Lady of the Lost Ways".

Agata, the heroine of  "Bard" didn't want to accept an arranged marriage.  Fionn, the hero of "Bard" wanted to pursue the profession that inspired him even though his brothers didn't think it was useful.  Both had a strong need for the freedom to make their own choices.  Anyone who has felt constrained can identify with these characters.

"Lady of the Lost Ways" seemed to be the most conceptually complex novelette in this anthology, but for me it centered on a paranormally gifted servant who wanted to be treated with respect by the gentry, and the other paranormally gifted characters who really saw and understood her.  As someone who believes in social equality, Victorian England's prejudices annoyed me.  I realized that the privileged characters were being portrayed with historical authenticity, but I appreciated that  author Alesha Escobar was portraying the marginalized characters sympathetically.

 So I felt engaged by half the content of this anthology which is a very good percentage.   I recommend Chosen: A Fantasy Collection to other fantasy readers.

                            

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Daughter of the Sun: The Power of the Goddess Bast

                              




Title: Daughter of the Sun (Cult of the Cat series, Book 1)
Author: Zoe Kalo
Genre: YA mythological fantasy
Word count: 93,000 words
Release date: May 1, 2016


Daughter of the Sun, Book 1 - blurb
Sixteen-year-old Trinity was born during a solar eclipse and left at the doorsteps of a convent along with a torn piece of papyrus covered with ancient symbols. Raised by nuns in the English countryside, she leads a quiet life until she’s whisked away to the Island of Cats and a grandmother she never knew.
But before they can get to know each other, her grandmother dies. All that Trinity has left is a mysterious eye-shaped ring. And a thousand grieving cats. As Trinity tries to solve the enigma of the torn papyrus, she discovers a world of bloody sacrifices and evil curses, and a prophecy that points to her and her new feline abilities.
Unwilling to believe that any of the Egyptian gods could still be alive, Trinity turns to eighteen-year-old Seth and is instantly pulled into a vortex of sensations that forces her to confront her true self—and a horrifying destiny.

About the Author
A certified bookworm, Zoe Kalo has always been obsessed with books and reading. Reading led to writing—compulsively. No surprise that at 16, she wrote her first novel, which her classmates read and passed around secretly. The pleasure of writing and sharing her fantasy worlds has stayed with her, so now she wants to pass her stories to you with no secrecy—but with lots of mystery…
A daughter of adventurous expats, she’s had the good fortune of living on 3 continents, learning 4 languages, and experiencing a multicultural life. Currently, she’s working on a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature, which she balances between writing, taking care of her clowder of cats, and searching for the perfect bottle of pinot noir.
Connect with Zoe Kalo on the web: www.ZoeKalo.com / Facebook / Twitter

Here's the Amazon Purchase Link:

REVIEW

Daughter of the Sun is the first book in the Cult of the Cat series by Zoe Kalo.   I decided to try this YA indie fantasy because I love cats and I'm interested in the Egyptian cat goddess, Bast.  So I requested a review copy from Book R3vi3w Tours.
                          
 The cover gave me the impression that this book would be set in ancient Egypt.   So I was surprised to learn that it begins in contemporary England where Trinity, the sixteen year old protagonist resides in a convent.  At the outset, Trinity believes that she has no relatives.   Yet she does have an affinity for cats and surprising paranormal powers.

 It turns out that she has a family heritage that is connected to an island of cats off the coast of Turkey.  There are cat islands in the world where there are more cats than people.  In fact, there are eleven of them that are part of Japan which are popular with tourists.  See Eleven Cat Islands.   I couldn't find a Bast ruled cat island off the coast of Turkey, however.  So it's safe to say that Zoe Kalo invented it.   I very much enjoyed the concept.

The name Trinity may seem like an odd choice for this book's protagonist because it's normally associated with Christianity.  Yet there are other types of deities that can be said to have three aspects.  Kalo portrays Bast as triune which seems to be based on research.  The Wikipedia article on Bast informs us that she is called by three names--Bastet, Ubasti and Pasch.

YA readers may expect a strong romance element in Daughter of the Sun.   Magic and myth are much stronger themes.  There are also plot reasons why romance isn't central.  I thought that it was appropriate that there was less focus on romance.

Some reviews on Goodreads complained of predictability in the story line, but there was actually one development that I considered very astonishing.   For me, Daughter of the Sun was a fun quick read.


This Review is a part of the Blogger Outreach Program by b00k r3vi3w Tours



                              




                             

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Will Do Magic For Small Change--A Very Mixed Bag

I really wanted to love Will Do Magic For Small Change by Andrea Hairston.  It started so well, but my level of engagement with this fantasy novel wasn't sustained at a consistent level.  I read it for a Goodreads folklore/mythology group that had chosen it as a book of the month.  I consider myself a student of folklore, mythology and all spiritual paths.  This book contains West African folklore and religious practices.

                           


I did love scenes and sequences in this book that I found moving and poignant.  There were times when the characters and relationships felt real and true, and there were times when they felt distant and superficial.  One of the perennial problems with the writing was telling readers about events through dialogue instead of showing us these events as they happened so that readers can experience them. 

 There was a point when the narrative seemed so tedious that I nearly abandoned the book, but then I encountered a character that I thought had great potential, and I fell in love with Will Do Magic For Small Change all over again.

This was the character who was introduced as a homeless Eshu who would "do magic for small change".  Eshu is one of the Yoruban spirits known as the Orisha.  He is called the opener of the way.  No enterprise can begin without him.  So you would think that he'd be widely beloved and respected.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case.   He is often viewed very negatively and regarded as suspect.   Yes, he can be a trickster, but he also can be a good friend to those who treat him well.  I appreciated that Eshu was portrayed so favorably by Andrea Hairston in Will Do Magic For Small Change.

I also am impressed by books that mention history that was previously unknown to me.  I enjoy researching these references, so that I can find out more--particularly when the history involves women or minorities.  There were two instances of  historical references that I wanted to pursue further in Will Do Magic For Small Change. 

 One was Emily Warren Roebling  who took over  the building of the Brooklyn Bridge when her husband became ill.  The Wikipedia article that I've linked led me to a biography so that I can read more about this extraordinary woman.

A character in this novel revealed at one point that members of her Japanese American family were interned at the Gila River Relocation Center during WWII. Japanese American internment was shameful regardless of the location where they were imprisoned, but this particular internment camp was built on a Native American reservation.  The Pima and Maricopa peoples who lived on that reservation objected to the existence of the camp.  So the United States government was violating the treaty that established the reservation in addition to violating the rights of the Japanese American internees.  I wasn't aware of  the Gila River internment site.  I would like to know more about conditions there.

Although there were portions of Will Do Magic For Small Change that I was glad I read, I was ultimately disappointed by it since I hoped that it would be better written.

                           
 


              

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben

Before reading this book, I thought it would be a nice outlet for my anger about the current political situation.   I had never read any books by Bill McKibben, the author of Radio Free Vermont.  I downloaded it for free from Net Galley and read it now because one of the groups that I participate in on Goodreads selected it as the Book of the Month for January.

                             


Although I really hadn't taken the premise of Vermont's secession from the U.S. seriously before reading this book, let me say that the advocates for Vermont secession in this novel were very persuasive.  McKibben tells us that it wasn't his intent to encourage secession of Vermont or any other state.   His purpose is to argue for sustainability and small scale economic activities.  Both of these are excellent goals.

Yet in the process of making his case, he brings up the existence of some really small countries with lower populations than Vermont.  San Marino  provides  an example of a small republic with the oldest constitution in the world which relies on another country, Italy, for its defense.   This hasn't always been the best solution. During WWII San Marino's constitution was suspended, and it became a fascist dictatorship.   A better approach might be to build a web of alliances with larger countries with treaty obligations to render assistance when needed.  Ideally, this would allow for a choice among one's allies when a specific need arises.

One important objection to Vermont secession got demolished easily.  It's not true that current Vermonters would lose their social security since Americans who choose to retire abroad can still collect social security.   On the other hand, future generations in an independent Vermont may not qualify for social security.  They would need to have applied for a social security number and have worked in the United States at some point in their lives.

Radio Free Vermont is fiction.  The secession premise can be viewed as a thought experiment.    As a thought experiment it looks more workable than it did at first glance, though there would be many details to iron out if it were ever to become more than a thought experiment.

I enjoyed finding out more about the Vermont revolutionary war hero, Ethan Allen.  Allen's more controversial writings reminded me of Tom Paine, who is one of my favorite founding fathers.

There are also some wonderful fictional characters in Radio Free Vermont.  I particularly loved Trance, the female Olympic bi-athlete.  

This is my idea of a fun read.   I got to consider some important issues and read some very effective satire of what I consider to be ripe targets for satire.  This is also a good sign for 2018.  I don't usually read a five star book right out of the starting gate,  but this is definitely five stars for me.

                           
                         

Monday, January 1, 2018

My 2017 Retrospective


                                                    Image courtesy of gubgib at
                                                                        FreeDigitalPhotos.net
                            
 With my all time view total at around 14,800, I can say that I had 2000 more views in 2017 than I had in 2016.  I also added to my number of followers.

These added followers were the main benefit of my giveaway.  The giveaway post didn't generate as much traffic for my blog as I'd hoped.   I will have to evaluate whether it's worthwhile to do a giveaway in the future.  Regardless of my conclusion, I will not be doing another giveaway any time soon.

As usual, my most viewed 2017 blog post was on my blog devoted to strong female protagonists, Flying High Reviews.   OTOH, it's far from usual that my most viewed post is also the review of the best book I read in the past year.  That's quite extraordinary.  The name of the book is Avishi.  You can find out more about this title below.   It was a blog tour post and that's most certainly a contributory factor to its high number of views.   Blog tours often boost traffic for blogs.

My most viewed posts on Shomeret: Masked Reviewer in 2017 were all reviews of anthologies.  I called 2017 the year of the anthology because I reviewed more anthologies than in any previous year.  I like reviewing anthologies, but I don't often find enough stories in any given anthology that stand out for me.  So either the quality of anthologies has risen, or I am discovering better anthologies.

The most viewed anthology review on this blog was the one for Brave New Girls #2 here.  Brave New Girls is a series of charity anthologies of YA science fiction whose purpose is to encourage girls to enter scientific professions.  I very much admire the goal of these anthologies.  So I am particularly pleased that the review was my most viewed 2017 post on Shomeret: Masked Reviewer.
   
This concludes my discussion of statistics.  So I will now present the recipients of :

                                   The Golden Mask Awards                             


Best Read of the Year

Avishi by Saiswaroopa Iyer  which I reviewed here.

This is also the Best Book Published in 2017, Best Indie Book of the year and the Best Historical Fiction of the year.


Actually, Avishi is technically not historical because it takes place before recorded history in India.  It's based on the mention in Hindu scripture of  a woman warrior who fought with an iron leg.  This sounded quite unusual and it more than met all my expectations.

 Best Mystery

The Unquiet Dead  by Ausma Zehanat Khan which I reviewed
here .

This book also had the distinction of being a five star mystery that I read when I did because it was a selection of the F2F mystery group that I attend.

I was blown away by the power of this book which deals with a case involving atrocities committed against Moslems in Bosnia in the 20th century.

Best Fantasy

The Dollmaker of Krakow by R. M. Romero which I reviewed here

I have sworn off reading books about WWII many times, but then I come across a book that's very different.

This a children's book that is highly original and emotionally intense.  It deals with an ethnically German dollmaker in WWII Poland, his anti-Nazi activities and the experiences of his sentient doll.

Best Graphic Novel

Ms. Marvel: Civil War II by G. Willow Wilson which I reviewed here .

I have been following this comic book series about a female Muslim superhero with interest, but this title marks the maturation of Ms. Marvel.  She deals with some serious issues facing minorities and takes a highly illuminating trip to visit relatives in Pakistan.

 Best Contemporary Fiction

The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin  by Stephanie Knipper which I reviewed here .

This is also the best Goodreads giveaway book that I won which I read in 2017.

I have seen parents of autistic children objecting to books with autistic protagonists because so many are savants who are only mildly impaired which gives a misleading impression.  This rather tragic book is about a severely impaired autistic girl.  She isn't a savant, but she does have a paranormal gift.  Since this book is very much grounded in contemporary reality, I consider the paranormal aspect magical realism.

Best Science Fiction

Starswept by Mary Fan which I reviewed here

This book is also the Best YA novel and the Best Romance that I read in 2017.

Starswept deals with what could happen to the arts in a dystopian context where aliens who care nothing about individual artists are in charge.  This is the first in a series, and it ended on a hopeful note.
                            
                               *************
                                     
Except for G. Willow Wilson, all the writers of the books listed on this page were authors I'd never read before 2017.  I look forward to making more such discoveries in 2018.