The Guns Above

The Nitty-Gritty Details 

Title: The Guns Above 
Author: Robyn Bennis
Publisher: May, 2017, Tor
Blurb: The nation of Garnia has been at war for as long as Auxiliary Lieutenant Josette Dupre can remember – this time against neighboring Vinzhalia. Garnia’s Air Signal Corp stands out as the favored martial child of the King. But though it’s co-ed, women on-board are only allowed “auxiliary” crew positions and are banned from combat. In extenuating circumstances, Josette saves her airship in the heat of battle. She is rewarded with the Mistral, becoming Garnia’s first female captain.

She wants the job – just not the political flak attached. On top of patrolling the front lines, she must also contend with a crew who doubts her expertise, a new airship that is an untested deathtrap, and the foppish aristocrat Lord Bernat – a gambler and shameless flirt with the military know-how of a thimble. He’s also been assigned to her ship to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision. When the Vins make an unprecedented military move that could turn the tide of the war, can Josette deal with Bernat, rally her crew, and survive long enough to prove herself to the top brass?

The Experience 

So, I’m actually pissed at myself for this one, because I think I messed up my own experience with it.

This book intrigued me. I didn’t know too much about it, just sorta stumbled upon it on Twitter one day, but I was intrigued enough to add it to the list of books I wanted for Christmas and was lucky enough to get it. And I actually read it pretty soon after I got it, unlike a lot of other books on my To-Read list this year, which I’ve owned for years a while and haven’t gotten around to, yet. Yet as I was changing the status on Goodreads, I noticed some of the reviews at the bottom.

And they weren’t all exactly positive.

Usually, I don’t even look at reviews, let alone let my opinion be based off of them–especially because every book will have a range of reviews, naturally (which I know is ironic, because I write reviews myself and you’re probably asking, Well then, what’s the point of these reviews?, to which I’d respond in kind: I usually don’t read many books I don’t like ((not sure how that happens, but look at my reviews and you’ll see I just fall in love with the books I read, ninety percent of the time)) so my reviews, personally, are for two purposes: one, to gush about a book I just loved yet have no one else to rant talk about it with and two, help the author out a little bit, even if I have a pretty small audience here. I like to read reviews of books I’ve already read, in hopes of finding someone else to gush with. I usually don’t read them to ascertain if a book is my fancy or not. I’m weird, I know).

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But, I caught myself reading some of these reviews and getting discouraged. For one reason or another, I just assumed this book was going to be awesome. It was a military fantasy with steampunk influences about a woman trying to make her place in a world where women are undervalued. How could it not be awesome?

Yet I think those reviews did taint my reading, because while I did enjoy the book, I didn’t like it as much as I imagined I would.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a good book. The details were great, I could easily picture what was going on and I loved the battle-focus, even if I felt some of the battle scenes went on a bit longer than necessary. I think I had two main hang ups, that kept me from absolutely falling in love.

First, I was really irked by the treatment of women in the story. I get that is part of the culture and the world, but it was just…really hard to read about a world where women were looked at in such low regard in many ways. I don’t think that can really count against the book, but it did influence my opinion of it, so…take that as you will. Second, I would have liked to get to know Josette and Lord Bernat a little bit better. They were both very interesting characters and they contrasted wonderfully, but I didn’t always feel like I understood where they were coming from/their motivations and I wanted to be inside their heads a little bit more.

That said, it was still a good read and I’m looking forward to continuing the series (By Fires Above comes out this May). And this time, I’ll avoid looking at any reviews (regardless of whether they actually tainted my reading or if I would have had that opinion anyway).

Read on!

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Karen Memory

The Nitty-Gritty Details 

Title: Karen Memory
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Publisher: Tor, Feb. 2015
Blurb: “You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I’m one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.”

Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, begging sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.

Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper yarn of the old west with a light touch in Karen’s own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science.

The Experience

I started reading Karen Memory at this current juncture as research (you know, since I asked for this book for Christmas and got it…two years ago). Since I’m planning to start working on a steampunk novel of my own, I figured I probably should read a couple more (read: a lot more) in the genre, just to get a feel of how different authors write steampunk novels.

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I was slightly surprised when Memory, to me, felt more like a western than steampunk, even with all the wonderful steampunk influences and mechanics that played a major role within the story. Yet I wasn’t disappointed by this. As I read, instead of looking at the book critically and noticing how steampunk played a role, I instead got lost within the story, to the point where I finished the book a few days after I started it and I couldn’t believe it was already over. And that was in large part thanks to the narrator of the book.

Karen Memory.

She had such a lively voice and way of speaking, if you know what I mean. It was a joy to not only get lost in the story, rooting for the women going up against Peter Bantle (who was just such an arse), but to hear all about it from Karen’s perspective. Her point of view and little reflections and tidbits were what made the book so enjoyable. It was one of those books I just seeped into, without thinking too much about it. It was a simple, enjoyable read and that’s always refreshing to find. And, I just learned, through searching Goodreads, that the sequel is meant to come out this year, in March! An added bonus and make no mistake.

Read on!

Inherit The Flame

Holy shit.

I don’t think I’m going to do this book review justice, because…wow. Talk about a way to end a trilogy.

I’m actually at a loss from words, here. To the point that, I’m not exactly sure what to even talk about, this book was that good. Should I mention that I read it in a span of, what, three days? Two days? That the plot took twists and turns that I absolutely did not see coming, yet were the epitome of brilliance? Should I discuss how utterly and completely satisfying the last, eh, I’d say 50 pages were? Especially that second to last chapter, I mean, damn. 

Except for one very particular thing that absolutely shattered my heart.

You know what I’m talking about, O’Keefe.

You’re merciless.

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It’s the kind of end of the series that, when you’re 50 pages from the end, you have no idea how everything’s going to get wrapped up, because there is still so much going on and there is no possible way it’s going to get wrapped up and all those threads tied with so little page space left. Yet you close the book and you’re content. You have (mostly, see above accusation for clarification) those warm, content butterflies fluttering in your stomach, completely satisfied with the ending.

Oh, you have questions, still. And you want to see more of this world, continue to be a part of the lives that you’d grown to adore so fondly. Yet, for this trilogy? You’re very content how things ended, especially considering it went down not at all like you expected (but, looking back, in exactly the way it needed to, for your desired ending to be possible at all).

It’s also the type of ending that, as soon as you finish the book, you may rush to check the author’s website (and maybe also her Twitter) to find out when the next book penned by her hand is meant to be published. You’ll be dismayed to realize that there is something in the works, but it’s probably not going to be in your hands anytime soon. Because you’re selfish and you want to escape into worlds told so beautifully, with charming, complex characters and complicated conflicts, as O’Keefe has with the entire Scorched Continent series.

It’s the type of ending that leaves you in a book hangover so the review you write isn’t as polished as it should be or praise the book or it’s author as much as they deserve–and O’Keefe and this series deserves the best of the best.

But, perhaps, experiencing that hangover from her stories, getting as invested in her characters as you did and being disappointed you have to wait for more; perhaps that praise speaks volumes for itself.

So go check out the Scorched Continent series for yourself.

Trust me, you’re going to love it.

Read on!

PS: To O’Keefe directly, here, if she reads this. These three words: “I promise it.” Holy shit, talk about the chills you caused from that. I mean, I’m getting them again just thinking about that scene. Whoa.

Break the Chains

If you read my review over the first book in The Scorched Continent (which, can we just say how fantastic of a series name that is?), Steal the Sky, it comes to no surprise that I was really, really excited to read the next installment. Unfortunately, I’m in a financial situation where buying books isn’t a luxury I get to partake in. Thankfully, I have within my grasp the glorious power of a library card. As soon as I realized that Break the Chains was already published (which was actually realized in the middle of writing that review; seriously, it’s the section in all caps), I immediately went to my library’s catalog to request it.

I’m sure you can imagine my disappointment when none of Megan E. O’Keefe’s works were there.

I’m also sure that you can continue to imagine my sheer and utter elation when I got an email saying that Break the Chains was on hold for me, because the library had bought it.

I just started using this library as my main hub for my book addiction, so I just discovered that you can request up to three books a month to be bought by the library and added to their catalog. So I requested O’Keefe’s second novel, but honestly, I didn’t really expect anything to happen. That just seemed way too good of a deal to be true.

Yet it did happen (and very quickly after I put in the request, too!) and I’ve read it and got completely floored by it and now I’m anxiously awaiting the publication of book three. So shout out to LPL for making that experience happen. And I apologize formally for all of the book requests you’ll be getting from me every month (I’m not even kidding, I’ve already maxed out this month’s request availability…).

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But now, the real reason we are all here: to rave about Break the Chains. Mostly, though, I’m going to freak about the last…eh, I’d wager ten pages.

Because holy.shit.

Don’t get me wrong: the entire book was lovely and lived up to the expectations that the first one set. Slipping back into cahoots with Detan and Tibs felt like returning into the familiar, warm embrace of a loved one. Seriously. I just want to third wheel it with those two, because I’m sort of in love with them? Then, Ripka’s journey in the prison with New Chum had some of my favorite chapters in the book. The characters they met and the situations they got themselves in were intense and also slightly heartbreaking. It was hard to watch Ripka have to restrain her actual personality through a mask, making herself lesser, in my opinion. Once again, the dialogue was awesome, the details were everything I wished all books would include more of and I continue to be fascinated by the harsh setting and great worldbuilding.

So yeah, the entire book was really, really good.

But those last ten pages, y’all.

Ten is a rough estimate, as I had to return the book to its proper home at my kickass public library. But there I was, just reading my way innocently along (translation: actually home sick and feeling utterly miserable, Break the Chains being the only thing powerful enough to help me forget for a moment that I felt like death). And then suddenly, a certain character reappears. She has…done things. And then Detan…freaking Detan…

I couldn’t believe it. I actually got pissed. I’m no genius by any means, but usually, I can pick up a feel for a book’s momentum and not guess the ending, necessarily, but nine times out of ten, I’m not caught off-guard. I know where the book is headed. This ending? Completely caught off-guard. And not in a good way. Not at bloody all (which, actually, is a great thing, because O’Keefe masterfully manipulated my emotions and completely shredded my heart and, as a writer, I am so impressed; as the heartbroken reader, I’m anxiously awaiting for April 4th so I can read Inherit the Flame, with the full expectation that O’Keefe will FIX THIS. Because you can’t just ends things like this. You just can’t).

Ahem.

Obviously, you’re annoyed right now, because I have detailed you nothing about what actually ripped my soul to shreds. I’m not kidding–my chest physically hurt after I put the book down, floored (and I really don’t think the coughing my lungs out was the sole cause). But just as obviously, I can’t tell you what happens. It’d spoil everything. And this is not a series to be spoiled. It is a series to be read and enjoyed and then discussed with me, because none of my friends have read it yet and it’s driving me nuts having no one to talk to about this.

So what are you waiting for? Go. Invest your heart into fictional characters only to have it broken, which still hurts even though you know the pain is going to happen. Read. That’s what I meant. Go read O’Keefe’s The Scorched Continent. 

Read on!

Waiting On Wednesday: The Olympian Affair

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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine where we readers salivate over the books we wish were on our bookshelves yesterday.

I know we’re supposed to highlight books that we’re stoked are being published, but this week, I’m taking it a step further and highlighting a book that hasn’t even been written yet, but still is definitely going to be published…we’ll just be waiting a long time.

But based off how much I adored the first book, it’s going to be worth it, I think.

I’m waiting on Jim Butcher’s The Olympian Affair, the second installment of The Cinder Spires series. In his steampunk debut, Butcher absolutely rocked it. From his fantastic characters (particularly men like Captain Grimm and Benjamin, who raised the bar as to what I expect from a gentleman), the vivid world and the ultimate dominance of a cat named Rowl, The Aeronaut’s Windlass is a book where the only times I put it down was to pause and wipe my eyes from laughter. It was funny, it was moving, it was such a joy to read and ever since I turned the last page, I’ve been itching for the sequel.

Which hasn’t been written yet.

Hasn’t even been started yet.

Butcher is writing Peace Talks (The Dresden Files, #16) first and then he’ll write The Olympian Affair. (I also must say that I’m eagerly awaiting Peace Talks, as I’m a huge Harry Dresden fan, so I’m not complaining about this in the slightest). So really, this post could just be titled: “Waiting (Gladly) On Jim Butcher” and it would be just as apt. Because I’m eager for everything he’s working on and while no publication dates are in sight, you know I’ll be the first one in line to pick up either of his books once they grace the shelves.

So, until we can read the next fantastic work by Butcher, let’s just enjoy him cosplaying as the fantastic Captain Grimm, shall we?

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Read on!

Steal the Sky

** Copy of Steal the Sky by Megan E. O’Keefe gloriously given by Agent Sam Morgan of Jabberwocky Literary Agency in exchange for an honest review**

I did this book the greatest disservice I think you can do to a book: start it right in the middle of the holidays.

I began reading Steal the Sky on December 12th, 2016 (thanks go to Goodreads for the stats). I finished it on January 13th, 2017 (curses go to Goodreads for that realization). Sure, a month isn’t really a long time to finish a book. Especially when you add in going home for Christmas plus New Years, trying to balance two jobs and getting a PS4 for Christmas and rapidly playing catch-up on all of your favorite games. But for me, a month, no matter if it is December or May, is a really long time to finish a book.

Especially a book of this caliber.

I can think of two main elements that made this book positively fantastic; made it to where I actually read a solid 250+ pages last weekend, thus proving how quickly I could have (and should have) devoured it, had I not given in to other delights; made it to where I just stalked O’Keefe’s website AND SAW THE SECOND BOOK IS ALREADY OUT AND I’M TRYING NOT TO HAVE AN AUDIBLE FREAK OUT MOMENT BECAUSE I’M WORKING AT A LIBRARY AND WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE QUIET HERE.

Ahem.

The first aspect that clued me into knowing I was going to fall in love with this book was not just the characters themselves–which, honestly, would still be enough–but their interactions with one another. Detan and Tibs deserve to see their friendship portrayed on screen, simply so I can listen to their witty banter and see their hilarious facial-expression-exchanges somewhere else besides my head. They had me laughing from the start, pulled at my heartstrings on numerous occasions and from the very first page, felt so utterly natural; so real. Add in New Chum, Ripka Watch Captain (oh, I could write pages upon pages about the badassery and favoritism I feel towards Ripka Watch Captain), the dopple and the slew of other characters that you interact with in this creative, unique steampunk universe and my friend, you will be hooked. So utterly hooked.

Yet that wasn’t even my favorite aspect of the book.

I know, right? How could I fall so in love with the characters, be so drawn into their relationships, be utterly convinced at their reality that my own moods were affected by what they were going through (particularly on the Black), and yet that isn’t my favorite aspect of the book? What could possibly top that?

The details, friends. The details.

I grew up on Tolkien, so there isn’t any surprise that I have a fondness for details (but details that matter, details that entice and excite me, unlike the pages of details I’ve been forced to suffer through in works by authors like Steinbeck). O’Keefe’s work was special to me because I was constantly noticing the details, but not in an overbearing way. And in noticing them and being impressed with not only how they were written, but also what they were describing and how in-scene they brought me, I found myself craving more. I wanted paragraphs, page upon page, of detail. But, like I said, we weren’t onslaughted with description and backstory and the inner workings of the mind. They were sprinkled in, expertly woven into the narrative to the point that you can’t imagine reading this story without them.

Personally, I feel like that mastery–and risk–over detail is a lost art.

Technology has forced us to live life fast-paced, expecting everything instantly, where we just want to go, go, go. In talking with a lot of readers, I’ve found that many don’t appreciate a solid paragraph or page of description like readers once did. In turn, I think authors and their books run the risk of choosing to cut those details or hell, not even writing them in the first place, trying to appease the shortened attention spans and increased need to keep moving without pause of modern day readers.

Yet not O’Keefe. Not Steal the Sky. We get into the nitty-gritty of the world. We are given the extra details. We are allowed to pause and soak it all in–and with so many elements incorporated into this novel, there is plenty to soak in; plenty that deserves our pause and attention. And though I can never know if O’Keefe was purposeful in how she used detail in her novel, if there was any ulterior motive in being a more descriptive writer (in my opinion) or if she just writes this brilliantly naturally, I am so thankful for it. I am so thankful for the reminder that detail can be incorporated and it can be enjoyed and written in ways that make you smile, nod your head or cringe.

Detail is the biggest reason why I would label Steal the Sky as utterly refreshing.

Notice how I gave you no examples of what I was talking about above? No witty banter exchanges between Detan and Tibs? No paragraph showing exactly what I mean by expertly inserted and gloriously refreshing detail? I can’t know O’Keefe’s inspiration or process (but damn if I wouldn’t love to find out), but I do know my own and I’m not afraid to admit that I purposefully left any examples out, upping your curiosity and causing an itch for you to know exactly what I’m talking about; an itch that can only be sated by procuring a copy of Steal the Sky yourself. If my not-so-cleverly-disguised-or-executed tactic didn’t work, then you should just take my word for it and hop on down to the library. This is a writer–and a series–you are not going to want to miss.

Read on!

PS: Biggest missed opportunity of the year last year? O’Keefe was at WorldCon last year and I distinctly remember seeing her standing across from me in this epic writers circle I’m still baffled that I somehow was standing in the shadows of…and I didn’t say hello. I’m still pissed at myself for it, especially now that I’ve read her work and just want to nerd out/fangirl with her about it. UGH.