Pub Day Post: Of Honey and Wildfires by Sarah Chorn: Love, Family, and Loss in a Western-Flavored Fantasy

I have a lot of respect for those who’ve dumped the 5 Star Rating System—and I’ve often thought about it, but I’m too far into that rut to change anytime soon. But every now and then, I come across a book that I really don’t want to rate, because I don’t want the stars to distract from what I have to say. This is one of those (in case you wondered why I was blathering on up here).


Of Honey and Wildfires

Of Honey and Wildfires

by Sarah Chorn

Kindle Edition, 3008 pg.
2020

Read: April 23-27, 2020

I will tell you this: Home is not a place. Home is an architecture of bones and a steadily thumping heart. Home is where dreams are born, and monsters are put to rest. It is where the soul can unfurl like the petals of a flower and find succor in the golden blush of each new day.

Home was my father’s arms. When I was in them, I knew nothing in the world could touch me.

This is a pretty plot-light novel, it’s more focused on what the characters experience than what happens to themnot that things don’t happen, aren’t interesting/compelling, or anything. It’s just a matter of emphasis. Anyway, here’s the blurb to get us going:

From the moment the first settler dug a well and struck a lode of shine, the world changed. Now, everything revolves around that magical oil.

What began as a simple scouting expedition becomes a life-changing ordeal for Arlen Esco. The son of a powerful mogul, Arlen is kidnapped and forced to confront uncomfortable truths his father has kept hidden. In his hands lies a decision that will determine the fate of everyone he loves—and impact the lives of every person in Shine Territory.

The daughter of an infamous saboteur and outlaw, Cassandra has her own dangerous secrets to protect. When the lives of those she loves are threatened, she realizes that she is uniquely placed to change the balance of power in Shine Territory once and for all.

Secrets breed more secrets. Somehow, Arlen and Cassandra must find their own truths in the middle of a garden of lies.

The primary characters are richly drawn, complex, fallible, psychologically rich. And they feel. Oh, how they feel. Chorn describes these feelings in wonderfully composed passages that get the reader to feel what they donot to know what the character feels, or to empathize with thembut to actually feel it.

These characters tell stories about home. About family. About love. About how fleeting, how ephemeralyet permanent and fixedthese things can be.

Cassandra, for example, is left by her father to be raised by a solid, stable, caring family. But the whole community knows who her father is, so she’s ostracized, bullied, with few who show her any kindness at all. We watch her as she ages with only rare visits from her father, slowly making (and strengthening) connections with these few.

We don’t spend as much time watching Arlen’s life, we know him instead for a few intense days. The hidden truths he confronts change him, change how he thinks about his youth, his purpose in life, and his notions of family.

For both of themwe see varying strong and defining visions of fatherhood. Fatherhoodin healthy, successful or less so–depictions is one of the hearts of the novel.

I didn’t connect with any of the characters the way I think the novel wanted me to, or much at all, really. But there were scenes, events in each of their lives that affected me greatly. There’s death, there’s lossthere’s compassion and something like hope, too.

What makes me glad I read this is the prose. Chorn’s writing wowed me last year and is just as striking here. There’s a part of me that doesn’t care what the book is about or who the characters she writes areI want to read it. I just want to soak in her language.

So, yeah, I didn’t like this as much as I wanted to. Many of you will wonder what’s wrong with me after you read it (a few of you will think I’m too generous). But I am glad I read thisit’s been a long time since I’ve read a book so carefully written as Of Honey and Wildfiressome of the sentences, some of the scenes are the best that I’ve read since…well, since Chorn’s Seraphina’s Lament. It’s raw, honest, open and beautiful. I didn’t love it, but I commend it to you.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion, I thank her for it.

Top 5 Saturday: Sibling Relationships

Top 5 Saturday Sibling Relationships

The Top 5 Saturday weekly meme was created by Amanda at Devouring Books.

Rules!

  • Share your top 5 books of the current topic—these can be books that you want to read, have read and loved, have read and hated, you can do it any way you want.
  • Tag the original post (This one!)
  • Tag 5 people (I probably won’t do this bit, play along if you want)

This week’s topic is: Sibling Relationships. If the Weasley family doesn’t immediately spring to mind once you think about siblings, there might be something broken in your mind—ditto for the Pevensies. But I wouldn’t let myself use them. The more I wrote in this list, the more relationships came to mind that I don’t have space for–that’s very annoying (a lot of fun, too), I hate to leave some of these off. I don’t know why I didn’t grab sibling relationships that are more than a pair (the aforementioned groups, the Spellmans or Tropper’s Altmans would’ve worked)—I’m assuming it’s because I had one sibling myself, so I tend to think of pairs rather than 3+?

Sibling relationships are tricky to depict—they’re all a little different, but there are some typical aspects. There’s a shared history (even if individuals react pretty differently to them, and remember them differently); jealousy/rivalry—usually tempered by some sort of affection and loyalty; usually a bit of reflexive self-sacrifice (frequently malgré lui); and a kind of honesty you don’t get from anyone else.


Raistlin and Caramon Majere

from: Dragonlance Chronicles, Dragonlance Legends
by
Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman

This is the first sibling relationship that really sticks out at me (post-juvenile fiction, anyway). They need each other (in healthy and unhealthy ways), but really don’t like each other. There’s a love and a bond that’s nigh-unbreakable, don’t get me wrong, but man…Raistlin treats his brother like trash. I remember regularly being so upset with him for that (and a little bit now just thinking about it), but Caramon keeps coming back for it. He never gives up on his twin. Even when—especially when—he absolutely should. It’s a nuanced and complex relationship and is likely one that I judge many other fictional representations by.

Side note: I really need to re-read the first couple of Dragonlance trilogies.


Jack and Jill Wolcott

from: Wayward Children
by
Seanan McGuire

(art by Rovina Cai)
While I do wonder if McGuire had come back to this well one time too many in this series, there’s clearly something about this fractured relationship (huh, another set of twins, with one more to come…didn’t mean to do that) that clearly resonates with readers and the author. If there’s anything healthy in their relationship when we first meet them, it’s gone by the most recent volume—but they’re the textbook definition of inextricably linked. To their detriment, yes, but that’s beside the point. Fascinating pair.


Scout and Jem Finch

from: To Kill a Mockingbird
by
Harper Lee

Scout worships her brother (doesn’t stop her from being frustrated with him frequently) and Jem’s clearly devoted and protective of her. I’ve loved reading about these two since I first met them in Mme. Dobbs’ English class* in high school and I’ll probably love it for the rest of my life. They’re not ideal, but they’re pretty close.

* she also taught my French class, so I reflexively think of her with that title)


Doug and Clair Parker

from: How to Talk to a Widower
by
Jonathan Tropper

Alas, I don’t have a picture of them—Tropper doesn’t inspire a lot of fan art. Yeah, Doug and Clair’s relationship echoes any number of the sibling relationships in Topper’s work. This is honestly the first pair that jumped to mind when I compiled this list. The honesty, the humor, the prodding/pushing, and care between the two is one of the best parts of this novel (probably my favorite of his). Great interplay between the two. Neither Doug or Clair remind me of my sister or myself individually, but for some reason, their relationship made me think about our relationship.


Harry Dresden and Thomas Wraith

from: Dresden Files
by
Jim Butcher

(art by Mika-Blackfield)
Sure, these two weren’t aware of each other for most of their lives, so their shared history has only to do with their mother. Still, the bond, the love, the loyalty that everyone thinks of when it comes to brothers is perfectly depicted with these two. They’re probably my favorite sibling pair that’re still being written about—I just hope they both survive ’til the end.

The Identity Thief by Alex Bryant: A Contemporary Hunt for Centuries-Old Power

The Identity Thief

The Identity Thief

by Alex Bryant
Series: The God Machine, #1

Kindle Edition, 438 pg.
K&M Books, 2020

Read: April 13-14, 2020


Bryant has given us a YA/MG Urban Fantasy Adventure with so many layers that it’s hard to summarize or talk about with any degree of detail.

Essentially the book is about a villain with the unlikely name of the Cuttlefish who is trying to steal as many of a set of books that he can. On the face of it, that doesn’t seem to be much of a premise, even when you throw magic into the equation. Cuttlefish doesn’t really strike fear into your heart at first glance, and stealing books? Really? But the lengths he goes to in order to get these books—fatal lengths—gets the reader invested far before the motive behind wanting all the books is revealed.

While the Cuttlefish is running around England, using his very interesting brand of magic, we generally focus on a twelve-year-old girl, Cass, her friends, her mother, a boy she’s totally not interested in (and he’s not interested in her, just ask them), and a new family in their neighborhood.

Cass seems like a fairly typical pre-teen. Her peers’ approval of her is more important than it should be and overrides her reflexes to be polite/friendly when it comes to Hector (the new boy). In a nice bit of realism (even if it’s frustrating to read) that when her friends show themselves to be unworthy of her loyalty/concern, she’s still unwilling to break free from them.

Hector is an unattractive, socially awkward (for good reasons, it turns out) boy of Greek descent (in this world magic is tied to ancient Greek culture, so he’s a little bit of an outsider already). He desperately wants to be Cass’s friend but has no idea how to do that—especially not in a way that she won’t find mortifying. Not only is he strange, but he is also prone to seizures—there’s just no way for him to gain any kind of social acceptance.

Cass’s mother is with the police, a branch dedicated to policing magic users—and she’s very involved in the Cuttlefish hunt. She’s also decided that Hector and his mother are going to be her project—they’re new to the area and not that welcomed by the populace. So, she’s going to do her part to make up for everyone else. As is Cass, whether she wants to or not. Hector’s mom is strange, but incredibly friendly—which really doesn’t help Cass. And when the two mothers get uncomfortably close, Cass just can’t handle it.

Cass is part of a clique of four at her school, and she’s definitely not the Alpha. One of her friends is nice, supportive and not really as fixated on the typical popularity/social goals. The other two are probably not the kind of girls you want your daughter to be friends with. In pack-mode, however, the don’t make life easy for Hector. Although there’s a group of boys who make these girls look like saints—although one of them (the one Cass is absolutely only a friend with) does try to get everyone to treat Hector like a human being. You may find yourself tempted occasionally to wonder why we’re dealing with all the twelve-year-old drama, but have patience, it’ll pay off—also, Bryant makes it all entertaining enough that you rarely wonder what it has to do with the Cuttlefish story.

Cuttlefish is sort of a Voldemort figure. He’s a notorious thief who disappeared (and was assumed dead) for years, only to re-appear with more outlandish crimes than before. The thing about him is that no one knows what he looks like. He is an Identity Thief—he can perfectly mimic anyone—voice, appearance—the whole thing. Typically, he takes on the likeness of his most recent victim and uses that identity to gain access to his next.

The magic system is pretty intricate, but there’s a lot yet to learn. It does, again, have its roots in Ancient Greece, and the alphabet and language of the Greeks are vital to its use. As magic users are ostracized in British (and presumably, Western) culture, Greeks are seen as likely magic users and are treated suspiciously. It’s a strange quirk that most authors wouldn’t have added to this, but says a lot about this world.

The Identity Thief joins a large number of books I’ve read in the last 6 months or so that scatters a lot of supplemental material throughout the book—newspaper articles, school flyers, website comment forums, and the like—these add a lot of flavor to the book, as well as ways for Bryant to dump a lot of information about the world without detracting from the narrative. Oh, also, most of them are just a lot of fun.

There is a darkness to this book that’s uncommon for YA/MG fiction. But there’s a playfulness to all of it, too—particularly the Cuttlefish portions. He enjoys what he’s up to. The feel of the work reminds me of Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant. And like Landy’s books, this is the kind of YA/MG (MG-leaning) book that can appeal to readers of all ages.

I had a blast reading this—Bryant’s creativity with the magic involved is only topped by the creativity he displays with the plot. Every time I thought I knew what he was going, he’d pull something off that I couldn’t have expected. Those times where I did know what to expect (there were a couple of them), his execution was still skillful enough that it felt like I didn’t know what was coming. Which is a pretty neat trick, you have to admit.

This was simply fun to read and I’m a more than a little curious about what’s in store for these characters. Inventive, stylish, unpredictable—The Identity Thief should steal a place on your TBR right away.


3.5 Stars


My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this reveal and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

Love Books Group

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: The Identity Thief by Alex Bryant

Today I’m pleased to welcome the Book Tour for the unexpected The Identity Thief by Alex Bryant. A few weeks ago, I was pleased to take part in the cover reveal for the book, and now it’s time to talk about the book! Following this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit. But let’s start by learning a little about this here book, okay?


Book Details:

Book Title: The Identity Thief by Alex Bryant
Release date: February 28, 2020
Format: Ebook/Paperback
Publisher: K&M Books
Length: 438 pages

Book Blurb:

A shapeshifting sorcerer called Cuttlefish unleashes a terrifying wave of magical carnage across London. A strange family known as the River People move into Cassandra Drake’s neighbourhood. Are the two events connected?

Spoiler alert: no.

Reasons to buy this book:
✔ Good cover.
✔ Cheap. Seriously, the Kindle version only costs as much as about 3 mangoes. What would you rather have – 10 hours of gripping urban fantasy, or 30 minutes of biting into sweet, succulent mango flesh?
✔ OK, I shouldn’t have used mango, objectively the best fruit, as a comparison. But buying this book doesn’t stop you from buying mangoes, if that’s what you insist on doing.

About the Alex Bryant:

Alex BryantAlex has led a largely comfortable but unremarkable life in North London, and more recently Oxford. His main hobbies as a kid were reading and sulking.

When he’s not writing, he’s performing with his improvised comedy troupe, Hivemind Improv. And when he is writing, he’s procrastinating.

The first idea for The God Machine came when he was 19, shortly after falling off a horse. Or possibly shortly before – the exact chronology is lost to history. So is the horse’s name, in case you were wondering.

Social Media:

Author Site ~ Goodreads ~ Instagram ~ Facebook ~ Twitter

Purchase Link:

https://amzn.to/2vlq0Qg

My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this reveal and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

Love Books Group

A Few Quick Thoughts about The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (Audiobook) by Stuart Turton, James Cameron Stewart

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

by Stuart Turton, James Cameron Stewart (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 17 hrs., 4 min.
Tantor Audio, 2018

Read: March 6-19, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

Too little information and you’re blind, too much and you’re blinded.

If I said everything I wanted to here, I’d blind you with too much information.

In the interest of A. Time and 2. Not wanting to overwhelm you with anything but mostly III. I don’t want to take away the impact that reading/listening to this would bring to you. So…I’m going to be brief.

Let’s start with the publisher’s description:

The Rules of Blackheath

Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m.

There are eight days, and eight witnesses for you to inhabit.

We will only let you escape once you tell us the name of the killer.

Understood? Then let’s begin…

***

Evelyn Hardcastle will die. Every day until Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. And some of his hosts are more helpful than others.

For fans of Claire North and Kate Atkinson, The 71/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a breathlessly addictive novel that follows one man’s race against time to find a killer—but an astonishing time-turning twist means that nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

When I grabbed this audiobook, I remembered less than 1 percent of what I’d read about it. I just remembered bloggers loving it. Also, it was on Chirp, so…you know, cheap, and I needed something to listen to. So without even reading the blurb again, I grabbed it.

What a mind-bending book. I’ve seen comparisons to Clue (the movie, not the game), Agatha Christie, Groundhog Day, and Quantum Leap—I’d add Knives Out. Those comparisons are all apt. Add those things with some incredibly brilliant writing—there are sentences here that justify the expense and/or time involved just to hear/read them. Throw in a clever, clever book and it’s a real winner.

It’s sort of a fantasy. It’s a very old school mystery. It’s impossible to encapsulate. The themes explored include:
bullet Identity
bullet Memory
bullet Vengence
bullet Corruption (inner and public)
bullet Forgiveness
bullet Redemption

Stewart’s narration was pretty solid—occasionally I wondered about his choices for female voices—but all in all he kept me engaged and entertained.

I thought the book dragged a bit from time to time, but it’s hard to think of anything Turton really could’ve cut/rearranged to help that–and the large portion that didn’t drag made up for the rest easily. To say that the plot is intricate is to undersell it, I don’t remember the last book I read that was quite this intricate and well-constructed. It’s truly impressive, thoroughly entertaining, and completely provocative.

Listen to it, read it, whatever…put it on your list and you’ll be glad you did.


4 Stars

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

COVER REVEAL: The Cauldron of Life by Caroline Logan

Welcome to The Irresponsible Reader’s part in the Cover Reveal for Caroline Logan’s The Cauldron of Life! (I know I say this all the time, but it seems like the thing to note: thanks to Time Zones and whatnot, this isn’t so much a Cover Reveal as much as it is a Cover Confirmation at this point, but that’s being a little pedantic). The important thing to focus on is that there’s a spiffy looking cover down below, but before the picture, I’ve got a few words to share about the book.

Book Blurb

Join the journey; discover your destiny

Harris has been captured by the Faerie Queen and Ailsa must journey once again into the heart of Eilanmòr to rescue him.

But Ailsa is struggling with her newfound magic and the revelations about her real identity. Is the Faerie Queen Ailsa’s mother? Is everything she believed about her past a lie?

Meanwhile, a war is brewing between Heaven and Hell, with the world as the battleground. The lines between good and evil are blurring, and Ailsa must decide where she stands.

Publication date: 1st October 2020

 

978-1-911279-52-5 The Cauldron of Life Paperback
978-1-911279-53-2 The Cauldron of Life ebook

The Author

Caroline LoganCaroline Logan is a writer of Young Adult Fantasy. Her debut novel, The Stone of Destiny, is the first in The Four Treasures series, and the much-anticipated, The Cauldron of Life, will be the second.

Caroline is a high school biology teacher who lives in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland, with her fiancé. Before moving there, she lived and worked in Spain, Tenerife, Sri Lanka and other places in Scotland. She graduated from The University of Glasgow with a bachelor’s degree in Marine and Freshwater Biology. In her spare time, she tries to ski and paddleboard, though she is happiest with a good book and a cup of tea.
Instagram: @bearpuffbooks
Twitter: @bearpuffbooks


Without further ado…

The Cover


That is one seriously good lookin’ cover. The kind of cover to make someone buy it without bothering to really read the blurb (although the blurb is worth reading)



My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this reveal and the materials they provided.

Love Books Group

Top 5 Saturday: Trilogies


The Top 5 Saturday weekly meme was created by Amanda at Devouring Books.

Rules!

  • Share your top 5 books of the current topic—these can be books that you want to read, have read and loved, have read and hated, you can do it any way you want.
  • Tag the original post (This one!)
  • Tag 5 people (I probably won’t do this bit, play along if you want)

This week’s topic is: Trilogies. I immediately wrote down three of these, and then thought a bit and came up with 8 more. I whittled those down to five—the ones that had the biggest impact on me/my development as a reader. I left a lot of good candidates out, but at the end of the day, these are the biggies for me. I’ve read them all multiple times (except #4, honestly—only read that twice), and would gladly do so again tomorrow (well, okay, in three weeks, am too busy in the meantime).


The Foundation Trilogy
by
Isaac Asimov

Hari Seldon, uber-mathematician, creates a new science combining mathematics and social sciences to predict (and shape) how humanity will react to the imminent fall of the Galactic Empire. He uses this science to come up with a way to shape the future, helping humanity survive the challenges on their way. I read this sooo many times in high school—for years it served as the ruler by which I judged all SF. Also, other than his Black Widowers mysteries, my favorite works by Asimov.

Yeah, there were a couple of sequels (not nearly as good) and other related works, but these were a trilogy for so many years, I have no problem ignoring the others.


The Deed of Paksenarrion
by
Elizabeth Moon

Wow. This is just…wow. Rather than submit to the arranged marriage her father has planned, Paksenarrion, takes off and joins the army. Eventually is trained and recognized as a Paladin. A fantastic hero’s journey that I wish I remembered more of. I remember being blown away by it and hating that the trilogy ended.


The Barrytown Trilogy
by
Roddy Doyle

Can I talk about these in less than 1500 words? These books focus on the Rabbitte family in Dublin. The first chronicles the oldest son’s attempts to launch his career as the manager of The Commitments, the second is about the very unplanned pregnancy of the eldest daughter (and her father’s struggle to accept it—followed by his outrageous pride for the kid), and the last focuses on the father’s attempt to provide for his family after he becomes unemployed by opening a chip van (a precursor to today’s food truck obsession). They’re all as funny as you could hope, full of hope, sadness, and love. I’m getting excited just by writing this snipped about them.


The Dragonlance Chronicles
by
Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night, and Dragons of Spring Dawning were my obsession in eighth grade—one I shared with as many people as I could. I’m pretty sure the fantasy I respond to today is the fruit of these books. And I’m totally okay with that. Say what you will about the quality of these, they hold a special place in my heart (right above the cockles, near the blockage on the right)


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy
by
Douglas Adams

Was there any doubt? I can’t stop talking about Adams/This Trilogy (see my Annual Towel Day posts, for example). From the moment I read the first chapter (three or four times before I moved on to Chapter 2) to the point when I heard the radio series to getting the planet icon tattooed on my arm to today and all points between. This Trilogy has been at or near the top of my list, and will stay there for a long time to come.

I maybe should’ve added Colfer’s 6th volume, but…I decided to go old school.