Tuesday Reviews Day: The Dreaded DNF List

It’s easy to read all my TRD posts and think that I hardly ever read a book I don’t like. And really, that’s usually true. I don’t run across many books I don’t like, partly because I just enjoy reading so much, but partly because I tend not to branch out as much as I should. If I find something I like, I seek out other books like it and read as many of those as I can. Of course, it’s easy to never be disappointed when you’re not really leaving your comfort zone all that often.

That’s why this week, I wanted to do something a little different for Tuesday Reviews Day. This week: my recent DNFs, or, all the books I tried so hard to read but just simply could not finish.

Listen. I know, as a voracious reader myself, refusing to finish a book can sometimes feel like a failure, or an admission of personal weakness, or even laziness. But life is too short for reading books you just don’t like (unless they’re for homework. Stay in school). There are far too many good and even great books in the world to waste time on a book that feels like work. So without further ado, here is my recent DNF List.

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Tuesday Reviews Day: Reign of the Fallen, Sarah Glenn Marsh

A delicate golden mask in the shape of a skull with ornate bird and bone details, wearing an elaborate jeweled silver crown, pictured on the cover of Sarah Glenn Marsh's novel.

The cover art for Marsh’s novel is every bit as dark and delightful as the novel itself.

I’ve had this book on my Goodreads TBR since I read about it on Twitter, so opening my January PageHabit box to find it peering out at me was better than Christmas morning. I couldn’t wait to read it, and I tore through it in just a matter of days. Continue reading

Tuesday Reviews Day: The Girl From Everywhere, Heidi Heilig

Heidi Heilig's book The Girl From Everywhere

The cover of Heidi Heilig’s novel, The Girl From Everywhere

You don’t have to know me long to know what some of my key interests are: pirates, time travel, and history are pretty high on the list. This book has all that and more, so it’s not surprising that it’s been on my various TBR lists and wishlists basically since it was announced. I finally got it as a Christmas gift this past holiday season, and I tore through it like it was the first novel I’ve ever read.

In some ways, it really felt like it was.

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Tuesday Reviews Day: The Lake Effect, Erin McCahan

 

The Lake Effect Cover Art

The Lake Effect cover art

If you didn’t already know, my husband and I live in the Southern United States. It’s beautiful; lots of trees, a variety of landscapes (mountains, beach, etc., all within day-trip distance), a staggering amount of wildlife and next to no light pollution. Plus: it’s hot. Almost all the time. Except for the last month or two. It’s been unseasonably cold around here, and we even had a few snow flurries last week. So it seemed like the perfect time to go back a bit to one of my end-of-summer reads that never made it to the review page.

Let’s hope it knocks the chill off.

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Tuesday Reviews Day: Scarlet, by A.C. Gaughen

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Detail of SCARLET cover art, illustrator unknown

Another Book Riot inclusion is raised from the ashes of the TBR pile to the Completed list, but this time with mixed emotions. Maybe it’s because I love reading so much, maybe it’s because I don’t branch out of my comfort zone enough, who knows, but for whatever reason I don’t seem to read a lot of books that I just flat-out do not like. Most of my reviews are overwhelmingly positive, and it’s probably easy for y’all to think that either I only post paid reviews or I just am easily pleased with any book. Neither of those things are true.

Personally, I don’t like reading negative reviews of books before I read them, because I want to avoid the possibility of being influenced by someone else’s dislikes. If you’re like me in that, you may want to skip today’s review, although this week’s review isn’t as much negative as it is a flat-line.

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Friday Reads: So It Begins

Grad school classes begin on Monday, and it appears no one has informed my anxiety disorder. So far I’m pretty calm about it, maybe even excited. I spent some time this week reviewing my syllabus for Literary Theory, and I’m beyond stoked for this class. The entire month of November will be spent on Feminist Theory and Gender/Queer Theory, which I am considering an early holiday gift from my professor. He also informed us that skimming most of our assigned readings is acceptable and expected, so we’re friends now. It’s fine.

I haven’t heard anything from my other professor yet, but I’m not worried; class doesn’t actually begin until Monday so there’s still time.

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Book Review Time: Dead Iron (Age of Steam #1), Devon Monk

Dead Iron cover

Stunning cover art by the disgustingly talented Cliff Nielsen

Okay, I promised y’all a book review and a book review is what you’re gonna get!

(FYI, I post quick and dirty book reviews on my page over at Goodreads. Those entries are springboards for longer reviews which may contain spoilers, which I will post here. If you want a quick look at my thoughts immediately—or very soon, at least—after reading a book, spoiler- and summary-free, always check my Goodreads reviews first.)

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I’ll be the first to admit I don’t branch out of my comfort zone very often. I don’t read books by people I’ve never heard of unless someone I know says, “hey, you’d really dig this book. Why don’t you check it out?” I’ll also admit that while Devon Monk has quite a few other novels under her belt, I’d never heard of her. Which initially made me sad, because I like to support female authors. Now, of course, it just gives me a reason to sing her praises for the Age of Steam series.

Like I said, I don’t branch out a lot. But what I do know is if you want me to read a book, any book about anything at all, tell me it’s a Western. I’ll read a Western until the spine breaks and the pages fall out, and then I’ll tape it carefully back together or hold each page individually if I have to. (Have actually done that. One of my Westerns is a first edition from the early 1900s and it is literally falling apart. Books are meant to be read, guys.) I. Love. Westerns. My great-grandfather (a.k.a. Very Best Friend in the Whole Wide World) loved them, introduced me to them, and my love for the genre has spiraled out of control ever since. In fact, in my entire reading life I’ve only met one Western I didn’t like. I still finished it.

Dead Iron is a Western. But just in case I might decide to overlook it, to think “I don’t know her, what if I spend $15 and it sucks, omg, I can’t take the pressure,” this book decides to also be steampunk. And also paranormal.

O ok can I have 6 copies please

(I kind of have a thing for steampunk/Victorian lit)

(I basically love everything with words)

(and also parentheticals)

After all that digressing, it’s time for some reviewing. Spoilers ahoy!

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The cover art is indeed the main character, so, mrowr, helloooo nurse. He’s Cedar Hunt, a university teacher from Back East (oh please could he get any hotter?) who is also an out-of-control werewolf, thanks to a mysterious curse from a Pawnee god. He may or may not have murdered his also-cursed brother. He’s arrived in Hallelujah, Oregon, ahead of a fancy railroad mogul with some sinister ulterior motives. I love the word ‘sinister’.

The novel is entirely set in and around this tiny town, with a cast of characters including a young female deviser with an unknown past, a widowed witch looking to avenge her husband, a blacksmith whose son goes missing, a trio of brothers with an unusually strong connection to the land, and a Strange henchman who isn’t as much man as machine.

While the novel is a bit of a slow burn at the beginning, it’s anything but boring. It does border on overly technical in places, where Monk pauses to describe the town’s steam clock, for example. And while you may not be able to power through these sections, they’re certainly worth savoring, because that clock gives a bit of insight on sleepy old Hallelujah. And I think the slow burn is partly due to the decision to use alternating third person perspective, in which each chapter shifts to a new focal character. Due to chapters that are fairly short on average, it can sometimes be jarring, especially in a marathon read, but overall it doesn’t pull you out of the narrative. It can, however, give the impression that perhaps Cedar isn’t the main character after all.

And the world-building. Wow. While there isn’t a chapter devoted to its point of view, the land, as in all good Westerns, is very much a driving force and a character of its own in this novel. Dead Iron may be set in the US, but keep in mind this is Steam Age America. Nothing is familiar and yet everything is. I was completely transported to this place where ladies wear bonnets and petticoats, people ride horses and pull wagons, and yet there are machines crafted from gears and powered by steam to perform every function in life—and every function to end it. Even the paranormal and horror elements didn’t feel out of place, and it’s typically very easy to end my suspension of disbelief. Sorry, but I’m a nitpick.

Before I realized this was part of a series, I was a little disappointed in the lack of backstory on both Rose and Cedar. But never fear! There are two more books for all that. (Coincidentally, two more reviews coming soon! Ha.) I love the character development Monk executes here, though. Even without backstory, and in some places because it’s missing, Rose and Cedar are full characters with clear goals, fears, and conflicts of their own. And speaking of conflicts, the sexual tension between Cedar and the widowed witch Mae is fascinating. It’s frustrating (see what I did there?) but believable; after all, she’s very recently widowed. But don’t expect that to stop you from trying to will them into getting together. Overall, though, I think Monk treats all the characters with a fair amount of development, detailed yet appropriately concise. I especially love seeing strong female characters who aren’t as emotional as either brick walls or newborns and aren’t advanced through the story via a graphic rape scene. (Seriously though, that’s a cop-out move.)

It’s not often I run across a book I simply can’t stand to put down. In fact, I think the last time that happened was The Hunger Games series. But Dead Iron changed that. Over and over I heard myself say things like, “I’ll eat in a minute, only five more pages,” only to finish those and sneakily begin the next chapter. “Sorry, babe, this chapter’s longer than I thought. Ten more pages?”

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I plan to round up every review with a few quick stats regarding things that are important to me. Here they are:

World-building: 5/5 (Detailed, plausible settings; environment conducive to plot/characters/etc)
Character development: 4/5 (Characters with strengths and weaknesses, observable growth/change)
Storyline: 5/5 (Here, I consider time shifts, main plot vs secondaries, believability, etc)
Style: 5/5 (For this I think about stylistic choices like imagery, diction, POV, etc)

Overall: 5/5

Bechdel test: PASS

I was not solicited or paid for this review. I bought the book with my own money, read it on my own time, loved it with my own heart, and raved about it of my own accord. You should do the same.