Review: Chaos Trims my Beard by Brett Herman

Published by: self-published
ASIN: B06XTD7C9N
ISBN: 1517008301
ISBN 13: 9781517008307
Published: September 2015
Pages: 460
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

Read for the SPFBO, this is the first book I dove into once we had our shortlist of ten.

As the title shows, this book has a noir-style element to it, in the way that it’s told and the mood it sets. It worked in that it assisted with the world building and made it stand out from the crowd and gives it a bit more of an urban fantasy feel whilst keeping it grittier than most.

What we have here is a dwarf and his rat-police friend (also as we can see from the cover), who are far more relatable than most protagonists we get as they’re stuck in dead-end jobs, doing and fixing things that no one else wants to get involved in, and not getting much thanks for it either most of the time.

I really liked the worldbuilding in this one, which is good as that is primarily what drives the storyline. While the characters are engaging and fun they don’t entirely drive the story – and they are the primary cause for concern at the ending which I will admit was a little disappointing.

What let this one down for me, other than the fact it’s in dire needs of an editor (so many typos!), is that while I get it was trying to be zany and hilarious it didn’t quite balance it well throughout the book. Pratchett is zany, and yet the world makes sense and so forth – in this, it kind of felt like a NaNo novel where you literally just write anything to keep the pace going and hit those 1,667 words a day so you can give yourself a tick. And hell, it keeps you reading if nothing else – parts were highly entertaining… but does a fun book mean it should win? *shrug*

This one certainly has a lot of potential for the future, that, I can say for it.

Review: A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 0671578855
ISBN 13: 9780671578855
Published: 1999
Pages: 544
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

We meet Miles again soon after we left him after Komarr, where he first met Ekatarin. They’re back in Barrayar and the countdown is on for Gregor’s marriage to Laisa which means everyone is coming in for the big event. Mark returns after some time with his grandmother on the free-thinking Beta Colony along with Kareen and neither of them are overly happy to be back on the judgey Barrayar. Their parents Aral and Cordelia are on their way back, and their night of return is about as ill-timed as possible.

But before all that, Miles is helping Ekatarin and Nikki settle in. He offers her a slice of the Vorkosigan grounds to create a public garden for everyone to enjoy and Nikki has free reign of the household and the nearby kids (mostly that of the staff) to play with. This, of course, doesn’t mean that he has a monopoly on her interests. Despite her mourning attire and the fact she tries her best to brush off any attempts at holding her interest, several other men arrive on her doorstep to try to charm her away. Barrayar has had far too many years of seeking only men for their progeny and now of course, the field for appropriate wives as at an all time low.

Meanwhile, Mark and Kareen along with the bizarre Enrique have brought a business venture to Barrayar that involves some kind of bug that it nutritious and not appalling to eat… it just looks gross. Personally I pictured an crunchier version of a witchetty grub (found in central Australia, which, incidentally tastes like a kind of nutty chicken if my memory isn’t playing tricks on me, I confess it’s probably been 15+ years since I’ve had any) anyway, with this venture, Ekaterin again, comes in handy.

Basically, anything and everything that is thrown at her only shows time and time again just how suited she is to the role of Lady Vorkosigan in ways Elli never wanted to. Other than the way she quite rightly storms off when it turns out that Miles asked her to create the garden so they could have an excuse to stay close together first, rather than firstly appreciating her abilities.

We see Miles’ parents elegantly handle the troubles that plague both their sons, Gregor continue to be surprisingly elegant, level headed, caring and intelligent, and a reveal of the lovely Ivan that had me clapping.

Overall, highly enjoyable. Even if at one point I had to put the book down thanks to such a high feeling of fremdschämen I really thought there was no possible way I could read on.

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Series: Winternight Trilogy #1
Published by: Ebury Digital
ISBN: 1101885939
ISBN 13: 9781101885932
ASIN: B01ESFW7F8
Published: January 2017
Pages: 336
Format reviewed: eVersion
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy #2)

This is such a beautiful book, and I feel so damn lucky that I just didn’t get around to reading it when it first came out, as now I immediately have the second book at hand to continue on with.

Vasya is daughter to a fairly wealthy man. Winters are hard, but he is lord of a small area, commanding a few villages/towns and the lands that surround them. He loses his wife in childbirth of Vasya, but has a handful of children already from previous births, so it is they and Dunya, the nurse/kitchen woman, to raise her. That is, until, the king asks he marry another and he takes a God-fearing woman home with him from the courts. She is seemingly insane and harsh, but she gives Vasya’s father another daughter at least.

The novel is told in a time of second sight, where there are beings who must be respected and bestowed of gifts in order to keep the peace, otherwise crops will wither and the cold will take loved ones in the night. They sleep upon ovens that stay lit through the night for warmth, eat of hard black bread and soft cheese, and pray for endurance. Vasya’s step-mother hates the old ways they live to so far from the big city, and with her presence the little creatures that once did the sewing and mending, or tended to the bathhouse, or looked after the horses, feel they are being chased away.

Then a new priest arrives in their home, and the old ways are spurned all the more. Duyva removes the fey stitches from her apron, and soon it is left to Vasya alone to share her crusts and spill her blood in order to keep her family safe. Despite the stepmother’s fearful demands and beatings, Vasya remains wild and at one with the woods and the whispers, and with these connections her gifts grow as much as they can – as they will need to, if her family is to survive the next winter.

The author says in the back of the book that she took certain liberties with some translations. I know little of Russian folklore so for me this worked beautifully – the many names a single person may be referred to as, what they eat and drink and do, their way of life… I love books where they are more or less controlled by their land (such as many Australian books are, by our need for water and the long stretches of desert) and in this is was, of course, the ice and snow and cold.

I loved the countless creatures and how they each hold their own domain, and none are particularly evil or good; they just are. The same of the stepmother and the priest; they are certainly the antagonists but they were truly acting in what they believed was right for their souls and for the souls around them. Just as Vasya’s father, who has to care for so many people under his lordship.

The book is quite short in a way, yet we see Vasya from birth to womanhood and we see such a packed world in such simple scenes. A whole lot of nothing happens for a while and yet it never feels like nothing is happening; it’s just a beautiful collection of words. This is a very enjoyable piece of work.

Review: More Than We Can Tell by Brigid Kemmerer

Series: Letters to the Lost #2
Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 1681190141
ISBN 13: 9781681190143
Published: May 2018
Pages: 408
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Letters to the Lost (Letters to the Lost #1)

Onto the second book I read in a day (but scheduled the review for the day after), we have the same characters, but the focus has moved to Declan’s best mate, Rev, who is the adopted son to two wonderful human beings.

Rev was abused as a child. His mother died close to his birth, and his father was a leader in a church… taking his beliefs to the level of starving and beating Rev into obedience. He was home schooled, never saw a doctor, the works. It’s only when his hand is held on the hot plate of the stove and his arm then broken in his struggles when he tries to run away from home, and his neighbour finally witnesses him vomiting, hurt, and absolutely petrified of his father.

His adoptive parents are beyond lovely and patient. When he first comes to them he can’t sleep for fear his father will come for him, and he’s also been raised to think black people are evil… but through their kindness and intelligence he slowly begins to trust and understand just how many things his father was wrong about. That was all when Rev was about seven.

In this novel he’s now eighteen. The laws restricting his father from him fell away along with his status as a minor, and within weeks of his birthday he receives a letter and then emails from his former-father. As if that isn’t enough his parents have taken in another child – something he’s generally used to – but instead of being a baby or kid it’s now a young teen, who has also been through hell to the point of grabbing a knife for protection and staring at people while they sleep.

Rev also has to be there for his mate who wants to go visit his father in jail for the first time, and then the girl he’s only just met is getting harassed online for being a gamer and her parents are getting a divorce. It’s all going on, and Rev is getting more and more worried he’ll turn out exactly like his father, and hurt the ones he loves.

Through this novel we see people who need lessons and patience in how to view a situation from eyes not their own, and give trust for people from the outside to reassure them that they are not bad, and everything will be okay. The hardest thing is understanding that some people out there aren’t just bad, they’re also misguided into thinking that they really are doing the best for the people they love – and that kettle of fish is so much harder to deal with.

This is a beautiful and hard book, and you just have to focus on the fact there are good people out there, instead of those who are really quite shit. The poor kids in this book. We just need more like Rev and his parents.