July has been a whirlwind of success at work (another deal announcement to come soon, eventually, maybe, keep your eyes open!) and the last few months is crunch time for the wedding, so I’ve been incredibly busy. Not enough time to write up reviews of the books I’ve read! Read, rate, carry on! So here is the miniest of mini reviews for a few of those books I’ve read lately…
Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon — ★★★ — Priory is inspired by the legends of King Arthur as well as St George and the Dragon. Know those legends and you have a great sense of this book. Shannon builds this world from the ground up, and it mirrors our own—Virtudom is clearly Christianity/Holy Roman Empire, the East and South clearly inspired by Asia, Middle East, and Africa. A diverse cast of characters and cultural interpretations, all with different understandings and beliefs of dragons. The dragon lore was neat. The plot threads were intricate and detailed, and I was impressed with how they wove together. That said, the pacing was off, this was far too long (I know the intention was to have one epic feminist fantasy standalone, but it could’ve been edited down another 200 pages OR split into two books, easily), some elements of worldbuilding were dumped through clunky dialogue, and though I enjoyed the folktale way this was written it actually kept me at a distance from the characters and their hopes, dreams, desires, and motivations. And therefore lots of elements didn’t feel relatable, authentic, or justified. I’ve read many reviews of this book, in trusted trade publications as well as readerly reactions. This worked for some, not for others. I think I’m firmly in the middle. I enjoyed it; there are aspects I connected to, was interested in, was impressed by. And equally elements that could’ve been much better if given more attention.
This qualifies as book 5 in my TBR challenge.
Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston — ★★★ — I was super excited for this and enjoyed the first half well enough—laughed out loud even!—but I think my own expectations are at fault here with regards to my enjoyment of the novel. I was expecting The Royal We (but gay), or Royals (but gay), a book firmly placed in adult (though it’s drawing a YA crowd) that deals with the ins and outs of a budding romance between two top people in their respective countries (which this kind of does…kind of). That’s not quite what this book is and if someone told me it’s more New Adult than YA or adult, specifically that it’s more sexy times than plot, then I would’ve bypassed this for something else. I want plot and character development and deep, thoughtful discussions, but instead found bantering (least favorite dialogue), hate to love (least favorite trope), and more sex than plot development. Needless to say, I was really into the politics of this (what a dream America!), the family dynamics, and the PR/behind-the-scenes elements. Again, many of my critiques on this book I can only blame on myself and my expectations. If you love the tropes and dialogue I mentioned above, if you love New Adult, if you love romance as Plot A, this is definitely your book!
This qualifies as book 6 in my TBR challenge.
The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan — ★★★ — Ryan’s previous WWII novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, was fun, cheeky, and hilarious while at the same time heart-wrenching and mournful. It was also written in epistolary form, with letters and diary entries informing the reader of the goings-on in the village. The Spies of Shilling Lane didn’t shine quite as much in comparison. It follows your standard narrative form of Point A to Point B, in third person, flipping between Mrs Braithwaite, her daughter Betty, and Betty’s landlord and Mrs B’s sidekick Mr Norris. The spies aren’t as intense as you’d expect from The Alice Network, for instance, but it does shed light on the situations at home and just how unsettling everything was with the inability to trust anyone. Moles, leaks, and double agents are littered throughout the narrative, and Mrs B and Mr Norris are caught in the crossfire. It was entertaining but forgetful. I think it was meant to be more on the funny and cheeky side of things, but I simply wasn’t catching on to that. Read it with a bit of humor in mind, and it’s like watching two old people bumble around solving cozy mysteries when they’re really in the thick of something much worse. I expected more, and perhaps I wasn’t exactly in the humorous mood, but if you need a light WWII novel I would highly recommend this one. Sometimes the genre can get very heavy—but have no fear, Mrs B is here!
This qualifies as book 7 in my TBR challenge.
Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear — ★★★ — I stumbled across this book when looking up comparative titles for a client’s new project. Frankly there aren’t enough Great Khan/steppe-or-China/Song-dynasty era books out there. A favorite last year, The Bird and the Blade, is inspired by an opera that’s inspired by this era, but that’s all I’m really aware of. I was drawn to the premise, stayed for the setting (the steppes are vast!), and left interested in reading another Elizabeth Bear book. I didn’t quite connect with the characters or their quest fully, but Bear’s writing hooked me.
This qualifies as book 11 of 10 in my library books challenge.