Aelina Isaacs’ Phantom & Rook: When an Immortal Falls in Love with a Witch was such a palate cleanser of a read, and easily bingeable. But don’t get me wrong, a LOT happens in this book.
There’s a hedge witch and an immortal who find each other after many years (though one of them doesn’t realize it), a wonderfully vibrant cast of supporting characters, and a mysterious game that’s causing chaos throughout the city.
I have to admit, this one kept me guessing. But, once I gave up on trying to figure out what the story was about, I finally realized it: Phantom & Rook is not about heroes fighting tangible villains, but inner ones. It’s about finding love and family again after being adrift for a very long time. Wrapped in a fantasy world filled with magic and mystery is a story about people who have experienced real world pain and suffering, and who must overcome it in order to finally find happiness.
I did wish there was a bit more backstory in this case, as there were mentions of several previous events that I would have liked to experience first hand with the characters. That said, it helped that there wasn’t a lot of it because the pace wasn’t interrupted. I’m very happy to see that there is already a short story out (When Witches Sing) because I really enjoyed my time in Levena. I would also love future stories that explore more of Arlo and Thatch’s pasts, so we can learn more about what made them the individuals they are today.
In all, I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting a warm hug after a heavy read, or a heavy day.
I made it to the halfway point before deciding not to continue, even though part of me wished I could. The book had great promise: a series of strange deaths, a protagonist of mixed descent finally ready to face her bogeyman, a father’s secret work, and a mysterious house in the woods tied to a murderer.
However, Maya, was just not likable. At least, not to me. I couldn’t connect with the main character on any level (even the mixed heritage point). The chapters where the book touches on her Guatemalan blood (from her dad’s side) seemed shallow, though I truly wish the author would have fleshed this aspect of Maya out more. I enjoyed the mystery behind discovering her father’s book, and really wanted a hint to the secrets it held earlier in the story. However, this aspect was often overshadowed by flashbacks about other aspects of Maya’s life, that I almost forgot about the book altogether.
I felt like there were many missed opportunities. Fleshing out Aubrey (and her possibly toxic friendship) earlier on rather than spending time on Dan, who pretty much disappears after the first few chapters. Also, fleshing out Maya’s connection with her grandmother, whose funeral she insisted on attending. Though, the reader didn’t get to meet the grandmother even in death. She remained an abstract. Perhaps it was an active choice not to show the grandmother during her funeral, and keep her as an abstract presence, but, it would have made death more concrete for Maya to have engaged with her grandmother’s body. It’s how we say goodbye, and gives things finality. That said, I enjoyed the description of the funeral procession through the graveyard. For some reason, graveyards in Latin America have a slumbering tranquility to them that I haven’t felt here in the US.
Also, there were large blocks of unnecessary backstory that slugged down the pace and took space away from the other competing themes.
However, despite the points I mentioned, Reyes succeeded in creating a character in Frank that was both creepy and manipulative. Dude was slimy as all heck, and I felt my heart race during the chapters where he interacted with young Maya. Teenage girls are vulnerable, and he played on her need for validation and acceptance so well that you didn’t realize it was manipulation until several encounters later.
Overall, TheHouse in the Pines was not a book for me, but it was ambitious and created a villain that was believable in his sliminess. I look forward to reading Reyes’ future work.
If you’re an old-school fantasy lover, this trilogy is for you.
Published in 2001, The Lesser Kindred is the second of the Tales of Kolmar Trilogy. Tor is one of my favorite fantasy publishers, so I often have high hopes for their books. Then again, my thoughts are a tad more biased because the first book of the series, Song in the Silence, also happens to be one of my absolute favorite books of all time. It’s one I pick up every few years and reread, seeing the characters with different eyes each time.
In Song in the Silence, we meet a young Lanen Kaelar, who was left by her mother as a baby and raised by her adopted father, a horse breeder. In her early twenties, Lanen is filled with wanderlust and eager to leave home and explore the lands of Kolmar. And maybe, if she’s lucky, find the legendary dragons she’s always dreamed about.
She finally gets her chance when her adopted father dies and she learns the circumstances behind her birth, and her mother’s departure, from her closest friend and truer father, Jamie. Mainly, she’s at the center of an old prophesy predicting the end of the world as they know it, and that she was promised to demons even before she was born. Together, Lanen and Jamie set out from their old home and Lanen is able to gain passage on a boat bound for the Dragon Isle, where she meets the creatures of her dreams and even falls in love with none other than the Dragon King. It’s this sense dreaming and fulfillment that draws me back to Song in the Silence time after time.
However, The Lesser Kindred is another story. I tried reading it before, when I was in my teens, and can honestly say that I understand it more now, in my thirties, than I did at fifteen. I can’t even remember if I finished it the first time, though it has lingered in the back of my mind for well over a decade and a half. In the second book, Lanen is more mature due to the struggles she, and her new husband Varien, have faced. Meanwhile the danger to her life is ever more present as the two set off to escape the demon master looking for them and fulfill a promise to Varien’s people. Not only this, but Lanen finds herself pregnant and facing an internal battle that further puts her life in jeopardy. Will her children be monsters? Will she really bring about the end of the world?
Definitely heavier themes to digest. Along with the themes of displacement from one’s home, human greed, and human resilience in the face of adversity. I can more relate to Lanen’s fear of an unknown future, and her frustration at others daring to try and control the course of her life. Motherhood is a great, often rewarding, thing. But how many mothers have wondered what kind of people their children would become? How many people have wondered if their actions would bring more evil than good?
In all, I really enjoyed picking The Lesser Kindred back up, and revisiting beloved characters (like old friends). The final book, Redeeming the Lost, is already on my bookshelf, waiting. I don’t think I’ll pick it up immediately because I am still digesting the rest of the second book. But once I do, I will take my time with it because I hate endings and especially endings of beloved stories. It’s only taken me about twenty-or-so years to read all three, so what’s a few more months, right?
Anyway, if you’re a lover of classic fantasy, I highly recommend the Tales of Kolmar trilogy. You won’t be disappointed, especially if you’ve ever felt a longing for magic and adventure.
I hope this finds you well and enjoying a restful weekend. As you know, one of my reading goals for the year is to support more local bookshops over large retailers like B&N and Amazon. And, this February, I was given just the opportunity!
I am most thankful to my friends for supporting my book habit, and for accompanying me to Downtown LA’s very own “The Last Bookstore”. This was only our second time ever exploring LA (and tackling it’s own unique kind of traffic), so we did hit a few bumps along the road – and a farmer’s market – before locating the establishment on the corner of South Spring Street.
I’d been wanting to visit this place for a long time and it did not disappoint! Not only did it have two huge floors, but it also housed several themed rooms, art installations, and shops!
I took in the magic of each section one step at a time, starting off with Fiction, Classics, and Young Adults. I allowed books to jump out, letting them choose me instead of me choosing them. (I eventually walked away with P. Schonstein’s A Time of Angels: A Novel, M. Tokuda-Hall’s The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, and an annotated copy of Frankenstein geared toward scientists and creatives of all types.)
On the second floor, I discovered not only a lovely Carroll-esque art installation (among several others) but also a wonderfully witchy little shop selling tarot cards, crystals, jewelry, and art by Liz Huston. I bought a few postcards to use as bookmarks there before heading out to find the book labyrinth. (Yes, they have a book labyrinth!)
It’s really an all-day kind of visit, but we were strapped for time as the drive back to the Central Valley was long. Before “re-entering the real world”, however, I made sure to leave well stocked in books and, of course, a hoodie.
Do you guys know of any bookshops in Northern California that I should visit?
The first book of 2023 was Everina Maxwell’s “Winter’s Orbit”, a fun romp through an intergalactic society filled with political intrigue and colorful characters, all framed within an icy alien landscape. It was a fun read, to say the least, though a bit more political than I usually like. There were a few parts where the pace was slow – roughly, the first third of the novel as we got to know Kiem and Jainan – the prince on royal probation and his Thean emissary husband. This isn’t a bad thing of course, especially if you prefer deeper character development over a fast-paced plot.
I originally went into it thinking it was a young adult book, but, by the halfway point I realized it’s more for adults. Some of the heavier themes included domestic abuse, trauma, and duty to one’s nation. Throw in a few assassination attempts, a done-with-your-shit emperor, a spunky assistant running from her space pirate past, and you’ve got a crazy ride. Also, both Kiem and Jainan grow throughout the story, overcoming their misconceptions about each other and themselves, and so became one of the most stable power couples in their mutual societies.
Overall, Winter’s Orbit surprised me by presenting some very mature themes amongst a colorful, imaginative landscape, as well as two main characters who struggle with real-life anxieties and fears. And, as space opera’s go, this one was a pretty quick read.
I am trying out a new format. Mainly, because I love writing letters and I thought it would be fun to incorporate that hobby into my online posts. Doesn’t it feel a lot less stuffy?
Anyway, happy holiday weekend! I hope this finds you well and enjoying a peaceful February overall. Even though the month’s almost over, I still find it hard to believe at times that we’re already in 2023! We’ll probably be in 2025 if I blink fast enough, ha!
I started the year with a few more manageable reading goals in mind. Five, to be exact. Last year felt like such a hot mess that I barely got any reading done and, in part, I wonder if it was because of my unrealistic expectations. I was trying to read 2-3 books a month, which is hard to do when you’re juggling full-time work and a bunch of other side projects. (And dealing with seasonal depression, where all you want to do is sleep and/or play nostalgia inducing video games – I discovered the cloud version of Kingdom Hearts for Nintendo Switch. Game over! Pun intended.)
So, this year I decided to take it easier and challenge myself at the same time by:
Reading at least 12 books in 2023.
Reading at least 2 of those 12 books in Spanish.
Reading at least 1 classic.
Supporting more local book shops over larger franchises. (Here’s looking at you B&N and Amazon.)
Making sure that at least 4 of the 12 books I read come from my kindle library, which grew over the previous year but never lessened. (Damn those kindle book deals.)
Pretty attainable goals, right? And, in fact, I’ve already read two books and even got to support an amazing local bookshop in LA, The Last Bookstore (post on this coming soon). So, I’m off to a great start.
How about you, friend? Did you enter the new year with any reading goals?
This is a beautiful book. Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a tender ride through the mind of Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza as he matures into a young man, and builds a lifelong relationship with his best friend, Dante Quintana. The two boys are like polar opposites, but bring out the best in each other. Ari is introspective by nature, and self doubting, while Dante is extroverted and very confident. Ari sometimes mentions how Dante seems to fit right in, while he himself struggles socially to the point of having no friends.
Both boys carry a deep weight within their hearts, and it’s their friendship that gives them the courage to approach life, and their parents. While one fears rejection by bringing up his imprisoned brother, the other fears disappointing his parents by coming out to them. Being Mexican-American myself, I wholeheartedly sympathized with the two boys because family is such an important thing in Latinx culture. It’s pretty much sacred, and the fear of disappointment is very real. Yet, what struck me the most was the depth of love between the two families, and the relationship the parents had with their children. Because, as we know, not all traditional parents are so open minded. So, seeing the level of tenderness and acceptance from the Mendoza’s and Quintana’s made me want to cry. In fact, I did, a few times.
What I enjoyed too was the use of the weather in this book. Hot summer days, clear starlit nights, and rainstorms. So many rainstorms. Saenz seemed to connect the weather with Ari in that way. In the beginning, it is summer and he is dry and parched, in need of a friend to exchange words with and validate his existence. Then come the storms of confusing emotions, of family secrets, of school, teenage angst, and injuries. It’s one after another for poor Ari, until, finally, the sky clears and he has come into himself.
In all, this is a fun and quick read, filled with the budding emotions of two teenage boys and the trials they face in a society that is not entirely understanding. But thankfully, they have family to rely on, as well as each other. Oh, and a dog named Legs. Let’s not forget Legs.
If you choose to give this a read, let me know what you think! I haven’t picked up the second book just yet, so I’d love to hear thoughts from those who have read it.
It’s easy to tell that Miller has a penchant for underdog characters. In Circe, we are introduced to a goddess who is not only the outcast of her family, but also the most human goddess you will ever meet. If, like me, you choose to read this book after reading “The Song of Achilles”, I can tell you now that it is just as poetically written and enchanting. However, while TSOA was a love story (albeit a tragic one), Circe is more of a story of survival and self-discovery.
We follow the Daughter of Helios as she first grows up in her father’s halls, ignored by all until she finally begins to show signs of her true power: witchcraft. Sadly, it is this power – feared by the gods – that leads to her eventual exile on the island of Aiaia. There, while she grows into herself and learns the extent of her powers, Circe is faced with a series of challenges, and visitors, that teach her more about the human experience.
I fell in love with Circe because she is no pushover. There is a resilience to her that is both inspiring and humbling. Though she is no saint, with blood on her hands, she feels regret, guilt, and she learns from her mistakes. She has inner strength that keeps her moving forward when others might have given up. For example, early on in the story, she is severely injured by her own father as punishment for contradicting him. And later on, on Aiaia, she is assaulted by wayward sailors. (Trigger warning for those who are sensitive to SA and physical abuse.) These are just a few of the many trials she overcomes, and that’s not even touching on all the difficulties she faced during motherhood (which are, honestly, a nightmare all on their own).
In all, her story is a long journey through time and turmoil, and unimaginable pain. She is touched by gods and heroes alike, creates and kills monsters, becomes a mother, and faces down eternal isolation. She’s quite the badass. It’s rare to find a book where you can hear the main character’s voice so well, but Circe’s voice is loud and clear and still echoing. I recommend this book for anyone who loves a strong female protagonist, and themes surrounding mortality, loss, self-discovery, and self-sacrifice. It isn’t a pleasant ride, but one that is entirely worth it in the end.
If you do decide to give the book a read, please let me know what you think!
Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn is a hard book for me to rate, and that’s because it holds a very special place in my heart. I’ve loved this story (both book and movie form) since I was a kid, and so, I decided to reread it because I was curious about how I would see it now, as an adult.
In the book, we meet the Unicorn, who exists alone in a kind of immortal stasis. She never leaves her enchanted wood, and so is long disconnected from the world of man. What eventually draws her out of her safety zone is learning that she is the last of her kind. Determined to find the others, she reenters the world of man and immediately runs into humans who can no longer see, or believe in, wonders. She meets the Magician Schmendrick, who, though a true magician, is incapable of controlling his magic, and Molly Grue, a woman who long thought herself well past her prime. However, together, the three journey to a land equally frozen in time, and find themselves coming back to life along the way.
In this way, time is one of the biggest themes in the story. The passing of time being something that is both feared, but can also bring beauty. It is something necessary for life to be appreciated. The other big themes are human greed and fear, and how they can eventually lead to one’s own downfall.
I will admit, the reason I ultimately settled on 4 stars, instead of 5, is because of the characters. I wasn’t as connected with them as I once was, though I understood their motivations and admired them all in their own way. For example, I found that I didn’t really care for Schmendrick, as his character was a bit self-centered at times. He is meant to play the fool, as he is beginning his true journey of self discovery, but I still found him a bit irritating at times. However, the harsh Molly Grue has a stronger character. She is jaded, but at the end of the story, is rejuvenated by her adventure with the Magician and Unicorn. I would have liked to know a bit more about her. The Unicorn herself learns about human emotions, like love and regret, and becomes the first of her kind to have truly lived as something else, other than a unicorn.
In all, this bookis lyrically written, whimsical, and fast paced. It’s a classic read for anyone wanting a little bit of magic in their lives.
(A quick note: TSOA is not a historical book. Yes there is action and a lot of great historical detail, but the main focus is on the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. It’s a love story set in a historical/mythological era.)
“The Song of Achilles”, by Madeline Miller, is the kind of book that lingers well after it’s been read. It is a tragedy, yet knowing this going in did nothing to alleviate the rollercoaster of emotions I felt as I listened to, and then read, this book. (I had to go through it twice before I could sit down to write this review.) This is because Miller utilizes careful poetic language and subtle character development to weave together a tragic love story that also poses the moral question: is a brief life worth honor and glory, or is it better to live a long, obscure life with the one you love?
In TSOA, no word is carelessly used, and almost no paragraph is without a spark of metaphor. It’s rereading the book that helped me realize that sometimes the simplest line or detail can serve to foreshadow the ending. This can also be glimpsed in Patroclus’ frequent references to the past, or to death. The more we progress into the book, the more we know a “death” is coming, without fully comprehending that there will be more than one death, and more than one kind. (SPOILER WARNING: Achilles does die, like his prophecy foretells, but his innocent character dies before he does. It’s this change that leads to his prophecy coming true.) The result of such careful language is a story with a dream-like quality at times, and at others, with the distinct feeling of a long-ass love letter. I am no romantic, but it sucked me into following Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship as it blossomed from friendship, into a life-long partnership.
I have read that some found the language a bit dense and difficult to understand. It definitely takes some getting used to, but once the story picks up, you stop noticing it.
During my second run through the book, I was able to pick up on a few more nuances in Patroclus’ character, and sometimes wondered if his affection for Achilles warped his thinking. There were a few times where I felt he was too forgiving, and he himself is a self-deprecating character. He constantly reminds the reader about his tarnished background (stained by exile). He feels he is not worthy of the other, and only later on in the book does he begin to take pride in his own accomplishments. Yet, we quickly learn that he is not only kind, but gentle in nature. Two traits that are frowned upon in a society where honor and glory are placed above everything else (even love).
Achilles himself is boyishly charming and very innocent. He has never known defeat or rejection, and has many traits considered ideal in a “hero”. Speed, strength, charisma, and, well, the looks. Sadly, he was not ready for the world’s cunning. I think one of the most tragic things about the story (besides the ending) was seeing how the war, and the expectations of others, slowly warped Achilles into someone who became unrecognizable at the end. He allowed the thinking of others to influence his actions, instead of focusing internally like Patroclus did. One wanted to be loved by all, while the other only cared about one person.
All of this said, one struggle I did have with TSOA is the treatment of women. It might have been historically accurate, but god was it painful to read. Women in this book are portrayed as items and/or cattle. They are spoils of war, or chess pieces for political agendas. If you are a feminist, be ready to cridge and scream “what the fuck?” more than once. (I’m sure it was painful for Miller to write!) Even now, I can’t think of one woman who didn’t get f**ked over in the end.
In all, The Song of Achilles is a multilayered book about love, honor, loss and the choices we make. It’s one hell of an emotional ride, but worth it and then some. If you do decide to give it a chance, let me know!