Review: Black Crow, White Snow

45440171. sx318 ★☆☆☆☆

To sum this up in the quickest way possible: Black Crow, White Snow started off as an intriguing foray into a world of female pirates but quickly squandered any potential with an intense focus on the world’s matriarchy.

I picked this up on a whim because pirates and it sounded like it would be a welcome distraction from the incessant rush hour traffic. Instead, this story only compounded my frustration as I sat on the interstate. I was initially enthralled by the strong prose and great narration, but was lost soon after. In this story we get a limiting glimpse in what appears to be a very, very large world. We learn that these characters are a part of a matriarchal society that is at war, where magic is standard (albeit deadly to many), and where one’s gender will almost certainly decide what one will be in life. The ship of characters we get to know are on the way to find a mythic power that could help turn the tide of the long-fought war. And that’s about it.

These strong characters that were leading the charge to bring home a weapon that could save their people were instead two-dimensional and boring as hell. Bela is no inspiring leader in these trying times, and her lover was merely a sex object. Her crew were so redundant I could hardly distinguish them from one another no matter how much I went back to re-listen. Their egos and infighting all muddled together in the end. What irked me the most was the way the matriarchy was constantly harped upon. This wasn’t simply a society in which women were considered the stronger, superior sex and held more positions of power. It’s just disgustingly, over-the-top sexist. I was distracted constantly by the way characters in extreme peril at all times could take the time to bash and degrade the only male in the story. This is a well-worn trope that I did not expect to be the focal point of Black Crow, White Snow but was absolutely the downfall of it.

If you’re seeking out a story about strong, queer women of color, this is not it.

Continue reading “Review: Black Crow, White Snow”

Review: Teen Titans: Raven

42788199★★★★

It is finally here! The first installment of DC Ink’s new Teen Titans series. As a die-hard Marvel fan for most of my life, this isn’t a franchise that I’m familiar with beyond cartoons here and there as a kid. I was turned on to this new series because one of my favorite artists, Gabriel Picolo, illustrated Raven’s story.

Teen Titans: Raven takes place before the Teen Titans have formed, instead focusing on Raven’s life after the accident that taken the life of her mother. Suffering from memory loss, she starts a new life in New Orleans under the care of her aunt.

Garcia’s clear enthusiasm for this character coupled with Picolo’s gorgeous artwork have come together perfectly to produce a strong introduction to carry this series forward. All is introduced at the perfect pace, but long-time Teen Titans fans will still be thrilled with the appearance of some infamous foes. Perhaps my favorite part of this was the new family that takes Raven in and helps her grow. Though she struggles greatly with remembering who she is and rediscovering the truth of her powers, her aunt and sister support her through a transition into a new life. I would highly recommend this to both new and old fans of the Teen Titans franchise, the vision of Raven that Garcia and Picolo have brought to life is my favorite that I’ve ever seen and I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment.

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Advance Review: The Need

★★☆☆☆

A mother alone with her two children, settling in for the night as her husband is abroad. An intruder who knows them intimately, lurking in their home. The Need is eerie and gripping from the very first page.

This is the first of Helen Phillips’s books that I’ve read, and I was thrilled with the captivating quality of her writing, especially her raw portrayal of motherhood. The pacing is quick, with frequent changes of scene, bouncing between the present and days earlier. I tore through the first half of the book, but found myself beginning to lose momentum as the plot progressed further. The Need became more dreamlike and ambiguous and ultimately ended this way. The final act of this book was unsatisfying and left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, but this was an interesting read nonetheless. Continue reading “Advance Review: The Need”

Review: Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered

Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide★★★★☆

Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark are the hosts of the part-humor-part-true-crime podcast My Favorite Murder. Their podcast is a regular accompaniment to my commute and has made D.C. traffic infinitely more bearable since I’ve become a regular listener. And now, much to my delight, they’ve written a book.

This book is a real reflection of the podcast and community Karen and Georgia have built together, each chapter is framed by one of the iconic quotes that sprouted from the podcast and two essays on the topic, one by each host. That being said, this is not a book for murderinos only. Anyone looking for an extremely candid, often humorous memoir by two kick-ass women will love this. Even if that isn’t what you’re specifically seeking, I’d be willing to be that there’s something in Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide for you.

A note on the audiobook: For the first time ever (yep, ever in my life) I sought out an audiobook. I know these to people by their voices, so why not continue in that medium? I’m no expert, but this felt like a truly unique experience. Karen and Georgia are wonderful narrators, portions were recorded live, Paul Giamatti occasionally interjects, and there is even a guest appearance by Georgia’s dad. There’s nothing like holding a physical text and experiencing a book that way, but just this once, opt for the audiobook or you’ll miss out on more of the humor and personality that make Karen and Georgia so wonderful. Continue reading “Review: Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered”

Review: Magic for Liars

41555947★★★★★

Magic for Liars isn’t what I expected it to be. I had impressions from other early readers that it would be along the lines of a murder-mystery in Hogwarts, which turned out to be less-than-accurate. Instead, Magic for Liars is about the lies we tell ourselves, and each other. It is about the disastrous things that result from these lies, no matter how well-meaning they were, or how innocent they seemed.

It begins with the gruesome death of a staff member at The Osthorne Academy for Young Mages. After an investigation by the authorities concludes the death a suicide, the heads of the Academy are unsatisfied. Enter Ivy Gamble, PI. Ivy isn’t like her sister- she isn’t magic like Tabitha and she doesn’t want to be. Though she spends most of her days following cheating spouses or investigating insurance fraud, she is reluctantly convinced (namely, by a large sum of cash) to re-investigate the death at Osthorne.

Ivy Gamble is a hot mess and an absolutely fascinating character. She is morally grey from head to toe and maybe a little bit out of her depth, but at her core intelligent and trying her best. The story unfolds entirely from her perspective as she sleuths around Osthorne, allowing herself to slip in to Tabitha’s world. There is some time given to the magic in this world as Ivy peaks into classroom and gets to know staff,  but there isn’t a deep dive into its limits and intricacies. This seemed to be a sticking point for some readers, but I never found myself bothered by it. The narrator of this story is non-magical, so it felt right that we only had topical glances at the various subjects via Ivy’s encounters with them.  Their relationships and interactions drive this plot forward without losing any of the atmospheric tension you’d hope for in a good mystery. It beckons you forward page after page and doesn’t let go until the very end. I found myself hanging on as I came approached to the conclusion thinking there was no way it was possible, skimming through previous pages making sure I hadn’t misread the the final discoveries because I couldn’t fathom how it could be. This book doesn’t give you that feeling of satisfaction that comes at the end of a typical mystery novel: the evil-doer unmasked, justice is served, our grizzled protagonist reflects with contentment on another case solved. No, the end of Magic for Liars is fucking devastating. It is devastating and brilliant.

While this book sits firmly in both the realms of mystery and fantasy, it subverts both. The evil in this book does not manifest in the form of a sadistic killer, nor is it a dragon to be slain. Ivy Gamble is not our hero, nor is this the story of her redemption. She arrives at Osthorne Academy as a deeply flawed person, and eventually departs in similar form. We don’t get to see her redemption. The choices she makes throughout her investigation are not always good, sometimes even amoral, and some of them will even make you uncomfortable. You might even see a little of yourself in their choices. Continue reading “Review: Magic for Liars”