Review: Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox

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Every once in a while, I get a mad compulsion to read a book. I hear of something, and it won’t give me peace until I go and read it – and without a fail, those books prove to be my favourites. So it was with The Name of the Wind all those years ago, or The Curse of Chalion, or more recently The Gray House. And so it is here.  Outside of my usual wheelhouse or no, I had to have it and yet again my instinct has proven correct. I wanted to yell about it from the rooftops before I was halfway through. I finished it in less than a day. It satisfied the craving for more Witchmark left beyond perfectly.

“Of course I could have turned them out into the fields, to laugh and cry like that with no roof to shield them. Maybe in another world, that would be best, but…” Archie got up stiffly, muscles aching from holding Rufus against the trunk of the apple tree the night before. “Not in this one. In this world, love needs shelter. And as long as the rectory’s standing, I’m going to provide it.”

If you’re looking for extremely well-written, atmospheric m/m romance with a slight fantasy twist this is very likely a book for you.

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Review: Chalice by Robin McKinley

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Another buddy read with Keikii, this time gone much better than the last.

“It is a strange Mastership and a strange Chalicehood,” he replied. “The last Master and Chalice died ill, and without Heir or apprentice. We are making new ways because we must. We have had one burning between us. Let us have the sweetness now.”

Beekeeper Mirasol has recently been chosen as Chalice, the second most powerful person in Willowlands, whose task is to bind the land and its people together. Inexperienced and struggling, her task is made even harder by the fact that the newly chosen Master is a former priest of Fire and no longer entirely human. They have to learn to work together and care for their demesne, which is still reeling from the sudden loss of the previous Master and Chalice.

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DNF: The Grass People by Kay Parley

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ARC received from the publisher (Radiant Press) on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

DNF 61%

My experience could be summed up as this: (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

This has been a pure spur-of-the-moment read, brought to my attention by Keikii (never ask me to convince you out of reading something). You mean there’s what looks like a slice of life book about tiny fae-like people living in the grass? Written by an older woman? Sign me up!

Like way too many books lately, however, it turned out to be an exercise in frustration instead of a chill, enjoyable read it seemed to promise.

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DNF: Balam, Spring by Travis M. Riddle

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I had such high hopes for this book. The cover is beautiful and I love slice of life. It seemed like it couldn’t have been more up my alley if it tried. Peaceful life in a small village? Small-scale plot? Yes please! Initially, it reminded me a bit of Stardew Valley in book form. Small setting, each villager has a complex and detailed backstory, but…well. The same thing that worked in a game doesn’t necessarily translate to a book. And it’s a massive shame.

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Review: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (Wayfarers #2)

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This is exactly the sort of book I needed. I flew through it so fast. I have almost forgotten what that’s like. Any book that can make me attached anough to the characters to cry is something special. And while it’s a light, uplifting, overwhelmingly optimistic read, it’s also the proof that neither of those descriptors has to mean shallow.

“I have so many questions I want to ask you. You’ve got me thinking about things I’ve never chewed on. It’s not comfortable, realising that you’ve been wrong about something, but I suppose it’s a good thing to do from time to time. And you…you seem like you have questions, too. You came to me because you thought I could help. Maybe I still can. So…if you don’t think I’m a complete asshole, maybe we can try again. Y’know, being friends.”

Despite it being a sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, it can be be read as a standalone, as long as you don’t mind a part of the ending of the former being spoiled.

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Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (The Sparrow #1)

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The Sparrow is a book that left me with a lot of conflicted feelings. I’m glad I read it and I have enjoyed it immensely, as much as one can enjoy a tragedy. But would I recommend it? I’m honestly not so sure.

I have a huge weakness for stories with a mystery at the centre, where we know the ending, but not the how and the why. It intrigued me right from the start. The story is mostly centered on Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest and linguist, the sole survivor of a first contact mission gone horribly wrong. It starts shortly after he’s returned to Earth, physically and psychologically shattered, with some horrible rumours about him circulating. Immediately, there are questions. Why and how did the rest of the crew die? What went wrong? How is it that he survived? The unwrapping of said mystery is careful and unrushed, with two parallel timelines – one in the present, following his slow recovery, the other following the mission to the planet of Rakhat from the beginning to its disastrous end.

“No questions? No argument? No comfort for the afflicted?” he asked with acrid gaiety. “I warned you. I told you that you didn’t want to know. Now it’s in your minds. Now you have to live with knowing. But it was my body. It was my blood,” he said, choking with fury. “And it was my love.”

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Mundane and Slice of Life Fantasy Recommendations List

Often, when someone mentions fantasy, we think of large-scale stories where the fate of the world is at stake. Though there have been shifts and pushbacks regarding other aspects seen as typical of fantasy (for example, a move from black-white to grey-grey or grey-black morality, a move from pseudo-medieval, etc.), more mundane stories with a small scope, relatively ordinary, not overly badass characters, and little action remain rather rare.

My obsession with this subgenre started with The Healers’ Road. A book with almost no action and zero plot, that relies only on characters…and yet works? I was impressed. Impressed, and wanting more. Since then, I have managed to find a few books that scratch that particular itch. Judging from discussions, I’m not the only one interested in calmer fantasy stories, either. So here it is.

Pure examples:

  • The Balance Academy series by S.E. Robertson – Probably the purest example. In The Healers’ Road, two, well, healers from very different backgrounds have to travel together for two years. He thinks she’s spoiled, she thinks he’s rude. Despite initial misunderstandings and conflict, they slowly become friends and go through a lot of character growth. No plot beyond that, almost no action. Second book, The Healers’ Home is about them settling down in a small town and didn’t disappoint either.
  • Ravenwood by Nathan Lowell – A 53 y/o travelling herbalist on her way to a new mentor arrives in a newly established village and, despite initial misgivings, decides to stay around for the winter and help them.
  • Tehanu by Ursula Le Guin –  Not a standalone. Regardless, it’s a quiet and thoughtful and mature sort of story that felt real, some parts almost painfully so. The characterisation in particular is where the book really shines. They’re all broken in one way or another and the bittersweet ending fits the story well. It’s not the subtlest of books, but the general theme of struggling against their society, because of disability, because of gender…that I could appreciate.
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley
  • The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss – Another non-standalone, a novella following a week in the daily life of Auri, a minor character from the Kingkiller Chronicle.

Books featuring everyday life of nobility:

  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison – A sweet guy is forced to become emperor after his family is killed in a crash. Nearly all of the search for suspects happens offscreen, the main focus is the “dealing with going from basically nothing to emperor overnight” bit.
  • Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner – Fantasy of Manners about Richard St. Vier, a famous duellist and his mysterious ex-student boyfriend, Alec. Who is a lovable little shit and one of my favourite characters.
  • The Winter Prince by Elizabeth Wein – Arthurian fantasy more concerned with fucked up family dynamics than anything else. Also written entirely in second-person.

Magical Realism:

  • Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox – Follows the life of a vintner who fell in love with an angel, spanning several decades. Lovely descriptions of life in the French countryside.
  • Primeval and Other Times by Olga Tokarczuk – If you don’t mind religious themes (I found it a bit odd) and a sharp turn towards realism and grittiness in the middle. Follows the lives of inhabitants of an imaginary Polish village. I read it translated to a language other than English, so I’m not 100% sure, but the prose was pretty damn good.
  • The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan – My favourite book of all times. Hard to describe. It’s set in a boarding school for kids/teens with disabilities where some really, really weird shit is going on. Shenanigans ensue. Colourful characters, beautiful prose, many layers, a lot of things left to the reader to puzzle together.
  • Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox – Romance with speculative elements happening just after the end of WWII. Archeologist is fired after a violent flashback episode, takes up one last job in a small English village, where he meets an eccentric, motorcycle-riding, atheist vicar. And the church he’s been sent to document has a rather unusual secret. Excellent writing, excellent characters, just amazing overall.

Other books that could scratch the itch:

  • The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker – As the title says, it follows a golem and a djinni in 1899 New York and features a lot of small insights into the lives of everyone around them.
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – This is technically sci-fi. Still, although it had more plot than I expected from the way people describe it, it’s very character-focused, very heartwarming, and I loved it. And the second book (review) is even better.
  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire – A novella set in a boarding school for children who returned from portal worlds. Wonderfully written.
  • Vita Nostra by Sergey & Maria Dyachenko – another magic school book, with some of the most unique magic (very much non-Sandersonian), a very dark setting, and some interesting themes. No larger plot.
  • The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley – Magical realism retelling of Beowulf that takes place in the suburbs. Lovely prose, plot that’s like watching a trainwreck in slow motion.
  • Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman – A young woman runs away to escape abuse and the book follows her journey and character development from there. There’s a vague objective of finding out more about World Serpents, but it’s pushed completely in the background while Tess and her journey take the spotlight. Whether the series is slice of life will depend on the sequel, but I’d say this book definitely is.

My goodreads shelf, also containing books I’ve been recommended as slice of life but haven’t read yet, can be found here.

To be updated on a regular basis (last update: Aug 16th 2019).