The Tiger’s Watch by Julie Ember – Brimming with fantastic ideas but ultimately underdeveloped

Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Tashi has spent their life training as a inhabitor, a soldier who spies and kills using a bonded animal. When the capital falls after a brutal siege, Tashi flees to a remote monastery to hide. But the invading army turns the monastery into a hospital, and Tashi catches the eye of Xian, the regiment’s fearless young commander.

Tashi spies on Xian’s every move. In front of his men, Xian seems dangerous, even sadistic, but Tashi discovers a more vulnerable side of the enemy commander—a side that draws them to Xian.

When their spying unveils that everything they’ve been taught is a lie, Tashi faces an impossible choice: save their country or the boy they’re growing to love. Though Tashi grapples with their decision, their volatile bonded tiger doesn’t question her allegiances. Katala slaughters Xian’s soldiers, leading the enemy to hunt her. But an inhabitor’s bond to their animal is for life—if Katala dies, so will Tashi.

I received a copy from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

My review:

For a book that boasts a fantastic premise with very needed representation, I was excited to read this book and I was ready to love it. Unfortunately though, I am sad to say that I was a little disappointed by The Tiger’s Watch. I have such mixed feelings about this book too, but I’ll do my best to articulate them all.

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Down Among Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire – Dark, brutal, sad – exactly what I hoped for

Summary:

Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

I received an eARC from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

My review:

When I listened to the audiobook for Every Heart a Doorway earlier this year, I fell in love with the idea of taking an idea we were all familiar with (children venturing to other worlds by going through doors) and showing their aftermath. In contrast, Down Among Sticks and Bones offers a ‘prequel’, if you will, to Every Heart a Doorway. Rather than the aftermath, we see the making.

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Difficult Women by Roxane Gay – A collection of stories as subversive and complex as its female protagonists

The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the marriage of one of them. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July.

My biggest thanks to Hachette New Zealand, for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The more and more I think about it, the more certain I am that Difficult Women is a masterful collection of short stories.

To describe it simply, Difficult Women is about just that – it is a collection of twenty-one short stories that are about the so-called ‘difficult women’. Underneath that though is a nuanced and complex portrayal of women in modernity – and the images are haunting and riveting, and will inevitably sear your memory.

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Nirvana by J.R. Stewart (Updated Version)

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When the real world is emptied of all that you love, how can you keep yourself from dependence on the virtual?

Animal activist and punk rock star Larissa Kenders lives in a dystopian world where the real and the virtual intermingle. After the disappearance of her soulmate, Andrew, Kenders finds solace by escaping to Nirvana, a virtual world controlled by Hexagon. In Nirvana, anyone’s deepest desires may be realized – even visits with Andrew.

Although Kenders knows that this version of Andrew is virtual, when he asks for her assistance revealing Hexagon’s dark secret, she cannot help but comply. Soon after, Kenders and her closest allies find themselves in a battle with Hexagon, the very institution they have been taught to trust. After uncovering much more than she expected, Kenders’ biggest challenge is determining what is real – and what is virtual.

Thank you to the publisher, author, and the team at Digiwriting for providing an updated version of the book. My review of the ARC version can be found here. 

In my review for the ARC version of Nirvana, I expressed disappointment. I believed Nirvana to be capable of greatness with its fascinating themes and ideas, and yet it missed its mark. The updated version of Nirvana, however, is a completely different book. It has more direction, more clarity, a sense of purpose, and a more distinct narrative voice. For this review, I will be drawing from the ARC version a lot as a basis of my evidence and judgments.

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Gambit by C.L. Denault

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In Earth’s battle-ridden future, humans have evolved. Those with extraordinary skills rise to power and fame. Those without live in poverty.

Sixteen-year-old Willow Kent believed she was normal. But when a genetically-advanced military officer shows up in her village and questions her identity, long-buried secrets begin to emerge. With remarkable skills and a shocking genetic code the Core and its enemies will do anything to obtain, Willow suddenly finds the freedom she craves slipping through her fingers. Greed, corruption, and genetic tampering threaten every aspect of her existence as she’s thrust, unwilling, into the sophisticated culture of the elite Core city. To ensure peace, she must leave the past behind, marry a man she’s never met, and submit to the authority of a relentless officer with a hidden agenda of his own.

Her life has become a dangerous game. How much will she sacrifice in order to win?

I received a copy from Patchwork Press – Cooperative via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

One of my favourite books of this year, Gambit is very different to the sort of book that I like to read. Although I may regard the emergent ‘romance-dystopia’ genre with cynical apprehension, Gambit is a fine example of a book that pulls ‘romance-dystopia’ off. With C.L. Denault’s excellent writing, this book is an exemplary balance between the two genres. With books of its ilk often forsaking its dystopian elements in favour of the romance, readers will be pleased to know that the romance in Gambit does not hinder the momentum of the plot and the characters’ developments; in fact, it made it better.

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