Overdue Review: Among the Ruins

Among the Ruins,  (Rachel Getty & Esa Khattak #3) by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Published February 14th 2017 by Minotaur Books

Hardcover, 368 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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On leave from Canada’s Community Policing department, Esa Khattak is traveling in Iran, reconnecting with his cultural heritage and seeking peace in the country’s beautiful mosques and gardens. But Khattak’s supposed break from work is cut short when he’s approached by a Canadian government agent in Iran, asking him to look into the death of renowned Canadian-Iranian filmmaker Zahra Sobhani. Zahra was murdered at Iran’s notorious Evin prison, where she’d been seeking the release of a well-known political prisoner. Khattak quickly finds himself embroiled in Iran’s tumultuous politics and under surveillance by the regime, but when the trail leads back to Zahra’s family in Canada, Khattak calls on his partner, Detective Rachel Getty, for help.

Rachel uncovers a conspiracy linked to the Shah of Iran and the decades-old murders of a group of Iran’s most famous dissidents. Historic letters, a connection to the Royal Ontario Museum, and a smuggling operation on the Caspian Sea are just some of the threads Rachel and Khattak begin unraveling, while the list of suspects stretches from Tehran to Toronto. But as Khattak gets caught up in the fate of Iran’s political prisoners, Rachel sees through to the heart of the matter: Zahra’s murder may not have been a political crime at all.

It is not easy to try to review a series from the middle so I will mostly just tell you that if you like mysteries and haven’t read these books YOU SHOULD START!  Book one of Esa and Rachel’s partnership, The Unquiet Dead, blew me away and The Language of Secrets was a worthy follow-up.  Now Esa has found his way into a new mystery while vacationing in Iran and Rachel tries to help as best she can from home in Canada.   As they had to work to communicate I found myself uncomfortably tense with worry about what would happen.  I was also 9 months pregnant when reading this – I might recommend against combination on reflection.  Too much anxiety!  We had deeply corrupt government figures, international drama, possibly stolen royal jewels and then family dramas – all wrapped up with murder.   

I have of course found myself emotionally caught up by characters in mysteries, even tearful (Flavia  de Luce I’m looking at you).  But I can’t think of a mystery book or series that gets me so caught up in the real fate of a group of people or nation or really just what the fuck is wrong with humanity sometimes.  Khan had me terrified and sad for the plight of prisoners in Iran – so much so I’d never want to go there- and at the same time longing to see the sights she described. Thankfully she started posting pictures on Facebook and saved me the searching time!  What a beautifully sad place.  

I’m also currently reading Khan’s foray into fantasy, The Bloodprint, and I’m really enjoying it.  Definitely getting flashbacks to the setting for Among the Ruins which is cool and different. 

Are you reading this series?  Any other good mysteries I should pick-up?  I think that’s the mood I’m heading into for fall.

Thank you Minotaur Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review! 

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Strange Fiction

I think I’ve just read two of the strangest books of my reading life – and strange in completely and totally different ways.

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First I read

The Prey of Gods, Nicky Drayden

Published June 13th 2017 by Harper Voyager

Paperback, 400 pages

Source: Chicago Public Library

In South Africa, the future looks promising. Personal robots are making life easier for the working class. The government is harnessing renewable energy to provide infrastructure for the poor. And in the bustling coastal town of Port Elizabeth, the economy is booming thanks to the genetic engineering industry which has found a welcome home there. Yes—the days to come are looking very good for South Africans. That is, if they can survive the present challenges:

A new hallucinogenic drug sweeping the country . . .

An emerging AI uprising . . .

And an ancient demigoddess hellbent on regaining her former status by preying on the blood and sweat (but mostly blood) of every human she encounters.

It’s up to a young Zulu girl powerful enough to destroy her entire township, a queer teen plagued with the ability to control minds, a pop diva with serious daddy issues, and a politician with even more serious mommy issues to band together to ensure there’s a future left to worry about.

So Zulu demigoddesses and AI intermingling?  That might not have even been the strangest thing I could say about the Prey of Gods.  I can’t say how this book worked but it did.  I flew through these pages to see if the ancients or the technology would come out ahead and I was delighted with the ending.  I was also impressed by the diversity of the characters- race, sexuality, gender, the powerful and the seemingly powerless.  This book made me laugh, made me cringe at times and still left me thinking in the end.  I’m so glad Michelle at That’s What She Read pointed me to this delightfully bizarre read.  

And then I read

The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac, Sharma Shields

Published January 27th 2015 by Holt Paperbacks

Paperback, 400 pages

Source: ARC from ALA Midwinter 2015

Eli Roebuck was nine years old when his mother walked off into the woods with “Mr. Krantz,” a large, strange, hairy man who may or may not be a sasquatch. What Eli knows for certain is that his mother went willingly, leaving her only son behind. For the rest of his life, Eli is obsessed with the hunt for the bizarre creature his mother chose over him, and we watch it affect every relationship he has in his long life–with his father, with both of his wives, his children, grandchildren, and colleagues. We follow all of the Roebuck family members, witnessing through each of them the painful, isolating effects of Eli’s maniacal hunt, and find that each Roebuck is battling a monster of his or her own, sometimes literally. The magical world Shields has created is one of unicorns and lake monsters, ghosts and reincarnations, tricksters and hexes. At times charming, as when young Eli meets the eccentric, extraordinary Mr. Krantz, and downright horrifying at others, The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac is boldly imaginative throughout, and proves to be a devastatingly real portrait of the demons that we as human beings all face.

If The Prey of Gods was delightfully bizarre, I just found this book to be bizarre.  Eli’s life is changed forever when his mother leaves with a Sasquatch called Mr. Krantz.  She doesn’t look back, just walks off into the woods leaving her child and husband behind. Eli’s story includes perspectives of his father, wives and children and even back to his mother and the elusive sasquatch.  Maybe that was part of my issue – this wasn’t a short book but the changing perspectives were not long enough for me to really care about the characters.  There are curses and a unicorn and so much talk of the sasquatch.  I wanted to love this but I think maybe I just prefer my magical realism to be full of happiness.  So no fault of the book, just not my cup of tea.

Any new strange recommendations for me?

It’s Monday What Are You Reading? 

How is July half way over? I’m finding myself thinking about back to school reading which is insane!  I just put A Wrinkle in Time on hold at the library- cross your fingers that my First Grade queen of the Rainbow Fairies series will read something else!

I’m reading Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin which I am loving. Next up are library books Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire and after hearing about Prey of the Gods from Michelle at That’s What She Read I had to check that out.

I’m on a mission to read off my own shelf so I also am going middle grade and trying The Sixty Eight Rooms about my beloved Art Institute of Chicago.

Phew that’s a lot. What are you reading this week? Thanks to The Book Date for this check-in!

Overdue Reviews: The Dragon Behind the Glass

The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World’s Most Coveted Fish, Emily Voigt

Published May 24th 2016 by Scribner

Hardcover, 336 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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A journalist’s quest to find a wild Asian arowana — the world’s most expensive aquarium fish—takes her on a global tour through the bizarre realm of ornamental fish hobbyists to some of the most remote jungles on the planet.

A young man is murdered for his prized pet fish. An Asian tycoon buys a single specimen for $150,000. Meanwhile, a pet detective chases smugglers through the streets of New York. Delving into an outlandish world of obsession, paranoia, and criminality, The Dragon Behind the Glass tells the story of a fish like none other. Treasured as a status symbol believed to bring good luck, the Asian arowana, or “dragon fish,” is a dramatic example of a modern paradox: the mass-produced endangered species. While hundreds of thousands are bred in captivity, the wild fish has become a near-mythical creature. From the South Bronx to Borneo and beyond, journalist Emily Voigt follows the trail of the arowana to learn its fate in nature.

With a captivating blend of personal reporting, history, and science, Voigt traces our fascination with aquarium fish back to the era of exploration when intrepid naturalists stood on the cutting edge of modern science, discovering new species around the globe. In an age when freshwater fish now comprise one of the most rapidly vanishing groups of animals, she unearths a surprising truth behind the arowana’s rise to fame—one that calls into question how we protect the world’s rarest species.

An elegant examination of the human conquest of nature, The Dragon Behind the Glass revels in the sheer wonder of life’s diversity and lays bare our deepest desire—to hold on to what is wild.

When I read the above blurb – a pet fish that people commit murder over! –  I knew I had to read this book.  What with life and babies and all I didn’t read this right away, but when I read mention of an arowana getting plastic surgery in Rich People Problems it sparked my memory and I knew I had to read the Dragon Behind the Glass soon.  And I learned Kevin Kwan didn’t make it up – people really are that extreme about the Asian Arowana!  

Once I started reading I was hooked!  (Also I’m clearly hilarious)  What started as one story in New York let Voigt into places that very few people travel to try to find the story of the wild arowana.   She follows both the collectors who want the fish for the prosperity it can bring and the scientists trying to study a possible new strain.   I know I am not such an explorer so it was fascinating reading how far the quest to see something new and wild would take Voigt and the biologists that she worked with.  I know I wouldn’t try to get into Burma just to catch a glimpse of a fish in its native environment! Especially for such an odd looking fish.  Fish conventions, fish nicknames, fish theft – quite a world out there.

Voigt also left me thinking more deeply than I expected about how we treat endangered or threatened species and how those animals end up on the list in the first place.  While I fear without an endangered list we would drive even more species to extinction she has me wondering if instead we do even more harm than good.  When my daughter and I took our usual turn around the fish department at the local pet store last week I definitely was looking at all those tanks differently.  

Thank you Scribner and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

It’s Monday: What Are You Reading?

Happy Monday!

I’m still reading the amazing Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women.  I’m moving through it now, but for every story that I read quickly the next one basically guts me (see Open Marriage) and then I’m stuck.  I saw Roxane speak last week and she was just as amazing as you would hope.  Funny and honest and way more open than I could be.

I’m finally getting into Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found which is not as highly entertaining as I wanted.  Interesting but fairly dry so far.  I think I am going need something pretty ridiculous to read at home.  Maybe I’ll be the last person in America to read The Girl on the Train.  I’m basically stalking my library hold list waiting for The Windfall to come in – Catherine’s review at The Gilmore Guide to Books got me even more excited!

What are you reading this week?  Thanks to The Book Date for this check in!

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? 

Thanks to Kathryn from Book Date for this check in!

I finished my reread of Nevernight – and I still loved it- and am now bouncing between some very different books!

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Still Roxane Gay – who OMG I AM GOING TO SEE TONIGHT!!!! Difficult Women is amazing but slow for me.

For a library book after reading Burntown (a total disappointment,) I started Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Found – which is going to be delightfully fascinating. I apologize in advance to everyone I’m about to share severed head facts with, it’s a compulsion to tell people all about my nonfiction reads.

For lighter reading I started Hold Me Like A Breath by Tiffany Schmidt. Teen angst + mafia style families dealing with selling organs seems right up my alley this week.

What are you reading this week? Anyone else catching the amazing Roxane on tour?

Overdue Reviews: Nevernight

I have 22 books on my Goodreads shelf that I still intend to review.  Oops.  Here’s my first try with a book that I devoured last year.  

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Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Published August 9, 2016 by Thomas Dunne Books

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley 

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

Let me just say Nevernight was bad ass.  I loved it so much I’m rereading it right now to get ready for the sequel.  I am not going to minimize things,  Nevernight was violent and it was vulgar but it was fabulous.  Kristoff himself sums the book up on twitter as #stabstabstab.  That’s accurate.   As I am remembering what’s coming in the book I’m cringing a bit waiting for the blood to start flowing. 

Mia is on a mission for revenge over her the deaths of her parents which takes her to assassin school out in the desert.  This is no Hogwarts – the teachers will kill the students as soon as help them in some cases.  Mia is also a darken – which brings powers she doesn’t fully understand herself – but one thing Mia can do is to manipulate shadows.  She can seemingly manufacture the dark and pull off some scary things.  She has her own shadow companion with the misleading name of Mr. Kindly.  I didn’t know I could like a cat so much!   Mr. Kindly lives off Mia’s fear which enables her to be both extra brave and extra stupid at times.  She needs to be brave while living among assassins but I did question her judgement quite a few times as well… 

So in a brief summary Nevernight has a young woman learning mad murder skills, friendships and kissing, backstabbing and gore, all in a world with three suns and fabulous new magic.  I was obsessed while reading and I loved it!  I cannot wait to see what Mia goes on to do and who she goes on to kill in the future.

I thought about trying to be clever and footnoting this – but that just seemed silly.  I’ll simply say that the footnotes made me snort laughing on a few occasions.  It seems snarky footnotes are a way to my heart – see also Jen Lancaster, Kevin Kwan.  

#stabstabstab

Thank you NetGalley and Thomas Dunne Books for this review copy in exchange for an honest opinion!