BooksOfTheMoon

Beware of Chicken 3 (Beware of Chicken, #3)

By CasualFarmer

Rating: 4 stars

The third volume of this ongoing series shifts the focus away from the slice of life that it’s been until now, adding more plot to the mix, as well as some of the shouty xianxia martial arts stuff that the series has been parodying until now. It also shifts the focus away from Jin to some of the secondary characters who are attending the province-wide tournament. Xiulan is there to win honour for her sect, while Tigger just wants to fight. The tournament stuff was fun enough, but I much more enjoyed how Tigger and her friends made friends with other people at the tournament, and how they all came to her rescue when things went bad. Tigger has, until now, been just enjoying the sheer fun of fighting, without much in the way of consequences, because she’s always been safe. Here it’s not her who is hurt, but they threaten people she’s close to, and that changes the whole situation for her. She’s still growing as a person, as is Xiulan, who goes to help Tigger, despite not having to, and all the incentives to not get involved.

We’ve been having hints that Jin is substantially more powerful than he thinks that he is, and here we finally get to see him use that power. It’s not a fight if you finish your opponent with one punch, but the outcome is that his quiet life as just a farmer in a backwater province is over. Lui Ri, from his old sect, has found him and passed on the message from his grandfather, and the sect elders have all discovered how powerful that Jin is. Things are going to change, but for the moment, he has his family around him and all’s well with the world.

I was sorry to see very little of Meiling in this book, as she stays at the farm, while Jin has his business in the provincial capital and the others go to the tournament. Hopefully we’ll see more of her in future. There’s also more hints about the world and what might have happened in the history of the Azure Hills to leave it as it is. And the links with Jin and the earth spirit (who gets a name here: Tianlan) that he’s connected to. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes, although I do hope it doesn’t start to become what it’s parodying, where everyone becomes more and more powerful and has to fight bigger and bigger monsters. I enjoy the light, slice of life stuff, with Jin just acquiring more found family as he goes. I’ll still be looking out for the next volume though.

Book details

ISBN: 9781039420472

Beware of Chicken 2 (Beware of Chicken, #2)

By CasualFarmer

Rating: 4 stars

The second volume of this series expands upon the first, both in terms of world and scale, and in terms of PoV characters. The first book mostly focused on Jin and his magical rooster, Big D, while this one elevates Big D to co-protagonist, sending him away from the farm on a quest to understand the solstice-greeting dance that he witnessed in the previous book, and its connections to the wider country.

We also spend more time with Gou Ren, and Xiulan, both of whom join Jin and his wife Meiling at the farm for most of the book. I particularly enjoyed Xiulan’s journey, and how therapy with Meiling and the acceptance of the others on the farm help her to deal with her PTSD following her battles with rogue cultivators in the previous book. Oh, and Tigger is substantially less obnoxious as a human than as a cat.

This is still as charming as the last one and I really enjoy spending time with our protagonists. It seems that the author is setting up some sort of long term antagonist who we look in on every so often. And we also get a different view of the cultivation sects than the previous book. Jin had a very bad experience and we saw them through his eyes, while now we get cutaway chapters back to his previous sect to see the fallout from what happened to Jin. It’s a neat way of reminding us that first person protagonists can be unreliable narrators.

I’m not a picky reader, but sometimes self-published works are, er, obviously, self-published. I don’t find that this work suffers from that. I didn’t find it dragging or in obvious need of an editor. Heck, I barely found any typos. The art that intersperses the books is fab, in a very manga-esque way. I almost wish I was reading in a higher resolution screen than my e-ink kindle to be able to appreciate it properly. So being well written, and with high-quality art, if you’re at all interested in this xianxia-style fiction, this is well worth your time.

Book details

ISBN: 9781039415713

You Sexy Thing (Disco Space Opera #1)

By Cat Rambo

Rating: 4 stars

A unit of veterans, led by Captain Niko Larsen, manages to buy their way out of a military and ends up on the far edge of known space where they set up a restaurant. As the book opens, they’re awaiting a famous critic who could award them a space-Michelin star, while also having to deal with an admiral from the navy they got out of coming knocking.

This is the sort of book where someone can say “well, at least things can’t get worse” and then something blows up. It’s a lot of fun and I enjoyed the way that Niko and her crew were a family. Well, most of them. There are a couple of people on the edges who are forced closer due to circumstances.

You Sexy Thing is the name of a (sentient) biological spaceship that the gang find themselves accidentally stealing. It is intensely curious about its latest passengers and finds itself feeling new emotions and having sensations it had never experienced before. It’s fascinating to see it growing as a person as the story goes on. Also, there’s a modicum of body horror here as the Thing is literally almost completely biological and can sense and reshape its interior. The mention of the tongue-like blanket that it extrudes for someone who’s feeling cold left me shuddering (while simultaneously wondering what it would be like).

The setting is very much science fantasy, with magic sitting alongside the technology. How much is real magic and how much is Clarke’s Third Law is left as an exercise for the reader. There’s a great selection of alien aliens too, from the Arranti, who play some vast unknowable game, to Tlellans, squid-like creatures, with a fondness for physical contact. Niko is, in fact, the only human in her group, although not the only Earthling – her quartermaster is an uplifted primate who communicates through sign language.

The one let down for me was how 2D that the villain was. He did everything but tie a damsel to a train track while twirling his moustache. I think Rambo may have been going for an Ahab-like obsession honed over decades, but frankly, it seemed a bit ridiculous when we found out the cause. But this is a minor issue in an otherwise great book. I shall be looking out for the sequel.

Book details

ISBN: 9781250269300

The First Bright Thing

By J.R. Dawson

Rating: 3 stars

For me, this is a book about dread. After the Great War, the Ringmaster and her circus of marvels spend most of the book fleeing from the black tents of the Circus King and in fear of the war to come. The circus is a haven for those with the Spark – magical powers that started appearing during the War. Like the X-Men, those with the Spark are feared and hated, shunned by the majority. The Ringmaster gathers Sparks and her circus travels the US, helping those who need it. But the fear of the Circus King is always in the back of her mind. Her own Spark is the ability to travel through space and time. And now powers have grown such that she travels forward far enough to see that the War that’s just been fought isn’t the “war to end all wars”, but that they’re in the eye of the hurricane and there’s worse to come.

That’s a new time travel idea that I’ve not seen before. That someone in that interwar period knows that there’s a new war coming, and that despite their best efforts, they can’t prevent it. And won’t be able to save the family they’ve put together. That those people will taken by the upcoming war and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. And if that’s not enough, the bogeyman you’ve been running from for years has found you and is taunting you. So yes, dread. It was a difficult book to read. I dislike chase stories anyway, where our heroes are being pursued for the length of the story. I find them stressful to read, and this was no different.

Although most of the book is told from the point of view of The Ringmaster (who just goes by that name, like she’s a Time Lord), there are some flashbacks to someone whose Spark is mind control, allowing them to compel other people to do as they say. It becomes clear how Edward is related to the Ringmaster fairly early on, and I hated those chapters. Edward is a terrible person, no matter how much he tries to convince himself otherwise. He sometimes tries to not use his powers, but always ends up giving in, to get what he wants. And what he wants is Ruth. He compels her to run away with him, and does horrible things to her mother who tries to stop him, and later he marries her. It’s never made explicit, but the implication of rape in that situation is inevitable and I shuddered through every one of those chapters.

The other thread in the book is the dread that underlies the future and the upcoming war and the fact that they can’t stop it. In this sense, all they’ve got is to live in the present and make the post of the time they’ve got. This is something that the Ringmaster and her family (especially her wife Odette and best friend Mauve) have to learn to do.

In the end, I’m left with a difficult rating. I would say that I appreciated this book more than I enjoyed it. How much of that is down to the book, and how much is just down to the fact that I’ve been reading very lightweight stuff over the last while is unclear. I loved the found family, but found the chase followed by cat and mouse, and the mind control stuff difficult and uncomfortable. It’s good, but I probably wouldn’t read it again.

Book details

ISBN: 9781035018192

Full Share (Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, #3)

By Nathan Lowell

Rating: 3 stars

The third book in the Solar Clipper series starts promisingly, with what might be considered some plot – there’s an incident that leaves the Lois McKendrick damaged and the crew have to race to save her, and themselves. But this fizzles out quite early on and we’re back to the usual Ishmael shenanigans. This time he finds himself with a temporary promotion to systems engineer and with the officers of the Lois pushing him towards the officer academy.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that Ishmael is a Mary Sue character. His abilities seem to know no bounds, from being a coffee expert, to magically deeply understanding women, to, as we see here, being an expert programmer and systems engineer. It’s enough to make me roll my eyes extra hard.

Despite that, I’ve come to like the characters as we’ve gone on, even if there’s not much in the way of actual plot. It’s been fun spending time with the characters and I don’t regret the time taken to read these books. Despite there being many more books in the series, this one seems to draw the Lois McKendrick trilogy to a close, and there’s enough closure that it seems like a good place to say goodbye to the series.

Book details

Year of publication: 2008

Heroine Complex

By Sarah Kuhn

Rating: 3 stars

Aveda Jupiter is San Francisco’s superhero, protecting it from the demons that randomly appear in little portals all over the city. Evie Tanaka has a harder job – being Aveda’s assistant. But when an accident puts Aveda out of commission for a bit, Evie is persuaded to stand in for her boss, but that’s easier said than done, when she has to keep one eye peeled for Aveda’s diva tantrums, and the other on controlling her own powers.

This was a recommendation from a podcast that I enjoy, but I didn’t really get on that well with it. I found Aveda too unlikeable in her diva personality and wrapped up in herself. There were also some really cringe scenes when Evie is filling in for Aveda and I really don’t do well with cringe comedy. I usually prefer to skim rather than skip, but I had to skip that whole scene. I nearly put the book down entirely at that point, but I’m glad that I didn’t. The burgeoning romance between Evie and team scientist Nate is lovely, and she tries very hard to be a stand-in parent to her teenage sister (even if some of those “parenting” decisions are… less than ideal, they come from a place of love).

It was entertaining enough (as long as you don’t mind cringe), and having two female Asian-American leads is definitely a good thing, but, I didn’t really have have the “just one more chapter” feeling about this book, and I have no real desire to read any of the sequels.

Book details

ISBN: 9780756413279
Publisher: DAW Books Inc

Half Share (Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, #2)

By Nathan Lowell

Rating: 4 stars

The second book in this series moves the focus from trading to interpersonal relationships, specifically between our protagonist, Ishmael Wang, and three of his fellow shipmates that he gets close to. There’s his new boss Brill, after his move from Steward to Environmental; his former bunkmate Beverly; and his new co-worker Diane. Ishmael is attracted to all three women, but his ship, the Lois McKendrick has a strict no fraternising rule. The book is mostly him working how to live with this situation.

There’s quite a bit of male gaze at the three women which isn’t great, and it’s not exactly balanced by the attention that they focus on his physical appearance – to remind people, this is an eighteen year old. But everyone is pretty respectful all the way through. Ishmael, in particular, shows a lot more emotional maturity than I would expect in a young man his age, as he comes to understand quickly about the limits of seeking comfort ashore.

There’s also a slightly unexpected strain of mysticism running through the book, related to some pendants that some of the crew buy for trade goods and which later ties in to Ish’s replacement on the mess deck, Sarah Krugg. Nothing that took me out of the story particularly, but just unexpected in this sort of book.

While I missed Pip and Cookie, who fade into the background here, the additional development of Brill, Beverly and Diane is lovely. I was a bit disappointed how quickly that Sarah’s story came out and how little a mark that her history seems to have left on her, although I guess we’ll see in future books, which I fully intend to read.

Book details

Tea Set and Match (Tea Princess Chronicles, #2)

By Casey Blair

Rating: 4 stars

Following on from the events of the first book, Miyara, now a (provisional) tea master has to take part in a tea tournament to prove herself, while at the same time dealing with her sister, who arrives to deal with the aftermath of the treaty with the dragons. But there turns out to be more at stake than just her future. While I had some minor issues with the lack of conflict in the first book, after some further reflection and after finishing this one, I think that’s a feature rather than a bug. The whole tea master thing is about diplomacy, compassion and service, and Miyara has the emotional depth and self-awareness to be able to put the principles into practice without having to resort to conflict and violence.

I enjoyed the deepening relationships with her friends and introducing her sister as someone she rubs against the wrong way added a bit of spice. I really enjoyed the mature relationship she has with Deniel, where they are able to talk about their feelings before misunderstandings get blown out of proportion (something that bugs me in a lot of stories). I do wonder at someone so young being this poised, but that didn’t stop me really enjoying the story.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Miyara’s story wraps up (I hope we’ll see more of Lorwyn and Entero).

Book details

Year of publication: 2022

A Coup of Tea (Tea Princess Chronicles, #1)

By Casey Blair

Rating: 4 stars

Miyara is a princess of the ruling house. When it’s her turn to take part in the ceremony that will dedicate her to the service of her people, she realises that she doesn’t know how to serve them, so takes the other option, and leaves. She finds herself in a faraway city, on the edge of the Cataclysm where she gets work in a tea shop. For the first time, she starts to make friends, and maybe even find love, while still trying to find her path in the world and how to serve more than just tea.

As I was reading this charming cosy fantasy, I kept comparing it to The House Witch which I’ve recently as well. They’re both cosy, humorous fantasies, but this one tops the other substantially in my mind. Even though it was originally written as a web serial, it feels tight, well-written and very easy to read. I kept wanting to read “just one more chapter”, which is always a good sign.

I was listening to a recent episode of the Octothorpe podcast as I was reading this, where one of the hosts spent a while discussing another cosy fantasy, Legends and Lattes, as it was a Hugo Award finalist for 2023. One of her major complaints about that book is that there was no real conflict. The protagonist didn’t have to overcome anything. I couldn’t help thinking about that when reading this as well. Despite leaving the palace literally barefoot with not a penny to her name, Miyara falls on her feet. She finds someone to take her in, makes friends, gets a job, finds love, and even negotiates a major treaty without any real obstacles. Even when it seems that she’s failed at something, that gets turned around later. I can understand the sort of book that is, and, in fact, that’s very much part of the appeal to me, but from a literary standpoint, it does fall down.

But I liked the characters, and the vaguely matriarchal setting. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading it and have already started on the sequel.

Book details

Year of publication: 2022

The House Witch

By Delemhach

Rating: 3 stars

I noticed this just clicking around on the Kindle Unlimited homepage and the cover caught my eye. It sounded interesting, so I thought it was worth a go. *mumble* hundred pages later and I’m still not sure. I think the book definitely has problems – it needs a better editor, for a start. There were chunks that desperately needed tightening, and on the sentence level, some of it scanned weirdly or didn’t entirely make sense. But on the story level, I mostly enjoyed it. Finlay Ashowan has joined the palace staff as the royal cook, while trying to hide the fact that he has magic based around the home that might not let him shoot fireballs from his fingers, but does let him do the famous cleaning scene from Fantasia (except without the getting out of control).

There’s a sort of enemies to lovers romance that goes on with one of the noble ladies and a slow-burning plot about upcoming war with a neighbouring country. On the domestic front, Fin has to learn to allow himself to open up and make friends, and that it’s okay to rely on others.

Some of the story beats that I was really ambivalent on were the knights that were demoted to kitchen assistants for being boorish and threatening a kitchen maid. That’s one thing, but the thing that left me scratching my head a bit is how they very quickly became fast friends with said maid as part of Fin’s found family. It feels like there should have been a middle stage. There’s also a very modern set of values about the characters in the book, which feels a bit odd coming from what is a fairly stereotypical fantasy-medieval setting. But it’s secondary world, so I’m happy to believe that this world is more socially enlightened than we were at that stage in development.

I got to the end of the book and still don’t know if I want to read the second one. On the one hand, I want to know what happens, but on the other, I did feel reading it was a bit of a slog, and I can probably guess the overall shape of the plot. So while it left me with some warm and fuzzies, there were enough issues that I don’t think I’ll actually read the rest of the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9781039410244
Publisher: Podium Publishing

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