The Books That Fell Through the Cracks: The 2015 Mid-Year Grab Bag

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It can be difficult to maintain a book review blog with a complete set of all the books one has read throughout the year. So many things can get in the way: work, school, other books, other media like video games or TV shows, or even sometimes just sheer laziness. While reading books is never going to be a chore, writing about them can sometimes feel that way.

I try, however, not to let that happen to me. I read as much as I can, and I write as much as I can about what I read, but there are just some books that I don’t particularly care to write at length about. Sometimes they’re from series I’ve been reading since before I started writing reviews; other times they’re from series I’ve written about before but would rather not continue reviewing in the same lengthy format I usually do. Sometimes they’re series I can’t review on a book-by-book basis because of the way the plot works, or because I read the series in one fell swoop. Sometimes they’re standalones, but don’t particularly feel like writing about in my usual style. Either way, I do read these books, and I do have an opinion about them, but for a variety of reasons both valid and perhaps not-so-valid, I simply can’t be arsed to write about them at length. I could force myself to do that, of course, but then this blog starts feeling a lot less like fun and a lot more like a chore I’m not even paid for, and I certainly don’t want that to happen.

So in the interest of completeness (and in the interest of sharing my opinion on these books, some of which are absolutely brilliant), I’ve decided to institute a midyear and end-of-the-year grab bag post: a collection of all the books that fell through the cracks, so to speak. Reviews will be shorter and to-the-point, but they will, as always, be honest.

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The Glamourist Histories 1-5 – Mary Robinette Kowal

This was one of those series that I started expecting to be able to pace myself, then wound up swallowing whole after I finished the first book. It should be clear, from the covers alone, that Kowal’s series is very much in the spirit of Jane Austen, and the first book follows Austen’s books almost to a T. But the subsequent titles take much different paths, and address other interesting issues that Austen certainly did not discuss (or if she did, she did so only briefly and obliquely): the place of women in society; the brutality of war; the injustice of racism; and the horrifying realities of slavery are all put front-and-centre at one point or another from the second book onwards. Holding it all together is the touching story of the protagonist and her love, who encounter not only external diffculties but also deeply personal ones, but still manage to hold true to each other throughout their trials.

One may be inclined to dismiss these novels as nothing more than Regency romances with a touch of magic, but they are most certainly far, far more than that, and should not be missed.

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The Shadows (Black Dagger Brotherhood #13) – J.R. Ward

J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series is one of my favourite guilty pleasure reads. I have an enormous soft spot for paranormal romances, and this particular series of Ward’s (she has another one called Fallen Angels which is about, well, angels) is the one I enjoy the most. Having read this series from the beginning, I’ve been able to track Ward’s improvement in terms of her writing and the way she handles the themes and conventions of the romance genre, and I’m glad that the curve is trending upwards rather than downwards, with more expansive themes and more complex romantic plotlines. She even breaks one of the main conventions of romance novels in this book, though if I were to mention which convention that was it would be giving away too much. Either way, this was an enjoyable read, but does not stand alone very well; one must read the series from the beginning in order to appreciate what happens in this novel.

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InCryptid Series 1-4 – Seanan McGuire

This was yet another series that I pretty much inhaled whole, and I am certainly glad I did. Seanan McGuire might be more famous for her Newsflesh series (written under the name Mia Grant), but I wasn’t particularly interested in zombies, so I never chose to pick up those books. But when I found out that she wrote urban fantasy under her own name, I decided to pick a series and give those a shot, just to see what her writing was like. I’m glad to say that I was not disappointed, because the InCryptid books are a great deal of fun to read. The plot is very fast and, to some degree, very straightforward for an urban fantasy series, but the characters are fun and the world is quite interesting, so I don’t particularly mind the reliance on convention.

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Cast in Secret and Cast in Fury (Chronicles of Elantra 3-4) – Michelle Sagara

I already reviewed the first two books of Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra series, but I’ve decided to stop reviewing the rest of the books until there is some significant change in the way the plot works. At this point, there’s nothing very different between books one, two, three, and four; any differences that exist are not significant enough to warrant any effort in writing individual reviews for each book.

This is, in my opinion, something of a pity. Sagara obviously has an incredible world, and her characters are pretty intriguing, but the plots are starting to look rather similar. Oh, certainly, one book can be differentiated from the other by their choice of focus (the Tha’alani in Cast in Secret, and the Leontine in Cast in Fury) and in terms of the themes emphasised in each novel, but aside from that, there is nothing to distinguish one of from the other. Even more frustrating is Sagara’s choice of narrative style which, as I mentioned in my reviews for the first and second books, gets in the way of telling the story.

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The Birds of Pandemonium: Life Among the Exotic and the Endangered – Michele Raffin

Sometimes I pick up non-fiction books thinking they will be about science, and wind up getting a memoir instead. This is rarely ever a problem, especially when it’s about people interacting with animals. The Birds of Pandemonium is just that kind of book, written by the woman who started, and still runs, Pandemonium Aviaries. The book itself reads quite well, and though Raffin tends to ramble from personal stories to scientific fact and back again, it never gets confusing or boring. Her love for her charges and her dedication to saving some of the rarest of them from extinction comes through clearly in all her stories, many of which are heartwarming, and some of which can easily bring tears to one’s eye. Though it seems like the sort of book only a bird-lover would enjoy, I can guarantee that anyone who loves animals and/or works to help and protect them will adore this book.

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