Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller (Review)

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Title: Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller
Published: September 5th 2017 by Sourcebooks Fire
Page Count: 384
Where’d I Get It: ARC (Netgalley)
Rating: 2 stars

Perfect for fantasy fans of Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo, the first book in this new duology features a compelling gender fluid main character, impressive worldbuilding, and fast-paced action.

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class―and the nobles who destroyed their home.

When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand―the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears―Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.

But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.

 

I had to gather my thoughts quite a bit for this book, and I’m still a bit torn on it.

Honestly, what could be cooler than an assassination competition? Apparently anything else. The premise was tired, the challenges droll, and the execution lackluster. The author’s disjointed descriptions didn’t help matters. Imagine a Michael Bay movie, but in word form, where you know that action is happening and that it’s probably really cool, but you’re not getting all the cool bits. This is what this book felt like.

There’s also a whole complicated backstory where Sal’s entire homeland was murdered by executive order, a genocidal meat shield, as it were, against rampant magic. The magic is barely brushed upon, except in Sal’s PTSD hallucinations, and the orders only mentioned when Sal’s about the kill someone who isn’t a competitor. Those Sal seeks vengeance on are also conveniently at direct odds against the queen, in a play slow burn play for power against her.

Nothing surprised me. Nothing was explained well. I didn’t get attached to anyone, not even Sal. As you’ve noticed, I’ve refrained from using any gendering pronouns for Sal, using instead their name. This is due to Sal being gender-fluid. Don’t worry. You won’t forget that fact, as Sal is constantly reminding the audience to this fact, and to if they are wearing trousers or skirts that day. There was some mention of Sal’s gender at least every other chapter, if not every couple of pages.

I found the romance forced and hard to connect with. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it was the lack of descriptiveness again? Sal suddenly had feelings and they barely talked about it, but it was a relationship?

Everything in this book was so predictable. There was never a moment where you thought Sal might not come out on top, where you thought maybe this book was a lead in to greater things, a different path. I just couldn’t get behind it at all. I know others have loved it, and feel like the black sheep in all this, but I just didn’t enjoy it.

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Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau

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Title: Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau
Published: June 6th 2017 by HarperTeen
Page Count: 336
Where’d I Get It: ARC (Friend)
Rating: 1 stars

Twins Carys and Andreus were never destined to rule Eden. With their older brother next in line to inherit the throne, the future of the kingdom was secure.

But appearances—and rivals—can be deceiving. When Eden’s king and crown prince are killed by assassins, Eden desperately needs a monarch, but the line of succession is no longer clear. With a ruling council scheming to gain power, Carys and Andreus are faced with only one option—to take part in a Trial of Succession that will determine which one of them is worthy of ruling the kingdom.

As sister and brother, Carys and Andreus have always kept each other safe—from their secrets, from the court, and from the monsters lurking in the mountains beyond the kingdom’s wall. But the Trial of Succession will test the bonds of trust and family.

With their country and their hearts divided, Carys and Andreus will discover exactly what each will do to win the crown. How long before suspicion takes hold and the thirst for power leads to the ultimate betrayal?

I won’t lie. I didn’t ever finish The Testing trilogy and I hated the first one. I thought I’d give Joelle Charbonneau another shot, though. Authors often grow from their first attempts (look at Ryan Graudin!). Unfortunately, I didn’t feel this was the case.

I’m still being honest here. I skimmed an awful lot of this book. The words were useless, and I latched onto the plot well enough without the flowery, romantic descriptions and long sections without anything new of note, or anything that moved the plot forward, except for the ticking of time.

I didn’t connect with any of the characters. Carys, I feel, might have had some semblance of characterization, some feelings, some motivations, somewhere, but they were lost in the muddle that was this plot. In fact, I think, on the whole, we’re supposed to be rooting for her over her brother? But I just couldn’t get to that point. She’s also, wow, the Most Mary Sue to Sue about in this book.

Andreus, I get that he has some sort of condition of the heart, possibly asthma? And most of his internal monologue is, “Gosh, I better not exert myself too much and upset my condition! Someone might find out I have a condition!” Which, considering his other characterization, in which he absolutely loves to bone any lady who looks at him, seems a little at odds. Like, I can only imagine this man is not good in the sack, especially if climbing stairs puts him in a state, and he cannot exert himself.

Andreus’s other issue is that he’s gullible as heck when it comes to the divining rod attached to his body. Give him a pretty face and some alone time and he’ll believe he’s in love and anything said by the woman is the absolute truth. It made him, for whatever reason, turn on his twin sister, who hadn’t, until that point, been anything but supportive of him, distracting the court if Andreus had an attack, taking the punishment for being uncouth. The fact that he turned on her so quickly was despicable, and out of place. I guess it worked well for the plot, and to, for the most part, DIVIDE EDEN as the title suggested, but it was still meh.

This book is supposed to have some great, grand conspiracy about it, about succession, about murder, about everything, but it all just seemed trite and stupid to me. Perhaps there’s something deeper involved, as we weren’t privy to who the other conspirator was? One can hope, I guess?

This book hit none of my buttons, and I know for a fact I won’t be picking up the next installment. Nothing lined up well, and I absolutely could not get into it.

Media Consumption (2)

I’ve watched a lot of stuff since my last post. So, let’s get into it shall we?

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Mike Birbiglia’s Thank God for Jokes 

Okay. I love Mike Birbiglia’s storytelling,  his perpetual cinnamon roll-ness and his self-depreciating jokes. I’ve watched all of his stand up. I’ve heard him multiple times on This American Life. This is just more of the same, and it’s equally as precious. Some of the jokes hit, some fall flat, but overall he’s always a really solid comedian. This one has less of an overarching narrative than some of his others (My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend/Sleepwalk With Me), but it’s still great fun to listen to.

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Neal Brennan’s 3 Mics

This special, in which Neal Brennan uses three different microphones set across the stage with different ambient lighting and totally different tones, was interesting to watch. It was at times funny and at times extremely uncomfortable. Yet, the way he told every story and every joke was deliberate and he was mega-compelling to watch. This special can get pretty deep, so, be prepared.

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Dave Chappelle’s The Age of Spin and Deep in the Heart of Texas

My, how times have changed. The end of high school and the beginning of college were full of Dave Chappelle reruns. He had some unique characters and was great fun to watch. My husband and I even spent money to see him when he was on the Funny or Die tour a few years ago. Though, to be honest, his jokes there were pretty bleh, and I enjoyed seeing Hannibal Buress,  Dimitri Martin and Flight of the Conchords much better.

That being said, oh boy, did he reuse like a whole pile of jokes from said live show in The Age of Spin, and outside of that, everything else out of his mouth made me extremely uncomfortable. From misgendering trans people to rape jokes, I found myself instead of watching him, watching the reaction of the woman in the front row, who was just as appalled as I was at everything out of his mouth. I’m glad I had some solidarity in that woman, whoever she was.

Deep in the Heart of Texas was less cringingly offensive (like by comparison), but not any better. Dave Chappelle’s become an old man. Lots of complaints. Complaints outweighed jokes. I think the ship may have sailed where it comes to my interest in this man.

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The Great British Bake Off Series 4

Ugh, I really wish Netflix had all of them and didn’t try to label this “Season 2”. It gets wicked confusing. Granted, Great British Bake Off is something I watch for a calming effect, so it takes me quite some time to get through a season. The hosts are some of the most perfect choices ever. Sue’s constant sex euphemisms and Mel’s rallying to help the bakers in the last several minutes. Outside shots include sheep and people out for a stroll. No one swears, people’s emotions run a gambit. Everything ends up being heartwarming. It’s just a perfect show to watch to unwind. I absolutely love it.

On that note, I’m actually pretty stoked that Noel Fielding is coming to the show, but will absolutely miss Mel and Sue and Mary. I think what they need to do is to have Noel be the main host, and then have Richard Ayoade and Russel Brand alternate co-host duties. That would be splendid and quite literally perfect.

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Lights Out

When it comes to ghosts that are extensions of mental illnesses, this one blows The Babadook right out of the water. The story itself was interesting. The characters were all fully realized (though the boyfriend may have been literal garbage), for the most part, considering someone has to die like really early on to establish the spoop factor. It was tense enough, and the shots were done well. There were several jump scares that came from places I didn’t expect/consider. Overall, good horror, would recommend.

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Beauty and the Beast

I’ve seen the musical, and this adaptation really took the shape of that. Very similar in pacing. Overall, I really enjoyed it, but I do have a few comments.

  • What the heck is up with Ewan McGregor’s French accent?
  • Gaston was not the buff douchebag that I would expect. I literally maybe had some feelings about Gaston and how maybe Belle was doing him a wrong. He came back from the WAR for godssakes and has to keep a whole town afloat since there’s no other ruling body. Gosh.
  • Be Our Guest was super overwhelming.
  • That yellow dress could have been less junior high spring fling and more regal.

Anyway, I really liked it. Good effort on everyone’s part.

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Earthtastrophe

I’ve watched some garbage made for TV movies in my day. There’s that one where Misha Collins has to save the world from something happening at Stonehenge, and then there’s all the ones with sharks and various mech parts and possibly ghosts. This one somehow falls below all of those. This is one complete garbage. There’s no functional storyline. The science wasn’t even tried and oh, that ending. Buddy, you don’t just walk up to two ladies you met on an alternate timeline and try to like be their bestie. It’s weird. No. This was so bad. So, so, bad.

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The Eyes of My Mother

This movie is deeply disturbed. There’s a reason why it’s in black and white, and that reason is you’d vomit otherwise. The main character is so messed up that everything she does is the worst. She keeps a man in her barn as a pet, surgically removes his eyes and tongue, and when he tries to run, kills him. She then takes a baby from a mother, and when the mother tries to rescue it, turns her into her new pet. I guess, the only thing I can say is that this movie has what I would consider a happy ending, all things considered, but there’s a lot of really messed up things involved in it and it’s literally one big old nope.

Kim & Kim Vol. 1

 

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Title: Kim & Kim Vol. 1
Published: December 28th 2016 by Black Mask Studios
Where’d I Get It: Purchase
Rating: 4 stars

Kim & Kim are 20something besties making a name for themselves in the wild world of interdimensional cowboy law enforcement. A day-glo action adventure that’s bursting with energy and enthusiasm, Kim & Kim puts queer women and trans women front and center in an adventure that’s bright, happy, punk rock, sci fi & queer as all get-out.

 

Oh, gosh, graphic novels. I love them, but I also hate them, because they finish too quickly. This was the case with Kim & Kim. I absolutely adored the characters, but the omnibus wrapped up way too quickly. I felt like I was only scraping the surface of how awesome this series could be.

As per my previous post, I knew that I would find something else that makes me read something immediately. That something happens to be quirky as fuck bounty hunters. I love them. I love Cowboy Bebop something fierce. Samus Aran is my homegirl. I literally couldn’t not read this.

The art is cute and bright. The character designs are great (I mean, can I please cosplay them?). The characters themselves are just quirky enough to have some fun and great stories with. One of the Kims is trans, with a father that hasn’t accepted the fact. There’s more complication than that, as the father runs his own bounty hunting organization and is perpetually trying to bring Kim back into his fold. The other Kim is from a long line if probate necromancers. Her family has its own little quirks, and her aunt is one kickass lady.

The Kim’s relationship appears to be that of platonic life partners, but I’d probably ship them if it ever came down to that. They’re just too great together. I love them both to pieces.

The storyline itself generally comes down to that the Kims try to get a bounty, and then that bounty gets messed up somehow. It’s very Cowboy Bebop in its formula. I don’t mind it. Hell, it keeps everyone on their toes.

If I was the comic book pulling type, this would certainly be a title I’d do that with. As it stands, I have no idea when this comic comes out or when more will be forthcoming, and I has the sads about it. Alas, this book was too short, and I need more Kims in my immediate future. Thanks.

Top 10 Tuesday (3)

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Okay, so I took a bit of a break from blogging in general. It’s been pretty stressful in the household recently. My husband is essentially working two eight-hour jobs, in order to get my friend’s startup going. It’s intense. I’m totally in charge of the house, and making sure he doesn’t collapse in a heap of stress, all which stresses me out. Anyway, things are looking up on that end. Everything as far as pitches and moving forward with the startup is going great so far. So, fingers crossed.

Anyway, this weeks theme for Top Ten Tuesday is Top Ten Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want To Read A Book.

Crap. I don’t think I’ve actually thought this one through. Well, let’s try it.

10) I don’t want to just say, ZOMBIES because it’s so much more to it than that. I’m not going to read just any zombie novel that comes across my line of sight. There’s some really flat tropes that make me shy away from the genre just as quickly as piquing my interest. That being said, I absolutely love a good zombie book. Give me a Mira Grant or an M.R. Carey any day. Funny that both are published by the same publisher. Could it be a sign? Perhaps.

9) For awhile, I was reading anything Felicia Day rated above four stars. I keep considering going back to that. I hadn’t had a misstep there at all. She seems to jive on the same wavelength as me.

8) Whatever Jessie tells me to. The problem with this is that the list Jessie has mentioned to me, is long and I keep straying from it. Eventually, I’ll get through them all. Eventually.

7) Some new and weird fantasy premise. I super love anything that I haven’t seen before. That book about people riding hippos on the Mississippi River, someone get that to me STAT before I literally explode from anticipation. I’m not sure exactly what the IT factor is, but usually, the IT factor is way out there.

6) Okay, for those of you that know me, even a little, you know that I love absolutely TERRIBLE premises as much as I love the promising ones. I literally bought an out of print romance novel about a guy who turns into a unicorn. I’m not at all sorry about that. I bet it’s going to be a glorious, camp-filled romp and I’m so ready for it. I do the same thing with movies. Sometimes I just want to read something ridiculous.

5) If I super liked the first book. There are some series that I immediately snag the next one of (or did when they were being released). There are a few authors that I need to finish their bibliography because I feel guilty snatching the newest one up (Seanan McGuire is one of these, so is Ms. Schwab). These authors are few and far between. I can’t wait to find more of them.

4) Higlanders. Help me. I have a problem.

3) Awards, I will usually grab a book here or there if it won an award. I will generally get through two or three before getting really stressed about the list and dropping the idea entirely. Repeat next year.

2) It won’t get off my feed- Twitter or Goodreads. There’s only so much I can see about a book before curiosity gets the better of me and I break down and read it. It doesn’t matter why it’s being chattered about. This could be due to many things, usually it’s drama, so I have to see what the fuss is about, or it’s being super squee’d about, in which case I have to see what the fuss is about.

1) My husband told me to read it. He has done this once in our whole marriage. That book was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.  It took me six months to read, but I did it and I enjoyed it immensely.

I’m sure I’ll probably think of other reasons when I’m trying to go to sleep tonight, but so far, this seems like a comprehensive list. What’s your number one spot?

Tangled Threads by Jennifer Estep (Review)

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Title: Tangled Threads by Jennifer Estep
Published: April 26th 2011 by Pocket Books
Page Count: 357
Where’d I Get It: Purchase
Rating: 4 stars

I’d rather face a dozen lethal assassins any night than deal with something as tricky, convoluted, and fragile as my feelings.

But here I am. Gin Blanco, the semi-retired assassin known as the Spider. Hovering outside sexy businessman Owen Grayson’s front door like a nervous teenage girl. One thing I like about Owen: he doesn’t shy away from my past—or my present. And right now I have a bull’s-eye on my forehead.

Cold-blooded Fire elemental Mab Monroe has hired one of the smartest assassins in the business to trap me. Elektra LaFleur is skilled and efficient, with deadly electrical elemental magic as potent as my own Ice and Stone powers. Which means there’s a fifty-fifty chance one of us won’t survive this battle. I intend to kill LaFleur—or die trying—because Mab wants the assassin to take out my baby sister, Detective Bria Coolidge, too.

The only problem is, Bria has no idea I’m her long-lost sibling . . . or that I’m the murderer she’s been chasing through Ashland for weeks. And what Bria doesn’t know just might get us both dead. . . .

There were two short stories before this one, one from Jo-Jo’s point of view that was kind of adorable, because of Jo-Jo’s penchant for seeing the future (albeit rarely, or without much hubbub). The other was from Bria’s point of view and was mostly an internalized struggle between wanting to find Genevive and knowing she’s the Spider whilst also being an upstanding cop. There was also a chunk in there involving an illegal white slave trafficking bit in there, but while it gave the story an edge, wasn’t the main point. I certainly enjoyed Jo-Jo’s point of view better than Bria’s, but Bria was more of a broken record after the Donovan Caine stuff.

Anyway, that aside, the timeline in the book is now approaching Christmas, close to it. I think we started in early fall? Maybe? The entire series has covered such a short time in Gin’s actual life. She is systematically taking out Mab’s minions, and being a general thorn in the older elemental’s side.

On one such run, she discovers a setup, that Mab has hired an assassin named Elektra LaFluer to do away with Gin. Unraveling that involves protecting Roslyn’s bartender, Vinnie, rescuing his daughter and then going after LaFluer, herself, before she gets Gin and then goes after Bria, who’s next on her and Mab’s hitlist.

I was glad to see Gin up against another assassin this time around. Our last battle with someone of her particular occupation and skillset was Brutus, and he bit it without much fanfare. Though, I neither appreciated the descriptions of LaFluer, nor how the woman was portrayed. She was set as someone sadistic, quick to anger, constantly wearing green (the green matched her electrical elemental power- green? really? not like blue or something?). It was clear that Gin was going to do away with her, but not going to have a problem with it. I’d hoped for someone more multi-faceted, like Gin. Gin battling someone with the same sort of depth of character would be more interesting than just a bland, standard villain role.

Gin also opens up to her sister Bria about her real identity, and they are slowly trying to work through that. It’s still not clear what route Bria will take with it, but so far they’ve forged an awkward friendship.

Owen is still in the picture. He’s become Gin’s personal blacksmith, making her new weapons as a Christmas gift. Personally, I would have preferred something less suited for my literal job, but whatever, Gin thought it was a good gift. Owen is still kind of one dimensional as a romance, but whatever. Maybe he’ll open up here eventually.

Anyway, the fourth installment was still decent. I enjoyed it quite a bit. These books are sure growing on me. Gin is my favorite soul food cooking cinnamon roll who could actually kill you.

Venom by Jennifer Estep

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Title: Venom by Jennifer Estep
Published: September 28th 2010 by Pocket Books
Page Count: 389
Where’d I Get It: Purchase
Rating: 3.5 stars

What kind of assassin works pro bono?

It’s hard to be a badass assassin when a giant is beating the crap out of you. Luckily, I never let pride get in the way of my work. My current mission is personal: annihilate Mab Monroe, the Fire elemental who murdered my family. Which means protecting my identity, even if I have to conceal my powerful Stone and Ice magic when I need it most.

To the public, I’m Gin Blanco, owner of Ashland’s best barbecue joint. To my friends, I’m the Spider, retired assassin. I still do favors on the side. Like ridding a vampire friend of her oversized stalker—Mab’s right-hand goon who almost got me dead with his massive fists.

At least irresistible Owen Grayson is on my side. The man knows too much about me, but I’ll take my chances. Then there’s Detective Bria Coolidge, one of Ashland’s finest. Until recently, I thought my baby sister was dead. She probably thinks the same about me. Little does she know, I’m a cold-blooded killer . . . who is about to save her life.

Book three of this series also has a small, several page, short story from Finnigan Lane’s point of view called, Wasted. Compared the Finn’s other POV story, Poison, this one was much better. We had more of the adult Finn we know and love and less of the awful teenager Finn. We can also see how well he can handle himself, something he has only done off-screen, and only incrementally until this point. So, if you like Finn being Finn and also shooting people, this is the short story for you.

Compared to the other books, Venom, didn’t feel like it held quite as broad of a scope. It was pretty focused as far as plot was concerned. Gin’s baby sister Bria has taken Donovan Caine’s place on the police force, so we get the all new dynamic there, where Gin wants to both have a relationship with yet another straight-arrow cop, and somehow keep being an assassin without going to jail. So far, Bria doesn’t know that Gin is the Spider, hasn’t put two and two together. So we don’t actually have to deal with that drama yet.

I really like Bria. She can handle herself, and I can’t wait to find out more of her backstory. Eventually, I assume, it will all come to light, but as a cop and a thorn in Gin’s side (in more ways than on, also that’s a rose joke, get it), she’s absolutely fantastic. Gin, herself, seems to waffle between being super rude to Bria and giving her free pieces of her favorite pie. So, we’ll have to see how this relationship develops over the course of the series.

Gin’s other relationship with Owen Grayson has come to bear, and he (and those goddamn violet eyes, Jesus) play quite a role in this story. Okay, so, I get that like part of the plot was for Gin to go to Northern Aggression (the sexiest sex bar to ever sex ever), but for Owen Grayson to just be there, and then to be like, “Oh, yeah, I took my sister who I’m hella protective of here,” just like, doesn’t make sense. If you want to keep your little sister safe you don’t bring her to a club where people are literally boning under tables. That just does not compute to me. That is not a place you take your baby sister. What sort of literal weirdo are you, Owen?

Clearly quite a weirdo. He gives zero fucks about Gin’s occupation. He gives a few fucks that maybe she stormed into his house and took some of his swords, but those fucks are soon forgotten. He just doesn’t have any substance yet and it’s pretty glaringly obvious. There was that shoehorned bit where Gin saved him once from starvation and the cold and now he’s rich because Fletcher Lane decided to step in because Gin was feeding him like a lost puppy. But, like, that doesn’t overly give him substance or feelings. It just adds more to Gin’s backstory (though, that was touched on in Poison slightly). I dunno. I’m just not feeling Owen. I know more about the scar on his chin and the color of his eyes than anything else about him and it’s slightly infuriating. Donovan Caine might have been the lamest goodie goodie, but at least I knew what I was getting with him. He had substance and character and wasn’t just places to promote plot movement.

Also, we literally got to 90% of the book before there was any sort of sex. I was pretty into the fact that there wasn’t any, that Gin wasn’t going to rush into it. Nah, we got a weird shower scene because Gin showed up to Owen’s dirty and bloody. Just more weird ‘because plot’ for Owen Grayson.

Like I said earlier, the plot for this is pretty condensed. Gin is after one of Mab’s goons, Elliot Slater. He’s a huge giant with a proclivity to abuse women until they’re dead. He’s set his sights on Roslyn, whom Gin feels indebted to. So Gin goes after him, fails a few times, gets beat up. You know the drill.

The only thing I didn’t like about this book, overall, was that the entire conflict made me uncomfortable. The entire conflict was abuse and rape and subsequent murder. They don’t paint Elliot Slater as a good guy, but literally no one steps in to help Roslyn except Gin, due to the fact that he’s on Mab’s payroll. It was mentally taxing and upsetting. I think it was meant to be, but abuse and rape as a plot point really grinds on me.

Anyway, three books in, and by the time I’m said and done, 13 more to go. This book had some interesting parts, good action sequences, and also some real squicky bits. Overall, I really enjoyed it. Time to start Tangled Threads.