My 2020 Five Star Predictions: How did they hold up?

In January, I dared to make some five star predictions about books that I thought I would end up loving. This was brave insofar as I often don’t even read the books I plan to, despite having an entire year to do it. But I did surprisingly well, not only in reading the books but also in predicting my own rating. Not all my predictions turned into five-star-reads, but they were all books I enjoyed.

5 STARS: Rivers Solomon – An Unkindness of Ghosts

So much yes! This was the book I was most unsure about so it made me even happier that it blew me away from the very start. Rivers Solomon is such an inriguing writer. They create vivid characters, do worldbuilding effortlessly, and manage to deal with a myriad of topics all while telling an engaging story. This generation ship story has so many layers and one of the most interesting protagonists I’ve ever read. Go pick it up!

4-ish STARS: Mishell Baker – Impstor Syndrome

This might have been a five star book, had I read it sooner. Waiting as long as I did between books 2 and 3 was definitely a mistake. It took me a long time to figure out who was who and what had happened before so my enjoyment was delayed for at least a third of the book. Then my mood may also have contributed to this only being a good read, not a great one.
I still wholeheartedly recommend this trilogy, however, only with the caveat that you read them closer together than I did. The first two books were standout novels which both got five stars from me. This one ended up with four-ish.

5 STARS: Laini Taylor – Muse of Nightmares

I have to admit, I was worried for a second, that this would “only” turn out to be a four-star-read. The beginning of the book takes its time, re-establishing the events of the first book, letting readers get back into the world, but once the plot kicks off, it goes non-stop until the end. And yes, this did end up getting five stars from me because this book was so close to perfect, it broke my heart. I was constantly close to tears, I cared so much about the characters, and I couldn’t see any way for the story to end well. I’m not telling you how it did end, but whether good or bad or bittersweet, the ending was satisfying and fitting. I love it and I want more Laini Taylor NOW!

5 STARS: N. K. Jemisin – The Stone Sky

Oooooh, how daring of me, predicting I will love an N. K. Jemisin novel… I admit, I was playing it rather safe, both with Laini Taylor and N. K. Jemisin, but this was the book I was most certain would end up getting 5 stars. And it did.
I did take a while to find back into the world of the Broken Earth but by the time I had remembered all the little world building tidbits from the previous books, I was highly engaged again and hoped along with Essun, Nassun, and the others that there would be a way to save the world and themselves. The ending was such a beautiful thing, bittersweet and magical and bringing all the elements together. I can say very little without spoiling but this trilogy is simply mindblowing and deserving of all its Hugo Awards.

??? STARS: Marlon James – Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Here’s the outlier. I have read exactly 50% of this book and found it highly interesting and immersive. But the world James set up isn’t exactly a happy place and the characters are complicated beings whose motives aren’t immediately understood. Plus, the plot is difficult to follow, the language is demanding, and just everything about this book makes it a Hard Read.
Now, I’m always up for a challenge and I plan to finish this book eventually. It may even still turn into a five star read but only if I pick it up at the right time. Pushing myself to finish it just so I can say I did will not help my enjoyment. So I’m waiting until the mood strikes to dive back into this African-inspired dark tale of mythical beings, kidnapped children, mysteries and magic.

And that’s it! This little experiment was actually a lot more fun than I thought so I’m now going to prepare the next round. For 2021, I’ll be a little more daring and even choose books by authors I don’t already know. After all, it’s easy to predict a five-star-read from a favorite author.

My Year of Finishing Series!

Happy Holidays!
I’m spending time with family for the next few days (we’ve all been tested negative and been isolated for the past weeks, plus we have masks, so it’ll be a very safe and very strange Christmas, but you know. We make the best of it). I have so many reviews to write as well as my favorite books of the year list to finish, but there’s no way I can get that done before Christmas. So I’m leaving you with this loooong list of mostly great books and promise to catch up after 26th December. I hope you’re all safe and healthy and I wish you wonderful holidays!

Entirely by accident, 2020 turned out to be the year where I finally continued and even finished (!) a bunch of book series I had started. By no means did I finish all the series I have ongoing, but a good chunk of them is now done and I cannot begin to tell you how satisfying it is to get to the end of a long, sprawling story that has been with you for years. Even if the ending didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, it still left me with a feeling of accomplishment.

Now let me tell you about the series I finished (or caught up on) this year and whether they were worth it.

Finished

Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham – FABLES

Fables complete serie - The Deluxe Edition - Hardcover - - Catawiki

I finally did it! I finished Fables!!! Now, to be honest, this wasn’t a series I ever intended to rush through. Some volumes were better than others but the overall quality was so good that it felt kind of nice to always have a few more volumes to look forward to. I’ve been reading the deluxe editions in increments, sometimes waiting for the next one to come out, then waiting for the right mood to strike. I have had the final three volumes on my shelf for some time now and all I needed to do to get to the very end was pick them up. Thanks to Covid-19 and the lockdown, I had a lot of time on my hands.
This story about fairy tale characters living secretly in our world, with politcal intrigues, crimes, a full-blown war, dark mysteries, curses, love stories, and everything else you can think of, is exactly the kind of thing I go for. At the beginning I would never have thought I’d come to care so much for random side characters or go out and actually buy all the books in the spin-off series about Jack of Fables… and yet I did. It was the idea that drew me in, but it was the characters that made me stay. There were definitely some weaker volumes but I can totally see myself re-reading the entire thing someday.


Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor – Cups and Thoughts

Laini Taylor – Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Technically, I still have the novella about side characters Mik and Zuzana to read, but I’ve finished the main trilogy after a rather rough start. I first read Daughter of Smoke and Bone years ago and didn’t love it. In fact, I was rather pissed off by the tropes used and the sudden shift in story in that book. On a re-read, however, knowing what to expect, I ended up quite liking the book. Then I continued reading and the series sneakily stole my heart. Laini Taylor’s wonderful ideas and world building are stunning – even if her fictional creatures are maybe a tad too beautiful. The way she wrote about this unwinnable war, about star-crossed lovers, about friendship and death and loyalty and loss… yeah, it worked for me. So much so that, immediately after finishing the second book, I went and devoured the third. Taylor also managed to stick the landing with the ending, delivering a satisfying finale that left me feeling content and mostly happy. I’m definitely still going to read that book about Mik and Zuzana though!


LAINI TAYLOR – STRANGE THE DREAMER

Look, I didn’t expect anything else but I was still surprised at how much this duology touched me. It’s not just Laini Taylor’s exquisite language or her brilliant, faceted characters who are never all good or all bad, it’s also the world building and the plot. Seriously, I can’t find fault in these books and I’ll probably re-read them many times to come.
Any lover of books or fairy tales, anyone who loves learning about different cultures, or who just likes reading about crazy original fantasy ideas will find something to enjoy in these books. Laszlo Strange is so easy to love and his story turns from rather small and intimate into a sprawling epic that I didn’t see coming. I consider this some of the very best the fantasy genre has to offer!


Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea due to be re-released on October 17th with brand new covers and illustrations. : Fantasy

Ursula K. LeGuin – The Earthsea Cycle

Books keep getting added to this series every time I check but for a while, at least, it was the Earthsea Quartet and that’s the part I’ve finished. I still have two short story collections to read but I read all the novels in LeGuin’s beloved fantasy series. This was also prompted by a re-read of A Wizard of Earthsea, a book I didn’t adore either time I read it but one I appreciated much more when I read it the second time, simply because I was looking for different things and noticing different aspects of LeGuin’s genius. When I got to the second book, The Tombs of Atuan, I finally understood why everyone loves this series so much. Man, did that book hit me in the feels! The third one was rather meh but I suspect I may like it more when I’m older and Tehanu, the one that got lots of award nominations and wins, was a thing of pure beauty. There is something special about the Earthsea books. Each is quite different from the previous one, in a way, and yet they all share common themes and LeGuin’s way of conveying emotion almost without me noticing (I mean that in the best way possible).
Reading these books was definitely rewarding and gave me a lot of food for thought.


The Arcadia Project: Borderline; Phantom Pains; Impostor Syndrome von Mishell Baker - Taschenbuch - 978-1-5344-1828-8 | Thalia

Mishell Baker – The Arcadia Project

This is the trilogy where my reading experience has led to a clear recommendation for you guys: Don’t let years pass between books 2 and 3! I read the first and second books soon after they were published and that small-ish gap between them worked fine. But then I waited several years before picking up the third book and I had a hard time remembering everyone’s name and station, who’s currently fighting with whom, how exactly all the magic worked, etc.
That didn’t keep me from enjoying Millie’s story as she handles not only her Borderline Personality Disorder as well as being a double amputee, but also navigating a new workplace (with magic!), her attractive boss, trying to make friends with people who don’t necessarily want to be her friend, and of course all sorts of fairy shenanigans. In terms of representation, this trilogy is amazing! Not only have I never read a story with so many diverse characters in terms of mental health, disabilities, LGBTQIA+, but the best thing is, they are all drawn with care, like real people – some likable, some not so much. These character’s aren’t their disabilities. They are all people, some of whom are gay, some transgender, some with mental health issues, some with physical disabilities, some with disabilities that aren’t visible. Even if there hadn’t been a kick-ass story about humans and fairies, this would be an important trilogy for our time.


FANS WILL WORSHIP THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, BOOK ONE

Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie – The Wicked + the Divine

I read this comic book series in its entirety (re-reading the first volume) for the Hugo Awards and again, re-reading made everything better. Giving books a second chance is definitely the way to go, because apparently my mood plays a large part in how much I enjoy a book. This series, while it has some slight ups and downs, was overall really fun and exciting.
A pantheon of gods is reborn into regular humans’ bodies who then live like rockstars for two years, after which they will die. Except this time, they seem to die much quicker and it’s not of “natural causes”. There was so much to love here, starting with the art style which I found absolutely stunning. The story also grows bigger and bigger as you follow along. The characters become more fleshed out and I caught myself caring for some of them who I previously didn’t even notice all that much. Overall, this was a great experience, all the more because it sticks the ending.


Die Ära der Zeitreisen | Kultur

Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matt Wilson – Paper Girls

For this, I didn’t re-read the first volume, which I had also read when the series first started. I liked the Stranger Things vibe but I remember that the story got a little too crazy for me at the end of the first book. As I continued, however, I was just fine with the amount of crazy. Time travel, LGBT romance, meeting your older selves, saving the world… yes please, give me more.
I don’t quite know why, but although I enjoyed every single volume of this 6-volume series, none of the instalments ever got me really excited. It felt a bit like a great mash-up of things that had been done before, drawn quite beautifully, and told well. But not groundbreaking. So it was a solid series, I’m happy I read it, but I don’t think I’ll revisit it.


Robin Hobb – The Tawny Man Trilogy (Realm of the Elderlings)

I first read Assassin’s Apprentice when I was 16 years old (I’m 34 now) and spent the following years devouring more and more of Hobb’s books set in the Realm of the Elderlings. Except with the Tawny Man Trilogy, I kind of hit a slump. I read The Golden Fool in 2012, so it’s been a LONG time. But Hobb wouldn’t be Hobb if she didn’t manage to immerse me in her world immediately and make me feel like no time has passed at all. I finally finished this third trilogy in her series of connected trilogies (plus one quartet). And although this trilogy is done, I will continue on with the larger series and see what’s been happening down South with those Bingtowners and the people in the Rain Wilds. After all, nobody can make me cry like Robin Hobb and her stories have stayed with me throughout the years. I’m actually glad I still have more of them to look forward to.


N. K. Jemisin – The Broken Earth Trilogy

You guys, I know it’s weird that I didn’t gobble up these books right when they came out. The Fifth Season still is one of the most mind-blowing fantasy books I’ve ever read and I wish I could erase my memory of it just to experience it for the first time again! But it’s exactly because it was so good that I waited a while before picking up The Obelisk Gate. And then I saved up The Stone Sky deliberately as a treat. Well, I think I’ve earned that treat by the end of 2020 and so, in December, I finally picked up the finale of this triple Hugo Award winning trilogy.

All caught up

Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda – Monstress

This is the one series on this list that I don’t plan to continue. I had read the first volume when it came out, liked it okay, but not enough to continue. The gorgeous art kept distracting me from the story and the aloof protagonist never managed to get me emotionally involved with her story. But as volume 4 was nominated for a Hugo Award this year, I caught up on the series and am left with the exact same feeling. Cool ideas, stunning artwork, but little emotional impact. I have to concede that this series is just not for me because as far as I can tell, neither writer nor artists are doing anything wrong. I see the appeal and I’m glad so many other people like it, but I don’t feel like reading more of it.
If the next volume is nominated for a Hugo again, I’ll read it but I won’t go out and actively buy a copy for myself.


Brandon Sanderson – Mistborn

So, I had read (or rather listened to) all of the Mistborn books already. First era, second era, all done. But! There was still this little novella set during the first era told from a different perspective on my TBR. I finally picked this one up, not expecting too much from it. I should have known better. Sanderson always delivers, after all!
Plotwise, Secret History doesn’t offer much that’s new, but it was like a behind the scenes look that gives a bit more background information on the larger story and on the Cosmere as a whole. You don’t need to read this to enjoy the Mistborn series but if you’re into the Cosmere, you won’t want to  miss it.


Brandon Sanderson – Skyward

Yeah, there’s no question I’ll always jump on the next book in this series as soon as it comes out. This YA sci-fi series is not Sanderson’s best but I can’t help but love it anyway. You’ll get his trademark twists at the end, you get a cast of lovable characters, great side characters (M-Bot & Doomslug!) and you get an exciting plot that promises even bigger secrets to be revealed in the future.
I also loved how Sanderson has grown in terms of his characters. They still don’t curse, ever, but in Starsight, we get characters who don’t belong to a specific gender and that’s not something I had expected from Sanderson. Way to go and please keep moving in that direction. People and aliens come in all different shapes, sizes, genders, with all kinds of abilities and disabilities. There will be two more volumes in this series so I don’t expect it to be finished before 2023. Until then, we get the next Stormlight Archive book, so I’m not complaining.


Carina's Books: Cover Reveal: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman – The Book of Dust

I had heard mixed things about this follow-up trilogy to His Dark Materials. With La Belle Sauvage, Pullman convinced me that he could actually pull it off and The Secret Commonwealth was no different. We follow an adult Lyra whose relationship with her daemon Pan is rather fraught. Lots of exciting things happen, of course, but the heart of the story is Lyra and Pan’s struggle to find back to each other emotionally.
Look, this isn’t His Dark Materials and nothing can take away the greatness of that trilogy. Even if the story is very different, the writing style gives me major nostalgia and reminds me how I felt when I first discovered this world as a teenager. So it is a worthy successor and one I intend to follow until the end.


Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Her Pitiless Command

I was thrilled to find out that the book that had felt so much like a series opener was, in fact, a series opener. So I picked up Mirrorstrike soon after it came out. It wasn’t as good as the first book, Winterglass, but then middle volumes rarely are. When the third volume comes out, I’ll be right here waiting for it because the characters and world building are simply too good not to find out how it all ends. And let’s not forget the absolutely stunning language with which Sriduangkaew tells this sort-of fairy tale retelling of The Snow Queen set in South East Asia.


Review: Martha Wells & The Murderbot Diaries | A Study in Murderbot

Martha Wells – The Murderbot Diaires

I waited a bit before I picked up the first full-sized Murderbot novel, part five of the Murderbot Diaries. When I did pick it up, it was just as delightful as I had hoped. Murderbot simply has a way of stealing your heart with its hilarious narration and the way it deals with emotions (it would rather not). This series is a source of pure joy and I hope it continues for a long, long time – whether the next one is a novella or another novel, I don’t even care. Just as long as I get more Murderbot and maybe even more ART. Despite all the action and the constant danger, I’d even call this a feelgood series.

Continued a bit

Emma Newman – Planetfall

So I actually only started this series this year but rather than do what I usually do (read book one, then wait forever before I pick up the next), I continued pretty soon after with the second book. Although very different in setting and story type, I was taken with both of these. And since the series is finished, I intend to read the other two books as well. And soon!
Planetfall tells a very interesting story set on a different planet where humans have settled. But things aren’t exactly as they seem, the protagonist holds a highly intriguing secret (well, more than one actually) and things unravel from there.
In After Atlas we get a police procedural set on Earth, but a future Earth where society works a bit different from ours, and not exactly in a good way. I had so much fun reading both of these and I can’t wait to discover where Emma Newman takes the story in the final two books.


The Dark Tower series (9 BOOKS) BY Stephen King-MP3 AUDIOBOOK – ty's cheap DIGITAL audiobook/Etextbook

Stephen King – The Dark Tower

I don’t even remember when I started this series but I think I was still in school. So… very long ago. The first book wasn’t really for me, the second took a while to get going but then I binged books 3 and 4 right after. Wolves of the Calla was the one that made me stall again. It was just too long, had too many side stories, and I was a bit burned out on Dark Tower stuff by then. Newly motivated to continue some series, I picked up Song of Susannah, read it in no time at all and, while not loving it, at least gained my excitement for Stephen King’s writing back as well as the urge to finally finish this epic series. So far, I have managed to avoid spoilers about the ending (thank you, internet, for being so considerate and actually hiding spoilers about this series 🙂 ).


Open Your Door to Centaurs and Unicorns in Across the Green Grass Fields, the Newest Installment of Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children Series! | Tor.com

Seanan McGuire – Wayward Children

This series is so hit or miss for me I hadn’t planned on continuing it. But it keeps getting nominated for the Hugo Awards and as a diligent voter, I had to pick up In an Absent Dream. It turns out, this was one of the good volumes and I really, really enjoyed it. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ll continue with the next book even if it doesn’t get an awards nomination. Considering how much I hated the third book, that’s pretty high praise.


Series Sunday: Toby Daye by Seanan McGuire – Post Thirty Two of Stay Home Order – Redd's Reads

Seanan McGuire – October Daye

As strange as my relationship with McGuire’s writing is, this is a series I really like so far. Granted, I’ve only read the first two books but they have both delivered exciting, action-packed tales with interesting fairy politics and a protagonist I can root for. I know nothing about the rest of the series (again, thank you, people who use spoiler tags!) but I’m hoping for a certain romantic pairing and to see more of some side characters I’ve grown to like.
I usually read hardly any Urban Fantasy so I’m glad I discovered a series I can follow along, knowing I’ll get a quick read that will be fun and make me feel stuff. I think the Shakespeare quote titles are a bit pretentious and don’t have much to do with the plot but I intend to stay with this series for the next few years. These books (so far) are excellent to get you out of a reading slump.


My Top Ten 2019 Reads (+ 20 More Great Ones) – Book Geek Reviews

Jessica Townsend – Nevermoor

I picked up the The Trials of Morrigan Crow during my holiday (which luckily fell into the time just before Covid-19 hit Europe and everything went into lockdown), then continued on with The Calling of Morrigan Crow in the Summer. I bought the third volume when it came out but haven’t gotten to it just yet.
This is such a heartwarming, whimsical tale with the loveliest found family, great friendships and lots of cool ideas. The world of Nevermoor may be dangerous, but it’s a cozy kind of dangerous if you know what I mean. Following Morrigan on new adventures feels a bit like coming home and the series was definitely worth it for all the warm and fuzzy feelings it gave me.
It’s also nice to have a book series I can gift to the kids in my family that isn’t you-know-what.


My Fancast/Dreamcast: An Ember In The Ashes Series – NJG Entertainment.com

Sabaa Tahir – An Ember in the Ashes

I remember how the first book in this quartet had me at the edge of my seat THE ENTIRE TIME. Every chapter made my pulse go up because it was so damn exciting and I was so scared for the protagonist! I wanted more of that, but unfortunately, the second book was a big let down. There was a ridiculous, obvious, unnecessary love triangle, the plot was quite weak, and there were none of the tense scenes I enjoyed so much in book 1. I’ll give the next book a chance but I’m not super eager to continue the series at this point. Depending on how well volume 3 does for me, I may just call it quits after that.


Marissa Meyer's Renegades Trilogy is Riveting Superhero Fiction | Den of Geek

Marissa Meyer – Renegades

I was lukewarm about Meyer’s sci-fi superhero series Renegades after reading the first book. Sure, it was fun and easy to read, but it felt a bit unstructured and convoluted. I did pick up the second book because Meyer is my guilty pleasure author and sometimes you just need a book that doesn’t require too much brain power. I enjoyed it well enough, I liked how it fleshed out the world and finally delivered some moments I had been hoping for from the very start.
It’s not great science fiction and not great literature either, but definitely great fun. After the second book, things are perfectly set up for a great climax, so it won’t be too long before I finish the trilogy.


Andrzej Sapkowski – The Witcher

Like many people, I finally picked up the Witcher books because of the Netflix series and I’m not sorry. Not only did the picture of Henry Cavill in my mind greatly enhance the reading experience, but the books themselves also surprised me. My expectations were… let’s say different. I thought tough manly Witcher man would run around slaying monsters. Instead I got a thoughtful exploration of who the real monsters are and a protagonist who, most of all, stands out because of his empathy! So far, I’ve read the two story collections that form the start of the series as well as the first novel. It wasn’t as good as the collections but I’m still invested enough in this universe and its characters that I look forward to the rest of the series.


Netflix verfilmt Bone von Jeff Smith - Anidrom - Animation News

Jeff Smith – Bone

I have a big, chunky all-in-one volume of this series and finally started reading it late last year. This charming tale about three bone creatures trying to survive in a hostile world and find their way home to Boneville starts out so simply and then slowly grows in the telling. At first, it’s this whimsical, cute story, but the more adventures the Bones go on, the bigger the world seems to get. We get mythology, strange creatures, lovable side characters, and a tale that grows up to be rather epic in scope.
I’ve read four out of the ten volumes so far and I’m glad there’s more Bone to look forward to.


Diana Wynne Jones – The Land of Ingary/Howl’s World

This loosely connected trilogy has languished on my TBR for too long. I read and loved Howl’s Moving Castle many years ago but when it was picked for the Sword and Laser book club, I took that chance to finally continue the series instead of re-reading the first book. Diana Wynne Jones writes with such charm and ease that it’s hard not to love her stories.
Humble carpet merchant Abdullah goes on an unexpected and rather wild adventure that was too delightful to describe here. Howl and Sophie do make an appearance, but this is clearly Abdullah’s book. I can’t wait to finish the trilogy next year. Whenever I need a book that feels like balm for my soul, I’ll pick this up.

So this is it… I swear I didn’t set out to do this at the beginning of the year. I planned on catching up on some series but I never thought I would get so far. It’s been incredibly rewarding, especially when I was reminded again, after years of neglecting a series, how much I loved it in the first place and how great it was to return to that world.
I’ve also discovered that re-reads can do wonders. Books I didn’t like the first time suddenly appeared in a new light or I appreciated things I simply missed before.

How are you handling your book series? Do you wait until it’s finished and then binge it in one go? Do you catch up on the newest volume every year? Or are you like me, which is to say completely unorganized? 🙂

Fairy Revolution: Mishell Baker – Impostor Syndrome

One thing I’ve learned from reading The Arcadia Project trilogy is that you shouldn’t let years pass between books 2 and 3 of a series that tells one continuous story. Also, mood is important when picking up a book of a certain subgenre. Also, also, finishing a series is a great feeling which is probably why this has become my Year of Reading Sequels. Warning: Spoilers for the first two books below!

IMPOSTOR SYNDROME
by Mishell Baker

Published: Saga Press, 2018
eBook: 480 pages
Series: The Arcadia Project #3
My rating: 6/10

Opening line: The British declared war in January, just after my boss’s twentieth birthday.

In the third book of the Nebula Award–nominated Arcadia Project series, which New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire called “exciting, inventive, and brilliantly plotted,” Millie Roper has to pull off two impossible heists—with the fate of the worlds in the balance.
Three months ago, a rift between agents in London and Los Angeles tore the Arcadia Project apart. With both fey Courts split down the middle—half supporting London, half LA—London is putting the pieces in place to quash the resistance. But due to an alarming backslide in her mental health, new LA agent Mille Roper is in no condition to fight.
When London’s opening shot is to frame Millie’s partner, Tjuan, for attempted homicide, Millie has no choice but to hide him and try to clear his name. Her investigation will take her across the pond to the heart of Arcadia at the mysterious and impenetrable White Rose palace. The key to Tjuan’s freedom—and to the success of the revolution—is locked in a vault under the fey Queen’s watchful eye. It’s up to Millie to plan and lead a heist that will shape the future of two worlds—all while pretending that she knows exactly what she’s doing…

I have let entirely too much time pass between reading the second book in the trilogy and this final one because when I started reading, I was completely lost. The British declared war? Wait, what happened again? Mishell Baker does a commendable job of catching her readers up in the first few chapters of this book but I still felt like I should have read books 2 and 3 much closer to each other.
Millie is right in the middle of the action again and this time, “the action” means a full-blown revolution in two worlds. Once she and her friends found out that the spells woven by the sidhe are actually enslaving conscious spirits, it was clear that something had to be done to end this torture! But of course not the entire Arcadia Project stands behind that idea and so the organization is split. Millie is now looking for alliances both in Arcadia and in our world in order to gain the upper hand over Dame Belinda, the Project’s boss.

I’ll be honest with you. The fact that I had forgotten so many details from the previous book made it a bit hard to get into this one. The writing style was immediately engaging, however, so I kept pushing on in the hopes of figuring everything out eventually. And I did, but because it took me so long, a lot of emotional beats were lost on me. I had forgotten about Caryl’s past, for example, and that’s not a small thing to forget…

The part of the Arcadia Project that wants to end spirit slavery is making plans on how exactly to achieve that goal. This involves several heists, potential alliances with both Seelie and Unseelie royalty, working together with some freed spirits, and dealing with jetlag. There’s always something happening in this book, so I can’t say I was ever bored. But again, the emotional connection to the characters was missing this time around (entirely my own fault) and that’s why the whole book didn’t really work for me the way the previous two did.

Thankfully, we have protagonist Millie to hold on to. She is just as intriguing and wonderful as ever, not just because she’s smart and has a good heart, but also because she messes up frequently and so feels much more human than a stereotypical hero would. Much like in the first two books, I appreciated all the little moments that show how Millie’s disabilities influence her daily life. As a double amputee with prosthetic legs, simple things such as walking up stairs or getting out of a bathtub become serious obstacles and that’s something able-bodied people usually don’t think about much. Millie has the added gift/curse of unravelling spells because of the metals holding her body together. Metal and Fairies don’t mix well and while that can be an asset at some times, it can lead to serious trouble when an innocent hand gestures destroys and important guarding spell.

Another thing I liked was the diversity of the characters and the range of relationships between them. So many times, stories where people have to work together end with them being friends. But real life doesn’t work that way and neither do the inhabitants of the Arcadia Project’s Residence Four. Millie’s new partner Tjuan isn’t exactly opening up to her even though they technically get along okay. Millie is also dealing with her feelings for her Echo Claybriar, her boss Caryl, and the new-ish resident of her home, Alondra, who also has Borderline.
Their relationship is especially intersting because Millie immediately feels some kind of competition with Alondra, even though (or maybe because) the girl is nothing but sweet and kind. But Millie is no longer the only one with BPD and she feels like Alondra is trying to one-up her constantly. Whether that’s true is left up to the reader but again, this rather unlikable trait of Millie’s makes her more realistic and believable and I’m always here for that.

As far as the plot goes, I didn’t much care about it for the first half of the book or so, even though it involves a heist with several dangerous situations and tough choices. But once Millie decides to go to Arcadia, things got way more interesting. It reminded me yet again that I should have read this book much sooner but even though the memories were only slowly coming back to me, there was enough action and emotional situations there to keep me at the edge of my seat. This is the part where not only the protagonists get to shine but where side characters can surprise you, where the fate of the world’s future is decided. It’s both easier and more difficult than expected and that’s all I can say without spoiling.

The ending – which not only ends this book but the entire bigger arc of the trilogy – was pretty amazing. Just like in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy, this story is about war and about old, old conflicts, the breaking of traditions, questions of humanity (and basic decency), and about the protagonist finding her place in the world. Other than that, the two series have nothing in common but this theme was handled very well by both authors. Mishell Baker delivered a satisfying ending to the story arc but leaves enough things open for us to know that the characters’ job is far from done.
There is also a bittersweet note to the ending when it comes to Millie’s relationships, be they friendships or love. All things said and done, this book may deal with dark themes and characters who do bad things – sometimes for the perceived “greater good” – but it left me hopeful. I didn’t like it as much as the first or second books but I think if I re-read the entire trilogy in one go, I might give this book a much higher rating. This time, by my own fault, I only found it rather good but not as amazing as the others.

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good

The Arcadia Project:

  1. Borderline
  2. Phantom Pains
  3. Impostor Syndrome

The Arcadia Project - by Mishell Baker (Paperback) - image 1 of 2

Eternally hopeful: Mishell Baker – Phantom Pains

It’s no secret that I usually steer away from Urban Fantasy. But that only means the type of Urban Fantasy with scantily clad women on the cover, usually looking over their shoulder, carrying some kind of weapon, and with the title written over their wrapped-in-leather butt. But Mishell Baker makes Urban Fantasy so much fun! Even with the most broken (literally) heroine you can imagine, The Arcadia Project series takes you on wild adventures and leaves you just hopeful of the future, whatever it may bring.

PHANTOM PAINS
by Mishell Baker

Published by: Saga Press, 2017
Ebook: 416 pages
Series: The Arcadia Project #2
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Here’s the thing about PTSD: it doesn’t understand the rules.

Four months ago, Millie left the Arcadia Project after losing her partner Teo to the lethal magic of an Unseelie fey countess. Now, in a final visit to the scene of the crime, Millie and her former boss Caryl encounter Teo’s tormented ghost. But there’s one problem: according to Caryl, ghosts don’t exist.

Millie has a new life, a stressful job, and no time to get pulled back into the Project, but she agrees to tell her side of the ghost story to the agents from the Project’s National Headquarters. During her visit though, tragedy strikes when one of the agents is gruesomely murdered in a way only Caryl could have achieved. Millie knows Caryl is innocent, but the only way to save her from the Project’s severe, off-the-books justice is to find the mysterious culprits that can only be seen when they want to be seen. Millie must solve the mystery not only to save Caryl, but also to foil an insidious, arcane terrorist plot that would leave two worlds in ruins.

Millie Roper has a job, regular therapy sessions, and her life mostly under control. After her adventures with the Arcadia Project, a bit of routine seems like just the thing to make her forget what she’s seen, and who she’s lost. But – as stories go – she is dragged back into Arcadia business soon enough where she has to fix a whole new mess. And of course she wouldn’t be Millie if she didn’t add an extra layer of messiness to an already difficult situation. But that’s exactly what makes these books so much fun.

Phantom Pains picks up only a few months after the end of Borderline and while Millie is still struggling with her old demons and disablities (prosthetic legs, BPD, plus the newly-added PTSD), she is still the Millie I fell in love with. The hopeful one who knows herself all too well and doubts her every emotion, but believes in herself when it counts. She combines intelligence, humor, and pragmatism in the most sympathetic way and I hope I’ll get to read many more books featuring her. If more Urban Fantasy progatonists were like Millie, I’d actually read the damn things.

But Millie’s life has changed in another major way since we last saw her. She knows and is in contact with her Echo, Claybriar, and as much as I love their relationship, it is super complicated! If, after her suicide attempt, Millie hadn’t been put together with metal screws and plates, she wouldn’t be Ironbones – basically poison to the fey but also WHAT A COOL NAME. Touching Claybriar, which she desperately wants to do, hurts him and also makes his facade disappear, showing him for the faun he really is. To say that their relationship is interesting is a huge understatement. Add to that the fact that they both sleep with other people (non-romantically), plus Millie’s complex relationship with Caryl, and you’ve got the makings of a thrilling story, even without the added crazy magic.

This book advances a lot more than just Millie as a character, though. The entire world of the Arcadia Project opens up, introducing us to the head of the Project herself, as well as some very high up people from Arcadia. I had a blast getting to know these new characters and learning more about the world Baker has created. It’s always appreciated when it’s not just vampires and werewolves but anything else. And if that anything is internally consistent and has some sort of magic-logic to it, all the better.  There are also some huge revelations to do with this particular magic that turn the entire world upside down but which I can’t go into detail because spoilers. But let me tell you, I had a really stupid look on my face when I read that chapter, and I felt about as confused and lost as Millie did.

One thing about side characters: I absolutely loved loved loved Brand! If this book went my way, there would have been an additional 50 chapters, all involving Brand, preferably in combination with Tjuan. He added a weird but delightful sense of humor to the horrible things that were going on. You know, fate of the world at stake and all that, but at least I can laugh about and with Brand. Tjuan was already there in the first book but I really liked how we finally learn a bit more about him and how his character gets more depth. The same goes for Claybriar and Caryl. I don’t want to spoil anything here but even characters that don’t show up a lot feel like real people.

The diversity in this series is amazing! There’s Millie to start with, but everyone working for the Arcadia Project usually has some sort of disability or disorder. In addition, there is an Indian woman and a trans man, and (because I know someone is going to say it) it’s not ticking off diversity points from a list. It feels organic and normal and wonderful simply because the characters are all different, and all in different ways. Whether it’s a schizophrenic POC, or an Indian straight woman, or a bisexual woman with Borderline Personality Disorder, these feel like real people to me and I want to get to know every single one of them better. Even the dicks.

The plot was – just as I expected – always entertaining, never shying away from unexpected twists and turns, maybe even more action-packed than in the previous book without sacrificing character development. Pretty amazing, right? The ending was both great and terrifying, because I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next book, and (if you couldn’t tell already) I’ve come to really care about these characters. However, I am now in for the long haul, and hope that Mishell Baker gets the chance to write at least 10 more Arcadia books. Buy this book, people! You know you want to.

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Damn excellent!

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Mishell Baker – Borderline

I am so in love with this book! As somebody who really doesn’t enjoy Urban Fantasy no matter how much I try, for this book to make it onto my Hugo nominations list is a pretty big deal. But the fact that when I closed the book, I was filled with happiness and hope, is an even bigger deal. It went immediately to my favorites list and although it doesn’t sound like it from the description, it will probably become one of my comfort reads.

borderlineBORDERLINE
by Mishell Baker

Published by: Saga Press, 2016
Ebook: 400 pages
Series: The Arcadia Project #1
My rating: 9/10

First sentence: It was midmorning on a Monday when magic walked into my life wearing a beige Ann Taylor suit and sensible flats.

A cynical, disabled film director with borderline personality disorder gets recruited to join a secret organization that oversees relations between Hollywood and Fairyland in the first book of a new urban fantasy series from debut author Mishell Baker.

A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she’s sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.

For her first assignment, Millie is tasked with tracking down a missing movie star who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court. To find him, she’ll have to smooth-talk Hollywood power players and uncover the surreal and sometimes terrifying truth behind the glamour of Tinseltown. But stronger forces than just her inner demons are sabotaging her progress, and if she fails to unravel the conspiracy behind the noble’s disappearance, not only will she be out on the streets, but the shattering of a centuries-old peace could spark an all-out war between worlds.

No pressure.

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As with most books that elicit this much excitement in me, Borderline is amazing in many respects. First of all, it tells a damn good story that made me want to know what happens next after every chapter. Secondly, it makes Urban Fantasy new and interesting again. You don’t need vampires and werewolves and Buffy-esque demons and Mishell Baker proved it. Thirdly, and most importantly, Borderlinehas the most amazing characters.

Millie Roper suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), something I personally knew nothing about before picking up this book. She als lost both her legs in a failed suicide attempt, so you can imagine that doing everyday things is not as easy as it is for an able-bodied person. On an intellectual level, I knew this of course. But reading about all the little things Millie has to think about, all the small situations that I take for granted but which create major stress in Millie’s life, was so fascinating. I wanted to learn more about BPD and about living with a wheelchair and/or prostheses. Mishell Baker manages to talk about these things without slowing down the story one bit, and without preaching. In fact, I found Millie’s personality so engaging, I probably wouldn’t even have been bored if I’d read about her going to the bathroom.

Once she joins the Arcadia Project, Millie is put together with a whole bunch of other people who have mental health issues or physical disabilities. I grew to love most of them and despise others, above all Gloria, who uses fake niceness to insult people and her disability to make sure she gets away with it. Oh, how I wanted Millie to say mean things to her… which, to me, is further proof of Mishell Baker’s talent in writing believable characters. A lesser writer might have written all the disabled characters as perfectly wonderful, kind people (I’m sure there’s a trope about that), but since disabled people are, you know, people, they also come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of assholery. It was precisely for that reason that I ended up liking all of them so much by the end. Even the constantly grumpy ones, the weird ones, the bitchy ones – they felt real and none of them fit into a good/evil type mould.

borderline-detail

Another thing I loved was the world building. I avoid Urban Fantasy for the simple reason that, every time I try it, I’m disappointed or bored out of my mind with the same old tropes. And I recognise them as “the same old tropes” even with the limited amount of Urban Fantasy books I’ve read. Imagine what someone who reads more of that sub-genre must feel like. But Mishell Baker managed to make it feel fresh and exciting, to give me new things to discover.
Most impressive was the way the Fae who live secretly among us fit in with our world and interact with us regular humans. Rather than just live in hiding without a reason, Fae have “Echos” in our world, a sort of human soulmate. Now if a Fae and Human Echo find each other, they both benefit greatly. The Fae acquires skills they usually don’t have (rational thinking, mathematics, etc.) and the human has found their muse – which is why the Hollywood setting makes so much sense and explains how some filmmakers seem to only make good movies. It’s a simple idea but it works so damn well! Plus, there are fairy politics and Hollywood shenanigans which were like an added bonus to an already fantastic world. It’s really cool, guys!

But the one thing that made me love this book so very much and rate it so highly was the ending. Baker’s pacing was perfect all along, with tension building constantly throughout the story, twists and turns along the way, and a brilliant climax at the end. But the same goes for Millie’s character arc, which is beautifully done. Nothing about it was heavy-handed or obvious, it’s all in the details and comes to a satisfying conclusion. And although I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened, sometime at the end this book started filling me with so much hope that I finished it with a big fat smile on my face, wanting to start all over again. Not many books do that to me anymore, so – at the very least for me – Mishell Baker has created a thing of beauty that I will cherish forever.

MY RATING: 9/10 – Close to perfection!

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