River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

 River of Teeth (River of Teeth #1) by Sarah Gailey

River of Teeth (River of Teeth #1)
by Sarah Gailey
Published: May 23rd 2017 by Tor.com
Genre: western, historical fiction, alternate history, fantasy
Pages: 152p
Source: purchased (ebook)

In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true.

Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.

This was a terrible plan.

Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.

 

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River of Teeth is so far beyond what I expected that I’m not sure if I will ever be able to describe how tickled I was by this novella. There are hippos (which are terrifying, if you don’t know anything about them), their hippo-riding cowboys, a pregnant hippo-riding cowgirl, romance, murder, queer characters, people of color, knives, a gangster creep, and so much more. It’s a tense heisty crew western slice of wonderful with a side of romance.

I will admit, I judged a book by its cover. Well, its genre, because that cover is cool as hell. (Hippos!) Westerns and I… have not ever really gotten along. Had this not featured hippos nor sent me down a four-hour-long Wikipedia rabbit hole looking up “Did the federal government actually want to farm hippos? HIPPOS? Murdery water-cows?” I probably would’ve given this a hard pass. Mistake!

Due to my preemptive judgement, when I opened this ebook I was not expecting LGBTQIA+ rep because, well, unless I’ve actively sought out something that I know has queer characters, I am just prepared to be disappointed. I was not anticipating the main cast to include a nonbinary POC who is the love interest of the queer main character. (I read Houndstooth as bisexual but, as no labels are explicitly used in the text and my Googling hasn’t brought anything up, it is entirely possible that he is pansexual or another flavor of queer entirely.) It is always a delight to see marginalized characters existing and being happy. No racism, no sexism, no anti-queerness on these pages. It feeds my soul to have stories where we simply exist, where we are of no special note at all. Just a diverse group of morally questionable hippo cowboys having a caper in the bayou.

And what a caper it is.

The premise is fascinating, the plot is solid – well, there were a couple wobbles but I was too in love with this to care – and the romance is good. It has dark moments, some gory scenes, but it’s a western and one does expect some murder. Though this is a slim read at only 152 pages, it doesn’t feel rushed. It’s very satisfying to pick up and finish in just a couple of hours, to be fully enveloped in the world Gailey has crafted with such care. Its size is its strength, in my opinion. There are some dark and troubling moments*, and a scene in which I almost threw my Kindle against a wall, but if you ride it out until the end the depressing stuff resolves and doesn’t have time to grab hold that it would were this a 600 page monstrosity that takes half a day of doing nothing else to read. In such stressful times, it’s nice to ingest a story whole without worrying about the characters I love while life does its best at getting in the way.

I love this book to pieces, and I cannot wait to see where Houndstooth and the gang wind up in the second half of this duology next month.

* A spoiler for those who may be sensitive to possible death of queer characters: No Heros were mortally harmed in the making of this book. Don’t worry!

Rating: ★★★★★

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The Enemies of Versailles by Sally Christie

The Enemies of Versailles by Sally Christie

The Enemies of Versailles
by Sally Christie
Series: The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy (#3)
Published
: March 21st 2017 by Atria Books
Genre: historical fiction > France
Pages: 416p
Source: eARC provided via NetGalley
Rating: ★★★★☆

In the final installment of Sally Christie’s “tantalizing” (New York Daily News) Mistresses of Versailles trilogy, Jeanne Becu, a woman of astounding beauty but humble birth, works her way from the grimy back streets of Paris to the palace of Versailles, where the aging King Louis XV has become a jaded and bitter old philanderer. Jeanne bursts into his life and, as the Comtesse du Barry, quickly becomes his official mistress.

“That beastly bourgeois Pompadour was one thing; a common prostitute quite another kettle of fish.”

After decades suffering the King’s endless stream of Royal Favorites, the princesses of the Court have reached a breaking point. Horrified that he would bring the lowborn Comtesse du Barry into the hallowed halls of Versailles, Louis XV’s daughters, led by the indomitable Madame Adelaide, vow eternal enmity and enlist the young dauphiness Marie Antoinette in their fight against the new mistress. But as tensions rise and the French Revolution draws closer, a prostitute in the palace soon becomes the least of the nobility’s concerns.

Told in Christie’s witty and engaging style, the final book in The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the sumptuous and cruel world of eighteenth century Versailles, and France as it approaches inevitable revolution.

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I’ve been ill (thanks, brain) and this is much, much later than this review should’ve been posted. Forgive me!

The Enemies of Versailles is masterfully crafted, there is no doubt about that. It’s told in first person by Jeanne Becu (Comtesse du Barry) and Madame Adélaïde (daughter of King Louis XV) in turn. Both of their voices are strong and ring through every word of their narratives. I was enraptured with them both from the beginning – even Adélaïde, which surprised me, since I almost always root for the mistress(es) exclusively in these novels. Adélaïde is a direct antagonist to Jeanne, vying in subtle and later overt ways to oust her from Versailles and keep Jeanne from the king. Madame du Pompadour dies offscreen near the beginning of the novel and this sparks Adélaïde’s crusade against mistresses that carries the plot along.

The beginning was so strong that I lost a few hours and found myself more than a little late to an appointment. The introductions of new characters didn’t always leave it clear who may be important later on. This is less of an issue for a reader who may be coming fresh off of Rivals.

Around halfway, however, I lost the spark. There was a lull in the drama. This, unfortunately for me, coincided with a personal reading slump I was having and suddenly I was reading this book for weeks before I finished it. It wasn’t long after the lull that the story really kicks off again (and I do mean really), and I finished it in a very long night.

When viewing the series as a whole, one gets a scope of just how selfish Louis really is. I don’t think I have ever gone into or come out of a mistress novel thinking that the king was a real stand-up guy. One of my favorite things about this series is that it’s completely unnecessary to read them in order. Each one works as a standalone, which is a marvelous thing. You lose only the king’s overarching plotline this way. Characters overlap in minor ways, if at all, save perhaps Choiseul and Louis himself.

Adélaïde and Jeanne are perhaps the strongest characters of the whole series. They are the voiciest, the most unabashed in their desires, and both of them are pretty witty. I adore this trilogy and the women who have told it. If you’re in the market for a historical fiction series with unique female voices, The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will not steer you wrong.

Disclaimer: A free eARC was provided for review via NetGalley.

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The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd- Review

 The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

THE SECRET HORSES OF BRIAR HILL
by MEGAN SHEPHERD
Published: October 11th 2016 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Genre: middle grade > magical realism, horses, historical fiction (WWII)
Pages: 240p
Source: library borrow
Rating: ★★★★★
There are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospital. In the mirrors that line its grand hallways, which once belonged to a princess. In those that reflect the elegant rooms, now filled with sick children. It is her secret.

One morning, when Emmaline climbs over the wall of the hospital’s abandoned gardens, she discovers something incredible: a white horse with broken wings has left the mirror-world and entered her own.

Tucked into the garden’s once-gleaming sundial, Emmaline finds a letter from the Horse Lord. He is hiding the wounded white horse, named Foxfire, from a dark and sinister force—a Black Horse who hunts by colorless moonlight. If Emmaline is to keep the Black Horse from finding her new friend, she must collect colorful objects with which to blind him. But where can Emmaline find color when her world is filled with gray?

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This is my favorite middle grade read of the year – of the last three years, actually. It’s a magical realism story set during WWII, where a girl in a hospital sees winged horses in the mirrors.

Here’s a confession: I’m a horse girl. You’ve got horses, you’ve got me. I’ve read a load of horsey stories in my life, more in my youth than I have in the last few years. I think I have the pedigree required to call myself an expert on horse books, and this is an excellent horse book. It doesn’t share many of the more childish cliches of horse books, save one: girl finds injured horse, does everything to save it. And it does it so darn well.

There’s such depth to this that, after the past few middle grade novels I’ve read, I honestly wasn’t expecting. It’s beautifully written. The children behave like children and don’t speak like overly wise adults. It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking while being neither saccharine nor melodramatic. Something about the writing and the story combined to give me such a nostalgia trip that I cried once or twice.

If you know a Horse Girl™ of any gender, send this book their way.

 

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Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

THE RIVALS OF VERSAILLES
by SALLY CHRISTIE
Series: The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy (#2)
Published: April 5, 2016 by Atria Books
Genre: historical fiction > France
Pages: 448p
Source: Edelweiss
Rating: ★★★★☆

And you thought sisters were a thing to fear. In this captivating follow-up to Sally Christie’s clever and absorbing debut, we meet none other than the Marquise de Pompadour, one of the greatest beauties of her generation and the first bourgeois mistress ever to grace the hallowed halls of Versailles.The year is 1745 and King Louis XV’s bed is once again empty. Enter Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a beautiful girl from the middle classes. As a child, a fortune teller had told young Jeanne’s destiny: she would become the lover of a king and the most powerful woman in the land. Eventually connections, luck, and a little scheming pave her way to Versailles and into the King’s arms.

All too soon, conniving politicians and hopeful beauties seek to replace the bourgeois interloper with a more suitable mistress. As Jeanne, now the Marquise de Pompadour, takes on her many rivals—including a lustful lady-in-waiting, a precocious fourteen-year-old prostitute, and even a cousin of the notorious Nesle sisters—she helps the king give himself over to a life of luxury and depravity. Around them, war rages, discontent grows, and France inches ever closer to the Revolution.

Told in Christie’s celebrated witty and modern style, The Rivals of Versailles will delight and entrance fans as it brings to life the court of Louis XV in all its pride, pestilence, and glory.

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Review: The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie

The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie

THE SISTERS OF VERSAILLES
by SALLY CHRISTIE
Series: The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy (#1)
Published: September 1, 2015 by Atria Books
Genre: historical fiction > France
Pages: 432p
Source: NetGalley
Rating: ★★★★☆

A sumptuous and sensual tale of power, romance, family, and betrayal centered around four sisters and one King. Carefully researched and ornately detailed, The Sisters of Versailles is the first book in an exciting new historical fiction trilogy about King Louis XV, France’s most “well-beloved” monarch, and the women who shared his heart and his bed.

Goodness, but sisters are a thing to fear.

Set against the lavish backdrop of the French Court in the early years of the 18th century, The Sisters of Versailles is the extraordinary tale of the five Nesle sisters: Louise, Pauline, Diane, Hortense, and Marie-Anne, four of whom became mistresses to King Louis XV. Their scandalous story is stranger than fiction but true in every shocking, amusing, and heartbreaking detail.

Court intriguers are beginning to sense that young King Louis XV, after seven years of marriage, is tiring of his Polish wife. The race is on to find a mistress for the royal bed as various factions put their best foot – and women – forward. The King’s scheming ministers push Louise, the eldest of the aristocratic Nesle sisters, into the arms of the King. Over the following decade, the four sisters:sweet, naive Louise; ambitious Pauline; complacent Diane, and cunning Marie Anne, will conspire, betray, suffer, and triumph in a desperate fight for both love and power.

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Review: Cleopatra’s Shadows by Emily Holleman – Happy Release Day!

Cleopatra's Shadows by Emily Holleman

CLEOPATRA’S SHADOWS
by EMILY HOLLEMAN
Series: Fall of Egypt (#1)
Published
: October 6, 2015
Genre: historical fiction  > Egypt
Pages: 352p
Source: ARC from publisher
Rating: ★★★★½

Before Caesar and the carpet, before Antony and Actium, before Octavian and the asp, there was Arsinoe.

Abandoned by her beloved Cleopatra and an indifferent father, young Arsinoe must fight for her survival in the bloodthirsty royal court when her half-sister Berenice seizes Egypt’s throne. Even as the quick-witted girl wins Berenice’s favor, a new specter haunts her days-dark dreams that have a habit of coming true.

To survive, she escapes the palace for the war-torn streets of Alexandria. Meanwhile, Berenice confronts her own demons as she fights to maintain power. When their deposed father Ptolemy marches on the city with a Roman army, both daughters must decide where their allegiances truly lie, and Arsinoe grapples with the truth, that the only way to survive her dynasty is to rule it.

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