The Last Smile in Sunder City (The Fetch Phillips Archives #1) by Luke Arnold
[Goodreads |]
Published: 2020
Genre, sub-genre: Fantasy: high, urban
Pages: 352

Keywords: dark past protagonist, alternating present/past narrative, first person, mystery
Notable aspects:

1 minute summary
A former soldier-turned-PI tries to help the fantasy creatures whose lives he ruined in a world that’s lost its magic.

My rating: 3.5 stars – an average book for me, but I fully expect others to enjoy it.
1 sentence review: A nicely complex protagonist, a great setting and an even better premise just manage to save a book with a lot of stylistic and writing issues.

Pros: great setting and premise, great main character.
Cons: uneven writing style, info dumps used instead of storytelling, quick pacing took away emotional affect of story.

Good for readers who: enjoy the wounded PI trope, straightforward storytelling, don’t mind info dumps, or are looking for a new and challenging take on the idea of magic.
Not so great for readers who: don’t like the wounded, self-loathing protagonist trope, don’t like info dumps or alternating past and present povs, or readers who are picky about writing style and having immersive depth to their stories

So I guess I’m in the minority, because although I really loved the whole idea of this book, I personally didn’t care for the experience of reading it. I don’t think it’s a bad novel overall, but I feel like the execution didn’t live up to its premise.

Read More

I’m going to read this month, I swear (that includes blogs.) I’m also going to post, like, actual stuff that book blogs are supposed to.

Above are the stories I want to get through in March. As a general rule, I don’t usually post monthly TBRs (for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is because I’m a hot mess.) But I want to draw a public line in the sand here, in a desperate attempt to shame myself into actually getting through a story in March. My 2021 Book List is set up so that I’m expected to clear at least one book and short story a month, and that didn’t happen in February, so it needs to happen now.

Come on, Rin. It’s not that hard.

What to Expect on The 13th Shelf this month
Reviews: a fantasy classic and a popular contemporary urban fantasy—both of which literally everyone has already read. So get excited. Or not, I don’t know.

Artist Showcase: a fantasy artist with a talent for both art and humor.

Music: a track that marries modern and traditional music in unconventional ways.

Reading Wrap-up
There isn’t anything here.

I read about 500-ish pages overall, but didn’t finish anything. Such is life, sometimes.

Since I’m here, I thought I might dump three bookish thoughts that have been banging around inside my skull for many months.

Read More

I’m feeling really discouraged. It’s one week to the end of the month, and I haven’t finished a single story. I suppose it would be different if I was just busy and other things got in the way of my reading. But I’ve been as persistent as I could be with my book time, and every thing I’ve tried to read has been so incredibly difficult to get through that I ultimately could not finish them.

I’ve tried my best to get through two novels this month. I’m really heartbroken because they’re self-published, and while I know there’s a fierce debate about how truthful reviewers should be with criticism of self-pub, I personally don’t feel comfortable laying too far into them. I also feel pretty terrible because I have a rule where I do not publicly announce I’m reading a self-pub book until I am absolutely sure I’m going to finish it. (This is so authors don’t anticipate a review and a bit of publicity unless I’m sure I’ll be giving it.) But I tripped up this month, and now I’m in a really crummy position, because I’m not sure I can finish this book.

I’ve had several people comment on how unconventional my current rule of “no books over 400 pages” is, and I’d like to make it clear: I get, AT MOST, four broken hours to read every week—if nothing unexpected pops up (and it often does.) I have ten pots on my stove top and four burners. If I decide to read a 300pg book, that’s half a month for me right there. Any day I spend reading a book that I ultimately don’t finish is a huge loss for me, because I end up with a month like this: a whole four weeks of blog hiatus, and absolutely nothing to show for it. The point of this break was to read enough books to give myself a posting cushion of six weeks so that this blog doesn’t become one more pot I need to attend to. (And also to finish playing WoW, which, for various reasons, has not happened either.)

DNFing needs to happen fast for me, but with self-published works, I always try to push as far as I can go because I want to be the kind of reader who gives the authors a chance. I had this idea that I was going to read one self-pub book a month, but now that’s no longer a secondary goal for me. I don’t think I can be the reader that these authors deserve. In fact, I’m just going to stay away from self-pub completely unless my life feels a little more stable.

I’m feeling really down about this. I have a weird compulsion to finish the current book I have, even though the characters make me want to scratch my brain out. I guess I want to show that I’ve finished SOMETHING this month, because as of right now, my reading list for February is completely blank, despite the fact that I scrambled and fought for every moment of reading time I could find.

I guess I’ll try some short stories or something so that the month isn’t a complete wash.

What a start to 2021. Let’s hear it for attempted government overthrows, huh?

2021 resolutions
I didn’t talk much about this previously—mostly because they had not coalesced in my mind as firm resolutions until recently—but I’ve made two rules that I plan to stick to throughout this year:

1.) No books over 400 pages and
2.) No grimdark.

There are exceptions to the first rule, of course. All books on my 2021 Book List will be read, regardless of page count. I also need to read Fonda Lee’s Jade Legacy, which I suspect will be around 500+ pages. But unless my situation changes in the year (and it very well could), these are the only really long books I plan to read.

As to grimdark, I would like to get through some of my Warhammer 40k Eisenhorn omnibus. But other than that, the subgenre is a hard blanket NO for me throughout the year, regardless of my situation. It sucks because there’s so much I want to read that’s grimdark, but I really have to set limits on how much psychological energy I can spend on books. I need to be focusing on the things that matter, and when I escape into books, I’m not looking for trauma, pain, hopelessness or general relentless terribleness.

Speaking of limiting my energies for books…

2021 Book List shuffle
I’ve thought a lot about why I wasn’t able to get through Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal. I started The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick, and although it was fascinating, it was so thick with complex information that I was crawling through it—sometimes against my own mood.

I realized that my brain can’t handle the kind of non-fiction I usually read (deep dives into STEM subjects or dense tomes of topics I know nothing about.) I used to love those kinds of books, but I simply can’t handle them right now. I kind of bristled at that realization, thinking I had gotten stupid. But I’ve come to understand that I’m am just terrifically burnt-out.

Simply put: I can’t learn anything right now. I need books to be graspable entertainment and nothing else.

So I’ve removed all the non-fiction from my Book List. I’ve replaced them with ‘Books I Should Have Read By Now,’ which is just a collection of novels I haven’t read which have been needling at me particularly hard (sometimes for years.)

I’m sad I can’t really handle non-fiction at the moment, but I don’t think I need to tell anyone that it’s important to read what makes you happy (otherwise what’s the point?)

What to Expect on The 13th Shelf this month
Maybe a chatty post or two, but nothing is scheduled. Again.

January was a lot more chaotic than I thought it would be, and I didn’t read as much as I anticipated, nor did I get to do what I really wanted to do, which was finish playing through the new World of Warcraft expansion. There are four new zones in the game, but I only managed to get through two of them. So I expect to this blog to be empty through the end of the month.