Continuing with my ongoing love affair with books about carnivals or circuses, I decided to check out Freeks by Amanda Hocking which features a group of traveling sideshow performers in the 80s as they travel across the country looking for work.
The story stars Mara, a teenager who has practically spent her whole life growing up on the road with Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Carnival. While their show boasts many of the usual attractions, what most folks don’t realize is that many among Gideon’s crew actually possess supernatural powers. For example, they have a telekinetic on staff who helps out with a lot of their magician’s “tricks”. Their trapeze artist has abilities to manipulate the air around him so that he can never fall. Mara’s own mother is a fortune teller who gains insights about her clients’ lives by being able to commune with the dead. However, despite being surrounded by these powered individuals and being the daughter of one herself, Mara has no special abilities. She has sometimes wondered what it might be like to settle down and live like “normal” people, but the carnival is the only family she has ever known, and even though the going can get tough sometimes, Mara loves her life and can’t imagine it any other way.
That is, until Gideon takes up a contract to set up camp in a small southern town named Caudry, and sparks fly between Mara and Gabe, a handsome local boy she meets at a party. Mara likes Gabe—a lot—and he seems to like her too. But how would he feel once he finds out she is a carnie? On the other hand…does he even need to know? By this time in two weeks the sideshow will be on the road again and Mara would be on her way to their next destination; if the relationship is doomed to fail anyway, she sees no harm in withholding a few personal details, especially since Gabe seems to be keeping some secrets himself. Before long though, Mara has more pressing matters to worry about. One by one, members of Gideon’s crew go missing or come under attack, savaged by some mysterious creature. Caudry also seems to be giving off some strange, bad vibes. The carnival came here in the hopes of making some extra revenue, but if the incidents keep up at this rate, Mara fears they’ll run out of performers long before their contract is up.
What I didn’t realize before starting this book was how prominently it would be featuring the romantic side plot. While that by itself isn’t always a negative, it is somewhat frustrating when you get teased all these other fascinating elements in the story, such as the sideshow’s supernatural performers and all the peculiar goings-on happening around Caudry. I wanted more of the carnival life, more details on the backgrounds and personalities of the people working there, and more development into the mysteries of the town. But instead, most of what we got was Gabe, Gabe, and more Gabe. The story keeps shoving his and Mara’s relationship down our throats and I can’t help but think way too many pages were wasted in this area.
Plus, after all this buildup to the grand finale where supposedly huge revelations would be revealed, the results were decidedly underwhelming. When all is said and done, the mystery felt much smaller than it was meant to be, and reasons are clear as to why: there’s actually very little plot in this book. Like I said, most of it is padded by the romance, and I won’t deny that this is somewhat disappointing. Hocking has set up something really cool here, creating a world where people with supernatural abilities live among us, then shining a spotlight on a traveling sideshow run by many of these special individuals. However, instead of exploring this aspect, she has decided to go with the tired and well-trod route of “yet another YA romance” while adding nothing too new or different to the formula. Big time missed opportunity here, which is what gripes me the most.
In sum, Freeks had the potential to be more but ended up being rather average. Too much emphasis was placed on what was arguably a lackluster romance complete with stale dialogue and hints of insta-love, while regrettably the best and most interesting aspects of the story were underplayed. The book wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, just another ordinary middle-of-the-road YA fantasy novel.
Audiobook Comments: I’m glad that I listened to the audiobook version of Freeks, otherwise my rating might have been slightly lower. The performance by narrator Em Eldridge made up for some of the weaknesses of the story, as talented voice actors and actresses are able to do sometimes. For one thing, she’s great at accents—when a character’s description states that they have a southern drawl, for example, that is exactly what she delivers. Her energy also gives life and personality to everyone in the story, especially Mara. I believe this is the first book I’ve ever listened to Ms. Eldridge read, but I’ll definitely be looking for more audiobooks narrated by her in the future....more
Pride and Prejudice retellings and other Austenesque-inspired stories have traditionally been hit-or-miss with me, but there was something about Heartstone that drew me to it right away. Might it have been the dragons? Okay yeah, it was the dragons.
While I’ll be the first to admit I’m no aficionado on the works of Jane Austen, I am familiar enough with Pride and Prejudice to know that Heartstone is actually a pretty faithful rendition of the original, in some places following the plot so closely that I was surprised the author took such a direct route. The story follows Aliza Bentaine, the second of five daughters in a family living at Merybourne Manor. Their home has been set upon by monsters as of late, and six months ago tragedy struck as Aliza’s youngest sister was attacked and killed by one of the wild gryphons that have invaded the surrounding woods. This has led to the arrival of a band of Riders who have come to Merybourne to eradicate the creatures, and among them are the warriors Master Brysney and Master Daired.
Excited to have two noble bachelors visit the household, Aliza’s mother quickly ensures that her daughters would be present at the party to receive the Riders, and her hopes are answered as Brysney takes an immediate liking to Anjey, the eldest. Aliza herself, however, is unimpressed by Daired, whom she finds rude, arrogant, and standoffish. It also didn’t help that due to a hilarious misunderstanding, Daired started off their introductions by kicking Aliza’s good friend Tobble the hobgoblin clear across the yard. But in order to be polite to their guests, Aliza makes an effort to get to know the Riders and help them hunt the gryphon hordes in any way she can, even befriending Daired’s majestic mount, the dragon Akarra.
The publisher blurb for this book describes it as Elle Katharine White infusing Austen’s classic with her own brand of magic, and I find that wholly accurate. If you know your Pride and Prejudice, many of the major plot points in Heartstone won’t come as much of a surprise, i.e. just as Elizabeth and Darcy manage to find common ground and eventually fall in love, Aliza and Daired also come to an understanding with each other and gradually a romance blossoms between them. With the exception of the ending, I wouldn’t say that the strength of Heartstone is in its story since most of the plot closely mirrors the original, but what really shines is the world-building. White doesn’t stop at populating her book with all sorts of extraordinary creatures from hobgoblins and wyverns to lamias and lindworms, for she has also fleshed out the world with a vibrant culture that’s entirely of her own imagination. I loved how this world had its own history and religion, and even the dragons had their own set of traditions. One of the elements I most appreciated about this book was the fact that White did not set out to copy Austen’s style or reproduce the Regency period, because I doubt that would have worked as well for me.
Still, just when you think you’ve taken this book’s measure, the author does have a couple surprises hidden up her sleeve, waiting for the perfect time to spring them on the unsuspecting reader. I had briefly mentioned the ending, which definitely deserves more attention. For one thing, you most certainly won’t find anything like it in the original, and in a way I’m really glad this is where White decided to go “off-script” because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed this book so much. Pride and Prejudice retelling or not, when a story features wyvern and dragon-riding warriors, I think it’s a safe bet that most readers would expect a battle scene or two to see them in action, and in this regard, I’m pleased to say Heartstone did not disappoint. That epic ending capped off what was for the most part a relatively tame and faithful retelling, and it was exactly what the book needed because I don’t think things could have wrapped up more perfectly.
In sum, Heartstone is described as a Pride and Prejudice retelling with fantasy elements, and for better or worse, that is exactly what you get—as in, right up until the grand finale, the plot matches up with the original almost perfectly, down to the similarity in character names, which at times can feel a bit disconcerting. That said though, I thought the decision to depart from the Regency style and language made this book a lot more readable and engaging, and the author’s own additions to the world are wonderfully original and well integrated. Whether you’re an Austen fan or not, I think you’ll also find that the world-building elements are a key highlight along with the story’s superb ending, and despite its strength of being a rather close retelling, there’s no denying Heartstone was at its best when it was doing its own thing, delving into the fantastical. All told it was a delightful experience that felt comfortably familiar and fresh all at once, and I highly recommend it....more
Few things get me more excited than a new book from Jacqueline Carey, and on the list of my must-read authors, her name definitely sits way up near the top. I also owe so much of my love for fantasy to amazing and talented woman. Her novel Kushiel’s Dart was among the handful of gateway books that first sparked my interest in the genre, and to this day I have not encountered anything else quite like it. But while Carey may have branched out into other areas like Young Adult and Urban Fantasy in recent years, I’ve continued to enjoy her work because I just love the way she writes, no matter what style or topic she decides to tackle. And with the growing trend in Shakespeare retellings these days, I suppose I wasn’t too surprised when I initially discovered that she was working on a retelling of The Tempest.
That project ultimately became Miranda and Caliban. As the book’s blurb states, many of us are already aware of how the original story goes, with Prospero and his quest for revenge against his usurping brother as well as the complicit king. But in her version of this classic tale, Carey has chosen instead to shine the light on Prospero’s gentle and kindhearted daughter Miranda, reimagining her in a coming-of-age romance with the other titular character Caliban, who was actually the monstrous antagonist of The Tempest. In this book, however, Caliban is the misunderstood feral boy who opens up to Miranda after being enslaved by her father, with the bond between them increasing in strength over the years as the two grow up together on the lonely island under Prospero’s overbearing tutelage.
Miranda and Caliban also presents a scenario to fill in what happened in the twelve years that Prospero and his daughter are stranded on the island after their exile. The book begins eight or so years before the great storm, when Miranda is just a six-year-old helping her father in a ritual to capture the wild boy they’ve seen lurking around the woods. After the boy is caught, Prospero attempts to civilize him by using harsh methods, but it is Miranda who succeeds in drawing him out of his shell by showing him kindness and compassion, convincing him to reveal that his name is Caliban. Seeing how his daughter has made such progress, Prospero decides to use the children’s friendship to his advantage, compelling Miranda to also ask Caliban about the spirit Ariel that the boy’s mother imprisoned in a tree.
Despite some of its close ties to the original play, you really don’t need to know a lot about The Tempest to enjoy this book. Case in point, I am in no way an expert on anything Shakespeare and yet I was still utterly enchanted by Miranda and Caliban. This is a love story, one that begins with the two eponymous characters meeting as children. With no knowledge or understanding into anything pertaining to the birds and the bees (Prospero may be a master sorcerer, but he was a complete failure of a sex ed teacher), awkward physical changes and confusing emotions eventually arise as both of them experience puberty and wind up falling in love.
But even if you’re not a big romance reader (and I don’t consider myself one either), there’s still plenty to appreciate about this tale. I found Carey’s portrayal of this world and its characters utterly fascinating, as well as the way she has flipped certain elements from The Tempest on its head. Caliban is of course a very sympathetic character here; his POV chapters show him gradually transforming from a wordless feral boy to a well-spoken young man, though he remains self-conscious about his physical appearance. Instead of being the protagonist you root for, Prospero is the menacing shadow that seems to hang over everything. Not that he was the nicest guy to begin with in the original play, but this story further plays up his use of magic to control everyone, including his own daughter, and exposes the hypocrisy of his faith and quest. At times Prospero’s love towards Miranda may seem genuine, but then his true colors will come out and the reader will despise him all over again. In this version, Ariel is also a villainous creature who constantly does things to thwart Miranda and Caliban’s relationship over the years, seeming to take much joy in making them both miserable. Still, it’s interesting to note that being able to arouse such powerful sentiments for even the most obnoxious of characters is one of Carey’s finest talents; you can’t help but connect with the people she writes about because she fleshes them out so well without having to resort to common tricks.
That said, Miranda and Caliban is very different from previous books I’ve read by the author. Much of it probably has to do with the constraints of this book being a Shakespeare retelling, which just goes to show what a versatile writer she is, though there’s also a part of me which feels immensely glad she wrote something like this. Carey’s last three novels were from her urban fantasy series Agent of Hel, and while I had a blast with those casual fun books, they certainly don’t exemplify just how spectacularly she can write. In that domain, they simply can’t compare to Miranda and Caliban, which perfectly showcases the gorgeous, lyrical prose that I love her for. I honestly believe that even if the story doesn’t appeal, one can still surely appreciate this book for the writing.
The Tempest fans will love this beautifully written and richly imagined retelling which approaches the story differently from an interesting and thought-provoking angle, but you also don’t need to be familiar with the original play to enjoy this book. After all, being able to appreciate ideas like the purity of love or the tumultuous emotions of growing up requires no prerequisites. Jacqueline Carey explores these themes and more in Miranda and Caliban, a poignant and heartbreaking novel that infuses a beloved Shakespearean classic with a welcome layer of depth, complexity, and feeling. Highly recommended....more
Sawbones was a book that caught my eye the moment I saw it, because HELLO! Western setting? An independent, determined woman doctor as its protagonist? Only problem was, its genre was straight-up historical fiction without even the ittiest bittiest hint of a speculative element, and I was already being crushed under the weight of review books that I’ve committed myself to on behalf of my Sci-fi & Fantasy book blog. Reluctantly, I decided to give Sawbones a pass at the time, and probably wouldn’t have thought about it again if it weren’t for a strong recommendation I received weeks later, from someone whose bookish opinions I highly respect. Now I’m on the other side of reading it to say how utterly thankful and glad I am to have given this one a try after all, because it was damn brilliant and I absolutely loved it!
The book’s blurb likens the story to “Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest” which is a comparison I find both very appropriate and also a little misleading. Like I said, Sawbones is completely devoid of any magic or sci-fi, time traveling or otherwise, but that said, I believe it would indeed appeal to fans of Diana Gabaldon’s series who might be looking for a similar blend of romance and adventure set in a very harsh time and place, whose brutal realities we are not spared from at all. It is especially hard for our protagonist Dr. Catherine Bennett, a New York woman practicing medicine in the 1870s in spite of those who regard her profession as scandalous and highly unseemly for someone of her sex.
That is why when Catherine is falsely accused of murder, she finds little support in her societal circles and is forced to go on the run with a $500 bounty on her head. And for anyone looking to start a new life or to disappear, the answer lies west. With her loyal maid Maureen in tow, Catherine escapes to Texas and joins the Warren wagon train under the new identity of Dr. Laura Elliston. Even though female doctors are rare enough to draw attention, Catherine—now Laura—loves her work too much to give it up, and hopes to start fresh with her own practice out in the uncharted territories of Colorado where no one will know her face.
But of course, things don’t go as planned. Those who already know what became of the Warren wagon train can probably guess, but if not, I’m not going to spoil the details of the plot’s early bombshell. I think up until this point, I was still expecting a whole different kind of book, but afterwards it finally hit me what I was really in for. Suffice to say, if you’re like me and picked this one up thinking it would be your typical lighthearted historical romance, you’re going to be in for a huge surprise. To tell the truth, the first 20% of the novel didn’t impress me overly much, but when things took a graphically violent, traumatic, and heart-wrenching turn for our protagonist, that was the moment I realized the kind of story author Melissa Lenhardt has set out to tell, and she’s not pulling any punches. This book had my full attention after that.
The first thing you should know about Sawbones is the merciless, no holds barred portrayal of life on the frontier. Lenhardt confesses to taking a few minor liberties with history in order to make the story work, but a lot of the people, places and events in this book were real. Much research and effort was clearly put in to bring the setting and historical era to life in all its harshness. Racism was rampant. Women had very little say about anything, even when it came to their own business. Settlers in this part of the country were frequently raided by native tribes and white bandits alike. People were raped, killed, mutilated, abducted and abused in the worst of ways. The injured often did not survive, succumbing to infection, bad weather, poor nutrition, or any number of factors that could doom you. This book does not gloss over any of those gory, gut-twisting details.
The second thing you should know is that the characters are amazing. Told from Laura’s point of view, readers are accorded a real treat going deep into the mind of an unconventional protagonist who has followed her heart and given up so much to keep pursuing a dream. Her personal growth as a character follows a riveting arc made even more complex by the subtler themes, which come full circle by the end of the book when Laura is forced to acknowledge that life is not so clear-cut in the isolated wilderness of the west. As a doctor, her principle tenet is to save lives and do no harm, but when push comes to shove, she is also capable of making the difficult choices. Even in her stubbornness, she is likeable and relatable, and I wanted to see her succeed.
There’s also a fantastic love story, featuring a forbidden romance that is at once passionate and convincing. From the moment Laura saves the life of Captain William Kindle, they set off an undeniable chemistry. I enjoyed their sweet interactions and the well-written dialogue between them, making it easy to get on board with their blossoming relationship. Kindle himself is a dedicated and honorable soldier, good to his men and kind to Laura, so I’m glad that the romantic interest in this novel ended up being someone worthy of our protagonist’s devotion and respect.
It was this mix of loveliness with the book’s vicious, ruthless side that made Sawbones so compelling. I must emphasize again that this one is not for the faint of heart, but if you have a strong stomach for some of the more unpleasant things I described in this review, you might find plenty to like in this splendid hidden gem of a historical novel. The story is pretty much self-contained, even if the ending felt just a tad abrupt, but I was ecstatic to find out that there will be a follow-up called Blood Oath coming out later this year. You can be sure I’ll be devouring it as soon as I can get my hands on it....more
Lately, most of my audio listens have been on the darker and heavier side, so when I was given the opportunity to review the audiobook of The Weight of Feathers, it didn’t take much convincing to give this lighter, more romantic title a try. Magical realism can be hit or miss with me, but even though I hesitated over some of the mixed reviews I’ve seen for this book, ultimately the theme of forbidden love won me over.
With shades of Romeo and Juliet, this novel tells a tale of two feuding families of traveling performers, the Palomas and the Corbeaus. The Paloma family’s claim to fame has always been their underwater attraction, with their women dressing up like mermaids to swim in elaborate dance routines, while the Corbeaus strap feathered wings to their bodies and put on tightrope acts and other feats of acrobatics high up in the treetops. Their competing exhibitions have always made them rivals, but twenty years ago, something happened between them to turn them into full-blown enemies. Since then, children of both families have been brought up to believe the worst of the other, adding superstition and lies to the flames of mutual hatred.
While the two families travel all across the country, every year they cross paths in Almendro, taking advantage of the large crowds drawn there by the annual Blackberry Festival. So it is there where Lace Paloma first meets Cluck, youngest son of the Corbeau matriarch. When disaster strikes the small town, Cluck rescues Lace from certain death, mistaking her for a local. Horrified that she now owes her life to the enemy, and cast out by her own relatives for being “cursed” by the Corbeaus’ black magic, Lace tracks down Cluck and inadvertently gets caught up in his family’s business. Not surprisingly, our two young protagonists end up falling in love, but the beginning of their relationship also sparks a mission to unravel the truth of what really caused the rift between their families all those years ago.
All told, I think I ended up liking this book a lot more than I thought I would, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Before I start singing its praises, I want to get the negatives out of the way first: for one thing, I had a seriously rough start with the first few chapters. Anna-Marie McLemore appears to trip up on the same hurdle that traps so many other talented but inexperienced authors, weighing down her writing with an overkill of flowery words and phrases. The thing about purple prose is that it is a lot more obvious in audio. The spoken words gave the impression of the writer trying too hard, with absolutely no subtlety or attempt to dial back at all.
But just as I was starting to regret my audiobook choice, the story started to grow on me. At first, I worried that the magical realism would hinder my enjoyment, since those aspects can sometimes get in the way of meaningful character development. Instead, I found the opposite. There’s no doubt that the romance between Lace and Cluck is the central focus, with magic being more of a background element and even downplayed. In truth, The Weight of Feathers is rather light on fantasy, with the exception of the ending and little smatterings of details here and there—like the fact members of the Paloma family bear birthmarks on their skin that look like fish scales, while those in the Corbeau clan grow feathers near their hairline. Even so, to me this is more about symbolism than magic. This book is filled with all sorts of opposing themes and imagery, contrasting the Corbeaus and Palomas: crows vs. doves, black vs. white, birds vs. fish, sea vs. sky, etc.
Strip that all away though, and the plot itself is actually very straightforward. It’s a love story, pure and simple, with a bit of family drama thrown in. I’ve seen people compare The Weight of Feathers to The Night Circus, but I really don’t see it. This one is much better in terms of featuring a more passionate and developed romance with a pair of lovers with whom you can feel more fully connected and engaged, relative to my lukewarm experience with Erin Morgenstern’s novel. I also highly recommend the audiobook, with Kirby Heyborne and Cynthia Farrell narrating Cluck’s and Lace’s chapters respectively. The two of them did a great job bringing the characters to life.
Ultimately, once I learned to look past the affectations in the prose, it was the simplicity and elegance of The Weight of Feathers that appealed to me. The plot and pacing was nice and tight with just the right amount of twisty familial relationships to keep me interested, and once I got caught up in the story, it was damn near impossible to break free from its spell. A quick and very enjoyable listen!...more
And to think, I almost gave this one a pass when I was compiling a list of books I wanted to read from the new Star Wars canon. What a mistake that would have been. Yes, this is categorized as Young Adult, but to be sure, this is not the kind of Star Wars YA from the old EU when the stories tended to lean more towards middle-grade audiences and few children’s series stood out strongly enough to make an impression. Lost Stars, in a word, was awesome. I have been reading Star Was novels for years and have read many of them during that time, but this has got to be one of the best I’ve ever read.
The book tells the tale of two childhood friends who became lovers before ending up on opposite sides of the galactic war. Ciena and Thane grew up on the same planet just after annexation by the Imperials, but one was born in the more rural valley while the other came from an affluent second-waver family. However, the two met and bonded over a shared love for piloting and a dream to one day fly for the Empire. They entered the Imperial academy together, excited to be with each other as they made that dream come true. But as the war waged on, their fates diverged as one grew disillusioned with the Empire and joined the Rebel Alliance, while the other remained in Imperial service and rose through its ranks to become a high-ranking officer.
The beauty of this book is in its simplicity. At the heart of it is a love story, so you might not enjoy it as much if YA Romance isn’t your cup of tea. At the same time though, it is surprisingly free of the tropes that usually clog up this genre, and I didn’t feel as if the plot was made more complicated by any needless drama. Instead, all the good stuff comes through, themes like: honor versus duty, love and grief, opportunities lost and things left unsaid. Ciena and Thane are the loves of each other’s lives, but they were raised in very different homes, with very different values. Because of that, there will always be a part in each of them that can and never will be reconciled.
And you know what else is great? How deeply and intimately Lost Stars is tied to the original trilogy. You get to relive the major events of each movie from a whole different perspective. No doubt about it, while reading this book I felt like I was 100% in the Star Wars universe. And yet, the story also retains its own uniqueness. You ever think to yourself, surely, the Empire can’t be one homogenous body working in unison towards the same goal? Of course there had to be different factions, as well as good people in the Imperial forces who couldn’t stand by and do nothing while their side committed all sorts of atrocities. This book does a really good job showing this, and in a way it humanizes the Empire by portraying the protagonists as average everyday people.
Like anyone, both Ciena and Thane have close family and friends. They each have their own personal hopes and dreams. They experience desire and longing. My heart ached for the two of them and I wanted so badly for things to work out for them in the end. Move over Anakin and Padme and Episode II, because this is romance done right. Heck, this is “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” done right.
“Look through my eyes…look through my eyes.” *Happy sigh*...more
Winterwood and I were love at first sight, and all you have to do is take a gander at the book’s myriad subjects to see why: Magic. History. Fantasy. Romance. Fae. Ghosts. Shapeshifters. PIRATES. It’s like an irresistible smorgasbord of all my favorite themes and fantasy elements all in one place, and a strong, compelling female protagonist was the cherry on top.
Set in Britain in the time of King George III, Winterwood tells the tale of Rossalinde Tremayne, a young woman gifted with magical abilities. Seven years ago, she eloped with privateer captain Will Tremayne along with the Heart of Oak, the ship meant as her dowry, and Ross’s mother hasn’t forgiven her since. Now Will has been dead these past three years, and Ross has taken on the mantle of the Heart’s commander, adopting her late husband’s identity and disguising herself by wearing men’s clothing.
The book begins with Ross returning home to visit her ailing mother on her deathbed. In doing so, she learns more about her family than she ever bargained for, including the fact that she has a half-brother named David, who was fathered by the household’s rowankind bondservant. Ross also inherits a beautiful winterwood box, an object of great magical power that she is told only she can open, but the repercussions of that may be far-reaching and dire. Add to that, a shadowy enemy is on the hunt for Ross as well, and he would do anything to stop her from unlocking the box’s mysteries. With the crew of the Heart and the help of her newfound brother and a dashing wolf shapeshifter named Corwen, Ross sets off on a swashbuckling chase across the high seas to seeks answers and uncover the truth about her family’s secrets.
In news that I’m sure will surprise no one, I absolutely adore stories about women characters disguised as men, and even better when the book is a maritime fantasy and the protagonist is a capable heroine who captains her own ship. I love how Rossalinde is a strong and intelligent woman, but that she also listens to her heart. She gave everything up to marry the man of her dreams, and even though she and Will only had four short years together, she doesn’t regret her decision one bit. Interestingly, while Will’s death occurs before the book even begins, we still get to meet him in Winterwood in the form of his ghost. Back when her grief was still a raw and open wound, Ross unwittingly summoned him and now his spirit is a constant presence in her life. Will’s ghost and Ross share some humorous moments, but for the most part his appearances are a reminder of tragedy; he is a symbol of her past at a time when she should really be looking to the future. Being torn between two paths is devastating for a woman like Ross who is so in tune to her emotions, which is why I felt for her.
In addition to offering a well-crafted main protagonist, Winterwood also offers an altogether tantalizing blend of fantasy and historical fiction. Jacey Bedford’s prose is elegant and evocative of the setting, which is an alternate version of early 19th century Britain steeped in magic. The world feels familiar yet new, plus we get the added benefit of being on the ocean for a substantial part of this book, deeply immersed in the life of privateering during this time period. The battles at sea against pirates and French ships alike are thrilling and dramatic, where victory may come at a high cost but the rewards are well worth it. The dialogue is also superbly done, especially when it comes to the crew of the Heart and their nautical jargon and rough accents.
In terms of magic, this book is practically full to brimming with it. Perhaps the foremost fantastical element comes in the form of the rowankind, a docile and subjugated race of people exploited for their labor. Britain’s entire economy is dependent on these unpaid servants, and yet their history and origins are mostly unknown, lost to time. However, there are rumors that connect them to the Fae, who also have a large role to play in this story. Moreover, the realm of the Fae is completely separate from the domain of The Green Lady, who rules over the natural world. While the inner workings of the various kinds of magic go largely unexplained, it is clear that there are many sources of it, and their powers mingle and react in very interesting ways.
Also, when a book’s tagline reads “A tale of magic, piracy, adventure and love”, you’d be correct to expect a heavy dose of romance. Love is something Ross is just starting to allow herself to explore again after losing Will, and Corwen proves to be a good match for her, with lots of chemistry and sexual tension between the privateer and the wolf shapeshifter (just don’t call her a pirate, or him a werewolf—them’s fightin’ words!) But to my surprise, there’s more to this book than just romantic love. Familial love is an important part of this story too, with Ross accepting her half-brother David, becoming overprotective when he is threatened or treated poorly because of his rowankind heritage. I was impressed with the emotional level and complexity of the relationships in this book, as well as its unique perspective on social prejudice.
The best thing about Winterwood is its many fascinating components, which Jacey Bedford weaves into one amazing story of magic and adventure. Rollicking action is expertly balanced with passionate romance in this novel which will leave you salivating for more, and I loved every moment! I’m already looking forward to the next installment and dreaming about a return to this exciting, magical world....more
As someone who was totally new to Cathy Clamp’s work, I was very excited about the opportunity to read Forbidden, book one in a new series set in the Sazi universe. A “reboot” of sorts, the novel takes place ten years after the events at the end of The Tales of the Sazi, featuring a new story and new characters – a fresh start, essentially, and a perfect jumping-on point for a newcomer like me.
Indeed, there’s not much you need to know before starting this series, and any required knowledge is helpfully provided by the author. For example, I found it interesting that the two protagonists of Forbidden actually first appeared in the original series as relatively minor characters. According to Clamp’s afterword, the heroine Clarissa Evans (who goes by Claire Sanchez here) was in Moon’s Fury as one of the young victims of a child abductor. All grown up now and an agent of the Wolven, Claire is being sent to investigate a string of missing children cases in the remote town of Luna Lake.
For obvious reasons, the mission hits a bit close to home, and Claire finds herself struggling to deal with unpleasant memories on top of trying to figure out the complex hierarchy of her new pack. The community at Luna Lake is unlike anything she’s had to deal with before, on account of it being a former refugee camp for displaced Sazi and lost orphans. Shapeshifters of all sorts live together here, including owls, falcons, bears, cougars, and of course wolves like Claire herself. On her first day, she meets another wolf named Alek, a Sazi orphan who grew up in Luna Lake after being adopted into a family of owls. Sparks fly between them immediately – both the good and bad sort – but whatever attraction or differences they have between them, solving the mystery must come first…before it’s too late for the missing kids.
Right away, I was captivated by the magic of this world. There are all sorts of Sazi, like those who can turn into wolves, big cats, birds of prey, snakes, etc. There were also the little things that charmed me, like the fact they can talk in their animals forms, or use food smells (most often desserts, I find. Or maybe I just notice them more because of my sweet tooth) to identify the emotional states of other Sazi.
I was also amazed by the social dynamics of Luna Lake. You don’t have to be familiar with the Sazi series to understand that it’s a very special community. The bird shifters aren’t big fans of the cats, the cats don’t much like the wolves, and the wolves can’t stand the smell of the birds, but at Luna Lake all the groups manage to live in relative harmony because that’s the only way to ensure survival. For Alek and other Sazi like him who were adopted by the Williams, the town is literally one big family. Even though he is a wolf, Alek is a big brother to owls, eagles, bobcats, other wolves and more, and there’s this sense of solidarity and togetherness about Luna Lake that gave me all the warm and fuzzy feels. Yet, there’s also a cost to that peace. Over the years the pack has developed a way to identify their “omegas”, and these low ranked individuals are treated poorly and forced to do all the dirty jobs in town. It made me feel really unsettled and angry towards Luna Lake’s leaders and those townsfolk who turn a blind eye to this blatantly unfair and broken system.
Be aware too that while Forbidden is described as an Urban Fantasy mystery, in some ways it actually reads more like a paranormal romance. Claire and Alek’s relationship is often the focus of the story, and the mystery elements of the plot are in truth not that substantial. To really get into the story, you would need to buy into the chemistry between Claire and Alek, and that was perhaps my problem; I didn’t feel like I got a chance to know either of them very well before they were thrust together, and right on the heels of them falling in lust came the obligatory plot contrivances to introduce conflict between them. I also found Alek too self-absorbed for my tastes and Claire too much of a “special snowflake”, which all made it harder for me to care about their developing relationship. That said, I’m not a big reader of PNR so there may be a lot genre norms and nuances that I’m not accustomed to, so feel free to take my opinion on the romance with a grain of salt!
The world of the Sazi does have the benefit of being fully fleshed out and realized though, from all the groundwork that has been established by the original series. Just this little taste of it has gotten me hooked, and I find myself wanting more. Certainly if you have a love for stories about shapeshifters, you need to check this one out for the many different kinds of creatures alone. Recommended for urban fantasy/paranormal romance readers and fans of strange and beautiful magic....more
Boy is a Mage, brought up on lessons about the power of illusions, taught that reality is a sham and that people are shadows – and oh, no matter what you do, do NOT trust those lying, stinking Mechanics.
Girl is a Mechanic, a master of logic and equations who prides herself on the fact that no machine is beyond her abilities to fix, and of course, Mechanics are just so much better than those useless Mages.
Then boy meets girl. Everything changes. Alain and Mari come together after their caravan is destroyed by bandits, only managing to survive the treacherous journey back to civilization with each other’s help. They begin to discover just how much their Guild elders have kept from them, secrets and misconceptions that have been keeping the Mage-Mechanical rivalry alive for all these hundreds of years.
Then the power of Foresight unexpectedly comes to Alain. He learns something that Mari doesn’t know – that she is in fact the prophesied chosen one who will unite the two great guilds and save the world. As the two are sent to Dorcastle amidst rumors of uncontrolled dragons and sabotage, Alain can hardly begin to describe the way he feels for Mari, but he does know staying away from her as his masters had ordered is not an option.
The Dragons of Dorcastle is a sweet little story about the serendipitous partnership between two people from different divides, who end up realizing they were wrong about everything they thought they knew about the other. I’d never read anything by John G. Hemry AKA Jack Campbell before, though I do know a bit about his military sci-fi Lost Fleet series, which I can’t imagine can be any more different than this book, a Young Adult-ish fantasy and steampunk romance.
Surprisingly though, this was very good. A little standard, perhaps, and playing a bit too safe when it comes to ideas. However, seeing as this book was originally written to be an audiobook exclusive for Audible Studios, it wouldn’t surprise me if a fun and practical story like this – intended to appeal to a wider and more general audience – was a conscious decision. And it was probably the right decision; I can see it being the perfect choice for anyone in the mood for an entertaining and light read looking to pass the time, though it’s possible that diehard genre readers may be left unsatisfied.
But hey, here be dragons. Well, okay, maybe not exactly. I don’t actually hold this against the book, but I think it’s worth mentioning anyhow that I find the title a bit misleading. There’s some dragon activity for sure, though it doesn’t come until very late in the book, and relatively briefly. Relating this to my thoughts above, I can’t help but to think the name was another clever move to boost appeal. Granted, the story does present a rather intriguing mystery about the dragons at the end, so even though they aren’t the center of attention, we are left with some major dragon-related questions to ponder and there’s no doubt they will play a bigger role in the next book.
Perhaps the novel’s greatest strength is its focus the characters. Most of the book is spent developing the relationship between Alain and Mari, even when the two aren’t even in the same scene. We’re in their heads all the time, experiencing their thoughts and emotions as contemplate the other. The narrative does an especially good job with Alain, whose capacity for emotions has been all but stripped by the Mage guild. The way I looked at the situation, it’s actually a lot like reading about Spock falling in love. That is to say, it’s no easy feat. The author deserves my admiration for pulling it off.
Let’s face it, too: I’m a sucker for Forbidden Love. Despite being YA and the style of prose leaning towards younger audiences, I really enjoyed the delightful romance blooming between Alain and Mari. It’s a relationship I find more “cute” than “passionate”, but nonetheless it worked surprisingly well for me.
In the end, The Dragons of Dorcastle is not a terribly original or noteworthy book, but I really liked it. Its down-to-earth style, entertainment value, and wonderful characters made it very hard for me to resist its charms. All told, a very good book to just curl up and relax with....more
I admit The Wrath and the Dawn wasn’t initially a book I was drawn to, but as time went by, the concept started to grow on me. I still would have preferred a stronger fantasy component, but its hook – the fact that its story is inspired by A Thousand and One Nights – became more intriguing the longer I thought about it.
The book introduces us to sixteen-year-old Shahrzad, getting ready for her marriage to Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. It’s a sad affair for her family, who all believe it will be the last time any of them will see Shazi alive. Everyone says that young Khalid is a monster, for what kind of man would take a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise the next day? Shazi, however, had volunteered herself for this, and she has a plan (arguable, but more about that later). Not long ago, her own best friend was taken and killed by the Caliph. Now Shazi is determined to find out why Shiva and all those other young girls had to die, and she won’t stop until she gets her revenge.
Things are not as they seem, though. Shazi may have escaped death for a day by captivating Khalid with a story, cleverly withholding the ending by the time dawn arrives, forcing the Caliph to put off her execution in order to find out what happens. The more time she spends with the boy king, however, the more she realizes he is not the monster everyone made him out to be. Still, he did kill all those women, and the reason for that is a closely guarded secret that no seems to know or want to talk about. While seeking answers, Shazi finds herself slowly drawn to Khalid and even begins to fall for him. But when her first love Tariq learns of her marriage to the Caliph and comes riding to her rescue, Shazi will have to make a choice.
I found this book to be one part romance, and one part A Big Question. The former is relatively straight forward; Shazi marries Khalid, realizes that he’s actually not that bad, the two fall in love. It happens very quickly, almost too quickly for my tastes. Here’s another Young Adult novel, where in its eagerness to get its two lovers together, we lose out on a lot of the emotional layers that make the relationship convincing. And how was Shazi supposed to take revenge on the Caliph after marrying him anyway? She didn’t even really try. Her half-baked plan didn’t seem to go much farther beyond enticing him with stories (and I do wish she had been able to tell more of them), so all I can see is the instalove being a decision of convenience. Thing is though, I could easily look past this in favor of what I really felt was the most interesting aspect of the whole book.
Enter the big question: Why did Khalid kill Shazi’s best friend Shiva and all those other wives of his? That’s the mystery that really caught my interest and kept me reading, and it was treated in the exact opposite way as the romance, an intricate puzzle that slowly unravels. For that I was very happy, and I liked how the author took the time to make the answers worth it.
I was also most impressed with Shazi’s character above any of the others. I liked that she had such class and dignity, but also a strong personality that wouldn’t stop her from teaching a lesson to someone who shows her disrespect. She’s also truly fearless, as evidenced by the calm and quiet way she decided to volunteer to marry the Caliph knowing very well it could mean her death, and also by a scene where she strikes out at an attacker even when she very literally had a blade to her throat.
There was really one factor about the writing that made me stumble. Five words: Attack of the purple prose.
“But the thought that she might lie to him – that those eyes, with their unpredictable onslaught of colors, flashing blue one instant and green the next, only to paint his world gold with the bright sound of her laughter…”
Occasionally there will be a glaring overkill of these flowery phrases or paragraphs. I think it’s pretty common with relatively new authors who are also extremely talented writers though, who maybe just need to know when to dial it back a little.
Still, on the whole I do think Renée Ahdieh writes beautifully and has a bright writing career ahead of her. While it may not be perfect, The Wrath and the Dawn impressed me and so I’m on board to see what happens next....more
Son of the Shadows may be the second book of the Sevenwaters series, but it is not a direct sequel. Instead, the story follows the youngest daughter of Sorcha, the brave young woman in Daughter of the Forest who was set upon a quest to save her six older brothers from a terrible curse – and succeeded. Liadan proves to be just as resourceful as her mother when she is abducted by outlaws on the road, managing to maneuver her way out of the dilemma by offering her healing services to an injured member of the group. This is also how she meets the Painted Man, the leader of the band known to be a cold and heartless killer.
Despite it not being a direct sequel, it is still perhaps necessary to read Daughter of the Forest first before tackling Son of the Shadows. Threads from the first book’s story carry over to this one, and if you aren’t familiar with them it is easy to become confused or lost. In fact, as someone who jumped into this book right after reading the first one, I still feel like I’m missing something. The meddling Fae are back, reminding us that there is still a prophecy to be fulfilled and a darkness to vanquish. Sorcha may have set Sevenwaters on the right path, but it is up to Liadan to take up the mantle now and continue what her mother started. However, nothing really develops in the grander scheme of things; we don’t get to see the great evil rear its ugly head even once in this novel, and I’m not sure if the Fair Folk’s prophecy progresses that much at all.
For all that, Son of the Shadows was an enjoyable read, almost as much as Daughter of the Forest. It does lack a bit of the cohesion I found in the first book, which had a clear direction given how it was a very faithful retelling of a well-known fairy tale. Marillier plays around more with her characters and plot with this one, having freer reign to do as she pleases with the story. For one thing, the romance here is much heavier and more in the forefront. Liadan and the Painted Man fall swiftly for each other, whereas Sorcha’s relationship in the previous book was a much slower burn. The love story elements are more overt and in your face this time around and doesn’t come across as naturally, but it’s still very deep and full of passion.
Still, it’s an excellent follow up and a worthy addition to the saga of Sevenwaters, which looks to have more in store. It’s clear now that there’s a lot more to the narrative, and the effects aren’t going to be limited to just a few characters. Instead, multiple generations in the same bloodline will be touched forever. Son of the Shadows is different from the first book, but in a good way. And it doesn’t stray too far from the overall themes that I’ve come to appreciate about this series, mainly the fairy tale and mythological undertones to the setting and story. And of course, Marillier’s writing is beautiful as always.
This book is put together slightly less elegantly and doesn’t tread as lightly as its predecessor, but I still loved it....more
Echo 8 is the first novel I’ve read by Sharon Lynn Fisher, but I’d known from before that her work is usually characterized by mixture of Science Fiction and Romance elements. That sounded just fabulous to me, and well, ultimately I believe one’s overall enjoyment of this book will entirely depend on how much you prefer in your balance of each genre!
With themes like alternate worlds and parapsychology at its core, Echo 8 follows a brilliant young researcher named Tess Caufield in a near-future where doppelgangers have begun appearing mysteriously and randomly from a parallel universe. As far as Tess and her team could tell, these shadowy “Echoes” are from an alternate earth that has been struck by an asteroid, but how these hapless individuals ended up being here, and how to keep them alive on this world after they have teleported are questions scientists are still trying desperately to work out.
However, Echoes also have the unfortunate tendency to drain the life energy from people they come in physical contact with. This consequently led to the assignment of FBI special agent Ross McGinnis to Tess’s security detail, much to her chagrin. This arrangement is further strained when Jake, the latest Echo to dislocate to Seattle Psi from the other earth touches Tess and almost kills her, setting off a chain reaction that will have profound significance for all three lives.
Remember what I said earlier about how you like your balance of sci-fi and romance? After finishing Echo 8, I’ve determined that this book is without question heavier on the latter. The scientific theory and technology involved in here is sufficiently explained but clearly written in a way so that the reader can enjoy the story without having to look beyond the surface details. Those used to harder sci-fi with a stronger emphasis and comprehensive look at the technical aspects won’t really find it here. On the other hand, if you’re fancying yourself a good romance, then you definitely won’t be disappointed.
No question about it, Fisher has a real talent for writing hot, sweaty, passionate lurrrrrve. Perhaps a bit too fast and intense for me, if I’m to tell the truth. Heck, I’m all for scorching love scenes, and I’m not exactly a fan of crawling slow burn romances either, but I’d prefer to see a relationship proceed at more of a simmer. In Echo 8 we’re thrust into a complicated love triangle almost right away, and the first time two characters get together it happened very quickly, too quickly for me to be truly convinced of their feelings for each other.
In general, the weight of the romance also came at the expense of story and character development. Often I could tell that the plot yearned to be something bigger, something more, but all told it ended up being rather straightforward and predictable. There’s not much depth to Tess beyond her obsession to help Echoes and her complete lack of concern over whether or not she gets killed trying to do it. This drives Ross crazy of course, but his soft spot for Tess means it never takes much to talk him into letting her do anything she wants. We go through this cycle repeatedly with these two characters, while Jake pines for Tess and struggles with his feelings for someone he knows he can never have…or can he? Like the science fiction aspects, we’re given just enough information about the three main characters to appreciate the twisty relationship dynamics behind their…unique situation. The level of romantic drama here is extremely satisfying, but once again, some readers might find themselves wishing for more out of the plot and characters.
In sum, Echo 8 has a very interesting and ambitious premise, even if it doesn’t quite reach its full potential. It is first and foremost a Romance, and in this area the book indubitably excels, practically burning up the pages with its fast-paced love story and red-hot desires flying all over the place. It’s perhaps too strong on the romantic side of things for my tastes, but I suspect those readers who are more inclined towards that will enjoy this novel very much. Everything about it is designed to appeal to genre fiction readers who enjoy a very healthy dose of romance, and without a doubt it is successful in this endeavor. And I have to say, even with the issues I mentioned above, I liked this book and found it to be a fun read....more
I was a bit taken aback by the tepid to cool reviews I’ve been seeing for this one. Not that my own review is all that glowing, I realize, but while Talon probably won’t rank among my favorite Young Adult novels read this year, I had a lot of fun with it. By all means not a bad book. Surprisingly, most of the disappointment appears to be from fans of Julie Kagawa’s other series. I’ve never read anything else by her though, so there’s really nothing for me to compare this to.
But let’s move on to what the book is about. Talon is about dragons…but also not really. If you’re looking for a novel featuring these magnificent creatures in all their winged and scaly fire-breathing glory, you’re not going to find much of that here. What you have instead is a small group of dragonkind who spend most of their time in human form, hoping to infiltrate our society and one day take over the world again. A secret faction of dragon slayers called the Order of St. George is determined not to let that happen, and their members continue to hunt dragons like they have for time immemorial.
The book begins as two young dragon siblings, Ember and Dante Hill travel to California in their human forms to begin training for their future positions to serve their home base of Talon. Ember is fascinated with humankind, and wants nothing more than to enjoy the summer living out the full teenager experience – beaches, arcades, ice cream parlors, the whole shebang. Her brother Dante on the other hand is a lot more disciplined, and does not like it one bit when a rogue dragon shows up in their territory, distracting Ember from her training. Meanwhile, St. George has received the rumors of new dragon recruits in the area, and the young soldier Garret Xavier Sebastian and his partner are tasked to hunt these Talon agents down and kill them.
Encouraged to mingle and blend in with other teenagers, Ember and Dante spend most of this book as humans. But unlike other books with shape-shifting dragons (like Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina for example, which I thought did a really good job developing the culture and world of the draconic characters), it’s difficult to think of the dragons here as anything but human. This is what I meant when I cautioned not to think of Talon too much as a “dragon” book. Despite a few scenes of Ember thinking as a dragon and being a dragon – and they are quite few and far between – the author often seems to put her human persona before her draconic one. Plus, the setting is modern and urban. Ember’s life revolves around surfing, parties, friends and boys. Very little is known about the dragon home of Talon and Kagawa doesn’t really get into it. For those craving a bit more fantasy and world building, I can see how that could cause some frustration.
As such, this ends up being your rather typical contemporary young adult novel with a light fantasy twist, complete with love triangle and just a dash of forbidden love. Despite being exactly what I expected, it was undeniably entertaining.
After reading this, however, I admit to being skeptical of Kagawa’s writing. It’s obvious that she can spin a good yarn, but there were some plot elements that were so illogical and downright silly, it can be difficult to take these characters seriously. First of all, if you can take any form and you’re trying to covertly infiltrate and gain influence in human society, I would not do it as a teenager. Good luck gathering any useful information to bring back to your overlords, unless they’re interested in how your airheaded friend thinks so-and-so is so totally gorgeous and has nice abs. Talon is also so bad at this undercover secret agent stuff, I’m not surprised St. George managed to narrow their search down to Ember and Dante and their group of beach bum friends in like all of two seconds. You’re a dragon spy, and you’re seriously going to stick with Ember for your name? You might as well paint a target on your back and wear a big sign that says “I’M THE DRAGON!” and hang it around your neck. The Order of St. George doesn’t seem that much more competent either. At one point, Garret admits to his partner that he is getting too close to Ember and recommends stepping back from the mission. Instead of allowing Garret to do so, what does his partner do but tell him to take advantage of this new development to go even deeper into the case. Um, no! As soon as one of your soldiers gets emotionally involved and becomes compromised like that, you pull them the hell out. A lot of the problems that St. George experience near the end, they brought most of them on themselves.
These little moments aside, not much else detracted from the experience. Yes, the story is pretty standard but ended up being more interesting than the description made it sound, and it held my attention to the end, which isn’t something I can say for a lot of YA. The next book, predictably called Rogue, looks like it will delve deeper into the both the secret Order of St. George and the dragon organization Talon, so hopefully readers get the world building we want there....more
I’m disappointed to say the least. Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls was a trilogy I read a few years ago, and while it might not rank up there as one of my favorite Young Adult series of all time, it had its moments. One of the highlights was the supporting character of Isabel Culpeper who was a bit of a queen bee, plus she’s angry and bitter to boot. And yet, I found her to be a lot more interesting than the very blah protagonist of Grace Brisbane, and I was rather fond of Isabel. I was also intrigued when I found out she would be starring in her own book Sinner along with Cole St. Clair, the rock star/werewolf with whom she started a budding romance towards the end of the Mercy Falls trilogy.
Sinner begins in California, where Isabel has started her new life, going to school preparing to be a doctor while working part time at a clothing designer’s store. Cole on the other hand is trying to make a comeback to the music scene after being rehabilitated from a life of booze and drugs, by — ugh! — agreeing to be the focus of a godforsaken reality TV show, of all things. When he arrives in LA, the first thing he does is look up Isabel, hoping to rekindle what they had from their days back in Mercy Falls, Minnesota.
There’s really not much else to say about the plot. The story zips along at the speed of molasses, and for the longest time I tried to figure out what the conflict was, only to resign myself to the fact that there really isn’t one. Cole does his reality TV show thing while acting like a prima donna, and Isabel goes about her daily life putting up with his crap.
To be fair, Sinner ended up being a completely different book than I expected it to be. First of all, it probably falls more into the New Adult category instead of YA, following the characters like Isabel in their post-high school life, and werewolves or not, the themes are more contemporary rather than related to speculative fiction. It has very few paranormal elements compared to the Mercy Falls trilogy, so few that I was just barely able to label this one a fantasy.
My main issue, however, wasn’t the lack of fantasy elements or the fact that there was hardly any story. My problem was the vacuous, insufferable prat that was Cole St. Clair.
For the love of God, I don’t remember him being so annoying in the original trilogy. A big pet peeve of mine is bad boys who try oh so very hard to be a bad boy. Let’s face it, if Cole hadn’t gotten lucky and become a rock star, he would have ended up living in a cardboard box in some alley, offering to take your verbal abuse for chance at a bit of change. And who knows, he still might end up that way. He’s already washed up at this young age, reduced to dancing-bear status on an insipid reality TV show.
The sad part is, I still really like Isabel’s character, which made it doubly hard to watch her fall for this joker when all I wanted to do was scream at her to run, run away! Get as far away as you can from this idiot because God forbid if you end up marrying him he’ll end up a worthless thirty-five-year-old has-been, having pissed away his royalties on cars and parties, with no aspirations other than to be a professional layabout because working for an honest living is just sooooo lame. He’d probably let his looks and physique go too, because exercise and taking good care of one’s health is something, like, everybody does! And we all know Cole’s just too cool to go along with everyone else!
I feel kind of bad for being snarky, but it just makes me so ANGRY. I think this was my problem with the Wolves of Mercy Falls series as well. The trilogy started well enough, but things went downhill in the last book Forever when the characters suddenly developed these horribly bratty and angsty attitudes. To a certain extent you have to expect a fair dose of youthful naiveté in YA, but this whole “OMG I hate everyone and everything!” and “Adults are stupid morons and I totally know better than all of them!” kind of thinking gets a bit old, especially in Sinner when we’ve supposedly left high school far behind. Frankly, Cole’s behavior towards his parents made me sick, especially considering how by all accounts they are perfectly good, sensible people. The worst thing Cole can think of to happen to him is if he became his dad, because apparently, Cole thinks being a responsible contributor to society is boring. Go figure.
As a novel, it saddens me to say this, especially since according to her foreword it sounds like a pretty important book for the author, but Sinner felt kind of pointless. For me, it was also 300-ish pages of teeth-grinding aggravation, thanks to the big, cuddly ball of phony that was Cole. Read this if you’re fan of the Mercy Falls books because you’ll probably want to see what happened to two of the more important side characters from the trilogy. That’s what I told myself I wanted to do, and I don’t regret reading this because at least I got to follow up with Isabel, but unfortunately not even her chapters could make up for her co-star....more
This book would be perfect for readers looking for a well-balanced blend of fantasy with a historical fiction-type setting, overlaid with a story laced with a heavy dose of the kind of chaste, slow-burn romance one might find in a traditional Regency novel.
Graham Marshall – Gray to family and friends – finds himself out of favor at Merlin College when a midnight errand goes terribly wrong, landing himself and a couple friends in the infirmary while another boy loses his life. Disgraced, Gray is sent away to the summer home of the arrogant and unpleasant Professor Appius Callendar until such time the college can decide his fate. It’s there that Gray has the pleasure of meeting the professor’s middle daughter Sophie, who for some reason Professor Callendar seems to neglect and disdain. There’s certainly no love lost between father and daughter.
Even though he was told none of the Callendar girls were born with any magical talent, Gray senses something strange about Sophie. Because proper women studying magical theory is considered scandalous in their society, Sophie has been secretly learning it herself from the books in her father’s library. She’s delighted to meet Gray, finding him very different from the pretentious and foppish young men her father usually invites home from the college, and is grateful when he offers to fill in the gaps in her knowledge. The two of them strike up a friendship, and so when astounding revelations are revealed about Sophie’s past, Gray is wrapped up in the whirlwind of events. And here he was, thinking his life was complicated!
From page one, I was drawn in by the gorgeous writing. Admittedly, it can be somewhat difficult to get used to. Clunky and awkward in some places, it’s not exactly what I would call easy on the eyes, with a style and tone suited to the historical era. But it’s extremely effective when it comes to setting the mood, and once you adapt to it, the reading goes much faster and smoother.
The novel’s greatest strength is the characterization. Gray and Sophie take center stage, and the whole book is told through their perspectives, which alternate back and forth – a lot. Again, it can be distracting, at least initially. The author jumps between Sophie and Gray whenever it suits her, so that sometimes you can get a few paragraphs of Gray’s point of view and then abruptly we would switch to Sophie as she picks up the narrative. Regular readers of romance are probably used to this, but it was something else I had to adjust to at the beginning.
After getting the hang of things, it was easier for me to simply sit back and soak in the story. It bears emphasizing again that the characters are just great in this; because the relationship between Gray and Sophie are so integral to the story, it makes sense to establish and build upon them early, and that’s what we get here. Before Gray and Sophie can get to know each other intimately, the reader has to get to know them as individuals, which makes their eventual coming together that much more satisfying. As I mentioned before, theirs is a slow-burn romance (the kind where everyone around them can see what’s going on before the two can even admit it to themselves) so if you’re looking for instant gratification, this is not the book you’re looking for. We’re also not talking fiery passion or red hot love scenes here, keeping things clean and proper with good manners!
The heavy focus on G+S notwithstanding, that’s not to say the other characters were forgotten or underdeveloped. In fact, my favorite character was a supporting character, Joanna Callendar, who probably has more personality in her little finger than her sister Sophie had in her whole body. Sad to say, as much as I liked Sophie, she was an idealized character, a special snowflake that came across just a little too perfect in a lot of ways, and that makes her less interesting than the spunky, lippy and slightly insolent Joanna.
By the same token, plot is probably not this novel’s strong suit. A lost princess, a prophecy foretelling the return of “The One” and the pivotal role they play in the fate of a monarch and the kingdom…it’s a little clichéd, perhaps, but it’s also not a negative if you go in knowing what to expect. This book is obviously more interested in telling Gray and Sophie’s story, it makes its intention loud and clear right from the start, and so a lighter, less original plot is something I could overlook.
Bottom line: The Midnight Queen is a very beautiful, very atmospheric novel about young love, slow-going at times, making it feel like very little happens while the author develops the two characters. You can probably predict the outcome of the story with no effort at all, but the emotional payoff is worth it if you stick around and give the book a chance to let Gray and Sophie to resolve their feelings for each other. Recommended for fantasy lovers who want romance, but who also won’t mind the slower, sweet-and-tender but also more subtle approach....more
Erin Lindsey is also E.L. Tettensor, author of the mystery-fantasy Darkwalker that I enjoyed so much last year. So needless to say, I was really excited to read her new novel The Bloodbound, a sword and sorcery adventure with a more romantic bent.
The book introduces readers to Alix Black, a soldier and scout in the king’s host. I always enjoy it when I come across fantasy stories that feature both men and women fighters, and seeing someone like Alix, who is a noblewoman of a sort, in the army is doubly refreshing. Despite being one of the Greater Houses, the power and influence of the Blacks have waned over the years, leaving only Alix and her older brother Rig. Alix has left the life of luxury behind, trading in her gowns and lavish balls for leathers and her blood blade, swearing her service to King Erik.
But what she didn’t expect was actually becoming Erik’s bodyguard. When the king is betrayed on the battlefield by his own brother Prince Tomald, Alix rescues Erik and is named his protector. Leaving her comrades in the scouts behind, Alix becomes Erik’s personal guard but also a trusted confidante as the two grow closer. Complicating matters is Alix’s relationship with her former fellow scout and more-than-just-a-friend Liam, but what is a loyal soldier to do when her sovereign ruler requires her protection and the fate of their entire kingdom rests on the outcome of a brutal war?
While The Bloodbound might not be breaking new ground, it has all the ingredients for a winning fantasy novel. It has a strong female protagonist, who is deadly capable without being a cutting, embittered warrior. No damsels in distress here; we see a gender role reversal from the norm, with Alix doing her fair share of the rescuing, saving Erik’s kingly hide time and time again. There’s also an intriguing, fast-paced plot involving a traitorous royal brother and an invading foreign army. The world building is also rich but subtle, with plenty of the magic, history and politics of the book’s world getting through to the reader without ever becoming overbearing. And then, of course, there’s the romance.
I’ll admit, I had my reservations when I first encountered the love triangle. Torn between Erik and Liam who have both expressed their true feelings to her, Alix knows that eventually she will have to choose between them. But love is not as important as duty when you’re a king, a noblewoman, or even a common soldier who may be more than he appears. Meanwhile, a usurper threatens to take the throne and an attacking enemy force has the dark magical power to do great evil, so the Alix-Liam-Erik situation is further muddled by political need.
While I knew going in that The Bloodbound would have strong emphasis on romance, the love triangle still threw me off a little. Considered a staple of the Young Adult novel, at first I wasn’t sure how I felt to see it in my adult epic fantasy. However, after pondering the matter, I realized that even though love triangles are a common trope, my problems that stem from them have nothing to do with the love triangles themselves, but actually how they are written. Erin Lindsey ends up avoiding a lot of the common pitfalls, opting to forego the angst and melodrama, sparing me a lot of frustration and eye-rolling. Without the drawn-out dramatics of your typical love triangle, I ended up enjoying this one quite a bit. The romance is almost in perfect balance with the rest of the novel, and doesn’t distract too much from the overall bigger story.
All in all, this makes The Bloodbound a very special book. It mixes the modern with the classic, with the result being an epic fantasy type novel that would also be very easy to get into for fans of YA romance or Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance. An engaging love story is something I feel is missing in a lot of epic fantasy, so this book worked very well for me. It gives equal weight to both the romance and the fantasy world-building elements.
All told, this is a very well-written novel that I believe has wide appeal as well as the potential to connect with many kinds of readers. It can be read as a standalone, with a satisfying story and no cliffhangers, though it does keep the door open for future possibilities. I love the author’s style: simple and elegant, which is how I like it. No matter what name she writes under, I’m a fan....more
It’s been a while since I’ve read a satisfying maritime fantasy. “I wish you luck, love, and adventure,” says a character to the protagonist in the beginning of this novel, and incidentally that’s exactly what we get. Starring a princess masquerading as a young man, along with pirates, magic, a secret map and untold treasures, perhaps the “adventure” part is what we get the most of all in this story that takes place mostly on the high seas.
Princess Clarice is the daughter of the Duke of Swansgaarde, the eldest of twelve girls (I know…YIKES!) and one boy. While the arrival of a son and heir apparent was a much celebrated event, this left the family with a dilemma – they cannot possibly secure the futures of Clarice and her eleven sisters, as that many royal dowries would surely bankrupt the already small and modest Duchy. The girls, therefore, were raised from an early age to be able and independent, preparing for the day they would be expected to make their way into the world and find their own fortunes.
Sometimes, I get the feeling that a book really wants you to get into the action right away. These books tend not to weave the world’s history into the story and instead the authors push everything you need to know right up front. Readers of House of the Four Winds might find its prologue and the first couple of chapters to be exposition-heavy, outlining the Duchy of Swansgaarde’s circumstances and thus also explaining Clarice’s fighting prowess and motivations for traveling on her own to see the world. Granted, it’s not the most subtle way relaying the information, but it’s efficient and fast, and looking back, the introduction gave the book an almost fairy tale-like “Once upon a time…” quality, which was actually quite nice.
Then we get to the meat of the story, an action-adventure tale with a bit of romance thrown in. As the first princess to seek her fortune, Clarice has decided to play to her strengths as a sword fighter, and intends to hone her skills in the New World across the ocean. Disguising herself as a young nobleman named Clarence Swann, she is charmed by the charismatic and handsome navigator Dominick Moryet and books passage on his ship the Asesino, sailing under Captain Samuel Sprunt who is said to be extraordinarily lucky. There might have been more to Sprunt’s “luck”, however, as the unfortunate crew come to discover when tensions mount and an uprising becomes inevitable.
If your fancies run towards the nautical, then you’ll be in for a treat. Your journey will start with the down-and-dirty details of everyday ship living, as well as meeting the various crew members and officers, all of this seen through Clarice/Clarence’s eyes so it is all very natural and relevant to the young princess’ learning. The authors make it a fascinating experience and the story only gets better as the events unfold, leading to a mutiny and the discovery of a hidden island controlled by pirates and an evil enchantress. Pirates, of course, are always a fan favorite. The plot is also kept fun and lighthearted with the protagonist’s efforts to keep her disguise a secret, even as she begins to fall for the winsome Dominick. Mistrust between the factions aboard the ship keep the story interesting, not to mention the possibility of the crew of Asesino turning privateer themselves.
My only issue with this book involves certain aspects of the writing, especially when we are reading about significant events that I feel should hold more weight and suspense. In my opinion, these scenes weren’t very well executed. Deaths of important characters were glossed over unceremoniously. Fight scenes were cut-and-dried without much sense of urgency. And of course, the prime example was the critical and inevitable moment when Clarice’s identity is revealed to Dominick, and the result was a fizzle at best. There was no outrage and no shock of betrayal, and even if Dominick were the most understanding person in the world, I would not have expected his response to be “OMG I LOVE YOU TOO!” Things tied up just a little bit too neatly. Considering how Clarice kept the truth of her identity from the whole crew for pretty much the whole book, with everyone believing she was a man this whole time, I would have expected a more realistic reaction.
These tiny quibbles aside, The House of the Four Winds is a fine tale of swashbuckling adventure. The story is to be taken lightly and enjoyed at face value, and the book is the boisterous seafaring romp it was meant to be. As another bonus, it wraps up nicely with satisfying ending. This conclusion along with the series name of One Dozen Daughters leads me to wonder if future books will focus on Clarice’s sisters’ individual journeys instead, rather than continue with Clarice herself. If that turns out to be the case, then there’s no telling the places this series can go; the possibilities are exciting and endless. Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing more....more
The Golden City is a book that may take a bit of patience to get into, but it ends up being well worth the time once the story gets going. It also stands out for being one of the more unique novels I’ve read this year, with its one-of-a-kind setting in an alternate Portugal around the turn of the 20th century and its rousing combination of subjects like dark magic and sea folk.
The book begins with an introduction to Oriana Paredes, a spy for her people called the sereia. As a member of a race of sea folk banned from the city by the ruling king, Oriana has been posing as a maid working undercover in a wealthy aristocratic household for two years, but has befriended the family’s lovely and vivacious daughter Isabel. When Isabel decides to elope to Paris, Oriana decides to help her make her escape by disguising themselves as simple servants. But before the young women could depart, they are abducted and left to die in an underwater trap. Saved by what she is, but at the same time forced to watch Isabel drown, Oriana is set on a course to uncover the mystery of a string of similar murders and seek justice for her human friend.
Ouch. I just want to say how surprised I was at how hard I took Isabel’s death. While it is revealed in the book’s description, I didn’t do much more than skim the back cover before I started reading and so the beginning was still quite a shock for me. But it was a good kind of surprise. In just a handful of pages, J. Kathleen Cheney has established a realistic friendship between the two girls and made me care for Isabel and the prospect of her grand romance. And in a blink, that life was taken away. It was a very effective and impactful (not to mention heartbreaking) way to start the book, and it only worked this well because the writing was so convincing. At this stage in the story, I still had only a vague sense of the bigger picture, but I understood the desire for vengeance as the driving force behind Oriana’s actions. I seized upon it, looking to it as the backbone of this novel, despite all the questions still buzzing away at the back of my mind.
For believe me, there were questions aplenty. While overall I enjoyed The Golden City, it did take me a while to immerse myself completely into it. Books that thrust me into the middle of situation tend to have me at a disadvantage. Admittedly, I will also sometimes overwhelm myself by asking too many questions. Possibly the biggest blank for me was Oriana’s role as a spy. The goals of her mission were never really clarified, and I wasn’t sure what kind of information she was supposed to be bringing back to her superiors. The “City Under the Sea”, which is a massive underwater art show featuring replicas of the aristocratic houses placed there by a mysterious artist, was also another source of confusion for me. A project that is so grand and ambitious even by today’s standards would have plenty of buzz and investigation into it, but it seemed like much of the city took its appearance for granted.
In fact, it is the replica of Isabel’s house in the City Under the Sea which should have been Oriana’s water grave, if she weren’t a sereia. After extracting herself from the death trap, she finds herself adrift in a city whose citizens would arrest or do worse to her if they discovered her true nature. That is until she crosses paths with Duilio Ferreira, a police consultant who has secrets of his own. Like Oriana, Duilio is looking into the disappearances of servants from wealthy households, but he is also the half human son of a Selkie (mythological creatures said to live as seals in the sea but shed their pelt to become humans on land) and is also in the midst of investigating certain crimes against his family.
Which leads me to the main reason why I’m glad I found a book like The Golden City – Sirens! Selkies! I am always on the lookout for good books about “sea people” that aren’t rife with The Little Mermaid clichés or that don’t simply portray creatures like sirens as malevolent seductresses. Cheney does a fantastic job providing Oriana with personality and purpose, and I love the cultural, historical and mythological details she has worked into her world.
In time, something more than a business partnership develops between Oriana and Duilio, but the romance is in no way distracting or overbearing. The romantic elements, like the mystery elements, are well blended and balanced. It won’t be enough for everyone, but it was perfect for me as someone who prefers a more subtle and natural approach to romance, and the author teases the relationship between her two characters just enough for me to remain invested in seeing how their feelings for each other will be resolved.
In sum, The Golden City may start off slowly, but the payoff will come. Somewhere along the way, it just clicked. And most of the answers I sought were answered by the end of the book. If an alternate historical with a dash of fantasy and mystery sounds like your thing, or if you’re intrigued by a story set in a unique place starring magical sea creatures as its main players, you may want to push this up to the top of your reading list. I’m looking forward to see what will happen in the next book of this series....more
When Angry Robot announced in the summer of 2014 that they were shutting down their Young Adult imprint Strange Chemistry, I was among the many readers saddened by the cancellation of their books and series. But thank goodness for at least the small mercies, like Danielle L. Jensen’s Malediction Trilogy being picked up by the parent company. Stolen Songbird was one of the best YA titles I read last year, and I was looking forward to continuing Cécile’s story in Hidden Huntress.
The sequel picks up shortly after the events of the first book. Cécile has recovered from her harrowing escape from Trollus, but it also means being separated from her love, the troll prince Tristan who is still trapped in the city beneath a mountain, sealed in by a witch’s curse. Determined to save Tristan, Cécile is willing to do anything – even if it means entering into a magically binding deal with the tyrant troll king, who tasks her to break them free by hunting down the elusive Anushka, the one who cast the original curse so long ago.
Meanwhile, Tristan is at his lowest point. He is shunned by his people, and only has few remaining loyal followers at his side. His power-hungry father will stop at nothing to escape their mountain prison and unleash the power of the trolls on the outside world, but Tristan is just as resolved to do all he can to stop him. Neither Tristan nor Cécile were prepared for the extent of the king’s Machiavellian cunning though, or just how far he would go with his manipulations.
On the whole, I actually thought Hidden Huntress was an even better book than its predecessor. This surprised me somewhat, considering some reviewer opinions I’ve seen expressing disappointment that Cécile and Tristan were separated for most of the story, and I thought for sure I would feel the same way. In fact, the opposite turned out to be true. In a case like this, distance apparently does make the heart grow fonder. Because of their magical bond, Cécile and Tristan are able to feel each other’s emotions more deeply than most couples even when they are far apart, creating a very intriguing dynamic. I felt too that the opportunity gave each protagonist the time they needed to fully develop as individuals, something that might not have occurred if they had been together. Tristan, for example, got his chance to really shine, occupying almost if not just as much page time as Cécile. Though I personally didn’t find his chapters as interesting as hers, his mission in Trollus was no less important, and I really appreciated how much of his personality we were able to glean from his perspective.
As much as Cécile and Tristan’s separation pained me, ultimately I believe the decision was worth the benefits to the plot. Sometimes, I find physical romance can take a back seat but the resulting novel ends up being just as satisfying. The story of Hidden Huntress is more sophisticated and even more entertaining than Stolen Songbird, placing a stronger emphasis on the bigger picture and also allowing supporting characters to play larger roles. The city of Trianon is a whole other world, but as a rising opera star following in her mother’s footsteps, Cécile has to tread just as carefully. Genevieve de Troyes was mentioned in the first book and I was very curious to finally meet this woman who has made such an impact on her daughter’s life. Let’s just say she was not what I expected.
I wouldn’t surprise me though, if readers are divided on Hidden Huntress. Danielle L. Jensen made a bold move, and it’ll pay off for some but perhaps not for others. It worked well for me for many reasons, some of which I’ve outlined above, but I also found it important that Ms. Jensen showed what would happen to her characters if they were placed under terrible pressure. Many will probably find some of Cécile’s decisions in this book frustrating, but to me they were an extension of the determined young woman we met in the first book who is loath to give up on something she believes in even if it drives her to extremes. We already had the chance to see the romance spark and develop between her and Tristan in the first book; I was glad to see that this book went further beyond giving readers more of the same, deciding instead to explore the greater mysteries. The page count is probably just a tad higher than I would have been comfortable with, but I got a lot out of it in the end, so I can’t bring myself to complain too much.
Hidden Huntress opens up the world, simply put. It felt bigger and more encompassing, upping the ante for all involved. The pull of the story was irresistible, given how so much more now rests on the success of our protagonists. Everything that the first book set us up for comes to fruition, complete with welcome twists and unexpected surprises. If nothing else, that incredible ending sure has me eager for book three....more
The adventures of Janus Mikani and Celeste Ritsuko continue in Silver Mirrors, but the second novel of the Apparatus Infernum series takes a decidedly different tack. Of course, our two CID investigators have another mystery to solve, but their mission this time takes them across the ocean, over the treacherous peaks of the mountains, and deep into the fire elemental mining tunnels of the north.
Needless to say, I found Silver Mirrors to be a much more exciting novel than the first. The premise of the story – that the world’s elementals are unsettled and running amok as a result of the destructive events of the last book – is perhaps tenuous at best, but it hardly mattered. The important thing is, we get to go on an adventure out of the city and onto the high seas with our two protagonists. And thar be pirates!
Also threaded into this thrilling ride is the ever-present romantic side plot, with the sexual tension between Ritsuko and Mikani about to boil over and explode any second. Seriously, these two have it BAD for one another. And of course, everyone sees it except for them. If you prefer slow-burn romances and delayed gratification when it comes to love stories between characters, I can’t recommend these books enough. But it also behooves me to say it probably wouldn’t hurt to be prepared for how oblivious they are. Reading about the two of them dancing and flailing around each other’s emotions is a bit like watching a couple of hopeless players at game of charades. It’s hard to believe they actually make a living doing detective work and solving mysteries. But you know what they say about good things coming to those who wait. I think that goes for the characters and the readers both, and for now all we can do is root for Ritsuko and Mikani.
But I’m glad I decided to read this sequel not just for the progression of their romance, because there’s a lot more to the world of this series. Silver Mirrors expands it by having the characters travel afar, and not for the first time I wished a book would include a map. We also learn more about the magic and its limitations. For instance, when the behaviors of elementals are disrupted, the different instruments and devices they help power can also become unstable or fail spectacularly altogether. It wasn’t until this novel that I finally got a sense of the living, breathing connection between the mortal and the mystical.
The Aguirres are clearly not afraid to take their books into new territory. While Bronze Gods was more of a whodunit murder mystery, Silver Mirrors reads like an action-adventure with the characters embarking on a perilous quest. Book two may be a continuation of book one, but even so, the two stories can’t be any more different. It mixes things up and keeps this series interesting. Obviously, the Mikani and Ritsuko situation is something I’d like to keep an eye on, but I’m also looking forward to seeing what the authors will do in future installments and where they will take us next. ...more
I admit it, I read this book for FORBIDDEN LOVE! Turns out though, it was not exactly the kind I had in mind. I expected a little more chemistry, perhaps? A little bit more of that "it's you and me against the world"? The Winner's Curse ended up giving me two lovers who actually spent more than half the book locked in conflict with each other, and so their romance lacked some of that je ne sais quoi which makes forbidden love so scandalous and delicious.
Meet the two star-crossed lovers in question: Kestrel, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a Valorian general, who one day visits a slave auction and spontaneously decides to buy Arin, a native of the Harrani lands her people conquered. Their meeting, however, was no accident. Unbeknownst to Kestrel, Arin is actually a high ranked member of a group of Harrani rebels, planted purposely at the auction to draw her in. As a slave in the Valorian general's home, Arin would be in a position to gather intelligence and plan his people's uprising.
What neither of them counted on was that their master and slave relationship would eventually evolve into friendship, deepening into love. But that journey was far from passionate for me; instead, it felt tepid and sometimes even bordered on awkward. It's tricky creating chemistry when both your characters are torn between their loyalties to each other or their own people, and the story never managed to convince me that there was ever really any trust between Kestrel and Arin. Seeing as The Winner's Curse is essentially a romance, that's a pretty vital ingredient to be missing for me.
Okay, so their relationship was not as swoon-worthy as I would have liked, but no matter. The world, the characters and the story soon won me over, and I enjoyed this book a lot. While it is what I would classify as "standard" YA, it still contained plenty of surprises within its pages. I did love the setting, with the flavor of a historical fantasy. A martial civilization like the Valorians which also encourages women in their army fascinates me. If anything, I wish the scope of the story was bigger to encompass more of the events in the wider world. There's a lot of potential for world building here; because of the narrow focus on Kestrel and Arin, we only get to see a tiny slice of what's happening.
Forbidden Love just happens to be a trope I can't resist, but the comments I made above notwithstanding, if you are a fan romance I would still highly recommend The Winner's Curse. But if it's excitement or a thrilling adventure you're looking for, you might want to reconsider. The pacing is a lot more quiet, with a decent chunk of this book dedicated to getting Kestrel and Arin together, and it's a gradual process not achieved through any wild or fierce means. There's perhaps a slight pick up in pace in the final handful of chapters, but keep in mind the story itself isn't about providing a lot of action, it's about character development and building a relationship. The careful way in which Marie Rutkoski does it is undeniably this book's crowning glory, and even though the romance itself fell a bit flat for me, I'm sure for many others it will be the most engrossing aspect.
Despite the shaky love story, I really liked this novel, and I'll no doubt pick up the next book when it comes out. I'm still holding out for an exception forbidden romance to emerge triumphant from this series, and I think it still has a chance, not to mention things end just as the story gets even more interesting....more
Finding a series where the momentum of the first book carries through to next and beyond is pretty special, and when you find one, you know it’s a keeper. The tone of Heaven’s Queen is in keeping with the fast-paced, and action-filled rollicking good fun of the previous two books in the trilogy, and ends things in an explosively spectacular manner. You really don’t want to mess with protagonist Deviana “Devi” Morris; that’s just like an invitation for bodily harm and extensive property damage.
Hot-headed and not one to hide the fact, Devi is an even bigger force to be reckoned with when she’s angry -- especially with a deadly alien virus in her system. Through no fault of her own, she has gotten herself tangled up in multiple government conspiracies, had her private memories screwed with, and on top of that she’s on the run with what feels like practically everyone in the universe on her heels. In other words, just another average day in the life of our main character. Thing is, stubborn and reckless as she may be, Devi just wants to do the right thing. And that’s just a little tough to do when everyone is standing in the way and you have no idea who to trust.
But actually, there is one person Devi can count on, and that is Rupert Charkov, the man she once thought of as only the Glorious Fool’s cook, but now knows is a lot more than he appears. Those who have been interested in following the progression of the Devi-Rupert relationship (and I include myself in this group) will be happy to see their romance resolved in here, after a fashion. In any case, there’s no more ambiguity when it comes to where they stand, not like there was in the last book. In fact, I would say this one lays on the romance more thickly than either of the two novels that came before. That in itself isn’t a surprise; the romantic side-plot has been growing steadily in importance over the course of the series, so it’s only natural to see it come to fruition. What I hadn’t expected to see though was so much romantic drama in the first half of the novel.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If there’s one thing to take away from these books it is that Rachel Bach/Rachel Aaron never does things by halves. That’s the beauty of the trilogy. Everything about it is larger than life, from the in-your-face main character and her sexy and suave love interest to the amazing planets and exotic aliens, the twisty plot and the danger and thrills. It’s pure candy for the mind, and perhaps it’s fitting for the romance to be a little over-the-top as well, though definitely not overbearing.
A positive side effect of this is that Devi’s feelings for Rupert has added a layer of complexity to her character (it wouldn’t be love if it didn’t at least alter her perspective of herself of the world a little bit!) and to me that makes her more than just a trigger-happy merc. There are many ways for a woman to be strong and Devi prides herself on her independence, physical strength and military expertise, and while she is aware of her own faults she is also not ashamed of them. It’s true she’s not always agreeable or makes the best choices, but that’s Devi for you. She knows what she wants and won’t let anyone get in the way…not even herself. I love the fact that the foundation of who she doesn’t actually change all that much throughout the course of the story, and instead she adapts to changes in order to make the best out of a situation.
But what I guess readers really want to know is if this was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, and I would say absolutely. If you’ve enjoyed the spirit and high-energy pacing of the previous books, you’ll likely enjoy Heaven’s Queen as well. The author pulls out all the stops for this one, with action scenes worthy of a summer Hollywood blockbuster as the line between friend and foe continues to be blurred and the last few chapters of this book are absolutely insane.
Not only are these books entertaining, they’re also super accessible and you definitely do not need to be a card-carrying reader of the sci-fi genre to appreciate the story. If you’re looking for an invigorating and adventurous read with plenty of excitement and some humor thrown in, I highly recommend these Paradox books. Checkmate! Don't ask me why I said that, it just seemed appropriate. ...more
So I don't usually read contemporary Young Adult, but when I saw the description for Second Star I was instantly intrigued. My tastes typically run towards speculative fiction, but I figured a reimagining of Peter Pan, one of my favorite fairy tales, is still close enough to be in my comfort zone. Then I heard there was also going to be a Peter, Wendy and Hook love triangle in it and ... well, okay, my curiosity just got the better of me.
I'm so glad I read this one, though. Speaking as someone who can count on one hand the number of contemporary YA books I read in the past year, I liked this one a lot more than I thought I would. But keep in mind, if you're looking for a story that stays true somewhat faithful to the Peter Pan mythos, you might not find it here. Second Star isn't so much a retelling but a complete reinterpretation, with a lot of elements that are only loosely based on the original classic.
Firstly, the characters are all surfers. Wendy Darling, newly graduated from high school, takes off on a search for her missing brothers John and Michael, twins who disappeared months ago, suspected to have drowned in a surfing accident off the coast of California. But Wendy believes they are still out there, and follows a series of clues to their whereabouts. Her search leads her to meet Pete, a mysterious boy who takes her to a secret cove called Kensington (presumably a reference to Kensington Gardens, where Lost Boys who fall out of prams when their nannies aren't looking are swept off to Neverland to live with Peter Pan) where he lives in an abandoned house with his gang of surfers, all young runaways and squatters who have no place else to go. One of Pete's constant companions is a quick, small and blond girl named Belle, who immediately dislikes Wendy out of jealousy, and is always trying to turn the other boys against her. On the other side of the beach lives Jas (a short form of James, as in James Hook) a surfer dude and drug dealer. Jas' peddling of a new drug called "fairy dust" had led to a falling out between him and Pete, and now the two are bitter enemies. Oh, and there's also a dive bar in this book called The Jolly Roger, described as "a bad scene".
There are tons of other little references like this, which are really fun to spot and to see the author spin the various elements of the fairy tale to make them fit in the story. The title Second Star and how that term was used in context is in itself one of the best examples. Of course, the only downside to a book like this is that the characters themselves are limited to an extent by their roles and archetypes in the original story. After all, you can try adding depth but only go so far before they become totally unrecognizable from the characters that inspired them, but I think for what she had to work with Sheinmel did a really good job putting her own flair and originality while staying as close as possible to the spirit of Peter Pan.
I also don't know much about the author, but I would not be surprised at all if she surfs. I thought the idea of using surfing as a metaphor for flying in this book was simply brilliant. Surf culture fits this story so well, and the way the author describes the feeling of being on the waves is so realistic and passionate, I can practically smell the salt water, suntan lotion and surfboard wax. The exhilaration that comes from riding a huge wave is so palpable I can see why Sheinmel chose to compare it to flight.
As always, there will be no spoilers in my reviews, but I just have to say the ending kept me awake for two hours even after I finished the book. I just couldn't get it out of my mind. I thought about the many ways one can analyze the story of Peter Pan and how J.M. Barrie himself had explained in the novel the nature of Neverland, a boundary-free and adventurous place in the minds of children that are never the same from one child to the next. In the end, I can't say the conclusion in Second Star was really what I wanted, but I suppose it was also very fitting.
This book was fun, but also poignant, which I did not expect. I don't regret picking it up....more
I wish I could say this book just wasn't for me because I'm not into YA paranormal romance, but that wouldn't be true. In fact, I quite enjoy this genre. Nothing beats a good love story for giving me all the warm and fuzzy feels, and the best ones do just that. On the flip side, however, there are books like Sweet Evil that somehow manage to diminish the mood by pushing all the wrong buttons. There were a couple things about it that I found off-putting, though I'm aware it's a matter of personal taste and that others might not feel the same way.
Unfortunately, the characters Anna and Kai too closely resemble a couple of my biggest pet peeves. Pet peeve the first: a weepy, insecure female protagonist. I have no problems with Anna being the living embodiment of goodness (in fact, I admire her all the more for it) but naivete and innocence does not have to translate to neediness, ceaseless pining, crying or completely falling to pieces over a guy. Especially when the guy in question has done so little to deserve such obsession. So many times I just wanted to shake her and ask her where she has misplaced her self-respect.
Which brings me to pet peeve the second: male love interests that are pure scum, just wrapped in a pretty package. Take away Kaidan's good looks and hot accent and all you'll have left is arrogance and patronizing smugness. I'm not even taking into account his (literal!) life's work to sleep with as many women as possible. Seeing as he is the half-human son of the Demon of Lust, I'll just let that one slide as an ingrained part of his nature. Still, regardless of whether he can help it or not, most sane people tend to find that sort of behavior repellent. So what does that say about Anna, who falls head over heels for this guy anyway?
All right, with that out of the way, now I can tell you about the things in the book that DID work for me. Sweet Evil offers an interesting take on angels and demons and how they interact with us mere mortals here on earth. It's a deliciously sordid affair involving the demons of sins/vices taking over the bodies of men in order to have children with human women, resulting in the half-demon sons and daughters called Nephilim. The intricate system and hierarchy of fallen angels described in this book shows that much care and effort was put into world building, proving Sweet Evil is not just about the romance, and that there is actually quite a lot of substance behind the story as well.
In spite of this, the plot flounders in many places for being too convenient and coincidental for my tastes, as in it's very obviously done for the sole purpose of forcing the characters right where the author wants them to be. Otherwise, you know there would be no story. For example, Anna's demon father who has been behind bars for the last sixteen years suddenly has a parole hearing coming up, well-timed to be just right after Anna meets him for the first time. And then, of course, there is Anna's mom Patti. What mother in her right mind would allow her teenage daughter to go on a road trip alone with a seventeen-year-old boy (son of the Demon of Lust, no less), just the two of them driving across the country and staying in hotels by themselves, to visit a total stranger in a penitentiary? That's just a little too hard to swallow.
I will give the story this, though: at no point did I want to stop reading. That I was going to see this whole thing through was always a foregone conclusion, despite the character flaws and the hitches and holes in the plot. I was entertained, even if I felt little sympathy for either Anna or Kaidan. Like I said, I had some pretty idiosyncratic reasons for why this book ultimately didn't work for me, but I can also see how other readers with a penchant for the young adult genre and paranormal romances may find plenty to like. ...more
You know how some books you just don't realize how addicted you were to them until it occurs to you how badly, desperately, severely you're craving the sequel? Yeah well, this is one of those cases! I even broke away from my February reading list to fit this one in as soon as I received it for review, because I knew I couldn't wait any longer.
I'm happy to report Honor's Knight is just as much fun as the first book. In that, it certainly did not disappoint. But speaking of which, before I go further it probably behooves me to warn readers that this review might contain spoilers for Fortune's Pawn. I don't think there's any way around it when talking about this book, since it picks up right after the events of the last one. So if you'd like to skip this and read my review for the first book instead, I'll totally understand. Better yet, you should just pick up Fortune's Pawn! It was the most fun I've had with a sci-fi in a very long time.
As I'd expected, it was a joy and a treat to catch up with Deviana "Devi" Morris. I've always enjoyed courageous and determined women characters in science fiction, and Devi lends her own brand of cool to this spirited space drama, which in my opinion single-handedly makes this whole entire series. Even though she begins this book with her mind tampered with and her memories wiped, she is still the Devi I know and love. She can't remember how her security team partner was killed or why a single glance at the ship's cook now makes her feel physically ill, but none of that's about to stop her from doing her job.
Nevertheless, the wrench thrown into the relationship between her and Rupert Charkov damn near killed me. These two belong together, and to see them apart pains me, especially when I understood the reason for Charkov's tortured reactions but meanwhile Devi can't even hold on to his name. Can you tell that I'm really into this romance? Because I am. I'm not usually so taken with this much drama in romantic subplots, but I think this an exception because of how candid Devi is with the situation. There's no angst or sensationalism; she handles all her problems with the same direct, no-nonsense way -- with her wits and with her guns. I love it.
If you enjoyed the story in Fortune's Pawn, then you'll definitely like Honor's Knight as well. The first book alluded to a mystery involving the crew of the Glorious Fool, and rest assured everything is revealed here at last. The story also takes us to new places, including a handful of exotic planets as well as a brief sequence in which Devi returns to Paradoxian territory. In fact, I wish we had been able to see more of the world in those scenes; more details about the culture in which she grew up would have been very interesting. Regardless, it was pure satisfaction to watch all the puzzle pieces finally fit together, but there were still plenty of twists and turns. Alliances will shift and secrets abound as Devi becomes embroiled in something huge, something that puts the safety of the entire galaxy on the line.
When Rachel Bach/Rachel Aaron goes for action and thrills, she's clearly not afraid to go all the way. So far this series has been wildly entertaining, but to me it has also become a lot more than just a sci-fi adventure story about Devi blowing away big bad aliens (though there is also plenty of that). Like I said in my review for Fortune's Pawn, what started off as a popcorn read has gotten me more emotionally invested than I realized, and I find myself caring deeply for the story and characters. Will Devi and Rupert end up together? (I hope so.) Will she achieve her dreams of becoming a Devastator? (I'm guessing probably, but after all that she's been through, a life as a Devastator now seems kind of tame!) I'm very curious and eager to see how all of this will play out.
In short, Honor's Knight picks up the energetic pace set by the first book and runs with it, carrying on with the momentum and revving it up even more. If this trend continues, the third and final book should be outstanding. I can't wait....more
Stolen Songbird was my top anticipated young adult novel coming out from Strange Chemistry this year, and I have to say all the lusting and the pining has been worth it. Author Danielle L. Jensen opens up a whole new world for readers who love magic, romance, and enchanted lands.
Buried deep within the Forsaken Mountain lies Trollus, a city forgotten by time. It is said that monstrous trolls live there, bound by a witch's curse. However, on the night before Cécile de Troyes is about to embark on her journey to become a famous singer, she is kidnapped and taken to Trollus, where she discovers there is far more to what she thinks she knows about the trolls and their city. For one thing, they're not all hideous monsters. The troll prince she is supposed to marry is actually pretty good looking! But one thing the legends got right is that trolls are talented magic users -- the more pure their blood is, the stronger their ability. Even all the magic in Trollus cannot break the curse and set the trolls free, however. Cécile and Prince Tristan's union was supposed to be the key, but the plan ends up failing, leaving Cécile a prisoner in Trollus, biding her time and waiting for the perfect moment to escape.
But over the weeks, Cécile inevitably falls for Tristan. How I just loved the way their relationship developed! Instead of the usual formula of treating each other horribly but then falling head over heels in love anyway (a trope which is a big pet peeve of mine), Cécile finds out that the prince really isn't such a bad troll after all. In fact, he's secretly championing the rights of the half-bloods, who are part troll and part human, treated as nothing more than slaves and property by the arrogant pure-bloods. So while Cécile and Tristan may at each other's throats in public, it's actually all a part of a brilliant plan they've hatched up to throw off suspicion. What a delightful little twist to the usual YA romance.
The story also has just enough of that "Forbidden Love" vibe to it so that I just can't help myself. I like romances a lot more when they are hindered by outside forces rather than internal ones like misunderstandings between the lovers (Tristan and Cécile aren't completely innocent of this, but at least it was kept to a minimum) and the relationships usually emerge stronger and more compelling to me. Of course, the author also leaves their relationship mercilessly hanging in the first book, making you wonder what will become of the hero and heroine, but this meant she succeeded in building a lot of interest in these two characters.
There are also plenty of little surprises all over this book. One thing that is sort of a "twist", but not really -- and I'm sorry if I'm being vague but I think it would be best if it comes as a surprise to others the same way it did for me -- is the nature of the trolls.
It did occur to me as I was making my way through the story to wonder the creatures are called trolls in the first place. They are smart, quick, have super strength and magic powers, but apart from a few exceptions in the royal family, they appear mostly human. And that's when the author began to drop certain clues and I had one of those "AHA!" moments where I realized where she's going with all this. Well played, Ms. Jensen, well played! Like I said, I don't think it's meant to be some big twist because once you start catching the hints it becomes pretty obvious what she has in mind, but in that moment of clarity I started to get really excited about the future of this series.
In fact, Stolen Songbird is an excellent start all around, the first of a trilogy that builds a good framework and promises even bigger things to come. I would like to know what happens to Tristan and Cécile, but I'm especially pumped for more about the troll origins story. It goes without saying, I'm all in for book two!...more
Behold, the Young Adult sequel. This is where the real test is for me. First books of a series have the advantage of being new and shiny, and I can usually be won over by the prospect of exploring a brand new world full of fresh and interesting ideas. Second books admittedly have to work a little harder, not only because my expectations are higher now, but also because so many sequel plots invariably end up falling into a very predictable pattern.
So how does Crown of Midnight stack up? Well, in a nutshell, I can’t say it wowed me, and I probably liked it less than the first book. That being said though, I think it’s better than a lot of YA sequels, and despite the shameless rehashing of some of the same tired old tropes, there were still a couple of big surprises that kept the story entertaining.
The bottom line is, I am so done with YA romances. Girl meets boy, and if by book two they haven’t fallen in love already, this is where they will do so. Then invariably, boy will go and do something incredibly dumb – the result of a momentary lapse of judgment or just a gross failure of miscommunication – which causes girl to go ballistic on boy, throwing the entire future of their relationship in question, thereby also keeping the tension of a possible love triangle alive for just teensy bit longer. I can effortlessly name a handful of YA series that follow this pattern just off the top of my head, so I wasn’t surprised to see Crown of Midnight follow suit. Overused formulas suck. They have turned the romantic aspect into the weakest part the book. Nothing kills my enthusiasm and interest in the characters faster. And unfortunately, the book spends way too much time trying to shove the drama of Celaena and Chaol’s relationship down my throat. Maybe I’m just a bitter, jaded curmudgeon, but I just can’t find it in myself to care about such an artificial pairing.
But that’s my rant and the last of the negativity you’ll hear from me. Apart from my issues with the romance, Crown of Midnight was actually a pretty good book. Celaena has won the contest and become the king’s Champion and assassin, but instead of carrying out the king’s orders, she finds increasingly more ways to secretly fight back against his evil will, letting her intended victims go instead (ever notice how YA assassin characters actually do very little killing?) It was a relatively slow plod through the first half of the book, but once you get past this stage with its many clichés and run-of-the-mill romance, things will start to pick up.
I have to say, the plot elements in the later parts saved this book for me. The structure of the story remains somewhat predictable, but it always impresses me to see all the amazing things a writer can do while staying within a certain framework. The second half of the Crown of Midnight becomes a lot more bold and daring, which are certainly qualities I admire in a YA novel. There were a couple of unexpected developments, darker places I didn’t think the book would go. Once the pesky romance was out of the way, you started to get a lot less fluff and a lot more substance. Sarah J. Maas seriously ups her game, building up her world by weaving history and lore and magic into the story, dialing up the intrigue and mystery.
So all right then, sign me up for the third book. Despite a shaky start to this sequel, Maas has built something worthy of continuing with here, and has done some incredible things with her main character. I probably won’t hold my breath for the romantic aspect to improve, but thank goodness there’s so much more to like about this story. It’s definitely going places (literally!) and I look forward to visiting a new setting in the next installment as well as seeing the outcomes of several massive revelations....more