Forest of Ruin picks up where Empire of Night left off: the empire is on the verge of war, Moria and AshynOriginally reviewed at The Book Adventures.
Forest of Ruin picks up where Empire of Night left off: the empire is on the verge of war, Moria and Ashyn are separated and those that they care about are in imminent danger. Having LOVED Empire of Night, I anxiously awaited getting my hands on the final book of the Age of Legends trilogy. Did Forest of Ruin live up to my expectations? Well…no, no, it did not.
As soon as I cracked open Forest of Ruin it seemed that something was different. The tone seemed off and everything I liked about the second book seemed to not work for this time around. What I loved about Empire of Night was the author’s use of multiple perspectives. Both Ashyn and Moira get equal page time and readers are immersed into the twin’s perspectives and their very different personalities. I really appreciated this narrative style in the first two books, but I didn’t find either sister that interesting this time around. For me, the problem lays in the fact that Ashyn and Moira didn’t really seem to change that much in the final book. Ashyn continued to be reserved yet quietly strong, and Moira continues to be brash and impulsive. There was very little progression in either girl’s character development that reading their separate narrative felt like a re-hashing of Empire of Night.
Another disappointment for me was the depiction of the Ashyn and Moira’s relationship. These sisters are purportedly close despite their differences. However, for the majority of Forest of Ruin Ashyn and Moira were separated and when they do come together there is very little evidence of their bond. Rather, readers are told that they have a bond but readers never really see that bond in action, just several moments where the sisters get together for “girl talk”. Personally, I was hoping for a more complex relationship between the sisters. Instead, readers are treated to each sister’s focus on their respective romance.
I’m not usually a reader to complain about the romance plot, but again I felt the romance, like the character development, was rather lackluster in Forest of Ruin. The budding romance between Moira and Tyrus and Ashyn and Ronan was fantastically depicted in Empire of Night, yet when it came to book three, the charm of those romances seemed to fade. Again, the same romantic difficulties that were apparent in Empires of Night were once again explored and little new ground was covered, simply a resolution was put forth by the end.
Due to repetitive nature of the final book in the trilogy, I felt that Forest of Ruin was kind of an unnecessary conclusion. Yes, the greater conflict involving Alvar Kitsune needed to be addressed, but when it came to the lives of the characters themselves, little new ground was broken making for a somewhat tedious read....more
Vienna Waltz is a historical mystery set at the Congress of Vienna in November 1814. Our principle investigators are married duo Malcolm and Suzanne RVienna Waltz is a historical mystery set at the Congress of Vienna in November 1814. Our principle investigators are married duo Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch. Malcolm is part of the British convoy of diplomats attending the Congress with Lord Castlereagh; he’s part attaché and part spy. Suzanne has her own skill set and proves to be a valuable asset when Princess Tatiana, a woman rumoured to be the mistress of some of the most powerful men at the Congress, is found murdered.
Teresa (a.k.a. Tracy) Grant has been on my radar for a long while; however, I’ve always been hesitant to pick up the series since it has a very strange publication order. Originally, the series began with Malcolm and Suzanne as Charles and Melanie Fraser. Later, the author changed publishers and the characters changed into their existing form. Basically what I was worried about is how exactly I should read these books. Luckily, the author has shared a handy guide on her website and gives readers a recommended reading order. It’s this reading order that I’ve decided to go with.
Malcolm and Suzanne have been married for two years. They originally met in Spain during the war and Malcolm offered Suzanne marriage as she had lost all her family due to war (and was inconveniently pregnant and unmarried). Thus, the marriage can be seen as one of convenience; however, it’s clear immediately in Vienna Waltz that there are some finer feelings between Malcolm and Suzanne, which is further complicated due to Suzanne’s own mysterious past. If you want to know more about how their marriage came about, I urge you to read the prequel novella, His Spanish Bride.
In Vienna Waltz, Malcolm and Suzanne’s new marriage is tested when Suzanne finds Malcolm standing over the body of Princess Tatiana. Are the rumours in Vienna true? Is Tatiana Malcolm’s mistress? Exactly the kind of rumours that a new bride, who isn’t entirely sure of her husband to begin with, wants to hear. Despite finding Malcolm in such a compromising position, Suzanne decides to lend her support and assists Malcolm in his government-sanctioned investigation. Soon the pair are tracking down Tatiana’s blackmail victims and discovering an assassination plot. Are the two linked and can the mystery be solved without turning into an international incident? Considering that Malcolm’s a spy, I think we can safely assume that he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve.
Vienna Waltz turned out to be an outstanding read and I loved the even-handed balance between the mystery, historical detail, and character development. Despite being on the lengthier side, Vienna Waltz never dragged and I never felt that a piece of the puzzle was missing. All too often in the mystery genre do I find that the mystery is developed at the expense of the characters solving in. This is not the case in here. Yes, the details are sparse; Malcolm and Suzanne are both mysterious and clearly keeping many secrets from each other. If you read His Spanish Bride you will instantly know the big one about Suzanne that I’m referring to. I really liked how these two characters are still feeling each other out in their early marriage. They also have a young son, Colin, who they both dote on, but when it comes to each other they both show caution. It’s a relationship that can be richly developed in a series and it stands out as the main attraction for me to keep reading. I can only assume that Malcolm and Suzanne will have their ups and downs as their secrets become revealed, and I have to say that I can't wait to find out how all of this plays out. There are some pretty heavy implications to the secrets that Suzanne in particular is keeping.
What I was also surprised to really like was the author’s choice to include the perspectives of additional characters (historical and fictitious) involved in the mystery. I wouldn’t have thought this would have been a smart move and it could have bogged down the narrative, but what I really liked was the focus on those characters’ emotional state. For example, readers see what life for Tsarina Elisabeth is like; the mistakes of her past; her longing for a former lover. This added such an interesting and intimate quality that created an unexpected dimension to the mystery. Considering the number of suspects involved in the murder, it was useful to get an understanding of their motivations and feelings when choosing to make a specific action.
Vienna Waltz was a very good book. The historical detail was fabulous, the mystery filled with political ramifications, and the investigative duo were outstanding and complex. I'm only able to stop myself from starting the next book in the series to write a review; I doubt I'll be writing reviews for the next installments - I'll be too busy binge reading!
I wasn’t really sure what to expect with Rebel of the Sands. Basically, the whole idea of a YA novel being Originally reviewed at The Book Adventures.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect with Rebel of the Sands. Basically, the whole idea of a YA novel being set in the desert hooked me as did a gun-toting young heroine. I was not disappointed.
Sixteen-year-old Amani is out of options. After overhearing her aunt and uncle discuss their marriage plans for her, Amani desperation transforms into action. When she inadvertently teams up with a handsome foreigner, Jin, Amani finds herself on the adventure of a lifetime and swept up into a rebellion.
Rebel of the Sands is everything that I love in a YA fantasy. There’s adventure, magical and mythical beings, and romance. Rebel of Sands was just plain fun. There was a lot to like in Rebel of Sands, but what I think appealed to me as a reader was the theme of storytelling and its power to transform and shape the future.
Amani’s life has been grounded in stories. Her mother told her tales about the city of Izman and she’s grown up hearing about the First Beings; mythical creatures that have disappeared from Dustwalk. These stories influence Amani, filling her with a sense of yearning for something more than a future marriage. The adventure that Amani embarks on truly shows her the power of those words. First, there’s the idea behind the story; what that story represents:
I’d never thought about whether I believed in God. I believed in the stories in the Holy Books the same way I believed in the stories of the First Mortal or Rebel Prince Ahmed. It never mattered to me if they were true. They had enough truth of greater ideas, of heroes and sacrifice and the things everybody wanted (p. 138).
This concept of story is passive. It’s the interpretation of the reader who prescribes the meaning of the words that they read. For Amani those stories are inspiring because they show her “greater ideas” that she can reach for. And then there’s the realization that these stories mean something to different people. What is a story to Amani is reality for the person that lived through it:
The Sultan’s pretty young wife from the story. The one who was beaten to death for giving birth to Delila. She’d been a few words in the tale of the Rebel Prince to me. But she’d been flesh and blood to Ahmed (p. 204).
Now it is Amani’s turn to become part of the story. Amani is no longer reader but storyteller. And considering Amani’s nature, her words have power:
The second I’d forced the words out of my mouth, they were true. With Bahi’s warning I’d thought it would feel different. That power would surge out of me as I felt my words rearrange the universe to make Shazad safe. But that was the danger. They were just words. They slipped out easily. Like any other words (p. 260).
The power that Amani wields with her words is without question, yet it doesn’t require a powerful individual to create the story. It’s interesting that the author chose to give Amani real power in words. Amani is not necessarily a master storyteller, influencing others with her words; rather, her words become truth in reality. Amani transforms from listener to storyteller, shifting from a character that has things happen to her to a character can shape not only her own future but the future of others. While Rebel of the Sands is a fast-paced adventure and a lot of fun, it is how the author played with the concept of story that made this something special and a read that stands out from the crowded YA arena.
Now that I’ve gotten that seriousness over with, it’s time to emphasize the fun. Rebel of the Sands was an adventure. Amani and Jin are basically on the run from the get-go, trading barbs, running from the military, and dodging bullets. If you’re at all a fan of adventure tales, you will adore Rebel of the Sands.
The romance was also really well done. I wouldn’t say that romance is the main purpose of Rebel of the Sands; there is a rebellion happening and Amani does find herself in the middle of it. That said, the romance that is there is pretty freaking fantastic. I loved the dynamic between Amani and Jin. They had their sweet moments, but they also had their moments of hilarity and anamosity:
“You all right” Jin was watching me, clutching his side. “Amani?”
The way he said my name on a long exhale set me off like a spark in a powder keg. I swung my fist, straight for his face.
Jin grabbed my wrist before my knuckles could get flirting distance from his nose. He pulled me into him, knocking me off balance.
“Here’s a tip for you.” He was close to me now, close as he had been when he kissed me, or when I kissed him. “Don’t try to hit a man in the face when he’s looking straight into your eyes. You’ve got traitor eyes, Bandit.”
I drove my fist into his gut hard enough that my knuckles popped. Jin doubled over, coughing. “Thanks for the tip.” (p. 119).
Amani and Jin were great characters and the dynamic between them was fun and entertaining. Of course, since this story is through Amani’s eyes, readers get to know her best. I loved that Amani was both naïve and unworldly and sarcastic and tough. Amani was a multi-faceted character and I can’t wait to read more about her adventure. I’m ready for the next book, please....more
When I heard about Melissa Lander’s Starflight I was pretty darn excited. I am Originally reviewed at The Book Adventures.
Space adventure? Count me in!
When I heard about Melissa Lander’s Starflight I was pretty darn excited. I am a huge fan of anything set in space and if there isn’t an over abundance of science-y things, that makes things even better (for me, at least). Facts matter not! Starflight was a fun, space-set adventure, perfect for readers looking for something fast-paced and entertaining.
Solara Brooks is a young woman with a past. She’s branded as a criminal and because of that she can’t get a job. Desperate times call for desperate measures and Solara indentures herself to former classmate, Doran Spaulding, so that she can get passage aboard a ship. Doran had made Solara’s high school life…not pleasant and doesn’t do much better now that she’s working for him (and I do mean that she works, she’s doing his laundry, fetching his meals etc. I thought the whole servant thing would be more problematic than it was). Of course, the tide turns when Doran’s framed for a crime he didn’t commit and now has to rely on the very woman that he’d rather ignore. Space adventure gone sideways.
What I liked about Starflight is that it was exactly what it claimed to be. It was a adventurous romance. There was a lot of action, space chases, but there was equally a lot of emphasis on the romance between Solara and Doran. Now, for those who feel some trepidation about a romance between two characters where one is so obviously in a position of vulnerability (Solara is Doran’s servant after all), I don't think you need to be concerned. The idea that Solara is Doran’s servant and therefore bound to his authority made me a tad nervous, especially because I knew romance between them was going to be a big part of the book. There was potential for this to really, really not work. While I didn't think the potential power disparity between Solara and Doran was fully explored in Starflight, I still enjoyed the book. Doran treated Solara like crap when she was working for him, but he didn’t cross the moral Rubicon. That said, I couldn’t help but think of the possibilities of what could happen to someone like Solara in this situation and the potential for gross abuse if she had indentured herself to someone else. So, I think some readers might need to suspend some belief when it comes to this whole indentured servitude thing.
The thorny issue of class and unequal power aside, the romance between Solara and Doran was a lot of fun. These two hated each other and they both made it very clear. Solara even gets the chance for Doran to act as her servant, which I think helped to balance out their initial uneven status. Being forced to work together, made both Solara and Doran realize new things about each other, making them see each other in a new light. The tried and true enemies-to-lovers trope is in action and doing well in Starflight.
The only other niggle I have about Starflight is that I personally found it really long. While the action and adventure element had a lot of appeal, at times, I found it made for a lengthy read. There was a lot of stuff going on in Starflight, a lot of stuff that Solara and Doran find themselves involved them. I didn’t always find this to be effective, but it will likely appeal to readers that enjoy heavy plotting. And, it sets up book two very nicely.
For a sci-fic adventure/romance, Starflight accomplishes the job. The characters were engaging, the romance was mature for a YA book, and it was all-in-all a fun read. I need more space adventures in my life!...more
Clockwork Samurai is the second in Jeannie Lin's Gunpowder Chronicles. I really enjoyed the first book, steampunk fan that I am so I was thrilled to gClockwork Samurai is the second in Jeannie Lin's Gunpowder Chronicles. I really enjoyed the first book, steampunk fan that I am so I was thrilled to get my hands on an advance copy of the next installment.
Clockwork Samurai takes place a year after the events in book one; Soling is working as a physician and has attracted the notice of the drug addicted Emperor. Chang-wei continues to work with the Ministry of Engineering and to encourage the Emperor to consider an alliance with the Japanese. When the Emperor agrees, Chang-wei embarks on a covert assignment in Japan to seek out a man that Soling's father was in contact with before his death. Seeking to escape the politics of court, Soling accompanies Chang-wei, much to his chagrin.
Clockwork Samurai is filled with adventure. Japan has isolated itself from China and it's an adventure in and of itself for Chang-wei and Soling to even get to Japan. When they do arrive in the Chinese quarter it's another battle for them to actually leave this confined area and find the man that was willing to make an alliance with the Chinese. If you're a fan of adventure stories you will not be disappointed with this aspect of the story. There is a huge emphasis on action and adventure and readers get to explore this clockwork Japan, which does include clockwork samurais (very cool). Admittedly, I found all these steampunk elements to be awesome, but what was less awesome was the romance.
In the first book, I was okay with the romance between Soling and Chang-wei being pretty minor. The restraint between these two leads was refreshing. This time around, I was much less patient. It's been a year since the events of the first book. A year! And absolutely nothing is different between Soling and Chang-wei. They've barely spoken for the entire year since they are working in separate parts of the palace and when they do it's like the events of the previous book never happened. There is zero passion between this couple. The subdued nature of the first book worked well, but there wasn't a lot of momentum forward in this relationship in the second book. I was hoping for a whole lot more in book two and I was grossly disappointed with Clockwork Samurai on the romance front.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the relationship between Soling and Chang-wei, I have to admit that I did really appreciate how the author added some much needed tension between the pair. I like that Soling is confused by Chang-wei's defense of Western ideals and how she stands up for herself when Chang-wei is dismissive of her own less scientific practice of medicine. This conflict was integrated really well into the book and reflected the larger conflict in the book, which is the influence of the Western world and the Emperor's motivation to stem the tide. For me, this conflict between Soling and Chang-wei really saved this second book from becoming too boring. Yes, adventure was there, but since I'm more of a character-driven reader, I did find the emphasis on action and events to be rather dull. Couple this with the absolute glacial pace of Soling and Chang-wei's relationship, and I was rather disappointed in the whole book. Only the tension between Soling and Chang-wei's personal viewpoints on their country's involvement with the West kept me interested and it is exactly this that will keep me interested enough to read the follow-up.
So, while I didn't love Clockwork Samurai it did have some redeeming qualities. I wouldn't recommend it for romance readers, since this was a disappointing read in that respect. I would, however, recommend this to fans who prefer an action-driven read featuring a setting that is pretty unique in the steampunk genre. The Asian setting and the clockwork technology were all aspects that continue to interest me; it's the romance that needs to perk up.
For the second installment of Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy, readers are introduced to a new and forOriginally reviewed at The Book Adventures.
For the second installment of Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy, readers are introduced to a new and formidable character, Thorn Bathu. Thorn is the only young woman training to become a warrior, hoping to avenge the death of her father. When she accidentally kills a man during training, her death appears imminent. However, Father Yarvi swoops in and saves the day, but not without his own ulterior motives. Anyone who’s read book one will remember that Yarvi is a manipulative young man, and that certainly hasn’t changed in book two.
Accompanying Thorn on her travels with Father Yarvi is Brand, a young warrior that was left behind for speaking out. Of course, like Thorn, Brand also has his uses in Yarvi’s plans…
Half the World is the middle book of a trilogy and while it certainly sets the stage for the final battle, this one stands strongly on its own. What makes this one work so well is that it introduces readers to new characters. Thorn and Brand are both caught up in Father Yarvi’s schemes but this only plays a small part in Half the World. Rather, with Thorn and Brand we dive into the murky waters of what makes a hero. Like Abercrombie’s other novels, using such labels as “heroic” are quickly muddied since to be a hero means many things. As always, this look at the harsh reality of violence is much appreciated.
Both Thorn and Brand were interesting characters. Thorn was the strong, violent warrior and it’s Brand that’s ruled more by his conscious. However, both characters are more than they appear. Thorn for all her outward confidence and bloodthirsty nature, is just as vulnerable as others:
She was a killer, that there was no denying.
She hunched over as if she’d been punched in the guts and coughed thin puke into the grass, straightened shivering, and staring, with the world too bright and her knees all a-wobble and her eyes swimming.
She was a killer. And she wanted her mother (p. 155).
And Brand, for all his outward weaknesses, fears and seeming dullness, was strong in his convictions. He didn’t always do the right thing, but when push came to shove, he refused to back down.
The contrast between Thorn and Brand was obvious, and it added to the exploration of what it means to be a hero, a question that was asked throughout the book. Thorn and Brand both offer different aspects of the heroic, neither are conventional but it makes for an engaging and compelling story.
What I also thought was well executed was the use of multiple perspectives in Half the World. Instead of focusing on Yarvi, the central character of book one, readers are given two new characters: Thorn and Brand. The use of new characters added so much more to this trilogy, adding layers to an already complex world. Abercrombie excels at using multiple perspectives and this is no different in Half the World. In some fantasy books the use of a slew of characters can be confusing, but I thought this was handled extremely well in Half a World. Thorn and Brand offered up different parts of the story, making for a richer exploration of the larger conflict that is happening in Abercrombie’s world.
Half the World was an excellent book on it’s own and outstanding middle book to a trilogy. So often the middle book to a trilogy falls flat and this was not the cause in Half the World. I think I might even like Half the World better than the first, in part, due to the fact that it focused more on the characters than the larger conflict. I can only assume that the strong writing and characterization continues in the final book. ...more
I discovered this little gem of a book while I was doing a little bit of weeding at my library. It’s always fun discovering a new author serendipitousI discovered this little gem of a book while I was doing a little bit of weeding at my library. It’s always fun discovering a new author serendipitously and this one was a delightful surprise. The Book of True Desires was an absolute hoot. This was a tale of adventure and romance, and my absolute favourite part, how about a butler for the hero?
Cordelia O’Keefe is your average lady Indiana Jones (quite a feat in 1898) and is hoping to be off on a new adventure; however, this time she wants the support of her estranged grandfather. Cordelia’s grandfather isn’t exactly thrilled to see his granddaughter, he disowned his son when he married Cordelia’s mother. That said, the grandfather is a manipulative old coot and decides that if Cordelia wants his money she’s going to have to earn it. Only by locating the Mayan “Gift of the Jaguar” will Cordelia receive a penny, and she’ll have to take along her grandfather’s surly, proper, British butler to serve as financier.
Hartford Goodnight is not your average butler. He’s disrespectful, grumpy, and altogether too stuffy to be off on a jungle adventure. However, his employer dangles his freedom: find the cure for his gout and Hart will be released from his indenture. Now if only that woman weren’t leading the expedition.
The Book of True Desires was a fantastic adventure novel that moves from Tampa to Cuba and finally to Mexico. It was so entertaining to see Cordelia and Hart deal with one another throughout their adventure. Cordelia was an unlikely heroine. She wasn’t the meek and innocent miss that you associate with historical romance; she was smart and courageous and determined to make her own path in the world. Cordelia has been traveling for years and her adventures have graced the pages of famous magazines. It was utterly hysterical watching Hart deal with her “antics” and his constant shock at her actions:
“Try slouching a bit, will you?” she hissed. “You’re drawing attention.” “Well, excuse me” – he stretched a defiant bit taller – “but my height is not exactly within my control.” “You stick out like a sore thumb. If the soldiers stop you and find you’re carrying a pistol, they’ll arrest you.” “A pistol?” He gave a “tsk”. “It so happens, I’m not carrying a gun.” The news, delivered in his customary tight-jawed tones, rasped her last intact nerve. It was all she could do to keep from punching him. “Then it’s a good thing I am.” Hart stood immobilized, watching her head for the stone arch visible at the end of the street, grappling with the twin realizations that she had been serious in her suggestion that he carry a loaded firearm in the streets and that she was actually carrying one herself, somewhere on her person. He had difficulty swallowing. As if she weren’t already dangerous enough. (p. 57-58).
Hart, for his part, is rather ill-equipped for his jaunt in the jungle. Instead of the helpless female that you expect in the romance genre, you get the helpless butler/chemist/indentured servant. Hart does not adapt to jungle living quickly, he does not like the heat and he’s sea sick every time they board a boat. Quite frankly, it was refreshing to see a hero in this more secondary role and kind of unexpected in a romance novel that I would have labeled “old school” based on the horrible cover alone. But the real treat of Hart’s character is his journal recording their travel expenses; it’s that and more. In this journal readers are privy to Hart’s thoughts on the jungle, the expedition and Cordelia herself – they were highly entertaining, sarcastic comments abound.
January 24, Day 4
Bathing water for three: $2.00. Afternoon tea: $1.50. Dinner: ?
Found the university. Entire place could use a coat of paint. Found Arturo Valiente. More like a waiter than a professor, the way he dishes it up. Wretch pointed out there was a cat head in the drawings – DO SAY – then announced he was coming along to look for it. Tried in vain to get O’Keefe to see what a bad idea that is. He took us to a restaurant, fed us stuff that turned my mouth inside out, and introduced us to a Yank on the government’s enemy list. Place was raided by government soldiers.
Blasted woman really does carry a firearm – strapped to her thigh! Just yanked up her skirts and hauled the damned thing out!! I nearly had a heart attack. God help me – every time I close my eyes for the next month I’m going to see her naked leg (p. 75-76).
With asides like these, how can you not be entertained by this book? Seriously, if you in the mood for a great adventure story, you cannot go wrong with The Book of True Desires.
And on that note I simply have to mention the title. I have no idea how it relates to the book, which is my only gripe about the book. The title really doesn’t reflect the story at all. While I assume the title refers to Hart’s journal, I still think it could have been more aptly named.
The Book of True Desires was a book of pure escapism and one I would recommend if your looking for a romance with a heavy dose of armchair travel. I can't wait to check out Krahn's other adventure novel, The Book of Seven Delights (sounds like another bad title?).
Before the Thorskards came to Trondheim, we didn't have a permanent dragon slayer. When a dragon attacked, you had to petition town hall (assuming itBefore the Thorskards came to Trondheim, we didn't have a permanent dragon slayer. When a dragon attacked, you had to petition town hall (assuming it wasn't on fire), and they would send to Toronto (assuming the phone lines weren't on fire), and Queen's Park would send out one of the government dragon slayers (assuming nothing in Toronto was on fire). By the time the dragon slayer arrived, anything not already lit on fire in the original attack would be, and whether the dragon was eventually slayed or not, we'd be struck with reconstruction. Again.
Needless to say, when it was announced that Lottie Thorskard was moving to town permanently, it was like freaking Mardi Gras (p. 1).
The Story of Owen is an absolutely brilliant YA fantasy. It was smart, original, and entertaining and leaves you looking for more from bard-in-training,
, and her dragon slayer, Owen Thorskard.
Siobhan is your average high school student. She gets good grades and is intent in her focus on music composition, determined to get into a good musical school. However, all of Siobhan's career aspirations change when her rural town of Trondheim gets it's very own dragon slayer.
Owen Thorskard's very famous family has moved to Trondhiem following his aunt's retirement. Officially, it's Owen's father that is the town's dragon slayer, but really it's a family affair. Of course, the arrival of the Thorskards in Trondheim has the small rural community in an uproar. Siobhan doesn't expect to be involved in any of it, but all that changes when she happens to meet Owen on his first day at her high school. Suddenly Siobhan finds herself right in the middle of dragon slaying with her very own job to do. Siobhan is called to be Owen's bard, the teller of his heroic feats. But there's much more to it that simply telling a good yarn, Siobhan has also been recruited because of Owen's aunt's determination to change the world of dragon slaying. They want to return to the ways of old, move away from the commercialized and privatized career that dragon slaying has become.
Of course Siobhan's role in changing the face of dragon slaying arrives sooner than expected when Trondhiem is plagued by an increased number of dragon attacks. Owen has to step up to the plate as a dragon slayer much sooner than expected, bringing Siobhan along on this adventure.
I was completely blown away by The Story of Owen. This was an amazing story. It was fun, unique and downright smart. The first thing that caught my attention was the world that Johnston has created. In this version of Canada dragons just are. Dragons are a part of daily life and have been forever. This has impacted industry, historical events, everything down the daily lives of those that co-exist alongside these dragons. This is why dragon slayers are needed. They protect those that cannot fight off the dragons. However, over the years the position of dragon slayer has become privatized. Dragon slayers no longer simply protect their hometown, they are required to enlist with the Oil Watch and are paid big bucks to protect what they're told to. This means many small towns, like Trondhiem, are left unprotected by dragon attacks because they cannot afford to provide the same financial incentives as larger cities and corporations. Me thinks it's quite significant that dragon slayers are employed by the Oil Watch. Could this perhaps be a comment on current events? Yes, I think so.
I loved how Johnston created a rich fantasy world. Current and historical events were blended together so well with the addition of dragons, it was impossible not to see the larger social commentary that was being made (i.e. privatization, commercialization). What makes this a particularly strong book is that something is being said about the world, but the book still remains a fun and fast-paced read.
In addition to the fact that The Story of Owen is more than a simple story, the style of the story and the characters that exist in it are also well crafted. The entire book is narrated by Siobhan in her role as Owen's bard. She is recounting events after the fact but this doesn't lessen the action that is happening. This style of narration also allows for Siobhan to unravel for the readers the world in which dragons exist. It was a different style of narration, Siobhan is "speaking" directly with readers, but it was engaging and refreshing.
The characters of Siobhan and Owen are also what makes the story. Given the title and the subject you'd assume that Owen is the hero, and to an extent he is. He's not the expected hero. Siobhan originally describes him as a bit scrawny and he's not particularly good at school. But I loved the fact that Owen wasn't the expected hero, it once again highlighted the fact that The Story of Owen was something a little different. While Owen is the dragon slayer, I think you can also argue that it is Siobhan who is the real hero of The Story of Owen. It's her story after all, she's the storyteller, without her there would be no story. And while Siobhan is no dragon slayer, she is a dedicated friend to Owen and makes some hard choices because of that. I love that being a bard becomes Siobhan's vocation. It's more than a lark to her, it becomes a career choice and that dedication means Siobhan is forced to make sacrifices for it.
The Story of Owen was such a unique reading experience. It was different from all the romance-infused YA that's out right now (not that I have a problem with those kinds of books) and I think that it will appeal to a wide audience. The fact that this is a thought-provoking read and it's Canadian connection wins a lot of points with me. I'm left wanting more and I can't wait to read it's sequel, Prairie Fire.
A Scandal to Remember was an adorable little read featuring a very sweet romance between a smitten, yet gruff hero and a not-so prim spinster.
Jane BurA Scandal to Remember was an adorable little read featuring a very sweet romance between a smitten, yet gruff hero and a not-so prim spinster.
Jane Burke has long stood in the shadow of her father's career. She's an accomplished scientist on her own, but her father has always taken the credit for her work. At twenty-six, Jane has had enough; she wants to be known for her own accomplishments. To achieve these career aspirations, Jane finds herself aboard the Tenacious as the lady scientist for an expedition. The other members of the team, and those who staff the ship, are not thrilled to have a woman aboard, but Jane will be damned if she'll let anything or anyone stand her in way.
Lieutenant Charles Dance is also a new arrival to the Tenacious and he's gotten more work than he bargained for. It was supposed to be an easy appointment, and it's turned into anything but. The captain is a reclusive drunk and the majority of the crew panders to the conniving bosun, Mr. Ransome. Dance doesn't have a problem taking Jane aboard, but he doesn't have time to deal with the distraction of this prim-and-proper spinster who has a fascination with shells. But it seems that Dance simply cannot help himself. A Scandal to Remember was a nice, quiet, sweet read. If you're going into this one expecting high-seas adventure, you might be disappointed. While adventure does happen, the bulk of this novel focuses on the budding relationship between Jane and Dance. What's great about this relationship is how attuned each were to one another as well as to themselves. There were multiple instances when the reader is treated to the internal thoughts and happenings of Dance and Jane, and it was clear that they knew themselves and in turn, recognized a bond with the other. Jane in particular was an interesting character. She had been complacent for most of her life, but joining this expedition was her way of breaking out of her shell. She wanted to be something more. She knew it would be a challenge for her, and she did it anyway. Having such self-assured main characters was an interesting change from the usual romances that I read, but it was a nice and contributed to a less muddled and less angst ridden narrative.
What I thought was particularly sweet about the romance was how quickly Dance was smitten with Jane. From the first, he liked and respected Jane. But what made it so sweet was the fact that Dance was a gruff, rough-around-the-edges kind of character. He swore all the time, but then he would think such adorably endearing things:
He had to do better. He had to be more equitable. Because Jane Burke was counting on him. And she was still holding his hand. And he liked it (p. 193).
A hero that's empowered by holding someone's hand? Kinda sigh-worthy.
Arguably, the romance may have been a little over the top with the sweetness factor, but I honestly didn't find it a detriment. Sometimes you just need a really cute read and I found and appreciated that in A Scandal to Remember.
What I was somewhat disappointed about was the short span of time that Dance and Jane spent on a deserted island. The book blurb promised me a desert island and I wanted this element of adventure. While getting stranded certainly did happen, it didn't happen until after the half way mark, and it didn't really become a major part of the book, other than serve as a means to get the hero and heroine alone (if you know what I mean ;) ).
Ultimately, A Scandal to Remember is the perfect pick for readers who enjoy characters that are attuned to themselves. It's a lovely, sweet story of two characters thrust into roles that they would have not originally pursued and come out stronger because of it.
“Follow my lead, Miss Rook,” Jackaby said, rapping on the ornately trimmed door to 1206 Campbell Street. Were my employer a standard private investiga“Follow my lead, Miss Rook,” Jackaby said, rapping on the ornately trimmed door to 1206 Campbell Street. Were my employer a standard private investigator, those might have been simple instructions, but in the time I’ve been his assistant, I’ve found very little about Jackaby to be standard. Following his lead tends to call for a somewhat flexible relationship with reality. (p. 10)
After successfully solving the case in the previous book, Jackaby and Miss Rook are called upon to investigate the theft of a dinosaur head at a nearby dig in Gad’s Valley. Abigail, who once dreamed of being a paleontologist, is thrilled to be near an exciting new discovery. However, it soon becomes clear that this is no ordinary dinosaur. Something supernatural is disturbing the site and once again Jackaby and Abigail are on the case, aided by shape shifting police officer, Charlie Barker.
What I like about this series is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously; at least when it comes to the paranormal stuff. Shape shifting fish just are. As are dragons and Charles Darwin’s “real” discoveries. Throw in two great characters in Jackaby and Abigail and you have a recipe for success. Jackaby’s complete obtuseness when it comes to perceiving the thoughts/feelings of other people is funny and endearing. But what really shines in Beastly Bones is the character of Abigail Rook.
Abigail is a kind of Watson character, narrating the adventures of Jackaby such as the way that Watson records Sherlock’s adventures. In Beastly Bones she’s mostly settled into her new life as Jackaby’s assistant, and although she has had some missteps, she wants to prove herself as a valuable member of Jackaby’s team.
Interestingly, Abigail feels a bit conflicted when it comes to her budding relationship with the young police officer, Charlie. On the one hand, she has won her hard-earned independence and has no inclination to give that up. On the other hand, well, Charlie makes her heart race. Can she have both a career and romance? Considering the historical setting of Beastly Bones, the answer for Abigail would generally be thought to be “no”, and that’s the answer that Abigail herself believes. However, Abigail receives some advice from an unlikely source: Jackaby. For a character that remains somewhat aloof he certainly provides some support to Abigail when needed.
The dynamic between Jackaby and Abigail is another fantastic part of this series. Here we have a true partnership. Jackaby is the eccentric one and Abigail the grounded one. Together, they make a formidable investigative duo. It’s always nice (and refreshing) to see a duo that is not romantically motivated and that is the case here with Abigail and Jackaby. Let's keep this up!
The snappy dialogue and outlandish plot make Beastly Bones an absolute pleasure to read. By the end readers are left wanting more and the premise for Jackaby and Abigail’s next adventure is set. I, for one cannot wait to read more, especially now that Abigail has come into her own as a real investigator.
Some girls work in shops or sell flowers. Some girls find husbands and play house. I assist a mad detective in investigating unexplained phenomena – like fish that ought to be cats but seem to have forgotten how. My name is Abigail Rook, and this is what I do. (p. 17)
Finally, a book that has actually lived up to the hype! I've been hearing a lot about The Martian. It's been on many "Best of 2014" book lists, and isFinally, a book that has actually lived up to the hype! I've been hearing a lot about The Martian. It's been on many "Best of 2014" book lists, and is the GoodRead's Choice winner for 2014. Generally, when I see a title gaining a lot of buzz I feel quite skeptical. I am the first to admit that I don't tend to enjoy the literary titles that tend to be seen on these lists; I enjoy lighter reading, stuff with happy endings. Happily, The Martian is worth the hype that it has received this year. It was sci-fi without being inaccessible to readers less likely to pick up a book with that genre label. And it most certainly was not the depressing, dull, yet, well written, material that I associate with "Best of" lists.
The Martian picks up after astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars, presumed dead. Much to everyone's surprise, Mark is very much alive and has proved ingenious in extending his life in such a inhospitable habitat. He's the first potato farmer on Mars, he's MacGyver in space. This survival is not completely unexpected, after all Watney was "the mission's fix-it man who played with plants". What becomes the million dollar question is whether or not Watney can keep up this survivor mentality until he's rescued, if he's to be rescued at all.
Once earth learns that Watney is still alive, the big decision has to be made. Do they spend the money to go back and rescue Watney, assuming he can live on Mars for years until this as-yet-to-be-determiend rescue? It's not exactly a quick fly by to Mars, nor is the rescue going to be cheap. Fortunately for Watney, the answer is yes (the press loves the survival angel).
I didn't expect to like The Martian as much as I did, and I really didn't expect it to be as funny as it was. I loved the humour in this book. Watney was irreverent and plucky; you couldn't help but hope that he would survive. I really liked how the character was crafted. Here we have this guy stranded on a planet with little hope of rescue, but he keeps going and keeps up his good humour from page one:
I'm pretty much fucked. That's my considered opinion. Fucked. Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it's turned into a nightmare. I don't know who'll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now. For the record...I didn't die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can't blame them. Maybe there'll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say, "Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars."
Watney's is stranded in space and he's thinking about his Wikipedia page. Morbid, but I think it speaks to his attitude throughout the book. Watney's personality goes a long way in endearing him to readers. He's not just the super-smart and serious astronaut that you would expect. He's personable and entertaining; readers become invested in his fight for survival. To me, this personality is a very important facet of the book, and I think it's this character that will draw readers who don't normally read science fiction.
I also loved that The Martian was pretty much a love letter to nerdiness. I loved the references to nerdy pop culture, especially this one:
"What the fuck is 'Project Elrond'?" Annie asked. "I had to make something up," Venkat said. "So you came up with 'Elrond'?" Annie pressed. "Because it's a secret meeting?" Mitch guessed. "The e-mail said I couldn't even tell my assistant." "I'll explain everything once Teddy arrives." Venkat said. "Why does 'Elrond' mean 'secret meeting'?" Annie asked. "Are we going to make a momentous decision?" Bruce Ng asked. "Exactly," Venkat said. "How did you know that?" Annie asked, getting annoyed. "Elrond," Bruce said. "The Council of Elrond. From Lord of the Rings. It's the meeting where they decide to destroy the One Ring." "Jesus," Annie said. "None of you got laid in high school, did you?" What can I say? I love a LOTR reference.
In addition to Mark's recounting of his "projects" readers are also treated to brief interludes back on earth. I thought this really helped with the momentum of The Martian and I also think that it kept the book from getting too repetitive. We get it, Mark's a smart guy, he can deal with adversity. We don't need to see this cycle over and over again without reprieve. The return to earth provided a much needed break from Mark's narrative that could have become repetitive and tiring. Yes, you can have too much of a good thing, and that is nicely avoided in The Martian.
To sum up, The Martian was an excellent read. It's not your average science fiction story. It's a read accessible to many readers. Don't be afraid of the sci-fi label. Yes, it's a space story, but at it's heart, The Martian is a survival story, and one that I think will appeal to many readers.
Review originally published at The Book Adventures. ...more
Last week I reviewed The Gypsy King, and LOVED it! It was a great YA fantasy adventure, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on book two, A Fool'sErraLast week I reviewed The Gypsy King, and LOVED it! It was a great YA fantasy adventure, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on book two, A Fool'sErrand. It was fantastic to be able to dive right in to book two, especially considering the big reveal at the end of book one, so readers be warned, there are spoilers ahead for book one.
A Fool's Errand picks up right after the events of The Gypsy King. Persephone and Azriel are fleeing from the villainous Regent, Mordecai, when everyone learns that Persephone is the lost twin sister of the king, and she's also the true heir to the thrown. Mordecai is none too happy that Persephone was not taken care of the night she was born (ie. murdered), and has no intention of letting her disrupt his own plans to overthrown her brother and claim the crown for himself. The mustache twirling continues...
Before Mordecai can murder Persephone, Azriel does some quick thinking and tells Mordecai that he knows how to find the Pool of Genezing, a treasure that Mordecai covets even more than the thrown. While this saves both their lives, it's complicated by the fact that no one actually knows where the healing pool is and Persephone and Azriel are only give one hundred days to find it, or the true king will be killed.
Persephone and Azriel immediately depart for parts unknown, but of course, a quest is never that straight forward, and theirs is complicated by an impromptu marriage, bloodthirsty villains, and uncooperative weather. It soon becomes clear that finding the healing pool just might be next to impossible, if it exists at all, and the hundred days are quickly disappearing. A Fool's Errand continues with the elements that I loved so much in book one. Persephone is a great heroine, she's prickly and not exactly happy about the events that happen on her quest. But, unlike in book one, Persephone starts to change. She's no longer quite as distrustful of others as she was in the first book. She's still not comfortable relying on others, but she does start to put the needs of others before her own. I loved seeing this progression with this character and I think her conflicting wants made her a well-developed and interesting character.
What I also found interesting about A Fool's Errand is the juxtaposition of a more childish tale (ie. the quest element) and the more adult themes. The central idea of the quest for a mythical healing pool didn't scream adult fantasy to me, and actually makes me think more of the middle grade fantasy books that I've read. I liked the quest element and I think it's a lot of fun in many books, and I do think it worked in A Fool's Errand. But what I was surprised at was how this less mature plot device co-existed beside some very mature themes. In particular, I'm thinking of Mordecai's lecherous ways and recurrent threat of rape of the young women in the story. I'm not convinced that these two elements meshed well together, and this somewhat awkward pairing makes this a four star and not a five star read.
I also found that the use of multiple perspectives slowed down the pacing of A Fool's Errand. With the first book, I flew through the pages. In book two, the increased emphasis on Mordecai and his general's perspective really slowed down the book. They're both so dastardly, it was hard to want to read those chapters. I am hoping that the focus will be back to primarily Persephone in the final book.
The last thing that I'll mention is the romance element in A Fool's Errand. I will admit that I liked it, and I think it will appeal to a lot of romance fans; however, that means this title will not go over well with non-romance fans. I don't think this trilogy is a good choice for a wide audience, but will please a certain type of reader, one that I am. Persephone and Azriel have a rocky road ahead of them in book two. At the end of book one, Persephone has lied and betrayed Azriel, and he's certainly not happy with Persephone. I liked the fact that Persephone struggles with a relationship and I think her struggle is realistic. She was a slave, and she doesn't have much experience in trusting others. Luckily her handsome chicken thief seems to understand that about Persephone and is patient with her. That said, I personally think this romance would be stronger with the inclusion of Azriel's point of view (we have the villain's p.o.v. bogging it down after all!) since readers have to rely on Persephone's interpretation of Azriel's intentions. It would have been nice to have been inside Azriel's head and see his thought process in dealing with Persephone.
Ultimately, I thought A Fool's Errand was a solid follow-up to The Gypsy King. I think it will please fans of the first one, and the cliffhanger ending will leave readers clamoring for the last book, Tomorrow's Kingdom (good thing I have it sitting on my bedside table).
Night of a Thousand Stars is a historical fiction adventure, and unfortunately for me, I was a reluctant adventurer. While there were some elements thNight of a Thousand Stars is a historical fiction adventure, and unfortunately for me, I was a reluctant adventurer. While there were some elements that really worked for me, I had a really hard time finishing this book as it simply didn’t capture my attention.
Poppy Hammond is on the brink of marriage to a wealthy aristocratic; a comfortable life awaits her. But, Poppy wants more; she doesn’t feel like marriage is the right decision and she wants an adventure. So with the help of an unusually accommodating curate, Poppy jilts her groom. Determined to thank her rescuer, Sebastian Cantrip, Poppy heads off to London, only to discover that Sebastian has disappeared, and is really known as Sebastian Fox. What could have happened? After a little bit of digging, Poppy discovers that Sebastian traveled to Damascus. Convinced that Sebastian must be in trouble Poppy follows, finally embarking on the adventure that she always wanted.
Despite the fact that I’m not normally a fan of this author’s style, I wanted to read this one because the premise sounded amazing. I loved the idea of adventure in a foreign land, and after reading other reviews and quotes of the book, I was intrigued. And while I loved the descriptive setting and the humour, I personally, just didn’t enjoy reading about the main character, Poppy.
Poppy is impetuous and comes across as rather immature in her desire for an adventure. On the one hand, the reasoning behind Poppy’s flight from the altar is solid. She explains to Sebastian that she would be stifled as a future Viscount’s wife:
“I realised with Gerald, my life would always take second place. I would be his wife, and eventually Viscountess Madderley, and then I would die. In the meantime I would open fetes and have his children and perhaps hold a memorable dinner party or two, but what else? Nothing. I would have walked into that church today as Penelope Hammond and walked out as the Honourable Mrs. Gerald Madderley, and no one would have remembered me except as a footnote in the chronicles of the Madderley family.” (p. 13)
I think Poppy’s lack of individuality and need for recognition speak to the concerns of women of the time, as well as today, for that matter. I expected this need for action to manifest in a way that demonstrated that Poppy controlled her own destiny, instead she seemed to blunder into an adventure that I don’t feel actually changed her character. Further, Poppy continued to be identified as someone extraordinary by those around her, and while in some cases this was a subterfuge, this extraordinary quality was never really effectively conveyed. Why is Poppy so spectacular? It is because she’s pretty, intuitive? Beyond that I never really got much of a sense of what really made her so worthy of the attention that she received throughout the book. And because of this weak exploration, Poppy’s adventure never fully captured my attention.
What was really well developed in Night of a Thousand Stars was the luscious sense of place and the great humour.
I loved the exotic setting of Night of a Thousand Stars; this is a great example of armchair travel in fiction. Poppy’s experiences traveling and the way that this was described is stunning and evocative. Take Poppy’s first sighting of Damascus as an example:
Long rays of sunshine slanted over the city, gilding the stone and causing it to shimmer on the flat plain. Mount Hermon, newly carpeted in soft green on its lower flanks, rose to snowy heights in the distance, and I could smell the mingled scents of freshly turned earth and fruit blossoms and smoke on the air. (p. 101)
Whenever the setting is discussed, the author excels at presenting a sensual picture of the place rather than a visual simulation. This style of description brought a strong sense of place to the novel, and I feel that it is the strongest element to the novel and it is because of this that I would recommend it to fans of exotic locales; it is these readers that will appreciate this level of detail.
Second to the setting, I also liked the humour in the Night of a Thousand Stars. While I found the first third of the book to be hard to get into, when Poppy once again meets up with Sebastian I found that the humour really stood out. The one-liners between these two put a smile on my face:
We’d been riding for hours, and although I would have died rather than admit it to Sebastian, I was thoroughly exhausted. I gave a sigh of impatience and dropped my head to his back. He jerked, nearly throwing himself off the horse. His sudden lurch irritated her and she tossed her head, crossing her feet sideways.
“For God’s sake,” I muttered irritably, “What’s the matter with you? Anyone would think you were the Gothic heroine.” (p. 234)
Poppy is quite willing to dish it out to Sebastian and I found this interactions highly amusing. But, since there is a strong romantic current in the novel between Poppy and Sebastian, I was surprised that the witty banter didn’t move forward into something a little more reliant on character development. My impression of Poppy and Sebastian’s relationship is that they had the romantic tension, but not the depth of emotion that you expect in the romance genre. I realize that Night of a Thousand Stars is not a book that would be found in the romance section of the library, but since it does feature in the book, I feel that it could have been further developed.
My verdict on Night of a Thousand Stars? Fans of Deanna Raybourn will like this new book; it has her signature wit and quirky characters, and those will continue to appeal to her fans. While there were certain elements that I didn't care for as a reader, I maintain that this is a book that will go over with many audiences.
I've been aware of this trilogy for quite awhile, and now that the final book has been out since July 2014, I decided to finally have a look. There'sI've been aware of this trilogy for quite awhile, and now that the final book has been out since July 2014, I decided to finally have a look. There's something really nice about having the entire set in your hands, and knowing that when you finish one book, there's not a year long wait until the next publication date.
I had some idea of what to expect out of The Gypsy King. It's fantasy and you tend to expect certain things in this genre. I figured we're have a quest and a prophecy; your standard fantasy fare. What I didn't expect was the humour! This was downright funny at times. The interactions between the heroine, Persephone, and the young man that "rescues" her, Azriel, is hysterical.
Persephone and Azriel did not have a great first meeting, as Persephone catches Azriel red-handed steeling the chicken of her owner (yes, owner, more on this later). Right from the start, Persephone and Azriel have some comical exchanges. Even when threatening the handsome thief at knife point, both can't help but be humorous:
"I'm not afraid to use this, you know!"
"And I'm not afraid to use this, " he replied genially as he reached over her broad shoulder to pull a much larger dagger from the scabbard that was evidently strapped to his back. "In fact," he added, in an almost nostalgic voice, "I've seven corpses to this blade."
"Really?" sniffed Persephone, feigning indifference. "I've ten to this one."
The thief grinned at the lie. "Excellent!" he said. "We'll be well matched then. Come, step out of the shadows. Let us fight to the death. If I win, I get myself a fine, fat chicken dinner and if you win - "
"You will leave Mrs. Busby alone and depart at once!" said Persephone fiercely.
There was a long moment of silence. Then, in a rather mystified voice, the thief asked, "Who is Mrs. Busby?"
Without thinking, Persephone gestured toward the chicken in his arms.
"I...see," said the thief. He looked to one side and then to the other before tilting his head toward her and solemnly inquiring, "Tell me, Mistress, do you name all creatures or just the ones that taste good with gravy and potatoes?" (p. 10-11)
The author excels as including great moments of levity between Persephone and Azriel, and I really liked this unexpected lightness. I thought the strong sense of humour throughout was a great balance to the overall darkness of the book. As a slave and as a woman, Persephone is constantly vulnerable to those around her. The lack of agency that it part of Persephone's identity as a slave, is the element that I was most uncertain about. There was the potential for the use of this characteristic to be used in a gratuitous manner, with the violence that accompanies that. While Fergus never shies away from the harsh realities of slavery, she tempers that with elements of humour and considers the age of those likely reading this book.
I also felt that Persephone's identity as a former slave governed many of her actions throughout The Gypsy King. Persephone has not trusted anyone in a long time and she is understandable mistrustful of even the idea of relying on someone else. At time this was a frustrating quality, as Persephone lies to those helping her because she's afraid of being hurt, but it still makes sense. This distrustful personality was not resolved in The Gypsy King, and I think it's something that's going to play a big part of the next two books in the trilogy, especially in the romance department.
Speaking of the romance, I have to admit I thought it was adorable. As I've mentioned, Persephone and Azriel have some comical exchanges. From the beginning it's clear that Azriel likes and cares for Persephone, but Persephone is extremely reluctant to return those feelings and would rather be independent than explore the relationship. Azriel was patient with Persephone, but I think her reluctance to commit is going to be a problem. The only thing I would have liked is to have gotten Azriel's point of view and his thoughts on Persephone. Readers have to rely on Persephone's interpretation of Azriel's "looks" and in cases like that, I'm always left feeling that there's a narrative that's missing.
On to the villain. Regent Mordecai is quite the bad guy. He's out of touch with reality and if he had a mustache, he'd be twirling it. In some ways I found that Mordecai is a bit of a caricature of a villain. Mordecai's behaviour is so outrageous and extreme; he seems very much an exaggerated classic villain, even his physical appearance is over the top:
Many miles away, at the southernmost tip of the kingdom, in a sumptuously appointed room in a splendid seaside castle, a man slouched before a blazing fire.
He didn't slouch because he was tired or lazy or old - he slouched because his cruelly twisted back made it impossible for him to sit straight and tall like other men. It also made it impossible for him to square his thin, uneven shoulders, throw out his wasted chest and hold his head high with ease. Sometimes, if he drew upon every last drop of his formidable willpower, he could temporarily keep from bending his neck and bobbing his head like a turkey vulture, but after only a short while the strain of doing so made him want to scream in agony. This was particularly true if he was trying to walk at the same time, for the legs that protruded from beneath the hem of his luxurious, fur-trimmed robe were crooked and withered. One crumbled foot turned in - the result of a near-fatal childhood illness - and one leg was considerably shorter than the other. Together, these deformities accounted for his awkward, lurching gait, which was so utterly lacking in dignity (p. 31-32).
Mordecai's villany very clearly manifests itself in his physical appearance, and his thought process demonstrates his lack of awareness with reality. I'm curious as to whether or not Mordecai will be given more dimension in the next two books in the series. As it stands, the bad guy is a simplified character and he's easy to dislike. I can't help but think there's usually more behind this kind of behaviour in real life, and I'm curious if the author is going to address this. I can't say I'll be overly disappointed if it's not addressed; at the end of the day I'm reading the trilogy for the heroes not the villains.
Lastly, the ending of this books makes me extremely glad that I have the next two books in my hands. The Gypsy King ended with some pretty significant reveals, which I will not spoil here. I cannot way to dive into book two and see how this impacts Persephone since I don't think she's going to be thrilled about the changes to come or willing to accept her true birthright.
Ultimately, The Gypsy King is a great fantasy read. The heroes are dynamic, and in a world filled with threats, the author consistently shows the ability to include lighthearted and humourous moments to temper the despair. I will be back for book two, and I recommend that everyone else pick this trilogy up post-haste.
The de Valery Code is Darcy Burke’s newest historical romance, and also a start of new series. I was quite a fan of Secrets & Scandals series, aThe de Valery Code is Darcy Burke’s newest historical romance, and also a start of new series. I was quite a fan of Secrets & Scandals series, and I loved the adventurous premise of The de Valery Code.
Margery Derrington is an impoverished spinster living with her two aunts. Money is tight for this small family and they need to come up with some ready cash or Margery will be forced to marry to keep them afloat, a notion Margery does not want to contemplate until absolutely necessary.
Marrying for love didn’t interest her. Love didn’t interest her. Life was far easier to navigate if she kept that sort of emotion at bay. She’d buried her sentimentality deep after her parents had died. (p.6)
Luckily, Margery and her aunts stumble across a rare and possibly valuable medieval book by Edmund de Valery. While the family doesn’t want to part with such a treasure, the need for something to live on is dire, so Margery sets off to discuss the sale of the book with noted scholar, Rhys Bowen. Rhys immediately recognizes the priceless treasure that Margery carries, and hopes that the book will ultimately lead him to an Arthurian treasure trove, thus solidifying his name as a scholar of note. However, Rhys has no intention of sharing this information with Margery, and so a battle of the sexes ensues. I have to admit that I’m a little torn with this one. I was really looking forward to it since I had loved the other books by the author that I’ve read, but at the end of the book, I felt that there was something missing in the romance department. The adventure and the storyline themselves were great; I wanted to find out who was behind the attempted thefts of the book. I was less interested in Margery and Rhys as a couple.
What I liked about this one was the adventure and on-the-road romance theme. There were bits of humour between the two main characters that were great and entertaining. There is one particular scene where they keep meeting in the hallway that I thought was too cute. The instances with the flashes of humour were a big hit with me; however, they didn’t make up for my lack of interest with the hero and heroine. Perhaps had there been more interactions between Margery and Rhys like the meetings on the stairs I might have been more engaged with the romance.
For me, I just didn’t feel the connection between Margery and Rhys. They were both so stubborn for so much of the book, that I felt myself losing interest in their happily ever after. Margery in particular was extremely resistant to committing to a relationship:
She’d pushed him away at every opportunity because allowing him to get too close meant losing him would only hurt that much more. As it was, the thought of never seeing his eyes light at that precise moment of discovery, or hearing his warm laugh, stung deep. (p. 214)
While it was explained why Margery wasn’t interested in a permanent relationship, I just couldn’t help but be frustrated by the continued resistance. Generally, in the romances that I read, I tend to like those that spend more time with the hero and heroine as a couple as opposed to the bulk of the book focusing on the progression to that relationship.
Ultimately, The de Valery Code was a solid read and a good choice for fans of adventurous romances. There’s villains and a secret order of Arthurians that brought a nice element of suspense to this one. I’m certainly going to be back for the second book in the series since I’m quite curious as to the direction and the characters to be featured in book two.
The fourth book in The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences has arrived and the team is being thrown under the bus by outside forces. Forced to go to ground with the Phantom Protocol Eliza Braun and Wellington Books are on the run and ready to save the empire once again, trouble is, the leader of the empire, just might be the problem.
The Diamond Conspiracy takes place just days after the events in Dawn’s Early Light. Welly and Eliza are returning back to England and testing out their new found romantic relationship. However, the pleasure cruise home is brought to an abrupt halt when Eliza receives the signal from her street urchins, the Ministry Seven. Racing against the clock Eliza and Wellington band together with trusted colleagues and former enemies to save both the empire and their own skin.
The latest installment in the series is just as fun as the previous ones. The action starts right away and Eliza and Wellington are thrown into the thick of it, but this time their awesome dynamic had changed. No longer just partners, Eliza and Wellington have to cope with their new status as a couple. They’re not hiding their feelings for one another, but at the same time they can’t let it complicate their mission, the fate of the empire does rest in their hands after all.
What readers are also treated to in The Diamond Conspiracy is Wellington’s dark and tragic childhood. As readers of the series will be well aware, Wellington has secrets skills. He may be a mild-mannered archivist, but he knows his way around a rifle and is a crack shot, all thanks to his autocratic father's training. Here, readers find out more about that father and what Wellington’s childhood was a like. When the Ministry takes refuge in Wellington’s childhood home, he is forced to confront his upbringing and the mysterious purpose of it. And based on that ending, that upbringing is going to have some serious repercussions going forward in the series. Can we have book 5 now?
If you’re a fan of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences this addition does not disappoint. It’s a fun, action packed adventure studded with great cameos (i.e. Queen Victoria, Dr. Jekyll) and new steampunk gadgets. If you haven't read the series, it's one that I highly recommend. The steampunk elements are fantastic and are actually important to the plot. The alternative London that the authors create is also a lot of fun, as is the secret service that protects it's shores. Start with book 1, Phoenix Rising.
*Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley....more
I haven’t read many historical romances by Elizabeth Boyle, but this one certainly makes me want to read many more. The Viscount Who Lived Down the LaI haven’t read many historical romances by Elizabeth Boyle, but this one certainly makes me want to read many more. The Viscount Who Lived Down the Lane is the fourth book in the Rhymes with Love series. This one was funny and lighthearted and exactly what I was looking for when I picked up the book.
Louisa Tempest and her twin sister, Lavinia, have both come to town at the behest of their late godmother. Louisa could have done without a season in the ton as she has no illusions that she will be anything other than a spinster. Louisa finds herself along for the ride because of her determined sister, but Louisa is equally determined not to tell Lavinia why it is unlikely that either one of them will find someone suitable to marry. Fortunately for Louisa, she soon finds a project for herself that will fill her time since she has very little interest in shopping or the other virtues of the ton lifestyle. It’s too bad that her project, Viscount Wakefield, is an unwilling participant.
Viscount Wakefield has returned from the war wounded and is quite content to spend the rest of his days closed up in his house, drinking to excess and mourning the death of one of his closest friends. When Louisa bustles into his life and starts assuming management, he’s not exactly pleased, but he reluctantly finds himself charmed.
The romance in this one was slow. Wakefield legitimately does not like Louisa when they first meet; he does not want to deal with life and would much rather wallow in his sorrow. He’s not only lost his close friend, but also his fiancé who abandoned him when he returned wounded after being shot in the war. So Wakefield isn’t pleased when Louisa’s pet cat, Hannibal, brazenly interrupts his wallowing:
“What the devil,” he muttered as the creature, the one as yet to be determined if it was a cat, began to wind around his legs, its tattered coat brushing against him.
Then the animal had the audacity to roll around in front of him as if it was his – the viscount’s – duty to pet him.
Of course, Louisa pays no mind to Wakefield’s blustering and is quite happy to argue right back with Wakefield. She soon sets to work righting his household, often with hilarious results. It can be a challenge to hire people for a viscount that doesn’t actually want staff, and it can be even more complicated when the help mistake the viscount for another servant:
“Be useful, you shiftless vagrant. Go fetch some coal and a bit of kindling from out back so Bob can get that stove going – something you might have thought of doing afore I arrived."
She poked him once again with the bucket until he truly had no choice but to take it. For one wild feeling moment, he thought she meant to clout him with if she had to “ask” one more time.
“Don’t gape at me like a mackerel, get moving,” she told him as she shooed him out the door. “I’ve got His Lordship’s breakfast to make and not much to do it with from the looks of things.”
As the woman continued to order her troops about, Pierson Stratton, the fifth Viscount Wakefield, backed down the steps and found himself in his own gardens, having been routed from his house.
More to his shame, he’d raised barely a defense. Flanked and defeated before he could fire a shot.
It was moments like these that made this a brilliant book. These humourous scenarios were so much fun to read about and helped not to bog down the pacing of the book. In fact, I could almost argue that the humour was a stronger attraction for me than the actual romance between Louisa and Wakefield. Like I said, it took a bit for the actual romance to actually progress past arguing and because of that both Louisa and Wakefield seemed to develop feelings for the other perhaps a touch too quickly. That said, the end of this novel had a couple of heartfelt scenes between the two, which went a long way to solidifying the happily ever after for these two.
The Viscount Who Lived Down the Lane is a fun read that takes a nice departure from reality. Boyle doesn’t tie up all of the plot points by the end of the novel, but the stage is nicely set for the next book featuring Louisa’s sister, Lavinia. And I cannot wait to see what antics Lavinia gets up to. There are so many questions I have about certain characters and events, I have no other choice but to come back for Lavinia’s story, which I can't say that I'm upset about.
With The Lure of the Moonflower, Willig’s Pink Carnation series comes to a close, and what a satisfactory ending it was.
Jane Wooliston is the Pink CarWith The Lure of the Moonflower, Willig’s Pink Carnation series comes to a close, and what a satisfactory ending it was.
Jane Wooliston is the Pink Carnation. The spy the spears dread in the French forces. On her latest mission Jane finds herself in Portugal tracking down the mad Queen Maria before the French can use her to their adventure. Aiding Jane is the Moonflower, Jack Reid, a spy of dubious loyalty. But, since Jane doesn’t speak Portuguese and Jack happens to be the estranged son of a family friend, Jane grudgingly accepts that she has to work with Jack and has no expectation that she’s going to like it. Of course, when the mission proves to be none too simple these two are forced to work together and are pleasantly surprised by the results. The Pink Carnation series has been a great favourite of mine since picking up the first book and as much as I’m sad to see the series end, I love that the series ends on such a high note. For the most part, Jane has been elusive throughout the series. Readers have been aware of her, but she’s never really played a large role. In Moonflower readers get to know the great spy and they learn that she is human: lonely and vulnerable just like anyone else.
Jane has been in the spy game for a long time. She’s been the one in charge, the one making the tough decisions; however, her leadership has left her feeling adrift and alone:
But that meant taking charge. It meant making decisions based on the totality of the circumstances, difficult decisions, unpopular decisions. It meant keeping her own counsel, even at times when she longed to our out all her doubts and worries. In order to maintain her authority, she needed to cloak herself in a mantle of omniscience.
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, the poet said. He might have substituted “lonely” (p. 86).
The burden of command has been a difficult one for Jane, and it’s only when she starts working with Jack that she finds someone that she just might be able to share the burden with.
Jack has been, to all appearances, self-serving in his espionage career, changing his allegiance based on financial rewards.
The Moonflower had gone by many names in his twenty-seven years.
Jaisal, his mother had called him, when she had called him anything at all. The French had called him Moonflower, just one of their many flower-named spies, a web of agents stretching from Madras to Calcutta, from London to Lyons. He’d counted himself lucky; he might as easily have been the Hydrangea. Moonflower, at least, had a certain ring to it. In Lisbon he was Alarico, a wastrel who tossed dice by the waterfront; in the Portuguese provinces he went by Rodrigo – Rodrigo the seller of baubles and trader of horses.
His father’s people knew him as Jack. Jack Reid, black sheep, turncoat, and renegade (p. 18-19). Like Jane, Jack is also more complicated than appearances have led others to believe. Both Jane and Jack struggle with their identity, but Jack in particular has difficulty with it because he is half-Indian and has found not a home with either his mother’s people or his father’s.
Jane and Jack both help the other come to terms with their lost identity; supporting the other when they can, giving them a piece of their mind when it’s needed. This kind of character development was unexpected in this generally light series, and I really loved that Moonflower really ended the series on such a strong point. Moonflower was well-written, retained it’s lightheartedness, while still managing to give readers strong, fleshed out characters and a fast-paced adventure.
Lastly, I have to remark on the romance. As readers of the series know, each installment features a romance and while Jane and Jack were great as individuals, their romance was equally compelling. What was refreshing in Moonflower was the acknowledgement that Jane and Jack had previous relationships. So often in the romance genre, the hero and heroine’s past relationships are not acknowledged or rendered meaningless – this was not the case here. Jane had a liaison with an enemy spy, the Gardner, and it did mean something to her at the time, but it also allows her to recognize how and why her relationship with Jack is so different. Jane struggles with her past relationship, and while Jack is certainly jealous about the Gardner (especially when he arrives on the scene), he’s able to realize that judging her for it would make him a hypocrite:
Jack bit his tongue. Hard. It wasn’t fair for him to condemn her liaison with the Gardner, any more than it would have been fair for him to pretend that there had been no one before her, or that none of them had mattered in their way at their time. They were neither of them youths just out of the schoolroom (p. 344).
The Lure of the Moonflower was a much more mature romance than many of the others in the series, and I loved it for it’s surprising depth.
Fans of Willig’s Pink Carnation series will not be disappointed by this satisfying conclusion to the series. Not only does the Carnation herself get a happily-ever-after, the contemporary story line featuring Eloise is also concluded. I can only hope that there’s lots more to come from Willig, especially if it contains the humour, adventure and romance that has been the Pink Carnation series.