ARC Review: Destruction (December People #1) – Sharon Bayliss

20996178eARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for fair review

Summary:

David Vandergraff wants to be a good man. He goes to church every Sunday, keeps his lawn trim and green, and loves his wife and kids more than anything. Unfortunately, being a dark wizard isn’t a choice.

Eleven years ago, David’s secret second family went missing. When his two lost children are finally found, he learns they suffered years of unthinkable abuse. Ready to make things right, David brings the kids home even though it could mean losing the wife he can’t imagine living without.

Keeping his life together becomes harder when the new children claim to be dark wizards. David believes they use this fantasy to cope with their trauma. Until, David’s wife admits a secret of her own—she is a dark wizard too, as is David, and all of their children.

Now, David must parent two hurting children from a dark world he doesn’t understand and keep his family from falling apart. All while dealing with the realization that everyone he loves, including himself, may be evil

Review:

Is there a genre between magical realism and full-on fantasy? If there isn’t, I think this book makes a good case for one. Like Suffer the Children did for vampire novels, this is very much a tale of witches, but one rather firmly grounded in reality. It’s first and foremost a story of a family. It just happens that the family is one made of witches, whom for fear of harming themselves or others, have actively avoided practicing magic out of a combination of deliberateness and, in some cases, ignorance.

This is a tale of fundamentally flawed people. David had an affair, David’s company suffered a great setback from which there is no recovery and he only told his wife when more or less forced to by a spell cast by her parents. His wife Amanda isn’t necessarily better: she’s a control freak and she deliberately erased David’s knowledge of both his childhood and his magic to “protect” him – against his will. As much as this is a tale of witches, it’s a tale of a family falling apart and trying to come back together again. Because Sharon focuses on the family first, the story works.

The magic here is earth-and-incantation based. Every witch has a “season” to them. Summer witches – those born between the equinoxes are “good” witches. Winter witches- David and his family (the series name gets its title from the fact that David, his wife, and most of their children, save one are winter witches) are “evil” whose natural magical is aligned with destruction. Spring and autumn witches are somewhere in the middle. I do like that the “evil” of this book isn’t Voldemort style evil. It’s more the destruction (hence the title) we can do with both magic and it’s unintended consequences. We don’t really see much of the society, and it’s fitting because the text makes it quite clear that they don’t tend to congregate. Besides, much of the story is the family more or less discovering magic so it never really feels like you’re being cheated out of anything or that the author didn’t develop her system. We know enough for what the story needs, and that is enough.

Before I wrap up, I just want to use this book to make a point about book length. I criticized Witch Song for padding out it’s length – that was a 250 page book stretched out to 300 pages for no apparent reason other than the author seemed to feel like she was afraid to let her story end at its natural conclusion. Bayliss had no such qualms here. This book, while short at 236 pages (the remainder of the book is actually a tease for an entirely different story), feels entirely whole. She told the story she intended to tell and let the novel go with grace. I absolutely can enjoy a long read when the novel can sustain it, but not all can and I applaud the author for not forcing it.  Plus, at a list price of $5 for the Kindle edition, it’s still a good value.

The last thing I want to mention is the cover. This is pretty much one of those ‘don’t judge a book by it’ situations. Although Curiosity Quills Press is not a vanity/self-publishing firm, it’s small enough that in some ways, it’s only a step up from that and you can tell in the quality of the cover. I’m guessing the butterfly is supposed to be some kind of reference to The Butterfly Effect, because it otherwise doesn’t make sense, and the font choice just looks cheap. Still, I’d say that authors who think their books are good enough to publish, but are having trouble gaining a foothold from a Big Six publisher might want to look here. They’ve put out some pretty good titles and you are almost always better off starting with a very small publisher like this than self-publishing. You probably have as good a chance to win the lotto as you do to make the leap from self-published to traditionally published.

At the end of the day, Bayliss tells a fairly quiet story well, and if you’re looking for a bit of a different witch story, this may do the trick for you.

Verdict: Buy it

Available: Now

Review: Shadow Kiss (Vampire Kiss #3) by Richelle Mead

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Summary:

It’s springtime at St. Vladimir’s Academy, and Rose Hathaway is this close to graduation. Since making her first Strigoi kills, Rose hasn’t been feeling quite right. She’s having dark thoughts, behaving erratically, and worst of all… might be seeing ghosts.

As Rose questions her sanity, new complications arise. Lissa has begun experimenting with her magic once more, their enemy Victor Dashkov might be set free, and Rose’s forbidden relationship with Dimitri is starting to heat up again. But when a deadly threat no one saw coming changes their entire world, Rose must put her own life on the line – and choose between the two people she loves most

Review:

Okay. Proclamation time.

I officially prefer Vampire Academy over Age of X.

Talk about a sentence I never thought I’d be typing.

I read the first Vampire Academy novel after reading the first Age of X novel. I thought the latter was flawed, but ambitious. At the time, I gave it a bit of a pass because it was something I hadn’t really read before. It also didn’t help that the first Vampire Academy book was kind of flat (it seems to be a fairly consensus opinion that that one is one of (if not the) weakest of the lot). But here’s the difference: where as this series started showing growth in Frost Bitten as the series shifted away from Lissa and onto Rose, a trend continued here, The Immortal Crown didn’t show that same growth, if anything, it felt a step back. Ambition only gets you so many brownie points, the rest- the characters and the story – have to back it up. The book still ultimately needs to well done and fun. And that is what Shadow Kissed is. Well done and fun. The story is brisk, the characters true to themselves and it’s just a fun read.

It’s a fun book, in a good series. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now.

Did Not Finish: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

18693743eARC provided by Edelweiss in exchange for fair review

Summary:

The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all.

The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it’s all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong.

After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war—and the Red Queen controls the board.

Review:

Normally, I’d skip posting a DNF review on a book like this, simply because it’s ultimately just…there for me, but I know this is an eagerly anticipated title so I wanted to put something out.

First off, let me say that I am not an established Mark Lawrence fan. I pretty much picked this up because this was a new series so I figured it’d be as good place to jump in as any. As far as newbie-friendless goes, I’d rate this book a solid 9. I was a bit confused about the setting – we have actual Italian city-state names and actual Norse mythology – but we have an equal number of place names that are brand new to me- but it’s something that is fairly easy to sort out with a few Google searches if you’re so inclined and ultimately doesn’t really harm one’s enjoyment (or not) of the text so I’m not going to knock it too hard for that. Aside from that, I do think Lawrence does do a decent enough job of setting things up.

So why the DNF then? (And this time I did get 45% done, through sheer force of will)

Because, much like The Emperor’s Blades, this is the sort of epic fantasy where little ultimately seems to happen in the first book, and enjoyment of it is predicated on your enjoyment of the characters. I love a good character-driven story, but if those are going to work, you have to be emotionally invested in said characters. And I just wasn’t.

Jal is the 10th in line to the throne – close enough to have a title and be demanding enough  to want it to be used (I lost track of how many times he complained about Snorri didn’t call him Prince) – but far enough from the throne that he pretty much spends his time carousing and getting into debt. He’s not quite amoral, but he’s close. I love amoral characters, but the author has to work extra hard to make them engaging, they need to have depth. He doesn’t. He’s just a party boy. Snorri fares slightly better, and has at least some motivation of his own, but it’s not unique or memorable or strong enough to have his character make-up for the deficiency of our main protagonist.

So will fans of the first books like it? Maybe? I honestly can’t say.

All I can say is that if you like you’re epic fantasy plot driven, you’ll want to look elsewhere. If you like your epic fantasy character driven, you may still want to look elsewhere. Kvothe he is not. Maybe if he had half Kvothe’s charm, then we wouldn’t be in this position.

Available June 3rd

Palate Cleanser: Divas, Dames & Daredevils – complied & annotated by Mike Madrid

17465578Thanks to Exterminating Angels Press for providing the book in exchange for fair review

Genre: Golden Age Comics

Summary:

Wonder Woman, Mary Marvel, and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle ruled the pages of comic books in the 1940s, but many other heroines of the WWII era have been forgotten. Through twenty-eight full reproductions of vintage Golden Age comics, Divas, Dames & Daredevils reintroduces their ingenious abilities to mete out justice to Nazis, aliens, and evildoers of all kinds.

Each spine-tingling chapter opens with Mike Madrid’s insightful commentary about heroines at the dawn of the comic book industry and reveals a universe populated by extraordinary women—superheroes, reporters, galactic warriors, daring detectives, and ace fighter pilots—who protected America and the world with wit and guile.

In these pages, fans will also meet heroines with striking similarities to more modern superheroes, including The Spider Queen, who deployed web shooters twenty years before Spider Man, and Marga the Panther Woman, whose feral instincts and sharp claws tore up the bad guys long before Wolverine. These women may have been overlooked in the annals of history, but their influence on popular culture, and the heroes we’re passionate about today, is unmistakable.

Review:

Looking over the pages of Divas, Dames & Daredevils one can’t help but wonder: what the heck happened? How is it that some 70 years after comics introduced strong, yet still decidedly feminine characters that today most female characters are lucky to have outfits that resemble actual clothing and a brain, let alone a personality and lack of dependence on her male counter-parts. As Mike Madrid argues, women in comics is largely a mirror for our own society. In the lead up to, and during World War II, women were needed for the war effort and so they got to be as heroic and patriotic as her male counterpart, not that all men (or women for that matter) approved of this. As the war won down the desire to put women back into their “place” took hold, and the advent of the Comic Code pretty much sealed the deal. Ever since then female characters have been trying to dig their way out of the “approved” boxes they’ve put in to varying degrees of success.

But this book isn’t about their decline, it’s about celebrating the colorful and strong women of the Golden Age, most of the characters whom time has forgotten. Characters like Lady Satan, Pussy Katnip, (and get your mind out of the gutter, she is an anthropomorphized cat) Maureen Marine and The Sorceress of Zoom. Madrid presents them to us in their 40s glory, providing a full representative strip of each character, some two dozen plus characters in all. While the writing and the art may be rough by modern standards, one can’t help but feel some admiration for these ladies. You’re bound to find at least one or two that you’d like to see if you can find more of.

While I personally would have loved a bit more history, this is anthology that knows what it wants to do (remind us how cool women were once allowed to be) and it does it splendidly. Comic lovers period should give this a look, it gave me that sense of joy that I had when I first discovered comics, and it should for you too.

Verdict: Buy it (note: I strongly suggest picking this up in paperback form over the electronic edition. It’s very picture heavy and it might not be the easiest read on smaller electronic devices)

Available: Now

Review: The Alchemist of Souls (Night’s Masque #1) – Anne Lyle

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Summary:

When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods–and a skrayling ambassador–to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital?

Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally–and Mal his soul.

Review:

As historical fiction, The Alchemist of Souls is a great read.

As historical fantasy, The Alchemist of Souls is just okay.

Awkward.

On the one hand, the historical components of this book are fantastic. Lyle clearly did her home and she does a fantastic job of capturing the look and feel of Elizabethan England. It’s great to get a novel that’s from the perspective of essentially the upper echelon of the lower classes. Mal Catlyn is technically of higher birth, but his half-French parentage in a very anti-Catholic period has kind of left him adrift in society. The other major players we follow – Mal’s friends and Jacob (Coby) are actors or work in the theater, a profession not exactly respected until the 20th century. We get glimpses of nobility, but are rarely amongst them, and Skrayling ambassador doesn’t look/dress/feel like your typical nobleman either.

The best aspect of the historical fiction part of this book is the handling of Coby him (well, her) self. Very early on we learn that Coby isn’t a boy at all, but a girl. She started cross-dressing after her mother’s death to increase her odds of safe travel, and remain cross-dressed to find employment. For a great deal of the book she remains incredibly fretful of her secret being discovered, and even when it is, she still has to maintain her cover. After all, as she’s keenly aware, at best cross-dressing in this period lands you jail. (Remember kiddies, Joan of Arc was convicted, amongst other things of cross-dressing!). It never feels trivialized in the least (Hello Defy), and in fact her secret does in fact remain that way to two of the four protagonists. It’s a touch I really appreciated.

As far as the fantasy aspects go, I can’t say she didn’t spend some time developing them. We get an idea of the Skrayling’s, their culture, their language and even their religion. The problem is, they just ultimately aren’t that interesting. There isn’t anything terribly new here and the grand scheme that the villains are up to just never felt that threatening? It doesn’t help that the reason that this is alternate history (i.e. Elizabeth did marry and bear children) is only due to a plot point introduced like the final 10% of the book.

With a little bit of tweaking (make the threat to England come from somewhere else in Europe), this could go back to being a straight historical fiction and I ultimately think the story would be stronger for it. Will I read the sequels? I’m not really sure. Do I think it’s worth picking up, especially on e-Reader where the book has been sub-$5 pricing for some time? Definitely. I didn’t touch on this, but aside from the historical aspects, I found the techincal aspects to be quite good, and Lyle has had one of the deftest hands in terms of handling her multiple points-of-view; something that I’m not usually a fan of.

Ultimately, I think I high to file this under “imperfect, but worth a look.” It may grab you more than I did, and even if you feel the same way I do about the fantastical elements, the historic aspects remain fantastic. Also, I fully support the continued support of Angry Robot, who has quickly become a favorite publisher of mine.

Verdict: Buy It if you like historical fiction as a whole, Borrow It if you need the fantasy to pull you in.

Available: Now

Stacking the Shelves

Hey everyone!

Since I’m actually taking some time with a book for once (combination of needing a day or two off from reading, a book that I’m enjoying quite a bit that also happens to work when read in short bursts, a book that is long and just time in general) and not zipping through it in a day or two, I thought I’d throw up a quickie post to say hey, I’m alive! And I have a new book in my possession!

 

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So last night, I hit up the Story Crush tour. I admit, I found it kind of an odd combination. The other two books (Exile and Tease) are YA contemporary books about as far away from The One as you can get. There might be something like theme tying them together, but more likely they are trying to use Cass’ draw to help bring attention to the other two – the audience clearly was mostly there for Cass, and the move did seem to work because there were some who did pick up the other two books. I’m not into contemporary enough to have picked them up, but the authors did seem like cool people.

Anyway. as for The one? I admit it. I was reallllllly torn about this one. So much so, I spent yesterday dithering whether or not I wanted to make the trek to go to the signing. I’ve seen some people love The One and I’ve seen some people destroy it on the level I tore apart Allegiant. Clearly, I did decide to give a chance, but I will get to it in good time, as my list allows, I won’t be bumping anything else off my list for it 🙂

I also got my copy of Divas, Dames and Daredevils and my ARC of Vixens, Vamps and Vipers, a pair of books that looks at women in comics, focusing on the Golden Age, if I remember correctly. I can’t wait to start getting on those. I will read Divas, Dames and Daredevils first and the latter review will come out sometime closer to the actual publication date in September.

So enough about me, what did you pick up?

 

Review: Witch Song by Amber Argyle

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Summary:

The Witch Hunters have come for Brusenna, for she is the last. All the others have been captured by the Dark Witch. And without their magical songs to control nature, the world is dying.

Though young and untrained, Brusenna must succeed where every other Witch has failed. Find the Dark Witch. Fight her. Defeat her. If Brusenna fails, there will be nothing left to save—for the Witches, for mankind, or for the young Guardian who has committed his life to protecting hers.

Review:

This book is YA fantasy. It exists. Can we go home now? No? Oh fine.

1. It’s too long.

When you’ve killed off both sets of (generic evil) protagonists at the 80% mark and suddenly introduce a new antagonist? Something has gone wrong. Then again, this book was only a hair of 300 pages. Clearly the book needed to be padded out to take this from novella to novel.

2. The characters are not developed.

Brusenna is a Mary Sue. When we met her, she is untrained and barely knows how to Witch. After a year of studying, on her own with only books (more on that in a minute) she manages to bring down the biggest Evil Witch that has walked the land. Oh. And she’s a Level Seven. And the only other Level Seven is the evil witch. And she’s a natural born leader; per the general of the army that was sent to capture her. Her Guardian and on and on.

Joshen exists to give our heroine someone to fall in love with. He doesn’t really do much else, if you really look at the story.

The protagonists are generically Evil and don’t seem to have much, if any motivation other than Kill the Witch. Yawn.

3. The magic system could use improvement.

The whole thing is based on song, so how does she learn it all from a book? Oh wait. That’s right. She’s a Level Seven Witch.

Also, and I hate to say it, but the rhyming is just plain cringe-inducing. Mother Goose is freaking Shakespeare next to her. Some aren’t so bad:

Wind, lift me high,

That my words reach to’rds the sky

Others are so tortured they should be mercy killed:

Guardian of Keepers and Witch friend decree,

But if thou betrayest, a poison be

Just…maybe rhyme wasn’t the best way to go? I do appreciate that she at least acknowledges that tone-deaf Witches can exist (though they seem to be more herb/medicine woman as opposed to a Witch) but we really don’t learn much else, other than cheesy rhymes seem to make plants grow.

I really wanted to put this down, but kept going in the hopes of finding something, anything to praise. About the best I can say is that Brusenna is willing to kill (even through her plants) which is nice given the circumstances. Other than that? Meh. This book exists. It’s not very good. You can find better.

Verdict: Skip it.

Available: Now.