ARC Review – The Thirteenth Tower by Sara Snider

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eARC received from Net Galley in exchange for fair review

 Summary:

Abandoned as a baby, young Emelyn’s life as a housemaid in the quiet village of Fallow is unremarkable—and empty. That is, until a host of magical creatures arrives and inflicts terrible misdeeds on the townsfolk. Inexplicably immune to their enchantments, Emelyn joins a pair of Magi intent on stopping the cause of the trouble—and who claim to know of her parents, promising Emelyn answers to a lifetime of questions.

But the answers Emelyn seeks prove to be more elusive than she hoped, and the world outside Fallow more perilous than she imagined. Magical creatures roam the land over, attacking yet another town before coming after Emelyn. The key to her survival—and finding her family—lies deep within her, if only she can conquer her doubts and believe she is more powerful than she ever dreamed.

In a journey that explores facing one’s fears amidst the uncertainties of an unknown world, The Thirteenth Tower is a magical tale of discovery, growth, and of love’s enduring strength.

Review

Two books of equal length. Two tales that didn’t break the traditional stories of their genres. But where The Nightingale Bones failed to grab me, I liked Emelyn enough that it made this book a quick and breezy read. Snider does not reinvent the wheel here – you can guess the big twist fairly readily – but she crafts her tale finely enough that it isn’t until you’re almost done that you realize little has actually happened in this book. And yet, I think the book was the perfect length. Longer and it would have felt stuffed, shorter and you would have lost the little moments that perhaps were not necessary, but helped to flesh out the world and give it some manner of newness. There was also a nice sense of tragedy to this book that wound up with the wronged character developing a vibe and an ability that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Japanese horror flick.

If it sounds like I’m struggling to find something to say, it’s because I am. It’s a solid little work that kept me entertained enough that I read the entire thing in a day. It may not be particularly memorable (down to the rather cheap looking cover if we’re honest), but it’s a real solid indie title, and at $3.03 right now on Amazon, it’s worth a look.

Verdict: Borrow It

Palette Cleanser ARC: The Nightingale Bones – Ariel Swan

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eARC received through NetGalley in exchange for fair review

Genre: Supernatural Thriller

Summary:

Someone has been waiting a long time for Alice Towne to arrive in Hawthorne.

Two hundred years, in fact.

Trying to accept her mother’s belief that the women of the Towne family are blessed, not cursed, with supernatural abilities, twenty-seven-year old Alice leaves a disapproving Boston husband to housesit for the summer in tiny Hawthorne, a historic village famous in the 1800s for its peppermint farms and the large, herbal-essence distilleries that flourished around the Massachusetts township.

She settles into a beautiful old home with a tragic reputation. There are said to be sightings and sounds from the spirit of a young woman who hanged herself after all her children died there of illnesses in the 1900s.

But soon, Alice experiences firsthand encounters that convince her the spirit is not who people think. The truth is shocking, steeped in the town’s distillery history and its legends of a local wizard and witchcraft. As she falls in love with a local farmer whose family legacy is as tangled in the magick and the mystery as her own, Alice’s fear becomes not whether the past can be resolved . . . but whether it’s waiting to claim new victims

Review:

This is one of those books. Well written, solid story and yet it left me cold and I found it a bit of a struggle to get through. This time though, I know why it didn’t capture my attention: I felt at arms length with Alice.

When we first me Alice, she’s at her lowest low. She’s in a loveless relationship and trying to wean herself off the anti-anxiety meds that keep her visions (that her husband doesn’t believe she has, likely because she herself is not a believer) at bay. Throughout this novel she never climbs much above this emotional low. There’s always this air of melancholy about her. It may well be suited for the character and the plot, but it kept me away from growing to know her or like her. It doesn’t help that almost through the bitter end she keeps saying that she’s not a believer in the old ways. This is a woman who finds the titular bones based on impulses she’s getting from the house. This is a woman who quite literally shimmers with her abilities. At one point does disbelief just seem kinda stupid? It’s not like she wasn’t brought up in the tradition either. She was, she just chose the deny the truth in front of her own eyes with medicine. Whatever the case, I just never cared about her.

The character I liked most was Teddy, a New Orleans transplant. He felt like a walking cliche of what those of us who don’t live in New Orleans expect natives to sound like when we go to visit the city, but at least he had heart and warmth. Her mother, though definitely flighty, grew on me too for the same reasons. There is a love interest here named Kyle. We finally learn why he’s so good for Alice at the very end, but during the story it’s a wee bit insta-love for my taste. You know the two are meant to be together, but you can’t figure out why. She’s kind of cold towards him (and everyone else really), he’s drawn to her because she smells like apples…and that’s it? I never got a sense of chemistry between the pair, a sense that they’d have some to make a go of this beyond just a base physical attraction. I waited for their inevitable coupling, but I was hardly excited about it, the way a book that makes you like the characters can do.

All in all, this may work for you if you’re strictly into the mystery of what’s going on. That said, this book solidly rests within the tropes of its genre and doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Books like that can be fun to read, but personally speaking, I need stronger characters if the plot isn’t unique. Your mileage may vary.

At the end of the day It’s a solid book, but it’s unexceptional and if like me you need characters to keep you vested when the plot doesn’t do anything new, you may want to keep looking.

Verdict: A weak Borrow It for a tale well told, fans need something more character driven will probably want to keep looking.

Review: The Midnight Queen – Sylvia Izzo Hunter

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Summary:

In the hallowed halls of Oxford’s Merlin College, the most talented—and highest born—sons of the Kingdom of Britain are taught the intricacies of magickal theory. But what dazzles can also destroy, as Gray Marshall is about to discover…

Gray’s deep talent for magick has won him a place at Merlin College. But when he accompanies four fellow students on a mysterious midnight errand that ends in disaster and death, he is sent away in disgrace—and without a trace of his power. He must spend the summer under the watchful eye of his domineering professor, Appius Callender, working in the gardens of Callender’s country estate and hoping to recover his abilities. And it is there, toiling away on a summer afternoon, that he meets the professor’s daughter.

Even though she has no talent of her own, Sophie Callender longs to be educated in the lore of magick. Her father has kept her isolated at the estate and forbidden her interest; everyone knows that teaching arcane magickal theory to women is the height of impropriety. But against her father’s wishes, Sophie has studied his ancient volumes on the subject. And in the tall, stammering, yet oddly charming Gray, she finally finds someone who encourages her interest and awakens new ideas and feelings.

Sophie and Gray’s meeting touches off a series of events that begins to unravel secrets about each of them. And after the king’s closest advisor pays the professor a closed-door visit, they begin to wonder if what Gray witnessed in Oxford might be even more sinister than it seemed. They are determined to find out, no matter the cost…

Review:

There are light reads, and then there are light-weight reads. Light reads are your beach books. They are the kind of breezy books that, by their nature, aren’t really meant to hold any deeper meaning. They’re just meant to be fun and entertain you.

Then there are light-weight reads. Books that are meant to be more, but somehow don’t quite get there. I feel like The Midnight Queen is one of those books. It is meant to be a blending of magic and spycraft. There is magic and there is some spycraft, but they just don’t seem to amount to much, even though one gets the sense it was meant to add up to more.

This book takes place in kind of an alternate-history England, where magic has flourished. Izzo Hunter didn’t take much advantage of this though, and there’s no sense that things have changed much beyond the monarchs in power. Heck, we even still have a Henry the VIII, only now renamed Henry the Great. It’s the kind of reinventing that makes you wonder why the author bothered with the rebranding in the first place, though I suppose one could argue it’s because the Old Gods are still in favor, but eh. As for the magic, it’s a fairly typical system based on Latin spells and chants out of a book. You’ve seen it before. Ultimately, some thought did go into this world and its magic, but it’s still forgettable.

What about the espionage then? This is a book about Gray stumbling upon a plot against the King. Well…he stumbled upon it. And the other evidence. And that’s kind of it. There’s some work done with translating codices, but it’s the kind of plot that was entirely too dependent on luck and timing to fully believe. The evidence they gather is also kind of skimpy at best. You have no doubt that our protagonists believe themselves, but it’d be hard to convict based on what they provided. Fortunately for Gray and Sophie, there are plot-convenient priests of Apollo whose abilities to pull truths form prisoners also happens to serve as a convenient plot device that explains the scheme in full. Were it not for their existence, I feel like this novel might have ended <i>very</i> differently, with our heroes in jail for treason at best.

There is a plot twist regarding Sophie, but it’s kind of there. And convenient for our story.

As for Gray and Sophie, they were both likable and they made a cute couple, but that’s not really enough. Maybe if the romance aspect had been amped up then you could call this a romance and the other sins could be forgiven, but this isn’t being marketed as a romance, and given the couple don’t get together til the last quarter of the novel you can’t sell it as such.

I didn’t mind the time I spent reading this, but I have to say, the second you start thinking about it, the second it begins to leave you feeling a bit underwhelmed.

It’s a competent book and I think there are those who will definitely enjoy it, but as far as fantasy goes, there’s just so much good stuff out there right now that it makes it difficult to recommend this.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: Now