DNF Masters of Bone and Blood – Craig Saunders

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Summary:

Holland’s a man who’s good with death. Good at death.

When his daughter goes missing, he finds himself pitted in a deadly game against the Gods themselves. Powerful enemies surround him—a changeling, a mage, and a god who wants to destroy the world.

With silver bullets in his gun and death on his mind, Holland aims to set things right…or die trying.

For the captors of Holland’s daughter, death is not only on it’s way, it’s in their very possession as Holland’s daughter isn’t just a girl…in fact, she’s barely mortal at all…

She’s Ankou, Death’s daughter, and she’s not an easy mark.

The battleground has been set, the world’s at stake, and all Hell is about the break loose.

Masters of Blood and Bone is an epic clash between good and evil, life versus death, Gods against mortals, a timeless story of power and corruption and one man’s pursuit to protect what he loves at any cost.

Made it: 24%

Why it didn’t work for me:

This book is graphic. Graphic language and graphic violence (both horrific and sexual). I can handle the language, I can even handle some violence, but the when violence turned sexual with the graphic language all at once, it was just too much and I couldn’t press on. That said, the book is well written and the plot was holding my interest. I think the appropriate grimdark audience would probably find a lot to like in it (and the e-book is only going to set you back $3.99) but I just couldn’t  stomach it. If it doesn’t bother you, then go for it. You might enjoy it.

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City of Lost Dreams (City of Dark Magic #2) – Magnus Flyte

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Summary:

In this action-packed sequel to City of Dark Magic, we find musicologist Sarah Weston in Vienna in search of a cure for her friend Pollina, who is now gravely ill and who may not have much time left. Meanwhile, Nicolas Pertusato, in London in search of an ancient alchemical cure for the girl, discovers an old enemy is one step ahead of him. In Prague, Prince Max tries to unravel the strange reappearance of a long dead saint while being pursued by a seductive red-headed historian with dark motives of her own.

In the city of Beethoven, Mozart, and Freud, Sarah becomes the target in a deadly web of intrigue that involves a scientist on the run, stolen art, seductive pastries, a few surprises from long-dead alchemists, a distractingly attractive horseman who’s more than a little bloodthirsty, and a trail of secrets and lies. But nothing will be more dangerous than the brilliant and vindictive villain who seeks to bend time itself. Sarah must travel deep into an ancient mystery to save the people she loves.

One Sentence Review:

An uneven book whose whole isn’t greater than the sum of its parts.

Review:

Am I the only who thinks that the sub-genre of magical realism was invented so that the more literary-minded authors could play within the realm of fantasy while avoiding getting hit with the dreaded “genre” label? Because really that’s what magical realism is: fantasy light. It’s a book that doesn’t stray far from the recognizable modern world, and yet has elements that are unquestionably fantastic. And for all that the Good Reads users have shelved it as fantasy, if you go to find it in the bookstore, you’ll find it on the fiction shelf, not fantasy which only emphasizes my point.

But I digress.

When I read City of Dark Magic I thought it was a good book, a little better than okay. There were parts that I liked and parts that I didn’t, and while I enjoyed reading it, I never really got around to grabbing this one to take a look at it. If that book hadn’t been the first book review I ever posted on this blog, I probably wouldn’t have gotten back around to picking this up. But I did. And was it worth it?

Eh.

If I had to give a one word review, I’d probably go with uneven. For every good there is a bad and that’s not what you want to see in any endeavor, really.

On the one hand, this book is genuinely fun to read: the authors (Flyte is a pseudonym for the pair of women behind the books) have a way with words that will bring a smile to your face. On the other hand, the chose to make their American university educated Italian doctor Speaka Like Mario. It’s grating, to say the least. The authors go for multiple points of view, but pick up too many: some of the characters just don’t enough page time to be worth spending time through their eyes and finally, there’s a novel-within-a-novel that just drags the book to a screeching halt. Background and ambiance shouldn’t come at the expense of killing momentum. Finally, they make the decision to have one character use the c-word, after pretty much not swearing the entire book. I don’t mind that kind of language, but it didn’t make sense for the character. Sarah was clearly having a Molly Weasley (“Not my daughter, you <i>bitch</i>”) moment, but it’s like the authors didn’t feel that bitch wouldn’t have enough punch. It would have.

Characters are also a mixed lot. Nico remains fun. Sarah and Max are at their best when they are together, but the authors conspire to keep them apart because the plot dictates that Max unknowingly date the mostly bland antagonist’s minion and show up to have sex with said girlfriend. Sarah meanwhile shows no interest in a character to suddenly jump him for no clear reason. It’s just odd. Kudos are to be given for a positively-portrayed transgender character, but as a whole, the characters are mostly flat. Pollina is very likable, but she’s a 13 year old a) blind b) musical prodigy c) dying of an incurable disease that d) is practically an orphan because her dilettante parents have more important things to do that spend time with her. It’s like the authors are daring you to not like her.

The story is fun, but definitely don’t think about it too much because Science Doesn’t Work That Way. Not book breaking, but if you have any knowledge of biology you’ll probably side-eye it.

Like its predecessor, it’s a fun enough read, but it just doesn’t hold up. It took me two years to pick up the sequel. If a third book was written, it’d probably take as long to pick it up the next one. It’s basically more of the same of the last book, for better or worse.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: Now

The Spirit Thief (The Legend of Eli Monpress #1) – Rachel Aaron

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Summary:

Eli Monpress is talented. He’s charming. And he’s a thief.

But not just any thief. He’s the greatest thief of the age – and he’s also a wizard. And with the help of his partners – a swordsman with the most powerful magic sword in the world but no magical ability of his own, and a demonseed who can step through shadows and punch through walls – he’s going to put his plan into effect.

The first step is to increase the size of the bounty on his head, so he’ll need to steal some big things. But he’ll start small for now. He’ll just steal something that no one will miss – at least for a while.

Like a king.

One sentence review: Clever magic and fun characters make for an enjoyable read.

Review:

One of my current vices is the SF Signal’s weekly list of ebooks on sale for $5 or less. It’s a great way to discover older titles (today’s was first published in 2010) or pick up earlier books in series when a new one is about to be released. For me personally, $5 is the price point where I’m more willing to take a chance on a title or an author I haven’t heard of before, and this is certainly a perfect example of how it can lead to truly pleasant discoveries.

If the summary of the book alone isn’t enough to grab you, then how about this: the opening chapter of our book finds our hero quite literally talking the door that is holding him prisoner into knocking out the nails that hold it to the frame, thereby allowing our hero to quite freely just walk out. I was hooked.

The magic here is certainly the most notable accomplishment of this book. Wizards in this world don’t do conventional magic: they get spirits in all the inanimate objects around them to do the work for him, and in this book we basically have three variations on the theme: the “good” way – making contract with individual spirits and calling upon their guidance, the “bad” way – enslaving individual spirits as needed and forcing them to do your bidding, and Eli’s way: buttering them up and just asking nicely. It’s a neat little system and it works rather well, allowing our protagonist to get away with activities that would otherwise be impossible. What’s nice is that there’s clearly a bigger force behind this talent. While the explanation will obviously unfold across the series, what we get is still nice because it’s clear this isn’t just a case of him being more powerful than everyone else. It makes you want to know what’s really going on.

Good magic can only take you so far, however, you have to care about the characters and the book is a success on that point too. Aaron keeps the main cast rather small, which gives her time to develop characters that feel distinct, and quite frankly fun. While Eli is decidedly clean as criminals go, he’s got just enough of an edge and pragmatism to buy that he actually is a thief. Josef is a swordsman in with Eli because he longs for a good fight, and Nico is a rather interesting character in of herself, but I don’t wish to spoil what makes her so interesting. Miranda, who has been sent by the “good” wizards to stop him so he doesn’t ruin their reputation is fun too. Her magic is strong, she has a good head on her shoulders, and best of all, Aaron didn’t see a need to try and hook her up with anyone: her job is her focus (as it should be). If I had any complaints, the motivation of the antagonist does feel a bit on the simplistic side, but we really don’t spend a lot of time with him and the action at the end of the book is enjoyable enough to be forgivable.

All in all this was an enjoyable first book in the series that did everything it should: it introduced you to the world, got you hooked on the characters, and intrigued to see where it goes next. If you’re looking for a fun read, give this a shot, I think you’ll enjoy it.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

ARC Review – The Mime Order (The Bone Season #2) – Samantha Shannon

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Summary:

Paige Mahoney has escaped the brutal prison camp of Sheol I, but her problems have only just begun: many of the survivors are missing and she is the most wanted person in London…

As Scion turns its all-seeing eye on the dreamwalker, the mime-lords and mime-queens of the city’s gangs are invited to a rare meeting of the Unnatural Assembly. Jaxon Hall and his Seven Seals prepare to take centre stage, but there are bitter fault lines running through the clairvoyant community and dark secrets around every corner. Then the Rephaim begin crawling out from the shadows. But where is Warden? Paige must keep moving, from Seven Dials to Grub Street to the secret catacombs of Camden, until the fate of the underworld can be decided.

One Sentence Review:

The rare sequel that outshines its predecessor.

Review:

Okay, so perhaps I was a bit harsh on The Bone Season. While I stand behind the meat of my review, I think the completely pointless comparison to Harry Potter pushed me over the proverbial edge. That said, I really was mixed on that book and I honestly don’t know if I’d given this one a chance had the 100-page sampler not turned into a download of the full text if you were patient enough to wait for it on Net Galley. I’m glad I did though, because I quite honestly enjoyed this book, and feel like there were improvements almost everywhere I looked.

First and foremost: the slang. In the first book there was so much slang I was left with the two awful choices of losing any moment by constantly looking up terms and not bothering and missing out on part of the story. I decided the latter choice was the lesser of two evil options, but I unquestionably felt like I was missing out. Whether or not she cut down on the slang, my perception is that it is greatly reduced. No longer do pages throw half-dozen or more terms at you. You can use context to get an idea of what’s going on, and I only felt the need to look up a term once. It’s a vast improvement. Also greatly reduced are references to The Troubles. The world is complex enough that it just wasn’t necessarily, so it’s nice to see they’ve at the point where it’s easy enough to ignore.

More important than those stylistic changes, however, are changes to the story pacing. The Bone Season was a ridiculously busy book between setting up the world of the Underground, Sheol I, introducing the Rephaim and of course plotting and escaping. It was a LOT and the book almost felt like it went at a breakneck speed. For The Mime Order it felt like Shannon realized she had six more books to tell this story and has taken a step back to slow down, in a great way. There’s really only two concerns here (once you get past the obligatory wrap-up of the rescue): the state of the Voyant underworld and her quest to get the word out about the Rephaim and Nashira. In fact, the Rephaim definitely take a back-seat. Although their presences can be felt, they maintain a minimal presence (this extends to Warden, though fans of Warden/Paige should ultimately be happy with his appearances) in this book, and I think the book is stronger for it. There’s an enjoyable twist at the end, and by taking this book to set things up for the future, the later books should ultimately be more satisfying for it.

Finally, this time around, I definitely liked Paige more this time. I had trouble buying that she’d want to save other Voyants during her escape in The Bone Season, but all of her actions made sense here. If she fails, she’s dead. It’s pretty much that simple, plus in her crusade she’s not recklessly endangering herself to save some people she has a tenuous connection to . Ultimately, she’s more relatable.

So yeah, all around this is just a much better book. Fans of the first book should enjoy this for sure, and fans on the fence like myself should give this a shot because you may just be pleasantly surprised as I was.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: January 27th

ARC Review: Fifteen (The Dreamwalker Diaries #1) – Jen Estes

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Summary:

Legend has it if you die in your dreams, you die in real life. Fifteen-year-old Ashling Campbell knows that’s not true because when she closes her eyes each night, she doesn’t dream about public nudity or Prom dates. Instead, she’s catapulted to the front row of her future self’s execution – fifteen years from now – where monsters have taken control of her hometown and she, or rather, her 30-year-old counterpart, is their public enemy number one.

For three months and counting, it’s been the same dream… until an encounter with an antique dreamcatcher. Ash falls asleep to discover she’s no longer a mere spectator in these dreams – now she’s astral-projecting into the body of her future self. Each night, she goes on the run with a ragtag group of rebels – who have no idea she’s really a high school sophomore and not their noble warrior. She has to make it through each night so that she can wake up and find a way to change the future. For every action she does in the present day, she falls asleep to discover it had an equal impact fifteen years later. It’s up to her to manage her two worlds and make sure she’s still got a place in both.

Review:

Think of paranormal fantasy and you probably think of vampires, of werewolves, of angels and demons or maybe even faeries. Fantasy authors just don’t deviate from those tropes. While understandable, it’s always refreshing when authors take a step away from the familiar creatures. So right off the bat, Estes deserves credit for tapping a pretty severely underused mythology by tapping into the myths of the Lakota and the Jumlin. Well technically a kind of vampire demon, it’s still a creature so distinct of the Eastern European vampire that it’s really not the same thing at all, so well done there. It’s new to me (and I imagine it’d be new to most readers of this book) and I found it rather fascinating, and I hope that in future books that Estes continues to explore this mythology.

But mythology alone isn’t enough to sell a book.

Luckily, we have a rather likable protagonist in the way of Ash. She’s likable, she’s determined and she feels like a real girl without falling into the “all teenagers are awful” tropes. She sees her dreams, knows that she can’t let it come to pass and does what she can to try and fix it, while learning that some things just can’t be fixed. She’s helped out by her friend Tate. At first, he’s a genuinely good friend: he not only helps provide her with the mythology she needs to get a bead on things and he doesn’t completely dismiss her when she tells him what’s going on and like many a teenage boy, he becomes smitten for Ash’s not-really-adopted sister Nadette, who is every bit the awful teenager cliche that society is all too apt to ascribe to all teenagers: shallow, mean, self-absorbed, the kind of girl that you wonder how Tate could fall for her, but then you remember hormones and all makes sense.

The heart of the book is much as you’d expect: Ash trying to figure out what the heck is going on and goes back and forth between her dreams and reality, tweaking the dream each time to change another event. While interesting, it’s where the book loses me some. The mechanism by which Ash discovered the concept of lucid dreaming felt a wee bit like a plot device (and one that was predictable at that) and later on she’s jumping so quickly between the present and the past that it almost gets a bit dizzying.

Still, it’s refreshing to read about creatures other that your standard monsters and for the most part the handling of the possible futures is rather deft. It’s a nice change of pace and leaves you curious about where she might go with it. If you want something fresh, this would be a good place to start.

Verdict: A strong borrow it.

Available: Now

DNF – Sebastian (Emphera #1) – Anne Bishop

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Summary:

A world of shifting lands connected only by bridges, Ephemera has been kept stable by the magic of the Landscapers. In one land where night reigns and demons dwell, the half-incubus Sebastian revels in dark delights. But then in dreams she calls to him: a woman who wants only to be safe and loved-a woman he hungers for while knowing he may destroy her.

But a more devastating destiny awaits Sebastian, for in the quiet gardens of the Landscapers’ school, evil is stirring. The nearly forgotten Eater of the World has escaped its prison-and Sebastian’s realm may be the first to fall.

Made it: 100 pages (25%)

Why it didn’t work for me:

Bishop’s novels tend to be engrossing, despite their (sometimes rather large) flaws.  The Others series, for example, is very weak when it comes to plot, but the concept and characters make it worth a go. This not only doesn’t have the strong plot, but the characters feel stock and this whole notion of light/dark feels both cheesy and heavy-handed due to a writing style that feels pretentious when trying to talk mythology. Finally, the whole bit of Eater of the World being referred to as an It and having the body of a spider (albeit with a different head) feels like it goes beyond homage to It and instead feels like a lazy copy.

I wanted to like this, but it just wasn’t happening for me. Bummer.

Review: The Raven Boys (Raven Boys #1) – Maggie Stiefvater

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Summary:

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.

One Sentence Review:

The rare hyped novel that deserves the accolades, this is a wonderful piece of YA fantasy that should appeal beyond the core YA audience

Review:

Okay, I’ll admit it. I put off even buying this for ages, despite the love I’d consistently seen on social media, which crested with the release of the third book Blue Lily, Lily Blue. I put it off for the hype to be sure (I’m always weary of anything with that much hype), but also because I’d heard that author’s other series was in essence, “Twilight with werewolves” which just plain makes me want to run. But finally curiosity got to me and I picked this up when it went on sale.

I’m very glad I did.

First and foremost, I like Blue and her family. They’re genuinely nice people, but they all have this quirkiness to them that doesn’t feel false or cutesy, but just from the reality that they’re legitimately psychic and don’t care whether or not people believe that they are. There’s a cohesion to this family that’s wonderful to see, and you just don’t get that often, at least not in genre YA. I dig it and wish we would see more.

Second, I like the titular Raven Boys. I can tell that Stiefvater took care in crafting them. Gansey feels rich, and perhaps a bit entitled, but his heart is in the right place and his obsession feels balanced, for lack of better word: he wants to solve the mystery, but he’s also not letting it interfere with day-to-day life. It’s a nice change from books where characters literally drop all of the things to go solve something, real world consequences be damned. Adam, Ronan are equally well done. They each feel unique with fully developed personalities. I can see why Blue would enjoy being in their company and why the group is cohesive: they need each other because they balance each other. They aren’t clones of each other.

Third, though this is fantasy, it has a bit of a thriller vibe. Stiefvater does a wonderful job of building up tension with great use of foreshadowing that isn’t all THIS IS A HINT. HINT HINT HINT as sometimes you see in the genre. I was legitimately surprised at some of the twists and didn’t feel cheated in the least by them because in hindsight it kind of brought things into focus as they were. They’re well done.

Finally, no love triangle. Woohoo! While you can see that there’s some set up down the road, the fact that it wasn’t in this book is amazing in and of itself, but even more amazing is that when it does happen, it will work because you legitimately believe that she’d like both of them. Any author who can make me interested in both love interests deserves a cookie.

Oh, and one last addendum: the cover art for this series is fantastic and striking. That’s another area where I’m hard to impress, but I digress.

On the whole, I can’t really think of anything to criticize. I liked the story, I like the characters, I liked the writing. I liked it. This book was wholly worth the hype. I don’t own The Dream Thieves yet, but I’ll get my hands at some point because I finished this and found myself wanting more.

I’m glad I read this book, and I’m glad I wound down the week reading it. I enjoyed it greatly and I think that if you enjoy well crafted fantasy, you should too.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now