Review: Black City Saint (Black City Saint #1) – Richard A. Knaack

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Summary:

For more than sixteen hundred years, Nick Medea has followed and guarded the Gate that keeps the mortal realm and that of Feirie separate, seeking in vain absolution for the fatal errors he made when he slew the dragon. All that while, he has tried and failed to keep the woman he loves from dying over and over.

Yet in the fifty years since the Night the Dragon Breathed over the city of Chicago, the Gate has not only remained fixed, but open to the trespasses of the Wyld, the darkest of the Feiriefolk. Not only does that mean an evil resurrected from Nick’s own past, but the reincarnation of his lost Cleolinda, a reincarnation destined once more to die.

Nick must turn inward to that which he distrusts the most: the Dragon, the beast he slew when he was still only Saint George. He must turn to the monster residing in him, now a part of him…but ever seeking escape.

The gang war brewing between Prohibition bootleggers may be the least of his concerns. If Nick cannot prevent an old evil from opening the way between realms…then not only might Chicago face a fate worse than the Great Fire, but so will the rest of the mortal realm

Review:

So in the last week I reviewed a historical fantasy set during Prohibition a YA fantasy (supposedly) about the Fey. So this time, I’d thought I’d mix things up and review a fantasy about the Fey set during Prohibition!

Man, I wish I could take credit for the timing on this, but funny how “to be read lists” just work out that way.

So anyway. Black City Saint is a book with interesting ideas and lackluster presentation. Nick Medea was once known as St. George (not really a spoiler since it’s more or less told you at the start of Chapter 2) – yes, the St. George that slew the dragon. It just so happens that the dragon was quite real and guarding the Gate that separates the Fae realm from our our own. So through a bit of magic, he’s now immortal and is tasked with making sure the Fae stay out – especially the particularly nasty Oberon – from trying to take things over which would eventually spell the end of mankind.

It’s a cool idea, but the execution left something to be desired. The book is written in a first person point of view but it sounds very stiff. While it does make sense for the book to be in this point of view, it comes off as if Knaack just isn’t comfortable with it and as a result, neither are the readers.

I should also mention that this is one of those books that’s mostly action, with Nick dashing from set piece to set piece. It was kind of nice seeing Chicago being used as more of a character, because the actual characters fell a little flat, all of them pretty much much having only one trait to them. Nick was devoted to his duties. He had some Feirie-realm helpers that seemed almost slavishly devoted to Nick. Detective Cortez was the One Straight Cop Amongst An Endless Sea of Corrupt Ones and the current reincarnation of Cleolinda was pretty much an annoying damsel-in-distress (I lost track of how many times she said  variations of”You’re not leaving me here!) for the majority of the book until she suddenly took a few levels in badass towards the very end.

All told, this book has some interesting ideas let down by some so-so presentation. If you like action oriented books and the concept intrigues you, you might want to give it a look. If you need emotional engagement to get into a book, keep looking.

Verdict: Borrow it

Available: March 1

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Seven Black Diamonds – Melissa Marr

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Summary:

This riveting fantasy marks Melissa Marr’s return to the world of faery courts that made her Wicked Lovely series an international phenomenon.

Lilywhite Abernathy is a criminal—she’s half human, half fae, and since the time before she was born, a war has been raging between humans and faeries. The Queen of Blood and Rage, ruler of the fae courts, wants to avenge the tragic death of her heir due to the actions of reckless humans.

Lily’s father has always shielded her, but when she’s sent to the prestigious St. Columba’s school, she’s delivered straight into the arms of a fae sleeper cell—the Black Diamonds. The Diamonds are planted in the human world as the sons and daughters of the most influential families and tasked with destroying it from within. Against her will, Lilywhite’s been chosen to join them…and even the romantic attention of the fae rock singer Creed Morrison isn’t enough to keep Lily from wanting to run back to the familiar world she knows.

Melissa Marr returns to faery in a dramatic story of the precarious space between two worlds and the people who must thrive there. The combination of ethereal fae powers, tumultuous romance, and a bloodthirsty faery queen will have longtime fans and new readers at the edge of their seats.

Review:

You know. This isn’t a bad book. It’s a bland book.

The Queen of Blood and Rage is an Evil Queen because actions in the first chapter of the book tell us soon. The Black Diamonds are killers/terrorists against the humans because we are introduced to two of them in media res of a mission. Lilywhite is…well, that’s a spoiler but I imagine most people will figure out who Lilywhite is within a few chapters.

But really though? This book is all talk.

Talk. Talk. Talk. A few comments about “toxins” and how the humans have ruined the earth (for a world that is supposedly in some kind of post-Apocalypse you really can’t tell) and talk.

The Seven Black Diamonds never go on any missions together. Backstory is conveniently dumped upon us in the form of a letter and action towards the end of the book is pretty predictable for this sort of thing.

I also feel like there’s just not much character development. The biggest defining characteristic of any of them is that Lilywhite has these rules that she likes to chant that remind me of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition only they seem more like mantras than anything a criminal family would actually live by (I don’t think criminal bosses would really think that choices matter). For that matter, I’m still not sure why she had to the daughter of a crime boss. She could have been a more general socialite and it wouldn’t have had much of a change on the story.

I don’t know. It’s better than most YA faery stuff I’ve read, but I would still recommend Thorn Jack over this in a heartbeat if age-level didn’t matter to you. Ultimately, this book was good enough to keep me going to the end, and I did read it in a day, but it’s the very definition of a forgettable tale.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: March 1

Stacking the Shelves #13

Now that I’ve done my Best Of list, it seems to make sense to do a final Stacking the Shelves for the year. I have to say, there seems to be something about the month of December where I get book crazy. It’s been a little less than a month since my last post, and yet I’ve managed to acquire some twenty books in that time frame! And that doesn’t count one that will arrive in January and that I think I still have 3-4 ARCs out for request on NetGalley and Edelweiss that I’m hoping to get my hands on. Yikes. Maybe I should be sliiiightly more choosy for a while? My TBR pile would thank me 🙂

For the last time in 2015, let’s do this.

ARC

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My first unsolicited ARC. I feel all grown up :* It’s pure sci-fi, which I’m looking forward to. I played in the YA end of the pool in 2015, so looking to dip my toes more in the adult end in 2016.

DRC

There’s definitely a broad assortment of books in this group. In the YA camp we have The Prophecy of Shadows (Greek mythology-inspired), Daughter of Blood (epic fantasy), Seven Black Diamonds (faery) Burning Glass (romance/fantasy), Beyond the Red (sci-fi) and Flawed (dystopian).  On the adult side we have Submissive Seductions (erotica) A Girl’s Guide to Landing a Greek God (Greek mythology based) and Masks and Shadows (historical).  It’s a fun mix. The books here are posted in order of publication date; though it’ll take me a while to get to Daughter of Blood. It’s the the third in a trilogy and I managed to pick up the first two for $1.99 each on Kindle and will be reviewing those first. The others are all stand-alones/first in series, so there is that :*

physical books traded for by me

I picked these up in a blog sale. These are all young adult except for The Forbidden Library which is more middle grade, but Django Wexler was an enticing thought. Becoming Jinn got a lot of love when it came out and others sounded like fun (angels! steampunk!). Given the size of my TBR pile though, these are definitely going to be lower on the totem pole for when I’m looking for something different to mix it up.

eBooks bought by me

Another hodgepodge of adult and young adult. The Strange Maid is the sequel to the just-reviewed The Lost Sun. Hidden is the next Alex Verus novel. The Heir of Night/The Gathering of the Lost are the first two in the Wall of Night books. These Broken Stars is a sci-fi/romance The Rook is a fantastical thriller and Tooth and Claw is a novel of manners…with dragons.

Twenty-one books. Twenty-one. I think I need to slow down just a wee bit. LOL. So. Have you gone as crazy as I have? What have you added to your shelves?

Briar Queen (Night and Nothing #2) – Katherine Harbour

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Summary:

The dark, moody, and mystical fantasy begun in Thorn Jack, the first novel in the Night and Nothing series, continues in this bewitching follow up–an intriguing blend of Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alice in Wonderland, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream–in which Finn Sullivan discovers that her town, Fair Hollow, borders a dangerous otherworld . . .

Serafina Sullivan and her father left San Francisco to escape the painful memory of her older sister Lily Rose’s suicide. But soon after she arrived in bohemian Fair Hollow, New York, Finn discovered a terrifying secret connected to Lily Rose. The placid surface of this picture-perfect town concealed an eerie supernatural world–and at its center, the wealthy, beautiful, and terrifying Fata family.

Though the striking and mysterious Jack Fata tried to push Finn away to protect her, their attraction was too powerful to resist. To save him, Finn–a girl named for the angels and a brave Irish prince–banished a cabal of malevolent enemies to shadows, freeing him from their diabolical grip.

Now, the rhythm of life in Fair Hollow is beginning to feel a little closer to ordinary. But Finn knows better than to be lulled by this comfortable sense of normalcy. It’s just the calm before the storm. For soon, a chance encounter outside the magical Brambleberry Books will lead her down a rabbit hole, into a fairy world of secrets and legacies . . . straight towards the shocking truth about her sister’s death.

Lush and gorgeously written, featuring star-crossed lovers and the collision of the magical and the mundane, Briar Queen will appeal to the fans of Cassandra Clare’s bestselling Mortal Instruments series and Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely

Review:

Look at me! I’m doing that thing where you review two books in a series back to back because you enjoyed the first one so much! And like the last time I did this, the second book wasn’t quite as good as the first.

First a caveat: do not try to read this without having read Thorn Jack as this book picks up almost immediately after the last and heavily references it – you may want to do a reread first if it’s been a while.

That out of the way, let’s get to the heart of why I don’t think Brian Queen works quite as well the first novel: the action leaves our Earth and move to the land of the fae. On the one hand, the creativity that I loved in the first book remains. On the other hand, I think it was more interesting watching Finn and her friends navigate figuring out what is going on than this more action-oriented books. That book had a lingering sense of dread that nothing was quite right, but you couldn’t put a finger on what that was. Here you know nothing is right and that certainty does a larger difference than you may think.

I also think that by having the focus being more on the Fata than the humans doesn’t quite work. On the one hand, it expands the mythology greatly. On the other hand, you just don’t care about the Fata the way you do for Finn and her friends, so it’s harder to get invested.

Night and Nothing is a trilogy and I already have the DRC of the final book in my possession. While I’ll definitely be finishing off the series, I’ll be honest I’m not entirely sure that I would if I didn’t. The series just lost a little bit of that magic this time around. I hope that it can be found in the final book.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: Now

Thorn Jack (Night & Nothing #1) – Katherine Harbour

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Summary:

They call us things with teeth. These words from Lily Rose Sullivan the night of her death haunts her seventeen-year-old sister, Finn, who has moved with her widowed father to his hometown of Fair Hollow, New York. After befriending a boy named Christie Hart and his best friend, Sylvie Whitethorn, Finn is invited to a lakeside party where she encounters the alluring Jack Fata, a member of the town’s mysterious Fata family. Despite Jack’s air of danger and his clever words, Finn learns they have things in common.

One day, while unpacking, Finn finds her sister’s journal, scrawled with descriptions of creatures that bear a sinister resemblance to Jack’s family. Finn dismisses these stories as fiction, but Jack’s family has a secret—the Fatas are the children of nothing and night, nomadic beings who have been preying on humanity for centuries—and Jack fears that his friendship with Finn has drawn the attention of the most dangerous members of his family—Reiko Fata and vicious Caliban, otherwise known as the white snake and the crooked dog.

Plagued with nightmares about her sister, Finn attempts to discover what happened to Lily Rose and begins to suspect that the Fatas are somehow tied to Lily Rose’s untimely death. Drawn to Jack, determined to solve the mystery of her sister’s suicide, Finn must navigate a dangerous world where nothing is as it seems.

Review:

Before I get this review going, have some music to go with it: it’s from a feature-length anime called Le Portrait de Petit Cossette, which had a lovely gothic atmosphere running throughout, much like this book.

Thorn Jack is dark fantasy telling the story of Finn and how she’s slowly brought into the world of the Fata’s and her attempts to get back out – life and sanity intact. One of the things that Harbour does really well is that you never feel safe in this world. Never once do you ever really buy that Jack is a viable candidate for a boyfriend. We’re not talking about someone like Edward or Angel where they make token protests about not being good for you, but never fully push away their girlfriends either – Jack consistently tries to pull himself away knowing that it isn’t good for either one of them.

His so-called family, the Fatas, is this constant menacing threat. Beautiful, ethereal and deadly, there is every sense that humans are their playthings and nothing more.  These are definitely not the Tinker Bell type of faery.

The prose in this novel is absolutely lovely, and really helps capture that dreamy feel. I have seen some complain about conversations that don’t seem to take logical turns, and I think that’s unfair. Those conversations are deliberately awkward as characters try to avoid conversations they rather not have. There’s also quite a bit of quoted poetry here and it doesn’t feel pretentious, it just fits in well even though it should feel out of place.

Finally, this series is interesting because the series description on Good Reads calls it young adult – but I (and Barnes and Nobles) heartily disagree. That’s not something you see often.

If you like dark fantasy, if you like gothic fantasy, pick this one up. Now that I’ve read it, I absolutely plan to go back and not only make a second go of the second book (which I had to put down because I was simply too lost without having read this one) and quite possibly the third one coming out in 2016. It’s simply lovely.

Verdict: Buy It

Available Now

Between – Megan Whitmer

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Summary:

When a supernatural freak of nature forces her family to separate, seventeen-year-old Charlie Page must turn to her frustrating (yet gorgeous) neighbor, Seth, to help reunite them. Seth whisks Charlie to Ellauria—a magical world filled with the creatures of myths and legends—and tells her of the Fellowship, the group charged with protecting mystical beings from human discovery. (All except Bigfoot: that attention whore is a total lost cause.) But when Charlie learns that she’s under the Fellowship’s protection herself, well, “stressed” is an understatement.


Ellauria should be the safest place for Charlie while the Fellowship works to find her family, but things in the mystical realm aren’t what they seem.

Magic is failing, creatures are dying, and the Fellowship insists Charlie holds the key to saving everyone. With her family still missing and the danger in Ellauria growing, Charlie doesn’t know who she can trust. She’s dealing with a power she never asked for, falling for a guy she can’t have, and being forced to choose between her destiny and her heart. And if she chooses wrong, she could destroy magic forever.

Charlie may be in over her head.

Review:

I won this in a giveaway sometime back in 2014. I honestly don’t even remember entering the giveaway, but either way, this showed up and I shelved with a shrug of indifference because I got the vibe that this was going to be some fairly generic YA, of which I’ve read plenty of. Fast forward a year. I’ve been on a reading tear this weekend. I’m pretty much caught up in ARCs and decided it might be nice to read some of the books that’ve been hanging around on my shelves. I was looking for something easy to read so figured now was as good time as any.

That first impression was dead on.

Charlie’s a 17 year-old girl whose life is ruined when she doesn’t get into a summer residency program, because despite being an OMG AMAZING artist, her art apparently would only be good enough to get her into a top visual art program with that program or whatever. But before she can dwell on it too long, a Mothman (no, I’m not making this up) attacks the house and she is whisked away to Ellauria (how do you pronounce that anyway? Why not just Alluria and be done with it?) where she she is the last Muralet. I won’t spoil what a Muralet is (other to say that it is a not-so-good name, really naming is a problem throughout this book) but know she is special and of course her mere existence puts everything else at risk Because.

Oh, and I suppose I should mention that there is a Fellowship (which based on the description makes me think the author doesn’t really know what a fellowship is, because the organization as described does not fit one). There is a bitchy female character who is bitchy because the horrible trope demands it, not because there is any valid reason for her to be that way. In the interest of full disclosure, the MC is also annoyingly stubborn and keeps putting herself into danger, but because she is the main character I suppose we must applaud her for giving the finger to The Man. Or something. The most interesting part of the book is when it’s become clear that the main character’s brother gets brainwashed at some point and I think I’d rather have read that story because it would have been much more interesting. As it stands we barely learn that it’s happened before good triumphs evil and all we are left with is the brother sulking and wishing that both he and his sister were dead. Nice.

This is generic fantasy at its best/worst. You’ve read it all before, and you’ve read much better versions of it. I suppose the best I can say is that it’s generally inoffensive and it’s a fast read.

That’s not saying much, is it?

Ultimately, this book reminds me of advice often given to contestants on cooking shows: if you’re going to make a basic/simple dish, the execution better be flawless. And here, it’s just average at best. You can pick this up on an e-reader for $4. Die-hard fans of the genre, it might be worth a look. The rest of us can better spend our money elsewhere.

Verdict: Skip It

Available Now

Moonlands: Steven Savile

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Summary:

Fifteen-year-old Ashley has a complicated life. There’s no doubt her overachieving parents love her, but they are wrapped up in their own worlds for so much of the time it leaves her feeling like she’s alone.

Like a lot of teenagers, Ashley dreams of other worlds, but unlike a lot of teenagers her world is about to collapse as rifts to an ancient Fae Kingdom begin to open all around her. With the arrival of of a supernatural hit-squad intent on killing her, and an unexpected inheritance, Ashley’s London is about to become a magical and mysterious warzone where the prize is Ashley herself.

Ashley has to find out the secrets of her own life before she is killed. Balancing ancient prophecies, schoolwork and the love of her life is difficult to say the least! Take part of the wonderful world of Moonlands.

Review:

This is a solid little bit of young adult fantasy. It’s a fairly basic tale of a girl who thinks she’s nothing special – not smart, not pretty and whatnot, finding out that of course, she is. And this is set in a world that takes familiar fantasy elements – faeries, werewolves and what have you – and at least does a good job with making the Moonlands feel especially lush. Ashley herself is a pretty likable protagonist too, she feels like a teenager but she grows up when she has to, even if she’s aided by some convenient magic towards the end. While it’s nothing unique, it does at least have a nice little twist on why the villain is villainous, which is nice. I know this sounds rather generic – and to be honest, the book is – but this is one of those cases where that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

There are some minor quibbles to be had though. First the author insists that we know the book is set in 2012. There’s a reference to Twitter and tweeting and a throwaway line about Ashley listening to music that speaks to “being a teenager in 2012.” I’m not sure why he did this: while having it be known that London is in fact a modern one is mildly important (if nothing else to contrast it against the world of the Moonlands), there’s no need to go that specific. This book is solid fantasy with the tiniest hint of steampunk. Knowing it’s 2012 vs. 2002 does absolutely nothing for the story and ultimately those references just stick out like a sore thumb . The bigger quibble is that there is some definitely borrowing of ideas from Harry Potter. There’s a Knight Bus analogue. A bank that she visits to get her bequeath from a deceased aunt was clearly based on Grimmauld Place in the sense that it’s wedged between two buildings and non-magical people have no clue that it’s even there. It is a bit confusing as to how they exist given that it’s made quite clear that London has next to no magic, but there you go. Finally, there’s a creature that saps you of happiness and a will to live before killing you. Hello, Dementors. These aren’t book-breakers, but it is disappointing that there is such blatant copying going on.

Finally, the end of the book implies that there will be a sequel. I don’t see anything on Goodreads to indicate that said book is about to come into existence anytime soon, but that this book is getting a re-release does make one suspect that it’ll come along at some point down the road.

This book shatters no molds, and does feel a bit trope-y (let’s just say you’ll know that one enemy will flip to the other side well in advance of when he does) but it’s enjoyable and if you like the idea, you may enjoy it.

Verdict: Borrow it.

Available: April 17th