Traitor Angels – Anne Blankman

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Summary:

Six years have passed since England’s King Charles II returned from exile to reclaim the throne, ushering in a new era of stability for his subjects.

Except for Elizabeth Milton. The daughter of notorious poet John Milton, Elizabeth has never known her place in this shifting world—except by her father’s side. By day she helps transcribe his latest masterpiece, the epic poem Paradise Lost, and by night she learns languages and sword fighting. Although she does not dare object, she suspects that he’s training her for a mission whose purpose she cannot fathom.

Until one night the reason becomes clear: the king’s men arrive at her family’s country home to arrest her father. Determined to save him, Elizabeth follows his one cryptic clue and journeys to Oxford, accompanied by her father’s mysterious young houseguest, Antonio Vivani, a darkly handsome Italian scientist who surprises her at every turn. Funny, brilliant, and passionate, Antonio seems just as determined to protect her father as she is—but can she trust him with her heart?

When the two discover that Milton has planted an explosive secret in the half-finished Paradise Lost—a secret the king and his aristocratic supporters are desperate to conceal—Elizabeth is faced with a devastating choice: cling to the shelter of her old life or risk cracking the code, unleashing a secret that could save her father…and tear apart the very fabric of society.

Review:

Historical fiction is still very much a niche within YA – the closest you usually get are faux-medieval worlds and fantasies set within the Regency era – so to find something set in the 17th century and to incorporate Milton within it got me all excited.

Sadly, my excitement ended rather quickly.

First and foremost, this is yet another historical novel where the protagonist is 100% modern. She’s fluent in five languages and a competent swordsman, making her more educated than pretty much the vast majority of Europe, even the male nobility. And it hurts her to to think that her father believes that a woman’s place is subservient to her husband (you know, like every single last man – and a good majority of the women at the time believed). What makes it worse is that it all feels so arbitrary because none of her other three sisters are as educated. To be fair, one is clearly simple, but the other two? They didn’t get the same education…because? It seems like it was done out of a nod to historical accuracy, but it makes his focus on her seem all the more jarring. It stands out to only educate the one, and since it was to ensure that she would have the tools to go on this scavenger hunt later, talk about putting your eggs in one basket. What if she wasn’t the best choice of the three? And what’s worse, is that at the end of the book, she essentially gets disowned for having developed a love of learning when he encouraged it. And it’s the more ridiculous because he cites a fear of scandal, when he was convicted of plotting to kill the king. You don’t get more scandalous than that.

Speaking of ridiculous, the hunt to solve the mystery borders on that as well, with leaps of logic along the lines of Elizabeth deciding that she and Antonio are characters in this poem because the names of Adam and Eve start with A and E respectively. Seriously. And it’s all over a vial of liquid mercury? Or some kind of space elixir that can supposedly resurrect people that will result in the downfall of Europe and create a world war because it’ll destroy the notion of the Divine Right of Kings and belief in Chris. It’s just…silly.

I just couldn’t take this book seriously when the author clearly does. I suppose if you like books like The Da Vinci Code you could very well enjoy it – it’s that kind of absurdist fun – but if leaps of logic like the ones articulated above make you roll your eyes, keep looking, because once they start rolling, they’ll likely won’t stop.

Verdict: Skip it

Available Now

 

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Buy It (Now!) The Crown’s Game – Evelyn Skye

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Summary:

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love . . . or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear . . . the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

Review:

I’m not going to beat around the bush: I loved this book. Loved. This is one of the rare books that was even better than the some of the hype implied.

First off, I loved all the characters major and minor. Everyone felt distinct and fleshed out, aside from one side character none of them felt cartoonish or over the top. I especially like the balance that Skye manages to achieve with Vika and Nikolai. Both of them want to want, both of them understand that success means the chance to live and that killing their competition is the best way to do that and so they really do try. At the same point in time, they have their humanity. They’re relieved when they fail. I think a lot of authors (especially YA authors) would have fallen into the trap of having one of them be like “I’m not going to play the Game! I’m not going to kill!” and she avoided that. I also liked how she acknowledged the political tensions of the time without turning it into a story where Vika joined the rebellion. She promised to serve the Tsar, and she will. It’s refreshing.

The magic was well done – evocative and enough of a framework to know the rules they are playing by, but not over-expained. It just comes off as exquisite and exquisitely done. I found myself looking forward to each Turn to see what they’d do next.

Finally, the pacing was spot on and the three main point of views all worked well making the book come together in a real elegant way.

My quibbles were few: there was a side-story with a character introduced late in the book that I don’t think ultimately added that much to the tale and I think she could have found another way to achieve the same end result. There was also a revelation at the end of the book straight out of the Book of YA Tropes that felt pointless. Really though, these were small and neither detracted anywhere near enough to consider not recommending this book.

This is a wonderful bit of fantasy that you should check out without second thought. Evelyn Skye is running a pre-order campaign that you can check out here if that’s your game. When I wrote this review, Amazon had it for $11.09, an absolute bargain, so go forth and pre-order!

Verdict: Buy It

Available: May 17th

 

Buy It: The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1) – Alison Goodman

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Summary:

London, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?

Review:

The Dark Days Club immediately got off to a good start by me for one very simple reason: Lady Helen liked being in Society. This is the first time in ages that I’ve picked up a YA historical fantasy and not have a girl bemoan her good luck at being born into the upper classes of Regency England. Rarely this desire is genuinely plot driven, but generally it seems to be more symptomatic of a modern writer imposing our modern views on a decidedly not modern time. Aside from the fact that marriage realistically was it for women back then, the truth was a lot of women look forward to getting married because the apron strings loosened and pressures eased. Once you were married, you had freedoms that you never had before (freedoms that even spinsters didn’t really get) and so it wasn’t so much a thing to look down on as a think to look forward to (albeit with trepidation in the event that you don’t like your intended, but that’s another story). But yeah, long story short: a heroine who likes who she is and where she is so much that down the road she considers giving up her family’s legacy to go back to it is genuinely refreshing. So well done there.

But I wouldn’t recommend it just for that, however. I like the character of Helen. She’s bright and curious, but not overly done (again, women of this time period weren’t all that well educated), she’s likable, not overly headstrong and she weighs the pros and cons before she makes a decision.

In short: she’s a character that feels strong but still of the time period and I really like that.

I also really liked the pacing of this book. Information was doled out at a great pace. Not so fast as to feel rushed or like an information dump and not so slow that you’re all but flipping pages waiting for something to happen. The story itself is interesting, I like that the legacy she wields has some rather nasty consequences and there’s even a nice bit of budding romance that I find rather believable.

All told, if you like YA fantasy, give this a look. You should enjoy yourself.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

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

A Criminal Magic – Lee Kelly

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Summary:

Magic is powerful, dangerous and addictive – and after passage of the 18th Amendment, it is finally illegal.

It’s 1926 in Washington, DC, and while Anti-Sorcery activists have achieved the Prohibition of sorcery, the city’s magic underworld is booming. Sorcerers cast illusions to aid mobsters’ crime sprees. Smugglers funnel magic contraband in from overseas. Gangs have established secret performance venues where patrons can lose themselves in magic, and take a mind-bending, intoxicating elixir known as the sorcerer’s shine.

Joan Kendrick, a young sorcerer from Norfolk County, Virginia accepts an offer to work for DC’s most notorious crime syndicate, the Shaw Gang, when her family’s home is repossessed. Alex Danfrey, a first-year Federal Prohibition Unit trainee with a complicated past and talents of his own, becomes tapped to go undercover and infiltrate the Shaws.

Through different paths, Joan and Alex tread deep into the violent, dangerous world of criminal magic – and when their paths cross at the Shaws’ performance venue, despite their orders, and despite themselves, Joan and Alex become enchanted with one another. But when gang alliances begin to shift, the two sorcerers are forced to question their ultimate allegiances and motivations. And soon, Joan and Alex find themselves pitted against each other in a treacherous, heady game of cat-and-mouse.

A CRIMINAL MAGIC casts a spell of magic, high stakes and intrigue against the backdrop of a very different Roaring Twenties.

Review:

I’ve been in a reading funk lately. I know it happens to me now and then, but this seems a bit worse than normal with me finding it more difficult than normal to find something actually satisfying to read. I’ve been trying to combat this in a few ways: I’ve dropped down my challenge on Good Reads from 90 to 75 as a reminder to myself that sometimes quality is better than quantity. Just because I can read all the books doesn’t mean that I should.

The other way, of course, is to read awesome books, like this one.

A Criminal Magic is a historical fantasy set in the 1920s where the Prohibition isn’t against alcohol, it’s against the Sorcerer’s Shine, pure magic, distilled into a beverage that is a trip in a shot. It’s a fun concept for a world and it’s really well done with a magic system that both feels developed and feels like it has consequence and better still, the magic serves as a backdrop for ultimately an interesting character study about two newcomers to the underworld and how that life impacts them. You watch as Joan gets drawn deeper in, the promise of wealth and security like her family has never had being worth the risk even as Alex by it all having seen both sides of it – the money and the blood on the hands that come with it.

It’s a great, adult, moody piece and it’s not moralistic or preachy about the choices the characters make. The relationship between Alex and Joan is especially fascinating to watch develop. It’s a lovely slow burn so that when they do get together it feels like it’s been earned, and at the same point in time when the end of the book has come about, the resolution feels right based on the paths the characters had been taking to this point.

If you’re looking for that bit of fresh air, absolutely give this a look. It’s fantastic.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: now

Sword and Verse (Sword and Verse #1) – Kathy McMillan

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Summary:

Raisa was only a child when she was kidnapped and enslaved in Qilara. Forced to serve in the palace of the King, she’s endured hunger, abuse, and the harrowing fear of discovery. Everyone knows that Raisa is Arnath, but not that she is a Learned One, a part of an Arnath group educated in higher order symbols. In Qilara, this language is so fiercely protected that only the King, the Prince, and Tutors are allowed to know it. So when the current Tutor-in-training is executed for sharing the guarded language with slaves and Raisa is chosen to replace her, Raisa knows that, although she may have a privileged position among slaves, any slipup could mean death.

That would be challenging enough, but training alongside Prince Mati could be her real undoing. And when a romance blossoms between them, she’s suddenly filled with a dangerous hope for something she never before thought possible: more. Then she’s approached by the Resistance—an underground army of slaves—to help liberate the Arnath people. Joining the Resistance could mean freeing her people…but she’d also be aiding in the war against her beloved, an honorable man she knows wants to help the slaves.

Working against the one she loves—and a palace full of deadly political renegades—has some heady consequences. As Raisa struggles with what’s right, she unwittingly uncovers a secret that the Qilarites have long since buried…one that, unlocked, could bring the current world order to its knees.

And Raisa is the one holding the key.

Review:

So have you read the book about the slave girl in the palace convinced to use her position to help out a rebellion?

Oh. You have?

But wait! She’s having an affair with/is in love with the Prince! And the Prince really wants to abolish slavery but his father doesn’t agree!

That too?

Yeah. You’ve probably read some variation of this book before, but I will say that this is a pretty good example of the genre. I don’t really have much to say about this book other than the sudden and huge occurrence of magic towards the very end feels very out of nowhere(not to mention a wee bit messianic) and the ending is painfully corny with a hint of kumbaya going on, though not out of place for the genre.

All told, if you like this kind of book, you’ll probably enjoy this book. There’s just not much more to be said.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: Now

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?