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.

DNF The Thief’s Gamble – Juliet E. McKenna

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Summary:

Magic? It’s for the rich, the powerful…the Archmage and his elite wizards and cloud-masters.

Livak is not among them. She haunts the back taverns of the realm, careful to appear neither rich nor poor, neither tall nor short… neither man nor woman. Obscurity is her protection, thievery her livelihood, and gambling her weakness.

Alas, some bets are hard to resist. Particularly when they offer a chance to board a ship for Hadrumal, the fabled city of the Archmage. So Livak follows a minor wizard, Shiv, in an attempt to turn a rune or two, never dreaming that the stolen tankard she wants to sell contains the secrets of an ancient magic far more powerful, and infinitely darker, than any mortal mage’s spells

Review:

I tried folks, I really did. This is an oldie – 1999 to be precise – and side from a female protagonist and a primary male character who casually admits to having a boyfriend (progressive for the year, to be sure) there just isn’t much here here. I have trouble keeping characters apart. The book has a tendency to jump POV in a single chapter (with each chapter being rather long and divisions of time, rather than narrator)  made the more confusing when Livak’s story is told in first person, and everyone else is told in the third person. There’s no good reason for that division either, at least not from a  narrative point of view. I have to wonder if it was a short-cut way to try and draw the reader in? Dunno.

For epic fantasy, the quest is pretty tame and the magic is woefully underdeveloped for a story about wizards and practically not used beyond some parlor tricks – it almost seems more theoretical than real.

Ultimately, this book is worse than bad: it’s boring and doesn’t have enough story to justify the almost 500 pages that it fills, making it impossible to recommend. There are too many other, better, traditional fantasies out there to recommend in its place.

Did Not Finish – Mortal Danger by Ann Aguire

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ARC received as giveaway from the publisher

Summary:

In Ann Aguirre’s Mortal Danger, Edie Kramer has a score to settle with the beautiful people at Blackbriar Academy. Their cruelty drove her to the brink of despair, and four months ago, she couldn’t imagine being strong enough to face her senior year. But thanks to a Faustian compact with the enigmatic Kian, she has the power to make the bullies pay. She’s not supposed to think about Kian once the deal is done, but devastating pain burns behind his unearthly beauty, and he’s impossible to forget.

In one short summer, her entire life changes and she sweeps through Blackbriar, prepped to take the beautiful people down from the inside. A whisper here, a look there, and suddenly . . . bad things are happening. It’s a head rush, seeing her tormentors get what they deserve, but things that seem too good to be true usually are, and soon, the pranks and payback turns from delicious to deadly. Edie is alone in a world teeming with secrets and fiends lurking in the shadows. In this murky morass of devil’s bargains, she isn’t sure who—or what—she can trust. Not even her own mind.

Review:

Two DNF in one month? I know, I know. I’m honestly not that happy about it either, but I’ve become firm in my desire to not waste time on books that just aren’t cutting it for me and this is one of those books. But, in my defense, remember in my post for The Mirror Empire I mentioned a blogger who had spent 18 days on a book and hadn’t known how she felt? This was that book. I received an ARC at the Fierce Reads tour and since another blogger was asking if anyone genuinely liked it I decided to give it a shot. It’s the second book I picked up from that event that dealt with teenagers and bullying and the desire to get even.

Brutal Youth may have been a very dark and very difficult read, but those characters were oh-so-very human and you wanted them to get out of their situation and thrive, so when they didn’t really, it’s pretty devastating.

Aguire forgot to make Edie likable.

I don’t know what happened here, but Aguire just missed the boat entirely. She is judgmental: after obtaining her beautiful new body through her little deal, she meets a girl named Viola at the summer school program she goes to. She says to herself that she wishes she could tell the girl that she used to be a “before picture” too. Ouch. Before pictures, by their very definition have negative connotations. For her first thoughts to of this girl as one? Not cool. Add in some thoughts about how she used to be “that girl” and I don’t know how much I necessarily trust Edie’s friendship with her. It’s just not a good vibe. Beyond that, she tries to tell us that her academic parents (both are college profs) are too stupid to get that she couldn’t have acquired this body over the summer through normal means because they aren’t athletically inclined. Um. What? How else are going to people react when they send away one person and get a completely new person back? Nervous laughter is a way of trying to cope with something that is otherwise inexplicable.  Okay, Carrie, but you’re over reacting, you say?

Fine.

Edie is also a bully.

The second she puts her feet back on campus all she can think of is how she can humiliate her tormentors. One guy tells her something, asks her not to tell, and then like the next day she’s telling that thing to another so the rumor will spread throughout the school. From outcast to Mean Girl in two seconds flat. That’s not someone I want to root for, especially because the way her mindset so rapidly shifts, it makes you wonder how she might have been had she been one of the pretty girls from the outset. Also not explained: she’s pretty, but still has no wealth. Shouldn’t she still have been outcast? Schools like that, money really DOES talk. Maybe she wouldn’t have been picked on as much, but she’d still be an outsider. Trust me. I was in her shoes once and even in the 4th grade I was well aware that I was one of the have nots and we were our own little group.

Anyway.

Hand-in-hand with the unlikable bits is the insta-love with Kian. On the one hand, had it been one sided, I could have bought it. After all, Edie was supposed to have been bullied and here Kian, a handsome guy, is paying her all kind of attention. But no. He’s equally smitten and talks of bringing what he sees on the inside, out. Ugh.

Did I mention Edie is special? That the bad-guys in charge of making the deal (some kind of Wolfram and Hart knock-off) have something in mind for Edie and that “the opposition” have it out for her too?

Sigh.

This just isn’t working for me. Maybe had we seen more of what drove her to this point, I might be more sympathetic but as it stands, I just don’t care about her. And I’m not going to spend more time reading about her.

Like I said, you really want to look at bullying and the impact it can have, go check out Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican. There may be no Faustian deals being made, but the characters there are strong enough to fight back without needing one.

Did Not Finish – Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

20646731eARC provided by the publisher in exchange for fair review

Summary:

On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin.

As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.

In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.

Review:

I’m back! It was funny, once I gave myself the permission to slow down in my reading, I started getting the itch to read again within hours. I picked up the book again and I did start getting into it a little more than I had from before I declared my break. But as I kept going, I felt myself slowing down again and I began to wonder whether it was me or the book. A funny thing happened then: another blogger tweeted how it’d taken 18 days to finish a particular book, and aside from the ending she didn’t know how she felt about it.

My first reaction was “holy shit – 18 days?!” as a blogger, that’s practically an eternity. I’m averaging about 10 books a month right, or roughly one every three days. To take that long is inconceivable. But I realized that was the path I was heading on. The second thing that struck me is that take that long meant that she might have respected the book enough to continue on, but she wasn’t enjoying it. There was something that was keeping her from connecting, or else it wouldn’t have taken that long to get through it. And something was keeping me from connecting with this book, or I wouldn’t have felt such apathy towards continuing on.

I wanted to make it through. I wanted to like this book. Hurley just picked up two Hugo awards and this book has gotten a lot of praise. And I can see why too – there’s some good stuff here. The magic system is interesting (though perhaps could be a bit more defined), the world feels alive in dangerous and the play with traditional gender roles (and even genders). Because of that I want to still encourage people to give this book a look. It’s not working for me, but it’s so unique in today’s epic fantasy landscape that I can’t not pass word along.

Give it a shot. It may not be my book, but it still could be yours.

Did Not Finish: Queen of the Tearling – Erika Johnson

17415882Review copy provided by Edelweiss in exchange for a fair review

Summary:

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.

But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend…if she can survive.

The Queen of the Tearling introduces readers to a world as fully imagined and terrifying as that of The Hunger Games, with characters as vivid and intriguing as those of The Game of Thrones, and a wholly original heroine. Combining thrilling action and twisting plot turns, it is a magnificent debut from the talented Erika Johansen.

Review:

If you want to read this book, do yourself a favor and don’t think about it. This is the perfect example of a book that works okay if you just let yourself soak in the text, but the <i>second</i> you begin to think it completely falls apart.

The setting is nonsensical – we’re in medieval Europe! No, wait, we’re in the future on some place on earth that probably doesn’t exist because there are few places left to explore.

The technological hangups make no sense- they’re no doctors because they drowned and no one thought to sneak across the boarder to train! Double-paned glass is amazeballs!

The MC finds herself incredibly plain – despite living in pure exile for 19 years and not having had any access to a mirror. What societal influence shaped this opinion of her, because beauty IS directed by society. Remember Reuben and how a long time chubbier women were sexy because it indicated wealth and enough food to eat?

The MC is a naive idiot who talks like a politician running for office that despite her extensive “schooling” knows nothing of her land and apparently missed the lesson on “the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few.” You don’t end an unjust treaty that is keeping your land at least marginally peaceful when you have no army nor comparable weapons because zomg slaves. Oh, and did I mention that she’s vowed to never betray the thief called Fetch who kidnapped her? Yes, he didn’t kill her, but that’s hardly cause for promise of pardon or such loyalty. Hell, you can feel her guard practically facepalming in light of this information.

The Red Queen is supposed to come off as Joffrey-like figure (ZOMG, by bed slave is snoring! I know! I shall sever his vocal cords, cut out his tongue and uvula because it annoys me!) but the way she’s written, I can’t take her seriously.

At the end of the day, I just can’t with this book. I got a quarter of the way through and I can’t keep going.

The writing is breezy and it can be fun…just don’t think about it.

Did Not Finish: The Hundred-Year House

18693644eARC received through FirstToRead.com

Summary:

Meet the Devohrs: Zee, a Marxist literary scholar who detests her parents’ wealth but nevertheless finds herself living in their carriage house; Gracie, her mother, who claims she can tell your lot in life by looking at your teeth; and Bruce, her step-father, stockpiling supplies for the Y2K apocalypse and perpetually late for his tee time. Then there’s Violet Devohr, Zee’s great-grandmother, who they say took her own life somewhere in the vast house, and whose massive oil portrait still hangs in the dining room.

Violet’s portrait was known to terrify the artists who resided at the house from the 1920s to the 1950s, when it served as the Laurelfield Arts Colony—and this is exactly the period Zee’s husband, Doug, is interested in. An out-of-work academic whose only hope of a future position is securing a book deal, Doug is stalled on his biography of the poet Edwin Parfitt, once in residence at the colony. All he needs to get the book back on track—besides some motivation and self-esteem—is access to the colony records, rotting away in the attic for decades. But when Doug begins to poke around where he shouldn’t, he finds Gracie guards the files with a strange ferocity, raising questions about what she might be hiding. The secrets of the hundred-year house would turn everything Doug and Zee think they know about her family on its head—that is, if they were to ever uncover them.

In this brilliantly conceived, ambitious, and deeply rewarding novel, Rebecca Makkai unfolds a generational saga in reverse, leading the reader back in time on a literary scavenger hunt as we seek to uncover the truth about these strange people and this mysterious house. With intelligence and humor, a daring narrative approach, and a lovingly satirical voice, Rebecca Makkai has crafted an unforgettable novel about family, fate and the incredible surprises life can offer.

Review:

So earlier this week I mentioned going through my occasional need to take a break. I last finished/reviewed a book on 5/31. I took a few days off; tried to read something on my ARC pile, which for various reasons I would up DNF’ing as well, so decided that it was time to instead to find something that would qualify as a “Palate cleanser” reviewer, as I still fully believe that one of the best ways to help move ahead is to read something you don’t normally. So I thought that The Hundred-Year House, a piece of literary fiction, would be perfect.

And for the first 50%, it was.

I really enjoyed the first half of this book. It was a great story of marriages falling apart, secrets kept from spouses, and a mystery of why Zee’s mother was so damn opposed to Doug trying to get a handful of seemingly innocent files from the attic. But then we got an answer. We didn’t know if it was the truthful answer, but we had our answer and the story wrapped up with a literal 50% of the story left. This is where the book lost me, because now we start journeying to the past. First we go back to 1955 – and skimming ahead confirms we then go back to the 20s and the final section, titled “prologue” is set in 1900 (Part 1, the section which is described above is set mainly in 1999, with the denouement occurring in 2000). The idea here is that one parts introduces characters from the past, and then the next section covers the story of those characters. I had two problems with this. First, I liked that part 1 ended without knowing for sure whether or not the story we’d been given was true. I didn’t actually have a desire to know the truth. Second, the characters in the second part just didn’t grab me. Zee and Doug were very flawed characters, I rather enjoyed that about. When we go back in time and meet Grace and George, they don’t feel as complex and so it just lost me.

Ultimately, I just don’t understand the decision to tell this story in this way. Rather, let me clarify: on a technical level, I understand it: the author wants us to meet the people before we meet them. But I’m still not convinced its necessary. The past wasn’t really what was interesting in this book. The fact that Zee was trying to set up another professor to get fired to try and get her husband a job was interesting. Doug ghostwriting a Babysitter Club-type novel to bring in a few bucks, but hiding it from his wife because he was embarrassed was interesting. Honestly, the stuff about the artist colony was the least interesting bit.

Oh well. I do think the first half is worth a read, but I just can’t recommend only half a book.

On to the next 🙂

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