Since this is the dullest title I've read all year, I'm not going to waste a lot of time on it. Not yours and not mine.
I mean, there's nothing technically wrong with this book, I don't hate it. It's just so boring I didn't want to read it. It took me 3 days to force myself through the first 20%.
Everything is instant.. she gets kidnapped.. but she's hot for him. That can work.. if there's a connection.. but there's nothing. There's no depth to any of the characters, their backstories, or the main plot. It's like someone sat down and wrong a long synopsis.
If you don't care about any of those things, then maybe this book is for you. It wasn't for me.
Honestly, the best thing about this book is the cover. So, just enjoy that.. and avoid the text inside. It's really for the best.
"You look like mayhem and magic all rolled into one--which has been your aesthetic since the dawn of the wiggle dress."
I've been wanting to explore the 'Rogue Ethereal' series by Annie Anderson for some time. So, when I got the chance to read her upcoming release-- 'Priestess of Storms & Stone (Rogue Ethereal Book 5),' I jumped at it.
As I haven't read the previous books in the series, even with research.. I won't go back and talk about the origins of any of these characters. However, the lead-- Max, is incredibly likeable. She's funny, she's got a smart mouth I can completely relate to, and she often seems to subscribe to the 'throw punches first, ask questions later' belief system.. which I..
..well, I plead the fifth on that one.
This book finds Max on the trail of a newly turned succubus, making her way through the realm of Faerie, along with her entourage of guardians, friends, and family members. As is to be expected, not everyone's a friend. There are those who want her dead and those who want to use her to their own ends, but she's made a promise and intends to keep it. She's loyal and seemingly made of determination.
"The rational part of me knew I sounded co-dependent as f*ck. The irrational part of my brain told the rational one to go f*ck itself."
It's a well-structured novel with a lot of page-turning action. I feel like it's a bit of a guilty pleasure read because the author just seems to draw in as many tropes as possible and run with them. Long lost relative? Got it. Buried psychological trauma? Got it. Fated mates and tragic origins and characters who are not what they believe themselves to be? Got all those things too.
That's a pattern throughout the book actually.. the author loves to compile and collect. There's are multiple worlds of creatures at play, from fawns and dryads.. to demons and angels.. to wraiths and shifters.. even a kitsune.
Action scenes read the same way. They tumble constantly from one situation to the next, always potentially in some new and even greater danger. Even down time is used efficiently to further story or build relationships.. or develop characters.
"I leave you alone for five bloody minutes and you've gone and caused the apocalypse.."
I'm not complaining. It's a really fun book. Annie definitely knows how to manage all those spinning plates with ease and none of them ever hit the floor unless she wants them to do so.
Sure, there are a few things that I'm not typically a fan of.
There's always an easy answer to pretty much every situation. Max instinctively knows how to solve them or who to ask or exactly what to say or do to keep moving forward. Everyone in the group is perfectly reasonable once they understand why someone acts in a certain way. Her demon boyfriend is a perfect mixture of loving protectiveness and supportiveness for her independence. And there's always a convenient, easy way to deliver/receive information.
The difference is.. with this book.. I just didn't care. I was having such a good time, she made it all work. And I applaud her for that.
"You humans always miss the most important details," he said. It's not your fault of course.
Where to begin.. about this lovely story.
'Half a Soul' is book one in the 'Regency Faerie Tale' series by Olivia Atwater, a historical fantasy about a young woman who has been cursed with the loss of intense feelings like fear, embarrassment, and happiness. Along with that, she's also lost the ability in most cases to read the room, so to speak. Her actions are rarely based on societal expectations, though she can manage to behave in what is considered an appropriate manner much of the time.. it's through practice and memorized responses. Not instinct.
"Indeed, you should address me as Your Lordship or Lord Hollowvale, for I am the marquess of that realm. You can tell that I am important, for I am wearing many expensive jackets."
While the loss of some feelings like great joy and excitement.. would certainly be kind of sad having experienced them, her reactions are just rather muted. And arguably, lacking any real fear of speaking her mind, makes the main character.. Dora, much stronger than many. In fact, she's logical and wickedly clever. A force to be reckoned with at times.
Those who know me well would likely realize quite quickly that I love this character, as well as exactly why. As a woman who isn't particularly emotional in most scenarios, though I am quite adept at reading the room, I rarely let it influence my own behaviors. I know when it's prudent of course.. professionally for example.. but occasionally I still don't care enough to offer false niceties. I say what I mean.
"If we are being politely dishonest with one another, then you may assure the Lord Sorcier that I am charmed to meet him too."
So, to come across a character like Dora, was incredibly refreshing. I find her extremely likeable and funny. Her humor is usually biting and sometimes a bit dark. She can stand up for herself and others, but doesn't have to do so in some contrived way to show us she's strong. She simply, doesn't really mind making the hard choices.. because for her, they mostly come easily.
Along the way, of course, she meets the Lord Sorcier of England, Lord Elias Wilder. A handsome young man who is quite likely her equal, both in oddness and directness, yet without her affliction. He's a magician who.. and I love the Wonderland reference.. is said to "regularly perform three impossible things before breakfast."
"Pleasant-mannered people are simply the worst sort of people. Decent people become properly angry when presented with miserable injustice, but pleasant-mannered people never do."
There are plenty of other great characters too, Albert.. Elias' friend, Vanessa.. Dora's incredibly loyal.. if somewhat pampered cousin, and the mysterious Lord Hollowvale.. who is quite the alluring fiend.
Atwater does a beautiful job of creating a pair of sibling worlds, where the parallels are visible, but the differences extreme. Sometimes brutal. And often strange, but in a fantastic way.
Admittedly, I have always wanted to read a good historical fiction novel. I know many who love the genre and I hate missing out on something, but in my case.. the overdone use of the period's language always loses me. I just can't handle all the proper b.s. I understand that it was often how things were in certain social circles, but it's not for me. The entire population of those countries didn't speak in the same tones. There have always been variances between the people, either by class or by region.. or something else.
"There is such a thing as evil in this world..."
"It does not help to look away from it. It does not even help, necessarily, to look at it..."
"But sometimes, when you cannot force the world to come to its senses, you must settle only for wiping away some of the small evils in front of you."
Some of the characters here speak in the formal tongue of Regency England, but others don't. There's plenty of varied British dialect to go around. Honestly, my favorite moments of dialogue were usually between Dora and Elias. They held a sense of familiar, relatable banter that I see amongst my own social circles and I loved them.
If you're looking for a traditional Austen title here, this isn't it. 'Half a Soul' is billed as 'Pride and Prejudice' meets 'Howl's Moving Castle'.. and to a degree, I can see that. But to assume that's all it is would be doing it a tremendous disservice.
Do yourself a favor, add 'Half a Soul' to your list of must read books. Olivia Atwater is a sleeping giant of fantasy fiction.
By Blood and Magic
Sabine scanned the sea, but she couldn’t see any sign of the missing crew. If the Merfolk were already taking prisoners, they were running out of time. A few more hits like the last one, and the ship would capsize.
“If you have any suggestions, Sabine, now is the time. Otherwise, I agree with Bane. I’ll destroy every last one of these Merfolk for harming those under my protection.”
Without waiting for a response, Malek leaned over the railing toward the lower deck and called out more orders to ready the catapults. Sabine swallowed and tried to bury the sick fear threatening to overwhelm her. Esmelle wouldn’t even have been on this ship if it weren’t for her. The thought of losing one of her closest friends was unfathomable.
Sabine’s hands tightened on the railing as she stared at the angry sea. “They’ll keep Esme and the rest of the hostages alive until they manage to capsize the ship. Those who aren’t enslaved are usually fed to their underwater pets. If they take all of us down below, we’ll lose any negotiating power we might have while still under the sky.”
“I’ve heard the stories,” Bane admitted, caging her with his arms. She leaned back against his heated skin, thankful for the warmth he offered against the chill from the elements. Bane might have difficulties tapping into softer emotions, but he’d made it no secret he admired and respected the spunky witch who was now an unwilling hostage.
“They aren’t just stories,” she said as a daring plan began to form in her mind.
Bane squeezed her midsection and murmured, “You are my priority, Sabine. If we must lose Esme, she will be mourned, but we cannot allow you to fall. We need to get you and this ship out of here.”
Sabine turned and glared up at him. “We won’t be mourning anyone. I will get them back—all of them. And you’re going to help me do it.”
'Canto: If I Only Had a Heart (Vol. 1)' by David Booher (author) and Drew Zucker (illustrator/artist)
'Canto: If I Only Had a Heart' by David Booher is a graphic novel inspired by the Wizard of Oz and Dante's Inferno that tells the story of a little tin boy who loves a little tin girl and the lengths he's willing to go to, in order to save her.
Their people are forbidden to love, but when the slavers damage her clockwork heart by punishing her for breaking their rules, Canto undertakes a life or death journey to search for the real hearts that are taken from them at birth. As time ticks away, he makes some friends along the way to defeat the myth of the man whose power holds them all in chains.
I can't say enough good things about this little novel. The story is beautiful.. both sad and endearing all at once. Canto and the girl he loves just dig straight into your heart from the beginning, never easing up.
People have a tendency to segregate comics and graphic novels from what they call 'real books,' but I've never felt that way. And this story is a great example of exactly how much a good writer can do with the medium. It's full of the feels.. the tragedy of their existence, the small ways they offer each other hope and comfort, the warmth of comraderie, and more. A full spectrum of emotions play throughout the story, more so.. I have to say.. than some more traditional titles I've read.
Oh my, I loved this book and I just knew it was going to be something special. The artwork is absolutely stunning. There are times it feels like it's glowing on the page and others where the texture turns gritty, conveying Canto's experience viscerally. Even the fight scenes are executed beautifully!
Initially, I had gotten the title as an ARC from NetGalley, but my file got corrupted and it had already been archived on the site. Convinced though, as I was, that it was going to be something extraordinary.. I pre-ordered the digital version so that I could still read and review it. Now I'm kicking myself for not just buying the physical copy. I'd considered it heavily, but in the end I erred on the side of caution.. and I shouldn't have. I'd love to have it in my collection.. and you will too.
I was excited to read 'Next-Door Incubus (Becoming Lust Book 1)' by Destiny Diess. What's not to love about a story about the demon next door with the smoldering good looks, pretty green eyes, and love handles on his head?
My expectations for storytelling weren't high and I was fine with that. I figured there'd be a little interspersed between a lot of fun smut scenes, with a ton of playful flirting along the way. Well, none of that was exactly what I got. So, even though my expectations were low and a bit shallow, I was still disappointed.
This book really reads like a piece of weak fanfic. I mean, the author has no trouble putting coherent thoughts together or even setting down a path to where she wants to end up.
In fact, I think Destiny was rather ambitious. She seemed to mean to tell a story, rather that just focusing on juicy bits. But instead, every chance she had to explore the plot points she laid out, she skipped them. They would happen somewhere 'off scene.' She would often sort of forward past them by a few hours, days, or even weeks.. only to pick up by having some character tell us that they occurred.
It's the strangest thing. Relationship bomb? Vindication? Dramatic life-changes? World altering deaths? All discussed after the fact. All pivotal plot points, if the story had actually been written instead of alluded to. Nothing seen at all. Just-- 'hey, so.. this happened.. and now here's the result of that.'
At that point, she may as well have left out the story altogether, because I feel like I slid into a chat room somewhere in the early 2000's and just happened to see someone 'writing' in a scrolling window for a few friends who had even less of an idea of how a book might read. Which is really a shame. I feel like with some training, Destiny could develop into a relatively worthy author, but she needs to learn to focus and expand on details and concepts. She needs to slow down and let the reader experience what's happening.
Of the 'steam scenes,' of which there were many, there's a threesome which is pretty well done. It is by far the most detailed scene, but really just because so much happens.
For the most part, what's hottest about this book and our big, strong incubus.. is the themes. He's a naughty boy. He likes playing with the idea of getting caught, he gets a bit pushy when he's in a lusty mood, and the things he does are just plain hot. Unfortunately though, like everything else.. many of the scenes end up feeling really rushed because they're just not visualized well.
The sex scenes felt a bit awkward. They felt as if they were written as if the idea of them was based on adult videos for traditionally masculine target audience, rather than from the perspective of a woman with any experience. Some aspects of them.. some of the verbal exchanges and settings are pretty solid, it just isn't cohesive.
There's a decent amount of character building actually, I was surprised by how much backstory she had for them, even if it was told in sputtering amounts through a catch-up mechanism. And their backstories were interesting. If told well, they would have rocked.. just like the main story itself.
Sadly, I didn't really care for the female lead. Mostly she did a lot of whining and telling us how alternatingly 'good' or 'sinful' she was. A word to the wise, let the stories tell us these things. When they come from the character's mouths.. they're not believable.
Eros is rather lovely though and absolutely her shining moments in the novel due to the lack of detail everywhere else. The information dump isn't ideal, but you have to take the positives where you can find them sometimes.
Also, I did really like the take on Lucifer's kingdom. She actually gave us a bit of imagery here and I was starving for it by then, but I just liked the direction she decided to go with him. It was a good choice and she has so much potential maybe in a couple of years.
Repetition of the mention of their scents got really old. Don't get me wrong, I like coming away with a tangible idea of what being around a character might be like.. and scent is a really good way to convey that, but I don't need to be told about it every few pages.
Anyway, I know there's an audience out there for this book. I won't say it's awful, but it's not good either.
"The power shall always belong to those who give their lives to the city."
'House of Earth and Blood,' the first book in the new 'Crescent City' series by Sarah J. Maas is a contemporary fantasy title about a half-fae/half-human woman--Bryce Quinlan, who loses her closest friends in a brutal killing. After the authorities put the alleged assailant in prison, the killings start again.. leaving Bryce in the midst of the mystery and one hell of a quest for vengeance.
When Bryce ends up with an enslaved Fallen angel on her heels everywhere she goes for protection, the two clash from the start. Hunt Athalar is a well-known and widely feared assassin for the Governor and he'll do anything to regain his freedom. He's pushy and she's stubborn.. and the result is often hilarious.
As this was my very first Maas read, I didn't really know what to expect. I've seen conflicting reactions to her previous work all over, but I try not to pay much attention to things like that. I realize most opinions are not based so much on the work, but rather personal preferences and prejudices one way or the other. This book was a lot though and I'm struggling to settle on a place to begin the discussion. There's a lot to process and that's mostly a good thing. Mostly.
"If it's not a date, then how is it different?"
"It'd be a trial run. For a date," Connor said through his teeth.
"She lifted a brow. "A date to decide if I want to date you?"
Since I like to approach titles with as fresh an outlook as possible, I let some time sit between my initial read of the synopsis and actually getting into the story. So, literally within the first five chapters, the author made me love those friends who weren't long for the world.. and then crushed me when they were gone.
If I'd re-read the summary, I would have been prepared.. but I didn't. Instead, I bawled my eyes out and I was barely getting started. Yet, I'm so glad for that experience. It really set the tone for the entire book which is full of ups and downs, tragedy and levity, joy and sorrow. This story wounded my soul. It hurt me on a level that is like the swift, brutal end of a cherished relationship. You know the kind.. where the other person walks away and you're still all in.. just standing there and watching them go? Yeah. That kind.
I want to get one thing out of the way first. There are people who pan the hell out of this writer.. and it was abundantly clear, very quickly--that what they mistake for a lack of skill or quality, is the way they personally feel about the characters or stories they've read. I've seen all sorts of reasons--they can't relate to the characters, they think the stories are cheesy, she replaces characters too often, and so on.
They cite her for poor character building (which I assure you is at least not the case in this book), couples with no chemistry (again, definitely not the case here--in fact the chemistry is great between friends, foes, lovers and most things in-between), and cheesy scenes. Okay, the latter could be misconstrued--the only cheesiness I saw was between friends being goofy, as friends are prone to do, or some really sweet moments which also happen in actual situations.
Now, as I said, this was my first and so far--only Maas read. Maybe it was the exception to all those above generalities imposed on her as an author by readers who are opposed to her. Maybe. But I'm seeing similar things about this book and it really just comes across as a people who don't know the difference between good vs. bad and like vs. dislike.
"There was only silence here. Silence and mist.
Was this death? Silence and fog?"
There are a lot of things Maas did really well in 'House of Earth and Blood.' The world-building is absolutely massive and intricately detailed. From the seven regions of the city, to their inhabitants and the political breakdown of each, and the symbolism representing it all.. you can tell she spent a ton of time fleshing it all out and there's a rhythm to how and why each group is placed where they are. Every faction and race referenced with any amount of focus has a full history and structure of its own. Some of the things that identify them are long-standing reliable mythology and others are creative off-shoots from the norm.
Nearly every character the story gives any serious attention to, has a substantial backstory of their own. The only exceptions being more secretive individuals for reasons of their own and perhaps we'll find out more about them in future releases. From the ruling body of the planet, to the bowels of Hel, to the people in between, there's a distinctive hierarchy keeping everyone in their place. A careful balance.. precarious and volatile.
"There are thirty-six photos on your four-year-old phone, and all of them are dismembered bodies," she said.
The conflict, both internal and external is rough.. and I mean emotionally. I laughed, I raged, I cried.. I adored, I detested. This book is an absolute roller coaster of emotions in spots. Honestly, the last 100-150 pages I spent mostly in tears. Sometimes melting from happiness, sometimes suffering soul deep blows. Did I like every character? No. Did I like every character I was meant to like? Probably still.. no. But that's okay.
Maas succeeded in immersing me. She gave me characters I could relate to.. either because I saw something of myself in them.. or something of someone I knew. She made me invested, sometimes rewarded me for that investment, and other times destroyed me with it. She moved me to react. And that's the mark of a really good storyteller.
It wasn't perfect. Nothing ever is. There are little plot devices here and there that seem far-fetched in the moment, but after you learn more later.. their purpose clears up. To be honest, in hindsight I realize at least they're typically addressed by someone within the character's social circle as questionable, but blown off by a whole lot of 'it doesn't matter--there's no other choice.' That's actually quite a brilliant use of subtlety to turn the reader's gaze elsewhere.
"That's what they call you, but that's not who you are."
"And who am I?"
"A pain in my ass."
I've told you many of the things I think she did right, but there is one big thing I think she did wrong. I think she made a decision for the sake of the drama it would create. I think there was a particular direction she wanted the story to take and she forced it to go there. And I think at that point, she either forgot who her character really was.. or she willfully dismissed that knowledge. It's a really common problem with current writers, some of my favorites in fact. So, make no mistake. I'm not putting her down. But I was incredibly angry for the character because it felt disloyal.
The motive for the act was strong and steady throughout the novel. I don't dispute the act entirely itself. I dispute how it was handled. Lying about it? In the particular case.. 100% inconsistent with the character's psychological baseline. It's not a clever twist, if it doesn't make sense for the character. It's a sharp turn off the road across a field full of holes.
When it makes sense, but you're so subtle the audience still doesn't see it coming.. that's when you hook them with it. You want to shoot for 'holy shit I should have seen that'.. not.. 'what the hell just happened?' Otherwise, you can literally toss them from the moment. That's exactly what happened to me. I put the novel down for two days because I was furious about the plot point decision, not the act itself.
The other things I saw were minor and also pretty common. An easy solution information download to clean-up plot points, for one. Though at least it was done in an acceptable, somewhat less overt manner. You could see it for what it was if you were looking, but I'm betting most readers these days are so accustomed to that, they barely notice if it's a decent setup.
Another minor issue (and other recurring complaint of mine in current titles), was the 'yoyo effect.' You'll see what I mean if you read the book. It happened in a big movie late last year too. There's a dramatic incident.. but wait, it's reversed.. only to be followed by another dramatic incident going the opposite direction, but wait.. that's reversed too, and then there's at least one more of those incidents.. that may or may not be reversed.
It's just, taking a climax and overdoing it to the point it's no longer interesting. Like 'The Departed.' Remember that older Leonardo DiCaprio film? The entire film was great drama.. very intense, very story driven. Twenty minutes from the end.. BAM.. sudden, dramatic incident. Would have been a beautiful ending. Maybe even one more after that. But instead, we got an entire series of them over that twenty minutes.. until the shock and surprise was just replaced with droll resentment.
"What brings loyalty from beyond death, undimming despite the years. What remains unwavering in the face of hopelessness."
Anyway, I've gone on far too long.. but give me a break. It was an 800 page novel. I wasn't a fan of the reveal regarding how the friends died. Personally, in my mind.. it sounded kind of dumb.. but 'suspension of disbelief' and everything else more than made up for that one choice that I just didn't care for. See what I did there? It was something I didn't like, it wasn't a case of 'bad writing.'
For the record, even with those three complaints I made.. I absolutely loved the book. From a technical aspect, it's a very solid piece of storytelling. But in addition to that, I really loved the story and Maas' great characters (good and bad) that I got to know. I can't believe I have to wait probably a good year or more for the next one. I can foresee a re-read in my future and that's an incredibly rare feat for a book with me.
Pick up this novel. Unless you have personal issues with the author or just dislike the style, you will not be sorry.
Hush of Storm & Sorrow
Ani Summerhawk bounced on her toes. The anticipation of negotiations always made her giddy. Her brother, Tai, shot her a dark look, and she struggled to wrangle her excitement. Still, she couldn’t stop the tapping of her foot as the shadowy figures of four men approached.
The warehouse serving as their meeting place was lit with overhead bulbs that cast pools of light every twenty paces or so. The rest of the space was in shadow with the bulk of the crates and boxes forming an obstacle course of sorts. If things went wrong, there were plenty of places to hide, and she’d already scoped out the quickest paths to the two exits. Her exhilaration ratcheted up a notch, and she felt as if she were vibrating out of her skin.
“If you can’t behave . . .” Tai began, speaking out the side of his mouth.
“Don’t try to police me,” Ani said through clenched teeth. “I’m not a child.”
Tai snorted, and Ani replied with an elbow to his arm. Now fifteen, she had been a part of their father’s smuggling operation since before she could walk. Father had taken her out with him on his runs and had never once expected her to stand quietly at his side during a negotiation. Then again, Tai did things a bit differently than Father had, and it was probably for the best. Maybe if Father had been more like Tai he’d still be alive.
She gritted her teeth and stilled the constant movement of her limbs, determined to try things her brother’s way. The interior of the warehouse smelled of mildew and mothballs. Mik, Tai’s first mate and best friend, had found it for them in a seedier section of the already-seedy docks of Portside. He’d stayed behind on the ship to ready it for a speedy departure. The men who stepped into the nearest cone of light were fellow Raunians, so Mik’s preparedness would likely come in handy.
“Bor,” Tai said, addressing the largest of the men. “You’re looking well.”
Ani held back a snicker. This Bor fellow resembled the creature his name sounded like. Squat and meaty, with a piggish nose and deep-set eyes, he was just about the ugliest Raunian she’d ever seen. His hair was dyed the same blue as Tai’s and Ani’s, but Bor had done his in vertical stripes, alternating with its natural black, which lent him a deranged appearance.
Unsurprisingly, he had no marriage markings tattooed on his face. Aside from his siokka, or family crest, along with his captain’s and taxpayer’s tattoos, he bore five horizontal lines on his left cheekbone. He’d served five years of hard labor. Not a man to be trifled with.
“What’s this exclusive haul you’ve brought me here to see, Summerhawk?” Bor crossed his heavy arms.
Tai leaned against a crate, which towered several handspans above his head. His pose was casual and carefree, but only to those who didn’t know him. Ani could see that beneath his cool exterior he was on alert. Bor’s reputation as a hard bargainer had been well-earned. The presence of the three large men behind him hinted at exactly how he liked to negotiate. If they were going to make any money on this deal, and leave with their lives and limbs intact, they had to be vigilant.