"Looking back, I wonder whether our holiday had been to blame. Two weeks of unexpectedly perfect weather at Easter, when the girls had gambolled like lambs in the fields surrounding the farm where we had stayed, and even Drew had lost the pinched look he so often wore. His stride had lengthened, his shoulders had relaxed, and he just looked... content."
'My Husband's Lie' by Emma Davies is a mildly dark family drama that centers around the main character Thea, her husband Drew, and two children as they embark on a bold move to free themselves of the constraints of the big city life and corporate work environment.
It's a feeling many of us have had or will experience in our lifetimes. That point when you tire of working to make others wealthy at the expense of your own best interests and decide to take a risk, to branch out on your own. More and more, it's becoming a common narrative in our society.
When Thea discovers the home she spent some of her happiest years in happens to be on the market, her fond memories foster an excitement and determination to return to her roots. Having begun her life in Pevensky House, with her then best friend and now husband right next door, their families abruptly moved away while the pair were still children.
"Seeing her on that holiday reminded me of the Thea I first met, the one who walked barefoot everywhere, the one whose fits of giggles exploded out of nowhere. It made me realise how beautiful she was, how much I loved her. And her work? It came to life during those two weeks, the best she'd ever produced - winning the commission was evidence enough of that. So how could I possibly hold her back, just when she had found her wings."
What starts out as an earnest change for the betterment of their lives, soon clouds with uncertainty. She and Drew seemingly drift apart and people go out of their way to avoid her.
After discovering an unexpected secret tucked into her childhood hiding place, she's faced with more questions than answers and a growing sense of unease. Meanwhile, the other citizens of the small town turn against her as more secrets and accusations come to light.
This novel definitely touches on some uncomfortable topics.. abuse/assault, destructive lies, and so forth.. but I assure you that it doesn't go into much detail in those regards. It's not an exploitative book. It's almost more of a study as to the effects, not just of the original harm caused by such things. But also the ripples stretching outward over the years beyond due to the lingering weight of keeping the secrets. So many more lives are changed by one act than we might at first believe.
Watching characters struggle with the accusations is hard enough, but the feelings of betrayal, loss, and disillusionment sit even more heavily on them. Thea's pretty relatable, she's hurt and angry. She lashes out, sometimes in stupid ways, which are completely understandable. But all that aside, it's kind of hard not to feel sorry for some of the targets of that anger.
"How can you ever grow if you don't have roots?"
At the core of the family, Drew and Thea have a really lovely relationship. It's warm and supportive. They like to say sometimes that they "don't know where one of them ends and the other begins." And it's especially difficult to watch that conflict between them because of the usual nature of that relationship. Plus, their girls are also quite darling and you really just want to see everything work out for them all.
I will say, I saw the reveal coming before the foreshadowing was really at play, but some of that is instinct as to how an author writes. I don't feel like there were any telegraphing issues of note or anything like that.
My only disappointment is probably the idyllic wrap-up. There is a particularly tense moment toward the end of the story that I felt could have been well served with a different conclusion, but it's all well-structured and moves at a good pace. I just like a little more destruction in my stories than most.
Definitely a worthwhile read if you are a fan of mysteries or contemporary dramas.
'Fantastic Hope' is a new anthology filled with various sci-fi and fantasy tales that has been edited by authors Laurell K. Hamilton and William McCaskey.
I knew I had to read this because it contained a brand new Anita Blake story.. and I'm a huge fan of Jean-Claude and the other great males from the series. Touted as being a collection deigning to focus on the positive sides of life, while still mixing things up with the darker aspects I typically enjoy, I was eager to try it out.
At first though, I wasn't sure happy endings were for me. As I slogged my way through the stories at the beginning of the collection, I found myself frequently putting the book aside to do anything. It just made me tired. I was bored, but wanted to persist.. in the hopes they would improve and it did have some great quotes.
"He had the kind of face you wanted to throw a coffee cup at. Even if you like coffee as much as I do."
-('Twilight Falls' by Jonathan Maberry)
"My father always used to say you can't beat the stupid from people, but it sure beats listening to their stupidity."
-('Broken Son' by Griffin Barber)
Just over a third of the way through the book, suddenly that's exactly what happened.
'Heart of Clay: A Dan Shamble, Zombie PI Adventure' by Kevin J. Anderson was a wonderful play on some old ideas. A combination of a pseudo-retelling of a classic and a humorous zombie detective novel, it was warm, inspired, and full of humor.
Likewise, 'Reprise: A Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter Short Story' by John G. Hartness really warmed me to the collection. It's obvious, I'm sure.. that Harker name most of us recognize, is indeed Dracula related. But what a sweet story, despite the awfulness of the topic within. I really enjoyed the intermingling of demonic/angelic mythos as well.
Now, for many years I've been intending to read a Patricia Briggs book and it just hasn't happened. But as luck would have it, there was a short story included by her as well and I couldn't have been happier.
'Asil and the Not-Date' had me off balance from the start. It has such a strange, yet interesting opening. I wasn't entirely sure what was going on and it took me a few pages to get my bearings, but her writing is so smooth. Basically, the main character is being set-up on 'dates' with by an anonymous group. All the information is being exchanged only by emails coming from someone marked 'Concerned Friends.
At the point where we pick up, he's already two dates down out of five and they have been more than interesting, to say the least. From here though, the next one definitely takes it up a few notches and I absolutely loved the story.
Other's included that deserve mention are McCaskey's 'Ronin' - which is a truly unique guardian tale, 'Skjoldmodir' by Michael Z. Williamson and Jessica Schlenker - a heartwrenching retelling of Beowulf, 'Bonds of Love and Duty' by Monalisa Foster, and of course.. 'Zombie Dearest' by Laurell K. Hamilton, which was unfortunately the last title in the book.. but well worth the wait.
After all, I did get to see Jean-Claude and Nicky was there too. I've always been conflicted about the Anita character and the whole center of everyone's universe angle, but the boys and the unique stories drive me to continue reading the series. When it comes down to it, that's a personal preference issue and does nothing to take away from Hamilton's ability as a writer.
If you're looking for a good collection of stories that you can easily read in chunks around quarantine home-schooling, with positive endings to brighten your days indoors.. look no further. Give this one a try.
Swinging my bag over his shoulder, he once again grasped my hand and we began to walk towards the exit. He pulled a cell phone out of his jacket pocket and in just a few moments was speaking to the person on the other end in what sounded like fluent Arabic. I was surprised but then I realized I shouldn’t be. Of course, he would be able to speak to all the people he helped. It’s not like everyone spoke English. Listening to him converse, I tried to make out the unusual words, wishing I could understand. Something about a car…I think. Wait. How would I even know that?
He hung up the phone and I hammered him with a barrage of questions. “Was that Arabic? Were you talking about a car? When did you get a phone?”
“I am Death, not a caveman, doll. I need a phone to conduct mortal business and do things like getting us a car. Yes, I was speaking Arabic. We are in Egypt, remember?”
“So you speak all languages, I assume. Will that be a gift I will learn to master?”
“You already have all your power, we only need to awaken your ability to use it,” he explained. “It’s intent, Amara. Once you believe that- I mean fully believe it, the skill will come to you.”
“Say something else, then. I want to try.”
We continued to walk down the aisle of the bustling airport and after thinking for a moment he said “Kan jag kyssa dig?”
The words made no sense. I could tell it was a question, simply due to his inflection, but it was not a Latin-based language I could begin to dissect. “Say it again.”
Callon repeated himself and I rolled the words around on my tongue, attempting to repeat them in the same accent, trying to interpret their meaning. “I don’t know how to understand a language I have never heard spoken. How do I make myself believe I can speak it if I don’t know what you are saying?”
“You have to believe, Amara. You do know what I am saying, your mortal brain is blocking you from comprehending. I’m asking you to let go of your preconceived notions and answer my question.”
My back was suddenly pressed up against the wall and Callon pushed his entire body into mine. Looking up into his molten silver eyes, I felt my soft curves pressed against the hard planes of his frame and my blood temperature spiked. “Answer me, Amara.” His voice dipped, gravelly and low, sounding like sex and fine whiskey when he repeated, “Kan jag kyssa dig?” His face was mere inches from mine and I felt my hands running up his sides to pull him closer.
“Yes, please do,” I whispered, my breath leaving me in little pants.
“I knew you could do it,” he said as his lips crashed into mine. I was unconcerned about the fact we were surrounded by people in an international airport and I was ready to have a full-on make-out session with my mate.
“Wait!” I said as I broke the kiss. “Do what? You asked me if you could kiss me.”
He smiled, taking my hand and proceeding to walk towards the exit. “Yes, I did. In Swedish.”
"The Sin Eater walks among us, unseen, unheard
Sins of our flesh become sins of Hers
Following Her to the grave, unseen, unheard
The Sin Eater Walks Among Us."
'Sin Eater' by by Megan Campisi is billed as 'The Handmaid's Tale' meets 'Alice in Wonderland,' a description which frankly couldn't be farther from the truth. The story is indeed interesting, awful in many ways.. but if that's what you're looking for, it's not what you're going to get.
The novel is about a young orphaned girl who gets into a bit of trouble just trying to survive on her own in 16th-century England and in a moment of rebelliousness or perhaps.. vanity, she draws the eye of someone in a position to change her life entirely. Not for the better, but for the worse.
"His shadow stayed in the house for weeks. It wasn't dark like a shadow, just an empty place in the shape of my da. I would see it out of the side of my eye and turn knowing he should be there. But when I looked there wasn't anything."
Sentenced to a lifetime as a Sin Eater, a woman collared and marked, May must hear final confessions of those who are dying and then eat ritual foods based on the sins they confess. By doing so, it's believed that she takes their sins unto her own soul, allowing them to pass freely into heaven.
A child truly alone in the world, she's quick to form bonds to anyone who shows her kindness. When the older Sin Eater she learns from refuses to eat food representing a sin that isn't confessed, she's arrested and tortured to death.. but already feeling an affinity for the woman, the young girl becomes determined to find the truth of the deception and avenge her.
That's really what the bulk of the book is about.. May's adjustment to her horrible new situation and her journey to solve the mystery that resulted in her only companion's death.
"There's a white mist rising from my lips. Mayhap it's my soul fleeing my body. My soul melting away into the air. Why doesn't it take me with it? I try to go after my soul, but my legs don't answer when I call on them to move."
If you're like me, maybe you'd be shocked to know that the last sin-eater actually only passed a little over a hundred years ago. I was horrified to find such a barbaric custom existed that late into modern history. According to Wikipedia, "a local legend in Shropshire, England, concerns the grave of Richard Munslow, who died in 1906, said to be the last sin-eater of the area." A 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article states that "a (sin eating) was witnessed as recently as 1893 at Market Drayton, Shropshire.
Apparently, it was common practice at one time to hire the poor to do the eating, which is about as financially exploitative a practice as there can be.
For the purpose of this novel, all the sin-eaters are women and that is likely where 'The Handmaid's Tale' reference comes from, but as dystopian an idea that is.. that's really where the similarities end. Mostly it's a story about how easily one can find themselves knocked down.. metaphorically speaking.. and how quick others might be to participate in one's suffering.
There's certainly a recurring theme in human nature, not just in stories, to relish having someone to kick when they're already down. Once someone is sort of.. 'fallen from grace'.. they're deemed safe to abuse, and while not everyone responds to that vulnerability.. some do. Sometimes even people you wouldn't expect it from, friends, family, and more. And sometimes, unexpectedly, there's also someone who just won't bring themselves to treat others badly.. simply because they can.
"This is why we have cursing. I never understood what made folk do it. But now I know. All our dire feelings stain the heart, and the stains bloom into curses."
I saw absolutely no 'Alice in Wonderland' roots anywhere and believe me, I love that fairy tale and often see them just in the dreamy quality of a story or an insinuation of a character's nature. It's just not there in this book. But make no mistake, the book is quite good.
Most of the mystery is easy enough to decipher, in fact.. the clues are written out so plainly, I think perhaps the author didn't really intend for us to linger on that too much. Many of the reveals were more like assurances, just letting the reader know they paid attention and did well. They saw the trail and recognized the crumbs.
"You're nothing if you're dead. I told myself I needed to be alive to help the Sin Eater, but, really, it was my life, dressed up as hers, that I was saving."
What this book really did, in addition to shocking me a bit and making me feel horrible for May, was make me think. It made me go back and research the subject matter, wondering with dread if there were people forced into the role by more than circumstance. The situation the girl finds herself in is certainly a very real possibility, even if I didn't happen across a similar origin somewhere.
Probably the most impactful reveal, actually had nothing to do with the mystery itself.. and everything to do with how May found her life changed. That absolutely stunned me. But there were some sweet moments too, however fleeting. Moments of kindness, of a more gentle humanity shining through here and there. Like a fragile kind of hope.
If you don't mind seriously dark stories, I do highly recommend reading 'Sin Eater.' I'm glad I did.
I'm happy to share a brand new feature with you, author interviews!
The very talented author, Olivia Atwater, was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions for me. Click the image to the left or the 'Interviews' link at the top of the page to get to know her!
I promise you'll love every minute of it!
I'm going to be completely honest with you here, I was interested in 'By Blood and Magic (The Dragon Portal Book 2)' by Jamie A. Waters when I read the summary, but it was the cover that kept recurring in my thoughts before I started it.
It's crazy.. but it reminded me so much of World of Warcraft's Jaina Proudmoore look from the most recent game expansion, that even though I'm not a huge fan of the character, I was constantly thinking about this title. There's something to be said for familiarity.. I suppose.. and it really is a gorgeous cover.
All that aside, I found myself surprised by exactly how much I loved the story.
"What's your plan, little one?"
"To bring the memory of life to a place of death."
Sabine is the main character, a fae on the run trying to stay ahead of those who would see her dead, and trying to help protect the world she lives in by sealing a dangerous dragon portal. As she flees across the ocean, the ship is viciously attacked and her companion and several crew members are taken hostage. To save them, she forges a pact bound by blood and magic, and the bulk of the story is about the journey she must take to uphold that agreement.
The ship's captain is a.. wow.. steamy, self-sacrificing dragon shifter.. named Malek.. who I can't get enough of (though her companions aren't entiredly trusting of him). His best friend is also captured with the crew, which sets him up to accompany her and the rest of her group in a bid to free the others.
"I don't know what he needs or what we can do for him. Do you think he's hurt?"
"Well, if we can't figure it out, I could always use a pair of dragonskin boots..."
There's a great deal of traveling throughout the adventure and along the way they meet some other interesting characters. Sabine is a really sweet, kind natured woman who seems to constantly be adding to her own worries, by trying to look out for others. And Malek is a great match for that. He's powerful, if a bit possessive (but really, he makes that work) and at times he's stubborn, but so is she.
Truthfully, they both seem to have more inner conflict than conflict between each other and it's kind of a nice change. At times, he's a little too easy going.. too perfect. He's the most rational male on the planet and she's every bit his equal in that regard as well. If it weren't for all the chaos going on around them, they might also be the most boring couple ever to exist. But there's plenty of drama to keep things spicy and their chemistry is undeniable from the get-go.
"In a word, she was exquisite. And he was well and truly screwed."
I really enjoyed the author's perspective on Faerie and those connected with it. This is also one of the few times I've seen a story with so many wide ranging fantasy races that felt natural. It didn't feel like they were just fodder being paraded out in front of the reader to add words to the page. They were important parts of the people of this world and they each had their roles to play.
My favorite supporting character had to be Blossom. She's this adorable pixie that's part of Sabine's traveling group and if I'm being honest, she reminded me of a less thirsty version of Lehabah from Crescent City. She's super cute, feisty as can be, and very funny.. one hilarious little drama queen. She's also capable of much greater things than pixies typically are in most fantasy stories I've read.
"Blossom's eyes widened, and she shoved the entire piece of cake in her mouth. Her cheeks bulged as she chewed. She held out her hand in a silent gesture for more.."
"I suppose there's no use in telling you to pace yourself..."
"Blossom shook her head and held out both hands, her eyes pleading..."
In fact, the dialogue is definitely punctuated with humor and it doesn't feel overdone at all. There were several times I caught myself laughing aloud.. or smiling in response to something that amused me.
If you're looking for a very solid new series to add to your TBR, this is the one. There's a ton of backstory referenced in this one about her family and her role within the Fae, and something called the Wild Hunt.. which of course made me think of Witcher as well. I'm absolutely going back to get book one, as I'm curious to see if the two are both derived from the folklore of ancient Northern and Central Europe. Plus.. book three is already on the way and I want to be ready!
Baptism of Fire
There was no way to know for sure how long I’d been out. It could have been moments. Maybe two minutes or five. I blinked slowly, staring up at the gaping hole we’d dropped through that was now barely visible through the layer of blackening smoke, afraid to move as my body regained consciousness. Everything hurt. That was the first thing I felt—the pain of bruised, strained muscles, the agony that had traveled up my left side.
The next thing was the heat. The upstairs hallway looked unrecognizable now, a narrow passage engulfed in fast-moving smoke and an inferno that blazed up the walls with an overpowering intensity that shouldn’t have been possible. I’d sweated through my clothes, the fabric drenched, my skin and hair dripping with salty perspiration. My helmet had rolled away somewhere during the collision with the floor, and I knocked into Moretti’s with my elbow once I finally decided that lying there waiting for the house to come down on top of us wasn’t that great for self-preservation.
Over the steady whoosh of the flames demolishing the rooms around us, I heard the melodic chirp of his PASS alarm. A noise I dreaded hearing, a source of nightmares.
And it got me moving.
I sat up and almost regretted it, black spots dancing across my vision as a blinding, gnawing pain spiked through my side. Like it had torn its way in deep, shredding muscle and tissue and causing serious damage. With a shaking hand, I dragged my gloved fingers over my turnout coat to find some kind of debris—I had no damn idea what it was, and at this point I didn’t want to know—sticking out of my left side. I lifted my glove to my sightline to see it smeared with dark crimson.
The gasping whine that echoed in my mask didn’t sound like me at all.
Moretti’s alarm brought me back to my senses. No time.
My pain didn’t matter, not now. I had to work through it.
Groaning, I stayed low to the floor, crawling on all fours to where Moretti lay sprawled and motionless. Every movement pierced the jagged wound in my side, made the heat and the sweat and misery worse. I leaned over him, relieved when I saw the rise and fall of his chest. The orange glow from the fire highlighted the edges of his dark hair, traced the swell of his cheekbones with deep shadows. In the light, I noticed the bright red trickling down one side of his face from somewhere under his hairline.
I tapped his cheek with an open palm. “Moretti,” I called. “Hey, Moretti…come on, open your eyes. Anthony, I need you to wake up.”
“Phoenix!” That was Ramos, her distant shout crackling over our radios. “Moretti! This place is starting to come down!” Well, shit, I hadn’t noticed.
“You have to evacuate now,” Patterson ordered.
“I can’t,” I snapped. “Moretti’s down. He’s…he’s down, but breathing.”
“The stairs are blocked,” Ramos yelled back. “We’re working on it, hang in there.”
Blocked with what? Nothing about this fire made any sense, so why would it start now?
I didn’t know how badly Moretti was hurt, which made me hesitant to move him. But if we didn’t get out of this hallway—no matter how quickly the rest of our team might’ve been working—then we weren’t going to get out of here at all. On my knees, I grabbed the straps of his SCBA and started dragging him around the minefield of burning debris toward the stairs. I grit my teeth against the pain until my jaw ached, exhaling sharply through my nose as I pulled him along with me.
It wouldn’t have been this unbearable if I hadn’t been fucking impaled. Sweat dripped down my forehead into my eyes and I tried to blink it away. With blood loss and the temperature in the hallway, the edges of my vision had turned hazy.
“It’s all right, Anthony,” I said as if he could hear me. “Stay with me.”
The heat flared, a sudden, familiar torrent of hot air passing over us, stoking the same dread I’d felt earlier. A silhouette emerged from the thick smoke and sauntered through the flames, not at all concerned about the heat or the danger of blistering skin and third-degree burns. I peered at the shadow that definitely hadn’t been there seconds before, watching them take shape, the details becoming clearer. A man stood on the opposite end of the hallway dressed in all black, white-gold reflecting off his sleek leather jacket. An arrogant, knowing grin curved his lips into a sneer. He was young. Dangerous.
He’d been with us in the attic.
I didn’t know how, but he’d started this fire.
Priestess of Storms & Stone
It was never a good sign to be drinking bourbon at ten in the morning, but after the week I’d had, I figured I was due. Self-medicating with alcohol wouldn’t take the sting out of my grief, in fact, it was likely to make it worse. But I’d needed a teensy little breather from my housemates after the last truth bomb had been dropped, and wrapping my head around my new knowledge required booze.
I could feel Della’s eyes on me, her acute vampire gaze boring a hole in the side of my face. She wanted an answer to her question, and she likely wasn’t going to leave me alone until I gave her one.
When are we leaving?
That question echoed against the walls of my brain with enough force to give me a headache. Melody was alive. She was alive, and my sister was dead.
But that didn’t make a lick of sense. Melody died right in front of me. I watched Aurelia send her soul on in a way only a phoenix could do. I watched her body burn in the flames of a funeral pyre. I needed answers before I could answer Della’s question.
Because I wouldn’t be leaving to hunt her down unless I was sure this wasn’t some kind of trick. I’d been tricked too many times in the last week, and I wasn’t falling for another one.
“Melody is dead, Della,” I whispered before taking another sip of bourbon, refusing to face my bodyguard. If I looked at her, I’d see either pity or censure, and I couldn’t deal with either.
“Then why is her son gone?” Della pointed out a big hole in the “Melody’s dead” argument.
Shit, fuck, and damn. I made a promise to Melody to keep her son safe. If it wasn’t Melody who had her son—and I highly doubted it was—then I’d have to go get him.
But hadn’t I earned a break? Hadn’t I earned the right to let someone else take up the slack?
You made a promise. You swore. You can’t turn away just because you’re hurt.
Those words cut through my thoughts sharp enough to bring tears to my eyes. I did. I made a promise to make sure her son was safe. And I’d keep it. Maybe it would make my soul burn just a little less. Maybe if I did this one thing, losing Maria wouldn’t hurt so bad.
Yeah, I doubted it.
I sniffed back the sting of tears, tossed back the rest of the bourbon, and managed to set the glass down without smashing it. I’d been on a smashing kick for the last little bit, and my living room had borne the brunt of it. At the time, I’d wanted to destroy everything Maria had ever touched. If I could just break it, burn it, wreck it, then it would have been like she wasn’t stamped all over every molecule of my house.
Wasn’t that stupid?
Like I wouldn’t see her every time I closed my eyes.
“Okay, I’ll give you that,” I muttered, finally answering Della’s question. “But I can’t just bust down the door to Faerie and find her. If it is her. We need way more to go on than a note and a can-do attitude.”
I peered down at myself. I had on black shorts and a black tank top. It was good enough for summer in Denver. All I needed was some flip-flops. Had I brushed my teeth today? Shrug. Was I wearing a bra? My tank had a shelf bra in it. It would just have to do. Plus, Barrett wouldn’t give two shits about what I was wearing. I located my flip-flops in their spot by the door, shuffled my feet into them, and raised my hand to snap my fingers.
But Della pounced on my hand before I could complete the task.
“What?” My whole body was on red alert, my eyes searching my demolished living room and relatively untouched kitchen.
“You can’t go out like that,” Della whispered furiously, her face a picture of panic.
Frowning, I looked back down at myself. Yep, all my parts were covered.
“It’s summer. Shorts and a tank aren’t going to turn any heads no matter how much ink is on display.”
A dawning realization lit up Della’s face before she winced. “You haven’t checked a mirror since you got back, have you?”
"On the night of the thousandth year.. before the dragon stars fade from the skies and concede the heavens to the red bird of autumn, the Harbinger of Change can be called upon by one whose heart is pure."
'Night of the Dragon,' the third and final book in the 'Shadow of the Fox' trilogy by Julie Kagawa, centers around a group of companions that are determined to stop the Master of Demons from using an artifact called the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers.
The Dragon's Prayer, is a ritual that can be used once every 1,000 years to summon the god called the Great Kami Dragon, who will grant the summoner one wish. If they should fail on their quest to stop the Master.. Genno.. from using the scroll, the empire will fall to chaos.
This was my first Kagawa read, so I didn't really know what to expect from her. I knew she seemed to have a pretty big following and certainly the concept of the story sounded interesting.
Unfortunately, unpopular opinion time, I just wasn't impressed. You're going to find this is a mostly positive review, even though she didn't rock my world. Don't get me wrong, she's a very solid writer. She understands the acts and how to move the story along. She understands the importance of relationships and various types of intimacy. The quality is there, the story just lacks the factors that could make it stand out and become something exceptional. In fact, there are a ton of things she's actually great at.
"Fighting hordes of the dead seems a fun way to spend an evening. Unless we vote to stay here and make sure all the sake doesn't go to waste...? No? Fine, blood mages it is."
Her battle scenes were very visual, without being so blown out that you couldn't focus on anyone. She did touch on different parts of the fights, but she lingered long enough with each group to give the reader a good understanding of what was happening, what the characters were feeling, and enough play-by-play to let you 'see' what occurs, before moving on.
Telling the story from multiple view points, she does a fine job of transitioning between them, though they did lack those distinctive voices that make this approach work to it's best. Other than who they were talking to and/or about, they mostly sounded the same.
Character wise, the group is likeable. Yumeko, the kitsune shifter and main character, is sweet and determined. She does suffer from a little of that 'can figure out how to do just about anything in a couple of seconds' syndrome, but we're going to chalk that up to her unique heritage.
"The Dragon is almost risen, and all the world trembles with the end of another age. But whether the Wish brings ruin or fortune is yet to be decided."
She's accompanied by Kage Tatsumi, a shadow clan shinobi, who is stuck sharing his body with the First Oni, Hakaimono. Now, the demon General is actually my favorite character in the book. Don't ask me why. He's the Beast, I suppose. He's the most powerful, most dangerous oni in the demon army, he's a bit brooding, he's always a bit disgusted with everyone, but he's still the one for me.
There are others, of course.. Reika the shrine maiden and Chu the komainu guardian, Daisuke the noble warrior prince, Okame the ronin, and a host of smaller characters that still play pivotal roles. Daisuke and Okame, especially.. have a rather soft, beautiful relationship for a pair of warriors.. and I absolutely loved that. Yet.. all these things aside, the characters still felt like we were really only seeing the surface layers of who they might have been.
"Baka noble. Why do you always have to fling yourself at the biggest thing on the battlefield?"
As I read the book, I constantly felt as if it was really just very average. Most of it seems to rely heavily on the hope that readers will just be fascinated with the idea of the mythological Japanese characters to begin with. There's no impression of the author reaching to be creative with them at all, but rather to keep things "interesting," she would just throw in another creature and then do pretty much nothing to expand on the existing mythos surrounding them.
Instead of foreshadowing, she outright telegraphs what's ahead and honestly, the story just feels like she combined a lot of existing cliches from long standing Asian stories and put them forth like they were unique in some way, without putting in the work to make them that way. And frankly, I didn't feel any investment or interest until I was over 60% through the novel.
I love seeing diverse content published and on a personal level, I obviously love seeing content that relates to my own heritage, being consumed. But this felt like a mediocre effort. Like.. hoping the majority of the audience just wouldn't be that familiar with the other media much of it seems to be drawn from. I did like that she's not afraid to let go of a character. Almost any character. But that would be more effective if she didn't display the urge to find a way to make things okay afterward.
Aside from all that, objectively.. if I'd been less familiar with the subject matter, I might have been bowled over a bit more. Plus, like I said, she's a good writer. I just don't think she's a very creative one. I do, however.. think people are going to love the book.
Clyde pointed forward, brushing the unruly hair he inherited from me from his forehead. “What’s that?”
My heart sped up. “What’s what?”
“Those wavy things in the air.”
I exhaled loudly, tension I hadn’t even realized I was carrying relaxing from my shoulders. “Damn.” “Damn?” he and Macy parroted at the same time.
“Yeah, damn. You had me freaking out there. Those waves distorting the air are magic. If Clyde can see them, we’re in the clear.”
“How come I can’t see them?” Macy asked.
“You must just not be looking right,” I said, though I didn’t know how exactly she could be looking wrong. The barrier was ahead of us, in plain sight. Anyone with magic should be able to see it. Even those with weak magic could find the town limits well enough to enter.
“I must not be looking right,” Macy repeated, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Right there.” I pointed ahead just as Clyde had. “It’s like heat waves coming off the pavement.” “Only they go all the way up to the sky,” Clyde added, and a bit more tension oozed from me.
Macy shook her head. “I don’t see anything. Seriously.”
“That’s …not possible,” I said.
She crossed her arms and turned the full brunt of her sass toward me: “I’m telling you, there’s nothing there. You think I’m lying or something?”
“Of course not. There’s no reason to lie. Actually, there’s never reason to lie to your mother.” I arched my brow at them in my I’m-dead-serious look.
Clyde chuckled. Super encouraging.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Ma,” Macy said. “I don’t see anything but more pot-holey road.” Clenching my fingers around the steering wheel, I debated what to do. I couldn’t call my family. There were no cell phones or landlines in the entire town, a fact I’d purposefully omitted in my brief rundown to my kids of what was to become their new home. They would’ve fought me to leave even harder if they’d realized their beloved iPhones were about to be rendered useless.
The barrier dome that protected Gales Haven from discovery behaved as a gigantic Faraday cage. No electromagnetic pulses got in, and none got out. The concentration of magic in the community interfered with connections to the outside world. Every time landlines had been attempted, the result was the same: crackle.
My options were twofold: I could drive through and hope like hell the protective barrier didn’t zap my daughter. Or I could turn around and abandon all hope that Macy would get the help she needed, guidance she could only get from my family.
I’d never heard of someone with magic not seeing the barrier’s signature shimmer. I had no idea what it meant.
“When your magic erupts like it’s been doing,” I asked Macy, “what does it feel like?” “Like I stuck my entire hand in an electric socket and shocked the shi—”
I gave her my mom glare.
“Like I get a monster shock every time,” she finished.
Nodding, I nibbled at my lip. “Okay. Good,” I said, mostly to myself.
“What’s good?” Macy asked.
“If your magic’s too weak, the barrier won’t let you through. I assume it also won’t let you see it. But if it’s shocking you like that, you’ve got enough. For sure.”
“What about me?” Clyde asked. “Do I have enough?”
“If you can see the barrier, we’re good.” I nodded to convince myself that everything would be smooth sailing from here on out, and kept right on nodding to myself when I didn’t fully believe it. Nothing had been particularly easy in my life.
Didn’t mean I didn’t kick ass and take names. I did—all day long.
I’ve got this.
I eased the car back onto the road and crawled toward the shimmer, throwing constant glances at Macy. With her big brown eyes and long, dark straight hair, she didn’t look much like me.
Maybe twenty feet from the barrier, I asked, “Still nothing?”
“Nope,” she answered, popping the p.
“I can’t believe you can’t see it,” Clyde said. “I can see it tons.”
“It’s not like that makes you better than me,” Macy retorted right away.
He hmmphed, and Macy swiveled in her seat. She gasped. “I see it! When I turned my head, I saw it out of the corner of my eye,”
“Good enough for me.” I exhaled loudly and pressed down on the accelerator.
I might have left Gales Haven under less than auspicious circumstances, but nineteen years had passed since then. Long enough to discover that in this world—magic or not—we make our own luck.
I had no desire to be some shrinking violet. Or the meek wife Devin had expected and tried his darnedest to mold me into.
I was returning to town on my own terms—sort of. And not a single woman in my family had ever done anything meekly—or quietly.
I gunned the engine, and yelling out “Towanda,”I crossed the shimmering barrier.