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.
"There was something desolate about them. They showed a melancholy sky bleeding into a grey, formless sea. Eternal and unpeopled."
'The First Wife' by Jill Childs, a journalist turned author who lives in London, is a shadowy thriller about a woman who's life has sort of crumbled.. leaving her alone and adrift.
When her childhood friend asks her to visit, she accepts.. but when she gets there, her arrival seems unexpected. Her friend has changed greatly from what she remembers and her little girl is withdrawn and silent, prone to terrors and seemingly isolated from her family in the home.. and Sophie's presence sets off a chain of events she never sees coming.
To be fair, I'm typically really intuitive and adept at seeing plot threads as they emerge, so I did have some inklings as to what was happening and where the story might end up. BUT.. that being said, the threads were far from blatant.
"We had treats and outings, paying final visits to the places in Hong Kong she knew, without her even realizing she was saying goodbye to them."
Childs is a skilled writer, with a knack for subtle foreshadowing. She doesn't overuse that skill and allow you to grow too accustomed to it either. Occasionally, she might clue you in a bit heavy-handedly, I suspect as a way to draw you in and help you feel secure. However, the most important glimpses of that foreshadowing are handled with all the expertise of a surgeon. Carefully placing them in the least obvious spot, she diverts your attention with other things.
Each time I saw it happen, it was enough to rouse my suspicion, but then I'd read on before focusing on it and it would become more of a nagging buzz at the back of my thoughts. I was engrossed enough that I just wanted to keep reading.. to keep discovering.. rather than giving that buzz any real attention.
As the story developed and new things would come to light, I'd find myself thinking.. 'I did notice that' or 'I considered that possibility'.. but I never dwelt on it long enough to become so certain in my suspicions that I lost interest and didn't want to read any further. And I think that's a gift. To welcome the reader in enough as to let them feel as if they're in on the secret, without ruining the discoveries.
I wasn't positive I was correct in my assumptions until I was nearly two-thirds of the way through the book and that's saying a lot for the author's ability. The twists aren't really shocking, in fact.. there are one or two too many of them for my liking, but I still enjoyed the book immensely.
"The sea, out there in the darkness, indifferent to us all, ebbed and flowed, its waves breaking and retreating in a rumble of stones.
As invisible as death and just as certain."
My only complaint came after the climax in the final pages of the novel. I just thing.. considering how the person felt.. and the situation they found themselves in.. it didn't ring true. The words laid down as you get closer and closer to the end.. are actually rather cruel and it felt like they existed solely for the purpose of some sweeping drama which the story didn't need. Granted, it worked. Out of the blue, this story left me bawling my eyes out.. and thrillers are never particularly emotional. But, well.. they're something to be said for relating to a feeling for someone.
Definitely a worthwhile read and I highly suggest it to anyone who's a fan of thrillers or mysteries.
Setting the wards is more than a walk around the perimeter, calling out to the elements. They’re keyed into the very being and require blood to take. Cutting my palm, I bring forth fire in the other hand and allow my blood to drip onto the ground.
By Fire I ward thee:
Guard this space from all ill will,
And those who wish me harm.
Heat engulfs me, blowing back the longish strands of my hair, and drawing a line of sweat onto my forehead. I’d never had manifestations like this. My stickh was with the dead. I continue on, ignoring the newly-formed desert in my mouth.
By Wind I ward thee:
Guard this space from all ill will,
And those who wish me harm.
Droplets of blood disappear into the earth as if the land itself is making a personal contract. The incense burning on the ground releases a thick puff of sage and cedarwood laden smoke. Maybe it is. A gust of wind threatens to knock me off my feet as its snags at my jacket with hungry hands. I stumble, swaying like a drunkard. The intensity fades to a gentle breeze, and I right myself.
By Earth I ward thee:
Guard this space from all ill will,
And those who wish me harm.
Rumbling from deep beneath my feet shakes the earth, pitching me back like a horse unexpectedly bucking its rider. Blinking, I find myself ass over kettle. I scramble up, and ride the undulating ground like a surfer on a longboard. Feet planted, I try to flow with the vibrations, instinctively knowing participation is required.
This is my time to prove myself worthy to inherit. Old magic such as this can be nearly sentient. Everything stops abruptly. I fall forward. A mound of dirt piles up beside me. I tense, readying to defend myself from a nocturnal rodent. A tree sapling emerges.
By water I ward thee:
Guard this space from all ill will
And those who wish me harm.
A streak of lightning slashes through the night angrily. A loud clap of thunder vibrates the ground, and the sky opens above me. Cool rain splatters against my clothes, soaking me to the skin. I finish the walk, completing the circuit. Heaviness slams into my chest. I hit the ground, dazed. My vision darkens, and I feel it. The house is built upon a ley line. The wards take their energy from the source in exchange for protection.
Storm clouds crowd in as rain continues to come in sideways. Thunder booms, performing a duet with the crackling lightning streaking across the night sky. I can taste the magic in the air. Mother’s succession of power has begun. Sitting in the mud, I tilt my head back and open my mouth, swallowing down water to quench my thirst as I try to adjust to the drastic changes my magic has undergone. Energy races inside of me, stretching and reshaping. My skin feels too tight.
"The hand in my hair was cruel, yanking on the sweat soaked strands while shoving my face toward a collision with the cold wall in front of me. I gasped, resisting the forward momentum working against me, but the force was too strong. I sucked in a breath and prepared myself for the coming impact. This was going to hurt."
'Judas Kiss (Murphy's Law #2)' by K.A. Fox starts off with a bang. Course, from the quote above you can see that bang just might be the main character's head striking the wall, but volatile as it is.. the opening scene is just for training. It made me wonder just how severe the actual battles might be as I continued ahead.
This story is about Laney, the daughter of the Devil and a very human woman. Apparently, some of his followers are not happy about the changes wrought in him by his feelings for the weaker species, and all Hells are about to break loose.. literally.
Working with a small group of friends, Callum--her teacher with the fiery sword, Torren--the male learning to fight beside her, and Moose--the cutest shapeshifting Hound of Hell I've ever seen.. Laney is thrust into the middle of what seems to be an attack on her father's "kinder, gentler" way of doing things.
"He was steady and strong. Like before, I knew he wouldn't leave me, even if I tried to send him away. He'd claimed me long before I realized I'd made him mine."
If I have anything to complain about, it's trying to get accustomed to the Devil being referred to as Angus. Admittedly, I always enjoy alternate Lucifer stories.. so that's just me sulking. There's absolutely a motive for the writer's direction, personally it was distracting and made it difficult for me to take him too seriously at first. However, that serves the author's serves the author's needs and makes contrasting scenes all the more dramatic in the moment.
Throughout the beginning, it's clear that Laney's power seems to be growing, as well as her mastery of it. But eventually a tragedy severs her connection with the source and with the abilities she's grown to count on.. gone.. she has to find other ways to manage. Meanwhile, an encroaching darkness threatens to push her to do things she wouldn't normally do.
"Devil save me from those who want to protect me."
There are some interesting supporting characters, in addition to her group.. though they're either completely decorative or they exist to explain certain things to the reader and provide fixes to a couple of weaker plot points. All in all, they're small weaknesses that are handled well enough by Fox.
Action sequences are plentiful, but not overdone. Sometimes they run and sometimes they fight, so there's a reasonable balance of realistic decision making. Depending on your level of awareness while reading, there may be a surprise or two there for you along the way as well.. and the author doesn't focus too heavily on a love connection. There are certainly indications of something more here and there, but the book is far more story driven.
"Midnight in the garden, I handed you my heart
No hint of the cost, how it would tear us apart
The gift of forever, a promise I could keep
Not knowing the path, the souls it would reap"
It's a fun book and if you're looking for a quick page-turner that doesn't view itself as overly self-important, this is a good choice.