3.5 star review

Review – Emperor’s Arrow by Lauren D. M. Smith

emperors-arrow

Grand Prize Winner of Harlequin’s 2015 So You Think You Can Write contestDebut author Lauren D.M. Smith delivers an epic fantasy romance in this soaring tale of a kickass warrior and the emperor she’s honor-bound to defend.

The bride candidates have been summoned. Their numbers are many, yet only one is an Amazzi warrior. Only one would give her life to protect him.
Evony of Aureline, warrior of her people, has no intention of becoming a hideous old man’s bride. Though her people have sworn their loyalty to the legendary emperor Galen, Evony knows little of courts and intrigue. It’s simply not her world.

Yet it’s on the palace training grounds where Evony’s archery skills gain her the respect of soldiers and legates alike. The emperor himself takes notice of the beautiful, ruthless warrior. In turn, the young, steely eyed Galen is nothing at all what Evony expected. This man could very well conquer her heart. But does he feel the same?As the rivalry among the remaining bride candidates intensifies and the plot for the throne unfolds, Evony must make a grave choice: fulfill her destiny and protect her people or follow her heart and pursue true love.Either way, the honor of the Amazzi people and the future of the empire now rests with Evony of Aureline. For she is the Emperor’s Arrow.

I received an ARC of this book from the Publisher, via Netgalley, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review.

This had actually been on my shelf for quite an embarrassingly long time, from the time of my deepest slump, and I just couldn’t get past the first few pages so I reshelved it. But after reading Enveloping Shadows, I thought I would give it another try, and I am glad I did.

If I didn’t know better, I would have thought this was the author’s second book rather than her first book. It is every bit as well written and vivid as her second, maybe even more so, and Evony and Galen were much more clearly and sympathetically wrought. Futhermore (or maybe more to the point) I actually really liked both of these characters and the story they told.

Evony is a stranger in a strange land, she makes mistakes but she can acknowledge them, she is comfortable asking for help when needed, and she is willing to offer help when needed as well. Even better she is comfortable when others have different cultures and mores than she does.

Galen is initially hard and cold, but we soon learn he has good reason for being so, and as the story progresses and he and Evony grow closer he unfurls like a flower to the sun. I am being a little tongue in cheek here describing him as one would often describe the female in a pairing, but in essence it is true-he has healing to do and under Evony’s strong supportive shoulders he does.

As for the story itself, there’s mystery and intrigue and plotting. It is good and entertaining and well worth the read, I recommend it if you are in the mood for fantasy and a slight twist on the Amazon mythology.

The Emperor's Arrow

Advertisements
Standard
5 star review

Review – Dragon Spawn by Eileen Wilks

dragon-spawn

The New York Times bestselling author of Mind Magic returns as FBI agent Lily Yu gets some very bad news…

Lily learns she was right. Tom Weng—a powerful sorcerer allied with the Old One who keeps trying to take over the world—is still alive. But that’s not the worst. Weng is a dragon spawn, the product of a botched hatching given a human form in an attempt to keep him from going mad. A failed attempt.

Meanwhile, Lily’s husband Rule is facing a Challenge to the death. Then there’s the possible reappearance of another sorcerer. But none of that matters when their enemy strikes out of nowhere in the worst way possible. Lily must face a nightmare and return to a place she never wanted to see again. The place where she died…

I received an ARC of this book from the Publisher, via Netgalley, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review.

This is a series that has me in my feelings every single time. And this last one, while I really enjoyed it, left me a trifle confused about where the overall story arc was going. And so, while I was nervous to start it, I recognized the last time that I always am with this series, and since I have never had a significant disappointment, when the opportunity to snatch it up occurred, I did so gleefully and put my trepidation aside to start almost immediately.

Since this is book 13 in the series, DO NOT start here. Eileen Wilks’ World of the Lupi series is sort of an alternate history, slightly post-apocalyptic, urban fantasy romance series. In this world, we have Lupi (sort of like hereditary werewolves who until recently were only male and have a deeply religious bent), Sidhe, humans with Gifts, witches, dragons, demons and various other mythological creatures all rolled up into a complicated tapestry. It rocks, seriously rocks.

The series follows the events that occur after the return of magic in large quantities to this world, with the overall arc following those who are opposing a deity like creature who is out to cause genocide against the Lupi. The bridge between the Lupi and the humans comes in the form of Lily Yu-Turner, a human FBI agent who is the heroine of most of the stories. She is a very by the book FBI agent, so her involvement in events that are often outside of her control makes for entertaining reading.

This particular book however doesn’t intersect with her job or even much with the human world. There are actually a couple of different story threads going on. There’s the Lupi’s violent form of politics which Rule Turner has managed to step in. There’s the deepening relationship between Rule and Lily (so nice to see an author who acknowledges a relationship still needs to grow, even after marriage), and some hammering out of the Lily’s relationship with Rule’s son. There’s the Great Bitch’s shenanigans. There’s the trip itself and Gan the former demon’s continued growth of soul and her heroics. And naturally enough there’s the titular dragons. The last book certainly makes sense now.

Things are serious, and seriously busy. And I’ll admit that it kept me gripped in the story until right up at the end, when Eileen Wilks punched me right in the guts with the mother of all cliffhangers. One thing I can state unequivocally, I will not be the least reticent in picking up the next book. In fact, I think it si fair to say I am feeling slightly violent about getting the next installment of the story.

Don’t get me wrong, while I am irked as hell at this cliffhanger BS, I still really enjoyed the story. And I sincerely recommend the series as a whole, it is well written and despite the length it is a cohesive whole that as I have said several times before forms a rich tapestry of a story. You might not always get what’s going on while in the midst of it, but once the next piece is finished and you step back and look at the whole it all makes sense. What was accomplished in the book makes sense in the wider story arc, so while not everything is completed in this book, I have faith that the author knows where she is going and how to get us there.

Dragon Spawn (World of the Lupi, #13)

Standard
3 star review

Review – Enveloping Shadows by Lauren D. M. Smith

Enveloping Shadows.jpg

A fierce and beautiful warrior.

A man of secrets and shadows.

Only together can they stop the awakening horror.

Rumors of monsters and dark magic are circulating through the court, but Terrwyn is little concerned. Her superb sword skills are all she needs to protect the princess Aricia—and as chief bodyguard, the princess’s safety is Terrwyn’s only mission.

Too late, she realizes her mistake: a stranger cloaked in darkness snatches the princess before Terrwyn can react.

When a handsome stranger emerges from the shadows to save her life, Terrwyn has little choice but to allow him to accompany her. Zelek, shrouded in secrecy and on a mission of his own, has special skills that Terrwyn needs.

Together the warrior and the shadow-whisperer forge a plan to rescue the princess, and find themselves plummeting not only headlong into evil, but into the depths of passion and love.

I received an ARC of this book from the Publisher, via Netgalley, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review.

I found this book to be kind of middling. The heroine was all that a feminist warrior heroine should be…only she was a little to perfect and chivalrous. Think about the alpha male knight from older romance novels, then take out the mysogyny and rapy vibes and you have Terrwyn. To me she just wasn’t that clearly defined or wrought as a person, there was little more to her than her duty. And Zalek was fairly one dimensional as well.

But the story itself was very well written and entertaining, despite what I felt was some filler in the form of the two additional knights that initially accompanied her. I don’t actually get what the point for them was. And, I would have liked to have spent more time on the trip home and the developing relationship between Terrwyn and Zalek.

Honestly, I don’t have a ton to say about, but if you are looking for a fantasy adventure with a capable heroine, this might be your bag. But it did prompt me to dig up the author’s first book from my shelves and give it another go, so in that respect I consider it a success.

Enveloping Shadows

Standard
3.5 star review

May TBR Challenge 2016 – Uprooted by Naomi Novik

TBR Challenge 2016

Topic: Something Different (outside your comfort zone, unusual setting, non-romance etc.)

Uprooted

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

150 year old hero with teen girl, yeah, that is outside my comfort zone, and I rarely read straight fantasy except for a few authors I’ve kept around for a long time. And NA/YA rarely goes well for me. But this was so well reviewed by people whose opinions I usually agree with, that it has been languishing on my pile. But then I came across another review last month, that left me feeling blegh about starting this one. And on top of my current slump, I approached it with some trepidation.

Warning: There will be spoilers. I don’t feel bad because this book has been out for a good long while.

But it was, well it was in turns delightful and horrid really. For the first third of the book there were no romantic urgings or longings, no heat or tension between the two main protagonists, just one young girls’ journey of self discovery-love, hate, jealousy, need, and personal growth. And the magic, both technical and lyrical in its turns kept me captivated. But if you need a well-defined magic system in place this may not work for you, here-at least the way Agnieszka does it, it is more art than anything else.

That’s not to say that it was perfect. Besides the grossly May December romance that was blooming, there was something in the voice of the novel that I just couldn’t quite like. You know how Katniss’ voice in the Hunger Games was somehow a step remote and cold? This was about two steps farther than that. And the way Sarkan treated her was abominable and never really reconciled. The way the initial scene with Prince Marek where he attempts to rape Agnieska and when she successfully defended herself Sarak got bent out of shape AT HER, and his solution was to let the would be rapist think he’d succeeded, that rankled entirely throughout the book. I was also set to be upset about how her “womanly” magic was so often denigrated throughout the story-but the longer I looked at it the more it seemed that the rest of them were so bound by rules that it showed more a lack in them than in her, so that worked out okay in the end for me.

But still, it kept me hooked so I almost didn’t care that I was perturbed at the voice and some of the characters. But most lovely thing of all, for my piece of mind, the one thing that kept me from being completely irate, the moment the tension did appear between our two protagonists, they separated. And Agnieszka was left to fumble, and fight, and learn her way through the next half of the story. And she received her own autonomy and freedom by being put on the lists in her own right. There’s adventure, death, and betrayal that she makes her way through before the two are reunited. Basically she did some much-needed growing up, so that I thought her less of a child, and this is key-was no longer in any way under Sarkan’s power. And in many ways I was able to see Sarkan more as a lonely stunted man. This is a fairy tale, so of course they were going to end up together. And I could have done without that aspect to be honest, but at least it didn’t squick me out as much as it might have.

But the reason for the sorcery and The Wood, and the way it all played out? That was, if not entirely to my liking (it was almost inexpressibly sad) it was entirely engrossing and not at all what I was expecting. And THAT was the happy(ish) ending that really worked for me. Girl getting guy? Yeah, somehow that part of the ending left me feeling a trifle saddened in a way that I am finding difficult to articulate. I think I honestly didn’t want them together. Don’t get me wrong, they meshed in a way that I think set a foundation that will last. But female friendship and love that lasts through every hardship and even seeing the ABSOLUTE worst in the other, that is the kind of priceless I don’t often get and was what made it work for me.

So, do I recommend it? That is hard to say. I overall enjoyed reading it and don’t feel it was a waste of my time. But I am glad to have been able to check it out of the library rather than spending money. And despite the fact that I am a massive re-reader, I doubt that I will re-read this one. Though I do I agree with others that it may actually be worth rereading, that there are layers yet to be plumbed. So it is a tricky one. But in general I think yes I would recommend it, with the caveats that if you want any of the following then this isn’t the book for you: real romance, real YA/NA, a really wrong hero groveling, or a strong and consistent magical system. Otherwise, if the idea of a fairy tale sounds like it might hit the spot, this might be a good choice.

Uprooted

Standard
3.5 star review

Review – White Tiger by Jennifer Ashley

White Tiger

A woman is lured into the shadows of a dangerous manhunt…
Wanted and on the run…

For twenty years, Kendrick, a white tiger Shifter, has been the Guardian of un-Collared Shifters who spend their lives living in secret—and in fear of being shunted into Shiftertowns. When Kendrick’s group is discovered and forced to flee, Kendrick is more desperate than ever to protect them

His only salvation was in a beautiful stranger.

In a diner in the middle of nowhere, lonely waitress Addison Price has seen a lot of unusual drifters come and go, but none has ever captivated—and intimidated—her like the imposing fugitive who wields a broadsword with incredible skill. But when he risks all to protect her, Addison’s fear turns to empathy—and empathy to desire as she learns more about her savior. Soon she’s more than willing to help the crushingly sensual white tiger and his cubs in a passionate bid for freedom. Whatever the cost.

I really get a kick out of this series. Sometimes it is sweet, sometimes sad, sometimes light, sometimes dark. But even when I find myself not wanting to read in general, I do still want to read these when they come out. While each story is a stand-alone in many ways, I think you are better reading most of them, and in order, to get the full picture.

This particular story was longer on plot, and a touch shorter on relationship. But it was good. It opened up the world and gave readers new insights into shifter relationships and communities. Completely fascinating, I love the world building that Jennifer Ashley does with this series.

And Kendrick and Addie and their little plot moppets were completely adorable. I love a good plot moppet, and that is something that this series does well. And while Kendrick and Addie’s personal relationship may not have exactly taken center stage, their relationships with the group as a whole did, and that worked for this couple because of the kind of people they are.

We also got to see more Ben/Gil, Zander and a ton more Tiger. I adore Tiger, he’s probably my favorite character so it was really good to see how his happily ever after is shaping up. And the Ben/Gil character is fascinating and I can’t wait for his story. But I am not at all disappointed that we get Zander, the crazy polar healer’s story next.

White Tiger (Shifters Unbound #8)

Standard
3 star review

Review – The Twisted Souls Series box Set by Cege Smith

Twisted Souls Box Set

I received an ARC of this book from the Publisher, via Netgalley, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review.

The complete Twisted Souls series is available in this box set collection:

The Soul Ripper (Twisted Souls #1)
In a post-apocalyptic world known as the Territory of Malm, infants are born soulless. With a hideous appearance and unquenchable hunger, they are kept out of sight until they are Chosen.

Long ago, the residents of Malm placed their faith in the Office of Souls to lead them and keep them safe after the human race was almost destroyed in the time known only as “Before”. But someone long forgotten has other plans, and that means unleashing unspeakable evil into their world.

Soul Implantation Day 3675 starts out like any other, and follows the paths of six people who are destined to meet in the courtyard of the Fountain of Souls. They bear witness to a soul implantation ceremony gone terribly awry.

Not all of them will survive, and some will suffer a fate far worse than death.

*This novella was previously released under the title “The Soul Garden”.*

Twisted Souls (Twisted Souls #2)
The epic collision of good and evil that began in The Soul Ripper (Twisted Souls #1)

continues in Twisted Souls (Twisted Souls #2), the second installment of Cege Smith’s Twisted Soul series…

The survivors of Soul Implantation Day 3675 went into hiding as the rest of the Territory of Malm was ravaged by an old foe hell-bent on total domination of their world. As the focus settles on the last untouched outpost of humanity, Samuel, the new Head Master of the nearly annihilated Office of Souls, knows that something must be done in order to bring the human race back from the brink of total extinction.

Samuel’s secret weapon is Cameron, the last recipient of a soul from the Fountain of Souls. Cameron’s destiny has set her on a path to face down the ultimate evil and hopefully save mankind. Time is against them as the survivors discover that nowhere is safe from their enemy’s reach, and they must rejoin the outside world and fight before it is too late.

Soul Cycle (Twisted Souls #3)
The line between good and evil blurs even further in Soul Cycle (Twisted Souls #3), the third installment of the Twisted Souls saga…

Cameron, Samuel, and Malcolm survived the trap in the Office of Souls compound. Their goal is to reach Outpost Alanstown where they know they will have to confront their enemy. But as their journey begins, an encounter with a group of bloodthirsty Soulless Ones separates the group on the outskirts of West End, the capital city of the Territory of Malm.

In the meantime, in Outpost Alanstown, Chim retrieves Marius from the edges of madness. Marius finds himself in the difficult position of helping Chim in order to help himself.

What no one knows is that someone has been behind the scenes pulling the strings like a skilled puppet master, and that person is someone they never expected.

Answers from the past must be found before Cameron and Samuel’s true destinies can be revealed. The journey to the final battle is coming, but who will be there still remains a mystery.

A Soul to Settle (Twisted Souls #4)
A new evil rises as Samuel and Cameron race toward to Outpost Alanstown in the thrilling conclusion of the Twisted Souls series…

Facing a moral dilemma, Samuel realizes that everything he believed was right is wrong. He is confronted with the devastating truth that to save the Territory of Malm, he must first remove the stain of the treacherous legacy of the one who ruled before him.

Cameron teeters on the cusp of discovering her purpose.

This was just so trippy sounding I couldn’t resist. I am such an unreasoned fan of post-apocalyptic dystopians. And man, trippy doesn’t even begin to cover it. Babies in this world are born soulless, and it is creepy, not like Gail Carriger’s version of soulless at all.

So at first it is kind of mysterious, it is interesting and maybe even a bit frightening. And the end of the first story has quite a bit of action and a heck of a cliffhanger. I would NOT have liked to have been following along before everything came out. But when the second novella in the series starts up, it get a little… well it gets a little weird. And I don’t mean weird in a friendly nice sort of way. I get why the author made the choice she made. It truncates things in a way that makes her plot work the way she obviously intended. I just found this one aspect a bit offputting.

Honestly, the romantic elements of this story were the weakest elements in what is otherwise an interesting sort of sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal (honestly I don’t know quite what it is, it is a mashup) dystopian story, and while that takes up a significant portion of the plot, I think it may have been a stronger and better story without it, or at least done differently. Or that may be my particular bias, because this turned out to be a new adult in disguise.

On the other hand, that may not have helped, as I found Marius, one of the bad guys, the most likable and sympathetic out of the whole cast for most of the book. Chim was unmitigated one-dimensional evil. Cameron was stunted and one-dimensional for the vast majority of the book, though that really wasn’t her fault. But Samuel was the piece de’resistance, a man so willfully blind for so long is almost unbearable.

And for then first 98% of the book, the ending of my review had a very different angle. But the authors ending vompletely changed mine. It is hard to describe, but I vacillated between being almost too frustrated to continue, and being helplessly mesmerized by the events taking place. This thing twisted and turned on itself so many times it was impossible to know where it was headed. But that last 2% of the book, in a series full of twists absolutely turned me on my head. Absolutely nothing was like I thought, and that ending was nothing that I could have expected.

As far as editing goes, the first two appeared very well-edited, or if there were any errors I simply didn’t note them. The third book saw a variety of small errors that caught my attention, like please instead of pleas. But overall for a self published book it is actually quite good.

So final analysis? Did I like it? I don’t know. I think I liked the premise of it better than the execution. I was honestly all set to give this thing 2 stars and be done with it. Is it really fair to change a rating based on such a small section of the book? Probably not, but the author did something so unexpected that it completely subverted my expectations, such that I can’t quite help myself from adjusting my viewpoint, and my rating. Do I wish the author had handled the main relationship differently and that more of the questions were answered? Absolutely, like I said this is better in theory than in execution. But there was just something about the way she stayed true to what is not precisely a happy ending in a way that fed into the world she built without shoehorning in the perfect happy ending, that it felt like a rewarding read in the end. I just couldn’t help upgrading my rating.

So I am giving this a generous, conditional 3 stars. Very generous considering it was only the last 2% of the book that bumped it up for me (though some of that initial low score was likely from previous admitted biases). Conditional on what I can’t quite express without entirely spoiling the ending. Closest that I have is that you should probably like new adult, not mind that the boundaries of science and magic are unclear, not mind that all the questions aren’t answered, and not need a complete happily ever after. Which all sounds rather grim, except it isn’t.

On a completely unrelated note (to the story itself), what I found myself feeling slightly curious about as I read through this serial compilation, is that when people put these together they don’t edit out the recap transitions. I know those are necessary and/or helpful when people are reading the various entries separately because of time lags or because people skips books or jump into the series randomly, but when they are all bound together in one book, I’d almost think you’d want to clean them up since they aren’t really necessary anymore. It just makes me wonder why people don’t. So that is my odd musing for this one.

The Twisted Souls Series (Box Set: The Soul Ripper, Twisted Souls, Soul Cycle, A Soul to Settle)
Standard
3.5 star review

Review – Witch, Cat, and Cobb by J.K. Pendragon

Witch Cat and Cobb

Destined for an arranged marriage she wants nothing to do with, Princess Breanwynne decides that the only option for escape is to run away. Upon the announcement of this plan, her trusted pet cat reveals he can talk by asking that she take him along. Listening to his suggestion to venture into the lair of the Swamp Witch proves to be a very bad idea, but Breanwynne would rather face a witch any day than be forced to marry a prince.

I received an ARC of this book from the Publisher, via Netgalley, this does not affect my opinion of this book or the content of my review.

I picked this up because it sounded interesting, and it is out of my comfort zone. I think it can get a little too easy to just read the “safe” things, and you can miss so many gems.

And make no mistake, this one, despite its short length, is a gem. A sweet, magical, fairy-tale with a few unusual twists, this was an enjoyable read. At around 20,000 words, it is very short, so I hate to say too much and risk spoiling it. It was an interesting premise, with characters I liked, who had back stories I would have loved to read more of, and of course the requisite happy ending but with a bit of a twist.

And because we always question when it comes to self-pubbed or alternative presses, rest assured, this was well edited and well written. Honestly I would love to see what J.K. Pendragon could do with full length novel word counts, and I may just pick up some other works. And, well I don’t know if this was Pendragon’s intent, or if they would take it as a compliment or condemnation, but it felt, for lack of a better word, accessible. LGBTQIA is not my usual milieu, but once I started reading it, that isn’t how I thought of it. It was an enjoyable fantasy love story.

Witch, Cat, and Cobb
Edited: Thanks to AV Sanders for alerting me that Less Than Three Press titles are available at all major retailers once they are released! You apparently just can’t get them pre-ordered.

Standard