25 July 2016

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast

This was brilliantly executed! First you have to read the description, so you can see all the elements that Nancy Campbell Allen wove together.

"When Lucy Pickett arrives at Blackwell Manor to tend to her ailing cousin, Kate, she finds more than she bargained for. A restless ghost roams the hallways, werewolves have been reported in the area, and vampires lurk across the Scottish border. Lord Miles himself is clearly hiding a secret. He is brash and inhospitable, and does not take kindly to visitors—even one as smart and attractive as Miss Pickett. He is unsettled by the mysterious deaths of his new wife, Clara, and his sister, Marie. Working together, Miles and Lucy attempt to restore peace to Blackwell Manor. But can Lucy solve the mystery of Miles? Can she love the man—beast and all?"

So we have a steampunk Victorian era with paranormal creatures roaming and making mischief. And this steampunk world is richly imagined, with deft touches like an airship company and telescribes and ray guns. Truly, they work together seamlessly with the time period to enhance this Beauty and the Beast retelling in an intensely vivid way. Everything is very well thought out.

Lucy and Miles are excellent leads. Their characters are strong and interesting and self-aware without resorting to vapid quirkiness. Their romance is slow and sweet, with the tension between them bringing the story along nicely. Add in a villain that I did NOT see coming, at least not from the beginning, and the mystery plays out well too. I really, really loved the ghost and how she helped Lucy do what she could not.

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast is well written, well paced, and has a strong finish. It is a fantastic story and bears re-reading. The paranormal elements enhance the mystery and make it most enjoyable.

Gentle Reader Alert: I found nothing of concern.

22 July 2016

Inevitable Ascension

From Goodreads:

"The innocent never waver from doing what’s right, even if it means drowning the world in fire.

Violina had been burned and betrayed by mankind ever since she sprang into existence. They named her a heretic and condemned her to a pit to live and die in agony. Though she sat stranded, starved and bloodied, she would not submit. Violina, the girl who had been mocked and hunted for rejecting the warped ideals of artificial authority, would lay down her own law.

Inevitable Ascension — The rapid-fire action/adventure novel packed with a host of twists that will make your mind explode! But not literally, otherwise that would be really gross."

This was a difficult read for me. I really, really wanted to like it, because it was advertised as steampunk, but this is not the steampunk I am used to. Instead, it has a heavily technological, heavily science fiction tone. Coupled with Violina, a sociopathic unsympathetic main character who has no problem killing the people who stand in her way and leaves a high body count in her wake, and I was surprised to make it through at all. There are no lasting consequences for Violina's actions, which led to a disappointingly flat character arc, and Violina's main concern seems to be shaping history rather than making things better for the people around her. On the other hand, just as Sherlock has Watson to humanize him, Violina has Lux to humanize her, a bright character with a great faith in humanity who inexplicably stays by Violina's side. The twisty timeline of the story works out well, though the ending feels very unresolved.

So, the writing was good, the plotting superb, but the setting and the main character made this story a very laborious read for me.

Gentle Reader Alert: There is violence a-plenty in this story, but no swearing and no sex.

09 July 2016

The Immortal Crown

***I received a copy of The Immortal Crown from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. ***

From Goodreads:
"A thousand years ago, the Navigator possessed thirteen stones touched by Oum’ilah, the God of gods. Over time, these power-ful stones of light were scattered and a prophecy arose declaring that a “child of no man” would gather them again, and he would be given immortality and reign forever as god and king of Kandelaar.

Now, in an age of chaos, the time has come for the prophecy to be fulfilled. Light and darkness have each chosen a champion to claim the legendary stones:

The sorceress of the cult of she-dragon has chosen Drakkor, a warrior and mercenary who travels with bandits and a corrupt stone of darkness.

The Oracle of Oum’ilah has placed his faith in Ashar, a young postulant who is unsure the stones of light even exist.

Meanwhile, miles away, a slave named Ereon Qhuin dreams of freedom. Abandoned at birth, his only possession is a strange stone that he believes is the key to his destiny and freedom.

A mercenary, a postulant, and a slave—which one is truly the child of prophecy? Who will wear the immortal crown?"

This was a difficult book for me to get into. You know how a realtor will describe a house as "cozy" when really it's just cramped? A realtor for this book would call it "richly detailed".

And yet....

For this book, you need it.

Mr. Merrill has set up a world that is not your typical high fantasy agrarian, with rolling fields and castles and serfs. Instead there are jungles and plains, stone temples and fortresses. The characters are, by turns, intense, dark, bloodthirsty, and devout. There is a fierceness to several of them that speaks to a long history of warrior-kings who have not grown soft while sitting on the throne. But that history is ending as the current king, Kublan, seeks to extend his reign even as his bones rattle in a sharp wind.

Yeah, this is sweeping epic fantasy for sure. It definitely brings out that tone in me.

It takes a while for the story to get rolling, since Mr. Merrill has so much set up work to do. The reader doesn't even meet the third contender for the crown until about a quarter of the way into the story. I want to say that I slogged through the narrative, but that's the book's saving grace--it continually captured my interest with each twist of the plot. And the further I read, the tighter the plot twisted. There is a *huge* cast of characters, but they are handled deftly and I never once said, "Now who is this?"--which is a feat in and of itself.

So, to sum up: The setting is well-described, the characters are distinct, and the writing is clear and evocative. I thought I was done with epic fantasies for a while, but I would be interested in reading the rest of this saga.

Gentle Reader Alert:  There was no swearing or sex, but there is some violence. It's not graphic, but it is intense.

Once A Witch

From Goodreads:
"Tamsin Greene comes from a long line of witches, and on the day she was born, her grandmother proclaimed she would be one of the most Talented among them.

But Tamsin's magic never showed up.

Now, seventeen years later, she spends most of her time at boarding school in Manhattan, where she can at least pretend to be normal. But during the summers, she's forced to return home and work at her family's bookstore/magic shop.

One night a handsome young professor from New York University arrives in the shop and mistakes Tamsin for her extremely Talented older sister. For once, it's Tamsin who's being looked at with awe and admiration, and before she can stop herself, she agrees to find a family heirloom for him that was lost more than a century ago. But the search - and the stranger - prove to be more sinister than they first appeared, ultimately sending Tamsin on a treasure hunt through time that will unlock the secret of her true identity, unearth the past sins of her family, and unleash a power so strong and so vengeful that it could destroy them all.

In a spellbinding display of storytelling, Carolyn MacCullough interweaves witchcraft, romance, and time travel in a fantasy that will exhilarate, enthrall, and thoroughly enchant."

This was a surprise. I picked the book up on a whim, and the sequel, since nothing else at the library was grabbing my attention. I don't really know what I was expecting, but Once A Witch surprised me and made me laugh out loud more than once. Each character, from the main character Tamsin to Uncle Morris, who teleports to amuse the children, is lovingly and skilfully drawn. Tamsin's snark is FIRST RATE. I really appreciated that the witchcraft involved wasn't about auras or crystals, but involved supernatural talents instead. It felt a little more grounded. The suspenseful plot has just the right amount of tension and the romance is superb. Tamsin's struggle to belong in her family while lacking what makes the family special was also well-done, and it added to Tamsin's character without becoming whiny/angsty/woe-is-me. Overall, I really enjoyed the book and I'm already 3/4s of the way through the sequel!

Gentle Reader Alert:  There are a very few strong swears sprinkled in the text (nothing beyond a PG-13), but that is all.


From Goodreads:

"Philadelphia high school who doesn’t care about the prom. It’s pretty much the only good thing that happens there, and everyone plans to make the most of it—especially Ash’s best friend, Natalia, who’s the head of the committee and has prom stars in her eyes. Then the faculty advisor is busted for taking the prom money and Ash finds herself roped into putting together a gala dance. But she has plenty of help—from her large and loving (if exasperating!) family, from Nat’s eccentric grandmother, from the principal, from her fellow classmates. And in making the prom happen, Ash learns some surprising things about making her life happen, too."

OK, that first sentence doesn't help a lot, but you get the gist of it and I'm not gonna try to edit it. What I love about LHAnderson's books isn't the realism, but the voice of them. They remind me a lot of Chris Cutcher's books, though less dark. There's something so captivating about Ash and her crazy home life and how she handles the problems in front of her. There were also the faintest overtones of Cinderella in the story, with Natalia's crazy grandmother acting as a sort of fairy godmother, but mostly it was about a girl doing what needed to be done and her family coming together to help her do it.

Gentle Reader Alert: There were a fair amount of swears in here, but nothing above a PG-13 level, and some innuendo and one "camera panning to the window" situation.

Broken Aro

From Goodreads:

"Open your eyes to darkness. What do you see? Does the darkness frighten you? Now imagine the darkness being the cargo hold of a slave ship. Your city has fallen. Your family is most likely dead. You don't know anyone around you, and some of them aren't even human. Giving up would be so easy to do, but not for Arowyn Mason. Not after being raised in a military family with seven brothers. Every great story should begin with a plan. Aro's was to escape and to survive.

Escape comes, but at a price. As they reach the shore, Aro and the other survivors learn that freedom doesn't mean safety. The slavers want their property back and will do anything to get it. The party uses every ounce of their brute strength, a hearty helping of cunning, and even ancient magics to keep themselves alive. Sickness, danger, and even love surprise them at every turn. Dealing with danger becomes their way of life, but none of them ever considered that nothing can be quite as dangerous as a prophecy. Running turns into another race altogether as her world falls to pieces again and again."

Do you know how many books have been published since time began? Me either. So I should quit being astonished when I run across another stellar writer whose name is unfamiliar to me. Maybe I should start running in different circles--I need better gossip on up and coming authors!

Anyway, in helping out with a launch party last month, I found that one of the giveaway prizes was a free copy of Broken Aro. I was intrigued by the synopsis on Goodreads, so I went and bought it. NO REGRETS. I loved this book! There was excellent tension as the main character, Arowyn Mason (Aro), navigated through the fall of her city, being held on a slave ship, and escaping in a terrible storm to an unknown land. And through it all, being protected by and protective of the men surrounding her--her seven brothers, then the men she befriends on the ship. They all become great characters as the story unfolds, and I really want to know what happened to Aro's brothers. There are a few plot twists I didn't see coming either, somewhat driven by the appearance of Damon the Dragos. Add that to the realistic portrayal of Aro's cross-country journey, something that I haven't felt as captured by since reading David Eddings' Belgariad, and I declare the entire book very well done. I cannot wait to read the rest!

Gentle Reader Alert: I didn't note anything of concern, but there are things hinted at that I would not want to have to explain to my daughters. I expect it would go over their heads, really.