Tag: fantasy

Book Review: Immortality: A Love Story, by Dana Schwartz  

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Title:  Immortality: A Love Story      
Author: Dana Schwartz    
Genre: YA    
Rating:  4 out of 5

Hazel Sinnett is alone and half-convinced the events of the year before—the immortality, Beecham’s vial—were a figment of her imagination. She doesn’t even know whether Jack is alive or dead. All she can really do now is treat patients and maintain Hawthornden Castle as it starts to decay around her.

When saving a life leads to her arrest, Hazel seems doomed to rot in prison until a message intervenes: She has been specifically requested to be the personal physician of Princess Charlotte, the sickly daughter of King George IV. Soon Hazel is dragged into the glamor and romance of a court where everyone has something to hide, especially the enigmatic, brilliant members of a social club known as the Companions to the Death.

As Hazel’s work entangles her more and more with the British court, she realizes that her own future as a surgeon isn’t the only thing at stake. Malicious forces are at work in the monarchy, and Hazel may be the only one capable of setting things right.

I enjoyed this read, more than I enjoyed the ending of the first book. Hazel was a much stronger character in this one, and I liked her more. The Companions to the Death were fascinating—Byron was just like I imagine him—and I liked that aspect of the story. I liked Jack….but I really like the doctor, too.

Dana Schwartz lives in L.A. Immortality:  A Love Story is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  Nocturne, by Alyssa Wees  

Image belongs to Ballantine/Del Rey.

Title:  Nocturne
Author: Alyssa Wees    
Genre: Fantasy, YA    
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Growing up in Chicago’s Little Sicily in the years following the Great War, Grace Dragotta has always wanted to be a ballerina, ever since she first peered through the windows of the Near North Ballet Company. So when Grace is orphaned, she chooses the ballet as her home, imagining herself forever ensconced in a transcendent world of light and beauty so different from her poor, immigrant upbringing.

Years later, with the Great Depression in full swing, Grace has become the company’s new prima ballerina—though achieving her long-held dream is not the triumph she once envisioned. Time and familiarity have tarnished that shining vision, and her new position means the loss of her best friend in the world. Then she attracts the attention of the enigmatic Master La Rosa as her personal patron, and realizes the world is not as small or constricted as she had come to fear.

Who is her mysterious patron, and what does he want from her? As Grace begins to unlock the Master’s secrets, she discovers that there is beauty in darkness as well as light, finds that true friendship cannot be broken by time or distance, and realizes there may be another way entirely to achieve the transcendence she has always sought.

This wasn’t consistent read for me. What I mean by that:  solid writing and descriptions, and I love the ballet parts. But….Grace and the other characters felt very one-dimensional and cliched, like the author tried to cobble them—and the story—together from a handful of other stories and myths, but didn’t make them unique enough to be believable. Grace was more of a puppet than anything else, barely taking any of her own initiative to do anything. As a whole, this just didn’t work for me, despite the dreamy ballet sequences.

Alyssa Wees lines in the Chicago area. Nocturne is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Ballantine/Del Rey in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  Wildblood, by Lauren Blackwood

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Title:    Wildblood    
Author:   Lauren Blackwood  
Genre:  Fantasy, YA   
Rating:  2.5 out of 5

Eighteen-year-old Victoria is a Wildblood. Kidnapped at the age of six and manipulated by the Exotic Lands Touring Company, she’s worked as a tour guide ever since with a team of fellow Wildbloods who take turns using their magic to protect travelers in a Jamaican jungle teeming with ghostly monsters.

When the boss denies Victoria an earned promotion to team leader in favor of Dean, her backstabbing ex, she’s determined to prove herself. Her magic may be the most powerful on the team, but she’s not the image the boss wants to send their new client, Thorn, a renowned goldminer determined to reach an untouched gold supply deep in the jungle.

Thorn is everything Victoria isn’t – confident, impossibly kind, and so handsome he leaves her speechless. And when he entrusts the mission to her, kindness turns to mutual respect, turns to affection, turns to love. But the jungle is treacherous, and between hypnotic river spirits, soul-devouring women that shed their skin like snakes, and her ex out for revenge, Victoria has to decide – is promotion at a corrupt company really what she wants?

This started off great:  vibrant characters, fascinating setting, interesting backstory. And then, about a third of the way in, it lost most of its cohesion. Everything—characters, actions, reactions, plot—seemed to become just random. Suddenly, Thorn was a “Christian”—when there’d never been any mention of faith in the story at all (And, I have to say, he was a Christian in name only, because he was still okay with murder, violence, and random sex—while claiming to be a changed man.). Dean, who had not shown even a glimpse of being anything other than a jerk, suddenly had noble reasons for his horrible behavior.

We get a revelation (actually, two) about Victoria’s history that changes everything, including the worldview of the setting, yet there’d been no hints of anything before. In short, this just did not work for me. If there’s been some breadcrumbs cropped along the way, this all would have been fine, but I felt like the author kept writing herself into a corner or against a wall and had to just pull something out of a bag.

Lauren Blackwood lives in Jamaica. Wildblood is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Son of the Poison Rose, by Jonathan Maberry   

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Title:  Son of the Poison Rose     
Author:   Jonathan Maberry
Genre: Fantasy    
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

The Silver Empire is in ruins. War is in the wind. Kagen and his allies are on the run from the Witch-king. Wild magic is running rampant everywhere. Spies and secret cabals plot from the shadows of golden thrones.

Kagen Vale is the most wanted man in the world, with a death sentence on his head and a reward for him—dead or alive—that would tempt a saint.

The Witch-king has new allies who bring a terrible weapon—a cursed disease that drives people into a murderous rage. If the disease is allowed to spread, the whole of the West will tear itself apart.

In order to build an army of resistance fighters and unearth magical weapons of his own, Kagen and his friends have to survive attacks and storms at sea, brave the haunted wastelands of the snowy north, fight their way across the deadly Cathedral Mountains, and rediscover a lost city filled with cannibal warriors, old ghosts, and monsters from other worlds. Along with his reckless adventurer brothers, Kagen races against time to save more than the old empire… if he fails the world will be drenched in a tsunami of bloodshed and horror.

I enjoyed this read a lot! It took a while to read, but that wasn’t a bad thing. The first book, it took me a bit to get into. This one did not. Kagen’s banter with his friends is the best part to me, but I loved all the action and trying to guess what would happen next. This is a very solid epic fantasy—and I can’t wait to read the next one.

Jonathan Maberry is a bestselling author. Son of the Poison Rose is his newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries, by Heather Fawcett    

Image belongs to Ballantine/Del Rey.

Title: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries    
Author:  Heather Fawcett   
Genre:  Fantasy   
Rating:  4 out of 5

Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party–or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones–the most elusive of all faeries–lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all–her own heart.

I really enjoyed this read! It felt like a bit of a fairy tale to me, which is always enjoyable. I could really relate to Em and her social awkwardness. I wasn’t too sure what to make of Bambleby at first, but he grew on me. I loved the little community of Hrafnsvik and its inhabitants, and I loved how Emily gradually came to fit herself into their midst and feel at home for the first time in her life.

Heather Fawcett lives in British Columbia. Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Fairies is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Ballantine/Del Rey in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  Monsters Born and Made, by Tanvi Berwah

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TitleMonsters Born and Made     
Author:  Tanvi Berwah  
Genre: Fantasy, YA   
Rating:  4.2 out of 5

Sixteen-year-old Koral and her older brother Emrik risk their lives each day to capture the monstrous maristags that live in the black seas around their island. They have to, or else their family will starve.

In an oceanic world swarming with vicious beasts, the Landers―the ruling elite, have indentured Koral’s family to provide the maristags for the Glory Race, a deadly chariot tournament reserved for the upper class. The winning contender receives gold and glory. The others―if they’re lucky―survive.

When the last maristag of the year escapes and Koral has no new maristag to sell, her family’s financial situation takes a turn for the worse and they can’t afford medicine for her chronically ill little sister. Koral’s only choice is to do what no one in the world has ever dared: cheat her way into the Glory Race.

But every step of the way is unpredictable as Koral races against contenders―including her ex-boyfriend―who have trained for this their whole lives and who have no intention of letting a low-caste girl steal their glory. When a rebellion rises and rogues attack Koral to try and force her to drop out, she must choose―her life or her sister’s―before the whole island burns.

She grew up battling the monsters that live in the black seas, but it couldn’t prepare her to face the cunning cruelty of the ruling elite.

I enjoyed this read a lot!  The culture this is set in is very dark and depressing—basically hopeless—and Koral’s struggles to save her family were set amidst that darkness. Though dark, the culture is vividly portrayed, with hints at centuries of history that hide many secrets. Of course this story will draw Hungry Games comparisons  because of its very nature, but I found it compelling in its own right.

Tanvi Berwah graduated from the university of Delhi. Monters Born and Made is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Sourcebooks Fire in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  A Venom Dark and Sweet, by Judy I. Lin

Image belongs to Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends.

Title: A Venom Dark and Sweet      
Author: Judy I. Lin   
Genre:  Fantasy, YA  
Rating:  4.0 out of 5

 A great evil has come to the kingdom of Dàxi. The Banished Prince has returned to seize power, his rise to the dragon throne aided by the mass poisonings that have kept the people bound in fear and distrust.

Ning, a young but powerful shénnóng-shi—a wielder of magic using the ancient and delicate art of tea-making—has escorted Princess Zhen into exile. Joining them is the princess’ loyal bodyguard, Ruyi, and Ning’s newly healed sister, Shu. Together the four young women travel throughout the kingdom in search of allies to help oust the invaders and take back Zhen’s rightful throne.

But the golden serpent still haunts Ning’s nightmares with visions of war and bloodshed. An evil far more ancient than the petty conflicts of men has awoken, and all the magic in the land may not be enough to stop it from consuming the world…

I loved the first book in this duology, A Magic Steeped in Poison, but I don’t think this book quite lived up to that first one. I still loved the characters and the world, but the last half of the book felt a bit rushed and almost superficial, like the author was describing what happened—but not actually letting the reader experience it.

 Judy I. Lin lives in Canada. A Venom Dark and Sweet is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  Master of Iron, by Tricia Levenseller

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TitleMaster of Iron    
Author:  Tricia Levenseller
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4.2 out of 5

Eighteen-year-old Ziva may have defeated a deadly warlord, but the price was almost too much. Ziva is forced into a breakneck race to a nearby city with the handsome mercenary, Kellyn, and the young scholar, Petrik, to find a powerful magical healer who can save her sister’s life.

When the events that follow lead to Ziva and Kellyn’s capture by an ambitious prince, Ziva is forced into the very situation she’s been dreading: magicking dangerous weapons meant for world domination.

The forge has always been Ziva’s safe space, a place to avoid society and the anxiety it causes her, but now it is her prison, and she’s not sure just how much of herself she’ll have to sacrifice to save Kellyn and take center stage in the very war she’s been trying to stop.

I hadn’t read the first book in this duology, so it took me a few minutes to get into this, but then I thoroughly enjoyed it. Ziva’s point-of-view is well-done and really shows how her anxiety feels from the inside—and the things she notices about how people respond to it. A nice level of magic and an interesting culture, as well as vivid and likable secondary characters made this an above-average fantasy read.

Tricia Levenseller is from Oregon. Master of Iron is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  Violet Made of Thorns, by Gina Chen

Image belongs to Random House Children’s.

Title: Violet Made of Thorns     
Author: Gina Chen  
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  4.5

Violet is a prophet and a liar, influencing the royal court with her cleverly phrased—and not always true—divinations. Honesty is for suckers, like the oh-so-not charming Prince Cyrus, who plans to strip Violet of her official role once he’s crowned at the end of the summer—unless Violet does something about it.

But when the king asks her to falsely prophesy Cyrus’s love story for an upcoming ball, Violet awakens a dreaded curse, one that will end in either damnation or salvation for the kingdom—all depending on the prince’s choice of future bride. Violet faces her own choice: Seize an opportunity to gain control of her own destiny, no matter the cost, or give in to the ill-fated attraction that’s growing between her and Cyrus.

Violet’s wits may protect her in the cutthroat court, but they can’t change her fate. And as the boundary between hatred and love grows ever thinner with the prince, Violet must untangle a wicked web of deceit in order to save herself and the kingdom—or doom them all.

I enjoyed this story, but I have to say, Violet and Cyrus are both kind of unlikable jerks. Especially to each other. Cyrus’ arrogance is almost overwhelming at times, and Violet is just rude and hateful at least half the time. I enjoyed the culture and mythology, but their personalities were almost enough to make me DNF this. I’m interested in reading more about them—probably—but this isn’t a warm and fuzzy tale.

Gina Chen lives in California. Violet Made of Thorn is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Random House Children’s in exchange for an honest review.)

The Best Books I Read in July (2022)

In July, I read 18 books, bringing my total for the year to 136 books. I also DNFed 12 books, which is a lot. I’m eight books behind schedule for the year. Hopefully I catch up! Of those 18, several of them were excellent. The best of those were:

The Bodyguard, by Katherine Center. I love this author’s books, but this one was the best of hers I’ve read. This made me laugh out loud several times (especially the “attacking” cow) and really relate to the main character. If you need a fun weekend read, grab this.

Long Story Short, by Serena Kaylor. This has everything: an awkward main character, a hot, brooding love interest, the enemies-to-lovers trope, great secondary characters. and lots of Shakespeare!

The Shadow Wand, by Laurie Forest. I’m still loving every page of this sometimes dark magical series.