Monday, March 30, 2020

The Sinner by J. R. Ward: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Sinner by J. R. Ward

The Sinner is the eighteenth book in Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series of a brotherhood of vampires and their partners. It marks a final of a sort for the series too, although there are several books already announced. Unfortunately, it didn’t do it with a bang.

Since the first book, the main plot has been about a war with the Lessening Society, evil creatures made by Omega, the counterpart of the Scribe Virgin who created the vampires. The war has sort of ended a couple of times already as the series has reached its peaks and then continued. A constant, however, has been a prophecy of the end of Omega delivered by Butch, one of the brothers.

Butch had an own storyline in this book, which built towards the conclusion of the prophecy. All was set for the great showdown. And then it didn’t happen. The glory of ending Omega was robbed from him, supposedly in order to save his life, but basically in a cop-out that made the entire story deflate like a bad soufflĂ©. A great disappointment, even if it introduced the new great evil who will continue the tormenting of the brotherhood.

But these books aren’t only about war. There’s always a love story too. Here it was between Syn, a tragic male with a compulsive need to kill, and Jo, a half-vampire about to go through the transition to a vampire—not that she knows about it. And the revelations are dragged almost to the end of the book where they didn’t make as great an emotional impression as I would’ve liked.

Like often in these books, the couple falls in love almost instantly. Syn is hired to kill Jo by mobsters, but he is drawn to her instead. From there, he begins a change to a romantic hero, with a good redemption arc. Jo is a more boring character. Her role is to wait for an event she doesn’t know is coming. In the meanwhile, she searches for clues of her past, but it’s not her actions that reveal the truth in the end.

It’s difficult to see why Syn finds her so special that it brings a change into his centuries of existence, but somehow it doesn’t matter. He is so earnest in his need to do right by her that it elevates their story to a true romance. And then there’s the added anxiety of not knowing whether she will make it through the transition.

The book isn’t without flaws, but I loved it anyway, like always. It’s the little things; the bonds between the brothers combined with a few truly emotional moments. And in a way it was a good thing that the war with the lessers came to an end, as it had turned boring. The new baddie is much more interesting than the old one, even if she wasn’t the character I would have wanted to move to this series from the Fallen Angels series. So there’s something to look forward to in the upcoming books too.

***

With this book, Im finally in schedule with my Goodreads Reading Challenge, having read 16 books of 60.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Emperor’s Edge 1, 2 & 2.5 by Lindsay Buroker: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads (each)

The Emperor's Edge by Lindsay Buroker

I’ve been on a Lindsay Buroker binge this past week, after getting hooked on her Death Before Dragons series. I subscribed to her newsletter and was given a four book bundle of her fantasy books (she writes sci-fi too) as a thank you. I picked The Emperor’s Edge, which starts a series with the same name. It’s her first book, and while it’s not perfect, it’s interesting and good. I instantly continued with Dark Currents, and then read a short story The Assassin’s Curse.

The Emperor’s Edge is set in Turgonia, a steam-punkish empire, but not an alt-history/pseudo Victorian one. Technological advancements are based on steam; there are trams, cars and factories among other things, but society’s norms aren’t Victorian. Women handle the commerce and have consequently more freedoms, and men the war. Society is divided to the warrior caste and the rest. Magic exists, but not in Turgonia where it’s been banned.

Dark Currents by Lindsay Buroker

The main character is Amaranthe Lokdon. She’s an up-and-coming enforcer, one of only a few women in the police force. She comes to the notice of the young emperor Sespian and through him the man who is holding the emperor’s reins. The regent sends her to kill Sicarius, the most notorious assassin of the empire. Things get a bit out of her hands and before she knows it, she’s a wanted criminal running from the emperor’s soldiers. But she also discovers a plot to kill the emperor and decides to clear her name by saving him. For that, she enlists Sicarius to help her.

During the course of the book, Amaranthe builds a team of very different people to assist her, and they become the heart of the series. In the first book, they manage to save the emperor, but end up all being wanted by the law. The second book sees them attempting to clear their name by thwarting a plot to poison the drinking water of the Turgonia’s capital. They face magic wielding shamans and weird magical beasts and machines. And form tight bonds.

The Assassin's Curse by Lindsay Buroker

The main relationship is building between Amaranthe and Sicarius. He’s a very difficult person to get a hang of, but she’s persistent. Already in the second book she confesses her feelings for him, which was faster than I anticipated, considering that there are nine books in the series. But it suits her character. His answer definitely suits his.

Based on two books and a short story, the plots evolve around economy, which is a refreshing change to all the fantasy series about conquer and war. The main villains don’t come from the outside, but from within the city. There’s a faction of business leaders who are plotting to overthrow the emperor. I’m guessing the truth of the organisation won’t be unravelled until the last book. And I’m guessing it’ll take that long to clear Amaranthe’s name too. I’m not sure it’ll be possible to clear Sicarius’s. The plots are a bit all over the place and the pacing is slightly odd; the books tend to end before I would expect them to. But these are minor details that haven’t marred my enjoyment of the books. I already have the third one waiting.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Battle Bond by Lindsay Buroker: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Battle Bond by Lindsay Buroker

Battle Bond is the second book in Buroker’s Death Before Dragons series. It starts almost right after the first book with references to it and the aftermath still going on. Val is as sarcastic and kickass as ever, but her sessions with the therapist are starting to have a hold. She even goes to yoga, although that doesn’t end well. Zav the dragon is his arrogant self, but he starts to warm up to Val a little. We also learn that dragons are perfectly capable of relationships in their human form, which gives hope for a future romance between Zav and Val. There is some build-up to it in this book, but nothing major yet.

The plot is full action from the start. A new dragon shows up, killing humans, and both Vals boss and Zav want him gone. And a group of shifters is harassing Vals weapons supplier, so shes helping her too. Neither task goes well. Val gets her ass handed to her many times before everything is solved. Luckily she heals fast. However, the way she deals with the dragon causes a rift between her and Zav, which might spell trouble for her in the future. I can’t wait to read what happens next.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Honor among Thieves by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Honor among Thieves by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre

Occasionally Amazon manages to recommend a book that is spot on. Honor among Thieves grabbed me from the start and took me on a ride through stars. It’s a YA sci-fi by authors Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre set on near future earth. The earth has been saved by an alien race of sentient spaceships, and in return a hundred humans are selected every year on a trip around space inside them. It’s considered a huge honour to be selected, but when the protagonist, Zara, is chosen, she has other ideas.

Sentient spaceships that look like huge whales aren’t a new concept, and calling them Leviathan isn’t exactly innovative either. Giving the spaceship a personality, whether it’s an AI or other kind, is a well-used idea too. Still, there is something about Nadim, the ship Zara is assigned to, that makes him stand out as a person among the other characters.

Zara is a fairly typical YA heroine, ill-treated and angry. She starts as a thief living on streets, but she begins to heal on board of Nadim and grows to be a hero. She also turns out to be a veritable technical genius, which I found a bit far-fetched, considering she hadn’t studied much. But I could move past that.

At the heart of the story is the friendship and bond between Nadim and Zara. Both have suffered psychological trauma and abuse that gives them common ground and ability to understand each other even though they come from such different worlds. Reading the reviews, some found their bond creepy. YA readers are used to there being a love story at the heart of every book; the authors tease with this with an early character that turns out to be something completely different. They view the bond in romantic light and are repulsed by it. I’m not sure the bond between Zara and Nadim is romantic, although their connection is often described like two people falling in love, but I could be wrong.

The story is exciting too. It’s divided into four separate parts, each with its own arc that leads seamlessly to the next part. Stakes get gradually higher from one part to the next, until the great revelation at the end. The main cast of characters is fairly small, which is good, and none of them is solely black or white, not even the sentient ships. I’m not entirely sure how the title fits, as there are no other thieves than Zara, but the authors made a valiant effort to integrate it to the plot. The story ends at an exciting place and I definitely want to know what will happen next.


Book 11/60

Friday, March 13, 2020

Love Hard by Nalini Singh, A Lovely Drop by Darynda Jones: reviews

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Love Hard by Nalini Singh
 
Love Hard by Nalini Singh is the third book in Hard Play contemporary romance series featuring four rugby playing New Zealand brothers. Jake is the second youngest, a single dad of a six-year-old after his teenage sweetheart suddenly died right after giving birth. His counterpart is Juliet, a wild-hearted best friend of his former love. They didn’t like each other at school, but years later, they are different people and sparks fly. 

I love romance novels with lots of happy tears, and this one made me cry an ocean. Jake and Juliet were a great, balanced and grownup couple despite their young age. Both came with package, on top of which they had the shared past they needed to work through too. All problems got solved fairly easily, but in a satisfying way. And the entire Bishop-Esera family made me want to be adopted by them. This was perhaps my favourite in the series so far, but there’s one more book to come and I have high hopes for it.


4/5 stars on Goodreads

A Lovely Drop by Darynda Jones
 
A Lovely Drop by Darynda Jones is a novella or a short story of about eighty pages. Despite the length, the story is fully developed, and I didn’t feel like anything was missing. The premise is interesting: Andrea has the ability to ‘drop’ twenty-four hours into past and observe everything that has happened. She has operated under radar, helping anonymously to solve difficult crimes. But now she has been caught by the Homeland Security who demand she help them. She’s not entirely willing, a memory of her mother’s downfall in the hands of law enforcement clear in her mind. The agent assigned to her case is compelling, however, and so she complies.

The crime(s) are fairly easily solved. After all, all Andrea has to do is go to the past to see what happened. But there are some twists and turns that stem from her ability, which keep matters interesting to the end. And there’s a romance developing between her and the agent, which spiced things up too. Andrea is an interesting character, as is Agent Strand. The book ends at a good place that makes me wish that there are more stories or even a complete series featuring the two in the works. I’d definitely read them.

Monday, March 09, 2020

Catching up: a review roundup

I’m over a month behind posting book reviews here on my reading blog. I spent a better part of February without finishing a single book I began to read. Partly it was because the books were disappointing and I had to give them up. Partly it was because I had other commitments that ate into my reading time. Because of that, the previous post here is from January 21st, and the first book I finished since that was on February 19th. The gap in posting is just laziness. I’ve managed to read five books, so here’s a recap.

Shatter the Earth by Karen Chance

4/5 stars on Goodreads

 
This is book ten in Chance’s Cassandra Palmer series. Despite the length of the series, apparently only three months have passed, which is difficult to believe, considering everything that’s happened. In the past couple of books there has been a major war brewing, and this one ended with a big battle, though not the war-ending one. All the books do. Other than that, it was slightly mismatched. It began with one plot that was made out to be a big deal, but ended up as something completely different, with the original plot brought up as an afterthought in the epilogue. Still, it was better than some of the books in the serieswhich I love, by the way. It was evenly paced with slower chapters here and there where the reader can catch their breath, and there was an exciting development considering the main trio, Cassie, Pritkin and Mircea. And now that Chance is publishing the books herself, we dont have to wait years until the next one.

To Be Taught if Fortunate by Becky Chambers

3/5 stars on Goodreads


Becky Chambers’ books are always lovely. Nothing dramatic ever happens, there’s no drama between characters and everyone is always nice. Small frowns are dealt with hugs. There’s very little plot in them too, but since I know to except that, it doesn’t usually matter. But this book is basically a report of what four people sent on a scientific mission to exoplanets did and saw. Nothing else. There’s a small build-up for drama when the earth stops communicating with them, but it’s soon brushed over. What disappointed me with this one, however, was the ending. It tries to be ambivalent, to leave the fate of the characters to the reader’s imagination, but it comes across as a copout, as if the author hasn’t bothered to take responsibility for her creation. Other than that, it’s an imaginative, well-written book like all her books, and kept me entertained up until the disappointing end. 

Betwixt by Darynda Jones

3/5 stars on Goodreads

 
This was the first book in Jones’s new series toted as women’s paranormal romance, a crossover between women’s fiction and paranormal romance where the heroines are over forty. It was a fast-paced and easy to read. The main characters, Defiance and Annette feel familiar from Jones’s excellent Charlie Davidson series, with a similar friendship dynamics than Charlie and Cookie and a habit of drinking all the coffee, so I loved them instantly. And if Defiance isn’t an ADD personality like Charlie, she isn’t exactly fully focused either. This isn’t a laugh-out-loud kind of book like the other series, but it has its funny moments.

However, the book feels incomplete. It’s like I was reading the first third of a longer book, with the characters being introduced and the basis of the plot set. And then it ended. There are two more books coming and Im guessing the main action happens in those, but I can’t judge this book based on what I don’t have.

I also have a small issue with Defiance’s age. She's supposed to be forty-four, which is fine (I like reading characters my age). But she has no past and she behaved like a twenty-something, with no wisdom or experience gained. If the point of this series is to have middle-aged heroines, I’d like them to show the life they have lived. They should feel and act differently from the twenty-year-olds. But I liked Defiance and if I imagine her to be twenty-something, I can forget all the rest. And since the book ended with a whopper of a cliff-hanger, I’m definitely going to read the next book.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

4/5 stars on Goodreads 

 
It’s refreshing to read about a culture that I know nothing about, DinĂ©/Navajo in this case, even when it comes added with apocalyptic and fantasy elements (or especially then). Maggie was a great main character, damaged and angry, and she didn’t miraculously heal during the first book—at least not without a heavy price. Kai started as a one-dimensional hunk and turned out to be much more. The mystery plot was a bit light and somewhat confusing, but it got solved in the end too. And luckily there was the first chapter of the second book added to the edition I read, so that I didn’t have to wait in agony to know what happens next. I will definitely continue with this series.

Sinister Magic by Lindsay Buroker

4/5 stars on Goodreads

 
This was invigorating like dragons blood. I really like a tough heroine who goes through a book kicking arse, and getting hers kicked in return. Val is as tough as they come, but she pays for it too: her stress-levels are so high she has developed asthma and needs therapy, both of which are well integrated into the story. She has some other issues as well, mainly that she has had to abandon everyone she loves, a daughter included, so that they won’t be killed because of her job as a monster slayer.

The story itself is fairly straightforward. Val needs to find a cure for her boss who has been poisoned with magic, and clear both of their names in the process. Her path to it is littered with creatures from other realms who are bent on killing her. Making matters worse is a dragon who wants to use her as bait to lure in more creatures who want to kill her. It is action from the beginning to the end.

As this is the first book in the series, there is some world-building and character introductions, but everything is done organically along the story. No backstory is given for why the world is populated with creatures from other realms; it’s a fact of life for the characters. As a first person narrative, we get only Val’s thoughts on things, and other characters remain slightly distant. But they are all interesting. My favourite is Zav, the arrogant dragon law-enforcer. The book hints that some sort of romantic bond will form between him and Val, but there was no romance yet. All in all, a great start for a series and I’ll definitely read the next book too.


Books 4-8 of 60 (Ive had to lower my reading challenge target from the original 65.)