Wednesday, December 29, 2021

My 2021 in books

It’s time to look back at what I’ve read this year. I made an ambitious reading list in January and pledged to read eighty-five books, which I later changed to ninety-five books and eventually to an even hundred. It’s going to be close; as I write this, there’s three days left of the year and I’m a book short of the goal. But I’m confident that I can make it—a new personal best.

In truth, I haven’t actually finished reading all the books Goodreads has marked as read towards my reading goal. There were ten books I’d downloaded from NetGalley that I didn’t finish, but I wrote reviews of them anyway, stating why the books weren’t for me. Still, ninety books read is pretty good for me. I wrote seventy-one posts on my reading blog, and a couple of reviews that only appear on Goodreads, mainly because they were too short for proper posts.

I mostly ignored the reading list I made. It’s more a guideline anyway. Majority of my reading was provided by NetGalley—I really have to stop requesting so many books—and there were several new books that I spotted after composing the list that I absolutely had to read. A couple of times I was granted a book by NetGalley that was a second in a series and I had to read the first book before getting to that one, which hadn’t been on my list.

In general, I managed to request interesting books from NetGalley. The first two books in Rook & Rose trilogy by M. A. Carrick, The Mask of Mirrors and The Liar’s Knot, were imaginative fantasy with great characters and intriguing plots. The Last Watch and The Exiled Fleet by J. S. Dewes, the first two books in The Divide sci-fi series, were exciting and well-written.

I absolutely loved She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker Chan, a start of historical fantasy set in ancient China; The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison, a sequel to The Goblin Emperor with a different main character and setting, but equally delightful; The Black Water Sister by Zen Cho, magical realism set in Malaysia; and Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, a retelling of an old Grimm fairy tale. There were other interesting books as well, like Purgatory Mount by Adam Roberts and Tower of Mud and Straw by Yaroslav Barsukov. All in all, I read seventy-one books from NetGalley, and I discovered several new favourite authors.

The other thirty or so books were mostly those by my old and new favourites. I read six books by T. Kingfisher, one of my new favourite romantic fantasy authors—though my favourite book of hers this year, A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, is meant for younger readers. Previous year’s stable, Lindsay Buroker, only features three times this year, because I simply didn’t have room for the prolific author. I’ll try to catch up next year. Old friends, Martha Wells, Nalini Singh and Penny Reid each had at least three books on my list this year, and all were great.

I mostly read fantasy in one form or another. There was historical fantasy like Scales and Sensibility by Stephanie Burgis, Gunnie Rose alt-history series by Charlaine Harris, urban fantasy by several authors, romantic fantasy, and your regular fantasy with an epic hero trying to save the world against their better judgement. Twenty books were sci-fi, and the rest were more contemporary, both romance and crime—or a combination of the two. And I read a great many romantic books in all forms.

The first book I read this year was Clockwork Boys by T. Kingfisher and I’ll finish the year with Beauty and the Mustache by Penny Reid, both excellent holiday reads. All in all, I’m happy with my reading year. I read many authors I wouldn’t have learned about if it weren’t for the NetGalley, and my favourite authors kept providing strong contenders for my attention. And next year’s list is already planned. But more about that in my next post.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Liar’s Knot by M. A. Carrick: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Liar's Knot by M. A. Carrick

The Liar’s Knot is the second book in Rook & Rose trilogy, and what a wonderful book it is. It started strong and didn’t really have empty moments despite its considerable length. It wasn’t non-stop action, but unlike in the first book, every scene mattered, building towards the finale.

The book begins soon after the first ended. Ren, the street urchin turned a self-made noblewoman, is adopted to the family she’s been conning, bringing her ruse to a conclusion she didn’t see coming. And she’s made the heir too, at least until her new cousin comes to age.

As far as Ren is concerned, the con is over and she’s taking her new duties seriously. That doesn’t mean she’ll go confessing the truth to her new family. And as far as the legal system of Nadežra is concerned, she now is who she claims to be, no matter the truth.

Alta Renata isn’t Ren’s only disguise though. She still goes about as the fortune-teller Arenza, and in this persona she grows close to Captain Grey Serrado and his family. And then there’s the masked vigilante Rose, whose job is to protect the original people of Nadežra.

The secrets aren’t easy to maintain though, especially since Grey has his own secret persona to maintain. Grey and Rook have a mission to free Nadežra of the influence of cursed medallions. But he’s not the only one after them. Derossi Vargo, the criminal turned aristocrat, is interested in them too.

Vargo and Ren are invited to a secret society that seem to control the medallions, and the three need to come together to best the most important players of Nadežra. Not an easy task, considering the hatred Grey feels for Vargo and the secrets between them.

The story had many layers that unfolded slowly. The number of players was kept smaller than in the first book, making it easier to keep tabs on them. There were fewer point of view characters too, though some side characters, like Ren’s sister Tess, had random chapters. There were a couple of side plots, like a backlash against the original tribes of Nadežra, which affected Grey and Rose both, and the aristocrats moving against Ren to uncover her secrets. Everything fit together organically though, creating a compelling whole.

There’s romance building between Ren and Grey, and while I expected it, it’s such slow-burn that it probably could’ve waited. Ren’s volatile relationship with Vargo works better and the emotions between them feel more real. I’ll be rooting for Vargo in the last book, if not for Ren’s lover, then as the winner of the masquerade that is Nadežra’s politics. I’m eagerly waiting for the conclusion.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, December 06, 2021

Risen by Benedict Jacka: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Risen by Benedict Jacka

Risen ends the twelve-book-long Alex Verus series. Verus has come a long way from a minor mage keeping a magic shop in London to one of the most powerful mages in the country, thanks to some special items, like fateweaver, which allows him to choose the paths the future takes. Unfortunately it comes with a price of slowly killing him by turning him into stone.

Alex doesn’t have a lot of time left, but he still needs to handle the two major issues in his life before he dies: save his ex-girlfriend Anne from being possessed by an evil jinn, and end his megalomaniac former teacher Richard.

I’ve never entirely understood Alex’s relationship with Anne. If I recall correctly, she was an ex-girlfriend already when the series started, and all his dealings with her have made him seem like a dumped guy obsessing with his ex. For most of the series, she’s seemed happy with the choices she’s made, but Alex has to know better. That the jinn does become the master of her in the end is exactly the ‘I told you so’ moment she calls it—and she still hopes he leaves her alone. He doesn’t.

His dealing with Richard is more satisfying and it’s left to the very end. Alex is at his last breath—literally, as his lungs have stopped working—and he has to pull off the impossible before dying. A death scene in first person narrative is never easy, but the author does a passable job with it.

And then he immediately ruins the poignant moment by jumping to his author voice to mock the reader. I’ve seldom encountered a stupider move in a book, and I can’t believe his editor allowed it to go through. What did he think? That we wouldn’t read the epilogue otherwise? Not that I really cared for what happened to Alex’s apprentice Luna, but she did give us the closure with Alex and Anne. [spoiler] That she’s turned from evil to someone who bakes and happily keeps a home is something else again. Are there no other roles for women than a mother and a bitch? [end spoiler]

But most of the book is taken by an endless battle. It starts around 8% mark and continues to the very end. I don’t generally care for battles, and this was mind-numbingly long and pointless. It really didn’t add anything to the story and was merely something the reader had to suffer through to get to the main part, Anne and Richard.

Now that the series is over, I have mixed feelings about it. It had its good moments, but the best books were in the beginning. We have a closure of sorts for Alex, and that’s good enough for me.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart

Second books in trilogies are never easy, and they seldom live up to the expectations the first book sets. The world is familiar, the characters won’t grow to their potential until the third book, and the best battles are saved for the last too.

The Bone Shard Emperor, the second book in The Drowning Empire trilogy by Andrea Stewart, is slightly less exciting than the first, but it manages to avoid stagnation and the sense that it’s merely a pass-through to the important final book. Mostly she achieves this by short chapters that always forward the overall plot, and by deepening the world.

Lin is the emperor now, but it’s not an easy or welcome rule. It doesn’t help that she questions her right to rule too, knowing that she isn’t the emperor’s natural daughter. The constructs her father built wreak havoc on the islands, and her decision to end the tithing of bone shards doesn’t bring her the goodwill she hoped. Her father’s shoddy rule has made the governors of the islands independent and they’re not willing to provide soldiers to fight the construct army taking over the islands one by one. The islands keep sinking, and the Alanga, the ancient enemy, are back. And they’re much closer than she could’ve imagined.

Jovis has accepted a position as a commander of Lin’s guard, but he’s still a spy for the Shardless Few, which constantly forces him to choose where his loyalties lie. And he hasn’t managed to get rid of the smugglers either. When he finally decides to side with Lin, he manages to betray her trust.

Phalue and Ranami have smaller roles. They’re trying to establish Phalue’s rule as the new governor of their island, balancing between the emperor and the Shardless Few. And Sand, who now knows she’s a construct copy of the old emperor’s dead wife, is prepared to bring down Lin’s rule with her construct army.

Everything heads inevitably towards a confrontation on a battlefield, much too soon for Lin. She and Jovis have a secret weapon in their magic, but they dare not use it in public. And there’s a new wielder of the same magic on their side. But can they trust him?

This was an interesting book, with enough action and revelations to keep it feeling fresh. Some of the latter seemed to spring out of nowhere, like the existence of replicas in addition to constructs and the origins of Alanga, as if they were clearer to the author than what she’d remembered to tell the reader.

The only thing that caused me to cringe was the rather forced romance between Lin and Jovis. It was clumsy and not necessary. Jovis declaring his love after spending years obsessed with his wife seemed especially poorly done. I also tend to imagine him as much older than he is, in his forties even, and her much younger (in reality, she’s only five, no matter what her memories say), and I find the idea of them together somewhat repulsive.

The ending left Lin and Jovis in a new place again. The existence of Alanga is out and Mephi is in the hands of the enemy. It’ll be interesting to see where all this will lead.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart starts The Drowning Empire trilogy. It takes place in a country that consists of several islands which float around a sea in a set pattern, coming closer and retreating, as well as moving slowly around, which affects the weather. For several years there’s been a dry season. The book starts as the rainy season is about to begin.

The empire is ruled by the Emperor who has secluded himself in a palace on the Imperial island, not seeing envoys from other islands or visiting himself. His sole attention is on constructs, creations he builds from different animal parts and then animates with bone shard magic to use as spies, guards, and civil servants. Some are more intelligent, some are less so, depending on how many shards they have. According to him, the constructs are the only defence against an ancient enemy that hasn’t been seen in centuries.

Each citizen is required to donate a bone shard from their scull as children. When their shard is in use, the construct uses the donors’ life energy, depleting and eventually killing them. People hate it and a rebellion is rising against the Emperor and the practice.

There were several point of view characters. Two of them, Lin and Jovis, were told in first person, with bigger roles in the story, and the others in third.

Lin is the Emperor’s daughter. She suffers from amnesia caused by an illness she also has no memory of, but she’s eager to learn her father’s magic to become the next emperor. But he hoards the secret, making impossible demands of her for the knowledge, so she sets out to learn it by herself, stealing her father’s keys to a secret library. And then she uncovers a secret about her father and herself that upends her entire world and puts her on the path to overthrow the Emperor. Lin wasn’t entirely likeable character, but I ended up rooting for her anyway.

Jovis is a smuggler searching for his wife who was stolen from their home years ago. He’s sailing from island to island, looking for clues. But every time he thinks he’s on her trail, something happens to derail him. People keep asking him to smuggle their children away from the shard ceremony, and little by little, he finds himself entangled in the rebellion against the Emperor.

He has a companion, Mephi, a creature he saved from the sea. He can speak, and he possesses magic that gives Jovis incredible strength, fighting skills, and other special abilities as long as they’re near each other. Together, they end up helping the rebels to overthrow an island governor in exchange for information about Jovis’s wife. But when the time comes to go find her, he chooses to go after the Emperor instead. Jovis and Mephi were my favourite characters. Jovis was a bit grumpy but with Mephi he slowly thaws.

Then there were the governor’s daughter Phalue and her girlfriend Ranami. The latter is involved in the shard rebellion, and she coaxes and emotionally blackmails Phalue into going against her father. They weren’t really my favourites, but Phalue had a decent and believable growth arc.

Finally Sand, a woman who lives in a desert island, repeating her daily routines with no recollection of who she is or how she’s ended up there. But then an accident jolts her out of her haze, and she starts gaining her memories, only to learn the same shocking truth as Lin did, with the same conclusion: she must rise against the Emperor.

This was an excellent book. The world was interesting and the magic truly unique. The characters had believable storylines, and the chapters were short, keeping the pace fast. I didn’t see the twist coming, even though in hindsight it’s self-evident, so that was well done. The larger uprising against the emperor, and a possible return of the ancient enemy is yet to come, but the second book will concentrate on those. That will be next on my reading list.


Thursday, November 18, 2021

Noor by Nnedi Okorafor: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Noor by Nnedi Okorafor

Noor means light, and in Nnedi Okorafor’s africanfuturist novel, Noor, it is the name of huge wind turbines that fill the deserts of Africa, generating enough power that electricity can be exported to Europe.

The book is set in near-future Nigeria, which has grown wealthy thanks to the huge energy business. It and pretty much everything else in life is in the hands of Ultimate Corporation, which provides for the poor too. The society is similar to ours, except even more connected by electronic devices and under constant surveillance by drones, the feed of which can be followed by anyone. To be off the grid requires special measures.

AOArtificial Organism, like she prefers to be calledis a beneficiary of the corporation’s charity. Born without legs and one arm, she’s welcomed the artificial limbs and other improvements they’ve offered, even implants to her brain to stop weird hallucinations. But the society sees her as a demon, and her life is constant balancing between being useful and not drawing attention to herself.

She thinks she’s found a safe haven for herself in a small town, with most of her digital footprint erased. Then one day at the marketplace, a group of men attack her. Something snaps in her brain, literally, and she kills the men. Now she has to flee to the desert.

There she meets DNA, a traditional Fulani herdsman who’s also fleeing. His traditional way of life of grazing his cattle freely has angered the farmers who have attacked his people, killing everyone except him. He’s also had to kill to save his life, but like with AO, the news feed only shows the part where he is the aggressor.

Together they flee to the only place where they can’t be found, inside Red Eye, a huge sand tornado in the middle of the desert which hides many fugitives. There they uncover the truth about AO’s implants and the attacks against the herdsmen, and learn, that to save themselves, they have to go against the one thing that controls everything, the Ultimate Corporation.

The book was told in AO’s point of view, and it suited the narrative well. She was an interesting character, an outsider who both wanted to belong and had embraced her differences. Her growing abilities with technology weren’t entirely well explainedwas it magical, or intentional by the maker of the implants?but she embraced her role as a saviour/destroyer with all the anger she’d bottled. There was romance too, more on the background, but raising the stakes for both her and DNA.

This was a deceptively small novel that grew to have a global impact. From start to finish, it was impossible to see where it would lead, and if a happy ending was even possible. Stakes kept getting higher, with both technology and the desert against AO and DNA. The author knows the traditional Nigerian ways well, and everything felt authentic. All in all, an interesting read that will linger with me for a long time.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 15, 2021

You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo

You Sexy Thing is sci-fi set in a distant universe in far future. You Sexy Thing is also a biomechanical, sentient spaceship with a sense of self-worth and infinite curiosity and desire to learn new things. When a group of ex-soldiers turned restauranteurs led by Captain Niko Larson accidentally end up on it, it seizes the opportunity to improve its existence. After some twists and turns, everyone ends up happy.

Except the reader.

I picked up this book expecting a space adventure, comical or action packedor both. What I got was very little of either.

The book begins with seven chapters of setting a stage, which is then abandoned and never returned to again. After a brief burst of action, most of the book is spent on the spaceship waiting for something to happen. At around 60% mark something finally does, and the book takes a turn into fairly graphic cruelty, only to return to inaction. A few loose ends are tied, the stage is set for the follow up, and then the book ends.

What the reader gets is a token of a plot, a hint at a backstory and an attempt to tie the two. The action scenes are over in a paragraph or two of rather emotionless telling instead of taking the reader on an adventure. The rest of the book is spent in the heads of a cast that isn’t very interesting, done in a distant third person narrative that hops from head to head every two or three paragraphs, with a few if any cues as to whose head we’re in. At no point are the characters driving the plot. They’re merely on a ride like the reader.

What saves the book from being a total disappointment is the attention the author has put into creating her aliens. I was tolerably amused by them until I realised that it was all I was going to get. Niko and the spaceship were able to carry the book on their own. The rest were just fillers, and didn’t merit the time we spent in their heads, even if I liked most of them.

I was especially disappointed with Atlanta. She was the most introspective of the lot, yet the reader isn’t given even a hint of suspicion about her identity. And the reason for her being with the crew turned out to be stupid and completely unconnected with the plot. She, like the rest of the characters, didn’t have a single reason for being there.

If there’s a follow-up, I hope it’s about more than the promised travelling around the universe cooking, and I hope the author will concentrate on a couple of characters to make most of their stories. But I probably won’t read it either way.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Thursday, November 11, 2021

All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Herman: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Herman

All of Us Villains is YA fantasy set in a world like ours with cars and mobile phones, but with magic accessible to all through spell-stones that are sold in department stores for all purposes. But it’s common, lesser magic. High magic has disappearedor been used up.

The story takes place in a city of Ilvernath, which has stood there for sixteen centuries, unnoticed by the world. It has only one unique feature. It still has high magic, controlled by one family for twenty years at a time; a highly sought-after position. To make the choice fair, a tournament takes place every twenty years where seven leading families fight over the honour. It’s a tournament to death and the winner is the one still alive when it ends.

The tournament is a curse placed on the town and it’ll happen whether the families want it or not, with dire consequences if they try to ignore it. So they prepare their champions well in advance, rearing them to become the best spell-casters and killers, hoping they’ll come out alive. So far, it has been a secret, but now a book has been published that exposes the tournament to the world, and the town can’t handle it unnoticed anymore.

The book follows four of the seven champions, each with their own chapters. Alistair is the member of the family that currently holds the right to the high magic and will do anything to keep it. Isobel is the darling of the press, now that the world knows about the tournament. Bryony dreams of glory and being a hero. Gavin comes from the poorest of the seven families, and he’s determined to change his family’s luck by winning. The other three champions remained distant and stereotypical; a hero, a villain, and a pawn.

The story unfolds fairly slowly. We get to know each champion and their hopes and fears about the tournament. They all know that to win they have to kill their competitors, some of whom are their friends or ex-boyfriends, all of whom are the same age as they are. Their families think nothing of it, but the reader can’t help but sympathise with them. They’re all victims of a curse they have no say in.

The pace doesn’t really pick up when the tournament begins. The champions do what they must to survive for as long as possible. Alliances are formed and broken. No one wants to be the first to die or first to kill, but things happen. And then one of them learns that it might be possible to break the curse.

Characters are easily the best part of this book. The distant third person narrative took a moment to get used to, but once I did, it was easy to get immersed in their hopes and anxieties. I liked them all. They were all flawed and twisted, thanks to being raised as killers, but they tried to be better versions of themselves. They were the villains, whether they all realised it or not, but they were villains I could root for. They were capable of great selfless acts as well as selfishness. My absolute favourite was Alistair who saw himself as a monster, but who was really broken inside.

The story unfolded in a way that made it impossible to tell who was going to win or lose, or if any of them would survive. And then the book ended just when things were starting to become interesting. I hadn’t realised this wasn’t a standalone, so the ending felt abrupt. It left each character in a worse place than when they began, and I can’t wait to read where they end up.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Archangel’s Light by Nalini Singh: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Archangel's Light by Nalini Singh

Archangel’s Light, the fourteenth book in Guild Hunter series by Nalini Singh, finally gives us Illium and Aodhan, the two angel warriors of Raphael’s Seven. Part of me didn’t want this story, mostly because with the two ending up together, we only have one romance instead of two. They are the last two in the main cast and if the series is to continue, we’re down to secondary characters.

But of course this is the story that was meant to be. Blue and Adi have been friends since they were children, grew up together, and have survived a lot with the help of each other. Large part of the book is about their past, vignettes into formative events, some sweet, some emotional. Most importantly, we finally learn about the tragedy that changed Aodhan.

In the present, the two have become estranged because of a stupid fight. Aodhan has been in China for a year, helping the new archangel there, and when Illium is sent to assist, they finally have a chance to sort things out. There’s a lot of baggage between them, but enormous love too, and I was never truly worried they wouldn’t find a way through.

The focus is tightly in the two. There’s only a token of a plot where they are investigating a mystery of an empty village. But this isn’t a romance in the sense that the other books in the series have been. Romantic love doesn’t come in the equation until the very end and there are no sex scenes. It’s about the two entering a new phase in their long relationship. Incidentally, if youre looking for the definitive gay relationship in the series, this isnt it.

And yet, it’s probably the best one in the series. The emotions are real and raw, and the stakes are higher than with other couples, should things not work out. And the way things were left a little open in the end means there’s room for a book or two more about them. I would definitely read them. And I truly hope this wasn’t the end of the series.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Nightwatch on the Hinterlands by K. Eason: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Nightwatch on the Hinterlands by K. Eason

Nightwatch on the Hinterlands (Weep 1) by K. Eason is sci-fi set in the same universe as her earlier Rory Thorne series. Not having read that, I can’t say if characters from it make an appearance, but the plot doesn’t hint at a connection and the book can easily be read as a standalone.

That said, the first part of the book seemed to assume a greater knowledge of the world than this reader had. It took a while to get into, but it didn’t slow down the reading much. However, I still have some questions about the appearances of various species and the location of B-town.

The book is set on a remote, unremarkable planet called Tenhu. The only thing that makes it interesting is the Weep, a huge fissure in space to another dimension that runs through it. Deadly creatures called the Brood bleed from there, which requires a constant presence of Templars to make sure they don’t get out.

The world is a combination of (mostly) low-tech sci-fi and high fantasy. There’s space travel and nanotech, which gives strength to and heals the Templars, but hexes are used for powering their armour. Arithmancy and other spells are used in battle (the Weep was created by a massive spell). The town where the events take place doesn’t have any transportation and people walk everywhere, which gives it a fantasy feeling. Both sides, sci-fi and fantasy, go together seamlessly and make an interesting and unique whole.

Iari is a Templar of a large, tusked species native to the planet called tenju. She’s been relegated to babysitting Gaer, an ambassador from the vakari, an insectoid species with highly advanced arithmancy (they’re responsible for the Weep). The vakari used to be the enemy before the Brood became the common threat, and Gaer is the only representative of his species on Tenhu. He’s also a spy.

Both have their own point of view chapters, and I found them interesting and likeable characters. Iari is a highly dedicated Templar with a tight moral core, even if she has a habit of questioning her orders. Gaer was a unique character with his arithmancy and ability to read auras. The third point of view character, Corso, was a down on his luck PI and Iari’s former commander. He was a good addition, even if his POV chapters were mostly plot-related.

Nightwatch on the Hinterlands is a murder mystery that gains larger proportions. An artificer of a species called Wichu, who are responsible for the technology and magic that powers the templars, is killed. The killer seems clear: a riev. They’re battle-mechas, constructs that are part (dead) people of different species, part mechanic, and also Wichu creations.  As the first on the crime scene, Iari and Gaer begin to investigate.

From the start they run into anomalies. Riev aren’t supposed to kill. They’re not supposed to have singular identities or individual desires, but they do. One of them, Char, even ends up as part of Iari’s team and was one of my favourites. But the anomalies don’t end there. They run into Brood that act as if they’re being commanded. But who’s commanding them and why?

This was a slow but enjoyable mystery with bursts of violent action. All its elements stem from the unique features of the world, which makes the story feel organic and interesting. The motivations of the killer remained a mystery though, but the next book will be about that. I’m looking forward to reading it.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Scales and Sensibility by Stephanie Burgis: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Scales and Sensibility by Stephanie Burgis

Stephanie Burgis’ new series, Regency Dragons, gets a delightful start in Scales and Sensibility. Its a regency romance with added fantasy elements, dragons and magic, and the two sides go together seamlessly to create a world that feels natural.

Elinor Tregarth lives the dreary life of a poor relative in her aunt and uncle’s manor after her parents died and left her and her two sisters penniless. Constantly bullied by her cousin Penelope, she finally snaps and leaves the house without a penny, but with Penelope’s pet dragon Sir Jessamyn.

Her position untenable, she makes an ardent wish to be exactly like a society matron, Mrs. De Lacey—and her dragon makes it happen! A game of masquerade ensues, where she tries to maintain her pretense among people who are becoming increasingly suspicious of her. She soon finds herself in deep trouble from many quarters.

To make matters worse—or better—Benedict Hawkins, a penniless suitor of Penelope, likes to spend time with Elinor instead. But how is she to let her feelings grow when she isn’t who he thinks—and he needs a fortune to save his estate and family.

Tension rises to almost unbearable before everything is solved and a happy ending can be declared.

This was a charming, well-written historical romance that was maybe a little lighter on the romance than I would’ve wished, but there was plenty of other things to keep my interest. Elinor was an excellent heroine, Benedict was a slightly distant but wonderfully suitable hero, and all the villains were perfectly villainous. But the book was stolen by Sir Jessamyn, the timid dragon who ended up changing Elinor’s life for good. A wonderful start to a series. I will definitely want to read more.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Infamous by Minerva Spencer: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Infamous by Minerva Spencer

Infamous is the third book in Rebels of the Ton series by Minerva Spencer. It’s a Regency romance set in the early 19th century England and the world of its aristocrats.

It’s a series only in a loose sense. The people featured in this book made only a brief appearance in the epilogue of the previous book and vice versa. However, most of the characters have been introduced in Spencer’s previous series, Outcasts, and are familiar to readers of that. I haven’t read them, and as the author assumed familiarity, it left me feeling a bit of an outsider throughout the book.

The book begins a decade before the actual events. Celia, the pet of the ton is also its meanest person. Egged on by an equally mean duke, she creates a scandal that forces two people, Lucian and Phyllida, to marry. But the scandal destroys her too and a decade later she’s living retired life as a companion of an old lady. She’s learned her lesson and is transformed, but when she’s forced to spend Christmas at Luce and Phil’s manor, old hurts surface. As does her old attraction to Richard, Luce’s twin brother.

Richard hasn’t been bothered by the scandal, living his dream life as an entomologist and travelling around the world. His sister’s Christmas wedding forces him to return home, only to find Celia there, the woman he was attracted to a decade earlier. But her sister’s fiancé is the same horrible duke that ruined Celia’s life—and Lucian’s too.

There are two romances in this book, with own point of view chapters for every party: Richard and Celia, and Luce and Phil. Despite having been married for a decade, the latter are strangers to each other. Celia’s sudden presence forces them to take stock of their marriage and build a better relationship. I was more invested in their romance. I found it sweet and a bit heart-breaking too.

Richard and Celia were a more typical couple. Since Richard didn’t feel ill-done by Celia, there wasn’t a great baggage between them. Their romance was built during time spent together. They were good scenes, but at some point I began to grow bored, as they didn’t really drive the plot forward, making the middle part of the book slow and too long.

There was only a minimal plot outside the romance. The dastardly duke made his move at the end of the book, but until then no one tried to do anything about him, not even to stop an innocent girl from marrying him. Plot-wise, then, this was a bit of a disappointment. But the writing was good, people were interesting and there was a happy ending for everyone involved, so it left me feeling good.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Ignite the Fire: Incendiary by Karen Chance: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Ignite the Fire: Incendiary by Karen Chance

There was a bit of a wait (again) for Ignite the Fire, book 11 in Cassandra Palmer UF series, and when it finally arrived, it had been divided into two parts for its size. The first is called Incendiary.

The book starts with the exact scene the previous book ended, with Cassie, Pritkin and Mircea on their way to a fey party in 16th century Romania to locate someone who might know where Mircea’s long-lost wife is. There’s a lot of mayhemand a dragonwhich made me fear that the book would be yet another chaotic addition to the series.

Fortunately things slow down a littlefor a moment. Enough to give Cassie and the reader time to reflect what’s going on and what’s happened so far in the series, which is a lot. And while it’s a short respite, the action and rest are better balanced here than has been the case in previous books.

The action scenes are easier to follow this time, with fewer things going on simultaneously and with better descriptions. The timeline is still messy though, as according to Cassie only six months has gone and the reader has witnessed it all, yet Cassie has an entire life happening between the books too.

There’s a new god giving Cassie trouble and this time it’s Zeus, who isn’t exactly easy to win. But he’s occupying the body of a fae king, so she sets out to defeat him instead. It doesn’t go easily, but instead of endless detours like usually where she ends up in a totally unrelated situation, she actually manages to locate him, if not like she imagined or planned.

Since this is the first part of a two-parter, there isn’t a final battle at the end of the book. The book ends in a middle of a fight-scene, with the worst kind of cliff-hanger. But hopefully the second part has already been written and we don’t have long to wait for the conclusion.

On the personal front, Cassie seems to have gotten the hang of her life as Pythia. Her court is in order, her successor, Rhea, is becoming truly formidable, and her self-confidence issues were at minimum. She again went through most of the book without taking care of her physical needs like eating, so if the gods don’t kill her, malnutrition will.

The love spell that ties her to Mircea and Pritkin, which Mircea promised was lifted, is back in effectwith some interesting consequences. But since Cassie really needs the strength and skills she can borrow from her companions, she doesn’t complain. But it may put her relationship with Pritkin in jeopardy. My only complaint is that Pritkin spent most of the book absent or unconscious, which is never good.

With a book this well balanced and interesting once againand without Mircea’s obsession with his wifeI’m hopeful for the rest of the series. And I hope the second part comes out soon.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Mind over Magic by Lindsay Buroker: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Mind over Magic by Lindsay Buroker

Mind over Magic starts Witch in Wolf Wood, a new UF series by Lindsay Buroker. Like her previous series, Death Before Dragons, it’s set in Washington State, near Seattle, but while it has werewolves, it’s not immediately obvious if it takes place in the same world.

The book is described as paranormal women’s fiction, meaning it’s aimed at a more mature audience. Morgen, the protagonist, is forty-something, newly divorced computer geek who’s just lost her job. Inheriting her grandmother’s house in the middle of nowhere might be her chance for a fresh start.

Turns out it makes things even more complicated. The house is guarded by a grumpy werewolf whose self-appointed task is to make sure that the new owner doesn’t sell the place. There are plenty of takers though, and one of them might have hastened things up by killing Morgen’s grandmother.

This is a good series starter, and it’s different enough from DBD that it doesn’t feel like a repeat. Morgen isn’t a tough and practically unbreakable assassin of supernatural creatures. She’s introverted and perfectly ordinary human—only it might be she isn’t. The book is told in third person in her point of view, which makes her feel slightly distant, but there’s enough background information to make her interesting. Armin the werewolf is grumpy and not very talkative, and we don’t learn much about him yet. There’s mystery and some mayhem, but it’s dealt with a real-world fashion, with cops and accountability. There isn’t romance—yet—and while it’s sort of stand-alone, the ending is open enough to build a series on. I will definitely read the rest too.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Jessica Arden: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Jessica Arden

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Jessica Arden starts Ghosted Cozy Mysteries series. It’s set in New Orleans and stars Paige Harrington who suddenly finds herself being called to investigate a murder—by the ghost of the victim.

It’s a closed room murder, with a limited number of suspects. But since it was dark, the ghost has no idea who killed him, so no easy solution there. Paige sets out to investigate, but she can’t exactly tell the police where she gets her information from, not even when her good friend is framed for the murder.

She isn’t alone though. She’s helped by her ex-boyfriend who suddenly returns to town after disappearing four years earlier with only a goodbye note. His leaving has left Paige with self-confidence issues, and now that he’s back, old romantic feelings resurface too. It makes working together difficult.

This was a quirky and fun book, but not a terribly good mystery. Paige ignores obvious questions that would lead to solving the mystery faster, random people show up just so they can offer helpful information that she then ignores, and in the end the killer reveals themselves before she even suspects them. The killer’s motivation is bizarre, to say the least. (spoiler) I mean, why would a secret society that does ritual killings be so concerned with representation that more old-fashioned members would feel it necessary to act to stop it? (end spoiler)

But what truly irked me and lowered the rating was the deus ex machina solution. I dislike them in general, and here it removed Paige’s agency completely. Instead of being the main actor of her story, someone who rises to the occasion despite being the underdog, she was forced to look from the sidelines as others handle the difficult parts for her. For someone already dealing with self-confidence issues, this should’ve been the worst kind of outcome. Yet she doesn’t even notice.

I had some smaller issues too. Paige took to becoming a ghost PI a bit too easily; not even a token question about why it happened. Character info was repeated several times, as if for the first time; random character facts sprang out of nowhere, and important info was omitted completely. For example, I thought Paige was showing unseemly interest in a married man, only to learn towards the end of the book that he’s divorced. The cast of characters was slightly too large, and not everyone was necessary for the story. But in general, the characters were nice and interesting (Auguste the talking hedgehog was my favourite) and they will carry the series onwards.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

The Tempered Steel of Antiquity Grey by Shawn Speakman: review

2/5 stars on Goodreads

The Tempered Steel of Antiquity Grey by Shawn Speakman

I picked this book because of its great title, The Tempered Steel of Antiquity Grey, and the wonderful cover. It’s the debut of its author, Shawn Speakman, and it starts a series of the same name.

In far future, the earth is nothing but a colony of the Imperium, people who have left the earth millennia ago and have become almost a different species called celestials. A century ago, a war between Erth, as its now called, and Imperium over natural resources ended with Erth losing.

The person held responsible for it is the great-grandmother of Antiquity Grey, a sixteen-year-old girl whose family have been ostracised as a consequence. One day, she stumbles on a truth about what took place during the war, and ends up bringing the wrath of Imperium on her and her three friends with whom she has to flee. Bent on revenge, she travels after clues left by her great-grandmother to find resources that would defeat the Imperium once and for all.

I wish I could say I enjoyed this book as much as I hoped I would, but I have several issues. First up, I think it was written by a mansplainer. Nothing else explains why characters regularly put words to other characters’ mouths, explaining their lives for them, persisting in this even after being told they’re wrong (along the lines of “In your culture women aren’t allowed to carry a sword.” “You know nothing about my culture.”). The dialogue in general was odd. Maybe it was meant to sound old-fashioned, but it came across as stilted.

I’m not sure either, why the author thought a teenager was a good protagonist for this story. Especially one who is wilful, annoying, and stupid, and remains so. She definitely doesn’t have the tempered steel the title promises. Manor (? I can’t remember his name) came across as even worse, considering that at eighteen he was deemed old enough to become a member of the leading council (all men, naturally, now that the pesky rule of women had been obliterated), yet he behaved like a child. The proposed marriage between the two was creepy and a full-on patriarchal assault, no matter the reasons given for it later.

The rest of the characters weren’t any better, but mostly they remained sketches, existing to serve the needs of the main character. It doesn’t give me much hope that the future of the Erth is in their hands. We’re spared of the YA staple of a romance, at least, though the seeds are there.

The plot read like an RPG, a quest from place to place to find clues. Not that the reader knew that that was the objective until at the climax when Antiquity suddenly puts together random facts she has noticed during her journey. There’s a lot of action, but it doesn’t really lead anywhere. However, unlike so often in YA, characters die too. I wish I could say that I cared, but it’s difficult to care for someone you know nothing about.

My biggest issue, however, is the handling of the other. First up, why does a far future earth still have cultures treated as the other, with the white ‘western’ culture as the norm? And why does a far future world that is so different from ours have a warmongering, zealous, religious sect called arabi? The author couldn’t come up with any other word for them? Persai as their more acceptable (inoffensive) counterpart wasn’t any better word when they only served as a way to emphasise how horrible the arabi were with their swords and beheadings, and when their otherness to the main character’s ‘normal’ (white) culture was constantly brought up.

That one of the characters was arabi didn’t help. The opposite. Like white colonists of the past, the main characters kept repeatedly judging her and her people to her face, refusing to accept her word about her culture. Moreover, these characters were constantly referred to as arabi and persai (in italics), as if that was the only thing that defined them; all the more pronounced because Antiquity and Manor(?), the white characters, were called by their names.

All in all, a disappointment. I didn’t care about the characters or the plot, the mechs weren’t as exciting as I’d hoped, and the promised dragons were a huge let-down. I don’t really see how Antiquity would be the person to lead the Erth to rebel against the Imperium. I don’t care to find out either.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.