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 fiancĂ© 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.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn

Among Thieves is one of those books that I really wanted to like, but which ended up being a disappointment. The idea is great: a group of thieves trying to pull off a daring heist. Mostly, that’s what I got. It’s the execution that was lacking.

The book relies solely on secrecy and ‘plot twists’ instead of character building and a plot stemming from it. The beginning of the book was especially trying, as I tried to make sense of the world and characters, only to realise that that was all I was going to get. The characters knew more than the reader who was constantly kept in the dark. It got old pretty fast.

Since we didn’t learn anything about the characters, they and their motivations weren’t driving the plot. The ‘plot’ happened behind the scenes, and was thrown at the reader’s face instead of taking the reader along the ride. And the ‘plot twists’ had no impact when they’d been constantly hinted at in lieu of character building.

A group of thieves in the slums of a coast town stumble on a plot to steal something that one king is willing to pay extraordinary sums for. They take the job, even though they don’t know what it is they’re stealing and why the king wants it, and even though it takes them to the most dangerous person in the realm.

Each thief has their secret that is meticulously hinted at throughout the book, only to be revealed when it has already stopped having meaning. Ryia is named as the main character in the book description, but since they all have their named chapters and everyone gets a lot of screen time, she doesn’t really stand out. None of the characters does, because we learn nothing about them. I’m struggling to remember their names even.

Ryia, aka The Butcher, kills people for living. She’s good at it, she takes pride in her skills, and not once does she show any remorse for what she’s done. In my book, that makes her a sociopath. That we learn at the end of the book why she is like this, doesn’t change the fact. She’s not a cutesy, quirky leader of a ragtag gang that a reader should root for, because at her heart she’s not a good person. There’s nothing in the story that causes the reader to root for her. And the way she comes on Evelyn is downright creepy. All I can say to the poor Captain is run. 

Their secrets cause them to make choices that put the heist at risk. The choices make sense to them, but they’re meaningless to the reader. The entire bunch comes across as selfish as a result. There were weird hints at romantic interests at times. I didn’t care, because I didn’t care about any of the characters.

The book ends with a sort of a cliff-hanger and an epilogue that reveals that the true mastermind was someone else entirely, with their ‘surprise’ POV chapter. I didn’t care for them either. Needless to say, I won’t read the next book.

The book wasn’t all bad though, hence three stars. The language was good, and a decent effort had been put to the world-building, with its creepy enhanced humans. Or non-humans—not that more than a token was done to criticise the treatment of these slaves. If the author had concentrated more on people and less on gimmicks, this would’ve been a good book.

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

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Paladin’s Strength by T. Kingfisher: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Paladin's Strength by T. Kingfisher

Paladin’s Strength is the second book in T. Kingfisher’s (Ursula Vernon) Saints of Steel romantic fantasy series. It’s part of her World of the White Rat series, but with different characters and setting, though I haven’t given up hope that some of the earlier characters will make an appearance in subsequent books.

Istvhan is a former paladin of the Saint of Steel. Former, because his god is dead. It hasn’t taken as great a toll on him as his fellows, but it had left him without purpose until the efficient people of the White Rat god gave him a job as a mercenary. He’s on a mission to escort a merchant across the land, a cover for his true mission to follow the rumours that the Smooth men, the clay-headed creatures of the first book, have been spotted again.

Clara is a lay nun of St Ursa, an order with a great secret (or not so great if you understand even smidgen of Latin, or have sharp eyes to study the cover). There has been a raid against her convent, and all the nuns have been captured, but she was thought dead and left behind. She’s on a mission to rescue her sisters when she comes across Istvhan and his men.

Since their paths align, she joins the group to hunt down her sisters and the Smooth men. Eventually, both paths lead to same place, a weird coast town ruled by sea lords. There’s a lot of action and mayhem before the nuns are freed and the Smooth men dealt with. So much so, that Istvhan and Clara have a really hard time to find a peaceful moment to act on their mutual attraction.

I love fantasy romances, a perfect romantic combination of fantasy setting and romance plot, and this one didn’t disappoint. It is heavy on action, and the romance is slow to build, but once it gets there, it’s very solid.

Clara and Istvhan are both a bit older than romantic couples in romances usually are (36 and 40), but it suits this genre well. It also means that they’ve been around the romance block a few times and they both know what they want and have fears based on their earlier experiences. Clara especially has her secret, which she just knows will drive Istvhan away when he finds out. Only it doesn’t.

They are both great characters. Istvhan has his paladin core that doesn’t allow him to abandon a woman in need, no matter that she’s almost his size and has the strength to match. Clara has had to keep her secret for all her life, and it’s difficult for her to trust outsiders with it, but he’s worth her trust. They are a great match and together they can handle pretty much anything. The book is told in both their points of view, so the reader gets a good understanding of them. Other characters remain a bit more distant, but they are great and well-drawn too.

If I have any complaints, it’s that the book could’ve used an epilogue. The impact of the final romantic moment was sort of lost when it came so soon after the final battle. A few pages of where the two end up at would’ve gone a long way to satisfy this reader. But all in all, a great book, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next one.