Saturday, April 30, 2022

Kiss Hard by Nalini Singh: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Kiss Hard by Nalini Singh

Kiss Hard is the fourth book in Hard Play contemporary romance series by Nalini Singh about four rugby playing brothers, and it’s my favourite. Danny and Catie were well matched in temperament and current situation as athletes at the top of their game. Catie being a double amputee was handled well from a drama point of view (no idea if it was true to life). They were fun to be around, and the hot scenes were good. There wasn’t any huge drama or heartbreak, but plenty of opportunities to heal, especially for Catie who had great trust issues. I shed many tears. I hope this isn’t the last of the series, even though there are no more Bishop-Esera brothers left.

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Hunters of the Lost City by Kali Wallace: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Hunters of the Lost City by Kali Wallace

Hunters of the Lost City by Kali Wallace is post-apocalyptic fantasy for middle grade readers. The town of Vittoria has stood fifty years behind tightly guarded walls, keeping magically created monsters at bay, the residents unable to go more than a couple of miles outside and only on daytime. They know they are the last people in the world, after a magical plague unleashed by a sorcerer killed everyone else.

Octavia is a twelve-year-old girl who dreams of becoming a hunter of the monsters like her mother and her recently died eldest sister. But her parents have different ideas and apprentice her to learn magic instead. But she’s a headstrong, wilful girl, and she ventures outside the wall anyway. There, against everything she knows to be true, she meets a girl who isn’t from her town. Sima tells her the world is still out there.

But instead of haling this news as a miracle like Octavia expects, the town leader denies everything and locks her new friend up. It’s up to Octavia to save Sima and find the truth about the world.

This was a good book with a solid plot about fear and how it cripples you, and people who cling to power no matter the cost to others. I’m not entirely sure though, that it was a good MG book.

Octavia, despite being twelve, behaved like a much older kid, with strength and skills to match, and ability to figure out complex issues that adults somehow had missed. The story gave her responsibilities beyond her age, and then handed the crucial parts for grownups to solve, sidelining her. The chapters were too long for younger readers and slowed the pace, and I was annoyed with the stereotypical representation of Sima and her culture.

Nonetheless, as long as I imagined Octavia as a sixteen-year-old, I was able to enjoy the story. The ending was conclusive, so this was likely a stand-alone, but it might be interesting to read Octavia explore the world.

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

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon) has an amazing ability to write adult fairy tales that sound exactly like the stories I grew up with. The tone, pace, and tropes like fairy godmothers in Nettle & Bone are all as should for a comforting reading experience, no matter the grimness of the story.

Marra is a princess who has had to watch first the beloved eldest sister and then the second sister be married off to a prince to protect her country from invasion. If the second sister dies too, Marra will be next, so she’s whisked off to a cloister to keep her safenot from the prince but for him.

Fifteen years of secluded life later, she’s unprepared, at thirty, to deal with the realisation that the prince abuses her sister physically and mentally, and the only thing keeping her relatively safe is to stay pregnant. But that’ll only last until she delivers a boy.

Filled with anger for her sister, Marra sets out to save her with a vague notion that such a heroic act needs a heroic journey and deeds. She meets a witch who gives her three impossible tasks, and then decides to accompany her on the quest. Good thing too, because Marra wouldn’t have survived without her. They are joined by a knight with a death wish and Marra’s fairy godmother who isn’t quite what she seems.

But it isn’t just the prince they need to defeat. There’s a curse on his kingdom, and until that’s dealt with, Marra’s sister and her child are as good as dead.

This was such a wonderful book. Marra was an excellent character, slightly slow and na├»ve for her age, but utterly determined to see her quest through. In the end, her role in saving her sister was mostly about getting together the people who could do it for her. The two old witches were brilliant and fun, and the knight a mature man who was just perfect for Marra. The language was rich and the narrative delightful, and if the world was a fairly generic fairy tale kingdom, with Christian concepts like christening thrown in the mix, it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story.

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

Monday, April 18, 2022

The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller

The Bone Orchard is adult fantasy at its best: dark, disturbing, and romantic, with intriguing characters and enough political machinations to keep one guessing to the end. It’s also a story of survival and dealing with trauma so severe that the only way to handle it is to shatter one’s mind to several independent personas.

Charm runs the most popular brothel in Borenguard, with the Emperor of Boren himself as her client. But she is the Emperor’s prisoner, has been for decades, thanks to pills that keep her and the Emperor’s family eternally young. He controls her with a mindlock that is used for keeping those with psychic abilities in rein and from going mad.

But she has a way around the control. She has shattered her mind into separate personas, each with a living body of flesh she calls bone ghosts, copies of her that don’t need sustenance. Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain each hold a facet of her to keep the traumatic memories of her past from overwhelming her. Their bodies are unique creations of Lady, with whom Charm shares her mind, but who is mostly kept sleeping because of her delicate nature.

Then the Emperor summons Charm to his deathbed and gives her one last command: find out who murdered him and keep his sons from inheriting the throne. The command plunges her in the middle of political machinations and on a road that will either destroy her mind for goodor heal it.

This was an absolutely brilliant book. Slow-paced, but constantly moving ahead. Charm doesn’t have an easy time figuring out what happened to the Emperor and her task is made even more difficult when the Lady starts to fight over the control of their shared mind. The bone ghosts, who serve the customers at her brothel, begin to show independent streaks too.

There are three point of view characters, Charm, Lady, and Pain who has a unique position in the brothel as the only person who can leave the grounds. Despite being facets of the same mind, they are different persons and have unique voices. Pain’s path to independence and her slow-burning romance acted as a counter to Charm’s cold determination to find out the killer and earn her freedom, and Lady’s persistent clinging to her innocence.

Little by little, we learn about the events that led to Charm’s mind shattering and how it played to current political turmoil. And while none of the emperor’s sons are fit to rule, there might be other candidates for the throne after all. This was a stand-alone book, but I would love to return to its world and characters.

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

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Saint Death’s Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Saint Death's Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney

Saint Death’s Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney is a brilliant debut. It’s well-written with a wonderfully unique world, a great main character, and a plot that doesn’t follow the worn patterns. It’s advertised as YA, but even though the MC is fifteen in the beginning, she’s an adult responsible for a child for most of the book. There are some dark themes too of childhood abuse and abduction that a delicate reader might find upsetting.

Miscellaneous Stones comes from a long line of sorcerers who have served the ruler for centuries with their murderous talents with magic. She’s the first necromancer to born in a century, and it comes with a rather unfortunate allergy towards violence and death. Even violent thoughts in her vicinity make her body break out in real wounds in response. To keep her alive until she reaches maturity and her full powers, the family has isolated her in their country manor. That hasn’t stopped her big sister Amanita from torturing her for all her life, until she mercifully left for a boarding school.

Then the parents are assassinated, leaving Lanie to deal with a staggering debt. Out of options, she summons Nita back. Nita promptly becomes an assassin to pay the debt. But she doesn’t come home alone. She’s abducted a man who can turn into a falcon to make him her husband, controlling him with his own magic. Mak hates Nita and Lanie, but to avoid having his memory wiped, he succumbs.

The book then skips seven years. Lanie is twenty-two and has come to her powers, though she still has a lot to learnmostly from a murderous ghost of the previous family necromancer. Mak and Nita have a six-year-old daughter, Datu, who, having grown in a highly dysfunctional environment, isn’t exactly a nice kid. Mak still hates everyone but his daughter. And then Nita is assassinated, forcing Mak and Lanie to flee to protect Datu. To keep her family safe, Lanie has to face the powerful enemy who wants them dead.

The book takes a rather winding path to where it needs to go. Mostly we follow Lanie as she learns to be a necromancer. The book is solely from her point of view, and she is an excellent MC, strong, resilient, and warm-hearted despite her upbringing and the form of magic she wields. She maybe grows a bit too powerful towards the end, but she has friends to keep her in rein.

The supporting cast is interesting and not stereotypical. Mak was my favourite, but he wasn’t given enough airtime. Datu as a tantrum prone, murderous kid was wonderful. The enemies weren’t pure evil and could occasionally be allies too, and the friends Lanie made along the way were a good addition.

But I found the romantic subplot uninspiring. It’s seldom that romances work when they’ve begun before the book does, and this wasn’t an exception. I never felt any connection between Lanie and Lir (the great twist at the end failed to affect me in any way because of it). Mak and Haaken would both have been perfect for a wonderful enemies-to-lovers plot, but neither choice was in any ways utilised. However, the way the book ended gives me hope that the childhood infatuation will be forgotten and there will be a proper romance in Lanie’s future.

The world is interesting and fully developed, with a rich history that is constantly referred to, at least in funny footnotes, large pantheon of gods, and unique ways to practice magic. Nothing is overly explained, but the narrative flows easily and makes everything effortlessly understood.

The book has a good ending. It’s conclusive enough to satisfy, but with a few open threads that’ll hopefully lead to a sequel. I’m definitely looking forward to it.

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

Saturday, April 09, 2022

Lover Arisen by J. R. Ward: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Lover Arisen by J. R. Ward

Black Dagger Brotherhood series has so many books already that reading them is like visiting a good friend you only see once or twice a year. Even a less exciting meeting is meaningful.

Lover Arisen was a solid addition to the series. The romance between Balthazar and Erika began already in the previous book, and it was given time to grow here, even if the events took place in a matter of days. The demon Davina messing with their lives didn’t make things any easier. But as far as additions to the character gallery went, Erika was fairly unmemorable (I actually had to check her name writing this). Balthazar had a bad-boy thing going for him with his thieving, but that was watered down here.

The more interesting storylines took place outside the romance. Nate’s story was good, even with the ending it had. Davina trying to find her true love had me sympathising with her occasionally. But since she had to ruin a true love of others to achieve it, she didn’t turn into a sympathetic character.

Lassiter was given proper airtime for a change. My heart breaks for him, and I hope he’ll have his own book soon where he’ll have his dreams come true.

This book seems like an end of a storyline. For once, there wasn’t a next one built here, so it’ll be interesting to see where the series goes with the next book.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders

It’s not often that the second book in a trilogy is better than the first, but Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak is. The world is richer, the plot is more exciting and coherent, and the characters are more interesting, with good personal growth arcs.

The book starts soon after the first ends. The six teenagers from earth have settled on the ruling planet to pursue their dreams. Tina, the sole point of view character of the first book, is in the military academy to train to be the hero she was genetically supposed to be. However, she isn’t the POV character in this book, and we only catch glimpses of her training and adventures through her diary entries. Her story isn’t at the centre of the plot anyway, so the narrative choice works well.

The two POV characters are Rachel and Elsa. Rachel saved the universe at the end of the first book, and she’s now living with the consequences. She has nightmares and headaches, and she’s constantly pestered by the authorities to reveal everything she knows about the aliens and their intentions, only she doesn’t remember anything. And the worst of all, she’s lost her ability to make art. When the authorities decide to take a direct route to her mindthrough her brainit’s time for her to flee.

Elsa is living her dream, competing to be accepted in the princess programme. It’s less about being regal and more about being able to join her mind with an ancient hivemind species who monitor everything that happens in the universe. But most of her time she studies the history of Marrat, the megalomaniac enemy they didn’t manage to defeat. And now he’s been given a free range at the royal palace.

The three girls and their friends embark on three different spaceships to find answers to their problems, only to unite when Marrat makes his move. Once again, he manages to destroy everything, and it’s up to the humans to fix the mess. But this time they might not be able to. The ending was great, and promises an exciting conclusion for the trilogy.

Like the previous book, this was about inclusion, acceptance, and self-discovery. The humans present themselves in various ways they have been unable to do when still living at home, and they’re thriving. Everyone is conscious of pronouns and asking permission to invade the personal space of others, and it happens more naturally than in the first book where it tended to stick out. They seem to be more mature, too, than the teenagers of the first book. They are more like adults who actually might be able to save the universe.

But as a species, they’re being treated as inferior. Much of the plot is about defeating the reign of Compassion that tries to purge the universe of lesser species in the name of freedom. Hopefully the humans will manage it in the conclusionthough it might be smallest of their problems.

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

Saturday, April 02, 2022

The House of Cats and Gulls by Stephen Deas: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The House of Cats and Gulls by Stephen Deas

The House of Cats and Gulls, the second book in the Dominion series, continues where the first left. Myla returns to her hometown to face her past before it can destroy the lives of her own and her found family. Orien, the mage, follows her to Deephavenand has an inexplicable relationship with her. Worried for her, he calls Fings and Seth there too to save her.

Fings sees this as an opportunity to find his long-lost brother and Seth is about to face death for his forbidden magic, so it’s a timely request. For Fings, things are straightforward: rescue Myla and find his brother. For Seth, it’s a chance to learn more about the forbidden magic. Myla learns that others don’t value her self-sacrifice as much as she does, her family included. And it turns out Orien isn’t there for Myla after all.

This was at its heart Myla’s book. She was the reason everyone came to Deephaven and it was her need to set things straight that drove most of the plot. It was therefore unfortunate, that I didn’t feel that plotline at all. No matter what she did or didn’t do, she came across as single-minded and selfish. The people she wanted to save didn’t seem worth saving.

Seth’s path was more interesting, even if he kept making same stupid mistakes again and again, unleashing something he shouldn’t have. In the end, it was his book too, setting the stage for the next one. But my favourite was once again Fings. He’s resourceful, clever and loyal. Things didn’t go quite as he hoped, but he kept going, no matter what it took.

I liked this book maybe better than the first one. The plot was good, and it wasn’t filled with unnecessary stories of the empire’s past. The ending was open enough to make me want to read the next book too.

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