Monthly Archives: January 2016

Neverseen (Keeper of the Lost Cities #4)

Title: Neverseen

Author: Shannon Messenger

Series: Keeper of the Lost Cities #4

This time, Sophie Foster has gone too far.

After flouting the Council in a manner that leaves no doubt about her fate, she’s left with no other options than to join the Black Swan officially. Luckily, she’s not going alone. Fitz, Keefe, Dex, and Biana–her closest friends–all helped one way or another in the various things that led up to this. But being in the Black Swan is nothing like she thought. Everyone has secrets, and as usual no one wants to let her know much. Then a plague breaks out, and even the looming war with the ogres seems to be on hold while everyone frantically searches for a cure . . .

I continue to be impressed at just how well this series unfolds. This is a book about secrets, hidden and revealed. And consequences. Keefe struggles mightily with the revelations from the previous book about his mother. He’s steeled himself for every possibility–except what actually happens. I loved watching his struggle, and how Sophie tries to support him, and how she, more than anyone, really strives to be his friend. I also really liked what happened with Stina. The story has a way of lifting people out of neat little stereotypes, and showing that people are people, and what lies at the heart tends to be more complex than we might otherwise assume.

On a broader level, the Council, the Black Swan, the Neverseen, and the ogres continue to work out an intricate game of secrets of their own. I love how this is way more complicated than the Council simply being backwards and stubborn. There are secrets, but also promises. The Neverseen may be more of a terrorist group than the Black Swan, but that doesn’t mean they’re always wrong, or that the Black Swan is always right. And I can’t help but wonder what the ogre’s side is in all this, after the one character who had the most contact with them expressed her utter amazement at the prospect of war in the previous book. Given everything else that’s gone on, I would be very surprised if they do turn out to be straightforward villains.

And I like how Sophie shows she’s not only got a fabulous gift for making everything go to pieces, she’s got the heart to bring things together and make them better than they used to be. And Dex appears to FINALLY be over his jealous streak. And the twins are amazing and I hope to see much more of them in the future. More neat abilities means more potential for amusing mayhem.

This continues to hit all the right notes as the epic story barrels along. Although there’s much more explanation in the beginning of this book to catch up new readers (or remind old ones who may not have read the third book recently), it’s still far better to start from the beginning, so that various revelations will have the right impact. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Deep Secret (Magids #1)

Title: Deep Secret

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Series: Magids #1

Rupert  Venables, as the youngest Magid, gets the jobs nobody else wants. Like being on call to the Empire of Koryfos, a kingdom situated at the junction of the multiverse that separates the worlds with magic and the worlds without. An Empire so paranoid about coups that its heirs—by law—aren’t even allowed to know they ARE heirs. So when an attack takes out the Emperor and most of his court, the Empire has no way of knowing where to look for its line of succession. On top of that, more ordinary concerns, like finding a new Magid to replace his mentor or actually doing his day job, are pulling Rupert in a hundred different directions. But everything has so many different ways of going WRONG . . .

I don’t really care for the more kid-friendly cartoon cover, as that masks some of the more adult situations that come up in this book, like the orgy happening at the back of the con party. It’s not as though the book dwells on them, but since they are present, I would hope younger kids aren’t making it far enough to ask really awkward questions (or worse, deciding to look it up themselves).  This is more unfortunate because the sequel really is good for a younger age range, which makes it more likely for a determined kid to hunt this one down.

That said, the book is classic Diana Wynne Jones: lots of characters who are so amazingly HUMAN in all their weirdness and foibles, a plot that looks simple and turns into a complicated maze that unfolds in just the right way at the end, multiverses, magicians, and a lot of great magic. I’m pretty sure the planets Thule and Blest come up in some of her other books, too, so there’s some nice continuity if you’ve read more of her books.

Rupert shares the narration with Maree, who was one of his candidates for Magid until he actually met her. That meeting goes so badly he sets up spells to keep her away from him (which she foils completely by accident). Rupert the neat freak, the rich man, and presumably handsome, clashes intensely with poor, dumpy, ugly Maree, who despite all that is quite fierce and determined and not about to let anything keep her from doing what she needs to do. Their interactions are some of the funniest moments in the book.

It’s also not hard to imagine Diana Wynne Jones may have had real people in mind when she wrote the writer’s conference. For all the aliens, centaurs, and magicians who are using the conference for their own ends, the ordinary people are actually weirder. (And the poor conference manager who is trying desperately to keep things on track as the weekend spirals more and more out of control.) And the villains range from that one lady who grabs you and JUST WON’T STOP TALKING to people with no hesitation about shooting children in cold blood. She’s a master at spanning the range of ordinary frustrations to the black depths of evil. She shows people who are people in all their beauty and nastiness, however many legs they happen to walk on.

I do happen to like the sequel more (because Nick is amazing and he gets a much bigger role in the next book), but this one is well worth a read for those mature enough to handle some of the more adult pieces of the story.  I rate this book Recommended.

Protector of the Flight (The Summoning #3)

Title: Protector of the Flight

Author: Robin D. Owens

Series: The Summoning #3

Calli Torcher used to ride rodeo—until a bad fall broke her pelvis in three places and left her unable to compete. Now her dreams of having a ranch and training horses seems just shy of impossible. Then the Summons draws her to Lladrana, where she is to be the bridge between the Chevaliers and the Marshalls, as well as helping out the voltrans (flying horses). But it isn’t always easy getting everything you ever wanted . . .

This is both better and worse than the first book. The main reason it’s worse is how insanely crunched everything is. Calli talks about getting a routine, and then mentions it’s only a couple of days. Bonding with family, friends, even husband—very, very compacted. The story worked a lot better for me when I ignored the actual timeframe and just pretended everything took about four times as long (because learning a language in two weeks? or having a handful of days to spend with kids?). Not to mention Calli actually does choose to go through the ceremony to get married after being in Lladrana all of one day. Get married first, get to know your husband later . . .

Well, for all that, her relationship with Marrec was a lot better than Bastien and Alexa. Mostly because it was worse. She and Marrec have an insta-love bond helping them out, but that isn’t enough to make everything constantly happy. Calli’s need to please undermines her more than once. They have very similar priorities but different opinions about how things ought to be done, which leads to conflict in the relationship. And Calli, unlike Alexa, isn’t being pushed into fighting as much because her role is seen as more of a support function. I also liked how Marrec was a lot closer to common than Bastien. Having not been at the top his entire life, he has a cynicism about the upper ranks and how the society is structured to favor certain groups above others, and certain people within groups.

I missed the second book because I don’t have it and neither does the library, but that wasn’t a problem (mostly because it appears the second book did little to advance the actual war against the baddies). Overall this probably isn’t worth picking up if you haven’t read at least one of the prior books (and liked them), but it could stand alone. I rate this book Neutral.

Guardian of Honor (The Summoning #1)

Title: Guardian of Honor

Author: Robin D. Owens

Series: The Summoning #1

Alexa is still mourning the death of her friend and partner in law, Sophie, when the call comes and spirits her away to another world. Lladrana is a world under siege by dark forces, protected only by the magical fenceposts that form a barrier around the country. A failing barrier, these days. Alexa is supposed to fix that. She’s supposed to be Llandra’s savior, the hopes of all Marshalls realized—but she doesn’t have any idea how. And Alexa doesn’t care for the Marshalls and their attempts to define and manipulate her.

I liked this, although it’s best read as a light fantasy-romance. The imagery is strong, and I like the ties to color and music in the working of magic. Alexa’s natural proficiency with magic tends to be balanced in her horrendous grasp of the local language (and I appreciate the fact that she has to learn it, and that she never quite manages to lose her accent). My favorite character is probably Luthan. His abrupt switch from honorable dislike to familial friendliness towards Alexa disorients both Alexa and his brother Bastien. And he tries his best to nudge things along, even when his brother protests the end game.

The bulk of the novel is more about Alexa’s conflict with the Marshalls than Alexa’s confrontations with the creatures of darkness. And that’s good, because the Marshalls are both infuriating and necessary, and Alexa has to figure out how to integrate without succumbing to the same traps of thinking they’ve fallen into. It isn’t as easy as saying she’ll reject the Marshalls and do everything her own way. Nor can she charge straight into the evil hordes and take them down without their help.

The romance is amusing, in its own way, but left me wishing for more depth. Alexa pretty much falls into Bastien’s arms after a near-death experience and decides she really wants to have sex with him. Then they have great sex. Then after a few snags get worked out they have lots more great sex. Especially coming fresh from the Shifters trilogy by Sarah Hoyt, I was struck by how little there is holding these two together besides sex. They shared an emotional, physical, and magical bond through sleeping together, granted, but it would’ve been nice to see them working out some of the more mundane aspects of their relationship. It made the Song Quest and the Snap both feel cheap. Alexa is tempted by a husband who will be kind and compassionate, by kids, by a successful career—and oddly enough, her main objection to the other guy is that there isn’t the same love there (by which she almost certainly means great sex). So . . . it just diminished Bastien as a character to get less of his colorful backstory in favor of lots of time in bed together.

Overall it’s an interesting alternate world, and since I have the third book I’ll likely keep going with it. I rate this book Neutral (I liked it enough to finish, but there are definitely plot, character, and world problems).

Noah’s Boy (Shifters #3)

Title: Noah’s Boy

Author: Sarah Hoyt

Series: Shifters #3

Tom has had a somewhat adversarial relationship with the Great Sky Dragon, but this time the meddling dragon has gone too far. This time, the elderly patriarch of the dragon triad is trying to get Tom to marry a nice dragon-shifter girl instead of panther-shifter Kyrie, whom Tom has been in love with for over a year. Then something happens to the Great Sky Dragon, and Tom is on the hook for managing a triad of dragons who are none too happy at their new leader . . .

This is more focused than the second book, which although much better for the story here, does make some of the pointless extra plot threads in the second book even more pointless. The cryptozoologist paper? Not even mentioned. Nor the Rodent Liberation Front. (For the record, I agree with these being dropped; it’s just frustrating that the second book is now both the busiest and the least effective of the series). And the book also conveniently forgets Rafiel’s climactic scene near the end (pun intended), as he claims to be a virgin in this book. (Unless that one was supposed to not count because he was drugged? Except he’s basically drugged this time, too. . .)

On a happier note, this is a more solid story, and the wider implications are a lot of fun. Tom’s hatred of the Great Sky Dragon gets an interesting twist when he suddenly inherits the old one’s ability to see into the minds of other dragons, compel their obedience, and remember the lives of other Great Sky Dragons. As Great Sky Dragons can only inherit from an unbroken male line, the dragons are desperate for Tom to continue that line with a dragon.

I liked the science-fiction aspect that wormed its way in, with the world-gates and the origin of shifters. The particular enemy’s motives are sketched in rather than fleshed out, but then again, given how events transpire the only way to really get more would’ve been some kind of monologue by the villain. I also liked the book’s wry observation that spacefaring races ought to be warmongering, or at least suspected of such, given the general history of long voyages and what happens when very different peoples make contact.

All told, this doesn’t really feel like an ending for the trilogy, though the story wraps up. Tom and Kyrie still have full and crazy lives, and it’s easy to see the adventures continuing. But it’s not a bad place to close, and hope that in the future more stories might expand on this universe. I rate this book Recommended.

Gentleman Takes a Chance (Shifters #2)

Title: Gentleman Takes a Chance

Author: Sarah Hoyt

Series: Shifters #2

Kyrie Smith has finally made a home for herself. She’s part-owner of a diner (along with her boyfriend), has friends and a boyfriend who are, like her, shapeshifters, and all the ruckus from the previous spate of shifter-murders has finally died down. Except it seems those murders caught the attention of other, older shifters. Shifters with laws against killing other shifters, and who might not be too particular about seeking vengeance for those deaths. Not to mention it looks like another murderer is on the loose, and more shifters may be involved . . .

This takes the fascinating world built in the first book, Draw One in the Dark, and expands more to the wider shifter world. Kyrie, a panther-shifter who grew up in the foster system, never knew her family, while most of the others she knows, like Tom (dragon, and her boyfriend) and Rafiel (lion), have normal families. But this book digs into some of the shifters who are far older than that. Dante Dire, a dire wolf, comes as a representative of the Ancient Ones—the executioner determined to discover (and possibly dispatch) the person responsible for the previous book’s shifter murders.

If anything, my only complaint is that this book isn’t as focused as the previous. With so many plot threads going on, not all of them resolve, and some, like the Rodent Liberation Front, seem pointless (though admittedly funny). Although I would have made an exception for the unicorn, if he’d worked his way in, simply because it would be fascinating to see if his horn had abilities the same way dragons breathe fire. And although the murder plot helps to drive the tension, the ultimate motive escapes me. In the previous book, the murders had a gruesome point . . . in this one I’m left wondering why.

I did like what Tom did at the end. Tom and Kyrie’s relationship continues to grow and develop. I like how adult the both of them are: running a business together, working on a home, focusing on the important things in their relationship and not sniping at each other. Maybe it’s because I read so many teen-oriented books but it’s very refreshing to see people who aren’t blinded by lust or angst, understand real-world problems, and focus on real-world solutions.

It’s also, much like the first book, very funny. I found myself laughing at so many things, big and small . . . from the kitten who earned himself the name Not Dinner to Tom’s father’s wildly inappropriate remarks to Anthony’s increasing discomfort with the amount of food Tom can pack away after he’s shifted . . . Oh yes, and Conan. Absolutely Conan, former triad-member, now-spy for the Great Sky Dragon who ends up working at the diner because Tom figures if he’s going to be there anyway he might as well help out with the dinner rush.

This also seemed a bit more adult than the first book (and not just because of the sex part of the murder plot), but still manages to be a fairly clean adventure. Its focus on the core cast solidifies them as great characters, although I was a bit disappointed the Ancient Ones really only show up in the person of Dire. All in all, if you enjoyed the first book you should enjoy this one as well. I rate this book Recommended.

Everblaze (Keeper of the Lost Cities #3)

Title: Everblaze

Author: Shannon Messenger

Series: Keeper of the Lost Cities #3

Sophie Foster’s life has been majorly unsettled. The Black Swan, a secret organization that manipulated her genes to give her powerful abilities, has been enlisting her for a while, but never telling her more of the story. And now that she has rebels to worry about as well, an already crazy life is about to get more hazardous. But Sophie isn’t a trained agent, or even an adult. She’s a thirteen year old girl just trying to stay alive. Which may be why it always goes horribly wrong . . .

I loved this. What started out as a series that could potentially go in a number of familiar and well-trod directions has veered away from some of that to blossom into a full-fledged secret war. Only Sophie’s not even sure who the sides are. Or which one she’d be on, anyway. Elf society is fragmenting around her, and since she’s been involved in most of the incidents responsible, people’s attitudes towards her is starting to change. This is much less a school story—school is something Sophie does because she’s young, and needs the education, but the focus is shifting away from classrooms to the larger world.

There aren’t a lot of new characters this time around, but we get more of Fitz and Biana, which is excellent. Still not enough Dex, though (but hints this will probably change at least a little next book). I like that Sophie’s still largely innocent of her male friends’ interest in her, and that the heart of the story is still friendship and not romance. Sophie’s relationship with her adoptive family continues to grow. It’s especially poignant here because Sophie tackles the mystery of Jolie, their natural and now deceased daughter, head on. It’s clear how much she’s helped draw them out of their grief. And I liked that Sophie is herself very aware that she might be stepping into the Jolie-shaped void in their lives. That sometimes their reactions aren’t to her but to Jolie.

Sophie continues to amaze me in other ways, too. I love how unintentionally destructive she is. This isn’t Twilight-grade “I’m so clumsy I should have died”, but a combination of severely misjudging the circumstances, people who are out to harm her, people who want her to be the focal point of trouble, abilities going out of control, etc. I have a lot of fun laughing at her antics, yet somehow she always ups the ante. The motto of this book could almost be: “Keep your friends close and your bodyguard closer.”

I did not expect the ending. It makes sense, and I love it, but wow is this going to make it hard to wait for the sequel (currently on hold from the library, so it’s coming! It’s just a question of whether I break down and order it from Amazon first). It reminds me of The Hound of Rowan in how what appeared to be a simple story about a child stepping into a magical world turns out to be truly epic. The mysteries are coming out slowly enough that readers aren’t likely to be much ahead of Sophie in trying to figure out what’s happening (was a little sad one particular friend didn’t get a resolution now, because it seemed like something important), but each book still manages to reveal major portions of the world.

I would start from the first book to get the full experience, as a lot of what’s going on in this one directly stems from what happened before, and there’s minimal recap to catch up new readers. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Snow Like Ashes (Snow Like Ashes #1)

Title: Snow Like Ashes

Author: Sara Raasc

Series: Snow Like Ashes #1

The land of Primoria is heavily influenced by magic, and its kingdoms split between the Seasons and the Rhythms. Meira is a survivor of the disastrous fall that overtook Winter sixteen years ago. She wants nothing more than to be a soldier  and fight to reclaim it, but her guardian among the rebels has been stubborn about letting her go out on missions. Still, she thinks she has a chance. Until she discovers that reclaiming the magic that fueled her former kingdom is only the beginning of the fight . . .

I picked this up on the basis of strong reviews, but ended up putting it down somewhere in the middle because I couldn’t muster up enough enthusiasm to keep going. (And because I spent an entire day arguing with multiple people about the chakram scene in the tower… but I’ll get to that.) I wasn’t terribly fond of the whole concept of “my kingdom only experiences a single season” for mostly logistical reasons—how does anyone manage to eat, among other things? But the magic is supposed to take care of that . . .

Well, the book started off shaky with me because it’s Meira mooning over Mathan and how handsome he is and how much she likes him and how it will never work out.  So I pretty quickly disliked her voice. Then there was the scene in the tower. Meira foolishly alerts the residents to her presence, but manages to make it all the way down to the sewers underneath (including barging in on a room full of soldiers) before anyone down there is aware (nobody was yelling? no warning bells?). Then when she does confront the guards in the basement, she throws her chakram at one of the guards, it hits him, AND IT COMES BACK.

I spent more time than I should have researching this because the physics bothered me so much. It’s a stupid reason to dislike a book but for me it totally, irrevocably destroyed any chance I had to take this seriously. Boomerangs come back, because they have a bent shape that facilitates this (and even then you have some additional factors to consider, like wind). Chakram are round, like frisbees. Try throwing a frisbee so it comes back to you. Better yet, try throwing a frisbee that HITS SOMETHING and then comes back to you (and it isn’t bouncing back, but flying back). Even presuming the blade was sharp enough to have cut through the clothing and flesh with minimal resistance, minimal resistance is not no resistance, and ought to have done something to the rotation, velocity, etc. Chakram when thrown are like like a shuriken when thrown—they fly, they hit, and you go get it back if you want to use it again. The only thing I could come up with is that this chakaram is apparently modeled after the one used by Xena, Warrior Princess, which appears to be a magical weapon anyway (and this one is very explicitly said to be nonmagical).

And then you have Meira facing the big bad general that destroyed her entire kingdom, and he not only doesn’t kill her, he sits her on a horse in more or less pristine condition and is stupid enough to put the item she’s been trying to steal within easy grabbing distance. Seriously? You just spent a lot of page space telling me how he basically tortured two people to death and he couldn’t even be bothered to break a bone while in super-Hulk-mode to prevent her from escaping? And even though his king sees the sense in keeping half of the locket on his person to prevent theft, his best general can’t come to the same conclusion? Or at a very minimum, he can’t put the box with a different group of people to escort it to its new home?

The problem is, the reader is supposed to want Meira to win. Certainly Spring’s leadership is painted as these ultimate villains. But it’s extremely difficult to give Meira any credit when what we actually see is a girl who hardly knows what she’s doing outsmarting someone who isn’t making her job very difficult.

I made it until we met the prince, who I will give props to for not being stupid or irritating, even if he does introduce a love triangle. By that point it had long been obvious what the major twist was going to be, and the only real questions left were a) who is Meira going to marry and b) will she find this much-sought door to the underground magic or is this just going to be an above-ground magical conflict.

So…. obviously a lot of people liked this. I am not one of them. But if romances are more your thing and you don’t get bugged by things like that tower fight scene the way I did, by all means go for it. I rate this book Neutral.

The Strange Maid (The United States of Asgard #2)

Title: The Strange Maid

Author: Tessa Gratton

Series: The United States of Asgard #2

Signy Valborn has been the child Valkyrie ever since she climbed the World Tree and met Odin, who made her a Valkyrie for her stubbornness and fire. But she’s no longer a media darling like the other Valkyrie. Not since the riddle. Not since she couldn’t figure out what Odin meant when he carved her destiny on the Tree. So when a man appears, claiming to have the answer, she latches on to him and sets off to kill a troll . . .

This isn’t a direct continuation of the first book as much as a parallel story that envelops those eight days Soren and Astrid go after the missing Baldur. That confused me at first since I hadn’t realized the event hadn’t happened yet, but once it does everything falls into place.

I still like the worldbuilding immensely. Here is a fully realized culture, with its own holidays, customs, flavor. It’s not just a few Norse things plastered on to an urban America. America itself may have the same geography but the settlement pattern was markedly different, with things like trolls making “rural” a rather dangerous option. Signy, being a Valkyrie, gets a somewhat different view of things than Soren. And Signy’s newfound obsession with hunting trolls leads her down some fascinating paths, such as troll culture and habitat.

I also liked how certain familiar stories so deftly wove into the plot. And one of the final twists was brilliant.

Unfortunately, everything I like is tempered by Signy herself. She’s not a bad lead. I definitely preferred Soren’s striving for coolness and control in the face of his berzerk heritage over Signy’s unrestrained passions, though that doesn’t make her a bad character. I was a bit annoyed she seemed to flirt with just about every man that crosses her path that isn’t already married. I also didn’t care for the liberal use of alcohol. Again, she’s not badly written, just someone whose thoughts I enjoyed far less than Soren.

The book ends on a bit of a tease, although not an unbearable one. It will be interesting to see where the third book goes. I rate this book Recommended.

Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2)

Title: Exile

Author: Shannon Messenger

Series: Keeper of the Lost Cities #2

Things haven’t been the same ever since Sophie came back from being kidnapped and nearly killed. She’s dealing with the memories. The fact that she can’t go anywhere without a bodyguard. The weird way light gives her headaches, and trying to light step leaves her faded. She has an alicorn to rehabilitate and classes to take and a new family life to adjust to . . . but also the mystery of the Black Swan, the rebellion no one talks about, and the possible existence of multiple factions. Normal elves are scared. But Sophie is determined to find the answers, no matter what . . .

This book twisted away in some unexpected directions. Sophie remains a compelling heroine, and her flaws are ever more present. She’s not sure what to do about her new weakness, so she does what she usually has—keeps her mouth shut. Only this time that decision might have cost her someone very dear to her.

I was fond of how the alicorn ended up being more of an annoyance than a magical, mysterious, beautiful horse. And how Keefe not only calls it Glitter Butt but the alicorn seems to approve of the nickname. Or maybe she’s just fallen for Keefe and not Sophie. Either way, the alicorn causes not only much of the drama but much of the humor.

I was sad that Keefe had so much of a chance to take center stage. Not because I disliked Keefe, but because Dex, Fitz, Biona and the others I liked so much from the last book were much less present. Keefe himself is a lot of fun, and a welcome levity to some really serious situations. I do think Dex and Keefe could have a great thing going (much to the horror of the school administration) if Keefe succeeds in wheedling Dex over to his side . . . In a similar vein, it felt like fewer adults had a chance to participate, but the ones that do, particularly Alden, had a lot more punch. And Bronte managed to surprise me (it will be interesting to see if he maintains that shred of sympathy or if he turns back into a total curmudgeon).

All in all this is a strong followup to the first book. Darker, certainly. Now we’re dealing with PTSD, loss, grief, and brokenness. And the hints about the Black Swan, the rebellion, and how this utopian society is starting to crumble are still vague and mostly formless. There simply isn’t enough information to even guess what might be going on (though there are characters I’ll be watching to see if my suspicions hold true). I rate this book Recommended.