Monthly Archives: January 2016

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.

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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.

Keeper of the Lost Cities (Keeper of the Lost Cities #1)

Title: Keeper of the Lost Cities

Author: Shannon Messenger

Series: Keeper of the Lost Cities #1

Sophie Foster doesn’t want anyone to know she can tell what they’re thinking. It’s not something she asked for, and she does her best to keep from sticking out. Well, from sticking out any more than she already does, since she’s a high school senior at the age of twelve. But then she runs into Fitz, who tells her impossible things about who she is and where she belongs. And before she knows it, her life has completely upended. A new home, a new school, new powers—and new enemies. Enemies that would see her dead.

I’m sorry I avoided this book for so long, under the mistaken notion that it was somehow a dystopia. It is not at all one. It is, instead, part fantasy world and part school story, and the two mingle in interesting and often hysterical ways.

Sophie is a great lead. She tries really hard to adjust to this new life, but she struggles, often intensely, to fit in to a world where she supposedly belongs. I love her continual misadventures in alchemy (and I deeply respect her alchemy teacher’s final grade, as she’s completely in the right and, just like Sophie, refuses to bow to falsehood about it even though that’s what everyone wants). Sophie isn’t perfect by a long shot. She has powers and with that comes the temptation to use them irresponsibly. But she chooses to tell the truth even when it costs her, and I love that about her. I like how she bonds with Grady and Edaline, and I hope to see those bonds deepen in the future. They are in their own way outcasts for having knowledge of grief, which the rest of their kind know mostly clinically instead of personally.

And although Sophie steals the show for me, I would be remiss not to mention the wonderful cast of friends she (sometimes reluctantly) ends up with. Dex and his crazy alchemy pranks, his stubborn friendship, his ultimate heroism. (I am hoping for massively more Dex in sequels, as he was my second-favorite.) Keefe and his troublemaking, which had me somewhat concerned for a while, but he pulls through as the lovable rogue. Fitz, loyal and protective, but not above a spot of mischief himself. Biana—I loved how she changed over the course of the book. It isn’t often initial impressions change so thoroughly, without that being the central focus of the book.

The adults are equally well done, which for a kids book especially is an amazing accomplishment. Grady and Edaline get special love and attention, as they step in to be Sophie’s guardians, even though they still have the shadow of tragedy hanging over their own hearts. Doctor Elwin, the last person Sophie wants to see and yet the one she can’t keep away from as her misadventures continually send her to his office. He’s kind and his methods of healing are fascinating. Fitz’s father, Alden, who works a stressful and demanding government job but always takes time for Sophie to help her settle, and he tries so hard to work through what she’s giving him so she won’t have to deal with it herself.

I could go on. I loved this book. I usually trip over a few things that jerk me out of a story but that never happened here. I had to sit down and plow through all nearly-500 pages of it. It wraps up very well, with plenty of room for future tales. And if they are anything like the first I will have to devour them as soon as I can. I rate this book Highly Recommended.