Monthly Archives: June 2017

Rose Daughter

Title: Rose Daughter

Author: Robin McKinley

Beauty remembers her mother’s scent more than her mother’s face: a strange perfume she later learns is made of roses. Beauty has always liked gardens, flowers, and helping the helpless. But when her father’s business implodes, her family must move to Rose Cottage, a home inherited by chance, a tiny house in the middle of nowhere. A house near a town that’s said to be cursed . . .

This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but has no relationship to any of McKinley’s other books. I think this one does a better job in a few ways, although overall it makes less sense than the earlier book titled Beauty.

The world building and character building remains top-notch. Beauty herself doesn’t change much throughout the story, but it’s interesting to see her sisters lose their biggest character flaws as poverty teaches them to think of themselves more humbly and treat others with more respect. Similarly, their father’s fall and recovery is well done.

This book has a lot of details on gardening, particularly how roses work. It’s fun to see Beauty wonder what those strange thorny bushes are that are planted all around Rose Cottage, and when she does fall in love with their blooms, how she works to reclaim both her roses and the Beast’s wild garden.

The story gets confusing when it tries to explain the origin of the Beast and what exactly happened, as three somewhat similar versions of the story get presented back to back. And the end isn’t exactly clear on what happened with the Beast, either. Those bits are annoying, but the thing I find most puzzling is that Beauty isn’t experiencing the passage of time normally, and therefore is only a scant handful of times acquainted with the Beast before deciding she loves him enough to marry him. It feels like there should have been more story to get to that point.

Overall it’s still a book I enjoy reading, though it isn’t my favorite McKinley book. I find the earlier version of the fairy tale, Beauty, to be better put together, but this one has its own moments of charm. I rate this book Neutral.

The Cypher (Guardians Inc. #1)

Title: The Cypher

Author: Julian Rosado-Machain

Series: Guardians Inc. #1

Thomas is living with his grandfather after his parents disappeared. There’s a lot to get used to—but he never expected helping his grandfather search for a job would land them both jobs at the mysterious Guardians, Inc. Or what that job would entail. Guardians, Inc. harbors secrets of magic and technology, and are committed to finding a mysterious book that could help them shape the next five hundred years. But others are searching for the book as well . . .

This was a pretty solid book. Thomas is pressing through a life turned upside-down when everything goes sideways yet again with an unexpected job offer. I liked the worldbuilding, which has a variety of mythological creatures running around the modern world (or trying to leave well enough alone, as the case may be), and the way Thomas is introduced to it. I liked the abilities of a Cypher, and how it comes with some interesting limitations (only written words, not spoken, was a fun twist). And the plot doesn’t drag but keeps things fresh with a new wrinkle pretty well every chapter.

Thomas felt a little young to me. I kept expecting him to be twelve instead of sixteen, which made the scenes of him crushing on a girl feel a bit strange. I’m also not generally a fan of this type of crush, which short-circuits someone’s brain (even though there are several hints this is being encouraged by magic, it’s still not a plot device I like). I did like Thomas’s relationship with his grandfather. It’s nice to see how they both support each other, even though they don’t always agree.

Tony rubbed me the wrong way. For a special agent that’s supposedly as well-trained as he is, he acts like a big kid. I spent most of the book suspecting him as a spy or a plant (and I still don’t know if that might end up being true) because he’s not very professional most of the time.

Overall, though, it was still a fun read. The book ends in a way that basically sets up a series to come, so it’s more about introducing the world and the quest than providing much resolution. I rate this book Recommended.

The Awakening of Ren Crown (Ren Crown #1)

Title: The Awakening of Ren Crown

Author: Anne Zoelle

Series: Ren Crown #1

Ren Crown knew her place: beside her extroverted and popular twin brother, Christian. Until the night he dies violently, leaving her alone with questions no one hears, let alone answers. Then another inexplicable assault, followed by powers she never expected to exist and a world where raising the dead isn’t just a thought experiment but something that’s actually possible. Now Ren has a new goal: getting her brother back. No matter what.

This is a bit jerky, although some of that is definitely because Ren is getting jerked around from one thing to another, and a lot of the worldbuilding that would smooth things out is stuff Ren has no way of knowing. I would have liked a little more worldbuilding details, since Ren was going to some of the engineering classes on the sly, and a little less “getting drunk at a party” common college type scenes.

I do like how balanced Ren is between art and engineering. This isn’t someone who pushes the superiority of one side or the other, or even someone who is good at one but has no aptitude for the other, but is someone who can engage and enjoy both dimensions. And the fact that painting counts as a substance abuse charge was funny. As much as I was curious what she might paint without limiters, it was amusing to see how other people responded to what they see as a heavy abuser.

The other characters were generally good as well, although Christian never really worked for me. He came off initially as someone I disliked, and even though Ren thinks the world of him, I never really bought why he was so good (it wasn’t really necessary to understand her obsession, though). It was interesting to get a character who’s got some kind of magical sex attraction going and Ren not only isn’t even interested, but engages him purely in a business associate relationship. I hope that doesn’t get twisted in the future to create a weird love triangle. It was also very interesting to see Ren recognize her crush is nothing but a fantasy, and admit the real guy is not someone she wants (although the cynical part of me says they’ll probably end up as a couple anyway).

Overall, this is a mostly solid start to a series I wouldn’t mind continuing. Hopefully the next book will open Ren’s legal opportunities a bit more so she can dig into things on a normal level. I rate this book Recommended.

Rakefang (Galleries of Stone #3)

Title: Rakefang

Author: C. J. Milbrandt

Series: Galleries of Stone #3

Tupper has long known what he wants in a wife. And when a chance visit to town brings a new girl to his attention, he doesn’t need long to decide she’s the one. But courtship is a special kind of challenge for Tupper, who has never been especially outgoing or outstanding. And someone has dark designs on Morven . . .

This is almost two stories. The first half is primarily Tupper courting Chelle, and the second circles back around to a plot thread left hanging in the first book and finishes it out nicely.

Chelle is an interesting match for Tupper. True to form, he enjoys those things about her that make her different–and therefore outcast–and isn’t bothered at all by her deafness. But for her, Tupper’s surprises aren’t as big a problem as the fact that no one in his home village really knows him anymore, so she’s not sure what kind of person to expect. And she never expected anyone to be interested in marrying HER, so she’s also getting used to the idea of being in love.

I really don’t want to spoil the surprise of the second half, but I was very pleased that dangling plot thread not only got resolved, but was thoroughly dealt with.

If Freydolf is the head of Morven, Tupper is its heart. This is a new chapter in Morven’s recovery, with marriage and babies and people intending to make a village out of its formerly empty halls. Interestingly, although this could work perfectly well as a trilogy, it also leaves a good sense of things still being uncovered, and there’s plenty of room for more story in the future. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Harrow (Galleries of Stone #2)

Title: Harrow

Author: C. J. Milbrandt

Series: Galleries of Stone #2

Every fall and spring, Aurelius Harrow comes to the mountain of Morven where his brother-in-law Freydolf is Keeper. He brings food and supplies, trades uncut stone for Freydolf’s masterpieces, and provides some much-needed company. But this year is different. This year, Aurelius is going to be staying for a while.

This book continues a few years after Meadowsweet, with Tupper a little more grown up and a lot more comfortable in his role. Tupper continues to open up Morven in surprising ways, as additional people are coming to the nearly-empty halls that he and Freydolf occupy. It’s beautiful to see how the story keeps extending the sense of family—first with Aurelius, then with other Meadowsweets, who not only dare to flout the typical fear of Pred but work on making their new friends more welcome in the rest of the village.

And Ulrica, Freydolf’s sister, finally makes an appearance. She’s thoroughly Pred, though in a slightly different way than Aurelius (I love how Tupper marks Aurelius as the prettiest of the lot . . . he’s so vain about clothing).

Tupper nodded tentatively, but he wasn’t so sure. What kind of person showed affection with sharp criticism, thinly-veiled insults, and death threats? Upon serious consideration, Tupper realized that the answer should have been obvious. A sister.

And in between all the marriage and babies and family happenings, Tupper’s also starting to think about his own future, and the person he might want to share it with. It’s funny to watch him approaching his future love life much the same way he approaches anything else: methodical, thoughtful, and unusual. Because Tupper’s short list of requirements is less about how she looks and more about whether or not she can put up with living statues and fearsome Pred without flinching.

It’s also fun to see that although Tupper may be the most exceptional Meadowsweet, in his own way, he’s hardly the only one. His family did a great deal to make him who he is, so once they’re committed to the Preds as family, they’re in all the way. And his family has their own secrets . . .

Overall, I loved seeing the world expanding, and the magic expanding too. This is a great followup. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Meadowsweet (Galleries of Stone #1)

Title: Meadowsweet

Author: C. J. Milbrandt

Series: Galleries of Stone #1

Freydolf is one of twelve Keepers in the world. Guardian of a sacred mountain, master sculptor, and yet utterly alone. Other races fear the Pred, and it makes something as simple as hiring a servant a challenge. But Tupper is different. Freydolf is soon surprised to find HOW different . . .

I tend to love stories like this, about a lonely and isolated individual gradually finding friendship. And this one is particularly good. Tupper is rather young, but more than that, he’s not very bright in a traditional sense, and has a tendency to be blunt because he’ll honestly answer questions. As Freydolf and his brother-in-law Aurelius discover, there’s far more to him than meets the eye.

Aurelius is also an interesting character. He’s much more typical of Pred, heavily armed and dangerous, and he has a biting sense of humor to match. He’s also the one with the biggest vocabulary, which leads to several funny conversations with Tupper, who can’t parse his big words and doesn’t understand why Aurelius even wants to use them when smaller words can say basically the same thing.

“Which parts made sense?” Aurelius patiently prompted.

With a slight uptilt of his small chin, Tupper gravely replied, “Master Freydolf wants you to be quiet.”

I also liked the magic in this book. Living statues provides an interesting assortment of creatures to populate the mountain, and it’s fun to see the various bits of personality many of them possess. Especially Graven, who does so like to tease.

Overall this was an excellent read, with charming characters and a lot of heart. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Knights of the End (Knights of the End #1)

Title: Knights of the End

Author: J. D. Cowan

Series: Knights of the End #1

Teddy MacIsaac dreams of heroes in a world where heroic ideals have succumbed to world-weary pessimism. Undaunted, he follows his dreams and a voice calling inside until he discovers a golden coin with mysterious powers. It grants him what he always wanted: the chance to be a hero. But no hero stands unopposed, and the general evil that’s haunted his world is about to get a lot more personal . . .

I really liked this. I found it based on a blog post by its author, and the comment that it had been written for his (her?) 13-year-old self immediately grabbed my interest, as the summary promised an actual light-versus-dark conflict that’s becoming increasingly hard to find.

And we get lots of awesome. Transforming superhero powers, secret identities, magical powers strong enough to change the world, and a colorful cast of friends and enemies. I particularly liked what happened with Rock, and how Teddy’s relationship with him changes over the course of the book. Bits of this read like an old comic book or cartoon drawn in greater detail. And I mean that as a compliment—the bombastic fights, the witty exchanges, the soaring imagination, the love of what it actually is to be a hero.

There are a few minor typos and errors that detracted a bit, but overall this was a solid book. I do hope the series continues, and continues to explore more of what it actually takes to be a hero who holds on to right no matter the cost (along with increasing the superhero cool moves and powers). Teddy takes a few knocks this time around, but certain events seem to be setting him up for a much deeper conflict between who he is and who he wants to be. I rate this book Recommended.