Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Young Adult

Ashlords by Scott Reintgen (Book Thoughts)

My last read of June was Ashlords by Scott Reintgen! The book was pegged as Scorpio Races meets Red Rising; there are strong Hunger Games vibes too. It was one of the books that I got through ShelfLoveCrate and meant to read as soon as it came out, because hello PHOENIX HORSES, but I was afraid the book wouldn’t live up to the synopsis and be a letdown!

Thankfully that didn’t happen.

My cover is the alternate dust jacket from shelf love crate, this is the originally released cover

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Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Ashlords
  • Series: Ashlords #1
  • Author: Scott Reintgen
  • Publisher & Release: Crown Books for Young Readers, January 2020
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for fans of the books listed above!

Here’s the synopsis via Am*zon:

Red Rising meets The Scorpio Races in this epic fantasy following three phoenix horse riders–skilled at alchemy–who must compete at The Races–the modern spectacle that has replaced warfare within their empire.

Every year since the Ashlords were gifted phoenix horses by their gods, they’ve raced them. First into battle, then on great hunts, and finally for the pure sport of seeing who rode the fastest. Centuries of blood and fire carved their competition into a more modern spectacle: The Races.

Over the course of a multi-day event, elite riders from clashing cultures vie to be crowned champion. But the modern version of the sport requires more than good riding. Competitors must be skilled at creating and controlling phoenix horses made of ash and alchemy, which are summoned back to life each sunrise with uniquely crafted powers to cover impossible distances and challenges before bursting into flames at sunset. But good alchemy only matters if a rider knows how to defend their phoenix horse at night. Murder is outlawed, but breaking bones and poisoning ashes? That’s all legal and encouraged.

In this year’s Races, eleven riders will compete, but three of them have more to lose than the rest–a champion’s daughter, a scholarship entrant, and a revolutionary’s son. Who will attain their own dream of glory? Or will they all flame out in defeat?

For a Young Adult book – I loved Ashlords. What more could I want than phoenix horses controlled through alchemy, danger, betrayals, strategy, war, gods, and a race where anything except murder goes.

I almost gave it 5 stars just because it’s so damn refreshing to not have a terrible YA romance involved. Reintgen left romance out and I can only hope that he also left it out of book 2. Hello and thank you authors not every damn book needs romance forced into it.

The only reason I’m not giving it five stars is because the world building was a little confusing at first. We did get the necessary history throughout the book but it first it was a little hard to grasp which faction was which and what their goals are. I also would have like to know what the actual differences were between the Ashlords, longhands, and dividians, whether there were physical differences or what.

I would have loved a deeper dive into the horses themselves and the alchemy parts too.  The Phoenix horses were cool and I liked the horse crazy vibe that Imelda gave off, but some more lore and physiology would be cool. Like if they rebirth every day, how do the riders form lasting bonds? I love the idea though

The races lasted long enough to be satisfying and each character got ample page time to make tough decisions and strategize.  A lot of these books with races or competitions tend to under represent the event itself and I didn’t think that was the case here.

Most of the gods and some of their atrocities were revealed here too – I’m pretty excited to see how that develops in the next book. Reintgen took on a lot here to set up religious and economical power struggles between the factions.  The flavor of rebellion reminded me of Red Rising for sure

Character wise- the book is told through three rotating points of view. I liked all of them well enough. Pippa surprised me as the most dynamic character, she seemed high horsed at first and was narrating herself in second person like she saw her life through a television camera. Adrian was funny, badass, and set in his ways already. He seemed to be a product of his upbringing. Imelda was so naive, she outdanced a lowly country lord and then thought she could take on the rebellion 🤣thankfully she figured out quickly enough that she was in over her head. She kept her head on fairly straight when people started dying in the early skirmishes, so… We will see how she holds up. I would have liked to see her do more in the race though.

Overall, this was a plot and action-heavy book and it moved along fairly quickly. I liked it for those reasons but I would have liked a little bit more world building overall. I definitely adore the fact that there was no real romance. I’m pretty excited for book two which I plan to read either this month or next!

A quick note on the audiobook – I did read about half of the hardcover before switching to audio when my hold came in. Each point of view gets its own voice and I think that they all did a great job.   The audio is about 10 hours long from Recorded Books, narrated by Rebecca Soler, Andrew Eiden, Lauren Fortgang, and Neil Hellegers

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Fiction

The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King (Book Thoughts)

Continuing my The Dark Tower series read, The Drawing of the Three is even weirder than The Gunslinger! I imagine the conversation when planning this book went something like –

King: I want to write about the gangs of NY and schizophrenics

Tabitha: yeah well you started with a weird horror fantasy western

King: I’ll incorporate interdimensional travel into the story, it’ll be fine

Tabitha: impossible

King: hold my beer

Ha .. ha… Ha… Actually …. KA

Ka?

“Kaka,” Eddie said, and laughed. “Come on Roland. Let’s take a hike”

Alright alright most joking aside, let’s talk a bit about this wonderfully weird book

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Drawing of the Three
  • Series: The Dark Tower #2
  • Author: Stephen King
  • Publisher & Release: 1987, I read the Signet edition
  • Length: 463 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for those who can stomach the typical King level of vulgarity 

Here’s the Synopsis:

While pursuing his quest for the Dark Tower through a world that is a nightmarishly distorted mirror image of our own, Roland, the last gunslinger, encounters three mysterious doorways on the beach. Each one enters into the life of a different person living in contemporary New York.

Here he links forces with the defiant young Eddie Dean and the beautiful, brilliant, and brave Odetta Holmes, in a savage struggle against underworld evil and otherworldly enemies.

Once again, Stephen King has masterfully interwoven dark, evocative fantasy and icy realism.

Ah gosh it’s hard to review these kinds of books because I know I’m not adding anything to the Canon, so I just talk about my experience.

The Gunslinger was weird and wild and this book utterly surpassed it in that regard. Roland has parlayed with the man in black, apparently for 10 years, so this installment picks up afterward on the beach with a pile of bones and the remnants of a tarot reading

I still think King just tossed a bunch of random ass ideas together to create Roland’s ka-tet.  Gangs, sure why not.  A crazy schizophrenic lady, sure why not.  Gotta get a serial killer in there too… and the funny thing is that at the end of the day, it worked

The Odette/Detta character annoyed me senseless, probably because of how accurately King portrayed schizophrenia/multiple personality disorder.  Props, props, I just found her to be way too vulgar and had me thinking about excessively vulgar patients I’ve dealt with, and yeah, no thanks. Her back story is great though.

 I loved Eddie, and I’m glad he arrived first in the text. He’s like a lost boy with a rough family history and bad decisions.  The whole storyline with Balazar and the drugs was pretty entertaining, then you toss in the Eddie & Roland dynamic and you get wonderful madness   Roland trying to make sense of NYC was equally amazing, I think King nailed the entire WTF of the experience and created a fully wild novel

Seeing as how Roland had no freaking idea what was going on in the modern world, he took it in incredible stride. Definitely my favorite part was how he kept misinterpreting the words and having to think on his feet

The journey from the terror of the beginning to the camaraderie at the end was a wild one.

What does the lobstrosity say? Well – you should listen to the audio to find out.  I listened to a few hours.  Frank Muller took over this narration (through Simon & Schuster audio) and the whole thing is about 13 hours if you go that route. 

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There are lobstrosity tshirts… That’s all 

The Dark Tower Series reviews:

1 – The Gunslinger 

Categories
audiobooks Suspense Thrillers

The Priest’s Graveyard by Ted Dekker (audio/book review)

I officially no longer have rhyme or reason when picking my next audiobook 😂 

I found The Priest’s Graveyard through a Search for books narrated by Rebecca Soler, who is probably my favorite female narrator.  I have a few books by Dekker but not this one.  I do usually love vigilante thrillers too and Dekker has an absolutely fascinating upbringing and tendency to write on the spiritual side, so, let’s see how this one worked out for me

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Priest’s Graveyard
  • Series: Danny Hansen #1
  • Author: Ted Dekker
  • Publisher & Release: Center Street, 2011
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ if you like psychological and vigilante thrillers that stay fairly clean

On the audio: about 10.5 hours from Hachette audio, narrated by Rebecca Soler and Henry Leyva 

Here’s the synopsis via GoodReads:

Two abandoned souls are on the hunt for one powerful man. Soon, their paths will cross and lead to one twisted fate.

Danny Hansen is a Bosnian immigrant who came to America with hopes of escaping haunted memories of a tragic war that took his mother’s life. Now he’s a priest incensed by the powerful among us who manipulate the law for their own gain, uncaring of the shattered lives they leave behind. It is his duty to show them the error of their ways, even if he must put them in the grave.

Renee Gilmore is the frail and helpless victim of one such powerful man. Having escaped his clutches, she now lives only to satisfy justice by destroying him, regardless of whom she must become in that pursuit.

But when Danny and Renee’s paths become inexorably entangled things go very, very badly and neither of them may make it out of this hunt alive.

So this is a pretty character based thriller, let’s start there. I liked Danny and what he was doing, I liked the brutal backstory of how he got from Bosnia to California and became the man he is today, both priest and calculated killer.  I also liked how Henry Leyva narrated him with the thick but understandable accent 

I even liked Renee at first. She seemed like someone who had made some bad choices and was able to rebound from them. The two characters seemed like a decent team, and of course Rebecca Soler can do no wrong and she was Renee’s voice.

Pause the thought on the characters –

Action wise, this is definitely a suspense novel at times and thriller at others.  Although the book was not exceptionally exciting, it had its moments of action and reckoning that kept me interested through out.

My favorite part was all moral debating that Danny did on how he justifies being a monster.  It was interesting too to see the symbols in names and other small spiritual elements that Dekker out into the story.  He doesn’t preach at all but there’s a small undercurrent of spirituality that would be concurrent with Danny as a priest.

So… How did this go from five stars to three stars? It got predictable. If I can predict something, it’s super predictable.  That isn’t the main issue though.

Towards the end, Dekker completely lost me on the “romantic” element. I’m just absolutely not believing that Danny would fall for an addlepated and traumatized drug addict (in recovery) who is frankly batshit crazy, unless Danny is batshit crazy too. Renee became annoying as hell, jeopardized their missions, put them both in danger, and was just bluntly an idiot.  Danny’s flawed judgement is about as bad as hers is if he wants to “love” her, and Renee literally just falls in with whatever man is in front of her. As soon as Dekker started portraying that idiot (with a long history of bad life decisions) as some kind of precious flower, he lost me.

The Priest’s Graveyard has a good premise, good action, good vigilante debates, and good audio, but it felt short overall for me mostly because of the improbable relationship that formed, even if the premise was an interesting psychological element.

A lot of people really liked this book and I would definitely recommend trying it if you like vigilante books.

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Paranormal

The Gunslinger by Stephen King (My Experience)

Go then, there are other worlds than these

Now that I’ve read a few Stephen King books I am aware of a couple of things. He has gone through some significant and very different life stages, and depending on which stage he was in when he wrote a book, it’s going to be a very different reading experience.  His thoughts on this book began in college …..

The Dark Tower series gets a vast amount of praise from readers across all genres and I figured it was about time I check it out.  Number one, The Gunslinger, is short and felt rocky at times, which can be explained by the fact that it was originally 5 short stories!

There are ideas, there are flashbacks, there’s action in the present day, and there’s certainly a lot of room for King to move forward. My main impression is that I don’t think he knew it was going to turn into a giant epic series when he first wrote The Gunslinger. After doing some research I found that after the other books were written King went back and did some serious revising to the first to make it more consistent with the other books, and this is the version I have.  It’s interesting though because you can see where the five stories are and while each has its own individual flavor, they mostly fit well when pieced together to create Roland’s adventures.

And there you have it from Wikipedia. So what are my impressions of the book? I had no idea if I was reading fantasy or dystopia or what.  They should have left the Whelan cover to make it clear at first! You’ve got lowkey demons, a sharpshooter, a talking raven, throwbacks to something like Arthurian times in a castle court, with guns, and an overarching Old West feel.

It’s bizarre and brilliant and I’m keenly interested. I have so many questions about how the world’s fit together, how Jake ended up in this wasteland, how 10 years can pass in a moment, and so many other things! 

If nothing else King has me hooked lined and sunk as far as continuing to read on because I want all the answers. 

I don’t know where this thought fits into the rest of my thoughts but there’s this whole over current of weird hormones and sexy situations haha I think King had some issues to work through at some point, as also indicated by the Bill Hodges trilogy and “honeyboy”🤣

It’s also no secret that Roland is considered a hugely iconic character, so let me look at him quickly.  He’s obviously a badass sharp shooter on one level, but when he talks about his past he seems ancient. How did he get from a beautiful green world of castles and courts to a dystopian desert chasing the Man in Black?  His interactions with Jake Chambers shows that he has never heard of our Earth, even though his world mirrors Earth in many ways.  Roland isn’t fearless, he has deep feelings where the boy is concerned, but he’s also quite singleminded in purpose at this point in the series. 

And if that spiel on time and size at the end doesn’t blow your mind, nothing will 😂

One penultimate note is that Michael Whelan did the original cover! That makes it a legitimate fantasy as far as I’m concerned

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And the last note – it was recommended to me to try the audiobooks because the narrator adds a lot of fantastic personality to the text and I couldn’t agree more.  Most of my King reading has been on audio because of Will Patton narrating quite a few books, but George Guidall   is absolutely phenomenal as well.  Would highly recommend to fans of thrillers and fantasy.

Here’s the Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Gunslinger
  • Series: The Dark Tower, #1
  • Author: Stephen King, narrated by George Guidall
  • Release: Originally 1982, there are so many versions this is confusing to me now
  • Length: approx 7 hours audio, around 280 on page
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ heck yeah to thriller and fantasy, weird western fans

Here’s the synopsis via GoodReads:

The Gunslinger introduces readers to one of Stephen King’s most powerful creations, Roland of Gilead: The Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner on a spellbinding journey into good and evil. In his desolate world, which mirrors our own in frightening ways, Roland tracks The Man in Black, encounters an enticing woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the boy from New York named Jake.

Categories
audiobooks Dystopian Literary Fiction Science Fiction

The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker (Book & Audio Thoughts)

I haven’t read a dystopian in a while and found one that I don’t see talked about a whole lot.  The End of the World Running Club hits all the right points for a dystopian but fell short over all for me and I’m blaming it on 1) the audio and 2) the ending.

When I read these types of books, the primary questions in my mind are “Ok, how far will these characters go to survive, and what keeps them going? What flavor does the ending leave for both humanity and our remaining characters?”

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The End of the World Running Club
  • Series: ” ” #1
  • Author: Adrian J. Walker
  • Publisher & Release: Sourcebooks Landmark, September 3017
  • Length: 464 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ more for those who want to sample the genre

Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon:

Asteroids are striking Earth, the end of the world is near, and Edgar Hill is on the wrong side of the country.

Over five hundred miles of devastated wastelands stretch between him and his family, and every second counts. His only option is to run―or risk losing everything he loves. He’ll have to be ingenious and push himself to the very limit if he wants to see them again. Can he reach them in the race against time, or will the end of the world defeat him?

A dystopian page-turner about the endurance of the human body and spirit―perfect for lovers of apocalyptic science fiction, running books, and anyone who knows that true strength comes from love.

As I said it hits all the points of a good dystopian. There’s a cataclysmic event, despair, survival, hope and hopelessness, the exploration of human nature, an incredible journey, etc. Everything the book should have.  There are helpful friends and harmful scum along the way, complete with all the obstacles you’d expect in a cross country run through a landscape devastated by asteroids.  It also takes place in the UK which is not something that I see so frequently in these types of novels.

That said, I had mixed feelings about where the book ended, and I think a lot of my overall negative feelings are influenced by the fact that the audiobook narrator’s voice got so annoying that I had to close it down and buy the ebook.

I really liked the beginning because Ed, the narrator, started at the end of the story with the description of three graves that he was thinking of digging up to prove his sanity.  Or had he already lost it? He talked about beliefs and it set the book up for the potential to be a mirage.  The whole beginning was absolutely wonderful as the asteroids occurred and then the family was trapped in the cellar. I felt like it went slowly downhill once Ed & Co started the journey.

At the end, again focusing on the graves, Edgar made a big point of bringing into question whether or not the events he told actually happened, versus what he believed. So… I don’t really know what to believe happened at the end and I wasn’t in the mood for that much literary ambiguity in a now open ending. I do think these books need open endings but not necessarily a riddle.

Anyway, I got truly annoyed with the book about the time that Jenny Rae came in. Whether or not my annoyance should give the author more points, I’m not sure. I tend to be super picky with dystopian and this one had a lot of really good elements, and some overdone ones. Like a large, borderline schizophrenic woman that wreaks havoc and is the last person in the world that should be in charge of anything, but would definitely come out on top in the apocalypse.  This is an archetypal dystopian character and I kind of just feel like somebody would have shot her before she came to any kind of power. That whole section was hard, (but heck yeah go Mr Angelbeck!)

Ed’s character arc from inviting the end of the world to running across a continent for his family was lovely.  He’s a morally gray character – as is everyone in a dystopian – and I liked who he became. Harvey, Bryce and Grimes were good characters too but we didn’t get too much of a good look at them. The book took an appropriately deep dive into humanity in general as well as what keeps us going in the dark. Running not so much although there were a few long distance insights and I am in awe that the untrained people ran so far.

I would recommend this one to people wanting to try a dystopian, but probably not hardcore fans of the genre. My favorite one to recommend (after The Road) is A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World. As far as this one, I would read a book version and stay away from the audio. I just did not like the narrator’s voice because he always sounded so happy, regardless of what was going on, and there was an awful lot of loud yelling. The guy also could absolutely not do female voices and eventually I shut it off and bought the ebook, which was a better experience.

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy

Broken Veil by Jeff Wheeler (Book & Series thoughts)

I think I sat on this review a little bit too long. I wanted to think about the themes and the overall series and not come in on a gut reaction, except now the lines between the books have flared together a bit especially since I binged the last three.

Disclaimer that this post is going to get a little series spoilery because it’s book 5 and I think it requires a little bit of discussion about the series as a whole. Anyway, let’s jump in!

Bookish Quick Facts;

  • Title: Broken Veil
  • Series: Harbinger #5
  • Author: Jeff Wheeler
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North, June 2019
  • Length: 346 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ I definitely recommend the series, although I’m not sure that it got stronger as it went

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Wall Street Journal bestselling author Jeff Wheeler’s epic Harbinger series comes to a breathtaking conclusion as two women are swept into a battle that could destroy two worlds.

Rescued from a world of poverty, Cettie Pratt has avoided a bleak destiny—until now. Deceived and manipulated, she has been groomed for the ultimate betrayal: to destroy her best friend and stop peace from uniting two war-torn worlds. Her path leads her to a mysterious underworld where appearances can be deceiving.

Sera Fitzempress knows the value she has to her enemies. As heir to the empire, she must keep her foes at bay and prevent them from unleashing a being of unspeakable evil upon the world while fighting a brutal war. But her enemies are more cunning than Sera expects, and the key to their plans is none other than her best friend.

Neither woman knows what to believe. Neither one knows if she can trust the other. Both Cettie and Sera have made decisions that have irrevocably changed them. But the decisions they have yet to make will determine the fate of their world…

As I said, I’ve been the last three books in the series so it’s a bit hard for me to remember where one book started and the other ended. Each book does have some time pass between events but for the most part the story picks up where it left off.

Each book in the series has quite a bit of action and it’s hard to say which one was the most action-packed, but I think Broken Veil takes the cake there. We got to see Cettie at the poisoners school, which was one of my favorite parts of the series because after reading Kingfountain I always wondered what exactly happens in those places. It’s a very good example of how different facets of culture and conflict do not necessarily view themselves as evil.  In any other world Cettie would have loved it at the school 

Keeping on the Kingfountain train of thought, I definitely missed something huge by not reading the trilogy focusing on Trynne.  There was a cameo at the end of Broken Veil that featured Owen and Sinia, and I have no idea how the actual heck that happened but I’m curious now.  Apparently Cettie also ended up like Trynne in more ways than one, which brings me back to how Wheeler seems to have rehashed a lot of old ideas in the Harbinger series.

Combining the worlds so much definitely worked though, especially when comparing the religions and showing that even in such a divided culture there is harmony to be found in these things.

Sera and Cettie both spent quite a bit of time walking in Maia’s shoes, Ereshkigal came back, there was the Oathmaiden thing, plus bringing all the old Muirwood lore back – either Wheeler ran out of ideas, or more likely to me he wrote this for the people who probably won’t go back and read Muirwood.

I’ve always thought that he should re-release those books with updated editing so that it’s not embarrassing to recommend them, but I think that this series was a concession to the unlikelihood of that ever happening.  The new series also is about very very early Muirwood.

Okay, let’s get back to talking about Broken Veil. 

I have always respected Wheeler for not being afraid to kill off characters, and as a result we get to hear Adam Creigh as the interlude voice in this edition. Adam won my respect as an honorable and brave figure throughout these books so it was nice to get a look inside his head.  I love the fact that he ended up in a hospital and found fulfillment after all of the things he’s been through in the series

The same for Cettie and Sera, everyone got pretty good resolutions although the book felt unfinished to me.

Now speaking of the end of the book, let’s talk about divine intervention. I don’t mind it in this case because the Medium is kind of the unsung hero of both the Muirwood and Kingfountain trilogies, although in some degree it made the struggles of the characters seem slightly diminished. One could also look at it as multiple tests of faith being rewarded, and a message to Sera about the future of her realm. It was definitely an epic act of divine intervention that resolved the action and it also reminded me a bit of a few passage in Revelations, terribly paraphrased, that talk about moving mountains and islands, raining hailstones, and then calling on these devices for protection and salvation. One other thing to consider is – who is piloting Idumea?

With Ereshkigal coming back and the Mirror Gates closing there is a new world coming for sure.

The two things that really annoyed me were 1) The stupid kidnapping thing. Cettie and Sera took turns being kidnapped throughout the entire series to further the plot. It lost its interest and got old real quick, and by the time that I happened in this book I was just so sick of it. Sera didn’t need to see the things that she saw but at the same time I just wish he had come up with something different.

The second super annoying thing is that for all the fact that Stephen and the Fitzroy’s adopted her, Cettie spent a chunk of this book calling him her “almost brother”.  That’s fine but she had been calling the others mother and father and sister already so it felt very weird for her to start using that language and it stuck out like a sore thumb.

All other things aside, I did absolutely love the entire story and plot line of this final book in the series.  Everyone including Corinne got brought to their knees at one point or another.  The level of intrigue and backstabbing had my head spinning in the best way possible.

I’m finding it hard to bring my thoughts onto paper but overall I would definitely recommend this one if you like strong characters, vivid settings, political intrigue, questions of faith, found family, action, period dramas, redemption arcs.  Overall this was a satisfying ending to the series and that is the important thing.

 I do want to take a minute and mention the audiobook. Kate Rudd narrates most of Wheeler’s books and she is absolutely phenomenal. Her voice does such credit to these characters and events. I switched back and forth between audio and text and always appreciate the fact that Wheeler provides free and/or extremely cheap audiobooks as part of his run on Kindle unlimited.


The Harbinger Series:

Categories
audiobooks Thrillers

The Gatekeeper by James Byrne (ALC/ARC review)

My last read of May was The Gatekeeper by James Byrne! Thanks so much to Minotaur Books for the ARC, and I also received an advanced listening copy so I will be reviewing both here! All opinions are my own!

This is what I like in a summer read – nonstop action, banter, entertaining main characters, over the top fight scenes, a few laughs thrown in, and a plot that is easy enough to follow without burning all the brain cells trying to keep up. Plausible, nah, but entertaining as heck – 100%.

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Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Gatekeeper
  • Series: ?
  • Author: James Byrne
  • Publisher & Release: Minotaur Books, June-07-2022
  • Length: 336 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ for anyone who likes thrillers like Evanovich or Orphan X

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

James Byrne’s The Gatekeeper introduces Dez Limerick in the most anticipated new thriller in years.

A highly trained team of mercenaries launches a well-planned, coordinated attack on a well-guarded military contractor – but they didn’t count on one thing, the right man being in the wrong place at the right time.

Desmond Aloysius Limerick (“Dez” to all) is a retired mercenary, and enthusiastic amateur musician, currently in Southern California, enjoying the sun and sitting in on the occasional gig, when the hotel he’s at falls under attack. A skilled team attempts to kidnap the Chief legal counsel of Triton Expeditors, a major military contractor – in fact, Petra Alexandris is the daughter of the CEO – but their meticulously-planned, seamlessly executed scheme runs into the figurative ‘spanner-in-the-works,’ Dez himself.

After foiling the attack, and with nothing better to do, Dez agrees to help Alexandris with another problem she’s having – someone has embezzled more than a billion dollars from her company and left very few tracks behind. But Dez is a gatekeeper – one who opens doors and keeps them open – and this is just a door of another kind. And the door he opens leads to a dangerous conspiracy involving media manipulation, militias, an armed coup, and an attempt to fracture the United States themselves. There’s only one obstacle between the conspirators and success – and that is Dez, The Gatekeeper.

The book introduces Dez in a mercenary operation that is apparently his last.  Retiring to California, he coincidentally ends up in a hotel where he foils a kidnapping plot that is only the tip of the iceberg of issues he is about discover.

The plot is definitely not plausible and at no point did I think that the bad guys were going to win, but it was certainly entertaining to get there. America at this time can definitely relate to white supremacy and big money companies with big egos so I don’t think it’s too far off from reality.  I got immense satisfaction out of Dez making quite a few of these people look like complete idiots.

Dez is never fleshed out but he’s by far the highlight of the book. A tactically well rounded character, he can hack and set traps and fight. He is built like a truck, funny, and absolutely kick ass. I loved his Brit/Scottish accent and all his quirks.

Petra is the female lead, a force of nature as well. I loved seeing her dress down her father and the other power players. There are a few other female characters that are brave and badass too, in unconventional ways. Another favorite side character was a personal assistant named Alonzo!

I think the place where I docked half a star was that some of the descriptions of both Dez and Petra became repetitive without telling us anything new.  I don’t come to thrillers for character development but it would have been good to have some indication of where Dez came from, although I appreciate the mystery as well.

I also had a chance to hear John Keating narrate the audio! I read and listened about 50/50 to review both fairly and I think he did a phenomenal job, especially with Dez and his cutaway “sorry!”. Sometimes accents are hard or make it difficult to understand the narrator but I found key thing to be clear and consistent in all voices. I did have to raise the speed to 1.5 in order to make it sound like a human but I am totally okay with a narrator speaking slowly in order to enunciate.

The end left it open for more Gatekeeper books too so – hopefully! I definitely recommend this one for people who enjoy fast-paced action-packed thrillers that don’t take themselves too seriously!

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy

Prism Cloud by Jeff Wheeler (Book Thoughts)

I binge finished the Harbinger series last week and have just not had time to sit down and write about it. I want to wrap up my thoughts on these books before starting my Malazan talks! Reviews for the prior books in the series are linked at the end.

Let’s jump into it!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Prism Cloud
  • Series: Harbinger #4
  • Author: Jeff Wheeler
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North, March 2019
  • Length: 348 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡

*The book currently has a 4.42 rating on GoodReads, so the majority of his fans are onboard with the series*

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Friendship is strained to its breaking point in Wall Street Journal bestselling author Jeff Wheeler’s fourth Harbinger novel.

When the emperor is assassinated, Sera Fitzempress is the noble most eligible to inherit the empire. Her upcoming marriage to the prince would cement her position. And as a champion for peace, Sera is the only promise of hope for staving off war between the worlds of Kingfountain and Muirwood. But standing between her and her enemies is just one devastating secret.

Sera’s best friend, Cettie, a girl born of a lower class, has made a shattering discovery: her entire existence has been a lie. Now Cettie must give up the only life she’s known and fought for and leave behind the man she loves to stop Sera’s wedding. For this discovery could bring the whole of Kingfountain to ruin.

As Cettie struggles to determine her true loyalties and loves, her allies fall to wicked plots, and she becomes increasingly alone on her journey to a destiny she never wanted—one that could ignite an unstoppable war.

Oh geez, where to start with this one. Cettie almost ruined the book for me. Prism Cloud was the best of them as far as plot, action, and intrigue, even the other characters shined, but Cettie was absolutely terrible.

Sera once again was the superstar of this novel.  She broke out of her prison in Pavenham Sky transformed into a much more patient and focused woman and was able to make amazing things happen in both Empires. Trevon and Durrant were superstars too both in their own ways.

There was a touch of romance, absolutely lovely (and then heartbreaking) to see Sera and Trevon actually falling for each other after so many differences. One of my favorite aspects was how they discovered that Muirwood’s Medium and Kingfountain’s Fountain Magic were so similar

Another thing I respect Wheeler for is not being afraid to kill off one, two, or six of our favorite characters. The beginning and end of the book both featured terrible murders and just, wow.  The Adam and Fitzroy scene at the end was unbelievably sad.

The other main plot line besides the ill-fated Kingfountain wedding was that Corinne finally outmaneuvered Cettie, who had a crisis of faith and totally succumbed to it. All the scheming and intrigue was finally revealed and yes, it went deep, but Cettie turned into a snivelling moron. It was so uncharacteristic and bad that reading her chapters was painful. I could not believe her arc went downhill so quickly – it was like Wheeler wanted to rehash Maia’s storyline (see next book) but honestly I would have rather seen Cettie fighting for Sera. Cettie knows what found family is and was willing to throw it all away so quickly, knowing that her deceiver was the worst of everyone!? It was just SO bad, it didn’t ring true at all.

And of course – she got kidnapped.  I’ll talk about it more during Broken Veil but it really kills me that Wheeler’s MoA for this series is to alternately diminish each character while the other shines, like, how many times can you use kidnapping as a plot device in one series?

The rest of the plot and action held the faults at bay for the most part but I think Wheeler could have done better overall

My favorite part was 100% at Kingfountain, and everything involving Sera.  Watching her maneuver against Montpensier and finally unravelling the entire political plot was by far the high point of the story.  As was Sera and Adam’s escape after the terrible events that occurred.  I also will talk about Adam more in the next book’s review but his bravery was stunning.

While the other characters and the action would have made this the best read of the series, Cettie dragged the book down. I’m coming in at a strong 3.5 with this one but by no means dislike the book or series at all.

Once again if anyone likes audio, Kate Rudd is amazing.  She is clear and coherent and does great voices.

The Harbinger Series:

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy

Mirror Gate by Jeff Wheeler (Book Thoughts)

I saved my Mirror Gate review to fall on the Wyrd & Wonder prompt 5-Star Fantasy! It wouldn’t be a fantasy reading month if I didn’t finish and feature at least one book by Wheeler. See my review links for prior books in the series at the end!

While I didn’t give Mirror Gate 5 stars (sorry but I already read Muirwood) – I can constantly rely on Jeff Wheeler for clean, wholesome fantasy that keeps me absorbed from cover to cover. More often than not his books breeze 5 stars for me. 

**One last note before talking about the book – holy cow did anyone see the release day numbers for Druid?? It slammed #1 in both epic and historical fantasy for both book and Kindle form!! Wheeler’s fans were READY for it!**

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Mirror Gate
  • Series: Harbinger #2
  • Author: Jeff Wheeler
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North, August 2018
  • Length: 349 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes to this world colliding series

Here’s the synopsis via Am*zon:

Wall Street Journal bestselling author Jeff Wheeler continues his wondrous Harbinger series in which two young women unite as two worlds approach the brink of war…

Though relations between Princess Seraphin Fitzempress and her father have been strained, Sera’s royal position has remained unchallenged. Filled with self-doubt, she struggles to grasp the Mysteries—her greatest trial yet.

An education in the enigmatic magic is a necessary one, should Sera plan to rise in her station and invoke her powers during war. But the emperor’s death now leaves both Sera and her ambitious father eligible for the throne—a contest the prince regent intends to win. Even if it means an alliance with a rival empire.

Sera’s hope lies in Cettie, a waif raised in the world below, whose life has intertwined with Sera’s in the most unexpected ways. The Mysteries come easily to Cettie, and her studies have begun to yield new insight into her growing powers. But those same powers put Cettie in the path of those who would destroy her.

Now as the threat of war ignites and an insidious sickness spreads throughout the kingdom, Sera and Cettie will need to gather their courage and fight for each other’s lives…and for the future of their endangered world.

Mirror Gate jumps about 4 years into the future after Storm Glass left off. Cettie and Sera are about to take the test at Muirwood Abbey, but dark machinations are working against them.  There was more action and excitement in this book than the first one!

With the Emperor now dead, Sera’s father will scheme up literally anything to get her out of his way to the throne. Unfortunately the odds are against her as war also brews with Kingfountain(!) and she just doesn’t have the experience needed to step into office yet

“I apologize if I’ve embarrassed you, Mr. Skrelling,” she said. “I think it for the best if you depart and compose your feelings”

– Cettie

I love Cettie. She brought back a lot of old Muirwood memories including the cruciger orb, kestrals, the myriad ones, and even a kishion. While it was nice to revisit this lore, my gut told me to dock a star for rehashing old ideas instead of bringing in new ones, regardless of how it all ties together.

I liked seeing Cettie & Sera and think the page time recapping Muirwood lore would have been better spent showing their growing relationship or time at the Abbey, vs catapulting them 4 years ahead to BFF status.

There’s a new character named Juliana who was just amazing! She is utterly fierce and added a lot to the plot, action, and banter

“Hang the Aldermaston!” Juliana barked. Doctor Redd covered his eyes, shaking his head worriedly.

One thing I especially liked was how Wheeler brought back an idea that @niseam_stories also wrote extensively on – that bizarre, harmful, misleading thoughts may either come from outside influence or our mind trying to play ticks. We should be wary and critical of those thoughts. 

The mind could only think of one thing at a time, and she had every right to control what those thoughts would be

Wheeler is big on thoughts influencing actions.

One thing I didn’t like was in one of the Aldermaston’s lectures, Wheeler got lost in the theology and dropped a few phrases like ‘second life’ that needed explanation. Also while the colliding world theme was cool, it was kind of hard to see Kingfountain as a conquering nation of zealots, with submarines? How long after Trynne’s storyline did this occur?

Overall: betrayal, political machinations galore, more betrayal, more intrigue, and all of the above is exactly what I love about these books. I picked it apart but really immensely enjoy this world. 

The end left the characters in interesting places and I am extremely excited to read the next book in the series. War is beginning, Sera is trapped, and Cettie is learning how deep found family truly runs.

Kate Rudd is an amazing narrator too, I hope she keeps narrating all of Wheeler’s books!

The Harbinger Series

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy

Storm Glass by Jeff Wheeler (Book Thoughts)

Hi book friends! I have had an absolutely phenomenal reading time in April, including finally starting the Harbinger series.

Look at that cover, do you even need any other incentive to pick up the series?

I flew through Storm Glass in about a day with a mix of reading and listening.  I like Wheeler’s books because they are entertaining and interesting while not being overly complicated, making for quick reads.

Read if:  regency England with a steampunk twist imposed on a fantasy setting of floating  estates sounds good!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Storm Glass
  • Series: Harbinger #1
  • Author: Jeff Wheeler
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North, June 2018
  • Length: 367 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 for clean fantasy fans

Here’s the synopsis via GoodReads:

Theirs is a world of opposites. The privileged live in sky manors held aloft by a secretive magic known only as the Mysteries. Below, the earthbound poor are forced into factory work to maintain the engine of commerce. Only the wealthy can afford to learn the Mysteries, and they use their knowledge to further lock their hold on society.

Cettie Pratt is a waif doomed to the world below, until an admiral attempts to adopt her. But in her new home in the clouds, not everyone treats her as one of the family.

Sera Fitzempress is a princess born into power. She yearns to meet the orphan girl she has heard so much about, but her father deems the girl unworthy of his daughter’s curiosity.

Neither girl feels that she belongs. Each seeks to break free of imposed rules. Now, as Cettie dreams of living above and as Sera is drawn to the world below, they will follow the paths of their own choosing.

Both girls will be needed for the coming storm that threatens to overturn their worlds

So I finally got around to starting the Harbinger series, and I’m not disappointed at all. I always make a point of reading the author’s note of a book first, so I knew a little bit about what to expect including that Wheeler wanted to write a historical fiction but ended up imposing that setting into another fantastically built fantasy world.

Imagine the strictest social hierarchy, privilege versus poor, strict governesses, early discovery, factories, even zeppelins.  I think it was interesting that Wheeler started bringing technology and steampunk vibes into a book and one of the main themes is how the characters take new science and incorporate it into their world view. Is it Mystery (magic) or mystery (something yet to be discovered)?  I also liked how these themes are tied directly to the magic in the world.

I love the world building, the rich estates and gardens, waterfalls, and how they contrast with the dirt poor factory districts below teeming with sickness and poverty.

How can you beat a system designed to keep the poor poor, the rich in debt, and everyone except the tip-top of the Elite in check? Hmm

Cettie and Sera are both great protagonists and I can’t wait to follow them through the series. Each is a strong-willed young woman and for once I think that Wheeler actually made children (think around 12, preteen,) seem age appropriate.

Cettie came from the Fells, one of the poor factory districts, and is adopted into a rich floating family estate by a kind military leader. Sera is a princess (!!!A descendent of Maia and Collier about 200 years down the line!!!) who will eventually battle her father for the Empire.

There are whole bunch of Side characters that are worth mentioning too, including Cettie’s new adopted siblings and an estate keeper who is easily as evil as Umbrage!

The plot is quick moving, there is not much down time at all.  There are some hints that end up being obvious and I’m sure some obvious points will turn into surprises later on in the series.

This is also a series that ties into the Muirwood books, in that it takes place in the same world and Muirwood Abbey plus an Aldermaston have a cameo at the end.  I am excited to see more of this setting in the next book.  There is also a Kingfountain tie-in and a mention of a Bhiku, I believe from the Dryad-Born series. I think it’s wild to try to envision all these stories taking place in the same world.

One comment I want to make is to reply to a few people saying they feel that reading this series is like reading the Book of Mormon: …. Ack, I get it but I don’t feel it, yet at least.  Historically the human race makes sense of the world and each individual reality through stories, faith, folk tales, fantasy, but the point is: stories.  Even if part or much of the books is an allegory, the vibe I get is that the characters are deeply attuned to learning and some, like Cettie, are more in concert with the Mysteries (faith, magic, sentience, etc) than others.  I know Wheeler can get preachy (what do you expect from a pastor?) but as I said, I’m not feeling it here, simply a story making sense of the world’s history as he sees it, and I personally love the science and faith intertwining into the characters world view.

Long story short: magic, danger, excitement, propriety and society, learning, debt and tithes, more magic, found family to the max,  and willful young women ready to take on the hierarchy!