Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Fiction Mysteries Science Fiction

Audio/Book Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

In an effort to read more books that are already on my shelves this year, I finally picked up The Strange Case of the Alchemists Daughter by Theodora Goss! I read a short fairytale retellings collection of hers last year, and between that and the book featuring an Athena Club, (added bonus because I like things with my name in it), this seemed like a good pick right now!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s daughter
  • Series: The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #1
  • Author: Theodora Goss
  • Publisher & Release: Gallery / Saga Press, June 2017
  • Length: 417 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 for fans of mysteries and retellings!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.

But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.

Audio:  I did listen to some of this on audio, and omg.  From Simon & Schuster audio, narrated by Kate Reading, she won an Audie in 2018 for best fantasy. Kate was just perfect. Every character has a unique voice, she speaks clearly and enunciates everything beautifully. I would absolutely 100% recommend this as an audiobook

The Story/Plot:  I think the synopsis tells you everything that you need to know about the plot!  This is a fantastically fast-paced book, starting with Mary Jekyll and gradually expanding to the full cast of characters as the women find each other. Along with each woman’s individual story, each of which were some of my favorite parts of the book, the crew is attempting to solve the Whitechapel murders.  These murders are re-written and worked in as part of the mad scientist plot!

The Characters: most of these characters are either completely new or Rewritten with their own personalities, but any fan of classic literature will hopefully appreciate them.  Characters worked from Jekyll & Hyde, Frankenstein, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Dracula, Jane Eyre, and more are here, but it’s not necessary to know the original stories to read this at all.

The characters really are an interesting group, from poisonous Beatrice to super strong Justine to catwoman Catherine, and Hyde’s daughter is absolutely hilarious.   They refuse to be limited by being women in Victorian London.  Holmes and Watson take on new personalities too!

The Mystery:  no spoilers, but since I’ve never been a big Sherlock Holmes reader it was interesting to see how his murder investigation unfolded. The women were also running investigations and although the why shortly became apparent, the who and big picture- not so much. I just think it’s really cool how Goes pulled all of these characters into one coherent novel

Content: I got nothing for ya here.  Someone pees in holy water and they inspect a few dead bodies

Overall:  I can definitely recommend this one for fans of classical retellings and Mysteries!

Categories
Adventure Fantasy

Book Review: To Unite A Realm by Mary Beesley

Thank you so much to Mary Beesley for the finished Kindle copy of her newest book, To Unite A Realm!  This is an enemies to lovers story set in a very low fantasy world, so if you like adult fantasy romance… Check it out!  I read the book in two sittings and have no regrets at all.

My main point to keep in mind: the plot and characters totally carry this book, so if those are your preferred elements, read on!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: To Unite A Realm
  • Series: ?
  • Author: Mary Beesley
  • Publisher & Release: Boroughs Publishing Group, November 2020
  • Length: 252 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ for those looking for a quick read!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Through a prism of lies…

Vera Wilson, youngest daughter to the leader of her country – a county conquered by the tyrannical Grays – agrees to marry Angus Gray, heir to the throne of The United Realm. She hates him and everything his clan represents. But she has to protect her family and believes this marriage will keep them alive – unlike the friends the Grays have already murdered, one right in front of Vera. After a hasty ceremony and an awful wedding night, Vera travels to Alta Glenn, home to the Grays.

At first, life there is excruciating, but over time she learns that everything she’s been taught, everything she believes about the Grays and their clan is nothing more than a web of well-constructed lies. Almost too late, Vera protects Alta Glenn from impending disaster and realizes her husband is the exact opposite of what she expected him to be. Now, she doesn’t know if it’s possible for him to ever love her

The Story: I think the plot/story itself is a great idea.   A marriage to promote a peace between the rulers of a realm and a conquered landholding, the only catch being that the Grays are murderous, terrible people.

We follow Vera very quickly through her  meeting, marriage, and travel to her new husband’s homeland.  Once there, she starts learning the truth about how things really are in the Realm…and surprisingly the Grays aren’t the bad guys.  Well. Not the worst anyway.  The levels of betrayal and intrigue keep the story moving.  There is a side plot of a disease being used as biological warfare, to which a vaccine is available but controlled by Vera’s father.

The book progresses them rapidly from enemies to… well, you’ll have to read to find out if they become lovers.

The World: honestly the world just makes no sense whatsoever, but the plot is moving too rapidly to need that information.   The Realm apparently consists of multiple countries or landholdings.  One has colleges and labs and science and trains, another had an army and weapons stockpile, one seemed to have marshland and maybe boats, and the leading one, Alta Glenn, seemed to be a Scottish highland retreat community with only horses for transportation and the occasional revolver, although they did have electricity.   I don’t know how the heck those people obtained or stayed in power!

The only magic in the book consists of Euns, magic birds that are probably my favorite thing in the book.  They are sarcastic, murdery, able to talk, and act as lie detectors.  They are essentially giant murder parrots.  Although this isn’t enough for me to label the book an epic fantasy at all, I’ll give it low fantasy.

The mix of modern and old just doesn’t always make sense, even if the geography is fairly well described and gorgeous.  What were the streets of Alta Glenn even made out of, and how big is the place? I kept picturing a village vs a large town with a main shopping street… I loved the views out the windows though and the journey through the mountain passes.

…and a horse pops out a baby and weans it in a 3 month time period.  The other thing I REALLY needed more info on was the disease and bio warfare aspect, what was this thing? Manmade? Lab made? Where did it come from? It’s way too big not to elaborate!

Like I said – just don’t think about the world and enjoy the story.  If I hadn’t started thinking this would have been an easy 5 star book for how quickly I devoured it.  The characters and story are meant to just carry the book

The characters: Vera is the daughter of the ruler of the scientific country.  She has a huge character arc, showing strength and wisdom way beyond her upbringing.  Watching her get stronger and meld into the Gray family was lovely.

Angus… I mean he’s a man, but he means well I think.  Once the miscommunications are cleared up he gets SO much nicer.

Bear! Bear and Naira are supposed to be evil and terrifying but I really just need y’all to read the book and meet them yourselves.  There are a whole host of amazing Alta Glenn side characters that give the book a found family feel.

Content: the book is fairly low on content.  There is sex, between a faithful married couple, that is mostly closed door. It’s not entirely consensual at the start but they agree that they made their choices.  Otherwise there is some bloodshed, poison, a burned animal, and miscarriage.

Overall: I read the book in one day, so what can I say.  Great characters and plot are 100% enough to carry the book through the world that it exists in. 

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: House of Dragons by Jessica Cluess

Wow, thank you so much to Random House  for the free advanced copy of House of Dragons in exchange for an honest review! This book was published in 2020 so it’s out there for anyone interested! I see the sequel is coming soon so maybe they still had a few arcs lying around to send out, but I’m happy to help generate buzz!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: House of Dragons
  • Series: House of Dragons, #1
  • Author: Jessica Cluess
  • Publisher & Release: Random House Books for Young Readers, May 2020
  • Length: 438 pg (arc was longer, not sure where the changes occurred)
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for all YA, fantasy fans

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

Five royal houses will hear the call to compete in the Trial for the dragon throne. A liar, a soldier, a servant, a thief, and a murderer will answer it. Who will win? Three Dark Crowns meets The Breakfast Club with DRAGONS.

When the Emperor dies, the five royal houses of Etrusia attend the Call, where one of their own will be selected to compete for the throne. It is always the oldest child, the one who has been preparing for years to compete in the Trial. But this year is different. This year these five outcasts will answer the call…

THE LIAR: Emilia must hide her dark magic or be put to death.

THE SOLDIER: Lucian is a warrior who has sworn to never lift a sword again.

THE SERVANT: Vespir is a dragon trainer whose skills alone will keep her in the game.

THE THIEF: Ajax knows that nothing is free–he must take what he wants.

THE MURDERER: Hyperia was born to rule and will stop at nothing to take her throne.

I finally found something to fill that Green Rider sized hole in my heart. This book is everything I wanted Crown of Feathers to be, except those books were terrible. Sentient dragon mounts!!

Lets start with…

The Characters: I was in love from the start with these characters. I thought it would be hard to keep track of five different points of view, but each competitor has such an extremely distinct voice and personality that it was quite easy.

From murderous, bloody Hyperia to dorky Ajax, smart and bookish but also incidentally deadly Emilia, conflicted Lucian, and brave Vespir, I just can’t get over what a random but amazing group they made.  They each excelled in certain challenges and it was interesting to watch them form tentative alliances, or not.  I felt like this was a pretty legit feeling group of teens put together.

Dragons are a huge part of the empire as well and each mount is a character in itself.  One of my favorite fantasy themes is sentient, bound mounts! The dragons are like big dogs and so friendly and funny, but also cunning when they need to be, and they hold some of the coolest moments of the book.

Imagery, setting, world building: Ever wonder what a huge golden hydra looks like, flying with the sun rising behind it and fire rumbling in it’s gullet? Let Cluess show you!  She has a knack for vivid imagery, including sights, smells, noise even.

There was a LOT of world building to cover but Cluess gives us what we need.  The reader learns why the Emperor Trial exists, the reason for it’s structure, the main characteristics of each kingdom, politics and the main alliances, and where the Priests and magic orders fit in.  The magic itself had a great backstory too, but in current practice it came out under developed.

Besides vivid images and background, we see architecture, food, a few little tribal customs and lore, history and more, enough to give the world those little personal touches that shows me the author cares.

The Plot/Story: The selection of the competitors seemed like a huge fluke, or was it? I liked the plot from the get-go, watching each character be summoned and then the book just never slowed down.  I liked the Trials too, each test had thoughtful elements and catered to the strength of one competitor or another. Each was interesting and showcased the various strengths and weaknesses of the individuals.  The characters weren’t perfect either, I loved seeing the flaws and cracks come out.

The story had a subplot of betrayal and scheming which is always a bonus.  I would love to share some quotes from the characters and images but I have no idea what made it into the final copy.

My literal only qualm:  Some of the language – mostly spoken by Ajax – brought in modern slang and expressions with threw off immersion, but only slightly. Not enough to dock a star because it was funny and made Ajax relatable where he wouldn’t be otherwise.  Speaking of Ajax, I liked that the book nodded to boy problems (sticky balls anyone?) too, to give the guys something to read.  I love when I can recommend YA books to everyone!

Gosh what a fast paced and great story though, plenty of scheming, brutality, friendships, laughs, and stabbings to keep me rapt for the entire 500+ pages.

That cover too, omg that cover.

Absolutely can NOT wait for the sequel, I requested it and have my fingers crossed!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Thank you so much to the publisher for my ARC of The Gilded Ones in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Gilded Ones
  • Series: Deathless, #1
  • Author: Namina Forna
  • Publisher & Release: Delacorte Press, 2/9,/21
  • Length: 422 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ probably for YA readers who don’t get too hung up on details

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

So… This is a nicely brutal tale about girls with demon heritage being tortured and bled for their Golden blood, then eventually murdered via the religious Death Mandate for their kind.  I was really excited to see religious purity in a book until I quickly realized it was an oppressive, not pious set of laws.

The women are relegated to male servants per the Infinite Wisdoms, until Deka is brought to the Capitol city to train in the emperor’s army of demons, alaki, which will defeat these Deathshrieks.  There is a huge reverse info dump at the end of the book but we don’t learn much about them, or the history of the empire until that time.

Quickly about the writing: anyone wanting to write first person present tense needs to read this book, she is one of the rare authors ( or has a beast editor) that doesn’t cross tenses!

Here is an itemized list of the issues I had with the world building, in no particular order:

1) The book started in a cold weather climate, but everyone is wearing delicate ceremonial dresses. Finally on the journey to the capitol the author remembers that it’s cold and they need furs

2)once the girls are brought to the Warthu Beta (training house) – things happen SUPER fast in the weapons and martial arts training. I’m supposed to believe that in two weeks they go from clueless to clever swordsmasters? Come on, show us some of that training. It’s like a ridiculous fast forward and magically they are all warriors.

3) so the Jatu recruits and female Alaki are supposed to pair up and be battle/life buddies. The whole book focuses on male to female/demon animosity – but- there is really no bonding at all shown between the pair, they just kind of become trusting fireside bffs one night after those mysterious training weeks pass

4) instalove – oh my gosh the kid back home called her pretty, ONE TIME, and later looking back she said she loved him 😂😂 I can almost ship Keita and Deka but we needed that bonding time that wasn’t shown

5) the plot and twists read VERY closely to Skyhunter which came out earlier this year – oh yes very monstrous monster bad guys, very inhuman indeed

6) dumb animal names – Ex: leopardan – it’s a fantasy world, either come up with fantasy names or call it a stupid blue leopard. I did like Ixa the shapeshifting not-cat though

7) if the One Nation is literally an entire hemisphere (I’m guessing Russia, Asia, irish&etc, and Africa), why so much land grabbing? The scale of land required to produce four separate races like that is essentially an entire hemisphere, now within one nation, and that should be shown on the map.

8) feeding off #7 – I would have liked a brief explanation of life during the rule of The Gilded Ones – is Forna omitting it because the entire history is a lie and life was terrible back then? Or are we supposed to just believe that they were fair/awesome rulers and take it at face value? The jatu did manage to unite an entire hemisphere though, the goddesses might have created a women’s world with oppressed men for all we know, and they could have been right to fight back. Either way, uniting a whole hemisphere under one nation is pretty impressive and not addressing this is a huge plot hole.

9) lack of setting – I get that describing sand dunes is stupid but most of the descriptions were of people and animals. What about the jungle, the common areas, even the food? Some scenes had scents described. Setting is what connects to the atmosphere…of which there wasn’t much of one.

I mean it’s not even a bad story, or a story you read every day. I like the idea of torturing someone to death nine times and teaching them to survive, but these YA authors aren’t thinking their worlds through very well and I don’t think that ‘character driven’ OR that it’s a Young Adult book is a good excuse not to at least cover world building basics. Everything I addressed up there could have been fixed without much extra page space.

The good things included female friendships, teachers (whose potential were mostly wasted as no lessons were really shown), shapeshifting pets, snarky horse-people, and… A not really happy ending. It’s an ending fitting for the story even though it got a little sappy for the tone leading up to it.

I did like the main group of girls too, Britta and Belcalis were about as different as two people can get and they still made a fast group of allies, friends with Deka. There’s an unconventional amount of grimdark suffering and it’s kind of terrific.

Overall? Honestly not a bad read just poorly executed at times. Could be a standalone but there’s at least one more book coming. It releases 2/9, and I am pretty neutral on recommending it as the good story and the lack of world building make it a wash. I’ll read the next one though.

Categories
Fantasy Historical Fiction

ARC Review: Knight’s Ransom by Jeff Wheeler

Thank you so much to 47North via NetGalley for my digital arc of Knight’s Ransom!!

Wheeler has finally done it!  It seems like he took every little bit of constructive criticism from the first Kingfountain trilogies, chewed it over while he wrote something different, then came back and wrote an absolutely amazing first novel in this new series!

I just freaking love the world of Kingfountain and it’s lore and magic, and was so psyched to read this as an ARC (before obviously preordering it) heheh.  I have read them all, including the books following Ankorette, but don’t think it’s necessary to read them in order to start here, although you’ll miss some Easter Eggs.

Quick Facts: 

  • Title: Knight’s Ransom
  • Series: The First Argentines, #1
  • Author: Jeff Wheeler
  • Publisher & Release: 47North, 1/26/21
  • Length: 431pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for fans of knights, clean reads, epic worlds with a tad of magic

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. A brutal war of succession has plunged the court of Kingfountain into a power struggle between a charitable king who took the crown unlawfully and his ambitious rival, Devon Argentine. The balance of power between the two men hinges on the fate of a young boy ensnared in this courtly intrigue. A boy befittingly nicknamed Ransom.

When the Argentine family finally rules, Ransom must make his own way in the world. Opportunities open and shut before him as he journeys along the path to knighthood, blind to a shadowy conspiracy of jealousy and revenge. Securing his place will not be easy, nor will winning the affection of Lady Claire de Murrow, a fiery young heiress from an unpredictably mad kingdom.

Ransom interrupts an abduction plot targeting the Queen of Ceredigion and earns a position in service to her son, the firstborn of the new Argentine dynasty. But conflict and treachery threaten the family, and Ransom must also come to understand and hone his burgeoning powers—abilities that involve more than his mastery with a blade and that make him as much a target as his lord.

This is such a hard review to write because I just want to gush, I mean I had over a page of notes and highlights 😂

Ransom and Claire remind me so much of Owen and Evie, except they’re more age appropriate and Claire is an absolute firecracker.  They are better childhood characters as well, because Wheeler finally admits that he can’t write age appropriate kids so they grow up pretty quickly, with the book occuring mainly in Ransom’s 20s.

So Polidoro Urbini is back, telling the history of the first Argentine kings.  He finds Claire de Murrow’s journal and it becomes the framework of the story, then fleshed out by current events.

When Devon Argentine takes the throne of Ceredigion, the child hostages of the prior ruler get to go home.  For Ransom, that means trying to become a Knight in his uncle’s household.  Training and warhorses and tournaments, poor choices and hard life lessons including naivety and betrayal mark Ransom’s path to Knighthood.

Could he possibly be Fountain Blessed?  I found it shocking that he hadn’t heard enough legends to put two and two together, but his fighting prowess is unbelievable and it makes him a target.

Without spending hours gushing about individual battles, defeats, more hard lessons, and Ransom’s resilience … He eventually ends up in the service of Argentine’s heir, which is a mixed blessing and curse.

There is an absolutely absorbing plot to overthrow Devon the Elder, and more poor life choices which eventually leads Ransom to, I assume, in book 2 take the pilgrimage to find out if he is indeed blessed by the lady of the fountain.

There is a fountain blessed assassin out and about as well, and it’s crazy because we have no idea who she is or who she is working for.  The line of poisoners is a pretty heavy storyline in the Kingfountain books so she’ll have a bigger part in the coming books.

Pulling from Merlin and Arthur and the Lady of the Lake, Kingfountain takes some of it’s magic and lore from those ancient tales.   Of course there is one magic Wizr board in the story, plus all the legends and lore of Kingfountain (and now Legault, thanks to Claire), that make Wheeler’s world feel so real and immersive.

The characters make it feel real too, take the Argentines: yes they are the royal family but they love and bicker and break like anyone else.  Ransoms Uncle and all the wiser, older lords and commanders, I can’t even list all the great characters.  It feels even realer too that Ransom has such a high standard of Knight’s honor, so the courtship with Claire becomes a side story that he doesn’t think is achievable.

But it’s so sweet how he tiptoes.  Who knows if Wheeler will ever put them together or not, he is 50/50 with OTP pairings and Kingfountain never seems to work that way.

Layers upon layers of betrayals and intrigue and lore make Kingfountain what it is.  I have to mention the Queen’s exile to her tower too, since it becomes such an important landmark in the later books and I loved seeing some of the origins.

Yes please sign me up for more riding alongside Ransom, now one of the richest men in the country after multiple knight’s tournament wins.   I can’t wait to jump into his pilgrimage next and then see where the world takes us ❤

Let me say one more time too – WHEELER WRITES CLEAN FANTASY!! Language and sexual situations (both rare in his books) are kept G-rated, with some sad deaths and  knightly battles but I would happily hand any one of his books to a reader of any age group

Out 1/26 from 47North, thank you again for my early read!

Categories
Fantasy Fiction Middle Grade Paranormal

My First Verse! ARC Review: The Seventh Raven by David Elliot

I hope everyone had a great holiday!  I started my next NetGalley read on Christmas eve and found it to be a short fairytale retelling… In verse!  Was not ready for that but I enjoyed it quite a bit regardless

Thank you so much to HMH Books for Young Readers via NetGalley for the eARC of The Seventh Raven in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Seventh Raven
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: David Elliot
  • Publisher& Release: HMH Books for Young Readers, March 16. 3021
  • Length – 172 pg (I read it in 2 hours though)
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 for fans of verse?

Here is the description from Amazon:

Best-selling author David Elliott examines the timeless themes of balance, transformation, and restoration in this evocative tale about a girl who will stop at nothing to reverse a curse that turned her seven brothers into ravens. 

And these are the sons
Of good Jack and good Jane
The eldest is Jack
And the next one is Jack
And the third one’s called Jack
And the fourth’s known as Jack
And the fifth says he’s Jack
And they call the sixth Jack
But the seventh’s not Jack
The seventh is Robyn

And this is his story

When Robyn and his brothers are turned into ravens through the work of an unlucky curse, a sister is their only hope to become human again. Though she’s never met her brothers, April will stop at nothing to restore their humanity. But what about Robyn, who always felt a greater affinity to the air than to the earth-bound lives of his family?

David Elliott’s latest novel in verse explores the unintended consequences of our actions, no matter our intentions, and is filled with powerful, timeless messages teased from a Grimms’ fairy tale. Black-and-white illustrations throughout by Rovina Cai.

I didn’t realize this book was going to be in verse, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. I quickly found myself drawn into Elliot’s words and rhymes and verse. I by no means have any idea how verse is “supposed” to read, but just from reading it aloud in my head, I felt like the book has a really readable flow and a rhythm and rhymes that sounded good!

The afterword about each character having their own form of poetry was super interesting.  The different forms gave each character a unique voice within the verse.

I also liked how the novel followed the fairytale format of “get in, get out, tell the story.” It is a quick read that is a modern retelling of The Seven Ravens, which appeared in The Brothers Grimm. The plot is pretty interesting, a sister trying to save her seven brothers from a curse. The different. points of view helped move the story along, with the various styles of verse making each unique.  April persevered through a lot of hardship to finally find the mountain of glass where the brothers were being held.

Plus the artwork inside looked really great from what I saw so far.  I love the cover too, how gorgeous is that!

If anything I think the formatting suffered in the early electronic version but I would love to see a finished copy.

I would totally recommend for fans of fairy tales and fans of books in verse!  It is out in Mid March so add it to your TBR now!

Categories
Fantasy Fiction

Book Review: The Part About the Dragon Was Mostly True

Thank you to the Parliament House for having me on the book tour for The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True! All opinions are my own!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True
  • Series: Heloise the Bard, #1
  • Author: Sean Gibson
  • Publisher & Release: The Parliament House, Dec. 15th 2020
  • Length: 308 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ yes for comedy/fantasy fans

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

Sure, you think you know the story of the fearsome red dragon, Dragonia. How it terrorized the village of Skendrick until a brave band of heroes answered the noble villagers’ call for aid. How nothing could stop those courageous souls from facing down the dragon. How they emerged victorious and laden with treasure.

But, even in a world filled with epic adventures and tales of derring-do, where dragons, goblins, and unlicensed prestidigitators run amok, legendary heroes don’t always know what they’re doing. Sometimes they’re clueless. Sometimes beleaguered townsfolk are more hapless than helpless. And orcs? They’re not always assholes, and sometimes they don’t actually want to eat your children. Heloise the Bard, Erithea’s most renowned storyteller (at least, to hear her tell it), is here to set the record straight.

See, it turns out adventuring isn’t easy, and true heroism is as rare as an articulate villager. Having spent decades propagating this particular myth (which, incidentally, she wrote), she’s finally able to tell the real story-for which she just so happened to have a front-row seat.

Welcome to Erithea. I hope you brought a change of undergarments-things are going to get messy

This is a comedic fantasy, from what I can see it actually started as a create your own adventure in a GoodReads group, then turned into a book! So Heloise the Bard is telling the epic tale of a band of adventurers that slayed the terrible Dragonia, who terrorizes the village of Skendrick…

.. Well, kind of.  This book is her account of what *actually* happened.  It is a look at the less glamorous parts of adventuring including vegetable eating dragons, pooping in swamps, rock giant rectums, orc hookups, idiotic peasants … Yeah you get the point hahahah.

The characters were a mixed group. There is an overly-foul mouthed rat wizard, a rock giant, a half elf, a half halfling-half dwarf, and a full elf.  They are each pretty touchy and incompetent at times.  I liked the rock giant the most, and found Heloise super annoying! She just was not funny to me.  The rest were!

Some parts were really quite hilarious, others not so much.  The only other thing I have read like it is Kevin Hearne’s Kill the Farm Boy series, which was a bit more clever and had more puns.  Heloise uses a lot more toilet humor than dry wit.  It is definitely not a boring book though, regardless.  I would recommend for fantasy fans looking for a laugh, or those searching along the lines of Monty Python.

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Book Review: Heartmender by V. Romas Burton

Heartmender is a book that I saw making it’s Instagram rounds when the sequel came out this fall, from the same publisher as Dragon Blood!  I am all about clean reading books with wholesome messages, so I really want to thank Monster Ivy Publishing for taking on and publishing these awesome books!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Heartmender
  • Series: Heartmender, #1
  • Author: V. Romas Burton
  • Publisher & Release: Monster Ivy Publishing, September 2019
  • Length: 338
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟⚡ for essentially everyone

Here is the description from GoodReads:

In the land of Barracks, the economy thrives on the barter of their citizens’ most precious commodity—a human heart. Each year, the Heart Reign festival is thrown for those who have become of age to trade their hearts for their deepest desires. And this year is Adelaide Tye’s year to trade.

After despising Heart Reign for years, Addie endures her Extraction and discovers that her heart isn’t gray and dying, like all other hearts in Barracks, but bright red, alive, and teeming with power.

With a warning from the extractor of hearts, Addie rushes through Heart Reign to make her choice—trade her heart to Schism, the monster who took her brother years before, or go in search of the Mender—a mythical man said to purify hearts and save her own heart. Either decision will rip her away from the one man who has always been by her side.

Knowing there is only one real choice to make, Addie jumps through Schism’s red door and is thrust into a dark and dangerous realm where she is faced with making a trade she may not survive.

The story: Heartmender is about a world where people literally trade their hearts for just about anything. Wealth, beauty, love, clothes -they sell their souls for their greatest desire. One year, a monster comes to the town and offers a new trade: your heart, for an unknown choice. Addie’s brother jumps at this choice, for unknown reasons, and her life drastically changes.

The world: I think this is a really well built world. Weather, history, geography, myths and legends, food, social structure: it’s all there. Heart reign is well explained and I really, really absolutely love how the monster’s realm is described and crafted.

It pained me to dock any part of a star but I eventually had to, for something I call “world plausibility.” At first I joked that no one can live without a heart, and Burton laughed and said “all the heart surgery goes under ‘magic’.” I can deal with that, but it still has to be world plausible – like maybe the citizens have a second pacemaker or another organ that keeps them alive. Star Trek was really famously good at making bizarre medical stuff world plausible.

Characters: I liked Addie and her anxiety, and watching her becoming more confident as her choices were affirmed throughout the novel. Brave, selfless, loving, conflicted, loyal – all words to describe Addie. Claire and Silas seemed good characters too, and there were so many little mysteries to solve about them all that advanced as the story went on.

Christ/Life allegories: First off, the book is not preachy at all, although the Christ/Life allegories are hard to miss. As Addie travels through Schism’s realm, she has to overcome seven doors full of temptations and obstacles, that are clearly the seven deadly sins. Those who succumb to the temptations (gluttony, lust, etc) turn into terrible monsters. There are also multiple usages of darkness and light, the lantern/guide on Addie’s path, and asking for help when it’s needed. In the afterward, Burton makes note that sometimes the light may only show you a few steps at a time, but it never fully goes away.

The book’s main theme seems to be about choice, and it resonates. There is always a choice and one must consciously make the choice to continue moving forward. Regarding more doors and choices and Addie’s fears, my favorite quote of the novel is:

“Not all doors lead to darkness”

-The Heartmender

My personal takeaway: I struggle a lot with the outcomes of my life choices and sometimes find anxiety a barrier to making further choices, and I needed that message in my life. Addie has similar struggles with anxiety and moving forwards at times. Sometimes one’s choices DO lead to light and positive outcomes, and it’s better to keep fighting than to succumb to whatever temptation is keeping one stagnant or afraid.

Anyway – I digress – overall, this is definitely a great fantasy read with a largely wholesome message. I really can’t wait to read on to book 2 and get into the more questy, uniting the realm part of the storyline!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Book Review: Dragon Blood by Mary Beesley

Thank you so much to Monster Ivy Publishing for my gorgeous finished copy of Dragon Blood in exchange for an honest review! I’m so happy to have connected with a publisher that focuses on clean reads and can’t wait to read and share more of their books!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Dragon Blood
  • Series: Draco Sang Trilogy, #1
  • Author: Mary Beesley
  • Publisher & Release: Monster Ivy Publishing, November 2020
  • Length: 416 Pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 Yes!

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Cal, a hungry sixteen-year-old sick of mining the sand, wants to fit in and make his ma proud, but instead, his violent tendencies bring shame – And the truth. He’s the son of a Draco Sang. Carriers of the Dragon’s blood, the Draco Sang transform into half human, half beast, as they mature into adults. And if Cal can’t control the dark impulses of his dragon blood, he’ll grow into a man-beast – and he’ll be hunted.

Ferth, son of a Draco Sang chief and last of his class to grow claws, needs to prove his worth to his father, or he’ll be sent to the slave house. Hiding his human heart, he joins the army headed south to conquer the fertile human lands.

Neither brother feels they belong. Cal is human, fighting against becoming a beastly Draco Sang, while Ferth is struggling to push back his humanity and transform into a worthy Draco warrior.

Before ever meeting in open battle, Ferth is sent to kill Cal. But when he learns they are brothers, he must decide which loyalty is stronger, blood or country. And whether to finally give in to his humanity.

The story/plot:  This is an amazing story of two brothers on either side of a war, and the powers of nature vs nurture in one’s upbringing. I think the synopsis is a little spoilery – but it didn’t affect my reading, enjoyment, or surprise as I went along.  One of my favorite tropes is when siblings are on opposite sides of a war, so it did entice me to read the book originally.  Trust me, you know about as much as the brothers do as the book goes along.  The plot kept moving at a steady pace, the chapters were perfect lengths, and I really enjoyed the story in general.

The World: this is a young adult fantasy world where the Northern race, the Draco Sang, have animal personas. Similar to His Dark Materials, the more “human” Draco Sang have an animal partner, where the “beast” ones turn into something like the chimaera from Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  I promise you will actually like these White Wolves though.  To Cal and the humans on one side of the war, the Draco Sang are the monsters, the enemy. To Ferth and the rest of the Dragon descendents, the humans are weak, slaves, ripe to be conquered, and the Sang who reject their inner beast are at the highest level of blasphemy.

As well as a well developed conflict to set the stage for war, the world itself was so well developed.  The seasons change, the terrain is varied and well described.  I felt like I had a good handle on the layout and geography and climate.  There is food, camp roles, military strategy, wildlife, and many real life issues that deepen the level of world immersion.

The characters: I just can’t get over how well these characters are crafted and how each one transforms as their blood and family ties become less of a mystery. Cal isn’t meant to be liked at first, and Ferth is more of a lame but good guy, and they both quickly grew on me.  The inner conflicts are real and made sense, grappling with humanity vs inner beast.  It is an interesting study in nature vs nurture, with each brother having to reconcile his nature, his blood, with his own conscience, humanity, and upbringing. The secondary characters are a fully developed (but not overkilled) lot as well, and I love them. I know and hope we will be seeing a lot more of them in book two.

There is plenty of banter and loss and closeness and found family elements within Cal’s army unit.  I recently saw an Instagram question about which crew you would spend Christmas with? I would totally spend it with Cal, Ferth, his close little unit, the baby, and the entire military family.  It was just so heartwarming at the end.

And WHAT A BOLD ENDING!! I LOVE IT! No spoilers but oh my gosh I can’t wait for book 2 to come out!

Overall:  this is a great fantasy novel and it is entirely, completely appropriate for the young adult reading level. I also think the adults can enjoy it with no problem as I certainly did! I would totally recommend to anybody with even the slightest interest in the novel so far and for those seeking clean reads. Thank you so much again to Monster Ivy for my copy!

Categories
Fantasy Middle Grade

ARC Review: White Fox by Chen Jiatong (tr. Jennifer Feeley)

Thank you so much to Chicken House for my advanced copy in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: White Fox
  • Series: White Fox, #1
  • Author: Chen Jiatong (translator: Jennifer Feeley
  • Publisher & Release: Chicken House, October 2020
  • Length: 288 Pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for middle graders and fans of animal protagonists!

This is such a great book for middle graders. Dilah, an adolescent fox with no friends, sets off on a quest after his parents die. All he has is a moonshine gem and some cryptic instructions, and his mother’s last words to send him on his way!

Along the journey Dilah meets some unlikely friends – a seal, weasel, horse, and rabbit. Each new friend shows him something about friendship and eventually two of them join the adventure. Ankel is a clever weasel who wants to learn everything and become a scholar, while Little Bean is a rabbit that has a great interest in medicine. The main message of the book seems to be to value your friends and their contributions.

Additionally Dilah learns that everything in the world isn’t so black and white as he originally thought. Of course he wants to become a human – but there are also very evil humans as well as the good ones. There are also bad animals.

The cover art is just beautiful and there are many great illustrations along the way too.  They are such cute drawings and I love foxes anyway.  I will break here to say that while the book is translated, it doesn’t feel choppy or difficult to me at all.  I believe that the version coming out in October is a hardcover, while a paperback has been available in the states since last year.

Anyway – ending on a bit of a cliffhanger, I totally think that middle graders will love this book.  I loved it and will be interested when the next installment releases for sure.  Content is appropriate but does mention parental death, someone is shot, and an animal is accidentally poisoned.

Do you love animal protagonists too?  Can you recommend any good translated works?  Thanks for reading along with me!