Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves

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Title: Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves
Published: March 28th 2017 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Page Count: 416
Where’d I Get It: Physical Arc via Publisher
Rating: 2 stars

Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.

As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romanies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever.

A copy of this showed up at my house from the publisher, quite the surprise. I was pretty excited. Unfortunately, the book itself didn’t quite live up to that excitement. 

It started off really slow. Anna Arden is of the elite class, and the rest of her family are magic users, or Luminate. For some reason, Anna herself doesn’t seem to have the magic, and has been labeled Barren by the council. The book starts off with her being head over hills for this dude, flirting with him unchaperoned in a room of the house, kissing him with fervor in a dark garden during a party. That’s also not the only boy in the book she kisses. Her cousin plants one on her mouth and flusters her, plus her impending romance with Gábor ensures that he kisses her more than once.

The plot actually starts when Anna destroys her sister’s debut into society by literally warping and squashing her coming out spell, the spell that would show her ability and get her education, job and marriage prospects. Good job there, Anna. Therefore, in order to wait for this scandal to blow over, Anna is sent to Hungary with her grandma.

Most of the characters in this book have alarmingly complicated names, and some are actual historical figures. We’re thrown into a Hungary in the midst of a rebellion, where the people want to rule themselves, and not be ruled by their magical overlords. The Circle holds all the magic, and only piecemeals it out to the rich and powerful, even then limiting how much they can use. Those born poor but adept at magic are not ever given the chance to wield it.

One bit of spooky prose, and Anna finds herself hanging out with some Romani. She makes friends with one of the Romani boys, Gábor, and observes that they know how to do magic without the need of the Circle’s ceremony to awaken magic. She asks him to teach her, and he originally says no, eventually giving in and teaching her magic. Anna can’t even master the Romani magic, unable to grasp even the basics of it. She does, however, break any spells cast near her, setting part of the Romani camp on fire, to which they respond by banishing Gábor and packing up and leaving.

From the beginning of the book, the rebellion has wanted Anna to destroy the Binding that keeps magic for the rich, return magic to the masses. Gábor doesn’t want her to, but literally everyone else in the book is 100% on board with this plan, unless they’re rich and entitled. So, for the rest of the book, Anna spends most of the time going into the dimension of the binding and deciding if she’s going to possibly break the spell or not. The thing is, the binding is full of unearthly creatures, creatures that are full of malice, and some that are full of grace and gifts, and Anna has to decide if she wants to open that Pandora’s box, as well as the one that would allow people untrained in magic to use it, potentially killing themselves without proper guidance as the magic eats them from the inside.

The rebellion continues unabated as Anna makes her choice, and also learns that she’s literally the most super special of special people out there, which was hinted at in the beginning of the book but not confirmed until the book was almost over. So far, it’s not too Mary Sue-ish, but also seems easy to get around now that she knows how to do so?

Honestly, knowing nothing of any Hungarian rebellions, I have nothing to say on that aspect. I do know that the book itself was just so-so for me. It moved along so slow and even when some exciting things happened, it had that problem where the prose was so flowery, that it didn’t convey much urgency and so even the exciting parts of the book were set on that same plodding word path as the entire rest of the book. Whether she was sitting talking to her grandma or stabbing someone, the tone was the same, so I never sensed any urgency or really connected with anything that was happening.

When our Worlds Collide by Kellie Wallace [Review]

 

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Title: When our Worlds Collide by Kellie Wallace
Published: January 3rd 2017 by Limitless Publishing
Page Count: 282
Where’d I Get It: Quirky Blind Date (eARC)
Rating: 2 stars

As one city’s fate hangs in the balance, a woman’s destiny is about to be determined…

Amira Frost is forced to watch her home be invaded by the warmonger state, Argos. Divided into multiple class zones, the city’s once peaceful existence is threatened.
When an opportunity arises for Amira to get close to the General, she accepts with the hope that her new position as his personal food taster can help reclaim the municipality, but she is pulled deeper into his regime than she initially anticipated.

For every controlling force, a resistance is born…

The Ravens’ elusive leader, Grayson Roe, has one goal—to lead the resistance to victory against the barbaric military. Dedicated and ruthless, he sets out to use Amira to their advantage by offering her a proposal she’s unable to refuse.
Nothing will stop him from regaining control over his city and its people—not even the dark haired beauty whose loyalty seems questionable.

A city threatens to fall and a decision needs to be made…

As the battle rages, Amira is caught between two opposing forces and reevaluates her allegiance when her loyalty is tested. Her home is under attack, her friends and family are dying, and she is faced with a grueling decision that has the power to save or bring down an entire city.

When worlds collide, she must choose between saving her home or surrendering to the one man who threatens to destroy it all—including her.

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I participated this month in something called Quirky Blind Date with A Book, hosted by The Quirky Bibliophile and helped by one of my buddies from that time we used to go to Wizard Rock stuff, The Unapologetic Book Addict . Jenn was actually the one to introduce me to it and this is my first month participating. The basic premise is you get several sentence long descriptions of books and pick one, and then you get that book for an honest review. It’s a great idea, honestly, and a fun way to be introduced to indie authors.

Okay, as for the book itself. Let’s see if I can get out a review that makes sense, because golly, I think I’m coming down with something.

Our main character’s name is Amira, the seaside country she lives in has been overtaken by a regime of Argos soldiers. The leader of these soldiers, General Knox, a large man who kills on a whim, occupies a hastily built complex with the rest of his soldiers. Amira’s family, her father working in government, her mother hating the occupation and the government for allowing it, and her little brother, live in a well to do area well above a regular station for Amira’s father’s line of work. When this is pointed out to Amira, she’s also given the choice to become a food taster for the General or see her family moved to the slums.

She of course accepts, because how could you not, and is joined by three other girls as food tasters for the General to make sure his meals aren’t sabotaged. When tasting goes awry, Amira is whisked away unexpectedly to be General Knox’s new secretary. From there she’s whisked even farther, recruited by Grayson Roe, leader of the resistance to ferry information and poison General Knox.

The book continues, with Amira debating to herself about killing a man, while General Knox tries to actively pursue her for a liaison. This is where I feel the book starts getting rushed and falls apart. There’s a lot to tell and characters’ motivations, feelings, and general traits get lost in the jumble.

Amira finds herself in relationships with both men, and learns things about them that neither seem to sway her feelings one way or another, and the eventual fights that break out are inconsequential and go exactly the way you think they should.

Case and point for this characterization issue. At the beginning of the book it’s clear that Meg, Grayson Roe’s second in command, is smitten with him. As the book progresses, you’re just supposed to remember that without being intricately told, and the subsequent short scenes become muddled and awkward. When Meg confronts Roe about Amira, nude, basically throwing herself at him, it sounds hollow and weak. Grayson dismisses her within the paragraph. When Meg then tries to kill Amira to get her love, she is no longer painted as the friend-zoned, spurned lover, but just another plot obstacle that is there to try and hamper Amira.

General Knox also suffers from this, painted as a hard man who kills anyone who defies him, he finds Amira after the ultimate betrayal and only kind of chokes her out, never finishes her off. I feel like he would, were he not forced to spare her via plot.

The sex scenes in this book were awkward at best. I’ve read some clinically bad, some euphemistically lacking, and somewhere the author clearly needs a thesaurus and to stop using ‘spilling’, but these were straddling the line between 50s pan away and an actual sex scene and seemed to “blah, blah, blah” and pick up whenever the author so choose. I’m still unsure if anyone but Knox orgasmed (once for sure) and the flowery imagery got so jumbled at points that in one scene I wasn’t sure if Greyson Roe was just humping her leg or what, because she left abruptly, but I’m unsure at which point during the sexytimes?

Anyway, I guess I just expected a lot more from this book and didn’t get it. It does have a lot of potential. Maybe if it was more than one book? Maybe if it were longer? It didn’t even reach 300 pages. I don’t know. As is, it didn’t do it for me.

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages [Review]

31372178Title: Passing Strange by Ellen Klages
Published: January 24th 2017 by Tor
Page Count: 224
Where’d I Get It: Netgalley (eARC)
Rating: 5 stars

San Francisco in 1940 is a haven for the unconventional. Tourists flock to the cities within the city: the Magic City of the World’s Fair on an island created of artifice and illusion; the forbidden city of Chinatown, a separate, alien world of exotic food and nightclubs that offer “authentic” experiences, straight from the pages of the pulps; and the twilight world of forbidden love, where outcasts from conventional society can meet.

Six women find their lives as tangled with each other’s as they are with the city they call home. They discover love and danger on the borders where mystery, science, and art intersect.

Inspired by the pulps, film noir, and screwball comedy, Passing Strange is a story as unusual and complex as San Francisco itself from World Fantasy Award winning author Ellen Klages.

Gosh, all right. Wow. This novella really blew me away. The opening was fantastic and sets the scene. An old Chinese woman brings a chalk “painting” to a seller, claiming it’s the last work of a highly sought after artist. It’s under glass, undisturbed for many years, the delicate medium pristine and intact.

And then we’re thrown back into the past. 1940’s San Francisco, into the lives of several ladies. They’re all extremely sapphic, and we’re introduced to that world. There’s a bar that caters to the women, known as a tourist destination, that one of our main characters, Emily, works in, singing in her heart out in her rakish clothing.

Our other main character, Haskel, is the artist whose painting is so desired in the future. What’s funny, is I completely misgendered her upon her first introduction as the artist in question. I assume that was expected by the author, as the seller in question used a lot of he pronouns, while Helen, the old Chinese woman did not.

Haskel meets Emily at the bar mentioned above, drawn to her singing. There’s an altercation at the bar, and the brutish, piano playing woman is removed for disobeying the laws San Franscico set about how a woman should dress and behave. Turns out, she’s Emily’s roommate, and Emily doesn’t want to go back there without the other woman present. Haskel offers Emily a place to stay, and so begins their relationship.

There’s plenty of adorable moments to be had over the next several pages. The women go on romantic dates, and you can almost feel the love seeping off the page. It’s really well done. I commend the author for that. I could actually feel how much the characters cared about each other, and so when the climax of the story appeared, I was rooting for them like crazy.

On one of their dates, Haskel and Emily get adventurous, and Emily dresses up as a man. It just so happens that Haskel’s soon to be ex-husband is in town. Really, they were only missing the paperwork, it’s not like the man was around a lot. He was also super abusive and deserved what was coming to him. The confrontation ends poorly, and the women have nowhere to really turn without getting in trouble for some aspect of their existence.

This is where the magical element seeps in, pretty much the last portion of the story. It’s a sweeping one, fully immersive, and it carries until the end. The novella itself is pretty much perfect. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants a good romance, a great climax, and some interesting characters. Hell, I’ve already attempted to recommend it to several people. So we’ll see if they read it. It was really just such a great pick me up after the crazy whirlwind week of news. Even in the low parts of this book, there was hope, and that’s something I needed right now.

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire [Review]

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Title: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire
Published: January 10th 2017 by Tor
Page Count: 183
Where’d I Get It: Purchase (ebook)
Rating: 4.5 stars

When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

This is a short novella, barely topping 200 pages. Still, it had enough breadth and depth for a full length novel, and I find myself wishing there was more to it. Needless to say, Seanan McGuire has captivated me again. I should really go through and mow down her bibliography. I always find myself wavering, afraid to commit and find myself without any more of her writing to devour. Seriously, though, I should just do it.

This story in particular centers around ghosts, which was perfect timing because my friends were in the midst of starting a ghost podcast, so ghosts were on the brain and in the air or whatever analogy you want to put in there, because ghosts are nebulous creatures that can’t be defined by simple worldly analogies.

Jenna is a ghost who died too soon. This puts ghosts into a kind of purgatory until they can steal time from the living enough to reach their death day, in which case they pass over. She died mourning her sister, Patty’s, death, a suicide she thought she should have been able to prevent or notice. As such, she spends her time working at a suicide prevention hotline, ‘earning’ her time and assuaging her morals by preventing other deaths and other grieving families.

She also lives in an apartment full of cats that are wicked old. It’s the Old Friends Senior Cat Sanctuary and it was perfect and precious and immediately made me fall in love with Jenna. She also regularly goes and gets coffee at the local diner, run by a witch with a guitar. The witch gleans her magical influence from corn, which is, if you follow Seanan on Tumblr, possibly the most Seanan McGuire thing to ever exist in one of her books. Still, mysterious corn is always a fun thing to consider, and the witch with the corn was more than just a one trick pony.

There’s a pile of other assorted side characters, including a ghost landlady who was stereotypically New York, and her parrot. There was also a nerd ghost who haunted the comic book shop in the neighborhood, and a witch whose powers came from the rats in the city. Overall a diverse cast of characters, but I expect nothing less.

The plot itself moves at a fast clip once it starts. Ghosts in the city are missing. Someone is stealing them and using them as a veritable fountain of youth. Jenna is forced to confront both the threat and her past in the process and helps force her out of her listless funk of existing.

I will admit I cried and everything about the book that got me to that point was great. I would wholly recommend it.

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton [Review]

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Title: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Published: March 8th 2016 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Page Count: 314
Where’d I Get It: Purchase (ebook)
Rating: 4 stars

She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from.

Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him… or that he’d help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.

I honestly wasn’t expecting a lot from this book. A lot of the time when a YA novel is loved by everyone, I tend to be the black sheep. I read it anyway. I got about halfway through and set it down because I found Jin to be insufferable and the plot wasn’t moving. Once I picked it back up, though, I finished over the course of the next couple hours.

Yeah, okay. It was good despite itself. Despite the love interest. Despite the Mary Sue surprise. It kept my interest and made me want more. When does the next one come out? Beginning of March? Okay, that’s not so bad. I probably would have thrown something if it wasn’t out until deep fall.

Our main character, Amani, lives in a desert kingdom, or like the desert outskirts of a kingdom? I wasn’t really sure there. Turns out setting a book down halfway through makes you a bit iffy on the historical details. She lives in a town that manufactures guns, and she herself is quite a good shot with a weapon. Attempting to use that to her advantage, she’s attempting to get out of her possible marriage to her uncle (ew), and a society that sees women as mere possessions of the men they live with.

A series of mishaps and one unlawful yet mysterious stranger later, Amani finds herself leaving town on the back of one of the sundry of mythical beasts that roam the desert. Jin, the accompanying stranger, annoyed me for the first half of the book. I was honestly immensely happy when Amani rid herself of him and trekked off on her own. There’s not many YA novels that would do that. Unfortunately, and where I basically rage quit the book, Jin just happened to catch up to her. I get it, there’s one train to anywhere cool, but having literally all of Amani’s conflicts on it at once got a little tedious.

Okay, now, after this point, the train escape and the endless desert wandering, is where the book gets good. We’re opened up to a whole slew of secondary characters all of who have tons more backstory and motivation than Jin. Jin’s backstory is a bit meh, but we’ve got a bad ass warrior woman and some half-Djinn children who can do sundries of magical feats. The jovial nature and jocularity of the group just made me love them all that much more. I mean, the ones who were involved. Those shape-shifting folks? Still have no idea if they do anything but hang around naked and shape shift.

The titled character, the Rebel Prince, had some motivation, but it wasn’t like that much motivation. Mostly it just seemed like whoops there’s a revolution. He even stated at one point that he got a tattoo one drunk evening and now it’s the symbol of the revolution. He seems to be very much in the middle of Katniss Everdeen face of the revolution avalanche, despite any wishes he might have had on his own. I mean, I don’t really understand the motivations of any of the factions in this book, really. There’s three of them and that doesn’t really help. I get that one is weirdly prejudiced against magic. Then the other two, meh? They want to be in charge or they want everyone to be happy? Is that right? I don’t know. It was all sort of flim-flam anyway.

Past this point, the book is a lot of twists and turns and random deaths. Even Amani being a surprise Mary Sue didn’t hurt the storyline all that much. It was presented in such a way that it worked out and made sense in the end.

One can only hope the second book keeps with the momentum of the last half of the first and doesn’t fall into the sophomore slump that I see so much with YA novels that are set as trilogies. Fingers crossed! I guess we’ll find out when we get to March.

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley [Review]

Title: The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley
Published: January 14th 2014 by Tor Books
Page Count: 480
Where’d I Get It: Purchase (ebook)
Rating: 4 stars

The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again . . .

The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy.

His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation.

Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move?

I will be the first to admit that this book was set down multiple times and picked up multiple times literally months apart. I read to my husband a lot when he’s editing photos, doing art, staying at work super late (over voice chat) or when we’re in the car. He’s not been doing much art lately (more Overwatch) and we’ve not taken as many a long drive as we used to. In the interim between starting it, the author released two more books. It’s less to wait for, but more to catch up on.

I’m 100% into this series, but let’s get a few things straight. It’s by no means perfect. There are giant birds that people paratroop off of and they’re not even really described more than, “Huh, yeah, that’s a giant bird, and I’m strapped to it,” for most of the book. Giant birds, you guys. I love me some raptors, so this was literally a huge disappointment. I still know way less about giant birds than I want to know.

The monks themselves weren’t that interesting. It might have been the fact that religious orders aren’t, in and of themselves interesting. I mean, I don’t have a lot of experience reading monastic living. I mowed through what Redwall books were out in my pre-teens, but those were always more hero’s journeys and less monastery life. Either way, the chapters with Kaden, new Emperor of the Unhewn Throne, were tedious to read through. If he’s not running for hours just because, he’s buried up to his neck in scree. Or he’s making pots. Or he’s too dim by half to deal with obvious plot points that are right in front of him. It was beginning to seem like all that monk training that took him near death had done a ringer on his brain there. I absolutely hate when authors do that, where they make it seem like the main character is almost thinking in slow motion. Terry Goodkind is a great perpetrator of this. It makes Richard sound wicked dim. Hell, all the characters had the mental clip of molasses. It’s probably just how the author writes.

The paratroopers on the birds, though, A+ material. There were some harrowing moments there. Valyn, the Emperor’s second son, is training in an elite squad, that functions on high profile missions, outside of the military. He got hurt more often than not, partially from treachery, partially from his own dumb mistakes. Valyn himself seemed the most grounded of the characters, the most fleshed out. His squad mates were also varying and interesting, unlike the monks, who seemed to fulfill certain archetypes instead of retain an actual personality. There’s a few unsteady and demeaning scenes involving sexuality and gender preference that I would have preferred not to have read. Sometimes I wish everyone wrote in the same normalcy and tone that Seanan McGuire does when discussing these things. It makes all of that less painful to witness.

Anyway, our third main character is the Emperor’s daughter, Adare. She’s pretty headstrong and interesting in her own right. Unfortunately, unable to actually sit the throne because she’s a woman. Boo. So, they can paratroop off birds, but they can’t be in charge of stately matters? It was even an issue that she was the Minister of Finance, or whatever, that her dad put her in charge of the funds. She was the first woman in the role in ever, and everyone was constantly demeaning her. It was pretty gross. What was also unfortunate is that she maybe got a handful of chapters, so hopefully there’s more to her story line in the next installments, because she sure as hell was more interesting than Kaden, who was basically a deer in headlights the entire book.

Now for the plot, Kaden spends most of his in the monastery, all of it within the Bone Mountain range surrounding the monastery. There’s the boring monk training described above and then some mysterious visitors. I actually came to love those visitors, they were pretty bad ass and awesome. Kaden’s mentor (umial) is also technically “bad ass”, but he suffers from being an archetype instead of a character. Until he grows more characterization, I can’t find him that interesting. Pyrre Lakatur, on the other hand, give me more of her. I’m glad to see she’s got her own book, now. Can’t wait to get to it.

Valyn’s plot is a bit more complex. He’s thrown into a murder plot, an assassination attempt, almost right off the bat, but also needs to complete his training. He spends most of his final training tests suspecting everyone of trying to kill him. A death in the face of one of the more dangerous tests, involving gross cave beasts that reminded me a lot of the things from The Decent, but more feral and less human, sends him over the edge parinoiawise. He literally considers nothing else except where his death will come from and how swift it will be. He eventually takes a trip to the Bone Mountains himself, complicating the climax and all the rest of it.

Adare’s plot is short and succinct. I think she has maybe six chapters, tops. She’s gunning for the guilty party in her father’s murder, painting herself as the heretic as she attacks one of the major religions in the land, one with an army of its own. I’m pretty sure every one of her chapters ends with a twist of some sort.

I forgot to mention the giant Eldrich horror spiders. There, I did it. Nightmare fuel. Terrifying. Not at all okay. They also basically stalk you like the thing from It Follows, an unrelenting force that’s after only the person it’s told to hunt. Yep. I can’t imagine what the rest of the beings from that world look like. Golly.

Anyway, I, overall, really enjoyed the book. Hoping it just gets better from here on out.

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