Dance of the Gods (The Circle Trilogy #2)

Dance of the Gods

Morrigan’s Cross (#1)

It’s about this time that I get bored with Nora Roberts. Her books are so predictably formulaic that if you read too many in a row you start to hate them simply because you know what’s coming next like ten pages ahead of time. Dance of the Gods takes our circle of 6 heroes (3 couples) into Moira’s realm of Geall to prepare her citizens to fight Lilith and the vampire army in the Valley of Silence on Samhain.

There are a lot of moments in this book when the group decides to flex their muscles and make a statement by poking at Lilith’s forces that are hidden in the nearby caves in Ireland, which is where they are staying as of the first book. Each time they do this ends predictably – someone learns a lesson about not going it alone and making sure to work together. The person who learns this lesson the hardest in this book is Blair, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer character that was ignored and then abandoned by her father and whose daddy issues cause her to want to always be alone. The “everyone I ever loved has left me” boo hoo pity party really makes her badass character a lot less believable, but you’ll make do I’m sure.

Roberts’s thing being a couple per book, Blair is destined to be with the shape-shifter Larkin, who is from Geall and came with his cousin Moira through the Dance of the Gods (the stone circle) to train with the other four members of Morrigan’s circle of six. He shifts into different kinds of animals and at one point he shifts into a hawk in front of Blair and she says something like “that’s so hot” and she does that a couple of times, enough to make me think she might be into bestiality, but I’m not sure.

He wants to care for her, she believes she’s meant to always be alone, and they fight through that tension to have sex a couple of times, until finally she admits she loves him after they return to his country and get ambushed by a bunch of vampires that are also preparing for the battle. I get the themes that Roberts really wants to touch on here: that you can be a tough woman and a sensitive one too, but in the way of romance novels the story doesn’t get much deeper than what gets them into bed. And that’s okay, if I hadn’t just read four other novels set up exactly the same way just before this.

After returning to Geall the group informs the country that (1) yes, women are in charge here and will be teaching you how to not die, (2) vampires are real, and (3) magic is cool and okay. I liked the way that the women dealing with other women was written here. Some women wanted to hold onto the “women’s work” but were brought to understand that anything is women’s work (small caveat: it takes Glenna asking how they might protect their babies to get them to fight, so I guess it’s not exactly 100% feminist but their lives were on the line so whatever works?).

The book ends with Blair agreeing to marry Larkin (again, I don’t understand why the ending for every couple has to be marriage) and Larkin agreeing that he will leave Geall behind to return to Earth with Blair so she can continue to be a hunter of vampires there, and they streak across the sky with a flame sword and I guess she writes an entire sentence in the air like a plane might? Again, this book is a lot of “LET’S SHOW HER WHAT WE’RE MADE OF” and a lot of it just ended with them getting their noses bent.

This is not my favorite book of the series. It makes a strong woman look weak and needy, and the actions the characters take are stupid and dangerous given the stakes. I’m going to wait a bit before beginning Valley of Silence, because it has my favorite pairing and the battle is cool, but I have to get this Nora Roberts taste out of my mouth so it doesn’t spoil it for me.

Dread Nation (#1)

Dread Nation Cover

A simple way to describe this book would be to say it’s post-Emancipation Proclamation Civil War era America, but with zombies to contend with on top of the latent racism and slavery hangers-on. The schools which Jane McKeene and other black children are made to attend mirror those which Native Americans were actually made to attend in an effort to erase their culture. There is a lot going on in this book that could fill two semesters of an African American studies course, and if you aren’t involved with the civil rights struggle, most of it will pass over your head as a creepy, alternative history zombie tale.

Read the synopsis of Dread Nation here.

Remember when I reviewed The Hate You Give? I felt like the themes were so important, but the presentation seemed to break the 4th wall too often for me, as an adult, to enjoy the story uninterrupted. For kids it’s perfect, but the whole flow of the writing and the book missed me. Dread Nation presents many of those same themes important to the struggle of black people in America specifically, and it does it in a way that advances the plot and reinforces why those themes and issues are problematic and complicated and wrong. It was a challenge for me to read through and make sure that I was picking up everything Ireland was putting down. To miss something would be to miss a valuable lesson that I could not afford to not learn.

This is a fantastic story with some amazing characters. If you enjoy zombies, it’s for you. If you enjoy historical fiction, it’s for you. If you enjoy alternative historical fiction, it’s for you. If you enjoy novels that challenge our country’s handling of racial issues, this book is for you. If you enjoy YA or women’s fiction…I mean you get the idea, right?

Justina Ireland has brought to us an entertaining novel that speaks to everyone, as long as we are willing to listen. You wouldn’t want to miss those shambler moans now, would you? Keep your ears open and your sickles sharp, and then go get you some.

Morrigan’s Cross (The Circle Trilogy #1)

Morrigan's Cross

Time travel? Check. Sorcerers and witches? Check. Vampires? I mean, okay. Celtic vibes? FUCK YEAH.

The goddess Morrigan has come to Hoyt McKenna in Ireland after his twin brother Cian has been attacked and turned by the vampire queen Lilith. Hoyt is a sorcerer and Morrigan tells him he must travel through time to gather a circle of six people who will lead an army to take down Lilith. If they do not, Lilith will bring about the apocalypse across worlds and timelines, turning some, murdering others, and enslaving the rest. So Hoyt travels through a stone circle and lands in present day New York. He finds his brother, now about 1,000 years old and ready to help bring his maker down.

A witch named Glenna (I know, right?) also lives in the city, and is connected to Hoyt in her dreams. She follows her intuition and clues to Cian’s club and find the twins collaborating in the apartment upstairs. They all agree that returning to Ireland via Cian’s private plane is the best course of action, and along with Cian’s giant, black bodyman King, fly to Cian and Hoyt’s childhood home to train and wait for the remaining two members of the circle. Moira and Larkin do arrive through the same stone circle, but from a different realm of Geall, and then they all begin to train.

Nora Roberts’s books have a formula, and it’s a coupling per book, no more, no less. Our first couple is Hoyt and Glenna and what I find hilariously inconvenient is that every time they have sex all the candles and fireplaces in the giant old Irish house get REALLY BRIGHT AND DANGEROUS and instead of letting the sex scenes get me excited I laugh because I imagine the other characters reading or listening to music somewhere else in the house and then suddenly their candle blowtorches to the ceiling and they’re just like “really painted the ceiling with that one, huh Hoyt?” omg I can’t stand it, it’s too funny.

I love this trilogy because of the magic and the honest to god creepy and scary villain. I believe Lilith is terrifying. I believe that having drunk the blood of hundreds of sorcerers and witches she has gained their power and more and can reach between timelines and realms. This is a problem that must be solved or else all worlds will end. And I’m here with my popcorn, ready for it.

My problem with any Nora Roberts novel is the timeline of romance. Hoyt and Glenna know each other for like 6 days and he proposes to her after having sex twice. It’s just difficult for me to really invest in the love story when in a week and under duress characters are pledging their lives to each other. This book was written in 2006 so I don’t feel like it would be completely wild to just have them¬†be together without bringing marriage into it.

I can accept that they have a deep connection, and that magic brings them closer together, and that the end of the world creates a sense of urgency – all of that is believable and I am with you when they are just suddenly attracted and having sex. What I’m not here for is for some reason throwing in marriage proposals like us ladies can’t handle Hoyt getting it in without making an honest woman of Glenna. It’s the end of the world. Get it in when you can, don’t worry about planning a ceremony or anything.

By the end of this book the circle is complete, if not in the way you expect, and plans are in place to return to Moira’s land so she can take up the mantle of queen and lead her people as the circle’s army to take down Lilith in a battle of the ages. It’s really a fun trilogy, one of her best. Go get you some.

 

Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass #6)

Tower of Dawn

Throne of Glass Series #1-5

Throne of Glass
Crown of Midnight
Heir of Fire
Queen of Shadows
Empire of Storms

***

I have been taking my time getting around to this one.¬† After reading A Court of Wings and Ruin last year, I had to set Sarah J Maas aside for a bit because I was so angry that the book was SO BAD. With the recent announcement that the seventh and last installment of the Throne of Glass series, Kingdom of Ash, will be released in October of 2018, it was time for me to catch up with Chaol and Nesryn, the new Hand of the King and Captain of the Guard. Chaol was injured in the battle at the glass castle in Adarlan, and was sent by Dorian Havilliard (the new king) and Aelin Galathynius (the queen of Terrasen) to the southern lands to convince them to fight the Valg and get healing for Chaol’s spinal injury.

They arrive to find that the youngest princess has (supposedly) committed suicide and everyone is in mourning. The healer assigned to Chaol (Yrene) has prejudices against Adarlan because they killed her mother, and so we get the predictable cold shoulders and banter you would expect from that. Nesryn becomes wrapped up in one of the princes (Sartaq), and flies with him to inspect the lands and the ruk soldiers (ruk = giant, golden, flying eagle-esque bird you ride like the witches ride wyverns) and seek out any possible Valg invasion into this continent.

Man oh man I was not expecting all this shit to go down in this book. The solution Yrene finds for Chaol’s injury is SUPER CORNY but works so that healers might become warriors. I do not want to spoil ANYTHING about what Nesryn and Sartaq find in the forests to the south – I outright gasped and I want you to have that same experience. Just know that there are a LOT of stygian spiders running around and they are big as horses and fucking disgusting. Also their love story is super sweet and I hope you like it too. Both couples find love and all I could think was “oh, was this where the good romance writing went?”

How is Maas capable of writing books like this while also giving us the trash that was the conclusion to the ACOTAR series? And the extra court novella? GARBAGE. DUMPSTER FIRE. What the hell is going on? She’s supposedly coming out with an adult fantasy series sometime next year (?) and I’m like “lady, you’re way too hot and cold for me to pre-order this shit, I’m gonna wait and see what people say” but then I’m like “shit, I’M the one that people want to hear from about how things are” and so I’ll probably have to bite the bullet to give you all a heads up.

The seventh and final book of this series had better be the best fucking book I’ve ever read. You can’t build all this up and give me a dud. I will legit go off if Kingdom of Ash is literally a burning tire pile and I will @ Mass on social media with my review idc idc idc.

But I have hope that Aelin et al. won’t let me down. It should be a battle for the ages. See you in October for the thrilling conclusion!

Oh yeah, and go get this book if you’ve been reading the series. You need what’s inside.

Face the Fire (Three Sisters Island #3)

Face the Fire

Dance Upon the Air (#1)
Heaven and Earth (#2)

(Spoilers abound.)

This is easily the weakest book in the trilogy. Mia Devlin is the red-headed, older, wiser witch. She’s helped both Nell and Ripley through their magical awakenings – Nell discovering that she has power, and Ripley with controlling hers. But the third test still remains, and with the darkness exorcised from Jonathan Harding, there’s a gross evil shadow wolf lurking about the island, working to drive Mia to her ancestor’s fate of jumping to her death in despair.

That premise alone is shaky. Bolstered by the prior success of her two “sisters,” it stands to reason that Mia would be confident about facing her demons. She’s been presented to us as nothing but the confident leader, and with a complete circle and full support, we would expect her to just absolutely flatten anything that comes her way. Her thoughts of suicide just don’t add up with everything we’ve seen so far in the serious.

I also don’t like how Sam Logan, her former lover, just comes back to the island and barges into her world, and she gives into him almost instantly. Their first kiss is him grabbing her and forcing himself on her – not totally down with that – and then she just grabs him for more kissing. Honestly their “romantic” entanglement isn’t hot because I don’t believe it. I don’t believe that a strong, smart, 30-year-old woman who is a powerful and knowledgeable witch who teaches and leads others would act like this. It’s like Nora Roberts just guessed at what a suicidal person might have running through their heads and had her think it – and it doesn’t add up.

I hate the ending. I hate it so much. I already have to suspend belief about the previous two books, but having it end with a shower of stars and her being a starry eyed babe wanting marriage and children ASAP and that’s how the curse is broken…I don’t know man, I know it’s a romance novel and ending it with an independent woman who don’t need no man isn’t how these things go, but could we at least have had a second love interest? Like, new love versus old love, and she has to choose? But no, we end right where we expected to, with marriage and babies for everyone! Yuck. Just a complete 180, out of character resolution to the trilogy. Okay, I guess.

It’s still one of my favorite trilogies of hers, because the first two books are so strong and I love the magic and the curse. But this last book always makes me mad that Mia, the best of them, couldn’t have been more than this. I wanted more for her.

 

Heaven and Earth (Three Sisters Island #2)

Heaven and Earth

Dance Upon the Air (#1)

The second installment of the Three Sisters Island trilogy focuses on Ripley Todd, a policewoman on the island and the direct descendant of the witch called Earth that originally formed the island sanctuary. Her central issue is control; she wields the most power of the three, but has locked it away instead of learning to use and control it.

With the vanquishing of Evan Remington on Samhain, and Nell finally free, the first seal on the curse is broken. Ripley knows that she must face her demons next, or the island will perish as as result of the curse.

The actions that the three “sisters” took to drive Evan Remington mad have caught the eye of two men. Jonathan Harding, a reporter, and MacAllister Booke, a paranormal researcher. Booke comes straight to the island to do research, and Harding travels to meet with Remington, who he discovers is now a raving lunatic, and walks away with more than he bargained for. Both men head for the island for answers.

Booke is a hot nerd, and he and Ripley have this fight-a-little, kiss-a-little, get-so-angry-we-have-sex kind of courtship. He’s patient with her, which is nice, because she’s the kind of person that only resists destiny harder when she knows she’s being forced into it. So she comes around to liking him without him doing anything but his normal day to day activities – studying the history of the island and the magic that is done on it. Ripley finds his clumsy nerd act combined with hot bod endearing, and so the love story portion of the tale is born.

So Ripley has to control her power and find a way to have both justice and compassion at the same time in order to break her ancestor’s piece of the curse. Will she succeed? Will she get to keep the sexy nerd? Read to find out!

(PS – This is definitely the sexiest of the three books.)

Dance Upon the Air (Three Sisters Island #1)

Dance Upon the Air

I have recently done away with the phrase “guilty pleasure,” mostly because I’m coming to an age where I am ready to like what I like and as long as that thing doesn’t harm other people, then other people can go kick rocks. But when I was in a stage where I was ashamed of things, books by Nora Roberts definitely fell into the guilty pleasure category. I don’t care for most of her books (they get a little ~marriage and kids are the only goal~ for me) but a few of her trilogies have stuck with me. When I found myself between being out of library books at home, and needing to pick up more that have come in from my holds list, I decided to pick up an old favorite: the Three Sisters Island trilogy.

Honestly I’ll give anything that involves witches or elemental magic a try. I love the idea of an ordinary woman having extraordinary powers and using them to get justice or revenge. It warms my heart. Even better is when a woman doesn’t realize she has powers, and discovers them slowly, enjoying the newfound freedom.

In this, the first book of Roberts’s trilogy, Nell Channing arrives on Three Sisters Island at the end of her escape from an abusive husband. Her husband is a wealthy socialite in Los Angeles, and after going to the police about his behavior, and having them not believe her (and being beaten for “embarrassing” him) she doesn’t see a plausible out. She changed her name and her appearance, and even faked her death to get away. Now she’s looking for a fresh start in a new place, far from her terrible past.

What she didn’t count on was a hot sheriff who is kind and interested in her, and two other women on the island who seem to be connected to her in strange ways. And her chosen location, the island itself, has a history that she cannot escape and a future that she must help to ensure. What she didn’t count on was discovering that she is one of a trio of witches destined to be together in this place, at this time, and she must discover and take charge of her powers to prevent calamity.

If you’re looking for tons of hot sex scenes you won’t find them here, but there are two or three that make sense with the story and help to build to the final confrontation. It’s one of the things I really like about all of Roberts’s books – the sex works in the story, not as an aside. For this particular book it was also important that the sex scenes be handled with care, especially considering the history of abuse involved. The sheriff, Zach, handles Nell with such care and kindness that she opens up to him like a flower. It’s believable and careful, which makes this first book my favorite of the three.

if you love magic and powerful women and “coming home” stories, you may want to check out Dance Upon the Air. I think you’ll be hooked and want to finish out the trilogy. Go get you some.