The Wedding Party

The Wedding Party

The Wedding Date (The Wedding Date #1)

The Proposal (The Wedding Date #2)

The Wedding Party was received as a physical ARC from the publisher at the 2019 AWP Conference Book Fair. Scheduled date of publication is July 16, 2019 and preorders are currently accepted wherever books are sold.

There are four main elements to a Jasmine Guillory novel: an unexpected meeting, an intense physical connection, a miscommunication/makeup resolution, and some form of comfort food.

The Wedding Date had Alexa and Drew and doughnuts. The Proposal had Carlos and Nik and cupcakes. The Wedding Party presents us with Theo and Maddie and pizza.

The formula worked well in the first two books, mostly because the sex scenes were so hot and intense, and there was a pretty clear obstacle to the that the protagonists would need to eventually overcome to get to their happily ever after: Alexa and Drew had distance, and Carlos and Nik had Nik’s issues with safety and commitment. Plus the comfort food, there to give the audience another sense of connection and luxury, was more of a snack or dessert nature, something that we have as a guilty pleasure or as accompaniment to a meal. The cherry on top, as it were.

With the third and final installment of the trilogy, Maddie and Theo already know each other and have been rivals for Alexa’s attention. It’s an enemies to lovers type story that kind of deflates as it goes on. When they spend more meaningful time together and help each other out, it takes the teeth out of the enemies thing and just makes it a relationship. They decide to hide their escapades from Alexa, which seems really disingenuous considering they carry on for something like 8 months (spoiler alert, she notices).

The sex scenes in this book were really lacking. We see the start and the morning after, but none of the creamy center. Kind of ‘he spread her legs and dipped out of sight and she moaned – CUT TO THE NEXT MORNING THEY ARE MAKING COFFEE’ and I was disappointed. There was one scene where he went “in to the hilt” on the first thrust and then the scene ended and we were waking up the next morning. Also, Theo seems to have condoms stashed EVERYWHERE: his car, his desk, his bedside table, the kitchen, his pocket, in his ear, his wallet – I mean I get representing safe sex but this has got to be believable and it was NOT believable that in the middle of the livingroom Theo found a condom between the couch cushions, waggled his eyebrows, and then went to town. I found myself thinking, wait, where could that condom possibly have come from and why would he have had it stashed there? – and that really takes one out of the action.

Not only was the sex lackluster, the frequency with which they order pizza gave me heartburn and I wasn’t even the one eating it. “I’ll pick up a pizza!” “Let’s order a pizza!” “OMG I’m so hungry, let’s have Theo pop over with a pizza!” It was repetitive and only made me feel sorry for all of them. Honestly guys, your body starts to break down in your thirties and there was no way these characters, all in their thirties and gainfully employed, were eating this much pizza.

The ending was pretty formulaic, which was fine, but overall this last book did not wow me for all the reasons I’ve listed. If you’ve already read the first two you should read this one too, it has its enjoyable moments, but honestly if you haven’t read any of them yet you could read the first two and be fine skipping the third.

The Heart Forger (The Bone Witch #2)

The Heart Forger

The Bone Witch (#1)

The first novel of this series, The Bone Witch, has been sitting in the back corners of my mind for a long time. The book itself was good, but not ‘blow my socks off’ good, so I didn’t run to the sequel right away. But it was good, and so every so often I would think back to it and wonder what happened next.

The Heart Forger tells its story the same way The Bone Witch did: alternating between the perspective of a Bard (whose identity we do not know) and Tea’s point of view. The Bard’s experience is happening now, while Tea’s is the story leading up to the current situation. You might think this wouldn’t work, especially because the Bard’s story often spoils things that haven’t happened yet in Tea’s timeline, but I was surprised by how much I liked it, and it made me read faster to find out how these relationships and choices came about.

Dark forces are at play across all the kingdoms, and the enemy we only know as the Faceless are discovered to be attempting the forging of shadowglass, a heartsglass that would make its wearers immortal. To do this they need certain ingredients that would connect them back to a mythical trio: The Blade that Soars, Dancing Wind, and Hollow Knife of the darashi orun, a dance/play that is traditionally performed every year in the kingdom. The band of asha, deathseekers, and friends travel around the kingdoms trying to discover what is going on and to thwart the efforts of their enemies.

I really love revenge stories, and Tea’s use of her powers to get revenge on these Faceless and bring the kingdoms back into some semblance of balance, possibly at great cost to herself, is totally my jam. This story is full of strong women and supportive men and reading it was smooth as silk in terms of character building, plot progression, and magic use. The setting is beautifully described, and I felt like I was there sitting next to the asha in some scenes.

Be careful reading the last 100 pages or so in public. One death scene is described so emotionally that I had to fight my own urge to cry. Just one more friend to avenge with her pack of daeva. Go get ’em Tea, I’m rooting for you.

The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1)

The Poppy War

The Poppy War is a book about tests and schools and usually those are totally my jam. Runin (Rin for short) is a war orphan from the second poppy war. Her foster parents tell her at age 14 that she will be marrying a much older man once she turns 16, so she makes a deal with her tutor and her foster parents that if she take’s the country’s placement test and tests into the tuition-free military academy, that she can leave and not have to marry. She studies and memorizes and crams for two straight years and manages to score high enough to place into the Sinegard Academy.

When she arrives she experiences what you would expect from rich, pampered kids who are trained from birth to come to this academy – her skin is darker and she’s from one of the poorest provinces – they think she cheated to get in or that she was let in to make the test seem fair, and she would be sent home after the Trials that all first years must pass. She works hard and discovers a unique power within her along the way, something that hasn’t been seen since the end of the Second Poppy War. Rin can meditate and reach the Pantheon of gods to call on their power and use it as her own, but with a price.

It’s a very enjoyable book through about the first hald. It gives glimpses into Chinese history through a fantasy story and map, and I find that it’s much easier to learn things that way, or at least to prompt questions that I can ask the husband, who is am expert in world history topics. The story about the school is neat, and the topics they study are interesting. I found myself thinking of The Name of the Wind as I was reading this book: poor person tests into school they shouldn’t belong at, must impress a particular professor in order to remain at school, gets banned from a certain aspect of the school so they have to adjust and train themselves, trains to discover something/skill/knowledge people thought was long dead, now has a dangerous power they don’t know how to control, etc. etc.

My only confusion came when Rin’s motivation abruptly shifted from “be the best I can be so I don’t have to marry or have kids” to “REVENGE.” Like, revenge against who? It was such a fast shift in her narrative that it was like hitting a brick wall in her character development. The only way a revenge story works is if I feel like I want revenge too on the character’s behalf. I get her thirst for power over her own destiny, but I feel like the hunger for revenge isn’t earned in the plot.

Also the second half of the book gets bogged down in a new war that we only see through Rin’s perspective, and most of that time is spent agonizing over her powers and whether or not she should access them. I found myself getting bored toward the end, if only because war is pretty boring on the page without some kind of action or fighting. When most of it was just hanging around the camp being angsty about gods, I lost interest. The most interesting developments happen in the last twenty pages, but the fact that they came after such a down period made them less exciting. I won’t spoil it for you, but by the end I didn’t have anyone I was rooting for, barely understood what was going on, and just wanted to send the book back to the library.

I have the sequel as an advanced reader copy, so I’ll let you all know if the series gets better in book 2. If you’ve read my reviews for awhile though, you know that rarely happens, as book 2 tends to lag even worse than book 1. There was enough in this first installment to get me to read the entire story, but now I wish I could go back and undo the reading of it so I could try something else. Take from that what you will.

The Ruin of Kings (A Chorus of Dragons #1)

The Ruin of Kings

I wanted to write about this one because this is the fastest I have ever put down a book. I read the short introductory chapter and thought, okay, a prisoner telling their warden a story, great let’s go. But then I turned the page and the FOOTNOTES started. And I’m sorry fam, but if I’m going to read a book for fun, especially a fantasy novel, there is no faster way to get me to take that shit back to the library than to make it look like a research paper. Also it’s difficult to keep the flow of the reading going when I have to constantly eyeball back and forth from the action to the side info.

NOOOOOOOPE.

Invasive (Zer0es #2)

Invasive

This book showed up on a number of top science fiction lists, and so I requested it from the library. It is my first Chuck Wendig novel, and I feel bad because I did not realize that Invasive was #2 in his Zer0es series. To be honest it stands on its own well, and you don’t have to read the first book to enjoy the second (although the beginning of this book does spoil the first one, so if you’re a purist you might want to read the first book Zer0es first).

The plot is this: someone made a hybrid ant a la Jurassic Park that eatsĀ Candida (yeast) on people, basically skinning them alive, and Hannah Stander is an FBI consultant that is called in to research and discover who is behind their creation and distribution. Her search takes her to the secluded island of Kolohe, part of the Hawaiian islands, and she is caught on island when the culprit decides to release the ants and escape with more colonies, supposedly to bring about an ant apocalypse (think when Nedry steals the embryos and tries to escape but dies and the power on the entire island shuts down, and chaos ensues – it’s really similar to that but with more bodies).

This story is not character driven. The characters could be named with letters of the alphabet and this story would still be compelling. I kept reading because what was happening was horrifying and I had to know how it would all end. There were some points toward the end where I thought it might end with the ants actually taking over and destroying everything. I won’t spoil what actually happens; maybe they do take over and destroy everything. Ants are terrible creatures.

If you like mystery, thrillers, or science fiction, you should definitely give Invasive a go. It’s a quick read by virtue of its fantastic story – you won’t want to stop until you’re done. Go get you some.

Conspiracy of Ravens (The Shadow #2)

Conspiracy of Ravens

Wake of Vultures (The Shadow #1)

The first book of this series Wake of Vultures was so fantastic that I knew I was going to continue with the series. Book 2 seems to have the book two blues. The Book Two Blues is when an author had all the time in the world to write the first book, query it, pitch it, and sell it, but then book 2 is under a heckin’ deadline and sometimes quality suffers because of it. That’s just how publishing rolls.

The beginning of this book feels a lot like the middle of the first book: Nettie Lonesome wandering through the desert, only this time she’s doing it as Rhett Hennessy and it soaring through the desert in her new gigantic bird form, eating dead things and scaring other predators off. She comes across a donkey/Irishman skinwalker who is searching for the Rangers to help with a problem back East, so they team up and travel to reunite with the Rangers. This mirrored her experience with Coyote Dan almost to a T, which made the first third of the book a little bit draggy and repetitive for me.

Luckily at about page 100 we’re off to the East to take on a crooked private railroad owner who employs a doctor who can cut off monster limbs to fuel the railroad’s progression, and then heal them back, something that Nettie/Rhett and others like her have never seen done. There is some dark magic afoot and Nettie, her friend Sam, Coyote Dan, his sister Winnifred, and Earl the donkey go to meet it and hopefully defeat it. The Shadow is pulled to trouble and her destiny once more.

But then we get sidetracked by other “monsters” that are different than the one we are actually setting out to deal with, and so you’ll be at about page 200 or so (out of 350!) before you even get to the main objective of the book – the railroad tycoon who experiments on monsters. It just got to be too much description and banter and not enough action so I decided to stop reading.

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On a side note, this series seems to be playing with the idea of what it means to be trans or maybe gender fluid and definitely bisexual. At the start of the series we see Nettie identifying as a woman who uses the guise of a man to survive and find purpose in a world that is not kind to women. But then, in this second book, she continues using the male name but then the pronoun changes, but she/he still views him/herself as a girl and wishes she was a man. It’s unclear though whether this wish is due to existing as a black/Native American woman or because psychologically Nettie is a man in a woman’s body.

This book was published in 2016, and so I’m not sure how it escaped the ‘woke af’ discussions that I am sure would have swarmed around it concerning trans/bisexual representation. The maleness Nettie puts on feels like a costume and not her real identity. She seems tired of being a woman (see: 10 pages straight on how she’s having her period out on the journey) and wants to escape into being a man, which is very different from gender fluidity or trans identity as we have come to understand it. Not that I fault Nettie for this instinct at all – if I was a woman in the Wild West I would want to try to pass as a man myself. It’s just an odd story to tell and to read. I came in with the understanding that it was a girl power type story – breaking boundaries and things like that. It is not that at all anymore, and I found myself frustrated with a story that was about this asshole dude and that I definitely didn’t sign up to read.

Between being bored and confused and disappointed, I just stopped reading and I’ll be skipping the rest of the series.

 

Seven Blades in Black (The Grave of Empires #1)

Seven Blades

Once in awhile I read a book that I identify with so deeply and so completely that I wish I could live within the pages and be the main character. The feelings of regret and suffering, of revenge and perseverance just emanate from the pages and make me drool and moan with pleasure like the smell of freshly baked bread or maybe Calvin Klein Infinity cologne (I’m SO CLASSY). I live vicariously through the main character and find satisfaction in ways I could never find in real life. *slaps faces of enemies with a pure, white glove*

Salazanca a.k.a. Sal the Cacophony is brash, ferocious, and a woman on a mission. She has made a deal with the spirit of her gun (named the Cacophony) that she would kill everyone on her list, everyone who attempted to sacrifice her to meet their own magical ends. Her own history with the individuals on her list is slowly revealed as she tells her story to her captors, Revolutionaries who seek to upend the Imperium and its Empress in favor of a human-run government.

The political backdrop to the story is just as compelling as Sal’s own vendetta. The Imperium has always had mages as Emperors and Empresses. The Revolution is made up of “nuls” – humans with no magical abilities, who seek to make their own government where mages are not in control. In the middle are mages gone Vagrant, mad that the Empress has given birth to one heir, a nul who will one day become emperor. They refuse to support a nul emperor after giving everything to set up and support the current Imperium, so they are fighting to bring about their own future separate from the Imperium and the Revolution.

It’s important to note that this is not your typical revenge story. Along the way it’s made apparent that Sal has her own choices to atone for, and has made some shady deals that she may not walk away from in pursuit of her goals. The realness with which Sykes presents this anti-heroine is so welcome and refreshing that I am already ready to accept her past if it means I get to follow her into the future. She is an unreliable narrator, and she leaves details out of her story as she tells it to her executioner because she sees them as unnecessary, but you will discover that she’s lying by omission, and there are some very disturbing actions she’s taken/taking that we only hear a whisper of before the story ends, leaving you begging for more.

It would be difficult for me to express to you how much I loved this book. When I initially opened it on my Kindle (I received it for free as the winner of a Goodreads giveaway) it said it would take me 12 hours to read it. This was daunting, but from the very first page I was in love with Sal the Cacophony and wanted nothing more than to see her succeed and get revenge on those who had wronged her. I gave what little mental energy I had left over in the past 3 weeks to moving forward inch by inch in the 30 minutes before I fell asleep each night, and every moment was worth it.

My only criticism? I hate the cover art.

You absolutely must read this book. While I wait for the next installment to this series, I’ll be seeking out the rest of Sam Sykes’ works. If his writing is this amazing, I cannot miss out on anything else written by him up to this point. GO GET IT QUICK WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR???

The Wicked King (The Folk of the Air #2)

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1)

It had been quite a while since I had read The Cruel Prince, but Holly Black did an excellent job of summarizing the main points in her first few chapters of The Wicked King. There was an absolute bloodbath at the end of the last book where many factions made a play for the throne. Jude Duarte, the mortal ward of the Grand General Madoc outsmarted them all by having her foster brother Oak, revealed to be of royal blood, place the blood crown on Cardan’s head, making him High King of Elfhame. Oak is sent away to the mortal world until he comes of age, when Cardan has agreed to abdicate and place the crown on Oak’s head instead.

The Wicked King picks up with Jude playing puppeteer to Cardan’s rule, trying to make everything run smoothly after the attempts on the throne and his agreement to allow her to command him for a year and a day. The Undersea and its queen begin to make an attempt to overthrow the land using Cardan’s only living brother Baeliken, and that sets up this next stage in our journey.

One of the main enjoyments that I get from these books is that we are always operating at a medium level of danger. As we follow Jude through Elfhame the very plants can poison her, any agreement she makes can come back to bite her, and even accepting a gift from someone can place her in their service or at their bidding. She has to be on her guard all the time, and as you read this book you will find that you are holding your breath while you wait for the next danger to jump out of the bushes.

I love how Jude becomes a part of Elfhame. She thinks she has it all figured out. She’s a great fighter, strategist, and bargainer. The Wicked King shows us a Jude that has almost lost all connection with her humanity and uses her knowledge and power as a kind of armor/cloak that she thinks makes her belong. Despite all her scheming though, her humanity cannot be denied, and she must remember that part of herself or be forced to by others who may or may not care for her. (Honestly I’m still confused about who actually has her best interests at heart and whether she’s always been alone, pinging around Elfhame like a lonely pinball.)

I still am not sure if Cardan truly cares for Jude. I don’t know if Cardan is an idiot or a genius. I’m not sure if he wants to be High King or if he actually is going along with Jude’s plan for Oak to become king. Is he a trickster of the highest order or is he flying by the seat of his elven pants? I DON’T KNOW AND IT’S KILLING ME NOT TO KNOW. I hated him in the first book and now I can’t decide if I love him or hate him.

Holly Black is the most devious and wonderful author I think I have ever encountered. The world is lush and complex, the magic is terrifying and tricky, and the people are not to be trusted. You’ll want to trust, you’ll want to believe, but that’s what makes you mortal. So be careful when you venture into this series, because it’s easy to be trapped and in trouble in Elfhame. After this second book my heart is in trouble, because I’m not sure it can survive until the next book arrives.

If you enjoy magic, elves, intrigue, dangerous bargains, and roller coaster ride that comes with the pursuit of power, you will love this series. Go get you some.

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The Everlasting Rose (The Belles #2)

The Belles (The Belles #1)

The Everlasting Rose was provided to me as a free eARC by Disney Book Group and Freeform Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review. The Everlasting Rose will be released March 5, 2019.

Second books often find themselves in a slump. I’ve learned that this is because the first book is often written without a deadline, put through multiple drafts, and given the chance to become perfect. Second books in a series tend to be under a deadline and under the scrutiny of many, which explains why they often feel bland, rushed, and a bridge to something better.

Not so with The Everlasting Rose.

Camille has escaped the palace and is on the run with the intention of finding the Princess Charlotte and foiling Princess Sophia’s plans to become queen. She runs into the rebel force of Iron Ladies who have chosen to live without beauty treatments and want to help the kingdom move away from them as well. They agree to help Camille and she makes arrangements to crash the coronation and bring Charlotte back to take her rightful place.

This book was everything The Belles wasn’t. People died, there were very real consequences, you can feel that the kingdom is under a cruel (yet beautiful) dictatorship. Camille has to explore what matters most to her so that she can make the right choices and keep her eyes on the top priority, which moves from her new love for Remy, keeping her Belle sisters safe, and murdering the ever-loving daylights out of Sophia. Every time her arcana woke up and she started to choke the life out of someone because she was so angry my vengeful heart just purred (although RIP to a sweet bebe no spoilers).

I enjoyed the read from start to finish. There aren’t a whole lot of surprises, you’re basically getting what you would expect even in the “twists,” but the story is told so well that you won’t mind the predictability. I was unable to unearth whether or not there will be a third book or if this was simply a duology, but The Everlasting Rose ties up nicely at the end while leaving just a few threads out there that another book could build on. If that next book should materialize I think I will be there to read it.

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The Perfect Assassin (The Chronicles of Ghadid #1)

The Perfect Assassin was provided to me as a free digital advance copy by Tor Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review. The Perfect Assassin will be available for purchase on March 19, 2019 but you can also preorder anytime.

When I started reading The Perfect Assassin I was reminded of a trilogy of books that is one of my absolute favorites. The Rebel of the Sands trilogy by Alwyn Hamilton introduced me to dangerous shapeshifters and legendary djinn, all of which must be decrypted and understood before goals could be reached. Another such series is the An Ember in the Ashes line by Sabaa Tahir. Through both of these series I have discovered a love of the stories and mythology from the middle east and desert realms.

This particular series begins with the final entrance exam for a school of assassins. We follow the main character Amastan as he sweats through his worst fears and completes a physically strenuous trial to join all his classmates as freshly minted assassins in the city of Ghalid. The problem is that the drum chiefs that run all the neighborhoods put an end to assassin’s contracts a long time ago, with no indication they will be issued again anytime soon. So the young assassins are told to bide their time and stay sharp in case contracts start up again.

One of the rules of being an assassin is that when they kill they have to do it so the body will be easily discovered, because if they aren’t then the special priests who quiet jaani (souls?) won’t be able to get there in time and the jaani becomes an angry ghost that floats around trying to possess people. These jaani start showing up and attacking Amastan, and he and his assassin cousins start discovering bodies on the rooftops, meaning that there are more and more unquieted jaani preying on the people in Ghadid. It’s up to Amastan and his friends to uncover the murderer and restore peace to Ghadid.

My only complaint was that the ending doesn’t make me salivate for the next installation in the series (chronicles). Everything is nicely tied up and everyone seems to be where they should be. Usually when I finish the first book of a series I am on Twitter demanding the next one post haste, but here it felt more like a standalone tome.

Balancing out this complaint is my delight in the normalcy with which the sexuality of Amastan is presented. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I want more books where LGBTQIA+ individuals are just a part of the world. Their presence is normal, not a red flag or something to be overcome or something they have to hide or convince others of. Just normal. I love this in a representation book. Thanks to K.A. Doore for making this a part of her writing.

Oh my goodness do I apparently love me some desert mysticism and stabby murder. I couldn’t stop reading, I had to know what happened next. Even though most of the elements were fantasy, this book is a mystery/thriller in its own right too. I strongly recommend giving this one a go.

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