Tag Archives: books

Review: Closer to the Heart

Okay, I’m going to try and get back in the swing of things here!

The next in the Herald’s Spy series, Closer to the Heart deals with Amily and Mags’s wedding….sorta. They quickly take care of the legal side of it, which is a good thing. The formal state wedding turns into a distraction to be wielded against outside forces. Two of Valdemar’s neighboring countries (you know the ones, no one can spell them) are threatening to wage war against Valdemar for threatening their fragile peace due to a child king over one of their countries. While Mags investigates the funding of the rebellion with his mining experience, Amily serves as a distraction and works to maintain diplomatic relations until they can put a stop to it.

Plot wise, the story was at least a little amusing. I felt like the wedding should have been kept a secret to be a cool reveal at the end rather than just being a part of an early plot arc like it was no big deal. But at the same time, that could have made the ending too crowded, so I understand why it wasn’t done that way? I’d have to see drafts going both ways to decide, and obviously, Mercedes Lackey is not among my writer buddies. XD The return of Kirkball was not on my favorite list, but at least she kept it short and it was moderately entertaining since Mags couldn’t be on Companion back this time, so we got to see him actually handle a horse.

I liked the more earthy, proud and take charge maid that we had in Keira, who was a welcome change from the silly little newt from last book. The expansion of Nicholas’s mentor was also at least moderately entertaining, though I found him slightly insufferable. Maybe I’m just over the suave, debonair types. Maybe it was because we saw too much of him as the wise, perfect mentor and not enough to make him seem human. Bleh. I wish we had seen more of him with his wife, that might have saved him. Instead, I was more interested in Tuck and Linden because at least they had personality and problems and flaws that I could empathize and relate to, and a real relationship.

Speaking of relationships, I liked how Mags and Amily got to see a little bit of each other’s worlds in this book. Mags got to pretend to be among the nobility for real, Amily learned how to roof walk from his group of scamps. It was a refreshing change to their relationship. This also opened us up to more about their everyday life and how that worked.┬áSeeing some of the lower Courts work was something that I wildly welcomed. We keep hearing about Heralds stationed there, but rarely got to see it actually happen and what those duties mean. Even if Mags was bored silly, I was glad to finally have that reference to world building, and it was done in a very organic way rather than being forced.

Mags was pretending to be a noble-type, but it was in among his home territory. I feel like this was a wasted opportunity. While we knew none of his old mine owner’s family was going to be around, or it was highly unlikely at any rate, I feel like we could have seen more of either him with someone from that old mine or even in the same area… I don’t know, it just didn’t feel like it had the emotional impact on the reader that I felt it should have. I felt like it got covered up with Kirkball and other nonsense instead. Especially because we saw very little of this setting in the first book due to his emotional state, so we had a lot of high expectations and then they weren’t met.

I did like the way that the tools were being worked into clothing and other disguises, with the addition of Tuck to make it happen. We know that several reigns down the road, the Heralds have all sorts of odd tools, and now we know how they get the designs! Or at least the basics, we all know how things evolve with time. I am all for rogue and spy types having hidden tools and weapons on them, though, and this really brought me a pleased, smug sense of pride in their cleverness, even though I wasn’t the writer.

Overall, this book left me feeling a little…meh. Like, yeah, there were bits of humor and flashes of things I liked, but there weren’t enough to make me absolutely love this book like I did some of the prior ones. But at least the plot wasn’t recycled this time, and even if it didn’t flesh out the emotional impacts as much as I would have liked, it brought in some good world building for the series as a whole in a way that didn’t feel forced. If you don’t already love Valdemar, I would suggest starting elsewhere. But if you’re already invested, it’s decent.

Advertisements

Review: Closer to Home

(Forgive me if this is even more rambly than normal, I’m getting over one hell of a cold followed immediately by getting the flu. I delayed posting just to make sure I was in a quasi-decent head-space.)

Probably because the story about Mags’ continued to wind much longer than her normal books, or possibly as a marketing ploy, or maybe even because of a massive time-skip (like more than normal), but either way, Mercedes Lackey actually continued into multiple series with the same character, rather than others dropping in on new protagonists. I love the first series, and since I got all of the others together in a bundle, I thought I would review the second half for the blog, with a possibility of coming back to the others. (Not sure on that, they were pretty tight and I can only gush so much.)

Closer to Home picks up as Mags and the others are returning to Haven. Lena and Bear have settled somewhere with positions, and he and Amily are trying to establish themselves back into their new lives. But to their surprise, an accident that almost costs the King’s Own Herald, Nickolas, his life gets Amily Chosen as the new King’s Own…except her father, also Nickolas, doesn’t actually die! Mags managed to keep common sense among everyone, pointing out that this means there now allows Nickolas a lot of freedom, as well as providing training so that when the prince inherits, his Own is already up to speed and prepared to work with him. And they get at least partially settled quickly, because there’s a massive feud among the nobility that is threatening to send all of Haven up with it.

I was relieved that the cast of characters was changed up a bit with this book. As much as I loved Lena and Bear, the case was getting very blotted by the end of the last series. She weeded out the cast to its main core needed in Haven now as adults, and that let her add new players as needed. (Also, Lena about drove me nuts and I wanted better girl representation.) This story really gave us a chance to see a working couple who weren’t lifebonded, who weren’t well established in that relationship, and they are having to figure out how to make it work through life changes. That’s a huge thing!

I also felt like Misty did something really brave and important with this series, which is addressed the female nobility characters. Every time she’s used them before, it was either part of being life-bonded, or as part of exceptions to how everyone else behaved. This time, she was right in our faces about how the female nobility were supposed to act, and how if you didn’t have the power to do otherwise, acting against it was going to get you slapped down. I felt awful for Violetta, but with the clear explanations of the other women, you could see how she got herself in trouble and while it was unfair as hell, I couldn’t argue against it within the context of the world. And members of the world acknowledge it sucks and it’s wrong, which… since the nobility lasts for a while longer in the timeline, that’s about all it can do.

The plot….ugh, the plot. I felt like she had this one event that she needed to make happen, and then went, “Well, now what? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, with a twist!”…sorta. Like it stopped even being a nod to the plot and went full-on-commitment about halfway through and I’m sitting there going, “I know how this ends, everyone dies, why am I still reading?” She gave it like a half-twist, but it wasn’t enough to save it for me. On one hand, I’m glad she kept it to something besides wars and assassins, that is a welcome change and I applaud her for trying to branch out. I just wish she hadn’t borrowed a very tired and often repetitive plot to do it with. Even the twist was just making “Romeo” even more of a jerk than he is in the original, that isn’t a whole lot of work!

Worldbuilding wise, not a lot got added to here besides like I said, the female nobility finally being touched on as far as what is considered normal. There being “two” King’s Own Heralds is different, but I don’t think it was touched on very much. I think that probably has to do with the shoe-horned feud plot, since she usually does better with a little more original work. I do find Amily’s Gift to be a cop-out. I want to read the one-shot with Lan and see if she mentions it with Pol, who reportedly has a little bit of every Gift. Otherwise, yeah, I’m not horribly impressed with it. I’d have preferred to see real Animal Mindspeech. It’s come up I think once with a character we’ve met for any period of time? But it gets mentioned all the time.

Overall, I wouldn’t call it a disappointing read. I like the characters, and I like some of the world building elements. Considering I’m planning a similar series-split with the same character, it’s almost a study for me on what to do and what not to do. My annoyance over Shakespeare being reproduced is probably a mostly me thing (I see it….a lot…and I’m probably overly salty), so I definitely still recommend this book to others. But definitely read the prior series so you have the attachment to the characters, otherwise this may seem unnecessarily harsh.


Review: Tempests and Slaughter

I approached Tempests and Slaughter with a┬áhealthy amount of both caution and interest. On one hand, it was more of Numair and that always makes me happy. He and Daine are my OTP in Tortall. On the other hand, this is a prequel. I was going to have to put up with Valarie, guaranteed, and with one of the worst villains in Tortall history being viewed as an okay guy. Blegh. But I finally knuckled down and read it. While I don’t regret it, it definitely wasn’t what I expected either.

Not yet Numair Salmalin, Arram Draper is a young boy at the College of Mages in Carthak. Tempests and Slaughter tells of his late childhood/early adolescence, as he rises with the ranks of powerful mages with the growth of his Gift. As he grows farther away from his family and home in Tyra, he has to learn not only who he is and what he can tolerate, but also who his friends are becoming. In the end, plague hospitals and arenas decide for him where his limits are. Now if only he can bring his only two friends, Valarie and Ozorne, along with him.

So, let’s get it out of the way. I love Tamora Pierce’s writing. I’ve had my style compared to her a couple of times, and it always makes me squee because she has such a way with prose that it just flows, smooth and clear. Thankfully, she spared my overly imaginative butt too much medical in the hospitals, but the way she did it is very real to how people who are in those professions describe how they feel after it is over. I really valued her return to third person and in normal chapter format. It wasn’t so heavily cluttered with slang that I needed the dictionary in the back just to wade through until I adjusted to the dialect, but it was there enough to carry the culture of the world across. It was a little different, because the narrator is a boy for the first time for an entire book rather than a short story, but after a couple of chapters, I managed to fall in with it. I think it’s interesting how she keeps exploring new formats and narrators, rather than sticking to formula.

World building wise, she had some room to play and it shows. Carthak was barely hinted at beyond the capital during the Immortals quartet, and while some of the short stories have touched on other countries as part of the empire, we haven’t seen all of it. There’s a curious mixture of African cultures, and I use that term in relation the continent as a whole. At times, I see the south and the tribal influences, but further north it is reminiscent of Egypt and it’s interactions with Europe. I also saw bits of South Africa, if only because of the way the ruling class appears to be of light skin versus…everyone else. This is also the first time we saw how a mage was trained, from the ground up and without pesky fighting training to overlap, and while at times I felt a little like the magic systems were too muddled, that is more personal taste than anything, and it was interesting to see how magecraft is taught for the Gift when there aren’t deities involved.

Characters is really where this book could have made or break for me. I knew I was going to like Arram, because I liked him as an adult. It was curious to see how clumsy and unsure of himself he was as a boy, though, and how easily swayed he was by others around him until he found his backbone. I also wasn’t suspecting his healing magic to be at the forefront, but then, his entire history is so secretive, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Valarie… Ugh. All of my problems with Valarie still exist. I mean, her “kitchen witch” label aside, she really just irks me. I don’t think that will ever change. I don’t like manipulation like I see her doing, even when it is for the sake of those she considers friends, at least without some sort of moral code behind it, which I know she’s lacking in. And then there was Ozorne. He could have gone wrong very quickly, but thankfully Tamora never forgot what he was going to become. The brief flashes alone were enough to sooth me, and then she dropped his ambitions, his goal to unite everything under one Empire, and at that point I knew he was the same person we knew, it was Arram who hadn’t realized it yet. That is going to be fascinating to see continue, and I’m beyond curious to see what the tipping point will be.

As for other characters, the teachers rotated around so much, I had a hard time nailing down a favorite. I did like Yaven and how he applied something most people would consider silly to help Arram concentrate, and how that evolved into other lessons. Sebo and her ties to the crocodile god were also interesting. Oh god, the crocodile god was hilarious, I was very amused by him and his interactions. My only complaint, if you could call it one, was Preet, if only because she seemed like a plot device more than a character. The lack of mention of her to Daine in prior books also makes no sense. But then, we don’t know how Preet’s plot is going to end, so I could end up being placated.

This definitely reads to me like there’s one more book, possibly two, in this series, but I don’t think it’s going to be a quartet and I’m leaning towards just one more like the Aly Cooper books. That seems about right to me, because really this is mostly bringing some light to a mysterious back story that I’m sure fans like me have been wondering about since the first books with Daine. I can’t wait for the next book and to see where this story is going and how it will dove-tail with where we first met Numair.


Review: Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox

I liiiive! (Finally done being sick and through the hard part of all my dental work, ugh.) And to start us off is a review of a book series that is quickly going to become one of my favorite series, so you can bet as new books are released, I’ll be reviewing them!

The first in the Amaranthine Saga, Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox begins with the title character, Tsumiko, coming into a surprise inheritance from relative she didn’t even know existed. It is the beginning of her introduction into a world that the rest of humanity is just becoming aware of–that of the Amaranthine, also known as the Rivven. To her surprise, she is a powerful reaver, humans who work alongside both humanity and the Amaranthine to insure peace between the two. And to make things awkward, aside from a new home, she also inherits a person–an Amaranthine butler named Argent. But Argent is no willing services, and foxes are not to be trusted on either side. Tsumiko will have to find her place in this new order of things, as will Argent, though neither is what they would expect.

So, confession time. I read the “original” version of this, that being the fanfic that the bare-bones-basics of the premise came from. I even follow forthright’s blog here on WordPress, so you know I’m a fan. ^_~ That being said, I tried to take a step back and look at this story with fresh eyes. It was a lot easier than you would think. While I can see some of the core characteristics haven’t changed, Tsumiko, Argent, even Sansa and Michael have taken on enough changes that they became their own persons. The world building was also sufficient in that regard to help separate it.

The part that stole my heart the most was the plot. I went in with a very vague knowledge of what was going to happen, but didn’t know how well it would translate to original. Lo and behold, forthright did some amazing work bringing something new to her long time readers. It deviated down some fun ways (I squealed at Gingko’s relation to Argent, for example), and it also added some substantial bones to what was otherwise a very fluffy story. I was caught up in what was going to happen next completely. I think one thing that still bugs me is the rogue dragon(s), but I figure those must be series questions. The climax was also not quite what I would have wanted. I don’t know if the pacing was off, or if its because there were two different “big” problems that had to be resolved in a particular order rather than together. Either way, the third act felt too long.

(Ginny is probably about to call me a hypocrite, but mine doesn’t go quite as long, leave me alone. :P)

Like I said previously, the characters personalities were solid, without depending on their fanfiction counter parts. I had a lot of fun with Argent’s double speak, and even in deciphering the cats’ personalities. Even the religious overtones weren’t overbearing, and I think bringing a different faith in helped break it away from its source material. That being said, as strong as they were in personality and dialogue, there was some lack in the character descriptions. Sometimes it was better than others, such as with the Amaranthine. But aside from being petite and I assume Japanese, I don’t know much about Tsumiko’s looks! This may seem a little picky, but I like to know exactly what I’m dealing with unless the writer is purposefully trying to make it where the reader can insert themselves into it.

Worldbuilding wise, I wish we had gotten some more in England. While Stately House got given plenty of time and attention, as did the surrounding area, England felt like a very rushed pass-through. Same at Akira’s dorm, though at least that served a solid purpose (and my feelings for it are probably link to my feelings over the climax). The Amaranthine culture though was very well developed. It took a second read through for me to grasp everything that I was reading. I really liked how there were very few blanket answers to how things worked too considering how varied the Amaranthine were in types. But even they didn’t have perfect knowledge, which kept them from getting to ridiculous, Tolkien elf territory.

Overall, this book was a delight. I highly recommend it for multiple reads, as new details will be constantly making themselves known, and the characters themselves don’t grow old, just more faceted. Here’s hoping the second is just as big of a success.


Review: Boycotts and Barflies

…Okay, some background. I read this story when it was still a fanfic, specifically Twilight fanfic back when I thought the books were silly fluff reading for the age demographic that I still technically was in (a.k.a. before the train wreck that is the last book) and I loved it for what it was. Now that it’s original… Well, I’ll get to that. But now you know there’s history.

Bella Swan Grace Parks and her three friends are sick of endless dates with men who don’t meet their standards. Their solution? A boy boycott, for six weeks until the New Year. Well sort of, they are still allowed to flirt and go on group dates (so the bet is sort of pointless). It’s all in good fun, until Grace meets Edward Michael Andris and his friends meet hers. Surprisingly, the boys are also on a bet of their own–this time to meet “nice girls” and no longer allowed to date the girls they meet while bartending, casually referred to as barflies. Hijinks ensue as everyone remains determined to win the bet…or are they?

Okay, so romance novel: likelihood of some of this happening is non-existent. It’s merely a tool to set the two main protagonists against each other so they have conflicting goals. And between it and family interference, it actually works for…most of the book. She even had a really good idea for the bet exploding in everyone’s faces. The problem that no one caught in the fic’s transition to real publication, is that the ending just sort of…coasts. The conflict at the end where we find out not only what the boys have been up to but supposedly Grace’s two best friends just blows over in favor of a romantic night out. There’s no satisfaction with that. These girls lied to her, the boys lied to her… It shouldn’t end that easily, even if it was supposedly to help Grace realize her own worth.

Speaking of self worth, there are some good points and there are some bad points to characters in this book. On one hand, the dialogue and the banter between characters is hysterical. I’m not completely sold that the ages fit the dialogue, but I am willing to hand wave it because it is funny. And there is good chemistry between all of the characters, and delaying any actual sex scenes means it avoids the trap of being so heavy with them that it’s uncomfortable to read. I even appreciate the fact that the fact most singles can’t afford to live by themselves is acknowledged, so unlike most romance novels finding places to be together is a real challenge.

On the other hand… A lot of the issues with the Twilight characters carried over, even with the filing off of the serial numbers. The friends aren’t fleshed out enough or given enough flaws to make sense. The fact Grace is so insecure isn’t ever really explained well besides pretty fish in a small pond that got transplanted and hasn’t moved on yet. (BTW, this sort of insecurity is common in teenagers, but we tend to grow out of it in our twenties.) And maybe this is me knowing the source material like I do, but I don’t think the serial numbers were filed off enough. They tried, I give her credit for trying, but I could still see what it once was. Considering how she had set up the fic, it was hard to take it to original fiction and leave it still intact enough for her fanfiction audience while being separate enough that no one saw the original fandom unless they were looking.

The thing that I think irks me the most is the way the guys treat the girls they pick up at the bars and the way they are written. It’s painful and horrible disrespectful to women in general. It was sort of nudged at being inappropriate by the fact the girls were sort-of-sort-of-not barflies by definition and the guys were forced to re-evaluate it, but still. The term itself bothered me. As did the way these girls treated the boys they went out with. It’s one thing to find the date boring, but really, a dinner date is hard to be entertaining if you aren’t an entertainer by nature. One of the girls is admittedly shallow and won’t go on a date with someone who isn’t high on her personal taste list. Both sides were equally painful, at least from my standpoint, and really had the potential to cause a lot of hurt feelings and didn’t because the author didn’t want them to.

Much like its source material, Boycotts and Barflies ranks as a good lighthearted read that is amusing as long as you don’t look at it too closely. It suffers some from being prior fanfiction that transitioned over to original fanfiction, but it did so to hold on to its humor. The more you reread it, the more it starts to wear, so maybe save it as a once every three or four years thing.


Review: The Dresden Files 12-Changes

Weee! Good times this week. I’m finally getting settled in a schedule, including getting back to writing. It’s exciting!

Changes starts off with a bang. Susan is back in Harry’s life, with news that shacks the foundations of his world. He has a daughter. Named for his mother, born from the woman he still loves, raised with no knowledge of who her parents are. Only she’s been kidnapped by the Red Court. Specifically by the Duchess Arianna, the wife of the Duke that Harry killed previously in a wizard’s duel. She might have bigger plans in place, though, as Harry discovers that the Red Court has its fingers in all sorts of pies. Secrets from the past are going to come to light and change the future forever. And for Harry? The most important thing of all is saving the daughter he’s never met. Even if that means making a bad decision or two. (Or several. It IS Harry Dresden, after all.)

Holy wow. Okay, so let’s break this down so I can approach this somewhat sensibly. Let’s go… Plot, characters, and world building/placement in a long series. I think that should work…

So plot. On one hand, it was possible the best and tightest book yet. Harry starts with one set goal, and stays with that one goal. Other bits and pieces might appear, but they all end up interweaving with his goal so you don’t feel scatter-shot like you normally do with a Dresden book. Even the introduction of new characters, or side characters we hadn’t seen much of, felt natural, like actors coming on and off stage at just the right moment. It was almost…elegant. But then he wrecks it completely. The ending got messy as he tried to bring in too many players for the final battle. I definitely get that this was supposed to be some great turning point for Harry, just completely bringing everything from the beginning of the series together. But the end result started to get a little clunky.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get worse… That ending. That wasn’t an ending. That was… That was a cheap marketing ploy to insure the next book would get bought (and I’ll get to that next week). I have never approved of those sorts of endings. I didn’t with Garth Nix and The Seventh Tower series, and that was back before I was even writing myself! It’s just rude to your readers not to give them just a smidge of satisfaction. Which is particular cruel, since Butcher actually was managing the prefect balance of satisfaction for the end of the book and yet wanting to see more. He could have cut off with Harry on the Water Beetle and been FINE. But nooo….

Character-wise, there were good points and there were bad points. Good points, oh my good gosh golly, Harry the overprotective Daddy was amazing. It really made the book for him. I just loved how he was struggling to be calm and collected, to be the detective to figure things out and to keep his powers under control. But at the same time, he was struggling because this was his daughter, his precious blood family, and she was in danger and he wanted to rage against the machine. I also felt like Murphy was particularly well done in this book, especially when she took up the sword of justice. It was a perfect touch.

On the other side…Susan and her little minion, Martin. Ugh. I don’t know if he even started with a real solid idea for Susan or if he’s just changing her with each book as he sees fit, but… No, I know what it is. She was so bland when he started, that it’s impossible to say anything is out of character for her, or at least that’s the idea. It never actually works that way. Instead, I have nothing about her that I like and so many things about her that I hate. And Martin… Martin doesn’t even have that to cling to. Realize, I like the cold characters. I like the serious bad-asses. But he didn’t have anything for me to grab on to until right at the end, and that’s just too late in the game. I also felt like the Red King was completely 180 from what we had picked up from previous books, which makes no sense unless Butcher forgot to make notes or didn’t convey clearly his image in the earlier books so we (or at least me) was led astray in the wrong way.

World building/series placement wise, I could definitely feel all the bits and pieces of his world building being pulled together for this one. And he actually did handle them well, keeping me from feeling completely overwhelmed with the information as it stacked together (until the clunking ending, of course). Plot wise, he was doing the same thing, and in the earlier parts of the book, it worked. All these happenings from earlier books weren’t a necessary part of the plot, but they helped add layers to it. But then he completely lost it in the last third and it started relying on you reading the previous books to know who was who and what did what. I get that in something this long, it’s hard to keep a book stand-alone-strong without linking to your earlier works. Really, just incentive for me to keep breaking up my worlds into smaller series so I can keep my focus. But since he came so close on this one, I wish he had made it to the end with a strong, mid-point book.