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Friday, February 17, 2017

REVIEW: Gilded Cage by Vic James

*Thanks to Netgalley and Del Rey Books for an ARC in exchange for a fair review*

Gilded Cage is the debut from author Vic James. This narrative, set in Britain, supposes an alternate world where humans are either born with or without magical abilities.  The Equals, aristocrats with magic, have all the power. Leaving the commoners to suffer in servitude, most often hard slave labor, for 10 years.

Behind the enchanted gates of one of the three most powerful estates, Kyneston, a great power rises that just might break their world apart.

There is a lot going on within the book.  One one hand is the haves and have-nots of magical ability and how that affects the characters, the world and the driving force of politics throughout the book.

Is the adult fiction or YA?  Probably a crossover for both. The driving force is the introduction of two families and how they impact each other.  As commoners, the Hadley's are in a precarious place. Eldest daught, Abi, thinks she's negotiated a great deal to have her entire family serve their time together at Kyneston; however, as Equals, the Jardines break their own rules regarding keeping minor children with parents and Abi's younger brother, Luke, gets sent to the harsh labor town of Millmoor. These scenes are brutal but are the driving force for the story.  While at Millmoor, Luke becomes involved with a rebel group trying to improve the lives of slaves and readers later discover that there are more connections and a lot more deceit and power struggles afoot.

The Jardines are an interesting family. Lots of highs and lows with plenty of potential for the rest of the series.  Silyen is proving to be very tricky, dark and apt to show his hand at being an unhinged sociopath. If nothing else, he's creepy. Gavar's relationship with Daisy, the youngest Hadley is also unsettling and I spend part of my reading wanting to shake more sense into Jenner. For Abi, I can see the romantic appeal and attraction to the 'skilless' middle Jardine brother but she's a bit naive.

I do see potential for the series, especially with the events occurring at the novel's end for Abi and Luke.   I discovered the book, thinking that it might have echoes of Harry Potter and in some ways it does.  What surprised me is the bleak, dark and plain cruel nature of this society.  Definitely though provoking given the state of our own world. For the next book, I do hope there is more exploration of magic.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @DrVictoriaJames

Thursday, February 9, 2017

REVIEW: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

A storm is coming...

Shadow has spent the last three years in prison. All he wants it so finish his time, go back to his wife Laura and pick up the pieces of his life. 

But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.

Life in Wednesday's employ is far more interesting than Shadow could have ever predicted. His journey will lead him to discover that myth and legend are far more real than he ever imagined and that there is a brewing battle for America between the old and new gods of the lands. 

Can Shadow survive or will the storm prove too destructive?

Now touted a classic, American Gods has been on my "to-read" for a while now. I wasn't disappointed.  Like all of Gaiman's work, this narrative takes readers on a darkly cerebral journey filled will sex, death, mystery and intrigue while pushing the far reaches of the mind and asks us to consider what we as a society believe and value.

I'm convinced that Gaiman uses far more of his brain than just about any other human--I appreciate the way he pushes me as a reader to strive for more meaning than merely follow the narrative on the page.

Looking forward to the new STARZ series debuting this year!

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

REVIEW: Blood Vow by J.R. Ward

Blood Vow is second entry to the BDB spin-off series Black Dagger Legacy. The Black Dagger Brotherhood continues to train the best of the best to join them in the deadly battle against the Lessening Society. Among the new recruits, Axe proves to be a worthy fighter—and also a loner isolated because of personal tragedy. When an aristocratic female needs a bodyguard, Axe takes the job, though he’s unprepared for the animal attraction that flares between him and the one he is sworn to protect.

For Elise, who lost her first cousin to a grisly murder, Axe’s dangerous appeal is exhilarating and a distraction from her grief. As they delve deeper into her cousin’s death, and their physical connection grows into so much more, Axe fears that the secrets he keeps and his tortured conscience will tear them apart.

Axe and Elise are the main romantic entanglement of the book. Fans of Ward's books know what is in store--lots of sexy time, angst, self doubt and then a mostly happily ever after conclusion for the couple.

The side narrative is a continuation of Rhage and Mary's story from The Beast when an unexpected visitor threatens their newfound family putting everyone on edge.  

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It was an engaging, quick read with all the highs I typically associate with the author and the series.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

REVIEW: The Turn by Kim Harrison

The Turn is the highly anticipated prequel to Kim Harrison's bestselling series The Hollows. Readers finally get the story of how the plague takes hold--killing humans, destroying cities and ultimately bringing the existence of supernatural beings (i.e. vampires, werewolves, and witches) into the light.

Along the way we're introduced to Trent's parents and their extremely complicated relationship. Trisk and her hated rival, Kalamack, have the same goal: save their species from extinction.

Death comes in the guise of hope when a genetically modified tomato created to feed the world combines with the government's new tactical virus, giving it an unexpected host and a mode of transport. Plague takes the world, giving the paranormal species an uncomfortable choice to stay hidden and allow humanity to die, or to show themselves in a bid to save them.

Can science save us when all else fails? Or, will science actually be society's downfall?

There are some series favorite appearances by Quen and everyone's favorite demon, Al. Readers are in store for some long awaited answers, plenty of action, some seduction and a nail biting adventure.

Fans will love to hate Kal, cheer for Trisk and be generally enthralled by the narrative.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Read All The Things, Reading Recap Vol.5

In Pieces on the Ground is BtVS Season 10, vol 5. Demon invasions are wreaking havoc as Buffy and the gang attempt to battle three nasty villains. While Willow gets a new job and maybe a new love, Andrews is tempted by evil, Xander by Ghost Anya and Spike and Buffy continue to try and make their relationship work. Dawn has to make a difficult decision but it puts her in a place to be powerful for once even thought it is difficult for the others to handle.

I enjoyed this volume. Good story points and character progressions.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Own It is the final volume of BtVS Season 10.  The team is fractured literally and figuratively. Buffy searches for a way to bring them all back together even as her own personal life is spiraling out of control too. A new Big Bad makes a play for the Vampyre Book and Buffy has to trust in herself to make some tough decisions.  The group comes back together with some great surprises and intrigue for Season 11.

I thought this was a fantastic volume.  Excellent writing and fabulous Big Bad (no spoilers!)

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This all new Dresden Files graphic novel story takes place after White Night and Downtown.  A bizarre double murder attracts Dresden's attention but as he investigates, he encounters more puzzling questions about the culprit. This journey leads him down a dark path which places him in the middle of Chicago's three most powerful factions.  Can Dresden save the day, call a truce and keep a war from destroying the city?

Amazing story, action and graphics. I liked the unexpected villain as well as the incorporation of long standing series favorites. Murphy always kicks butt! Love Thomas and cameos by Lea, Marcone and others.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher tells the true and intoxicating story of her life with inimitable wit. This is a poignant, honest, and at times hilarious memoir from a true Hollywood legend born of equal celebrity royalty.

I'll miss Fisher greatly. Her voice, personality and willingness to speak the truth in her own way should never be forgotten. I can't recommend the audiobook enough.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Shadowed Souls is a dark and gritty short story anthology—featuring works from Jim Butcher, Seanan McGuire, Kevin J. Anderson, and Rob Thurman—nothing is as simple as black and white, light and dark, good and evil..

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what makes it so easy to cross the line.

Overall, I enjoyed the majority of the stories but do recommend readers have a background into the specific series represented by the authors.  I picked this up with the Dresden Files story, "Cold Case" is my sights. This follows Molly in her first official duties as the new Winter Lady post Cold Days. Excellent story from Butcher with humor, intrigue and some outstanding character developments.

I need a new book!!

Other highlights for me were the stories from Seanan McGuire, Kat Richardson and Tanya Huff.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

REVIEW: Codex Alera (Books 1-6) by Jim Butcher

Furies of Calderon marks the first in an epic fantasy series by Jim Butcher and best summed up as a cross between Game of Thrones and Rome. The political structure is much like that of ancient Rome, with aging First Lord Gaius Sextus' rule in jeopardy due to a lack of heirs and other High Lords looking to claim power.

In this world, human have the ability to manipulate elementals they call furies (i.e. air, fire, water, earth, metal). While the people of Alera use these abilities to help combat the often aggressive other races of the realm, young Tavi is unique in his lack of furycrafting. However, what sets him apart from others also means that he must use his wits and bravery to survive when a savage enemy--the Ma'rat--return to the Calderon Valley.

Whilst caught in a wind storm, Tavi's choice to save a slave named Amara sets powerful pieces in motion that will change his life and impact the whole of Alera.

This is the third time I've read book one. I love the unique world-building and fantastic character development characteristic of Butcher's writing. He's amazing at writing an intriguing and likeable underdog.  Tavi's greatest strength is that he has only himself to rely upon and not furycrafting to get him out of dangerous situations.  Despite his 15 years, he's brave, smart, funny, and can think on his feet.

I enjoy the other host of characters including Amara, Isana, and Bernard.  The villains are well portrayed--truly power hungry and deliciously vile!  I love the unique take on building this world, its peoples and the imaginative races and creatures that threaten to upset the peace.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Academ's Fury happens a few years after book 1. Tavi is studying to become a Cursor; however, he still lacks furycrafting abilities. Ever the underdog, he's formed friendships with other outsiders at school.

Alera is still in political unrest but an awakened, mythological foe now threatens the entire realm. The Vord attack on two fronts, splitting the narrative for action driven scenes following Amara and Bernard as well as Tavi doing his best to protect the First Lord. And boy are the Vord warriors and queens SCARY!!

This book has a lot in store for Isana--placed in a precarious political position and forced to make alliances out of necessity rather than her own desires.  Lots of great surprise revelations with her character and connections to other major players throughout the series.

I also adore the two main romantic relationships--Amara and Bernard are just so adorable.  Tavi and Kitai are as well.  I love the verbal banter for each!

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In a power-hungry rebellion, High Lord Kalare has challenged First Lord Gaius Sextus. This is again a split narrative following Tavi on one front--sent with a false identity to join a newly minted Legion. It becomes apparent that Kalare has combine forces with Aleran enemies from afar, the wolf-like warriors and sorcerers known as the Canim.  When treachery from within destroys the army's command structure, Tavi finds himself leading an inexperienced, poorly equipped legion-the only force standing between the Canim horde and the war-torn realm. He isn't ready to be "Captain" but he embraces the role readily and leads the soldiers with his tactical ingenuity and intelligence, once again unable to rely on furycrafting like others of the realm.

While Tavi's part in this tale is significant, Isana is a key player. Readers learn more about her past, her connection to Araris Valerian. Butcher weaves in even more narrative surprises. Amara and Bernard's story-line is a bit less impressive during this book; however, their time with Rook and the additional allies they meet will prove important for later books.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Two more years have passed since the Aleran legions have been battling the Canim horde.  Tavi continues to act as captain under an assumed name, fighting the Canin plus deal with power hungry politicians hell bent to relieve him of his command.  In order to put an end to the fighting, Tavi must determine what might appease the enemy to go home, only to then realize that another shared enemy, that's right, The Vord, has forced them from their homeland. Tavi and his allies pull off the prison break of all prison breaks to forge a new alliance and give both sides a chance of survival.

Captain's Fury is a pivotal book for the series.  Tavi learns the truth of his parentage and has it out with his mother about all the lies. He is learning to furycraft. He declares his parentage to all and then has to accept the fallout of his actions.

It is a big book for Isana too. She's much more powerful then she ever imagined. A good portion of Amara and Bernard's story following the First Lord is a bit slow; however, the events at the end are significant and change Amara's role as a Cursor forever.

I adored this book! It is a real emotional page turner. I just adore Tavi and felt so proud during all his moments.  I love Kitai as always too.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Parts of Princeps Fury are a bit of a slow burn.  There is a lot of important stuff happening but this is really the last narrative bridge before the final book of the series.

Tavi, now recognized as Princeps Gaius Octavian and heir to the crown, has achieved a fragile alliance with Alera's oldest foes, the savage Canim. But when he and the legions guide the Canim safely back to their lands, Tavi's worst fears are realized.

The dreaded Vord - the enemy of Aleran and Cane alike - have spent the last three years laying waste to the Canim homeland. And when the Alerans are cut off from their ships, they find themselves with no choice but to fight shoulder to shoulder if they are to survive.

Meanwhile, back in Alera, the Vord are also attacking the realm. What is left of the divided legions must stand together, ignoring feuds and differences in order to fight the enemy. 

Readers get plenty of nail-biting suspense as new alliances are formed, murderous plots are revealed and Gaius Sextus makes the ultimate sacrifice for his people while setting up a few unlikely challenges for those who might succeed his rule.

This was another compelling page turner with plenty of cliffhanger moments. Isana again surprised me as did some other characters. 

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

And now for the epic end. Will Tavi make it back to Alera in time? Will those left be able to save Alera from the Vord?

For years all of Tavi's trials and tribulations have led him to this moment. Now the rightful First Lord, Tavi must lead his Legion as well as their Canim allies on a harrowing journey to face down the Vord in an epic battle.  If they fail in their effort to defeat the Vord Queen, all hope is lost.  All of his skills are put to the test as he'll have to not only prove he is adept at powerful furycrafting but also use his intelligence and wits to outsmart the enemy on his home-turn, the Calderon Valley.

Everything comes together with fantastic action sequences from multiple fronts--Amara and Bernard fighting the good fight on their own, holding out to wait for Tavi's much anticipated arrival as well as a surprising story-line for Isana that fits in with the final battle as well as provides some interesting psychoanalysis time with the enemy queen.

I loved everything about this book. Tavi + Kitai= Forever.  What an epic relationship that never disappoints.  The same for Isana and Alaris as well as Amara and Bernard.  There are a few heart-stopping moments and I adored them all.  It is a bit bittersweet to finally finish these books but the journey was so worth it!

Final rating: ALL THE STARS!

Follow the author on Twitter: @longshotauthor

#CodexAlera #epicfantasy #adventure #magic #humor #romance #books

REVIEW: "Bombshells" by Jim Butcher

"Bombshells" is a short story of the Dresden Files occurring between Changes and Ghost Story.  Told from Molly Carpenter's POV, she's dealing with the death of her mentor, staying under the White Council's readar and has been keeping up her magical apprentice training with 'Auntie Lea' while assuming the Ragged Lady persona to fight the Fomor's increasing presence in Chicago. When Justine shows up claiming Thomas is missing, Molly does some investigating before teaming up with Justine and Andi (Butters' werewolf girlfriend) to crash a party, thwart the treaty signing between the Fomor and Svartalves, save Thomas and prevent a bomb explosion. All in a day's work, right!?!

This story is featured in the anthology Dangerous Women edited by George R. R. Martin and featuring other stories by Carrie Vaughn, George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, and Diana Gabaldon. I skimmed through the rest of the book but wasn't enamored by many of the other stories.

I really enjoyed "Bombshells" since I adore Butcher's writing but also the chance to read a story from Molly's perspective. I love her and the growth her character has made since she arrived into Dresden's life in Proven Guilty. Lea, Butters and Andi never disappoint and it is always nice to see Justine and Thomas.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

#bombshells #dresdenfiles #anthology #DangerousWomen #books