Book Review: The Fox, the Dog, and the King by Matt Doyle

The Fox, the Dog, and the King (The Cassie Tam Files Book 2) by [Doyle, Matt]Title: The Fox, the Dog, and the King

Author: Matt Doyle

Publisher: Nine Star Press

Publication date: July 23, 2018

Genre: Mystery & Thriller, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, LGBT

Summary: It was supposed to be date night for Cassie and Lori, but, following the performance, the performer asks to see them, having recognized Cassie as a private investigator. Known only as Kitsune, and outfitted in Tech Shifting gear at all times in public, she asks Cassie to locate her missing dog. Thanks to her interfering girlfriend, Cassie takes the case and is pulled into more than just finding a missing dog, something that involves a king of the criminal world.

This is the second book in the Cassie Tam Files series and, like the first, it’s fast paced. The mystery is almost unrelenting, but the futuristic world is not sacrificed and continues to be built upon. As I was familiar with the world the second time around, it was easier to understand, which was great because another layer was revealed that added depth and complexity.

Despite being science fiction, this is also most definitely a mystery. It had great momentum, and the case kept Cassie almost constantly in motion. The simple case she took snowballed into a much bigger one that led her into a great deal more danger. Even though I know there’s a third book, which makes it likely Cassie would be okay, I was still on the edge of my seat, wondering how it would end. I loved that the fast pace of the mystery meant the story was continually in motion, and that it showcased how incredibly bright and astute Cassie is, much quicker than I am, that’s for sure!

Being science fiction, it takes place at some point in the future. I am in awe of the technology, like the Tech Shifting gear that lets you become virtually any animal you want. At the same time, there was still a great deal of familiarity, as though the past and future were melded, which helped make it easier to digest. What I loved is that Doyle didn’t just repeat all the information from the first book, but instead built very well on top of it, added layers and details that weren’t overwhelming, but were necessary to the story.

The characters were very well done, and felt like they could have walked out of the pages and been real people walking around outside my windows. Well, there are a few I wouldn’t want to come across, but I think you get the idea. They’re dynamic and interesting. At the same time, they’re consistent in who they are. They don’t throw surprises just to make the plot move forward or something else to work. The story and characters worked hand in hand.

The one thing that disappointed me was the relationship between Cassie and Lori. After it being a focus in the first book, I hoped to see more of Lori and watch their relationship blossom and face challenges. Unfortunately, Lori wasn’t seen much and didn’t seem to play much of a role. Of course, I understand this is a science fiction mystery and nowhere near a romance, which I wouldn’t read anyways, but I was so charmed by them in the first book that I was really looking forward to seeing them together more. But I guess the mystery part just kept snowballing so Cassie had to stay in motion, which gave very little time for her to think about Lori. I sure hope Lori knows what she’s gotten herself into!

Overall, this was as delightful as the first book. It has great characters, an interesting world, and a great blend of science fiction and mystery where neither are sacrificed.

How many cups of tea will you need?

An excellent 4 cups will be perfect.

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Book review: Pricked by Scott Mooney

Book Review: Pricked by Scott Mooney

Title: Pricked

Author: Scott Mooney

Publisher: Bleeding Ink Publishing

Publication date: August 13, 2019

Genre: Fantasy

Summary: Briar is summoned to meet with Count Grimmour and hired to find his daughter’s boyfriend, a Know Not that doesn’t know about the fairy tale world hidden from view in New York City. The boyfriend, Rick, has been kidnapped, and Briar is tasked with using her unique magic to find him as all the wizards have failed. At her side is the knight Antoine, who both protects her and divulges important information about the Royals. With time working against them (they only have three days to find Rick, and it’s actually less than that as some of that time was taken up with wizards failing to locate him), they must work fast to prevent a war between two Royal families that has the power to wipe out fairy tale world.

This is heavily fantasy with a good dash of mystery, the mystery being, of course, the questions of where Rick is and who has him and why. The fantasy was well done with a unique world parallel to our own, magic, and fairy tale elements. I was a little disappointed that there were only fairy tale elements and no real fairy tale retellings, but I suppose it’s simply a world where fairy tales exist and it still must be a self-contained city with more than princes, princesses, and the commoners turned royals with their wicked stepmothers and stepsisters trying desperately to stop them. The mystery part was strong, but also lacking as neither Briar nor Antoine had any real clue of what they were doing, kind of like bumbling detectives. It was amusing, had plenty of action, and kept the plot moving, but they felt more like elephants trampling into the mystery.

What bothered me the most was the mystery part. It was well laid out, and I expected a fair amount of breaking and entering, lying to gain access to information, danger around every corner, and a fair amount of exciting action. Yes, all that was there. But what bothered me were the roles Briar and Antoine played. They both leapt headlong into the mystery and were seemingly on a never ending dive into finding Rick. They kept going forward, pushing onwards even when they should have stopped to think. If they had stopped to think, they probably wouldn’t have gotten themselves in so much unnecessary trouble. All the clues were right in front of their noses. Ironically, Briar caught literal whiffs of it, but was unable to put it together. But I suppose it was fair for a character in her young adult years who wasn’t going to be a crime solver at all and a character who was a knight and more used to fighting and defending that deep thinking.

I find myself on the fence about Briar’s magic. On one hand, it’s unique. It involves emotions and roses, and I haven’t read anything like it before. At first, it was a little hard to understand, but, as the book went along, the idea of imbuing a rose with emotions to cast something like a spell on people became easier to understand and swallow. On the other hand, it makes her out to be a dog who can sniff out emotions. It was a little bizarre and kind of too ordinary for someone with such unique magic. I did like that her abilities grew, but it felt like it was done more to help the plot and ensure the good guys prevail. There was also a lot left unexplained, which was frustrating and annoying, though I suppose a second book could help explore it as the end leaves it open to possibilities.

I would have loved to get to know the fairy tale world a little more. We get excellent glimpses of an interesting place heavily influenced by fairy tales while also being entirely self-contained. But, since so much of the story took place in our world and the characters referenced pop culture rather than fairy tales, it felt like an odd patchwork of stories plunked down next to each other.

Overall, this was an intriguing mix of fantasy and mystery with a healthy number of red herrings thrown in and conflicts galore between the characters. The magic was interesting, if a bit bizarre, and the setting was imaginative, though could have used more development. There were hints at romance, including some triangles, but it clearly wasn’t a focus, which I liked.

This is great for someone who enjoys fairy tales, but wants to create one for themselves. Not so great for someone looking for a retelling.

How many cups of tea will you need?

4 should be more than sufficient.

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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy. All opinions are my own.

Book review: Earthbound Angels trilogy by Elizabeth Corrigan

Book Review: Earthbound Angels Trilogy by Elizabeth Corrigan

Earthbound Angels Trilogy by [Corrigan, Elizabeth]Title: Earthbound Angels (Book 1: Oracle of Philadelphia, Book 2: Raising Chaos, Book 3: Archangel Errant)

Author: Elizabeth Corrigan

Publisher: Red Adept Publishing, LLC

Publication date: October 2, 2018

Genre: Fantasy – Paranormal

Summary: The balance between Heaven and Hell is shifting. Bedlam is a demon, but hates Hell. Gabriel is an angel who has lost faith in his heavenly duties. Carrie is a mortal cursed by Lucifer to live forever. And, unfortunately for Carrie, she has angered a demon who seeks the one thing that can kill an immortal. It’s up to Bedlam to save her, but, in doing so, he upsets the balance between Heaven and Hell, leaving it up to the other angels to either accept him back or find a way to find balance once again.

It would be far easier to write separate reviews, but since I read it one right after the other, I feel I can only really talk about it as a whole. That said, each of the books is great individually. Put together, the story feels a little disjointed. Each book follows it’s own arc that, together, lead up to the final events. When examined closely, it feels awkward with shifting viewpoints from book to book. As a whole, though, it kind of makes sense as the three main characters each have their own book and they’re all working together towards the same ending.

I really love a good angels and demons story. The last one was almost two years ago, and it left me incredibly disappointed. I was a little apprehensive about accepting the author’s request, but I’m very glad I did. This is a great angels and demons story, and I absolutely loved that each angel and demon had individual identities and that the demons weren’t too unlike the angels, especially since they had once been angels. The characterizations were brilliant and well-done, though I definitely wished we could have seen Lucifer a little more.

Carrie, Carrie, Carrie. I loved the angels and demons part. In the first book, I adored Carrie. But it was a quick downhill with her after that. As the title implies, Oracle of Philadelphia is about the oracle, Carrie. It’s her story. And since we started with her, we can’t just abandon her after the first book. No, she plays a key part in Bedlam and Gabriel’s immortal lives, but her stories after the first book are lackluster and disappointing. She is necessary and much of the story hinges on her, but her stories outside of the angels and demons parts just felt like filler.

The one interesting experience I had while reading this trilogy was absolutely loving every word while reading it. I loved the reimaginings of biblical events. They were entertaining, amusing, and made a lot of sense. The author’s retellings fit really well. But, when I came out of the books, I realized most of the story was basically retellings of the bible. The story definitely moved forward, but it felt like at least a half of the trilogy was made up of just biblical retellings. But, like I said, I loved it in the moment. Not so much now that I’ve finished reading. So, I suppose you could say I’m torn.

I absolutely loved how Corrigan conceptualized Heaven and Hell. Gosh, I’d be willing to visit Hell! The way it was developed was fascinating. Heaven wasn’t quite as interesting, but the world building was still very well done, and it was easy to visualize what it looked like. It was also a lot of fun to read about Earth’s evolution through the eyes and designs of the angels and demons. It managed to match well with the Bible while also offering plausible alternative explanations that were thought-provoking.

Overall, this was an interesting trilogy and a satisfactory angels and demons story. It offered intriguing retellings of Biblical stories, though it also felt a little overdone, set against a shift in the balance between Heaven and Hell, though this part felt a little lackluster compared to the rich tapestry of stories the angels and demons told. Unfortunately, it leaves the story set in present times a little incomplete and not quite as interesting as the Biblical history.

How many cups of tea will you need?

4 cups would be perfect.

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Thank you so much to the author, Elizabeth Corrigan for a free electronic copy. All opinions are my own.

Book Review of The Cottage at Plum Tree Bay by Darcie Boleyn

Book Review: The Cottage at Plum Tree Bay by Darcie Boleyn

The Cottage at Plum Tree Bay: An uplifting, cosy Cornish romance (Cornish Hearts Book 2) by [Boleyn, Darcie]Title: The Cottage at Plum Tree Bay

Author: Darcie Boleyn

Publisher: Canelo

Publication date: July 25, 2019

Genre: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Summary: Catherine is thirty-four, works as a teacher, lives with and takes care of her needy mother, and has only had one romance, which she gave up in order to stay with her mother. Mark is recently out of a very long-term relationship and has gone to stay in Penhallow Sands to recover and fight through writer’s block. Neither are looking for romance, but neither can deny the attraction between them.

If you’re looking for romance, you’ll find it in spades. If you’re looking for women’s fiction, you’ll sort of find it. Overall, this book follows the formula for the typical romance. Yet it’s also categorized as women’s fiction, and we do get some of that. Catherine has never left her mother or Penhallow Sands and there are some issues with being abandoned by her father at the start of her adolescent years. Over twenty years later, her encounters with Mark have brought out a yearning to know if there’s more to life, and what her life could have been and could be. I would say this is about three-quarters romance and one quarter women’s fiction. Perfect if you’re looking for romance, not so ideal if you’re looking for women’s fiction.

As a rule, with very few exceptions, I don’t enjoy romance. It’s too formulaic to me. I’m glad to say most of this book was cleverly disguised with women’s fiction themes, so the fact that it is also a romance didn’t hit me until the end, when that oh so typical element in romance where something breaks up the hero and heroine popped up and felt almost like a non-sequitur. Honestly, I wish it had been left out. Other than attempting to add some tension and throw in a usual romance element, it felt very flat, and made me question Catherine’s character and everything I had learned about her. I was so disappointed in her character and stopped caring about the couple, who are far from the typical twenty-somethings figuring out themselves and their relationships. I did love that both Catherine and Mark are in their thirties.

One thing I absolutely loved was how some of the characters were portrayed. They were fun, sassy, and had a great deal of flair. Of course, they also felt stereotypical, but I loved that, instead of having a girlfriend sidekick, Catherine had a gay couple. I mean, what girl doesn’t want a gay best friend? I loved them, and wanted to take them out of the book for myself. What I didn’t love were Diana, Catherine’s mother, and Lucy. Neither felt fully developed despite playing important roles. Come to think of it, though, I could have done without the Lucy subplot. She was more of a vehicle to showcase Catherine and Mark as little more than angels. While I’m on this thread, Mark’s character was surprisingly lackluster. He was very stagnant despite having his heart shattered and discovering an attraction to Catherine.

If you like dramatic events, there are plenty here. They were a little over the top for me. Overall, I don’t feel they added much to the story, other than to knock Catherine over the head with what a catch Mark is and she would be stupid to cling to her mother instead of taking a chance. They did, though, add color to the relatively quite Penhallow Sands and the inhabitants.

Overall, this is more typical romance than typical women’s fiction. It was a decent read with plenty of charm and a relatively heartwarming romance that could be seen a mile away. Not bad for an easy summer read.

How many cups of tea will you need?

3 should be good.

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Thank you to NetGalley and Canelo for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: The Venice Atonement by Merryn Allingham

 

Title: The Venice Atonement

Author: Merryn Allingham

Publisher: Canelo

Publication date: June 27, 2019

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Historical Mystery

Summary: Following her sudden marriage to the much older art professor Leo Tremayne in 1955, Nancy finds herself exploring Venice, with nothing else to do until she witnesses a woman she’d met once before tumble from a balcony at the opera. Ruled a suicide, Nancy isn’t so sure. With nothing else to do and wanting to find her own place in the world and her marriage, she jumps headlong into investigating the mysterious death, convinced it’s a murder. Often heedless of the danger she could find herself in, she’s quickly grateful for the begrudgingly given help from her husband’s aloof (to her) assistant. As their departure date from Venice rushes towards them, Nancy hurries to solve her mystery.

Embedded in this book is a mystery and the struggles of a married woman in the 1950s. The two played off of each other brilliantly and, while I really liked the ending, it left me wanting more of Nancy and wanting to know about her future and if she ever truly finds her feet as a married woman. I loved the fact that Nancy’s soul searching was a key part of her desire to solve the mysterious death of someone she’d spoken to once.

In the 1950s, women who married well were not expected to work, nor did their husbands tend to want them to work. This is the kind of marriage Nancy has found herself in. Her husband is a prominent and important man in the art world, and he expects Nancy to act accordingly. But Nancy came from a very different world, one where she had a job that gave her the means to take care of herself. Finding herself suddenly married to a man who doesn’t want her to work leaves her struggling to comprehend her new life, which drives her desire to solve the mystery of Marta Moretto’s death.

The mystery itself isn’t too twisty, but did have some delightful turns I wasn’t expecting. It turned out to be a much more complicated web with unlikely players than I initially thought it would be. Even though I found the first half of the book to be a tad slow, it did set up the rest of the book brilliantly and I loved that Nancy connected the dots as quickly as I did. The second half was when the mystery really started to warm up and a dangerous air quickly set it. While it was easy to put aside the book after a chapter or two in the beginning, I quickly found the opposite to be true once I hit the halfway mark. The mystery was well-done, very well-handled, and overall extremely satisfactory.

What I most enjoyed was the setting. Not only does the city of Venice present romance and intrigue, it proves to be the perfect backdrop for the mystery, what with it’s long canals of water, the danger of flooding, the isolated islands, and the fog that comes with being by the sea. The city and the mystery worked perfectly together. But I also loved that Allingham actually talked about the city and real places in Venice rather than simply use it as a backdrop, a setting for the sake of having a setting. I’ve only been once, but this book really makes me want to go back and re-experience the city.

I loved the characters and how well-developed and complex they were. Nancy was both strong and fragile. She was quick to make decisions and see them through, but her past traumas also gave her an air of fragility that was well-used in the story but felt a little undeveloped. Most of the time, it felt like her past was there to be used as a tool and not to really develop Nancy’s character. But I loved Archie, Nancy’s husband’s assistant. He was often cold to Nancy, but went out of his way to help her as she worked to solve the mystery. He was always there for her even though he exuded a strong dislike for her. Their relationship was complex and full of ups and downs, mostly professional but touching on personal once in a while.

Overall, this was a delightful mystery, full of turns that twisted without being too mind boggling. I loved that my mind wasn’t completely confused by the end, but, instead, felt like the mystery had been fully resolved, as unexpected as some of the elements were. The characters and their interactions moved the story along rather nicely and I felt almost entirely satisfied by the last page. I wouldn’t mind knowing what’s next in store for Nancy, Archie, and Leo.

How many cups of tea will you need?

5 cups, most definitely, especially during the second half.

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Thank you so much to Netgalley and Canelo for a copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan - a book review

Book Review: Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan

Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe (A Novel with Recipes Book 0) by [Colgan, Jenny]

Title: Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe

Author: Jenny Colgan

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Publication date: July 2, 2019

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Summary: Issy Randall was raised in her grandfather’s bakery, but, instead of opening her own, she got an office job in London and moved her grandfather into a nursing home. When she’s abruptly laid off and seemingly loses her boyfriend/ex-boss, she takes it as the perfect opportunity to open her own cafe. It’s a slow start with a single employee, someone she met in a class for those who had been laid off, but, with the support of friends and a very handsome banker, she manages to get her cafe off the ground. Until her ex-boss, with something up his sleeve, steps back into her life.

I was charmed by this book and absolutely loved the recipes peppered throughout, especially since some of them were written in Issy’s grandfather’s loving voice. It was a sweet novel full of friendship and unexpected love. But, while I enjoyed it, I had a love-hate relationship with it the entire time.

Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe is charming and perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth. I did enjoy it and loved it to a certain degree. It’s everything you could possibly want in a women’s fiction book. There’s the cast of caring, if a bit troubled, ladies; the handsome prospective boyfriend; the cad of an ex; a charming locale; and the focus on friendship with a hint of romance thrown in. It’s a perfect women’s fiction novel, perfect for anyone who loves them. It has all the elements and does them well, and I must admit it had me wandering into my kitchen to whip up some cupcakes myself, though they probably weren’t anywhere near to the perfection Issy can do effortlessly.

At the same time, everything that makes this book a perfect women’s fiction novel is why I hate it. It does hit every note just right. It has all the elements. And that makes it feel like a cookie cutter women’s fiction novel. It’s great if that’s what you’re looking for, but I also found myself disappointed that the author didn’t take the opportunity to tweak it a little and add something new to the genre. It almost felt like there was a template being followed.

Similarly, I had the same reaction to Issy. She was sweet and a bit naive and perhaps too optimistic for being thirty-two, especially at a time when many women aren’t even choosing to settle down and having a family until well after that age. I did like her character. She was sweet and caring and absolutely has a good heart in the right place. I like that she wasn’t perfect and wasn’t even a beautiful blonde. I also love that she showed growth as a person as the novel progressed. But her naivete and desperation made her grate on my nerves a little. She knew better, I know she knew better, but her desperation and desire for a certain life had her making mistakes that I think are more common in women younger than her.

Overall, this is a good book. The setting in an up and coming part of London, the colorful characters, the recipes, the focus on friendship rather than romance, and the sweet relationship between Issy and her grandfather were lovely. It really is a perfect women’s fiction novel. I just wish it hadn’t toed the line so much and had taken a few chances. Still, I’ll probably be trying more than one recipe.

Personally, as a reader who would have liked a little experimentation, this would be a 3 cups of tea book. But, taken as a strict women’s fiction novel, it definitely hits all the right notes in all the right places with an interesting plot that moves along nicely and a lovely cast of characters. It’s charmingly written, so I’d give it a 5. Overall, I’d have to give this a solid 4 cups of tea.

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Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for an electronic advance copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: After the End by Clare Mackintosh

 

Title: After the End

Author: Clare Mackintosh

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group Putnam

Publication Date: June 25, 2019

Genre: Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Summary: When their young son is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, Max and Pip must make an impossible choice: seek further treatment that might extend his life or let him go. As they become further at odds with each other, and the world begins to tune in to their story, a decision is made, but what happens after the end is just the beginning of another journey for this young couple.

As a parent, especially that of young children, this book made me cry. I had to stop several times during the first half because reading through tears is impossible. The love that Max and Pip have for their son is overwhelming, but perfectly understandable, especially as their toddler is quickly losing a battle. It hurt my heart to read, but the strength Max and Pip showed together and separately made me keep reading.

The first half was heartbreakingly beautiful. It encompasses everything that happens before “the end.” Max and Pip are seen caring for their son while he’s in the hospital and then grappling with the decision the hospital is forcing on them about what to do about his future care. We’re given the story from Max’s and Pip’s points of view as well as their son’s doctor, Leila. It was a bit of a slow going as the only major events were Max and Pip in the hospital with their son and the trial to determine how care should proceed for their son. There wasn’t much action or movement; it felt more like a gradual buildup to what comes after “the end.”

The second half moved much quicker. It follows the events after the trial, detailing whether Max had won or if Pip had won, and told from their respective points of view. At first, it was a little confusing to follow with the alternating narratives and different timelines, but it became easier to follow, though I sometimes still had to remind myself of which person went where, and stopping in the middle of a chapter was a no-no for me because I then couldn’t remember whose narrative I was reading. There was a lot of overlap between the two stories, but they eventually took separate journeys that became easier to follow. It was intriguing to see how two different decisions could have so many similar features, like the introduction of the same people despite different trial outcomes, and still end differently. I suppose two choices from the same starting point with the same people will lead them on different journeys but still have enough similarities because it involves the same start point and same involved parties.

I really loved that this book never gave a definitive answer of what the court chose. Instead, it gave both Max and Pip the room to explore what their lives would be like if one or the other had won and still leaves the reader satisfied. This is great for any reader who ever wondered if a character’s different choice would have taken the story in a different direction. As strange as it was to read sometimes, it was oddly satisfying and I feel as though I don’t need to know what the real decision was, because I still got both stories and can decide for myself which path I favored and believe the court went with. It’s like Schrodinger’s cat: both beliefs that the cat is alive or dead are true until the chamber the cat is in is opened to reveal the truth. Unless we’re given the real decision, both paths could, and are, true.

What I didn’t like as much were how Leila and Max were characterized and how rushed the ending to Pip’s story was. Leila was portrayed as the professional, caring doctor, but she made key mistakes that she should not have. As someone who has worked in healthcare-related positions, I know patient privacy is of utmost importance, so Leila’s mistakes really bothered me. Max was also troublesome for me as he’s an American who moved to the U.K. for Pip. It’s explained that he’s been there so long that he’s become more British than American. I get that, but, when he returned to the States, he still felt overwhelmingly British, even after he’d been there for a long stretch of time. It was a little tough to get past and I would have appreciated seeing him return to his roots a little more. Lastly, Max’s story wrapped up really well, but Pip’s seemed to jump a bit and, while it mostly makes sense and there were hints, it feels like it was smacked in my face and I was left reeling a bit.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. A few things bothered me, but the story of a couple with a huge love for their son and each other was beautifully done. It’s both the story of a family struggling to remain intact and the story of two people traveling two different paths.

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How many cups of tea will you need?

4 should be just perfect, especially after you make it after the first part filled with heartbreaks.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and the publisher for a free copy. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Thousand Sunny Queen by Mike Aaron

Thousand Sunny Queen by [Aaron, Mike]

 

Title: Thousand Sunny Queen

Author: Mike Aaron

Publisher: self-published

Publication date: June 20, 2019

Genre: Fiction, Adventure, Humor

 

Summary: Jennifer King wants to be a pirate. Trained by the reclusive Kingston Clink, she spends her childhood learning all the skills she’ll need to protect herself and realize her dream. At 17, she sets out from the little Caribbean island she grew up on and heads for Africa, meeting an assortment of people who teach her something about herself and offer friendship and other questionable relationships. Through it all, Jennifer just wants to be a pirate.

Jennifer is off her rocker crazy. But I think that’s why I loved her. She’s clearly nuts, but delights in it. Not the brightest bulb, either, but she always manages to pull through whatever life throws at her, and it throws her some pretty crazy stuff.

Jennifer also makes me want to give her a big hug. The first few chapters detailing her upbringing broke my heart. Life wasn’t easy for her, but I’m so glad Clink turned out to be a “good” guy. I say “good” because he’s clearly a criminal, but he really, truly cares about Jennifer and does his best to protect her from a distance.

Outside of Jennifer herself, what I loved about this book was how full of adventure and action it was. There was always something happening to her. It was like trouble could always count on her to make things interesting, so it went after her. And Jennifer always rose to the occasion. What was tough about it, though, was that she got to know people and then they would send her on her merry way. All she wanted was a friend and to create a crew, but almost everyone she met befriended her and then said no (my broken heart…). But I did like that we never got too comfortable with anyone. Once it felt like Jennifer had spent enough time with someone, she moved on. The story kept going. The pace was quick, but allowed a few breaths here and there.

What was a little harder to get past was the writing. While it’s better than that found in the author’s first novel, Cuteness Overlord, it’s still a bit rough. I like that there wasn’t much padding, but sometimes it also felt like the story was a little stripped down.

Overall, I was quite satisfied with this book. It was a great story of a young woman pursuing her dreams no matter what. If I have one complaint, it’s that it involves a great deal of criminal activity. Of course, it is centered on a girl seeking to become a pirate. Perhaps the character of Jennifer as a strong, crazy young lady who will do anything to pursue her dreams would be better suited for a fantasy novel. But I also appreciate that it’s set in the real world because it does take all kinds, and we do meet all kinds in this book, to make the world go ’round. Jennifer may be nuts, but, seriously, it’s a girl chasing her dreams and showing she has the muscle and backbone to pursue it.

How many cups of tea will you need?

4 cups for sure.

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Thank you so much to the author, Mike Aaron, for an advance copy. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Book Review: Fireborn by Katie MacAlister

 

Title: Fireborn (Book 1 in the Born Prophecy series)

Author: Katie MacAlister

Publisher: Rebel Base Books/Kensignton Books

Publication Date: June 11, 2019

Genre: Fantasy

 

Summary: Twin goddesses Kiriah and Bellias created the Fireborn and Starborn, respectively, but the two have been at war with each other. A child has been fated to bring the Fireborn and Starborn together, but, before that can happen, the Harborym invade the home of the Starborn and the child, Deo, is sent to be raised by his Fireborn father. As the Fireborn fail to drive out the Harborym, Deo grows up and learns to wield the invaders’ chaos magic against his father’s wishes and sets out to free his Starborn mother. Allegria, a priestess Deo once met as an adolescent, carries a special magic that could be key to driving out the Harborym and believes in Deo’s mission so much that she falls in with him and becomes one of his Banesmen. Hallow was the apprentice to an archanist, one who can wield the power of the stars, and finds himself in Deo’s father’s company, likewise seeking to drive out the Harborym at the same time Deo and his men are trying to. A chance encounter between Allegria and Hallow brings him into Deo’s company. Together, the three are destined to fail or succeed.

Overall, this was an interesting fantasy book. It had all the standard characteristics including magic, a prophesied child, and a battle essentially between good and evil, or chaos magic and forms of light magic. I also loved the magic that was introduced, being able to shape animals from light and drawing power from the stars. But I also felt that this book added little to the genre as a whole. It was a fairly standard fantasy leaning towards epic fantasy, but, overall, doesn’t stand out.

The setting was interesting, but I felt it wasn’t fully developed. The book description mentioned the Fireborn and Starborn were at war with each other, so I pictured a world where half of it was bathed in sunlight and half bathed in moonlight. Of course, the rational part of me knows that’s absurd, but I was disappointed that there didn’t seem to be any difference between the two and their lands other than where they draw their magic from and what they look like. The worldbuilding was lacking and I have no clear idea of what much of it looks like and how it functions.

The story also felt a little disjointed. It flowed extremely well for the first two-thirds of the book. There was conflict and action and an exciting, if bloody, battle that really introduced the invading Harborym and put on display what Deo, Allegria, and Hallow were capable of. I fully enjoyed it, but, as the battle came to a close and I realized there was still a good third of the book left, I was a little dismayed. Turns out the last third felt more like a extended epilogue and simultaneous setup for a second book. It was far flatter than the first two-thirds and was not as interesting.

For the most part, I enjoyed the characters, especially Hallow. He was the most level-headed and offered some levity. In the last third, Deo also provided some amusing comic relief, but was otherwise more of an angry young man during the first two-thirds. That isn’t to say he wasn’t interesting, but I don’t enjoy overly angry and arrogant characters. The most problematic character for me was Allegria. Even though Deo and Hallow also served as narrators, she was the main one. I liked how fiery and stubborn she was, but, when Deo or Hallow were narrating, she somehow felt meeker with less fire in her. It seemed like her inner life was much richer than her outer life.

What really bothered me, though, was the romance. I don’t mind romance in fantasy as a rule. What I do often mind is the pacing. One of the primary reasons why I don’t read YA is because of the insta-love everyone who does read it talks about. Sure, it makes the romance clear-cut, but this book took insta-love and took it above and beyond straight into insta-fall-into-bed. It was a very sudden, very intense romance that didn’t seem to add much to the story. I could have done without, or to a much lesser degree.

What I did enjoy was that the story moved along at a good pace, even the last third of it. Something was almost always happening and the interactions between the characters kept the story moving. Nothing was superfluous and the writing was relatively tight. Conflicts peppered the book and forced the characters to evolve and learn new information.

While there were several things I didn’t enjoy, I still appreciate that this is a well-written book with a good pace, an interesting premise, a clear idea of what the second book will bring, and some interesting characters. Honestly, the bird character is my favorite, but Hallow was definitely worth reading about. For a standard fantasy, this wasn’t bad, but wasn’t exactly spectacular, either.

How many cups of tea will you need?

3 cups will do the trick

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and the publisher for a free copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: If Only by Melanie Murphy

 

Title: If Only

Author: Melanie Murphy

Publisher: Hatchette Books Ireland

Publication date: June 6, 2019

Genre: Fiction, Women’s fiction

 

Summary: Erin has just broken up with her fiance, has a job she hates, and is jealous of her new flatmate who is basically everything she isn’t. On the bright side, she has a fantastic friend in Reid, has just discovered her childhood friend Finn has moved to the same building, and is about to celebrate her thirtieth birthday with her beloved grandmother in Ireland. But her granny has a surprise for her: a special pendant that can give her the opportunity to briefly live a life she could have had that will change how she sees her reality.

I love the premise of this book. Who hasn’t wondered what their life would have been like if they’d made a different decision? I wouldn’t mind my own pendant, though I think it would drive me as nuts as it did Erin when she first received it. It is eye opening, though, what a glimpse into another life can give you. At the same time, it can also help one see how right reality can be for one. I loved that Erin explored a few possibilities, but kept coming back to how different her life in them was from what she loved about her reality. As a reader, I will always wonder about the if onlys, but reading this also makes me appreciate where my choices have led me and makes me think this is where I’m supposed to be.

The majority of this book takes place in London, and the characters feel like regular people out walking on the streets. Their speech was sometimes a little hard to follow and figure out since it just felt so very British, but I was charmed by the authenticity and how the author didn’t try to clean up their speech to make it more clear. It felt like I was listening in on someone’s life, and I loved it. One thing that bothered me a little, though, was when other characters would point out how Irish Erin was at times. As an American who doesn’t know the fine differences between being Irish and British, I had no clue what the character was talking about. There was no way I could tell what was British and what was Irish.

One interesting thought that kept striking me while I read, though, was how much it kept making me think of the movie Love, Actually. I don’t know if it was the setting or how the characters spoke or how, in it’s own way, the story revolved around love and friendship, but it made me smile and want to keep reading.

I really loved how the structure was very different from what I had expected. When Erin was presented with the pendant and told she would only have seven views, I expected the chapters to, more or less, alternate between views and reality. Instead, I got an Erin who was torn between being terrified of using the pendant and wanting desperately to glimpse what different decisions would have brought. Most of the book was spent with her debating whether to use it and her living her life and moving forward, creating her own unique family and place in the world. What I didn’t like were the time jumps immediately after the chapters detailing her pendant use. I would have liked a bit about her digesting and unpacking what she saw and how it might impact her reality.

Overall, this was a delightful novel, one I would probably read over and over. The characters felt familiar in that they could be anyone with the same problems and questions and regrets. I loved the way Erin used the pendant and how it impacted the way she saw her reality, and I commend her lack of impulse to use all seven tries. I loved how this book highlighted the fact that we all have wondered “what if” or “if only” and suggested that perhaps the life we are currently living is the one meant for us anyways and that we must continually move forward.

How many cups of tea will you need?

4 cups will be perfect.

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Thank you so much to Netgalley and Hatchette Books Ireland for a free copy. All opinions expressed here are my own.