Embers (Guild of the Cowry Catchers #1), by Abigail Hilton
Embers (Guild of the Cowry Catchers #1) is an interesting book. I'm not quite sure how it ended up on my TBR list, because I'm usually not drawn to fantasy with non-human characters. The characters in the world of Wefrivain are shelts, humanoid on top and animal on the bottom. Except for a few details, though, I found Gerard, the honorable new Chief of Police for the High Priestess (who is a humanoid-griffin combination), and Silveo, the corrupt, ruthless and damaged Admiral (humanoid-fox) to be very human on the inside. I had a hard time maintaining the visualization of the characters as described with their fox/griffin lower halves and long, pointy ears (I don't do long pointy ears) so I just imagined them as human to myself, editing that visualization when things like tails or paws were mentioned.
The story is engaging and well-written. Gerard and Silveo, who can't stand each other, are assigned to work together to find the elusive leader of the Resistance. Understanding and trust gradually grows between them (which, going by the reviews of later books, eventually turns into considerably more) as they face danger and track down clues. I enjoyed their interactions and seeing their characters unfold through the story.
I found a few things besides the half-animal appearance of the characters a little difficult, particularly the fairly bleak nature of the world and the fact that sentient beings hunt and eat other sentient beings.
The book ends abruptly; it's the first part of a serial, and the reason given for cutting the story into smaller parts is to accomodate the illustrations without making the ebook file too big. So be warned that this isn't a complete story; this installment doesn't even have its own complete story arc.
Later installments of the Guild of the Cowry Catchers veer into definite not-my-thing territory, so I won't be reading on. It's a good, well-written story; not continuing is just a matter of my own personal preferences. Also be aware that Guild of the Cowry Catchers is very much for adults (not a problem for me, but it appears that other readers have been taken by surprise, not noticing the author's very direct warning to that effect). I would suggest before starting that you read the descriptions and reviews of all the books to decide if it's for you. If you do decide to go for it, I would recommend buying the individual installments to get the beautiful illustrations (which aren't included in the omnibus edition).
See my main Clean Out Your eReader post for reading list and review links.
All Fall Down, by Christine Pope
All Fall Down is the tale of Merys, a physician who is captured by slavers and ends up being bought by Lord Shaine, whose desperately ill daughter needs Merys's help. Though Merys chafes at the loss of her freedom, she soon finds that her heart belongs to the people at Donnishold, and especially Lord Shaine. When the plague hits her new home, she must use all her strength and ingenuity and resources to try to save the people she has come to love.
Romantic fantasy is my favorite thing to read, so that automatically gave this book a boost. I found the style clear and easy to read, and I enjoyed the world and the characters. I did feel that the book was kind of light on both the fantasy and the romance aspects. Other than being set in another world, there really isn't any fantastical element other than near the end, during the plague, when the goddess appears to Merys in her dreams to reveal the cure for the plague. This appearance seemed poorly timed - there didn't seem to be any reason why the goddess should appear then and not sooner; if she had shown up sooner, a number of characters I wanted to live wouldn't have died. Or, for that matter, why she should have shown up at all.
As for the romance, of course it's clear that Merys and Shaine will end up together, but I had a hard time believing in their attraction to each other. The Merys-Shaine relationship doesn't really develop, it just happens. We know that Merys falls in love with Shaine because the book is written in first person so we see her thoughts and feelings, but there doesn't seem to be a process of growing attraction and affection; she just realizes one day that she's in love with him. As for Lord Shaine, he doesn't get a lot of attention in the book. We know that he loves his daughter and treats his slaves and servants well, has a tragic past, and seems like an overall good guy in spite of his brooding, but we never really get to know him on a deeper level or get to see his (presumably) growing attraction towards Merys. Part of this could be because of the limitations of writing in first person, but this can be overcome by a more observant first person protagonist and creating scenes with more varied interactions between the characters. Still, I could see that Merys and Shaine would suit each other; it wasn't hard for me to imagine them together, I just would have liked to see the feelings and the relationship develop instead of just suddenly being there.
Unlike some other reviewers, I didn't have a problem with the kind of iffy biological and medical science in the book, because Fantasy. This isn't our world, it doesn't work the same. Though I would have liked to see the author make freer use of the possibilities inherent in writing in a fantasy world other than the aforementioned divine intervention.
All Fall Down is sweet romance, with a few sexual references but no actual sex.
From reading other reviews, I understand All Fall Down is not the author's strongest work. It's an enjoyable read, but I feel it could be much stronger if the author had dug deeper into the characters' emotions and relationships and the freedom of writing in a fantasy world. Still, it's an enjoyable, quick read, and I will definitely try more of Ms. Pope's work.
Hal Spacejock, by Simon Haynes
All Hal Spacejock, the galaxy's most inept space pilot, wants is an honest hauling job so that he can pay off the creditors who are (literally) beating down his door and save his ship. When he's hired to transport a load of spare robot parts, he believes all his problems are over. Unfortunately for him, a rival company wants those parts too, badly, and Hal finds himself in the middle of a space heist. Fortunately for him, he's also been asked to transport the competent and much-put-upon robot Clunk to the parts yard for an "overhaul". With Clunk's help and a fair bit of luck, can Hal extricate himself from the mess he's in and save his ship?
This was really funny, with humor ranging from broad slapstick to sly observations on business and government. The pace is fast and the storytelling fairly easy to follow, though a few times I had a hard time figuring out what was going on, probably because I was reading too fast to find out what happens next. I also lost patience with Hal a few times for being so determinedly ignorant. It's hard to believe that someone like him, who absolutely rejects any kind of reasoning or instruction in the face of the results of his own incompetence, could have become a space pilot in the first place, but if you can suspend your disbelief in that one area, the rest of it flows pretty well. And Hal redeemed himself in my eyes with his concern and loyalty for the doomed Clunk.
I will defintely check out the rest of the series. Recommended for those who enjoy humorous science fiction on the silly side. Simon Haynes is also the author of the Hal Junior series for middle-grade readers, and the creator of the popular yWriter writing software.
See my main Clean Out Your eReader post for reading list and review links.
The Case of the Misplaced Hero, by Camille LaGuire
Camille LaGuire is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I love her Mick and Casey stories (Have Gun, Will Play) and there's always something interesting going on on her blog, so I decided to give some of her other mystery/adventures a try.
In The Case of the Misplaced Hero, Alex's eccentric aunt once gave him a special ring and advised him to go jump in a lake. One evening, while escorting his drunk professor, Thorny, home from the bar, Alex discovers what she meant when he and Thorny fall in the river. On the other side, they find themselves in a different world, in the middle of mysterious goings-on involving a train wreck, a missing spy, and an assassination plot.
The action is fun and exciting, with plenty of twists and turns (the story was originally posted as a serial on Ms. LaGuire's blog and follows that same structure), and the characters are enjoyable and well-drawn. I especially like Alex, Thorny, and Rozinshura, the much-put-upon captain of the garrison in the town where the train wreck happened and where Alex and Thorny washed up to everyone's confusion. There's also plenty of humor - "Anarcho-Bureaucracy" is my favorite political system that I've ever come across in a novel.
Plots are discovered, mysteries are solved (though there are loose ends which hopefully will be continued in the companion story about the Baronness of Beethingham, aka Plink), and Alex learns that when the time is right, anyone can be a hero. A fun, fast-paced, and enjoyable read.
See my main COYER post for reading list and review links.
Brood of Bones, by A.E. Marling
Colorful, complex fantasy about an enchantress trying to deal with an epidemic of bizarre and unexplainable pregnancies in her city.
Hiresha the Elder Enchantress ("elder" being a title, not an indication of her age) is a wonderful, complex character. Afflicted with chronic sleepiness, she assumes an air of cold arrogance to cover up deep shame and insecurities, a painful compassion for the women and children afflicted by the unnatural pregnancies, and her own longings for love, family, and a normal life. She studied sorcery in an attempt to find a cure for her somnolence so she could have a hope of living a normal life, but instead, her position as an enchantress sets her even farther apart from normal. (Having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I especially sympathized with Hiresha's frustrations and feelings of inadequacy at being unable to do things that most people take for granted.)
Hiresha works most of her magic when she's asleep, in a bejeweled dream laboratory that allows her to observe people and events with amazing precision. These sections are memorable for how colorful they are, in Hiresha's use of various gemstones to work her magic, and in the scientific approach she takes to her work.
The city of Morimound is a unique setting, certainly not your standard pseudo-medieval-Europe fantasy setting - which I definitely consider another plus. The culture, especially the religion and the belief in a cycle of floods, is interesting and well-developed. The other characters in the story are all well-drawn, unique, and well-rounded, especially Maid Janny, Hiresha's nursemaid/lady's maid/scold/comic sidekick, who helps Hiresha deal with the twenty-seven gowns she is required to wear as symbols of her sorcerous achievements and takes her down a notch when her defensive show of arrogance gets out of hand, and the Lord of the Feast, villain/ally/almost love interest.
Brood of Bones is written in a clear, colorful, beautiful style (though sometimes it's definitely creepy!), with an intriguing, suspenseful plotline that kept me reading, eager to find out what was behind the bizarre pregnancies, how Hiresha would save the women of her city, and if Hiresha could eventually come to terms with herself and her own desires. I was glad to see that the author has written other books set in the same world and featuring Enchantress Hiresha.
See my main Clean Out Your eReader post for reading list and review links.
Guardian of the Abyss, by Shannon Phoenix
When deep sea diver Sarah's business partner and best friend stages an accident and leaves her for dead, she is rescued by a being that shouldn't exist. Abaddon, a gorgoyle condemned to eternity trapped in a cave beneath the sea, takes extreme measures to save her life, but what should have been a curse to her becomes a great blessing.
A novella set in the author's Supernaturals paranormal world, Guardian of the Abyss is a lovely little romance, about redemption and hope. I enjoyed the characters of Sarah and Abaddon and really cared about what happened to them. The desperation of their circumstances trapped in a cave at the bottom of the ocean was well-written, and I was anxious to find out if they made it out ok.
I haven't read any other books in this series, but I was able to keep up with the story; the background and other important information is conveyed without info-dumping. I did start to get confused when a bunch of other characters, vampires, werewolves, and other gargoyles came on the scene, but the story soon went back to the main characters.
Highly recommended if you enjoy paranormal romance or want to try dipping your toe into the genre.
See my main COYER post for reading list and review links!
Huntress Moon, by Alexandra Sokoloff
Wow. Fast-paced, breathless suspense thriller about an FBI agent on the hunt for the female serial killer who killed one of his undercover agents right in front of him. Roarke, the agent, has extensive - and soul-crushing - experience as a profiler of criminals, but this killer defies all his profiling experience - until he learns of the astonishing connection he shares with her and figures out the true purpose behind her string of killings.
Well-drawn, sympathetic characters who grabbed my interest right away and kept me rooting for them - even the killer, whose mind we spend a great deal of time in, and vividly-portrayed settings, including San Francisco, Portland, the forest wilderness around Mt. Hood, and the peaceful and quaint yet hip California central coast, make this a book I got lost in and didn't want to put down. The action (though there isn't a lot of action as in fight scenes, I mean Roarke's pursuit of the killer and the killer's pursuit of her destiny) is non-stop, with one twist after another, and I ended up staying up way too late one night to finish it.
The one downside is this is the first book in a series, so the ending is inconclusive, but that just means I get to read more about the Huntress and the FBI agent. So that's a good thing.
I'll add that this is one of the few books I've ever read that I wish I had written. To that end, I've purchased Ms. Sokoloff's writing book Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors II (based on her Screenwriting Tricks for Authors book but with additional material on writing romance) and I'm working my way through it. Writers should always keep working to improve their craft, and I think this book will be really helpful.
For all my COYER books and reviews, see my main Clean Out Your eReader post.
Two more short reviews as I plow my way through the depths of my Kindle during the Clean Out Your eReader Summer Vacation challenge:
The Stone in the Sword, by N.A. Roy
In this fantasy adventure, sixteen-year-old Charlie is on vacation to visit relatives in Scotland when his life takes a strange turn - he discovers the true nature of the power of Excalibur, has to rescue his brother who has been kidnapped by dark beings, and learns of his own unexpected powers and heritage.
It was hard for me to decide how to review this book; it's written for a considerably younger audience than the books I prefer to read, but in objective terms, I think middle grade and young teen readers will enjoy exploring the ancient, mysterious Scotland where Charlie's relatives live and the Sidhe world Charlie finds himself in. The book is fast-paced and not very long, with themes of brotherly love and self-sacrifice, a touch of Arthurian legend, and a thrilling magical battle.
Summer Storm, by Elizabeth Baxter
In Summer Storm, Falen is a princess who wants to be a scientist, much to the displeasure of her father the King. While working on the project she hopes will get her admitted to the academy of engineering, she meets an old man who might have the solution to her problem - or plunge her life into nightmare.
I liked this. I enjoyed the use of science in a fantasy world, and the sense of dark things to come. I had a little trouble with Falen; it was hard to tell how old she is. Sometimes she acts like a petulant young teenager because her life has demands and responsibilities she doesn't like, but in one scene her father tells her it's well past time she was married. So that's my one problem with the story.
Otherwise, Summer Storm is well-written and entertaining. It's a novella-length prequel to the author's Wrath of the Northmen series, which I look forward to checking out.
The Last Waltz, by G.G. Vandagriff
The Last Waltz is the story of an upper-class young woman from Vienna named Amalia and the three men she loves: Eberhard, who is torn between his love of music and the Prussian military ideals he was raised with; Andrzej, the dangerous and romantic young Polish doctor; and Rudolf, the good friend of Amalia's beloved uncle, who becomes her protector and mentor. The story begins with Amalia as a naive young girl in the months before World War One breaks out, and follows her through romance, heartbreak, tragedy, and personal growth to the eve of World War Two, when she has matured to realize there are many different ways to love and that it's possible to love more than once in your life (contrary to what she's been taught). She has also become a fervent Austrian patriot, fighting in the few ways that are open to her as a woman to save her country from both the Communists and the Nazis.
The book takes a close look at a fascinating time in history - the leadup to and early years of WWI, which I don't know much about, and the years before WWII, which I know a little more about. The history is interesting and I enjoyed the look at how ordinary people (albeit people of the upper classes) were trying to live their lives amidst those momentous events. I found myself less interested in the political ins and outs of Austria in the late 1930s. But that's just me; I'm less interested in political details than I am in the larger events of history. If you are interested in those details, they are written out very clearly and obviously based on careful, thorough research.
Romance and angst abound, and I did find myself growing frustrated with Amalia, Eberhard, Andrzej, and Rudolf's seeming inability to make good decisions where love was concerned. Simple misunderstandings that could have been sorted out with an honest conversation instead led to years of heartache. But given the time period and society the book is set in, maybe it isn't realistic to expect that those kinds of conversations would have taken place. Amalia's attraction to Eberhard, Andrzej, and Rudolf is easy to understand, as is theirs to her. The Last Waltz is sweet romance, with no on-screen sex though there are a few brief and non-explicit references to off-screen sexual activity.
There's a lot of dialogue, and a lot of telling what people are thinking and feeling, and little action until the very end, a thrilling escape attempt from Austria after the Nazis take over. For my taste, I would have liked a little more showing through action and less telling of what the characters were thinking and feeling. In addition, transitions from one scene to the next were kind of abrupt and disorienting for my taste, and the end also seemed kind of abrupt; I would have liked a scene or an epilogue giving more resolution and hinting at where things go from there. I came to care about the characters and wanted to know what life had in store for them after the events at the end.
The world of Vienna from 1913-1938 is painted in colorful detail, bringing its beauty, glamour, and ebullience to life. I visited Vienna for a week as a child, and reading The Last Waltz made me want to go back sometime.
If you enjoy sweeping and well-researched historical novels filled with romance in a vivid setting with well-drawn characters, I recommend The Last Waltz.
For reading list and more reviews, see my main Clean Out Your eReader post.
A Sad, Sad Symphony, by Cristian Mihai
Cristian Mihai is a talented young lit-fic writer from Romania. Literary fiction generally isn't my reading material of choice, but somehow I stumbled across Mr. Mihai's writing (I think he followed my Wordpress blog?) and found myself enjoying it very much. Most of his work seems to be short stories, which are easily digestible for someone like me, who prefers stories with magic and evil and guys with swords (or guns).
A Sad, Sad Symphony is a story about a composer who at the end of his life finally composes the perfect symphony, an achievement he's always fallen short of before. Flashbacks into his earlier years suggest that this symphony might be a final gift of grace from the cosmos. It's a beautifully-written examination of the creative process and the need to create, as great as the need to breathe or eat for some people. Character, place, and mood are powerfully invoked by the clear, graceful language.
I also recommend Remember, another story by Mr. Mihai, about the remembrance of first love meeting the reality years later. Again, beautifully written.
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