(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Far from home . . .
Fiona Russell has been snatched from Earth, imprisoned and used as slave labor, but nothing about her abduction makes sense. When she’s rescued by the Grih, she realizes there’s a much bigger game in play than she could ever have imagined, and she’s right in the middle of it.
Far from safe . . .
Battleship captain Hal Vakeri is chasing down pirates when he stumbles across a woman abducted from Earth. She’s the second one the Grih have found in two months, and her presence is potentially explosive in the Grih’s ongoing negotiations with their enemies, the Tecran. The Tecran and the Grih are on the cusp of war, and Fiona might just tip the balance.
Far from done . . .
Fiona has had to bide her time while she’s been a prisoner, pretending to be less than she is, but when the chance comes for her to forge her own destiny in this new world, she grabs it with both hands. After all, actions speak louder than words.
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]
For those of you hoping to see a continuation of Rose’s story from the first book, don’t worry! Fiona is obviously her own character and we see things through her eyes but we also get to see what has happened to Rose in the time between the books. With that said, let’s get on with the review.
I was skeptical about switching characters for the second novel but in the end I actually like Fiona a little more than Rose. They’re both great characters but I absolutely love Fiona’s resourcefulness and the fact that while she does find love with Hal, her priorities are more focused on finding out why she was kidnapped and if there are other humans out in space that faced similar predicaments. She’s very practical and determined and I think of myself that way so I guess I’m a little biased toward Fiona because I see myself in her. But really, each to their own. Both Fiona and Rose are strong characters facing tough predicaments and while they obviously aren’t thrilled about their situations, they adapt and maybe even learn to love their new reality.
In the last book, the political tensions between the Tecran and the Grih are almost at the boiling point by the end. However, with the discovery of Fiona, a second kidnapped human that proves Rose’s situation was not unique, things definitely start to boil over. I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling some fascinating plot twists, but let’s just say that unfortunately, Fiona and Rose aren’t alone in their predicament either. And the Grih will go to war with the Tecran for their egregious and blatant violations of intergalactic treaties regarding the treatment of sentient beings. Politics definitely plays a bigger role in this book than it did in Dark Deeds.
One of the things I loved in this second book is that rather than letting the plot drag on as it builds up to the third book (as so many second novels do), Michelle Diener ups the ante. Now that the Grih are aware other Class Fives are out there, they’re not all that inclined toward leniency. Even though Sazo is on their side, they know it’s because of his personal connection to Rose. What if Eazi isn’t as attached to Fiona and is more inclined to enjoy true freedom? What if he turns agains them, especially after Fiona is very nearly killed multiple times by both the Grih and others? Again, I can’t say too much without spoiling things but let’s just say that Eazi isn’t Sazo; he’s a little more inclined to find his own path and the results are hilarious and satisfying.
Fiona was a great character, the political tensions have only increased and Michelle Diener managed not to fall into the temptation of creating a pattern of turning Class Fives exclusively over the Grih. Really, what more can you ask for in a second book? I honestly can’t wait for the third book, Dark Minds. What little we saw of Imogen through Fiona’s eyes makes me excited just to meet her character, let alone find out what happens to the Tecran and the Grih in the end.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
Nestled within Paris’s historic Palais Royal is a jewelry store unlike any other. La Fantasie Russie is owned by Pavel Orloff, protégé to the famous Faberge, and is known by the city’s fashion elite as the place to find the rarest of gemstones and the most unique designs. But war has transformed Paris from a city of style and romance to a place of fear and mourning. In the summer of 1918, places where lovers used to walk, widows now wander alone.
So it is from La Fantasie Russie’s workshop that young, ambitious Opaline Duplessi now spends her time making trench watches for soldiers at the front, as well as mourning jewelry for the mothers, wives, and lovers of those who have fallen. People say that Opaline’s creations are magical. But magic is a word Opaline would rather not use. The concept is too closely associated with her mother Sandrine, who practices the dark arts passed down from their ancestor La Lune, one of sixteenth century Paris’s most famous courtesans.
But Opaline does have a rare gift even she can’t deny, a form of lithomancy that allows her to translate the energy emanating from stones. Certain gemstones, combined with a personal item, such as a lock of hair, enable her to receive messages from beyond the grave. In her mind, she is no mystic, but merely a messenger, giving voice to soldiers who died before they were able to properly express themselves to loved ones. Until one day, one of these fallen soldiers communicates a message—directly to her.
So begins a dangerous journey that will take Opaline into the darkest corners of wartime Paris and across the English Channel, where the exiled Romanov dowager empress is waiting to discover the fate of her family.
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook in exchange for an honest review. It was supposed to be for a tour but I didn’t get it done in time.]
I’ve only read two other books by M.J. Rose but what always strikes me about her books is that she has such a beautiful writing style. It’s descriptive and yet fascinating. She can describe things like stones in minute detail and yet you never find yourself skipping over the descriptions to get to the action. She really just has a beautiful writing style that grabs your attention and holds it for the whole book. It’s what makes finishing the book so disappointing. It’s not that M.J. Rose’s endings are terrible or anything like that, but rather it’s that I hate coming back to the real world after such beautiful writing.
With that said, what I like about this book is that while Opaline is Sandrine’s daughter and thus the daughter of a woman who practices dark magic (and allowed the spirit of her ancestor to possess her in the first book) but she despises dark magic. She feels magic call to her from the stones but resists praticing magic for fear of turning out like her mother or, worse yet, La Lune herself. And yet she’s having trouble controlling her natural powers and they almost get out of hand and destroy her before Opaline realizes she has to embrace her heritage in order to save herself. She clearly struggles with ethical dilemmas and fears the call of the dead from the stones but in the end, Opaline really does want to do what’s right.
M.J. Rose handles both characters and descriptions well but what struck me about this second book in the series is the politics. More so than in The Witch of Painted Sorrows, the political situation is ever-present. She really captures the feel of World War I, the fact that life was both normal and not normal. Normal business went on as much as it could but the war touched everyone: jewellers made mourning jewellery instead of fancier necklaces and tiaras, certain foods were hard to find and almost an entire generation of young men was wiped out. And of course, things weren’t just bad in France. As Opaline finds out when she creates a necklace for the dowager empress of the Romanov family, even innocent children aren’t safe from the war and its effects.
I liked both The Witch of Painted Sorrows and The Secret Language of Stones. While the stories of Sandrine and Opaline are different, they do have some similarities that connect the two books together in a satisfying way. Although I’ll have to say goodbye to Opaline, I can’t wait for the next book, The Library of Light and Shadow, which is coming out in July 2017. The Daughters of La Lune series is fantastic and I can’t wait to spend more time in M.J. Rose’s beautiful, enchanting world.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
After his mother, the beloved Rebel Queen, is betrayed and murdered by her own faithless lords, young Maric becomes the leader of a rebel army attempting to free his nation from the control of a foreign tyrant.
His countrymen live in fear; his commanders consider him untested; and his only allies are Loghain, a brash young outlaw who saved his life, and Rowan, the beautiful warrior maiden promised to him since birth. Surrounded by spies and traitors, Maric must find a way to not only survive but achieve his ultimate destiny: Ferelden’s freedom and the return of his line to the stolen throne.
I just recently got back into gaming after a hiatus that ended up lasting several years. When I got back into it I bought Dragon Age: Inquisition and fell in love with the world of Thedas. Normally I would role my eyes at video game tie-in novels but I decided to give Dragon Age: The Stole Throne a try because the lore I found in the game was very rich, detailed and consistent. As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised.
The first thing I have to say is that The Stolen Throne works both as a video game tie-in and a regular novel. You don’t have to play the games to understand the book and you don’t have to read the book to understand any of the games in the franchise. So I’m basically judging it as I would any other novel. Wtih that said, I really enjoyed the book.
The thing that stands out most in this novel is the characters. Maric is your typical young prince (even if he and his mother are rebels on the run in their own country) and his naivety in the beginning is hilarious. He also finds the perfect foil in the serious, very mature Loghain, an outlaw who lives with his father and other Fereldans who resist the Orlesian occupation. Loghain challenges Maric’s preconceptions about his own country, his people and the realities of the world. They initially hate each other but their friendship grows as their struggle against the Orlesians continues. It seems like a rather typical story of enemies becoming the best of friends but their friendship happens quite organically and it’s tested again and again, particularly when Loghain falls in love with Maric’s intended.
I think my favourite character in the whole novel is Katriel. She’s an elven bard, which in the world of Thedas makes her both admired and a complete pariah. She’s an elf, which means she’s constantly discriminated against by the humans (which make up the majority of the population). But she’s also an Orlesian bard: a singer, courtier and an assassin-for-hire. Katriel has had her fair share of hardship and she’s fairly cynical but she still falls for Maric despite her contract to kill him. At first she seems to see him as representing a more innocent life, a better life for her. Then, later on, she really does seem to love Maric on his own merits. Katriel is a complicated and fascinating character and her story is way more nuanced than the whole “assassin who falls in love with her mark”.
The plot is quite fast-paced. There’s plenty of political intrigue, battles and interpersonal strife. Obviously, the road to the throne is hard for a young, inexperienced prince with a scattered army and few allies. David Gaider manages to balance his beautiful descriptions with the intense action scenes. While some of the plot twists were pretty typical, there were times when I was pleasantly surprised. Because although the plot summary makes it sound like a typical ‘young man fights to regain his throne/birthright’, The Stolen Throne is so much more than that. There are plenty of spins on tired old stereotypes.
If you’re a fan of the video games, you’ll obviously enjoy the book. But even if you’re not, this isn’t a bad fantasy book to pick up if you’re looking for a spin on a story as old as time. I can’t recommend it enough.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
Retired from his fighting days, John Perry is now village ombudsman for a human colony on distant Huckleberry. With his wife, former Special Forces warrior Jane Sagan, he farms several acres, adjudicates local disputes, and enjoys watching his adopted daughter grow up.
That is, until his and Jane’s past reaches out to bring them back into the game–as leaders of a new human colony, to be peopled by settlers from all the major human worlds, for a deep political purpose that will put Perry and Sagan back in the thick of interstellar politics, betrayal, and war.
If, after The Ghost Brigades, you were still unsure about the ethics of the Colonial Union, you’re going to be sure about them after this. The Colonial Union is pretty much exactly as ominous as the name initially suggested to me. But I’ll get into that shortly.
First off, I want to say that as with every John Scalzi novel, the characters are fantastic. We’re back with John Perry, only now he’s retired. Until the Colonial Union throws a wrench into his plans for being a small community leader on the farming world of Huckleberry. So he, Jane and Zoe are thrown straight into a colonization project on a new world. Since many of the other races in the universe have banded together to stop colonization and the frequent wars that errupt because of it, this is way more risky than it sounds as the discovery of their colony could lead to all of their deaths.
John is a wonderful character and seeing him in this morally ambiguous situation really brings out his better traits. He clearly knows that colonization on a large scale like humans do is wrong when it pushes alien races out of their home worlds but at the same time he can’t really change the entire basis of the Colonial Union. So he has to make sure his new colony of Roanoke stays undetected and therefore safe. But while John is stuck between a rock and a hard place, his ingenuity eventually allows him to succeed where it would have been so easy to fail.
The plot is fantastic. John Scalzi crams a lot into just over 300 pages. We go off and see our characters found a new colony, learn that they’re not where they’re supposed to be, struggle to try to make the colony functional and eventually fight for their lives when the Colonial Union and the rest of the universe face off. At the same time, this is also a wonderful personal story. The relationship between John and Jane is wonderful and loving but not without its struggles. And of course Zoe is now a teenager and life is never simple when you’re a teenager on a new colony with two alien bodyguards with their own agendas and struggles. In the end, The Last Colony is a both a very human story of love and survival and a political thriller that asks you to question the world around you, particularly the motivations of various governments.
This is the third book in the Old Man’s War series and although the ending is satisfying in itself, it leaves open so many possibilities in the next few books. I can’t really get into the details of the ending because that would be a massive spoiler but let’s just say I definitely did not see that coming. John Scalzi is one of the few novelists who consistently surprises me and I honestly can’t wait to read more of the Old Man’s War series.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
Welcome to Derry, Maine. It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real.
They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But the promise they made twenty-eight years ago calls them reunite in the same place where, as teenagers, they battled an evil creature that preyed on the city’s children. Now, children are being murdered again and their repressed memories of that terrifying summer return as they prepare to once again battle the monster lurking in Derry’s sewers.
Readers of Stephen King know that Derry, Maine, is a place with a deep, dark hold on the author. It reappears in many of his books, including Bag of Bones, Hearts in Atlantis, and 11/22/63. But it all starts with It.
Before reading It I had only read one Stephen King novel and felt it was kind of ‘meh’. But that was many years ago so when I got this one for my birthday from a huge Stephen King fan, I figured I’d give it a try. In the end, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the novel but the main word I can use to describe it is ‘weird’.
I was never scared of clowns as a kid (I didn’t love them but I wasn’t scared by them) so I don’t think It was as scary as it could have been, but it was still pretty scary. Stephen King is the master of the slow burn and I was honestly engrossed throughout the 1100 page novel. The book starts with a six year old child being dismembered by a freaky clown but there’s more to the tension than just the gore factor. There’s a sense of evil throughout the novel a sort of unnaturalness that hangs around the whole town of Derry. When you add in the fact that the town has more violent crime and an absolutely ridiculous number of child murders, it really sets up the atmosphere. So even though It is 1100 pages, I can be confident in saying this book will never truly bore you.
As for the plot, it was a bit confusing at first as there are several time skips. But as the book moves on and you get into the rhythm of the writing, they’re easier to follow and help build the tension I mentioned before. The two main storylines are the present day adults being contacted about coming back to Derry and finishing the job of killing It. The past storyline is, obviously, the adults when they were children and how they discovered the evil lurking beneath Derry and almost ended it. There are a couple of little subplots along the way, like the Interlude segments where the town librarian, Mike Hanlon, is piecing together Derry’s mysterious past and trying to figure out why such evil lurks in such a small town. And of course there’s the matter of Henry Bowers and Beverly’s awful husband throwing a wrench into things but I can’t really go into much detail about that without spoiling some nice plot twists. Needless to say, It isn’t just a book you can skim through; you really need to pay attention to appreciate just how wonderfully the different narrative threads come together in the harrowing climax.
As much as I enjoyed the plot, I was a little less enthusiastic about the characters. Not because they’re poorly made or anything like that. It’s just that some of them are rather stereotypical and are therefore kind of boring. Eddie is the hypochondriac kid whose hypochondriac mother fusses over him incessantly and Ben is the fat kid who loves the beautiful girl (who loves someone else) and is bullied terribly at school. All of the characters in the Losers (the name they call their group) are easy to relate to but I think they are a bit predictable. It would have been nice for Stephen King to put some twists on these sort of child archetypes. Despite this, at least the characters are interesting, if a little predictable.
One of the most bizarre things about the novel was the origin of Pennywise. I won’t go into too many details because of spoilers but it’s just weird. The theological/existential questions it creates are terrifying in and of themselves but when I got to the climax and discovered the origins of Pennywise the clown it kind of threw me. It makes sense and Stephen King does a good job explaining things while maintaining the suspense he’s built up, but it’s still weird as heck. There’s no other way to describe it.
All in all, I’d have to say I enjoyed It. Stephen King is a good writer and anyone who can keep suspense up for 1100 pages deserves the title ‘master of suspense’. The only real criticism I can levy is that it would have been nice for him to play around with the child’s characters a little more so they weren’t quite so predictable and didn’t conform to the usual stereotypes. But if you’re looking for a suspenseful read, I’d say go no further and try this one. Especially if you’re already scared of clowns.
I give this book 4.5/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
The little known, riveting story of the most famous courtesan of her time: muse and mistress of Alexandre Dumas fils and Franz Liszt, the inspiration for Dumas’s The Lady of the Camellias and Verdi’s La Traviata, one of the most sought after, adored women of 1840s Paris.
Born in 1824 in Normandy, Marie Duplessis fled her brutal peasant father (who forced her to live with a man many years her senior). Julie Kavanagh traces Marie’s reinvention in Paris at sixteen: as shop girl, kept woman, and finally, as grand courtesan with the clothes, apartment, coach and horses that an aristocratic woman of the time would have had. Tall, willowy, with dramatic dark hair, Marie acquired an aristocratic mien, but coupled with a singular modesty and grace, she was an irresistible figure to men and women alike. Kanavagh brings her to life on the page against a brilliantly evoked background of 1840s Paris: the theater and opera, the best tables at the cafés frequented by society figures, theater directors, writers, artists–and Marie, only nineteen, at the center of it all. Four years later, at twenty-three, she would be dead of tuberculosis.
I first heard of Marie Duplessis because of my love of opera. She was the inspiration for Dumas’s The Lady of the Camellias, which was the inspiration for my favourite opera of all time, La Traviata. After watching an amazing version of La Traviata with Anna Moffo in the lead role, I wondered how close her interpretation was to the real Marie Duplessis. Then I began to wonder who Marie Duplessis the person was, not just the character writers, painters and musicians have made her into over the decades.
Although Duplessis only lived to the age of 23, Julie Kavanagh was able to give us a very in-depth, detailed look at her life. Not only that, she provided context for Marie’s rise from simple but pretty farm girl to one of the most sought-after courtesans in Paris’ demimonde. She was a complex woman who could be both unbelievably selfish and petty but at the same time, caring and genuinely kind to the people around her. Money ran through her hands like water to feed her wardrobe and her general lifestyle but at the same time was known to give generously to charities and was very religious in her later years. If she were a mere character in a novel she’d probably be called unbelievable and contradictory, but Kavanagh’s highlighting of her contradictions really humanized Marie for me. She became a living, breathing person instead of this distant legend.
As it says in the blurb, from a very young age Marie was likely sexually abused and when she fled from the countryside she had no illusions about what a wonderful place 1840s Paris was for lower class women. She clawed her way up the unofficial courtesan hierarchy, first being a grisette (a lover to somewhat poor university students) and then a lorette when she found an older, wealthier patron. And then, finally when the simple Alphonsine Plessis caught the eye of a young duke, she was transformed into Marie Duplessis, the irresistible courtesan. It was not an easy path and Kavanagh talks about her struggles in fairly stark language that brings home the idea that while being a courtesan could be glamorous at times, there were many times it was not.
What I especially liked about The Girl Who Loved Camellias was the postscript that detailed the sale of Marie’s estate to pay off her debts and the introduction where Marie’s cultural impact is discussed. Of course, most famously there’s the book The Lady of the Camellias and Verdi’s opera La Traviata but there have also been films and even ballets about her life. Even though few people today actually know her name, Marie Duplessis lives on in the beautiful works of art she inspired.
My favourite thing about this biography is that while Julie Kavanagh goes into detail, she does not get encumbered by it as so many biographers do. While she includes the text from some letters pertaining to Marie’s life, she does not get bogged down in detailing Marie’s correspondence. Instead, she includes short quotes where it’s relevant (which seems like common sense but sadly all too few biographers do this, preferring to include every single scrap of correspondence they can find pertaining to their subject). She gives historical context to Marie’s life but again she doesn’t get too bogged down in irrelevant details. Basically, she tells a detailed but interesting story about a woman who packed quite a lot of living into just twenty three years.
If you’re looking for an interesting biography that’s a fairly fast read, I highly recommend The Girl Who Loved Camellias. It’s one of the best biographies I’ve ever read.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Three months after her trip through the vortex, Marisa MacCallum is having second thoughts about her engagement to Darian Fiore as she struggles to adjust to royal life.
But when palace spies uncover a secret plot to assassinate the royal family and eradicate the Crimson Knights, Marisa and Darian must put their plans for the future on hold to stop Savino da Rocha and his legion of warrior giants from stealing the throne.
After narrowly escaping an attempt on her life, Marisa is left to defend Crocetta while Darian marches off to war. But when Savino strikes at the heart of the kingdom with supernatural powers of darkness, Marisa must wage an even greater battle against the spiritual forces bent on destroying her family and ending the Fiore dynasty forever.
[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.]
Normally, I try to avoid books that deal with heavy religious themes. They just aren’t for me as most of them come off as overly preachy and generally obnoxious. With that said, I did love The Carnelian Tyranny, which basically follows the story of the life and death of Jesus Christ in an alternate world. So what made this book different from so many religion-themed books I’ve read? Well, for one there’s not all that much preaching. Yes, there are scenes where the characters pray and debate their faith but it never comes across as Cheryl Koevoet herself saying to her readers “You must accept Christianity”. No, it was just a book where faith is presented as a normal part of many of the charcters’ lives and that was that.
And what really separates The Carnelian Tyranny from many other books I’ve read with similar themes is that while the religious aspect is part of the plot, it’s not necessarily the main focus at all times. No, Marisa’s doubts about her engagement and her role as the future ruler of Crocetta are front and centre. There’s also the whole Savino angle as our devious Count isn’t going to take Marisa’s perceived insult toward him lying down. So the religious plot and the political plot are intertwined in a way that feels quite natural, particularly in a society generally modeled on Medieval Europe. And of course there’s also Marisa and Darian’s relationship, which becomes strained because Darian doesn’t understand why Marisa is so reluctant to get married young and Marisa is having a hard time accepting her new high status even though she knows it’s her duty (and her birthright).
Marisa in this second book is a little more confident and just a little more sure of herself. She’s working hard to learn the language of her people as well as the customs and responsibilities being a ruler of Crocetta involves. Marisa has Darian to support her but their relationship obviously isn’t perfect. They argue and fight but you can always tell they love each other deeply. I can’t go into much detail without spoiling some amazing plot twists, but when they get separated it’s this love that keeps both of them going even when things seem completely hopeless. Best of all, Cheryl Koevoet doesn’t neglect her secondary characters as she lets us see things not only from Darian and Marisa’s points of view but also those of Marisa’s brother Marcus and a few other notable characters.
With a relatively unpredictable plot and some great character development, The Carnelian Tyranny is a solid second book. On top of that, there was also some great world-building as readers were introduced to the politics of the entire world of Carnelia because Crocetta is not as isolated as it may appear. There are outside forces constantly at work and not all of them are friendly toward Marisa as the new ruler. The only real quibble I have with The Carnelian Tyranny is that I felt everything was wrapped up too neatly in the end. There weren’t any outside threats other than Savino when the story was over despite the fact many countries/kingdoms would love to attack anyone near them when they’ve proven weak (as history has shown us time and time again). And one of the outside kingdoms that came to Crocetta’s aid didn’t actually play that big of a role in the war against Savino. I felt there was more to explore in the way of international politics.
However, if you loved The Carnelian Legacy, you’ll probably enjoy The Carnelian Tyranny as much as I did. I can’t wait for the third book.
I give this book 4/5 stars.