Review: A Promise of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #1) by Amanda Bouchet

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: December 24 to 26, 2016
Recommended by: Vaginal Fantasy Group’s alt pick
Recommended to:

Blech.

*ahem*

I mean, it’s not for me.

More on this later.

* * * * *

It is now later, and while I’ve had time to process, my initial kneejerk reaction still stands. This book just isn’t for me, in so many ways. I won’t go into lots of details because that could take awhile, but the main thing is the writing does not work (for me). I found it too awkward and modern, and it clashed too much with the culture and setting of the story.

This story takes place in a world that’s heavily influenced by ancient Greece–think ancient Greece plus sword & sorcery–but the characters’ speech and personalities are very distinctly modern. Not just their sentiments and motivations, but their actions and behavior too. I struggled with this all through the read and never got past it enough to get into the story, so I wasn’t able to connect to any of the characters… or anything else.

While the setting was supposed to be ancient, the speech and interactions were decidedly not what you’d expect people from that time to sound like. Sure this is a fantasy, so of course you can mix modern speech with an ancient setting–lots of authors have done it, or so people keep telling me. Maybe, maybe so, but that doesn’t make it any less awkward or jarring. I found it distracting and it kept me from taking the story seriously.

Something else about the writing I found awkward was the author trying too hard to work in references to ancient Greece. Olives, goat cheese, agora, cyclops, minotaurs. It was like yes, I got it–very very Greek indeed. The whole book is jam-packed with these very, very Greek things, plus references to the gods, to remind you that this is, in fact, almost like ancient Greece. Almost, but not quite.

“Now that that’s settled, you’re coming with me.”
“Never in a billion suns. Not even if Zeus showed up as a swan and tried to peck me in your direction. I wouldn’t go with you even if my other option was Hades dragging me to the Underworld for an eternal threesome with Persephone.”

[…]

“You either have an Olympian-sized sense of self-importance, or you’re overcompensating for a lack of confidence.”

[…]

Our gazes collide, and something in me freezes. His eyes remind of Poseidon’s wrath–stormy, gray, intense–the kind of eyes that draw you in, hold you there, and might not let you go.

[…]

If looks could kill, I’d be dead. I don’t respond well to threats, even ocular ones, and my spine shoots straighter than Poseidon’s trident.

[…]

Have I cheated death again? Hades must be allergic to me.

[…]

I cheated death again. Hades must really not want me.

There’s a ton more, but I didn’t highlight them all–that would take weeks. If I remember correctly, the phrase “dive-bombing” was used to describe a reaction to falling in love. And now I’m just nitpicking, so I’ll stop there.

Overall, not a terrible book, but it’s definitely for the more romance-inclined reader who can overlook these things.

Romancing the Duke (Castles Ever After, #1) by Tessa Dare

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: September 06 to 07, 2016
Recommended by: the Vaginal Fantasy group
Recommended to:

A very light and sweet tale that’s at times adorable, but not precious or twee.

What started off as a light Beauty & the Beast retelling turned into something unexpectedly sweet half-way through the story.

After having lost her father to old age and his whole estate to a distant male cousin, Izzy is left penniless, save for a strange inheritance from an estranged godfather. He left her a castle, but not a dreamy, happily-ever-after kind of castle. It’s old and decrepit and on the verge of becoming a pile of rubble–so more of a fixer-upper–but it’s her castle officially, she even has the paperwork to prove it. However, there’s one big problem. The castle also comes with its previous owner, Ransom, Duke of something or other–I forgot, it’s been a few months. Anyway. He’s brooding, snarling, infuriating man who’s determined to kick Izzy out so he could reclaim his castle, but since the castle is her only shelter, she fights him for it.

They get off to a rocky start, but of course there’s simmering mutual attraction and I have to say their battle of witty repartee is pretty funny. Romance isn’t my preferred genre; cutesy historical romance written with the modern audience in mind is even less so, if that’s even possible, but I’ve been trying to read more to broaden my horizon and whatnot. When it’s done right, when there’s a balance between plot and romance, it’s pretty good. So I’ve been following along with the ladies of the Vaginal Fantasy book club for most of the year now and… meh. Their book picks have been all over the place in terms of content and quality of writing, and not one book has impressed me yet. That is, until this one came along. I found it very engaging, even with the rocky start at the beginning, and Izzy and Ransom are pretty good together. But still, I have yet to find books with that balance I’m always looking for.

Another thing is I don’t normally enjoy traditional happily-ever-afters romances–which is basically all of them, right? They contain too many unnecessary explanations of things that should be left up to the reader to infer or figure out, such as the heroine’s and the love interest’s mutual attraction, sexual tension, and budding relationship. No need to spell it out. I can’t stand it when these things are explained, sometimes almost to death, because it’s too much telling and gets to be repetitive further into the story. Another thing I can’t stand is how strickly heteronormative these types of romances are. It’s expected that the main couple are, but must every other character in the book be so as well?*

So in spite of all of that, I did like this book and found myself enjoying it for its many, rather noticeably modern, details and embellishment, which were definitely a bit jarring and took me out of the Victorian setting (or was it Edwardian?), like the characters’ modern sensibilities, specifically Izzy’s open-minded views of sex and relationships and her noticeably lack of uptight-ness, and the hilarious cosplaying troupe of devoted fans following the her around the country. And the humor. It was, once again, unexpected and enjoyable. I found it neither cheesy nor eye-rolling, and it was one of the things I liked most about the read.

“Every time you wake up, you let fly the most marvelous string of curses. It’s never the same twice, do you know that? It’s so intriguing. You’re like a rooster that crows blasphemy.”

[…]

Izzy was utterly convinced. Never mind Arabian horses, African cheetahs. No creature in the world could bolt so quickly as a rake confronted with the word “marriage.” They ought to shout it out at footraces rather than using starting pistols.

[…]

Why must this be so mortifying? Oh, that’s right. Because its my life.

[…]

Astonishing. In the morning, when she sat working at that table of correspondence, silhouetted by sunlight . . .

Her hair truly did look like an octopus.

It was the way she wore it, he thought. Or maybe the way it wore her. It all sat perched atop her head in that big, inky blob. And no matter how strenuously she pinned it, dark, heavy curls worked loose on all sides, like tentacles.

Of course, it was an entrancing, strangely erotic octopus. Ransom worried this might be how fetishes developed.

*And must they all get their own spin-off novels so they could all live out their own happily-ever-afters which pretty much mirror the first book’s plot? Why can’t some of them end up divorced or widowed and spend the rest of their lives partying from one country estate to another, from one affair to another? Oh, wait, that’s not a romance… but definitely something I would read.

Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1) by Sarah J. Maas

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Rating: (DNF)
Date Read: August 04 to 05, 2016
Recommended by: the Vaginal Fantasy Group’s alt pick
Recommended to:

DNF @ 38% because slow and boring.

I don’t think this book would have worked for me in any mood. There’s just too much that bothered and not enough to entice. Not even the fae “mythology” was interesting enough to pull me in. Not to mention the meandering writing featuring a young “feisty” protagonist and her long-suffering POV were a huge hindrance.

Plus, there’s an overwhelming “YA-ness” to the writing that irked me: lots of self-evaluating inner monologues; lots of discussion of good vs. evil; lots of self-righteousness; lots of characters to hate; lots of descriptions of lavish clothing and decor; lots of ridiculous “logic.” And to top it off, the “beast” wasn’t a beast but a beautiful cursed fairy lord in a mask–OMG, so frightening–and the heroine was an overly self-righteous, self-sacrificing caricature. It’s hard for me to believe this book isn’t a parody of high fantasy YA.

I completely lost interest around 15% when the main character Feyre killed a fairy lord in wolf form and wasn’t punished for it–because a life for a life made too much sense in this world? Instead she was offered a chance to live out the rest of her life in leisure in the opulent fairy realm. As punishment. That’s her “punishment” for killing a fairy. Rolled my eyes so hard I sprained a muscle.

But I pressed on anyway to no avail. Finally had to give in when it looked like nothing was happening and that Feyre and the beast were just frolicking through the fairy countryside for a couple hundred pages.

Review: The Pillars of the World (Tir Alainn #1) by Anne Bishop

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: March 05 to 10, 2016
Recommended by: The Vaginal Fantasy Group
Recommended to:

Anne Bishop is my blind spot, so for the time being this whole trilogy (Pillars of the World, Shadows and Light, The House of Gaian) gets a solid 4-star rating, but that might change later on once I let the story and the whirlwind ending settle down a bit.

Normally 4-star books are automatic recommendations from me for friends who share similar tastes, but not this time. I can’t say I’d rec this book, Pillars of the World, unless you plan on finishing the series because of the ending. It’s kind of agonizing and will probably make you want to pull out all your hair, but the third book makes up for your suffering because the bad guys get what they deserve and maybe more. It’s Anne Bishop’s signature style. It’s precisely why I like her writing and why she’s my blind spot.

This book in particular though had three things going against it from the very beginning:
– vague medieval setting
– young naive protagonist
– the fae (and their meddlesome nature)

I’m not too keen on these particular elements in genre fiction in general, so I went into the story not expecting much. And yet somehow Anne Bishop made all the things I hate interesting, and that’s despite using over trodden tropes and cliches that we’re all familiar with and tired of seeing time and time again. In her hands, these things become interesting somehow. I don’t know how she does it–really though, how does she do it?

If I were to take this story apart piece by piece and look at each individual piece, it would be contain the very things I take issue with in other high fantasy series. Terry Goodkind comes to mind at the moment. Pillars contains almost everything I hated about Wizard’s First Rule, particularly the copious amount of violence and torture. And yet–AND YET–that didn’t get in the way of the read and I was able to move past it and enjoy the story–well, “enjoy” is probably not the right word, but I did like it. Of course it bothered me and made reading about it in great detail uncomfortable, but I knew there was a purpose to it and its role in the story arc. Because that’s Anne Bishop’s signature style. Evil doers tend to get what they deserves in the end.

But just looking at all the things I take issue with, it’s quite baffling I’m giving this book a high rating (for now). Quite baffling, really. What’s even more baffling is I blew through the trilogy in a matter of days, and I enjoyed it immensely. Again, maybe not “enjoyed” exactly, although I did like it a lot.

Review: Cupcakes, Trinkets, and Other Deadly Magic (The Dowser #1) by Meghan Ciana Doidge

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date Read: February 04 to 06, 2016
Recommended by: Vaginal Fantasy Group
Recommended to:

A few good things about this book is that it’s a quick read, doesn’t take much effort, and currently free in ebook form. Can’t say I enjoyed it, but I didn’t hate it either. It’s just okay and I’m mostly neutral toward the story as a whole. Well, I’m mostly neutral toward a lot of things these days, and this book just happened to catch me at a bad time.

I’m currently going through another reading slump and haven’t found anything un-put-down-able yet, so I’m picking up and putting down a lot of different books in a short amount of time, hoping to find one that’ll capture my interest for more than a few pages. This book did okay even with those odds against it. Although to be honest, I might not have finished if it hadn’t been a book club pick because of the writing. It’s very derivative and you can tell it’s heavily influenced by more famous urban fantasy series featuring female leads with unique powers that all the paranormal guys wanna get with. Primarily Sookie Stackhouse and whoever are the stars of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s and Kresley Cole’s books come to mind. So it’s very noticeably derivative in most, if not all, PNR sense.

But it’s got one thing going for it that other “edgy” series lack, and that’s an undertone of sweetness to the main character and setting–there’s a reason the cover features a cupcake. She’s sweet but rather naive about the world in which she lives. But don’t they all start out this way though?

So if you like baking, sweets, baking sweets, Vancouver, and some romance and magic in your urban fantasy, then you might like this book. You might even think it’s cute, and I suppose it is. It’s a light fluffy dessert that, while not a good fit for my particular salty palate, can be enjoyable for people who like Sarah Addison Allen’s books.

Review: Radiance (Wraith Kings #1) by Grace Draven

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: January 05 to 07, 2016
Recommended by: Vaginal Fantasy Group
Recommended to:

Better than I expected, but still it’s not for me.

I have no problem with the romance though, surprisingly. I thought it was actually nice and well developed. The main characters started out as unwilling participants in an arranged marriage to seal a shaky political alliance. They’re good-hearted, wholesome characters that you root for, so it’s nice to read about them learning about each other, and fortunately, much of the book is spent on them growing to like one another. Those feelings deepen later on, much later on. If I remember correctly, they don’t fall into bed until the 80% mark. So no head-over-heels insta-love here. Rather, this one’s a slow burning kind of romance.

My issue with this book is all about the writing style. I couldn’t really get into the story until near the end, and I think it’s because it’s too explain-y. For a world that’s not that complicated and characters not that complex, there sure is a lotta explainin’. The POV alternates between the leads from chapter to chapter, and too much, I feel, is revealed about each character’s thoughts, feelings, motivations, wishes, goals, etc etc. So while you get a good sense of the characters… there’s almost no room left for surprise. But if you enjoy the characters, none of that would matter.

Overall, a good read (for a romance), but light on SFF elements. This book was picked for Vaginal Fantasy’s January BOTM, and I look forward to what those ladies have to say.

* * * * *

Just figured out who Brishen and the Kai remind me of (aesthetically speaking):
Anomander Rake and his people from the Malazan books.