Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

This novel is apparently a standalone that is linked to a previous series written by this author: The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne. I’m really happy that the author created a book like this because getting into an epic or high fantasy series can be daunting at times, and I felt that this would kind of give me an idea of what I would be getting into if I did. So here is my review:

Pyrre Lakatur doesn’t like the word skullsworn. It fails to capture the faith and grace, the peace and beauty of her devotion to the God of Death. She is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer–she is a priestess. At least, she will be once she passes her final trial. Pyrre has no qualms about killing people. Her trial gives her 10 days to kill 10 people, as depicted in an ancient song, which includes  “the one you love / who will not come again.” Pyrre has never been in love, doesn’t even know what love feels like. And that is her biggest worry: how can she complete her trial when she cannot even find someone she can love? If Pyrre fails to complete her test, then she will be given up to the god. And while Pyrre doesn’t fear death, she hates failing. So, with a month before her trials begin, she returns to the city of her birth in the hope of finding love… and ending it on the edge of her sword.

I’m a sucker for stories with assassins. It’s what really drew me to this book. The author created a beautiful background and a wonderful setting. Everything was thought through and described wonderfully. I loved learning about the Dombang’s and the old gods and the new gods. I really liked Ru Lun Lac, the man Pyrre is trying to fall in love with; he was cunning and harsh and hard to read. I also liked all of the minor characters in the story. In fact, the only character I didn’t like was Pyrre. I felt as if her personality didn’t have the fire I wanted. Yes, she was this cool badass who kills like nobody else, but she didn’t really pique my interest. The other thing I didn’t like was the actual chemistry between Pyrre and Ru Lun Lac…. because there was none. It was just weird and I didn’t understand what was really going on between them. I actually loved reading about Pyrre’s backstory and that was what I wanted to keep reading about; I felt like if I understood more about what her childhood was like and her connection with old gods was, I would like her better. I didn’t like the ending of the story. I’m not going to tell you what it was but it was disappointing for me. Overall, this novel was not what I was expecting. Yes, I got the gore and violence and awesome story-building that I wanted. But I didn’t like the main character that much and the ending wasn’t up to my expectations. I will, however, give the actual series a chance because the world itself is too awesome to pass up on. 2.5 stars rounded up to 3!

Happy reading ~

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The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve only read one other book by Alice Hoffman, but I really loved it. So I was super excited for the chance to read this one! This novel is a prequel to Practical Magic, which I have not read before and which the reader does not have to have read in order to understand what is happening in this story. But let me get on with my review:

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man. Even though it has been hundreds of years, and there have been many changes in the world, Susanna Owens knows that her 3 children are talented – and dangerous. There’s Franny, perpetually grumpy but with an ability to communicate with animals; Jet, who is beautiful and kind, with the ability to read others’ thoughts; and Vincent, charismatic and addictive, with a penchant for getting into trouble. Knowing all this, Susanna has set down rules for her children: no walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they really are. And when they come back home to New York City, each sibling sets off on a risky journey to escape the family curse.

If you think this is just a story about spells and potions, then you would be wrong. This is about so much more than just magic. It’s about families filled with regret, it’s about gaining the courage to live life to the fullest, and it is about daring to love and dream and LIVE. As usual, the author has written a beautiful story about family and love and loss, with gorgeous prose. I really could not stop myself from turning the pages. Every character has been wonderfully created, and it is so easy to feel connected to them; I felt truly invested in their lives and their pursuit for happiness. This novel had me so emotional; I was literally sobbing at times because I could feel their emotions so deeply. One thing is for sure: I am DEFINITELY going to read Practical Magic. If you have never read a book by Alice Hoffman, I urge you to do so ASAP because she is such a talented author and everything she writes is amazing! I’m just glad she’s written as many books as she has, because now I have more books to enjoy!

Happy reading ~

The Tiger’s Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I absolutely adored the premise of this novel. It hinted at Mongolian and Japanese and Chinese influences, so I was really intrigued as to how the author would incorporate that into her story. Plus, fantasy is my all-time favorite and I’m always down for new books in the genre. Let’s begin the review:

The Hokkaran empire has been victorious in defeating all of their enemies and conquering land – but they failed to notice another enemy: the darkness festering within the people. Now, their bordering walls are starting to crumble and demons are on the rampage, killing villagers everywhere. Away on the silver steppes, the nomadic Qorin tribe try to protect themselves, having bartered a treaty with their empire. Now, in the face of evil, two young warriors from across borders must save the world, thus fulfilling their destinies. This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

With a premise like that, how could this novel fail, am I right? WRONG. I had to add this ARC to my DNF pile, and we all know how much I hate doing that. But I simply could not get through this novel. I only got through 20% before I had to give up. So what was so wrong with this story? Well, for starters it begins with a letter. Now, I love letters. But this letter was there simply for info-dumping purposes. I mean, it went on and on for about 4 chapters of the story, pretty much laying all of the groundwork. But since that was the only real world-building that was happening, it made the story very clunky and effectively removed any chance of there actually being a plot line. The worst part is that the letter wasn’t even well-written! It had no nuance, it had no flair, it literally just narrated everything in an awkward way, which really didn’t make for a pleasant experience for the reader. I kept waiting for something to happen with the plot but … well, nothing really happened. that was a real bummer for me. There is clearly romance between the two female protagonists, but it wasn’t executed well, either. The author also makes some very racist remarks that really made me feel uncomfortable; others have also mentioned this on Goodreads so I’m not going to get into it any further. Overall, this novel was quite a let-down. It had garnered a lot of hype and it brought my hopes up. But in the end, it didn’t deliver. For those reasons, I’m giving it a 1/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

 

 

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

I love fantasy fiction and when I heard that this is a brand new series coming out, I really wanted to get in on the action. It took me a while to get my hands on this book what with all the demand. But I finally did so here is my review:

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy, young girls are trained to be deadly killers. In some, there are signs of the old blood, giving these girls talents rarely seen since the tribes made their mark on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones the skills of novices to deadly effect – it takes them 10 years to train a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist. But no one truly understands what they are dealing with when 8-year-old Nona Grey is brought to their convent, bloodstained and accused of murder. While Nona has escaped from the noose, she has made powerful enemies. Despite the security of the convent, her secret and violent past will come back for her. Beneath a dying sun and a crumbling empire, Nona must come to terms with her demons and become a deadly assassin if she is to survive.

The very first page starts off with a bang, and it got me super excited. The next chapter came along and it was just as cool. The author really knows how to capture the reader’s attention! The author also invests a lot of energy and time into world-building, which is greatly appreciated. Every time something new was described, it made me excited to see how the author would use that to develop the story. And then we got to the middle of the book. And I didn’t like it. While I’m a HUGE fan of Harry Potter, I don’t always like Harry Potter-like fiction. And this story started to show signs of becoming that way. For 75% of the novel, we watch Nona and her friends go to classes and train and learn things…. just like in Harry Potter. Granted there are episodes of action that are awesome, and Nona is a very interesting main character that is not at all like Harry Potter …. but the similarities were just too much. It kind of felt like a mash up between Harry Potter and Queen of Blood, both which I loved – as separate entities. In fact, I think I liked Queen of Bloods more than I liked this one. However, the story picked up near the end and the intrigue was back. I think what really made me like this book and stick through the boring bits was the fact that there were moments where I was on the edge of my seat and the amazing writing skills of the author. While this was not my favorite fantasy novel, I definitely liked it enough to keep an eye out for the sequel when it gets released.

Happy reading ~

Burntown by Jennifer McMahon

I love weird stories. The wackier, the better. It’s one of the reasons I love Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles series. While I’ve never heard of this author before this book, I read that she had a reputation for coming up with wild stories. So I decided to get started with this one. Here is my review:

Eva grew up watching her father, Miles, invent strange and wonderful things in the small workshop behind their house on the river that runs through their old mill town. But the most important invention that Miles every made came from the mind of Thomas Edison: a machine that lets you talk to the dead. The bluepritns for this machine has been passed down to Miles and he’s been using it to protect his family. But one night, when a fierce storm is raging and there is the threat of a flood, the machine comes to life and delivers a single message: you’re in terrible danger. The next thing Eva knows, she is waking up by the river and only her mother is there. Her father and brother are dead, the house is gone, and there is an evil man out to get them. Eva changes her name to Necco and tries to forget about her past as she and her mother live life off the grid. But when her mother dies and her boyfriend is murdered, Necco is convinced that her past is catching up to her. What really happened that night? As Necco tries to discover the truth, she connects with 2 other women who are on their own desperate quests. And as the trio follow the clues, they discover that sometimes it’s the smallest towns that hold the strangest secrets.

Before this novel, I would never have thought that so many mismatched parts could come together to create a cohesive and interesting story. But they did. And I loved every minute of it. There is a paranormal aspect, with visions and psychic abilities and machines that let you communicate with the dead. There is a mystery element where people keep dying but you don’t know why. There’s a thriller aspect where the main character is being hunted by a man wearing a chicken skin mask. In all, it’s a crazy mess. But it worked on so many levels. There was not a single boring moment in this story. And the author managed to run so many different storylines at the same time! There are 3 main female characters and they each got their moment in the spotlight, which I really loved. The way it all got tied in was unexpected but it worked with the weirdness of the premise. I’m still shocked by how everything was put together … but I definitely enjoyed this read! This is not a traditional book in any way so I would recommend this to people who enjoy crazy stories with super interesting and zany plots! I can’t wait to read more by this author!

Hapyp reading ~

The Devil’s Bible by Dana Chamblee Carpenter – Bohemian Gospel #2

I loved Bohemian Gospel so much that I really wanted to read the sequel. I needed to know what would happen to Mouse, who was a character that I had really grown to love. Anyways, here is my review:

The Devil’s Bible. Once considered an eighth wonder of the world, the ancient book is shrouded in mystery. No one knows who wrote it or where it was written. Even dry-boned scholars whisper about the secrets hidden in the book: How it calls to the power-hungry. How it drives people mad. How it was written in the shadows by the hand of the devil himself. But the only person who knows the truth is Mouse. And she is desperate to keep it hidden. Now, she goes by Emma Nicholas and has refashioned herself into a college professor. But when forces threaten to expose her real identity, she is forced to go on the run. She unexpectedly finds hope in a stranger’s kindness, hope that she can win this game of souls. But will hope be enough to win this battle between good and evil?

I really enjoyed reading this sequel, especially knowing that The Devil’s Bible actually exists in real life. The story that began with Mouse in Bohemian Gospel was taken to new heights here, as the tale flits from past to present to explain how things ended up the way they are now. The past revolves around the actual creation of the Bible, and how she became influenced by her father – who had his own ideas on what should be in this book. The present takes us to Mouse’s current life as Emma Nicholas and how her new identity falls apart when her father and his “people” find her. While I enjoyed the story, I will say that I preferred the prequel. Perhaps it was because the prequel dealt more with Mouse’s discovery of her abilities and origins whereas this novel was more of an internal conflict on how Mouse can save those she cares about. However, the story was still gripping and exciting and the conclusion left room for (hopefully) another book to be added to the series. If you are looking for an interesting spin on something historic with supernatural and fantasy elements, then this is a novel you definitely want to check out. Just make sure you read the prequel first!

Happy reading ~

The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho

I really wanted to read a short novel that had an interesting concept so when this one was recommended to me, I grabbed the chance! Here is my review:

In the tenth court of hell, wealthy spirits bribe the bureaucrats of the underworld in order to avoid the torments of hell and not undergo reincarnation. It’s a comfortable place to live, even for those who didn’t necessarily have a choice. Siew Tsin didn’t want to marry the richest man in hell, but she’s made her peace with it. After all, she avoids all of the unpleasant aspects of death and hell. But everything changes when her husband brings home a new bride. Yonghua is an artifical woman made from terracotta. At first, Siew Tsin does not know what to make of her. But as the two sister wives frow closer, the mystery of Yonghua will draw Siew Tsin to choose between eternal life or a very final death.

I quite enjoyed reading this novel. The author did a wonderful job of taking a traditional idea and showing its different nuances. While I may not know much about the Chinese afterlife, the author did a great job of painting a vivid picture of it for readers like me. The story and the ideas it puts out there are complex. They are designed to make the reader pause and think about the implications behind the scenario. I really enjoyed having that opportunity, especially since I wasn’t expecting it. Altogether, this was a short yet thought-provoking read that is sure to delight everyone.

Happy reading ~

Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore

Thank you to Penguin Random House and the First to Read program for this ARC in exchange for my honest review!

Reincarnation has always been an interesting concept for me, especially since it is a part of my religion. I’ve had many debates on my views on reincarnation, and I always like reading about others’ unique perspectives on it. I was super excited to read this ARC so here is my review:

What if you could live forever—but without your one true love? Milo has been reincarnated numerous times, but he’s just found out that he only gets up to 10,000 chances to search for the secret to immortality or else he can never be with his beloved, the incarnation of Death. The problem is Milo is almost at the max limit – and he needs to find the answer fast! As Milo travels from ancient India to outer space to Renaissance Italy to the present day, he makes an even deeper journey into the makings of the human heart.

What an awesome story! This novel had me from the first page with its unique take on reincarnation as well as its storytelling style. The author goes about this telling this tale in two ways: first, there is Milo’s story and we get multiple chapters taking us through the adventures of some of his lives; and second, we get Suzie, the incarnation of Death, and her own struggle to create her own fate. This novel made me connect so strongly with the characters. I cried, laughed, and sympathized with Milo and Suzie and the author did a fantastic job in making me invested in the fate of the characters. Simply put, this novel was engrossing and written amazingly well. It almost felt like a short story collection, with each reincarnation being a separate story – except it was better because the author managed to connect it all and create a cohesive plot. I really cannot rave more about this novel, but if you are looking for a very unique storyline, then please give this novel a shot! I guarantee you won’t regret it!

Happy reading ~

The Bohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee Carpenter

Something about this book just captured my attention right away. Maybe it was the cover, with its medieval times look. Maybe it was the fact that this story combines fantasy, historical fiction, and the Devil. Either way, it’s been on my mind for a while and now seemed like the best time to get into this story (which has a sequel, by the way!) so here is my review:

13th century Bohemia is a religious place, where anything that defies God and the Church is considered a danger to humanity. This makes it a dangerous place for Mouse, a girl born with unnatural powers and an uncanny intellect. Some call her a witch, others call her an angel…. but Mouse doesn’t know who – or what – she is. When young King Ottakar shows up wounded at the Abbey, Mouse breaks church law to save his life. Astounded by her medical abilities, the King insists on taking her with him back to Prague as his personal healer. When Mouse arrives at the castle, she is caught in the midst of court politics. Soon, Ottakar and Mouse find themselves drawn to each other, as they work together to uncover the identities of those who are against him and unravel the mystery of Mouse’s identity. But when Mouse’s unusual gifts give rise to violence and strength, she is forced to ask herself if she is prepared for the future that awaits her.

This is a book that I still haven’t been able to pin an opinion on. There were so many things that I loved about this novel and I read this book in record time. However, there were also certain elements of the novel that didn’t work for me. Let me start by talking about the things I liked:

  • Mouse having powers was the thing that really drew me to this novel. I love fantasy and a female protagonist with “gifts” during a time period when people like her would be considered witches or worse …. well, that is my weakness!
  • I really liked that the author didn’t just focus on Mouse’s powers; she took the time to explore Mouse’s life, her emotions, and all of the other factors that influenced Mouse. It made Mouse come alive, made her more than just your usual protagonist trying to figure out her identity. Mouse falling in love, suffering, and rising from that was just as important to the story as her powers.
  • I liked the historical backdrop of the story a lot. This novel takes place in a variety of different settings and the author does a really great job transitioning from one to the other.
  • While the story has its slow points in the middle, it definitely ramps up closer to the end and it kept me on my toes until the very last minute. It was worth the dull stuff to get to that last page!

So now that I’ve covered the good stuff, here are some of the things I disliked:

  • Mouse’s character was not as strong as I would have liked. For someone who has badass powers, she didn’t really do much to discover them and I wasn’t too happy with the fact that she never properly embraced them.
  • The author made Mouse very submissive … and that bothered me a lot. I understand that she may have wanted to maintain some kind of historical accuracy, as the times in which this novel took place, there was no feminism movements…. but Mouse had POWERS! She really shouldn’t have been placed in such submissive roles, she should have been way more badass and strong. This really bothered me in the story and I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I had hoped because of this aspect.
  • The dull moments were … dull. If the author had included some magical power stuff, then it would have been a bit easier to get through those parts.

Overall, this story was gripping and original. I really enjoyed the overall plot and made my way through this book quite quickly. While there were some elements that I didn’t enjoy, the book was mostly amazing and I am definitely going to be reading the sequel!

Happy reading ~

Hekla’s Children by James Brogden

I actually began this novel a while back but had to stop because of my workload. The novel stayed in the back of my mind and I’m glad that I finally got the chance to read this book now. So here is my review:

10 years ago, teacher Nathan Brookes was supervising 4 students on a walk … when they all vanished. Only one returned, Olivia, and she was starving, terrified, and unable to recollect where she had been. And Nathan has been haunted by this event ever since. When a body is found in the same ancient woodland where the kids disappeared, it is immediately assumed that it is the body of one of the missing children. However, it is soon identified as a Bronze Age warrior. While others may be able to move on from this archaeological curiosity, Nathan finds himself having horrific visions of his students being trapped. Then Olivia reappears, desperate to put the warrior’s body back into the Earth. For he is the only thing keeping a terrible evil at bay.

This novel was both a hit AND a miss for me. The beginning was intriguing and it really grabbed my attention; that’s why I kept thinking about it even when I stopped reading the novel! The author did a great job setting the scene, and I got really invested in Nathan’s character. I suspected that the author would lean towards the fantasy-horror genre combination, and I was pleased to see that my prediction was true. I liked the introduction of the Bronze Age warrior and really wanted to see where the author was going to go with that. Very quickly, the author switched from having Nathan as a main character, to someone else …. and then it switched again to Nathan … and then went back to someone else. That part was a little baffling because it made me feel like I wasn’t reading a continuous story but rather two different stories happening within the same timeline. It worked in the sense that it added more intrigue to the story but it also failed by making things more confusing and muddled. The story itself grew more complex but it had its flaws. A lot of details were skimmed over and could have used some more buildup, and it lost some of its horror feel near the end. The way certain characters were connected didn’t really work for me, and some of the conclusions that were drawn were a bit too unbelievable for my taste. By the end of the novel, I felt like I had read a really complicated and intriguing novel … but one that lacked a consistent flow. Since there were elements that I still enjoyed about this novel, I’m giving it a 3/5.

Happy reading ~