Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Heart's Rebellion book review

A Heart's Rebellion

A Heart's Rebellion 

Dutiful Jessamine Barry is tired of waiting patiently for a man to decide her future. So even though Lancelot Marfleet, second son of an aristocrat, is taking an interest in her during the London season, she refuses to consider him as a suitor. Instead, she's ready to take fashionable society by storm--and finds a rakish young man all too willing to help her do it. When things go too far, Jessamine will learn that the man who is faithful through thick and thin is more worthy than the one who speaks pretty words. But will her disgrace keep Lance from reconsidering her as a wife? And when tragedy strikes and Lance becomes his father's heir and a titled gentleman, will he think she only wants him now because of his title?

My Review: 6/10 

I did not realize that this book was a sequel until I was already knee deep in it. While it stands alone fairly well, I wonder if my perception of a few key characters would have been different if I had read the first book.

As it was, Jessamine and I did not get on. At all. She spent a good portion of the book being caught up in whining, self-pity, and pining after another woman's man. Oh my. It was difficult to swallow. Like a raw egg.

Her behavior toward Lancelot was just awful. She was shallow and stuck up, immediately dismissing him because of his looks. After realizing who he was, I expected her to be mortified and humbled. But no, she was all pride and conceit, thinking herself better than him.

As the story went on, her self-involvement reached a peak with her blaming everyone else for her feelings and obsessions, as if she is purely a victim of her circumstances. She may have been at one time, but at this point she is choosing her own self destructive path. She is no victim. Even when Megan tries to gently direct her to God, telling her to trust in His plans for her, she hardens her heart and persists.

Jessamine's attitude and actions may be an accurate representation of how some people really think and behave but they are not people I could respect or stand to be around much.

That being said, I did sympathize with her on a few points; overhearing the brief words between Rees and Celine was humiliating. I cannot even imagine. Rees in general seemed to be rubbing it in her face from the beginning all the way to the end with his talk of wishing she had found a love like he had with Celine. Why did he feel the need to compare the two? Why talk about himself at all?

I also understood the root of her insecurities, the cause and effect; her comparing herself to Celine and trying to compete, her seeking out what consoled her bruised ego, even why she was repulsed by a man who seemed too timid and was too similar to both her father and former intended, both of whom she blamed. What I didn't understand is why she thought she was superior to him or even equal to him, why she was so confident in her own appeal that she felt the need to rebuff his advances from the very first.

It was her total lack of humility and over abundance of insecurities (which I believe drove her constant defensive position at every interaction with Lancelot. I prefer characters who have a sense of humor; Jessamine was constantly irritable and offended.) that kept me from being able to connect with her or believe in their romance.

As a side note, I wasn't sure what to make of the drugging episode. Initially it rubbed me the wrong way because it seemed way too modern and out of place. Did that really happen back then? It would seem so, considering that Lancelot referenced a drug he was aware of. The author must have done her homework here. If that's the case, it just seemed too extreme and poorly contrived that he would have the nerve to drug her and make off with her in public. Perhaps he'd thought her defenseless before, but after Celine's arrival, and their connection, I'd have thought the former Lady Wexham's position and influence would have been enough to end any dishonorable schemes.

This is the first book I've read by Ms. Axtell and though I would have preferred to closely follow Megan's story rather than Jessamine's, and I will likely not read the next book (Delawney?), I might just go back and read the first book. Celine appears to be a protagonist who is classy, intelligent and generous. She fell in love with a man because of his honor and respected that, rather than trying to dissolve it- my kind of heroine, my kind of love story.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Reaver: The Sundering, Book IV book review

The Reaver (The Sundering, #4)

The Reaver 

In the 4th book of the multi-author Sundering series launched by New York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore, Richard Lee Byers introduces Anton Marivaldi—a renowned reaver with an insatiable thirst for bounty and a moral compass that always leads him toward the evil he’s never tried.

Endless, pounding rain afflict the Sea of Fallen Stars and the coastal regions surrounding it. Harvests are failing, travel and trade are disrupted, and civilized forces are giving way to the deluges caused by the storms. In panic and despair, many have turned to the goddess Umberlee, Queen of the Deeps, offering her sacrifices with hope that they will be spared the inevitable reckoning of her perpetual tempest.

Evendur Highcastle, undead pirate captain, risen from the depths to assume the mantle of Umberlee’s Chosen, takes advantage of the people's desperation to strike for both spiritual and temporal power in her name.

Vying with Highcastle for the hearts and minds of the people is Stedd Whitehorn, a little boy and the chosen of a god thought lost to time: Lathander, the Morninglord. In a time of such upheaval, Stedd’s message of renewal and hope runs in stark contrast to the savage ethos of Highcastle and his waveservants.

When Anton captures the boy in order to collect Highcastle’s considerable bounty, the reaver is quickly caught in the riptide caused by the sundering of worlds.

My Review:  7/10
By Jonathan Armstrong

Richard Lee Byers came up with a fun and imaginative tale, but fell short in traditional writing areas that, unfortunately, undermined it.  Even still, I would probably re-read the book some day; it’s pleasurable and its tone is light. I would consider it a not-so-guilty pleasure.

Honestly, not knowing the author’s background or having read any of his other books, he reminds me of someone who created good adventures in a game like Dungeons & Dragons, was encouraged by the players, and then decided to turn those adventures into writing without being trained (or self-taught) in the mechanics of writing. The bad was mostly the result of writing mechanics (which can be improved) and the good was from the actual story. In other words, Richard Byers has a story to tell that’s worth listening to, but he needs to improve on how he tells it.

The first thing that struck me when I was reading was how cliché Anton Marivaldi seems in the opening of the book: a pirate captain lusting after treasure, caring nothing about his crew, and seeking his own adventure. There was a glimmer of hope that he could be deepened as a character when we discovered that he is threatened by depression after combat, but that was never really built upon. To be certain, we find out more about his past, but we didn’t get it in small doses or in a climactic reveal scene. We got it in a pretty anti-climactic fashion, actually. I will get to what made it that way later in the review.

Umara Ankhlab, a wizard(ess) of Thay, is the other unlikely hero of the book. Hers is an interesting story, which I enjoyed and have no complaints over. The way her vampire master made her willingly surrender to his bite well characterized both Umara and her vampiric overlord. In fact, it was a perfect representation of Umara’s spirit in the current hierarchy of Szass Tam’s Thay.

Here is my first complaint: the companionship between Anton and Umara was not earned by the writer. Their camaraderie developed way too quickly and way too easily with few obstacles. Realistically, when considering that one is a reviled pirate, one is a red wizard of Thay, they are both trying to kidnap the same child for different gains, and their companionship was actually based on positive moments shared together instead of shared evil motives, there should have been a trilogy’s worth of obstacles to overcome to get them there. Take their first scene together as an example. Sure, they both needed to get out of the temple and do so with Stedd Whitehorn in tow, but was there no distrust? If you and another party both infiltrate a temple to try and steal a child, you should have two goals once the alarms sound: get out with Stedd, and leave the other party to take your fall.  However, if we are accepting that the dire circumstances within the temple caused the two parties to fight together because they were too desperate not to, I would expect that to end soon after. It did, when Umara’s vampire master killed the rogues that Anton made a deal with. But Anton and Umara? Nope. Umara was ordered to stay behind to fight a celestial by herself, even though it would surely kill her, and she agreed because she had to listen to her vampiric master. But then Anton inexplicably decides to stay behind and help her…and then shortly after he and Umara are comrades-in-arms the rest of the book, with only circumstantial, token resistance to companionship between them.

The easy bonding between Anton and Umara is only saved by one thing:  Stedd Whitehorn. The child Chosen of Lathander has Biblical comparisons, which I won’t go into detail about. Suffice it to say that Stedd is most often concerned with a) preaching hope and the return of Lathander to the world in a time of darkness, b) preventing the rise of darker forces like the followers of Umberlee, c) following the revelations of Lathander, and d) bringing out the good in even the “unredeemable” such as a wizard of Thay and a villainous pirate. Richard Byers did a good job of creating opportunities to show how Anton and Umara were slowly changing—slowly finding hope, slowly reversing course on previous life choices—as a result of being with Stedd. This would have been an easy part of the book to force, but fortunately this aspect of the book was well done. Anton and Umara at first chased after Stedd because he was worth money or advancement to their own interests, but they eventually found themselves drawn to his message of light and his willingness to see good in them. Stedd gave them hope not just for their circumstances, but also for their own selves. The only realistic foundation for Anton and Umara’s companionship centered around Stedd. Their companionship made little sense when Stedd wasn’t involved, but when Stedd was, their relationship was beautifully formed. In fact, Stedd Whitehorn was a wonderfully done character overall; this character is responsible for the uplifting and spiritual tones of the book that would make me want to re-read it again some day.

An additional note, Stedd’s different roles as a typical child and a powerful Chosen were perfectly intermixed in his behavior. I also appreciated how Stedd came from the camp that Farideh and company freed at the end of the third book in the Sundering series.

Now to the anti-climactic scene where Anton’s past is revealed. This was poor, poor dialogue. First off, Umara asks about Anton’s past and Anton is way too open to revealing it (following the too-easy relationship pattern). There should be some greater barriers here. But regardless, the resulting conversation is mechanical, formulaic (and bad) writing. Anton delves into a recounting of his youth which consists of about a short paragraph’s worth of information. Then Umara says a one-line sentence or question that has no purpose but to transition to the next part of Anton’s story. Then another short paragraph of information. Then another one-liner. Rinse and repeat. There was no real interaction here. There was no emotion, interest, or reaction from Umara in any of the lines she said. Umara’s lines were only for the sake of continuing Anton’s tale. It was a wasted opportunity.

There were some other good points to this story (the different representations of Umberlee, Umberlee’s undead pirate Chosen, the different landscapes and unexpected adventures resulting from their travels) which I would talk about if I hadn’t written so much already. Without delving into them, I will simply say that the different plot points and combat scenes were inventive and interesting.

The combination of all this good and bad produced a light, maritime adventure. This was a good read, but could have been much better. It might be the equivalent of beach reading where Forgotten Realms is concerned. Here is to hoping that Richard Lee Byers fixes some of the issues that undermined this book before he publishes his next. Even if it’s not written well, I am interested to see where Stedd, Umara, and Anton end up.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Kiss of Deception book review

The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles #1)

The Kiss of Deception 

In this timeless new trilogy about love and sacrifice, a princess must find her place in a reborn world.

In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight—but she doesn’t—and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom—to a prince she has never met.

On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assasin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—even as she finds herself falling in love.

My review: 10/10

This book was nothing like I'd thought it'd be. From reading the synopsis, I thought, Okay. Standard, love story, girl of priviledge wanting to be free of that life, etc etc etc. Nothing new here, completely predictable, but I can accept that if the author can make me connect with at least one, preferably more, characters. Yes, my expectations were extremely low.

About a quarter of the way through, I was thinking, okay well things are progressing along as expecting. Yes it's predictable, but I wasn't thoroughly set on which one she'd choose. I mean, she seemed to have made her choice, but it didn't seem cemented. And what was better, it didn't seem like an easy no brainer for once! While the characters were all likeable enough, what I really connected with was the history of this world and their kingdoms. Typically, I'd get frustrated with a tiny morsel of backstory given here and there at the beginnings of random chapters, in the form of song or poem stanzas etc, like breadcrumbs leading hansel and gretel through the woods toward a big unveiling. I don't have much patience for that. But Ms. Pearson still managed to captivate me with the themes of hunger and magic and the eery nonsense from an unknown land. I happily read on.

About halfway though Ms. Pearson pulled the rug out from under me with a twist I never saw coming. I'm usually pretty good at suspecting these things, or maybe most other authors are just horrible at planting them. I don't know, but she got me. At first, I thought maybe these were typos. I did get an ARC, so maybe it was a mistake. But they just kept coming... how could this many be missed?! I had to accept the fact that I'd been fooled. I was so convinced that at some point, she said something that confirmed my beliefs and it had to be wrong. It had to be incomplete. How could I have been so thoroughly convinced of one thing and then HALFWAY THROUGH THE BOOK find out I had assumed wrong and everything I thought built on that?! I started reading backward, chapter by chapter until I was convinced that Ms. Pearson had Jedi-mind-tricked me, but that I had walked right into it. Oh, so well done. *roung of applause* I loved it. And the result suited my sensibilities better.

I read on and on and on and on. Despite the fact that I was sick, despite the fact that my head was pounding and I had class in the morning. I could not put. it. down.

There were a lot of profound statements in this book, mostly due to their simple truths, like: "It can take years to mold a dream. It takes only a fraction of second for it to be shattered."

I was really surprised that the love triangle seemed to grow and intensify as the book went on. It seemed that the choice should be obvious, why continue to develop an unrequited love? But Ms. Pearson did. And she continued to develop characters and make them make hard choices, she allowed them to grow and to change, naturally. All of the characters seem to have so many layers of depth, the lies and betrayal, I never get to the point where I can safely say I've got them figured out. I can't remember the last time I felt so invested in so many characters' story lines, and then, being a history lover like I am, I can't wait to unravel the mysteries and ancient stories of the people as a whole. It was such a kick to the gut to learn that the next book is not going to be released until 2015. oh, but I cannot wait!

Up until the first half I had intended to give this book 4 stars because it really held my attention and I enjoyed it. But the second half really sold me. This book gets 5 stars, a 10 out of 10 because it is one I will have to own for myself in physical format, so that I can read it again and again and again, each time, seeing things from a different point of view and learning more about their world and my own.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Adversary: The Sundering, Book III book review

The Adversary (The Sundering, #3)

The Adversary 

In the 3rd book of the multi-author SUNDERING series kicked off by New York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore, the award-winning Erin M. Evans throws her signature character Farideh into a maelstrom of devilish politics and magical intrigue. Captured by Netherese agents and locked away in a prison camp, Farideh quickly discovers her fellow prisoners are not simply enemies of Netheril, but people known as Chosen who possess hidden powers, powers that Netheril is eager to exploit—or destroy. As Farideh’s friends and sister race across the landscape on a desperate rescue mission, Farideh is drawn deeper into the mystery of the Netherese plot alongside two undercover Harper agents. But will her closest ally turn out to be an adversary from her past?

My Rating: 9/10
Jonathan Armstrong

The third book in The Sundering series, which aims to return the Forgotten Realms to a bit of normalcy following some great turmoil, is a great read. Granted, there is not much fighting, and no detailed combat like you would find in a book by R.A. Salvatore, who kicked off the series. But there is power struggle, personal struggle, the threat of violence at every turn, political manipulations to keep readers (and characters) guessing, and refreshingly real characters.

I’ll be honest, the only reason this is not getting a 10/10 is that for the first third of the book, I was not nearly as invested. I was wondering if this book was going to be a disappointment, and combined with the second book of the series, wondering if any of the rest of the books in the series (whose characters I also had never read about) would also not satisfy. The reason was simple. There were too many characters to keep up with, and none to really feel like you knew. This is the danger with having a standalone novel that continues stories of several characters of prior books, but I’m not willing to excuse it. I believe it is a challenge, but not a necessary evil.

So what changed?  Easy. After about a third of the book, we stopped being introduced to new characters via scenes that were often introductory soliloquies. Instead, we got extended portions of text that focused on one character, or at most two or three together, while they were moving the plot. With extended portions devoted to a character or two or three, you got to get to know them, understand them, and identify with them. Their interactions were revealing. History between them naturally arose. How they reacted to events told us infinitely more about them than their soliloquies.

And once we got to the plot of this story, it was tense to the end. After reading about 45% of the book, I couldn’t put it down. I stayed up into the morning reading when I haven’t done that in years. The plot was wonderfully intriguing, and it always left you wondering how all the different parties would play out. They were fractious on so many levels that I haven’t seen that level of detail in even R.A. Salvatore’s work. No one seemed to be on the same side or have the same motives completely. Erin Evans made every character so real, it was incredible.

And that, in the end, is what made this book so amazing, beyond even the plot. The characters. Every character was unique, no matter how large or small their role. I was particularly fond of Farideh and Havilar, the tieflings, because of how they reacted to each other as sisters and also seeing the genuine portrayals of young women (err…tieflings) in them. As a side note, I also really appreciated the view of sex here. It wasn’t taken lightly, and the sister who did partake was still honest as a character since she tends to be more passionate and reckless but not entirely stupid; she did so within a relationship. When Farideh decided to resist Lorcan’s temptations and said she should be praised for her “basic morals”, it was a great turn from what is the current trend in our culture. Our current trend is represented by things like “50 Shades of Grey” where a woman should give into the dark, seedy side of sex instead of holding out for something pure and life-giving. It was greatly refreshing, wherever Farideh eventually ends up on the issue (none of us are perfect!).

Since there weren’t many scenes of violence in the book, I thought I would mention that Erin Evans chose her moments selectively. Every combat furthered a plot, changed a relationship, created an unexpected twist. No violence for the sake of violence (even though I do enjoy a good R.A. Salvatore battle scene). Honestly, I didn’t even notice the lack of violence until this review, especially since the tension from the threat of violence overhung everything. It was very well done and should not put anyone off from this book.

I only hope that Erin Evans can learn from R.A. Salvatore in how he introduces characters in each book (except for Drizzt’s journal entries, please forego those). I first read “The Lone Drow” by Salvatore, the second book of a trilogy and many books into his characters’ development, but didn’t feel lost or uninvested. He introduced them through action and interaction, with their thoughts interspersed between. I didn’t appreciate the difficulty of that enough until I read books two and three of the Sundering.

The honesty and authenticity of Erin Evan’s characters alone would have me wanting to read her past and future books, but combined with the intricately woven plot, I have a new competitor for my favorite fantasy author.