Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “The Defiant Heir”

35921536Book: “The Defiant Heir” by Melissa Caruso

Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Book Description: Across the border, the Witch Lords of Vaskandar are preparing for war. But before an invasion can begin, they must call a rare gathering of all seventeen lords to decide a course of action. Lady Amalia Cornaro knows that this Conclave might be her only chance to stifle the growing flames of war, and she is ready to make any sacrifice if it means saving Raverra from destruction.

Amalia and Zaira must go behind enemy lines, using every ounce of wit and cunning they have, to sway Vaskandar from war. Or else it will all come down to swords and fire.

Previously reviewed: “The Tethered Mage”

Review: I was so excited when I received an ARC for this sequel! “The Tethered Mage” came out of nowhere last fall and quickly became one of my favorite reads for the year, so I was so excited to see what antics (troubles?) Amalia and Zaira would get themselves into this time. So much so, that I brought this book along with me on vacation, which was probably not the best choice since it actively distracted me from all of the “real vacationing” I was apparently supposed to be doing. It’s a lenghty book, and yet, somehow, I zipped right through it!

After the events of the last book, Amalia has proven herself a capable heir to her mother, La Contessa, and finds herself further enmeshed in the difficult and morally challenging workings of her country’s ongoing conflicts with their dangerous neighbors to the north. Zaira, too, while still straining against the restrictions of her new life, is also beginning to develop some type of feelings (oh no!) for the Falconers and Falcons around her. As the Witch Lords continue to make threatening moves against Raverra, Amalia and Zaira once again find themselves in the middle of the action. But this time they’re also in the middle of an enemy nation with only the hope of help from a Witch Lord himself who claims to be courting Amalia, but seems to also be hiding plans of his own.

This book does everything a good sequel should do. The stakes are raised in literally every aspect of the story. Plot and action? Well, not only is there a threatening volcano looming over the country ready to blow at any minute, but we get to meet the Witch Lords themselves in all of their terrifying glory! Magic? Said Witch Lords are super creepy with a complex magic system of their own that ties their powers to each other and the land they rule. Characters? Not only does Amalia’s and Zaira’s relationship remain the solid focus of character growth, but it continues to build, even when hindered by the morally challenging nature of their bond. Beyond their bond, both Amalia and Zaira have relationships of their own to deal with.

Zaira continues to struggle with vulnerability and trust, drawn to a fellow Falcon, but also lashing out in the way of a trapped animal who has been hurt too many times to recognize a kind hand being offered. I loved the exploration of Zaira’s growth. After the last book, we know the price that Zaira has paid with past experiences of becoming close to others and the tragic results that occurred. Her distrust is not only of others and their intentions, but mostly of herself. For all of this, she is not let off the hook by those around her when she takes it too far and truly hurts those who care for her. Zaira’s story was full of tenderness, heartbreak, and ultimately, hope.

For her own part, as the primary protagonist, Amalia’s own experiences and relationships are exponentially increased in this book. I still love the relationship that has been built between her and her powerful mother which is still a breath of fresh air in a book world full of orphans or evil step mothers. But in this book, the more important relationships are those driven by her relations from her father’s side, both her maternal grandmother who rules a vassal state in Raverra, as well as the line through her grandfather that reaches back to the Witch Lords themselves. Further, after deciding in the last book that she must remain single and detached in order to pursue political connections through courtship, there is an ongoing tension and struggle with her beloved Marcello. Especially when a certain charming and mysterious Witch Lord arrives on the scene and proposes a courtship, something that Amalia recognizes as incredibly powerful and useful in this time of trouble between their nations.

Amalia is not only the heart of these books, but her strong characterization is the glue that holds it all together. I keep using the word “refreshing” but it is truly how I feel about both of these books, mostly due to the way that Amalia is written. She has strong female friendships. She loves Marcello deeply, but is aware of her own role in the world and her duty. And while this pains her incredibly, she doesn’t shy away from the sacrifices that this life requires of her. Throughout this book, her realization of what it really means to be a Cornaro becomes strikingly clear. Through her, the story engages with many challenging topics, including sacrifice of individuals for the good of the whole, political compromise, and what it looks like to work within a system that is made up of people, with their own faults and agendas.

Beyond the characters, I loved the action of this book. Much of it takes place across the borer in the domain of the Witch Lords. In the last book, we only heard loosely about them and had only the horrid Ruven with his ability to control human flesh as an example of their abilities. Here, we are exposed to them all in their full power and we begin to realize the true challenge that Amalia and co. are up against. Further, (again, refreshing!) Amalia is still an unpowered young woman. Her strengths lie purely in her ability to maneuver through political situations, her bookworm-ish knowledge of magic, and her own ability to speak well and convincingly. And in a kingdom that values the ability to wield magic above all else, this skill set is even a harder one to put to use effectively.

The story doesn’t shy away from the gruesome and heartbreaking aspects of a looming war. There is a lot of death, and the Witch Lords and their power over their land is an effectively horrifying threat. I was a bit concerned with the entrance of said Witch Lord suitor, that we might be getting a love triangle. But I very much enjoyed the direction that this aspect of the story went. Again, Amalia as a character is written to handle the challenges and temptations of all of this in probably the most realistic manner I’ve read, as far as “love triangles lite” go.

I really loved the first book in this series, so it says a lot that I came away from this one knowing without a doubt that I loved it even more. Both of these books are must reads for any fan of fantasy fiction featuring strong women characters!

Now it your turn to get your hands on this brilliant sequel! I have an ARC copy up for grabs! Giveaway runs through March 27, 2018 and is open to US entrants only.

Click here to enter!

Rating 10: Absolutely brilliant! Heart-breaking and grounded, this series has given us not only one, but two new heroines to root for!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Defiant Heir ” is a new book so isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Best Fantasy World.”

Find “The Defiant Heir” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Second Evil”

260047Book: “The Second Evil (Fear Street Cheerleaders 2) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1992

Where Did I Get This Book: An eBook from the library!

Book Description: Corky Corcoran is sure it’s just her imagination when she sees her dead sister rise from the grave. Or is it?

Corky is trying to put the nightmare of Bobbi’s death behind her—she’s back on the Shadyside cheerleading squad and has become friends with Kimmy and Debra. But everything is not back to normal for Corky—she hears horrible screams in the gym, her friend has become obsessed with the occult, and a strange young man is following her. And then the murders begin again…

Has the evil spirit from the Fear Street cemetery returned to destroy them one by one?

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: As we enter the magical world of the second book of the “Fear Street: Cheerleaders” Trilogy, we are greeted by Kimmy, Debra, and Ronnie as the drive around in Kimmy’s car. These three cheerleaders are talking about friendship, boys, and their former cheer squad member Corky Corcoran. They catch us up with the deets from the last book: Corky and Bobbi Corcoran moving to Shadyside, becoming popular cheerleaders, Bobbi dying, etc. We also find out that Corky is still visiting Bobbi’s grave on a regular basis, and that Kimmy’s/Bobbi’s ex boyfriend Chip is now dating Corky (WHAT THE FUCK). They are all determined to get Corky back on the cheer team. As they drive past the cemetery Debra says that she knows that the Evil Spirit that killed Bobbi and Jennifer Daly must still be alive because she’s been reading up on this kind of thing. Then they see Corky in the cemetery, visiting Bobbi’s grave yet again. As Corky talks to her sister’s grave and tells her about the nightmares she’s been having, suddenly the ground shakes and opens up only to reveal a dead Bobbi rising up from the grave! Just as Bobbi is about to attack her, Corky wakes up next to the grave, having suffered another nightmare. She looks around thinking that she’s actually safe, but surprise! There’s a strange man in the cemetery watching her! She gets up to leave, but he starts to follow her, and when she runs he runs too!

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They’re coming to get you, Corky… (source)

Corky splats after tripping over a tombstone, but then Kimmy, Debra, and Ronnie are there in Kimmy’s car. When Corky says she was being chased, they don’t see anyone. They all load into Kimmy’s car (after Debra stares out into the dark evening a la Richmond in “The IT Crowd”. Oh, this is a new headcanon. Debra is Richmond), and take Corky home. Once settled and have shooed Corky’s brother Sean away, she asks her former squadmates why they were at the cemetery, and they tell her they were coming to see her. Corky escapes the awkwardness by going to make some cocoa, and then reminisces that she hasn’t seen much of them since she quit cheerleading. She leaves the kitchen and rejoins her friends, and they ask her to join the team again. Corky says that they USED to resent her and Bobbi, but Kimmy insists that, much like those who’ve seen military warfare together, they all bonded because of The Evil Spirit that had possessed Jennifer. Corky says she’ll think about it, but then sees that strange man outside the window!! She freaks out, but when the others go to see what’s up, he’s gone. Kimmy and ROnnie head off, but Debra stays behind, telling Corky she understands how weird this all is, and that’s she’s WAY into the occult now as a way to cope, and that the Evil Spirit is still around, she can feel it!

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A promise is a promise. (source)

Debra says that they have to trust each other now, and grabs Corky’s hand, but Corky pulls away and goes to get the kettle. But as she’s pouring the water into the mugs, she, unable to control herself, pours the boiling water all over her hand!!!!

A few days later (Maybe? It’s not totally clear) Chip goes to visit Corky to see how her hand is doing. He briefly sees his ex girlfriend Kimmy, who leaves right as he arrives, and after Corky and Chip share a hug Sean accuses them of  ‘wrestling’. This was odd to me, mainly because Sean isn’t three, he’s old enough to know what they were actually doing, but it’s played off as full seriousness? We find out that Debra has been calling Corky to check in on her, and Chip makes fun of her theory about the Evil Spirit. When Corky tells him that her burn wasn’t an accident, he’s skeptical, but does believe her about the weird man. Corky says that her therapist suggests that she rejoin the cheer squad, but she’s also going to do it because she wants to figure out if the Evil Spirit has possessed someone else. She then asks him if he’ll go with her to the cemetery so she can talk to Bobbi’s grave about her decision, and after she kisses him he’s totally down. So they go to the cemetery, and while they are by Bobbi’s grave suddenly a woman RISES OUT OF SARAH FEAR’S GRAVE. Except nah, she didn’t rise out of it, she just happened to be there taking gravestone rubbings. She says her name is Sarah Beth Plummer, and she’s a history grad student. When Corky asks if she knows anything about Sarah Fear, Sarah Beth suggests they go get a cup o Joe and talk.

So Sarah Beth tells them about the sordid past of the Fear Family (FINALLY!!!). Sarah Fear married Simon Fear’s grandson and they lived in a house on Fear Lake. Conveniently, her husband died two years after their wedding, so she inherited everything and started living the socialite life on the lake. She and her brother, niece, nephew, and a servant all died when their boat capsized, in spite of the fact it wasn’t bad weather and they were a five minute swim from shore. Corky thinks it’s the Evil Spirit, but keeps that brand of insanity to herself. There had been rumors about Sarah having an affair with the servant as well, and that their ghosts are seen walking around Fear Street. After the story is done, Chip and Corky leave. Chip comments on how strange her voice is, and Corky turns around to see Sarah Beth looking into space with a look of ‘evil’, whatever that means.

After school on Monday, Corky goes to cheer practice to rejoin  the team. The cheerleaders and their coach Miss Green are all happy to see her, though Debra says that she can feel the Evil Spirit. Corky says they’ll talk later, and joins the line hoping to learn as she goes. Unfortunately, there is horrible sound of a girl screaming, and Corky freaks out. Of course, no one else heard it. Corky decides to power through and try again, but nope, horrible screaming that only she can hear. She stops again, and notices that Debra looks pretty self satisfied as she plays with her crystal necklace. Kimmy wants to call a doctor, but Corky says she’s fine. But when the screaming starts again, she runs out of the gym…. and STRAIGHT into the mystery creeper from the cemetery!!! He grabs her, and even though she pulls away he chases her through the school in a Benny Hill-esque pursuit. He eventually catches her and tells her that he’s Jon Daly, Jennifer’s older brother, and he thinks that SHE KILLED JENNIFER. He promises to follow her and find out some proof that she’s a murderer, and just as he’s getting even more awful Chip shows up, and Jon runs off. Chip says that Jon was kicked out of school for being a violent meathead and went to military school. So that’s definitely the kind of guy you want stalking you.

That night Corky is at home babysitting Sean when Kimmy calls. She asks how Corky is feeling, and Corky says that she really did hear screams, to which Kimmy says that she could come back to practice and keep on trying to get back on the squad. Priorities, right? Corky insists that it’s the Evil Spirit, and Kimmy invites her over once she’s done babysitting Sean. Once her parents get home, she gets in her car to drive to Kimmy’s, and passes the cemetery. And she sees something VERY interesting indeed! Sarah Beth Plummer and Jon Daly are walking through the headstones!! And then Sarah starts doing a weird dance on Sarah Fear’s grave as Jon watches on intently!!! Corky zooms off in her car, because that’s too much.

So I guess we’re jumping over Corky’s visit to Kimmy’s house and we are now at school again, this time for Corky’s make up science test! As she has very teenagey thoughts about how cute her science teacher is,  he tells her he has to go pick up his car while she takes the test and she will therefore be in the room alone. I smell a set up. In the science lab there are cages of soon to be dissected frogs, a bunch of dead bugs, a cow eyeball, and a lab skeleton, and as Corky takes the test she tries to ignore the croaking. I mean, you can guess where this is going. Soon, pandemonium begins! The door slams, the blinds shudder, the frogs freak out, the dead bugs and COW EYE go FLYING through the room, and the lab skeleton seems to come to life and tries to strangle her by throwing it’s hand at her throat and grabbing on!!!

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In other words, it goes full “Evil Dead 2”. (source)

As she runs out of the room and makes her escape, she goes to find Chip, who said he’d be in the wood shop. But when she gets there, bad news. Chip is dead on the floor, and it looks like his hand was cut off by the wood saw as it’s sitting by the whirring blade. And to think, continuing the “Evil Dead 2” comparison, if they had gotten to him in time he could have gone full Ash Williams and just attached a chainsaw to his stump and helped fight the Evil Spirit! That would have FULLY redeemed Chip! But, alas, it was not to be.

After the funeral, and after Corky and Kimmy have a moment, Debra runs into Corky in the cemetery and says they have to talk. They go grab a burger and Debra continues to hammer the Evil Spirit theory. Corky would prefer to believe that Chip accidentally sawed off his hand and went into shock, but Debra isn’t buying it! So Corky admits that the science room went Sam Raimi on her, and then tells her about Sarah Beth Plummer’s cemetery dance. Debra says that she thinks she knows how to find the evil.

And then a month passes?! Corky is back at cheer practice, trying again to rejoin and hoping she won’t be spooked or harassed by some demonic entity. All goes well, and she makes it through all the routines and to the top of the pyramid with no problems. So maybe the evil is gone? So we jump forward to that evening (though my eBook sure didn’t make a note of time passing, and it went from a gym floor to Debra handing Corky a handful of candles, I was quite confused), and Corky, Kimmy, and Debra are walking through the remains of Simon Fear’s mansion in hopes of finding the location of the Evil Spirit. They have the GENIUS idea to try and raise it. As Debra starts the ceremony, SOMETHING rises from the floor! But it’s just a stray dog. Kimmy says that she’s leaving because this is stupid, so Debra and Corky are left to feed each other’s paranoia. They decide that talking to Sarah Beth and Jon may be the way to go, so they first go to Jon’s parents house. When they arrive, The Dalys inform them that Jon has been missing for two days. Gosh, this legitimately tragic. Their daughter died, and now their son is missing. I feel for the Dalys.

The next night, Debra and Corky meet at the coffee shop, knowing that Sarah Jane lives right next door. So they go to her house and Sarah Beth lets them in, for some reason. As they ask her if she’s learned anything else about Sarah Fear, she kind of balks, but says she’ll talk once she turns the stove off in the kitchen. Corky accidentally knocks some papers off a table, and as she’s picking them up she sees a number of envelopes… ADDRESSED TO SARAH FEAR! When they confront her, she tells them the truth. She herself is a member of the Fear Family! She admits that she is kind of ashamed about it, given the reputation the Fears have in Shadyside, and that she didn’t tell Corky everything she knew about Sarah Fear when they first met. They ask her about her graveyard date with Jon Daly and her weird dancing, and she says she used to know Jon back in school and he randomly called her a few weeks before their meeting. He asked her to meet him at the cemetery, and then asked her if she knew about the ‘truth’ about his sister. THEN he asked her if she believed in Evil Spirits, and her answer of studying the occult wasn’t a good enough answer for him. She told him about a dance that some cultures would do in hopes of raising the dead, and he insisted that she do it for him. And since he seemed completely out of his gourd, she just made one up, and they parted ways. THEN she tells them more about Sarah Fear. Apparently, after her husband died, she was very sad. Then in 1899 she also fell ill, and was on the brink of death. But then she miraculously recovered, but wasn’t really the same person afterwards, acting strange and becoming a bitch and a party animal who would hold seances and weird occult happenings at her house. Sometimes people died at these parties. The day that she and her entourage went on the boat, the weather was fine, until a random gale force wind knocked them all into the water where they died… And when their bodies were recovered, they looked like they had BOILED TO DEATH!! LIKE BOBBI! AND CORKY’S ARM!

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It’s all kind of coming together! (source)

Debra and Corky are spooked and not certain that Sarah Beth told them everything, but it sure sounds like Sarah Fear was possessed back in the day. When Corky gets home, Kimmy calls her to tell her that Jon Daly’s body was just pulled out of Fear Lake.

Good news! Corky is about to perform during an actual game!!! Kimmy knows she can do it! It goes well for the most part, with their cheers tight and their judgments of the other cheer squad nice and catty. During the grand finale, Corky starts to climb to the top of the pyramid, but when she reaches the top, things start to get spinny and noisy! Corky then realizes that Sarah Jane Plummer is there! WHY WOULD SHE BE THERE!? As she tries to dismount, after Kimmy nods at her to jump, Kimmy doesn’t catch her, and Corky falls to the floor. As she drifts in and out of consciousness, she hears Kimmy say that something held her arms down! Just like what happened to Bobbi! Corky eventually wakes up in the hospital, her arm in a huge cumbersome cast.

She and her parents arrive home. Sean is happy that she’s okay, and Corky decides to take a bath before she goes to bed. As the room gets really steamy, Corky suddenly sees that Kimmy is there! And surprise surprise, THE EVIL SPIRIT HAS BEEN INSIDE KIMMY ALL ALONG!!!! Ever since that night at the cemetery way back in the “The First Evil” when it left Jennifer’s body! Talk about biding one’s time. The Evil Spirit then says that it kills the enemies of it’s hosts, and that is why it killed Chip, for the way he hurt Kimmy when he dumped her for Bobbi. Jon was getting too close to the truth (what good would that do him, though?). And now it’s here to kill Corky for trying to destroy it! It then grabs Corky and shoves her face into the bath water, trying to drown her. While at first Corky thinks that she is just going to resign herself to her fate, she then remembers Sean! She can’t leave her little brother alone! Okay? It’s not like Stine did much to establish a close relationship to Sean in this book or the previous one, so to make him the sole motivation to stay alive outside of her parents and friends is beyond me. Whatever, because this gives her the strength to turn the tables and shove ‘Kimmy’s’ head into the water now. A hot steam cloud rises up as the Evil Spirit struggles, therein showing just how it uses heat to kill, but then a green liquid a la “The Exorcist” starts to seep out of Kimmy’s mouth and into the water, and gets sucked down the drain. Once all of it is gone, the water too, Kimmy wakes up from her trance, her last memories being from the night in the cemetery.

The next morning, Corky wakes up feeling fresh and sassy, ready to take on the world now that she’s drowned The Evil Spirit! She goes to the kitchen to get some breakfast, and finds an envelope addressed to her. She opens it up and finds a note that says “IT CAN’T BE DROWNED”. The End.

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Did Sarah Beth send the note? Why was she at the basketball game? Will Debra have memorized the entire Mayhem lyrics catalog by the next book? (source)

Body Count: 2. Safe travels, Chip, even though you were a total tool. Jon you were a bit random but I really feel awful for the Daly family at this point.

Romance Rating: 2. So Chip remains a total creep (may he rest in peace), who has moved on from his dead sort of girlfriend (whom he was sort of cheating on Kimmy with) to her younger sister. The only reason he doesn’t get lower is because I save that for the legitimately abusive guys but MAN, this is sleazy.

Bonkers Rating: A solid 9! From dead vermin levitating to a lab skeleton trying to strangle Corky to Chip’s hand getting sawed off to the return of The Evil Spirit and all the baggage it brings, this was pretty nuts!

Fear Street Relevance: 10. Seeing as we got a freakin’ Ancestry.com type history of the Fear Family and an oral history of Fear Street and the surrounding area AND an actual member of the Fear Family making an appearance, I say that gets it to perfection. Cheerleaders Trilogy KILLING IT on keeping it relevant.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger: Well, I have to say that it was the single out of place sentence after another scene ended, scene change line notation and all, that just said:

“HERE IS THE EVIL!”

Because huh? I think that it MAY have been a formatting error from print book to eBook, but it was HILARIOUSLY RIDICULOUS.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Corky’s little brother Sean bragging about his Nintendo having the super cool “Mega Man 2” was the ultimate retro throwback for THIS Nintendo fan. Though given that Sean seemed to be using this as bragging rights when in 1992 there had already been a couple more “Mega Man” Games post 2, he wasn’t as smooth as he thought he was.

Best Quote:

“Hey you! Yeah, you! Are you ready? Our team is tough and our team is steady! We’re on our way to the top and we’ll never stop! The Tigers are on the hunt. Hear them growl, hear them roar! You’d better hold your ears ’cause the Tigers will roar all over, all over you!”

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The other teams are just going to run and hide when they hear THAT cheer…. (source)

Conclusion: “The Second Evil” was stellar and entertaining as hell! It did a good job of raising the stakes and it really has me excited for the final book in the “Cheerleaders” Trilogy! I got so excited I definitely overdid it on the GIFs! Up next is “The Third Evil”! 

Movie Review: “A Wrinkle In Time”

As much as we like books, sometimes we like to check out movies as well. Today we reviewed “A Wrinkle In Time.” We discuss the book itself, the differences between the book and the movie, how perfect Oprah Winfrey is as Mrs. Which, the excellent casting, and the beauty that is Chris Pine. Plus, bloopers, because it’s been awhile since we’ve done one of these and we’re a bit rusty. Stay tuned at the end for our book recommendations if you liked this movie (titles also posted below).

Serena’s Recommendations:

25350

“Out of the Silent Planet” by C.S. Lewis

 

 

119322“The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman

 

 

6405131“A Wind in the Door” by Madeline L’Engel

Kate’s Recommendations:

819975“A Swiftly Tilting Planet” by Madeline L’Engel

 

 

3217221The “Locke and Key” Series by Joe Hill

Book Excerpt and Giveaway: “Mind Me, Milady”

Occasionally we are approached with the opportunity to promote books that may be of interest to our readers. And occasionally in lieu of a full review of the book, we will let it speak for itself by posting an excerpt from it. So if you like what you see in one of these excerpts, we have good news! You have the chance to win a copy of it! What could be better?

38085332Book: “Mind Me, Milady” by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks

Publishing Info: Melange Books LLC, April 2017

Book Description: Jane Larson is an attorney on the Upper East Side of New York City, and the Gentleman Rapist has chosen her to receive his calls announcing each conquest. He also reminds her in chilling terms that he will one day twist his wire around her throat and bend her to his will. 

Jane has professional and personal problems of her own, but she is forced to try to catch this monster when he stalks her newest client. Susan is a sweet young woman who cannot remember large time periods of her past and who has dreams about a prior life in which she was raped. Soon, the Gentleman escalates to murder, and Jane wonders if he was involved in Susan’s forgotten past, or if Susan is simply a means to get to Jane. Either way, Jane is caught in the deadly game of stopping the Gentleman before another woman feels the wire at her throat and hears his sinister whisper to Mind Me, Milady.

Notes from the Blogger:

Last year I was approached to run an excerpt and giveaway of the mystery novel “Weave a Murderous Web” by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks. It involved lawyer Jane Larson and a load of cash and some drug money, as well as a murky personal life for Larson herself. I really liked Jane as a character, and the giveaway was a huge success. So when Kenneth Hicks asked if I’d be interested of doing an excerpt and giveaway for the next in the series, “Mind Me, Milady,” I was more than happy to participate! Jane is back, and this time she’s on the case of a serial rapist, hoping to stop him before he strikes again. I still really enjoy Jane as a protagonist to follow, as her character is imperfect and completely relatable. I had a harder time with the mystery this time around, but that was more because of the nature of the crimes at hand and not the storytelling in and of itself. Kirkus has called this book “An engrossing, suspense-filled thriller with an intriguing protagonist” (source).  Basically, Jane is really great and keeps the reader itching for more (as someone who has many personal connections to lawyers, she speaks to my heart)!

For more information of the authors, you can find them on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads!  Jane Larson is still a fun mystery heroine with a unique occupation you don’t always see in procedural mysteries! Enter the giveaway below to try and win yourself a free ebook copy of “Mind Me, Milady”, and read the excerpt below! Trigger warning: this scene involves violence towards a woman.

Please note that the giveaway copy of this book is an Ebook, with your choice of an ePub, Mobi, or PDF. It’s open to US entrants only and will run until March 23rd at 11:59pm EST. Good luck and happy reading! – Kate

Enter the Giveaway Here!

Excerpt:

Chapter One

It was almost noon when he looked out to the street and saw Natalie step from the cab. A familiar pounding rushed through him—a blood rush of fear, of anticipation.

She ran up the stairs as he had expected she would. She was an athlete, after all, and desperate for this apartment. Rent-controlled, one bedroom, East Side, dirt cheap. Run, Natalie, run.

On the third floor, she saw the door was open a crack and came right in. This was one of the reasons he was drawn to her—her confidence. There was not a tentative bone in her body.

“Hello?” she called. “It’s me. Natalie.” She looked around, pleased by what she saw, no doubt—floors newly sanded and stained, walls freshly painted, kitchen appliances all scrubbed clean. For the rent he had quoted her, it was more than a steal. It was highway robbery. And she was carrying cash for a promised “bonus,” as she put it, because a bribe would be so tacky.

She stepped into the bedroom and heard nothing as he slipped the wire over her lovely head, pulling it tight around her lovely neck. She struggled, but not for long. A knee pressed against the back of her legs forced her to the floor. Lovely legs.

“Mind me, Milady,” he whispered in the British accent he affected for occasions like this. “Mind the Gentleman.”

There was no choice. Denied breath, she was seconds from dying. Quickly, he placed a wide piece of tape over her eyes and another over her mouth. Two longer pieces bound her wrists and ankles. Only then did the wire slacken. Air rushed in through flared nostrils. What was she thinking? Was she grateful just to be alive? And how many more times would he have to bring her to the very edge of death before she learned who was in control?

The Great Animorphs Re-read #26: “The Attack”

125335Animorphs #26: “The Attack” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, February 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Ellimist has helped the Animorphs many times. He is all-powerful and has only one enemy, the Crayak. In a cosmic showdown, the two enemies choose champions to represent them in a battle to end all battles. The Crayak chooses the dreaded Howlers. The Ellimist chooses the Animorphs.

Narrator: Jake

Plot: I remembered exactly three things about this book:

  1. Crayak shows up
  2. The Howlers have lava skin
  3. JAKE AND CASSIE FINALLY KISS
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Rachel literally says “it’s about time” after it happens. Preach it. (source)

Ever since becoming Controlled way back when and seeing a monstrous eye creature, Jake’s been having recurring dreams with this same eye-force-of-evil that keeps saying “Soon.” Now the answers have came in the form of the always-dreaded Ellimist who shows up at one of their school meetings, freezes times, and tells the Animorphs that he needs their help.

He gives them a brief overview of the state of things. Crayak is a similarly almost all-powerful being with whom the Ellimist has been warring with for forever. Once, they actually had a full on brawl, but after realizing that they took out huge swathes of the galaxy, they both agreed that their conflict needed to be continued in a different way (the Ellimist was upset by the general loss of life, Crayak at the loss of opportunities for continued dominion). Since then, they have been involved in an intergalactic game of chess, essentially. But they’ve come to an impasse. There is one alien species they cannot comprise my on. Crayak wants to destroy this species, the Ellimist can’t allow this to happen. To solve their problem, they’ve decided to host a cage fight, each putting up their seven bets fighters. Winner’s team takes all. The Animorphs are surprised and horrified to learn that the Ellimist has chosen them, plus Erek. Crayak has chosen his Howlers, the alien species that wiped out the Chees’ creators, the Pemalites, so long ago.

The Animorphs debate their options. They all wonder at the Ellimist’s choice: how could they be his best fighters? Knowing him and the tricks he’s pulled in the past, they are suspicious that there is more to the story. On the other hand, the fate of an entire species is on the line, so ultimately, they agree.

In a second’s time, they find themselves smacked down in the middle of an alien city on another planet. The city is made up of a series of buildings, bridges, and stairways all towering miles above the planets surface. It is populate by an alien species that do their best to give the Helmacrons a run for their money as most obnoxious alien species. The Iskyoort are all obsessed with buying and selling random things, up to and including body parts and memories, and continuously badger the Animorphs until they finally decide to sell some of Rachel’s hair to hire a guide…who calls himself Guide.

As they wander, they run into their first Howler. Even with six against one (Erek cannot fight, given his peaceful programming), the battle does not go well. Not only is the Howler vicious and powerful, but he uses his namesake ability to devastating affect, emitting a head piercing howl that cripples most of the Animorphs. Ax, the only one not in morphs, suffers the most and briefly runs away from the battle. He does return, but they all suffer horrific wounds. Tiger!Jake gets stabbed in the neck and passes out. He wakes up in a room somewhere and is informed that they all barely escaped, and only survived by listening closely to Erek’s directions when one of them was about to be attacked. Ax is clearly not dealing well with the fact that he ran away, and is hiding in a corner.

The Animorphs realize there’s no way they will be able to outfight the Howlers, they will have to out think. They ask Guide whether the Iskyoort have any memories purchased from the Howlers that they can review. He says yes, and Erek downloads them all into his memory bank and shows one horrifying scene to the Animorphs, a group of Howlers systematically eliminating a peaceful group of aliens who don’t understand why they’re being attacked. The scene is hard for them all to see. The realize that the Howlers simply kill for the pleasure of killing, something that Cassie is quick to point out doesn’t make any biological sense. Erek reveals that it is becomes Crayak himself created the Howlers with only this purpose in mind.

They sleep in shifts, but are soon attacked again. Jake orders them all to morph small, hoping to outrun the Howlers. Erek manages to block the doorway with his own body to allow them more time to complete their morphs to fly. After they escape, they have Erek find Guide and hide him in his hologram so the Howlers can’t simply follow him to the Animorphs. The others also demorph and hide in the hologram as well. They realize that the rules of the game prohibit the Howlers from attacking the Iskyoorts themselves. Guide leads them to a place he calls the “Servant Guild” where he says they will be taken care of. He then informs them that he needs to leave them for a bit as the Iskyoort are a symbiotic species, and one part, the Yoort, needs to feed every three days in a Yoort pool.

Reality hits: the Iskyoorts are a variation of Yeerks. They force Guide to explain and explain fast. Guide explains that they are not like the Yeerks the Animorphs know. Far, far back in their own history, the Yoorts created the Isk. And to make them true symbiotes, the Isk NEED the Yoorts to live, but the Yoorts also NEED the Isk to live. One cannot survive without the other, thus creating a unified being. Slowly the reality of this sinks in, and with their understanding of the species, they see why this fight is so important to the Ellimist. If the other Yeerks could see this, learn of this alternative, some of them might also see this as a better way of living. If they Iskyoorts are wiped out, however, the Yeerks may continue as they are now forever.

They are then attacked once again by the Howlers, this time they push an airborne poison into the air system, prohibiting the Animorphs from re-using their bug strategy. Jake has Erek project an image of birds flying out one window, drawing the Howlers’ fire, as the rest escape as actual birds through a back window. One Howler, however, spots them and takes off after them, shooting at them with a Dracon beam. Rachel and Cassie both quickly get hit, and Marco a bit later. Jake shouts at the others to use the Iskyoorts as cover. He tries to dive after Cassie, who is stunned on the ground, but realizes that he is simply leading the Howler to her. He is forced to leave her behind.

Jake manages to trick a Howler into chasing him through a hedge that leads to a drop off from one of the bridges. The Howler has miles to fall to his death. Jake manages to drop after him, demorph to human, acquire the Howler, and make it back to peregrine falcon before hitting the ground. On the flight back up, he meets up with Tobias who leads him to the entire group. Everyone is there, including Cassie. THEY KISS. Rachel says “Finally” and all readers agree.

Throughout this all, Jake’s had a series of revelations. First, he realizes that Crayak must have a way of controlling the Howlers, so he can direct them as he chooses. Second, Erek had mentioned that when he downloaded the memories of the Howler, it was ALL of the memories, reaching back millions of years. From this, Jake theorizes that the Howlers have some type of collective memory, and in this collective memory the Howlers have never lost.

Jake then asks for a volunteer to pose as bait to lure the Howlers in. Ax volunteers, and they move to a more populated area, full of Iskyoorts and put the plan in action. Ax wanders out, gets the attention of the Howlers, and then runs, using the crowds of Iskyoorts to prevent them from getting a clear shot at him. Meanwhile, with grizzly!Rachel and gorilla!Marco standing nearby to take him out should things go badly, Jake morphs the Howler. Once morphed, he is bombarded by the same collective memories that Erek saw. Worse, he realizes that the Howlers are children, with lifespans of only three years. To them, they don’t understand anything about killing other than it being a fun game. There are no adult Howlers, and they are all simply created by Crayak, with no reproductive system of their own. Jake is horrified to realize this, but there is still no other choice, so the plan proceeds.

A bleedy Ax barges into the room, followed by the Howlers. The Animorphs grab one, and using the Iskyoort memory device (a headset and a transmitter), Howler!Jake begins to download his own memories into the collective. All of the Howlers pause. Then suddenly they disappear. Seconds later, the Animorphs, too, disappear and find themselves in the presence of Crayak himself. Crayak isn’t pleased, but the Ellimist shows up and confirms that they Animorphs one, the Iskyoort will live. Jake searches his Howler memories. As they planned, Crayak had to kill his own Howlers to prevent Jake’s memories from polluting the entire species, not allowing the childlike Howlers to ever realize that this was more than a game, that their kills were actual beings. But Jake spots one memory that slipped through: his kiss with Cassie.

The Ellimist confirms that this will be problematic for Crayak, as in a future battle, he’s seen the Howlers attempting to kiss the species they were sent to kill. He also confirms that the big win of this entire ordeal was that the odds have now been somewhat increased that 300 years in the future, the Yeerks will meet the Iskyoort and realize that there is another way. The Animorphs are all a bit put out that this is all they will have to show for their work. Jake goes home, and his dreams of Crayak are gone.

Our Fearless Leader: It’s great to finally get the tie-in to Jake’s book #6 when he was a Controller and first saw the super scary red eye. From the very beginning, it’s clear that Jake feels a sense of relief knowing what this is really about, and also understands to a greater degree than the others the power and awfulness of this creature.

As I discuss in the “plans” section below, this book does a lot to highlight Jake’s quick thinking and ability to put together a complex plan using only pieces of knowledge. He also is able to anticipate the needs and actions of his group. He comments early that he’s grown to respect Marco’s suspicions and give them extra weight.  He effectively uses Ax’s adherence to military order to force him not to sacrifice himself when the Howlers attack, saying that he has to follow his Prince’s orders. He anticipates that Rachel will volunteer for the mission to pose as bait and is able to subtly warn her off, allowing Ax to volunteer. When Cassie goes down as a bird, he accepts that he has to leave her behind in order to draw away the Howler to save the entire group, even though this decision tears him apart.

It’s really great stuff all around. And particularly the end, when he has to confront the reality of the Howlers as children, we see the weight these decisions place on Jake and how he leans on his friends to help support him in making these choices.

Xena, Warrior Princess: There are a specific kind of Iskyoort whose who point is to shop (Guide explains that there must be people to buy all of the things they want to sell!). She claims that she has found her people: a species dedicated to shopping. Also, when Jake asks for volunteers for the dangerous mission to lure the Howlers to them, he has to quickly catch Rachel’s eye and subtly shake his head. She already has her mouth open to volunteer, when he spots her, but she quickly understands what he’s doing by giving Ax an opportunity to feel better about himself after running.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias doesn’t have much in this book. He’s the most comfortable traveling around the city though, given his ability to fly. The others are quite perturbed by the heights and lack of railings that make up the world.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Besides the BIG KISS, Cassie provides further insights into violence and how out of whack with evolution and biology the Howlers are with their baseless violence. She is also an early “yes” vote in the discussion of whether or not to play the Ellimist’s game, as she sees the potential loss of an entire species as a nonnegotiable factor.

The Comic Relief: Marco suffers quite a bit of damage in this book. He gets hit badly in the first fight, gets a wing blown off in the second, and gets stabbed in the third. Other than that, the struggles to not be bitter and angry about the limitations of Erek’s programming that prohibits him from fighting.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax has a pretty distinct arc in this book, dealing with the fact that he is forced to run away when they are first attacked by the Howlers. He completely retreats into himself, and when the Howlers attack again, looks to want to go on a suicide mission to attack them, to prove to himself that he is now a coward. For the first time ever, Jake has to pull the “Prince” card out.

<Aximili-Esgarrouth-lsthill, you call me “prince” and you act like you mean it and I am giving you a direct order. Morph. Do. It. NOW!>

Later we see how savvy Jake is when he “offers” the opportunity for someone to take on a super special, super risky mission to serve as bait. Jake also takes the time to have a one-on-one conversation to Ax, telling him to snap out of it and cut himself some slack. The other Animorphs were all in morph and they know that the Howlers’ “howl” is meant to take out sentient species. That being the case, Ax, as the only one in his true form, was the only one hit with the full force of the howl. And given how much it messed up the others, even with their morphs shielding them somewhat, Ax running away was by no means a show of cowardice. Ax is skeptical, but it’s clear that some of this gets through to him, and with the opportunity to lure the Howlers in, by the end of the story, it looks like he makes it through this internal crisis OK.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment:  The gore of the fights with the Howlers was pretty bad. In the first fight, Jake describes gorilla!Marco getting hit by a flechette that pretty punched a hole the size of a pop can through him. Also when Jake is morphing the Howler, there are some lovely descriptions of his being able to see his own spine. Really, the Andalites need to work on this technology a bit more. It seems that morphers have an up-close view of their body without skin WAY too often in the process.

Couples Watch!: Um, obviously the kiss! I do like that the kiss itself played an important role in the story, as the one memory out of millions that slipped through into the Howlers’ group consciousness. This fact did help alleviate the problem that it really did feel like a “Finally!” moment in the the worst way. As I mentioned in a few reviews leading up to this, especially when laid parallel to the pacing and arc of the Tobias/Rachel romance, Jake and Cassie’s relationship has felt oddly lacking. It almost didn’t feel believable that they would have still been caught up in the teenage shyness and silliness after living the very traumatic and adult lives they’ve had to with this war. But, again, by tying the kiss into the actual over-arching theme of the book, Applegate does a good job of justifying the delay. It is implied that Cassie and Jake’s love is the firs step to the ultimate ruin of the Howlers.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: I don’t think I made either of these connections as a kid, but re-reading this book now, it was really hard to picture both of the big bads in this without referencing other, similar villains. Crayak might as well BE Sauron for all his descriptions sound exactly the same: big read eye that is on fire. Yep! The Howlers also are very similar to Predator, not so much in how they look (which I still think is super cool, with their dark lava-like skin), but in their general being that is focused on being the most efficient killers in the universe.

I also really loved the late-game reveal about the Howlers being children. For one, they were already awesome villains and were handily beating our heroes throughout most of the book in a way that we’ve never seen before. But then to realize that they are pretty much ignorant of what they’re truly doing? It’s like they think they’re in a very elaborate video game or something. And that they have no life outside of this game and are only kids, just like the Animorphs, but more sad, in that their lives are only 3 years long and they are just tools of this greater evil. It does a lot to “humanize,” as it were, the Howlers, making them not just mindless killing machines, but truly pitiable and almost tragic beings.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Appelgate doesn’t shy away from the reveal around the Howlers being children. Several pages are given to Jake fully coming to grips with what this means, and to Cassie’s horror. And to the fact that they still have no choice but to go through with a plan that’s success lies on Crayak destroying the remaining six Howlers. The very last bit of the book is what really got me though:

Instead I dreamed about Cassie. But in my dreams I also saw that Howler, falling and falling beside me. Falling still, as I spread my wings and split my fate from his.
Marco’s always saying you choose how to see the world. That you can look at what’s funny and cool, or you can focus on all the things that aren’t.
So I tried to follow Marco’s advice. I tried to turn my dreams to Cassie. But even looking into her eyes, I still saw that doomed Howler falling.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: All of their plans are pretty good here! Jake adeptly pivots and shifts as he gains experience with the Howlers’ methods. He quickly understands that simple survival is the key until they work out a better plan of action, coming up with first the fly morph to escape, and then the bait-and-switch with Erek’s hologram as they escape as birds. He also puts quite a few moving pieces together to form the final plan where they essentially hijack the Howler group mind.

Favorite Quote:

Throughout the story, there’s a lot of descriptions of precarious traveling from one level to another level using railing-less stairways miles in the sky, so Marco is a bit upset to learn:

Guide led us to a different level. This time we went up. And this time
we took an elevator.
“Elevators! You have elevators?” Marco raged. “We’re traipsing up and
down stairs and you have elevators?”
<The elevators are much
less scenic,> Guide said. <What value are memories of the inside of an elevator?>

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 12

A bit point to the Animorphs! Obviously they weren’t up against the Yeerks themselves, but in 300 years…But seriously, the Howlers were probably the toughest guys they gone up against yet, and the Animorphs were quite smart about putting together the one plan that would work to come out with a win.

Rating: I didn’t notice as much as a kid, but man, reading these again as an adult, it is so, so clear when you go from one of the ghost-written books back to one written by Applegate herself. Not only is the plot of this story so much more focused and clear, but the characterization is much more solid, and the series gets back to its roots of tackling the bigger moral and philosophical aspects of their ongoing battle. It’s such a breath of fresh air after the last few books.

Beyond that, this book is a solid installation into the series. We finally get an explanation for the red eye that Jake saw so long ago. The Ellimist shows up again, and we get a better idea of the sheer scale of his ongoing battle with Crayak. AndJake and Cassie finally kiss. FINALLY.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

Kate’s Review: “Clueless: Senior Year”

34623127Book: “Clueless: Senior Year” by Amber Benson, Sarah Kuhn, Siobhan Keenan (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM!Box, August 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Haven’t got your hands on the newest installment of this 90’s teen phenomenon? As if!

Your favorite girls from Beverly Hills are back in an all-new adventure! It’s senior year and Cher, Dionne, and Tai find themselves in a bit of a crisis of self… Where are they meant to go, and what are they meant to DO after high school? Luckily they have all year—and each other’s help—to figure it out!

Review: One of my all time favorite movies is “Clueless”. When I first saw it in fifth grade (my mom brought it home for us to watch together), I was immediately drawn to Cher Horowitz, our well meaning but flawed protagonist. I wanted to be her, wanted to live her life and be as clever and kind as she was. As an adult I still aspire to live up to her standards, so when I saw that a new graphic novel about Cher and her friends was coming out, I really could have only one reaction.

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(source)

The story picks up shortly after the movie ends. Cher, Dionne, and Tai are starting their senior year of high school, and Ms. Geist challenges them and the other students in her class to determine what their post high school goals are by the end of the year, and to figure out what they want to be in the world. After this, we follow not just Cher, but also her best friends on a journey of self discovery that was both incredibly charming and completely empowering. In spite of my excitement over this book, I was also nervous because I hold this movie so close to my heart (and “Emma” as well, the Jane Austen book that it takes inspiration from). I was worried that it was going to perhaps rehash the movie in some way, or throw in drama for drama’s sake. But I am very happy to report that Amber Benson and Sarah Kuhn absolutely did justice to the film and it’s characters.

I first want to talk about the characters and the arcs themselves. I worship Cher Horowitz, but it’s important to remember that even though she gets her life together at the end of the movie, she’s still a teenager who is going to have moments of stumble along with moments of triumph. I was very worried about her relationship with Josh, the Mr. Knightley analog who is played by Paul Rudd in the movie. Cher and Josh are perfect together, but happy bliss usually means no conflict. And hey, I am aware that stories need conflict (even if that’s an easy grab for conflict). But I am happy to report that while I do wish that Josh had been around a bit more (but that’s all I will say), Benson and Kuhn took their relationship on a trajectory that felt realistic for the characters, but didn’t completely decimate the lovely romance that lives at the heart of it. And it was done in a way that we got to focus on Cher learning how to define herself without  basing it all on Josh and his needs. But the thing that caught me the most off guard in the best way possible was that we got similar treatments for both Dionne and Tai, Cher’s partners in crime but sidekick status only in the film. Dionne starts to suss out what it is she wants to be outside of a good friend and girlfriend, and gets interested in civics within the high school by running for class president. And Tai has a tough decision to make when she is accepted to art school, but a family tragedy makes her second guess what her priorities should be. This enabled them to move from “The Best Friend” (Dionne) and “The Ditzy One” (Tai) and become well rounded, three dimensional characters just like Cher. The justice given to these ladies was so, so satisfying.

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The power of female friendship at the forefront! (source)

A number of tributes to the movie are sprinkled throughout the comic, which varied from being absolutely adorable to kind of ham fisted and distracting. The not so good were the kind of glaring references that didn’t feel like they really belonged (yes yes, Cher does wear Alaia in the movie during the robbery scene, but referencing Alaia in the way this graphic novel did was kind of awkward), or were misused completely. But smaller Easter eggs were far more entertaining (Dionne’s campaign signs saying that Murray is ‘toe-up’, for instance), and I liked seeing them. I was also a bit sad that so many classic characters from the movie were missing. Mel, Christian, Lucy, Mr. Hall, and Elton were no where to be seen, and given that I love ALL of the side characters in the movie I was sad when none of those arguably important faces could even muster a cameo.

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AS AN UNAPOLOGETIC ELTON STAN I FEEL VERY ATTACKED THAT WE WERE DEPRIVED OF HIM. (source)

I really liked the artwork for this book too. Not only did Siobhan Keenan really capture the styles and imagery from the movie, be it through outfits, faces, or background, she brought a fun and bubblegum pinache to the illustrations. With some potential manga influences as well just for funzies.

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(source)

Bottom line is that if you like “Clueless” the movie, this graphic novel will never meet your standards of perfection. But it comes pretty close, and does a great job of carrying on the stories of these excellent teenage girls. I would say that it definitely improves upon the characters of Dionne and Tai, which is so excellent to see. Definitely check it out. If you miss it, I assure you, you’ll be totally buggin’.

Rating 8: A fun follow up to one of my very favorite movies! The nostalgia is great, and the characters are all fleshed out with a lot of positive girl power messages.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Clueless: Senior Year” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Black Girl Comics”, and I think that it should also be on “Girls Read Comics”.

Find “Clueless: Senior Year” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Heart Forger”

33918881Book: “The Heart Forger” by Rin Chupeco

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, March 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: In The Bone Witch, Tea mastered resurrection―now she’s after revenge…

No one knows death like Tea. A bone witch who can resurrect the dead, she has the power to take life…and return it. And she is done with her self-imposed exile. Her heart is set on vengeance, and she now possesses all she needs to command the mighty daeva. With the help of these terrifying beasts, she can finally enact revenge against the royals who wronged her―and took the life of her one true love.

But there are those who plot against her, those who would use Tea’s dark power for their own nefarious ends. Because you can’t kill someone who can never die…

War is brewing among the kingdoms, and when dark magic is at play, no one is safe.

Previously reviewed: “The Bone Witch”

Review: Due to happy scheduling chances, I was able to read “The Bone Witch” and “The Heart Forger” pretty much back to back. Not only is this always a fun way to read books and their sequels, but it’s especially nice with stories that have complicated world-building and non-linear storytelling. “The Bone Witch” was a beast of a book, with tons of detailed descriptions of the world, magic system, and a past/future POV character. The “Heart Forger” pretty much picks up immediately after the events of the first book, and doesn’t hesitate to expand even further on its own world, while also adding a healthy dose of increased action to the mix.

Newly-minted bone witch, Tea, has a lot on her plate at the start of this story. Her beloved mentor is still slowly perishing due to her lost heartglass, Tea’s brother’s love life has presented some political complications, her own crush on Prince Kance continues, there’s a murderous woman in the dungeons who promises great power and to reveal secrets about the elder Asha if only Tea would listen, and now a sleeping sickness is making its way through the royal family, in a direct line towards Kance himself.

This says nothing of the future Tea’s story, which has gone from zero to sixty from the last book to this. No longer is the older Tea content to live her life banished on a desolate beach, raising her daeva beasts from the dead. Her mission has started, and alongside her newly-raised beloved, Kalen, she sets out to conquer nations, all in a greater quest whose origins and purposes are still only vaguely hinted at.

Between all of this, the increased action is probably the most notable aspect of this sequel. If there was one fairly common complaint about the last book, it was that it was perhaps a bit too slow. I enjoyed it quite a bit, as I like reading books that focus on detail and slow character development. And given this one’s fast-paced story line, in retrospect, the time and effort that was put into place laying the foundation for this world, this conflict, and the characters who take part in it, were well worth the effort. Our characters quickly travel from one location to another, surviving and battling against multiple city-wide sieges and more slinky, sinister hidden antagonists as well. I particularly loved the increased action for Tea’s dragon-like daeva. It  was all very “Dany and her dragons” esque.

The political intrigue was also ratcheted up to a new level. With the sleeping sickness spreading between the royal families, tensions are high and everyone is looking for someone to blame. And the only man who might have the answer, the titular Heart Forger, is no where to be found.

In the future, an older Tea is fully committed to her plan, whatever that is. From what we (from the bard’s POV) can tell, it looks a lot like raising armies of the dead to attack entire countries. We get further insights into Tea’s vengeance, something about secrets that the elder Asha have been hiding, and a larger plot by this world’s ever-dangerous arch enemies, the Faceless. But for all of battles, both large and small, we still know very little about Tea’s reasons as a whole. There are numerous references to her having killed some woman, but we don’t know who this was or how it happened. In the end, there were almost too many question left unanswered for my taste.

One of the things I most enjoyed was the developing romance between Kalen and Tea. At the end of the first book, we saw Tea raise him from the dead and welcome him as her beloved. But at the start of this book, the younger Tea is still fully enthralled with Prince Kance. Her slow realizations about her feelings for Kalen and their relationship’s progression were very enjoyable and probably best took advantage of the solid foundation that was built between these two in the first book. I really dislike insta-love romances, and this was a particularly good example of how to avoid that, and instead have a strongly built and developed romantic story line.

For all of these good things, I did struggle with this book a bit more than the first one. For one thing, the first book spent a lot of time with all of the details and rules of this world. But then, here, we see numerous exceptions and loopholes built into the world, all seemingly used to simply move the story the way the author needed it to go. At best this was distracting as I tried to work out how these exceptions made sense in the larger scheme of things, and at worst it felt like blatant deus ex machina moments where the author’s hand was all too visible.

Further, there were a few characters who made decisions that seemed completely nonsensical and out of character even. In particular, some of the “revelations” in the future story line really seemed at odds with the characters. People keeping secrets for no reason, and then revealing them when the story would be best served for a dramatic moment. But why then keep them in the first place? I have a hard time when suspense is built in a story at the expense of consistent and rational characters

And, while I still enjoy the juxtaposition of the future and past story lines of Tea, the devise itself is starting to feel like its hindering the story. The secrets thing that I just mentioned is largely a problem because they’re needed to prop up the suspense of the future story line. And, by the end of the book, there are still too many question that were left unanswered. The older Tea has said several thing that sure, sounded cool, but don’t particularly tie-in very well to the events taking place with past Tea. In my opinion, the story has out grown this structure and that trying to maintain it was starting to actively work against this book. I hope that in the next the two story lines quickly meet up and we move forward with a single plot.

All in all, however, I still very much enjoyed “The Heart Forger.” The increased action made it a fun read, and now that the characters have all been established, it was a joy to follow all of their individual plot lines. Further, the romance between Tea and Kalen is one the best I’ve read recently. “The Bone Witch” is required reading for this book, but if you liked that one, than you’re sure to enjoy this one as well!

Rating 7: Action packedwith a sweet romance to boot, but became a bit bogged down by its own writing device with the past/present dueling story lines.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Heart Forger” is a newer title, so isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Asian MG/YA 2018.”

Find “The Heart Forger” at your library using WorldCat!