Kate’s Review & Giveaway: “The Good Demon”

38945097Book: “The Good Demon” by Jimmy Cajoleas

Publishing Info: Amulet Books, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent an eARC from NetGalley and a printed ARC from Amulet Books.

Book Description: True Detective meets The Exorcist in this gripping YA mystery debut about one girl’s exorcism—and her desperate quest to reunite with her demon

Clare has been miserable since her exorcism. The preacher that rid her of evil didn’t understand that her demon—simply known as Her—was like a sister to Clare. Now, Clare will do almost anything to get Her back. After a chance encounter with the son of the preacher who exorcised her, Clare goes on an adventure through the dark underbelly of her small Southern town, discovering its deep-seated occult roots. As she searches for Her, she must question the fine lines between good and evil, love and hate, and religion and free will. Vivid and sharp, The Good Demon tells the unusual story of friendship amid dark Gothic horror.

Review: I want to extend a special thank you to both NetGalley and Amulet books for sending me an eARC and a print ARC of this book.

I know that Halloween Season isn’t QUITE here yet (though honestly, once Labor Day hits I’m thinking about ghosts and ghouls and all things horror), but I just couldn’t wait for Horrorpalooza to pick up “The Good Demon” by Jimmy Cajoleas. I was fortunate enough to get approved for a copy on NetGalley, but then imagine my extra delight when I was at Serena’s and she said that we’d received a print ARC of it as well.

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Me flailing in glee when I got this book. (source)

I’d been hearing about this novel since this past summer, when it was all over my twitter feed during BookExpo. While I’m not usually someone who is super into demonic possession/exorcism stories (with a FEW exceptions, as you guys probably remember), the idea of a girl wanting her exorcised demon BACK was one that piqued my interest. The demonic possession stories I like usually buck some of the familiar tropes that are associated with the genre, but ultimately they usually still maintain the demon=bad concept. “The Good Demon” sounded like it was going to take that down as well, so picking it up I went in with some lofty expectations.

What struck me most about “The Good Demon” was Clara, our main character who is desperate to find her demon, Her, again. In many demonic possession and exorcism stories, the person being possessed is usually passive, and a secondary character that the main character is trying to help. Clara defies these trends, as not only is she the main character, she is incredibly active and entrenched in ‘doing’ within the narrative. Her reasons for wanting Her back are understandable because of how Cajoleas has written her: her father’s death was a traumatic moment in her life, her mother is an addict who has effectively picked her new husband over her own daughter, and Clara has no other friends or support systems in her life now that Her has been exorcised. While there were ample opportunities for Clara to fall into stereotypical traps of a ‘bad girl’, Cajoleas always kept her from teetering, and kept her grounded in a realistic personality. She always felt like a realistic teenage girl who has seen some shit, and her voice was authentic and natural. As she uncovers the mysteries of the small, closed minded town that she is living in, you see her go up against obstacles that aren’t always because of supernatural or occult driven issues; many of the problems she faces are because of misogyny and prejudice that is entrenched within an Evangelical culture. I liked seeing her interact with basically all of the characters, be it within flashbacks to her friendship with Her, to the fraught and sad relationship with her mother, to the complicated and bittersweet relationship she takes up with Roy, the son of the preacher who performed the exorcism. Roy is a particularly interesting foil to her, as her sullenness is matched with his fundamentalist driven optimism, and her bitterness towards his father is in stark contrast to Roy’s submission to him. It was a relationship that felt very teenager-y, with both of them making decisions that feel right in the moment, but may have fallouts that they cannot see.

I had more mixed feelings about the actual possession story. I loved the flashbacks to Her, and I liked seeing Clara and Her interact, and have a complex relationship. It sets a groundwork that makes it very believable that Clara would go as far as she would go to get Her back. That was a very fresh take on possession, that perhaps this ‘demon’ wasn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ thing. But by the end, it becomes pretty clear that the full deconstruction of the ‘possession’ story isn’t going to happen. It gets part way there, I will give it that, but ultimately it didn’t take a bold stance on redefining ‘demons’, and why people like Roy’s Dad might conflate something that empowers or emotionally supports girls and women as ‘demonic’.  I appreciate that ultimately Cajoleas is promoting the idea that you should feel secure within yourself and to be able to stand on your own, but I think that this message ultimately undercuts the positive female friendship message that I was hoping we would get from it.

While it didn’t QUITE live up to my expectations, “The Good Demon” was a fast and fun read, and it’s absolutely one that dark fantasy and horror fans should pick up during the upcoming spooky season. And I have good news, because it’s your chance to own this new dark fantasy novel! We’re giving away the print ARC of “The Good Demon”! This giveaway is open to U.S. Residents only, other terms and conditions are within the giveaway information in the link below.

Enter the Giveaway Here!

Rating 7: An interesting take on the possession/exorcism story with an interesting protagonist, “The Good Demon” deconstructs common tropes to a point, but falls a little short in it’s deconstruction by the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Good Demon” is coming out on Tuesday, September 18th, and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists yet. That said, I think it would fit in on “Demons, Mystics, and Black Magic”, and “Small Towns and Secrets”.

Find “The Good Demon” at your library using WorldCat!

Summer Giveaway 2018 2: Freddy’s Revenge

As we said a couple weeks ago, it’s summer time and that means that people are probably traveling and needing entertainment while they do so. We know that we really only have about one month left of the season, and how scary is it that soon it will be winter again before we know it. But because of that, we’re feeling extra generous, and are therefore throwing ANOTHER giveaway. So if you feel like you missed out on some previous ones, now’s the time for another chance!! One is an acclaimed novel by Celeste Ng, author of “Little Fires Everywhere”, and the other is a book by the horror master himself Stephen King!

18693763Book: “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng

Publishing Info: Penguin Press, 2014

Book Description: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. 

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

20926278Book: “Revival” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, 2014

Book Description: In a small New England town, in the early 60s, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs Jacobs; the women and girls – including Jamie’s mother and beloved sister – feel the same about Reverend Jacobs. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond, based on their fascination with simple experiments in electricity.

Then tragedy strikes the Jacobs family; the preacher curses God, mocking all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.

Jamie has demons of his own. In his mid-thirties, he is living a nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll. Addicted to heroin, stranded, desperate, he sees Jacobs again – a showman on stage, creating dazzling ‘portraits in lightning’ – and their meeting has profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings. Because for every cure there is a price…

This rich and disturbing novel spans five decades on its way to the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written. It’s a masterpiece from King, in the great American tradition of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe.

Giveaway details: We are giving away one (1) hardback copy of “Everything I Never Told You” and one (1) hardback copy of “Revival.” The giveaway is open to US residents only and ends July 29, 2018.

Click Here To Enter!

Summer Giveaway 2018: “Rebel of the Sands” & “Lies You Never Told Me”

Happy summer everyone! We’ve already shared our list of favorite beach reads to keep you occupied during any and all vacations this summer. Now it’s time to hand out some free books to further support distraction from any beautiful locations you’re touring or long-missed relatives you’re supposed to be visiting. It’s a package deal of one fantasy novel (for the Serena’s out there) and one thriller (for the Kate’s.) Good luck and enjoy!

24934065Book: “Rebel of the Sands” by Alwyn Hamilton

Publishing Info: Viking Books for Young Readers, March 2016

Book Description: Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic.  For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female.

Amani Al’Hiza is all three.  She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.

Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.

Serena’s Review: https://thelibraryladies.com/2018/01/31/rebel-of-the-sands-blog-tour-review/

36547961Book: “Lies You Never Told Me” by Jennifer Donaldson

Publishing Info: Razorbill, May 2018

Book Description: Gabe and Elyse have never met. But they both have something to hide.

Quiet, shy Elyse can’t believe it when she’s cast as the lead in her Portland high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Her best friend, Brynn, is usually the star, and Elyse isn’t sure she’s up to the task. But when someone at rehearsals starts to catch her eye–someone she knows she absolutely shouldn’t be with–she can’t help but be pulled into the spotlight.

Austin native Gabe is contemplating the unthinkable–breaking up with Sasha, his headstrong, popular girlfriend. She’s not going to let him slip through her fingers, though, and when rumors start to circulate around school, he knows she has the power to change his life forever.

Gabe and Elyse both make the mistake of falling for the wrong person, and falling hard. Told in parallel narratives, this twisty, shocking story shows how one bad choice can lead to a spiral of unforeseen consequences that not everyone will survive.

Giveaway details: We are giving away one (1) hardback copy of “Rebel of the Sands” and one (1) ARC copy of “Lies You Never Told Me.” The giveaway is open to US residents only and ends July 15, 2018.

Click here to enter!

Kate’s Review & Giveaway: “A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising”

36341674Book: “A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising” by Raymond A. Villareal

Publishing Info: Mulholland Books, June 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher.

Book Description: A virus that turns people into something somehow more than human quickly sweeps the world, upending society as we know it.

This panoramic thriller begins with one small mystery. The body of a young woman found in an Arizona border town, presumed to be an illegal immigrant, walks out of the town morgue. To the young CDC investigator called in to consult the local police, it’s a bizarre medical mystery.

More bodies, dead of a mysterious disease that solidifies their blood, are brought to the morgue, and disappear. In a futile game of catch-up, the CDC, the FBI, and the US government must come to terms with what they’re too late to stop: an epidemic of vampirism that will sweep first the United States, and then the world.

Impossibly strong, smart, poised, beautiful, and commanding, these vampires reject the term as derogatory, preferring the euphemistic “gloamings.” They quickly rise to prominence in all aspects of modern society: sports, entertainment, and business. Soon people are begging to be ‘re-created,’ willing to accept the risk of death if their bodies can’t handle the transformation. The stakes change yet again when a charismatic and wealthy businessman, recently turned, decides to do what none of his kind has done before: run for political office.

This sweeping yet deeply intimate fictional oral history–told from the perspectives of several players on all sides of the titular vampire uprising–is a genre-bending, shocking, immersive and subversive debut that is as addictive as the power it describes.

Review: I want to extend a special thanks to Mulholland Books for sending me an ARC of this novel.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read vampire fiction. I don’t know if it’s because the pop culture fascination with vampires has waned again and not much has come out, or if I have just been oblivious to what new offerings are out there. But when I saw that “A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising” was about to come out, I was immediately interested by the premise. I liked the book “World War Z” by Max Brooks, which is a similar premise, but with zombies, and was curious to see how such a thing would be done with vampires.

“A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising” feels like an amalgamation of “World War Z”, “The Strain”, and Charlaine Harris’s “Sooki Stackhouse” series, a brew that comes together to make a fairly unique new vampire mythos. We follow a few different perspectives and plot points as the rise of the NOBI Virus is laid out on the page. Once a person is infected with NOBI, they have a fifty fifty chance of transforming into a ‘gloaming’, a being that has gained a longer lifespan and other supernatural abilities, but cannot survive in the sunlight and must feed off of blood. This story postulates less of an immediate vampire apocalypse, and more of a slow shift as they appear to try to integrate into modern society. It’s a more in depth analysis than the “Sookie Stackhouse” books gave, and a bit more cynical as well. Villareal is far more interested in how this kind of shift would affect the laws and civil liberties of modern societies, and he has a number of characters who fall on either side of the gloaming ‘issue’. These characters include CDC Investigator Dr. Lauren Scott, the woman who was on the scene when Patient Zero, Liza Sole, is found along the U.S.-Mexican Border, only to escape into the night. Another is Father John Reilly, a Catholic Priest who is going through his own journey regarding the rise of ‘gloamings’ and how it’s changing society. We also follow Joseph Barrera, a political wunderkid and spin doctor who is approached to run the gubnatorial campaign for Nick Claremont, a gloaming who wants to become Governor of New Mexico, and Hugo Zumthor, and FBI Agent whose field is mostly gloaming issues. Along with various perspective sections with these characters we get newspaper articles, message board posts, transcripts, and interviews that slowly show how NOBI rises and changes society over the course of a few years. My favorite parts were definitely the ones that involved Lauren, as the description of the NOBI virus was fascinating and reminded me of “The Strain” series in the virology of this kind of vampirism.

I also enjoyed the various ethical and philosophical debates that Villareal brings up in this book that have been glossed over in other similar stories. The debates of gloamings being able to have similar rights as humans, and the question of tolerance and equity and how to accommodate for this new population, are addressed and waxed poetic in this book, and the legal and cultural perspectives were in depth and well laid out. I enjoyed that Villareal made it a complex and grey issue, with various likable characters having deep prejudices, but also having fair questions and reservations about gloamings and what their ultimate motivations are. Especially as they start coming into positions of power, and what that power does and what it means for the shared space between humans and gloamings alike. Villareal dives a bit deeper into the legal and policy aspects of this quandary than “World War Z” did in its ‘history’, and while it was mostly fascinating sometimes it felt a little bloated, as did some of the medical aspects that come with the description of the NOBI virus. Because of this, at times I was thinking that it was a bit tedious to get through, though overall it was neat that Villareal went the extra steps into the philosophy behind it all.

Overall I enjoyed reading “A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising”, and it’s a notable contribution to modern vampire lore. You will need to go in expecting a deeper dive than what you usually find in the genre, but ultimately it’s worth taking a look if you are a fan of vampires and vampire mythos.

And good news! I’m giving away an ARC edition of this book! Given that it’s on a number of ‘Hot Summer Book’ lists, this book is bound to be the talk of the town this season!

Enter The Giveaway Here!

Rating 7: A solid tale in the tradition of “World War Z”, “A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising” is a creative new take on the vampire mythology.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising” is fairly new and not on many Goodreads lists yet, but it is included on “June Buzz Books”, and I think that it would fit in on “Not The ‘Normal’ Paranormal”.

Find “A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “Furyborn”

34323570Book: “Furyborn” by Claire Legrand

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, May 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley and BookishFirst

Book Description: When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable–until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world–and of each other.

Review: I’m pretty sure “Furyborn” wins the competition for most hyped book this spring. Everywhere I look there are lists including it as most looked forward to, rave reviews, or options to get your hands on it early. So props to the marketing team for getting this one out there. However, as has become a bit of a habit for me with much-hyped books, I had some mixed feelings on this one. Mixed though! I did enjoy this more than “The Cruel Prince” which was my last big letdown from the hype machine.

Most of the things I enjoyed in this story were also directly tied to aspects that I did not. Unlike other books, the problems I had with this story weren’t connected as much to the actual characterizations we’re given or the overall story. Both were mostly strong. But there are writing choices throughout the story that frankly sabotaged the good efforts made elsewhere.

For example, to start out. Both Rielle and Eliana are strong enough characters on their own. They live in very different worlds, and while some of their struggles are similar (trying to find their place in the world & hiding/fighting against perceptions that might set others against them and those they love), they are distinct in their own right. They each have a unique voice, always an important element in shared POV books. I personally found myself a bit more drawn to Eliana. Her story has a bit more mystery (for reasons we’ll discuss later), and as a character, I enjoyed her more morally grey worldview. However, I didn’t dislike Rielle either.

The other side of this coin, though, is the fact that both of these characters feel cut off at the knees by the alternating POVs. It’s not even a complicated problem: each POV is simply too short. The reader is being constantly bounced back and forth between each girl’s story, that one can never really settle into either character or plotline. This results in me kind of just not caring, when all is said and done. Readers need a chance to settle into a character, to really come into their world and understand their motivations and challenges. But when we’re constantly bounced back and forth between two very different stories every few pages, there is never a chance to really get that moment where you become invested. It was a fine read, but it was just that, a read. I never felt like I was really in this world. I was always just reading about it.

This problem extends to the world-building. There’s a lot that needs to happen on this front for a story that is going to try to present two very different worlds, thousands of years apart. The author essentially has to do twice the world-building to successfully pull it off. But, again, because of the quick switches between one character and the other, I never felt like I had a clear understanding of either of these worlds. There are angels in one? But the details are foggy. The other world has a empire that is set on taking over the world, but why and how? These details are all interesting on their own, but it ultimately felt like the author had bit off more than she could chew. Or, at the very least, more than could be reasonably fit in one novel that also has a lot of other things going on.

The action was fun. There is no denying that this book moves, and it was this that got me through some of the failings in my full connection to either character or the world itself. What’s more, I enjoyed that the action was very different between each girl’s storylines. Rielle’s ongoing magical trials were exciting and fast-moving. Whereas Eliana’s were caught up in politics and the violent nature of what the world has become under this ambitious empire. But, again, this same fast-moving action was also part of the reason the world-building and character development felt stunted. There simply weren’t enough pages to fit in all of this action while also developing two fully-realized characters and two fully expanded worlds.

I did  also have one major criticism of this book. I read a good article recently that questioned whether a prologue is ever necessary for a book. The author of the essay mentioned that very talented authors could pull them off (like J.K. Rowling and her prologue in the first Harry Potter book), but even then, did you need them? This book serves as a perfect example where, for me, the prologue actively damaged my perception of the story right off the bat. It’s not long, but in even those few pages, the author managed to spoil almost every single reveal that was to come throughout the rest of the book. I already new the secrets that plagued some of our characters, thus making their confusion and ultimate surprise incredibly uninteresting to read about.

Further, I feel like this prologue was meant to inspire curiosity about how one character ended up where she did. But instead, I felt spoiled for her entire plot and thus her chapters held very little interest. There was no real threat behind any of the things she confronted because I knew where she ended up. If I hadn’t already been losing interest in characters because of the quick jumps back and forth due to the POV switches, this prologue alone did enough to pretty much kill off my interest and curiosity in at least one of these two.

All of that said, there book is still a fairly strong outing in a new fantasy world. There isn’t a lack of action or story, and the characters are interesting on their own. The problems I had were all down to stylistic choices (too short of chapters between switches, an uneven balance between action and world-building, and an unnecessary and ultimately harmful prologue). I’ll probably still stick around to read the next books in the series, however.

Want to judge for yourself? Get your hands on an ARC of “Furyborn” before it comes out! Giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends May 10, 2018.

Click here to enter!

Rating 6: Had some good things going for it, but the author made a few writing choices that seemed to shoot the book in the foot.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Furyborn” is an upcoming title, but it it is included on this Goodreads list: “Badass YA Heroines.”

Find “Furyborn” at your library using WorldCat!

 

 

Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “The Queen of the Tearling”

22864842Book: “The Queen of the Tearling” by Erika Johansen

Publishing Info: Harper, July 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: bought it!

Book Description: An untested young princess must claim her throne, learn to become a queen, and combat a malevolent sorceress in an epic battle between light and darkness in this spectacular debut—the first novel in a trilogy.

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom’s haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.

Review: I know, I know. How have I not read this one already? But I’ve been burned by the hype machine before, so sometimes I just like to, you know, wait and see. And, also, I have a massive TBR list and some these slip on through! But while I was on vacation a few weeks ago, I was in the bookstore (cuz obviously this is what one does when one is on vacation: check out the Barnes and Noble in THIS new town!!). And while I was browsing I ran across this book and was like “why the heck not?” So here we are.

Kelsea has lived a remote life, kept away from all of society and trained up by a reclusive couple. But the day has come when all of that changes, and Kelsea must set out with stranger to reclaim her throne. But while she knows her goal, she doesn’t know the secrets of the past, her own or that of her kingdom’s. Now, not knowing who to trust, Kelsea must set a new course for herself and her kingdom.

So let’s just get it out there. I had very mixed feelings about this book. It started out, I was loving it. Then there were a couple of characterization bits that I hated with a passion. Then more story, liked that. Then BAM! Oops, didn’t know what was really going on the entire time, so dislike that. It was all over the place, really.

It’s hard even to say things that I liked because while I liked parts of them, there were other parts I very much didn’t like. But let’s start with the plot. I loved the beginning of this book and the mysteries that were set up for Kelsea. The logic behind why so much was kept from her never quite sat right, but as it wasn’t a new conceit, I was happy enough going with it (just don’t think too hard about how “prepared” someone could be if they’ve never even interacted with anyone but the couple who raised them..).

The writing was solid, and I, personally, can enjoy a slower moving plot, which this definitely was. Much of this book was essentially a travelogue, but I was all there for it. Give me an epic quest book any day of the week!

Kelsea herself was also a sympathetic character. Until she wasn’t. I really don’t understand why we keep getting characters like this, who have very unhealthy ideas about beauty standards. Here, Kelsea makes the terrible comment about the only thing worse than being ugly (Kelsea of course doesn’t think she is beautiful at all) is being ugly and thinking you’re beautiful. Cuz yes, how dare you have good self-esteem if you’re not conventionally beautiful! It was terrible. But again, this was one particularly bad moment within an entire book. Much of the rest of the time, I found Kelsea to be a compelling and interesting heroine.

The world building was where things got batty. For a good chunk of this book, the world is presented as a fairly standard other-world, Medieval Age, fantasy novel, of the type we’re all familiar with. But nope! Out of nowhere comes the reveal that this is actually some type of dystonian world set in the future after things went really wrong? This seems like it could be a cool idea on paper, but in reality, it kind of just pissed me off. For one, I didn’t like being caught by surprise by it. It wasn’t the type of reveal that added to the story, but instead made me start questioning all of the things I had been completely on board with before it happened. Now suddenly that Medieval Age type setting seems kind of dumb and how the heck would that even happen? Maybe if the author had introduced this concept at the beginning of the story, it would have been less jarring. But, for me, I didn’t appreciate the bait and switch of it all and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

I did enjoy the villain, and again, much of the story of Kelsea’s travels. But, as I said, I had some fairly big problems, too: the fixation on beauty (whether one has it or not, whether it leads to rape, etc) and, ultimately, the world-building itself after the reveal that this is in some future time. I’m betting that people’s appreciation of this book must have lived and died on how that switch was received. Given the general popularity of this book, I must be in the minority in finding it jarring. But I know that people love this book, so I’m looking to re-home my book with a giveaway! The giveaway is open to US residents only  and ends May 1.

Click here to enter!

Rating 6: Had some really good stuff going for it, but burned me a few too many times with weird character beats and an unappreciated bait and switch with the world itself.

Reader’s Advisory

“The Queen of the Tearling” is on these Goodreads lists: “NEW ADULT fantasy & paranormal romance” and “Best Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction.”

Find “The Queen of the Tearling” at your library using WorldCat!

 

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!