It’s the time of summer vacations and travel is slowly, slowly opening back up!
But the act of traveling is kind of weird when you think about it. You have this sense of being on a great adventure while stuck in cramped spaces for hours with very little sleep and a good deal of stress. It’s not all ‘pony rides in May sunshine,’ as Bilbo would say. So, you need just the right book to keep that adventuresome spirit up till you reach your destination.
Here’s a mini review on a few fast-paced, action-packed, adventure reads to keep you entertained while you await your own.
Kenan is first in the Katiller series by Karis Waters (aka Katie Phillips of Katie Phillip’s Creative Services). An Action Rom-Com featuring Turkish hitmen, a trio of plucky American girls, and the road trip from hell that became your favorite family vacation.
Macario’s Scepter is first in the Magian series by M.J. McGriff. A Fantasy Adventure featuring pirates, a treasure-hunting nun, sisterhood, and sea serpents! I particularly enjoyed the twist on the twins trope.
Renegade Skyfarer is first in the Stones of Terrene series by R.J Metcalf. A Steampunk featuring an amnesiac, an airship crew, dragons, and soulless creatures known as the Void Born. Lots of mystery and twists in this one! And the finale, Blood Bond, just released two weeks ago! If you’re a binger like me, you won’t be kept waiting 😉
Suddenly realizing it’s been ages since I posted a proper book review! And what better time than Virtual Realm Makers to get back to it? So, today, I’m bringing you the award winning, Seventh City! I’m so proud of Emily for taking home not only the Best in Fantasy Realm Award, but also Best Book of the Year!
“Let me tell you a story that happened so long ago that only the hills and rivers can remember the time . . . .”
All her life, thirteen-year-old Maki has heard tales of the legendary city of gold, buried deep in the northern frontier. But when her village is burned and her brother captured by cruel invaders, the legend becomes desperately real.
Armed with a wolf-dog and a heart of courage, Maki sets out on a journey that will demand all her strength and cunning. She is determined to bring her brother home at all costs. Yet as her quest leads her deep into a wilderness of ancient dangers, Maki realizes that even for her, some prices are too high to pay.
What I liked:
Alaskan Fantasy: I’ve always been drawn to Native culture, so the Alaskan setting alone had me falling in love. It’s so vibrant and really makes you feel like you’re there, battling the elements with the characters. Throw in a dash of whimsy and you’ve got a perfect backdrop for a great adventure!
Maki: I absolutely love Maki! A thirteen-year-old-girl capable of sending grown men to the hospital? Really, what more do you want? 😉 She’s brave and loyal, if a bit hotheaded and too stubborn for her own good; but she’s got a will of iron, a heart of gold, and a wolf to back her up.
Sibling Story: I love the familial bonds! The whole story hinges on the lengths Maki will go to save her captured brother. Watching her struggle to balance the desire to be near him with the desire to keep him safe by concealing their relationship really did a number on me. And then there’s the surrogate-sibling relationship she develops with Willow. It’s so heartwarming. And Willow himself is pretty amazing: kind, honorable, protective. Great big-brother material … or, you know, crush material. Not for Maki, she’s far too young, but a girl can dream can’t she 😉
Forgiveness: I love redemption stories! And a key part of any redemptive arc is asking and/or bestowing forgiveness. Maki starts the story with justifiable hate for the invaders of her homeland, but as she spends time with them and sees that not all are monsters, she learns to forgive and begins to heal. It is truly so beautiful and I think a timely lesson for today’s social climate.
My Rating: 5/5
A superb adventure story for those who enjoy character centric fantasy with heartwarming themes!
This one’s not actually YA, but it’s so good I had to write a review!
When I saw this cover, I was intrigued. I mean, how awesome is that font? And ‘Dragon Keep’? I’m all there! Then I saw some of Claire’s posts and realized it’s a Scottish fantasy about brothers. At that moment, I knew I would love it.
Synopsis: Years ago, Rhys MacDuffy was brutally cut off from his clan, stripped of his name and inheritance, and banished to the remote Dragon Keep. Perched high above the Shang Pass in the land of Alsaya, he assumed the mantle of the Mountain Baron, serving out his sentence as the overseer of the worst outlaws and outcasts.
But one day he receives a desperate message from the clan who disowned him: MacDuffy’s Seer—his beloved brother—has been taken by their enemies.
With his band of Mountain Brigands and an unwelcome sidekick, Rhys leaves his mountain stronghold to find and rescue his brother. The tide of war is rising amongst the Clans of Alsaya, fueled by the magic-wielding sect of Druids who seek to unleash a dark force the world has long forgotten.
Can the bond of blood run deeper than banishment?
Things I Loved:
Rhys/Mountain Baron: The brooding hero with a dark past and heart of gold. I love that for all his gruff exterior, he really cares about people. He’s basically spent the past seven years running around the mountains adopting the unfortunates and doing away with the truly evil.
Family Bonds: I love a good sibling story, and this is one of the best I’ve read in quite a while. Rhys may be bitter and hold nothing but hatred for his former clan, but NO ONE touches his little brother. No matter how hard he tries, he just can’t escape the fact that he still loves his family, and they haven’t given up on him either.
The Side Characters: So, there are a lot of them, and most don’t get much page time. But the main ones are all complex, multi-layered characters with distinct personalities and their own solid backstories.
No Romance: While I read a lot of wonderful YA books that have great relationships and deal with serious, deep issues, it was so refreshing to take a step out of the norm and try something with a bit less boyfriend drama and a little more lives-on-the-line drama.
A Note of Caution:
As I mentioned before, this one is not YA and deals with some darker content than most of what I review here. I didn’t think it got too graphic, and I’m a wimp when it comes to bloody stuff, but if you are sensitive to subjects like torture read with caution.
My Rating: 5/5
An action packed story of the fierce loyalty between brothers. Full of dynamic characters, snark, and man drama. Seriously can’t wait for the sequel!
I picked this one up at last year’s Realm Makers on the recommendation of several friends. And as it won three awards at this years Realm Makers, it’s high time I write a proper review. Also, I got a pic with Lindsay at the awards banquet! Check out the Gallery and see her awesome Wonder Woman cosplay.
Synopsis: Tanwen doesn’t just tell stories-she weaves them into crystallized sculptures that sell for more than a few bits. But the only way to escape the control of her cruel mentor and claw her way from poverty is to set her sights on something grander: becoming Royal Storyteller to the king. During her final story peddling tour, a tale of treason spills from her hands, threatening the king himself. Tanwen goes from peddler to prey as the king’s guard hunts her down … and they’re not known for their mercy. As Tanwen flees for her life, she unearths long-buried secrets and discovers she’s not the only outlaw in the empire. There’s a rebel group of weavers … and they’re after her too.
Things I Love:
The magic system: This is what initially drew me to the book. Art itself is the magic. And not just the typical arts, but even healing and sword fighting. How unique is that?!
The creativity theme: This book has so much to say on God-given talent, the importance of self-expression, and creativity’s role in telling truth. It’s a theme that is very close to my heart and is an integral part of my own work. I was so stoked to find another author writing on these topics. And doing a superb job!
The weavers: There’s a found-family aspect to the Corsyth Weavers I just love. I’m a sucker for family/found-family stories. And the weavers specifically remind me of my own tribe of Realmies!
The world building: I love how everything in this world is instantly recognizable, but still has a fantastical element. There isn’t much time spent on exposition or setting. You jump right into the action and don’t ever struggle to keep up.
Things I Don’t Love:
Brac: Brac is a very problematic character. The romantic part of me really want’s to like him. He’s Tannie’s best friend and the closest thing she has to family. He’s a decent guy who really cares about her and doesn’t mean anyone harm. But the more logical part of me just can’t get over how dense he is. He’s constantly doing stupid things that put others in dangerous situations. More importantly, he’s never truly accepted Tannie for who she is. He loves her, but is determined to change her into what he sees as appropriate. And then he’s surprised when it drives her away.
My Rating: 5/5
A wonderful story that instantly drew me in with its vibrant characters and engaging, fast-paced plot. This paired with an incredibly unique magic system and hard-hitting themes of truth in art make it a must read for creative types!
I have always loved the story of Anastasia. The lost princess who finds her way home. I even went to see the Broadway production at the Fox in St. Louis over Christmas break. Which was amazing, by the way! But, similar to Fawkes, I have never looked into the true story behind the fairy tale. And then Nadine Brandes wrote Romanov, and I knew I couldn’t go without it!
Synopsis: The history books say I died. They don’t know the half of it. Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before. Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are either to release the spell and deal with the consequences, or to enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction to Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her. That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad…and he’s on the other.
Things to Love:
No one is truly vilified. I really appreciated the fact that no group in this conflict was portrayed as fully evil. Even Rasputin, though he doesn’t make an appearance, is not portrayed as the creepy villain of the children’s movie. Instead, both the Romanov family and the Bolsheviks are shown as clearly flawed human beings with both good and bad inside them. My favorite example, of course, is Zash 😉
The family loyalty. I love a book with good family or found-family themes, and this one did not disappoint! It’s so heartwarming to watch the Romanov sisters pull together during such a hard time.
The magic system. Spell ink and magic hidden in dolls waiting to be spoken to life. It’s not very complicated and just makes my writer heart happy 🙂
Betrayal, Forgiveness, Redemption, Hope. These heavy themes are so well portrayed! Even in it’s darkest moments, the light shines through.
A Word of Caution:
As mentioned above, this is a HEAVY book. Unlike other versions of Anastasia, it’s not one to be picked up for light reading or to fall asleep to. This book will wreck you, in the best way, and you need to be emotionally prepared for that.
My Rating: 5/5
Nadine has woven so much truth into this one book. It’s heartrending and at the same time so uplifting and beautiful. I would say her best yet, but it’s hard to judge against the Out of Time series as they are such different books. So, ties for best yet 😛
*Side note: Go read Out of Time if you haven’t already! One of the best Dystopians I’ve ever read!*
Hi, everyone! I’ve been out for a while, so I just want to give a quick life update. Work is out for the summer and I just got back from a trip to Italy!
We spent about a week with lovely friends in Belluno and took day trips to the Dolomites (part of the Alps) and Verona! Highlight for me was, of course, Juliet’s house. Even though it was crazy crowded. I even tried a coffee. It was ok with enough sugar but I think I’ll stick with tea. Their hot chocolate, however, is amazing!
Now that I’m back, I’ve got to really crunch down on the writerly things. I’ll be giving my first pitch for To Slay a Curse at Realm Makers conference in about a month, and there’s tons of stuff to get ready by then. I’m freaking out a little, but really excited.
Now, on to what you’re really here for: books! I did get through two great indie reads during travel time and just want to give a mini review here.
If Wishes Were Curses by Janeen Ippolito
Janeen’s new series has all you could want in an Urban Fantasy: shifters, snark, mystery, and mayhem! What’s more, the sequel Wish You Weren’t Here just dropped!
Blurb: So, I accidentally killed a shifter. On purpose. With genie powers I shouldn’t be able to use, thanks to my curse-mark. In my defense, the damn grizzly was threatening civilians and might have been a vampire as well. Pittsburgh is safer without him. Only the Fae court doesn’t believe my story, and the shifters are out for blood. Now I’ve lost my job as a romantic investigator, and I’m on death row. My only hope is an oddly outgoing vegetarian vampire lawyer who seems strangely familiar. Too familiar. Almost like we’ve met before, and this whole thing was a set-up to take us both down. Wishing won’t get us out of this mess. But my forbidden wish magic just might.
The Electrical Menagerie by Mollie E. Reeder
If you like The Greatest Showman and Sherlock Holmes you will love this steampunk adventure! Can’t wait for the sequel slated to come out later this summer!
Blurb: The Electrical Menagerie, one-of-a-kind robotic roadshow, is bankrupt. Sylvester Carthage, illusionist and engineer, has the eccentric imagination the Menagerie needs to succeed creatively–but none of the people skills. Fast-talking Arbrook Huxley, meanwhile, has all the savvy the Menagerie needs to succeed commercially–but none of the scruples. To save their show, Carthage & Huxley risk everything in a royal talent competition, vying for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to perform for the Future Celestial Queen. In this stardust-and-spark-powered empire of floating islands and flying trains, The Electrical Menagerie’s bid at fame and fortune means weathering the glamorous and cutthroat world of critics, high society, and rival magicians–but with real conspiracy lurking beneath tabloid controversy, there’s more at stake in this contest than the prize. Behind the glittery haze of flash paper and mirrors, every competitor has something to hide…and it’s the lies Carthage & Huxley tell each other that may cost them everything.
Overall, both were thrilling fast-paced reads great for on the plane, at the beach, or just whenever!
I don’t consider myself much of a feminist, at least not in the way the term has come to be used today. So, when I heard that Mary Weber was coming out with a new book about girls taking part in an all men’s competition, I admit to a bit of wariness mixed in with my excitement. But I really love Mary’s work and had heard so many good things about the book that I gave it a go anyway. And I’m not sorry I did!
Synopsis: The task is simple. Don a disguise. Survive the labyrinth. Best the boys. In the providence of Caldon, where women train in wifely duties and men pursue collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands-through the annual all male scholarship competition. With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone is ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the deadly maze.
Girl Power: There are so many examples of strong women in this book! And I especially appreciate that they come from all walks of life. Rhen wants to be a scientist, a trade reserved for men, and she has the tenacity to pull it off. And I really like Rhen, but I identify with Seleni more. She just want’s to be a good wife and mother some day. She isn’t entering the competition to prove a point; she goes in to help the people she cares about and keep them safe. And I love that her choices are portrayed as having just as much value as Rhen’s.
The Guys: Just as there are many different types of women in this book, there are just as many diverse men. Mary doesn’t pull punches, but she doesn’t bash men either, and in today’s society I find that very refreshing.
Complexity: This book was so much more complex than I was expecting. And I was expecting a lot to begin with! I can’t go in to too much detail without giving spoilers, but just know that this book is about so much more than a girl trying to win a place in college.
Free Recipe: Who doesn’t love a free recipe? I tried out the recipe for Labyrinth Cakes and they are delicious! White chocolate, orange, and caramel together? Yes, please!
Pacing: All together, the pacing wasn’t bad. However, I did feel that it took a bit too long to actually get into the labyrinth. However, with the complexity of the book, I understand that the longer set-up was necessary.
The Twists: Once again, not all of these were bad. Some were actually really good and I didn’t see them coming at all. However, there was one or two I figured out early on and got a bit annoyed that the characters were so dense 😛 I also felt like a few at the end came out of nowhere and didn’t have much backing to give the appropriate emotional weight.
My Rating: 5/5
Though I feel a few aspects could have been strengthened, I fully enjoyed this book. A great commentary on society with plenty of fun and wit thrown in! And did I mention the yummy cakes? Definitely one I will re-read!
I’ve always been more a fantasy than sci-fi kind of girl, but Sanderson just might change that yet! Though, to be completely honest, I’ve only read the first three Mistborn books. But I liked them and my brother is constantly going on about him. So, when I saw Skyward come across my desk at work, I figured that was a great place to start.
Synopsis: “Spensa’s world has been under alien attack for decades. Pilots are the heroes of what’s left of humanity, and becoming a pilot is Spensa’s dream. Ever since she was a little girl, Spensa has dreamed of soaring skyward and proving her bravery. But her father’s legacy stands in the way—he was a pilot who was killed for desertion years ago, branding Spensa the daughter of a coward, and making her chances of attending flight school slim to none.”
The Mystery: I love the mystery surrounding Spensa’s dad. The answers aren’t quite what I was expecting, but it works. What I’m really looking forward to is seeing how Spensa handles the implications moving forward.
The Characters: You know a book is good when you can love the teleporting caterpillar that hasn’t got a single line! Even the killjoy Jorgen grew on me. But my favorite character by far is M-Bot. And seriously, how often is an AI starship your favorite character? I love Spensa, too, of course! I’m always forgetting how small she is, until she climbs on a chair to chew someone out. It’s the best!
The Science: Specifically that I understood it … mostly. I wanted to be an astronaut for a bit when I was a kid. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at math and science, which quickly put an end to that plan. It’s also a large part of why I don’t read much sci-fi, but Sanderson makes even the technicalities easy to understand without taking away from the story for detailed explanations!
Not much to say here. If anything it would be the technical aspects of flight school. But, as I said before, Sanderson does a great job with this!
My Rating: 5/5
I really loved this book and can’t wait for the sequel. I’ll try to catch up on the rest of his stuff in the meantime.
“Remember, remember, the fifth of November,” This poem is all I really knew about the Gunpowder Plot. So when I first heard of Nadine Brandes’ historical fantasy novel, I figured there wasn’t a better way to learn a bit more than in a book filled with magic! The beautiful cover caught my eye and the synopsis solidified the deal.
Synopsis: “Thomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.”
This book really opened my eyes to the political and social unrest of the day. I learned about Luther and the Reformation in school and I knew at one point there was a terrible plague that swept Europe, but I never realized how much of this was happening at once. Through Thomas’ journey I came to a much better understanding of why the Gunpowder Plot happened to begin with.
The world is a vibrant mix of historical England and a unique world built fundamentally on magic. Both of which have always interested me. I love the idea of color magic and the use of masks.
There are some beautifully flawed characters. Thomas’ is torn between his desire for a cure along with his father’s love and his need to know the truth before committing himself to high treason. Similarly, Emma is trapped between her desire to be known for her talents or who she truly is and her fear to leave the safety of what she has always known. They are both be a bit annoying at times, but I enjoyed watching them grow and come to terms with who they are and the decisions they make.
The end is very moving, but you’ll have to read it for yourself to find out why!
Although the magic system is an interesting concept and very prevalent throughout the book, it is never clearly explained. Especially the role of White Light. The topic is touched upon and vague facts are given when Thomas and Emma argue, but you never quite see the whole picture. The Christian allegory is clear enough that I understood, but I would have preferred for the in-world scenario to be more fleshed out. And honestly, constantly calling it White Light instead of just White (or even Light) like the rest of the color words got a bit irritating, but that’s neither here nor there. However, I must say the slightly snarky personality of White Light was a refreshing twist.
I felt like many of the integral characters and relationships fall a bit flat. The basics are there and you have just enough information to draw your own conclusions, but none of them delve very deep. I especially wanted to see more of Thomas’ relationship with Guy (his estranged father) and Norwood (his father figure). Both of these relationships had so much potential, and exploring them just a bit more would have really upped the stakes.
My Rating: 4/5
Overall, this is a very good book that will appeal to both history buffs and fantasy fans. The writing is well done and the story engaging, with plenty of intrigue and close calls befitting an assassin story.