Review: Back to the Vara by John Kerry

Back to the Vara (The Vara Volumes, #2)Back to the Vara by John Kerry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Daaaaaaaaaaamn! This book was even better than the first. It was so full of twists and turns, I never knew who to trust and what to think. Sammy's determination to stay in Perseopia conflicted with Hami's resolve to get her home, Mehrak and Hami's feelings for Sammy, the plan to get rid of the Ahriman, disaster and action at every turn. I loved it! Now I'm dying for book 3!

Thank you to the author for providing a copy for review.

EDIT: I wrote the above on my phone and really wanted to finish up on a computer so here goes.

While Sammy has grown up by two years since the last book, she is still a troubled young woman who makes rash decisions and doesn't listen to anyone. She's also becoming more complex, because she comes from an abusive household and now and then we see the darkness coming through - when she kills the rabbit, when she uses an animal up for her own purposes, and even regarding Mehrak/Gisouie. The thing that redeemed her was that she almost always recognized her dark feelings, and resolved to do better, to BE better. I loved her development, even if she was still a stubborn girl at heart.

Gisouie was completely opposite of how I expected her. I'm curious to see what role she plays in the next book, because there's a very complicated love triangle (quadrangle?) going on by the end of this and I honestly don't know who would be better partners.

I read the last few chapters with a lot of excitement and apprehension. Soooo much is left open-ended, and I don't know what Sammy is going to do. I'm seriously looking forward to the finale in book 3 to see how this all wraps up.

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Review: Eden at the Edge of Midnight by John Kerry

Eden at the Edge of Midnight (The Vara Volumes, #1)Eden at the Edge of Midnight by John Kerry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*****This review is from 2013.  I did a re-read in January 2019 and my review still stands.  I am re-posting it because I also read and reviewed the second book today.*****

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Eden at the Edge of Midnight is an adventure story about a teen girl named Sammy who desperately wants to be noticed, and her inadvertent foray into the former garden of Eden, now called Perseopia. When a mysterious old woman asks her to hold onto a bracelet she claims is magic, Sammy thinks she's weird but doesn't believe her. At first.

When Sammy is transported to Perseopia, she meets with danger almost at every turn. But a chance encounter with a dinosaur-like creature named Louis and the man who lives in a house on his back, Mehrak, seems to be her only hope. Can Sammy make it back home to what Mehrak keeps calling the Mother World? Or will she be stuck in Perseopia forever? And is she really the chosen one that the old woman spoke of? Or just another teenager?

I had a great time reading this book, not only for the story but for Sammy's personality. She reminds me so much of myself, and she's completely geeky for science fiction and movies and video games. The pop culture references spattered throughout the book were welcome reminders that there is another world to which Sammy belongs, and that she is a normal teenager who just happens to mean something to someone.

Mehrak's age is never made clear, nor is Hami's, the mage who inserts himself into the journey. But they must have been close enough in age to Sammy for her to be "interested" in both of them. It's never really clear just how much she feels for them, although that kiss at the end (I'm not saying with whom ;)) was pretty nifty. Mehrak is married, but his wife was taken by crabmen and he's on the hunt for her. Hami is convinced Sammy is the chosen child, but his plotting takes so many twists and turns it's always hard to tell whether he truly cares for her or just wants to use her to achieve his own ends.

The end of the book sets it up nicely for book 2, and I wonder what role Sammy will play in the next installment. It looks like the magi are in danger and maybe Sammy will be able to help.

Highly recommended for people who love humor and suspense, with a teen heroine who isn't annoying (for once), and is as big a geek as we fantasy readers tend to be ;)

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Review: The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe by Ally Condie

The Last Voyage of Poe BlytheThe Last Voyage of Poe Blythe by Ally Condie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had to read a few other reviews to really get a handle on why I can't give this book four stars. I liked it, it was a fast read, and the main character was very well-developed (for the most part). Then I realized - it's the rest of it that didn't add up. Poe was really the only thing that was fully fleshed out (besides the ship). The worldbuilding was vague, not much was known, and not much was discovered. The raiders/drifters have their own society somewhere, but there's absolutely no information about it. Even the Outpost didn't make much sense. And I really wish there had been more about the Palingenesis at the end. I wanted to see what that group was about, I wanted to know about them. Basically, I wanted *more.*

Poe is deeply flawed, but still a character I found myself liking (or at least rooting for). I wish I'd been able to learn more about the others, especially Tam and Brig. Naomi's motivations fell completely flat and I just couldn't really believe how her character development went off the rails at the end.

There's a lot to like here - an interesting story, fast-paced and easy to read. I breezed through it in a few hours, so I definitely liked it. But there's also a lot missing, which really is why I can only give this book three stars.

Thank you to Bookish First for an advanced reader copy of this book for my review.

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Review: Glow by Aubrey Hadley

Glow: Book I, PotencyGlow: Book I, Potency by Aubrey Hadley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

NetGalley provided me with a free e-copy of this book to review.

2.5 stars rounded up to 3 since GR doesn't do half stars.

The concept was interesting. Finding out you're a human-alien hybrid has to be disorienting. Trying to figure out who in your life is telling you the truth sounds even more difficult, when both sides are telling wildly different (and completely unbelievable) stories. Poor Harper has to do both of these things, and her confusion definitely reigns in this book.

The thing is, I really just didn't love it. I can't say I've read it before, because I haven't, and can't think of anything else I've heard of that's similar. But for some reason it just didn't elicit any real emotions from me. I was disconnected from just about all of the characters. I worried more about the people left on earth than I did the hybrids in the Base of Ki. From the moment Harper's human body was dissolved and she became more Ancient than anything else, I had a general sense of unease about the Ancients that never went away. Everything was creepy, all of the Ancients' interactions with the hybrids were strange and condescending, and I just could not get past it all. Of course this was intentional, we were supposed to question the Ancients, but I just felt weird about it.

One thing I noticed (and mentioned in my reading notes) was that one of the hybrids who told his tragic story mentioned that his pregnant wife was executed right in front of him. But a big deal was made previously about the fact that hybrids were sterile. Was this an oversight, an error that was meant to be written out? Or were the Ancients lying about that, too?

The ending wasn't a satisfying ending, not even a cliffhanger. It was like the book just stopped, like there was supposed to be more but it got left out. After the however many pages (seriously it felt like 1000 pages), I think there could have been a couple more devoted to Harper thinking about what was going to happen next. Or at least something to make me clamor for book 2.

I have no idea where this is going to end, but I'm not sure I'll pick up the next book to find out. 2.5 stars because it wasn't a bad book and it was an OK read, I rounded up to 3 because I didn't feel like 2 was enough. But again, no spark for me. I guess it just wasn't the right book for me.

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Review: The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons (Preview Excerpt)

The Ruin of Kings (The Godslayer Cycle, #1)The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free e-copy preview excerpt of this book from NetGalley for review purposes. It included the first 23 chapters (seemed like about half the book).

Ho-lee-crap. I was *not* expecting to love this as much as I did. I was expecting it to be your average adventure-fantasy, but there's a lot here to like. Kihrin is kind of a dumbass, but I was fascinated by his story. Getting to know the various characters was interesting, because they each had their own actual developed personality (unlike a lot of the newer stuff out there that sacrifices world-building and characterization for romance and a badly-written plot). The plot itself is pretty tangled up, and even though I'm pretty sure I got the first half of the book, I have no idea where it's really going. And for once, I liked that!!

There were two things that really took away from the book for me:

1. I HATED switching back and forth between Kihrin and Talon for each chapter.
2. Those footnotes! They were numerous, they didn't seem to be super helpful, and who the heck was speaking in them? It wasn't Talon, and presumably wasn't Kihrin - was it supposed to be the person writing everything down from the recording stone? Was it someone else? I'm hoping we get that later.

I am definitely placing this on my to-be-finished shelf (not that I have one) and will hopefully remember to pick up a copy when it's released so I can finish the damn thing! Setting Google alert now...

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Review: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (Preview Excerpt)

A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan, #1)A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a free e-copy preview excerpt of this book from NetGalley. I did not read the entire book, but there was enough to get a sense of the world, the plot, and the characters.

I love some great SF, technological, space opera, etc. It's usually a fun time reading about all the ways people think humanity may evolve (or could have evolved in different star systems). The beginning of this excerpt was pretty confusing, but once I got a few chapters in it became a little easier to navigate. While I was interested enough to keep going, I don't know if I will end up picking up a full copy to get the rest of the story.

My primary issue was with the naming system on the planet. It didn't make any sense, and the names were all absolutely ridiculous. One of the main characters was Three Seagrass, and she was making fun of someone who had named himself Thirty-Six All-Terrain Tundra Vehicle, and explaining that someone who named himself Two-E Asteroid was being subtly satiric. I didn't get it. I also couldn't figure out how to pronounce half of the made-up words, but that's a problem I encounter frequently, so I just glossed over them and didn't try to sound them out in my head. But the names!!! Ugh.

The story starts to get interesting just around where the excerpt ends - there's a bombing in the square (or wherever Mahit and Three Seagrass were), and she's being led off to meet one of the emperor's right-hand people (??). I don't know what ranks mean what in the grand scheme of things, and was hoping to glean more of that from the subtext, but it was more than a bit confusing. I was curious to see who set off the bomb, what it had to do with Mahit, and whether Twelve Azalea was a friend or a spy. Not curious enough to buy a copy. If it lands in my library reserve pile, I will update my review on Goodreads accordingly.

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Review: Warrior of the Wild by Tricia Levenseller

Warrior of the WildWarrior of the Wild by Tricia Levenseller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.

This was a fun little book. It was shorter than I expected, only took a couple of hours to read, but it was good. I didn't love it, it wasn't anything very new, but it was well-written and enjoyable. The romance was a bit much, and while we got a very blatant, "It's not because he's the first boy who cared, it's because he's the right one!" argument at the end of one chapter, it still read as a forced thing to me.

The will-they-won't-they thing is tired, the arguments and the "I hate you" attitude that Rasmira gives off is tropey, all the kissing is standard YA. It was pretty obvious from the start what the "god" actually was, I'm just surprised it took Rasmira so long to figure it out. She doesn't seem stupid, but she's also not that perceptive.

Anyway, recommended for people who like romantic YA fantasy with an adventure. If you're looking for ground-breaking world-building or non-trope characterization, you won't find it here.

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Review: Beware the Night by Jessica Fleck

Beware the NightBeware the Night by Jessika Fleck
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this ARC.

TL;DR: Predictable, didn't like the main character, but still want to see where it goes. 2.5/5 stars, it was OK.

Beware the Night is utterly predictable, down to the impetuous actions of our heroine, Veda. She is constantly told by everyone around her to wait, and listen, and go with her gut, because she's brand new to this whole thing and everyone else has been planning stuff for a long time. In the end, she listens to the first thing her brain ever tells her and reacts without actually thinking. As she says at the end of the book, she accuses everyone else of only thinking of themselves without realizing she's done the exact same thing.

And what's with the hourglass thing? I realize that hourglasses are a legitimate way to keep time, and that they were used for a long time (and still are in some instances), but the society as it's described doesn't seem to mesh with using hourglasses instead of clocks or some other time-keeping device. They have electricity and technology. There should be some way of making a clock that doesn't rely on everyone having a perfectly-synced hourglass around their neck. (And how does one use it for a timer when it's apparently supposed to be actually keeping time? Do they have multiple hourglasses they carry around? How does this make any sense??)

The love triangle is very strained. The constant mentions of butterflies in Veda's stomach is so overwrought. She's very obviously a love-sick teenager who's thrust into a role she has never wanted. She's confused, angry, being pulled on both sides, and doesn't know what to do. So what does she do? She acts out, completely disregarding the plans people have been making for years, and ruining everything. I couldn't stand her.

BUT BUT BUT (and there's always a 'but' if I'm not going to completely pan a book), I adored both Nico and Dorian. Yes, Nico is a bit wishy-washy, but I feel like he does what he feels is right for everyone, despite feeling powerless. Dorian's a bit of a puppy, but it's pretty clear he's loyal and passionate about what he believes in. Both of them have interesting perspectives, both have compelling arguments for their actions. If it weren't for the whole love triangle thing, I'd have enjoyed their characters so much more.

Anyway, I see that so far there's no mention of a sequel, but it's obviously set up for one because we get a clear cliffhanger at the end. It would be nice if there were a Goodreads placemarker so that I could be notified when it's out, because, if nothing else, I'd at least like to see who Veda picks (if anyone) and how this whole revolution fiasco pans out.

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Review: Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

Unmarriageable: A NovelUnmarriageable: A Novel by Soniah Kamal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes, and I also won a paperback ARC from the Goodreads First Reads program.

The high-starred reviews on this one got me really excited. I'm a sucker for Austen, and I know P&P like the back of my hand. Which made this... disappointing. Here's the thing. It was a really good book. I enjoyed the feminism and the characters' forward-thinking opinions (well, some of them anyway). I loved the writing style, and I even like how Kamal really explored Alys' change of heart regarding Darsee, instead of leaving it to feel like she was wowed by his awesome house.

But despite all of that, I could *not* get past the fact that this was a literal retelling of the story I know and love, complete with similar-sounding character names and some even identical situations. My biggest problem is not that it was just a retelling, but that it was a retelling that CONSTANTLY referenced P&P and Austen, and yet the main character did not seem to realize she was freaking LIVING P&P! She talks about it all the time, but never once thinks, "Hm, I feel like I know how this is going to end because my life and everyone in it is exactly like this book I'm obsessed with..."

This would have been a four- or even five-starred review if the book didn't reference Austen at all. It was so amazingly similar that every time Austen was mentioned it threw me out of the story and back into the original. And in that respect, the Bollywood movie Bride and Prejudice did it much better. Yes, it was super cheesy. But there was no Austen reference, so I wasn't sitting there wondering why all the characters were so damn dense about it. (Plus, we got the Mr. Collins character and his "No Life Without Wife" hand gestures, and the ridiculous song, which are arguably the best things about that movie. So there's that.)

That said, if none of what I said above bothers you (and apparently it didn't bother a bunch of other P&P fans, so to each his/her own), then by all means, read and enjoy. I liked it, but because it constantly referenced its primary source, I couldn't love it.

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Review: The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

The Brilliant DeathThe Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a review copy of this book from Bookish First.

This one came up on Bookish First a few weeks ago, and I hadn't been planning on entering the drawing, but after reading the first couple of chapters I was hooked. It was an exciting day when I found out I'd been picked, and even more exciting when it showed up in my mailbox. One thing I don't normally comment on is cover art and printing style, but both are things I really appreciated with this book. The cover is bright, font is clean, it's eye-catching and intriguing, and it represents the book perfectly. Inside, the beginning page of each chapter sits inside what looks to be a birdcage, and every page after has a border on the side with the page number (instead of the numbers being at the bottom, they are to the right or left of the text). Every part has a dark divider page with a title. When you look at the closed book from the side, you can see every divider page. I liked the stylistic details of the printing, and having something like this in my hands was extremely satisfying.

Now that we're done with that, let's talk about the story. There is a lot going on in this book - murder, intrigue, plotting, magic, love, and betrayal. All of these can add up to a drab boring cliched tropey story, but here they all worked in sync. Teodora is a strega, she has magic - but she doesn't know much about it. She knows she can transform people into objects, but doesn't know how it works or how to do anything else. She meets a mysterious stranger, Cielo, who can change their gender at will, and longs to know more. When it becomes necessary for her to become a man - not just dress like one, but BE one - she asks Cielo to teach her. Learning how to use her magic is one of the integral plot points, because as she continues on her journey she is constantly having to adjust how she uses it. I don't want to give really any spoilers, since this was so good, so I'll just say that she gains many new abilities, and not in the best ways either.

The intrigue and mystery comes in when Teo gets to the capital city, after her father is almost murdered. She finds out that the heads of the four other Families (who each "rule" an area of the country) were also poisoned like her father, only they all died. Everyone presumes her own father is dead, and that she is her brother, Luca. Teo needs to keep pretending to be Luca in her new boyish body, while uncovering the secrets of the other sons (now heads), and figuring out a way to kill the Capo, who united and now rules the country, and who murdered the heads of four of the Five Families. She also needs to keep learning how to use her magic, and also falls in love with Cielo. She finds that the capital city isn't what it seems, especially when it comes to magic. Cielo's own search for their mother complicates matters even further. Teo is strong, smart, and cunning, but can also be foolish. There is also a traitor in their midst, and she needs to ferret out who it is while still going forward with her plan.

I loved the writing style, the plot twists that got me - I've had a hard time lately with books that have so many twists that they are either ridiculous or completely obvious, and these were pretty solid ones that I didn't always see coming. The characters grow and change and learn. Teo herself goes through a huge transformation, and not just from male to female. And I also loved how she and Cielo loved each other no matter whether they were both women, both men, or one of each. I'm not genderfluid and don't proclaim to truly understand what genderfluid people experience, but I thought it was an interesting perspective to read about people loving each other for who they are and not their gender. There are definitely some interesting gender concepts explored in this book.

Highly recommended to anyone who loves fantasy, especially gender-bending fantasy. I don't see that this is the first in a series, although I can't say that I'm disappointed for a stand-alone. I'm too depressed lately by having to wait and wait for a story to truly *end*. While I loved the world, and wanted to read more of it, especially about the strega, and Teo and Cielo's journey, I am perfectly satisfied by the ending and think it was done very well.

Looking forward to reading more books by this author in the future!

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Review: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Once Upon a River: A NovelOnce Upon a River: A Novel by Diane Setterfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.

Admittedly, I didn't think I was a fan of Diane Setterfield. I'd read The Thirteenth Tale, and while I didn't dislike it, I didn't really love it either. The only impression it left on me was that it was written well, but the story itself was lacking. I honestly don't remember much of it (okay, I remember next to nothing about it, even going back and reading reviews nothing is jumping out at me), so it obviously wasn't a stunner for me. In fact, I read it as part of a book club with my cousins and a couple other ladies, and it was *my* pick because I was so excited to read it, and seriously, no one in the group liked it and picked on me for months for choosing it. So there's that, too.

But anyway, back to Once Upon a River, because that is what this review is supposed to be all about. Having had that experience with The Thirteenth Tale, I admit I was a bit wary about requesting this one. But the cover was so pretty (honestly, I'm a sucker for a good cover, especially if it has a good blurb to go with it), and the blurb sounded interesting and just fantastical enough to pique my interest. So I requested, I got approved, and here I am.

And I loved it.

There are a lot of characters here, and a lot of story threads to unwind. I absolutely loved the writing style - I felt like I was reading a period piece, it flowed so beautifully. And I enjoyed the magical aspect of it all, especially since we aren't sure if it's actually supernatural or if these people are so freaking traumatized that they all convince themselves that they see things that aren't really there. Lily White is certainly a victim of that, and her story is pretty damn tragic.

In essence, this is the story of three four-year-old girls - Amelia, Alice, and Ann. As the river twists and winds through the story, so their stories twist and wind together. The little girl pulled dead from the river on the equinox, and then lived again, has everyone in an uproar. The reaction she stirs in everyone is nothing short of remarkable, considering just about everyone wants to take her home. The Vaughns claim her as their own lost Amelia, kidnapped from her bedroom two years prior and never found. Robin Armstrong can't decide if she's his Alice, who he hasn't seen for more than a year, and presumed drowned by her mother. And Lily is absolutely convinced that she is her sister Ann. It takes the entire book to reveal who she really is, and throughout the reader is never quite sure what happened to the missing girls.

This is also the story of a photographer, a nurse, the owner of the Swan (the inn where it all starts) and her family, and the river itself. The figure of Quietly, the mysterious boatman, hovers over all. And everything becomes a story if enough are around to hear it.

I have three minor gripes about the book:

1. I pretty quickly figured out who the unidentified child was, and while the book's twists and turns always kept me guessing, I was not surprised to find out I had guessed right. I do wish it had been more of a surprise. But the road we took to get there was packed with emotion and mystery, and I didn't mind it so much.

2. There is a very long monologue by an unsavory character at the end of the book, outlining literally everything that we were still wondering about and tying up loose ends, connecting people that hadn't been connected previously. I liked having the information, but I wish it hadn't been such an info-dump in the style of the villain who has the hero at their mercy and reveals their entire plot so that the hero can escape and foil it all.

3. I *hate* being addressed at the end in the manner of "And now this story is done, dear reader, so you better get back to your own story." Oooooooh that really made me twitch. But it was the last line of a fantastic book, so I'm not deducting points.

If you aren't sure you like Diane Setterfield, I encourage you to give her another shot with this book. To me it was more masterful than The Thirteenth Tale, and I think it will stay with me for a long time. My heart broke, rejoiced, and rose and fell with the hearts of the characters. They were real people, fully fleshed out, and wonderfully made. I enjoyed this so much more than I expected, and highly recommend it.

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Review: Dance of Thieves by Mary Pearson

Dance of ThievesDance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.

Apparently this book is close to 500 pages, and I devoured them ALLLLLLLLL in two days. An admission: I am a sucker for a well-written romance, especially when it's in a fantasy adventure/mystery setting. Having read a lot of YA/NA fantasy romance lately, and being disappointed in pretty much most of them, I was expecting this book to be a dud.

It was not a dud.

It was nowhere near a dud.

I loved every freaking minute of this book and I want more!

The characters are well-developed. They all have backstories, histories that make them who they are. The world is rich with tradition and origin stories. The plot is convoluted in the right ways, and while I did guess at several of the "twists," I didn't feel let down that I was right. The romance is even believable, which isn't true for most of the crap I've read lately. I think my only real gripe about the romance is that these two are so in love with each other and make out all the time but they never actually "do it," as Synove likes to say. Not that people need to have sex to get a romance going (I like when they don't, TBH), but there was a loooooot of heat between these two people and it's kind of hard to imagine that nothing but kissing was going on.

Anyway, I'll be clearing my schedule for book two when it comes out, because I really need to know what happens next. And apparently this is set in a world the author has written about before? Looks like I have a whole new stack of books to add to my ever-increasing TBR pile...

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Review: The Story Peddler by Lindsay Franklin

The Story Peddler (The Weaver Trilogy Book 1)The Story Peddler by Lindsay A. Franklin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.

Last night I stayed up a little late just to finish this off, because I really couldn't leave it hanging until today with only one chapter to go. There is a lot to like in here, and I am definitely in for #2, but I did have a few hang-ups. Let's talk about the good:

Tanwen is not as wishy-washy as some of the female protagonists I've read, and while she's not yet the "strong woman" figure I like to see, she's on her way. The way she figures out her powers on her own, just by thinking about it - some would say that's a bit deus-ex-machina, but I read it more as she was discovering herself, by herself, instead of anyone else showing her who she is.

The story itself is interesting. Tanwen gets caught up in a scandal without realizing how or why (I still don't understand why the white strands were alarming; I assume we'll find out in book 2 - I hope), and finds herself on the run with a band of rebels who claim she needs to be protected. Her journey from there is somewhat predictable, but it was written well, with a lot of struggle and twists and turns.

Braith is about the strongest woman we get to see in this book. While I haaaaaaate her name (and the naming structure in general - it was very confusing and didn't make much sense to me), I absolutely adored her character. She was one of the few I felt got fleshed out to the "real" point, where she's not just words on a page but a breathing, evolving character.

There were some interesting foils in Sir Dray and High Priest Naith (or whatever his title was, I couldn't keep track of everyone). The little surprise with Naith in the end was completely unexpected, while I saw most of the other twists coming.

So let's talk about those twists. From the start I had a feeling that Tanwen was somehow related to the previous royal family, although admittedly I first pegged her as the king's bastard daughter because that's where most YA fantasies go with this kind of storyline. She wasn't nearly so important as that, but she was still pretty high up there. I still can't figure out why she specifically was a threat to the kingdom with her white strands, but there you go. Finding out who her father is/was (which was so super spoiled by the "The One In The Dark" chapters) led to a bit of an interesting revelation. But just about everything leading up to it was so obviously foreshadowed that it was impossible to be surprised.

If we're talking about wishy-washy characters, look no farther than Brac, the farmboy who loves Tanwen so blindly that he's willing to join the royal guard to convince her to marry him (a boneheaded move if I ever saw one, he's not too bright really). It's almost stalkerish how he practically begs Tanwen to marry him every time he sees her. She obviously doesn't want to marry him, and she's told him no several times, but he keeps persisting. Sad puppy stuff. Drove me nuts. (view spoiler)

The characters were also not that great. I had a hard time getting to know any of them. When I left the book last night, intending to write the review today, I knew I needed to stew on it a bit. Because I liked it, but there was something bugging me. I realized that I didn't remember any of the sideline characters. They never became real enough that they jumped off the page. They felt like background, filler, thrown in just to complete the gang. I really wanted to love them, because they're the good guys, but I never connected. Plus everyone kept telling Tanwen that they'd reveal all their secrets about her identity "in good time," and of course that time never came. Personally, I think the only reason to do that is to delay the surprise, when in reality the perfect time to tell someone about who she really is is right now, not three weeks down the line just because you don't feel like doing it right then. If you're driving the plot based on purposefully withheld necessary information, there's a problem there.

And lastly, let's talk about that ending. (view spoiler)

The negative seems like it should outweigh the positive, but I really did like reading this book. The adventure was interesting, the story strands was something I'd never seen before, and I love a good adventure. Predictable, not great characterization, and a bit of a rush-job ending, but I enjoyed the ride more than the specifics. Looking forward to book 2, hoping there's a bit more clean-up and deeper delving into characters.

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Review: The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer

The Oddling PrinceThe Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.

I have apparently never read any Nancy Springer before, and what a pity, because this book was wonderfully beautiful in all the best ways. Her writing reminds me of a combination of Dahlov Ipcar (A Dark Horn Blowing) with a dash of Peter Beagle. No, there were no unicorns in this book, but the utter dreaminess of the story took me back to The Last Unicorn.

In this story, Prince Aric of Calidon (at one point there seems to have been a typo of Caldor and it made me giggle a bit) is about to lose his father the king, Bardaric, to the power of a supposedly evil ring. No one knows where the ring came from or why it is wasting him. As the moment of his death arrives, a man blazing white shows up at the castle and, amid a huge spectacle, saves the king's life. He reveals himself to be Albaric, the half-fey son of the king, conceived while the king had been held prisoner by the queen of Elfland. Bardaric doesn't remember this because the queen sent him back to the moment she had stolen him, with the ring she had placed on his hand. The king refuses to accept Albaric as his son, instead choosing to believe he is a "fetch," or evil fey thing come to steal his own son and possibly the throne.

Aric, on the other hand, immediately and intensely loves his new half-brother. The two share a connection almost unbelievable, but it is so real that neither can deny they are brothers and bound to one another. Meanwhile, King Bardaric grows ever more distrustful and sinister. The brothers must find a way to return him to himself, a previously generous and good king, before he kills everyone around him. Intertwined with this story is the legend of the White King, the one who will come and restore the kingdom to peace. Bardaric is more and more afraid of someone, anyone trying to steal his throne that he even begins to loathe his own son.

I enjoyed the story, the pacing, and the characterization. At times the relationship between Aric and Albaric was a bit over-the-top, and I pretty much saw something of what was coming at the end as soon as the White King was mentioned. But this is absolutely a fey story - it draws you in slowly, entrances you as if you're in a dream, and then knocks you over the head with how beautifully it's written.

Highly recommended for fantasy readers of all ages - especially those who love the dreamy quality of Peter Beagle and others. I loved every minute of this and plan to add more Nancy Springer to my (constantly growing) TBR pile.

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Review: The Memory of Fire (The Waking Land #2) by Callie Bates

The Memory of Fire (The Waking Land, #2)The Memory of Fire by Callie Bates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.

I did read the first book in this series, The Waking Land, and enjoyed that so was excited to read this one. This book was also pretty great, although I admit I wanted to know what the heck was going on with Elanna and Sophie while Jahan was doing his thing. Jahan's voice was refreshing, although he was pretty traumatized by his upbringing and has a lot of emotional issues. His problems trusting people and letting them in caused him a lot of trouble in this book, much of which probably could have been avoided if he'd only thought things through before acting.

Some of the characters' motives were extremely unclear through the entire book. It was difficult to tell who the reader could trust. This can be a great thing, especially for mysteries, but in fantasy I feel like there needs to be some solid ground that the main character can rely on. The only person I felt was true the entire way was Jahan's old friend from school. Even Leontius was a bit of a dishrag for much of the story.

Admittedly I didn't remember much about the relationships from the first book, so this was like starting over for me. I felt like some of the relationships weren't written the same way, like I don't remember Jahan being so insecure with Elanna (although he very well may have been), and I don't remember reference to Leontius being so angry at Jahan (but I'm sure it was there).

Overall this was pretty well-written. I thought there were way too many angles for me to keep track of, and character motives were a bit muddled, but I'm looking forward to book 3 and seeing how Jahan and Elanna manage to defeat the threat to Sophie's kingdom.

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Review: Back to the Vara by John Kerry

Back to the Vara by John Kerry My rating: 5 of 5 stars Daaaaaaaaaaamn! This book was even better than the first. It was so full of twis...