Review of "A Pursuit of Home" (Haven Manor #3) by Kristi Ann Hunter

Hunter, Kristi Ann. A Pursuit of Home. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2019.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764230776 | 380 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

3 stars

A Pursuit of Home, the final book in Kristi Ann Hunter’s Haven Manor series, feels like such a different book tonally to the other two, and, while part of that could be due to its centering on the character of Jess, who appeared in Hunter’s first book in her prior series, which had an espionage/mystery thread to it, and this book sees a reunion between her and the protagonists of that book, it resulted in the story feeling a bit odd.

A major facet to my diminished interest in this book is the fact that Jess wasn’t a character who made an impact on me the same way she did for others, and when Hunter mentioned bringing her back for this one, I scratched my head. To be fair, you don’t have to have read that previous book to understand it, as the backstory is conveyed well here, but while I find myself usually sympathizing with most heroines, I just found Jess hard to connect with.

Derek is better, in that I at least found him interesting in terms of his scholarly pursuits, and his somewhat awkward personality. I also really enjoyed getting his unique thought process, viewing things as art, including his attraction to Jess.

The plot feels a little all over the place, as while there is a decent amount of intrigue, I found my interest flagging in a way I’ve never felt before with one of her previous books (even the conclusion to her previous series, which I also found uneven). A lot of it just seemed a little half-baked, with too many elements in play at once.

This a case of an author having a lot of great ideas, but stumbling a little trying to bring them all together. There’s elements of a good story in here, and for many it may have worked better, so as always, your mileage may vary. I think if you read Hunter’s previous work, especially if you happen to be a Jess fan, you’ll probably love getting deeper insight into her character and seeing her find her HEA.

Review of "Queen of the Conquered" (Islands of Blood and Stone #1) by Kacen Callender

Callender, Kacen. Queen of the Conquered. New York: Orbit, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-031645933 | 391 pages | Fantasy

3 stars

Queen of the Conquered is conceptually awesome. Rooted in the idea of giving the African American perspective of slavery to a fantasy novel, this had a lot of potential, especially with its gritter tone and the nuance it discusses in terms of how, like in real life, an oppressed character will choose to be complicit and align themselves with their oppressor.

For the most part, I enjoyed Sigourney’s character arc. She’s not meant to be likable, but I found her thought process morbidly fascinating. For any other flaws, both with her decisions (acting rashly at times) and the other things, which I will get into momentarily, I feel it was worth it for this aspect.

But the world building didn’t feel particularly compelling. While I understand the author’s historical inspiration, I didn’t feel the world was that well developed to be its own thing. Inspiration is absolutely fine, and to be expected, but aside from the map, I didn’t get any sense of the world or its structures.

I also found myself struggling to engage with the story beyond that, particularly towards the end. Some others have noted the writing feels awkward and repetitive, and I felt the same. And despite the darkness of what was going on, I didn’t feel much for anyone apart from Sigourney, except from an objective standpoint.

This was kind of just ok, and I think some of these aspects will mean that it’s going to be a love-it-or-hate-it book for a lot of people. I think if you like stories with unlikable lead characters (a critic compared it toThe Count of Monte Cristo), you’ll probably enjoy this one.

Review of "The Rise of Magicks" (Chronicles of the One #3) by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. The Rise of Magicks. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $28.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250123039 | 454 pages | Fantasy/Dystopian

3.5 stars

I was ambivalent about this book’s release to an extent. Not for any reason due to the book itself, as I did enjoy its predecessors and saw its potential. But the dark cloud that is the Macmillan library ebook embargo came into effect shortly before this book’s release, and while I always planned to read the print version which has no borrowing/copy limits, I felt sad for those who didn’t have the option, due to accessibility issues and are stuck waiting around six months, according to OverDrive.

As for The Rise of Magicks itself? It’s pretty solid, both continuing in the different vein Roberts took with the series, while also containing some familiar Roberts flair. One of her signatures is building great relationships, and that’s definitely the case here. While the romance didn’t win me over any more this time around (some of the writing there is pretty cringey), I love the bonds Fallon shares with her family and her mentor, Mallick.

And conceptually, as always, Roberts has all the pieces there. She’s doing something interesting with the familiar light vs. dark concept, and the ultimate fulfillment of the “Chosen One” archetype. And while it never really gets dark enough in execution, it’s still enjoyable nonetheless.

I think if you liked the other books in the trilogy, you will (probably) like this one, particularly if you’re a Nora Roberts diehard. For the most part, I enjoyed it, in spite of some of the issues, and I’m most certainly more critical of her work than some.

Review of "Highland Dragon Warrior" (Dawn of the Highland Dragon #1) by Isabel Cooper

Cooper, Isabel. Highland Dragon Warrior. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2017.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1492632030 | 314 pages | Medieval Romance/Paranormal Romance

4 stars

Highland Dragon Warrior is another fun read from Isabel Cooper, exactly what I needed after a couple duds and the current implosion of Romancelandia. While Cooper is writing in a different time period and “world,” she remains consistent with balancing a solid grounding in history, some likable characters, and just pure fun.

One of the things that keeps me from reading most paranormals and medievals is the tendency for the heroes to be alpha jerks. But that is not so for Cathal MacAlasdair. He’s a strong Highland warrior and a dragon shifter, yes. but he never went overboard in terms of possessiveness, and is actually incredibly sweet throughout, as well as being dedicated to taking care of his estate.

And Sophia is great as well. I enjoyed seeing a strong heroine in this era, especially given her many different attributes, like being older, Jewish, and an alchemist. And ultimately the romance between them is just wonderful.

It was fun seeing how these different aspects came into the external plot, even if it did feel a little slow at times. I enjoyed this book for a fun and slightly different light read. I recommend this to people looking for a unique take on paranormal romance, or those who enjoy historical paranormal romance.

Review of "A Grave Matter" (Lady Darby Mystery #3) by Anna Lee Huber

Huber, Anna Lee. A Grave Matter. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2014.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425253694 | 421 pages | Historical Mystery

3 stars

Ugh, another kind-of just-ok installment. A Grave Matter does fix some of the series arc issues of Mortal Arts, but overall, I just wasn’t massively impressed with this one.

The big win is, obviously, the romance coming to fruition, and I’m quite happy there’s some closure earlier on, instead of the increasing trend in mysteries where the two leads pussyfoot around their feelings book after book. There is a great conflict here with Kiera unsure about this growing relationship with Gage, especially given the disaster of her first marriage, and while it’s been done, it’s nive to see that she comes to trust him.

And the idea at the core of the mystery is great. I adore anything to do with the Jacobites, and the tie-in here with the relics of that movement as it was in 1830 is interesting. I just couldn’t bring myself to care about the overall arc of it, with the reveal at the end feels stale and mostly unfulfilling.

I’m undecided at this point what I want to do from here, especially since I seem to be enamored more with Huber’s concepts than her executions, in two different series she’s written. And given that these are somewhat popular books, I would say this could easily be a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” So, give this series a shot if you like historical mysteries, and perhaps you’ll like them more than I did.

Review of "Mortal Arts" (Lady Darby Mystery #2) by Anna Lee Huber

Huber, Anna Lee. Mortal Arts. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2013.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425253786 | 374 pages | Historical Mystery

2.5 stars

Mortal Arts is somewhat of a sophomore slump. That’s not to say that the plot is lacking, and I personally found the deviation from the standard whodunnit format ambitious and decently done, given Huber was still in her early career when this came out.

Minute historical details clearly are important to her, so I’m glad she delved into some interesting, even heartbreaking, ones here, discussing both the effects of PTSD and the foul nature of “lunatic” asylums in the nineteenth century. Will’s story is truly heartbreaking, and while it resulted in a weaker mystery plot overall, with it being incredibly obvious what had happened, I appreciate this different take for the series so early on.

But the characters (with the exception of Will) were so…lacking…in comparison to the first book. While I found the supporting cast engaging in the first book, they kind of seemed to be just…there…this time around. And while I liked Kiera and Gage’s dynamic in the first book once I got into it a bit more, it seemed like they too didn’t have much purpose (aside from Kiera’s connection to Will), so they seemed to butt heads for no reason.

In short, this wasn’t a great installment in the series, and between the lack of engagement and the holiday festivities, I just didn’t feel like I was missing much by putting it off. I think it’s worth reading within the context of the series, in spite of its flaws, and as an exploration of the aforementioned issues. But here’s hoping that the next one is a bit better.

Review of "Echo After Echo" by Amy Rose Capetta

Capetta, Amy Rose. Echo After Echo. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2017.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0763691666 | 421 pages | YA Contemporary Romance/Mystery

4 stars

While I’ve only read Amy Rose Capetta’s SFF works so far, I was intrigued by the concept of this f/f murder mystery. And for the most part Capetta is able to move between genres pretty well, with a mystery that comes together at the end (in spite of feeling a bit oddly paced at first) and a romance that’s an absolute delight to read.

Zara and Eli are such great characters, and I rooted for their romance, even though things seemed precarious at times, in a way that has nothing to do with being gay/bi, but rather the commitments of the theater. It’s refreshing to read about an LGBTQ+ relationship that isn’t so bogged down with the questions of sexuality or familial acceptance, and the hurdle is something else completely unrelated. Capetta, as a queer author, is likely aware of this, and I appreciated their commitment to diversify the types of relationships in LGBTQ+ lit.

And it’s rare these days for me to comment on the prose, unless it’s outright insufferable to get through (which is rare), but I love the stylistic choices made with POV and tense here. I was speaking with someone else about how third person, present tense reminded them of a play, and I realized that, intentional or not, this stylistic choice suited the strong presence of the play in the plot, as well as adding to the urgency of the situation.

While the mystery is a bit more understated than I believed going in, being something of an undercurrent in the larger story of Zara being involved in a play, I did enjoy seeing the payoff at the end, when all was revealed.

I really enjoyed this book, especially having a background in theater in school. I think this would be a great book for others who have some experience in the theater, as well as those looking for an engaging f/f story, with a mystery subplot.

Reiew of "Starsight" (Skyward #2) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. Starsight. New York: Delacrote Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $19.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978=0399555817 | 461 pages | YA Science Fiction

4.5 stars

Given my enjoyment of Skyward, I was excited to see where the series would go next. And upon picking up Starsight, I wasn’t disappointed. However, I did find it interesting to note the way the plot made things so structurally different from what you expect from a standard SFF, due to the nature of the plot development. thus far, with this installment focused more on the wider world building, and feeling so thematically different with Spensa on her own and away from the rest of the crew that made the first one so entertaining.

Not that that’s a major drawback, as it’s nice to get more of the world and have a sense of its scope. It also presents an opportunity to Spensa to meet new characters and grow more throughout this one. And with Spensa having a knack for finding trouble, it was fun to see her in a different environment.

Not that it’s devoid of fun interactions in favor of personal growth and challenges, as she’s still accompanied by M-Bot, and he’s even funnier than I remembered, quite possibly one of my favorite Sanderson characters with all of his one-liners.

While it is a bit different stylistically, I think fans of Skyward will enjoy this one, and would recommend it to them, and the series overall to fans of YA sci-fi.

Review of "A Madness of Sunshine" by Nalini Singh

Singh, Nalini. A Madness of Sunshine. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Hardcover | $27.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0593099131 | 314 pages | Mystery

4 stars

I was never a fan of Nalini Singh’s romances, in part because the bulk of her work is paranormal and I’m not a fan of the hero archetypes many paranormal authors fall back on, her included, if some of the reviews if I’ve read are to be believed. But when I heard she was releasing a thriller, I was intrigued, especially when I heard that the setting of A Madness of Sunshine was her native New Zealand.

And the setting is one of the immediate strong points. I knew little about the location prior, except a bit about Maori culture and its linguistic connections to Hawaiian in school. So, it was exciting to soak up more about the landscape and language, especially as Singh showed such care in depicting it, including consulting experts to cover her blind spots.

And while there are occasions where the plot moves a little slowly, it’s more or less an engaging thriller. This is one of those mysteries that does get you to question everyone, especially given the long history some of the threads have.

While it’s not a romance, I did enjoy the romance that developed between the two protagonists, Anahera and Will, especially given how they come together in solving the case. Anahera’s personal connection magnifies her determination to find her old friend, as well as solve the case of the hikers who went nissing before she left town. And Will brings an interesting perspective of being a newcomerto town, playing off returning resident Anahera in an interesting way as well.

This is a great first mystery/thriller for Singh, and I hope not the last, especially if she continues introducing international readers to different parts of New Zealand. I recommend this to fans of mysteries with excellent sense of place.

Review of "The Brilliant Death" by Amy Rose Capetta

Capetta, Amy Rose. The Brilliant Death. 2018. New York: Penguin Books, 2019.

Papeback | $10.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451478467 | 351 pages | YA Fantasy

5 stars

I picked up The Brilliant Death out of interest in reading more of her work after loving Once and Future, which Capetta wrote with their partner, Cori McCarthy. And while all of their books appealed to me in some way, there was something about a gender-fluid, Italian-inspired fantasy that spoke to me.

And it lived up to my expectations. The world, as some critics have pointed out, feels very much like The Godfather, with the protagonist, Teodora, being from a mafia king’s family. And in some ways, it feels reminiscent of historical fiction, with Teo’s chafing against the patriarchal form of inheritance, with the magic correlating to gender fluidity adding further layers to this.

And Teo herself is a truly great protagonist. The environment she was raised in has made her into a cutthroat, but it never feels like it’s just for the sake of her being a “strong female character,” and I like that she has a highly original arc that makes her compelling lead to follow, as she learns to define who she is, including defining herself outside gender binaries.

And Cielo is a great love interest, doubling as a sort of mentor figure as Teo starts discovering her magic. I enjoyed their somewhat roguish nature, and their romance, in the midst of everything else going on, was so sweet!

This is such a fun book, and I CANNOT wait for the sequel. I recommend this book if you love historical fantasy, or are looking for books with awesome queer representation.