Kismet’s Kiss

kismetKismet’s Kiss by Cate Rowan

Published in Darkly Dreaming: A Five Book Fantasy Romance Anthology, 2014 (Fantasy Romance)*

My rating: The view was okay, but the food was bad (1.5-2/5)

Royal Healer Varene is reserved, cautious, and idealistic. When she is sent to the faraway desert kingdom of Kad (based on historical Middle Eastern culture) to help the handsome Sultan Kuramos cure a disease that has struck down his closest family and attendants, she clashes culturally with a society that accepts (even encourages) polygamy. Her healing abilities stem from magic, which is forbidden and persecuted in Kad. Meaning, her arrival must be kept secret, and her aid is often viewed skeptically, as well as rejected by the families of the victims.

While this novel is set in a fantastical world, with magical healing and mages and talking messenger birds, most of the plot and storyline – aside from the romance – followed Varene’s attempts to find the cause of the illness. Unfortunately, the epidemiological mystery felt thin and vague, and it seemed as though Varene jumped to conclusions with very little evidence. But perhaps that’s where the magic comes in. Moreover, I’d have been more interested if it were more fantasy, less medical mystery.

Of course she and the Sultan are attracted to each other, and there’s some token antagonism between them from the first time they meet. Most of the conflict stems from Varene’s stubbornness in clinging to preconceptions of the wrongness of the Sultan’s marriage to six wives, and her (really, unexplained) dislike of rulers. She assumes immediately on her arrival that he is arrogant. Over time, she comes to see that he isn’t – that he rules as well and justly as he can. His relationships with his wives are all different, but none of them is abusive or lacking in mutual respect. One wife, spectacularly ambitious and jealous, does cause marital discord, but it’s nothing exceptional. The explanation for the six marriages is that the aristocrats and the sultan marry for political gain, and anyway, it’s normal for a man not to get everything he wants in marriage from one woman (?!). Thus, friendship from his first wife, playfulness from his second, political advantage from another…

None of this was particularly believable, and it got even worse when it came to resolving the love … octagon … going on in this story. While it’s clear that each marriage was entered into for political advantage and to continue the dynasty, at the end, {spoiler} (more…)


House of the Four Winds: Too long-winded for me

housefourwinds The House of the Four Winds (One Dozen Daughters #1) by Mercedes Lackey, James Mallory
Tor Books: August 5th, 2014 (Fantasy)*

My Rating: The plane was delayed, the luggage lost, and the museums closed. And it rained. The whole time. (1/5)

Argh! This was one of the more frustrating books I’ve read all year. Mercedes Lackey was a favorite author of mine growing up, but this latest, a collaboration with James Mallory, had only a wisp of the entertainment I used to get out of Lackey’s Valdemar novels (I recommend those). Everything felt flat and slow. I’m not interested in slogging through passages, pages, and chapters of “sea life” and internal monologues about what falling in love feels like. I want action, adventure, romance, danger, suspense… none of which ever materialized in this novel. Word to the wise: don’t judge a book by its (amazing, gorgeous) cover…

Based on the description and the opening passages, I thought this would be a swashbuckler. Princess Clarice, eldest of twelve or something sisters, is sent off by her parents to see the world and make a living. She chooses to be a swordmaster, Mr. Clarence Swann. The next time something interesting happens, she’s boarding a ship to get to the new world. And what follows are bland descriptions of her bland friendship with the ship’s navigator, bland tales of the awkward dinners at the Captain’s tables, and even a bland recounting of a mutiny. The only exciting moment being the fight that Clarice gets involved in during the mutiny. So for the first half of the book, it’s not a tale of a young woman disguised as a man who struggles to be (accepted as) a swordmaster, it’s a tale of a young woman disguised as a man who sails on a ship for weeks and weeks. (more…)

Altaica: not my favorite

altaicaAltaica by Tracy M. Joyce
June 6th 2014 by Odyssey Books (Fantasy)*

My rating: Meh. Liked the place, but the food was bad (2/5)

I was very disappointed in this book. The plot and the story had such potential, and I always want to read more stories about young women bonded to wolves in fantasy worlds, but the writing and narration in this book just didn’t work for me.

A style choice made by the author drew me out of the story again and again: the multiple, mixed narrators and points of view. From one sentence to the next, it seems, the perspective switches unpredictably between characters. Between characters who are sitting next to each other, interacting with each other, and between characters who are in different parts of the world. I found it very difficult to tell where one character’s perspective left off and another’s began, which was confusing and distracting. Little of the story is actually told from the point of view of the “protagonist,” young Isaura, misfit healer and archer who introduces us to the story, and main character in the description of the book.

Which brings me to my next point, that the amount of time Isaura spends senseless really diminished my interest in the story. If she is the main character, I expect to read about her thinking, saying, and doing things – not sleeping. Further, there was little explanation for why she kept slipping into a deep sleep, without even dreams. Isaura is essentially the cause of all the action that happens in the latter two-thirds of the novel, and yet she spends most of the story off-stage. I really prefer a protagonist that does things, takes action, fights, learns magic, travels cross country, or lives in disguise. (more…)

Still cursed in ‘The Curse Breakers’

19154146The Curse Breakers by Denise Grover Swank

Amazon Publishing,  April 29, 2014 (Contemporary/Romantic Fantasy)*

My rating: The plane was delayed, the luggage lost, and the museums closed (1/5)

This second installment in the Curse Keepers series disappointed me. For much of the novel, I found myself uninterested and/or skimming. My main impression was one of slow plot lines, minimal action (except during those times when Ellie gets attacked – again – by vengeful spirits), and a rather painful love triangle.

This story continues the upturned life of Ellie Lancaster, who at the end of the first book watched her father die, was betrayed by her partner and lover, Collin Daley, and witnessed the Pandora’s box of Native American spirits opening up into the human world. She’s still struggling with her feelings (attraction, betrayal) for Collin, and still trying to avoid the dangerous spirits and stay alive. Still working partial shifts at the other restaurant while her former restaurant remains closed. (more…)

The Mark of the Tala – a marked disappointment

talaThe Mark of the Tala by Jeffe Kennedy
Kensington, June 2014 (Romantic Fantasy)*

My rating:  The plane was delayed, the luggage lost, and the museums closed (1/5)

I only finished this book because I wanted to find out how the romance between the star-crossed lovers evolved. Throughout the whole, I spent much of it skimming. In the end, I could not like this book. The writing, the plotting, and the pacing all fell short of my expectations.

It starts off a bit awkwardly – with the three beautiful princesses, each more beautiful than the last. I would expect this kind of element in a story based on the fairy/folktale traditions, but given that this one wasn’t, it didn’t really fit.

This first installment of course focuses on the middle child, Andi, who is supposed to be lacking in some way, always overlooked (the first is the future ruler, the smart one, the politically-minded one; the third is the most beautiful, and the most frivolous). Each of the three is a daughter of a woman from across a magical barrier – a woman from a shapeshifting people, the Tala. (more…)

Dark and depressing science fiction in Dark Eden

edenDark Eden: A Novel by Chris Beckett
Published by Broadway Books on April 1st, 2014 (Science Fiction)*

My rating: False start (could not finish)

While I found the premise interesting, I discovered within the first hundred pages that this book is not for me.

Set on a sunless world, a planet colonized by people from Earth, centuries after the space travelers landed, the emphasis is on the gloom and the deep water-like creatures and plants that inhabit this world. The left-behind colonists have called it Eden. They call themselves the Family, and are grouped in communities called after places on Earth and species in their new environment. The young protagonist is approximately fifteen years old, and different. He is restless, impatient with the traditions of the Family, eager to explore more of their new world. He rejects the Family’s desire to sit still and try to survive in the place they expect their far-off rescuers to find them. Resources are dwindling, and yet the traditions and the people don’t change.


Moth and Spark: which fizzles out

mothandsparkMoth and Spark by Anne Leonard
Viking Adult, February 20th, 2014 (Fantasy / Romance)*
My rating: Liked the place, but the food was bad.

Moth and Spark is about a young commoner and a young prince who find themselves at the center of intrigue, betrayal, and war in a land that owes fealty to an empire. A land that used to have dragons, which for centuries now have been held captive by the emperor, who uses them (and their dragonriders) as scouts and battleships in his armies. The dragons have decided the time is right to rebel, to be free. In this time, a foreign invasion by a cruel, technologically advanced society from the east is imminent, and the emperor’s court is torn by political infighting. For this purpose, they require the willing service of Prince Corin, who has talents of which he is unaware. Very shortly, he becomes romantically entangled with a young commoner, name of Tam, who also has hidden talents. Together, they forge a way through court intrigue, danger, betrayal, and war – on behalf of the dragons.


“The Line” is heavily, poorly drawn

thelineThe Line by J.D. Horn
47North (Amazon Publishing), 25th November 2013 (Urban Fantasy / New Adult?)

My rating: The plane was delayed, the luggage lost, and the museums closed

In this book, a young woman from a magical family without any powers discovers her own potential for magic and learns the secrets her family has been keeping from her for her entire life.

Overall, nothing about this book felt true. The relationships seemed stiff and unlikely. The world building was weak and forced. The plot, transparent and unrealistic.

The characters were pretty two-dimensional and often acted just to move the plot forward (or sideways in some cases). Mercy was clearly more special than everyone around her guessed, knew, or was telling. From the beginning, it was clear that Mercy was a Chosen One. Yet, she kept being duped by everyone around her, and I felt that her simplicity and trusting nature were really a means to surprise the readers with the denouement. The relationship between Mercy and her twin sister was simplified in some ways. The jealousy and dislike was realistic, but the way the relationship ended seemed simplified and forced.


Trade Secret: A disappointment for a dedicated fan of the Liaden Universe

tradesecretTrade Secret by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Baen, November 5th, 2013 (Science Fiction / Space Opera)*

My rating: Vacation by the beach

Disclaimer: The Liaden novels are some of my all-time favorites, and I am devoted to Lee and Miller.

This latest installment just did not achieve the greatness of all the other stories in the Liaden Universe. I felt confused throughout the first half, and certain things still did not make sense even by the end. I ended up reading the whole thing without trying to go back and make sense of it. Would I have done that if I were reading a paper copy? I’m not sure – but on an eReader, it’s not worth it.

The first of Jethri’s stories was published with the Crystal Variation omnibus (loved that one! The stories about how the Korval clan got its start, and especially the anthropomorphic tree!). I read it two years ago and could not remember the context for this follow-up. Which really hindered my ability to understand the plot in this one. I would have found a preliminary summary of what went before extremely helpful in understanding the events that take place in this book.


Once read, can never be unread: Words Once Spoken, a book review

wordsoncespokenWords Once Spoken by Carly Drake*
Harlequin Enterprises Australia, October 1, 2013 (YA / Fantasy)
My rating: The plane was delayed, luggage lost, and museums closed.

Unfortunately, I really did not enjoy this book, with its long line of confusing, vague world building, instant attraction (aka insta-love), too many too-convenient plot elements, and not enough cohesion. I did find somewhat intriguing Evie’s determination to be as independent and self-sufficient as possible, no matter what others thought (more on that later).

I’m not sure how to describe this book, so I’m only going to provide the briefest summary. Evelyn is a young woman who has always defied traditional gender roles. She hunts, rides like a man, and can’t sew, for a few examples. Just before her eighteenth birthday she’s sent to Court to try for the position of lady’s maid to the princess. Right off, she meets a mysterious young man and the prince, both intriguing and handsome. She learns about the fae. And she learns about her past. Then, she embarks on a convoluted journey to find her destiny.

My first impression was one of confusion. I could not determine if the setting was in an alternate England, or if being in England really mattered – the lack of detail and description made it seem like the setting was a fantasy world, but every now and then the author threw in “English” and “Greek and Roman myths” and “Moses” and I got confused all over again. England was an idea that never fully developed, and really only distracted from the story, which would have been just as well-set in a fantasy world. Court has no relation to the English court, and the royals have no connection to the English royal families.

She meets the prince and instantly becomes infatuated with him. There is no romantic tension, no relationship building, just instant attraction. Evie herself should be interesting, given her propensity to ride, fight, hunt, and wear pants. However, I found it difficult to believe that she learned those behaviors on her own, when there were no other examples of women who did these things, and no external characters, events, or relationships that influenced her life choices.

The story is cluttered with supernatural and paranormal creatures, and the relationships and world rules that governed them were convoluted, convenient, and unconvincing. The fae never really come alive as a species that drives the plot and story.

The plot itself was rushed and predictable, except for the additions of new paranormal creatures. There is a constant struggle between too many story elements (the human court/England, the fae, the lycans, the vampires, and more) – and sketchy (as in, sketched in, not fleshed out) world building. Lots has been left out, causing all the disparate elements to be disconnected. Lastly, I found the ending unconvincing and complicated.

Ultimately, this was a very disappointing and difficult read. I wouldn’t recommend it.

*e-Arc provided by NetGalley

Better Reads: (click on any of the following images to be taken to that book’s Goodreads description)

Crown Duel (Crown & Court #1-2)

(Featuring a headstrong, determined, sword-wielding young heroine and fairy-like trees, as well as a great romance and harrowing adventure)

Mairelon the Magician (Mairelon #1)

(A witty tale of a magician and his young ward, and their travels and adventures, with a sweet romance)

The Perilous Gard

(Featuring the old-fashioned Fairy Folk, a young woman in the 16th century, and a spooky castle)

The Blue Sword (Damar #1)

(One of my favorite books ever – featuring a young woman who doesn’t fit in her society, who gets kidnapped and adopted, has adventures, falls in love, and becomes a hero)