A Darkness Strange and Lovely by Susan Dennard

I enjoyed this second book in the series much more than the first. A supernatural YA historical romance with light steampunk trappings, the dark theme continues but with needed character growth and unexpected but interesting new allies for Eleanor. A Darkness Strange and Lovely is a good read but can also be frustrating thanks to the author’s continual over-telecasting of plot points and character emotions. It took away too much of the suspense and made the characters seem stupid for not recognizing (what is to us) the obvious.

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Story: Eleanor is recovering from the loss of both her hand (amputated in book 1) and Daniel.  The Spirit Hunters have moved to Paris, leaving a lonely Philadelphia behind. But Marcus has found her and Eleanor flies to the safety of her Spirit Hunter friends in France.  Alone the voyage, she will encounter the last relic of her brother’s necromancy and form an alliance with a supernatural entity that will put her at odds with the Spirit Hunters. At the same time, Marcus remains one step ahead of the group, ready to spring a trap to end their lives.

The worldbuilding is so rich in this second book. So much of the promise of the first volume is realized here and I was completely captivated throughout.  There is still plenty of adventure but the story arc does feel like a middle volume – a book-long arc within the bigger storyline that could have been excised so the story ended here. But at the same time, it wasn’t an annoying ‘filler’ type of monster-of-the-week plot and was inventive.

The big frustration for me is the egregious use of ‘tell not show’ and over-obvious plot machinations. The villain becomes blatantly obvious within the first part of the book and that robs us of suspense and surprise. Eleanor and all the gang continually withhold vital information that would solve all the mysteries if they communicated – and the reasoning given for all the secrets doesn’t make sense other than for the author to make the book longer.  Honestly, once the secrets and over-telegraphing of clues/plot points kicked in, the book really lost a lot of its appeal.  Less is more and YA readers can be trusted to put 2+2 together without a math lesson.

In all, I will continue with the third book because I really like the world building.

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Blue Morning Volume 5 by Shoko Hidaka

Volume 5 takes the political game deep as Akihito and Tomoyuki set plans in motion and maneuver through the imperial restoration landscape.  The romance is put on hold since most of the volume takes place at a gala thrown by the snobby Marquise Moriyama. It’s really the culmination of the first five volumes, with all the players coming into play and each maneuvering in unpredictable ways. Author/illustrator Hidaka notes at the finish of this volume that the end of the series is in sight.

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Story: The Moriyamas throw a gala ball – bringing together luminaries from across the political landscape. Into the mix will be thrown everyone from party crashing Ishizaki to Akihito’s sick half uncle. Akihito is determined to throw away the Kuze title in order to claim Tomoyuki. But Tomoyuki is also playing a deep game and calling in very important favors in order to protect the Kuze name. Now that Akihito has put himself into the limelight, the nobles are determined to manipulate the young viscount for their own benefit.

This is definitely a volume that bears repeat readings to understand all the depths and nuances of the political game.  To offset the lack of romance, Hidaka included some beautiful frontispieces for each chapter showing Akihito And Tomoyuki in compromising situations.

Blue Morning continues to impress – from the deep historical storyline, clean line drawings, to emotional romance.  This is definitely one of my favorite series of all time.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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Blightborn (Heartland Trilogy 2) by Chuck Wendig

Blightborn was a surprise; although I enjoyed the first Heartland book, I admittedly didn’t love it. I worried that the second book would be more of the same: brash Homer Hickman type young hero fighting oppression and making a lot of mistakes along the way. However, this second book took a very dark turn by the 50% mark and had me intrigued to the end. Twisty turning plot points and unexpected events made this a thrilling read.

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Story: Cael and his small group are now outlaws, following the train tracks on a course set by his missing father. Gwennie, meanwhile, learns the dark side of the lottery as she is indentured to a brilliant but socially awkward geneticist tasked with creating a Pegasus mascot for the Empyrean. Both will encounter heartbreak, death, and danger as a group of rebels seeks to bring about the downfall of the Empyrean empire.

The story is told from both Gwennie’s and Cael’s point of view. Gwennie becomes immersed in Empyrean politics as she tries to track down her separated family. Cael, meanwhile, discovers all the dangers out there in the corn, not the least of which are the rebels themselves. We’ll learn a lot of secrets about Cael’s family including his father’s past and his sister’s whereabouts. A host of new and fascinating characters are added but we still keep most of the Boxelder kids as well since Cael’s group will be tracked by the Praetor.

Admittedly, I was just coasting during the first part of the story. Reading about headstrong kids making dumb decisions wasn’t the story I was interested in following. But author Wendig turns up the heat midway and suddenly there are a lot of devastating events that slowly destroy both Gwennie and Cael.  As well, we get a lot of information about the world that is very inventive.

I am really looking forward to book 3 and seeing where Wendig takes the story.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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Out of the Black by Evan Currie

Out Of The Black is an exuberant, action-packed, and wildly fun conclusion to the Odyssey One series.  Although not all our questions were answered and the door was left open to continue a new series in the same world, we get a very definite conclusion as the Odyssey One crashes into Earth.

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Story: Weston survives the destruction of the Odyssey One as it crashes into New York City in a last bid attempt to take out as many enemy as possible. The planet is under full assault by a massive Drasin force – from Beijing to Dallas, Cities fall to infestation and millions are dying.  Weston picks up local heroes and tries to hold the City from complete destruction. But if help doesn’t come, Earth will be razed. And the Priminae are very unlikely to join the battle.

Listening to this Audible reading was like watching a Bruckheimer film – over the top macho swagger, non stop action, yet in a really fun way.  Sure, Weston is raised to godlike proportions – now he’s a military genius, assault specialist, hidden secret agent who saved the confederation, directly linked to Mother Earth Gaia, and more.  As well, his former ‘covert team’ is reassembled and they read like a cliche of every movie character in the past from femme fatale to James Bbond.  And if I make a lot of movie references in this review, it’s because this book is just so cinematic. Tarantino without the blood and guts.

The entire plot of the book is the battle for Earth, told from many perspectives. There is very little Priminae here – it’s all about NYPD, marines, Texas Rangers, Chinese generals, and more. There are definitely a lot of archtypes to go around.

In all, a very fun, almost silly, but ultimately enjoyable final volume in the Odyssey One series.

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Strange and Ever After by Susan Dennard

The worldbuilding continues to be the standout in this final volume of the Something Strange and Deadly Series. Although overall very uneven in tone and characters, the sheer imagination and inventiveness really made this a standout. I also greatly respect that the author refused to give us a typical or expected happily every after ending.

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Story: Eleanor and the Spirit Hunters track Marcus to Marseilles and then to Egypt. But Marcus is continually one step ahead of them and very soon they discover horrors waiting under the Cairo sands. For although it may seem that Marcus is seeking immortality, his true goal is far more personal. And the only things standing in his way are Daniel’s inventiveness, Jie’s boldness, Joseph’s electricity, Oliver’s demon powers, and Eleanor’s own necromancy.

Author Dennard really ramped up the action with this volume, allowing a suitable progression (but also needed limitations) on Elanor’s necromancy powers. What was especially rewarding is that Eleanor must learn hard lessons while also learning a lot more about all her companions – not all of whom may be on her side.

Great use was made of the Egyptian locations and there was definitely enough action to keep a reader riveted. What seemed like a simple romance in book one blossomed into a wild adventure across the globe utilizing supernatural and steampunk elements in really creative ways.  At no time did I guess where the story was going.

In all, a good read and with a story that definitely improved greatly by the end.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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Prototype by M.D. Waters

This duology (Archetype and Prototype) tops my favorite read list of 2014.  A mixture of compelling storyline, very human characters, a complex plot, and plenty of action propel an intelligent, feisty, but very strong female protagonist. And at its heart is a gentle romance that isn’t rushed and instead is allowed to breathe.

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Story: Emma has escaped Declan but he will not give her up easily. Hunted, hounded, and unable to find her birth parents, Emma is running out of options – worse, Declan has hinted she is running out of time.

Typically, a dystopian story tends to fall apart once the utopian society is breached and the heroine finds herself with the rebellion.  Not so here; Emma is resourceful, smart, and makes appropriate (even if wrong sometimes) decisions. She’s a character we like and want to root for as she navigates life as a clone in a society that despises what she is and what she represents. The dialogue is believable, the reactions appropriate, and there is a maturity to the writing and characters.

Noah played a small part in the first book but he’s front and center in this second book.  There is no insta love or easy answers for him or anyone else now that Emma has returned. But a very well rounded and distinct set of supporting characters really flesh out the book and no one feels like cardboard.  Each person lives, with a distinct personality, and their own quirks.

There are a few coincidences too many and the clone plot still isn’t greatly explained. But there is more than enough there to satisfy. I enjoyed every minute of reading this book and really took my time to savor every sentence.  That’s a rare luxury considering the amount of books I read a year.

I greatly look forward to M.D. Waters’ next novel.  Highly recommended for those who like a subtle sci fi dystopian with a nicely developed romance at its heart.

Reviewed from an ARC.

Posted in ARC, Book Reviews, dystopian, romance | 1 Comment

World War One: 1914-1918 by Alan Cowsill and Lalit Kumar Sharma

World War One: 1915-1918 is a well researched historical graphic novel recounting the War To End All Wars from the perspective of two British soldiers. Their stories are chronologically interspersed with major events/battles as well as tales from other soldiers.  The book is well done and gives a very manageable view of its subject.
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The ratio between historical event to personal story is 50-50. We’ll follow George and Joe, foot soldiers, but also learn about naval battles, airmen, even the animals involved in the war. Interesting anecdotes, including the white feathers of cowardice given out by women at home, gassing of troops, introduction of tanks, even Lawrence of Arabia are interspersed throughout the storytelling.

The author does a great job of giving a face to the war.  As well, the pulp-style illustrations suit the subject matter well.  That the guys are a bit too ‘super her buff’ would probably be my only complaint.  I’d not expect a common soldier farmer to have ripped pecs and tight shirt when he pulls out a knife. The size of the book is very manageable – not too much but also the right size to be satisfying.

In all, this is a great resource to both learn more about Great War and enjoy personal stories from the soldiers who fought. Note that this is heavily focused on Britain’s involvement so you won’t find much about Australians, Americans, Germans, Russians, or French here.

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