Fiction

Not All Battles Are Won On a Battlefield

Penguin Random House had a booth at New York Comic Con in 2017 and they did a give away for Ash Princess. Laura Sebastian was standing off to the side and naturally people were lining up for an impromptu signing. As she signed my book I told her I write book reviews and Ash Princess would be going into the “to be reviewed” pile, and here it finally is. 

There are several points I want to touch on and what better place to start than with the main character. Theodosia aka Theo aka Thora may be a princess but is a prisoner in the castle she grew up in. The Kalovaxians invaded Astrea, taking over the land, enslaving the people, and keeping Theo close by to ensure her people remain complacent. She’s whipped any time her people are not complacent or an invasion by the Kalovaxians goes badly. She’s a means to the Kaiser’s control and manipulation. The Kaiser requires Thora to attend all formal occasions, sending a new dress with an open back to show her scars, ensuring no one at court forgets who she is. As well as providing an ash crown Thora must wear. Naturally it crumbles, covering her in ash and often falling into her food. I was pleased Sebastian was bold with her descriptions and didn’t shy away from brutal imagery. Sebastian doesn’t sugar coat how gruesome a whipping can be.

We watch as Thora grows as a character, claiming her name back and taking on the responsibility of being the princess who will free her people. The statement “not all battles are won on a battlefield” is an appropriate description for this story. Theodosia doesn’t pretend she’ll have the strength for a physical battle but uses what she’s learned in a Kalovaxian court while she was required to attend all court events. She was mostly shunned, leaving her plenty of time to watch and listen. Using what she’s learned of those around her, she’s able to manipulate them to turn on each other, giving her people a chance to rise up and escape. At least that’s the plan. Theodosia’s transformation is an exciting one to watch and I imagine she’ll only gain more confidence as the story continues.

Sebastian’s debut shows promising things to come in her writing career. While some of this worldbuilding wasn’t the strongest and the ideas weren’t necessarily unique, it’s a solid start. I was pleased with Theodosia’s character development, using her wit to find a way to free her people. I expect this to only get stronger as Theodosia gets stronger. Ash Princess is solid and I’m excited to see where the next two books take Theodosia.

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Mapping and Intrigue

Makiia Lucier is known for her historical fiction writing and she’s proved her strengths with her newest book. Isle of Blood and Stone revolves around an 18-year-old mystery of two missing princes and new clues have come to light. There are a couple of gripes people have shared in their own reviews, and I would like to address them and why those things didn’t bother me.

There were some complaints of there not being enough adventure. On the contrary, there is adventure, albeit not the type we might have expected. The protagonist, Elias, is a map maker. This world is largely untraveled and in the city of St. John del Mar, boys are trained to become geographers, preparing them to travel for months, if not years, at a time to chart not only unknown territory but areas recently affected by natural disaster. These maps are copied and sold to traders, showing them the best sailing routes, the best dock stations, and even what coves to expect pirates laying in wait. When we meet Elias, he’s just returned from a trip to Hellespont, charting their changed landscape after a recent earthquake. This might have been the story some people believed they would be reading. I think it does sound like an exciting adventure to follow. The dangers of sailing, visiting new lands even the protagonist doesn’t know. While the story Lucier tells us is a slow burner, it still has its adventures. The mystery is political in nature with two missing princes, but it certainly doesn’t all unfold in a stuffy chamber room. Lucier has a lot of world building to get through first. Which brings me to the next complaint.

There seems to be a bit of contradiction with how people feel about the world. Most agreed the world building was great and imaginative, but they were confused at times where characters were, where they were traveling to, and who characters were. None of this bothered me much. This is probably a personal thing, but I don’t pay too close attention to where characters are traveling or how long it takes them to get there. I’m more interested in what’s happening during the journey and what will happen when they reach their destination. When books include a map in the beginning (this ARC doesn’t include one but I fully expect something beautifully detailed, being a story about map makers after all) I don’t bother studying it until I’ve finished the book. Before I know the names of cities and towns or have a preliminary image in my head, the map means nothing to me. It becomes more interesting after the fact. As for the characters not being explained enough, that didn’t bother me expect for some names being similar. I had a writing teacher in college that always cautioned when you have several characters, keep their names distant, even to the point of not starting them with the same letter. When authors name their characters too similarly, that’s when I get confused. But this only happens here with two characters’ names starting with A. They were different enough in their personalities that if I didn’t skim over the name too quickly, it wasn’t a problem.

There is something enduring about Isle of Blood and Stone. It’s been a while since I’ve truly liked the strong female character and didn’t hate the romance. I criticize the romance in stories harshly, but I was rooting for this one to work out. It’s a romance based on years of friendship and it feels earned when Lucier finally give it to us. Mercedes is the strong female I’ve felt to be missing from my reading lately. She’s true in her loyalties and relationships while being fully capable of taking care of herself. The best part, she doesn’t spend every conversation reminding people of that. Of course, it happens a couple of times, but those times were legit reasons for her safety. And the one time you would expect her to have to fight about being capable, she is given trust and understanding. There were many moments throughout the story that were real and pure and it made me like the book that much more.

 

 

 

By Emily Coleman

A Snowy Journey

Rene Denfeld’s writing is one of lyricism and comfortability. Her voice is that of your mother reading to you as you fall asleep. There is an ebb and flow to her style that is inspiring. The type of writing that when you start reading, you say, “Ah, this is what good writing sounds like.” Denfeld has mastered her voice and found interesting stories to tell.

There is much about this book that I appreciate in good storytelling. Naomi is complicated; she has an easy smile with an open demeanor, but is guarded about her past. Madison, aka Snow Girl, is young and naïve though quickly learns what it takes to survive when you are a “lost girl.” Her strongest tool is her imagination and she wields it like a master. One of the best ways to write a “villain” is to show not only their weaknesses, but also their reasoning or longing. Mr. B. has done a terrible thing but I sympathized after learning about his background.

Denfeld gave us the point of view of each of these characters. It helped to deepen the heart of the story. Naomi is literally the child finder. Obviously bad things are happening to these children before she finds them, but Denfeld doesn’t lead us on a faceless, rage filled witch hunt. There are tragic circumstances to understand behind some stories, and this story is built on a rock bed of tragedy.

Denfeld has given us a beautifully tragic tale and lightened it with a positive ending. I won’t say happy, because these characters have quite the journey ahead of them, but positive. And that is my biggest critique of the book. The continued journey of the characters sounds just as exciting as the beginning journey. The Child Finder is a slim novel that I would have loved to see more of. Maybe Denfeld will continue Naomi’s story as she continues her search for the most important child of all.

 

 

 

By Emily Coleman

Realistic Survival

Clade – a group of organisms believed to have evolved from a common ancestor.

 

James Bradley has created a hyper-realistic climate fiction novel. He has taken the definition of clade and applied it to the Leith family. We follow three generations of the Leith family and those they are connected to as they navigate a warming Earth and the drastic consequences that come with it.

While Bradley sets these characters on a dying Earth, he doesn’t spend much time exploring what’s happening but rather shows us the characters reactions to the dangerously changing landscape. Adam Leith obsesses over the climate while his partner Ellie undergoes IVF treatments. Though their daughter Summer means the world to Adam, him and Ellie drift apart as the Earth seems to unglue from the seams. When Summer disappears to Europe, Adam braves the devastating flooding to find her living in a shake with a six year old son. They battle to get out while Ellie is immersing herself in learning about the dying bee colony for an art installation.

Clade could be described as a collection of short stories as each chapter moves through each characters point of view at different times of their life, propelling the plot forward. What I saw of these characters is, even as the world is in turmoil, the mundaneness of life remains. You worry about money and putting a roof over your families head, spouses fight and break up, teens are full of angst and prefer the virtual world to reality. When the world is dying faster than we can stop it, yelling at dad or dancing in a virtual rave is an intrinsic human behavior that doesn’t disappear when faced with life altering challenges.

Clade is written beautifully. Brandley follows not only the destruction of the world, but the turmoil of family. It’s a shame he didn’t give us more. I would have gladly followed the Leith family in more detail rather than snippets. There are themes of loss and redemption and survival, but I wanted a deeper look at them.

 

 

By: Emily Coleman

Duplicate

The Punch Escrow was published through Inkshares, and if you’ve never heard of them, don’t worry because I hadn’t either. Inkshares is a crowdfunding site specifically for writers. As a writer, all you need is an idea to get started. Inkshares will help you get a chapter drafted and create a draft page on their website. Using this page, you build a following of people who are interested in your book and believe in it. If you can sell 250 pre-orders, Inkshares will publish your book, taking over the editing, design, and marketing aspects. They have the royalty structure mapped out on their site so there are no secrets about the money you would be making through them. It sounds pretty ingenious to me. Crowdfunding has become an instrumental tool in helping self-publishing authors get their work into the world, and Inkshares is making it a bit easier.

Tal Klein convinced at least 250 readers that his book was worth it as it was published at the end of July. It was immediately picked up by Lions Gate and James Bobin is set to write the screenplay. Clearly this book has garnered attention in a short time span. And it makes sense. Science Fiction is on the rise, and what’s better than seeing Sci/Fi technology at work on the big screen?

Overall, I liked the book, and it will make for an exciting movie. Klein did an impressive amount of research to make the science all fit, and he does a good job of making sure the reader can follow along. Of course the main character is helpful in that fact because while he’s lived with this technology his whole life, he isn’t a scientist himself. Just a regular old Joe like us readers. But I can’t decide if I like Joel or not. He’s snarky and witty and isn’t anywhere near being the bread winner in his marriage. His wife works long hours and he while he misses her, Joel isn’t the best at sticking to their plans as I would expect. He also doesn’t come off as brave as he consequently becomes. I just couldn’t quite figure him out.

On the other hand, I liked his wife Sylvia. She works at International Transport, the company in charge of all teleportation, and is in the midst of a top secret project. Her character felt real, full of longing and uncertainty. She has a dream job but her marriage is suffering, and she’s clearly conflicted. Sylvia is putting effort into keeping her marriage above water but she doesn’t feel like Joel is giving the same effort. She’s also able to admit her own shortcomings, and that’s not easy to do for anyone. Sylvia plans a second honeymoon for their tenth anniversary, and as a way for them to rekindle their passion, when everything goes to shit.

It’s clear there will be a second book and while I do plan to read it, I can’t say that it will be earth shattering. I can’t think of where it will go. Time will tell. The movie deal is an exciting prospect, though. Klein is going to have a busy career if he can sell movie rights just as soon as his books are published.

 

 

Thank you Wunderkind PR for providing this book for review.
By Emily Coleman

What Will Disappear Next?

I haven’t been reading YA as frequently as I used to. The characters tend to get on my nerves and the sentences are more likely to bother me. While The Disappearances is far from perfect, it has a unique and refreshing premise. Murphy created a story steeped in mystery laced with literary references. The amount of research and prep that went into this stories structure is impressive. And as Murphy’s debut novel, she will only strengthen her style and voice.

Aila and her brother Miles are shipped off to live with her deceased mother’s childhood friend after their father is drafted into WWl. The siblings are treated with distrust and disdain because their mother left Sterling and never came back. Aila learns their mother was blamed for a curse blanketing the town and the surrounding towns for decades. The disappearances occur every seven years. Smell disappeared first. The stars. Colors from paint and pencils. A person’s reflection. Children born into these towns grow up without these senses. When Aila and Miles arrive, they lose all of them as well.

Each disappearance could be linked back to Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. Murphy must have read Shakespeare backward and forward to pull out just the right lines to create a story around them. Using everything she’s learned from her mother’s personal copy of Shakespeare’s collected works, Aila helps the town inventor and her new group of friends to lift the curse that has plagued the town for so long.

The Disappearances is a story that suffers from “weak ending” syndrome. The ending seemed too easy. There were questions left unanswered. Not that the story rose those questions, but I wanted to know more about why that worked or how that didn’t work. It wasn’t explored enough for me to feel completely satisfied. My final feeling is that it was good; worthwhile premise but lackluster ending.

 

 

 

By Emily Coleman

City of Conclusions

The conclusion of a series is always bitter sweet. Even if the last book isn’t as perfect as the first one, knowing there won’t be another story in this world or with these characters is always sad. City of Miracles wraps up The Divine Cities trilogy and based on the ending, we won’t be visiting the city of Bulikov with Shara and Sigrud again.

Sigrud is always Shara’s side kick but he takes the main stage when he learns of her death. Ever loyal, he returns from exile to avenge her death (I was trying to stay away from that description, but it’s exactly what he does). Shara has never done anything simply so naturally Sigrud runs into a tangle of mysteries that envelope Shara and her daughter, Tatyana, and later Sigrud himself. We meet a plethora of new characters but some old faces join Sigrud’s mission of protecting Tatyana. (He completed his revenge on Shara’s killer within the first few chapters as efficiently as we expected.)

As much as I liked Sigrud’s character in the first two books, it wasn’t the best idea to make him the leading character. Putting Sigrud at the forefront drastically changed the dynamic of everything Bennett had previously set up. Shara’s story was steeped in politics and the war that breaks out was a centralized action scene. With Sigrud leading the way, the story became an action packed thriller. Shara was the brains and Sigrud is the brawn. Sigrud could help Shara piece together the clues and events but she was vastly more educated than him. Nothing against Sigrud, as he’s always been a great character, but it was more fun watching Shara’s brain piece together the puzzle than follow Sigrud fumble through the mysteries of Shara’s work alone.

While Sigrud made for a less than desirable main character, it was still an enjoyable book, with the right ending. This last book action at the front but it never lost its mysteries or investigation work that we all originally fell in love with. It’s nice to see the series wrapped up nicely. I haven’t read Bennett’s older stuff but it’s been added to my TBR pile.

 

 

By: Emily Coleman
I received an ARC of City of Miracles from Blogging for Books for an honest review.