Heart of Flames by Nicki Pau Preto- ARC Review

Image result for heart of flames nicki pau preto

You are a daughter of queens.

The world is balanced on the edge of a knife, and war is almost certain between the empire and the Phoenix Riders.

Like Nefyra before you, your life will be a trial by fire.

Veronyka finally got her wish to join the Riders, but while she’s supposed to be in training, all she really wants to do is fly out to defend the villages of Pyra from the advancing empire. Tristan has been promoted to Master Rider, but he has very different ideas about the best way to protect their people than his father, the commander. Sev has been sent to spy on the empire, but maintaining his cover may force him to fight on the wrong side of the war. And Veronyka’s sister, Val, is determined to regain the empire she lost—even if it means inciting the war herself.

Such is your inheritance. A name. A legacy. An empire in ruin.

As tensions reach a boiling point, the characters all find themselves drawn together into a fight that will shape the course of the empire—and determine the future of the Phoenix Riders. Each must decide how far they’re willing to go—and what they’re willing to lose in the process.

I pray you are able to pass through the flames. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on February 11th, 2020.

Be aware: this is a sequel, so there will be spoilers for book one (Crown of Feathers). You can read my review for that book here.

*** Spoilers for Crown of Feathers Below ***

I was angry when I finished this book. I would have slammed it shut if I hadn’t been reading an ebook version. I’m going to try to explain why, but first let me remind you all that the things I dislike about a book might be the very things that you love. As Levar Burton says, “You don’t have to take my word for it.” So, deep breath: I’m about to dive in.

This book suffered horribly from Sequel Syndrome. You know, when the first book in a series is incredible, but the second book just falls flat. It’s possible for this series to regain its footing in the next installment, but this one was just bad.

First of all, all the characters acted in ways that made no sense for who they were. Commander Cassian, who showed determination, stoicism, and intelligence in Crown of Feathers, made the most ill-conceived and stupid move possible in this book. It made zero sense both from a characteristic standpoint, and a story standpoint. And he wasn’t the only one who acted contrary to how he was written in the first book.

Tristan and Veronyka entered into the dreaded angst-ridden relationship. I was so bummed about this! It could have added a really interesting facet to the interactions of the Phoenix Riders. Unfortunately, it just became annoying.

What bothered me more than even that, though, was Veronyka’s 180-degree turn. In Crown of Feathers, she was fierce, determined, and had a strong moral compass. She worked so hard to become a Phoenix Rider in the hope of joining a patrol. In this book, she was wishy-washy, threw all her hard work away for no reason, and dragged Tristan down with her. She basically snapped her fingers and he came running, leaving all his fellow Riders in the lurch.

Another odd choice that was made was how things were revealed. Often, Val’s internal dialogue would explain something to the reader, only to have it explained again at length to another character a chapter or two later. I understand that characters need to be given information in some way, but why explain it twice? Just reveal it to the reader as it’s revealed to the character. The amount of reiteration in this book was a bit much.

Okay, moving on to the things I did like.

Sparrow and Elliot were fantastic. Neither of them was in the book much, but they shone in every scene they were in. I love Sparrow in general. She’s such a wild-child, but wise beyond her years. In some ways, she reminds me of Luna Lovegood. I also liked Elliot’s desire to redeem himself after the events in book one.

I liked that the other Phoenix Riders were as annoyed by Tristan and Veronyka’s shenanigans as I was. I felt so bad for them in this book. They were completely messed over by Tristan’s lack of maturity.

I loved the phoenixes, of course. I’ve read a lot of fantasy lately that is bereft of fantastical beings, so I love seeing them making at least a bit of a return. I also liked that each of them had their own personalities.

Nicki Pau Preto knows how to turn a phrase. She’s a talented author, but I feel that she got in her own way with this book. I’m not giving up on the series. Rather, I’m hoping that the next book will return to the strengths that made me love Crown of Feathers.

The Woman in the Mirror by Rebecca James- ARC Review

Image result for the woman in the mirror by rebecca james
For more than two centuries, Winterbourne Hall has stood atop a bluff overseeing the English countryside of Cornwall and the sea beyond.

In 1947, Londoner Alice Miller accepts a post as governess at Winterbourne, looking after Captain Jonathan de Grey’s twin children. Falling under the de Greys’ spell, Alice believes the family will heal her own past sorrows. But then the twins’ adoration becomes deceitful and taunting. Their father, ever distant, turns spiteful and cruel. The manor itself seems to lash out. Alice finds her surroundings subtly altered, her air slightly chilled. Something malicious resents her presence, something clouding her senses and threatening her very sanity.

In present day New York, art gallery curator Rachel Wright has learned she is a descendant of the de Greys and heir to Winterbourne. Adopted as an infant, she never knew her birth parents or her lineage. At long last, Rachel will find answers to questions about her identity that have haunted her entire life. But what she finds in Cornwall is a devastating tragic legacy that has afflicted generations of de Greys. A legacy borne from greed and deceit, twisted by madness, and suffused with unrequited love and unequivocal rage. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on March 17th, 2020.

Eerie and compelling, this is a perfect rainy day read. I had a hard time putting this book down; I was so completely immersed in the odd, spooky story of the Winterbourne women.

This book took place in two separate times, with the narrative switching easily back and forth. Alice went to the Winterbourne estate in 1947 to become a governess (why is it always a governess in spooky stories?), the previous governess having vacated the position abruptly. Alice immediately falls in love with everything about Winterbourne, from the two children she nannies to the widower who also lives there. However, all is not idyllic. Something is off, and things start to spiral out of control.

In many ways, this made me think of The Turn of the Screw. At times, I wasn’t sure whether Alice was the most trustworthy of narrators. As she descended into madness (or did she?), it became more and more difficult to discern what was really happening. The changeable nature of both the book and Alice were fascinating.

The other part of the narrative took place in present day and followed a woman named Rachel. She learns that she’s inherited Winterbourne, as well as a host of unanswered questions about who her relatives were. I didn’t connect with her character at all; in fact, she really annoyed me for a good chunk of time. I didn’t like that she was so wishy-washy. The parts with her in it were less interesting to me than the parts about Alice.

The atmosphere of the book was excellent. There was something about the way it was written that conveyed tension and a sense of wrongness, without ever overdoing it. Each word was placed with care and used to great effect.

My big quibble with the book is that the female characters had terrible taste in guys, every last one of them. I really couldn’t understand what the draw was to the widower, in particular. He was a world-class jerk. However, the rest of the book was excellent.

I highly recommend this one.

The Royal Gift: 2019 Two Giftens Edition by Drae Box- ARC Review


                  Five days to save him.

Five days to find a thief, rescue her village’s one line of defence – a magic dagger – and return home. Could Aldora do it? She didn’t know the first thing about tracking a thief, and barely knew any of the kingdom’s geography.

Accompanied by a talking Prince of the Cats and a law enforcing soldier that’s a trouble magnet, Aldora’s future is forever changed. (taken from Amazon)

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

This was an interesting experience for me. I did not care for it myself, but I think that the author will improve and the next endeavor might be really good. The ideas were creative, but the execution needed a little work.

First of all, the reader is dropped right into the middle of the story without any setup or explanation. I was actually confused enough to wonder if I’d missed a previous book that explained everything. While it does clear up as time goes on, it was a very disconcerting start.

I did appreciate the uniqueness of the book. The Prince of Cats was a fun character, although, like the others, he needed more development. It felt as though I was reading a first or second draft and not the finished book.

That being said, the premise is interesting, but the end product needs tweaking. I didn’t hate the book, but it wasn’t for me.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Reverie by Ryan La Sala- ARC Review

Reverie
All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember anything since an accident robbed him of his memories a few weeks ago. And the world feels different―reality itself seems different.

So when three of his classmates claim to be his friends and the only people who can tell him what’s truly going on, he doesn’t know what to believe or who he can trust. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere―the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery―Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident, and only he can stop their world from unraveling. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for honest opinion. This is available in stores now.

What drew me to the book was the comparison to Inception, a mind-bending movie that I really liked, though the gorgeous cover definitely helped. I’m a big fan of twisty plots, so I had high hopes.

This book just didn’t do it for me. It felt too big, and at times I worried that the plot had gotten away from the author. I’m not sure that makes much sense, but it’s the impression I had. It’s difficult to become immersed in a book when you are unsure if the author can deliver on what he set out to do. It was actually mildly stressful.

The characters didn’t really stand out all that much to me. One of them actually shot rainbows, and I couldn’t stop thinking of Aoyama from My Hero Academia: he has a laser that shoots from his naval and for some reason that image kept popping into my mind as I read this. Poesy, the drag queen sorceress was my favorite by far. The other characters just didn’t interest me.

The concept was interesting, but felt a bit shaky on delivery. The descriptions were fantastic, however, and I consider the prose itself the strong point of this book. La Sala definitely knows how to turn a phrase.

I think this is one of those books that many people will love;  it just didn’t butter my biscuit.

Stephen Hawking: My First Stephen Hawking (Little People BIG Dreams) by Maria Isable Sanchez Vegara- ARC Review


Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on February fourth, 2020.

My toddler loves historical figures. His favorites are the U.S. Presidents (any of them: he has yet to decide his party), but he is interested in other figures as well. Not too long ago, I told him I had a secret to tell him. I whispered “I love you” and he whispered back, “Ibn Batutta.” I jumped at the chance to read this book about an important person with him.

I’ll start with the illustrations. They were adorable. They were simple, but brightly colored. My little guy liked pointing at them and saying “That’s Stephen Hawking” multiple times. They definitely held his interest.

The story itself was cute. It talked about Stephen Hawking in a way that would be easily grasped by youngsters. At times it seemed a little too simple: but it could just be because my toddler wants a wealth of information in his nonfiction books. He sometimes goes a little beyond the “normal” amount of information requested by that age group.

It was very difficult to find good nonfiction books when my oldest was a toddler, and I love that authors are changing that. Overall, my toddler liked it, and so did I. I’d buy this for any curious kid in the 2-5 year old range.

Cadaver Swords by Emmett Swan- ARC Review

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Chimber was a master grave digger and knew his business. But when the Queen of the nation of Dalmeer called out the Gravedigger’s Guild to bury thousands of citizens that had perished from a mysterious poison-laced cloud, he was not prepared for what he found. Before his very eyes, bodies thought dead began to rise up, walk, and huddle together in dark groups. Soon, an unstoppable cadaver army was laying waste to the land.

With the good people of Dalmeer under siege and the army in disarray, Chimber wants to do his part to defend his home town. But as a gravedigger, he isn’t usually needed until after the killing is done. As he watches a battle unfold from the cover of a nearby hill, an unflappable female warrior gets felled from her horse by a mob of cadavers. Risking life and limb, he slides down to the battlefield and manages to save her life.

Chimber and the warrior establish a bond and agree to journey into the Northern Wastes to find the one being that may be able to save the nation—the mysterious Medium of the Blue Mountain. But she is surrounded by a strange tribe of female ice pixies that have little interest in helping those from the southern lands.

If Chimber can convince the Medium of the Blue Mountain to join their cause and return to Dalmeer’s capital city in time, they just may save the people of the land from the bite of cadaver swords. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Epic in scale, this was a slow read for me.  It took me a very long time to get all the way through. However, once I did, I ended up really enjoying it.

With this book, what stood out to me was the world-building. It was so incredibly creative! The setup of the geography was pretty cool. There were several islands within relatively close proximity, which made the timing more believable. I am a big fan of fantasy books that feature a journey of some sort because it allows for so many different kinds of encounters, so that was a win for me.

Climber’s buddy Jern was probably my favorite character. The relationship between the two was fun to read. I know I’ve mentioned in other posts that I don’t always like the main character, but I did enjoy Climber. It was good to read a main character that wasn’t a giant ball of angst.

The author was very judicious with his fight scenes. They were well-written, but they weren’t the crux of the story. I liked that he understood the fine balance between action and story. Many authors rely too much on one or the other.

I recommend this one to fantasy readers who don’t mind some slow set-up.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Fortuna by Kristyn Merbeth- ARC Review

Image result for fortuna by kristyn merbeth
Fortuna launches a new space opera trilogy that will hook you from the first crash landing.
Scorpia Kaiser has always stood in Corvus’s shadow until the day her older brother abandons their family to participate in a profitless war. However, becoming the heir to her mother’s smuggling operation is not an easy transition for the always rebellious, usually reckless, and occasionally drunk pilot of the Fortuna, an aging cargo ship and the only home Scorpia has ever known.

But when a deal turns deadly and Corvus returns from the war, Scorpia’s plans to take over the family business are interrupted, and the Kaiser siblings are forced to make a choice: take responsibility for their family’s involvement in a devastating massacre or lay low and hope it blows over.
Too bad Scorpia was never any good at staying out of a fight. (taken from Amazon)

               Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Oh dear. I wanted to like this book, I really did. I’m a big fan of smuggling in stories in general, and especially in space (blame the incredible show Firefly). Unfortunately, this book was a giant resounding “meh” from me.

I can’t pinpoint anything really wrong with the book, it just didn’t keep my attention. The characters weren’t all that engaging, and Scorpia annoyed me. She was immature to the point of obnoxiousness. Corvus was okay, but not all that fantastic a character either.

If I don’t enjoy the characters in a book, the writing itself needs to be incredible to keep me invested. The writing was fine, but nothing to write home about. This is my first book by this author and, honestly, I can’t say I’m going to go out of my way to read any others she’s written.

I’ll say that this is just a case of the book not fitting the reader. It happens. I hope other readers find it more interesting than I did. I gave up 60% in.

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau- ARC Review

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The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground.

The invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer working at the Moonrise Bookstore than keeping up appearances with New York City socialites and her snobbish, controlling family.

But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy the freedom she has been yearning for, and it’s not long before she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of.

Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamour of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything…even murder. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available to purchase on January 16th, 2020.

I was first drawn to this book because of the cover. It spoke of danger and thrills. I can say with certainty that this book delivered.

Peggy Batternberg is part of a wealthy, snobbish family. They throw their money around and thinks it exempts them from the same treatment as the working class. Unfortunately, in many cases they are correct. Peggy herself hates the way her family acts. When the book opens, she’s working in a bookstore. Not for the money, which she doesn’t need, but for a sense of freedom. She’s pulled away to spend the summer on Coney Island with her family, and her sister’s fiance, who is an absolute jerk.

While in Coney Island, Peggy falls for an artist, but when women are found murdered, he’s the main suspect. Peggy has to prove he’s innocent- provided he actually is. Her efforts show the disparity between how the wealthy and working class are treated. The more Peggy pries, the more dangerous things become.

Peggy herself annoyed the living snot out of me at first. She looked down on her family’s privilege, but was perfectly okay with enjoying them herself. Her hypocrisy really bugged me. However, as the story went on, she began to change and mature. I liked her much more by the end of the book.

The story itself was really good. I liked the wealth of detail the author provided, and the pictures she painted with her words. I was able to picture every part of Coney Island, and it made the book incredibly enjoyable.

While I could see the ending from a mile away, it didn’t dull my enjoyment of the book in the slightest. This is one of the better mysteries I’ve read this year, and I’ll happily read more of Nancy Bilyeau’s books.

 

Teddy Bear of the Year by Vikki Vansickle, illustrated by Sydney Hanson- ARC Review

Teddy Bear of the Year by Vikki VanSickle

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on January 21, 2020.

When I was young, my local library hosted a “teddy bear’s picnic.” Each child brought their own stuffed animal, and read books about bears while eating animal crackers. It was very cute. So, filled with nostalgia, I was happy to read an updated take on The Teddy Bear’s Picnic to my toddler.

In this book, Ollie the bear is invited to a teddy bear’s picnic. There are games and sweets, and stuffed animals are given awards for their service to their humans. Ollie thinks that he’s not a good stuffed friend, but is given an award for his kindness and compassion with his human. The lesson in this story is that even small acts of kindness matter.

It’s a very cute story-line, and the illustrations are adorable. Unfortunately- possibly because this was an ebook copy- the illustrations and words were out of order. It was more difficult to follow than my little guy expected because we’d see pictures for things that didn’t happen for another couple of pages. I’m assuming that was just an upload error and that the final version will be in the proper order. If so, then this would pair up nicely with a teddy bear picnic for your youngster.

Leo’s Monster by Marcus Pfister- ARC Review

Thank you to Negalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on May 5th, 2020.

This little story is about two mice. There’s a country mouse named Zoe and, and her little buddy, Leo. Leo comes to visit Zoe, but discovers a terrifying monster. As he describes it to Zoe, she starts to suspect that the monster is, in fact, bovine in nature.

I thought the illustrations were cute, and the story was entertaining. My toddler, though had another opinion. He hated it. About three pages in, he looked at me and said, “It’s just a cow,” and the disdain with which he said it was actually a wee bit funny. I’m not sure what to make of his reaction. He gravitates toward history books anyway (seriously. This four year old has all the presidents memorized and can recognize them by face). Take his opinion with that in mind.

I guess that makes this review a mixed one. I liked the book, and think it would be great for toddlers. My toddler- the target demographic- seems to disagree. Take from that what you will.