Book Review from a Middle-School Reader: The Three Musketeers

I’m back with another guest review from my middle-schooler. I’ve been waiting for him to read The Three Musketeers, which is one of my favorite books. I’ve shared his review here as he wrote it, with permission.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas is, in my opinion, a great book. It is an intense book with scenes that will amuse you, anger you, and maybe even make you sad. It is a story of intrigue, dueling (with swords, not pistols or cards. I’m looking at you, Yu-Gi-Oh) and some romance and war on the side. Overall, I enjoyed it and I recommend it for anyone who likes the things I just mentioned.

And now, here are some more things. Things about The Three Musketeers, specifically.

First things first, I just want to say that D’Artagnan is my favorite. Funny story: I originally thought his name was D’Orangutan. D’Artagnan is brash, brave, intelligent, and also hilariously thickheaded at times. This combination of shrewd intelligence and idiotic behavior, in my opinion, combine to make a really great character in general.

But there’s more than just D’Artagnan! There’s also the vain Porthos, the pious Aramis, and the brooding Athos to aid D’Artagnan in his adventure, as well as the so-called villains Cardinal Richelieu, and Lady de Winter. Every single character in this book feels larger-than-life thanks to Dumas’ excellent portrayal of their personalities.

But don’t forget, there’s more to a book than people (unless, of course, you are reading a phone book)! There’s also scenes and events! Events such as the dangerous journey to England and back, and my personal favorite the time the heroes had breakfast in a captured enemy bastion while the other side’s troops tried desperately to recapture their fortress. I found that scene really fun and adorable and I hope you do too.

Now, I don’t want to spoil the story any more than I already have for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but I can safely assure you that there is never a dull moment with this book. Good show, Al Dumas!

The Call (Storm’s Rising #1) by Jason and Rose Bishop

The heroes of old are disappearing, victims of kidnapping, murder, even falling to their own despair. But their work is not done. The gods call forth the next generation…and a storm is rising.

In a city once hailed as a natural wonder, now corrupted and sullied, the Spring Market has just begun. Elves are bought and sold wholesale, destined for an unholy ceremony: a decrepit king seeks immortality. Among the elves is one of royal blood, carrying an artifact of untold power. When it falls into the hands of a young rogue, the brooch seems his ticket to a new life, but instead draws him into an insidious web of danger. Pursued by a huntress seeking vengeance for her sister’s kidnapping, and a pair of half-bloods seeking a father gone missing, he soon finds their paths are hopelessly entangled.

Drawn together by amulets handed down through generations, they soon uncover a legacy of betrayal and loss. Along with a cursed mage who walks with the wicked, they must unite the amulets, rescue the elves, and stop the dark priesthood. If they fail, the High King will rise again, and Urgrithka the Hollow will enter the world of the living. Cyrradon will know an eternity of undeath.

The Call is the first book of the Storm’s Rising’s series, beginning the epic tale of a world created in the image of beauty and balance, and rent asunder by wars among gods and mortals. (taken from Amazon)

Sometimes I want to read a big fantasy book, one with epic quests, high stakes, and a large world. Well, The Call more than fit the bill. It was full of adventure and fun.

This book feels very much like a throwback to the “older” fantasy that I read when I was younger. It’s obvious that there were influences from some of the classic fantasy books, but The Call was still its own thing, creative and unique.

Each character has their own background and motivation, from an elven princess desperate to find her sister to Lendil, who has had to watch his father’s addiction to drinking and wants a new lease on life. While I liked some of them better than others (roguish Lendil stole the show for me), each character was interesting in their own way. I enjoyed the multiple points of view. Sometimes this doesn’t work for me, but each character was unique enough that I was never bored or disinterested.

The world was well developed everything was revealed naturally throughout the story, avoiding the dreaded info dump. While the story started out a little bit slowly, it soon found an excellent pace. The series has incredible potential, and the authors are weaving a great adventure in a fascinating world that begs to be explored.

For readers who are looking for a new fantasy with a throwback feel, look no further than The Call.

Why Odin Drinks by Bjørn Larssen

Norse Mythology retelling for fans of Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Calvin & Hobbes
Ever woken up being a God, but not knowing how to God properly? Poor Odin must restrain his brothers, who create offensive weapons such as mosquitoes and celery; placate his future-telling wife, Frigg, who demands sweatpants with pockets; listen to Loki’s Helpful Questions; hang himself from Yggdrasil for nine days with a spear through his side (as you do); teach everyone about nutritional values of kale (but NOT celery); meet a Wise Dom, Sir Daddy Mímir, in order to outwit those who outwit him; and, most importantly, prove he is The All-Father, while his brothers are, at best, Those-Uncles-We-Don’t-Talk-About.

This nearly (except in Vanaheim) universally acclaimed retelling of the Gods’ first millennium answers way too many questions, including ones on Freyr’s entendre, horse designing… and why Odin drinks. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me a copy of this book. Why Odin Drinks is available now.

I’m very particular about my comedy. I like witty, I like a little bit of line-blurring, and I like smart. And yes, while a person might not expect a book that features the creation (and subsequent why?) of celery to be particularly clever, Why Odin Drinks is also incredibly smart.

Author Bjørn Larssen explores Norse mythology as you’ve never seen it. From a creation story that’s a bit more haphazard than your usual fare, to the addition of a prescient wife and the difficulties that comes with it, and of course the World Tree, Larssen adds a brilliantly comedic twist to well-known mythologies.

My reaction to Why Odin Drinks ranged from giggles to flat-out obnoxious guffaws. A fast read, it was also surprisingly deep. l was fortunate to be able to interview Bjørn and he said that Why Odin Drinks has a serious undertone that you can choose to miss. I would add the word “wise” to that description. Like Calvin and Hobbes, another comedy with serious aspects to it, Why Odin Drinks muses on life and humanity in ways that are accessible and undeniably smart. There were several “whoa” moments, when I wondered if maybe it was Larssen and not Frigg, who sees the future.

Why Odin Drinks left me gasping with laughter while also thinking. I’m sure I looked ridiculous. Read the book with a tissue or two handy- whether you snort your drink out your nose while laughing, or you tear up a little at some of the observations hidden beneath the surface, that tissue will come in handy.

The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston

Never stake more than you can afford to lose.

When failed magician turned cardsharp Valen Quinol is given the chance to play in the Forbearance Game—the invitation-only tournament where players gamble with secrets—he can’t resist. Or refuse, for that matter, according to the petty gangster sponsoring his seat at the table. Valen beats the man he was sent to play and wins the most valuable secret ever staked in the history of the tournament.

Now Valen and his motley crew are being hunted by thieves, gangsters, spies and wizards, all with their own reasons for wanting what’s in that envelope. It’s a game of nations where Valen doesn’t know all the rules or who all the players are and can’t see all the moves. But he does know if the secret falls into the wrong hands, it could plunge the whole world into war…(taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Knave of Secrets is available now.

The Knave of Secrets was a bit of a mixed bag for me. The premise immediately had me thinking of a fantasy-meets- Ocean’s 11, which sounded like a blast. However, while the concept looked entertaining, parts of the book just didn’t seem to quite pan out.

The beginning of the book dropped you right smack into the middle of intrigue and a rather abrupt exit, which I loved. I was excited about the pacing and looked forward to a fast-paced con with twists and turns aplenty. Alas, ’twas not to be. The pace slowed quite a bit and just seemed a bit choppy to me. The sections on card games that were scattered throughout might have contributed to that; while they were interesting, they added pauses that sometimes took me out of the narrative.

I did like the magic system and how it figured into so many aspects of the book and its characters. The concept of the tower being held together by magic was a creative one as well. I feel like the author had a lot of really good ideas that just didn’t necessarily belong all in the same book. Or maybe the book needed to be a little longer so he could fully develop them all?

My biggest quibble were the characters, particularly how they interacted. They were supposed to know each other well, but I didn’t get that feeling at all. The way they communicated (or didn’t) felt jilted and a little awkward. At this point, I’m beginning to think it’s a matter of “it’s me, not you”. I think that I was the wrong reader at the wrong time, which makes me wonder if I would have loved The Knave of Secrets had I read it at another time.

At the end of the day, The Knave of Secrets just didn’t work for me. The concept was a cool one, but the execution just didn’t seem to pay off.

Spear by Nicola Griffith

She left all she knew to find who she could be . . .

She grows up in the wild wood, in a cave with her mother, but visions of a faraway lake drift to her on the spring breeze, scented with promise. And when she hears a traveler speak of Artos, king of Caer Leon, she decides her future lies at his court. So, brimming with magic and eager to test her strength, she breaks her covenant with her mother and sets out on her bony gelding for Caer Leon.

With her stolen hunting spear and mended armour, she is an unlikely hero, not a chosen one, but one who forges her own bright path. Aflame with determination, she begins a journey of magic and mystery, love, lust and fights to death. On her adventures, she will steal the hearts of beautiful women, fight warriors and sorcerers, and make a place to call home.

The legendary author of Hild returns with an unforgettable hero and a queer Arthurian masterpiece for the modern era. Nicola Griffith’s Spear is a spellbinding vision of the Camelot we’ve longed for, a Camelot that belongs to us all. (taken from Amazon)

Lyrical with a fairy-tale cadence, Spear is the adult version of the Arthurian tales I loved as a child. Spear follows a girl without a name, one whose quest for an identity leads her to Caer Leon (Camelot), to The Lady of the Lake, and beyond. Each encounter and every experience serve to add another facet to the girl, as she discovers who she is and where she belongs.

The girl- Peretur- is raised nameless in a cave with only her mother for company. Her mother has hidden Peretur, her treasure, and only mutters their history in bits and pieces. One day the girl discovers Artos’s Companions and her destiny is set. She will become a King’s Companion and find her true name. Disguised as a man, Peretur (the girl) sets out to do just that, breaking her mother’s heart- and the geas that has kept them hidden from a powerful enemy.

I loved how the book began, with the story of a nameless girl and her life as she grows. The glimpses of her dreams and aspirations and the chance encounters that set her on her path drew me in. The way the first bit of the book was descriptively and beautifully written kept me entranced.

However, once Peretur left the cave to find her fortune, the language and cadence of the book changed. The book became bigger, with less of the beautiful prose and more of a “normal” fantasy writing style. This is in no way a bad thing, but I did miss the way the first little bit of the book flowed.

While there seems to be a split in writing style, I was engrossed by both halves of the book. The characters Peretur meets are all very familiar to me because I’ve loved stories of King Arthur and his knights for a long time. Author Nicola Griffith fleshed them out and took them from larger-than-life characters to realistic people with their own fears, loves, and interests, while still somehow retaining a bit of that fairy-tale magic that often comes with Arthurian tales.

After reading (and loving) several chonkier books, the shorter length of Spear was a great palate cleanser. The story moved along nicely and took me with it into a land rich with adventure, promise, and magic. I recommend this beautiful shorter novel for those who want a new twist on familiar lore.

One Foot in the Fade (A Fetch Phillips Novel) by Luke Arnold

Welcome back to the streets of Sunder City, a darkly imagined world perfect for readers of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.

In a city that lost its magic, an angel falls in a downtown street. His wings are feathered, whole—undeniably magical—the man clearly flew, because he left one hell of a mess when he plummeted into the sidewalk.

But what sent him up? What brought him down? And will the answers help Fetch bring the magic back for good?

Working alongside necromancers, genies, and shadowy secret societies, through the wildest forests and dingiest dive bars, this case will leave its mark on Fetch’s body, his soul, and the fate of the world. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. One Foot in the Fade is available for purchase now.

This is the third book in the Fetch Phillips series, so there might be some spoilers for the first two books. You can find my reviews for those books here: The Last Smile in Sunder City and Dead Man in a Ditch.

I knew from about twenty pages into book one that I’ll read anything by Luke Arnold, up to and including a pamphlet on beige paint. His writing is that good. I obviously had ridiculously high expectations for this latest installment in the Fetch Phillips novels, and One Foot in the Fade more than delivered. Buckle up, folks: this is going to be a rave. Or you could save yourself the trouble and buy the entire series now, which is the better option.

One Foot in the Fade continues on where Dead Man in a Ditch left off, with a much more motivated and slightly more capable Fetch taking the small bit of hope he’s seized and holding onto it for dear life. Thanks to a friend of his, Fetch’s sign has gone from an advertisement for a P.I. to a declaration: “Bringing the Magic Back”!

After sniffing the slightest possibility of a return to before everything went to crap, returning magic has become Fetch’s driving goal. He’s following every lead and hunting down any hint of a way to make that happen. Which is how he ends ups embroiled in what is either an almost-miracle or a very grisly murder. The answer leads Fetch on a journey both physical and emotional.

One Foot in the Fade takes the series from a grimy noir-fantasy to something completely new and different. I didn’t know what would happen next and I loved it. From duels (aka fights with self-important rich men who hold all the cards in life) to a not-quite-a-corpse, to an unfortunate encounter with a monster of legend, there was plenty of danger and action to be found. However, the heart stopping action scenes weren’t what held me enthralled. Rather, it was the incredible character growth to be found in Fetch.

Fetch Phillips has become one of my favorite characters in fantasy. Ever. His staunch refusal to give up, even when he’s convinced himself that he has, is heartbreaking. His grasp at the smallest glimmer of hope is relatable. And his palpable loneliness and the way he slowly learns to open himself up to the possibility of friendship is amazing and a privilege to read. Despite this being a fantasy setting, or maybe because of it, Fetch is one of the most supremely human characters I’ve read.

One Foot in the Fade has everything I want in a fantasy book. The story is engrossing, the descriptiveness of the writing is brilliant, the characters are all wonderful, and the ending made me tear up. A perfect blend between fantastical creativity and fascinating character development, One Foot in the Fade hooked me from page one.

The Hunger of the Gods (Bloodsworn Saga #2) by John Gwynne

THE DEAD GODS ARE RISING.
Lik-Rifa, the dragon god of legend, has been freed from her eternal prison. Now she plots a new age of blood and conquest.   
   
As Orka continues the hunt for her missing son, the Bloodsworn sweep south in a desperate race to save one of their own–and Varg takes the first steps on the path of vengeance.   
   
Elvar has sworn to fulfil her blood oath and rescue a prisoner from the clutches of Lik-Rifa and her dragonborn followers, but first she must persuade the Battle-Grim to follow her. Yet even the might of the Bloodsworn and Battle-Grim cannot stand alone against a dragon god.   
 
Their only hope lies within the mad writings of a chained god. A book of forbidden magic with the power to raise the wolf god Ulfrir from the dead…and bring about a battle that will shake the foundations of the earth.  (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Hunger of the Gods is available now.

This is a sequel, so there might be some spoilers for book one, The Shadow of the Gods, although I’ll try to avoid them. You can find my review for The Shadow of the Gods here.

Before I get into the nitty gritty of the book, I want to thank the author and Orbit profusely for adding a “story so far” section! So much happened in The Shadow of the Gods that this addition was perfect and very appreciated.

John Gwyne is the sort of author who seems to delight in writing books that pack an emotional punch. I was on the edge of my seat for a good chunk of The Shadow of the Gods, and while it had a slower start, The Hunger of the Gods ramped up and by the last page, I was once again enthralled.

The second book starts right up where the first one ends, with each character having their own goals, motivations, and really big problems. The three main points of view from The Shadow of the Gods are joined by new characters, however Orka stole the show.

Orka is one of the most complex and uncompromising characters I’ve read. She can come across as harsh and fierce and she is- fiercely loving, fiercely loyal, and fiercely protective. She’s hardcore and intimidating, which I loved. Her strength is the sort that is fascinating to read. She was fantastic in The Shadow of the Gods, and she’s now on my list of excellent female characters.

The Norse-inspired world is vast and continues to grow and evolve and the action scenes are visceral and ruthless. Johny Gwyne goes for the jugular in every way, from the fight scenes to the storyline and character development.

This is not the sort of series that can be jumped into midway. Make sure to start with The Shadow of the Gods. If you haven’t started the series yet, I can’t recommend it enough. Book one is fantastic, and it continues magnificently. The Hunger of the Gods is violent and brilliant, a worthy sequel to The Shadow of the Gods.

The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa

Bookish high school student Rintaro Natsuki is about to close the secondhand bookstore he inherited from his beloved bookworm grandfather. Then, a talking cat appears with an unusual request. The feline asks for—or rather, demands—the teenager’s help in saving books with him. The world is full of lonely books left unread and unloved, and the cat and Rintaro must liberate them from their neglectful owners. 
Their mission sends this odd couple on an amazing journey, where they enter different mazes to set books free. Through their travels, the cat and Rintaro meet a man who leaves his books to perish on a bookshelf, an unwitting book torturer who cuts the pages of books into snippets to help people speed read, and a publishing drone who only wants to create bestsellers. Their adventures culminate in one final, unforgettable challenge—the last maze that awaits leads Rintaro down a realm only the bravest dare enter . . . 
An enthralling tale of books, first love, fantasy, and an unusual friendship with a talking cat, The Cat Who Saved Books is a story for those for whom books are so much more than words on paper. (taken from Amazon)

“There are timeless stories, powerful enough to have survived through the ages. Read lots of books like these- they’ll be like friends to you. They’ll inspire and support you.”

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Cat Who Saved Books is available now.

Sometimes a book is a contradiction of itself. Such is the case with The Cat Who Saved Books. It is simple yet profound. It starts with a death but teems with a life all its own. It’s short but full all the same. I suppose you could say that I loved it.

Rintaro lived with his grandfather, who owned a used bookstore. When his grandfather dies, Rintaro isn’t just losing the most important person in the world to him, he’s afraid that he’s also losing his grandfather’s store and his refuge. Rintaro is lost and alone- until a tabby cat named Tiger shows up and asks Rintaro to help him on an important mission. They must save books that are being destroyed or ignored. What follows is more than a journey to save books. It’s a journey of self-discovery. And it is wonderful.

For some reason, I expected this to be a book that took place in a long ago setting, not a contemporary one. Once I adjusted my expectations, I found that this is better. Rinataro is relatable and I couldn’t help but want to heal the hurt in his heart that radiates from page one (despite his prickly way of handling it). In fact, while there weren’t many characters, they were each distinctive in their own way. I loved getting to know them.

The quests were unique and so creative. They were vividly described, and it was easy to sink into the story. The book has a special cadence to it, and if you look closely, you can see the Hero’s Journey told in a new and heartwarming way.

For those of us who see books as more than just words on paper, The Cat Who Saved Books is a must-read.

Wrath of the Fury Blade by Geoff and Coy Kissee

The brutal murder of Lavalé fey Avecath, the King’s First Magistrate and advisor, interrupts Constable Inspector Reva Lunaria’s day off. The victim’s status makes this a high-profile investigation, bringing with it unwanted attention from Senior Inquisitor Ailan Malvaceä of the Sucra, the King’s secret police. The manner of the victim’s death makes this case even more intriguing. A body cut perfectly in half – from top to bottom – is a rare occurrence, even in a city filled with all manner of magic weapons. All of this would be challenging enough, but Inspector Lunaria must also deal with a new partner, Seeker Ansee Carya, who is clearly not up to her standards.

As Reva faces a growing body count, Senior Inquisitor Malvaceä undertakes his own mission to find the same killer, but with a very different agenda. Reva’s investigation takes unexpected turns as wild conspiracies, hidden addictions, and Dark Elf soldiers all threaten to distract Reva from tracking down the killer. Reva’s only hope of stopping the serial killer from cutting more prominent citizens of Tenyl in half is to figure out how to work with Seeker Carya and overcome her own weaknesses. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the authors for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Wrath of the Fury Blade is available for purchase now.

Wrath of the Fury Blade is a fabulous mash-up of fantasy and police procedural. It’s a surprising combination, but it works extremely well, due in large part to the skillful writing of authors Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee.

This book follows Inspector Reva Lunaria. Poor Reva just wants to have a day off. Unfortunately, that is not to be as she is given a new case- that of solving the murder of the First Magistrate, an important figure. Not only that, Reva is given a new partner: Seeker Ansee Carya. More murders of important figures quickly follow, and the book become a race against time.

While the procedural part is engaging, the fantasy lover in me was thrilled by the world-building found within these pages. The detail that is put into everything, from the history of the world to its realistic portrayal of racism and classism, is astounding. It was easy to slip into the storyline of a world so rich in detail and so well thought out.

The characters were interesting, and seeing their relationship develop and grow was a ton of fun. They played off each other well, each enabling the character development in the other. I enjoyed Reva in particular, even though (maybe because?) she came across as prickly sometimes.

Wrath of the Fury Blade is a great example of how broad the fantasy genre can be, with the procedural aspect of it taking the book in new and unique directions. It’s a fast and entertaining read and I highly recommend it.

The City of Dusk by Tara Sim

Set in a gorgeous world of bone and shadow magic, of vengeful gods and defiant chosen ones, The City of Dusk follows the four heirs of four noble houses—each gifted with a divine power—as they form a tenuous alliance to keep their kingdom from descending into a realm-shattering war.

The Four Realms—Life, Death, Light, and Darkness—all converge on the City of Dusk. For each realm there is a god, and for each god there is an heir.

But the gods have withdrawn their favor from the once vibrant and thriving metropolis. And without it, all the realms are dying.

Unwilling to stand by and watch the destruction, the four heirs—Angelica, an elementalist with her eyes set on the throne; Risha, a necromancer fighting to keep the peace; Nikolas, a soldier who struggles to see the light; and Taesia, a shadow-wielding rogue with a reckless heart—will become reluctant allies in the quest to save their city.

But their rebellion will cost them dearly. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Angela Man and Orbit Books for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The City of Dusk is available now.

Dark and complex, with intrigue and machinations aplenty, The City of Dusk was a fascinating book. I was a little surprised; it started out slowly, and I was often curious as to how the seemingly unrelated bits of narrative would mesh. While the book follows multiple points of view, each lends its piece to a whole that is bigger and much more complicated than I could have possibly hoped for.

The City of Dusk follows four heirs from separate houses (houses who worship different gods) as they try to unite and save their city. Each house has a different skill, for lack of a better term, which has to do with their patron god. I’m grateful for the list of houses at the beginning of the book. While the four heirs have very distinctive voices, I sometimes found myself forgetting who was related to whom and which house other characters belonged to.

While each of the characters offered a different and unique part to the story, Taesia was by far my favorite. She seemed to be more fully developed than some of the others. She was also a bit cantankerous and sarcastic, which I loved. She seemed happy to mock from the shadows, while at the same time fighting like mad to save her realm. It was a delightful combination of character traits, and I loved every chapter told from her point of view.

Angelica really annoyed me, although I couldn’t say why. There was something about her that felt very self-pitying, and it got under my skin pretty quickly. I did like the way her music acted as focus, though. That was extremely creative.

The political vying for position and the behind-the-scenes machinations were quite possibly my favorite aspects to the book. Everyone is so busy wondering whether they can trust the person they’ve formed an uneasy alliance with, that it adds almost a level of anxiety to the pages, which was a blast to read.

The descriptions were beautiful and the history and mythology that author Tara Sim has created is astounding. There’s so much to it! The city itself oozed personality and was almost a character in its own right.

It took a while for me to become fully invested in the book, but once it got going, The City of Dusk held me captive. This is an excellent start to what I’m sure will be an addictive series.