How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black

Okay, okay, I admit: I grabbed this book mainly for the cover. It promised mythical, mysterious tales. Plus, it has the pretty illustrations! This book takes place in the world of The Cruel Prince. Reviews for the series: The Cruel Prince/The Wicked King and The Queen of Nothing.

Unfortunately, How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories (referred from here on out to King of Elhame because the full title is bit long) didn’t quite butter my biscuit. Holly Black is a talented author and I think I expected more than what I got.

First of all, it felt a little thrown together. Several of the short stories seemed a bit like scenes that were edited out of the original books. While they were interesting, they didn’t quite seem like full stories to me. Also, any scene involving the sexening and Carden made me dissolve into giggles. He has a tail for crying out loud! Hmm…that might say more about my maturity level than about the book itself. Luckily, I tend to skip sex scenes anyway.

Something that I found interesting (and a little bit of a bummer) was that the stories that were supposed to take place during The Cruel Prince felt a little revisionist. It was really odd because Holly Black wrote with such confidence that I did not expect her to feel the need to change anything. She is a very good writer and I truly hope she knows that.

That being said, I did really enjoy the three stories involving the troll woman. In two of them, she told Carden a different version of the same fairy tale. I liked that they changed based on both Carden’s age and what had been happening in the original series at the time. It showcased Carden’s character development. I won’t ruin anything by talking about the third of the troll woman’s stories. I will just say that I thought it was extremely clever.

The final verdict for me was: the book was not horrible, but it felt unnecessary. However, I am sure that my opinion isn’t the popular one and I would love to hear what you loved about The King of Elfhame and why. Tell me what I missed!

BBNYA Book Blog Tour: The Gilded King by Josie Jaffrey

In the last city on Earth,
death is just a step into the trees.

In the Blue, the world’s last city, all is not well.
 
Julia is stuck within its walls. She serves the nobility from a distance until she meets Lucas, a boy who believes in fairytales that Julia’s world can’t accommodate. The Blue is her prison, not her castle, and she’d escape into the trees if she didn’t know that contamination and death awaited humanity outside.

But not everyone in the Blue is human, and not everyone can be contained.

Beyond the city’s boundaries, in the wild forests of the Red, Cameron has precious little humanity left to lose. As he searches for a lost queen, he finds an enemy rising that he thought long dead. An enemy that the humans have forgotten how to fight.

One way or another, the walls of the Blue are going to come down. The only question is what side you’ll be on when they do.(taken from Amazon)

I received The Gilded King to read and review as part of the BBNYA 2020 competition organized by @The_WriteReads. As always, all opinions are my own and honest.

BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors.

If you are an indie author and wish to learn more about the 2021 BBNYA competition, you can visit the official website (bbnya.com) or our Twitter account, @BBNYA_Official, to learn more. If you would like to sign up to enter your book, you can find the BBNYA 2021 Author Sign Up Form here. Please be sure to read the terms and conditions before entering.

BBNYA is brought to you in association with the Folio Society (with the most gorgeous book editions that I’ve had the pleasure to drool over) and The Write Reads.

The Gilded King by Josie Jaffrey did extremely well in BBNYA 2020, and I can see why! Vampires in a post-apocalyptic setting with zombies added in for spice? Definitely new and original.

The Gilded King is told from multiple points of view. Julia happens to be my favorite character. She’s clever, resilient, and doesn’t just accept the status quo. I also thought the way the characters’ relationships grew and developed was interesting.

The vampires were different than many I’ve read. I’m a bit on the fence about them, but I can’t deny the author’s creativity.

The Gilded King would be perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas, and readers who like a bit of romance along with their fantasy.

About the author:
Josie is the author of nine self-published novels plus short stories. She is currently working on a range of fantasy and historical fiction projects (both adult and YA), for which she is seeking representation. Ultimately, she hopes to be a hybrid author, both traditionally- and self-published.

After finishing her degree in Literae Humaniores (Classics) at the University of Oxford, Josie wasn’t sure what to do with her life.

She slogged through a brief stint working for an investment bank in London during the 2008 credit crunch, then converted to law and qualified as a solicitor specialising in intellectual property. She worked at a law firm for five years before moving to a UK-based international publisher in 2016. Whilst she loved law, in the end she didn’t love it quite as much as writing, which she now does almost full time.

Josie lives in Oxford with her husband and two cats (Sparky and Gussie), who graciously permit human cohabitation in return for regular feeding and cuddles. The resulting cat fluff makes it difficult for Josie to wear black, which is largely why she gave up being a goth. Although the cats are definitely worth it, she still misses her old wardrobe.

Find Josie here:
Josie Jaffrey | Author

Tales From the Hinterland by Melissa Albert

Before The Hazel Wood, there was Althea Proserpine’s Tales from the Hinterland…

Journey into the Hinterland, a brutal and beautiful world where a young woman spends a night with Death, brides are wed to a mysterious house in the trees, and an enchantress is killed twice―and still lives. (taken from Amazon)

The funny thing about The Hazel Wood (and its sequel) by Melissa Albert is that, for me, the best parts weren’t the main storyline. Nope. The best parts were the undeniably eerie fairy tales come-to-life that bled through into the pages of the books. I told my husband that if a collection of Hinterland tales was every published, I’d be super excited to read it. So, of course I had to snag a copy of Tales from the Hinterland!

These completely original fairy tales were about characters that crossed over from the fictional world into the real one in The Hazel Wood books. And they were as creepy as it gets without descending into full-on horror. Let’s just say that the majority of them did not end well for the “hero”. In fact, most of them didn’t have a hero per se. What they did have was a ton of creativity and a darker tone that sent shivers down the spine.

One thing that stood out to me was that the main characters were all female. There were naïve females, clever ones, even evil ones. But males were always in a supporting role. It was an interesting choice. It didn’t change my enjoyment of the book, either positively or negatively; it was just something I noticed.

Another thing that I really liked was that not a single tale seemed even remotely like an existing fairy tale. There were no Beauty and the Beast retellings, and Little Red Riding Hood didn’t make an appearance. The stories were 100% original. It was refreshing to see entirely new ideas (not that I mind a good fairy tale reimagining).

There wasn’t a single story that felt lesser than or out of place. My main complaint, in fact, is that the tone was similar in several tales. I am not even sure if that should be a complaint: that the stories fit well together. Hmm…something to think about.

There were three stories that stood out to me. One was The Door that Wasn’t There, which was equal parts creepy and sad. It’s about two sisters who were locked in a room to starve and what one of them does to survive (no, there’s no cannibalism. Ew!). The feeling that Melissa Albert created in this story was a little bit gothic and a whole lot of unearthly.

The second story that kept me enthralled was The Mother and the Dagger. This felt like your usual tale told to scare kids into coming home before dark- but with a twist that was uncanny and creeptastic. The way this one was written, like someone is talking to you, stood out from the other stories and drew me in. I loved the ending, which had an abrupt finality to it.

Finally, was Twice-Killed Katherine. That character was one of the bits of fairy tales that showed up in The Hazel Wood, and the one that I found the most intriguing. While the story didn’t go the way I expected, it was nonetheless fascinating and really cool to see the backstory the author had for her. That one also felt different in that what was left unsaid could have been stretched and expanded on to create an entirely separate novel in its own right.

Tales from the Hinterland was by far my favorite book that takes place in the Hazel Wood universe (so to speak), even though it’s not a straight-through narrative. It was eerie and intelligent, and definitely not a book to read alone at night. I wouldn’t necessarily call it horror- maybe horror-adjacent. Either way, it was really stinking good.

A Class Above: D&D Classes in Books – Bards and Magic Users

I thought it would be fun to talk about “classes” in Dungeons and Dragons (and other roleplaying games) and their counterparts in books. A “class” is kind of a set group of skills that is generally used by a specific profession. For example, “fighter class”-boiled down- consists of excelling at some sort of combat.

I put out a call for contributions from the writing community. Both book bloggers and authors answered in a huge way! This post is one of a series because everyone’s contributions were so detailed and genius. You can also check out the posts on fighters and barbarians; paladins, clerics, and druids; and rangers and rogues. Today, I’m digging into the subject of bards and magic users!

Bard: Bards use music and song to either help or hinder. They are often puckish. While they tend to stay more on the sidelines, they are more than capable of holding their own in battle. They do sometimes have some magic spells, but they tend to be illusory as opposed to destructive, and the main focus is on their art.

The Cyberbard shares his thoughts on bards: “Why be the best at everything when you can simply make everyone THINK you are? That seems to be the core of Kvothe, the protagonist of Patrick Rothfuss’s “Kingkiller Chronicles”. A story wrapped in legend, then bespeckled in enigma and mystery… yes, I do believe we have entered Bard country. Kvothe, as a narrator, has been established to be somewhat… unreliable. He embellishes and diminishes in equal parts, all to maximize the artistic value of his tale to the reader. Why let facts get in the way of a ripping tale? The art of story-telling is most certainly the purview of a Bard, and Kvothe is no exception: he is the architect of his own legend. What else defines a classic Bard? Music, for one thing, and Rothfuss (as expressed through Kvothe and other characters) repeatedly reminds the reader that Kvothe is considered one of the great performers/songwriters of his time. Just like a D&D Bard, Kvothe can do just about anything: he can integrate himself convincingly into politics, charm a lock, create masterful artifice, expertly forge documents, and gain mastery over the very elements by speaking their True Names. Importantly, while he can do all these things, there is often someone else who surpasses him in talent for each individual skill. He is a jack of all trades! Did I mention he is also a Monk?
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Yes, Kvothe is a MULTICLASS character! At one point in his career, Kvothe The Arcane sought the teachings of the Adem and earned his place among them (albeit as an outsider). There, he became versed in the way of the Lethani, the path of correct action. While his wild nature clashed with their teachings, he learned much from their disciplined way and became a passable combatant (both open-handed and with a sword). If you are a reader looking to play as Kvothe in your first D&D game, start as a (Variant) Human Bard, and take “Alert” as the feat you have for your race. Max out your Charisma and Dexterity scores, and keep average scores for your Strength and Constitution. Keep your Wisdom on the lower side, no more than average… Kvothe is not known for his decision-making skills. Your intelligence should also be fairly high for his various Knowledge skills! Later, as you gain levels, I suggest taking no more than 2 levels of Monk; Kvothe was an initiate, at best. For those veteran D&D players out there: if you’re a fan of Bards and their shenanigans, give the “Kingkiller Chronicles” a try (starting with “The Name of the Wind”). They’re big books, but you’ll want to take your time with them anyhow to appreciate the beautiful prose.”

“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”– Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub has words of her own: I was fortunate to recently read a book with an excellent bard who also so happens to be the narrator of the story. I’m talking about Heloise from The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True by Sean Gibson. She is in the middle of things (which makes her the perfect one to tell the tale, right?), full of sass, and has a rather high opinion of herself. She’s also a blast to read about and is a perfect example of a bard in a more lighthearted setting.

[Referring to Heloise] “…if not the most well-known bard in Erithea (yet), arguably the most talented, and unarguably the cleverest”– Sean Gibson, The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True

There are a few different types of magic users in Dungeons and Dragons (warlocks, sorcerers, and wizards). While there are distinctions, they can be a little hard to explain. So I’ve decided to refer to magic users here as “traditional” and “non-traditional”. Any annoyance that causes is my fault, and not the fault of any of the contributors. Sorry in advance.

Traditional Magic User: This would be where magic schools, patrons, and spell books lay. Time, effort, and a fair amount of patience are what set traditional magic users apart. These would generally fall in the wizard category. The study and acquisition of magic is constant and demanding, but the payoff can be huge. Think fireballs and lightning bolts.

Behind the Pages has excellent examples of a traditional magic user: “Weak and bullied as a child, Raistlin Majere [from the Dragonlance series] risked his life to claim magic as his own. He spends countless hours memorizing spells from his books, and thirsts for power. Magic is everything to him. Even his own brother’s life does not compare to the need to discover new spells. His body is frail, but his mind is sharp. With a few simple gestures and a handful of components, he can obliterate his foes.”

“I can kill with a single word. I can hurl a ball of fire into the midst of my enemies. I rule a squadron of skeletal warriors, who can destroy by touch alone. I can raise a wall of ice to protect those I serve. The invisible is discernible to my eyes. Ordinary magic spells crumble in my presence.” – Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Time of the Twins

“Camellia Beauregard from The Belles series by Dhonielle Clayton. As a Belle Camellia can use her magic to manipulate and form a person into the most beautiful being. The limits of power stem from what her clients can endure, and if she pushes too far she will break them. Trained from birth Camellia knows her limits. But then she begins to dig into the past of the Belles. Where the knowledge of dark deeds lays hidden. And with that knowledge comes power and sacrifice.”

“Don’t be fools. You can’t have both. Who wants love when one can be powerful?”-Dhonielle Clayton, The Belles

Ricardo Victoria weighs in: ” I think that for a modern take on Wizards, Harry Dresden would be the best option. He is smart, resourceful, not a squishy wizard but neither a physical fighter (that’s what Murphy or the Knights of the Cross are for). He would have a wide array of spells, ranging from fireballs to necromancy (remember the T-Rex). He also possesses a large collection of items to store or channel magic, from his staff to his ring, passing by his duster and his blasting rod. As A White Knight of the Sidhe, his Con [constitution] stats get a boost. Due to his high Int [intelligence] and Char [charisma] stats, he has managed to accrued a series of allies, and deal with supernatural beings to help deal with those difficult high-level quests. He also has pickpocketing and lock picking skills, proper of an illusionist as part of his cover.

“The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.”-Jim Butcher, Blood Rites (Dresden Files #6)

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub’s thoughts on the matter: I had two examples, but thanks to Behind the Pages’ excellent paragraph on Raistlin, I am left without one (grr!). However, my second example is also a marvelous wizard. I’m talking about Aravia from The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart. Technically, she is a wizard’s apprentice, not a full-blown wizard, but one wouldn’t know it from her skill level. She’s intelligent, dedicated to her magic, and a talented magic user. She gets Horn’s Company out of many a scrape (and into a few of them too).

“Knowledge and its accumulation were the most important things in her life. Knowing that she shared a house with seventy-nine spellbooks that she was forbidden to read was like working in a bakery and being denied the bread.”– Dorian Hart, The Ventifact Colossus

Non-traditional Magic Users: These would be the magic users that literally have magic in the blood. Dragonborn, half-demons, etc. fall smack into this category. So, too, do characters who have made a bargain of some sort to receive their powers. Think: magic users who take shortcuts.

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub weighs in: “Magnus Bane, the delightful self-styled High Warlock of Brooklyn from Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter series, is the perfect example of a warlock. He comes by his power through his blood-he’s a half demon. He also has a snarky attitude, and has somehow found himself surrounded by a gaggle of demon-hunting teenagers. Awkward.

“’There’s no need to clarify my finger snap,” said Magnus. “The implication was clear in the snap itself.’”– Cassandra Clare, City of Ashes

Meet the Contributors:

The Cyberbard is a talented blogger who reviews beer and books with equal skill and authority. Check out his blog for the latest on good reads, particularly science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Behind the Pages is an excellent blog and beta reading site, run by the talented Tabitha. Her reviews are very insightful and incredibly well-written. She has excellent taste and never fails to review books that would have snuck under my radar, adding to my already way-too-long list of books to read.

Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Tempest Blades fantasy series. Book one, The Withered King, (which I highly recommend reading), is available now. Book two, The Cursed Titans will be released this summer and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Bad Habits by Flynn Meaney- The Write Reads Ultimate Blog Tour

Hilarious, bold, sparky and surprising, this is the funniest feminist book you’ll read all year.

Alex is a rebel from the tip of her purple fauxhawk to the toes of her biker boots. She’s tried everything she can think of to get expelled from her strict Catholic boarding school. Nothing has worked so far – but now, Alex has a new plan.

Tired of the sexism she sees in every corner of St Mary’s, Alex decides to stage the school’s first ever production of The Vagina Monologues. Which is going to be a challenge, as no one else at St Mary’s can even bear to say the word ‘vagina’ out loud . . . (taken from Goodreads)

Thank you to The Write Reads for allowing me to join the book tour for Bad Habits! This book is available now.

Full of wit and snark, this is a fun one for readers who like a little sass with a hint of rebellion. I do feel that it would be more appreciated by teenagers, who might be better able to…not relate, per say, but commiserate.

Bad Habits follows Alex, a rebellious teen in a far-from-envelope-pushing Catholic boarding school. In this rigid and conservative setting, Alex sticks out like a sore thumb. I felt sorry about her situation: it’s hard to feel like a square peg in a round hole, so to speak. I felt for her, but I truly did not like her. I felt that she was pretty darn judgmental and really kind of condescending toward the other girls. I think part of the reason she had such a prickly demeanor had to do with feeling let down by her parents. She made for an interesting protagonist, though.

This book is billed as being feminist but I personally saw it more as a coming-of-age tale. I liked Alex’s interaction with her friend Mary Kate, which highlighted that a bit. Mary Kate is Alex’s opposite in almost every way, but she called Alex out on her rather narrow view of feminism, which I appreciated. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to have much of an effect on Alex or cause her pause at all.

The book had a snarky bite to it that many readers will enjoy. While this wasn’t necessarily the book for me, it was well written and I think a large amount of people will really enjoy it.



My Favorite Reads of 2020

Well, this has been an… interesting year. If you can name it, chances are it’s happened. I’ve learned a lot about the strength many of my acquaintances possess. I truly wish they hadn’t needed to use so much strength and determination to make it through the year, but if wishes were horses, we’d all be eating steak. Anyway, I digress.

While the year has been all kinds of horrible for most, the books I’ve been fortunate to read were amazing. I rounded up my favorites but there is absolutely no way I can rank them in order from one to ten. Instead, they’re here with zero rhyme or reason, just a huge amount of appreciation. Without further rambling, here are my top ten 2020 reads:

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

This book was absolutely brilliant. I went into it with ridiculously high hopes, and they were more than fulfilled. There was a tension throughout that had me riveted, and Turton’s fantastic writing style kept me hooked from start to finish. Review

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

Holy guacamole, this book is awesome! My last book of the year (I might finish the sequel in time, but that’s a big might); I totally went out with a bang. The Queen of Blood had me riveted from start to finish. I should apologize probably to the family for all the things I didn’t get done while I was ignoring the real world to read this. Review

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

This was a skillful and unique twist on questing fantasy. I loved all of the characters, each of which brought their own struggles and strengths to the group. This felt like a wonderful throwback to the type of book that spawned my love of the fantasy genre. The sequel was equally fantastic, and you can find my reviews for both books here: The Ventifact Colossus and The Crosser’s Maze.

Knight’s Ransom by Jeff Wheeler

I truly loved Knight’s Ransom. It had an Arthurian feel to it that I found engrossing. While larger things are going on in the world, the book followed mainly one man and focused on his character growth. There was no Big Bad poised to destroy life as everyone knows it, but the world still felt big, and the personal stakes felt just as important. Review

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn

This book was just flat-out fun. Ardor Benn, ruse artist extraordinaire, was an entertaining character, and his partners in crime were just as great. I particularly loved the heists they planned since they never ever worked out as expected. Review

Hollow Road Dan Fitzgerald

Hollow Road was extremely good. Its sequel, The Archive, made me tear up. That doesn’t happen often at all. This is an incredible series and I am dying to continue it. My review for Hollow Road can be found here. My review for The Archive can be found here.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Both this book and its sequel, Dead Man in a Ditch, were phenomenal. Gritty detective novel meets fantasy in this series and works extremely well. I loved the main character, Fetch Phillips, who is drowning in both regret and alcohol. His narrative voice was wonderful and I can’t wait for the next installment in the series. Review

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

If not for The Write Read Blog Tour that I took part in, this book wouldn’t have been on my radar. That would have been a shame, because it was so enjoyable. It was a bit like the movie Knives Out sans cable knit sweaters. I really liked going along with the main character as she tried to solve the mysteries presented to her. Review

Feathertide by Beth Cartwright

Feathertide was gorgeous. I really could stop there. The prose sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. It’s a masterpiece and I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t love about it. Review

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It by K.J. Parker

This book was flat-out fantastic! It was the perfect combination of witty and thought-provoking. I highly recommend this one. I loved it so much! Review

So, there you have it. This was an extremely difficult list to narrow down. Have you read any of these books? Thoughts? Here’s to many more wonderful books in 2021!

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow…

But the spirits that reside within this land want to rid it of all humans. One woman stands between these malevolent spirits and the end of humankind: the queen. She alone has the magical power to prevent the spirits from destroying every man, woman, and child. But queens are still only human, and no matter how strong or good they are, the threat of danger always looms.

Because the queen’s position is so precarious, young women are specially chosen to train as her heirs. Daleina, a seemingly quiet academy student, simply wants to right the wrongs that have befallen the land. Meanwhile, the disgraced champion Ven has spent his exile secretly fighting against the growing number of spirit attacks. When Daleina and Ven join forces, they embark on a treacherous quest to find the source of the spirits’ restlessness—a journey that will force them to stand against both enemies and friends to save their land…before it’s bathed in blood. (taken from Amazon)

I have a problem with The Queen of Blood: it was so good that I couldn’t put it down (okay, technically I could, but I really didn’t want to). I was immediately drawn into this world where every living thing has a spirit, and every spirit hates humans. The spirits have two goals: Create. Kill. The only thing that stands between humans and bloodshed in Renthia is the Queen. She has the power to command the spirits, and they have to obey. Except, suddenly they aren’t obeying. And it falls to Daleina, a woman learning to use her own power, to find out why. Accompanying her is a healer named Hamon, and Ven, a disgraced champion of the queen.

I knew from the very first page that I was going to love Dalein. Any character who is introduced as wanting to kick fate in the face is going to be one I enjoy. I loved that she was intelligent, hardworking, and made difficult choices, even when they went against what she wanted or hoped for. She didn’t have the whole “chosen one” thing going for her, which was an enormous breath of fresh air. She really wasn’t all that great at controlling her abilities the way she was expected to, but watching her play to her own strengths was so much better. I love characters who learn from their shortcomings or overcome them, as opposed to having those shortcomings either not exist or not be an issue.

I also really liked Ven, a former champion of the queen. He had experiences and knowledge that made him act very differently than any of the other characters, which I liked. Ven’s perspectives were often at odds with others around him, and the stakes were much more personal for him.

The first bit of the book takes place at an academy where women with inherent talent to control spirits are taught to develop and use that power, in the hope of becoming heirs to the current queen. When the queen dies, one of them will be given her power and will be responsible for the safekeeping of Renthia. Basically, an entire education is based around the fact that the queen is going to kick it one day. She (understandably) doesn’t love the constant reminders that she’s not getting any younger. At the same time, she knows much more about why the spirits are suddenly disobeying and wantonly killing than she lets on. Her part of the storyline is absolutely engrossing.

I loved the world the author created so very much! The spirits which inhabit everything from rock to tree to air are more like the fae of Scottish lore, changeable and dangerous. Their motives weren’t those of humans and they couldn’t be appealed to or reasoned with. I loved how wild they were and how “compromise” was not something they understood at all. It presented an interesting and unique set of challenges. The author used them so creatively, and I can’t wait to see what she does with them in the next book in the series.

The story did not go where I expected it to at all, which was awesome. The body count is much higher than I expected as well. This isn’t an overly gruesome book, but it’s not all flowers and skipping either. There’s danger in the book, and not everyone comes out in one piece.

I enjoyed The Queen of Blood so much that I bought the next two books in the series before I’d even finished it. This was a fantasy world that I loved visiting and I’m dying to see what happens next! I recommend this to fantasy readers who love kick butt characters, and creative world building.

The Lost Book of the White (The Eldest Curses Book 2) by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu

Life is good for Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood. They’re living together in a fabulous loft, their warlock son, Max, has started learning to walk, and the streets of New York are peaceful and quiet—as peaceful and quiet as they ever are, anyway.

Until the night that two old acquaintances break into Magnus’s apartment and steal the powerful Book of the White. Now Magnus and Alec will have to drop everything to get it back. They need to follow the thieves to Shanghai, they need to call some backup to accompany them, and they need a babysitter.

Also, someone has stabbed Magnus with a strange magical weapon and the wound is glowing, so they have that to worry about too.

Fortunately, their backup consists of Clary, Jace, Isabelle, and newly minted Shadowhunter Simon. In Shanghai, they learn that a much darker threat awaits them. Magnus’s magic is growing unstable, and if they can’t stop the demons flooding into the city, they might have to follow them all the way back to the source—the realm of the dead. Can they stop the threat to the world? Will they make it back home before their kid completely wears out Alec’s mom? (taken from Amazon)

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned many times, the Shadowhunter world (I’m a big fan of demons in literature) and Magnus Bane are the reasons I enjoy Cassandra Clare’s books. So, of course a series focusing on Magnus would immediately interest me. What’s not to love about the High Warlock of Brooklyn?

This book follows a quest of sorts: Magnus and Company need to find and retrieve a spellbook that would be very bad news if it’s in the wrong hands. The hands that have stolen it are most definitely the wrong ones and a sense of urgency is added to the mission in the form of nasty, glowing wounds that Magnus suddenly has.

Cassandra Clare has teamed up with author Wesley Chu for this series. He wrote The Lives of Tao, an interesting and unique book. I’ve enjoyed seeing how the series evolves with his contribution. So far, I’m liking the changes. First of all, there’s a distinct lack of love triangles. A while ago I wrote a blog post about tropes. There’s the tried and true, the cool and the ew! For me, love triangles are firmly on the “ew” list, so I’m loving the lack of them.

The book’s main character is Magnus, immediately elevating it in my mind. He’s such a fun character and there’s so much that can be done with him. Since he’s been around forever, he can easily be inserted into different points in history which adds a creative perspective on modern doings. Also, his experience sometimes gives him a long-suffering attitude when dealing with the angst that some of the other characters involve themselves in. That always makes me laugh. Honestly though, what I loved most about him in The Lost Book of the White was his fear and his joy about being a parent. It felt so natural and made his character feel more three-dimensional. It was a fantastic direction for his character to go in, and brand new territory for the authors to explore. It’s been touched on a bit in other books, but it plays a bigger role both in the storyline here, and how Magnus reacts to things.

The problems themselves were a blast to read. Magnus and Company (I’m totally going to trademark this phrase) had to work together and actually communicate to fix the mess that they were in. Alec is worried sick about Magnus (even in the Shadowhunter world, glowing wounds aren’t normal), Simon is feeling very unsure about his career path, and Isabelle has an unfortunate run-in with a hell dimension. A ton is packed into the book and there’s never a dull moment.

The action is well-written and there’s a lot of it. I was definitely on board for that. A good demon fight is always fun to read. Basically, what I’m saying at length is the The Lost Book of the White had much more of what I enjoy in the Shadowhunter books, and much less of what I’m not a huge fan of. I’m jazzed about what’s happening in the series so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here. Bring on the Magnus!

Across the Fourwinds by Shane Trusz and Daryl Frayne

An ancient Gateway between worlds is vulnerable, endangering life on earth. Two teens begin an epic journey to find out why.

Since his mother’s tragic accident, Will Owens has been a loner. And for good reason: he claims to see dark creatures emerging from the forest near his home. Ostracism is a way of life until he meets Morgan Finley, a fencing champion with everything going for her—except a dark family secret.

In pursuit of answers, these unlikely friends enter the forest and discover a magical kingdom where a dragon has unleashed a powerful disease. When a young sage reveals their true identities, Will and Morgan join a small but courageous resistance on a quest to save the Fourwinds. (taken from Amazon)

A rather simple, but still enjoyable fantasy, Across the Fourwinds had things that I both liked and disliked. It’s a portal fantasy, which isn’t my favorite fantasy subgenre simply because it’s so difficult to get a proper real world/ fantasy world ratio. In this case the jump to the fantasy felt a teeny bit rushed. I would have liked the introduction of the characters to have a little more attention before throwing them into a new world. That being said, the world is pretty cool.

What I liked so much about Fourwinds is the amount of fantastical creatures. I love seeing how different authors tackle the use of familiar magical critters such as dragons and gnomes. While nothing was earth-shatteringly unique, the authors nonetheless made these creatures their own. The world has a lot to it, and hints at things not explored in the book. That always makes the setting seem larger and more interesting to me.

Now for the characters. I have a bone to pick here. The male characters are well-developed and continue to grow throughout the story. The female characters-not so much. I felt like Morgan existed as a mere background note, although there were pretty common reminders of how attractive she is. What a bummer! So much more should have been done with her character! There is lots of potential for character growth in the next book, so here’s hoping we see more from her.

The plotline was interesting, the world was vast, and there was action aplenty. Despite some hiccups, Across the Fourwinds was fun fantasy.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Young Adult Edition

I read a pretty broad variety of books, both in age range and genre. I’ve already talked about great gifts ideas for both middle-grade and picture book readers. Today I’m moving on to young adult readers. Whether you’re looking for a gift, or shopping for yourself (totally allowed), I think these are some of the best of the best.

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Thanks to the Write Reads on Tour, I was able to read an ebook of this before its release. I loved it so much that my husband surprised me with a physical copy. Full of puzzles to solve, and characters with questionable motives, this mysterious scavenger hunt of a book was a blast to read. You can read my original review of The Inheritance Games here. I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes a good mystery.

The Three Dark Crowns series by Kendare Blake

Oh, how I love this series, the first book of which is Three Dark Crowns. Led by a cast of strong female characters, these books center around a desperate struggle between three sisters to be Queen Crowned-because only one can survive to rule. Each sister has a different power (my favorite is Katharine, the poisoner), and the way they’re used is incredibly creative. The world is large and complex, and the characters are complicated and three dimensional. I especially appreciate the high stakes in the series: no character is untouchable. As a huge bonus, the series is already finished, so there’s no waiting impatiently for the next book to release.

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

This is the first book in the Great Library series. It imagines a world in which the Library of Alexandria did not burn down. Instead, it became a controlling power, banning the ownership of books. The only books allowed to be read have to be okayed by the Library itself and we all know the saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Enter Jess, a smuggler of books who finds himself in an accidental rebellion, together with a fantastic group of characters. This book is fast paced and full of action and intrigue.

Two Like Me and You by Chad Alan Gibbs

I read this book due to a glowing review by another blogger, and it introduced me to a fantastic author. Edwin is reeling from a bad breakup when he is assigned a group project with a new student. Somehow they end up “breaking” a WW2 veteran named Garland out of a nursing home. The three of them go on a madcap race around France, in search of Garland’s long-lost love. On the way, Edwin himself learns a little bit about love and an awful lot about life. Both heartwarming and laugh-out-loud funny, this book is on my “everyone needs to read this” list.

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

I have actually mentioned this book on another list: books to read after (or instead of Harry Potter). Now, bear with me: this book is only like Harry Potter in the vaguest of ways: there’s a school for magic users, a main character who is always attracting trouble, and two best friends/partners in crime. That is where the similarities end. This is full-on fantasy, in a completely (and fully developed) fantasy world. It is not geared toward children or middle graders, and the characters aren’t kids. The writing is amazing, which is to be expected from author Tamora Pierce. You can’t go wrong with anything she’s written.

So there you have it. Any of these books would make great gifts for the YA reader in your life. What are some YA books that you think would make excellent gifts? You can find these great books, and more at Bookshop.org , which supports indie bookstores instead of Amazon. That’s pretty nifty. I’ll also get a little kickback at no extra cost to you, if you use my link (above).