Review: Siege of Shadows by Sarah Raughley

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In this sequel to Fate of Flames, we’re still following kick-butt girls with special powers as they fight monsters. (The author herself compared it to Sailor Moon meets The Avengers meets Pacific Rim and that’s the best description of it I’ve heard.)

Siege of Shadows on Goodreads

Fate of Flames on Goodreads

Sometimes, if I let myself, I could feel it: that unspeakable force linking one to the other. A connection. A bond. Or maybe it was just me. We’d already fought together and bled together. That may not have made us friends, but it made us something.

A team.

This story takes place a few short months after the end of Fate of Flames and we finally see Maia settling into her role as the fire effigy. With the other three girls, they’re finally starting to become a team. But betrayal comes from within their very organization and Phantoms aren’t the only monsters they have to face.

Maia’s right in the middle of it with Natalya (the previous fire effigy) still trying to break though Maia’s mind to control her body, Saul convinced that Marian (one of the other minds trapped in Maia’s – the first fire effigy) is the key to his plots and Maia herself is keeping a secret that could rip the effigies apart: who (maybe) killed Natalya. (Because if she can’t trust her own mind, what can Maia trust?)

For me, the thing this book does very well is the characters. I usually shy away from first person stories because so many times you don’t learn anything about the rest of the cast (and you learn way too much about the main character). It’s like they’re little satellites that revolve around the MC and have nothing else going for them. That’s not this book.

While I like Maia, she isn’t even close to my favorite character. (Maybe fourth, depending on how much problems I’m having with Belle at the moment.) But she’s a likable main character. She’s taken to her role as well as I hoped she would after the struggle for her in the first book, and while she’s not as ‘tough’ as the other effigies, she doesn’t have to be to be strong.

The other effigies are all important character, with their own struggles and histories, and we only get to see part of that here, but it’s so lovely. I adore that the most important relationship that Maia is building isn’t a romance, but the friendship between her teammates. Each of them are unique individuals and, because you have three headstrong girls, their teamwork isn’t always the best.

And, there is a bit of romance here, but Maia is pretty good about focusing on her job to save humanity instead of how cute the boy is. Which is as nice as it is unusual. (And the romance itself isn’t without complications, though I have to admit very strong affection for her love interest. And there’s no triangle to be seen!)

However, the one thing stopping me giving it a higher rating (and I can’t tell you how much I wanted to) is the plot development. While I loved that the first book focused a lot on monster fighting, and I love that this book starts revealing more about the effigies, I have one problem.

At times, the plot starts slipping into a generic dystopian world where it’s up to our teenagers to overthrow the corrupt government. I really did not see the hints of this in the first book, and this is a plot point I don’t think I like. (There has to be some reason I don’t like dystopians and I think this is it.)

That being said, this is a solidly enjoyable book and a series I’m very happy with as a whole.

4

Content Advisory: Uhh… yeah, maybe a few curse words – I’ve heard much worse in PG13 movies – but it’s a surprisingly clean book. There are some description of corpses and decomposition and the … insect effect that has on the human body. Also non-explicit/off-screen torture.

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Review: Hollow World by Michael J. Sullivan

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Hollow World is a standalone time traveling sci-fi with a utopian-esque world and the hapless modern man that gets thrown into it. (Kind of like a more aware Time Machine. And less depressing.)

Hollow World on Goodreads

Maybe if Pax were a woman he might have offered a hug or something, but Pax wasn’t a woman. The best a man could do for another man was pretend not to see. Only Pax wasn’t a man either.
Ellis was lost.

(Truthfully, Ellis is often lost.)

Ellis Rogers, just diagnosed with a terminal illness and told he has, at best, a year to live, does what any normal, sane, married man in his fifties would: he hops into the time machine he’s been building in his garage. Even knowing it’s going be a one-way trip, he’s hoping for a cure for his illness and sets the device for two hundred years in the future.

When he steps out of the milk-crate-and-minivan-cannibalized time machine, he’s surprised (and a little disappointed) to find himself not in a bustling metropolis of flying cars and gravity defying buildings, but an old-growth forest. Where Detroit used to be. Let’s just say that nothing about the future is quite what Ellis expected.

And the book isn’t quite what I expected. Even knowing the author’s other (fantasy) work, I still half expected a book that was dry and ponderous and, well, privileged. I can’t help it, I am ashamed to say that I expected Ellis to be ‘privileged cis white man 1.0’ – pretty much like the one from the original time machine story. And like Warren. *shudder* Oh, so much like Warren.

Ellis, actually, handles the whole thing – drastically changed earth, massively changed human culture – rather well. He’s a curious sort. He wanted to be an astronaut when he was younger and I can’t help but think that prepared him at least a little. He’s likable because he doesn’t dismiss the world. He doesn’t understand it, he misses his world, but he’s not going to say his world was better. He faces everything with a healthy dose of curiosity and – even if I was yelling at him for one awful decision he made – I liked him because of all that.

The other characters were a mix. Pax is absolutely wonderful, without a doubt my favorite in the book and definitely one of my favorite this year. The others weren’t so likable to me, but there was only one character I truly hated. (The evil, creepy villain, because yes, this story does have a villain that I wanted to kill in the worst way possible.)

I don’t really want to get into the world building because I don’t want to give out spoilers. Let’s just say that it was interesting and very believably handled. I could see the things happen that did, and I could see humanity reacting the way they did. Also, I have to add that the populace still speaks English. It’s a little changed, but I was so thrilled that there wasn’t a translation phase where we were left at sea.

This book takes a look at gender, love and individuality (and religion to an extent) and how much they matter – or don’t – in the grand scheme of being human. I’d tell you more, but, really, this is a book that it’s best to just go along with the ride and not know where it’ll end up.

5

Content Advisory: Some language/curse words. There’s a couple moderately described scenes of violence, a clinical description of a dead body and mentioned off-screen consensual maiming/body modifications. And a truly vile villain. Trust me, they deserve a special advisory all for themselves because I can’t imagine anyone that they won’t insult.

Review: Rose Point by M.C.A. Hogarth

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Rose Point is the second in spacefaring (with aliens!) sci-fi series Her Instruments by M.C.A. Hogarth that started with Earthrise. Earthrise eBook is free on Amazon.

Rose Point on Goodreads
Earthrise on Goodreads
Earthrise on Amazon

Reese gave chase because she hadn’t yet pursued a woman in a fluffy gown and that was no doubt a necessary part of her role in this farce.

As the second book in the series, we pick up where the first book ended – with the lovely crew of the Earthrise searching for a trade (as they are a merchant cargo ship) that will help keep them from sliding back into the red. (And a vacation destination wouldn’t go amiss, either.)

This time, the search takes them to a planet that breeds horses. Unfortunately, they are also locked in a civil war and when one of their crew is taken by the rebels, it changes the course of all their lives.

Honestly, I did not see coming the way the story changed. I thought I had a pretty good idea from the first book what type of sci-fi series this would be – but I was wrong. The plot in the first book that seemed a one-off adventure story, actually plays hugely into the big picture.

The plot this time around is tighter, but even a parts of the first book that seemed irrelevant, is important in this book. I highly recommend you start with the first in the series, but I think you’d probably be about to catch up in this book if you didn’t. (Why wouldn’t you though, because the first one is free!)

For me, as well done as the plot is, there’s two things that makes this series wonderful. The first is the world building. The author does a brilliant job of creating alien races. I am so tired of sci-fi books that are basically ‘humans IN SPACE’ and that’s it. In this book would have humans, as well as those that they genetically manipulated. I’m not a geneticist, but I’d say they took animal DNA and crossed it with human, to get, basically, a human/animal hybrid. There are also ‘true aliens’ – those that the humans had no part in the creation of.

The second thing, and this ties in with the first, is the characters. I adore them, but more than that, I love that they are so diverse. There is a seven person crew to the ship, and only one of them is human: Reese, our black lady captain. Everyone else is a non-human. And this fills my need of aliens in my sci-fi so well. And, I do especially love Reese because she’s this tough woman that loves books and has a monthly romance novel subscription.

There is also a blooming romance that is quite delightful to read about – and this is one of the few cases where a relationship doesn’t start out in romance in a series that I am happy to see it headed that way because these two characters bring out the best in each other.

5

Content Advisory: There’s an attempted rape (male on male) where the target was drugged. He plays a part in rescuing himself and it is not forgotten. His being attacked both changes the story as well as causes him to have some PTSD. There is also a bit of violence, blood and injuries that are not graphically described. And someone with the ability to kill people with their mind.

Review: Fate of Flames by Sarah Raughley

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Fate of Flames is the first in a YA series about teen girls fighting mysterious monsters in an alternate, contemporary Earth with the power of the elements and has a dash of diversity.

Fate of Flames on Goodreads

This mission was my chance. My chance to save people. To make something of myself. To make up for everything.

Effigies. Girls, chosen by fate to battle the monsters – Phantoms – that attack their world. Maia was just a normal girl, a geek, and totally obsessed with the Effigies, especially one Belle Rousseau.

But when the current fire effigy, Natalya, kills herself, Maia is chosen as her successor. Maia is unprepared to work alongside the other three effigies, unprepared to fight Phantoms and the mysterious boy that can control them, and unprepared to discover that Natalya just might have been killed by the very organization Maia now works for.

You know how sometimes a book sounds so awesome that you put off reading it because you have this idea in your head that it can’t be as good as it sounds and you would almost rather not read it than find out you hate it? Yeah, I needn’t have worried. While this book isn’t perfect, it’s a lot of fun.

Maia is, honestly, the weakest link in the story for me. I would have loved to have a cycling narrator, where each chapter is from one of the different girls. That being said, because we are always inside Maia’s head, we really get to see her grow and develop. While I didn’t much care for her at the beginning (she spends way too big a portion of the first half of the book not wanting this) by the end of the story I was having to give her some respect.

None of these characters are perfect. They are all very human and it’s interesting to see the way they deal with the pressure. I mean, four girls (ranging in age from sixteen to nineteen, I think) have to fight monsters. Yeah, they do have some mundane backup, but it’s these girls that save the day on numerous occasions. And there are under a ton of stress.

The girls start off not liking each other, but they are never mean or bitchy, which, sad to say, is a definite danger for books with several important girls. There’s never putdowns or insults. They treat each other well and respect each other. And they are all so different, have different personalities and strengths, but can all be heroes.

Wtf is everyone’s deal? What is with this barebones, commercialized, overly simplistic faux-feminist perception of gurl power? Like a girl has to be able to murder giants without batting an eye before anyone can see her as strong?

(When I read that comment on the effigy message board, I knew I’d adore this book a little.)

I also appreciate how Maia kind of has a love interest. Or, at least, there’s this guy that she kind of likes, but she’s not obsessed with him. He doesn’t take over her life. She’s more interested in being an effigy, in making friends with the others, in solving the mystery of Natalya death, than she is in chasing him. I also bears a mention that there are a couple other guys of an appropriate age that she interacts with, but she has zero romantic (or even, friendly) interest in them because she’s creeped out by both of them. (And here’s hoping it stays the same in the sequel!)

4

Content Advisory: Fairly tame except for Maia suffering from PTSD. She has a couple panic attacks and is set off by fire – but nothing seems particularly graphic.

Diversity Spotlight Thursday

DIVERSE SPOTLIGHT

Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Aimal from Bookshelves and Paperbacks. Every week, the participants are supposed to choose one book for each of the three categories: a diverse book you have read and enjoyed, a diverse book on your TBR, and a diverse book that has not yet been released.

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Daybreak Rising by Kiran Oliver

Celosia Brennan was supposed to be a hero. After a spectacular failure that cost her people their freedom, she is offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance at redemption. Together with a gifted team of rebels, she not only sets her sights on freedom, but defeating her personal demons along the way.

Now branded a failure, Celosia desperately volunteers for the next mission: taking down the corrupt Council with a team of her fellow elementally gifted mages. Leading the Ember Operative gives Celosia her last hope at redemption. They seek to overthrow the Council once and for all, this time bringing the fight to Valeria, the largest city under the Council’s iron grip. But Celosia’s new teammates don’t trust her—except for Ianthe, a powerful Ice Elementalist who happens to believe in second chances.

With Council spies, uncontrolled magic, and the distraction of unexpected love, Celosia will have to win the trust of her teammates and push her abilities to the breaking point to complete the Ember Operative. Except if she falters this time, there won’t be any Elementalists left to stop the Council from taking over not just their country, but the entire world.

This book is not without its flaws, but it is still one of the most diverse books I’ve ever read. There is racial diversity, many, many characters that are on the LGBT+ spectrum and one of the POV characters is blind. Honestly, it deserves a read just because of all that.

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Coral Bones by Foz Meadows

Miranda, daughter to Prospero, the feared sorcerer-Duke of Milan, stifles in her new marriage. Oppressed by her father, unloved by Ferdinand, she seeks freedom; and is granted it, when her childhood friend, the fairy spirit Ariel, returns. Miranda sets out to reach Queen Titania’s court in Illyria, to make a new future…
Monstrous Little Voices is a collection of five short novellas, a single long tale set in Shakespeare’s fantasy world of fairies, wizards and potions, in honour of the four-hundredth anniversary of the Bard’s death.

This is just a short tale (54 pages) but after Foz Meadows work on her Manifold worlds series, I knew I had to read it. As an added bonus, this is a Their Own Voices story as the protagonist is genderqueer as is Meadows.

coming soon

The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang

Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as children. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While his sister received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, he saw the sickness at the heart of his mother’s Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue to play a pawn in his mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from his sister Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond he shares with his twin sister?

From what I’ve heard, the setting is culturally and racially diverse and it sounds totally awesome besides!

Once again, love to hear your thoughts on these books and any suggestions you may have for me to read!

Diversity Spotlight Thursday #1

DIVERSE SPOTLIGHT

Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Aimal from Bookshelves and Paperbacks. Every week, the participants are supposed to choose one book for each of the three categories: a diverse book you have read and enjoyed, a diverse book on your TBR, and a diverse book that has not yet been released.

I knew, restarting a blog, that I wanted to do this meme. I had just started it when I wound up going on a hiatus and now I want to talk about these awesome/awesome-sounding diverse books.

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Earthrise by M.C.A. Hogarth

Reese Eddings has enough to do just keeping her rattletrap merchant vessel, the TMS Earthrise, profitable enough to pay food for herself and her micro-crew. So when a mysterious benefactor from her past shows up demanding she rescue a man from slavers, her first reaction is to say “NO!” And then to remember that she sort of promised to repay the loan. But she doesn’t remember signing up to tangle with pirates and slavers over a space elf prince… Book 1 of the Her Instruments trilogy is a rollicking space operatic adventure set in the Pelted Paradox universe.

This book is just a lot of fun and a great story, even beyond the fact that the main character is a black woman. And, seriously, it is super hard to find a black main character in a spacefaring sci-fi. I do highly recommend this book though – especially for fans of found families, skirting the legal and those that like a little romance with their space-adventuring!

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Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

Temur, grandson of the Great Khan, is walking away from a battlefield where he was left for dead. All around lie the fallen armies of his cousin and his brother, who made war to rule the Khaganate. Temur is now the legitimate heir by blood to his grandfather’s throne, but he is not the strongest. Going into exile is the only way to survive his ruthless cousin.

Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. Then she was sent to be the wife of a Prince in Song, but that marriage ended in battle and blood. Now she has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of the wizards.

These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to strife and civil war through guile and deceit and sorcerous power.

Here I am, busy looking for diversity in spec fiction, and I haven’t read Elizabeth Bear yet. She’s got so many awesome sounding stories, but I decided on this one to start with because – from what I’ve heard – it’s based around a non-white culture that’s more than just window dressing.

coming soon

The Love Song of Sawyer Bell by Avon Gale

Victoria “Vix” Vincent has only two weeks to find a replacement fiddle player for her band’s summer tour. When classically trained violinist Sawyer Bell shows up for an audition, Vix is thrilled. Sawyer is talented, gorgeous, funny, and excited about playing indie rock instead of Beethoven. Their friendship soon blossoms into romance, even though Vix tries to remember that Sawyer’s presence is only temporary.

Sawyer’s parents think she’s spending the summer months touring Europe with a chamber ensemble. But Sawyer is in dire need of a break from the competitiveness of Juilliard, and desperately wants to rediscover her love of music. Going on tour with her secret high school crush is just an added bonus. Especially when Vix kisses her one night after a show, and they discover that the stage isn’t the only place they have chemistry.

But the tour won’t last forever, and as the summer winds down, Sawyer has to make a tough decision about her future—and what it means to follow her heart.

To say I’m excited for this book is an understatement. I love this author’s writing style – even if I’ve only read her m/m hockey series – and I am so looking forward to see how she does with a f/f with musicians!

I’d love to hear what you think about any of these books! And do leave suggestions and book recs!

Review: Daybreak Rising

Daybreak Rising is a sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian amalgamation with a chosen one that failed and so much diversity you probably won’t know what to do with it. It’s the first in a projected new adult series.

Daybreak Rising on Goodreads

They wanted to see her fail. People assumed the worst of her, without getting to know her beforehand. She’d hardly heard her name in years – just, “Daybreak.”

I have been looking for a book like this.

Basically, this is the story of a failed ‘chosen one’. Years ago, Celosia Brennan was tasked to take down the controlling Council. However, she did what no one thought she would: failed. Now, she’s desperate for a chance to redeem herself.

And she gets that chance, heading the Ember Operative with a group of her fellow mages that don’t trust her.

While the plot is one I adore – I mean, how many times does the ‘chosen one’ actually fail? – what really gets me is the diversity in this book.

We have nearly every main character (of which there are six) fitting somewhere on the LGBT+ spectrum, as well as racial diversity and one character that is blind as well as (at least) one character suffering from PTSD.

This is a book that listens to the voices begging for diverse books and it provides. Provides in a wonderful way and it’s delightful to read.

Now, that being said, as much as I adore the idea behind the story, the characters and the plot itself, the writing is a bit difficult. In fact, it’s a letdown because if the writing had been easier to connect with, I could have given this five stars in a heartbeat.

The descriptions, the way some things – usually minutiae – is over described and things that actually important is barely hinted at was the first problem I noticed.

For example, the main group goes into a pub and it is described as an ‘inviting brick building’ that was ‘full of university students and people getting off work’ while two decent sized paragraphs are dedicated to the food and drink as well as what the eight people eat.

The writing is a bit choppy. There are breaks sometimes after less than a full page, other times after five pages, but even for how short most of the sections are, sometimes the POV character changes in the middle of a section with no indication that it is changing. There are few transition scenes. And, I really hate to say it, this book seems to suffer a bit for that old issue of too much telling instead of showing.

Finally, the story covers a lot of time – something I’ve never been happy with. In the first half of the book, eight months pass. That that much time is passing was indicated once and prior to that, the only mention that any time was passing at all was a character that was imprisoned for three months. Otherwise, I would have suspected that mere weeks had passed.

I’m sincerely hoping that the writing hiccups will be smoothed out in the sequel, because this series shows a lot of promise and the author is doing a wonderful job at answering the cry for more diverse books.

3

Content Advisory: There are some instances of consensual sex, though nothing is explicit. There is also some brief discussions of being transgender – including body dysphoria and talk of operations.