Review: I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

Friday, January 30, 2015
Title: I'll Meet You There
Author:Heather Demetrios
Genre: contemporary fiction
Series: none
Pages: 400
Published: Expected Feb 3, 2015
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5

If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.

Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.

I’m so lucky to have read I’ll Meet You There in January. It’s a breathtaking novel that makes you feel the heartache of veterans and the tragedy of poverty, without cliches or misery porn. And while I think I’ll always relate to Sky, I couldn’t have appreciated Josh half as much a few months ago.

I grew up in a small town, not unlike Sky. We got a lot of recruiters and about a quarter of the boys in my graduating class chose to enlist. So I thought I understood. And then I married into a military family. My husband and I were dating when his cousin and best friend chose to enlist in the Marines, after losing his scholarship due to some bad decisions. It was hard knowing he was over there, but we’d only met a handful of times and his decisions had kept us from being close. He was set to be a groomsman at our wedding, when we got the call that he was being shipped back for a second tour, just days before. This Christmas was the first time I’d seen him since he came home.

My father-in-law is dying from cancer linked to exposure he suffered while in the military. His brother lost seven fingers and an eye diving on a grenade in Panama. I have seen what war does to families, but I have never seen anything sadder than a twenty-six year old father telling me, over Christmas dinner, that he lives for his Reserve duty, because it’s when he matters. I cried a lot while reading this book. For Josh and for my cousin and for my beloved coblogger’s brother and for all the men and women war effects.

And yet, the Marines saved my cousin’s life. He’s not the dickhead who copped a feel and smoked up at Thanksgiving all those years ago. He’s not in legal trouble or doing drugs or ganged up. He happily served three tours and he’ll serve a dozen more if asked. He’s married, adopted his son, and repaired a lot of relationships. He has friends, a passion for survivalism, and a fine job. I found myself admiring him, and Josh, for pulling through.

Of course, this book is far more than just Josh and the military’s story. Skylar has been granted a full scholarship to arts school, thanks in part to a “no boys” pact she’s made with her best friend to keep them focused. She’s going to get out of Creek View and live in San Francisco and date cute art boys in coffee shops and everything is going to be perfect. Until her mom falls off the wagon when she loses her job.

The book deals with a lot of mental illnesses. Josh suffers from PTSD, depression, and survivor’s guilt, illustrated by his chapters, which are letters to his dead squad mate. Sky’s mom suffers from depression and alcoholism, stemming from her husband’s death. If you’re sensitive to these subjects, beware, as they’re extremely nuanced, realistic portrayals and upsetting to read. They’re also powerful and moving.

Demetrios’ skill lies in gradually bringing beauty to the ugliness in Sky and Josh’s lives. Through a combination of growing up, art, and love, the town gradually shifts from a prison that defines them to just a part of the whole. Like Skylar’s collages, the pain is just one piece. There’s family and friends and excitement in a small town.

I’ll Meet You There is the best novel I’ve read in a long time and I haven’t been so deeply affected since This Song Will Save Your Life. The language is authentic, the settings are highly believable, and the characters are real and raw and a joy to read. It tortured my emotions until I was sobbing and laughing at the same time. It sticks with you. It’s not often I say this, but there is not a single thing I would change. Without hesitation, a five star read.

Review: The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Author: Sarah Dessen 
Genre: young-adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 374
Published: May 2004
Source: bought
Rating: 4/5

The Truth About Forever introduces us to another of Dessen's dependable, relatable, well-written main characters: Macy Queen. Macy is a sweet, down-to-earth, easy-to-identify-with kind of girl. She's obedient and good-natured. The books jumps into Macy's life soon after the death of her beloved father before her eyes, Macy shuts down emotionally, becoming an almost passive observer in her own life. Her mother, consumed by her own grief, fails to notice the change and the pain in her daughter: instead, both become totally fixated on jobs and school as means of distraction from the constant ache in their normal lives.

Dessen does an excellent job of showing the grief and the pain Macy endures daily, and silently unwilling to burden her grieving mother. Grief is an isolating emotion, one that is individual and unique to every person, and Dessen excels at making Macy's pain feel engulfing and tangible to the reader. Her sorrow over her father haunts every page when the numerous differences of Macy's life Before and Macy's life After are remarked upon. 

Another strength of the book was the relationship between Macy and her sister Caroline. While their mother buries herself in work instead of her daughter, and Macy's friends and boyfriend are nowhere to be found, it is Macy's overly-dramatic but truly caring sister that fends for and defends her younger sister. Caroline was a breezy of funny air in a novel that was sadder than I had thought it would be. I often looked forward to her critiques of Wes' heart-in-hand creations and snickered every time she did so. 

Complicating Macy's extreme emotional vulnerability is her cold fish of a boyfriend, Jason. Brainy, and so rigid it's a wonder he can manage to bend to tie his shoes, Jason is one of the more repellant characters in all three novels by Dessen that I have read. His utter lack of empathy for his girlfriend of a year and a half after losing her father was infuriating. His response when Macy tells him she loves him? She is "too dependent on him emotionally", and he puts their relationship on hiatus. Because he was so removed, so distant, I actually welcomed the Dreaded YA Triangle when it was introduced with the character of Wes because it meant Jason might get the heave-ho. 

Macy's struggles to connect with people, and with herself after so long, are real and human. Her connection with Wes, because it is based completely on friendship as they're both in compromised relationships with others at the time they meet, flourishes and is allowed to grow naturally into a genuine and caring love. Macy grows as a character; she acts out, tests her mother and finally, truly lets her guard down months after it was needed.  When she does break down her emotional wall, it is a truly heartbreaking and compelling scene. Through the tumultuous and emotional turns of the book, Macy changes from a passive wallflower into a determined and passionate young woman. The evolution of her character was authentic and rewarding; leaving behind her crippling grief but not her father, Macy begins to be able to move on with her life. I loved the ending of this novel, especially the final paragraph; I thought it was written very well and ended things on exactly on the note I had wanted for this book.

"We'd start slow, just like we always did, because the run, and the game could go on for a while. Maybe even forever. That was the thing, you just never knew. Forever was so many different things. It was always changing, it was what everything was really about. It was twenty minutes, or a hundred years, or just this instant, or any instant I wished would last and last. But there is one truth about forever that really mattered, and that was this: it was happening. Right then, as I ran  with Wes into that bright sun, and every moment afterwards. Look there. Now. Now. Now."


Review: Rodin's Lover: A Novel by Heather Webb

Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Title: Rodin's Lover: A Novel
Author: Heather Webb
Genre: historical fiction
Series: none
Pages: 320
Published: Expected January 27, 2015
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 3 out of 5

A mesmerizing tale of art and passion in Belle Époque France

As a woman, aspiring sculptor Camille Claudel has plenty of critics, especially her ultra-traditional mother. But when Auguste Rodin makes Camille his apprentice—and his muse—their passion inspires groundbreaking works. Yet, Camille’s success is overshadowed by her lover’s rising star, and her obsessions cross the line into madness.

Rodin’s Lover brings to life the volatile love affair between one of the era’s greatest artists and a woman entwined in a tragic dilemma she cannot escape.

Was Camille Claudel insane?

Her family certainly thought so, having the sculptor forcibly committed for the last thirty years of her life. However, the press, the hospital, and her friends disagreed. She was passionate, angry even, but no one but her brother saw a reason for her to be committed. This makes Rodin’s Lover’s decision to spend seventeen years depicting the sculptor’s descent into schizophrenia something of a strange choice.

Belle Époque France isn’t a time period I generally read, though I am familiar with the art. I was immediately fascinated with the conflict between the modern artist and her traditionalist mother, as well as Camille’s clashes with teachers and fellow students who viewed female artists as hobbyists. Yet, Camille’s mother doesn’t just disapprove of her art; she hates her child. They have a few confrontations over the next two decades, but I still don’t feel I understand why.

The focus of the novel is too broad. Scenes feel disconnected from the whole, skipping between days and months with no transition. In one scene, Rodin will be despairing of everfinishing Balzac, much less by his deadline, in the next, he’ll be at a party celebrating the opening of the monument. Camille will suffer a schizophrenic episode and vow to never see Rodin again, but in the next scene, she’ll see him at an exhibition months later and throw herself into his arms. It’s dizzying.

Paris isn’t an exceptionally large city, and the art scene was relatively small, but at a point, all of the famous people who continually turn up feels forced and inorganic. “Edmond Baziere said”, “I am Joseph Archambault”. “Émile Zola had shown”. Jules Dalou, whom Rodin did sculpt, is mentioned by his full name a dozen times, despite being a main antagonist. I had a similar issue with the last novel I read of the literati. It’s as if the author wants to show they did their research so much they fail to work the characters in naturally.

On the positive side, I found the romance sexy. The prose does tip to purple, but I found it to work considering the characters are immensely passionate artists. Their initial romance was a bit too “love at first sight”, but their connection grew to a place where the declarations of love felt appropriate. While I’m personally sceptical that Camille was nearly as ill as portrayed, Webb does a phenomenal job of depicting her slow spiral into madness. It takes an otherwise difficult character and gives her some much needed redemption and the reader a healthy dose of empathy.

The Eternal Idol
Auguste Rodin

Regardless of her sanity, Claudel is a difficult character. She’s certainly driven, but to the point of obsession, belittling others’ interests and dreams for not aligning with her own. She alienates everyone she comes in contact with. She’s prone to fits of temper, destroying her things and others’. She’s jealous, banishing Rodin’s other female students and repeatedly demanding he leave his wife. Yet she is redeemable. The final chapters are heart breaking and truly made me wonder what could have been done to save Camille from herself.

Unfortunately, I found Rodin’s Lover to be overlong and fitful. It’s hard to cover seventeen years in enough detail, without feeling like things are being drug out, and in this case I don’t think the balance worked. There are individual scenes that I liked a lot, but as a whole I’m not sold on this look at a fascinating woman’s life. 

Camille Claudel

Spotlight: Blood Divide by John Sadler

Monday, January 26, 2015
Title: Blood Divide
Author: John Sadler
Publication Date: January 27, 2015
Lion Fiction
Paperback; 352p
ISBN: 978-1782640899

Gripping, visceral, and accessible historical fiction

The Battle of Flodden in September 1513 was one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on British soil, in which James IV, King of Scots, and virtually the whole of his nobility and gentry were annihilated in an afternoon along with 15,000 soldiers. Five centuries later, the slaughter still occupies a core position in the Scottish nationalist debate and in the pantheon of heroic failures. This novel puts you in the heart of the action; you'll feel the sweat and the fear, the curtain of red mist.

The narrative covers April through September 1513, focusing around a handful of key characters: John Heron, Bastard of Ford, swaggering, violent, and disreputable, the black sheep of a good English family; Sir Thomas Howard, leader of the English forces and skilled strategist; Alexander, 3rd Lord Hume, leader of the Scots, bold but impetuous; Isabella Hoppringle, Abbess of Coldstream, hub of a web of influential women throughout the Scottish borders, a woman of significant influence and charisma.

Laced with dark humor and fascinating period detail, Blood Divide reminder readers that political intrigue and human folly are timeless.

Buy the Book

Amazon Barnes & Noble Kregel Publications

About the Author

John Sadler is an experienced military historian, a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and the author of more than two dozen books. He is also a much traveled battlefield tour guide covering most major conflicts in the UK, Europe, and North Africa.
For more information please visit John Sadler’s website.

Blood Divide: A Novel of Flodden Field Blog Tour Schedule

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Monday, January 26
Spotlight at Ageless Pages Reviews
Spotlight & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Tuesday, January 27
Review at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, January 28
Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection

Friday, January 30
Spotlight at Layered Pages

Sunday, February 1
Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Monday, February 2
Review at Book Lovers Paradise

Tuesday, February 3
Spotlight & Giveaway at Words and Peace

Thursday, February 5
Interview and Review at A Virtual Hobby Store and Coffee Haus

Saturday, February 6
Review at Book Nerd

Monday, February 9
Review at Just One More Chapter

Tuesday, February 10
Review at Broken Teepee
Spotlight at Historical Fiction Obsession

Wednesday, February 11
Review at Forever Ashley
Review at The Mad Reviewer
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews

Thursday, February 12
Interview at Books and Benches

Friday, February 13
Spotlight at Caroline Wilson Writes

Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Friday, January 23, 2015
Title: Red Queen
Author: Victoria Aveyard
Genre: fantasy 
Series: Red Queen #1
Pages: 400
Published: expected February 10 2015
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3/5

Graceling meets The Selection in debut novelist Victoria Aveyard's sweeping tale of seventeen-year-old Mare, a common girl whose once-latent magical power draws her into the dangerous intrigue of the king's palace. Will her power save her or condemn her?

Mare Barrow's world is divided by blood--those with common, Red blood serve the Silver- blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own.

To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard--a growing Red rebellion--even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.

Another target of the hype machine and a good cover, Red Queen is nowhere near as awesome we hoped, but it's also not as bad as I feared. I can see (if I squint) the comparisons to Graceling (ps PLEASE STOP COMPARING EVERY YA FANTASY WITH A FEMALE CHARACTER TO GRACELING) but this is far more in the vein of The Selection than anything else it's been compared to in the epic marketing campaign behind this book. And while there is action to be found, on the whole Red Queen is more concerned with romance and labeling people into groups (Like.. Red Rising does. Like Divergent. Like The Hunger Games. See a pattern?) than it is in creating a viable fictional world, or even fully-rounded characters. It's a mixed bag of elements carried off to varied degrees of success.

The problem with Red Queen is that it tries so much to be so many things, to do so much - fantasy! dystopia! romance!, supernatural powers! fomenting a rebellion!-- the execution could never match the premise. It's an ambitious novel and while some of it worked for me, a lot left me scratching my head in confusion or rolling my eyes. For a book that tries so so hard to be original, it can all read and feel mind numbingly familiar to anyone who reads YA on a semi-regular basis. The division of people into groups, the ill-fated romance, the love triangle that posses zero chemistry... it just all left me so cold. When I liked Red Queen, it was when most of these factors were not involved. Mare/Mareena herself was intriguing but she was hampered by her surroundings and the plot half the time.

Getting back to Mare, she was a... decent character. For such a long book, though, I can't help but feel that I never really knew her, or totally understood her. I liked that she was proactive and involved in saving herself but she is distant from the reader in a way that made it hard to empathize or sympathize. All the useless girl-on-girl hate (though admittedly not limited to just coming from Mare) is problematic. If the only way to craft a "strong" character is to limit or stigmatize all other female characters....well... that's not really an empowered female character, is it? I have no problem with Mare being unlikeable at times, but having nearly all women hate her makes it even harder to connect with her.

Red Queen is also pretty slow, though in fantasy I don't mind that so much. Stories take time to build into more, but Red Queen almost seemed stalled several times. I would've appreciated it more if that slowness was due to expanding worldbuilding or establishing secondary characters to an identifiable degree. The worldbuilding is so slight it would topple from a swift exhalation from a mouse, really. The premise of Silvers (nobility/supernatural abilites) and Reds (low class, nongifted) is established early, but it's like Divergent in that it's a pretty silly system. If the book had focused more on creating and developing the tension between the two classes (beyond BECAUSE REASONS), both the worldbuilding and the novel itself would have been much stronger. Less romance, more foundation, please.

For all my issues listed above, I did enjoy Red Queen enough to rate it a 3/5 and mark the sequel to-read on Goodreads. If you can turn off your brain it makes for an interesting read. It just definitely feels (and reads) like a debut novel -- so many small missteps that add up over the course of the 400 pages and take away from what does work. I would say borrow not buy this series opener -- or at least wait for the cheaper paperback in a few months.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Two Minute Review: The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julia Quinn

Title: The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy
Author: Julia Quinn
Genre: romance
Series: The Symthe-Smith Quartet #4
Pages: 400
Published: expected January 27 2015
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 2/5

Sir Richard Kenworthy has less than a month to find a bride. He knows he can't be too picky, but when he sees Iris Smythe-Smith hiding behind her cello at her family's infamous musicale, he thinks he might have struck gold. She's the type of girl you don't notice until the second—or third—look, but there's something about her, something simmering under the surface, and he knows she's the one.

Iris Smythe–Smith is used to being underestimated. With her pale hair and quiet, sly wit she tends to blend into the background, and she likes it that way. So when Richard Kenworthy demands an introduction, she is suspicious. He flirts, he charms, he gives every impression of a man falling in love, but she can't quite believe it's all true. When his proposal of marriage turns into a compromising position that forces the issue, she can't help thinking that he's hiding something . . . even as her heart tells her to say yes.

Before this, Julia Quinn had yet to disappoint me. I've only read a few novels by her, but her Smythe-Smith Quartet is a genuine pleasure and has been from the first book, Just Like Heaven. The final book, The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy, tries to be as entertaining and sexy as the first three, and its success is limited. It also felt a overly long at 400 pages, but the last book in this favorite series was  aquick read, if nothing else.

This is definitely the weakest of the series, and the love interest is by far the most objectionable. He's an ass - he lies, he's selfish, rude, uncaring. He's a terrible counterpart for any Smythe-Smith, and Iris deserved better. It's hard to stomach any scene with him in it and a romance with him central is hard to care about. There was so much potential for fun with Iris's story and I am unsure why Quinn thought this route was the best. 

If anything, I say treat this series as a trilogy. The first three are engaging and entertaining, if somewhat predictable. The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy is a misstep for such a prolific and well-loved author. 

Review: Ticker by Lisa Mantchev

Title: Ticker
Author: Lisa Mantchev
Genre: steampunk, scifi, young adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 275
Published: December 1 2014
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

A girl with a clockwork heart must make every second count.

When Penny Farthing nearly dies, brilliant surgeon Calvin Warwick manages to implant a brass “Ticker” in her chest, transforming her into the first of the Augmented. But soon it’s discovered that Warwick killed dozens of people as he strove to perfect another improved Ticker for Penny, and he’s put on trial for mass murder.

On the last day of Warwick’s trial, the Farthings’ factory is bombed, Penny’s parents disappear, and Penny and her brother, Nic, receive a ransom note demanding all of their Augmentation research if they want to see their parents again. Is someone trying to destroy the Farthings...or is the motive more sinister?

Desperate to reunite their family and rescue their research, Penny and her brother recruit fiery baker Violet Nesselrode, gentleman-about-town Sebastian Stirling, and Marcus Kingsley, a young army general who has his own reasons for wanting to lift the veil between this world and the next. Wagers are placed, friends are lost, romance stages an ambush, and time is running out for the girl with the clockwork heart.

I had a lot of fun with Ticker. I raced through it in under three hours and was hugely amused and entertained nearly the entire time. Sure, it's not a perfect novel and the romance is a little bit too much too fast, but between Penny, Marcus, Nic and all the steampunkery, Lisa Mantchev has made this a memorable and highly engaging read. With just enough flair and retrofitted technology and just enough spirit and witty retorts, Ticker is great introduction to steampubnk if you've never read it before or a perfect new read for fans of the genre looking for Gail Carriger-esque humor and creativity.

I am not one that is much for highlighting passages in my kindle, but I did it for Ticker no less than four times. And that is down to main character and all-around BAMF Penelope Aurelia Farthing. She has spirit, stubbornness, intelligence, arrogance, and more. Even while dealing with a lot of grief with the loss of both her sisters, one of which had a fiance who turned evil and is the antagonist of the story, Penny shines. She is the kind of girl who says things like, "I can't see where I am going if I only look where I have been, my good man!" as she nearly runs someone over.  (My other favorite was "Come, come Mister Stirling, don't tell me your soul quails at a bit of subterfuge and espionage!") Her characterization is fantastic throughout the story. She is a whole, complete version of a person, made up messy parts (sometimes metal ones) and she makes mistakes. But Mantchev has crafted a great protagonist and allows her to a complex woman.

The secondary characters are nearly as good as Penelope. Penny's twin brother Nic is also allowed to be human -- he's a good person, but not infallible. He makes mistakes, he fights with his sister, but his love for her is evident. Violet, Penny's best friend, was not as defined as the Farthing siblings, but her stalwart attitude and readiness for fisticuffs quickly endeared her to me. Marcus, the Legatus, was another pleasant surprise. He was much more than he first appeared and I appreciated how Mantchev slowly allowed more pieces of his personality to emerge throughout the novel. I do wish that the Farthings' friend Sebastian had been more rounded -- for much of the novel all we know about him is that he's a gentleman and a gambler.

Similarly, the antagonist wasn't as present throughout the novel as I would have liked. While he carries a palpable tension and menace into the book and the scenes he is in -- with his bombings and murders and kidnappings and mindcontrolling - he's still pretty one-note as a character. The author does give him a bit more to work with late in the novel, but it's not enough to make him more than a pretty generic villain. But! If he is imperfect at his presentation, he's also smart, capable, and more than a fair match for Penny. Their personal tete-a-tete, rife with history and pain, is played out in an actiontastic novel but the scenes with just the two of them matching wits packed just as much of a punch.

With a few well-planned twists and plenty of steampunk goodness, Ticker was just madcap fun. It was clever, it was creative, it was full of shippy goodness and it entertained me completely for the duration. It's a standalone and while I am glad that not every new release is a series opener, I am sad to leave this world and these characters behind. I also know that I am now making getting to Mantchev's other books a priority because this was an excellent introduction to her work.

Review: Inked by Eric Smith

Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Title: Inked
Author: Eric Smith
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 208
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

Tattoos once were an act of rebellion.

Now they decide your destiny the moment the magical Ink settles under your skin.

And in a world where Ink controls your fate, Caenum can't escape soon enough. He is ready to run from his family, and his best friend Dreya, and the home he has known, just to have a chance at a choice.

But when he upsets the very Scribe scheduled to give him his Ink on his eighteenth birthday, he unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that sends the corrupt, magic-fearing government, The Citadel, after him and those he loves.

Now Caenum, Dreya, and their reluctant companion Kenzi must find their way to the Sanctuary, a secret town where those with the gift of magic are safe. Along the way, they learn the truth behind Ink, its dark origins, and why they are the only ones who can stop the Citadel.

Eric Smith takes you on a high-octane fantasy adventure, perfect for anyone who has dreamed of being different… only to discover that fate is more than skin deep.

Inked is a fun, creative foray into fantasy for author Eric Smith, known for such awesome nerdery as The Geek's Guide to Dating. It's a pretty short novel (especially for the oft-longwinded fantasy genre) but it's one that's packed with action and creativity. Eric Smith has laid down the bare bones for the worldbuilding and culture, as well as created some memorable and intriguing characters... and he did it all in under 215 pages. I do wish the story had been extended but thoroughly enjoyed what Smith had to offer in Inked.

The magic system is admittedly cool and the high point of the fantasy aspects for Inked. Where there's not much  info to be found worldbuilding-wise, Eric Smith knocks it out of the park with his magic/Ink. It's both creative and functional; it makes sense but is still original and wholly unique to Smith's created world. The author also slowly doles out info about how it all works - Conduits/Inked/etc - a slow reveal that really worked for the plot.

I liked this but, on the whole, it all felt... rather simple. Some of that is just down to how short the novel is. A lot of things happen and they happen fast. There's not a lot of time for characterization, either. It's an action-packed read, but meaning can be lost in sheer amount of deadly deeds and feats of derring-do that Caenum and Drey and Kenzi go through during Inked. Despite all that action, there's also plot issues. The ending, especially, suffered because of this and felt realllllly abrupt. 

This is a good, creative, and most of all, fun fantasy read. I am not sure it's a good fit for seasoned veterans of the genre but it's something I would definitely recommend to a reader looking to try out fantasy (or reading for pleasure). Eric Smith has created an original, creative piece of fantasy and I look forward to what he writes next, be it in this world or in a new one.

Book Tour Review: The Blood of the Fifth Knight by E.M. Powell

Monday, January 19, 2015
Title: The Blood of the Fifth Knight
Author: E.M. Powell
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Series: The Fifth Knight #2
Pages: 352
Published: January 1 2015
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 3.5/5

England, 1176. King Henry II has imprisoned his rebellious Queen for attempting to overthrow him. But with her conspirators still at large and a failed assassination attempt on his beautiful mistress, Rosamund Clifford, the King must take action to preserve his reign.

Desperate, Henry turns to the only man he trusts: a man whose skills have saved him once before. Sir Benedict Palmer answers the call, mistakenly believing that his family will remain safe while he attends to his King.
As Palmer races to secure the throne for the King, neither man senses the hand of a brilliant schemer, a mystery figure loyal to Henry’s traitorous Queen who will stop at nothing to see the King defeated.

The Blood of the Fifth Knight is an intricate medieval murder mystery and a worthy follow-on to E.M. Powell’s acclaimed historical thriller The Fifth Knight.

Tackling the historical tangle around Thomas Becket, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and King Henry II is a big task, but E.M. Powell proves herself equal to it with The Blood of the Fifth Knight. Built around the premise that King Henry had a secret wife and daughter (named Amelie and Theodosia respectively) Powell offers up a totally different (and wholly plausible) plot and history for hr characters -- both real and imagined -- to act out.

The mystery that the novel's main storyline pivots around has its roots in the book's predecessor, called The Fifth Knight. However, this is a duology that can be read independently of its other parts; each can be read as part of the overall series or as standalones. I hadn't read the first book by Powell before starting and was easily able to glean the necessary and relevant information. The book frequently and subtly alludes to what happened before so it's not hard to fill in the gaps.

The cast of characters is varied and shared through a third-person POV. It makes for an all-encompassing picture of the larger plot, but characterization can be hit or miss. The primary character of Benedict is obviously the recipient of the most definition but his wife, King Henry, and Geoffrey are also handled well. Where it fell apart was the antagonists --- Eleanor is never seen on page, Raoul de Faye her agent/uncle is hardly seen, either. The bulk of the antagonism results from two other characters, both of whom felt rather one-note.

The dramatic tension, the atmosphere, the well-constructed mysteries and twists were all high points for me while reading The Blood of the Fifth Knight. While most of the book is true to history, Powell's inventions and divergences make for a cohesive and streamlined story. With perhaps a bit more emphasis on defining characters, I could see this easily being a 5-star read. That said, this is a very solid, enthusiastic 3.5/5.

The Blood of the Fifth Knight Blog Tour Schedule

Thursday, January 1
Review at Flashlight Commentary

Friday, January 2
Spotlight at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book

Monday, January 5
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog

Thursday, January 8
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Monday, January 12
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Character Interview at Boom Baby Reviews

Tuesday, January 13
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book

Wednesday, January 14
Interview at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation

Friday, January 16
Review at Historical Fiction Obsession

Saturday, January 17
Interview at Dianne Ascroft
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Obsession

Monday, January 19
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Tuesday, January 20
Review at Books and Benches
Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Wednesday, January 21
Review at Just One More Chapter

Monday, January 26
Spotlight at Susan Heim on Writing

Wednesday, January 28
Review at Kinx’s Book Nook

Friday, January 30
Review at Bookramblings

Saturday, January 31
Spotlight at Caroline Wilson Writes

Sunday, February 1
Review at Carole’s Ramblings

Monday, February 2
Guest Post at The Lit Bitch

Tuesday, February 3
Review at Layered Pages
Spotlight at Let them Read Books

Wednesday, February 4
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews

Friday, February 6
Review at The Never-Ending Book

Christmas Book Haul Part the Second

Sunday, January 18, 2015
Hello! It's been a minute and my Book Outlet order came in.... and I had some wonderful it's time for another book haaaul!

First from the lovely Pixie for Christmas:

Monsters by Ilsa J. Bick (Ashes #3) - last in a series I have been dyiiiing to start. And also: another TOOTHLESSSSS figurine. Mine, mine, mine. All the Toothless products will be mine.

Next up, the Book Outlet awesomeness.

Here we see Penny demonstrating the size of this 17-poud box

aaaand inside:

Red Glove by Holly Black - CurseWorkers #3
Beautiful by Amy Reed
Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner - The Queen's Thief #1
The Swan Maiden by Heather Tomlinson
A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley
Rage Within by Jeyn Roberts - Dark Inside #2
The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine
So Silver Bright by Lisa Mantchev - Theatre Illuminata #3
Over You by Amy Reed

Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block - Love in the Time of Global Warming #1
Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake - Anna #2
Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross
The Bones of the Old Ones by Howard Andrew Jones - The Chronicles of Sword and Sand #2
Quintessence by David Walton
After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn - Golden Age #1
Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica- Hidden Sea Tales #1

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard -- SIGNED!!

Bought books:

The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan - Taj Mahal Trilogy #1
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (I only had the mmpb so this was a must)
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley - Slains #1
Everneath by Brodie Ashton - Everneath #1
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin - A Song of Ice and Fire #1 (lending copy)
The Pacific by Hugh Ambrose - for my dadd

aaand...... sent from Bloomsbury because they are awesome and fantastic and out to crush my feels:

finished copies of the first two Princess Academy Books (Princess Academy, Princess Academy: Palace of Stone)
aaand an ARC of the third, The Forgotten Sister (that illustrated coooover).


They also sent me.....


LION HEART BY A.C. GAUGHEN. Aka the best Robin Hood retelling of them alllll. I can't wait for this to destroy my heart/soul/emotions.

Understandably, it's been a good week, book-wise. How did you lovely people fare with your book buying bans and hauls?
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