4 stars, fantasy

Song of the Beast

11338966Title: Song of the Beast
Author: Carol Berg

Brutal imprisonment has broken Aidan McAllister. Once the most famous musician of his generation, celebrated as a man beloved of the gods, his voice is now silent, his hands ruined, his music that offered beauty and hope to war-torn Elyria destroyed. Even the god who nurtured his talent since boyhood has abandoned him. But no one ever told him his crime. To discover the truth, he must risk his hard-bought freedom to unlock the mind of his god and the heart of his enemy.

Rating4star

 

I did not know how to offer love or how to recognize it when it was offered to me, though I was fairly certain it did not come from those who told you in the same breath that they wanted to slit your throat.

One thing I really enjoyed about the Carol Berg books I’d read so far was that romance didn’t play a huge part in them. I don’t mind romance but I get annoyed when people who should be busy saving the world just talk about their heartache. So I was not too happy when both Aiden and Lara spent a lot of time in their POV-chapters talking about their own feelings and how sure they were that the other one could never reciprocate them.
But then both of them had very good reasons to think so, it wasn’t some ridiculous melodrama blown out of proportion. And while especially Lara’s chapters are sometimes really dripping with self-hatred and her ‘I’m sure he can’t stand me’ gets somewhat repetitive I can easily see why she is like that.
Oh well, and the romance has some of my favourite tropes. They have to pretend to be a couple twice. There’s dancing and live-saving and Aidan has to keep calming Lara down because really she just wants to kill people. Exactly my kind of couple. If you have romance in your fantasy, please do it like that.

And then there’s the villains. Or rather the lack of typical fantasy villains. Nobody wants to destroy the world for the evilulz. Nobody wants to kill the king. No foreign power threatens to conquer the country and enslave the people.
The closest thing we get to villains are the dragonriders (and yes, they admittedly don’t have that much depth) but even they don’t want more power than they already have. They just want to keep the power they have. And when that status quo is threatened they are Not Happy. But they are not the main reason for the bad things that happen in this book. The main reason is bad decision making. Some were made by the characters in this book. Some by their ancestors and they are now stuck with them. Admitting that those decisions were bad would lead to disaster. And now they all hope that they can just carry on as before, even if that means making some more bad decisions.

Now there are some things that show it’s the author’s first book. There are some info-dumps early on about the character’s past and the worldbuilding. Through the changing POVs we also get some pieces of information twice and the final battle is somewhat anticlimactic but those are just minor things in an otherwise great book. (And a single-volume fantasy no less! I can’t remember the last time an author managed to fit a whole epic fantasy in a single book).

5 stars, fantasy

Transforation (Rai-Kirah #1)

Title: Transformation
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Rai-Kirah #1

Seyonne is a man waiting to die. He has been a slave for sixteen years, almost half his life, and has lost everything of meaning to him: his dignity, the people and homeland he loves, and the Warden’s power he used to defend an unsuspecting world from the ravages of demons. Seyonne has made peace with his fate. With strict self-discipline he forces himself to exist only in the present moment and to avoid the pain of hope or caring about anyone. But from the moment he is sold to the arrogant, careless Prince Aleksander, the heir to the Derzhi Empire, Seyonne’s uneasy peace begins to crumble. And when he discovers a demon lurking in the Derzhi court, he must find hope and strength in a most unlikely place…

Rating5star

No, my lord. It is your heart. Difficult as it may be to comprehend, there is a possibility you may have one.
Look at that blurb. And then at that cover. I know how this looks but this isn’t a highly problematic gay romance. It is a beautiful story but also one that’s probably not for everybody.
Slavery in fantasy-stories isn’t unusual but most books shy away from really touching the topic. It mostly happens far away to Other People. If it happens to our protagonists he either remained strong and resistant and honourable through the worst abuse or has the great luck to meet the one Nice Guy master who does not abuse the human being he owns for fun (even though everybody else in the story does).
Transformation doesn’t go that way. The first few chapters are not easy to read because some horrible things are done to Seyonne. (It’s not needlessly graphic but also doesn’t leave any doubts about how bad it is). And Aleksander does some of these horrible things. He’s a spoiled brat with a frightening amount of power who has never thought about the consequences of his actions.
He gets better.
And I’m buying his redemption arc. There is no long and meaningful conversation between him and Seyonne where he explains how sorry he is and how he realizes how horrible he’s been. There are only two or three short scenes where he says things that make it clear that his views have changed drastically. He also does a lot of things to make up for his behavior. (Yes, I know that threatening to kill people if Seyonne gets hurt is not a sensible or healthy thing to do but it is very delightful. And it’s not the only thing he does).
So yes, for me his ark worked but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people who see him at the beginning and don’t want to see anything more of him.
And since that book is about Aleksander, Seyonne and how they and their relationship changes over the course of it, you will only enjoy it if you buy the redemption. Sure, it’s a fantasy novel where the protagonists fight demons but that part is so closely linked to the characters that you will not enjoy it if you don’t like them.
So what I have just said in many words is that this is a very character-driven story and that I like the characters a lot. Is the book perfect? No, there are some pacing-issues towards the end. A lot happens on the last 100 pages. Actual action and revelations and you get barely time to comprehend all of it because there are already three more things happening simultaneously. At the very end, there is even something that I expected to be the sequel-hook but it gets resolved in 5 pages.
But…I don’t care. I still loved it because it shamelessly panders to preferences. A fantasy novel with a small cast of characters and focus on their relationship, mages, a world that isn’t just fantasy medieval Western Europe and even though it’s dark it never feels dark and gritty(TM) just for the sake of being dark and gritty.
not a book

Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag

Found this one over at Maxxesbooktopia.

1. Best book series you’ve read so far in 2017?

I loved the Collegia Magica books by Carol Berg. It’s been a while since I was so enthralled in a world and loved the characters so much. Besides, I also really enjoyed KJ Charles Spectred Isle and will check out more of her.

2. Best sequel of 2017 so far?

If you ask for ‘Sequel that has been published in 2017’ I can’t answer because I haven’t read any. Though K.M. McKinley’s The City of Ice was published on December 27th, 2016 so I guess it almost counts and I enjoyed it and intend to read the next book so that qualifies. If you just ask for sequel I have read in 2017 then I have to point to the above question and say The Demon Prism, third Collegia Magica book.

3. New releases you haven’t read but want to?

That are already out? None to be honest. Unless you count approximately 1325 series I started reading and want to continue eventually.

4. Most anticipated release of the remainder of 2017?

That’s easy:

Ben Aaronovich – The Furthest Station because it’s another Peter Grant novel AND WHY DO I STILL HAVE TO WAIT SO LONG?

As well as Curtis Craddock – An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors because it sounds like The Three Musketeers In Space and I can never pass anything Musketeer-related.

5. Biggest disappointment?

Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom. I liked Six of Crows despite some of its faults and had hoped the sequel would improve but it didn’t.

6. Biggest surprise?

Stefan Lehnberg’s Durch Nacht und Wind. Goethe and Schiller solve a crime in a well written Holmes-style story. The dialogue is hilarious and it’s full of allusions to their works.

7. Favourite New Author (Debut or new to you)?

You might have noticed that I started binging on Carol Berg and have no intention of stopping anytime soon.

8. Newest fictional Crush?

I don’t really crush on fictional characters. I wouldn’t mind having a cup of tea and nice chat with any of the Collegia Magica characters (especially Anne or Portier) or Katriona from City of Ice.

9. Newest Favourite Character?

Over the course of Spectred Isle I grew very fond of Saul. And I’m not only saying this because I don’t want to mention Collegia Magica again. Though I loved Portier. And Illario.

10. Book that made you cry?

I didn’t cry but I sniffed a bit at the end of The Demon Prism.

11. Book that made you happy?

Shira Glassman’s Knit One Girl Two and Spectred Isle. Both were cute, funny and had lovely characters.

12. Favourite book to movie adaption?

I guess strictly speaking Lawrence of Arabia is an adaption? Because apart from that I only watched a really shitty French adaption of The King’s General and The Sign of the Musketeers which only had Musketeers in its title and very little to do with the book.

13. Favourite review you’ve written this year?

Spectred Isle was fun to write.

14. Most beautiful book you bought or received this year?

I assume we’re talking about the cover here since I already talked about best book? I found this very adorable:

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15. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

None 😉 But I should reduce my tbr-pile (especially the physical books one),

 

5 stars, fantasy

The Demon Prism (Collegia Magica #3)

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Title: The Daemon Prism
Author
: Carol Berg
Series: Collegia Magica #3

Dante the necromancer is the most reviled man in Sabria, indicted by the king, the Temple, and the Camarilla Magica for crimes against the living and the dead. Blinded by his enemy’s cruel vengeance, Dante salves pain and bitterness by preparing his student, Anne de Vernase, to heal the tear in the Veil between life and death. 
When Anne abandons him to return to her family, Dante seeks refuge in a magical puzzle, a desperate soldier’s dream of an imprisoned enchantress and a faceted glass that can fulfill one’s uttermost desires. But the dream is a seductive trap that threatens to unleash the very cataclysm Dante fears. Haunted, desperate, the blind mage embarks on a journey into madness, ancient magic, and sacred mystery, only to confront the terrifying truth of his own destiny…

Rating5star

She raises grapes. I raise the dead.

If that quote doesn’t make you want to read the series I can’t help you…

The Spirit Lens and The Soul Mirror read like mysteries. Of course, there was magic and the mystery wasn’t simply ‘who killed him?’. It was ‘who is behind the conspiracy that aims to set off the magical equivalent of a nuclear bomb?’ but there were clues, red herrings, everything a good mystery has. The Demon Prism is more conventional epic fantasy. There is a problem, a bigger one than the magical nuclear bomb and our heroes have to stop it.

That doesn’t mean that it’s quite your typical ‘group on a journey to stop the big bad’ either. The characters are all at different places at the beginning of the book. Different things make them think something is wrong and set out on their journey. They meet others, loose them again and find somebody else. They don’t always know what has happened to those that aren’t with them which makes for some gut-wrenching reading. Character- and relationship-development had been a strength of the previous books and so there is no doubt about how much these people mean to one another. And them thinking the worst and grieving you just wanted to reach through the pages to give them a hug. (And a blanket. And cookies).

Though people who come to the epic fantasy for the big battles will be disappointed. Even though there are three powerful mages, a master swordsman and a really really powerful big bad there isn’t much battle action. You get to see much more of the fight with the big bad’s henchmen than of the actual boss battle. I didn’t mind because I knew the henchmen much better and wanted to see them getting their comeuppance. (On a side note: Berg is brilliant and writing characters you despise and then give them extremely satisfying ‘reality ensues’ endings).

Now for all my flailing (and crying), this book isn’t without fault. It drags a bit halfway through. Dante is imprisoned and the reader is stuck with him. Things become somewhat repetitive. But those bits also contained some of the most chilling scenes when we saw the effect it had on Dante. It still could have been condensed a bit more but I’m again complaining on a very high level.

So go and read all the Collegia Magica books. And then have feelings together with me.

pinkie-crying.gif

It’s funny because the grumpy necromancer learns that friendship is indeed magic.

5 stars, fantasy, romance

Spectred Isle (Green Men #1)

35118935Title: Spectred Isle
Author: KJ Charles
Series: Green Men #1

Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense…except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde.

Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfill his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there’s something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain.

Saul hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time. But as the supernatural threat grows, along with the desire between them, he’ll need to believe in evasive, enraging, devastatingly attractive Randolph. Because he may be the only man who can save Saul’s life—or his soul.

Rating5star

 

“You’ve had a hell of a time, haven’t you?”
“Other’s worse,” Saul managed.
“That is the most specious form of consolation possible. One can always find someone who has it worse. If I’m having my fingernails torn out with pincers, it is unhelpful to observe that my neighbour has been hanged, drawn and quartered.”

 

One thing that annoys me in romances is when the relationship seems to be a one-way-street. One partner is experienced in Everything: sex, relationships, life in general and genre-dependant monster hunting, cooking or archery. Of course they are just too happy to teach their partner who Knows Nothing.

 

You know nothing, Jon Snow
Come on. Did you expect my to pass up the opportunity to use this gif?

That’s not what happens in this book. To say that Saul’s last relationship ended catastrophically is an understatement and now he’s unsure about himself, his sexuality and doubts he even deserves good things. A lack of confidence has never been a problem for Randolph and he’s in a privileged enough position that his sexuality had never been an issue. He is, however, an aristocrat and thus grew up in a family where nobody had emotions of any kind (or at least never talked about them). He also thought in his profession relationships were out of the question anyway.
Apart from that, both of them are in a bad place after the war but have a hard time admitting to themselves just how bad it is. So when they meet they learn from each other. About acceptance, admitting things to yourself and dealing with your emotions.

 

“Look, not to insult you by suggesting that you have human feelings, but-”
“I should bloody well hope not.”

That doesnt’t mean that there’s no humour. Rather the opposite. Neither of them is ever in want of a witty comeback and it’s a joy to read them. On occasions, I felt it would have been better if they had kept their conversation serious for a bit longer instead of turning to sarcasm again. But then dealing with difficult situations with humour is very human (and it got never so bad that I felt I was just reading witty remarks loosely connected by a plot).

Now for the non-romance part:
*excited shouting* STEPHEN AND MATHILDA!

YES-gif
Look, some long-dead monarchs make me exceptionally happy.

Ehem. Sorry. I will simply forever be bitter about the lack of (good) fiction about the Anarchy. WHY IS EVERYTHING ABOUT THE WAR OF THE ROSES? Now it’s not a big deal, in the sense that you need extensive knowledge of the era to understand what is going on. The little information you need is explained in the book. But I’m very happy when authors dive into some of the less well-known chapters of English history.
The plot should also satisfy readers that don’t get nerdgasms when certain periods of English history are mentioned. It’s fast-paced, has a very interesting magical system and a great set up for a trilogy. It answers enough questions to give closure to the storyline, while leaving enough open to make me look forward to the next book.

 

ARC provided by the author.

not a book

The Reading Habits Tag

Shamelessly stolen from Lioness at Large 😉

1. Do you have a certain place in your home for reading?

Home as in my student’s flat-home: my bed because it’s the most comfortable space (and I’m abusing it as couch anyway). Home as in back at my mom’s-home: the living room (but also my bed for when I read before sleeping)

2. Bookmark or random piece of paper?

bth.gif

Well, I have enough bookmarks thanks to bookmarks being a nice souvenir that doesn’t take up too much space so I often buy some on holidays and people who know I love reading but don’t know which books often give me bookmarks (or bookmark-calendars) but occasionally I find myself without one and then I take whatever I can find. Though it will be replaced by a proper bookmark as soon as possible.

3. Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop read after a chapter / certain number of pages?

I usually finish the chapter but if the chapters are very long I might just stop at the end of a paragraph (and if I’m very tired just somewhere though that is rare)

4. Do you eat or drink while you read?

I sometimes read during dinner but not every food can be eaten one-handed (unless you enjoy cleaning a lot…)

5. Multitasking: music or TV while reading?

TV never (though I sometimes read during ad-breaks and manage to absorb what’s in the book and notice when the ads are over). Music sometimes (preferably instrumentals or stuff in a language I don’t understand)

6. One book at a time or several at once?

Several but not an infinite number. Generally, I have one audiobook and one or two with pages and letters. When it’s two then it’s usually one heavier and/or non-fiction and one lighter one. (Now if you look at my Goodreads profile you will see that I have more than three books marked as currently reading but not all of them are ‘active’. Sometimes I start a book, put it aside and continue weeks (or months) later).

7. Reading at home or everywhere?

At home mostly. I do take books on longer journeys or when I know I have to wait a while somewhere but when it’s just the ten-minute train journey to the city and back with some shopping inbetween I usually don’t bother.

8. Reading out loud or silently in your head?

Silently

9. Do you read ahead or even skip pages?

There have been a few times when I was very bored by a book but also just interested enough in the plot that I wanted to know how it ends so I skipped to the last chapters but that is very rare. Sometimes I skim over paragraphs but I never check ahead to e.g. see if a character survives.

10. Barking the spine or keeping it like new?

I try to keep them like new but paperbacks sometimes give me a hard time with that. Especially UK ones. I have no idea why but I have UK paperbacks that look like I played football with them after just reading them once. Meanwhile, even my well-loved my German paperbacks still look pretty decent. (Of course it’s not always like this, and newer UK paperbacks are also better)

11. Do you write in your books?

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Who writes in books? Monsters? (Though I do love finding scribblings from previous owners in books I bought second hand so…I’m a bit odd probably)

2 stars, true crime

The Truth about Belle Gunness

cover114698-medium

Title: The Truth about Belle Gunness
Author: Lillian de la Torre

On the morning of April 27, 1908, the farmhand on a lonely property outside La Porte, Indiana, woke to the smell of smoke. He tried to rouse the lady of the house, the towering Belle Poulsdatter Sorenson Gunness, and he called the names of her three children—but they didn’t answer, and the farmhand barely escaped alive. The house burned to the foundation, and in the rubble, firemen found the corpses of Belle, her two daughters, and her son. The discovery raised two chilling questions: Who started the fire, and who cut off Belle’s head?

As investigators searched the property, they uncovered something astonishing: The remains of a dozen or more men and children who had been murdered with poison or cleaver were buried beneath the hog pen. It turned out Belle Gunness was one of the most prolific serial killers in American history. And when the investigation revealed that the body found in the fire might not have been hers, the people of La Porte were forced to confront the terrifying realization that Belle might have gotten out alive.

Rating2star

When I requested this book I expected a recently written book about Belle Gunness. It is neither new nor really about Belle. Now I don’t mind the not new part much. It’s a re-release of a book from the 1950s but considering that it’s still fine. I’ve read some older true crime books that were very sensationalist and cheerfully mixed fact and fiction. (Not that newer ones are always better, especially when it comes to sensationalism). However, that wasn’t the problem. Yes, the facts were sometimes dressed in (light) purple prose and especially at the beginning we are told a lot about the thoughts and feelings of the people involved but that gets better.
However, it’s also not really a book about Belle Gunness. It opens with her farm burning down and the discoveries of the bodies on the ground. Then it spends only a short time on Belle’s life and her crimes. I already knew more about her and my only previous contact with Belle had been my favourite true crime podcast doing an episode on her.
The book’s actual focus is Ray Lamphere’s trial. Only at the very end, it returns to Belle and the author poses her own theory about Belle’s fate. (A theory that’s plausible but also one that hasn’t any more proof than any other). Now I wasn’t that interested in that trial before I started reading and the book didn’t change that.
Mainly because the trial is mainly told via court transcripts. Just one after the other (with the occasional newspaper article thrown in) with the minimum linking narration possible. Sure, some original quotes from the time are good but this book goes beyond that. Often the information from several pages of transcripts could have been summed up in a few paragraphs. And then the next transcript just repeats the information we already got in the last one. It makes for some rather tiresome reading.

The book simply has a misleading blurb. I wouldn’t have picked it up if I had known that it focussed so heavily on the trial. If that’s your thing you might enjoy it more than I did.

ARC provided by NetGalley