4 stars, romance

Knit One, Girl Two

Title: Knit One, Girl Two
Author: Shira Glassman

Small-batch independent yarn dyer Clara Ziegler is eager to brainstorm new color combinations–if only she could come up with ideas she likes as much as last time! When she sees Danielle Solomon’s paintings of Florida wildlife by chance at a neighborhood gallery, she finds her source of inspiration. Outspoken, passionate, and complicated, Danielle herself soon proves even more captivating than her artwork…

 

Rating

Clara didn’t know what to say, but she also knew not every silence had to be filled. Sometimes the white spots, those left undyed and natural, were integral to the beauty of a colorway.
Somehow the best way to describe this book is by what it’s not. Because it’s sweet and quirky but not in the way of some books where everything and everybody is just sweet and quirky but has no depth beyond that. It’s also not one of those novellas where I felt that it would have needed more pages. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have minded spending more time with Clara and Danielle, but their story didn’t need more space. Since it was only about the development of their relationship there were no sideplots that felt rushed. It was also not one of these books that promise knitting on the cover but then desperately also try to appeal to a non-knitting audience by only occasionally mentioning the most basic knitting terms. (Yes I’m side-eying some knitting-mysteries here…) Now I’m not saying that non-knitters won’t enjoy the story. It’s not just about knitting, but knitting is an important part of the story and if you’ve only ever seen yarn in the form of the socks you got from grandma for Christmas, a few things might confuse you a bit.
Overall a very charming read and I want to check out some of the author’s longer works.
2 stars, fantasy, romance

The Spirit Heir (A Dance of Dragons #2)

23477260Title: The Spirit Heir
Author: Kaitlyn Davis
Series: A Dance of Dragons #2

Drenched in darkness and surrounded by the echo of screams, Jinji waits deep in the dungeons of Rayfort, haunted by the memory of the knife stabbing Rhen, plagued by a foreign voice whispering through her mind. A few floors above, Rhen rests trapped in a coma, about to wake to a changed world–a world where his best friend is a woman, his nephew is the king, and an enemy army surrounds him on all sides.

But human wars are insignificant compared to the darkness gathering unseen. Memories of lives she never lived flash through Jinji’s thoughts, hinting at a past that cannot be repeated. A mysterious phantom visits Rhen, carrying cryptic messages of the future. And somewhere out there, the shadow continues to lurk in silence.

Startled by their altered relationship and tempted by new feelings, Rhen and Jinji must find a way to work together. The fate of humanity rests on their shoulders and the real battle has only just begun…

Rating: 2star

“And at least soldiers chose to fight, chose to risk their lives in combat”

Do you really want to go there? Are you really saying that in ye olde pseudo-medieval fantasy world everybody joined the army because they just loved fighting/their country/both so much. Nobody did it out of necessity, because they couldn’t find another job but needed the money or just because it was a family tradition or simply anything but Duty. Honor. Courage.?
Nope. Our soldiers are the good ones, our enemies have the evil ones/the poor slaves that are forced to fight (delete as appropriate…the book can’t make its mind up either).

There are good bits in this book. It still occasionally makes good points about sexism and racism. And it has a great scene when Jinji – who is in the palace and feels very uncomfortable among the nobility because they are all so racist – basically wins a staring contest with the queen and thinks that now nothing the other nobles do can bother her anymore. Only a few pages later it’s again mentioned how uncomfortable she is and the scene with the queen is never mentioned again.
However, my favourite bit of the book is when Jinji gets captured and imprisoned again very shortly after she has been chained up in a dungeon for three weeks. Does that bother her? No, but immediately afterwards she throws a hissy fit of jealousy because Rhen talks to another woman. Because fuck PTSD and trauma, what’s really important are you pants-feelings.

Talking about Jinji and her WTF-decisions/emotions: she’s hearing a voice in her mind and the voice claims she wants to help Jinji fight the mysterious Shadow that’s causing all the problems in the book (well…all the problems not caused by evil, sexist fantasy Arabs). Jinji is not convinced and worries that the voice in her head is actually the Shadow who is trying to trick her and refuses to listen. Until she hears that the Shadow has attacked people after she started hearing the voice. Clearly, a mysterious magical entity that has enough power to force people to attack their loved ones can’t be inside Jinji’s head and somewhere else. That would be illogical.

Despite all that I’m still less bothered by this than by the novellas about Leena inventing feminism, and we finally got dragons in this book. About bloody time. And I just didn’t hate it enough for one star.
ARC provided by NetGalley

Review of book 0.5
Review of book 1
Review of book 1.5

2 stars, fantasy, romance

The Shadow Soul (A Dance of Dragons #1)

20903363Title: The Shadow Soul
Author: Kaitlyn Davies
Series: A Dance of Dragons #1

When Jinji’s home is destroyed, she is left with nowhere to run and no one to run to–until she meets Rhen, a prince chasing rumors that foreign enemies have landed on his shores. Masquerading as a boy, Jinji joins Rhen with vengeance in her heart. But traveling together doesn’t mean trusting one another, and both are keeping a deep secret–magic. Jinji can weave the elements to create master illusions and Rhen can pull burning flames into his flesh.

But while they struggle to hide the truth, a shadow lurks in the night. An ancient evil has reawakened, and unbeknownst to them, these two unlikely companions hold the key to its defeat. Because their meeting was not coincidence–it was fate. And their story has played out before, in a long forgotten time, an age of myth that is about to be reborn…

Rating2star

The world building in this was just very confusing. Jinji and her people are clearly inspired by Native Americans. Including that one day the white men – Rhen’s ancestors – came, took their land and suppressed them. But…they suppressed them…only sometimes a bit…or something. The only thing Jinji talks about is that they are not allowed to speak their language anymore. To make sure of that a guy visits them once a year and checks on them…And Jinji still speaks the language (though it is not clear if she is fluent or if she just knows some words that can’t be translated in the language of the ‘Newworlders’).
I just got the impression that the author had realized how problematic Pocahontas is but enjoyed it nevertheless and wanted to rewrite it with less evil oppressors but still wanted to keep the oppression at least a bit. Just like in the prequel novella I read, it seems that there didn’t go that much thought in the worldbuilding.
I also couldn’t make out how many ‘Oldworlders’ there roughly are. We don’t get any number for Jinji’s tribe but I had the impression they were roughly 100, rather less than that. Are there any other natives in this world? Perhaps but probably not. At least, I think so. Jinji repeatedly says that she is the only one left after her tribe was slaughtered in the beginning of the book. She could mean that she is the last of her tribe (the Arapapajo) but other tribes are never mentioned. Were there ever others? Were there ever more Arapapajo? Who knows?

Sometimes the book does things well. For example, when Jinji thinks about how she will continue disguising herself as a boy as long as she is in the city because being a Native among white people sucks but being a Native girl would suck even more. But at the same time, the bad guys in the books are a) Ye Olde Fantasy equivalent of Arabs and b) as cliché-evil as you can get.
Seriously, I was surprised that their king wasn’t introduced stroking a black cat. He’s evil because he’s evil and enjoys laughing diabolically.

The rest of the book is also not more than average. The plot just…happens. I rarely had time to worry too much about the characters because they are never in danger for very long. Chapters frequently ended in cliff-hangers, which were then resolved in the course of the next chapter. Often with the help of plot-convenient magic but nobody really wanted to talk about that magic because reasons.
So, yes I liked this more than the prequel novella but it still wasn’t that good.

ARC provided by NetGalley

Review of book 0.5 in the series

 

 

2 stars, fantasy, romance

Shadows of Asphodel

25525171Title: Shadows of Asphodel
Author: Karen Kincy
Series: Shadows of Asphodel #1

She never asked for the undying loyalty of a necromancer.

1913. Austria-Hungary. Ardis knows better than to save a man on the battlefield. Even if he manages to be a charming bastard while bleeding out in the snow. She hasn’t survived this long as a mercenary without some common sense.

When she rescues Wendel, it isn’t because he’s devilishly handsome, but because he’s a necromancer. His touch can revive the dead, and Ardis worries he will return from the grave to hunt her down. Besides, a necromancer can be useful in this world on the brink of war.

A gentleman of questionable morals, Wendel drops to one knee and pledges his undying loyalty to Ardis. She resists falling for him, no matter how hot the tension smolders between them. Especially when she discovers Wendel’s scars run much deeper than his skin, and it might be too late to truly save him from himself.

Rating2star

“Why did someone as bad as a necromancer have to look so good?”

(I should have known what was coming after that quote)

A book set in an alternate Austria-Hungary 1912. That sounded like it was right up my alley. Unfortunately, it ended up severely disappointing. That started with the fact that for all the influence the setting had on the plot it could just as easily have been set in the Year of the Unicorn in a fantasy land with too many vowels in its name. The Black Hand plays a role but they’re just generic rebels that need to attack so that we get an action scene (one of so many…). There is a mention of an assassination attempt in Franz Ferdinand but it doesn’t influence the plot in any way.

Though, to be honest, I was still entertained for quite a while. Ardis is a mercenary and not one of those where you wonder how somebody that stupid survived that long. She is capable but not super-human. Wendel is a character that has been through horrible things and it still affects him, even at inconvenient times.

And the book is far from boring. A lot of things are happening. Constantly. There is fighting. And more fighting. And even more fighting. Then there’s a big reveal (though one that doesn’t seem to affect the protagonists much). Some more fighting. Then there’s sex. And fighting. And sex. And another reveal with no consequences. Some more sex. More fighting…

The characters are constantly busy. But they don’t develop. And their relationship doesn’t develop. Considering this book is also marketed as paranormal romance that is…unfortunate. At the beginning, Ardis distrusts Wendel because he’s a necromancer and necromancers don’t have a very good reputation. Only he is also hot. And smells good (like a rainy pine forest). Then plot-reasons happen and they end up traveling together. Wendel continues to be hot. And admittedly acts in a way that shows that he isn’t an utter asshole but has just decided to act like a jerk when everybody thinks necromancers are evil anyway. Still, he also doesn’t exactly radiate trustworthiness. But he continues to be hot. Then a lot of people tell Ardis she shouldn’t trust Wendel and even that he’s bad but she ignores them. Presumably, because somebody who is so hot can’t be a bad person. Because nothing in Wendel’s behaviour and refusal to talk about his past screams ‘trust me’.

Now don’t get me wrong: Wendel has some good reasons for not talking about himself. But at the same time, Ardis has no reason for trusting him, especially after several people tell her not to. And this could have been a great source of conflict in the book. But apparently, we only want to read about people getting beheaded with magic swords or people fucking for ages. Now I like magic swords but I also like characters with complex emotions. And the main emotion these characters had was lust. And lust does not carry a whole book.

ARC provided by the publisher

1 star, crime & mystery, historical, romance

Downtime

13600507Author: Tamara Allen

Title: Downtime

On assignment in London, FBI Agent Morgan Nash finds himself moments away from a bullet through the heart when the case he’s working goes awry. But fate has other plans, he discovers when he wakes in a world far removed from his own.

At work cataloguing ancient manuscripts in the British Museum, Ezra Glacenbie inadvertently creates the magic that pulls Morgan out of the twenty-first century and into the nineteenth. It’s an impromptu vacation which may become permanent when the spellbook goes missing. Further upsetting Morgan’s search for a way home is the irresistible temptation to investigate the most notorious crime of the nineteenth century. But it’s the unexpected romance blossoming between Morgan and Ezra that becomes the most dangerous complication of all.

Rating1star

It’s my job to pull monsters like Jack of the street. Granted, I haven’t accomplished anything in this case…

You know why you haven’t accomplished anything, Morgan? Because you think that screwing your new boyfriend is much more important than catching Jack. And if you do try to catch him you don’t really get far because you IQ is just below room temperature. On a very cold day. In a cellar room. With a broken radiator. And you get constantly in the way of the police and are offended if they don’t drop everything and listen to the strange American with zero official power who yells incomprehensible things like ‘I know you don’t have DNA-testing but be careful anyway!’

So if you’re like me and this book caught your interest because of the Ripper connection: don’t. The research of the author can’t have gone far beyond reading the opening paragraph on Wikipedia. It isn’t really important for the plot that the murders Morgan is not investigating were committed by the Ripper. Any other real or made up case would have been the same.

Now that doesn’t mean that you should read this book for the characters. Or the romance. Or the time-travel element. Because they all suck as well.

Morgan is just an absolute jerk. And an idiot. He gets transported back in time and meets a guy there who says he is a psychic. Morgan’s reaction: people can’t talk to ghosts. He clearly must be a fraud and so I’ll just constantly give him hell for cheating grieving relatives out of their money. Because it’s not like anything happened recently that would make him question his views about what is or isn’t possible. Not to mention that the psychic is one of the people who brought him to this time and Morgan needs him to get back again. It’s a bad idea to annoy and insult the people you need. I had seriously expected that we’d get a ‘once a psychic drowned my goldfish’ sob-story to explain this extreme reaction but no. Morgan is just a self-righteous jerk AND a massive idiot. (Another proof of his massive idiocy is also that he can’t seem to remember that he shouldn’t throw around modern terminology and references to future events in public).

As a result of that, the romance doesn’t work either. I just never saw any chemistry between Morgan and Ezra. (And I know I have complained about the lack of chemistry in romances previously, but this one really doesn’t have any). Physical attraction: yes. Chemistry: no. Which makes Morgan’s change from ‘idiotic asshole who refuses to listen to anybody’ to ‘sap who can only mope when his Ezra isn’t around’. That was just too much. I’m all for ‘love shows the lone wolf that he doesn’t have to be so lonely’ stories but they only work for me if the lone wolf is still a decent person. I never got that from Morgan. As you might have noticed from the words I used to describe him so far…

And finally: the time-travel didn’t really make sense. And yes. It’s time-travel. It rarely does. But here we were supposed to believe that it wasn’t just a spell that transported Morgan back but…some higher being? That felt he had to do something? (What? Who knows!) And then…whatever. Something something who cares anyway?