4 stars, fantasy

The Soul Mirror (Collegia Magica #2)

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Title: The Soul Mirror
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Collegia Magica #2

By order of His Royal Majesty Philippe de Savin-Journia y Sabria, Anne de Vernase is hereby summoned to attend His Majesty’s Court at Merona…

Anne de Vernase rejoices that she has no talent for magic. Her father’s pursuit of depraved sorcery has left her family in ruins, and he remains at large, convicted of treason and murder by Anne’s own testimony. Now, the tutors at Collegia Seravain inform her that her gifted younger sister has died in a magical accident. It seems but life’s final mockery that cool, distant Portier de Savin-Duplais, the librarian turned royal prosecutor, arrives with the news that the king intends to barter her hand in marriage.

Anne recognizes that the summoning carries implications far beyond a bleak personal future – and they are all about magic. Merona, the royal city, is beset by plagues of rats and birds, and mysterious sinkholes that swallow light and collapse buildings. Whispers of hauntings and illicit necromancy swirl about the queen’s volatile sorcerer. And a murder in the queen’s inner circle convinces Anne that her sister’s death was no accident. With no one to trust but a friend she cannot see, Anne takes up her sister’s magical puzzle, plunging into the midst of a centuries-old rivalry and coming face-to-face with the most dangerous sorcerer in Sabria. His name is Dante.

Review4star

The people in this book make very reasonable, but also very frustrating decisions. Because of Portier, Anne’s father is wanted for treason. When Anne finds evidence that her father might be innocent after all it’s logical that she doesn’t share it with Portier immediately. On the other hand, it’s also perfectly logical that Portier doesn’t trust the daughter of a known traitor. Especially if he can tell that she’s keeping secrets from him. So in-universe their behavior is completely sensible. Still, as reader, you want to scream Just talk to each other! because you know they both belong to the good guys and could get much further if they just shared their findings. Now, it only takes about a third of the book till they do but it is a very frustrating third…
Especially if that third is otherwise also…not great. By which I don’t mean horrible, just not meeting the high expectations I have of Carol Berg since I started binging her books. Which is complaining on a very high level. It’s just that Anne – the narrator of this book – is very passive at the beginning. She finds out things (mostly more or less by accident) but isn’t able to do much with her knowledge. Again, it makes sense. She’s new at court, doesn’t have any connections and ‘avoid getting killed’ is a rather time-consuming. And people are trying to kill her (or worse), she just has no idea who or why. And, as long as she doesn’t know whom to trust she can only react to things that happen and nothing more.
Now I guess that was my long-winded way of saying that the beginning of this book is a bit long-winded. But once it gets going it really gets going. I went Wow! I did not see that coming! quite often. Only one of the minor villains was disappointing. He was basically the disgusting rapey old man you get in some bad romance novels. Nothing beyond that. Which is a shame because even the irredeemably evil characters in this story manage to have some depth. Only this guy didn’t. Still, he didn’t appear so often that he bothered me too much.
Now for the climax of the story. Well, there was something I did see coming. Or perhaps I should rather say, something that didn’t surprise me. Because while this is a fantasy story with magic and villains that want to destroy the world, it’s also a mystery. So when it obeyed certain mystery rules I wasn’t too surprised. But it was still highly awesome (and there were enough things that I did not see coming). And I wanted to wrap everybody in blankets afterward and give them cookies. My poor, poor babies. OK…I’ll stop now. I just care a lot about these characters…

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.
4 stars, fantasy

The Spirit Lens (Collagia Magica #1)

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Title: The Spirit Lens
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Collegia Magica #1

In a kingdom on the verge of a grand renaissance, where natural science has supplanted failing sorcery, someone aims to revive a savage rivalry…

For Portier de Savin-Duplais, failed student of magic, sorcery’s decline into ambiguity and cheap illusion is but a culmination of life’s bitter disappointments. Reduced to tending the library at Sabria’s last collegia magica, he fights off despair with scholarship. But when the king of Sabria charges him to investigate an attempted murder that has disturbing magical resonances, Portier believes his dreams of a greater destiny might at last be fulfilled.

As the king’s new agente confide, Portier – much to his dismay – is partnered with the popinjay Ilario de Sylvae, the laughingstock of Sabria’s court. Then the need to infiltrate a magical cabal leads Portier to Dante, a brooding, brilliant young sorcerer whose heretical ideas and penchant for violence threaten to expose the investigation before it’s begun. But in an ever-shifting landscape of murders, betrayals, old secrets, and unholy sorcery, the three agentes will be forced to test the boundaries of magic, nature, and the divine…

“I appreciate your concern, lord.”
Truly it warmed me more than I could say, even if he could only express it in the King of Sabria’s closet

Rating4star

The Spirit Lens starts with a simple question: who is trying to kill the king? While trying to find the answer, Portier and his co-investigators come across many more questions. About the number of people who are behind it, their plans after the last attempt failed, their reasons, what they intend to do if they succeed. So far, so usual. At the end of the book, Portier has found out who was trying to kill the king. When it comes to all the other questions he has some very vague hints but a lot remains in the dark. That’s also not unusual for a first book in a trilogy but even in a book that sets the scene, I expect to get some more answers.
 
Not that I mind too much. Because even if I had learned more I still would want to read the next book to meet all the characters again. I loved Portier and his character development during the book. Except for the part where he seems to be thinking with his penis. Portier is a nobleman and in this world relationships with nobility are a complicated issue. (There are very strict laws about adultery). So any women he has met so far just went nope’ because they didn’t want to deal with all that shit. So when he comes across a woman who doesn’t do that and enjoys talking with him instead, it’s unsurprising that he is very happy about that fact. (It probably also helps that she is good looking…). And I don’t think it’s unrealistic that he would develop feelings for her. But I don’t buy how quickly these feelings develop into blind trust and Portier risking his job (and life) on her word. I could have accepted him wanting to believe her and then somebody else persuading him but it’s not even that. Without any outside influences, Portier decides taking time out of his busy schedule that includes saving the king’s life and so stopping the country from descending into chaos to help a woman he only met a few times. It’s a bit hard to believe. Even for such a kind-hearted person as him. (Did I mention how happy I am that we get a non-cynical hero? because I really am).
4 stars, fantasy

Breath and Bone (Lighthouse #2)

1140216Title: Breath and Bone
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Lighthouse #2

As the land of Navronne sinks deeper into civil war and perilous winter, everyone wants to get their hands on the rebellious sorcerer Valen -a murderous priestess, a prince who steals dead men’s eyes, and even the Danae guardians, whose magic nurtures the earth and whose attention could prove the most costly of all.

Addicted to an enchantment that turns pain into pleasure -and bound by oaths he refuses to abandon- Valen risks body and soul to rescue one child, seek justice for another, and bring the dying land its rightful king.
Yet no one is who they seem, and Valen’s search for healing grace leads him from Harrower dungeons to alien shores. Only at the heart of the world does he discover the glorious, terrible price of the land’s redemption-and his own.

Rating4star

Nothing was ever as simple as the fanatics believed.
The Lighthouse Duet does not reinvent the wheel. The question ‘Can you stay morally pure while fighting a totally immoral evil?’ has been asked before. But, where a lot of fantasy novels just answer this question with ‘no’ and then gleefully go on about the horrible things our heroes have to do Lighthouse follows it up with other questions. So how far can you go? If the bad guys have no rulebook and torture and murder children can you also throw out yours and start enslaving the souls of the dead? Or will you just end up as bad as the previous bad guys?
The characters don’t just touch upon these questions, shrug and move on. It’s a major source of conflict between the characters and it is done really well. But in the end, the resolution of this problem is perhaps a bit too convenient. Just like a lot of the problems get solved a bit too easily by the right magical power-upgrade at the right time, the right information coming along at just the right time etc. and perhaps it would have been better to have fewer problems with more complex solutions but in the end that didn’t stop me from enjoying the book (or binging the last third of it in a day...) A lot of it had to do with the great characters. I liked Valen and the other ‘good guys’ and felt with them over their moral dilemmas. And I despised the bad guys while also understanding their grievances and that they had some good points before it turned into Holy Disproportionate Retribution Batman.
4 stars, history, Uncategorized

The Romanovs: 1613-1918

21094391Title: The Romanovs:  1613-1918
Author: Simon Sebag Montefiore

The Romanovs were the most successful dynasty of modern times, ruling a sixth of the world’s surface for three centuries. How did one family turn a war-ruined principality into the world’s greatest empire? And how did they lose it all?

This is the intimate story of twenty tsars and tsarinas, some touched by genius, some by madness, but all inspired by holy autocracy and imperial ambition. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s gripping chronicle reveals their secret world of unlimited power and ruthless empire-building, overshadowed by palace conspiracy, family rivalries, sexual decadence and wild extravagance, with a global cast of adventurers, courtesans, revolutionaries and poets, from Ivan the Terrible to Tolstoy and Pushkin, to Bismarck, Lincoln, Queen Victoria and Lenin.

Rating4star

Did you ever want to know which nicknames the Romanovs gave their significant other’s genitalia? Then this is the book for you! There’s a lot of information on the family’s sex-life gained from letters and other documents. Now it would be unfair just to talk about the fact that in this book you’ll learn that Alexander II had so much sex that his doctors suggested he should slow down a bit for the sake of his health because you’ll learn a lot more about the Romanov-history than just the naughty parts. And a lot of it will be new, even to people like me who have read about the Romanovs before.
(Though I can’t deny that the naughty bits will probably stay with me most).
The book is very in-depth and doesn’t only talk about the Tsars and their immediate family but also some courtiers and more distant relatives. As a result, the book can be rather confusing (especially if you listen to the audiobook…seriously…I recommend this book but the printed/e-book version where you can leaf back to check who was who is probably the more sensible choice) and while some of the stories about what happened to person X or Z who was a confidant/lover/whatever of one of the rulers are interesting it’s questionable if they are all relevant. There’s a touch of ‘I researched him/her and I didn’t want it to be for nothing so I’ll include that bit’ in some bits.
However, overall that doesn’t matter (and in a non-audio copy you could just skip them after all…), this book is great for those who already have a basic knowledge of the Romanovs but want to know even more. (I do not recommend it for newbies since it’ll probably be too much info at once).