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…

1 star, fantasy

The Phoenix Born (A Dance of Dragons #3)

Title: The Phoenix Born
Author Kaitlyn Davis
Series: A Dance of Dragons #3

For the first time in a thousand years, the fire dragon has been awakened and Rhen is its rider. But after destroying the armies that threatened the city of Rayfort, Rhen is shown a vision in flames that changes everything. The shadow’s phantom armies are coming and the dragons are the only things that might stop them.

High in the castle at the top of the Gates, Jinji has learned something of her own. Janu, her long lost twin, is alive. And just as the spirit shares her body, the shadow shares his. In the blink of an eye, her quest for vengeance against the evil that killed her family has changed to one of protection. Because she knows that if Rhen learns the truth he will do what she cannot—end the shadow, and end her brother in the process.

As the shadow grows more aggressive, Jinji and Rhen fight to find the rest of the dragon riders. But with time running out, they are forced to face the impossible decision between honor and love. Alliances are formed, promises are broken, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance…

Rating

They learned how each other moved, how they flew, how they fought. But most of all they bonded, formed a friendship.
Don’t bore me with details on the character- and relationship development. That might actually give them some depth and make them interesting and who would want that?
At the beginning of the book, Jinji uses her magic powers to rebuild a city that had been destroyed in a battle and heal the people that were injured during the attack. She spends almost a day doing that before she collapses. But not because using magic is physically exhausting, but because seeing so many dead and injured people takes an emotional toll on her. Fortunately, trauma can be healed by a hug from your boyfriend so she can go on to use some magic to convince the different sides in the battle to stop fighting each other and fight the Shadow instead.
All of this happens in the first three or four chapters and makes it very clear that the characters won’t need to worry about any of the things most other fantasy protagonists do. Somebody doesn’t believe them? There’s a person with essential god-like powers who can impress them till they change their opinions. A serious injury? That can be solved with little more than a snap of the fingers? No food? Same. The only thing Junji can’t do is teleport but then the other’s have dragons that can cover huge distances in minutes. (That, or the whole book takes place in an area roughly the size of Liechtenstein). Frankly, that makes for some very boring reading.
Of course, there is still the Big Bad of the series but what makes fantasy exciting is that the protagonists have to deal with a lot of stuff besides fighting the Big Bad. Here, the only other things that are going on are Jinji and Rhen’s relationship “problems”. In quotation marks, because they can be summed up with ‘You lied to me about something major. But when I think about it for a few paragraphs I can understand why you did that. Now I have betrayed you but you also forgave me after a few pages. And it’s not like either of our betrayals had any real consequences (except the deaths of a few thousand people but let’s ignore that since we did not know any of them).’ So these parts are also really boring. Which results in an exceptionally boring book.

 

ARC provided by NetGalley

Review of the series so far:

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.
1 star, fantasy

The Bronze Knight (A Dance of Dragons #2.5)

Title: The Bronze Knight
Author: Kaitlyn Davis
Series: A Dance of Dragons #2.5

Princess Leena arrives in Rayfort with one thought on her mind–getting the information that might stop her father’s armies to Prince Whylrhen as soon as possible. But once there, she quickly realizes the situation is far more dire than she ever anticipated. Abandoned by Jinji and Rhen who were sent away by the king regent, Leena is left alone with an impossible decision to make. Stay in Rayfort and fight with the rest of the doomed city. Or risk a life on the run for the chance of survival.

Rating: 

 

“For the hope that one day, I’ll be able to return home, to a kingdom changed, to a kingdom that has tossed cruelty to the side and replaced it with love.”
 
Let me get this straight: We spent all that time establishing that the Ourthuri, in general, are evil and it’s not just Leena’s father who is an evil ruler. He didn’t decide to execute all his wives who didn’t bear him a son immediately, that’s an Ourthuri custom. He didn’t introduce slavery, that’s an Ourthuri custom. He didn’t decide that minor offenses warrant a cruel punishment, that’s an Ourthuri custom. Leena herself says about her culture that in it “each moment of beauty [is] scared by some hidden darkness.” Because those Arabs are just evil. Sorry. Of course, I mean the Ourthuri. I’m sure it’s pure coincidence that Ourthuro resembles a middle-eastern place. Or that only Ourthori women wear veils which, today, is something mostly associated with Muslims. I’m sure they aren’t meant to be the evil Arab stereotype from a bad 80s fantasy novel…
Where was I? Right. Leena’s plan. She wants to help the Whylrhen defend themselves against the Ourthori attack. And then attack Ourthuro herself? Or just hope that after the lost war her people will be so devastated that she can waltz in and announce “Hey everybody! I know you hate women and never listen to them, and you will hate me even more because I broke some traditions…oh and also because I betrayed you to our enemies. But anyway have you considered being not evil?” And then everybody starts singing ‘Love, Love, Peace, Peace’ and they can live happily ever after?
That is a shitty plan. And all this could have been avoided if it had been just Leena’s father who was an evil king. Or at least the last in a line of rulers that got progressively worse. Instead, we get a people with all the depth of the orcs in Lord of the Rings (only hotter) and only our protagonist with her awesome sue-powers and some convenient cannon-fodder is speciul enough to see that and fight it. It doesn’t make sense.
 
Well, and the plot itself…repeated what we already know from the previous novel. Plus some new information that will probably be repeated in the next novel. I still don’t see the point of these novellas.
ARC provided by NetGalley.
5 stars, crime & mystery

Carola Dunn: Superfluous Women (Daisy Dalrymple #22)

25069276Title: Superfluous Women
Author: Carola Dunn
Series: (Daisy Dalrymple #22)

In England in the late 1920s, The Honourable Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher, on a convalescent trip to the countryside, goes to visit three old school friends in the area. The three, all unmarried, have recently bought a house together. They are a part of the generation of “superfluous women”—brought up expecting marriage and a family, but left without any prospects after more than 700,000 British men were killed in the Great War.

Daisy and her husband Alec—Detective Inspector Alec Fletcher, of Scotland Yard —go for a Sunday lunch with Daisy’s friends, where one of the women mentions a wine cellar below their house, which remains curiously locked, no key to be found. Alec offers to pick the lock, but when he opens the door, what greets them is not a cache of wine, but the stench of a long-dead body.

And with that, what was a pleasant Sunday lunch has taken an unexpected turn. Now Daisy’s three friends are the most obvious suspects in a murder and her husband Alec is a witness, so he can’t officially take over the investigation. So before the local detective, Superintendent Crane, can officially bring charges against her friends, Daisy is determined to use all her resources (Alec) and skills to solve the mystery behind this perplexing locked-room crime.

Rating5star

“Sorry but one simply can’t turn off one’s brain!” Underwood heaved a deep sigh. “No, I suppose it’s too much to expect of the modern woman.”
This is book number 22 in this series. I’ve read the previous 21 books and intend to read number 23 once it comes out.
I could simply stop here. After all, I can’t say that about many series. And even fewer if you ask which of those I genuinely enjoy and don’t only continue reading because I’ve grown so fond of the characters, that I’ll follow them through the shittiest plots. Carola Dunn has managed to keep the quality of this series steady for a long time and that deserves applause.
It also means I have run out of things to say. Daisy and Alec’s relationship is still refreshingly drama-free. The new characters are still charming. (I really wouldn’t mind if Willie and the others turned into recurring characters as some earlier guest-characters have done). Now some of the ‘evil’ characters had less depth than those in previous books but they still didn’t turn into caricatures.

That leaves me with the mystery plot. Which was great. Now I’ve read a lot of mystery novels. I often figure out the killer long before the characters do and not necessarily because the book is badly written. I just know what I have to look for and what hints disguise themselves as unimportant. Only, this time, I figured the killer out only a few pages before Daisy did it. I was distracted by some very well done red herrings and something stopped me from suspecting that character earlier. The exact same thing that stopped Daisy and the others from suspecting them. Saying more would be a spoiler but It was very well done.

On to the next 22 books 😉
DNF, fantasy

Andrew Caldecott: Rotherweird (Rotherweird #1)

34682105Author: Andre Caldcott
Title: Rotherweird
Series: Rotherweird #1

The town of Rotherweird stands alone – there are no guidebooks, despite the fascinating and diverse architectural styles cramming the narrow streets, the avant garde science and offbeat customs. Cast adrift from the rest of England by Elizabeth I, Rotherweird’s independence is subject to one disturbing condition: nobody, but nobody, studies the town or its history.

For beneath the enchanting surface lurks a secret so dark that it must never be rediscovered, still less reused.

But secrets have a way of leaking out.

Two inquisitive outsiders have arrived: Jonah Oblong, to teach modern history at Rotherweird School (nothing local and nothing before 1800), and the sinister billionaire Sir Veronal Slickstone, who has somehow got permission to renovate the town’s long-derelict Manor House.

Slickstone and Oblong, though driven by conflicting motives, both strive to connect past and present, until they and their allies are drawn into a race against time – and each other. The consequences will be lethal and apocalyptic.

 

DNF at 34%.
 
Rotherweird really wants to be quirky but only manages to have a cast of characters with names from the list ‘weirdest British names’. There’s for example Veronal Slickstone (he’s greedy), Jonah Oblong (he’s a teacher), Deidre Banter (she’s greedy), Godfery Fanguin (he’s a former teacher), Rhombus Snorkel (he’s also greedy), Vixen Valourhand (she pole-vaults over fences because of…reasons) and countless other characters with oh-so-funny names but no memorable characteristics. With two exceptions. Not that they are memorable, they just don’t have funny names. In fact, they have no names and are just referred to as ‘the actress’ and ‘the boy’. Few things annoy me as much as an author going ‘these characters aren’t even important enough for a name’.
Though to be fair I didn’t care much about them…but then I didn’t care about any of the characters with the quirky names either. And once you read a third of a book there should be someone you care about. Or at least something. Only the mystery about Rotherweird (which made me pick up the book in the first place) had gotten really boring as well. Thanks to something else that I find even more annoying than characters not being important enough for names: Characters not telling everything they know because…reasons. There were many conversations in which characters just alluded to things but refused to answer straightforward questions or just told a bit and then stopped for no discernible reason. I still don’t know much more about the secret of Rotherweird than I do after reading the blurb. And I really don’t care enough to read on…

ARC provided by NetGalley.
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).