The Black Orchid Girls – Book Review

The Black Orchid Girls by: Carolyn Arnold
Published on: February 10, 2022

Black Orchid Girls is the 4th book in the Detective Amanda Steele series that gives a solid story, but felt a little bland.

Early one morning a girl is found murdered in the Leesylvania State Park and Detective Amanda Steele and her partner Detective Trent Stenson are called in to investigate. The girl turns out to be a local college student, Chloe Sumner, with a heart for the environment and was frequently known to go to the park for the Mystery snail. Soon the detectives are given plenty of leads to begin their investigation, which include boyfriends, roommates, and rivals just to name a few.

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Ariadne – Book Review

Ariadne by: Jennifer Saint
Published on: May 4, 2021

“I am Ariadne, princess of Crete, though my story takes us a long way from the rocky shores of my home.”

Description

Ariadne, Princess of Crete, grows up greeting the dawn from her beautiful dancing floor and listening to her nursemaid’s stories of gods and heroes. But beneath her golden palace echo the ever-present hoofbeats of her brother, the Minotaur, a monster who demands blood sacrifice.

When Theseus, the Prince of Athens, arrives to vanquish the beast, Ariadne sees in his green eyes not a threat but an escape. Defying the gods, betraying her family and country, and risking everything for love, Ariadne helps Theseus kill the Minotaur. But will Ariadne’s decision ensure her happy ending? And what of Phaedra, the beloved younger sister she leaves behind?

Hypnotic, propulsive, and utterly transporting, Jennifer Saint’s Ariadne forges a new epic, one that puts the forgotten women of Greek mythology back at the heart of the story, as they strive for a better world.

Review

I cannot help but feel for Ariadne. Daughter to King Midas, a contemptable human who enjoys human sacrifice, and Pasiphae, a woman who never recovered from a curse placed upon her by Poseidon. As the daughter of a powerful man, she has few options available to her. Her only solace is her younger sister Phaedra. But when the day comes that Ariadne and Phaedra find a way to escape, this too comes with lies and abandonment.

While I empathize with Ariadne and applaud her for the courageous decisions she did make, she could also be frustrating. Far too often she was content in her own naivety and seemed afraid to face unpleasant truths. An example, is in her relationship with her sister whom she had been parted from. Why didn’t she visit her sister? Why didn’t she ask who her sister had married? Wasn’t she curious, even a little? As much as she endured or had seen, she should have known to be more actively engaged in her own life. After all, it is her life and if she doesn’t engage who else will?

Ariadne tells not only the life story of its heroine, but explores the darker sides of the gods. Their thirst for revenge, their need for adoration. Their hubris. Little thought or care is given to how their choices and curses affect others. Women get the brunt of their wrath, often the object of displaced anger. Instead of inflicting their rage and disdain on the one who actually insulted them, the gods instead inflict the pain and suffering onto those within their circle.

While the story was well written, it was also a little depressing. There is a little bit of hopefulness in the Epilogue, but not enough to overcome the entirety of the story that I had just finished reading. I both listened to this on audio and read the book. Typically, I love audio books more, but not this one and I do not recommend it. The voice and emotions portrayed felt wrong. Every time I began the audio I couldn’t wait for the story to end. Picking up the book instead, breathed new life into the story for me.

Age of Ash – Book Review

Age of Ash: Daniel Abraham
Published on: February 15, 2022

Description:

Kithamar is a center of trade and wealth, an ancient city with a long, bloody history where countless thousands live and their stories unfold.

This is Alys’s.

When her brother is murdered, a petty thief from the slums of Longhill sets out to discover who killed him and why.  But the more she discovers about him, the more she learns about herself, and the truths she finds are more dangerous than knives. 

Swept up in an intrigue as deep as the roots of Kithamar, where the secrets of the lowest born can sometimes topple thrones, the story Alys chooses will have the power to change everything.

Review:

“Longhill’s always Longhill.”

The strength of this story lies in its world building. It takes only a second to realize the world Daniel Abraham has created is rich with history and is well-developed. The characters reference that history time and time again. They know which district they have come from and what it means. It means that “Longhill’s always Longhill.” No matter where you go – you’re always a Longhill. It’s the type of story that gives you the distinct impression that the author has not only every street mapped out, but that he also knows every stall and business on the street as well as who runs it.

But to me, its weakness is that the story holds you at arms length, never giving you a chance to truly feel anything about the characters. I wondered several times why this was. Part of it was that it often felt as if I were being narrated to by someone watching the events. Other times I wondered if it was because I didn’t feel properly introduced to Alys’s backstory for a while. The story itself has a different pace to it and takes time to fully unwind and reveal itself. Little by little we learn quite a few things about Alys, however, it is a while before we spend a full chapter on what life was like when it was just her and her mom. But as I write this – maybe that is the point. Alys’s rough life has forced her to protect herself at whatever the cost and that includes not opening up to others and letting people in. Perhaps that includes us. Her brother Darro was her rock. While she couldn’t count on much, including her mother, she had him. With his death, her grief takes over in it’s various stages as she tries to stay connected to him any way she can. Perhaps that grief pushes not only Sammish out, but us out as well. Whatever it was, I never felt connected to Alys as well as other characters.

On the other hand, Sammish was a character I felt the closest to. Not many of us have lived the type of life these girls have. But even with that, what made Sammish’s character more relatable was that her feelings, issues, and vulnerabilities are ones that many people have encountered at some point in their lives. Somewhere we’ve had to work through that feeling of being left out or left behind, that feeling of wanting more from someone than we are being given. And it is working through these and coming to terms with these issues that we become the individuals we are today through. Overall, the exploration of her loneliness and desire to help the friend she knew (and not who she was becoming) was very well done and is why she became my favorite character.

There’s no doubt in my mind that some will like the style and really enjoy the book. It’s well written and full of the type of world-building that fantasy readers really enjoy. The character explorations into grief and loneliness will draw people in as well. I also rather enjoyed the ins and outs of pickpocketing as we get descriptions of who all is needed and what is involved to pull off this type of thievery. However, the main plot takes a while to get started and it isn’t until about half-way in before you start receiving information on what is going on and where the story is taking us. This may frustrate some readers, as it did me, if you aren’t expecting it.

Rating: 3.75

Thanks to Netgalley and Orbit for the advanced review copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

The Stranger Diaries – Book Review

The Stranger Diaries (Harbinder Kaur #1): Elly Griffiths
Published on: March 5, 2019

In Stranger Diaries, Elly Griffiths has written a wonderful gothic story that combines a fictional Victorian-era short story with a modern murder mystery.

Clare is the single-mother of 15-year-old Georgie. She teaches high-school English in the house where R.M. Holland, the long-deceased author of short-story The Stranger, used to live. In her spare time, she researches the various mysteries surrounding R.M. Holland, mostly relating to rumors about his wife and possible daughter. Shortly in, Clare learns that her coworker and friend, Elle has been murdered. DS Harbinder Kaur and her partner Neil are assigned to the case, however, they find plenty of roadblocks during their investigation as the people who knew Elle feel compelled to hide certain truths from them.

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A Dragonbird in the Fern – Book Review

A Dragonbird in the Fern: Laura Rueckert
Published on: August 3, 2021

In some regards, the story is your typical YA fantasy – there is a kingdom, a romance, and an evil plot. It is an enjoyable read and wouldn’t necessarily stand out as much, except for the fact that the author created a main character with dyslexia. But moreso it is that this fantasy novel doesn’t just have a character with dyslexia, but that it becomes a central plot point to the story. In fact, I would go as far in saying that this story would not exist if the dyslexia had been left out.

The book starts off shortly after Princess Scilla’s assassination. Scilla had been betrothed to the King of a neighboring country. She had spent many years learning the King’s language and customs, but upon her death the betrothal transfers to Princess Jiara. But unlike her sister, Jiara has always had difficulty with letters and words and reading. As a result, Jiara does not know the King’s native language. As the marriage starts with the newlyweds can only communicate through an interpreter.

If all there was to this story was a princess who had dyslexia and didn’t know the language of her new husband, it would never have left an impression on me. I would have wondered why the author bothered to tell us at all if she wasn’t going to use it. But that is not what happens here. Instead Rueckert has carefully plotted an entire story around the difficulties of learning new languages and the main character’s dyslexia.

Through Jiara and King Raffar we explore the effort and amount of time needed to learn even the basics of a language. This couple is so cute. The most memorable scenes for me are of them eating dinner and Raffar helping Jiara learn the language. Instead of immediately graduating to Shakespeare level dialogues, the two of them stick with Dr. Seuss conversations: short, simple sentences. “I like rice.” “I like sweet potatoes.” There is a lot of miming going on too to help each other understand. I suspect this couple would have been great at charades.

With A Dragonbird in the Fern, Laura Rueckert has not only created a delightful book to read, but one that is also memorable. It’s not perfect – I saw the ending/villain coming. But it is a nice read and one I can recommend if you are looking for a light-hearted YA fantasy.

Thank you Netgalley and North Star Editions for the advanced review copy and opportunity to provide an honest opinion. 

Daughter of the Moon Goddess – Book Review

Daughter of the Moon Goddess: Sue Lynn Tan
Published on: January 11, 2022

Time to an immortal was as rain to the boundless ocean.

A lovely debut by Sue Lynn Tan inspired by the story of Chang’e, the moon goddess that stole the potion of immortality gifted to her husband by the gods. For her theft, the celestial emperor punishes her by imprisoning Chang’e to the moon. The Daughter of the Moon Goddess story spans several years focusing on her daughter, Xingyin, and her quest to acquire the Crimson Lion Talisman, which would allow her to request anything from the emperor. With it, she hopes to free her mother from her imprisonment.

Although the series is identified as a duology there is so much occurring in this story that I was surprised it wasn’t broken out into additional books. If you have ever seen a xianxia drama, such as Ashes of Love or Eternal Love, you might have a good sense of how this style of story flows as characters go from one realm to another focusing on defeating magical creatures, obtaining magical items or weapons, and of course romance. The plot is fast-paced and is a surprisingly quick read given its size and is a terrific representation of all that makes this fantasy genre special. I would classify it as late young-adult/early new adult book. It spans a few years so it kind of falls in-between the two.

At the same time, the fast-paced plot is also what kept me from completely falling in love with it. Sometimes it felt a little too fast, especially in Part 1 where it introduces the main story and most of the major characters. These were the times when I wished it would slow down and let us fully experience the moments with Xingyin. An example of this is during one of her first experiences outside the moon where she works as an attendant to the daughter of a wealthy family that didn’t always treat her the best. I often feel a character needs a little adversary to make them into a well-rounded, more relatable character – someone you can cheer on when life finally gets better. But the story moves past that so quickly that I couldn’t fully appreciate the new freedom and happiness she had been given at her next home. Along the same lines, the romance felt sped up too. I knew feelings were developing, especially in our male lead, but the story was going so fast that I hadn’t quite bought in yet to where the characters were emotionally. So that when the romance occurred, I wasn’t especially invested in them as a couple.

Despite the issues mentioned above, I enjoyed the time spent in the immortal realms and their kingdoms: immortal, demon, mortal. There is something intriguing to me about a world with different realms and the author paints a lovely portrait of it with descriptions of the moon goddess lighting lanterns to illuminate the night sky or fights with nine-headed serpents.

Rating: 3.75

The Missing Trick – Picture Book Review

The Missing Trick by: Robin Jacobs
Illustrated by: Aimee Wright
Published on: July 21, 2020

A cute picture book about a boy named Louis who is trying to put on a magic show. When he starts to set up he realizes he can’t find his rabbit. He begins to search his magic hat and then his bag and then his pockets. He ends up finding everything but the rabbit. As he pulls out magic flowers, rope, and bouncing balls from the cups more and more people are attracted to his show and stay to watch. When he finally finds his rabbit he has quite the crowd.

It’s a happy story that will make you smile.

Rating: 4 stars
Thanks to Edelweiss and Cicada Books for the review copy.

Constance – Book Review

Constance by: Matthew FitzSimmons
Published on: September 1, 2021

In Constance, Matthew FitzSimmons not only delivers a wonderful sci-fi thriller that includes thought-provoking and complicated characters, but also sheds a light on all the complexities that cloning and memory downloading would bring to society.

We’re first introduced to Constance ‘Con’ around Christmas as we watch her go throughout her day. We learn of a tragic accident that killed her fellow band members, but also left her love brain-dead and in a coma. Later, we get some insight into the falling out that Con’s family has with her aunt Abigail.

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