Book review: Beyond by Mercedes Lackey

Beyond by Mercedes Lackey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Prequels are difficult. Because the readers (assuming they have read the subsequent books) know how the book turns out, it’s difficult to build up suspense. And origin prequels are especially difficult because everything isn’t supposed to work quite as smoothly as in the subsequent series (temporally speaking, not publication date speaking), and the author has to be cognizant of that when developing the origin story.
All of those caveats aside, if you are a fan of the Valdemar novels by Mercedes Lackey, this is quite a nice origin prequel. The author wisely focused on character development and the origin story rather than the buildup of suspense. If you haven’t read any of the Valdemar books yet, this is a good place to start. (The Heralds of Valdemar series and “By the Sword” are my personal favorites.)
I certainly will be reading the next book in the origin series to see how Valdemar develops and grows.
(I’m actually giving it 3.5 stars, which is impossible to do on Goodreads. :))



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Book review: Cinderella Must Die by W.R. Gingell

Cinderella Must Die by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A re-telling of the Cinderella fairy tale that turns everything you know on its head. In this version, the evil stepsisters are good, and Cinderella is bad. Now the stepsisters are accused of escaping from prison, killing Cinderella, and are on the run. (Just for the record, the statements are true, false, and true.)
The re-telling is creative, imaginative, and fun. The story is irreverent, humorous, and a sly dig about confirmation bias. The romance is a bit deliberately topsy-turvy and quite fitting given the topsy-turvy nature of the story. The book is an enjoyable read and makes you think about all of those traditional fairy tales and how they could be turned upon their heads in a re-telling.
I’ve greatly enjoyed all of this author’s fantasy stories. (I haven’t yet embarked on her urban fantasy series yet.) And I look forward to reading more of her work!



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Book review: The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A lighthearted frothy fantasy/romance. The book ostensibly takes place during the Victorian period and has many of the components of a Regency romance (I use “Regency romance” broadly and not at all accurately when it comes to time periods). The author then added elements of magic, several cups of irreverence, and a dash of humor, stirred it, and turned it into a fun, quick, and enjoyable read. It’s a great spring break/summer vacation beach read (or something to read while taking a break from studying).
No great secrets of life imparted–just an easy read if you want to give your mind some rest and relaxation and escape.




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Book review: The Cecilia & Kate Novels by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

The Cecilia & Kate Novels: Sorcery & Cecilia by Wrede & Stevermer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Instead of starting a new series, complaining about starting a new series, and not finishing a new series, I decided to read ALL THREE of the books in this series consecutively. (No applause necessary.)
The conceit of this trilogy is that the entire set of books is written as letters between two cousins, Kate and Cecilia. Very clever, very well done. The authors give you a distinct sense of the personalities of both writers, and their letters are written vividly enough that the plot moves engagingly along and secondary characters are also brought to life.
The world-building is also done cleverly through these letters. The books take place in Georgian England so it is a Regency-ish trilogy with magic. I would describe it as if a Georgette Heyer novel married a W.R. Gingell novel and had a baby. My only complaint is that the magic isn’t always well explained and sometimes oddly integrated, which I think stems from having two authors, but this flaw seldom detracts from the charm of the novels.
The trilogy is light and frothy and fun, and a fast read. If you’re looking to take an escapist break from the world, this is definitely worth reading.



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Book review: Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I really dislike vampire novels. I find them clichéd and silly (other than Bram Stoker’s Dracula, of course). And, if it weren’t for the fact that Robin McKinley is one of my favorite fantasy writers, I wouldn’t have read this one either.
But I’m glad I did. This book is a bit different than many of the author’s other books. The language of the book is more colloquial than is typical, and her world building is a bit more casual, too. Also, unusually for her, the book is narrated in the first person. But the plot is interesting and original and ambivalent. And, as a baker myself, I like that the main character is also a baker. (She’s evidently also a morning person–we do NOT share that character trait.)
Vampires are a central theme in this book, obviously, but not either good and or evil. And the book is a thoughtful study on what happens when you are confronted with a stereotype that you discover not to be true.
It isn’t perhaps my favorite of the author’s books, but it is perhaps the most thought-provoking of her works so far. I would have given it 3.5 stars but rounded up as she is one of my favorite fantasy authors.



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Book review: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I have never read anything by Sarah Maas before, but this book looked interesting and so I thought I’d give it a try. I am so glad I did! The book is best described as a romance tucked inside a fantasy novel. The world-building is convincing and interesting (there are a few new nouns for different types of creatures, but it is very manageable). The writing is confident and sure-handed. The author ran a bit of a risk with this book (will romance readers find it too much of a fantasy novel? will fantasy readers find it too much of a romance?), but the book is lengthy enough to satisfy both types of readers. (Unless you like short books, that is.)
The main character is in serious need of a good therapist, and while I’m a bit unenamored with angsty novels, it was never enough to discourage me from reading the book. The pace is excellently done, and the atmosphere the author creates is intense, and all of these factors combine to result in a well-written book that is a really fun and excellent read. (The only downside is that if you’re hooked, there are 2 more (lengthy) books in the trilogy and a 4th book that is a related spin-off.) 🙂
It will be worth it.




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Book review: Chalice by Robin McKinley

Chalice by Robin McKinley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I have loved almost everything I’ve read by Robin McKinley, and “Chalice” is no exception. On the surface, this is a conventional fantasy with magic and villains and heroes. The author lifts the book out of its conventional genre with lyrical–almost poetical–writing (as is typical of her work). She also defies the stereotypes of heroes and heroines by making both the hero and heroine of this novel people who are uncertain about their places in the world. There is no strong sense of destiny in the main characters, no inner conviction about the righteousness of their actions. Instead, they are two people who are lifted from their previous lives and thrust into a greater role. And neither one of them is certain that they are suited for those roles. It’s actually a refreshing change to watch main characters flounder and feel inadequate about their lives.
The author is skilled at world building without utilizing overly descriptive phrases. In a few austere strokes, she creates emotional resonance about the world she is building, and the reader follows. There are flamboyant extroverted fantasy novels, and then there is this one–a seemingly unobtrusive nugget that slowly reveals its hidden jeweled splendor as the novel progresses.
I highly recommend this book!



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Book review: The Black Company by Glen Cook

The Black Company by Glen Cook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book is a departure from what I often read. It’s fantasy, yes, but it’s a gritty, mercenary fantasy–all sharp edges and plot-driven. I liked it a lot–it’s a little magical, a lot gory, generally unsentimental, and a tad dystopian. For some reason, it worked for me. The book is told from a first-person perspective by the historian and physician in the troop. It is well-paced, well-plotted, and a fun read.
Characters range from the stereotypical to the dysfunctional to the fantastical. Plot twists are littered throughout the book, and characters go from evil to ally to enemy (and vice versa).
It’s the first in a series, a fact that I’m delighted by because it means I have many more books before I reach the end of the series.



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Book review: Fire in the Blood by W.R. Gingell

Fire in the Blood (Shards of a Broken Sword #2)

Fire in the Blood by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book is the second of a trilogy (the first book being “Twelve Days a Faery.” Both books are standalone in the sense of despite the fact that there is an overarching narrative arc for the trilogy, the stories stand on their own (at least so far).
Rafiq is a dragon who is being held in Thrall by Prince Akish. He’s not a fan of this state of affairs but has resigned himself to his fate. They are off to rescue a princess in an enchanted keep and encounter the princess’s servant, Kako, who offers to help with their quest. Despite the suspicions of both men, they accept her offer, and she accompanies them as they go through the Seven Circles (seven quests) to rescue the princess.
The story is fairly straightforward as is the puzzle. But the author’s strengths are building a world of consistent magic, surprising you just when you think you have everything all figured out, and the depth of her characters. She’s not much on romance, but I forgive her this minor flaw because the characters are so interesting and compelling.
The book is more a novella than a full-length book. It is a fast-paced and easy read. I highly recommend it!



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Book review: Twelve Days of Faery by W.R. Gingell

Twelve Days of Faery (Shards of a Broken Sword #1)

Twelve Days of Faery by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is an original take on a traditional fairy tale plot where unfortunate accidents happen to a prince’s girlfriends/fiancees, and the king has offered a reward to whomever breaks the curse. I enjoyed the first person narrative of the king, who is simultaneously shrewd about ruling his kingdom and oblivious about personal relationships. There is the obligatory mystery of who or what is causing the accidents and delightful world building of the faery world. Interesting backstories are hinted at although not fleshed out.
In fact, my biggest criticism of the book is its novella length. There was so much more in the story that could have been elaborated on, but the short length of the book prevented that from happening. While this book is in no way equal to the author’s Two Monarchies series, it is a pleasant, fun, and unusual story. And the author’s writing is, as always, a pleasure to read.
3.5 stars.



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