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review 2019-02-25 20:46
The Connelly Boys
The Connelly Boys (Celtic Witches #1) - Lily Velez

It's somewhere between 3.5 and 4 stars, actually, as I quite liked this Celtic mystery. Scarlet has just moved to Ireland after her mother passed away, and she is still settling in her new school, an all male boarding school. Soon, however she finds out there is more to this world than she ever expected.

The story started with Scarlet stating how fabulous all the boys at her new school are, moving from one to the next, and I admit, for a second I was worried. Luckily once she has established how interesting all the Connelly boys are the story much improved. It had me guessing for a while and even though not everything came as a surprise to me in the end, it didn't bother me. Some things were a bit glanced over in this book, but I would like to see if they are explained further on.

What I liked was that while it is clear from the start who the love-interest will be, the other brothers are not entirely pushed into the sidelines but rather play their own part in the story. I would like to see where this is going.

The author provided me with a free copy of this book. This review, however, solely contains my own opinions.

 

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This was my read for square 18. Set in a school. However, except for the opening scenes the book doesn't take place in school, so I will only roll one dice this turn.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-01-03 10:45
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review 2018-10-17 12:18
More magic, more supernatural events, and plenty of wonder in the second novel of the series.
Atonement in Bloom - Teagan Riordain Geneviene

I was offered an ARC copy of this novel, that I had been after for some time, and I enthusiastically decided to review it as soon as I was able to.

I have followed Teagan Geneviene’s blog for a few years and have long been amazed by her creativity and her power to weave stories from the most unlikely jumble of elements, always rising to the challenges set by her readers, and writing by the seat of her pants. I am inclined to think there is some kind of magic at work, and I am not surprised by the genre she has chosen for her novels.

I have read and reviewed several of her books (you can check my most recent review of one of her serials here) and have long been a fan of her first-novel, Atonement, Tennessee (you can check my review, here). I had been waiting for the next instalment of the series for some time and had eagerly read any stories and snippets the author has shared in her blog about the Atonement universe. And I jumped at the opportunity to read an ARC copy of this novel, the second one in the series.

The author has tried to make this book stand alone, to ensure that anybody who started reading the series at this point would be given enough background to follow the events and enjoy the narrative, without slowing down those of us familiar with the story. Having read the first novel a while back and having reread it recently, I am probably not the best person to comment, but, in my opinion, she succeeds, although I would recommend anybody considering the purchase of this novel to go ahead and get the whole series, as they will be able to more fully appreciate the plot twists and the character development that take place in the series. And there are some companion stories available that you will enjoy as well.

The story is told from two different points of view, as was the case with the first novel. We have Lilith, Esmeralda’s (Ralda for short) calico cat, whose narrative is told in the third-person, and whose personality (her likes and dislikes, her strong opinions, and, indeed, her all-appropriate curiosity) shines through even more than in the first novel. She is witness to a number of events that allow the reader to be slightly ahead of Ralda at some points, but also increase the suspense and the expectations. She is not a human narrator and her understanding of events is often puzzling for us, so her clues are a bit like cryptic crossword prompts, familiar and alien at the same time. She gets involved in some hair-raising adventures of her own, and the end of the novel hints at many interesting things to come for our favourite feline narrator.

Ralda is the other narrator, and she tells the story in the first person. Those of us who have read the first novel know that she is a Southerner at heart, although she has spent many not-very-happy years in Washington DC. Atonement, Tennessee proves to be anything but the quiet and charming little town she imagines at first, secrets and supernatural events abound, and most of them centre on her house and her family line. She is a woman of strong intuition, but there is more to the events unfolding around her than a sixth sense. If the first novel saw her teetering between real-world difficulties (the move, the state of her house, the problems of her new-found friends), and some strange and decidedly supernatural events, in this second novel she at first suspects, and later comes to realise, that in Atonement, Tennessee, there is no clear separation between the “normal” and the “supernatural”. One of the things that make her a very compelling character, apart from her lack of ego and her self-deprecating sense of humour, is her open spirit and her ability to experience the wonder of the world around her. By her own confession, she has suffered the nasty side of things and people, and she at times appears overcautious and paranoid, but she is unable to say no to anybody needing help, and no matter how hard she resists, she finds it difficult to believe the worst of anybody. She might hesitate, but she will get in harm’s way if any of those close to her are in danger (and that includes Lilith, of course).

As for the plot… After taking stock of what happened in the first novel, things start getting interesting very soon. Some of the characters we thought we knew are revealed not to have been how they looked like at first (some for the better, some for the worse), and we have quite a few new characters turn up, some supernatural without a doubt (including my beloved glowing pigs), and others… well, I’ll leave you to see what you think. But there are unrequited loves, magical objects (one of my favourite things, both in fantasy and in the horror genre), some very Shakespearian turns of events, kidnappings, natural (or supernatural) wonders, and a fantastic battle scene (and I won’t reveal anything else).

Although the storyline is complete in itself and the events that unfold during the book get a resolution (and a more than satisfying one, I might add), there are mysteries still to be solved, some new ones hinted at, and I can’t wait to read the next book. If you love fantasy, supernatural events, folklore, myths and legends, Shakespeare, and appreciate a wild-tale full of imagination, you’ll be delighted by this book. I know I was.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-10-11 17:52
Author's Agendas Overwhelm an Interesting Tale (Review: Boudica #1- Dreaming the Eagle)

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(This review also contains an overview of the entire quadrilogy.)
 
As a fan of historical fiction I have no problems with creative license and exploring ideas, especially when there is a shortage of reference material on a topic- in this case regarding the woman known as Boudica, who led a rebel campaign against the Roman legions in Brittania in the 1st century AD. Though we know the eventual outcome, as the saying goes: it's the journey that matters, not the destination.
 
This journey feels like a family vacation you're forced to go on with your new step-parent/siblings, so you brought your stash...
 
There's not a lot of factual info on Boudica herself so author Manda Scott flexes her worldbuilding muscles admirably and fashions a layered Celtic society that starts out exploring themes but quickly turns into pure propaganda. Which is a shame, `cause it coulda been a contender.
 
It's easy to see why Manda Scott is considered one of the better crime drama authors in the UK: multiple story threads weave together creating at times a compelling drama but at others can be obtuse, but not overly so.
 
Real characters and events get submerged beneath the author's iron-willed agenda. There's a clear metaphor of Rome as the Great Western Male-Dominated Ordered Society trying to bring the Celts as the Groovy Bisexual Spiritually-Free Goddess-Loving Individuals to heel. Given that the author is openly lesbian and an advocate of Dream Interpretation, you understand why you're being hit over the head.
 
Instead of Druids and Bards we're treated to Dreamers and Singers- and Dreamers never seem to be wrong... about anything. Along with this comes page after page of spiritual mumbo jumbo centered on animal symbolism, mystic interpretations, moonlight reflections on water, hair in every imaginable hue of yellow- pass the bong, please.
 
The main problem I had with the Dreamers is the lack of explanation for their skills. Yeah- there's some divine power at work here, but for three plus books they're infallible, and only at the end when you know things go wrong do their interpretations suddenly become ambiguous- it's like being at the George Lucas School of Revisionism.
 
**SPOILER ALERTS**
 
There's also the subject of sexuality. Lots of evidence has surfaced regarding Celts and their casual attitudes towards homosexuality, and while I expected it as a sub-theme and incidental to the story it almost overshadows it. Boudica herself is bisexual: her first love is her best friend Airmid, whom she's already having sex with when they're both in their early teens. After endless passages about their longing gazes and vows of eternal devotion there's a teenage breakup spat after which she starts to notice boys, especially Caradoc, son of Cunobelin, the most powerful king. Skip to young adulthood and we suddenly meet Ardacos, who becomes a prominent supporting character and happens to be her first male lover, except that she's already kicked him to the curb... No need to bother with all that messy `coming of age character development' crap while your girlfriend is still hanging around!
 
Marriages are deliberately replaced with sexually open relationships regardless of how many children a couple has- it's entirely up to the woman as to what happens. If it weren't for the historical fact that Boudica did have children, I seriously doubt she would have been given any male lovers in this story. The fate of the children's father shows this- the aforementioned Caradoc- another historical figure whose true final fate is uncertain. His removal from the story, while factually based up to a point, honestly felt like the author didn't know what else to do with him, but needed him to leave. You can hardly run back to the arms of your one true gay love with the father of your children hanging around, now can you?
 
'Tagos, a member of the Eceni (read: Iceni) tribe who grows up with Boudica, turns coward in battle and eventually loses his sword arm and the respect of his peers. His emasculation is forgettable until you realize that he's actually Prasutagos, who is historically known to be the Roman client king of their tribe and whom Boudica is known to be married to (here they only shack up for political purposes) and whose death triggers events that lead to the final assaults against the legions. This ham-handed hack job and attempt to shade his identity from readers is a clear author manipulation to facilitate Boudica's rise to power later in the story: no more weak male rulers, here's a real woman to lead us! 
 
Then there's Cartimandua, a queen who likes to play both sides and another pivotal historical figure who's mentioned and never seen. Needing her support the rebels send emissaries, firstly Caradoc, whom she holds captive for the winter. Caradoc never elaborates about his captivity, though there's lots of innuendo. Venutios tries to use his influence to sway her and marries her to cement ties to the rebels, though she still does as she pleases. Given the significance of these events, it would've helped to see them unfold instead of being referred to in passing... but that would've been heterosexual.
 
I read through the entire series and can't recall one single healthy, nurturing straight relationship that survived the story- if someone doesn't die, it just plain ends badly. Whereas every gay/lesbian pairing is of soul-friends and soul-mates and... well, you get the idea. Case in point: Dubornos, an old friend and rival, likes Airmid, Boudica's lifelong lover. After that disaster there's Cygfa- Caradoc's daughter from another woman- who wants him, yet he doesn't reciprocate. When Dubornos finally develops deep, abiding, lifelong feelings for her, she's long over him and well into... wait for it... a lesbian relationship! You can't make this stuff up... but Manda Scott did!
 
The characterization of children of this story had them so far beyond precocious, I had to laugh. Repeatedly. As another reviewer pointed out- are these kids five or forty-five? A pre-teen boy defeats a grown man at a chess-like game like he's a master strategist instead of playing against one. Boudica herself displaces Venutios, a man over twice her age, as the pre-eminent warrior of the times... because she had a good day of hunting. Boudica's young daughter at the tender age of eight is so wise and prescient that the legendary warrior princess actually defers to her judgment on multiple occasions! Trees died for this shit!
 
The final battle was very poorly handled: in the book the Celts outnumber the Romans by about five to one, and have them hemmed in a valley... and they still lose?!? Even though the Romans had to win, this fight simply made no sense!
 
Lastly, there's the death scene that wasn't. Boudica's final fate is open to conjecture- Roman historians claim she poisoned herself to avoid capture (the author argues that this could be a conceit, as that's what a proper Roman woman would do). Here we get another all-too confusing battle scene to save her daughter's life resulting in a fatal, self-inflicted injury(!). After all, no true heroine could ever be beaten in honorable combat by the male enemy, oh no- far better that they die stupidly! We're not even given the payoff of a final scene: after a hell-ride to reach a final resting place for her all we get is another vision where Boudica bequeaths her legacy to her young daughter before crossing over. Pfft!
 
I know it doesn't seem like it, but there's a lot to recommend here. There's a wealth of detail, flavor and feeling to the story and I always enjoy a different take on a subject. And there's times when the imagery is amazing: in the final book there's a symbolic moment involving a hare that was simply a stroke of genius! I just wished there were more moments like that- less propaganda and proselytizing, and more prose.
 
2.5/5 Stars
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review 2018-06-27 16:11
Blood Magick by Nora Roberts
Blood Magick - Nora Roberts

They were never meant to be together, she one of the three, he the spawn of evil, carrying his mark, yet Branna and Fin still fell in love. Oath, blood and the curse of a dying witch might've kept them apart for more than ten years, but now, as the final battle approaches and the future is uncertain, they must take what moment they can to experience what has been denied them.


And then this happened. After two books of hyping the "epic, star-crossed lovers" tale of the eldest of the three recent descendants of Sorcha, the Dark Witch and the man carrying the blood (and mark) of Cabhan, the evil sorcerer that killed Sorcha and her man, bringing about the creation of the three and prompting Sorcha's curse, this is what we got.
Blah, blah, blah, boohoo to me, I-love-you-but-cannot-be-with-you-no-matter-what-but-have-to-be-with-you-no-matter-what, wringing of hands, cooking, cleaning, blah, blah, blah, let's-make-some-more-witches, let's-make-demon-poison, blah, blah, blah, the end.

This is this third book in a nutshell. Boring.

Where was the drama? Where was the angst of this star-crossed, doomed, cursed love? I have no idea. This book sure didn't deliver.
Even the characters and their interactions were boring. There was no sign of friends and family from the previous two books. They were just there for form's sake, to warrant another book, if you will.
There sure wasn't enough material for an entire book in this story, so it had to be filled with ballast and redundant scenes (cooking, cleaning, making of soaps, taking strolls in the woods...)

Even the final confrontation with the big bad wasn't that satisfying. It read like overkill, too large-scale, too much everything; it actually turned into almost a parody (and it would've, if this series had any more books to come).

Come to think of it, the entire arc of the trilogy didn't have enough story meat to fill three books. It could've easily been condensed into a single one (like Three Fates for example). It would've packed more of a punch, instead of spreading itself thin.

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