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review 2019-10-18 20:09
Quick Thoughts: Dreamer's Pool
Dreamer's Pool - Juliet Marillier

Dreamer's Pool

by Juliet Marillier
Book 1 of Blackthorn & Grim



In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear.  Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada.  There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.

Oran, crown prince of Dalriada, has waited anxiously for the arrival of his future bride, Lady Flidais.  He knows her only from a portrait and sweetly poetic correspondence that have convinced him Flidais is his destined true love.  But Oran discovers letters can lie.  For although his intended exactly resembles her portrait, her brutality upon arrival proves she is nothing like the sensitive woman of the letters.

With the strategic marriage imminent, Oran sees no way out of his dilemma.  Word has spread that Blackthorn possesses a remarkable gift for solving knotty problems, so the prince asks her for help.  To save Oran from his treacherous nuptials, Blackthorn and Grim will need all their resources: courage, ingenuity, leaps of deduction, and more than a little magic.

Dreamer's Pool, to be honest, while written well with Juliet Marillier's style of magic and lore, also sort of tended towards the predictable.  It's a usual plot device of Marillier's to give away the plot twist from one of the tales or stories told throughout the book.  And so it wasn't hard to figure out how everything would turn out in the end.

As has been quite typical of Marillier as well, this first book in the Blackthorn & Grim trilogy involved a lot of world building and set-up.  A lot of traveling happened, and I'm not entirely sure that things started picking up until about halfway through the book.  At least, for me, I didn't start getting really interested until halfway through the book.

So while I enjoyed the book, I still had a hard time with it, not only because of the slowness of the plotting, but also because of how hard it was to really relate with any of the characters.  Blackthorn tended towards more bitter than I felt like she needed to be, and I found I liked her more when she wasn't constantly thinking about how she could betray the new chance at life that Conmael gave her by going back to her need for revenge.  I didn't mind her being a cranky old wise woman (who was hardly old by biological age standards), and I liked her role as the local wise woman.

I'm much like Blackthorn in that I hate being crowded and I like my privacy.  But I think that, as much as Blackthorn and Grim seem to understand the way that the fey work their magic, they don't seem to understand that there might be a reason for the seven year restriction that Conmael has given her.  If Blackthorn went back for her revenge at this stage in her new chance at life, she'd probably just end up back in prison again.

Anyway, the only reason I even gave this book a higher rating anyway was because of the last half of the book.  It certainly did end up drawing me in all the way, and if only we could have stuck with Blackthorn's and Grim's POVs, I think I would have enjoyed the book in it's entirety a lot more.  I sincerely was more interested in their journey, and instead found Prince Oran kind of frustrating to follow.

I also found our "villian" more overpowered than was believable.  Lady Flidais's behavior was never acceptable nor was it normal, so I'm surprised that no one ever called her out on it, save for Oran in private.

Of course, without Oran's POV, there probably wouldn't be a whole lot of story.  Maybe if this book were written in third person, things might have been a bit different?

Nonetheless, the end of the book left me wanting more, and so I will definitely be jumping into the next book when I get the chance.



Halloween Bingo 2019



Source: anicheungbookabyss.blogspot.com/2019/10/quick-thoughts-dreamers-pool.html
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review 2019-09-02 03:05
Review: The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier
The Harp of Kings (Warrior Bards #1) - Juliet Marillier

Reviewed for Wit and Sin


Enter a world of warriors and bards, of mortal kings and uncanny creatures in The Harp of Kings. Juliet Marillier’s writing has a lyricism to it that never fails to draw me in and I found myself spellbound by this story.

Since childhood Liobhan has wanted to become one of the elite Swan Island warriors. Now she and her brother Brocc have that opportunity. As trainees, they wouldn’t normally be sent out on missions, but their skills as bards make them the perfect spies when the mystical Harp of Kings is stolen. Alongside two senior warriors and a fellow trainee, Dau, Liobhan and Brocc make their way to the kingdom of Breifne. There they must suss out secrets from courtiers and druids, fend off royal bullies, and uncover the machinations of Otherworld beings, all while learning to become a team and strengthen their weak spots.

Liobhan is a heroine who is easy to like. She’s vibrant, skilled, loyal, kindhearted, and hardworking. She’s also young, vocal, and sometimes reckless when she follows her heart, but I liked that she wasn’t perfect and I could see how she will continue to grow over the course of the series. Brocc too is an endearing character. He’s quieter than his sister, more aware of his fears, but his talent as a bard is unparalleled. Brocc is unknowingly on a journey to come into his own and his path is one I’m still thinking on days after finishing this book (for reasons I won’t spoil). As for the third main character, Dau isn’t immediately loveable. He comes off as arrogant and is determined to win a spot on Swan Island at all costs. I knew there had to be more to him, and Ms. Marillier did not disappoint. I loved peeling back the layers of Dau’s character. He’s the most complex and wounded of the three and there were times his story brought tears to my eyes. Though each of the three main characters has a satisfying story arc in The Harp of Kings, I look forward to seeing how they mature and progress and how their relationships change in the next book.

The Harp of Kings is the first book in the Warrior Bards series and can easily be read as a standalone, but if you like Ms. Marillier’s Blackthorn & Grim trilogy you’ll be delighted to find out this series is set in the same world. I’m a huge Blackthorn & Grim fan, so I must confess that as soon as I read the character list in the beginning of the book and discovered that Liobhan and Brocc were Blackthorn and Grim’s children I was automatically invested in their fates. I loved the nods to the prior trilogy and even though I enjoyed The Harp of Kings on its own merits I still desperately hope we travel to Winterfalls in future Warrior Bards books.

The Harp of Kings has intrigue, fights, magical quests, and otherworldly action aplenty. The pages of the book practically flew by and I hated it whenever I had to put it down. I finished this story a well-satisfied reader, but there is a bittersweet quality to it that makes me hope the wait for the next book won’t be too long.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


Source: witandsin.blogspot.com/2019/09/review-harp-of-kings-by-juliet-marillier.html
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review 2019-06-11 06:52
Rambling Thoughts: Wolfskin
Wolfskin - Juliet Marillier


by Juliet Marillier
Book 1 of Saga of the Light Isles



All young Eyvind ever wanted was to become a great Viking warrior--a Wolfskin--and carry honor out in the name of his fathergod Thor.  The chance to make it happen is his when his chieftain Ulf brought the tale of a magical land across the sea where men with courage could go to conquer a land and bring glory to themselves.  They set out to find this fabled land, and discover a windswept and barren place, but one filled with unexpected beauty and hidden treasures... and a people who are willing to share their bounty.

Ulf's new settlement begins in harmony with the natives of the isles led by the gentle king Engus.  And Eyvind finds a treasure of his own in the young Nessa, niece of the King, seer and princess.  His life will change forever as she claims his heart for her own.

But someone has come along to this new land who is not what he seems--and to him Eyvind swore a childhood oath of lifelong loyalty.  Now he's calling in the debt of honor, but what he asks of Eyvind might just doom him to kill the only thing that Eyvind has ever truly loved.

Will the price of honor create the destruction of all that Eyvind holds dear?

I hate to say this, but this book pretty much gave away its entire plot in the beginning during the "tale" that one of Eyvind's Wolfskin brothers tells, about the honorable warrior who chose loyalty over love, thus killing the girl he was to marry because his mentor wanted vengeance against her people... or some such nonsense... and then ended up living a life of regret and sorrow.

This is definitely not my favorite Juliet Marillier book, and I had considered giving up on it at least twice.  Truth be told, I had a hard time finding any character to relate to or like, and found myself a bit frustrated with everyone, if only because of the whole "blind loyalty and honor" crap that was being thrown around.  But Marillier has a way of writing that is magical and draws you in when you least expect it.  And so I persevered, being both determined and too stubborn to give up, if only because I wanted to know how Eyvind's tale would end differently than the tale that was told by the Wolfskin brother at the beginning of the book.  Because I knew it would, if only because the laws of plot twists kind of dictate it... sort of.

As I'd already mentioned, I had a hard time liking ANYONE in this entire book... save maybe Rona, the wise woman, just because she seems to be the only voice of reason, as brief as her appearances are.

I had a brief discussion with a friend about this book when I was a little over 25% into it, wherein some of the main adventure was starting, but wherein you already had an idea how everything was going to progress.  And even though my friend was not also reading this book, after what I told her about it, we both decided that Eyvind's so-called friend, Somerled, was not really much of a friend at all, and we both wondered why they were even still friends.  But yes, I know--loyalty, and honor, and blood oaths, and such.

I get that Eyvind felt the need to protect and stick by Somerled's side, no matter how terrible of a person he was, no matter how toxic his behavior and words were, and no matter how many others in the community he managed to successfully alienate because he didn't seem to understand how to be polite... or even tactful, for that matter.  Eyvind was all about the honor and the loyalty and following commands from his warfather, Thor, or his chieftain, without asking questions--that was how he grew up and that was how he understood life.

Somerled was a bonafide drama queen, wallowing in his own angst, always complaining about the fact that no one cares about him, and no one likes him.  But then he'd turn around and spout off terrible things, insulting everyone around him, even Eyvind without even caring that he was doing so.  And this wasn't even a lack of self-awareness in Somerled's behavior--this person was very much conscious of what he was saying, what he was doing, and you could tell that he felt himself superior to everyone else, and so he didn't care who he hurt or pissed off.  Everything he did or said was carefully calculated to cut as deep as possible, and so no matter how lonely and pathetic he was portrayed to be, I just couldn't see any of it as justification for his behavior, to be honest.

He's implied on multiple occasions that he thinks of Eyvind as a simpleton, who only knows how to fight, kill, and go to war, often telling him to stick to what he knows, because he believes it's obviously hard for Eyvind to try thinking with his brains.  He manipulates Eyvind's friendship with his self-pity, and then he throws Eyvind's loyalty in his face whenever Eyvind even so much as disagrees with him.  If this is how Somerled treats the only friend he has, then I already had an idea how he was going to treat everyone else, especially his enemies.

He insults women with innuendos of what he believes their worth is, which, if you can imagine, is not terribly nice or acceptable.

And so it frustrated me to no end that Eyvind continued to stand by Somerled's side in spite of all the suspicions he has about Somerled: the rape of a girl, or even the strategic murder of a man made to look like an accident...  It boggled the mind how Eyvind could continue to blindly stay loyal to Somerled even though you could see him feeling conflicted about Somerled's toxic behavior, or his suspected wrong-doings.

The book started picking up more when Eyvind meets Nessa.  Their interactions are a bit deliberate, and their romance extremely insta, but that didn't really bug me too much.  Nessa was a great heroine, and I liked that we got to see more than just Eyvind's POV regarding Somerled and the evil tyranny that started taking place.  In fact, I actually enjoyed more of the book when Somerled wasn't in the picture, which is strange considering how I DO like a good villain with some depth.  But somehow, Somerled was so cliched and so predictable that I had issues with him.

On top of that, I felt like he was way overpowered.  Really, Somerled held onto his power with a simple ideal of blind loyalty.  While I might have understood the blind loyalty, I never understood why everyone around him was so afraid to go against him.  Somerled is not physically strong, nor does he have any otherworldly power.  If the Wolfskins really wanted to, they could overthrow him if they felt he was overstepping his authority in his lust for power and control over the Light Isles, blind loyalty be damned.  I mean, I find it hard to believe that Eyvind is the only one of the Wolfskins, or even of the settlement of Norsemen, who realized Somerled had broken all the rules of fair warfare and battle.  That he wasn't leading his people to simply winning a kingdom, but massacring helpless villagers and enslaving women and children.

I had a hard time believing that no one else would have been against Somerled, or that the ones who didn't agree with his ways simply slunk off quietly to evade notice.  Especially since many of the Wolfskins who had been Somerled's brother, Ulf's, followers knew him for a conniving, unwanted troublemaker in the beginning.

Marillier DOES touch upon a good point that might have explained the Norsemen's eagerness to follow Somerled into the slaughter of the islanders, though.  There's an implication that the islanders's culture and spiritualism produced fear among the Norsemen who'd settled.  After the death of Ulf, Somerled used the unknown mysticism surrounding the islanders and the Light Isles, to rally his cause, by insisting that typical warfare could not be used against them if they wanted to win this war.  And so those who followed Somerled were willing to cut down all the helpless islanders because of their prejudices and Somerled's misrepresentation.

It makes a kind of sad sort of sense, really, but that doesn't make it right, and it doesn't mean I have to like it.  But it IS human nature, as much as I hate to admit it.

Anyway, aside from my complaints about Somerled, the rest of the book was actually pretty good.  The writing was excellent, the story premise was promising, and I liked Nessa... to an extent, because she had her moments where I didn't really care about her.  The writing might have gotten a little overboard in flowery prose, but nothing that dragged or felt like stuffing.

I may or may not continue with the next book in this duology just for completion's sake, but I probably won't be rushing out to find access to it too quickly.



Booklikes-opoly 2019

Roll #4:  (See also Memorial Day Bonus Roll Activities)
Square:  The Summer Blockbuster 27 | Read a book that features a hero's journey or is a Bildungsroman (coming of age tale), or that has a word related to space in the title (i.e., star, planet, rocket).

How it fits:  This book is a hero's journey.
Page Count:  516
Cash:  $5




Source: anicheungbookabyss.blogspot.com/2019/06/rambling-thoughts-wolfskin.html
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text 2019-02-24 09:59
Reading progress update: I've read 8 out of 538 pages.
Daughter of the Forest - Juliet Marillier,Terry Donnelly

I know I´m not far into this book, but based on the very first pages, I think this might be a book that works better for me as an audiobook. So I will skip to the audio, which is 26 hours long. After my endless listen to Harry Potter, this will take me some considerable time to finish, too.


And from now on I won´t assign specific books to the Snakes and Ladders squares, since my reading is all over the place. It´s so great that we are allowed to read any book we want and still we are able to make some progress.

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review 2018-12-28 16:29
Packaged Thoughts Christmas 2018: More Books Lined Up In A Row!
Daughter of the Forest - Juliet Marillier
Scandal - Amanda Quick
Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton,Scott Brick
Not My Father's Son: A Memoir - Alan Cumming
The Light Fantastic - Terry Pratchett
Chasing Fire - Pamela Clare
How the Dukes Stole Christmas: A Holiday Romance Anthology - Sophie Jordan,Sarah MacLean,Tessa Dare,Joanna Shupe
Stephen Fry's Victorian Secrets - John Woolf,Nick Baker,Stephen Fry

It's that time of year again!  Happy Holidays to everyone!  Or rather, a belated Merry Christmas, as this review came out a few days later than I'd planned.  Of course, it also gave me a chance to include my 100th read book this year, Stephen Fry's Victorian Secrets.

This is a feature I've been hoping to keep up since 2016, with two posts a year, once at mid-year on the first day of June (my birthday!), and one at the end of the year for Christmas!  Whether you like it or not, you're getting a packaged review post!

Meanwhile, in other news, I've been out of touch online, and I hope to get back into more interaction with the holidays winding down.  I'll also have a couple more updates about how the rest of the year has gone, and how my new year will start... maybe.  I'm also needing to post an update on my progress with 24 Festive Tasks--that'll probably get posted this weekend!





Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters #1)
by Juliet Marillier
Rating:  3.5 Stars

The only thing I recall describing this book as, when I was talking to my BFF, was how heavy the content matter turned out.  I suppose I was more familiar with Marillier's YA books (Shadowfell, Wildwood...).  It's not that I didn't know what to expect--I'd read some telltale hints here and there about what happens in Daughter of the Forest--trigger warnings, if you will.

Those moments are fleeting, but still a bit surprising.

Anyway, overall, Daughter of the Forest was a good read, even if there were moments that I wished the story would get on with itself.  But Marillier's penchant for whimsical, magical lore and atmosphere more than makes up for those few moments of drag.



by Amanda Quick
Rating:  2.0 Stars

Definitely not one of Amanda Quick's best books, but still had a bit of the same charm I've come to appreciate from her.  Unfortunately, the frustration I had with both of our main characters overshadowed that charm.  Emily was a walking doormat and Simon was just a typical, broody, Grade A jackass.  How this romance is even supposed to work in the long-term will definitely be a miracle.

Meanwhile, I actually found the constant references to the "exotic tastes of the East" a bit distasteful.  It reeks of misrepresentation and false ideals.  And the repetitive descriptions of the metaphysical plane or transcendental communication or some such bullshit got annoying after a while.

But this is Amanda Quick, and I love Amanda Quick.

I just didn't love this book.



Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park #1)
by Michael Crichton
audio book narrated by Scott Brick
Rating:  4.0 Stars

This book was a "reread," which quite rarely happens, because I'm always worried that reading an old favorite will come back and bite me in the butt.  Especially an old favorite from my younger, teen days.  My tastes have change a lot since then.

But as we can see, I still ended up really enjoying the heck out of myself with this extremely long audio book.  The beginning took a while to start up, but I started getting into the story once the park started getting out of control... though I'd forgotten how bloody and gory this book was.  Considering this is about dinosaurs, it's surprising that I was so startled by some of the blood and guts.

Meanwhile, obviously there were some glaring foibles about Jurassic Park that my high school self managed to overlook.  At present, I'm still going to overlook them in favor of my enjoyment of this book, but I will still acknowledge said foibles.

A wonderful narration by Scott Brick though, and makes me want to jump on into the next book, The Lost World, if he's narrating that one, too!



Not My Father's Son
written and narrated by Alan Cumming
Rating:  4.0 Stars

This was a wonderful narration and telling by Alan Cumming, detailing a terrible and dark childhood, involving his abusive father and how he has questioned his self-worth his entire life.  Aside from that, it's also a very thought-provoking story, as Alan brings a lot of modern issues to light: child abuse, women's rights, LGBTQ rights...

Alan Cumming is truly an inspirational, and wonderful man, and I'm glad he shares so much of his life with us.  I also love those little tidbits that shine through the bleakness of his telling, that show the sweetness of his love for his mother, Mary Darling, his brother, Tommy, and his husband, Grant.  He doesn't showcase a whole lot of laugh-out-loud humor, but his presentation is more of a "smile warmly to yourself" kind, and I loved it!



The Light Fantastic (Discworld #2)
by Terry Pratchett
Rating:  4.0 Stars

I'm not sure if it was simply the fact that I'm more familiar with the writing style now, or maybe the characters, but The Light Fantastic was certainly more enjoyable than The Colour of Magic had been.  While there were still some instances where I found the humor a little odd, there were many points in the book I highlighted because I thought it either chuckle-worthy, or simply a ingeniously inserted one-liner.

Pratchett proves that he can easily reel you into the world of Discworld, and I'm definitely looking forward to the rest of the series now.

In fact, the ending of this book kind of gave me a little pang of sadness, in a weird way.  I'm going to miss some of these characters... sort of.



Chasing Fire (Colorado High Country #7 / I-Team crossover)
by Pamela Clare
Rating:  4.5 Stars

Pamela Clare never fails to bring out the heart in all of her books.  As schmaltzy as some of her dialogue sometimes comes out, she's as equally meticulous about detail and good characterization.  One cannot help but to fall in love with the world she's created, surrounding the beautiful characters from both the I-Team world and the Colorado High Country series.

This is a crossover (not the first) between her Romantic Suspense and Contemporary Romance series, but this time she utilizes more characters from both than simply a guest appearance.  From a story plot standpoint, however, this was more a Colorado High Country book than I-Team, as Erik Hawke, chief of the small Scarlet Springs fire department, pretty much takes center stage in fighting for his life as well as the lives of his townspeople to battle a raging forest fire before it burns down his town.

I've always loved the attention to detail that Pamela puts into the goings-on of the Scarlet Springs Search and Rescue team's every tone out.  And I am especially appreciative of how well she outlines the way in which the fire fighting team battles the forest fire.

This book is less about character development, but more a story being told of how a community bands together to help each other when something this disastrous unfolds.  Man versus nature is a hard battle to fight, really, and I love how she handled this issue.

The truth is, I loved this book enough to give it a full out five star rating.  Of course, her tendency towards schmaltz, and her habit of making all of her characters an exposition fairy every couple chapters can really take away from the telling of the story sometimes.



How the Dukes Stole Christmas (anthology)
authors include: Tessa Dare, Sarah MacLean, Sophie Jordan, Joanna Shupe
Rating: 3.8 Stars

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I had a bias going into this book.  I love Tessa Dare, no matter that her heroines are typically not historically accurate in terms of mannerisms and roles.  But that's what's delightful about them.  And the fact that this is a holiday book helps as well.

The truth is, though, aside from the magical shortbread cookies and the typical Happily Ever After, I don't really have much to say about this book.  I enjoyed each story, and that seems to be about it.

Sarah MacLean's The Duke of Christmas Present was probably the most thought-provoking, in-depth romance, but a bit too angst-ridden for my liking.  I don't remember much about Dare's Meet Me in Mayfair, sadly, considering it was her name that drew me to this anthology in the first place.  I couldn't quite get into Heiress Alone by Sophie Jordan, and thought it was a little hard(er) to suspend disbelief for--as well as having a pretty loosely wrapped up ending.  Christmas in Central Park was by far my favorite, if only because of how fiery the heroine was and how lovely her friendships are presented.

There's also a nod to making of shortbread cookies, which my mother and I discovered first-hand this year what "cream the butter and sugar together" actually meant.  It was the first time we'd ever made cookies, period.  We succeeded after the second batch, and lovely chocolate shortbread cookies were borne!



Stephen Fry's Victorian Secrets
an Audible Studios Original
written by John Woolf & Nick Baker
narrated by Stephen Fry
Rating:  3.5 Stars

I'm not sure I know how I felt about this one.  It felt like a strange documentary you'd expect to see (or hear) at a theme park, or a random television presentation.  It was entertaining, but I don't know if I'd call it enjoyable since I DID somehow zone out several times.

The book itself was outlined in a rather scattered way, and I found myself realizing that we were talking about a new, different historical instance than what was being narrated five minutes ago, without a very clear transition.

Still, I think I'd give 3 Stars just for Stephen Fry's presentation alone.  Another 0.5 Stars is for the actual book itself because it was entertaining, and also I might have learned a few new things about Victorians, even if the rest were more open secrets than actual secrets.



Source: anicheungbookabyss.blogspot.com/2018/12/packaged-thoughts-christmas-2018-more.html
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