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review 2019-01-13 20:16
Arrows of the Queen (Heralds of Valdemar #1; Valdemar #1)
Arrows of the Queen - Mercedes Lackey

This is the first book in the Valdemar series and it has a lot going for it, but it falls short of what I expect out of story. The good news is it's not another Tolkien ripoff trying to pass itself off as something original. The bad news is it's the first in a series, and I think even the first book Lackey wrote, and it shows. The other good news is that for a first book, this shows a lot of promise, and I'm willing to go along for the ride and see how Lackey improves as a writer over the course of the series, especially as I'll be reading this is publication order.

 

This book introduces us to the world of Valdemar, so named after its first ever king, and a young Herald by the name of Talia. She's the classic Hero archetype, pulled from the fringes of society from a miserable life to discover that she's something more than she dreamed possible, landing into a world of adventure. Eventually. After she gets trained and goes to school and all that boring stuff. ;) Along the way, she meets several friends, helps with a conspiracy to unseat the Queen, and gets a magical horse. 

 

I like Talia for the most part. She comes across a bit Mary Sue-ish at times, but that appears to be a hazard of the Heralds in general, since they're Chosen by their Companions, who somehow can sense the people who will have all the qualities necessary to be good Heralds: goody-two-shoes with some form of Gift and with hearts of gold no matter how awful their starts in life might have been. In other words, no one from Slytherin is getting onto this team. Not that they're perfect, and that saves Talia from being a true Mary Sue. She has faults and she pays for them, and she struggles to fit in and find her place in the Collegium. Her growth through the book was quite well-done.

 

Of the other characters we get the most page time with, I really liked Skif and Jadus. Skif was a street rat and still has many skills handy for sneaking about - and getting into trouble. Jadus becomes a mentor to Talia, and later to Skif. Elspeth, the queen's heir, is a horror child when we first meet her, and I can just imagine the tough love approach taken to tame her would be frowned upon by some. 

 

The world-building is sprinkled throughout the book and doesn't overwhelm at any point, but I would've liked to see more of the day-to-day goings on of the Collegium, more training sessions, more classes, more equestrian training, anything at all with the Council. The various other side characters also don't get as well developed as the ones I mentioned and are there mostly for support. There's also a lot of head hopping that I'm sure would annoy some readers, though it was never confusing whose head we were in at any point.

 

I also wanted more of the conspiracy.

Since most of the book was from Talia's POV, and she understandably isn't allowed into the inner workings of the kingdom, we miss nearly everything about this conspiracy. If Lackey was going to head hop anyway, I don't see why we couldn't get those scenes with the queen discussing them with her Council. Being left in the dark for this, when it drives so much of the plot, feels like a huge misstep. We don't even find out the name of the people who were arrested.

(spoiler show)
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review 2019-01-03 03:36
Vespertine
Vespertine - Indra Vaughn,Leta Blake

This just didn't work for me. Seventeen years pass between the MCs breaking up and meeting up again. That's just too long for anyone to still be hung up on a first love, especially when I couldn't even imagine why they'd be friends in the first place. Nicky's kind of got an excuse, since he's supposed to be emotionally-stunted from his years of drug use. I'm not sure what Jasper's excuse is, but he reverts back to a teenager as soon as Nicky's around. He doesn't have a concrete personality, just "revelations" as required for the plot.

 

I didn't buy the connection between the MCs. Zero chemistry - for me. I'm clearly the odd one out on this one, since everyone else seems to love it. I wanted to like it, and most of it I did like, but there was always something off. If it wasn't the painfully horrible song lyrics, it was the ham-fisted way that Jasper's conflict of religion was handled. If it wasn't the stereotypical portrayal of the rock star life and the evil record company big wigs, it was the overly contrived situations the authors kept putting the characters in to manufacture UST that fell flat on its face. Then because the authors made the reader wait so long for the smexy, a bunch of sex gets crammed into the end, by which point I was beyond caring. Then the authors threw in an absolutely ridiculous plot "twist" that annoyed me so much I had to skim most of the after-school special melodrama, which was as cliched and predictable as you would expect, just to not have my first read of 2019 end up a DNF.

 

Actually, that was a big issue from the beginning of the book. Because this is a Romance(™) so there has to be an HEA or at least an HFN, and for that to happen, there's no way Jasper was ending this book still a priest. It was pretty easy to see how that resolution was being set up. That wouldn't be an issue, necessarily, but I could never buy into Jasper's existential crisis. It came across shallow. A little less clear was Nicky's ending, but you knew something dramatic would happen to make his situation with his record company better.

 

And that was another problem. There was just so much drama. While this did start out promising, it quickly nose-dived into Dramaville around 70% and never quite climbed it's way back out again. The drama llamas were stampeding and they weren't letting our characters out of this book without massive amounts of MELODRAMA.

 

Melodramatic yelling at your long-lost love.
Melodramatic song lyrics.
Melodramatic praying in the shower.
Melodramatic swimming.
Melodramatic running away down the road whilst halfway tearing off your clothes. Yes, that deserved a "whilst."
Melodramatic phone tossing - because you can't have melodramatic ANGST if the characters can contact each other too easily. (Did he ever get a new phone?)
Melodramatic crying.

 

So.

 

Much.

 

Crying.

 

I didn't feel any of these emotions were genuine, nor did I feel any real attachment to the characters. Basically, I had attachment disorder with this book. :D

 

I didn't hate all of it. I liked all the stuff with the teens in Blue Oasis. I liked Thomas and Mrs. Wells, and Nicky's parents and Ramona. The cat was hilarious. Nicky even had his moments when he wasn't being an ass or annoying. Jasper was mostly lost potential though, sadly.

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review 2018-12-30 21:46
Love Is Heartless (Love Can't #2)
Love Is Heartless - Kim Fielding

This book is kind of sort of a prequel to the first in the series, since it starts long before Love Can't Conquer, but it's about Jeffrey's friend Nevin Ng and his boyfriend Colin, who Nevin mentioned a couple of times in the first book but who we never met. Now we see how they met and slowly fell in love.

 

Oh, so slowly. Nevin's a complex character with many walls built around him after a lifetime spent in foster care and for once, we're given a story that gives a more realistic portrayal of how such a character might fall in love. And it's not over a couple of nights. While Nevin becomes interested in Colin fairly quickly, it takes much longer for trust and love to develop. It also takes a lot of patience on Colin's part.

 

Colin didn't have the lonely life that Nevin did growing up, but he did have to grow up with health issues and the uncertainty of life that can bring. He's always had to be careful, and never had much excitement. So when he meets Nevin, he sees this as his chance to have a wild fling, and hopefully maybe something more if he can keep Nevin from bolting.

 

I'm not sure why, since I really liked Colin and Nevin, but I never really got them as a couple. It's no fault of the book, but they just never quite clicked for me and I can't even point to any one particular thing to explain why their chemistry was off. Maybe it was simply a matter of I'd rather be reading about Jeremy and Qay again. It might be better actually to read this one first, though it would spoil the ending of the first book so I'm not sure I can actually recommend that either. Maybe start this one until they start talking about Thanksgiving dinner, and then go back and read the first one to the end, then come back and finish this one?

 

There's also another quasi-mystery here that doesn't get a lot of focus despite Nevin being a detective - hence why I didn't use the mystery tag - but is sort of bubbling in the background until the very end. 

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review 2018-12-01 21:17
Playing in the Dark (Glasgow Lads #4)
Playing in the Dark - Avery Cockburn

When this series started, I hated Evan with a passion for hurting Fergus the way he did, skipping off to Belgium to be with some other lover. Only in Play Dead, we learned that things were not as they seemed, and I got instantly way more interested in learning more about him. And about Ben too, I guess. *whispers* I actually forgot who Ben was! shhh!

 

Evan's trying to get his life back together after a horrifying ordeal and when he met Ben in Playing With Fire, he was pretty much resigned to living a lonely life as the bad guy on the team. But he and Ben connected instantly apparently, and they pick up on that attraction here and move incredibly quickly considering the sort of life Evan lives and the secrets he needs to keep and lies he needs to make. (I should do a reread one of these days because I was having trouble keeping a lot of these couples straight ... but not straight-straight. You know what I mean.) 

 

I admit, I started getting a little worried by the halfway point about where this story might go. I don't know why, since Ms. Cockburn has always avoiding cliche pitfalls before, but there's always a first time right? Not here, I'm glad to say. This story was more about two characters learning how to be more fully themselves and realizing that in order to do that they actually had to let go of some of their previous preconceptions of who they were. That didn't stop me wanting to smack them more than a few times when they were making stupid mistakes, and there were a few chapters with a few too many sex scenes too close together at the beginning, but that evened out and we really got to see how they work as a couple and not just in the sack.

 

I did like learning about Ben's Bahá-í faith, which I never knew about before. It did feel a tad on the preachy side a couple of times though. I really would've liked to see some more of Ben's mom and Evan's family. Evan's job with MI-5 was also interesting and well-paced, with a layered quasi-mystery to drive the plot. Evan was a little reckless at times, and this teetered just over the line into unprofessional professional a couple of times, but I could understand why Evan made the decisions he made.

Though it doesn't make much sense why he couldn't tell Ben he'd been in Belfast but he could tell Fergus. I guess because Ben was getting a whole lot more details than Fergus  was.

(spoiler show)

 

I was happy where this book left them though and they're both clearly where they need and want to be by the end of it. I hope we get more of them in later books and novellas.

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review 2018-11-25 01:13
A Dance With Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire #5)
A Dance with Dragons - George R.R. Martin

Look, Martin, we need to talk. This book came out in 2011. I bought the 5-book bundle in 2013 (on a super sweet Black Friday deal too) and then I waited over two years to start reading this monster of a series. I started A Game of Thrones in Jan 2016 and now here I am finishing A Dance With Dragons in Nov 2018 - AND YOU STILL HAVEN'T FINISHED WINDS OF WINTER! WHAT THE HELL, MAN?

 

Because let me tell you something about my boy Jon Snow. He is

Azor Ahai reborn, dammit, and so there is no way he can possibly be dead. If he does die, Melisandre's just going to have to resurrect him so he can behead all those assbutts who betrayed him in full-on Stark mode, and that's all there is to it. I will not accept any other outcome.

(spoiler show)

So there! Also, it'll really piss off Catelyn, so bonus points.

 

Also, what is your obsession with cannibalism? Please stop. Thanks!

Unless it's more Frey pies. Then I'm okay with it. ;) Because screw the Freys.

 

(spoiler show)

 

Okay, all that aside, here's a list of people you are allowed to kill off in the next book:

 

Ramsay Bolton

Victarion Greyjoy

Roose Bolton

Euron Greyjoy

Ser Robert Strong, aka FrankenGregor

Cersei Lannister

Qyburn

I know there are plenty of other candidates for this list, but these are my top choices.

(spoiler show)

 

Seriously, y'all. This book and A Feast For Crows were both a dragging headache and the most brutal thing I've read. Martin has this way of taking characters I despise and making me feel unending empathy for them to the point I'm actually rooting for them (Jaime and Theon) or at least feeling kinda sorry for them while still hoping that they die soon because they are the WORST EVER (Cersei). And while I want Dany to get the hell out of Meereen already, I'm still endlessly fascinated by the chapters set there and seeing how she navigates (sometimes well, but mostly unsuccessfully) leadership and politics. She and Jon have similar journeys here, and while they both have no idea what they're doing, they're both doing the best they can.

 

And the dragons! OMG, I was starting to worry that title was one big troll, but the dragons are amazing. Moqorro's the troll, if you ask me. At least I hope he is, because if anyone here needs to die worse than the rancid slime turd that is Ramsay, it's that decaying dick worm Victarion (and his brother but Euron wasn't in this book).

 

Arya's still kicking names and taking ass, Tyrion got a little dark here but it was interesting to see him trying to navigate the world without relying on his name, and Bran just broke my heart. Rickon, the forgotten Stark, is still MIA. Davos, my Onion Knight, 

is not dead. I KNEW IT!

(spoiler show)

and even though I despise nearly all the Ironborn, I do enjoy Asha's POV. She's most the decent of the bunch, after the Reader. Melisandre's still shady as hell. All these prophecies and conspiracies and subterfuges and whatnot - Martin's walls must be covered in post-it notes to keep this all straight. I don't know how the man does it.

 

I still think A Storm of Swords is the best of the bunch so far, but I'm going to try reading these last two books in chronological order when I do a reread and see if that helps with some of the pacing issues or makes them worse, lol.

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