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review 2017-08-12 16:50
The Alpha and His Ace (The Alpha and His Ace #1) by Ana J. Phoenix Review
The Alpha and His Ace - Ana J. Phoenix

Young, handsome, and the alpha of his wolf pack, Brandon has never had trouble finding men to have sex with. Only one thing is missing--his mate. Brandon can’t find him, and the rest of his pack is growing concerned about his lack of partner. An alpha needs a strong partner.

Things seem to be looking up when he finally finds his fated companion in Aidan. One problem—Aidan’s asexual, and Brandon’s now confused. Who doesn’t want sex? Aidan, that’s who. And Brandon hasn’t got a clue how to make someone love him without it.

It's going to take some serious self-examination, acceptance, and some really good cake for Brandon to make his way into Aidan’s heart.

 

Review

 

A pretty bland wolf shifter romance made more interesting by the fated mate being asexual.

 

The world building needed much more detail but the characters and character driven conflict was intersting. Needed more time.

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review 2017-07-22 23:53
His Quiet Agent
His Quiet Agent - Ada Maria Soto

I really enjoyed this one. It's my first by this author, but I'm certainly interested to read more.

 

This is a very quiet story and a very slow build. Martin is highly shielded and Arthur is socially awkward. They're both considered weird by their coworkers and Arthur tries to find out if they're weird compliments each other. 

 

The cover made me think this was going to be historical Brit fic rather than contemporary American, so that took a couple of chapters to adjust to. I did like the quiet tone of the book and how Martin and Arthur's relationship developed. It's difficult enough to show relationship development when the characters are talkers, even more difficult when they're not, yet somehow this author manages it. The small gestures, the show of trust and caring - it's all convincing. I was especially surprised and pleased when both MCs were revealed to be asexual and this didn't become a "fix the ace" travesty. (So those who want sex in your books, you're not going to get it here.)  

 

There are a lot of unanswered questions, which is a given considering their jobs, and I'm ok with those. I would've liked to get to know more about Martin's backstory, but he doesn't really start to open up until the very end. The hints we get are intriguing though and opens the room for a lot of reader speculation, which in a way is more fun than getting it all spelled out for you. (Still, if ever there was a book that needs an epilogue, this is it.) There's some handwaving that needs to be done in regards to the Agency and how it appears to operate, but it didn't detract from the tension or suspense in the last quarter of the book at all. It was actually used to some great effect. 

 

There were a few more typos than I would overlook normally, things like verb tense changes and at one point even character names get mixed up, and general typos that wouldn't get caught by spellcheck but should've been caught by an editor.

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review 2017-01-31 01:24
The Galloway Road by Catherine Adams
The Galloway Road - Catherine Adams

Renna is a young mage on her way to her first job. Her traveling companions include a pair of musicians specifically requested by Renna’s new employer, plus Brett, the mercenary hired to protect them all. Brett is closed mouthed about himself and his past, and Renna has secrets of her own. However, none of that may matter if they can't manage to survive the Galloway Road’s deadly horrors.

This story takes place over the course of 11 days and mostly features the group traveling from one inn to another. The beginning was boring, dull, and a little confusing, although the Galloway Road’s creepy atmosphere eventually grew on me, as did Renna and Brett (sort of). A word of warning: some of the descriptions are gruesome. The Galloway Road is called that because it's lined with gallows and gibbets. Sometimes the people Renna, Brett, and the musicians pass are dead, and sometimes they're not. Honestly, if I had been Renna or the musicians, Galloway Road alone would have had me questioning the wisdom of agreeing to work for Lord Galloway.

Okay, on to the characters. The musicians made so little of an impact on me that I had to check the story just to make sure I had the number of characters right - I had thought there were three musicians, not two. Brett was an intriguing character, apparently competent and yet prone to self-destructive behavior (he’d been banned from at least one or two inns because of his drinking). Renna...was just there. I never felt like I really knew her beyond the most surface level. I did gasp at the big revelation about her, but that was in large part because I hadn’t noticed any sign of it in her behavior or thoughts up to that point. This bugged me a bit, because the event had happened so recently. I suppose it could be explained away as emotional numbness on her part, but still.

The main reason I got this story was because it was one of Less Than Three Press’s recent releases in their “asexual” category. Renna was asexual, possibly homoromantic depending on the specifics of her feelings for her best friend. There was a hint of something that might have been ace-related angst - at one point, Renna wondered if she was “stone-hearted, cruel-hearted” (37). It was a bit ambiguous, though, and might have also been inspired by the thing that happened shortly before she was hired by Lord Galloway. I honestly don’t know.

I appreciated what this story tried to do, but overall my reaction was just “meh.” I didn’t care enough about the characters for the ending to have the kind of emotional impact that it should have had. Also, I hate to say this, but I laughed a bit during some of the events in the tomb. I know that stuff was probably supposed to be horrifying/scary, but I kept imagining B-movie special effects.

Rating Note:

I might have opted to give this 3 stars if I had rated and reviewed it right after finishing it. However, my thoughts have had time to settle, and I think 2 stars is more appropriate. There just wasn't enough there in terms of content, characters, or world-building.

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-01-12 01:59
Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children #1) - DNF @ 80%
Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children) - Seanan McGuire

Gather 'round, boys and girls, while I tell you a lovely and empowering tale of a girl who was enslaved to a vampire, a girl who was forced to become the equivalent of Igor, an ace girl who was forced to stand perfectly still for days/weeks at a time so she wouldn't piss off her undead overlord, a trans boy who got to fight in some sort of war for a place that didn't want him because of his trans cooties, a Latino boy who lived in a real life Dia de las Muertas (because where else would a Latino want to be?), and a girl who...did something...somewhere...? Um, jazz hands? *shrugs*

 

Listen to their fascinating stories that they barely even tell you about while they pine away wishing they were back in their nightmare fuel worlds because apparently this is where their hearts wanted to be more than their own lives. But this isn't Narnia. Have no fear! There will be no actual adventures or grand battles or anything resembling bonding or friendship! Nope. Instead, you'll get a bunch of teens whining about not being able to butcher people anymore. Or not being able to drink pomegranate juice anymore. Because apparently we don't have that on Earth. Or not being able to live amongst the spiders anymore because I guess she doesn't have a cupboard under the stairs. Or... seriously, WTF is wrong with these people?!

 

I started skimming around 45% because the pacing was as slow as Nancy's gait, and I was trying to find anything resembling actual exposition, but it just wasn't here. There was an attempt at a murder mystery -

that the school's principal covers up so the kids wouldn't be sent back to their families - and she makes the kids cover it up for her.

(spoiler show)

So that happens. And if I had known this was going to become an attempt at a horror-inspired murder mystery, I could've told you who would be the first victim, because those racial and gender tropes just refuse to die.

 

Ok, I admit, a couple of these kids do have family lives that sound pretty awful. I can see why they'd want to do a Harry Potter or Tom Riddle and stay at Warped Hogwarts forever. But the others just sound like they're "misunderstood" and oh, isn't that horrible! No one gets them! How can they possibly be expected to go on?!!! 

 

Well, I'm one of the ones who doesn't get them. Maybe it's because I didn't hate my childhood growing up. Maybe it's because the author does next to nothing to actually explain anything. And advocates running away from your problems. Not that there aren't some instances where running is totally valid - to save your life, for instance. But I just didn't get the sense that was the case for most of the kids here. And I really got zero explanation for why they would prefer these nightmare worlds they fell into. There's a sort of explanation that whatever door opens for you is the one that you need based on your heart's desire or something. But WHY? Like,

one girl doesn't want to be the pretty twin her whole life, so she goes to a world where she gets to slaughter dogs and harvest their organs for science - so she can be smart. Um... you know, we have science here too, right? And you don't have to slaughter dogs to study it. IJS.

(spoiler show)

 

At around 80% I got tired of skimming looking for "good" parts (there weren't any) and just skipped all the way to end to see who the murderer was - not like it was particularly hard to guess - and kind of skimmed the end to see how it was wrapped up.

 

This was just... a mess, y'all. Terrible structure, terrible exposition, terrible characters, terrible worldbuilding. 

 

Yay diversity! But boo to everything else. Can't recommend this one.

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review 2016-07-18 01:26
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Every Heart a Doorway - Seanan McGuire

Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children is a special place, one of several worldwide, for children and teens who briefly traveled to magical other worlds. Their parents could no longer understand them or deal with them. Maybe they'd never been able to. They thought their children had been kidnapped, or had run away, that they were now suffering from some kind of trauma or delusion. Eleanor promised she'd help them try to get better, when what she really intended to do was give them a place where they could be themselves and meet others like them.

Nancy is the newest arrival. She longs for the world she visited, the Halls of the Dead, and she's sure she'll find her way back one day. In the meantime, Eleanor's boarding school seems like a better alternative than living with her parents, who keep trying to dress her in rainbow colors. Unfortunately, she's not even completely settled in before someone ends up murdered.

I've been wanting to read this since well before it was published, when I first heard that the main character was asexual. I got even more excited when I learned that all the characters were all essentially former “portal fantasy” protagonists. I love “transported to another world” stories, and I figured I'd enjoy reading something starring characters who'd all been through that.

I'll start with the good. Like I said, I loved the setup. The descriptions of the various worlds the characters had been to were wonderful, and I really wished I could have seen them in those worlds. I'd happily read prequel books/stories in which Kade was back in Prism, or Sumi was back in Confection, or Christopher was meeting the Skeleton Girl for the first time. There were some great lines here and there, too. The description of Eleanor's boarding school, and what she wanted it to accomplish, made me feel a bit weepy.

I appreciated that Nancy was asexual (specifically romantic asexual) and that Kade, who she felt a little drawn to, was trans (by the way, this is a bit of a spoiler, but I'm going to say it anyway: the hints of potential romance go nowhere). Kade had gone to his world as a princess and, while there, realized that he was really a prince. Unfortunately, he was cast out because too many others in the world couldn't accept that he was really a boy. Considering that the “other worlds” were presented as places that called to some part of a particular individual's heart, it seemed enormously cruel that Kade's “other world” couldn't accept him as he really was. He appeared to have come to terms with it since arriving at Eleanor's school, but still. Ouch.

I guess now's a good time to start talking about the things I didn't like. Most of it comes down to this: I felt that this story was trying to do too much. It was only 169 pages, and there was so much there that either should have been expanded upon or ruthlessly cut.

As far as the murder went, I guessed the killer's identity fairly quickly, just based on who'd have had the background necessary to do it, as well as the murder mystery rule that states that the person everyone accuses usually isn't the real killer. I was briefly distracted by one possible other suspect, but then the story came right back around to my original choice. I'm normally terrible at solving murder mysteries, so I'm going to conclude that this one wasn't very good.

All the people who were killed were characters that readers were familiar with to varying degrees – people Nancy had spoken to or been friendly with. And yet I felt almost nothing when their bodies were found, and I think it's because there just wasn't enough time for them to become solid, real-feeling people.

Even Nancy could have used...more. She'd think or talk about her time in the Halls of the Dead, or the skills she learned while she was there (being literally still as a statue), or her asexuality, and that was pretty much it. Speaking of her asexuality, it felt like McGuire couldn't quite decide how to write her. She was very open about her asexuality with Sumi, her new roommate, and even took the time to explain it. Okay. But then when she was alone with Kade, looking for Jill, she started to hope that he'd want to kiss her, and then worry that she'd have to explain that she wasn't interested in going beyond kissing. First, this was a really odd time to be thinking about kissing. There was still a killer on the loose, they couldn't find Jill, and they'd just spent some time dealing with a corpse (granted, Nancy was pretty used to death). Second, what, she'd felt okay blurting all that info out to Sumi but was worried about doing the same with Kade?

I brushed it off as being due to her feeling differently about Kade than she did about Sumi, meaning that there was more at stake. However, then there was a cozy little cocoa drinking party, during which Nancy told Kade and everyone else in the room that she was asexual. Zero evidence of worry or discomfort on her part. Also, the way she explained it was odd:

“That's not what I mean. I don't want to go on dates with girls, either. I don't want to go on dates with anyone. People are pretty, sure, and I like to look at pretty things, but I don't want to go on a date with a painting.” (132)

The asexual spectrum is extremely varied, so maybe I'm wrong, but this didn't seem to fit with what Nancy had said about herself earlier. As far as I could tell, she'd be perfectly fine with dating someone, just not with having sex with them. This part of the text seemed to be conflating dating and sex.

There were things in the story that were repetitive, or just...off. Eleanor was working with the authorities after the death of the first person, but those authorities never once entered the boarding school or talked to the teens there. That spoke of some serious connections on her part, but then the next deaths had her worrying about the fate of the school. There were repetitive bits of text, like Nancy thinking about how strong her muscles had to be in order to keep her so perfectly still and then Jack, later on, mentioning the exact same thing. And the ending... I felt like I'd gotten the wind knocked out of me. It came so soon after a paragraph that laid out a completely different path.

I could write more. I wondered about the characters' other worlds, and how much they affected vs. reflected their innermost selves. I had questions about what Eleanor really hoped to accomplish, and whether her school did some of its students more harm than good. I was uncomfortable with the way some of the things the characters had picked up from their other worlds were presented, like when Nancy insisted that her desire not to eat every day or to subsist entirely off of cottage cheese, grapes, and melon wasn't an eating disorder. Maybe not in the Halls of the Dead, but she wasn't there anymore and was presumably still human.

I don't know. I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. I've seen indications that it might end up being part of a series, and if McGuire ever writes a full-length related novel, I'd like to read it. However, Every Heart a Doorway, on its own, was kind of disappointing. Maybe I just got too excited and expected too much.

 

(Original review, including read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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