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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 2019-01-01 02:26
A Christmas Carol (Audiobook)
A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens,Sergio Gutierrez,T. C. Boyle,Simon Prebble

Yay! I finally finished a Dickens book! Helps that it was short and one that I'm well familiar with thanks to Mickey Mouse and Xena. :D He's still a little long-winded but being restricted by a short story certainly helped the rambling. The Disney animated classic is quite accurate adaptation, but I still like Xena's more. :D

 

What's your favorite retelling of A Christmas Carol?

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review 2018-12-31 17:43
[REVIEW] A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings - Preeti Chhibber,Roshani Chokshi,Alyssa Wong,Aisha Saeed,Melissa de la Cruz,Sona Charaipotra,Elsie Chapman,Renee Ahdieh,Rahul Kanakia,Julie Kagawa,Shveta Thakrar,Aliette de Bodard,Cindy Gerard,Lori Foster,David G. Myers,Ellen Datlow

Probably my last book of the year. It was a very good anthology filled with folklore and mythologies (a subject that I really love) that I have not been usually exposed to but I enjoyed reading about very much. Some were better than others, some felt quite flat.

Rating for each story

Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi 3.5/5
Bittersweet story. Had lovely turns of phrases. Something didn’t quite click with me though. I felt the writing, while super pretty, kept me at a distance and didn’t allow me to connect with the characters or the story.

Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong 4/5
Sad ghost story, filled with melancholy and loss and also honor and respect. It made me feel things.

Steel Skin by Lori M. Lee 2.5/5
I didn’t like this one mostly because I kinda guessed the twist and because the end was left up in the air. Not sure if the element of the androids helped or hindered the story the author was trying to tell.

Still Star-Crossed by Sona Charaipotra 3.5/5
Creepy but good.

The Counting of Vermillion Beads by Aliette de Bodard 3.5/5
I felt lost during most of the story and had a hard time differentiating Cam and Tam until halfway through. I am glad the author retold this folktale in a way that the sisters weren’t enemies but helped each other out.

The Land of the Morning Calm by E.C. Myers 4/5
This one might be my favorite so far. It made me cry. It felt like a story, even if it was a short one. It left me feeling satisfied.

The Smile by Aisha Saeed 4.5/5
By far my favorite. It was lovely and powerful and rang true to me. This is what I expect of retelling.

Girls who Twirl and other Dangers by Preeti Chhibber 2/5
Meh. Didn’t love it. It was only ok.

Nothing into All by Renée Ahdieh 3.5/5
Well-written and very cute. 

Spear Carrier by Rahul Kanakia 1/5
Didn’t like this one. Couldn’t relate to it at all and it was too vague and emotionless for me to care.

Code of honor by Melissa De la Cruz 2.5/5
Felt jumbled and all over the place. I didn’t hate it but I couldn’t connect with it.

Bullet, Butterfly by Elsie Chapman 3/5
Man, this one made me sad. I wished it would’ve ended differently, but it is what it is.

Daughter of the Sun by Shveta Thakrar 3/5
Sometimes it rushed and the characters didn’t possess enough depth. The story itself was interesting.

The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon 4.5/5
I really liked this one. I loved that the author gave the weaver a decisive voice and that their tale is one of choice on both sides.

Eyes like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa 5/5
I loved this one. Probably because I’m familiar with some Japanese mythology. The story was very well-written and catches you immediately, not letting you go until the end.

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review 2018-12-27 02:58
The Mark of Zorro/The Curse of Capistrano (Zorro #1) (Audiobook)
The Mark of Zorro - Johnston McCulley,Armando Duran

The Mark of Zorro is not Antonio Banderas's Zorro. This would be Anthony Hopkins's Zorro as a young man before he settled down. But it's still Zorro, which means swashbuckling aplenty, secret identities (though you'll know Zorro's real identity if you've seen any of the movies), ridiculously well-trained horses, feisty señoritas who will settle for nothing less than ALL the romantic tropes but who can take care of herself just fine thank you very much, and corrupt governors, all set against the backdrop of 1820s California.

 

Originally titled The Curse of Capistrano and written by a man with more pseudonyms than Aragon son of Arathorn, this story is just a grand old good time. If you want deep philosophical thoughts, look elsewhere. This is a swashbuckling novel of the finest order, and everyone is just a little over the top (or a lot, ha!) and the action is pretty well-written. Some of the material is dated, but not cringingly so and I thought it held up remarkably well considering it'll be 100 years old next year.

 

The narration by Armando Duran is very well done and he's got a nice soothing voice that suits the characters well and expresses just the right amount of flavor and spice to make the story jump off the page without being too overly dramatic. It's just overly dramatic enough. ;)

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review 2018-12-16 19:21
[REVIEW] Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
Heart's Blood - Juliet Marillier

It's a lovely book. Well written romance, fleshed-out sympathetic yet imperfect characters all around and plenty of tension and scares to have you skip ahead because your poor heart will give out in anxiety. The setting is so vivid you might want to run off to Ireland to see if you can find your own castle filled with the helpful yet scary spirits.

However, and I am frustrated that I feel this way, I didn't love it. I wanted to. It certainly gripped me enough that I read for six hours straight. But I found it way too easy to disengage. Perhaps because I had just DNF'ed Deathless with its ridiculously dreamy prose but a lackluster story. Here, we had a great story but the writing--to me--was so wordy and excessive that I found myself skimming to get to the point. 

The dog dies in the end. I wasn't expecting this, and it made me burst into tears for 15 solid minutes.

(spoiler show)
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