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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 2018-12-15 03:23
The Suffragette Scandal (Brother's Sinister #4)
The Suffragette Scandal - Courtney Milan

Frederica "Free" Marshall has been a delight from the first moment she graced a page in this series, and here we get to see the kind of woman she's grown up to be: an investigative reporter running her own newspaper, written by women for women. She takes her fierce spirit with her like a shield as she uncovers injustices and campaigns for women's right to vote.

 

Edward Clark is a scoundrel with a past he'd sooner forget and charm oozing out the wazoo. He's determined to save a friend from the machinations of his brother and is willing to use Free to do it. Only Free doesn't cooperate, even when he mansplains the futility of her goals - and he finds out he's no match for Free. 

 

Once again, Ms Milan finds a couple of protags who are evenly balanced for each other. They're both struggling with their paths in life, but while Edward has succumbed to the dark side of the force, Free embraces the light. She pulls Edward kicking and screaming into the light with her. Of course, he is a scoundrel and isn't telling her everything. Now, all of the books in this series involve a secret of one of MCs or the other, but the truth has always been spilled before anything physical happens. That's not the case here, so that kind of dampened the intimacy here for me. The resolution was also a little too neat and quick. I still really enjoyed this though and watching Edward falling hopefully for Free despite his efforts not to was a treat.

 

There was also a small f/f subplot with Amanda, who we met in The Countess Conspiracy, and an implication of a gay relationship between a couple of minor characters in a "squint and you'll miss it" or maybe even a "YMMV" kind of way.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-09-05 02:42
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life (Audiobook)
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life - Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Warning:

Death and grief

(spoiler show)

 

I loved Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and was worried that nothing else would measure up to it. 

 

As with that book, this one is centered around a young high school boy trying to figure out life while detailing in his relationships with those around him. Here, we have Salvador, his gay dad Vicente and his best friends Sam, who is more of a sister to him, and Fito, who is also gay. Sam's and Fito's lives are not as easy as Salvie's but he has his own issues to. His grandmother is sick again, and he's feeling an anger that he can't place where it came from. The ghost of his mother is always there, nearby, and his unknown bio dad is a big question mark. As Salvie, Sam and Fito go through their last year of high school, they face trials, joys and life-changing events. 

 

I didn't really click with the narrator. He did a great job but for some reason his voice just never sounded like what I thought Salvie's voice should sound like. Then Saenz started tugging at the heart strings as first Sam, then Fito, then Salvie and Vicente experienced significant losses in their lives. All the characters are great, flaws and all, and Vicente is a terrific father. But Mima. Mima got me.

 

I lost my nana at the beginning of the year, a few weeks after New Year's. She had been sick a long time and waiting for death, but that didn't make it any easier when we got the call late one night to hurry and come before it was too late to say our goodbyes. I wasn't as close to her as Salvie is to Mima. My nana only spoke Spanish and I only speak English, so we couldn't talk without a translator. But I never needed a translator to know how much she loved me. She had God in her heart, and she loved her family with all her heart. If I was sick or not feeling well when we were visiting, she'd whip up some lemon tea with her special blend of spices and I'd feel better. She made the best tamales and her house and yard always smelled like guavas. Ten months have passed and I still sometimes forget she's not just a couple hours down the highway, and this'll be the first Christmas where we don't all gather at her house, sing carols and eat tamales until we can't move. 

(spoiler show)

 

I saw my nana in Mima, and myself and all my cousins in Salvie, and the special bond that they shared. It's no surprise those were my favorite parts of the book, and that pulled this up from a 3-star to a 4-star read for me.

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review 2018-06-13 04:06
Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4) (Audiobook)
Drums of Autumn - Geraldine James,Diana Gabaldon

As I mentioned in my review for Outlander, I started this series with the fourth book by accident. I was just out of high school, my mom was having health issues and I was the one who was driving her around to her various appointments and spending a lot of time in waiting rooms. So when I saw this book sitting on the new releases shelf in the bookstore, the only thing I cared about what that it looked interesting and it was thick. It would give me hours and hours and hours of reading time. So I got it, started reading, and got to around a quarter of the way through when I realized this was part of an ongoing series. I kept reading though and enjoyed it. It provided exactly what I needed at the time and even got me to go back and read the first three books.

 

Now, twenty plus years later ... this got annoying. It starts off really slow and rambling. All the books in this series ramble, but it gets worse the longer the series goes on. The first three books at least have obvious plots right off the bat. This one takes over 500 pages to get around to it's main conflict, and up till then it's basically just the four main characters doing stuff. I still really enjoy Claire and Jamie's relationship, but I couldn't give two figs about Briana and Roger's courtship, especially when Roger gets all caveman about it. 

 

I was never a fan of Briana, but wow. For someone so smart, she can be really stupid. Roger's kind of a jerk but he's tolerable. Neither one is prepared for 18th century living, despite both of them being history majors. They not only lie to each other about crucial things, but they make one reckless decision after another. How in the world they survived is beyond me. 

 

Actually, the main conflict isn't exactly what I would call contrived. Considering what Bree's been through and that she just barely met her father, her decisions make sense, even if they're illogical. Given what Lizzy thinks she knows, and what she tells Ian and Jamie, their actions also make sense. What doesn't make sense is

Claire not telling Jamie what Briana told her. She could've done that and kept Bonnet's name out of it.

Also, if you're looking for someone, a physical description usually helps.

Also, both Claire and Briana went by different last names when they went through the stones, so it makes zero sense they wouldn't consider Roger doing the same.

Also, Jamie would've killed Roger based on the info Lizzy told him. But of course he couldn't because the reader - and Bree - wouldn't be able to forgive him if he had.

(spoiler show)

The Big Misunderstanding required these characters who are usually extremely good with communication to be really bad at it.  

 

And it's just a little ridiculous that these characters are all encountering the same villain no matter where they are in the world. 

 

But once I got through all that nonsense and the characters all started to act like their intelligent, rational selves again, it got way better. The last third of the book is definitely the strongest.

 

Not enough Lord John though. 

I hate that he sleeps with one of the slaves. It's not on page, but it's implied. I guess I can have a smidgeon of consolation that John wouldn't have forced himself on anyone unwilling, and he's a pretty perceptive fellow, so he could probably tell if someone was just pretending to be willing. But still. Don't sleep with slaves, John.

(spoiler show)

 

Edit: Oh, and I forgot to mention the narration. Davina Porter does her usual stellar job, but she doesn't even attempt an American accent for Briana. I guess she's the UK's answer to Kevin Costner. ;) But since I'd rather listen to a pleasant British accent than a terrible American (much less Bostonian) one, I wasn't bothered by it too much.

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review 2018-02-04 21:13
Games Wizards Play (Young Wizards #10)
Games Wizards Play (Young Wizards Series) - Diane Duane

So much of this is 4-star worthy but there are a few things that knocked off a half-star for me. 

 

For the majority of the Young Wizards series, Nita, Dairine and Kit have been running from one crisis to another, doing what they could to slow down entropy and defeat the Lone Power. But as they're growing up, they're realizing that things aren't so black and white, and that there are multiple, subtle ways for the LP to work and some of those ways are their in their own doubts, insecurities and assumptions. Kit and Nita are also still adapting to the change in their relationship now that they're officially a couple. 

 

Nita, Kit and Dairine have been asked to serve as mentors in the Wizard Invitational, an event that happens once every eleven years where young and upcoming wizards get to display their talents and wizardries in what is basically a worldwide wizard science fair. Dairine's and Nita and Kit's mentees prove challenging in their own ways. Mehrnaz is sweet and full of enthusiasm but has some deep-rooted doubts due to her family situation. Penn is an entitled, sexist assmonkey who things he's God's gift to wizardry but he also has something going on deep down.

 

It's rare in this series to see wizards who are less then professional and who aren't first and foremost concerned with saving the universe. It's actually one of the things that niggled me in the previous books. How is it possible that every single wizard in existence is so great and wonderful? Well, they're not, as it turns out. It was great to see Dairine rise to the challenge with her mentee, and she delivers some brilliant and much-earned verbal smackdowns throughout the course of this book.

 

I wish Nita and Kit had taken some notes from her, because they are not as forthcoming or direct with Penn when he's being a jerk (which, admittedly, is not a small portion of the time), and that was just one of things that made this less than 4-stars for me. Nita and Kit spend a lot of time complaining about Penn's behavior but not much time actually confronting him about it. True, it's not their job to teach him social skills or explain why misogyny is bad. If this was someone they were only working with on a one-time mission, that would be one thing, but they have to work with him for three solid weeks under some pretty intense circumstances. That's a long time to put up with his level of obnoxiousness without at least once telling him what is and is not acceptable behavior to them. When they do attempt it, it's not in a way that's going to get their point across.

 

The other thing that bugged me was that during Interim Errantry (which was written after this book) Kit and Nita seemed to be doing rather well adjusting to their budding romance and figuring out what the new boundaries are in regards to that. Here, they appear to have taken several steps back, and again, not once did they actually sit down and talk about any of it. If they were your ordinary teenagers, I might be willing to give them a pass, but they've proven more than capable of discussing plenty of dicey and awkward topics in the past. You're friends - TALK TO EACH OTHER! 

 

Still, there is plenty to adore about this book too. Duane's always been very inclusive in representation in her books, but up to now most of the gender fluidity and sexually fluidity has been reserved for alien species. Now we finally get some human characters declaring themselves LGBT and it's great. (Still no in-book confirmation on Tom and Carl though, but I still maintain they're a couple.) Nelaid, Roshaun's father and the one who has been teaching Dairine how to manipulate sun energy after Roshaun's strange disappearance at the end of Wizards At War, and her dad Harry have the most beautiful and epic bromance ever in this book and it's a treat to watch. They really have become a found-family in the most amazing of ways. (And let's face it, Harry needs all the help he can get with Dairine.)  Also, the two other Planetaries we meet here are a hoot, and Nita's prophetic dreams are getting more and more interesting. I figured out what they were trying to tell her by the second dream, but it was still neat to see her and Dairine put the pieces together in the final chapter.

ROSHAUN!!!!!!! HE'S BACK!!! <3

(spoiler show)

 

The ending got rather rushed, unfortunately, and I really wouldn't have minded seeing more time given between the semi-finals and the finals. And the climax on the moon was both epic and head-scratching. 

Penn's been carrying around a piece of the sun - that for some reason identifies as female even though its basically hydrogen atoms - and he's suddenly able to realize he's been an asshole this whole time. Okay, having a sunspot crammed inside your noggin can make you act up, I suppose. We certainly saw Ronan getting extra cranky (more than his usual) when he had Michael riding shotgun inside him. But as was pointed out, the sunspot still needed something to root onto to get those behaviors intensified, so it's not entirely giving Penn an "out" for his extremely rude behavior.

(spoiler show)

It could have been better paced, and as long as these books are there's no reason why it needed to be so truncated in the last quarter of the book when the rest of it was willing to let the story breathe and the characters drive the action. It was a jarring transition to go from this detailed meandering story to such a quick-paced conclusion. 

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