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review 2017-06-05 00:00
The Blessed Life: Unlocking the Rewards of Generous Living
The Blessed Life: Unlocking the Rewards ... The Blessed Life: Unlocking the Rewards of Generous Living - Robert Morris,James Robison My church read this as a group study this year.
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review 2017-06-01 00:00
Blessed Epoch Vol. 1
Blessed Epoch Vol. 1 - August Li Blessed Epoch Vol. 1 - August Li ** To read the full review, please visit Divine Magazine: https://www.divinemagazine.biz/book-review-blessed-epoch-vol-1-by-august-li/ **

Book – Blessed Epoch Volume 1
Author – August Li
Star rating - ★★★☆☆
No. of Pages – 1093
POV – 3rd person, multi-POV
Would I read it again – Probably not. It's just too long winded.
Genre – LGBT, Fantasy, Magic, MMM


** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK FOR MY READING PLEASURE **
Reviewed for Divine Magazine


Blessed Epoch is a series about a powerful mage, Yarrow, a knight of much renown, Duncan, and an assassin, Sasha, who are all thrown together by a King with a secret, to deliver a prince to a wedding. On the surface it sounds simple and intriguing, but it turns out to be so much more complicated than first thought.

Warnings. Yes, this series needs them. Trigger warnings are for violence, torture, historical gang rape, incestual rape, flaying, rape as torture, death, slavery, war, murder and mental health issues, though thankfully nothing too graphic is ever shown on page, in detail. The word 'insane' is thrown about a lot, but makes sense as the only claim made in the era for a mage that most people are terrified of. It also draws of topics of insanity, multiple personality, disability (physical and hearing) and possession.

~

OVERALL

I'm a fan of August Li, normally, but this one had too many issues for me. It's a solid 3 star, no question about it, but it was more a case of being “okay” than “fantastic”.

The book started with a glossary that was huge and very detailed, which would normally be great. However, it looks big when you first see it and it's a little intimidating thinking that you might have to remember some of that information for later, when it pops up in the story. That's not true. Most of the important stuff is explained at the time of the use of the word, just not in great detail. So the glossary is a great little addition if you want to go back and read more about the individual thing. Otherwise, it's not much more than a handy reference tool for those, like me, with a terrible memory.

There is a lack of consistency within the series, in terms of plot strength and characterisation. In book 1, Yarrow was strong, unstoppable and erratic, while he became weak and emotional in book 2, leaving him nothing more than a child in book 3, with barely any strength at all. Yet, the glimpses we see of him in book 4 show that old spark back, which has really only made an appearance in books 2 and 3 when someone Yarrow loved was threatened. This felt wrong, considering all he'd been through and done, while Sasha grew more and more with each book, leaving Duncan the only consistently boring character throughout.

There were editing issues throughout the entire bundle, with words missing or extra words added. It didn't diminish the understanding of the sentence, but it was noticable. And I found the use of the words 'bairn' for a title and 'tam' in place of 'sir' really confusing, because I'm Scottish and these words actually mean something to me, already. It was really disorientating to constantly hear people being called Tam something-or-other, yet having to remember that it was never their name. And trying to think of 'bairn' – a term used for a child – being used as a title just felt contradictory and sounded stupid in my head when reading about Bairn Duncan (though I agree with the sentiment, in this case).

The consistency of sex (overdone in book 1, for example, while rare in book 2 and inconsistent within book 3) was also a problem. I ended up skimming the sex by book 3, because it just went on for so many pages. It seemed like everyone, no matter the danger, the risk, no matter how injured or exhausted they were, had plenty of time for sex. Eventually, it just got a little old. There is definitely a hint of sadomasichism within Sasha, who likes biting to the point of blood during sex in the first two books, but even that was inconsistent. I also had a problem with the ridiculous conversations during sex, which often extended to repetitively asking if it was alright to 'take' someone, literally moments after they were begging for that very thing. It got a little tiresome, after a while.

The Order of the Crimson Scythe, for me, were a little pathetic as enemies. Sasha had a great skill to use within the tasks they needed it for, but the order never once achieved what they were aiming for when facing Sasha. Now, they say he was talented, but I refuse to believe that they have no one who is equal to or exceeds his talents after spending thousands of years training people the exact same way he'd been trained.

I find it really annoying and frustrating that so many things are repeated, not just throughout the series, but even within individual books. Like the fact that Sasha wishes Duncan could accept him; Duncan forcing Yarrow to eat; Duncan doubting Yarrow, being afraid of him, wishing he wouldn't use his power, wishing Sasha wasn't an assassin. Like I said above, it's all about Duncan being a dunce and it gets really annoying to read about it, over and over again, while already not liking him.

I loved Yarrow. He was the shining star of the series for me, along with his doppelganger Octavian. His journey was by far the most interesting when he had his creature, but I also loved the Fane/Hale plot arc and wish it had been utilised better. I really didn't care for the whole Sasha/Duncan parts where they were getting by without Yarrow and getting embroiled in court/Royal matters. For me, I'd have been happy if the story never deviated away from Yarrow's POV or his journey. Maybe if it had been solely about Yarrow I would have enjoyed it more.

For me, the addition of Cairn and Covenant, Archer's Regret and the future book of Wine and Roses could have been compiled into a Volume 2 of related stories, rather than adding two of the three into this bundle, where they didn't feel cohesive or logical in timeline or plot arc. The parts of Cairn and Covenant that are important could easily have been assimilated into Yarrow's story, through a secondary character as I mentioned above, to keep everything important within the one bundle.

Overall, the stories are all connected by the same characters and a singular plot arc, of Yarrow's destiny, but I found them too fragmented and inconsistent to 'love' them. I enjoyed some parts more than others, some characters more than others and some books more than others. But I'm still left with questions:
Who ordered the assassins to target Sasha? Why? Why are the Goddesses hoarding magic and what for? Why can't the Goddesses see what's inside Yarrow? Why didn't they recognise the power of the creature inside of him? Will having Fane's essence inside of him alter Yarrow at all or is it just a way to get rid of Fane from the plot? Why isn't Hale helping when the world is crumbling around him and his oblivious existence is threatened? Doesn't he feel any responsibility towards Yarrow at all, considering it's partly his fault that he's in the situation he's in?

However, what annoys me is that this isn't a complete series. It would have made more sense to include book 5: Calling and Culling, as part of this bundle or ended the bundle as a trilogy, to be picked up in a second volume, as the blurb for book 5 hints at an end to the plot arc of the first three books here. Whether it delivers will have to wait until I've read it to decide. Either way, there is no ending to this bundle that satisfies me. The end of book 3 leaves us with promises of more, Yarrow in limbo, and everything up in the air. Book 4 ends with Octavian plotting how to get close to Yarrow and figuring out which side he wants to take in the future, while the short, Archer's Regret, hints at a future for Sylvain, but gives away nothing about where it will take place or whether he'll re-enter the series. To me, everything about these three endings leave me screaming “cliffhanger” and feeling frustrated that I've read over a thousand pages to reach no ending.

In the end, while the plot arc is interesting enough to follow through on, it's not a series that I would eagerly return to re-read. And, if there is ever a book 6 or more, I will avoid my usual re-reading of the entire series so far before catching up, and just jump straight in, regardless of whether I can remember the nuances or not. There's just too much here to re-read before another helping.

Right now, I'm going straight into book 5, then Other Paths book 1, before I forget who the characters are or what their plans are. In the future, though, I'll be hesitant to pick up another book in this series, so I seriously hope that book 5 offers an ending I can be happy with, because this bundle didn't. There is a huge cliffhanger that leaves me with more questions than answers and I don't know if there are any more books planned for this series, but it may be a case of me being happier leaving an open ending than delving back into such a complicated world that is merely “okay”.
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review 2017-06-01 00:00
Cairn and Covenant (Blessed Epoch Book 4)
Cairn and Covenant (Blessed Epoch Book 4) - August Li ** This review is word-for-word as that contained within the Blessed Epoch, Vol. 1 review **

Book 4: Cairn and Covenant
Length: 72-99%
POV: Octavian, Myrddin, Karl
Star rating: ★★★☆☆

So, apparently, this is a prequel to the entire series and I'm really not sure why it's included in the bundle, when it is so out of place within the timeline. I get that it's exploring events after the Johmatra war, within the timeline of the ten years of Octavian's life it travels through, but I really don't see why it couldn't have been a companion novel, while the parts with Yarrow were shown in Sasha's POV, since he's the most capable and likely to be able to spy on people enough to overhear whatever Octavian and his new lover spoke about.

It's an ambitious story, that's for sure, but it tries to fit far too much – ten years of a man's life and achievements, as well as linking to Yarrow's story – within 445 pages. And it feels even longer.

I also feel a little frustrated by the “non-labelled” beginning, which I presume is the original 0.5 story “A Lesson and a Favor”. The short blurb in this volume describes Cairn and Covenant as “Octavian Rose was given a second chance thanks to an assassin’s unexpected mercy.” except that it's not true. Sasha wasn't sent to kill Octavian, but the people holding him captive, so there was no need for mercy. I was expecting Octavian to be some target or part of a group target, to fulfil the 'mercy' part, but it never happened, which is annoying because it completely set me up for the wrong thing. It's also kind of weird to read about Sasha having sex with Octavian, eight years ago, when you know how deeply in love he is with Yarrow. That's part of the reason it really doesn't belong where it's been placed; it's disorientating to try to forget what's happened until now to move into a past timeline that means nothing in the grand scheme of things.

The story is told in Octavian's POV primarily, while adding in Myrddin's POV (though, for me, he's too like Duncan as an expendable, not necessary character for me to care much). There's even a point where Karl, a random minor character, gets his POV just so that we can see one singular event that we're already set up to know happens. A simple addition of dialogue or explanation somewhere else would have made his POV obsolete. However, it gets confusing when we switch from 3rd person to 1st, during Octavian's journal entries. It takes some getting used to, as I'm not a fan of shifting tenses within a story.

There's something very familiar about all of this → it's a carbon copy of book 1! The characters are the same – Duncan/Myrddin, Yarrow/Octavian, Sasha/Sylvain – and the dangerous beginning with the plot arc of a character needing to prove themselves is so reminiscent of Yarrow that it's hard to tell the two apart. They even have the whole “sometimes illusions have their place”, “stronger than he thinks” and “people want to be led” conversations repeated throughout dialogue and the main text, exactly as Sasha and Duncan have repeatedly gone on and on about both, during the previous three books.

Octavian is an interesting character, but it's hard to tell if that's because of who he is or because he's so like Yarrow, who I already love. His brief and fortuitous meeting with Sasha was intriguing, but there really was just too much story. It all linked together, as the entire book was about following Octavian from boyhood to warrior, but once again there was a lack of consistency when it came to detail. It could have easily been a hundred pages shorter if you removed the copious sex (which I, again, skimmed) as well as the scenes we really didn't need to see directly. That would have made way for some of the more interesting scenes to get more attention than they were given.

There is no explanation in timeline or dialogue given for how or when Octavian learned to read sign language, sign it and understand it so well as to have a rant with Dirk. At one point on the page, he says he's barely able to follow, that he knows some words etc, then at a later point, he's ranting away with a long flowery speech that would be impossible for a novice. Sure, he's been around Dirk for a few weeks/months, as far as we know, but there's no explanation for how quickly it happens.

Fabrezio – Breeze – is in this story quite a bit, beginning at around late teenage years and progressing over the next ten years. However, the side story “Wine and Roses” of the new Other Paths series, is meant to be about him. But, we know all we need to know about him and his journey in this book. It tells us everything we need to know about where he went, why, what happened and whether or not he goes back or not, and what reception he's likely to receive, so I really don't understand why he needs his own novel when we see everything we need to know about him here. It confuses me, because I feel a little duped. I went and bought Wine and Roses only to feel like I know everything I need to know about that book from this story. Fabrezio is such a minor character, though interesting, that it really doesn't feel necessary for him to have an entire 224 page book about him.

What I did want to see, read about or explore, was Sylvain returning to his lost love from Elvara. Instead, he enjoyed a lot of sleeping around, including being part of Octavian and Myrddin's open relationship, while never exposing more than a glimmer of what lay underneath.

The way Octavian grieved, forgetting during his drunken nights and then having to remember his loss again, was heartbreaking to read. It was one of the few moments where I was really able to connect with him, as a character. I especially liked the way that he and Yarrow got along so well, when they met at the end of the novel. It's no wonder that they got along, being so similar, but it was nice to see that both Octavian and D'Aurelian feared Yarrow so much as to consider him a threat worth keeping an eye on. They seem to be the only two, bar Sasha, who really understand how devastatingly dangerous Yarrow might be. However, I find it really weird and a little disturbing, that Octavian keeps calling himself old, that he's grey haired and wrinkled, at just age 38. It makes him read like he's eighty, when he's in the prime of his life. It's very off putting.

I'm also, honestly, a little disappointed that Sylvain never returned to offer his condolences to Octavian over his loss or even helped fight at his side. He was so close to Octavian, more than any other person in the Roses, that it felt wrong for him not to even acknowledge it. Either he never heard about it (which seems impossible, since the entire world is shook up over the Johmatra incident and word has spread all throughout Garith's kingdom about Octavian's rule) or he selfishly didn't care, once his life was back on track. Either way, I wanted an explanation. Even a sentence. And I hope I get it in future stories, somewhere.

Overall, I took a star off for the massive similarities to Yarrow's story – characterisation, dialogue, copious sex and a plot that flags frequently – while I took another star off for the fact that it's unnecessarily placed and far too long. It's a good story, but putting it between books 3 and 5 just breaks up the flow of Yarrow's journey, for no reason. It tells us nothing vital to our understanding of what Yarrow is going through, unless we also get Octavian's POV in book 5, which I'm yet to discover.

I don't see why this couldn't have been a nice little story within the Other Paths companion series, just like Breeze's story is, or a 4.5 novella of Yarrow encountering Octavian and learning about him organically, through his reputation, instead of leading us through ten years of history that is only important to Octavian and is likely to have no bearing on what comes next except that those ten years led him to Yarrow. Unless his debt to Julien comes back into play, it really makes no sense. It doesn't feel necessary to rehash the entire Battle of Starlight Bridge when we saw it all already. Sure, a whole two seconds worth of what happened there relates to Breeze ending up with his own story but, again, it's already told directly to Octavian, so it doesn't need to be shown in the battle or in its own novel.
It makes no sense to take us eight years into the past, before any of the events of Yarrow's journey, putting more distance between the reader and the events of book 4 which, at this point, I feel like I have to go back to re-read just to remember what has happened, which is something I'm not willing to do at this juncture.

~

Favourite Quote

“Yarrow was dangerous, like a storm, as likely to decimate his allies as his enemies.”

~

Short: Archer's Regret
Length: 99-100%
POV: Sylvain
Star rating: ★★★☆☆

So, this is the story I wanted of Sylvain going to Elvara to search for his lost love. Except, it's 1% long, which is probably all that was needed to tell Breeze's story as well. I'd rather have enjoyed a nice long 200+ page novel about Sylvain, who was left a complete mystery in Cairn and Covenant, than read about a story where I already know the ending.

However, that's a problem for another day.

I liked this story, but it felt rushed and I'd have liked it to be at least double the length, if not longer, just to properly explore all the nuances of Sylvain and Aeris' problems. I would have liked to have seen a flashback or recollection of their first meeting, or something that shows me they really know each other, something to show us who Sylvain and Aeris are as people on their own, before throwing them together. I felt very little chemistry between them, because everything they have with each other is in the path, so we don't get to see anything bar them having sex and arguing.

This story, however, is simply about Sylvain taking a risk and trying to get Aeris back. Nothing more, nothing less, and with very little detail about the who, how, what or why. I was, in a word, disappointed.

~
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review 2017-01-14 14:16
Blessed with an Angel (Grey River #5) by Maia Dylan
Blessed with an Angel - Maia Dylan
Blessed with an Angel is Angel's story, her and Chris and Noah. Now, these three met very quickly in Rowena's book, but as it was Rowena's story, nothing much was said. Now it's their turn, and we find out just what has been going on in Noah's life mainly. He is the mystery character - the one who disappeared, who keeps everything on the down low. Chris is the doctor, the one who cares for everyone, where Noah I would class as the protector. Together, they make a formidable team, especially when they have you in their sights. This includes Angel, as they both need to earn her forgiveness after acting like complete tools around her and Mateo, her new baby.
 
However, a threat from Angel's past comes to light, which will also impact the Pack as a whole, as well it being a personal link to Noah's past, comes knocking on the door. This sends the Pack into a protective frenzy. Angel isn't prepared for anything to hurt her mates, and they feel the same about her. Courses of action are taken which will have a long-lasting effect on the Pack.
 
A hot and spicy story, mixed in with plenty of romance and danger, this book is as well written as I would expect from Maia Dylan. Absolutely recommended by me.
 
* A copy of this book was provided to me with no requirements for a review. I voluntarily read this book, and my comments here are my honest opinion. *
 
Merissa
Archaeolibrarian - I Dig Good Books!
Source: sites.google.com/site/archaeolibrarian/merissa-reviews/greyriver456bymaiadylan
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review 2016-12-20 00:37
A Very Blessed Christmas Colorinng Book
A Very Blessed Christmas Coloring Book - Robin Mead


Title A Very Blessed Christmas Coloring Book
Author: Robin Mead
Publisher: FaithWords/Center Street
Reviewed By: Arlena Dean
Rating: Five
Review:

"A Very Blessed Christmas Coloring Book" by Robin Mead

My Thoughts...

If you are into the Christmas season and love coloring then you have come to the right place where you have a 'Christmas themed with scriptures. I loved the 'inspirational Bible scriptures' that really goes along so well with this holiday. This author gives some really neat drawing featuring the 'reason for the season and the birth of Christ.' You will get a little bit of it all from 'Christmas trees, candy canes, the nativity scene, beautiful angels, doves, candles, hot cocoa, carolers, snowflakes, fireplaces and even the cross.' There were also a bonus of Christmas craft cutouts that you can do so many things with like...ornaments, tags for gifts and so much more. I am sure anyone even the children can find something that they will be interested in that will certainly get you into the spirit of this holiday season. So, get ready to relax, sit back and get your crayons and/or colored pens ready for some wonderful coloring!

I received the novel from NetGallery in return for my honest opinion.

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