Sing Me Forgotten

Sing Me Forgotten

First Lines: I am a shadow. A shimmer of black satin. A wraith in the dark.

Sorry I haven’t been updating much lately. There was a death in the family on the day my last post went live and I’ve been trying to adjust since then and find a return to normal. It’s been a process. It’s actually kind of ironic, in that case, that this is the book I’m reviewing first, given its emphasis on memory.

Isla was born with a rare power, one that people fear so much she was supposed to have been killed at birth. When people sings, Isla can manipulate memories. Saved at a young age from death by opera house owner Cyril, she’s lived in the opulent opera house ever since. All he asks is that she uses her powers to keep ticket sales high–and that she stays out of sight. Even now, if she’s seen, it means death for her and her protector. But then she meets Emeric, whose voice is unlike anything she’s ever heard before. She’s drawn to the charming boy whose memories hint at ways she can finally be free. As Isda spends more time with Emeric, she becomes more hopeful about gaining her freedom. But the price of freedom will be higher than she ever could have anticipated…

From the moment I read the blurb, I thought this sounded vaguely like The Phantom of the Opera, a thought that was only confirmed as I read the book. And as a fan of that story, I truly wanted to enjoy this.

And in a lot of ways, I did. I loved the way music was incorporated into the story. I loved the setting (a French-esque fantasy world where memories are currency, so memory is valued above all else). I even liked Isda and her internal conflict of what makes a person a monster. (Ok, let me rephrase my earlier Phantom comment. It’s Phantom mixed with Hunchback. Both set in France, both dealing with deformities, both confining the tragic figure in a place of music and culture, ALL LIKE THIS BOOK.)

For the first half or two thirds of the book, I would have given this a 4 rating. Yes, there were moments of predictability. Yes, there were moments where it was hard to really get a handle on some of the world building. (It’s a relatively short book for a fantasy novel. Things happen quickly with little exposition.) But I generally liked it. It was the last bit of the book that sort of ruined the experience for me. Not that it was bad, exactly. It has honest and probably true to the characters if I’m being honest. It just wasn’t how I wanted things to go. It felt like it dove too far into melodrama and clichés to me. But it did feel like how some of the characters would react, so what can you do?

For a debut fantasy novel, this was really good, even if I didn’t totally buy into the ending. This is definitely an author to watch.

Phoenix Flame (Havenfall, #2)

Phoenix Flame (Havenfall #2)

First Lines: Havenfall is my home. I test the words out, whispering them to myself as I walk slowly down the grand staircase toward the ballroom.

Earlier this year, I picked up the first book in this duology semi-randomly at the library. I’d seen it before and thought it looked interesting, but it wasn’t high on my to-read list. And I didn’t exactly love it, but I thought it was worth seeing how the series wrapped up since it was so short. So I wanted to give this a chance.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Maddie thought she’d saved her home and her friends. She defeated the Silver Prince and protected the Inn from a coup. Her uncle is recovering from the mysterious spell that made him not quite human. And there are still a few weeks left of summer for her to enjoy with her best-friend-turned-maybe-boyfriend Brekken. But it’s not over. The black-market trading of magical objects is still going strong and in order to shut it down for good, Maddie might have to go through the Inn’s doors into the once feared land of shapeshifters. Secrets abound, a few of them that could change everything…

Overall, I found this entire series to be somewhat lackluster and predictable. This book was especially hard for me to get through for some reason.

What I struggled with a lot at the beginning was that I just didn’t care about the plot or the characters. It picks up pretty much right where we left off in the previous book, but there were just so many moving parts and nothing was being accomplished for so long. Everyone was acting weird and it just wasn’t what I was expecting.

I did start finally getting more into the story about halfway through with the convenient introduction of a new character. (Everything in this series is either wildly predictable or very convenient.) So I wasn’t surprised by what happened, but it added a nice amount of spice to the otherwise boring story.

The end of this book (and thus the end of this duology) was pretty lackluster as well. One of the major plot lines doesn’t even get fully resolved. Actually, a lot of stuff doesn’t really get resolved, now that I think about it. It was somewhat satisfying as far as just finishing the book went but that was about it.

Brightly Woven

Brightly Woven

(sorry, I don’t have first lines for this one. It’s so old it’s apparently not available on Kindle…)

This book, Alexandra Bracken’s debut novel, has been on my Goodreads to-read shelf since 2009. That’s a crazy long time, I know. But every time I went through and tried to get rid of books I thought I’d never actually read, this one always hung on. The premise just sounded so interesting. And after really getting into some of Bracken’s other books last year, I thought this would be worth a try, to see how it all started.

Ten years of drought is a long time for any community, so Sydelle is thrilled when the rains finally come. Except the rains bring with them Wayland North, a young wizard in need of an assistant. He’s got his eye on Sydelle for the job. Sydelle agrees because she wants to see the country and because war will inevitably destroy her village if she doesn’t tell someone what she saw in the valley. But it soon becomes clear North is keeping his own secrets…like why he chose Sydelle and his real reasons for making this journey.

I thought it was pretty obvious this was a debut novel and that Bracken’s writing has gotten better since. There’s just something about the writing style that is just not up to par, you know? It’s not practiced enough.

This is a fantasy story with very little exposition. We’re almost immediately thrown into some kind of war with no idea why, no idea what makes Sydelle’s town of Clifton unique, or really even who Sydelle is. The story unravels very matter-of-factly, in a way felt a little condescending. Like, oh, you didn’t realize Sydelle’s dad was the town’s leader? Well, you should have even though we didn’t tell you that. There were a lot of moments like that where I just really wanted to know where that came from…and why now, all of a sudden.

The story is heavily reliant on its action and plotting, less so on characters. As I already mentioned, I really had no idea how Sydelle was as a character. Even after reading the book, I still don’t really feel like I have a good grasp on her. There was very little realistic character development. For example, Sydelle hates North at the very beginning, but then magically she’s cool with him at some point? It was weird. It didn’t make sense. Sure, there were little moments when she was softening toward him, but that’s totally different than “I hate him and now I love him.” I felt no emotions whatsoever coming from either of them.

The worldbuilding is….actually decent. I mean, I wish there were more explanations about the wizards and stuff, but the worldbuilding actually did a pretty good job of showing us the landscape and letting us know how serious this war was. She even gave cities and countries their own customs and goddesses and things like that. So it worked. I think that’s probably what caught someone’s eye and got this published.

Definitely not Bracken’s strongest work, but it was kind of cool to see where she got her start.

Waterfall (River of Time, #1)

Waterfall (River of Time, #1)

First Lines: We paused on our hike, panting and wiping our upper lips as our guide–the old Italian farmer who owned this land–chopped down a small sapling, clearing the overgrown trail. “Ecco, vedi,” he said, pointing to the ground. See here.

This book initially caught my eye about five years ago. I don’t remember how I heard of it, but I can tell you it 100% I put it on my to-read list because of time travel and hotties. It sounded like a YA Italian version of Outlander.

Most American girls in Italy for summer vacation would be enjoying it. Seeing the sights, eating good food, etc. For Gabi and Lia, a summer in Italy isn’t exactly a vacation. They’ve spent most summers in Italy with their archaeologist parents, digging up forgotten sites and, well, being covered in dirt and living for months in outdated hotels isn’t their idea of fun anymore. They’re bored. But that all changes the day Gabi and Lia sneak into their mother’s latest find, an ancient tomb, and put their hands on handprints painted to the wall. Suddenly, the girls find themselves in 14th century Italy, in the midst of a fierce battle between knights of opposing forces. It seems their summer just got more interesting. And a lot more dangerous.

I love a good time travel story. My inner history nerd always wonders what I would do if I magically plopped down in one of these times. (Spoiler: I probably wouldn’t last a week, if we’re being realistic.)

This story caught my eye because it was traveling to a time and place I didn’t know much about: 14th century Italy. There are knights, battles, castles. What’s not to love? Although, to be fair, this book isn’t all that different from other time travel stories I’ve read. It shares a number of similarities to Outlander as well as Wake Unto Me, which is actually probably the closer match as it follows the “girl travels in time to find a hottie in a castle” trope. But still, it had a lot to recommend itself.

I did end up rather enjoying the story. It does have a lot of action and a lot of twists to the story. I liked seeing what trouble Gabi would get into with her 21st century ways (wearing PANTS? OMG girl.). Gabi is a strong heroine with an even stronger sense of what she needs to do: survive, and find her sister Lia, who has gotten separated from her. I liked seeing her adapt to her new surroundings and the fantastically funny commentary she had.

I adored the men in this story too. Everyone from the gallant Marcello to the charmingly flirty Luca, the men closest to Gabi have made chivalry an artform. It was swoony and cute and, yeah, cheesy, but that’s what made it so much fun. It was just a good time, reading this. However, I’ll also say that Gabi’s chemistry with her knight in shining armor was…a little lackluster. It was courtly and stuff, which I get, but it just felt a little cold. Or I’ve been reading too many romances and expect fireworks all the time. Admittedly, I’ve never been good with actually courtly love stories. (For example, I have a hard time understanding Mr. Darcy’s appeal in Pride and Prejudice just because I never see any emotion out of him.) So let’s be real, this is probably on me.

Now, just as I got started reading this, I realized it’s won some kind of Christian lit award. Which, you know, great for it, but I don’t really see it. Like, I kind of do. We’re in 14th century Italy, after all. Christianity is the norm and a way of life here. It shows up. There are crucifixes in bedrooms and prayers before they eat. I wouldn’t have expected anything different for the time period. But it’s not really part of the plot. Gabi makes an off-hand comment once about having found religion after saying her second prayer ever, but it sounded almost as sarcastic as it did serious. I don’t really see this as Christian lit at all. This is a sci-fi/fantasy novel through and through.

This was so much fun to read and I really can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel.

A Vow So Bold and Deadly (Cursebreakers, #3)

A Vow So Bold and Deadly (Cursebreakers, #3)

First Lines: The weather has begun to turn, allowing cold wind to swoop down from the mountains and sneak under the leather and fur of my jacket. It’s colder in Syhl Shallow than it would be in Emberfall, but it’s been so long since I experienced the gradual slide from autumn in winter that I’ve been reveling in it.

The first book in this series was my favorite book of 2019, without a doubt. I loved to so so much. But the second book was…rougher. What I found so special about the first book was missing in the second. When I had the chance to read this book, I immediately grabbed it, but I wasn’t sure which book this was going to be like: the beloved first or the trying second?

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Emberfall is failing, torn into two deeply divided factions: those who believe Rhen is the rightful prince and ruler and those who want a new rule under Grey, who they believe is the rightful prince. Grey has given Rhen two months before he attacks, time Rhen should be using to prepare his army. Instead, he’s using that time to turn away from everyone, even Harper–who is desperately looking for a route to peace. Meanwhile, Lia Mara is struggling to rule Syhl Shallow in her mother’s place. After decades of brutality, Lia Mara’s gentler hand isn’t much liked. And with Grey and his magical powers at her side, many see Lia Mara as the worst option for Queen. As Grey’s deadline draws closer, Lia Mara begins to question whether she’s the Queen Syhl Shallow needs. War is war, though, and neither side will pull away first and show weakness…

This book did restore my faith in this series, but it wasn’t perfect either.

There’s something about Kemmerer’s writing that I just fall into when I get going on these books. Once I really got reading, I was completely in that world and I lost track of time in my world. It’s so easy to fall into the world of Emberfall and its politics and the relationships between the people. It did not take long to get sucked into what was happening and have a hard time putting the book down.

The story does still rotate between being narrated by Rhen, Harper, Grey, and Lia Mara. It was done in a way that wasn’t jarring, which I appreciated, as we tended to stay with one or two people for a good length of time before switching to the others. It’s interesting to be able to compare their viewpoints against each other when they see the same things happening.

The characters have definitely redeemed themselves this time around. Rhen isn’t as much of a jerk this time as he was in the last book, and I still really love Harper for her strength and bravery. Grey and Lia Mara are more grounded in themselves, their roles, this time around and they were easier to read about too. But man, do I still have a soft spot for some of the minor characters, particularly Jake and Noah. Those two…my heart.

My one big issue is the ending. Look, I know it’s a challenge to satisfactorily wrap up a series. I get it. But we’ve spent 3 books building to this and when it finally got to the climax, I went, “Wait, that’s it? We spent this long waiting for that? Well…” There’s so much emotion leading up to it and I was Here For It, but like…then it was just over? It didn’t seem worth all of it. Ok, like, the story still wrapped up nicely, don’t get me wrong, but I was disappointed there wasn’t more.

I’m glad I gave this book a chance and didn’t just stop after the last book. And I’m hoping Kemmerer comes out with more books soon because her writing style has won me over.

RoseBlood

RoseBlood

First Lines: At home, I have a poster on my wall of a rose that’s bleeding. Its petals are white, and red liquid oozes from its heart, thick and glistening warm. Only, if you look very close, you can see the droplets are coming from above, where a little girl’s wrist–camouflaged by a cluster of leaves–has been pricked by thorns as she reached inside to catch a monarch.

I’ve been putting this book off for a while, for a couple reasons, I guess. While I like A.G. Howard’s work (Splintered), she can be a little bit…much. Also, this book has a 3.37 rating on Goodreads, which worried me that it might not be that great.

Rune Germaine has the voice of an angel–but every time she finishes a performance, she feels sick and drained. Convinced that it’s just stage fright and proper direction will help, her mother sends her off to a French boarding school for the arts, rumored to have a connection with the Gaston Leroux and The Phantom of the Opera. Shortly after arriving at RoseBlood conservatory, Rune starts to think maybe something otherworldly is happening here. There’s a mysterious boy in the graveyard who disappears as quickly as he appears. But as Rune starts to form a friendship with the boy, Thorn, who wears 19th century clothing as well, she finds that she’s cured when she’s near him. And Thorn may be falling for the girl with a voice from heaven, but he’s got to manage the real phantom…who will force Thorn to make the toughest decision of his life: lead Rune to her destruction or face the wrath of the phantom, a man who is the only father he’s ever know–and a very dangerous enemy.

A.G. Howard has gained a reputation of being able to twist a well-known story into something new and fresh while still retaining the essence we love so much.

She really wasn’t off the mark with this one.

I rather enjoy the musical, which is most of my understanding of the Phantom of the Opera story, though I have read the book before. I’m just far more familiar with the musical. And it was nice to see those little bits and pieces I recognized crop up in this story.

Here, we are introduced to Rune, a young girl with the voice of an angel–and singing she can’t control. When she sings, it makes her sick. But she physically can’t stop herself from singing an aria if it gets into her head. She doesn’t even have to know the song–she’ll be able to sing it flawlessly. She’s starting to hate her gift, even though everyone else loves it. Rune starts off the story somewhat beat-down and lost, fearful that this new start at a French music school is going to be just as disastrous as life in Texas. As the story continues on, it was really cool to see her change.

But I won’t lie, the mysterious Thorn was really more to my taste. When he narrated the story, I felt like the story moved so much faster and was so much more interesting. He has a dark past, secrets, and a simple hope for a better future that he’s not sure exists for him. He was actually really sweet and I kind of love him.

It’s hard to miss that some people really seem to dislike this book and I can’t pretend I don’t know why. Parts in the middle are really slow. And some parts are really weird. (There’s one twist I won’t spoil, but when I read it, my first reaction was, “Oh great. Here we go,” with an eye roll.) It wasn’t what I expected–or really even wanted–but I kept with the story and I actually liked how it ended.

I have a hard time pinning this story down. It’s urban fantasy, but not really. It’s a tale of magic, but it’s also not? It’s a retelling, but it’s a totally new story too. I guess maybe this is the kind of book you need to look into yourself to figure out what it is because I think most people will categorize it as something different.

I liked it. It wasn’t my favorite fantasy/urban fantasy/retelling ever, but it had its moments.