Once A King (A Clash of Kingdoms, #3)

Image result for once a king erin summerillFirst Lines: I lean against the dusty Elementiary shelf crammed with books and jars of animal bits, and stare at my father’s letter.  His nearly indecipherable scratch strikes me with swift disappointment.

I’ve read this entire series in a year, which is kind of unheard of (partly because we’re always waiting for the next book for a year or more!), but I was happy to find this at the library and knock another series off my list.  Though I was a little nervous that our main character from the last two books wasn’t going to be a narrator this time around.

For twenty years, women with magical powers calls Channelers have been persecuted and killed in Malam for their abilities.  King Aodren is desperate to change that.  The persecution was wrong when it started in his infancy and it’s wrong now.  The only problem is that 20 years of prejudice aren’t easy to erase overnight.  Rumors of a deadly Channeler-made substance are only fanning the flame of hatred.  Lirra, a wind Channeler and the daughter of the most hated man in Malam, has every reason to distrust King Aodren when he asks for her help.  But she can’t help but wonder what’s going on herself.  Who is making this substance?  Could they possibly know how dangerous it is?  With Lirra’s help, Aodren sees a way to end the prejudice and begin a new world in Malam.  But his enemies are powerful and it only takes one mistake to topple a kingdom…

Hmm. This was not my favorite book in this series, something I worried about when I saw Britta’s story line ended with the previous book.

In this book, our main characters are Aodren and Lirra, two characters we met previously. Both of them are great characters and I’m not knocking them in the least. I like Aodren’s personality a lot, especially his drive to make up for his mistakes and make his country a better place, no matter how difficult that job is. And Lirra’s determination and skill set as a spy made her interesting to read about as well.

My problem more stemmed from the plot, which felt very simplistic. It’s basically a mystery the whole time and yeah, there’s a subplot about this kingdom summit that happens once every five years and all that, but the crux was the mystery. And I don’t know, the mystery was fine and everything but since it was basically the whole focus of the story, I eventually kind of got tired of it.

That’s not to say the story’s bad by any means. Some of the things that happened to Lirra and Aodren were suspenseful and interesting and I didn’t want to put the book down. But when I look at the bigger picture here, my impressions overall, I was just a little underwhelmed by it all.

Still, I won’t say I’m mad that I got to see these characters again. Aodren became my favorite with book 2 and I don’t hate that I got to see his story get a better resolution. Also, this book was a fast read and I’m not mad about that either. I just wish there was a little more happening in the plot.

Ever The Brave (A Clash of Kingdoms, #2)

Image result for ever the braveFirst Lines: A minute spent in a Shaerdanian tavern is a minute too long.   I motion for Finn to fall behind as the creaky door slams closed, leaving us in the loud, crowded, lantern-lit room.

So a lot of you asked if I was going to read the second book in this series, and I had it sitting on my shelf for a few months.  But after you read a few cute romances, you need to change it up with a fantasy novel, right?  Right.  Enter this sequel.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

After saving King Aodren’s life, Britta just wants to go back to living the quiet life in the Ever Wood.  However, saving his life has created the unfortunate circumstance of forging a bond between them, a bond that tethers them together and lets them feel when the other is close.  No matter what she tries, Britta can’t break it.  And now the king is insisting that Britta be made a noble lady for her bravery.  But there’s someone who wants to use Britta’s powers for their own gain.  If Britta can’t figure out how to control her powers, everything she loves–her friends, her home, her country–could be lost.

It took me a while to get into this book, partly because I just didn’t have the time. I’d liked the first book, but I hadn’t loved that one either. It made me a little hesitant going into this.

But really, it was pretty good. I had a little trouble feeling like much was happening at the beginning because we have 3 narrators and it took time to get each story line settled. It wasn’t that there wasn’t action in those parts (because there was), but it took time to see the point. I’d say by maybe a third of the way through the book, I was good with it. (I don’t always like books with bouncing narration between multiple characters.)

The plot is interesting, but it definitely gets a whole lot better at the halfway mark to the end. The early stuff felt contrived to me. Not predictable, necessarily, but a bit cliche. There were definitely some fun twists in the second half, though.

The characters were pretty cool, too. We knew Britta and Cohen well in the last book, but this time we really get to know Aodren. I actually kind of adored him. Getting to know him was probably my favorite part of the whole book.

There is a love triangle in this book (aaand you’ve probably figured out by now who’s involved in that), but it’s actually one of the best handled love triangles I’ve read. It never felt like it was trying to force drama; it felt like a few characters who, due to extenuating circumstances, formed a rare bond that got in the way of another bond. None of the characters were trying to pressure anything to happen–it was all just a situation they had to deal with. I liked that.

I’m interested in seeing where this story goes from here.  Apparently this book marks the end of Britta as the main character, as the next book has Aodren as the main character, and I’m here for it.

Shadowsong (Wintersong, #2)

Image result for shadowsongFirst Lines: My dearest Sepperl, They say it rained on the day Mozart died.

I read Wintersong back in the…spring?…and, being a duology, I wanted to finish off this series.  It was gonna be easy, you know?  Two books, done.  And I’d have one more series I could cross off my list.  If I was actually keeping a list, which I’m not.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

It’s been six months since Liesl came back from the Underground.  She’s determined to live her life and grow her music career, but her second chance at life is so much harder than she ever thought.  Her brother, Josef, is cold and distant from her.  And Liesl can’t stop thinking about the man she left behind.  When signs begin to show that the barrier between the Underground and the world above is failing, Liesl knows she needs to do something.  But how far will she be willing to go?  How much is too much to sacrifice?

I had really enjoyed the first book in this series, though I admittedly found it weird at times. But I liked its play on German culture, its delve into the Goblin underworld, and its ties to music.

Pretty much, still what I liked about this one.

I will say that it started off sloooooow. It took me a long time before I felt like I was really getting anywhere. Part of that might have been because I didn’t have time to sit down and sink into it the way I like to. I was reading a chapter at breakfast and maybe another couple before bed. (Normally, I like to sink at least an hour into reading a day, but I’ve been on a writing kick lately.) But part of it, I think too, was that we not only had to set up the currently world Liesl was living in, six months after the end of the previous story, but also her new, manic mindset.

I did really like that this book took a look at mental illness, particularly relating to bipolar disorder and depression, without calling them by name. You see a couple of the characters spiraling, but they don’t have the vocabulary (due to the time period) to really explain what they’re feeling. But we know. We see it. And I liked seeing some of that from the inside, to better understand it.

What I missed from most of this was the Goblin world. Even though that was the crux of the previous book, it wasn’t very present in this book at all. And unfortunately, that’s what I really enjoyed before. And Der Erlkonig really wasn’t in the story much either.

The reason I gave this a four instead of three is because the last 150 pages or so were pretty extraordinary. I don’t want to say there were big plot twists, necessarily, but it was really well-written. Madness, depression, and yes, a few twists made it quite an emotional ending. I liked that.

An Affair of Poisons

Image result for an affair of poisonsFirst Lines: My laboratory reeks of death.  Not of blood and flesh and decay, but the garlicky bite of arsenic, the musty essence of hemlock, and the sweet smell of oleander–like rose water and citrus.

This book caught my eye at the library because, well, it looked historical and am I really going to pass something up where the cover talks about a king killer and poison?  No, I’m not.  Not without looking a little closer first.  When it still looked good, I took it home with me.

After unknowingly helping her mother kill King Louis XIV of France, Mirabelle Monvoisin suddenly realizes her mother’s Shadow Society isn’t who they’ve always claimed they are.  They were supposed to help the poor, to aide those the king was ignoring.  It was never supposed to be about getting power and killing the king.  Josse de Bourbon is the son of a king and a maid, forced to be more of a kitchen boy than a prince.  When his father, King Louis XIV, is killed by the Shadow Society, it’s up to Josse to protect his half-siblings.  Hiding the sewers beneath the city, Josse is desperate to save his sisters, though he doesn’t know how to bring reason back to a city that seems to have lost all sense.  His path crosses with Mirabelle and the two of them begin planning.  A poisoner and a prince–the unlikely combination may be the only thing that saves Paris.

I thought this was really interesting! A genre-blending read that was something of a historical fantasy.

The story itself is fascinating and intense. Initially taken from an actual historical event, it starts with a poisoning. A poisoner named La Voisin kills King Louis XIV of France because of his decadence and neglect of his poorer subjects. (This is where it diverges from history. Louis didn’t die.) With the king dead, now La Voisin is trying to take his place as ruler, but ruling is never as easy as it looks.

Our narrators were what made the story, though. Mira’s mother is La Voisin. Mira is the alchemist in charge of making all of the tinctures and poisons she uses to help citizens. Mira’s left in the dark about the plot to kill the king and she’s devastated when she sees what her actions have caused. Mira has a good heart, but she’s a flawed character. She wants to help people, but her past keeps getting in the way. Josse is the bastard son of the king and a maid. Working as a kitchen boy, Josse becomes his half-siblings’ only means of survival because he’s the least recognizable of the five of them. His main objective is to keep his youngest half-sisters alive and he’ll do whatever he has to to secure that. He’s also a very flawed character, sometimes hotheaded and impulsive among other things.

I mean, these characters, all of them, are complex. Which is the best way to write characters. La Voisin, even, is both good and horribly despicable. None of the characters are all good or all bad and it was so refreshing to read about characters who do walk that line. You understand where they’re coming from even if it’s hard to stomach.

The fantasy elements I thought were fairly well done. Mostly that boiled down to the alchemy Mira was able to do and a little bit of magic that crept into the story. It was enough to give it a different feel to the story without making it feel like it was taking away from the actual history this was all based on.

While it took me a little while to get into the story, I did actually really enjoy this. For a debut, it’s a solid read.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Image result for the crimes of grindelwaldWho will change the future?

Hey guys!  So I checked this movie out from the library a few weeks ago because I hadn’t watched it yet…and I let it sit by my TV for weeks.  I just wasn’t in the mood for it, you know?  (I got hooked on the show Lucifer…)  But last night, I finally felt like I was looking for a little magic.

*Potential Fantastic Beasts Spoilers Ahead*

Grindelwald is amassing followers.  Worried about what may happen if this continues, Albus Dumbledore enlists the help of Newt Scamander to go to Paris and do what he can to stop Grindelwald.  Newt doesn’t want to pick sides in this fight, preferring to be with his beasts, but Grindelwald is striking close to Newt–and Newt may not be able to stay indifferent for long.

Ok, let’s start with the obvious here.  Jo wrote this and, like the Harry Potter books, you can feel her storytelling in it.  It’s thorough, the characters are interesting, and there are fascinating twists.  There are obvious parallels to the world we live in and that’s always disturbing/fascinating to see.

I mean, I loved seeing a young Dumbledore.  Jude Law did an excellent job with him.  He still feels like Dumbledore, even though we’re seeing him decades before Harry meets him.  I appreciated what Law brought to the screen with his performance because, like Jo says in some of the bonus features, Dumbledore is such an amazing character.  Love him or hate him, he’s fascinating.

But, as I was watching the movie…I was bored.  I kept looking at the clock to figure out how much longer until it was over.

Let me see if I can try to describe this.  I found the plot overall to be slow moving and too broken up between the many narrators.  We’re constantly seeing things from Newt, Dumbledore, Tina, Queenie, Jacob, Credence, and a few others.  Trying to keep all of those straight and look for clues to the ending was tedious.  Especially since what I loved most about the first movie (the beasts and the friendships) weren’t as prevalent this time around.

I do like Newt.  I think Eddie Redmayne plays him marvelously.  He’s strange and quirky, but he doesn’t care a bit what anyone thinks of him so long as he can protect his beasts.  And that is…oddly refreshing.

I just didn’t think this was particularly fun or interesting to watch.  It started off well, but it lost me as it continued on.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Image result for fantastic beastsHey everyone!  I always knew that at some point I was going to watch this movie.  Prior to this past weekend, I’d never seen it.  I figured that capping off #HogwartsOctober with it might be the way to go.

If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, I’ll give you a quick run-down: Newt Scamander has arrived in America looking for fantastic creatures to write about for his upcoming book.  Unfortunately, a few of his collection escape and start rampaging New York City.  With the help of Jacob Kowalski (a No-Maj) and the reluctant help of Tina Goldstein and her sister Queenie, Newt hopes to put everything to rights while also solving the mystery of what is attacking the no-majs of NYC before it gets out of hand.

The story of this started off a bit slow.  I mean, there’s a lot that needs to be built: NYC’s wizarding community, America’s version of the Ministry of Magic, 1920s NYC, Newt’s backstory, the fantastic beasts, etc.  There’s a lot that’s going into this.  So it takes some time getting off the ground.

I thought Eddie Redmayne did a good job as Newt.  I can’t say I always understood the acting choices, but I came to like him.  I also had to give Eddie kudos for his um…mating dance?…with the rhino-looking creature.  Dear Lord, the utter ridiculousness of that scene would have had me in stitches if I’d have watched this in theatres.

What’s probably more interesting is the character who actually stole my heart: Jacob Kowalski.  The only no-maj in the story that we get to know, Jacob is pretty much us.  He’s involuntarily sucked into this magical world and quickly finds out that magic is really freaking awesome–and scary.  Definitely scary too.  He quickly becomes the heart of this little group of misfits and I adored that about him.  He’s just a happy-go-lucky kind of guy with big dreams and a thirst for adventure whose been locked in a life that bars him from all of that.

What I thought was really funny about this was how much Newt reminded me of Hagrid.  I mean, the love of weird and probably dangerous creatures?  Check.  Likes to call himself “mummy” when talking to said creatures?  Check.  Kind-hearted and gentle, even when the rest of the world doesn’t seem to understand them?  Check. There are more similarities as well, but at risk of revealing actual spoilers, I can’t do that.  Suffice it to say, Newt could easily be Hagrid just one generation prior.

It was funny too watching this right after rereading the series because, based on the descriptions in the book alone, I was able to identify a couple characters.  I was watching the beginning of the movie and when the first creature escaped, I was like, “Oh, that’s totally a niffler.  Just look at it.”  Then I immediately questioned how deep I’d gone into the wizarding world to be able to identify a niffler in .2 seconds flat.  There was a minute or two there of legit soul-searching.

Oh, and can I saw how truly American a few scenes were?  Both good and bad.  Jacob has a purely American dream he’s pursuing in owning his own bakery.  He wants to create something himself because he knows he can do it better than the machines that are churning out hundreds more donuts than he can do by hand.  And that was awesome.  But the truly terrifying moment was this brief look at what the death penalty looks like for wizards in America.  The way they tried to kill people but claimed it was completely pain-free…I got the heebie-jeebies watching that.

Anyway, I thought it was an enjoyable movie.  I’d accidentally spoiled the twist at the end for myself when I was reading something about the next Fantastic Beasts movie, but I still found it to be enjoyable.