Sky Breaker (Night Spinner, #2)

Sky Breaker (Night Spinner, #2)

First Lines: Darkness rises around me like a shield–girding me with armor, enfolding me in steel, deflecting the whispers that climb the cavern walls like goblin spiders.

The first book in his duology caught my attention because it was a sort of gender-bend fantasy retelling of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and if that isn’t quite the description, I don’t know what is. And after really enjoying the first book’s innovation and creativity, I was very excited to read the second book.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Enebish has been betrayed over and over again. On the run across the tundra, her only allies are her best friend Serik and a group of ill-tempered shepherds who threaten to leave her at every turn. Her only hope of bringing peace to Ashkar is to bring together the Protected Territories against the might of the Zemyans and the tyrannical Askarian Sky King. But as supplies dwindle for their little group, she might start losing allies faster than she gains them. Meanwhile, Zemyan forces have stormed the Ashkarian capital and Imperial Army Commander Ghoa throws all of her power into stopping them, only to be abandoned by the warriors she leads. Held captive in a magic prison and tortured by the sorcerer Kartok, Ghoa learns his true ambitions don’t rest on just ruling the surrounding countries–he wants to take on the gods themselves. The war between Ashkar and Zemya has been raging for centuries, but it might take the two most hated people on the continent–Enebish and Ghoa–to bring it to an end before Kartok sends the sky falling down around them.

This was just as good as the first book in a lot of ways, but also a little bit…lacking in others.

The world building is still really good. I liked seeing the different cultures and groups of people introduced. I liked understanding the difference between the Ashkarians and the Zemyans, the way their philosophies and powers differ.

The characters are equally fascinating because they’re all incredibly flawed. And I don’t just mean in the “oh, I’m so clumsy” way. Enebish’s inability to trust is a legitimate fault that gets her into life-threatening trouble so many times. Ghoa’s pride is her downfall in so many ways. These are horribly flawed people who sometimes are good people and sometimes are terrible. But we still end up rooting for them. It’s actually quite fun because I don’t think I’ve ever read characters quite like these before.

I did think the plot dragged a bit, though. It meant well, but when you spend most of the story (the part told from Enebish’s POV anyway) traveling across a large country/continent, well, there’s just a lot of monotony. Even when you dress it up with occasional fights or stops in new places. It’s still a road trip. (I know I made this reference like 3-4 books ago, but Deathly Hallows again, anyone?)

I really didn’t remember much of Ghoa’s personality when I started this book, so I had a hard time slipping into her perspective. But actually, in the midst of all the traveling Enebish was doing, Ghoa’s story line helped quite a lot. She was actually in danger, trying to figure out the best way to survive and get her revenge. While I did start off the story thinking she was a truly terrible person (I did remember what she did to Enebish in the previous book), she grew on me a lot. And that’s a sign of good writing right there, when you don’t even realize the change is happening.

This is well-written, different, and just interesting. Even for a fantasy, it manages to do things I’ve never seen before and stand out in its own ways.

Bring Me Their Hearts (Bring Me Their Hearts, #1)

Bring Me Their Hearts (Bring Me Their Hearts, #1)

First Lines: King Sref of Cavanos watches me with the deadened eyes of a raven circling a corpse–patient, waiting to devour me the second I let my guard down. I briefly debate telling him humans don’t taste all that good, until I remember normal girls don’t eat people. Or fake their way into royal courts.

This book has been on my to-read list for a while. I don’t remember how I first heart about it, but I know the title got my attention. And while trying to clear out some books on my to-read list, I thought this would be worth reading considering it has consistently high ratings on Goodreads.

Zera is a Heartless, an ageless, immortal soldier belonging to a witch. She bound to the witch Nightsinger, who saved Zera after a traveling band of bandits murdered her family. But Zera longs for her freedom–and her heart–back. Because as long as Nightsinger keeps Zera’s heart in a jar and out of Zera’s chest, she cannot go far from Nightsinger, nor can she have her own free will. Nightsinger will always be in control. But then Nighsinger offers her a deal: retrieve the heart of a Prince and Zera can have her heart back–with one condition. If Zera’s cover is blown, Nightsinger will destroy her heart, effectively killing Zera for real. Crown Prince Lucien d’Malvane hates the way the royal court fawns over him, everyone too aware of his status to actually stand up to him or correct him. No one challenges him until Lady Zera. She’s sarcastic, smart-mouthed, inelegant, and almost careless. And she manages to get until Lucien’s skin with alarming speed. So begins the kill-or-be-killed stance between Zera and Lucien. Literally.

I’d never really heard much chatter about this book, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

But this…this was fun.

This is a solid fantasy novel. The world building is well done, as there not only is the world itself but also all of the lore about witches and Heartless and Beneathers and celeons and all these other creatures that mingle with the people. It’s full of interesting characters, from Zera and Lucien to even the villain(s) who are just captivating. The fact that Zera views herself as a monster the whole story is an added angle that brought so much depth to the story.

Zera is definitely the scene stealer in this story, which is awesome considering she’s the main character. She’s so funny and witty and always ready with a sarcastic comment. I haven’t read about anyone this sarcastic and irreverent since Rose Hathaway in the Vampire Academy series. And yes, I’m including Sarah J. Maas’s characters in that assessment. Zera is just so complex and fascinating that it was always a treat to see what happened next.

I don’t think this story should be perceived as incredibly original and novel. It does have some originality for sure, I’m certainly not discounting that because that’s a bit part of why I liked it, but it also follows a lot of YA and fantasy clichés. But I happen to enjoy them. I liked knowing before I started that there was going to be court intrigue and stuff with princes and kings and contests to capture a prince’s heart. It’s what I enjoy, but it’s not exactly original. Even if this was incredibly well done.

I really enjoyed this. This was so much fun to read and I’m very much looking forward to where the series goes from here because it could do just about anything.

Bombshell (Hell’s Belles, #1)

Bombshell (Hell's Belles, #1)

First Lines: When the stilt-walker approached, Sesily Talbot realized someone was toying with her.

When it comes to romance, I truly don’t think anyone does it better than Sarah MacLean. I have been looking forward to this book for a while. We were introduced to these specific characters like 2-3 series ago and I was so hoping to see a happy ending for Sesily.

Lady Sesily Talbot has spent years being one of London’s biggest scandals, a reputation she adores and has carefully cultivated. No one looks twice when she behaves in an unladylike way or invites a man out into the gardens for a tryst…and no one notices those trysts aren’t what they seem. Well, no one except Caleb Calhoun, who has spent years trying not to notice his best friend’s younger sister. But someone has to keep Sesily from getting into too much trouble, and this close proximity to his greatest temptation is the opposite of what Caleb needs. So when Caleb starts to realize Sesily isn’t to forget, she’s for forever, what is he willing to risk to keep her?

I was happy to see more of both of them. Sesily pushes the envelope at every chance she can. She loves being a scandal, though ever since Caleb left two years ago to go back to America without a word to her, she’s decided it’s better to use her scandalous ways for good by trying to protect other women from dangerous men. Caleb, now back in England, doesn’t plan to stay because the secrets in his past threaten everything he holds dear. But Sesily’s not about to let that stop her chance at happiness. I love how brazen Sesily is and how noble Caleb is, even if I wanted to knock Caleb over the head a couple of times.

As much as I enjoy the characters, I thought the plot felt a little flat. I definitely liked the idea of a Girl Gang tackling the patriarchy, but I just didn’t always care for the way the whole thing unfolded. The way Caleb kept making a cake of himself for reasons it took him forever to explain, the way the story seemed to stall out in the middle, the way the characters sometimes felt more flat than I’m used to from MacLean. It wasn’t the story I necessarily hoped it would be. I didn’t feel engrossed in it the way I used to be.

Still, I find I like these girls and I’m thinking the next one is going to be pretty interesting, if I’ve guessed the male counterpart correctly…(this series seems to be leaning heavily into enemies-to-lovers tropes).

House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City, #1)

House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City, #1)

First Lines: There was a wolf at the gallery door. Which meant it must be Thursday, which meant Bryce had to be really gods-damned tired if she relied on Danika’s comings and goings to figure out what day it was.

It was unintentional, but I kept putting off reading this Sarah J. Maas read because…well, copies at the library were always taken. And I wasn’t super excited about it. It wasn’t ACOTAR. So when I finally saw it on the shelves at the library, I decided it was time.

Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life–work during the day, party all night–until a demon murdered her best friend. Lost, wounded, and guilt-ridden, Bryce now has to pick up the pieces of what’s left of her life. When the accused murderer is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself as part of the investigation into what’s actually happening. And she’s determined to get justice. Hunt Athalar is a Fallen angel, now enslaved to the archangels he tried to overthrow in favor of a more democratic world. His skills and strength have now been given one purpose: assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with murders now happening throughout the city, Hunt has been given a deal he can’t turn down: help Bryce solve the murders and earn his freedom. As Bryce and Hunt go into the city’s underbelly and discover power and secrets that could ruin everything they hold dear, they also find a blazing passion between them. It could set them both free if only they let it…

OK, HEAR ME OUT. I have gone back and forth with my rating (between 4 and 5 stars) so many times now. So let me just call it 4.5 and be done.

Maas is Queen, fair and square. I am not denying that. This book was stunning at times in the best way. I think I spent 4 hours just trying to finish it because it was all so intense for so long and I had to know what happened.

Bryce is a wonderful lead female. As half-human, half-fae, Bryce is considered “weak” at best and “worthless” at worst by the other supernatural beings that live in Crescent City and belongs to a very rigid caste system. But Bryce doesn’t let that stop her from being the sassiest thing on two legs. When you’re at the bottom, what do you have to lose if you run your mouth to the most powerful people in the city? It’s brash, it’s stupid at times, but it is so entertaining. I love her.

And Hunt. I truly thought at first he was going to be a more “adult” version of Rhys from ACOTAR, but I was pleasantly surprised that, while there are certainly similarities, they are also two very different characters. Hunt is technically a slave, owned by the Governor of Valbara to do his dirty work. He’s been beaten and tortured for a couple centuries now, but he’s never truly been broken. Still, these things make him a bit more reserved a lot of the time, especially compared to Bryce’s impulsiveness and quick mouth. It was interesting to see how they balanced each other out.

I already alluded to it already, but the last…400? 500? pages of the book was really interesting. The story gripped me pretty well at that point and over a couple of days, I was grabbing for it whenever I had time to see what happened next.

BUT.

I know this is the first book in a series, but man, the first 100 pages or so were really slow. I legitimately didn’t know where the story was heading because nothing happened. Like, even the book jacket wasn’t helping me out at that point. And I kept getting lost in the terms. The multiple districts of Crescent City that are often referred to by nicknames (FiRo instead of Five Roses, if I remember right), the various creatures and demons, the hierarchy, etc. It was a lot to take in and there was just nothing driving the plot yet to really motivate me to figure it out. Honestly, I needed a glossary.

And I know I already made a fleeting comparison to ACOTAR, but I realized as I was reading this that it has a LOT in common with Throne of Glass. Like, they’re not the same story by any means, but there are multiple elements in common. I know Maas’s writing style at this point. I knew Bryce was going to be mouthy before I even picked up the book. I have a feeling there’s going to be a relationship curveball coming in the following books with someone. We’re building a Team of multiple friends and relatives to eventually (I’m assuming) overthrow the caste system. Like, this is all Maas’s writing to a T. I see the patterns now in what she does. So, for as much as I do absolutely love her writing, it’s not surprising anymore.

Still, I think this is absolutely a fabulous read and should at least get looked at by anyone with an interest in fantasy.

Alex and Eliza (Alex & Eliza, #1)

Alex and Eliza (Alex & Eliza, #1)

First Lines: Like a latter-day Greek temple, the Schuyler family mansion sat atop a softly rounded hill outside Albany.

Honestly, I don’t know why it took me so long to read this. Like most people, I adored Hamilton. I’ve read other Alexander and Eliza stories, but this one was always on the back end for me. Maybe because I haven’t had the best track record with Melissa de la Cruz, but I was still willing to try it.

It’s 1777 and the Schuylers are throwing a ball. One of the oldest and grandest families in New York, the Schuylers are proud to be a founding family and even prouder of their three daughters: the witty Angelica, the dazzling Peggy, and the patriotic Eliza. When they receive word that Alexander Hamilton, George Washington’s right hand man, will be at the party, Eliza can barely contain her excitement. If only he weren’t bringing bad news with him. Alex can’t believe his luck. From his humble beginnings to a guest at the Schuylers’ ball, Alex loves being in such exalted company. And when Alex meets Eliza, well…

For me, it was…slow. This is in part because I’m already so familiar with their story. The beginning sets up a LOT of their backstories, how Eliza’s from a wealthy patriotic family, how Alexander was a penniless orphan when he came to America, things like that. After they met, things took off a bit more because there wasn’t so much exposition anymore. However, near the end of the story, I felt like the pace slowed down again.

What I enjoyed about this was the tension between Alex and Eliza early in their courtship. Alex is smitten with this defiant, beautiful young woman, but Eliza only sees in him the man who is court-martialing her father for the fall of Ticonderoga. So that tension, while it lasted, was humorous and fun.

They are good characters, both of them. Eliza’s patriotism shines through, as does Alex’s ambition. Other characters are also quite fun, like the ones we’re familiar with from the musical (Peggy, Angelica, Laurens). Perhaps my favorite, though, was Aunt Gertrude, the aunt Eliza stays with in Morristown, NJ. Oh my, was she fun. And because I didn’t know her from the musical, her character was entirely new to me and quite interesting.

Truly, I do really think my biggest problem with this was that I knew too much already. There just wasn’t as much of a thrill for me to be reading about them going through some of these things (particularly that ending…) because I already knew more or less how things would turn out. I knew the characters and their particular quirks along with the ultimate fates of many of them.

Still, I won’t say I didn’t enjoy seeing another take on these two. It just wasn’t what I hoped for.

The Viscount Made Me Do It (Clandestine Affairs, #2)

The Viscount Made Me Do It (Clandestine Affairs, #2)

First Lines: Thomas Ellis, Viscount Griffin, was a haunted man.

I read the first book in this series earlier this year, I think, and…I didn’t love it. But I liked the diversity it brought and how the characters were interesting. I just didn’t care for the plot of it. So I thought I’d give the author another chance in the follow up that brought back the tortured Viscount Griffin we briefly met in the previous book.

Hanna Zaydan has fought to become the finest bonesetter in London. She’s worked hard for it, even if most people scoff at her for being a woman, a woman of color, a bonesetter in general, or all three. When she meets the enigmatic Thomas, she knows he’s hiding more than he’s sharing, but with each appointment, she finds herself more and more drawn to him. Thomas, Viscount Griffin, has been dogged by rumors that he killed his family for years. More than a decade later, a tip about the killer’s identity leads him to the beautiful bonesetter. Griff is convinced Hanna is a fraud, but something about her makes him feel things he didn’t think he was capable of anymore. Can Hanna not only set bones but also mend hearts?

This was better than the first book. I liked this a lot more.

Hanna is a bonesetter, which is already a strike against her. Factor in that she’s female and Arab and she’s virtually a pariah to anyone outside of her family. I loved how she knew what she wanted to do with her career and she wasn’t going to let anyone tell her she couldn’t. She was well trained and that was all that mattered. I also liked Griff, who we met in the last book. He has a tortured past and he’s working on healing from the murders of his parents 14 years ago that he blames himself for. Together, they made for an interesting couple.

The story is a bit of a slow burn. Like, there are initial sparks, but because of their backgrounds, they try to force it down. Then they become friends and try to deny that it’s more than that. It was kind of cute how their friendship formed and how it grew into something more. I liked that it built that way.

I still really like the diversity in this series/story. I liked seeing Hanna’s family and their traditions and culture. It really added something special to the story and to their love.

Cute story. I like that everything in this series seems to be about people defying those around them to do what they want with their lives.