Review: Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

Review: Magic Burns by Ilona AndrewsMagic Burns by Ilona Andrews
Series: Kate Daniels #2
Published by Penguin on April 1st 2008
Pages: 272
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Magic Bites

As a mercenary who cleans up after magic gone wrong, Kate Daniels knows how waves of paranormal energy ebb and flow across Atlanta like a tide. But once every seven years, a flare comes, a time when magic runs rampant. When Kate sets out to retrieve a set of stolen maps for the Pack, Atlanta's paramilitary clan of shape shifters, she quickly realizes much more is at stake. The stolen maps are only the opening gambit in an epic tug of war between two gods hoping for rebirth, and if Kate can't stop the cataclysmic showdown, the city may not survive.

Thoughts: The Kate Daniels series has so many fans, it’s ridiculous. It’s one of the top-selling, most anticipated Urban Fantasy series out there. But, after reading Magic Burns, all I can think is: the books must get a hell of a lot better than this if they’re still so popular.

Don’t get me wrong, Magic Burns is a good book. It’s solidly written, with interesting world building and high-stakes action. There were some elements here that, even as a relatively seasoned UF fan, really stood out: namely, I loved the idea of the central city park over growing to become a hub of witchcraft, complete with a giant turtle into whose belly you crawled. I have such a clear mental image of it – and it’s really stuck with me.

I also really enjoyed a number of the secondary characters: I’d read a series starring Kate’s were-shadow, Derek. He’s a sweetie in that silent-but-observant-and-may-also-kill-you sort of way. I also thought it was pretty awesome how quickly Kate latched onto Julie – the orphan introduced in this book. I was expecting her to be written out by the end of the novel, but colour me surprised.

That being said, there was a lot in this book that just made me roll my eyes: Kate is a special flower, but no one can know – except, of course, until she really needs to use that power. What even. Then there was the senseless dog death – how does having the main character kill a dog help endear her to me? Oh, and Curran? I’m sorry, but he was really creepy in this book. Some of his “famed” “seductive” lines just came off very assault-y. If Adam (from the Mercy books) had said this crap, Mercy would have had his butt kicked. And I would have helped.

Bottom line? Technically a good book, but there were things in it I just found abhorrent. I’ll be reading on, as it can only go up from here… right?

Review: Aurelia by Anne Osterlund

Review: Aurelia by Anne OsterlundAurelia by Anne Osterlund
Published by Penguin on 2008-04-17
Pages: 256
Genres: Fantasy YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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An impressive debut, equal parts commercial appeal and literary prowess.

Princess Aurelia is next in line to rule the kingdom of Tyralt, but she would rather be one of the common folk, free to learn and roam and . . . not marry the next tyrannical prince that comes courting. Naturally, the king wants Aurelia to marry for political power. Aurelia wants to marry for love. And someone in the kingdom wants her . . . dead. Assigned to investigate and protect Aurelia is Robert, the son of the king's former royal spy and one of Aurelia's oldest friends. As Aurelia and Robert slowly uncover clues as to who is threatening her, their friendship turns to romance. With everything possible on the line, her life, her kingdom, her heart, Aurelia is forced to take matters into her own hands, no matter the cost.

Thoughts: I adored Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund when I read it back in… many years ago. She immediately went onto my list of “why-must-they-be-so-perfect” authors and I hoped my next foray into Osterlund-land would be just as impressive. Years later and – at last! – I finally got the chance to read her debut novel, Aurelia. And it was good. Very good, even. But it’s no Academy 7.

Let’s start out with the good: the characters. Aurelia features a POC heroine who is doing her best to cope with a very complicated life. Boys and her hair are not her priority – but she isn’t oblivious to those things, nor is she dismissive of girls who do make that the centre of their world. Meanwhile, Robert, he book’s male protagonist, is a genuinely good human being. He may be trying to protect Aurelia, but certainly doesn’t believe he has a “right” to her. All in all: big thumbs up.

The bad: Aurelia is far, far too short. Sure, there was drama and intrigue and whatnot – but it didn’t build long enough for me to truly care about its resolution. And the ending? Rushed and unsatisfying. Of course, I know there is a sequel, and many of the outstanding issues should be resolved in the next book, but… I want some kind of real conclusion. Not just a big “TO BE CONTINUED…”. Not cute. But, then again:

  1. this is Osterlund’s first book,
  2. I’m sure it was heavily edited to fit the publishing world’s many-sequel model, and
  3. despite #1 and #2 it is still very entertaining.

Bottom line? In spite of the not-so-great aspects, Aurelia is worth a read – especially if you are into good historical YA novels. But, for God’s sake, go read Academy 7 already!

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Review: Uprooted by Naomi NovikUprooted by Naomi Novik
Published by Pan Macmillan on 2015-05-21
Pages: 310
Genres: High Fantasy
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood's powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows - everyone knows - that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia - all the things Agnieszka isn't - and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her. But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him. From the author of the Temeraire series comes this hugely imaginative, engrossing and vivid fantasy novel, inspired by folk and fairy tales. It is perfect reading for fans of Robin Hobb and Trudi Canavan.

Thoughts: I was ecstatic to find Uprooted in my mailbox. I am a massive, massive fan of Novik’s Temeraire (read my glowing review here) and was very excited to see what she would produce outside of that universe.

Which is appropriate, considering what dominated Uprooted was the universe Novik created. It was dark, twisted and disconcerting in a way I’ve yet to experience. Instead of a single villain, Agnieszka and the Dragon faced off against a… feeling. The Wood was the literal representation of decay and infection, while still appearing as a lush, beautiful life-form. It was a bit difficult for me to wrap my brain around, because it was so foreign… and in a way, that’s what also made it so scary.

The Wood drove this story, more so than the principal characters. And because of that, Uprooted refused to be one “type” of story. It wasn’t just a semi-Stockholm Syndrome romance, or a girl-discovers-her-powers YA novel, or a high fantasy fight-against-evil… it was all of those things distorted by the overbearing threat of the Wood. So expect twists and turns, and don’t ever, ever get too comfortable.

Character-wise, while I can’t say I was overly emotionally invested in Agnieszka, Kasia or the Dragon, I really appreciated how they were handled. The Dragon was an angry, mean man – but one who was trying to do the right thing. Kasia and Agnieszka, meanwhile, had one of the most genuine female friendships I’ve ever read. They loved each other, but they also had their own problems. When jealously and hurt reared their heads, instead of breaking apart, they acknowledged the issues and didn’t let them get in the way. It was masterfully done.

Bottom line? Uprooted is a supremely unique novel, set in a universe I can guarantee you’ve never been to. If you’re suffering from genre fatigue, Uprooted will leave you uplifted.

Review: Shadow Study by Maria V. Snyder

Review: Shadow Study by Maria V. SnyderShadow Study by Maria V. Snyder
Series: Study #4
Published by MIRA on 2015-02-24
Pages: 416
Genres: Fantasy YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: Poison Study, Magic Study

New York Times bestselling author Maria V. Snyder wowed readers with Poison Study, the unforgettable story of poison taster Yelena. Now she's back with a new tale of intrigue.

Once, only her own life hung in the balance… Oddly enough, when Yelena was a poison taster, her life was simpler. But she'd survived to become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia. Now she uses her magic to keep the peace in both lands—and protect her relationship with Valek.

Suddenly, though, they are beset on all sides by those vying for power through politics and intrigue. Valek's job and his life are in danger. As Yelena tries to uncover the scope of these plots, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked. She must keep that a secret—or her enemies will discover just how vulnerable she really is—while searching for who or what is responsible for neutralizing her powers.

Yes, the days of tasting poisons were much simpler. And certainly not as dangerous…

Thoughts: Let me start off by saying that I am one of those fans. You know, the one of the fans that loved the Study series but was really disappointed by the final book, Fire Study. I mean, I still recommended the hell out of the series – but always with a caveat. So when I heard about Shadow Study I was both excited and nervous.

Well, I needn’t have worried. While not as stellar as the first book in the series, it was the perfect continuation of a series I had considered complete. For starters, it jumps between Valek and Yelena’s POVs – thus answering all those “but where is VALEK?” questions I had in the other books. Not only do we know where he is and what he is up to, we also get the chance to learn more about his childhood, his relationship with the Commander and his background as an assassin.

Actually, the best scenes in this book were Valek scenes. Watching him – the master of disguise – live as a woman for months in order to sneak up on a mark. Seeing how his priorities begin to shift – from the Commander to Yelena – and the impact of such a decision. From the little details to the big revelations… it was all Valek and glorious and wonderful and I wanted MORE.

Which is probably why I wasn’t quite as enraptured with Yelena’s mystery. I still adore the woman, of course, but I had such faith in her ability to handle things on her own that – well – I wasn’t too concerned about seeing her actually get out of trouble. “You’ll be fine,” I thought, rushing forward to Valek’s next chapter. That’s not to say that plot-line wasn’t good but, hey, I had other things on my mind. *cough* Valek. *cough*

I was also happy to see how Ms. Snyder incorporated her Glass series into the Study series without over or under explaining. I’m afraid I’ve read none of Opal’s books, but I was still able to get the gist of the characters and events. I imagine a lot of fans who skipped those novels will want to give them a go after reading Shadow Study.

Bottom line? Shadow Study was a wonderfully pleasant surprise. Rather than simple fan service,  Shadow Study is a solid, plot-heavy and logical continuation to the series. There was always meant to be a fourth book, it seems, and here it is.

Note: I was tempted to take this book down half a star after reading the ending! MAJOR CLIFFHANGER, people, and I do NOT approve! (Though maybe everyone else will love it? I dunno. Either way, I was NOT PREPARED. *cries*)

Shadow Study Blog tour

Review: This Shattered World by Meagan Spooner and Amie Kaufman

Review: This Shattered World by Meagan Spooner and Amie KaufmanThis Shattered World by Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spooner
Series: Starbound #2
Published by Disney Publishing on 2014-12-23
Pages: 400
Genres: Science Fiction, Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: These Broken Stars

The second installment in the epic Starbound trilogy introduces a new pair of star-crossed lovers on two sides of a bloody war.

Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met.

Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet's rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.

Rebellion is in Flynn's blood. Terraforming corporations make their fortune by recruiting colonists to make the inhospitable planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.

Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war.

This Shattered World was a glorious read. It was one of those books I devoted an entire weekend to – not wanting to put it down, but never wanting it to end. It had everything I love in a good novel, and now I expect even more perfection from the final book in the trilogy.

In my review of These Broken Stars, I waxed on and on about how many wonderful social and political plot threads the novel wove together. This is still the case in This Shattered World, and it is still the high point of the novel. With that point out of the way, let me tell you about the characters.

You know that line about how the bravest thing you can do in war is not kill? That was the first thing I thought of when I met Flynn. He’s a pacifist in a war zone – which is the very definition of brave. I often have issues with characters being too indecisive or, well, weak – but while Flynn may not want to kill, he is by no means weak. I adored watching him struggle to keep true to his beliefs when it would have been easier to pick up a gun. Meanwhile, picking up a gun was exactly what Jubilee did best. She’s seen the chaos caused without the military and – to her – the word “revolution” means nothing but death. She may be on the “wrong” side as this book starts out, but she has all the right motivation.

Watching these two dramatically different people come together when, let’s be honest, they should have shot each other on sight? So, so, so satisfying. Spooner and Kaufman do not choose easy people to tell their tales – and that’s what makes their work so rewarding to read.

But don’t be fooled by all the guns-and-love stuff. While this is a tale of love between people from warring factions, This Shattered World is by no means a Romeo and Juliet story. Jubilee and Flynn aren’t interested in saving themselves at the expense of everyone else – rather, they want to save a whole world, risking themselves in the process.

Bottom line? This Shattered World is pure science fiction with a well-incorporated romantic plot, that just happens to be aimed at young adults. But its smart, thoughtful exploration of corporate capitalism is something fans of any age will appreciate. Highly recommended.

Review: United We Spy by Ally Carter

Review: United We Spy by Ally CarterUnited We Spy by Ally Carter
Series: Gallagher Girls #6
Published by Hyperion on 2013-09-05
Pages: 304
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Only the Good Spy Young, Out of Sight, Out of Time

Cammie Morgan has lost her father and her memory, but in the heart-pounding conclusion to the best-selling Gallagher Girls series, she finds her greatest mission yet. Cammie and her friends finally know why the terrorist organization called the Circle of Cavan has been hunting her. Now the spy girls and Zach must track down the Circle’s elite members to stop them before they implement a master plan that will change Cammie—and her country—forever.

When I started the Gallagher Girls books, I never thought it would end with this – with its young girls developing into gloriously three-dimensional characters who have found their place in the world. They’ve gone through so much and are going to kick serious butt as adults.

United We Spy is exactly what you want from a last-in-the-series. Ally Carter doesn’t do a complete 180 and change everything; she doesn’t start killing everyone off left and right; she doesn’t leave over half the questions you had unanswered; and – most importantly – she doesn’t contain the character too tightly at the end. Writing a far-in-the-future epilogue can be done well (see the Razorland series by Ann Aguirre for a great example of that) but usually it just comes off as cheesy. At worst, it can really make people angry! None of that was here and the Gallagher Girls wrap up their books the way they were taught: super-secret and super-awesome.

I won’t say anything more than that, to avoid spoiling plot points for those of you who haven’t read any of the books. If that’s you, just know this: these superficially light reads have more heart, more depth and more meaning than most novels I read. I wouldn’t have believed this based off the first book but it is 100% the case. I teared up like a nut as United We Spy came to a close – and I’ll bet you you will too.

Bottom line? A supremely satisfying end to a surprisingly fantastic series.

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