Review: Betrayal (The Priestess Trilogy, #2) by Melissa Sasina @MelissaSasina

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Shiovra, High Priestess of the village Tara, is set to wed one considered the enemy for the sake of her clan. Torn between her heart and her people, between love and duty, Shiovra decides her fate and faces the truth about Odhrán.

Still hunted by both the Milidh clan and her own kin, she learns that not all enemies are quite what they seem.

Loyalty is brought into question and power lost within enemy ranks in what shall ultimately lead to one thing: BETRAYAL.

Blurb and cover from Goodreads

4 out of 5 stars

I have been looking forward to this book for some time and was very excited when the chance came along for me to snag it. It was an enchanting, exciting read and it had all the elements that made the first one memorable—mythology, magic, and mayhem.

One of my favorite things is the archaic, era-appropriate terms and language. It gives the story a wonderfully authentic feel and who doesn’t like learning new words? These stories are woven in with just the right dose of the arcane, yet never enough so as to make it seem foreign, just right.

The plot:

These books trot along fairly quickly and I’m never quite sure which direction they’ll take. There is never a shortage of action or sword fights and the detailed battles are always an exciting shot of action.

There is a lot more sex in this one than in the previous, which I suppose makes sense in the storyline, but yes, I did skip them. It’s a policy I don’t plan on repealing in the foreseeable future and it also means I wouldn’t consider this as young adult by any means, just so you YA readers out there know.

The characters:

We meet a good many new characters in this one as well as some familiar friends (and enemies). There is a greater exploration of the different tribes and clans as well as their dynamics which made for excellent world building.

In addition, there is a great deal more delving into marital institutions of the era. Despite this being a fantasy, the characters’ attitudes and opinions regarding marriage and the entailed responsibilities/duties of husbands and wives came across as highly realistic and was one of my favorite elements. However, there was this one part where I think a character basically told his wife to cheat on him. I may have misunderstood and sincerely hope I did, but…yeah, let’s just say I hope I misunderstood.

I had a great deal of fun in reading this book and I am very much looking forward to Eclipse coming out later this year. I recommend this for fans of mythology and Celtic-based fantasy worlds—the author certainly put a great deal into the world building and it shows.

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Writing Update and Other News: July 2015

Home is where my books are.

Home is where my books are.

This past month has been trying and full of changes, to say the least. In the last few weeks, I have officially joined a church (for the first time in my life), undergone a massive move (for the first time in my life) and been punched in the jaw by a dog (not the first time, don’t ask).

In the move, I had thirteen boxes of personal stuff—nine of which were books. My family absolutely hated me when they had to transport them, but I handled packing, unpacking, and most the unloading, so they have no grounds for complaining. Putting away these babies reminded me of how many I haven’t read and all the reading I have to catch up on, not to mention all the sequels I still have to buy—*cough cough*—for the love of Shakespeare DO NOT tell my mother about that last part.

Speaking of sequels, I have been given an ARC of the last book in Jadie Jones’ Moonlit trilogy. I am a huge fangirl of this series, so when I got the email from Jadie asking if I would be “willing” to read and review it, I very nearly crawled through my phone screen to hug her. I can’t wait to share with you all how awesome it is (because, come on, you know it’s going to be awesome) and you had better check it out for yourselves!

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Wildwood’s gorgeous cover splashed across my Kindle screen. Boo-yah!

Amid so much happiness, I must now relay the tragic news that I am no longer a teenager. Last week marks two decades since my birth and I feel the need for a moment of silence or perhaps another slice of birthday chocolate pie.

Despite the sadness, I had a wonderful birthday reading books, hanging out with my best friend, eating fattening foods at my favorite restaurant, and—wait for it—finishing the first draft of Argetallam Saga 6. Yes, you read that right. One more book to go and then Janir’s story is fully written! I am very excited about where this series is headed and can’t wait to share it with you all.

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My new writing nook. Complete with surrounding bookshelves and requisite Minion cup.

Right now you’re probably shaking your heads and wanting to remind me that I still haven’t released book 2, The Secrets of the Vanmars. Well…we’ll talk about that later, how does that sound? Much later. I’m working on it—really—it’s just waiting for this person and that person to answer emails.

I am currently forcing myself to take a week-long break from writing before getting to work on Argetallam Saga 7. It’s all turning out to be SO fun, bwahaha.

On the side, I am also putting together something very big and very secret for the Argetallam Saga in September. Very big. Huge. And you guys are going to love it, I know.

Review: From Darkness Won (Blood of Kings, #3) by Jill Williamson @JillWilliamson

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Achan steps into his role as Crown Prince and prepares for war. But war against whom? Could Esek still be alive? Has Lord Nathak taken Esek’s place? Or is the mysterious Hadad the true enemy Achan must confront?

Vrell has her own agenda of serving Prince Oren as a healer, but when she is stormed and lost to the Veil, Achan does all he can to bring her back. His conversations with her are strange, though, as if she has no memory of who he is.

In a land consumed by Darkness, the fate of Er’Rets hangs in the balance as Achan endeavors to take the throne and end the reign of Darkness.

Blurb and cover from Goodreads

5 out of 5 stars

I love this series. I love this series SO FREAKING MUCH. Original, imaginative, inspiring, thrilling, enchanting, addictive—just a few adjectives to describe it. I am so sad to see the series end, but what an ending that was! I cannot remember the last time I binge read through a whole series beginning to end without reading anything else in between. I’m actually not sure it has happened before. This series consumed my literary adventures until the moment I ran out of trilogy.

As a Christian lover of Epic Fantasy, I cannot express all the ways and reasons I adore this series. For me, it was just perfect—perfect. Exactly what I have been needing lately and I’m dead serious when I say that every chance I get I shall be shoving this in people’s faces with all due fangirling and enthusiasm.

The plot:

It seems cliché to call the plot “fast” and I’ve said it before about the earlier books. It was certainly intense and never stayed in one place for very long. I admit I had a few of those “not enough book left for everything I want to happen” moments, but everything was okay in the end. There were some sad things, but everything was okay.

There were plot twists I did not see coming (another awesome point), what I considered to be highly realistic portrayals of individuals’ moral and spiritual struggles, and a good dose of action. In a word: awesome.

The characters:

Achan’s character arc is probably my favorite one in recent memory. In many ways, it’s not apparently obvious in the beginning just how much development he needs. (One of many parts I thought realistic.) He’s not a “bad” person in the beginning, but he comes to see over the course of the story that he can’t be truly “good” on his own, either. I loved that theme examining universally corrupt nature and Achan’s worries that he’ll repeat his father’s sins were a wonderful element as well.

As the blurb says, Vrell loses her memory in this one and can’t remember Achan or even guising herself as a boy for months. When that happened, it was a bit of a shock to realize how much character development she’d had when it was suddenly gone. Good grief. But I did like how her arc turned out as well, with her finally swallowing her pride and being honest and I LOVE THE ENDING SO MUCH I better stop there.

A wonderful series that I’m sorry to see end. I caught wind of the author writing another Achan and Vrell story, so I will be watching for that. I especially recommend this to Christians who don’t like Christian Fantasy (like me). Let this prove to you that religious fiction can be awesome, not preachy or boring or sermon-ish. Read it and then we can gush over it together!

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Review: To Darkness Fled (Blood of Kings, #2) by Jill Williamson @JillWilliamson

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Achan, Vrell, and the Kingsguard Knights have fled into Darkness to escape the wrath of the former prince. They head for Ice Island to rescue two of Sir Gavin’s colleagues who were falsely imprisoned years ago. Darkness is growing and only one man can push it back. Achan wanted freedom, not a crown. His true identity has bound him more than ever. He must learn decorum, wear fancy clothes, and marry a stranger. Achan knows one thing for certain. He will not be a puppet prince. Either he will accept his role and take charge or he will flee. But which will he choose?

Blurb and cover from Goodreads

5 out of 5 stars

I was hoping this would be as good as the last one and yep, it was. There was a little more exploration of the religious themes, but nowhere near the overwhelming levels I have encountered elsewhere. (By “overwhelming,” I mean uninterrupted monologues that elaborate theological teachings for a page or more straight. Here the Christian elements are brought in as part of the story AS THEY SHOULD BE.)

The plot:

I think this baby is 700+ pages in print. It is not for the faint of heart, but the story moves quickly and the words slip by before you know it. There was a great deal of character development in this book, especially with Achan. We meet a host of new characters and find out more about the backstory as well as the world building.

I got stressed reading this several times just because of the suspense levels, but I loved every second and I’m gobbling up the third and last book right now.

The characters:

As I mentioned, Achan has a lot of character development in this book. There’s a great deal more on his flaws and his difficulties in reconciling himself with the god he was basically taught nothing about. It was something I wanted to see the author explore and she does not disappoint. Achan goes through the whole angry at God and “why me?” set of thinking (realistic, I thought) and I thought the author handled it very well.

Despite a brief stint of self-pity and some trouble with basic morality in this book, Achan is still lovable and it’s hard to hate someone the author is knocking around every other chapter. I mentioned in my review of the first book that Achan is kind of like a punching bag and as promised, things do not get better. He still gets beaten up on a regular schedule and I feel terrible for him.

Vrell is still going under the guise of a boy and Achan has no clue (for most of the book anyway, but spoilers). I made the mistake of thinking her perfect (maybe just a little) in the first book, but no. She screws up and shows arrogance and pride and pig headedness and finds plenty of ways to make the reader scream “no!” All the same, I find her to be a likable and endearing character, which it isn’t very often I am this fond of a female lead. (Don’t ask why, I just tend not to like them.)

On top of our Joffrey-esque villain, Esek, from the first book, I’m fairly certain the devil turns up. It happens a little later in the story, so that’s all I’ll say, but we definitely have our fair share of villains, I just don’t have the space to mention them all.

A great series that I wish was far more popular and I think I’ll be going into withdrawals when I finish this series. If anyone hasn’t read this, go fix that now. If anyone has, let me know so we can gush over it together.

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Review: By Darkness Hid (Blood of Kings, #1) by Jill Williamson @JillWilliamson

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Given the chance to train as a squire, kitchen servant Achan Cham hopes to pull himself out of his pitiful life and become a Kingsguard Knight. When Achan’s owner learsn of his training, he forces Achan to spar with the Crown Prince, more of a death sentence than an honor. Meanwhile strange voices in his head cause him to fear he’s going mad. While escoring the prince to a council presentaiton, their convoy is attacked. Achan is wounded and arrested, but escapes form prison-only to discover a scret about himself he never believed possible.

Blurb and cover from Goodreads

5 out of 5 stars

This. THIS is how you write Christian Epic Fantasy. I’ll be honest, I usually hate these sorts of books. Christian fantasy (and Christian literature in general) tend to be…what is the word? Preachy. Overbearing. It pains me to say and I wish it weren’t so, yet it’s true. But none of that here.

I think I added this to my “Dear Santa” list over a year ago because it looked like my kind of trouble. Over vacation, I was browsing through my Amazon wish list and saw that it was free for Kindle. Fearing it was too good to be true, I prodded at the page for a bit before hitting “download.” A few days later, I went and bought the second. Now I’m reading the third and thinking there should be a bigger fandom for the series.

The plot:

Okay, so I did feel like the story was congested for the first two or three chapters. In the beginning, I was wondering where it was headed and thinking it was a little slow, but so many people on Goodreads and Amazon had loved it and I figured there had to be a reason. I quickly discovered that there was.

I’m one of those people who takes what happens to the characters personally. I spent plenty of time pacing, worrying, panicking, and putting down my Kindle because I couldn’t take the suspense. As soon as we got through the first few chapters, the story took off like a firework and swept me right up in it. I love it when a book does that and I admit there were a few twists I did not see coming.

The characters:

Achan is basically a punching bag for the local lowlife population. Poor baby. In essentially every other chapter, he’s getting punched, stabbed, shot, strangled, burned, poisoned, whipped, or something else horrible. (Spoiler: it does not get better as the series progresses.) He can be naive and occasionally self righteous, even temperamental, but all things considered, I think he turned out pretty fricking good. Sir Gavin is a knight who sort of takes Achan under his wing and I kept wanting to yell “DO NOT LEAVE HIM UNATTENDED!” every time Gavin walked off the page.

The other POV character is Vrell, a young noblewoman disguised as a foundling boy to avoid marrying the main villain. Their two storylines didn’t directly intersect until more than halfway through the book, I think, but still meshed together quite well. Vrell doesn’t take half the physical poundings Achan does (she’d probably be dead), but she still gets her fair share of trouble. She has her own set of faults and flaws and qualities and I thought she was a realistically structured character, just as Achan was.

At present, I’m trying to think of people I could coerce into reading this. I adored the story, greatly appreciated the author’s presentation of the religious elements, and I think my brothers and friends are going to have this shoved in their faces at the first possible opportunity.

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Three Action Heroines I actually liked

I’ll be blunt, I usually despise females in warrior roles. Why? I feel like they aren’t characters at all, just cardboard cutouts. They either aren’t allowed to have flaws or their flaws are excused by virtue of femininity. (Whole other blog post in that.) Anyway, here are the first three action heroines that come to my mind when I think of my favorites and they are my favorites with good reason.

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Angelina Jolie as Evelyn Salt in “Salt.”

Evelyn Salt (Salt, 2010)

I keep seeing all these people whine about the lack of female action heroes and I want to hit them in the face with this. Salt is an incredible portrayal of a female spy/assassin who is not invincible, makes miscalculations, gets knocked down, but always gets back up. She basically leads a one-woman war against two governments and is pretty much as hardcore as they come. She’s probably my favorite action heroine in film, but not many seem to have heard of her (and judging by their mewling online, that includes Feminazis).

2115046Vin (Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson)

If we’re talking vulnerabilities and relatability, Vin takes the gold without batting an eye. Insecurity and softness mixed with awesome power and a capability for terrible destruction, Brandon Sanderson really set a standard here. It is impossible to be in possession of a heart and not want to protect Vin, even though she’s the character who tears through 300 soldiers and comes out with nary a scratch (seriously, that happened once).

Tabrett Bethell as Cara in “Legend of the Seeker.”

Cara the Mord Sith (The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind/The Legend of the Seeker, 2007-2009)

Cara is pretty much all the things I usually dislike in a character—sassy, sarcastic, dominant, sometimes outright cruel. But the author (and the writers of the television series) spent huge amounts of time humanizing and sympathizing the Mord Sith order as a whole. The reader/viewer is shown how much pain these women are in (physically and emotionally) every second of their lives. We see Cara cry and regret and mourn, then turn right around and level entire an entire battalion while dragging an evil sorceress by the hair.

I really wish there were more action heroines like this. Not one-dimensional tropes like Black Widow in Iron Man 2 or Andromeda in Wrath of the Titans. These three ladies are characters that feel real and I think that’s what all characters should be.

Review: Nation of Blaze (The Fireblade Array, #2) by H.O. Charles @HOCharles

24834993The country is leaderless. The queen is gone and hope is failing. Morghiad must find The Fireblade again if he is to secure his home and his heart, but the path will not be an easy one to tread. New enemies will rise to battle him as he battles with himself, and the most fearsome woman in history will continue to produce her army of blood-hungry eisiels. Will The Fireblade be the same as before? Will she aid him? Danger looms from all corners of this Nation of Blaze.

Volume 2 of The Fireblade Array

 Blurb and cover from Goodreads.

4 out of 5 stars

This was not so much an emotional rollercoaster as an emotional sucker punch. The portion of the story that is contained within this book spans close to fifty years and has more twists, turns, and little loop-de-loops than the average tangle of yarn. I read and read and read and found myself becoming more and more invested and this investment led me to skipping off to buy the third book right after I finished this one.

The plot:

This series reads more like a chronicle, talking about a series of adventures, tragedies, and happenings and how they are all linked together. Normally, I despise books like this, but it seems Charles has managed to pull it off. I am definitely a fan of this series (love the new covers, don’t you?) and I’m trying to figure out why I haven’t heard about it before. It takes a certain mindset going into these books, one must do away with the modern dogma of how a story is supposed to be structured and just enjoy the ride.

The characters:

I had a fondness for Artemi in the last book, but it became an all-out “my dear sweet little girl who must be protected from all evil” complex in this one. Artemi with her memories was a bit humbler than Artemi without and I found her much more empathetic and likeable and just plain adorable.

Morghiad is still an honorable, endearing, masochistic bastard. Really, there are parts were it was impossible not to want to beat some sense into him. I mean, yes, man, you screwed up. Now move on! That aside, his and Artemi’s relationship is adorable. I seem to be a sucker for multi-lifetime monogamous romances.

Artemi’s ages-old rival makes her first formal appearance. Someone really needs to lock Mirel in a lead box and chuck her in the ocean or something permanent because her existence is not okay. It really sucks when you have a bad guy who will just be reincarnated over and over. It sucks so bad.

I actually started to like Silar in this one and there was a whole new cast of characters who where introduced. Artemi’s father is undeniably huggable and her half-brother kind of disappears by the third book, but I’m fond of him, too. There’s also a cropping up of more woman warriors in this one, some of which I liked and some of which I did not.

To give fair warning, this book ended with another cliffhanger. I refused to believe that what had happened had happened and I was right, which is a good thing, or else it would be a repeat of The Assassin and the Empire. I’m about halfway through the third book and probably about to go grab the fourth once I finish and I certainly recommend this series to anyone with a taste for hardcore, original adult fantasy.

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