February Mini Reviews: The Good, The (Not So) Bad, and The Ugly

Mini Reviews

Because of the amount of books I read most months, I don’t get to review everything for the blog. The Mini Review Catch Up is my place to give you a little information about some of my other reads and whether or not I would recommend them without going into tons of detail. These are a good sampling of the books I read this month and I’ll let you know whether they were good, (not so) bad, or just plain ugly!

 

The Good

 

Night StudyNight Study by Maria V. Snyder
Book #2 in Soulfinders
Genre: Fantasy
Publication Date: January 26th 2016
ARC Provided by MIRA and Netgalley

Synopsis from Goodreads: Ever since being kidnapped from the Illiais Jungle as a child, Yelena Zaltana’s life has been fraught with peril. But the recent loss of her Soulfinding abilities has endangered her more than ever before. As she desperately searches for a way to reclaim her magic, her enemies are closing in, and neither Ixia nor Sitia is safe for her anymore. Especially since the growing discord between the two countries and the possibility of a war threatens everything Yelena holds dear.

Valek is determined to protect Yelena, but he’s quickly running out of options. The Commander suspects that his loyalties are divided, and he’s been keeping secrets from Valek…secrets that put him, Yelena and all their friends in terrible danger. As they uncover the various layers of the Commander’s mysterious plans, they realize it’s far more sinister than they could have ever imagined.

Christal’s Review

I am so happy that I can put Night Study in the “Good” column!  I was really disappointed by the previous book, Shadow Study, but this one was all I expected and more from Maria V. Snyder.  This series is finally shaping up to be worthy of the original Study series and I am once again excited by Valek and Yelena’s story.

So much happened in Night Study, but I feel like anything I talk about would be a spoiler.  Briefly, we find out what happened with Owen Moon and associates,  a possible reason for Yelena’s missing magic is revealed, we learn way way more about Valek than I ever thought possible, something is wrong with the Commander, Ixia and Sitia are very uneasy with one another, and almost all of our favorite characters get kidnapped at one time or another.  Yes, somehow all of those threads (and more) weave together into a fascinating, cohesive story and set the stage for more to come.  I’m actually surprised that this series will only be three books; it now feels like it could go on for many more.

Probably my favorite thing about Night Study was all the Yelena and Valek time we got. I do love them both as individual characters, but they are so much more endearing when they are together.  Their story has some very dramatic ups and downs here and I cannot wait to see how it comes together.  It was nice to get a little of Leif’s POV in this one and the actual POV switches felt more controlled and justified here versus in Shadow Study.  There were also a couple of new characters introduced that should be fascinating additions.  The only reason I didn’t give this one 5 stars is because some of the more outrageous plot elements just didn’t feel grounded, like the kidnapping of the magicians and the way the Commander was acting.  Overall though, I highly recommend this one to all Study series readers!

Thank you to MIRA via Netgalley for providing an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating:4.5 Stars = B+

 

DrivenDriven by Kelley Armstrong
Book #13.6 in Otherworld Stories
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publication Date: January 31st 2016
ARC Provided by Subterranean Press and Netgalley

Synopsis from Goodreads: Cains are known for being big, brutish and not-too-bright. The mutt clan embodies all the supernatural world’s worst stereotypes about werewolves. But not even the Cains deserve to be hunted down and skinned like animals.

When young Davis Cain comes to the Pack for help, Alpha Elena Michaels can’t refuse him. It isn’t about morality or justice. It’s about not letting anyone think they can do this to werewolves and get away with it.

But Elena is also dealing with the Pack’s homegrown monster—Malcolm Danvers, onetime enforcer, full-time psycho. Malcolm is now under Elena’s control, as part of the most difficult decision she’s had to make as leader. But if she has to let Malcolm in, she’s going to make full use of him…and the best person to catch monsters is one who knows exactly how they think.

Christal’s Review

I am always super excited when a return trip to Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld comes around and Driven was no exception.  Somehow I missed reading Forsaken so I didn’t always know who the new characters were or what some of the previous events mentioned were, but it wasn’t that hard to fill in the blanks.  It did seem like this book picked up immediately where the previous left off, as we start in an open field with Elena meeting Malcolm Danvers to evaluate his request to rejoin the Pack.

Driven focuses on the Cain family, a group of mutts that the Pack pretty much leaves alone as they tend to keep to themselves, and Davis Cain in particular.  Davis comes to Elena after finding two of his relatives murdered and skinned in wolf form.  Even though they are mutts, the Pack can’t let people go around murdering wolves so off they go on the hunt… with Malcolm in tow.

Elena is my favorite POV character so it was great to be back in her head.  It was also very exciting to see her in control as the Pack Alpha in Driven and to see how the other characters support her in their different ways.  I always love seeing her and Clay’s children and I think I missed quite a bit of their story in Forsaken so I will definitely be going back to that one soon.  In my opinion, the wolves and their society is the most interesting and well-rounded part of the Otherworld.  Their stories never disappoint and I love all the characters within their world.  I am so appreciative that Kelley Armstrong still gives us stories about them, even though the main series ended.  I can’t wait to read more from this world and feel like every fan of the series needs to be reading these novellas and short stories!

Thank you to Subterranean Press via Netgalley for providing an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating:4 Stars = B

 

NOS4A2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Narrated by Kate Mulgrew
Genre: Horror
Publication Date: April 30th 2013
Audiobook Purchased from Audible

Synopsis from Goodreads: Don’t slow down

Victoria McQueen has an uncanny knack for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. When she rides her bicycle over the rickety old covered bridge in the woods near her house, she always emerges in the places she needs to be. Vic doesn’t tell anyone about her unusual ability, because she knows no one will believe her. She has trouble understanding it herself.

Charles Talent Manx has a gift of his own. He likes to take children for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity plate NOS4A2. In the Wraith, he and his innocent guests can slip out of the everyday world and onto hidden roads that lead to an astonishing playground of amusements he calls Christmasland. Mile by mile, the journey across the highway of Charlie’s twisted imagination transforms his precious passengers, leaving them as terrifying and unstoppable as their benefactor.

And then comes the day when Vic goes looking for trouble…and finds her way, inevitably, to Charlie.

That was a lifetime ago. Now, the only kid ever to escape Charlie’s unmitigated evil is all grown up and desperate to forget.

But Charlie Manx hasn’t stopped thinking about the exceptional Victoria McQueen. On the road again, he won’t slow down until he’s taken his revenge. He’s after something very special—something Vic can never replace.

As a life-and-death battle of wills builds—her magic pitted against his—Vic McQueen prepares to destroy Charlie once and for all…or die trying…

Christal’s Review – 4 Skulls – B

NOS4A2 was my first Joe Hill book and my first audiobook narrated by Kate Mulgrew and I have to say that both blew me away.  The story is a little complicated to explain, but there is Charlie Manx who likes to kidnap little children and take them to “Christmasland,” where they become something akin to a vampire.  There’s also Vic McQueen, a young girl who has the ability to travel between long distances just by thinking about where she wants to go.  As a young adult, Vic uses her power to find Charlie Manx and have him arrested.  As the time passes, Vic grows up and has a son of her own.  Charlie escapes from prison and decides to take revenge on Vic by taking her son to Christmasland, but Vic hasn’t lost her ability nor her determination and she’s determined to save her son and take Charlie Manx down once and for all.  Throughout the book, we learn more about Vic and her life, both as a child with her parents and as an adult with her (ex-)husband Lou and her son Bruce Wayne.  We also learn more about Charlie Manx and his motivations and those of his partner in crime, Bing Partridge.  There is also a very colorful secondary cast of characters that interweave in Vic and Charlie’s story.

For those that don’t know, Joe Hill is the son of horror legend Stephen King.  Knowing this, I went in with the expectation of a solid, scary story.  What I didn’t expect was such detailed and believable character development.  The characters were lovingly crafted and the main characters were so flawed and damaged, but still deeply human.  Though I liked Vic from the get-go, I never expected her story would bring me to tears, but there I was towards the end… incredibly affected by Vic and her relationships with the most important men in her life: her father, her husband, and her son.  I was rooting for Vic to triumph in the end, but I didn’t expect to be so impressed with her selflessness and sheer force of will.  Vic had a mission to save her son and nothing, no physical pain, no emotional attack, no threat to her livelihood, would stop her.  NOS4A2 presented one of the most sympathetic and believable heroines that I have ever come across.  On the other hand, the development of Charlie Manx was a little lacking; I felt like more attention could have been given to his back story and how he developed into the evil man of today.  There were little moments where you could almost understand his motivations, though never sympathize with them, but they were fleeting and not quite fully formed.  I felt like this was a very minor issue in an outstanding story though.  NOS4A2 and it’s characters will stick with me for a very long time.

Kate Mulgrew was a wonderful narrator and her reading here was truly a performance.  She gave thought to each character and really brought them to life.  NOS4A2 has dialogue from a lot of different characters and it was always instantly easy to recognize who was who in Ms. Mulgrew’s reading.  Though her reading of Vic and Lou was definitely the most touching, her reading of Charlie Manx was probably the most perfect.  His creepy, demented evilness just flowed out of her voice and it truly gives you chills.

Rating:4 Stars = B

 

 

The Bad

 

Revenge and the WildRevenge and the Wild by Michelle Modesto
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Western
Publication Date: February 2nd 2016
ARC Provided by Balzer + Bray and Edelweiss

Synopsis from Goodreads: The two-bit town of Rogue City is a lawless place, full of dark magic and saloon brawls, monsters and six-shooters. But it’s perfect for seventeen-year-old Westie, the notorious adopted daughter of local inventor Nigel Butler.

Westie was only a child when she lost her arm and her family to cannibals on the wagon trail. Nine years later, Westie may seem fearsome with her foul-mouthed tough exterior and the powerful mechanical arm built for her by Nigel, but the memory of her past still haunts her. She’s determined to make the killers pay for their crimes—and there’s nothing to stop her except her own reckless ways.

But Westie’s search ceases when a wealthy family comes to town looking to invest in Nigel’s latest invention, a machine that can harvest magic from gold—which Rogue City desperately needs as the magic wards that surround the city start to fail. There’s only one problem: the investors look exactly like the family who murdered Westie’s kin. With the help of Nigel’s handsome but scarred young assistant, Alistair, Westie sets out to prove their guilt. But if she’s not careful, her desire for revenge could cost her the family she has now.

Christal’s Review

Revenge and the Wild was an interesting mash of up of several genres, but sometimes it felt like all those different elements got away from Michelle Modesto and the book wasn’t quite sure what it wanted to be.  On the other hand, though, Westie was an infinitely interesting character and her story was very affecting for the majority of the book.  Westie’s family was eaten by cannibals after leaving their home for a new life.  Westie escapes, though she loses her arm, and is taken in by Nigel Butler, an inventor.  Though she’s built a new life for herself, Westie can’t let go of her desire for revenge.  When a new family comes to town, Westie is sure they are the cannibals that murdered her family but she has no way to prove it.  Westie and Alistair, Nigel’s assistant and Westie’s sort-of-adopted-brother, set out to prove it is them and to finally get Westie her revenge.

Revenge and the Wild was definitely readable; I flew through the pages.  I enjoyed most of the characters and Westie’s investigation of the cannibal family.  What I didn’t really enjoy was all the side plots — Nigel’s machine and the disappearance of “magic,” the almost completely extraneous and entirely too diverse supernatural population (seriously, think of a supernatural creature and it was probably in this book), and most especially, the romance.  I was fine with Westie and Alistair – their back-and-forth made sense within the context of their relationship and shared history – but I really disliked the James’ love triangle and definitely hated the interactions with Costin the vampire.  Look, I get it, this is a YA fantasy and Westie is the special snowflake, no one else like her character, but everyone could see that Westie loved Alistair and James was just a distraction,  Plus, Costin is a thousand year-old vampire; why would he be laid low by basically a child after all this time?  I did love the twist at the end of the book and have to admit I didn’t see it coming.  Wonderfully done!  I know I complained a lot about this book, but there were a lot of elements that I truly liked as well.  Because of that, I wouldn’t hesitate to check out another of Ms. Modesto’s books in the future.

Thank you to Balzer + Bray via Edelweiss for providing an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating:3.5 Stars = C+

 

Half the WorldHalf the World by Joe Abercrombie
Book #2 in Shattered Sea
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Publication Date: February 12th 2015
ARC Provided by Harper Voyager and Netgalley

Synopsis from Goodreads: Thorn Bathu was born to fight. But when she kills a boy in the training square she finds herself named a murderer.

Fate places her life in the hands of the deep-cunning Father Yarvi as he sets out to cross half the world in search of allies against the ruthless High King. Beside her is Brand, a young warrior who hates to kill. A failure in her eyes and his own, the voyage is his last chance at redemption.

But warriors can be weapons, and weapons are made for one purpose. Will Thorn always be a tool in the hands of the powerful, or can she carve her own path? Is there a place outside of legend for a woman with a blade?

Christal’s Review

When Half a King came out in 2014, I absolutely devoured it.  Joe Abercrombie’s story was a breath of fresh air in the YA fantasy genre; I couldn’t wait to read more!  Enter Half the World and I jumped right in… and then put it down… picked it back up… put it down… and then finally finished it almost a year later.  I found this second entry to be so much slower than the debut and it just was not holding my interest.  As much as I liked new characters, Thorn and Brand, I just did not care about their looooooong sea journey.  Even the presence of Father Yarvi couldn’t liven the joint up. I slogged through until about 65% and then things finally started to look up.  I found myself reading faster and faster, eager to see what happened to everyone, especially Thorn.  I loved seeing characters from the previous book and that the storylines started there, paid off here.  I loved the evolution of Thorn Bathu and Brand’s realization of where in society he was happy.  I loved the fights and the intrigue and the backstabbing.  I do say, the ending of this book was damn near glorious.  But to get there, I had to deal with the overly wordy, too detailed, dare I say boring sea voyage first.  Yes, there were some good pages spread here and there, but those jewels were buried deep.  Thank Lord Grimdark that this book picked up midway through; I would have hated to DNF this series.

Thank you to Harper Voyager via Netgalley for providing an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating:3 Stars = C

 

 

The Ugly

 

I am pleased to say that I read no bad books this month!  That is always such a glorious thing to say.  I did end up putting Thinning the Herd by Adrian Phoenix on hold, but it was just because I wasn’t in the mood for such a light, humor/sarcasm tone.  I do intend to give it a try at another time before I write it off completely.

 

What books did you read this month?  Give us your scoop on The Good, The (Not So) Bad, and The Ugly books that we might have missed!

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