Review: Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon – Owl Mage Trilogy

Owl Mage Trilogy
Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon

Darian’s parents were lost to the forest some years ago, forcing Darian into apprenticeship with the local mage. Darian can’t see the point of magic – why would he lift a apple with his mind when he can do it with his hands? However, after his village is invaded, he accidentally flees into Hawkbrother territory – this sets him on a path where magic might be important.

These books, particularly the first one, require a suspension of disbelief. It’s so unlikely that Justin would suddenly want to change the way he deals with Darian in the first book – just before we get a sudden jolt of energy into the plot. Many of the outcomes for Darian also don’t make sense given that he’s just a man and doesn’t seem to actually have that much useful to offer society (apart from being a politician).

Man, these books are sllooooowww. I remembered from the last time that I read them that I largely skim read the first novel because it was very, very slow. The climax comes very late in the book (which would be fine) but the main character is largely self-absorbed and honestly quite irritating and unlikely.

The first novel is ok, pretty good really, but then the second book isn’t memorable at all. I honestly can’t remember it at all. The best of the three is the the finale – but I still had problems with it. Looking at the different cultures with a critical eye, I found the treatment of the Northern Barbarians to be frankly insulting. It’s implied that the Hawkbrothers are just so much smarter and well prepared by the tribes – even though as far as I can tell they are all human. There’s always going to be a mix of ‘smart’ and ‘dumb’ people, but that’s not what it seems like at all.

I’ve obviously reread these, so that’s kinda an automatic 5 stars, but I wouldn’t recommend these for someone just starting out on discovering Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar novels. I wouldn’t even let you read them as a capping to the very successful Valdemar series. Maybe just toss them in for a light read if you want to be inside a fictional and unlikely teenager’s head.

Review: Natasha Ngan – Girls of Paper and Fire

Girls of Paper and Fire
Natasha Ngan

Lei has been blissfully unaware of the wider society – apart from a raid that took her mother 7 years ago. When she is selected to become one of the king’s eight concubines she doesn’t feel it’s an honour and dreads serving a king brutal enough to order the complete destruction of villages. Lei doesn’t know how she will survive – but when she finds herself falling in love, she realises that there is more to life than serving and hating.

In a beautifully realized fantasy setting, it’s a love story, and yet at the same time other things are going on. To start with Lei isn’t that keen on being chosen – but decides to make the most of things to protect her family. I loved her fiery spirit, even if the early pages of the book were all a bit boring as they focused on the concubines getting to know one another.

I found the ending a little disappointing. Honestly, it would have been better if that particular character had died, because I could see where a power gap could still occur. For example, the mysterious shamans. What was their reasoning for keeping the balance of power stable? What did they get out of it?

Many reviewers have said this should come with a trigger warning for rape and abuse. I think it’s fair to say it did come with a bit of notice about that, as the beginning pages of the novel (at least in my copy) were links to rape and abuse hotlines for people who were in such terrible situations.

I picked this up at the library because I was pretty sure I’d seen other bloggers raving over it! I saw that there were the first two books on the shelf and promptly googled it to check how many books it was going to be. Unfortunately for me, it’s a trilogy and the third book isn’t published yet! I’ll give it four stars, and worry about reading the third when it comes out (probably again borrowed from the library).

Review: Kalynn Bayron โ€“ This Poison Heart

This Poison Heart
Kalynn Bayron

Briseis has a gift that is held in check by Brooklyn lack of green spaces. Her ability is to cause plants to thrive – even the deadly poisonous ones. After a rough year at school (trying not to cause the plants in her teacher’s windows to grow vigorously), Briseis is hoping to spend the summer helping her moms run their flower shop. Instead, she finds that she has inherited a rambling estate and garden from her birth mother.

I was a little hesitant to read this novel, because I had enjoyed Cinderella is Dead right until the disappointing ending! Once I picked it up though, I was hooked. Bri’s character was fleshed out and her feelings obvious. I didn’t mind the so-called ‘slow burn’, I liked getting to know Bri’s family, circumstances and normal behaviors before she was tossed into a new world of plants, poisons and family secrets. Add in some Greek mythology and there was a tale I wanted to keep reading.

Other reviewers have complained that the author doesn’t use words such as lesbian to refer to Bri’s moms. I actually appreciated that! It’s not like every straight couple in other novels are said to be straight! Equally, it’s not stated that Bri and her moms are people of colour – it’s up to the reader to pay attention to the little nuances in physical appearance and habits to realize this (although this is probably given away by the beautiful, luscious cover art).

Let’s talk about the ending in general terms at least. Did I like it? No, no I did not. I honestly felt as if the publishers had told the author “Hey, we think this will be a big hit, make sure you prepare to write a sequel.” So then Bayron was required to leave it open! In the end, I didn’t like the way the antagonists showed up as there were too many holes in the reasoning.

Ultimately my take on this novel is to go buy it! But without knowing when the sequel will come out (or whether this is a duology/trilogy etc.) try to go into it realising that you’ll have to be patient to see the next installment. I’m not patient! So it’s four stars from me (to be updated if the second book is as fantastic as the first).

Bloomsbury | 29th June 2021 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Nat Amoore – The Right Way to Rock

The Right Way to Rock
Nat Amoore

Mac knows he loves music, and his favourite genre is musical theatre. He’s pretty darn good at guitar, but his real passion is writing lyrics. When he gets the news Watterson Primary is going to shut down the creative Arts, he’s determined to do something to save them. Can he pull off a musical to save them? Or will his mom’s rock dreams get in the way?

I loved how each chapter of the book started off with a musical interlude so to speak, of different popular tunes with new Ethan-relevant lyrics added. There were only a couple of missing points where I didn’t get the musical reference.

I found myself lol-ing at this book pretty frequently! This author has a fantastic turn of phrase that will make this novel appreciated by all ages. The tics of Tourette syndrome were super annoying, and I was so grateful that I wasn’t reading this aloud. I have to give points to the author for presenting a neurodiverse cast though. Did you know that despite typical portrayals in media, only 10% of people with Tourette have swearwords as their tics (coprolalia)? It makes sense to me, honestly because if it’s something that presents in childhood, there’s no guarentee that the child actually knows swear words!

I didn’t understand how Mrs. Moshie fit into the story line. I was somewhat confused as to how she could be considered a suitable caregiver for the two kids. I found myself still wondering about the next steps after the conclusion of this novel. That means that this book must have had pretty fantastic world building!

I picked this up not really realising what age group it was for, and not knowing that it’s the third book set in Watterson. This didn’t really matter to me, even though I guess, !spoilers! for the other two books. I’d give this to any pre-teen boy or girl to read as a lighthearted way to understand that being different is totally ok. 4 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 1st June 2021 | AU$24.99 | paperback

Review: Philip Reeve – Mortal Engines (K)

Mortal Engines
Philip Reeve

Tom has lived all his life in London โ€“ not the city as we know it, but a giant monstrosity on wheels, which captures smaller settlements for spare parts and enslaves those aboard. Everything changes, however, when a young girl with a prominent scar is captured and his life changes forever. The pair fall off London and must make their way back on foot.

This was quite a nice light read, the story was interesting but simple to follow, and I had no trouble understanding what everyone was doing. This was particularly impressive to me, as there are times where the story is split between 3 different POVs, and I usually find that I struggle to keep everything in my head when this occurs.

The characters were all interesting and 3-dimensional characters. Even the villains had something more to offer than simply being evil for evilโ€™s sake, or just wanting power. My favourite part of this book was absolutely the secondary characters, as they all had interesting traits to make them unique and help them stand out. That said, this emphasis on making every character stand out did somewhat decrease the realism, as some of the character traits didnโ€™t quite make sense in context, and did not seem like they would be feasible in real life

While the characters themselves were interesting, the character progression in the book felt a little forced. The main example of this is with the main characters Tom and Hester. In the beginning of the book, Tom consistently thinks of Hester in insulting terms โ€“ often describing her as โ€˜uglyโ€™ due to the scar on her face. It felt forced and a little rushed when he went from this to finding that he โ€˜would miss her lop-sided smilesโ€™. I feel it would have been better if it had taken him longer to come to this conclusion, or if heโ€™d had conflict with himself about his feelings towards her clashing with his opinions on her looks.

One other issue I found was Hester seemed to be too worldly. While the main character of a story is typically more interesting than the average person, and Hesterโ€™s backstory explained why she may have met lots of people, it felt unrealistic, as she had a personal connection with almost all of the villains in the book. Some of these connections definitely benefited the story, but there were others that did not contribute much, and I wish hadnโ€™t been included.

Iโ€™m giving this story a 4/5, as the idea and storyline were amazing, and far outshone the issues I had with the writing. I feel this book would be best for a younger audience but could be enjoyed by anyone.

Review – Amy Beashel – The Sky is Mine

The Sky is Mine
Amy Beashel

Izzy may have drunk too much at that one party, but she shouldn’t keep getting mocked about it, and certainly not pressured into sex. But Izzy isn’t sure who she is, and where her own self-worth is. Her step-dad Daniel puts a lot of pressure on her by mocking her mother and touching her in the wrong way. Can Izzy be strong enough to stand up for herself and by herself? Does she have to go it alone to survive?

I struggled to get into this book because I was too afraid of what might happen. Having just read Fighting Words, I felt like I couldn’t deal with another child sexual abuse novel. Then, I picked it up again because I thought it deserved another chance. Then, the mobile internet went down, and next thing I knew I was stuck into reading it.

I liked that it was never really defined how ‘fat’ Izzy was, and whether it was within her own mind, Daniel’s mind or someone else’s mind. Equally, I think that either her best friend or her best friend’s girlfriend was a woman of colour? But I’m not 100% sure who was who. I think that this makes this novel easier to see yourself in it and helps the reader connect with the main character.

This is a powerful and yet sobering read. There is a huge push at the moment in Australia for people experiencing domestic violence to be confident enough to stand up against it, and ask for help. What this novel introduces is providing some more personal insight into what it might be like for a family experiencing this negative behavior. It’s easy to say that you’d do things differently if you were in that situation – but leaving is certainly not as easy as it might seem to an outsider.

This is a well-spent $10 worth of novel. I’m not sure that I could bear reading it again though. What brings its rating down to a 3.5 is that it is so very, very British in its pronunciation and word-usage. I don’t have a problem with swear words, but I do have a problem with ‘innit?’ No. I really hope no one actually speaks like that – it’s just like most Australians don’t greet others with ‘How’s it going, mate?’ Anyway, language like that served to interrupt my reading.

Allen & Unwin | 6th February 2020 | AU$7.99 | paperback

Review: David Yoon – Super Fake Love Song

Super Fake Love Song
David Yoon

Uh oh, Sunny Dae is in trouble. So far in life he’s owned being weird and a nerd – but his parents are insisting on him looking after the new girl in town. The quick motion of going into his brother’s bedroom instead of his own means that Sunny is now the front man of a rock band! Will Sunny be able to hold Cirrus’ attention? Or will his nerdery shine through and scare her off…

This was strangely compulsive reading! The whole time I was reading I was hanging out for the moment of ‘truth’ for Sunny. And then it happened! Yes! And it was excellent! Things exploded just like I thought they might. The blurb really gave away 3/4 of the book to an extent, so I remind you again to not read the blurb if you want a complete surprise.

I wasn’t so sure about the ‘happy ending’. But maybe teenagers in love are more forgiving, particularly if their friends are their best-est-est friends ever. Can I imagine doing that to my high school friends? Hmm, I’m not sure I would have given up being a nerd for a girl. Like Sunny, I’m absolutely a ‘things in my room should be neat and where I left them last’ sort of person (well, if you’re talking about my book collection or LEGO).

What I would have liked to see more of was the fact that Gray is possibly clinically depressed and that this wasn’t being acknowledged by the Dae parents. Also, it seemed a bit trite that Gunner had a ‘hidden’ personality. I would have really wanted to hear more about the cool playwear stuff the three buddies made! But then, I think cosplay is totally cool and not necessarily nerdy at all.

I regret leaving this so late to review. It was a fantastic book, and would make an excellent gift to a teenager. Again, just like Frankly in Love, this is a very American-centric novel. I think it definitely reflects American society where ‘white’ people seem to be more common than other nationalities. However, it’s certainly not the case in the high schools in my area! Regardless, I think any nerds or would-be rock stars would enjoy this novel. 4 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 17th November 2020 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Mercedes Lackey – Apex (N)

Apex
Mercedes Lackey

After discovering the plot in the sewers, and protecting Apex from a mass invasion. Joy continues to protect the city with her Hounds. With new allies things seem brighter than ever. But there are forces among the Othersiders and within the city who are conspiring for their own agendas.

The third installment in the Hunter series give a good continuation to the second book. Not an easy task since the second book ended post a climatic battle and triumph. The tension stays high with Joy stepping carefully around the Psicorp leader who she encountered in the previous book.

We have Joy teaming up with new Hunters helping lend a hand to the Elite. This get more Hound descriptions! Which makes me happy, I loved the descriptions of the different hounds and their different abilities. Another aspect of this that I loved was that even though Joy and the other Elite are just that, they still ask for an get help from the other Hunters. It embodies the feel of its about teamwork first and foremost. And that there is nothing wrong with stating extra hands are needed.

We get more of an outside focus beyond the city of Apex in this book. Which is a nice expansion to the world. As well as a few more new characters from the Othersiders. It gives a small fraction of the other side of the fence so to speak. Like A small taste of the greater details. It’s a frustrating balance that Lackey didn’t quite manage this time around. I wanted to know more. Overall the book left me thinking that there must be another book coming because it felt like there were too many holes in the series overall.

I mentioned a few about Ace and about the plots Joy uncovered in the first and second books. we got a couple of those resolved but additional larger mysteries that we don’t manage to get answers to sadly. Another thing that bothered me was a couple of locations seemed to get rehashed. Joy visited a noodle shop in the second book. Then when she goes back here in this book its like she never had visited. More annoying is that we get a bigger issue with the Folk not being known to teleport and Joys surprise regarding this. Yet in the first book she notes the Folk mage she encounters early on teleports. It was frustrating to have such errors in what was otherwise an enjoyable read to me.

Overall, it really feels like there should be another book following up after this to really close out the series. But just because I want more detail about the behind the scenes plots doesn’t mean Joy will actually learn about the motives of other characters. Much like the real world. It was a relaxed low stress read for me, desire to know more aside.

Review: Mercedes Lackey – Elite (N)

Elite
Mercedes Lackey

Hunter Joy has largely settled in Apex. She’s managed to advance to Elite Hunter and now has a new mission from her Uncle, the city’s Prefect. However danger and conspiracy abound as she traverses the sewers beneath the city.

This makes for a nice follow up to Hunter. We get to see more details about life in Apex. Beyond the superstar treatment the previous book gave Joy for generally being a new hunter with impressive skills. There are additional characters we get to know as well as a clearing picture about some of the Othersiders only briefly mentioned before. We also get more information on some previous characters from the first book. They get additional time for us to get to know more than the picture they display the world which gives the world more depth and feeling.

One of the great things is the way different Hunters are portrayed with different skills. It gives a great element of team work between hunters, combining their skills and magic to overcome the odds.

We do see Ace again, after his previous downfall. Towards the end there is a feeling of more at play in the overall story but it doesn’t really eventuate in this book to anything concrete. It could just be a small detail that we will never know since the story is told from Joy’s point of view. Only time will tell.

As with the previous book definitely targeted towards the younger side of young adult. But a good leisure read for adults that don’t want something deep or heavy thought to read. Again sits somewhere between 3 and 4 stars.

Review: Mercedes Lackey – Hunter (N)

Hunter
Mercedes Lackey

Monsters came forth from the Otherside after the Diseray. The catastrophe destroying human civilisation. But something else came with them, the last hope, the Hounds. Joyeaux Charmand is a hunter for her small community and has been for a long time. Now called to serve Apex City, where the best hunters protect the most important people.

I’ve been a fan of Lackey’s writing since I was much younger so I’m always eager to read a new one of her novels. This one was a different feel to her Valdemar series. I enjoyed reading about the different Hounds that different hunters have and learning about the way the world was in this novel. I enjoyed a large degree of the descriptions – since Joy is essentially a newcomer to Apex she notices things in a lot of detail that provides some excellent fodder for imagining the scene. We learn a lot in the first few chapters in a way that is very sudden. So keeping it in mind through the book is a bit difficult. The writing is geared towards young adult readers but makes for a relaxing read for an adult.

Very post-apocalyptic feel, with a good helping of redevelopment of politics. Though there is only the barest fringe of that holding center stage in the book. I mostly enjoyed the characters, there were some oversimplifications between the main character Joy and the people she interacts with. But nothing that made the book unreadable. The characters that are clearly in Joy’s corner are notable and different. Though there is a degree of one-dimensional-ness to them that gradually begins to fade when joy interacts a bit more.

There was at least one loose end regarding Hunter Ace, a semi antagonist of Joy. Just a throw-away line that just seems to be mentioned and never brought up or explored again. I would have loved to know a little more background beyond him being arrogant for arrogance’s sake. Still it was nice to see how Joy approached and handled the pressure.

This was a re-read for me, as Lackey remains a good comfort read. But to give it a rating I think it was sit somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. It really can’t match with story depth that shows good and bad for all characters. But comfort reads have their place as well.