Monday, May 21, 2018

Review: The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green
The Smoke Thieves (The Smoke Thieves #1)
By Sally Green
Format: eARC
Source: First to Read

To Sum It Up: Catherine, Ambrose, Tash, Edyon, and March could not lead more different lives, but they are all about to be affected by the looming war that Catherine’s ruthless father, the King of Brigant, seems to be preparing to wage. In a kingdom where women have no power, Catherine is a political pawn, about to enter in to a marriage arranged by her father. Meanwhile, Ambrose, one of Catherine’s guards, has just witnessed the execution of one of his family members for treason and knows that he could be targeted next. Thief Edyon is wandering through a fairly aimless life until he suddenly becomes of great importance to some very interested parties, one of whom is royal servant March. All demon hunter Tash is concerned about is collecting very valuable—and illegal—demon smoke with her partner Gravell, but it appears that even Tash cannot avoid the turmoil that is about to sweep across multiple lands.

Review: Having enjoyed Sally Green’s Half Bad and Half Wild, I was excited to see that she was venturing into fantasy with her new novel, The Smoke Thieves. My curiosity was particularly piqued by the comparisons being made between The Smoke Thieves and George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Like Martin’s ubiquitous tome, Green’s book is set in a medieval world with multiple POVs. There’s even a bastard!

I try especially hard NOT to keep a running side-by-side comparison in my head between AGoT and books billed as the next AGoT. Reading Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire (at least what’s been published so far, haha) has been one of those life-changing reading experiences for me. What I attempt to avoid is reading every subsequent fantasy through the lens of ASoIaF. So here goes with what I hope is an impartial-ish take on The Smoke Thieves.

The novel follows five characters: Princess Catherine of Brigant, her guard Sir Ambrose, thief Edyon, servant March, and demon hunter Tash. Green does a good job of keeping the storylines tidy and tying them together, but at the same time, the short chapters often seem . . . well, short. The frequent POV shifts give the pacing a choppy feel. I also think they inhibit character development; just when you’re on the brink of spending some quality time getting to know a character, bam—chapter over and it’s on to a different POV.

In general, I found the character development rather lacking. For example, while I love how Catherine tries to find any way she can to undermine a patriarchal society, overall her arc feels a bit too cliché. Along the same lines, Edyon plays the thief with a heart of gold a little too well. March was my least favorite of the MCs for not realizing how blatantly another character was manipulating him. Young Tash the demon hunter was the standout here, thanks to her mettle and sass.

The most disappointing aspect of The Smoke Thieves was how light it was on the fantasy. The titular smoke refers to the substance released by demons when they die. It’s usually inhaled as a drug, but our motley crew of protagonists discovers another effect that could endanger them all. That’s not until late in the book, though. In the meantime, the demon smoke (and the demons, for that matter) is just hanging around, waiting to come off the bench and step up to the plate as a major plot point. I was definitely expecting more of a role for the demons and the smoke, and I suppose that was my overall issue with the book: the need for more. More depth to the characters, more substance to the plot, more fantasy elements. This isn’t a bad story by any means, and Green is a solid storyteller. It just wasn’t my type of fantasy read.

All in All: I love reading fantasy for mythical creatures, complex and often morally ambiguous characters, and richly drawn worlds that completely immerse you. Unfortunately, The Smoke Thieves didn’t quite deliver on those things for me.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Review: How to Marry a Werewolf by Gail Carriger

How to Marry a Werewolf by Gail Carriger
How to Marry a Werewolf (Claw & Courtship #1)
By Gail Carriger
Gail Carriger
Format: eBook
Source: Author

To Sum It Up: Following a scandal back home in Boston, Faith Wigglesworth's parents send her off to England to find a werewolf husband, believing that only a werewolf will marry their daughter despite her tarnished reputation. Almost immediately upon setting foot in London, Faith garners the attention of Major Channing Channing of the Chesterfield Channings, Gamma of the London werewolf pack and renowned for his steely demeanor. Faith is not the type to wilt easily, however, and each subsequent encounter between the two has London society buzzing over whether or not Channing has finally met his match, in more ways than one.

Review: Gail Carriger continues to awe with yet another stellar novella set in the paranormal Victorian steampunk world of her Parasol Protectorate novels. Carriger's deft storytelling provides just the right amount of background on characters who've previously appeared in her works for both newcomers and longtime fans alike. These novellas are also perfectly paced; the story never feels rushed despite the shorter page count. You have plenty of time to get to know the characters (more in depth if you're already acquainted) and become invested in what happens to them.

Each novella has focused on a secondary character from the original Parasol Protectorate series, and in How to Marry a Werewolf, the brusque Major Channing Channing of the Chesterfield Channings gets his turn in the spotlight. Channing has always been a fascinating character to me; I wondered what lurked beneath that famously (or infamously) icy demeanor of his, and here we finally get a look inside the mind behind the man/wolf.

Sharing Channing's duties as protagonist is new addition to the Parasolverse Faith Wigglesworth. Faith hails from Boston, and a recent scandal finds her sent away by her anti-supernatural parents to England to land a werewolf husband. In their warped view, only a werewolf would accept their ruined daughter now. Crossing the Atlantic actually improves Faith's circumstances, though. Her cousins the Iftercasts welcome Faith wholeheartedly and show her all the love that her own parents do not. Despite the adversity she's faced, Faith's winning personality shines through. I loved her keen mind and her love of rocks of the geological kind. Faith also doesn't back down easily in the face of a challenge, which is very handy when dealing with Channing, a living definition of the word "challenge."

I never thought I'd use the words "sweet" and "Channing" in the same sentence, but the romance that develops here is very sweet indeed. The road leading up to it is a bit bumpy at times, but readers will be thoroughly entertained by all of the witty verbal sparring that has an Elizabeth Bennet/Mr. Darcy-esque charm to it. I enjoyed How to Marry a Werewolf immensely and eagerly await the next Parasolverse novella.

All in All: Even for readers unfamiliar with Channing's character, How to Marry a Werewolf delivers an extremely satisfying story. Longtime Parasolverse fans will be thrilled as well by the appearance of some old friends. Don't hesitate to snap this one up!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Review: Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen
Orphan Monster Spy
By Matt Killeen
Format: Print ARC
Source: YALLFest

To Sum It Up: Sarah is a newly orphaned, Jewish fifteen-year-old in Nazi Germany. After encountering a mysterious man who turns out to be a spy working against the Nazis, Sarah undertakes a crucial mission. She must collect information on a lethal weapon created by a Nazi scientist. To complete her mission, Sarah must go undercover at a Nazi boarding school where she will become friendly with the scientist’s daughter. Sarah endeavors to save the Germany that has been turned against her as well as becoming the hero she desperately needs.

Review: Orphan Monster Spy reminded me of some sort of really cool spy movie. The pacing was excellent, making the story feel action movie-esque. The story was thoroughly researched, making the setting feel authentic without feeling too vague. Matt Killeen did an excellent job of balancing the bigger picture of WWII without sacrificing the relatability of his main character.

I absolutely adored Sarah as a character because she was so enjoyably complex. Sarah’s complexity and growth as a character propelled this book into greatness. Sarah was an incredible heroine with a skill set that reminded me of Black Widow. Put into incredibly stressful situations, Sarah’s decisions were always intelligently made. There is absolutely nothing more frustrating than reading a book where you find yourself mentally screaming at the main character for their pathetic decisions. I was constantly in awe of Sarah’s maturity and sense of purpose. Additionally, I was astounded by Sarah’s perceptiveness and her profound interpretations of her experiences. Despite Sarah’s complexity, she remains relatable with thoughts and emotions the reader can empathize with.

The reader is also occasionally reminded that Sarah is indeed still a child. I was really hoping that Sarah would find some sort of paternal comfort in the Captain. I would have really enjoyed seeing him grow into that role. However, I understand that Sarah’s isolation from others forced her to become stronger and better equipped to deal with the challenges she faced. Sarah was able to become her own hero.

All in all: I know a majority of this review is praise for the main character, but I have no regrets. I love it when a character actively becomes the hero they need for themselves. Orphan Monster Spy was a riveting read that retained a profundity suitable for the setting. You should really give this one a try!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’d Slay a Lion to Get Early

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

This week's topic is:
Books I’d Slay a Lion to Get Early

1. The Winds of Winter by George R.R. Martin

With GRRM announcing that there will be no new A Song of Ice and Fire novel this year, I'm starting to think more and more that we'll never know the fates of the book characters. :/

2. Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas

At least I'll have one highly, highly anticipated fantasy to read in 2018! STILL not over the ending of Empire of Storms.

3. Vengeful by V.E. Schwab

Super, super thrilled for this sequel to the absolutely fantastic Vicious.

4. City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

TWO new Schwab novels this year? YASSSSSSSSS.

5. The Darkest Legacy by Alexandra Bracken

Not only is the film adaptation of The Darkest Minds hitting theaters this summer, but we also have a NEW novel!

6. Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare

I put this on my list, even though I still need to read the second book, Lord of Shadows, lol.

7. The Dreamer Trilogy #1 by Maggie Stiefvater

This doesn't even have a title or release date yet, but all I needed to know was that it features Ronan Lynch from Stiefvater's Raven Cycle series as the MC.

What books would you love to be able to read early?