Book Review: The Wolves of Dynamo

wolvesThe Wolves of Dynamo
Gareth S. Young
Urban Fantasy
297 pages
Published 2016

This book arrived unexpectedly in the mail – I believe it was from a Goodreads Giveaway, but I was never notified I’d won one. It’s even signed by the author!

I am….a little puzzled on how I feel about this book. It has a bit of a confusing, dream-like quality to it, which fits the book, but left me a little less than satisfied. It always felt like I was forgetting details, or like the book assumed I knew things about the world that I didn’t. (Much like many dreams.) The plot was unique, the characters could have used more depth, the division between forest and city was indistinct, and the conclusion was unsatisfying. It could have been very good, but I think it needs a lot more polish.

The physical book itself felt like an ARC, even though it’s not. I think it’s the simplistic cover and the typesetting. It just doesn’t feel – finished. Like much of the book. I’d give this a pass, but I might be interested in future writings by the author, if his style matures and his editor improves.

From the cover of The Wolves of Dynamo:

Thirteen-year-old Eileen MacCormick has always called Dynamo City home. Its bustling streets, imposing Cathedral, and enveloping forest fascinate her, giving her solace after the death of her father. But after moving closer to the forest she finds so comforting, she discovers that it hides a dark, magical world.

Eileen’s life changes irrevocably when she crosses paths with a murderer who is terrorizing the city. Heartsick, she finds herself drawn back to the forest where an enclave of mysterious wolves reveal themselves to her. Eileen is shocked to learn she can communicate with the wolves and outraged when the ancient animals demand she lure the murderer to the forest.

How can these creatures ask this of her? How can a thirteen-year-old possibly catch a killer?

Bewildered by her role in this new magical world, and by the wolves’ extraordinary request, Eileen must battle her sorrow and find courage as she begins the most dangerous and incredible adventure of her life.

Book Review: Red Winter Trilogy

RW1Red Winter
Dark Tempest
Immortal Fire
Annette Marie
Fantasy
About 350 pages each
Published 2016, 2017, 2017

So I didn’t actually realize this series was written by a Canadian author until the end of the first book, when I skimmed the “about the author” section! I picked up the first book on a whim – the entire trilogy is free on Kindle Unlimited – and I am so, SO GLAD I DID. This trilogy is amazing. It’s a little anime-like – the illustrations are definitely drawn in anime style and there’s about ten per book – but it’s simply beautiful writing, blending elements of Japanese mythology with a beautifully sweet romance and an epic fantasy task. (Release trapped gods and goddesses and stop a goddess.) The main character was likeable, sweet, and a little naive, but she realizes why she is naive and consciously works to overcome that.

The first book starts with a revelation – Emi has been training for ten years to receive her goddess into her body, with the expectation that their personalities will meld – only to discover that the goddess’s divine energy will instead destroy Emi’s mind and personality. She will be dead while the goddess inhabits her body. Which will be happening two months from the book’s beginning, so she doesn’t have much time to change her fate. The goddess herself is not unsympathetic, and wishes it could be different. I loved the interaction between Emi and her goddess. The compassion, love, and regret shown by Amaterasu means it’s impossible to dislike her, even though we know she’ll be the agent of our protagonist’s death.

RW3But all is not as it seems among the gods, and Emi is attacked by someone who should be an ally, and defended by those who should want her dead. Conspiracies unravel in the second book, as Emi and her friends race to finish the task set them by Amaterasu – a task that must be finished before the winter solstice, when Amaterasu will descend into Emi’s body and destroy her mind. Dark Tempest ends with the task still uncompleted, and Immortal Fire picks up immediately. (I read almost the entire trilogy in one sitting – I finally set the third book aside and got some sleep before the final confrontation.)

RW2I don’t want to say too much, and I’m only going to include the description on the first book, because I don’t want to spoil anything. I liked Emi, I absolutely loved Yumei, the dark, standoffish Crow Lord, and Shiro the kitsune was an amazing character. Reveals and pacing and dialogue and action and exposition were all excellently done. This is a gorgeous, absorbing trilogy and I highly recommend it.

 

From the back of Red Winter:

In a few short months, Emi’s mortal life will end when she becomes the human host of an immortal goddess. Carefully hidden from those who would destroy her, she has prepared her mind, body, and soul to unite with the goddess–and not once has she doubted her chosen fate.

Shiro is a spirit of the earth and an enemy of the goddess Emi will soon host. Mystery shrouds his every move and his ruby eyes shine with cunning she can’t match and dares not trust. But she saved his life, and until his debt is paid, he is hers to command–whether she wants him or not.

On the day they meet, everything Emi believes comes undone, swept away like snow upon the winter wind. For the first time, she wants to change her fate–but how can she erase a destiny already wrought in stone? Against the power of the gods, Shiro is her only hope … and hope is all she has left.

 

About the author:

Annette Marie is the author of the Amazon best-selling YA urban fantasy series Steel & Stone, which includes the 2015 Goodreads Choice Award nominee Yield the Night. Her first love is fantasy, a limitless realm of creativity where she can break all the boring rules of real life, but fast-paced urban fantasy, bold heroines, and tantalizing forbidden romances are her guilty pleasures. She proudly admits she has a thing for dragons, and her editor has politely inquired as to whether she intends to include them in every single book.

Annette lives in the frozen winter wasteland of northern Alberta, Canada (okay, it’s not quite that bad). She shares her life with her remarkably patient, comparatively sensible husband and their furry minion of darkness — sorry, cat — Caesar. When not writing, she can be found elbow-deep in one art project or another while blissfully ignoring all adult responsibilities.

To find out more about Annette and her books, visit her website at www.authorannettemarie.com.

Book Review: The Crown’s Fate

crown's fateThe Crown’s Fate
Evelyn Skye
Historical Fantasy
417 pages
Published 2017

The Crown’s Fate is a sequel to the amazing debut novel, The Crown’s Game. The first book left me crying and a little traumatized, it was so elegant and heart-breaking. The second has proven to be a worthy successor, and healed most of the hurts caused by the first.

The two books tell the story of two enchanters in Tsarist Russia competing to become Imperial Enchanter. The competition, unfortunately, must end in the death of one of them, so Russia’s magic can be solely controlled by the Imperial Enchanter, and therefore be stronger for defending the realm. It only complicates things that one of the competitors is the heir to the throne’s best friend. And what happens when the two competitors fall in love?

Along the way, we see creative enchantments, volcano nymphs, elegant masquerade balls, battles for succession, and a quick glimpse of Baba Yaga’s house. (Oh, how I want to learn more about that!)

These two books are really amazing, but make sure you have the second on hand before you finish the first! I read the first when it was published, last year, and had to wait a year before being able to read the second! (I’m actually surprised I didn’t post a review of it.) I don’t know if Vika and Nikolai’s story will be continued past these two books, but there is room in the world Skye has created for more stories, even if it doesn’t focus on the two enchanters. Especially now that magic beyond the control of the Imperial Enchanter is stirring in the land once again…

I’m not going to include the plot description from the book cover this time, because it contains MASSIVE spoilers for the first book. I will instead post the plot description for the FIRST book.

From the cover of The Crown’s Game:

Perfect for fans of Shadow and Bone and Red Queen, The Crown’s Game is a thrilling and atmospheric historical fantasy set in Imperial Russia about two teenagers who must compete for the right to become the Imperial Enchanter—or die in the process—from debut author Evelyn Skye.

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know.  The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love . . . or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear . . . the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

Book Review: Black Heart Loa

BlackheartloaBlack Heart Loa
by Adrian Phoenix
Published 2011
416 pages
Urban Fantasy

This was on my library’s “used books for sale” shelf, on the Christmas sale of 2 books for $1. The premise looked interesting – haven’t seen hoodoo-centered urban fantasy before! So I searched around to find a second book (The Elfish Gene) and bought them both. And I’m glad I did, even if I haven’t read The Elfish Gene yet! Black Heart Loa is actually the second in Phoenix’s Hoodoo series, the first being Black Dust Mambo. Even without reading the first one, Black Heart Loa is easy to follow, and the events of Black Dust Mambo are easily understood, without really having them rehashed to the reader. Part of that, I expect, is because Black Heart Loa is dealing with the fallout of the events of Black Dust Mambo, so things get explained in a natural progression in the book.

BHL was a rolicking fun ride through the swamps of Louisiana. I can’t speak for the accuracy of how the hoodoo belief system is represented, but most religious beliefs in urban fantasy get a vigorous twisting from the author, as miracles and magic become real in the fictional world. So I’m not terribly worried about the accuracy, as long as they’re not portrayed solely in a good or bad light. And in BHL there are both good and bad practitioners of hoodoo, illustrating the point that it’s not the religion that is inherently good or bad, but the person practicing it. So that moral quandary aside, I really, REALLY enjoyed this book. Kallie is a fun, ass-kicking, smart-talking protagonist, though I found myself wanting to know more about her best friend, a mambo-in-training.

I especially want to know more about a character who was introduced late in the book, but the ending of the book implies more books to come, and more focus on the character I’m intrigued by, so I’ll have to see if I can dig up more of this series. Amazon says this book is 2 of 2 in the series, so hopefully the author is still going to write more!

From the back of Black Heart Loa:

“An eye for an eye is never enough.”

Kallie Riviere, a Cajun hoodoo apprentice with a bent for trouble, learned the meaning of those ominous words when hoodoo bogeyman Doctor Heron targeted her family for revenge. Now, while searching for her still-missing bayou pirate cousin, Kallie finds out the hard way that someone is undoing powerful gris gris, which means that working magic has become as unpredictable as rolling a handful of dice. The wards woven to protect the Gulf coast are unraveling, leaving New Orleans and the surrounding bayous vulnerable just as an unnatural storm – the deadliest in a century – is born. As the hurricane powers toward the heart of all she loves, Kallie desperately searches for the cause of the disturbing randomness, only to learn a deeply unsettling truth: the culprit may be herself. To protect her family and friends, including the sexy nomad Layne Vallin, Kallie steps into the jaws of danger . . . and finds a loup garou designed to steal her heart – literally.

Book Review: Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns

pradaRevenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns
by Lauren Weisberger
433 pages
Published 2013
Modern Fiction

I probably should have read The Devil Wears Prada first – I haven’t even seen the movie! I do know the basic premise, though, and reading this book does make me want to see the movie sometime soon. Perhaps I’ll check Netflix for it. (Though I just went to the library and brought home a new load of books, so perhaps not!)

It was an okay story, I suppose. Not my usual fare, though. Andy Sachs, the unfortunate assistant whose story was told in The Devil Wears Prada, returns, a decade after the events of the first book. She’s started a wedding magazine with her best friend, and it’s become wildly successful. Then Elias-Clark, the publishing company headed by Miranda Priestly (the “Devil” from the title), makes an offer to buy the magazine and it goes downhill from there.

I really was not thrilled by this book. Miranda only makes a few appearances, and while her influence is felt through the entire book, it’s more Andy’s fear of her that permeates the book rather than Miranda’s own driven personality. I wanted to see more of the Devil herself!

Reading other reviews on Amazon, I’m not alone, and apparently the first book was FAR better. Which is good to know, I suppose, but I still probably won’t bother to read it. I might watch the movie – I remember the previews were hysterical – but I won’t waste the time on the book. That’s also my recommendation for this sequel. Don’t waste your time.

From the back of Revenge Wears Prada:

Almost a decade has passed since Andy Sachs quit the job “a million girls would die for” working for Miranda Priestly at Runway magazine—a dream that turned out to be a nightmare. Andy and Emily, her former nemesis and co-assistant, have since joined forces to start a highend bridal magazine. The Plunge has quickly become required reading for the young and stylish. Now they get to call all the shots: Andy writes and travels to her heart’s content; Emily plans parties and secures advertising like a seasoned pro. Even better, Andy has met the love of her life. Max Harrison, scion of a storied media family, is confident, successful, and drop-dead gorgeous. Their wedding will be splashed across all the society pages as their friends and family gather to toast the glowing couple. Andy Sachs is on top of the world. But karma’s a bitch. The morning of her wedding, Andy can’t shake the past. And when she discovers a secret letter with crushing implications, her wedding-day jitters turn to cold dread. Andy realizes that nothing—not her husband, nor her beloved career—is as it seems. She never suspected that her efforts to build a bright new life would lead her back to the darkness she barely escaped ten years ago—and directly into the path of the devil herself…

Book Review: Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe

cupcakeMeet Me at the Cupcake Cafe
by Jenny Colgan
410 pages
Published 2011 (UK) (2013 in the US)
General Fiction

This was a sweet book about a woman chasing her dreams. Issy gets let go from her real estate firm and decides to open a cupcake bakery, following in her grandfather’s footsteps. (He owned and operated three bread bakeries in his prime.) The book follows Issy’s troubles with opening the cafe, her romantic misadventures, and the slow decline of her beloved grandfather to dementia. Interspersed with the chapters are actual recipes, most in the form of letters written to Issy from her grandfather. And these recipes look DELICIOUS. I’m going to be writing a few of them down before I take this book back to the library!

The characters in the book are endearing, from Issy, to her acerbic flatmate Helena, to her employee Pearl and Pearl’s adorable son, Louis. Really, the only unlikable character in the book is Issy’s on-again, off-again douche of an ex, but he’s meant to be the villain of the story. Even Pearl’s erratic boyfriend is at least a nice sort. Set in London, there’s a kind of timeless quality to the story, so when Issy mentioned Facebook I was a little taken aback – I had not even realized it was set in modern times! I was thinking 1970s or so.

The book has a sequel, but unfortunately the reviews are all quite bad for it. People who loved this book say the second did not hold true to the characters, so I probably will not read it. There was another book mentioned in the back of this one, The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, that I may look into.

I love baking, so reading a book that centered on baking cakes, with recipes, was a lot of fun. From the sweet pink cover to the simple joy Issy takes in feeding sweets to people, I really loved this book.

From Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe:

Issy Randall can bake. No, Issy can create stunning, mouthwateringly divine cakes. After a childhood spent in her beloved Grampa Joe’s bakery, she has undoubtedly inherited his talent. She’s much better at baking than she is at filing, so when she’s laid off from her desk job, Issy decides to open her own little cafe. But she soon learns that her piece-of-cake plan will take all her courage and confectionary talent to avert disaster.