Book Loot – November Edition

A very light haul this month, but I need it to catch up on everything I fell behind on in the early fall. Chance that that happens? I’m going with… low, but possible. If nothing else, I shouldn’t fall further behind. Life continues to be just… exhausting this year, y’know? We’re almost done with 2020 (though my brain assures me that reaching an arbitrary “end” to the year won’t do any good or change anything—my mind is always optimistic and super helpful)—just a couple more months to go!

ARCs

The Rush’s Edge – by Ginger Smith (11/10)

Hal Cullen is an ex-supersoldier, grown in a vat and guaranteed little in the way of a life outside of war. Burned out and not long for life, Hal reluctantly takes a job salvaging ships to pass the time before his inevitable crash. But as he begins to grow close to a new crewmember, Hal starts to imagine a life outside of his vat-given one. And that’s when an alien presence takes over their ship and SHTF. Many thanks to Angry Robot (#TheRushsEdge, #AngryRobot) for the ARC!

Infernal – by Mark de Jager (Re-release • 11/26)

Stratus wakes in an unfamiliar place, with no memory of anything before but for the fact that he is not human. He does possess an incredible strength and the overwhelming will to survive. As he sets out across the war-torn land, Stratus will discover bits and pieces of his life before, all culminating in the burning desire for vengeance upon those that robbed him of his past. Many thanks to Rebellion for this reissue! It looks really good!

Purchases

Forest of Souls – by Lori M. Lee

My monthly audiobook credit went to the newest Lori M. Lee book that I’ve been planning on reading for half the year. I still have a bit of listening burnout, but we’ll see how it goes. With the power to cheat death, an army of living trees, and promised doses of action, heartache and intrigue, hopefully it’ll prove more than entertaining!

What are everyone’s plans for November? Anybody doing Nanowrimo, maybe shopping their memoirs, or bedding down for the remainder of the year (I know Tammy’s husband has something planned!)? I’ll admit, I’m tempted on that final one! And not only since it’s supposed to be -10˚F this week (that’s -23˚C just in case you were curious), and we’re supposed to get a foot of snow.

Havenfall – by Sara Holland (Review)

Havenfall #1

Fantasy, YA, Romance

Bloomsbury YA; March 3, 2020

320 pages (ebook) 12 hr 17 min (audio)

3.2 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

Deep within the mountains of Colorado lies the Inn at Havenfall. Havenfall is a crossroads between worlds—and serves as a meeting place and sanctuary for the delegates from any number of worlds. Nowadays there are only two gates open: one to Fiordenkill, the other Byrn.

Maddie Morrow, the niece of the Innkeeper of Havenfall, has always spent her summers working at the Inn. She even has hopes of taking over for her Uncle, Marcus, someday. But soon after she arrives at the Inn for the summer of her 18th birthday, those dreams quickly become a reality.

Marcus has been attacked and survives in a coma. Maddie is in charge of the Inn. And the trouble doesn’t stop there.

For a being has slipped through one of the dormant gates—one to the world of Solaria. The Solarians are shapeshifting monsters that prey upon humans and have been banned from Earth for a generation. But now one is loose. And the Solarian door is stuck open.

Now Maddie, with little help and less clue of what to do, must take charge, run the Inn in place of her uncle, prevent any more Solarians from entering via the door while hunting down the one that has already come through. But it may already be too late.

So, at Colorado Mountain there is a door that opens to many worlds. This door is known as the Stargate, and through it… wait no. Um. Colorado, mountains, Havenfall. Right, right.

Havenfall is equal parts adventure, fantasy, romance, and mystery. While it’s a decent fantasy adventure, the romance within the story is actually what captured my interest. I mean, the fantasy is alright—an interesting enough premise and world-building, decent execution and plot, but with underwhelming extraplanar beings, magic system, and character development. The romance somehow drew my attention, which is usually not a good thing. But here it surprised me. Maddie is bi—having fallen in love with Fiorden soldier Brekken, whom she first met at the Inn, but also seasonal worker Taya, who is a mystery that Maddie just can’t seem to solve. Instead of the cringe-worthy, awkward teen romance I was expecting, Havenfall proves to be a soul-searching, confusing story of teenage attraction that—while still awkward—seemed more real than the faerie tale romance you’d expect. Now while Maddie isn’t the best gumshoe (we’ll get to that), she is young and naïve, but also skeptical, making her an excellent target for romance.

A detective, however, she is not. Maddie is young and (apparently) not very bright. She is continually pelted in the face by evidence that she somehow ignores. At first I chalked this up to her being young. Then not terribly smart. And at last… just because. Maddie doesn’t seem to learn from experience. Or make any deductive leaps. Or really even pay much attention to any kind of detail. Yeah, she’s 18, but throughout the story her character doesn’t develop and learn from experience. The mystery is rather basic, and it takes her over twelve hours of story-time to wrap her head around it.

Audio Note: Kate Handford was an excellent narrator that really brought Maddie Morrow to life. And while it didn’t do anything for her mystery-solving ability, I really enjoyed the angst and confusion and naïvety the narrator put into her performance that brought across Maddie as the awkward teenage outcast she truly was.

TL;DR

Havenfall represents (in my opinion) awkward teenage romance done right. While there are faerie tale elements, it’s not a storybook romance, and actually feels somewhat real, not ridiculous and cringe-worthy, if still awkward. In terms of plot, world-building, and adventure, the story is your run-of-the-mill YA fantasy—with an interesting premise and decent execution, but little more. The mystery is just pathetic, honestly. And Maddie isn’t the best narrator, despite being intensely romanceable. Havenfall is a decent enough series debut—though I expect better from its sequel.

The series will continue with Phoenix Flame, out March 4th, 2021.

The Killings at Kingfisher Hill – by Sophie Hannah (Review)

The New Hercule Poirot Mysteries #4

Mystery, Historical Fiction

HarperCollins; August 20, 2020 (UK)
William Morrow; September 15, 2020 (US)

346 pages (ebook)
8 hr 54 min (audio)

3.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to HarperCollins, Willam Morrow and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

It is 1930. Hercule Poirot is traveling by coach to the illustrious Kingfisher Hill Estates when he uncovers a murderer. Prior to the tale’s start, Richard Devonport had written the famous detective and requested he come to the Estates to investigate the murder of his brother, Frank. A year previous, Frank had fallen to his death within the Devonport’s house of Little Key. The incident was ruled a murder, with Richard’s fiancée Helen as the prime suspect. Helen has been arrested and is awaiting hanging, as the authorities are convinced of her guilt. But Richard is not as convinced.

But on the coach to Kingfisher Hill, Poirot uncovers yet another mystery. A woman is convinced that she will be murdered if she sits in a certain seat. To allay her fears, the detective switches seats with her. Putting him next to a woman that later confides in him that she herself has committed a murder. But when the woman disembarks before he does, will Poirot be able to find her again? And how can he solve a murder that he knows all of the details of, yet none of them names for?

This is all before reaching Kingfisher Hill Estates, where another murder mystery awaits. One that may be connected to the hysterical woman, may be connected to the self-confessed murderer, or may be an entirely separate mystery entirely. All that is certain is that Poirot and his associate Catchpool are in for a difficult week, one that they’ll never forget.

First off, Hercule Poirot doesn’t ride in coaches. That’s a thing—look it up.

As a fan of Agatha Christie’s original Hercule Poirot, when Sophie Hannah originally revived the series, I was somewhat dubious. But as we approach the fourth book in the renewed series, I figured it was time to give it a try. By book four, Hannah has had time to fine tune her portrayal of the Belgian detective. And she does a pretty decent job of it. But as I’ve mentioned previously, there are exceptions to this.

All in all, I actually found the book enjoyable, though it took me a bit to warm up to it. This is helped quite considerably by the narrator—Julian Rhind-Tutt—who did such an incredible job as Poirot, that I had to double-check that David Suchet wasn’t actually involved. While I had issues with the depiction of Poirot himself, the mystery is really quite a good one; enjoyable, challenging, interesting, full of twists and turns. As a mystery, I’d say it’s probably a 4+ star read. As a continuation of Agatha Christie’s classic detective however—it leaves a little to be desired.

As Hastings occasionally was before him, Edward Catchpool acts as a friend and narrator for the brilliant detective—one that, while he infrequently picks up on Poirot’s hunches, is most often in the dark. It took me quite a bit of time to warm up to Catchpool enough that I didn’t find him simply exhausting. He’s a bit of a dry narrator. I mean, Hastings wasn’t exactly colorful and interesting. He was English. Old Empire English. But Catchpool seems to be a bit more of a bore, in addition to being even slower on the draw. He is frequently behind Poirot in even the most obvious of deductions, though every now and then he has his moment. It’s done this way for a reason—to make Poirot seem more impressive and amazing. But while Hastings was a captain in the British Army, he was no detective. Edward Catchpool is supposedly an Inspector of Scotland Yard, so he really should be less hopeless.

Poirot just feels different. It’s mostly little things; the bit about the coach, the perhaps inflated sense of superiority. He doesn’t mention any bit of his history beyond that of Hannah’s last novel. There’s actually little I can pinpoint exactly. Poirot seems nearly (nearly!) normal. His ego, his methods, his attention to detail, his cleanliness are all on point. Combined with Cacthpool’s dry witticisms, it’s almost like the old Poirot is back. It’s like running into an old friend, but their recollection of history is different and some of their mannerisms are wrong. But they look the same, they talk the same, and more than anything it’s good enough to have them back that you don’t want to look too closely lest you be disappointed.

TL;DR

Like an old friend you haven’t seen in years, Sophie Hannah’s Hercule Poirot looks like you remembered, sounds like you remembered, and is more than anything a sight for sore eyes. Provided you don’t look too closely. Otherwise you’ll unearth a slightly stranger looking Poirot—one that shares much in common with his predecessor, but is subtly different. Nothing too overt here, but his mannerisms, his inflated sense of ego, his peculiarities, his knowledge of and regard for his own history—are all off. If you take the mystery as it is, it will seem an interesting, twisting, and often exciting distraction from the world. But should you look too close, you may just find a doppelgänger masquerading as an old friend. Someone that has nearly fooled you once, but won’t again.

An Ember in the Ashes – by Sabaa Tahir (Review)

An Ember in the Ashes #1

Fantasy, YA, Romance

Razorbill; April 28, 2015

464 pages (ebook) 15hr 22min (audio)

3.8 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

In the Martial Empire, no one is free.

Laia is a Scholar—one the Empire’s second class citizens. Her people have been oppressed by the ruling class for years, good for nothing except servitude and slavery. Some few have elevated to craftsmen and above, but none are trusted. Laia’s parents wanted something better for the Scholars; so they were killed. Years later Laia lives with her grandparents and her brother, Darin, but that too is about to change.

When he’s caught with sketches of a Martial forge, Darin is arrested for treason. Her grandparents are killed, their shop burned to the ground; the work of a Mask—the Empire’s faceless assassins. Laia manages to escape—but her alone. With no other option, she is forced to turn to the Resistance, though they’ve already ruined her life once.

Elias is a soldier. Born a Veturius—the daughter of one of the most renowned and elite families in the Empire—he was the son Keris never wanted. As such he grew up a faceless tribesman, before he was found out and brought home to the Empire by his grandfather. There he was sent to Blackcliff, the prestigious military academy, to follow in his mother’s footsteps. It was an honor he never dreamt of and a fate he never wanted.

As Laia is a slave by birth, so too is Elias.

Yet neither is keen to stay that way.

Elias plans to defect, to leave the Empire—and his family—behind. But the Augurs, immortal architects of the Empire, have other plans. See, the Emperor is dying, and without an heir, the line won’t last the year. And so a contest is announced to determine the next ruler—and the Augurs want it to be Elias.

Meanwhile, all Laia wants is her brother. But the Resistance isn’t willing to free him for nothing. So to help her brother, Laia is recruited as a spy. She is to gather information about the Empire: their movements, their secrets, anything useful—and report it to the Resistance. But to free Darin, she has to find something worthwhile. And to find something worthwhile, she has to go somewhere important. Somewhere like Blackcliff.

*—•—*

I read about 70% of this as an audiobook, before my library loan expired. Then, I read the rest as an ebook. While both were decent platforms, the audio was highly immersive, with great voice talent that really got into their parts. Though I probably read through the most tense, thrilling, and heart-pounding sections at the end, I never enjoyed the story more than in its audio-format.

All in all, I was a big fan of AEitA. But… I think it was a little too intense for me. This book has all the tension of a YA fantasy under the constant strain of puberty. I mean, CONSTANT. Laia is high-energy paranoid, and with the stress of having to save her only brother WHILE going undercover in Blackcliff knowing that all the previous spies that have done so have died AND ostensibly doing it alone—it kind of shows. She is highly strung, but for a very good reason. This made her chapters all high-energy, fully pumped up, heart-pounding stress and tension. Elias, meanwhile, is almost as intense; trying to survive Blackcliff, while dealing with the added pressure garnered by the name Veturius, and the constant tug-of-war between his desire to desert the Empire and the loyalty he shares with his few friends and comrades, particularly his best friend Helene—whom he may or may not be in love with. [Yes, I realize those were both run-on sentences—no, I am not rewriting them.]

Both POVs confronted the normal issues YA stories deal with. But instead of one or two, they decided to tackle pretty much ALL OF THEM. Which, understandably, made everything pretty intense, energetic, and angsty. I found myself conflicted between the desire to find out what happened next and the need to stop reading and avoid the wave of stress that only YA development can cause.

As such, the romance was in parts fierce, intense and terribly awkward. As most YA romance is, generally. While I loved the characters in AEitA, none were stronger than those of its love-triangle. And while I hate everything about love-triangles in books, since I loved all the characters within this one—I still hated it. I’m not getting into this now. Or ever. Sufficient to say that I find said triangles to be awkward, annoying, angsty, and an unwelcome flashback to my youth where everything was awkward and so brutally important and cringe-worthy all the time. The romance wasn’t a bad-teen-romcom or together-forever romance. But it wasn’t not these things either.

As I said, I loved the characters. Elias and Helene dominated one half of the text, and as the story progressed, both characters continued to grow and develop. As does the relationship between the two. On the other side, we have Laia and Keenan (a Resistance fighter). I never bought into this romance, which seemed like it was introduced just to counter the possible Elias-Helene one. Keenan barely gets any screen time, and remains as weak and unfleshed a character as when he was introduced. And, while I mostly enjoyed Laia, she also infuriated me. Where Elias developed, she pretty much remained the same. Stubborn, paranoid, and standoffish—pretty much early stages Katniss throughout the whole book. Towards the end, her chapters began to annoy me in a very startling way—which was both good and bad. Bad, as she was frustrating. Good, as it demonstrated just how much I had bought into the story.

The characters of Markus and Keris were also quite strong. Okay, so mainly just Keris. Where Markus was your classic unhinged sociopath, Keris showed depth, change and insight—a potent combination for a character obviously designed to be a villain. Over the course of the book, we get to see quite a lot more of Elias’s mother than would be comfortable, but I was surprised to find a logic behind her thoughts and actions, and a justification later on. I’m not giving anything away—just that it was eye-opening to say the least.

The only other weakness I can think of is the setting. The world isn’t very well fleshed out in the first book, something I hope is corrected in further installments. I’d like to see more of the land beyond deserts, imposing fortresses, prisons, cities and tunnels. It all had kind of a dark and dreary cast in my imagination—I’d like to see a bit more vibrance from the setting in the future. Furthermore, a greater understanding of the supernatural world would be nice as well. We’re given just a peek of it in AEitA, with hardly any accompanying explanation.

TL;DR

While it may seem like your classic, run-of-the-mill YA fantasy-romance, An Ember in the Ashes isn’t satisfied with just tackling a few of the YA tropes—it does them all. Youthful development, romance, growth, love, hate, war, depth, sacrifice and compromise—seriously, it does them ALL. And though it helped make this read incredibly immersive, it was the characters that made it real for me. Elias and Helene, and Laia, were strong enough to carry the story through a dark and dreary, unassuming world, filled with men and monsters alike, as well as some of both. What brought me back to earth was the romance—a cringe-worthy dual love-triangle—one side of which never felt real. Adding to this was Laia’s refusal to develop, maintaining the detached, stubborn cast she’d cultivated throughout the entire text. When the rubber hit the road and all the threads converged, Laia stubbornly kept on as she had, annoying me and the plot alike.

While it has both ups and downs, An Ember in the Ashes definitely puts more to the good than the ill, making it a must-read YA fantasy that hopefully will only get better with time. A tetralogy (means “four”) that is set to wrap up later this year, An Ember in the Ashes continues with A Torch Against the Night, a book I’m definitely looking forward to reading. Probably as an audiobook. After that… we’ll see how it goes.

Tales of Beedle the Bard – by J.K. Rowling (Review)

Hogwarts Library #3

Short Stories, Fantasy

Bloomsbury; December 4, 2008 (original)

Pottermore Publishing; March 31, 2020 (audio)

109 pages (HC) 1 hr 35 min (audio)

3 / 5 ✪

A quick little reminder about how cool Harry Potter was. And probably a subtle hint to buy more merchandise and hey maybe your friends would like some too, and hey you know that one family member who hasn’t read the series, you could gift them it now, yeah?

Remember Harry Potter? Dude, yay-high, lightning scar, glasses, wizard. No, no, not “wizzard”. That’s the other one. This is the Daniel Radcliffe one. He was also in that other thing that you probably saw but then regretted it as it wasn’t Harry Potter.

If you don’t remember Harry Potter, I think the first book is still free a bunch of places. If you’re interested, google it. But for the people that remember the Wizarding World, Tales of Beedle the Bard is a quick reminder of how much fun that world could be. Especially at times such as these—where some of us are stuck in, others are stuck out, and the rest are in the fantastic land of in-between—fun is badly needed. Enclosed within the hundred-odd pages there are four new tales from the world of Harry Potter and one tale most of us have probably heard before.

The Wizard and the Hopping Pot begins the Tales, a brief reminder of how those that hoard their magic will never find peace from it. The Fountain of Fair Fortune was my favorite of the tales, and teaches the lesson that if you think your life is bad, well, someone else probably has it worse. The Warlock’s Hairy Heart pushes the point that you can’t hide from your feelings without the consequences being impossible to live with. Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump shows that anything can be lovely, but some things you can’t afford “to fake it til you make it”, and consequences be damned. And the Tale of the Three Brothers—which was featured in the books—returns to stamp home the point that you can’t hide from Death, because… no, wait. Never mind—the last one has no moral.

TL;DR

So, five stories, four of them new, and four with morals. I swear that the Tales were used as some kind of history read in Harry Potter, so these folk tales with morals attached make little sense here. I guess it’s just a little lore that will remind you how fun and cool Harry Potter was and how much you should go back and read them now. For diehard fans (which I am not—I like the world and the story enough, but y’know, I like other stories too) (it’s not a Stormlight level of good, anyway), I guess it’d be a must-read. If you’ve Audible, it’s free, so the read was worth it. But otherwise… meh. Pretty light, nothing too deep. It’s mildly fun and interesting, though nothing special.

Audio Note: The narration was the strongest part. A star-studded cast feature, each reading a separate tale. Considering this was free, it’s incredibly well narrated.

Tunnel of Bones – by Victoria Schwab (Review)

Cassidy Blake #2

Supernatural, Paranormal, Middle Grade

Scholastic Press; September 3, 2019

304 pages (ebook) 5 hr 5 min (audio)

3.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

Trouble is haunting Cassidy Blake… even more than usual.

Thus begins Tunnel of Bones, the second Cassidy Blake story, following up City of Ghosts in 2018. Fresh out of Edinburgh, where she tangled with the Red Raven, a spectral lady with aims of becoming flesh reborn. She also met Lara, a girl that can also see and interact with the dead, and whom lets Cassidy in on a little secret. That they must use their power to send the ghosts on, lest they linger in our world and become a danger to it. Enter Paris: one of the most haunted cities in the world.

Not above ground—but below, in the catacombs, ghosts crowd the tunnels, haunting everything and everyone in reach. Fresh into Paris, Cassidy and her parents venture below, filming an episode for their TV show while Cassidy tags along, attempting very hard to slip between the Veil as soon as she’s able. And slip she does. While in the spirit world, Cassidy runs across more than she was prepared for, awakening a very powerful spirit who proceeds to follow her across the Veil.

Thus begins a cat-and-mouse haunting in the center of Paris—where Cassidy is most certainly not the cat. And as a cat, it delights in toying with her, breaking things, and sleeping in the sun. Well… two of those, anyway.

After speaking to Lara, she determines that the spirit is a poltergeist—a ghost of immense power and potential—something that remembers neither who it was nor how it died. Two things Cassidy must discern in order to stop it. And stop it she must—in only a few days. Otherwise, while Cassidy Blake will leave Paris behind, the poltergeist will always remain her problem, her doing, her mistake. And she will have to live with the consequences.

I was torn on City of Ghosts, which I found lacking polish, drama, and shine. I found it rather bland, uninteresting, and short. Tunnel of Bones had more character, polish, but was still short. There’s only so good a story can get in five hours. But Tunnel of Bones surely gets better, quicker than City of Ghosts. To compare the two: Bones had more polish, more charm, more character. Though neither provided the length, the thrill, the immersion that I like in a story.

Again, I found the actual ghost-hunting itself a little bland. Dismissing a poltergeist proved to be more interesting than the Red Raven, but only just. There was no boss-fight (not that I expected one), very little detective work (though there was some), and too much chocolate (only because I can’t eat any). Pretty much like an episode of Danny Phantom—short, less than very thrilling, and over before you realized there was a plot. Was better than the first, though, so it was a step in the right direction.

Jacob is… bland. Lara—who was a cynical, pompous brat in City of Ghosts—actually fleshes out some in this entry. She actually seemed a real person over Bones, something that I did not expect. Something that pleased and encouraged me. Actually may’ve been my most favorite element of the book itself. But while it was something, it was little enough as development goes. Not that there is much character development to speak of, but between the two books there is a little, and Lara accounts for most of it. Cassidy commands the remainder. Jacob… okay, I know he’s a ghost and all, but I would’ve liked to see something out of him. Schwab tries to nudge him toward it in the end, but it’s too little, too late by that point. Might set something up for the third book, but does nothing for the first two. Jacob is actually a little like an imaginary friend; there’s no change, no development—he’s consistent, for better or worse.

There’s one particular event that I need to harp on: late in the book, Cassidy literally mugs a ghost and steals his clothes to disguise Jacob—something that makes no actual sense. We’ve established that ghosts manifest beyond the Veil following their death, and that how they appear in death is directly related to both who they were in life and how they died. It’s their sense of self, basically. One cannot steal someone else’s sense of self and wear it around. And it’s an important plot-point, somehow! If an absolutely ridiculous one.

Audio Note: Reba Buhr is a solid narrator throughout the book. I wouldn’t read the series entirely to hear her voice, but it’s not like it ruined the reading or anything. She was a talented, interesting narrator who enunciated and pronounced everything quite well—both in English and French.

TL;DR

For better or worse, Tunnel of Bones continues on the same path City of Ghosts started, albeit with more polish and shine. There’s even a bit of character development, though not nearly enough. It looks like we’re going to continue in this vein—an episodic, city-to-city, traveling ghost-hunting show. There’s an overarching plot, but it’s thin; as befits a kids’ book, I suppose. Each book so far has shown its own subplot, which has been raced through in the (5 hours of) allotted time. Going forward, I would like to see a little more effort, a little more adventure, a little more intrigue, a little more legwork, and a little… MORE. While Tunnel of Bones is likely better than the original, it still leaves much to be desired. But in terms of readability—it’s good enough; a decent read, that does just enough but little more.

The series continues with Bridge of Souls, expected out in March of 2021.

By some amazing coincidence, I’ve posted this exactly one year after my review of the first one. Huh, weird.

The Fall of the Readers – by Django Wexler (Review)

Forbidden Library #4

Fantasy, YA, Middle Grade

Kathy Dawson Books; December 5, 2017

368 pages (ebook) 7hr 51min (audio)

4.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

So ends the Forbidden Library series. I’ve immensely enjoyed it, and am happy to report that Fall of the Readers was no different! While 2019 was the Year of Django in my book, it seems the future is bright for him. A pair of books out from him this year, with City of Stone and Silence following the debut of Ship of Smoke and Steel that I was a bit torn on. Ashes of the Sun is due out this summer, and my expectations are high. But let’s not (me) get distracted. So, the Fall of the Readers…

With Geryon defeated and imprisoned within a book, Alice reigns over the library. For now. The other Readers, sensing a shift in the balance of power, have come to take Geryon’s realm for themselves. While Alice thought she was prepared for what came ahead, she didn’t imagine just how hard it would be. Soon, the library is under threat. As are all the book realms within it. As are her friends; all the apprentices come under her protection. Alice is outmatched, and she knows it.

So when Ending—Alice and Geryon’s tentative ally—and the library’s labyrinthian, suggests an insane, last-ditch effort, Alice has no real choice but to pursue it. The goal is clear: she must free the labyrinthians, one and all, from their imprisonment. Then, together the free Labyrinthian and young Readers will turn their combined strength upon the elder Readers. And moving forward, the two can work as one to build a better world.

In theory, it’s a lovely ideal. But full of some pretty big “ifs”. Not to mention a mission that is almost certainly sure to fail. And with the old Readers closing in, Alice and her friends must hurry through it, just praying they have enough time to put the desperate plan into action. Because even if it works—and that’s a mighty big IF—and all of them survive, the old Readers are still a powerful enemy. There may be no way to defeat them, regardless of what Alice and the others do. And, well… Alice has more worries than just them. For even if her plan goes off without a hitch, what assurances does she have that Ending and the others will keep their word?

But then, what choice does she have, really?

As Wexler’s YA/Middle Grade series comes to a close, we’re confronted with some desperate, insane, and equally unlikely plans. Alice has always been an idealist, though in recent books, she’s begun to lose a bit of her luster. Her character development over the series has really been interesting, especially as it comes at a middle-grade level. But with all that has come and gone, Alice’s journey is far from over. And the final book may provide the biggest bombshell yet.

While I was sad to see the series end, I can report that it ends well. None of that cliffhanger or end-of-the-world/everyone-dies nonsense. There’s a bit of melancholy to it, but I don’t want to give any more away, so I’m going to leave it at that.

The pace of the book doesn’t let up. Being the final book in the series, it picks up early and never really slows down. There’re very few issues with lag, or the pace letting up, or even the story going off on a tangent. It’s pretty much straightforward to the end. More than one surprise is in store, and the (shall we say) “biggest” bombshell may not be the last. I didn’t have any problem rolling through this one, despite the fact that I lost my loan halfway through and had to start over a month or so later.

Audio Note: After four books, Cassandra Morris’s rendition of Alice has been perfected. Even halfway through the second book I had come to realize that I’d probably hear her voice in my head if I ever had to just read the books instead of listening to them. And while I didn’t have to (for very long, at least), even a few months between finishing the series and completing its review I can still her her voice in my head while I write this. While I was skeptical of her portrayal at first, I’ve certainly come around. Morris totally nailed Alice here, and I hope to read more of her narration later on!

TL;DR

The final entry in the Forbidden Library series was worth the wait. It was also worth reading the previous three to reach. The combined stories, along with those of its characters came together to create a lovely ending. Alice’s journey was a great one to travel. While her romance was a bit up and down (even here in the final book), her motivations, her story, her development as a character were all amazing. When compared with Wexler’s clunky start to the YA Wells of Sorcery, Fall of the Readers is even more of a triumph, and a must-read for anyone that enjoys middle-grade or even YA fantasy. With fantastic world-building end to end, relatable characters, an inventive setting, and provocative and thoughtful story, Fall of the Readers is a great end to a great series.

Randomize – by Andy Weir (Review)

Forward Collection #6

Short Story, Scifi

Amazon Original; September 17, 2019

28 pages (ebook); 48 min (audio)

2 / 5 ✪

Niki Hawkes just did this too over on her site, and her review’s about the same—if a little less positive. She influenced me to read this, though you really wouldn’t expect it from what she said about it.

A short heist thriller, from The Martian author Andy Weir, aims to deliver both suspense and drama for an morning commute or afternoon tea. Sadly, this story falls well short of anything thrilling—instead managing only to fill that afternoon with mild disappointment. And tea.

Nick Chen has an problem. IT Manager for the Babylon Casino in Vegas, his job is safe as long as his boss’s money is. So far, the random number generator running the casino’s keno system has done what it does best: randomly generate numbers. But with the release of quantum computers, that’s no longer the case. Now the numbers can be tracked and predicted, so long as the someone has the money, equipment and expertise to do so. It may seem like long odds, but Nick prefers no odds to long ones. Fortunately, Nick has a solution. And all it’ll take is approval from his boss, Edwin Rutledge. That, and a ton of money.

Sumi Singh has a problem. A genius of epic proportions, she married down—but fell in love. Despite her faith in her husband Prashant’s business, they’re a bit empty on funds, a bit lacking in space, and a bit out of time. They need money—and they need it now. Luckily, Sumi has a plan. And all it’ll take is a quantum computer, a prescribed set of numbers, and a certain casino. And she can already smell the success.

So, a short story, built upon a heist like Ocean’s 11. Too bad it’s so short.

Randomize tells a complete story in a small package. Only 28 pages, or 48 minutes in audio form. It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t very interesting. After an incredibly quick setup, Weir skips right to the suspense. Except there really isn’t any. It’s a thriller that didn’t thrill. It’s fairly tepid, really. With the quick build, there wasn’t a sense of conflict, nor a chance to bond with or care about any of the characters. Now the characters seemed legitimately interesting. But then everything’s wrapped up and the story ends. I find it difficult to care about anything that takes half the time trying to explain the technology that makes the story coherent only to later wrap everything up in half a damn page.

TL;DR

Imagine a 10 minute version of Ocean’s 11. How would one inject such a thing with all the action, all the suspense, all the drama into a piece so short? Well, as it turns out, one wouldn’t. Randomize is a thriller that doesn’t thrill. A way to spend your commute or your afternoon if you don’t care about substance, excitement or plot. It’s not the worst thing that you could read, but even if you think it might be—then it’s over. If you got it free (like I did), and you’ve some time to kill: knock yourself out. Otherwise, skip it.

So, just a quick one today. Tomorrow there’ll be a longer, better review of an upcoming ARC, due out Tuesday. Maybe come back and check it out! Also, has anyone read any of the other Forward Collection? Are they worth reading? I’ve done a pair now, and my opinion of them is pretty split. If you missed the review of Summer Frost—find it here!

Pile of Bones – by Michael J. Sullivan (Brief)

Legends of the First Empire Novella, Prequel

Novella, Fantasy, Epic

Audible Exclusive; January 7, 2020

67 min (audio)

3 / 5 ✪

Pile of Bones is an interesting interlude in the Legends of the First Empire series, actually set before the events of Age of Myth, back when Suri and Minna were just two sisters roving the forest under the semi-watchful eye of Tura. The short involves a chamber filled with bones, a raow, and the story behind Suri’s distaste for enclosed spaces. While the lore for the raow was interesting, and the glimpses of Minna and Suri together again was kinda heartwarming—the real reason to read this prequel is certainly to learn more about Suri’s dislike of tight spaces. Over the course of the roughly 45 minutes spent in the forests of Elan, I learned, I laughed, I loved—but there was nothing earth-shattering here—and I gained a deeper appreciation of Suri’s aversion to claustrophobia. As I read this between the events of Age of Legend and Age of Death, this gave me insight into her actions over the course of both books.

Time Gerard Reynolds is a pretty good narrator. If you’ve not heard him before, he does all the Riyria stuff. So, if you liked him—good news, you can listen to the entire series now! If you didn’t like him—yeaaah, maybe don’t listen to any of Sullivan’s books.

TL;DR

Honestly, if you didn’t read that, I don’t know what to tell you. While Pile of Bones won’t add much to your understanding of Elan or the overarching story of the Legends of the First Empire, it is a decent bit of backstory. It’s about an hour read—free, too. I’d recommend it for anyone interested in the series or new to it. Also, anyone who’s just finished Books 4 or 5. Or even anyone who is new to audio and is questioning whether or not they want to delve deeper into it as a way to read more.

The Palace of Glass – by Django Wexler (Review)

The Forbidden Library #3

Fantasy, YA

Kathy Dawson Books; April 12, 2016

368 pages (ebook); 8hr 15min (audio)

4 / 5 ✪

The Palace of Glass encapsulates what I love about fantasy in general. Adventure, new worlds, new imagination, action, wit, and epic quests. While I was a little less thrilled by the back half of the story, nor the manner in which it transitioned from one portion to the next, the third book in the Forbidden Library series was still a must read for me. I want to mention right away—Cassandra Morris does an excellent job reading Alice! She plays an excellent part, equal parts excitement and trepidation, with more than her fair share of determination. A perfect Alice!

Following the events of The Mad Apprentice, Alice is left with a terrible choice. Whether to continue to accept her father’s killer as her master, or to turn against him knowing full well it will likely mean her death. For she now knows what fate befalls apprentices that betray their masters. And yet, this is a fight Alice knows she can’t avoid. Because—really—there is no choice.

She’s not alone in this fight, however. The labyrinthine Ending has her back—at least kind of. She provides Alice a spell that might just imprison Geryon if Alice can catch him unaware. But the spell is specific, and she’ll only have one shot at it. Now, the spell will bind her uncle, but Alice needs somewhere to put him afterwards. As she can’t imagine killing him—despite what he did to her father—Alice requires a certain item to help her defeat him. Specifically, a certain book. A prison book.

Lucky for her, Geryon is called away, leaving Alice in charge in his stead. Unfortunately, she has but a week before he returns. And the prison book she requires lies deep, deep within the magical realms of the library itself. But even if Alice can get in and retrieve it, AND escape with her life all in the space of one week, will she have the fortitude to use it? Her anger is great, but time dampens all wounds. And even should she succeed in imprisoning Geryon—what then? Who will run the library in his absence? And what will Alice do, when her uncle’s fellow Readers fall upon her, seeking revenge?

So much stress for someone so young. Or anyone, really.

The Palace of Glass actually tells two stories in one. The first involves Alice and her revenge upon her uncle, who—rather than actually killing her father like she claimed, more just let him die (so, still a dick, but not exactly as big of one). While I’m trying to be all enigmatic and non-spoilery about it, I think you can guess what happens. Yup, she returns from her adventures to find Geryon waiting, then they have a dance battle to decide the fate of the library. Ending MCs. The second part of the story deals with the fallout from this epic dance battle. The other readers, feeling the explosion of magic (beats) from the library, deploy in force, sensing blood in the water. The winner is forced to defend themselves and the library, maybe with help from the creatures within. And maybe some other friends.

Both stories are good. The disconnect, however, is a bit awkward. I mean, it’s worse to review without trying to spoil, but the transition between the two tales doesn’t exactly flow great. I had to actually take a little break in between the parts because I had trouble just jumping from one to the next. It’s not that everything changes—but several things do. We go from realms of magical worlds, magical creatures and amazing, little-seen worlds—to the library, with humans, hip hop dance beats, and labyrinthine. Labyrinthines? Labyrinthine? It’s under an umbrella of magic, but still. The stories are different, the motivations and actions and results are mostly different. There’s just a bit of a hiccup here, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Just a bit awkward.

The characters of the Forbidden Library continue to be my favorite aspect of the series. Don’t get me wrong—I love the adventure. The magic. The story. But the characters are all unique, interesting, and propelled by their own motivations. Their interactions are key to the success of the story (or in this case BOTH stories), and the story IS a success. I especially love Alice, which is great since she’s the lead. Inherently likable, but also human. Now, there isn’t a whole lot of character development, but this is a YA (or middle-grade) series, so I really didn’t expect much. It is disappointing, though. The other old Readers make an appearance, along with a whole host of magical creatures. The labyrinthine Ending and Ashes are back, as are several familiar faces among the apprentices. There’s also one important guest star, whom I won’t spoil.

The creatures and realms of PoG stole the show for me. While the characters are the stars of the series, the adventure is the highlight of the book. Wexler does an excellent job of painting alien worlds, creatures, which my mind was more than happy to run with. While the exploration of new and unique is pretty much confined to the first half of the book, don’t worry—there’s plenty of excitement and surprises waiting in the second half.

TL;DR

Despite trying to tell two stories in one, The Palace of Glass is another successful entry in the Forbidden Library quartet. Mostly, it pulls it off. A small disconnect exists between the two tales, though nothing too distracting. As usual, the reader Cassandra Morris is a great help to the story—not to mention an excellent Alice—moving everything along even when the pacing got uneven. The characters are the real reason to read this book. As in the rest of the series, the characters are key, providing interesting interactions, dynamic, conversation and wit. Just don’t expect too much in the way of development. This is a YA series, after all. Recommended to everyone, but specifically fans of adventure, YA, or fans of Wexler’s other books. If you haven’t read any of the series, I’d recommend starting at the beginning. And since I’ve now finished it I can say—don’t worry, you shouldn’t be disappointed.

The Forbidden Library quartet concludes with The Fall of the Readers, out since 2017.