By the Sword (Valdemar)

By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I have a strong feeling I would probably have loooved this book if I read it in my early teens.
In fact, I wish I had read it when I was 12-14.
You know, somewhere around the hormonal times where thoughts like ‘why do they try to force me into their standards and act like I have to choose between acting ‘womanly’ or being a lesbian and can’t just be as I am?!’ and ‘am I the strange one or is everyone else?!’ were the biggest hit.
(Well, unfortunately, they are still pretty relevant, just very much old and tired news by now.)
By page 150 I could almost imagine myself being 13 again while reading it.

So, if I was 13, I would likely be very happy to read something to empathise with like this, and I would probably also be very happy about the number of ‘lessons’ this book tries to present. How it goes through every teaching and training detail and explains why.
I probably also wouldn’t have minded as much the way it chews on every detail too…but as I am now, I kind of do.
Over-explaining is the world. The writing mostly feels like a meal that was pre-chewed for you so you wouldn’t have to do much chewing yourself.
Much of this book feels not like a ‘tale’ but like a ‘reference manual’…with strong feminist inclination.
It spends entirely too much time teaching reader how to think (by explaining how people think and feel, and why, in detail at every step).

It’s also full of details that certain kind of teenage girls would feel very strongly about. The herds of too-smart horses and bit-less bridles. The telepathic wolves. The main character who can be a saint (strong morals, strong feelings about fighting fair), stubborn as a mule, and also smarter than most people around (can run a household, natural with horse-training and riding, natural with fighting, natural with strategy and leading others, etc.)
A girl who is there to prove that she can be a better boy than a boy and still be an attractive girl.
Including all the emotional stuntedness.

In fact it was that emotional stuntedness prevented me from actually empathising with the main characters herself. While this book encompasses decades of her life, she doesn’t really seem to change or grow up. Kero learns skills, but she hardly feels different in the end of the book compared to how she was in the very beginning. Personally, I feel that she was missing a certain kind of emotional maturity throughout the whole book.

To sum up…
As I think the teenage girl I used to be would give this book 5 golden stars, and the adult me, who was honestly bored by the repetitive and slow prose and had to keep myself from cringing at times, would probably give 3, I have taken the golden middle.




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Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


First impression: This is fun and very well-written!
Second impression: …but this ‘(not so simple) PI with constant financial difficulties, tragic personal history, and everyone out to get him’ kind of protagonist also feels like a such an over-used concept…

I like this book a lot, but, to be honest, it begun losing me a little towards the end…instead of gripping me in hunger to catch every next word, it left me in the state of ‘and now I just want to get through all this action as fast as possible (skimming through some text) just to get through to the end’. And it’s not that I don’t like action. I think it was the overload of ‘frustration’ over everyone being out to get the main character a bit too much. The feeling you get when someone is desperately running against the clock and everyone else tries to get in their way by acting exceedingly stupid? I don’t handle it well.

Other than that, looks like a promising start of a series I’m looking forward to getting my hands on.



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Once Burned (Night Prince, #1)

Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A vampire romance for extra violent

I must say I was a little surprised no actually enjoy this book, partially because I was expecting another cheesy oversexualised super-hot-vampire-and-damsel-in-distress ‘female fantasy’ kind of story, and partially because I kind of hated “Halfway to the Grave“. (Though I didn’t even realise this was by the same author and belonged to the same universe until I was already reading.)

This book has an interesting heroine, who is neither the ‘innocent saint’ nor the ‘sassy bitch in miniskirt’ type of the usual vampire novel heroine, and this is one of the things I like about this book the most. She doesn’t lie to herself much, she deals with the shit that falls on her, she does what she needs to. Also, I have a tendency to prefer characters who maybe a little too fearless in a way that they stand up for the things they believe in, even in the circumstances where normal human instinct would tell them not to dig their own grave. She also has morals.
I haven’t read any “Night Huntress” books after DNFing the first one, so this feels like an impressive improvement from a clueless-serial-killer(psycho)-playing-at-dress-up type of main character I saw there.
I did, however, see the similar love for unnecessary over-the-top violence and torture. Not a fan. Especially because of the fact that its senselessness (unnecessary-ness) is so very glaring. I mean, could you actually explain to me what is the point of all the torture when you 1)can read minds and 2) actually have a person who can touch someone and tell you what they’ve done and where they’ve been better than anyone can torture out? I don’t know if the author is just so in love with all the gore, but it’s nothing but gore for the sake of gore, and we have a main hero and ‘love interest’ who continues to torture other vampires with no reasonable justification.
Now, speaking of Vlad, I didn’t actually mind that this is another book about the Vlad. Though I do suppose it is a bit of a tired idea.
What I did mind is the fact that it feels like the only aspect in which the fact that Vlad is a centuries old vampire is in any way reflected is his tendency for violent resolutions of everything. I can’t really explain what exactly I’m expecting to see, but I think that the fact that these ‘people’ have been around for a very long time and have ‘seen it all’ should have been made a little more believable. This Vlad only reads like some sort of modern businessmen, just an abnormally bloodthirsty one.

Also, I hate when people translate Voivode (Wojewoda) as ‘prince’, or use them as synonyms. That’s not what it means at all. Yes, you can be both, but inherent meanings in the titles are very different.



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We Hunt the Flame (Sands of Arawiya, #1)

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


For the most of this book, I though I would be able to at least give this book 3 stars (1 for its events, 5 for its words, divide the sum)…but somewhere closer to the final 3rd even the writing I found compelling and interesting had turned to the worse. While most of the prose in this is very well done and indicates a talent, there is really something wrong with the way relationships between people are written here. And the closer they became, the more that ‘wrongness’ stood out for me. But that’s not my biggest issue with this book.

I wonder when we will finally move out of this fashion of YA books that all begin the same: the theme of oppression, mental or physical slavery and domination, a presence of some kind of absolutely evil/disturbing/disgusting egocentric monarch getting off on abusing others, and our hero/heroes just taking it. The genders change, the worlds change, we can be on Earth, Cosmos, or some other land; we can change favourite English cuss word to ‘daama’ and ‘elves’ to ‘safir’, but it’s still all the same overused and tired formula.
These stories may be dressed in different images and names, but they all smell exactly the same. Of some weird YA fascination with abuse, humiliation, and misery that makes me vomit a little in my mouth. And of making death and torture trivial and commonplace.

Here, once again we have out shackled heroes grinding their teeth, psychopathic antagonist monarch torturing and killing for fun (or for some great purpose and fun) (who are also exactly the same in every book), reluctant forbidden attraction, hidden destiny to change the world…
You read and 50 pages in you can pretty much tell where this will go and which of the introduced characters will end up where. Then you read on hoping the book might still surprise you and prove you wrong…and in never does. If anything, it kept getting worse the closer it got the part III of the book. The childish

‘And then his grip
began
to falter.’

the awkwardly written ill-fitted developing relationship (even when you know it was going to happen from the very beginning, the way it was written in just felt…all wrong). And then the mess of an “ending” with so much wrong there too.

I don’t read YA that much, but even I find myself very tired from seeing this same set up and bone structure everywhere. I wish one day when I get a new YA book in my mail it would really be NEW.

That said, some do it better than others and it has to be said that the writing, imagination, and world building in this book are all at least admirably good. I believe the author really possesses a keen talent with words, but (only in my personal opinion) it’s a shame that it was used to join the line of identical YA misery stories.
Because no matter how attractive your characters are, and imaginative your world setting is, what matters in the end is the following:
Did this book tell me something new?
Did reading this book bring any positive or pleasant emotions? (Did it leave me with something good?)
Does it feel like I would want to revisit/re-experience/reread this book in the future?
And for me personally, answer to all these questions is the same – No .
Because why would I want to re-experience something that didn’t bring anything good or positive into my life?

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White Hot (Hidden Legacy, #2)

White Hot by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A rare occurrence in literary world—a second book of the series that is as good as the first, if not better. (Except for the cover, the covers are still cheesy and terrible.)
Gripping action, solid developments, compelling characters, powered-up romance. It’s a very difficult book to put down.

Personally, it’s the moments like this that I love the most about these books:

Rogan regarded me with his blue eyes, took out a baseball hat, and put it on. Dragon in camouflage, going down to the village to spy on the delicious people living there.
He clicked his teeth, biting through the air.
I had to stop thinking about dragons.

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Magic Dreams (Kate Daniels, #4.5)

Magic Dreams by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A very short side story. Personally, I didn’t really enjoy the Japanese culture involvement much. Firstly, because of how the cultural behaviors were painted. Secondly, because everyone always zeroes-in on jorougumo all the time. It gets old. (I do realize that this novella was written a while back.)
Jim is great (as always), but Dali’s low self esteem issues are a bit too idiotic (the ‘I think it’s better to be a pretty idiot, that be smart and look like me’ ones…she’s an idiot enough). I don’t think I enjoy how her character was painted here much at all. And it turned into a story of ‘good, strong, smart, and powerful’ man loving ‘an awkward idiot’ despite her idiocy…which also gets old.



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Whatever for Hire: A Magical Romantic Comedy (with a Body Count)

Whatever for Hire: A Magical Romantic Comedy by R.J. Blain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The body count might be a bit larger than usual (than in previous books). The main characters are great – unique, complex, and fun. My only complain is that I wish we had more time with them. Learn more about Malcolm, more about Kanika’s transformations and origins, more interactions with beings other than Satin and archangels, and so on. Then, there’s the fact that the ending is hardly complete and the little details like that we, as readers, missed the parts of which Kanika has no recollection. So I do hope there’s some kind of a sequel, because the mix of cultures in these two characters is really interesting and it would be terrific to explore them more.



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Blue Diablo (Corine Solomon, #1)

Blue Diablo by Ann Aguirre

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


It’s a skillfully written book, strongly above average, with some interesting concepts and characters, but it also felt…diluted. Or confused. Things are happening, but it also feels like nothing is. The beginning was definitely the better part of the book, while the end felt anticlimactic. To much of the set-ups seems to be aimed at the later books to come, so this book ended with very little actually resolved, which meant there was very little satisfaction from the reading experience overall.
There’s such thing as too many question marks.
Unfortunately, the worst part of this book is the protagonist. She is cowardly, manipulative, and too preoccupied with herself and deciding which one of the attractive men she should or shouldn’t ‘let herself get involved with’. She could be worse, I wouldn’t exactly put her together with the truly annoying female protagonists of paranormal romance I’ve seen before, but she’s still difficult to like.



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Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy, #1)

Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Other than the very much less-than-tasteful cover design, this could very well be the perfect mix of urban fantasy, action, and romance.
The world setting is powerful and distinct, the characters are interesting, deep, and developed. Nevada is not just another ‘I know how to kick their asses myself’ urban fantasy heroine. She has family, she has head on her shoulders, she has heart. Rogan may on surface seem like another ‘super hot male with too much money and power and damaged past’, but a) he does it well; b) there is more to things he does and why.
Some aspects of the story and future developments do seem predictable, but I think the tone and the way it’s done more than makes up for it.



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American Witch (American Witch, #1)

American Witch by Thea Harrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I’ve wavered between 3 and 4 stars for a while, and I might still change my mind… While I did enjoy most of the story and characters, there is a couple of points that really bothered me:
1) The Russian.
Rasputin is just such a tired and overused figure, when I saw the name I practically groaned. Then there’s the language… It made me feel like watching those tv dramas that think their audience are too stupid to care if they use Chinese actors who can’t pronounce Japanese words to act as Japanese and have a ton of American actors speak some kind of mumbo-jumbo pretending to sound Russian or any other kid of Slavic language. Okay, none of the words used were actually wrong, but… It just felt unnatural. For example, replacing word ‘darling/honey’ where it would fit in English sentences with Russian version is just not enough. Would it fit there if the sentence was in Russian? Would it be used in such way at all? Would it be natural for a male who lived in pre-revolution Russia to use these specific words and in such way? I’m not an expert, but my language instincts tell me ‘no’. It just felt unnatural. It’s a huge pet peeve for me.
2) The treatment of the main male character that is getting very old and tired.
We get an enigmatic, whole, character who is attractive in his drive and independence. The whole reader-favorite ‘dark and dangerous’ package. But then as the book unfolds he slowly gets morphed and forced to fit some kid of ‘ideal image from a woman’s perspective’, until at the very end he only says and does things like ‘a woman’ would want him to (with all the ridiculous proposals and sitting quietly in the background). This made me a little angry. For one, not all women like and want same things. For another, it just feels fake, and the concept of the male character just giving up all that he was and had, and then making him fit into the life the female character just decided to choose for herself is unfair and tiring. I don’t like it and this story flow has been used a few too many times already.



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A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1)

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


What I like about this book is that it’s like a big thick juicy steak. That you can chew and chew on. With some sauce. Maybe even some mashed potatoes on the side.
I don’t think it’s a book everyone would like (and not just because things like that don’t exist). This is not an action-packed book. In fact, a remarkably small percentage of these 690 pages is devolved to ‘exciting action’, as one may call it. And, admittingly, when it is, it tends to be of a somewhat frustrating/irritating variety, the kind where very strong people suddenly lose fights for no logical reason, or just make careless mistakes you would expect them to avoid.
Don’t get me wrong, there is enough of action and intrigues in here, but I don’t think this book will appeal to anyone who likes their fiction fast-paced or jaw-gripping.
This book will only appear to readers who will find themselves quite content to read through looong looong discussions of books, history, science, magic, wine, food, and a very slowly developing relationship on top of it all, with some more sinister events unfolding from time to time.
I’m also a bit biased because this book took me back to missing the good things about my days in Oxford.
I think a great deal of thought and effort went into creating this, and I think that the result turned out as big and delicious meal for the brain.
I can’t say there were’t any things I questioned in terms or believability and logic (or necessity), but I can say that they weren’t significant enough to spoil the experience or leave as lasting of an impression as the good things did.
It’s an ideal book to hide behind to have yourself a couple of long quite evenings of reading and tea. It’s also a perfect ‘first book’, a book where all the good stuff before the ‘shit hits the fan’ is, to re-read multiple times, regardless of how the rest of the series will unfold.



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Darkfever (Fever, #1)

Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Mostly dark, woman-hating, and sexual in a decidedly unpleasant way fae-themed urban fantasy.

While the language itself was not unpleasant and there were enough of interesting turns of phrases and stylistic choices that could have made this book a bit above average writing-wise, the story content and details made it feel rather cheap.
The things the main character focused on (pink nail polish, hair, clothing, expensive cars) and the descriptions of the main character in her own words (overly emphasized attractive qualities, sometimes unrealistic, and the ‘I could never become ugly’ approach); the fact that sex is only present as a weapon of humiliation and death (and scenes with V’lane were so cringy I practically had to skip them); the fact that there is not a single positive character in the whole book (women who are alive are other bitches or brainless trophies, men are either villains or just bullies; every single person tries to walk over others)…
I haven’t read many books with this kind of ‘recounting’ (looking back approach) style of narration, but I have to say I really don’t like it. As in, saying: “Before long, I would understand that nothing had been what it seemed that night, and the reason … was not…” and then doing nothing to explain what it actually was. I don’t know if someone who thinks they know all about writing said that this is a good technique to use to keep readers interested, personally I find it nothing but annoying. If you’re not going to say what it is just don’t say it…
Since there hardly was anything pleasant or positive/attractive in the whole book, for me this was a kind of book I just couldn’t get done and over with soon enough… A tiring experience.



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Call of the Highland Moon (The MacInnes Werewolves Trilogy, #1)

Call of the Highland Moon by Kendra Leigh Castle

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I’m not sure how to categorize this impression I’ve got from this book… On one side it felt almost childish, on another it reminds me of a b-rated fantasy movie, especially with the very villainy villains and magic stones with magic crystals. The writing didn’t feel engaging, especially the villainy parts, I could barely keep myself from skipping some of them because they were both boring and unpleasant. But the biggest were these details that kept poking out… like (let’s take the very beginning) woman finding a bleeding wounded animal at her workplace, loading it into her car, taking it home, dumping it in her spare room and going to sleep to wait and see if it’s going to be alive in the morning or not? In what world this was supposed to make sense?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a question of compatibility, but this really didn’t work for me.



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Serpent's Kiss (Elder Races #3)

Serpent’s Kiss by Thea Harrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This was a bumpy ride, and I couldn’t tell if I’m going to give it 5 stars or lower than 3 half of the time… I really loved some parts of it, maybe even the whole first half, but I also have 2 major problems with this book that spoiled my experience and left me a bad aftertaste. (In fact, it also made me suspicious about the rest of the series I thought I would love…)
I was actually a little cautious about this book ever since I finished the previous one and got the hint of who this will be about in the end of it…because I didn’t like Carling in the previous book, and because I felt Rune should have a better story. As I was reading, I eventually saw that Carling was a very interesting character, and especially liked the glimpses of the past. But just as I was about to say ‘I was wrong and I probably will give this 5 stars’ I reached the ‘dressing up and painting face’ episode and my excitement fled down the drain. I’m sorry, but having people buy women make up and want them to put it on is a giant turn off. As are men who care about women using make up. And it made me very disappointed because Rune was really my favorite male character in this series right up to that point… This was the problem numero 1. The second problem was the whole damn ending – I felt many missed opportunities, scrambled events, a boring solution to what was a really interesting set up… and most importantly, personally, the fact that they didn’t go back to New York. Is this how this series is going to go from now on? Sentinels abandoning their lives and places that supposedly spent hundreds of years in, as well as abandoning their friendships and all other responsibilities, and just making their lives all about living on the terns of their mates’ circumstances? I don’t know, maybe it’s supposed to be romantic, to show them, as men, just giving it all up…but it feels wrong and idiotic, especially regarding their relationship with Dragos. I don’t like it. With Rune especially, the way this book ended spoiled my impression of the whole book, and made me afraid of reading the next one because I don’t want to read about another one doing the same thing Tiago and Rune did…



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Curran POV Collection

Curran POV Collection by Gordon Andrews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I’ve been looking forward to reading this compilation and waited until I finished Magic Bleeds…but now I think I oversold it to myself.
I have a strong feeling the Curran in the main books gave out impression of something deeper, more intent, more awareness…in other words, it a clear case of ‘the version in my head was better’. Especially with regards to the first half of excerpts…the amount of insight they provided was a bit disappointing. The second half was better, but still…it could have been more.



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