Wednesday, 28 October 2020

#bookreview: A Castle Sealed | Sharon Rose

A Castle Sealed (Castle in the Wilde #0.5)A Castle Sealed by Sharon Rose
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an amusing old-style novella of Lord Tristan hearing about a mysterious secret castle and then digressing to find it, despite the stories of terrible beasts and adventurers who never return. There's an odd formality to the writing style, which works most of the time.

The story is so heavily focused on Tristan's adventures, that the two chapters featuring Beth felt a little shoehorned in. I suppose it's important to find out who she is and why it matters, but I think the novella could have been fine on its own without ever introducing her.

But seeing as this is a prequel novella leading on to the main course... it does pique your interest!

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday, 9 September 2020

#bookreview: Chosen | T. Sae-Low

Chosen (Prophecy Rock #2)Chosen by T. Sae-Low
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Chosen picks up where Genesis ends: the two Chosen (or Candidates) must further hone their powers and prove their worth to their respective nations.

Sae-Low takes you back into the fantastic where gods and monsters still walk the earth. Is the Black truly evil? Or is he just misunderstood? Do the Ancients really want what’s good for humankind, or are they playing by their own obscure rules? The Vicedonians and the Renzai fight for land and dominance, using difference of beliefs as an excuse—but what if there’s something more—something bigger—that hides behind the name of religion? And in the midst of it all, a new enemy arises.

I didn’t find Chosen as exciting as Genesis—I guess there’s only so much outa you can take before it hits a maximum enjoyment level. However, there’s a lot of character development in this one. Sae-Low obviously believes in the “throw them in the deep end” school of learning, if the way things unfold are any indication. Magical monsters, dark shadows, strange illnesses, mystical seers, dragons, and hidden treasures all make an appearance to force them to grow and change.

This is actually where the Vicedonian empire grows so much more interesting. Renzai already kind of stands for “good”—Raden’s growth is really more about how he gains super moves, retrieves his magic weapon, and learns to trust in The One. But the fracturing Vicedonia is filled with conflict—between father and son, between brothers, within the council itself, and between “trueborn” Vicedonian people and the conquered Gokstads that have been absorbed into the empire. Mebbe I just like the colonised rising up against their colonial masters, eh.

Anyways, still a fun read though the war is far from over!

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday, 2 September 2020

#bookreview: Green World Gray | Marianne Modica

Green World GrayGreen World Gray by Marianne Modica
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How much history depends on one person? And how much of our future depends on our actions today?

Will and Halia Horace discover that every time Mom goes into the closet and exits in some kind of spaced-out bliss, she’s time-travelling to the past. But why? And how? Between Mom’s teary-eyed insistence on keeping their baby stuff and Dad’s drive to clear out the junk in the basement, it’s a mystery they have to solve to keep their family from falling apart. But that’s just the beginning. Faced with alternative futures that range from great to okay to really bad, Will and Hal have to figure out how to fix their family—especially when it’s their mom’s environmental work (or lack of it) that influences the future and there’s someone in the time stream who’s trying really hard to prevent it.

Green World Gray takes you on an exciting time-travel adventure filled with both fancy tech and sinister people. It explores the concept of watershed, where certain events or periods mark a turning point in a situation. Modica also emphasises that everyone is a watershed—we don’t know what things we do may influence the future. Even if we don’t become famous, it could be the small things we do that influence someone else, causing a ripple effect of change in our society.

I especially love the dynamics between the siblings. Thirteen-year-old Will is awkward, socially distant, and only cares about science—but he loves his family enough to do the things he dislikes in order to help both his mother and sister. Fifteen-year-old Halia doesn’t always understand Will, but when she’s faced with the opportunity to just forget about time-travel and live her life normally, she doesn’t. Because Will is now miserable—and the only time he was really happy and engaged was when he had access to the tech in the future. And it’s this willingness to sacrifice for each other’s happiness that really makes the difference.

Green World Gray is an excellent story on family, love, and working together to build a better world.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author. I was given the book with no expectation of a positive review and the review is my own.

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Wednesday, 26 August 2020

#bookreview: The Skylark's Sacrifice | JM Frey

The Skylark's Sacrifice (The Skylark Saga, #2)The Skylark's Sacrifice by J.M. Frey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WOW. If you started reading Skylark’s Song, you HAVE to read Skylark’s Sacrifice right to its heart-wrenching ending. I mean, I don’t see how you can stop.

Robin Arianhod is free. She can’t return home, but she’s doing what she can to bring the Klonn down by sabotaging their supplies and causing chaos from within their own borders. Her enigmatic captor is dead… or is he? Robin nearly gets captured, Coyote nearly dies saving her, and so she bolts to the only safe refuge she can think of—with the Klonn rebellion. With them, the tables are turned—her captor becomes her prisoner, and the Skylark gains new meaning.

Skylark’s Sacrifice is a twisting kaleidoscope of shifting loyalties, cultural clashes, and unexpected yet inevitable revelations. All the symbolism that Frey has layered in from the start of Skylark’s Song gains additional weight and unexpected importance. There’s so much that Robin (and the reader) has missed because she isn’t Klonnish, and so much that Rosa and the Coyote cannot understand because they are not Sealie. Yet as they work towards the same goal—to end the war—they need to start trusting each other.

Threaded through the story, and yet integral to it, The Skylark and the Coyote’s fraught courtship reads like a bittersweet fairy tale; they battle both the world around them and each other, always second guessing the other’s actions, and their true motives. Does Coyote truly love her? Or does he only want WINGS? Does the Skylark truly love him? Or is she just trying to use him to end the war so she can go home? Which one must give up their cultural identity and beliefs or can they find a gentle balance between the two?

But most of all, does falling in love with the enemy mean you are a traitor to your self and country?
Skylark’s Sacrifice delivers a sharp emotional punch. You gotta steel yourself for this one.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from REUTS Publications via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday, 19 August 2020

#bookreview: The Skylark's Song | JM Frey

The Skylark's Song (The Skylark Saga, #1)The Skylark's Song by J.M. Frey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I dunno. It took a while to actually get into this. It felt like the first three chapters were such a slog to get into. Is it because it’s steampunk? Is it because of the exposition? Is it because of the voice? I don’t know! It kinda bugged me a bit because I really wanted to like this book like super a lot because hey, it’s JM Frey. Lol (Sorry, I know I have biases). Maybe my head just wasn’t in the right place at the beginning, when it takes off, it takes off.

Robin Arianhod dances the sky with the Coyote despite all the factors against her: that she’s poor, female, and a Sealie. She knows she isn’t supposed to be there—but she’s fought her way through and she’s a survivor. She’s not going to let any Benne take her dreams away, now that she’s got it. But then the unexpected happens, and now the Klonn have her.

Frey delves into difficult themes in this duology, though it’s all very prettily packaged into an exciting adventure of one Sealie woman defeating the odds (and maybe falling in love). As much as wealthy white men try to tell the rest of the world that anyone can make it through hard work and grit, there are many factors that can keep a person down, no matter how hard they try. Wealth is one of them, and how its distributed. Education is another—and how much access someone has to it, which is usually due to wealth and opportunity. Talking about opportunity, that comes down to what is and isn’t open to you depending on where you come from (ethnicity), what you believe in (religion), or how much money you have to bribe your way in (oh look, wealth again). And luck, of course. Being in the right place at the right time, or knowing the right people—not just knowing, but having them like you as a person and not just as a token.

Aaaaannnywaaayyyy, Skylark’s Song is a fascinating dance of culture clashes, subterfuge and sabotage. There’s layer upon layer of meaning hidden between the lines, whether it’s marriage lines and honey, gliders and religious songs, or hairpins and chess. And then there is the hum of quiet respect, the buzz of distrust, and the tender pulses of new love. And the awful, awful question. Would you betray your country for love? Or would you betray your love for your country?

And how do you know if that love is real?

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from REUTS Publications via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday, 12 August 2020

#bookreview: Genesis | T. Sae-Low

Genesis (Prophecy Rock #1)Genesis by T. Sae-Low
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My cousin used to have this phrase to describe overly-fantastical, utterly unbelievable shows: “outa”*. Stories like Ultraman vs Godzilla, or involved some monk (probably drunk) flying from tree to tree and defeating a hundred soldiers with kungfu. So outa this story. Genesis fits into that mould—so fantastically outa and yet ridiculously fun as well. (Fireballs, anyone?)

Eos is torn apart by war. The gods have left and all that is left to guide them is an obscure prophecy inscribed on Prophecy Rock. The Renzai believe that the One is sending a saviour to bring unity and peace to Eos. The Vicedonians believe the Creator will choose a Candidate to restore mankind. Both sides search for the magical person endowed with the powers of the Ancients who will bring the war to a decisive end.

In most stories, there’s a clear good kingdom and bad kingdom, which the author is trying to get you to root for. Here, there’s no telling, as yet; Sae-Low shows you both sides of the story, with both kingdoms committing atrocities and also doing good for their citizens. If the protagonists are anything to go by though, I tend to be more sympathetic to Raden, a Renzai soldier orphaned at a young age, who’s driven by his promise to protect his sister Kimi. Prince Aric, spoilt second prince of the Vicedonian kingdom, is impulsive, bratty, and exasperating.

A question that would probably come up is “is this Wuxia?” To which I will answer, I don’t know, because I don’t follow Wuxia enough to be able to tell. It does have distinct East Asian influences, with sages who live forever (sorta), Moon Goddess mythology… and a lot of hand-thrown fireballs. (I keep thinking of Street Fighter lol)

* This is an approximation of how it sounds. It probably is some kind of Chinese phrase but since my Cina knowledge = 0, I cannot tell you what the word actually is or what the correct character/pinyin is. Lol.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Monday, 10 August 2020

#musicmonday: Never Going Back to OK | The Afters

Because I never felt this chorus so much before lol

We're never going back to OK
We're never going back to easy
We're never going back to the way it was
We're never going back to OK