The Flaming Sword

Blurb: Sadie Larcen and her family are slowly recovering from their life-altering trek to the Tethered World. That is until their aunt arrives clutching a mysterious letter and sporting a black eye. The letter that Aunt Jules shares with the family writhes with sinister implications. A new and menacing enemy has slunk from the shadows and is conspiring to seize the most powerful piece of weaponry in the land: The Flaming Sword of Cherubythe. The sword must—at all costs—be kept from the enemies who lust for its power.

The threat extends to Sadie’s autistic brother Brock. As High King in training, he now resides in the Tethered World, within close proximity to the sword. It’s apparent that drastic measures will be required by all in order to protect what’s most important. Can Sadie once again confront her disabling fear, stare evil in the face, and walk away whole—let alone alive? How can one teenage girl and her family save a sword with the potential to start a world war? Will lines be crossed even as Sadie’s faith is tested? Sadie knows it’s going to take a lot more than strength, grit, and courage to survive.

I enjoyed The Tethered World quite a bit so I jumped at the chance to read the ARC of The Flaming Sword (The Tethered World Chronicles #2 by Heather L.L. FitzGerald). And I managed to inhale it in two sittings, too.😉  The story picks up almost immediately after the last one ended and while there is some recapping to refresh readers memories, it has a good balance for those who need it and those who don’t. This time we get two point-of-views and I especially enjoyed learning more about Sadie’s brother Brady. It’s always fun watching a character grow and mature and he’s a very likable character. You may remember I thought the first book leaned a little more toward MG than YA – well, I didn’t have that feeling with this one. It is just a touch more serious, a touch more mature. The romance is still mild but highly enjoyable.

Oh – I don’t remember noticing in The Tethered World (because it’s stated simply and not emphasized) but there’s a lot of ethnic diversity among the gnomes and Nephilim – it’s a nice element that makes the world-building fuller and I expect many readers appreciate. If there was one thing that slightly bothered me, it was at times I felt like the travels were repetitive – mainly because Sadie and Brady’s separate adventures covered the same ground, just at different times. We also learn some Larcen family history and, while the story wraps up neatly, there are several questions raised that I am hoping will be answered in the finale due out in 2017. I can’t wait!

Do you notice when there is ethnic diversity in books?

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I voluntarily read an advanced reader copy by the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

 

The Poisoner’s Handbook

Blurb: Deborah Blum, writing with the high style and skill for suspense that is characteristic of the very best mystery fiction, shares the untold story of how poison rocked Jazz Age New York City. In The Poisoner’s Handbook Blum draws from highly original research to track the fascinating, perilous days when a pair of forensic scientists began their trailblazing chemical detective work, fighting to end an era when untraceable poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime. 

Drama unfolds case by case as the heroes of The Poisoner’s Handbook—chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler—investigate a family mysteriously stricken bald, Barnum and Bailey’s Famous Blue Man, factory workers with crumbling bones, a diner serving poisoned pies, and many others. Each case presents a deadly new puzzle and Norris and Gettler work with a creativity that rivals that of the most imaginative murderer, creating revolutionary experiments to tease out even the wiliest compounds from human tissue. Yet in the tricky game of toxins, even science can’t always be trusted, as proven when one of Gettler’s experiments erroneously sets free a suburban housewife later nicknamed “America’s Lucretia Borgia” to continue her nefarious work. 

From the vantage of Norris and Gettler’s laboratory in the infamous Bellevue Hospital it becomes clear that killers aren’t the only toxic threat to New Yorkers. Modern life has created a kind of poison playground, and danger lurks around every corner. Automobiles choke the city streets with carbon monoxide; potent compounds, such as morphine, can be found on store shelves in products ranging from pesticides to cosmetics. Prohibition incites a chemist’s war between bootleggers and government chemists while in Gotham’s crowded speakeasies each round of cocktails becomes a game of Russian roulette. Norris and Gettler triumph over seemingly unbeatable odds to become the pioneers of forensic chemistry and the gatekeepers of justice during a remarkably deadly time. A beguiling concoction that is equal parts true crime, twentieth-century history, and science thriller, The Poisoner’s Handbook is a page-turning account of a forgotten New York. 

The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum was engrossing. I love reading interesting parts of history and this is a lesser-known but fascinating bit. We’ve all heard stories about some of the ingredients we used to have in products but reading about how prevalent it was, and how government/business sometimes disregarded the danger, was eye-opening. It’s made me look at today’s world with more open eyes, too. Whether it be vaccines, sunscreen, vitamins, corn syrup – we would do well to be informed and not blindly trusting. Though I also believe in using discernment and not going overboard either. I also learned a lot more about prohibition and I can see how some people might correlate prohibition with the marijuana debate. I’ll be mulling all of that over for a long while.

There are many critical reviews online that dislike the science as explained in the book. Science is not one of my fortes – plus I was interested in the stories, not the chemistry details. So I have absolutely no idea on the matter. With so many complaints, I’d assume there’s truth in the scientific inaccuracy; it’s just not something I cared about.

One other dorky aside: it tickled me a little too much that the chief medical examiner’s name was Charles Norris. It made me want to make a bunch of Chuck Norris memes involving forensic science.😉

A caveat: the tests the doctors used were… icky (gory details plus a lot of animal testing). As were the details of what some of these poisons do to a person. (I had no idea how nasty mustard gas is – no wonder chemical weapons are banned!) I tended to skim those parts. I can be very sensitive to certain content but this book didn’t bother me as long as I flew past those parts and didn’t think about them. As the book itself points out, this was in the days before dry chemistry – no drops of blood or strands of hair testing here. Frankly, this just made me respect those doctors all the more.

All in all, a recommended read!🙂  And it gave me some food for thought on one of my works in progress!
How important is scientific accuracy to you when reading historical nonfiction?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Secrets Kept

Blurb: With a curse, she will build an army.
With the dagger, she will undo the last sacrifice.
But first the sorceress must find the secret keeper.

Torn from her homeland and thrust into a betrothal against her wishes, Ayianna learns her family has a deadly secret that now has her on the run. She joins forces with Kael, an embittered half-elf, and Saeed, an elderly High Guardian, to seek answers to her father’s death, the destruction of Dagmar, and the plains people’s bizarre behavior.

Ayianna discovers there is more at stake here than just her mother’s disappearance and her familial duty to her betrothed. The sorceress has cursed the plains people, and it is a race against time to release them before the sorceress resurrects an ancient evil.

I enjoyed Secrets Kept (Hidden Dagger #1) by J.L. Mwebe and read it quickly – a lot happens and I had a difficult time putting it down or not thinking about it when I was doing other things. I adored a few characters and despised a few others. And I can’t wait to read the next because of those adored characters. Ayianna herself is understandable but frustrating. She’s got some major growing up to do and I hope she does it quickly. Nalu is a rich, complex world full of interesting peoples and imaginative creatures. I love books that contain detailed cultures and unique mythos and Secrets Kept really delivered there.

However sometimes I felt like the complexity was also its Achilles heel. Keeping the core main characters straight isn’t too difficult but there is such an abundance of characters (and places) that I had a difficult time keeping them all straight. The book would really benefit from a glossary to keep track of the people and explain some of the creatures. There’s also a map in the beginning of the book but it’s too small and missing half the references so I found it only helpful in giving me a vague sense of direction. Lastly, so much happened in the book but the story itself didn’t progress very far – it’s like The Fellowship of the Ring, lots of journeying but not much progress made yet.

Truthfully, I found the premise fascinating and the story itself gripping but there were little things that made me feel like it was published a smidge too soon. Characters that I gave up trying to figure out who they were, creatures/peoples that weren’t explained quickly enough (or at all), a lot of points of view. And lastly, a few things confused me about the specific genre Secrets Kept is trying to be. It has elements of epic or sword & sorcery fantasy but lacks other essential aspects. It also has elements of YA coming-of-age/romantic fantasy but breaks a few standard rules of the genre, etc. (e.g. Ayianna can be hard to relate to because of her age and inexperience but the book itself is too complex and mature for it to be aimed at younger YA readers. The romance felt a bit shoehorned into the last quarter of the book and is 85% aimed at the wrong guy.) It’s disappointing because I feel like those little elements are just enough to keep this really good story from being a great one.

Do you prefer traditional takes on magical creatures or imaginative spinnings on them?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I won a copy of this book in a giveaway. I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

The Captive Maiden

Blurb: Happily Ever After…
Or Happily Nevermore?

Gisela’s childhood was filled with laughter and visits from nobles such as the duke and his young son. But since her father’s death, each day has been filled with nothing but servitude to her stepmother. So when Gisela meets the duke’s son, Valten–the boy she has daydreamed about for years–and learns he is throwing a ball, she vows to attend, even if it’s only for a taste of a life she’ll never have. To her surprise, she catches Valten’s eye. Though he is rough around the edges, Gisela finds Valten has completely captured her heart. But other forces are bent on keeping the two from falling further in love, putting Gisela in more danger than she ever imagined.

I liked The Captive Maiden (Hagenheim #4) by Melanie Dickerson though it was the least imaginative of the retellings so far – or at least the first half was. It was Cinderella, the classic version, barely changed until the midnight escape from the ball which was when the story finally went an entirely different direction. I liked the story (jousting!) but there were several times I thought it stretched believability. The second half was interesting since it was covering new ground – except it got repetitive so the new ground was…not so new very quickly.

Specifically: I thought it was a real stretch to believe the bad guy (or his men) were able to sneak in, get in touch with evil girls, and kidnap Gisela all while soldiers were on guard searching. And then the escape, get caught, escape, get caught, escape… Was it just me or did Valten shorten their hiding every other sentence? They hide in the cave, he said, “We’ll hide 2-3 days.” They wake up, he says, “We’ll hide a couple days.” They eat breakfast, he says, “We’ll leave tonight”. So I can’t say I was surprised when they got caught after essentially *not* hiding. Most especially, the climactic ending made little sense to me. The random blindfold for no reason and then throwing them in a tower was crazy. Why would any sane bad guy leave his captives alone together? And then they escape (again) only to discover two more seconds and they’d have been rescued anyway. Honestly, I felt like the whole tower scenario was written just so there could be a “making out blindfolded” scene. Also, the big reveal at the end was too sudden. Some foreshadowing could easily have been worked in earlier.)

There was a moment during the grand climax that I expected something to happen and was  disappointed when it did not. I felt like there was an opportunity for a more complex resolution to occur and the author opted for the easy way out instead. The romance was sweet and funny but I never quite bought into it.  After 4 books, my feelings about the series have cemented – very cute but simple. I still love the series but they’re categorized as light YA romances in my brain now so I can stop expecting more complexity.

Do you ever have a hard time classifying books? (Does it even matter to you?)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

The Fairest Beauty

Blurb: A daring rescue.
A difficult choice.

Sophie desperately wants to get away from her stepmother’s jealousy, and believes escape is her only chance to be happy. Then a young man named Gabe arrives from Hagenheim Castle, claiming she is betrothed to his older brother, and everything twists upside down. This could be Sophie’s one chance at freedom—but can she trust another person to keep her safe?

Gabe defied his parents Rose and Wilhelm by going to find Sophie, and now he believes they had a right to worry: the girl’s inner and outer beauty has enchanted him. Though romance is impossible—she is his brother’s future wife, and Gabe himself is betrothed to someone else—he promises himself he will see the mission through, no matter what.

When the pair flee to the Cottage of the Seven, they find help—but also find their feelings for each other have grown. Now both must not only protect each other from the dangers around them—they must also protect their hearts.

I enjoyed The Fairest Beauty (Hagenheim #3) by Melanie Dickerson, though not as much as I liked the first in the Hagenheim series. The cover of the book immediately gives away which fairy tale it is based on, though the Cottage of Seven makes it pretty obvious, too. But I loved the unique spin on the cottage and its inhabitants. 

Sophie and Gabe are both likable character; Sophie a bit too sweet but Gabe was realistic – a bit immature and impulsive but very relatable. He starts the adventure without the best of intentions, mostly wanting to prove himself and get some of the attention he feels his brother monopolizes. But he grows quite a bit throughout the story. I was taken aback at one moment where Sophie lashed back at someone who  bullied her. While it was a perfectly human reaction, and really wasn’t too extreme, it was singular and jarring since she was so sweet the rest of the time.

Overall, I enjoyed the story, it’s fun and heavy on the romantic aspect of the story (even if nothing much happens outside of a few kisses) but it’s very simple YA.

How complex do you like your stories?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

The Merchant’s Daughter

Blurb: An unthinkable danger.
An unexpected choice.

Annabel, once the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is trapped in indentured servitude to Lord Ranulf, a recluse who is rumored to be both terrifying and beastly. Her circumstances are made even worse by the proximity of Lord Ranulf’s bailiff – a revolting man who has made unwelcome advances on Annabel in the past.

Believing that life in a nunnery is the best way to escape the escalation of the bailiff’s vile behavior and to preserve the faith that sustains her, Annabel is surprised to discover a sense of security and joy in her encounters with Lord Ranulf. As Annabel struggles to confront her feelings, she is involved in a situation that could place Ranulf in grave danger. Ranulf’s future, and possibly his heart, may rest in her hands, and Annabel must decide whether to follow the plans she has cherished or the calling God has placed on her heart.

I hate to say it but I really didn’t care for The Merchant’s Daughter (Hagenheim #2) by Melanie Dickerson though I did like the historical setup. I haven’t read many books set in this time period so the feudal system with the village working for their lord was interesting. Sadly, that was about the only thing I liked. It took me a long time to sort out the reason and I think it was mainly because there is a sad dearth of likeable characters in the story. Annabel is miserable; the bailiff is despicable; everyone around her is surly, mean, or depressing (including the hero). She has exactly one friend that I recall and he’s not really someone she can count on. Any likeable characters are so overshadowed I have completely forgotten their existence. The other Hagenheim books feel like sunshine, flowers, forests and meadows – they are airy, breathable, lighter books even during darker moments. This book felt like torch-lit, dank, stone manors – it was dismal.

I also didn’t feel the romance at all and even worse was when (slight spoiler!!) she confessed her love to him first. It may be old-fashioned but I tend to have issues with the woman approaching the man (though in well-done situations it may not bother me). I rolled my eyes through the entire climactic ending, too. Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite fairy tales and this retelling just didn’t come close to cutting it for me. Honestly, if this had been my first Dickerson book, I may never have picked up another. But since I loved The Healer’s Apprentice so much, I ended up jumping from this one straight to the 3rd of the series hoping it would restore my faith in the series.

Do you have any old-fashioned preferences when reading romance?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Replication: The Jason Experiment

Blurb:  What if everything you knew was a lie? Martyr—otherwise known as Jason 3:3—is one of hundreds of clones kept in a remote facility called Jason Farms. Told that he has been created to save humanity, Martyr has just one wish before he is scheduled to ‘expire’ in less than a month. To see the sky.

Abby Goyer may have just moved to Alaska, but she has a feeling something strange is going on at the farm where her father works. But even this smart, confident girl could never have imagined what lies beneath a simple barn. Or what would happen when a mysterious boy shows up at her door, asking about the stars.

As the reality of the Jason Experiment comes to light, Martyr is caught between two futures—the one for which he was produced and the one Abby believes God created him to have. Time is running out, and Martyr must decide if a life with Abby is worth leaving everything he’s ever known.

Replication: The Jason Experiment is the second book I have read by Jill Williamson and it confirmed for me that she is one of those authors I will read automatically.

For a book with such heavy topics, it handled everything with a light touch, keeping matters in the upper MG/lower YA range. I was on the edge of my seat the entire book – I may have read it in entirely one sitting – though there was also plenty of humor to keep it from getting too overwhelming. It was one of those books where I had to cheat (Yes, I did! I’m horrible!) and read the last page, because I was so anxious for the characters.

Abby’s faith was very central – the preaching to Martyr made sense but it also felt very heavy-handed a couple of times. There’s also a chaste romance (light kissing), some of it downright swoony, though I did have some qualms about Martyr and Abby considering she was the first girl he’d ever even met.

If I had any complaint about the book, it was that the ending was a little too fast and neat and the entire story was a tad simplistic. But that’s what makes it an MG/YA book, not one aimed at adults. If there is a sequel, I hope it explores Martyr’s faith as he matures since it was innocent as a small child’s (he needs to make his faith his own) and also the nuance of his relationship with Abby as he gets to know other girls and realizes he has choices, not just one option.

Do you ever cheat when reading?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.