Monday, July 16, 2018

Review: Godblind by Anna Stephens

Godblind (Godblind, Book #1)
by Anna Stephens
Release Date: June 20th 2017
2017 Talos
Kindle Edition; 497 Pages
ISBN: 978-1940456935
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

The Mireces worship the bloodthirsty Red Gods. Exiled from Rilpor a thousand years ago, and left to suffer a harsh life in the cold mountains, a new Mireces king now plots an invasion of Rilpor’s thriving cities and fertile earth.

Dom Templeson is a Watcher, a civilian warrior guarding Rilpor’s border. He is also the most powerful seer in generations, plagued with visions and prophecies. His people are devoted followers of the god of light and life, but Dom harbours deep secrets, which threaten to be exposed when Rillirin, an escaped Mireces slave, stumbles broken and bleeding into his village.

Meanwhile, more and more of Rilpor’s most powerful figures are turning to the dark rituals and bloody sacrifices of the Red Gods, including the prince, who plots to wrest the throne from his dying father in the heart of the kingdom. Can Rillirin, with her inside knowledge of the Red Gods and her shocking ties to the Mireces King, help Rilpor win the coming war?

My Thoughts
Godblind is the first book in the Godblind trilogy and it definitely starts off with a bang.  Readers need to be aware that this is considered a grimdark fantasy novel which basically means that it is meant to be much darker and more brutal than your usual fantasy novel.  This type of fantasy has been around for a long time, but only recently have I heard the term grimdark to describe a novel where the characters tend to be more grey in nature, much more brutal, and where allegiances and betrayals happen at a moment's notice.  For me, this is why I read fantasy, so the grimness doesn't really bother me, nor the betrayals (anyone read Game of Thrones?) as it's what makes things that much more interesting.  

First of all, the book opens with quite a bang and you are left in no doubt as to the nature of what grimdark fantasy is all about.  King Liris of Mireces and King Rastoth of Rilporan had an uneasy truce; the first worshipped the Red Gods and sacrificed humans to keep them happy, while the second worshipped the Goddesses of Light, who worked through the Calestar, a prophet, to keep the people apprised of what was happening and to give them warnings if necessary.  With multiple betrayals afoot, the uneasy alliance ended and the Red Gods took advantage of the weaknesses and were now attempting to take back Rilpor and make it theirs once again.  And I do have to admit that one of the betrayals and its consequences left me unable to continue reading for about a week as the torture scene was really quite disturbing.  I definitely have no interest in seeing a hammer used as a weapon or an instrument of torture ever again. Just the scenes where a certain character pulls out nails as a threat can now make me shudder.  I have to give a lot of credit to the author here though as she definitely knows how to instill fear not only in her characters, but in her readers too.  And all through very descriptive prose.

I do think that readers really need to know what they are getting into with this book as I had no idea so it was a good thing I like grim fantasy.  The themes are very adult in nature; the first chapter of the book deals with human sacrifice and attempted rape, then murder.  So it was like BAM! You were left in no doubt as to the themes for the rest of the book.  And it didn't stop there.  I do have to admit that some of the twists caught me off guard, but I think I was paying too much attention to the grim stuff and not as much to the characters which is why I got caught.  Not because it wasn't easy to spot.  What I did like however, was the strong female characters in this book.  They pretty much gave as good as they got.  Rillirin, while suffering from PTSD as a result of being sexually, physically, and mentally abused for years, really came into her own throughout the book and I can't wait to see what she does next.  I mean, everything can't be brutal and dark, you have to have some balance or I think the book just wouldn't work.  There were some really nice moments throughout the book as well, some romantic, some just about friendship, some just for some relief from the brutality, I think.  I especially grew fond of Crys and really enjoyed his story arc.  The path of self-discovery that he was on was quite refreshing and I enjoyed it amongst all the dark elements and was just hoping he wasn't killed off.  

The book was written from multiple POVs and most of the chapters were quite short.  While I usually don't mind this way of writing, what I did find is that I didn't really get to know any of the characters this way to a point where I really, really empathized with them.  The story was quite seamless between characters though, and made the story quite easy to follow, but I did feel that some of that personal feeling you get by reading one or two person's POV was lost.  The author does have a way of writing that sucks you into the story and makes you care about what happens to everyone at that particular moment, but overall, I was more horrified at the way people died that at who actually died. 
There are many themes that permeate this novel, ones that could be explored in a book group: rape, attempted rape, brutal violence, betrayal, manipulation, religion and religious sacrifice, family, honesty, and loyalty.  

Godblind is one of those books that I did enjoy, simply because I loved the world-building and thought there were so many interesting elements happening at once.  The book ends in a pretty explosive nature and I am definitely looking forward to what happens next, although I am a little scared too considering that the second book usually tends to be the darkest in nature.  Do I really want it to be darker than this one?  I really felt that a lot of events were just building up to things that were going to happen later on and that they were going to get a lot more complex.  Hopefully, that doesn't necessarily mean more POVs though.  This book is definitely not for people who like lighter fantasy, but I enjoyed the pace and the many twists and turns and hope that the trend continues in Darksoul, the second book in this trilogy.
Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Review: Pointe by Brandy Colbert

by Brandy Colbert
Release Date: April 10th 2014
2014 Penguin
Softcover Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0399160349
Genre: Fiction / YA
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Theo is better now.

She's eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor.

Donovan isn't talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn't do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she's been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse.

My Thoughts
I had really mixed feelings towards Pointe at the beginning simply because the book was not what I was expecting.  Having read another teen novel about a friend being kidnapped and his return, I thought this book would be about his inclusion back into their lives and trying to cope with his disappearance, but it was definitely not that at all. And while there were some elements about ballet in it as the main character is a ballet dancer, the book was definitely not about that either.  Once I got over that little hurdle, I was able to focus on the story that was a bit more grim and dark than I was originally expecting.

First of all, the main character is quite compelling and is quite well-written.  I was interested in her life right away simply because her actions didn't seem to be ones of a well-disciplined ballet dancer; she drank, did pot, stayed up late, went to parties, and so on.  As the story unveiled, you see a person trying to make the best of a situation, but the reality is you've got a teenager barely hanging on for dear life, dealing with a very shattered self-esteem due to events that occurred when she was thirteen years old.  Her best friend, Donovan, disappeared for four years, and suddenly, is found and reappears. But we don't get to see Donovan and as the story unveils, we learn a lot more about the events leading up before Donovan's disappearance.  And they are quite grim and disturbing.  And suddenly you realize you have someone not only dealing with self-esteem issues, but also who was raped and manipulated into believing she was at fault for everything, a spiral that sent her into anorexia trying to keep her body from growing older because that how HE liked it.  It was very disturbing and all I wanted to do was go hug my own 15 year old daughter.  While some of the scenes are graphic, some of them leave it to your imagination to figure out and sometimes that's even worse.  And the guy was such a master manipulator that Theo really had no idea what was happening to her.   What Donovan's return did was trigger all of these memories in Theo and made her question what really happened all those years ago, especially as she was going to testify at the trial and she was struggling with what she should reveal at the trial.  

At first I wasn't sure I was going to like Theo, but as the story went on I grew to like her very much and empathized with her quite a bit.  I didn't always understand her choices, but the author definitely made her likable.  And as Theo and Donovan's story was slowly revealed, you understood a bit more that Theo had never recovered from her encounter with this creep all those years ago and blamed herself for what had happened to Donovan.  And while Donovan's story was never revealed, you could certainly read through the lines and figure out that it wouldn't have been pretty.  I was quite okay not learning more.  And I really liked the way the author told the story anyway.  I don't always think everything has to be explained, the hints are bad enough if you've got an imagination, and I can imagine plenty, thank you very much.  I don't need graphic details about this.  

This book deals with a lot of themes: friendship, rape, eating disorders, manipulation, drugs, cheating, sex, child abuse, kidnapping, and so on.  And it's not really packaged nicely either where everything comes out happily ever after in the end for everyone, which I liked.  It takes those situations where you realize you are being used to really figure out what you want in life and Theo definitely had some eye-opening moments in this novel.  I liked how the author handled those moments and liked Theo even more because of them. 

Pointe is a story about friendship, but more than that, it was a story about realizing that you are important and can't live your life in fear; you have to face those fears in order to move on with your life.  While at first, I was a bit flummoxed because I thought this was about the kidnapping, once I got over that, I really enjoyed the story and the characters; even the secondary ones had a distinct voice and while not always on Theo's side because of some choices she made, they were real and authentic.  Overall, it was a story about learning to love yourself and realizing you have the same worth as everyone else.  If anything, it gave me another chance to have some meaningful dialogue with my own daughter about abuse and manipulation when she read the book herself.  This book is emotional and real, but oh so necessary. 
Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Review and Giveaway: Shelved Under Murder by Victoria Gilbert

Shelved Under Murder (Blue Ridge Library Mystery, Book #2)
by Victoria Gilbert
Release Date: July 10th 2018
2018 Crooked Lane Books
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1683319207
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher / Great Escapes Book Tours

3.5 / 5 Stars

October in Taylorsford, Virginia means it’s leaf peeping season, with bright colorful foliage and a delightful fresh crew of tourists attending the annual Heritage Festival which celebrates local history and arts and crafts. Library director Amy Webber, though, is slightly dreading having to spend two days running a yard sale fundraiser for her library. But during these preparations, when she and her assistant Sunny stumble across a dead body, Amy finds a real reason to be worried.

The body belonged to a renowned artist who was murdered with her own pallet knife. A search of the artist’s studio uncovers a cache of forged paintings, and when the sheriff’s chief deputy Brad Tucker realizes Amy is skilled in art history research, she’s recruited to aid the investigation. It doesn’t seem to be an easy task, but when the state’s art expert uncovers a possible connection between Amy’s deceased uncle and the murder case, Amy must champion her Aunt Lydia to clear her late husband’s name.

That’s when another killing shakes the quiet town, and danger sweeps in like an autumn wind. Now, with her swoon-inducing neighbor Richard Muir, Amy must scour their resources to once again close the books on murder.

My Thoughts
Shelved Under Murder is the second book in the Blue Ridge Library Mystery series, and is a fun and enjoyable read.  The town is one of those places I would love to spend the day just walking around its streets, and having visited the Blue Ridge Mountain area several times, I know how beautiful it is in the fall.   I definitely appreciated the author's descriptions of the area and could easily picture myself there, driving around, just enjoying what must be spectacular views.

In this book, the story picks up several months after the events in the first one and we see Amy still dating Richard and living with her quirky Aunt Lydia.  Amy, as the director of the local library, is right in the middle of preparations for the annual Heritage Festival, sorting through donations and looking for bigger ticket items to sell, which is how she ends up in the midst of another murder investigation.  Most of the characters were introduced in the first book, and honestly, there really wasn't much development with regards to the characters or their relationships.  In fact, I was a bit disappointed with some of the interactions between some of the characters; I don't really care who gets together and who splits up, but at least be authentic in the personality departments when creating characters.  And I found that characters either had to be good to be interesting or they came across as bad, there didn't seem to be that gray area in between that made characters more interesting.  When Uncle Andrew at one point was coming across as somewhat naughty, he was so much more interesting to me as a person as he seemed so much more real; otherwise, he was put up on this pedestal and just seemed too perfect and perfect often equals boring.  Besides, no one is perfect.  Take Richard for example, so perfect in everything he does, he just seems boring.  Maybe I'm just drawn to the badass kind of characters as I preferred Kurt over them all, so what does that say about me?  I find him much more interesting, and he's got secrets I want to find out.  

While the plot was interesting, it did center around the art world rather than the book world.  I don't feel there was anything too thought-provoking in the art discussions but then, I've read many, many thriller books dealing with lost art and forgery over the years so I'd already picked up most of what was discussed in this book regarding that world, and I have a fascination with the lost artwork from World War II.  I thought the discussions around what would drive an artist to do forgery much more interesting from a psychological perspective.  And while there were some interesting plot twists, they were easy to spot but Amy was just so gullible sometimes; you'd think she would have learned her lesson in the first book.  The author does have a way of making you feel like you are right there in the midst of things, and making you feel empathy for the characters so I did enjoy it when Amy got into her dilemnas and wondered how she would get out of them.  And the author doesn't have any qualms to having her characters get hurt so you never know what is going to happen, which keeps you on edge throughout the events.  I like that sense of not really knowing what is going to happen, even if you've already figured out the murderer and some of the other mysteries.

Shelved Under Murder was a fun addition to the series, but I don't necessarily feel it was as good as the first one.  I do think there was some lack of important character development and some of the characters are a bit too perfect, they need some flaws or something to make them seem more real.  Beware though, if you haven't read the first book, all of the answers are to be found in this book, something I am not very fond of, the murderer and some of the other details, and repeated several times.  The reality of small-town life however, are very real in this book and I did find certain things very amusing; the rivalry in county fair baking contests, people always knowing your business, an overworked police force, the gossipy neighbours, and the other small things that make small-town living so much fun and interesting, something that definitely comes to life between these pages.  While I thought the first book was slightly more enjoyable, I did enjoy it, and look forward to reading the next book in the series when it is published in 2019, Past Due for Murder.  I do however, recommend you start with the first book in this series.  


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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Review: The Cutting Edge by Jeffery Deaver

The Cutting Edge (Lincoln Rhyme #14)
by Jeffery Deaver
Release Date: April 10th 2018
2018 Grand Central Publishing
Kindle Edition; 434 Pages
ISBN: 978-1455536429
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

In the early hours of a quiet, weekend morning in Manhattan's Diamond District, a brutal triple murder shocks the city. Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs quickly take the case. Curiously, the killer has left behind a half-million dollars' worth of gems at the murder scene, a jewelry store on 47th street. As more crimes follow, it becomes clear that the killer's target is not gems, but engaged couples themselves. 

The Promisor vows to take the lives of men and women during their most precious moments--midway through the purchase of an engagement ring, after a meeting with a wedding planner, trying on the perfect gown for a day that will never come. The Promisor arrives silently, armed with knife or gun, and a time of bliss is transformed, in an instant, to one of horror. 

Soon the Promiser makes a dangerous mistake: leaving behind an innocent witness, Vimal Lahori, a talented young diamond cutter, who can help Rhyme and Sachs blow the lid off the case. They must track down Vimal before the killer can correct his fatal error. Then disaster strikes, threatening to tear apart the very fabric of the city--and providing the perfect cover for the killer to slip through the cracks. 

My Thoughts
The Cutting Edge is the fourteenth book in the Lincoln Rhyme series and while I don't think it's the mos suspenseful book of the series, the premise was definitely interesting, the story telling was quite good, and as always, the author manages to throw in a few surprises that were unexpected.  I think that is why I keep coming back to these books time and time again; the author never really disappoints with his twists and turns, even if I expect them to happen now.

First of all, one of the weaknesses to the novel was kind of also its strength.  Let me explain.  Much of the time, Rhyme and Sachs are usually in so much danger and the tension usually revolves around them and this is expected in one of these books.  This time, except for a couple of situations, Rhyme and Sachs actually took a backseat to a lot of the tension and the story line revolved around the other characters in the book, which was a bit different.  The brutal triple murder of the jeweler and his customers was witnessed moments later by a worker and the story revolves around his story and the killer's pursuit of him throughout the city. It was kind of nice to get the perspective of someone who has no training in deception trying to escape a killer in the city; and how Rhyme and Sachs go about helping him, or inadvertently hindering him, in his escape.  What this does however, is diminish the actual tension in the novel.  I am fully invested in what happens to Rhyme and Sachs, but was not really invested into what happened to Vimal; in some ways, I just don't think there was enough time to really develop his character and make the reader empathize with him other than to feel sorry for the fact he witnessed a brutal slaying.  That being said, there was, at one point, some really interesting stuff happening with a trial that could have caused Rhyme a lot of potential trouble and I thought this was where the story really picked up; but unfortunately, it didn't really go the path that I thought it would and I was left a bit disappointed because I was looking for a bit of excitement and didn't really get it.  I don't want to see Rhyme get in a lot of trouble, but perfect Rhyme is a bit boring too, you know?

The plot itself was actually quite convoluted, much more than I initially gave it credit for as I first thought the villain was a bit daft.  As the novel jumped from the murders to these explosions that rocked the inner city and killed some people, I began wondering what the connection was although for the life of me I couldn't really see it.  What I did learn was an awful lot about diamonds I didn't really know before, and that information was actually quite informative.  It definitely made me look at my own jewelry a bit differently.  That being said, I did think this plot was a bit too far-fetched, with too many plot twists and too many convolutions.  Sometimes, simpler is better as one can get caught up in all the threads and lose one of them.  I also don't do very well with huge shifts in personalities, where one minute someone is locking someone up because they don't agree with their decisions, and suddenly, at the end, they have a huge change of heart and give that someone their blessing.  It just didn't ring true for me and left a bad taste in my mouth.  

The Cutting Edge (totally get the title now) was an interesting, but convoluted read with a lot of plot twists, maybe too many.  The author is a great writer with an amazing ability to draw the reader in to his stories, but sometimes simpler is better.  For the first time in a long time, I actually debated whether to give this one 3.5 starts rather than 4. And don't get me wrong, I loved Vimal's story; I just wished the author had more time to spend on his story.  Maybe without some of the other stuff that wasn't really needed, he could have fleshed out some of the other story lines a bit more and allowed us to feel more empathy to those characters.  While it was so great to revisit these characters, overall I felt a bit letdown.  It will be interesting to see where this heads in future books though as the ending definitely left some questions unanswered, not so much for this story arc, but for the future of the team.