Saturday, 23 January 2021

Book Review: A Deal with the Elf King (Married to Magic #1) by Elise Kova

I plant my feet and refuse to let him make me feel small. I will be the bud that sprouts from the gray rock of this place. I will be the flower that blooms even despite his shadow.

Stumbling across A Deal with the Elf King (Married to Magic #1) by Elise Kova on KindleUnlimited was a bit like finding a FabergĂ© egg at a thrift shop. It's a real hidden treasure. 

A Deal with the Elf King has everything you could hope for in a fantasy novel: a well-developed world, plenty of action, a dash of sexual tension, and heaps of magic. It also has an extremely clever premise and deals with faeries in an original, unexpected way. I'm going through a fae phase at the moment so I've seen a lot of the same themes and images being repeated. This one bucked a lot of those expectations and offered something refreshingly original in their stead. 

I was immediately impressed with the premise of A Deal with the Elf King. Capton sits on the border between Midscape and the Natural World. Every hundred years or so a human woman is taken by the Elf King to be their Human Queen and ensure the next hundred years of prosperity for both their lands. Eventually, you learn that there aren't two but three lands (The Beyond) and, just as the Human Queen travels between the natural and magical worlds, the elf king travels between the magical world and the world of death. 

Even if the rest of the book was awful, that kind of originality would have been enough to earn it at least three stars. 

It wasn't, by the way. The rest of the book was flawless. 

There's so much to love about this story! For starters, the language is as carefully crafted as the setting and just as beautiful, while remaining accessible for reading levels from YA and up. There's some question over whether this one falls into a YA or NA category. I'm going to say it's a strong NA. You've got sex and drugs but nothing is explicit. Of course, I'm nearly forty and I enjoyed every minute of it so maybe we should just call it a kind of one-size-fits all novel. 

The characters are what I love most about A Deal with the Elf King. They're fully developed, believable, and likeable. The Human Queen, Luella, has her own ambitions and goals--and has zero intention of giving them up just because the Elf King arrives to whisk her away. She's no cowering fool but a logical, down-to-earth hero who breaks an age-old curse with nothing but stubbornness and practicality. 

While her counterpart, Eldas, has the whole brooding, tortured soul thing going on at the start, his growth is pronounced and consistent. He's considerate, attentive, and sensitive--and who wouldn't fall in love with a handsome king who offers you both the chance to leave to make your own way and the means to return if you choose? 

The relationship between the Luella and Eldas is so, so sweet and just a little steamy. Neither are in danger of losing themselves to the relationship because they both know their own minds. It sets the target for what a good romance should be. I wouldn't have minded if the sex was more explicit, but it works well as it is. 

I really can't praise A Deal with the Elf King enough. It ticked every box for me, impressing me with its deep, flowing narrative, strong characters, and tender romance. It's also a one-off, which is a nice change these days. (I'm so sick of stories split into several parts, just for the sake of having a series.) There are books set in the same world, though, which I will definitely be looking for. 

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Book Review: Cursed Prince (Night Elves Trilogy #1) by C.N. Crawford

I've been reading a lot of stories lately based on traditional, European tales of the Fae so Cursed Prince (Night Elves Trilogy #1) by C.N. Crawford was a jarring departure from the familiar. It's based on Norse mythology, which is an interesting take but was a bit distracting because every time High Elves or draugr were mentioned, it took me out of the story. I kept thinking, Ooh, I should play Skyrim. The writing isn't bad(!) but, um, Cursed Prince kind of reads like Skyrim fanfiction. 

I mean... I love Skyrim and fanfiction so I should have enjoyed Cursed Prince more than I did. 

Which sounds worse than I intended. It was a quick, easy read that kept me interested. The problem isn't with what Cursed Prince has; it's with it doesn't have. Sadly, a lot. 

The characters are painfully underdeveloped. The only thing we know about the female lead, Ali, is that she's an assassin (who never assassinates anyone,) with a brother (who plays next to no role in the book,) and is obsessed with awful music. (The Rick Roll thing gets old really fast.) All we know about the male lead, Marroc, is that he's kind of a vampire (but not really,) is cursed, and has a massive secret. 

That really isn't a secret. At. All. The "twist" is painfully obvious, right from the start. 

Cursed Prince also lacks one massively important component for a romance: ROMANCE. The feels are non-existent. Ali and Marroc go on this massive adventure together and have plenty of opportunity to develop a relationship but it just doesn't happen. (Less frustration than disappointment.) You kind of get a little inkling at the very end that there should have been something there but... nope, nothing. 

The adventure is fast-paced, varied, and exciting. I can't fault any of that. I'm just saying that it should have served a purpose other than moving the characters from Point A to Point B. That's really all Cursed Prince does, unfortunately, move characters around a bit. The writing is decent enough that there's no excuse for such poor character development. 

I hate just coming down hard on a novel so I want to be clear that the writing is good. Not exciting or inspiring, but good. The action is good. It's a clever idea. Cursed Prince could have really been something. As it is, it's just... okay. I have no interest in reading the next book in the series, even though this one ends at a logical place and leads well into the sequel. Worth a read? Sure. Worth a series? Not really.

Saturday, 9 January 2021

Book Review: Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) by Sarah J. Maas

I became a fan of Sarah J. Maas last year when a friend convinced me to read the A Court of Thorns and Roses series. After that emotional rollercoaster, I didn't think I could be more impressed with Maas's writing  - until I picked up Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1.)

One of the things I love most about Throne of Glass is how different it is from A Court of Thorns and Roses, so much so that I had to remind myself a couple of times that I was reading the same author. Throne of Glass isn't quite as sexy as the later series and the romance definitely has a lesser role, but it's still there. The potential romances are handled so well it didn't even bother me that it's basically a love triangle (which you know I hate.) But let's put that aside for a minute. 

Celaena Sardothien, the best assassin in the kingdom at just seventeen, is enslaved after being betrayed by a fellow assassin and sent to a death camp, where she continues kicking ass instead of obediently dying as expected. Prince Dorian Havilliard shows up a year later and offers her a chance at freedom: compete in a series of trials against the kingdom's deadliest men to become the king's champion. During the trial, she's watched over and trained by the prince's stern best friend, Captain Chaol Westfall. Naturally, both men fall in love with Celaena's unbreakable spirit and she goes on the face the largest, nastiest man in the competition's final battle. 

There are so many reasons to love Celaena. She's a tremendous hero - strong, and snarky with just a hint of vulnerability. She likes being a girly-girl and dressing up but is just as comfortable scaling a wall with her bare hands and running until she pukes. It's nice to see a hero who shows young girls that it's okay to be both "traditionally feminine" and totally fucking bad ass. 

The love interests are equally likeable as well. Dorian is cheeky and fun, while being sensitive and considerate. Chaol rides Celaena hard as her trainer but is fiercely protective and devoted. I'm probably more Team Dorian at this stage, but only because we don't know how the dynamic will change between Chaol and Celaena now that she has a place in the king's court. Celaena's story doesn't revolve around her relationship with either man, which is always a plus.

Another reason to love Throne of Glass is Maas's narrative style, which is stunningly beautiful. Her language is poetic and delicious, without being flowery, and her pacing is spot on. The story moves forward at a perfect pace, with just the right combination of action and introspection. It has a brilliant blend of combat, romance, and magic that will appeal to fantasy lovers, especially at a YA/New Adult level. Throne of Glass ended in exactly the right spot, where a sequel would feel natural, rather than forced just for the sake of a sequel, and left me screaming for more. 

I'm coming into the series late, which means there are already six more books to read. I'm excited to see how this plays out but also a little worried that the romance will drag out too long without resolution, which would be frustrating. Guess I'd better get started on the next book and find out...

Friday, 1 January 2021

Book Review: The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air #3) by Holly Black ** Spoilers **

 A wail of despair that ends on a hysterical sob of joy. If I could spell it, that would be my entire review for The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air #3) by Holly Black. Since I can't...

Holy. Freaking. Cow. 

Sorry, no. What I meant to say was HOLY. FREAKING. COW.

Holly Black is the best worldbuilder I have ever read. Elfhame is so immersive and real I just want to lose myself there forever. The difference between the third book in the series and the first two is that Black introduced an element of horror that Elfhame had failed yet to deliver. 

I thought the image of Queen Suren with a bridle cutting into her flesh was haunting. Then, she appeared with a stitched-on crown and scars from where the bridle had been removed. I've seen countless horror movies that failed to create an image that terrifying. 

Then, there's the big ass giant snake poisoning Elfhame...

There's obviously a massively romantic element involved with The Queen of Nothing and I'm not going to pretend that Cardan and Jude aren't one of my favourite literary couples ever. The best part, though, is that it's not just a romance. Jude is a kick-ass hero who has her own story and her own goals. Her motives are complex. She has struggles and triumphs that are her own. 

She just also happens to be in love with the High King. 

Although Jude is beyond effing awesome, I think it's Cardan's role in the romance that interests me most, which is why I can't wait to get my hands on How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories. (Curse post-holiday poverty, amiright?) Cardan is the only character worthy of Jude. He's enigmatic and remains shrouded in a certain amount of mystery, even after pouring his heart out. 

Plus, he's sexy as hell. 

I simply can't say enough good things about The Folk of the Air books. Read them. Then, read them again - which is what I'm about to do.

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Book Review: Hades (Contemporary Mythos #1) by Carly Spade

Hades (Contemporary Mythos #1) by Carly Spade revolves around digital forensics examiner, Stephanie Costas, who has the ability to read auras and an unhealthy obsession with 80s music. (As someone married to a person obsessed with 80s music, trust me, it's unhealthy.) Dragged to Corfu, Greece for a holiday with her best friend, Sara, Stephanie meets Hades, actual god of the Underworld. 

Hades has been sent on vacation by his brother, Zeus, who is tired of Hades's moping over Persephone, who's run off with Theseus. He tries warning Stephanie away, knowing they can never be together because of his obligations, but they can't seem to avoid each other. Cue the romance.

This is a sweet one. Although the writing itself isn't that great, it's a fun story and enjoyable to read. I especially like the ending, which is straight up adorable. As an added bonus, it doesn't end with them having babies, which gets tedious with romance novels. 

Fair warning: the description of Hades says that it's an "adult romance," which isn't really true. There's a single sex scene, nearly at the end. And it's not super steamy so I don't think it needs the warning. Also, it says that Hades is a "Hades/Persephone re-imagining," which isn't true either. (And can't be since Hades and Persephone are both characters in the book.) 

So... I have one problem with the book, one suggestion, and one pet peeve. Let's start with that one. When talking about the rivalry between Michigan and Ohio (which is totally real,) the author says, 'Her hatred for their rival, Green Bay, covered anything related to Michigan.' Um... nope. Green Bay is not a team from Michigan. I almost walked away from the book at that moment. Do not talk about things you don't know about unless you've done your research. 

Huff. 

Okay, the simple thing that could have made Hades a better story... Persephone. She's mentioned several times but not used enough. There was an opportunity to use her character more, even as an additional antagonist to beef up the tension, but the author missed it. 

Finally, the problem I have with Hades is the use of Stephanie's ability to read auras. Or, should I say the inconsistent use of Stephanie's ability to read auras? The narrative dwells on her ability when she's at work - a place where it would be least noticeable because she's used to the people there. It almost completely ignores her ability when she arrives at the resort in Greece, which doesn't make sense because that's where it would be most distracting. You really shouldn't introduce something like that if you're going to spend most the book ignoring it. 

Aside from those things and some issues with punctuation/sentence structure, Hades is a fun, sweet, easy read. Definitely worth a shot, even if I probably won't bother with any of the others in the series. 

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Movie Review: Tales of Halloween (2015)

Tales of Halloween (2015) is an anthology movie in the style of 2007's Trick 'r Treat. In Tales of Halloween, ten short stories are woven together over the space of Halloween night. It is a little (if I had to guess, deliberately) hokier and a lot funnier than the darker Trick 'r Treat, but every bit as enjoyable. Fans of one should definitely check out the other.

The stories told during Tales of Halloween follow a loose timeline that's easily followed by the children trick-or-treating through the film as well as Night of the Living Dead playing on the various televisions throughout. There are many homages to other classic horror films as the film goes on, starting with Adrienne Barbeau as the husky-voiced radio host - a nod to her role in 1980's The Fog. You may also spot a candy bar named after legendary horror director John Carpenter in "Sweet Tooth" and Evil Dead's Necronomicon hiding in the background during the "Friday the 31st" segment. 

Tales of Halloween starts with a stylized animation that takes you on a tour of the town and introduces the stories you're about to watch. It ends with a brief return to the same animation, which wraps things up nicely. The ten stories that take place in the interim vary in style, ranging from creepy urban legend to alien abduction, but fit together perfectly regardless of their differences. They all have have brilliant imagery - whether it's the dancing flames in "Ding Dong," the ultra gore in "Sweet Tooth," or the creepy fog in "Grim Grinning Ghost," Tales of Halloween is a visually pleasing film. 

There are witches, demons, creeps, and monsters galore in this one. They're all very well done, too, even if some of them do lean toward hilariously cringe-worthy. (I'm referring, of course, to the claymation alien in "Friday the 31st.") The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes style jack o'lantern rampaging through the town in "Bad Seed" is a favourite of mine, as is the revenge-driven demon in "The Weak and the Wicked," which is my favourite story of the lot. 

Although each of the stories are very different from one another, they do have a few things in common, starting with their humour. (Tales of Halloween is billed as a comedy/horror, after all.) But they all do a great job of subverting expectations as well. None of the stories go exactly where you expect them to so, by the time you get to the end, you find yourself wondering just what the fuck to expect. Add a healthy dose of fakeouts and jump scares and you've got a must-see Halloween movie that's just plain fun. 

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Witchy Reads: Hoodoo For Beginners: Working Magic Spells in Rootwork and Conjure with Roots, Herbs, Candles, and Oils by Angelie Belard

Hoodoo can be an intimidating subject, even for people who've practiced witchcraft as long as I have. It's something I've never wanted to get too involved with because of how dark it's perceived to be. But since I've been slowly making the transition from Wiccan to plain old witch, reading this book seemed like a good move toward shaking that three-times-three mentality I learned as a kid.

Hoodoo For Beginners: Working Magic Spells in Rootwork and Conjure with Roots, Herbs, Candles, and Oils by Angelie Belard shattered a lot of long-held illusions and made hoodoo an accessible path, something I can see myself studying further. I was disappointed when I finished it because I wanted to really delve into hoodoo some more.

Honestly, I was a bit iffy about starting this one. I worry with books like these (especially anything you'd find in the "New Age" or "self-help" sections) because, too often, you end up spending most of the book reading about how great the author is and very little time taking in useful information. Hoodoo for Beginners was perfectly balanced, with anecdotes used to show the usefulness of the practice, rather than the ability of the author. I really appreciated that. 

Hoodoo for Beginners is easy to read, easy to follow, and full of useful information. It's a must-have primer for anyone considering the path. I'd love to have a paperback copy of this one on my reference shelf and I'll be coming back to it as I find my feet because the spells are easy to follow and don't require ingredients I'd have to spend weeks chasing down. Even a beginner witch or hoodoo practitioner should have everything handy for these spells. It is a primer, though, so don't expect it to delve too deeply into any given subject. 

As far as I know, this is Belard's first book, which is actually a little surprising, considering how well-written it is. (Sorry, but you know what I mean.) I hope she continues writing because I'd love to see what else she has to offer.