Tag Archives: netgalley

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas: First Impressions

I was super excited to get an email from Netgalley a couple days ago with an invitation to read a five-chapter excerpt of SJM’s new series. I’ve been a fan of SJM since she was posting the first draft of the Throne of Glass series on Fictionpress circa 2004ish, so of course I was interested in this new series.

The first chapter was rough for me, I’ll admit. While I was reading, I was having visions of writing some clickbaitey title for this post: I read an excerpt of SJM’s new series and it was… okay… Here’s the thing: Maas tends to write in a very samey way. A lot of readers won’t notice it, but she loves characters that “swagger” or “stalk” into a room, and she loves discussing the sharp “tang” of blood. (I could give lots more examples, but these three are the ones that really spring to mind, and all of these pop up in the excerpt.) I think that tendency in her writing isn’t so apparent in SJM’s earlier books, perhaps because she had more time to write them, but I suspect that the book-a-year trend, combined with the long length of her books, makes it so that her most recent books blur together for me prose- and tone-wise.

But I also don’t think this is just a SJM thing, but a me thing. As a writer myself, I’ve been actively developing and honing my craft for the past five years, and my tastes have changed. I’m not huge on pages of snarky dialogue anymore, which SJM tends to sprinkle liberally throughout her books. I also have pretty strong opinions on adjective, adverb, and dialogue tag use, opinions that I do now find at odds with SJM’s writing–but just because another author writes differently than I do, it doesn’t mean their work sucks. So I think part of what had me raising my eyebrows while reading the first chapter of House of Earth and Blood was due to me being a different reader than I used to be.

I liked the later chapters, though. I do anticipate I’ll pick up this book and finish it, though perhaps I’ll wait until I’ve finished up the Throne of Glass series. (I still have the last one to get through.) The book has some really interesting worldbuilding: a modern, urban fantasy-like feel set in another universe with angels, fae, witches, and everything in between. It’s three stars for me at the outset, and I’m curious to see how the rest of the book turns out.

I’m also curious to hear your thoughts on whether you like your favorite authors’ books to feel “samey.” Do you mind if an author’s books all feel very similar to each other? Do you notice when an author uses the same words and phrases frequently throughout their work, and does that bother you? Let me know what you think!

ARC: A Longer Fall by Charlaine Harris

Thank you to NetGalley and Saga Press for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. A Longer Fall debuted January 14th.

Oh man, I’m falling in love. There’s nothing like a book by my hero, Charlaine Harris, to do all the things–thrill, terrify, and inspire love and hate and everything in between, all with rock-solid prose. The first book in the Gunnie Rose series, An Easy Death, was a very solid four-star read for me, and A Longer Fall takes it to the next level.

If you’re not familiar with the series, it follows sharp-shooter-for-hire Lizbeth Rose on her perilous adventures in an alternative history America that’s been split into multiple countries: Texoma, New America, Dixie, Britannia, the Holy Russian Empire. (I might have missed one in there.) Since this is a book by Charlaine Harris, there’s more than a dash of magic sprinkled over the book (there are real wizards here who work real magic), as well as a good dose of mystery and thriller elements. I’ve long thought that the Western genre is due for a reboot, and this genre-bending series feels like a perfect step in that direction.

I’ll admit that it took me a little bit of time to warm to the main character in An Easy Death, as she is over-the-top practical and straightforward. In this next entry in the series, I really felt the characters got their moment to shine and grow. Yeah, yeah, the plot’s good and all, but it’s on a book’s characters to propel a book from good to great. As the book wrapped up, I was on Goodreads immediately searching out info on the next book. The good news is that it’s coming; bad news is that I can’t find a date listed. Mehhhhh.

Basically, if you are looking for a genre-bender or you’re a Harris fan, you should be reading this series. I loved it, and I’ll be first in line for a copy of the next book.

ARC: Diamond City by Francesca Flores

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Diamond City debuted January 28th.

I requested an ARC for Diamond City because I’m a Sarah J. Maas fan, and (flawed though it may be) I think the conflicted lady assassin trope is pretty fun. The first chapter or two of Diamond City started in an okay spot, but it unfortunately went swiftly downhill from there. Where Maas was able to make her main character assassin mostly work, Flores unfortunately flounders; the MC in this book often wonders things like, Would my parents be proud of me even though I kill people for a living? or Do you think this cute boy and I might have a romantic future even though I tried to kill his older brother?

As people funnier than me have said, the short answer to both these questions is no. The longer answer is noooooooooo.

I just can’t buy the main character. She’s a badass assassin, but she’s deathly afraid of spiders, opts for knives over guns, and spares key characters’ lives at multiple points in the book. It’s an issue I often see with these types of killer characters: they’re supposed to be oh-so-hardcore, but the author can’t let the characters be their brutal selves on the page because it will turn off readers.

But even beyond the characters, I couldn’t find much to recommend this book. The world-building is a confusing mishmash of heritages and cultures that were difficult to keep straight, all with a vague backdrop of an outlawed religion and magic system that places heavy importance on diamonds–diamonds which are traded at high price on the black market, but actually there are oodles of them around. (???) The language of the book, too, did not help matters; the fight scenes especially were wooden and very “this happened, then this, then this”–not good for a book about assassins where there’s bound to be a lot of fighting. There’s also not much of an artistic or lyrical quality to the prose, and I found myself predicting plot points at every turn, so… without compelling characters, beautiful language, a riveting plot, or engaging world-building, I really came up empty on this book. I do feel bad about the poor review for this debut author, but Diamond City is in need of significant revision and critique.

ARC: Shall We Dance? by Shelley Shepard Gray

Thank you to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Shall We Dance? debuts January 28th.

Shall We Dance? started with a cute premise; a woman getting to know her two birth sisters purchases a dance studio and moves in with them above the studio. As she’s getting to know them, she’s simultaneously falling in love with her hot cop student.

Unfortunately, the plot spiraled off into a side plot that took away most of the attention from the main romance: the hot cop’s sister is hard at work overcoming her PTSD from a gang rape when she realizes she’s being stalked by one of her previous attackers. Normally I’m a big fan of strong subplots in romance, but this was such a large part of the book that it often felt like the romance plot between the MC and the cop had been entirely abandoned. Wooden dialogue did not help, nor a host of missed opportunities for good scenes. One of my romance pet peeves is when the author skips over important life events, and this book missed several, namely the proposal and the wedding. Surely I am not the only one out there who thinks it is absolutely senseless to gloss over a wedding when the entire point of the book is supposed to be the romance? Anyone with me on this? Because I see it allllll the time.

Anyway, Shall We Dance? remains very surface-level from start to finish; it never got past lukewarm for me, whether in the character relationships, the chemistry, or the plot. There will of course be sequels to this book–romance authors adore their big families!–but I won’t be picking up the next in the series.

ARC: Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison

Thank you to NetGalley and MIRA Books for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Good Girls Lie debuted December 30th.

Good Girls Lie from start to finish felt like a book in conflict with itself. It’s not being marketed as YA, but many of the main characters are teenagers–though their dialogue speaks otherwise. The book is set at a boarding school, so there are the requisite secret societies, girl-on-girl drama, school murder, et cetera… but somehow it feels throughout the book like nothing is happening. And then the adult main characters (remember, this is supposed to be for an adult audience) fall seriously flat; I cared about a grand total of none of them, even as the author is dragging them through romantic twists and important life decisions.

The dialogue was the real death of me in this book. Much of it was entirely out of character, and nothing sounded like it would come from a teen’s mouth–way too staid and old-fashioned. Here are a couple examples:

  • “Are you well, Camille?”
  • “I’ll bid you goodnight.”
  • “Then your insult was not only ill-advised but inaccurate and illogical.”

It felt like the author had never spoken to a teenager in her life. To make matters more difficult, there weren’t many dialogue tags included, so it often became difficult to follow conversations. I’m a fan of keeping dialogue tags on the sparser side myself, but I still recognize that you need to include enough of them so that readers have a sense of who’s talking.

Basically it felt like there was too much crammed into the book, and yet nothing was going on, and even worse, the characters were not nearly fun enough to hold up a book with little plot. I just think that there are so many other books that tackle similar subject matter in a more satisfying fashion. School murder, with people playing the blame game? One of Us Is Lying. Boarding school drama? Maureen Johnson. Young-feeling thriller with a twist at the end? Lock Every Door. Unfortunately I did not get on well with this book, and the writing style makes me wary of picking up another book by this author.

ARC: A Violet Fire by Kelsey Quick

Big note at the beginning of this review is that not only did I receive an ARC of A Violet Fire for a free and honest review by the author, but that Kelsey Quick and I have become author buddies along the way! I helped her with some of the late-stage editing of AVF, provided cover feedback, and we also talk shop about author stuff. So this review is biased fo sho! But I still wanted to get up a review. 🙂

I had tons of fun reading A Violet Fire. Anyone who’s spent time around these parts knows I’m a big vampire fan, and A Violet Fire was just the right strain of different to keep me glued to the page. I loved the world-building; save for The Passage by Justin Cronin, which I didn’t entirely get along with, I’ve never read a vampire book where vampires have taken over the world. The premise here is simple and makes for great romantic power dynamics: vampires in this universe own humans like cattle, and our human MC, Wavorly, is a blood supply unit of hot vampire bad boy Zein. Yeah, it sounds a little fucked up on paper, but if you’re like me and love a Beauty and the Beast backbone, then this is a book to put on your list.

Quick has a voice for YA, and the book moves swiftly. It does have a first book feel; by that I mean that you can tell it’s gone through a lot of editing and has some patches, but I don’t really deduct for that since every author has a first book. It was all the little touches I enjoyed most: Wavorly’s friendships, the way she uses French to her advantage, her insistence on human dignity, the dark and lush imagery. Reading AVF is kind of like eating candy; the two are nothing alike story-wise, but I was reminded of the momentum I felt when I read The Selection a few years back. It’s just fun.

I’m excited for the sequel to AVF, which I believe is slated for release next year. Vampires are back in YA, thank the lord! And a big congratulations to Kelsey again; as I said in my interview with her, I’ve never seen an indie author put so much effort into a release, and I admire her as a fellow author businesswoman. I will definitely be reading book two.

ARC: Safe Harbour by Christina Kilbourne

Thank you to NetGalley and Dundurn for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Safe Harbour debuts December 10th.

Safe Harbour is one of a few books I’ve read this year that I’d put in the category of “issue books,” i.e., books that focus on particular real world situations that might not affect all readers, but help give insight and understanding. Myself I wouldn’t normally peg as an issue book kind of reader since I can really bristle at anything that feels too preachy, but Safe Harbour really spoke to me; I was rooting for the MC from page one, especially because she’s in such a perilous situation: a fourteen-year-old on her own in Toronto waiting for her transient father to arrive on his boat. All she has to her name is a tent, a meager stash of cash, a maxed-out credit card, a phone, tuna cans, and soda crackers–oh, and she has a dog that she also has to provide for. And winter is coming, and the MC, who is used to warmer Florida weather, has no idea of the scope of a northern winter.

It’s an unlikely story, but Kilbourne does a great job helping readers see how events could have led to this point. Be prepared for a harrowing story: Safe Harbour illustrates real nice and clear how easily someone can become a victim of sex trafficking, lose a finger to frost bite, or let love (for example, for a pet or a family member struggling with mental illness) keep you from taking steps toward safety. Things worked out okay in the end, but I was praying for the MC along the way.

The characters are the shining feature of this story. For once, I was fully on board the unreliable narrator wagon–I’m not always into unreliable narrators, but I thought it worked splendidly for Safe Harbour. I did think the end wrapped up a bit too neatly and wasn’t that believable, but it didn’t spoil the book in any way. If you’re looking for an issue book that will take you on a roller coaster of emotions and doesn’t get too preachy, Safe Harbour is a good choice.

ARC: Hart & Seoul by Kristen Burnham

Thank you to NetGalley and Mascot Books for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Hart & Seoul debuted June 4th.

I’m digging all the Korean- and K-pop-themed YA recently; this is the first of them that I’ve read, but I have a whole slew of them on my TBR. I used to be a big K-pop fan back in middle and high school–ya know, a hundred years ago or thereabouts–so it tickles me pink that everyone’s feeling the Korea love nowadays. 🙂

Anyway, Hart & Seoul is a cute, fast read that is not without its flaws. I enjoyed the MC’s voice, and I especially liked the banter between her and her K-pop star love interest. The details about the K-pop super fans were tons of fun, and I was so craving Korean food by the middle of this book that I had to make a pit stop at Bonchon on the way home from work.

However, I had some difficulties with this book. First off, I initially had a hard time placing Hart & Seoul as a YA book; for some reason I was getting the impression that it was New Adult from the first chapter, then had to walk back the age of the MC in my mind by a couple years. I also found all the plot twists very predictable, most of them by at least fifty pages. Reading was still enjoyable, but I was forever waiting for the very obvious other shoe to drop. I also wasn’t satisfied with the love interest’s explanations for some of his behavior at the end of the book. His words seemed cheap–no spoilers, but I wouldn’t keep dating this guy. Of course, I’m also a thirty-year-old lady, so I’m not exactly smack dab in the middle of this book’s target audience. 😉

I think if you’re into the K-pop scene or interested in Korean culture then you should really consider reading this book. I had fun with it, but that’s fun** with a couple asterisks attached. Now let me wrap up this review quick, before I start craving Korean barbecue again. 😀

ARC: A Midnight Clear by Sam Hooker, Alcy Leyva, Laura Morrison, Cassondra Windwalker, Dalena Storm, and Seven Jane

Thank you to NetGalley and Black Spot Books for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. A Midnight Clear debuted November 5th.

I’ve made a concerted effort this year to read more short fiction; the vast majority of my weekly Short Tuesday series focuses on dark genre fiction. So I was intrigued by this short story collection from Black Spot Books, which has a dark holiday focus. Like a lot of short story collections, this one was kind of all over the place. I’m going to give each story a mini review, since there’s only six of them.

“The Dauntless” by Sam Hooker was a strong start to the collection. Great prose, fun details, and a gripping premise: the ensuing legal fallout when a ship of Santa’s elves is sent to deliver Christmas joy to one of Lovecraft’s monsters. If you’re a Lovecraft fan, I could see picking up A Midnight Clear just for this story. 4 stars.

“Tidings of the New Moon” by Alcy Leyva was well-written, but didn’t grip me–more a me thing, I think, than anything else. I’m generally a fan of werewolves in fiction, but this story was maybe a bit too on-the-nose for me in terms of some of the details. Nevertheless, Leyva is clearly a talented writer. 3 stars.

“Movin’ On Up” by Laura Morrison was a fun one for me, since I’m letting a Hell-themed project percolate in my mind right now, and that’s what this was: a trio of three inhabitants of Hell trying to persuade a woman destined for Heaven to venture downstairs instead. I wish this story had been given more room for growth, by at least a few thousand more words; it felt rushed. Yet it was tons of fun overall. 4 stars.

“The Poetry of Snow and Stars” by Cassondra Windwalker was a story that I unfortunately did not get along with. It has an adverb-soaked voice and tons of backstory that put me in mind of those romances you read where the author is trying to catch you up on all the previous characters in the series–I’ve never been a fan of that myself, and that sentiment counts doubly for a short story, where no word should be wasted. The maybe-murder-maybe-not plot didn’t catch me, and the Stanley Hotel setting felt wasted. 2 stars.

“Sleep, Sweet Khors” by Dalena Storm is actually the second work I’ve read by this author in 2019; I was introduced to her by her debut novel, The Hungry Ghost. Like Ghost, this story has a strong mythological spine, this time from the Slavic tradition. I didn’t like the mythology infodump in the middle of the story; I always prefer these kinds of details to get threaded through the narrative. As with Ghost, this author feels like she is currently developing her voice; she has some great ideas, and I’m digging the mythology threads she interweaves with her stories, but I’d like to see a bit more lyricism to her prose. 3 stars.

“Snow Angel” by Seven Jane was a weaker end to the collection, sadly. The prose felt overworked, and much of the narrative was spent in the main character’s head, which got tiresome for me as a reader because the MC was just bemoaning the holiday season the entire time–I didn’t want to spend any more time with her than need be! When we got to the big magical climax, I had a difficult time believing that all this was happening to the main character; was she really special enough to have all this magical attention lavished upon her? So this story and I sadly didn’t mesh. 2 stars.

In sum, this collection was a bit of a bumpy ride, but there were some fun, bright moments. If you’re looking for some Christmas-themed stories and you like your fiction with a dose of darkness, consider giving this a go.

ARC: Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden

Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Voyager for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Escaping Exodus debuts October 15th.

The seemingly acid trip-inspired cover of Escaping Exodus does the words inside justice: this book is unabashedly weird.

Just look at this cover, omg. I want it on my wall.

Drayden chronicles a matriarchal society that has made the innards of a gargantuan, living space beast their home; when one space beast is on the way out health-wise, they literally jump ship (har har) to the next one in the herd. It’s mad, it’s trippy, it’s body horror at times, and it’s the kind of book you really need to experience for yourself.

I inch closer to the pond of cool, debris-ridden slime that rims the sphincter. It pulses, back and forth, back and forth, a putrid-looking pucker of flesh. Adalla sticks both of her hands in the hole and pulls hard, her muscles rippling and bulging. The rim tries to hold tight, even looks like it’s tugging against her, but eventually it gives, and the hole widens just enough for a person to slip through.

And is the book YA? The main characters are certainly the proper age, but I’d say not really; it doesn’t have the tone you’d expect, which I chalk up to the MCs living in such an alien society and feeling so young and brash that they’re completely unrelatable. There were times I had a really hard time buying the decisions of the MCs; for people living in a society that faces the constant threat of extinction, they have no issues throwing caution to the wind at every opportunity.

The pacing of the book was also strange, to say the least. From start to finish action is stuffed together in a kind of madcap jumble, but then threads of story seem to wither away into nothingness, never to be picked up again. I think the blurb for the book is kind of telling: one big infodump followed by the most blah of final hooks:

And of course there wouldn’t be much of a story if things didn’t go terribly, terribly wrong.

Notice how unspecific that is? There’s too much going on in this book to condense the plot into “If X character doesn’t do Y near-impossible thing, then Z terrible consequence will happen!” We’ve got a lesbian princess and subject forbidden love affair, an underclass uprising, people communicating in code by making out, sex with baby space beasts, an obtuse matriarchal and polyamorous family system with like eight moms and a couple dads per child, court intrigue, clone rights, inter-space beast communications, forgotten histories… I could continue if needed. As per usual, the social justice themes were a turn-off for me, but even that kind of got drowned out by all the crazy, constant details. And yet, for a book with so much detailed worldbuilding, I somehow found it hard to picture exactly what was going on in a lot of scenes, I think because the whole book takes an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach.

Basically, Escaping Exodus felt far too ambitious; I would have liked to see more nuance. Nevertheless, many scenes were absolutely riveting, and some bits have really stuck with me. (I read this book back in July.) It’s obvious that this author has tons of potential, so I’m definitely up for reading more of her work.