Tag Archives: rating: four-stars

Peter Darling by Austin Chant

Peter Darling

Peter Darling by Austin Chant

Published by: Less Than Three Press on February 15, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Peter Pan left Neverland ten years ago, willing to give growing up a try, even if it was in a world where he never felt comfortable. But they say time will always tell, and in this case it told Peter that he could not leave his truth behind. So he returns to Neverland, only to find that the game has changed. In fact, there is far more danger than fun. And when he crosses paths with his arch-nemesis, Captain Hook, he finds that time has also brought about new feelings that he never experienced before…

I love a well-written adaptation. And I love fantasy. So this is an absolutely winning combination for me as a reader. This is also the first work by Austin Chant that I have read, but I am willing to label myself a fan. The complexity of the characters, the slow and organic reveals, and the ways of being true to the original while telling a new story demonstrate a skill in storytelling. We definitely need more well-written stories with transgender characters like this to reflect the diversity of human experience. And while this is a fantasy story, the humanity is universal.

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Miracles

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

Series: The Divine Cities, Book 3
Published by: Broadway Books on May 2, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Sigrud je Harkvaldsson has been waiting to be called up by his old friend, former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, thinking it possible the day may never come. But when Shara is assassinated, Sigrud knows he must act, that he must avenge his friend. It quickly becomes clear, however, that Shara was more active than anyone expected in retirement and she fully intended for Sigrud to pick up her war exactly where she left off. And when it comes to anything mysterious going on in Bulikov, you can almost guarantee there’s some connection to the Divinities. And even though they’ve all supposedly been defeated, they always seem to keep coming back. But to win Shara’s war and, as it seems, to survive, Sigrud will need to find a way to put an end to what amounts to an ancient curse that tests the limits of even his own understanding.

This is an action-packed final installment in what I personally consider to be an epic fantasy trilogy. It is interesting to read a Sigrud-driven story, considering his involvement in the previous two books. And there are elements here that tie back to the very beginning, where the motivations for the events that triggered the start of the first book are explained. And the explanation and Sigrud’s journey take readers down some unexpected paths. An excellent read, and a fitting close to this series…

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via the Blogging for Books program.]

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

The Shadow Cipher

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

Series: York, Book 1
Published by: Walden Pond Press on May 16, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz like where they live. Not only is there a community in their apartment building, but it is one of the five remaining Morningstarr buildings, part of the architectural vision of the mysterious Morningstarr twins who built much of early New York City. But the Morningstarrs did more than just build magnificent buildings before they disappeared; they built a puzzle, the Old York Cipher, into their design of the city. And legend has it that the one who solves it will find an untold treasure waiting at the end. Tess, Theo, and Jaime set out on a mission to solve a puzzle that no one has been able to solve for nearly 200 years. They hope doing so will prove the cipher is real and save their building. And they also know that once the remaining buildings are destroyed, the likelihood of anyone ever solving the puzzle will go from slim to none. Their journey involves solving a mystery, but it is not one that is without danger. For where there is talk of treasure, there will always be people with less-than-honorable intentions sniffing around…

This is a fun urban fantasy story with some hints of steam punk that I really enjoyed reading. Following these amateur sleuths on their adventure was even a bit exhilarating at times. This is billed as a middle grades book, and it has a spirit and energy that fits for that audience (but also audiences of all ages) quite well. It is a bit on the hefty side for middle grades, both in terms of length and some aspects of the plot, but I think it would be a great choice for earlier advanced readers or older students looking to jump into reading longer novels.

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reading copy received from the publisher.]

Cold Summer by Gwen Cole

Cold Summer

Cold Summer by Gwen Cole

Published by: Sky Pony Press on May 2, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Kale Jackson has an exciting special ability, but it is one that he is beginning to think is not quite so exciting anymore. He travels through time. That might sound fascinating to many people, but Kale cannot control it. Though he can usually tell when he’s likely to travel shortly before he does, he can’t stop it or force it to happen. And with his recent travels taking him back to World War II, fighting on the front lines as a sharpshooter, the danger has taken much of the fun out of the whole experience. Of course there’s also the fact that he cannot explain to most people why he disappears for days at a time without any notice. They would never believe him–including his own father.

But one person who has always believed Kale is Harper, a childhood friend who used to live next door. And when Kale finds out she’s returned for the summer, he has the smallest glimmer of hope that quickly fades. In the years that have gone by Kale has changed. But so has Harper. Although she promised she would never ask Kale where he travels, she is more assertive and insistent that Kale not resign himself to being alone. The two quickly reforge a friendship that has the potential to become something more. That is, until Harper looks up Kale’s involvement in World War II online. What she finds has the potential to change everything.
This is a wonderfully written young adult science fiction story that doesn’t rely on all of the tropes that are so common these days in the genre. Yes, there’s angst and a budding relationship, but they don’t drive the story. Instead we see Kale, a young man who feels very much at the mercy of this thing he can’t control or explain, finding his way back to feeling like he has some agency over his life. And we see Harper, a young woman who has recently claimed her own agency, working to feel comfortable with her choices while trying to help Kale do the same. And everyone will have to love Uncle Jasper. Definitely recommended reading!

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.]

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Published by: Bloomsbury on September 20, 2011
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Princes in exile generally know they cannot expect too many great things out of life. Which is where Patroclus found himself when he was sent to the court of King Peleus. What he did not expect was to become friends with the king’s son, Achilles, and forge a quick and defining bond. The two become fast friends and there is the lingering sense for Patroclus that their connection might mean something more. A sense that Achilles’s mother, the sea goddess Thetis, does not appreciate at all. And Thetis makes it her mission to keep the two of them apart–for her son’s own good, obviously.

But things change for everyone when Helen of Sparta is kidnapped. Princes from all around are asked to join in the fight–and Achilles cannot escape the call. Despite the danger, Patroclus must decide whether to go with Achilles into battle, knowing in his heart that they cannot live apart. And knowing that the battlefield might just be where everything about both of their lives is truly tested…

I’ll be honest that I was a bit sold on this book before I even opened it up. Mythology, fantasy, romance, etc. are all things I tend to enjoy. But when I opened it up and fell into the story that Madeline Miller crafted, I was surprised at the wonderful construction of this book. Telling epic tales is not easy. It can be even more challenging when it is a story with which many readers may already have some familiarity. But Miller’s narrative is fresh, engaging, and compelling. And this has quickly risen to near the top of my favorite mythology-based novels. If you haven’t read it and have even a passive interest in any of its genre tags, considering picking it up at your earliest convenience!

Gilded Cage by Vic James

Gilded Cage

Gilded Cage by Vic James

Series: Dark Gifts, Book 1
Published by: Del Rey Books on February 14, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

The world is divided. There are the Equals who possess Skill, a form of inherent magic, and make up the ruling class in Britain and several other countries. And then there are the rest, the Unskilled, the commoners. And though Skill separates them, the Equals must ensure the commoners know their place. Which is why, when the Equals took power, the instituted the slavedays: all commoners must spend ten years in servitude to the Equals, either in a workhouse or on an Equal estate. It is only upon completion of the slavedays that a commoner has full rights in society.

For Luke and Abigail’s family, the slavedays have always been a bit of a shadow over them. Their parents didn’t complete their time before starting a family, so their place in the community has been limited. But in order to give their children more opportunities than they had, they’ve decided to complete them together, now, as a family. For Abigail (18), Luke (16), and Daisy (10), it seems a bit daunting, but they can appreciate having the support of their parents as they go through their ten-year of slave service. And Abigail has even arranged for them to work together at the estate of one of the foremost ruling families.

But things rarely ever go as planned. As the family departs to begin their service, they learn that Luke has been reassigned to the local slavetown and will not be joining them at the estate. While it at first seems devastating, Luke settles into his new community and quickly learns more about the Equals and the power dynamics in Britain than he ever learned in school. And he also learns that there are people who aren’t exactly happy with the current state of affairs and might just be prepared to do something about it.

Back at the estate, Abigail and Daisy are also settling in. Daisy is assigned to care for the illegitimate daughter of estate’s heir, which brings her into favor with the family, something she might just be able to use to her advantage. And Abigail finds herself drawn to the Unskilled son she is working for, as she grapples with feelings that might get her into more trouble than she bargained for.

But it turns out that the dissatisfaction with the current state of things doesn’t rest solely with the commoners. No, there are Equals who don’t like the direction Britain is headed, and they all have their reasons. In a game of politics and power, there is only so long to wait until everything reaches a tipping point and it all comes crashing down or explodes in a flurry of light. And this game provides no exception…

This is an incredible start to a new trilogy that had me on the edge of my seat for most of the book. The world building, the character development, the description–it’s all so wonderfully done. I had a very difficult time putting this down and ended up finishing it within the same day I started reading. It’s so easy to get lost in the world that Vic James has created.

There are some unexpected surprises along the way (I tried not to spoil much in my description above) that I didn’t see coming, but they still felt right. And there are some characters whose motivations I still find myself questioning–only because I don’t quite know which side of the fight they’re on. Something to explore in the future installments, to be sure!

I definitely recommend this to anyone interested in fantasy, dystopia, stories of intrigue, class/power struggles, and generally just good writing.

A Coal Miner’s Son by T.A. Chase

A Coal Miner's Son

A Coal Miner’s Son by T.A. Chase

Published by: Dreamspinner on January 4, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

James Callahan is the heir to a large mining operation who can’t seem to live up to his father’s expectations. For one, James has always been friendly and associated with the miners, and Nicholas Callahan doesn’t understand why his son wouldn’t want to spend his time with people of his same social standing. But to James, he’s never been any better than those who work the mines, and he’s not about to let his position or his wealth become a divider. He’s been best friends with Owain for years. And Owain’s older brother, Cai, always has a way of turning James’s head–even if Cai avoids James at all costs.

Cai Rees doesn’t deny the fact that James is cute. He is. But they come from two different worlds. James is rich and the Callahans all think they are better than the miners, don’t they? How could they ever have anything in common. And would Cai really want to put up with James’s high-class family all the time? No, Cai is right to stay away. But when Cai finds he needs James’s help with some family drama, he quickly realizes it may be much harder to stay away than he’d first imagined it would be.

I have a soft spot for stories of people who have secretly harbored feelings for each other for years and finally see the chance to act on them. And when you’ve been carrying around feelings for a long time, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier to express or process them. Sometimes it can be even harder to act when you’ve been holding yourself back for so long. And for Cai and James, years of family dynamics and assumptions layered on top of everything make for some additional challenges…and opportunities.

Last Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin

Last Train to Istanbul

Last Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin

Published by: AmazonCrossing on October 8, 2013 (translation)
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Selva is the daughter of a traditional Turkish man who disowned her when she decided to marry Rafael Alfandari, son of a prominent physician–and a Jew. As much as it pained her to lose the connection to her family, Selva had to follow her heart. And to get out of the shadow of disapproval from both sets of parents, Selva and Rafael relocated to France where they had a son and made a life for themselves. But things changed quickly when the Nazis invaded France and began seeking out and rounding up Jews. While Turkey, being neutral in the conflict, has been able to keep some of their Jewish citizens from being taken, they worry that they may not be able to protect them in the face of continuing extreme approaches by Nazi officials. In an effort to keep their citizens safe, Turkish officials arrange for a train to bring a single car of Turkish citizens home. But for people like Selva, whose community includes friends who are not Turkish but are clearly in danger, there’s a compulsion to take a risk to protect them. And it’s a risk that could lead to consequences for everyone…

This is a wonderfully-written and well-researched piece of writing that I am so glad I took the time to read. While this period of humanity’s history is challenging to approach and read about, I think it’s incredibly important that we don’t simply ignore it. And thankfully this story provides the contrast between those who acted with very little regard for others and those who are willing to risk themselves in service of doing what’s right. You’ll quickly become connected to these characters. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll enjoy an excellent story that embodies the better aspects of our nature.

Private Truths by C.B. Lewis

Private Truths

Private Truths by C.B. Lewis

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on December 2, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

After struggling with addiction after returning from Army service, Jack McCall turned his life around and now devotes his time to a charity that assists homeless veterans in London. He’s devoted to the charity and the cause, and he works hard to do the best he can. Which is why he goes so far as to approach Edward Marsden, Viscount Routhsley, about supporting the charity. Edward is known for his philanthropy but he’s equally well-known for his philandering. As Jack gets to know Edward, however, he quickly learns that Edward’s public image couldn’t be further from who the man really is. The two have many things in common–and something Jack did not expect at all. As they grow closer, they struggle to keep their relationship a secret. Jack worries that if it got out, it might cast some doubt on what he did to secure the donation for his charity. And Edward doesn’t want his sexuality to overshadow the work he does for several important causes. But secrets can only be kept for so long, especially by those who are very much in the public eye. Eventually, they will have to make a decision and be willing to accept the consequences of whichever choice they make.

Perception is what defines reality. It can be easy for us, in the abstract, to say that people should follow their hearts when it comes to love. That’s the romanticized view anyway. Don’t let love pass you by. But for people whose actions and relationships will be scrutinized and picked apart first by the media and then by the general public, it’s not as easy as just thinking about what you want. The masses love a scandal. And we also love to fill in the missing details of any story with the juiciest possible explanations. So for people like a viscount or the poster-child for an important charity, actions and choices can have an impact. And the appearance of impropriety is just as good–in terms of public currency–as actual impropriety. This is an excellent look at what it means to find love in the face of celebrity and balancing the public good with personal choices. If only we could all just live our lives…

Man & Monster by Michael Jensen

Man & Monster

Man & Monster by Michael Jensen

Series: The Savage Land, Book 2
Published by: Buddha Kitty Books on January 4, 2017 (re-release)
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Cole Seavey knew it might not be the best idea to venture west on his own. But he needed to get away from his life back east and he figured he might see if he could catch up with his brother out on the frontier. But a run-in with a cougar as he tried to save a young child in the middle of the woods left him in the path of a much more dangerous and mysterious creature. And it also left him on the run without any of his supplies. He’s saved by a Delaware Indian name Pakim and he quickly finds himself pulled into the politics and drama of the local community. But the creature he encountered in the woods isn’t going away, and more people are going missing or reporting sightings of something strange in the forest. When it finally makes a move that could bring them all down, Cole and Pakim realize they might be parted–just when they’ve started to connect on a deeper level. Is this just Cole’s luck? Or is there a chance they will both make it out alive?

This is a very well-written historical m/m romance, which is a genre I absolutely think we need more of in the world. We know that there were certainly LGBT people during these eras in history, but because they had to keep their lives hidden most of their stories are lost to us. I love the idea of thinking about what life may have been like and filling in those gaps with good stories just like this one.

This is the second book in a series, but there is no need to have read the first book to dive into this one–it can live as a stand-alone novel. I’ve not read the first book, and I had no problems understanding what was going on or following the story.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.]