Book Review & Deal: Lost Years of Merlin, For $3.46

You know when you’re looking for a book to capture your kids’ imagination, or find one that’ll make them realize that they actually like to read? Maybe you make your kids keep their brain’s active during the summer, like me, or you have a child that’s a voracious reader and are struggling to keep up with their demand for books. Or maybe you’re an adult looking for a fanciful read yourself. For all of you, I recommend Merlin: The Lost Years, Book 1 by T.A. Barron. It’s one of those books that is just fanciful enough to enchant even the most recalcitrant reader, but plenty fanciful for those who like a good escape. I read it for the first time as an adult a few years ago, and enjoyed it alot. Merlin: The Lost Years, Book 1 is a great book for which I found a great deal.

What Is Merlin, The Lost Years About?

From Goodreads:

A raging sea tosses a boy upon the shores of ancient Wales. Left for dead, he has no memory, no name, and no home. But it is his determination to find out who he is – to learn the truth about his mysterious powers – that leads him to a strange and enchanted land. And it is there he discovers that the fate of this land and his personal quest are strangely entwined. He is destined to become the greatest wizard of all time–known to all as Merlin.

Who Would Like The Lost Years And Why?

The Lost Years reminds me slightly me Penric’s Demon by Louis McMaster Bujold, as well as The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. They’re mysterious, rural, a little bit moody, with young protagonists. It also shares a lot of elements with The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper, which I also highly recommend; it’s about kids on a quest that brings them in touch with ancient powers. If you or your kids like “quest” books (think 39 Clues), books about kids with powers, or books set in wild, old England, you’ll like this book. There are seven books in the series, mind you, so if you get started with one, you’ll probably have to read the rest.

What’s The Deal?

If you buy The Lost Years from Amazon, it’s $7.10 to $8.99, depending on whether you want a Kindle or paperback copy. has a copy, however, for $3.46 with free shipping. That’s a $3.62 difference.


Book Review: The Rose and The Crown, a Nice Read

I’m still elbow deep in my hunt for an editor/content manager job, and have been transitioning my kids to summer, which always includes a neighborhood getting-out-of-school party:

What my neighborhood does to celebrate the end of the school year.

A post shared by Jamie Moesser (@jmoesser) on

…as well as more substantial chore charts (with the accompanying wailing and gnashing of teeth), and shopping for shorts, summer clothes, and braintime activities. We like to do lots of hands-on things—read-a-thons, science experiments, art projects, museum visits, etc.—and have accumulated a lot of materials and resources over the years for that, but I like to take them shopping for new kits, books, etc., whatever gets them excited about continuing to learn over the summer. Of course, I pay them for their chores, with Braintime being one of them, so there’s that. As the summer progresses, I’ll share ideas and stories of our learning escapades, and I hope you’ll share yours with me too, in the comments section below!

In the meantime, I read The Hero and The Crown by Robin McKinleyIt’s a speculative fiction book about a young princess who doesn’t look the way people of royal birth in her kingdom look, and doesn’t feel like a princess because she’s been told since she was born that her mother, upon giving birth to her and seeing she was a girl, turned her face to the wall and died of despair. Aerin is shy and retiring, but when a power-hungry village in the north of her father’s kingdom starts causing problems that he has to go and tend to, she’s left to deal with the threat of a dreaded dragon. She struggles, not only with the burden of figuring out how to do that and strengthening her fortitude so she can, but also against the perceptions that everyone has about her and she has about herself, that it will be impossible for her to defeat the dragon.

What I Thought of It

Although the plot knits together fairly well, it takes a while to get going, and the climax is over in two seconds, which makes it feel somewhat anti-climatic. She’s led to a dark wizard who wants to take over her father’s kingdom, but she strikes him down (rather easily actually), which indirectly helps her save the whole kingdom. It was a nice read.

Who Might Like The Hero and the Crown

If you liked The Waking Land by Callie Bates, Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson, or Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold, you’ll like this book.

If you’ve got a Kindle, it’s available on Amazon for $5.38, which is 23% off the paperback price.



Book Review: Memory of Fire, a Rich Read

I found myself jumping back and forth between four books this past week: Memory of Fire by Callie Bates (speculative), Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (YA sci-fi/apocalyptic), Torment by Lauren Kate (paranormal?) , and Glimmer by Phoebe Kitanidis (sci-fi/paranormal?).  Let me tell you about Memory.

What Memory of Fire is About And Who Would Like It

Memory is the sequel to The Waking Land, which I reviewed here. Like that book, it is a rousing story of magic versus evil, told in vivid first-person. It is rich in storylines, thick in ambience, and strong in style. It’s the story of Jahan Korakides, who is called to broker peace with the nation of Paladis after he helps his girlfriend, Elanna Valtai, win peace over the despotic ruler of the smaller kingdoms of Eren and Caeris. Elanna and Jahan are both sorcerers, though Elanna’s magic is a much more powerful, land-based power.

As Jahan seeks that peace with the monarchs of Paladis, the story also becomes very much one of him striving to overcome the damage and trauma done to him when he was young by a woman hired by his father to grow his magical powers, and find his brothers, who were also hurt by her. The monarchs of Paladis want to eliminate sorcery altogether, and don’t know that Jahan is a sorcerer and tied so closely to Elanna. The citizens of Paladis want Jahan to lead a rebellion that would have sorcerers holding just as much political power, if not more, than non-sorcerers. He just wants to heal, find his brothers, and get to safety, but quickly finds his way blocked and a different course laid out for him.

If I were to depict it in a video, as I’m wont to do, it would be this one:


..only perhaps sped up a little bit and with multi-colored threads as opposed to only white ones. The finished product is intricately-woven, moves at breakneck speed, and satisfies not only those readers looking for fantasy, but also those looking for high political intrigue, romance, and deft world-building.

Nutrition Facts, Anyone?

There are a few swear words and one or two allusions to sex. There are many references to the importance of family ties, no matter how difficult they can be to maintain. There is mention of a gay relationship, handled in a very gentle way. A good amount of violence.

Anything Wrong?

If I gave Memory of Fire anything less than a full 10 stars on my 10-star scale, I’d have to dock all books with the trope of a power-hungry antagonist (or two), and there are too many of those to count. I’ve read so many books lately where the antagonist is a flat character only motivated purely by a lust for power. What does it say about me that I want a little more dimension in the antagonists I read about?


Disclosure: I received a free ARC of Memory of Fire from NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review of the book.

Book Review: Dark Breaks the Dawn, a Romantic YA Read

I have to apologize. A couple of days ago, in this post, I said that Sara B. Larson’s book Dark Breaks the Dawn was all about power. I was wrong. While most of the story’s direct conflict revolves around the main character’s struggles to defeat the despotic ruler of a neighboring kingdom, it is actually the romance that develops between the main character and a member of her court that becomes the true underpinning of the book, making it more of a romance than anything. That being said, though, the ending brings the theme back around solidly to power, so if you like speculative books with both romance and battles, you’ll like Dark Breaks the Dawn.

It’s important for me to determine what genre a book is so that I read it with the right expectations. If one reads an adult contemporary thriller with the expectation that it’ll have the magic of a fantasy romance, for instance, one will be disappointed, but not by the fault of the book. I mentioned this in this post about Jenna Welch’s book Love and GelatoIf one reads Dark Breaks the Dawn knowing it’s mostly a romance, then one won’t be disappointed by the lack of detailed battle scenes.

What Dark Breaks the Dawn is About

Most books about queens and kings and magic that I’ve read don’t have much romance in them because the assumption or rule is that monarchs have to marry to form alliances, not for love. That rule is not brought up in this book, presumably because both of the main character Queen Evelayn’s parents were killed in battle trying to fight the aforementioned despotic ruler, and no one else cares who she marries. The young queen’s main conflict is learning to wield the power that only she has, and that she just came into, in time to defeat ruler Bayne, and sort out whether the young lord chosen to help train her likes her for herself or is being compelled to. She thinks he might be wooing her to force a wedding and the production of an heir who can carry on the line of power should she fail.

Who Might Like This Book, And Why

In that this romance is the focus of the book, and the queen is only 18, that makes this a YA speculative book, putting it in the same category as books like Cinder by Marissa Mayer, Unearthed by Amie Kaufman, and Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater. It has the slightly quicker pacing of a YA book, as well as a coming-into-one’s-own feeling, and characters who mature in their understandings and misunderstandings of what truly wielding power, both political and magical, means. Evelayne is less of a fighter than Alexa Hollen, the main character of Larson’s Defy series, which I really enjoyed, but she acts with resolve and benevolence, still making her worthy of respect as a main character and figment of Larson’s imagination.


So, young adults, and adults who consider themselves to be young-at-heart (like me), will like this book…unless they don’t like cliffhanger endings, because this book has one. What is it with the cliffhanger endings? I’ve read a string of them lately, unwittingly, and I’m bugged! I hate cliffhanger endings!

No sex, violence, or profanity. Six stars out of ten. I bought and listened to this book on Audible, where it was narrated by Amy Schiels. Amy has a gentle Scottish brogue that really fits the story, and heightened my enjoyment of it.


Book Review: Traitorborn is Mind-Blowing

For some reason, I find myself reading multiple books right now that revolve around the theme of power: mankind’s constant struggles for it, what it does to those who hold it, how it affects those who don’t. The one I most recently finished—Traitorborn by Amy Bartol—is remarkably like Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson in some respects, more like K.B. Wager’s Behind the Throne in others, all built on premises of matriarchal monarchies, magic or magical technology, and infinite political intrigue. Traitorborn is the sequel to Secondborn and is a mind-blowing handful of a read.

What Traitorborn (and Secondborn) Are About

In a kingdom called the Fates Republic, Firstborns rule society. Secondborns are the property of the government. Thirdborns are not tolerated. On every secondborn’s 18th birthday, they’re taken by the government and forced into servitude as soldiers in a bloody war. Roselle St. Sismode is the second-born of one of the most elite families in the Fates Republic, but she’s taken away like every other secondborn. And her elite firstborn mother is happy to see her go. Her mother is paranoid that she’ll kill her older brother Gabriel to gain his status, so paranoid she doesn’t see the love between the two siblings. So paranoid she’s willing to try to have her secondborn child killed while in transit to her servitude.

But Roselle had a privileged, if isolated and abusive, upbringing that has earned her the resentment of her secondborn peers. She survives the attempt on her life only to be forced into battles where her life is threatened constantly. Then she’s confronted with the opportunity to kill or spare an enemy soldier on the battlefield. Killing him means she’s like her mother; sparing him marks her as a traitor to her mother, punishable by death. Though she’s able to keep her decision a secret (you’ll have to read Secondborn to find out what it is), she finds herself almost always fighting for her life…when she’s not being regaled by various secret factions bent on destroying her mother and putting Roselle in her place. She has to constantly defend herself against various foes sent by her paranoid mother, and those who pretend to be her allies while killing her family so that they can put her in a position of power she doesn’t want, to maintain a system of government she doesn’t agree with.

The Good and Not so Good…Intermingled

Both books are set in a world of airships, electronic monikers that track every single person’s actions and movements, skyscrapers built like trees, fusion weapons, and a brutally-maintained caste system. The reason behind this caste system isn’t explained until the end of Traitorborn, and while that explanation fits where it’s placed, I would have appreciated it much earlier (or at least intimations of it) in the storyline because so much of what Roselle decides to do or not do depends upon her understanding of the caste system, which turns out to be incomplete. The world-building in this series is breath-taking; it incorporates highly-imaginative tech with stunning architecture that directly reflects the values of the people that built it.

Both books (the first of which I bought on Amazon, the second of which I got an ARC of from NetGalley) also incorporate a lot of fighting, killing, political strategizing, romance (with three different love interests, no less), and recognition of the value of filial love. If these books were made into movies, they would both be rated-R for the fighting and killing. It was difficult for me to wade through those parts, and I ended up skipping over some of them, as I’m not a fan of gruesomeness. There is a lot of political strategizing, with Roselle constantly trying to figure out who she can trust, who she can be herself—a supremely-skilled fighter who gets panic attacks from all the death she sees—around, between those who would put her in power so that she can maintain the caste system, those who would put her in power so that she can take it down altogether, and those who just want to make everybody stop fighting. If I were a person in the world of these books, I’d be part of that last group. If there’s anything that I’m tired of after reading so many books about what power does to people, and seeing it (I think) play out in real life, I think that no one person should be in charge of any country or kingdom or province, even if there are checks and balances and councils and congresses in place. But that’s just me. I’d be interested in what you think of that.

So, with the fighting and strategizing and romance (i.e., heat – no sex scenes), there’s a lot of action, and both books are fast-paced and intense. That, along with the world-building, I really liked. I also really liked Roselle as a main character: incredibly tough but also very vulnerable.  My big complaint with both books, though, other than they (like the other power-based books I’ve read recently) are based on flat antagonists whose hunger for power makes them stereotypical and one-dimensional, is that they both end with huge cliffhangers. I mean, HUGE. On the one hand, I’m absolutely convinced that I won’t read the third book in this series when it comes out in 2019 because I don’t want to reward the author and publisher for that kind of baiting. On the other hand, the cliffhanger at the end of Traitorborn is so wild and unforeseen and crazy that I might not be able to resist, especially if I can get another free ARC from Netgalley.

So, if you liked Dark Breaks the Dawn, Behind the Throne, The Sin Eater’s Daughter or books about power set in worlds other than our own, you’ll like both Secondborn and Traitorborn. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this ARC, and have provided an honest review.

Book Reviews and Giveaways: Penric’s Demon and Curse of Chalion are Must-Reads

I haven’t read many novellas in my time, and when I have it’s either been by accident or because it was a filler between releases of books in series that I loved. I happened to read a novella this past week, though, by accident and it happened to become not so much a filler between book releases but a bandage to cover the hole that the preceding books in this series, which have no impending sequels, have left. Penric’s  Demon is a novella set in the Kingdom of the Five Gods, a setting created by master science fiction and fantasy writer Lois McMaster Bujold. It was written fourteen years after the first book set in that Kingdom, Curse of Chalion, but takes place roughly a hundred years before it. I read Penric’s Demon purely on the strength of Curse of Chalion, which was a phenomenal book, I thought, and while I found the former book weaker (possibly due to it’s novella status), it was still a must-read.

What Penric’s Demon is About

In the Kingdom of the Five Gods, people’s souls belong to one of five gods: the Father, the Mother, the Daughter, the Son, and the Bastard. Some people become scholars and high-ranking religious officials by choosing one of those deities and committing their lives to studying them. The magical elements of this speculative fiction series come from the influence of these five deities. Some of those scholars, in fact, take on embodiments of them. The main character Penric, for instance, somehow inherits a “demon” from a learned female priest he encounters on the road as she dies, the demon being a collection of the spirits of animals and people that previous learneds assembled and put into her. It inhabits Penric’s body with him, carrying on conversations with him and occasionally bestowing him with minor gifts of magic for protection. Most people who receive such demons–called such because they are believed to be associated with the Bastard, who is the deity of disorder–are able to work great magic because of the spirits that possess them. Penric is none of those things and possesses no great magic, so he causes the people who discover that he’s got a demon in him to react in alarm, confusion, disbelief, and derision. Therein lies the central conflict of the book.

The Strengths and Weaknesses of Penric’s Demon

The most enjoyable part of reading Penric’s Demon was Bujold’s writing. It’s dense with meaning and history, while also flowing and evocative. Take this passage for example:

Nothing much to see, now, in the dawn damp; nothing much to feel, though Pen extended all his exacerbated senses. He bowed his head and offered a silent prayer, the wording haltingly remembered from services for his father…. The grave returned no answer, but something inside him seemed to ease, as if pacified.

The other is the sweet Kung Fu Panda feel of the premise, where the protagonist finds himself thrust into a place of honor having done nothing to earn it and enjoying it while at the same time feeling wholly unworthy of it.

The conflict, however, or the reactions and actions of people that find out he has a demon in him, doesn’t really set in until two-thirds of the way through the book. Most of the book is Pen getting to know his “rider,” if you will. While pleasant and mildly interesting, it really should have been much shorter.

How That Relates to Curse of Chalion

That being said, I highly recommend Penric’s Demon to anyone who loves any kind of speculative fiction or is a fan of any of Bujold’s other works. It familiarizes you with the Five Gods Kingdom, so that you can then go read Curse of Chalion with a little bit of understanding. Curse is about Lupe dy Cazaril, a man who, at the beginning of the book, returns home to the Kingdom of Chalion (what used to be called the Kingdom of the Five Gods) a broken man, though he is only 35 years old, after having defended a castle during a long siege, only to be ordered to surrender it and then sold into slavery and eventually rescued. He gains a position as the secretary-tutor of the Princess Iselle and her companion,  Lady Betriz..

Despite his ardent desire to live a safely low-profile, peaceful life, Caz finds himself drawn into a strange and dangerous journey when Iselle and her younger brother Teidez, heir to the childless King Orico, are ordered to join their half-brother’s court.  Caz is driven to defend them from Orico and the kingdom from the civil war he’s fermenting.  Through all this, Caz comes to realize that the five gods have chosen him to act for them, though his mission is not made clear. With the second sight he is given, he discovers that a black curse hangs over the royal family of Chalion, one that he seeks to dispel for Iselle’s sake.

Like Penric’s DemonChalion is full of enchanting language and charming main and supporting characters. Because it’s longer, though, its plot is more substantial, and the conflict is well-developed from the beginning. It’s a “page turner,” not because of break-neck pacing or multiple plot convolutions, but because one comes to care for Caz and want to know what happens to him and those he cares for.

I’m giving away one Kindle copy each of The Curse of Chalion (it is only $2.99 on Amazon right now) and Penric’s Demon to one of my blog subscribers or Twitter followers. Enter here for The Curse and here for Penric’s Demon.

Book Review: The Sin-Eater’s Daughter, an Emotional But Confined Read

Writers of books are told over and over again to “show, not tell.” It’s a directive that, if implemented well, makes for a much more vivid, immersive experience for book readers because they are supplied with tactile or visual details of settings or characters’ emotions rather than told how characters feel or where they are. It’s the difference between “my insides cramped at his abrasive words” and “my dad was abusive.” It seems like it would be easy to implement, but it’s really not. Melinda Salisbury, in her book The Sin Eater’s Daughter, shows a mastery of this skill that is, in some ways, unparalleled. Because it’s confined to just the demonstrations of the main character’s emotions, though, and not to her world in general, it makes for an emotional but somewhat confined read.

What The Sin Eater’s Daughter is About

Sixteen-year-old Twylla lives in a castle and is engaged to a prince, but no one speaks to her or even dares look at her because she’s the executioner. As the goddess-embodied, Twylla kills with a single touch. No one will ever love her. Who could care for a girl with murder in her veins? Even the prince, whose royal blood supposedly makes him immune to her touch, avoids her.

But then a new guard arrives, a boy who is able to look past Twylla’s executioner robes and see the girl, not the goddess. He helps her discover the real truth of her existence, and she’s tempted to fall in love with him, but she’s scared to death of the queen. The prince’s mother is enacting a complicated and merciless plan to destroy her enemies, of which she has many, and she wants Twylla’s complete loyalty for her son, or her death.

Why The Sin Eater’s Daughter is Emotional But Confined

To become the executioner and the prince’s affianced, Twylla had to forsake her mother and siblings. Making that decision wasn’t hard for Twylla because she didn’t get along with or understand her mother, who was the Sin Eater, a person in their society appointed to eat gastronomic representations of peoples’ sins at their funerals as a means of absolution. Also, taking on those roles ensured that a monthly stipend was sent to her mother for the care of her siblings. Once she got to the castle, she didn’t leave it. She only knew the outside world through the wicked queen’s interpretation. Twylla’s life is confined, thus making the reading confined. All the drama of the book goes into showing her emotions, her reactions to the deaths she causes, to the prince, the queen, and her new guard. The action of the book all takes place “off-stage,” and away from Twylla; thus, most of the plot is advanced only through the ripple effects of certain people telling her certain details and her making certain deductions and acting on them.

So, of course, her emotions have to be strong and dramatic, and they are, but there are a lot of them. Sometimes too much. It gets to be a little Twilight-esque, but mostly at the beginning. Well, then again at the end too; (spoiler alert) the story ends with her not making a decision. I agree with CommonSenseMedia’s assessment that this book is possessive of “strong writing but a weak heroine.”

Who Would Like The Sin Eater’s Daughter

Sin Eater’s Daughter is speculative fiction, so readers of books like Enna Burning by Shannon HaleThe Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson, and Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst will like this book too. All of these books involve characters with powers that set them off from other people, that make them feel alone, but that also put them in positions of political pawnship.

Seven out of ten stars. For “nutrition facts label” information, go to’s page about this book.

I bought my copy of this book on Audible, and listened to it as an e-book. I highly recommend this version, as it’s read by someone with a British accent and occasional Scottish brogue, which makes it sound very authentic.

Disclosure: I just became a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. Obviously, you don’t have to buy it through the link to the book I provided above, but if you did, I wouldn’t complain.

Book Review: The Waking Land by Callie Bates – a Rousing Read

In the acknowledgements section at the end of The Waking Land by Callie Bates, she states that her book is “what happens when you read your daughter The Lord of the Rings [when she’s]…nine, then drag her into old-growth forests and nurture her desire to be a writer.” The book is a story told in the vein of that legendary one, but with it’s own style and strengths. Like that legendary book, it is also long and epic in scale (which is why I’m so late posting this review), but more rousing than the original and told, I thought, with more flair.

What The Waking Land is About

Lady Elanna Valtai is fiercely devoted to the king who raised her like a daughter. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Elanna is accused of his murder and must flee for her life. She runs into some men who are compatriots of her real father, the one that let her be kidnapped by that king many years ago. She’s taken back to and forced to reckon with her despised, estranged father, who had been branded a traitor. Feeling a strange, deep connection to the natural world, she also must face the truth about the forces she has always denied or disdained as superstition, as certain powers suddenly stir within her.

But her accusers are relentless, and she’s quickly forced to choose between staying free of them but involving herself in a rebellion against the king’s daughter (now the queen and revealed to be the power-monger she truly was), who was just recently her pretend sister, or letting herself be caught and executed for a crime she didn’t commit. Neither is really an option, but the power that she develops to literally wake the land tilts things in the rebellion’s favor, ill-fated though it might be.

What I Liked About the Book

It is fascinating to me the way some authors can spin such rich, intricate tales about imaginary people, places, and plots. It’s not easy to do. Bates, even though she is a debut author, seems to be a pro at developing multiple story lines, embellishing each one, and weaving them all together into one seamless plot that marches ever forward. There is a romance story line, a what-do-I-do-with-my-power story line, a will-I-ever-have-a-good-relationship-with-my-parents story line, an evasion-of-capture story line, and a does-this-rebellion-stand-a-chance story line. They’re all big story lines in and of themselves, and they all progress based on Elanna’s thoughts and their ensuing decisions. Amazing.

Also, the entire book is told in first-person present tense, as in: “There’s a touch on my arm, and I look up to find Jahan standing next to me.” This is very unusual for speculative fiction, but it really works. It makes things seem more tangible and intense, being inside Elanna’s head as things happen. If I were to put a visual with this, it’d be the rug-weaving video I mentioned here, but with the viewer being the weaver and the rug being much bigger and multi-colored. That’s why I say it’s “rousing.”

Lastly, the intrigue and mystery of whose loyalties lie where (Elanna’s, Elanna’s mom, The Butcher, etc.) is very thick, which makes for lots of emotion and thinking during the reading of this book.

What I Didn’t Like as Much

  • In the way of a nutrition facts label, there are a couple of swear words, a sex scene (that I skipped over), and an out-of-wedlock relationship. There’s definitely violence. There are also good examples of mercy being granted and of certain people taking the high road, of communing with nature (of course).
  • It might be a bit long for some.
  • There are a couple of major plot points that I questioned the sense of, despite the fact that they’d been well led up to.

Who Will Probably Like This Book

Anyone who likes Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, Elantris by Brandon Sanderson, or The Curse of Chalion by Louis McMaster Bujold will like this book. Anyone who likes intrigue, action, non-simplistic plots, or romances will probably enjoy it too.

Enter to win a free hardback copy of The Waking Land by Callie Bates by clicking here or subscribing to my site on the main page.

Note: I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

About the giveaway: See this #AmazonGiveaway for a chance to win: The Waking Land. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Ends the earlier of Aug 8, 2017 11:59 PM PDT, or when all prizes are claimed. See Official Rules

The words "Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet" in front of violet background with lavender swirls. "Charlie N. Holmberg" in yellow letters at the bottom.

Book Review: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie Holmberg- a Magic Read

Reading a synopsis like this, what would you think?

Maire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from.

When marauders raid her town, Maire is captured and sold to the eccentric Allemas, who enslaves her and demands that she produce sinister confections, including a witch’s gingerbread cottage, a living cookie boy, and size-altering cakes.

During her captivity, Maire is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being who is reluctant to reveal his connection to her. The more often they meet, the more her memories return, and she begins to piece together who and what she really is—as well as past mistakes that yield cosmic consequences.

Interesting, right? Unique, right? More than just the typical girl-discovers-she-has-magic book, right? Well, if you were to read the book this synopsis describes–Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg, you would agree that those adjectives do in fact describe the book as a whole. But I think you would also agree that they don’t even begin to touch the uniqueness and “wow”-ness that is this book.

Magic Bitter Magic Sweet cover

Perhaps it was because I finally had some time after a week and a half of extreme busy-ness, or because I was seeking some escape, but I read this book in less than a day. I have no idea how long  Magic Bitter is in terms of page count because I read it on my Kindle, but I ate it up.

Here’s why:

the plot: it never goes where you think it will. It twists and turns and ends up in a place wholly unpredictable, somewhat beyond comprehension and slightly bizarre, but entirely in line with everything that happens along the way. It takes a true master to craft a plot like this. One  star out of two, simply because the ending was so…wow.

the characters: Maire is a wonderful main character, strong but enigmatic, unique but relatable. There are comparatively few other characters in the book, and I would have liked a few more details about Franc and Arrice, her caretakers. Two out of two stars.

the pacing: Perfect. Fast but not breakneck speed. Two out of two stars.

the style: Amazing. Told entirely in present tense, which makes what otherwise might have been too ethereal a book seem more “present.” Charlie truly has a gift for description. Two stars out of two. I’d give this one ten just for style, if I could.

the premise: Like everything else, unique. Two stars out of two.

Disclosure: I received a Kindle copy of this book through NetGalley. 

Two for One: Book Reviews of The Rose & the Dagger, and A City Dreaming

Last year, I read two very interesting but opposite books. Both were written in the fantasy genre and dealt with different kinds of magic. Both will or have been published this year. One is The Rose and the Dagger by Renée Adhieh, the other The City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky. One I loved, the other (though I hate to say it), I strongly disliked.

rose and dagger cover

The Rose and the Dagger is the second book in the Wrath and the Dawn duology. I raved about that first book here. The only thing that kept me from giving it a perfect rating was that its ending was very much a cliffhanger. At the risk of spoiling what details that ending provided, here is the description of the second book:

In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad has been torn from the love of her husband Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once believed him a monster, but his secrets revealed a man tormented by guilt and a powerful curse—one that might keep them apart forever. Reunited with her family, who have taken refuge with enemies of Khalid, and Tariq, her childhood sweetheart, she should be happy. But Tariq now commands forces set on destroying Khalid’s empire. Shahrzad is almost a prisoner caught between loyalties to people she loves. But she refuses to be a pawn and devises a plan.

While her father, Jahandar, continues to play with magical forces he doesn’t yet understand, Shahrzad tries to uncover powers that may lie dormant within her. With the help of a tattered old carpet and a tempestuous but sage young man, Shahrzad will attempt to break the curse and reunite with her one true love.

Just like the first book, I loved everything about this second book–its solid plot, quick pacing, unique characters, and luscious setting–except the ending, which was incomplete. Granted, because it was the end of the series as well as the end of the book, it tied up more loose ends than the first one, but I didn’t feel like enough resolution was provided to the Jalal/Despina storyline, which was an intriguing one in and of itself.

A City Dreaming coverBut the other book I read–A City Dreaming? I very much hate when I have to say that I hate a book because it’s a book and I assume that the author has invested a good deal of time and effort into writing it and getting it published, and the publisher believed in it enough to publish it. But though this book was squarely in the fantasy genre, one which I normally love, it was so not my kind of book. Here is the book’s description, from Goodreads:

M is an ageless drifter with a sharp tongue, few scruples, and the ability to bend reality to his will, ever so slightly. He’s come back to New York City after a long absence, and though he’d much rather spend his days drinking artisanal beer in his favorite local bar, his old friends—and his enemies—have other plans for him. One night M might find himself squaring off against the pirates who cruise the Gowanus Canal; another night sees him at a fashionable uptown charity auction where the waitstaff are all zombies. A subway ride through the inner circles of hell? In M’s world, that’s practically a pleasant diversion.

Before too long, M realizes he’s landed in the middle of a power struggle between Celise, the elegant White Queen of Manhattan, and Abilene, Brooklyn’s hip, free-spirited Red Queen, a rivalry that threatens to make New York go the way of Atlantis. To stop it, M will have to call in every favor, waste every charm, and blow every spell he’s ever acquired—he might even have to get out of bed before noon. Enter a world of Wall Street wolves, slumming scenesters, desperate artists, drug-induced divinities, pocket steampunk universes, and demonic coffee shops. M’s New York, the infinite nexus of the universe, really is a city that never sleeps—but is always dreaming.

I should have known from this description that the characters would be guttural and the language less than ideal, as indeed they were. The book’s cast is motley at best, shiftless on their medium days, and thoroughly unlikable at their worst. And there was, in fact, quite a lot of profanity.

But my real complaint with the book is perhaps due to my “readerly impatience,” or at least the impatience I’m told I should have. Most books published these days, both in my experience and in the writing education I’ve received, dive right into conflict: Harry Potter’s foes at the outset of Sorcerer’s Stone are the Dursleys, Tris’s conflict at the beginning of Divergent is that she has to choose between staying with her family and the faction of her future. It isn’t until eight percent (maybe thirty-six pages) into The City Dreaming that one of the characters who drives the main conflict is introduced, and though that introduction is supposed to be momentous as far as the plot’s concerned, it is banal in its execution.

This is a two-star on my one-to-ten scale. But this is just my opinion of the book, one of many I’m sure once the book releases in October of this year. Those who enjoy more literary, darker, cruder fare will probably scoop this up.

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Disclosure: I received a Kindle ARC through NetGalley of A City Dreaming. All opinions are my own.