Edwin: High King of Britain by Edoardo Albert

Edwin; High King of Britain by Edoardo Albert(Cover picture courtesy of A Well-Watered Garden.)

Debut historical fiction series vividly recreating the rise of the Christian kings of Northumbria, England

In 604 AD, Edwin, the deposed king of Northumbria, seeks refuge at the court of King Raedwald of East Anglia. But Raedwald is urged to kill his guest by Aethelfrith, Edwin’s usurper. As Edwin walks by the shore, alone and at bay, he is confronted by a mysterious figure–the missionary Paulinus– who prophesies that he will become High King of Britain. It is a turning point.

Through battles and astute political alliances Edwin rises to power, in the process marrying the Kentish princess Aethelburh. As part of the marriage contract the princess is allowed to retain her Christian faith. But, in these times, to be a king is not a recipe for a long life.

This turbulent and tormented period in British history sees the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon settlers who have forced their way on to British shores over previous centuries, arriving first to pillage, then to farm and trade–and to come to terms with the faith of the Celtic tribes they have driven out.

The dramatic story of Northumbria’s Christian kings helped give birth to England as a nation, English as a language, and the adoption of Christianity as the faith of the English.

[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback copy in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

I was actually pleasantly surprised with Edwin.  The first page left me a little bit skeptical because of the strange setting and all of the strange names, but by the time we get to the mysterious stranger on the beach that helps Edwin I was hooked.  Edoardo Albert has a very interesting writing style: he describes things quite well for the modern reader and yet he keeps an air of authenticity about his writing.  He really does stay true to the period in the words and actions of his characters but at the same time he doesn’t leave his readers confused either.  I’m very new to the period being discussed and yet I came out of the book not feeling confused at all.

Edwin is not your typical hero in modern tales.  He’s dark and broody and occasionally prone to wartime atrocities.  At the same time, he’s a good man in that he cares for his children tenderly and is always there for his friends (especially the ones that were with him in exile).  Essentially, he’s a man of contradictions because his actions hardly make him a hero but neither do they make him a villain.  Edoardo Albert does this balancing act extremely well and you’re left with the feeling that even though you may not exactly sympathize with him, you do understand him.

For historical fiction of this magnitude and scope, Edwin is surprisingly fast-paced.  We are swept along through Edwin’s victories that lead him to declare himself High King of Britain and eventually through his conversion to Christianity.  Hardly anything seems to go his way at first, but through sheer force of will Edwin eventually succeeds.  Whether he actually can hold onto his power is another story, what with all of the back-stabbing rivals who aren’t happy with his self-proclaimed authority over the whole island.  The ending was sad, but not entirely unexpected considering the fact that kings in the early years were far from long-lived.

Like I said, I was pretty skeptical about Edwin: High King of Britain but by the end of the book I have to say that I’m a fan.  I honestly can’t wait for the rest of The Northumbrian Thrones!

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

A princess must find her place in a reborn world.

She flees on her wedding day.

She steals ancient documents from the Chancellor’s secret collection.

She is pursued by bounty hunters sent by her own father.

She is Princess Lia, seventeen, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan.

The Kingdom of Morrighan is steeped in tradition and the stories of a bygone world, but some traditions Lia can’t abide. Like having to marry someone she’s never met to secure a political alliance.

Fed up and ready for a new life, Lia flees to a distant village on the morning of her wedding. She settles in among the common folk, intrigued when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deceptions swirl and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—secrets that may unravel her world—even as she feels herself falling in love.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Lia was a hard character for me to read, if I’m honest.  I’m not the type of person that’s overly self-sacrificing, but her decision to run on her wedding day didn’t sit well with me.  It felt incredibly selfish, especially when the livelihoods of two kingdoms and all of their subjects were at risk.  She didn’t even give her marriage a chance to work, but made a pre-emptive strike by running away and putting literally thousands of lives at risk.  I can absolutely understand her motivations, though I certainly don’t agree with them.  Still, Lia was not a bad character and by the end she was at least well-fleshed out enough that I actually found myself enjoying her.

My main problem with The Kiss of Deception is that it’s like a really old table: it sags in the middle.  Don’t get me wrongMary Pearson’s writing really is amazingbut her pacing is somewhat lacking.  Most of the story’s plot centres around the fact that you apparently aren’t sure which of the two boys Lia likes is the assassin and which is the prince.  What really puzzled me was that there seemed to be no ambiguity in her writing so the ‘big reveal’ was somewhat spoiled by the fact I didn’t know there was a mystery to begin with.  It was rather jarring, I’ll admit.

One of the saving graces of the story wasn’t just Lia’s character development, but the aforementioned quality of Pearson’s writing.  It really was awesome and despite the poor pacing I found myself revelling in the world she created.  It was vivid and real with some really beautiful descriptions that you don’t often find in YA fiction.  In my opinion it’s hard to comment on the world-building simply because we haven’t actually seen much of the world yet.  Lia spent most of her time in a small-town tavern, after all.  Still, from what I’ve seen I’m pretty satisfied and it almost makes up for the poor pacing and Lia’s character in the beginning.

So overall?  I’d have to say that The Kiss of Deception is more contradiction than deception but that doesn’t mean the book doesn’t have merit.  The writing got better as the book went along and there was finally something resembling a plot at the end of the book so I think I will end up reading the second book.  However, you do have to have a certain mindset to read this book and not feel repulsed by Lia’s selfishness at the beginning.  It does get better as the book moves along, however.

I give this book 3/5 stars.

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Dark Aemilia by Sally O’Reilly

Dark Aemilia by Sally O`Reilly(Cover picture courtesy of Vulpes Libris.)

A TALE OF SORCERY AND PASSION IN SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY LONDON—WHERE WITCHES HAUNT WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE AND HIS DARK LADY, THE PLAYWRIGHT’S MUSE AND ONE TRUE LOVE

The daughter of a Venetian musician, Aemilia Bassano came of age in Queen Elizabeth’s royal court. The Queen’s favorite, she develops a love of poetry and learning, maturing into a young woman known not only for her beauty but also her sharp mind and quick tongue. Aemilia becomes the mistress of Lord Hunsdon, but her position is precarious. Then she crosses paths with an impetuous playwright named William Shakespeare and begins an impassioned but ill-fated affair.

A decade later, the Queen is dead, and Aemilia Bassano is now Aemilia Lanyer, fallen from favor and married to a fool. Like the rest of London, she fears the plague. And when her young son Henry takes ill, Aemilia resolves to do anything to save him, even if it means seeking help from her estranged lover, Will—or worse, making a pact with the Devil himself.

In rich, vivid detail, Sally O’Reilly breathes life into England’s first female poet, a mysterious woman nearly forgotten by history. Full of passion and devilish schemes, Dark Aemilia is a tale worthy of the Bard.

[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback copy of this book for the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

I was really surprised at Dark Aemilia and I`m not really all that surprised when it comes to historical fiction anymore.  This truly is a tale of love and hate, revenge and kindness and the power of the written word.  Everyone makes mistakes, sometimes with dire consequences.

Aemilia herself is a fascinating lady: she`s mistress to a much older rich man at a very young age but then falls in love with a penniless playwright and poet.  Who is, of course, William Shakespeare.  The romance is quite tumultuous and although at first they both seem to hate each other (Aemilia hated The Taming of the Shrew) their love ends up being too strong and later turns to hate.  Aemilia is not always sympathetic, I`ll admit, but she is a fascinating character and you really do understand things from her point of view.  She has to make some harrowing choices that cost her almost everything, including very nearly her sanity.

What really surprised me about Dark Aemilia is not only Sally O`Reilly`s clear love of Shakespeare (for she incorporates his plays whenever she can) but her mastery of Old English.  This isn`t some pseudo-medieval dialogue, but rather some very authentic language that you would expect to find in documents from the time.  She even uses slang that was common in during the time, like `dugs` and `chuck`.  Little historical details like this really bring the period to life.

The plot isn`t exactly fast-paced, but as I said it is interesting.  I couldn`t put this book down and was up until two in the morning to finish it because I had to know what happened to Aemilia.  The ending was quite sad but also satisfying because Aemilia never really changed.  She stayed true to herself and in the end got that measure of freedom she yearned for her whole life.  It`s a bittersweet ending because you think of what might have been, but Shakespeare was known for his tragedies so I guess it is quite fitting.

If you have ever admired or even read Shakespeare, I can`t recommend this book enough.  I absolutely loved it!

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Accession by Terah Edun

Accession by Terah Edun(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Sixteen-year-old Katherine Thompson wasn’t trained to rule a coven. That was her sister – perfect, beautiful Rose. But when a mysterious plane crash kills off the heir presumptive of the Sandersville coven she has no choice.

After stepping in to fill her sister’s shoes, Katherine realizes she didn’t have a clue – faery wars, depressed trolls and angry unicorns are just the beginning.

For centuries, her family has served the high Queens on both sides of the Atlantic but it is a well-known rule that mid-level witches stay away from high-level Queens.

But when Katherine’s youngest cousin vanishes without a trace in the Atlanta court and no one wants to investigate, Katherine decides to step into the darkness on her own. She will soon discover that nothing, especially in a queen’s court, is as it seems.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

First off, as with all of Terah Edun’s work (especially her Courtlight series), I was really impressed with the world-building here.  There are fairies, unicorns and trolls but they’re not really your typical fairies, unicorns and trolls.  Not only that, there are new creatures like Gestap that we encounter that are totally unique to Accession.  The politics between witches in different cities and towns was also interesting, even though we didn’t really see much of the inner workings of the courts in this first installment.  Still, what we did see was interesting and I’m definitely interested in finding out more.

Katherine is not a bad character but she’s not exactly my favourite narrator ever.  She’s more reactive than proactive as she comes into her new role as heir apparent to her mother, who rules the town as a Queen witch.  I’ll admit that it would be hard to find your feet in such a crazy place when you’ve never cared to learn the subtleties of area politics, but I was a little disappointed that Katherine didn’t really come into her own in the story.  She does grow stronger (I’ll admit) and grows as a character, but she really does have a long way to go.

The only thing I felt was actually lacking in Accession was the plot itself.  It doesn’t seem to be having that greater, over-arching goal that gives the character a sort of purpose.  Instead, we get bogged down in little subplots through the entire book before at the end we finally, finally get to the meat of the story before the cliffhanger ending.  Sure, Katherine’s goal of finding her sister’s killer is always in the back of her mind, but she doesn’t really seem to care as much as you’d think she would.  Katherine may have had her disagreements with her sister, but she really did love her and that’s why her lack of drive to find her killer struck me as odd.  It made it feel like the story was lacking a coherent plot.

Still, I have faith in Terah Edun that this series will only improve as it continues, just like the Courtlight series.  With that cliffhanger ending, I really can’t wait for the next installment to see whether Katherine truly matures or not.

I give this book 3.5/5 stars.

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*Not available.

The Winter People by Rebekah Purdy

The Winter People by Rebekah L. Purdy(Cover picture courtesy of Bibliophilia, Please.)

Salome Montgomery fears winter—the cold, the snow, the ice, but most of all, the frozen pond she fell through as a child. Haunted by the voices and images of the strange beings that pulled her to safety, she hasn’t forgotten their warning to “stay away.” For eleven years, she has avoided the winter woods, the pond, and the darkness that lurks nearby. But when failing health takes her grandparents to Arizona, she is left in charge of maintaining their estate. This includes the “special gifts” that must be left at the back of the property.

 

Salome discovers she’s a key player in a world she’s tried for years to avoid. At the center of this world is the strange and beautiful Nevin, who she finds trespassing on her family’s property. Cursed with dark secrets and knowledge of the creatures in the woods, he takes Salome’s life in a new direction. A direction where she’ll have to decide between her longtime crush, Colton, who could cure her fear of winter. Or Nevin, who, along with an appointed bodyguard, Gareth, protects her from the darkness that swirls in the snowy backdrop.

 

An evil that, given the chance, will kill her.

 

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Through the first few chapters of The Winter People, I kept thinking “Oh no, there’s going to be a love triangle just like every other YA book out there.”  Still, the premise of this book was interesting enough that even a love triangle couldn’t dissuade me.  I was resolved to give it a fair try and I’m so glad I did.

Yes, The Winter People seems like it has your absolutely typical love triangle in the beginning.  But I promise you that doesn’t last as Salome realizes not everything is as it seems and not everyone is deserving of her affection.  She really matures as a character and desperately tries to get over her justified fear of winter from a previously traumatic incident only to realize that she should still be afraid of it.  Very, very afraid.

The thing that really sets The Winter People apart from most YA books I’ve read lately is the quality of writing.  Rebekah Purdy really does have a beautiful, descriptive writing style that sucks you into the story.  She doesn’t describe things in mind-numbing detail but the way she describes them really does make you feel like you’re in all of these scenes, both magical and ordinary.  It takes a talented writer to do that and I really believe that if nothing else, the writing alone would be enough reason to read this book.

However, the main character is pretty awesome as well.  Salome is terrified of winter because she fell through the ice in her family pond at a very young age.  She was rescued by our mysterious Nevin at the time but she still retained a somewhat justifiable fear of all things wintery.  Now in high school she’s having to cope with taking care of her grandparents’ house when they go south for the winter because her dad is usually gone (as a trucker) and her mother has a broken leg.  Seeing how she deals with that really gives me a lot of respect for her because despite her fear, she’s determined to help out her grandparents.

In the beginning Salome is a bit naive but never falls into the ‘too stupid to live’ category.  She really grows and matures not only as she falls in love (then realizes what love really is thanks to a little help from a special someone) but as she fights for her life.  There’s a mysterious curse hanging over her head and no one will tell her anything about it so she’s absolutely determined to find out on her own in order to save herself and her family.  You really can’t help but love Salome as a character.

The plot isn’t insanely fast-paced because this is a character-driven novel but it is pretty exciting.  Just when you think you know how things are going to end, Rebekah Purdy throws a twist in and you’re left scrambling.  There were one or two twists I predicted but in general I was pleasantly surprised by most of the turns the story took.  They stayed true to the essence of the story while still throwing the reader for a loop and that takes talent on the part of the author.

Even if you’re not big into fairies, I can’t recommend The Winter People enough.  These fairies really aren’t all that they seem and they’re more like the fairies of old, not the sweet, innocent and ridiculously hot fairies of most books these days.  They’re more capricious and dangerous than your average YA fairy and it certainly makes the story more interesting in that things aren’t only in shades of black and white.  After reading this book, I honestly can’t wait to read more of Rebekah Purdy’s work.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Twell and The Army of Powers by Kate O’Leary

Twell by Kate O'Leary(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Twell lives in the new world of Como, and has always neglected her telekinetic gifts, desiring to be ‘normal.’ Her biggest drama in life is having to be genetically partnered with a boy she doesn’t know or love by her next birthday. Unfortunately she loves her best friend, who loves the girl she hates most, and Twell is left frustrated & heartbroken.

When Twell is requested alongside several other teens to develop her skills for the protection of Como, she reluctantly agrees to the training, and finds herself thrown into all sorts of mental and physical challenges.
Handsome, charismatic Jonaz, is gifted with the power of healing. According to Twell he’s an infuriating prat who delights in provoking her. But first impressions have always been her downfall.
When Como is attacked, life as Twell knows it is changed forever, with devastating consequences. With no choice but to fight, Twell risks her life to protect those who have survived, coming up against unexpected dangers she could never anticipate. Will she survive, and if so will she be matched to a stranger when the one she is growing to love is destined to another?

[Full disclosure: I was provided a free paperback through the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

In the first chapter of this book, I was filled with dread.  It seemed like your typical catty teenage drama book with only a little bit of science fiction and a dash of dystopia.  Then at the end of the chapter we learn that the leadership of Como, the Governing Body, chooses who you are matched with as life partners based on your genetics.  Pretty terrifying, huh?  There’s also the fact that every citizen wears a wristband that brings them updates from the GB and allows them to monitor everyone, everywhere.  That’s even more terrifying.

Twell is a complicated character.  She’s judgmental but at least she’s eventually willing to revise her judgments and act like a real human being rather than a super catty teenager.  To her credit, she does grow quite a bit as a person as the book progresses, but there is a lot of angst to get through in the beginning.  And to be fair, I’d be pretty angsty too if a government controlled my entire life like it does on Como.  Twell’s interactions with the other characters are fascinating and I’ll admit she is a sympathetic character, particularly after tragedy strikes in the later half of the book.  So I can’t really diss her or Kate O’Leary’s character development; it’s pretty good.

My only real criticism of Twell and The Army of Powers is the fact that the writing is unpolished.  I don’t mean it’s bad or has lots of typos, but it feels like there’s a little more maturity needed on the part of the author to pull off those super emotional scenes.  Part of the problem is that this is a first book so of course it’s going to be rough.  But the other part is the fact that Kate O’Leary sometimes doesn’t let her characters speak for themselves.  Whenever they say something that is clearly meant in one way she still adds an explanation after their dialogue that feels unnecessary, even in a book aimed at younger readers.  It gets a little distracting at times but I believe Kate O’Leary’s writing will only improve with the sequel (especially considering that heart-wrenching cliffhanger).

So aside from a little bit of rough writing, this book is actually quite good.  It’s not reliant on just one trope but it’s rather a mash-up of quite a few sci-fi and dystopian tropes into one unique, well thought-out world with realistic characters.  I’d recommend it for younger teens, although there are some scenes of violence.

I give this book 3.5/5 stars.

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Fairy by Shane McKenzie

Fairy by Shane McKenzie(Cover picture courtesy of NetGalley.)

Cecilia will do anything to have a baby. Anything.

Cecilia has tried everything to have the one thing she wants most—a baby. She’s been through every procedure, taken every medication. Nothing seems to work. Her body simply refuses to grow the life she so desperately yearns for. Her jealousy is making her lash out at the pregnant women around her. She’s starting to worry about her sanity.

But all is not lost. There is still one way. And Cecilia will do whatever it takes.

Even if it means inviting an ancient creature into her bedroom.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

I know the blurb sounds like it belongs to a crappy erotic novel, but I swear to you that this is straight up horror.  It’s actually quite terrifying.

I don’t find Cecilia incredibly sympathetic but she is interesting and held my attention.  She’s so desperate for a baby that she’s willing to try anything and she’s especially tortured by seeing new life come into the world as a midwife.  It’s hard for her, especially when she runs into her ex-husband with his new pregnant wife.  You can kind of see where Cecilia would try something so ridiculous and so horrifying that it’s hard to even read about.  I don’t want to spoil too much, but let’s say the ending was very much in character for her.

This is a novella which is good because I don’t think it would be possible to sustain this level of suspense over an entire novel.  In the beginning things are only kind of sad, but then the mood gets darker and darker as Shane McKenzie takes the novella to its terrifying (but believable conclusion).  The pace is quite fast but not at the expense of readers getting to know Cecilia and feel at least a little bit for her plight.

I like that Shane McKenzie stuck with the darker fairy mythology rather than making this into a shameless erotic novel that has a wonderfully happy ending where everyone goes about their merry way.  No, this really is horror and although the ending was rather predictable to my mind, I think it will be a shock for some people who pick this up.  If you’re big on horror I wouldn’t recommend it because you’ve probably read a novel just like this already but if you’re a newbie like I am this is a good sample of what the genre has to offer.

Basically, Fairy was everything a horror novella should be: short, dark and terrifying.  What more can you ask for?

I give this novella 4.5/5 stars.

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