Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Star For Mrs Blake by April Smith, Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor and Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas

Due to the fact that I have four books to review, I'm going to forgo the usual addition of book news and just get right to the reviews.

A Star For Mrs Blake by April Smith sounded like the kind of historical fiction that I've been reading a lot of lately, so I was intrigued enough to pick up a copy from the library. Though it started out well enough, the novel soon became tedious with too many details about various battles during WWI, and there were also too many deaths discussed in gruesome details, not just of the soldiers but of some of the mothers as well. Here's the blurb:
An emotionally charged historical novel based on the Gold Star Mothers.
Cora Blake never dreamed she’d go to Paris. She’s hardly ever left the small fishing village where she grew up. Yet in the summer of 1931, she is invited to travel to France with hundreds of other Gold Star Mothers, courtesy of the U.S. government, to say goodbye to their fallen sons, American casualties of World War I who were buried overseas.
Chaperoned by a dashing West Point officer, Cora’s group includes the wife of an immigrant chicken farmer; a housemaid; a socialite; a former tennis star in precarious mental health; and dozens of other women from all over the country. Along the way, the women will forge lifelong friendships as they face a death, a scandal, and a secret revealed.
One grotesque 'secret' after another gets revealed, and there are few moments of respite from the pain and grief and suffering that attends the characters in this novel. A disfigured journalist who has become a morphine addict dies from lead poisoning on his way to get a new mask, and to rid himself of the one that poisoned him in the first place, a wealthy socialite purposefully changes her health history to mask her heart condition so that she can go on a trip to visit her son's grave with the other gold star mothers, and after a dramatic rescue from tangling with a leftover German bomb, dies of heart failure, and African-American mothers aren't allowed to mix with the white mothers of fallen soldiers, but are instead treated as second-class citizens and not treated to the same first class accommodations as the white mothers. This is all taken as something of a given, even if the protagonist tries to protest against being separated from one of the African American mothers. The nurse who accompanies the mothers on this trip is scapegoated by the Army general who also sexually harasses her, and then holds that over her head because he knows that though he made a pass at her, she will be blamed for it if she goes to court to protest being fired for a death that wasn't her fault. And our protagonist Cora, after developing friendships and broadening her horizons in Paris, learns that her son got a French woman pregnant, and that she now has a grandson. Yet when she returns to her hardscrabble existence in Maine, we aren't told whether or not she will accept the marriage proposal of her beau Linwood, who wants her to settle down with him on her old family farm, with its dried up soil, and work herself to death trying to bring the derelict place back to life. She seems to have no other choice than to go back to an existence that is not fulfilling or happy in any way, as the nation slowly climbs out of the depression and into World War II. To say that this novel left me depressed would be an understatement. The prose was decent, if overly full of war trivia, and the plot moved at a sedate pace. Still, I'd give it a B, and recommend it to anyone interested in the Gold Star Mothers of WWI.

Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop is book 5 in her "Others" series, and, as I've read them all, I found myself wondering is this is really the end of the series, or just the start of a new series with some of the "side" characters from these novels brought to the fore. Here's the blurb:
Return to the realm of the Others, where shapeshifters and vampires roam, in the powerful conclusion to blood prophet Meg Corbyn and shapeshifter Simon Wolfgard's story arc in the fifth book in the New York Times bestselling series, now in paperback.
After the Elders cleansed and reclaimed many human towns, Lakeside Courtyard emerged relatively unscathed. Simon Wolfgard, its wolf shifter leader, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn must still work with the human pack to maintain the fragile peace. But all their efforts are threatened when Lieutenant Montgomery's shady brother arrives, looking for a free ride and easy pickings.
With the humans on guard against one of their own, tensions rise, drawing the attention of the Elders, who are curious about the effect such an insignificant predator can have on a pack. But Meg knows the dangers, for she has seen in the cards how it will all end—with her standing beside a grave...Library Journal:After the uprising from the Humans First and Last movement left the Others with no choice but to take action, there is tentative peace in Thaisia; the Elders now must decide if they should allow any humans at all in their lands. The Courtyard where Simon Wolfgard and Meg Corbyn live is their test case. The Elders watch Meg and her "human" friends and wait to see if they can be trusted. Into this fragile blend comes a dangerous man accustomed to taking what he wants and using everyone around him. While Simon and the Others who live at the Courtyard would prefer to take care of him their own way (teeth and claws would do the job), the Elders want to wait and see what happens. The world of the Others is as compelling as ever, but this particular entry seems to be spinning its wheels a bit. While the human vs. Others conflict was mostly resolved in Marked in Flesh, the long-unresolved romantic tension between Simon and Meg remained. Fans will be pleased Bishop finally has the pair addressing their feelings.
I don't agree that Simon and Meg actually resolve their romantic tension, other than to kiss at the very end, which doesn't really tell the readers if they're going to marry, have sex and live together or a combination of those things. There is also the question of whether or not their species are compatible so that they can produce live offspring, which is never addressed. There's the problem of the doctors sent to help the blood prophets who are killed, and whether or not they gave up the location of all the prophets in hiding to those who seek to control and use them. The Elders got their answer to whether or not bad humans should be allowed into a group of 'good' humans and terra indigene, when Montgomery's evil brother gets what he deserves in the most gruesome fashion possible. But we don't learn if the Elders have decided to kill only "bad" humans or to just let all the humans continue to re-colonize the empty villages where humans were wiped out. So there are still numerous loose ends that need tying up in the Others universe, and I hope that Bishop will deal with some of these in her next series, if there is one. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who has read the other Others novels.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is a rather bizarre tome by the author of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. I read the first two books in that series, and while I loved The Daughter of Smoke and Bone, the sequel Days of Blood and Starlight thoroughly destroyed all the wonderful characters and scenes set up by the first book, and left me unable to finish the third book, Gods and Monsters, because the series had become so depressingly horrific and gory. So I picked up this book rather gingerly, hoping that I could get through it without it devolving into something grotesque and ugly. Here's the blurb:
The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around--and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he's been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.
What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries--including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo's dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? and if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?
In this sweeping and breathtaking new novel by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor, author of the New York Times bestselling Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage.
Welcome to Weep.
I loved Lazlo Strange, foundling and junior librarian, not least because he is a bibliophole and a dreamer, like myself. So I fell into this novel and was happily reading along when suddenly, 3/4 of the way through, everything goes to heck in a handbasket, and by the end, the most evil godspawn is in control of Lazlo and his beloved Sarai, leading the reader to wait on that cliffhanger until the sequel appears, one hopes, someday soon. I loathe being emotionally manipulated by authors like that, and I really hate it when they leave readers hanging, fearing for the lives of everyone involved, particularly the protagonist. Yet the prose is elegant and silky, flowing along the swift river of a plot so well that you're halfway through this large 700 page tome before you realize it. It's for that reason that this page-turner gets an A, and a recommendation to anyone who is interested in bizarre fantasy that reads like a beautifully-painted nightmare.

Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas is the 5th book in the Throne of Glass series, and I am unsure of how many more are forthcoming. I've read her previous series, A Court of Thorn and Roses (which I loved) and A Court of Mist and Fury (which I didn't). So I was, just like with Laini Taylor's series, wary of getting involved with another of Maas' series, for fear of getting burned again. Fortunately, Maas first 4 books where riveting and I devoured them, one after the other, hoping for some resolution to the protagonist's situation. As I noted in my previous reviews of this series, our heroine Aelin is apparently another of the irresistible petite blondes of literature who have every male character under the age of dotage (and some well over that age) in love with them, willing to die for their favor, and always amazed at their brilliance and self sacrifice. Of course, Aelin was also trained as an assassin, so she can kick arse when it suits her, and with her powers of fire and light, granted to her by heritage, she can stop the evil monster Valg as well. But no one can win a war fighting on two fronts, and inevitably, Maeve the evil Queen of the Fae decides to kidnap and torture Aelin in order to punish her for allowing Rowan, her immortal beloved, to escape Maeve's clutches, and to find out where Aelin has hidden the Wrydkeys, which are powerful instruments that can be wielded to destroy mankind. Here's the blurb:
Kingdoms collide in Sarah J. Maas's epic fifth installment in the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series.
The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those who don't.
With her heart sworn to the warrior-prince by her side, and her fealty pledged to the people she is determined to save, Aelin will delve into the depths of her power to protect those she loves. But as monsters emerge from the horrors of the past, and dark forces become poised to claim her world, the only chance for salvation will lie in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.
In this breathtaking fifth installment of the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series, Aelin will have to choose what -- and who -- to sacrifice if she's to keep the world of Erilea from breaking apart.
So we are left, once again, with a cliffhanger and a bunch of "males" of various kinds, Fae and Kings and mere humans, (and a shapeshifter woman who also somehow feels compelled to give her life for Aelin and her cause), filled with fury at Maeve's capture of Aelin and Lorcan's treason in selling out Aelin's location. And while we're on the subject of loathsome Lorcan, why Maas feels the need to have him fall in love with poor Elide, who, though she's been enslaved and abused by her uncle for years, somehow manages to retain her winsome beauty, is beyond me. Does everyone have to pair up in these "epic" fantasies, even the crappy characters? It reduces them to romance novels with a fantasy setting, which is not what I signed on for when I pick up an 'epic' fantasy novel. Not that romance as a subplot is always a bad thing, mind you, I personally enjoy some romance in my science fiction and fantasy novels, but I appreciate it when it's not inevitable and cliched, and when it is not used as a device to 'redeem' the bad characters with the 'love of a good woman.' Love seems to bring nothing but pain and heartbreak anyway, in Maas' fiction. HEAs are, apparently, anathema to her. And if that weren't bad enough, there's the sexist nobles of Aelin's kingdom or fiefdom who have decided that she is some kind of freak and doesn't deserve the throne at all, so their representative maligns her and she storms off to prove to him that she can conquer the Valg and their evil master all by herself, if need be, so there! Now that she's in Maeve's clutches, though she's gotten an army and navy together to battle the bad guys, it seems doubtful that she will live long enough to sweep into her kingdom and take control. Though most of Maas' novels in this series are well over 600 pages long, I am looking forward to her next door stopper, if only to see how Aelin survives this latest round of pain and suffering. Will Rowan go mad for want of his mate? Will Lorcan redeem himself? So many questions in store. I'd give this novel a B+, and recommend it to anyone who has read the other books in the series.

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