Image

Novella Review: Lost in the Moment and Found by Seanan McGuire

Title: Lost in the Moment and Found

Author: Seanan McGuire

Series: Wayward Children #8

Genre: Fantasy

Ratings: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Welcome to the Shop Where the Lost Things Go. If you ever lost a sock, you’ll find it here. If you ever wondered about favorite toy from childhood… it’s probably sitting on a shelf in the back. And the headphones that you swore that this time you’d keep safe? You guessed it…. Antoinette has lost her father. Metaphorically. He’s not in the shop, and she’ll never see him again. But when Antsy finds herself lost (literally, this time), she finds that however many doors open for her, leaving the Shop for good might not be as simple as it sounds. And stepping through those doors exacts a price. -Goodreads

The Review:

One of my favorite Wayward Children installments yet!

In an Absent Dream remains on a pedestal as my favorite of the series, but Lost in the Moment and Found made a strong case for itself. It was yet another one where the setup story (before the child finds her door) and the new realm exploration were perfectly balanced and I’d be hard-pressed to tell you which section I liked more.

I’d only intended to read a chapter a day, but was so struck by the author’s note at the beginning and absorbed by the story that it quickly turned into a binge-read. So much for my plans to savor these once-a-year gems. McGuire discussed in her author’s note some of the themes for the story and noted trigger-warnings for readers. Y’all know I hate spoilers for books, but in a rare instance, it didn’t bother me here, and in some ways made the story more poignant. It gave me the impression that the author infused a piece of her own past traumas into the book, making it more personalized and meaningful. Overall I found the entire thing heart-wrenching and continue to appreciate this series for putting some of these hush-hush childhood traumas into the limelight.

By focusing on the heavier aspects in my review, I might be giving the impression that these books are total downers, which is definitely not the case. They somehow manage to tackle difficult topics while still maintaining a good level of exciting adventure, fairytale whimsy, and charming characters. My favorite aspect is the sense of discovery as each child finds their door, and I especially loved what was behind the one in this story. It really appealed to my librarian/archivist nature – such a cool concept! My only lament is that we didn’t get to spend more time exploring the place, so I hope it makes an appearance in future books.

It amazes me how McGuire is able to pack so much substance into such a relatively short page-count. New books in this series are among my most anticipated releases each year. At this point I’ve no idea where the it’s headed next, but an overall arc is starting to take shape and I am SO onboard for the ride.

Recommendations: pick this up for bite-sized stories that pack a lot of punch!! It’s the perfect balance of meaningful themes and exciting discoveries.

I’d like to thank TOR and Seanan McGuire for the chance to read and review an early copy of Lost in the Moment and Found!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Valor by John Gwynne

Title: Valor

Author: John Gwynne

Series: Faithful and the Fallen #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: The Banished Lands is torn by war as High King Nathair sweeps the land challenging all who oppose him in his holy crusade. Allied with the manipulative Queen Rhin of Cambren, there are few who can stand against them. But Rhin is playing her own games and has her eyes on a far greater prize… Left for dead, her kin fled and her country overrun with enemies, Cywen has no choice but to try to survive. But any chance of escape is futile once Nathair and his disquieting advisor Calidus realise who she is. They have no intention of letting such a prize from their grasp. For she may be their greatest chance at killing the biggest threat to their power. Meanwhile, the young warrior Corban flees from his conquered homeland with his exiled companions heading for the only place that may offer them sanctuary – Domhain. But to get there they must travel through Cambren avoiding warbands, giants and the vicious wolven of the mountains. And all the while Corban must battle to become the man that everyone believes him to be – the Bright Star and saviour of the Banished Lands. And in the Otherworld dark forces scheme to bring a host of the Fallen into the world of flesh to end the war with the Faithful, once and for all. -Goodreads

The Review:

I continue to see why this series has gained so much momentum in the SFF community. Valor was a solid installment.

What’s remarkable is that this chonker of a book manages to be both a slow-burn expansive story and a fast-paced page-turner at the same time. The overall arc of the story is a gradual build, and actually this sequel didn’t do a whole lot to advance the plot. But within each POV (there are about ten) chapter, the author takes care to make sure each passage has a significant change in status quo before each switch. And all within relatively short chapters to boot! That’s hard to do. It’s part of the reason I’ve come to love Gwynne as very concise and deliberate writer. And it’s also why I deem this classic-feel fantasy as a totally engrossing story. The composition here is incredible, easily one of the most well-done I’ve read.

One of my favorite things about the story is the wide array of compelling characters. With ten POVs it’s probable that you’re not going to like some as much as others, but with the exception of a single one, I found myself completely invested in everyone.

Bouncing around so much can also negatively affect the momentum of a story, but the placement of each switch was so good, sometimes the passages played off of each other and actually enhanced the momentum.

I also love the unexpected quality of Gwynne’s writing. Every time I think I’ve got the trajectory figured out, he switches things up (for the better). I loved the direction some of the POVs took in Valor. This also goes along with those high-stakes elements mentioned in my review of the first book. Most novels with this type of classical feel play at “dangerous” worlds full of peril, but this is one of the few that actually makes me feel any sort of stress for the characters. No one is safe, and I lovelovelove that aspect as much as I hate losing characters.

Recommendations: if you like classic fantasy but can also appreciate a more of a modern writing style, this is my top pick for you. Heck, even if you don’t like classic fantasy but just want a great story, this will win you over with its thoughtful pacing, great characters, and fun (gut-wrenching) story.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Transformation by Carol Berg

Title: Transformation

Author: Carol Berg

Series: Rai-Kirah #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Seyonne is a man waiting to die. He has been a slave for sixteen years, almost half his life, and has lost everything of meaning to him: his dignity, the people and homeland he loves, and the Warden’s power he used to defend an unsuspecting world from the ravages of demons. Seyonne has made peace with his fate. With strict self-discipline he forces himself to exist only in the present moment and to avoid the pain of hope or caring about anyone. But from the moment he is sold to the arrogant, careless Prince Aleksander, the heir to the Derzhi Empire, Seyonne’s uneasy peace begins to crumble. And when he discovers a demon lurking in the Derzhi court, he must find hope and strength in a most unlikely place… -Goodreads

The Review:

Transformation was a mixed bag for me.

I liked the flowing writing style right away and found the basic premise of the book interesting. The characters showed some dynamics early on and there were a lot of interesting court politics to follow. I was sure this was going to be a 4-star read.

But ultimately I didn’t enjoy the execution of the characters and some of the plot points.

Inconsistency of character is probably my biggest criticism. One person in particular would swing wildly from one extreme to the other, and while I appreciate the duality of his profile, it was a bit overdone and not realistic in the slightest. Subtlety would’ve gone a long way here. He wasn’t the only one – a few of the characters flipped the switch on what had been established for them a couple times throughout the book and about the third time it happened, I lost investment in them completely. They just didn’t feel like real people.

As mentioned I also had trouble with the premise. It seems like the only reason for the heavy secrecy regarding demons was because it was convenient for the plot. Exposure by those fighting them would offer way too many solutions and then we wouldn’t have a plot. With some stories, if all the other elements are working for me I usually can just go with it and accept whatever premise I’m given, but because I was already not jazzed about some of the other plot points it was hard not to nitpick the whole thing.

I also don’t particularly like reading about metaphysical realms, and while that didn’t play a huge role in the book, during those parts I found myself dozing off.

Overall, despite how many people have told me they really enjoyed this trilogy, I’m coming in at a 2.5/5 stars – meaning I can grudgingly admit it was better than “just okay” but I’m not sure I liked it. For my personal tastes it was mediocre at best. I’m truthfully not sure if I’ll be reading on or not.

Recommendations: this story had a lot of ideas that were off the beaten path (to its benefit), however neither the overall premise, nor the character trajectories worked for me. That said, this was recommended to me by people who usually offer slam-dunks (they loved it), so take my underwhelming review with a grain of salt.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Novella Review: City of Songs by Anthony Ryan

Title: City of Songs

Author: Anthony Ryan

Series: Seven Swords #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: ATHERIA—THE FABLED CITY OF SONGS THE SHINING JEWEL OF THE THIRD SEA WHERE THE MASKED EXULTIA CASTE HOLD SWAY AND VIE TO OUTDO EACH OTHER IN THEIR PATRONAGE OF THE ARTS, SOMETIMES WITH DEADLY CONSEQUENCES… (Nik’s Notes: copied from GR… why the caps? Don’t yell at me.) Guyime, wandering, dethroned King of the Northlands, is drawn to the Atheria by his quest for the Seven Swords, the demon cursed blades of legend. But to claim the next sword he must first solve a seemingly impossible murder—a puzzle that, once untangled, will unveil secrets so dark they could bring the City of Songs to utter ruin. Continuing the epic tale of The Seven Swords, City of Songs is an action-packed, darkly magical mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of the Raven’s Shadow and Draconis Memoria trilogies. -Goodreads

The Review:

This installment was a little different than the last two. It focused more on the plights of a third party, still relevant to the overall advancing plot, but felt more tangent as a result.

I still really like the trajectory of the series and think it massively creative. Because the page count is so small, things have to progress more quickly, and I think that’s why some of the happenings in this book seems a bit too easy or convenient. But I’m happy to go along with it because of how much I’m enjoying the journey. I’ll say it again – it amazes me how expansive and rich the world building is in this series considering how short the books are. It’s as full and imagined as any full-length fantasy series I’ve read, the only drawback being we don’t get to explore it in quite the same depth.

Overall, another good installment, and I can’t wait to see what adventures await in the next book.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree

Title: Legends & Lattes

Author: Travis Baldree

Series: N/A (<-This is being hyped as a stand-alone but I heard rumor that the author is planning a second book set in the same city with a different character focus)

Genre: “Cozy” Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: High Fantasy with a double-shot of self-reinvention. Worn out after decades of packing steel and raising hell, Viv the orc barbarian cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score. A forgotten legend, a fabled artifact, and an unreasonable amount of hope lead her to the streets of Thune, where she plans to open the first coffee shop the city has ever seen. However, her dreams of a fresh start pulling shots instead of swinging swords are hardly a sure bet. Old frenemies and Thune’s shady underbelly may just upset her plans. To finally build something that will last, Viv will need some new partners and a different kind of resolve. A hot cup of fantasy slice-of-life with a dollop of romantic froth. -Goodreads

The Review:

I expected to like this one, but didn’t expect to set it down feeling all the warm fuzzy feelings so many have experienced. No wonder it has gained such good momentum in the Booktube community.

The book was a match made in heaven for me when it comes to the types of shows I consume outside of reading. I love renovation shows (Fixer Upper, Fixer to Fabulous, Good Bones… give me all the things), and I also love cooking competitions (Top Chef, Tournament of Champions, etc.), and while this didn’t go into a ton of detail for those aspects (and it didn’t involve a competition), I found my cravings for those types of shows satisfied by this book. I also love seeing things grow from the ground up and the day-to-day monotony of running businesses. Add to all of that a fantasy twist and charming characters, and you have yourself a winner.

Aside from loving the type of story, I also appreciated the overall writing style. There were a lot of slower, poignant moments that worked well because they were written well, and I think that’s where the sentimentality of the book shined.

And among all of that, there was actually an interesting external conflict not related to running a coffee shop that I wasn’t expecting. It added more depth to the story and made me feel like I was getting something of substance despite it being generally more lighthearted than most fantasy novels.

Recommendations: this was a completely satisfying and fun read that I’d highly recommend if you need a break between denser books. Everything about it worked for me.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Novella Review: Kraken’s Tooth by Anthony Ryan

Title: Kraken’s Tooth

Author: Anthony Ryan

Series: Seven Swords #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: THE GREAT MERCHANT CITY OF CARTHULA—RAISED FROM THE BONES OF A KRAKEN ON THE WHIM OF A GODDESS WHERE NOBLE HOUSES CALL UPON DARK MAGIC TO TRIUMPH IN THEIR ENDLESS AND DEADLY GAME FOR DOMINION… Landless one-time king Guyime, once called Pilgrim but known to history as the Ravager, has survived the fall of the Execration — an event that set him on a path to find the legendary Seven Swords. Guided by sorcery, Guyime journeys to Carthula in the centre of the First Sea to claim the mythical blade known as the Kraken’s Tooth. Aided by three companions — the beast charmer Seeker, a powerful sorceress and a scholarly slave — Guyime ventures into Carthula’s perilous underbelly to secure a prize guarded by ancient magics, cursed spirits, and lethal traps. But can he survive an ultimate ordeal crafted from his worst nightmares? -Goodreads

The Review:

I gave a fairly detailed review of Pilgrimage of Swords, so I’ll keep it brief here: I don’t know how Ryan manages to pack such rich word-building and depth into such a short book.

I’m really on board with the type of story being told in this series and have loved all the fun (aka perilous) adventures so far. Everything about this series is singing to me, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next! It’s a very bite-sized series and is a perfect refresher between denser reads.

Is the story good enough to merit $40 hardcovers? Probably not, but thankfully the ebook/audio combo is affordable. Unless you’re like me and must have all the hardcovers…

Recommendations: read them, they’re good.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes