Thursday, February 20, 2020

Review: A Touch of Death by Rebecca Crunden

A Touch of Death (The Outlands Pentalogy #1)
A Touch of Death by Rebecca Crunden
Publication Date: February 24th, 2017
Ebook. 306 pages

About A Touch of Death:

"A thousand years in the future, the last of humanity live inside the walls of the totalitarian Kingdom of Cutta. The rich live in Anais, the capital city of Cutta, sheltered from the famine and disease which ravage the rest of the Kingdom. Yet riches and power only go so far, and even Anaitians can be executed. It is only by the will of the King that Nate Anteros, son of the King’s favourite, is spared from the gallows after openly dissenting. But when he’s released from prison, Nate disappears. 

A stark contrast, Catherine Taenia has spent her entire life comfortable and content. The daughter of the King’s Hangman and in love with Thom, Nate’s younger brother, her life has always been easy, ordered and comfortable. That is, where it doesn’t concern Nate. His actions sullied not only his future, but theirs. And unlike Thom, Catherine has never forgiven him. 

Two years pass without a word, and then one night Nate returns. But things with Nate are never simple, and when one wrong move turns their lives upside down, the only thing left to do is run where the King’s guards cannot find them – the Outlands. Those wild, untamed lands which stretch around the great walls of the Kingdom, filled with mutants and rabids."

A Touch of Death combines elements of dystopia, sci-fi, a few post-apocalyptic vibes, and a touch of romance thrown in, all of which result in an unpredictable adventure following a few characters on a journey to not only save their lives, but to find some answers about the world they inhabit.

This story takes place in a world that seems similar to our own, but that is much more dystopian in style and lives under the rule of a rather brutal monarchical reign. I found the world-building to be one of the most intriguing components of this book and I felt Crunden did a great job at both developing its realism and also building up a strong atmosphere that really sets the somewhat bleak and cruel tone of both the world and the story. There is a huge privileged vs. poor struggle at the core of this world that added so much to the compelling nature of the story and that also contributed to many of the strong themes. My only sort of 'complaint' (which isn't really a complaint at all) is that I'd love to just learn even more about this world; Crunden lays everything out well, but I'm just so intrigued by how this world developed and all the components that I'm completely open to learning even more and wish I could more.

The two main characters we follow are Catherine and Nathaniel (aka Nate). Catherine was 'matched' and in a relationship with Nate's brother, Thom, and isn't Nate's biggest fan at the start of this story (or for much of it as it continues, either), but the intense and unpredictable events that occur in this story force them to spend more time together than they could have ever expected. Catherine was a surprisingly strong character who experienced some important explorations in finding her own strength to persevere in this story. I found her choices a little confusing at times, but for the most part I really enjoyed following her on this journey and seeing how she adapted to the crazy situations thrown at her.

Nate is a pretty good foil to Catherine in most aspects. He is more of a troublemaker and has a tumultuous and somewhat dodgy past, some of which is why Catherine isn't his biggest fan. He has a mysterious air to him and I really would love to learn more about him and specifics of his past. The beginning of this book has a brief bit that touches on one major event from his past, but I would even love to read some sort of prequel or short story that explores more of his character, as he really was a compelling figure. There are a number of secondary characters that appear in A Touch of Death that I thought were all developed well and that I thought only added good things to this story.

A Touch of Death has strong pacing that wasn't ever too fast or too slow, but rather had a nice balance of moments that slowed down when necessary, but still kept the pace and created a smooth reading experience. Crunden has a lovely writing style that balances eloquent descriptions of setting and emotion with a readable prose that makes it easy to follow the story in the best way.

I don't really have many issues with this story, I'm happy to say! My only minor issues would be that I would have appreciated a bit more background to a few of the main events that happens and information about the world, especially some about the "mutants" that exist and the various places mentioned in this world. There were a few moments where the intensity of the stakes seemed uncertain or confusing, but this really didn't affect my enjoyment and were mostly minimal.

Overall, I've given A Touch of Death 4.25 stars! I really had a highly enjoyable time reading this book and I sincerely look forward to seeing what's next. I wouldn't necessarily call the ending a firm cliffhanger, but it absolutely left me wanting to know what was going to happen next in this story since it is far from over.

*I received a copy of A Touch of Death courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune & Havenfall by Sara Holland

Can't-Wait is a weekly meme hosted by Wishful Endings that spotlights exciting upcoming releases that we can't wait to be released! This meme is based off of Jill @ Breaking the Spine's Waiting on Wednesday meme.

This week's upcoming book spotlights are: 

The House in the Cerulean Sea
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
Publication: March 17th, 2020
Hardcover. 400 pages.

"A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret. 

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages. 

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he's given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days. 

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn."
I absolutely love how delightful and colorful this cover is! I first saw this book one of Tammy at Books, Bones & Buffy's "Future Fiction" posts way back in October and I'm so glad it's finally getting close to its release. I'm actually reading an ARC right now, but I know that I'm going to be purchasing the physical copy once it's out--I am so in love with it already!

Havenfall (Havenfall, #1)
 Havenfall by Sara Holland
Publication: March 3rd, 2020
Hardcover. 320 pages.

"Hidden deep in the mountains of Colorado lies the Inn at Havenfall, a sanctuary that connects ancient worlds--each with their own magic--together. For generations, the inn has protected all who seek refuge within its walls, and any who disrupt the peace can never return. 

For Maddie Morrow, summers at the inn are more than a chance to experience this magic first-hand. Havenfall is an escape from reality, where her mother sits on death row accused of murdering Maddie's brother. It's where Maddie fell in love with handsome Fiorden soldier Brekken. And it's where one day she hopes to inherit the role of Innkeeper from her beloved uncle. 

But this summer, the impossible happens--a dead body is found, shattering everything the inn stands for. With Brekken missing, her uncle gravely injured, and a dangerous creature on the loose, Maddie suddenly finds herself responsible for the safety of everyone in Havenfall. She'll do anything to uncover the truth, even if it means working together with an alluring new staffer Taya, who seems to know more than she's letting on. As dark secrets are revealed about the inn itself, one thing becomes clear to Maddie--no one can be trusted, and no one is safe . . ."
I mean, all I really needed to see what that this is about an inn that connects ancient worlds together and I was hooked! I'm not sure how I'll feel about the contemporary time period that's also in this, but I'm so intrigued that I'm more than happy to give it a chance and check it out!

What do you think about these upcoming releases? What are your anticipated upcoming releases?

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Recent Book Hangovers

This week's topic is: Recent Book Hangovers

I tend to get book hangovers from books that I either fall deeply in love with or books that just pull me into the story so deeply and with such amazing characters that it makes it extremely difficult for me to leave. For the 'most recent' portion of this prompt, I tried to look at it as being between the beginning of 2019 and now, since I'm trying to pick out books that left me with pretty decent book hangovers and/or made it difficult for me to figure out what to read next. And rather than leave lacking descriptions of why these books gave me a book hangover, I'm just going to link most of them to reviews that explain my feelings a little bit better!

The Obsidian Tower (Rooks and Ruin, #1)The Light of All That Falls (The Licanius Trilogy, #3)

The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso
(review coming closer to publication June 2nd!) This is the start to a brand new series from Melissa Caruso after the Sword and Fire trilogy and it was beautiful and intense and perfect! Go read her first trilogy (it starts with The Tethered Mage) and get excited for this release!

The Light of All That Falls by James Islington

The Wolf in the WhaleThe Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy, #3)

The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Darkdawn (The Nevernight Chronicle, #3)Night Film

Darkdawn by Jay Kristoff
The end of one of my absolute favorite trilogies of all time. I was devastated when this was over.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

A Fortress of Grey Ice (Sword of Shadows, #2)The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep

A Fortress of Grey Ice by J.V. Jones
Something about Jones' settings and characters and plotting makes it so hard for me to pick up anything else after reading! They are so intense and detailed and stunning that everything else feels inferior immediately after reading her books!

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry

Realm of Ash (The Books of Ambha, #2)Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children, #2)Fray (The Unraveled Kingdom, #2)

Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
This book was perfect and everything I've wanted out of the Wayward Children series. It was so beautiful and meant so much to me!

(Bonus) Fray by Rowenna Miller

What were some of your most recent book hangovers? Have you read any of these books?

Monday, February 17, 2020

Review: Master of Sorrows by Justin Travis Call

Master of Sorrows (The Silent Gods, #1)
Master of Sorrows by Justin Travis Call
Publication Date: February 21st, 2020
Hardcover. 448 pages

About Master of Sorrows:

"You have heard the story before - of a young boy, orphaned through tragic circumstances, raised by a wise old man, who comes to a fuller knowledge of his magic and uses it to fight the great evil that threatens his world. 

But what if the boy hero and the malevolent, threatening taint were one and the same? 

What if the boy slowly came to realize he was the reincarnation of an evil god? Would he save the world . . . or destroy it? 

Among the Academy's warrior-thieves, Annev de Breth is an outlier. Unlike his classmates who were stolen as infants from the capital city, Annev was born in the small village of Chaenbalu, was believed to be executed, and then unknowingly raised by his parents' killers. 

Seventeen years later, Annev struggles with the burdens of a forbidden magic, a forgotten heritage, and a secret deformity. When he is subsequently caught between the warring ideologies of his priestly mentor and the Academy's masters, he must choose between forfeiting his promising future at the Academy or betraying his closest friends. Each decision leads to a deeper dilemma, until Annev finds himself pressed into a quest he does not wish to fulfil. 

Will he finally embrace the doctrine of his tutors, murder a stranger, and abandon his mentor? Or will he accept the more difficult truth of who he is . . . and the darker truth of what he may become . . ."

Master of Sorrows is an ambitious and inventive story about a boy who must learn to handle a dark secret that could have dire consequences from those around him if they ever found out. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from this book going into it, but I ended up enjoying far more than I expected, which is always a pleasant surprise.

Master of Sorrows is a book that employs a variety of classic fantasy tropes, such as the prophesied one, the reluctant hero, a training academy/school setting, etc., and turns them into something new and exciting. I always say that tropes are classic and used repeatedly by various authors for a reason--readers like them! And most readers love it when authors take those tropes and add new twists to them and bring an inventive take, which is exactly what Call does in this book.

Our protagonist, Annev, lives in a place where magic is feared and banned, and anyone found using magic or tainted with magic can thus find themselves banished or killed. Annev has to continuously hide his true self because he would be considered 'Keos-touched,' or essentially tainted by the magic of an evil god, due to being born missing part of his arm. He wears a prosthetic that was skillfully crafted by his mentor, Sodar, who helps him hide this from those in his town. As with any character that has to hide something big about themselves, this added a constant level of tension to the story because you never knew if or when his secret might be revealed, as well as the consequence of that happening--added on to him hiding it for so long.

I'm a sucker for the mentor-apprentice trope in fantasy, so Annev and Sodar's relationships was one of my favorites to watch, despite my occasional frustrations with Annev's attitude and decisions surrounding him and Sodar. I actually really like that Call crafted Annev to be rather stubborn and to push back against certain things Sodar tells him (which I can't tell you because spoilers!), as it made him seem like an authentic young adult who is growing up and wants nothing more than to live a fairly normal life by continuing his education and future career and courting the girl he likes. He's a bit of a reluctant hero type and is also ridiculously loyal to his friends--sometimes so loyal that I almost felt frustrated by the choices he made, even though they were the right things to do, even if a bit stupid. Even though things might not always turn out positively for Annev, he's one of those characters that I trust to do the right thing--or to at least realize what the right thing is after he's done the wrong.

This book employs some darker themes and elements that permeate the entire story. Each chapter begins with an excerpt from the sort of 'religion' that is followed where Annev lives which adds some important and interesting background information and that also contributes to the darker, more serious undertones of the book. There are a lot of dark forces at play that want to use Annev for various reasons, and I liked seeing how Call incorporated all of these ideas and elements to the overall plot.

The worldbuilding and magic system in this book are top notch, and although I found it wasn't overly expansive and detailed, I can tell that Call has big plans for this series and that there will be so much more in future books, which makes me that much more excited to continue this series.

Overall, it's 4.25 stars from me! If you like books that take classic tropes and use them in new ways with plenty of twists, then this is absolutely a book that you should pick up.

*I received a copy of Master of Sorrows courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Friday Face-Off: Heart

Friday Face Off New
Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme at Books by Proxy. Join us every Friday as we pit cover against cover, and publisher against publisher, to find the best artwork in our literary universe. You can find a list of upcoming topics at Lynn's Books.

This week's topic is:
Romantic – “thus with a kiss I die”

I was having the hardest time with this week's 'romantic' theme because I don't read very many (if any?) romance-dominant books or books with a romantic-leaning cover (at least that I can think of!). So I decided to look for books I've read that had either 'heart,' 'kiss,' or 'love' in the title, which was also rather difficult since, out of the few that popped up, most didn't have more than one or two covers! But I finally found Heartless by Marissa Meyer, which sort of sounds like the opposite of Valentine's Day, but hey, we like dark things here so it fits perfectly in my opinion. Plus, there are plenty of hearts on these covers. And it's one of my favorite books!

2016 US Hardcover | 2017 Paperback | 2016 Dutch

HeartlessBez sercaБессердечная
2017 French | 2017 Polish | 2018 Russian

2017 Spanish | 2017 UK Paperback | 2016 Owlcrate Edition

My choice(s):
I really like a lot of these! I'm very partial to the original US Hardcover, but I am also in love with this Dutch edition!. I'm also a huge fan of the Owlcrate edition (which I'd love to get my hands on one day, but I find that unlikely, haha) and the Russian one, both of which are also gorgeous.

What cover(s) do you like the most!?

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Review: Crisis of Fate by Jesse Teller

Crisis of Fate
Crisis of Fate by Jesse Teller
Publication Date: February 15th, 2020
Ebook. 225 pages

About Crisis of Fate:

"To save her sanity she must give up her soul.

With rare exception, Raendel took everything she ever wanted. Now her vicious thieves guild is festering around her. Through paranoia and insomnia, her grip on reality crumbles, and a crisis leads her to a desperate choice—face retribution or serve a creation of pure evil."

If I'm counting right, I believe this makes the sixth book I've now read by Jesse Teller, and the best part is that this is also the sixth book that I've highly enjoyed reading by Teller, as well! Crisis of Fate happens to be a spin-off novel featuring one of the characters from Teller's most recent previous release, Onslaught of Madness. I'm probably going to keep this review a little on the brief side since it's only 225 pages and because I don't want to give too much detail and/or potential spoilers for Onslaught of Madness.

One of my favorite things about Teller's books have been the characters and their development, and Crisis of Fate is no exception to that. Raendel is a character going through some pretty intense changes and experiences, so it was crucial to capture her mental state and emotions, something that Teller does extremely well. I liked being able to go so deep into her mind and experiencing the darkness and confusion that resided there as a result of everything going on.

The plot of Crisis of Fate was an off-shoot featuring Raendel that I didn't realize I wanted! I genuinely enjoyed diving into this storyline and exploring this rather tragic and intense storyline. I really don't want to say too much about the plot, as mentioned, but I was easily engaged and constantly wanting to keep reading to find out what would happen next. This book was even darker than I expected and I loved how well Teller was able to set such a strong atmosphere that captured this darker tone.

Teller's writing also continues to be the perfect balance of description, action, and engaging narrative. Crisis of Fate doesn't have what I would call a flowery style, but it would also be wrong to call if simple and plain; instead, Teller mixes styles in order to create an extremely compelling and interesting story that kept me engaged throughout the entire story. Teller also continues to excel at writing action and more intense scenes, something that remains a highlight of his writing for me. I often struggles with action scenes and finding myself glossing over some of them or losing interest, but Teller manages to keep my attention through his own skill in their telling.

Overall, I've given Crisis of Fate four stars! I had a fun time with this one and I was so glad to be able to explore this character's own story. 

*I received a copy of Crisis of Fate courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Seven Endless Forests by April Genevieve Tucholke & The Sea of Lost Girls by Carol Goodman

Can't-Wait is a weekly meme hosted by Wishful Endings that spotlights exciting upcoming releases that we can't wait to be released! This meme is based off of Jill @ Breaking the Spine's Waiting on Wednesday meme.

This week's upcoming book spotlights are: 

The Seven Endless Forests
The Seven Endless Forests by April Genevieve Tucholke 
Publication: March 31st, 2020
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Hardcover. 352 pages.

"April Tucholke spins a bold and blood-hungry retelling of the King Arthur legend that is perfect for fans of Naomi Novik, Garth Nix, and Laini Taylor. 

On the heels of a devastating plague, Torvi’s sister, Morgunn, is stolen from the family farm by Uther, a flame-loving Fremish wolf-priest who leads a pack of ragged, starving girls. Torvi leaves the only home she’s ever known, and joins a shaven-skulled druid and a band of roaming Elsh artists known as the Butcher Bards. They set out on a quest to rescue Torvi’s sister, and find a mythical sword. 

On their travels, Torvi and her companions will encounter magical night wilds and mystical Drakes who trade in young men. They will sing rowdy Elshland ballads in a tree-town tavern, and find a mysterious black tower in an Endless Forest. They will fight alongside famous Vorseland archers and barter with Fremish wizards. They will feast with rogue Jade Fell children in a Skal Mountain cave, and seek the help of a Pig Witch. They will face wild, dangerous magic that leads to love, joy, tragedy, and death. 

Torvi set out to rescue a sister, but she may find it’s merely the first step toward a life that is grander and more glorious than anything she could have imagined."
I am so hooked on this premise. I mean, she "joins a shaven-skulled druid and a band of roaming Elsh artists known as the Butcher Bards?" They encounter "magical night wilds and mystical Drakes who trade in young men?" I could quote this whole synopsis, but basically: I can't wait to read this!

The Sea of Lost Girls
The Sea of Lost Girls by Carol Goodman
Publication: March 3rd, 2020
William Morrow
Hardcover. 320 pages.

"Tess has worked hard to keep her past buried, where it belongs. Now she’s the wife to a respected professor at an elite boarding school, where she also teaches. Her seventeen-year-old son, Rudy, whose dark moods and complicated behavior she’s long worried about, seems to be thriving: he has a lead role in the school play and a smart and ambitious girlfriend. Tess tries not to think about the mistakes she made eighteen years ago, and mostly, she succeeds. 

And then one more morning she gets a text at 2:50 AM: it’s Rudy, asking for help. When Tess picks him up she finds him drenched and shivering, with a dark stain on his sweatshirt. Four hours later, Tess gets a phone call from the Haywood school headmistress: Lila Zeller, Rudy’s girlfriend, has been found dead on the beach, not far from where Tess found Rudy just hours before. 

As the investigation into Lila’s death escalates, Tess finds her family attacked on all sides. What first seemed like a tragic accidental death is turning into something far more sinister, and not only is Tess’s son a suspect but her husband is a person of interest too. But Lila’s death isn’t the first blemish on Haywood’s record, and the more Tess learns about Haywood’s fabled history, the more she realizes that not all skeletons will stay safely locked in the closet."
I read a couple of Carol Goodman books many years ago and I remember enjoying them, so when I saw she had  new book coming out I was pretty excited! This synopsis already gives me vibes that are similar to her previous books, so I'm hoping to get a chance to check it out--it sounds wonderfully dark and mysterious.

What do you think about these upcoming releases? What are your anticipated upcoming releases?