Dragon Age: Magekiller

DA - Magekiller

Dragon Age: Magekiller (Dragon Age: Magekiller #1-6) written by Greg Rucka, Front Cover Art by Sachin Teng, Pencils by Carmen Carnero, Inks by Terry Pallot, Colors by Michael Atiyeh, and Lettering by Michael Heisler

To be published: August 9, 2016

Tessa and Marius are mage killers, and we see the evidence of their handiwork in the first couple of pages after a mage turns into an abomination and tries to kill them. They escape, only to be tailed to their hideout by an elven slave coming to ask their help for his Tevinter magister master. Marius immediately turns it down, as he himself was a former slave and wants to have nothing to do with them. The elf convinces them to come and they do, only discover that the magister is not just another mage, but the Archon himself (the equivalent of ruler in the Tevinter Imperium). He wants Marius and Tessa to get rid of four Venatori agents who are aiming for Tevinter to be restored to the way it was 200 years ago, in the “glory days” of the Imperium. The mage killers make short work of their targets, until it comes to the last one. Marius knew the woman from his past, and won’t kill her. In the end,  she helps Tessa and him escape from the Archon.

Shortly after their escape attempt, the Breach opens up in the sky and rifts start forming and spewing out all manner of things. So not only are they fighting the Archon’s assassins, but also demons. After a big battle that saved a few farmsteads worth of people and going back to the closest town to recuperate, a mysterious woman comes in and Tessa is sure that she is an assassin sent by the Archon. Charter, an elf, turns out to be a scout sent by the Inquisition (the soldiers and other people banding together to seal rifts and get rid of demons and other baddies), asking them to join the cause. Tessa and Marius join the Inquisition and they are sent to the Western Approach to get rid of the Venatori in the area. They are joined by Dorian Pavus, a Tevinter mage and the Chargers, led by Krem. They manage to rescue all of the slaves captured by the Venatori and destroy the camp before returning to Caer Bronach in Crestwood to recover when they run into Leliana, spymaster of the Inquisition, and are summoned to the headquarters at Skyhold. They find themselves thrown into the final battle with Corypheus at the remains of the Temple of Sacred Ashes as reinforcements for the Inquisitor. Can everyone work together to save the world from evil? To find out, read this exciting comic. 4 stars. 

I am a huge Dragon Age fan, so when I found out that this comic was coming out, I jumped at the chance to review a copy. So my review will probably be a bit more detailed than most people because I recognize most of the locales in the comic, even if they aren’t labeled. This blog post will illuminate that further. This is a cool comic because not only does it feature the freaking Archon, a character only hinted at in-game, but also because timeline-wise, it is situated between Dragon Age 2 and Inquisition. So you get to see the Breach and the rifts from an outside character in Thedas. While I really enjoyed the comic, I can see how someone who is not versed in the Dragon Age universe would get very lost. There are a lot of unexplained parts and storylines that just stop or end awkwardly. Maybe a preface with a map and a brief description of Thedas would be a good way to ease people into the story. 

Tessa reminds me a lot of Cassandra, and not just because they are both from noble families in Nevarra. They are both strong, determined women who do what they have to in order to survive. I absolutely adored how Greg Rucka managed to sneak in a copy of Varric’s Swords and Shields as choice reading material for Tessa and Marius, it made me laugh! My favorite parts were when the “assassin” comes to kill Tessa and Marius in the town after they defeat the demons and Tessa begs her to come back tomorrow morning as they are both too tired and the assassin says “There are no such thing nice assassins.” Followed shortly thereafter when they both have daggers to each other’s throats and instead of making a move to strike, they count to three and both take a sip of beer. And of course, they had to bring in my favorite mage, Dorian to make things more snarky (yay I love Dorian!). Plus you get more time with all the interesting characters from Bull’s Chargers. 

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this comic, from Edelweiss via Dark Horse Comics, in exchange for my honest review. 

And I Darken

And I Darken

And I Darken (The Conqueror’s Saga #1) by Kiersten White

To be published: June 28, 2016

Lada is the daughter of Vlad Draculesti, otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler. Only he is not pleased to have a girl as she is not pretty enough to be married off for an advantage. She is trained from an early age to fight and Vlad recognizes that strength in her and is proud of her viciousness, but not enough to give her love or attention. Her younger brother Radu is handsome, fair and meek, everything is sister is not. But their father doesn’t care for him either. So it is not surprising that Vlad, the ruler of Wallachia, a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire in Southern Romania, uses his two children as bartering chips with the Ottoman ruler, Sultan Murad. Lada and Radu spend the majority of their childhood in Eridne in the palace, learning to survive in a place and with a religion not their own. Eventually they become friends with Mehmed, the third son the Sultan, and it is he who changes their life forever. Will Lada finally get the recognition and power that she deserves? Will Radu finally come into his own and become his own man and not an extension of his sister? To find out, read the exciting first book in The Conqueror’s Saga. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

I adored this book. I’ve been fascinated with the Ottomans for awhile now and I love stories that are twists on the original. Everyone pretty much knows who Vlad Dracul is, but to imagine his daughter (a noblewoman in 15th century Romania) as the brutal vicious one is a definite twist. It’s so rare to find such a richly detailed story, with a non-preachy view on religions (especially Islam), and such complex characters. In fact, the author made Islam sound really peaceful and centering, like I think it really is based on my studying of it. The executioner being labeled “the head gardener” was an interesting concept for me, as was the knowledge that it was the Ottomans (or more accurately the Ancient Mesopotamians who preceded them), not the Wallochians, who came up with the idea to impale people as punishment. The fratricide law that Mehmed enacts at the end of the book was based on historical fact and did basically give the sultan the right to get rid of his male siblings so that

Lada’s character is fascinating and it’s nice to hear about a rather unconventional heroine who is not flawlessly beautiful and is bitter and vengeful and ready to kick ass and take no prisoners. And she has a right to be, as life has always been hard on her and she really has no one to confide in about her deepest darkest feelings, even though she can barely admit those to herself. She is manipulative and strong and feisty and someone I would want to fight for me.

Radu is completely different from her in a way – he is softness and civility, to Lada’s anger and violence. He gains power not by force but by being charming, sophisticated and courtly. He has to hide the biggest part of himself to survive. But they both want the best for Mehmed, even though they disagree on what exactly that is. And they both love him, something I know he is aware of and does exploit to his better end.

My biggest gripe with this book was how much the story got bogged down in the middle with politics. I’m all for story-building but I felt that the author could’ve skipped a bunch of not vitally important stuff to get to more meatier parts. I hadn’t seen that it was part of a trilogy until I was about to write this review. I’m not surprised as the author has set up way too much of the story for it to be a single volume, plus I’m interested to see where she goes from here with it. It was just starting to get good, with Lada finally coming to terms that she might actually have some real power, Radu learning that even though he can never openly show his feelings for the sultan, he can still be around to protect and advise him, and Mehmed finally becoming the ruler he is meant to be.

Grayling’s Song

Graylings Song

Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman

Published: June 7th, 2016

Grayling’s mother, Hannah Strong, a wise woman who provides medicine and small spells for the local village, has been turned into a tree by an unseen force. It is up to Grayling to rescue her and return with her Grimoire, Hannah’s book of spells. She is soon joined by a shape-shifting mouse named Pook and a weather witch and her grumpy apprentice, an enchantress and a wizard. Grayling must learn to believe in herself and brave a hostile world in order to free her mother and the other magic users whose grimoires have been stolen. Recommended for ages 9-12, 2-1/2 stars. 

I picked this book up because Pook sounded adorable (he’s probably my favorite character) and the story seemed an intriguing coming of age story. Plus I love Karen Cushman’s work, especially Alchemy and Meggy Swan, Catherine Called Birdy, and The Midwife’s Apprentice. So I had high hopes for this one as well. But I couldn’t get into it, so much so that I almost didn’t read it because it lost my attention very early on. Once the story got going, it was a little bit better. Hannah Strong obviously does not support her daughter or believe in her abilities, and therefore Grayling has very low self-esteem and no great opinion of herself. As someone who has struggled with this issue myself, I know how disheartening it can be and how limiting, and I hate to see girls undermined in books. But it is a quest story and Grayling does grow and come into her own by the end of the tale. The characters, as a whole, seem a little underdeveloped and the only one that Grayling had any attachment to was Auld Nancy, the weather witch. The author left the story rather open-ended, possibly paving the way for a sequel later on. 

Disclaimer: I received this Advanced Reader’s Copy from the publishers,  Clarion Books, via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review. 

 

 

Calvin

Calvin

Calvin by Martine Leavitt

To be published: Nov 17, 2015

Written as an epistolary novel, seventeen-year old Calvin has always thought of himself as emboding Bill Waterson’s comic strip character Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes. After all, he was born on the day the last strip was published, his grandfather gave him a stuffed tiger named Hobbes when he was a baby, and his best friend’s name growing up was Susie. Calvin has pretty much been coasting through high school not really applying himself when he is diagnosed with schizophrenia. Hobbes the tiger comes back into his life as a delusion, but can’t control anything that he says or does. Calvin decides that the only thing that will make him better is to get Bill Waterson to draw a comic strip of a healthy Calvin with no Hobbes in it. So he sets out on journey across Lake Erie in the middle of winter to get to Mr. Waterson’s house, with the aid of Susie and Hobbes. Will he be able to make it there in one piece? To find out, read this delightful book. Recommended for ages 16+, 4 stars.

I originally picked up this book because I was a big fan of the comic strip and I’d always been curious about schizophrenia and its effect on people. I had an aunt with it but I never really knew her. The book kind of glazed over the main character actually having schizophrenia (a major mental illness), focusing instead on Calvin and the person he becomes after this life-changing journey. And I will admit that I was okay with that, because the language and the story were so good. I read the book back in October, but the review took me forever to write. I liked the book, but it was hard to summarize it because it was so much more than just dealing with a mental illness book. The book ended up being really profound and thought-provoking. It talked about what things you really need to be to be happy and have a good life, the kinds of things you can live without, and first love. It was about acknowledging your problems and dealing with your life instead of just cruising through it.

It also had some brilliant quotes. In the beginning of the book Calvin is talking to the Doctor about mental illness and tells him “It’s the death of normal.” and that “Normal is not sick. Normal is blending in, like not having a psychotic episode in the middle of school, which makes you stand out.” Or when Calvin is trying to convince himself that Hobbes is a figment of his imagination and Hobbes replies “Humans are doofuses,”which has a very large ring of truth to it on many levels. Or later towards the end when Calvin can’t quite figure out if Susie is real and did accompany him on this trip or is a figment of his cold-addled brain, and she tells him that she loves him because he has “the guts of a tiger, a space explorer, a race car drive, a luge athlete. You have this amazing imagination. You’re never boring. You aren’t afraid to ask hard questions and find out there aren’t any answers. And you – you also know me in a way nobody knows me.” That is exactly how I would love to be described by someone I love.

Disclaimer: I received this book, from Netgalley and the publisher Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, in exchange for my honest review.

Esther

Esther

Esther by Rebecca Kanner

To be published: Nov 3, 2015

Esther is a fourteen year old orphaned Jewish girl who is kidnapped by soldiers of King Xerxes of Persia, and taken to his harem in the palace. It is there she must learn to protect herself against the vicious concubine who has been scheming for years to become queen. After a year of preparation, she is presented to the king. Esther manages to capture his heart and attention and is made queen. Now she must watch out for herself more than ever, as she has fallen for one of the Immortals, an elite soldier of the king. Her cousin Mordecai is the king’s accountant and he warns her about Haman. He is the king’s most trusted advisor, who plots the downfall of the Jewish people to increase his own power and prestige. Will Esther be strong enough to risk her life to defeat Haman and save her people? Find out in this lushly described tale of one woman’s journey to greatness. 3-1/2 stars.

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Esther but never knew much about it, so I figured this book was a good way to get a glimpse. The book does remind me of Tosca Lee’s The Legend of Shebaanother religious fiction ARC about a strong female lead. I love books that are well-researched and pay close attention to detail, and with this book, the reader could really imagine themselves as a young girl surving in Xerxes’ palace. It makes me want to read a biography of the king. I must say that the whole time I was reading it though, I kept picturing him as Rodrigo Santoro, that Brazilian actor who starred as the king from the movie 300It’s kind of hard to believe that all the events in the story happen in little over a year, as it seems like much longer because so much happens to the unlikely heroine. The time she spent in the harem were particularly fascinating, and I enjoyed learning about all the intrigue and backstabbing. It’s crazy to think that any woman would wait a year to get ready for a man to have sex with them and this act alone would determine their fate. I’m guessing the author put the Esther-Erez romance in to counter the transaction-like relationship between the queen and Xerxes. While I enjoyed that part of the story, it does kind of take the attention away from the Biblical tale. Overall, I liked the book but it did drag a bit.

Disclaimer: I received this book, from the publisher Howard Books, in exchange for my honest review.

 

The Improbability of Love

The Improbability of Love

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rotshchild

To be published: Nov 3, 2015

This book starts out at the end, then goes back six months to tell the entire story. It starts out at the auction of The Improbability of Love, a lost painting by Antoine Watteau, which may have launched the Rococo movement. It is predicted to break all kinds of art auction records with its sale. Everybody from rappers to Russian billionaires, a desperate art dealer and an American wealthy art collector are awaiting the sale. The actual story starts with Annie McDee, a brilliant but desperately unhappy chef who has come to London to forget about her failed relationship. She becomes the chef for two unscrupulous art dealers named Rebecca and Memling Winkleman, but wants more from her job. She buys the painting at a junk shop on a whim for a guy she’s been dating, but after he doesn’t show up for their date, she ends up stuck with it. Annie has to bail her drunkard mother out of jail, and ends up living with her for a while, but their relationship is less than friendly given past circumstances. While visiting the Wallace Collection with her mother, she brings the painting and it is looked at by Jesse, a tour guide, who thinks it might be more than it appears. The more she and others learn about it, the more people try to take it from her. Will Annie be able to find out the truth about the painting? Will she be able to pursue her dream of opening a historical catering company? Will the painting finally get the recognition it deserves? To find out, check out this intriguing glimpse into the London art world. 3 stars.

I originally picked this book up because I love a good book about art (being an art history major), and this one was different as it spoke through the voice of the painting itself. Just think about what a painting could tell you about its former owners, especially this fictional one as it included Madame de Pompadour, Louis XIV, Catherine the Great and the painter himself. It would make art history so much more fascinating and interactive. After the painting itself, I think my favorite character was Jesse, the painter/tour guide who really pushed Annie to do something about cleaning up the painting and getting it recognized. Annie’s character really annoyed me. She is obviously a talented chef, but completely clueless when it comes to love (i.e. the whole situation with Jesse). The double-dealing nature of the London art world, especially in relation to the Winklemans, was riveting, although I was glad they got their comeuppances in the end. I do have a bit of experience, at least from the curator point of view, as to how the art world can work as I did my first postgraduate degree in Museum and Gallery Studies. The beginning of this book was super slow and it took awhile for me to care about the main character Annie or what happened to her. The middle was much better, but I hated the tidiness of the ending.

Those We Left Behind

Those We Left Behind

Those We Left Behind (DCI Serena Flanagan #1) by Stuart Neville

To be published: Sept 22, 2015

Ciaran Devine was convicted at age twelve of savagely murdering his foster father. He confessed soon after being captured by the police. His brother Thomas, who was also covered in blood, was found at the scene of the crime. DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) Serena Flanagan was the only person Ciaran would talk to, but she always doubted his quick confession. It is seven years later and Serena Flanagan has just returned to the police force after battling breast cancer, and everyone wonders if she can still do her job. The Devine case of the Schoolboy Killer is about to come back to haunt her.  Ciaran is being released from the juvenile detention center to a hostel, where he will live with other recently released juvenile offenders. He is excited to get out and see Thomas again. Daniel, the son of the murdered man, has had his life completely turned upside down by the brothers, by Ciaran, who murdered his father, and by Thomas, who alleged that he was being sexually abused by his foster father. Will Serena be able to figure out who actually committed the murders? To find out, read this exciting book. 4 stars.

This was one of those “Read Now” books on Netgalley, and I picked it because it was a story about a child involved in a brutal murder, and I always find those fascinating (yes I know that’s a little morbid, but true crime from a psychological viewpoint is always thrilling for me). The last thriller I read was well-written, but ended too abruptly. This one was about 1000% times better, although I did have nightmares about stabbing people while I was reading this book. The author was really good at keeping the reader in suspense about who the true killer was and why he did it, and I was left guessing until the end. I love a book that will keep you on your toes like that. I thought it was interesting that the author included the son of the foster father as a major character, though he was a disaster waiting to happen. I was a little uncomfortable with Serena and Ciaran’s relationship, as well as that of Ciaran and his brother Thomas, but I guess that was part of the point.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publishers Soho Crime on Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.