Firelight by Kristen Callihan

First, the horribly truncated summary: Cupid has a past that’s covered by his Zorro mask and Psyche can immolate herself at will.

Let me start you all with this assurance: I do not read romances often. Their covers are all the same: the overly-elaborate dress of a damsel with most of her face out of frame and/or the torso of a man that I have yet to find. Said woman is usually holding a fan, flowers, or something loosely tied to the title.

Now that I think about it, a romance book with a woman holding a stun-gun on the cover would prod my curiosity.

(Outlander is the exception to this rule. Outlander seems to be the exception to many rules.)

Why do I bring up covers? Isn’t it the content of the book that counts?

I bring up covers because I am certain I bought this book out of cover lust. Because it was part of the Amazon monthly sale, the cover was emailed to me almost daily, along with the news of the kindle daily deals. Women on fire tend to get attention. At the end of January, I relented and bought the book before the sale ended. And it was worth it.

But first, the opening quote: “The knowledge that Archer would soon end the life of another cut at his soul with every step he took. The miscreant in question was a liar and a thief at best. That the whole of the man’s meager fortune now rested at the bottom of the Atlantic did little to rouse Archer’s sympathy. On the contrary, it only ignited his fury. A red haze clouded Archer’s vision when he thought about what had been lost. Salvation had almost been his. Now it was gone because Hector Ellis’s pirates had raided Archer’s ship, stealing that which might cure him and hiding it away in the bloody doomed clipper ship.”

Opening your romance book with the anticipation of murder is good.

A little context with our nightmusic: the initial murder is foiled by Hector Ellis’ daughter, Miranda, our “Psyche”. Archer, who covers most of his face with a mask, returns as an English lord three years later and offers Ellis a deal: Ease his continuing destitution in return for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Father agrees and sends Miranda off.

I should mention here that Miranda is one of the causes of her father’s problems. She set his warehouse on fire. Not “oops dropped the lantern” fire. She can pull fire out of her body. How? Don’t know. Why? Why not? She does feel guilt over the accident, but living with her father was punishment enough and she is done paying for her mistake.

When we get the tour of the house, I begin to remove the fishhook from my cheek. He’s rich, she’s overwhelmed, he doesn’t like her touching his right side, servants know more than she does, we’ve seen it before. I had serious “Beauty and the Beast” vibes.

Cut to another house with an old man and his newspaper. The old man looks up, sees a masked figure, calls out Archer’s name, and has his throat slit.

The rest of the book, which slowly folds in a few paranormal elements, is deciphering the murders (yes, plural) while Archer and Miranda figure out how close to get before pain is involved.

If more romance books were like this, I’d read the category more often. The reason I included the quote was a note to the author’s style. I’m not certain if it’s because of the books I recently read (The first Dresden Files book had prose problems and the books before that were either indie or YA) or if this author is that good, but her writing style amazed me. I didn’t put this book down for the better part of five hours, I was that hooked. I had to owe someone a cookie because of this book.

I also have to say that I fully believed I solved the whole story at about 60% of the way in. I was wrong.

This issue I have is this: the book is, at its heart, a romance. I do not know if I can recommend this to any of my guy friends and live it down. Hence why I asked on facebook about guys that liked The Princess Bride, which is also a cleverly-guised romance with a masked hero. This book has fencing and murder, but is it enough?

So, my final thoughts: Download the sample chapter and see for yourself. Personally, a Goodreads 4.5/5. I do not give my 5’s lightly.

(Side question: Have you ever coverlusted? What book was it? Did it end up being good? Put your answer in the comments below.)

Aislin of Arianrhod

Another re-post, this time of a recent independent book I reviewed. As always, I will review independent books, but I will be honest.

First, the horribly truncated summary: Claire Frasier escapes her country’s invasion and constant impending doom.

(Hello again, Jamie and Claire! I gave up on you after the directionless narrative that was The Fiery Cross. I did miss you though.)

Full disclosure: I received this book from Goodreads First Reads program! Awesome program! Highly recommended!

I was thrilled to receive this book. When I saw the message from Goodreads that I won and the cover wasn’t a horrible use of Photoshop (Kudos to the designer), I thought it would be an awesome read.

I wish I could say it was.

Bottom line? The story would have been vastly improved with more drafts and time spent on world building.

I should start at the beginning. The story centers on Aislin, who is the unmarried sister to the (long dead) King of Arianrhod* and Regent until her nephew Bryce comes of age. She has been a stellar regent for eleven years, managing the day to day affairs of the kingdom. However, she also has had to fend off the advances of Jariath, Prince of Morrigan, who wants both her and Arianrhod for himself. After the last refusal of marriage, Jariath invades her country. Aislin and members of her family narrowly escape and decide to seek help from King Stanis** of Wyndham, who is related by marriage and training Bryce in matters of rule. In order to get there quickest, Aislin must go through the fabled (and dangerous) Blackthorne Forest.

The bulk of the story is Blackthorne Forest, but to avoid spoilers, I’ll stop there.

Most of my problems were in the beginning, the pre-Forest setup. The first thing I saw when I cracked this book was a map. I love maps. The second thing I saw was the really large font size. It’s probably something that only teachers and other graders-of-papers notice, but it stuck out like a sore thumb to me.

We get to our setting: July 23, 1692, Kingdom of Arianrhod. When your family and friends come from Salem, that year resonates. It’s the reason most fantasy texts go with their own month/year system.

Finally, I get to the meat of the text, which starts with a conversation between Aislin and Devin, her “right-hand-man-in-all-things”. We have no context when this conversation starts, so we’re left filling in the details as we go. This is not the only time a scene starts without context, hence why I cannot let it go. Indeed, the entire book is carried by conversation and mental thoughts. Immersion and detail are lacking everywhere, which is a death sentence for a fantasy book.

We also deal with multiple points of view. These weren’t bad in the middle and end of the book, but in the beginning they change so rapidly (some only two pages) that getting rid of most (if not all) of them would serve the book well. Any time we had Brock, Jariath’s assistant, or Jariath as the point of view, the information relayed was repeated in Aislin’s point of view, making the former chapters (or chapter parts) unnecessary.

Also, I had a few nitpicky questions come up while I was reading. For example: How does Morrigan afford thousands of soldiers when their country is inland (no ports) and swampy (no agriculture)? What is Morrigan’s economy based on? Why doesn’t Arianrhod have a standing army? (“Years of peace” doesn’t cut it with this history major. I’d invade on principle.) Why is Bryce five on the back cover and sixteen in the book itself? Who exactly is Roderick? Thankfully, he’s eventually given a pre-narrative role and profession, but it’s too little too late.

Those details, coupled with the deus ex machina (MS Word really doesn’t like Latin, I just found out) escape from the invasion, really hinder the book’s beginning. When I reached Blackthorne Forest, I honestly believed that I arrived at the book the author really wanted to write: a fantasy romance. The detail problems eased and the story progressed with only minor interruption from Jariath and the invasion issue. Due to the setup, with Aislin coming in from outside Blackthorne, it did have many of the same elements as the Outlander series. I wouldn’t call it a bad thing, as those elements are probably in many romances, but I did take notice.

Most of the characters were decently done, save for two major issues. Jariath severely needed more development in order to be more threatening and less ridiculous. Emara (Aislin’s mother) has terrible dialogue that made me wonder if the author was hashing out her own issues rather than creating a good character.

There were also writing/grammar/spelling issues (Lead male’s name is misspelled once, fyi) and italic font was everywhere for unnecessary emphasis, but I was able to get past those. In fact, had the book ended a few chapters earlier, I would have given it 3 stars. Instead, the ending trailed too long and erased all possible future conflict with another deus ex machina, hence the 2 star rating. It was okay, but it could have been awesome.

*The Welsh connection was not lost on me, but I can bet it would be lost on other readers.

**Normally, I’d forgive names. This is one I would have changed. It constantly reminded me of Stannis Baratheon*** from the Song of Ice and Fire series. Now that the series is popular on HBO as “Game of Thrones” and Stannis is played with distinct characteristics by Stephen Dillane, it sticks out.

***King Stannis Baratheon, first of his name, Lord of Light and Azor Ahai reborn. If we’re going to address him, we may as well do it properly.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

To start things off, I’ll re-post the latest review I did for Goodreads. Enjoy.

First, the horribly truncated summary: Two teenage boys with the same name come of age after meeting in a porn store.

Quite honestly, when I think about this book, the first thing that comes to mind is, “Awesome, but not as good as The Fault in Our Stars.” It is a terrible thing to think, because it hampers the ability to review the book honestly and by itself. Still, I doubt I’m the only person who was significantly more invested in The Fault in Our Stars.

It may be because both title characters are in the depths of teen angst without having a reason to be angst-y. Though, that might make for an accurate portrayal of teens: full of angst for no reason.

Oh, and one of the title characters is homosexual, as well as one of the main supporting characters.

No no no no don’t run away! It’s actually well done.

What do I mean by that? Well, instead of being defined by their sexuality, the characters (all of them, gay or straight) are fully developed personalities. Also, there really isn’t any hatred of gays like you would see in other books touching the same topic. When one boy comes out to his mother, she’s not entirely surprised by it and is accepting, which shocks the teen entirely. It’s mostly teens acting as ordinary teens.

And I didn’t latch on to any of them. I might have if I were 10 years younger.

Anyway, the ending was a surprise of the unconventional sort and the book is worth a read.