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Review – Sign of the Dove

#3 in the Dragon Chronicles

⭐️⭐️

On the whole, this series is incredibly uneven. This is the last instalment that I read, and it will remain so, as I picked up the fourth and found it such a bizarre departure that I lost interest about ten pages in. As is evidenced by my rating, I didn’t particularly care for this one either, but it certainly wasn’t a DNF, and my ratings go by Goodreads’ elaborations. Two stars = It was okay.

Chronologically, Sign of the Dove takes place several years after Dragon’s Milk, and it also takes after the first book in style and intent. Writing-wise, it’s a bit of a mess. Not so bad that I had to force myself to continue, but definitely a let-down after the writing had improved so much in Flight of the Dragon Kyn. Not only did the stilted Ye Olde High Fantasy Speak style of word choice and bad dialogue return, but there was the inclusion of a “harper’s tale” inserted between each chapter.

I was not a fan of the harper. He added next to nothing, his character is an obnoxious cliché, and the style of his chapters is so “Now hear ye, gentle listeners, as I, your amazing yet humble harper elucidate this grand and enchanting mystery.” The pomposity was stupid. If it weren’t for the point at which he exposited what happened to characters who’d been separated from the main character, he would have absolutely no reason to be there at all. Not that we even needed to know what those characters were doing.

There are also a few small but weird contradictions to continuity. This book is the story of Kaeldra’s second-sister Lyf. Like Kara, Lyf was saved from vermilion fever by dragon’s milk. For some reason, this gave her the ability to ken with birds, but when Lyf does it, the kenning is a dangerous thing that removes her self from her body and traps it in the bird. Their other sister is married, but not to the young man she granted her amulet in the first book. Lyf also makes no mention of an amulet of her own, which means that an entire aspect of the story world’s culture is just gone.

When Queen’s men come to the house looking for Kaeldra, who is in hiding, Lyf is determined to be in similar danger and so the grandmother sends Lyf to stay with Kaeldra. Thanks to her hand-wringing mother, Lyf believes herself too weak to do or be responsible for anything. When she arrives, she won’t just be sheltered and coddled. The rest of the dragons are hatching, and Kaeldra works with a kind of underground network that identifies itself by a dove sign to get the draclings out of the world.

Lyf is left on her own to help in this goal. Indeed, she finds herself responsible for more then ten draclings as well as her small nephew. She has to learn to depend on herself and not look to others to take care of her. She is forced to become something of a parent, and is not always successful. Things can get pretty dark, but the end is ultimately a happy one, although it’s a long time in coming.

I loved the theme of growing up. There are a lot of ways for a coming of age story to go, and this one does not shy away from failure, consequences, or just plain ill fortune. Lyf toughens up because she needs to, but she also continues to feel like what she is–a scared young girl–in the way that she keeps wishing for someone to step in and help her. She’s in her over head, and she knows it. She’s a great character, struggling without descending into whinging.

The pacing is good, Lyf’s nephew is actually a good example of a child character who is not a plot moppet or speaking piece of furniture, and the ending feels final in a nice, satisfying way.

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Review – Blame It on the Duke

#3 in The Disgraceful Dukes by Lenora Bell

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Even though it might seem like not a lot happens in this book, it’s got a decent amount of the crazy sauce that I expect when reading this series. I definitely felt like it had toned down, but that’s a good thing.

Nick Hatherly is similar to other heroes I’ve seen who fear the onset of hereditary madness, but he brings a sort of mellow nature to the table that I have not see much in any aristocratic heroes. He takes refuge in hedonism, but he also takes good care of his father and accommodates him as he needs. Even when his father gambles him away to Sir Alfred Tombs.

Alice continues her marriage-avoiding antics. They’re more impressive than funny, which I appreciated. Too much more of that joke would have been labouring it and not as effective. Her reason is elaborated upon in this book, where she explains that she doesn’t just want adventure, she wants specifically to go to India and share with the scholars there her translation of a missing fragment of the Kama Sutra. She intended to go with her brother Fred and submit the work under his name, all too aware of her place as an unmarried woman.

The two quickly realise that they both have plenty to gain from a marriage of convenience (and unfortunate betting) and agree to a rather odd arrangement. Alice’s interest in sex is kindled by her translation work, and she wants Nick to school her. After they talk quite a bit (and wonderfully frankly) he develops a crush on her and also likes the idea of a wife who will bugger off to India and adventure after the honeymoon period.

Everything that happens is a leisurely slow burn, there to be appreciated rather than feverishly recounted. One of the most interesting subplots is that Nick rescues people imprisoned in asylums. His servants were rescued, but because there is not a stable female presence in his home, he can’t generally save women. With a new wife, he does save a woman named Jane, who is set up rather promisingly for a fourth book. (fingers crossed)

The romance benefits from the easy pace, and is both sweet and gratifying. There’s plenty of drama to be had in the subplots, but the romance only needs the expected internal conflict. As usual, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone their differing opinions, but I feel like this is a nice, uncomplicated read that acts as a great palate cleanser for someone who’s been reading harsh, problematic, or otherwise fatiguing books.

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Review – Flight of the Dragon Kyn

#2 in the Dragon Chronicles by Susan Fletcher

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Since I was only lukewarm about the first book, I was a little hesitant to read this one, but I had it right in front of me and I had the time in front of me as well, so I just dove in. So glad I did! This book was not only better written by an order of magnitude, it was also more my cup of tea.

In the first book, Kara the dragon-sayer is introduced as a sort of figure of legend. I think she was only mentioned/discussed by people who were friendly to the dragons, so she was always depicted as a positive force for good. So it was interesting to see her as she was viewed by both sides of the issue.

Kara contracted vermilion fever and was left in a cave, presumed dead. She returned mysteriously a month later, healed but with green eyes and a blossom mark that came to be known as a sign that a person had survived vermilion fever. She also came away with the ability to communicate with and summon birds, called kenning.

This talent attracts the attention of the king, who has made a vow to kill all the dragons because his fiancée’s brother was killed by a dragon. It’s a bit dumb, but politics often are. His vow is actually the result of a condition set by the bride’s father, and of course the marriage is necessary to expand the wealth and owning of the kingdom. Much more important to the king than a bunch of living creatures. Birds are apparently “well-known” to have an affinity with dragons, and they haven’t had any luck flushing them out so far.

Prince Rog, the king’s brother, is resentful of the intention to use Kara, and it’s pretty obvious why. He’s a grasping, nasty little toe rag. He is contrasted (if not sharply) by the king’s ambitious sister Gudjen, who can see visions in steam. Using Kara is her scheme. In all this, Kara doesn’t believe she can summon the dragons like birds. She makes friends with a little boy named Rath and the king’s falconer Corwyn, thanks to her bird kenning. She makes the first impressive effort to tame a large bird called a gyrfalcon, and the king gives it to her as a gift. The kind of gift with strings attached.

When the time finally comes for Kara to pay the piper, so to speak, she quickly realises the full impact of the king’s vow and her part in it.

The shift to first person and the use of much more natural language made this book a joy to read in comparison to whatever was going on with the awkward stilted voice in the first book. Kara is awesome. She’s constantly in over her head, but always seems to have a plan, considerate of others, and even though she’s remorseful when something bad happens because of her, she doesn’t whinge on and on about being at fault and tries to make up for it as best she can.

Technically, there’s a romance, but there isn’t really much time or effort devoted to it, so it just ends up being another Ending Reward for the main character. Which is fine. But if you’re looking for a good younger audience romance, I’d recommend Searching for Dragons instead.

But overall, this is a great book, and it was nice to see such an improvement. This one is my favourite in the series.

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Summer resolutions

Everyone has that thing they come back to every few months or years. For me, it’s this blog. I let it lie for months at a time, more so as time passes, and then I’ll come back to it, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. I tend to like it best when I have one of my weird summer reading binges. That one summer in Oregon is still my favourite.

It isn’t quite summer yet, but I returned to a reading binge after spending three months writing a novel that is currently undergoing its fourth revision. I didn’t see the book flood coming or plan it. But it happened the way it always has, like I’m a migratory animal and this is the V that I fly in. Heh.

After a hard year of medical troubles and family upheaval, I finally managed to get pregnant and now I’m looking at Week 30 and a lot of back pain. Looking at the last time I was very active on my blog, I realised that I got the amazing news about a week after the last post. So if my blog were a person (a very patient and non-needy person…) it would have had no idea. While I’ve been through worrying about GD (came back negative), premature birth (got the 28-week betamethasone shots), and finding out gender so we could finally pick a name. It’s Jackson. :D

I started going through and organising all of the series I’ve started and not finished, either because I didn’t pursue them steadily or often because there is another book coming out. I made a big project of it, because it can be fun to organise things (I did marry the king of spreadsheets, after all) and I enjoyed writing summaries to see how much of the previous books I remembered.

While I didn’t end up with something efficient that could render statistics like how many series I had “open” and I didn’t cover ones I’d finished before starting this project, I did realise that I’d like to finish or at least bid farewell to everything I’ve started. I even made a (much much much) larger section of my project for series I want to read or have had recommended to me.

I started getting books from the library that would help me finish up these series so I could move them to the Completed section. Then one day I went to the library and browsed. What a loaded word that is. When I browse at the library, I come home with fifteen to twenty books.

I’ve always kept a very minor book journal, but I started making more copious and frequent notes in it. I reviewed a few books off and on. It was nice to be an active reader again. So I joined NetGalley. It feels different to read a book knowing that it isn’t out yet, and my review will help let people know it’s awesome (or not). Luckily, I have yet to read an ARC that I didn’t like at least a little.

Also getting back into RPG Maker, doing the thing I’m best at. Which means not struggling to do the things I’m crap at, like mapping and combat systems. I’m excited to do scene scripting and blocking. I miss all of my own nerdy talk about nesting conditional branches and move path routes.

I need to get some characters made, probably using RPG Maker MV’s character generator and maybe some Photoshop touching up. I need to have the four main characters done by Monday to pend approval from the others in our group.

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Review – Dragon’s Milk

#1 in the Dragon Chronicles by Susan Fletcher

⭐️⭐️⭐️

[Note: I’m trying to get caught up writing reviews for books I’ve read over the past few days. Here’s hoping I can do it without losing track of what I’ve finished since.]

This is one of those classic younger fantasy books that I don’t think holds well for readers outside that target audience. Having come to it new rather than nostalgic or “the right age” I feel like I missed out. In that respect, I’m glad that I have a copy for my children to enjoy and later be super nostalgic about.

Kaeldra reminded me of the majority of my reading at around seven to nine years old. She’s ostracised to a mild extent by her people and even family (mostly her stepmother) because she is somehow Other. In her case, having green eyes. This position in her society is in spite of a lifetime of trying to win people over. When her younger “second-sister” Lyf contracts vermilion fever, their grandmother sends Kaeldra to retrieve milk from a dragon. That spirals out as the world’s hatred of dragons presses other people and forces to act.

Structurally, the book is fine. It’s about what I’d expect from a well-loved children’s fantasy of this age. The writing style is kind of floofy and overwrought. Lots of attempts to be fancy, replacing common terms with high fantasy made-up-ery. The story does some interesting things with the character arcs, and the ending is good as well as happy.

Tonally, the book is actually kind of a mess. Kaeldra takes on the charge of the baby dragons (called draclings) after (view spoiler) While she is on the run trying to keep these baby animals fed and unharmed, she is buffeted from both sides with bad behaviour and its effects. Where one might have expected to see a Humans Are Evil narrative, there are actually quite a lot of nasty things that the dragons cause to happen which could arguably justify the widely held belief that dragons are bad and unwanted.

However, the bad things that dragons cause to happen are never really examined to a satisfying degree. Maybe there was a sort of assumption that “they’re animals/babies, you can’t blame them for doing these things” but it never says that. Nor does Kaeldra herself seem to believe it. When they do bad things, she is horrified. But they don’t face any consequences, and the people who want to kill them have reasons like, “because dragons should just die” and “I need their dismembered bodies for my own purposes.” The dragons also shouldn’t be able to get away with “they’re just animals, as they’re intelligent and speak, after a manner.

Still, it’s a story about a strong young woman overcoming adversity and terrible danger to help others. She learns to own and be proud of who she is rather than forcing herself to conform to what others wanted her to be. I love that when she was first trying to conform, there was nothing but refusal of acceptance from her stepmother and the clear message that conforming would not help Kaeldra to obtain happiness.

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Review – Aftercare

by Tanya Chris

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I feel like making some kind of grand pronouncement that I shall never again let “not my kink” stop me from reading a book. That may not hold up for long or beyond this author, but the feeling is so there. I’ve read some of Tanya Chris’s other work, and she can always be relied on to craft round characters with sympathetic histories and motivations. They have grown up conversations, rather than descending into chapter after chapter of stupid misunderstandings that could be cleared up in a few sentences. Any possible conflict that might arise from a lawyer dating a client’s family member is thoroughly discussed and made acceptable through that discussion and understanding on the part of everyone involved.

The legal drama is also good. Rather than being a mystery wherein anyone in the cast must find the real murderer, the story focuses on defending Syed so that he isn’t blamed for a crime he didn’t commit. It certainly matters who did it, but things aren’t unrealistically wrapped up in a pretty bow that assumes the murderer must be caught to ensure a happy ending. At their best, the courtroom and prep scenes reminded me of watching Boston Legal, which can only be a good thing.

Of course, my favourite part is the romance and particularly Aayan’s internal struggles. He’s got a lot of baggage, from the need to reconcile his sexuality with his religion and family, to accepting his own desires regarding things like pain play. He isn’t immediately ‘fixed’ by sex or love, and he doesn’t deal with it all by himself, either. He has a wonderful support network in his family, which includes his ex-wife. Everyone talks to everyone, and it’s glorious. There’s a lot of trust and love here.

While I found Aayan’s character arc to be the most engaging, Garrett wasn’t left to flap in the wind as a character. He’s a bit more self-confident and self-accepting, which I loved, but he’s still mourning the death of his husband, three years gone, and is understandably reluctant to start dating again, let alone in a relationship that bears similarity to the one he had with his husband.

For all that this is a pretty short book, it feels just as satisfying as a longer one. It’s tightly written, the pacing is fantastic, and there is no wasted time. It’s a sexy love story with a lot more to offer than just steam, and I can’t recommend it enough. Even to people who don’t count BDSM among their kinks.

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Seven Minutes in Heaven

#3 in Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers; #9 in Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James

⭐️⭐️

I’m starting to think I hate the typical Eloisa James hero. I love her heroines. But her heroes just descended into selfish, disgustingly sexist assholes. It defies logic that any woman would find men like this attractive.

Eugenia Snowe is a widow who loved her husband, although as usual, she realised he was a bad person so her new romance with the hero can be unique and mock virginal. As if no one ever falls in real love more than once. She runs a registry office which finds places for governesses at the most elite level. Unlike the heroine in Lady X, her ability to operate a business without interference actually makes any sense. It isn’t anything like as anachronistic and stupid. She’s genuinely still mourning her husband seven years later and one of her major reasons for not remarrying is that her business would stop being hers.

Ward Reeve, another twee poppet child character from the Desperate Duchesses series who grew up and chose a stupid nickname, has more redeeming qualities than Thorn, but Thorn didn’t have any. So the count pretty much sits at ONE. Ward is another illegitimate son of a peer who acts like he doesn’t care what anyone thinks because he knows society condemns him for existing, but really he’s even more arrogant and superior than a real peer. The plot hinges on him being an ignorant snob, for heaven’s sake. Why are they all like this? He looks down on Eugenia since he’s too socially stupid to know she’s the daughter of a marquess and widow of a viscount’s son. He thinks she’s “just a governess” and I think he’s a gobshite excuse for a character, let alone a hero. He says a lot of revolting things about the governess she sent, which are extremely sexist. When Eugenia calls him on his bullshit, he defends his awful behaviour and she lets it slide. Which seems to be a microcosm of their relationship. He does something horrible, she calls him on it, and he gets away with it anyway because of reasons.

While I sympathise with his situation (his half-siblings might be taken away from him because their grandmother is contesting custody) and I agree that a governess with a different temperament was in order, I wish he had been blown away by Eugenia putting him in his effing place. A better author would have done so. I’ve read scenes like the one I wanted and expected.

I guess that’s what I hate about Eloisa James’s heroes. No matter how repulsive their behaviour, they are never corrected. They never have to apologise or even realise that the way they act and think are equally sickening. The attraction between them and the much more worthy women feels like awkward author mandate because I cannot imagine anyone looking past these men’s loathsome personalities enough to react to their physical beauty.

Eloisa James heroes are like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. Men who do despicable things so that they can possess a woman. Men who get away with that shit because they’re good-looking.