Friday, December 28, 2018

Top Ten Books of 2018

It's my favorite post of the year! I'm going to be covering my ten favorite reads of the year. There's a mix and match of indie and traditionally published as usual since I read both and hold them to the same standards. New this year I'm going to be lumping together any series books I read. ie. Books 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the same series if well-liked won't take up four of my 10 spots.

#10 - The Alabaster Throne

Prince Taldirun demands the glory and honor that a commander for his father's royal army deserves, but an attempt on his life and a plot to destroy all he holds dear sends him on a secret journey to uncover the truth. 

When he returns, his father's enemies have taken control of the kingdom and Tal must use all of his skill, wits, and courage to save his father's throne from falling into the hands of the foul and evil traitors.

Breath-taking adventures and heart-wrenching betrayals drive the young prince to a final confrontation he never wanted. He must either win the Alabaster Throne or perish.

A new adult fantasy with a prince who has to outsmart not only his army's general, but his own mother. Death lurks around the corner for Prince Tal as he goes on a quest to find out the truth. There's plenty of action and some great character that make this book the perfect fit for my top 10 list.

#9 - Wish of Glass 

Deep in a forest glade, the fey folk dance with Isidore, a young human child. Their kinship is the very fabric of her childhood. When her mother dies and her world darkens with sorrow, Isidore finds her belief in the fey folk wavering.

The love of her new step-sister, Blessing, proves an unexpected gift in her time of need. Yet even as their friendship blooms, Isidore begins to see that Blessing is everything she herself has always wanted to be, but is not. Jealousy grips Isidore as she watches this beautiful new sister steal away all she holds dear.

Driven to desperation, Isidore turns to the fey folk once more. She has only one wish to claim from them, one chance to make things right. But she must tread carefully. For wishes, like hearts, are easily broken. And obtaining the one thing she desires could mean destroying the one thing she truly needs.

I'm not a huge fan of first person present tense. I almost didn't go past page one of Wish of Glass based purely on that, but I did and I'm glad. This takes the story of Cinderella in a very new direction. Isidore is the "ugly step-sister" and this is her story. Only unlike most retellings that, if told from the step-sister's point of view, would flip it so Cinderella was evil and the sister nice, this one keeps the roles the same.

The "romance" was very poorly handled in this, but all other aspects were very well-done. We get some great insight into Isidore's life and understand how she became the person she was. She felt very real and though I kept wanting to learn her lesson, I know plenty of people don't "get it" the first time, or the second time, or the tenth time! And people sometimes take years to figure it out.

Isidore was a character that showed more depth than I usually see in fiction.

Amazon (Free on KU)

#8 - The Green-Eyed Prince

An enchantress is murdering Queen Kartek's soldiers and threatening her kingdom. Kartek's healing jewel has been lost. Her only hope of saving her kingdom seems to lie in the hands of the green-eyed stranger who claims he can save her jewel and her people...but the price is steep, and the young queen doesn't have much time.

I rarely get to see retellings of the Frog Prince and I believe it's a hard story to tell. So how crazy is it that in the past two years I've found three retellings of this tale that I really like?

This is so original, it's amazing. The story takes place in an Egyptian-esque setting rather than a medieval European one. Kartek is not a princess, but a queen. She's got a lot of responsibility, a lot going on, and when she tries to take one moment to herself . . . she loses the most important trinket in the kingdom. Kartek was an amazing character and I loved the relationship between her and the stranger that developed.

Amazon (Free on KU)

#7 - The Dark Unwinding

When Katharine Tulman's inheritance is called into question by the rumor that her eccentric uncle is squandering away the family fortune, she is sent to his estate to have him committed to an asylum. But instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers a genius inventor with his own set of rules, who employs a village of nine hundred people rescued from the workhouses of London.

Katharine is now torn between protecting her own inheritance and preserving the peculiar community she grows to care for deeply. And her choices are made even more complicated by a handsome apprentice, a secretive student, and fears for her own sanity.

As the mysteries of the estate begin to unravel, it is clear that not only is her uncle's world at stake, but also the state of England as Katharine knows it. 

This was my favorite historical fiction read of the year. I actually did not think that was the genre(based on the cover and such). It started off a bit slow, but quickly grew into an interesting tale of mystery and intrigue. A village that's off the grid, and a story of what might have been happening on the estate of an eccentric member of the gentry.

#6 - The Princess and the Pea (and the Frog Prince)

Only a true princess can save the kingdom.

Alaric wants to be king. He wants to continue the peace and prosperity his father created in Aeonia. But with enemies questioning his bloodline, he’ll have to put his heart on the line and marry a stranger to secure his right to rule. Only a match with a true princess will silence his critics and protect his future.

Lina’s lineage is shocking at best and deadly at worst. Over a century ago, she put herself into an enchanted sleep to seal away a horde of dark creatures. Now both Lina and the goblins are awake. Without friends or resources, Lina must seek the help of the Council of Kings. To get close enough to them to ask for aid, she’ll need to convince everyone she’s a true princess.

As Alaric searches for a true princess to marry, Lina tries to convince the world she is one. But while they try to save the kingdom on their own, they may find what they need is each other.

I really, really, really enjoyed this story. It's now tied for first place in terms of my favorite retelling of the Princess and the Pea. I was a little meh when I first saw this. The cover was pretty, but generic and the titles are the same name as the original. It made me wonder if the author had put much work into the story.

This is a don't judge a book by the cover circumstance! Why not the 5th star? Because it was a stingy year for me. A lot of good books, but I was being picky about that 5th star and I think this would've been better without the romance.

A great set-up from the start. It hooked me. There was great scenes, great writing, great description, etc. A nice bit of world building, and the characters were amazing. Lina especially was awesome.

Lina was a shadow warrior, the last of her kind. Her powers were amazing, her story was gripping. I loved so much about this book. But I truly felt that there wasn't a real romantic connection between Lina and Alaric, and that the romance was only in there because it was a retelling of a romance fairy tale and it "had" to be in there. I thought it would've been great if Lina and Alaric would've become friends and allies. There was so much potential for Lina to be the leader for the rebirth of the shadow/light warriors, etc. I think being queen will limit that as well.

The Frog Prince continues the series, only following Alaric's brother Stefan and one of the other princesses--Carina--from the first book.

Carina was a great character, and on I was eager to follow. Though her story was different than I imagined, I loved another great twist on the Frog Prince tale.

Amazon (Free on KU)

#5 -  A Tale of Beauty and Beast

Princess Sophia has helped her twin sister Lily save the duchy of Marin. But now Sophie faces an even greater threat when she sets out to free the cursed kingdom of Palinar from its beastly prince. Alone, and with danger on every side, Sophie must navigate a magical castle and its even more mysterious master to discover the secret to breaking the curse.

Last year the first book of a new series set in the world of the Four Kingdoms(or rather outside of it) made it on my top 10 list. I spent this year catching up by reading book 2(this one!) and then reading the first series set in the Four Kingdoms world. I definitely feel like the second series is off to a better start. I'm enjoying it more overall.

Sophia's a fun, strong character and the situation in Palinar is intriguing. The ending felt a bit rushed, but overall another great Beauty and the Beast retelling. I'm hoping to read the next few books in 2019.

Amazon (Free on KU)

#4 - The Scarecrow King

Princess Rinda of Balinore knows of only one way to get her cold father’s attention – to be an obnoxious, spoiled princess. When she finds out that the king plan to marrying her off to a far-flung nobleman, she puts on her best bratty show in front of the entire court. But Rinda’s plan backfires, and she soon finds herself married to the most ineligible man ever. Her new husband is monastery raised, poor as dirt, and a traveling minstrel.
A very, very bad traveling minstrel.

But Alek isn’t what he seems like on the surface, and neither is Rinda. She won’t take this marriage lying down, and schemes to find herself a new husband – a king. But as she and Alek travel together, they learn that not only are appearances deceiving, but goals can change in the blink of an eye, and love can get in the way of the strongest plans…

This was one of my first reads this year, but one I couldn't forget! I've never read a retelling of King Thrushbeard that I can recall and yet it's a fairy tale that I think is loaded with potential. There's definitely a challenge to somehow create likable characters and a believable romance.

This does both. The characters grow and change. I didn't start out liking them, but I understood at least some of the motivations behind Rinda's actions. I understood why she was causing problems and maybe why she was so upset to be foisted off. Instead of having Alek be the perfect one and Rinda the one who needs fixed, the story took a twist and gave both characters flaws and positive attributes.

I loved the entire journey and this was closely tied with the next few books on my list.

Amazon (Free on KU)

#3 - Call of Kythshire

The existence of the fairies of Kythshire is a secret kept for over a century... 

Azaeli has trained from a young age in order to follow in her parents' footsteps and become a Knight of His Majesty's Elite. When she finally becomes a Squire, her name is mysteriously left off of the list for the King's Quest. Her parents set off without her, but the simple quest goes awry leaving tragedy in its wake. 

With the help of her lifelong friend, Rian, a Mage apprentice, Azaeli must unravel a sinister plot that threatens both the existence of Kythshire and the peace that her people have celebrated for generations.

Another great surprise this year. Call of Kythshire is the first book in a series that promises magic and adventure.

Great characters. I loved Azi and Rian. The story line was super interesting. I loved that the characters felt more like adults in terms of their thinking, dialogue, actions, and that they weren't really answering much to parents (It felt more like they had to answer to rulers, higher ranking guild members, etc.).

I'm not a huge romance person because I'm very picky about it. That being said, when romance is done the way I like it, I love it. This was one of those romances. It wasn't the biggest thing happening, no love triangle, the characters started out as best friends, and overall it had a lot of characteristics that I really enjoy.

Great layers to so many of the other characters as well. The villains, the secondary characters, they were three dimensional. The world was simple in a sense, but intriguing in that simplicity. You have a pretty ordinary medieval fantasy type world and then a fairy realm. The story didn't get lost in trying to build a confusing world and the connections between the ordinary and extraordinary were unique.
Amazon (Free on KU)

#2 and #1 - The Red Winter Trilogy

Emi is the kamigakari. In a few short months, her life as a mortal will end and her new existence as the human host of a goddess will begin. Carefully hidden from those who would destroy her, she has prepared her mind, body, and soul to unite with the goddess-and not once has she doubted her chosen fate. 

Shiro is a yokai, a spirit of the earth, an enemy of the goddess Emi will soon host. Mystery shrouds his every move and his ruby eyes shine with cunning she can't match and dares not trust. But she saved his life, and until his debt is paid, he is hers to command-whether she wants him or not. 

On the day they meet, everything Emi believes comes undone, swept away like snow upon the winter wind. For the first time, she wants to change her fate-but how can she erase a destiny already wrought in stone? Against the power of the gods, Shiro is her only hope... and hope is all she has left.

Because I have the trilogy I'm claiming two spots(plus I really didn't have any other stand out books that screamed they had to be on this list).

The first book, Red Winter, netted 4 stars for me. I found it a bit slow at times and the hint of a love triangle had my hackles up. But I still really enjoyed it and grabbed the second book later in the year.

I binge read the second book. It was so engaging, so good, I couldn't set it down. I immediately picked up the third book(which is really rare for me to start the next book in a series right away).

By the time I finished the third book I was hunched over my Kindle in the middle of the night with toothpicks propping my eyes open and going, "HOLY CRAP WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!!!?? NO, YOU CAN'T END!"

I don't normally like stuff like this!!! Which makes it all the more impressive. I don't like love triangles and there was a shade of one throughout the trilogy that gradually faded out. I don't really like FMC's like Emi(a bit girly, soft-spoken, etc.). Or MMC's like Shiro(smooth talking, womanizer's who think they're God's gift to women). But they were so well-written that despite not normally enjoying those character traits they had, I really REALLY liked this. I was absolutely fascinated by the plot, the characters, the world, everything. 

If you just ewwed at all those things, try this anyway. This was a case of a book being amazing despite some normally negative traits.

And that ending was THE BEST! I was so hoping it wouldn't be all . . . oh, I can't say. But in short I'm super glad it ended the way it did on all aspects. And Yumei is so cool too. Really well-written characters and an amazing story line. I'm sad it's over.

This was the one series I recommended to my sister this year that I REALLY wanted her to read. I was going, "If you ignore all my other suggestions, read this."

To my sister's boss . . . I'm sorry she won't make it into work, I've got her hooked. She's currently on book 2 and is going, "I'm reading so fast I have to stop myself and slow down and go back."

The links below are for the first book.

Amazon (Free on KU)

I hope you had an amazing year of reading in 2018! Looking forward to next year!

Curious to see other best of 2018 lists? Check out Elise over at Magic Writer's top choices of the year!

Lots of Fantasy/sci-fi suggestions from M.T. Wilson's favorite 2018 reads!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Chataine's Guardian - ABB Review

I've been busy for most of the year and haven't blogged in some time. I have managed to get some reading done this year, despite the insanity.

My sister and I have recently started discussing books we like. She was like, "You have to read this book. Chataine's Guardian. Read it!"

I was curious to see what she likes in a book and when she sent me a copy, I was like, okay, let's do this.

I finished and she was all excited, "So what do you think?!"

Without further ado, Chataine's Guardian.

18912441"I am assigning a Guardian to ward you. His name is Roman. . .."
Thus begins Surchatain Karel's explanation to his daughter, ten-year-old Chataine Deirdre, as to why her life is about to change dramatically. Karel's small country, Lystra, possesses the only navigable river on the southern coast of the Continent. The provinces that surround Lystra want its river trade, and will do anything to gain it--even kill the heir to the throne. So Karel places her life in the keeping of the most capable and trustworthy soldier he can find.

Willful and spoiled, Deirdre sees this guradian only as another servant to be mastered. She teases and abuses him as he places his life on the line for her day after day, year after year. Deirdre does not know at what point she beings to love him. But Roman knows from the very beginning that to love her will mean his death.

I will say that this blurb is at least better than the original that I saw.

On the tenth birthday of Chataine Dierdre, her father, Karel, appoints a guardian for her--Roman, a captain of the guard. Karel is aware of the Lystran law that, at age 17, Chataine must choose the man she will marry. But he never dreams her choice might be Roman, the homely soldier who calls himself a "Christian".\

Welp, now if you wonder what the story is about . . . you know! Considering it's at like 70% that Dierdre falls in love with Roman and then later that she chooses him, it's like they gave away the entire story!

Enter the only two characters that we really see much of. In one corner we have Dierdre, the spoiled brat princess who doesn't have any redeeming qualities. And in the other we have Roman, the poster child for perfect soldier.

The book starts when Dierdre is ten and Roman is twenty-two. Roman's life is completely taken up in protecting Dierdre and he seems to have nothing else going on. And on the odd day where he does something else like, train, or talk to another human being, Dierdre gets all butthurt.

Now this book didn't have much going on plot wise. We're basically waiting for Dierdre to grow up and though there's a thread of danger that winds throughout the tale, it's overshadowed for the most part.

Here's what got me in the end.

1. Dierdre is horrible! She gets sick at the 70% mark and wakes up magically a better person. There's no character growth for her entire freaking life to make us like her. I was like, wow, if we're going to root for her than we have to LIKE her. But she doesn't change, doesn't improve. And then she gets sick. Gets better and wow, she's now a new person. No explanation, nothing. Even if it was explained as "rewriting my personality because of a near death experience" that's such a cop out. 

And even then she's still not that great of a person. It's really hard to be stuck in one character's pov the whole book when that character is a pain in the rear.

2. The age gap. I'm sorry. Age is not just a number. Maybe when I was a kid it would've been all romantical and stuff to have an older guy be interested in a teenager. Like maybe 14 year old me would've been all, "Oh, older men are so mature and boys my age are totally juvenile. It'd be so flattering to have an older guy like me." blah blah blah. But at 29, the same age as Roman when he starts his relationship with Diedre . . .

Can I just say eww? EWWWWW. I'm sorry, but the thought of being romantically involved with a 17 year old is NASTY. I can't imagine looking at a kid(and yes, 17 looks like a kid to me) and being like, oh yeah, I could totally go for that.

So gross. While this may work out for some people, it didn't work for me. Especially when it's revealed that Roman has "loved" her for longer than that. Um, at what point did this adult look at this kid he's been protecting and think, "Mmm, she's pretty dang fine. I want to marry her."

When she was 10? 11? I mean ANY point in that seven years between 10 and 17 is disturbing! And this isn't historical fiction, so don't try and tell me that it's historically accurate to have this kind of thing going on. And even if it was, still nasty.

Now I get why Diedre is like, mhmm, let's go. Roman is nice, doggedly devoted, and one of like two people who is actually involved in her life. It's natural that a kid who isn't matured enough yet to be able to sort through emotions would look at the one guy in her life who's nice to her and be like, "I love him!"

But Roman . . . he's got some sort of stockholm syndrome going on. This girl's pretty much owned all his time for the past 7 years and she gets insanely jealous when he spends time with anyone else. He's taken all sorts of abuse for her. Other than that . . . I don't get it.

She's not anywhere near his maturity level. She's not nice. She's actually been a complete pain for their entire history together. She's A CHILD. And here's where we lead into part 3.

3. The relationship. They finally decide they love each other and in like a few days of that hey have a speedy "wedding" involving running up to whoever does the marriage licenses and asking for a speedy recital and the signing of paperwork. Then they run off to this garrison and uh, don't waste any time.

Yes, it was light on detail, but I REALLY didn't want to think about some guy my age banging a kid. Blech. And for real. There's so much going on and yet they couldn't wait to jump in the sack. Which is basically the only thing that happens once they get married because the next day she gets shuffled back to someone's house to avoid conflict. 

Months go by with zero contact between them and of course, Diedre is pregnant.

Now, I know that can happen, but for story purposes I don't know what the author was thinking besides, "Hey, let's make this even more insane by having Diedre need to hide a secret pregnancy!"

Having them be like, Day 1: We love each other. Day 7: Let's get married in 5 seconds. Day 7 continued: Bammedy Bam. Day 8: Cya Diedre, sending you away. Later . . . Oh no, I'm pregnant and the people I'm with can't know I'm married!!!

I just can't even . . . 

Any other thing happening was neatly tied up. All the leaders and stuff died so the new blood could come in. Deus ex machina comes in at the end to make sure the impossible odds are overcome with ease. 

I gave this 2 stars because I did finish it and the writing itself was decent. I just couldn't get past the personality of Diedre, the stomach churning "romance", and failing to like even Roman.

Which is really too bad because I wanted to like this. Especially since my sister was a fan. Now her challenge is to recommend a book I can do a 5 star ABB on!