Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Collective Reading Updates for Mortal Heart

Mortal Heart

by Robin LaFevers
Book 3 of His Fair Assassin

~ Goodreads ~

The most recent updates will be added to the top each re-post.

As I progress through the book and find reasons to update, more events may or may not be revealed.  Also, as this is the third book in the series, there may be mentions of events from the first two books that could give away pertinent information.  So I will include a **SPOILER WARNING** right here just in case I have inadvertently given away anything significant to the story itself.  I've done my best not to mention any big spoilers, but I don't always check myself accordingly.
Review for Mortal Heart | link coming soon



Progress on 11/30/16:  148 of 463 pages (32%)

"What was your intent with this sparring of yours?  To entice them?  To entice me?"

Oh, he did NOT just say that...

At his accusation, a hot flush of mortification floods my body, for I was not trying to entice anyone.  I reach out and shove him--hard--surprised when he gives way.  "If that is the case, then it is their fault and not mine.  I wished only to keep my own skills honed."  I follow up with another shove, which he again allows.  "Simply because your thoughts are base does not mean I must accept the taint you would lay at my feet."  And then, realizing he is no longer as guarded as he was, I sweep my leg wide, knocking his out from under him, satisfied when he lands flat on his back in the dirt.

So glad Annith has enough backbone and dignity to stand up for herself at least.  This is what I've been loving about the heroines of the three books so far.  They're not going to just stand there and stutter themselves into an emotional state, meanwhile allowing the "love interest" to get away with false accusations and uncalled-for insults.


So the Mortain's helliquins that have been spoken of in previous books are real.  And Annith has now joined their party for the time being.  This is a most interesting twist, and while the book is kind of slow going, I'm still interested to see where it leads.  Mortal Heart is so far proving to be quite different than the first two books, since nothing of the Duchy of Brittany has been spoken of outside of a few mentions at the beginning of the book.

But as it stands, this book is turning into quite the high fantasy and journeying adventure as Annith tries to find her purpose as Mortain's handmaiden, and find some answers to the questions she's been asking since the beginning of the book.  Being waylaid by Balthazaar and his band of helliquins was probably not part of her plans, but I'm entertained so far.




Progress on 11/29/16:  88 of 463 pages (19%)

And there it is.  The threat I have lived with my entire life.  If I am not good enough, kind enough, thoughtful enough, obedient enough, I will be cast from my home like a stunted fish from a fisherman's net.

This is what I was talking about with the abbess and the convent.  How it seems so easy for the nuns to just throw the girls out just because they dare speak up.  I thought this was a place where the girls were supposed to feel safe, and where they can understand their strengths and know how they can live a life without worrying about being abandoned or tossed out just because they refuse to be controlled by the men in their lives.

I'm glad that Annith is now finally taking some steps to figure out what might be going on with the abbess and what propels her to do the things she does.  Especially since now it seems that the revered Reverend Mother is sending girls out on assignments when they aren't even ready at all.

Again, I'm ready to get the adventure started, and the plot seems to thicken some more when Annith discovers some things about her own records kept in the abbess's study.




Progress on 11/29/16:  59 of 463 pages (13%)

"We have already spoken of this.  Serving Mortain is not a right, but a privilege.  A privilege I grant to you, not one you can march in here and demand for yourself."

"I thought it was a privilege granted by Mortain."

I am ready to get this show on the road.  I know we're not that far into the book yet, but I'm ready for the adventure to start.

The abbess is so manipulative that it's obvious there's something else going on.  In the quote above, she even slips up, claiming the tasks that serve Mortain as a privilege granted by herself.  So Annith's questioning her is quite logical, and it makes me even more curious to know about what else is going on and what the abbess has planned, whether for her own selfish gain, or maybe for her own delusional misunderstanding of the god she serves.

One of the things I don't like is how the abbess keeps using threats of either throwing the girls away, forcing them into a dangerous service, or marrying them off to keep them in line.  I had been under the impression at the beginning of the series that the convent was a safe haven for girls who get thrown out of their families, or who need a place to go to hide away from the dangerous world outside.  But the abbess threatens to throw these girls out so easily if they even try to resist a little bit.

I'm not even very happy with the rest of the nuns either, as we learn from a few casual anecdotes here and there what the nuns will tell the younger girls to keep them subservient.  Indeed, is it as Annith says that they make up these stories and rules as a means to keep the girls subservient for their own selfish reasons?  Or is there just a lack of true knowledge about what their God of Death really wants?

It makes one wonder.  And just as well, I like the new side of this series' development.  I knew I'd really like Mortal Heart because we get to see a whole other side of the entire convent and the abbess from the girl who has always been with the convent, and can say is the abbess's favorite student.




Progress on 11/29/16:  56 of 463 pages (13%)

But am I defying Him?  That is at the root of my uncertainty.  Has He asked this of me, or is it the abbess's will?

[...]

My faith, my dedication to Him, is as much a part of me as my arm or my leg or my heart.  It is hard not to question my own motives, for I realize now that I have been trained since birth to blame myself as thoroughly as I have been trained to wield a blade.  It is so easy for the sisters to imply that it is my obedience and willingness to surrender my will to Mortain that is being tested--but what if that is not what is being tested at all?  What if that is what they tell us so we will not question their own selfish motives?

By the third book, if not for the fact that we've already seen firsthand the manipulative, jealous, and petty personality that the abbess tries so hard to hide, I would assume that Annith is a rather unreliable narrator and is spouting ideals that cannot be proven.  But the fact is, we have seen from the first two books already what kind of a person the abbess is turning out to be.

At least Annith is truly asking all the right questions.




Progress on 11/17/16:  46 of 463 pages (10%)

So it seems that while Sybella's story in Dark Triumph continues right after Grave Mercy, Annith's story starts somewhere within the time frame of Grave Mercy's time frame.  I should have guessed since it sounds like Annith just learned about the abbess's plans to make her into the next Seeress of the convent.

And also, going by the letter that Annith just intercepted from Ismae, it has been quite some time since Ismae's assignment started at the duchy court.  The letter is addressed to their Reverend Mother, which tells me that Ismae is still in good standing with the abbess.  The letter details an event that occurs a little over halfway into Grave Mercy.

This is an interesting way to begin Annith's story, I think, as we may get more insight into the goings on of the convent, and see more about what the abbess is up to from another side of the story.

I find it interesting that all three stories depict the girls, unknowing about each other's situations, and each finding out in their own way that the convent may not be the ultimate messenger of St. Mortain's words, and that there is more to St. Mortain's will than the convent has taught them.




Progress on 11/17/16:  42 of 463 pages (9%)

Annith is certainly a bit different from our first two heroines, Ismae and Sybella.  She doesn't display the same demure, quietly obedient character than Ismae has; nor does she have the mad, emotionally unstable life Sybella displays.  She's one of Mortain's daughters who has lived in the convent the longest, and who has excelled in all of her studies.

And she even states that she does not have, or does not remember anything about her past life before her life at the convent.

I'm curious to see where this book takes our third heroine who has already learned that she is now fated to remain in the convent forever.  The abbess has plans to make her the new Seeress--basically she will become the nun to convey Mortain's wishes to the convent through prophecy or augury.  I never thought that those were skills that could be learned or forced on anyone, so the abbess's certainty that Annith is perfect for the job seems a little questionable.

It makes me even more wary of the abbess; as we've already seen from the first two books, the old nun does not hesitate to manipulate and use the girls at the convent for her own gain.  What her play is though, I've yet to figure out.  Clearly she's supposed to be serving Mortain, but a lot of her decisions have been questionable so far, and her ruthless manipulations aren't what I'd have expected from a woman who runs a convent that aims at taking in young girls who need a place to escape their tragic lives.

And Annith seems to be describing the abbess as a good woman... it's hard to reconcile the abbess that Annith sees in her eyes versus the abbess who so readily shunned Ismae for daring to have a life outside of the convent, or who wasn't above using Sybella in ways that could possibly get the poor girl killed, or worse.

And also, how pretty is that cover?


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Thoughts: The Storyspinner

The Storyspinner

by Becky Wallace
Book 1 of The Keepers' Chronicles

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  3.5 Stars


The Storyspinner was certainly an exciting and adventurous, well-crafted high fantasy.  While the beginning of the story was a little slow, with a world that was slightly difficult to grasp, it managed to pick up in story progression pretty quickly.  I found myself unable to put the book down once things started happening.

The entire book, though, felt like it had several plot lines that ultimately converged into one; however, there were really only few main conflicts going on in The Storyspinner.  I’d say it was probably the multiple character narration POVs that made the story feel a little scattered; this was a rare YA written in third person POV, with multiple POVs that flipped back and forth from character to character in short spurts.


The Story:
Johanna von Arlo is a Performer along with her family and has just turned sixteen recently.  While her parents and her brothers are natural talents at acrobatics, her father has specifically trained Johanna to be a Storyspinner, a Performer who can tell tales with vivid imagery and sing songs that feel like magic.  On one fateful day, Johanna’s father falls to his death during one of his acrobatic acts.  The entire von Arlo family is expelled from the Performer’s troupe and now must survive by other means.

On the other side of Donovan’s Wall, a high guard named Jacarè notes that the guardian’s mirror has frozen for much too long.  This, to him, is an indication that something has gone wrong in Santarem, that the guardian of Santarem’s long lost princess is in trouble.  A frozen mirror could be disastrous as it affects the stability of Donovan’s Wall; if the wall fails, there could be another ugly war between the humans of Santarem and the near immortal, magic-wielding Keepers living in Olinda.  Because the Mage Council could take years to decide on a plan of action, Jacarè takes things into his own hands, forming a small group of four warriors to find and retrieve the lost Princess of Santarem before something fatal befalls her.

In the small dukedom of Santiago, Rafael Santiago DeSilva is preparing to take on the position of Duke of Santiago as his name day draws near.  His father had past away not long ago and now it is up to him to take responsibility over the lands and people of Santiago.  But there are others of the broken kingdom who would see him fail if it meant getting themselves crowned as the next ruler of Santarem.  After all, Santiago has always been unerringly loyal to the royal family who perished when the Duke Inimigo of Maringo decided to covet the royal throne.

After a grueling battle and war, the five states of Santarem now remain in a fragile stalemate and treaty to keep the peace.  But this peace is starting to crumble because Duke Inimigo still has ambitions for the Santarem crown.

At the same time, young girls are being murdered, all of the age of sixteen, all bearing a striking resemblance to the late Queen Christiana... and it turns out that Johanna also has the same dark hair and gray eyes as the murdered girls.


Some Thoughts:
The plot of The Storyspinner was not hard to grasp and was enjoyable in its own right.  It was actually the world-building and story set-up that seemed a little confusing.  And while I appreciate that there were no massive infodumps at the beginning of the story, a little bit more info about the Keepers of Olinda and the common people of Santarem would have been helpful.  To be honest, I admit that there was a LOT of story going on to keep up with.

I was immensely confused about the Keepers, about Jacarè and Tex, Pira and Leão.  There was mention that Jacarè had been a Keeper and had been guarding and monitoring Donovan’s Wall for centuries.  And yet he presents as a young man--which is then explained away as a magic rebound attack gone wrong.  But then he has a half-sister, Pira, whom is described as a youngling at twenty-one years old.

The disconnect was a little hard for me to... connect until it was mentioned offhandedly that Keepers in Olinda had much longer lifespans than the common human living in Santarem.  A lot of other things that confused me about the plot, the history, and the characters of this story were carefully laid out and explained as the book progressed, so a lot of my questions DID end up being answered properly.

And yet my comprehension of the world building in The Storyspinner was still a little shaky.

Otherwise, the rest of the story was quite enjoyable.  The characters were well-developed, each with their own unique characterizations and likability.  Johanna was resourceful, witty, and feisty when she needed to be, though I wished she would take threats to her life more seriously.  It took some time for Rafi to grow on me, and even by the end of the book he still didn’t stand out much, despite becoming quite likable.  Dom was an intriguing boy all on his own, and Johanna’s younger brothers were a delight.

The Keepers who took upon the mission to find the Princess of Santarem were an interesting group of traveling companions.  And while at first I had my reserves about them, their camaraderie and the adventure of their mission made their part of the story entertaining.  I had more interest in Johanna’s part of the story development, but Jacarè, Pira, Leão, and Tex didn’t disappoint either.

As for our resident villains (Duke Inimigo, Vibora, etc.)… they seemed slightly one-dimensional if only because I can’t pinpoint what drives them to be terrible people aside from the standard greed for power.  Or just the fact that they’re just evil.  I’d like a little more back story on them, because otherwise, they’re just carbon-copy, power-hungry bad guys and we all know where the story will end up going from there.  Nothing about either Duke Inimigo or Vibora really stands out.

Though I admit, I DID like that the book focused more on our heroes than the villains.  I’m hard to please.


Final Thoughts:  I’m not a fan of cliff-hangers and this book definitely stopped at a point where very little has concluded.  The ending left a lot to be desired and makes you feel as if there should be a couple more chapters to round out Book #1’s ending.

The entire book of The Storyspinner leading up to the last moments of the book were exciting, though: secrets are revealed, plot lines come together, certain resolutions seem at hand, and lots of things happen.  And yet, the thing that the book really lacked was a sense of anticipation and surprise--the secrets revealed were predictable, I’m sure I know what’s going to happen in the next book (or two).  I was never caught off-guard by any new twists, and knew exactly how things would come to a close--though I hadn’t expected a cliff-hanger.

Really, this entire book was 400 pages worth of story set-up even after all the initial story set-up happened.  The story itself is original, but the concept behind this high fantasy adventure feels like it’s been done before.

Fortunately, The Storyspinner still has a cast of great characters going for it as well as good writing.  It leaves us with a sense of “What’s going to happen next?” enough for me to want to read the next book when it comes out.

Character interactions are great and the main romance was developed very well between Johanna and Rafael--a classic Bickering Romance that had its sweet and cute moments, even if I didn’t really find everything they said to each other entirely witty.  Nonetheless, they make a great combination and I look forward to seeing their newly developed relationship mature even further in the next book.

There was even a side romance that was sort of a non-romance-romance type of relationship between Pira and Leão... though it came off both cute and confusing.



This review was originally posted at Ani's Book Abyss / BookLikes in March 2015.



Thoughts: The Luckiest Lady in London

The Luckiest Lady in London

by Sherry Thomas
Book 1 of London trilogy

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  4.0 Stars


I don't often read Historical Romances.  The one and only Historical Romance I read had been a long time ago, back when I was in high school and considerably more pretentious about my reading preferences than I am today.  I had an English teacher who regarded Historical Romance novels (and Romance novels, in general), as uninspiring and trashy--she was a beloved teacher and I found myself going with a lot of things she said.  However, in an effort to prove to my friends that I wasn't also prejudiced about my reading preferences, I borrowed a book from a friend, something by Jill Barnett, I believe, and gave it a go, with some reserves.

I can't say I gave it a fair trial though since, at the time, I read mostly textbook classics, human drama, a lot of Michael Crichton and books in the science or crime thriller genre.  I ended up being very uninterested in that book, though, and couldn't quite get into it.  I don't remember which book it was I had read, but I just recall that I never touched another Historical Romance since and adopted my English teacher's view on Romance novels.

Of course, times have changed and my biggest outlook on reading is simply this: Read what you like.  Read what you enjoy.  And over the years I've come to like reading a variety of books, including Romance novels and especially Romantic Suspense.  Contemporary Romances are also books I may pick up randomly as well.

But Historical genres were still never a preference for me.

The main reason I even chose to put The Luckiest Lady in London on my reading list was because several trusted reviewers/bloggers I follow hyped about it.  I then went on to read at least two or three other books that had a historical setting and quite liked them.  Other more interesting sounding Historical Romances and Historical Mysteries also made their way onto my list.

And then The Elemental Trilogy happened and decided for me that Sherry Thomas would become an author to look out for.


Rambling aside...

The Luckiest Lady in London has been a highly anticipated book for myself due to positive reviews and the fact that there were elements listed within these reviews that piqued my interest.  And then the book ended up on sale via Kindle and somehow made it into my library.  As a means to expand my reading experience, I consciously chose to put the book on a pre-chosen Reading Challenge list.

So here we are.

And I'm glad that I made time for The Luckiest Lady in London.  So very glad.


The Story:
The story of The Luckiest Lady in London is actually a fairly standard Cinderella-esque story.  Lord Felix Rivendale is our wealthy and highly respected Marquess of Wrenworth.  Louisa Cantwell, while coming from a respectable family of well-to-do station, is in fact on the poorer end of things with several sisters to take care of, including one with epileptic episodes, youngest sister Matilda. If her mother were to pass away any time in the future, all of the Cantwell sisters would be left without a penny or any assets to their names--in other words, they will either end up homeless and begging or they will have to figure out how to sustain their lifestyles by finding work.

Or another option would be to marry into a wealthy union.

While Louisa admits that she and her sisters would likely be able to get by if they all found jobs, she realizes that the best way to support her sisters is to marry well.  So off she goes to London to present herself in the finest way possible in order to draw the attention of any eligible, well-to-do man who would also be willing to take care of Matilda as well.  But, of course, she comes across Lord Wrenworth who's attention she manages to catch almost immediately, but who would most likely be the worst candidate for a husband since he is more inclined to NOT settle down and get married for a long time to come.


My Thoughts:
While the story itself was pretty clichéd and started off quite slow, I was ecstatic to find that the book's best quality happened to be the characters.  Sure, we get a standard rich man-poor girl romance.  Sure, we get a rocky start with the "Lust at First Sight" plot device and an almost instalove development.  We even have an arrogant hero who always gets what he wants, shows people a sunny, gentlemanly side of himself (being known as "The Ideal Gentleman"), who has childhood issues to propel his present-day behavior.  Which also happens to become a cause for romantic angst in the long run.

But the characters gradually grow on you, and eventually, I stopped caring that some of the events and plot twists where predictable.  I even didn't even really concern myself with the mundane, banality of the day-to-day progress of the book's story line.  I fell in love with our main couple.

It's not every day that you get a romance wherein the female main character openly expresses her carnal desires, or who has an ambitious, scheming mind in order to achieve her goals.  And while Felix tends toward the carbon-copy standard Romance novel main male character, he does have an extremely charming air about him that makes it hard not to like him.

The entirety of the first 30% of this book was a hot and heavy courting ritual riddled with innuendo that felt like sexual foreplay--and the main characters barely touch each other during this time--but things were hot, nonetheless.  The duration of the couple's relationship, the development, and even the obligatory misunderstanding and ensuing angst wasn't really anything to write home about, honestly.

But the interactions between Louisa and Felix, the witty bantering, the few quips and one-liner conversations had between the two of them were absolutely amazing.  In the end, it had been our characters, and even some of the side characters that really drew my attention.

Sherry Thomas has a knack for writing readily lovable characters (as I found with her Young Adult series, The Elemental Trilogy).  Even with a standard fairy-tale-like love story such as The Luckiest Lady in London, her characters are still layered in complexity and unpredictable behavior and actions.

This was a wonderful and fun book to read, simple as that.


***

This book is a pre-chosen participant in the following Reading Challenge(s):



This review was originally posted at Ani's Book Abyss / BookLikes in November 2015.



Saturday, November 26, 2016

Ani's Twelve Tasks | The Third: The Holiday Party - Dai Bao


The Task:  Make something that is considered party food where you are from, and post a picture of it on booklikes.


Not the best photo in the world, but the best I could manage in the lighting of our small kitchen.

This little "delicacy" is called 大包 (dai bao) in Cantonese, and bánh bao in Vietnamese.  I include the Vietnamese name because it's more commonly known that way where I live, where the Vietnamese population is more numerous than the Chinese-Cantonese population.  It is basically a steamed pork bun, and literally translated (Cantonese) as "big bun."  I don't know the Vietnamese translation, but according to Wiki, bánh bao literally means "wrapping cake."

For many others, you may be more familiar with these little pork buns as called nikuman (肉饅) or nikumanjuu (肉饅頭), in Japanese, which sort of translates to 'meat-filled steamed bun.'

It's not really a traditional holiday party food, as the Christmas holiday was never truly an Asian tradition.  Nor is it specifically a traditional celebration type of food either, as there are other, more complex dishes, desserts, candies, and food items more befitting any other traditional Asian holiday celebration.  But growing up, my mother and grandmother would make these during special occasions, specifically birthdays and the Lunar New Year.  Of course, it wasn't until I was older that I learned that dai bao could be made any time without a special occasion prompt.  In fact, you can buy them in most Asian supermarkets nowadays.

The reason my mother and grandmother reserved them for special occasions was mainly because of how tedious they are to make.  It's really the dough that's the most time-consuming, as it involves mixing, rising, kneading, flattening, and then stuffing.

Dai bao or anything made in a similar fashion was always considered a staple food in certain parts of China, though not really the most luxurious delicacy.  Specifically the bun without any filling whatsoever, known as 饅頭 (maan tau), was considered a street food for the common layperson, since meat was kind of a luxury.  It kept you fed, but was made with some of the simplest ingredients of flour, yeast, salt, sugar, oil, and water--nowadays we can buy packages of self-rising flour, pre-mixed with everything necessary to make the bun with.  I know a few many Vietnamese friends who prefer to put together their own mix from scratch.

Then you just choose your own filling and wrap it all up and steam until it all looks like a cloud of fluffiness (usually about 15 to 20 minutes).  We like to add about a teaspoon of white vinegar to the water used to steam the buns, as it keeps the bao a nice white color--otherwise it turns yellow and looks kind of dirty and less presentable.


Our messy dinner table prep station!

The dai bao we prepare in our household usually depends on what my mom has on hand for ingredients, but for the most part, we will use ground pork, chopped onions, chopped water chestnut, chopped black fungus (or wood ear fungus), slices of Chinese sausage, and shiitake mushrooms sliced in halves.  Sometimes quartered hard-boiled eggs are involved.  All the chopped ingredients are mixed into the pork filling, seasoning as is appropriate.  The dough, after mixing and kneading and letting it rise, is then divided into pieces roughly the size of a tennis ball, maybe a little smaller, then flattened and rolled out to about palm-size.

The pork filling is added--and here is where I always mess up because I'm a terrible judge of how much pork filling to put in the bun.  It's a guessing game dependent on how big my flattened piece of dough is, since we don't really measure anything.  Too little pork filling and you've got a giant bun with no meat; too little, and you've got meat bursting out of the seams.

On top of the pork filling will go the Chinese sausage, which we try to squish into the pork, then the shiitake mushroom slice, then maybe the egg on top.  Then we wrap the bun up, accordion-style all the way around, trapping all the filling on the inside, and creating a fancy looking folded fan patter on top, if done properly.


Mom says to just squish the remainder of the dough together to close up the opening; it will stick and keep everything inside.  I like to give it a little twist, but that ends up creating a nipple-looking thing on the top of my steamed buns... (somehow that sentence just sounds all wrong).

Mom just pinches her bao opening together, somehow creating a more flawless pattern that I can't seem to get right.

All wrapped up and ready to be steamed!

Obviously, ours look a little rusty.  But whatevs, it's the taste of the bun that's important, and after steaming for about 15 minutes, it comes out smelling yummy, and all the pork juices have soaked into the inside part of the steamed bun wrapping (which was always my favorite part of the bun).

Yum!


This same dough may also be used for a number of different kinds of steamed bun snacks.  Some include sweet fillings of red lotus paste or sweet mung bean.  Some have what is called Kaya in them, which is a sweet jam-like paste made from coconut, eggs, and sugar; it has a very thick, creamy consistency, and is extremely sweet, but aromatic because of the coconut flavor.  There are also vegetarian buns, or even smaller varieties that look more like dumplings.

In fact, though I couldn't take any pictures because my mom already finished them by the time I woke up, there is a Chinese barbecue roast pork (叉燒/char siu) my mother makes that is amazing!  After the roast pork is finished, it may also be diced into small cubes, mixed with a sauce my mom prepares from the juices that dripped out of the roast pork during its roasting (of which she always takes pains to collect and reuse), a little bit of green onion and minced garlic, and then used as the filling.  This is known as the 叉燒包/char siu bao, Steamed Barbecue Roast Pork Bun.

But to be honest, I like to eat the char siu by itself, because YUM!

Whatever it is that gets put into these bao, though, I've always loved, mainly because they make for an easy, convenient snack when they're handy.  Even the steamed buns with no filling are good; Mom always says to add a little extra sweet to these during the dough mixing process.  Personal opinion: they taste a lot better than a cold sandwich or a hamburger.  And if wrapped with care, they look really pretty when set up to serve during ye 'olden celebratory feasts... or even more modern dinner parties!

They're just a pain in the butt to make, if only because it's pretty time consuming.


I think I'm maybe sometimes a bit mean to our dog... not that I was taunting him or anything...


Friday, November 25, 2016

The Crystal Cave Read-Along | Final Update and Review

The Crystal Cave

by Mary Stewart
Book 1 of Arthurian Saga

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  3.0 Stars

The first three books of the Arthurian Saga is also known as The Merlin Trilogy.  This series is being read as part of a Buddy Read @ BookLikes.




Book III: The Wolf
Progress on 11/16/16:  338 of 519 pages (65%) 

The last few chapters of the third part of The Crystal Caves certainly took an interesting new turn in events.  While I'm not entirely certain about how much I liked the way it was executed, it was certainly a significant new turning point in the book, which I suppose was also a significant event in history.

Still... I really don't have much else inspiring to say about this.  Merlin's Sight is ever finicky, and Merlin's character still feels rather flat.  But as is still true, I find the rest of the goings-on in the book quite interesting.




Book IV: The Red Dragon
Progress on 11/21/16:  428 of 519 pages (82%) 

To be honest, the entire book is written well, but up to this point, I've had this feeling in the back of my mind that I'm reading a rather personalized history text book.  Events happen and then we move on.  There is very little emotion attached to any of the events, whether they are significant deaths, victorious battles, or even that strange thing that happened between Merlin and Keri... of which I'm still not quite certain I understand.

I'll be honest:  my knowledge of Arthurian legend is scant at best, so maybe I'm just not picking up on the significance of a lot of the events taking place.

A lot of things happen in this fourth section and the time frame even shifts quite quickly, though it all feels like everything happening at the same time on fast-forward.




Book V: The Coming of the Bear
Progress on 11/21/16:  519 of 519 pages (100%) 

I guess it's a little hard for me to take seriously an entire section dedicated to an event surrounding a planned adultery in the name of God.  But that's the modern female in me talking, because I suppose Mary Stewart had to write the book to fit the legend.  Then again, I suppose that's better than the original option where the conception of Arthur happened through a more forced deception.

Yes.  That's my take away from that last section of The Crystal Cave, unfortunately.




Final, Overall Thoughts:

I still stand that The Crystal Cave is a well-written book, which takes the reader on a journey following the re-imagining of the Wizard Merlin's origins.  We get to see moments in Merlin's life as a youth: during his life living with his family in Wales as an unwanted child; to his escape to Brittany where he meets some other significant figures in his life such as Ambrosius Aurelianus and Uther Pendragon, the future King Arthur's uncle and father, respectively; to his learning how to understand his magical powers.

A lot of time passes by in this book from Merlin's childhood and on into his adulthood.

I suspect that Stewart still remains quite true to the original legend--again, my knowledge of Arthurian legend is quite depressing, I realize, as I read through this first Merlin trilogy book.  The biggest complaint I have is connected to this, however, which is pretty much the entire presentation of the events in The Crystal Cave.

I had stated in an earlier update (probably above somewhere), that the book read like a history text that was being documented in a more personal tone.  Events are mentioned... and then we move on to the next part of history.  And now, as I write this, it makes me realize why I had found the book a little boring and dragged out.  Personally, The Crystal Cave feels like it was written to accommodate original events from the original legends.

Don't get me wrong: Stewart's re-imagining of Merlin's life wasn't all that bad.  But it just felt like she would be writing the story quite smoothly, when all of a sudden she decides that she needed to make sure to drop a known story event from the original legends, or even from historical fact, into the flow of the story.  And it is done quite awkwardly.  Which is probably what jars me out of the fictional setting and made me think I was reading a history text.

Which, to be honest, I suppose I sort of am since Merlin as an old man is actually recounting his life as well as all the significant historical occurrences that took place during those times--this we had already been told at the outset in the book's prologue.  So maybe there was a reason for the amount of detachment presented in the telling.

It was still a little hard for me to follow without my mind wandering, however.

Another complaint I would have about this book is the way in which Merlin claims everything is pre-ordained.  It is God's will, as he tells everyone, whenever something or anything happens.  Whenever he sees a vision, it is God speaking through him, and since that is the case, anything he states during those visions will come to pass.  If God wishes him to see something or know something, he does.  If God wishes him NOT to know something, he doesn't.

Except for the fact that in that last section of this book, The Coming of the Bear, our young wizard seems to take great pains and a lot of planning to almost force an event that he says is God's will--the engineered conception of Arthur.  And then things go to hell, so it makes me wonder about Merlin's visions just as much as Uther did.

I'm not entirely sure where I was headed with that last tidbit, but I have always had negative reactions to the idea that everything in life is already set up by destiny.  It gives you the impression that you have no control over your own life and that if something were going to happen, it will happen regardless of what you do.


But enough of my soapbox.

In the end, The Crystal Cave is still an enjoyable, well-written book.  It wasn't easy to read, nor was it easy to remain focused, to be honest.  Although I suspect that a lot of my loss of attention had to do with me.



***

2016 Reading Challenges:
Goodreads Reading Challenge
BookLikes Reading Challenge



The Reading Task:  Read a book set in the UK, preferably during the medieval or Victorian periods (for those of us doing the Merlin read-along, the Crystal Cave works for this task).


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Thanksgiving Freebie!


Top Ten Tuesday is an original and weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.


~~ Thanksgiving Freebie! ~~

~~ Things I Am Thankful For ~~


I'm a day late for TTT, but a day early for the actual holiday, so it all balances out, right?  =D

The topic for this week's TTT is, as stated above, is a freebie for Thanksgiving.  As Thanksgiving is not a traditional Asian holiday, the tradition of sharing what we give thanks for is not something our family has always done.  I'm not a stranger to the concept, but as many people do, I also spend a lot of time outside of Thanksgiving giving my thanks for all the great things I have in my life.  I've just never bothered to put them all in a list of any kind (OMG!  Ani didn't already have a list for this?!), despite how much I love making lists.

So here are a few clumsily thrown together items, in no particular order since I'm writing this as I think of them:


Ani is Thankful for...


...my family and support system.  Life has been kind of crazy at work lately with some down-sizing possibly happening.  At times like these, I'm glad I have my family I know I can fall back on if anything life-changing were to happen, such as getting laid off, or a consideration of a career change.

...my best friends of 10+ years.  We've been through thick and thin, and even though we're not on a constantly communicating basis, we can still greet each other like we've just spoken a couple days ago.  Everyone has such busy lives now, and everyone is just at a different stage in their lives now.  It's hard to find time to be together as we once were in high school.

...my general good health.  Aside from the little medical snafu at the beginning of this year, I have always been an overall healthy person.  I might be a bit obese (as my doctor has diagnosed me), but I can still walk, I can still work, and I have no problems doing strenuous physical activities if it is required of me.

...books!  This is a given, really and needs no elaboration.  =D

...the fact that libraries are still in style.  Too many people I come across in real life, as well as on the internet, are so convinced that libraries are a dying concept.  But no matter how many times I go to the library (at least twice to three times a month), the place is always full of people!  And it makes me happy to know that people still use the libraries in town as much as they do.

...food.  I love food!  That is all.

...the first person ever who thought that peanut butter and chocolate was a good combination!

...dairy-free egg nog!  There are a lot of things I cannot eat anymore, because I have to admit that I can no longer stand the discomfort that comes afterward.  I suppose being young had its perks, but I can no longer deny that milk products such as ice-cream, chocolate milk, and creamy sauces doesn't affect me.  I hate that I have to avoid so many foods that I always loved, though I've grown to a point where I don't miss drinking milk or eating ice cream.  But I love egg nog, and was ecstatically happy when I discovered that there was a So Delicious brand made from coconut milk that tastes so declicious!

...wine!  Wine is a great way to spend the evening with a book, some snacks, and nothing else on your mind.

...hot tea!  Hot tea is a great way to spend those cold winter nights with a book, some snacks, and nothing else on your mind.  :P


That is ten things I'm thankful for, but before I end this post, I also wanted to include a couple more items.  Because, obviously, I am thankful for more than just ten things!


First all, I'm extremely thankful for the great bookish community I've been able to be a part of for these past couple years.  Booklikes has brought out a blogging, book discussing side of me that has been a lot of fun!  And all the members I follow and who follow me are such wonderful people who have made me feel very welcome and very involved.  Thank you to all of you!

Along that same vein, I'd also like to give thanks for the blogging community I have been following outside of Booklikes as well, thanks to some lovely reading challenges and bookish memes.  They are a pleasure to discuss books and any number of bookish subjects with every once in a while whenever I break out of my lurking mode to insert a comment here and there.

Another bookish thanks goes to all the bookish activities I've ever participated in that just adds onto making reading so much fun!  Reading challenges and Read-a-thons and Book Bingos, alike!


Finally, I'm thankful for this little guy!

He is using my hand as a pillow.  He will sometimes use my foot if I'm sitting on the floor.

Baby has been in our family since 2008 and is still as hyper and impish as he was when he was just a baby.  And in this household, he loves attention, loves to play, and just loves to love!  He's also very punctual about his daily activities and knows exactly when everyone gets home from work, when it's time to wake up or go to sleep, or when he's supposed to get dinner.  Especially when he's supposed to get dinner.  And when you deviate from that time at all, he often shows his displeasure by putting his butt in your face, or snorting at you.

I have over 300+ photos of this little guy on my phone.  I'm going to have to start sharing more often.  Because as much as he loves affection, he doesn't really like taking his picture and will turn his head away, so whenever I can, I take a picture of him doing whatever cute thing he's doing.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Ani's Twelve Tasks | The Sixth: The Hanukkah - Spin the Dreidel Read


The Reading Task:  Let the dreidel choose a book for you!

I have assigned the following books to each dreidel symbol:

And here is my dreidel spin result:


And so I will be reading At Last by Jill Shalvis for The Sixth Task of the Festive Season!


I'm always up for a Jill Shalvis contemporary, and Lucky Harbor is a great place to be during the holidays.  I will try to finish and review the book within the next couple weeks, pending my reading schedule.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thoughts: All Fall Down

All Fall Down

by Julie Coulter Bellon
Book 1 of Hostage Negotiation Team

~ Goodreads ~

Rating:  3.5 Stars


My TBR List -- November Winner!
See Other My TBR List Reviews (link coming soon) @ Because Reading
Hostage negotiator Claire Michaels’ never thought she'd be involved in an international crisis.  Can she overcome her scars of the past to stop a new al-Qaeda threat?

Navy SEAL Rafe Kelly is on leave to recover from a knee injury he suffered during his tour in Afghanistan and he doesn't expect to be fighting terrorists on his home turf.  When he's taken hostage, he knows he has to fight or die.


I read this book as part audio and part Kindle book, though towards the end, it ended up being mostly audio as I found myself listening to it while playing computer games.  It was very easy to just lose myself in a book while playing mindless computer games.  It was a good evening, well spent.

Anyway, the audio book is narrated by Simon Pringle-Wallace, and was actually done quite well once I got used to his voice.  Since the majority of the characters were male, it was easier to get used to his voice once you get past his softer voice for Claire.

But enough of that.

Book-wise, even though I DID enjoy the book, it still seems, sort of, like I'm in the minority of opinions about it.  While it was exciting, fast-paced, and enjoyable enough, there were still things about All Fall Down that didn't quite work out for me, mainly the events at the beginning.  I haven't been able to really pinpoint why, but that some of the actions and events didn't seem to make much sense to me.

Even so, having great characters helps the book.  All Fall Down is bite-sized and flew by before I knew it.  Once the action got started, everything just kind of fell into place.

We already get to see a bunch of side characters, many of whom will probably be getting their own book.  At the same time, the introduction of all these characters doesn't seem awkward or forced.  And while I did like Claire and Rafe just fine, I felt like they were fairly standard as a main couple for a romance novel; though, to be clear, that doesn't take away from the fact that both are great characters.  They just don't really stand out.

Very enjoyable, though not much more unique than any other romantic suspense outside of being about a hostage negotiation team, which is a premise I haven't come across in other romantic suspense books yet.  HOWEVER, I have been introduced to this concept in an old Hong Kong television drama series, which I very much enjoyed, which is why I'd been drawn to the concept of All Fall Down in the first place.

I will definitely find the time to continue this series.


***

2016 Reading Challenges:
Goodreads Reading Challenge
BookLikes Reading Challenge
Reading Assignment Challenge
Bookish Resolutions Challenge
Mount TBR Challenge


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Bullet-Listed Thoughts: Dark Triumph

Dark Triumph

by Robin LaFevers
Book 2 of His Fair Assassin
Audio book narrated by Angela Goethals

~ Goodreads ~


Rating:  4.0 Stars



To start off, I probably should warn people about the presence of the fairly incestuous relationship that takes place between Sybella and her brother Julian; just in case anyone might have difficulty accepting this in their reading diets.  It's not entirely a heavy focus, though, since we see a lot more of the obsessive love on Julian's side.  While Sybella is merely playing a part as part of her assignment, and has no desire to encourage this relationship, Julian is very much in love with her.

Moving along...

If we compare Dark Triumph to Grave Mercy, there was a lot more focus on the political and war strategies significant to the Duchess Anne and her Duchy of Brittany in Grave Mercy.  Sure, you still see a lot of personal growth and development on Ismae's side of things, but her growth really DID also follow along with how she aided her young Duchess.

Dark Triumph's focus, on the other hand, was more heavily centered on Sybella: her vengeance, her mental and emotional stability, her revelations, and how she would figure out how to survive her own fatalism.  And it was definitely an emotional ride with everything that this girl had to go through.  Because if ever there was someone who attracted trouble and death, it definitely would be Sybella.

Many other readers were stating that Dark Triumph was much darker than Grave Mercy--this is definitely true.  But I can't help feeling like the execution of the story felt almost too deliberately created to be dark, so much so that it felt outrageous at times... or maybe it was just that Sybella's first person narration was heavily influenced by her own mental and emotional instabilities that it felt that way.

Whatever the reason is, it was definitely an emotional journey, and you definitely find it hard not to feel for Sybella throughout it all.


The Story:
Sybella had run away from the life that was slowly driving her mad, coming upon the Convent of St. Mortain, and learning that there might be hope in her life after all.  For she has been told that she is really the daughter of Death, himself, and can finally split her ties with the evilness of the father she's known her entire life, the terrible Count d'Albret, who serves no one but his own malicious desires.  But then the convent decides that the best way for her to serve their saint is to return to the darkness that is her family, to the brutal father who wouldn't hesitate to use her or kill her, to the brother who loves her to the point of unsettling obsession, and to a court full of people who would more likely betray you for any number of reasons.

The Reverend Mother has promised that Sybella would be the one to mete out final justice to the Count d'Albret, to rid the world of his vile existence, to avenge her lost innocent childhood and all those who have suffered thanks to this man.  But she has yet to find the mark of death on him, and this continued service to Death, as directed by the convent, is again, slowly driving her mad.

Then the convent sends a new order: she is to find and help free the captured knight known as Benebic de Waroch, and aid in his delivery to the Duchess in Rennes.

This creates a whole new dilemma for Sybella, as it could jeopardize her chances of remaining at Nantes in her father's presence--it would definitely put a kink in her carefully laid plans to kill d'Albret as she'd been promised she could do.

And even as she follows the convent's orders, she begins to question the existence of Mortain and her role as his handmaiden.  Because if she isn't really Mortain's daughter, then that would mean that she is truly the daughter of the evil d'Albret; and that is absolutely unacceptable to Sybella as it would mean that all her hopes have come to nothing.


What I Liked:
  • This book was an emotional roller coaster ride.  To be honest, I'm listing it as one of the things that I liked, but I'm not entirely sure if it is.  It was refreshing to follow such a flawed and emotionally unstable main character, but at the same time, it wasn't like Sybella turned out much different from a typical main heroine, really, as she is also kind and giving and all sorts of goodness, hidden beneath that cynical and fatalistic exterior.
  • The relationship between Sybella and Beast was subtle, yet also sweet and emotionally charged.  As I'd stated in a previous update, I was very much looking forward to the potential of their slowly budding relationship after they finally meet.  They are certainly not shy around each other in terms of words exchanged and verbal sparring.
  • Sybella is not shy at all.  Casting aside the blushing virgin roles, Sybella is definitely a step away from typical YA heroines.  She does not hesitate to utilize her feminine advantages in seduction in order to accomplish what needs to be done.  And she also rolls her eyes at the way that everyone tries to treat her like a delicate flower.
  • This is further along in the book, but I love how Sybella so readily slides into a role of leadership when the situations demand it of her.  She has that demeanor and firmness that allows her to command soldiers without hesitating, a demeanor that doesn't even give them a chance to argue or question her authority, even though she was never really given that authority.
  • The relationship between Sybella and Ismae is sweet and loving.  While we don't get to see a lot of their interactions--in fact this book is actually quite scarce in character interaction--I still loved that these girls love each other unconditionally, developing on their shared youthful tragedies that lead them both to the Convent of St. Mortain and into each other's lives many years prior to the book's timeline.
  • As usual, the writing is beautiful, the telling smooth, and the story very easy to dive into.


What I Didn't Like:
  • As much as I have enjoyed following along Sybella's journey, the book itself felt altogether too one-tracked in that aspect.  At some points, I felt like the story focused too heavily inside Sybella's head, and all the thoughts and ideas bouncing around in there.  It wasn't altogether a bad experience, far from it.  I just felt like the book could have given us a little bit more.  If that makes any sense.
  • The romance between Sybella and Beast was a bit too instantaneous, and maybe a little abrupt.  Much like in Grave Mercy between Ismae and Dival, I felt like I rather enjoyed the partnership between Sybella and Beast as comrades in a war.  They had great chemistry as friends, taking care of each other, and fighting beside one another.  But the love story felt a little awkward, actually, and I felt a little taken aback as to when the love story even actually started, since I hadn't seen it coming, even as I knew it was inevitable.
  • The events that continued to follow Sybella's dysfunctional family life, the secret reveals she gave us a piece at a time, started getting almost too outstanding to be believable.  Don't get me wrong--I understand that Sybella has gone through hell on earth during her childhood spent with the d'Albrets.  Between her brutally evil father and her much too obsessively in love older brother, as well as no allies or friends on her side, I don't blame her for her eagerness to runaway and hide her past from everyone.  But each new reveal just seemed like a never ending stumble down a hill.  Because just as you thought there was nothing else for Sybella to tell us, she uncovers a whole other layer to her family's secrets that make you question all those times you claimed that your family was crazy.  (At least my father didn't have six wives who died of "mysterious" circumstances or "accidents.") 


Final Thoughts:
I ended up listening to the audio book of Dark Triumph for the remainder of the book.  While I'm not entirely in love with Angela Goethal's narration, it actually grew on me and I found myself wanting to listen to the audio instead of just stopping and reading from the print.  Of course, there were times where I DID have to stop and look to the Kindle book for spellings of names, as well as certain quotes that I wanted to highlight.

I don't know if it was the narration or the book itself, but Dark Triumph became easily devoured in a matter of hours, and I finished the entire book much earlier than I had anticipated.

But even as I write this review, I'm still a little conflicted.  Dark Triumph has a lot more emotional depth than Grave Mercy did.  Sybella is truly the NUN ASSASSIN I'd been looking forward to since the first time I'd heard the words "nun assassin" and learned about the His Fair Assassin series.  The death count in this book, by Sybella's hand, might even make up for the lack thereof by Ismae's hand.  If I thought Grave Mercy was quiet and tame, in comparison, Dark Triumph could be its opposite.

But honest, it's not.  Dark Triumph is certainly darker than its predecessor, as it details events that are bound to make a lot of people uncomfortable.  Just the list of all the secrets Sybella has been keeping is enough to last me for some time, though not all her secrets are dark ones.  But Dark Triumph isn't any more exciting or intriguing that Grave Mercy was.  Just the fact that we focus so much on Sybella's journey of self-revelation and her state of mind, and less on the events surrounding Anne's Duchy of Brittany, made the action in this second His Fair Assassin book quietly thought-provoking, even if not tamer.

It's hard for me to decide whether I liked one book more than the other.  It's like comparing apples to oranges.  Because even while both books follow a different girl, set in the same time-frame, with a lot of the same events surrounding them, they are definitely two very different stories.


***

2016 Reading Challenges:
Goodreads Reading Challenge
BookLikes Reading Challenge
Reading Assignment Challenge
Mount TBR Challenge


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Crystal Cave Read-Along | Week Two Update

The Crystal Cave

by Mary Stewart
Book 1 of Arthurian Saga

~ Goodreads ~


Review for The Crystal Cave | link coming soon
Ani's Side Note:
The first three books of the Arthurian Saga is also known as The Merlin Trilogy.  This series is being read as part of a Buddy Read @ BookLikes, to be read over approximately three weeks.


I got a lot of reading done this week, but since I got a late start on The Crystal Cave last week, I'm still a little behind in the tentative scheduling, so I'm just going to have to make my own schedule.  Anyway, it seems that much has been happening, and each section of The Crystal Cave almost feels like a new story unfolding.

A new chapter in Merlin's life, maybe?




Book II: The Falcon -- Completed
Progress on 11/10/16:  232 of 519 pages (45%)

"This is a strange meeting, Merlin.  So much to say, and yet so little.  Do you see now why I asked so many questions?  Why I tried so hard to find what had brought you here?

"The gods at work, my lord, the brought me here," I said.

-- Page 223

I'm starting to get a sense that everything that's happening is very much a work of fate.  Or the gods, I suppose.  There is a lot of destiny at work here, and yet, at the same time it feels really deliberate in the story line's set up.  Was it deliberate?  Or are we trying too hard to give Merlin a magical presence?  Except that I feel like it's doing the opposite and making me question everything that's going on around Merlin.

Because how is it that one moment he's still a child, and then the next he can see everything that will happen without actually seeing?  It's more like knowing.  His Sight seems a little flighty, really.

And then, on top of that, we've got family secrets being revealed and all that jazz going on here.  All of the events that lead up to Merlin's current position, at this point in the book, feels too coincidental to be realistic.  His travels were not random at all, and again, he seems to have an on-again-off-again Sight that is telling him where he needs to be, how he needs to act, and what he needs to say.

I suppose with the gods being at work, this is entirely believable...




Book III: The Wolf -- In Progress
Progress on 11/14/16:  310 of 519 pages (60%) 

This third section of The Crystal Cave is actually getting quite exciting, and I attribute that to the fact that there's more action.  Merlin hasn't changed much from his childhood, and to be honest, I'm detecting no difference between twelve-year old Merlin to his transition to seventeen-year-old Merlin.  The voices are the same and the penchant for being omnipotent is also the same.

But there is a lot more going on in the world around him now that even if nothing about the boy stands out, at least the rest of the story in the background with war on the horizon is kind of interesting.  But to be honest, I often find politics and war strategy a bit boring, depending on how it's presented.  In this case, it's not capturing my attention all that well.

The new developments in Merlin's adventure are still quite intriguing though, and his return to his homeland is a nice new story spin.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

My TBR List -- November Winner!

My TBR List is a monthly meme hosted by Michelle @ Because Reading.
The basic gist of this activity is to have others help decide on which book out of three I'm selecting from my TBR pile I should read for the month via votes.  The posts will be published on the first two Saturdays (voting and winning book announcement, respectively), and the winning book review will be posted on the last Saturday of the month.
Click on the above links for more information.


So according to the masses, the book I will be reading for My TBRL this month is:





I have two winners this month, with both Whirlpool and All Fall Down garnering a tie at 5 votes each.

Recap

Last week, the books I had everyone vote on were:

The voting was actually an extremely close one as the week went by.  Whirlpool had a very strong start, being ahead of the other two books for a short duration of time before the votes started coming in rapid-fire soon after.  And surprisingly, All Fall Down had been the book to start the race with the fewest amount of votes on the first day.  Then all of a sudden, it shot past My Lady, My Lord and ended up right up there next to Whirlpool.

I would say that they left My Lady, My Lord in the dust, but truth be told, it only lost by one vote.  One more vote in that direction and I'd end up with a triple-tie!  then I'd have to invoke special powers of the BFF vote (essentially that would involve begging my best friend to pick one of three books).

As it is, with a simple tie, I will be using my special admin powers (pfft, admin powers) to make a decision between the two winners.  But pretty much, my decision will be that I will read both books, since I need two Reading Assignment books to read this month anyway, but that Whirlpool will be the book I post as the My TBR review on the last Saturday this month.  My decision is based on the fact that Whirlpool had been at the front of the vote since the start of this.

But I WILL also mention All Fall Down as one of the two winners as well.

Again, thank you to everyone for voting!


Coming up next for the My TBR List:

  • 11/26:  Review of the winning book, Whirlpool by Elizabeth Lowell
  • 12/3:  Next Month's My TBR List Voting

***

See Also: My TBR List -- November 2016 Voting

Friday, November 11, 2016

Collective Reading Updates for Dark Triumph

Dark Triumph

by Robin LaFevers
Book 2 of His Fair Assassin
Audio book narrated by Angela Goethals

~ Goodreads ~


The most recent updates will be added to the top each re-post.

As I progress through the book and find reasons to update, more events may or may not be revealed.  So I will include a **SPOILER WARNING** right here just in case I have inadvertently given away anything significant to the story itself.  I've done my best not to mention any big spoilers, but I don't always check myself accordingly.



Progress on 11/11/16:  203 of 405 pages | 393 of 716 minutes (50%)

And suddenly I am furious.  Furious that she does not even care that she lured me back to hell on earth with a false promise and that for a span of time, death was more inviting to me than the life I was forced to live--the life she had forced me to live, using lies and a lure she knew I would find irresistible.

[...]

She tilts her wimpled head and studies me.  "Something as paltry as a lack of Mortain's permission would not stop the Sybella I know.  Perhaps in the end, your ties to d'Albret are stronger than your ties to Mortain.  You have, after all, known and served him far longer."

Apparently, using the promise that Count d'Albret would bear the death mark of Saint Mortain, the Abbess of the Convent of St. Mortain had sent Sybella back to the hellish nightmare of her childhood home--even knowing the kind of mental and emotional trauma Sybella had gone through before finding her way to the convent.  Sybella had been promised that she would be able to deal the killing blow to d'Albret, but has, as of present not found the mark in appearance anywhere on the man.

Which is depressing considering what a terrible, malicious man he is.

However, I continue to find the Abbess much more manipulative and evil than many of the others.  At least Count d'Albret is openly vile.  The Abbess hides behind her Saint and uses him as an excuse for all of her commands, claiming that she knows best what he wants from his handmaidens.  And then, in the quote above, more to hurt Sybella than for any other reason, she rubs it into Sybella's sensibilities that maybe she truly is d'Albret's daughter after all rather than Mortain's--a conflict that Sybella has been having in her head since the beginning of the book and that is slowly driving her mad.

On top of that, Sybella's newest hope had been built on the idea that she is a daughter of Mortain and serves his will.  The sisters of the convent had always warned her about killing outside of Mortain's will, which would cast her out of his favor and damn her soul.  This is the reason why Sybella had been hesitant to kill d'Albret without the death mark; and yet now the Abbess is rubbing that in her face as well.

It really makes me want to reach in and punch her in the face.  It might actually be satisfying if Sybella can find the courage to do so in the end, and I look forward to something like that.




Progress on 11/11/16:  134 of 405 pages | 260 of 716 minutes (33%)

The connection between Sybella and Beast is much more complex than I had imagined, but not surprising.  Between being d'Albret's daughter and this new revelation, I'm actually kind of giddy to see where this slowly budding relationship heads.

Things are getting most interesting indeed!




Progress on 11/11/16:  109 of 405 pages | 206 of 716 minutes (27%)

Keeping my eyes on his contorted little face, I change my plan.  "I will not kill you.  Just put you to sleep for a while.  Just long enough to free the prisoner.  You will have a goose egg on your head and can explain to the others how you were overpowered and were helpless to prevent the escape."

At the word escape the little man stills and cocks his head.  He pauses for a long moment, then carefully steps away from the door and motions me toward it.

I frown.  What trick is this?

[...]

"You want me to free him?" I ask.

Hmm... the plot thickens, but we're at a turning point in the book now that Sybella has no other choice but to find and free Beast as his time is running out.  The little man who guards Beast in d'Albret's dungeons piqued my interest almost immediately.  He doesn't speak and he has reflexes like a master acrobat--I am very intrigued.

And I'm ready for some more excitement outside of Sybella's continued undercover work, which is really putting a strain on her mentality.  She's slowly becoming more and more fatalistic and that makes me really nervous.




Progress on 11/10/16:  97 of 405 pages | 182 of 716 minutes (24%)

We're getting closer to seeing Beast!  I have to admit, he was one of my more favorite characters from the first book.  I'm a little excited.

Meanwhile... the events surrounding Sybella and her family, as well as the incestuous feelings that her brother Julian doesn't bother to hide, makes me feel a bit squicky.  The fact that she needs to play along in order to accomplish her assignment makes me feel for her, and I'm hoping that Sybella gets out of that situation soon.




Progress on 11/10/16:  65 of 405 pages | 112 of 716 minutes (16%)

I will quit the convent.  She cannot force me to stay here.  Tucked far away on her little island, she will not even know I have left.

Well, that escalated fast.  As I recall from the first book, Sybella was always the wild card, needing to be coaxed to do anything at all, and having such an unpredictable will that I'd been surprised that she so willingly went on a mission that proved so emotionally trying for her.

Then again, at some point in time, I expect someone to put St. Mortain's Abbess in her place.  She's all talk about Mortain's will all the time, but her decisions and manipulations have always been questionable.  And deplorable.




Progress on 11/10/16:  57 of 405 pages | 100 of 716 minutes (14%)

I am part listening to this as an audio book, and part reading it on my Kindle as a print e-book.  And so far, I'm really getting into the book, though I don't know if that is per influence of the audio narration, or because the book is just so easy to get into.

There is action from the outset, and we immediately learn that Sybella's world is a much different place than Ismae's had been from the first book.  When other reviewers had mentioned how much darker the series is in this second installment, I had my reserves going by what the first book was like.

But, indeed, things are a bit darker, and so far, following Sybella's mission as she infiltrates her father the Baron d'Albret's home, we see just how dangerous this particular assignment is for Sybella, physically, mentally, and emotionally.  If there ever were the classic dysfunctional family, I'm sure this one would be it.  And honestly, I was quite surprised to learn that the nasty Baron d'Albret who'd been trying to gain possession of Duchess Anne, turned out to be Sybella's father.

Also with Sybella's assignment here, you also get to see another glimpse of how fallible the convent's direction is.  While Sybella still doesn't see it, we've already gotten a taste of how the Convent of St. Mortain can be completely, and utterly wrong about what needs to happen and who needs to die.  And once again, we also get to see how readily the girls of the convent are manipulated to do St. Mortain's work just because their Abbess decrees it so, because at the same time, the convent risks Sybella's safety and sanity in their supposed service to the Patron Saint of Death.

And we've already seen that Mortain works in ways that are not quite exclusive to the convent.

Anyway... bring on Beast!  I can't wait for him to make his appearance, as it seems that he will be featuring prominently in this book.