Thursday, August 22, 2019

Series Review: "The Redemption Saga" by Kristen Banet

Series Title: The Redemption Saga
Author: Kristen Banet
Genre: Urban Fantasy Reverse Harem
Reading Order & Individual Ratings: 
  1. A Life of Shadows - 3.75 // 5 stars
  2. A Heart of Shame - 3.75 // 5 stars
  3. A Nature of Conflict - 4 // 5 stars
  4. An Echo of Darkness - 4 // 5 stars
  5. A Night of Redemption - 4 // 5 stars
Date Started Book 1: August 12, 2019
Date Ended Book 5: August 16, 2019
Overall Rating: 4 // 5 stars

Sawyer Matthews knows how to put one foot in front of the other, to keep moving while the nightmares haunt her, and her own failures taunt her. She's become a master at doing awful things with good intentions, terrible things for the sake of those who need her. She's long given up on being the hero, trying to find peace in no longer being the villain. 

When her past comes back and she finds herself caught by the International Magi Police Organization, she'll have to revisit her own personal hells and finally confront the very monster that made her what she is. The very monster that has already killed her once before. 

Will the “dead” Magi assassin Shadow finally come out of the dark to begin a fight for a redemption she doesn't believe she deserves? Or will her nightmares drag her back into the shadows that have defined her life? 

First Thoughts

I wasn't planning on reading this series so soon, but I knew that I wanted to give it a try when I got a free Kindle Unlimited trial. I had the first book downloaded to try and one night, at around 11:30 pm when I should have been going to bed, I started reading book 1. I ended up finishing it all that night at about 3 am. Thus began a binge of the entire series. I read all five books (and a short novella) in five days and I loved it. While I wish there were more books, I also just love how it all came together.

So, I'm going to start by saying that these books aren't literary masterpieces and they won't appeal to everyone in the same way they did to me. In fact, when I read the first one, I enjoyed it but I wasn't sure I loved it. Upon finishing it, I can now say that I love this series. Every time I look back on the books, I just want to reread and I get such a good feeling. I already want to reread them and it hasn't even been a week since I finished them for the first time.

The World

Let's start with the world. This series is set in our modern day world but with the addition of Magi (people who can use magic and have special abilities). Regular humans know about Magi and there's even an entire government, military, police force, and society dedicated to and run by Magi. We even get to see the Magi criminal underworld. I think that everything about the Magi community was fascinating, from their rules and laws to the social classes and more.

Not only that, but each Magi has a different set of between one and five abilities ranging from rare to common. Different combinations determine how strong a Magi is, what they could do for a career, etc. I absolutely loved seeing the different types of magic and how each worked. It was also fun to see the limits that each different Magi could hit as it all varied depending on the skillset. Seeing the magic in action was so fun because it really impacted how a fight could play out.

We weren't overwhelmed by world-building details, either. We learned details as we needed to rather than be told everything all at the beginning. Throughout the course of the series, we were continually learning new details about the world as issues around them arose.

As for the actual physical world, the characters went all over. The story wasn't all based in one location, but many different locations all over. I enjoyed the world traveling that went on, though I do wish we could have gotten some more details about the physical setting because I do love a good vivid setting in my head, but I also could just subconsciously fill in the blanks on what everything looked like.

Characters & Relationships

What really made me love this series wasn't the world, it wasn't the plot or action, it wasn't the was the characters. From the first page of the first book, I knew that I was going to love Sawyer as a main character.

Our main character, Sawyer, has five abilities (the most any Magi can have) and has such a unique mix of common and rare skills that she's considered one of the strongest Magi. She's an ex-assassin turned thief who now runs a gym where abused kids can learn self-defense. She's a badass, plain and simple. But she's also funny and caring and imperfect. Honestly I just loved her so much.

The five love interests were also wonderful. A lot of the time when I read reverse harem, the love interests all kind of blend together into carbon copies of each other. The personalities aren't too diverse and I can't tell one from another. That was not the case in this book. I could easily tell you about the backstories, differing personalities, and even some of the Magi abilities of the love interests: Zander, Jasper, Quinn, Vincent, and Elijah. In fact, it's also pretty easy for me to recall specific scenes that each character has with our main character, Sawyer.

I think it helped that we also got POV's from the love interests. The majority of the POVs were from Sawyer's perspective, but we also got the guys at different points. Being inside their heads really helped with connecting with them and also seeing situations in different ways.

Of course, one of my favorite parts of the characters and budding romance was the fact that it was pretty slow-burn. Each of the guys had a different timeline to how their relationship with Sawyer progressed. It took different characters different amounts of time to for it to form and I really liked that. I just loved the slow-burn as I'm a sucker for seeing relationships develop over the long run.

The last thing I wanted to talk about was the diversity in this series. I personally cannot attest to how well written it was as I'm not an own-voices reviewer, but there was a lot of diversity in our main six characters. Our main character is a POC (and she's not the only one0 and it wasn't just something that was mentioned once in her physical description and then never talked about again. Throughout the course of the series it was talked about and we saw how she was treated differently than she would have if she'd been a white character--like when they went to a backwoods Southern town and two of the characters endured racism and discrimination.

There's a lot of mental illness rep that's not just limited to our main character but also a few of the guys and other side characters. Additionally, there's bisexual rep, disability rep, anxiety rep, and even more that I'm sure I'm missing. I just really loved seeing all the different rep in this series because, as awesome as the reverse harem genre is, a lot of what I've read is very white and straight.

Like I said, the characters and relationships are what made this series great for me. I could go on for hours addressing each character individually but that would make for a super-long review. If you read the books, you'll see what I mean.

Story, Plot & Pacing

This series is definitely for mature readers. It's dark, can be graphic at times, and has mature scenes (I have trigger warnings listed at the end of this review for those who might need them). But while this series can get dark at times, there are plenty of light moments and when I look back on these books, I don't feel weighed down or uncomfortable. I thought that balance between the darker moments and the mundane, easy times was a good representation of how life can be.

Going off of the occasional dark moments, this series definitely explores just how dark and cruel people can be. We have some pretty messed up people doing bad things while others are trying to counteract those. There's the obvious things such as murder, torture/kidnapping, abuse etc but there's also corruption, racism, sexism, etc. But for every cruel or dark person, there were more coming back at them trying to change things and make the world a better place.

The plot was very multi-faceted, which I enjoyed. We had a lot of different plot lines all separate from each other yet connecting in different ways that brought their issues into the lives of the characters. I liked seeing a story where it wasn't a group of characters focused solely on a single goal but, rather, they're working towards a goal while also not letting it consume them.

The pacing over the course of the series was good. However, I noticed that for most of the books (not all), any action or issues mentioned in the description typically didn't start showing up or being dealt with until about a third to halfway in. Not to say I didn't enjoy the first parts of the books, but the pacing wasn't super consistent when looking at a single book. Now, taking a step back and looking at the series as a whole without chopping it into bits, it was pretty good. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, I've definitely found a new series to add to my favorites list. It's not perfect but it's fun, addicting, and I can lose myself in the pages of these books. I think it really solidified in book 4 when I was reading the last 50 pages or so and just screaming or on the verge of throwing the book across the room the whole time. Any book that can make me feel that way is one I know will be a long-time favorite. I'm already working on getting physical copies of all of the books, which only happens for books that I really love. I highly recommend this series!

Content and Trigger Warning including PTSD, Rape, Child and Domestic Abuse, & Suicide.

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Friday, August 16, 2019

Book Review: "Brave" by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Brave by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Title: Brave 
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Series: "A Wicked Trilogy" #3
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Page Length: 362 pages
Publication Date: December 11, 2017
Date Started: August 11, 2019
Date Finished: August 12, 2019
Rating: 4.5 // 5 stars
Book 2 Review

I have to say, this was a great conclusion to this trilogy. I enjoyed pretty much every second of reading this book and it took me only two sittings to finish it. While I don't think it was perfect, because really no book is, I thought it came pretty close while still staying in the realm of a believable ending.

I loved how this book balanced internal character struggles with the big outward tensions going on. Yes, the world has the potential to be in danger, but also the main character is struggling. I liked that this wasn't one of those moments of a character going through something traumatic and then being fine two days later. Nope. In this book we can see the consequences of what happened and the start of a healing and recovery process. That felt so real to me.

I obviously loved the characters. Now that this is over I wish there were more books with our two main characters, though there's also so many side characters that I really want stories about. I know there's already some spin-off novellas following two side characters that I'm excited to read, but I also want two other characters specifically to get a storyline following them. Even if it's just them sitting around not doing anything other than drinking coffee and eating beignets. I just loved the characters--both good and bad. I thought they were well written and compelling and really made me that much more invested in the story.

I will say, Jennifer was able to completely shock me a few times. There were a few things I'd been accidentally spoiled for that I could see coming only because I knew they were, but other things completely blew me away. Looking back, though, they're believable and a natural turn for the story. But after expected betrayal after betrayal after incident in this trilogy, I'm happy to say Jennifer was able to shock me.

I love how this book wrapped things up nicely yet still left things open-ended for the spin-off novellas. Two of the three novellas have currently been released but I've heard they end in huge cliffhangers so I don't want to read them yet. Having this book wrapped up and with things mostly okay at this point in time is giving me the peace of mind to wait until the third novella's release date is closer before I dive into the first two.

Overall, I just loved this book. I thought it was a great ending and I already miss these characters. I would definitely read another book just about our two main characters doing mundane things. I have found another favorite series in Jennifer L. Armentrout and I can't wait to see what she does next.

Thanks for reading!

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

GUEST POST: "Unhappy Endings in The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes" by Francesca Burke

Hey all! Today I have a super exciting post that is something I haven't done in a while: host a guest writer! Today's Guest Post is from Francesca Burke, author of the YA fantasy novel THE PRINCESS AND THE DRAGON AND OTHER STORIES ABOUT UNLIKELY HEROES. Currently, this novel is being released chapter-by-chapter on Patreon which I think is such a cool idea! Without further ado, here's the author to tell you more about this awesome-sounding book! 

Official Blurb

A collection of the sort of fairytales you wish you’d read as a child, The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes follows the adventures of three teenagers living on the magical island of the Three Kingdoms. Princess Amelia uses her wits to rid her kingdom of a terrible dragon; Prince Richard must prove his bravery to his kingdom and himself; clairvoyant Esme Delacroix can’t ignore a vision of something terrible happening to the magic users of her kingdom. The official blurb:

This is a book of fairytales, but not of happy endings.

Welcome to the Three Kingdoms.

Princesses hatch plans; princes embark on quests; the forces of evil gather in dark corners like spiders in an ancient tower. There’s an ancient tower. Don’t expect to fall asleep to sweet dreams when you’re done.

The novel is young adult and features multiple LGBT and BAME characters.

Francesca's Post

I didn’t mean to write a YA fantasy novel. I wanted to write a fairytale that I would have enjoyed when I was 10 or 12, with witches and magic and pretty dresses, just without the weirdly athletic princes and true-love’s-kiss nonsense. Three years later, I had a book about princesses, witches, and international political instability. I blame Brexit.

No, really. Also Trump. When I was chatting to Lauren about this blog tour, she suggested I write about why the blurb of the novel emphasises unhappy endings. To be honest, I just thought it sounded dramatic and hopefully eye-catching, like the title THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END. Edgy new YA novel combines fantasy elements with Real Life Painful Stuff! But when I went away and considered her question, thinking back to when I was outlining the book, it was spring of 2016. British traditional media and social media were tyre fires of people shouting at each other. We’re in summer 2019 right now, and I don’t think anyone has really stopped shouting. I watched the evening news before writing this; the main stories were about a police officer being stabbed, the rise of knife crime amongst women and the UN’s recommendations about changing our diet to combat climate change. The police officer’s going to live, by the way. Jury’s still out on the planet. 

My point is, it felt false to write a ‘traditional’ fairytale ending for THE PRINCESS AND THE DRAGON AND OTHER STORIES ABOUT UNLIKELY HEROES. I made sure my princesses rescue themselves and my princes are kind of geeky and a bit rubbish at sword fighting, so it made sense to write story arcs that felt real, too. I have never come across a real life ‘happily ever after’; we live too long for that these days. Most people just muddle along living some days that are fabulous and some that are horrendous and quite a few that are, you know, not too bad. In a world where Donald Trump is president and bees are nearing extinction and women’s trousers still do not come with pockets, I will take ‘not too bad’.

That’s not to say that the entire book is as gloomy as the evening news. It’s totally not! At least three couples are true love couples, although we don’t necessarily watch them fall in love. A few people meet their best friends on page. There’s a joke about call centres. I included the most princess dress of all princess dresses. THIS IS A FUN READ, I PROMISE. 

You can read the prologue and opening chapters here and the rest here.

Author Links

Francesca's Personal Blog

Francesca's Website

Thanks for reading!

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