Book Review – ‘My Calamity Jane’ (#3 The Lady Janies) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

The historical retelling I didn’t know I needed…

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Historical, LGBT

No. of pages: 544

Welcome ​to 1876 and a rootin’-tootin’ America bursting with gunslingers, outlaws, and garou.

JANE (a genuine hero-eene)

Calamity’s her name, and garou hunting’s her game—when she’s not starring in Wild Bill’s Traveling Show, that is. She reckons that if a girl wants to be a legend, she should just go ahead and be one.

FRANK (*wolf whistle*)

Frank “the Pistol Prince” Butler is the Wild West’s #1 bachelor. He’s also the best sharpshooter on both sides of the Mississippi, but he’s about to meet his match. . . .

ANNIE (get your gun!)

Annie Oakley (yep, that Annie) is lookin’ for a job, not a romance, but she can’t deny there’s something about Frank she likes. Really likes. Still, she’s pretty sure that anything he can do, she can do better.

A HAIRY SITUATION

After a garou hunt goes south and Jane finds a suspicious-like bite on her arm, she turns tail for Deadwood, where there’s been talk of a garou cure. But things ain’t always what they seem—meaning the gang better hightail it after her before they’re a day late and a Jane short.

Another entertaining fantastical historical romp to conclude the My Lady Janies trilogy. ‘My Calamity Jane’ pairs western legend with werewolf mythology in a comedic venture into the Wild West.

A spaghetti western with a paranormal twist written with humour and hints of feminism. I really enjoy this trio of authors working together. I am always amused and entrenched in the stories they write, the little twists to story and character, the little asides breaking the 4th wall to the reader.

We follow multiple perspectives revolving around the anecdotal stories of Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley, Wild Bill and the Pistol Prince. Calamity Jane, a member of Wild Bill’s travelling show, marvelling townships with their skills in gun slinging, knife throwing, and whip-cracking. But it’s all a cover as they hunt down werewolves bent on killing or intentionally infecting the naive populace. Jane is a smart-mouthed tom boy, driven to forge her place in a male dominated world… and live up to the legend the group had crafted to sell tickets to their show. Annie is a determined young lady, if a little rough around the edges, eager to join the sharp shooting crew as it’s newest member – because there aren’t many places for a lady with her skills to find employment. Wild Bill and his posse are the ticket to a life she’s always dreamed of. Frank is slightly egotistical, but always up for a challenge. As the team track down the leader of the garou pack, bent on infecting every unsuspecting human they can to build an army of their own; Wild Bills group has their work cut out for them. Facing off this threat is going to uncover some secrets buried from the past and force the gang to open up to each other about their own hidden past and desires.

I literally flew through this book. It is highly entertaining with plenty of twist, turns, and reveals. I was saddened to hear this was an end to this series, but joyous to hear of another trilogy following Mary’s in history. This trio of authors have struck gold.

The writing style is very tongue-in-cheek and combines historical deportment and language mixed in with a contemporary sentimentality: the combination is magical. Hand, Ashton, and Meadows do comedy well in combination to creating fantastic, relatable characters, and encompassing worlds.

The plot wasn’t quite predictable; you get a sense of its direction at the beginning, and then the plot take you on a wild ride, the many reveals completely displacing you from the saddle. There is so much charm in ‘My Calamity Jane’ I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Overall feeling: Blow me down!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Siege and Storm’ (#2 The Shadow and Bone Trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo

Hunting water serpents and dodging a Shadow-wielding manic.

Genre: YA, Fantasy

No. of pages: 432

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her—or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

Another fantastic entry into the Grishaverse. I love the mythology and the magic system as Alina and Mal dodge The Darkling, the religious faction of the Sun Summoner and quest to find another amplifier.

The plot and writing style are astoundingly great, though the characterisation of Alina fell a bit flat for me in ‘Siege and Storm.’ It’s like she became single minded and stubborn and lost much of her complexity. It was harder to connect with her character, and I found myself getting a little bored of her at times. So too was Mal. Like he had been painted in the first novel as the forever and reliable best friend that Alina may or may not have romantic feelings for, it didn’t give Mal much room to shine as a complex character. I still loved their dynamic, and the story, but their characterisation left the tone of ‘Siege and Storm’ a little flat.

Leigh Bardugo raises the stakes with a more powerful and threatening antagonist with the Darkling, but then I felt like a lot of the politics with the royal family and all the posturing slowed the pace somewhat. There was less action in comparison to the debut, more in library research and angling for support with those in power. I’m not one that finds the politics all that fascinating and it always pulls me from the narrative feigning disinterest.

Siege and Storm’ ends in a cliff-hanger which has me very excited to pick up ‘Ruin and Rising.’ While a zoomed through the debut ‘Shadow and Bone,’ it was a little more difficult to get through this sequel, evidently suffering that famous middle-book syndrome (slump).

I’m interested to see the television series take on this novel in the second series of the Netfix production. It has become one of my favourite television adaptations of all time.

I can’t honestly sad this book is predictable in its details, but for the over-arching storyline of the trilogy it is fairly easy to guess the direction of the story; nonetheless I love Leigh Bardugo’s talent in crafting a plot, unexpected reveals, upping the ante, and throwing in a twist or two.

Still a strong recommendation from me, if a fantasy can have me this much engaged, it must be good.

Overall feeling: Happy travels!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Clockwork Princess’ (#3 The Infernal Devices) by Cassandra Clare

Steampunk magical zombies and so many men who just want to get married.

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

No. of pages: 567

A net of shadows begins to tighten around the Shadowhunters of the London Institute. Mortmain plans to use his Infernal Devices, an army of pitiless automatons, to destroy the Shadowhunters. He needs only one last item to complete his plan: he needs Tessa Gray.

Charlotte Branwell, head of the London Institute, is desperate to find Mortmain before he strikes. But when Mortmain abducts Tessa, the boys who lay equal claim to her heart, Jem and Will, will do anything to save her. For though Tessa and Jem are now engaged, Will is as much in love with her as ever.

As those who love Tessa rally to rescue her from Mortmain’s clutches, Tessa realizes that the only person who can save her is herself. But can a single girl, even one who can command the power of angels, face down an entire army?

This concluding novel of the Infernal Devices trilogy brought everything to a dramatic climax and Tessa, Will, and Jem are all tested to the extreme.

We start to see more of the Shadowhunter lore and lifestyle instead of that of the 1800’s London society. It’s full on magic and paranormal. And it was such a fun adventure, though, to be honest, with did feel like a weak ending to the trilogy… maybe because it’s continued on in other series in the Shadowhunter universe in some form or other, or that I was a little over the too-frequently used tropes that Cassandra Clare loves to employ in her writing.

The secondary cast members get to play a greater role in the narrative in ‘Clockwork Princess’ you can get the sense of a strong team forming when facing the treat of the clockwork zombies that are immune to the defences of the Cleve’s magic protecting the hub and home of the London faction of Shadowhunters. I really enjoyed following their individual stories, their character development to have a break from the angsty love triangle of Tessa, Will, and Jem.

The concluding chapters dealt some twists that I did not see coming – but some that I did not altogether appreciate. While these plot reveals can sometimes be masterful, I found a few to be all too convenient and a bit of a cop out. But that’s just my opinion. I think because I was craving a bit more personal tension and drama for our trio at the centre of the series.

I’m not sure if it’s all the propriety of 1700’s society, or the way the relationships were written, but I wasn’t as sold on the Tessa love story; not as much as I was in Clary’s from the Mortal Instruments series – maybe because if felt a little copy and paste tropes of the bad boy with a heart of gold, and an everyday girl with a one-of-a-kind special talent that can save the world. I was craving something a bit different, more original. But the rest of the story, and the Shadowhunter universe I was really enjoying.

Mortmain was a weird antagonist – always in the periphery, out of reach. Not quite in the Shadowhunter, or Downworlder world. And as a consequence not someone as I thought of as all that scary. He came across as more annoying than maleficent. Though I appreciated the whole circumventing magic and wards with the invention of his clockwork army. That was true genius.

Now I’ve tucked this trilogy under my belt, I’m eager to finish off the Mortal Instruments series (the second trilogy) to see what happens with this background now established. I’d still recommend this collection, even though the ending didn’t quite stick for me. The concept and element of The Infernal Devices was truly entrancing. But maybe for those who love the Shadowhunter world – it’s not something that can be enjoyed in isolation… each of these trilogies sets up groundwork for the following trilogy.

Cassandra Clare’s writing style is light and manages to draw out period details expertly, I was never pulled from the narrative apart from moments when I was eye-rolling from the overused tropes. ‘Clockwork Princess’ was mostly predictable, a few surprised, but on the whole a solid read.

Overall feeling: Lukewarm

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Shadow and Bone’ (#1 The Shadow and Bone Trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo

A unique magical system set in historical Russia, this tale of a girl with special powers blasts competitors out of the water.

Genre: YA, Fantasy

No. of pages: 358

Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, she is sure of only one thing: her best friend, Mal–and her inconvenient crush on him. Until the day their army regiment enters the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. When their convoy is attacked and Mal is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power not even she knew existed.

Ripped from everything she knows, Alina is taken to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. With Alina’s extraordinary power in his arsenal, he believes they can finally destroy the Fold. Now Alina must find a way to master her untamed gift and somehow fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. As the threat to the kingdom mounts and her dangerous attraction to the Darkling grows, Alina will uncover a secret that could tear her heart–and her country–in two.

I did the mad rush to quickly get the book read before the television series was released – and thankfully managed it so that I could indulge in the series. It was a great kick in the pants for some motivation because this book has been sitting on my TBR shelf for years!

Shadow and Bone’ definitely lived up to the hype I’ve heard all of these years. Fantasy had fallen out of favour with me a while back, which is why I let this sit for so long, but it has re-ignited my interest in the genre. Leigh Bardugo has created a fantastical world of powered individuals called the Grisha, a dark cloud cutting their country in half called the Fold created by a powerful Grisha known as the Darkling. With warring countries, and a battle for power between the royals, church, and the Grisha this Russian landscape proves a formidable one for protagonist Alina and her childhood best friend Mal.

There is a bit of an overused trope here – the orphan who has a secret formidable power to save the world – but it is done so well that I didn’t mind it in the least. Alina is intelligent and there is a slow burn of her coming into her confidence and expanding her knowledge about the Grisha. A country at war provides a dynamic backdrop as Alina and Mal travel into the Fold where Alina’s Sun Summoner power first shows itself under attack from the monsters in the shadows.

There is some admirable character development for Alina in ‘Shadow and Bone.’  Though Mal comes in and out of the narrative and seems to be the same reliable and loyal friend Alina has always known, so I didn’t see much growth for his character. We get a sense that Mal could be a love interest, as too do we see the leader of the Grisha, the Darkling. I really loved how Alina investigates the world of the Grisha and tries to hold her made family of her and Mal together. There are some great reveals in ‘Shadow and Bone’ that help set a cracking pace. I devoured this novel in two sittings and it felt effortless. Leigh Bardugo’s writing style is breezy and melodic setting a beautiful tone, and you don’t see the twists and turns coming until they are upon you.

This book comes highly recommended and I can see why – I definitely agree this is in the top of my favourite reads in the fantasy genre to date. The concept of the amplifiers, though interwoven seamlessly into the story was the least plausible for me in this magic system. The idea of groups of powered Grisha, and the variations within those groups is truly fascinating. I’m sure we’ll get to explore much more in the following sequels.

I had a wonderful experience with ‘Shadow and Bone’ and am keen to jump into book two, ‘Siege and Storm’ right away.

Overall feeling: Magical!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Clockwork Prince’ (#2 The Infernal Devices) by Cassandra Clare

Beautiful Victorian London, steampunk villains and paranormal creatures.

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

No. of pages: 502

In the magical underworld of Victorian London, Tessa Gray has found safety with the Shadowhunters. But that safety proves fleeting when it becomes clear that the mysterious Magister will stop at nothing to use Tessa’s powers for his own dark ends.

With the help of the handsome, tortured Will and the devoted Jem, Tessa discovers that the Magister’s war on the Shadowhunters is deeply personal and fueled by revenge. To unravel the secrets of the past, the trio journeys from mist-shrouded Yorkshire to a manor house that holds untold horrors. When they encounter a clockwork demon bearing a warning for Will, they realize that the Magister knows their every move—and that one of their own has betrayed them.

Tessa is drawn more and more to Jem, though her longing for Will continues to unsettle her. But something is changing in Will. Could finding the Magister free Will from his secrets and give Tessa answers about who she really is? As their search leads to deadly peril, Tessa learns that secrets and lies can corrupt even the purest heart.

A steampunk Shadowhunter tale with the bad boy, his well-behaved best friend, and a girl who may or may not be a warlock.

While I really enjoyed this story, the pacing suffered at times. There were also many reveals, but none that fully rocked me to the core – so as a consequence, ‘Clockwork Prince’ did not engage and wow me as much as pervious titles in this series. Plus the character trope of male characters being a rude pig for the good of a potential love interest is tiresome and not a trope I particularly enjoy.

Though we see Tessa becoming more ingratiated into her Shadowhunter family, and joining the fray as they police the Downworld and uncover mysteries, there did not feel like her character got much development. Plus all this priority of the 1800’s society and etiquette vs the Shadowhunters culture seem to clash, and the English customs felt to serve only as a plot device to set up a situation between Tessa, Jem, and Will.

As mentioned above, I was beginning to become tired of the bad boy image hiding a genuine gentle soul that Will embodies. I just don’t understand the need to be obnoxious to keep people at an arm’s length. There are other ways to do this without falling into this trope. But I guess it is a favoured character trait in YA. Though where the story ends in ‘Clockwork Prince,’ I am interested to see how Will develops in the final instalment in this trilogy as he has no excuses to be the way he has been anymore.

Jem felt as if he was more in the background and a bit of a plot device for ‘Clockwork Prince.’ Apart from the growing relationship between him and Tessa, there was little else to his story.

This love triangle – and its developing story – felt a little off in this middle novel. It seems like Cassandra Clare quickly moved the chess pieces where she needed them to be for the finale and then treaded water. I think that’s why I felt the pacing suffered in parts. There was no character driving the story forward, it was more about positioning plot points for ‘Clockwork Princess.’

We do get resolution to a major plot point which was very satisfactory, and a few minor ones which all went the way of sensibility and practicality instead of some elaborate backstory.

Overall I really enjoyed ‘Clockwork Prince,’ but it did lack a certain something. But that is the way of many middle books in trilogies… I’m excited for ‘Clockwork Princess’ knowing what is left to be resolved, and how it will ultimately tie back into The Mortal Instruments series; and in true Cassandra Clare style, will no doubt be epic with many twist and turns.

Overall feeling: Pretty great fare!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Broken Throne’ (#4.5 Red Queen) by Victoria Aveyard

Filling in the gaps in the Red Queen series.

Genre: YA, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 480

This gorgeously designed package features three brand-new novellas, two previously published novellas, Steel Scars and Queen Song, and never-before-seen maps, flags, bonus scenes, journal entries, and much more exclusive content.

Fans will be delighted to catch up with beloved characters after the drama of War Storm and be excited to hear from brand-new voices as well. This stunning collection is not to be missed!

A bind up of novellas for the Red Queen franchise that follow secondary characters in this universe, and the final short story lets us glimpse into the further of Mare and Cal after ‘War Storm.’

It pains me to say, but this was the least interesting read of the series so far. That, in addition to the publishers doubling up on releasing two short stories previously published in another bind-up. Which left two novellas that I had not read that were so steeped in politics and descriptions of the nation (and historical research) that the tone was dry and boring. I seriously had a difficult time trying to stay focused on the page.

The ray of sun that broke through the clouds, was the inclusion of Mare and Cal reuniting in the last novella. Though not really explored, just a brief moment where they address feelings (not getting too deep) before the story ends.

So I got a brief moment of joy in a sea of lengthy beaurocratic red tape descriptions and two already-read short stories. I kinda feel ripped off.

There were moments of Victoria Aveyard’s writing that really drew me in, especially in the final novella, but the rest of the time the pacing was off and the plot so bogged down with situational recount, no compelling protagonist, for me to feel connected to the narrative, or even care where the story is going.

Broken Throne’ is more for the die-hard enthusiast for the Red Queen series. It has snippets from other characters, description of political movements and wars, history from present day to this dystopian powered world of Reds and Silvers. A great companion for the fans; but for me, a lover of the supernatural powers and a strong tale of a protagonist overcoming the odds, much of this did not appeal.

Overall feeling: It was just not for me…

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Clockwork Angel’ (#1 The Infernal Devices) by Cassandra Clare

Getting back into the Shadowhunter universe.

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

No. of pages: 479

The year is 1878. Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. She soon discovers that her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters—including Will and Jem, the mysterious boys she is attracted to. Soon they find themselves up against the Pandemonium Club, a secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks, and humans. Equipped with a magical army of unstoppable clockwork creatures, the Club is out to rule the British Empire, and only Tessa and her allies can stop them…

This review comes from a re-read for me. I had read this initially about 7 years ago when it was first released but never wrote a review… and then abandoned the series when we moved states as the books were hidden away in moving boxes for an extended period of time. I think I initially had awarded it 5 stars. Now that I’m completing the series as a part of #BeatTheBacklist, I needed to re-read ‘Clockwork Angel’ to refresh and catch up to where I last left The Infernal Devices collection.

Clockwork Angel’ is a steampunk historical fantasy in the Shadowhunters universe, set as a sequel to the Mortal Instruments. I found this an easily engrossed read. I slipped into the past seamlessly and powered through this novel despite its 480 page length. It reminded me of all the things I enjoyed about The Mortal Instruments series all those years ago. I’m definitely excited to catch up on all the published novels in the Shadowhunter universe.

We follow Tessa Gray after her Aunt passes away and she is sent a ticket to travel to London to live with her last living relative, her brother Nathaniel. Upon arriving in England, she is secreted away by the Dark Sisters and forced into strange rituals that bring out her latent shape changing abilities Tessa did not know she had.

We meet Shadowhunters Will and Jem (James) who rescue Tessa from the Dark Sisters when they are investigating a murder involving Downworlders. From there Tessa is slowly introduced to all the elements of the Downworld and Shadowhunter alike, discovering that she is a part of this world too.

Tessa starts as a typical society lady, but soon notices that her deportment means little in the new magical world she has found herself in, and after having no-one to rely on but herself and her intuition, she has to find the strength to stand up for herself and carve her own path. I found Tessa endearing, if a little waifish at times – but that is a result of the society of the times, not of her character. And we see Tessa shed the older version of herself and become a strong and intelligent entity in her own right.

Will is a rakish teen, who’s good-looking and knows it. He’s rude and appears as being self-absorbed. I’m not a fan of intentionally rude love interests, so I’m not all that taken with Will. But we have only scratched the surface and I’m sure a tragic and involved backstory is going to be revealed in the next two sequels.

As too with Jem, a POC infected with demon poison which is slowly killing him. He’s all sorts of gentile, caring, and empathetic and I love the way both he and Tessa interact. Again, there is a backstory we’ve yet to uncover, which has me keen to jump into the sequel ‘Clockwork Prince’ as soon as possible.

We meet an early version of sorcerer Magnus Bane, and ancestors of the main characters from The Mortal Instruments. It had all the elements of magic that I loved about from the debut series, though I have to admit, I was hoping for more of this… and more action. But it’s just the introductory novel in this trilogy, so I’m confident that I’ll get my fix in the sequels.

Cassandra Clare’s writing style is eloquent and she painted the cold, damp, and drab atmosphere with aplomb. I was easily transported to 1870’s London. The pacing is what I’ve come to expect from her writing, she drops clues to keep us enticed every few pages, and does not neglect character development. If I was being really picky, I would say this was the tiniest bit waffly, but because I enjoy this universe so much, it did not bother me much.

I can’t say anything about the plot, because I had read this before, so there were no surprises… but I think on the initial reading the ending really got me. There’s a few twists and red herrings that make this an enjoyable read.

Happily recommend ‘Clockwork Angel’ to lovers of historical fiction, steampunk, fantasy, magic, and fans of the Shadowhunter universe.

Overall feeling: Felt like coming home after a long day.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

#bookquotes

I like this quote it reminds we of the saying ‘like attracts like.’ It also makes me remember my mother saying that if you surround yourself with happy successful people, you will become happy and successful… I don’t know how much of it is true, but I think they all relate to finding your tribe – people who hold the same values and goals as you do. That way you can support each other in this journey through life.