Mini Reviews: These Ruthless Deeds + These Vengeful Souls

MiniIt doesn’t happen often, but I love when you revisit a book that you didn’t love the first time around, only to discover how enjoyable it is upon a second reading. I reread Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas’s These Vicious Masks a couple of months ago because I had bought the second from Book Outlet and didn’t want to give up on the series even though the first didn’t blow me away. But with a reread, I ended up falling in love with the story and characters. And after finishing the second, I felt the pressing need to buy the third. It only seems appropriate to pair the final two books together in this edition of mini-reviews. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: These Ruthless Deeds
Author: Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Series: The Vicious Masks, #2
Pages: 320
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: March 14th 2017 

      “England, 1883. Still recovering from a devastating loss, Evelyn is determined to use her powers to save other gifted people from those who would harm them. But when her rescue of a young telekinetic girl goes terribly wrong, Evelyn finds herself indebted to a secret society devoted to recruiting and protecting people like Evelyn and her friends.
      As she follows the Society’s orders, healing the sick and embarking on perilous recruitment missions, Evelyn sees her problems disappear. Her reputation is repaired, her friends are provided for, and her parents are newly wealthy. She reunites with the dashing Mr. Kent and recovers the reclusive Mr. Braddock (who has much less to brood over now that the Society can help him to control his dangerous power). But Evelyn can’t help fearing the Society is more sinister than it appears…”

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“Perhaps grief was my companion now, to be dragged behind me as intrusive and burdensome as a heavy trunk.”

I recently revisited Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas’s These Vicious Masks and ended up enjoying their historical fantasy debut so much more the second time around, so much so that I immediately dove into the second installment, These Ruthless Deeds. Upon discovering that she, along with others, are gifted with special abilities, Evelyn Wyndham soon discovered the lengths people will go to to control those with unusual powers. Still reeling from the loss her sister Rose and the disappearance of the enigmatic and alluring Sebastian Braddock, Evelyn throws herself into doing the only thing she is sure of: rescuing others like herself. Her mission leads her to the mysterious Society of Aberrations, a team of gifted individuals who recruit those like Evelyn and help them develop and control their abilities. With new and old friends at her side, Evelyn soon discovers that nobody, including this Society, is what it seems. I love how willful and stubborn Evelyn is. She can’t afford to be easily taken in because of what happened to her sister, but still holds out hope that those like herself can find a place in this world. Sebastian remains one of my favorites in the series. Tormented by his ability to absorb energy from others, causing illness and even death, Sebastian is always trying to outrun himself. The prospect of learning to control his abilities is almost too good to be true, but Sebastian is desperate. I loved every scene with Evelyn and Sebastian. Not only do their powers cancel the other’s out (Evelyn having the ability to heal), but their personalities compliment one another. Evelyn and Sebastian have an undeniable chemistry that had me on the edge of my seat, waiting for them to finally figure things out between the two of them. Another standout character for me is the charming Mr. Kent. I loved all the humor he brought to the story and though I do wish he would have realized sooner that Evelyn only wanted friendship from him, his presence brought much-needed lightheartedness to the novel. These Ruthless Deeds ends with quite a bang which had me scrambling to buy the third. Please note that a character does contemplate suicide in this installment.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: These Vengeful Souls
Author: Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Series: These Vicious Masks, #3
Pages: 304
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: February 20th 2018

      “England, 1883. On the run with the grieving Sebastian Braddock, Evelyn wants two things: to be reunited with her friends, and to get revenge on the evil Captain Goode. Not only has he misused his and Sebastian’s powers to rack up a terrible death toll, but he’s also completely destroyed any hope of Evelyn or her friends regaining the life they once knew.
      Evelyn is determined to make Captain Goode pay for what he’s done, but is her revenge worth risking the lives of Sebastian and her friends? Or is it better to flee the city and focus on staying alive? And with the Captain spreading lies about Sebastian in an attempt to flush them out of hiding and turn the populace against them, does she even have a choice at all?”

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“I felt my head lifted up and my neck bared, somewhere distant between all the pain. Tears streamed down my face and my body twitched uncontrollably. I wondered if this would, at least, put an end to my torture.”

These Vengeful Souls, the final book in Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas’s historical fantasy series, These Vicious Masks, is packed with action as Evelyn and company make one last stand against the nefarious Captain Goode. There’s an added wrinkle in this final book where the public has become aware of individuals with these amazing and dangerous abilities. Goode uses people’s fears to turn them against Sebastian in particular and the handful of allies he has left. Both Evelyn and Sebastian carry loads of guilt; Sebastian because his power was manipulated, resulting in ballroom full of dead people and Evelyn because she had a chance to stop it, but chose to save her sister. Evelyn wants to put an end to the war between Goode and those who no longer wish to be his pawns. Unfortunately, Evelyn is prone to rash decisions, driven by love and a need to protect those around. She often chooses to go in alone rather than put her friends in danger. Despite mistakes Evelyn makes in this one, I loved that she eventually got to a place where she learned to trust those around her to help her in taking down Goode. Seeing Evelyn and minor characters like Rose, Mr. Kent, Miss Chen, etc, come together and work as a team was really rewarding. It’s a testament to their development as characters. I feel like Sebastian never really got a moment to breath throughout this series and I really wanted this for him. It’s hard to blame him for brooding all the time when he never really had much to celebrate. I really wanted to see him get a handle of his powers and in general, I wanted to see more happy moments for all the characters, but that probably says more about my attachment to them than anything else. Overall, this has been a really enjoyable historical fantasy series that I’d recommend to fans of the genre.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

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The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: The Beautiful Ones
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Series: N/A
Pages: 327
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Release Date: October 24th 2017

      “In a world of etiquette and polite masks, no one is who they seem to be.
      Antonina Beaulieu is in the glittering city of Loisail for her first Grand Season, where she will attend balls and mingle among high society. Under the tutelage of the beautiful but cold Valérie Beaulieu, she hopes to find a suitable husband. However, the haphazard manifestations of Nina’s telekinetic powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.
      Yet dazzling telekinetic performer and outsider Hector Auvray sees Nina’s powers as a gift, and he teaches her how to hone and control them. As they spend more and more time together, Nina falls in love and believes she’s found the great romance that she’s always dreamed of, but Hector’s courtship of Nina is deceptive.
      The Beautiful Ones is a sweeping fantasy of manners set in a world inspired by the Belle Époque.

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“Hector raised his hands, the candle flames rising with them, and with one movement of his arms they merged into a prodigious ball of fire that he then snuffed out with a clap of his hands, causing several spectators shriek because, for a moment, it seemed like he was about to scorch himself.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Beautiful Ones is a character-driven novel that combines fantasy and romance in a eloquent story rapt with emotion. Antonina “Nina” Beaulieu has been invited to stay with her cousin in Loisail for her first Grand Season. The city is a far cry from Nina’s home in the country, but she can’t help but see its appeal when she meets the mysterious Hector Auvray. A gifted telekinetic, Hector has risen to prominence performing for audiences across the globe. When Hector begins courting Nina, she’s convinced that they are meant to be. Hector, however, has a ulterior motive, one that will bring Nina’s world crashing down.

Moreno-Garcia juggles three perspectives and does a masterful job of fleshing out each character, making them feel real to the reader and allowing each to have their strengths as well as their faults. Nina is more comfortable trying to catch beetles and butterflies than a potential husband. Not the kind of young woman that suitors line up for in a city like Loisail, Nina finds rules regarding etiquette to be stifling. It doesn’t help that her telekinetic ability often manifests at inopportune times. While those in Loisail can appreciate such a talent as a means of entertainment, it is not something suitable for ladies to display. Nina is markedly younger than the other two characters and it very much shows. Hopelessly romantic and naive about the world, Nina is easily taken in. She believes the very best about people because she has never been exposed to those who would use others for their own gain. Her inexperience opens her up to plenty of heartache. Though her openness was one of the first things I admired about her, her growth as a character made me appreciate her even more. I loved that Moreno-Garcia took the most humble of the three characters and allowed her to develop and show strength unparalleled.

Hector is not a character that you immediately fall in love with. Yes, in some ways, he can be seen as simply a tragic figure. Coming from nothing, Hector has managed to accumulate the kind of wealth that people in Loisail are either born with or marry into. While trying to recognize this dream, he ended up losing his first love in the process. His choice to court Nina only as a means to get close to another instinctively made me bristle. That being said, his is a really rewarding character arc as he is forced to confront his own naivety. Even as a grown man, he still has a lot to learn. Hector learns to see the past and present how they are and now how he wishes them to be.

At times I wanted to dislike Valérie wholeheartedly, but Moreno-Garcia has created such a complicated character that it’s difficult not to admire her in some way. Valérie was pressured into marrying Nina’s cousin Gaeten in order to save her family from financial ruin. But lest you think she is some tragic figure, Valérie is also vain, resentful, and prone to jealousy. She often regards Nina with disdain because, unlike her, Nina has more freedom to choose who she marries. Nina also has the love of her cousin, something Valérie doesn’t necessarily want, but which her proud personality demands. She’s an incredibly manipulative person who is much more comfortable being cruel than sentimental. For her, loving someone means they have power over her and she refuses to be under another’s thumb. There’s no way to justify Valérie’s every decision, but because she is such a well-developed character, I understood why she did the things she did and this ultimately made her an exceptional antagonist.

The Beautiful Ones showcases just how versatile and gifted a writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia is. The world she builds is very easy to fall in love with and my only criticism is that I wanted to see more of the telekinetic aspect. Still, there are few books that leave me feeling completely satisfied and The Beautiful Ones is one of them.

5/5

★★★★★

ARC Review: Odd & True by Cat Winters

Title: Odd & True
Author: Cat Winters
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: September 12th 2017
**I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “Trudchen grew up hearing Odette’s stories of their monster-slaying mother and a magician’s curse. But now that Tru’s older, she’s starting to wonder if her older sister’s tales were just comforting lies, especially because there’s nothing fantastic about her own life—permanently disabled and in constant pain from childhood polio.
      In 1909, after a two-year absence, Od reappears with a suitcase supposedly full of weapons and a promise to rescue Tru from the monsters on their way to attack her. But it’s Od who seems haunted by something. And when the sisters’ search for their mother leads them to a face-off with the Leeds Devil, a nightmarish beast that’s wreaking havoc in the Mid-Atlantic states, Tru discovers the peculiar possibility that she and her sister—despite their dark pasts and ordinary appearances—might, indeed, have magic after all.

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Cat Winters’s novels are some of the best, but underappreciated historical fiction I’ve ever read. Od and Tru grew up with stories about their mother and her siblings’ bravery. They grew up believing in the paranormal, that monsters exist and it was their family’s responsibility to protect the world from them. But life has taken many things from both Od and Tru. Their father disappeared when they were young and their mother hasn’t been in their life. Even their beloved Uncle Magnus hasn’t been seen for years. After being sent away, Od shows up at her sister’s window, begging her to come away with her and to accept their family’s legacy. But Tru no longer believes in monsters. Still, her love for his sister Odette will take them far from the safe haven of their aunt’s house and into a dangerous, unknown world. Using dual perspectives and shifting timelines, Cat Winters crafts a tale of two sisters whose lives are full of loss, but also perseverance.

At the heart of this story are two sisters who hold very different views of the world. As the oldest, Odette has always felt that she needed to protect her younger sister. Her stories of monsters and the heroes that slay them have been the only way in which she has been able to help shield her sister from the realities of life. What goes unsaid is that Odette is also in need of these stories. Being older has exposed her to the flaws of the adults in her life and it’s been easier to embrace a story about these people than to accept who they really are. Unlike her sister, Tru no longer holds fast to these myths. Ever since her sister was forced to leave her aunt’s home, Tru has grown up to resent these tall tales and the letters from her sister that speak of harrowing travels. While life with her Aunt Viktoria has been stifling, Tru isn’t sure she’s brave enough to step outside into the great unknown. Though she’s suspended any belief in the paranormal, she’s taken to reading tea leaves in secret because a part of her still wants to believe in her sister’s stories.

Odd & True takes its time separating fact from fiction as the girls embark on a hunt for Leeds Devil which has been terrorizing the people of New Jersey. From the cover and synopsis, I expected an action-packed novel about monster hunting, but instead was treated to a slow-paced narrative about a flawed family, two sisters who survive despite injustices done to them, and the power of a story to weave magic if only one takes a leap of faith and believes.

4/5

★★★★

Mini Reviews: The Dark Days Pact + Flame in the Mist

MiniWriting slumps are the worst when it comes time to write a review or discussion post. I’ve found a way to work through those slumpy times by utilizing the mini-review. It’s loads less stressful when I know all I got to do is make my brain work for a paragraph or so before allowing it to check out again. This week I’ve got mini-reviews for Alison Goodman’s sequel The Dark Days Pact and Renée Ahdieh’s highly anticipated Flame in the Mist. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The Dark Days Pact
Author: Alison Goodman
Series: Lady Helen, #2
Pages: 496
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 31st 2017

      “June 1812. Just weeks after her catastrophic coming-out ball, Lady Helen Wrexhall—now disowned by her uncle—is a full member of the demon-hunting Dark Days Club. Her mentor, Lord Carlston, has arranged for Helen to spend the summer season in Brighton so that he can train her new Reclaimer powers. However, the long-term effects of Carlston’s Reclaimer work have taken hold, and his sanity is beginning to slip. At the same time, Carlston’s Dark Days Club colleague and nemesis will stop at nothing to bring Helen over to his side—and the Duke of Selburn is determined to marry her. The stakes are even higher for Helen as she struggles to become the warrior that everyone expects her to be.

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“She wet her lips, remembering the animal savagery she had felt on the arrival of her full Reclaimer strength. She had lost precious reason, all control, and had tried to kill his lordship. It had been one of the most terrifying moments of her life. One that she did not want to repeat.

Alison Goodman delivers another intriguing novel with The Dark Days Pact, sequel to the first installment in her Lady Helen series. Since learning that the world is a much more dangerous place than she ever imagined, Lady Helen has finally embraced this new world full of demons and accepted that she has a role to play in protecting humanity as a Reclaimer. Lord Carlston is determined to complete her training before the Grand Deceiver makes his or her appearance, but time is running out and Lady Helen isn’t quite sure if she can live up to his expectations. Just like the first novel, with this one I was hoping to read a more action-packed novel. If you don’t go into this one or the previous installment understanding that it’s a slow-paced kind of novel that does eventually culminate in an exciting ending, it might be a really frustrating read. The conflict in this sequel focuses more on the on-going politics within the Dark Days Club. Though its members should be looking out for the good of humanity, their personal biases and motivations pit them against one another. I did find it kind of frustrating that Helen was a bit naive when it came to the machinations of these players, but the storyline is really driven by Helen’s big heart and thus her capacity to be manipulated because of it. The ending for this one knocked the air right out of me–even when I did see a particular twist coming–but I’m eager to read where Lady Helen’s story goes from here.

Rating: 3/5

★★★


Title: Flame in the Mist
Author: Renée Ahdieh
Series: Flame in the Mist, #1
Pages: 393
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 16th 2017

      “The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.
      So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.
      The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.”

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“Mariko bit back a scream as clanking metal and rustling bodies converged in the nearby shadows. Chaos grew with each passing moment. The flames in the norimono leapt higher. Faster. Their heat turned her skin pink. She clasped her fingers tight, smothering her coughs as she shrank farther into the corner.

I had a tremendous amount of expectations going into Renée Ahdieh’s Flame in the Mist, the first installment in her newest series. The Wrath and the Dawn is one of my favorite duologies and I am still struck by the beauty of Ahdieh’s writing. Flame in the Mist unfortunately did not meet my expectations. It’s a novel that I really wanted to like, but I never felt fully immersed in its world. I liked the concept of the story more than it’s execution. I liked the idea of a girl disguising herself as a boy in order to uncover the truth about the failed assassination attempt on her life, but Mariko herself felt like an incomplete character. We’re told countless times that she is odd and clever, but I never felt that the story actually showed these characteristics in action. She infiltrates the Black Clan, a group of thieves who she believes tried to kill her, but she never really has a concrete plan on how to find answers to her questions. I found myself really frustrated while reading this one because a lot of time is spent on character introspection. I wouldn’t mind this normally since inner conflict is a good sign of a character-driven novel which I love, but so many times these characters were reflecting on things I’d already been told and it felt very superfluous. The book has this really interesting magical element that is not explored enough and which I wanted so bad to learn more about. In the end, I never felt an emotional connection to any of the characters which really affected the way I received this book.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

ARC Review: Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

the-iron-cast-by-destiny-soria

Title: Iron Cast
Author: Destiny Soria
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: October 11th 2016
**I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review** 

      “It’s Boston, 1919, and the Cast Iron club is packed. On stage, hemopaths—whose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art—captivate their audience. Corinne and Ada have been best friends ever since infamous gangster Johnny Dervish recruited them into his circle. By night they perform for Johnny’s crowds, and by day they con Boston’s elite. When a job goes wrong and Ada is imprisoned, they realize how precarious their position is. After she escapes, two of the Cast Iron’s hires are shot, and Johnny disappears. With the law closing in, Corinne and Ada are forced to hunt for answers, even as betrayal faces them at every turn.

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Destiny Soria’s Iron Cast is a wonderful historical fantasy with a unique magical system and compelling characters. For those like Corinne and Ada, the world is not a welcoming place. Hemopathy, the ability to manipulate a person’s perception, is against the law. Clubs like the Cast Iron provide a safe haven for hemopaths who are shunned by the world and who still wish to practice their unusual talents. As a wordsmith, Corinne can create illusions with a simple poem. Ada, a gifted musician, has the ability to pull particular emotions from people with her violin. Even though they’ve both found a place at Cast Iron, there are those who will stop at nothing to rid the world of hemopaths for good.

I must start off by saying that I loved the relationship between Corinne and Ada. They may be very different people, but they are equally committed to one another. Their friendship didn’t come about easily and there are still times when their personalities clash, but they play off each other really well and know that above anything, they can rely completely on the other. Their sassy banter was a delight to read and they made a powerful pair in spite of all the things that went against them. I loved all of the powerful women in this book. There were no damsels in distress in this one and each female character showed strength in different ways which made the entire ensemble a delight to read about.

The world of hemopathy is beguiling and awe-inspiring. These gifts are described in such beautiful writing, I felt immediately transported. The author also does a really good job showing the negative side of having such a dangerous talent: the fear and ethical questions that arise when having the ability to manipulate others. Iron Cast emphasizes the importance of a self-made family in a world that won’t accept you for who you are and showcases a strong female friendship that had me smiling and pulled at my heartstings.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★