Hey there! We have some fresh and tasty Lightning Reviews ready for you! There’s a mystery set in Antarctica and a YA fantasy with a warrior heroine. Plus, a dive into Kristen Callihan’s backlist.
author: Kristen Callihan
I’m a huge fan of Kristen Callihan’s contemporary romances. So when I saw Firelight sitting on the shelf at my local library right before I left for a reading retreat, I just knew it was fate. And hot damn, why did I wait so long to start The Darkest London series?
Normally, I don’t reach for historical romances. But with the added elements of magic, curses, and demons, it felt like a decent compromise for a reader like me who still rides or dies for paranormal romances.
Lord Benjamin Archer hides his face and most of his body away. Some say he’s disfigured while others think it’s a peculiar trait used for attention. He stumbles across Miranda Ellis in an alleyway, three years prior, about to be attacked. He doesn’t know that she can harness the power of fire and she doesn’t know immediately that he’s there to kill her dad. Awkward. Fast forward and he’s asked for her hand in marriage. That’s the basic setup and I’ll leave it there. Just know there’s a bigger mystery that is tied to Archer and his “curse.”
I loved Archer and Miranda’s relationship. They easily become friends and their back and forths are so snarky and cute. Archer isn’t a hero who is afraid of his emotions either. He cries without shame! He’s so in love and devoted to Miranda; he made me all gooey with his heart-eyed feels. Meanwhile, Miranda is tough and very “mama bear” when it comes to her husband’s feelings.
There were some quibbles from me that keep this book from reaching A-grade territory. There were frequent threats of sexual violence against Miranda. There’s the bitchy jealous lover trope, which always lowers the grade for me. I also wanted more fire. When in doubt, more fire!
Despite these issues, it didn’t stop me from buying the entire series rather than borrowing the rest from my library. The only bummer is I bought my editions on Book Depository because I’m in love with the UK covers and it’ll be ages before they get here.
The Last Namsara
author: Kristen Ciccarelli
The Last Namsara is a YA epic fantasy that I think will appeal to a lot of readers, including those who are a little leery of the genre. First of all, there’s no cliffhanger ending. We get full resolution, although I can certainly see the book being part of a larger series. There’s also a romance, but no love triangle.
Add to that a completely badass warrior heroine, a forbidden love story, dragons, and storytelling depicted as a powerful magic. Win!
Asha is a princess of Firgaard, a totalitarian kingdom with expansionist desires. Her father is the Dragon King, and Asha is his terrifying right-hand. She is called Iskari after the goddess of destruction. Asha has never been bested in battle, and she hunts dragons to prove her ferocity (thereby transferring some of that power over to her father).
Asha isn’t really comfortable with all of this, however, and as she gets closer to the day she’s supposed to marry the leader of her father’s militia, she begins to question what she’s always accepted as truth.
I really loved the world building in this book. Stories, specifically ancient tales, are portrayed as powerful (and thus forbidden). Also, dragons love stories, both hearing them and telling them (telepathically) and that made my heart so happy. However, some dragons were hurt in this book and that I wasn’t crazy about. I also love stories where the main characters have to reconcile that the world they think they knew and the things they accepted as true, might be lies. There’s a lot of that here.
If you’re a fan of epic fantasy and of incredible heroines becoming more incredible, you may want to try The Last Namsara. It’s a truly fun addition to the genre.
Out of the Ice
author: Ann Turner
Out of the Ice by Ann Turner is a deliciously creepy mystery set in Antarctica, and while I loved the first 80% of the book, I found the ending to be a little compressed and unbelievable. That said, it was enjoyable and chilling enough that it made for a Bad Decisions Book Club moment and I stayed up finishing it until 1:45 a.m.
Laura Alvarado is an environmental scientist stationed in Antarctica. She’s selected to pair up with a German scientist to evaluate an abandoned whaling station near South Safety Island to determine if its possible to reopen it to human habitation without overly disrupting the local wildlife. Except her partner gets flown out for emergency surgery and Laura has to go it alone.
Enter super creepy abandoned whaling town. As Laura (and her eventual replacement partner, Kate) survey the village they find odd things. Some of the houses look as though they’ve been frozen in time since 1957–down to long frozen coffee in cups and cigarettes in ashtrays. Others were clearly packed up. So why did some residents seem to know they were leaving and others not? Also the local penguins, who should have had no human interaction, are oddly aggressive, attacking the women as though they’ve met and had bad experiences with people. To top it off, Laura sees a teenage boy out of the corner of her eye, making her wonder what’s truly going on or if she’s hallucinating from being isolated so long.
I really liked a lot of this book. When Laura isn’t at the whaling town she’s staying at another scientific encampment where it’s clear she isn’t welcome by the (mostly) men who live there. I think a lot of women have been in situations where they are the only woman in a group of men, and they feel uneasy, othered, and threatened. It kept me on my toes as a reader because there’s no sanctuary for Laura to return to, and I sometimes wondered if she was safer in the scary-as-shit whaling village that might be haunted.
Also this book features a lot of women supporting women. In fact the only characters who do believe Laura and assist her, with the exception of one love interest, are other women. And, while a small detail, I loved that Laura and Kate forgo separate rooms to sleep in the same bed because everything was really spooky. It’s exactly what I’d do in that situation and I liked that the characters were able to admit how vulnerable they felt.
I felt the final resolution to the mystery was a little too big to wrap up in the pages given, and it also felt fairly implausible to me. That said, the journey getting there was delightful and creepy, and I’d highly recommend this book to other mystery lovers.
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