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Review - Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron - 3 stars

I really wanted to like Nice Dragons Finish Last more than I did.

There's an interesting and complex world. Rachel Aaron sets her scene on near-future earth. Magic has returned and woken up all the magical creatures who were just resting their eyes a bit. I loved the magic elements to this story. They were well explained without a ton of exposition.

The supporting characters were also fantastic. The dynamic interactions between the characters made them feel lifelike, and the intrigue added enough mystery to keep them interesting. Best of all, they were remarkably distinct from one another. I had no trouble recalling a character who appeared briefly at the beginning of the book, even when I was near the end.

The storyline has some great twists and turns, and the setting and supporting characters create a great mix of assumed backstory and ambience.

Unfortunately, the main character annoyed me.

Spoilers Below!

It's important to note, the main character Julian has a lot to recommend him. He's wicked smart. He has a gift with words. And - oh yeah - he just happens to be superhumanly swift and strong. He also sticks with Marci, the most interesting character in the story, so he has good taste.

Don't get me wrong, he wasn't written as an annoying person. That wouldn't be nearly as frustrating. Instead, he is maddeningly self-assured in his sugar-sweet, "if we all just held hands the world would be so perfect, but alas no one knows how to be really nice but me" mentality.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the message this author wants to send. Time after time, the story contorts to prove him right.

Sometimes characters go completely against what they're characterized to be in order to aid that desired result. Julian, a twenty-four year old and incredibly sheltered dragon, drops his "just be nice and it'll all work out" mentality in among a bunch of centuries and even millennia-old dragons, and somehow they don't die of laughter. They even agree with him after the end of the story, albeit after some dangerous hijinks ensue.

Other people aren't as easily convinced about his rightness. Somehow, that never poses much of a problem for a literal apex predator like Julian. I suppose it's easier to be nice to someone when you know you can do just about anything to them and get away with it.

He has plenty of allies to call to his side when he's overpowered. Sometimes they show up even when he doesn't want them, which prompts some great scenes.

All of this means that Julius spends the entire story not growing or changing an awful lot. He goes from knowing that the world would be better if people would just listen, to knowing the world will be better because people listened. Not a lot of character growth there. Not to mention, his inherent rightness seems odd. He's a young man who spent most of his life in his mom's house, unwilling to venture outside. Why is he so savvy?

Another issue I found annoying was his constant stonewalling of the secondary character, Marci. If she says or does something he doesn't like, Julian just stops speaking to her. After the third time this happens, I find myself wondering why such a cool chick still has any interest in him at all.

He explains those silent brooding moments, but only in his head. Not to Marci. Even then it seems odd.

Okay, spoilers over.

Despite my frustrations with the main character, this was still a good book, and worth the read. The author champions Julius' worldview heavily in this book, but the other characters make some strong cases for their own points of view. This makes me hopeful for the author's future work.

Many other elements are strong in this story, so I'm at least hooked until the next part in the series.

If you are a sucker for YA paranormal fantasy with romantic elements and a trickster hero, this is the book to try. Especially if you think a broody dragon dude is super hot.


As the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, Julius survives by a simple code: keep quiet, don’t cause trouble, and stay out of the way of bigger dragons. But this meek behavior doesn't fly in a family of ambitious magical predators, and his mother, Bethesda the Heartstriker, has finally reached the end of her patience.

Now, sealed in human form and banished to the DFZ--a vertical metropolis built on the ruins of Old Detroit--Julius has one month to prove he can be a ruthless dragon or kiss his true shape goodbye forever. But in a city of modern mages and vengeful spirits where dragons are considered monsters to be exterminated, he’s going to need some serious help to survive this test.

He only hopes humans are more trustworthy than dragons...

Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer - 5 stars

Marissa Meyer is no stranger to my bookshelf, and her elegantly crafted fractured fairy tales are a joy to behold. Heartless is no different, as it tackles Lewis Carrol's Wonderland from an entirely new perspective: the POV of the Queen of Hearts.

She's not the dreaded Queen yet, though - she's just Catherine, a young girl with dreams and a formidable skill with tarts. The strong will we have come to expect is heavily tamped down by a desire to please those around her, but Catherine is determined to find her own way to persevere through annoying croquet games and strange tea parties.

When she meets Jest, the court joker, her plans become flexible enough to include him as well. Unfortunately, no one else is flexing.

What struck me above all the cleverness and playful nods to the original story was the accessibility of the tale. Readers of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and (to a lesser extent) Through the Looking Glass will enjoy the references to the timeless classics, but those who haven't read either story will love Heartless just the same.

The tale is poignant and thoughtful while retaining the Wonderland zaniness. So many connections between characters almost seamlessly fit with their originals that it seems eerie at times, in a good way. Once again, Marissa Meyer has married classic stories to powerful emotions, and the result is well worth the read.


Long before she was the terror of Wonderland—the infamous Queen of Hearts—she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love. Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

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Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell: 4 stars

 I've read, watched and agonized over a ton of twisted/fractured/rebooted/whatever fairy tales lately. My favorite in the last several weeks is Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell. It has nothing to do with the story I'm writing, unfortunately. Still, you may find some of it has crept into my mind.

The main character, Nicolette, is an inventor and an analogue for Cinderella. She lives a life of constant servitude to her stepmother and evil stepsisters, but without all the sweetness and kindness of the Charles Perrault version. Nicolette (named Mechanica by her stepsisters) has a plan to get herself out of this mess, and it relies on her brilliant abilities as an inventor.

This YA novel explores themes of independence, morality and the nature of love without seeming like a lecture. Nicolette is heroic and admirable, but she is also flawed. She hurts others in her struggle to break free, and she finds herself in a state of deep regret many times. Despite or perhaps because of her flaws, it is easy to cheer her victories and mourn her defeats alongside her.

Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell is a story worth reading, even without the Cinderella twist. The world is believable and complex. The main character is interesting and likable without being saccharine. The magic is well set up with obvious rules without retreating to overly simplistic cliche. All in all, it's fun to read.

Go check it out!


Nicolette’s awful stepsisters call her “Mechanica” to demean her, but the nickname fits: she learned to be an inventor at her mother’s knee. Her mom is gone now, though, and the Steps have pushed her into a life of dreary servitude. When she discovers a secret workshop in the cellar on her sixteenth birthday—and befriends Jules, a tiny magical metal horse—Nicolette starts to imagine a new life for herself. And the timing may be perfect: There’s a technological exposition and a royal ball on the horizon. Determined to invent her own happily-ever-after, Mechanica seeks to wow the prince and eager entrepreneurs alike.

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