Book Description from Goodreads:

SERPENTINE is a sweeping fantasy set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology.

Lush with details from Chinese folklore, SERPENTINE tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell.

When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time.

Serpentine is about a handmaid, Skybright, who wakes up one night to find she no longer has legs but a serpent coil. In the morning, she appears fully human again, but she continues to occasionally shift into this other form against her will. As she tries to learn about her connection to the serpent demon and master control over her two different forms, she also begins to fall in love with Kai Sen, a young man raised by monks.

Though I felt that Serpentine was longer than necessary for the amount of story contained within it, it is a lovely story. I very much enjoyed the mythology, Skybright’s encounters with the mysterious Stone, the focus on Skybright’s complicated friendship with her mistress Zhen Ni, and the ending. Skybright’s fears and struggles with accepting this other side of herself are realistically examined and sympathetic, and she’s determined, practical, and loyal to the ones she cares about.

While there was much I appreciated about Serpentine, I also thought it dragged at times, the characters other than Skybright did not come alive, and the love story was rushed since Skybright and Kai Sen barely knew each other. I probably would have loved Serpentine had it been tighter with some more compelling characterization, but though it had some interesting elements, I’m not sure if I’ll read the sequel (although the description of the next book on Goodreads does sound really good!).

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Burn for Me
by Ilona Andrews
400pp (Mass Market Paperback)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 4.8/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.26/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.4/5

Book Description from Goodreads:

#1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews launches a brand new Hidden Legacy series, in which one woman must place her trust in a seductive, dangerous man who sets off an even more dangerous desire…

Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile case. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire.

Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run or surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.

Rogan’s after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she’s getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world.

Despite what the book spine claims and cover image indicates, this novel is not technically a paranormal romance even though there is a lot of romantic tension in the second half of the book. The first quarter of the book is primarily focused on introducing the world and Nevada’s latest job assignment: capturing Adam Pierce, a dangerously strong pyrokinetic who really enjoys setting things on fire. Immediately after her first encounter with Adam about a quarter of the way through the book, she’s kidnapped by Mad Rogan, a dangerously strong telekinetic with some telepathic ability whose cousin requested that he find her teenage son, recently seen committing arson with Adam. He chains Nevada in his basement and uses his telepathy to try to extract what she knows about Adam, but this is much harder than he expected since Nevada secretly has will-based magic of her own. He lets her go and later the two decide it’s best that they work together to find Adam. Nevada can’t stop thinking about how amazingly good-looking Mad Rogan is but tries to fight her attraction to him because he’s a psychopath.

This is a fun book with some of the classic Ilona Andrews style of amusing dialogue and narrative. The world isn’t terribly original since it’s basically people with different superhuman abilities, but that’s not an issue since it does certainly allow for some interesting situations. Nevada herself is wonderful: determined, smart, practical, forthright, and compassionate.

However, although I enjoyed reading some of her snappy dialogue with Mad Rogan, I also find it difficult to envision an eventual romance between the two (which I assume there will be due to the paranormal romance label). I suspect some of the awful things Nevada believes about him will turn out to be false, but even so, he drugged and abducted her, can kill without remorse, and used his power to choke a woman with her own dress. Nevada is completely right to think being in a relationship with him is a terrible idea!

Burn for Me is entertaining, and I do want to read the second book in the Hidden Legacy series once it’s released even if I did have some problems with it.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: I received it as a Christmas gift since it was a book on my wish list.

The Very Best of Kate Elliott
by Kate Elliott
384pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.01/5

Book Description from Goodreads:

Strong heroines and riveting storytelling are the hallmark of groundbreaking fantasy author Kate Elliott (“Crown of Stars,” “Crossroads”). Elliott is a highly-compelling voice in genre fiction, an innovative author of historically-based narratives set in imaginary worlds. This first, retrospective collection of her short fiction is the essential guide to Elliott’s shorter works. Here her bold adventuresses, complex quests, noble sacrifices, and hard-won victories shine in classic, compact legends.

In “The Memory of Peace,” a girl’s powerful emotions rouse the magic of a city devastated by war. Meeting in “The Queen’s Garden,” two princesses unite to protect their kingdom from the blind ambition of their corrupted father. While “Riding the Shore of the River of Death” a chieftain’s daughter finds an unlikely ally on her path to self-determination.

Elliott’s many readers, as well as fantasy fans in search of powerful stories featuring well-drawn female characters, will revel in this unique gathering of truly memorable tales.

Short fiction is not my favorite format since I tend to prefer longer stories with more time to explore characters and worlds, but I really wanted to read this because I’ve wanted to read more by Kate Elliott since I loved her Spiritwalker trilogy (Cold Magic, Cold Fire, Cold Steel). The Very Best of Kate Elliott contains an introduction by the author, twelve short stories, and four essays previously published online. Two short stories are set in the same world as the Crown of Stars series, one is set in the same world as Crossroads trilogy, two are set in the same world as the Jaran series, and one is set in the same world as the Spiritwalker trilogy.

Although I appreciated some of the themes and elements that went into the short stories, I didn’t find any of them to be particularly compelling. The only one I found at all memorable was the Jaran story “My Voice Is in My Sword” and that was only because of the darkly humorous ending; until that point, I thought that story was okay but not great. However, I did very much enjoy reading the four essays, especially the two on the portrayal of women in fiction (“The Omniscient Breasts” and “The Narrative of Women in Fear and Pain”) and the one on immigration (“And Pharaoh’s Heart Hardened”), a topic close to the author’s own heart as the child of immigrants.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.