Estara Swanberg

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Smashwords book reviews by Estara Swanberg

  • Still Life With Murder (Nell Sweeney Mysteries, Book 1) on Aug. 14, 2010

    I quite liked the setting and the characters of Nell and Will, and I didn't realise who-did-it till the end, but I think some of the difficulties of their positions and the times were handwaved away.
  • Murder in a Mill Town (Nell Sweeney Mysteries, Book 2) on Aug. 15, 2010

    I think this is a much stronger entry than the first book, but there should be a warning for rape triggers (more than one are alluded to and one attempt is described) and very, very detailed description of several-day old corpses... The interplay between Nell and Will remains strong, the important side characters are well-fleshed out. Less Viola and too little Gracie Hewitt I think, although the start of the book gives a nice view into the usual life of Nell and Gracie. I'm not sure if she isn't a bit too precocious, but I haven't got much contact with children that small. I followed the red herring agonizingly along, until the real culprit was revealed and feel relieved for Nell at how it turned out (the idea that bad people can reform and mean it).
  • Death on Beacon Hill (Nell Sweeney Mysteries, Book 3) on Aug. 16, 2010

    Again very detailed description of the aftermath of a murder scene and fascinating insights into forensic science of the time, and I finally have the impression the romance is taking off (considering the internal time frame it all makes sense) - still too little Gracie, though ^^. I love the introduction of a very flamboyant minor character who will show up in the next book as well, and was led along by the red herring until the end again.
  • A Fluffy Tale on Aug. 17, 2010

    I read this free on the site and actually made it into my own epub, because I loved it so much (I did tell the author and send her a copy). I'm so pleased I can finally buy it! Apart from the Darshian Tales, this is my favourite Ann Somerville story so far. It's also the least overtly sf/fantastic of the books I've read by her yet. Although it has one of the cutest animal-sidekick ideas I've ever found (ferret-like kems), the book is concerned much more with how people deal with pet care, health problems, age, childhood misery and emotionally stunted development - all of this while falling in love and trying to build a relationship ^^. I adored the portrayal of the older mentor character in Uncle Leo and the way Zachary wasn't your tall, dark and handsome rake stereotype and all the humor! Julian himself has his own very necessary emotional growth and both he and Zachary complement each other by the time the story is over. I'm a bit sad the author didn't include the extremely short little tidbit about Uncle Leo she has on her site, but you can always read it for free: Uncle Leo goes shopping.
  • Murder on Black Friday (Nell Sweeney Mysteries, Book 4) on Aug. 17, 2010

    Hwellll, the romance took that necessary step forward in a lovely way and again I didn't know the culprit until the end, but the reason for the investigation - Will's professional pride - made it pretty distasteful to me how the two went about getting confessions from those concerned, resorting to clear blackmail again - not to help someone out (no one is HELPED by what they find out, except maybe that a woman's pride is broken in such a way that she'll finally let her fiancée help her out where before she was too capable or too scared to confide in him much), just to satisfy Will's pride (and destroy one family's good name in the bargain). And then he didn't even keep the position that allowed him to perform a post-mortem on people dead by violence. On the upside a nice came from Max Thurston and a lovely new side character in Eileen, who joins the Hewlitt household in the next book.
  • Murder in the North End (Nell Sweeney Mysteries, Book 5) on Aug. 18, 2010

    Now this was more like it. A good reason for sleuthing - helping a friend getting framed for murder (much like in the first book) and we get more insight into how the really poor Irish lived in Boston at the time, and get introduced to Mrs. Cook and further the acquaintance with Colin Cook whom I liked a lot before. No real blackmail necessary, just some acting and fisticuffs for Will. And we get a lovely high point in Nell's and Will's relationship which wouldn't have worked in any other situation, so seemed to come naturally. I was quite happy to not have to see the corpse this time, too.
  • A Bucket of Ashes (Nell Sweeney Mysteries, Book 6) on Aug. 18, 2010

    This ending to the series satisfied me the most, probably because it scoops up lines of story from the previous books and weaves them skilfully around another personally relevant murder mystery to give Nell Sweeney and Will Hewitt their deserved happy ending.
  • The Door into Sunset on Sep. 02, 2010

    SPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPOILERS!!! Well, I didn't remember that Sunspark was passed over so much in this book. I think it has a great development for Segnbora and of course Freelorn, finally, Herewiss mostly came into his own in the previous book. There is a part where he and Sunspark are on their own again, but he only uses it as a handy tool, mostly. I sure hope that the eventually to be written fourth book gives their love more of a development - I mean even Hasai has more of a development arc through the three books than Sunspark - he only had significant development in the first book. I still love the fact that this finishes the outside threats to the kingdom, so even though the fourth book isn't written yet I don't feel dangled over a cliff. And the drama is great, as always.
  • The Door into Shadow on Sep. 02, 2010

    ** MASSIVE spoiler alert ** This was actually better than I remembered. I like the shift to Segnbora and dealing with her issues to make the group strong in their fight to bring Fire back for all - and to do things in the name of the Goddess. The rape is as scary and horrid as I remember and I'm so utterly in awe that the forgiving part still seems believable - but then I have never experienced this, so I don't know how it would read for a true survivor.
  • The Door Into Fire on Sep. 02, 2010

    ** spoiler alert ** Since my last re-read was some years ago, when the Meisha Merlin omnibus came out, I am now much more aware how delicately the author balances worldbuilding and action and how incredibly progressive the casual acceptance of all kinds of love is, even an integral part of the worship of the Goddess - not to mention how cool it is that she shows up herself ^^. The characters have flaws and all but they work on them and there's this feeling of hope and amazing things just waiting to happen, which I don't get much in books these days. For some reason the formatting was wonky on this one, though. The second one which I've already started is much more consistent in formatting. I'm totally in awe that DD did all three covers herself.
  • A Posse of Princesses on Sep. 25, 2010

    SPOILERS! This was as lovely as I remembered (the ebook has one or two spelling mistakes, but that's it) - I think it's a believable portrayal of a naive princess who hasn't found an outlet for her interests at home but has lots of potential and now finds herself at a house party which opens up the whole world to her. The growth from silent and love-struck observer to mediator and confidante is believable, even though she is 16. And so the drama she gets into and her angst at having to forego seeing her love for five years is totally believable. I wish there had been 200 more pages dealing with her growing up in the meantime and her experiences in detail (this is where I'm really thankful that Sherwood Smith wrote Vidanric's education in A Stranger to Command, it makes Crown Duel so much more multi-layered for me), but I was satisfied with what I got. Just a lovely adventure and romance and coming-of-age.
  • Kei's Gift (Darshian Tales #1) on March 08, 2011

    The Darshian Tales are excellent fantasy (with only a slight touch of the m/m that Ann Somerville is best known for). They explore racism, actions that have consequences even years later, family and community, different forms of government, learning and ignorance, mistakes and how to deal with them, love and growing up - all within a family&friend circle of characters whose focus are two men from very different cultures eventually falling in love and really having to work at making a life for both together. In this first book there are actually truly evil characters, too (without motivation - Mykis and Senator Medus) - but as her writing gets ever better, all the other bad things that happen naturally evolve out of what has come before and it's an emotionally very satisfying story seeing how the heroes and their friends deal with life and rebuild again and again when circumstances yank security out from under them. If you've enjoyed reading Sherwood Smith's Inda series, you'll enjoy this book, focusing mostly on Kei's point of view, but with other points-of-view occasionally as needed. The world is logical in itself, with a renaissance fantasy feel and only small but lovely psychic powers included. The focus is on the characters and dialogue, which I very much appreciate. The book is huge but you never get bored (at medium size font on my Sony PRS505 I have 2000 pages), so I bought the second one right away and read it, too. Don't buy this for sexxoring, the love is shown, but you get as much in romance books - which I basically see this as - long epic fantasy romance. Think McMaster Bujold Sharing Knife, I think that is even closer than Sherwood Smith.
  • Champion of the Rose on March 16, 2011

    I really enjoyed this book - occasional missing prepositions and all (and the cover is just gorgeous). My .epub file says it's roughly 300 pages and these are needed to bring this arc (I assume there will be more in Darest as this is the 1st in a series) to a satisfying if a bit too abrupt conclusion. As this book is told from the viewpoint of Soren, the champion, your enjoyment will depend on how much you like her. Personally I really liked getting to know the dead-end situation she starts out in, directed by her role as champion to a reigning house that no longer exists and ignored by the current court for the most part. When the power of the Rose - protection of the kingdom - suddenly awakens after 200 years and drags her along, this situation only intensifies - but instead of becoming dark and moody and despairing, Soren decides to try and fulfil her role as the champion, to be what the country seems to need to the fullest extent of her good intentions even if she has to face off against the acknowledged but uncrowned current king. The way she recovers a king of the previous dynasty is well-told on the one hand, a bit too hasty on the other (not to mention that a horse doesn't quite work that way - but at the time of the book's writing Judith Tarr's Writing Horses wasn't out yet ^^). If you've read the Booksmuggler review that made me finally buy this, you'll be aware that there is rape at this point - but with the way it is initiated and explained and acted upon (never ignored) in the book I thought the developments were believable, (view spoiler)[there were no (human) instigators of the rape, but two victims. One had the luxury of becoming aggressive and the other had to pacify, as that was part of their role in life and in that society. It might even have been more realistic to me if Soren had developed an antipathy in the long run. But then I have never been raped myself... so at least be aware that there is this trigger. The author has a gift with characters: the lost prince now king, the uncrowned but acknowledged leader of the country who has worked tirelessly for years to stave off the end of the misery, the court members jockeying for position in the new array of power (nasty and nice, former friends, ambitious lovers, the dethroned queen) are - if they have any dialogue at all - interesting people and no carbon copies of each other. My favourites were Jansette, the duchess of Rothwell, Halcean, Aspen, Frick and Aristide. The particular difficulty of the situation of the kingdom, the rose power that is able to overrule the minds of the people it is supposed to protect, a murder mystery, the triumvirate and their interactions who have to solve all the problems and make the transfer of power externally and internally ultra-smooth (the question of whether all three of them actually are working towards the same goal AND the desire for friendship and love) all build up to a satisfying climax whose decisions I could follow. I just wanted more epilogue ^^.
  • Laldasa: Beloved Slave on March 16, 2011

    I really liked how the science fiction world influenced by Hindu culture and religion (which I know nothing about except for some vague myth re-tellings) came alive in its technical, political (I thought the discussions in the government and the way that worked fascinating, actually) and cultural aspects - I found the discussion of the unquestioned acceptance of the caste/slave system fascinating in a totally non-preachy way. The characters were charismatic, from the hero and heroine to their family, slaves and social circle. The bad guys had motivations we would find familiar - greed and megalomania. So why do I give this book three stars only? Because I felt let down by the heroine. I enjoyed the book for the journey of exploration and discovery of the hero - Jaya showed were he came from in dialogue and thought, the experiences that made him change are clear and the fact that it takes him the whole book to accept what is and to compromise to be the man he needs to be to make Ana trust him completely - the romance worked beautifully (and totally understated). But Ana - she was introduced and for almost all the book consistently a follower of an enlightened path (rokhin) and a competent woman in her own earthly path of mining engineer. Her enlightened abilities were not over-the-top and seemed appropriate to the setting. She argues believably with the hero, she is shown to be his intellectual equal and far more even-tempered - while she tries to convince him toward certain actions, she is able to compromise if the reasons for that are sound... and then suddenly she breaks a promise she gave to him (where there was a point made that her honour is unimpeachable and part of her religious view of herself is honesty) without much of a thought, goes off into danger and of course has to be rescued. And then she gets abducted on purpose by the baddies and we get THREE men who suddenly want to not only pressure Jaya because of her, but CANNOT keep their hands off her, because she suddenly is utterly desirable to them - the end boss suddenly is on major drugs, going insane and believes she can grant him ultimate enlightenment via sex. So she gets rescued, okay, this time it was unavoidable, she is even able to turn the tables and lead the hero and friends toward the final capture, but when she realizes where the bad guy must be - does she inform the hero who finally believes in her special powers? Does she inform anybody? No, of course not - she goes towards the hiding place alone and gets almost raped twice again. THIS is why this book is three stars only. Read this book for Jaya and his grandmother, and even for Ana - for three quarters of the story, heh.
  • Fleeing Peace on March 16, 2011

    This book is obviously set in the middle of major upheavals in Sartorias-deles roughly a decade before Crown Duel, but all over the world. And if you haven't read some of CJ's Notebooks (very different style if you have only read Crown Duel or the Inda series) and Senrid you will be confused. I had some problems with the huge number of characters who came freshly from their own adventures - that I hadn't read about yet - and were introduced to play a part in this arching plot only to be left behind again by the main heroes, which I would call Liere and Senrid (as the description says). So read this book, if you already love various aspects of the Sartorias-deles world, you're getting a Senrid right after the novel of the same name and you get the introduction of Liere/Sartora which you know from A Stranger to Command. And there's more Clair Sherwood and her merry company(and the way they speak, so reading a Notebook would be a good idea) - and quite a lot of people who I'd like to know more about (the kids from Earth are actually the most boring in this books, but then they are taken out of action early on). Leander Tlennen-Hess really comes into his own in this book. I keep hoping his adopted sister will grow up, but she's a liability in this book just like she was in Senrid. I want to see more of the pirate daughter. I feel for Devon who may have enjoyed being needed but really gets put through the wringer in this one and who no one of her friends really feels comfortable with, because she rearranges everything. I mean these are kids between 10 and 19 in the focus. And that's what they sound like. The grown-ups don't really believe their information most of the time, and when they do they plan around the kids. And so the action climax has the group being saved by an adult's sacrifice. I do like that this crystallizes for the kids what they want to change about this, that they explore their powers more, that they build relationships with each other and especially that the gap between those that have JD and those that haven't may be narrowed, but is unlikely to be totally overcome - and that therefore the JD kids have to build their own family with each other, which they start doing here. This is 450 pages in .epub format and the time skips over a year at least. Not everyone is saved - but the tiny romance between Winn and Faris - and their realization that they won't be of major use to people like Senrid, Liere and Arthur, but maybe their children may be - was very poignant for the short focus it got. This book finally shows more of the now totally Norsunder Siamis (whom we met with somewhat different aims in the Inda books under a different name) whose evil is horrific because he seems to be righteous in his desires, but no more of Detlev than before.
  • The Strangeness of the Day on March 16, 2011

    This is 30 pages on my e-reader without any noticeable formatting errors - and a lovely little story of a contemporary young lawyer thrown into contact with real magic for one short day. Why the people who have magic need a lawyer and what the consequences of their actions are on the real world and on the lawyer's life is the action part of the plot. The story really lives off its personalities though - Nora Barr, Blackstone and Sancho Panza. And no, the little touch of romance in here is not between the characters I had first suspected.
  • Tapestry on Aug. 13, 2011

    SPOILERS ABOUND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm not sure why I bought this, I know it was one of my earliest Smashwords purchases and today I finally got around to reading this little gem. According to my ebook reader it's about 265 pages at my preferred fontsize of 14pt - and it uses these pages ably. The first nice thing is that this is one of the rarities, a Georgian romance, fairly well researched (I do not believe that Laura could have inherited Heddon Hall unencumbered at that time, with a house that is from the 12th century there would certainly have been an entail on that, if not on the money). But the meat is not in a winsome, and lovely courtship of adoring childhood beauty and badly hurt in body and spirit former soldier - it is in the aspect of dealing with grief, and how much grief and loss of hope one person can bear and what to do when there is no hope left and you still have to live - which is why the contrast of Alex's original condition and the things that Laura had to live through was so striking. I'm not sure why the scheming mercenary of a stepmother or her lover were even necessary to the story, their roles could have been easily filled by someone else (although that James Atkins guy was certainly intriguing and I thought he might have been sequel bait, if I could find any sign of a follow-up to this first novel of the author on her site). Lovely were the little portrayals of Laura's uncles (each very much his own person and indispensable to the story), of Dolly and Maggie the housemaid and of William Pitt. I have never lived through such a loss as Laura had yet, so I can't comment on how much this came close to the truth of such a tragedy, but the author made me feel it intensely, as well as the numbness and the eventual reorientation to cope with the loss. Really what this book is about a young girl growing to be an adult woman and learning to weigh how much she is willing to risk to find joy again. The ending was a bit saccharine with the reversal of the original roles and a bit too rushed (another 50 pages would have been more in line with the previous development, I thought). If you want to read an emotional satisfying tearjerker in Georgian times, which - while heaving a HEA - does not miraculously cure all ills of the participating couple at the end, this is money well spend.
  • Echoes on Aug. 16, 2011

    This is a fascinating memory interlude into the initial choice and initiation of the boy who called himself Kallatin into the Brotherhood of the Dark Lady - and a memory of the one brother whom he lost and misses most.
  • Huntbrother on Aug. 16, 2011

    Just like the blurb says - I finally find out what happened to Cynthia and if she could live with Stephen's loss. And we get a first look at the importance of her son - who, as is explained in the introduction, will have a major role to play in the Essalieyan Universe if the books are released that far.
  • The Emperor's Edge (a high fantasy mystery in an era of steam) on Sep. 01, 2011

    SPOILEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Okay, this book might shine even more without some of the deus-ex-machina twists that happen to the action, but the author is very good at creating great characters and character dialogues and interactions. I like that Amaranthe, even when she loses everything right at the start, keeps her impulses of OCD (I think? She's a cleaning freak, in any case) because they help her deal with the shock of what is happening. If you let yourself fall into the whole caper and action situation (I'm reminded of the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink nature of Around the World in 80 days, for example) then some of the plot weaknesses won't really come up and you'll enjoy the dark enigma of the utterly unapologetic assassin striking a partnership deal with a female former cop, who was never appreciated in her previous role but had chosen it (partially because she had lost the money to go to business school) to better herself and really likes sticking by the rules - or so she thinks. There's actually a lot of female empowerment in the various shady and straight female business powerhouses that Amaranthe meets during her quest. The whole country is on the cusp of the warrior/soldier aristocracy class losing its power, because commercial interests are actually the ones starting to wield it - and those have a large percentage of female owners. The fact that Amaranthe meets on of her wary misfit group of helpers at an escort service for wealthy business and aristocratic ladies speaks volumes. Another aspect of female empowerment is that Amaranthe can strategize until her battle plans come into contact with reality and THEN she manages to talk her way out of various scrapes by sheer ingenuity (not by trading on her feminine wiles, although it's made clear that she's actually quite good-looking) until she has breathing space to make further decisions. Really, she reminds me a lot of Miles Vorkosigan's situation in Warrior's Apprentice - and you can think of Sicarius (as long as you can imagine him as the one-person killing machine the book sets him up as) as her personal Dendarii fleet: she has to learn how far she can use his powers, but he could just as well decide to finish her. We only find out in the very last pages why Sicarius is willing to work with her, and by that time it is believable that the rest of the motley crew have enough loyalty towards Amaranthe's aims (out of personal self-serving grounds, none of the men is a Samaritan by nature) that they'll let her involve them with various further plans towards the final aim: supporting the current Emperor (who is a really nice guy, actually) and clearing their names.
  • The Touchstone Trilogy on Feb. 21, 2012

    There is no way I can even begin to review this objectively because the book hit so many of my personal kink buttons ^^ - if I were in my teens or twenties I would have started hogging the author's backlist as obsessively as I did Mercedes Lackey when I discovered Arrows of the Queen for the first time. For me this book is a 4.5 stars on first read. It might become a favourite reread In some way this trilogy reminded me of that experience. First of all you need to like quiet and shy heroines who haven't really got a plan for their own future. Compared to Talia, Cass is not repressed, she is simply fairly bookish and not massively attractive and so she has had a best girlfriend and she has had some experience with boys, but her main emotional stay and stumble-block is her mother (divorced) and in some ways her younger brother - at least when I consider the number of times they are mentioned. You NEED to like Cass in the first 100 pages - first of all because they are mostly her alone, dealing with the situation she finds herself in, trying to survive and second because this is a diary entry book in first person. If you don't like her voice and herself you won't like the rest of the trilogy either. When she gets found and taken to the other planet, she reports on her talks as well, but it is always pre-selected according to what she remembers or wants to remember or when she has time to write it down. I've written a huge spoilery squee at GoodReads under this user name, if you want to read all the details.
  • Gratuitous Epilogue : Touchstone Extras on Feb. 21, 2012

    This is just what it says on the box, but I would have willingly paid money for this 150 pages novella of the happy ever after. How will Cass and her beloved deal with all those children? Who marries who among the other Setari and who gets children? Will they find a way back to Tare and Kolar? Will Cass ever meet her Earth family again? What is Cass' wedding like? What is the new house on Arcadia like? All these questions are answered ^^ - to my satisfaction.
  • Blue (A short story of Words and Witches) on July 08, 2012

    Short, with a punch and so very grounded in Australian mindset. I really would love to read more about this character, and the witch who took those chances, at that.
  • Medair : The Complete Medair Duology in One Volume on Sep. 03, 2012

    The first book, which was nominated for an Auralis award, introduces the action plot of a kingdom in danger from outside forces which it attempts to defeat or stop by looking for all kinds of things which may heighten its defense - and since it is a magic-wielding kingdom, it's looking for magic weapons or at least magic power-up stones. Our heroine Medair not only has a whole treasury of magic weapons of ancient provenance at her fingertips which she quested for in the hope of saving her empire, but - while fleeing people on the other side of the conflict who have found her in her retreat - she runs across the carnage of a mage fight and collects a handful of those magic power-up stones, the reason for the carnage, and a young boy who is the only survivor. So far, so normal for fantasy - the twist that lifts the story from the average is the fact that Medair didn't collect the magic treasure for the current kingdom, but for an empire that vanished in a war 500 years ago, defeated by the people who run the magic kingdom now. Having found the treasure, she dared to sleep a night in its hiding place and when she returned 500 years had passed... The whole first book is a fascinating intermix of retrospective memories of Medair, mostly in reaction to what she sees or talks about with her current companions now and the way that the slide into war reminds her of what happened 500 years ago. She isn't willing to open up right away - who would be - so it's all very much a dance on eggshells. And then there's the question of the original motivation for her quest in truth and what that might mean... and what to do know that the capital is once again under threat... The second book is more action-oriented on the one hand and in some ways an exploration of Medair's situation from another point of view again: Medair having found reasons to throw in with the current kingdom based on her old empire, becomes another vicitm of a massive attack spell of wild magic (something whose dangers were made clear in the previous book, because that was the reason why the magician kingdom invaded Medair's empire in the first place: to flee from wild magic) which is aimed at the capital...
  • Hunting on April 13, 2013

    This a great romp, with mystery and palace and intrigue and excellent snarky dialogue, but it's one of her earliest books (freshly rewritten admittedly) and the pacing and scene changes are off a bit and the number of neologisms threw me a bit because they didn't have as much time for me to see them in everyday use as they did in the Touchstone Trilogy - and while I appreciate the heroine falling in lust with the love interest at that point, the falling into love-realisation is just too sudden for me, especially as it's motivated by jealousy from what I gathered. On the other hand I always want more pages from Andrea because I fall in love with her characters. And she was totally right when she said that Ash tap-dances, she totally makes me buy the incredible level of control and sheer competence Ash has, which makes her manoeuvre around everyone who tries to foil her - for good or bad reasons. And the guys do realise that! Once she explains her reasoning and all.