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psychic powers

JOINT REVIEW AND GIVEAWAY:  The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

JOINT REVIEW AND GIVEAWAY: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Dear Ms. Kearsley:

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the U.S. release of this book for months. It incorporates characters and settings from two of your previous books, The Winter Sea and The Shadowy Horses. Since I reviewed and recommended the former and Jayne the latter, we thought it would be fun to do a joint review for The Firebird.

Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Susanna Kearsley

The novel opens in contemporary London, where Nicola Marter works in an art and antiques gallery. Nicola has psychometry, a type of extra-sensory perception that gives her insights into people and events when she touches specific objects. She touches a scarf belonging to a customer and is drawn into the owner’s life and history, which in turn causes her to reconnect with an old friend and not-quite-lover, Rob, who is gifted with even stronger psychic abilities. Together they set off to find proof of the provenance of the customer’s Russian artifact, a carved firebird, which was given to her ancestor, Anna, by Empress Catherine of Russia. Their journey takes them to the Scottish Highlands, Belgium and eventually to Russia, and along the way they and we learn the story of Anna, who we first met in The Winter Sea, as well as that of her parents and the Jacobite community in early 18th-century Russia. As Rob (from the Shadowy Horses) and Nicola uncover Anna’s and the firebird’s secrets, they grow closer together, but their differing attitudes toward their psychic skills and how to manage them threaten to keep them apart once more.

Jayne: It took a while to get into. The modern stuff caught and held my attention much more easily. I thought the historical parts started out fascinating and I was riveted while Anna was still in Scotland, then Ypres and then her escape in Calais but once in Russia, things slowed down. I still found it interesting due to what I was learning – about Jacobites in Russia – and the wealth of period detail, but I did find myself wondering where it was all leading and why it mattered to the story. It did cause me to dig more into Russian history and I spent an enjoyable hour or two brushing up on the Who’s Who of 18th century Russia, Denmark, Sweden and Great Britain. Still it took until the end of the novel for it to all tie together and make sense why it was all included and all these people were in the story.

Sunita: I had the same reaction. I didn’t read anything about the book before I started, so I expected more of it to be set in Scotland and less in Russia. I enjoyed the Russian setting, but I agree with you that it was paced in a leisurely way. Every once in a while someone would be introduced and I wasn’t sure why, but then the plot would reveal their importance. I was impressed at the way Kearsley integrated the real and the fictional characters; until I read the author’s note I was never sure which characters were real or not (apart from the obvious ones).

Jayne: If you could have psychometry would you want it and how public would you go with it? Nicola is more hesitant to let outsiders know of her abilities partly due to what her Russian grandfather endured at the hands of the Soviets before he escaped to the West and partly due to not wanting to be thought a freak or put her job at risk. Which turns out to be the major conflict she and Rob have. He can’t imagine not being open and honest about what he can do as he views it as a major part of who he is. I have to say that I doubt I’d want anyone to know what I could do just because of the risk and fate of Nicola’s grandfather. If any Powers that Be cottoned on to Rob’s abilities I find it hard to believe they wouldn’t try and take advantage of them.

Sunita: I though that aspect wrapped up a little too quickly and neatly at the end. After a lifetime of hiding her gift, Nicola made the change pretty abruptly, and there were almost no consequences. I understand that the choice she faced about Rob forced the issue, but I would have liked to see more of the aftermath, especially with her grandfather.

The structure of the present and past storylines was very much like The Winter Sea, a book I adored. Since in this book Nicola and Rob knew each other beforehand, their friendship and attraction doesn’t have to be set up in the same way, and I liked that we were immersed from the beginning. It’s also a good example of how you can get a lot of information from a single POV. We only see Rob through Nicola’s perspective, but I didn’t feel that I was shortchanged in understanding his thoughts and feelings.

Jayne: Yep, totally agree with you on all of this. I was struck by Nicola’s assessment of Anna’s maturity at age 17 but also by the decision Anna makes at age 9 when faced with possible capture by English agents who might have used her to influence her family and sway them from the Jacobite cause. How many modern girls at 9 would be willing to deny anything and everyone they know in order to keep those people safe? Anna shows her fighter’s ancestry in being willing to head into exile and keep her secrets close all those years.

Sunita: I thought Anna at 9 was a terrific character. I don’t read a lot of books with children as the protagonists, so I don’t have many points of comparison, but she seemed smart without being overly precocious. She had great instincts, but she also made mistakes typical of a child of her age.

I appreciated as well that even though she had to move from one setting to another several times in order to ensure her safety, the adults took her into their homes and were loving and caring to her. This was not a child in jeopardy story, but a story about a child (and then a young woman) living in a dangerous time.

Jayne: I was delighted that not all the Scotsmen in the story at Highlanders. Let’s hear it for the Lowlanders! And that Rob takes Nicola to task about James VII’s correct numbering. He also provides her with some of the reasons why people were willing to fight to see James VIII be King – they fought for honor and the justice of seeing a King they felt was born to his position regain it.

Sunita: Yes, it’s the anti-Scottish Historical Romance! There’s a great exchange in the story, when Nicola and Rob are eating ice cream in St. Petersburg:

Rob turned his collar up against the wind and took a bite of ice cream. “You might want to get a warmer sort of ritual. With cocoa, like.”

“I thought you Scots were hardy.”

“Hardy, hell. I’m from the Borders. St. Petersburg would be at the same latitude as Thurso, on the northern tip of Scotland. It’s all Hielanmen up there, they like the cold.”

Jayne: LOL, I laughed at that line too. Rob and Nicola not only share a physical connection and attraction but a mental one as well. Imagine their kisses!

Sunita: Kearsley never has explicit sex scenes, but the emotional intensity comes through. When Nicola and Rob finally get together, it’s very satisfying. And I loved that she shows you how their emotions overwhelm their words and how their thoughts are intensifying and reflecting their physical desires.

Jayne: I love the way that the early Firebird fairy tales Nicola tells Rob end up foreshadowing what happens with the two of them. What they sought was not what they ended up with but everyone will be happy and will have gained something they hadn’t initially looked for.

Sunita: Oh, good catch! I think that readers who enjoy the intermingling of fairy tales and legends in their fiction will really like this part.

Jayne: I was left with two happy endings both of which I adored. But at times it was slow going to get through some of the parts in historical Russia. Grade: B

Sunita: I agree. Like the Guy Gavriel Kay book I reviewed recently, this book required attention and concentration. It’s not at all a difficult read, but there’s a lot going on and it’s immersive. But it really pays off for the reader. If you’ve read The Winter Sea and/or The Shadowy Horses, you’ll really enjoy returning to the characters and locations. But if you haven’t, you’ll still have no trouble following what’s going on here. Grade: A-

We have several region specific giveaways for this book given that Susanna Kearsley is published by three different publishers around the world. Please pay attention to the giveaway’s geo restrictions:

Kearsley Giveaway

The giveaways are provided by Sourcebooks, Allison & Busby, Simon & Schuster Canada, and Audible.

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REVIEW:  Mind Games by Kiersten White

REVIEW: Mind Games by Kiersten White

Dear Ms. White,

Despite hearing good things about your Paranormalcy trilogy, I haven’t had the chance to pick them up yet. My paranormal weariness usually results in my passing over books in favor of something fresh and new (to me). But when I heard that you were writing a thriller about sisters, I was intrigued.

Mind GamesFia and Annie were orphaned when their parents died in a car accident. Annie, the older sister, can see the future in confusing, fragmented bursts. But the younger sister, Fia, promised her parents she would take care of Annie, who also happens to be blind. After their parents’ deaths, Fia and Annie go to live with their aunt who is anything but thrilled. When an elite, but mysterious, school takes an interest in Annie, the aunt is more than willing to foist her unwanted burdens onto someone else.

Annie is excited about the school. They make all sorts of promises about restoring her eyesight, and this is more than enough reason for her to accept the offer. Fia, however, doesn’t want to separate and it’s not just the promise that makes her adamant. She has a bad feeling about the school and she’s learned to trust her instincts because they’re always right. Her stubbornness piques the interest of the school and as a result, both sisters are accepted.

In what is a surprise to absolutely no one, the school is not what it seems. It’s a training ground for girls with psychic abilities. And while it was Annie’s precognitive talent that interested the school, it soon becomes apparent that Fia has the more interesting power. Fia has perfect instincts. Her initial gut reaction is the correct one. It makes her perfect for stock trading, corporate espionage… and murder.

When Annie’s abilities fail to live up to their potential, Fia becomes the star of the school. But because she never trusted the school in the first place, she is uncooperative. As a result, the sisters’ relationship is turned against them. Annie becomes the hostage guaranteeing Fia’s good behavior and obedience. Fia does anything asked of her to ensure Annie’s well-being while Annie, in her gilded cage, does everything she can to save her broken sister from becoming a monster.

Having not read your previous books, I went into this book with no expectations. While this book is called a thriller, I don’t think that’s accurate. This was more the story of two sisters, the pressures their relationship undergo, and their many attempts to escape a prison that has broken and warped them. I’m a big fan of female relationships in fiction so I liked this. Readers expecting a dark thriller about corporate espionage and assassination might be disappointed, however. There are moments of unexpected, and somewhat brutal, violence but I wouldn’t call this book that kind of edgy and dark thriller.

The book alternates between the POVs of Fia and Annie. It is in the dreaded first person POV and at times, the narrative veers towards stream of consciousness. I thought it was effective most of the time but other readers may disagree. Despite my enjoyment of the narrative style, I thought the alternating POVs was the novel’s biggest weakness. Due to her rage, Fia’s voice is so much stronger than Annie’s and she stole the narrative show. Part of this is my bias. I have a soft spot for the broken, angry female characters, and Fia is definitely that.

But contrasting Fia’s rage against Annie’s naivete often put Annie in a bad light. It’s true they were young when they encountered the school and Annie let her own hopes cloud her common sense. When you’re young and inexperienced, I can see how you’d believe anything if it meant getting something you’ve always dreamed of. I definitely think the school capitalized on Annie’s trusting nature. But to go from her naivete to Fia, who was clearly mistreated from Day 1 as the school tried to figure out the exact nature of her abilities, was hard. It made Annie’s innocence seem willful in the face of all evidence suggesting otherwise.

On the other hand, I liked the complicated portrayal of their relationship. The traditional dynamic of older sister looking after younger sister was disrupted because of Annie’s disability. On some level, Annie resented this and that contributed to her willingness to believe the promises that her eyesight could be restored. She wanted to be the a proper older sister. But because she’d always been taken care of, she sucked at identifying the transformation being forced upon Fia until it was too late. And then we have Fia, who loves Annie and will do anything for her even if it means destroying herself, but who also resents the fact that Annie landed them in this mess. It’s ugly but I think that’s what makes it real.

This being YA, there are potential love interests. Of course there are. The story of Mind Games is kicked into motion when Fia fails to kill a boy and does everything to hide this mistake to spare Annie. Only she later discovers that it wasn’t the higher ups who ordered the hit; it was Annie. The target, of course, is the good boy in this set-up.  The bad boy in this equation is Fia’s handler. He’s also the son of the school’s owner. I was lukewarm about this apparent love triangle but my fears were misplaced. The novel’s focus remains on the sisters’ relationship and everything else is secondary to that. I will say that despite my overall dislike of the bad boy archetype in YA novels, the one in Mind Games has some surprising depth to him and I found myself warming up to him by the end.

While Mind Games doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, the story is not complete. It does end in a good place but there is no doubt that future adventures are in store. I’m definitely on board for the next installment and based on the novel’s ending, interested to see how the relationship between the sisters evolves from here. B+

My regards,

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