Book Tour Review: The Enemies of Versailles by Sally Christie

Friday, March 24, 2017
Title: The Enemies of Versailles
Author: Sally Christie
Genre: historical fiction
Series: The Mistresses of Versailles #3
Pages: 384
Published: March 21 2017
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

In the final installment of Sally Christie’s “tantalizing” (New York Daily News) Mistresses of Versailles trilogy, Jeanne Becu, a woman of astounding beauty but humble birth, works her way from the grimy back streets of Paris to the palace of Versailles, where the aging King Louis XV has become a jaded and bitter old philanderer. Jeanne bursts into his life and, as the Comtesse du Barry, quickly becomes his official mistress.

“That beastly bourgeois Pompadour was one thing; a common prostitute quite another kettle of fish.”

After decades suffering the King's endless stream of Royal Favorites, the princesses of the Court have reached a breaking point. Horrified that he would bring the lowborn Comtesse du Barry into the hallowed halls of Versailles, Louis XV’s daughters, led by the indomitable Madame Adelaide, vow eternal enmity and enlist the young dauphiness Marie Antoinette in their fight against the new mistress. But as tensions rise and the French Revolution draws closer, a prostitute in the palace soon becomes the least of the nobility’s concerns.

Told in Christie’s witty and engaging style, the final book in The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the sumptuous and cruel world of eighteenth century Versailles, and France as it approaches inevitable revolution.


The third and final volume of Sally Christie's Mistresses of Versailles series tackles retelling the story of one of the most infamous women in French history: Jeanne Bécu, better known as the Comtesse du Barry. As she first did with the Mailly-Nesle sisters, and then with Louis' longtime paramour the Marquise du Pompadour in the first two novels, Christie uses women of the court as a focus; she brings new life to old scandals by offering fresh perspectives from often-ignored sources. The Enemies of Versailles is not only the narrative of Jeanne, but also that of Madame Adélaïde, the oldest of the Kings unmarried daughters at Court. The two women could not be more disparate, and their personal and interpersonal differences show clearly in their respective chapters. Using these two contrasting viewpoints to showcase new sides to Louis' reign and Court, Christie ably depicts and plots her newest historical fiction.

Through the long years of his reign and as shown in the previous books, Louis XV's romantic affairs often led to strife for not only for him, but also for the (various) women involved, and for France itself. But none of his many liaisons were as divisive or damaging as was his last maîtresse-en-titre. Objectionable to his family and in laws, and to his courtiers, Louis relationship with Jeanne foments trouble from their earliest interactions. Madame Adélaïde, especially, cannot countenance her royal father trysting with a woman so far below him in rank -- which leads to further family strain and issues within the Court itself. Though she is often held entirely to blame by most, Jeanne's appointment to Court (A commoner! Not even bourgeois!) is merely a symptom of Louis' overall indifference to his roles as King in his later years. Louis clearly begins to disregard the rules and societal mores instituted to keep him in power - though he rules absolutely in his divine right, his grasp loosen and Jeanne takes the blame (and eventually pays the highest price) for the poor decisions her king made.

Though Louis is the crux of the series and of each novel's romantic entanglements, the plot of The Enemies of Versailles really belongs to Jeanne and Adélaïde and their years-long, occasionally dormant battle of wills. Thrown into conflict due to strictures of both society and religion, the struggle between the King's mistress and the King's daughter is a permanent, enveloping fixture of The Enemies of Versailles, and goes on to have international repercussions when the dauphine Marie Antoinette chooses sides. Though ostensibly the two are fighting for Louis' time/attention as the premiere ladies of his court, their individual stories contain far more depth and subtlety than that. These were two very unlike women trying to survive and succeed in a world where their looks, family name, and marriage prospects were all they valued for. Louis is more macguffin than main player when it comes to his lover and his daughter. Over nearly four hundred pages, Sally Christie is able to string together these two very different POVs into a coherent, cohesive historical fiction novel. Jeanne and Adélaïde are vibrant, realistic, and recognizable despite Christie's unique reinterpretations/condensations of their real life stories.  

With an eye for detail combined with the ability to craft new versions of old historical figures, Sally Christie's Mistresses of Versailles trilogy has been both original and compelling. The Enemies of Versailles ably concludes what The Sisters of Versailles began and The Rivals of Versailles continued. This last and final addition has fewer POVs than its two predecessors but the inner monologues of the Comtesse du Barry and Madame are engaging, complicated, and memorable; as narrators, they make for a strong, solid ending to the libertine life of Louis XV. 








Chris Pratt Book Tag

Thursday, March 23, 2017
The Chris Pratt Book Tag was originally created by booktuber Riley Marie, and I saw it on Bring My Books a few months ago. Really this is just an excuse to post pictures of Chris Pratt and tangentially talk about books. So....
Enjoy!


 Guardians of the Galaxy: Your favorite character ensemble

Dani: The Six of Crows crew without a doubt. They play off each other so well.

Jessie: Six of Crows, Game of Thrones, Gentleman Bastards.... also all the characters in Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me. I would love a Liza book, or a Bonnie book.. anything!



Andy Dwyer: A character or book you can’t help but love despite their flaws

Jessie:
My favorite fantasys eries is known to be GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire. One thing Dani and I talk about often is how it tends to be... problematic as fuuuck. 

Dani: I love the Throne of Glass series. I know it is whiter than an Alaskan January. The ships are bizarre, flung together and torn apart like my niece with her Barbies. It is SO HET. I don't know why, but I just can't quit it.



Anna Faris: Your OTP (Favorite romantic relationship)

Dani:
Locke x Jean
Rincewind x Twoflower
Legolas x Gimli
Lex x Driggs
Lola x Cricket
Karou x Akiva
Cress x Thorne
Inej x Kaz
Kate x Curan
Sybella x Beast
Sansa x Lemoncakes
Nehemia x Not Being Dead

Jessie:
Jonah x Taylor
Karou x Akiva
Katsa x Po
Kaz x Inej
Jesper x Wylan
Alucard x Rhys
Manon x Asterin
Ismae x Duval
all the Lunar Chronicles



Chris Evans: Your BrOTP (Favorite friendship)


Jessie: 
BrOTP wise I have to say Scott Lynch's unbreakable duo of Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen. That will never not be my answer for this type of question. The girl equivalent (lacks a cool word!) but I would say.. Safiya and Iseult from Truthwitch and Windwitch by Susan Dennard.

Dani: I can't say Locke and Jean because they're so much more than BrOTP, amirite? Ahem.

Aelin and Lysandra



 Jurassic World: A badass character

Dani: Hanna Donnelly from Gemina! She is a killer fighter, military genius, and fashionista. I want to be her when I grow up.

Jessie:
Lady Helen Wrexhall from Alison Goodman's The Dark Days Club and The Day Days Pact. I picked her because not only is Helen badass in terms of fighting ability, but also in using her brain and skills to help herself and her friends against all kinds of monsters.



Transformation: Best character development


Jessie:
Froi from Finnikin of the Rock to Froi of the Exiles. It's astonishing how his character evolves in those two (and third, tbh) novels. It's the impossible. It's that Marchetta Magic.

Dani: Danny from Dreadnought. The entire story is built around Danny's character development as she goes from abused and closeted, painting her nails behind the mall to full fledged superheroine. It's a lovely development too and you should read it.




Everwood: A book you read before it was popular

Dani: I guess maybe Harry Potter? I read it in '99 and I think it really blew up in '01 with the first movie? I'm perennially late to all trends. 

Jessie:
uhh.. well I've read a lot of ARCs in the last six years of blogging so there is a wide array of options for this, lol. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, probably would be an early answer.













Blog Tour Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Title: The Collapsing Empire
Author: John Scalzi
Genre: science fiction
Series: Untitled #1
Pages: 336
Published: expected March 21 2017
Source: ARC via publisher
Rating: 4/5

The first novel of a new space-opera sequence set in an all-new universe.

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible -- until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.

Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war -- and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

The Flow is eternal -- but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals -- a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency -- are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

Expansive in scope and stellar in its execution, John Scalzi's newest novel, the upcoming The Collapsing Empire, illustrates a version of humanity's diaspora future; one set in space, on various hostile planets, and in precarious far-flung systems, all ruled by a distant Emperox. Featuring an all new universe with its own detailed ruling systems, the concept of the time/space riverlike system called "The Flow", a cast of fresh and dynamic characters/antiheroes, brewing revolution, and oh yeah, also the dawn of the collapse of human civilization, there are a lot of moving parts in this shorter scifi novel. Scalzi is a veteran author and proved more than equal to the task of executing all the various elements into the solid world-building, taut plotting, and unique tech that make up his story.

From the mutinous start, The Collapsing Empire runs wild with its clever, apocalyptic premise. It and its central characters are broadly appealing though far-reaching; following a storyline more than creative and original enough to stand out in memory, it's hard not to be engaged and entertained even in the novel's quieter moments. The concept and use of The Flow to anchor the Interdependency is one of the strongest aspects of the novel. Utilizing and explaining it as a way to (believably) feature faster-than-light travel is a unique but understandable approach and also allows the author to showcase a universe of humans from disparate backgrounds and from various terrains. The author also uses this river-esque concept in important ways to affect the story and all the characters. It's the pivot on which the plot turns and Scalzi's astronomical invention is interesting, cool, and necessary all at the same time. 

If there was an area that didn't totally impress across the board, it was that the surrounding characters at times could feel hollow, or underdeveloped. There was an obvious and notable exception in the rarely-seen Vrenna, but by and large, the secondary cast is forgettable or interchangeable. The main characters of the novel (a scientist, an emperox and a starship captain) thankfully fared better and had more depth and personality. Kiva, especially, came to life and excelled at being anything she wanted. The Collapsing Empire featured two other people alongside Kiva as the other main characters: a scientist/Lord Marce and the newly-crowned Cardenia/Grayland II. Those two characters had plots that were more intertwined and political in nature, but though likeable and capable, they just didn't quite capture the charisma of their more... violently-inclined counterpart. 

All in all, this first new series offering more than makes for a good beginning. All the traditional hallmark Scalzi qualities are there: smart, inventive, actiontastic, peppered with wry/sardonic humor. The Collapsing Empire establishes the universe and the players; the board is set and ready for round two. The ending here is rather frustratingly open-ended, though it also leaves plenty of room for exploration and continuance of various plot lines in the forthcoming next book.





Ageless Discussions: Genre Phases

Sunday, March 19, 2017


If you've watched Scrubs, you might be familiar with Ted. Now, of all the Scrubs characters I probably identify with Ted the least... except in one area. You see, sometimes Ted gets stuck on an idea.







I get stuck in genre phases when it comes to "me reads." A couple times a year I find myself in the midst of a multi-book-long streak in a certain genre, location, or rarely, series. I can usually trace each marathon back to a 5-star read that was SO GOOD it made me want more just like it -- but different. 2017 is shaping up like the ones before it; I've already embarked on several different genre sprees.

In early January, I read Kameron Hurley's all-female scifi The Stars are Legion, which directly led to The Fortress at the End of Time, which led to Martians Abroad and then rereading Glow. Review copies interrupted, but then the scifi spree was re-ignited by review-reading The Collapsing Empire, which then led to Shadow Run and Luna: New Moon then the combo of The Hangman's Daughter and Luna: Wolf Moon which were each so bad they effectively ended it.

While I am usually found reading fantasy, my second favorite genre has has been a big winner for me this year. First France specifically was a focus with the last four of Maurice Druon's Accursed Kings books (The Royal Succession, The She-Wolf, The Lily and the Lion, and the King Without a Kingdom), and then The Shadow Queen, the Courts of Love, and Sally Christie's The Enemies of Versailles. Lately, thanks to the five-star review-read that was Alyssa Palombo's The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, Italy -- Renaissance, medieval, Baroque -- has been a recurring theme to my reads and rereads. Simonetta's story was followed by a reread of The Birth of Venus, then In the Company of the Courtesan, Blood and Beauty, Roma Eterna, and finally The Violinist of Venice.

Here it temporarily halts while I wait for my BookOutlet order of two more Italian historical fiction novels: The Daughter of Siena and The Venetian Contract. The thing is -- I may be off on a different whim of reading by the time they arrive. That's how these marathons run; unpredictable. My brother once accurately described me as a lightswitch: I am either ALL ABOUT IT or I am completely uninterested.

It usually ends when I have a review book that zaps me out of the mindset and atmosphere I'm chasing (generational space ships! Florence during the Renaissance!) or a long-anticipated novel arrives and distracts me into falling into a new pattern. However, there is a third option: genre burnout. It doesn't happen to me often and it never lasts forever, but when I overdo a trend, OH BOY do I ever. I haven't read PNR in years thanks to my overindulgence -- and I don't see that changing, to be the exception of the previous sentence. On the other hand, I almost always read a series of scifi novels around the beginning of the year and never burn out.

Brains are weird, right?



What about you? Do you find yourself craving read-a-likes after a particularly good novel? Do you marathon a genre/subgenre?




Review: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Saturday, March 18, 2017
Title: Queens of Geek
Author: Jen Wilde
Genre: contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 288
Published: March 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

When BFFs Charlie, Taylor and Jamie go to SupaCon, they know it’s going to be a blast. What they don’t expect is for it to change their lives forever.

Charlie likes to stand out. SupaCon is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star, Jason Ryan. When Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

While Charlie dodges questions about her personal life, Taylor starts asking questions about her own.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.
 

Queens of Geek is a NA contemporary set up along pretty basic plotlines: A trio of friends find love amidst all kinds of nerdery over a Con. It's a simple enough story, and a short one at that with just 288 pages, and yet it manages to be diverse, inclusive, and intersectional -- not to mention shippy as hell. In the two main romances that form the bulk of her book, Jen Wilde features: a character on the autism-spectrum, a bisexual female character of Asian descent, a woman of color, and a boy of Hispanic or Latin descent (it's not made expressly clear which). It's so refreshingly nonhetero and non-mayonnaise. This is by far the best title that Swoon Reads has to offer to date; a fun, entertaining, but also heartfelt contemporary novel.

Nerdy to the core, Queens of Geek is an easy rec to make for readers who enjoy books with pop culture influences (both real and imagined) and fan-involved themes like the ones found in Geekerella, Gena/Finn, or Fangirl. The honest depiction of the inclusiveness of fandom -- of finding your people -- is one of the parts I loved most about Queens of Geek. Taylor's devotion to her Queen Firestone books and movies is pivotal in improving her life and in understanding who she is; fandom enriches her story and that's believable. Anyone who finds a niche interest shared among a group knows how that resonance feels and Wilde shows it in developing Taylor's storyline. Firestone gave a lot to Taylor and its impact on her life is important (not only because it led to her finally finding common ground with her autism spectrum diagnosis!) and recognizable.

The entire cast of characters in this contemporary really shine and come to life; I (kinda obviously) connected most to Taylor and her storyline but her best friends of Charlie and Jamie are each well-rounded and defined in their own rights. The bond between the trio is strong and I loved seeing Charlie support Taylor and vice versa, no matter what circumstances. Even tropes that usually disrupt my enjoyment of a relationship work under Wilde's pen due to the strength of her characterization. The romance between Charlie and Alyssa feels accelerated - especially contrasted with the fact that Jamie and Taylor caught feelings years ago and never acted on them, the adorable awkward dorks - but it's also realistic and their chemistry is undeniable.

Queens of Geek is so much adorable geeky, inclusive entertainment. It's pure fun to read, though it definitely packs an emotional punch or two. I loved that it took pains to be intersectional (though the explanation of the term itself felt stiff, I did not care because I just loved that it was there in the first place) and that the diversity itself was a nonissue. I loved both the years-gestating romance and the instalove that sprang up beside it. Sweet and empowering, Queens of Geek left me eagerly awaiting whatever Jen Wilde writes next.






Two Minute Review: The Hangman's Daughter by Gavin Smith

Friday, March 17, 2017
Title: The Hangman's Daughter
Author: Gavin Smith
Genre: science fiction
Series: The Bastard Legion #1
Pages: 336
Published: January 26 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 1.5/5

Four hundred years in the future, the most dangerous criminals are kept in suspended animation aboard prison ships and "rehabilitated" in a shared virtual reality environment. But Miska Storrow, a thief and hacker with a background in black ops, has stolen one of these ships, the Hangman's Daughter, and made it her own. Controlled by explosive collars and trained in virtual reality by the electronic ghost of a dead marine sergeant, the thieves, gangsters, murderers, and worse are transformed into Miska's own private indentured army: the Bastard Legion. Are the mercenaries just for fun and profit, or does Miska have a hidden purpose connected to her covert past?

Does this not sound AWESOME? I love the idea of it so much. I mean --- an unrepentant anti-heroine uses criminals to be her own army and if they disobery she blows their heads off? LITERALLY? I mean sure the whole "indentured" part is beyond messed up but that sounds like a helluva draw for a science fiction story. There's a large scope to this story that appeals, even if the execution is not up to meeting the challenge. The Hangman's Daughter launches a series that is dark and different and has so much potential....

Which is why it's such a shame that The Hangman's Daughter can't live up to its own synopsis. This is a messy, jumbled narrative -- clarity issues abound, character dialogue is clunky, and the storyline's pacing is all over the place. I can take the high levels of violence, I can take characters I don't like -- but I have to have something connecting me to the story. There was none of that personal investment here. There's violence for violence's sake and a thin plot that never really coalesces into anything meaningful. Disappointing enough to turn me off trying the rest of the series, The Hangman's Daughter is a forgettable mess.





Review: A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

Thursday, March 16, 2017
Title: A Crown of Wishes
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Genre: fantasy
Series: The Star-Touched Queen #2
Pages: 352
Published: expected March 28 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4.5/5

Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. Unsatisfied with becoming a mere puppet king, Vikram offers Gauri a chance to win back her kingdom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together, they’ll have to set aside their differences and team up to win the Tournament of Wishes—a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor.

Reaching the tournament is just the beginning. Once they arrive, danger takes on new shapes: poisonous courtesans and mischievous story birds, a feast of fears and twisted fairy revels.

Every which way they turn new trials will test their wit and strength. But what Gauri and Vikram will soon discover is that there’s nothing more dangerous than what they most desire.

As creative and imaginative as The Star-Touched Queen was before it, Roshani Chokshi returns to her lush fantasy world to tell the intertwined stories of Gauri, the left-behind sister of Maya and also exiled princess of Bharata, and Vikram, a sly and intelligent would-be king of a neighboring country. A Crown of Wishes is a showcase in finely-tuned language and crafting an expansive, otherwordly fantasy. Though this is only the second novel from Roshani Chokshi, her style is a breath of fresh air and her ability to create vivid worlds and people is impressive. The resulting story is unique and her characters, though new, feel familiar and complex throughout their evolving competitive give-and-take. With a high-stakes plot and liberal use of some familiar favorite tropes, Chokshi builds an elaborate, complete story in just a few hundred pages. 

A Crown of Wishes is rather loosely connected to Chokshi's debut novel from a year ego; however, the plot is independent of The Star-Touched Queen and its characters, and can even be read without venturing into Maya's story first. However, I cannot recommend that approach because experiencing the world and writing of this author is descriptive privilege -- as a fan of fantasy I appreciate the ingenuity, skill, and imagination Roshani Chokshi repeatedly demonstrates in her writing. To best feel the effect of her storytelling, start with The Star-Touched Queen and then dive into the wonder of her second.    

A Crown of Wishes is a strong novel across the board; both characters and story can more than stand alone on their own merits, but as a novel, it also directly benefits from Chokshi's growth as a writer. Before, in The Star-Touched Queen, her writing was stronger than the plot or the development of the individual characters. Here, those issues have changed for the better and it's hard to find a problem in any aspect of the exectuion. In A Crown of Wishes you'll find more intricate plotting, and a larger scope to both story and the world. The writing remains lushly distinct but incorporates new ideas, themes, iconography seamlessly into the texture of Gauri and Vikram's world. It's a world that feels both atmospheric and expansive -- and definitely also not pseudo-Europe.





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