TBR Planning: May 2016

Sunday, May 1, 2016
We both here at APR have a busy month coming up -- as do a lot of you! It's May and that means BEA and lots of new reads to distract and interest readers. Still, though there are a few ARCs in my possession that I will be sure to get to in the coming month. I've got my eye on a mix of both adult  and YA contemporary, fantasy, and historical fiction. It should be a good month. 

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

In her twenties, Emma Blair marries her high school sweetheart, Jesse. They build a life for themselves, far away from the expectations of their parents and the people of their hometown in Massachusetts. They travel the world together, living life to the fullest and seizing every opportunity for adventure.

On their first wedding anniversary, Jesse is on a helicopter over the Pacific when it goes missing. Just like that, Jesse is gone forever.

Emma quits her job and moves home in an effort to put her life back together. Years later, now in her thirties, Emma runs into an old friend, Sam, and finds herself falling in love again. When Emma and Sam get engaged, it feels like Emma’s second chance at happiness.

That is, until Jesse is found. He’s alive, and he’s been trying all these years to come home to her. With a husband and a fiancĂ©, Emma has to now figure out who she is and what she wants, while trying to protect the ones she loves.

Who is her one true love? What does it mean to love truly?

Emma knows she has to listen to her heart. She’s just not sure what it’s saying.

I fell in love with this author's fresh style and unique approaches to magical realism last year at the recommendation of a smart friend. I am so glad I did because TJR (I like to think we'd be friends if we met IRL and I would call her this) is so skilled at exploring relationships and love and how people relate to one another. This book sounds painful and amazing, as I would expect from the author of Maybe in Another Life, aka the book that had me happy-crying and sad-crying at the same time.

The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie (The Mistresses of Versailles #2) - I read and loved this series' first book The Sisters of Versailles last year. Then it was the tale of the rather unknown Mailly-Nesle sisters, but this time Christie is tackling the legend of one of Louis XV's most controversial lovers, the Marquise de Pompadour or Reinette, as she is called here. Christie is really adept at handling politicking and characterization so this should be a fascinating read.

And I Darken by Kiersten White (The Conqueror's Saga #1) - This is loosely a female Vlad, in a story centered around the Wallachian/Turkish Ottoman struggle. I am 100% here for that description and for how brutal this book sounds. Though my reading record with this particular author is rather hit (In the Shadows is pretty great and Illusions of Fate isn't bad) or miss (The Chaos of Stars and I were not friends at all) I am cautiously optimistic thanks to trusted early reviews.

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab (Monsters of Verity #1) - Schwab is an author that has only continued to impress me. Her books are layered and clever, and her grasp of language is enviable. She can craft whole worlds with a chapter, and this specific premise sounds like it will be unpredictable and awesome in all the ways only Schwab can imagine. As anyone who has read her books knows all too well...

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Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy

Brimming with humor and one-of-a-kind characters, this end-of-the world novel will grab hold of Andrew Smith and Rainbow Rowell fans.

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. A big, bad one. Yuri, a physicist prodigy from Russia, has been called to NASA as they calculate a plan to avoid disaster. He knows how to stop the asteroid: his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize--if there's ever another Nobel prize awarded. But Yuri's 17, and having a hard time making older, stodgy physicists listen to him. Then he meets Dovie, who lives like a normal teenager, oblivious to the impending doom. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he's not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and save a life worth living.

Prepare to laugh, cry, cringe, and have your mind burst open with questions of the universe.

First, this cover amuses me more every time I look at it; it's so perfect for the title and description. Second, this sounds like a much better version of We All Looked Up and/or Tumble & Fall. I haven't seen too much about this so far, but it is jumping the queue because I am that intrigued by it that I cannot wait.

Any books I should be reading? Any thoughts on these? Happy May! See some of you in a few weeeeks!

Dani & Jessie's April Recap

Saturday, April 30, 2016

So for me, April was a pretty good month.  I didn't read as much this month as in March, but I am still pretty happy with my reading month. I had a great run of books that wowed me and have now been prepping myself (mentally, financially bookishly) for BEA in just a few weeks. It's getting to the point where I am so excited I'm making myself anxious!

Books Read: 25

Notable Favorites:
The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #2)
The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #3)
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Choksi
The Year We Turned Forty by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke
The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

Reviews Posted:
March & April DNFs
Book Tour Review: The Dark Lady's Mask by Mary Sharratt
The Year We Turned Forty by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Choksi
Flamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima
Two Minute Review: Burning by Danielle Rollins
Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz & Kat Helgeson
Rare Objects by Kathleen Tessaro
Two Minute Review: The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins
Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis
Book Tour Review: Death Sits Down to Dinner by Tessa Arlen
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Top Ten Tuesdays:
Top Ten Books That Will Make You Laugh

Bookstagram of the Month:

And that is it for me!

She didn't read much you guys. 25 books. I can't even.


I hate to be repetitive, but this month was all BEA planning all the time. I did try to do a readathon for Bookish Bingo, but I really only 2/5 of my goal. What I DID do was publish 12 mini reviews for you all. And buy a skirt.

Books Read: 9

Notable Favorites: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Written in Red by Anne Bishop
Rat Queens, Vol. 3: Demons by Kurtis J. Wiebe

Purchase of the Month: 


March & April DNFs

Friday, April 29, 2016
Woohoo --- I've gone through a better spell of reading the last few weeks, as opposed to the rough stats in January and February. I've had a higher average rating for what I've read and fewer DNFs to process, which is why there are more than my usual amount of DNF'd reads in this post -- it's two months' worth!

This is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang

Janie and Micah, Micah and Janie. That’s how it’s been ever since elementary school, when Janie Vivien moved next door. Janie says Micah is everything she is not. Where Micah is shy, Janie is outgoing. Where Micah loves music, Janie loves art. It’s the perfect friendship—as long as no one finds out about it. But then Janie goes missing and everything Micah thought he knew about his best friend is colored with doubt.

Using a nonlinear writing style and dual narrators, Amy Zhang reveals the circumstances surrounding Janie’s disappearance in a second novel.

The author's use of a jumbled and haphazard nonlinear style and interchangeable narrators with little voice and no personality  + juvenile execution = Jessie checking out mentally at page 100 and giving up completely by 120. This is not a long book, but I had no interest in pursuing Janie and Micah's plotlines.

Dreamology by Lucy Keating

For as long as Alice can remember, she has dreamed of Max. Together they have traveled the world and fallen deliriously, hopelessly in love. Max is the boy of her dreams—and only her dreams. Because he doesn’t exist.

But when Alice walks into class on her first day at a new school, there he is. It turns out, though, that Real Max is nothing like Dream Max, and getting to know each other in reality isn’t as perfect as Alice always hoped.

When their dreams start to bleed dangerously into their waking hours, the pair realize that they might have to put an end to a lifetime of dreaming about each other. But when you fall in love in your dreams, can reality ever be enough?

I was tempted by this because it vaguely reminded me of Lucid, another book about dreams and love and connections, and of the Lynburn Legacy novels, but this book  was not a fit for my particular reading preferences.  The constant yearning and drama and drama were not my preferred storyline, especially if the characters don't make me ship the ship. I did not, so I sailed on out of Dreamology at 115 pages in.

Empress of the Night by Eva Stachniak (Catherine the Great #2)

Catherine the Great, the Romanov monarch reflects on her astonishing ascension to the throne, her leadership over the world's greatest power, and the lives sacrificed to make her the most feared woman in the world--lives including her own...

Catherine the Great muses on her life, her relentless battle between love and power, the country she brought into the glorious new century, and the bodies left in her wake. By the end of her life, she had accomplished more than virtually any other woman in history. She built and grew the Romanov empire, amassed a vast fortune of art and land, and controlled an unruly and conniving court. 

Now, in a voice both indelible and intimate, she reflects on the decisions that gained her the world and brought her enemies to their knees. And before her last breath, shadowed by the bloody French Revolution, she sets up the end game for her last political maneuver, ensuring her successor and the greater glory of Russia.

A completely unremarkable sequel to The Winter Palace - which was itself not a a great read but a serviceable and readable historical novel.  This is just a dull and dreary, rotely rendered extenuation of Catherine's rule. The first book wasn't perfect but this sequel feels lifeless and unnecessary. I read for two hundred fifty pages, but fast lost patience and skimmed the remaining one fifty.

The Mirror King by Jodi Meadows (The Orphan Queen #2)

Wilhelmina has a hundred enemies.

HER FRIENDS HAVE TURNED. After her identity is revealed during the Inundation, Princess Wilhelmina is kept prisoner by the Indigo Kingdom, with the Ospreys lost somewhere in the devastated city. When the Ospreys’ leader emerges at the worst possible moment, leaving Wil’s biggest ally on his deathbed, she must become Black Knife to set things right.

HER MAGIC IS UNCONTROLLABLE. Wil’s power is to animate, not to give true life, but in the wraithland she commanded a cloud of wraith mist to save herself, and later ordered it solid. Now there is a living boy made of wraith—destructive and deadly, and willing to do anything for her.

HER HEART IS TORN. Though she’s ready for her crown, declaring herself queen means war. Caught between what she wants and what is right, Wilhelmina realizes the throne might not even matter. Everyone thought the wraith was years off, but already it’s destroying Indigo Kingdom villages. If she can’t protect both kingdoms, soon there won’t be a land to rule.

I can hear my friends that love this series readying their pitchforks already -- and that's before I admit how little I made it into The Mirror King before throwing in the towel. I was a tentative but mild fan of book one, but when I found myself with entirely bored or just unimpressed by the events here in book two, I was out by page 200. I just... don't care about Wil and all her badly named friends. I want to like these books more than I actually do and I don't feel the slightly bit sad missing out on how things fall out here.

The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen

A passionate summer love story about a girl, her childhood best friend recently released from juvie, and the small-town lies that have kept them apart. A teen romance debut with a dark edge.

Liz Grant is about to have the summer of her life. She and her friend MacKenzie are getting invited to all the best parties, and with any luck, Innis Taylor, the most gorgeous guy in Bonneville, will be her boyfriend before the Fourth of July.

Local teen convict released early.

Jason Sullivan wasn’t supposed to come back from juvie. A million years ago, he was her best friend, but that was before he ditched her for a different crowd. Before he attacked Innis’s older brother, leaving Skip’s face burned and their town in shock.

“Everything is not what you think.”

Liz always found it hard to believe what they said about Jason, but all of Bonneville thinks he’s dangerous. If word gets out she’s seeing him, she could lose everything. But what if there’s more to that horrible night than she knows? And how many more people will get hurt when the truth finally comes out?

“You’re the one person who believes in me.”

Leah Konen’s southern romance swelters with passion as it explores the devastating crush of lies, the delicate balance of power and perception, and one girl’s journey to find herself while uncovering the secrets of so many others.

I wasn't too sure this was a book to my liking from the start of the description -- Katie McGarry style drama rarely works for me -- and I was proved right early on. This book is a lot of drama based on a lot of my least favorite YA tropes: miscommunication, willful misunderstandings, and love triangles that exist for nothing more than pure melodrama. I had a feeling about how things would play out and I skimmed to the end to see I was indeed right. So not only is this book tedious, it's predictable, too.

The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearlsey

1205 - the town of Chinon is beseiged by enemies of King John, and his young Queen calls upon a trusted servant to conceal her treasured jewels.

Emily Braden is intrigued by the medieval story of Queen Isabelle, and cannot resist when her cousin Harry, a historian, suggests a trip to the white-walled town of Chinon, nestling in France's Loire Valley. But when Harry vanishes and Emily begins to search for him, she stumbles across another intriguing mystery -- a second Isabelle, a chambermaid during the Second World War, who had her own tragedy, and her own treasure to hide.

As Emily explores the ancient town of labyrinthine tunnels, old enmities, and new loves, she finds herself drawn ever closer to the mysterious Isabelles and their long-kept secrets.

I usually love Kearsley's brand of timeslip fiction -- she's detailed and writes fantastic chemistry between characters --  but found this to be a hard sell. I liked the main character of Emily enough, but I found myself setting the book down for days at a time with no motivation to dive back into her story.  I think the issue was with my reading mood so this is not a permanent DNF -- just a placeholder until I feel like this kind of a read.

American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar

Hayat Shah is a young American in love for the first time. His normal life of school, baseball, and video games had previously been distinguished only by his Pakistani heritage and by the frequent chill between his parents, who fight over things he is too young to understand. Then Mina arrives, and everything changes.

Mina is Hayat's mother's oldest friend from Pakistan. She is independent, beautiful and intelligent, and arrives on the Shah's doorstep when her disastrous marriage in Pakistan disintegrates. Even Hayat's skeptical father can't deny the liveliness and happiness that accompanies Mina into their home. Her deep spirituality brings the family's Muslim faith to life in a way that resonates with Hayat as nothing has before. Studying the Quran by Mina's side and basking in the glow of her attention, he feels an entirely new purpose mingled with a growing infatuation for his teacher.

When Mina meets and begins dating a man, Hayat is confused by his feelings of betrayal. His growing passions, both spiritual and romantic, force him to question all that he has come to believe is true. Just as Mina finds happiness, Hayat is compelled to act -- with devastating consequences for all those he loves most.

American Dervish is a brilliantly written, nuanced, and emotionally forceful look inside the interplay of religion and modern life. Ayad Akhtar was raised in the Midwest himself, and through Hayat Shah he shows readers vividly the powerful forces at work on young men and women growing up Muslim in America. This is an intimate, personal first novel that will stay with readers long after they turn the last page.

I made a goal of reading my old galleys before the end of this year, and American Dervish was one of the ones I have had here for years untouched. It's a quick read and I was interested in Mina and Hayat and how their stories would continue but my interest began to falter once Mina beings dating and Hayat's actions start to spiral. There's not a lot of depth for the characters, or for their lives. I am not sure how accurate it will be in its representations of Islam's culture and nuances, but for me, it was a book that just work.

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

 The first time Eby Pim saw Lost Lake, it was on a picture postcard. Just an old photo and a few words on a small square of heavy stock, but when she saw it, she knew she was seeing her future.

That was half a life ago. Now Lost Lake is about to slip into Eby's past. Her husband George is long passed. Most of her demanding extended family are gone. All that's left is a once-charming collection of lakeside cabins succumbing to the Southern Georgia heat and damp, and an assortment of faithful misfits drawn back to Lost Lake year after year by their own unspoken dreams and desires.

It's a lot, but not enough to keep Eby from relinquishing Lost Lake to a developer with cash in hand, and calling this her final summer at the lake. Until one last chance at family knocks on her door.

Lost Lake is where Kate Pheris spent her last best summer at the age of twelve, before she learned of loneliness, and heartbreak, and loss. Now she's all too familiar with those things, but she knows about hope too, thanks to her resilient daughter Devin, and her own willingness to start moving forward. Perhaps at Lost Lake her little girl can cling to her own childhood for just a little longer... and maybe Kate herself can rediscover something that slipped through her fingers so long ago.

One after another, people find their way to Lost Lake, looking for something that they weren't sure they needed in the first place: love, closure, a second chance, peace, a mystery solved, a heart mended. Can they find what they need before it's too late?

So this is a weird moment for me as a reader and as a reviewer. I apparently read this book as an ARC in 2014, but I have absolutely no memory of it or how I felt about it currently. So, I decided to "reread" it and... found myself in the curious position of wanting to DNF a book I've already read and forgotten.  There's nothing offensively wrong with Lost Lake -- it's a quiet, probably lovely adult general fiction read. But I was quite bored from the moment that Eby and Kate's stories inevitably met. It feels formulaic and very similar to what Sarah Jio does in her brand of writing, and I didn't care enough to read past 200 pages.

Queen Elizabeth's Daughter by Anne Clinard Barnhill

From the author of At the Mercy of the Queen comes the gripping tale of Mary Shelton, Elizabeth I’s young cousin and ward, set against the glittering backdrop of the Elizabethan court.

Mistress Mary Shelton is Queen Elizabeth’s favorite ward, enjoying every privilege the position affords. The queen loves Mary like a daughter, and, like any good mother, she wants her to make a powerful match. The most likely prospect: Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. But while Oxford seems to be everything the queen admires: clever, polished and wealthy, Mary knows him to be lecherous, cruel, and full of treachery. No matter how hard the queen tries to push her into his arms, Mary refuses.

Instead, Mary falls in love with a man who is completely unsuitable. Sir John Skydemore is a minor knight with little money, a widower with five children. Worst of all, he’s a Catholic at a time when Catholic plots against Elizabeth are rampant. The queen forbids Mary to wed the man she loves. When the young woman, who is the queen’s own flesh and blood, defies her, the couple finds their very lives in danger as Elizabeth’s wrath knows no bounds.

I was admittedly far from fond of the author's debut historical novel when it came out a few years ago, but I thought to give her sophomore effort a try to see if there had been any improvement. It took only about seventy pages into Queen Elizabeth's Daughter before I could be totally sure that this author still stumbles when it comes to writing this genre. Her characterizations are broad, her dialogue clunky, and her plotting familiar and nothing special. This is a tedious read and fails to make use of its premise -- which has already been explored a myriad number of times. 

So that's it for me for unfinished reads of the last two months! I've been doing pretty good at DNFing books that just aren't working and I think bouncing between genres and age ranges keeps me from reading slumps. Other readers mileage will of course vary but I don't regret my DNFing ways at all. 

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Book Tour Review: The Dark Lady's Mask by Mary Sharratt

Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Title: The Dark Lady's Mask
Author: Mary Sharratt
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 416
Published: April 2016
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

Shakespeare in Love meets Shakespeare’s Sister in this novel of England’s first professional woman poet and her collaboration and love affair with William Shakespeare.

London, 1593. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and to gain freedoms only men enjoy, but a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything.

Aemilia grabs at the chance to pursue her long-held dream of writing and the two outsiders strike up a literary bargain. They leave plague-ridden London for Italy, where they begin secretly writing comedies together and where Will falls in love with the beautiful country — and with Aemilia, his Dark Lady. Their Italian idyll, though, cannot last and their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays back in London and years later publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women.

The Dark Lady’s Mask gives voice to a real Renaissance woman in every sense of the word.

The second historical fiction invention of Mary Sharratt's that I have read and The Dark Lady's Mask was the well-crafted, detailed, obviously researched, and creative novel I had anticipated. It's an evocative read that cleverly explores the known history of the historical figures and events shown combined with innovative and plausible storylines to connect the dots. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is often viewed through the lens of who or what role she played in William Shakespeare's life or plays, but The Dark Lady's Mask is concerned with far more than that one period and delves deeper into this remarkable woman's long and tumultuous life. Lanier was a woman who aimed high and accomplished much, but this proto-feminist faced her fair share of struggles along the way. 

No matter your thoughts on the true authorial mind behind Shakespeare's plays -- that he wrote them all alone, that he was an amalgam pen name for a group of writers, or that he had single collaborator, etc. etc.-- Mary Sharratt sells this version of the past with Aemilia as his equal partner, inspiration in writing, and as his lover. Together, as friends, lovers or enemies,  they have undeniable spark and chemistry; their banter is full of bon mots and quips that end up in his comedies and tragedies. Sharratt makes Aemilia breathe and feel like the obvious inspirations for not only the Dark Muse of Shakespeare's sonnets, but also for parts of Ophelia, and Emilia, and Desdemona. Their artistic collaboration brings out the best and the worst in both characters at times over its lifelong course, but it definitely makes for fascinating and believable reading through its many stages. 

In truth, though he looms large over her legacy, Will's influence is a small part of Aemilia's life or development as a person and as a writer. Far more than the men in her life, Aemilia was a woman who was impacted and helped by fellow women. These are the relationships that anchored her when abandoned by both of children's fathers or married to a drunken sot; these are the people that stayed true -- from Susan Bertie when she was a child to Olivia Bassano as young mother to the Weir sisters for decades, and to Margaret and Anne Clifford when she most needed a refuge. Aemilia was a woman who had success directly because of the effect of the other women in her life. She was an open-minded, free-willed, cross-dressing minor noblewoman who lived her own terms and fought for her own happiness and success... but she didn't do alone as the author is careful to show. These characters are rather lesser well-known but still compelling;  Sharratt makes them shine in their limited roles and appearances and in their impact on Aemilia's story.

Aemilia Bassano Lanier's life and times makes for good reading because it was an unpredictable and because it is well rendered and retold here. Her true self was one she always had to hide from someone in her life, be it one facet (religion, pregnancy, nationality, lovers, cross-dressing, and more!) or another. She had many highs in her seventy-five years - personal, professional, big and small - but Sharratt doesn't shy from showcasing the numerous woes that plagued her from a young age into adulthood. The research that went into creating The Dark Lady's Mask is evident; the details both large and small build atmosphere and interest. Mary Sharratt is a talented historical fiction writer with the ability to spin new life into known tales and history. The small liberties taken with timelines and names don't matter, especially because this story is hard to resist.

Review: Small Magics by Ilona Andrews

Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Title: Small Magics
Author: Ilona Andrews
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Kate Daniels #.5, 5.3, 5.6
Pages: 159
Published: September 17, 2015
Source: Borrowed - Library
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

***The stories in this anthology have been previously published***

Now collected for the first time, an irresistible compilation of five previously published stories by the bestselling author of the Kate Daniels series; including Kate’s very first meeting with Saiman, some related adventures, and two unforgettable ‘outside’ excursions.

In this ‘intro’ to the Kate Daniels world, we meet the extremely ‘shifty’ Saiman for the very first time, when Kate takes on the task of serving as his bodyguard to protect him from some very determined—and dangerous—Russian wizards.

RETRIBUTION CLAUSE – Saiman’s cousin, Adam—a frost giant and also an insurance adjuster—and his enigmatic partner, Siroun, set out on an impossible mission to enforce a client’s Retribution Clause; that is, to kill the person who killed her. But is their target even guilty? Magic and mayhem and a little personal chemistry will reveal the truth!

A young adult story about a girl, a pig, some magic, and the worst date ever.

Chad Thurman is a thug, who carries brass knuckles in both pockets and lays magic traps for intruders into "his" neighborhood. The last thing Alena Kornov wants to do is to go on the date with him. But when her family pressures her, she can't say no. Now the ice-cream is absent, the pig is running for its life, and we won't even mention the dead guy...

Grace has always known she wasn’t like everyone else and that her family has magic abilities. After flying to meet the head of Clan Dreoch in order to fulfill her families’ “duties” as servants, Grace finds herself in the middle of a mage clan war…

A short story in the Kate Daniels universe. Kate recruits her teenage ward, Julie, to search out a missing student whose location spell has her hidden somewhere on campus…

How's your public library?

Small Magics is a slim, 150 page ebook that gathers five short stories by husband and wife writing team, Ilona Andrews. It is not, strictly speaking, a collection of their Kate Daniel's series, though it is promoted that way. It sells for $2.99, which would not be unreasonable for the content, however, only Questionable Client, a prequel showing Kate and Saiman's first meeting, features Kate in any real way. QC is available for free on Ilona's website. The book does not feature the Jim/Dali or Andrea/Rafael novellas.

So I ask again, how's your library system?

QC was my least favorite of the stories. It's the second longest, but it can't be more than 30 pages. This leads to a rushed and overstuffed plot about the tree of life, a talking cat, and Saiman being pregnant with an acorn. Saiman's never a nice guy, but the way he interacts with the group he stole the acorn from is just mean. I don't understand why Kate would keep working with him, (and in fact she vows not to.) Kate gets to be badass and destroy a lot of skittering nightmares, but lacks a connection to anyone. I can see why Andrews has published it for free; I don't see anything worth paying for.

I liked the second story, Retribution Clause, a lot more. Saiman's cousin Adam is an insurance adjuster. Because of the magic, that job is a lot more hardcore than in our mundie world. He and his partner are sent out to enact the "retribution clause" in a dead woman's life insurance - they have 24 hours to kill her murderer. I want a spin-off. The romance between Adam the frost giant and his partner Siroun, some kind of fire spirit ninja badass, is everything. I loved the conversation with their boss, that the murderer had hired expensive guards, so don't kill more than 3 or it'll be cost prohibitive to the company. It felt like Kate's world but a totally new experience.

Of Swine and Roses and Grace of Small Magics are set in an entirely different series, the Hidden Legacy world. I don't feel like the book blurb or Ilona's website explains this well, as Kate and Curran are on the cover and Small Magics is filed in the Kate Daniels section of the site. I had no idea until I was halfway through GoSM that this wasn't just all happening during a magic wave. Hidden Legacy is a more standard fantasy. Magic always exists; there are three schools of magic: elemental, mental, and arcane; mages are ranked by power. Strong families of mages are clans, lesser families serve them.

OSaR is a pretty standard fairy tale. Alena's family has suffered some setbacks and she needs to marry into a strong clan for protection. She agrees to go out with Chad Thurman, muscleheaded prince of the community. The date is a disaster and ends with Chad and his cronies trying to kill a piglet. The pig isn't at all what he seems and in the end, Alena gets her HFN (happy for now). It skews much younger than any of Kate's stories and it's short, but it's also a fun trip. Now I'd like to see what Ilona does with a full fairy tale retelling.

GoSM also focuses on a clan, Clan Dreoch. They're one of the twelve main families and the magic rulers of...the world? The US? There's a distinct lack of world building. (The short was published in 2009, HL wasn't picked up as a full series until 2014, so don't give me that, "read the rest of the series" crap.) Grace is a servant of the clan due to a betrayal by her great great great great grandparents. She's recruited to play in the magic Hunger Games. The romance is sexy and I enjoyed the plot, but it's rushed and doesn't stand alone.

I've already reviewed Magic Tests in its original anthology. Short version, four stars because Julie is awesome. Confusing again as we've now switched back to the KD world. I just don't find the book well formatted or edited. The stories are good and well written, but the collection as a whole has flaws.

Review: The Year We Turned Forty by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

Sunday, April 24, 2016
Title: The Year We Turned Forty
Authors: Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
Genre: general fiction, magical realism
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Published: expected April 26 2016
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3.75/5

If you could repeat one year of your life, what would you do differently? This heartwarming and hilarious novel from the authors of The Status of All Things and Your Perfect Life features three best friends who get the chance to return to the year they turned forty—the year that altered all of their lives, in ways big and small—and also get the opportunity to change their future.

Jessie loves her son Lucas more than anything, but it tears her up inside that he was conceived in an affair that ended her marriage to a man she still loves, a man who just told her he's getting remarried. This time around, she’s determined to bury the secret of Lucas’ paternity, and to repair the fissures that sent her wandering the first time.

Gabriela regrets that she wasted her most fertile years in hot pursuit of a publishing career. Yes, she’s one of the biggest authors in the world, but maybe what she really wanted to create was a family. With a chance to do it again, she’s focused on convincing her husband, Colin, to give her the baby she desires.

Claire is the only one who has made peace with her past: her twenty-two year old daughter, Emily, is finally on track after the turmoil of adolescence, and she's recently gotten engaged, with the two carat diamond on her finger to prove it. But if she’s being honest, Claire still fantasizes about her own missed opportunities: a chance to bond with her mother before it was too late, and the possibility of preventing her daughter from years of anguish. Plus, there’s the man who got away—the man who may have been her one true love.

But it doesn’t take long for all three women to learn that re-living a life and making different decisions only leads to new problems and consequences—and that the mistakes they made may, in fact, have been the best choices of all…

I am beginning to think that writing duo Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke may be magical beings themselves. As a reader, I am three novels in and each successive read has been engaging and fresh, clever and original, heartfelt and humorous. These are a pair of authors that know how to tug on nearly every emotion and manage to do so many times over the course of this year-long story. Their vein of magical realism lends well to crafting three-dimensional characters and intriguing plotlines.  Here, in their third novel, The Year We Turned Forty, they take a premise that nearly everyone has imagined once or twice --- " What if I could fix my life?" -- and explores that possibility through three different women, with three unanticipated journeys and final results. 

Lisa and Liz know female friendship; they really get it because they share it. Happily for readers who like realistic and meaningful relationships, they take care to show the nuances and history that crop up when women know each other, for good or ill, for decades. Their main characters - Jessie, Gabi, Claire -- are very different from one another but their love and bond feels and reads authentically. Each is tested in varying ways over the course of The Year We Turned Forty, but all are different women from where they started when the story has concluded. I really liked how the authors developed the storylines for each woman; without veering into spoilers, I can safely say that they don't take the expected or easy path for any of their characters.

Though The Year We Turned Forty is a mix of contemporary fiction and magical realism/time travel, the authors don't delve too deeply into whatever supernatural element makes their story function. There's no real reason these three women were chosen or allowed, or any explanation for how, exactly, they go back 10 years in time -- it just happens and then the story follows the differences that pop up in the re-done timeline. The contrast between what has happened before and what will happen in the new timeline makes for interesting plot points; issues and secrets that had been taken for granted now come into play in major ways for more than just the three main characters. 

Love and friendship are the heart of this novel. It explores many themes - family, regret, redemption, marriage - but it succeeds because of how much you grow to care about Gabi's struggles with her dreams, or Claire's reluctance to put herself first, or Jessie's fear of honesty and loneliness. Lisa Steinke and Liz Fenton have created a story with wit and poignancy; one that doesn't offer up easy answers but makes its characters work for personal resolution and grow as individuals. The Year We Turned Forty feels a tad short at under 350 pages total, but it's an engaging and entertaining magical realism read.

Review: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Choksi

Saturday, April 23, 2016
Title: The Star-Touched Queen
Author: Roshani Choksi
Genre: fantasy
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Published: expected April 26 2016
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4.5/5

Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you're only seventeen?

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father's kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran's queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar's wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire...

But Akaran has its own secrets -- thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most. . .including herself.

A lush and vivid story that is steeped in Indian folklore and mythology. The Star-Touched Queen is a novel that no reader will soon forget.

Reading The Star-Touched Queen is a pleasure (one extended as long as possible), and it's even more of a remarkable one when you consider that it is this author's debut novel. This story just doesn't read like it's by someone new to the genre; Roshani Choksi already seems to know what she is doing and deftly uses her many available authorial talents to create a lush, atmospheric fantasy read. Choksi is the rare author who has that easy-seeming ability to craft whole worlds with a sentence and The Star-Touched Queen is a freshly imagined and gorgeously realized book.

Roshani can plot rather well and creatively (and does so), but it is her prose and her characters that really shine the brightest. There's a lot to love about this book and how the author cleverly plots and progresses the storyline, but I fell in love with the writing even before I was snared by the plot at the heart of The Star-Touched Queen. I'm a sucker for pretty prose and this felt like a more fantasy-ish version of The Night Circus written by Laini Taylor with Indian mythology and folklore. Several of the themes central to this book (sisterly bonds, doomed futures, heroic princesses who save themselves, mysterious love interests) make this a story I would also feel very comfortable recommending to fans of another favorite: Rosamund Hodge's mishmash of fantasy and fairytale Cruel Beauty.

Maya, the main character, is the beating heart of this book, and Roshani Choksi has crafted such a vibrant, realistic young woman to take up the storyline. Her feelings of isolation, her deep love for her sister and for her desert home, her anger, her drive for more in her life-- all these things and more make up an already-defined character who undergoes significant development over the course of the book. I wholeheartedly loved Maya and thought her narration was well-balanced; believable but also fantastically magical. Her character counterparts -- Gauri, Gupta, Dinah, Amar etc. -- aren't as well-realized as Maya herself, but Choksi takes care to make each into dimensional people with lives and motivations all their own.

The issues that I had with The Star-Touched Queen's execution are minimal in scope of the broader virtues, and also barely impact the overall enthusiastic feeling I have for the book and its characters. From the start of those three hundred fifty pages to quite nearly the end, it felt like the perfect (diverse!) fantasy read. However, I thought the ending itself was a tad rushed and used a bit of an easy resolution for all involved. I liked that Maya was proactive in the outcome and also cast in the hero role, but it seemed too simple for the buildup that directly preceded it. The book does a great job of ramping up the tension and the stakes, but the payoff fell just the slightest bit flat. It needed more of a struggle before the finality of the end to really satisfy. 

Roshani Choksi has offered up an impressive first novel and writes like a veteran. There are many reasons why readers should give this a try: the writing is lovely and finely-wrought, the plotting is creative and inventive, the inspiration(s) are noticeable but don't overwhelm the plotlines, and these characters are dynamic and engender emotion easily. The Star-Touched Queen is a great first impression and guarantees my continued, very pointed interest in whatever else this author writes next.

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