Two Minute Review: Risuko by David Kudler

Friday, June 24, 2016
Title: Risuko
Author: David Kudler
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Seasons of the Sword #1
Pages: 230
Published: June 2016
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 1.5/5

Can one girl win a war?

My name is Kano Murasaki, but most people call me Risuko. Squirrel.

I am from Serenity Province, though I was not born there.

My nation has been at war for a hundred years, Serenity is under attack, my family is in disgrace, but some people think that I can bring victory. That I can be a very special kind of woman.

All I want to do is climb.

My name is Kano Murasaki, but everyone calls me Squirrel.


Though Japan has been devastated by a century of civil war, Risuko just wants to climb trees. Growing up far from the battlefields and court intrigues, the fatherless girl finds herself pulled into a plot that may reunite Japan -- or may destroy it. She is torn from her home and what is left of her family, but finds new friends at a school that may not be what it seems.

Magical but historical, Risuko follows her along the first dangerous steps to discovering who she truly is.

Kano Murasaki, called Risuko (Squirrel) is a young, fatherless girl, more comfortable climbing trees than down on the ground. Yet she finds herself enmeshed in a game where the board is the whole nation of Japan, where the pieces are armies, moved by scheming lords, and a single girl couldn't possibly have the power to change the outcome. Or could she?

Risuko is a book with a great summary and a fantastic cover going for it. Sadly, that's about all the good news I have to offer about it. Though it's a short 230 pages from start to finish, and though it begins rather well, Risuko soon loses momentum, drags along, and makes for dull reading. I was drawn to this story because it sounds like a fantastical mix of history and magic set in a land rich with both, but instead I found a slow drudge through the rote recitation of minutiae in an everyday life. 

The life of a female ninja would be so much fun to read about, and Kudler shows hints of that here and there with his versions of the secretive Mochizuki. But instead of expanding that, Risuko chooses instead to focus on mundane aspects of Squirrel's life once she reaches a certain location and just spends far too long doing so. Before the extended, expected training sequence, Risuko has a lot of promise and teases a lot of exciting events and ideas to keep the story rolling. The book does move on from this necessary but way overdone step in developing its eponymous heroine, but not before it permanently ruins any kind of momentum the plot had going for it.   

This book feels stiff and feel very generic, and that especially shows in the atmosphere and locations mentioned or visited (like "the Retreat.") by the characters. There's not enough depth and time spent showing the world and culture that Risuko lives in; it feels empty and carries no weight. I have a hard time investing in Risuko when the main character is so broadly-drawn and so is the worldbuilding. The interesting ideas that inspired Kudler's story like the historical kunoichi had promise, but the execution of this series debut was not evenly handled. It's a slow read and one that left me uninterested in pursuing the sequel.

Book Tour Review: The Sun in Your Eyes by Deborah Shapiro

Thursday, June 23, 2016
Title: The Sun in Your Eyes
Author: Deborah Shapiro
Genre: general fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 288
Published: expected June 28 2016
Source: TLC Book Tour for review
Rating: 3/5

A witty and winning new voice comes alive in this infectious road trip adventure with a rock-and-roll twist.  Shapiro’s debut blends the emotional nuance of Elena Ferrante with the potent nostalgia of High Fidelity, in a story of two women—one rich and alluring, the other just another planet in her dazzling orbit—and their fervid and troubled friendship.

From the distance of a few yards, there might be nothing distinctive about Lee Parrish, nothing you could put your finger on, and yet, if she were to walk into a room, you would notice her. And if you were with her, I’d always thought, you could walk into any room.

For quiet, cautious and restless college freshman Vivian Feld real life begins the day she moves in with the enigmatic Lee Parrish—daughter of died-too-young troubadour Jesse Parrish and model-turned-fashion designer Linda West—and her audiophile roommate Andy Elliott.

When a one-night stand fractures Lee and Andy’s intimate rapport, Lee turns to Viv, inviting her into her glamorous fly-by-night world: an intoxicating mix of Hollywood directors, ambitious artists, and first-class everything. It is the beginning of a friendship that will inexorably shape both women as they embark on the rocky road to adulthood.

More than a decade later, Viv is married to Andy and hasn’t heard from Lee in three years. Suddenly, Lee reappears, begging for a favor: she wants Viv to help her find the lost album Jesse was recording before his death.  Holding on to a life-altering secret and ambivalent about her path, Viv allows herself to be pulled into Lee’s world once again.  But the chance to rekindle the magic and mystery of their youth might come with a painful lesson: While the sun dazzles us with its warmth and brilliance, it may also blind us from seeing what we really need.

What begins as a familiar story of two girls falling under each other’s spell evolves into an evocative, and at times irrepressibly funny, study of female friendship in all its glorious intensity and heartbreaking complexity.

This was a twisty and complicated tale of college-age and then adult female friendship, told smartly over different points of time from 1996 to 2016, using various voices involved with both the main characters of Viv and Lee. The Sun in Your Eyes is a shorter novel, coming in at just under three hundred pages total, but Deborah Shapiro is a clever writer. Her approach to writing toxic friendships and tangled histories makes for an engaging and interesting afternoon's read. 

As I said, Shapiro is clever and that extends to how she frames and uses her narrative over the course of the book. She jumps around in time, changes POVs and then rewrites the known history with a new eye. It makes reading The Sun in Your Eyes an unpredictable and inventive experience; you never know where the story is going, or how it will change from paragraph to paragraph or person to person

Ostensibly the story is set around Lee finding her dead famous father's missing recordings, but, to be frank, that's the MacGuffin. That's just the push needed to get Lee and Viv reunited after a mysterious break. Because The Sun in Your Eyes is wholeheartedly the complicated story of Viv-and-Lee's friendship and dynamic, but also the story of Viv and Andy, and of Lee and Andy. It's a tangled mess of love and friendship and anger, but it's one that is handled deftly and explored creatively.

Lee's voice is immediately distinguishable from Viv, but that's not the only difference in the two women's presentation and how the express themselves. Lee is reminiscent of the title; she's the sun in your eyes -- bright but blinding if you focus only on it. Viv never really seems to see all of her friend's sides, doesn't really look right at her. Lee remains an elusive and remote element, even when the story is from her perspective. Both women are introspective and spend a lot of time contemplating various stages in life and how it relates to current relationships, but the story is at its best when the two are together. Their banter and interplay is that of two people who know each other intimately, for good or ill.

The Sun in Your Eyes reminded me somewhat of Robin Wasserman's recent Girls on Fire, but perhaps a more nuanced and introspective version. Complicated and clever, this slowly-unfurling story makes for an impressive introduction to Deborah Shapiro. Her writing is smart and original, creative and unique.

Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Title: And I Darken
Author: Kiersten White
Genre: historical fiction
Series: The Conqueror's Saga #1
Pages: 496
Published: expected June 28 2016
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating:  4.25/5

No one expects a princess to be brutal.

And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken.

This was gooood. Dense with detail, rife with intrigue, and peopled by morally ambiguous, developed characters -- I can easily see why the comparisons to Game of Thrones are being used for And I Darken's publicity push. If you're a reader drawn to stories like Game of Thrones for its complex politics, deliberate social maneuvering, and outright plotting, And I Darken is going to be a great fit for that type of reader. However, it's also very much more in the vein of historical fiction than fantasy, so if you're looking for magic systems and/or any other Dragon besides the leader of Wallachia, you won't find them in these almost five hundred pages.

Veteran author Kiersten White has carefully reimagined the story of the infamous Vlad the Impaler here, but with her own fresh spin on his life. In her alternate version of history, Vlad is now Lada, but has lost none of his famous menace, bloodthirst, or drive for power as a woman. Lada is not a typical heroine for YA but she is well-rendered, complexly-drawn, and very memorable . Lada Dragwyla lives her life as a competition, and often a deadly one; her need to not only succeed but be the best is a key motivator from early in the narrative. She's angry and violent, selfish and power-hungry; a whirlwind of sharp words and sharper knives. But White is smart, and takes care to make Lada more than her darker impulses. She isn't likeable and she doesn't even care to be, but she is strong, dynamic, and proactive in her own future.  

Lada's life was uncertain and unsafe from the moment of her birth. First, she was a girl-child at the mercy of a  tyrant father with an un-involved mother who fled when both her children were young, and then, she is subject to the unlikely mercies of the Ottoman Empire, especially the sultan Murad and his son Mehmed. As Lada's life entwines with the culture, religion, and influence of her enemy over her long years as a political hostage, her life and general world-view becomes less absolute in nature, less black-and-white. Her unusual circumstances and tattered loyalties -- a daughter of an enemy and traitor of the Turks but freer among them than she ever would have been at home in Wallachia, kept from her ancestral rights but allowed the rarity of an education, etc. etc. -- make the choices Lada must make even more difficult but meaningful by the end of And I Darken.

The surrounding people of Lada's life in And I Darken are a mostly well-drawn lot and make for a well-rounded, (generally) historically accurate, and happily diverse cast of characters. The complicated intersecting relationships between nearly all of the characters in this book are deftly woven. Mehmed the heir of the empire and destined conqueror of Constantinople, and Radu, Lada's brother, are her closest companions and the most developed characters after her. The interplay between Lada and Radu is complex and ever-evolving over the course of the book, but that inconstant feel is authentic given Lada's sullen, withdrawn nature and Radu's more sunny disposition and need for love. Both of them, plus Mehmed, bring something unexpected to the table and to the overall chemistry of the group. The tangled loyalties amongst the three of them make for strong, related secondary plots without needing the story itself to become over-dramatic or feel saccharine. It's a finely-tuned dance, but White plays it well.

And I Darken is brutal, dark, and original; it's a great example of how to write an alternate version of history. It's layered and dense story,  but that makes for a rewarding read. This is the first in a new series so I wasn't exactly surprised that novel cut off the narrative when it chose, but it did rob the ending of any kind of real resolution. It's a stopgap ending, one writtten with the clear intention to lead readers right into the next novel but it makes And I Darken's ending feel rather abrupt. That ending, combined with a slight pacing issue around in the middle of the novel, are the only reasons I had that kept this from a full five-star rating. An excellent series debut, I cannot wait to see how White envisions the next, sure to be bloody, stage in Lada's life.

Top Ten 2016 Releases

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday is all thanks to Broke and the Bookish!

This week is all about favorite 2016 releases. I've read just about 150 books and probably 90 of them are 2016 releases. Of those, I have had some notable dislikes but some excellent reads too...

1. The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Stavely (Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne #3)
The climactic third and final novel in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne
The trilogy that began with The Emperor's Blades and continued in The Providence of Fire reaches its epic conclusion, as war engulfs the Annurian Empire.

The ancient csestriim are back to finish their purge of humanity; armies march against the capital; leaches, solitary beings who draw power from the natural world to fuel their extraordinary abilities, maneuver on all sides to affect the outcome of the war; and capricious gods walk the earth in human guise with agendas of their own.

But the three imperial siblings at the heart of it all--Valyn, Adare, and Kaden--come to understand that even if they survive the holocaust unleashed on their world, there may be no reconciling their conflicting visions of the future.

2. Saint's Blood by Sebastien de Castel (Greatcoats #3)

How do you kill a Saint?
Falcio, Kest, and Brasti are about to find out, because someone has figured out a way to do it and they've started with a friend.
The Dukes were already looking for ways out of their agreement to put Aline on the throne, but with the Saints turning up dead, rumours are spreading that the Gods themselves oppose her ascension. Now churches are looking to protect themselves by bringing back the military orders of religious soldiers, assassins, and (especially) Inquisitors - a move that could turn the country into a theocracy. The only way Falcio can put a stop to it is by finding the murderer. He has only one clue: a terrifying iron mask which makes the Saints vulnerable by driving them mad. But even if he can find the killer, he'll still have to face him in battle.
And that may be a duel that no swordsman, no matter how skilled, can hope to win.

3. A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab (Shades of Magic #2)

It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell's possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland's dying body through the rift – back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games – an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries – a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

4. The Spider's War by Daniel Abraham (The Dagger and Coin #4)
 The epic conclusion to The Dagger and The Coin series, perfect for fans of George R.R. Martin.

Lord Regent Geder Palliako's great war has spilled across the world, nation after nation falling before the ancient priesthood and weapon of dragons. But even as conquest follows conquest, the final victory retreats before him like a mirage. Schism and revolt begin to erode the foundations of the empire, and the great conquest threatens to collapse into a permanent war of all against all.

In Carse, with armies on all borders, Cithrin bel Sarcour, Marcus Wester, and Clara Kalliam are faced with the impossible task of bringing a lasting peace to the world. Their tools: traitors high in the imperial army, the last survivor of the dragon empire, and a financial scheme that is either a revolution or the greatest fraud in the history of the world.
5. One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

From the author of Maybe in Another Life—named a People Magazine pick and a "Best Book of the Summer" by Glamour and USA TODAY—comes a breathtaking new love story about a woman unexpectedly forced to choose between the husband she has long thought dead and the fiancĂ© who has finally brought her back to life.

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.
6. The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Choksi

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.
7. Behold the Bones by Natalie C. Parker (Beware the Wild #2)
Candace “Candy” Pickens has been obsessed with the swamp lore of her tiny Louisiana town for…forever.

That doesn’t mean Candy’s a believer, however. She and her friends entered the swamp at the start of summer and left it changed, but Candy’s the only one who can’t see or feel the magical Shine. She’s also the only one who can’t see the ghosts that have been appearing in town ever since. So Candy concentrates on other things—real things. Like fighting with her mother and plotting her escape from her crazy town.

But ghosts aren’t the only newcomers in Sticks, Louisiana. The King family arrives like a hurricane: in a blur and unwanted—at least by Candy. Mr. King is intent on filming the rumored ghostly activity for his hit TV show, Local Haunts. And while Candy can’t ignore how attracted she is to eighteen-year-old Gage King and how much his sister, Nova, wants to be friends, she’s still suspicious of the family.

As Candy tries to figure out why the Kings are really in town and why the swamp now seems to be invading every crack in her logical, cynical mind, she stumbles across the one piece of swamp lore she didn’t know. It’s a tale that’s more truth than myth, and may have all the answers…and its roots are in Candy’s own family tree.
8. The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie (Mistress of Versailles #2)

 And you thought sisters were a thing to fear. In this compelling follow-up to Sally Christie's clever and absorbing debut, we meet none other than the Marquise de Pompadour, one of the greatest beauties of her generation and the first bourgeois mistress ever to grace the hallowed halls of Versailles.

I write this before her blood is even cold. She is dead, suddenly, from a high fever. The King is inconsolable, but the way is now clear.

The way is now clear.

The year is 1745. Marie-Anne, the youngest of the infamous Nesle sisters and King Louis XV's most beloved mistress, is gone, making room for the next Royal Favorite.

Enter Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a stunningly beautiful girl from the middle classes. Fifteen years prior, a fortune teller had mapped out young Jeanne's destiny: she would become the lover of a king and the most powerful woman in the land. Eventually connections, luck, and a little scheming pave her way to Versailles and into the King's arms.

All too soon, conniving politicians and hopeful beauties seek to replace the bourgeois interloper with a more suitable mistress. As Jeanne, now the Marquise de Pompadour, takes on her many rivals - including a lustful lady-in-waiting; a precocious fourteen-year-old prostitute, and even a cousin of the notorious Nesle sisters - she helps the king give himself over to a life of luxury and depravity. Around them, war rages, discontent grows, and France inches ever closer to the Revolution.

Enigmatic beauty, social climber, actress, trendsetter, patron of the arts, spendthrift, whoremonger, friend, lover, foe. History books may say many things about the famous Marquise de Pompadour, but one thing is clear: for almost twenty years, she ruled France and the King's heart.

Told in Christie's witty and modern style, this second book in the Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the world
f eighteenth century Versailles in all its pride, pestilence and glory.
9. And I Darken by Kiersten White (The Conqueror's Saga #1)
 No one expects a princess to be brutal.

And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.
10. By Helen's Hand by Amalia Carosella (Helen of Sparta #2)
 With divine beauty comes dangerous power.

Helen believed she could escape her destiny and save her people from utter destruction. After defying her family and betraying her intended husband, she found peace with her beloved Theseus, the king of Athens and son of Poseidon.

But peace did not last long. Cruelly separated from Theseus by the gods, and uncertain whether he will live or die, Helen is forced to return to Sparta. In order to avoid marriage to Menelaus, a powerful prince unhinged by desire, Helen assembles an array of suitors to compete for her hand. As the men circle like vultures, Helen dreams again of war—and of a strange prince, meant to steal her away. Every step she takes to protect herself and her people seems to bring destruction nearer. Without Theseus’s strength to support her, can Helen thwart the gods and stop her nightmare from coming to pass?
So there it is -- my favorite 2016 release so far!

Two Minute Review: Change Places With Me by Lois Metzger

Sunday, June 19, 2016
Title: Change Places With Me
Author: Lois Metzger
Genre: science fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 224
Published: June 14 2016
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3.5/5

Rose has changed. She still lives in the same neighborhood with her stepmother and goes to the same high school with the same group of kids, but when she woke up today, something was just a little different than it was before. The dogs who live upstairs are no longer a terror. Her hair and her clothes all feel brand-new. She wants to throw a party—this from a girl who hardly ever spoke to her classmates before. There is no more sadness in her life; she is bursting with happiness.

But something still feels wrong to Rose. Because, until very recently, Rose was an entirely different person—a person who is still there inside her, just beneath the thinnest layer of skin.

This is such a short, unsettling science fiction novel. In 225 pages it manages to create an effectively quiet and thought-provoking story around a young girl named Rose. There are some small instances where the novel calls Snow White to mind, but this is definitely no fairy tale. There's something wrong with Rose and the audience's slow realization of that mirrors that of the the character's. It's a subtly creepy read and one that really should be discussed in broad, generic terms to avoid spoiling the effect. 

Fans of books like Jenna Fox and Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go will appreciate Lois Metzger's approach to ya science fiction here. There's not a lot of time spent explaining how things are possible thanks to the available science, because Change Places With Me chooses instead to focus on the human aspect. Rose is what carries this novel and she is a well-rendered and defined main character. She's sympathetic but still just... off in both mannerisms and habits. Even the way the author wrote the novel factors into Rose's remote if likeable thanks to a third-person POV; it's an effective and distinct narration. 

Both character-driven and well-paced, Change Places With Me is a clever and introspective science fiction story. Though I enjoyed this, I've kept my review intentionally vague because this is a novel that is best when experienced going in without spoilers or hints. Memorable and unique, this is a novel I will remember and recommend.

Series Review: The Tales Trilogy by G.R. Mannering

Friday, June 17, 2016

Author: G.R. Mannering
Genre: fantasy, retellings
Series: The Tales Trilogy #1 and #2
Roses: 328
Feathers: 288
Published: June 7 2016
Source: publishers via edelweiss

She bears no name. Her silvery appearance is freakish to the numerous inhabitants of Sago, the cosmopolitan capital of Pevorocco in the Western Realm. With her mother vanishing at the instance of her birth, she is sent to live with the cruel, rich Ma Dane, where she is punished daily for something, though she knows not what. Tauntingly named Beauty, she flees Sago in a violent uprising that sets out to massacre all Magics and journeys to the farthest point of the country.

But Beauty cannot hide in the grassy Hillands forever. Before long, the State officials find her and threaten to take her back to war-torn Sago where death surely awaits. In a midnight blizzard she escapes them, running into a deep, enchanted forest to a great and terrible beast who will bargain for her life.

But can Beauty accept Beast? Eternity is a long time. Now for the first time in paperback, Roses is sure to capture your heart as you fall in love with Beauty and her Beast all over again.

For readers 12+, this is a very imaginative, fantasy retelling of a classic fairy tale, which is still popular to the YA genre. With lessons about bullying others and falling in love, this is not only a light, fun read but also engages kids to think about their relationship to others in the real world.

There seem to be more and more fairy tale retellings appearing lately and G.R. Mannering's new fantasy series is set on retelling several old favorite tales, to small and varying degrees of success. The first book, Roses, is a new take on Beauty and the Beast story and it's not exactly a perfect first outing. Despite misgivings about the style of the novels and the writing itself, I was willing to take a chance on the second novel's attempt at retelling Swan Lake, but there found even less to enjoy. Each novel was a lackluster effort at originality and feel plodding  instead of fresh and new.

There were kernels of originality to be found in each book; enough to keep me reading instead of DNFing, at least. I especially liked that the Swan Lake retelling of book two, Feathers, genderbent the roles and got somewhat creative in general. Feathers overall did better at executing new ideas and including new inspirations to the story, but faltered more when it came to the technical aspects of the novel itself. Both books suffer from slow and confusing beginnings and rushed endings that provide little resolution for readers or characters.

The worldbuilding in the series is slim, even after it should, supposedly, have been expanded over the two novels into something substantial. It's so slight as to be nonexistent or otherwise just egregiously generic fantasy. Even for the younger readers this series may be aimed at, "Westernlands" and "Hillands" and "Magical Cleansing" are such broad, ill-defined elements for a fantasy novel. There's no feel of culture, history, or atmosphere to be found. It's an empty story operating in an echo chamber. There's no depth to this world, so there's even less reason to invest in Ode or Beauty's stories.

There are some tired and problematic tropes to be found in these two novels (the less said about Ode and Briar's "relationship" the better...), and each proceed pretty much as expected. There's less invention and more time spent on corny dialogue than desired. The reliance on staid tropes and uninspired stereotypes severely hampers the execution and leaves the Tales Trilogy a half-hearted effort. Even though the second novel ends on a cliffhanger, I can say I won't be tuning in for the third outing in this fairytale retelling series.

Disney Princess Book Tag

Thursday, June 16, 2016
The Disney Princess Tag was originally created by Soudha of Stacks and Cups.

So, we weren't actually tagged for this so much that Dani saw it and we decided it looked like way too much fun to not do.

Dani's Disney Princess Facts:

1. My martial arts school did a series on fighting fans after a bunch of us saw the Mulan scene with Shan-yu and the sword.
2. Belle was my favorite, but I dressed as Cinderella for three Halloweens in a row?
3. I have four of Shoomlah's Historical Disney Princesses hanging in my bedroom.

Jessie's Disney Princess Facts:

1. I can't pick one favorite princess but have a top three: Rapunzel, Mulan, and Belle.
2. I have had a Belle, a Pocahontas, and a Mulan-themed birthday party.
3. Christian Bale voices Thomas in Pocahontas and more people need to know this.

Jessie: Well, I went through a pretty pretentious stage in my mid to late teens. I read a lot of classics and grew out of that phase in my early 20s. So my favorites tend to be stuffy old men like Homer (The Iliad more than The Odyssey).

Dani: The Importance of Being Earnest. I love a drawing room farce. I actually kind of hate classics, but I'll always make an exception for Wilde.

Dani: A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James, which is actually a Cinderella retelling! I literally finished as the sun popped over the treetops and an hour before my husband had to leave for work. Oops.

Jessie: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly! With that one, I was up until three am on a night when I worked at seven the next day. I could not put that book down and I did not want to. And in fact when I was tempted, there was this from earlier in the book as proof that I was meant to stay up...

Jessie: I'm hard pressed to think of one other than Pride and Prejudice. <3 I don't love all of Austen's novels, but P&P was my first exposure to her and it was a lasting impression.

Dani: idon'thaveone

Look, a dancing bear!

Dani: The Newsflesh series. Without too many spoilers for later books, the sacrifices George and Shawn make in pursuit of the news and adventure respectively are...extreme and Blackout especially focuses on achieving that goal of truth.

Jessie: I thought that Alina from Bardugo's first Grisha series  was a great and imperfect character who underwent a lot of strife and struggle for her people. She never wanted to be a saint, or to be a leader, but she was and she did, even at great personal cost.

Dani: Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. Vin, the real main character of the book, grows from this scared waif doing what it takes to survive to a lead member of a team and resistance fighter. She has help and friends and mentors, but when the chips are down, who jumps through that window? Vin.

Jessie: Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor. I love Karou something fierce. I love that she's realistic and authentic and flawed and smart. She loves Akiva (I love Akiva), but that's not something that defines her or her story.

Jessie: Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed! This book is so very good and touched on a lot of important things in a short amount of time.

Dani: Serena Barton from The Governess Affair. She's a governess for a duke - poor, untitled, and without protection. So when her employer takes advantage, Serena's decision to plant her increasingly pregnant ass on the pavement outside his mansion would be challenging in modern days, never mind Victorian England.

Jessie: I'm gonna have to go with Illuminae and Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman and be as vague as possible. Even after all that had happened, all that inventiveness in both books... I didn't see how they would wrap each up.

Dani: Lady Thief by A.C. Gaughen. The first book in the Scarlet series had a very exciting ending, but the sequel left me with whiplash. We're up. We're down. People are dead. People are married. V. rude.

Dani: Sirantha Jax in Grimspace by Anne Aguirre. Literally. She's going to kick your ass.

Jessie: The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley. This is a fantasy inspired by Tang-era Japan but also invents a species of giant birds used by ninjas for stealth missions. There are a lot of disparately kickass women in this series but there are two that need to be specifically mentioned: Gwenna and Pyrre.

Jessie: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. I feel like this is the perfect fit for Tiana -- not only does Josie work hard for her goals and to be successful, she does so in Louisiana.

Dani: Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment is all about girls working hard and finding their own success in male dominated fields. Polly is of course the first and most obvious example, but all of the soldiers become the kind of self-made women Tiana would approve of. 

Dani: Cam Girl by Leah Raeder. Vada's art is a huge part of her character and the loss of it is the driving force for a lot of the rest of the novel.

Jessie: Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley. There are two different kinds of artists in this lovely little book, but Shadow's is by far my favorite.

Jessie: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. All of Morton's novels like to delve into nuanced the relationships between kids and their parents but The Secret Keeper is perhaps the one most concerned with it.

Dani: Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu. Note the prompt does not say good relationship. Rachel's struggle with her mother's depression and her role in keeping Rachel indoctrinated in the cult is heavy and tragic and reminds us that not all mothers are doing their best to keep us safe.
Dani: The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine. Oh my god. This childhood favorite reminds me so much of my sister, Michelle, who's a total Meryl. I am literally incapable of reading the last 30 pages without crying.
Me. Right now. Thinking about that scene.

Jessie: Chime by Franny Billingsley. The relationship between the two sisters of Rose and Briony is complicated, full of depth, and what propels the plot of the novel.

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