Books! Books All Around!

Sunday, June 30, 2013
It's been a while since I've shared my book buys and the ARCs I've received so this might take a while. There are more than I will mention in here, but these are the ones I am most excited to read.

Book Tour ARCs:


The Tudor Conspiracy by C.W. Gortner - The Spymaster Chronicles #2 - Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Winter 1554. Brendan Prescott, spymaster to the Princess Elizabeth, has discovered that he is connected to the Tudors by blood as well as allegiance. Though his secret is known only by a few, it could be his downfall as he is called to London to protect the princess. 
Accompanied by his young squire Peregrine, he reluctantly leaves his sweetheart Kate behind - but in the city he discovers that no one is quite what they seem. What fate does Queen Mary intend for her sister? Is Robert Dudley somehow manipulating the princess, even though he is locked in the Tower? And should Brendan trust the alluring Sybilla, Mary's lady-in-waiting, who professes to be on his side?

As he tries to unravel the mysteries of the Tudor court Brendan's life will be put in danger many times, and along the way he learns more about his own past.

I've read and enjoyed several other novels from Gortner, so I jumped on the chance to join this tour. I have the first waiting to be read before I get to this one later in July.

The Mirrored World by Debra Dean - TLC Book Tours


The bestselling author of The Madonnas of Leningrad returns with a breathtaking novel of love, madness, and devotion set against the extravagant royal court of eighteenth-century St. Petersburg.

Born to a Russian family of lower nobility, Xenia, an eccentric dreamer who cares little for social conventions, falls in love with Andrei, a charismatic soldier and singer in the Empress's Imperial choir. Though husband and wife adore each other, their happiness is overshadowed by the absurd demands of life at the royal court and by Xenia's growing obsession with having a child—a desperate need that is at last fulfilled with the birth of her daughter. But then a tragic vision comes true, and a shattered Xenia descends into grief, undergoing a profound transformation that alters the course of her life. Turning away from family and friends, she begins giving all her money and possessions to the poor. Then, one day, she mysteriously vanishes.

Years later, dressed in the tatters of her husband's military uniform and answering only to his name, Xenia is discovered tending the paupers of St. Petersburg's slums. Revered as a soothsayer and a blessed healer to the downtrodden, she is feared by the royal court and its new Empress, Catherine, who perceives her deeds as a rebuke to their lavish excesses. In this evocative and elegantly written tale, Dean reimagines the intriguing life of Xenia of St. Petersburg, a patron saint of her city and one of Russia's most mysterious and beloved holy figures. This is an exploration of the blessings of loyal friendship, the limits of reason, and the true costs of loving deeply.

I had an e-ARC of this earlier in the year that kept freezing. I never got a chance to start it, so I am stoked that it's making the round on a blog tour. Russian historical fiction is one of my favorites and some of my most trusted reviewers have loved this one.


The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo - TLC Book Tours


Seventeen-year-old Li Lan lives in 1890s Malaya with her quietly-ruined father, who returns one evening with a proposition - the fabulously wealthy Lim family want Li Lan to marry their son. The only problem is, he's dead. After a fateful visit to the Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also her desire for the Lims' handsome new heir. At night she is drawn into the Chinese afterlife - a world of ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, monstrous bureaucracy and vengeful spirits. Enlisting the help of mysterious Er Lang (a dragon turned clerk) Li Lan must uncover the secrets of the ghost world - before she becomes trapped there forever.

Drawing on traditional Malayan folklore and superstition, The Ghost Bride is a haunting, exotic and romantic read perfect for fans of Empress Orchid and Memoirs of a Geisha.

That. Cover. Plus the comparisons to Memoirs of a Geisha and I was sold on this. I'd had my eye on it for a while, and it's taking all my restraint not to dive in right now.


The Age of Ice by J.M. Sidorova - Simon and Schuster


The Empress Anna Ioannovna has issued her latest eccentric order: construct a palace out of ice blocks. Inside its walls her slaves build a wedding chamber, a canopy bed on a dais, heavy drapes cascading to the floor—all made of ice. Sealed inside are a disgraced nobleman and a deformed female jester. On the empress’s command—for her entertainment—these two are to be married, the relationship consummated inside this frozen prison. In the morning, guards enter to find them half-dead. Nine months later, two boys are born.

Surrounded by servants and animals, Prince Alexander Velitzyn and his twin brother, Andrei, have an idyllic childhood on the family’s large country estate. But as they approach manhood, stark differences coalesce. Andrei is daring and ambitious; Alexander is tentative and adrift. One frigid winter night on the road between St. Petersburg and Moscow, as he flees his army post, Alexander comes to a horrifying revelation: his body is immune to cold.

J. M. Sidorova’s boldly original and genrebending novel takes readers from the grisly fields of the Napoleonic Wars to the blazing heat of Afghanistan, from the outer reaches of Siberia to the cacophonous streets of nineteenth-century Paris. The adventures of its protagonist, Prince Alexander Velitzyn—on a lifelong quest for the truth behind his strange physiology—will span three continents and two centuries and bring him into contact with an incredible range of real historical figures, from Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, to the licentious Russian empress Elizaveta and Arctic explorer Joseph Billings.

This sounds intense. And creative. I'm actually working with S&S on this one, which is both intimidating and exciting. I have to say the mix of Russian historical fiction and fantasy sounds fantastic and I have really high hopes for this debut.

Gifted:


Loki's Wolves by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr (from Lyn at Great Imaginations) (The Blackwell Pages #1)


In Viking times, Norse myths predicted the end of the world, an event called Ragnarok, that only the gods can stop. When this apocalypse happens, the gods must battle the monsters--wolves the size of the sun, serpents that span the seabeds, all bent on destroying the world.

The gods died a long time ago.

Matt Thorsen knows every Norse myth, saga, and god as if it was family history--because it is family history. Most people in the modern-day town of Blackwell, South Dakota, in fact, are direct descendants of either Thor or Loki, including Matt's classmates Fen and Laurie Brekke.

However, knowing the legends and completely believing them are two different things. When the rune readers reveal that Ragnarok is coming and kids--led by Matt--will stand in for the gods in the final battle, he can hardly believe it. Matt, Laurie, and Fen's lives will never be the same as they race to put together an unstoppable team to prevent the end of the world.

YES! I am so excited for this. I didn't manage to get an ARC on my own, but the lovely and kind Lyn over at Great Imaginations was awesome enough to share the love. Middle grade + Norse mythology = pure win. I hope.



Solstice by P.J. Hoover (from Christina at Reader of Fictions)


Piper's world is dying.

Each day brings hotter temperatures and heat bubbles that threaten to destroy the earth. Amid this global heating crisis, Piper lives under the oppressive rule of her mother, who suffocates her even more than the weather does. Everything changes on her eighteenth birthday, when her mother is called away on a mysterious errand and Piper seizes her first opportunity for freedom.

Piper discovers a universe she never knew existed—a sphere of gods and monsters—and realizes that her world is not the only one in crisis. While gods battle for control of the Underworld, Piper’s life spirals out of control as she struggles to find the answer to the secret that has been kept from her since birth.

I hadn't heard a lot of this, but Christina was gracious enough to send me an extra copy she had around. I am cautiously optimistic about how I will like this, but won't get my hopes up too high.


Physical Book Buys:


A Great and Terrible Beauty/Rebel Angels/The Sweet Far Thing (Gemma Doyle 1-3) by Libba Bray


A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy--jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel. 


 Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother's death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls' academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order.

The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions "for a bit of fun" and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the "others" and rebuild the Order. A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy.

I started this series years ago and just kinda... stopped reading after book two. I found all three on sale at my favorite local bookstore and took it as a sign to get back in there and see what happens to Gemma, Ann, Felicity, Pippa and Kartik in the last book.


Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay

Saint-Sauveur Cathedral of Aix-en-Provence is an ancient structure of many secrets-a perfect monument to fill the lens of a celebrated photographer, and a perfect place for the photographer's son, Ned Marriner, to lose himself while his father works.

But the cathedral isn't the empty edifice it appears to be. Its history is very much alive in the present day-and it's calling out to Ned...

I've had an up and down history with this author, but after greatly enjoying the Under Heaven duology, I thought it time to read his most famous and read novel.



The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (rec'd by Gillian from Writer of Wrongs)


“ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

A book that had been on my radar for years, I'd never really considered reading Guernsey until the hilarious Gillian mentioned it as a recommendation for another blogger friend. Who am I to refuse good advice? 


Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce (Song of the Lioness #1) (at the urging of both Gillian and Gaby's #PierceFest)

"From now on I'm Alan of Trebond, the younger twin. I'll be a knight." And so young Alanna of Trebond begins the journey to knighthood. Though a girl, Alanna has always craved the adventure and daring allowed only for boys; her twin brother, Thom, yearns to learn the art of magic. So one day they decide to switch places: Disguised as a girl, Thom heads for the convent to learn magic; Alanna, pretending to be a boy, is on her way to the castle of King Roald to begin her training as a page.

But the road to knighthood is not an easy one. As Alanna masters the skills necessary for battle, she must also learn to control her heart and to discern her enemies from her allies.

Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna's first adventure begins -- one that will leard to the fulfillment of her dreams and the magical destiny that will make her a legend in her land.

Confession: I LOVE Tamora Pierce... but I have only read her Immortals series (Daine + Numair 4evah). After too many years and a lot of excellent posts from PierceFest, I broke down and got the first from her most famous series.   I am sure I will love it, but I am already sad there will be no Numair in this.

Empress by Shan Sa
A ravishing historical novel of one of China's most controversial historical figures: its first and only female emperor, Empress Wu, who emerged in the Tang Dynasty and ushered in a golden age.

In seventh–century China, during the great Tang dynasty, a young girl from the humble Wu clan entered the imperial gynaecium, which housed ten thousand concubines. Inside the Forbidden City, she witnessed seductions, plots, murders, and brazen acts of treason. Propelled by a shrewd intelligence, an extraordinary persistence, and a friendship with the imperial heir, she rose through the ranks to become the first Empress of China. On the one hand, she was a political mastermind who quelled insurrections, eased famine, and opened wide the routes of international trade. On the other, she was a passionate patron of the arts who brought Chinese civilization to unsurpassed heights of knowledge, beauty, and sophistication.

And yet, from the moment of her death to the present day, her name has been sullied, her story distorted, and her memoirs obliterated by men taking vengeance on a women who dared become Emperor. For the first time in thirteen centuries, Empress Wu flings open the gates of her Forbidden City and tells her own astonishing tale–revealing a fascinating, complex figure who in many ways remains modern to this day.

Along with Russian historical fiction, I love finding Chinese historical fiction. There is not enough readily available, and ones with a female as a protagonist even rarer still.  


Cold Magic/Cold Fire by Kate Elliott (due to Christina's awesome reviews)


It is the dawn of a new age... The Industrial Revolution has begun, factories are springing up across the country, and new technologies are transforming in the cities. But the old ways do not die easy.

“I was not a bard or a djeli or an historian or a scribe and I was certainly not a sage, but that didn't mean I wasn't curious…”

Young Cat Barahal thinks she understands the world she lives in and her place in it, but in fact she is merely poised, unaware, on the brink of shattering events. Drawn into a labyrinth of politics involving blood, betrayal and old feuds, she will be forced to make an unexpected and perilous journey in order to discover the truth, not just about her own family but about an ancient secret lying at the heart of her world.

Cat and her cousin Bee are part of this revolution. Young women at college, learning of the science that will shape their future and ignorant of the magics that rule their families. But all of that will change when the Cold Mages come for Cat. New dangers lurk around every corner and hidden threats menace her every move. If blood can't be trusted, who can you trust?

From one of the genre's finest writers comes a bold new epic fantasy in which science and magic are locked in a deadly struggle.

This series sounds like it is really trying to do something creative with the mix of history, fantasy and steampunk. I've been trying to get to this for a week, but Real Life keeps interfering. I think I will be addicted as soon as I have a chance to really sink into the story and Elliott's worldbuilding.


Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
In this striking literary debut, Carol Rifka Brunt unfolds a moving story of love, grief, and renewal as two lonely people become the unlikeliest of friends and find that sometimes you don’t know you’ve lost someone until you’ve found them.

1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.

An emotionally charged coming-of-age novel, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a tender story of love lost and found, an unforgettable portrait of the way compassion can make us whole again.

I've heard so much about this book. It tackles a few issues not really seen in mainstream lit, and that also intrigues me.


Tarnish by Katherine Longshore (Royal Circle #2)


Anne Boleyn is the odd girl out. Newly arrived to the court of King Henry VIII, everything about her seems wrong, from her clothes to her manners to her witty but sharp tongue. So when the dashing poet Thomas Wyatt offers to coach her on how to shine at court--and to convince the whole court they're lovers--she accepts. Before long, Anne's popularity has soared, and even the charismatic and irresistible king takes notice. More than popularity, Anne wants a voice--but she also wants love. 

What began as a game becomes high stakes as Anne finds herself forced to make an impossible choice between her heart's desire and the chance to make history.

FINALLY I have this book! I loved Gilt, and the wait has been awful. It's interesting that book two is chronologically before book one, but I am sure it will work.


Mistress of Rome/Daughters of Rome by Kate Quinn (Rome #1, #2)


An exciting debut: a vivid, richly imagined saga of ancient Rome from a masterful new voice in historical fiction

Thea is a slave girl from Judaea, passionate, musical, and guarded. Purchased as a toy for the spiteful heiress Lepida Pollia, Thea will become her mistress's rival for the love of Arius the Barbarian, Rome's newest and most savage gladiator. His love brings Thea the first happiness of her life-that is quickly ended when a jealous Lepida tears them apart.

As Lepida goes on to wreak havoc in the life of a new husband and his family, Thea remakes herself as a polished singer for Rome's aristocrats. Unwittingly, she attracts another admirer in the charismatic Emperor of Rome. But Domitian's games have a darker side, and Thea finds herself fighting for both soul and sanity. Many have tried to destroy the Emperor: a vengeful gladiator, an upright senator, a tormented soldier, a Vestal Virgin. But in the end, the life of the brilliant and paranoid Domitian lies in the hands of one woman: the Emperor's mistress.

I can't resist a good deal, and finding the first two in a long-anticipated series for less than $3 each definitely constitutes that. I've heard a lot of praise for Quinn's books and hope they live up to the hype.

e-Books:


The Colors of Cold by J.M. Sidorova (The Age of Ice #0.5)

In April 1814, just days after Napoleon’s defeat by the coalition of the European powers, Prince Alexander Velitzyn, the hero of The Age of Ice, is drifting around Paris, coming to grips with the brutality of the war and his role in it. Unbeknownst to him, Alexander strolls through the same passageways as another human being just like him.

Hidden behind costume and makeup, twenty-two-year-old Cherie performs a daily show in the Palais-Royal, a noble palace where shopkeepers and showgirls have set up all manner of risqué commerce—boutiques, gambling rooms, and pubs designed to satiate every desire of the senses. Cherie, though, is an unusual act. Her feat relies on physics, not trickery.

She is a young woman making do with the fate she’s been dealt—not just the terror of revolution, but her own, crippling coldness. Then, one evening, a wounded young soldier named Julien comes to her room, and what happens threatens to upend Cherie’s notion of the world and herself.

The Colors of Cold is a beautifully imagined glimpse into two lives trapped by frost—metaphorical and literal—set amid one of the most stirring moments in the history of Paris.

This is currently free for ebooks and since I have the first for review, I figured I might as well get this too.


Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter


The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks on over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio's back lot-searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.

What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion-along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow.

Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is a story of flawed yet fascinating people, navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.

Kara from Great Imaginations really liked it. It sounded intriguing. It was on sale for half off on Nook. That is enough to convince me.


Requiem by Lauren Oliver (Delirium #3)

They have tried to squeeze us out, to stamp us into the past.

But we are still here.

And there are more of us every day.

Now an active member of the resistance, Lena has been transformed. The nascent rebellion that was under way in Pandemonium has ignited into an all-out revolution in Requiem, and Lena is at the center of the fight.

After rescuing Julian from a death sentence, Lena and her friends fled to the Wilds. But the Wilds are no longer a safe haven—pockets of rebellion have opened throughout the country, and the government cannot deny the existence of Invalids. Regulators now infiltrate the borderlands to stamp out the rebels, and as Lena navigates the increasingly dangerous terrain, her best friend, Hana, lives a safe, loveless life in Portland as the fiancĂ©e of the young mayor.

Maybe we are driven crazy by our feelings.

Maybe love is a disease, and we would be better off without it.

But we have chosen a different road.

And in the end, that is the point of escaping the cure: We are free to choose.

We are even free to choose the wrong thing.

Requiem is told from both Lena’s and Hana’s points of view. The two girls live side by side in a world that divides them until, at last, their stories converge.

I already owned the first two on Nook, so finding the third on sale was a sign I needed to buy it and get on reading this series. It has had mixed reviews, but I am a big fan of Lauren Oliver.


First Grave on the Right/Second Grace on the Left by Darynda Jones (Charley Davidson #1, #2)



A smashing, award-winning debut novel that introduces Charley Davidson: part-time private investigator and full-time Grim Reaper.

Charley sees dead people. That’s right, she sees dead people. And it’s her job to convince them to “go into the light.” But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances (i.e. murder), sometimes they want Charley to bring the bad guys to justice. Complicating matters are the intensely hot dreams she’s been having about an Entity who has been following her all her life...and it turns out he might not be dead after all. In fact, he might be something else entirely.


These books sound like such fun and they are highly regarded amongst my friends. I've heard the later books lose some charm so when they were all on sale, I limited myself to the first two.



Shadow by Amanda Sun (Ink #0.5)

Meet two teens whose worlds are about to change forever in this paranormal Young Adult novella, a prequel to Ink by debut author Amanda Sun…

Katie Greene’s worst nightmare comes true when her mother dies, and she’s devastated to learn that she will have to leave the only home she’s ever known. Desperate to find where she belongs, she must decide if she has what it takes to start a new life across the ocean.

For Yuu Tomohiro, every day is a nightmare. He struggles to control his strange ability, and keeps everyone at a distance so they won’t get hurt—even his girlfriend, Myu. At night, a shadow haunts his dreams, and a mysterious woman torments him with omens of death and destruction. But these haunting premonitions are only the beginning…


Free novellas are always a bonus. Plus, Harlequin is killing it with Sun's covers. Ink was a bit of a mess, but I liked it overall. I enjoyed it more than enough to keep going with the series so I will read this one soon.


The Assassin and the Pirate Lord/The Assassin and the Desert/The Assassin and the Underworld/The Assassin and the Empire by Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass prequel novellas 1-4)


Celaena Sardothien is the assassin with everything: a place to call her own, the love of handsome Sam, and, best of all, freedom. Yet, she won’t be truly free until she is far away from her old master, Arobynn Hamel; Celaena must take one last daring assignment that will liberate her forever. But having it all, means you have a lot to lose . . . 

I liked the fourth novella the most, but really, all of these are quick, entertaining glimpses into the world and characters Maas has created. They are sadly not free, but at less than $2 each, it's worth the marginal price to get a better handle on Celaena.

DNF Review: The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaff

Title: The Flame in the Mist
Author: Kit Grindstaff
Genre: middle grade, fantasy
Series: N/A
Pages: 464 
Published: April 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2.5/5




 

Fiery-headed Jemma Agromond is not who she thinks she is, and when the secrets and lies behind her life at mist-shrouded Agromond Castle begin to unravel, she finds herself in a chilling race for her life. Ghosts and misfits, a stone and crystals, a mysterious book, an ancient prophecy—all these reveal the truth about Jemma's past and a destiny far greater and more dangerous than she could have imagined in her wildest fantasies. With her telepathic golden rats, Noodle and Pie, and her trusted friend, Digby, Jemma navigates increasingly dark forces, as helpers both seen and unseen, gather. But in the end, it is her own powers that she must bring to light, for only she has the key to defeating the evil ones and fulfilling the prophecy that will bring back the sun and restore peace in Anglavia.
I really, really wanted to love this novel. Middle grade fantasy can be really inventive and fun, but after several days and300 pages of struggle, I had to call it. A fantasy with a lighter tone, with The Flame in the Mist Grindstaff weaves themes of courage and endurance, but it never really resonated with me. Younger readers will probably find more to love with Jemma's story, but I needed more subtlety and originality  in order to click with this book.

I didn't read the last 150 pages, but I did skim it to see if I was missing a turn for the better. Grindstaff does take some risks and uses some darker elements as the story wraps up, but for me it was just too little to late. So much of the story at the heart of the novel is wrapped up in fantasy genre tropes. There's: a prophecy hundreds of years in the making, a "Chosen One" who doesn't know they are special, and the antagonists are one-dimensional for the majority of the novel.

Jemma isn't a bad protagonist - her humor and charm are obvious - but she is somewhat flat in the beginning. And also really really lucky. Several times she is in just the right spot to hear very detailed plans of the evildoers that directly pertain to her. It's very... convenient that a family which has kept a secret for 12 years would start discussing their nefarious aims in an area Jemma could very easily be. The plot hinges on some very ridiculous turns and reveals, all of which I found to be too obvious or just predictable.

There are a ton of four and five-star reviews out for this already, so my apathy is uncommon. It seems to be a "it's not you, it's me" situation. I wanted to like this, but there just wasn't anything that grabbed me. The writing is decent, if simple, but the target audience generally won't mind. The Flame in the Mist would be an excellent introduction to the fantasy genre, bur for readers already accustomed to it, it will make less of an impression.

Two Minute Review: The Assassin and the Empire by Sarah J. Maas

Saturday, June 29, 2013
Title: The Assassin and the Empire
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass #0.4
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Pages: 102
Published: July 2012
Source: purchased
Rating: 4/5

Celaena Sardothien is the assassin with everything: a place to call her own, the love of handsome Sam, and, best of all, freedom. Yet, she won’t be truly free until she is far away from her old master, Arobynn Hamel; Celaena must take one last daring assignment that will liberate her forever. But having it all, means you have a lot to lose . . . 


   

I have a hard time rating novellas - of any length - more than three stars. As fun, interesting or detailed they might be, I always find them to lack real depth, emotion or plot.

That said, The Assassin and the Empire, the last of the the four prequel novellas, deserves those full four stars. (Which is, amusingly, more than I gave Throne of Glass.)

I had read and moderately enjoyed the first full length Celaena Sardothien novel last year. I didn't love it - I wanted more assassinating, less love triangle; more strength and less indecision - but I was curious enough to keep my eye out for the sequel. When Gilly B said the prequels add to the experience of reading Crown of Midnight, I bought all four.

And I am glad I listened. These short stories, full of murder and betrayal, and exposition have helped me to like Celaena a lot more than I did at the close of Throne of Glass. I maybe even understand her better. I don't begrudge her her liking for fine things, or her arrogance, because now I can see there is more to the character than that. I can see where she has come from, what she has gone through, and what she has learned in order to become the person she is during the full-length novels.

The mystery angle is a bit obvious and predictable, and needs work. It's a consistent problem for Maas to write with subtlety, and it shows in all four novellas and especially in Throne of Glass. That said, these prequels, the last especially, show a marked improvement in Maas's writing ability, both in terms of plot and character. Celaena especially comes across more vibrantly, and the chance to see Sam as real character, rather than a memory, provided real depth and emotion to Celaena's grief for him.

I sped through all four ebooks in one day, and it was a great way to get pumped up and excited for Crown of Midnight.

There had just be copious amounts of Chaol. That's all I saying.

Team Chaol!


(Also, all four ebooks are under $2. A worthy investment for fans of the series.)

Review: The Boleyn King by Laura Andersen

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Title: The Boleyn King
Author: Laura Andersen
Genre: historical fiction, speculative fiction
Series: The Boleyn Trilogy
Pages: 358
Published: May 14, 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2.5/5
The Boleyn King is the first novel in an enthralling new trilogy. Reimagining history in sumptuous detail, Laura Anderssen takes readers back to the deadly intrigue, turbulent affairs, and treacherous passions of Tudor England - and answers the compelling question What if Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII the son he so desperately wanted?

Just seventeen years old, Henry IX, known as William, is a king bound by the restraints of the regency yet anxious to prove himself. With the French threatening battle and the Catholics sowing the seeds of rebellion at home, William trusts only three people: his older sister Elizabeth; his best friend and loyal counselor, Dominic; and Minuette, a young orphan raised as a royal ward by William's mother, Anne Boleyn.

Against a tide of secrets, betrayal, and murder, William finds himself fighting for the very soul of his kingdom. Then, when he and Dominic both fall in love with Minuette, romantic obsession looms over a new generation of Tudors. One among them will pay the price for a king's desire, as a shocking twist of fate changes England's fortunes forever.

Reviewed by Danielle

Wasted potential.

I’m sorry, I know reviewers should focus only on what’s in front of them, but I couldn’t read The Boleyn King without dwelling on the fact that it does not live up to its premise. The selling point of the book, the very title, is the rewriting of history to suppose that Anne Boleyn didn’t lose her head, but instead carried her son to term and changed the face of English history. Yet, here are some of my notes while reading:

So far it doesn't have teeth. Everything's basically the same, just with ‘William’ in place of Edward.
Really, we rewrote English history for a tepid murder mystery?
We're starting to experience some differences from real history, but I just can't get over how odd it is to focus on two fictional characters' romance instead. 

Tepid. That’s a great word for what’s in store here. The author either believes that little would change in history or she’s afraid to dig in, resulting in world where England has a boy king and a powerful reagent, Elizabeth loves Robert Dudley, the Catholics rally around Mary Tudor, Mary Queen of Scots is betrothed to the Dauphin of France...except now love interests William and Dominic Courtenay, (I believe a completely fictional character, because I can find no mention of him in other histories,) lead a skirmish in France. How shocking.

I will say the most effective revision is Anne Boleyn herself, though the dowager queen is in very little of the story. I did feel like she was the same woman from England’s actual history, just older and wiser. I didn’t feel the same about George, who’s been reduced to ‘mysterious schemer”. It makes his interaction with his sister, late in the book, seem awkward and out of character. The rest of the “real” characters fall somewhere in the middle.

However, if we take The Boleyn King not as an alternate history, but a mystery/romance between a group of four teenagers in a Tudor-style England-ish country, it becomes a perfectly fine historical fiction, though not without its own problems.

I found the romance to be an extremely standard love triangle between Minuette, the real main character, despite what the blurb would have you think, and William and Dominic. The “winner” of which is blatantly obvious from page 11 when the boys whip out their metaphorical dicks to see who gave her the best birthday gift, and it keeps right on being obvious for the next 300+ pages. More frustratingly, the resolution wasn’t satisfying and felt deceptive and gross on Minuette's part.

The overarching plot is the search for a document, The Penitent’s Confession, that states that William isn’t Henry’s son, but George’s, thus making him an incest-born bastard and Mary the rightful heir to the throne. This does jibe with real history and is a perfectly legitimate mystery for the Scooby gang to embark on. If only they hadn’t forgotten and ignored its existence for long stretches. Still, the mystery does have an interesting wrinkle in the end, but by that point I was so checked out, I have no interest in continuing the series to find out if it’s resolved.

Top Ten Tuesday #12: Top 10 Books Read So Far In 2013

Tuesday, June 25, 2013
In no particular order, because picking 15 10 was hard enough as it is. So far this year, I have read 172 books, as of this morning. Picking my faves, out of what has been a fairly amazing reading year was hard.





Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

If you want a book that can make you laugh (hello, Jeffrey!), make you cry (hello Jasper! Hello Laura!), or make you confused (hello, cricket!), or just make you think, this is your book.





Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

This is a beautiful book. The frame of a story-within-a-story has rarely worked so well for me. More than a story of Rapunzel, Bitter Greens examines life in historical France, in Venice, as well as in a convent. It's a meticulously paced and plotted read. (My review.)




Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre (Sirantha Jax #3)

Though I loved the first Sirantha Jax novel, and enjoued the second, book three is by far the best offering in Aguirre's science fiction series. This series boasts some of my favorite antiheroes (Jax, MAAAARCH) in all of fiction, Aguirre can write some excellent action scenes as well as developed character arcs.



A Darkness Strange and Lovely by Susan Dennard (Something Strange and Deadly #2)

This has a while until it is published so to be free of spoilers: THIS IS AWESOME. If you liked the first, I think you will love the second.




Finnikin of the Rock/Froi of the Exiles (as a two-for-one) by Melina Marchetta

I'm listing the first two in this fantasy series, but it's really Froi that knocked me off my socks. Marchetta shows that her talent isn't limited to YA contemporary with this series. These characters are complex, flawed, not always likeable, but always always interesting.




Born of Illusion by Teri Brown (Born of Illusion #1)

This book was so. much. fun. Twenties New York + magic + jazz + speakeasies = too awesome to detail. Teri Brown entertained my from the first page with this new first-in-series. Also? Cole? He is miiiine. (My review.)




Golden by Jessi Kirby

This book has been EVERYWHERE for a few months now. It's been talked about, raved over, and hyped up. And it still managed to impress me. I lovelovelove this book. It was my first Jessi Kirby but it is definitely not my last. Parker is a great heroine, and imagine this -- a YA book that features a real female friendship? Wonder of wonders.





Pivot Point by Kasie West (Pivot Point #1)

This book is clever, creative, and has more depth than you would think. I love when books do something new and original and Kasie West does exactly that. It's one of the few books that I am glad to see extended into a series.



Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith

This book is not for everyone. There are triggers and drug use and neglect and it can be dark. But it is also beautiful and beautifully written. A strong debut, Smith is a writer with an immense talent for capturing people at their best and their worst.





The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

I love Kate Morton. I've read all of her books, and none have let me down. The House at Riverton may not be my absolute favorite, but it is an atmospheric and enveloping story with multiple layers.



The Crown/The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau (another two-for-one)

This series. This freaking series has knocked every other historical fiction down a peg. Focusing on the English Reformation, an unlikely protagonist (an ex-nun!), Bilyeau's research is as obvious as her talent.


Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo (The Grisha #2)

ONE WORD: STURMHOND.

Okay, okay. Also: Darkling shenanigans and ploys. Higher stakes than book one. Alina's growth as a protagonist. The unexpected twists and turns. The emotional toll. The death toll.

Also: Sturmhond.



Dark Triumph by R. L. LaFevers (His Fair Assassin #2)

This is the year of amazing sequels. I loved Grave Mercy and Ismae (Duvaaaaal!), but Fevers topped herself with this second novel. Sybella is a strong and unique character, and her sheer bravery and bravado are impressive. Also, I love how non-typical Beast is for a love interest. More like this, please.



India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy by Carol K. Carr (India Black #3)

It's no secret I love this series. India is smart, cunning, cutthroat and funny. Paired with the indomintable French, this team dodges assassins, anarchists and streetwise madams to save Britain. This may be the best one yet. (My review.)





If I Stay/Where She Went by Gayle Forman

These two were my first reads of 2013. Six months later, I still think about them. They are heart wrenching, and beautiful. They wreck your emotions and then build you back up. Forman is so talented it's insane. For two books without much plot, they are utterly compelling.


Honorable mentions: Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block, How to Save A Life by Sara Zarr, Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead, Bronze Gods by A.A. Aguirre, A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge, and Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson.

Review: How To Date A Henchman by Mari Fee

Sunday, June 23, 2013
Title: How To Date a Henchman
Author: Mari Fee
Genre:  romance
Series: N/A
Pages: 76
Published: September 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

Gina Hall is a college dropout with big dreams. Working as the receptionist at EnClo Corp isn't one of them, but she needs the paycheck, and she amuses herself by speculating what the mysterious company actually does. She's even more intrigued when the owner arrives, bringing with him a very attractive man named Burke.

Burke's job is more deadly than dead-end: as head henchman for Gina's boss, aka supervillain Static, he makes sure his boss doesn't end up in jail—or worse. But Static's latest scheme is way more legitimate than either of them are used to. This time they have a real office—with a smart, sexy receptionist.

Unfortunately, Gina isn't the only one curious about EnClo Corp's business. When a superhero starts sniffing around, he proves to be less than heroic, and the lines between good and evil blur. Only Gina and Burke can foil his investigation...provided they can keep their hands off each other long enough to save the day.

Reviewed by Danielle


Novellas get an unfair rap for a lack of plot or character development. While it’s true that you won’t get as much depth as a 300 page novel, a 300 pager doesn’t have as much depth as a 13 book series. No one suggests that every book needs an epic string of sequels, so why should every novella be fleshed out into a full length novel? At just 26,000 words, How to Date a Henchman is kind of like a mini pie. It’s a self-contained bite of sweet romance topped with fluffy plot and sprinkled with genuinely funny lines. I also love it about as much a I love pie. Which is a lot.

Gina Hall is a sci-fi loving, martini-drinking, mom-exasperating receptionist at EnClo, who starts our story unbearably bored. She could do her filing, but instead she checks up on the doings of the superheroes in NYC. Canada has passed anti-vigilante laws, so the extraordinary never venture so far north, and she has to make due with stories about Glimmer and his arch enemy Static. That is, until the mysterious owner of the company, Mr. (ahem,) Sparks arrives with his...assistant, Burke. They’re here for a meeting with the scientists on B1, which Gina is required to escort them to due to an insanely convoluted security system.

Mr. Sparks takes off his shoes and scoots about the carpet in his socks, which is totally normal and not at all supervillain behavior. This is especially true when paired with the purpose of the meeting: brains. Nope, nothing weird over here. Gina returns to her desk in time for a courier to arrive for Mr. Sparks. This is fortuitous, as no one knows Mr. Sparks is there or that he owns EnClo. It’s like there’s a certain type of person who shows up whenever eccentric scientists start talking about brains...The courier takes off, the meeting finishes up, and Gina engages in some insta-lust flirting with Burke. From there, the plot follows a basic superhero arc, with some very notable exceptions.

I’m not going to reveal plot details, but everything is a little more grey than your average Superman movie. Plots are hatched, heroes are heroic, and something goes boom, but in between Static, Glimmer, and the extraordinaries in general are given a more realistic bend. In fact, Gina’s probably the least fleshed out character in the bunch, with no real backstory or ambition beyond, “get out of Saskatchewan”. She finds her footing by the end of the story, and while she may not be super, she’s savvy, smart, and willing to see past initial appearances. She also drives an extremely hard bargain.

Burke does suffer from being a somewhat stereotypical romance hero, always a bit stiff and chauvinistic. He’s also super, though not enough to warrant superhero status. Thus, henchmaning and the alpha-male hero tropes you would expect to go with it. Even as it annoyed me that he kept pushing Gina away and behind, I enjoyed his interactions with Static, his expositions on the world, and his grudge against Glimmer. Speaking of Static, he’s the real star of the show. His character was actually laugh out loud funny. In fact, large portions of dialog had to be read, read again, and then read out loud to my husband for their witty skewering of superhero tropes. The parking meters? Genuinely charming, funny stuff.

How to Date a Henchman probably won’t set the world on fire, and it may not be for romance fans who lean towards the more erotic side of the genre, but as a short, fun diversion, you could do a lot worse.
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