Review: Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

Saturday, June 28, 2014
Title: Sinner
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: young adult, supernatural
Series: Wolves of Mercy Falls #4
Pages: 368
Published: expected July 1 2014
Source: I was given this ARC at Book Expo America in exchange for a fair review. This in no way affects my rating or thoughts.
Rating: 5/5

A standalone companion book to the internationally bestselling Shiver Trilogy.

Sinner follows Cole St. Clair, a pivotal character from the bestselling Shiver Trilogy. Everybody thinks they know Cole's story. Stardom. Addiction. Downfall. Disappearance. But only a few people know Cole's darkest secret -- his ability to shift into a wolf. One of these people is Isabel. At one point, they may have even loved each other. But that feels like a lifetime ago. Now Cole is back. Back in the spotlight. Back in the danger zone. Back in Isabel's life. Can this sinner be saved?

I mainlined the entire Mercy Falls series over five days. It was a great experience for me as a reader, and as someone who loves the chance to bask in pretty, unique prose. The first book, Shiver, was definitely the weakest of the lot for me, but author and wordsmith Maggie Stiefvater grows noticeably in her writing skills and storytelling over the course of her werewolf series. It was the rare series that started strong and, seemingly, ended even stronger.

Sinner, the fourth novel, is a clear reflection of that maturity and is the best book of the series.  It's been a few years since Sam and Grace's story was concluded so satisfactorily. But now it's Isabel and Cole St. Clair's turn. Their turn at helming the story is brash and loud and full of quiet moments and beautiful writing. I was a fan of Shiver, loved both Linger and Forever, but this was the first five-star read of the series for me. It was a thoroughly engaging, heart-wrenching, beautifully-imagined and written experience featuring two amazingly well-drawn protagonists who challenge each other, fight, and love so fiercely.

If you're here looking for more story about Sam and Grace, or anything approaching their kind of relationship, or even really for a werewolf book in the vein of the previous novels, Sinner is not the book for you. Of all the series, Sinner is the least concerned with the characters wolfing out/trying to find reasons/a cure, and more with the characters themselves, in all their many faults and virtues. There are still werewolf tendencies and elements to the novel, but Cole and Isabel's main struggle is with themselves or with each other. Their relationship has never been easy, and Stiefvater will run you through an emotional wringer with these two yet again.

When I talk about authors capable of pretty prose, the list I can reference is rather short. Melina Marchetta, Laini Taylor, Franny Billingsley, Leslye Walton.... and Maggie Stiefvater. I've always enjoyed Maggie's style and way of wording things, but there were entire pages of Sinner that I wish I could memorize for how perfectly this author can describe and encapsulate so many feelings so well. This woman can write. She can write beautifully. She can write effectively. And she can do both at the same time. Her prose is one of my favorite things, but this is an author doesn't sacrifice the plot, or pacing, or characterization in order to focus one thing. 

I loved reading from Cole and Isabel's POVs. I had a lot of feelings about their story when I finished, and I suspect those emotional will linger for a long time. While Forever left me feeling like everything was wrapped up and ended, Sinner makes me feel like I can never have enough time or books with these characters.

Review: The Nightingale Girls by Donna Douglas

Friday, June 27, 2014
Title: The Nightingale Girls
Author: Donna Douglas
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Nightingale Nurses #1
Pages: 512
Published: August 16, 2012
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 3 out of 5

Three very different girls sign up as student nurses in January 1936, while England is still mourning the death of George V. Dora is a tough East Ender, driven by ambition, but also desperate to escape her squalid, overcrowded home and her abusive stepfather. Helen is the quiet one, a mystery to her fellow nurses, avoiding fun, gossip and the limelight. In fact she is in the formidable shadow of her overbearing mother, who dominates every aspect of her life. Can a nursing career free Helen at last? The third of our heroines is naughty, rebellious Millie -- aka Lady Camilla -- an aristocrat on the run from her conventional upper class life. She is doomed to clash over and over again with terrifying Sister Hyde and to get into scrape after scrape especially where men are concerned. This utterly delightful novel brings a London pre-war hospital vividly to life.

Reviewed by Danielle

I like Call The Midwives on BBC, so when I received a NetGalley email advertising a historical fiction novel that was supposed to be very similar, I decided to take a chance outside my usual time periods and give it a whirl.

The Nightingale Girls follows three trainee nurses in 1930s London. There’s Dora, the poor-but-hardworking East End girl, accepted to the prestigious Nightingale Teaching Hospital because she reminds the new Matron of herself and her roommates; Millie, the dissatisfied Lady, fleeing her responsibilities for fun and sense-of-purpose; and Helen, the bookish but sad daughter of a powerful hospital trustee. They’re pretty easily recognizable tropes, but due to very varied home lives and tragic pasts, all three are unique to read.

Unfortunately, I wanted nursing and class struggles, similar to the show the publishers are drawing comparisons to. What I got was three 200 page romances. Dora undergoes some teasing and almost fails an exam because she can’t afford a book, but otherwise, her different background doesn’t factor much into the story. Likewise, the book only shows one or two classes and then moves on to using the wards as set dressing. There are patients, some of them are sick, sometimes the girls are required to attend them, but large swathes of the book feature no more nursing than cleaning and making tea.

Instead, each girl is given a romance that takes up the large majority of this very long novel. One falls for a boy from home, one is trapped in a love triangle between a good friend and a baaad boy, and one, the most interesting and consequently best, falls for a patient of a different class. I don’t mind romance, and I was expecting a love interest for each, but it drives too much of the book. The girls claim they don’t want to get married and leave their beloved jobs, but I didn’t find that to be the case based on the narration.

There are a lot of subplots and four or five other POVs that make brief appearances to drive them. The new Matron is too modern and her assistant and the trustees don’t approve. The mean girl has problems at home. One of the love interests has problems at home. Someone knows secrets about someone else. Three teachers knit and have tea. None of it’s bad, in fact it’s good to give villains motivation, but the book is too long by half and these detours frequently pulled away from the little action in the main story.

Still, I like Millie a lot, one romance really gave me the feels, and I’m kind of interested in a modern Matron at a very old-fashioned school. Unfortunately, I’m very against rape as a plot point, particularly child sexual abuse, and it’s deployed liberally in one backstory. I don’t think it was necessary and the resolution where: [the love interest drives the abuser away, without talking to the victims, because his brother overheard them fighting, made me feel scummy. Something about it felt like the victim is his property now, so the abuser left. It’s even more disappointing because the victim had previously displayed some savvy, outsmarting the abuser, and then completely lost her head and couldn’t see that he’d taken a new victim. The character progression felt off.] With the exception of that one plot point, there’s nothing wrong with The Nightingale Girls. It just wasn’t particularly interesting, either.

Jessie's June Book Haul

Thursday, June 26, 2014
Hi everyone! I have a pretty decent sized haul going on today. That said, it's not quite as bad as my usual. This is a haul for all of June! BEA gave me so many books, my hauls are going to be on the small(er) side for a while.


That said, here they are. 

These are my B&N-had-a-Hachette-sale buys:

Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur Lafferty (Shambling Guides #2) - loved the cheeky, fun first one 

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Imperial Radch #1) - great reviews, often favorable compared to the Paradox books.

The Legend of Eli Monpress by Rachel Aaron/Rachel Bach (Eli Monpress #1-3) - this woman wrote the Paradox books. I need all her books.

My Ryan-took-me-to-Half-Price Books-haul:

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (Brian's Saga #1) -- childhood favorite for less than a $1. Can't resist.

Sister by Rosamund Lupton -- not for me. Already read it and this is an author I just don't fare well with.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith -- marked down to $2 and it sounds cute/good.

Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins (Rebel Belle #1) --- that cover speaks to my soul. Plus it was $7 for a hardcover.

The Sweet Spot by Stephanie Evanovich -- for a TLC Book Tour later this summer. Thanks, William Morrow books.

Zodiac by Romina Russell -- Lili from Lili's Refelctions was awesome enough to send me this when I missed a copy at BEA. Greatly appreciated, lady!


The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh O'Brien -- this was sent to me from Steph for a Cuddlebuggery review!

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo (The Grisha #3) -- this book was four days late and then I read it in 6 hours. I am still Not Okay. (The book was fabulous but now I have no more Grisha booooooooooks.) (STURMHOND)

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman (Prisoner of Night and Fog #1) -- I've already read this as an ARC and but I needed a physical copy. 

My Strange-Chemistry-is-shutting-down-omg-buy-all-their-books haul:

Shadowplay by Laura Lam (Micah Grey #2) -- I loved Pantomime. There's no way I would not find out what happens next!

The Wizard's Promise by Cassandra Rose Clarke (Hannah's Duology #1) -- Loved the cover, intrigued by the story. It was conceived and pitched as a duology so the fact the second (The Nobleman's Revenge) might not be published is troubling.

The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke (Assassin's Curse #1) - another book I read and loved as an ARC. Plus the cover is amaaazing.

The Pirate's Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke (Assassin's Curse #2) -- I have to see what happens after book one. Plus, another case of CRC getting great, original covers.


I have a few more Strange Chemistry books I need to pick up (57 Lives of Alex Wayfare, Stolen Songbird, Featherbound) and if you're interested in any, I would grab them before it's too late.

Book Tour Review: Queen of Bedlam by Laura Purcell

Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Title: Queen of Bedlam
Author: Laura Purcell
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 432
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

London 1788. The calm order of Queen Charlotte’s court is shattered by screams. The King of England is going mad. Left alone with thirteen children and with the country at war, Charlotte has to fight to hold her husband’s throne. It is a time of unrest and revolutions but most of all Charlotte fears the King himself, someone she can no longer love or trust. She has lost her marriage to madness and there is nothing she can do except continue to do her royal duty.

Her six daughters are desperate to escape their palace asylum. Their only chance lies in a good marriage, but no prince wants the daughter of a madman. They are forced to take love wherever they can find it, with devastating consequences.

The moving true story of George III’s madness and the women whose lives it destroyed.

The story of Mad King George, despite the famous nickname and long-lived infamy for "losing the Colonies", has rarely featured in my historical fiction reading. Though I'm usually drawn to stories from earlier in English history (the wars! The religious conflicts!), Laura Purcell's deft and detailed novel about Charlotte and family was one of those historical fiction novels that succeeded in making me search out more information about these British monarchs. George's life is viewed through the lens of his wife and daughters, and it makes for a fascinating look at one of England's more eccentric Kings, and his unappreciated family.

Queen of Bedlam is told in three voices; that of the eponymous Queen Charlotte, and two Princesses, Royal (another Charlotte), and Sophia. I loved that this was really a story about the women -- it wasn't all concerned with the King or his condition (though both were important to the plot). These women have their own lives and experiences to filter the story through; they're drawn well and characterized evenly. The only issue is that there isn't much to differentiate between them. The POVs can sound alike, especially the younger narrators. I think the story had more of a flow with the first two, and found the late inclusion of a third to be odd and somewhat unnecessary.

As someone pretty unfamiliar with both the Georgian era and the Hanover dynasty, I thought that Laura Purcell did an excellent job if disseminating pertinent details about both items without overwhelming or losing the plot while doing so. The author obviously did her due diligence into the time and people she re-imagined. Queen of Bedlam feels like an authentic interpretation of the era and the historical figures. The historical note at the end is interesting, and helps understand how and why Purcell used her authorial discretion with facts and times.

An intriguing read with a less than perfect cast of characters, Laura Purcell's Queen of Bedlam is a great example of good, well-rounded historical fiction novel. The plot is compelling and original, the characters are dynamic or sympathetic, and the pacing is solid and reliable for the most part. The book is nearly four hundred pages, but it reads quickly and easily as the characters navigate the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Review: The 57 Live of Alex Wayfare by M.G. Buehrlen

Sunday, June 22, 2014
Title: The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare
Author: M.G. Buehrlen
Genre: young adult, science fiction
Series: Alex Wayfare #1
Pages: 410
Published: March 3, 2014
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 4 out of 5
For as long as 17-year-old Alex Wayfare can remember, she has had visions of the past. Visions that make her feel like she’s really on a ship bound for America, living in Jamestown during the Starving Time, or riding the original Ferris wheel at the World’s Fair.

But these brushes with history pull her from her daily life without warning, sometimes leaving her with strange lasting effects and wounds she can’t explain. Trying to excuse away the aftereffects has booked her more time in the principal’s office than in any of her classes and a permanent place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Alex is desperate to find out what her visions mean and get rid of them.

It isn’t until she meets Porter, a stranger who knows more than should be possible about her, that she learns the truth: Her visions aren’t really visions. Alex is a Descender – capable of traveling back in time by accessing Limbo, the space between Life and Afterlife. Alex is one soul with fifty-six past lives, fifty-six histories.

Fifty-six lifetimes to explore: the prospect is irresistible to Alex, especially when the same mysterious boy with soulful blue eyes keeps showing up in each of them. But the more she descends, the more it becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want Alex to travel again. Ever.

And will stop at nothing to make this life her last.

Reviewed by Danielle

The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare is a strange little book. Fortunately, I like strange.

Alex is a freak. She’s nerdy and likes to tinker. She gets in a lot of trouble at school, despite being way smart, because she doesn’t read. She has no friends, not since she threw up on the cutest boy in church. Oh, and she has deja-vu induced visions of her 56 past lives.

I like Alex a lot. She’s selfish and impulsive and can be rather frustrating, but she’s also vulnerable and seems like she’s really trying to make sense of this crazy power that’s been dealt to her. She makes some massive mistakes, but I liked her anyway.

Alex can Descend into Limbo and use the markers of souls that have passed through to travel back in time. But while there are many Descenders, she’s the only Transcender. Her soul has lived 57 lives and she can visit her past as often as she likes. (Descenders can only Descend once per soul, but they can use any dead person.) This power is the key to unlocking a massive conspiracy involving Alex’s last life and her former...employer.

Like a lot of time travel fiction, it’s probably best not to dwell on the actual time traveling. There are a few holes and I’m still not sure how they arranged for Alex’s lives to be at every important point, but for the most part it’s well thought out. (Except for *spoilers* the last mission. One of those typically twisty, “you changed history because you were supposed to and we can’t correct this error because you didn’t correct it in the past that you’re creating now,” paradoxes. I don’t know if it’s really a problem but it was kind of eye-rolling after Parker going on and on about not changing the past.)

The best part of the book is the love interest. I freaking love Blue. The first date is beyond romantic and I fell head over heels for the boy along with Alex. When Parker took that world away, I wanted to cry too. Blue = Amazing. The worst part is integrating the contemporary elements with the sci-fi conceit. I feel for the nerdy loner, but too much time was taken up with the bitchy mean girl and the sweet jock and Alex’s sister’s cancer treatments. I wanted more time in Limbo, not a jealous girlfriend side plot or movie night with the fam.

The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare has some problems. There’s a ridiculous metaphor that really jumps out and some of the word choices are awkward. (Did we need to call Alex a wayfarer to drive the name home?) The blending of everyday teenage life with the sci-fi concept wasn’t smooth. The revelation halfway through that Alex can just bring skills back with her from the past felt awfully convenient. Still, I like this book a lot. It’s quirky and fun with surprising tension in the climax. The love interest has me following him like a lovesick puppy right there with the MC. I’m really excited for a sequel that will hopefully delve deeper into the few things I thought were missing.

Review: On the Road to Find Out by Rachel Toor

Saturday, June 21, 2014
Title: On the Road to Find Out
Author: Rachel Toor
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Source: publishers for review

Rating: 3/5

A funny, uplifting debut about running, romance—and dealing with college rejection and other hurdles.

On New Year’s Day, Alice Davis goes for a run. Her first ever. It’s painful and embarrassing, but so was getting denied by the only college she cares about. Alice knows she has to stop sitting around and complaining to her best friend, Jenni, and her pet rat, Walter, about what a loser she is. But what doesn’t know is that by taking those first steps out the door, she is setting off down a road filled with new challenges—including vicious side stitches, chafing in unmentionable places, and race-paced first love—and strengthening herself to endure when the going suddenly gets tougher than she ever imagined.

Fun and a little saccharine at times, On the Road to Find Out is a great fluff book that can entertain its audience for a few hours. I was mostly engaged while reading this, but on the whole, it was just a ...whelming kind of contemporary narrative for me. Rachel Toor's novel can feel a bit predictable and bland when it comes to plot and characters respectively, but it's got good bones and a few individual quirks (like.. Walter). It won't make any lasting impressions, but it's the perfect airplane or waiting room read.

My issue lies with connecting to the main character and narrator, Alice. It wasn't that she was a bad character or characterized poorly, but she was one that didn't speak to me personally. She felt, and read, quite immature and young for her age. She's supposed to be a senior and seventeen, nearly an adult, but her petty and unceasing comparisons make her feel much younger. I much preferred the end of the book version of Alice, and I think that speaks to the growth she exhibits over the course of the novel.

I also liked that Alice wanted to better herself through a unique means. That she took a rejection and funneled that into something constructive rather than destructive was a fresh idea for the plot. I wasn't that into the technical aspects of her hobby, but you can't fault Toor for the accuracy or details. For the right kind of reader, this will be a big hit. Maybe Miranda Kinneallty fans will find another sports-infused YA to love with On the Road to Find Out's balance of growing up and competitive romance.

Book Discussion: Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Friday, June 20, 2014
Today I am co-hosting a discussion of Imaginary Girls with the ladies from Great Imaginations (Kara, Lyn, and Bekka).

Chloe's older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can't be captured or caged. When a night with Ruby's friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the dead body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby.

But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has hidden deeply away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood.

With palpable drama and delicious craft, Nova Ren Suma bursts onto the YA scene with the story that everyone will be talking about.

Let's get started! 

Lyn: Next time Jessie gives me a look like this, she owes me tissues.

Jypsy: Whoa there, what now? I did nothing?

Kara: YOU DID TOO. I saw it with my own peepers!

Lyn: You TOLD me to read this book!

Queen of Awesome, Jessie: Kara, you lose 1000 points for saying peepers. OOOHHH I DID. Cause I am awesome at finding books with excellent prose.

Lyn: Anyways, I thought this book was amazing. The fact that I am an older sister helped quite a bit. This one spoke right to my Big Sis mentality.

Bekka:  Lyn, I totally agree.  Books like this, with bonds between sister, always get to me, and this one nearly killed me.

Je-to-the-ssie: The sister bond resonates with a lot of readers, I think. I identified so much with the younger sister Chloe. Ruby’s characterization was problematic and Chloe’s POV had depth.

Kara: Ummmm. BAAAAAAAAA. Black sheep alert. Okay, so I didn’t hate it, and the writing was lovely, but you guys, the characters were AWFULLLLLL. There was nothing to like about either one of the sisters! And characters almost ALWAYS make or break a book for me. If they are not interesting in other ways (and these weren’t, to me), then I’m probably not going to like it as much.

Jessieee: Okay for me, it wasn’t so much about the characters themselves. Ruby -- I don’t get it. At all. But Chloe, that love that need to be part of your sister’s life and formation as much as she is part of yours? That I get. So I projected a lot unto her, because I had a lot of…. sister feels that got caught up? I dunno, but Suma really caught that younger sibling feeling I had.

Kara: Well, also, I’ve never had a sister. Or a sibling, even. So I can’t relate as well.

Bekka:  Even though I’m an older sister by ten years, I felt that Chloe was in many ways the older sister.  She felt that sort of protectiveness that I think we all feel toward our siblings, no matter what age, and that resonated with me.  But I do agree that the characters weren’t exactly likable.

Kara: It’s not just that they weren’t likable, either. I don’t expect female characters to be all “likeable” and I know that’s sexist to think that so I don’t. What bothered me was there was no depth. In the writing, yes. IN the atmosphere, hell yes. But everything else, plot included, just didn’t work for me, guys. SO sorry. :(

Lyn: I totally get where you are coming from Kara.  Ruby was a “manic pixie” dream girl. My spin on it was this, and it is totally going to sound like a theory that the weird kid in the back of English class makes up to sound cool, but I took it as this: I really thought the whole thing happened in Chloe’s head. Chloe gave hints in the book that she wasn’t exactly stable, and everything in her life was glossed over, so I took it that Chloe had an older sister that she loved, and she drowned, so Chloe made Ruby sound like a near-god in her head to help her deal with the loss of losing Ruby.  The flood waters towards the end sounded like reality creeping in on Chloe’s dream-world. Does that make make sense?

Jes-say: Yes. I think that there is a lot in the book that could support this, and it makes a lot of sense. Far more than the reasons presented in the book. Part of why I love this novel is that Nova Ren Suma never really answered the questions her story brings up. Lyn’s theory makes the most sense and convinced me, but there will never be definitive answer. I love that.

Kara: And this is where me being the black sheep again comes into play. I guess it all comes down to our likes and dislikes as a reader. I don’t usually enjoy my head being fucked with. I don’t like when it feels like the author is trying to deliberately get one over on me. It makes me feel stupid, and I don’t like feeling that way. The exception, and I believe the ONLY, exception to this rule is Night Film by Marisha Pessl. Otherwise, it’s just not my thing. I wish it was because it’s pretty brilliant if you are that kind of reader. So I CAN be objective, it’s just not for me.

Lyn: I understand, Kara. I just ripped apart Dare Me for these same reasons.  I liked the hints dropped by the MC that there was other things happening outside of her reality.  Like, when she made a passing comment about the dad locking her away in the camper because he didn’t want to deal with it.  If the writer is going to screw with my head, I like a breadcrumb trail every once in a while.  But I understand what you mean. This type of book is very tricky, and there is a lot on the reader to do what they will with it.

Best Person In the World Jessie: With Imaginary Girls, I don't think the intent is to fool the reader - but to make them imagine whatever ending they think fits as the author left it. To leave it open to a reader’s interpretation. That is a device totally not for everyone, and only on a case-by-case basis works for me. If I was invested in the romance, I need conclusions and solid plots. Here, I was just caught up in the prose enough to forgive things that at other times would ruin a book. But, however, this was a ⅘ star read for me overall.

Lyn: Bekka, your thoughts?

Bekka:  It’s been a couple years since I read it (and I wish I had reread it prior to this discussion) so I’m a little fuzzy on the fine details.  The overwhelming feeling I remember from reading this book was the fever-dream quality of the writing.  And of course the not knowing - not knowing if what was happening was actually happening, not knowing WHY any of it went down.

Kara: Yes, honestly, I love her writing. Seriously, her technical ability is sound and I give her top honors for that. The atmosphere was mind-blowing and creepy and all of the good stuff, so I had no issues whatsoever finishing this and there are lots of good things here. I liked it much better than 17 & Gone. For me, the rating is a 3.5. I am tempted to only give it a 3, but I don’t think that’s fair due to her technical prowess.

Lyn: I am going to help Kara out a little bit here, even though I did like the book, I honestly believe that it was a personal connection that helped this book along with a high rating from me. If I ever, ever, EVER lost my sister, I am telling you all right now: I would go crazy. I would LOSE it to the worst degree.  So I was able to place myself into that spot. What would happen to me if I lost my sister to some terrible tragedy? I’m not even kidding. That would cause me to snap and go off into the deep end.

Bekka:  I have the same fears, Lyn, and I’m not even that close with my sister because of the age gap.  But there is a certain last book to a certain popular series that has a certain death in it that wrecked me.  Sister books, guys.

Jersey: Yes, the writing makes up a large portion of my affection for this book. I am always a sucker for pretty prose, but I have to admit that Suma’s talent for wordsmanship is not matched by her plotting or characterization. And, when you’re not as attached to the subject matter, that can have a BIG impact on how you view/like/enjoy her stories.

Lyn: I usually find this issue with boy-centered books (sorry). I feel a certain disconnection from the MC when he talks about boners and boobs, so that does affect my rating. That was a big peeve of my when I read Going Bovine.  

Kara: Read Sex And Violence, Lyn. READ IT NOWWWWWW. That goes for all of you.

Lyn: That title worries me a little.  Two things I usually steer away from is right on the cover.

Kara: Hush. Read it. You will love it. Everyone that reads it loves it. It’s brilliant. ANYWAY….

Lyn: Alright, final rating, everyone? I stuck with a 4. Beautiful writing, warped reality, but the mystery took SO LONG to resolve.

Kara: 3.5 for me.

Jesssssie: It was a 4 for me, again. The second time around, I can see the flaws more objectively but I love Nova Ren Suma’s way of writing and will always love it. Even when it is confusing.

Bekka:  When I read it I rated it 5 stars.  It may change if I reread it, but I’ll stick to what I said originally.

Until next time!

Book Tour Review: The Lost Duchess by Jenny Barden

Thursday, June 19, 2014
Title: The Lost Duchess
Author: Jenny Barden
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 448
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

An epic Elizabethan adventure with a thriller pace and a high tension love story that moves from the palaces of England to the savage wilderness of the New World.

Emme Fifield has fallen about as far as a gentlewoman can.

Once a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, her only hope of surviving the scandal that threatens to engulf her is to escape England for a fresh start in the new America where nobody has ever heard of the Duchess of Somerset.

Emme joins Kit Doonan's rag-tag band of idealists, desperados and misfits bound for Virginia. But such a voyage will be far from easy and Emme finds her attraction to the mysterious Doonan inconvenient to say the least.

As for Kit, the handsome mariner has spent years imprisoned by the Spanish, and living as an outlaw with a band of escaped slaves; he has his own inner demons to confront, and his own dark secrets to keep...

Ever since Sir Walter Raleigh's settlement in Virginia was abandoned in 1587 its fate has remained a mystery; 'The Lost Duchess' explores what might have happened to the ill-starred 'Lost Colony' of Roanoke.

I usually find a way to mention that I like historical fiction that creatively and organically explores new places or people in my favorite timelines. Jenny Barden has done just that with the Elizabethan Age and the ill-fated Roanoake colony with her adventure/romance novel The Lost Duchess. While the book clearly focuses more on the central romance between Emme and Kit than any other element of the story, there's a lot of entertainment and emotion to be had when reading through their unlikely but believable story in one of America's most famous settlements. It's a detailed and occasionally dry read, but Jenny Barden's ability to tell a story with subtlety and passion is to be commended.

Though there was a lot about The Lost Duchess for historical readers to enjoy, I found the characters were the most dynamic aspect for me. That's not to say that it wasn't obviously, meticulously researched (it clearly was) or that the plot wasn't satisfactory (it was), I just really grew to care about Emme and Kit. Their relationship, like each of them individually, is complex, complicated and interesting. It helped that both feel like real people on their own; Emme isn't defined by her romantic relationship any more than Kit is. The both complement each other well and serve as excellent foils for each other, as well.

The story's pacing does falter a bit in the later part of the novel, which is a large part in why this a four star review. Don't get me wrong: I still heartily recommend the book to fans of adventure or romance or historical fiction. The parts of The Lost Duchess that are good are very good, but when the details overwhelm the narrative or the plot gets stuck, it can be less engaging. Happily for me, the ending of the novel was satisfactory, realistic, and well-rounded enough to keep me firmly in the "I love this book!" camp. Though my first experience with her was not perfect, it's obvious Jenny Barden is a talented author with a genuine storytelling gift.


Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Title: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Author: Leslye Walton
Genre: young adult, supernatural fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 301
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 5/5

Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga.

Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird.

In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration.

That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo.

First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.

If you love beautiful prose set against unwordly magical realism, you've met your dream author with Leslye Walton. If you're a fan of unusual stories told in vibrant and unique voices, then The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender should be your next read. I went into this novel expecting something a little weird, a little odd, but the creative and original story contained within those short few hundred pages blew me away. I loved this book so much I ran out and bought the finished copy so I could pretend to read it again for the first time.

There's a lot to love about Walton's debut but my two favorites are the writing and the characters. These are usually the two elements of storytelling that I respond most to, and Walton uses each effectively. Her characters, be they winged or not, are authentic, real, lively, believable. Her prose is otherworldly and gorgeous, but remains relateable and without veering into corniness or cheese. Her prose isn't like any other author's I've read, but lovely in its own honesty and descriptiveness. This is a YA novel, but I believe that it has a genuine crossover adult appeal.

"[She] had been surprised by how quickly her body responded to his, how the lines of where she ended and he began seemed to melt when they touched."

It's just... a lovely, heartbreaking book. It makes you cry and makes you smile. Don't let my enthusiasm mislead you -- there is a lot of strangeness and charm to "Ava" (but really her whole family)'s story, but there is a multitude of pain in this story, too. There are wasted lives and years, unrequited love, betrayal and obsession...but even when the story veers into its wildest of plot twists, Leslye Walton sells it. She sells it through the plotting, or the characters, or her strong writing. It all just comes together so well; the end impression of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is just awe, heartache, and hope.


Book Tour Review: Battle Hymns by Cara Langston

Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Title: Battle Hymns
Author: Cara Langston
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Published: June 3 2014
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 3.75/5

In December 1941, Charlotte Donahue is engaged to Nick Adler, a handsome, pre-law student at Georgetown University. Despite her studies at a liberal arts college, she expects nothing more than to marry her fiancé and settle into a conventional life as a young American homemaker. But her future is unexpectedly disrupted after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. While Nick trains for the battlefront with the U.S. Army, Charlotte does her part by volunteering as a nurses’ aide with the American Red Cross.

Assigned to a convalescent ward at Walter Reed’s Army Medical Center, Charlotte discovers her passion lies, not in the home, but in tending to the wounds of injured soldiers, all of whom remind her of Nick. Here she is drawn to a mysterious soldier, Lieutenant William Kendrick, whose jet was shot down in the skies over Germany. As Will’s physical and psychological wounds begin to heal, he and Charlotte develop a friendship that will bind them together in ways they never imagined.

Battle Hymns is a poignant story of love, survival, and redemption set against the backdrop of the Second World War.

Cara Langston's Battle Hymns is a rather short novel but it is one that packs a punch. The romance angle is central to the plot and characters, but Langston's novel is engaging, understated, and a quick read for historical fiction fans. The cast of characters boasts a few particular gems, and while some plotlines were more dynamic than others, I found this WWII-era story to be an altogether enjoyable read.

Focusing on love and the fallout from war, a lot of the stories in Battle Hymns run the gamut of emotions. Certain characters and storylines will resonate more (as they did with me), but Langston does a good job of creating three-dimensional people to populate the story. Charlotte is clearly the standout of everyone, and reading her life makes for a fascinating and believable trip back in time. She's clever and generous, smart and independent. She makes it easy to invest in her as a character, due to sheer charisma.

The time period of WWII is always a lure for historical fiction, and Langston uses the popular setting well. The war influences the daily lives of everyone involved, and Langston doesn't glorify the conflict. PTSD, depression --- all are seen as repercussions for the people involved. The story can veer into slightly predictable territory, but Cara Langston's Battle Hymns is detailed, researched, and heartfelt.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Review: Moth & Spark by Anne Leonard

Title: Moth and Spark
Author: Anne Leonard
Genre: fantasy
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Published: February 2014
Source: NetGalley and the lovely Gillian Berry from Writer of Wrongs sent me a physical ARC
Rating: 2.5/5

A prince with a quest. A commoner with mysterious powers. And dragons that demand to be freed—at any cost.

Prince Corin has been chosen to free the dragons from their bondage to the Empire, but dragons aren’t big on directions. They have given him some of their power, but none of their knowledge. No one, not the dragons nor their riders, is even sure what keeps the dragons in the Empire’s control.

Tam, sensible daughter of a well-respected doctor, had no idea before she arrived in the capital that she is a Seer, gifted with visions. When the two run into each other (quite literally) in the library, sparks fly and Corin impulsively asks Tam to dinner. But it’s not all happily ever after. Never mind that the prince isn’t allowed to marry a commoner: war is coming to Caithen.

Torn between Corin’s quest to free the dragons and his duty to his country, the lovers must both figure out how to master their powers in order to save Caithen. With a little help from a village of secret wizards and a rogue dragonrider, they just might pull it off.

I liked this, marginally. I wanted to love it, but I liked it. The basic fantasy angles are all there from early on -- dragons, fairly well-drawn worldbuilding, characters with charisma -- but then the narrative met the ill-advised romance and the actual plot and progression seemed to die. The writing style itself is odd and distancing, but just needs an initial adjustment.

The problem lies with the plot, or lack thereof. When I wanted dragons and air battles and blood and vengeance and princely quests... I got an illicit romance that took up far more than its far share of attention. I got lovers waxing on at length about their love, their soulmate, their relationship...For me, Moth and Spark was more about a central romance than anything else once Tam and Corin become together. I have nothing against romance novels. But when I am promised a fantasy with dragons, I expect more dragons and less candelit dinner dates.

The characters' relationship and the book's chosen narrow focus will work for some readers, but for me, it rang hollow and was a sorry substitute for all the other awesome Moth and Spark could have offered in their relationships' stead. The worldbuilding faltered after a promising start, the magic angle was sorely neglected, all in favor of a narrative that focused too narrowly on Tam and Corin. Despite my disappointment, I can't say it was a particularly memorable for this particular fantasy fan.

Review: Far From You by Tess Sharpe

Monday, June 16, 2014
Title: Far From You
Author: Tess Sharpe
Genre: young adult, contemporary, mystery
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Published: April 8 2014
Source: ARC via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice.

The first time, she's fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that'll take years to kick.

The second time, she's seventeen, and it's no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina's murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery.

After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina's brother won't speak to her, her parents fear she'll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina's murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina and about the secret they shared.

This book is like breaking your heart open slowly, over three hundred pages. This book is beautiful and sad and sadly beautiful. It's got depth and emotion and will evoke genuine feeling from readers who can identify with Sophie, or with Mina, or with Trevor or just with the tangle of love and emotions the three of them find themselves in. This is a book that worms its way into your heart and brain. You will love these characters and you will think about them long after the last page is read and done. 

I'm very rarely a fan of the love triangle because it so rarely serves any real purpose in fiction. Not so with Tess Sharpe's writing or characters. Here, the love triangle is a key representation of Sophie's affections between the other two main characters. She clearly loves one over the other, but she is torn between the two for many reasons. The reader can debate whether that's due to societal pressure, Sophie's bisexuality, fear of commitment, whatever -- but the love triangle is more than just a device for drama. It's refreshing use of an overdone trope and, what's more, it felt like a natural plotline for the story.

The characters -- oh how I loved them. Sharply drawn, with flaws and foibles and mistakes and love and care, they defy expectation and explanation. They were a loud bunch, with so much life and feeling. Even when Sophie is at her lowest, Sharpe draws her with such clarity, writes her with so much voice and life it's easy to envision this girl who will survive anything and everything. It's hard to describe, but these characters have personality, even if they only appear in flashback or memory.

This is a mystery and a contemporary drama but those looking for more of the former will be disappointed. Finding answers does drive both Sophie and the plot of Far From You, but it's not a main focus for the entire narrative. I liked the balance between Sophie's quest and the more dramatic storylines but they meshed together well and formed a cohesive picture. The finale can feel a bit too easy, but I was willing to forgive that since the mystery wasn't the main attraction for me here.

The language in Far From You is often outstanding, so much so that I forgot how vivid Sharpe's imagery can be. For a debut novel, this feels like a polished and perfected story. For the few issues I had, there were a hundred things I loved about this LBTQ story. I loved the care and attention paid to all aspects; I loved the honesty with which the author explored all facets of her characters; I loved the beautiful prose Sharpe capably displayed. Even when I could have done without elements of the story being presented, I couldn't help but admire the author's talent while doing so.

It goes without saying that I will keep the characters from Far From You in my heart for a while. I will also be on the lookout for Tess Sharpe's next story, given what she did with her first novel. Her unique blend of heart and horror and humor is unforgettable and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.

Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Sunday, June 15, 2014
Title: Half a King
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Genre: fantasy
Series: Shattered Sea #1
Pages: 352
Published: Expected July 15, 2014
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 5 out of 5

“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

Reviewed by Danielle

"Oh I'm forever swearing oaths: I hardly know which ones to honor"

Prince Yarvi is the youngest son of a powerful warmonger king. What's worse, he was born crippled, with half a hand. Yarvi is a disappointment to his family, his country, and himself. And he's just been crowned. Instead of sitting the Black Chair and celebrating his betrothal, he makes a vow to avenge his father and brother.

Over the course of the book he acquires some unlikely companions, all of whom are amazing. There's the former guard, the mysterious swordsman, and the action girl that we've seen from countless other fantasy novels, but they all have depth and twists to keep them from being stock characters.

Half a King is a classic revenge tale, with shades of The Count of Monte Cristo, but it's also a fascinating character study in growth and coming of age. Yarvi from chapter one to the final pages is almost unrecognizable, yet in a brilliant stroke of writing, you'll find a lot of parallels from the first chapters in the last.

I'm loathe to reveal much of the plot, as there are some big twists, so what I really want to focus on and praise is Abercrombie's writing. The world building is fascinating, evoking Vikings and barbarians, but with very different religious influence. I would love to know why he decided to flip the traditional script and build almost a matriarchal institution with Mother War and Father Peace, Mother Sun and Father Moon. While the leaders are men, women wield terrific political power as both treasurer and chief advisers to the kings. I'm also very interested in the glimpses of the long dead Elf race, because (highlight for spoilers) they had rebar! It's VERY clearly described! And concrete? Steel? Possibly computer chips? Are we Elves? Joe, if you read this, DM me. I'll keep the answers under my hat. Thanks.

If I have one complaint, it's the book's size. For epic fantasy, it's pretty short and that does show in Yarvi and the companion's journey through the winter tundra. It's a very tense time that's supposed to be a struggle for survival, but because of the time devoted to the journey, I never felt the party's desperation. I wish there had even been one more chapter to ramp up the tension and make me feel the danger. Beyond that, I can't find fault.

I've been a fan of the idea of Joe Abercrombie for a long time. I always want to like his books more than I end up enjoying them. He's always been missing one element that would really cause me to connect with his characters. With Half a King, he's made a true believer of me. It's a master work and probably the fantasy novel of the year.
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