Dani and Jessie's June Recap

Thursday, June 30, 2016
We are halfway through the year now. I've had a bit of a rough month, reading-wise. I had a bit of a slump and then my GoT feelings left in a whirl and I didn't read for about 4 days after the last two episodes. #toomanyfeelings

Books Read: 24

A Million Suns by Beth Revis (Across the Universe #2)
And I Darken by Kiersten White (The Conqueror's Saga #1)
Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman (The Illuminae Files #2)

Reviews Posted:
May and June DNFs
Two Minute Review: Risuko by David Kudler
Book Tour Review: The Sun in Your Eyes by Deborah Shapiro
Two Minute Review: Change Places with Me by Lois Metzger
Series Review: The Tales Trilogy by G.R. Mannering
Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley (Alternative Detective #1)
Two Minute Review: Wanderlost by Jen Malone
Book Tour Review: By Helen's Hand by Amalia Carosella (Helen of Sparta #2)
Saint's Blood by Sebastien de Castell (Greatcoats #3)
Book Tour Review: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Top Ten Tuesdays:
Top Ten Reasons I Love A Song of Ice and Fire
Top Ten 2016 Releases

Bookstagram of June:

And that's it for me for this month.

Dani's June: My June started off really great, but it fizzled out toward the end. I had family in town and a lot going on at work, not to mention my birthday, (which I did not get a single book for? ???) so I didn't read a single book between the 14th and the 26th. *le gasp*  I did buy two books I'm super hyped for, So Right and Last Will and Testament with my Amazon settlement and Queen of Shadows arrived, so fingers crossed for a better July, eh?

Books Read: 9

Favorites: Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman (Illuminae Files #1) (audio reread)
How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea by Mira Grant (Feed #3.2)
Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn #5)

Reviews Posted:
Two Minute DNF Review: Arena by Holly Jennings
Been Here All Along by Sandy Hall
Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
Two Minute DNF Review: Genius: The Game by Leopold Grout

Fun Stuff:
Disney Princess Book Tag

Mid-Year Bookish Freakout

Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Shamelessly borrowed from Bekka at Pretty Deadly Reviews.
So we are nearly halfway through 2016. So far, I (Jessie) am not doing too badly on my personal reading challenges. I've read 156  books so far this year,  and am about 33 books ahead of where I should be to hit my target of 250 for the year!

While I, Dani, have read 62 books, which sound better if I get to go first. But I am four books ahead of my goal of 120, so yay books!

1. the best book you’ve read so far in 2016

Dani: Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. I read it. I audiobooked it. I audiobooked it again with my husband. I waited three hours for Gemina and I've been VERY GOOD and have not read it yet, possibly because I'm thinking about reading Illuminae again first.

Jessie: The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley or Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. I cannot and will not choose between my Kettral baes and my teenage girl Rambo/MacGyver, fighting the battle of Thermopylae against mercenaries and mind-eating legged, fanged snakebeasts, in space, with the world's worst soundtrack playing.

2. the best sequel you’ve read so far

Jessie: So as to not repeat titles, I'm going with Natalie C. Parker's Behold the Bones. I loved Beware the Wild and the author did a great job keeping the atmosphere from the first but built a new story within it.

Dani: Words of Radience by Brandon Sanderson. Oh. My. God. If you're not on the Stormlight Archives train, drop everything and get these books. (But don't ask Jess for spoilers; she's a liar.)

3. a new release you haven’t read yet

Jessie: Your Soul is A River by Nikita Gill. She's a poet I found on instagram and I pre-ordered her paperback. I am so excited to read it that... I just haven't.

Dani: I am so behind on 2016 releases. I was desperate for ACoMaF and A Gathering of Shadows, and I haven't even bought them yet. Even romances - Julia Quinn and Courtney Milan have new historicals out that I haven't gotten to. Who am I?!

4. most anticipated release for late-2016

Dani: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo is the first book I have pre-ordered since A Dance With Dragons. If it disappoints me, I might literally die.

Jessie: I'm pretty much willing to fast-forward my life to get my hands on Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. I am also pre-0rdering both the US and the UK covers because... clearly.

5. biggest disappointment


Jessie: I finally read Marianne de Pierre's Night Creatures series and oh boy, I was very disappointed. On the other hand, this does prove not all Aussie YA is perfect.

Dani: Seige and Storm by Leigh Bardugo. As much as I loved Six of Crows, as badly as I want Crooked Kingdom? That's how much I hated S&S. I DNFd and then I cried.

6. biggest surprise

Dani: So Sweet by Rebekah Weatherspoon. This erotic romance was amazing. I've followed Rebekah on Twitter for awhile, so I had absolute faith that her main character, Kayla, would be top notch, but I was not expecting the surprisingly sweet love story between a sugar baby and her sugar daddy, nor just how sexy Michael would be.

behold my mighty photoediting!

Jessie: Wanderlost by Jen Malone! I had passed this over on edelweiss a couple times but then trusted friends started recommending it. I expected a cute story - and got one - but it also had a great sister relationship central to the plot. I loved it.

7. favorite new author

Jessie: My Lady Jane was a very fun read, and it was also my introduction to one of the three authors: Brodi Ashton. Even having read both Cynthia Hand and Jodi Meadows before, I can't tell who wrote which characters. Still, this was a very entertaining book.

Dani: Anne Bishop. I had kind of written her off after some trusted reviewers told me not to bother with The Black Jewels, but I'm beyond in love with The Others and I'll read anything UF that she puts out.

8. newest fictional crush

Dani: Mira Grant's author picture.

Jessie: Gwenna from The Last Mortal Bond/Providence of Fire/The Emperor's Blades. Also maaaybe Alucard from A Gathering of Shadows.

9. newest favorite character

Jessie: see above. But also Lada from And I Darken, Cas and Bao from The Abyss Surrounds Us.

Dani: Kady and Ezra from Illuminae, Meg from The Others

10. a book that made you cry

Dani: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. First of all, how dare you. Also Lady Thief by A.C. Gaughen. Second of all, how dare you. 

Jessie: One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid. A lot, too. And for some really odd reasons, but yeah, that book hit me right in the feels.

11. a book that made you happy

Jessie: One True Loves by TJR, The Immortal Heights by Sherry Thomas, These Vicious Masks.

Dani: I've raved about it before, but The Countess by Lynsay Sands. It's just so much fun, you guys.

12. favorite adaptation you saw this year

Dani: Hamilton? Hamilton.


Jessie: The sixth season of Game of Thrones has largely been excellent. Much better than five, but also the only adaptation I can think of that I've watched.

13. favorite post you’ve done so far this year

Jessie: I really liked my Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Reasons I Love A Song of Ice and Fire.

Dani: I think it was my BEA Recap and Haul, because I love my friend peoples.

14. the most beautiful book you bought this year

Dani: Jess is going to stop asking me to do posts with her, but it's the Hamiltome. 

Jessie: I think the UK cover for Saint's Blood by Sebastien de Castell is def the winner here.

15. what books do you need to read before the end of the year

Jessie: oh hey basically this entire post? #neverendingtbr


Jessie's May & June DNFs

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Once again, it's a mix of old and new reads, ARCs and loans or personal purchases. Some of these I have had for years, and others are new disappointments. This is a bit longer than the usual round up, but it is also two months worth of unfinished reads!

Burn by Julianna Baggott (Pure #3)

The stunning conclusion to the trilogy that began with Pure, recommended by People for those who loved The Hunger Games

With his father now dead, Partridge has assumed leadership of the Dome, one of the last few refuges from the ravaged wastelands of the outside world. At first, Partridge is intent on exposing his father's lies, taking down the rigid order of the Dome, and uniting its citizens with the disfigured Wretches on the outside. But from his new position of power, things are far more complex and potentially dangerous than he could have ever imagined.

On the outside, a band of survivors faces a treacherous journey to Dome. Pressia carries with her the key to salvation. If she can get it to the Dome, the Wretches could one day be healed and everyone might be able to put the horrors of the past behind them. Bradwell, the revolutionary, cannot forgive so easily. Despite Pressia's pleas, he is determined to bring down the Dome and hold its citizens accountable for leaving the rest of the world to burn. El Capitan, the former rebel leader, wants to help Pressia save as many lives as possible--but he's struggling to reconcile his newfound compassion with his vicious past.

As former allies become potential enemies, the fate of the world is more uncertain than ever. Will humanity fall to destruction? Or will a new world rise from the ashes?

This is the last in a series I liked, but one that I had not read for years. I remember Baggott's worldbuilding and atmosphere, but the characters are lost to me. I can't connect with them at all here in book three and found little and less reason to keep trying. This is not a bad book and the author has talent, but the overdone nature of the story's plot do it no favors, either.

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg

Maire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from.

When marauders raid her town, Maire is captured and sold to the eccentric Allemas, who enslaves her and demands that she produce sinister confections, including a witch’s gingerbread cottage, a living cookie boy, and size-altering cakes.
During her captivity, Maire is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being who is reluctant to reveal his connection to her.

The more often they meet, the more her memories return, and she begins to piece together who and what she really is—as well as past mistakes that yield cosmic consequences.

From the author of The Paper Magician series comes a haunting and otherworldly tale of folly and consequence, forgiveness and redemption.

This is the third book from this author that I have read in the last two years, and I think it may well be the last. I want to like the author's novels because there's a lot of creativity to be found in them and a lot of originality. But the writing style just does not work for me, nor does the story's reliance on tropes and generalities. I like specifics and details when it comes to fantasy, and Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet lacked a solid foundation.

Menagerie by Rachel Vincent

When Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger's Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus black-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah in her black swan burlesque costume is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she's forced to "perform" in town after town.

But there is breathtaking beauty behind the seamy and grotesque reality of the carnival. Gallagher, her handler, is as kind as he is cryptic and strong. The other "attractions"—mermaids, minotaurs, gryphons and kelpies—are strange, yes, but they share a bond forged by the brutal realities of captivity. And as Delilah struggles for her freedom, and for her fellow menagerie, she'll discover a strength and a purpose she never knew existed.

Renowned author Rachel Vincent weaves an intoxicating blend of carnival magic and startling humanity in this intricately woven and powerful tale.

I've wanted to read a Rachel Vincent novel for years, which is why I am so sad my first attempt to do so ended in a DNF. There were several things I liked -- the darkness of the story, the introspective angles -- but I twice put this down for weeks at a time. It moves too slowly, and too little happens over the first 150 pages. I can be a patient reader when I have something -- character, plot, writing -- to hold onto, but Menagerie just didn't keep my attention.

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando 

Six were taken. Eleven years later, five come back--with no idea of where they've been.

Eleven years ago, six kindergarteners went missing without a trace. After all that time, the people left behind moved on, or tried to.

Until today. Today five of those kids return. They're sixteen, and they are . . . fine. Scarlett comes home and finds a mom she barely recognizes, and doesn't really recognize the person she's supposed to be, either. But she thinks she remembers Lucas. Lucas remembers Scarlett, too, except they're entirely unable to recall where they've been or what happened to them. Neither of them remember the sixth victim, Max. He doesn't come back. Everyone wants answers. Most of all Max's sister Avery, who needs to find her brother--dead or alive--and isn't buying this whole memory-loss story.

This is purely down to preference and not any error on part of the novel. Altebrando can write and has interesting, mysterious characters. There's a creepy feel and unsettling vibe to the story which is probably what will draw a lot of readers to The Leaving. However, I am not one of them. I set this down about 200 pages in and just did not invest enough to continue from there. 

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence.

Then there's Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter.

Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma's trust and to see through Renée's timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.

I have heard a lot of good things about this book for the last ten years. I wanted to love it, to enjoy that experience so many had... but I was bored. And annoyed. The first several chapters did not leave a good impression -- voice, style, plot -- and I admittedly gave in the towel early on this. I read perhaps 60 pages before DNFing.

The Dragon Round by Stephen S. Power

A swashbuckling adventure with a dark side for fans of George R.R. Martin and Naomi Novik—when a ship captain is stranded on a deserted island by his mutinous crew, he finds a baby dragon that just might be the key to his salvation…and his revenge.

He only wanted justice. Instead he got revenge.

Jeryon has been the captain of the Comber for over a decade. He knows the rules. He likes the rules. But not everyone on his ship agrees. After a monstrous dragon attacks the galley, the surviving crewmembers decide to take the ship for themselves and give Jeryon and his self-righteous apothecary “the captain’s chance”: a small boat with no rudder, no sails, and nothing but the clothes on his back to survive on the open sea.

Fighting for their lives against the elements, Jeryon and his companion land on an island that isn’t as deserted as they originally thought. They find a baby dragon that, if trained, could be their way home. But as Jeryon and the dragon grow closer, the captain begins to realize that even if he makes it off the island, his old life won't be waiting for him and in order get justice, he’ll have to take it for himself.

From a Pushcart Prize–nominated poet and speculative short story writer, The Dragon Round combines a rich world, desperate characters, and gorgeous, literary fiction into a timeless tale of revenge.

I WANTED TO LOVE THIS. I gave this book far far longer than I usually do for books I struggle with (the 100-page rule) and I still just had to give up. This is not even a long novel, but the plot took so long to engage it ground the pacing down to "snails are whizzing by." I love the premise -- dragons and revenge and ships -- but it just didn't involve me. Jeryon is a decent MC, but he's rather generic for fantasy.

Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen (Great Alta #1)

The first book of a thought-provoking fantasy trilogy about a warrior woman who, together with her dark twin, is destined to remake the world

Legend foretold the child named Jenna, who was three-times orphaned before she could crawl, a fate that would leave her in the hands of women who worshipped the benevolent goddess Great Alta. In this world without men, Jenna comes of age, learning quickly the skills of close combat. But her most powerful gift lies elsewhere: a mirror sister who emerges only in the darkness—a twin named Skada—and shares the soul of the young, white-haired warrior who might well be the goddess reborn. But if Jenna is, in truth, the one whose coming is awaited, there is cause for great alarm among those who rule the Dales, for the prophecy speaks of upheaval and change, and a devastating end of all things.

An incomparable world-builder and one of America’s premier fantasists, the remarkable Jane Yolen begins a three-part saga as inventive, intelligent, and exciting as anything that has ever been produced in the literature of the fantastic. Brilliantly contrasting the “true” story of Jenna with the later myths, poetry, and so-called scholarship that her coming engendered, Yolen creates a culture as richly imagined as those found in the acclaimed novels of Ursula K. Le Guin. A truly magnificent work, Sister Light, Sister Dark takes fantasy fiction to wondrous places it has never gone before.

This was first written in 1988... and it's pretty obvious. This series is being repackaged and published for a newer audience, but to anyone halfway familiar with the genre.. it feels dated from the start.  The story has some potential for ingenuity, but the abundance of cliches, the nondescript writing, the stiff dialogue -- it made for a tough sell. 

The Iron Ship by K.M. McKinley (The Gates of the World #1)

An incredible epic fantasy begins!

The order of the world is in turmoil. An age of industry is beginning, an age of machines fuelled by magic. Sprawling cities rise, strange devices stalk the land. New money brings new power. The balance between the Hundred Kingdoms is upset. For the first time in generations the threat of war looms.

In these turbulent days, fortunes can be won. Magic runs strong in the Kressind family. Six siblings strive – one to triumph in a world of men, one to survive murderous intrigue, one to master forbidden sorcery, one to wash away his sins, one to contain the terrible energies of his soul.

And one will do the impossible, by marrying the might of magic and iron in the heart of a great ship, to cross an ocean that cannot be crossed.

This book starts out really! well and sounds so promising with its fantasy and magic and steampunk.... and then... it just grinds into an absolutely halt. There's no real momentum for so long; nothing major happens and the plot kinda limps along. And this is a very looong book -- over 550 pages! Despite how much I liked the Kressid siblings (Katriona was almost enough to keep me reading... almost..) this just is not the kind of fantasy I want to read; too little actually happening on the page.

Two Minute DNF Review: Arena by Holly Jennings

Monday, June 27, 2016
Title: Arena
Author: Holly Jennings
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Published: April 5th, 2016
Source: ARC via NetGalley
Rating: DNF at 17%

A fast-paced and gripping near-future science fiction debut about the gritty world of competitive gaming...

Every week, Kali Ling fights to the death on national TV.
She’s died hundreds of times. And it never gets easier...

The RAGE tournaments—the Virtual Gaming League’s elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a no-holds-barred fight to the digital death. Every bloody kill is broadcast to millions. Every player is a modern gladiator—leading a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses.

And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real.

Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world—until one of her teammates overdoses. Now, she must confront the truth about the tournament. Because it is much more than a game—and even in the real world, not everything is as it seems.

The VGL hides dark secrets. And the only way to change the rules is to fight from the inside...
In 2054, the world's gone to crap and video games are people's preferred method of escapism. Because of this, elite gamers have become monster celebrities as  Virtual Gaming League tournaments are broadcast on every tv in FuturisticCity™. Team Defiance is the odds on favorite to win as they're undefeated, but during the last match of Elderscrolls D&D RAGE
pre-season, they're utterly decimated in record time. This, oddly ruins their entire standing and places them in the bottom half of the brackets. So either the pre-season is two games, in which case their "undefeated" record is bull, or this tournament doesn't make any sense.

Despite the fact that here, 40 years in the past, women make up 47% of video game players, it's unheard of to be a woman in the VGL and Team Defiance employs three. Of course, one of them is Kali, the super badass half-Chinese Warrior and eventual team captain. She's the respectable one.
[I wore a] traditional Chinese cheong-sam dress in style--high collar, tight waist, and a long slit over one leg. But also Americanized--shimmering white and no pattern like the pods' cores. It cut several inches too low down the chest, only a pin's width wide, to reveal a hint of cleavage. A symbol of demure, deadly beauty. Tasteful. Acceptable. Desirable, even.
That's not problematic in any way.

The other two women are "feminine and musical" Hannah and Lily, the "scantily clad Scandinavian warrior" with pigtails. They're lesbians who make out in front of men for ratings.

The world building is bad: as I mentioned, there's a huge disparity between the male and female players and it leads to a lot of girl-hate and Kali judging everyone's looks. The virtual reality that requires the team to be in peak physical condition. (But that apparently doesn't extend to the truly Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas levels of drugs everyone does.) It was a total miss for me and I couldn't even force myself to skim to see if the action picked up. It's too silly.

June Book Haul

Sunday, June 26, 2016
 I've been doing better at restricting my book-buying. Or I am at least spending less money, thanks to giftcards and ebook credit settlements. I have several Amazon and B&N purchases on the way, but I also have new ARCs I am very excited about. There is a good mix of both adult and YA, historical and fantasy...aka the best kinda mix.

From edelweiss:

Yesternight by Cat Winters

From the author of The Uninvited comes a haunting historical novel with a compelling mystery at its core. A young child psychologist steps off a train, her destination a foggy seaside town. There, she begins a journey causing her to question everything she believes about life, death, memories, and reincarnation.

In 1925, Alice Lind steps off a train in the rain-soaked coastal hamlet of Gordon Bay, Oregon. There, she expects to do nothing more difficult than administer IQ tests to a group of rural schoolchildren. A trained psychologist, Alice believes mysteries of the mind can be unlocked scientifically, but now her views are about to be challenged by one curious child.

Seven-year-old Janie O’Daire is a mathematical genius, which is surprising. But what is disturbing are the stories she tells: that her name was once Violet, she grew up in Kansas decades earlier, and she drowned at age nineteen. Alice delves into these stories, at first believing they’re no more than the product of the girl’s vast imagination. But, slowly, Alice comes to the realization that Janie might indeed be telling a strange truth.

Alice knows the investigation may endanger her already shaky professional reputation, and as a woman in a field dominated by men she has no room for mistakes. But she is unprepared for the ways it will illuminate terrifying mysteries within her own past, and in the process, irrevocably change her life.

Cat Winters has yet to disappoint me so this sounds like a must-read-soon.

Mata Hari's Last Dance by Michelle Moran

From the international bestselling author of Rebel Queen and Nefertiti comes a captivating novel about the infamous Mata Hari, exotic dancer, adored courtesan, and, possibly, relentless spy.

Paris, 1917. The notorious dancer Mata Hari sits in a cold cell awaiting freedom…or death. Alone and despondent, Mata Hari is as confused as the rest of the world about the charges she’s been arrested on: treason leading to the deaths of thousands of French soldiers.

As Mata Hari waits for her fate to be decided, she relays the story of her life to a reporter who is allowed to visit her in prison. Beginning with her carefree childhood, Mata Hari recounts her father’s cruel abandonment of her family as well her calamitous marriage to a military officer. Taken to the island of Java, Mata Hari refuses to be ruled by her abusive husband and instead learns to dance, paving the way to her stardom as Europe’s most infamous dancer.

From exotic Indian temples and glamorous Parisian theatres to stark German barracks in war-torn Europe, international bestselling author Michelle Moran who “expertly balances fact and fiction” (Associated Press) brings to vibrant life the famed world of Mata Hari: dancer, courtesan, and possibly, spy.

I don't generally read a lot of historical fiction set during this era but I have always had an interest in Mata Hari's life. 

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge (Untitled #1)

When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the walled city of Viyara was left untouched.

The heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.

Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan.

Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara.

Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting. . . .

I lovelovelove Rosamund Hodge's debut novel and really enjoyed her second. I am pretty excited to see what she does outside the Cruel Beautyverse.

As I Descended by Robin Talley

Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them.

Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey.

Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily’s whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word.

But what Delilah doesn’t know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock in her attendance at Stanford―and four more years in a shared dorm room with Lily.

Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school.

But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.

From acclaimed author Robin Talley comes a Shakespeare-inspired story of revenge and redemption, where fair is foul, and foul is fair.

Do I even need to go into why this is a must read and I am super stoked to read it? I loved the author's debut and though I DNF'd her second book, I have high hopes for this f/f retelling.


To the Sky Kingdom by Tang Qi

When the immortal Bai Qian finally meets her intended husband, the heir to the Sky Throne, she considers herself in luck—until an old enemy returns to threaten everything she holds dear.…

When a mortal woman enters the immortal world to be with her true love, she sparks a jealousy that ends in tragedy.…

And when a war god depletes his spiritual energy, his devoted student sustains his body with her own heart’s blood until the god’s scattered soul reassembles.…

Spanning a thousand years of tangled lives, To the Sky Kingdom is a story of epic battles, passion, evil, and magic. In its journey across worlds and time, it delves into the powerful forces that drive mortals and gods alike toward revenge, loyalty—and love.

The cover for this is gorgeous and the summary kind of reminds of me of The Ghost Bride but more action-oriented.

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova (Brooklyn Brujas #1)

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation...and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can't trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland...

This sounds like a really fun read. I love the author on twitter and this has been pretty well received by readers I trust.


I am in love with this writer. I found her on instagram and her poems are my favorite. I really recommend checking her out on there (@nikita_gill) and in book form.

Two Minute Review: Risuko by David Kudler

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

Can one girl win a war?

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

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

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

All I want to do is climb.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

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

No one expects a princess to be brutal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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