The Intimidating TBR Book Tag

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I found this tag on Pretty Deadly Reviews! So all kudos for the graphic goes to their hard work :)
For this tag, I am just going to use books that I own but have not yet read. Maybe it will motivate me?

What book on your TBR have you been unable to finish?

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente. Valente is a very imaginative author and her books can be ambitious and strange; wholly original but hard to get into initially.I read about 130 pages of this, set it down... and wandered away.

What book on your TBR pile haven’t you read because…

You haven’t had the time:

Charles de Lint's Newford series starting with Dreams Underfoot. I have read two of them (#8 aka The Onion Girl and #11 aka Widdershins) but I own about 9 more that I just cannot seem to set aside the time to start the series.

You didn’t enjoy the author’s first book:

Incarnate by Jodi Meadows. I was alternately bored or annoyed by The Orphan Queen and DNF'd The Mirror King in probably 50 pages. (I know the Newsoul trilogy was published first but I read her second series before her first so I say it applies.)

It’s a sequel:

Flesh and Blood by Kristen Painter. I technically am on book two in the House of Comarre but it's been probably 6 years since I read the first. So I really need to reread Blood Rights before starting the sequel.

It’s brand new:

City of Strife by Claudie Arsenault (City of Spires #1)

Isandor, City of Spires.

A hundred and thirty years have passed since Arathiel last set foot in his home city. Isandor hasn’t changed—bickering merchant families still vie for power through eccentric shows of wealth—but he has. His family is long dead, a magical trap has dulled his senses, and he returns seeking a sense of belonging now long lost.

Arathiel hides in the Lower City, piecing together a new life among in a shelter dedicated to the homeless and the poor, befriending an uncommon trio: the Shelter’s rageful owner, Larryn, his dark elven friend Hasryan, and Cal the cheese-loving halfling. When Hasryan is accused of Isandor's most infamous assassination of the last decade, what little peace Arathiel has managed to find for himself is shattered. Hasryan is innocent… he thinks. In order to save him, Arathiel may have to shatter the shreds of home he’d managed to build for himself.

Arathiel could appeal to the Dathirii—a noble elven family who knew him before he disappeared—but he would have to stop hiding, and they have battles of their own to fight. The idealistic Lord Dathirii is waging a battle of honour and justice against the cruel Myrian Empire, objecting to their slavery, their magics, and inhumane treatment of their apprentices. One he could win, if only he could convince Isandor’s rulers to stop courting Myrian’s favours for profit.

In the ripples that follow Diel’s opposition, friendships shatter and alliances crumble. Arathiel, the Dathirii, and everyone in Isandor fights to preserve their homes, even if the struggle changes them irrevocably.

City of Strife is the first installment of the City of Spires trilogy, a multi-layered political fantasy led by an all LGBTQIAP+ cast. Fans of complex storylines criss-crossing one another, elves and magic, and strong friendships and found families will find everything they need within these pages.

You just haven’t been in the mood:

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two. I have a loooot of complicated feelings about this playbookthingy. I both very much want to read it and I do not want to read it. I know what happens and I am sure one day I will actually read the words for myself, but it hasn't happened in the eight months so far that I've owned the hardback.

It’s humongous:

I want to read this but I am also scared it will fall on my face and break my glasses. It's 901 pages and those pages are hair-thin.

Because it was a cover buy but ended up receiving poor reviews:

I really love the cover for The Sin Eater's Daughter but hardly any of my favorites have rated this over 3-stars or even finished it.


I will still probably try this because eveeeeryone hated Bright Smoke, Cold Fire and I super dug that one.

What is the most intimidating book on your TBR?

Melina Marchetta's debut novel Looking for Alibrandi. Not because it's huge -- it's not -- but because it's my last Marchetta and how can I break the glass?!

What are the most intimidating books on your to-be-read pile?

Book Tour Review: The Shadow Sister by Lucinda Riley

Monday, April 24, 2017
Title: The Shadow Sister
Author: Lucinda Riley
Genre: historical, general fiction
Series: The Seven Sisters #3
Pages: 671
Published: April 18 2017
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 3/5

Travel through the lush English countryside and explore the magnificent estates of the British aristocracy in this next spellbinding love story in The Seven Sisters series by #1 internationally bestselling author Lucinda Riley.

Star D’Aplièse is at a crossroads in her life after the sudden death of her beloved father—the elusive billionaire, affectionately called Pa Salt by his six daughters, all adopted from across the four corners of the world. He has left each of them a clue to her true heritage, and Star nervously decides to follow hers, which leads her to an antiquarian bookshop in London, and the start of a whole new world.

A hundred years earlier, headstrong and independent Flora MacNichol vows she will never marry. She is happy and secure in her home in England’s picturesque Lake District—just a stone’s throw away from the residence of her childhood idol, Beatrix Potter—when machinations lead her to London, and the home of one of Edwardian society’s most notorious society hostesses, Alice Keppel. Flora is torn between passionate love and her duty to her family, but finds herself a pawn in a larger game. That is, until a meeting with a mysterious gentleman unveils the answers that Flora has been searching for her whole life...

As Star learns more of Flora’s incredible journey, she too goes on a voyage of discovery, finally stepping out of the shadow of her sister and opening herself up to the possibility of love.

The Shadow Sister is the third in the sweeping Seven Sisters series, “soaked in glamour and romance” (Daily Mail) and perfect for fans of Downton Abbey and the novels of Kate Morton.

The third book in the on-going series and the strongest offering yet by a veteran timeslip author, The Shadow Sister is a return to the varied and interconnected lives of the seven daughters of the enigmatic Pa Salt. Imagined as a more modern retelling of the Pleiades, each successive novel has centered on a successive adoptive sister of a large, multicultural family. Recommended for fans of century-spanning plots from authors like Kate Morton, Star D’Aplièse's current life is intertwined with that of Flora MacNichol, a woman who lived 100 years before and whose story is pivotal to the modern plotline.

Before with The Seven Sisters first eldest sister Maya and then Ally in The Storm Sister got to have their backstories told and now it is the turn of quiet, shy Star to take the center stage. The Shadow Sister is entirely her story, though others leave their mark on both her and the plot's progression. Leaving Atlantis to follow her path and find herself, Star finds a lot more than she could have expected, including the fictional inclusion of Beatrix Potter. Her story is long and winding; Lucinda Riley's style of storytelling lends itself to detail, description, and sometimes repetition. Star is an able main character; despite her flaws she's engaging and likeable. It's easy to invest in her, even if sometimes her decisions are frustrating. Flora is a good complement and foil for Star, but I found her plotline somewhat less compelling. I was interested to see how it would conclude and connect but it was Star that pulled attention.

The various locations shown in the book are another highlight to reading The Shadow Sister -- the bookstore! London! Beatrix Potter's house! The settings for Flora before and for Star now can be both evocative and atmospheric. As I said, Riley is an author that tends to be rather descriptive -- which benefits that pivotal aspect of their stories. On the other hand, there's no denying that The Shadow Sister is a very verbose book. Almost 700 pages is a lot of story to cover and certain elements of the plot can feel overly-drawn out at times. The way the narrative alternates between the past and present is a favorite structure of mine and can be used to showcase new angles to the central story, but some of it feels unnecessary and repetitive here.

Despite the occasional spot of uneven pacing, narrative repetition, or an overly-anticipated plot reveal, The Shadow Sister is a engaging blend of two women's stories of life and love. The "silent sister" of the seven, in this Star finally finds her voice, and Lucinda Riley ends her third novel in a good position to launch the fourth.

Review: The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence by Alyssa Palombo

Saturday, April 22, 2017
Title: The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence
Author: Alyssa Palombo
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Published: expected April 25 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 5/5

A girl as beautiful as Simonetta Cattaneo never wants for marriage proposals in 15th Century Italy, but she jumps at the chance to marry Marco Vespucci. Marco is young, handsome and well-educated. Not to mention he is one of the powerful Medici family’s favored circle.

Even before her marriage with Marco is set, Simonetta is swept up into Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici’s glittering circle of politicians, poets, artists, and philosophers. The men of Florence―most notably the rakish Giuliano de’ Medici―become enthralled with her beauty. That she is educated and an ardent reader of poetry makes her more desirable and fashionable still. But it is her acquaintance with a young painter, Sandro Botticelli, which strikes her heart most. Botticelli immediately invites Simonetta, newly proclaimed the most beautiful woman in Florence, to pose for him. As Simonetta learns to navigate her marriage, her place in Florentine society, and the politics of beauty and desire, she and Botticelli develop a passionate intimacy, one that leads to her immortalization in his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.

The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is a fantastic historical fiction rendition of the rich life of one of Florence's most celebrated women, the educated and vibrant young woman who inspired one of the Renaissance's most renowned artists. Simonetta Cattaneo (later Vespucci) left her mark not only on art and history, but also on the men and women in her life, from the powerful to the poor. Though she is remembered for her early and tragic death as much as for her influence as an artistic muse, in Alyssa Palombo's second novel Simonetta comes vibrantly to life.

Alyssa Palombo's novel retells the daily life and loves of Simonetta through her years in Florence, inventing and substantiating where history is unclear or when necessary to connect the various dots. The careful approach the author took to interpreting the known parts of Simonetta's history with her own inventions to facilitate the plot in The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is both smart and helps create an authentic representation. Her version of Simonetta is a believable product of her times and still understandable and relateable; confined by strictures of society and marriage, Simonetta never ceases demanding respect and her due. With the small amount of choice left to her before and after her wedding, Palombo's slow building of the star-crossed relationship between Boticelli and Simonetta feels like a small window of freedom, rather than a sin.

Though Simonetta is a well-drawn, three-dimensional and the main character, she shares the stage in The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. The city of Florence itself looms large over the story and the characters. Its history and politics, its atmosphere  - all of that is omnipresent and unique and almost tangible. Palombo describes her Italian city-state with detail and a talent for visual imagery; a city on the rise with the ideas of rebirth and art and faith is easy to envision under her pen. The powerful Medici family, ever-associated with Florence and its art, are also key players in many of the dramatic moments of Simonetta's personal life. Both Lorenzo and Giuliano are historically linked to her, as is their associate Sandro Botticelli. The romance between Sandro and Simonetta is emotionally rich and devastating. 

This novel was so good it made me immediately go buy the author's debut about Vivaldi, The Violinist of Venice. With her keen eye for detail, fantastic historical characters, obvious knowledge and research about the time and place and people concerned, Alyssa Palombo is able to faithfully recreate and invigorate the life of a fascinating woman. The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is evocative and entertaining in equal parts; sure to please fans of other Italian-centric historical fiction writers like Sarah Dunant and Marina Fiorato.

April Book Haul

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Godblind by Anna Stephens

 For fans of Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, and Mark Lawrence comes a brutal grimdark fantasy debut of dark gods and violent warriors.

The Mireces worship the bloodthirsty Red Gods. Exiled from Rilpor a thousand years ago, and left to suffer a harsh life in the cold mountains, a new Mireces king now plots an invasion of Rilpor’s thriving cities and fertile earth.

Dom Templeson is a Watcher, a civilian warrior guarding Rilpor’s border. He is also the most powerful seer in generations, plagued with visions and prophecies. His people are devoted followers of the god of light and life, but Dom harbors deep secrets, which threaten to be exposed when Rillirin, an escaped Mireces slave, stumbles broken and bleeding into his village.

Meanwhile, more and more of Rilpor’s most powerful figures are turning to the dark rituals and bloody sacrifices of the Red Gods, including the prince, who plots to wrest the throne from his dying father in the heart of the kingdom. Can Rillirin, with her inside knowledge of the Red Gods and her shocking ties to the Mireces King, help Rilpor win the coming war?

I had been doing pretty well at not buying books... and then Book Outlet had a sale and free shippinh. So that quickly sank me.

The epic order:

The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell
The Island of Excess Love by Francesca Lia Block (Love in the Time of Global Warming #2)
The Red Lily Crown by Elizabeth Loupas
Updraft by Fran Wilde (Bone Universe #1)
Tandem by Anna Jarzab (Many-Worlds #1)
Ember Island by Kimberly Freeman
Falls the Shadow by Stephanie Gaither (Falls the Shadow #1)
Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay (Sarantine Mosaic #1)
Lord of Emperors by Guy Gavriel Kay (Sarantine Mosaic #2)
The Purple Shroud: A Novel of Theodora by Stella Duffy
Echoes of Us by Kat Zhang (Hybrid Chronicles #3)
The Judgement of Caesar by Steven Saylor
Royal Romances: Titillating Tales of Passion and Power in the Palaces of Europe by Leslie Carroll
Up to this Pointe by Jen Longo
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (Akata Witch #1)
Pointe by Brandy Colbert
A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry
Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins
Miss Mayhem by Rachel Hawkins (Rebel Belle #2)
The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
The Girl on the Golden Coin: A Novel of Frances Stuart by Marci Jefferson
The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

 and then I bought some more from the same sale four days later because I am incorrigible:

The Pilgrims by Will Elliott (Pendulum #1)
Shadow by Will Elliott (Pendulum #2)
World's End by Will Elliott (Pendulum #3)
Black Ships by Jo Graham (Numinous World #1)
Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler

Review: Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Title: Spindle Fire
Author: Lexa Hillyer
Genre: fantasy
Series: Spindle Fire #1
Pages: 368
Published: expected April 11 2017
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 4/5

Perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo, Spindle Fire is an enthralling, wholly original reimagining of a classic faerie story.

Half sisters Isabelle and Aurora are polar opposites: Isabelle is the king’s headstrong illegitimate daughter, whose sight was tithed by faeries; Aurora, beautiful and sheltered, was tithed her sense of touch and voice on the same day. Despite their differences, the sisters have always been extremely close.

And then everything changes, with a single drop of Aurora’s blood, a Faerie Queen who is preparing for war, a strange and enchanting dream realm—and a sleep so deep it cannot be broken.

Spindle Fire is a tour-de-force fantasy set in the dwindling, deliciously corrupt world of the fae and featuring two truly unforgettable heroines, from a writer destined to be a major voice in YA.

Another fantasy/fairy tale retelling from HarperTeen, Lexa Hillyer's solid retelling of Sleeping Beauty stands out from its many counterparts due to its scope and ambitious storytelling. Innovative, fun, and far-reaching, this is a great blend of two genres. Told in present tense and closely focused on two very different sets of sisters, Spindle Fire incorporates the familiar parts of the Sleeping Beauty story and pairs them with inventions and adaptations all its own. A unique and creative look at one of our most popular fairy tales, Lexa Hillyer's detailed and original look at the story of Aurora (and now Isabelle) makes for a great series beginning.

Aurora is the crown princess of her country, and Isbe is the bastard elder daughter of their father. The two siblings share the narration of Spindle Fire; each girl's plotline is fresh, engaging, and distinct in both  voice and tone. One sister had her sight tithed to the fae, and the other had touch and voice tithed in return for gifts from the supernatural creatures. Despite their wildly varying circumstances and states in life, the two girls are close, even forming a ASL-like language only they can understand. Their bond is true and authentic despite convention and expectation, but still fraught and complicated. The relationship between the two girls is layered and important; it also provides the drive for most of the plot's progression. After the infamous spindle, Isbe's journey to save her sister at all costs is compelling and believable because we are shown the depth of their love for one another.

Contrasted neatly against the two human sisters' present struggles is the history of two powerful fae sisters named Malfleur and Belcoeur. Their messy past informs the present of Isbe and Aurora's current circumstances; the two opposing narratives are tied together rather cleverly using magic and a spindle. Without venturing too far from the usual path of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, Hillyer manages to create an extensive, intricate history for the two fae and then ties it to Aurora's sleeping curse. The effects of the two sister's deteriorating relationship are widespread; felt even in the world-building and culture of the present world of Isbe and Aurora. Hillyer spends a lot of time in Spindle Fire building or revealing the relationships between her characters and it makes their interactions richer and more meaningful, as shown with first Isbe and Aurora, and then when Malfleur and Belcoeur are involved.

Strong writing, solid worldbuilding, and great characters made Spindle Fire a very fun and fully entertaining read. This story shines the most when it directly concerns the relationship between either pair of sisters. Unlike the complexity shown of those relationships, I found that the various romances being set up for the princesses didn't really work for me. The potential is there for both Isbe and Aurora's love interests to become more shippable in the next book - at least if Hillyer avoids the pitfall of using a tired trope like love triangles.

Spindle Fire is a clever, very enjoyable blend of fantasy and fairy tale; the first in a duology, it makes for an engrossing read that is ably plotted and quickly moving.


Top Ten Books I Have Never Read

Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Top Ten Tuesday is all thanks to The Broke and the Bookish! This lovely header is thanks to APR's own Dani.

This week I've decided to out myself for the books that I have never ever read. Try not to shun me too much, okay?

1. The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner
I actually tried chapter one of book one and was not pulled in.. but I keep seeing it recc'd and I keep buying the sequels... so maybe one day.

2. Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi (Shatter Me #2)
I couldn't I'm sorry, I tried. I made it through 1.5 books of this but Mafi's writing just does not fit with this series and it feels so overblown and purple and not even Kenji was enough. I loved Furthermore, though.

3. Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
I basically KNOW I will love this and yet??? I fail.

4. Unwholly by Neal Shusterman (Unwind #2)
Unwind was big deal to me -- I felt very intensely about that book and still do. I am half scared the rest of the series is going to ruin what that book meant to me.

5. The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
So I love All Things Sanderson, yes. But for some reason I look at this book sitting on my shelf and think, "ehh, maybe later." Maybe it's cause the title makes me think of math?

6. The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh (The Wrath and the Dawn #2)
So I liked but did not love The Wrath and the Dawn. I am also not sure it needed to be a series. So I do own this, and have for months, but I would bet on many more before I start it.

7. Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #11)
I just... can't.

8. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
I bought this because yessss gay wizards but haven't cracked it because the Simon Snow parts were my least favorite of Fangirl.

9. Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey (Heralds of Valdemar #1)
Though I have read a lot of her books (hard not to since she is prolific af), somehow I have missed her most popular and recommended series.

10. The Foundation series by Isaas Asimov
Science fiction staple that I perennially say "I will get to this!" I have never gotten to it. [nerdshame]

Backlist Review: YOLO Juliet by Brett Wright, William Shakespeare

Sunday, April 16, 2017
Title: YOLO Juliet
Author: Brett WrightWilliam Shakespeare
Genre: classics, humor
Series: OMG Shakespeare #1
Pages: 112
Published: May 26th, 2015
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.75/5

Romeo and Juliet, one of the greatest love stories ever told . . . in texts?!
Imagine: What if those star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet had smartphones? A classic is reborn in this fun and funny adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays!

Two families at war.
A boy and a girl in love.
A secret marriage gone oh-so-wrong.

and h8. The classics just got a whole lot more interesting. ;)

tl;dr A Shakespeare play told through its characters texting with emojis, checking in at certain locations, and updating their relationship statuses. The perfect gift for hip theater lovers and teens.

A glossary and cast of characters are included for those who need it. For example: tl;dr means too long; didn’t read.

There's a story in the history fandom that Romeo & Juliet was originally written as a comedy. The tale goes that when Shakespeare originally put on the production, then a satire of the Greek-inspired tragic love stories that were en vogue in Elizabethan times, his patron/the audience/whomever saw the play didn't get it. Instead of laughing at the absurdity of two thirteen-year-olds bringing about the mutual destruction of their families in less than 48-hours, the audience was weeping over our eponymous teens. Shakespeare, biting his thumb at those who didn't appreciate his brilliance, rewrote and expanded the play into what we know now, but left enough snark in that those smart enough to read between the lines would get it. While it's true R&J went through substantial rewrites, of course there's no proof the play was ever meant to be completely humorous. If anything, its status as a tragedy IS the subversion. The first two acts set up a comedy (happy) ending, (think Shakespeare's other instalove plays, Much Ado... and A Midsummer Night's Dream,) before Mercutio's death sends our heroes careening into death and the destruction of their houses.

That's not to say R&J is a super serious story or that it was written for a particularly high minded crowd. The first few acts have a decidedly comedic flair as Willie makes a point to show this feud has reached absurdity, with party crashing and servants passive aggressively starting shit in the street. This is obviously best illustrated by the thumb biting scene which, translated into the modern tongue, proves to be not that deep:

“they can say whatever the hell they want I don’t care I’ll say ‘fuck you’”
“did you just flip the bird at us?”
“I did flip the bird, yeah”
“but did you flip it at US?”
“yo bruh if this starts a fight how easily can I get out of trouble”
“not very”
“So like I flipped the bird but it TOTALLY wasn’t at you”

I definitely see how the "secret comedy" rumor got started.

We as a society have studied Shakespeare for so long that his work has been universally elevated, even the dick jokes and middle fingers. Like Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes , Yolo Juliet is a book that sets out to demystify a subject through comedy. It plays the story big and broad with an absurdist bend, emphasizing the quick nature of the relationship and Romeo's mercurial romantic feelings.

The first two acts work shockingly well. The texts between Benvolio, Mercutio, and Romeo feel like a bunch of bros at a party. Romeo accidentally "checking in" to the Capulet house, leading to Tybalt seeing his status was a really funny way to do that interaction. I DIED at Lady Capulet signing all of her messages. It's such a mom thing.

The fifth act, however, is a complete fail. The texting conceit falls apart when everyone is in the same place. Paris' death is very clunky, one line he tells Romeo if he comes to the tomb they'll fight, the next "#dying ... RIP, me." Plus the Facebook death update had already been used for Tybalt so it felt done. I also hated the last relationship status update and the comments from the living cast. It felt corny.

The book is short - 92 pages devoted to the play. Obviously things are left out. The Queen Mab speech is reduced to two sentences. The "bite my thumb" scene, which seems tailored to the conceit, is also missing. You'll get the broad strokes, but not the nuances. What I'm saying is, don't use this as the SparkNotes for your English paper, unless your teacher has a real sense of humor.

Parts of Yolo Juliet are really funny and I think it's great to look at the classics with a bit of levity. I know the Globe Theater is modernizing a lot of the Bard's works, combining modern costuming and music with diverse sexualities, races, and genders to bring in a new, younger audience. I mean, this is a playwright who, once you realize "no thing" was a double entendre, performed a play called "Much Ado About Vaginas". <i>Yolo Juliet</i> is what he would have wanted.

Emma Rice's 2016 Bollywood-inspired A Midsummer Nights Dream at The Globe Theatre

Ageless Discussions: Recollecting

Friday, April 14, 2017

I've always loved books but I haven't always collected them the way I do now. Lately I have been in the habit of trying to track down hazily-remembered, favorite childhood reads. The ones that I loved, secretively or loudly and were formative in how I approach and appreciate novels even now. The ones I took out from the library and never returned (I'm sorry but Daine and Numair!). Some of these books I've managed to hang onto in the twenty-something years since that first reading (A Royal Pain --- like the Princess Dairies but funnier!), but others have gotten lost: in the various moves of college, in those times later in teenage years when you decide you're "so over" anything younger-you loved.

Sometimes this is an easy process. I can remember the title, the cover, or the author's name. This is how I re-collected most of my childhood collection. I bought the boxed set of the Samantha stories last year, for example.

Other books are harder for me to remember, or just harder to track down a physical copy. In the case of the latter, there is one book (Walk Through Cold Fire - an 80s YA obviously inspired by The Outsiders even to a reader who has never read The Outsiders) that is veeery hard to get nowadays. I knew I had a copy so one afternoon last year was spent by me tearing apart every bookcase, box, cabinet I owned to find my tattered copy -- just to make sure I still had it, could read it when I wanted.*

The worst ones are the books where I can vaguely remember the plotline and but I intensely remember how that book made me feel. I'm left scrambling key words on Google ("a girl named Scottie wants to be a writer but the publisher wants her to pay") , sending out echoes of inquiries into Twitter (a book where a girl gymnast moves to a new school and falls for a boy gymnast! His sister's also a gymnast!) in the hopes that someone out there has had the same thought or has read the same book.

(Those are The Great Mom Swap by Betsey Haynes and Head Over Heels by Lurlene McDaniel.)

The worst is when my memory is good enough to remember things like there was a love interest named Francis... but not the main character's name. I could remember that the main character's cousin had come visiting from California and that a pool (???) and murder were somehow part of the plot. For a couple weeks, I would reword that info and google or Bing the key words.

It ended up being My Crazy Cousin Courtney and its several sequels. I found it by Bing-ing (boy that does not sound as good as "googling") "90s book about a cousin visiting from California" -- and then checked the IMAGES not the links that returned. Or in another case, searching various combinations of "girl moves from California and her dad makes snow shovels." (This was The Year My Parents Ruined My Life by Martha Freeman.) I eventually found it only because after nights of trying to remember more, the name of the town it was set in - Belletoona - surfaced in memory.

I think the reason I have decided to recollect these books is that I can now see a lot of them influenced the kind of reader I became. Clemence McLaren's Inside the Walls of Troy was the first historical fiction novel I remember reading and it made more than a lasting impression. (I loved it so much I forgot to return my friend's copy. I was a terrible child.) To this day, Hector is my first and most beloved book boyfriend. Though it's a light and probably silly read, the sheer happiness that flooded my body when I found My Crazy Cousin Courtney shows how much younger-me loved that book. The title is problematic and now that I am older I know that, but I will be buying this come pay day. I feel I owe it to... myself.

There are still other books from childhood I am trying to find or remember and it's definitely becoming more of a goal for me going forward as a reader.

What about you? Are there any books out there you've searched years for? That you can kinda remember but not really?

Or have you read any of these random novels I attached way too much investment in?

*not available in kindle, and even if it were, NOT THE SAME when I loved my physical copy to the point of having to self-laminate the cover.**

**I taped it with clear tape, okay?

Two Minute Review: Duels and Deceptions by Cindy Anstey

Thursday, April 13, 2017
Title: Duels and Deceptions
Author: Cindy Anstey
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Published: April 11 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2.5/5

Miss Lydia Whitfield, heiress to the family fortune, has her future entirely planned out. She will run the family estate until she marries the man of her late father's choosing, and then she will spend the rest of her days as a devoted wife. Confident in those arrangements, Lydia has tasked her young law clerk, Mr. Robert Newton, to begin drawing up the marriage contracts. Everything is going according to plan.

Until Lydia—and Robert along with her—is kidnapped. Someone is after her fortune and won't hesitate to destroy her reputation to get it. With Robert's help, Lydia strives to keep her family's good name intact and expose whoever is behind the devious plot. But as their investigation delves deeper and their affections for each other grow, Lydia starts to wonder whether her carefully planned future is in fact what she truly wants…

A Regency novel centered around a teenage romance, Duels and Deceptions is a cute if somewhat shallow historical young adult read. Much like the author's previous novel from Swoon Reads, Love, Lies and Spies, the plot follows two moderately well-developed characters as their stories intersect and then entwine in escapades both wild and mundane. Though there's nothing egregiously off about Duels and Deceptions, it just fails to make an original impression. It's not a bad story, or that Lydia and Robert are boring characters -- the fault lies in the alternatively predictable or outlandish progression of the book's plot and in the flat nature of the world around the two central players.

Lydia and Robert each have their strengths and weaknesses --  as love interests for one another and as characters in their own right, but the best thing Duels and Deceptions has going for it is their genuine chemistry and the banter that springs up between them. Even when the plot veered its most outlandish or predictable, the two of them remained engaging and interesting. The same cannot be said for the secondary characters involved in their lives, but much of the novel is about the romance between the two main characters anyway. If the plot had felt more substantial or had been less generic in its fruition or the secondary characters more lifelike, I think Duels and Deceptions could have been a 3-3.5 star book. But, as it is, this was a 2.5-star read and probably my last attempt from this author.

Waiting on Wednesday: Ash and Quill

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

I read and loved both Ink and Bone and Paper and Fire... so it's should be no surprise that I am eagerly waiting for the third book.

The unforgettable characters from Ink and Bone and Paper and Fire unite to save the Great Library of Alexandria from itself in this electrifying adventure in the New York Times bestselling series.

Hoarding all the knowledge of the world, the Great Library jealousy guards its secrets. But now a group of rebels poses a dangerous threat to its tyranny....

Jess Brightwell and his band of exiles have fled London, only to find themselves imprisoned in Philadelphia, a city led by those who would rather burn books than submit. But Jess and his friends have a bargaining chip: the knowledge to build a machine that will break the Library’s rule.

Their time is running out. To survive, they’ll have to choose to live or die as one, to take the fight to their enemies—and to save the very soul of the Great Library....

Ash and Quill by Rachel Caine
Expected Publication: July 11 2017
Publisher: Berkley

Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1)
Paper and Fire (The Great Library #2)

Glass Houses (The Morganville Vampires #1)
The Dead Girls' Dance (The Morganville Vampires #2)
Midnight Alley (The Morganville Vampires #3)
Feast of Fools (The Morganville Vampires #4)
Lord of Misrule (The Morganville Vampires #5)
Carpe Corpus (The Morganville Vampires #6)
Fade Out (The Morganville Vampires #7)
Kiss of Death (The Morganville Vampires #8)
Ghost Town (The Morganville Vampires #9)
Bite Club (The Morganville Vampires #10)
Last Breath (The Morganville Vampires #11)
Black Dawn (The Morganville Vampires #12)
Bitter Blood (The Morganville Vampires #13)
Fall of Night (The Morganville Vampires #14)
Daylighters (The Morganville Vampires #15)

Review: It Happened on Love Street by Lia Riley

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Title: It Happened on Love Street
Author: Lia Riley
Genre: romance
Series: Everland #1
Pages: 368
Published: Expected April 25, 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2/5

The most romantic place she never wanted to be . . .

Pepper Knight moved to Everland, Georgia, as step one in her plan for a successful legal career. But after this big-city gal's plans go awry, going home with her tail between her legs isn't an option. So when the town vet-and her sexy new neighbor-offers Pepper a temporary dog-walking job, she jumps at the chance. No one needs to know that man's best friend is her worst nightmare . . . or that Everland's hot animal whisperer leaves her panting.

The last thing Rhett Valentine wants is to be the center of small-town gossip. After his first love left him at the altar, he's been there, done that. These days, life is simple, just the way he likes it. But sultry southern nights get complicated once sparks fly between him and the knockout next door. When she proposes a sexy, secret fling-all the deliciousness and none of the prying neighbors-it seems too good to be true. And it is. Because Pepper's determined to leave Love Street, and when she goes, she just might take his heart with her . . .

The premise of this book is so cute, but by the end of It Happened on Love Street, that cuteness has become cloying.

Pepper's a New York lawyer who's just moved to Everland, Georgia for a job opportunity. She's Type-A spitfire with a streak of sass a mile long and twice as deep. Unfortunately for her, she's also just been fired before her day even begins.

Enter Rhett Valentine, local vet and gossip column darling as the town blue-hairs a dying to fix him up with literally anyone with a pulse. Rhett and Pepper's meet-cute in the rain is cut short by her debilitating fear of dogs, of which Rhett has three. And here's problem number one.

Pepper starts out so afraid of dogs that a yipping maltese literally sends her into a panic attack. A huddled on the ground, crying in front of children, panic attack. Have you ever seen a maltese?

Vicious murderers they are not. But that's ok because phobias aren't rational. Pepper realizes this and has even tried expensive immersion therapy to help, without success. So when Rhett calls her up and tells her he's gotten her a job as a dog walker, Pepper's understandably upset and fearful.

She walks one chihuahua to a dog park three times and is cured to the point of having five dogs by the epilogue.

I'm the dog on the right.

The characters face no real struggles or issues. Pepper's not planning on sticking around past the summer, and Rhett's a Southern boy through and through, so there's a bit of fretting over the expiration date of the relationship. Rhett wants to keep the relationship secret because of the local gossips, but every time he turns around he's telling someone about them. So why then, when his sister correctly guesses that he and Pepper are a couple, does he not just open his mouth and say, no Lou Ellen, I will not be in your bachelor auction because of my girlfriend and by the way, I'm being blackmailed by the bad guy into getting him the auction spot? And the villain. Oh the villain, you guys.

Pepper's boss, the "honorable" Judge Hogg rescinds her job offer on the morning of her start date because his mama needed him to give the position to her friend's nephew. Later, without knowing who the other is, he approaches Pep in the dog park to violently sexually harass her. Now A) the town is the size of a postage stamp and she has a Northern accent, who the fuck did you think she was and B) the whole exchange is so cringingly bad, as a grown ass man who presumably did graduate from law school asks Pepper if she's from Tennessee (because you're the only ten I see) and makes honking noises while pretending to squeeze her breasts.

Boss Hogg is the villain from Dukes of Hazzard, guys. A fat, greedy southern cop/business man/sometimes lawyer who owned most of the town and the Dukes' property. An ineffectual bad guy who would do just about anything for money and power, though always stopping short of actual physical harm.

Judge Hogg is a dull, smarmy judge/landowner/grant committee chair keeping Rhett from opening his dream vet clinic due to building permits. An ineffectual bad guy who'll do pretty much anything for his criminal mother, though his only real crime (besides sexual harassment) is stealing a town statue to destroy Everland's morale.

Come on. The author even has Pepper think, "She'd imagined the judge as a paunchy Southern villain, short and jowly with a pale complexion and thick lids."

The only thing missing is the suit. She might as well have written, "Think Boss Hogg but don't actually for copy-write reasons."

In addition to that character, who I think is poorly written all around, I found the sex scenes to not be my cup of tea. "Her hips were cool in contrast to the heat of her secret skin." "It's a trick to be witty with a finger massaging your lady button." Do we really need these kind of euphemisms for the vulva and clitoris in 2017? I know there are only so many ways of writing the same scenes, but "secret skin" comes off really sex negative to me, especially in a scene from the male POV.

But the worst crime, and the one I alluded to in my opening statement, the writing is cheesy. For example, "Last night he hadn't simply opened Piper's legs; he'd opened a part of his heart." These two think things like this all. the. time. It's bad enough his name is Rhett Valentine and he lives on Love Street, like I understood a certain amount of sugar was to be expected going in, but you couldn't have switched to Sweet-n-Low for the dialogue?

Spoilers for the ending: For the big climax, Pepper goes running back to Maine to check on her dad, who's been admitted to the hospital. (Which, double spoiler, he turns out to be a real asshole and I don't think the author knows it. Like I get that she's 24 or something, but you seriously didn't tell her you were in the hospital? Or sold your farm? Or were moving cross-country in an Airstream with a woman you just met? That's fucking cold, man.) This book actually has the balls after everything it's put me through - finding fucking pirate treasure and magical phobia curing dogs named Kitty and even a goddamn psychic - to pull the "they both fly across the country to make the grand gesture and end up missing each other". That's been out of style for thirty years in romance. Bro, come on.

I love a good Southern romance and a fish out of the Hudson Bay. My favorite movie is Sweet Home Alabama, so I don't even require they have good plots! But guys, watch Hart of Dixie on Netflix instead of reading this one.

Review: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

Monday, April 10, 2017
Title: Skullsworn
Author: Brian Staveley
Genre: fantasy
Series: N/A
Pages: 304
Published: expected April 25 2017
Source: ARC via publishers
Rating: 4.5/5

Brian Staveley’s new standalone returns to the critically acclaimed Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe, following a priestess attempting to join the ranks of the God of Death.

Pyrre Lakatur doesn’t like the word skullsworn. It fails to capture the faith and grace, the peace and beauty of her devotion to the God of Death. She is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer--she is a priestess. At least, she will be a priestess if she manages to pass her final trial.

The problem isn’t the killing. Pyrre has been killing and training to kill, studying with some of the most deadly men and women in the world, since she was eight. The problem, strangely, is love. To pass her Trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the ten people enumerated in an ancient song, including "the one you love / who will not come again."

Pyrre is not sure she’s ever been in love. If she were a member of a different religious order, a less devoted, disciplined order, she might cheat. The Priests of Ananshael, however, don’t look kindly on cheaters. If Pyrre fails to find someone to love, or fails to kill that someone, they will give her to the god.

Pyrre’s not afraid to die, but she hates to quit, hates to fail, and so, with a month before her trial begins, she returns to the city of her birth, the place where she long ago offered an abusive father to the god and abandoned a battered brother—in the hope of finding love...and ending it on the edge of her sword.

Last year, Brian Staveley wrapped up his Tang-China inspired sprawling fantasy series, The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne. However, while The Last Mortal Bond effectively concluded the storylines of most of its main characters by its end, there was still plenty of room left to explore in the invented and interesting world, and the various cultures created to populate it. One of the secondary characters of those previous novels was the scene-stealing, Ananshael-worshiping Pyrre Lakatur.  Skullsworn is her book, chiefly following the story of how she became a priestess of Death in the city of Dombâng, decades before the events shown in the later trilogy. 

The story of Pyrre's Trial is fantasy (and mirrors Hull's Trial from The Emperor's Blades), though it's not quite an epic fantasy novel. The world from Staveley's first series is once again used, but Skullsworn is narrower in scope, tighter in plotting, and also contained to this one volume. It's a fast-paced return to the world of Eridroa and an excellent introduction to the rest of Pyrre's backstory. Despite the fantasy trappings, the plot of Skullsworn is much more focused on interpersonal dynamics and conflicts, rather than involving a larger-scale dispute. Despite the changes in storytelling and (sub)genre, the author adapts his thousands-of-pages-spanning style well to crafting a viable adventure fantasy standalone: the world of Eridroa is expanded and explored and Pyrre's adventures are intense and well-paced. Her life is fleshed out with nuance and care -- all the characters in the book are layered and complex, but none more so than Pyrre herself. 

There are a lot of moving parts going on in Skullsworn's pages, all of it tied back together by the central character and her quest to kill 10 people in 10 days. Where before the Kettral and the scattered imperial heirs were the focus and journeyed all over the Annurian Empire, this prequel/standalone concentrates narrowly on the seething city of Dombâng, a city long-conquered and always primed for rebellion. Pyrre is joined there by a well-rounded and interesting cast of secondary characters to complicate her life and Trial. There is so much depth and detail and thought given to crafting to every aspect of the story: from how Pyrre's unique history is tied into the main plot of the Trial, to how the gods of Dombâng fit within the known pantheon of Eridroa and with Pyrre. Stavely is an author built for worldbuilding and he does it with creativity and lack of infodumps.   

The world Brian Stavely has created has always felt very real and very big with parts unknown, with lots of room for further exploration. His gift for creating new worlds and cultures is readily apparent in all aspects -- even cursing in Eridroa has its own rhyme and reason, relevant to how the various cultures within it view hell/damning (aka they don't so they use in-world curses like "'Shael-spawned", etc..) One of my favorite reasons for reading and reccomending his books is that he creates fantasies that don't feel like pseudoEurope mid 1200s; they don't feel like a tired retread of something already done. Skullsworn and particularly Dombâng, its environs, its history and culture, and the plot centered around the city are wildly different from anything shown in The Emperor's Blades or The Providence of Fire or The Last Mortal Bond. Staveley is an ambitious author but he's also inventive and rigorous enough that his reach doesn't exceed his grasp. 

I am  a fan of the author for his technical writing abilities; that much is obvious. But it's worth noting that the writing in Skullsworn is wonderful. Even when depicting harsh events -- murder-by-croc or spider eggs -- to describing the way light shifted, Staveley is an author that can write. It's no surprise that his background is in poetry because the descriptive and unique style used in his novels is lyrical and visual. Take this quote from The Last Mortal Bond since the ARC of this is not for quoting:

"Night was a foreign nation. It had always felt that way to Adare, as though the world changed after the setting of the sun. Shadow elided hard edges, hid form, rendered sunlight’s familiar chambers strange. Darkness leached color from the brightest silk. Moonlight silvered water and glass, made lambent and cold the day’s basic substances. Even lamps, like the two that sat on the desk before her now, caused the world to shift and twitch with the motion of the captured flame."
A fantastic standalone prequel, Skullsworn is a high-stakes adventure encompassing rebellions, killer spiders, love, and murder. It feels a bit short at just 304 pages but Pyrre's backstory is concluded smartly and with a few open possibilities for more in-world novels. Sure to please fans of the previous trilogy and also able to be read independent of Staveley's earlier books, Skullsworn is an excellent adventure fantasy.

Series Review: The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Genre: science fiction
Pages: 273 & 296
Published: Feb 8 2016 & April 18 2017
Source: purchased & ARC from NetGalley
Ratings: 4/5

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she's not about to stop.

With just these two monster-centric books, new author Emily Skrutskie has already made quite an impression. Though her novels are rather on the short side for science fiction at less than three hundred pages each, both contain so much plot and action and character development that not a page feels wasted or more needed. With its ambitious, clever imagination, complex and morally-grey characters, and the detailed world-building needed to back up a world balanced by seamonster fights, Skrutskie's ecologically-impaired version of the future is dynamic and original while still being a high-stakes and action-packed read.

Sea monsters and pirates and the battles between comprise the bulk of the series' action, plotting, and attention across the two books in this series. Through the main character of Cas, a headstrong teen girl first on the legit side of the monster vs pirates lines that define her world, and later on the lawless side, the book uses a first-person viewpoint to explore both sides of the central conflict. Cas's role over the course of both books is pivotal and evolves along the way, from the Reckoner trainer initially introduced in The Abyss Surrounds Us to the crewmember of the Minnow in The Edge of the Abyss. It's not an easy transition to handle and remain believable: from hostage to outsider to pirate, but Skrutskie's characterization has depth and takes the time to make Cas' changes feel organic for the character.

It's not only martial conflict that plagues Cas over the course of this duology. She has to contend with a barrage of emotional damage in a relatively short amount of time: distance from her family, living among a hostile crew, training a "little shit" of a Reckoner in stressful environs, a Captain who likes to play deadly mind games, and a love interest that may or may not betray her depending on the given day of the week. The romance between Cas and Swift is long-gestating and complicated. The seeds of their attraction are authentic and planted in the first novel, but thanks to a severe imbalance in power between the two, it is never cemented. By the events of the the second book, the girls are on more even terms but their relationship is now troubled by the actions of Swift in the past, her future as a pirate, and by Cas's own actions. 

Outside of the characters and character interactions, the world-building of The Abyss Surrounds Us as a series remains a high point. There's cool tech invented for the world's necessities and in-depth thought given to crafting the eco-systems of the NeoPacific. Skrutskie's premise and imagination are strong and she uses scientific principles to create additional suspense and tension. The plotting reflects the author's knowledge, and while both books are mostly well-developed, they can also fall prey to tropes and conveniences on occasion. This is particularly noticeable in book two when Santa Elena needs other pirates to recognize the danger of a Hellbeast and hark! ONE APPEARS JUST THEN and attacking CIVILIANS! The series may go for the easy answer from time to time to tie plotlines or characters together, but its the exception rather than the rule.

The Abyss Surrounds Us was an excellent introduction to the world of Cas, Swift, Santa Elena and the Reckoners; short but impactful, and very memorable. The Edge of the Abyss continued those good traits and then builds a new, relevant plot to end the duology. The effortlessly diverse cast is worth noting and commending as well. This post-apocalyptic tale has f/f relationships, women of color in positions of power, Cas herself is of an unspecified Asian descent, aaaand The main human villain is a mediocre white failed businessman. Very much recommended.

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