Review: The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis

Sunday, May 28, 2017
Title: The Guns Above
Author: Robyn Bennis
Genre: steampunk
Series: Signal Airship #1
Pages: 336
Published: May 2 2017
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 4/5

The nation of Garnia has been at war for as long as Auxiliary Lieutenant Josette Dupre can remember – this time against neighboring Vinzhalia. Garnia’s Air Signal Corp stands out as the favored martial child of the King. But though it’s co-ed, women on-board are only allowed “auxiliary” crew positions and are banned from combat. In extenuating circumstances, Josette saves her airship in the heat of battle. She is rewarded with the Mistral, becoming Garnia’s first female captain.

She wants the job – just not the political flak attached. On top of patrolling the front lines, she must also contend with a crew who doubts her expertise, a new airship that is an untested deathtrap, and the foppish aristocrat Lord Bernat – a gambler and shameless flirt with the military know-how of a thimble. He’s also been assigned to her ship to catalog her every moment of weakness and indecision. When the Vins make an unprecedented military move that could turn the tide of the war, can Josette deal with Bernat, rally her crew, and survive long enough to prove herself to the top brass?

This is a book that begins and ends with literal bangs. Robyn Bennis is the kind of author that jumps right into the thick of the action and it makes The Guns Above beyond fun. It's...sorryIjustcanthelpit... explosively entertaining from the first page until the last. It's a fast-paced fantasy and steampunk read that feels like a historical fiction adventure a la Master and Commander.. but less stuffy and with more aerial battles and manners.

Though Napoleonic-era type warfare dominates the plot and the world, the book is centered on Garnia's first female airship captain fighting in those battles. Josette Dupre is capable, smart, and very definitely going to be used by military higher-ups for their own purposes. In short, she's in over her head from the start. Doubted at best, unsafe at worst, she is at the mercy of her superiors when she should be receiving their support. But Josette is the kind of woman who rises to any challenge; the kind who doesn't know when to quit - even when saddled with a "revolutionary" (aka deadly) new ship. She's developed into a wonderfully real person; not always likeable, not even close to perfect - all without sacrificing her intelligence or her courage. Her dry humor is rarely seen but makes all the more impression when shown.

Josette's counterpart and foil is that of the dandy Lord Bernat, a louche, fastidious aristocrat whose main talent is the ability to spin an sentence and be a pain in neck. Ostensibly added to Josette's crew to help facilitate in her new role, in reality he uses his first skill to accent and enlarge his second. Placed (using family connections, natch) as a spy to undermine the first female captain via reports and newsheets, the fop begins to show unexpected layers to his personality and to challenge his own many flaws. Drawn in by the captain and her stalwart crew, Bernat evolves into a better if not truly "good" man thanks to his inclusion among the crew of Mistral. He's thoroughly entertaining no matter which role he is currently playing; his snobby-but-funny banter pairs perfectly with Josette's laconic sarcasm and detached first impression.

Set against a backdrop of aerial combat and skirmishes with the enemy not to mention sabotage from her own leadership, The Guns Above balances its character development with plenty of action and tension. There's rarely a slow moment in its pages; rocketing from one kind of engagement to another, the pacing and the plot progress do not slow down. It makes for a story both very fast and very fun. While The Guns Above provides an excellent ending, managing to conclude most of its main plotlines satisfactorily, there are still political intrigues and the more militaristic plotlines left open for further exploration in sequels.














Review Take Two: Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Friday, May 26, 2017
Title: Geekerella
Author: Ashley Poston
Genre: contemporary, retelling
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Published: April 4 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 5/5

Cinderella goes to the con in this fandom-fueled twist on the classic fairy tale.

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad's old costume), Elle's determined to win unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons before he was famous. Now they re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he's ever wanted, but the Starfieldfandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.

Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

There are a few words that come to mind about Geekerella: "delightful" is one of the first that spring to mind. "Fun" is another. "Reread worthy" is definitely part of the conversation. Charming, nerdy, charismatic, inclusive, and romantic are all also applicable labels for this fun mashup of ideas. Ashley Poston's contemporary YA retelling of Cinderella contains all the hallmarks of the fairy take that we've come to love but combines them with unique, modern adaptations. Geekerella is the best of both worlds. Nerdy and entertaining; it's a celebration of fandom and love and diverse nerdlove and makes for the perfect escapism read.

There was a grin on my face the entire time I was reading Geekerella. From the vegan food truck that is the Pumpkin to ExcelsiCon ball, I loved the various ways the author interpreted a timeless take for the modern age. The miscommunication trope between Darien and Elle adds a new layer to their relationship without being cliche, and allows for the two teens know each other for longer than a dance before falling (believably) in love. One of the failings of Disney is that their heroines' story often revolves around the introduction and keeping of a love interest -- that is not true for Elle. Her life is imperfect and full of struggle, but it is also rich with the memory of her father and her own stalwart interest in Starfield.

I was prepared for how much I would ship the relationship between fanfic writer Elle and secret-nerd Darien, but I was not prepared for how much I would love Ashley Poston's writing itself. While it wasn't one of the things I've heard touted for this awesome title, I'd often find myself rereading certain sections because they were perfectly worded and expressed emotion I myself understood, regarding fandom or relationships or even family. It's also unexpectedly funny -- Elle's humor and wit are paired right alongside her more soulful moments. I adored her awkward ass.

Whited out because kinda spoilery.... even though it's a Cinderella retelling aka we all know where this is going:

"I want his gaze, the way he looks at me -- like I'm the last star in the night sky and the first one at dusk -- branded on my heart."

"Somehow, in this impossible universe, his lips find mine."

"And he kisses me again. It isn't the kind of kiss to end a universe of possibilities. It's the exact opposite. It's the kind of kiss that creates them."


From nerdery to romantic love, Poston can write and write with flair.

Pop culture and classic fairy tale make for an oddly perfect combination. Maybe Ashley Poston is magic? Geekerella has the odd moment or two where it can stumble in its execution (Sage's relationship with Calliope was way out of left field, much as I like that the lesbian best friend got her HEA) but that can hardly detract from the overall awesomeness that this novel brings to bear. A creative mix of fandom nerdery and Cinderella, Geekerella stands out. With its super charming and funny narrative style, the A+ ship it's easy to recommend this contemporary.








Review: The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares

Thursday, May 25, 2017
Title: The Whole Thing Together
Author: Ann Brashares
Genre: contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 304
Published: April 25 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2/5

Summer for Sasha and Ray means the sprawling old house on Long Island. Since they were children, they’ve shared almost everything—reading the same books, running down the same sandy footpaths to the beach, eating peaches from the same market, laughing around the same sun-soaked dining table. Even sleeping in the same bed, on the very same worn cotton sheets. But they’ve never met.

Sasha’s dad was once married to Ray’s mom, and together they had three daughters: Emma, the perfectionist; Mattie, the beauty; and Quinn, the favorite. But the marriage crumbled and the bitterness lingered. Now there are two new families—and neither one will give up the beach house that holds the memories, happy and sad, of summers past.

The choices we make come back to haunt us; the effect on our destinies ripples out of our control…or does it? This summer, the lives of Sasha, Ray, and their siblings intersect in ways none of them ever dreamed, in a novel about family relationships, keeping secrets, and most of all, love.


A breakdown of this story in two seconds: A large, modern family of half siblings and stepsiblings share a house and their divorced, bitter parents - awkwardness and worse ensues. Told over the course of a pivotal summer for the youngest nonrelated kids Ray and Sasha, The Whole Thing Together is the convoluted story of how of the Stone-Thomases and the Riggs-Thomas family relate and recognize one another. Despite plenty of fodder for emotion and pathos there was more drama than substance to this novel. There was very little memorable about it -- except for the sadly notable fact that this modern family is interracially mixed.

Brashares has written several novels before, and before her style was brisk, engaging, fresh and occasionally bittersweet. With her newest effort, little remains the same; the emotions and characters are clumsily-drawn. Despite a strong first two opening chapters, the momentum and interest stall early on. The Whole Thing Together clocks in at supposedly 304 pages. I say "supposedly" because the very many characters in this contemporary novel had a way of making those three hundred pages feel rather more like five hundred. Tiresome characters are paired with pedestrian plotlines that eventually intersect with a cheap plot points; for the last 2/3 of the novel it's a struggle to stay involved or care about the revolving cast of narrators.

Also Ray's weird fantasies and thoughts about Sasha, and vice versa, though his are far more squicky ("She was the kind of pretty only someone as deep as him understood. [...] He continued to think it anyway, as though her loveliness was something he'd invented.")* , are not cool and totally ruin any family-feels the book tries to create between camps. I get they are not biologically related to one other, but they share siblings. It's weird... and also disappointing. Which is basically how I would sum up The Whole Thing Together anyway.






*quote from an ARC and subject to change

Top Ten Things On Our Reading Wishlist

Tuesday, May 23, 2017
 
Top Ten Tuesday is all thanks to The Broke and the Bookish! This lovely header is thanks to APR's own Dani.

This was a topic earlier this month that I missed due to scheduling conflicts. So here I am two weeks later, lol.


1. More dragons

I always say that if a book has a dragon in it or on it, I want it. And there's just never enough book with fire-breathing flying beasts.


2. Based on/inspired by [historical event/place/person]

As a history nerd person, I love connecting real life to fiction.  ESPECIALLY: non-Western and/or genderbent versions of history. (think: And I Darken - a retelling of Vlad the Impaler but as a young woman.)

3. Group heists

Six of Crows, The Lies of Locke Lamora - these are a few of my favorite things. What do they have in common besides ships and feels? They're cutthroats acting out heists on grand scales. High-stakes, quick action and twists... love it, want more of it.


4. Non Greek/Roman Demigods

Both in a classical sense (like Helen, Hercules, etc.) or in a more updated tale (Percy) --- and preferably focused on other pantheons than the ones usually shown.

5. F/F fantasy

I was so excited for Of Fire and Stars last year .. and womp wooomp. But while that was a wash, I am 100% here for more f/f fantasy. Someone has to publish some here soon, right? RIGHT?!


Dani's Picks: (Jessie stole two of mine!)


6. More YA with relationships that don't work out

I had some problems with A Week of Mondays, but the thing it did best was show that you can love someone once and still break up. It's not all or nothing, love forever or never. This Song Will Save Your Life also did this really well with losing your virginity to a relationship that didn't end up panning out.

7. Flower shop owner/tattoo artist romance

A. Cam‏ (@justabookeater_ on Twitter) posted this on her wishlist the other day and now I NEED IT MORE THAN ANYTHING. It's a popular fan fic trope, but where is my full length romance novel, I ask?


8. Reality show contestants

I have never read a truly satisfying reality show book. I want Masterchef with enemies to friends bonding in the finale. I want The Bachelor where two of the bachelorettes fall in love instead. I want The Amazing Race like For Real, but longer and more actual challenges.

9. Weird hobbies

I feel like every contemporary is about a girl who likes to read and a guy who likes soccer. I'm just saying, what if she also did crew? He went geocaching? Or built model airplanes? Maybe she's really into creating ice cream flavors, like candied fennel cream, and they go to antique malls looking for vulgar salt and pepper shakers. I literally don't care, just something different.


10. My motherfucking Anastasia retelling

I know Jess and Gilly feel me on this.








Review: Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan

Sunday, May 21, 2017
Title: Within the Sanctuary of Wings
Author: Marie Brennan
Genre: fantasy
Series: Memoirs of Lady Trent #5
Pages: 352
Published: April 25 2017
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 4/5

The conclusion to the thrilling memoirs of Lady Isabella Trent and her legacy of dragon evolutionary research and anthropological adventures.

After nearly five decades (and, indeed, the same number of volumes), one might think they were well-acquainted with the Lady Isabella Trent--dragon naturalist, scandalous explorer, and perhaps as infamous for her company and feats of daring as she is famous for her discoveries and additions to the scientific field.

And yet--after her initial adventure in the mountains of Vystrana, and her exploits in the depths of war-torn Eriga, to the high seas aboard The Basilisk, and then to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia--the Lady Trent has captivated hearts along with fierce minds. This concluding volume will finally reveal the truths behind her most notorious adventure--scaling the tallest peak in the world, buried behind the territory of Scirland's enemies--and what she discovered there, within the Sanctuary of Wings.


Within the Sanctuary of Wings is the fifth and final novel in Marie Brennan's anthropological fantasy series about a (usually scandalous, never boring) female dragon naturalist. It's Isabella's most daring adventure and biggest discovery yet -- and that's saying something if you know any of the details of Lady Trent's first four books. Even this far into the series, Brennan has creativity and imagination to keep her stories and characters fresh and interesting. Journeying to all new locales and encountering new dragons to study and learn, Within the Sanctuary of Wings contains all the manners and mayhem we've come to expect while effectively tying up the series' plot elements.

Isabella is a force to be reckoned with, as she has been all her life. Here in the last book chronicling her storied and scandalous career and private life, she is a tad bit wiser, a tad less heedless and reckless, but she is no less intellectually curious or personally ambitious. In fact for the first time and thanks to her new marriage, she is motivated by more than just scientific career goals. Her fictional life is robust with action and scientific experiments; she defied societal expectations when she was first Lady Camherst and never failed to continue to do so through her various elevations and associations. Reading from her perspective is a unique experience every time, but a fully-developed one. The memoirs cover five decades of Lady Trent's unusual experience - from an awkward child to potential bluestocking to scholarly infamy and beyond - so it's easy to invest in her personally, and the secondary characters to a lesser degree. 

While Within the Sanctuary of Wings makes for an undoubtedly fun and entertaining read, it feels a bit short for a concluding volume at only three hundred fifty-odd pages. Some of the story's central plot elements feel a bit.. underdeveloped and rushed in the narrative's drive to wrap up all the loose ends of Isabella's life. The main plot of the book is clever - tying in hints and allusions and glimpses from the previous novels about a central mystery at the heart of the world [the Draconeans are alive?! What?!] - as well as some other unexpected parties, but it felt somewhat unexplored before the ending.

As a whole the Lady Trent books have been wryly funny mixes of Victorian attitudes and a fantasy world. With storylines concerned with everything from smashing patriarchal political complications to uncharted draconic exploration, there's a lot to enjoy about Marie Brennan's final chapter in this smart story.






 

Ageless Discussions: Beyond Merry Olde England

Friday, May 19, 2017



Not all fantasy books are inspired by real-world events or countries but a lot of the best are. A lot of my favorites admittedly fall into this category. Big SF/F genre names like GRRM tend to draw the best plotlines from real life events, like England's The War of the Roses and the Hundred Years' War between England and France, or Daniel Abraham's fantasy version of WWII in The Dagger and Coin series. I love the hook of real life meets dragons or direwolves. Sebastien de Castell's Greatcoats series takes place in an obvious version of fantasy-France and is another fave. Most of these popular and known books are loosely and noticeably drawn from Europe/England's history.

However, the same locations and inspirations can wear thin, especially when the same tropes are reused over and over. I don't want to keep reading the same versions of the same world; there's no invention or imagination to that, not to mention all the other perspectives and places ignored. Not every fantasy should be recognizable as a version of medieval England. Not all story influences should be drawn from European mythology or folklore. As with anything in life, adding diversity - in characters, mythology, authors you read from--  is the way to go. In my opinion and in my reading experience, fiction is at its best when it expands our views, introduces new ideas and different cultures. I read to stand in someone else's shoes -- and I don't want the same view every time.

In recent years, there has been a noticeable push to publish books that are less white and/or obviously inspired by Europe and its history, as well as authored by people of color and lgbtqia+ people. Despite the fact that Europe has always been more racially-mixed in population than art/media would show, fantasy writers tend to write white, straight male heroes saving fantasy-France over and over - and it can be hard to find a story centered on a nonwhite or nonhetero protagonist. The inclusion of a character of color, or a gay character, is rare and often a) a sidekick or b) a redshirt destined to die or c) an evil one-note villain.




It's a glaring issue in publishing and though more diverse books are being published (to wide acclaim and success!) gaining steam, predominant tropes revert to the WASPM perspective and default. Though I had not been as aware of this as I should have been as a reader, I've been trying to diversify my TBR. As I have learned over the last few years of Twitter, it's always better to go with Own Voices when it comes to other cultures and countries. The best fantasy set in non-European-inspired worlds are those from authors who have experienced or know cultures and heritages other than the predominant Western/European.


Read This, Not That:


Yes:

Saladin Ahmed
The Throne of the Crescent Moon

Roshani Choski
The Star-Touched Queen, A Crown of Wishes

Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Summer Prince

Sabaa Tahir
An Ember in the Ashes, A Torch Against the Night  

Karen Miller
Empress, The Riven Kingdom, Hammer of God

Rin Chupeco
The Bone Witch

Karuna Riazi
The Gauntlet  

Sarwat Chadda
Ash Mistry & the Savage Fortress, Ash Mistry & the City of Death, Ash Mistry & the World of Darkness

Ken Liu
The Grace of Kings, The Wall of Storms

Zoraida
Labyrinth Lost

Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Certain Dark Things

Sangu Mandanna
The Lost Girl


Maybe:

Zoe Marriott
Shadows on the Moon, Barefoot on the Wind

Jay Kristoff
Stormdancer, Kinslayer, Endsinger

Brian Staveley
The Emperor's Blades, The Providence of Fire, The Last Mortal Bond

Alison Goodman
Eon, Eona 


No: 

Fiona McIntosh
Odalisque, Emissary, Goddess

Lian Hearn
Across the Nightingale Floor, Grass for His Pillow, Brilliance of the Moon, The Harsh Cry of the Heron, Heaven's Net is Wide

Jay Lake
Green, Endurance, Kalimpura

Howard Andrew Jones
The Desert of Souls, The Bones of the Old Ones


The best way to get more diverse literature is to support diverse voices. So, a few forthcoming fantasies worthy of a preorder:





The Tiger's Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera (Their Bright Ascendancy #1)
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao (Rise of the Empress #1)
The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana
Assassins of Ghadid by K.A. Doore
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi
The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan (The Khorasan Archives #1)






Do you try to read diversely? Are there some diverse fantasy reccomendations I need to read?







Blog Tour Review: Shattered Warrior by Sharon Shinn

Thursday, May 18, 2017
Title: Shattered Warrior
Author: Sharon Shinn
Illustrator: Molly Knox Ostertag
Genre: post-apocalyptic
Series: Untitled #1
Pages: 256
Published: May 16 2017
Source: from publisher for review
Rating: 3.75/5

Bestselling fantasy author Sharon Shinn delivers a gripping science fiction adventure with a sweeping romance at its heart.

It is ten years after Colleen Cavanaugh's home world was invaded by the Derichets, a tyrannical alien race bent on exploiting the planet's mineral resources.

Most of her family died in the war, and she now lives alone in the city. Aside from her acquaintances at the factory where she toils for the Derichets, Colleen makes a single friend in Jann, a member of the violent group of rebels known as the Chromatti. One day Colleen receives shocking news: her niece Lucy is alive and in need of her help. Together, Colleen, Jann, and Lucy create their own tenuous family.

But Colleen must decide if it's worth risking all of their survival to join a growing underground revolution against the Derichets.



It's strange to consider that just about a year ago I had never read a Sharon Shinn novel and now I seek out anything she's worked on. Graphic novels are somewhat of a new media for me, but Shinn's lively tale of aliens and rebellion paired with Molly Knox Ostertag's unique and sharp art for a quick, entertaining read.

This is the first such graphic novel from an established and prolific author. Though Shinn's experimenting with a new genre, staples and trademarks of her fantasy and romance past are evident in Shattered Warrior's pages. The classic flair for worldbuilding and imagination I expect from this author is evident, though simplified and condensed to fit. I do think her style is a bit hampered by the necessary brevity for dialogue and character development in this type of storytelling. There's just not enough time and/or pages to fully develop the side characters' various personalities or the Derichet antagonists into more than one-note villains. The novel itself is 256 pages and because of that, the plot can skip along easily from plot point to plot point for lack of time to develop it further.


Shattered Warrior is centered around the character of Colleen Cavenaugh, a former heiress who lost much more than her wealth and influence when society fell to alien invaders and war. The loss of her family, friends, and even country has left her a shadow of the person she was before. But her story is a study in character evolution; she is far from static. Colleen grows and changes, makes mistakes through her success and failures. She feels like a real person. And though she may start out shattered, piece by piece Colleen begins fix herself. First she finds her drive to life, then her anger and her bravery return to her. Shattered Warrior is about Colleen fighting for her found family and her world, but first she has to fight her own self-doubt and depression. Her battles over the course of the series' first graphic novel are mental and emotional as well as physical.

Despite the fact I wanted a little more meat to the plot-bone, Shattered Warrior is the first in a series sure to engage and entertain readers. Though the general storyline may not be the most original for scifi, it succeeds on the multiple other strengths present in its pages. Colleen shines the most as the main character, but others in the cast are sure to sink their claws in, emotionally speaking. Shattered Warrior is a quick, clever, enjoyable, and suitably dark look at an Earth invaded and controlled by an alien cat-like species. Molly Knox Ostertag's illustations are bright and interesting - her version of the future is uniquely her own and fun to look at. It's easy and fast to get caught up in the story being told by both Shinn and Ostertag in their first effort together.



Waiting on Wednesday: The Tiger's Daughter

Wednesday, May 17, 2017




The Tiger's Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera





Even gods can be slain….

The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.

Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.

This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach throu
gh time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.


B & N | Amazon | Book Depository


Series: Their Bright Ascendancy #1
Publisher: Tor
Expected Publication Date: October 3 2017
Pages: 512








Review: The Truth About Happily Ever After by Karole Cozzo

Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Title: The Truth About Happily Ever After
Author: Karole Cozzo
Genre: contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Published: May 162017
Source: ARC via publisher
Rating: 3.75/5

 Chin up, Princess, or the crown will slip.

A theme park princess must put her life back together after her happily ever after falls apart in this contemporary YA romance from Karole Cozzo, author of How to Keep Rolling After a Fall and How to Say I Love You Out Loud.

Everything was supposed to be perfect. Alyssa has a job she loves, working as Cinderella at her favorite theme park; a fantastic group of friends; and a boyfriend who will no longer be long distance. But as the summer progresses, her prince becomes less charming and more distant, and Alyssa's perfect summer falls apart.

Forced to acknowledge that life is not always a fairy tale, Alyssa starts working to pull her herself back together. Fortunately, she doesn't have to do it alone. With her friend Miller's support, she's determined to prove that she's more than just a pretty princess. And with his help, maybe she's finally ready for something better than dreams. Maybe she's ready for something real.

It seems like Swoon Reads is finally hitting their stride: for the third time this year, I find myself finishing one of their titles with a giant grin on my face. The Truth About Happily Ever After is charming, silly, and fun; it's a pure fluff read but it's one that boasts some great characters in both Alyssa and Miller. The romance between them is as expected as it is sweet but that doesn't detract from the fun and the drama of getting to their fairytale ending.

Though the plot of this is a bit shallow and easily predicted, it's admittedly entertaining to watch everything unfold over the summer at the Enchanted Dominion. Alyssa is a dedicated Princess; she's kind and funny and dorky and pretty earnest -- wholly dedicated to doing service to the image of a Princess. She grows up a lot over the course of a relatively short novel; it all might happen a bit too fast at the end of the book*, but she's an engaging and self-aware person so it works more than it doesn't. 

I had fun with The Truth About Happily Ever After but a couple things stood out for the wrong reasons. I do think some of Alyssa's eating behavior verges on the edge of destructive; I appreciate Miller's concern but even before then the rigorous and rigid attitude Alyssa had toward eating was worrisome. Additionally, one of Miller's comments about "other pretty girls [not being nice]" as a way to compliment Alyssa was unnecessary and also a harmful stereotype. Disappointing to see, especially from a character that was pretty atypically swoonworthy at all other times.

The characters here are a bit older than usually seen in Swoon Reads' books  - they're in college and pledging sororities with fake IDs and love interests have beards -- and I liked the change. To be sure there are some YA cliches in the pages of The Truth About Happily Ever After but it's one of those books that grows on you as you read.


*[however her dressing up as a giant lizard for her big moment was fabulous and hilarious]





Review: The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

Monday, May 15, 2017
Title: The Love Interest
Author: Cale Dietrich
Genre: science fiction, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Published: expected May 16 2017
Source: ARC via publisher
Rating: 3/5


There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

The Love Interest is a pretty readable blend of contemporary and science fiction for YA audiences, but I am not entirely sure that it's good. I had fun reading it at times, but the problems are not negligible and build throughout the nearly four hundred pages. Engaging as it sometimes could be to watch surgically-perfected Caden and Dylan battle murderous robots (literally) and each other (metaphorically), it has to be to noted that the worldbuilding is slim and what is there is nonsensical (how do the people at LIC know what a teen girl/boy is attracted to? Or that they will be geniuses or presidents or Olympic athletes? Or even what gender(s) they are attracted to? Why is hetero the only focus when more and more youth are identifying as LGBTQIA?) or even self-contradictory (Caden says he had no name before the assignment to Juliet but while at LIC he mentions other guys with names like Robert etc?). This is the barely-there-details science fiction kind of story that requires a healthy suspension of disbelief to finish.

Outside of the less than substantial worldbuilding shown for this scifi story, I wanted more depth and emotion from the characters themselves. The basic premise makes it easy to set up star-crossed romances between the various characters, so I was sad to see that Juliet, Caden, and Dylan are all rather broadly and bluntly-drawn. They each felt like the trope they were supposed to be subverting; instead of really being the protagonist of his own story, Caden often felt like a side character. Juliet and Natalie were good additions, as was Trevor, but they too needed more definition and dimension. And while I wanted more from him personally, [it's pretty obvious that Caden is gay and I appreciated that it wasn't a bait-and-switch situation. There's some sneakiness to the relationship but the main romance - the REAL romance, since it's not on order of death --  is between two  teen guys.]

There is some inventiveness to the overall plot and The Love Interest is driven far more by its action and suspense than by its characters.  I am pretty sure most teens are smart enough to see through this and predict not only the twist but the outcome. I liked Caden enough - especially when he wants to stand up for himself and point out that his sexuality is not a plot point for another person - but he's milquetoast. Dylan is burnt milquetoast. Juliet has little on-page time that's not devoted to how she feels about the boys -- so she makes even less of an impression. The Love Interest had an interesting premise and refreshingly diverse romance but never quite met the potential for its plot or its characters.






Two Minute Review: River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

Sunday, May 14, 2017
Title: River of Teeth
Author: Sarah Gailey
Genre: historical fiction, alternate realities
Series: River of Teeth #1
Pages: 152
Published: expected May 23 2017
Source: ARC via publisher
Rating: 4/5

In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true.

Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.

This was a terrible plan.

Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.

Some things in real world history are too good to believe and too good to pass up. I don't know how my many teachers got me through all my years of education without informing me of a proposed hippo-farming system in the United States but at least Sarah Gailey came along twenty years later to illuminate how lacking my appreciation for screwball 20th century politics had been. Because as ridiculous as the premise for this novella about feral hippos in the Mississippi River sounds -- it's based on a real plan.

Obviously the magnificent hippo plan never came to fruition and we live a cursed hippo-less life here in America to this day. But thankfully debut author Sarah Gailey has imagined a version of U.S. history where it did indeed get approved, and where it also went horribly wrong, with feral hippos and river lords dominating the river. It's a clever and unique premise, one used to its full potential and it is a gloriously fun adventure. Gailey's briskly-moving story follows the louche but haunted Winslow Houndstooth on his mission ("it's not a caper!") to gather a dangerous crowd able to corral the monsters. There may be a side helping of revenge in the offing, as well. Helping him along are an effortlessly inclusive crew with an array of talents from assassination to demolitions.

Alternate history meets western adventure as Winslow, Hero, Adelia, Archie and Co fend with feral hippos and sociopathic riverboat owners in this over-too-soon novella. The secondary plot about Winslow's past might not be quite as engaging as the hippo plot but adds another layer to the hat-wearing main character. Inventive, lively, and diverse but admittedly hampered by its (lack of) length, River of Teeth is great entertainment for an hour or so.


Also: now I need Sarah to do a rewrite of the Australian Emu War.

Also: check out the article about making of River of Teeth's map. There are EXTRA FIDDLY BITS.







Review: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Saturday, May 13, 2017
Title: The Names They Gave Us
Author: Emery Lord
Genre: contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 400
Published: expected May 16 2017
Source: ARC via publisher
Rating: 5/5

From acclaimed author Emery Lord comes a vibrant, compelling story of love, loss, faith, and friendship.

Lucy Hansson was ready for a perfect summer with her boyfriend, working at her childhood Bible camp on the lake. But when her mom’s cancer reappears, Lucy falters—in faith, in love, and in her ability to cope. When her boyfriend “pauses” their relationship and her summer job switches to a different camp—one for troubled kids—Lucy isn’t sure how much more she can handle. Attempting to accept a new normal, Lucy slowly regains footing among her vibrant, diverse coworkers, Sundays with her mom, and a crush on a fellow counselor. But when long-hidden family secrets emerge, can Lucy set aside her problems and discover what grace really means?

Emotionally-charged and unforgettable, Emery Lord’s storytelling shines with the promise of new love and true friendship, even in the face of life’s biggest challenges.
 


The Names They Gave Us filled my heart with so many emotions over the course of its 400 pages. Both light-hearted and gut wrenching in turn, this is a novel that handily explores themes of grief, love (both familial and romantic), and friendship. There is a lot of honesty in this story; it pulls no punches and spares no feel. It's capable of making readers laugh and then cry, all within the same chapter. And while it is a longer contemporary at four hundred pages, this coming-of-age story is veteran YA author Emery Lord's best work yet and not a page of it feels wasted or unneeded. The Names They Gave Us is a heartfelt and finely-tuned story from a smart author; one that will linger long after the final page.

One strength of Lord's fourth book is that it is centered around a three-dimensional and engaging person: the fantastic and flawed main character Lucy. Her voice and inner monologue in The Names They Gave Us are immediately distinct and recognizably unique. Lucy is a well-rounded, imperfect, and interesting character from the start and she evolves and grows on a definite arc over the course of the book. It's easy to dismiss her as a "preacher's kid" from the outset but it soon becomes obvious that Lucy is more than a label and that she does a lot to earn the things she has. As a "PK" Lucy's also much more religious than a lot of YA characters, but she isn't close-minded because of it. Her faith is one both accepting and enlightening; while I don't share her beliefs, the author made it easy to slip into a life where that felt natural.

My heart was full to bursting after finishing this. Emery Lord has crafted something special with her newest novel. It was just... an honest and heartfelt exploration of teen life and love, in all its many forms and immediate feelings. Lord manages to keep to a great balance of sad and hopeful, humor and pain. Lucy shines in her trials and in her successes. The surrounding cast is real-world diverse and made of up great, inclusive characters that quickly endear and differentiate themselves. The Names They Gave Us boasts a cast of engaging characters, several strong plotlines, and two veeeery excellent ships  - there's something in it for every kind of contemporary reader to enjoy.







Bookstore Book Tag

Thursday, May 11, 2017
the-bookstore-book-tag
I found this from the lovely Bekka over at Pretty Deadly Blog, who had posted this in November of last year. The Bookstore Book Tag was created by Britt Reads.

The beginning of your trip. You walk into a bookstore and you instantly feel happy: Name a book that has the perfect beginning.



I immediately was caught in The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence by Alyssa Palombo. It begins with a prologue -- which don't always work for me -- but it set the mood and tone perfectly. I knew I was in for a story that was going to be sad and beautiful.


That sad moment when they don’t have the book you were looking for: Name a book that made you bawl your eyes out.




This happens to me an embarrassing amount - so much so that I keep a shelf to remember all the books that make it rain on my face. The most recent additions to the shelf: Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give, The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord, and Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan.

That moment you’re just looking around and find a random book that just speaks to you: Name a hidden gem.


I definitely think more fans of mythic fiction should read Amalia Carosella's Helen of Troy series - Helen of Sparta and By Helen's Hand. A vivid retelling of a familiar story, she gives it new spin and new angles. It's creative and full of fantastic characters.




That moment you finally find the book that you were looking for: Name a book that you’ve waited months and months for to be released.

Obligatory The Winds of Winter answer.




Other than that:
OATHBRINGER by Brandon Sanderon aka BSands himself - due out in November. After years of waiting, there's finally only like 6 months to goooooo. I'm scared. I'm excited. I'm scarexited.

That moment you see a book with a gorgeous cover and you just have to have it: Name a book you bought purely because of its cover.


Sisters Red is my perma-answer for a cover-buy. I don't even like the title font but the rest is SO GOOD I don't even care. However, there are others: Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken, Soundless by Richelle Mead, and A Season of Spells by Sylvia Izzo Hunter.





That moment you have to pay a lot of money for your books but still feel very happy you finally have them: Name a book that made you suffer, but you were still happy about it.




Umm pretty much any of my 5-star reads?  But digging into my emotional-whiplash shelf and excepting titles I've already used (THUG, TNtGU), there are a few titles I think fit the bill rather well: Gemina, The Violinist of Venice, and A Conjuring of Light.

Walking out of the bookstore feeling super happy and excited: Name a book with the perfect ending.


I really loved the ending of Geekerella by Ashley Poston! Skullsworn also had a great finale, as expected of a Staveley fantasy!




Probably the only time these two books will be in the same answer to the a question, lol.



It’s always nice to take a little trip through the bookstore, don’t you think?
Tagging anyone who wants to join!



Live Review: Tender Wings of Desire by Colonel Sanders

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

So that happened, kittens. Give your moms an extra hug for me this weekend, and if you need good romance novel suggestions for her, hit me up in the comments.

Release Day Blitz: Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh

Tuesday, May 9, 2017
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Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh




From debut historical novelist Jenni L. Walsh, Becoming Bonnie is the untold story of how wholesome Bonnelyn Parker became half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo!

The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family's poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas's newest speakeasy, Doc’s.

Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, and embraces it—perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling—Bonnie tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. What she doesn't know is that her life—like her country—is headed for a crash.

She’s about to meet Clyde Barrow.

Few details are known about Bonnie's life prior to meeting her infamous partner. In Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh shows a young woman promised the American dream and given the Great Depression, and offers a compelling account of why she fell so hard for a convicted felon—and turned to crime herself.

On Sale: Today!
Genre: historical fiction, crime
Pages: 320
Publishers: Forge Books
Hardcover: 9780765390189
e-Book: 9780765390202
Unabridged CD: 9781427289018
Unabridged Digital Audio: 9781427289025


Early Praise for Becoming Bonnie:

​"A compelling account of a nation and a life in disarray--readers will feel for Bonnelyn as she finds herself scrabbling for survival in a world turned upside down." - Lauren Willig, New York Times bestselling author

"Jenni L. Walsh delivers an intriguing insight into the life of one half of the infamous duo, Bonnie and Clyde." - Hazel Gaynor, New York Times bestselling author

"A dazzling and compulsively-readable adventure of self-discovery, with a voice both singular and irresistible. I dare you not to fall in love with Bonnie, and her intoxicating, wholly immersive world." - Lee Kelly, author of A Criminal Magic




Buy Links:

Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Book Depository | Books-A-Million





About the Author: 

​Jenni L. Walsh spent her early years chasing around cats, dogs, and chickens in Philadelphia's countryside, before dividing time between a soccer field and a classroom at Villanova University. She put her marketing degree to good use as an advertising copywriter, zip-code hopping with her husband to DC, NYC, NJ, and not surprisingly, back to Philly. There, Jenni's passion for words continued, adding author to her resume. She now balances her laptop with a kid on each hip, and a four-legged child at her feet.

For the mamas, Becoming Bonnie is her debut novel that tells the untold story of how church-going Bonnelyn Parker becomes half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo during the 1920s. The sequel Being Bonnie will be released in the summer of 2018.

For the kiddos, the Brave Like Me series is her middle grade debut that features true stories from heroic women who, at a young age, accomplished daring feats of perseverance and bravery.

Find Jenni Online:
Her Website
Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads
Amazon




Review: Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

Sunday, May 7, 2017
Title: Hold Back the Stars
Author: Katie Khan
Genre: science fiction, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 305
Published: expected May 2017
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 4.75/5

A startling and evocative novel, harkening to both One Day and Gravity, a man and a woman revisit memories of their love affair on a utopian Earth while they are trapped in the vast void of space with only ninety minutes of oxygen left.

After the catastrophic destruction of the Middle East and the United States, Europe has become a utopia and, every three years, the European population must rotate into different multicultural communities, living as individuals responsible for their own actions. While living in this paradise, Max meets Carys and immediately feels a spark of attraction. He quickly realizes, however, that Carys is someone he might want to stay with long-term, which is impossible in this new world.

As their relationship plays out, the connections between their time on Earth and their present dilemma in space become clear. When their air ticks dangerously low, one is offered the chance of salvation—but who will take it? An original and daring exploration of the impact of first love and how the choices we make can change the fate of everyone around us, this is an unforgettable read.

Some stories stick with us because they feature big, memorable events and larger-than-life characters that are hard to forget. Some stories resonate because, though smaller in scope, they can capture the emotions and struggles we all endure over the course of our lives, even in extraordinary circumstances. Somehow Katie Khan's Hold Back the Stars manages to be both kinds of story at once, and in just over 300 pages. There are space disasters and relationship problems held in equal gravity; a world-threatening meter belt around Earth and first love are the two main complications for main characters Carys and Max.

Hold Back the Stars is a intricately-written and plotted story. On the whole, I loved this debut. It was fresh, clever, evocative, and an original way to frame a love story. A few very small nitpicks kept this from a full five-star rating (I read 300 pages of this book and still don't really get how the Voivodeship works? I get it's really just a framework for Carys and Max to fight against but it makes no sense to me? A utopia where everyone moves every three years? Who moves the belongings all the time? No one can be in a couple until they're in their late 30s? And no one challenged that before the third generation of the utopia? Anyway..... ) but this is a clever, engaging, and emotion-filled novel. It's thoughtful and creative in how it approaches the love story between Max and Carys; an unpredictable and harrowing read as the story alternates between Carys and Max's past on Earth and present in space.


The framework of Hold Back the Star's narrative is one told in alternating timelines. Jaunting between severe dilemmas in space for the present (the more science fiction end of the story) and the evolution of their relationship in Europia that lead up to their space mission, this book feels half like science fiction and half contemporary. It shouldn't work as well as it does with those different two genres, but Katie Khan keeps both halves of the story in balance as she unwinds the plot that connects the two realities. Max and Carys do a lot to dispel issues; both alone and together these are two well-developed and interesting people. They aren't perfect and neither is their love story, but watching them grow and evolve is worth an investment of time and emotion.

Bittersweet, clever, and introspective, Hold Back the Stars was a late but necessary addition to all my best-of lists for 2016. The unique way the story was written fits the plot and made for an excellent and entertaining read that satisfies both science fiction and romance cravings.









Review: Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman

Friday, May 5, 2017
Title: Girl Out of Water
Author: Laura Silverman
Genre: contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Published: May 2 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4.5/5

Anise Sawyer plans to spend every minute of summer with her friends: surfing, chowing down on fish tacos drizzled with wasabi balsamic vinegar, and throwing bonfires that blaze until dawn. But when a serious car wreck leaves her aunt, a single mother of three, with two broken legs, it forces Anise to say goodbye for the first time to Santa Cruz, the waves, her friends, and even a kindling romance, and fly with her dad to Nebraska for the entire summer. Living in Nebraska isn’t easy. Anise spends her days caring for her three younger cousins in the childhood home of her runaway mom, a wild figure who’s been flickering in and out of her life since birth, appearing for weeks at a time and then disappearing again for months, or even years, without a word.

Complicating matters is Lincoln, a one-armed, charismatic skater who pushes Anise to trade her surfboard for a skateboard. As Anise draws closer to Lincoln and takes on the full burden and joy of her cousins, she loses touch with her friends back home – leading her to one terrifying question: will she turn out just like her mom and spend her life leaving behind the ones she loves.

Some books are perfect for summer reading. Girl out of Water is definitely one of these; a breezy but heartfelt YA contemporary about growing up and moving on. It's entertaining but sincere and inclusive in equal measure. Bolstered by a great voice and personality in the main character of Anise and an engaging romance involving a black, one-armed badass skateboarder, Laura Silverman's debut novel is fun but also capable of really bringing the feels.

Surfer-girl Anise's story picks up right at the beginning of summer before she and her friends disperse into different directions - some bound for college, or off to serve in the military, or to endure one final year of high school. Her feelings of displacement and confusion about her future are not only about college but about the evolving nature of friendships and belonging, especially when her final summer and friend traditions are usurped by family emergencies and..... landlocked Nebraska.

Besides growing up, family is a big theme for Girl out of Water and its characters. Anise is haunted by her mother - a woman who flits in and out of her life but leaves the most impression when she is leaving. Lincoln, her swoon-worthy love interest who isn't defined by his disability or his race, also wrestles with family issues. The two bond and bicker over similarities and obvious differences; they have great chemistry and their banter is charming and fun. Anise has to grow a bit when it comes to her relationship; she comes from a place of privilege that must be acknowledged a couple times in the novel.

Anise's family, especially her cousins, and Lincoln himself are more defined and well-developed than her friends back in California, or anyone connected to Lincoln's character. I liked the inclusive nature to the group of friends and family but because they only appear as bookends to Anise's central plot, it can feel hollow (which is why it's also so easy to forget Anise had a love interest before Lincoln showed up). Anise and Lincoln steal the show and carry the novel, which is why I have so little issues upon finishing Girl out of Water. The ending may be a bit open-ended for readers who prefer finality, but Anise and Lincoln's futures look bright. As does the future of Laura Silverman, since her debut was refreshingly authentic.





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