Two Minute Review: The Violinist of Venice by Alyssa Palombo

Thursday, July 27, 2017
Title: The Violinist of Venice
Author: Alyssa Palombo
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 448
Published: December 15 2015
Source: purchased
Rating: 4/5

A sweeping historical novel of composer and priest Antonio Vivaldi, a secret wealthy mistress, and their passion for music and each other

Like most 18th century Venetians, Adriana d'Amato adores music-except her strict merchant father has forbidden her to cultivate her gift for the violin. But she refuses to let that stop her from living her dreams and begins sneaking out of her family's palazzo under the cover of night to take violin lessons from virtuoso violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldi. However, what begins as secret lessons swiftly evolves into a passionate, consuming love affair.

Adriana's father is intent on seeing her married to a wealthy, prominent member of Venice's patrician class-and a handsome, charming suitor, whom she knows she could love, only complicates matters-but Vivaldi is a priest, making their relationship forbidden in the eyes of the Church and of society. They both know their affair will end upon Adriana's marriage, but she cannot anticipate the events that will force Vivaldi to choose between her and his music. The repercussions of his choice-and of Adriana's own choices-will haunt both of their lives in ways they never imagined.

Spanning more than 30 years of Adriana's life, Alyssa Palombo's The Violinist of Venice is a story of passion, music, ambition, and finding the strength to both fall in love and to carry on when it ends.

Evocative, atmospheric and engaging, The Violinist of Venice is an excellent 18th century historical fiction set in one of the world's most unique cities. With a dramatic story that encompasses the brilliance of Vivaldi, violins, an omnipresent Baroque atmosphere, and ill-fated romance, Alyssa Palombo's debut novel is one to relish for fans of the genre. The pacing can stagnate at times but the picturesque locale and the author's talent for description make the story of Adriana d'Amato one to remember.

Music and independence are two of the biggest themes of the The Violinist of Venice and for the life of its main character. Adriana has little personal choice in anything that happens before and after marriage; her impulsive affair with Antonio Vivaldi is her one small moment of rebellion, of personal choice for herself. It combines two of the things forbidden her that she most wants: love and music. Though scandalous, though against expectation, Adriana's decision makes sense for her life and the person she is. Though the book covers much more than the romance between the priest (yeeep) and Adriana - it spans thirty years of her life - the relationship between the two of them impacts all others in her life.

 Highly recommended -- [if only so that someone else can understand the romance of Vivaldi anonymously serenading Adri when they knew their love was doomed].

Waiting on Wednesday: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

This is one that is gaining a lot of positive buzz and word of mouth. I hadn't heard much about it before the last few weeks when everyone started raving about it! And even more impressive, it's a debut novel.

She annihilates standardized tests and the bad guys.

Genie Lo is one among droves of Ivy-hopeful overachievers in her sleepy Bay Area suburb. You know, the type who wins. When she’s not crushing it at volleyball or hitting the books, Genie is typically working on how to crack the elusive Harvard entry code.

But when her hometown comes under siege from hellspawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are dramatically rearranged. Enter Quentin Sun, a mysterious new kid in class who becomes Genie’s self-appointed guide to battling demons. While Genie knows Quentin only as an attractive transfer student with an oddly formal command of the English language, in another reality he is Sun Wukong, the mythological Monkey King incarnate—right down to the furry tale and penchant for peaches.

Suddenly, acing the SATs is the least of Genie’s worries. The fates of her friends, family, and the entire Bay Area all depend on her summoning an inner power that Quentin assures her is strong enough to level the very gates of Heaven. But every second Genie spends tapping into the secret of her true nature is a second in which the lives of her loved ones hang in the balance.

Publication Date: August 8 2017
Publisher: Amulet Books
Pages: 336

Two Minute Review: Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge

Sunday, July 23, 2017
Title: Fly By Night
Author: Frances Hardinge
Genre: fantasy
Series: Fly By Night #1
Pages: 448
Published: 2006; March 14 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

Twelve-year-old Mosca Mye hasn't got much. Her cruel uncle keeps her locked up in his mill, and her only friend is her pet goose, Saracen, who'll bite anything that crosses his path. But she does have one small, rare thing: the ability to read. She doesn't know it yet, but in a world where books are dangerous things, this gift will change her life.

Enter Eponymous Clent, a smooth-talking con man who seems to love words nearly as much as Mosca herself. Soon Mosca and Clent are living a life of deceit and danger -- discovering secret societies, following shady characters onto floating coffeehouses, and entangling themselves with crazed dukes and double-crossing racketeers. It would be exactly the kind of tale Mosca has always longed to take part in, until she learns that her one true love -- words -- may be the death of her.

Mosca Mye burned down her uncle's mill when leaving town in the dead of night. While carrying a large, angry goose. With a man she doesn't know, who is on the run from the law, who she also set free to aid in her own escape from the drudgery of her homelife. It doesn't get much better from there for Mosca, Saracen (the goose), or Eponymous Clent (the escaped spy), but it does get highly entertaining. Fly By Night is a middle grade/early young adult novel but there is so much going on -- subtle hints, allusions, references, jokes, wordplay - that will make it readily appeal to readers of all ages and kinds.

Fly By Night is a dense and clever read; this is an author with a unique grasp on language and verbiage. In this world where books are illegal and dangerous to have, Hardinge takes pains to illustrate how that would affect a society and uses her urchin main character to subvert expectations. Granted, this version of Fahrenheit 451 runs a bit silly but it's consistently smart. The twists in the plot, the depth of the world, the dimensions of all the characters (even the villains!) all add up to create a viable, visual story. This is a good read but it does overextend itself somewhat. At almost four hundred fifty pages total, the inevitable lag in pacing is noticeable but also not wholly detrimental.

Clever, fun, detailed, Fly By Night has creativity and fun to spare.

Waiting on Wednesday: The Arsonist

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I read and absolutely loved Oakes' debut novel in 2015 and have been eagerly anticipating whatever she next publishes since then. Happily that wait is almost over...

Molly Mavity is not a normal teenage girl. For one thing, her father is a convicted murderer, and his execution date is fast approaching. For another, Molly refuses to believe that her mother is dead, and she waits for the day when they’ll be reunited . . . despite all evidence that this will never happen.

Pepper Yusef is not your average teenage boy. A Kuwaiti immigrant with epilepsy, serious girl problems, and the most useless seizure dog in existence, he has to write a series of essays over the summer . . . or fail out of school.

And Ava Dreyman—the brave and beautiful East German resistance fighter whose murder at seventeen led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall—is unlike anyone you’ve met before.

When Molly gets a package leading her to Pepper, they’re tasked with solving a decades-old mystery: find out who killed Ava, back in 1989. Using Ava’s diary for clues, Molly and Pepper realize there’s more to her life—and death—than meets the eye. Someone is lying to them. And someone out there is guiding them along, desperate for answers.

Expected Publication: August 22 2017
Publisher: Dial Books

Barnes and Noble | Amazon | Book Depo 

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

A hard-hitting and hopeful story about the dangers of blind faith—and the power of having faith in yourself. Finalist for the Morris Award.
The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, her ability to trust.

And when she rebelled, they took away her hands, too.

Now their Prophet has been murdered and their camp set aflame, and it's clear that Minnow knows something—but she's not talking. As she languishes in juvenile detention, she struggles to un-learn everything she has been taught to believe, adjusting to a life behind bars and recounting the events that led up to her incarceration. But when an FBI detective approaches her about making a deal, Minnow sees she can have the freedom she always dreamed of—if she’s willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is a hard-hitting and hopeful story about the dangers of blind faith—and the power of having faith in oneself.

Review: Avenged by Amy Tintera

Friday, July 7, 2017
Title: Avenged
Author: Amy Tintera
Genre: fantasy
Series: Ruined #2
Pages: 416
Published: May 2 2017
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 1/5

In the sequel to Ruined, the romance of The Selection and the epic stakes of Red Queen come together in a story of revenge, adventure, and unexpected love.

Emelina Flores has come home to Ruina. After rescuing her sister Olivia from imprisonment in rival kingdom Lera, Em and Olivia together vow to rebuild Ruina to its former glory.

But their fight has only begun. Olivia is determined to destroy everyone who acts against Ruina, but Em isn’t as sure. Ever since Em posed as Prince Casimir’s betrothed in Lera, she’s started to see another side to this war. And now that Cas has taken the throne, Em believes a truce is within reach. But Olivia suspects that Em’s romantic feelings for Cas are just coloring her judgement.

Em is determined to bring peace to her home. But when winning the war could mean betraying her family, Em faces an impossible choice between loyalty and love. Em must stay one step ahead of her enemies—and her blood—before she’s the next victim in this battle for sovereignty.

This one's on me. I mean.. Ruined, the first book out last year, wasn't exactly great. I knew it then and I know it now. It was.. kind of a mess. And the comparison titles for this middle book in the trilogy are... not exactly appealing, nor would they draw me to this title had I not read the first. (I digress. But don't read The Selection, people.) Still: I liked the bare bones of this fantasy world (even if I completely side-eye the idea of a group of people naming themselves "Ruined" because their enemies do...), I love a good villain, I enjoy antiheroes who make cutthroat choices, and I'm curious about the magic systems... so I settled in to give Avenged a chance to make the best of what its predecessor had to offer. Unfortunately, the author squanders the various opportunities, and all those disparate parts come together no better the second time around.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that Avenged ruins a few of the good impressions left behind by the first book. The plot is so slight as to be nonexistent and there is no advancement of an overall plot for the series; we end the book in largely the same situation as it began -- four hundred pages before. To say Avenged suffers from second-book-syndrome is a vast understatement. It's generic and broadly-painted. While I appreciate the fact that homosexuality is normal in the societies of Ruina/Lera, I hate that the one gay ship of the series is tiny, barely mentioned, and foisted on two very minor side characters. I mentioned that I love a good villain, but what Avenged doesn't realize is that it requires more than just blood-thirst and cruelty to craft one. Nuance is needed and without it, Olivia is a caricature not a character. 

I noted last year that Ruined's approach to worldbuilding left something to be desired. It was shallow and in dire need of expansion to feel real and viable version of humanity and civilization; the culture and countries both have a very superficial atmosphere. This country hates that country because... reasons? I've read two books and have yet to find a solid reason for why this world operates the way it does. There's no depth to the world of Ruina, Lera, Vallos -- they are just made up words on a page. The writing itself is so ambiguous when it comes to geography and location it's exceedingly hard to picture even a map of how the various countries coexist.

Multiple characters lead the narrative but they largely feel unnecessary and repetitive, especially with so little of interest happening between the various POVs. The humor from book one is largely missing. Cas, never terribly dynamic, is even more of a wetblanket the second time around. Em proves to the exception to the rule and the highlight of the novel, just as she was for her first outing in Ruined. Her love for Cas makes him somewhat more engaging despite the tumultuous nature and ever-changing status of their relationship. But it is the slowly growing attraction between Aren and the warrior Iria that makes for any kind of ship or emotional investment. Avenged knows this and ends on a kinda-cliffhanger, with the author valiantly trying to inject some pathos into the various stalling storylines. Whether that ploy was successful will be seen next year... if I pick up the final book in the series.

Two Minute Review: The Freemason's Daughter by Shelley Sackier

Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Title: The Freemason's Daughter
Author: Shelley Sackier
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Published: April 11 2017
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3.75/5

The Outlander series for the YA audience—a debut, full of romance and intrigue, set in early eighteenth-century Scotland.

Saying good-bye to Scotland is the hardest thing that Jenna MacDuff has had to do—until she meets Lord Pembroke. Jenna’s small clan has risked their lives traveling the countryside as masons, secretly drumming up support and arms for the exiled King James Stuart to retake the British throne. But their next job brings them into enemy territory: England.

Jenna’s father repeatedly warns her to trust no one, but when the Duke of Keswick hires the clan to build a garrison on his estate, it seems she cannot hide her capable mind from the duke’s inquisitive son, Lord Alex Pembroke—nor mask her growing attraction to him. But there’s a covert plan behind the building of the garrison, and soon Jenna must struggle not only to keep her newfound friendship with Alex from her father, but also to keep her father’s treason from Alex.

Will Jenna decide to keep her family’s mutinous secrets and assist her clan’s cause, or protect the life of the young noble she’s falling for?

In Shelley Sackier’s lush, vivid historical debut, someone will pay a deadly price no matter which choice Jenna makes.

Though The Freemason's Daughter is being billed as the YA version of Outlander, Shelley Sackier's historical fiction novel about a found-family of displaced Scottish Jacobites in England feels entirely her own, especially since it lacks the time travel aspect that feature so prominently in Diana Gabaldon's long-running series. Sackier's story may be smaller in scope, but the story is brisk, engaging, and rich. With the strong, stubborn, educated main character of Jenna MacDuff at the center, Sackier brings together plots both political and romantic to create a lively, atmospheric look into the eighteenth century.

A lot of The Freemason's Daughter is done rather well. The characters, for the most part, are complexly drawn and create emotion, the plot is interesting and well paced, and there's a lot of detail -- making it easy to see the world as Jenna or Lord Pembroke does. However one area that was lacking throughout the novel's ups and downs was a genuine feeling of tension and suspense. Despite the death penalty that looms over Jenna, her father, and the other members of their clan for their Jacobite partisanship, it's hard to feel a sense or urgency or pressure. Until the very end there's very little real sense of danger. The ending itself is also rather abrupt.

I had a few issues with the story's progression and conclusion, but overall I rather liked The Freemason's Daughter and its cast of characters -- enough to rate it 3.75/5.

Review: Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Tuesday, July 4, 2017
Title: Waking Gods
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Genre: science fiction
Series: Themis Files #2
Pages: 320
Published: April 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

In the gripping sequel to Sleeping Giants, Sylvain Neuvel’s innovative series about human-alien contact takes another giant step forward.

As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers—and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force.

Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth . . . and maybe even the stars.

I seem to be in the minority but I enjoyed Waking Gods less than Sleeping Giants. I really loved the first novel from Sylvain Neuvel; I could hardly even believe that this whirl of science and space and aliens was a debut novel. The dossier style, the ambitious plotting, the unnamed central figure operating from the shadows and from center stage.. it just worked so very well. A uniquely fun and forebodingly good experience. The twists and turns of the plot, the way the characters complicated and entwined lives coalesced.. it built so well into a great story. The ending? THE ENDING. Flabbergastingly good. But perhaps that was just a bit much for Waking Gods to live up to a year later.

There is still some seriously clever stuff going on here in Neuvel's sophomore effort, and also some very fun stuff -- Neuvel is a very creative and original talent when it comes to subverting and fullfilling science fiction tropes -- but the heart of it, the emotional investment I had with Kara, Vincent, Our Friend, Rose --- had nowhere to land here in Waking Gods. The inclusion of some new characters was a strong start but they lacked the definition really needed to invest and never got the screen time to become more dynamic. Even the familiar characters from before that appear had an emotional disconnect the second time around.

But I seem to be the baaa baaa black sheep for this anticipated sequel. I liked Waking Gods. It was.. good. I was entertained and appreciated the twists of the plot. But I didn’t love it. I didn’t have the emotional connection to the story or to the characters within it. I though it a bit.. rushed and over-complicated, with clarity issues in the writing. I appreciated the good points enough to continue and finish, but overall was mildly disappointed. Even the character deaths left me unemotional. However, this ending is impossible to ignore or forget, as was the gamechanger ending of Sleeping Giants. Though Neuvel's most recent effort was not a perfect read, it cannot be denied that the man is a master at ending his books with a memorable bang.

Two Minute Review: Romancing the Throne by Nadine Jolie Courtney

Sunday, July 2, 2017
Title: Romancing the Throne
Author: Nadine Jolie Courtney
Genre: contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 400
Published: May 30 2017
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 1.5/5

Scandal, secrets, and heartbreak abound in this juicy, modern girl-meets-prince story—perfect for fans of Stephanie Perkins and Jennifer E. Smith.

For the first time ever, the Weston sisters are at the same boarding school. After an administration scandal at Libby’s all-girls school threatens her chances at a top university, she decides to join Charlotte at posh and picturesque Sussex Park. Social-climbing Charlotte considers it her sisterly duty to bring Libby into her circle: Britain’s young elites, glamorous teens who vacation in Hong Kong and the South of France and are just as comfortable at a polo match as they are at a party.

It’s a social circle that just so happens to include handsome seventeen-year-old Prince Edward, heir to Britain’s throne.

If there are any rules of sisterhood, “Don’t fall for the same guy” should be one of them. But sometimes chemistry—even love—grows where you least expect it. In the end, there may be a price to pay for romancing the throne...and more than one path to happily ever after.

To quote my parents, "I'm just not just mad, I'm also disappointed." Besides the pun-tastic name, Romancing the Throne had so much potential to be a royal fluffy fun read. It tries very hard to be the YA lovechild of Confessions of a Shopaholic and The Royal We but, sadly,  it lacks the fun, humor, and sheer charm of both. The plot is formulaic and sadly predictable - hinging on shallow characters and recycled genre tropes to propel any momentum for the story. Charlotte's story is obviously a fictionalized version of the life of Pippa Middleton and never suceeds in becoming its own narrative.

One of the other main issues I had with Romancing the Throne while reading is that the characters don't feel or read authentically. I am not talking about the inclusion of love triangles or teenage drama -- there is plenty of that but it's a) in the synopsis and b) a YA love story it's to be expected. When I say the characters aren't realistic I mean that both Charlotte and her sister Libby are English girls that act and talk like Californians. They call the Crown Prince "dude."  It.. just doesn't work. It continually threw me out of the story. There are moments of humor and an occasional strong bit of banter included, but the negatives outweighed the positives for me with Romancing the Throne.


July TBR

Saturday, July 1, 2017

I am still marginally ahead of my ARC list. I am taking a bit of a blogging break -- not quite a hiatus but I did run through most of my scheduled posts. I feel the need to recharge my creative well so if you see less of me on here lately, that would be why.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie Lo's every waking thought. But when her sleepy Bay Area town comes under siege from hell-spawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are suddenly and forcefully rearranged.

Her only guide to the demonic chaos breaking out around her is Quentin Sun, a beguiling, maddening new transfer student from overseas. Quentin assures Genie she is strong enough to fight these monsters, for she unknowingly harbors an inner power that can level the very gates of Heaven.

Genie will have to dig deep within herself to summon the otherworldly strength that Quentin keeps talking about. But as she does, she finds the secret of her true nature is entwined with his, in a way she could never have imagined…

This looks fantastic and is already garnering good reviews and word of mouth. I can't wait to start it soon.

Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody - a moving city-circus that is constantly shielded by smoke and murder? Sign me tf up.
The Wardrobe Mistress by Meghan Masterson - a young girl gets swept up into the world of fashion and power at the court of Versailles during the reign of Louis XV and Marie Antoinette.

Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz - contemporary YA with art, grief, and a f/f ship (I hope).
The Competition by Donna Russo Morin (Da Vinci's Disciples #2) - Renaissance Florence, Da Vinci, and illegal women artists = a good time for me.

Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic (Hibiscus Daughter #1)

All the women in Iris and Malina’s family have the unique magical ability or “gleam” to manipulate beauty. Iris sees flowers as fractals and turns her kaleidoscope visions into glasswork, while Malina interprets moods as music. But their mother has strict rules to keep their gifts a secret, even in their secluded sea-side town. Iris and Malina are not allowed to share their magic with anyone, and above all, they are forbidden from falling in love.

But when their mother is mysteriously attacked, the sisters will have to unearth the truth behind the quiet lives their mother has built for them. They will discover a wicked curse that haunts their family line—but will they find that the very magic that bonds them together is destined to tear them apart forever?

I love the premise and cover for this rather a lot. 

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