Book Tour Review: The Enemies of Versailles by Sally Christie

Friday, March 24, 2017
Title: The Enemies of Versailles
Author: Sally Christie
Genre: historical fiction
Series: The Mistresses of Versailles #3
Pages: 384
Published: March 21 2017
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

In the final installment of Sally Christie’s “tantalizing” (New York Daily News) Mistresses of Versailles trilogy, Jeanne Becu, a woman of astounding beauty but humble birth, works her way from the grimy back streets of Paris to the palace of Versailles, where the aging King Louis XV has become a jaded and bitter old philanderer. Jeanne bursts into his life and, as the Comtesse du Barry, quickly becomes his official mistress.

“That beastly bourgeois Pompadour was one thing; a common prostitute quite another kettle of fish.”

After decades suffering the King's endless stream of Royal Favorites, the princesses of the Court have reached a breaking point. Horrified that he would bring the lowborn Comtesse du Barry into the hallowed halls of Versailles, Louis XV’s daughters, led by the indomitable Madame Adelaide, vow eternal enmity and enlist the young dauphiness Marie Antoinette in their fight against the new mistress. But as tensions rise and the French Revolution draws closer, a prostitute in the palace soon becomes the least of the nobility’s concerns.

Told in Christie’s witty and engaging style, the final book in The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the sumptuous and cruel world of eighteenth century Versailles, and France as it approaches inevitable revolution.

The third and final volume of Sally Christie's Mistresses of Versailles series tackles retelling the story of one of the most infamous women in French history: Jeanne Bécu, better known as the Comtesse du Barry. As she first did with the Mailly-Nesle sisters, and then with Louis' longtime paramour the Marquise du Pompadour in the first two novels, Christie uses women of the court as a focus; she brings new life to old scandals by offering fresh perspectives from often-ignored sources. The Enemies of Versailles is not only the narrative of Jeanne, but also that of Madame Adélaïde, the oldest of the Kings unmarried daughters at Court. The two women could not be more disparate, and their personal and interpersonal differences show clearly in their respective chapters. Using these two contrasting viewpoints to showcase new sides to Louis' reign and Court, Christie ably depicts and plots her newest historical fiction.

Through the long years of his reign and as shown in the previous books, Louis XV's romantic affairs often led to strife for not only for him, but also for the (various) women involved, and for France itself. But none of his many liaisons were as divisive or damaging as was his last maîtresse-en-titre. Objectionable to his family and in laws, and to his courtiers, Louis relationship with Jeanne foments trouble from their earliest interactions. Madame Adélaïde, especially, cannot countenance her royal father trysting with a woman so far below him in rank -- which leads to further family strain and issues within the Court itself. Though she is often held entirely to blame by most, Jeanne's appointment to Court (A commoner! Not even bourgeois!) is merely a symptom of Louis' overall indifference to his roles as King in his later years. Louis clearly begins to disregard the rules and societal mores instituted to keep him in power - though he rules absolutely in his divine right, his grasp loosen and Jeanne takes the blame (and eventually pays the highest price) for the poor decisions her king made.

Though Louis is the crux of the series and of each novel's romantic entanglements, the plot of The Enemies of Versailles really belongs to Jeanne and Adélaïde and their years-long, occasionally dormant battle of wills. Thrown into conflict due to strictures of both society and religion, the struggle between the King's mistress and the King's daughter is a permanent, enveloping fixture of The Enemies of Versailles, and goes on to have international repercussions when the dauphine Marie Antoinette chooses sides. Though ostensibly the two are fighting for Louis' time/attention as the premiere ladies of his court, their individual stories contain far more depth and subtlety than that. These were two very unlike women trying to survive and succeed in a world where their looks, family name, and marriage prospects were all they valued for. Louis is more macguffin than main player when it comes to his lover and his daughter. Over nearly four hundred pages, Sally Christie is able to string together these two very different POVs into a coherent, cohesive historical fiction novel. Jeanne and Adélaïde are vibrant, realistic, and recognizable despite Christie's unique reinterpretations/condensations of their real life stories.  

With an eye for detail combined with the ability to craft new versions of old historical figures, Sally Christie's Mistresses of Versailles trilogy has been both original and compelling. The Enemies of Versailles ably concludes what The Sisters of Versailles began and The Rivals of Versailles continued. This last and final addition has fewer POVs than its two predecessors but the inner monologues of the Comtesse du Barry and Madame are engaging, complicated, and memorable; as narrators, they make for a strong, solid ending to the libertine life of Louis XV. 

Chris Pratt Book Tag

Thursday, March 23, 2017
The Chris Pratt Book Tag was originally created by booktuber Riley Marie, and I saw it on Bring My Books a few months ago. Really this is just an excuse to post pictures of Chris Pratt and tangentially talk about books. So....

 Guardians of the Galaxy: Your favorite character ensemble

Dani: The Six of Crows crew without a doubt. They play off each other so well.

Jessie: Six of Crows, Game of Thrones, Gentleman Bastards.... also all the characters in Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me. I would love a Liza book, or a Bonnie book.. anything!

Andy Dwyer: A character or book you can’t help but love despite their flaws

My favorite fantasys eries is known to be GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire. One thing Dani and I talk about often is how it tends to be... problematic as fuuuck. 

Dani: I love the Throne of Glass series. I know it is whiter than an Alaskan January. The ships are bizarre, flung together and torn apart like my niece with her Barbies. It is SO HET. I don't know why, but I just can't quit it.

Anna Faris: Your OTP (Favorite romantic relationship)

Locke x Jean
Rincewind x Twoflower
Legolas x Gimli
Lex x Driggs
Lola x Cricket
Karou x Akiva
Cress x Thorne
Inej x Kaz
Kate x Curan
Sybella x Beast
Sansa x Lemoncakes
Nehemia x Not Being Dead

Jonah x Taylor
Karou x Akiva
Katsa x Po
Kaz x Inej
Jesper x Wylan
Alucard x Rhys
Manon x Asterin
Ismae x Duval
all the Lunar Chronicles

Chris Evans: Your BrOTP (Favorite friendship)

BrOTP wise I have to say Scott Lynch's unbreakable duo of Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen. That will never not be my answer for this type of question. The girl equivalent (lacks a cool word!) but I would say.. Safiya and Iseult from Truthwitch and Windwitch by Susan Dennard.

Dani: I can't say Locke and Jean because they're so much more than BrOTP, amirite? Ahem.

Aelin and Lysandra

 Jurassic World: A badass character

Dani: Hanna Donnelly from Gemina! She is a killer fighter, military genius, and fashionista. I want to be her when I grow up.

Lady Helen Wrexhall from Alison Goodman's The Dark Days Club and The Day Days Pact. I picked her because not only is Helen badass in terms of fighting ability, but also in using her brain and skills to help herself and her friends against all kinds of monsters.

Transformation: Best character development

Froi from Finnikin of the Rock to Froi of the Exiles. It's astonishing how his character evolves in those two (and third, tbh) novels. It's the impossible. It's that Marchetta Magic.

Dani: Danny from Dreadnought. The entire story is built around Danny's character development as she goes from abused and closeted, painting her nails behind the mall to full fledged superheroine. It's a lovely development too and you should read it.

Everwood: A book you read before it was popular

Dani: I guess maybe Harry Potter? I read it in '99 and I think it really blew up in '01 with the first movie? I'm perennially late to all trends. 

uhh.. well I've read a lot of ARCs in the last six years of blogging so there is a wide array of options for this, lol. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, probably would be an early answer.

Blog Tour Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Title: The Collapsing Empire
Author: John Scalzi
Genre: science fiction
Series: Untitled #1
Pages: 336
Published: expected March 21 2017
Source: ARC via publisher
Rating: 4/5

The first novel of a new space-opera sequence set in an all-new universe.

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible -- until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.

Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war -- and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

The Flow is eternal -- but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals -- a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency -- are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

Expansive in scope and stellar in its execution, John Scalzi's newest novel, the upcoming The Collapsing Empire, illustrates a version of humanity's diaspora future; one set in space, on various hostile planets, and in precarious far-flung systems, all ruled by a distant Emperox. Featuring an all new universe with its own detailed ruling systems, the concept of the time/space riverlike system called "The Flow", a cast of fresh and dynamic characters/antiheroes, brewing revolution, and oh yeah, also the dawn of the collapse of human civilization, there are a lot of moving parts in this shorter scifi novel. Scalzi is a veteran author and proved more than equal to the task of executing all the various elements into the solid world-building, taut plotting, and unique tech that make up his story.

From the mutinous start, The Collapsing Empire runs wild with its clever, apocalyptic premise. It and its central characters are broadly appealing though far-reaching; following a storyline more than creative and original enough to stand out in memory, it's hard not to be engaged and entertained even in the novel's quieter moments. The concept and use of The Flow to anchor the Interdependency is one of the strongest aspects of the novel. Utilizing and explaining it as a way to (believably) feature faster-than-light travel is a unique but understandable approach and also allows the author to showcase a universe of humans from disparate backgrounds and from various terrains. The author also uses this river-esque concept in important ways to affect the story and all the characters. It's the pivot on which the plot turns and Scalzi's astronomical invention is interesting, cool, and necessary all at the same time. 

If there was an area that didn't totally impress across the board, it was that the surrounding characters at times could feel hollow, or underdeveloped. There was an obvious and notable exception in the rarely-seen Vrenna, but by and large, the secondary cast is forgettable or interchangeable. The main characters of the novel (a scientist, an emperox and a starship captain) thankfully fared better and had more depth and personality. Kiva, especially, came to life and excelled at being anything she wanted. The Collapsing Empire featured two other people alongside Kiva as the other main characters: a scientist/Lord Marce and the newly-crowned Cardenia/Grayland II. Those two characters had plots that were more intertwined and political in nature, but though likeable and capable, they just didn't quite capture the charisma of their more... violently-inclined counterpart. 

All in all, this first new series offering more than makes for a good beginning. All the traditional hallmark Scalzi qualities are there: smart, inventive, actiontastic, peppered with wry/sardonic humor. The Collapsing Empire establishes the universe and the players; the board is set and ready for round two. The ending here is rather frustratingly open-ended, though it also leaves plenty of room for exploration and continuance of various plot lines in the forthcoming next book.

Ageless Discussions: Genre Phases

Sunday, March 19, 2017

If you've watched Scrubs, you might be familiar with Ted. Now, of all the Scrubs characters I probably identify with Ted the least... except in one area. You see, sometimes Ted gets stuck on an idea.

I get stuck in genre phases when it comes to "me reads." A couple times a year I find myself in the midst of a multi-book-long streak in a certain genre, location, or rarely, series. I can usually trace each marathon back to a 5-star read that was SO GOOD it made me want more just like it -- but different. 2017 is shaping up like the ones before it; I've already embarked on several different genre sprees.

In early January, I read Kameron Hurley's all-female scifi The Stars are Legion, which directly led to The Fortress at the End of Time, which led to Martians Abroad and then rereading Glow. Review copies interrupted, but then the scifi spree was re-ignited by review-reading The Collapsing Empire, which then led to Shadow Run and Luna: New Moon then the combo of The Hangman's Daughter and Luna: Wolf Moon which were each so bad they effectively ended it.

While I am usually found reading fantasy, my second favorite genre has has been a big winner for me this year. First France specifically was a focus with the last four of Maurice Druon's Accursed Kings books (The Royal Succession, The She-Wolf, The Lily and the Lion, and the King Without a Kingdom), and then The Shadow Queen, the Courts of Love, and Sally Christie's The Enemies of Versailles. Lately, thanks to the five-star review-read that was Alyssa Palombo's The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, Italy -- Renaissance, medieval, Baroque -- has been a recurring theme to my reads and rereads. Simonetta's story was followed by a reread of The Birth of Venus, then In the Company of the Courtesan, Blood and Beauty, Roma Eterna, and finally The Violinist of Venice.

Here it temporarily halts while I wait for my BookOutlet order of two more Italian historical fiction novels: The Daughter of Siena and The Venetian Contract. The thing is -- I may be off on a different whim of reading by the time they arrive. That's how these marathons run; unpredictable. My brother once accurately described me as a lightswitch: I am either ALL ABOUT IT or I am completely uninterested.

It usually ends when I have a review book that zaps me out of the mindset and atmosphere I'm chasing (generational space ships! Florence during the Renaissance!) or a long-anticipated novel arrives and distracts me into falling into a new pattern. However, there is a third option: genre burnout. It doesn't happen to me often and it never lasts forever, but when I overdo a trend, OH BOY do I ever. I haven't read PNR in years thanks to my overindulgence -- and I don't see that changing, to be the exception of the previous sentence. On the other hand, I almost always read a series of scifi novels around the beginning of the year and never burn out.

Brains are weird, right?

What about you? Do you find yourself craving read-a-likes after a particularly good novel? Do you marathon a genre/subgenre?

Review: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Saturday, March 18, 2017
Title: Queens of Geek
Author: Jen Wilde
Genre: contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 288
Published: March 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

When BFFs Charlie, Taylor and Jamie go to SupaCon, they know it’s going to be a blast. What they don’t expect is for it to change their lives forever.

Charlie likes to stand out. SupaCon is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star, Jason Ryan. When Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

While Charlie dodges questions about her personal life, Taylor starts asking questions about her own.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

Queens of Geek is a NA contemporary set up along pretty basic plotlines: A trio of friends find love amidst all kinds of nerdery over a Con. It's a simple enough story, and a short one at that with just 288 pages, and yet it manages to be diverse, inclusive, and intersectional -- not to mention shippy as hell. In the two main romances that form the bulk of her book, Jen Wilde features: a character on the autism-spectrum, a bisexual female character of Asian descent, a woman of color, and a boy of Hispanic or Latin descent (it's not made expressly clear which). It's so refreshingly nonhetero and non-mayonnaise. This is by far the best title that Swoon Reads has to offer to date; a fun, entertaining, but also heartfelt contemporary novel.

Nerdy to the core, Queens of Geek is an easy rec to make for readers who enjoy books with pop culture influences (both real and imagined) and fan-involved themes like the ones found in Geekerella, Gena/Finn, or Fangirl. The honest depiction of the inclusiveness of fandom -- of finding your people -- is one of the parts I loved most about Queens of Geek. Taylor's devotion to her Queen Firestone books and movies is pivotal in improving her life and in understanding who she is; fandom enriches her story and that's believable. Anyone who finds a niche interest shared among a group knows how that resonance feels and Wilde shows it in developing Taylor's storyline. Firestone gave a lot to Taylor and its impact on her life is important (not only because it led to her finally finding common ground with her autism spectrum diagnosis!) and recognizable.

The entire cast of characters in this contemporary really shine and come to life; I (kinda obviously) connected most to Taylor and her storyline but her best friends of Charlie and Jamie are each well-rounded and defined in their own rights. The bond between the trio is strong and I loved seeing Charlie support Taylor and vice versa, no matter what circumstances. Even tropes that usually disrupt my enjoyment of a relationship work under Wilde's pen due to the strength of her characterization. The romance between Charlie and Alyssa feels accelerated - especially contrasted with the fact that Jamie and Taylor caught feelings years ago and never acted on them, the adorable awkward dorks - but it's also realistic and their chemistry is undeniable.

Queens of Geek is so much adorable geeky, inclusive entertainment. It's pure fun to read, though it definitely packs an emotional punch or two. I loved that it took pains to be intersectional (though the explanation of the term itself felt stiff, I did not care because I just loved that it was there in the first place) and that the diversity itself was a nonissue. I loved both the years-gestating romance and the instalove that sprang up beside it. Sweet and empowering, Queens of Geek left me eagerly awaiting whatever Jen Wilde writes next.

Two Minute Review: The Hangman's Daughter by Gavin Smith

Friday, March 17, 2017
Title: The Hangman's Daughter
Author: Gavin Smith
Genre: science fiction
Series: The Bastard Legion #1
Pages: 336
Published: January 26 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 1.5/5

Four hundred years in the future, the most dangerous criminals are kept in suspended animation aboard prison ships and "rehabilitated" in a shared virtual reality environment. But Miska Storrow, a thief and hacker with a background in black ops, has stolen one of these ships, the Hangman's Daughter, and made it her own. Controlled by explosive collars and trained in virtual reality by the electronic ghost of a dead marine sergeant, the thieves, gangsters, murderers, and worse are transformed into Miska's own private indentured army: the Bastard Legion. Are the mercenaries just for fun and profit, or does Miska have a hidden purpose connected to her covert past?

Does this not sound AWESOME? I love the idea of it so much. I mean --- an unrepentant anti-heroine uses criminals to be her own army and if they disobery she blows their heads off? LITERALLY? I mean sure the whole "indentured" part is beyond messed up but that sounds like a helluva draw for a science fiction story. There's a large scope to this story that appeals, even if the execution is not up to meeting the challenge. The Hangman's Daughter launches a series that is dark and different and has so much potential....

Which is why it's such a shame that The Hangman's Daughter can't live up to its own synopsis. This is a messy, jumbled narrative -- clarity issues abound, character dialogue is clunky, and the storyline's pacing is all over the place. I can take the high levels of violence, I can take characters I don't like -- but I have to have something connecting me to the story. There was none of that personal investment here. There's violence for violence's sake and a thin plot that never really coalesces into anything meaningful. Disappointing enough to turn me off trying the rest of the series, The Hangman's Daughter is a forgettable mess.

Review: A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

Thursday, March 16, 2017
Title: A Crown of Wishes
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Genre: fantasy
Series: The Star-Touched Queen #2
Pages: 352
Published: expected March 28 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4.5/5

Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. Unsatisfied with becoming a mere puppet king, Vikram offers Gauri a chance to win back her kingdom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together, they’ll have to set aside their differences and team up to win the Tournament of Wishes—a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor.

Reaching the tournament is just the beginning. Once they arrive, danger takes on new shapes: poisonous courtesans and mischievous story birds, a feast of fears and twisted fairy revels.

Every which way they turn new trials will test their wit and strength. But what Gauri and Vikram will soon discover is that there’s nothing more dangerous than what they most desire.

As creative and imaginative as The Star-Touched Queen was before it, Roshani Chokshi returns to her lush fantasy world to tell the intertwined stories of Gauri, the left-behind sister of Maya and also exiled princess of Bharata, and Vikram, a sly and intelligent would-be king of a neighboring country. A Crown of Wishes is a showcase in finely-tuned language and crafting an expansive, otherwordly fantasy. Though this is only the second novel from Roshani Chokshi, her style is a breath of fresh air and her ability to create vivid worlds and people is impressive. The resulting story is unique and her characters, though new, feel familiar and complex throughout their evolving competitive give-and-take. With a high-stakes plot and liberal use of some familiar favorite tropes, Chokshi builds an elaborate, complete story in just a few hundred pages. 

A Crown of Wishes is rather loosely connected to Chokshi's debut novel from a year ego; however, the plot is independent of The Star-Touched Queen and its characters, and can even be read without venturing into Maya's story first. However, I cannot recommend that approach because experiencing the world and writing of this author is descriptive privilege -- as a fan of fantasy I appreciate the ingenuity, skill, and imagination Roshani Chokshi repeatedly demonstrates in her writing. To best feel the effect of her storytelling, start with The Star-Touched Queen and then dive into the wonder of her second.    

A Crown of Wishes is a strong novel across the board; both characters and story can more than stand alone on their own merits, but as a novel, it also directly benefits from Chokshi's growth as a writer. Before, in The Star-Touched Queen, her writing was stronger than the plot or the development of the individual characters. Here, those issues have changed for the better and it's hard to find a problem in any aspect of the exectuion. In A Crown of Wishes you'll find more intricate plotting, and a larger scope to both story and the world. The writing remains lushly distinct but incorporates new ideas, themes, iconography seamlessly into the texture of Gauri and Vikram's world. It's a world that feels both atmospheric and expansive -- and definitely also not pseudo-Europe.

Waiting on Wednesday: Skullsworn

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

So we've never really done much of a Waiting on Wednesday theme here at Ageless Pages. However, I think I'd like to start featuring more titles than just the ones I've received to review. So, without further ado....

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.

Expected Publication: April 25 2017
Publisher: Tor

The Emperor's Blades (Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne #1)
The Providence of Fire (Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne #2)
The Last Mortal Bond (Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne #3)

Two Minute Review: Shadowcaster by Cinda Williams Chima

Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Title: Shadowcaster
Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Genre: fantasy
Series: Shattered Realms #2
Pages: 560
Published: expected April 4 2017
Source: publisher via edelweiss
Rating: 3.25/5

Alyssa ana'Raisa is the reluctant princess heir to the Gray Wolf throne of Fells, a queendom embroiled in a seemingly endless war. Hardened by too many losses, Lyss is more comfortable striking with a sword than maneuvering at court. After a brush with death, she goes on the offensive, meaning to end the war that has raged her whole life. If her gamble doesn't pay off, she could lose her queendom before she even ascends to the throne.

Across enemy lines in Arden, young rising star Captain Halston Matelon has been fighting for his king since he was a lýtling. Lately, though, he finds himself sent on ever more dangerous assignments. Between the terrifying rumors of witches and wolfish warriors to the north and his cruel king at home, Hal is caught in an impossible game of life and death.

Set in the world of the acclaimed Seven Realms series, this is a thrilling story of the unfathomable costs of war, the allure of dark magic, and two principled and conflicted characters, drawn together despite everything they stand to lose.

Though I am a fan I have to admit that Cinda Williams Chima usually improves upon the second book in a series. Her series beginners do not make the best introductions to the dense worldbuilding or history or plotting going on. Her first series set in this world had a decent book one and a pretty great book two. That pattern holds true for the offshoot series of Seven Realms, though to a lesser degrees of positivity. I don't usually rate books 3.25 out of 5 stars but Shadowcaster was truly caught right between 'I liked this' and I really liked this' for me. It was a vast improvement on its predecessor Flamecaster (2/5 stars) from last year but it still fell short of both the possibility and its parent series.

A success and a strong sequel, Shadowcaster has a lot going on in its pages. This time around, the author centers the story on Raisa's daughter Alyssa, and Lyss is a far stronger, more capable, engaging character than her brother Ash. Lyss is the main character and the most frequent POV but she is far from the only one. In fact one of the weaknesses of the story is that it features far too many POVs -- some of which seem exceedingly random and unnecessary.

Still, 3.5 because this has better plotting and the badass that is Lyss was enough to reel me back just when I thought I was out.

Two Minute Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

Monday, March 13, 2017
Title: Letters to the Lost
Author: Brigid Kemmerer
Genre: contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 400
Published: expected April 4 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother's death, she leaves letters at her grave. It's the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn't the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he's trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he's opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they're not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

A grief-heavy young adult contemporary, Brigid Kemmerer's newest novel Letters to the Lost is a step away from her usual supernatural genre. It's not exactly an easy look; both main characters are struggling with family, life, and growing up in addition to their losses. Juliet has just lost her mother, Declan has lost his sister, his father is in jail, and his stepfather hates him. By way of leaving letters in a graveyard, these two lost teens forge a bond by communicating with each other by letter, and then email -- all the while without knowing who the other correspondent is. 

The overall premise of Letters to the Lost is engaging, and though the various storylines (both romantic and nonromantic) verge a bit predictable in how they develop and conclude, the characters have heart. Juliet can be a bit frustrating in her slow realizations about people in her life and in her general stubbornness, and Declan seems determined to fight the entire world. But they're two teens and they're human and they're just doing the best they can in two very shitty situations. Kemmerer's characters aren't perfect but that's because they are authentic. Though I found this to be just a bit too long and a bit too predictable to fully love, Letters to the Lost is heartfelt and realistic YA contemporary story.


Review: Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves

Sunday, March 12, 2017
Title: Blood Rose Rebellion
Author: Rosalyn Eves
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Blood Rose Rebellion #1
Pages: 416
Published: expected March 28 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

In a world where social prestige derives from a trifecta of blood, money, and magic, one girl has the ability to break the spell that holds the social order in place.

Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.

As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romanies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever.

The first book in a new series that deftly mixes an alternate history of the real world with intrinsic elements of the supernatural/fantastic, Blood Rose Rebellion is a layered and detailed introduction to this world and this debut author. With creative story elements, strongly defined characters and intriguing takes on developing the magic/worldbuilding, Rosalyn Eve's long-anticipated novel makes quite an impression. This was a good start, for both the book and for the series planned. Imaginative, rich with detail, and rife with tension, Eves uses her story and cast to reflect on themes like classism, racism and even activism without being anachronistic to her imagined scenario.

Anna is a decent main character despite her somewhat cliched role at the outset of the novel; she's at least got some distinct personality traits and there's definite potential in her arc. I have to admire her personal agency in seeking out answers and the headstrong characteristics she demonstrates in doing so. She grows and matures in the course of this book already -- her trip to Hungary is pivotal for both personal and plot reasons. The author sets up the various plots and subplots at play in Blood Rose Rebellion deftly around Anna herself; there's political angles to consider, romances to contemplate, and not to mention family stressors weighing on the teenager. Blood Rose Rebellion is well-planned, and is also intentionally slow-moving at certain sections of the storyline. The ending is perhaps a bit overextended but also leaves plenty of room for further continuation of the storyline in the following book(s).

Immersive and creative, this supernatural historical fiction is ably blended with the fantastic and also home to an innovative magic system. At times turns of the plot can feel a bit facile but the overwhelming impression is a solid and entertaining one. The slowly building atmosphere of anger, resentment and revolt is enveloping and created additional tension alongside the more magical concerns facing Anna, her cousins and Gabor. There's a lot going on in these pages but the author uses all four hundred of her pages. Featuring strong historical and supernatural elements, Blood Rose Rebellion is a close readalike for fans of These Vicious Masks, These Ruthless Deeds

Backlist Two Minute Review: Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver

Saturday, March 11, 2017
Title: Liesl & Po
Author: Lauren Oliver
Genre: supernatural
Series: N/A
Pages: 307
Published: 2011
Source: purchased
Rating: 3.5/5

Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice,until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone.
That same night, an alchemist's apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable. Will's mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.

From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver comes a luminous and magnificent novel that glows with rare magic, ghostly wonders, and a true friendship that lights even the darkest of places.

Adventure, magic, ghosts and love are what lies at the heart of Lauren Oliver's middle grade novel Liesl & Po. The story of the orphaned and isolated Liesl and her new, Other Side supernatural friends Po and Bundle is one that manages to be both illustrated and illuminating. It is the kind of middle grade story that holds appeal for readers of all kinds of age. Lauren Oliver's clever plotting and word choice make salient points about the world Liesl lives in and about our own.

Liesl shares story lines with the spectral Po and with the still-alive Will, the abused and unappreciated apprentice to the Alchemist. Will's storyline intersects with Liesl's in minimal ways (smitten at her window!) at first but the importance of a key mistake leads to an ever-growing interaction and camaraderie between the trio. A smart fairy-tale seeming story, Liesl & Po is anchored by its charming cast of characters and none more so than the main three.

Strong writing, clever plotting, and great characters make Liesl & Po an easy recommendation for anyone who enjoys creative and fresh MG novels.

New Book Haul

Friday, March 10, 2017

Cause who needs to stay ahead of the review queue anyway?!

House of Shadows by Nicola Cornick - because it's for "fans of Kate Morton"
Everything All At Once by Katrina Leno - love the premise, big fan of the author's twitter
Avenged by Amy Tintera (Ruined #2) - the first wasn't great but it was fun so why not?

Romancing the Throne by Nadia Jolie Courtney - seems like a YA version of The Royal We and do I need to continue?
The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine (The Two Princesses of Bamarre #.5) - I will always read GCL's princess books
Duels and Deceptions by Cindy Anstey - I liked her first and this seems cute, if not exactly cutting edge

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley - aaaah! I loved this author's previous book so *hearteyes*
The Crown's Fate by Evelyn Skye (The Crown's Game #2) - another not-great fantasy but inventive enough to draw me in for another story
More of Me by Kathryn Evans - CLONES! This girl apparently clones herself at different stages in her life and now shit's getting complicated

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy - teenage girl explores her sexuality -- literally what I want in YA
The Black Witch by Laurie Forest - seems pretty generic but I'm a sucker for a fantasy premise
The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell - OUROBOROS ALERT

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein - "before there was Verity, there was Jilue." Stahp, I am already dead.
Geekerella by Ashley Poston - nerds meets Cinderella, what is not to love?
The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares - I've never loved her later books the way I did the Sisterhood but this sounds like a fun read.

The Empire's Ghost by Isabelle Steiger - death, magic, and the end of Empire? Sign me upppp.
The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence by Alyssa Palombo - the story of Simonetta Cattaneo - who is often claimed to have inspired Botticelli's The Birth of Venus --  in 15th century Italy
The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke - time travel and 80s Berlin? Not something I have tried before!

Recent DNFs

Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Image by Dani!

So it's the very first month in 2017. I had a pretty good month when it came to reading, but there were a few that needed to be cut off before their ending. And keep scrollling to see which books did not make it to or far past the 100-page rule....

You Don't Know My Name by Kristen Orlando

Fighter, Faker, Student, Spy.
Seventeen-year-old Reagan Elizabeth Hillis is used to changing identities overnight, lying to every friend she’s ever had, and pushing away anyone who gets too close. Trained in mortal combat and weaponry her entire life, Reagan is expected to follow in her parents’ footsteps and join the ranks of the most powerful top-secret agency in the world, the Black Angels. Falling in love with the boy next door was never part of the plan.

Now Reagan has to decide: Will she use her incredible talents and lead the dangerous life she was born into, or throw it all away to follow her heart and embrace the normal life she's always wanted? And does she even have a choice at all?

Pages Read: 115/320 pages

Because: Holy wow was this cheesy. And predictable. And very young-skewing? I felt like I was reading a MG that was aged up to try and appeal to YA readers? It was a very superficial read; shallow characters, blah plot, predictable narrative. I checked out mentally about 75 pages in and then gave up completely.

Maresi by Maria

Maresi came to the Red Abbey when she was thirteen, in the Hunger Winter. Before then, she had only heard rumours of its existence in secret folk tales. In a world where girls aren't allowed to learn or do as they please, an island inhabited solely by women sounded like a fantasy. But now Maresi is here, and she knows it is real. She is safe.

Then one day Jai tangled fair hair, clothes stiff with dirt, scars on her back arrives on a ship. She has fled to the island to escape terrible danger and unimaginable cruelty. And the men who hurt her will stop at nothing to find her.

Now the women and girls of the Red Abbey must use all their powers and ancient knowledge to combat the forces that wish to destroy them. And Maresi, haunted by her own nightmares, must confront her very deepest, darkest fears.

A story of friendship and survival, magic and wonder, beauty and terror, Maresi will grip you and hold you spellbound.

Pages Read: 200/256

Because: I tried with this one --- it's so short that I raced past the 100-page line in an hour. I thought to give it an extension to do SOMETHING original or just LESS GENERIC and... nope. This is very "insert generic fantasy thing/name/idea"; and it was very been-there-read-that. Even with less than 60 pages to go, I did not care enough to keep reading.

Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer (Titan's Forest #1)

At the highest level of a giant forest, thirteen kingdoms fit seamlessly together to form the great city of Canopy. Thirteen goddesses and gods rule this realm and are continuously reincarnated into human bodies. Canopy’s position in the sun, however, is not without its dark side. The nation’s opulence comes from the labor of slaves, and below its fruitful boughs are two other realms: Understorey and Floor, whose deprived citizens yearn for Canopy’s splendor.

Unar, a determined but destitute young woman, escapes her parents’ plot to sell her into slavery by being selected to serve in the Garden under the goddess Audblayin, ruler of growth and fertility. As a Gardener, she yearns to become Audblayin’s next Bodyguard while also growing sympathetic towards Canopy's slaves.

When Audblayin dies, Unar sees her opportunity for glory – at the risk of descending into the unknown dangers of Understorey to look for a newborn god. In its depths, she discovers new forms of magic, lost family connections, and murmurs of a revolution that could cost Unar her chance…or grant it by destroying the home she loves.

Pages Read: 95/336 and then 105/336

Because: I had no idea what was going on? I loved the premise for this... but the world is very sink or swim and I don't even seem to have arms? This is a very bad metaphor but I felt sunk when it came to understanding the world at play, the aims of the characters, or even how they all interacted. Just not a book or writing style that suits me as a reader. This is one I tred again but the eARC and I were not friends.

Miranda and Caliban by Jaqueline Carey

A lovely girl grows up in isolation where her father, a powerful magus, has spirited them to in order to keep them safe.

We all know the tale of Prospero's quest for revenge, but what of Miranda? Or Caliban, the so-called savage Prospero chained to his will?

In this incredible retelling of the fantastical tale, Jacqueline Carey shows readers the other side of the coin—the dutiful and tenderhearted Miranda, who loves her father but is terribly lonely. And Caliban, the strange and feral boy Prospero has bewitched to serve him. The two find solace and companionship in each other as Prospero weaves his magic and dreams of revenge.

Always under Prospero’s jealous eye, Miranda and Caliban battle the dark, unknowable forces that bind them to the island even as the pangs of adolescence create a new awareness of each other and their doomed relationship.

Miranda and Caliban is bestselling fantasy author Jacqueline Carey’s gorgeous retelling of The Tempest. With hypnotic prose and a wild imagination, Carey explores the themes of twisted love and unchecked power that lie at the heart of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, while serving up a fresh take on the play's iconic characters.

Pages Read: 80/352

Because: Oh boy so even the original story of Miranda and Caliban from The Tempest... is a problematic one. I was willing to see how Carey would adapt it and change it... but her execution of that is not for me. The writing here is admittedly lovely, but it's a distant loveliness. The story is set in the childhood of the famous characters, but I didn't engage with the story or the characters. Knowing what I know about their history, I didn't feel the need to read further.

The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom (The Cruelty #1)

When her diplomat father is kidnapped and the U.S. Government is unable to help, 17 year-old Gwendolyn Bloom sets off across the sordid underbelly of Europe to rescue him. Following the only lead she has—the name of a Palestinian informer living in France—she plunges into a brutal world of arms smuggling and human trafficking. As she journeys from the slums of Paris, to the nightclubs of Berlin, to the heart of the most feared crime family in Prague, Gwendolyn discovers that to survive in this new world she must become every bit as cruel as the men she’s hunting.

Pages Read: 95/384

Because: I was never too interested or invested in this story. I would not have even tried it had it not been sent to me as an ARC. Still, I gave it the benefit of the doubt and soon found myself in a story that makes fun of YA cliches (that it also possesses.) It's a book that demeans and looks down at YA while still being a YA novel. And it is a bad one, at that. This does not read like a teen girl. It reads like a middle-aged white man THINKS a teen girl would. Inauthentic. Condescending. Cliched. Self-congratulatory and pretentious. Those 95 pages were a 1-star experience.

Top Ten Books To Reread in 2017

Tuesday, March 7, 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 decided to focus on rereads. Since I am doing well at keeping ahead of my ARCs, I have had a lot more "me" reads in 2017. Before blogging I used to reread all the time, and while I still reread a couple books a month, I always have a growing list of favorites I intend to revisit.

1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Days of Blood and Starlight, Dreams of Gods and Monsters)
I'm already on track with this one! I've read the first two books and have the third lined up to read here soon. It's been years but these books hold up.

2. The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson #8 - #14 (The Path of Daggers, Winter's Heart, Crossroads of Twilight, Knife of Dreams, The Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight, A Memory of Light)
I actually made it through #1- #7 in.... 2015, lol. So now I just need to get back in the series and keep going. Some of these aren't great, but the ending is so good I can power through!

3. Dune by Frank Herbert
My husband bought me a gorgeous special edition for my birthday that is begging to be read. This is one of my favorite science fiction series -- it went on to influence a lot of sf and fantasy (the Fremen = the Aiel) but it really does stand in a class all its own.

4. Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre (Grimspace, Wanderlust, Doubleblind, Killbox, Aftermath, Endgame)
This is the best female-lead science fiction series. The best. Jax is a great heroine; full of flaws, intelligence, agency, willingness to fuck shit ALL THE WAY UP and more. Plus there is some truly gorgeous writing.

5. Godspeaker trilogy by Karen Miller (Empress, The Riven Kingdom, Hammer of God)
An old favorite that I have not reread in at least 5 years! I remember a lot of awesome -- unforgiving and antiheroine for a female MC, non-European based fantasy, and more. I had a lot of feelings about Zandakar, so I am especially looking forward to seeing how these have aged.

6. The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicle)
I have convinced myself that The Doors of Stone will published soon so I need to get my brain back in Kvothe's story. Plus these books are soo good they deserve attention after so long away.

7. Illium and Olympos by Dan Simmons
So... this is a scifi retelling of the Illiad set on Mars. There's more to it, but that's the basis set up and yes, it is as awesome as it sounds. 

8. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
This book is honestly suuuuuch fun! Great characters and a strong romance -- I need happiness and humor when things get me down.

9. The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne by Brian Staveley (The Emperor's Blades, The Providence of Fire, The Last Mortal Bond)
There's a spinoff coming! Plus: culture inspired by Tang-era China, strong women of all kinds and types, and also ninjas carrying out stealth missions using GIANT HAWKS. 

10. The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson - The Way of Kings #1 and #2

So..uh you may have noticed that ... this wasn't exactly ten books. But I regret nothing and you should all read these, too.

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