Waiting on Wednesday: The Ruin of Kings

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Title: The Ruin of Kings (The Godslayer Cycle #1)
Author: Jenn Lyons
Expected Publication: Feb 2019

There are the old stories. And then there’s what actually happens.

Kihrin is a bastard orphan who grew upon storybook tales of long-lost princes and grand quests. When he is claimed against his will as the long-lost son of a treasonous prince, Kihrin finds that being a long-lost prince isn't what the storybooks promised.

Far from living the dream, Kihrin finds himself practically a prisoner, at the mercy of his new family's power plays and ambitions. He also discovers that the storybooks have lied about a lot of other things things, too: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, true love, and how the hero always wins.

Then again, maybe he’s not the hero, for Kihrin isn’t destined to save the empire.

He’s destined to destroy it . . .

Uniting the worldbuilding of a Brandon Sanderson with the storytelling verve of a Patrick Rothfuss, debut author Jenn Lyons delivers an entirely new and captivating fantasy epic. Prepare to meet the genre’s next star.

I am excited about this. The first few chapters were released and while I am not normally one for a serving before the meal, I am v anxious to get my hands on a copy.

Review: Hullmetal Girls

Tuesday, July 3, 2018
Title: Hullmetal Girls
Author: Emily Skrutskie
Genre: science fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Published: 2018
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2.5/5

Aisha Un-Haad would do anything for her family. When her brother contracts a plague, she knows her janitor's salary isn't enough to fund his treatment. So she volunteers to become a Scela, a mechanically enhanced soldier sworn to protect and serve the governing body of the Fleet, the collective of starships they call home. If Aisha can survive the harrowing modifications and earn an elite place in the Scela ranks, she may be able to save her brother.

Key Tanaka awakens in a Scela body with only hazy memories of her life before. She knows she's from the privileged end of the Fleet, but she has no recollection of why she chose to give up a life of luxury to become a hulking cyborg soldier. If she can make it through the training, she might have a shot at recovering her missing past.

In a unit of new recruits vying for top placement, Aisha's and Key's paths collide, and the two must learn to work together--a tall order for girls from opposite ends of the Fleet. But a rebellion is stirring, pitting those who yearn for independence from the Fleet against a government struggling to maintain unity.

With violence brewing and dark secrets surfacing, Aisha and Key find themselves questioning their loyalties. They will have to put aside their differences, though, if they want to keep humanity from tearing itself apart.

While I remain a big fan of this author and her apparently boundless and horrific imagination (that's a compliment, trust me) I found Hullmetal Girls to be maybe 2.5 stars out of 5 if I am being lenient. Maybe. I have to admit that I am disappointed by the lackluster effort that is her third novel. I expect big things from the mind behind The Abyss Surrounds Us and while this book has more than a few good ideas and a few clever science fiction angles, the messy execution of them makes it hard to stick around, much less immerse myself in Key and Aisha's POVs. 

This is a standalone so I understand the author didn't have the time of say her earlier duology to frame and fill her imagined world/starships, but there are many questions left about how the districts work; some subplots are woven into the gaps of the information but overall it's a patchy framework from which to hang a story. The setup of this space-dystopia is also unfailingly familiar to anyone whose read even just the Hunger Games. Skrutskie is usually brimming with originality and flair -- and while the second talent is on display with things like the Scela system, the "rich and poor numbered district' left much to be desired.

The worldbuilding is sink or swim when it comes to the hard scifi (and then comes the body horror, be prepared), but without enough information provided and the POVs felt indistinguishable. There is a definite uptick after about 65% in -- the story makes up somewhat for lost time by the end but it's not enough to entirely compensate. It takes a long time for basic details of Key and Aisha's life to be understood -- how the Scela work, what their function is within the ships, what the General Body means and how it ties into the story. It's clumsily rendered and often too late; I finished the novel because I was intrigued in one of the plots, but not due to any attachment to the characters themselves.

A swing and a miss for Skrutskie's third at bat, but I'll definitely be checking out her fourth.


TBR Plans

Sunday, July 1, 2018

A new month and I am brimming with reading plans.

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers (Wayfarers #3)

From the ground, we stand. From our ship, we live. By the stars, we hope

The incredible new novel by Becky Chambers, author of the beloved The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat.

Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened.

Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn't know where to find it.

Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong.

When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question:

What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?

Becky writes such warm, creative scifi. I fall in love with characters and her words. This sounds weirdly excellent, aka her brand.

Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne -- two fantasy authors take on fantasy tropes and expectations with crude humor, puns, and cheese. Here for it.

Sea Witch by Sarah Henning -- The Little Mermaid but centered on Ursurla's version of events? Sign me all the way up.

Temper by Nicky Drayden -- brothers, vices, possession -- what could go wrong? I know this author can go super weird but this sounds intriguing.

Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson

A new novel in the New York Times–bestselling Remnant Chronicles universe, in which a reformed thief and the young leader of an outlaw dynasty lock wits in a battle that may cost them their lives—and their hearts.

When the patriarch of the Ballenger empire dies, his son, Jase, becomes its new leader. Even nearby kingdoms bow to the strength of this outlaw family, who have always governed by their own rules. But a new era looms on the horizon, set in motion by a young queen, which makes her the target of the dynasty's resentment and anger.

At the same time, Kazi, a legendary former street thief, is sent by the queen to investigate transgressions against the new settlements. When Kazi arrives in the forbidding land of the Ballengers, she learns that there is more to Jase than she thought. As unexpected events spiral out of their control, bringing them intimately together, they continue to play a cat and mouse game of false moves and motives in order to fulfill their own secret missions.

I really enjoyed Pearson's first series and my friend Gaby loved this spin-off. So. Signs are pointing to good things ahead!

Waiting on Wednesday: Record of a Spaceborn Few

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Published: expected July 24 2018

From the ground, we stand. From our ship, we live. By the stars, we hope

The incredible new novel by Becky Chambers, author of the beloved The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat.

Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened.

Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn't know where to find it.

Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong.

When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question:

What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?


A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) 

Obviously I am a fan of the UK covers moreso than the US version :)

Two Minute Review: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Friday, June 8, 2018
Title: The Kiss Quotient
Author: Helen Hoang
Genre: romance
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Published: June 5 2018
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 5/5

A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there's not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases--a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn't help that Stella has Asperger's and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice--with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can't afford to turn down Stella's offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan--from foreplay to more-than-missionary position...

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he's making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic...

Wow -- a strong debut and a thoroughly wonderful surprise. This was just absolutely fun and one I didn't want to end though I gobbled it up in two great marathons of utter concentration. Nothing could divert me from Stella and Michael's slow-but-also-not courtship. From the start, it's authentic and engaging and focused on several often ignored perspectives with both sensitivity and care.  

The Kiss Quotient is romance done really well -- it's warm, funny, and the plot is driven by more than just superficial conflict. It's an impressive effort for a debut because the story hardly misses a step. The author may be new but she knows her way around a trope; how to use them, invert them (reverse Pretty Woman!) and how to create sexual tension.

The Kiss Quotient makes for a memorable and heartwarming read; one full of well-drawn characters in an engaging love story that brings the feels and the shipping. A promising debut and easily a full five-star read. It's just plain fun to read. This is one that will be visited again in the near future when I need a guaranteed winner.

Waiting on Wednesday: Dark of the West

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Title: Dark of the West (The Glass Alliance #1)
Expected Publication: Fen 5 2019

He was raised in revolution. She was raised in a palace. Can their love stop a war? Code Name Verity meets The Winner's Curse in Joanna Hathaway's Dark of the West, a breathtaking YA fantasy debut.

Aurelia Isendare is a princess of a small kingdom in the North, raised in privilege but shielded from politics as her brother prepares to step up to the throne. Halfway around the world, Athan Dakar, the youngest son of a ruthless general, is a fighter pilot longing for a life away from the front lines. When Athan’s mother is shot and killed, his father is convinced it’s the work of his old rival, the Queen of Etania—Aurelia’s mother. Determined to avenge his wife’s murder, he devises a plot to overthrow the Queen, a plot which sends Athan undercover to Etania to gain intel from her children.

Athan’s mission becomes complicated when he finds himself falling for the girl he’s been tasked with spying upon. Aurelia feels the same attraction, all the while desperately seeking to stop the war threatening to break between the Southern territory and the old Northern kingdoms that control it—a war in which Athan’s father is determined to play a role. As diplomatic ties manage to just barely hold, the two teens struggle to remain loyal to their families and each other as they learn that war is not as black and white as they’ve been raised to believe.

We actually did a cover reveal for this and while it wasn't bad this is such a lovely cover -- that blue! I am even more eager to get it in my hands.

Waiting on Wednesday: The Kiss Quotient

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Author: Helen Hoang
Published: expected June 2018

A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there's not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases--a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn't help that Stella has Asperger's and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice--with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can't afford to turn down Stella's offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan--from foreplay to more-than-missionary position...

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he's making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic...

(to be published in 2019)

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Character Names

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Naming a character isn't easy. Fortunately, I never have to do the thing because I just review the books. Today we're going to look at some of those great, classic names. Strong in meaning. Subtle.

8. Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein 

The man invented a language just to call his hidden king, "King".

Gandalf means "Wand Elf" in Norse, btw.

 7. Egwene al'Vere from The Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan

She's Gwenevere.

 I was 30 before I got that.

 6. Mort from Discworld by Terry Pratchett 

Much subtle. Very latin. Wow.

5. Smite from Unraveled by Courtney Milan 

 He's a judge. Named Smite.

 Actually he's named 'The Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every living thing, as I have done.", from Genesis where God promises to never again bring the Flood which, like number four, belies a hidden depth to the character.

 4. Rock from The Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson

Because he's big and dumb you see. That is until you get to know him and you realize he's insightful and sensitive. Then his full name, Nuhumukumakiaki'aialunamor, a full poem in his language about a rock his father found suddenly makes sense.

 3. Georgette "Buffy" Meissonier from Feed by Mira Grant 

It was a toss-up between Georgette and Georgia as tributes to George Romero in this zombified poli-horror, but Buffy edges the heroine out as her nickname of the famous teen monster slayer is a double whammy.

 2. Trebor Jordayne of House Tor from ASoIaF by George R.R. Martin 

 Trebor is Robert spelled backwards. Robert Jordan also published at Tor and there was a bit of a rivarly between the two fan camps.

 Martin also named a giant Wun Wun (the number of the NY Giant's quarterback at the time) and had him crush a knight with the Dallas Cowboy's logo on his arms. And he had a whole family of muppets. And knights named Lharys, Mohor, and Kurleket. I kind of love Martin.

1. Remus (raised by wolves) Lupin (wolf-like) from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling 

 Can we also discuss his father Lyall (Norse for WOLF)?

"We will call him 'Moony'," a bunch of wizards who somehow passed the OWLs.

 Yes there are only 8 because I ran out of jokes and also what's going to top Wolf McWolf born on the full moon with his wolf patronus?

Life Update + Giveaway

Monday, May 14, 2018
Hey kittens, long time no see. This post has been a long time coming and I'm really sorry for the past year. Updates have been sporadic, I haven't been great at responding to comments, and I just haven't been able to make APR my priority. I have an explanation; I've mentioned parts of this on Twitter, but I've never put it all out there on the blog. So, to give you all the dirty bits I've tried to keep off the internet, let's go back, back, back. If you stick with me through all of this, I have a present at the end.

On June 14, 2008, aka my 21st birthday, I gave notice at my first big-girl job to go into business with my mom. She'd managed a heart surgery practice for many years and with the help of the retiring partner, set out to open her own boutique-style billing and coding service. The last ten years have been incredibly hard. We started with one doctor. Some days we would be so dead we'd spend hours just stamping return addresses on boxes of envelopes to say we accomplished something. But we grew. In 2013 we suffered a devastating blow. Our business partner, more grandfather to me than my actual bio relatives, passed away. We almost closed - his estate forcing us up for sale as the majority partner. After months of uncertainty, no offers were made and we soldiered on. In the last five years, we've hired significantly more staff, rented more office space. I went to trade school and earned two sets of credentials to better market myself. My baby company was growing up.

And it took control of our lives.

In the last year, my mother's health has declined with a rapidity that's terrifying to see. She's lost 75 pounds in eight months. We've been through every test imaginable, and some I hadn't heard of despite 10 years in the medical industry. The final diagnosis? Stress. Stress so severe it has caused her stomach lining to spasm and rip and, due to constant reflux, she's developed the early signs of throat cancer. In the last year, I've had my anxiety medication increased four times. I work 65 hours a week, sometimes in the office as late as 2 o'clock in the morning. Obviously, my blogging has suffered and though I've made a few "I think work's under control, I should be back on a schedule!" posts, I can't stick to them on top of my work hours.

As of today, I can announce we have sold our company. It's bittersweet. It's giving up our connection to Bob and his family, (though if he were alive to see what this has done to our health, I suspect he would have sold us back in 2013.) I am walking away with nothing tangible from the sale. In a lot of ways, it feels like the sacrifices of the last decade were wasted.

I'm also incredibly happy. I've taken a similar position with one doctor. My employment contract guarantees only 40 hours of work a week. I'm using my certifications; at the company, I was spending far more time on HR and client relations than actually coding. The position is (currently) work from home, which allows me greater freedom during the actual sunlight hours of the day. As some of you know, my husband manages a bar which has made it very difficult to see him when I was working 10a - 7p and he works 6p-2a.

So it's a good thing and a sad thing and a long overdue thing. But what does it mean for APR? Well, I can't speak for Jessie who has her own life issues going on, but as for me, I will be posting twice a week to start. One post will be a bookish meme, TTT or Waiting on Wednesday, and one will be a review or discussion. I'm also committing to replying more to comments and talking to y'all more on Twitter instead of just retweeting every meme I see.

So that takes us to the end of this post and what you've been waiting for: the giveaway! To thank you all for sticking with me and believing APR could come back, I'm not choosing one winner, I'm choosing FIVE. Giveaway is open internationally as long as TBD ships to your country. All you have to do to be entered? Tell me what one book of the last year you think I should have read.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Again guys, thank you so much for following me through all of this. My inability to balance work and life cost me my girlfriend, my health, and a lot of contacts in the book community. It means to world to know I've still got you on my side (or if you're new, that some people want to check me out anyway!) I love you all.

Two Minute Review: Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel

Thursday, May 3, 2018
Title: Only Human
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Genre: science fiction
Series: Themis Files #3
Pages: 352
Published: May 2018
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

We always thought the biggest threat to humanity would come from the outside.

We were wrong.

As the human race picks up the pieces of destruction left behind, a new world order emerges. New alliances are formed. Old divisions are strengthened. And, with a power struggle fuelled by the threat of mutually assured destruction, nothing is certain.

At a time when the world's nations should have been coming together, they have never been more divided.

With the human race teetering on the brink of total war, Rose, Vincent and Eva must choose sides. But doing the right thing might mean making the ultimate sacrifice.

Hmmm... I hate to damn with fain praise but this is a very lukewarm three stars. This is one novel that needed to sit and sink in before I was entirely sure how I felt about it. It's obvious that Sylvain Neuvel never does what you think he is going to -- or even what he might possibly do. He heads in entirely new directions with each successive novel, but I can't say that it worked very well for me in this last of his humans-meet-aliens trilogy. The first novel was an unparalleled success but neither of the followups matched that original level of imagination meets execution.

For a finale, specially for a series like this -- one that has been so creative and unpredictable... this was kind of underwhelming, I am not going to lie. This series started out so strongly and then.. kinda petered out more and more with both sequels. They each weren't bad taken on their own merit, but both Waking Gods a year ago and Only Human now definitely didn't have the vision and creativity of Sleeping Giants.

Book Tour Review: Ecstasy by Mary Sharratt

Friday, April 27, 2018
Title: Ecstasy
Author: Mary Sharratt
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 400
Published: April 10 2018
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating:  4/5

In the glittering hotbed of turn-of-the-twentieth-century Vienna, one woman’s life would define and defy an era

Gustav Klimt gave Alma her first kiss. Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight and proposed only a few weeks later. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius abandoned all reason to pursue her. Poet and novelist Franz Werfel described her as “one of the very few magical women that exist.” But who was this woman who brought these most eminent of men to their knees? In Ecstasy, Mary Sharratt finally gives one of the most controversial and complex women of her time the center stage.

Coming of age in the midst of a creative and cultural whirlwind, young, beautiful Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. A brand-new era of possibility for women is dawning and she is determined to make the most of it. But Alma loses her heart to the great composer Gustav Mahler, nearly twenty years her senior. He demands that she give up her music as a condition for their marriage. Torn by her love and in awe of his genius, how will she remain true to herself and her artistic passion?

Part cautionary tale, part triumph of the feminist spirit, Ecstasy reveals the true Alma Mahler: composer, author, daughter, sister, mother, wife, lover, and muse.

Mary Sharratt is a vivid writer with an eye for both detail and atmosphere and a knack for re-framing familiar historical events in new light. She highlights and humanizes women from history; those who are often ignored, stifled, or vilified and those that are rarely given a voice in the official narrative. With Ecstasy, Sharratt illuminates the life of the talented and tempestuous Alma Schindler, a formidable musician in her own right as well as a muse and inspiration to many well-known male musicians and artists in turn-of-the-century Vienna.

A strong personality with a noticeable talent for both composing and performing, Alma's presence is unique and memorable. She's faced by constraints of her time and society, as well as in her eventual husband's expectations but her talent and wit shine through. And even through facing her personal demons, Alma remains uniquely herself. Her point-of-view is refreshingly relate-able without being anachronistic for the times in which she lived. Sharratt does an admirable job of adapting Alma's voice and feelings and her narration feels natural.

Creation, especially of the musical variety, are main themes for both Ecstasy and for Alma herself in all stages of her story. Her life revolved around art for its entirety with a famous painter for a father and Sharratt makes music omnipresent here in her fictional life. Alma's need to create more than just human life, to be defined as more than only a wife or a mother -- to make her own art known -- is a core element to who she is and how she develops as a single woman and later as the 'proper' wife to an Opera Director. Her life and goals may shift and ebb, but her love of music is a constant, believable, and unchanging facet of her characterization.

An authentic and vivid recreation of a fascinating and flawed woman, Ecstasy is a look at mental health and love, music and motherhood. Mary Sharratt ably renders a nuanced version of a complicated woman and adapts her unconventional life with ease. Her version of the acclaimed and beloved fixture of culture and society in Europe and in America is engaging, forthright, and unique.  Ecstasy is a window to a vibrant Viennese society and a memorable main character.

Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, April 10
Review at Broken Teepee

Wednesday, April 11
Feature at Passages to the Past

Thursday, April 12
Review at Bookfever
Review at Unabridged Chick

Friday, April 13
Interview at Unabridged Chick
Review at View From the Birdhouse

Saturday, April 14
Review at Clarissa Reads it All

Monday, April 16
Review at Cup of Sensibility

Tuesday, April 17
Review at Based on a True Story

Wednesday, April 18
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Thursday, April 19
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Friday, April 20
Review at Linda’s Book Obsession

Sunday, April 22
Review at Carole Rae’s Random Ramblings

Monday, April 23
Review at A Bookaholic Swede

Tuesday, April 24
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Wednesday, April 25
Review at A Literary Vacation

Thursday, April 26
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair

Friday, April 27
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Monday, April 30
Review at Caryn, the Book Whisperer

Tuesday, May 1
Review at A Bookish Affair

Thursday, May 3
Interview at The Writing Desk

Monday, May 7
Review at What Cathy Read Next

Wednesday, May 9
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Thursday, May 10
Review at Writing the Renaissance

Friday, May 11
Interview at Writing the Renaissance

Monday, May 14
Interview at Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, May 16
Review at Jorie Loves a Story

Thursday, May 17
Review at Nicole Evelina

Friday, May 18
Interview at Nicole Evelina


ATTASU: The Last Viking by Sandra Hill

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

As ATTASU is a more in-depth feature than my standard reviews, this entire post has a spoiler warning for plot details, including the ending, of The Last Viking.

Truly, women think they want a weak-sapped man, but what they really crave is a real man, like Tim Taylor, and me.

Sandra Hill's been the victim of a mean prank. You've probably seen it, a post on social media that features the cover of her 2006 novel, Rough and Ready followed by some outlandish and terrible passages. A few of them, the screenshots of "dick heaven" and "dick attack", are real. "Dick Parkinson's", "galloping abs", and the whole "wet boobs still wet from the shower water" are not. Still, despite knowing this was (mostly) a troll, a reader requested I feature Ms. Hill on ATTASU. As delightful as a squadron of time traveling Navy SEALS sounds, you can find quite a few reviews of Rough and Ready. Instead, I went back to the start of the series for a time travel plot I haven't read before: the ancient man and the modern woman set in the glorious age of 1997.

1997. In terms of the romance genre, it might as well be 997, right? Certainly, this is what those who think I judge the book too harshly will opine.

In 1997, Julia Quinn was writing her second series, (Brighter Than the Sun is a four-star book that I will vouch stands up to twenty-teen scrutiny). We're not even going to count how many books Nora Roberts had released at this point, though Montana Sky, published the previous year, remains one of the most beloved in the romance genre. Romancelandia's titan, Beverly Jackson also gave us Indigo in 1996 and followed it up with Topaz in '97. And if we can go back another year, Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels is still topping AAR's top 100 romance list, twenty years later. Kleypas, Brockway, Susan E. Phillips, all award-winning authors who released novels in the mid-late 90s and none of them are...this.

The Last Viking is terrible. It's poorly written, badly paced, and rarely have I seen a book that so hates its target audience. The last book I read that was this misogynistic was Fabio's Pirate if we all recall how much I hated that review. We're introduced to Rolf with him licking the nipples of his boat's figurehead in "salty appreciation", ostensibly to show the reader what a lusty male our love interest will be, and it only gets worse from there.


Row, row, row your boat . ."

The weird italicized sentences are a reoccurring device. They start most scenes, but not all. Sometimes they're song lyrics or puns, but frequently they're just bits that might be the main characters' thoughts. So why not have them be their thoughts and dispense with this weird formatting decision? (Speaking of weird formatting decisions, let's revisit this in a few minutes when we get to Rolf and his grasp on the English language.)

Rolf is sailing during the Devil's Moon when his ship is struck by lightning and he and Ingrid, the saltily appreciated figurehead, are swept through a whirlpool and into Professor Meredith Foster's front yard. Meredith is obviously a professor of medieval studies, specializing in Norse history, with a half-built Viking longboat in her yard. Because for all my defense of the genre, romance is built on its coincidences and misunderstandings. Meredith arrives home to find an invader in her house. She's held at knifepoint by what she assumes is a historical reenactor hired by her brother to help her finish her boat. Because every SCA member I've come across says hello with a knife to the throat. But maybe, are you wondering what Rolf looks like? I bet you are.

"In fact, he looked a lot like a Viking Age version of that actor, Kevin Sorbo, from the old Hercules program on television."

(Hercules was smack in the middle of its six-season run in 1997. It makes absolutely no sense to refer to a currently airing show as an old program, though if these are the editing details that I'm getting hung up on, spoiler: the rest of the book is a trip.)

Fortunately for Meredith and us as readers, Rolf has a magic belt that allows him to speak and understand English and also seems to ease his transition into modern life. By the end of his first full day in Maine, Rolf is obsessed with indoor plumbing, some sort of shampoo called drek, (which has a very different connotation here in 2018,) and can even use a computer. The hilarious "adapting to future technology" scenes teased in the synopsis are over before they even begin.

Instead, what The Last Viking truly is is Home Improvement fan-fiction mixed with an MRA wet dream. Rolf is the kind of alphahole asshole I can't stand. His machismo is supposed to highlight the time travel and differences in his world and ours, but (spoiler) because he ends up being completely right and validated, what the book is actually saying is "wasn't it better when we could kidnap women and marry them at knifepoint?"

As covered, Rolf enjoys a lot of the modern world's comforts, but none more so than Mike the TA and his trip to Home Depot.

"[T]hey’d entered Am-eric-hah’s version of Valhalla, a real man’s paradise—the power-tool section of the hardware store."

You know what, it's not even the power tools. They were a big thing in the 90s, a status symbol for a certain kind of men. Rolf's choice of tv: Bob Vila's This Old House and Home Improvement show a segment of the American population was certainly charmed by the idea of working with your hands. I'll even allow that power tools would seem like a magic luxury, unimaginable to a shipbuilder who made his own wooden nails. No, my two biggest problems with this sentence are the hackneyed phonetic spelling and the phrase "real men".

Rolf speaks perfect English by the end of his first scene, thanks to his magic belt, (which features a holy relic in a hidden compartment that Rolf was on his way to return to an English abbey to stop a famine in Norway for reasons.) That is, Rolf speaks perfect English except for the occasional word that is spelled phonetically for...humor? We're first on the receiving end of this writing quirk when Rolf learns Meredith's name. He calls her Merry-Death and will do so for the remainder of the book, even after they're married and he's given up returning to his own time. But even that and Am-eric-hah are ok. They're not funny, but they seem consistent enough with the book's internal logic. The belt seemingly can't translate words that don't have a similar, corresponding meaning in Old Norse. Electrice-city and come-pewter thus do make sense that he'd struggle with them. But he first calls his hero, Tim Allen, Timalley. That doesn't fit, nor does the fact that he evolves to call Tim by his correct name, but never does with Meredith.

But I wouldn't be upset and calling this one of my "biggest problems" in a book I've already admitted is terrible if it wasn't for Meredith's job title.

"Half of your words have no meaning to me. What language is this that you . . . we are speaking?" He rubbed the clasp of his belt while he spoke, as if for luck or answers.

[ . . . ]

"Like profess-whore. I can hardly credit you as a whore.”

Oh boy. There's a lot to unpack here. First, "professor" is not remotely pronounced "profess-whore", so the structure of our joke and our worldbuilding are already unsound. Secondly, while professor does only date back to the 14th century, so does profess. The belt should have no more knowledge of one than the other. Teacher, however, does have roots in Old English, a sister language to Old Norse and one Rolf claims to speak. His belt should easily have substituted tæcan long before making a crude and unfunny joke that Meredith is too plain to be a prostitute.

The book hates Meredith and this loops back around to problem the second, the "real man".

Meredith has problems. She's a doormat for her overbearing scholar parents, her flighty sister, even her dead grandfather, as she's taken a sabbatical from Columbia to teach at his small college in Maine and complete his dream of a longship. She has no friends, she's divorced, and as we find out in a tear-filled, (and rage-inducing,) confession, infertile. So when Rolf shows up and starts barking orders, despite her resistance, her life magically becomes better. Her parents are cowed, her sister gives her custody of her daughter so she's not lonely, she makes friends with her TA and some of the SCA reenactors who show up, and of course, she learns the sexual fulfillment of being with a "real man", which seemingly involves a lot of hair and also semen that can cure infertility. You knew it was going there.

Some of this attitude is the time period in which the book was published. Of the award-winners I listed back at the beginning, I actually didn't like Lord of Scoundrels for a similar reason. I found the hero too domineering. I find female submission to be one of the most popular tropes in mainstream romance, (though research into sexual preferences shows male submission is actually more popular in real life.) because there is something enjoyable in the thought of laying back and letting someone else take all your cares away. I also find these stories come in waves; we just had a big one in 2012 after the success of Fifty Shades. We're not here to shame people who are into femsub fic or alpha tropes. The problem is the female character has to be into it. Meredith is not. From the first page to the last, she fights Rolf to keep her independence. He marries her bound, against her will, because she refuses to commit herself to him when he's going to try to return to the Middle Ages. That goes well beyond the "I know best so let me sort out the building arrangements" thing they have going. Instead, Rolf thinks of Meredith's talking as "lackwit female prattle" and asks, "If she loved him, she would want to please him, wouldn’t she?" That's not love. Meredith, you should run like your tampon string is on fire.

Instead, blinded by lust for Kevin Sorbo, Meredith runs straight to Rolf's bed after the wedding. Because he'll sleep with whores, but he'll only make love to his wife. So after he realizes he's in love with her, he has to force her to marry him so they can finally get it on. Because that makes sense and betrays zero unhealthy ideas about sex work and intercourse. This is what we're here for, right? You want to know if anyone's going to have a dick attack.

Well, no. Dick attack was clearly the author's attempt at writing modern, male internal dialogue. Since here she's writing ancient, male internal dialogue, what we get is some of the purplest prose this side of the gothic.

“Drops of moisture from our first mating linger here,” he pointed out huskily, “like morning mist on seaside grass.”

[. . .]

“You feel like velvet fire licking at my staff,” he gasped as he pulled out, then drove in again, long and slow and sinfully pleasurable. “And you feel like hot marble,”

[. . . ]

“Your woman dew anoints me like molten lava,”

This same scene also features everyone's favorite euphemism, manroot, as well as "womanly nest", which I'm not even sure I know what that is? These all seem very silly now, but again part of this is the time period and the style. God knows I'm not defending these passages, they're awful, but I think even more offensive is when Hill tries to make sex fun.

Glad someone's getting wet around here.

Best you fortify your ramparts, my lady of the running tongue. This warrior is about to lay siege to your every portal.

This warrior is about to lay siege to your eVERY PORTAL. I need a lie-down. (Also he only even seizes one portal. Promises promises, Rolf.)

“Especially since I shared with you the secret of the famous Viking S-spot, which even you agreed was far superior to your modern G-spot.”

This is a reoccurring joke. It's never explained. Not where it is, how it provides pleasure, or why a Viking erogenous zone would follow the naming conventions of Gräfenberg. But Rolf tells every man he meets about the S-spot and sends them home to please their female partners. Another example of how a return to the age of raping and pillaging would actually benefit the 90s. Right.

But wait, I hear you all say. This review is wrapping up and we didn't get to the bottom of "Home Improvement fanfiction"? About that. So a third of the way through the book, Meredith's TA, Mike is reintroduced. He's here to serve as an eventual friend to Mer after Rolf leaves, but also to give Rolf the male bonding scenes we were all clamoring for. Mike has one defining personality trait. Despite being a graduate student in medieval studies, chosen for a prestigious assistant position, all we know of Mike is that he's a horndog. A horndog in love with one Pamela Anderson. He makes this known loudly and frequently. The Baywatch (and Home Improvement) actress is mentioned sixteen times in twenty chapters. When Mike and Rolf meet, Mike immediately starts waxing poetic about how hot Pam is. Because the author's definitely met a man before. Definitely. So Rolf, being an alpha and a fixer takes it upon himself to call Pam's agent. How does he get that information? No idea. But here's the worst part: it works. We start getting needy phone messages from NINETEEN NINETY-SEVEN, PLAYBOY COVERGIRL PAMELA ANDERSON.

"Will you pursue this Pamela creature till you gain the bedding? I heard that she phoned you repeatedly this past week."
In fact, this works so well that Rolf takes it upon himself to make another series of wildly expensive long distance calls to LA and track down Tim Allen. He loves Tim Allen. He references Tim, actor and character, repeatedly and the author even goes so far as to insert their like-minded philosophies into the background of scenes.

" [. . .] Tim Taylor was explaining to his wife Jill why big breasts were God- given male magnets."

So Rolf wants Tim to come help him build his longboat. Unsurprisingly, considering he got one of the hottest women in the world's phone number, he speaks to a long line of agents and producers who all agree it is a great idea for Tim and the actors to fly to Maine and use the longboat in an episode. This doesn't actually happen and you think the plot line has been dropped until! *deep breath*

Meredith finally accepts both that Rolf is a time traveler and she's in love with him.She has nothing holding her to the twentieth century, so she asks him to take her back to 997 with him.Rolf refuses because he's already had one wife die.Meredith won't marry him if he won't take her, he won't leave without marrying her.The aforementioned kidnap wedding occurs, our heroes finally sleep together, and they spend two blissful weeks waiting for Rolf to finish his boat and the Devil's Moon to rise again.On the day of the moon, there's a tearful sending off.We get a flash-forward to the next day where we're told that Rolf's boat was once again struck by lightning, sunk, and he and his figurehead, Ingrid, are once again sucked into a whirlpool.Except it leaves him in 1997 instead of returning to the past.Rolf's picked up by two fishermen who take him to shore in exchange for knowledge of where the S-spot is.Rolf checks into a hotel and sees a news report of his "death", featuring Meredith crying. He realizes he'd be a real douche to do this to her again and again since he can't stop trying to get back to his time as long as he has this saint's relic.So he flys to Norway to do some research and finds out the famine actually broke the day he went through the whirlpool so his destiny isn't to take the relic back, it's to keep it in the future where it can't affect the weather?So then he travels to England and where the abbey was in his time, but it's just ruins.Then a ghost of the saint burried at the abbey shows up, takes the relic, tells Rolf to follow his destiny and points to a single rose, which somehow signifies Meredith even though by now we know she's pregnant so it should be two roses.Rolf then goes to London or Paris or something to auction off all his Viking jewelry and then finally after six weeks returns to Maine to tell Mer he's not dead.Initially their reunion is a happy one and they bang on her desk,but then he lets it slip that he got his new clothes in London and Meredith is rightly pissed that Rolf faked his death, didn't tell her his research had proved he didn't have to go back to the past, galavanted across Europe without so much as a postcard, and then showed up like nothing happened.They have their big Big Mis, Mer kicks him out of the cabin, and we get a couple chapters of angst until Meredith's niece tells her to turn on Home Improvement.


Upon turning on Home Improvement, what is Meredith, and by proxy the audience, treated to? Rolf of course!  Tim Taylor has decided to soup up his speedboat and hires Rolf to teach him how to construct a longboat, which are famous for their ability to go fast and be manned by one person, obviously. Al and Wilson are also there, trying vainly to make jokes as Rolf flubs his lines, curses, and speaks directly to Meredith through the camera in one of the strangest scenes I have come across. I'm forced to believe Ms. Hill believes television shows are actually plays performed by very small men living in her tv? Even more bizarre is the fact that Rolf is invited back. Anyway, the next day Meredith goes home, secure in her knowledge that Rolf is still in LA where the show is filmed, but surprise! He's in her house and takes her at knifepoint again until she agrees to kiss and make up.

While I try to keep ATTASU a funny but enlightening look at books that go off the beaten path, unfortunately, this time around, I'm just sad. Hill has written eleven books in the series, so obviously they're resonating with someone out there. I've liked a lot of romance novels that I didn't find erotic, but I liked the plot. I've read some that the plot was shit, but something in the love scenes spoke to me. But I'll never understand books that seem to actively hate and harm their female readership. Yes, there's a certain delight in reading a really bad scene, laughing at a truly outlandish description, but it's not worth risking supporting problematic content like this. I can give you a hundred books with a dominating love interest without the near-rape and kidnapping. And that's not a plot point you can blame on the 90s.

TTT: Books I Loved but Will Never Re-Read

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

For this week's TTT freebie, I'm going back to the list I started last week but didn't finish. Sorry Jana, I'm a mess!

Top Ten Books I Loved but Will Never Re-Read

1. I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

Humans need water in their bodies to live. Crying all mine out once was E-NOUGH.

2. All Melina Marchettas

See above. This author wrecks me. I can't go through Saving Francesca or Jellicoe Road again. I just can't.

3. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

"Kiss me, Hardy. Kiss me, QUICK!". And then shoot me out of a cannon into the sun.

4. Skylark by Meagan Spooner

Sometimes a series should have stopped at one. I can't taint how much I love this book with how much I hated the series conclusion.

5. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

ONE THOUSAND AND SEVEN PAGES. Sorry BSand, we're lucky I got though this once.

6. Philippa Gregor's Tudor series

Has one ever outgrown a series quite so rapidly? Let me keep my fond memories of The Constant Princess and The Boleyn Inheritance without marring them with the implicit knowledge that they're actually badly written and researched.

7. The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

I am so glad I read this horror-satire and so glad I'm never required to do so again.

8. Mariana by Susanna Kearley

That's a twist that only works once.

9. Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

For a 4.5 star book, the thought of reading this again just makes me want to take a nap? Probably why I never actually finished the series, huh?

10. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller


So there we go loves, ten books I really did love and also ten books you couldn't pay me to put back in front of my eyeballs. What about you? Did you do this list last week when you were supposed to? Link up in the comments.

TTT: Top Ten Characters I Love in Books I Don't

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

When you read 900 books in six years, they don't always hit. But sometimes, even in those less than shining stars, you find a bright spot. Here are ten characters I loved in books I didn't.

1. Marlee (The Selection series)

None of the girls in the eponymous contest were particularly likable or well developed, but America's friend who risks everything to leave the contest and marry a guard certainly came closest. Marlee is cloyingly sweet but considering America's self absorbed bitchfest that was The Elite, her side plot was a welcome one.

2. Odile (The Black Swan

I'm generally a huge Lackey fan, but this early fairy tale is a rare miss and it has nothing to do with the main character. Rothbart's motivations are tissue paper thin, Odette has no characterization, and the "hero" is an on-page rapist. Let's go with the original ballet ending, shall we? 

But Odile's struggle to impress her abusive father while staying true to her good nature is actually compelling. She's smart, a sorceress in her own right. She's merciful, propping up the littler girls when Rothbart runs them ragged. And in the end, she genuinely tries to earn redemption when she could easily have said Rothbart's influence made her do everything. 

Another character who really tries to earn her redemption. My problem with this book was the fact that Gemma shouldn't have needed to earn anything, so the whole premise was bullshit to start with. So even if the story didn't make me want to keep reading the series, Gemma's sweet naivete did. 

4. Eric Northman (The Southern Vampire Chronicles series)

Justice for my ship. Justice for my Viking vampire king.

This book was so confusing and hard to like, very similar to its characters and their layers of unreliability. Despite that, Scrap, the leader of the little gang, the one writing the story, burrowed his way into my heart. In this story of love and grief and mourning and war, he's the one holding it up and yet apart. Beckan may be the character on the cover, but Scrap's the one I want to hear about.

6. Ekeeta (Princess of Thorns)

Every great villain is a hero in his own mind and the Ogress Queen from this Cinderella retelling is a fantastic illustration of the principle. While the main story is marred by a truly god-awful romance, here's Ekeeta, trying to bring about the end of the world not so she can rule over the ashes or whatever evil queens are usually trying for, but because she believes in a religious prophecy that life on earth must end so that the Ogres can guide the humans to paradise underground. She's just trying to save them...by ending their mortal lives. Is that so wrong?

Tariq is terrible and this book is much better if Shazi just marries Kahlid for keeps and they rule quietly without all the murdering.

I'm a sucker for a gruff mentor, especially one who puts a character who's too cocky or entitled in their place so they can eventually learn to be the leader they'll need to be by the end of the trilogy. Enter Sir Gorrann, a former Spade who is here entirely for the purpose of putting Dinah in touch with the common folk. He'll snark about her lack of supplies and wilderness training. He'll tell sad stories of his friends and family killed by the tyranny of the royal family. He'll give weapons training and serve as counsel and eventually marry your mother-in-law...wait sorry, got him mixed with the Coram Smythesson from the Alanna series for a second.


An epic fantasy about a 50+ bisexual badass, a former leader who overthrew a king and lived to see that saying about generals not being necessary in peacetime. Plus she warns a girl who hero worships her not to wear chainmail panties because they'll rip out your pubes. Fuck, I'm mad again.

10. Katharine Sheffield (The Viscount Who Loved Me)

Why did Anthony and his nasty, stern daddy attitude earn the best heroine in the Bridgerton books? Even in the second epilogue Anthony was still the wooooooooorst. Poor Kate, go live with Lucy and never play croquet with this bore ever again.

Review: Geek Ink by Emanuele Pagani

Monday, March 5, 2018
Title: Geek Ink: The World's Smartest Tattoos for Rebels, Nerds, Scientists, and Intellectuals
Author: Emanuele Pagani
Genre: Art and Photography
Pages: 224
Published: Expected March 20, 2018
Source: publisher
Rating: 3.5/5
Exhibiting cutting-edge designs from the most sought-after and acclaimed contemporary tattoo artists worldwide, Geek Ink presents magnificent ideas for tattoos on themes from science fiction and fantasy, as well as a wide range of topics across science, mathematics, literature, and philosophy.

With commentary from creators of the Inkstinct project--which connects people with the finest tattoo art from 380,000 studios worldwide and has an Instagram fan base of more than 1 million--as well as interviews with world-renowned masters like Eva Krbdk (460K followers), David Cote (232K followers), and Thomas Eckeard (169K followers), this is the definitive tattoo inspiration sourcebook for hipsters, bookworms, scientists, academics, engineers, and, of course, geeks!
I've never reviewed an art book on APR before, but when I was offered an ARC of Geek Ink, I was over the moon. Geek tattoos are something very close to me and mine. The artist of my Bradbury piece also did a full geek sleeve for my sister, featuring Warhammer 40k, Psychonauts, Phantom of the Opera, Legend of Zelda, and Supernatual. (She also has separate Repo the Genetic Opera and a Fatal Frame pieces.) The seventh wedding anniversary gift is traditionally copper, so I sent my husband to a very nice sadist to stab a Terry Pratchett inspired "copper" badge into his arm.

The book is set up in two sections. The first is a brief profile of 25 artists from around the globe. These feature a one paragraph bio, links to their instagram and inkstinct pages, a quote from them about their art, and 8-10 samples from their portfolios. The layout and photography are high quality and do a wonderful job framing the tattoos as art.  The only problem with the samples chosen is many of the pieces are featured in the book twice, both here and either in one of collages at the beginning and end of each section or in the gallery itself.

Standouts for me were Frank Carrilho's Nikola Telsa, David Cote's Neon Vader, (the color work to make something actually appear made of neon tubing, I'm in awe,) literally every single piece by Inez Janiak, Andrea Morales' Killer Robot and The Golden Snitch and Hogwarts, PisSaro's Bejeweled Elephant, and Hugo Tatooer's entire aesthetic.

I have good taste. Morales and Carrilho appear on the cover and Cote appeared on the previous version.

The gallery was less successful. Its table of contents consists of animals, anime, astronomy, biology, botany, conceptual, cult classics, fantasy, geography, geometry, literature, psychology, science fiction, surrealism, technology, and television. Large sections like animals and botany are further divided, though not in the table of contents so you have to flip to the first page and then scan through. Animals are split into vertebrates and invertebrates, and then vertebrates are split into classes: aves, cetacea, proboscidae, reptilia, mammalia, then order: carnivora, and finally family: canidae, felidae. All this seems like an artificial way to make animal tattoos, the most popular tattoo type, seem geeky. All sciences, zoology included, are pretty geeky, but a lot of the included tattoos look like someone's pet.

The classifications are arbitrary and made it harder to look up the subjects. For example, Rob Carvalho's Fox and Rose (inspired by The Little Prince) is on page 170, Cult Classics. Meanwhile, Nora Lyasko's The Little Prince piece, The Fox and the Prince is on page 190, Literature. (Page numbers from the PDF ARC and may be changed in the final printing, of course.) A replica of Starry Night is in Surrealism, of all places. Wolverine's in Cult Classics, but Darth Vader's in Sci-Fi.

It also feels like a lot of geek culture is missing. There are only six TV tattoos, none of which are the big hitters I'd expect. No Doctor Who or Star Trek. There is an X Files, but again it's back in Cult Classics.  There are no games, video, board, or tabletop represented. Not even anything that really says hard sciences, except one representation of a caffeine molecule, (in biology, next to a skull and two stylized hearts.) There are a few under the featured artists, but if you're using the gallery to browse for ideas, you're going to have a hard time.

It's a beautiful coffee table book, but I don't know if you'll find your new ink in it.

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