Review: The Monsters in Your Neighborhood by Jesse Petersen

Friday, May 31, 2013
Title: The Monsters in Your Neighborhood
Author: Jesse Petersen
Genre: supernatural fiction
Series: Monstrosity #2
Pages: 224
Published: expected July 29 2013
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3.5/5

As one of Frankenstein’s Creatures, Natalie Gray knows that unique parts sometimes make up a great whole. Still, leading a diverse support group for monsters—now including Cthulhu!—isn’t an easy task. Especially not since the internet arrived.

New York City embraces the different and the bizarre. Still, even for such a fun-loving city, the supernatural and monstrous might be a bit too much. It’s been six months since the members of “Club Monstrosity” overcame the most recent spate of anti-monster violence and they’ve reestablished their routine of meeting in a church basement once a week to (ugh!) talk about their feelings. Still, they also know a war against them is brewing.

Natalie and Alec (the werewolf) have begun dating, and the mummies Kai and Rehu are tighter than a bug in a…well, bandage. But when modern means (YouTube, Twitter, bits and bytes) are used to chilp away at the solidarity of these ancient monsters, it’s up to Natalie to save the day. #MonstersInNewYork may be trending on Twitter, but this girl’s trending toward saving the day…somehow.

Jesse Petersen's Monstrosity series is turning out to be a collection of very quick, very amusing, very clever supernatural books. With The Monsters in Your Neighborhood, the sequel to Club Monstrosity, Petersen is two for two in these stories featuring classic monsters in the modern-day setting of New York. With the same humor and wit that marked the first novel. this is a return to form. A done-in-one-sitting read, Natalie and her misfit crew (with some new additions!) are sent to solve a new mystery, while simultaneously protecting themselves from the new threats that face them.

Still in third person, the POVs of Natalie and Alec are used to narrate the story. Six months after their escapade and near-reveals to the world during the events of the first book, a new monster (a "Cthulhu" named Pat) has joined the ranks, as well as Rehu, Kai's on-again-off-again mummy boyfriend playing a more prominent part. Wrestling with a twitter and video threat, as well as with the ongoing search for Hyde, the group finds itself strained and tested in new ways. Old alliances are broken, relationships are tested, and secrets are revealed - all with a bit of humor and a dash of cleverness, mixed in with the unexpected. Petersen takes some interesting risks with her story, but it all pans out quite well by the end.

One of the things I enjoy about these novels can also work against it in a way. These books are quite short, and while that makes for a quick, entertaining read, it can make both the plot and the final denouement a bit hampered. These are mysteries meant to be wrapped up in under 250 pages, so some of the suspense and drama can be lost in the rush to get to end. It all comes together a bit easily, and the final reveal of the antagonists doesn't quite pack the punch the author intended.

That said, The Monsters in Your Neighborhood is still a fun and clever mystery. Alec really steps up as a character, Natalie undergoes some unique struggles and emerges a stronger character, all the betterment of the series. The books ends with some loose ends and obvious chances for sequels, so I hope to see more from Natalie, Pat, Linda, Alec, Kai, Rehu, and yes, even Hyde, in the near future.

Review Take Two: Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead

Thursday, May 30, 2013
Title: Gameboard of the Gods
Author: Richelle Mead
Genre: science fiction, post-apocalyptic, dystopia, supernatural
Series: Age of X #1
Pages: 464
Published: expected June 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

In a futuristic world nearly destroyed by religious extremists, Justin March lives in exile after failing in his job as an investigator of religious groups and supernatural claims. But Justin is given a second chance when Mae Koskinen comes to bring him back to the Republic of United North America (RUNA). Raised in an aristocratic caste, Mae is now a member of the military’s most elite and terrifying tier, a soldier with enhanced reflexes and skills.

When Justin and Mae are assigned to work together to solve a string of ritualistic murders, they soon realize that their discoveries have exposed them to terrible danger. As their investigation races forward, unknown enemies and powers greater than they can imagine are gathering in the shadows, ready to reclaim the world in which humans are merely game pieces on their board.

Gameboard of the Gods, the first installment of Richelle Mead’s Age of X series, will have all the elements that have made her YA Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series such megasuccesses: sexy, irresistible characters; romantic and mythological intrigue; and relentless action and suspense.

Reviewed by Danielle.

I went back and forth on the rating for this book. On one hand, it’s a bit slow and the author is so anti-info dumps that I spent the first quarter confused. On the other hand, holy SHIT do I love Mae. I’m still wavering between a 3 and a 4, but I’m going to leave it at the higher rating, because while GotG isn’t the most solid book I’ve read, but it ends up being a really fun, unique fusion.

Mae Koskinen is a praetorian, and similar to the Roman bodyguards the sect derives their name from, an elite warrior/bodyguard. Unlike the ancient version, futuristic praetorians are the recipients of an implant that imbibes them with special skills. Mae’s body metabolizes chemicals at a super-human rate, allowing her enhanced reflexes and rendering her impervious to poison. Unfortunately, Mae sets a foot wrong and is demoted from guarding senators and monuments. Instead, she is assigned to guard Dr. Justin March, a brilliant but troubled servitor, (“investigator of religious groups and supernatural claims,”) who was previously exiled under rather mysterious circumstances. The government now needs Justin back to investigate a string of murders with a religious bend.

March is drowning his sorrows, and memories of supernatural activities, in a drug and alcohol fueled haze in South America, when a case of mistaken identity results in him and Mae going home together. This sets off the real mystery of the novel, the mythologic intrigue referenced in the blurb. <SPOILER ALERT>See,
Justin has been claimed by an unknown god, who gave him several prophecies and a pair of supernatural ravens in exchange for an apple. Mae fits one of the prophecies and only through some tricky wordplay does Justin avoid being bound to the god’s service. <END SPOILER>Their tryst sends them both down the road of discovery as Justin’s personal mystery collides with the murder investigation.

At this point, we’re at a solid four stars. I have some quibbles on world building and the way it was revealed, but it’s nothing an appendix or a map couldn’t fix. Justin’s brilliant, troubled, and not just a little sleazy scientist was an interesting character with varied motivations, aspirations, and reactions. He’s a sexy jerk who frequently gets called out on it, while being a loving brother/uncle/foster father. And Mae is fantastic. She’s a tough, determined fighter, a sexually liberated lover, a conflicted daughter. I found them both well rounded and developed. They had great interplay and palpable chemistry.

Unfortunately, the book has three PoVs.

Tessa, a Panamanian teenager who seems to be included solely to appeal to Mead’s former YA fanbase, has none of Mae and Justin’s development. She is plucked, seemingly at random, from her household to come with Justin to RUNA. He made a promise to her father that he would bring them all with him, but immigration as it is, there can only be one. This does lead to her second purpose, to have the world building explained to her, and by proxy, the audience.

Tessa, we’re told, is a prodigy at judging people, but we rarely see it in action. She does sort of bumble her way into a big break in the mystery, but last I checked, getting kidnapped isn’t the same as being a intuitive mastermind. Other than that, she whines a lot about commercialism and patriotism. Perhaps she has a purpose that will be revealed as the series goes on, but as it stands I truly don’t care for, or about, her.

She’s not the only side character without a lot going on, either. Mae’s friends; Justin’s sister; Leo, the brilliant hacker and his vineyard-owning boyfriend, Dominic are all victims of a very driven story. They really only show up to provide a clue to a mystery and then disappear again. On one hand, I appreciate that the plot is kept moving. On the other, at least one scene, <SPOILER>
where Tessa is picked up by the only two guards in the city who like Mae, brought back to Justin’s house, and the guards then proceed to give him her life story for funsies<END SPOILER> is so convenient.

Again, I did decide to round up because the main characters are great. The mystery was engrossing and deep. No guessing the final twist 150 pages in here, folks. It’s probably more enjoyable if you’ve got a handle on Greek and Roman mythology, (you know, a bit beyond Disney’s Hercules and Clash of the Titans,) otherwise references may go over your head. In all, I’ll forgive a few slow spots and underdeveloped side characters for an intriguing new world that I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time in. 

Two Minute Review: Club Monstrosity by Jesse Petersen

Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Title: Club Monstrosity
Author: Jesse Petersen
Genre: supernatural fiction
Series: Monstrosity #1
Pages: 224
Published: April 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.75/5

Natalie’s one of Frankenstein’s creations and works in a New York City morgue. So of course she needs therapy. She and her friends—er, fellow monsters—have formed the world’s most exclusive, most dysfunctional support group. What could go wrong?

Undetected in the modern world and under pressure to stay that way, Natalie Grey, Dracula, Bob the Blob, and others (including the fetching wolfman Alec) meet regularly to talk about the pressures of being infamous in the Big Apple. Topics include how long it’s been since their last sighting, how their “story” creates stereotypes they can’t fulfill, and—gasp—sometimes even their feelings. But when their pervy Invisible Man, Ellis, is killed in a manner reminiscent of the H.G. Wells novel, it’s clear someone’s discovered their existence and is down for some monster busting.

Led by Natalie—and definitely not helped by Hyde’s bloodthirsty tendencies—the members of Monstofelldosis Anonymous band together for security and a little sleuthing. And maybe—maybe—if they don’t end up dead, they’ll end up friends somewhere along the way.

Club Monstrosity is fun. It's a fluffy, funny, and entertaining little mystery. This was a quick read, but I had a few genuine laugh out loud moments and the inclusion of classic monsters with modern New York is fresh and creative. It's a breath of fresh air - for though these monsters have had resurgences of popularity in modern books, few authors show them in their original light. Vampires, werewolves, Swamp Things, Creatures (aka Frankenstein Monsters) all pop up in the supernatural support group that binds them all together. As more and more of the members start being murdered, in the manner of their Stories, it's up to Natalie Grey to figure out the murderer and keep her identity secret.

Told in third person, with POVs from Natalie herself and the Wolf Man, Alec, the story is a fairly straight forward whodunit, flavored with a minimal romance and a little humor. There's a lot of the lore that one would expect from monsters - wrestling against their natures, staying hidden from the ever changing world - all while trying to figure out if the family Van Helsing is behind their current problems. The characters, rather the plot, are what will keep readers engaged. Mysteries are hard to make original, but the cast of classical monsters keep Club Monstrosity original and fun. Whether it's 1500 year old vampires texting, or a Swamp Thing with makeup issues, Petersen has a flair for the outlandish and humorous.

Another great thing is that this is a fairly cheap ebook - it's going for $2.99 right now. I'd consider that three bucks worth the entertainment that Club Monstrosity has to offer. It's short, but nicely resolved and with enough plotlines left open for the sequel (The Monsters in Your Neighborhood) to grab onto and continue. If you're looking for a light, but still amusing read, this is the book for you.

Top Ten Tuesday #10: Favorite Book Covers Of Books I've Read

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created here at The Broke and the Bookish.

This one is actually a freebie - but since I missed last week's, and I am a total cover person, I'm going to go with Top Ten Twenty Favorite Book Covers Of Books I've Read.

In no particular order:


Obviously I have a problem with limits. I could add more, but these all stick out in my memory. Most of the contents match the gorgeousness of the covers (except Tris & Izzie) and I love looking at them on my shelves!

Review: Born of Illusion by Teri Brown

Monday, May 27, 2013
Title: Born of Illusion
Author: Teri Brown
Genre: supernatural fiction, young adult, historical fiction
Series: Born of Illusion #1
Pages: 384
Published: expected June 11 2013
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 5/5

Anna Van Housen is thirteen the first time she breaks her mother out of jail. By sixteen she’s street smart and savvy, assisting her mother, the renowned medium Marguerite Van Housen, in her stage show and séances, and easily navigating the underground world of magicians, mediums and mentalists in 1920’s New York City. Handcuffs and sleight of hand illusions have never been much of a challenge for Anna. The real trick is keeping her true gifts secret from her opportunistic mother, who will stop at nothing to gain her ambition of becoming the most famous medium who ever lived. But when a strange, serious young man moves into the flat downstairs, introducing her to a secret society that studies people with gifts like hers, he threatens to reveal the secrets Anna has fought so hard to keep, forcing her to face the truth about her past. Could the stories her mother has told her really be true? Could she really be the illegitimate daughter of the greatest magician of all?

Born of Illusion is the first book in a new series. Each book in the series will introduce a new historical figure, whose legend is shrouded in magic, along with the young woman whose fate is irrevocably tied to his. The through line in each of the books will be The Ghost Club, the real life secret society that was founded in 1862 by the likes of Charles Dickens, Sir Conan Doyle, and W. B. Yeats to advance mankind’s knowledge of the paranormal. The first three books in the series will deal with Houdini, Aleister Crowley and Rasputin.

1920's New York? Jazz and magic? Prohibition and flappers? Speakeasies and Model T's? Houdini and secret societies? To say that I wanted to read Born of Illusion once I read the synopsis is a gross understatement. I needed to read it; it reminded me vaguely of Libba Bray's The Diviners while still coming across as a totally original undertaking. Happily for me, Teri Brown's first in a series delivers all that it promises and more. Once I started, I knew I was in for a treat and I was 100% right. It's fun, completely entertaining, filled with dimensional characters, and wholly atmospheric. It reads way too fast and is over too soon. The appeal for Born of Illusion is readily apparent, creatively developed and will make fans across the board.
I've always loved historical fiction, and young adult historical fiction is rapidly growing and becoming more popular with readers. With a focus on one of my favorite eras to read about, Born of Illusion was a prefect fit. With a dab hand, Brown creates a visually striking rendition of life in New York during the Roaring Twenties. This is an author who can create an enveloping feel for her setting - the attitudes, the people, the time shown are all captured so well. The historical details are spot on and subtly woven into the fabric of the narrative. Thankfully, Teri Brown isn't an author to infodump, through either dialogue or deed; instead the world main character Anna inhabits is imparted easily through her perspective or on her adventures through New York. 

Anna is a great main character. Friends with pickpockets and circus curiosities, her life hasn't been an easy or normal one; working and travelling with her mother, their relationship is a mix of love and jealousy, protectiveness and isolation. Anna both loves and hates her mother - their life is far from what she wants. Their life until New York had been a nomadic one; full of fleeing from cops, escaping from jail, and/or conning believable supernaturalists. Anna desires stability, a stationary life without seances or danger. One of the things I liked best about the younger Van Housen is that she is a proactive protagonist. She isn't passive; Anna does things instead of letting life happen to her. Limited by the constant control and professional envy of her mother, Anna's struggle for both independence and recognition is believable and endearing.

Another complication to Anna's secret-wrought existence is that she is capable of the supernatural acts her mother pretends to possess. Fearful of being used, or of winding up in a freakshow, Anna hides her "psychical" abilities from the world. Capable of communication with the dead, feeling other's emotions and of visions of the future, Anna's abilities grow from a minor plot point to an important aspect of both her life and the novel. The author doesn't substitute magic for personality or personal growth; rather Anna's abilities grow and change as she does as a person.  Alone for most of her life, her fear of discovery further adds to Anna's isolation and her search to feel safe. The magic of Born of Illusion comes in many guises, and while all weren't detailed, the ideas Brown uses are interesting and left open for more explanation in the forthcoming sequels.

There is a slight love triangle in the pages of Born of Illusion, but, most strangely, it neither irked me as much as I'd have predicted, nor did it take focus away from the real plot of the novel. Anna is attracted and interested in two very different young men: Colin Emerson Archer ("Cole"), a quiet but intelligent gentleman, and Owen, a more footloose and fancy-free version. Both men appeal to different sides of Anna's character. Her interest in both is well-developed and adds to the story. I can't say I was equally fond of both (Team Cole!), but I could understand what each represented to the conflicted main character.

The antagonist of the story is...decent. Despite a few harrowing scenes, I thought the villain lacked a solid presence in the novel. That could be because Brown purposefully keeps both the reader and Anna in the dark as to the identity of the Big Bad, but I thought more information or appearances would have added more suspense and tension to the novel. That said, with minor antagonists caught but the main one escaping to villain another day (perhaps in Born of Deception?) there is enough resolution and satisfaction in how the first story was concluded. 

My only question is how I am supposed to wait until 2014 to read the next book in this marvelous, fun, exciting series. Teri Brown proves she can write an involving, atmospheric, entertaining and above all, fun novel here. A fast read, but not without depth or complication, Born of Illusion is a great start to a promising series that blends historical fiction and magic superbly.

Review: Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

Sunday, May 26, 2013
Title: Sisters Red
Author: Jackson Pierce
Series: Fairytale Retellings #1
Pages: 328 (hardcover)
Published: June 2010
Source: purchased
Rating: 1/5

Scarlett March lives to hunt the Fenris--the werewolves that took her eye when she was defending her sister Rosie from a brutal attack. Armed with a razor-sharp hatchet and blood-red cloak, Scarlett is an expert at luring and slaying the wolves. She's determined to protect other young girls from a grisly death, and her raging heart will not rest until every single wolf is dead. 

Rosie March once felt her bond with her sister was unbreakable. Owing Scarlett her life, Rosie hunts ferociously alongside her. But even as more girls' bodies pile up in the city and the Fenris seem to be gaining power, Rosie dreams of a life beyond the wolves. She finds herself drawn to Silas, a young woodsman who is deadly with an ax and Scarlett's only friend--but does loving him mean betraying her sister and all that they've worked for?

                                                        Reviewed by Danielle.

From the second page of this book when a man's smile simultaneously faded and grew more forced, to the 321st page when the sister's entangled their arms around each other and sniffed each other's hair, I hated every single thing about this book.

Clearly, the writing was a problem. It was awkward, contradictory, and stilted. I wasn't expecting the plot to break barriers, but the big "twist" was so badly telegraphed that I saw it 150 pages before it was revealed. Scarlett was one of the most unlikable characters in the history of literature. There's a difference between damaged human and emotionless sociopath. Hoping your best friend dies because he got a girlfriend falls FIRMLY into the second category.

I had heard the book had a questionable scene involving Scarlett, Silas, and the "Dragonfly girls" [club goers]. Not only was the scene pretty upsetting, with both main characters expressing some disgusting ideas about women, the entire book was. Since the Fenris, a male-only species of predators, attack beautiful, flirtatious women of a certain age, they, intentionally or not, become an allegory for sexual assault. To then spend the whole book talking about how if Rosie had just tried harder and been more aware and less pretty and firty, is truly disturbing.

Review: Intuition by C.J. Omololu

Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Title: Intuition
Author: C.J. Omololu
Genre: young adult, supernatural 
Series: Transcendence #2
Pages: 336 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected June 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

In the sequel to Transcendence, past lives and lost loves make the present more dangerous than ever.

As Cole begins to accept her new life as Akhet, every new vision from her past lives helps explain more about who she is in this life. Her love for Griffon grows as quickly as her Akhet abilities, while Cole learns to recognize other Akhet around her, including Drew, a young millionaire who reveals a startling connection—he was Cole’s true love in Elizabethan England. But Drew’s intense desire to restore their past relationship alienates Griffon. Caught between the person she was in the 15th century and the person she is now, Cole must decide who she loves and figure out her place in the Akhet’s worldwide plan as a rogue Akeht sets out to destroy them all.

With more epic romance and adventure, Intuition brings readers further into this fascinating world where reincarnation changes all the rules for life and love.

I enjoyed this novel, but those three-and-a-half out of five stars pained me to assign. Really pained me. I had started this betting myself that it could only improve on how much I loved Transcendence. For as much fun and as entertaining as this novel manages to be, it is a pale shadow of the sheer awesome that was the first book. A lot of what made the latter different among YA is happily still there: a focus on Egyptian mythology, reincarnation as a means to immortality, and a strong, smart female protagonist. Unfortunately, unlike its predecessor, Intuition falls prey to a lot of YA tropes that keep it from being a better novel. A distinct concentration on the romance to the detriment of an actual plot, a love triangle, and a somewhat rushed final conflict and resolution kept Intuition from the level previously seen in this series.

C.J. Omololu has a lot of talent for writing likeable characters, but it hurts the novel when the writing is concerned more with depicting a love triangle rather than in further developing and defining her cast of characters as individuals. I will always appreciate actual conflict more than romantic drama. Cole, the main character and first person narrator, comes off a lot less capable and interesting than she did in the first book. I can lay this solidly on the conflict she engages with most: which boy she wants to date. There are other conflicts at play in the novel, but her main struggle is between her past love from another life and the one she has found in her current one. If the author had chosen to showcase Cole's struggles to streamline her memories and past lives within her current one more, or even on her newfound abilties - well, let's say this would be a different review. 

The antagonists of the book are also lacking in both dimension and presentation. The inclusion of the villain from the first book, Veronique, came off as a minor plot point. Subsequently, the later reveal of the actual antagonist was rather flat and rushed, compared with the time it took to get Cole to that point. It just didn't play well within the scope of the novel; after so much time, so many pages on Cole's wrestling with her love life, the sudden turnabout to real plot felt shallow and hollow. The books ties up the ends pretty nicely and satisfactorily while still leaving an open door for a further sequel.

For all that I had some misgivings, Intuition is a fast and involving read. The ideas and mythologies I loved so much from before are still in evidence and Omololu expands the worldbuilding more. The Ahket, The Sekhem, the Khered - all are explained and detailed more, but never in a way that feels like an infodump. If you don't remember what the terms and ideas are from the first book, I suggest you reacquaint yourself before trying this one. The author doesn't rehash too much from what happened or was explained before, so a good memory or a refresher is a good idea before diving in.

I didn't love this as much as I had hoped and wanted to, but that doesn't mean I didn't have a good time while reading Intuition. What Omololu does well, she does really really well. Her characters are likeable, her ideas unique, and her writing simple but effective. This may suffer a bit from sequel syndrome, but that doesn't mean I won't be eagerly anticipating any sequels or other novels the author will write.

Review: Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

Sunday, May 19, 2013
Title: Queen's Gambit
Author: Elizabeth Fremantle
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 452
Published: March 2013
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3.75/5

The court of Henry VIII is rife with intrigue, rivalries and romance - and none are better placed to understand this than the women at its heart.

Katherine Parr, widowed for the second time aged thirty-one, is obliged to return to court but, suspicious of the ageing king and those who surround him, she does so with reluctance. Nevertheless, when she finds herself caught up in a passionate affair with the dashing and seductive Thomas Seymour, she believes she might finally be able to marry for love. But her presence at court has attracted the attentions of another . . .

Captivated by her honesty and intelligence, Henry Tudor has his own plans for Katherine and no one is in the position to refuse a proposal from the king. So with her charismatic lover dispatched to the continent, Katherine must accept the hand of the ailing egotistical monarch and become Henry's sixth wife - and yet she has still not quite given up on love.

"You will be Queen. You could not rise higher." 
"Nor fall further." - Queen's Gambit,  p. 106

Katherine Parr is one of the lesser-known and written about Queens of Henry VIII, though lately she has been cropping up more and more in the historical fiction genre. Between this and Sandra Byrd's The Secret Keeper, it's clear authors are becoming more interested in portraying this strong, determined woman. I will still read about the Annes and Jane and the other Katherines, but it's a pleasant change to read about the first English queen to have her words published. More often a peripheral character mentioned in passing in Tudor novels, due both to the short length of her marriage to Henry and the relative dearth of solid information on her life, the newer focus on her as a central protagonist is both refreshing and welcome.

Strong-willed, passionate, motherly, religious, and intelligent Katherine is reminiscent of so many of Henry's previous wives. What sets her apart from her compatriots is her survival skills and escaping nearly in tact from the clutches of one of England's most dangerous and unpredictable men. Though by no means safe from the many plots of her enemies, Katherine negotiates the dangerous waters of Hampton Court, etc. with an ease, skill and maturity not seen since Anne Boleyn was alive and manipulating those around her. As shown here by debut author Fremantle, Katherine is a fascinating woman; one whom clearly draws others to her by sheer magnetism and force of personality. From the royal physician to the common girl she practically adopts to her indecipherable stepchildren, Katherine inspires devotion and love from those who know her best. She's not the covetous girl of Cat Howard, nor the fumbling, shy Anne of Cleves, nor the too-stubbornly rigid Katherine of Aragon. Katherine is a twice-widowed woman who brings a new perpsective to the ongoing tumult of Henry's reign. Heeding the falls of her predecessors due to various reasons, this is a narrator who knows how to survive.

The life of Katherine pre-Henry is lightly touched upon in Queen's Gambit. We first get to know her a noblewoman, though a far step below the Queen she will become. She's introduced while married to her second husband, the 3rd Baron Latimer, in an act that will define her life, her actions and what she believes. Fremantle takes some liberties with the facts, and though I wasn't a huge fan of the way Queen's Gambit diverges from the historical early on, it works in the capacity imagined. In this version, Katherine knows love before Henry, only to have to maneuvered away from her for the King's own satisfaction. Caughte between family ambition and personal desire, Katherine's life is never truly hers while her brother and Henry both want something from her. Her marriage issues, to both Henry and Seymour, are foreshadowed nicely and subtly before either nuptials take place.

Fremantle is a capable writer, though Queen's Gambit is clearly a debut. The pacing is uneven at times, and certain events feel rushed or glossed over in order to get to the next event quickly. The author clearly knows both her history and her characters, but they both can come off as rather flat. The secondary characters in particular, and that of Dot (a rather unnecessary and ill-fitting POV character) especially suffer from lack of characterization. Seymour is painted as he always is: fickle, ambitious, jealous, and with a wandering eye. For an author not afraid to try something new with Katherine's story, I was sorry to see the same version of Baron Sudeley that so many authors have presented. I did think the author captured the essence of King Henry the 8th rather well, however. Unpredictable, dangerous, cunning and not without intelligence, Fremantle shows him  a force to be reckoned with and feared.

I had an enjoyable time reading Queen's Gambit. It's a diverting bit of historical fiction, and one of the better showcasing Katherine Parr. With a little time, practice and finesse, Fremantle has the talent to emerge as a strong historical fiction writer. If she ever returns to the Tudor period, I would be highly curious to see what new ideas she will try out. I would certainly be on board to read another novel from this author and would recommend this to historical fans looking for something slightly different from the usual fare.

New bookish arrivals!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Here are a few physical books I've received/bought in the last few weeks:

A Darkness Strange and Lovely by Susan Dennard (Something Strande and Deadly #2)

Perfect for readers Libba Bray’s The Diviners and Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel series, this spellbinding sequel to Something Strange and Deadly delivers a mix of intrigue, supernatural forces, intense romance, and revenge, all set against the enchanting backdrop of nineteenth-century Paris.

With her brother dead and her mother insane, Eleanor Fitt is alone. Even the Spirit-Hunters—Joseph, Jie, and the handsome Daniel—have fled to Paris. So when Eleanor hears the vicious barking of hounds and see haunting yellow eyes, she fears that the Dead, and the necromancer Marcus, are after her.

To escape, Eleanor boards a steamer bound for France. There she meets Oliver, a young man who claims to have known her brother. But Oliver harbors a dangerous secret involving necromancy and black magic that entices Eleanor beyond words. If she can resist him, she’ll be fine. But when she arrives in Paris, she finds that the Dead have taken over, and there’s a whole new evil lurking. And she is forced to make a deadly decision that will go against everything the Spirit-Hunters stand for.

In Paris, there’s a price for this darkness strange and lovely, and it may have Eleanor paying with her life.

The lovely Flannery from The Readventurer was kind enough to send this me when she realized how desperate I was to read t!

The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora by Stephanie Thornton

 Where Theodora went, trouble followed…

In sixth century Constantinople, one woman, Theodora, defied every convention and all the odds, and rose from being a common theater tart to become empress of a great kingdom, the most powerful woman the Roman Empire would ever know. But the woman whose image was later immortalized in glittering mosaic was, in fact, a scrappy, clever, conniving, flesh-and-blood woman full of sensuality and spirit whose real story is as surprising as any ever told…

When her father dies suddenly, Theodora and her sisters face starvation on the streets. Determined to survive, Theodora makes a living any way she can—first on her back with every man who will have her, then on the stage of the city’s infamous amphitheater in a scandalous dramatization of her own invention. When her daring performance grants her a back-door entry into the halls of power, she seizes the chance to win a wealthy protector—only to face heartbreak and betrayal.

Ever resilient, Theodora rises above such trials and by a twist of fate, meets her most passionate admirer yet: the Emperor’s nephew. She will thrive as his confidant and courtesan, but many challenges lie ahead. For one day, this man will hand her a crown. And all the empire will wonder—is she bold enough, shrewd enough, and strong enough to keep it?

I received this as part of the blog tour, and I am so excited. Theodora is quickly becoming one of my favorite historical subjects to read about.

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

 The first time Julia Beckett saw Greywethers she was only five, but she knew that it was her house. And now that she’s at last become its owner, she suspects that she was drawn there for a reason.

As if Greywethers were a portal between worlds, she finds herself transported into seventeenth-century England, becoming Mariana, a young woman struggling against danger and treachery, and battling a forbidden love.

Each time Julia travels back, she becomes more enthralled with the past...until she realizes Mariana’s life is threatening to eclipse her own, and she must find a way to lay the past to rest or lose the chance for happiness in her own time.

I've already read and loved this book, so when I saw it for less than $7 I had to snatch it up. It was my introduction to both Susanna Kearsley - whom I now LOVE - and to time slip fiction.

The Inquisitor's Wife by Jeanne Kalogridis

 From the author of the critically acclaimed BORGIA BRIDE and THE SCARLET CONTESSA, comes another irresistible historical novel set during the Spanish Inquisition about a young woman who will stop at nothing to save her people from Torquemada’s torturers: THE INQUISITOR'S WIFE.

In 1480 Seville, Marisol, a fearful young conversa (descendant of Spanish Jews forced to convert to Christianity), is ashamed of her Jewish blood. Forced into a sham marriage with a prosecutor for the new Inquisition, Marisol soon discovers that her childhood sweetheart, Antonio, has just returned to Seville and is also working for the inquisitors. When Marisol’s father is arrested and tortured during Spain’s first auto da fe, Marisol comes to value her Jewish heritage and vows to fight the Inquisition. When she discovers that her beloved Antonio is working to smuggle conversos safely out of Spain, she joins him and risks her life on behalf of her people; a passionate romance follows.

Unfortunately, Marisol does not realize that her supposedly kind and gentle inquisitor-husband has been using her all along to lead Antonio and her fellow conversos to their doom...

I've read several of this author's books before, and they are fum romps through different periods of history. This one just sounded particularly good.

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

A grand adventure that spans galaxies and lifetimes, A Confusion of Princes is a page-turning thriller, a tender romance, and a powerful exploration of what it means to be human. includes exclusive bonus Garth Nix short story 'Master Haddad's Holiday'.

I have died three times, and three times been reborn, though I am not yet twenty in the old earth years by which it is still the fashion to measure time. This is the story of my three deaths, and my life between. My name is Khemri.

Taken from his parents as a child and equipped with biological and technological improvements, Khemri is now an enhanced human being, trained and prepared for the glory of becoming a Prince of the Empire. Not to mention the ultimate glory: should he die, and be deemed worthy, he will be reborn...Which is just as well, because no sooner has Prince Khemri graduated to full Princehood than he learns the terrible truth behind the Empire: there are ten million princes, and all of them want each other dead.

I am a big, big Garth Nix fan and I have been eyeing this book for over a year. I've come close to buying it, but resisted until last week. Why last week? Well I found the hardcover for only $8.70. Clearly it was on sale for me. 

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund (For Darkness Shows the Stars #1)

It's been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the Reduction, decimating humanity and giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.

Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family's estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot's estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth--an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go.

But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret--one that could change their society . . . or bring it to its knees. And again, she's faced with a choice: cling to what she's been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she's ever loved, even if she's lost him forever.

Inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion, For Darkness Shows the Stars is a breathtaking romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.

I admit it  -  I have never read Persuasion. I've wanted to but never gotten around to it. Still, the cover? that title? I am ALL over this. I have an ARC of the second book, Across A Star-Swept Sea, so this should be done soon.

Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani

Based on the life of an Iranian princess this is “a fine historical novel, a story of intrigue and action…its scheming and parricide rival A Game of Thrones…and may remind you of Mary Renault’s stunning The Persian Boy” (San Francisco Chronicle).  

Iran in 1576 is a place of wealth and dazzling beauty. But when the Shah dies without having named an heir, the court is thrown into tumult. Princess Pari, the Shah’s daughter and protégée, knows more about the inner workings of the state than almost anyone, but her maneuvers to instill order after her father’s sudden death incite resentment and dissent. Pari and her closest adviser, Javaher, a eunuch able to navigate the harem as well as the world beyond the palace walls, possess an incredible tapestry of secrets that explode in a power struggle of epic proportions.

Legendary women—from Anne Boleyn to Queen Elizabeth I to Mary, Queen of Scots—changed the course of history in the royal courts of England. While they are celebrated, few people know of the powerful and charismatic women in the Muslim world. Based loosely on Princess Pari Khan Khanoom, Equal of the Sun is a riveting story of political intrigue that brings one extraordinary woman to light. Anita Amirrezvani is a master storyteller, and her lustrous prose brings to life this rich and labyrinthine world with a stunning cast of characters—passionate and brave men and women who defy or embrace their destiny in a Machiavellian game played by those who lust for power and will do anything to attain it.

I'd read another book by this author, The Blood of Flowers, so when a publicist emailed me an offer to read this I jumped on it. I'm excited - Iran in the 1500s isn't an area or time I know or read a lot about.

Golden by Jessi Kirby

Love, tragedy, and mystery converge in this compelling novel from “an author to watch” (Booklist).

Seventeen-year-old Parker Frost has never taken the road less traveled. Valedictorian and quintessential good girl, she’s about to graduate high school without ever having kissed her crush or broken the rules. So when fate drops a clue in her lap—one that might be the key to unraveling a town mystery—she decides to take a chance.

Julianna Farnetti and Shane Cruz are remembered as the golden couple of Summit Lakes High—perfect in every way, meant to be together forever. But Julianna’s journal tells a different story—one of doubts about Shane and a forbidden romance with an older, artistic guy. These are the secrets that were swept away with her the night that Shane’s jeep plunged into an icy river, leaving behind a grieving town and no bodies to bury.

Reading Julianna’s journal gives Parker the courage to start to really live—and it also gives her reasons to question what really happened the night of the accident. Armed with clues from the past, Parker enlists the help of her best friend, Kat, and Trevor, her longtime crush, to track down some leads. The mystery ends up taking Parker places that she never could have imagined. And she soon finds that taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.

I have wanted this book for so long I am having a hard time reconciling that it is mine and I can read it whenever I want. It's gotten so many rave reviews that I am both eager and scared to jump in.

eBooks (all of these were some kind of deal - Amazon Daily, Nook Find, etc.):

Let the Sky Fall by Shannon Messenger (Let The Sky Fall #1)

Seventeen-year-old Vane Weston has no idea how he survived the category five tornado that killed his parents. And he has no idea if the beautiful, dark-haired girl who’s swept through his dreams every night since the storm is real. But he hopes she is.

Seventeen-year-old Audra is a sylph, an air elemental. She walks on the wind, can translate its alluring songs, and can even coax it into a weapon with a simple string of commands. She’s also a guardian—Vane’s guardian—and has sworn an oath to protect Vane at all costs. Even if it means sacrificing her own life.

When a hasty mistake reveals their location to the enemy who murdered both of their families, Audra’s forced to help Vane remember who he is. He has a power to claim—the secret language of the West Wind, which only he can understand. But unlocking his heritage will also unlock the memory Audra needs him to forget. And their greatest danger is not the warriors coming to destroy them—but the forbidden romance that’s grown between them.

I hope this is as good as the blurb makes it sound. Or I will be Most Upset.

Shadowcry by Jenna Burtenshaw (Wintercraft #1)

The Night of Souls—when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest—is only days away.

Albion is at war . . . and losing.

The wardens have descended, kidnapping innocent citizens for their army, but looking for one in particular.

And fifteen-year-old Kate Winters has just raised a blackbird from the dead.

As her home is torn apart by the wardens, Kate's discovery that she is one of the Skilled—the rare people who can cross the veil between life and death—makes her the most hunted person in all of Albion. Only she can unlock the secrets of Wintercraft, the ancient book of dangerous knowledge. Captured and taken to the graveyard city of Fume—with its secret tunnels and underground villages, and where her own parents met their deaths ten years ago—Kate must harness her extraordinary powers to save herself, her country, and the two men she cares for most. And she'll make a pact with a murderer to do it.

Those who wish to see the dark, be ready to pay your price.

I love that cover. I love the colors and how ominous it looks.

The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

A heretic thief is the empire’s only hope in this fascinating tale that inhabits the same world as the popular novel, Elantris.

Shai is a Forger, a foreigner who can flawlessly copy and re-create any item by rewriting its history with skillful magic. Condemned to death after trying to steal the emperor’s scepter, she is given one opportunity to save herself. Though her skill as a Forger is considered an abomination by her captors, Shai will attempt to create a new soul for the emperor, who is almost dead.

Probing deeply into his life, she discovers Emperor Ashravan’s truest nature—and the opportunity to exploit it. Her only possible ally is one who is truly loyal to the emperor, but councilor Gaotona must overcome his prejudices to understand that Shai’s forgery is as much artistry as it is deception.

Brimming with magic and political intrigue, this deftly woven fantasy delves into the essence of a living spirit.

I will read anything Brandon Sanderson writes and his unique magics and worlds are always so creative and deftly explored. It may be a novella, but I expect I will love it just the same. It will help me survive until the next Stormlight Archive book is published.

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter (The Long Earth #1)

1916: the Western Front, France. Private Percy Blakeney wakes up. He is lying on fresh spring grass. He can hear birdsong, and the wind in the leaves in the trees. Where has the mud, blood and blasted landscape of No man's Land gone?

2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Cop Monica Jansson has returned to the burned-out home of one Willis Linsay, a reclusive and some said mad, others dangerous, scientist. It was arson but, as is often the way, the firemen seem to have caused more damage than the fire itself. Stepping through the wreck of a house, there's no sign of any human remains but on the mantelpiece Monica finds a curious gadget - a box, containing some wiring, a three-way switch and a...potato. It is the prototype of an invention that Linsay called a 'stepper'. An invention he put up on the web for all the world to see, and use, an invention that would to change the way mankind viewed his world Earth for ever. And that's an understatement if ever there was one...

...because the stepper allowed the person using it to step sideways into another America, another Earth, and if you kept on stepping, you kept on entering even more Earths...this is the Long Earth. It's not our Earth but one of chain of parallel worlds, lying side by side each differing from its neighbour by really very little (or actually quite a lot). It's an infinite chain, offering 'steppers' an infinite landscape of infinite possibilities. And the further away you travel, the stranger - and sometimes more dangerous - the Earths get. The sun and moon always shine, the basic laws of physics are the same. However, the chance events which have shaped our particular Earth, such as the dinosaur-killer asteroid impact, might not have happened and things may well have turned out rather differently.

But, until Willis Linsay invented his stepper, only our Earth hosted mankind...or so we thought. Because it turns out there are some people who are natural 'steppers', who don't need his invention and now the great migration has begun..

How cool does that sound?! It sounds freaking amazing. It also won a GoodReads choice award so I'm excited for whenever I read it.

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis (Milkweed Triptych #1)

It’s 1939. The Nazis have supermen, the British have demons, and one perfectly normal man gets caught in between

Raybould Marsh is a British secret agent in the early days of the Second World War, haunted by something strange he saw on a mission during the Spanish Civil War: a German woman with wires going into her head who looked at him as if she knew him.

When the Nazis start running missions with people who have unnatural abilities—a woman who can turn invisible, a man who can walk through walls, and the woman Marsh saw in Spain who can use her knowledge of the future to twist the present—Marsh is the man who has to face them. He rallies the secret warlocks of Britain to hold the impending invasion at bay. But magic always exacts a price. Eventually, the sacrifice necessary to defeat the enemy will be as terrible as outright loss would be.

Alan Furst meets Alan Moore in the opening of an epic of supernatural alternate history, the tale of a twentieth century like ours and also profoundly different.

Nazis and supermen, British and demons? Heck yes I want to read that.

The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley

With imaginative verve, intelligence, and exceptional detail, The Oracle Glass captures the rich tang of one of history's most irresistible eras. Spinning actual police records from the reign of Louis XIV into a darkly captivating story, it follows the fortunes of Genevieve Pasquier, a fifteen-year-old girl who has been transformed into an imperious, seemingly infallible fortune-teller... Genevieve is a skinny, precocious little monkey with a mind full of philosophy and the power to read the swirling waters of an oracle glass - for a demimonde who will believe anything. Left for dead by her family, Genevieve is taken in by La Voisin, an ingenious occultist and omnipotent society fortune-teller. La Voisin also rules a secret society of witches - abortionists and poisoners - who manipulate the lives of the rich and scandalous all the way up to the throne. 

 Tutored by La Voison, Genevieve creates a new identity for herself - as the mysterious Madame de Morville, complete with an antique black dress, a powdered face, a cane, and a wickedly sarcastic streak who is supposedly nearly one hundred fifty years old. Even the reigning mistress of the Sun King himself consults Madame de Morville on what the future holds for her. And as Madame de Morville, Genevieve can revel in what women are usually denied power, an independent income, and the opportunity to speak her mind. Beneath her intelligence and wit, what drives Genevieve is a private revenge - but what she doesn't expect is for love to come in the bargain.

I've read about La Voison before, but never so closely and that was what primarily drew me to this one.

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb (Light #1)

In the class of the high school English teacher she has been haunting, Helen feels them: for the first time in 130 years, human eyes are looking at her. They belong to a boy, a boy who has not seemed remarkable until now. And Helen--terrified, but intrigued--is drawn to him. The fact that he is in a body and she is not presents this unlikely couple with their first challenge. But as the lovers struggle to find a way to be together, they begin to discover the secrets of their former lives and of the young people they come to possess.

I'm not usually a fan of ghost stories, but reviewers I trust swear by this one and by Whitcomb's prose.
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