Book Tour Review: Daughter of the Gods by Stephanie Thornton

Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Title: Daughter of the Gods
Author: Stephanie Thornton
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 448
Published: expected May 6 2014
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: 5/5

Egypt, 1400s BC. The pharaoh’s pampered second daughter, lively, intelligent Hatshepsut, delights in racing her chariot through the marketplace and testing her archery skills in the Nile’s marshlands. But the death of her elder sister, Neferubity, in a gruesome accident arising from Hatshepsut’s games forces her to confront her guilt...and sets her on a profoundly changed course.

Hatshepsut enters a loveless marriage with her half brother, Thut, to secure his claim to the Horus Throne and produce a male heir. But it is another of Thut’s wives, the commoner Aset, who bears him a son, while Hatshepsut develops a searing attraction for his brilliant adviser Senenmut. And when Thut suddenly dies, Hatshepsut becomes de facto ruler, as regent to her two-year-old nephew.

Once, Hatshepsut anticipated being free to live and love as she chose. Now she must put Egypt first. Ever daring, she will lead a vast army and build great temples, but always she will be torn between the demands of leadership and the desires of her heart. And even as she makes her boldest move of all, her enemies will plot her downfall....

Combining one of my favorite historical women with one of my favorite historical fiction authors, Stephanie Thornton's close look into the life of the Egyptian Pharaoh Hatshepsut is as well-written and satisfying as her first novel of the Empress Theodora, The Secret History. With that same detailed and meticulously researched approach to writing historical fiction, Stephanie Thornton does not miss a step with her second novel about history's forgotten women. It's a dense and thorough examination of the Eighteenth Dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh, but the brisk pace, complex characters, and knowledgeable writing make those 450 pages feel rather more like 200.

Hatshepsut's regency and then reign has always been a curious case in the history of the Pharaohs, and her unusual story is more than apt for reproduction in the right hands. Through Thornton's able and clever writing, Hatshepsut comes to life in Daughter of the Gods. That life wasn't always easy -- like Theodora, Hatshepsut experiences some truly traumatic events, ones that the book doesn't shy away from -- but her story is interesting and compelling to read. To go along with her three-dimensional main character, Stephanie Thornton also created a vivid, breathing version of ancient Egypt here in Daughter of the Gods. Hatshepsut may feel the least like a character and the most like a person, but it helps that the world she lives in is rendered in such careful detail.

The author does take some liberties with dates/events, as most historical fiction authors do. But the difference here is that the changes Thornton made serve to make the book more streamlined, with a consistent plot. The additions and the creations included (like the unconfirmed-if-thoroughly-believable-romance) all serve to make Daughter of the Gods a better story. Though there is no absolute confirmation that rekhyt Senenmut was anything more than Hatshepsut's adviser and architectural collaborator, Thornton sells the love story through the characters themselves. When the historical record is unsure, Thornton's ability to create a plausible scenario is unparalleled. 

Ancient Egypt has always been a passion of mine and so rarely have I enjoyed a jaunt to this period as much as I did with Daughter of the Gods. A detailed, thoroughly researched piece of fiction, Stephanie Thornton's followup to her beloved debut is just as impressive and imaginative. No second-book slump here; Daughter of the Gods is a vivid portrayal of a fascinating woman and Thornton more than does Hatshepsut justice.

DNF Reviews for April

Tuesday, April 29, 2014
 Not as many this month, but my life kind of exploded. We lost a family pet, my dad had major surgery, and I am moving three hours away. So. Not as much reading got done in April, but here are the ones I couldn't finish:

House of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie Whipple  -- ARC provided by publisher

 Josephine Hemlock has spent the last 10 years hiding from the Curse that killed her mother. But when a mysterious man arrives at her ivy-covered, magic-fortified home, it’s clear her mother’s killer has finally come to destroy the rest of the Hemlock bloodline. Before Jo can even think about fighting back, she must figure out who she’s fighting in the first place. The more truth Jo uncovers, the deeper she falls into witchcraft darker than she ever imagined. Trapped and running out of time, she begins to wonder if the very Curse that killed her mother is the only way to save everyone she loves.

DNF'd at: 125/352 or 35%


I was just..... bored. Uninterested in characters or story. Too simplistic of a plot, and too reminiscent of other novels.

Talker 25 by Joshua McCune --- ARC provided by publisher

 Debut author Joshua McCune's gritty and heart-pounding novel is a masterful reimagining of popular dragon fantasy lore, set in a militant future reminiscent of Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker and Ann Aguirre's Outpost.

It's a high school prank gone horribly wrong-sneaking onto the rez to pose next to a sleeping dragon-and now senior Melissa Callahan has become an unsuspecting pawn in a war between Man and Monster, between family and friends and the dragons she has despised her whole life. Chilling, epic, and wholly original, this debut novel imagines a North America where dragons are kept on reservations, where strict blackout rules are obeyed no matter the cost, where the highly weaponized military operates in chilling secret, and where a gruesome television show called Kissing Dragons unites the population. Joshua McCune's debut novel offers action, adventure, fantasy, and a reimagining of popular dragon lore.

DNF'd at: 115/432 or 27%


I will read anything with a dragon, but this was a struggle.I just wasn't invested in the characters and the writing wasn't really workign for me as well. It wasn't egregiously bad, I just never wanted to read it.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison -- ARC provided by publisher

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an "accident," he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend... and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.
DNF'd at: 145/448 or 32%


There's nothing wrong with The Goblin Emperor -- it's just not the kind of fantasy I'm into right now. If it's not Sanderson, then I like my fantasy dark, gritty, uncompromising, full of morally grey characters. This seems more akin to earlier fantasy (heroic MC) though with an admittedly fun steampunk flair. Not a bad book -- just not the book for me right now.

Review: Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend by Katie Finn

Thursday, April 24, 2014
Title: Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend
Author: Katie Finn
Genre: contemporary
Series: Broken Hearts & Revenge #1
Pages: 352
Published: Expected May 13, 2014
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 2 out of 5

Summer, boys, and friendships gone sour. This new series has everything that perfect beach reads are made of!

Gemma just got dumped and is devastated. She finds herself back in the Hamptons for the summer—which puts her at risk of bumping into Hallie, her former best friend that she wronged five years earlier. Do people hold grudges that long?

When a small case of mistaken identity causes everyone, including Hallie and her dreamy brother Josh, to think she’s someone else, Gemma decides to go along with it.

Gemma's plan is working (she's finding it hard to resist Josh), but she's finding herself in embarrassing situations (how could a bathing suit fall apart like that!?). Is it coincidence or is someone trying to expose her true identity? And how will Josh react if he finds out who she is?

Katie Finn hits all the right notes in this perfect beginning to a new summer series: A Broken Hearts & Revenge novel.

Reviewed by Danielle

I can’t stand novels where nothing is resolved and the end is really a “to be continued”. I’ll admit, I missed the reference in the blurb to Broken Hearts… being the first in a series, so I was operating under the assumption that we’d get a neat stand-alone climax, but that still doesn’t excuse the non-ending. The only resolution is confirmation of the plot “twist” that I think everyone guessed by chapter 9. And it’s a real shame, because I enjoyed a lot about this book.

Gemma’s recent breakup has her summering with her dad in the Hamptons. She hasn’t been back since she somewhat-accidentally ruined his, his girlfriend, and her kid’s lives five years ago, and she’s nervous that she might run into their family. My big problem with this plot point is it requires an eleven year old to be both insanely savvy and manipulative, and it requires us, (and someone she knows,) to hold that against a child. I almost wish this was a new adult title, so the age gap would be more like fifteen to twenty instead of eleven to sixteen. I don’t care how badly you messed up at eleven when your parents were divorcing but not actually telling you that so you got upset and wrecked your future-step-mom’s stuff. YOU’RE A KID.

The book wouldn’t really work as a NA, though, because Gemma’s naivety and innocence are her main character traits. When things start to go sideways in a way that would make any other person say, “hmm…”, Gemma blindly continues her plot, confident in her non-existent espionage skills and the general goodness of humanity. You see, through a series of coincidences, Gemma ends up sitting with her dad’s ex’s son, Josh on the train in. He sees a coffee cup with her best friend’s name on it and assumes she’s Sophie. Seeing a chance to make things right, Gemma adopts the nom de plume and sets about re-becoming best friends with him and Hallie.

Despite sometimes being as dense as fruitcake, I found Gemma to be sweet and she seemed to really try to make the charade work, not so she wouldn’t be found out, but from a desire to make things right. She was endearing. Josh, the eventual love interest, was also endearing, but in a bit of a bland, stock-trope kind of way. I liked him best suffering food poisoning and watching the Princess Bride.

There were some loose plot threads, like the fact that her dad was supposed to be back with his business partner and his son, the inevitable second leg to a love triangle, on the night of the climax, but then just...wasn’t. Or the super duper important statue that was broken and sent out for repairs that was never noticed as missing. But I would have forgiven the book those and told you all this was a sweet, not overly deep beach book about redemption and mistaken identity and silly, but ultimately harmless, revenge plots. But I can’t.

The end made me feel so cheated. It’s not that there wasn’t enough resolution, it’s that nothing Gemma did mattered. Someone holds a five year old grudge over her in a way over the top way, especially considering dad’s ex is not worse for the wear. She’s pretty obviously this universe’s E.L. James and ungodly rich, so… I ended the book actually angry that we’re getting another novel that will be filled with more petty revenge shenanigans instead of the end that was being set up. I felt swerved in the last dozen pages; instead of feeling like I needed book two, I just felt like I’d wasted my time caring for these people.

Book Tour Review: Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Title: The Queen of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
Genre: fantasy, science fiction
Series: The Queen of the Tearling #1
Pages: 448
Published: expected July 8 2014
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 4.5/5

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.

But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend…if she can survive.

The Queen of the Tearling introduces readers to a world as fully imagined and terrifying as that of The Hunger Games, with characters as vivid and intriguing as those of A Game of Thrones, and a wholly original heroine. Combining thrilling action and twisting plot turns, it is a magnificent debut from the talented Erika Johansen.

If you're going to advertise a novel as the lovechild between Suzanne Collins' popular Hunger Games series and George R. R. Martin's even more popular and extremely long-running A Song of Ice and Fire novels, it had better be an accurate description. And while that pop-culture heavy description does fit The Queen of the Tearling superficially, what follows is a story wholly of author Erika Johansen's creation. It's imaginative and dark, an interesting mix of fantasy and fiction, an engrossing and vivid read filled with a cast of disparate, intriguing, complex characters.

There's a lot to like about The Queen of the Tearling but I am never a fan of the "keep the main character ignorant of important things because reasons" type of plot device. It's in large effect here for main character and newly-emerged Queen Kelsea, ignoring basic common sense --  that people, especially a Queen, cannot adequately prepare for or protect while being kept ignorant ostensibly for her own good. It makes no sense and it cripples both Kelsea and the reader in a myriad of ways. Other than that, I thought the writing is strong and serviceable, if occasionally prone to bouts of telling. Despite the occasional stumble, the novel reads easily and is very hard to put down. If a reader is the type to identify or even love Kelsea, it is nearly impossible to stop reading.

The elements of the story that lend themselves to the comparisons -- the lottery of the populace to be sent as tribute clearly echoes the Districts Reapings, the morally grey and complex characters are reminiscent of Arya, Jaime and Co. from A Game of Thrones, The Red Queen practices many of the same rituals as Melisandre, etc. -- are influential but not the whole of what The Queen of the Tearling has to offer. For one, the worldbuilding is slight but intriguing; the hints that Tearling went from a failed socialist country to a feudal society makes me desperate for more information. The fact that Johansen chose to set her fantasy novel in the future (mentions of America, the Brothers Grimm, "the seven volumes of Rowling", the Bible, etc.) as opposed to the traditional faux-medieval fantasy setting (like GRRM uses) is a daring, imaginative choice. It was one I wasn't too fond of initially, but one that eventually worked surprisingly well for me.

Like Jay Kristoff and his fantasysteampunk Stormdancer series, I think Erika Johansen's debut has the ability to entertain across both genres and ages. I think it would be widely appreciated by readers of adult and/or YA fiction. The characters took the most time to coalesce into more than words on a page for me, but eventually their actions and mentions turned them into real characters... with the notable exception of the real antagonist, The Red Queen of Mortmesne. There's obviously a lot left to explore in both this world and with these characters and their histories, but Johansen feeds you just enough to keep you hungry for more.

The Queen of the Tearling is an impressive and imaginative debut. Erika Johansen feels right home writing this combination of historical fantasy and science fiction, and her first novel ought to be judged on its own merit -- not just constantly compared to other, better-known novels. Read The Queen of the Tearling because it's good, and complicated, and creative. Read it because Erika Johansen is a bright addition to my favorite genre. Read it because I need other people as anxious for book two as I found myself the minute I closed the cover.

Review: Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Friday, April 18, 2014
Title: Second Star
Author: Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Genre: contemporary
Series: n/a
Pages: 248
Published: Expected May 13, 2014
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: n/a
A twisty story about love, loss, and lies, this contemporary oceanside adventure is tinged with a touch of dark magic as it follows seventeen-year-old Wendy Darling on a search for her missing surfer brothers. Wendy’s journey leads her to a mysterious hidden cove inhabited by a tribe of young renegade surfers, most of them runaways like her brothers. Wendy is instantly drawn to the cove’s charismatic leader, Pete, but her search also points her toward Pete's nemesis, the drug-dealing Jas. Enigmatic, dangerous, and handsome, Jas pulls Wendy in even as she's falling hard for Pete. A radical reinvention of a classic, Second Star is an irresistible summer romance about two young men who have yet to grow up--and the troubled beauty trapped between them.
Reviewed by Danielle

I have reviewed a hundred books, and read and rated thrice that many, but rarely have I been so at a loss for words as Second Star has left me. Even now, I can’t say if I loved it or hated it. I’ve gone back and forth multiple times just writing this review. So, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m not going to rate this book.

Second Star is a contemporary retelling of the Peter Pan mythos that reimagines Peter as Pete, a homeless surfer and his lost boys as three other runaway youths, including (Tinker)Belle, Pete’s ex. Captain Hook becomes Jas, a “pixie dust” dealer living across the beach. And Wendy Darling is now a straight-A student who has just graduated high school and is looking for her missing brothers before she leaves for Stanford.

In the beginning, I felt the story dragged. There’s a lot of detail about Wendy’s house and her parents’ depression from John and Michael’s presumed death. She has a best friend that she’s drifted apart from due to Fiona’s boyfriend’s meddling. Despite all this detail, I couldn’t connect to Wendy. I learned a lot about her, but I never felt close to her. This never really changed, but it worked for me once she reached Kensington.

The hidden cove where the lost boys live is like another world. There are no fantastical elements to the plot, but the middle third feels like fantasy. The writing, which had been disconnected, becomes ethereal. The descriptions of the beach and the water and the way surfing feels like flying are pretty incredible. It’s beautiful and amazing and the absolute best part of the book.

And then there’s the end. I don’t know how I feel about the end. It’s confusing and messy and...lovely? It’s definitely a trippy mind fuck that feels more in line with an Alice in Wonderland retelling, but I’m left wondering if Wendy learned anything on her journey.

Second Star has gorgeous prose. I really want to recommend it on that strength alone, but I can’t. It’s instalove-y and love triangle-y and what plot there is meanders.The twist ending left me thinking about the book, but not always in a positive way. I will say, its definitely one of the more unique experiences of my reading year. It's short, though, and not a difficult read, so it may be worth a try to people who like beautiful writing. If you're looking for a standard beach novel, however, I'd look elsewhere.

Review: Tease by Amanda Maciel

Thursday, April 17, 2014
Title: Tease
Author: Amanda Maciel
Genre: contemporary, young adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 336 
Published: expected April 29 2014
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3/5

From debut author Amanda Maciel comes a provocative and unforgettable novel, inspired by real-life incidents, about a teenage girl who faces criminal charges for bullying after a classmate commits suicide.

Emma Putnam is dead, and it's all Sara Wharton's fault. At least, that's what everyone seems to think. Sara, along with her best friend and three other classmates, has been criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma's shocking suicide. Now Sara is the one who's ostracized, already guilty according to her peers, the community, and the media. In the summer before her senior year, in between meetings with lawyers and a court-recommended therapist, Sara is forced to reflect on the events that brought her to this moment—and ultimately consider her own role in an undeniable tragedy. And she'll have to find a way to move forward, even when it feels like her own life is over.

With its powerful narrative, unconventional point of view, and strong anti-bullying theme, this coming-of-age story offers smart, insightful, and nuanced views on high school society, toxic friendships, and family relationships.

This is the second well-written, thoughtful issue book about bullying I've read in the last two months. Like with Jennifer Mathieu's saddening The Truth About Alice, Amanda Maciel's debut tackles big issues with complicated (or unknowable) characters, but tries to examine the way denigrating words and clique-ish behavior can have unintended, and serious consequences. Told with dual timelines, the book closely examines the way people can judge and mistreat one another. It's not a comfortable read -- it will make some readers angry, others sad -- but Tease is a worthy addition to the bullying conversation.

I can appreciate what  Maciel was attempting to do with Tease, even if the end result left me emotionally cold. Part of that could be because as the author Maciel presents the story so dispassionately, or because the foregone conclusion of Emma's death colors every action of the antagonists with an unintended level of malice. I thought the plot a good, realistic adaptation of the bullying problems that face so many real teens, but couldn't emotionally invest or empathize with the cast of Sara, Brielle, Dylan, etc. But, then again, that was part of the point of Tease for me. 

The fact is these aren't necessarily evil people, but they're thoughtless, selfish, clueless teenagers. That doesn't come close to forgiving them what happens, but it helps to explain and foster and understanding. The narrator Sara shows a marked growth and maturity over the course of the book, but this is much more a plot book than a character-book. You don't really finish the story knowing anyone -- Emma Putnam least of all (mirror Alice from The Truth About Alice who also had no say in her own story). For me, Tease was a story much more about the society that created the situation than the individuals who operated within that frame.

I thought the story would have been stronger without the romance. The lack of an emotional reaction to any of the story and the unnecessary (if charming) Carmichael plotline distracted from the many strengths of Tease. A promising debut unafraid to paint unforgiving pictures, Maciel's debut is hopefully a harbinger of more good things to come.

Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Title: We Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart
Genre: young adult, mystery, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 240
Published: expected May 13 2014
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.
Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

We Were Liars is a way better story than it should be -- with a different author, this would just be a staid novel of bratty kids and their first world problems. Under E. Lockhart's talented pen, these characters and their lives feel real from the get-go. Though I missed the humor and easy warmth of Lockhart's Ruby Oliver books, I cannot deny that We Were Liars is a gripping (mostly) contemporary with a hint of a mystery. 

There are times it's okay to spoil yourself for a book before actually finishing/reading. This is NOT one of those times. We Were Liars is such a complete, involving experience -- it deserves to gone into blind. But this is also a hard novel to review for just those reasons. Through two different timelines and summers, it's impossible not to get caught up in the drama of the affluent but fractious Sinclair family. 

But here's the 411 on what you should know about E. Lockhart's newest story.

  • It's clever, though the plot takes some time to get any traction
  • It's full of complicated, messed-up, not-always-or-even-usually-nice people
  • It boasts the distinctive Lockhart writing, but in a new style
  • It's surprising and gripping
  • It's emotional and heartfelt -- you will feel things, even against your will

Though the focus is on the story and characters, the prose is strong and often lovely. Lockhart is such a capable, clever author -- able to evoke a myriad of reactions from readers. We Were Liars is hard to put down; if you're not into the romance or the fly-on-the-wall perspective of the Sinclair troubles, the mystery of summer fifteen will get to you. It's a different sort of novel than what I have read from Lockhart before, but I was thoroughly impressed and pleasantly surprised by We Were Liars.

Chapter Excerpt for House of the Rising Sun by Kristen Painter

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

 Augustine lives the perfect life in the Haven city of New Orleans. He rarely works a real job, spends most of his nights with a different human woman, and resides in a spectacular Garden District mansion paid for by retired movie star Olivia Goodwin, who has come to think of him as an adopted son, providing him room and board and whatever else he needs.

But when Augustine returns home to find Olivia's been attacked by vampires, he knows his idyllic life has comes to an end. It's time for revenge—and to take up the mantle of the city's Guardian.

New Orleans, Louisiana, 2040

Why can’t we take the streetcar?” Walking home from church at night was always a little scary for Augustine, especially when they had to go past the cemetery.

“You know why,” Mama answered. “Because we don’t have money for things like that. Not that your shiftless father would help out. Why I expect anything from that lying, manipulative piece of…” She grunted softly and shook her head.

Augustine had never met his father, but from what Mama had told him, which wasn’t much, his father didn’t seem like a very nice man. Just once, though, Augustine would like to meet him to see what he looked like. Augustine figured he must look like his father, because he sure didn’t look like Mama. Maybe if they met, he’d also ask his father why he never came around. Why he didn’t want to be part of their family. Why Mama cried so much.

With a soft sigh, he held Mama’s hand a little tighter, moving closer to her side. Unlike him, Mama only had five fingers on each hand, not six. She didn’t have gray skin or horns like him, either. She didn’t like his horns much. She kept them filed down so his hair hid the stumps. He jammed his free hand into his jacket pocket, the move jogging him to the side a little.

“Be careful, Augustine. You’re going to make me trip.”

“Sorry, Mama.” The sidewalks were all torn up from the tree roots poking through them. The moon shone through those big trees with their twisty branches and clumps of moss, and cast shadows that looked like creatures reaching toward them. He shivered, almost tripping over one of the roots.

She jerked his arm. “Pay attention.”

“Yes, Mama.” But paying attention was what had scared him in the first place. He tried shutting his eyes, picking his feet up higher to avoid the roots.

Next thing he knew, his foot caught one of those roots and he was on his hands and knees, the skin on his palms burning from where he’d scraped them raw on the rough sidewalk. His knee throbbed with the same pain, but he wouldn’t cry, because he was almost nine and he was a big boy. Old enough to know that he must also control the powers inside him that wanted to come out whenever he felt angry or hurt or excited.

“Oh, Augustine! You ripped your good pants.” Mama grabbed his hand and tugged him to his feet.

“I’m sorry about my pants.” He stood very still, trying not to cause any more trouble. Mama got so angry, so fast. “My knee hurts.”

With a sigh, Mama crouched down, pulled a tissue from her purse, spit on it and began to dab at the blood. “It will be okay. It’s just a little scrape. And you heal… quickly.”

The dabbing hurt worse, but he kept quiet, biting at his cheek. He looked at his hands, opening his twelve fingers wide. Already the scrapes there were fading. It was because of his fae blood, which he wasn’t supposed to talk about. He dropped his hands and stared at the tall cemetery wall next to them. On the other side of that wall were a lot of dead people. In New Orleans, no one could be buried underground because of the water table. He’d learned that in school.

The wind shook the tree above their heads, making the shadows crawl toward them. He inched closer to her and pointed at the cemetery. “Do you think there’s ghosts in there, Mama?”

She stood, ignoring his pointing to brush dirt off his jacket. “Don’t be silly. You know ghosts aren’t real.”

The cemetery gates creaked. She turned, then suddenly put him behind her. Around the side of her dress, Augustine could see a big shape almost on them, smell something sour and sweaty, and hear heavy breathing. Mama reached for Augustine, jerking them both back as the man grabbed for her.

The man missed, but Mama’s heart was going thump, thump, thump. That was another fae thing Augustine wasn’t supposed to talk about, being able to hear extra-quiet sounds like people’s hearts beating.

“C’mere, now,” the man growled. Even in the darkness, Augustine’s sharp fae eyes could see the man’s teeth were icky.

Mama swung her purse at him. “Leave us alone!”

“Us?” The man grunted, his gaze dropping to Augustine. Eyes widening for a second, he snorted. “Your runt’s not going to ruin my fun.”

“I’m not a runt,” Augustine said. Fear made his voice wobble, but he darted out from behind his mother anyway, planting himself in front of her.

The man swatted Augustine away with a meaty hand.

Augustine hit the cemetery wall, cracking his head hard enough to see stars. But with the new pain came anger. And heat. The two mixed together like a storm in his belly, making him want to do… something. He tried to control it, but the man went after Mama next, grabbing her and pushing her to the ground. Then the man climbed on top of her.

She cried out and the swirling inside Augustine became a hurricane dragging him along in its winds. Without really knowing what he was doing, he leaped onto the man’s back. The hard muscle and bone he expected seemed soft and squishy. He grabbed fistfuls of the man’s jacket—but his hands met roots and dirt and shards of concrete instead.

Mama’s eyes blinked up at him, wide and fearful. She seemed a little blurry. Was he crying? And how was he seeing her when he was on the man’s back? And why had everything gone so quiet? Except for a real loud tha-thump, tha-thump, tha-thump, everything else sounded real far away. He pushed to his knees, expecting them to sting from his fall, but he felt nothing. And the man attacking his mother was somehow… gone.

“Don’t, Augustine.” She shook her head as she scrabbled backward. “Don’t do this.”

“Don’t do what, Mama?” He reached for her but the hand that appeared before him was too big. And only had five fingers. He stuck his other hand out and saw the same thing. “What’s happening to me, Mama?”

“Get out of him, Augustine.” She got to her feet, one trembling hand clutching the crucifix on her necklace. “Let the man go.”

He stood and suddenly he was looking down at his mother. Down. How was he doing that? He glanced at his body.

But it wasn’t his body, it was the man’s.

“I don’t understand.” But he had an idea. Was this one of the powers he had? One of the things he was supposed to control? He didn’t know how to get out. Was he trapped? He only wanted to protect his mother, he didn’t want to be this man!

The storm inside him welled up in waves. The heat in his belly was too much. He didn’t understand this new power. He wanted to be himself. He wanted to be out. Panic made bigger waves, hot swells that clogged his throat so he couldn’t take deep breaths. The thumping noise got louder.

The man’s hands reached up to claw at Augustine, at his own skin.

Mama backed away, her fingers in the sign of the cross. He cried out to her for help. He was too hot, too angry, too scared—

A loud, wet pop filled his ears and he fell to his hands and knees again, this time covered in sticky red ooze and smoking hunks of flesh. The thumping noise was gone. Around him was more sticky red, lumps of flesh and pieces of white bone. All he could think about was the time he and Nevil Tremain had stuffed a watermelon full of firecrackers. Except this was way worse. And blowing up the watermelon hadn’t made him feel like throwing up. Or smelled like burnt metal. He sat back, wiped at his face and eyes and tried to find his mother. She was a few feet away, but coming closer.

“You killed that man.” She stood over him looking more angry than afraid now. “You possessed that man like a demon.” She pointed at him. “You’re just like your father, just like that dirty fae-blooded liar.”

Augustine shook his head. “That man was hurting you—”

“Yes, you saved me, but you took his life, Augustine.” She looked around, eyes darting in all directions. “Sturka,” she muttered, a fae curse word Augustine had once gotten slapped for saying.

“I didn’t mean to, I was trying to help—”

“And who’s next? Are you going to help me that way too someday?”

He was crying now, unable to help himself. “No, Mama, no. I would never hurt you.”

She grabbed him by his shirt and yanked him to his feet. “Act human, not like a freak, do you understand? If people could see what you really looked like…” Fear clouded her eyes.

He nodded, sniffling, hating the smell of the blood he was covered in. He didn’t want to be a freak. He really didn’t.

“I can act human. I promise.”

She let go of his shirt, her lip slightly curled as she looked him over. “This was your father’s blood that caused this. Not mine.”

“Not yours,” Augustine repeated. Mama looked human but was part smokesinger, something he knew only because he’d overheard an argument she’d had with his father on the phone once. He’d learned other things that way, too.

Like that his father was something called shadeux fae. But not just part. All of him. And he’d lied to Mama about that. Used magic to make Mama think he was human. To seduce her.

“I never want to hear or see anything fae ever again or I will put you out of my house. I live as human and while you’re under my roof, so will you. Am I clear?”

The thought of being without her made his chest ache. She was all he had. His world. “Yes, Mama.”

But keeping his fae side hidden was impossible and five years later, put him out is exactly what she did.

House of the Rising Sun is expected to be published May 13, 2014.

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Two Minute Review: The Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnik

Monday, April 14, 2014
Title: The Last Best Kiss
Author: Claire LaZebnik
Genre: contemporary, young adult
Series: N/S
Pages: 320
Published: expected April 22 2014
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3.5/5

Anna Eliot is tired of worrying about what other people think. After all, that was how she lost the only guy she ever really liked, Finn Westbrook.

Now, three years after she broke his heart, the one who got away is back in her life.

All Anna wants is a chance to relive their last kiss again (and again and again). But Finn obviously hasn’t forgotten how she treated him, and he’s made it clear he has no interest in having anything to do with her.

Anna keeps trying to persuade herself that she doesn’t care about Finn either, but even though they’ve both changed since they first met, deep down she knows he’s the guy for her. Now if only she can get him to believe that, too....

With her signature wit and expertly authentic teen voice, Claire LaZebnik (the author of fan favorites Epic Fail and The Trouble with Flirting) once again breathes new life into a perennially popular love story. Fans of Polly Shulman, Maureen Johnson, and, of course, Jane Austen will love this irresistibly funny and romantic tale of first loves and second chances.

This was a pretty cute, fluffy, contemporary/retelling read. Though the ending was a foregone conclusion, it's no less enjoyable getting there with the likeably flawed Anna and the broody but endearing Finn. Even better, The Last Best Kiss works equally well as an independent story and a loose retelling of Jane Austen's popular and well-loved novel Persuasion. Updating the premise for the modern day and scaling down the characters to teens was a smart move, and The Last Best Kiss makes for a great one-day summer read.

The secondary cast have more potential than actual dimension. There are a few close exceptions (Molly), but for the most part, the two main characters garner all the characterization. Anna's evolution is neatly handled and believable -- she ends the story a better person, but she's still far from perfect. There's not much to discuss with a book like this -- either you enjoy it for its cute and adorable factor, or you don't. For me, it was an enjoyable and easy read and would recommend it to those looking for the same.

Review: Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

Saturday, April 12, 2014
Title: Prisoner of Night and Fog
Author: Anne Blankman
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Prisoner of Night and Fog #1
Pages: 416
Published: expected April 22, 2014
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 5/5

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her "uncle" Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf's, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler.

And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can't stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can't help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she's been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she's always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she's ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

"The worst thing we can do, the absolute worst, is to do nothing." - Franz Gerlich

It's easy to judge Adolf Hitler with the benefit of history on our side. But for Gretchen Muller in the 1930s, the man universally reviled decades after his death was simply a family friend, a substitute father for the real one who had martyred himself for the National Socialist Party. Over its 416 pages, Prisoner of Night and Fog excels at a lot of things -- crafting dimensional and realistic characters, creating plausible but meaningful conflicts for those two two main characters to encounter -- but its honest portrayal of a young girls rapid disillusionment with her uncle, with her countrymen, with her country is the most memorable and compelling. Similar to Code Name Verity for its moments of loveliness and moments of historical horror, Anne Blankman's pre-WWII debut is a must read.

YA novels wrestle a lot with "wo/man vs wo/man" type of narrative conflict, but not so here with Prisoner of Night and Fog. The plot becomes much more than a personal conflict with her father's murderer -- by standing up for her own beliefs, against Hitler, it's more "woman vs. society" type of story. Through her admittedly right, but dangerous actions, main character Gretchen finds herself with a loss of safety, and security; an outcast in her highly divided culture. It's hard to imagine a world where a street beating for religious/racial reasons is not only common but almost expected, but that was the world millions grew up with in the late 1930s/1940s. In light of the harsh views encouraged on all sides, Gretchen's small kindness seem all the starker. You root for Gretchen; you hope for her to see past her biases, to think for herself. She's constantly evolving and is ever proactive. I grew to think of her as the third member of Maddie and Verity's intrepid squad of heroines.

Research was obviously a large part of making Prisoner of Night and Fog into the success it will be. For anyone that has a passing interest in the era or in the man at the epicenter of everything, it's easy to tell the amount of time an effort Blankman went to for her debut novel. The best part is the author is skillfull enough to relay all that information without infodumping or halting the plot's progression. For a debut effort, it is remarkably seamless from beginning to end. The pacing is fluid, the plot is original and terrifying, the writing solid and occasionally lovely, and the characters will worm their way into your heart. The first in a series, the book manages to imbue the ending with resolution and finality while still leaving room for more story with (hopefully) these same characters.

This book affected me in a big way. I felt things for Gretchen, Daniel, Geli, and even Reinhardt. I raced through it, desperate to see how generous or Martin-esque this new author could be with her writing. Prisoner of Night and Fog isn't a pretty book, or a swoony book (though I loved the romance). It's a book designed to make you feel, to make you remember, to make you think --- and it succeeds on all counts. Blankman finds her story in the gray spaces between the real history of the effect of WWI and the Beer Hall Putsch on Herr Hitler, and her first novel is plausible, vividly rendered, and unforgettable.

Review: Plus One by Elizabeth Fama

Friday, April 11, 2014
Title: Plus One
Author: Elizabeth Fama
Genre: dystopia, science fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 373
Published: April 8 2014
Source: received from MacMillan for review
Rating: 4/5

Divided by day and night and on the run from authorities, star-crossed young lovers unearth a sinister conspiracy in this compelling romantic thriller.

Seventeen-year-old Soleil Le Coeur is a Smudge—a night dweller prohibited by law from going out during the day. When she fakes an injury in order to get access to and kidnap her newborn niece—a day dweller, or Ray—she sets in motion a fast-paced adventure that will bring her into conflict with the powerful lawmakers who order her world, and draw her together with the boy she was destined to fall in love with, but who is also a Ray.

Set in a vivid alternate reality and peopled with complex, deeply human characters on both sides of the day-night divide, Plus One is a brilliantly imagined drama of individual liberty and civil rights, and a fast-paced romantic adventure story.

I haven't had this much turn-off-your-brain-and-enjoy-the-ride reads since racing through Aimee Carter's breakneck and twisty Pawn last year. Plus One does handle some heavier moments (and quite well), but the fast pace, the action, the creative dystopian society, and the unique plot sucked me in. If you can buy into the premise of the story, and prepare yourself for the inevitable star-crossed romance, this sophmore novel is a detailed and unique read.

Plus One is a whirlwind glimpse into the life of Soleil Le Coeur. She lives in an alternate version of the US -- one where the population is divided in half, and has been since 1918. The world here is interesting, and sadly not explored enough for me. There are occasional flashbacks that shed more light on how Sol's world came to be regimented into Rays and Smudges, but like with Fama's debut, I was left wanting more worldbuilding. This is an author that knows how to balance just enough information with too much.

Let's talk main characeters for a moment. On one hand we have that Smudge Sol and on the other, the seeminly spoiled Ray D'Arcy. I liked them both as individuals and as a unit. They worked. They came together, fought, worked together. They got Stuff Done. That said, they can feel pretty replaceable. Their romance made sense (and also reminded me of Graffiti Moon), but it didn't feel necessary to me. It wasn't a hindrance, and Fama didn't waste time on romantic complications instead of plot, but the confessions of love were too early and too earnest. I really liked D'Arcy and his relationship with Sol, but it all seemed too fait accompli to be authentic.  

Sol herself reminded me of Kitty from Pawn... and of a lot of other angry, resentful teenagers in a dystopian novel. Her devotion to Poppu (and the unlikely plot that it sets off -- seriously, name another book that starts off with intentional mutilation and baby-kidnapping) is where she really is her own person and character. You can believe that girl would do anything for her Poppu -- even throw away years of her life. I had a lot of respect for Sol. She says what she thinks, and does what she says. She's refreshing. I wish she had more time to distinguish herself from her peers, though.

Blindingly original, incredibly fast-paced, with an original plot, Plus One is a worthy follow up to the ethereal and dark Monstrous Beauty. Fama's easy skill for words is again on display and her dystopian effort is noteworthy.

She Is Not Invisible Blog Tour

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Laureth Peak’s father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers–a skill at which she’s remarkably talented. Her secret: She is blind. But when her father goes missing, Laureth and her 7-year-old brother Benjamin are thrust into a mystery that takes them to New York City where surviving will take all her skill at spotting the amazing, shocking, and sometimes dangerous connections in a world full of darkness. She Is Not Invisible is an intricate puzzle of a novel that sheds a light on the delicate ties that bind people to each other.

Today is my stop on the blog tour for Marcus Sedgwick's phenomenal new book She Is Not Invisible. The author himself wrote this guest post, and fans of the book will appreciate it.


We’ve all had it happen to us. That freaky moment that sends a tingle up your spine and your eyes to first widen, and then narrow, as you wonder what, if anything, it means. Maybe it was a chance meeting with an old school friend in an airport on the other side of the world. Maybe it was finding out that your new boss has your mother’s (very obscure) maiden name. Perhaps it was just turning the radio on to find that they’re playing the song that was already in your head. Or maybe it was something so impossibly unlikely that when it happened to you, you got more than the chills, you got scared.

Whatever that moment of coincidence was, there’s no doubt that such incidents have always fascinated us. And yet there’s something odd here; despite the fact that we all seem to love them, you’ve probably noticed what happens when you try and tell someone else about the AMAZING thing that just happened to you on the subway. You tell your friend/parent/co-worker/whoever, and you probably are treated to, at best, polite and feigned interest, and at worst, total boredom and a desire to change the subject as soon as possible. Because as interesting as coincidences are, it’s very hard to convey that sense of excitement to anyone else. ‘Well,’ you end lamely, ‘you had to be there.’

That was one of the challenges of writing She Is Not Invisible – how to get around that obstacle of getting anyone else to feel the way you did about your freaky moment. The answer was not to write a book about coincidence, but to write a book about a writer writing a book about coincidence. That meant I got to whizz through some of what the world’s greatest thinkers had to say on the subject.

In modern times, Carl Jung (who along with Freud, was the co-founder of psychoanalysis) is perhaps the first name to mention. He was obsessed by coincidences. And I mean obsessed. He decided to give them a new name, and coined the word synchronicity to describe the concept of the meaningful coincidence. He wrote a book with the same name, a book that influenced later writers on the subject. Men like Paul Kammerer, who, being a biologist, decided to trying to make things a little more scientific with his Law of Seriality, which attempted to establish how chance incidents can clump together. Later, the Hungarian author Arthur Koestler wrote The Roots of Coincidence, a book that is probably a product of the decade in which it was written; the seventies. His book strays a bit to far into the paranormal, ESP, and psychokinesis for my taste.

There is, of course, another way to consider the subject; and that’s through mathematics. This argument says that it’s all down to chance. That even the weirdest and least likely coincidences possible (for example, the famous Richard Parker story) are bound to happen sooner or later, given that the world has a near infinite amount of things that can form a coincidence with any other thing. Your chances of winning the lottery might be 56 million to one. And you might not win. But someone does, most weeks. It’s all about the math.

Now, having studied coincidence for several years before writing this book, this viewpoint is one I have quite a lot of sympathy for. And yet, for one thing, it does rather take the mystery out of it all. And for another thing, every now and again, something SO weird happens to you, and that tingle crawls up your neck again, making you doubt all the sensible mathematical theory all over again. Something like that happened to me while I was writing the book, and as I said above, it was something so unlikely, that it seriously freaked me out. It scared me. Feelings like that tend to trump math, any time.

Don't forget to check out the other stops on the tour!

She Is Not Invisible Blog Tour Schedule

Monday April 7

Tuesday April 8

Thursday April 10

Friday April 11

Monday April 14

Tuesday April 15

Thursday April 17

Friday April 18
Finding Bliss in Books

See Marcus on tour in the US!
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Book Tour Review: The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte by Ruth Hull Chatlien

Title: The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte
Author: Ruth Hull Chatlien
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 484
Published: December 2013
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

Tell the emperor that Madame Bonaparte is ambitious and demands her rights as a member of the imperial family.

As a clever girl in stodgy, mercantile Baltimore, Betsy Patterson dreams of a marriage that will transport her to cultured Europe. When she falls in love with and marries Jerome Bonaparte, she believes her dream has come true—until Jerome’s older brother Napoleon becomes an implacable enemy.

Based on a true story, The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte is a historical novel that portrays this woman’s tumultuous life. Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, known to history as Betsy Bonaparte, scandalized Washington with her daring French fashions; visited Niagara Falls when it was an unsettled wilderness; survived a shipwreck and run-ins with British and French warships; dined with presidents and danced with dukes; and lived through the 1814 Battle of Baltimore. Yet through it all, Betsy never lost sight of her primary goal—to win recognition of her marriage.

Highlighting an unusual but overlooked woman, The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte tells the story of Elizabeth "Betsy" Patterson. Through her early years in rapidly growing Baltimore to her unlikely marriage and her years of advocating for Bo, Chatlien closely recreates what Betsy's life would have looked like in all stages. Though mostly forgotten today, Betsy's compelling and original story is full of what fans of the genre love -- complicated romances, grand empires, strong-willed women in a less than feminist time.... it makes for a fascinating read. Ruth Hull Chatlien ably and visually recreates everything in her story -- not just her characters, but her settings of Baltimore, and Paris also come to life.

Betsy is a complicated, though thoroughly likeable woman. Over these four hundred pages, you get to see her in many different trying situations, and, ultimately, she's human, and a very young wife and mother for a bulk of the narrative. She's arrogant and demanding, ambitious, selfish, and stubborn. But she's also kind, smart, fiercely protective, ambitious, and loving. Chatlien presents her as a complete person --- one who makes mistakes with her husband, her child, her parents -- but is still real, relateable, and flawed. She makes many mistakes, but you want the best for this determined and capable woman. Ruth Hull Chatlien makes her more than a historical personage -- she turns her into a believable and real woman.

Like a lot of the world during his life and reigns, Betsy's life is ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte and his decisions. Though she was married to his youngest brother Jerome, it is Napoleon who decides the path which Betsy's life follows from early on in the novel. Like with his relationship with Betsy, Napoleon is never seen on page and the two characters never meet. But his impact on the novel's characters and plot is undeniable. Their subtle tet-a-tet provides a lot of the tension for the later sections of the novel. Thwarted by many, and often without allies, Betsy never surrenders to the Emperor or gives up fighting for what she wants. You cannot but admire Chatlien's heroine for The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte.

I liked the complete look into Betsy's life, but the early pacing was something of an issue. The beginning of the novel moves slowly, and was the hardest to invest in. That said, once Betsy begins defying her father, the novel picks up and evolves into a fluid and streamlined story. On a more random note, I also liked the twist for the "historical fiction prophecy" trope --- well done and unexpected.

An engaging story peopled with a great characters, The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte is an excellent historical fiction offering. Betsy is a protagonist that is both memorable and original and reading her story was a pleasure.
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