March Recap

Tuesday, March 31, 2015
March was pretty nice for us! How about you? I had a lot of good reads and fun tour stops. Dani was busy with real life and adulting but still managed to review some books and post some hauls. Check out any you missed in the last few weeks:

Reviews Posted:
Witherwood Reform School by Obert Skye
Book Tour Review: The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale (Princess Academy #3)
Book Tour Review: Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson
Book Tour Review: Mist of Midnight by Sandra Byrd (Daughters of Hampshire #1)
The Captain's Bluestocking Mistress by Erica Ridley (The Dukes of War #2)
DNF Review: Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton (Seeker #1)
I'm Not a Terrorist But I've Played One on TV by Maz Jobrani
Review Take Two: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
The Sin-Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury (Sin Eater's Daughter #1)
Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O'Neill
Two Minute Review: Liar's Inc by Paula Stokes
Two Minute Review: Little Peach by Peggy Kern
Book Tour Review: The Heroes Welcome by Louisa Young
The Start of You and Me by Emery Lord
DNF Review: Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox

Fun Stuff:
Jessie's Book Haul
Danielle's February Reads & Book Hauls

DNF Review: Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox

Friday, March 27, 2015
Title: Mortal Fire
Author: Elizabeth Knox
Genre: young adult, fantasy, supernatural
Series: N/A
Pages: 448
Published: expected June 11 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2/5

Sixteen-year-old Canny Mochrie's parents go away on a vacation, so they send her off on a trip of her own with her step-brother Sholto and his opinionated girlfriend Susan, who are interviewing the survivors of a strange coal mine disaster and researching local folklore in 1959 Southland, New Zealand. Canny is left to herself to wander in a mysterious and enchanting nearby valley, occupied almost entirely by children who all have the last name Zarene and can perform a special type of magic that tells things how to be stronger and better than they already are. With the help of a seventeen-year-old boy who is held hostage in a hidden away house by a spell that is now more powerful than the people who first placed it, Canny figures out why she, too, can use this special magic that only Zarenes should know, and where she really came from. 

Printz Honor author Elizabeth Knox has created another stunning world world of intrigue in Mortal Fire.

I tried twice to read this novel. The first time, my ARC expired before I made it 50 pages. When I saw Macmillan had re-added to their downloadable ARCs on NetGalley, I hit that download button so fast. I had been anticipating this novel for months -- especially since the cover was revealed. A fantasy-ish tale with close ties to the world we live in? It all sounds and looks so good on paper. But I was disappointed in just how dry, and yes, boring, Mortal Fire tuned out to be once I had the chance to truly sit down and get into the novel. 

I can easily see why other readers will have an easier and better experience with Knox's latest than I did. I am sure she eventually gets to the story promised in the4  blurb, but I just couldn't keep reading. If I put a book down and then immediately reject the idea of picking it back up, that's a bad sign. An even worse sign is putting it down and trying to forget I even started it in the first place. Mortal Fire is dry, long-winded, and pretty aimless for the first 200 pages. It got the point where I felt the plot had stalled before it even really began. I expected the magic to be more of a focus once the Zarenes are introduced, but it wasn't enough.

The world Canny lives in is interesting, but there's not a lot of detail or time spent on fleshing it out and showing what differs Southland from the real world we live in. Like the worldbuilding, Canny's characterization leaves a lot to be desired. There are some bare bones supplied to give her somewhat of a personality, but she's pretty dead on the page. There's no life to her - she's smart and dutiful and a good friend, but there's not a lot to relate to, or invest in. Her interactions with her family - from her stepbrother to her conniving mom - didn't ring true or authentic for me. I just couldn't buy into the way this family worked or thought and that presented a large problem.

Mortal Fire, from the way it is written (3rd person can be difficult for me) to the characters themselves, was a miss for me. But I fully take the blame - it's me, not you. I was too bored to continue and thus I DNF'd. Good luck out there, Canny and Co., I hope you find an audience that will respond to you better than I could. I guess the ARC expiring the first time was a sign it was just not meant to be for me and this particular story.

Review: The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Title: The Start of Me and You
Author: Emery Lord
Genre: contemporary, young adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Published: expected March 31 2015
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4.25/5

Following her pitch-perfect debut Open Road Summer, Emery Lord pens another gorgeous story of best friends, new love, & second chances.

Brimming with heartfelt relationships and authentic high-school dynamics The Start of Me and You proves that it’s never too late for second chances.

It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for two years, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?

Emery Lord has only gotten better since she debuted last year with Reagan and Dee in Open Road Summer. Everything I liked about ORS - the writing, the humor, the realism, the understanding of teenage minds and attitudes - is present here and improved in her second novel. The Start of Me and You has heart and emotion going for it from early on. The book only improves as you continue to read. The characters are well-drawn and three-dimensional, the romance will bring the feels, and Paige makes for a good main character and narrator. The author balances out grief and life in a way that makes even the harder parts of The Start of You and Me still have hope.

Characterization is often key for contemporary novels like this - the characters involved will make or break a novel when it's thoughtful and often introspective like this one. Thankfully, Lord is a skilled writer when it comes to her cast of characters. Paige is far more than a list of virtues and vices, as are her extended family and friends that surround her storyline. Lord showed her potential for crafting characters in Open Road Summer and that talent is on full display here for The Start of You and Me. It's refreshing and wonderful to read about Paige's strong relationships with her three best friends, especially since the author took time and care to show each of the three girls to be individuals and more than just cardboard cutouts.

Paige's life is complicated -- doubly tough for a nerdy introvert like Paige. Her struggles don't begin and end with grief and new crushes and friend issues. Her family life is an authentic and big factor throughout the novel. A child of divorced parents, the situation she finds herself in is rather unexpected and makes for some new familial drama, rather than focusing on sister/sister antagonism. Paige's relationship with Cameron is rather downplayed even as the two disagree about how to feel about their parents' actions. The interactions - familial and fraternal - between this varied group of people felt natural. There was an easy chemistry to their social interactions.

The ship from this book is pretty damn boardable. It takes a while to gather steam (it's a coal-burner-ship, I guess?) but Emery Lord definitely sells it; you want to see a relationship chapters before its a possibility. There's a lot of chemistry and camaraderie between the two that it just feels natural for the characters. It's a quieter kind of romance, but one that is totally apt for both Paige and the plot the novel follows. Finding love isn't the only story for The Start of Me and You, just a really really well-done part of the plot that wraps up slightly too late in the game.

We are now two novels in and I am undoubtedly an Emery Lord fan. Her second novel both impressed and wounded me -- in the best possible ways. The Start of You and Me was a story of flawed people doing the best they can with what they have and it was a damn good story. It was memorable and real and worth pushing on other people.

Book Tour Review: The Heroes' Welcome by Louisa Young

Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Title: The Heroes' Welcome
Author: Louisa Young
Genre: general fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 262
Published: May 2014
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 3.5/5

The Heroes’ Welcome is the incandescent sequel to the bestselling R&J pick My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You. Its evocation of a time deeply wounded by the pain of WW1 will capture and beguile readers fresh to Louisa Young’s wonderful writing, and those previously enthralled by the stories of Nadine and Riley, Rose, Peter and Julia.


In a flurry of spring blossom, childhood sweethearts Nadine Waverney and Rilery Purefoy are married. Thos who have survived the war are, in a way, home. But Riley is wounded and disfigured; normality seems incomprehensible, and love unfathomable. Honeymooning in a battered, liberated Europe, they long for a marriage made of love and passion rather than dependence and pity.

At Locke Hill in Kent, Riley’s former CO Major Peter Locke is obsessed by Homer. His hysterical wife, Julia, and the young son they barely know attempt to navigate family life, but are confounded by the ghosts and memories of Peter’s war. Despite all this, there is the glimmer of a real future in the distance: Rose Locke, Peter’s cousin and Riley’s former nurse, finds that independence might be hers for the taking, after all.

For those who fought, those who healed and those who stayed behind, 1919 is a year of accepting realities, holding to hope and reaching after new beginnings.

The Heroes’ Welcome is a brave and brilliant evocation of a time deeply wounded by the pain of war. It is as devastating as it is inspiring.

 "If Peter were to die now, he'd be dying of the wounds. Whatever he died of, whenever he died, if he were to die in fifty years, it would be of wounds. Nothing bigger, greater, worse than that war would ever happen to any of them." -p.103

Though it's the second in an unnamed series by the author, The Heroes' Welcome made for an engrossing and dark read. I have not yet read the book's predecessor, My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, but still easily managed to get caught up with these characters as they go through the fallout of World War I together (and apart). Louisa Young's look at life for soldiers and wives after the Great War is unflinching; occasionally uncomfortable but honest and real. It's an honest look at the past; one with clear parallels to today. It's not always a pretty read, but Young's sparse style works so well for the melancholic subject matter of her second novel. It's hard to put down.

The characters of the story are widely disparate in how they approach the changes they face in their lives during the course of the novel. Each individual grapples with the same main issue - the damage of WWI, be it mental or physical or emotional - in varied ways, with varied amounts of success. Young's storytelling is strong; reading Riley and his wife Nadine struggle to communicate over the most basic of issues engenders sympathy and empathy for the characters. While Peter's struggle is more volatile and emotional, he too is capable of being identifiable to the audience. PTSD is a serious issue and has been, especially after wars and conflicts, for a long, long time. Peter and Riley and Julia and Nadine each come to terms with things with their own, authentic methods.

The Heroes' Welcome is a dark novel from the start and remains so for its shorter length. In a way it reminded me a lot of Revolutionary Road -- same kind of bitterly honest tone, same kind of presenting a diverse POV to the lives of these unlikely people. It's more thoughtful than anything, however. There are no easy answers to be found here, but still remains a rewarding read. There's due to be a final book set with these characters. I think, after the conclusion of The Heroes' Welcome, there is  still plenty of room to further explore the stories of Rose and the others. I look forward to seeing with Young does with the series completion.

Two Minute Review: Little Peach by Peggy Kern

Monday, March 23, 2015
Title: Little Peach
Author: Peggy Kern
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 208
Published: March 10 2015
Source: publisers via edelweiss
Rating: 4/5

What do you do if you're in trouble?

When Michelle runs away from her drug-addicted mother, she has just enough money to make it to New York City, where she hopes to move in with a friend. But once she arrives at the bustling Port Authority, she is confronted with the terrifying truth: she is alone and out of options.

Then she meets Devon, a good-looking, well-dressed guy who emerges from the crowd armed with a kind smile, a place for her to stay, and eyes that seem to understand exactly how she feels.

But Devon is not what he seems to be, and soon Michelle finds herself engulfed in the world of child prostitution where he becomes her “Daddy” and she his “Little Peach.” It is a world of impossible choices, where the line between love and abuse, captor and savior, is blurred beyond recognition.

This hauntingly vivid story illustrates the human spirit’s indomitable search for home, and one girl’s struggle to survive.

You wouldn't expect such a punch in gut from such a short book, but damned if Little Peach doesn't do just that in only 208 pages. It's short, but really powerful. Sobering, saddening, and depressingly close to real life because this could so easily be someone's real life. Human trafficking, drug abuse, child abuse, rape.. it's a book full of harsh realities and terrible circumstances (trigger warnings for all the aforementioned). It's horribly real and authentic; Peggy Kern spares no feelings and hides no truth in her book from Michelle and thus, her readers. It's not a easy read by any means but it's also so necessary for just these reasons.

Little Peach is bound to provoke some strong reactions. It made me angry. It also made me sad, deep in my bones. So much of what Kern shows is hidden or ignored or just plain unknown when it should be a huge concern and more than that, prevented in the first place. Michelle's story is a narrative that should and will ignite conversation. Michelle is more than just a victim -- she's also a survivor. And finding the small kernels of hope in Little Peach is far from a happy ending, it's a believable and appropriate ending for the story and characters. Like Speak before it, this is a book has the potential to open eyes and begin real dialogues. 

Peggy Kern's short story of 208 pages made me think and made me feel while reading. It was an uncomfortable, awful, necessary book and I can't react but to try to make as many others read it as possible. Fans of All the Rage and Speak will likely find another to recommend. It's sobering but worth the read for the strong voice of Michelle, for the skilled storytelling framing the two timelines of her life, for the hard look at issues most people would rather ignore than acknowledge.

Two Minute Review: Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes

Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Title: Liars, Inc.
Author: Paula Stokes
Genre: thriller, mystery
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Published: expected March 24, 2015
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3/5

For fans of Gone Girl, I Hunt Killers, and TV's How to Get Away with Murder.

Max Cantrell has never been a big fan of the truth, so when the opportunity arises to sell forged permission slips and cover stories to his classmates, it sounds like a good way to make a little money and liven up a boring senior year. With the help of his friends Preston and Parvati, Max starts Liars, Inc. Suddenly everybody needs something and the cash starts pouring in. Who knew lying could be so lucrative?

When Preston wants his own cover story to go visit a girl he met online, Max doesn’t think twice about hooking him up. Until Preston never comes home. Then the evidence starts to pile up—terrifying clues that lead the cops to Preston’s body. Terrifying clues that point to Max as the murderer.

Can Max find the real killer before he goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit? In a story that Kirkus Reviews called "Captivating to the very end," Paula Stokes starts with one single white lie and weaves a twisted tale that will have readers guessing until the explosive final chapters.

Liars, Inc. is a convoluted story that makes for an entertaining read. It's a fast-paced and twisty ride; one full of surprises and revelations, sordid histories and coverups. Stokes does an admirable job of keeping the central mystery a secret by throwing out enough dead end leads and red herrings to keep the ending just as explosive as promised. It's one of those rare books that lives up to the "thrillride" label that so often pops up in the mystery and thriller genre.

Riding along for a few days in Max's head helps keep the story immediate and inescapable. His POV is distinct and believable. Even when he makes bad decisions, you can understand how and why he ended up doing so. That isn't to say Max isn't a frustrating character at times, but Stokes ably captured the feeling of what a teenage boy might think and act in such a situation. Max had a somewhat unusual background for a YA character - orphaned, on the streets, a foster kid, and an adoptee - which I appreciated.

That said, the characterization is pretty minimal. I liked what I saw from Parvati -- she's driven and smart, uncompromising, half-Indian -- but she always remains a background character; never entirely on the same playing field as Max or Preston (even in absentia.) The parents of the story are also vaguely realized. Some of the decisions Darla, Max's adoptive mom, made seem to stretch suspension of disbelief, especially once the stakes get raised later in the novel. 

All in all, Liars, Inc. is a pretty solid mystery/thriller for the YA genre. It grabs your attention and rarely relents. It doesn't go for the obvious plays and keeps the mystery fresh. If the level of suspense isn't quiiite what it could be, well, it's still a fun and a rousing read.

Review: Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O'Neill

Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Title: Reluctantly Charmed
Author: Ellie O'Neill
Genre: magical realism
Series: N/A
Pages: 416 pages
Published: March 17, 2015
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 3.5/5

Kate McDaid is listing her new-year’s resolutions hoping to kick-start her rather stagnant love life and career when she gets some very strange news. To her surprise, she is the sole benefactor of a great great-great-great aunt and self-proclaimed witch also called Kate McDaid, who died over 130 years ago. As if that isn’t strange enough, the will instructs that, in order to receive the inheritance, Kate must publish seven letters, one by one, week by week.

Burning with curiosity, Kate agrees and opens the first letter – and finds that it’s a passionate plea to reconnect with the long-forgotten fairies of Irish folklore. Almost instantaneously, Kate’s life is turned upside down. Her romantic life takes a surprising turn and she is catapulted into the public eye.

As events become stranger and stranger – and she discovers things about herself she’s never known before – Kate must decide whether she can fulfil her great-aunt’s final, devastating request ... and whether she can face the consequences if she doesn’t.

Witty, enchanting and utterly addictive, Reluctantly Charmed is about what happens when life in the fast lane collides with the legacy of family, love and its possibilities … and a little bit of magic. 

Ellie O'Neill's debut is...well,  it's just so charming. Sorry to go for the obvious introduction, but it really is. Set in a modern Ireland, it's full of the whimsy and magic you would expect from a magical realism novel with fairies, but all is not as it seems with this author's version of the Fair Folk. With a good central romance, excellent female friends, aaand eccentric but loving family members surrounding the main characters -- it can feel bit Marian Keyes-ish, if a tad more fantastical and slightly less on the humorous side. Reluctantly Charmed has heart and boasts some engaging characters to make the read fun throughout.

Though it's over 400 pages, O'Neill's debut moves along at a good clip. The first section of the novel sets up the characters and plot rather well and transitions into the more supernatural aspects quite naturally. It can be a pretty atmospheric read at times, especially when main character Kate talks about Dublin or leaves the city for the small Western town of Knocknamee. The magical realism angle is a great fit for this story, these characters and especially this location. The fae have always had strong roots in Ireland and O'Neill makes a lot of good use from that association.

Kate McDaid, the main character, is well-rounded and characterized. She leads a perfectly normal life- friends, work, unrequited crush, bad decisions -- until one day she is invited to the reading of the will for... Kate McDaid. From there, her world slowly changes from the norm (working as a copywriter) to the fantastical (possible witch/unwilling cult leader?). Kate is a good character; she's likeable, funny, self-deprecating, and engaging. She doesn't have the flash you might expect, but her relate-ableness is key and well-done. Even when her life spirals out of control, Kate keeps it real.

The characters that surround Kate are also well-drawn and realistic. From Matthew to to Jim to Fiona to Lily, there's a revolving cast to keep the reader engaged. The romantic storyline might be slightly predictable (as well as who Kate will end up with), but it was a pleasure watching Kate realize what -- and who -- she wants from life. I also really enjoyed that Kate was surrounded by such strong friendships (both male and femasle) and that her family was a good force in her life -- if a bit silly and eccentric. It was a nice touch.

Reluctantly Charmed is due to be published on St. Patrick's Day. It's a great for reading on just that holiday. There's just enough whimsy and magic mixed with the familiar to create a magical realism story well within the bounds of suspension of disbelief. 

Jessie's Book Haul

Monday, March 16, 2015
Heyoooooo! I got some pretty fun books in the last few weeks. I bought a few and was sent a lot so let's get going on this, shall we?


Fairest by Marissa Meyer - Lunar Chronicles #3.5 - already read this and whoooa boy is Levana a piece of work. I mean, we knew that, but now we REALLY know that.

The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters -- I loooooved Winter's In the Shadow of the Blackbirds so much I had to buy this.

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear -- a steampunk that has gotten some pretty rave reviews from trusted friends.

Elizabeth I by Margaret George -- I'd had my eye on this for years because George's HF is usually top notch. I found a copy for $6 (hardback!) and the rest was history.

The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley - Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #2 - I read and greatly enjoyed the series opener and have been waiting for this to publish ever since. 

The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams - The Copper Promise #1 - I loved the series opener and am beyond excited to dive back into this world with these fantastic characters.

The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury - The Sin Eater's Daughter #1 - coverlove to the extreme. This has been on my radar for months so I hope it lives up to all that hype and expectation.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller - basically Twitter made me want to read this so I had to have it when I found a sale. 

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty - Ashbury/Brookfield #2 - another I bought because of twitter. Carla was talking about this, I walked into a thrift store and bam! Perfect condition copy for $2. That's clearly a sign I needed to buy this. Right?

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien - one of the most haunting books I have ever read. I loved it in high school but never picked up a copy until I found this one for $3.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling - I have a million HPs but I had to buy this because UK EDITION HARRY POTTER FOR $3. 

(other HP copies were bought to be donated to my sister's 5th Grade class. I don't want kids so I have to find some way to force the series on the next generation!)

Orleans by Sherri L. Smith -- I have heard such good things about this, from worldbuilding to the lack of romance. Also, diversity yay! Finding a copy for $5 a HFP was an unexpected bonus.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel - I had missed on this one but Meg from Cuddlebuggery and Jamie from The Broke and the Bookish convinced me this was one not to miss. I am halfway through and THEY WERE RIGHT.


Love Fortunes and Other Disasters by Kimberly Karalius -- I was sold on this from the synopsis and then that cover I am preparing for feels and cuteness. Thank you to MacMillan/Swoon Reads!

Lady of the Eternal City by Kate Quinn - The Empress of Rome #4 - this series has only gotten better with each installment. I plan to read this in the next week and have a review up then, too! Thank you to Kate Quinn!

The Masque of a Murderer by Susanna Calkins - Lucy Campion Mysteries #3 - this is the third in a series but can be read independently. Thanks, Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours!

Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O'Neill - a magical realism novel set in Ireland. Can you look at that gorgeous cover and not want this book? It's perfect for St. Patrick's Day -- see my review tomorrow! Thank you, Simon and Shuster!

Helen of Sparta by Amalia Carosella - Helen of Sparta is one of my favorite mythical/historical figures. I used to read anything and everything I could find on her. So when offered this for a book tour, I jumped on it so fast! Plus.... that cover!

The Devil You Know by Trish Doller - another YA contemporary that's gaining a lot of buzz months out from its pub day. It looks and sounds amazing. From the few pages I sneaked, it's going to be a doozy.

Knight's Shadow by Sebastien de Castell - Greatcoats #2 - I ordered this from the UK because dat cover. Also, this is a BRICK compared to book one. I hope it's just as entertaining.


Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu -- I don't know much about this but this author's books have come highly recommended so winning this was quite awesome. Thank you, Corey!

That's it for me so far. Any new books on your shelves you're particularly excited to read?

Review: The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

Sunday, March 15, 2015
Title: The Sin Eater's Daughter
Author: Melinda Salisbury
Genre: fantasy
Series: The Sin Eater's Daughter #1
Pages: 320
Published: February 21, 2015
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
Rating: 2 out of 5

Seventeen-year-old Twylla lives in the castle. But although she’s engaged to the prince, Twylla isn’t exactly a member of the court.

She’s the executioner.

As the Goddess embodied, Twylla instantly kills anyone she touches. Each month she’s taken to the prison and forced to lay her hands on those accused of treason. No one will ever love a girl with murder in her veins. Even the prince, whose royal blood supposedly makes him immune to Twylla’s fatal touch, avoids her company.

But then a new guard arrives, a boy whose easy smile belies his deadly swordsmanship. And unlike the others, he’s able to look past Twylla’s executioner robes and see the girl, not the Goddess. Yet Twylla’s been promised to the prince, and knows what happens to people who cross the queen.

However, a treasonous secret is the least of Twylla’s problems. The queen has a plan to destroy her enemies, a plan that requires a stomach-churning, unthinkable sacrifice. Will Twylla do what it takes to protect her kingdom? Or will she abandon her duty in favor of a doomed love?

If you asked me, without looking, how many pages The Sin Eater’s Daughter is, I’d swear it’s 600+, each more interminable than the last. It’s not, but with endless internal monologues and prayer scenes and weeks locked in a tower, it feels twice as long. I’m something of a black sheep, but this book bored me to tears.

My biggest problem is Twylla. She is a dull character whom I never connected with. She has no thoughts or wishes of her own. At first, this is part of her storyline, twice raised with a religious destiny that doesn’t allow for her to have a childhood or future. However, once Lief comes into the picture and starts to shake up her world, all of her thoughts and feelings revolve around him. I never got a sense of her as her own person. I frequently forgot her actual age and thought she was fourteen, because she acts so immaturely. In fact, the only time I liked Twylla was a scene near the end of the book, where she admits that she’s been selfish and cowardly. It’s the only time I ever saw real emotion.

The love triangle is a joke. Neither character is particularly good for Twylla and I didn’t find them sexy or romantic or loveable. The entire book takes place over the course of a month, which makes all of these sweeping declarations even more ridiculous than usual. One of the men has a revelation at the end that’s supposed to be shocking, but left me cold, because there hasn’t been enough time to build to it.

The book has no plot other than “love triangle” until the last 60 pages. Unfortunately, while a far more interesting story, those last few chapters belong to a different book. In fact, it becomes a retelling of The Pied Piper. While there was some foreshadowing, it’s still a jarring change. However, in this part, I really liked the villain and thought her motivations were interesting. I found myself wishing the previous 250 pages were about her and not Twylla.

In the end, the book just doesn’t work for me. I found the pacing too slow at the beginning and the end, too frenetic. I didn’t think the epilogue worked at all, considering who the character had become. There were some interesting ideas, but I found everything to unravel in the same monotonous way. It might have been different if I’d cared for either of the romances, but as it is, I won’t be continuing the series.

Review Take Two: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

Saturday, March 14, 2015
Title: The Sculptor
Author: Scott McCloud
Genre: graphic novel, supernatural
Series: N/A
Pages: 496
Published: February 3, 2015
Source: publisher for review
Rating: 5 out of 5

David Smith is giving his life for his art—literally. Thanks to a deal with Death, the young sculptor gets his childhood wish: to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands. But now that he only has 200 days to live, deciding what to create is harder than he thought, and discovering the love of his life at the 11th hour isn't making it any easier!

This is a story of desire taken to the edge of reason and beyond; of the frantic, clumsy dance steps of young love; and a gorgeous, street-level portrait of the world's greatest city. It's about the small, warm, human moments of everyday life…and the great surging forces that lie just under the surface. Scott McCloud wrote the book on how comics work; now he vaults into great fiction with a breathtaking, funny, and unforgettable new work.

See Jess' Review Too!

The Sculptor is beautiful. It’s a beautiful, tragic story with beautiful, flawed characters rendered in stunningly beautiful art. It’s the perfect graphic novel where neither story nor art overshadow the other, but it couldn’t be rendered in any other medium.

David Smith is a sculptor. He had some fame a few years ago, but bad attitude and artists’ block have left him penniless and an industry pariah. When his uncle, who died many years ago, shows up at a diner and offers David a chance to change that, David jumps. The only problem? He has to literally give his life to the power. David will die in 200 days.

But as his future dwindles, David can’t change his past. Just because he has new art doesn’t mean anyone wants to see it. He loses his apartment, his art gets impounded, and the last gallery that would show him, closes. Down and out, an angel appears out of the sky to tell him everything will be ok. Unfortunately, the devil might be real, but angels aren’t. She’s Meg, an actress working on a massive piece of street performance.

Meg could be a MPDG, but in reality, she’s just manic. Her depiction as a bipolar woman who won’t take medicine because of how it might change her is spot on. It’s incredibly realistic and hard to read. As David becomes increasingly obsessed and Meg becomes more depressed, their mental illnesses have such interplay and become interesting counterpoints to each other.

It takes a strong writer to tell you in the blurb and again in the first chapter, “the main character will die at the end of this book” and still create tension around that fact. As David approaches the end of his 200 days, beautifully depicted by a full page illustration of the sidewalk turning into calendar pages that abruptly fall off into a cliff, I found myself feeling anxious and sad and hopeful, right along with the characters. And at the last minute twist, my heart broke.

This is a book that asks what would you do if you had 6 months to live? How will you be remembered? It asks you to consider what’s most important in your life, but also are you living your life? It’s not easy to answer. Meg and David are both making good and bad choices. focusing on things that matter and things that don’t. It would be easy to hold one above the other and say, “emulate them! Live your life like this!”, but this is not that kind of book. And it’s better for it.

Review I'm Not a Terrorist, But I've Played One on TV by Maz Jobrani

Thursday, March 12, 2015
Title: I'm Not a Terrorist, But I've Played One On TV: Memoirs of a Middle Eastern Funny Man
Author: Maz Jobrani
Genre: memoir
Series: none
Pages: 240
Published: February 17, 2015
Source: Publisher via Edelwiess
Rating: 4 out of 5

A hilarious and moving memoir of growing up Iranian in America, and the quest to make it in Hollywood without having to wear a turban, tote a bomb, or get kicked in the face by Chuck Norris.

When he first started out in show business, Maz Jobrani endured suggestions that he spice up his stand-up act by wearing "the outfit," fielded questions about rising gas prices, and got called an F-in Eye-ranian for being involved in the Iran hostage crisis even though he was only eight years old at the time - in fact, these things happened so often that he began to wonder: Could I be a terrorist without even knowing it?

Having emigrated with his family to the US during the Iranian Revolution, Maz spent most of his youth desperately trying to fit in with his adopted culture - whether that meant learning to play baseball or religiously watching Dallas with his female relatives. But none of his attempts at assimilation made a difference to casting directors, who only auditioned him for the role of kebab-eating, bomb-toting, extremist psychopath.

In this laugh-out-loud memoir, Maz shares his struggle to build an acting career in post-9/11 Hollywood - from playing a terrorist on 24 to playing a terrorist opposite Chuck Norris to his mother asking, "Vhy you alvays terrorist?!" (Followed by, "Vhy you couldn't be doctor?!") But finally, through patience, determination, and only the occasional unequivocal compromising of his principles, he found a path to stardom. And he also learned the proper way to die like a bad guy on TV.

Maz Jobrani isn't a household name in this country, but you've probably seen him in bit parts, as Bhamba on Better Off Ted, or on Comedy Central as part of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. (For my Disney girls, he's also playing Jafar in the new DCOM, The Descendants.) What you won't see him in is a turban. Since an ill-fated Chuck Norris movie, Maz has a strict "no terrorists" rule for all of his agents, which I find super admirable. It has limited his big screen roles, but it's opened up amazing stand-up opportunities, particularly in the Middle East.

This biography is structured very much like a stand-up set. It's full of asides, embellishments, and particularly when his mom's involved, punchlines that come full circle. No matter your mother's religion or ethnicity, jokes about becoming a lawyer/getting married/supporting her still hit. It's funny and relatable. If anything, I could have done with more information on Maz's personal life. I felt like we skipped right over his wife and his daughter.

Instead, a lot of Maz's stories revolve around his race and how he feels in America. He talks about his young life in Iran, before moving to America and feeling like an outsider as he tried to assimilate. His parents are embarrassingly foreign and it seems like ever other Iranian in the state wants to give him a hug. As he gets older, he struggles with stereotyping, flying post 9/11, and his own internalized racism. It's very interesting to read, especially since racism against Middle Easterners is so prevalent and not talked enough about.

It is a little hard to feel too bad for Maz, though. He's incredibly privileged. His father owned an electric company under the old Iranian regime, so rather than a traumatic story of sneaking over mountains into a neighboring country, Maz went on Christmas break to a posh New York hotel and never left the country. (I suspect there is more tragedy to the story, as he does mention his brother being left in Iran and it taking a long time to bring him over. Instead of including this genuine emotion, it's used as a set up to a joke about FAO Schwarz.) A lot of his stories about being a sad, rich Persian in a Rolls left me gnashing my teeth.

My favorite part of the book is when The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour became the first American stand-up group to perform in the Middle East. Over there, the members were rock stars, performing for princesses and kings. And Maz still managed to bomb during an art show. Just goes to show every comedian has a bad night. I also liked learning about the Comedy Store and how it worked, (and how Maz bombed in front of his idol there, too.) (Too conceited, the man is not.)

In all, Jobrani's biography is a bit more humor than memoir but I enjoyed it all the same.

DNF Review: Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton

Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Title: Seeker
Author: Arwen Elys Dayton
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Seeker #1
Pages: 488
Published: February 10, 2015
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 1 out of 5

Quin Kincaid has been put through years of brutal training for what she thinks is the noble purpose of becoming a revered ‘Seeker’.

Only when it’s too late does she discover she will be using her new-found knowledge and training to become an assassin. Quin's new role will take her around the globe, from a remote estate in Scotland to a bustling, futuristic Hong Kong where the past she thought she had escaped will finally catch up with her.

DNF at 160 pages, end of part one.

I gave Seeker more than one chance in hopes that it would improve. Unfortunately, I can't find anything positive to say and no longer wish to try.

The world building is poor. The main characters, Quin, John, and Shinobu, are training to become Seekers in a rural, medieval Scottish village. They are the apprentices to the only two Seekers left, Quin's father Briac and her uncle Alistair. Shinobu is Alistair's son and Quin's cousin, but he's also one half of the love triangle, which requires him to repeatedly mention that though they were raised together, they're not first cousins! It's gross. John is Quin's boyfriend, though Briac hates him for mysterious mystery reasons.

Seekers are not adequately explained. They fight with magical whipswords, weapons made of a mysterious metal that rearranges itself into a whip or any kind of sword based on how the owner flicks their wrist. Their biggest fear is the Disruptor, a weapon that shoots sparks that invade a person's mind and drives them insane by disrupting the brain's pathways, so anything a victim tries to do, it's turned around. <spoiler> Except, apparently, kill themselves or give vital clues to one of the kids. That's easy enough to do.</spoiler>

In addition, the world is revealed to actually be a highly technologically evolved future. There are flying cars, and regular cars, and airships where Seekers can't invade. (Why regular and flying cars? Why trains and airships? Why would Briac keep horses? The travel makes no sense.) But the Chinese healer still uses acupuncture needles with mysterious herbs. *coughracistcough*

Scenes are completely skipped. We jump from Quin discovering the Seekers may not be as good as she was taught, to her vomiting and covered in blood from her first mission. John is told he's going to take a train home, he's on his grandfather's airship two days later. People die off camera. I found the pacing odd enough without sudden jumps a month into the future.

There are too many points of view, too many characters, and not enough motivation. The villain has no depth. Almost 200 pages into a book, I should have a far better idea of the plot. It's not for me.

Review: The Captain's Bluestocking Mistress by Erica Ridley

Saturday, March 7, 2015
Title: The Captain's Bluestocking Mistress
Author: Erica Ridley
Genre: romance, historical
Series: The Dukes of War #2
Pages: 250
Published: March 2, 2015
Source: publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Captain Xavier Grey’s body is back amongst the Beau Monde, but his mind cannot break free from the horrors of war. His friends try to help him find peace. He knows he doesn’t deserve it. Just like he doesn't deserve the attentions of the sultry bluestocking intent on seducing him into bed...

Spinster Jane Downing wants off the shelf and into the arms of a hot-blooded man. Specifically, the dark and dangerous Captain Grey. She may not be destined to be his wife, but nothing will stop her from being his mistress. She could quote classical Greek by the age of four. How hard can it be to learn the language of love?

I generally take exception to bluestocking romances, which so frequently characterize the phenomena as “brunette who reads because she’s shy”, instead of an informal movement with roots in feminism and politics. So imagine my surprise, while Jane never states she attends Blue Stocking Society events, she is educated, articulate, and very modern. And when I say modern, I mean she can rescite the Odyssey from memory while reading a forbidden erotic novel.

Yet Jane’s utterly forgettable. No matter how shocking she is, how witty or outrageous, she can’t get off the shelf. Men look right past her, reintroducing themselves year after year. She’s given up looking for marriage, but sex might still be on the table, particularly with a handsome, discrete Captain just returned from the Napoleonic Wars. Taking advantage of her unmemorableness, Jane takes a huge risk and shows up unannounced and unescorted to Xavier’s cottage.

As with a lot of snowbound romances, it just so happens the staff is all out when she arrives! Xavier, fearing for Jane’s reputation, tries to send her away, but the terrible weather has other ideas. Trapped together, Jane throws herself at Xavier and, well you know. He declines.

Wait, wha?

Xavier refuses to defile a lady, feeling he did enough horrible things in the war. His PTSD is pretty well written, though it’s a little mild considering the character was practically catatonic with guilt in the first book. I found him a bit condescending towards Jane and her feelings at first, but the way he comes around was really nice.

I really like the way the romance played out, especially the scene in the library and the card game. I thought the characters had chemistry and I cared about them getting together. There’s a good amount of humor, including a devil-possessed cat, mixed with the heart. On the negative side, there were some odd word choices, including Xavier swearing to Zeus, which was confusing and a little distracting. The real issue is, apart from a few scenes mentioned above, the book is a little like Jane. Forgettable.

Book Tour Review: Mist of Midnight by Sandra Byrd

Friday, March 6, 2015
Title: Mist of Midnight
Author: Sandra Byrd
Genre: historical, gothic, mystery
Series: Daughters of Hampshire #1
Pages: 384
Published: March 10 2015
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

Intriguing secondary characters and lush scenery contribute to the often sinister, even creepy, moments readers will come to anticipate. Infusing her story with mystery, tension, and emotion, Byrd strikes a fine balance between the darkness of a Gothic mystery and the sweetness of a captivating love story. Byrd—and Brontë—fans will enjoy.
Publisher's Weekly

In the first of a brand new series set in Victorian England, a young woman returns home from India after the death of her family to discover her identity and inheritance are challenged by the man who holds her future in his hands.

Rebecca Ravenshaw, daughter of missionaries, spent most of her life in India. Following the death of her family in the Indian Mutiny, Rebecca returns to claim her family estate in Hampshire, England. Upon her return, people are surprised to see her… and highly suspicious. Less than a year earlier, an imposter had arrived with an Indian servant and assumed not only Rebecca’s name, but her home and incomes.

That pretender died within months of her arrival; the servant fled to London as the young woman was hastily buried at midnight. The locals believe that perhaps she, Rebecca, is the real imposter. Her home and her father’s investments reverted to a distant relative, the darkly charming Captain Luke Whitfield, who quickly took over. Against her best intentions, Rebecca begins to fall in love with Luke, but she is forced to question his motives–does he love her or does he just want Headbourne House? If Luke is simply after the property, as everyone suspects, would she suffer a similar fate as the first “Rebecca”?

A captivating Gothic love story set against a backdrop of intrigue and danger, Mist of Midnight will leave you breathless.

Sandra Byrd has quickly become an auto-buy author for me; it took less than four novels before I knew I had found a new favorite. I was a big, enthusiastic fan of her Tudor-era historical series from a few years ago and her newest foray into historical gothic mysteries is unexpected but just as detailed, rich, and compelling as her other novels. Mist of Midnight is eerie, intriguing, and full of atmosphere. It's half gothic mystery and half romance, but Byrd brings it all together so well. The characters jump from the page, are well-rounded and rendered and further make reading the first Daughters of Hampshire novel even better.

 Rebecca, the main character, is interesting, proactive, clever, and more. It's easy to invest in and care about her as she struggles to find her footing and prove who she is. She keeps from becoming a trope through her good heartedness, humor, and humanity. The mystery she unravels took a little too long for her to figure out completely, but then she was distracted by her counterpart and love interest, the dashing and mysterious Captain Luke Whitfield. The romance seems to be the driving focus for a large part of the novel, but it's so well developed into the novel that I didn't mind. The two complement and challenge each other exceedingly well for love interests.

When the mystery/gothic edge does start to emerge more in Mists of Midnight -- laudanum dosing, vague and creepy warnings, mysterious sightings, unsolved murder, the imposter's origins -- it plays well into the established story and the characters. There are certain roles to be played but Byrd takes the expected tropes and twists them into new forms. It never feels like another novel. There are homages and more to the genre, but the book is entirely Rebecca Ravenshaw's and no one else's. The atmosphere is also relentless and enveloping -- Sandra Byrd really knows how to make her fiction feel like reality.

 I am far from a religious person, but though Byrd writes Christian fiction, it feels natural for the story, the characters, and the narration. Mist of Midnight never preaches or makes the faith element seem too much. Faith is a known and expected part for these people in this time, and it never overwhelms or crosses into the "too much" territory. 

Another promising and well-written start to a historical new series, Sandra Byrd shows exactly why I rush out to buy her books with Mist of Midnight. Creative, engaging, romantic, and gothic, it's a book that does so many things so well. The characters are unpredictable and three dimensional, the writing is taut and atmospheric, and the mystery is twisty and  not too immediately solved. A good balance was struck and I can't wait to see how the series next novels compare.

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