February Wrap Up

Monday, February 29, 2016
February! Damn, that month went fast. It was a pretty good month for me -- worked a lot, celebrated six months of marriage with my husband.. a small milestone admittedly, but worth a date-night and some books buying. I read a pretty good number of books for only having 29 day, and I had a lot better reading month ratings-wise than I did in January.

Books Read: 24

Notable Favorites:
These Vicious Masks by Kelly Zekas and Tarun Shanker (VOICE! banter goodness, clever plotting, some tropes but good)
The Daughters of Palatine Hill by Phyllis T. Smith (detailed, smart historical fiction sequel)
Shadows of Self (clever, creative fantasy/western fun and cosmere goodness)
Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson (holy ending what the what also YES STERIS)
In the Land of Armadillos by Helen Maryles Shankman (short powerful magical realism stories about Wlodawa in Poland during WWII)
Stars Above by Marissa Meyer (epilogue joyyyyy, also the new stories were excellent)
Quintessence by David Walton (alchemy! flat earth! sea monsters! alternate history!)
Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate (review to come but a strong debut)

Favorite BookInstagram:

I'm sappy this month?? Ssssh.

Are you on Litsy? I am "Jessie" on there --- feel free to follow and I will do the same! 

February. The shortest month. That's my excuse.

Books Read: 7

Notable Favorites: 

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power by Ryan North, Erica Henderson - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oaks - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Reviews Posted:

The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O'Brien
SO SWEET by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Backlist Review: An Apple for the Creature ed. Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner

I'm also on Litsy as golden_lily. Add me!

Two Minute Review: Seven Black Diamonds by Melissa Marr

Sunday, February 28, 2016
Title: Seven Black Diamonds
Author: Melissa Marr
Series: Untitled #1
Genre: fantasy, supernatural
Pages: 400
Published: expected March 1 2016
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 1/5

Lilywhite Abernathy is a criminal.

Her guilt lies in her DNA. Lily is half human, half fae, and since the time before she was born, a war has been raging between humans and faeries. The Queen of Blood and Rage, ruler of the fae courts, wants to avenge the tragic death of her heir—a death that was the fault of reckless humans.

Lily’s father has shielded her from the repercussions of her ancestry, but when she’s sent to the prestigious St. Columba’s school, she’s delivered straight into the arms of a fae sleeper cell --the Black Diamonds.

Mysterious, glamorous, and constantly at odds, the Diamonds are planted in the human world as the sons and daughters of the most influential families, and tasked with destroying it from within. Against her will, Lilywhite’s been chosen to join them … and even the romantic attention of the fae rock singer Creed Morrison isn’t enough to keep Lily from wanting to run back to the familiar world she knows.

Melissa Marr returns to faery in a dramatic story of the precarious space between two worlds and the people who must thrive there.

My issues with Seven Black Diamonds are numerous and summed up pretty easily: too slow, too confusing, too infodumpy, too predictable, too many POVs, too little depth to anything -- characters, world, magic systems, romantic relationships. I really liked the premise of this -- vaguely akin to Holly Black's Curseworker's series but more of a fantasy slant than supernatural -- however, what I found was a pale, shallow mess. 

Marr loves to write about the fey and I appreciated that this is at least pretty different from her first series. However, I have the same issues with her style. There is too much telling for me -- for a story with an important character named the Queen of Blood and Rage, I was oddly disinterested in and confused by the politics and lives in her court. When the story is not opaque, it is sadly predictable and unsurprising. There are too many POVs from too many indistinguishable characters.

Not for me, though the premise is intriguing and the potential is there. I just can't seem to sink into this author's brand of storytelling. I won't be continuing this series as it follows the open plotlines from Seven Black Diamonds.

February's DNFs

Saturday, February 27, 2016
Bluescreen by Dan Wells (Mirador #1)

Los Angeles in 2050 is a city of open doors, as long as you have the right connections. That connection is a djinni—a smart device implanted right in a person’s head. In a world where virtually everyone is online twenty-four hours a day, this connection is like oxygen—and a world like that presents plenty of opportunities for someone who knows how to manipulate it.

Marisa Carneseca is one of those people. She might spend her days in Mirador, the small, vibrant LA neighborhood where her family owns a restaurant, but she lives on the net—going to school, playing games, hanging out, or doing things of more questionable legality with her friends Sahara and Anja. And it’s Anja who first gets her hands on Bluescreen—a virtual drug that plugs right into a person’s djinni and delivers a massive, non-chemical, completely safe high. But in this city, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is, and Mari and her friends soon find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy that is much bigger than they ever suspected.

Dan Wells, author of the New York Times bestselling Partials Sequence, returns with a stunning new vision of the near future—a breathless cyber-thriller where privacy is the world’s most rare resource and nothing, not even the thoughts in our heads, is safe.

I wanted to like this for a couple reasons -- the author has some creative ideas in the past and it has a POC main character. The premise is great and the ideas are often original but the execution just didn't engage me at all. I just was way bored and uninterested; the details didn't seem to make sense to me and I didn't really feel anything about the book.  I gave it to 100 pages to hook me or make the world clearer and I felt as uninvolved there as I did on page 1.

Read: 100/352 pages

The Word for Yes by Claire Needell

After their parents’ divorce, Jan, Erika, and Melanie have to get used to the new world order: a father who’s moved to another continent and a mother who throws herself into moving on. Jan, off at her first semester of college, has plenty to worry about, including an outspoken roommate who’s kind of “out there” and an increasingly depressed and troubled long-distance boyfriend. Her younger sisters, left at home in New York City, and dealing with all the pressures of life in high school, aren’t exactly close. Erika is serious and feels awkward and uncomfortable in crowds, though her beauty tends to attract attention. Melanie is socially savvy and just wants to go out—to concerts, to parties, wherever—with her friends. The gap between all three girls widens as each day passes.

Then, at a party full of blurred lines and blurred memories, everything changes. Starting that night, where there should be words, there is only angry, scared silence.

And in the aftermath, Jan, Erika, and Melanie will have to work hard to reconnect and help one another heal.

At once touching and raw, Claire Needell’s first novel is an honest look at the love and conflicts among sisters and friends, and how these relationships can hold us together—and tear us apart.

There are a lot of things that set me off about The Word for Yes. There are too many POVs, not enough depth, and little to no emotional connection. For a novel that tries to talk about serious issues, the depiction of characters is too shallow, cliche, or harmfully stereotypical. Very disappointing.

Read: 100/256

Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor (Into the Dim #1)

When fragile, sixteen-year-old Hope Walton loses her mom to an earthquake overseas, her secluded world crumbles. Agreeing to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic, but also a member of a secret society of time travelers. 

Trapped in the twelfth century in the age of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hope has seventy-two hours to rescue her mother and get back to their own time. Along the way, her path collides with that of a mysterious boy who could be vital to her mission . . . or the key to Hope’s undoing.      Addictive, romantic, and rich with historical detail, Into the Dim is an Outlander for teens.

This was not for me because I found the first 115 pages to be dry, stilted, confusing, full of infodumps, plus a slur. I wanted to love this but the comparisons to Outlander ran too true --- that was another book that bored and annoyed me in equal turns (baa baa black sheep thy name is Jessie). I love time-slip fiction but this was far more Gabaldon's style than Kearsley's. I gave this a bit longer than I usually do for novels that fail to engage me, but I had to 100-page rule this at 115. (I admittedly skimmed the rest of the book but still won't be rating.)

Read: 115/skimmed the rest of 432 pages

A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes #1) by Brittany Cavallaro

 The last thing sixteen-year-old Jamie Watson–writer and great-great-grandson of the John Watson–wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s enigmatic, fiercely independent great-great-granddaughter, who’s inherited not just his genius but also his vices, volatile temperament, and expertly hidden vulnerability. Charlotte has been the object of his fascination for as long as he can remember–but from the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else.

Then a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Holmes stories, and Jamie and Charlotte become the prime suspects. Convinced they’re being framed, they must race against the police to conduct their own investigation. As danger mounts, it becomes clear that nowhere is safe and the only people they can trust are each other.

Equal parts tender, thrilling, and hilarious, A Study in Charlotte is the first in a trilogy brimming with wit and edge-of-the-seat suspense.

I wanted to love this but the story and characters failed to interest me. I can take or leave quirky characters on a case by case basis and Charlotte? Just didn't manage to really make me care about her or her quirks. However, I realize I am also a black sheep in the regard that all the Sherlock Holmes retellings that are coming out really fail to work for me, be they YA or adult in age. Which leads me right to our next....

Read: 120/336 pages

Art in the Blood by Bonnie MacBird

London. A snowy December, 1888. Sherlock Holmes, 34, is languishing and back on cocaine after a disastrous Ripper investigation. Watson can neither comfort nor rouse his friend – until a strangely encoded letter arrives from Paris.

Mlle La Victoire, a beautiful French cabaret star writes that her young son has vanished, and she has been attacked in the streets of Montmartre.

Racing to Paris with Watson at his side, Holmes discovers the missing child is only the tip of the iceberg of a much larger problem. The most valuable statue since the Winged Victory has been violently stolen in Marseilles, and several children from a silk mill in Lancashire have been found murdered. The clues in all three cases point to a single, untouchable man, an art collector seemingly beyond reach of the law.

Will Holmes recover in time to find the missing boy and stop a rising tide of murders? To do so he must stay one step ahead of a dangerous French rival and the threatening interference of his own brother, Mycroft.

This latest adventure, in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, sends the iconic duo from London to Paris and the icy wilds of Lancashire in a case which tests Watson's friendship and the fragility and gifts of Sherlock Holmes' own artistic nature to the limits.

I was wary of A Study in Charlotte early on, but I was so sure that this book would work for me. However, I found myself putting this down repeatedly over the four days I attempted to make my way through its 300 pages. This version of Sherlock has the brains but little personality because rude and small-minded. I get that he is not a people person but I have either be interested by or invested in some characters to care about the book. With this Sherlock and the lack of development in any other characters as well, I was out before 110 pages.

Read: 105/300

Backlist Review: An Apple for the Creature ed. Charlaine Harris, Toni L.P. Kelner

Friday, February 26, 2016
Title: An Apple for the Creature
Editor: Charlaine Harris, Toni L.P. Kelner
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Supernatural
Series: Sookie Stackhouse #12.5, Calliope Reaper-Jones #1.5, Kate Daniels #5.3, Jane Yellowrock #4.2,  Remy Chandler #5.5
Pages: 352
Published: September 4, 2012
Source: borrowed library
Rating: 3/5
What could be scarier than the first day of school? How about a crash course in the paranormal from Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner, editors of Home Improvement: Undead Edition? Your worst school nightmares—taking that math test you never studied for, finding yourself naked in school assembly, not knowing which door to enter—will pale in comparison to these thirteen original stories that take academic anxiety to whole new realms.

In #1 New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris’s story, "Playing Possum," Sookie Stackhouse brings enough birthday cupcakes for her nephew's entire class but finds she's one short when the angry ex-boyfriend of the school secretary shows up.

When her guardian, Kate Daniels, sends her undercover to a school for exceptional children, teenaged Julie learns an all-new definition of "exceptional," in New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews's "Magic Tests."

For those who like fangs with their forensics, New York Times bestselling author Nancy Holder offers "VSI," in which FBI agent Claire is tested as never before in a school for Vampire Scene Investigation.

And in New York Times bestselling author Thomas Sniegoski's "The Bad Hour," Remy Chandler and his dog Marlowe find evil unleashed in an obedience school.

You'll need more than an apple to stave off the creatures in these and nine other stories. Remember your first lesson: resistance is fruitless!

An Apple for the Creature is the fifth anthology collaboration between Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner. Even if you're not a big UF reader, I'm sure you've seen them. They have amusing titles and bright, attractive art that's always drawn me towards them. They're filled with big names in the fantasy and UF genres: Seanan McGuire, Ilona Andrews, even Brandon Sanderson.

Unfortunately, what they're not known for is great reviews.

Whether it's the anthology format or the odd prompts, these books never seem to reach beyond middling. I did pick this one up from the library specifically for "Magic Tests", but I decided to give it a full read through to see how such great authors can be involved in such mediocre scores.

Playing Possum by Charlaine Harris - ⭐️
Well here's the problem.

Look, I loved the first four Sookie books. I have positive feelings on 5 - 9. The less said about the conclusion of the series, the better, but I liked Charlaine's stories, including the short stories up until "Lucky" or "Gift Wrap".

Fuck this story.

Sookie has to take cupcakes to her nephew's school. The story acknowledges there's no reason for this, except to get Sookie into the location. She states, in the text that there's literally zero reason Remy or his girlfriend couldn't have brought them. Pointing out your plot holes is not the same as fixing them, Ms. Harris. Anyway, the school secretary's boyfriend goes crazy and shows up shooting. Sookie plays possum. Hunter's teacher turns out to be a witch. (Super convenient!) She stops the bad guy. Sookie lies on a floor.

I...why?! I know you hate your characters, Charlaine, but it's not interesting or fun or a good read. It's just a woman, lying on a floor, waiting for the cops to arrive.

Spellcaster 2.0 by Jonathan Maberry - ⭐️ 1/2
I almost kind of saw something in this plot. A group of anthropology students, under their hard-ass, fame-hungry professor, assemble a database of magical spells from ancient civilizations around the world, in an effort to create a master spell that may be able to show how linguistics and religion traveled across the globe.

Unfortunately, the main character is a pompous ass and the sub-plot about corporate sabotage didn't work for me. The real reason for the score, though, is after they succeed in accidentally summoning a demon, the story becomes obsessed with its religious message. I've read actual religious fiction that preached less and was certainly less insulting to atheists and agnostics. It's vastly unpleasant.

Academy Field Trip by Donald Harstad - ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2
Cool motive, still murder slut-shaming.

Sympathy for the Bones by Marjorie M. Liu - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
This story is a turning point for the collection. While I found the writing a little overstuffed, particularly in the first few pages of scene setting, the plot made up for my reservations.

An apprentice witch is forced to make voodoo dolls to kill, while her mistress keeps her captive though guilt, manipulation, and a doll of her own. It’s dark and unpleasant. Our character is asked to make a lot of tough decisions. She kills for her own gain. Yet she strives to break a cycle, so is it worth it? I enjoyed the ambiguity.

Low School by Rhys Bowen - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2
I actually think "Low School" has the best plot of all the stories in this collection. I’m just not sure about the execution.

It’s morning in high school. The narrator has forgotten her number two pencils. She’s directed to a classroom at the end of a hallway she never seems to reach. She’s regained all the weight she lost and is wearing hideous hand-me-down’s she thought she got rid of, when? She’s unprepared for an impossible exam and her pencil snaps in the middle of the final question.

Yo, I feel this. My go-to stress dream is a schedule I’ve forgotten, which is locked in a locker I don’t know the combination to, sends me to a math class I haven’t been attending, which is several stories up and on the other side of a school I can’t navigate. And I’m late. I’m thirty years old. Going back to high school is definitely my idea of hell.

Unfortunately, the eventual meeting with principal Lucy Fer, left me scratching my head. Am I supposed to root for the narrator, a shark lawyer who never put her family first and fought against environmental causes? Am I supposed to root for literal Satan, who tricked a 14 year old girl into selling her soul? Like, the narrator is told she’ll start every day without memory. Her response is to go to the library to study? Sure.

Callie Meet Happy by Amber Benson - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2
This is one of the few stories in the anthology that are explicitly linked to a larger series, and the only one that made me want to read that series. As a stand alone story, I’ve read better. It feels like a Marvel/DC crossover one-shot, except as far as I can tell, Happy only exists in this book? But I liked Callie. I loved the idea of Death as a corporation. It reminded me of Dead Like Me, though a bit more serious. So I enjoyed the story, even if it didn’t feel like it mattered if I read it or not.

Iphigenia in Aulis by Mike Carey - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
This is the story that was eventually reworked and expanded into The Girl With All the Gifts, AKA my favorite book ever. As such, I recognize this is not an objective rating. Seeing Carey’s revisions and changes was absolutely fascinating. I’d love to know the decision to swap Miss Mailer and Miss Justineau’s roles in the final story. The setting is moved from California to Carey’s native England. What made that choice? (It’s a good one, I think. London just lends itself to zombies.) And of course, the end is completely different, as Melanie and Sarge face off against scavengers together. Oh Sarge.

Golden Delicious by Faith Hunter - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Where "Callie Meet Happy" made me add the author’s series to my TBR, this story felt incomplete without existing knowledge of Hunter’s world, but didn’t encourage me to seek it out. A newly turned werewolf is accepted to a supernatural taskforce, where he works with another werewolf and a green catmonkey. Something something, angels, full moon, love interest, evil witches, demon. It’s fine but not memorable.

Magic Tests by Ilona Andrews - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Ahem. Following Julie’s latest expulsion, we finally get a story from her POV. Kate offers her a choice between two schools for magically inclined children, and as added incentive, sends her as an undercover operative to find a missing child at one. Julie’s arc has been her desire to prove to Kate that she’s adult and competent and amazing, (like all fourteen year old girls, with the added bonus of magic,) so a little challenge is all it takes to get her on campus.

Guys, Julie fights a demon wolf with a dragon. What did we do to deserve such good from Andrews?

An Introduction to Jewish Myth and Mysticism by Steve Hockensmith - N/R

Each story begins with a brief bio on the author, who they are, what they write, and why we should care what they say. Hockensmith chose to write as story specifically titled "An Introduction to Jewish Myth and Mysticism" and then chose to introduce himself as “a typical WASPy, Midwestern Goy.” He hopes he did a good job, you guys!

I don’t think white people should be banned from writing minorities, but literally everything about that bio made me nope right the fuck out. I didn’t read. I didn’t rate. I didn’t include my zero stars in the book’s average. We’re just going to pretend this...this this didn’t happen.

VSI by Nancy Holder - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
This is the third story in this book about FBI trainees catching supernatural creatures, and the second specifically about them catching vampires. It reads like X-Files fan fiction. It’s fine for what it is.

The Bad Hour by Thomas E. Sniegoski - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Personal preference, but I don’t read paranormal or UF based in Christianity. No Constantine, no Angelfall, not even Supernatural. So finding out the main character Remy is actually Ramiel, fallen angel? I was pretty solidly aboard the nope train.

And then I read he had the power to talk to his dog, Marlowe, and everything changed. Dogs are amazing. Talking dogs are better. A story about a ghost/evil spirit haunting an obedience school, giving MAXIMUM DOGGY SCREEN TIME is best. The villain was kind of silly, but I actually liked the writing. I would think about continuing the series if I saw it at my library.

Pirate Dave and the Captain's Ghost by Toni L.P. Kelner - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2
One of the sillier stories in the book and probably the one that plays loosest with the “school” idea.

Joyce is a werewolf. She’s also apparently the owner of a pirate theme park, along with her vampire husband, Pirate Dave. This hasn’t made her overly popular with the local packs, so Joyce enjoys status as a pack of one. Now the annual werewolf conference has arrived, and a lonely Joyce decides to join breakout sessions like, “hunting small woodland animals” and “here’s a ghost to tell you why vampires are bad.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, as a frequent conference attendee, that makes me laugh. What doesn’t is everything after Dave arrives to check up on her. Sexy times are totally cool, but these felt abrupt and forced. The mad scientist was a fine villain, but the important conflict all took place off screen. Joyce never got to seem like the cool, capable werewolf she was advertised as.

So there we go, thirteen stories from a wide range of UF authors featuring a good mixture of humor and thrills. A fair representation of all the creepies and crawlies the genre has to offer and the mean score is…!

3.2. Completely and totally average.


Book Blast: Banished by Kimberly Griffiths

Thursday, February 25, 2016
She thought she’d lost everything…

After spending months traveling the harsh, unforgiving Mesopotamian desert, Jayden reunites with a broken, injured Kadesh. Although everyone was convinced the violent and unpredictable Horeb, Jayden’s betrothed, killed the handsome prince, Jayden knew in her heart that her love was alive and safe. But their reunion is short-lived, as they learn Horeb is on their trail and determined to take back the girl he has claimed. Soon, the two star-crossed lovers are on the run toward Sariba, Kadesh’s homeland, where, as heir to the kingdom, he plans to make Jayden his princess.

But the trek to Sariba comes with heartache and danger. After narrowly escaping being stoned to death for a crime she didn’t commit, and learning that her sister has disappeared, Jayden’s only solace is her love for Kadesh. But even he is keeping secrets from her…secrets that will change everything.

This gorgeous and enchanting sequel to Forbidden is fraught with love, danger, and heated passion that will leave readers breathless.

Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Pages: 416
Series: Forbidden, Book #2
Genre: YA/Historical/Romance

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About the Author

Kimberley Griffiths Little was born in San Francisco, but now lives in New Mexico with her husband and their three sons.

For such award-winning middle grade novels as When the Butterflies Came, The Last Snake Runner, The Healing Spell, and Circle of Secrets, her writing has been praised as “fast-paced and dramatic,” with “characters painted in memorable detail” and “beautifully realized settings.”
Kimberley adores anything old and musty with a secret story to tell and makes way too many cookies while writing.

She’s stayed in the haunted tower room at Borthwick Castle in Scotland; sailed on the Seine in Paris; ridden a camel in Petra, Jordan; shopped the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul; and spent the night in an old Communist hotel in Bulgaria.

Awards: Southwest Book Award, Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel, Bank Street College Best Books of 2011 & 2014, Crystal Kite Finalist, and New Mexico Book Award Finalist.
For more information please visit Kimberly’s website

You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads or sign up for Kimberly’s Newsletter.



Two Minute Review: Lions in the Garden by Chelsea Luna

Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Title: Lions in the Garden
Author: Chelsea Luna
Genre: historical fiction
Series: The Uprising #1
Pages: 236
Published: expected March 1 2016
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 1.5/5

Prague, 1610

Ludmila Novakova--Mila--has barely set foot outside Prague Castle in her seventeen years. But with the choice between braving the bandits and wolves of Bohemia's uneasy roads or being married off to a disgusting old baron, she's taken what she can carry and fled.

Escape won't be easy. Even Mila has heard the rumors of a rebellion coming against the court. The peasants are hungry. The king hasn't been seen in months. Mila's father, the High Chancellor, is well known and well hated.

But Mila can't sit behind a stone wall and let fear force her into a life of silk gowns and certain misery. Her mother's death has taught her that much. She has one ally: Marc, the son of the blacksmith. A commoner, a Protestant--and perhaps a traitor, too. But the farther she gets from the castle, the more lies she uncovers, unraveling everything she thought she knew. And the harder it is to tell friend from enemy--and wrong from right . . .

Prague is such a fascinating city and the Kingdom of Bohemia in the 1600s is a very interesting time and place. Those two factors are a large part of the reasons I am so confused about why the author chose to ignore the atmosphere and history at her story's fingertips... and instead focused on bland characters acting out a predictable and tepid romance. Instead of creating a rich world to surround main characters Mila and Marc, Lions in the Garden spends far too much time focusing on the less appealing aspects to the story.


  • shallow, stagnant characters
  • predictable plotting
  • little to no historical detail besides basic Protestant vs. Catholics
  • instalove romance
  • uneven pacing

There is potential for the story to grow outside of the tropes it seems to follow so readily, as well as for Mila to become more of person and less of a cardboard cutout. The basics are in place but the execution felt stilted and kept the novel from real success. The plot of the novel has a lot of promise but the focus on the romance detracted from the strengths to Lions in the Garden. I wanted more depth and emotion but that was in short supply over these less than two hundred fifty pages.

Book Tour Review: In the Land of Armadillos by Helen Maryles Shankman

Friday, February 19, 2016
Title: In the Land of Armadillos
Author: Helen Maryles Shankman
Genre: historical fiction, magical realism
Series: N/A
Pages: 304
Published: February 2 2016
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

A radiant debut collection of linked stories from a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, set in a German-occupied town in Poland, where tales of myth and folklore meet the real-life monsters of the Nazi invasion.

1942. With the Nazi Party at the height of its power, the occupying army empties Poland’s towns and cities of their Jewish populations. As neighbor turns on neighbor and survival often demands unthinkable choices, Poland has become a moral quagmire—a place of shifting truths and blinding ambiguities.

Blending folklore and fact, Helen Maryles Shankman shows us the people of Wlodawa, a remote Polish town: we meet a cold-blooded SS officer dedicated to rescuing the creator of his son’s favorite picture book, even as he helps exterminate the artist’s friends and family; a Messiah who appears in a little boy’s bedroom to announce that he is quitting; a young Jewish girl who is hidden by the town’s most outspoken anti-Semite—and his talking dog. And walking among these tales are two unforgettable figures: the enigmatic and silver-tongued Willy Reinhart, Commandant of the forced labor camp who has grand schemes to protect “his” Jews, and Soroka, the Jewish saddlemaker and his family, struggling to survive.

Channeling the mythic magic of classic storytellers like Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer and the psychological acuity of modern-day masters like Nicole Krauss and Nathan Englander, In the Land of Armadillos is a testament to the persistence of humanity in the most inhuman conditions.

 "Sometimes a monster looks just like another other man." - p.117

Set in the small town of Wlodawa, Poland in 1942 In the Land of Armadillos is a collection of themed stories that are both historical fiction and magical realism. Using tradition folklore and mysticism, Shankman weaves the story of Wlodawa's Jewish population and that of two Nazis into a poetic, harrowing, humbling story of survival amongst the endless death and destruction that was the Nazi war machine. The stories are connected by tragedy and by the characters that pop up in a few (Haas, Pavel), or in all of them (Soroka, Reinhardt) but each is starkly unique and developed.

Some of these stories top more than fifty pages (the eponymous first story, A Decent Man), some are less than twenty. But no matter the length, each packs an emotional punch that resonates.  No matter the viewpoint -- be it third person or first -- Shankman's prose reads easily and lyrically. It's a stark contrast between her writing and the content; a juxtaposition that is surely intended. Using the magical realism angle was unexpected but it well with the themes and stories that the author created. Golems, werewolves, Messiahs -- all come to brief life under the author's talented pen. Though the book is filled with sadness and the fact that the atrocities in Wlodawa are based in fact, the truly harrowing part of reading In the Land of the Armadillos are the ways it reflects modern life, 74 years after these horrific events occurred. 

This is a book that will stick with me and one I will continue to think about long after I have finished it and moved onto something different. It was a multi-faceted look at one of history's darkest times. Shankman didn't shy away from the atrocities committed but she didn't neglect the unexpected heroism, the small acts of revolts, the tiny attempts to slow the tide of blood. The spots of brightness in In the Land of Armadillos are hard-won and authentic. The modern epilogue is fitting and open-ended, leaving readers a chance to imagine how Lukas and Julia will take their histories into their futures. With this thoughtful, honest novel, Shankman again impresses.

Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, February 2
Review at Worth Getting in Bed For

Wednesday, February 3
Spotlight at Library Educated
Spotlight & Giveaway at It’s a Mad Mad World

Thursday, February 4
Review at A Chick Who Reads

Friday, February 5
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Literary Vacation

Monday, February 8
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Tuesday, February 9
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Wednesday, February 10
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Thursday, February 11
Review at I’m Shelfish

Monday, February 15
Review at Back Porchervations

Tuesday, February 16
Guest Post at The Lit Bitch

Wednesday, February 17
Review at Cynthia Robertson’s Blog

Friday, February 19
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Book Tour Review: Remembrance by Meg Cabot

Thursday, February 18, 2016
Title: Remembrance
Author: Meg Cabot
Genre: supernatural
Series: The Mediator #7
Pages: 388
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 3/5

Fifteen years after the release of the first Mediator novel, #1 New York Times bestselling author Meg Cabot returns with a deliciously sexy new entry to a fan-favorite series. Suze Simon—all grown up and engaged to her once-ghostly soulmate—faces a vengeful spirit and an old enemy bent on ending Suze's wedded bliss before it begins.

You can take the boy out of the darkness.

But you can’t take the darkness out of the boy.

All Susannah Simon wants is to make a good impression at her first job since graduating from college (and since becoming engaged to Dr. Jesse de Silva).

But when she’s hired as a guidance counselor at her alma mater, she stumbles across a decade-old murder, and soon ancient history isn’t all that’s coming back to haunt her. Old ghosts as well as new ones are coming out of the woodwork, some to test her, some to vex her, and it isn’t only because she’s a mediator, gifted with second sight.

From a sophomore haunted by the murderous specter of a child, to ghosts of a very different kind—including Paul Slater, Suze’s ex, who shows up to make a bargain Suze is certain must have come from the Devil himself—Suze isn’t sure she’ll make it through the semester, let alone to her wedding night.

Suze is used to striking first and asking questions later. But what happens when ghosts from her past—including one she found nearly impossible to resist—strike first?

What happens when old ghosts come back to haunt you?

If you’re a mediator, you might have to kick a little ass.

It's  been a few years since I marathoned the first six of the Mediator novels, but when I heard Suze Simon was coming back in an adult novel, I was ready to dive into whatever mayhem and paranormal weirdness she had to deal with. Remembrance was, in a lot of ways, a return to form for the sarcastic mediator; there are ghosts and mysteries and lots of sexual tension between Jesse and Suze. However,  I can't say that Remembrance is a perfect novel; the plot is unfortunately flimsy and hinges on one of my least favorite plot devices, and Suze... well, I had issues with her, too, sadly enough. Overall, this wasn't bad but it's definitely a "damn with faint praise" kind of return to my favorite Cabot series.

Suze's voice is as Suze as ever, but with more of an edge now that she's left her teens and is figuring out how to be an adult (hint: lots of wine and cussing. My kinda gal.) However, Suze is often very frustrating throughout this book. She makes dumb decisions for dumb reasons and then doubles down on those decisions when given the opportunity to fix them. It is impossible to protect or help someone when you keep them totally in the dark, especially if they are the person at risk. For that reason the entire "you can take the boy  out of the darkness" plotline fails pretty spectacularly for me as a reader. Failing to communicate as a means to foster plot porgression is a lazy way to create tension between characters. I hate it in YA and I hate it here, too. 

The supernatural plotline holds together much better than its mundane counterpart. Probably because Suze is at her best when she is kicking ass and stomping around in her prized boots. When she wasn't losing her brain over "dealing" with Paul's frankly disgusting "bargain", Suze was much more in the spirit of her teen self. The overall conclusion to Lucia's story felt somewhat pat and easy, but it fit within the story and was handled much better than the Paul plot. Paul remains a one-note villain, easy to hate, easy to forget. The only characters with any real life in this are those of Suze and Jesse. Gina, CeeCee, Debbie, David, etc. all feel pretty one-dimensional, as well. I expected more from Cabot, especially with this beloved crew of friends.

I wanted to love this novel but sadly Remembrance and I are destined to remain just friends. It wasn't a hard read but it just felt so flimsy, and thus so unnecessary. There were moments of humor and a good twist or two to commend it but not enough to leverage more than 3 stars. There were no real emotions while reading the majority of the pages; the closest I got was the final chapters and that was expected because it had six and a half books of buildup to create those feelings. The plotlines that were introduced here were not fully concluded and still manage to feel forgettable and unimaginative. I did like the book for the most part, but it was a wholly average read.

Meg’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, February 2nd: Read-Love-Blog
Wednesday, February 3rd: Curling Up by the Fire
Thursday, February 4th: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
Friday, February 5th: In Bed with Books
Monday, February 8th: Reading to Distraction
Tuesday, February 9th: Palmer’s Page Turners
Monday, February 15th: Books and Bindings
Tuesday, February 16th: Books That Hook
Wednesday, February 17th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, February 18th: Ageless Pages Reviews
Monday, February 22nd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, February 23rd: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Thursday, February 25th: Doing Dewey
Friday, February 26th: Priscilla and Her Books

Book Blast + Giveaway for The Vatican Princess by C.W. Gortner

For fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, a gripping novel that follows the extraordinary life of young Lucrezia Borgia, the legendary Renaissance Pope Alexander’s beautiful daughter. Was she the heartless seductress of legend? Or merely an unsuspecting pawn in a familial web, forced to choose between loyalty and her own survival?

Glamorous and predatory, the Borgias became Italy’s most ruthless and powerful family, electrifying and terrorizing their 15th-century Renaissance world.

To this day, Lucrezia Borgia is known as one of history’s most notorious villainesses, accused of incest and luring men to doom with her arsenal of poison.

International bestselling author C.W. Gortner’s new novel delves beyond the myth to depict Lucrezia in her own voice, from her pampered childhood in the palaces of Rome to her ill-fated, scandalous arranged marriages and complex relationship with her adored father and her rival brothers—brutal Juan and enigmatic Cesare.

This is the dramatic, untold story of a papal princess who came of age in an era of savage intrigue and unparalleled splendor, and whose courage led her to overcome the fate imposed on her by her Borgia blood.

Publication Date: February 9, 2016
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Format: Hardcover, Ebook, Audiobook
Pages: 400
Genre: Historical Fiction
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“Assiduously researched and expertly crafted . . . . This unholy plunge into Rome’s darkest dynasty is wholly engrossing.” – Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author

“A spider web of Renaissance intrigue with a legendary cast . . . Impressive research, a lush background, and deft characterization make for a fascinating read.” – Margaret George, New York Times bestselling author

“Elegantly written and deeply researched . . . Renaissance Italy is vividly brought to life. I’m captivated by this knowledgeable author’s take on the controversial Borgias.” – Alison Weir, NYT bestselling author

About the Author

C.W. GORTNER holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New College of California, as well as an AA from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco.

After an eleven year-long career in fashion, during which he worked as a vintage retail buyer, freelance publicist, and fashion show coordinator, C.W. devoted the next twelve years to the public health sector. In 2012, he became a full-time writer following the international success of his novels.

In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard at Hampton Court, learned about organic gardening at Chenoceaux, and spent a chilly night in a ruined Spanish castle. His books have garnered widespread acclaim and been translated into twenty-one languages to date, with over 400,000 copies sold. A sought-after public speaker. C.W. has given keynote addresses at writer conferences in the US and abroad. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights, in particular companion animal rescue to reduce shelter overcrowding.
Half-Spanish by birth and raised in southern Spain, C.W. now lives in Northern California with his partner and two very spoiled rescue cats.

For more information visit C.W. Gortner’s website and blog. You can also find him on Facebook, Twittter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and YouTube. Sign up for C.W. Gortner’s Newsletter for updates.

Book Blast Schedule

Tuesday, February 9

Wednesday, February 10

Thursday, February 11

Friday, February 12

Saturday, February 13

Sunday, February 14

Monday, February 15

Tuesday, February 16

Wednesday, February 17

Thursday, February 18

Friday, February 19

Saturday, February 20

Sunday, February 21

Monday, February 22

Tuesday, February 23


Review: So Sweet by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Author: Rebekah Weatherspoon
Genre: Romance
Series: Sugar Babies #1
Pages: 100
Published: September 29, 2015
Source: purchased
Rating: 4/5

Desperate times call for desperate measures...

And desperate is the only way to describe Kayla Davis's current situation. Out of work and almost out of money to cover her bills, Kayla finally caves to her roommate's nagging and follows her to Arrangements, an online dating site that matches pretty young women with older men of a certain tax bracket.

Convinced this "make-rent-quick" scheme will surely fail—or saddle her with an 80 year old boyfriend—Kayla is shocked when Michael Bradbury, Internet billionaire and stone-cold salt and pepper fox, offers her a solution to all her financial troubles.
It's hard enough for Kayla to accept his generosity, but what's a girl to do when the wealthiest man she's ever met is a dream in and outside of the bedroom?

20 more pages and this would be a five star novella.

Kayla Davis is about to be evicted. She and her roommate are both out of work. The job hunt is going no where. Neither of their parents can float them. Adler, who had previous luck as a sugar baby in college, suggests that they both sign up for Arrangements, the dating site version of Megan Wants a Millionaire. Kayla's not particularly interested, but after a few days agrees to check out a mixer - just in case.

I immediately loved Kayla. She's not what I think of when I think "billionaire romance". It's not just that she's a curvy woman or that she's black, though hallelujah. She's an adult. She's had sex and knows what she likes. She's not opposed to sex-work and supports Adler's decision, but knows it's not a good gig for her because she "catches feelings". There's no wringing of hands and worrying, "oh does he like me, like me?" She's upfront with Michael about what she wants and makes no apologies for it, which is of course what draws him to her.

Michael is a babe. He's the CEO of the company that owns Arrangements, with irons in a lot of fires. After chatting at the mixer, his idea of a first date is to take Kayla on his plane to NYC to see him work, to see if she can deal with meetings from 6a to 11p. And she does. This isn't a book where the girl is jealous of the guy's work schedule. Micheal talks to Kayla every step of the way. He's not condescending, but he checks in. He asks if it's ok to take her hand. He never pushes for sex. He's not controlling. (He does over-step on the rent payment, but never again after Kay tells him off.)

The sex scenes are amazing, and a little more risque than usual, incorporating toys and anal as the relationship progresses and the characters become more comfortable. The writing isn't super graphic, fitting with the story's relatively fluffy tone, but it's nice to see variety in every encounter. More so than the sex is the connection the characters share from the word go. They're crazy about each other.

As I said, I do wish the book was a hair longer. The antagonist's motives come through ok, but I wish there had been even one more scene to flesh out the reasoning and the consequences. Highlight for spoilers: When Daniella says Kayla's always excusing Adler's behavior, I felt surprised. She hadn't acted great at the party, but this seemed to indicate a pattern that we didn't know about and might have explained more. Was she always jealous of Kayla in school? Does she always try to take people's boyfriends? I wasn't even sure Daniella and Adler knew each other before the party. I also thought it was a little clumsy the way Kay, Daniella, and Gordo's sexualities were mentioned. I found the line, "We always joked that we made up three sides of the perfect rainbow triangle; me being black and bisexual, Gordo being Mexican and gay, and Daniella being Afro-Cuban and transgender," clunky. Daniella's beta romance was nice though and I'd like to see more of Duke in the future.

In all, this novella was exactly what I wanted after a bad day. It's cute, sexy, and funny. Kayla is a dream and Michael is amazing and Holger is a mohawked, tattooed, German butler. That last part isn't really relevant, but yes it is, because it proves this book is the best. Romance readers, I command you to buy this one.

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