Jessie's November Recap

Wednesday, November 30, 2016
So it's almost December; somehow that seems way too soon and way too long in coming. 2016 is ending, and I think we can all say we are more than ready to say goodbye to the shitshow that was November 2016. I had my birthday on the 3rd... but things steadily went to hell soon after.

So we're gonna wrap up November, and head into December with clear eyes and determination. I'm ready for a new month (and soon, a new year) but I am by no means done fighting ... basically everything that happened in November 2016.

Books Read: 29

Notable Favorites:
Blackbringer by Laini Taylor (Dreamdark #1)
Silksinger by Laini Taylor (Dreamdark #2)
The Shadow Hour by Melissa Grey (The Girl at Midnight #2)
Resonance by Erica O'Rouke (Dissonance #2)
Bad Boy by Elliot Wake

Reviews Posted: 
Two Minute Review: Of Fire and Stars by Aurey Coulthurst
Backlist Review: Because You'll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas
Ever the Hunted by Erin Summerill
The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams (The Copper Cat #2)
Series Review: Noctis Magicae by Sylvia Izzo Hunter (#1-#3)
Two Minute Review: The Romantics by Leah Konen
The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen (Tearling #3)
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco (The Bone Witch #1)
Series Review: The Dagger and the Coin by Daniel Abraham (#1-#5)
The Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May (The Falconer #2)
Two Minute DNF Reviews

Fun Stuff:
Top Ten Villains Take Two
My 5-Year Plan
Top Ten Recent TBR Additions

Book Tags:
Dani & Jessie's Coffee Book Tag
Dani & Jessie's Inside Out Book Tag
Top Ten Things We Are Grateful for in 2016

Bookstagram of the Month:


Aaaand that's a wrap for me!

Two Minute DNF Reviews

Tuesday, November 29, 2016
So here we are, another month, another mix of old and new titles that did not work for me as a reader, for one reason or another. I am trying to clear my shelves -- both physical and electronic -- of old ARCs before 2017 is here.

Hysteria by Megan Miranda

Mallory killed her boyfriend, Brian. She can't remember the details of that night but everyone knows it was self-defense, so she isn't charged. But Mallory still feels Brian's presence in her life. Is it all in her head? Or is it something more? In desperate need of a fresh start, Mallory is sent to Monroe, a fancy prep school where no one knows her . . . or anything about her past.But the feeling follows her, as do her secrets. Then, one of her new classmates turns up dead. As suspicion falls on Mallory, she must find a way to remember the details of both deadly nights so she can prove her innocence-to herself and others.

In another riveting tale of life and death, Megan Miranda's masterful storytelling brings readers along for a ride to the edge of sanity and back again.

Hysteria is best summed up succinctly: a lot of premise backed up by very little actual substance. Miranda has written several effective, creepy YA thrillers before, which is why it's a shame that this one is so dull and so generic.  Nothing really happens until about 250 pages, and with an unreliable narrator so predictable, there was less reason to care or keep reading.

Read: 260/365 pages

Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells (Emilie #1)

While running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry, landing her on the wrong ship and at the beginning of a fantastic adventure.

Taken under the protection of Lady Marlende, Emilie learns that the crew hopes to use the aether currents and an experimental engine, and with the assistance of Lord Engal, journey to the interior of the planet in search of Marlende’s missing father.

With the ship damaged on arrival, they attempt to traverse the strange lands on their quest. But when evidence points to sabotage and they encounter the treacherous Lord Ivers, along with the strange race of the sea-lands, Emilie has to make some challenging decisions and take daring action if they are ever to reach the surface world again.

This story and its main character both just skewed too young for me. I am a picky reader when it comes to MG books in particular and this did nothing to inspire my engagement or my emotions. It's not a bad book - the premise is intriguing - but it's just not one for me. Especially because this is launching a series I wouldn't want to commit myself to reading.

Read: 105/287 pages

Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith

A high-concept, fantastical espionage novel set in a world where dreams are the ultimate form of political intelligence.

Livia is a dreamstrider. She can inhabit a subject's body while they are sleeping and, for a short time, move around in their skin. She uses her talent to work as a spy for the Barstadt Empire. But her partner, Brandt, has lately become distant, and when Marez comes to join their team from a neighborhing kingdom, he offers Livia the option of a life she had never dared to imagine. Livia knows of no other dreamstriders who have survived the pull of Nightmare. So only she understands the stakes when a plot against the Empire emerges that threatens to consume both the dreaming world and the waking one with misery and rage.

A richly conceived world full of political intrigue and fantastical dream sequences, at its heart Dreamstrider is about a girl who is struggling to live up to the potential before her.

I have a common issue with nearly all of Smith's books -- I love the premise behind them but the find the execution of each to ....not completely work. Most of the time I can at least read to the finish and like the story (though none have exceeded 3.5/5 stars). Early on, however, this was gathering less positive reactions than her previous books. I just didn't have the energy to force myself to read a book I won't remember or just doesn't work for me.

Read: 85/394 pages

A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody

 When I made the wish, I just wanted a do-over. Another chance to make things right. I never, in a million years, thought it might actually come true... 

Sixteen-year-old Ellison Sparks is having a serious case of the Mondays. She gets a ticket for running a red light, she manages to take the world’s worst school picture, she bombs softball try-outs and her class election speech (note to self: never trust a cheerleader when she swears there are no nuts in her bake-sale banana bread), and to top it all off, Tristan, her gorgeous rocker boyfriend suddenly dumps her. For no good reason!

As far as Mondays go, it doesn’t get much worse than this. And Ellie is positive that if she could just do it all over again, she would get it right. So when she wakes up the next morning to find she’s reliving the exact same day, she knows what she has to do: stop her boyfriend from breaking up with her. But it seems no matter how many do-overs she gets or how hard Ellie tries to repair her relationship, Tristan always seems bent set on ending it. Will Ellie ever figure out how to fix this broken day? Or will she be stuck in this nightmare of a Monday forever?

From the author of 52 Reasons to Hate My Father and The Unremembered trilogy comes a hilarious and heartwarming story about second (and third and fourth and fifth) chances. Because sometimes it takes a whole week of Mondays to figure out what you really want.

This is another author whose previous books did not work for me and who I now know to avoid in the future. I was not a fan of Unremembered and a lot of my issues with that book crop up again here. A Week of Mondays is waay too long, way too drawn out, and way too easily predicted.

Read: 150/464 pages

Roseblood by A.G. Howard

In this modern day spin on Leroux’s gothic tale of unrequited love turned to madness, seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a mysterious affliction linked to her operatic talent, and a horrifying mistake she’s trying to hide. Hoping creative direction will help her, Rune’s mother sends her to a French arts conservatory for her senior year, located in an opera house rumored to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera.

At RoseBlood, Rune secretly befriends the masked Thorn—an elusive violinist who not only guides her musical transformation through dreams that seem more real than reality itself, but somehow knows who she is behind her own masks. As the two discover an otherworldly connection and a soul-deep romance blossoms, Thorn’s dark agenda comes to light and he’s forced to make a deadly choice: lead Rune to her destruction, or face the wrath of the phantom who has haunted the opera house for a century, and is the only father he’s ever known.

"Modern-day spin" apparently means "barebones retelling an full of tired YA cliches and stereotypes." My patience wore thin through the first few chapters. This is just such a tired retread of so many YA books before it; A.G. Howard has creative ideas but her books themselves are either problematic or boring. There's no spark, no individuality and I did not caaaaare.

 Read: 85/432

Review: The Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May

Monday, November 28, 2016
Title: The Vanishing Throne
Author: Elizabeth May
Genre: historical fiction, steampunk, supernatural
Series: The Falconer #2
Pages: 458
Published: June 2016
Source: purchased
Rating: 4.5/5

Everything she loved is gone.

Trapped. Aileana Kameron, the Falconer, disappeared through the fae portal she was trying to close forever. Now she wakes in an alien world of mirrors, magic, and deception—a prisoner of the evil fae Lonnrach, who has a desperate and deadly plan for his new captive.

Tortured. Time after agonizing time Lonnrach steals Aileana’s memories, searching for knowledge to save his world. Just when she’s about to lose all hope, Aileana is rescued by an unexpected ally and returns home, only to confront a terrifying truth. The city of Edinburgh is now an unrecognizable wasteland. And Aileana knows the devastation is all her fault.

Transformed. The few human survivors are living in an underground colony, in an uneasy truce with a remnant of the fae. It is a fragile alliance, but an even greater danger awaits: the human and fae worlds may disappear forever. Only Aileana can save both worlds, but in order to do so she must awaken her latent Falconer powers. And the price of doing so might be her life…

Main character and flawed person, Aileana Kameron has faced all kinds of foes in her journey to become the Falconer; a journey that is far from over. She's fought society itself and monsters of all kinds to save the world and has come out the worse for it. The Vanishing Throne picks up right where book one left off and is darker than its predecessor, which wasn't exactly a lighthearted fantasy. It is a harsh and unpredictable book, chronicling the next stage of Elizabeth May's fae/steampunk trilogy. Grim in tone and darker in plot, Aileana is up against more than just the evil Lonnrach and the treacherous Sorcha as the stakes are renewed at an even deeper cost.

Aileana has always had to wrestle personal demons as well as those of the fae kind, first in in her march for vengeance/self-forgiveness and again here in her rush to protect in the fallout. Her past is a hard one, with few friends and even less family around and willing to support her. That's why the few companions she does hold dear matter so much to her: especially Catherine, Derek, and Kiaran. Aileana would go to impossible lengths to save those she loves and it's one of her best and worst qualities. The relationships between the intertwined group of characters grow and evolve -- and not always in a positive manner. Actions taken in The Falconer have consequences and even those Aileana loves the most will feel their bonds tested in the The Vanishing Throne

As I was before, I remain impressed and intrigued by the version of the world Elizabeth May is creating and revealing with her trilogy. The history and lore of the fairy folk in Scotland is well-known, but the author is a clever and original one and it shows. This take on the fae is filled with an intelligent menace and anger, with a few well-loved exceptions. The worldbuilding is expanded here, as is the general history of the fae, and how the Falconer line came to be. May keeps a lot of elements in play while slowly unspooling her story, but the narrative is strong and engaging. The spin on fairy mythology that the author has created is unique and creates more interest in and possibilities for Aileana's story.

The stakes are higher for Aileana in The Vanishing Throne than she ever imagined they would be in The Falconer; the world is more complicated and the story more rich. Her own life has irrevocably changed, her friends and allies are scattered from her, and her world is in grave and present danger. Faced with these odds, Aileana doesn't give in; she still fights. Her story isn't completely action-packed battle scenes, but her mental struggles are as important as the brawls she wages against Lonnrach and his cronies. May shows the psychological damage wrought by violence, revenge, and torture in an honest and real way, without making Aileana feel or be defined as a victim.

The romance between Aileana and Kiaran deepens throughout the novel, but like everything else, it is tested. Both of these headstrong characters change and evolve in their fight against Lonnrach, and a central conflict between the two of them, given more life here than before, is long in coming and undeniable in its nature. Kiaran's past/present as the Unseelie King is a new challenge for their relationship. That nailbiting cliffhanger ends The Vanishing Throne and is  one of many problems for Aileana to tackle in the forthcoming and final book in the trilogy, The Fallen Kingdom.

Additional-must-be-mentioned faves: Aithinne, kissing scenes, Derek on honey.

Series Review: The Dagger and the Coin by Daniel Abraham

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Genre: fantasy
Series: The Dagger and the Coin #1 - #5
TDP: 555
TKB: 501
TTL: 497
TWH: 495
TSW: 492
Source: all purchased

All paths lead to war...

Marcus' hero days are behind him. He knows too well that even the smallest war still means somebody's death. When his men are impressed into a doomed army, staying out of a battle he wants no part of requires some unorthodox steps.

Cithrin is an orphan, ward of a banking house. Her job is to smuggle a nation's wealth across a war zone, hiding the gold from both sides. She knows the secret life of commerce like a second language, but the strategies of trade will not defend her from swords.

Geder, sole scion of a noble house, has more interest in philosophy than in swordplay. A poor excuse for a soldier, he is a pawn in these games. No one can predict what he will become.

Falling pebbles can start a landslide. A spat between the Free Cities and the Severed Throne is spiraling out of control. A new player rises from the depths of history, fanning the flames that will sweep the entire region onto The Dragon's Path-the path to war.

I am going to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, and when not the spoilers will be whited out inside parentheses. (Like so, for an example.)

The Dagger and Coin spans five books, thousands of pages, and contains a rather large cast of characters from heroines to antiheroes to the truly vile. It can seem an intimidating series to start, but Abraham has a steady hand on the wheel for all five books in his WWII-inspired fantasy world. Even when the series seems to be headed along a certain path, there are plenty of twists, turns and creative ideas to keep veteran readers engaged and surprised. If the story can seem too large in scope at the start, the author's vision is far-reaching and capable. 

The first two novels make for an impressive if occasionally uneven introduction to the fictional world and the invented races. The worldbuilding shown is little more sparse than I'd like to see for the first book especially, but what is provided is intriguing enough to lead to questions and hunger for information and more books in the series. Another positive for the series is that this isn't just a pseudo-Europe setting. The second book somewhat meanders around but the seeds of Geder Palliako's arc are really established here. He grows from in menace and The King's Blood also sets the stage for book three, The Tyrant's Law, in a really unexpected way.

Daniel Abraham is consistently clever in his approach to his 5-book series. He does some new things and plays with new spins on old genre ideas and tropes, and that extends to both character and plot. Over the course of these many books, I grew to care about nearly all involved. There were of course favorites in the multitudes: Marcus Wester and Clara Kalliam. One is somewhat of a genre trope and the other is a complete surprise; not many fantasies feature the POV of a middle-aged married noblewoman (who also gets a romance with a younger man once widowed and also LEADS THE RESISTANCE). But Clara is much more than a wife and mother, as Marcus is much more than the washed-up mercenary he appears.

So many epic fantasies seem to base their premises along the same familiar lines. And while war, injustice, prejudice and strife are key themes to all the Dagger and the Coin novels there's also the addition of Cithrin Bell Sarcour's unique plot arc. I really love that one of these books' main and important POVs is an (rogue) underage female banker who uses math and economics to fight against the forces of her enemies. It's unexpected and Daniel Abraham makes it work so well and without infodumping or sounding like an AP economics class. Cithrin's role is pivotal in all the novels; as an individual with agency, as a catalyst for others -- both good and bad. But Cithrin is a great element of the story; she mixes up the scenery and the plot and the stakes, and she does it smartly.

The way religion and magic are used in all five book is another strong and original aspect to this series. Abraham intertwines the two and creates a compelling, threatening secondary antagonistic force besides/with Geder Palliako. The Spider Priests abilities and culture is unique to Abraham's imagination and presents a very real, very hard to fight evil arrayed against the heroes (and antiheroes).

The author has impressed me with these five books. They are consistent and inventive and like to turn expected fantasy tropes on their head (I will never forget the "let's just kill the goddess and we will be saved!" plot twist. Brilliant and unexpected ploy to spin that trope). The best of the characters include a teenage girl who fights through bank loans, a widowed and badass (former) baroness (who now spies and plots while marching with armies), and a mercenary captain who's (killed kings, controls the last dragon in existence), and is waiting for his second-in-command to rise up and steal the company.The main human villain is spoiled, self-indulgent manchild who invaded several countries because a woman rejected him and he lucked into power. Because he was laughed at, or felt confused. Basically...he's an MRA/Trump in a fantasy world and he is CHILLING in his echoes of real humanity.

Also, The Dagger and the Coin one of the few series with no sexual abuse on the page. A fantasy series with no rape is so refreshing and so sadly hard to find. There's still plenty of grim and darkness to be found in its pages -- after all, this is inspired our real world's horrors in WWII. Every book was good, entertaining and complete in itself. There were three four stars, sole three and a half star - with the series last offering being its best and highest rated at 5 out of 5 stars.

Review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Friday, November 25, 2016
Title: The Bone Witch
Author: Rin Chupeco
Genre: fantasy
Series: The Bone Witch #1
Pages: 400
Published: expected March 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha — one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

Memoirs of a Geisha meets The Name of the Wind in this brilliant new fantasy series by Rin Chupeco!

If you were a fan of the two titles mentioned in the blurb, you're going to find the comparisons to The Bone Witch very accurate and intriguing. There is a lot of similarity between Rin Chupeco's new fantasy and the published works of Arthur Golden and Patrick Rothfuss; The Bone Witch blends themes and ideas from both novels fairly well. There's also death-magic and undead brothers and plenty of betrayal and mystery to keep things moving. Using a narrative frame of a story-within-a-story, the author tackles the past and the present of Tea, the eponymous bone witch.

When I say that The Bone Witch reminded me of Memoirs of a Geisha while reading its 400 pages, I mean that at times, it was very, very like the latter. There are more than a few instances of it, but in particular there's a scene in Memoirs where an older, rival geisha tricks the naive main character into wearing someone else's kimono at a party she shouldn't be attending -- in attempt to harm the girl, or even get her cast out for the shame and stealing. The exact same scenario plays out in The Bone Witch for Tea -- just in the clothes and terms of Chupeco's world. It was a bit too similar for me and jolted me right out of the newer story.

Moving along from the similarities to other books, The Bone Witch takes place in a fantasy world where various women, called ashas, work elemental magic of all kinds. I loved the variety of ideas and the imagination that went into crafting this fantasy and its supernatural possibilities, but a tendency to overdescription can kill the plot's momentum.  Switching between the third-person narration of Tea's story when she was young and her current status (dictating to a bard, a la The Name of the Wind's Kvothe and Chronicler), where Tea converses in a 2nd-person narration, Chupeco creates a real sense of history and personality. I liked the complexity that the author brought to her story; there are layers to uncover and piece together as the story deepens and Tea's past catches up to her future. 

Though not without issues, there was more that I enjoyed about this book than I disliked. Tea's personal evolution as she grows up is believable and natural; her authentic relationship with her brother anchors the story; the magic is unique and interesting (heartglass! ashas! monsters!); the social commentary on patriarchy and masculinity, etc. The Bone Witch is a detailed fantasy story and interesting launchpoint for the rest of the series.


Top Ten Things We Are Grateful For in 2016

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday is all thanks to Broke and the Bookish!
It's been a rough month for everyone. It is not exactly the easiest thing to sit and think of the good things in life  right now, but I think that makes it important to do so.
So, that we remember, despite the terribleness working its way down and through the world, there are the lights in the dark. 

Jessie's Picks:

This is way less book-oriented than usual, but that's where my headspace is these days.

1. Books!

Books teach empathy, compassion, and how to consider another's POV and experiences. They are also just plain fun and can distrac me when I most need it. (I said less book-oriented, not book-free.)

2. The online bookish community

I've learned more about feminism/diversity/publishing, been exposed to more about the same than I ever imagined thanks to the funny, smart, honest people online, especially twitter. I am endlessly grateful to the (largely female) writers/agents/activists who put in the time, day after day, especially W/PoC.

3. Family

Both found and related, family is helping me deal with the state of things. I know not everyone is so lucky, but finding your people (which, for me is bookish community + fam) is a bulwark against the bad stuff.

4. Independent and nonprofit journalists

Being informed of what is really happening to our country and government remains key and increasingly hard to do. So for those who hunt down the stories, follow them to the often-dismissed ends, thank you. 

5. Immigrants

They've/you've/we've given this country so much of what makes it already great.

Dani's Picks:

1. My bookish friends

I know this season has been pretty garbage for us all and I don't know if I would have been able to handle some real-life crap without Jessie, Bekka, Angie, Gillian, or the dozen others who have become my best friends.

2. Authors

The ones who inspire my mind and allow me to travel away. The ones who are out there educating and fighting. The ones writing own voices. Thank you. 

3. My Job

It's high stress and 50+ hours a week, but I can't overstate the value of financial stability. Beyond that, it lets me pursue this hobby and gives me time off to drive out to Meg's gravina at the drop of a hat.

4. Planned Parenthood

Shoutout to PP for all they do, including the sterilization services I have been trying for years to gain through other channels.

5. Those who came before.

Civil rights leaders, suffragettes, Marsha Johnson and the Stonewall rioters. Now it's our turn.

Lessons from a First Time Nora Roberts Reader

Monday, November 21, 2016
Hello ducklings, this is a bit of a new format for APR as I'm combining a discussion with mini-reviews of three very different books by one author.

I've commented a few times on how I became a romance reader late in life. My grandmother is a die hard Danielle Steel/Nora Roberts/Luanne Rice reader. She lived with us for the summers of the first ten years of my life and those years revolved around weekly sojourns to the public library for six Babysitters' Club books for me and three thick romantic-y women's lits for her. Unfortunately, my grandfather also lived with us. There's a lot to unpack in regards to my love for him despite his racism and sexism and this certainly isn't the place, but suffice to say I grew up with my grandmother loving romance while everyone around her disparaged it. So while I've come to adore the traditional romance formula - they of the 350 pages, two to four sex scenes, one big mis, and a HEA - I never dove into their longer, thicker brethren of my youth.

Until now. And that's where my confession comes in, ducklings. I didn't know who was buying them all, but no one really reads Nora Roberts - definitely not me and my fellow millennials. NR was for old people who probably couldn't accept the 80s are over. But then something weird happened. Over the summer, I noticed my friends, who I trust, were talking about Nora a lot more frequently. It culminated in Angie writing an awesome NR primer. My interest was piqued by Montana Sky and Tribute, so I added them to my GR. And suddenly, every woman I know was blowing up my twitter with her own recommendations, like a secret Nora Roberts fan club just waiting to burst into the open. And the crazy, interesting thing because of her giant back list? No one recommended the same two Nora Roberts' books. Pretty much everyone agreed I should start with Montana Sky, but from there? Meg suggested Sweet Revenge, about a princess and dueling cat-burglars. Jess sent me links to three series about witches and their families. Real life friend Robin exclaimed over Hot Ice. And these are all so different! So I sent in some library requests and I've now read Tribute, Sweet Revenge, Montana Sky (which took forever to come in because apparently everyone's reading that one,) and I've started Captivated, the first in The Donovan Legacy and I'm ready to talk about Nora, expectations, and how the market has changed in the last 30 years.

The covers only get worse.
I started with Tribute because it was the first available at my library. It's also by far the newest of any of the books I was recommended, being published in 2008. Cilla McGowan is the granddaughter of a fictional, famous 40s movie star who rose from a small town girl to Hollywood icon and died of a drug overdose at the height of her fame. (It's Marilyn Monroe. You all got that, right?) Cilla's mother followed in her footsteps and even as she's more tabloid star than leading lady, she still has the Hollywood bug. Cilla does not. She did several seasons as the adorable daughter on a sitcom, some teen slasher flicks, and an ill-advised duet album with her mom and now she's ready to trade in the West coast for the East. Cilla's passion is restoring old homes, like Nicole Curtis and Rehab Addict, two years before that show debuted. She's bought her grandmother's farm, famous for lavish parties and skinny dipping with Steve MacQueen, and is setting out to remove 50 years of neglect. There she meets sexy cartoonist neighbor, Ford Sawyer, (Nora Roberts has no idea how to name a character,) and is thrust into a mystery decades in the making as it turns out Grandma may not have OD'd after all.

At 451 pages, Tribute is a lot longer than the romance novels I generally read. It has a lot of side plots, something that continued in the other books, as well as a general suspenseful, mysterious nature. I would not classify it as romantic suspense, though. As Cilla's renovating the house and falling in love with Ford, she's dealing with a half-sister she barely knows and her parents, difficult mom ready for a comeback on Broadway, and steady, reliable dad who can only connect with Cilla by painting the house. Ford's writing a new book staring Cilla as a Norse goddess and tabloids run amok and Cilla's having magic dreams of Grandma and then there's the attempted murder of Cilla's ex-husband. I actually thought it could have been parsed down a lot because I was having trouble keeping track of Cilla's family and Ford's family and Ford's best friend's family and the angry neighbor and his family and the carpenter who remembers Grandma and... Too many players muddied the waters and made the final reveal less impactful because I could barely remember who the killer was.

Content wise, there's nothing terribly objectionable, just a general feeling that the book could be more progressive. It's published just the year before Tessa Dare and Courtney Milan came on the scene, but it could exist anytime in the ten years previous. I did love that Cilla was the carpenter, hauling lumber and hanging drywall, while Ford is a complete tool dunce, instead drawing pictures of a strong, lithe Cilla basked in sunlight. That little flip in gender roles really meant something to me. There is violence against women in the 50s flashbacks, but it's not out of line with other women's lit titles I've read.

In all, I liked Tribute less some quibbles and I was eager to continue on my Nora binge.

Sweet Revenge came next and it had the plot I was most excited for. As Meg described it, secret cat-burglar princess falls in love with another cat-burglar when they reluctantly team up and ALL THE BANTER. Uh, sign me the fuck up.

Oh boy is 1988 all over this book.

So, if you don't know your history, there was (is) an extremely problematic subgenre of romances that tended to really crop up every decade or so. I am of course speaking of the "sheikh romance," a trope where a white woman ends up in a fictitious Middle-Eastern country and falls in love with, (and joins the harem of,) a sheikh. They seem to have started with Blue Jasmine pub'd by Harlequin in 1969, but they didn't become a trend until the late 70s. They died off again until the mid-late 80s, probably in response to the Iraq-Iran war. The releases were low but steady through the 90s until Silhouette decided they were a bonified money-maker in 1999 and started releasing them as a monthly title. Where am I going with this?

Sweet Revenge is something of an anti-sheikh title. Adrianne is the daughter of a sheikh and his American, movie-star wife. Phoebe fell so in love with the king during a whirlwind courtship, she left Hollywood and traveled to Jaquir to be his wife. The magazines likened it to Princess Grace. In another romance she would struggle briefly with her American sensibilities versus his conservative religious views before they made love in a yurt in the middle of the desert and he released his harem and devoted himself to the progress of his country. In Sweet Revenge, Phoebe is abused and raped, (on screen,) in the name of Islam. Let's pump the brakes right there. Phoebe's debasement first at the hands of her husband and then her manager once she escapes back to America serves only to give Addy motivation for the second half. It is super gross and unnecessary, particularly the scene where a young Addy is hiding under the bed during the attack. The manager also assaults an underage Adrianne, just so we know he's truly scum of the earth and to give Addy trust issues in adulthood. I would say the romance and cat-burglaring don't even start until the 150 page mark.

Phillip Chamberlain, (can you tell Nora was just desperate to call him Charming?) was one of the most successful cat-burglars of his age, however, with Interpol closing in on him, Phillip took a deal instead. He'll reenact the plot of White Collar and work for the feds as a consultant in exchange for immunity. His contact at Interpol is desperate to get his hands on a burglar named "The Shadow", famous for absconding with the jewels of the rich and famous. He never takes cash or art, just plucks necklaces out of safes and disappears. As I'm sure you've figured out, The Shadow is a grown Adrianne. They move in the same upper-crust scenes by day and then trade banter, (and ways to disarm alarms,) by night.

I gave Sweet Revenge three stars, even though I'm extremely bothered by the Islamophobia, because I love Phillip and Addy together. Dueling cat-burglars with banter is as good as Meg said. Once they start working together on the plans to steal Addy's father's prize necklace? Chemistry, tension, and so much excellent dialogue. They're both top of their game, and while it take Phillip a little while to truly acknowledge Addy's skill, it's Adrianne's plan and would be completed with or without Phillip. Now Phillip does have some alpha control issues, which I expect in a romance from the 80s. He's decided Addy's getting out of the game and joining him at Interpol and there are no ifs ands or buts. But I felt he respected Adrianne and wanted her to be safe and to make good decisions, rather than completely overriding her, so I was ok with it.

One thing I haven't mentioned in either of the books so far is the sex. Nora Roberts sex scenes are like amorphous blobs rubbing against each other in a bed of clouds. I have no idea what's going on. Who's on top? What's in where? I don't know's on third. It's dreamy and floaty and not actually sexy, (at least to me.)  There is hope, though! Even in 1988, she understood what and where a hymen is.

The hardcover is even worse.
Montana Sky finally came in just as I was finishing Sweet Revenge. Where Tribute revolves around small town secrets and Sweet Revenge is set in a series of eye-popping playgrounds of the rich and famous, Montana Sky is precisely what it says on the box - an ode to country and the ranchers dedicated to it.

We open with the funeral of Jack Mercy, a son of a bitch with the best cattle in Montana. Attending his funeral are each of his three daughters - none of whom have ever met. Tessa, the oldest and a Hollywood screenwriter; Lily, a teacher running from an abusive ex; and finally Willa, the only one who grew up on the ranch, albeit raised by the housekeeper and foreman. They're looking forward to quickly parting ways, but a wrench is thrown in their plans when Nate, cowboy lawyer and future love interest, reveals the terms of the will. All three women must stay and run the ranch for one year, supervised by Nate and neighbor Ben, future love interest #2, or they will each receive $100 and the ranch will be sold to a development company.

All Willa has ever wanted was the ranch and a chance to make her father proud, so she immediately vows to do anything possible to keep her sisters around. Except be nice to them. Willa is a total boss. All three heroines are in their own ways, including a really surprising scene from generally meek Lily, but Willa, hot damn. She rides from her father's graveside to check the cattle fences without shedding a tear. Once the "suspense" part of the story kicks in, she is right in the thick, shooting bears and riding off into blizzards. She's pretty fantastic in her "down-home" manner and while I could have done without the "let's gussy her up" scene, it actually gave a fantastic piece of female bonding.

Nora is not here for your girl hate. Each book, including Captivated which I'm still reading, has a strong, but fraught relationship between the heroine and her mother as well as loving sibling dynamics and generally one kick ass best friend. Mercy's ex wives could so easily have been written as catty gold diggers, but instead Tessa and Lily's moms become friends and support their daughters through this new phase. The sisters continue to fight right up until the last chapter, but at some point it turns into a loving banter. I really love how the three come together.

While Montana Sky is less problematic than Sweet Revenge, it's from 1996 and it's got some baggage. By now, sexual and physical assault have been a factor in three backstories in three books. That's not an acceptable ratio. I can't excuse it as being part of romance's less than savory past. Likewise, the racism in Sweet Revenge is appalling, but I might be able to move past it as a relic. Adam, love interest #3, is NA and literally nicknamed in the text by one of the heroines, "The Noble Savage." God. Damn. It. Nora. I'm not going to feel comfortable rec'ing this author without a caveat. 

One final note not specific to any book, just because I find it delightful, but Nora Roberts is living a goddamn romance novel. She hired a carpenter to build her some bookshelves and married him! Like, I've read that plot. Then he opened a bookstore - an author and a bookstore owner, are you kidding me? Then they bought an inn and run it as a romantic retreat with the suites named after her famous couples. This is a trilogy, a spin-off, and a Lifetime movie. Plus Forbes and People have both listed her as one of the most philanthropic celebrities, because when you're basically a princess why not?

I told you it was worse.
So there we have it friends, three thousand words and three reviews from three decades of Nora Roberts. I like a lot of what I learned from this sojourn. Nora herself is a boss chick and she writes badass heroines. Her plots are consistently interesting. Unfortunately, I also discovered that a lot of romanclandia's problems haven't died easy. Sexist tropes are still popping up today and because of her established fanbase, it does seem like she's on the farther side of progress. 

Let's talk. Have you read Nora Roberts? Do you prefer her as J.D. Robb? Would you also leave your current spouse for a bookshelf-building bookstore owner? Most importantly, how important is it to address problematic themes in work from a previous era? Let me know in the comments. 

Review: The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Saturday, November 19, 2016
Title: The Fate of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
Genre: fantasy, science fiction
Series: The Queen of the Tearling #3
Pages: 496
Published: expected November 29 2016
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating:  3/5

In less than a year, Kelsea Glynn has transformed from a gawky teenager into a powerful monarch. As she has come into her own as the Queen of the Tearling, the headstrong, visionary leader has also transformed her realm. In her quest to end corruption and restore justice, she has made many enemies—including the evil Red Queen, her fiercest rival, who has set her armies against the Tear.

To protect her people from a devastating invasion, Kelsea did the unthinkable—she gave herself and her magical sapphires to her enemy—and named the Mace, the trusted head of her personal guards, Regent in her place. But the Mace will not rest until he and his men rescue their sovereign, imprisoned in Mortmesne.

Now, as the suspenseful endgame begins, the fate of Queen Kelsea—and the Tearling itself—will finally be revealed.

After three years, three books and a lot of pages, Erika Johansen's female-fronted fantasy series has run its course. There have been some major ups (The Invasion of the Tearling!!) and a few downs in this trilogy, but even with a less than perfect finale, I remain a fan of this author, and no less Kelsea and company. This is not a series that suffers for ambition or scope; Johansen envisioned a complicated world on the brink and then supplied a atypical female savior for that world. I love that the author sets herself so against genre trope and expectation, again and again.

The characters in the Tearling books have always been a large component of its appeal. From Kelsea's evolution from awkward teen nerd to morally-compromised Queen, to Mace's slow reveal of his checkered past, Johansen sets the board with complex and complicated people. Part of the appeal of book two was that the author spent time crafting her Red Queen into more than a one-note horror show. She also gets more screentime here in the third novel; I mostly liked seeing more sides of the villain, but she's a shadow of her former menace here. The way her personal story was concluded is a large contribution for why wasn't more than a 3-star read for me. 

It's not often that book two ends up being the best a series has to offer, but that's what happened here. Though The Fate of the Tearling starts out strong as the third leg in this marathon, thanks to the lead-off from Invasion, it quickly falters out of the gate. Some of the choices the author makes here in book three are baffling. The more you think about the worldbuilding/Crossing, the less sense it will all make. It's no clearer how the sapphires work -- Tear's or Row's -- or how Tear had one pre-Crossing and yet Row found the exact same kind of ~magical sapphire in the Tearling AFTER the Crossing? Where did the Queen of Spades persona go? What time are we dealing in? I know the answers/reasons for exactly none of those things and I've read the first two books twice each and the third once.

 The sad fact is that the author maybe promised a little more than she could deliver. There are so many elements at play with the Tearling series -- fantasy, post-apocalyptic, scifi, time travel?? -- and unfortunately, not all of them are executed well or even to the same degree. There's a lot of inventiveness in The Fate of the Tearling, particularly in its ending, but the more closely I think about it, the less I can believe it. The series has always verged on crack-fantasy (tm Gillian) but it's definitely best to go in with your suspension of disbelief cranked to 11.

Inside Out Book Tag

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Credit to Lindsey from Bring My Books for posting this and for creating the images used.

I saw this when Lindsey posted it a dew months back and thought it looked fun. So voila, I tag me and Dani -- just a couple months later because we're cool like that.


Jessie: I tend to read synopsis, but I know to be wary for spoilers so I do have exceptions. When it's a long anticipated title or a part of a long-running series or a favorite author, I usually avoid the advertising and blurbs. For books that don't hook me immediately or leave me confused, I read those in an attempt to try to see where the book is going or what it's trying to do.

Dani: I absolutely do not care about minor spoilers, so bring on all the summaries. I feel like you can't have too much information to make a decision on a book. I would like to see content notices become more standard on the inside flap, because too often I've picked up a contemporary to be confronted with unexpected ED.


Jessie: You can never take my hardbacks from me. I love the dust covers and the way publishers often emboss or accentuate underneath. It's my favorite. For a perfect example:

A photo posted by Jessie Hall Wallace (@jypsyhowl) on


Dani: ebook all day. I spent the first 21 years of my life carrying the Wheel of Time tomes in my backpack, I'm not going back. Besides saving my shoulders, it's just so convenient. I can read one book on my monitor during my lunch break, on my phone on the commute home, and on my Kindle in bed without losing my place. It's basically magic.

04Jessie: Image result

Hell is empty and the devils are all here. No way. I love my books and am too much of a collector to allow dog-eared pages MUCH LESS SCRIBBLING.

Dani: My husband actually bought me one of those journals that you're supposed to fuck up and I used it for a week before crying because I was hurting the beautiful pages.


Jessie: “I am one of billions. I am stardust gathered fleetingly into form. I will be ungathered. The stardust will go on to be other things someday and I will be free.”

- Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Dani: "When I hit the atmosphere, I'll burn like a meteor. 'I wonder,' he said, 'if anyone'll see me?'"

- Kaleidoscope by Ray Bradbury


Jessie: I am ashamed to say that I didn't honestly pay that much attention before this year. But once I started using Crini's worksheets I noticed I read predominately women, in every genre except for fantasy.

Dani: I find I prefer female authors because I prefer female main characters. I also use Crini's spreadsheet, which has an option for "other" in the gender field, but I think I've only used that for anthologies and Illona Andrews, (husband wife writing team.) If I was unsure about an author's gender I would leave it blank and not bat an eye.


Jessie: I’ll admit I do sometimes this with favorite authors -- the ones who can break you with a sentence. SOMETIMES I NEED TO BE PREPARED. Even if it makes no sense at the time, as things fall apart and into place, it helps me.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Dani: I read the ends of mysteries, especially if I think I've guessed the killer and I need to be right. And with physical books, I have a problem with my eye going directly to the spot on the next page with all the action. Oops.




Jessie: my shelves are organized TO MY OWN SYSTEM (I can see Gillian's pained expression) but that does not mean they are alphabetical. I kept my unread TBR completely separate, and I organize it and my read books by genre and ~~feel. So basically, I put all the fantasy books in 1 (...2) bookcases, but other than keeping series together, it's by what I think looks good.


It's small but you can see things like Laini Taylor next to Rowling next to Meyer next to Bardugo & Maas.

Dani: It's organized!

(It's not. At all.)
Oh yeah, look at those orphaned series. AGoT separated from ASoS by two Carrigers and a Gaiman. Where is ACoK even at? Look at sci-fi and romance intermingled. Doesn't it make you itch, Gillian?


Jessie: I am absolutely guilty of this, though I am trying really hard to be better. But I can admit that I do not like Jackson Pearce's work at all, but I still bought this:

IS GODDAMN AWESOME. I actually dislike the title font rather a lot but the rest is SO GOOD I can deal.




Jessie: Nowadays I mostly read inside, because I live in the Desert, USA (aka Phoenix) and the outside wants to kill me. I take a book with me every where I go (plus the kindle and nook apps) just in case of any downtime in my day.

Dani: I hate outside. Outside is where all of my allergies are. Plus bugs. Plus I live on a third story walk-up. But I will admit there's something very nice about taking a book to the park in the fall. Once or twice. Before returning to my cave.


Top Ten Villains Take Two

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday is all thanks to Broke and the Bookish!
This is a topic that was originally done in October. Here's the great list Danielle put together for it, in case you missed it then. Since reading that,  I keep thinking about my own list of favorites and eventually just decided to just do the thing. So, here's the thing.

1. Sandor "The Hound" Clegane from the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin

Ask me who my favorite characters in my favorite series are and I'll name two dead, never-seen-on-page characters and former Lannister bodyguard and shit Kingsguard Sandor Clegane and I won't be ashamed. Sandor is a mess of a man; the perfect example of an antihero crafted as only GRRM can do. He does good things and he does fucked up things, but he's.. compelling and you want more and better for him. (Also Rory McCann KILLS it as the character on Game of Thrones.)

Image result for the hound you think you're alone

"You think you're alone?"

2. The Darkling from the Shadow and Bone series by Leigh Bardugo

The Darkling is a character made from sheer charisma and bad-boy charm. He's smart and clever and ruthless and power-mad and way too sexually attractive when being those last two things. He's almost too effective; I was nearly more on his side than, yanno, Alina's.  

3.  Geder Palliako from The Dagger and Coin series by Daniel Abraham

Unlike the first two on this list, which are characters I genuinely do like in spite of their flaws, Geder Palliako is a terrible human and The Worst. But by being so, he makes for such an excellent villain in Abraham's WWII-inspired fantasy series that it's impossible to forget him. From bumbling joke to murdering despot, Palliako's plot is very creative and was always fun and unpredictable. 

4. Monza Murcatto from Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Monza Murcatto would kill you for the right price, or if you annoyed her, or if she just happened to fucking feel like it, okay? She's made of hard, sharp edges but she is a take-no-prisoner, fuck-'em -all kinda lady and I can respect that. She's a great character because she defies so many tropes and expectations, and she does it with agency and a lot of anger. My heart <3

5. Iruoch from False Covenant by Ari Marmell

Marmell's entire YA fantasy series is pretty solidly built, but the villain for book two was really well-done and particularly memorable out of the four books. Creepy, cunning, but somehow entertaining, the mad Iruoch nearly stole the show

6. Capa Barsavi /The Grey King/The Bondsmage from The Gentleman Bastard series by Scott Lynch

Lynch is so very good at crafting characters and his villains get the benefit of that just as much as do his primary antiheroes. I have a hard time picking which is my favorite, even though Barsavi is hardly present or the Bondsmage is so mysterious -- but overall, they add up to create clever and new obstacles for the Bastards each book.

7. Levana from The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer

Like Geder from before, this is not a character I like despite themselves or because I see an arc of evolution coming. This is a character that willingly embraces and gleefully emboldens her flaws; who seeks power with a ruthless need. I don't need her humanized; sometimes people are just evil and Levana is terrifyingly capable ruler firmly on the evil side of the spectrum.

8. Adelina from the Young Elites series by Marie Lu

Adelina may be the main character but make no mistake, she is as much a villain as those she sets herself against. Her spiral into darkness is so engaging and readable; Lu really lets her darker impulses guide the character.

9. Long Lankin from Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough

Welcome to this creepy af book with its all too effective little rhyme:

"Said my lord to my lady, as he mounted his horse,
Beware of Long Lankin that lives in the moss.
Said my lord to my lady, as he rode away
Beware of Long Lankin, that lives in the hay.
Let the doors be all bolted and the windows all pinned,
Except one little window,
where Long Lankin crept in..."
 Image result

10. Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

I saw somewhere on the internet that Voldemort represents the unknowable force of evil in the world and Dolores Umbridge is the representation of evil in our every day lives. The small, creeping evils that sink into normal situations. That is perfect because she is the goddamn WORST.

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