August Recap

Sunday, August 31, 2014
 It's been mostly a good August, but I admit I am glad to see winter coming. Dani and I did pretty well on the blog this month -- quite a few reviews and fun posts to catch if you missed one of them before.

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

Have you read your Sanderson today?

Reviews Posted:
Book Tour Review: Inamorata by Megan Chance 
Review Take Two: Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell (Greatcoats #1)
Mortal Danger by Ann Aguirre (Immortal Game #1)
Frostborn by Lou Anders (Frostborn #1)

Fun Stuff:

See you in September!

Review: An American Duchess by Sharon Page

Saturday, August 30, 2014
Title: An American Duchess
Author: Sharon Page
Genre: historical fiction, romance
Series: none
Pages: 384
Published: Expected September 30, 2014
Source: publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 3 out of 5

Set on a crumbling English manor estate during the height of the Roaring Twenties, an American duchess must decide how much she's willing to risk for the life she truly desires…
It's 1922, and New York heiress Zoe Gifford longs for the freedoms promised by the Jazz Age. Headstrong and brazen, but bound by her father's will to marry before she can access his fortune, Zoe arranges for a brief marriage to Sebastian Hazelton, whose aristocratic British family sorely needs a benefactor.

Once in England, her foolproof plan to wed, inherit and divorce proves more complicated than Zoe had anticipated. Nigel Hazelton, Duke of Langford and Sebastian's older brother, is as austere and imposing as the family's ancestral estate. Still reeling from the Great War, Nigel is now staging a one-man battle against a rapidly changing world—and the outspoken Zoe represents everything he's fighting against.

When circumstances compel Zoe to marry Nigel rather than Sebastian, their heated quarrelling begets passion of another sort. But with Nigel unwilling to change with the times, will Zoe be forced to choose between her husband and her dreams?

Reviewed by Danielle

I was surprised to find An American Duchess was published by Harlequin, because this is far from a traditional romance novel. We all know the formula: couple meets, falls in love, is driven apart by misunderstanding, reconciles, marries, happily ever after. Those elements are all present in the novel, but it focuses much more on making that impulsive marriage work and if love is actually enough.

Zoe is a new money, New York heiress who has decided on a marriage of convenience in order to access her trust fund. Sebastian is an old world noble with a secret and a desperate financial need. Together they decide to wed and divorce so everyone gets what they want. Except Nigel, Sebastian’s brother and the prideful Duke of Langford, to whom Zoe and divorce represent a modern world with which he can’t cope.

Obviously, Zoe and Nigel fall in love and she becomes the duchess instead of just Lady Hazelton. Even if that wasn’t the title, it’s right there in the blurb. Still, this happens less than halfway through the book and isn’t the true focus of the story. Both characters lost practically everything in World War I. Zoe’s beloved father has passed, as has the love of her life, a flying Ace who taught her everything he knew, and her brother. Nigel is mentally and physically scarred from the fighting. His fiancee left him, his other brother died of influenza and his mother hasn’t recovered. Zoe copes with her grief through fast driving, high flying, and partying ‘til dawn. Nigel turns in on himself, freezing out his family and friends. Shockingly, as they face numerous personal tragedies in their short marriage, these grieving styles don’t work together.

Where the book is best is describing the horror of the war and its impact on civilian life. No one, not the laundress or the Duke, are untouched by loss. I found myself extremely sad for their futures, which finally seem bright, with WW2 on the horizon to take their children and nephews. It’s a point of view I’ve seen a lot of historical novels struggle to relate, which makes it all the more impressive in a so-called “pop fiction” genre.

Unfortunately, my biggest problems with the book are the pacing and Nigel’s reactions to Zoe; both are pretty big issues. The pacing is something of a rollercoaster, with plot points, (like an embezzling lawyer and a suicide,) flashing right past, while other, minor things climb for ages. I had a real issue specifically with the trip to California. The previous chapters are ignored for set pieces that didn’t have enough impact, (the beach and the party specifically,) but feel included to set a Gatsby like atmosphere to counter England. I felt like we either should have moved into that setting a lot sooner or had a tighter focus on the main characters and their relationship turning point.

Nigel came across as alternatively neglectful and overbearing. While Zoe obviously wanted him to fight for her, the artist and the pilot were both eyerolling. And selling all of a woman’s modes of transport while she’s ill? That’s just abusive, Nigel. On the other side of the coin, I understand his coping mechanisms required him to stay away, but the way he treated her after both miscarriages was abominable. Zoe’s not faultless, but I could never take Nigel’s side.

Now, I did like Nigel as a character, and I was rooting for them to make up and make the marriage work. I liked the idea of focusing on the after-the-wedding scenes that we don’t often see in romance novels. The passion was palpable, and the sorrow was heartbreaking. I do wish the pacing had been steadier and some of the rougher relationship patches felt like a slog as Nigel and Zoe rehashed the same arguments over and over. In all, a good read with a few caveats.

Spotlight: The Captive Queen by Danny Saunders

Friday, August 29, 2014
Political schemes, religious partisanship and unbridled love shake the Royal Court of Scotland at the end of the Stuart dynasty.

Witness to sordid murders, spy for Her Majesty among the Protestants of the infamous preacher John Knox, forced to give up her one true love, thrown out onto the streets then ruthlessly attacked by a drunkard, Charlotte Gray will do everything in her power to remain the sovereign’s lady-in-waiting.

As for the Queen of Scots, she faces turmoil of a completely different kind: prisoner in a castle under the command of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Mary Stuart learns that she is the victim of a vast conspiracy and that her English counterpart has ordered her imminent execution.

Despite their hardships, Mary and Charlotte will keep their dignity throughout the storm. The two women will finally find serenity, one in the arms of a man and the other in the arms of God.

Interwoven with historical facts of the era, the thrilling The Captive Queen saga is worthy of the greatest royal intrigues that still fascinate us several centuries later.

The Captive Queen: A Novel of Mary Stuart Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, August 25
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, August 26
Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Obsession

Wednesday, August 27
Review at Flashlight Commentary

Thursday, August 28
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Friday, August 29
Spotlight at Ageless Pages Reviews

Monday, September 1
Review at JulzReads

Tuesday, September 2
Review at A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, September 3
Interview at To Read or Not To Read

Friday, September 5
Review & Giveaway at Book Lovers Paradise

Monday, September 8
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair

Tuesday, September 9
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages

Wednesday, September 10
Excerpt & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time

Friday, September 12
Review at Princess of Eboli

About the Author

Danny Saunders is a true European history enthusiast. He has always been keenly interested in royalty. Danny holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and also pursued communication studies at the university level. He has worked as a journalist for various written and electronic media. Of Scottish descent, Danny takes genuine pride in his British roots. The Captive Queen: A Novel of Mary Stuart is his first historical novel.

To find out more about the author Danny Saunders, you can visit his website at

You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Book Tour Review: Dark Aemilia by Sally O'Reilly

Thursday, August 28, 2014
Title: Dark Aemilia
Author: Sally O'Reilly
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 448 (hardcover edition)
Published: May 2014
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

A tale of sorcery and passion in seventeenth-century London — where witches haunt William Shakespeare and his Dark Lady, the playwright's muse and one true love.

The daughter of a Venetian musician, Aemilia Bassano came of age in Queen Elizabeth’s royal court. The Queen’s favorite, she develops a love of poetry and learning, maturing into a young woman known not only for her beauty but also her sharp mind and quick tongue. Aemilia becomes the mistress of Lord Hunsdon, but her position is precarious. Then she crosses paths with an impetuous playwright named William Shakespeare and begins an impassioned but ill-fated affair.

A decade later, the Queen is dead, and Aemilia Bassano is now Aemilia Lanyer, fallen from favor and married to a fool. Like the rest of London, she fears the plague. And when her young son Henry takes ill, Aemilia resolves to do anything to save him, even if it means seeking help from her estranged lover, Will—or worse, making a pact with the Devil himself.

In rich, vivid detail, Sally O’Reilly breathes life into England’s first female poet, a mysterious woman nearly forgotten by history. Full of passion and devilish schemes, Dark Aemilia is a tale worthy of the Bard.

Sally O'Reilly's Dark Aemilia is not going to be a novel for every historical fiction reader. Aemilia is understandably difficult to like despite her many talents and qualities, the storyline only halfway succeeds at being an effective attempt to blend history and the supernatural, and the present tense is always odd perspective for a historical novel. That said, the creativity of the author and the subject, and Aemilia herself really stood out to me over the course of Dark Aemilia. The writing is consistent, strong, and evocative and I found myself drawn to the sharp edges of Aemilia as well as for her stubbornness and way with words.

Aemilia and Will Shakespeare's intense relationship fuels a lot of the narrative, despite that relationship not being shown on the page for very long. Their chemistry is both believable and natural, and though they are more often apart than together (in both a physical and romantic sense) they provide the real emotion and drama for a lot of the novel. Aemilia is shown to be a good representation of real woman in that she has many feelings and failings and the O'Reilly lets her be unlikeable sometimes. So too is Will flawed, which makes him all the more defined as a character.

The fantastical elements, though slight enough for first 200ish pages, become more prevalent after, and are often overwhelming and only distract from the more interesting real-world (and believable) events that also take place in Aemilia's life. The "deal" mentioned in the blurb is one particular time I felt the story became unpolished and that episode unnecessary. On the other hand, the inclusion of the plague added additional suspense and tension to the larger story and also gave Aemilia more agency and motivation during a less intense time in her life.

I enjoyed a lot of smaller things in the book (that it's broken into scene and acts rather than chapters, Aemilia's many great one-liners, several side characters, Aemilia's proto-feminism and independence) and thought the overall picture strong and distinctive. Sally O'Reilly has convincingly created some memorable versions of popular historical figures and Dark Aemilia is a compelling read for it. It's a rich story, full of romance, pride, great rivals, and great works. Aemilia Bassano was an impressive woman, first as England's first published woman and also as inspiration for William Shakespeare, and Sally O'Reilly does her justice here.

Book Tour Review: The Agincourt Bride by Joanna Hickson

Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Title: The Agincourt Bride
Author: Joanna Hickson
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Catherine de Valois #1
Pages: 578
Published: January 2013
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 3/5

The epic story of the queen who founded the Tudor dynasty, told through the eyes of her loyal nursemaid. Perfect for fans of Philipa Gregory.

When her own first child is tragically still-born, the young Mette is pressed into service as a wet-nurse at the court of the mad king, Charles VI of France. Her young charge is the princess, Catherine de Valois, caught up in the turbulence and chaos of life at court.

Mette and the child forge a bond, one that transcends Mette’s lowly position.
But as Catherine approaches womanhood, her unique position seals her fate as a pawn between two powerful dynasties. Her brother, The Dauphin and the dark and sinister, Duke of Burgundy will both use Catherine to further the cause of France.

Catherine is powerless to stop them, but with the French defeat at the Battle of Agincourt, the tables turn and suddenly her currency has never been higher. But can Mette protect Catherine from forces at court who seek to harm her or will her loyalty to Catherine place her in even greater danger?

Historical fiction author Joanna Hickson kicks off her Catherine de Valois series with the hefty The Agincourt Bride -- a story that revolves around Princess Catherine but is not narrated or written from her perspective. Instead a commoner/wetnurse named Guillaumette ("Mette") serves as the book's main protagonist and narrator for the nearly 600-page duration. Her devotion to her mistress is apparent early on and Mette ably guides the story through years of Catherine's tumultuous life in the 14th century court of France.

The unknown narrator allowed for a fresh approach to a royal story; though Catherine is not written about as much as her genre counterparts (like the Tudors/Plantagenets), her story is recognizable but still original. The author has all the facts and details covered, woven into the narration. One thing about The Agincourt Bride is that it is obvious how much time and research went into crafting and recreating the world and time Mette and Catherine would have lived in. That devotion to description can make certain sections and times covered feel bland in comparison or more dry.... and the book can feel very long.

While Mette herself comes across the page as a real, viable person, Catherine can seem remote, or too idealized by her nurse and our narrator. Even on the few occasions when Catherine acts out of sorts or rudely, it's either immediately dismissed or glossed over by Mette's narration. Her single-minded view makes Catherine more a caricature of a famous historical person rather than a fully-fledged and imagined version of her. I liked that Catherine was smart, capable, and determined, but the ability to see her from more than one viewpoint would have enhanced the overall story and impact.

The first in a series, The Agincourt Bride is an excellent place to launch the introduction of such a compelling story. There's more than enough foundation and detail to support the final two books, and Hickson ends her novel on a great hook. Catherine de Valois was a fascinating woman and I am curious to see how this author continues to interpret the rest of Catherine's complicated and fascinating life story.

Review: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

Monday, August 25, 2014
Title: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place
Author: Julie Berry
Genre: mystery, middle grade
Series: None
Pages: 368
Published: Expected September 23, 2014
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 4 out of 5

There's a murderer on the loose—but that doesn't stop the girls of St. Etheldreda's from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.

The students of St. Etheldreda's School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a smart, hilarious Victorian romp, full of outrageous plot twists, mistaken identities, and mysterious happenings

Reviewed by Danielle

*doorbell rings* Oh, who ever it is, they gotta go away or they'll be killed.

Victorian murder mysteries and drawing room farces are genres that have faded away, but if they were all written with the wit of The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, let's hope for a come back.

There's been a murder at St. Etheldreda's School for Girls and each of the seven students, defined by the poor home life that lead her to the institute, is determined to cover it up lest they be returned to the family that calls them Dull, Pocked, or Disgraceful. 

The characters are intentionally one dimensional, with the exception of the girl who emerges as the main character who does undergo a surprising, (and forced,) amount of growth. I thought their adjectives and character traits lent the book most of its humor, though some of the characters, like the dumb one and the slutty one, ran thin by the end. 

Still, the girls band together to solve a whole host of mysteries, starting with who killed poor Mrs. Plackett and moving down to jeweled elephants, missing wills, and falsified ledgers. This isn't one of those books where the question is whodunit, but instead, who didn't? Everyone has motive, from the reverend to the neighbor. (Fortunately there's no butler to have done it.) It's twisty, impossible to pin down, and full of red herrings, but when the mysteries all come out in the inevitable drawing room scene, the clues were all there. It's satisfying, though a few red herrings leave dangling plot threads.

The biggest problem with the novel is the size of the cast. With seven main characters, the deceased, a bevy of suspects, nosy neighbors, and constables, having six love interests felt like major overkill. They do all move along the plot in some way, so I can't point at one and say, "that's the superfluous one! Take him out!," but I wish they could have been pared down somehow.

I found The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place to be a exceptionally fun mystery with an old soul. It sacrifices character building for mystery building and suffers from some expendable threads, but if you liked Clue or want a feminist Sherlock Holmes, it's easy enough to sit back and enjoy the ride for what it is.

Book Blast: The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee

Saturday, August 23, 2014

About The Typewriter Girl

Audible Audio Book Edition Release Date: April 4, 2014
Listening Length: 12 hours and 39 minutes
Publisher: Audible Studios
Language: English
Genre: Historical Fiction

Pub­lish­ers Weekly Best Books of the Year pick: The Type­writer Girl is a “spec­tac­u­lar debut, set in a per­fectly real­ized Vic­to­rian England.”
When Bet­sey Dob­son dis­em­barks from the Lon­don train in the sea­side resort of Idensea, all she owns is a small valise and a canary in a cage. After an attempt to forge a let­ter of ref­er­ence she knew would be denied her, Bet­sey has been fired from the typ­ing pool of her pre­vi­ous employer. Her vig­or­ous protest left one man wounded, another jilted, and her char­ac­ter per­ma­nently besmirched.
Now, with­out money or a ref­er­ence for a new job, the future looks even bleaker than the deba­cle she left behind her.
But her life is about to change … because a young Welsh­man on the rail­road quay, wait­ing for another woman, is the one finally will­ing to believe in her.
Mr. Jones is inept in mat­ters of love, but a genius at things mechan­i­cal. In Idensea, he has con­structed a glit­ter­ing pier that astounds the wealthy tourists. And in Bet­sey, he rec­og­nizes the ideal tour man­ager for the Idensea Pier & Plea­sure Build­ing Company.
After a life­time of guard­ing her secrets and break­ing the rules, Bet­sey becomes a force to be reck­oned with. Together, she and Mr. Jones must find a way for her to suc­ceed in a soci­ety that would reject her, and fig­ure the price of sur­ren­der­ing to the tides of love.

Praise for The Typewriter Girl

“Atlee’s out¬standing debut unflinchingly explores … the unforgiving man’s world of Victorian England.” –PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review)
“Easily one of the most romantic books I’ll read all year … John and Betsey are compelling and worth rooting for.” –DEAR AUTHOR (a Recommended Read)
“Sweeps readers to a satisfying conclusion.” –LIBRARY JOURNAL

Buy the AudioBook

Amazon UK
Amazon US

About the Author

Alison Atlee spent her childhood re-enacting Little Women and trying to fashion nineteenth century wardrobes for her Barbie dolls. Happily, these activities turned out to be good preparation for writing historical novels. She now lives in Kentucky.

For more information please visit Alison Atlee’s website
You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads and Pinterest.

The Typewriter Girl Blog Tour & Book Blast Schedule

Monday, August 4
Review at Peeking Between the Pages (Audio Book)
Book Blast at Mina’s Bookshelf
Book Blast at Princess of Eboli
Book Blast at Literary Chanteuse

Tuesday, August 5
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews (Print)
Book Blast at So Many Books, So Little Time

Wednesday, August 6
Book Blast at Let Them Read Books

Thursday, August 7
Book Blast at Mari Reads
Book Blast at Book Lovers Paradise

Friday, August 8
Book Blast at Book Blast Central

Saturday, August 9
Book Blast at Caroline Wilson Writes

Sunday, August 10
Book Blast at Book Nerd

Monday, August 11
Review at Just One More Chapter (Audio Book)
Book Blast at Gobs and Gobs of Books

Tuesday, August 12
Book Blast at Queen of All She Reads

Wednesday, August 13
Review at Historical Tapestry (Audio Book)
Book Blast at The Lit Bitch
Book Blast at CelticLady’s Reviews

Thursday, August 14
Review at A Bookish Affair (Print)
Guest Post at Historical Tapestry

Friday, August 15
Review at Brooke Blogs (Audio Book)
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair

Saturday, August 16
Book Blast at Broken Teepee

Sunday, August 17
Interview at Closed the Cover

Monday, August 18
Review at The Maiden’s Court (Audio Book)

Tuesday, August 19
Book Blast at Layered Pages
Book Blast at Always with a Book

Wednesday, August 20
Book Blast at Literary, Etc.

Thursday, August 21
Review at Books in the Burbs (Print)
Book Blast at Bibliotica
Friday, August 22
Review at Bibliophilia, Please (Audio Book)

Saturday, August 23
Book Blast at Reading Lark
Book Blast at Ageless Pages Reviews

Sunday, August 24
Book Blast at Passages to the Past

Monday, August 25
Review at Flashlight Commentary (Audio Book)
Book Blast at Historical Fiction Connection

Tuesday, August 26
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, August 27
Book Blast at Susan Heim on Writing

Thursday, August 28
Review at Luxury Reading (Print)
Review at The True Book Addict (Audio Book)
Review at Jorie Loves a Story (Print)

Friday, August 29
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story

The Typewriter Girl Swag Giveaway

One copy of The Typewriter Girl (Audio Book or Print) Set of earbuds in a cute typewriter print pouch A Typewriter Girl Happily-Ever-After t-shirt (features last lines from famous novels) A vintage style postcard "from" Idensea, the setting of The Typewriter Girl A "dream wildly" ribbon bookmark with typewriter key charms

To enter, please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. Giveaway is open to residents in the US, Canada, and the UK.
Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on August 29th. You must be 18 or older to enter. Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on August 30th and notified via email. Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

   photo c8a944a5-7d21-4826-aaba-c397ae052e01.png

Review: The Swift Boys and Me by Kody Keplinger

Friday, August 15, 2014
Title: The Swift Boys & Me
Author: Kody Keplinger
Genre: contemporary, middle grade
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Source: Book Expo America in consideration for a review
Rating: 4/5

Nola Sutton has been best friends and neighbors with the Swift boys for practically her whole life. There’s the youngest, Kevin, who never stops talking; the oldest, Brian, who’s always kind and calm; and then there’s Canaan, the ringleader and Nola’s best-best friend. Nola can’t imagine her life without the Swift boys — they’ll always be like this, always be friends.

But then everything changes overnight.

When the Swifts’ daddy leaves without even saying good-bye, it completely destroys the boys, and all Nola can do is watch. Kevin stops talking and Brian is never around. Even Canaan is drifting away from Nola — hanging out with the neighborhood bullies instead of her.

Nola just wants things to go back to the way they were — the way they’ve always been. She tries to pull the boys back to her, only the harder she pulls, the further away they seem. But it’s not just the Swifts whose family is changing, so is Nola’s, and she needs her best friends now more than ever. Can Nola and the Swift boys survive this summer with their friendships intact, or has everything fallen apart for good?

Nola’s struggle to save her friends, her unwavering hope, and her belief in the power of friendship make Kody Keplinger’s middle-grade debut a poignant story of loss and redemption.

First things first, thanks to the awesome Debby from Snuggly Oranges for graciously giving her won copy of this to me at the Kids/Author Carnival.

I wasn't expecting to care as much about Nola, Canaan, and all the other Swift Boys as much as I did. For someone who has never read anything by this author (don't hate me!), this was a wonderful, apt introduction to her writing. I have heard fans lament that an author so beloved in YA turned to MG for her next project, but I am grateful and eager for more -- in any genre/age range --  from the talent that is Kody Keplinger.

My sister is an elementary school teacher. A lot of her students are affected by situations like Nola's, or the Swift Boys. Seeing these less-than-rosy-eyed version of preteen life is worthwhile and worth reading, especially for kids looking to see themselves reflected in fiction. Nola goes through some tough times in this book, no doubt. Her experiences may not be universal, but they are common. If you can't see yourself in her, chances are you will recognize her in someone you know. Her struggles with friendship and family are portrayed so well, so realistically --  I defy you not to feel something during this 272-page read. Just because these characters are young doesn't mean their stories should be trivialized, and Keplinger knows it.

Unlike some MG, all the characters in the novel have some sort of depth or personal history/motivation. The preteens, the teens, the adults -- all are more than staid stereotypes. Nola's mom is more than just a mother -- she's a realized woman with a life and needs of her own. And Keplinger isn't afraid to leave some ends open, or hurts unresolved. The Swift boys may never understand why their father left and that's okay (well not okay, but in the context of storytelling). Not everything has a happy, fully resolved ending. The realism prevalent through the novel is one of its biggest selling points for me as a reader. Life is hard, and though her leads are young, Keplinger keeps her story based in the plausible.

This was my first Keplinger, but it won't be my last. She has an obvious agility for characterization, writing, and storytelling. The Swift Boys & Me was a wonderful introduction to an author who writes with clarity, authority, and emotion. Consider me a fan.


Review: Frostborn by Lou Anders

Thursday, August 14, 2014
Title: Frostborn
Author: Lou Anders
Genre: fantasy, middle grade
Series: Thrones and Bones #1
Pages: 352
Source: I received this book at Book Expo America in consideration for review
Rating: 3/5

Meet Karn. He is destined to take over the family farm in Norrøngard. His only problem? He’d rather be playing the board game Thrones and Bones.

Enter Thianna. Half human, half frost giantess. She’s too tall to blend in with other humans but too short to be taken seriously as a giant.

When family intrigues force Karn and Thianna to flee into the wilderness, they have to keep their sense of humor and their wits about them. But survival can be challenging when you’re being chased by a 1,500-year-old dragon, Helltoppr the undead warrior and his undead minions, an evil uncle, wyverns, and an assortment of trolls and giants.

Frostborn, the first in a new series by veteran of the publishing world Lou Anders, was an unexpected and happy surprise. It hadn't been on my radar until a friend (who knows my obsession with dragons) saw it at BEA and grabbed me a copy. I am forever thankful to Lyn for that because without her kindness, I would have missed a fantastical, fun adventure with two memorable and well-drawn middle grade protagonists. The slower start, the worldbuilding, and the engaging  characters all added up to an entertaining read.

I am a sucker for anything fantasy, especially one with dragons, but Anders has a lot to offer here. The worldbuilding is somewhat slighter and less substantial than I would have liked to see but more than enough to frame the world that Karn and Thianna live in. The countries, empires, and cultures they each inhabit or experience are original, but also have obvious callbacks to real-world history. The inspiration for this world further serves to help envision both the lives of the two main characters.

Karn is a more than adequate character for several reasons, but it is Thianna that stole the show for me. A child of mixed heritage and ostracized because of that fact, it's easy to connect her character arc to reality. Her struggles for acceptance and happiness are real, and easily felt through her anger, bitterness, and her humanity. But for all that, Thianna is a rounded girl. She is smart, kind, and able to not only defend herself, but save others. Give me more middle grade girls like this, please. Her coming of age story is just as pivotal as that of the male character and it is so so refreshing to read.

While I didn't love this the way I do my middle grade favorites, I found myself enjoying my time spent with these characters. The beginning suffers from a slower pace, but things rapidly become more and more actiontastic as the story goes on. It's more than worth a few chapters and patience. It's a lighthearted kids' adventure, but Anders strikes a good balance between tension, humor, and characterization.

Review: No One Needs to Know by Amanda Grace

Monday, August 11, 2014
Title: No One Needs to Know
Author: Amanda Grace
Genre: contemporary, lgbt
Series: None
Pages: 240
Published: Expected September 8, 2014
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Sometimes, the cost of love is too steep

Olivia's twin brother, Liam, has been her best friend her whole life. But when he starts dating, Olivia is left feeling alone, so she tries to drive away Liam's girlfriends in an effort to get her best friend back.

But she meets her match in Zoey, Liam's latest fling. A call-it-like-she-sees-it kind of girl, Zoey sees right through Olivia's tricks. What starts as verbal sparring between the two changes into something different, however, as they share their deepest insecurities and learn they have a lot in common. Olivia falls for Zoey, believing her brother could never get serious with her. But when Liam confesses that he's in love with Zoey, Olivia has to decide who deserves happiness more: her brother or herself?

Reviewed by Danielle

You can pry the ship of Olivia and Zoey out of my cold dead hands. I am so unbelievably in love with them as a couple and I’m desperately invested in their relationship.

And to think I almost missed out on this book entirely because the cover and title imply it’s about cheating.

The blurb does this book a huge disservice, so allow me a minor spoiler. Liam is not in love with Zoey. He never says he’s in love with Zoey. (He says the opposite.) They’re casual. Liam starts liking her more than she likes him, but that is absolutely not the same thing. Around the three quarter mark, the relationships start to feel kind of cheater-y, which is what causes the climax, but I don’t feel like this is a “cheating” book. Your mileage may vary.

Liam is really a non-factor in most of the book, though. Zoey’s POVs almost never features him, thoughts of him, anything. Instead, it’s all about the slow build from hate to friendship to love between Olivia and Zoey. It’s so natural and sweet; it’s probably one of the best examples of a relationship in YA/NA. If I had one quibble, it’s that Zoey never gave gifts or planned the dates. I understand Olivia has more money and time, but I just wish I’d felt a little more give and take. Still, I’m never going to get over the graffiti date. The idea of a love interest taking the time to plan a perfect day for their partner, institute it, and use it to show their affection? Beautiful.

I did find one thing extremely weird. Zoey has a little sister who she’s extremely close to. She comes along on trips out with both Olivia and Liam, but at the climax, she has no idea who Liam is. (She didn’t talk to them on the ferry, but she had her face pressed to the glass and definitely saw them together, but didn’t recognize him at all when he arrived at the house. Huh?) I feel like a scene must have been added and not edited in properly. I hope that’s corrected before release. OH NO, LOOKS LIKE I MUST BUY A COPY TO CHECK. IT IS A TRAGEDY.

Their home lives are a little melodramatic and feature some subplots I could take or leave. The maybe-cheating didn’t make me feel good, though teenagers aren’t known for their complex romantic morals. It doesn’t matter. This is a book that features a f/f relationship with no homophobia or consequences of being gay. Do you understand how rare that is? If I'd been able to see a happy, healthy homo relationship when I was a teen, instead of sad issue books where being gay is the only thing in a person's life, it would have saved me a lot of pain and tears in my own life. So allow me to quote Olivia,

“It was perfect.

The whole [book] was perfect.”

Review: The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

Friday, August 8, 2014
Title: The House of the Four Winds
Author: Mercedes Lackey, James Mallory
Genre: fantasy
Series: One Dozen Daughters #1
Pages: 304
Published: August 5, 2014
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Mercedes Lackey is the New York Times bestselling author of the Valdemar series and romantic fantasies like Beauty and the Werewolf and The Fairy Godmother. James Mallory and Lackey have collaborated on six novels. Now, these New York Times and USA Today bestselling collaborators bring romance to the fore with The House of Four Winds.

The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.

Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.

Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.

Full of swashbuckling adventure, buoyant magic, and irrepressible charm, The House of the Four Winds is a lighthearted fantasy romp by a pair of bestselling writers.

Reviewed by Danielle

If I could rate this book based on a summary of events, it would be five stars. It’s got a princesses disguised as a boy, sword fighting, pirates, an evil sorceress, romance, sea monsters, treasure, and a happily ever after. ♪ ♫These are a few of my favorite things! ♪ ♫

Unfortunately, what The House of the Four Winds suffers from is poor pacing. The initial boat trip stretches on far too long and we aren’t even introduced to the villain until well past the half way mark. Things drag on, (the reverend, the magical amnesia,) and are then resolved with little to no fanfare or impact. The climax felt clumsy and a big reveal didn’t have enough time or emotion behind it to feel shocking. If I could take 75 pages from the early set up and reassign them to the climax, I’d be a lot happier.

Furthermore, I am very disappointed in the worldbuilding. It’s Earth, but because of the discovery of magic, everything’s different! Well, the country and city names are different. Except Manna-hattan. And everything’s pretty analogous to 18th Century Europe. But it’s totally different!

And your African parallel is still being plundered for slave trade? Spare me.

Now, there are positives for this book. Clarice is a really fun character. I was very impressed with the way she handled herself on the ship. She’s level headed and good, but still acted when the situation called for it. I really appreciated that she accepted her feelings for Dominick and then moved on with her life because nothing could be done about it right then. The romance was nice, evolving in a natural and sweet way. I really liked and appreciated that his virginity and her lack there of was an absolute non-issue. Go Mercedes, flip that script.

The House of the Four Winds isn’t a fairy tale retelling, but it has a lot of similarities to old classics. It actually has a lot in common with Ms. Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdom’s series, in both tone and structure. It’s not my favorite series, but it’s one I’m always happy to come across. I suspect the One Dozen Daughters will be the same way.

Review: Mortal Danger by Ann Aguirre

Thursday, August 7, 2014
Title: Mortal Danger
Author: Ann Aguirre
Series: Immortal Game #1
Pages: 385
Published: August 5 2014
Source: ARC from publishers for review
Rating: 3.5/5

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Edie Kramer has a score to settle with the beautiful people at Blackbriar Academy. Their cruelty drove her to the brink of despair, and four months ago, she couldn't imagine being strong enough to face her senior year. But thanks to a Faustian compact with the enigmatic Kian, she has the power to make the bullies pay. She's not supposed to think about Kian once the deal is done, but devastating pain burns behind his unearthly beauty, and he's impossible to forget.

In one short summer, her entire life changes, and she sweeps through Blackbriar, prepped to take the beautiful people down from the inside. A whisper here, a look there, and suddenly... bad things are happening. It's a heady rush, seeing her tormentors get what they deserve, but things that seem too good to be true usually are, and soon, the pranks and payback turns from delicious to deadly. Edie is alone in a world teeming with secrets and fiends lurking in the shadows. In this murky morass of devil's bargains, she isn't sure who—or what--she can trust. Not even her own mind...

I should have known that a book that boasts of a "Faustian bargain" would eventually manage to creep me the hell out. Mortal Danger feels a lot like a more interesting Premeditated at first (girl is out for revenge on those fellow high schoolers who have done her wrong) but it eventually shows its true colors as a chilling, creepy semi-horror novel with a side helping of teenage romance. If you're a horror creampuff like myself, I wouldn't advise reading this book: while alone, at night, or by yourself in an isolated location. It's not a "true" horror novel in that it's a constantly threatening stream of events, but the occasional freaky event/person that appeared was more than enough to make me need a few breaks in the four-hours I inhaled this story.

Chances are if you don't like difficult, occasionally unlikeable protagonists, main character and narrator Edie (and Mortal Danger itself) will be a struggle for you. If you like Courtney Summers's version of main characters, Edie will be your next favorite person in that style. She's got hard edges, attitude, and a lot of bitterness. But I really liked Edie and the way she evolved though the novel. She is who she is and her goals, while not those of "a nice girl" are understandable. Her struggles to fit in, to find worth in herself are so relateable and conveyed so well. Not everyone has been in the dire situation Edie is at the beginning of the novel, but she is real and believable. And Edie grows and changes over the course of her story, which is refreshing and authentic.

I wish I was as into the romance angle as Edie and her love interest Kian are. From their first meeting, it's pretty obvious how their romance/story will proceed. It's the typical instaforbiddenlove, and while I grew to like them as a couple and appreciate their chemistry, it accelerates way, way too fast. I understand that stress and fear can create unexpectedly strong bonds between two people, but the alacrity with which Edie gloms onto Kian and vice versa was a little too much too fast for me. I could seem them being together, but felt they needed more time to know each other before the depth of their emotion could be believed or endorsed.

There were several good surprises for readers in Mortal Danger. For all that the romance was predictable, a lot of the plot and characters aren't. I really appreciated that Aguirre paints her (human) antagonists with more than one color. Cameron and Britt are more than stereotypical high school villains, which made Edie's mission of revenge a complicated one as she realizes there's more to them than she knew before. Plotwise, there was one big twist that made the book for me. All I will say, to avoid any kind of spoiler, is I love authors who aren't afraid to do the unexpected to their cast. 

For a series beginner, Mortal Danger is a strong, interesting introduction into the world Aguirre is setting up for her Immortal Game series. It's original and freaky, fun and scary, peopled with believable characters. I liked a lot about it and will be on the lookout for the next installment of Edie and Kian's struggle.

Review Take Two: Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell

Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Title: Traitor's Blade
Author: Sebastien de Castell
Genre: fantasy, awesomeness
Series: Greatcoats #1
Pages: 370
Published: March 6 2014
Source: received for review from publisher
Rating: 4.5/5

Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters.

All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…

Immediately upon finishing this fun, exciting, original book, I thought, "More! Encore! It can't be over already!" For me, one of the great hallmarks for any fantasy novel is never wanting it to end. And that was exactly my reaction for Sebastien de Castell's debut novel Traitor's Blade; I was utterly unwilling to end my time with his creations, notably Falcio, Brasti, and Kest. It's the kind of story that grips you right from the first chapter and never lets your attention wander. It's involving and swashbuckling, filled with history and fresh worldbuilding. Boasting great characters with creative personal arcs, fantastic writing and more this is a solid foundation for de Castell to build his series.

Now it's obvious that I had a great time in this world, and a lot of that is down to the characters themselves. Falcio val Mond is the main main character but he is complemented (and sometimes challenged) by his two sidekicks, the enigmatic Kest and the cocky Brasti. They're a trio on the run and the camaraderie and charisma of the trio is undeniable. I connected the most with narrator Falcio, but that doesn't mean his compatriots aren't well-defined, or explored in their own time. They might not get the same amount of time at the forefront of the story as Falcio does being the first-person narrator, but they're all equal legs of this main character tripod. They're all connected by virtue of being outcast Greatcoats but to spoil their personal history would be a disservice to the novel.

Fantasy is known for being dark and depressing (especially if you go in for the GRRM/Joe Abercrombie brand of it) but de Castell is able to inject humor, warmth, and wit into his characters and story without sacrificing authenticity. They're complicated, complex, and unique people with many facets to their personalities.  Danielle noticed the same thing in her review, and it's those flashes of light that help make both Falcio and Traitor's Blade so damn good. Sebastien de Castell is able to pull off both the darker moments and the levity of each character with equal ease. It's an impressive feat for a first novel, but the characters carry their various ghosts without totally losing sight of why they became Greatcoats in the first place. All in all, it's a cast characterized with skill and subtlety. 

There were a couple scenes that didn't fit as well within the story for me as a reader. Danielle's explanation of why the handling of Falcio's wife doesn't sit well with a feminst audience is perfect and I couldn't agree more. Women are more (and should be shown as more) than props to motivate a male character. That particular trope is more than unfortunate and is largely why this wasn't a 5 star read for me. The temple sex scene was similarly ill-used and just unnecessary for the plot. It doesn't seem to fit with either Falcio himself or the narrative arc of the story. 

Traitor's Blade is a fantastic introduction to the author, this world, and the characters themselves. Often a fantasy novel will focus too closely on one aspect, to the detriment of others. Not so here; de Castell's debut is fresh, creative, and just plain fun to read. It left me eager for the continuation of the story and impatient for when that sure-to-be-stellar sequel will release. If you're a fan of complicated and original fantasy, you can't go wrong picking up the first novel in the Greatcoats' series.

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