Recap: August

Monday, August 31, 2015
So... August was a big month around here. I got married, I finally got to meet my coblogger and friends of many many years.. so yeah,  I think we can call it the best month of 2015. Dani's book haul post from my wedding has more pics so catch that in the 'Fun Stuff' links.

For all that we had going on, we didn't do too badly. My reading habits suffered a little bit, but we had a good mix of reviews and posts already planned just for that reason. If you missed any of them, click the links!

Picture of the Month:

Reviews Posted:
Two Minute Reviews: To All the Books I Forgot to Review on Summer Vacation
A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz
Discussion Review: Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George
Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White
The Major's Faux Fiancee by Erica Ridley (The Dukes of War #4)
The Wanderers by Paula Brandon (The Veiled Isles #3)
Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid
The Uninvited by Cat Winters
Rook by Daniel O'Malley (Untitled #1)
Backlist Review: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Lumière by Jaqueline Garlick 
DNF Review: My Last Kiss by Bethany Neal

Fun Stuff:
Dani's (Wedding) Book Haul
Book Blast: Enchantress of Paris by Marci Jefferson
Top Ten Fairytales I've Read 

Dani's Book Haul

Only Jessie and I could go to dinner and each leave with more books than we walked in with.

That's right, after more than twelve years, your blogging hosts have finally met in FaceSpace. And it was awesome. She gives amazing hugs and the best, most thoughtful gifts and I'm just so brimming over with love. I can't wait to see her again in...9 months.

I might put a countdown on the front page. Like a garishly over-sized one. None of you mind, right?

But August wasn't just happyweddinghugs month, oh no. It was also the start of my first OTSP Secret Sister project. And my sister hit the ground running, gifting me both the entire Outlander series and The Distance Between Us, along with some pretty sweet goodies.

Thanks again, "Celaena"!

I'm on the world's strictest buying ban, but while in Mesa, what should I find but a used and rare bookshop with an ARC of Farewell Summer, Bradbury's final novel? You know that came home with me. In fact, I kinda sorta maybe left Mesa with eleven more books than I came with? I ended up leaving I Was Here in the rental car because it wouldn't fit in any of my suitcases?

I have a problem, guys.


See, someone decided to have a book themed wedding, full of the most gorgeous bookish centerpieces and flowers and decorations. And that someone also decided to be the coolest bride in history and hand out blind date books as her favors! And then, when my husband decided to start collecting the books that didn't get taken, someone told him that was totally cool.

She's the best, right?

(DOBaS UK was my gift for making her wedding flowers, Farewell Summer, The Human Division, Origamido, and Lord Brocktree are from the used store, and the other five were our favors.)

And lastly, I got 7 eARCs, because what's another septet at this point?

I've already finished Lumiere, but I'm most hyped for Vengeance Road. 

So how was your August, friends? Did you get all the books you wanted?

DNF Review: My Last Kiss by Bethany Neal

Friday, August 28, 2015

Title: My Last Kiss
Author: Bethany Neal
Genre: young adult, supernatural
Series: N/A
Pages: 358
Published: June 10 2015
Source: ARC provided by the publisher
Rating: N/A

What if your last kiss was with the wrong boy?

Cassidy Haines remembers her first kiss vividly. It was on the old covered bridge the summer before her freshman year with her boyfriend of three years, Ethan Keys. But her last kiss--the one she shared with someone at her seventeenth birthday party the night she died--is a blur. Cassidy is trapped in the living world, not only mourning the loss of her human body, but left with the grim suspicion that her untimely death wasn't a suicide as everyone assumes. She can't remember anything from the weeks leading up to her birthday and she's worried that she may have betrayed her boyfriend.

If Cassidy is to uncover the truth about that fateful night and make amends with the only boy she'll ever love, she must face her past and all the decisions she made--good and bad--that led to her last kiss.

Bethany Neal's suspenseful debut novel is about the power of first love and the haunting lies that threaten to tear it apart.

DNF'd at: 200 (about 56%); skimmed the last 150


This was just not for me. The plot was way too similar to The Catastrophic History of You and Me and I just wasn't invested in the story or characters. Basically: been there, read that, and not interested enough to continue. It felt so tired, so overdone. There was nothing authentic about the ways the characters acted or thought. It was so obviously an idea from an adult about how teens would behave.

The story is just not enough. There's no meat to these bones. The author thinks that a lot of plot turns and twists is enough to constitute a story. It's not. It's all superficial; there's no substance to anything as the pages go on. If you want a thoughtful YA novel about living your last days, try Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. It's a lot more honest, real, and tuned into the subconscious of teenagers.

Review: Lumière by Jacqueline Garlick

Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Title: Lumière
Author: Jacqueline Garlick
Genre: fantasy
Series: The Illumination Paradox #1
Pages: 400
Published: October 26, 2013
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 1 out of 5

Even in a land of eternal twilight, secrets can’t stay in the dark forever.

Seventeen-year-old Eyelet Elsworth has only one hope left: finding her late father’s most prized invention, the Illuminator. It’s been missing since the day of the mysterious flash—a day that saw the sun wiped out forever over England.

But living in darkness is nothing new to Eyelet. She’s hidden her secret affliction all of her life—a life that would be in danger if superstitious townspeople ever guessed the truth. And after her mother is accused and executed for a crime that she didn’t commit, the now-orphaned Eyelet has no choice but to track down the machine that was created with the sole purpose of being her cure.

Alone and on the run, she finally discovers the Illuminator—only to see a young man hauling it off. Determined to follow the thief and recover the machine, she ventures into the deepest, darkest, most dangerous part of her twisted world.

Lumière lacks polish. The world building is inconsistent, as is Eyelet’s characterization.

Eight year old Eyelet is precocious and impetuous, despite her secret condition. She doesn’t read like an eight year old, even a world wise one, when she says, ‘“The [mechanical] elephant, I mean. Did you see how positively delicious he was?”’. She frets about money and confronts a terrifying carney and recalls her mother’s green-blue eyes turning “watery grey”. These aren’t the actions of a child barely off leading strings. But then, they’re also not the actions of the self-involved teenager she becomes.

Seventeen year old Eyelet, we learn, attends the prestigious Brethren’s Academy of Scientific Delves and Discoveries, despite being a woman, in a world where girls have no rights. This privilege is due to her professor father’s (huh, I thought he was an inventor?) high standing in the Academy before his death. Except, through investigation into his Illuminator, we learn that he was demoted and disgraced before his death. So why would his daughter be granted this luxury? We then learn that she and her mother, long rumored to be a Valkyrie and guilty of Wickedry, (magic use,) LIVE AT THE PALACE WITH THE RULER. That’s right, a suspected witch and wife to a disgraced inventor is the Ruler’s nanny. (Don’t think about it too hard, Eyelet’s life at the palace will never be mentioned again after chapter five.)

Eyelet's father was working on a device to cure her of her epilepsy, but he died the day she discovered a carny had stolen the technology. She uses her school time to search for his missing research in an effort to find the original prototype. Her father’s nemesis, Professor Irving Smrt is also searching for the Illuminator and after Eyelet’s mother is convicted of Wickedry, Smrt pounces. Eyelet will either be killed as a witch like her mother, or Smrt will turn her over to an asylum for Madness, leaving him free to find the machine at his leisure. Instead, she flees from him into the city slums and manages to discover the machine that neither of them have seen in nine years, just as a third party loads it onto a carriage.

<spoilers>At the end of the book, Eyelet realizes that Smrt is the carny she confronted in the prologue. The carny is described as having “kippers for lips, they’re so scaly...I’d swear he was part crocodile.” Where as, “Professor Smrt’s lips remind me of a snake’s. Nothing but a sharply drawn line with a too thin tongue flicking out between.” In addition, we know Smrt was a professor at the Academy with Eyelet’s father, but the carny traveled, peddling the mini Illuminators with his plant/assistant, Mrs. Benson, until she died of cancer caused by the machine. There is literally no way to make those two backstories connect.</spoilers>

Again, the world building is extremely messy. The city is not London. It shares no physical similarities and even before the world was plunged into perpetual twilight, (which doesn’t seem to change the weather or affect crops…,) the city was surrounded by a wasteland called The Follies. Since the Great Illumination, the world is now ringed in pits to hell and swept over by suffocating fogs. The Follies are full of ghost-zombies and crazed cannibals. So what’s the best way to describe the romance? “So much more Romeo-and-Juliet that way, don’t you think?”, of course. There’s also a Cheshire Cat smile and clouds described as “Siberian” feeling. (Which is an awkward turn of phrase even in a world with Russia.) I could probably overlook a reference to a cockney accent to describe a lower city thief, but this is so sloppy, so half-assed, I cannot. Either set your steampunk in London or set it in an alternate universe, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

The romance moves so fast, by the time Eyelet is declaring that she’d grown to think of Urlick, the albino inventor who kidnapped her, as perfect, only four or five days have actually passed. (Part of me applauds the choice to make the love interest something less than the usual handsome, but when you have to describe someone I’m supposed to be falling in love with alongside the heroine as having “eyes shining like red stars in the night sky”, that’s difficult. How about rubies? Or embers? Or anything that’s actually red. Especially, since in this world, YOU HAVEN’T SEEN STARS IN NINE YEARS, BECAUSE THE SKY IS COVERED IN EVIL FOG.) And I didn’t understand why. Urlick terrifies Eyelet, forcing her to move into his lair, but refusing to tell her anything about it or the other people who live there. So when she comes across the maid with no tongue, the man with no arms, and the girl who screams violently, she obviously thinks Urlick or his father is torturing them. She spends most of the book screaming, at Urlick or from him. He does seem kind and creative in his chapters, but the reader sees that, not Eyelet.

The other issue with his appearance is Eyelet seems to be the only physically attractive person in the whole world. A search of the books shows the word “pretty” is only ever applied to her. The carny looks like a crocodile. Smrt is snake-like. Urlick is an albino with vicious port-wine birthmarks across his face and neck. Iris has frizzy hair and eyes “hanging droopy and sad as a dog’s half-masked under a pair of lazy lids.” Even Cordelia, the only physically unscarred person in the house, is only described as waif-like with sunken cheeks and dark circles. And then there’s Flossie, Urlick’s tutor. “She has a harelip and mean eyes, and a dark-brown, oval-shaped mole, covered in thick brown hair, which takes up most of her right cheek. A bloodred line extends from the bottom of the mole, like a tail, curling into a circle at the base of her throat...Her putty-pink lip strains over snaggled teeth.” As the only other woman in Urlick’s life, and someone also in love with him, that level of unpleasantness isn’t necessary and Eyelet’s continued fixation on other women’s ugliness reeks of mean-girlness. (I thought the prevalence of physical disabilities and epilepsy might be linked to the Great Illumination, but all of the characters, except maybe Cordelia were born and effected long before the flash. There’s no reason in the world building, except to make Eyelet better.)

Obviously, I didn’t enjoy this book and I can’t recommend it. If I read Noir, would I learn why Urlick’s inventions actually live and breathe? Would I learn why he had a bottle of smoke that lead to a mythical city and never noticed Eyelet broke it? Would I learn if Urlick’s Twitter knock-off takes off, earning him $18bn and letting him develop a way to take credit cards on mobile devices? Better question, would I care?

Backlist Review: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Sunday, August 23, 2015
Genre: young-adult, contemporary, mystery
Series: N/A
Pages: 419 (hardback edition)
Published: first August 2006
Source: purchased
Rating: All the stars - or 5/5 

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn't a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all.

In this absorbing story by Melina Marchetta, nothing is as it seems and every clue leads to more questions as Taylor tries to work out the connection between her mother dumping her, Hannah finding her then and her sudden departure now, a mysterious stranger who once whispered something in her ear, a boy in her dreams, five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago, and the maddening and magnetic Jonah Griggs, who knows her better than she thinks he does. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future

Jellicoe Road was my first Marchetta novel - though this is an author highly touted and often recommended, I was strangely hesitant to read any of her books. Example? I bought Marchetta's acclaimed ya fantasy Finnikin of the Rock for Nook over two months ago, when it was on sale for $2.99, and haven't yet peeked at a page. Hype is often a double-edged sword, as many other anticipated YA novels can attest and I didn't want to feel the sting of disappointment here. I have to say that the first 50 pages of Jellicoe certainly intriiigued me, but they didn't quite convince me as I had hoped. I can certainly see why some readers find the beginning off-putting and hard to comprehend initially, but even after the dual narrative of past and present were cleared up, I just didn't get It, the Big Deal about this book and this author. Then, near about 100 pages later and a "save yourself, Taylor," I got it in a big way.  This book made me Feel Things. All of the feelings really: happiness, amusement, sorrow, anger, fear, love. I'm stuck with the feeling that no matter how much I edit and revise and rethink, I will never be able to do this beautiful novel justice. As soon as I finished this, I knew I didn't want to think about other characters, other stories. I wanted to stay here, in Jellicoe, with these characters. So I did the only thing that made sense and flipped the book over and immediately began rereading all my favorite parts. It still packs a punch the second time around, even knowing explicitly what will happen.

I grabbed this on a whim three days ago, having been close to finishing the excruciatingly emotional Code Name Verity but with 100 pages and hours of work to go, I opted for a longer novel that hopefully wouldn't make me cry at work. How wrong I was; tears were streaming down by my lunch break (aka p. 255) I engulfed this absorbing, heart-breaking tale in just over twelve hours, covering work and family dinner, starting just before I left at 9 am, sneaking in pages whenever - wherever - I could. Melina Marchetta is the real deal: an imitable and simple but striking style, a masterful storyteller with impressive authorial sleight-of-hand, capable of rendering complex, fallible and damaged characters I still wholly and completely loved. This novel is a masterpiece of young-adult fiction (the 'territory war' was obviously the weakest part of the novel, but it brought together the core four [Taylor, Santangelo, Raffaela, Griggs] initially and eventually was revealed to have a larger purpose) and Melina Marchetta deserves all the accolades she's garnered. As the lovely Emily May of GoodReads so aptly put it: "[She] plays my emotions like Jimi Hendrix played guitar." Skillfully, elegantly, and above all subtly, Marchetta takes utmost time and care with crafting both her storylines and her compellingly damaged and so so real characters.

And let me tell you: oh boy, did I ever care about Taylor, Jonah, Jude, Hannah, Tate, Jessa, Webb, etc. While it took a while for these many personalities to manifest, I think this might one of my most beloved ensembles. From Jonah to Jude, these characters are real, vibrant, and dear to me. Jonah Griggs: I officially Get It. I officially Want One of My Own. Everyone take note for in Jellicoe Road, with Melina's hand at the wheel, there is an authentic, believable and touching YA romance with a swoon-worthy broody love-interest. I don't go in for broody asmuch now that I'm not 17 and I certainly don't say "swoon-worthy" as a descriptor for men I like, but Jonah Griggs defies that. He is broody and swoon-worthy, but that's not all he is. Like Taylor and Jude (Oh, Jude <3. I think he broke my heart as much as Griggs did.) this damaged young-man is developed and rounded. The scenes between him and Taylor - fighting, teasing, loving - all have electricity, a palpable tension, and their relationship is one of the few credible romances in YA. Jellicoe Road is moving, powerful and dramatic without being emotionally manipulative - when Taylor lashes out at whoever is convenient (not my Griggs!), I feel for her wild pain instead of rolling my eyes at her melodrama. Most of the characters have significant tragedies in their pasts, especially Taylor and Jonah, but this is an author that appreciates retraint and how to show emotion without overdoing it and making it a Production. I finished this novel nothing if not in awe of the talent shown throughout from the author - from plot development to character reveals, this is one of the best.

Before, I was scared to read Marchetta because I feared she/the novel wouldn't live up to expectations. Now I just don't know where to start - I've ordered hardback copies of Finnikin, its sequel Froi of the Exiles, and Saving Francesca. I just can't do this novel justice - whatever I say feels inadequate. This book moved me, like The Book Thief did - at my core, in a place few novels and characters truly reach. I said before that Melina Marchetta could have been a victim of the hype machine but now all I want to do is force all my family and friends to read her novels. I've decided that the hype around this author and this book isn't big enough yet - everyone should be reading this author. Jellicoe Road is a gripping read, one that inspired a wide, fully-felt spectrum of emotions and reactions - all of them complimentary. I love this book like I love few others.

My reactions by page, because by 250 I couldn't think critically, I could just fangirl absorb the words as fast as my eyes would move and jot down impressions/thoughts:
p. 250: Oh my god. I <3 Jonah
p. 255: WTF! NO! What! Yass!
p. 297: I want a Griggs.
p. 304: This is heart-breaking, gut-wrenching and still so lovely. This book... "Who will be my memory" I can't.... this book...
p. 315: Could he be any more adorable?
p. 343: And THAT, ladies and gents, is how you write a credible, romantic teenage relationship.
p. 371: oh no oh no oh no I think I know where this is headed oh no
p. 394: damn right you better keep Raffy around - the rare female sidekick that is fully developed and awesome
p. 399 and on: tears
p. 407: Griggs.
p. 416: I love the narrative structure, the symmetry. "My father took a hundred and thirty-two minutes to die. I counted." "My mother took seventeen years to die. I counted." "Wonder dies." "I wonder."

Favorite quotes (SPOILERY so be warned):

"I wrote you for a year and you never wrote back. I rang you over and over again and you would never come to the phone. What part of that gives the impression that I didn't care?"

“What do you want from me?" he asks.
What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him.

“If you weren't driving, I'd kiss you senseless," I tell him.
He swerves to the side of the road and stops the car abruptly.
"Not driving any more.” 

“But grief makes a monster out of us sometimes . . . and sometimes you say and do things to the people you love that you can't forgive yourself for.”  

“No," I say, looking up at Griggs. "It's actually because my heart belongs to someone else." And if I could bottle the look on his face, I'd keep it by my bedside for the rest of my life.” 

"We sit there, holding each other, kissing until our mouths are aching, and then we're pulling off the rest of our clothes and I'm under him and I feel as if I'm imprinted onto his body. Everything hurts, every single thing including the weight of him and I'm crying because it hurts and he's telling me he's sorry over and over again, and I figure that somewhere down the track we'll work out the right way of doing this but I don't want to let go, because tonight I'm not looking for anything more than being part of him. Because being part of him isn't just anything. It's kind of everything."

“If I had to wish for something, just one thing, it would be that Hannah would never see Tate the way I did. Never see Tate's beautiful, lush hair turn brittle, her skin sallow, her teeth ruined by anything she could get her hands on that would make her forget. That Hannah would never count how many men there were, or how vile humans can be to one another. That she would never see the moments in my life that were full of neglect, and fear, and revulsion, moments I can never go back to because I know they will slow me down for the rest of my life if I let myself remember them for one moment. Tate, who had kept Hannah alive that night, reading her the story of Jem Finch and Mrs. Dubose. And suddenly I know I have to go. But this time without being chased by the Brigadier, without experiencing the kindness of a postman from Yass, and without taking along a Cadet who will change the way I breath for the rest of my life.”  

Backlist Review: The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

Thursday, August 20, 2015
Title: The Rook
Genre: fantasy, supernatural fiction
Series: N/A as of yet
Pages: 486 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: January 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

The body you are wearing used to be mine.

So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.  

The Rook is an interesting and innovative novel, combining favorite aspects from various genres into one odd 500 page gem of weirdness. If you were to mix up the most prevalent aspects of some of the most popular books and movies out there today, The Rook is likely what your mixture would spit out as an end result. Take, for instance, the school for only British magically/supernaturally gifted kids - much like Harry Potter's Hogwarts with a dash of UK-only X-MEN thrown in. Add to that potent mix a female Jason Bourne-type with amnesia but the added ability to kick some serious ass when provoked and this novel is the result. 

Sounds a bit mad, doesn't it? And to be quite honest, The Rook is quite mad to read, but in an absurd and absorbing way. The initial chapters will pose the most problems for readers and is the biggest hurdle to climb in the book; The Rook is basically the story about one woman, in two different time periods. Letters from Myfanwy's previous self to her current self comprise a lot of the bulk of the beginning and most of it is exposition and worldbuilding to reinforce the large framework O'Malley has envisioned for his alternate world full of unnatural things and an MI5 for supernaturals. The letters illuminate the complete, detailed secret history and lore of the Checquy more than cast light on the character of Myfanwy herself; the present-day portion of the novel reveals much more about Myfawy the person and less about Myfanwy the Rook of the Checquy Court. Much like there are two Myfanwys contained in the novel, there are two different main plots for each woman. The first Myfanwy is all about preparing and planning for what she knows is coming, and the second Myfanwy is all about kicking ass and taking names.

Myfanwy is a distinct and well-rounded character, with the added bonus of a truly original name (she pronounces it "Mif-un-ee", rhymes with 'Tiffany') to set her out immediately from the crowd. I have to admit that for about 90% of the novel I was completely confused as to who she was in the present-tense. Was Myfanwy II the same person as Myfanwy I, but with no memories? Or was she an entirely new person shuttled into Myfanwy's skin? While that may seem like a loaded question, it's well within the frame of abilities of this book. The original Myfanwy was timid in personn, but strong with her policies - an interesting combination of contrasting behaviors. The newer, betrayed Rook isn't afraid of her powers and is bold both personally and professionally. I liked Myfanwy in both versions, but the latter's sense of dry, very British-esque humor ("Gentlemen, please try not to jostle my interrogational gynecologist.") was what sealed the deal and kept me going past chapter one. And how rewarding that decision was - the book evolves into a humorous, creative and unique vein, as does Myfanwy herself. I don't want to spoil her character arc or development since the mystery at the heart of her problems is hard to guess, but this is one of those characters - the ones you remember long after reading the book. I also really appreciated how romance-free ths book was - the strongest relationships shown here are friendships. Between women. In fact, in a happy surprise for me, outside of main character Myfanwy, my two favorite secondary characters were strong, intelligent and capable women (Shantay the sassy black envoy from America's Checquy, the Croatoan and Ingrid - who "possessed no inhuman powers apart from an abundance of common sense and an ability to keep this organized". Think a female Alfred, but a secretary and AWESOME).

The Checquy is the highly regimented government organization that Myfanwy runs - or the one that ran her, back before the events of The Rook. The Checquy is a large, sprawling and hidden organization that protects the UK from all manner of unnatural threat - like I said, it's an MI5 for the paranormal. While the idea of a secret government paranormal protection agency isn't exactly revolutionary for the UF/PNR genre, how O'Malley utilizes his Court of Pawns, Rooks, Chevaliers and Bishops is.  From the design of the Court on, it's obvious that O'Malley's version of government-sponsored paranormal entity is both unique and mysterious. As is immediately obvious from the sheer amount of detail provided on the Checquy and its modus operandi, O'Malley has certainly planned out intricately how this 'part school, army, prison, research facility and arm of the government' will operate and affect his characters and novel. The beginning suffers the most from the info-dumps used to introduce the hidden agency, but once the reader has a grip on what they are reading about, the info-dumps don't seem as bad and progress to interesting on their own merit. O'Malley's version of an England with the Checquy in power since Cromwell's day is neither beyond the scope of imagination nor reminiscent of any other I've read.

The mystery at the heart of the novel (What exactly happened to Myfanwy? Who is behind it? Why was she targeted? Who knows her secret?) is complex and not easily guessed. Luckily for me, the overall BigBad wasn't obvious from the outset, or telegraphed to the reader long before the end and thus, I had the privilege of being shocked by the reveal and the author's impressive narrative sleight-of-hand.  This book has a healthy dose of the absurd to make the gore more palatable but I wasn't surprised for how.... violent... parts of this was. While it's not true movie-type gore with bodies and parts flying about wildly, there are disquieting scenes with faces ripped off, people being eaten and general deadly, gross mayhem.

While it's been coming up all roses this far into the review, but I did have some slight issues with The Rook. The Big Bad falls victim to what I am calling the Syndrome Syndrome - the inexplicable need that a winning/succeeding villain feels to explain every last action and decision on the road to the final conflict/proselytize their own ideas to their victims for lengthy amounts of time. I also had issues with the family plotline introduced late into the novel; though it gives Myfanwy an additional layer of depth and a reason to accelerate the 'panic' she feels, it feels unneceasy and superfluous. It could be easily excised and the pace that began to flag would bounce back easily. Bronwyn, though likeable if not very defined, doesn't do much or add much to the overall story, besides slowing the speed at which everything happens.

I was both impressed and somewhat surprised at how tidily everything herein was wrapped up. There were so many various threads and plotlines throughout the novel, I had sincerely wondered if O'Malley could possibly pull it off with any degree of satisfaction, or I was going to left holding the bag, so the speak, as a reader. Against my fearful and increasingly worried expectations, since the resolution is left until the very last 25 pages of 500, he did so, and with humor and aplomb. O'Malley is a very gifted storyteller that gets caught up perhaps a bit much in his own creativity but finds a way back to the compelling story at the heart of his monsters and magic run amok in England. 

Review: The Uninvited by Cat Winters

Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Title: The Uninvited
Author: Cat Winters
Genre: historical fiction, supernatural fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Published: August 11 2015
Source: from publishers for review via edelweiss
Rating: 4/5

Twenty-five year old Ivy Rowan rises from her bed after being struck by the flu, only to discover the world has been torn apart in just a few short days.

But Ivy’s life-long gift—or curse—remains. For she sees the uninvited ones—ghosts of loved ones who appear to her, unasked, unwelcome, for they always herald impending death. On that October evening in 1918 she sees the spirit of her grandmother, rocking in her mother’s chair. An hour later, she learns her younger brother and father have killed a young German out of retaliation for the death of Ivy’s older brother Billy in the Great War.

Horrified, she leaves home, to discover the flu has caused utter panic and the rules governing society have broken down. Ivy is drawn into this new world of jazz, passion, and freedom, where people live for the day, because they could be stricken by nightfall. But as her ‘uninvited guests’ begin to appear to her more often, she knows her life will be torn apart once more, but Ivy has no inkling of the other-worldly revelations about to unfold.

Cat Winters, with her three novels published to date, has established beyond a doubt that she can write. She is a wordsmith; each sentence is crafted and hand-picked and her books are uniquely in her voice. Those books are each eerie, atmospheric, creepy, original, and completely unforgettable.  She tackles interesting times and ideas, plays with themes and expectations and do so with aplomb. 

The Uninvited returns to roughly the same time shown so memorably for Winters' debut, In the Shadow of Blackbirds. Set in America, as WWI escalated and the Spanish flu first hit, Ivy Rowan's small world in Buchanan, Illinois is the unlikely story of a German emigre and an American recluse. It should also be noted that this isn't YA and Ivy isn't a YA protagonist. Her woes are much more than coming of age and striving for independence or first love. Ivy's world is ending -- in paranoia, in fear, in plagues, and in bodies.

For all that I liked Ivy's character, I never invested or wholly empathized with her. Winter's narrative is wonderfully atmospheric and effective, but it also kept me at a distance from the characters themselves. I never knew any of the secondary characters beyond Ivy's reserved impressions. Their presence and personalities are negligible, save Daniel. I think if I had emotionally connected more, if Ivy's narration wasn't so removed/in shock over Billy, I would have found this novel to be a 5-star read. 

The writing in The Uninvited is quietly lovely. The plotting is smart and less predictable than it first appears. It is obvious that Cat Winters is a talented writer and she's also a smart storyteller. Her third novel is haunting and different. It's not the usual tale you would see about an American family in WWI and it's also an engrossing one. Definitely recommended for fans of her YA novels.

Book Blast: Enchantress of Paris by Marci Jefferson

Sunday, August 16, 2015
Fraught with conspiracy and passion, the Sun King’s opulent court is brought to vivid life in this captivating tale about a woman whose love was more powerful than magic.

The alignment of the stars at Marie Mancini’s birth warned that although she would be gifted at divination, she was destined to disgrace her family. Ignoring the dark warnings of his sister and astrologers, Cardinal Mazarin brings his niece to the French court, where the forbidden occult arts thrive in secret. In France, Marie learns her uncle has become the power behind the throne by using her sister Olympia to hold the Sun King, Louis XIV, in thrall.

Desperate to avoid her mother’s dying wish that she spend her life in a convent, Marie burns her grimoire, trading Italian superstitions for polite sophistication. But as her star rises, King Louis becomes enchanted by Marie’s charm. Sensing a chance to grasp even greater glory, Cardinal Mazarin pits the sisters against each other, showering Marie with diamonds and silks in exchange for bending King Louis to his will.

Disgusted by Mazarin’s ruthlessness, Marie rebels. She sacrifices everything, but exposing Mazarin’s deepest secret threatens to tear France apart. When even King Louis’s love fails to protect Marie, she must summon her forbidden powers of divination to shield her family, protect France, and help the Sun King fulfill his destiny.


Publication Date: August 4, 2015
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press
Hardcover & eBook; 336 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Read an excerpt.

Purchase Links:


“Told with vivid historical detail and packed with court intrigue, this is sure to please fans of royal fiction.” — Library Journal


Years after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University, immersing herself in a Quality Assurance nursing career, and then having children, Marci realized she’d neglected her passion for history and writing. She began traveling, writing along the way, delving into various bits of history that caught her fancy. The plot for GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN evolved slowly after a trip to London, where she first learned about the Stuart royals. Marci is a member of the Historical Novel Society. She resides in the Midwest with her husband, making hair-bows for their daughter, trying not to step on their son’s Legos, and teaching a tiny Pacific Parrotlet to talk.
For more information visit Marci Jefferson’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

Review: Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid

Saturday, August 15, 2015
Title: Never Always Sometimes
Author: Adi Alsaid
Genre: contemporary, young adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Published: August 4 2015
Source: received finished copy for review
Rating: 2.5/5

Never date your best friend

Always be original

Sometimes rules are meant to be broken

Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliché high school kids—the ones who sit at the same lunch table every day, dissecting the drama from homeroom and plotting their campaigns for prom king and queen. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they'd never, ever do in high school.

Some of the rules have been easy to follow, like #5, never die your hair a color of the rainbow, or #7, never hook up with a teacher. But Dave has a secret: he's broken rule #8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It's either that or break rule #10, never date your best friend. Dave has loved Julia for as long as he can remember.

Julia is beautiful, wild and impetuous. So when she suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the clichés, they've actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love.

It's easy to see what the appeal will be for Never Always Sometimes for a mainstream YA audience. Adi Alsaid writes with humor and charm and this brand of qurky teen coming-of-age is ever popular, thanks to the works of John Green, Rainbow Rowell plus newcomers like Alsaid here. The problem lies in the fact that due to the prevalence of stories like this, with just these kinds of characters, it takes so much more for a novel to truly standout. And while I did like Never Always Sometimes, it was a superficial enjoyment. For me, Alsaid's second novel is more predictable than it was memorable.

I like the diversity Alsaid brings to this novel. It's refreshing to have a novel with a PoC male main character, or a female character from a healthy, less conventional home situation. Including instances of racial and sexual diversity also feels like a natural extension for both characters; Julia's dads are largely off-screen for the book but nor are they tropes or caricatures. Dave's Latino heritage is never really addressed as an issue or non-issue; it's just another part of what makes him who he is. I did wish that Julia's dads had more of a presence -- both in their day-to-tay role (harassing someone the way Julia does is absolutely not okay and 100% not funny) and to illustrate how better suited for they job they were than her birth mother.

Dave is the more rounded character in Never Always Sometimes. For all that we spend the novel switching between the two POVS , Dave emerged far more defined to me. Julia reads more like a wishlist of genre tropes. She's pretty much an MPDG that tries to subvert that role... and never really quite gets there. In trying to thumb his nose at YA cliches, Adi Alsaid falls prey to several unfortunate genre staples.  Julia is the first one and biggest one but the plot is sadly predictable -- from Dave's crush to Gretchen to Julia --- and renders the ending less than satisfactory. 

Adi Alsaid can write good banter and create easy chemistry between his characters. I loved scenes with Dave and Julia that felt natural and not cliche, and all the scenes with Dave and Gretchen that didn't revolve around angst. Anytime the overworked romance(s) played second fiddle, Never Always Sometimes was charming and fun to read. I can't say I would reread this particular book again, but I would be curious to read whatever he writes next. If you prefer light and fluffy contemporaries, Never Always Sometimes is just in that vein of YA and will likely find a wide audience of fans.


Review: The Wanderers by Paula Brandon

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Author: Paula Brandon
Genre: fantasy, steampunk, horror
Series: The Veiled Isles #3
Pages: 416 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected July 31 2012
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 2.75/5

Paula Brandon’s acclaimed fantasy trilogy comes to a triumphant conclusion in an unforgettable collision of magic, intrigue, and romance.
Time is running out. Falaste Rione is imprisoned, sentenced to death. And even though the magical balance of the Source is slipping and the fabric of reality itself has begun to tear, Jianna Belandor can think only of freeing the man she loves. But to do so, she must join a revolution she once despised—and risk reunion with a husband she has ample reason to fear.

Meanwhile, undead creatures terrorize the land, slaves of the Overmind—a relentless consciousness determined to bring everything that lives under its sway. All that stands in the way is a motley group of arcanists whose combined powers will barely suffice to restore balance to the Source. But when Jianna’s father, the Magnifico Aureste Belandor, murders one of them, the group begins to fracture under the pressures of suspicion and mutual hatred. Now humanity’s hope rests with an unexpected soul: a misanthropic hermit whose next move may turn the tide and save the world.

This entire review is going to get a lot SPOILERy, so stay away unless that's good with you!

Unfortunately, this series that never quiiite panned out for me; I liked it but that is the sole extent of the feeling inspired by these books. I hesitated to start my ARC of the first book (for months...), but finally dove in and was mildly surprised by the complex worldbuilding and the original ideas that present amid an otherwise uneven debut. However, after my unexpected experience with The Traitor's Daughter, neither its direct sequel The Ruined City, or this, the trilogy's conclusion, lived up to the sheer awesome potential that a fantasy series based on a magical upheaval and zombie apocalypse could should have been. With the amount of and mix of genres and ideas that The Wanderers has within the four hundred page length, some plotlines/characters are inevitably neglected to the detriment of the overall impression of the novel and series. While I obviously walked away from this genre-blending series much less enthused than I'd hoped to be, I will definitely stay tuned to see what else this author comes up with in the future.

The tension and danger is supposed to be at its utmost level here, having theoretically built up a large confrontation between the Overmind and the humans/arcanists over the last two novels. But... no, not really. I never really felt the suspense build to anything credible, nor was I really impressed with the zombies (aka the "Wanderers" of the title), "plague-wraiths" and all else used to induce fear in the characters themselves. the narrative jumps around from story to story; from Jianna's mad (heroic!) plans to her father/uncle's expedition to the deteriorating city of Virtisi itself, supposedly illustrating the increased antagonism. The idea of the Overmind as an alien opponent is really a good one - the same with the alternating polarity of magic. Unfortunately, the execution of the threat of the Inhabitants/Pockets is somewhat lacking in retrospect (the Pockets, especially seem devoid of threat or malevolence). What Paula Brandon does well, really very well actually, is in the history and worldbuilding behind her medieval-ish Veiled Isles. Faerlonne is a vaguely recognizable as an homage to the Italian city-states of real-world Earth, but is an utterly original, conquered nation with its arcanists, humanoid amphibian slaves called Sishmindri. Each successive novel in the series does a more than considerable job advancing the knowledge about Faerlonne and Taerleez - something I greatly enjoyed.

Both the characters and dialogue are still very rudimentary and repetitive in the third novel. I was more forgiving of these in the first, but the weighted down dialogue, full of exposition, never really goes away and it gets old. While Jianna has grown and changed, it doesn't feel authentic. For example, she now supports the resistance and Faerlonnish freedom from their oppression but the idea of Sishmindri independence is abhorrent to her.  Love interest Dr. Falaste Rione is still stereotypically perfect and for that unfortunate reason I can't buy into the romance between the two or in any chemistry between him and the young "maidenlady".  The voice of each character can be stilted and wooden - the third person perspective feels appropriate especially when the book focuses in on the city storyline, but it does Jianna and Aureste themselves no favors. I first found Aureste to be a delightfully morally-grey and conflicted character with a murky personal history - over the course of the last two novels his characterization degenerated into a mindless and often oblivious bully. The same is true of the still now-unnecessary Yvenza, the secondary antagonist from The Traitor's Daughter. Since the end of that book she has drifted along in each sequel, serving no real purpose behind transparent plotting and scheming.

Aside from all that bitching above, my main issue with The Wanderers is just how easy and simple the resolution to every single plot line is. Seriously. There's no real struggle for the main characters. The final conflict between the beleaguered arcanists and the Overmind to "cleanse" the Source was utterly underwhelming and rushed - Aureste at least had a battle worthy of a zombie-apocalypse-novel finale, but I was very disappointed in just how lamely it was executed. Jianna and Falaste's ridiculous escape from prison also smacks of deux-ex-machinas or just "terribly convenient."  I would've applauded the author if she had carried through, but there are other ways to rescue her doomed lovers than the laughable manner chosen here. For the hundreds and hundreds of pages (415 + 384 + 416 = 1215) accrued to reaching these final pages and epic "once every several generations" conflict, it simply wasn't the impact and fight promised. The only slight exception is Aureste, but from Nalio's easy escape (so everyone's cool with the fact that he was gong to let Jianna be executed when he could've stopped it? Yeah? Okay then...) to Onartino's less than exciting final appearance there was a certain lack of ooomph.

An uneven series that started out strongly and faltered more and more as it approached the end, there's still a lot of originality at play in the Veiled Isles trilogy. The Wanderers, especially, didn't quite manage to live up to my expectations, but Paula Brandon has proven herself to be an inventive new author with creativity to burn. In a genre where a lot of novels go for the same predictable fantasy tropes, Paula Brandon constantly tries for new ideas and angles, and even if they don't quite pan out, it's worth a try to venture into her fertile imagination.

Review: The Major's Faux Fiancee by Erica Ridley

Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Title: The Major's Faux Fiance
Author: Erica Ridley
Genre: Romance
Series: The Dukes of War #4
Pages: 250
Published: June 1, 2015
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 3 out of 5

When Major Bartholomew Blackpool learns the girl-next-door from his childhood will be forced into an unwanted marriage, he returns home to play her pretend beau. He figures now that he's missing a leg, a faux fiancée is the best an ex-soldier can get. He admires her pluck, but the lady deserves a whole man—and he'll ensure she gets one.

Miss Daphne Vaughan hates that crying off will destroy Major Blackpool's chances of finding a real bride. She plots to make him jilt her first. Who cares if it ruins her? She never wanted a husband anyway. But the major is equally determined that she break the engagement. With both of them on their worst behavior, neither expects their fake betrothal to lead to love...

I think it's time for The Dukes of War and I to part ways. It's not just the lack of comedy or the difficult protagonists; I don't think there's anything left to explore in this world. (The preview of book five made that pretty clear.)

Bartholomew and Daphne are childhood friends who agree to a fake engagement to secure Daphne's inheritance. The plot is flimsy; Daphne's "evil" guardian is a pirate and minor character from the second book who Ridley is obviously planning to star in a future title. He's gruff and demanding and tells the couple that they'll marry by the end of the week, no stalling! So obviously, the Captain isn't mentioned again in their more than a month of stalling. The real conflict comes from Bart and Daph themselves, trying to out martyr each other.

Batholomew and his twin were notorious rakes before the war. Beloved by men as a boxing legend and woman as a legendary lover, Bartholomew became infatuated with the idea of fighting for his country. Edward followed him, but never came home. Worse, Batholomew lost a leg trying to save his brother. Traumatized and depressed, he vows to never return to society where people can pity and emasculate him. I had less issue with his plot than Daph's, until it came time for him to see his friends. The scene at the wedding and the fact that he never took up for Edward's pregnant fiance rubbed me the wrong way. He was so lost in his own grief, he couldn't even come together with the person who would understand it best. Understandable at first, but less so three-quarters of the way through the story.

Daphne always came second to her vicar father's flock. Desperate to be loved by him, she threw herself into charitable causes. She vows to never marry, as love and a husband would take her away from the people she champions. There's nobility in that, but Daphne is actually extremely selfish. She looks down on everyone around her for not helping "enough" or in her way. She doesn't want help, because she doesn't want to share. Even her best friend, who she knows takes up for rich and poor alike, is the subject of some really scornful, (and undeserved,) thoughts.

The romance is fine, though I didn't see as much chemistry between the main characters as I'd like. They're too self involved for anyone else. I did appreciate the big, romantic gesture and how fighting for Daphne taught Bartholomew some acceptance. What I didn't feel was how his family flipped on a dime afterwards. The love scenes were sexy and didn't feel repetitive, but there are only two.

In all, fans of the series may be disappointed, as The Major's Faux Fiancee is something of a departure and new fans won't find much substance.

Early August Book Haul

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Cleopatra by Stacey Schiff - this is a nonfiction title about one of my favorite historical figures. It's gotten a lot of praise and awards so I am pretty hopeful about it.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton - this one has had buzz for a while now. I loved how the hardcover looked but the price was just ridiculous. I like the paperback and can now see what all the fuss is about.

Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater -- I had an ARC of this from BEA 2014 but needed to complete my paperback collection of the series. Now I have and just need hardback Raven King for the Stiefvater Collection to be complete!

Rogue Wave by Jennifer Donnelly (Waterfire Saga #2) - I enjoyed the first book despite its issues and trust one of my favorite authors to keep this series entertaining.

Blythewood by Carol Goodman (Blythewood #1) - so this has some high reviews from trusted friends. Plus I love a creepy, gothic YA novel.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander - I hadn't read this in ages and had lost my personal copy in one of those many moves you have in college.

Quidditch Through the Ages by Kenilworthy Whisp - second verse same as the first. See previous entry.


Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid - this is a finished review copy. I never got to Alsaid's debut but this seems to be a good second novel according to early reviews. Thanks, Harlequin Teen!

A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith - so I loved Smith's debut Wild Awake last year. It was realistic and raw and painful and beautiful. I am so happy to have won a copy from Dahlia of her second. Thank you, Dahliaaaaa.

The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie - so this is the first in a trilogy about five sisters during the reign of Louis XV - aka Le Bien-Aime. It's based on a true story and is said to have never before been written about in English. It's about power and politics and women mixing with both in gorgeous dresses. So... it's Jessie Catnip, basically.


Art in the Blood by Bonnie MacBird - so this is some kind of Sherlock retelling. I'm the black sheep when it comes to mos of these retellings (save RDJ's moves) (yes I tried to watch the one with Bendandsnap Calldispatch and no, I didn't like it) but maybe a book version? Worth a try.

Goddess by Kelly Gardiner -- this sounds fascinating. It's about a bisexual female french French courtier who is also a swordswoman AND opera singer. The best part is she was an actual person -- Julie d' Aubigny aka La Maupin. I mean she was described as  "Beautiful, valiant, generous and supremely unchaste" -- that is perfect.

Menagerie by Rachel Vincent - So this sounds dark and weird and totally intriguing. A woman is kidnapped by a circus because she is really a bird of some sort and then forced into performing? There are some interesting parallels to real life going on here.

It Started with Paris by Cathy Kelly - So I downloaded this from NetGalley and then was sent a review copy in the mail. So that's doubly exciting. I wanted this because...well, Paris. And a proposal that sets ripples in effect. It's a different idea and I'm game.

Enchantress of Paris by Marci Jefferson -- I was also invited to read and review this novel. I am a sucker for anything set in the reign of the Sun King and Jefferson's debut has good reviews. Plus: that cover. 

Fun Stuff:

Say hi to my newest Funkos -- Lagertha from Vikings and Ghost from Game of Thrones. I am trying to not get out of control with these but they are great shelf decorators and they're fun! I have Oberyn, Toothless, Drogon  and now want the HTTYD dragons + Astrid, the trio from Harry Potter, and all GoT animals. And maybe Chandler from Friends?

What are you reading lately? Buying?

Over on instagram, I usually share what I am currently reading. Let me know your handle so I can follow you!

Review: Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

Friday, August 7, 2015
Title: Illusions of Fate
Author: Kiersten White
Genre: young adult, fantasy
Series: N/A
Pages: 275
Published: September 2014
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3.5/5

“I did my best to keep you from crossing paths with this world. And I shall do my best to protect you now that you have.”

Jessamin has been an outcast since she moved from her island home of Melei to the dreary country of Albion. Everything changes when she meets Finn, a gorgeous, enigmatic young lord who introduces her to the secret world of Albion’s nobility, a world that has everything Jessamin doesn’t—power, money, status…and magic. But Finn has secrets of his own, dangerous secrets that the vicious Lord Downpike will do anything to possess. Unless Jessamin, armed only with her wits and her determination, can stop him.

Kiersten White captured readers’ hearts with her New York Times bestselling Paranormalcy trilogy and its effortless mix of magic and real-world teenage humor. She returns to that winning combination of wit, charm, and enchantment in Illusions of Fate, a sparkling and romantic new novel perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare, The Madman’s Daughter, and Libba Bray.

This was easily a 4-star or higher story for me for most of the novel. It's White's strongest offering to date and thoroughly entertaining from the get-go. However the ending was too rushed and messy to really withstand any kind of scrutiny and ultimately detracted from the overall experience. That said, Illusions of Fate is a creative and diverse YA fantasy with a lot to offer. Its relative shortness makes it easy to breeze through Jessamin and Finn's story in just one sitting.

The strongest part of the novel lies with its main character. Jessamin is a great example of a well-rounded protagonist, especially for YA audiences. She's smart, capable, prideful, angry, and determined. She's also proactive and refuses to let anyone control her life -- even if they have her best interest at heart. I loved her honest drive to learn and to be herself. She's a refreshing character for many ways but her POC heritage in a fantasy is rare and all the more welcome. 

Finn is her love interest and sometimes counterpart and sometimes foil. Their relationship progresses pretty naturally and is enjoyable. White takes her time to craft a real connection between the two teens and it makes for a slow-burn romance. Eleanor is another great character. She's pretty stereotypically feminine but White shows that there's nothing wrong with liking dress and gossip, for Eleanor is also smart, cunning, and more than just a pretty face. However, outside of those three, the characterization, from allies to enemies, remains somewhat shallow and spotty.

I wanted more from the worldbuilding in Illusions of Fate -- regarding both the overall political layout and in how the supernatural element integrated into this world. There is some information about Melei (Jessamin's home) and Albion, but much less about the world abroad unless its mentioned in conjunction with Hallin magic. The magic systems themselves also need more expansion. White does a cursory job of illuminating how they're used and how they're different but it feels flimsy. 

This was a fun, fast read. While it wasn't perfect, it was creative and memorable. I loved Jessamin and the romance was pretty cute and shippable. It also made me willing to give this author another try. If you're a fan of YA fantasy, this would be a good recommendation for an afternoon's entertainment.

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