March Recap

Thursday, March 31, 2016
Like always, here I am at the end of the month just flabbergasted at how quickly these last few weeks have gone by!

Books Read: 35

Notable Favorites:
A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab (Shades of Magic #2)
Behold the Bones by Natalie C. Parker (Beware the Wild #2)
The Spider's War by Daniel Abraham  (The Dagger and the Coin #5)
The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman (Lady Helen #1)
Sex With Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge by Eleanor Herman

Reviews Posted:
Book Tour Review: Death of an Alchemist by Mary Lawrence
The Guardian by Jack Whyte
Discussion Review: Nightstruck by Jenna Black
Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson
Series Review: Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker
After the Woods by Kim Savage
Two Minute Review: Burning Glass by Kathryn Purdie
Rebel, Bully, Geek, Pariah by Erin Jade Lange
Two Minute Review: A Drop of Night by Stefan Bachmann
Beyond the Red by Ava Jae
The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
Book Tour Review: Fall of Poppies anthology
Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate
These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas
Series Review: Percheron by Fiona McIntosh
The Forbidden Orchid by Sharon Biggs Waller 

Top Ten Tuesdays:
Top Ten Books I Love But Haven't Talked About Enough
Top Ten Characters Everyone Loves But I Just Don't Get

Favorite Bookstagram seriously read this series ok:

The main characters include a teenage girl rogue banker who wants to end war through economics and bank loans, a widowed and badass former baroness who now spies and plots while marching with armies, and a mercenary captain who's killed kings, controls the last dragon in existence, and is waiting for his second to rise up and steal the company.

So it's been a busy month for me, but it was definitely a productive one. I am definitely doing better at organization this year, which is why I am scheduling so far ahead and posting so much. I'm also about 22 books ahead of my goal for the year. So far in 2016, so good.

Book Tour Review: Death of an Alchemist by Mary Lawrence

Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Title: Death of an Alchemist
Author: Mary Lawrence
Genre: mystery, historical fiction
Series: Biance Goddard #2
Pages: 304
Published: January 2016
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 3/5

In the mid sixteenth century, Henry VIII sits on the throne, and Bianca Goddard tends to the sick and suffering in London's slums, where disease can take a life as quickly as murder. . .

For years, alchemist Ferris Stannum has devoted himself to developing the Elixir of Life, the reputed serum of immortality. Having tested his remedy successfully on an animal, Stannum intends to send his alchemy journal to a colleague in Cairo for confirmation. Instead he is strangled in his bed and his journal is stolen.

As the daughter of an alchemist herself, Bianca is well acquainted with the mystical healing arts. As her husband, John, falls ill with the sweating sickness, she dares to hope Stannum's journal could contain the secret to his recovery. But first she must solve the alchemist's murder. As she ventures into a world of treachery and deceit, Stannum's death proves to be only the first in a series of murders--and Bianca's quest becomes a matter of life and death, not only for her husband, but for herself. . .

The second tale in Lawrence's series about the impoverished but talented chemiste and amateur sleuth Bianca Goddard, this mystery is an involving and often surprising read. Death of an Alchemist moves along quite quickly at its plotting, and wastes no time setting the scene.  It's a detailed read, and that fact coupled with its relative short length of about three hundred pages, makes it feel like a quick jaunt back to the mid-sixteenth century with an eclectic and suspicious group of individuals.

Even without the benefit of reading the series opening book, The Alchemist's Daughter, Lawrence ably inducts both new and familiar readers into the mysterious death of a successful and eccentric alchemist, the inciting event of the novel's plot. Bianca herself is introduced readily and shown to be a woman of resolve, intelligence, and determination. She can feel like a bit of an anachronism -- I appreciate her clause of marriage to not be property of John but find it terribly unlikely in real 1543 -- but I liked her agency and her resolute and ambitious nature.

Bianca's exploits into uncovering the real murderer is an eventful one. The author is careful to lead Bianca and co on a merry chase and to not make the overall answer an easy or obvious one. Through Southwark to Gull Hole, from old enemies to new allies, the stalwart chemiste shows all sides of London, while subtly commenting on the novels themes of family, immortality, and mob mentality. The main antagonist of the novel is the murderer behind the deaths of the alchemist and others, but the spectre of the sweating sickness hovering over the populace makes for another layer of suspense.

I did want more personality and life from the characters. Bianca is the most stand out, but I felt little presence from any of the (mostly) men that surround her. Additionally, I am not sure what the connection the Rat Man really has to the story in Death of an Alchemist. Perhaps his importance is to the series overall and not to just one book's particular plot, but his addition here did not really feel necessary. The book itself can be a bit stiff -- the dialogue is often, and parts of the narrative -- but overall Death of an Alchemist a good, solid effort and an entertaining read.

04_Outrageous_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, March 21
Review at Broken Teepee

Tuesday, March 22
Review at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book
Guest Post at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Wednesday, March 23
Review at A Book Geek

Thursday, March 24
Interview at Books and Benches

Friday, March 25
Review at Book Nerd
Interview at The Book Connection

Tuesday, March 29
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Wednesday, March 30
Review at A Holland Reads

Thursday, March 31
Interview at Author Dianne Ascroft’s Blog

Friday, April 1
Guest Post at Passages to the Past

Review: The Guardian by Jack Whyte

Saturday, March 26, 2016
Title: The Guardian
Author: Jack Whyte
Genre: historical fiction
Series: The Braveheart Chronicles #3
Pages: 560
Published: March 2016
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 3.5/5

Some men strive for greatness. And some men find themselves thrust into the role of their nation's saviors. Such are the two heroes who reshaped and reconfigured the entire destiny of the kingdom of Scotland. Wallace the Braveheart would become the only legendary, heroic, commoner in medieval British history; the undying champion of the common man. The other, Robert Bruce, earl of Carrick, would perfect the techniques of guerrilla warfare developed by Wallace and use them to create his own place in history as the greatest king of Scots.

In the spring of 1297, the two men meet in Ayr, in the south of Scotland, each having recently lost a young wife, one in childbirth and the other by murder. Each is heartbroken but determined in his grief to defy the ambitions of England and its malignant king, Edward Plantagenet, whose lust to conquer and consume the realm of Scotland is blatant and unyielding. Their combined anger at the injustices of the invading English is about to unleash a storm in Scotland that will last for sixteen years-and destroy England's military power for decades-before giving rise to a new nation of free men.

Jack Whyte has taken hundreds of pages, several books, and multiple characters to retell the beginning of Scotland's fight for independence. From the famous William Wallace in the series beginner, to the often-maligned Robert the Bruce in the second, to the relative newcomer Sir Andrew Murray here in book three, this series has covered the acts both great and small in Scotland's fight with both clarity and knowledge. Whyte's faithful and dogged retellings are always detailed and imaginative, filling in the gaps of historical record, though this one is shorter on action, with only one major battle in its length.
Ostensibly labelled as Andrew Murray's tale, The Guardian is as much Jamie Wallace's story as his more well-known counterparts. But this is the same kind of carefully-crafted story as the two that came before it, just one with a wider scope of view. The overall focus here in book three seemed to wander around more than it had previously with main characters in "their" books. There is a rather more time spent with either Wallace or with Bruce than just with Sir Andrew Murray. I liked the wide perspective on the plot, but also felt disappointed because Wallace and Bruce had had hundreds of pages before. Murray is a interesting character on his own. His life is dramatic and provides an interesting counterpart to his Scottish compatriots.

Whyte's approach to history is with one of imagination and knowledge. He is an author that clearly knows this time period and these people very well and uses those talents to his advantage in his fiction. With that depth of information informing his plot, it's easy to believe in his version of history, in his version of the famous people we know. I appreciate the layers of detail and description found in his writing, but it can also suffocate the pace at times. There is too much of a good thing, and in a 560 page novel some of the more repetitive descriptions and details could be whittled down. 

This is an evenly-handled series from start to finish. The small issues that pop up -- repetition, occasional infodump, exposition-by-dialogue, silly character decisions -- are diminished by the stronger aspects in the narrative. Each book has been good, and The Guardian is no exception to the rule. Jack Whyte has a great grasp on characters and on his story; The Braveheart Chronicles feels wholly complete after finishing the third novel. The knowledge and enthusiasm of the author is apparent and makes this series a good pick for fans of historical fiction set in the 1200s and/or Scotland. 

Discussion Review: Nightstruck by Jenna Black

Thursday, March 24, 2016
Title: Nightstruck
Author: Jenna Black
Genre: horror, paranormal
Series: Untitled #1
Pages: 304
Published: expected April 5 2016
Source: publishers for review

The night is the enemy, and the city of Philadelphia is its deadliest weapon.

Becket is an ordinary teenage girl, wrestling with the upheaval of her parents' divorce. Her biggest problems to date have been choosing which colleges to apply to, living up to her parents' ambitious expectations of her, and fighting her secret crush on her best friend's boyfriend. That all changes the night she tries to save an innocent life and everything goes horribly wrong.

Becket has been tricked into opening a door between worlds. As dark magic trickles into Philadelphia, strange creatures roam the streets and inanimate objects come to life, all of them bloodthirsty and terrifying. The city returns to normal when the sun rises each morning. The moment the sun sets, most citizens shut themselves in their houses and stay there no matter what they hear.

The magic is openly hostile to most mortals, but there are some it seems to covet, trying to lure them out into the night. While Becket struggles to protect her friends and family from predatory creatures of the night, she is constantly tempted to shrug off her responsibilities and join them.

Joining me for this discussion review is my usual bookish discussion partner Lyn of Great Imaginations and also today we have one of her cobloggers, Kara!  

Kara: I feel like this is going to be a really interesting discussion. After days of pondering, I still don’t know how I feel about Nightstruck. There were many things I liked, but I also don’t really care for how the book made me feel. So I am sitting here unsure of my rating still, and I am hoping this discussion really helps clarify it for me.

Lyn: I agree, I almost liked it, but then there were things that I just didn’t care for. So I’m really struggling with my own feelings towards this novel. In the end, I didn’t care for it, but I appreciated that it wasn’t the same old YA novel with the same premise. It WAS at least different.

Jessie: Look at us, all hanging out in the same boat, the SS We Just Don’t Know About This One. Obviously I find myself of the same mind as the two of you ladies when it comes to Jenna Black’s newest book. I wanted to like it, and some parts of it did work, but on the whole it felt chaotic, and left me vaguely disappointed.

Kara: I think my expectations were not met, for a start. I expected a paranormal YA but instead I got a really dark, gory horror YA. Which is fine, but I wasn’t in the right mood for this, and it just really depressed me, all the death and destruction. The book was just so saddddd. IDK. I do have depression, so it may have affected me differently than you guys, but it is what it is.

And then, the story was just...I don’t know. It did feel a bit repetitive and I hated that the only female character other than the protagonist became the antagonist, and I just didn’t care for the message it was sending? Okay, wait. There was a female parent, but she was hardly in it. I am just left shrugging my shoulders. The writing was fine, the characters were okay, but that’s all I can really say.

Jessie: It was a really gloomy book. I don’t mind darker novels, but yeah, this was definitely described as a more supernatural/paranormal story than a gory and horror-y one. I wasn’t emotionally affected by it very much -- probably because I cared so little about any of the characters -- with one exception being the dad. It’s hard to do more than just react to the characters when they are so underdeveloped.

Lyn: I felt that this was a smashnovel - two separate novels shoved together to make one. I think the first part, about a girl struggling with a friendship that is almost great, but is overall unhealthy, would have made for a wonderful novel. There were some real issues that I would have loved to seen resolved, but then then ‘paranormal’ part came in, and it all felt so disjointed. Like, if you want to write a contemporary novel, then go for it! I think the friendship between Becket and Piper and finding a way to resolve the issues would have been a great novel on its own, but it is like the author had two underdeveloped ideas and just stuck them together. The magic part was never explained, it was just like “dunno” and shrugged off, and with the conflict with the girls, well, before anything can really be resolved, THE END OF THE WORLD HAPPENS. It left me really frustrated.

Jessie: I loooove this point. I agree 100% but couldn’t put the words together. This does feel like two different books that were conjoined FOR REASONS.

Kara: Frustrated is a GREAT word for how this book left me feeling. The ending was frustrating, the death of a certain character was frustrating, the lack of character development was frustrating, not getting any answers was fucking frustrating. I just wasn’t left feeling satisfied at all. As for the rest of what Lyn said, I think that’s a really great point. I could have been two novels. I was definitely upset by turn that the female friendship took and I would have liked to see that developed as well, but it wasn’t. I am just irritated thinking about this book all over again.

Jessie: The more I think back and look at how the book was developed and executed -- it just doesn’t quiiite feel like a cohesive story, which Lyn so ably described due to the smashnovel nature.  But also, in addition to the haphazard mashed up genres, the book starts out on a strong note, but it’s a fast race downhill once the supernatural element is introduced. It’s like the author thought that “oh hey it’s ~~magic” and that was a good of a reason as any for all this to happen. She didn’t think to explain beyond her basic premise about how the supernatural angle functioned.

Lyn: And as Kara pointed out, the ending was just a huge letdown. Coupled with a novel that was all over the place, it didn’t feel complete. And then the lack of action on anyone’s part. Did no one think to shoot these people, the Nightstruck? I understand not able to fight the actual magical creatures, but the regular people? Why can no one take them down? It just seems so odd that they run amok and everyone is helpless.  Also, why did we get this glimpse of something awesome happening soon (the king and queen of the night?) and then we never get to see it? I feel that we never have the whole story, and the more I think about all of this, the madder I become. There was so much that the story was lacking. And the worldbuilding was not there at ALL.

Kara: I loved how parts of the setting were developed, and I loved that it was set in Philly, and I am betting we are going to get world-building answers in the next book, but I won’t be sticking around to find out. I just don’t like when an author leaves me hanging like this. And now I have a lack of trust. I used to handle books with most cliffhangers, but I can’t really do it anymore. I don’t mind reading series, but don’t leave me fucking hanging with no answers. Nuh-uh.

Jessie: I wasn’t a huge fan, or even a fan at all really,  but I did like some of this -- that her mom left and her dad stayed aka not a typical home situation, that it wasn’t set in the same places as most YAs tend to be, there were a few moments of genuine creepiness -- but overall, I wasn’t enthusiastic about Nightstruck. It’s the first of a series but this was a one-book stop for me, personally. I won’t be back for answers, if there are ever any. I agree with Kara -- no answers at all feels cheap and like a waste of my time.

Lyn: I can’t say I care to come back for the answers. Bye bye Nightstruck.

2.5 stars from me. It gave it a good shot, and it was almost interesting, but I’m left with too many questions and not enough push to see if the rest of the series answers them.

Kara: It’s a two from me. That second star is for the writing, which I really liked, but that’s all this book gets.

Jessie: 2 out of 5 for me, as well. Black can write and is a decent storyteller at times, but this was a miss for me. 

Don't miss any of our other bookish discussions!

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Love But Haven't Talked About Enough

Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Top Ten Tuesday is all thanks to Broke and the Bookish!

This week we are talking about books we love that perhaps don't get flailed about as much, or get lost in the sheer amount of books read in a year. Since I am trying to reread more old favorites this year, and trying to read more new-to-me backlist titles, I aimed for books along those lines.

1. India Black: Madam of Espionage by Carol K. Carr (Madam of Espoionage #1)
India Black is a madam, and a spy, and she's damned good at both, thank you very much. Her exploits and chemistry with an English rogue named French (just go with it ok) are made of banter, chemistry, and sexual tension. Along with that Carr serves up fun mysteries that keep readers -- and India -- on their toes. Please read the whole series to appreciate her voice and take-no-shit attitude.

2. Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner
A sweet, heartfelt contemporary story about immigration and young love. The writing in this debut is stellar and left an impact; Vaclav and Lena felt so real to me when reading and even when I was done.  Even years later, I still remember some of my favorite quotes verbatim. This is full of emotions but it never veers saccharine or cheesy.

3. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (The Golem and the Jinni #1)
Evocative, memorable, full of legend and myth come alive. This story is historical fiction but with a supernatural element seamlessly meshed alongside. Magical realism and 19th century New York are a great fit for an author with a mind for detail, place-as-character, and atmosphere. It's ride full of imagination and imagery.

4. The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna
This book is a cool concept with superb execution and beautiful writing. It's a story about identity and the right to life, and so much more but Mandanna carries all these themes so well and makes her points subtly. Amarra is a vibrant character, memorable long after the book is finished.  It's the cousin of Never Let Me Go and it's quiet appearance is deceptive. This is a book that lingers.

5. The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth
The Brothers Grimm owe a lot to the almost-forgotten Dortchen Wild -- a girl "wild by name and by nature"  who more than helped them in their work. Forsyth excels at spotting special moments in history to recreate and retell and this is another example of her skill.  

6. The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman
This book is a great blend of mystery, horror, and great setting. Wasserman weaves a really intricate tale of murder and secrets and it's so so good. It's a novel that rockets along at a breakneck pace but never becomes predictable or boring.

7. The Copper Promise by Jen Williams (The Copper Promise #1)
Great characters, clever writing, and a strong plot recommend this series opener. The characters are incredibly well-drawn and the author's fresh spin on fantasy tropes made this an early and permanent favorite.

8. The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst
This is an old favorite from when I was a teen. It's a strange but lovely story about grief, and commitment and it just really made me Feel a lot of complicated things.  It's intricately written and the bond between humans and dogs is a big theme.

9. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
One of the best historical fiction novels I've ever read, Donnelly's story alternates between a modern plot and a centuries-past one. It's evenly-handled, researched and detailed, and the characters really shine. The past really comes to life for this author and her view into ancien France is hard to put down.

10. Ilium by Dan Simmons 
Say it with me now: Trojan War retelling... on MARS. By a master author. This book is.. ambitious and weird and should not work but yet totally does? This update to science fiction from legend is a brave move but Simmons has the imagination and the skills to pull it off. This book is unlike anything else and it's damn good. 

Anyone else out there love these books? Cause really, I want to both reread them all right now and/or push them on all my friends because I've just remembered how awesome they allll are. 

Book Tour Review: Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson

Monday, March 21, 2016
Title: Moonlight Over Paris 
Author: Jennifer Robson
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Published: January 2016
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 3/5

It’s the spring of 1924, and Lady Helena Montagu-Douglas-Parr has just arrived in France. On the mend after a near-fatal illness, she is ready to embrace the restless, heady allure of the City of Lights. Her parents have given her one year to live with her eccentric aunt in Paris and Helena means to make the most of her time. She’s quickly drawn into the world of the Lost Generation and its circle of American expatriates, and with their encouragement, she finds the courage to pursue her dream of becoming an artist.

One of those expats is Sam Howard, a journalist working for the Chicago Tribune. Irascible, plain-spoken, and scarred by his experiences during the war, Sam is simply the most fascinating man she has ever met. He’s also entirely unsuitable.

As Paris is born anew, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of the Great War, Helena realizes that she, too, is changing. The good girl she once was, so dutiful and obedient, so aware of her place in the world, is gone forever. Yet now that she has shed her old self, who will she become, and where, and with whom, does she belong…?

Through these three historical books and her three different women protagonists, Jennifer Robson has faithfully recreated some of the most fascinating times of the 20th century with a keen eye. From before the Great War's devastation to after it, Robson has carefully imagined how women like Helena, or Lilly before her, would have coped, dealt, and lived during such trying times. Even without the benefit of having previous reading Somewhere in France and After the War is Over, Robson's newest makes for a cohesive story than can be read as a standalone novel. With the fighting of WWI over, Helena's individual struggles here in Moonlight Over Paris -- to belong and to live the life she chooses, not one that is chosen for her -- might not have the same scale of emotion as the two earlier novels, but still leaves an impression.

Helena's journey really begins when she leaves scandal and England behind to spend a year in France. As a 28 year old unmarried woman, Helena wants a chance to live the life that would make her happy on her terms and takes steps to do so. Once she claims the first victory and makes it to France on her own, with her eccentric and wonderful aunt Agnes to help, she begins to flex her independence and her artistic talents. Here, the story and Helena really began to grow as a character. Early on Helena is a bit wide-eyed and naive with a worrying lack of curiosity, but her sheltered existence as an invalid daughter of an earl makes it believable. Once she lives a little, loves a little, she sounds and feels more like a rounded person with a circle of friends and hobbies. She grows into herself, and truly becomes her own person, with her own choices and mistakes. It's a slow and subtle journey, but one that is authentic and realistic.

There are a few main reasons that this novel isn't rated higher than 3 out of 5. First among them is that I never really felt strong emotions and the love between Helena and her love interest, the awkward and freckled American Sam Howard.  I liked this novel, but this was the central romance that should have caught me up with feelings of longing, and happiness; and it just wasn't the engaging relationship I needed in order to invest feelings. Helena took a bit of time to really come alive as a character, as Sam did when introduced later, but the two of them as a couple did not work for my romantic preferences. Other readers' mileage may and will vary, but the story of Helena and Sam being a couple just lacked passion promised. It also feels way to drawn out -- the outcome is foregone and the time spent getting there feels overextended.

Contributing to my continued lack of personal emotional connection to the novel were Ellie's circle of friends. Like Sam, there is very little depth to any of their presentation. They pop in and out of Ellie's life, but she rarely asks about their home life, or gets to know them individually. It's frustrating because Etienne, Mathilde, and even Daisy had potential to be more. I loved Helena's eccentric Aunt Agnes and her progressive attitude, but even she is hardly a well-rounded and dimensional character when looking back on Moonlight Over Paris. Helena is the best example of the novel's available characters, but the secondary and tertiary characters definitely suffer in comparison and in development.   

Set during the 1920s and set in picturesque places like Antibes or Paris, it's easy to see the version of history that Jennifer Robson invents here. Art is as much a part of the novel as a character; the feel of Paris in the 20s is vibrant and alive. Moonlight in Paris is a descriptive novel and shows itself in setting details large and small. Though this ended up not a perfect read for me, I did enjoy the few hours I spent in this France with Robson's vivid version of what life may have been like. I needed more depth from the characters to fully engage in this specific novel and while that didn't happen, I can definitely see myself trying her other novels and protagonists to try and find a bitter fit.

04_Moonlight Over Paris_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, February 29
Review at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book

Tuesday, March 1
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Thursday, March 3
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Monday, March 7
Review at Book Nerd

Wednesday, March 9
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Friday, March 11
Review at Bookish

Monday, March 14
Review at Jorie Loves a Story

Wednesday, March 16
Review at Reading Is My SuperPower

Friday, March 18
Review at She is Too Fond of Books
Review at Worth Getting in Bed For

Monday, March 21
Review at I’m Shelf-ish

Wednesday, March 23
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Thursday, March 24
Review at Creating Herstory

Friday, March 25
Review at A Holland Reads
Review at New Horizon Reviews

Series Review: Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Beware the Wild (#1)
Behold the Bones (#2)
Author: Natalie C. Parker
Genre: gothic, magical realism 
Series: Beware the Wild #1 - #2
BtW: 327
BtB: 368
BtW: October 2014
BtB: February 2016
Source: publishers via edelweiss
BtW: 4/5
BtB: 4.25/5

It's an oppressively hot and sticky morning in June when Sterling and her brother, Phin, have an argument that compels him to run into the town swamp—the one that strikes fear in all the residents of Sticks, Louisiana. Phin doesn't return. Instead, a girl named Lenora May climbs out, and now Sterling is the only person in Sticks who remembers her brother ever existed.

Sterling needs to figure out what the swamp's done with her beloved brother and how Lenora May is connected to his disappearance—and loner boy Heath Durham might be the only one who can help her.

This debut novel is full of atmosphere, twists and turns, and a swoon-worthy romance.

I had never wanted to visit a swamp until I read Chime by Franny Billingsley. Even then, I was pretty sure that was a one-time urge, because swamps sound like the opposite of where I want to be... until Natalie C. Parker's stories about a magical swamp in Louisiana were filled with such atmosphere that it felt real, like the kind of place that magic would appear. This author's talent for atmosphere and setting are showcased extraordinarily well between the two books she's written in the series. Book one, Beware the Wild was good -- engaging, fresh, filled with defined characters, and excellent writing. Book two, Behold the Bones, has all that its predecessor does, but builds on that lore and incorporates new characters and plots for an even better read.

There's a lot to love about both books, but besides the evocative atmosphere in the writing, the characterization and interaction of the teens and adults in the stories are also top-notch and deftly handled. First with Sterling and later with Candace as the main characters, Parker builds very authentic and real-seeming kids with problems that may be uniquely supernatural, yet still manage to feel sympathetic and relateable with a more mundane existence. The romance in Beware the Wild was a bigger focus and thus carried my feels more than the ship(s) that were introduced for Candace over the course of book #2. I did like the author's inclusion when it came to the characters -- not everyone is straight, or white, or interested in being a parent.

I greatly enjoyed Beware the Wild, but found Behold the Bones to be an even better followup to Parker's impressive debut. I rated it around 4.25ish but the new novel was pretty much all that I wanted and was scared to hope for in a sequel to Beware the Wild. It was gothic, eerie, atmospheric, the supernatural elements tied in naturally, the characters were diverse and inclusive, and the plot was tied to the first novel's but was not dependent upon it for understanding or advancement of this second story. Parker's writing is also even stronger here; the introspective nature of Candace's thoughts are mature and interesting ("the things I lack don't define me; I define them.") and show a slow, careful, very authetnic evolution of the character.

Southern gothic magical realism novels may be a niche genre, but gems like Natalie C. Parker's duology might make a fan of me yet. Her plots are detailed, rich and memorable and her characters are the same. The pacing in both novels felt a bit off for me, especially in the beginning for each, but these are two novels that build into something rather special once the main plots are engaged and moving forward. Evocative, original, and detailed, these are definitely two books that I will remember long after I have finished. Everything in Sticks seems like it's fairly wrapped up and the stories ended by the final page, so I appreciate the resolution offered. I would, however, be open to more stories with new POVs, set in this place.

Review: After the Woods by Kim Savage

Friday, March 18, 2016
Title: After the Woods
Author: Kim Savage
Genre: contemporary, thriller, mystery
Series: N/A
Pages: 305
Published: Feb 2016
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 3/5

Would you risk your life to save your best friend?

Julia did. When a paroled predator attacked Liv in the woods, Julia fought back and got caught. Liv ran, leaving Julia in the woods for a terrifying 48 hours that she remembers only in flashbacks. One year later, Liv seems bent on self-destruction, starving herself, doing drugs, and hooking up with a violent new boyfriend. A dead girl turns up in those same woods, and Julia’s memories resurface alongside clues unearthed by an ambitious reporter that link the girl to Julia’s abductor. As the devastating truth becomes clear, Julia realizes that after the woods was just the beginning.

In this debut novel by Kim Savage, After the Woods is graced with some evocative writing, an interesting plotline, and several intriguing, if nebulously drawn, characters in a somewhat generic thriller plot. The plot itself twists around several times over the course of the book, which makes for an eventful and occasionally unpredictable read, but one that was perhaps shallower and less meaningful in how it explored the inciting events that set the story into motion. There's good setup and good elements to the story here but After the Woods also felt rushed by the short length and curbed by the narrow nature of the POV.

Part contemporary, part thriller, part mystery, Savage ties her plotlines together in After the Woods pretty neatly, if not the most originally. I liked how the story progressed with main character Julia's slow awakening of what transgressions really happened, then questioning what she is told, and then becoming more proactive and less passive in pursuing the truth. She's the strongest aspect of After the Woods by far. She's the most defined character, even if her memory is unsteady; her personality is realistic and varied. As the story builds its tension and Julia's comprehension of what really happened that day expands, the novel it its stride and becomes pretty hard to put down.

Part of the issue with After the Woods' overall execution is that it tries to do too many things, to be too many things, and to say too much in too short of timespan. Therefore, a lot of the plot points and issues feel weak or shallow when the author had good intentions or was intending to reinforce a theme or point. It made the story feel unfocused, and drew off attention and focus from the plot. It doesn't help that readers will likely spot the overall reveal before the ending, though the author has one or tricks that can come without warning.

For me this was not bad, but it's another contemporary thriller that feels rather damned with faint praise. I did enjoy the novel, but never made a lasting impression on me and its small issues built into a larger dissatisfaction once I set the book down for the final time.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Two Minute Review: Burning Glass by Kathryn Purdie

Title: Burning Glass
Author: Kathryn Purdie
Genre: fantasy, romance
Series: Burning Glass #1
Pages: 512
Published: March 1 2016
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 1/5

Sonya was born with the rare gift to feel what those around her feel—both physically and emotionally—a gift she’s kept hidden from the empire for seventeen long years. After a reckless mistake wipes out all the other girls with similar abilities, Sonya is hauled off to the palace and forced to serve the emperor as his sovereign Auraseer.

Tasked with sensing the intentions of would-be assassins, Sonya is under constant pressure to protect the emperor. One mistake, one small failure, will cost her own life and the lives of the few people left in the world who still trust her.

But Sonya’s power is untamed and reckless, her feelings easily usurped, and she sometimes can’t decipher when other people’s impulses end and her own begin. In a palace full of warring emotions and looming darkness, Sonya fears that the biggest danger to the empire may be herself.

As she struggles to wrangle her abilities, Sonya seeks refuge in her tenuous alliances with the volatile Emperor Valko and his idealistic younger brother, Anton, the crown prince. But when threats of revolution pit the two brothers against each other, Sonya must choose which brother to trust—and which to betray.

BURNING GLASS is debut author Kathryn Purdie’s stunning tale of dangerous magic, heart-rending romance, and the hard-won courage it takes to let go.

I've read this book before. I read it a few times, with a few minor tweaks, a year. If you read YA and fantasy, chances are you've read this book before. There may be a differeny (highly and obviously inspired) setting but this book offers nothing new. This is a basic, generic quasi-fantasy that is propelled not by any real kind of plot, but instead by an obnoxious and hasty romance. And, in addition to using lazy tropes and pure cliches to propel the story, this romance is also a terrible-written love triangle between the Sonya in her role as the Chosen One trope aaaand two royal brothers.

Usually I would have checked out of of a novel this obviously romance-driven much sooner (think: most likely a DNF) but I was admittedly curious in the magic and abilities of the Auraseers Purdie shows here.  They are a strong kind of empath that is used by royalty for political reasons but... that angle is glossed over for some seriously skeevy romantic entanglements. The beginning, though uneven starts out memorably and uniquely. However, any substantial aspect of characterization or worldbuilding is gone from the novel once Sonya leaves for the Palace.

I am willing to be patient with debut fantasy but Burning Glass started out jumbled and confusing, continued with no real plot for much of the novel, focused instead on tepid romances, one of which was an uncomfortable victim blaming and relationship with the abuser (SPOILER[I get that her power confuses her as to whether what Valko does to her/with her is wanted or not but NO. NO TO ALL OF THAT (/END SPOILER]), no real worldbuilding, bland cliched characters and it laaaags.

Book Blast: Death of an Alchemist by Mary Lawrence

Monday, March 14, 2016
In the mid sixteenth century, Henry VIII sits on the throne, and Bianca Goddard tends to the sick and suffering in London's slums, where disease can take a life as quickly as murder. . .

For years, alchemist Ferris Stannum has devoted himself to developing the Elixir of Life, the reputed serum of immortality. Having tested his remedy successfully on an animal, Stannum intends to send his alchemy journal to a colleague in Cairo for confirmation. Instead he is strangled in his bed and his journal is stolen.

As the daughter of an alchemist herself, Bianca is well acquainted with the mystical healing arts. As her husband, John, falls ill with the sweating sickness, she dares to hope Stannum's journal could contain the secret to his recovery. But first she must solve the alchemist's murder. As she ventures into a world of treachery and deceit, Stannum's death proves to be only the first in a series of murders--and Bianca's quest becomes a matter of life and death, not only for her husband, but for herself. . . .

Publication Date: January 26, 2016
Publisher: Kensington Books
Formats: Hardcover & eBook
Pages: 304 P
Genre: Historical Mystery

Add to GR Button

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound 

Praise for The Alchemist’s Daughter (Bianca Goddard #1)

“A realistic evocation of 16th century London’s underside. The various strands of the plot are so skillfully plaited together.” —Fiona Buckley, author of the Ursula Blanchard Mystery Series
“Mystery and Tudor fans alike will raise a glass to this new series.” —Karen Harper, author of  The Poyson Garden (Elizabeth I Mysteries) Series

About the Author

Mary Lawrence studied biology and chemistry, graduating from Indiana University with a degree in Cytotechnology. Along with writing and farming, Lawrence works as a cytologist near Boston. She lives in Maine. The Alchemist’s Daughter is the first book in the Bianca Goddard Mystery series.

For more information please visit Mary’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

Book Blast Schedule

Thursday, March 10
Reading Is My SuperPower

Friday, March 11
Rambling Reviews

Saturday, March 12
Time 2 Read

Sunday, March 13
Susan Heim on Writing

Tuesday, March 15
Just One More Chapter

Wednesday, March 16
A Literary Vacation

Thursday, March 17
A Book Geek

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Copyright © 2015 Ageless Pages Reviews. All Rights Reserved.

Amelia Theme by The Lovely Design CO and These Paper Hearts.