March 2017 Recap

Friday, March 31, 2017

Books Read: 11

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire (October Daye #5)
You're Welcome Universe by Whitney Gardner

Two Minute Review: Her Every Wish by Courtney Milan- 

Books Read: 44

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Scwhab (Shades of Magic #3)
The Edge of the Abyss by Emily Skrutskie (The Abyss Surrounds Us #2)
Geekerella by Ashley Poston
The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
SPQR by Mary Beard

*I like super loved this one so much it sent me on a Italian-specific historical fiction phase for about 8 books after.

Two Minute Review: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman -
Book Tour: The Enemies of Versailles by Sally Christie (The Mistress of Versailles #3) -
Blog Tour: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (Untitled #1) - 
Two Minute Review: The Hangman's Daughter by Gavin Smith (The Bastard Legion #1) - ★½
A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi (The Star-Touched Queen #2) - ★½
Two Minute Review: Shadowcaster by Cinda Williams Chima (Shattered Realms #2) -
Two Minute Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer½
Two Minute Review: Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver -
Blog Tour: The Confessions of Nero by Margaret George (Nero #1) -
These Ruthless Deeds by Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas (These Vicious Masks #2) -
Shadow Run by AdriAnne Strickland & Michael Miller (Kaitan Chronicles #1) -

Chris Pratt Book Tag
Ageless Discussions: Genre Phases
Waiting on Wednesday: Skullsworn
New Book Haul
Top Ten Books to Reread in 2017
Book Blast: The Andalucían Nights Trilogy
TBR Planning: March

See you in April!

Two Minute Review: Her Every Wish by Courtney Milan

Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Author: Courtney Milan
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: The Worth Saga #1.5
Pages: 117
Published: March 29, 2016
Source: borrowed library
Rating: 2/5
Crash has never let the circumstances of his birth, or his lack of a last name, bother him. His associations may be unsavory, but money, friends, and infamy open far more interesting doors than respect ever could. His sole regret? Once lovely, sweet Daisy Whitlaw learned the truth about how he made his fortune, she cut him off.

Daisy’s father is dead, her mother is in ill health, and her available funds have dwindled to a memory. When the local parish announces a Christmas charity bequest to help young people start a trade, it’s her last chance. So what if the grants are intended for men? If she’s good enough, she might bluff her way into a future.

When Crash offers to show her how to swagger with confidence, she knows he is up to no good. But with her life in the balance, she’s desperate enough to risk the one thing she hasn’t yet lost: her heart.

Six months ago, Daisy and Crash were in love. Then, minutes after the first physical act, it all fell to pieces. Now Crash, a charming and genial but low-born scoundrel, is trying to turn legit with London's first velocipede shop and Daisy, the poor, flower selling, best friend from Judith's book, has entered to win a 50 pound prize at the local parish to open an emporium of women's goods.

You don't see a lot of historical romances from the POV of England's lower class of the Victorian era, and there's a reason for that. The reason is it's sad. It's sad to see Daisy struggle to keep coal in the stove and her mother bed ridden with rheumatism before 50. It's sad to hear Crash's story of his slave grandmother throwing herself overboard to escape her rapist and her (and his mother's) eventual turn as a dockside prostitute. He's proud of his lineage of strong women, and after hearing about them, I am too, but it's still sad. Romance novels are a type of fantasy, and let's be honest, most people's ideal life includes financial security. Even after the HEA where both leads get their shop, I had trouble fully relaxing into it.

I like Daisy well enough, both in this novella and in Judith's book. She's sweet, a dreamer, but when it comes time to grind, girl puts her boots to pavement. I never felt I really understood Crash and his roguish background and how it meshed with his beloved aunt and his bicycle shop. He's laid back and easy tempered to the world, but there's an irascible edge, (which we're coming to,) seemingly reserved just for Daisy that I didn't like. Crash's mix of Caribbean, Indian, and maybe Chinese or French or is it Portuguese? definitely lends the book a diverse air not found in other Victorian romances, as does his casual bisexuality, but it's not enough to overcome the big mis.

After having sex, Crash tells Daisy he's going straight, casually relating a tale of a time in his youth that he stole. Daisy, having strong English morals, is already feeling extremely conflicted about giving away her virginity without a marriage on the horizon. She's justifying it to herself. She loves Crash and that can't be wrong. And Crash is a good person, so being together is a good thing. But she knows stealing is wrong. But Crash is a good person and he doesn't steal any more - ergo still good. So she tells Crash she forgives him. Crash, not looking for absolution, becomes upset and Daisy can't understand why. She's thoughtless and privileged and hurtful and that's wrong, but it's the kind of romance novel wrong between two leads that I could move on from. Crash however, makes a conscious decision to hurt Daisy the way she's hurt him. He tells her she is a waste.
"Very well. Do do you want me to forgive you for your mother? She'll be a burden, that's for sure. Shall I forgive you for working in a shop? I know you flirt with the men who come by. ... I forgive you the fact that you were raised to think yourself better than you are. ... I forgive you your impertinent and umwomanly desire to be more. ... I forgive you your utter ignorance in bed," he had continued, "and your maidenly qualms. Hell, I'll forgive you your very existence in return. Even though, as these things are reckoned, you are a complete waste of a woman."
You could write me 150,000 words after that and I would never be able to ship the h/h. There can be no HEA for these two. No amount of groveling, no delightful banter about tea and pastries and orgasms can pull back those words. It doesn't matter that Crash teaches Daisy to keep her head high and to push away insults, because his would already be in her heart and in mine. I can't believe any ending for this couple that doesn't see Daisy and the relationship destroyed by the shards of doubt he's put in her heart. For her to not only forgive him, but apologize first is utterly false. Some bells you can't unring, not even a romantic fantasy.

Top Ten Authors I've Met

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is all thanks to The Broke and the Bookish! This lovely header is thanks to APR's own Dani.

1. Laini Taylor -- thank you BEA16! I was a useless mess but I am super happy I got to meet her.
2. Leigh Bardugo -- at a blogger meet up, I got to discuss the awesomeness of our shared name and my hometown while drinking.
3. Marissa Meyer -- at the same blogger meet up, Marissa Meyer dropped by my table with Bekka and just chilled for a while. She's so nice!
4. Lauren Beukes - at BEA14, I was at the last of her signing line so I got to chat with her a little about her books.
5. Ryan Graudin -- BEA14 - another signing line so this was a quick meet but she made me very curious about her books.

6. Jay Kristoff - BEA16, again! He was easy to spot at least.
7. Sabaa Tahir -- this was a flyby as I was the SUPER LAST in her Torch line but very friendly and sad she ran out of books for everyone else.
8. Sharon Cameron -- one of my fellow Lady Knights had a meetup with this author in our hotel bar and we all hung out and drank... until jet lag claimed us.
9. Caleb Roehrig -- super funny and friendly at the Leigh/Marissa meet up!
10. Eoin Colfer -- he trolled me and Morgan and I am still not recovered.

Two Minute Review: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

Sunday, March 26, 2017
Title: Radio Silence
Author: Alice Oseman
Genre: contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 496
Published: expected March 28 2017
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 2/5

Frances Janvier spends most of her time studying.

Everyone knows Aled Last as that quiet boy who gets straight As.

You probably think that they are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and she is a girl.

They don’t. They make a podcast.

In a world determined to shut them up, knock them down, and set them on a cookie cutter life path, Frances and Aled struggle to find their voices over the course of one life-changing year. Will they have the courage to show everyone who they really are? Or will they be met with radio silence?

A rather generic YA contemporary despite taking pains to be different, Radio Silence was my introduction to Alice Oseman. Though I have friends who have loved and recommend her first novel Solitaire, I can easily admit I was alternatively bored and disappointed by her second. The premise of it is rather good (nerds! Awkward friendship!) and the bare bones are interesting and reminiscent of Fangirl but... it all felt empty and I didn't emotionally connect to any of it.

Fandom and friendship are big themes for the diverse cast but Frances's first-person narration feels distant and disjointed from the outset. I can read and invest in a story for the character or for a creative plot/world but in contemporary novels it's hard to be truly engaged when the narrator doesn't connect. I wanted to love Frances -- I loved that her story wasn't the expected path for a contemporary novel with a girl MC and a boy playing secondary. I also loved the wide array of representation in the cast: admitted bisexuality in a MC! PoC make up a bulk of the secondary cast! Demisexual character! So while I loved those fantastic, inclusive parts of Radio Silence ... Frances herself felt hollow and her story is way way too long.

Book Tour Review: The Enemies of Versailles by Sally Christie

Friday, March 24, 2017
Title: The Enemies of Versailles
Author: Sally Christie
Genre: historical fiction
Series: The Mistresses of Versailles #3
Pages: 384
Published: March 21 2017
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

In the final installment of Sally Christie’s “tantalizing” (New York Daily News) Mistresses of Versailles trilogy, Jeanne Becu, a woman of astounding beauty but humble birth, works her way from the grimy back streets of Paris to the palace of Versailles, where the aging King Louis XV has become a jaded and bitter old philanderer. Jeanne bursts into his life and, as the Comtesse du Barry, quickly becomes his official mistress.

“That beastly bourgeois Pompadour was one thing; a common prostitute quite another kettle of fish.”

After decades suffering the King's endless stream of Royal Favorites, the princesses of the Court have reached a breaking point. Horrified that he would bring the lowborn Comtesse du Barry into the hallowed halls of Versailles, Louis XV’s daughters, led by the indomitable Madame Adelaide, vow eternal enmity and enlist the young dauphiness Marie Antoinette in their fight against the new mistress. But as tensions rise and the French Revolution draws closer, a prostitute in the palace soon becomes the least of the nobility’s concerns.

Told in Christie’s witty and engaging style, the final book in The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the sumptuous and cruel world of eighteenth century Versailles, and France as it approaches inevitable revolution.

The third and final volume of Sally Christie's Mistresses of Versailles series tackles retelling the story of one of the most infamous women in French history: Jeanne Bécu, better known as the Comtesse du Barry. As she first did with the Mailly-Nesle sisters, and then with Louis' longtime paramour the Marquise du Pompadour in the first two novels, Christie uses women of the court as a focus; she brings new life to old scandals by offering fresh perspectives from often-ignored sources. The Enemies of Versailles is not only the narrative of Jeanne, but also that of Madame Adélaïde, the oldest of the Kings unmarried daughters at Court. The two women could not be more disparate, and their personal and interpersonal differences show clearly in their respective chapters. Using these two contrasting viewpoints to showcase new sides to Louis' reign and Court, Christie ably depicts and plots her newest historical fiction.

Through the long years of his reign and as shown in the previous books, Louis XV's romantic affairs often led to strife for not only for him, but also for the (various) women involved, and for France itself. But none of his many liaisons were as divisive or damaging as was his last maîtresse-en-titre. Objectionable to his family and in laws, and to his courtiers, Louis relationship with Jeanne foments trouble from their earliest interactions. Madame Adélaïde, especially, cannot countenance her royal father trysting with a woman so far below him in rank -- which leads to further family strain and issues within the Court itself. Though she is often held entirely to blame by most, Jeanne's appointment to Court (A commoner! Not even bourgeois!) is merely a symptom of Louis' overall indifference to his roles as King in his later years. Louis clearly begins to disregard the rules and societal mores instituted to keep him in power - though he rules absolutely in his divine right, his grasp loosen and Jeanne takes the blame (and eventually pays the highest price) for the poor decisions her king made.

Though Louis is the crux of the series and of each novel's romantic entanglements, the plot of The Enemies of Versailles really belongs to Jeanne and Adélaïde and their years-long, occasionally dormant battle of wills. Thrown into conflict due to strictures of both society and religion, the struggle between the King's mistress and the King's daughter is a permanent, enveloping fixture of The Enemies of Versailles, and goes on to have international repercussions when the dauphine Marie Antoinette chooses sides. Though ostensibly the two are fighting for Louis' time/attention as the premiere ladies of his court, their individual stories contain far more depth and subtlety than that. These were two very unlike women trying to survive and succeed in a world where their looks, family name, and marriage prospects were all they valued for. Louis is more macguffin than main player when it comes to his lover and his daughter. Over nearly four hundred pages, Sally Christie is able to string together these two very different POVs into a coherent, cohesive historical fiction novel. Jeanne and Adélaïde are vibrant, realistic, and recognizable despite Christie's unique reinterpretations/condensations of their real life stories.  

With an eye for detail combined with the ability to craft new versions of old historical figures, Sally Christie's Mistresses of Versailles trilogy has been both original and compelling. The Enemies of Versailles ably concludes what The Sisters of Versailles began and The Rivals of Versailles continued. This last and final addition has fewer POVs than its two predecessors but the inner monologues of the Comtesse du Barry and Madame are engaging, complicated, and memorable; as narrators, they make for a strong, solid ending to the libertine life of Louis XV. 

Chris Pratt Book Tag

Thursday, March 23, 2017
The Chris Pratt Book Tag was originally created by booktuber Riley Marie, and I saw it on Bring My Books a few months ago. Really this is just an excuse to post pictures of Chris Pratt and tangentially talk about books. So....

 Guardians of the Galaxy: Your favorite character ensemble

Dani: The Six of Crows crew without a doubt. They play off each other so well.

Jessie: Six of Crows, Game of Thrones, Gentleman Bastards.... also all the characters in Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me. I would love a Liza book, or a Bonnie book.. anything!

Andy Dwyer: A character or book you can’t help but love despite their flaws

My favorite fantasys eries is known to be GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire. One thing Dani and I talk about often is how it tends to be... problematic as fuuuck. 

Dani: I love the Throne of Glass series. I know it is whiter than an Alaskan January. The ships are bizarre, flung together and torn apart like my niece with her Barbies. It is SO HET. I don't know why, but I just can't quit it.

Anna Faris: Your OTP (Favorite romantic relationship)

Locke x Jean
Rincewind x Twoflower
Legolas x Gimli
Lex x Driggs
Lola x Cricket
Karou x Akiva
Cress x Thorne
Inej x Kaz
Kate x Curan
Sybella x Beast
Sansa x Lemoncakes
Nehemia x Not Being Dead

Jonah x Taylor
Karou x Akiva
Katsa x Po
Kaz x Inej
Jesper x Wylan
Alucard x Rhys
Manon x Asterin
Ismae x Duval
all the Lunar Chronicles

Chris Evans: Your BrOTP (Favorite friendship)

BrOTP wise I have to say Scott Lynch's unbreakable duo of Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen. That will never not be my answer for this type of question. The girl equivalent (lacks a cool word!) but I would say.. Safiya and Iseult from Truthwitch and Windwitch by Susan Dennard.

Dani: I can't say Locke and Jean because they're so much more than BrOTP, amirite? Ahem.

Aelin and Lysandra

 Jurassic World: A badass character

Dani: Hanna Donnelly from Gemina! She is a killer fighter, military genius, and fashionista. I want to be her when I grow up.

Lady Helen Wrexhall from Alison Goodman's The Dark Days Club and The Day Days Pact. I picked her because not only is Helen badass in terms of fighting ability, but also in using her brain and skills to help herself and her friends against all kinds of monsters.

Transformation: Best character development

Froi from Finnikin of the Rock to Froi of the Exiles. It's astonishing how his character evolves in those two (and third, tbh) novels. It's the impossible. It's that Marchetta Magic.

Dani: Danny from Dreadnought. The entire story is built around Danny's character development as she goes from abused and closeted, painting her nails behind the mall to full fledged superheroine. It's a lovely development too and you should read it.

Everwood: A book you read before it was popular

Dani: I guess maybe Harry Potter? I read it in '99 and I think it really blew up in '01 with the first movie? I'm perennially late to all trends. 

uhh.. well I've read a lot of ARCs in the last six years of blogging so there is a wide array of options for this, lol. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, probably would be an early answer.

Blog Tour Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Title: The Collapsing Empire
Author: John Scalzi
Genre: science fiction
Series: Untitled #1
Pages: 336
Published: expected March 21 2017
Source: ARC via publisher
Rating: 4/5

The first novel of a new space-opera sequence set in an all-new universe.

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible -- until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.

Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war -- and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

The Flow is eternal -- but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals -- a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency -- are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

Expansive in scope and stellar in its execution, John Scalzi's newest novel, the upcoming The Collapsing Empire, illustrates a version of humanity's diaspora future; one set in space, on various hostile planets, and in precarious far-flung systems, all ruled by a distant Emperox. Featuring an all new universe with its own detailed ruling systems, the concept of the time/space riverlike system called "The Flow", a cast of fresh and dynamic characters/antiheroes, brewing revolution, and oh yeah, also the dawn of the collapse of human civilization, there are a lot of moving parts in this shorter scifi novel. Scalzi is a veteran author and proved more than equal to the task of executing all the various elements into the solid world-building, taut plotting, and unique tech that make up his story.

From the mutinous start, The Collapsing Empire runs wild with its clever, apocalyptic premise. It and its central characters are broadly appealing though far-reaching; following a storyline more than creative and original enough to stand out in memory, it's hard not to be engaged and entertained even in the novel's quieter moments. The concept and use of The Flow to anchor the Interdependency is one of the strongest aspects of the novel. Utilizing and explaining it as a way to (believably) feature faster-than-light travel is a unique but understandable approach and also allows the author to showcase a universe of humans from disparate backgrounds and from various terrains. The author also uses this river-esque concept in important ways to affect the story and all the characters. It's the pivot on which the plot turns and Scalzi's astronomical invention is interesting, cool, and necessary all at the same time. 

If there was an area that didn't totally impress across the board, it was that the surrounding characters at times could feel hollow, or underdeveloped. There was an obvious and notable exception in the rarely-seen Vrenna, but by and large, the secondary cast is forgettable or interchangeable. The main characters of the novel (a scientist, an emperox and a starship captain) thankfully fared better and had more depth and personality. Kiva, especially, came to life and excelled at being anything she wanted. The Collapsing Empire featured two other people alongside Kiva as the other main characters: a scientist/Lord Marce and the newly-crowned Cardenia/Grayland II. Those two characters had plots that were more intertwined and political in nature, but though likeable and capable, they just didn't quite capture the charisma of their more... violently-inclined counterpart. 

All in all, this first new series offering more than makes for a good beginning. All the traditional hallmark Scalzi qualities are there: smart, inventive, actiontastic, peppered with wry/sardonic humor. The Collapsing Empire establishes the universe and the players; the board is set and ready for round two. The ending here is rather frustratingly open-ended, though it also leaves plenty of room for exploration and continuance of various plot lines in the forthcoming next book.

Ageless Discussions: Genre Phases

Sunday, March 19, 2017

If you've watched Scrubs, you might be familiar with Ted. Now, of all the Scrubs characters I probably identify with Ted the least... except in one area. You see, sometimes Ted gets stuck on an idea.

I get stuck in genre phases when it comes to "me reads." A couple times a year I find myself in the midst of a multi-book-long streak in a certain genre, location, or rarely, series. I can usually trace each marathon back to a 5-star read that was SO GOOD it made me want more just like it -- but different. 2017 is shaping up like the ones before it; I've already embarked on several different genre sprees.

In early January, I read Kameron Hurley's all-female scifi The Stars are Legion, which directly led to The Fortress at the End of Time, which led to Martians Abroad and then rereading Glow. Review copies interrupted, but then the scifi spree was re-ignited by review-reading The Collapsing Empire, which then led to Shadow Run and Luna: New Moon then the combo of The Hangman's Daughter and Luna: Wolf Moon which were each so bad they effectively ended it.

While I am usually found reading fantasy, my second favorite genre has has been a big winner for me this year. First France specifically was a focus with the last four of Maurice Druon's Accursed Kings books (The Royal Succession, The She-Wolf, The Lily and the Lion, and the King Without a Kingdom), and then The Shadow Queen, the Courts of Love, and Sally Christie's The Enemies of Versailles. Lately, thanks to the five-star review-read that was Alyssa Palombo's The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, Italy -- Renaissance, medieval, Baroque -- has been a recurring theme to my reads and rereads. Simonetta's story was followed by a reread of The Birth of Venus, then In the Company of the Courtesan, Blood and Beauty, Roma Eterna, and finally The Violinist of Venice.

Here it temporarily halts while I wait for my BookOutlet order of two more Italian historical fiction novels: The Daughter of Siena and The Venetian Contract. The thing is -- I may be off on a different whim of reading by the time they arrive. That's how these marathons run; unpredictable. My brother once accurately described me as a lightswitch: I am either ALL ABOUT IT or I am completely uninterested.

It usually ends when I have a review book that zaps me out of the mindset and atmosphere I'm chasing (generational space ships! Florence during the Renaissance!) or a long-anticipated novel arrives and distracts me into falling into a new pattern. However, there is a third option: genre burnout. It doesn't happen to me often and it never lasts forever, but when I overdo a trend, OH BOY do I ever. I haven't read PNR in years thanks to my overindulgence -- and I don't see that changing, to be the exception of the previous sentence. On the other hand, I almost always read a series of scifi novels around the beginning of the year and never burn out.

Brains are weird, right?

What about you? Do you find yourself craving read-a-likes after a particularly good novel? Do you marathon a genre/subgenre?

Review: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Saturday, March 18, 2017
Title: Queens of Geek
Author: Jen Wilde
Genre: contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 288
Published: March 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

When BFFs Charlie, Taylor and Jamie go to SupaCon, they know it’s going to be a blast. What they don’t expect is for it to change their lives forever.

Charlie likes to stand out. SupaCon is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star, Jason Ryan. When Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

While Charlie dodges questions about her personal life, Taylor starts asking questions about her own.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

Queens of Geek is a NA contemporary set up along pretty basic plotlines: A trio of friends find love amidst all kinds of nerdery over a Con. It's a simple enough story, and a short one at that with just 288 pages, and yet it manages to be diverse, inclusive, and intersectional -- not to mention shippy as hell. In the two main romances that form the bulk of her book, Jen Wilde features: a character on the autism-spectrum, a bisexual female character of Asian descent, a woman of color, and a boy of Hispanic or Latin descent (it's not made expressly clear which). It's so refreshingly nonhetero and non-mayonnaise. This is by far the best title that Swoon Reads has to offer to date; a fun, entertaining, but also heartfelt contemporary novel.

Nerdy to the core, Queens of Geek is an easy rec to make for readers who enjoy books with pop culture influences (both real and imagined) and fan-involved themes like the ones found in Geekerella, Gena/Finn, or Fangirl. The honest depiction of the inclusiveness of fandom -- of finding your people -- is one of the parts I loved most about Queens of Geek. Taylor's devotion to her Queen Firestone books and movies is pivotal in improving her life and in understanding who she is; fandom enriches her story and that's believable. Anyone who finds a niche interest shared among a group knows how that resonance feels and Wilde shows it in developing Taylor's storyline. Firestone gave a lot to Taylor and its impact on her life is important (not only because it led to her finally finding common ground with her autism spectrum diagnosis!) and recognizable.

The entire cast of characters in this contemporary really shine and come to life; I (kinda obviously) connected most to Taylor and her storyline but her best friends of Charlie and Jamie are each well-rounded and defined in their own rights. The bond between the trio is strong and I loved seeing Charlie support Taylor and vice versa, no matter what circumstances. Even tropes that usually disrupt my enjoyment of a relationship work under Wilde's pen due to the strength of her characterization. The romance between Charlie and Alyssa feels accelerated - especially contrasted with the fact that Jamie and Taylor caught feelings years ago and never acted on them, the adorable awkward dorks - but it's also realistic and their chemistry is undeniable.

Queens of Geek is so much adorable geeky, inclusive entertainment. It's pure fun to read, though it definitely packs an emotional punch or two. I loved that it took pains to be intersectional (though the explanation of the term itself felt stiff, I did not care because I just loved that it was there in the first place) and that the diversity itself was a nonissue. I loved both the years-gestating romance and the instalove that sprang up beside it. Sweet and empowering, Queens of Geek left me eagerly awaiting whatever Jen Wilde writes next.

Two Minute Review: The Hangman's Daughter by Gavin Smith

Friday, March 17, 2017
Title: The Hangman's Daughter
Author: Gavin Smith
Genre: science fiction
Series: The Bastard Legion #1
Pages: 336
Published: January 26 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 1.5/5

Four hundred years in the future, the most dangerous criminals are kept in suspended animation aboard prison ships and "rehabilitated" in a shared virtual reality environment. But Miska Storrow, a thief and hacker with a background in black ops, has stolen one of these ships, the Hangman's Daughter, and made it her own. Controlled by explosive collars and trained in virtual reality by the electronic ghost of a dead marine sergeant, the thieves, gangsters, murderers, and worse are transformed into Miska's own private indentured army: the Bastard Legion. Are the mercenaries just for fun and profit, or does Miska have a hidden purpose connected to her covert past?

Does this not sound AWESOME? I love the idea of it so much. I mean --- an unrepentant anti-heroine uses criminals to be her own army and if they disobery she blows their heads off? LITERALLY? I mean sure the whole "indentured" part is beyond messed up but that sounds like a helluva draw for a science fiction story. There's a large scope to this story that appeals, even if the execution is not up to meeting the challenge. The Hangman's Daughter launches a series that is dark and different and has so much potential....

Which is why it's such a shame that The Hangman's Daughter can't live up to its own synopsis. This is a messy, jumbled narrative -- clarity issues abound, character dialogue is clunky, and the storyline's pacing is all over the place. I can take the high levels of violence, I can take characters I don't like -- but I have to have something connecting me to the story. There was none of that personal investment here. There's violence for violence's sake and a thin plot that never really coalesces into anything meaningful. Disappointing enough to turn me off trying the rest of the series, The Hangman's Daughter is a forgettable mess.

Review: A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

Thursday, March 16, 2017
Title: A Crown of Wishes
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Genre: fantasy
Series: The Star-Touched Queen #2
Pages: 352
Published: expected March 28 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4.5/5

Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. Unsatisfied with becoming a mere puppet king, Vikram offers Gauri a chance to win back her kingdom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together, they’ll have to set aside their differences and team up to win the Tournament of Wishes—a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor.

Reaching the tournament is just the beginning. Once they arrive, danger takes on new shapes: poisonous courtesans and mischievous story birds, a feast of fears and twisted fairy revels.

Every which way they turn new trials will test their wit and strength. But what Gauri and Vikram will soon discover is that there’s nothing more dangerous than what they most desire.

As creative and imaginative as The Star-Touched Queen was before it, Roshani Chokshi returns to her lush fantasy world to tell the intertwined stories of Gauri, the left-behind sister of Maya and also exiled princess of Bharata, and Vikram, a sly and intelligent would-be king of a neighboring country. A Crown of Wishes is a showcase in finely-tuned language and crafting an expansive, otherwordly fantasy. Though this is only the second novel from Roshani Chokshi, her style is a breath of fresh air and her ability to create vivid worlds and people is impressive. The resulting story is unique and her characters, though new, feel familiar and complex throughout their evolving competitive give-and-take. With a high-stakes plot and liberal use of some familiar favorite tropes, Chokshi builds an elaborate, complete story in just a few hundred pages. 

A Crown of Wishes is rather loosely connected to Chokshi's debut novel from a year ego; however, the plot is independent of The Star-Touched Queen and its characters, and can even be read without venturing into Maya's story first. However, I cannot recommend that approach because experiencing the world and writing of this author is descriptive privilege -- as a fan of fantasy I appreciate the ingenuity, skill, and imagination Roshani Chokshi repeatedly demonstrates in her writing. To best feel the effect of her storytelling, start with The Star-Touched Queen and then dive into the wonder of her second.    

A Crown of Wishes is a strong novel across the board; both characters and story can more than stand alone on their own merits, but as a novel, it also directly benefits from Chokshi's growth as a writer. Before, in The Star-Touched Queen, her writing was stronger than the plot or the development of the individual characters. Here, those issues have changed for the better and it's hard to find a problem in any aspect of the exectuion. In A Crown of Wishes you'll find more intricate plotting, and a larger scope to both story and the world. The writing remains lushly distinct but incorporates new ideas, themes, iconography seamlessly into the texture of Gauri and Vikram's world. It's a world that feels both atmospheric and expansive -- and definitely also not pseudo-Europe.

Waiting on Wednesday: Skullsworn

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

So we've never really done much of a Waiting on Wednesday theme here at Ageless Pages. However, I think I'd like to start featuring more titles than just the ones I've received to review. So, without further ado....

Brian Staveley’s new standalone returns to the critically acclaimed Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe, following a priestess attempting to join the ranks of the God of Death.

Pyrre Lakatur doesn’t like the word skullsworn. It fails to capture the faith and grace, the peace and beauty of her devotion to the God of Death. She is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer--she is a priestess. At least, she will be a priestess if she manages to pass her final trial.

The problem isn’t the killing. Pyrre has been killing and training to kill, studying with some of the most deadly men and women in the world, since she was eight. The problem, strangely, is love. To pass her Trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the ten people enumerated in an ancient song, including "the one you love / who will not come again."

Pyrre is not sure she’s ever been in love. If she were a member of a different religious order, a less devoted, disciplined order, she might cheat. The Priests of Ananshael, however, don’t look kindly on cheaters. If Pyrre fails to find someone to love, or fails to kill that someone, they will give her to the god.

Pyrre’s not afraid to die, but she hates to quit, hates to fail, and so, with a month before her trial begins, she returns to the city of her birth, the place where she long ago offered an abusive father to the god and abandoned a battered brother—in the hope of finding love...and ending it on the edge of her sword.

Expected Publication: April 25 2017
Publisher: Tor

The Emperor's Blades (Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne #1)
The Providence of Fire (Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne #2)
The Last Mortal Bond (Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne #3)

Two Minute Review: Shadowcaster by Cinda Williams Chima

Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Title: Shadowcaster
Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Genre: fantasy
Series: Shattered Realms #2
Pages: 560
Published: expected April 4 2017
Source: publisher via edelweiss
Rating: 3.25/5

Alyssa ana'Raisa is the reluctant princess heir to the Gray Wolf throne of Fells, a queendom embroiled in a seemingly endless war. Hardened by too many losses, Lyss is more comfortable striking with a sword than maneuvering at court. After a brush with death, she goes on the offensive, meaning to end the war that has raged her whole life. If her gamble doesn't pay off, she could lose her queendom before she even ascends to the throne.

Across enemy lines in Arden, young rising star Captain Halston Matelon has been fighting for his king since he was a lýtling. Lately, though, he finds himself sent on ever more dangerous assignments. Between the terrifying rumors of witches and wolfish warriors to the north and his cruel king at home, Hal is caught in an impossible game of life and death.

Set in the world of the acclaimed Seven Realms series, this is a thrilling story of the unfathomable costs of war, the allure of dark magic, and two principled and conflicted characters, drawn together despite everything they stand to lose.

Though I am a fan I have to admit that Cinda Williams Chima usually improves upon the second book in a series. Her series beginners do not make the best introductions to the dense worldbuilding or history or plotting going on. Her first series set in this world had a decent book one and a pretty great book two. That pattern holds true for the offshoot series of Seven Realms, though to a lesser degrees of positivity. I don't usually rate books 3.25 out of 5 stars but Shadowcaster was truly caught right between 'I liked this' and I really liked this' for me. It was a vast improvement on its predecessor Flamecaster (2/5 stars) from last year but it still fell short of both the possibility and its parent series.

A success and a strong sequel, Shadowcaster has a lot going on in its pages. This time around, the author centers the story on Raisa's daughter Alyssa, and Lyss is a far stronger, more capable, engaging character than her brother Ash. Lyss is the main character and the most frequent POV but she is far from the only one. In fact one of the weaknesses of the story is that it features far too many POVs -- some of which seem exceedingly random and unnecessary.

Still, 3.5 because this has better plotting and the badass that is Lyss was enough to reel me back just when I thought I was out.

Two Minute Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

Monday, March 13, 2017
Title: Letters to the Lost
Author: Brigid Kemmerer
Genre: contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 400
Published: expected April 4 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother's death, she leaves letters at her grave. It's the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn't the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he's trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he's opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they're not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

A grief-heavy young adult contemporary, Brigid Kemmerer's newest novel Letters to the Lost is a step away from her usual supernatural genre. It's not exactly an easy look; both main characters are struggling with family, life, and growing up in addition to their losses. Juliet has just lost her mother, Declan has lost his sister, his father is in jail, and his stepfather hates him. By way of leaving letters in a graveyard, these two lost teens forge a bond by communicating with each other by letter, and then email -- all the while without knowing who the other correspondent is. 

The overall premise of Letters to the Lost is engaging, and though the various storylines (both romantic and nonromantic) verge a bit predictable in how they develop and conclude, the characters have heart. Juliet can be a bit frustrating in her slow realizations about people in her life and in her general stubbornness, and Declan seems determined to fight the entire world. But they're two teens and they're human and they're just doing the best they can in two very shitty situations. Kemmerer's characters aren't perfect but that's because they are authentic. Though I found this to be just a bit too long and a bit too predictable to fully love, Letters to the Lost is heartfelt and realistic YA contemporary story.


Review: Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves

Sunday, March 12, 2017
Title: Blood Rose Rebellion
Author: Rosalyn Eves
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Blood Rose Rebellion #1
Pages: 416
Published: expected March 28 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

In a world where social prestige derives from a trifecta of blood, money, and magic, one girl has the ability to break the spell that holds the social order in place.

Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.

As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romanies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever.

The first book in a new series that deftly mixes an alternate history of the real world with intrinsic elements of the supernatural/fantastic, Blood Rose Rebellion is a layered and detailed introduction to this world and this debut author. With creative story elements, strongly defined characters and intriguing takes on developing the magic/worldbuilding, Rosalyn Eve's long-anticipated novel makes quite an impression. This was a good start, for both the book and for the series planned. Imaginative, rich with detail, and rife with tension, Eves uses her story and cast to reflect on themes like classism, racism and even activism without being anachronistic to her imagined scenario.

Anna is a decent main character despite her somewhat cliched role at the outset of the novel; she's at least got some distinct personality traits and there's definite potential in her arc. I have to admire her personal agency in seeking out answers and the headstrong characteristics she demonstrates in doing so. She grows and matures in the course of this book already -- her trip to Hungary is pivotal for both personal and plot reasons. The author sets up the various plots and subplots at play in Blood Rose Rebellion deftly around Anna herself; there's political angles to consider, romances to contemplate, and not to mention family stressors weighing on the teenager. Blood Rose Rebellion is well-planned, and is also intentionally slow-moving at certain sections of the storyline. The ending is perhaps a bit overextended but also leaves plenty of room for further continuation of the storyline in the following book(s).

Immersive and creative, this supernatural historical fiction is ably blended with the fantastic and also home to an innovative magic system. At times turns of the plot can feel a bit facile but the overwhelming impression is a solid and entertaining one. The slowly building atmosphere of anger, resentment and revolt is enveloping and created additional tension alongside the more magical concerns facing Anna, her cousins and Gabor. There's a lot going on in these pages but the author uses all four hundred of her pages. Featuring strong historical and supernatural elements, Blood Rose Rebellion is a close readalike for fans of These Vicious Masks, These Ruthless Deeds

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