End of July Roundup

I know. I’ve been distant lately.

But truly, it’s not you, it’s me.

Writing a book is hard. I sort of suspected it might be, since I had never just written one before, but the reality is harder than I could have guessed. The good news is, things are still moving along well with the book, despite several stalls over the course of the month. I’ve just begun chapter 10, which is more or less the halfway point in my story. This journey has been excited and made me really proud of what I can accomplish, but it’s also been incredibly stressful. I second guess myself all the time. I’ve thought about giving up, because there is no way anyone would want to read this garbage.

But, I’ve kept going. I don’t write everyday, but I do most days, even if it’s only a paragraph or two. I’m not yet one of the super disciplined writers who can sit down and churn out several thousand words a day. Aside from discipline, I don’t really have the time. The book will get done, but it may take some time.

I’ve also been reading lots. Since reading is helpful in dealing with my stress and I’ve been VERY stressed out lately, it has helped make the month tolerable. I’ll have full reviews coming up on some of what I’ve read, which I’ll note, but otherwise, I wanted to summarize my reading list and maybe give you some ideas for your summer reading.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

I’m late to the Grishaverse. I ordered Six of Crows several months ago looking for books with amoral protagonists and it languished on my TBR piled for quite awhile before I finally picked it up last month. I order Crooked Kingdom well before I ever finished the first book. The world Leigh Bardugo has built is rich and engrossing and the characters were fascinating. I will definitely be reading more from her in the future.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

I’ve always had a soft spot for fairy tale retellings, so this seemed like it would be right up my alley. It was definitely well written and creative, but overall the story didn’t appeal to me. I didn’t expect a happy ending, and certainly didn’t get one, but I sort of hoped for something less bleak.

What the Raven Brings by John Owen Theobald and Spectacle by Rachel Vincent

Each of these books is, respectively, the second books in their series. You might recall I reviewed the first books (These Dark Wings and Menagerie) last year. I finally kicked myself into gear to read these. Look for full reviews of each in the next month.

Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse

I was surprised as anyone to find out the legendary basketball player was not only writing books, but fiction books. With a soft spot for Sherlock and a great deal on Kindle, I decided it was worth trying. It was actually pretty good, occasionally bordering on a little stuffy, but hey, this is Mycroft we’re talking about. Definitely a worthwhile read if your into all things Holmes.

Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy– Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson, Robin Wasserman

This has seriously been collecting dust on my TBR since November. Which is weird for me, particularly since I usually gulp down anything Shadowhunter related pretty fast. Once I started, this one was no exception. Despite 600+ pages, I read it in an entire day. It was enjoyable and certainly helped fill in a few gaps between the Mortal Instruments and The Dark Artifices.

Dragon Unbound by Katie MacAlister

The usual Katie MacAlister Dragon craziness, distilled down to novella size. Here, we finally get a little more with the First Dragon. Of course I loved it. I always do.

Dream World by Erin A Jensen

I had many of the same issues with Dream World as I did with the first book, Dream Waters, which I reviewed awhile back. It wasn’t a bad book, I’m intrigued enough to keep going, but it wasn’t great.  The switching between perspectives got a little confusing and I’ve seriously never seen so many variations on ‘pissing oneself’ in my life. This made it hard for me to read for long periods of time without having to step away. But, I’ll stick around and see what the next book holds.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Ok, so technically I read this one last month, but I’m including it anyway. This was one I picked up at the same time as Six of Crows and it waited in the TBR pile for awhile. I really loved this one, guys. It had moments where things got a little confusing, but I chalked that up to the atmosphere of Caraval. It was dark and magical. Cannot wait to read more.

The Bone Witch (Rin Chupeco)

I received a free copy of The Bone Witch from the publisher in exchange for a review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Tea comes from a family of witches, but after she accidentally raises her brother from the dead, it becomes clear that she’s nothing like her sisters. She is a Bone Witch, feared and often reviled. After being taken under the wing of the Bone Witch Mykaela, Tea finds herself in a completely different world from the small village she has grown up in: training to become an asha.

The simplest way for me to sum up The Bone Witch is Memoirs of a Geisha meets The Kingkiller Chronicles. I’ll admit, it took me quite awhile to get over the similarities to Memoirs of a Geisha in particular. If you’ve read it before, it’s difficult not to see the tribute. If you haven’t, well, you’re golden. It will pretty much be an all new thing for you.

Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed The Bone Witch.

The asha themselves are more than just pretty faces. These are some seriously ass-kicking ladies. Asha are more than just witches: they are also graceful artists and skilled fighters. The are sort of a deadly combination of ninja, geisha and witch. While Tea feels adrift and out of place among the asha, she is extremely well suited to it. She is smart and powerful. I look forward to seeing more of her in the future.

The ending really left me ready for more. There is a HUGE twist at the end. I cannot wait for the next book in the series. Considering I finished this book in August, I think I’m going to have an unfortunately long wait… in the mean time, my preordered copy should be here soon!

The Blazing Star (Imani Josey)

I received a free copy of The Blazing Star in exchange for an honest review. This definitely did NOT change my opinion of the book.

Sixteen-year-old Portia is used to playing second fiddle to her genius twin sister, Alex. After having a strange reaction when she holds a scarab in her history class, Portia finds herself braver and stronger than she was before. But, the second time she comes into contact with the scarab, what happens is even stranger: she wakes up in Ancient Egypt, along with her twin and a freshman girl.

While trying to find a way back to their own time, they discover that they are not there by chance and their connection to Ancient Egypt runs far deeper than they ever could have imagined.

Let’s be real here: my regular readers can probably figure out what initially drew me to this book. Did you see that cover? It’s gorgeous. Scroll back up and look at it if you didn’t look before. See? Gorgeous. BUT, even more importantly, this book was about Ancient Egypt. I’ve only been obsessed with Egypt since 3rd grade. Of course I was going to read it.

Lucky me: it’s an awesome book. Things start out just a little slow, but they pick up fairly quickly. Although I’ve never had sisters, I felt that Portia and Alex’s relationship seemed pretty authentic. It’s not perfect, but they love each other. In fact, I really liked almost all the characters. The priestesses are all pretty fantastic, very well written and interesting.  I have a particular fondness for sweet Prince Seti.

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I imagine he’s more of a dreamboat than this more recent picture of the actual Pharaoh Seti I

I made the mistake of reading several other reviews before I started The Blazing Star. There were a few that mentioned that the setting was vague and could have been anywhere ancient. I have to disagree. The whole thing felt pretty Egyptian to me. Could it have been more detailed? Probably, but too much detail would have bogged everything down. As someone who has spent the better part of two decades or more fascinated with the Ancient Egyptians, most things seemed to ring fairly true to me.

You have Egypt and magic, what more can you want?? For a first novel, Imani Josey KILLED it. I pretty much finished the book and immediately ordered myself a signed copy. I cannot wait to read more.

 

Wise Phuul (Daniel Stride)

I recieved a free copy of Wise Phuul from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Teltö Phuul is a humble necromancer and library clerk, living the peaceful life, when he finds himself caught up in a political intrigue he could never imagine. Stranded far from home and his family, he must navigate the treacherous political climate as well as the physical distance to get himself back home in one piece.

Let’s start here with the world building, because it really was top-notch. The only problem for me was that I felt like I was dropped into the middle of a world that I didn’t truly understand. It was so well realized and complex, that I felt like I needed some sort of primer so that I could understand what was going on. It took me the better part of the book to feel like I sort of had a handle on things. Even then, I would have still liked to understand more of the history of the Viiminian empire.

Then there is the character of Teltö. I struggled with him. Sometimes he was clever, but mostly he just seemed lucky and he seemed to spend a great deal of time being concerned with getting laid, even in the most unlikely of circumstances. In the end, I suppose his flaws make him more human, but I still cannot say that I liked him. Ultimately, in a fantasy book I’m looking for a seemingly normal character to emerge from their situation as a hero, and I don’t feel like that really happened here. I understand there is to be at least one more book in the series, so there is more time for character development, but I’m having trouble seeing much at this point.

Overall, it was a reasonably enjoyable book and certainly not bad for a debut novel. If you are looking for a fantasy with a richly imagined world, you will not be disappointed. I will be very interested to see where Daniel Stride goes from here.

The Devil’s Bible Saga (Michael Bolan)

I received free copies of The Devil’s Bible saga from the author in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the books.

The story opens as the Duke of Brabant lay dying. The succession is supposed to be split between the three sons of the Duke, giving them all a chance to be leaders. After he slips away, the eldest brother Reinald reveals that their father changed his will on his deathbed and he is now the sole heir to the duchy.  He makes it quite clear that he will brook no defiance from his siblings. Willem and Leo, along with their headstrong sister Isabella choose to leave their home and pursue their own destinies rather than submit to their brother’s will. The form a war party for hire and proceed to be very successful throughout the Thirty Years War. Reinald, meanwhile follows a much more sinister path: he joins forces with a group intent on bringing about the apocalypse by killing as many people as possible.

What a thoroughly enjoyable series! A little history, a little fantasy and totally binge-able! The series consists of three books, The Sons of Brabant, Hidden Elements and The Stone Bridge.  My little summary above? Barely scratching the surface. There is a great deal going on, but it’s all told fairly compactly, which is something I really liked. I read the whole series in under a week, partially because they are not super long, partially because I couldn’t put them down. He doesn’t waste a lot of time dragging out pointless conversations or endless, overdone descriptions. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.

While The Sons of Brabant was a great book, my favorite was definitely Hidden Elements. Within the first two pages my jaw was on the floor and I could barely stop to sleep, eat and go to my day job. And The Stone Bridge can certainly hold it’s own with the other two: happy, sad, spectacular.

The characters are also pretty fantastic. The bad guys range from sinister to absolutely deplorable, some make your skin crawl. The heroes are just as fleshed out. Isabella was my particular favorite. She’s totally ass-kicking and I thought an amazingly well written female character.

One thing is for certain, Michael Bolan tells one hell of a story. And I cannot wait to read more.

 

The Daemoniac (Kat Ross) and The Lost Property Office (James R. Hannibal)

I received a free copy of The Daemoniac and The Lost Property Office from the publishers in exchange for a review. This did not change my opinion of the books.

Today I’m going for a twofer, since these two books share a common thread.

I have a soft spot for Sherlock Holmes. But, I will confess, I’ve never read the books. I know. It’s shocking. Rather, my affection comes from the BBC’s Sherlock. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are my Sherlock and Watson. Nevertheless, I still enjoy a little nod to the characters in my reading. Perhaps someday I’ll even get around to the books.

The Daemoniac

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It’s the summer of 1888 in New York, a mere three weeks before Jack the Ripper begins his reign of terror in London. Detective Harrison Fearing Pell and her friend John Weston take a case that looks like demonic possession. Harry is not convinced that the killer is anything other than flesh and blood. The case will take them from the dangers of the Five Points to the mansions of Fifth Avenue.

I was skeptical of this book from page one. The opening chapter was a little awkward and felt like it wanted to be Sherlock Holmes way too much. However, it ended up being an extremely fun Victorian mystery, with hints of magic. It paid homage to Sherlock without, ultimately, being too heavy handed.

While I loved all the characters, I particularly love the inclusion of Nellie Bly and Arthur Conan Doyle. Harry (who, by the way, is female) is not some know-it-all detective but a smart, capable sleuth and Weston is a charming and able side-kick.

It was a super enjoyable read and I would love to read more of Harry’s adventures in the future. I actually just found out that this is connected to the other books Kat Ross has written. Hmm… guess I’ve got some reading to do.

The Lost Property Office

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Thirteen year old Jack Buckles’ father has gone missing in London, and while Jack has a better than normal knack for finding missing items, unfortunately, his father isn’t one of them. After his sister follows someone she thinks is their father out of the hotel, Jack discovers The Lost Property Office and uncovers a secret. His father is member of a secret society of detectives who have served the crown for generations. Now, the only way Jack can save his father is to find the Ember and defeat the Clockmaker before it’s too late.

This book was absolutely SO much fun. Again, this book also owes some of it’s origins Sherlock Holmes as well, The Lost Property Office itself is on Baker Street. You’ll also find other delightful bits and pieces as you read.

In particular I absolutely loved the scene in the archives. I won’t give it away. You should definitely read this book and see for yourself.

While this is clearly for a somewhat younger crowd (middle grades maybe? I’m a bad judge of these things.), it never condescends. It’s full of smart characters and assumes the readers are as well.

While these two books are fairly disparate, I think they both have something for everyone to enjoy.

Other Books I’ve Been Reading

If you keep track of my little Goodreads shelf over on the sidebar, you may have noticed I’m reading quite a few books that I’m not writing up. There are several reasons for this. Some were just bad. Others were ok, but I didn’t have strong enough feelings about them to write an entire review. Yet others are books I’ll be reviewing at a later date.

I’ve decided to do a quick and dirty summary of some of those, since just because I didn’t rave about them, doesn’t mean you won’t.

Useless Bay (MJ Beaufrand)

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This was actually a fairly enjoyable book. Geared more toward middle grades, it was really well written, but left too many questions hanging for me to really enjoy it thoroughly. It centers around the larger than life Gray quintuplets, the unofficial search and rescue team of Whidbey Island. This one is out October 18.

 

Chasing Embers (James Bennett)

I really want to like urban fantasy, but I nearly always struggle with them. This one isn’t bad, a little wordy at times but a fairly solid read. I have a soft spot for dragons, so that may be part of the appeal for me. I can’t really gush about it, but I will likely read the next book when it comes out.

A Rustle of Silk (Alys Clare)

A decent mystery set against the backdrop of early Stuart England.  Overall, it was an enjoyable mystery, but there were a few moments that I didn’t really think fit and overall the mystery was just a little too easily solved for me. I won’t give away exactly what those parts were, but just be fair warned if you decide to pick this one up.

The Apothecary’s Curse (Barbara Bennett)

This urban fantasy, I actually did enjoy. The story moves between modern and Victorian timelines, but I found that kept me really interested. Victorian doctor Simon Bell and and apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune became immortal and now must stop a modern pharmaceutical from exploiting their secret.

Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer (Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.)

Talk about books that will make your skin crawl, this was beyond just creepy. Much of the story is told in Dennis Rader’s own words and while it’s interesting, it’s also scary as hell.

Garden District Gothic (Greg Herren)

It could be that I wasn’t super excited about this book because I hadn’t read any of the others in the series (this is the 7th Scotty Bradley book). The worst part for me was that the mystery seemed to be just too easily solved. It had the build up to be a really great mystery and I was really let down. I was a little iffy at the beginning because it really seemed to want to be the gayest thing that ever was gay, but things leveled off so that I wasn’t constantly saying to myself, “OK, I get it, these guys are gay!” It’s gay fiction and it seriously wants you to know it. Regardless, ultimately I found the super easy wrap up to be the deal breaker here.

Choose Your Own Misery: The Holidays (Mike MacDonald, Jilly Gagnon)

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I wanted to love this. It was (supposed) to be pure nostalgia for me, since I grew up with the Choose Your Own Adventure books. This was a humorous take on how much the holidays can suck. It was okay, I suppose. Cute. But, it was clearly written from a purely male perspective and I quickly lost interest.

The Private Lives of the Tudors (Tracy Borman)

I absolutely loved this one. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a passion for all things Tudor and this really gave me a lot of new insight into the everyday lives of the Tudor monarchs. I decided to forgo a full review of this one, just because I don’t know many people that would get as excited about the minutiae of Henry VIII’s private life as I do.

The Red Ripper (Peter Conradi)

Another book about a creepy serial killer, this time it’s Russian killer Andrei Chikatilo. It was an interesting read, but didn’t really expand on anything I hadn’t read previously.

My Lady Jane (Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows)

I’ve been nuts about the Tudors for years. My collection of both fiction and nonfiction books about the Tudor clan (especially Henry VIII) has grown pretty substantial over the years. I had come across this book on social media a few times, but really had no idea what it was about. Based solely on the cover image and title, I made the guess that we were dealing with a YA historical fiction about the doomed Lady Jane Grey. And I definitely wanted to read it. However, it had a few surprises waiting for me.

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Well all know I’m a sucker for a good cover. Courtesy HarperCollins.

I was partially right. The book IS about Lady Jane Grey. Turns out, it’s an alternate history. And has three authors. I was immediately skeptical (Three authors? Alternate history? Would this be a total carriage wreck? ), but decided to go ahead and press onward. This may be been partially due to the fact that I forgot I had the book on my library app. With only until 38 hours before it was due back. Challenge accepted.

Worth every minute. This book was so much fun. I also finished it with probably 10 hours to spare. Winner.

“How,” you say, “can a book about a teenager who gets her head chopped off possibly be fun?” Alternate history, people. It’s not exactly a true story. Take what you already know about Lady Jane Grey, add some magic, some modernized dialogue and TONS of pop culture references, and viola! You have My Lady Jane. This one is definitely going to take another reading for me to catch all of the pop culture references that were going on here. The Princess Bride, Monty Python, heck, I even caught a Jaws reference. I’m certain that there are others I missed.

So, the basics: It’s 1553 and sixteen year old King Edward VI is dying. Lord Dudley convinces him to replace his sisters Mary and Elizabeth in the line of succession with his bookish cousin and childhood friend Lady Jane Grey. One hasty marriage later to Gifford Dudley, the younger son of Edward’s chief minister, and Jane becomes the Queen of England after Edward’s death. She was queen for nine days until the Privy Council switched sides and Mary took back the throne.

The first part of the story more or less follows history here. Beyond that… well… you’ll just have to read it. I cannot recommend it enough.

The extra good news is that the Lady Janies (as the authors call themselves, I love it!) have at least two more books planned rewriting the history of two more Janes from the past! How great is that?!?

For fans of history, the Tudors, fantasy or fun, this is just a no brainer.

The Darkest Part of the Forest (Holly Black)

There’s a monster in our wood.
She’ll get you if you’re not good.
Drag you under leaves and sticks.
Punish you for all your tricks.
A nest of hair and gnawed bone.
You are never, ever coming…

Fairfold is a town in between the normal world and the world for faerie. The townspeople have lived side-by-side with the Folk for years, a dangerous balance. Locals are generally safe, but tourists have been known to disappear. Hazel and Ben have spent most of their lives navigating this strange, beautiful, sometimes deadly place and they understand the dangers better than most.

In the woods there is a horned boy lying asleep in a glass coffin. For years he has lain there, an object for tourists to gawk at and the teenagers to have parties around. Both Ben and Hazel have spent years pouring their secrets and dreams to the horned boy. One day, the coffin is shattered and he wakes up. This one act changes everything irreversibly. Now, Hazel finds herself being the knight she always wanted to be, but at what cost?

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Image via Hachette Book Group

We should know after The Raven Cycle I love dark and dreamy. This was loaded with both. Fairfold is like living in a dream on the edge of a nightmare. These are not sweet peaceful faeries from childhood stories, but tricky creatures with little regard for human life. Even the monster is beautiful and horrifying. Holly Black did an amazing job of blending together the modern world and the world of the faerie almost seamlessly.

Hazel, to be blunt, is a total badass. There is romance brewing here, however, it is Hazel, not Jack, Ben or Severin that is the hero. It’s not that the guys aren’t great characters; they are all strong, solid characters with fascinating stories. This isn’t just your run of the mill fairy tale with a damsel in distress. Hazel is not content to sit back and let the guys solve her problems, instead she takes matters spectacularly into her own hands.

I also found Jack to be a particularly interesting character. He is a changeling, one of the fae, but raised by humans. Like the family of his birth, he has many secrets, but still walks a fine line between the world of the Folk and the human world.

And did you see that cover? Gorgeous!

Holly Black is not an author I was previously familiar with, but you can be sure I’ll check out more of her books in the very near future. So glad I stumbled upon this at the library.

The Graces (Laure Eve)

To keep things nice and legal: I received a copy of The Graces from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review. That did not affect my opinions.

Looking for Mean Girls, but darker and with a twist? Have I got a book for you.

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Image via Abrams Books

The Graces rule the school. Fenrin, Thalia, and Summer Grace are the be all, end all of high school: wealthy and beautiful, suspected to be witches, they are popularity itself. River is none of these things. Poor, lonely and unpopular in a new school, like everyone else she would give anything to be a part of the Grace’s circle. But, once she finds herself inside, all is not what it seems. Something dark is cultivated that none of them could have imagined. And when things go wrong, the results are tragic.

I’m not sure quite what I was expecting from this book when I started, magic and everyone lives happy ever after, I suppose, but what I got was something else entirely. That’s not to say I didn’t like it. I did. It was fantastic actually; it just wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. No silly love-of-my-life teen romance here.

When I first began reading, the worshipful attitude surrounding the Graces was a little off-putting. I mean seriously, how great could they really be? It makes a certain amount of sense, given that River is new and lonely, but even then it seemed a little excessive. However, it did eventually become clear to me why exactly she holds them in such an exalted status. I can’t tell you why, it gives too much of the twist away.

I don’t know that I can really say that the characters are totally realistic, at least not at first. River seems to be, initially, with her lonesome desperation to be a part of the popular crowd. But things don’t stay that way. I was never at her level of obsession, but I can certainly commiserate: there was a time in my life when I would have loved to have been a part of the “in” crowd (it turns out the crowd I was actually in was FAR better than the popular crowd. But that’s a whole separate story). At first the Grace’s themselves don’t seem very real, they seem like an ideal. As time goes on, however, there this a little tarnish to that ideal, which does make them seem more like mere mortals. But, just like River, I couldn’t help but want to get closer to them.

The story also took a darker turn than I was expecting. With a lot of YA novels they are obviously dealing with apocalyptic scenarios. This one did not, exactly, so I was not looking for events to go where they did. I loved it. So much better than a bunch of lovey-dovey nonsense.

On a side note, you should definitely check out Laure Eve’s website. There is a Spotify playlist just for The Graces and all sorts of other goodies.

I have to recommend this one. It kept me coming back anytime I had to put it down to live in the real world. I definitely would love to see more of the Graces! You can preorder it now and it will be released September 6!