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 Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (Mackenzi Lee)

As Henry “Monty” Montague prepares to set out on his Grand Tour with his best friend (and secret crush) Percy, he fears his days of pleasure are fast approaching an end. He is expected to return from the trip more mature and ready to learn how to take over the family estate. On his trip Monty’s father expects him to be on his best behavior or disinheritance looms. Monty has different ideas and plans to drink, party and flirt with Percy the whole way across Europe. When their trip takes a sudden dangerous turn, Monty will find himself calling everything about his life into question.

I first discovered The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue a few months ago. One of the many bookish sites I follow on Facebook was advertising the first four chapters of a new YA novel. Why not? I thought to myself. I was in love before I finished the first chapter and the next several months of waiting were absolute torture.

Completely worth it. Mackenzi Lee certainly did not disappoint. This book was fresh, fun, fabulous and full of heart. It’s not often that I can say a book genuinely had me laughing out loud at points, tense with anticipation at others and in tears at the end. When it first arrived I was surprised at it’s length and was a little worried about finishing it within the deadline I set for myself. Turns out, there was no need to be concerned. I finished it in just slightly over 24 hours. It would have been faster, but I still have to go to work.

If there is anything I like in a historical fiction book, it’s a rakehell, and I was not left wanting. Monty is the lovable kind of rake that warms my heart. Percy is dreamy and sweet while Monty’s sister Felicity is sharp and sarcastic. All in all, a group that suits each other and the story well.

The 18th century has long held my interest (I have a BA in art history with a focus in 18th century painting, super useful, but that’s another story…). Art related to the Grand Tour was definitely something I studied, but it was honestly a little dry. This brought it to full, dramatic life. While Monty, Percy and Felicity’s Tour was certainly out of the ordinary and full of danger, it was still a fun romp through 18th century Europe.

I can’t recommend this book enough. I finished it less than an hour before writing this and I already am looking forward to reading it again. Read it. Read it now. It’s witty and fast-paced, certainly a book to devour.

 

Lord of Shadows Giveaway!

So… because its a holiday weekend (and because I somehow managed to pre-order two copies) I think it’s time for a giveaway. Last year I fell in love with Cassandra Clare’s books, so I’m happy to continue that obsession into this year.

If you haven’t read them yet, there are now three series featuring the Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments, The Infernal Devices and now The Dark Artifices. There are also several other books that relate to the series: The Bane Chronicles, Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, The Shadowhunter Codex, a coloring book and probably some other things I have forgotten to mention.

Lord of Shadows is the second book in The Dark Artifices series.

 

 

Lord of Shadows Giveaway

Not Every Girl and Unexpected Rewards (Jane McGarry)

I received free copies of Not Every Girl and Unexpected Rewards in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinions of the books.

In the small kingdom of Stewartsland, Olivia trains with the squires and longs to become a knight. She knows that as a woman, this hope is in vain, but she clings to it regardless. When she disguises herself as a boy to go along on a mission, things do not go exactly to plan. Instead, Olivia finds herself in the middle of a plot against the king with the haughty Price Liam as her unexpected partner. It will take every bit of her courage and fortitude to guide her through the challenges ahead of them.

Unexpected Rewards find Olivia in a most unusual situation for her. She has been appointed as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Helen. Living in the palace proves to be awkward and confusing, but Olivia is determined to prove that she belongs in this world.

First, let me say, I’m sorry my summary for Unexpected Rewards is so vague. I don’t want to give too much away for you if you haven’t read Not Every Girl. And you should read it, but I’ll get back to that.

Secondly, these books made me eat my words. Both are published by Clean Reads. Many of you know me, I tend to like my books… well… less than virtuous, I suppose. When I first heard of this particular publisher I said I wanted nothing to do with their books. I’m very glad I made an exception. Most likely I will keep reading their books.

I will admit, starting out I was a little unsure about Not Every Girl. Strangely, it was the characters’ names that gave me pause. They all seemed so ordinary, not all that unusual or epic. I hadn’t realized how much I had come to expect out of the ordinary names in my young adult fiction. It did not take long for none of that to matter any more to me. In the end, my biggest complaint is that it isn’t long enough. While I don’t feel like anything was really left out, I would have liked to have seen some scene extended just a bit more. I particularly would have liked to have seen more of Athos.

With Unexpected Rewards I didn’t have that same feeling. While the books are roughly the same length, this one seemed more evenly paced to me. While they are very different books as far a story, they still mesh well. I think out of the two, I definitely enjoyed this one more. By the end I had a ridiculous grin on my face.

I’m definitely ready to read more of Olivia’s adventures. She’s headstrong and more than a little stubborn, but brave and even her tendency to blurt out her feelings is strangely charming. While at times I found myself frustrated at her for being such a teenager, she still ends up totally likeable.

For those of you who are fans of YA books, Jane McGarry has two winners here that you should definitely check out.

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 Last of August (Brittany Cavallaro)

I know I have mentioned before that I have a definite fondness for things relating to Sherlock Holmes. It was this fondness and a really good deal on an ebook that led me to buying A Study in Charlotte, Brittany Cavallaro’s first book in this series. I read the book during my recent vacation and was so enthralled that it largely took my mind off the searing pain from sore muscles and blisters on my feet.

While I have read a few very good homages to the great fictional detective this year (see my post on The Daemoniac and The Lost Property Office), this series might be my favorite. In the first book we are introduced to Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes, descendants of the original Watson and Holmes who just so happen to be attending the same boarding school. There is plenty of mystery, mayhem and a Moriarty. Bloody brilliant. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long for the next book. Sometimes, there are advantages to being late to the game.

In The Last of August we join our dynamic duo as they are spending their Christmas holidays together, first with Watson’s mother and sister and then with Holmes’ parents. Both are working through messy emotional situations (particularly their feelings for one another) when Charlotte’s uncle Leander goes missing while working on a mystery involving an art forgery ring. They head across Europe to search for clues and find a mystery deeper and more dangerous than they could have imagined.

I definitely found this book to be more tangled than the first in the series. I’m going to have to give the ending a more thorough read because there was a lot going on. Still, I loved it.

Not only do you get a better glimpse into the messy lives of the Holmes and Moriarty clans, but there were a few chapters narrated by Charlotte herself. I really found this helped shine some insight into her typically sphinxian character. It makes Watson’s fascination with her seem much more understandable. Plus, it was fun to see more of Milo Holmes and the (mostly) villainous Moriarty siblings.

So, since it’s been awhile since I’ve done a giveaway, I’ve decided that one lucky winner will receive copies of both A Study in Charlotte AND The Last of August!! Giveaway ends March 3, so get your entries in!!

A Study in Charlotte and The Last of August Giveaway!

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.

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=637421
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.

 

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.

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.