Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Book Review: Fatal Throne by Candace Fleming & More

**This e-ARC was provided to me for review purposes through NetGalley!**

What it's about:
     In this book, a collection of authors tell-all from the point of view of Henry VIII and his Six Wives.  Though fictional, the stories of each woman are steeped in history and well-researched. 

What I thought:
      I enjoyed this book, though is not my usual type of read.  However, being a pretty big Anglophile (can't help it, I grew up with an English Nana--it's in my blood, literally), I find myself always having been very interested in the lives of Henry VIII and his many wives (and actually, in real life, I've been in the cathedral in which Henry VIII is buried!).  I've read a few other books on the subject, though most of them have been from the pov of Mary or Elizabeth (Henry's daughters, for those not in The Know), so it was quite different for me to see povs directly of Henry and the Wives.

No lie, I actually own this mug.

     I also very much enjoyed seeing how the lives of the wives intermingled before Henry was involved.  Most texts, I find, rely on either the narrative of Catherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn, so it was refreshing and interesting to to see/learn more about the other 4 wives.

     We additionally get to see a bit about each wife from Henry's pov, which, though interesting, gave me an even lowered opinion of him. Guy was a douchebro. And his "motto"? "Sir Loyal Heart"?! Don't even get me started about how *not* true it is.

Yeah yeah yeah, Henry, you're, like, soooo great. Except when you have your wives killed mostly because you found a new hot girl to marry. NOT.

     I think my favorite section of the book was that of Anne of Cleves.  She was one of the few wives/ex wives that survived Henry, and her section was told through memories/hallucinations as her cancer kills her.  Morbid, yes, but also very vivid and imaginative, which broke up the other wives' more monotonous, "Here's what's happening/ what happened" storylines. 
     There's also a really cool bit at the end from Elizabeth's pov, which really "sticks it to the man", since Henry's last dying entry in the book mentions how glad he is to have a son who will be a great King, and that neither of his daughters will ever be on the throne.
Take THAT, you misogynist!

     I also liked Catherine Parr's section.  Since she survived Henry while still married to him, it was interesting to see how exactly she managed to *stay* his wife, even though he tried to do away with her.

     Overall, I really liked seeing the process of a not necessarily powerful woman suddenly being thrust into the Top Female Spot and seeing how each woman dealt with it, as well as dealing with Henry and his terrible conduct and eventually failing health.  There's definitely something regal and yet sort of sad about this book, much like the queens themselves.  It's a modern-day obituary that brings to light the feelings, hopes, and dreams of the deceased.  

Rating:  3.5 stars.  

Book Review: My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma

**This book was provided to me through NetGalley for review purposes!**

What it's about:
     This story follows our main character, Winnie Mehta, through a break-up with the guy she *thought* was supposed to be her soulmate--as in Raj, the guy with an "R" name who she would meet before her 18th birthday and who gave her the prophesied silver bangle bracelet that would prove his love and devotion.  Yes, I said PROPHESIED. 

You can't fight a prophecy, right?!?

    But when things go south in their "perfect" relationship, it starts to bleed over to the rest of their lives, including the film club that she and Raj "co-president", and which runs a film festival every year.  A film festival that Winne NEEDS to be part of if she wants to fulfill her dream of attending the NYU Film School.  

    Well, as you can imagine, interesting and....unexpected things begin to happen from there on out.

What I thought:

     Firstly, a disclaimer: if I relate closely to anyone in this book, it'd be Winnie's bff, Bridget.  I am a blonde-haired, blue eyed girl of Scandinavian ancestry--pretty much as far as you can get from any of the cultures of India or its geographical neighbors.
     But man, do I like...*really* love Bollywood movies.  I don't even remember the first one I saw, but I was in middle school, and after that, I was instantly a fan. I get that a lot of them are super cheesy, and like...nobody in real life breaks out into perfectly choreographed song and dance numbers, but they span a *ton* of themes and can be both super entertaining and also very powerful, sometimes all at once.

(Side note: this is from Lagaan, one of my all-time FAVORITES. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend! Sure, it's 3 hours long, but it's got history and drama and romance and it will give you ALL THE FEELS.)
    A second disclaimer: the setting of this book ABSOLUTELY affected the way I read it.  My grandparents lived in Princeton, NJ for almost my entire childhood and I spent a LOT of time there during holidays and summer breaks.  Being able to recognize landmarks and places in a book, even though their names were changed? Weird for me, but also super fun.  Like...the theater Rose Theater is based on? I probably walked by that place like 5738 times as a kid.  And the ice cream place, Robert's Sweets? Totally not the real place, but it *is* very close in name.
     Strangely enough, Princeton is also the place where I first saw a movie mentioned in this book: Bend It Like Beckham, directed by someone who shows up in this story: Gurinder Chadha.  The previously mentioned Nana brought me to the movies to see it, then I promptly went to the bookstore (again, in Princeton) to buy the soundtrack, which I still listen to to this day.

     But I digress.  Back to the actual reason you may be here: the book! (Though if you're enjoying my trip down memory lane, yay! And thanks for putting up with me.)

     This book is a contemporary YA romance mixed with a bit of a "finding your true self" story all wrapped up in a package filled with Bollywood references and dreams of Shah Rukh Khan (which *totally* makes me want to have a dream with him in it. It'd be so amusing).

This is Shah Rukh Khan. He is an absolute GEM.

       Since there's a prophecy involved, and we know its contents pretty much right off the bat, it's kind of easy to assume that the plot would take one of two directions.  The headstrong but straight-laced heroine wants to control her own destiny and succeeds, thus disproving the prophecy, or.....the headstrong but straight-laced heroine wants and tries to control her own destiny, but in doing so, ends up with a self-fulfilling prophecy instead.
      However, it's how we go through Winnie's journey with her that's the fun part.  All at once, you're both hoping she finds the true soulmate of the prophecy by the end of the book and also rooting her on for wanting to just ignore silly superstitions and make her own way in the world.  

     The secondary characters were well-thought out and likeable, though my pet-peeve of adult characters not JUST LISTENING to younger people in important situations did show up (I don't know about you, but the adults I grew up around didn't write off EVERYTHING I SAID as nonsense or teen drama. I'm not sure if I was just lucky, or if this is just really not realistic).  Even the Ex, Raj, was a fairly enjoyable character by the end.  Also, I'm not going to go into particulars, but...Dev.

     I also found Winnie's struggles with the expectations surrounding her to be pretty realistic.  I mean, if my entire family was obsessed with some random prophecy about my love life, I'd get a bit annoyed/stressed out about it as well. Then when things go wrong with the guy you thought was "the One" since childhood, I mean--no wonder she's got kind of a complex about this whole bit of divination.  

     Overall, I don't think you need to be a fan of/knowledgeable about Bollywood in order to read this book (It does add to the enjoyment, but I don't think it's necessary).  It's a solid story that I think will satisfy many types of readers!

Rating:  4 stars.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Book Review: The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

**This e-ARC was provided for review purposes through NetGalley!**

What It's About:
         Anathema Island has been the home of the Blackburn daughters for 8 generations, ever since Rona Blackburn traveled there to make a new home for herself.  The thing is, Rona didn't get along so well with the original settlers of the island, who feared her strange ways and uncanny powers.  When they tried to burn her home down--with her inside of it--she cast a spell that bound their bloodlines to the well-being of the island and her own family.
        Generations later, the youngest Blackburn daughter, Nor, hopes the "gifts" that come with her lineage leave her with an uneventful life.  However, when a strange book shows up promising spells that could only be successfully completed by someone possessing Rona Blackburn's full abilities, Nor senses something bad is coming--and she suspects it comes in the form of her estranged, powerful mother. 

What I thought:
         Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  Mostly it was the wonderfully witchy ambiance that was captured so well in the story and setting.  If Anathema Island was a real place, I'd definitely want to visit. Probably wouldn't like to live there, since crazy stuff happens to people who live on the island, but I'd probably want to check out the lake and shops and sweet nature trails, at least.  

The moody setting paired with the actually witchy characters was hitting all of the buttons for me.  This would be a great one to read on a crisp fall evening close to Halloween.  The Blackburn women are so compelling and I really want to know more about the women between Rona, Judd, Fern, & Nor.  I just really adore a cast of characters made up mostly of a long line of generational witches.  

Another thing I liked about this book was that it had the perfect combo of intrigue, magic, & mystery mixed with this super intense underlying feeling of foreboding and dread.  You will, when reading this book, definitely get a true bit of stomach-clenching stress while waiting for the ball to drop (and by the ball dropping, I mean Fern showing up on the island).  We keep getting snippets and bits of information both about what she's up to in the present intermingled with Nor's memories of the past, so you slowly learn how terrifying and BAD it is that she's up to her old tricks in a big way.  

I also really enjoyed that the focus in the story was on the relationships between Nor and literally everyone else on the island.  Spoiler Alert! She's related to every original settling family, which provides for a very interesting dynamic, especially considering the reason for those relationships and shared blood is caused by the curse Rona Blackburn put on them back in the day.  I loved her relationships with Judd and Madge and her grandfather, because they were so diverse and that made the story feel more realistic.  

And lest I go through this whole review without mentioning the conflict and antagonist of the story, I'm gonna talk about it: Fern.  Fern, the Blackburn daughter with a super creepy power who realizes that she can use it to gain a semblance of the full Blackburn powers she's always wanted.  Let me tell you, Fern is an awesome character, solely because she's terrifying.  I don't want to spoil a whole lot, but the way she gains her influence in the world is *so* creepy.  Like....a "the body snatchers took away my mom and dad and nobody will believe me because the cops are also body snatchers" kind of creepy, which just adds to the panic and feeling of doom that resonates throughout this story.  

So listen, if moody, witchy vibes and a great antagonist sound like your kind of read, do yourself a favor and pick this one up.  Alternately, you could pick it up then put it down until October to further immerse yourself in a spooky and thematic setting for your reading!

Rating: 4 stars.  

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Book Review: The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

**This e-ARC was provided through NetGalley for reviewing purposes!**

What it's about:

          Lady Amalia Cornaro never expected to come home from a book-buying run as a newly-minted Falconer, an elite branch of the military trained to control the magical abilities of mage-marked "Falcons", but she has suddenly found herself the unwanted warden of Zaira, a powerful fire mage.  When her ambitious mother decides to use this newfound power to the advantage of the Cornaro family, Amalia is suddenly thrown into much more of the court intrigue than she would have been as "just the Cornaro heir."  Rumors have been spreading in the nearby city of Ardence of a Shadow Gentry, and when a group of mage-marked aristocratic children are kidnapped, it's up to Amalia, an unwilling Zaira, and Marcello, a Falcon officer, to discover what game is afoot and unmask the harbingers of war between the two kingdoms!

What I thought:

         I'm not going to lie...the first half of this book dragged a little for me.  I liked the characters right away, but during the first half of the book there were a LOT of little details that didn't always seem necessary for the reader to know all at once.  This did aid in the worldbuilding and the character development, as well as prepared the reader for all of the stuff going on behind the scenes, but for me it was just a bit of information overload.

I totally loved the three main characters, Amalia, Zaira, and Marcello.  The character development in this book was fantastic, and we got to see the characters grow and change throughout the story.  Amalia and Marcello had some great chemistry, and Amalia's relationship with Zaira was great as well.

The magic system was so cool (albeit not necessarily fair to the characters), and I loved how it was treated differently in the two drastically different societies we glimpsed in this story. 

The politics in the story were also surprisingly interesting to me! Normally I'm not all about the "political court intrigue" heavy novels, but I enjoyed everything happening here.  Prince Ruven was a great character, and the politicians dealing with Ardence and Raverra were really interesting, including the members of Amalia's own family.

The ending wrapped up nicely for this part of the story while also hinting at more to come, so I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next to these characters!

If you like well-done worldbuilding and lots of court intrigue, definitely give this one a try!

Rating: 3.75 stars.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Review: Halayda by Sarah Delena White.

*This e-ARC was provided through NetGalley for review purposes!*

What it's about:

              Sylvie lives on the edges of a society in which mages are the ruling force, and anything fae-touches is scorned or used for its magical properties.  Once a student of alchemy, she now provides for a rag tag group of half-fae children by selling her alchemical creations. Once a year, the human and fae worlds come together--and so do Sophie and the Fae King Taylan, in hopes of maintaining the fragile balance between their two worlds.  When disasters strikes in the form of an alchemical attack, Sophie and Taylan must travel through the Fae kingdom in order to save it and the human world from the clutches of an evil Star Fae long thought dead.

What I thought:
          So, to be honest, I didn't *super* love this book.  I enjoyed the fae/human relationship story, and the fact that one world cannot quite be well without the other, but I don't think it hit the right buttons for me.

Firstly, I felt as though there was a whole chunk of backstory/character development that went on before the story started that we didn't get to see at all.  It was like the reader was supposed to automatically be invested in these characters when we weren't really given a whole lot of information about them.  I just felt like something was missing in the beginning that we should have been told in order to aid in our understanding of the world and characters. 

Secondly, I felt as though the first half of the book dragged a bit.  I knew there was some big reveal coming, but I just felt like I was waiting....and waiting...and waiting to finally get the big reveal about the whole Dragonfly thing.  Plus, it was kind of predictable, what with the "half-human, half-fae alchemist Chosen One" thing going on.  Once we heard about the mysterious, elusive, and rarer-than-rare "Dragonfly", it was pretty clear that the story was heading toward a "SOPHIE IS THE DRAGONFLY" billboard.

Other than that, I did like the dynamic between the different races of Fae.  I loved the Banshee general and the mysterious and dangerous qualities of Taylan, and even, yes, the abilities and idea of the Dragonfly.  Once the story got moving and something of consequence actually happened, I enjoyed the rest of the read!

This is one that I'm not sure I'll continue on with.  The book really dragged for me--it took me almost a month to get through because I wasn't feeling any real motivation to finish it.  I liked some concepts, so I may read the inevitable sequel, but I'm not quite decided on it yet.

Rating:  3.5 stars.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book Review: These Ruthless Deeds by Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas

**This E-ARC was provided through NetGalley for review purposes!**

What it's about:

         This sequel takes place soon after the events of These Vicious Masks, and follows the continued adventures of Evelyn and her friends in the high society of 1880's England.  Despite the previous untrustworthy connections of the mysterious Society, Evelyn joins forces with them in order to put herself in the position to aid others with powers like hers.  When a recon mission in India goes awry, Evelyn and her friends discover more sinister things about the Society--and vow to discover who is the driving force behind the terrible deeds.

What I thought:

         This was a very solid sequel.  It picked up a few weeks after the events of the first book, and we got into the intrigue right away.  I don't want to get too carried away with details, since this is the second book in the series, but I loved all the new characters we got to meet and was glad that we were able to still see the old characters we loved from the first book (some more..ahem...surprising than others).  

This part of the story takes the Society from something intrinsically evil to something that could be used for good--as long as the right people are in charge.  However, that's part of the mystery--who is in control, and why are they making the choices they are? Are they here to help powered people, or use the powered for their own gains?

Oh man, though. Just when you think everything is going according to our protagonists' plans, SHIT. GOES. DOWN. That ending, O.M.G.

(Actual footage of me reading the ending of this book)

Like...I cannot and do not want to give away ANY spoilers for that ending because holy Moses, it's CRAZY, in a terrible but also so unexpected and just--wow. These authors are evil geniuses, I think.  

So listen, go do yourself a favor.  Go read These Vicious Masks, then read this one, then cry because we don't have the third book yet and WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?!?!?!

Rating: 4 stars.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Book Review: Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner

This e-ARC was provided through NetGalley in return for a free and honest review!

What it's about:
     Cameron is an amazing budding cosplayer who dreams of getting into the CalTech costume department in order to one day design costumes for all of the nerdy things.  However, when she and her friends end up winning a cosplay contest based on a game that she doesn't play, a storm of angry internet trolls is activated.

When a nerdbro totally gate keeps her on her first visit to the ONLY comic store in the town she's just moved to, she decides to see how the other half lives (and shops for comics) and borrows some of her twin brother's clothing to become: Boy-Cameron!

When she accidentally on purpose makes friends with one of the other comic store employees and gets invited to play in a game of Dungeons and Dragons, things get a little more complicated than she had ever expected them to.  She then has a predicament: stay Boy-Cameron and continue the charade, or return to being her normal self and risk being abandoned by her brand-new friends?

What I thought:

       This made my nerdy, D&D obsessed, cosplay n00b heart so very happy.  This was probably my most anticipated read of the year because it aligns with just about *everything* I am currently obsessed with, and it *mostly* did not disappoint.  

Despite being a pretty nerdy individual myself, and being a girl, I've don't know that I've ever really had that lovely experience of male gatekeeping (I have strong opinions about ANYONE who gate keeps, but that's a tale for another time), so I couldn't relate directly to Cameron's experiences there.  However, I know it's a thing that happens, and it's something I'd totally word murder someone for doing to me.  

Cameron and the other characters were really solid and believable.  I loved Why and loved to hate Brody--his comments were just such a thing that I could see an angry troll saying, it was almost like the author hung out on 4chan before writing (for research purposes, of course). I loved that all of the characters had fully fleshed-out backstory--it made the story feel really full and made you get attached to them.  

The idea that a girl would have to dress as a boy in order to enjoy something as widely-spread as comic books or superheroes or video games both makes me sad and angry--something that was portrayed very well in this book and gave me the Strong Emotions.  I think Nerd-dom is a place for all, and should be open to new people.  We're members of the best club, and I am ALWAYS happy when I find someone who is even a little bit interested in something I also love!

My favorite part of this book, I'd have to say, were the bits that talked about D&D.  I may be a little biased, since I've just entered this community myself, but OH BOY did I find myself highlighting all the quotes about the discovery and confusion that is getting ready for/playing your first game of D&D. The little comics that went along with the game sessions in the book were hilarious, and made me wish I wasn't reading the book on the tiny screen of my phone so I could better see all of the details.  

I enjoyed this book immensely--don't get me wrong--but there were just a few things that knocked it down from that ever-coveted 5 stars.  Firstly, there was a bit of a lack of communication in many parts of the story. I feel like if the truth about the horrible things happening to Cameron online had been shared with the important people in her life earlier on, things could have been dealt with in a much less messy fashion.  Instead she just internalized everything and then froze up when people got mad at her.  I know, I know, if everyone communicated well there'd be none of the drama that created half of the story, but still, it bugged me a little, especially with her family.  Like...they're your family, they're not going to judge you for flack you're getting for posting your amazing creations. 

Another thing that bothered me was that the ending of the story felt a bit rushed.  I was left wanting more explanation, more reaction to the truth coming out, and what I got wasn't that. It felt as though everyone got SUPER ANGRY that she didn't tell them she was actually a girl, then got over it offscreen and suddenly everyone was happy again.  

Beyond that, this story was mostly about a nerdy girl who just wanted be be a nerd, and make beautiful outfits based on nerdy things, and NOT GET BOTHERED WHILE DOING SO, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.  It was full of nerdy references and D&D and cosplay and captured both the horrors and the joys that can be experienced as a girl in the nerd community.  

Rating:  4 stars.