My Lady Jane: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi MeadowsEdward (King of England, teenage boy, lover of blackberries, and dogs) is dying. Before he has a chance to kiss a girl or do much of anything with his tragically short life. Edward would like to wallow about his pending demise thanks to “the Affliction” but instead he’s facing a lot of pressure to secure his line of succession. Unsure if he can trust his sister Bess with the crown, and positive he can’t trust his blood-thirsty sister Mary, Edward’s only option seems to be his cousin. Jane.

Lady Jane Grey has little interest in marriage or the crown. But faced with a royal decree arranging her marriage, she has little choice but to comply. When she ends up married to Lord Gifford Dudley–an aspiring poet by night and a horse by day thanks to his uncontrolled Eðian (eth-y-un) magic–she is resigned to a quiet life with a husband who may or may not be horrible.

Then Jane’s dear cousin Edward dies (or does he?) setting off a hectic nine days with Jane in the throne and, eventually, on the run with her new husband in My Lady Jane (2016) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows.

My Lady Jane is a delightful historical fantasy co-written by three authors (who will be writing at least two more “Jane” books about other famous Janes in history). The novel alternates first-person narration between Edward, Jane, and G.

The authors start the book with a preface explaining that this book offers an alternate (and true, according to them) history of England and Lady Jane Grey. The authors don’t expand upon what they changed but interested readers can easily research the key players online. The addition of shape-shifter magic works surprisingly well within the context of English politics at the time.

My Lady Jane is a page-turner filled with adventure, action, sweet romance, and even some magic. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, The Romantics by Leah Konen, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

When I got My Lady Jane in my June Royalty #owlcrate I wasn't sure what to expect beyond a possibly silly read. I'm happy to report that this historical fantasy far exceeded my expectations. Lady Jane Grey has little interest in marriage or the crown. When she end up married to Lord Gifford Dudley–an aspiring poet by night and a horse by day–she is resigned to a quiet life with a husband who may or may not be horrible. Then Jane's dear cousin dies (or does he?) setting off a hectic nine days with Jane in the throne and, eventually, on the run. This delightful romp through London's little known alternate (and true according to the authors) history is a page-turner filled with adventure, action, sweet romance, and even some magic. I loved this book to bits and plan on finding some non-fiction about the English monarchy soon (though how can it possibly compare to this book?). #booknerdigans #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #bookstagramfeatures #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram

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Three Dark Crowns: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare BlakeOn the island of Fennbirn, a reigning queen gives birth to triplets each generation. Once the triplets are born, the queen’s rule is over and she is exiled with her consort to his homeland. The triplets–all equal heirs to the crown–are separated and raised according to their magic until the year they turn sixteen when the real battle for the throne begins. By the end of the year the crown will go to the last queen left alive.

Katharine has been raised by the poisoners, arguably the most powerful group on the island and the ruling class for generations. But Katharine is weak. Even the simplest poisons wreak havoc on her body– a fact that she and her guardian are determined to keep hidden at any cost.

Mirabella is a powerful elemental with the ability to summon storms and conjure fire. Her power is unprecedented drawing even the supposedly neutral temple priestess to champion her bid for the crown.

Arsinoe has found familial love and friendship in her home among the naturalists. But she has not found her magic. She cannot control animals of any size or make the smallest plants bloom–something any naturalist should be able to accomplish from a young age.

As Katharine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe contemplate their fate they all have their eye on the crown. Katharine knows the crown is her only chance at revenge. Mirabella feels the crown is her right as the strongest heir but she isn’t sure if she wants it. Arsinoe knows she is unlikely to survive the year but she is determined to stay alive for as long as she can. Three sisters, three dark magics, one crown in Three Dark Crowns (2016) by Kendare Blake.

Three Dark Crowns is the start of a trilogy. The book follows Katharine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe in close third person narration. Snippets of the story also follow those closest to the sisters as all three move inexorably toward the battle for the crown.

Blake expertly brings the island of Fennbirn and its strange customs and fierce traditions to life. Evocative prose and vivid landscapes make the island a secondary character in the novel as different parts of Fennbirn are revealed in each chapter.

Magic on this island has a cost, as does the right to rule, and throughout the novel all three sisters pay dearly. Katharine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe are distinct characters with ambitions that have demanded they harden their hearts and make great sacrifices.

Three Dark Crowns is dark fantasy at its finest and most tense. Page-turning action contrasts with moments that will leave readers breathless. Intricate plotting, surprising moments of intersection between the characters, and shocking twists make this a must-read. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

The Winner’s Kiss: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*The Winner’s Kiss is the third book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime. As such this review contains major spoilers for books one and two!*

“She thought, fleetingly, that this must be what memory was for: to rebuild yourself when you lose the pieces.”

The Winner's Kiss by Marie RutkoskiArin and Kestrel should be on opposites sides in the war that is brewing between Valoria and its newly independent colony Herran. Yet, despite all appearances to the contrary they have been on the same side–that is, Kestrel has been on Arin’s side–from the outset.

Arin is certain that Kestrel is getting exactly what she deserves serving at the Emperor’s shoulder while she watches her father prepare to make war with Herran.

He’s wrong.

Instead, one impetuous decision has led Kestrel to the northern tundra as a prisoner. A traitor to her own country desperate to escape.

Arin and Kestrel have always been bound by their decisions–deliberate acts and willful lies that have pulled them away from each other again and again. With the threat of war growing every day, both Kestrel and Arin will have to redefine victory–and trust–if they hope to find their way back to each other or the people they’ve worked so hard to save in The Winner’s Kiss (2016) by Marie Rutkoski.

The Winner’s Kiss is the third book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime.

This novel starts off soon after the climactic conclusion of book two. Arin prepares for war in Herran while Kestrel is brought to a prison work camp in the Valorian Tundra, both haunted by the decisions that have led them to this point.

Rutkoski manages to strike the perfect balance between character-driven introspection and nail biting tension throughout the novel. Arin and Kestrel are broken, sometimes in small ways and sometimes larger, because of their ties to Herran and to each other. Their own attempts to heal and rebuild play out against the grand battle looming over who will control Herran moving forward.

This book is the exact right conclusion for this series and the one that the characters deserve. The Winner’s Kiss delivers everything readers of this trilogy have come to love and expect while expanding Arin and Kestrel’s world even further with still more insights into these two shrewd and talented characters. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Wizard of Earth Sea by Ursula K. LeGuin, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White

The Unexpected Everything: A Review

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan MatsonAndie and her father haven’t been close since the death of her mother five years ago. Spending a summer in the same house as her father while he is not working is unthinkable.

Unfortunately, when Andie’s internship opportunity disappears thanks to her father’s political scandal, a summer with her father is also a harsh reality.

Andie has her best friends Bri, Toby, and Palmer (and even Palmer’s long-time boyfriend) to keep her company during the summer. Which is great. But finding a way to her internship would be better.

Instead, through a series of mishaps and surprises, Andie becomes a reluctant dogwalker and starts scoping out a cute boy named Clark as her potential summer romance.

But with her first unplanned summer in a long time, Andie soon learns that you can’t plan for the best things in life in The Unexpected Everything (2016) by Morgan Matson.

The Unexpected Everything is Matson’s standalone follow-up to Since You’ve Been Gone. (Set in the same Connecticut town, readers of Matson’s earlier novel will also recognize a few character cameos.)

Matson once again evokes the lazy and timeless feel of a summer adventure in her latest novel. Andie is a driven heroine with a singular focus on her future. Raised in her father’s world of politics, it’s hard for Andie to connect or foster genuine interactions–something that she has learned first-hand is quite simple to fake with the right cues. Over the course of this meandering novel, Matson explores Andie’s character and her growth as she begins to understand that there is more to life than having a master plan.

Andie is a very different character in a lot of ways. She’s savvy and jaded. She’s unapologetic about chasing superficial romances that seem easy and safe. Andie spends a lot of The Unexpected Everything keeping people (and readers) at a remove while she tries to protect herself from loss or heartbreak. While it’s understandable when the loss of her mother is a physical presence for much of the story, it also makes it difficult to connect with Andie. It makes it even harder to be invested in her story as the book nears five hundred pages.

A thin plot makes the novel feel even longer as do heavily broadcasted plot twists. Fans of Matson will be happy to return to her familiar and evocative writing. A sweet romance and solid female friendships make The Unexpected Everything a lengthy but mostly enjoyable read filled with summer fun and thoughtful characters.

Possible Pairings: Never, Always, Sometimes by Adi Alsaid, The Best Night of Your Pathetic Life by Tara Altebrando, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, In Real Life by Jessica Love, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Lady Thief: A Review

*Lady Thief is the second book in Gaughen’s Scarlet trilogy and picks up shortly after the conclusion of the first book Scarlet. As such, this review has major spoilers for the first book.*

Lady Thief by A. C. GaughenScarlet thought she escaped her past when she joined Robin Hood and his band to protect the people of Nottingham. That was before the thief taker Gisbourne arrived to capture Robin and his band. Before Scarlet was forced to marry Gisbourne in a gambit to save everyone she cares about.

Now, Scarlet is irrevocably tied to Gisbourne even as she sits in hiding with Robin, John and Much. Rob’s time in the Nottingham dungeon has left him scarred and broken. The entire band seems on the verge of collapse when Gisbourne returns with a shocking offer for Scarlet that has the potential to change everything.

When Prince John and the royal court arrive in Nottingham for the appointment of a new Sheriff, Scarlet is drawn into a game of politics and secrets where losing could be deadly in Lady Thief (2014) by A. C. Gaughen.

Lady Thief is the second book in Gaughen’s Scarlet trilogy and picks up shortly after the conclusion of the first book Scarlet.

While Scarlet is an excellent introduction to Nottingham and Gaughen’s version of Robin Hood, Lady Thief moves the series in new directions as the story prepares for the conclusion of the trilogy. Lady Thief brings Scarlet back to the courtly life she abhors and offers quite a few surprises and promises of more to come before the trilogy concludes with Lion Heart.

Lady Thief also introduces an especially frightening villain in Prince John. I won’t get into details here because it’s a spoiler, but some of what Prince John inflicts on Scarlet is so horrifying that I almost didn’t finish this book. (A year ago, I would NOT have finished this book, if we’re being honest.)

It’s fascinating to see more of court life and, horrible person that I am, I am quite fond of Gisbourne so I enjoyed seeing a slightly different side to him here. Lady Thief still has a lot of action as Rob and the band scramble to keep Prince John from appointing another horrible sheriff. Now that Rob and Scarlet have made their feelings about each other clear, readers also get a bit more romance along with the expected action and suspense.

This book focuses more firmly on Scarlet and her character. Instead of just doing what she has to in order to survive, Scarlet is now forced to consider not just what she is willing to sacrifice but also what she is willing to become in order to protect Nottingham and those she loves.

Lady Thief is a thrilling, fast-paced novel with a gut-wrenching ending that will leave readers anxious to get book three in their hands. Recommended for fans of Robin Hood and historical fiction with a twist. Not recommended for squeamish readers who prefer to avoid violence and gore.

Initially, I was going to end my review here. That was when I still had plans to read Lion Heart. Since then, I’ve taken a hard look at things and decided it was best for me to part ways with this series. My reasons are personal and spoilery but here they are: Basically Lady Thief came really close to giving me a breakdown. I did not handle it well when Scarlet’s fingers are cut off. It is never a favorite thing for me to read but it felt particularly visceral here to the point that for hours after reading about it, I had to talk through everything with Kayla. It brought back every bad memory I have of relatives who were sick and relatives who died and, honestly, I felt physically ill while I forced myself to finish the book. Will other people feel that way or have such a violent reaction? Probably not. But the more I thought about Lady Thief the more I felt like the book had betrayed me and the more I realized I could not continue with the series.

Possible Pairings: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Montmorency by Eleanor Updale, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

Scarlet: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

ScarletUS.inddHiding from a past she’d prefer to forget, Scarlet disguises herself as a boy named Will Scarlet to avoid unwanted attention. The only thing anyone really needs to know about Scarlet is that she is a skilled thief. She is also better than most when it comes to throwing a knife and fiercely dedicated to Robin Hood’s band–although she would never admit it to Rob, Much or John.

Scarlet’s efforts to keep herself apart and flee from her past threaten to unravel when a thief taker is summoned to Nottingham. Gisbourne is calculating and ruthless in his hunt for Robin Hood and his band. The consequences if he finds Rob could be dire. For Scarlet, being found by Gisbourne might be fatal.

Torn between her loyalty to the people of Nottingham–including the band–and her need for self-preservation, Scarlet will have to decide what she is willing to sacrifice to protect the people she loves in Scarlet (2012) by A. C. Gaughen.

Scarlet is Gaughen’s first novel and the start of a trilogy that continues with Lady Thief and Lion Heart. Although this is the first book in a trilogy, the story in Scarlet is largely self-contained and focuses on what the author refers to as Robin’s early years. The novel is also accompanied by suggested titles for further reading.

Scarlet is an inventive and entertaining Robin Hood retelling in the tradition of The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley. Gaughen adds new dimensions to this familiar story by casting Will Scarlet as a girl with quite a few secrets and writing the story in Scarlet’s unique dialect.

Filled with adventure and banter, Scarlet remains a surprisingly introspective title as readers learn more about Scarlet’s past and what it costs her to stay in Nottingham and work with Rob. Gaughen keeps the novel carefully focused on Scarlet, Rob, John and Much further emphasizing their strong bonds and exploring the strength of their friendships throughout the novel. There is also a decidedly slow burn of a romance complete with searching looks and misunderstandings.

Although the story will be immediately familiar to Robin Hood fans, unexpected twists keep the story fresh and engaging. Scarlet is an excellent, capable heroine who asks hard questions and saves herself–and her friends–more often than not. She accompanied throughout the story by some of the most honorable and downright likable outlaws readers will ever meet.

Scarlet is a solid historical fiction adventure with humor, romance and non-stop excitement. A must-read for Robin Hood fans of all ages.

Possible Pairings: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Montmorency by Eleanor Updale, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

Red Queen: A Review

Red Queen by Victoria AveyardLife as a Red in Norta is not easy. Reds are normal in every way–forced into poverty and manual labor while Silvers, the silver-blooded elite with nearly inconceivable abilities, rule the land. Mare Barrow doesn’t like anything about the Silvers but she understands that they are unstoppable; impossible to fight.

But Mare is also almost eighteen and with no job prospects beyond petty theft in her future, she knows that she will be drafted into the military soon to fight in the decades long war against the Lakelanders. The same thing happened to all of her brothers before her.

Mare is resigned to her fate until one false step reveals that Mare, like the Silvers, has a shocking ability never before seen in a Red. Suddenly Mare is drawn into the middle of Norta’s class warfare disguised as a long-lost Silver princess. While rebellion brews and the Silver king tries to keep the unhappy masses in check, Mare will have to balance the dazzling luxury of the Silver world with everything she holds dear and everything she is willing to sacrifice for freedom for herself and her people in Red Queen (2015) by Victoria Aveyard.

Red Queen is Aveyard’s debut novel. It is also the first book in her Red Queen trilogy.

Red Queen is being marketed as Graceling meets The Selection which in many ways is very true as this book includes special abilities and romance at court. It is, however, much darker in tone than The Selection with a much stronger focus on rebellion and revolution. For that reason The Hunger Games is a comparison that makes a bit more sense.

Obviously, Red Queen has quite a few similarities to other fantasy titles. It also, however, has a very unique world as conceived by Aveyard. The dichotomy between Reds and Silvers is explained well and takes the story in interesting directions as Mare walks the line between Red and Silver throughout the story. Unfortunately the division between Reds and Silvers remains very one dimensional for most of the novel as Silvers are generally seen as ruthless and calculating while Reds are oppressed and exploited. Both are true but it felt heavy-handed to say that every Silver would follow these same ideals and ways of thinking despite class divisions among the elite.

Mare is a frank narrator but she is also often reckless to the point of harming herself and those she cares about. Her motivations throughout the story–when she chooses to join the Red rebellion or during her rather fuzzy love triangle–are murky at best. Readers learn early on why Mare wants to fight the Silvers, why she is drawn to the person who holds her affections, but it never feels quite sincere enough or believable enough to justify the risks Mare takes.

The pacing in Red Queen is not perfect either. Scenes of lavish court balls and machinations alternate with high action fights or training sequences that make the middle part of the novel choppy. The narrative loses all sense of urgency as Mare moves between learning basics of Silver protocol and planning acts of rebellion in an often aimless manner.

Red Queen is a strong debut both for Aveyard and for this trilogy. While not ideal for readers who like their fantasies to have a lot of nuance, Red Queen is ideal for anyone seeking the next big action-packed series that is sure to have everyone talking.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Frostblood by Elly Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Selection by Kiera Cass, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Legend by Marie Lu, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace