Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “The Defiant Heir”

35921536Book: “The Defiant Heir” by Melissa Caruso

Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Book Description: Across the border, the Witch Lords of Vaskandar are preparing for war. But before an invasion can begin, they must call a rare gathering of all seventeen lords to decide a course of action. Lady Amalia Cornaro knows that this Conclave might be her only chance to stifle the growing flames of war, and she is ready to make any sacrifice if it means saving Raverra from destruction.

Amalia and Zaira must go behind enemy lines, using every ounce of wit and cunning they have, to sway Vaskandar from war. Or else it will all come down to swords and fire.

Previously reviewed: “The Tethered Mage”

Review: I was so excited when I received an ARC for this sequel! “The Tethered Mage” came out of nowhere last fall and quickly became one of my favorite reads for the year, so I was so excited to see what antics (troubles?) Amalia and Zaira would get themselves into this time. So much so, that I brought this book along with me on vacation, which was probably not the best choice since it actively distracted me from all of the “real vacationing” I was apparently supposed to be doing. It’s a lenghty book, and yet, somehow, I zipped right through it!

After the events of the last book, Amalia has proven herself a capable heir to her mother, La Contessa, and finds herself further enmeshed in the difficult and morally challenging workings of her country’s ongoing conflicts with their dangerous neighbors to the north. Zaira, too, while still straining against the restrictions of her new life, is also beginning to develop some type of feelings (oh no!) for the Falconers and Falcons around her. As the Witch Lords continue to make threatening moves against Raverra, Amalia and Zaira once again find themselves in the middle of the action. But this time they’re also in the middle of an enemy nation with only the hope of help from a Witch Lord himself who claims to be courting Amalia, but seems to also be hiding plans of his own.

This book does everything a good sequel should do. The stakes are raised in literally every aspect of the story. Plot and action? Well, not only is there a threatening volcano looming over the country ready to blow at any minute, but we get to meet the Witch Lords themselves in all of their terrifying glory! Magic? Said Witch Lords are super creepy with a complex magic system of their own that ties their powers to each other and the land they rule. Characters? Not only does Amalia’s and Zaira’s relationship remain the solid focus of character growth, but it continues to build, even when hindered by the morally challenging nature of their bond. Beyond their bond, both Amalia and Zaira have relationships of their own to deal with.

Zaira continues to struggle with vulnerability and trust, drawn to a fellow Falcon, but also lashing out in the way of a trapped animal who has been hurt too many times to recognize a kind hand being offered. I loved the exploration of Zaira’s growth. After the last book, we know the price that Zaira has paid with past experiences of becoming close to others and the tragic results that occurred. Her distrust is not only of others and their intentions, but mostly of herself. For all of this, she is not let off the hook by those around her when she takes it too far and truly hurts those who care for her. Zaira’s story was full of tenderness, heartbreak, and ultimately, hope.

For her own part, as the primary protagonist, Amalia’s own experiences and relationships are exponentially increased in this book. I still love the relationship that has been built between her and her powerful mother which is still a breath of fresh air in a book world full of orphans or evil step mothers. But in this book, the more important relationships are those driven by her relations from her father’s side, both her maternal grandmother who rules a vassal state in Raverra, as well as the line through her grandfather that reaches back to the Witch Lords themselves. Further, after deciding in the last book that she must remain single and detached in order to pursue political connections through courtship, there is an ongoing tension and struggle with her beloved Marcello. Especially when a certain charming and mysterious Witch Lord arrives on the scene and proposes a courtship, something that Amalia recognizes as incredibly powerful and useful in this time of trouble between their nations.

Amalia is not only the heart of these books, but her strong characterization is the glue that holds it all together. I keep using the word “refreshing” but it is truly how I feel about both of these books, mostly due to the way that Amalia is written. She has strong female friendships. She loves Marcello deeply, but is aware of her own role in the world and her duty. And while this pains her incredibly, she doesn’t shy away from the sacrifices that this life requires of her. Throughout this book, her realization of what it really means to be a Cornaro becomes strikingly clear. Through her, the story engages with many challenging topics, including sacrifice of individuals for the good of the whole, political compromise, and what it looks like to work within a system that is made up of people, with their own faults and agendas.

Beyond the characters, I loved the action of this book. Much of it takes place across the borer in the domain of the Witch Lords. In the last book, we only heard loosely about them and had only the horrid Ruven with his ability to control human flesh as an example of their abilities. Here, we are exposed to them all in their full power and we begin to realize the true challenge that Amalia and co. are up against. Further, (again, refreshing!) Amalia is still an unpowered young woman. Her strengths lie purely in her ability to maneuver through political situations, her bookworm-ish knowledge of magic, and her own ability to speak well and convincingly. And in a kingdom that values the ability to wield magic above all else, this skill set is even a harder one to put to use effectively.

The story doesn’t shy away from the gruesome and heartbreaking aspects of a looming war. There is a lot of death, and the Witch Lords and their power over their land is an effectively horrifying threat. I was a bit concerned with the entrance of said Witch Lord suitor, that we might be getting a love triangle. But I very much enjoyed the direction that this aspect of the story went. Again, Amalia as a character is written to handle the challenges and temptations of all of this in probably the most realistic manner I’ve read, as far as “love triangles lite” go.

I really loved the first book in this series, so it says a lot that I came away from this one knowing without a doubt that I loved it even more. Both of these books are must reads for any fan of fantasy fiction featuring strong women characters!

Now it your turn to get your hands on this brilliant sequel! I have an ARC copy up for grabs! Giveaway runs through March 27, 2018 and is open to US entrants only.

Click here to enter!

Rating 10: Absolutely brilliant! Heart-breaking and grounded, this series has given us not only one, but two new heroines to root for!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Defiant Heir ” is a new book so isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Best Fantasy World.”

Find “The Defiant Heir” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Excerpt and Giveaway: “Mind Me, Milady”

Occasionally we are approached with the opportunity to promote books that may be of interest to our readers. And occasionally in lieu of a full review of the book, we will let it speak for itself by posting an excerpt from it. So if you like what you see in one of these excerpts, we have good news! You have the chance to win a copy of it! What could be better?

38085332Book: “Mind Me, Milady” by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks

Publishing Info: Melange Books LLC, April 2017

Book Description: Jane Larson is an attorney on the Upper East Side of New York City, and the Gentleman Rapist has chosen her to receive his calls announcing each conquest. He also reminds her in chilling terms that he will one day twist his wire around her throat and bend her to his will. 

Jane has professional and personal problems of her own, but she is forced to try to catch this monster when he stalks her newest client. Susan is a sweet young woman who cannot remember large time periods of her past and who has dreams about a prior life in which she was raped. Soon, the Gentleman escalates to murder, and Jane wonders if he was involved in Susan’s forgotten past, or if Susan is simply a means to get to Jane. Either way, Jane is caught in the deadly game of stopping the Gentleman before another woman feels the wire at her throat and hears his sinister whisper to Mind Me, Milady.

Notes from the Blogger:

Last year I was approached to run an excerpt and giveaway of the mystery novel “Weave a Murderous Web” by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks. It involved lawyer Jane Larson and a load of cash and some drug money, as well as a murky personal life for Larson herself. I really liked Jane as a character, and the giveaway was a huge success. So when Kenneth Hicks asked if I’d be interested of doing an excerpt and giveaway for the next in the series, “Mind Me, Milady,” I was more than happy to participate! Jane is back, and this time she’s on the case of a serial rapist, hoping to stop him before he strikes again. I still really enjoy Jane as a protagonist to follow, as her character is imperfect and completely relatable. I had a harder time with the mystery this time around, but that was more because of the nature of the crimes at hand and not the storytelling in and of itself. Kirkus has called this book “An engrossing, suspense-filled thriller with an intriguing protagonist” (source).  Basically, Jane is really great and keeps the reader itching for more (as someone who has many personal connections to lawyers, she speaks to my heart)!

For more information of the authors, you can find them on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads!  Jane Larson is still a fun mystery heroine with a unique occupation you don’t always see in procedural mysteries! Enter the giveaway below to try and win yourself a free ebook copy of “Mind Me, Milady”, and read the excerpt below! Trigger warning: this scene involves violence towards a woman.

Please note that the giveaway copy of this book is an Ebook, with your choice of an ePub, Mobi, or PDF. It’s open to US entrants only and will run until March 23rd at 11:59pm EST. Good luck and happy reading! – Kate

Enter the Giveaway Here!

Excerpt:

Chapter One

It was almost noon when he looked out to the street and saw Natalie step from the cab. A familiar pounding rushed through him—a blood rush of fear, of anticipation.

She ran up the stairs as he had expected she would. She was an athlete, after all, and desperate for this apartment. Rent-controlled, one bedroom, East Side, dirt cheap. Run, Natalie, run.

On the third floor, she saw the door was open a crack and came right in. This was one of the reasons he was drawn to her—her confidence. There was not a tentative bone in her body.

“Hello?” she called. “It’s me. Natalie.” She looked around, pleased by what she saw, no doubt—floors newly sanded and stained, walls freshly painted, kitchen appliances all scrubbed clean. For the rent he had quoted her, it was more than a steal. It was highway robbery. And she was carrying cash for a promised “bonus,” as she put it, because a bribe would be so tacky.

She stepped into the bedroom and heard nothing as he slipped the wire over her lovely head, pulling it tight around her lovely neck. She struggled, but not for long. A knee pressed against the back of her legs forced her to the floor. Lovely legs.

“Mind me, Milady,” he whispered in the British accent he affected for occasions like this. “Mind the Gentleman.”

There was no choice. Denied breath, she was seconds from dying. Quickly, he placed a wide piece of tape over her eyes and another over her mouth. Two longer pieces bound her wrists and ankles. Only then did the wire slacken. Air rushed in through flared nostrils. What was she thinking? Was she grateful just to be alive? And how many more times would he have to bring her to the very edge of death before she learned who was in control?

Blog Tour: “The Demon Within”

We at the Library Ladies are excited to participate in the “The Demon Within” Blog Tour! For fans of supernatural and dark fantasy, this new series by author Josh Gagnier may be up your alley. We are also lucky enough to have Josh provide us with a special post for our blog that may give a taste of what to expect from this series! 

Demon Within by Josh Gagnier

Book: “The Demon Within” by Josh Gagnier

Publishing Info: PorterMouth, Dec. 18, 2016

Category: Dark Fantasy, Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

Book Description: Joe grew up listening to the voice in his head. It helped him through school, helped him gain wealth in his career.

The final temptation of power was too much. He hadn’t considered the cost.

Now he must find a way to defeat The Demon Within.

Little does he know, his every move is being recorded. Every misstep is being judged. As he gets ever closer to winning over his demon, heavenly eyes watch from above. Some root for his success while others hope he’ll fail.

While Joe fights his demon on the battlefront, the angel Michael fights for his Soul.

Will Joe win out? Will Michael be able to save Joe’s soul?

Or will the Demon win and thrust Joe into the Abyss.

Excerpt from “The Demon Within”

Sometime between the Prologue and Chapter 1…

“Belath?  Are you here?”  Sahiva asks as she opens Belath’s office door. “Grand Master has changed his mind.  You don’t have to go.”

She walks to his desk to check his schedule.  His desk is clear except for an empty bottle of spirits and a rolled up parchment.  Her eyes well with tears as she reads.

“Oh, Belath, What have you done?”

—-

Grand Master,

I have been loyal since the beginning.  I was a general in the Great War and I helped remove The Betrayer from Paradise.  I have lived hundreds of lifetimes, each harder than the previous.  With each of these lives I’ve been sent with a different Diabolus Entos each many lives stronger than my Soul.

I understand you say this is to prepare me for a great battle you see on the horizon.  I am writing this letter in hopes to impress upon you the damage done to my Soul.  I have become more powerful than all in our realm with, of course, the exception of you.  My Soul’s aura engulfs everything around me and has even instantly destroyed lesser Diabolus who ventured to close.  But the scars…

I will continue this path if you require it of me. I need you to know I feel a strain growing within.  I have pushed through lives in which greater Souls have failed.  My Soul has been scarred so many times I’ve lost count.  Then, when these scars finally dissipate, you send me back through a trial that makes The Abyss seem like a vacation.

I feel something growing inside.  Something I do not believe I’ll be able to control. Almost as if each of the Diabolus Entos I’ve encountered left a piece inside me.  These pieces have begun to flow into one another.  It’s as an angry spot in an otherwise perfect cloud, and it’s fighting against me.

Regarding this task you ask of me.  If it is possible, I ask it be assigned to another. Helping this Soul through his trial is needed, but, this darkness growing inside me…

I understand this young Soul’s Diabolus Entos is stronger than any I’ve faced.  I also understand if we fail we will be thrust back to the time of The Betrayer.

Even as I write this, I know, there is no other way.  

I will give everything I have to this task; even if that means sacrificing my Soul to save his.  I know you wouldn’t send me unless it was imperative to our existence.

Your Loyal Servant,
Belath

Praise For “The Demon Within” by Josh Gagnier

“The Demon Within is an outstanding read. It is a dark fantasy that will take you through twists and turns and keep you guess the whole way. The writer did a fantastic job with the creativity and complexity of the story line as well with the characters. You will not be disappointed!”- Nick Barth, Reviewer

“This book is amazing. The author has a way with words, his twists and turns keep you hooked. I couldn’t put it down. Waiting for part two, I see this as the door way into the fantasy realm!”- Andy Burk, Reviewer

About Josh GagnierDemon Within by Josh Gagnier

Josh has had a knack for writing from a young age; mostly poetry. The Demon Within is his debut novel and, according to Josh, nearly wrote itself. He is a US Army veteran and has been deployed to the Balkans and Middle East. He has been an IT professional for about a decade. Many of the events in The Demon Within were taken from Josh’s life and “put through the fiction blender” as he puts it. When pressed for more details, he said he couldn’t give specifics for fear of “giving spoilers,” but, he did say the book includes fictional spins on things ranging from childhood bullying to being placed in the Las Vegas foster care system. He currently lives in Columbus OH with his family and is working on book two of his ‘The Last War’ series.

Giveaway of “The Demon Within” by Josh Gagnier

This giveaway is for one print copy of the book and a $50 gift card to a U.S. winner. The ebook with $50 gift card is open worldwide. This giveaway ends on April 27, 2018.

Click Here To Enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway!

Buy “The Demon Within” by Josh Gagnier on Amazon  or Demon Within

For all stops on the blog tour, take a look below the cut:

Continue reading “Blog Tour: “The Demon Within””

Valentine’s Day Giveaway: “City of Brass”

Happy Valentine’s Day (week!) everyone! While Hallmark would have you believe that this holiday is meant to celebrate romantic love, we see it as yet another excuse to share our love of books and reading! And to do that, we’re hosting another giveaway!

32718027Book: “City of Brass” by S. A. Chakraborty

Publishing Info: Harper Voyager, November 2017

Book Description: Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass–a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.

After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for . . .

Giveaway Details: I absolutely LOVED this book, guys! It was the perfect mix of a fresh new fantasy world, a unique setting drawing on the history and geography of the Middle Easy, and, most importantly, two amazing lead characters. Beyond that, given that this is, in fact, a Valentine’s Day giveaway, it does have a romantic subplot.

But really, the main reason I’m wanting to share it with your guys is based on my own absolute love of this book. It was #4 on my yearly Top Ten list and I’m pretty much stalking the author on Twitter for updates on the next book. Plus, I recommend following her and checking out her thread on the original story from 1001 Nights that this book was based on! For your reading convenience, here is a link to that thread! You can also check out my full review to read the entirety of my gushing about this book. So, without further ado, on to the giveaway! It’s open to US entrants only and will run until February 19. Good luck and happy reading!

Click here to enter!

 

 

 

 

Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “Shadowsong”

30694168Book: “Shadowsong” by S. Jae-Jones

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, February 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Six months after the end of Wintersong, Liesl is working toward furthering both her brother’s and her own musical careers. Although she is determined to look forward and not behind, life in the world above is not as easy as Liesl had hoped. Her younger brother Josef is cold, distant, and withdrawn, while Liesl can’t forget the austere young man she left beneath the earth, and the music he inspired in her.

When troubling signs arise that the barrier between worlds is crumbling, Liesl must return to the Underground to unravel the mystery of life, death, and the Goblin King—who he was, who he is, and who he will be. What will it take to break the old laws once and for all? What is the true meaning of sacrifice when the fate of the world—or the ones Liesl loves—is in her hands?

Previously Reviewed: “Wintersong”

Review: I’ll be honest, the only reason I decided to pick this series back up after my lackluster response to “Wintersong” was the fact that the publisher was kind enough to send me an ARC. But, while I still didn’t love this series as much as others have, this book was an improvement on the first, and I found myself enjoying more of it as I went along. As a whole, I can also see why this duology is as popular as it is, even if it wasn’t my cup of tea.

Set six months after the events of the first book, Liesl is trying to set her mind and action on her and her brother’s music. But this is easier said than done and she can never quite shake the memory of her time spent below with the enigmatic Goblin King. Shocking no reader ever, events occur that once again lead Liesl down into the Underground and back into the presence of the Goblin King. Now the stakes are even higher, and Liesl must once again try to puzzle out the truth of her mysterious beau.

First off, I have to give props to the designer of the cover art for both this book and “Wintersong.” Both of these covers are gorgeous, and these are exactly the types of covers that would stop me short in a bookstore and get me to pick up a book. So well done on that front!

As I said, I did end up enjoying this book more than the first and I think this largely has to do with my connecting to the darker tone and topic that was introduced in this book. I still have an ongoing issue with the writing style which I find to be overly dramatic and taking itself too seriously, but at least here, in this book, that style of writing seems to better fit with the tale that is being told. The events and themes are dark and dramatic, so a verging-on-melodramatic tone doesn’t grate up against the story that is being told, but instead can work to support it.

I also appreciated the shift in focus that this book takes, away from Liesl’s relationship with the Golblin King and towards her relationship with her brother. I love a romance as much as the next person (perhaps more, if I’m honest), but these two’s romance wasn’t something I loved the first go around, so for me, a shift to a sibling relationship, something that I often adore in my books, was a welcome surprise. I especially liked the complications in their relationship, the fact that while they could not particularly like each other at times, they were still willing to sacrifice whatever was necessary on the other’s behalf it if was necessary.

However, I still felt that the story moved too slowly, dragging at point. And this was made worse by the lengthy time spent in Liesl’s head as she pined over the Goblin King. But the world building was excellent, and, again, I felt that the author was better able to leverage her strengths in this area this time around to balance out portions of the story that didn’t connect with me as much. There were some nice subtle touches with reoccurring elements throughout the book that did help bring the story to another level.

In the end, I have mixed feelings about this book. For me, it is definitely an improvement on the first story, dealing more fully with some tough subjects, creating a more consistent storyline, and shifting the focus off the romance and onto a sibling relationship. However, some of the issues I had with the writing style are still there, but I know that this is a very preferential opinion and that others enjoy this type of writing more than I do. There’s also the fact that because the story is a departure from the first, I’m not sure how it will be received? Will others who didn’t enjoy the first also find themselves liking this one more because of the changes (will they even read it if they didn’t enjoy the first)? Or will readers who loved the first one be turned off by the shifts in this story? I’m not sure!

But you can decide for yourself because I’m giving away a copy of “Shadowsong!” The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only, and will be running until January 31st!

Click here to enter!

Rating 6: A welcome change for a reader who didn’t love the first book. A darker and more serious story that better matches the dramatic style of writing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Shadowsong” is a newer book so isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Best Goblin Books.”

Find “Shadowsong” at your library using WorldCat!

 

 

Kate’s Review & Giveaway: “Senlin Ascends”

35271523Book: “Senlin Ascends” by Josiah Bancroft

Publishing Info: Orbit, January 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher!

Book Description: The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines. Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants.

Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he’ll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassins, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.

This quiet man of letters must become a man of action. 

Review: I firstly want to thank Orbit publishing for sending me an ARC copy of “Senlin Ascends”!

For someone who used to work in a historic Victorian house in full Victorian maid’s uniform (and sometimes Victorian style undergarments), I’m surprisingly not in tune with steampunk literature. My only steps in the genre are Alan Moore’s “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” comic series, and the book “The Clockwork Scarab”. But when Orbit sent me “Senlin Ascends”, it became clear quite quickly that I was going to be jumping right into the deep end of a complex and steampunky world. I will admit that I was a bit overwhelmed at first as I got to know Thomas Senlin, cautious and meek school teacher, and his excursion into a technology ridden and complex Tower of Babel. But as I read on, I got into the groove.

The first thing that struck me was how intricate and creative this alternate world is that Josiah Bancroft has created. The Tower of Babel is an imposing structure from Biblical Mythology, and Bancroft transports it to a Victorian-esque time period in a world that is similar to our own, but not quite the same. The references to Victorian societal norms and fashions within a world of steam blimps and flying ships was very fun, as were the strange puzzles and conflicts within the Tower itself as Senlin moves his way through, hoping to find his lost wife, Myra. From drug dens to maniacal plays to space piracy, Bancroft puts Senlin in a world that he, and the reader, doesn’t see coming. I enjoyed jumping from scenario to scenario, experiencing it through the eyes of someone just as uninitiated as I was. The writing itself to describe this world was lyrical and flowing, reminding me of more classical styles similar to an adventure novel by Verne or Stevenson. It was just another nod to the time that steampunk tends to function in, and it fit the story perfectly.

I also enjoyed seeing the journey of Senlin himself. He starts as a meek and pragmatic school teacher from a small town, who brings is effervescent and new bride Mayra to the Tower in hopes of a vibrant honeymoon. All he knows of the Tower is what he has read in guidebooks, which make it seem fascinating and wondrous. As he comes to realize that it is, in fact, far more dangerous than he was led to believe, he has to confront himself and his own pitfalls and weaknesses if he wants to get Mayra back. To be frank, when Senlin starts out he is naive and privileged, and his transformation to hero is a slow one. It’s one thing if you start out merely naive, but it seems that Bancroft deliberately wanted to make him earn his hero status, as Senlin starts out with maddening cowardice, whose idealism has put his wife in serious danger that he can’t quite confront. I would go so far as to say that Senlin starts out as a rather unlikable character, as he abandons people who are helping him or working with him if he can escape with his tail between his legs. But to start him out this way means that he is going to learn from his mistakes, and by learning he becomes a better, if more hardened, person more equipped to function within the corrupt tower. His rotating companions and allies all have their roles to play in his growth, and I liked meeting them and seeing how he interacted with them.

But there was a glaring issue I took with “Senlin Ascends”, and that is how women have functioned within the narrative thus far. The most important, of course, is Mayra, and while we do get a little bit more insight beyond his here and there, she is very much objectified as a victim to be saved. She disappears within the first pages, and becomes this specter of longing who is merely idealized and not explored as a person, but as an ideal. I’m hoping that she does show up more in the later books and can become more than a beautiful, missing woman in a red helmet (side note: I love the fashions described in this book, and if this is what steampunk fashion is for the most part, I’m down!). Then there was Edith, one of the first people Senlin meets in the Tower. While she has ended up in a pretty cool place by the time he meets up with her again, what we see on page is her being put through the ringer and tortured, and not really any of the triumphs that bring her to final, self actualized state. It’s great she gets there eventually, but it would have meant more to see it. There is Voleta, who is the sister of one of Senlin’s companions, who was forced into performing acrobatics for abusive and corrupt men of power, another damsel in distress. And finally there’s Iren, an insanely strong enforcer who Senlin teaches how to read. While she was intriguing in her storyline, wanting to learn to read and become more that just brute force, she was, again, a woman to be saved in some way. I am going to give all of this the benefit of the doubt for now, as this is book one in a series and there are more books for all of them to come into their own. But I had hoped that women would play more of a role in this book beyond motivation for men.

Those issues aside, I did find “Senlin Ascends” to be a compelling story with lots of really neat ideas.

Rating 7: An exciting adventure novel with an interesting protagonist. I wish that female characters weren’t relegated to victim status, but am hoping in the next book they will get more to do and be more fleshed out.

But there’s more! I am giving away a free ARC of this novel! Given the indie success of this book and the other books in the series, I’m thinking that it will make a splash in the mainstream publishing world! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only, and will be running until January 23rd!

Enter The Giveaway Here! 

Reader’s Advisory:

“Senlin Ascends” is just getting started and isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Steampunk”, and “Best Steampunk and Gaslight Works”.

Find “Senlin Ascends” at your library using WorldCat!

12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!

Happy holidays fellow book lovers! And in honor of this time of year when presents  giving is everything, we’re hosting a “12 Days of Christmas” Giveaway. But, tricky us, it’s actually two giveaways, each comprising of six books from our preferred genres. Read on to see what books are included in each prize package and enter for your chance to win! Both giveaways are open to U.S. residents only and end on January 5.

Serena’s Prize Package

“An Enchantment of Ravens” by Margaret Rogerson (My review)

“Jane, Unlimited” by Kristin Cashore (Goodreads)

“The Girl in the Tower” by Katherine Arden (My review)

“Murder, Magic, and What We Wore” by Kelly Jones (Goodreads)

“The Clairvoyants” by Karen Brown (Goodreads)

“The Fifth Petal” by Brunonia Barry (My review)

Click here to enter!

Kate’s Prize Package

“The Roanoke Girls” by Amy Engel (My Review)

“Into The Water” by Paula Hawkins (My Review)

“The Haunted” by Bentley Little (Goodreads)

“The Girl Before” by J.P. Delaney (Goodreads)

“Conversion” by Katherine Howe (My Review)

“The Pilo Family Circus” by Will Elliot (Goodreads)

Click Here To Enter!

We wish you the best of luck, and hope that you are having a happy and healthy holiday season!!!

Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “The Girl in the Tower”

34050917Book: “The Girl in the Tower” by Katherine Arden

Publishing Info: Del Ray, December 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from Bookish First, and an e-ARC from NetGalley

Book Description: Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

Previously Reviewed: “The Bear and the Nightingale”

Review: It wasn’t even a year ago when I, on a slight whim, picked up “The Bear and the Nightingale.” It was in the middle of winter, and here in Minnesota, that’s a real thing, so the gorgeous cover with its deep, cool blues centered around a girl, out in the cold, facing inwards towards the cozy warms hues of hearth and home, struck a particular cord. But nothing could have prepared me for the sheer joy that was reading that first debut novel by Katherine Arden. This time, I was prepared. And yet…was I? Once again, I’ve somehow been blown off my feet by the sheer scope of Arden’s abilities and the story she is weaving together in this series.

“The Girl in the Tower” opens with a few chapters from the perspective of Vasya’s siblings. These first glimpses highlight not only that life has gone on outside of the strange and magical happenings in Vasya’s remote home village, but that in this time period, across all of this space, word does not travel fast. And her siblings have their own concerns. Olga, living the life of an aristocratic woman in medieval Russia, constrained to a tower and seclusion, is trying to raise her two children, particularly her willful young daughter, while looking forward to the birth of her third. And Vasya’s brother, Sasha, a wandering warrior monk, brings news of villages being raided and burned, their daughters stolen, to his close friend the Grand Prince.

Within this framework, we return to Vasya, almost immediately after the end of the previous book, still set on her plan to wander the world, accepting neither marriage nor a convent as reasonable choices. Even in the face of Morozko’s, the frost demon and god of death, open skepticism of her plan, she sets off. Only to discover that he is both right and wrong. The world is filled with much more danger than she had expected, but oh so much more beauty, as well. Along the way, she takes on the appearance of a young boy for further safety, and rescues two girls from the same group of bandits that Sasha had discovered. After running into her brother and the Grand Prince hunting these bandits, Vasya finds herself living a lie that is full of freedom but doomed to not last. Olga and Sasha, alone, understand the true, political dangers of what their young sister has gotten them all tangled up within.

As I said, I loved the first book in this series, and while I was hopeful that this book would continue to show that same strength, I never expected it to exceed it. And exceed it did, in almost every way. This book was by far more action-packed. The romance was increased. The danger and horror were there. And the characterization, allowed to build on what came before without the pressure of introducing completely new characters, blossomed. By being exposed to the world and its realities, the beauties and, more importantly, dangers and restrictions that confront women, Vasya’s former naivety is brutally stripped away. And yet she never loses her fierceness or her conviction that, whatever anyone says, this is wrong. Seeing their fiery, brilliant sister’s struggle, Sasha and Olga, not the most conservative individuals themselves, are forced to confront the lives they are leading and the expectations and assumptions they’ve made about themselves and those around them. One of my favorite quotes, from Sasha:

Witch. The word drifted across his mind. We call such women so, because we have no other name.

Further, I continue to love the mixture of historical detail of a time period and location that is rarely explored, with Russian folklore and fairytales, some of them recognizable, some completely, refreshingly, new. The tower from the book’s name, for example. In the author’s note, Arden discusses how locking aristocratic women in remote towers or wings of castles, completely removed from society, was a common practice in this time period. But perhaps most interesting, no one fully understands why this was done. And here, she ties this aspect of Russian history so neatly into a full-fledged fantasy novel that includes frost demons, magical talking horses, and firebirds.

And, like the first book, Arden’s prose is simply beautiful. While this book has more action than the first, this in no way detracts from atmospheric style of writing. Again, the cold of winter, the darkness of the woods, the bustle of the cities. It is all gorgeously drawn landscapes across which her characters romp.

The story also fully succeeds as a middle step in a trilogy. It takes concepts and interest points from the first story (particularly the romantic undertones with Morozko) and expands on them, tells a complete and compelling story of its own (the bandits, and a surprising tie-in to Vasya’s own familial history), but also lays the groundwork for the next and last in the trilogy. Vasya’s place in the world is by no means defined, and where she will go, and what role she will play in the ever-fading mystical world to which she is so closely connected is still yet to be determined.

Lastly, as a horse lover already, Solovey stole the show in this book. He was the primary source of much of the humor of the story, but it is also clear that without him, much of what Vasya accomplishes would have been impossible. As much as I love the bittersweet romance with Morozko, I’m all in for the horse/girl relationship as my primary bread and butter.

Honestly, I can’t recommend this book enough. And like with “The Bear and the Nightingale,” I want to share the love! Enter the giveaway to win an ARC copy of “The Girl in the Tower.” The giveaway is open to U.S. entrants only and ends on November 28, 2017.

Congrats to Kara for winning our giveaway of “The Girl in the Tower!”

Rating 10: Somehow even better than the first!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Girl in the Tower” is a new title and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists except for  “Young Adult & Middle Grade Historical Fiction set in Russia.”

Find “The Girl in the Tower” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “Girls Made of Snow and Glass”

32768509Book: “Girls Made of Snow and Glass” by Melissa Bashardoust

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, September 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from ALA 2017

Book Description: At sixteen, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.

Review: “Snow White” fairytale re-tellings have had quite the resurgence it seems over the last few  years. And many of them, like “Girls Made of Snow and Glass,” are attempting to re-imagine this classic tale into something new and different. Not an easy feat. To add to this, this novel was also marketed as somehow connected (based on??) the smash Disney hit “Frozen,” as well. Which in turn was based on yet another fairytale, “The Snow Queen.” In all honesty, I picked this one up with a bit of trepidation, worrying that all the elements listed above, plus the fact that I knew it had LBGT elements, would combine into what could only be described as a hot mess. But I’m not to proud to admit when I’m wrong, and while I would consider this one a home run, it did manage to pull all the elements it committed to.

The story follows to young women: Mina, a young woman without a heart, who never the less seeks out love, hoping to find it in a King with a young daughter. The daughter, Lynet, is our second main character, a young woman created in the image of her own dead mother. Chapters alternate between these two main characters, and while each of their stories plays out in different manners, what’s at the heart of their struggles is the same: the meaning of family, what is love, and how they, as women, must make hard choices in order to navigate the world in which they live.

Honestly, in many ways, this book took the best advantage of the opportunities to respond to a fairytale that is completely based on woman vs. woman competition due to beauty. There is a lot to unpack there, both with the relationships formed between women, as well as the value on beauty above all else that society, and women themselves, place upon young girls.

I was honestly very surprised with the direction that this story went at different points in the book. Obviously, it was refreshing to read a version of the “evil queen” who was sympathetic, who had made tough decisions to protect herself and what she wanted, and knew that it was wrong that she is being punished for it. Lynet, too, was more than the simpering, often one dimensional princess character that is often found in these stories, and hers the romance containing LGBT elements. For all the hype around this aspect of the series, however, I did find this romance to be a bit underfed. Lynet’s story is only half of the book after all, and Mina’s romantic storyline read as more fully developed. This is unfortunate, but I applaud the author’s intentions in this aspect.

My primary criticism of the story was the writing style. Perhaps it simply wasn’t the type of writing I prefer, but at times it read as a bit middle grade and simplistic for a young adult novel. Especially for a young adult novel that was trying to do and say some big things about found families, the wide varieties and intrinsic value of loves to be found in the world, and the challenges that women face when trying to control their own lives without being punished for it. For all of these large and complicated topics, for being based on not one but two action-packed fairytales, at times I just found myself to be bored. A couple of scenes in the middle, specifically, should have jumped off the page, but somehow seemed to wilt, leaving me under enthused.

But, these criticisms aside, “Girls Made of Snow and Glass” did an excellent job of reimaging a fairytale that has almost be “reimagined” to death at this point. Just when you start to think that there isn’t much more that can be done with a story like this, an author comes along and proves you wrong. If you’re a fan of fairytale retellings, and especially if you’re looking for better representation in your fantasy fiction, check out “Girls Made of Snow and Glass” and enter the giveaway below to win a copy for yourself!

Giveaway is for an ARC of “Girls Made of Snow and Glass” and is open to U.S. entrants only. Giveaway ends on Tuesday, November 7.

Congrats to @melissadougher for winning this giveaway!

Rating 7: Fantasy fiction with a lot to say about found families and feminism. Come for the familiar, stay for the new!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Girls Made of Snow and Glass” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “LGBT Retellings of classic Fiction/Fairy Tale/Myth” and “Snow White Retellings.”

Find “Girls Made of Snow and Glass” at your library using WorldCat!

Halloween Giveaway!

In honor of Kate’s favorite month and holiday (and the time of year when Serena pretends to be braver than she is) we are hosting a Halloween giveaway! Our book batch includes actually spooky fare contributed by Kate and Serena’s attempt at staying on theme. Hey, at least the title matches!

Serena’s Giveaway Book:

28110857Book: “Ghostly Echoes” by William Ritter

About the book: This is a conveniently timed giveaway for this book as I will soon be reviewing the 4th and final book in the “Jackaby” series, “The Dire King!” To get a jump start, you can win this paperback copy of the third book in the series in which Abigail Rook and her eccentric mentor, Jackaby, realize that all of the extraordinary happenings that have taken place in the previous two books are all connected and part of the nefarious scheming of something called the Dire Council. While not full of traditional horror elements, this young adult fantasy series has its own set of scares. So what if the resident ghost is also Abigail’s best friend? That doesn’t mean make uncovering the truth behind her gruesome murder or taking a trip to the underworld any less spooky! But why read my brief little description here? Check out my full review of “Ghostly Echoes” here!

Kate’s Giveaway Book:

20926278Book: “Revival” by Stephen King

About The Book: Of course I am going to throw a book by Stephen King at you guys! The man has had something of a horror writing renaissance as of late, writing hit after hit. So this hardcover copy of “Revival” is what I want to give you a chance to win. This book, involving faith, fanaticism, grief, and addiction, is about Jamie Morton and Charles Jacobs. When Jamie was a kid, the charismatic and effervescent Reverend Jacobs came to his hometown with his lovely wife, and became an instant pillar of the community. But when tragedy struck, Jacobs rejected God and religion, and left town in scandal. After Jamie goes through some rough times of his own, he meets up with Jacobs again, who has started a new life that involves experimenting with electricity. Jacobs thinks that it could have powers beyond energy, and he and Jamie come together to try and make a breakthrough. But what they find is something far more dark and sinister.

This giveaway ends October 29th at 11:59pm and is open to U.S. contestants only. Good luck, and don’t get too scared!!

Enter The Giveaway Here!