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!

Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “The Goblins of Bellwater”

33973968Book: “The Goblins of Bellwater” by Molly Ringle

Publishing Info: Central Avenue Publishing, October 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: e-galley from NetGalley

Book Description: Most people have no idea goblins live in the woods around the small town of Bellwater, Washington. But some are about to find out.

Skye, a young barista and artist, falls victim to a goblin curse in the forest one winter night, rendering her depressed and silenced, unable to speak of what happened. Her older sister, Livy, is at wit’s end trying to understand what’s wrong with her. Local mechanic Kit would know, but he doesn’t talk of such things: he’s the human liaison for the goblin tribe, a job he keeps secret and never wanted, thrust on him by an ancient family contract.

Unaware of what’s happened to Skye, Kit starts dating Livy, trying to keep it casual to protect her from the attention of the goblins. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Kit, Skye draws his cousin Grady into the spell through an enchanted kiss in the woods, dooming Grady and Skye both to become goblins and disappear from humankind forever.

It’s a midwinter night’s enchantment as Livy, the only one untainted by a spell, sets out to save them on a dangerous magical path of her own.

Review: First off, thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book! I’ve had my eye on it for a while, with its intriguing description mixing goblin trickery, a romantic plot line, and set in my own home region of the Pacific Northwest. It was a quick read and I buzzed through it in one day, however, I did have a mixed reaction to the story as a whole.

The description sums up the plot pretty well, so I won’t re-hash much there. And the portions of the story that stuck to this plot were strong. The goblins themselves were probably the most intriguing part of the story. It was clear that the author had a clear vision and voice for these otherworldly beings, and their magic and mischief jumped off the page with every scene they stole. I loved the mix of the dark, wet forests of the Puget Sound area that are the perfect setting to hide a mysterious and dangerous fae realm. The goblins were tricky, smart, and best of all, viciously witty. We also got much more actual characterization for a few of the goblins than I had been expecting, backstories and all, that added greater depth of meaning to the choices they made and their interactions with humanity, in particular, Kit and his family.

As I said, setting the story in the Puget Sound worked well for this plot line. All too often fae stories always pop up in the typical places like Ireland and Great Britain. But at the same time, the tropes of the area seemed to jump out at me in a kind of grating way. Of course Skye is a barista who loves art and the woods. Of course Livy works for the Forest Services and is first introduced while kayaking around the sound. Of course Kit is a chainsaw sculpture artist in his spare time. It’s just a bit too on the nose.

Reading the description, I remember it mentioning that this was a contemporary romance, so perhaps it’s on me that I focused more on the fantasy elements and assumed the romance was a supporting piece to this story. Especially for the first half of this story, the book is almost purely a romance novel, and not the kind that I enjoy.

Look. I’ve read my share of romance and I’ve read my share of YA romance. This book is in the unfortunate position of existing somewhere between the two. Our main characters are all adults, early to mid twenties (though here’s another problem: Kit and Livy are constantly referring to themselves as “long-time bachelors.” Um. Guys. You’re barely at the mid-point of your twenties! It seems like such an easy fix to write them in their 30s, a choice that I think would have fit their more mature characterization much more naturally). But for some strange reason, the author chose to write about everything before and after the sex scenes themselves. Which would be fine if she was setting out to right a clean novel.  But the before and after descriptions are of the very unclean, erotic variety. Way too many descriptions about condom management, and some pretty smutty imaginings on all characters’ sides. So then to fade to black at the critical moment…just read strange.

Not to mention that there was a noticeable shift in writing style during these romantic subplots. During the fantasy story lines, the authors writing is strong and assured. But the romantic plot lines seemed to stumble around, filled with disjointed sexual language, an unfortunate bout of magically-induced instalove, and just a whole heap of awkwardness where there shouldn’t be any (phrases like “soak up her hotness” and “congenial sex” were used a few times too many for my taste.) It all read as very strange. Kit and Livy’s relationship was definitely the stronger of the two, but even it progressed in a way that didn’t seem to fit comfortably alongside the other subplots. It’s hard to put my finger on just what felt off about all of this, but something did. I will give credit for the author’s choice to make her two women characters older than their love interests, something you don’t often see in romance novels.

Towards the last half to last third of the story, the fantasy elements began to take over the story again, and I felt like the book gained back a bit of its footing, ending on a strong note. All of this to say, I have very mixed feelings about this book. Part of it is a failure of expectations on my end, and a general preference for A.) fantasy stories and B.) romance novels that are going to at least commit to being a romance novel, something this one always seemed to shy away from. But the story also felt awkward at times and uncomfortable in its own skin, some dialogue didn’t land as solidly as one would hope, and all four characters weren’t equally strong, with Kit and Livy washing out Skye and Grady.

The publisher is hosting a massive giveaway for this book, however, so you have the chance to judge for yourself! If you enjoy clean (for the most part??) romance novels with more of a hint of fantasy (rather than fantasy with a hint of romance), you might find yourself enjoying this book more than I did. Never hurts to give it a go! See below for full descriptions of the prizes available. Open to U.S. entrants only and running late into October!

Enter the Giveaway!

 

Rating 5: Right down the middle. I didn’t particularly love it, but I didn’t hate it either.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Goblins of Bellwater” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best Goblin Books” and “Books about Faery.”

Find “The Goblins of Bellwater” at your library using WorldCat

Prize Descriptions

Grand prize package:

• Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
• $10 Starbucks gift card
• “Flowerwatch” necklace/pocket watch
• Artistic guided journal/sketchbook
• Copy of Brian Froud’s Goblins!


Air prize package:

• Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
• Air-element necklace
• 1 oz of Goblin Market tea from Dryad Tea
Earth prize package:

 

• Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
• Earth-element necklace
• 1 oz of Goblin Market tea from Dryad Tea


Fire prize package:

 

• Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
• Fire-element necklace
• 1 oz of Goblin Market tea from Dryad Tea


Water prize package:

 

• Signed paperback copy of The Goblins of Bellwater
• Water-element necklace
• 1 oz of Goblin Market tea from Dryad Tea

 

Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “The Stone Sky”

31817749Book: “The Stone Sky” by N. K. Jemisin

Publishing Info: Orbit, August 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC provided by Orbit

Book Description: The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.

Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.

For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.

Previously Reviewed: “The Fifth Season” and “The Obelisk Gate”

Review: At this point, I’m honestly baffled by N. K. Jemisin. The fact that the previous two books both won Hugo awards is awe-inspiring enough. But to not miss a single step in a complete trilogy? Crazy impressive. What’s more, as I was reading this book and unpacking the many, many more new layers being added to an already impossibly complex  history and world, I was seriously questioning my own mental capacity to even keep track of it all, let alone write an entire trilogy with all of these details in mind from the first. All of this, she had to have all of this in her mind when she started the first book! These aren’t tiny little breadcrumbs that could be sprinkled in early with only vague ideas for how they are going to be used later. This is an entire history, on top of another history, on top of ANOTHER HISTORY and our slow-revealed narrator, Hoa, has been talking about it all right in front of our faces since the very beginning! I really can’t express my bafflement at the mastery that one needs to possess to juggle this type of storytelling.

But I should probably start a more coherent review at this point. When we finished off “The Obelisk Gate,” Nassun and Essun were set up on opposite sides of a final confrontation that would determine the future of the world. Nassun, broken, hurt, and disillusioned to the point of hopelessness about humanity, sees only one way forward: it can’t be fixed, so let’s just end the bad things. Essun, on the other hand, has only recently begun to see that through all the brokenness, through all the loss of children, family, lovers, and communities, there still might be a way forward, a way to change things and fix what isn’t right.

These two dynamics are so incredibly strong. Through these three books, we’ve seen a lifetime of pain and horror through Essun’s eyes. She has been devastated, horrified, apathetic, furious, and here, in the last, she still manages to find hope. Her time with the comm of Castrima has opened her eyes to a new way of life where orogene and still can live and work together. It’s not perfect by any means, and there are a million fights ahead to make progress, but here, in the end, she sees that fight as one that is worth having and saving.

Nassun sees nothing worth saving, but for Schaffa, and even he is plagued by a life riddled with pain and confusion. Wouldn’t it be best for it all to just end? Her story has been the most tragic in this series. Essun at least has been an adult for the majority of it, and to some extent (while very small at times), she’s had the ability to choose and make a path for herself, even if that path leads into more darkness. Nassun is a child, and while she’s had to grow up much too fast, she still sees the world through eyes of a person whose only lived 11 years on it, and those 11 years have been filled with nothing but abandonment, horror, and no signs that things will ever improve. After killing her father at the end of the last book, Nassun is done. If even a father sees only a monster in his orogene child, then she will be that monster and end it all, for the sake of all monsters everywhere.

Nassun and Essun’s stories are poignant and beautiful, and by setting the two on opposite sides of this fight, as a reader, you’re caught wishing for the impossible. And Jemisin delivers it! The conclusion to these two’s story ended in the only way it could and was immensely satisfying.

But this isn’t only Nassun and Essun’s book. While in the last book we learned much more about the stone eaters and their involvement in this war for the future of the Earth, here we go even farther back in time, back to the great civilization in the past that understood magic just well enough to become greedy, building the Obelisk Gate in an attempt to tap the life magic of the Earth as well and triggering the Shattering. This is Hoa’s origin story, finally. And with it comes, you guessed it, more tragedy and evidence of the brokenness of humanity, the shortsightedness that comes with greed and small lives, and the ever present fear for those who find themselves in power and are frantic to keep it. We learn how and why the Obelisks were created, we learn more about the living Evil Earth itself, we see the history of the Guardians and who they were, and we see that the same terrible choices have been made again and again.

Not only do I not want to spoil the many reveals presented in this book, I’m fairly certain that I need to immediately re-read the entire series to fully appreciate the story that’s been told and finally connect all of the dots of this complicated world. If you asked me to  storyboard this series in chronological order, I’m pretty sure I’d struggle. But that is absolutely no criticism of the book. The best books, in my opinion, are the ones that are so fully alive that you can’t possible fully understand them in one (or even two!) go-arounds.

So hopefully by this time you’ve already read the first two in the series, because here’s your chance to get your hands on the final book in this amazing series! Enter to win a paperback copy of “The Stone Sky!” Giveaway ends Sept. 21 and is open to U.S. entries only. Happy reading!

Enter the Giveaway!

Rating 10: If this doesn’t win another Hugo, I’ll be shocked.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Obelisk Gate” is on these Goodreads lists: “#ReadPOC: List of Speculative Fiction by Authors of Color” and “Best Picks: Adult Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Novels of 2017.”

Find “The Stone Sky” at your library using WorldCat

 

 

 

Kate’s Review and Giveaway: “Genuine Fraud”

33843362Book: “Genuine Fraud” by E. Lockhart

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, September 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: An ARC from the publisher at ALA.

Book Description: The story of a young woman whose diabolical smarts are her ticket into a charmed life. But how many times can someone reinvent themselves? You be the judge.

Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.
Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete. 
An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two. 
A bad romance, or maybe three.
Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains. 
A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.
A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.

Review: I mentioned a book on this blog this summer called “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. It’s a deeply unsettling thriller about a man named Tom Ripley who befriends a wealthy playboy, only to kill him and take on his identity. It’s super messed up and a very fun read, and I think that many of the more recent psychopaths as protagonists characters owe a lot to Patricia Highsmith, who created the character. So when I started to read “Genuine Fraud” by E. Lockhart, it didn’t take long for me to pick up on the fact that this book is a genderbent version of that story. Throw in a little bit of timeline tweaking that starts at the end for good measure, and you have the newest novel from the author of “We Were Liars”, with more coastal scenes and protagonists that you aren’t sure that you can really trust.

I do like it when YA authors experiment with structure and plotting, so to see that it started at the end was a great way to start this book. We start with Jule, who has taken on the identity of her best friend Imogen, a flighty heiress who was as aimless as she was charming. We don’t know what happened to Imogen, only that she is dead, and Jule is pretending to be her. Just as it seems she’s about to be arrested for some sort of crime (fraud? something worse?), we go backwards in time. And then we go further backwards. As we go back more and more, the pieces start to come into place, not only about who Jule is, who Imogen was, how they found each other, and how everything went wrong… plus the collateral damage along the way. We kind of get a sense for Jule and who she is, but she is definitely the definition of unreliable. Things that are said about her may not be the truth, and certainly things she tells other people probably aren’t. The backwards structure was a really neat way to get some of the facts, foreshadowing to events that happened before the moment that you are reading about. You forge thoughts and attitudes towards characters, but then as you shift backwards through the story your attitude changes and you see them in completely new ways. The more I see this device, the more I come to appreciate it, to be sure. It also made it so that I had a hard time putting this book down, needing to take any down time to keep going to find out what happened. It was such a fast and engrossing read that I consumed most of it in one sitting, and then stayed up probably far too late, battling sleep, just to see how it all turned out. There is no denying that the pacing and the little smattering of clues throughout the pages made this a very fun read.

But the problem that I had with it is that it is most certainly borrowing a lot from “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. I’m sure that it’s meant to be an homage to this classic story of obsessive friendship, identity theft, and murder, but there were a number of parallels that felt more like lifting plot points instead of honoring them. The close friend who has always been suspicious of the interloper. The lover who is being played like a harp. The parent who reaches out because their child has ditched responsibility in favor of carelessness. An incident in a boat with an OAR (my God, this basically played out the same way in “Ripley” as it did here). The list goes on. For the target audience, that isn’t going to really make much of a difference. For them Imogen won’t be Dickie Greenleaf and Jule won’t be Tom Ripley, but in my mind I couldn’t separate the characters in this book from the ones that they appear to be modeled after. I think that perhaps if it had been made a bit more clear that this was, in fact, a genderbent retelling with a different structure I would have been more thrilled by it, but instead it was frustrating because I would always be thinking ‘well that was just what Highsmith did’.

All that said, it’s undeniable that “Genuine Fraud” was an entertaining read. Definitely the kind of book that will keep you guessing and keep you completely obsessed with it. I would be curious to see if Lockhart will be following it up with other stories about Jule. After all, since this is an homage to Tom Ripley, it’s important to note that he had a whole series dedicated to him and his exploits. I’d probably read more about Jule, just as I’ve always meant to with regards to Tom Ripley.

Rating 6: An addictive thriller that I ate up quickly. However, it feels less like an homage to “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and more like a copy in some ways.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Genuine Fraud” is brand new and isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet. But I think it would fit in on “Mistress of Disguise”, and “Dark Obsession and Stalker Books”.

Find “Genuine Fraud” at your library using WorldCat!

But you can have a chance at owning this book as well!! Because I’m giving this ARC away for free!!

Enter The Giveaway Here! 

Book Giveaway: “Lost in Arcadia”

33291571Book: “Lost in Arcadia” by Sean Gandert

Publishing Info: 47North, July 2017

Book Description: The brainchild of reclusive genius Juan Diego Reyes, Arcadia is a wickedly immersive, all-encompassing social-media platform and virtual-reality interface. Although Arcadia has made the Reyes family fabulously wealthy, it’s left them—and the rest of the country—impoverished of that rare currency: intimacy. When Juan Diego mysteriously vanishes, the consequences shatter the lives of the entire Reyes clan.

As matriarch Autumn struggles to hold the family together, siblings Gideon, Holly, and Devon wrestle with questions of purpose and meaning—seeking self-worth in a world where everything has been cheapened. Outside the artificial safety of Arcadia, America has crumbled into an unrecognizable nation where a fundamentalist ex-preacher occupies the Oval Office, megacorporations blithely exploit their full citizenship, and a twenty-foot-high Great Wall of Freedom plastered with lucrative advertising bestrides the US-Mexican border.

In a polarized society now cripplingly hooked on manufactured highs, the Reyes family must overcome the seduction of simulation to find the kind of authentic human connection that offers salvation for all.

My Notes:

Kate here! A few years ago I was a bridesmaid in the wedding of my best friend from high school, Blake. One of Blake’s groomsmen was a guy named Sean Gandert. After a weekend of socializing and dancing together, we hit it off enough to friend one another on various social media platforms and to get into various twitter threads together (one of which about “Room 237”, the movie about various “The Shining” conspiracy theories. Oh, the jokes Sean, Blake, and I made that day!). Sean is a freelance writer who has contributed to Paste and LitHub, and now he has a book out called “Lost in Arcadia.”

A mix of futuristic dystopia with political satire, “Lost in Arcadia” is not only a thrilling read, it also sounds like one that becomes more and more relevant with each day of this nightmare of an administration. A futuristic AI dreamscape is used to tantalize and distract the people who live in a world where a madman is president, corporations have taken over, and a giant wall is built along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Timely indeed. And I have some good news: I want to give a copy of “Lost in Arcadia” to one of you so you too can enjoy Sean’s work!! For those interested in more information and an excerpt of this book, click HERE to see an article written by Paste Magazine. And for those who want to read some of Gandert’s other writing, THIS is a link to an article he wrote about political satire in the age of the Trump White House. Gandert is a talented writer and I am so excited to share his writing! – Kate

Click Here to Enter the Giveaway! 

 

 

Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “The Waking Land”

32671619Book: “The Waking Land” by Callie Bates

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, June 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC giveaway from Goodreads & ARC NetGalley e-book

Book Description: Lady Elanna Valtai is fiercely devoted to the King who raised her like a daughter. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Elanna is accused of his murder and must flee for her life.

Returning to the homeland of magical legends she has forsaken, Elanna is forced to reckon with her despised, estranged father, branded a traitor long ago. Feeling a strange, deep connection to the natural world, she also must face the truth about the forces she has always denied or disdained as superstition powers that suddenly stir within her.

But an all-too-human threat is drawing near, determined to exact vengeance. Now Elanna has no choice but to lead a rebellion against the kingdom to which she once gave her allegiance. Trapped between divided loyalties, she must summon the courage to confront a destiny that could tear her apart.

Review: First off, thank you to the publisher and Goodreads for providing me this book through a give away! I also read a portion of it through an e-book ARC provided by NetGalley. You know, cuz I need to be able to read the book at ANY GIVEN MOMENT and thus need copies available in every format.

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Anywho! On to the review! Beyond the beautiful cover (yes, I do judge a book by its cover when it suits me, thank you very much), I was instantly intrigued after reading the story synopsis. It sounded like an appealing mix of political intrigue, manners and etiquette, and, of course, magic. And while it was all of those things, there were a few stumbling blocks along the way.

First off, the political intrigue. It became very clear early in the book that the author was drawing inspiration from the Jacobite rebellion between Scotland and England to create the history and heart of the conflict in her story. There are two countries occupying an island nation, one has been overthrown in recent history, but still hopes to put their own choice leader on the thrown and regain independence for their portion of the country. Obviously, there’s much more to it than this, but at its core, it’s fairly straightforward. I was very pleased with this portion of the story. It was interesting finding similar threads to real history sprinkled within this fantasy novel, especially when those threads diverged from the path with which we are familiar.

Bates clearly had a lot of world building she was trying to pack in this novel. Beyond these tie-ins to the Jacobite rebellion, there’s a complicated history that goes back centuries before it, involving not only these two nations, but another powerful nation who had conquered the entire region at one point and then retreated again.  Detailed histories likes this make a story interesting, but they also present a challenge to authors. All too often books end up with large info-dumps presenting all of these details, which no one loves. But here, we saw the opposite side of the coin. I was a good 150 pages into this story and was still trying to work out the timeline of who conquered who when and why. At a certain point, it was so frustrating that I simply gave up trying to understand. I hesitate to recommend more info dumping, but in circumstances like this, it’s probably the better option than sprinkling in details throughout a long-ish book where much of the plot revolves around the political implications of this history and readers end up just confused.

I did love the magical set up that was brought into the story. Sure there was the cool magic that Elanna was able to create, but the more interesting part was, again, the detailed framework and history behind her power. Not only are her powers needed for the rebellion, but the symbol that she represents as a corner of the tri-part governing force that traditionally ruled the land is highly motivating to the people.

I had mixed feelings with regards to Elanna herself. Her history (the stolen child of a failed rebel leader being held to keep the other side in check) is one that sets her up to have many conflicting feelings and views of those around her. Things like family, friendship, and even national loyalty are all tied together in knots. She feels abandoned by one family, guilty for developing attachments to her captors, questions everyone’s motives around her, questions her own loyalties. Much of this was very interesting and created a rich character arc for her to travel. Unfortunately, all too often she would perform complete 180s on a dime with very little explanation for why she changed her mind. She hates her father! She’ll join her father in this rebellion! Also, while the stress and frustration that would arise from her situation is understandable, at times she read as very unlikable and immature. I never could quite decide how I felt about her. Ultimately, I think I was more invested in the story that she was living than in her as a character on her own.

So there are my thoughts! To be summed up, I was very conflicted with this book. It had true moments of brilliance with a unique and complicated history, both political and magical, and the main character also had flashes of greatness. But I was also all too often confused by the same history and frustrated with Elanna herself. I would still likely recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical “fantasy of manners” type books based on its strengths. Want to judge for yourself? Enter our giveaway to receive an ARC of this book!

Enter to win an ARC of ‘The Waking Land!”

Rating 6: Had so many things going on (complicated history, complicated characters) that it didn’t quite manage to fully flesh it all out.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Waking Land” is new and isn’t included on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Fantasy of Manners” and “Best Books Containing Elemental Powers.”

Find “The Waking Land” at your library using WorldCat!

Summer Giveaway: “We Were Liars”

It’s time for another Library Ladies giveaway! And since we’re in the heart of summer, what could be more perfect than giving away a SIGNED hardback copy of “We Were Liars!” Perhaps you’ve heard of it. But it may be better if you haven’t. Read on…..

16143347Book: “We Were Liars” by e. lockhart

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, May 2014

Book Description: A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

Mini review & Synopsis:

Kate here! So I read “We Were Liars” a few months after it was first published. I knew that it had a lot of buzz surrounding it, and I knew that people were keeping pretty tight lipped as well. I basically swallowed it whole over the course of two days, reluctant to put it down unless I absolutely had to, and I can say that it is amazing, and the perfect summer book to give away.

So why is it the perfect summer book? For one, it’s compulsively readable. Like I said, I couldn’t put it down while I was reading it. It would be a great read for the beach, or an airplane, or just sitting around your house on a super hot day whilst drinking lemonade. And for another, the story and setting really set the mood of summer. It’s about a teenage girl named Cady Sinclair who spends her summers on the family island out east (think Kennedys). She goes with her mother, and spends a lot of time with her cousins. She is closest to cousins Mirren and Johnny, but is also very close to the nephew of Johnny’s mother’s boyfriend, Gat. They’re all so close that they formed a little clique that calls itself The Liars, and Cady and Gat even strike up a summer romance. But during the fifteenth summer, something happened that has left Cady with horrible headaches and few memories. After taking a summer away from the island, she and her mother return for the seventeenth, and she’s reunited with The Liars. But what did happen that fifteenth summer? And why did she forget?

Seriously, this book is a major treat and a lot of fun with its twists and turns. You may not have a private family island to read it on, but the story will nearly whisk you away so that won’t be necessary. Good luck, everyone! You’ll want to get a hold of this book! For a fun bonus, this book has been signed by the author!

Enter the Giveaway!

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