Thursday, November 30, 2017

Short Reviews: Mages, Djinn, and Circuses

The Tethered Mage
(Swords and Fire #1)
Melissa Caruso
Release: October 24, 2017
Goodreads Amazon
In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled -- taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army.
Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire.

Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations.

But fate has bound the heir and the mage. And as war looms on the horizon, a single spark could turn their city into a pyre

The Tethered Mage is the perfect blend of politics and adventure where the politics do not overwhelm or drone out the story. Instead they highlight the events that occur. This story has not one but two conflicting heroines bound by a duty thrust onto them. One with politics and the other with the tether of burning fate that she can unleash upon others with just one word to release her. Amalia and Zaira must find a way to tolerate each other as they and their trusted companions try to solve a dire situation that arises.

Character development keeps the reader engaged wondering what is going to happen from page to page. There was not a character that I found uninteresting. I either loved, hated or felt sympathy for many. I have to admit Domenic is my favorite reluctant hero who steps up to the plate even though he would rather stay on the sidelines as the scholar. 

f you give the book a chance, you'll find the characters memorable, the world building intricate, and really the politics were my favorite bit. It's not often politics are so well detailed, so intricate and well woven into a story. This is certainly a great beginning to a YA series! I would definitely recommend this book to others.

ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley

  4 / 5 Stars

The City of Brass
(The Daevabad Trilogy #1)
S.A. Chakraborty
Release: November 14, 2017
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 . . .

The City of Brass was a fantastical journey into the world of djinn and magic. Filled with political intrigue and mounting tensions, the story followed Nahri in her quest to find her people upon learning she's the last of her kind. With the help of a revered warrior, they travel across many lands to reach Daevabad, escaping death on the way, only to find out too late that this city of brass is far from safe for a girl of her kind.

Nahri's journey throughout the story was tumultuous at best, but true to a young woman's stubbornness and independence when thrown into this situation. Her struggle for identity forced her to split herself into two halves; one that couldn't release her old self and one that tried desperately to fit in to an ill-fitting version of what was expected of her, and it was all too easy to see the two sides clash as the story developed. Though the romance is small and uncertain at this point. I expect there will be more to come since it wasn't the focus of this book. I'm very curious to where the author plans to take it. Even as full of a story as this was, there are still many questions to answer and plenty more story to tell.

As the first in a trilogy, it was a densely-packed tale and won't be a quick read. The world was intriguing and detailed and once I started reading I didn't want to stop. It's going to be a long wait for book two. I'm curious to see where this story will go.

ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.

  4 / 5 Stars

The Emerald Circus
Jane Yolen
Release: November 14, 2017
Enter the Emerald Circus and be astonished by the transformations of your favorite tales. Ringmaster and internationally bestselling author Jane Yolen (Briar Rose, Sister Emily’s Lightship) spins modern fantasy classics in tales that go well beyond Wonderland and Oz, down the rabbit hole and back again.

Where is Wendy? Leading a labor strike against the Lost Boys, of course!

It’s time to go back to—and beyond—the treasured tales you thought you knew: The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and many more. Ringmaster and internationally bestselling author Jane Yolen (Briar Rose, Sister Emily’s Lightship) spins modern fantasy classics for delighted readers. A girl blown away from Kansas returns as a sophisticate with unusual gymnastic abilities. A talented apprentice, forging her first sword, is suddenly left to the mercies of Merlin. Alice’s infamous nemesis has jaws and claws, but also lacks the essential: a sense of humor.

Witty and bold, and unexpected, these tales go well beyond the rabbit hole and back again.

I have been a fan of Jane Yolen's books ever since I discovered Dragon's Blood and Briar Rose in my teens. The thing is I've never read any of her short stories before even though I'm a fan of short stories as a whole. 
As soon as I picked this up, I found myself sucked into her writing again. I was intrigued and absolutely captivated by her take on well-known fairy tale and literary figures I couldn’t stop at just one or two I had to read the whole collection in one sitting including the poems and story notes at the end.

The author's story notes with the poems at the end are worth it all by themselves to pick this up as you feel like you get to know her. It's almost as if she’s sitting with you by the fire one late wintry night spinning tales just for you. Jane Yolen is the epitome of what the title “storyteller” hopes to define.

This anthology helps you to relive stories and people from long ago in a whole new way such as Peter Pan, Wizard of Oz, Anderson’s Snow Queen, Alice in Wonderland, Robin Hood, Arthurian Legends as well as nods to other works. It was both entertaining and satisfying on an intellectual level. 

My favorites of the collection were "Sister Emily's Lightship" and "The Quiet Monk".

ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.

  4 / 5 Stars

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Review: The White Lily by Juliette Cross

The White Lily
(Vampire Blood #3)
Juliette Cross
Release: October 10, 2017
Goodreads Amazon
To the north of the Varis empire, a mysterious faction spreads propaganda against the vampire monarchy. Friedrich Volya, the Duke of Winter Hill, seeks to discover who they are before his uncle finds them first. King Dominik will punish the traitors with brutal force.

Local schoolteacher, the raven-haired Brennalyn, is on her own mission—to spy on the duke and discover what she can for the Black Lily. She longs to help the commonwealth and bring justice to the many orphans left behind from the ravages of the blood madness, like the children she lovingly keeps in her care. What she doesn’t plan for is the heart-pounding attraction she feels for the duke, enemy to the Black Lily.

But when Brennalyn’s secret puts her life and the life of her children in danger, Friedrich steps in as her protector, she finds out there’s more to the duke than she thought.

I have loved each book so far in this series but this book is hands down my favorite! There is something special about this series. Something that I’m not sure I can adequately describe with words. It's so good! Each book mixes paranormal romance with a specific fairy tale and it's like instant book crack. And each book just keeps getting better and better!

We've encountered the Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood tales in the first two book so I was intrigued about which fairy tale this book would be based on. I can't tell you how tickled I am that this was a retelling of Snow White. It's not a fairy tale you see retold very often. And it was a glorious retelling in this case. Of all the characters I have met so far in this series, Brennalyn and Friedrich are my favorites. They're amazing together and I was hooked on their story from page one.

Told from both the perspectives of Friedrich and Brennalyn, The White Lily continues the tale of the search for more supporters to join the cause of the Black Lily. Brennalyn Snow is a twenty-three year old schoolteacher who is the foster mother to seven orphans ranging in age from preschool to late teens. But Brennalyn has a secret identity that if revealed would threaten her life and the lives of the children she loves. Enter Friedrich Volya, the Duke of Winter Hill, and a member of the reigning royal vampire family. What ensues is the building relationship between Friedrich and Brennalyn, and the potential fall out when Brennalyn’s true identity is revealed. Except Fredrich has a secret of his own.

Friedrich and Brennalyn have had the best chemistry out of all the couples in this series so far! Therir romance is the best! They try to resist each other but they can't help but fall for one another! I loved how elements from the original tale were included in this story. I loved how the seven dwarves became Brennalyn's seven adopted children. There's even a huntsman, poisonous fruit, an evil queen, and a magical mirror that reveals all to the other side.

This is a story of adventure, action, forbidden romance, and the ongoing war between human and vampires. The premise is entertaining and addictive while the characters are strong-willed and engaging. In true Juliette Cross fashion, the book builds to an intense climax that is enough to give me anxiety and make my heart stop. This book also has sweet romantic words, intense sexy times, adorable children, and heart-pounding action. It has almost everything! I couldn't put it down once I had started reading.

If you haven’t started this series yet, start with the first book, The Black Lily. While this book can be read as a standalone, the series is best read in order. There is a story arc that continues throughout the series and the characters are recurring. I can’t wait to see what Juliette Cross has in store for us next because it looks like the next book will be a Sleeping Beauty retelling! I'm so excited to get my hands on Mina's book!

ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley

  4.5 / 5 Stars

My reviews of other books in this series:
The Black Lily by Juliette Cross
The Red Lily by Juliette Cross 

Top 5 Wednesday: Top 5 Reasons We Want to be Victoria Schwab When We Grow Up

Top 5 Wednesday is a Goodreads group hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Bloggers, booktubers and bookstagrammers post on a common topic every (you guessed it) Wednesday. You can find the lists by searching #T5W or Top 5 Wednesday. And you can join the group on Goodreads if you want to participate.  

This Week's Topic Is:
Authors You'd Want to Write Like
But we could really only think of one, so here are the top five reasons we want to be Victoria Schwab when we grow up.

A post shared by Victoria Schwab (@veschwab) on
5. Her Wardrobe and Cosplay Skills
Like Victoria, I am a huge fan having a mostly black wardrobe. Although hers is way more diverse than mine. I envy her nerdy t-shirts and I will admit that I've bought more than one that I've seen her wearing. She also has some serious cosplay skills. Just look at the costume she assembled for her Howl cosplay! It is glorious!

4. She Travels The World
It would be great just to go on a book tour and meet people all over the world, but Victoria actually lived in Scotland for a month to write A Conjuring of Light. Plus, she spent a year there for grad school. I would love to have a job that let me do that!

3. Her Versatilty
Not only does she write for three different audiences - MG, YA, and adult, she rewrites vastly different books in each age group. Vicious is nothing like A Darker Shade of Magic. Same with This Savage Song vs. The Archived. But the one thing each has in common besides their uniqueness is beautiful and atmospheric writing that just sucks you into the story.

2. She's a Fangirl Just Like Us
Victoria is a lovely person both in person and online. But one of the things I've loved about following her on Twitter and Instagram is seeing her geek out about everything from books to anime to movies to authors. Her fangirling over the Captive Prince books is what made me pick them up. I started watching Black Butler because of her. And her fangirling over Neil Gaiman, an author I also adore, just endeared her to me more.

1. Her Productivity
Victoria reads about the same number of books as I do every year because he considers it part of her job. But she also writes multiple books in a year. Even if you add up all the blog posts both Rose Red and I have written, it's nowhere near that many words. She usually releases at least one book a year and most of the time it's two, like next year when we get both Vengeful and City of Ghosts. The woman must run on tea alone. Seriously, when does she sleep?


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Review: Spy Games by Sidney Bristol


Spy Games
(Tarnished Heroes #1)
Sidney Bristol
Release: November 27, 2017
Goodreads Amazon
ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley
Haunted by the mistakes he made while fighting for his country, Rand Duncan has become the CIA’s go to man for tough jobs in an effort to atone for his sins. Late-night phone calls and covert meetings are the norm. Until she arrives and his past crashes into his present.

Sarah Collins never thought she’d see her brother’s former best friend again. But one of Sarah’s fellow undercover informants has been captured and the briefcase containing the identities and locations of twelve other operatives are in Chinese hands. If Sarah and Rand can’t retrieve the documents, people will die.

The shock wears off quick as the two must figure out how to retrieve the briefcase before it can be opened or sold. If they want to save lives, they must confront their past, while avoiding an enemy that will stop at nothing to crush them.

I love spy shows - Alias, Covert Affairs, Berlin Station. They have such interesting living-in-the-gray-areas characters, not to mention great action scenes. That's probably what inspired me to pick up Spy Games. I'm also a fan of a friends-to-lovers story, which is sort of what Rand and Sarah have, though it's also a second chance romance in a way.

Rand was Sarah's older brother's best friend but disappeared from their lives after Matt lost his arm in the Navy. Eight years later, Matt's married to Sarah's best friend and Rand is still blaming himself for the incident. There are several references to the way Matt and Emily got together and I'm sure that they have their own book, but I looked through Goodreads and couldn't find it. And Bristol's website lists Spy Games as first in a series so I'm confused about where this prequel might be. But I digress.

Though I liked the story, I felt like the pacing was off. It just dragged for me in spots. And I wish that there was more romance in the second half of the book. But my biggest issue is that it was obvious who the mole was in chapter two. Sure there were complications and red herrings along the way, but never enough to convince me that I had guessed wrong.

However, I was impressed with how many interesting characters Bristol introduced in this group of CIA agents and contractors. There are some damaged heroes who must have fascinating stories, as well as a budding romance between an older couple. I'm curious to see what happens to them if the series continues.

Recommended for fans of: The Associates series by Carolyn Crane, Julie Ann Walker's Black Knights Inc


Friday, November 24, 2017

Black Friday Book Bonanza Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the 7th annual Black Friday Book Bonanzahosted by Marlene at Reading Reality and Kimberly at The Caffeinated Book Reviewer!

We Weres love Kevin's Hearne's Iron Druid series! (To find out why check out our Read This F@!%ing Book post.) We have a copy of the first book, Hounded, for one lucky winner. You also get a super cute Pugkin Spice Latte bookmark from Happy Hello! and some puppy page flags in honor of Oberon the Irish Wolfhound, the real star of the series if he does say so himself.

Giveaway is International.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Check out the rest of the stops on the hop!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Top 5 Wednesday: Books I'm Thankful For

Top 5 Wednesday is a Goodreads group hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Bloggers, booktubers and bookstagrammers post on a common topic every (you guessed it) Wednesday. You can find the lists by searching #T5W or Top 5 Wednesday. And you can join the group on Goodreads if you want to participate.  

This Week's Topic Is:
Books You're Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving to our U.S. readers! 
We hope you're getting a chance to curl up with a book this week. 

Lots of us make lists of people and things we're thankful for this time of year. Before this T5W topic, I've never thought to list books though. Here are my top 5.

5. Hungry Like the Wolf by Paige Tyler
I'm always thankful for a Slump Buster! Last year Tyler's SWAT series, of which this is book one, broke me out of a major reading slump.

4. Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh
Speaking of Slump Busters, whenever I'm in one of those "I want to read but nothing sounds good" moods I pick up something from the Psy-Changeling series.

3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerors Stone by J.K. Rowling
In the last few years, I've seen so many new authors who were inspired by Harry Potter. Not to mention a whole community of YA bloggers, booktubers, and bookstagrammers. This series unites readers from all over the world, giving them common ground and shared experiences.

2. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
How can I be thankful for a book that I haven't actually read? Twilight brought so many of my peers to paranormal books and blogging. Many of us who are currently reviewing adult PNR may not have gotten here without it.

1. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
This book is the one that brought me. My gateway into the UF/PNR world was Sookie Stackhouse and I discovered some of my favorite series based on recs from Charlaine Harris.

Which books are you thankful for?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Gretl's Gift Guide

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are less than week away. Have you started shopping yet? My daughter has a November birthday so I wind up doing a lot of Christmas shopping at the same time. A few of my finds are in this post, actually. There may be a Gift Guide Part Two in the works, so share your finds or your wish lists in the comments.

For Potterheads

First of all, does your Potterhead have every available edition of the books? I don't have the illustrated ones yet (in case you want to get me some books.) I also got really good deals on the UK editions from Book Outlet, though I didn't find them all at the same time. If they've already got all of those, here are some other HP-inspired items I'd be happy to find under my tree.

 $55 at Storybook Cosmetics
They also have palettes inspired by Mean Girls and Willy Wonka, as well as the famous Magic Wand brush set

$13.49 on Etsy
Happy Piranha had a chocolate frog candle that I was coveting but it's not on their website anymore. I'm not sure if that means it's discontinued or just sold out. But this one from FaerieTales Candles should fill the void. I love the way they decorate the tops of the candles. They almost look like cupcakes. There's also a 4oz version in a tin for about $8. These ship from New Zealand so if you're not in that part of the world you have to order by 11/24.

Marauder's Map Umbrella from BioWorld
$12.95 on Amazon
I have a thing for umbrellas. I have no idea why. But I love this marauder's map print. It's actually the reverse of most of the ones I've seen with its black background and tan writing.

$39.95 on Barnes & Noble
Hogwarts is such a perfect setting for a murder mystery. (I guess Chamber of Secrets kind of IS a murder mystery, now that I think about it.)

For Me

Or for other folks on your holiday list. (Really, you aren't getting me anything?)

$34.50 a month 
I came late to Gilmore Girls. I just binged the whole series on Netflix last year, but now I watch it a few times a week and it's one of my happy places. The box has things like mugs, t-shirts and magnets from Stars Hollow businesses. I'm so jealous when I see the unboxings on Instagram! You can also add a bag of coffee with a clever Gilmore-inspired name like the snickerdoodle flavor called "Oi with the Snickerpoodles, already!" to your box each month or subscribe to the Stars Hollow Coffee Club
 for $7.98 per 8 oz. bag.

Flick the Wick monthly box
$35 on Etsy
(Photo of the October box by Flick the Wick rep @myfriendsarefiction.)
December is sold out but you can get me the January box. I'm cool with that.
This box includes 4 small candles, 1 large candle and 5 bookish items.
It's like a book box with candles instead of a book. The price and the items included are similar. Great choice if you don't want to add to your bookish friend's TBR pile or aren't sure what books they already have.
Evie Seo on Zazzle
You might have seen Evie's designs on Instagram or Society 6 but she also has some on Zazzle now. They include home items like serving trays, mugs, and coasters. Also shoes! Tons of her Alice in Wonderland designs are there, but also some ADSOM, ACOTAR. I've had good luck ordering mugs from Zazzle in the past. And watch for discount codes - last year they had 75% off mugs one weekend.

Things you can go to an actual store for

I know some people like instant gratification and no shipping charges. These photos are from my own holiday shopping.

12 Days of socks from Target
These come in men's, women's and kids' sizes.
Choose from Star Wars, DC comics (pictured) or Christmas designs. There's also a Harry Potter one but they were out of stock in the warehouse two days after they released.

Unicorn Makeup from Ulta and Bath and Body Works
This is one of the things I've already gotten for my daughter and I hope that she thinks is as awesome as I do. If you have a tween or teen (or an Instagram account) you probably know that unicorn and mermaid makeup is big right now. I was pretty excited when I found these unicorn brushes at BBW. They also come in gold with pink bristles. Also pictured Unicorn Snot body glitter - I got purple but it also came in pink from BBW- and the Too Faced Unicorn Survival Kit from Ulta. She's also getting the Pur My Little Pony eye shadow palette but it seems to be sold out now.

Small Business Saturday
I had great success shopping in my historic downtown neighborhood on Small Business Saturday last year. Most stores had specials and free samples that day. If you're buying for friends that live out of town, you can be pretty sure they won't already have anything you find there. And you're sending them a little piece of your home town. I always love gifts like that.

What's on your shopping list this holiday season?

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