Top Ten Tuesday: Ten books we plan to read poolside, or at least somewhere summery

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

CJ's Selections

Lately "reading by the pool" has turned into "drinking by the pool" so these might just end up being summer reads on my balcony. Or my air conditioned couch, because heat index of 105 WTF THAT'S NOT FOR HUMANS.  
1.Whisper of the Tide / Sarah Tolcser - The first, SONG OF THE CURRENT, was one of my favorite of last year. It's about ships and such so it even feels summery. I'm partway into WHISPER and it's already giving me major PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN feels. Perfect beach reading.

2.#murdertrending / Gretchen McNeil - What more do you want in a beach read than serial killers and mayhem? I know, I know, you can't possibly answer that because there's NOTHING. Plus I do love when I'm out in my swimsuit and people are sneakily trying to figure out why my book says "murder." This reality show deathmatch is straight up my alley.

3.Legendary / Stephanie Garber - This doesn't get to leave the outdoors unless I'm by grass because it's a shiny happy hardcover and I will murder anyone who gets water spots on it. But I'm dying to read the highly anticipated CARAVAL sequel, with more Legend, extra magic, and 90% more Tella. How much you bet there's another cliffhanger?

4.Mirage / Somaiya Daud - I just got approved for this on Netgalley, aka I will be reading it as soon as humanly possible. Gimme ALL the non-Western fantasy! And all the fantasy, really, but I'm loving the push for new voices in the genre because it means new worlds! This is actually science-fiction which is even better because I'm trying to read more sci-fi, and there's a fake princess in disguise! Do I need more exclamation points!?!!!

5.Ruin of Stars / Linsey Miller - I thought that MASK OF SHADOWS had a lot of promise and a kickass premise: a genderfluid wannabe assassin joins a deadly competition to become an actual assassin, one of the queen's own. Now that Sal is in the big leagues and realizing their liege is keeping national secrets, I'm hoping for more political intrigue and some secrets about the creepy deadly magical shadows that keep eating people alive. Obviously. And assassins are beachy? I got nothing.

Whitley's Selections

Pool? What pool? Ah, what I wouldn't give to have easy access to a pool.
1.Bruja Born / Zoraida Cordova - I had mixed feelings about the first book, but one of those feelings was "hrm, that was a lot of set up for a sequel....WHICH SOUNDS AMAZING." Fingers crossed hard that all the set up will pay off! Shouldn't be too hard for me to get to this one, I'm going to one of the author's tour stops on Thursday, woot woot!

2.Trail of Lightning / Rebecca Roanhorse - Only one week to go and I think I might just up and implode from how excited I am for this book. I have heard nothing but good things about it, which I believe, because, c'mon, have you seen that summary? (Or read Ms. Roanhorse's short stories, which you totally should?)

3.Map of Salt and Stars / Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar - This sounds really poignant, and I really love the concept of using maps to connect the two different eras being discussed.

4.I am Still Alive / Kate Marshall - This is the second time I've put this one on a TTT list, and I'm unreasonably excited for it, and I really really hope I'm not shooting myself in the foot with all this mental buildup. Only a month left before I find out!

5.Heroine's Journey / Sarah Kuhn  - I love the style of this series. The plots, the humor, the relationships, the family and friendships, the humor, THOSE COVERS, just everything about them. Plus, the dog on the cover is modeled after Fitz, the bookshop dog from The Ripped Bodice. How could I not love something with that kind of injoke involved?

Your turn! What book are you planning to hit this summer?


Review: A Cowboy's Sweetheart

Book Cover
title: A Cowboy's Sweetheart
author: Crista McHugh
pages: 164
format: eARC
buy it: Amazon | Goodreads
rating: 3/5

Pampered New York Socialite and dressage rider, Kensington Pope, has been exiled by her jet-setting parents to her aunt’s Rodeo Academy in Wyoming. She wants nothing to do with the rough and tumble students there, especially one particularly handsome cowboy, Javier. But she won’t be there for long. She has a plan in place to break out after her next international competition.

Javier Cruz takes one look at the spoiled city girl and instantly dismisses her. The school of tough knocks has already educated him on what the important things in life are, and he has bigger things on his plate. He’s counting down the days until his eighteenth birthday when he can pull his younger siblings from the foster care program and reunite his family. But as he gets to know Kensi, he sees a kindred spirit and discovers there’s more to her than meets the eye.

Kensi begins to question her desire to flee the ranch as her relationship to Javier deepens and she learns the importance of family. But when he discovers her escape plan, will he be able to trust her again? And when tragedy comes to the ranch, will Kensi be able to step up and take her place in the family?

Short and sweet and highly readable, this book was right up my alley and I couldn't help picking it up. Rich girl/poor boy? Cowboys? Yes, please! I really liked the characters and chemistry between our two leads, the sweet moments between them were downright adorable and their relationship got me very invested. I liked all the side characters as well and I tore through the book in less than 24 hours.

Buuuut (you knew there was a but, there's always a but) when I say short I do mean short. At 164 pages I probably could have ready any story in less than 24 hours. If the book had been strictly focused on Kensie and Javier, it would have been a perfect length, but it had enough subplots and side relationships to carry a full-sized novel. Kensie didn't just have to learn humility and fall for a cute boy, she also had to form relationships with her extended family and find a new coach and prep for an international competition and reject basically everything her parents stood for and discover her own self worth and struggle with confidence issues and and and and. Javier got it even worse, with a tragic backstory and a court custody battle. All of these other things were touched on and...kinda did okay, but still suffered from being so truncated. 

Javier, while I love him, is also some problematic rep. He's...of some unclear ancestry on dad's side, and mom is Mexican-American. Literally everything in the book related to his parents is a tragic downer. He has no relationship to his culture or past that isn't 100% death and crying. I would have liked to see something other than 'my heritage got me bullied and there is literally nothing good about it.'

And, while I am a sucker for rich girl/poor boy, this book went ahead and failed where every other book in this genre has failed for me, too. I love the idea of people connecting across class lines and learning about each other's problems and trauma and bonding over similarities they didn't expect to find but that doesn't mean you have to flatten all trauma into the same 'level' of 'bad.' It got especially egregious in this novel, where Kensie repeatedly used the word 'survive.' She had to 'survive' in her upper crust NYC society, everything was 'fighting to survive.' And she said this to a guy who literally had to kill someone in self defense or be killed. Girl, you were not in a survival situation. It did better than a lot of books I've read with this trope, but when it fucked up, it fucked up with fireworks.

I still really liked the relationship(s) in this book, and I want to read more from this author. But the 'buts' are some pretty big ones, and will turn off a lot of readers.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books We Decided to DNF, and Associated Problems

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

CJ's Selections

Like Whitley, I don't usually go back to books I've DNFed, so I have no idea if I'd have liked most of them later. So my own spin is going to be Books I Didn't DNF Quickly Enough.  And yeah I realize two of them aren't actual DNFs don't @ me.  
1.Queen of Shadows / Sarah J. Maas - It was way too long and none of the characters made sense and I didn't give a fvck about Rowaelin and I just kept waiting for it to get better and it never did and I basically only read it for Manon whom I'm sure has been ruined since then somehow because that's her MO isn't it. Yeah I finished it. Yeah I'm bitter.

2.The Tiger's Daughter / K. Arsenault Rivera - Maybe this'll be a "too quickly" one because, who knows, I might go back. I really loved the first half! It was epic and beautiful and the relationship between the two women was swoony and complex. But then I realized it was still the first half and there were like 300 more pages and nothing was happening, and I wasn't in the headspace to deal with that.

3.Fear the Drowning Deep / Sarah Glenn Marsh - People loved this book but I really didn't get it. I definitely didn't DNF it quickly enough because I wanted to after like 50 pages but it was for a tour so I FINISHED IT LIKE A BOSS in about a night and yes there was a lot of skimming so sue me. But it was instalove and two weird unconnected monsters and the plot felt like "then this happened then this happened then this happened OKAY I GET IT STOP STOP LET ME LIVE." Yeah okay I'm salty. (Like the sea.)

4.Song of Blood and Stone / L. Penelope - This book has gotten rave reviews from others, including black readers, so don't skip on it just because of my sour grapes. I think the pacing sticks more to conventions of adult romance or NA than fantasy, so I was just like, please something happen soon? But also lots of things happened really fast? Like the world was so cool (I loved the folktale snippets!) but it felt like it started in the middle with ALL THIS STUFF going on and then slowed down to a crawl. I stuck with it for a while, but I found myself pulling teeth and avoiding reading anything, which is why I didn't finish a book for like a month.

5.Done Dirt Cheap / Sarah Lemon - This one was really my fault because WHY did I even request this book? I have zero interest in bikers! Or age gap romances! Or Americana! This was basically an exercise in selection effects because, SURPRISE, I didn't like a book that combined all three and I found myself resenting it as I was reading further because that damn progress bar wouldn't shrink. Also I found the characters kind of Mary Sueish but maybe that was a side effect.

Whitley's Selections

Artsy Reader Girl said I could spin this one, so it's not really cheating this time! But yeah, I so rarely go back to things I've already DNFed, so I'll do "pettiest reasons I've DNFed something."
1.The Reader / Traci Chee - When I say petty reasons, I mean petty reasons. And this one had one thing that really bugged me - PEOPLE IN THIS WORLD CAN READ. It's pictograms, but that counts! IDK why that bothered me so much, but for some reason that just made me completely irrational.

2.Spinning Starlight / R.C. Lewis - Another language based problem, I think this is going to be a theme, lol. But a huge chunk of the middle of this book was the protagonist struggling to learn...the alphabet. Just, that's it. Weeks and weeks spent in emo flailing because she couldn't remember two dozen characters, even though in her own culture she remembered far more because they used pictographs. Heck, I learned the Korean alphabet in three days, and I wasn't motivated by that being my sole means of communication! It just...didn't seem a good enough challenge to take up so much of the book.

3.A Soldier's Duty / Jean Johnson - And the pettiest language DNF award goes to....they specified that she put a headset on her head. I mean, I was annoyed at the writing in general before that, but that sentence took the cake. Could not go on after that.

4.Illusionarium / Heather Dixon  - This book came about in a time when I'd read just a few too many "competition" books in a row post-Hunger Games and I was burned out on the concept. The summary for this book didn't include a competition angle, so when the story changed part way through to be that, I threw it aside without a second thought.

5.Passenger / Alexandra Bracken - Sooooo much repeating! Every single scene and conversation had to be told to use at least twice, either through the narration summarizing it for us, or the characters reflecting on what just happened, or everyone discussing it more than once. I was actually interested in the plot, but after hearing about everything over and over again it got to be too much. Alas.

Your turn! What DNF issues have you had in the past?


A Princess in Theory

Book Cover
title: A Princess in Theory
author: Alyssa Cole
pages: 360
format: Paperback
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 4/5

Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.

Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.

The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?

I think I've basically expired from how adorable this book is. I was gleefully amused, from the very first page, when Ledi deletes what she thinks is spam mail from an "African Prince" claiming she's his long lost fiance. (Well, prince's assistant.) The descriptions of her stressful life and increasingly bizarre prince-assistant-emails are...okay, it seems rude to describe someone's stress as amusing, but it lends enough charge to the electronic exchange to have me laughing anyway.

Ledi really carries this book. I adored her so much. She's got a lot of storylines to juggle in this, from struggling with her past in the foster system to trying to redefine her friendships to gaining authority in her job and, of course, meeting the hot new stranger in her life who is just so "eerily familiar." It works, of course, because everything is connected, but also because her struggles are so richly presented and matched with her wit and determination and enduring good nature.

Thabiso is a little less rounded, and I felt like a few times the "he made it work because money" excuse was used too liberally. There were a lot of convoluted situations required to make the setup work, and the book used the same shortcut for all of them. :/  Thabiso's conflicts are all about trying to juggle his own needs with those of his country, and I very much enjoyed that his spoiled-prince qualities were...very much present without being cartoonish, and without making his better nature unbelievable. That's a hard balance to get right. And the chemistry he had with Ledi was awesome.

Things started to fall off the rails a bit at the end, when a Sudden Mystery was presented to...IDK, because we had a perfectly serviceable plot to begin with. To replace that plot, I guess. But it wasn't resolved to satisfaction, because it didn't pop up until the last third so it didn't have time to properly develop. Mildly disappointing, but not enough to detract from the utter charm of the rest of the novel.


Review: The Ugly Stepsister

Book Cover
title: The Ugly Stepsister
author: Aya Ling
pages: 452
format: eBook
buy it: Amazon | Goodreads
rating: 4/5

When Kat accidentally rips apart an old picture book, she's magically transported into the world of Cinderella--as Katriona, one of the ugly stepsisters! Life turns upside down now that she’s a highborn lady and must learn how to survive the social season, including how to get through the door in a huge metal hoop skirt. To get back, she'll have to complete the story, right to the end of happily ever after. But the odds are huge: the other stepsister is drop-dead gorgeous, the fairy godmother is nowhere to be found, and the prince, despite being insanely hot, openly dislikes balls. Can she ever return to the modern world?

This book was just so utterly...charming. I loved it. I was completely hooked by it. And all despite being chock full of tropes and having very little new to offer. ...I can't for the life of me figure out why it worked.

Kat is your typical, ordinary, everyday high school girl who exists in high school limbo between popular and friendless and has every kind of trouble talking to cute boys. The book even opens with her stuttering and stumbling when confronted with a hot exchange student. Totally typical for a YA. And...I...just....loved it? I know, I don't get it either, but the voice and the writing style was enough to make me go "Yup, I believe this, please tell me more!"

The hottie has no part to play in this book by the way, he's forgotten a few chapters later as Kat accidentally breaks an enchanted book (how did she get the book? WHO KNOWS.) and gets sucked into a England-ish, Regency-ish version of Cinderella. Cast in the role of the 'ugly' stepsister. A story where Cinderella is meek, the stepsisters are actually pretty beautiful, and the Evil Stepmother has basically the same plan as Angelica Huston in Ever After.

And again, it...just...works? There's nothing about this I haven't already seen, but Kat's reactions to everything are earnest and adorable. The plot throws in an invisible goblin to explain everything in a plot-dump and....yeah, I'm cool with it? Frankly, having the plot explained lets us get into the fun parts faster and I don't even care that it's a whole chapter of exposition. And it is a fun plot. In order to get back to her own world, Kat has to see the story through to its happy ending, but no one seems to want to play along. There's no ball on the horizon, Elle doesn't seem to particularly want to be rescued, and there's no fairy godmother in sight.

To make things worse (or better), Kat's attempts to bring Elle and the prince together just manage to make Edward interested in Kat instead! Oh no! It's so trite. It's so convoluted. And...it's fucking adorable. I can't help it. I love these two. Edward is sweet and charming and Kat is flustered and flabbergasted and probably the best saving grace about it is that she admits she's normal by her own time's standards and only special relative to this time. (To which Edward says "probably true, but I like you anyway" and aslkjfjkashdfkjlashdflkjhasdfkjlhasd)
Kat winds up embroiled in a worker's rights movement (it makes sense in context) and the whole thing is thoroughly simplified and compressed and...I don't care. It's a YA, written in a pretty young voice, and it's a B-plot. As a "teen's early introduction to Changing the System Takes Time" it's pretty good.

I just loved it. It was things I'd already seen, but done in a way that exactly suited me.

With a few caveats. (Yeah, you knew that was coming.) The fatfobia is rife throughout this book. There's an overarching theme of "beauty is the ultimate feature" which I can kind of overlook, because Kat's attempting to operate on fairy-tale logic and no one else in the book really goes along with her. But then she also equates "thin" to "pretty" regularly. And not just any thin, but "model-thin," which...nope. There's problematic lines throughout, likely more than I even noticed, but I picked out at least Islamophobia and transphobia. 

That, and, the target age group. Throughout the book I thought that it was aimed at mid-to-younger teens, like 15 ish. I guessed that just based on the voice and the complexity of what was going on, because the character herself is 17. I was happy to see something a little younger; so many YA these days is just NA searching for a label. But then the second book has her at 24 and she almost has sex in the first chapter and I'm going....holy rusted whiplash, Batman. What's the target age group?

IDK, maybe the target is 32, because I'm halfway through the sequel already.