ARC Review: Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

review         book

I'll Meet You Theretitle: Of Fire and Stars
author: Audrey Coulthurst
pages: 400
format: Paperback
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 1/5 (from hated to loved) or 3/10 (all books I've ever read)
recommended for: Fans of Graceling by Kristen Cashore, other romantic fantasy.
Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses before her coronation—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine (called Mare), sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two work together, each discovers there’s more to the other than she thought. Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. Soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.

in depth

  • And here I start another review with "I really wanted to like this book, but..."  Not only is it fantasy, with magic, but it's F/F rep, which is so rare and so needed (in any genre, but I feel like you're so unlikely to see it outside of contemporary).  So the fact that I had to force myself through most of these pages was really sad--and underscores, I guess, the fact that we need rep of all people and diversity to be mainstream, so that one book doesn't have to hold the rep of an entire community on its shoulders.  That's a post for another day, but to Of Fire and Stars... 

  • I hope it works for other people, but it doesn't didn't work for me, on so many levels.  Honestly, this feels like Graceling all over again.  From the outset, I found it difficult to connect with Denna.  There was just something flat about her.  It wasn't until she began to investigate the murders that I felt I had a handle on her character.  Mare started out as standard fiery being-girly-sucks and suddenly developed some depth halfway through.  Unfortunately, no one else really felt fleshed out.  Denna's betrothed (what's his name, again?) literally disappears for chapters on end and only reappears to be bitchy.  

  • Oh, and every character who isn't Denna or Mare is a total idiot.  These are rulers and advisers of a nation that has ostensibly survived in their hands.  Yet, people get killed and suddenly no one but Denna knows what's up.  They're like, "But this blade is kind of like some blades in that country! So obviously the assassin was sent by that country!"  Cue Denna, "But it seems convenient.  Maybe they're acting alone.  Maybe they're framing the country."  And they're like, "No, that's dumb.  It's that country.  Time to start a war asap!"  And it goes on like that the whole book.  

  • There's also the scene where there are, like, TEN PEOPLE in a room and one bad dude with a knife, and the bad dude nearly kills someone because all ten of the people (including, ya know, people trained in fighting) are like TOODLE LOO Imma stand here and do nothing because that guy has a KNIFE.  I realize I'm being snarky, but I think it's a good example of just one scene in the book that feels contrived and ridiculous.  Which made it very difficult for me to feel invested.  

  •  Unfortunately, the romance couldn't make up for it.  Which was really too bad.  It was a classic case of Denna trying to be sweet and make friends and Mare deciding to hate Denna for no reason, and OMG how could I possibly think she's attractive run away and hide etc.  Then suddenly they were besties.  There were a few really good scenes between them, full of near misses and sharp descriptions that showed a lot of potential, but for the most part, the chemistry fizzled.  Also some of it feels graphic for a teen book?  More NA in content.  

  • Also, there's the case of "Well, I've never been trained in this, but now I'm suddenly amazing at it."  We're beyond Deus Ex Machina at this point.  

  • All in all, there was little for me to attach myself to in this debut.  The lush, romantic fantasy promised by the blurb was just a skeleton hitched to overly-convenient plot points, wooden dialogue, cardboard characters, and some truly ludicrous names from a linguistic perspective (yes, I'm a language snob).  I found myself skimming like crazy just to get to the end so I could write this review.  

  • I think this could have been a really solid book with a few more rounds of revision.  Or for a different reader.  Unfortunately, we just missed each other this time around.  

      in a sentence

      Of Fire and Stars is a great concept that's poorly executed, with a plot that feels contrived and not enough spark in its main characters to carry it through.  


      will i read this author again?  I might give her another try.  This was just the debut.  
      will i continue the series?  Probably not.  I'd need to wait for something totally new.   

      Note: I received this copy from Around the World ARC Tours in exchange for a review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


      ARC Review: The Memory Book by Laura Avery

      review         book

      I'll Meet You Theretitle: The Memory Book
      author: Lara Avery
      pages: 357
      format: Paperback
      buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
      rating: 5/5 (from hated to loved) or 9/10 (all books I've ever read)
      recommended for: Fans of Wuthering HeightsLegacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman, other sweeping, epic, historical dramas.
      They tell me that my memory will never be the same, that I'll start forgetting things. At first just a little, and then a lot. So I'm writing to remember.

      Sammie was always a girl with a plan: graduate at the top of her class and get out of her small town as soon as humanly possible. Nothing will stand in her way--not even a rare genetic disorder the doctors say will slowly start to steal her memories and then her health. What she needs is a new plan.

      So the Memory Book is born: Sammie's notes to her future self, a document of moments great and small. It's where she'll record every perfect detail of her first date with longtime crush, Stuart--a brilliant young writer who is home for the summer. And where she'll admit how much she's missed her childhood best friend, Cooper, and even take some of the blame for the fight that ended their friendship.

      Through a mix of heartfelt journal entries, mementos, and guest posts from friends and family, readers will fall in love with Sammie, a brave and remarkable girl who learns to live and love life fully, even though it's not the life she planned.

      in depth

      • If you're looking for a good cry and a better book, go pick this up.  Immediately.  The Memory Book is a beautiful drama, memorializing and celebrating the life of one girl afflicted with an impossible disease.  

      • I'd imagine this would appeal to people who loved Still Alice, although I usually avoid such books so I wouldn't know for sure.  Perhaps, like The Fault in Our Stars, I can read this because I'm no longer a teenager, and so can experience the tragedy therein from the safety of my bubble (whereas old age is still ahead of me, so books like that hit too close for me to seek out willingly).  The comparison to TFIOS is also a comment on TMB's quality.  It's a gorgeous tough-stuff book, unflinching without being heavy-handed, heart-wrenching without being manipulative (I'm looking at you, Nick Sparks).  

      • Sammie is an incredible narrator.  She's a teenager with a life-threatening, mind-threatening disease, but she's still foremost a teenager.  She screws up.  A lot.  She hurts people.  She acts selfishly and impulsively.  She's refreshingly grumpy and obsessive, a masterful debater whose tongue could cut glass, who views the parties and dalliances of her fellow students as an interesting social experiment.  Her stuffiness and judgmental attitude towards other teens turned me off at first--until I realize, wincing, that it's probably because I was her.  And like any good character, she endeared herself to me anyway, with her indomitable spirit, fierce individuality, and really hysterically awkward, self-aware musings.  

      • It's a book about Sammie learning to live.  Opening herself up to the friendships she'd found too cumbersome before.  Going after the beautiful boy she's had a crush on for years.  In the most awkward, wonderful way.  (Seriously, can't adequately express how funny this book is despite simultaneously being tear-inducing.)  Kicking ass at debate and reconnecting with her childhood bestie.  

      • And also dealing with the very real and unavoidable decay of her memory and sense of self.  I think the scariest, most shattering part of this story is that Sammie is facing not only death, but dissolution.  She begins to falter.  To forget where she is.  Who she is.  What she's learned.  For a person like me who lives so much in my head, forgetting is probably the scariest damn thing there is.  Watching Sammie struggle to record the experiences she knows she'll forget next week is utterly horrifying.  

      • So, you've probably guessed that this isn't going to be a happy book.  I can't promise you miracles, because life doesn't, and Avery doesn't make it that easy.  But she also doesn't use Sammie's illness as a conceit.  It's authentic, true, the story of someone dealing with something huge and seemingly insurmountable and also just dealing with life.  Avery captures Sammie's insecure, precocious voice with an ease that's surprising in a debut.  I cried, so much, but I also laughed.  I found my own thoughts mirrored there and also lived inside someone else's head.  

      • It's a tough book, so it won't appeal to everyone.  But if you can steel yourself for the pain, it's a truly beautiful piece of fiction, a story and characters that demand to be heard and refuse to be forgotten.  

          in a sentence

          The Memory Book is a beautiful drama, funny and tragic, awkward and real, a story and characters that demand to be heard and refuse to be forgotten.  


          will i read this author again?  Yes! I can't wait to see what she does next. 
          will i continue the series?  N/A 

          Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


          ARC Review: This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

          review         book

          I'll Meet You Theretitle: This is Where It Ends
          author: Marieke Nijkamp
          pages: 285
          format: Paperback
          isbn/asin: 978-0062380876
          buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
          rating: 2/5 (from hated to loved) or 4/10 (all books I've ever read)
          recommended for: Fans of Please Don't Tell by Laura Tims, My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga, and other dark high school books with a thriller edge.
          10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity High School finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

          10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

          10:03 a.m. The auditorium doors won't open.

          10:05 a.m. Someone starts shooting.

          Told from four different perspectives over the span of fifty-four harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

          in depth

          • I had a lot of hope for this book, not least because of its timely and harrowing subject matter.  I think these hopes, in the end, were the driving factor in why this book was simply "alright" for me.  I wanted it to do so much more, be so much more than it was.  I wanted something dark and groundbreaking, something that would give me chills.  Something that would delve incisively and poignantly to the issue.  

          • What I got instead wasn't bad.  It just wasn't everything I'd dreamt.  This is Where it Ends is the story of four teenagers experiencing a school shooting in real time.  The novel switches perspectives as it ticks down the situation, minute by minute, from the first murmurings of uneasiness to the brutal conclusion.  The timestamps create a feeling of claustrophobic tension for the reader, trapped in those minutes, those brief snapshots of emotion and movement.  The format is definitely this novel's strength.  

          • What it lacks is something more.  It's a solidly written account of a terrifying event--and that's about it.  It could be talking about any situation, really.  The shooter himself, whose psyche and choices are so important to this experience, are familiar from any Dateline special.  There's nothing new there.  Nothing deeper than the usual newspaper-level tropes.  A cardboard cutout of a monster.  

          • I could have forgiven that, but the four point-of-view characters aren't much better.  Perhaps because of the book's brevity, the quickness of the jumps, I was never in anyone's head long enough to feel connected to them.  I felt for them as people in a terrible situation, but again with the same undifferentiated empathy I'd experience while reading a news write-up.  

          • The clincher, perhaps, was the plot.  It was too close to a stab at a thriller to make me comfortable.  Too much like the caricature of someone's real horror.  Two teens' attempts at escape, at reasoning with the gunman.  Two other teens trying to sneak into school to help their trapped friends.  Not only was it rather ludicrous, but it felt disrespectful somehow.  Sensationalized.  I know that there are real stories about people acting heroically in these situations, but something about the presentation rubbed me the wrong way.  

          • All in all, this was an unremarkable read for me.  The writing was decent but without any particular poetry to it, the plotting was simplistic, and the whole concept was fleshed out incompletely, giving the whole thing a skeletal, superficial feel.  Better books have covered the same material with more precision, less focus on tropes and thus less of a cookie-cutter feel.  The author is lovely and I hope she gains her stride in her next book, but this one slipped through me without leaving a mark.  

              in a sentence

              This is Where It Ends is a solid but unremarkable read.  The concept is good, the minute-by-minute playback interesting, but ultimately it's too superficial and surface-level to get its point across. 


              will i read this author again?  I think I will.  She has a solid foundation and seems sweet.  
              will i continue the series?  N/A 

              Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


              Blog Tour: Giveaway: Books by Theme: In celebration of The Reader by Traci Chee, a list of books C.J. can't live without

              books by theme                needlikeair

              Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.

              With overlapping stories of swashbuckling pirates and merciless assassins, The Reader is a brilliantly told adventure from an extraordinary new talent.

              On September 13th, Traci Chee's debut The Reader will hit shelves!  It's a story of Sefia, who lives in a world where books are banned.  Seriously, I'm twitching just thinking about it.  While living without any books would suck more than whatever misfortune caused Michael Phelps to make that face during the Olympics (look at me being all on topic), there are a few I would trade my firstborn to keep.  Read about them below ... and then keep scrolling for more info about The Reader and a chance to win a copy and one of those snazzy tote bags.  Thanks so much to Penguin Random House, my partner for this awesome feature! 



              Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

              If you've only seen the movie, you're missing out.  Miyazaki's work is lovely, but (drumroll) the book is better.  Like mousy girl gets transformed into old lady and befriends a fire demon and a vain wizard cursed using a John Donne sonnet better.  The ultimate in whimsy and magical-feeling awesomeness.  I still reread it once a year, and grin like an idiot every time.  


              Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

              It'd take a whole year of blog posts to explain the depths of my love for this series, and how much it has meant to me.  The books themselves are a constant source of laughter, comfort, and escape.  When I had a rough time in high school?  Joined HP roleplaying sites.  In college?  Dressed up for the premiers.  Before starting internship?  Listened to the series over a whole summer on audiobook as a bedtime story.  Now there are going to be Fantastic Beasts, Pottermore Presents, and Cursed Child better freaking come to America TAKEMYMONEYALREADY.  I'll always be a Potterhead.  Always.


              Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

              I mean, I could basically put all of Diana on here, including her fantastic Chronicles of Chrestomanci, but I'm limiting myself.  I can't believe more people don't know about this book!  It kindled my love of fantasy, inspired me to write fantasy, and is an all-around hysterical half-serious satire of fantasy itself in which a whole world is enslaved by an Earth-born businessman to put on elaborate fantasy adventure tours for Earth tourists.  As in, people from Earth come to this world to have a Tolkien-esque fantasy adventure, but really the inhabitants are just reluctant actors putting on a ridiculous show.  And, scene.


              Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

              Forget the movie.  The book is a whimsical, magical feminist fairy tale with a badass heroine whose brain is her best weapon and some really awesome messages about social justice and self-worth.  Also it's just a fantastic tongue-in-cheek reimagining of the original story with enough original elements to feel old and new at the same time.  Will love forever. 


              Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales

              When I can't sleep, which is often, I read fairy tales.  One particular volume, in fact.  The pages are dog-eared and worn.  The stories are well-traveled from being thumbed through since I was too young to remember, when my mom had to read the stories to me because I couldn't read yet.  Yeah, my mom read me the real ones.  Because she's a badass.  They may be simple and short, but there's still something magical in the way these two awesome linguists wrote and retold stories.  Hans Christian Andersen's got nothing on Jakob and Wilhelm.

              meet the author, traci chee

              Traci Chee is an author of speculative fiction for teens. An all-around word geek, she loves book arts and art books, poetry and paper crafts, though she also dabbles at piano playing, egg painting, and hosting potluck game nights for family and friends. She studied literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and earned a master of arts degree from San Francisco State University. Traci grew up in a small town with more cows than people, and now feels most at home in the mountains, scaling switchbacks and happening upon hidden highland lakes. She lives in California with her fast-fast dog. The Reader is her YA debut.

              win an awesome swag pack

              To enter, post a comment about which books you can't live without!  Penguin Random House will send a copy of The Reader and a tote bag to one super lucky person.  

              Read an excerpt of the first two chapters here!
              Follow @TraciChee on Twitter


              Review: Simon and the Homo-Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

              review         book

              I'll Meet You Theretitle: Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda
              author: Becky Albertalli
              pages: 303
              format: Kindle
              isbn/asin: 978-0062380876
              buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
              rating: 4.5/5 (from hated to loved) or 7/10 (all books I've ever read)
              recommended for: Fans of Wuthering HeightsLegacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman, other sweeping, epic, historical dramas.
              Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

              With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

              in depth

              • You've already heard this book's praises sung from every corner of the blogoverse, but get ready to hear more--because it's truly an outstanding debut.  I read Simon shortly after I finished The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, and it was everything I'd wanted Andrew to be.  Light, funny, surprisingly poignant.  

              • Simon reminded me much of myself in high school, except myself if I'd been a gay young man, of course.  He's insecure and awkward, well-meaning but terrified about whether he means anything, to anyone.  Of course, he's much brasher than I was, and a bit of an asshole in a totally normal and character-enriching way.  So, even when you want to punch him in the face for being jerky to his friends and acting overly tragic, you also can't help but want to squeeze him.  I also really sympathize with Leah, his best friend, who gets sidelined by both Simon and their friend Nick with the introduction of pretty Abby to the circle.  They're just so believable as teens, as people. 

              • The relationship between Simon and Blue is everything I want in a young adult romance, especially a contemporary.  It's cute, slow to build, awkward and adorable.  You can see their adoration developing across their emails--and it's a clever format for a generation increasingly reliant on text for romance--and it's so satisfying when they finally meet.  For some reasons I won't give away.  Normally I go gaggy over a lot of book romances, but Simon and Blue really belong together.  

              • Simon's voice was really the clincher for me.  Of course it's cleverer and a little more poignant than anything most of us have ever penned at 17, but it still feels like a 17-year-old is writing it.  Simple, clear, and punchy, with gems like "I don't know how to be gay in Georgia," offhanded references to slash fiction and Xbox achievements, slang that doesn't feel pilfered from Urban Dictionary.  It resonated with me right away and kept me invested.  

              • The plot twists a few rom com cliches into fresh forms.  There's the Cyrano-esque pen pals, Simon falling for his online buddy Blue.  The blackmail: loser Martin threatening to out Simon unless Simon helps him hook up with one of his friends  It's farfetched enough to be fun, but still tame enough for me to buy.  Then there's the usual drama, friends getting jealous, dating drama, clueless but well-meaning parents, snarky sisters.  

              • There were slow moments, eye-roll-inducing phrases, and some cringe-inducing behavior on Simon's part, but that didn't detract from a truly stellar high school novel.  It's a refreshingly real read in a sea of over-the-top emotional contemporaries and teens that talk like thirty-year-old English teachers.  

                in a sentence

                Simon and the Homo-Sapiens Agenda is a funny, heartening debut, a refreshingly real read in a sea of over-the-top emotional contemporaries and teens that talk like thirty-year-old English teachers.  


                will i read this author again?  Yes! 
                will i continue the series?  N/A, thankfully. It doesn't need one.  

                Note: I purchased this copy. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


                ARC Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

                review         book

                I'll Meet You Theretitle: And I Darken
                author: Kiersten White
                pages: 475
                format: Kindle ARC
                isbn/asin: 978-0062380876
                buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
                rating: 5/5 (from hated to loved) or 9/10 (all books I've ever read)
                recommended for: Fans of Wuthering Heights, Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman, other sweeping, epic, historical dramas.
                No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

                Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

                But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

                in depth

                • I knew very little about this book before it appeared in my life, a glimmer on Netgalley.  I was skeptical.  The daughter of Vlad the Impaler?  I wasn't terribly enthused about a quasi-vampire paranormal rewrite, but something about it drew me.  And I'm glad.  First, because it's not paranormal and there are no vampires.  Second, because it's a slow-burning historical, generational epic, vibrant and devastating and deeply affecting.  Lada and Radu will haunt me until their next installment--and ever after.  

                • There's a Wuthering Height feel to And I Darken.  We begin with the birth of Lada, daughter of Vlad, and in alternating chapters we trace Lada and her brother Radu through their painful, grim youth.  Given as hostages to the Ottoman Empire, they battle with the conflicting identities forged by a life in gentle captivity.  It's a slow build.  I felt like I was reading and reading and there was still so much left--but while other readers have found it slow, I enjoyed the careful layering of Lada and Radu's identities over time, the subtle introduction of their friend Mehmed, the setting of the stage in White's razor sharp, yet lyrical prose.  

                • Then the children become teenagers, where the bulk of the story takes place.  Having known them for years now, I felt completely at home in their heads.  Lada is cold, bitter, a ruthless protector of the little she holds dear.  I met her at a difficult time in my life and I ached for her.  She's not the cliche soft-hearted lass in a case of stone. She's stone, through and through.  I loved that White didn't take that out.  Lada does have softness, enough to feel love and loyalty, but it's a softness she fears, doesn't understand, an embattled softness always forced aside.  On the other hand, Radu is all softness, fragility and compassion and wonder--yet time and heartbreak forges steel in him, even as it tempers Lada's iron.  

                • Between them is Mehmed, beloved by both, friend and protector, cocksure but also deeply insecure, and lonely.  Surrounding them are other characters painted in the most exact detail, people who feel dredged up from history, but these three are the center, the core.  The relationships between them evolve into a complex web that entangles and endangers all three hearts.  White spins a gorgeous drama, romantic and quasi-familial, that at more than one time had me racing through pages, steeling myself against foreshadowed pain, desperate to see them happy and mended.  In many ways, they each carried parts of me with them through the story, so vivid are they in White's telling.  

                • White isn't kind to her characters, and it's just as well.  Theirs is a hard world.  Mehmed is the Sultan's heir, thrown callously and too-young into power.  Lada is the eternal exile, thirsting for Wallachia even as she forms reluctant, inescapable ties in the empire.  Radu is the convert, finding strength in the beauty of Islam and the comforts of a new home that embraces him as his father never did.  Surrounding these individual threads are the machinations of power, civil war in the Slavic states, rumblings of rebellion and intrigue in the empire, forces that toss Lada, Radu, and Mehmed cruelly and indifferently.  I don't say this lightly, but in scope and power it reminds me of Dumas, of old romances and epics.  

                • If you want a quick, light read, look elsewhere.  If you want something dense, gorgeous, soul-wrenching and intricate, then buy this book, immediately.  And I Darken is a vast endeavor, a lush drama entwining a rarely elucidated corner of history with the hearts of three young people.  It's the kind of book that brings to mind epic movie scores, hard and glittering wave-swept clifftops, ceaseless battle cries.  It's the kind of book that reverberates beyond the last page and makes you ache with every cut, every heartbreak, and somehow by the end, it's too short.  I need more.  

                in a sentence

                And I Darken is a masterpiece of historical fiction, a glittering, sweeping epic of a book that carves out a permanent place for Lada and Radu in the minds of its readers.  


                will i read this author again?  I guess I'll just read everything she's ever written while I wait for book two.  
                will i continue the series?  I needed it like, yesterday.  

                Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


                Blog Tour: Giveaway: ARC Review: Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott

                review         book

                I'll Meet You Theretitle: Poisoned Blade
                author: Kate Elliott
                rating: 5/5 (from hated to loved) or 8/10 (all books I've ever read)
                recommended for: Fans of Game of Thrones, Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman, and other sweeping, quasi-historical fantasy.
                Jessamy is moving up the ranks of the Fives—the complex athletic contest favored by the lowliest Commoners and the loftiest Patrons in her embattled kingdom. Pitted against far more formidable adversaries, success is Jes's only option, as her prize money is essential to keeping her hidden family alive. She leaps at the chance to tour the countryside and face more competitors, but then a fatal attack on Jes's traveling party puts her at the center of the war that Lord Kalliarkos—the prince she still loves—is fighting against their country's enemies. With a sinister overlord watching her every move and Kal's life on the line, Jes must now become more than a Fives champion...She must become a warrior.

                in depth

                • Poisoned Blade is a masterpiece of fantasy, with the same intrigue, spirit, and adventure that made Court of Fives one of my favorite books of 2015.  It combines elements of fictionalized Greco-Roman history, fierce athletic competition, badass women, political intrigue, and social consciousness into one sweeping epic tale.  Of course, this is no simple mish-mash of past masters.  Elliott's past prowess in the adult fantasy world shines through in the rich and unique details of her world--poets bound to truth, entombed oracles, walking corpses, multifaceted souls...and, of course, the Fives itself, a daring athletic competition that unites conquerors and slaves alike in the celebration of their champions. It's a fierce story that cuts deeply and leaves you aching for more.  

                • Jes has become a Challenger in her own right, seen her family splintered apart, lost the boy dearest to her, and become the reluctant puppet of a cruel and scheming master.  That's just before the first page, and Elliott flings you into the sequel with a dramatic opening: Jes's friend and father leaving for war, a family member returned, and an overheard scheme. Because Jes is the brazen sparkplug that I love, she unwittingly thrusts herself into the heart of the chaos--the war from ancient enemies without, the throne-stealing plot from greedy highborns within.  Suddenly, Jes's world is more dangerous than ever.  
                • Love Game of Thrones?  Then, like me, you'll relish the political intrigue and deception.  There are so many layers of scheming, and Jes is never quite sure who is lying to her, who she can trust, even what motives are driving the players.  There is an ineffective king and cloistered queen in an embattled city; rumblings of revolution from the enslaved natives of Efea; dastardly spiderwebs of schemes stretching from Jes's master, her father's deadly new bride, and even the queen's brother.  I found myself enthralled following each thread, guessing at who was working with whom and their plans, and inevitably being wrong when Elliott pulled another satisfyingly shocking twist.  The climax managed to be both delightfully foreshadowed and surprising, and the ending gave unexpected (and enjoyable) closure for a mid-series book while still leaving so many threads open for the next adventure.  

                • Of course, the plot could be half as thrilling and I'd still read for the characters.  Elliott has truly created people, carefully crafted and still messy and flawed and shivering with life.  Jes still has the same fire, cockiness, and compassion that drew me to her in the first book, but she's been forced to grow as well.  She's had to compromise her ideals to save the people she loves, all while tiptoeing around dangerous schemes that are a tightening noose with every new secret she learns.  Rebel and risk everything, or be quietly complicit in the atrocaties perpetrated by her masters?  

                • Then there's more of the adorably snarky Ro, the sometimes naive but good-hearted Kal.  We come to better know Jes's stubbornly inscrutable father, her brutally practical and cruelly reasonable master Lord Gargaron, her father's deadly, viciously clever new bride.  I wanted a little more of some of the side characters, like fellow contenders Dusty, Mis, and Tana, but I know that Elliott can only give us so much without overwhelming the story in detail.  The characters we do get wormed their way into my heart and left me breathless and shattered at every turn. 

                • Finally, there is Elliott's world.  On one side, it's a fantasy fan's dream, with details plucked from history, enough to make it familiar, but with its own feel.  Between the mouthwatering food descriptions, details of clothing and customs, and hints of language, you truly feel transported to another world.  Then there are the parts that mirror our own.  With her enslaved, dark-skinned Efeans and light-skinned Saroese conquerors--and Jes, born to a Commoner mother and Patron father--Elliott expertly explores the dynamics between a conquered people and its overlords, and the struggles of a girl caught between worlds, belonging to both and neither, trying to decide what she stands for.  

                • On the whole, I cannot recommend this series enough.  If you've read the first one, then rest assured that Poisoned Blade is a worthy successor written in the same lush, gorgeous, yet approachable prose.  If you're new to the series, don't delay.  Elliott's world is one you won't soon forget.  

                in a sentence

                The Poisoned Blade is an ambitious, vibrant sequel worthy of its predecessor.  Riveting.  


                will i read this author again?  Yes yes yes yes yes 
                will i continue the series?  Can I haz now?  

                Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.  [[Forgive the rambling. I basically had to rewrite the whole review because Blogger is evil.]] 

                about the author 

                Kate Elliott has been writing stories since she was nine years old, which has led her to believe that writing, like breathing, keeps her alive. As a child in rural Oregon, she made up stories because she longed to escape to a world of lurid adventure fiction. She now writes fantasy, steampunk, science fiction, and YA, including recent works Black Wolves, Court of Fives, and Cold Magic.

                It should come as no surprise that she met her future husband in a sword fight. When he gave up police work to study archaeology, they and their three children fell into an entirely new set of adventures amid dusty Mexican ruins and mouthwatering European pastry shops. Eventually her spouse’s work forced them to move to Hawaii, where she took up outrigger canoe paddling. With the three children out of the house, they now spoil the schnauzer.

                Find the book 
                Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
                Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, audiobook

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                catch more stops on the poisoned blade tour! 

                Tour Schedule:
                Week One:
                8/8/2016- SFFWorld.comInterview
                8/9/2016- Sarcasm & LemonsReview
                8/10/2016- Such a Novel IdeaGuest Post
                8/11/2016- The Eater of Books- Review
                8/12/2016- Two Chicks on BooksInterview

                Week Two:
                8/15/2016- Fiction FareReview
                8/16/2016- Dark Faerie TalesGuest Post
                8/17/2016- YaReadsReview
                8/18/2016- Once Upon a TwilightInterview
                8/19/2016- Just CommonlyReview