Top Ten Tuesday: Ten books that C.J. could re-read forever and Whitley could maybe re-read at least once

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

CJ's Selections

I don't re-read books as much as I used to, because keeping up with the TBR (unless you're @innocentsmileyx or @skizzles22, hem) is exhausting. But I used to, and I absolutely love falling back into a world. I've recently circumvented the time issue by re-reading on audiobook while I'm falling asleep, so it's like a familiar bedtime story. Here are five that I could re-read or re-listen or re-whatever to infinity. 
1.Howl's Moving Castle / Diana Wynne Jones - This is my favorite book. It's hard to pick just one, but this book has been with me since childhood, and it's magic and characters and world have influenced everything from my writing to, I'm sure, my personality. It's SO much better than the movie (I WILL FIGHT YOU DON'T @ ME OR DO) and it's such a beautiful mix of tropes and subversion of tropes and whiny vain wizards and quietly brave women. I listen to it or read it at least once a year.

2.Pride & Prejudice / Jane Austen - Yeah, I'm basic, get over it. I'm literally listening to this one again right now because whenever I'm going through a tough time, I need a bedtime read that'll take me back to old friends, and Lizzie always brings me there. Plus Austen's writing is so cheeky! I could basically list any of her books here, but P&P is definitely my enduring favorite.

3.Ella Enchanted / Gail Carson Levine - I hope that kids are still reading this, because it's the perfect retelling, the retelling to end all retellings, the Cinderella who saves herself and everyone else and only needs her wits and cleverness and heart to do it, no magic or swords required. It's also hella funny and Char will always be my Prince Charming. The audiobook sounds like it's read by a kid, which is weird, but it's worth it to go back to Frell.

4.Harry Potter / J.K. Rowling - I mean, duh. I grew up at the perfect time for HP. I was 10, I think, when the third book came out. I grew up with Harry, and whatever shenanigans are happening now around the new movies, whatever smidgen of wokeness I have now that leads me to critique them more, I will still always always always love these books and go back to them again and again, because they're a part of me so ingrained that I couldn't cut it out with a knife, because they're threaded all the way through everything I am. Wow, that got sentimental.

5.Dark Lord of Derkholm / Diana Wynne Jones - I could list Diana for a while, but this is an absolute classic of fantasy and it's scandalous how few people know about it. It's about a whole high-fantasy planet that's been enslaved by an unscrupulous Earthling to act as a basically a large-scale LARP for rich tourists from Earth who want to come and have a fantasy adventure, complete with a quest, demons, dragons, wizard guides, and a final showdown with the Dark Lord. And it's all staged, and this year's Dark Lord is a rather bumbling and scatterbrained wizard who's set up to make a mess of things, plus his troupe of resourceful children (both human and griffin!). It pokes gentle fun at all the fantasy tropes we love, and it's absolutely fabulous and wonderful and you must read it now. Go. I'll wait.

Whitley's Selections

Oddly enough, most of mine are romance novels? I never would have thought I'd reread a romance novel, but now that's almost exclusively what I pick up twice. I think it's a time thing, they only take an evening to get through again.

1.Any Duchess Will Do - Legit the first romance novel I ever reread, and I think I've read it four or five times now. I love all the characters and I think the scenario is utterly adorable and the angst is so sweet, I just can't help myself! To avoid having this list be all Tessa Dare, all the time, I will go ahead and include here - When a Scott Ties the Knot and A Lady by Midnight.

2.Street Magic - Tamora Pierce was a huge part of my childhood, and Briar was my first (still only?) book boyfriend. I know he's only 14 in this book, but, well, that's how old I was the first time I read it so. He's older in my head now. But this is the book where I first became obsessed with the character, and I still get giddy and cheer for that big action finale. Same as above, there's a lot I reread from this author - Trickster's Choice/Queen, Will of the Empress, Protector of the Small.

3.Beauty - I still have my original copy of this book, and it is quite literally falling apart. It was my road trip book. Every road trip through high school (and there were a lot of them, for some reason) I'd take this along. It was the first book I read to my mom, rather than her reading to me. It still stands as my favorite retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with a calm and refined Beast where the mystery and drama comes from the magic of the curse rather than the characters themselves.

4.Dealing with Dragons - CIMORENE FOREVER. This is another one that I reread mostly for the nostalgic factor, but the whole series is great. Okay, three out of four of the series is great. I adore these characters and the irreverent approach to fairy tale tropes contained within the whole world. In fact, I think I need to reread this one again, it's been a long time.

5.Dragon Sword and Wind Child - I read this first in....middle school? High school? A school, we'll leave it at that. I loved it, I was fascinated with the way it was written and the upending of the moral structures every other book I'd read until that point was built on. (Due to it not being rooted in vaguely Christian culture roots, not necessarily deliberately, but EVEN BETTER.) I can't say I reread this one all the time, but I do it at regular...uh, decade long intervals?  I have a shiny new copy now, so rereading will be easier when I try it again!

Your turn! What books can you reread forever?


Blog Tour: Book Fun: In honor of Susan Dennard's incomporable SIGHTWITCH, the dating profiles of the Witchlands


                                  the official dating site of the 20-year-truce

This post is mystically coming out on Obligatory Love Day Valentine's Day, so what better way to celebrate Susan's epic 2.5th installment of the Witchlands series than with a series of, you guessed it, or just read the title . . . 

Witchlands dating profiles!

Brought to you by Sightwitch, a stunning found-footage novella set in the world of your favorite witcheries. It's set before the events in Truthwitch, but is best enjoyed after Windwitch, with a blankie and a glass of tea. Look down for more about Sightwitch, and keep scrolling for your favorite book boyfriends, girlfriends, and partners. I took the liberty of taking their dictation, since some of our lovelies were a little more . . . reluctant, than others. 

Ryber Fortiza was a Sightwitch Sister at a secluded convent, waiting to be called by her goddess into the depths of the mountain. There she would receive the gift of foretelling. But when that call never comes, Ryber finds herself the only Sister without the Sight.

Years pass and Ryber’s misfit pain becomes a dull ache, until one day, Sisters who already possess the Sight are summoned into the mountain, never to return. Soon enough, Ryber is the only Sister left. Now, it is up to her to save her Sisters, though she does not have the Sight—and though she does not know what might await her inside the mountain.

On her journey underground, she encounters a young captain named Kullen Ikray, who has no memory of who he is or how he got there. Together, the two journey ever deeper in search of answers, their road filled with horrors, and what they find at the end of that road will alter the fate of the Witchlands forever.

Set a year before Truthwitch, Sightwitch is a companion novella that also serves as a set up to Bloodwitch, as well as an expansion of the Witchlands world.


Ryber Screenname:  ConventLyfe

Likes:  Adventuring, Rule-following (very funny, did Tanzi make you say that?), Spelunking, The Rook

Dislikes:  Snotty self-absorbed Tidewitches, Excessive solitude (I mean, I cherish my alone time but seriously!), Cleaning up after ungrateful nuns

Ideal date:  Encountering your prone form and then rushing in to save your damsel-in-distressed ass like the badass I am. And then sharing swoonworthy banter. Also playing ski ball.  Wut?

Looking for:  A guy with exceptional structural integrity who isn't going to break in half any time soon

Safiya Screenname:  ucantlietome

Likes:  taro, my bestie iseult!, guys who aren't total wusses, breaking a few rules ;) ;)

Dislikes:  the emperor (oh come on like it's a secret), arranged marriages, everybody telling me wut to do ALL TEH TIME

Ideal date:  something active, like running along the ocean or dancing until our feet hurt or doing something totally spontaneous

Looking for:  someone who's not afraid to have fun and get into a little danger now and then

Iseult  .  Screenname:  Heartthread

Likes:  Mom. The smell of pine needles. My best friend Safi, most of the time (just kidding!). Reading. Knowing more than you.

Dislikes:  Bloodwitch f*ckery. Nightmares. Being kidnapped.

Ideal date:  Wandering through the woods on a chilly day at dusk, listening to the forest sounds and enjoying each other's company

Looking for:  Someone who can keep up.

Merik  .  Screenname:  SexyMcLeatherPants (Merik would like me to note that this screenname was the only one left)

Likes:  Swordplay, sailing, ladies with legs for days (not in a creepy way! does that sound too creepy?), sexy banter, saving people, Kullen

Dislikes:  The overwhelming responsibility of rulership, Vivia, the fact that the connection between my brain and my mouth is impaired (HEY I didn't say that!), Cartorrans

Ideal date:  I would invite you onto my ship and take you up the mainmast. That's not a euphemism! Seriously, you could see the ocean better from up there! I mean, unless you want it to be a euphemism . . .

Looking for:  A sassy lass who can hold her liquor, knows her way around a sword (NOT LIKE THAT), and isn't afraid to take charge

Aeduan  .  Screenname:  Aeduan

Likes:  Clearly defined blood scents. Solitary walks. Clean linen assassin's garb. Owl.

Dislikes:  Monks. Criminals. Unnecessary emotional attachments.

Ideal date:  I would like to make it known that I am here under duress. No, I do not find chasing girls sexy. I do NOT banter! Are you typing this? Are you still typing this?

Looking for:  A scentless Threadwitch Nomatsi girl seen leaving the scene of a carriage heist. No, I meant looking for as in literally! Literally! This has nothing to do with romantic leanings! DO NOT PRESS PUBLI---

Don't forget to swipe right! 


Write Bites: Cast Size

I recently saw some writing advice which, paraphrased, was thus: If you introduce a minor character, that character must then do something relevant later. Keep your cast small. Chekov’s gun for people, basically.

I had not realized this was actual advice being handed out, and it’s a real head-scratcher for me. Often in my reviews and reading, I compare things going on to a stage play. As in, your book isn’t a stage play, so why are you being stingy with your cast and sets? You don’t have to build a whole new background when you move to a new location in a book, or hire a whole new extra to play the taxi driver. And obsessively keeping the cast and locations limited leads to quite a lot of convenient coincidences or just outright plot holes as single characters suddenly have to teleport all around the plot to fill disparate roles.

One of the most egregious examples of this came from a book with a secret rebellion group. One single character from this group somehow managed to be leader, propagandist, smuggler, and recruiter all in one, popping up in multiple locations all around the country whenever the plot needed “uh, someone from that group to do something.” Nothing would have been lost to have this character split into multiple, because each instance of this character’s appearance was unconnected to all other appearances. The only thing I can guess is that we were supposed to ‘get to know’ this character, care about them through sheer repetition, but that was hard to do when I was busy wondering how much time they must spend traveling in order to be so literally all over the place.

Perhaps a matter of personal preference, but I vastly prefer throw-away characters to this tactic of shoving many roles under the umbrella of one name. Having a character show up, do their job, and then scurry away to do other things off-page, I think, gives us a better sense of a wider world. A smuggler that shows up, smuggles, and then scurries away to the rest of her non-smuggling related life…well, at least tells us that there’s other things going on in the world. A smuggler who shows up, smuggles, and then pops up again and again and again whenever the protagonist needs a push and in whatever form that push needs to be…pretty much just exists to revolve around the protagonist’s story.

What do you prefer? Small cast or single-task characters?


Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books That Have Been On Our TBR the Longest

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

CJ's Selections

It's kind of sad to realize how long some of these have been on here. I'd like to say I'll get to them... What's your longest TBR inhabitant? 
1.Catch 22 / Joseph Heller - This was literally the first book I ever added to my Goodreads TBR. I even started it at some point, at the beginning of grad school, but I think I got distracted by something else. ABARAT, maybe, or some review book. Like a lot of classics, I feel obligated to read it. But also the premise sounds actually interesting? So maybe this'll be the year. Snort.

2.Delirium / Lauren Oliver - I don't know that I'll ever get back to this. It was SO popular at the time, but it's been, I dunno, 5 years since then? There are just too many other books to read. I don't even remember what this one is about. Something about love and madness? I guess?

3.Abarat / Clive Barker - I've been in the middle of this book since my first year of grad school, 6 years ago. No lie. I even loved it. I think I paused to read something else for the blog and then somehow it became a chain of events that led to me never actually reading it. But I really really want to, because it was absurdly (and absurd) fantastical and eerie, just my thing.

4.Angelfall / Susan Ee - This seemed to be really popular for a while, and then all of the sudden it basically vanished. Then I heard people referring to problematic elements? I barely see anyone mention it anymore, but I still own all three on Kindle. Is it worth going back to read?

5.The Girl of Fire and Thorns / Rae Carson - I'm definitely going to have to read this someday, because I feel like it's such a YA fantasy classic. It's one of those books like GRACELING that every big YA blogger seems to have read. And I did really enjoy Rae's WALK THE EARTH A STRANGER, although not enough to read the sequel because I just really don't go wild for prairie stories. But it gives me a good sense of her prose, which was wicked.

Whitley's Selections

looooool as if I keep track of my TBR well enough to tell which ones have been on it the longest. Here's a random selection of physical copies that I own and still haven't gotten around to, instead.

1.The Lightning Queen - I picked this up at my very first BEA in 2015 and it was 100% for the cover. And I mean, I sought it out and planned to find it and dearly wanted it, 100% for the cover. The rest of it sounded interesting and I certainly planned to read it...uh, and then BEA happened, and I had way more books than I knew what to do with. I was not prepared in any way shape or form and, well, things happen.

Still pretty, though.

2.Dove Arising - I bought this one after I got to hear the author speak at a multi-author event and she was so funny and awesome! (She drew a shark in my copy, whut?) It seems interesting and right up my SFF alley, although I think being more enthused for the author than the title might be what bumped it off my radar? IDK, emotions are weird.

3.Zero Day - I was all over this when I first heard about it, and it published with so little fanfare (that I could tell). Too bad the subject matter (kidnapped daughter of the president resurfaces after he wins the election, might have secrets that bring him down) feels little...um...yeah, currently. I'm still curious, though.

4.The Thief - Yes, yes, shock and horror. To be honest, I hadn't heard of this book growing up. I found it as a favorite of a friend a few years ago, and it wasn't until the new book in the series was announced that I realized it was super popular and nostalgic. People were just coming out of the woodwork to praise the series. Which isn't unusual for works that were popular before the internet was easy. But, I have no idea why I haven't read this book yet; it seems like a short and easy read. I guess because it is older, and I lack the nostalgia factor.

5.Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince - This is a sequel to Dragon Sword and Wind Child, which I first read all the way back in...middle school? High school? I can see the school library clear in my mind, but no idea about the rest of it, lol. Dragon Sword and Wind Child was one of my all time favorites, so when I found decades later that there was a sequel, I just HAD to have it. It was unattainable for a long time, until the publisher put out a new printing and copies were no longer hard to find and hundreds of dollars. Got it as a Christmas present, even. And yet...I still haven't read it. Possibly because I now know there's a third book, which has not yet and probably never will be translated into English. :( The first book had such a nice ending, what if this one is a cliffhanger? I don't think I could handle it.

Your turn! What books can you not believe you read. (And did we even get the prompt right?)


Review: Whitley: The Empress

Book Cover
title: The Empress
author: S.J. Kincaid
pages: 378
format: Hardcover
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 2/5
It’s a new day in the Empire. Tyrus has ascended to the throne with Nemesis by his side and now they can find a new way forward—one where they don’t have to hide or scheme or kill. One where creatures like Nemesis will be given worth and recognition, where science and information can be shared with everyone and not just the elite.

But having power isn’t the same thing as keeping it, and change isn’t always welcome. The ruling class, the Grandiloquy, has held control over planets and systems for centuries—and they are plotting to stop this teenage Emperor and Nemesis, who is considered nothing more than a creature and certainly not worthy of being Empress.

Nemesis will protect Tyrus at any cost. He is the love of her life, and they are partners in this new beginning. But she cannot protect him by being the killing machine she once was. She will have to prove the humanity that she’s found inside herself to the whole Empire—or she and Tyrus may lose more than just the throne. But if proving her humanity means that she and Tyrus must do inhuman things, is the fight worth the cost of winning it?


Review: Whitley: Among the Red Stars

Book Cover
title: Among the Red Stars
author: Gwen C. Katz
pages: 384
format: Hardcover
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 4/5
World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.

Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines.

As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.


ARC Review: C.J.: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

review         book

Book Covertitle: The Hazel Wood
author: Melissa Albert
pages: 368
format: Paperback ARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 4.5/5 (from hated to loved) or 8/10 (all books I've ever read)
recommended for: Fans of The Reader by Traci Chee, Uprooted by Naomi Novak, and other gorgeous, lush fairy/folk tales with a twist. Or something dark and glittery and lovely.
Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

in depth

  • The Hazel Wood is one of 2018's most hotly anticipated debuts, for good reason. It's a viciously dark fairy tale that reads like a grimdark version of Grimm, or a cross between Once Upon a Time and Shutter Island, with flavors of Neil Gaiman. While I have my complaints, I still relished Albert's debut, and immediately hit the pre-order button on a hard copy.  

  • The best quality of this book is Albert's prose. It's like a fine desert, lush and complex and multifaceted, without being overly sweet or flowery. She turns a phrase on a knife edge, concocting descriptions that are so unusual and perfect you could cry wishing you'd wrote them yourself. Her prose is foundation for a thrilling, darkly glittering atmosphere that claws under your skin and trickles down your spine. 

  • I'll admit, I wish there were more stories of the Hinterlands embedded in the text. There's a real missed opportunity for short italicized fairytales slotted between chapters. But we get enough of them that I felt drawn into the Hinterland world, a shadowy forest of black-eyed ice queens and twice-killed maidens, beings that feed on fear and twisted versions of reality. It's all delightfully strange. 

  • As is Alice herself. A girl haunted by inexplicable bad luck, with explosive anger issues and a flighty mother. Her character is instantly compelling and a perfect reflection of the half-fantasy-half-deadly Hinterlands. She's paired with Finch, Gansey-esque fairytale-obsessed rich boy with a swoony smile, but their journey doesn't lead quite where you'd think. Punctuated by near-murders and liars, eerie bargains and overgrown castles, it's a seamless adventure from start to finish. I wanted it to be a bit more violent and grotesque, but hey, I have a type. 

  • While it could have ended a couple chapters before it did, The Hazel Wood still has a satisfying close. Moreover, you leave it with that ineffable sense of the magical that so few books can create. It's as much an experience as a story, and one I can't wait to dive into again. 

in a sentence

The Hazel Wood is a twisted thriller wrapped in a dark fairy tale, and delivers on both counts. 


will i read this author again?  Yes! This really makes me want to go and read Legend 
will i continue the series?  If I had the sequel in my hands, I'd have already finished it. Twice. 

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