ARC Review: C.J.: City of Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

review         book

Book Covertitle: City of Bastards
author: Tomi Adeyemi
pages: 377
format: Audiobook
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 4/5 (from hated to loved) or 6.5/10 (all books I've ever read)
recommended for: Fans of Pirates of the Caribbean, Song of the Current, The Magicians, and other blockbuster fantasies with a funny side.
Tilla, bastard of House Kent, has it made. Safe from her murderous father in the dazzling capital of Lightspire, she lives a life of luxury under the protection of the Volaris King, alongside her boyfriend Zell and best friend, Princess Lyriana.

So why isn’t she happy? Maybe it’s the whispers and stares that follow her wherever she goes, as the daughter of the traitor waging war against Lightspire. Or maybe it’s the memories of her beloved brother, Jax, who lies cold in his grave even as she tries to settle into a life in the city's prestigious University.

Then, Tilla stumbles upon the body of a classmate, a friend. The authorities are quick to rule it a suicide and sweep it under the rug, but when Tilla herself is attacked by a mysterious man with terrifying powers, she’s convinced of a conspiracy. Her friends beg her to stay silent; what she's suggesting is impossible... and treasonous.

But Tilla can't, won't, let it go. And the deeper she digs, the more questions she uncovers. How is the West beating the supposedly invincible Lightspire Mages in battle? Is it connected to the shadowy cult wreaking havoc in Lightspire? Nothing is as it seems in the glorious capital, and Tilla’s presence might just be the spark that sets the Kingdom aflame.

in depth

  • Royal Bastards (review here!) was one of my breakout favorites of last year, so I was thrilled to find the sequel just as...well, thrilling. Tilla and her friends are back, this time with a murder on their hands. Their investigation turns into a web of intrigue, forbidden magic, and deep-rooted conspiracy that kept me breathless until the end. Even more explosive than its predecessor, City of Bastards is a sure favorite for anyone who wants fantasy with bite. 

  • The bastards are back with a bang. Tilla is just as every bit headstrong as she ever was; you can never say she just lets things happen to her. This girl is driving the plot if it kills her. Lyriana is mourning several losses by drinking and debauching herself into a frenzy, and Zell is Zell. Not going to lie, I liked him less than I had in book 1.  He's kind of a limp blanket next to Tilla's firebrand self. I thought Tilla's bantery bright chemistry with Ellarion was way more compelling. Also I just love Ellarion, Lyriana's flirtatious rake of a cousin. He takes up Jax's role as charming loudmouth with exuberance and flair. But the best is how they all play off each other, how they grow, how they f*ck up and get back up. It's not just one guy and one girl who kiss or almost-kiss. They have actual friends and do friend things! And the villains! Andrew's baddies are a chilling mix of larger-than-life overlords and all-too-real spawns of toxic masculinity. 

  • Andrew's dark brand of comedy delivers laughs with a razor edge. It's what makes this book different from so many other fantasies. There's magic, yes, and adventure and a bit of romance, but it's couched in a boisterous, tongue-in-cheek style that reads more like Pirates of the Caribbean than Throne of Glass. Quips and profanity are bandied about. Serious themes (the nature of good and evil in war, for example) are explored, but with a slantwise sarcasm that keeps it from getting heavy handed. 

  • The twists! The turns! That ending! It starts out slowly, but also fast? I wanted to get a better sense of the university and world of Lightspire and felt very ungrounded. Once they find the body, however, things pick up and the city comes to life. It feels like Skyrim mashed up with Star Wars, with shimmersteel towers, cryptic clues, and all sorts of underground societies and intrigues twining together into one big web that snares them all. Andrew's writing is cinematic, his plotting fast-paced and brutal. People get f*cked up. They are betrayed. They lose limbs. The carnage is blockbuster-worthy. And even though parts are predictable, he still managed to surprise me at the end and leave me dying for the next book. 

  • Even more explosive than its predecessor, City of Bastards is a sure favorite for anyone who wants fantasy with bite. Someone make this ish a movie. 

in a sentence

Even more explosive than its predecessor, City of Bastards is a sure favorite for anyone who wants fantasy with bite. 


will i read this author again?  Yesh 
will i continue the series?  I don't know how I've already lived without it.  

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


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?