The Lady and the Highwayman by Sarah M. Eden- ARC Review

Elizabeth Black is the headmistress of a girls’ school in 1830s Victorian London. She is also a well-respected author of “silver-fork” novels, stories written both for and about the upper-class ladies of Victorian society. But by night, she writes very different kinds of stories—the Penny Dreadfuls that are all the rage among the working-class men. Under the pseudonym Mr. King, Elizabeth has written about dashing heroes fighting supernatural threats, intelligent detectives solving grisly murders, and dangerous outlaws romancing helpless women. They contain all the adventure and mystery that her real life lacks.
Fletcher Walker began life as a street urchin, but is now the most successful author in the Penny Dreadful market, that is until Mr. King started taking all of his readers. No one knows who King is, including Fletcher’s fellow members of the Dread Penny Society, a fraternity of  authors dedicated to secretly fighting for the social and political causes of their working-class readers. The group knows King could be an asset with his obvious monetary success, or he could be the group’s undoing as King’s readership continues to cut into their profits.
Determined to find the elusive Mr. King, Fletcher approaches Miss Black. As a fellow-author, she is well-known among the high-class writers; perhaps she could be persuaded to make some inquiries as to Mr. King’s whereabouts? Elizabeth agrees to help Fletcher, if only to insure her secret identity is never discovered. What neither author anticipated was the instant attraction, even though their social positions dictate the impossibility of a relationship.
For the first time Elizabeth experiences the thrill of a cat-and-mouse adventure reminiscent of one of her own novels as she tries to throw Fletcher off her scent. But the more time they spend together, the more she loses her heart. Its upper-class against working-class, author against author where readers, reputations, and romance are all on the line. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available to purchase on September third.

This book is a mixed bag for me. There were things that I thought were done well, but others just didn’t work. I was at a bit of a disadvantage with this book anyway, because I don’t read romance. I was hoping it’d be more historical swashbuckling adventure and slightly less on the heaving bosoms and fluttering hearts. Alas, if I had anything remotely resembling a heart, I might have enjoyed this more.

I thought Fletcher and his Dread Penny Society misfits were interesting. That he used his success as a penny-dreadful author to fund endeavors to improve the life of poverty-stricken children made him a multilayered character. Elizabeth, though, was boring. I hated reading the parts written from her perspective.

I did like the cat-and-mouse aspect of the book. It added some fun and made the story move along nicely. What I didn’t like were the random chapters of each character’s separate penny dreadful that were interspersed throughout the book. It kept grinding the story to a halt, taking me out of what was happening to the characters at the time.

All in all, this book wasn’t for me, but if you’re into romance with some other stuff thrown in for good measure, you might really enjoy it. I just needed more buckling of swash, and less of the syrupy sweet romance.

Pricked by Scott Mooney- ARC Review

Briar Pryce has the power to change the emotions of others by handing them a rose. It is a talent that has done surprisingly little for her, besides landing her a dead-end enchantment delivery job and killing any chance she had with her childhood-crush-turned-roommate. Worst of all, her ability might be responsible for getting her best friend transformed into a cat via a cursed muffin basket. Needless to say, Briar is nowhere near happily-ever-after. But that’s just life as a twenty-something in the Poisoned Apple, New York City’s lost borough of fairy-tale wonder and rent-controlled magic.

When Briar reluctantly agrees to help find a princess’s kidnapped boyfriend in exchange for reversing the curse on her friend, she gets the heroic quest she never really wanted. Unfortunately, the life of a noble heroine is not all it’s cracked up­­ to be – the hours blow, and Briar suspect that the Royal family employing her might be evil, Republican, or both. To complete the suckage, a killer smoke magician is stalking Briar as she searches both the Poisoned Apple and Manhattan for the missing boy. As tensions between the Poisoned Apple royalty ignite and civil war looms, Briar must figure out how to write her own happy ending–or she’ll just be ending. (Netgalley)

                   Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review. It will be available on August 13th.

I’m a bit confused, to be honest: the book described above and the book I read are very different. The description made it sound like this book was going to be a a satirical fantasy, one full of puns and witty names. Not so much. Let me write my own description below, and then compare and contrast. That sounds very “middle school book report”, but it’s the best way I can think of to sort my muddled opinions into a coherent post.

Briar Pryce lives in the Poisoned Apple, a fairy-tale version of NYC, with her three roommates. There’s Alice, who didn’t play into this book too much; Cade, her long-time crush that she sort of accidentally be-spelled, causing no end of drama; and Jacqui , her best-friend-turned cat. Briar has an unusual gift: she can enchant roses to change people’s emotions. She’s roped into helping recover a kidnapped boyfriend to a royal, in exchange for a reversal in the whole “my best friend is now a cat” issue. There’s also Antoine, a knight sent with Briar to help her in her quest.

It was much more straightforward storytelling, with less quippiness than I expected, given the description. I still enjoyed it, but I do wish the blurb had been worded differently so that I went into it without expectations of a certain comedic type.

I really liked Antoine. He had a great sense of humor underneath his serious demeanor, and he tried really, really hard to protect and aid Briar, even though at times she really was a brat to him. Of course he ended up having a crush on her, which resulted in a rather annoying love triangle, what with the whole Cade situation (by the way, Cade was incredibly one dimensional. He might as well have been a block of wood). Antoine also adapted to strange situations quickly and kept the story moving at a good pace.

I loved Briar’s magical ability! It was incredibly unique, and the uses the author put it to were incredibly creative. I didn’t love Briar all that much as a character, but she had her moments. Her need to finish a crossword puzzle before she died made me giggle. I’m curious about why her power was so different than any others in the magical kingdom. I’m guessing that will be explored more in the next installment.

The adventure was fun, if a bit predictable, the writing was solid, and it was well set-up for a sequel. All in all, it was pretty darn enjoyable, but expect a YA fantasy, as opposed to a fairy tale satire.

Needful Things by Stephen King

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I’ve read a few Stephen King books in the past, but not too many. To be honest, my opinions on the books I had previously read ranged from indifference to dislike, so I was a bit uncertain on how I’d feel about this one. I decided to read Needful Things because I loved the show “Castle Rock”, which is loosely based on Stephen Kings’ works.

Needful Things takes place in Castle Rock, Maine, which is the setting for several of King’s stories. It’s a sleepy little town. At least, it would be if it hadn’t been the site of some seriously bizarre violent happenings over the years. Leland Gaunt, a charming man, comes to town and opens a store called “Needful Things”. It seems to be a curio shop, or an odd antique store. People from the town start coming in and, luckily for them, find the thing they most want.

Leland Gaunt sells things for an intriguing price- what the shopper can pay in cash plus one prank. Just a harmless little prank. Except, it’s Castle Rock, Gaunt isn’t who he seems, and suddenly these pranks have less than harmless consequences.

The idea is fascinating, Not because someone who deals in more than currency is a new idea; it’s not. But someone who uses pranks as currency is very original and the way the story progressed is unique. I’ve never heard any version of the Peddler who deals in that sort of trade. So, right away, I was intrigued.

Stephen King is an incredibly talented writer, no one will deny that. At times, I did feel like there were too many background characters, and there were a few parts that I think could have been condensed (for example, there were multiple Elvis Presley sexual fantasies, which seemed redundant). Overall, though, I really liked it. By the end, the story was barreling along at a breakneck pace and taking me with it.

I especially liked Sally because she had so much to lose. More than anyone else in the book, her “needful thing” was really needed. Leland Gaunt was truly terrifying, while being an incredibly complex character. I loved the way things ended between Gaunt and Pangborn (I won’t say, don’t worry).

There was one scene in particular that was extremely difficult for me to read; I ended up a little sick to my stomach. Be aware that Stephen King never pulls punches. His books are not for the faint of heart.

All in all, I enjoyed it. The snowball effect was fascinating, the ending was unexpected, and I got chills during the epilogue. If you enjoy Stephen King, or horror in general, I’d recommend this book.

Two Like Me and You by Chad Alan Gibbs

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Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for an honest review.

I recently read a review for this book on Paul’s Picks blog. He made it sound so good that I just had to check it out myself. I’m happy to report that he has excellent taste. This book was funny, sweet, and heart warming.

Edwin Green has been in mourning since his ex sort-of girlfriend unceremoniously dumped him. He’s been unable to move on, since she’s now super famous and the constant topic of conversation at his high school. He’s been trying to become famous himself, in an effort to get his ex’s attention. Unfortunately, Edwin’s Youtube channel is less than popular.

That’s the state of things when his class is given an assignment- conduct interviews with a WW2 veteran. His partner is the only other ongoing topic of rumor at his school: Parker Haddaway. She’s sassy, confident, and not much is known about her. They speak to Garland Lennox, a cantankerous vet who convinces them to break him out of the nursing home. The three of them embark on an adventure of a lifetime overseas, trying to track down his long-lost love.

What I love about this book is how well everything just fits together. Each character has their own unique voice and motivation, as do all the people they meet along the way. While I have a soft spot for poor, pining Edwin, Garland is what pushed this book above and beyond for me. The stories he told about his life- maybe a third of which are true- were such fun to read about. The truth underneath his b.s. was heartwarming, and the resolution for his character was bittersweet and perfect.

And the hijinks they manage to get into! I laughed out loud at the incident involving a French police officer. This is one not to miss. It’ll make you smile.

Dragonslayer by Duncan M. Hamilton- ARC Review

In his magnificent, heroic, adventure fantasy, Dragonslayer, Duncan M. Hamilton debuts the first book in a fast-moving trilogy: a dangerous tale of lost magics, unlikely heroes, and reawakened dragons.

Once a member of the King’s personal guard, Guillot dal Villevauvais spends most days drinking and mourning his wife and child. He’s astonished―and wary―when the Prince Bishop orders him to find and destroy a dragon. He and the Prince Bishop have never exactly been friends and Gill left the capital in disgrace five years ago. So why him? And, more importantly, how is there a dragon to fight when the beasts were hunted to extinction centuries ago by the ancient Chevaliers of the Silver Circle?

On the way to the capitol city, Gill rescues Solène, a young barmaid, who is about to be burned as a witch. He believes her innocent…but she soon proves that she has plenty of raw, untrained power, a problem in this land, where magic is forbidden. Yet the Prince Bishop believes magic will be the key to both destroying the dragon and replacing the young, untried King he pretends to serve with a more pliable figurehead.

Between Gill’s rusty swordsmanship and Solene’s unstable magic, what could go wrong? (taken from Amazon)

                        Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for an honest review. This will be available on July 2nd.

Dragons! Huzzah! I’m a sucker for “traditional fantasy”- you know, monsters, warriors, epic quests, that sort of thing. So, I was excited to dive into this one. I’m happy to report that it lived up to my expectations.

I was hooked from the beginning. I loved that it started with an encounter with Alpheratz, the dragon. It established right away what sort of dragons this world has (spoiler: it’s not the cuddly kind). From there, the book takes us to Gil, a grizzled swordsman whose drinking has rendered him kind of useless.

While the plot is interesting, what stood out to me was how well Gil was developed. I really felt for him from moment one. He’s let himself fade away almost into obscurity as a way of dealing with his personal tragedies. The quest to kill the dragon ends up sort of being his salvation, in that he remembers who he was and is brought back to that.

There are things hinted at from his past, some of which has yet to be fully explored. I’m hopeful that more of that will be revealed as the series continues. The story is unfolding naturally, albeit slowly at parts, which I appreciate.

Solene was a great addition, adding complications that Gil wasn’t exactly ready for, and the Prince Bishop was a fun adversary. I couldn’t help but like him; his machinations were so entertaining.

This book felt reminiscent of the Drenai series by David Gemmell, although I really couldn’t tell you why. I honestly think it was Gil’s personality. I happen to really enjoy Winter Warriors by Gemmell, so this comparison is meant as a compliment.

This book is a fantastic start to a series, and a great introduction to Duncan M. Hamilton’s writing, if you haven’t already read any of his work. I highly recommend it.

Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon- ARC Review

The start of a fierce fantasy duology about three maidens who are chosen for their land’s greatest honor…and one girl determined to save her sister from the grave.

In the walled city-state of Alu, Kammani wants nothing more than to become the accomplished healer her father used to be before her family was cast out of their privileged life in shame. 

When Alu’s ruler falls deathly ill, Kammani’s beautiful little sister, Nanaea, is chosen as one of three sacred maidens to join him in the afterlife. It’s an honor. A tradition. And Nanaea believes it is her chance to live an even grander life than the one that was stolen from her. 

But Kammani sees the selection for what it really is—a death sentence.

Desperate to save her sister, Kammani schemes her way into the palace to heal the ruler. There she discovers more danger lurking in the sand-stone corridors than she could have ever imagined and that her own life—and heart—are at stake. But Kammani will stop at nothing to dig up the palace’s buried secrets even if it means sacrificing everything…including herself. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for an honest review. This will be available to purchase on October 29th.

I found this book really enjoyable. The setup wasn’t all that original- girl having to provide for her sibling , sacrificing her innocence in the process. Relationship drama with monetary, as well as class, obstacles to overcome. However, this was still a fun read.

Kammani is a healer, which I always find interesting in fantasy books, where the main character is often a fighter of some sort. It allows for a different character development and a sense of compassion, which adds something I think. I liked Kammani quite a bit, although every now and again I wanted to shake her. Her sister, on the other hand…wow, she was a selfish idiot. I really hated any part of the book with her in it. Of course, there’s also ye random hunky dude. I thought he was rather one-dimensional, but it didn’t detract from the rest of the story all that much.

There’s a whole “who’s the villain?” thing happening during part of the book. I felt that it was rather obvious but, again, this also didn’t detract from the book. Oddly enough, as I write this, I start noticing that there were several tropes that usually bug me. The writing just flowed well enough that it covered up most faults. Sometimes a book is just the right one at a specific time…I think this was one of those situations. I really needed a fun read that didn’t wring me out too much emotionally.

This was engaging, and I like that it’s a duology instead of a long-running series. I think the second book will be better than the first, now that the setup and the world have been established. I’d suggest this as a perfect read on a day when you just need a break from the usual routine.

The Return of King Lillian by Suzie Plakson- ARC Review

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

Final Audiobook Cover
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. It will be available July 9th, 2019.

So, why the manly moniker in tandem with the womanly name?

“The Firstborn Child of The Emperor-King Inherits the Ruling Crown, the Title of Emperor-King and All Powers Thereof.” (Item 37, The Royal Manual) 

Enter Lillian, the firstborn child of said Emperor-King. Cast out of her Kingdom by malevolent forces, mysteriously waylaid by Destiny, the spirited, self-reliant Lillian sets off on an exuberant journey to find her way home and claim her birthright. As she travels through marvelous and mystical lands in search of her origins, Lillian encounters and befriends a kaleidoscopic cast of characters. Most of the tale is told by Lillian herself, as she chronicles her extraordinary adventures. (taken from Amazon)

Simply put, this book was marvelous. I loved every single word.  It is told in Lillian’s…

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Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky- ARC Review

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book, in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available to purchase on October first.

As soon as I started this book, I was presented with a problem: Do I read it as quickly as possible to see what happens next? Or do I drag it out as long as I can, enjoying Stephen Chobsky’s fantastic writing? I’m sure you, reader, have been in this position before. Ultimately, the choice was made for me; I couldn’t put this book down.

I’ll start with the characters. They were wonderfully three-dimensional, every one of them. Christopher was such a sweet little boy and I absolutely loved his mom. She was a fighter in every sense of the word. With the many characters this book had, the fact that they were all well developed and had distinct personalities was impressive, to say the least.

In this book, Christopher goes missing for several days. He shows up again, thanks to “the nice man”, whom no-one else has seen. He’s not the same, though. He has a friend that no one else can see. Thanks to this friendship, Christopher learns that he has a very important job that only he can complete. If he doesn’t finish by Christmas, all hell will break loose.

Normally at this point in a horror review, an excellent writer will be called “the next Stephen King”, or some such thing. I can’t do that, though. Chobsky’s writing is so unique that there’s no comparing it to anyone else. His book was very cerebral. To be honest, it got under my skin. He has a knack for knowing exactly what wigs me out. There are layers upon layers in this book, and it kept me fascinated from start to finish.

I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say this: this is a horror book and some people do horrific things. There might be things that would trigger some, so be aware of that as you read. Normally, some of the things touched upon would really bother me, but it was written in a way that I was able to handle.

For those who haven’t recognized the name, Stephen Chbosky is the author of the absolutely incredible The Perks of Being a Wallflower (if you haven’t read it yet, you really need to rectify that problem. I’ll wait). The fact that he is able to write such disparate genres speaks highly of his ability to weave a tale. He also somehow managed to make me tear up at parts, then scare the living daylights out of me a chapter later. He is a master in his craft.

Read this book.

Firefly Book Tag

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I thought I’d try my hand at a my own book tag, for the first time. Of course it has to be Firefly-related, to make my nerdy heart happy. So… take me out to the black, tell ’em I ain’t coming back!

Malcolm Reynolds- A Book with a Conflicted Character

“Mercy is the mark of a great man.” (stabs defeated opponent) 
“I guess I’m just a good  man” (stabs opponent again)
“Well…I’m alright.”
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The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman: Tanis is a very conflicted character. He’s often at war with himself, just like Mal. He’s also in a leadership role and feels that weight immensely.

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Zoe- A Book With a Hardcore Female Character:
Mal: “Well, look at this! Appears we got here just in the nick of time. What does that make us?”
Zoe: “Big damn heroes, sir!”
Mal: “Ain’t we just.”

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Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake: Each of the three queens is strong in her own way, although at the moment Katharine (the poisoner queen) comes to mind.

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Wash- A Character or Book With a Good Sense of Humor:

“We’re all doomed! Who’s flying this thing?! Oh right, that would be me. Back to work.”

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Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

This book is so stinking funny, and its sequel is even better. I love clever humor and this book has it in spades.

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Jayne: A Violent Book or Character
“You know what the chain of command is? It’s the chain I go get and beat you with ’til ya understand who’s in ruttin’ command here.”

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Red Rising by Pierce Brown
One of the many things I love about this series is that no character is safe. The body count builds rather quickly. When revenge turns into revolution, things tend to get messy.

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Kaylee- An Optimistic Book or Character:
Mal: “I don’t think there’s a power in the ‘verse that can stop Kaylee from being cheerful. Sometimes you just wanna duct tape her mouth and dump her in the hold for a month.” 
Kaylee:  “I love my captain.”

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The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky:
Okay, hear me out on this one. This book deals with some incredibly heavy subjects. It makes me cry every time (and I reread this one a lot), but it ends on a feeling of hope. I can’t really explain it. If you read it, you’ll get what I mean.

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Inara: A Book or Character that’s mysterious:
Mal: “How’s business?”
Inara: “None of yours.”

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: One of the many things I love about this book is the air of mystery and impossibility of the Cirque Des Reves, as well as the characters.

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Shepard Book- A Book or Character involving faith
“You don’t fix faith. Faith fixes you.”

Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman: I don’t read a lot of faith-based books, just my Bible. But this book really resonated with me.

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Simon Tam- A Book or Character that’s highly intelligent:
” I don’t care what you’ve done, I don’t know what you’re planning on doing, but I’m trusting you. I think you should do the same. ‘Cause I don’t see this working any other way.”
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The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford-English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

This book is fascinating, and I definitely learned some things while reading it. Who knew the dictionary had such an interesting beginning?

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River Tam: A Book or Character that’s a bit creepy:
“Also, I can kill you with my brain.”

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chobsky:
I’m about two thirds of the way through this book, and I can honestly say it’s given me the wiggins. I am loving it so far.

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Well, that’s it for my first attempt at a book tag. If you want to try it with your choices, please be sure to tag me as the creator. I’d love to see what you come up with!

For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

Jetta’s family is famed as the most talented troupe of shadow players in the land. With Jetta behind the scrim, their puppets seem to move without string or stick-a trade secret, they say. In truth, Jetta can see the sould of the recently departed and bind them to the puppets with her blood.

But ever since the colonizing army conquered their country, the old ways are forbidden, so Jetta must never show, never tell. Her skill and fame are her family’s way to earn a spot aboard the royal ship to Aquitan, where shadow plays are the latest rage, and where rumor has it the Mad Emperor has a spring that cures his ills-and could cure Jetta’s too. Because seeing spirits is not the only thing that plagues her.

But as rebellion seethes and as Jetta meets a young smuggler, she will face truths and decisions that she never imagined-…

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