Review: Blood Red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick

Friday, October 21, 2016
Title: Blood Red Snow White
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Published: expected October 25 2016
Source: ARC from publishers
Rating: 3/5

When writer Arthur Ransome leaves his unhappy marriage in England and moves to Russia to work as a journalist, he has little idea of the violent revolution about to erupt. Unwittingly, he finds himself at its center, tapped by the British to report back on the Bolsheviks even as he becomes dangerously, romantically entangled with Trotsky's personal secretary.

Both sides seek to use Arthur to gather and relay information for their own purposes . . . and both grow to suspect him of being a double agent. Arthur wants only to elope far from conflict with his beloved, but her Russian ties make leaving the country nearly impossible. And the more Arthur resists becoming a pawn, the more entrenched in the game he seems to become.

Russia wakes from a long sleep and marches to St Petersburg to claim her birthright. Her awakening will mark the end for the Romanovs, and the dawn of a new era that changed the world. Arthur, journalist and writer, was part of it all. He left England and fell in love with Russia and a Russian woman. This is his story.

First and foremost: this is not a fairytale retelling; don't let that cover or title fool you. There are elements of Russian fairy tales to be found in Marcus Sedgwick's newest Blood Red Snow White, but this is a book about Russia. It's often lyrical and poetic in its short, frequently-changing course but as with most books by this author, it is not a straightforward tale. This is a book that is one-third dreamy folk talk, one-third spy mystery, one-third historical fiction romance. It's an interesting mash of ideas and genres for one book with less than three hundred fifty pages, and only some of which really succeed.

The first section of the novel (titled A Russian Fairy Tale) is undoubtedly the best. This is the area most like a fairy tale -- folksy, with layered meaning and intent. The story of Russia waking into its Communist society is told subtly and magically. It was 5/5 stars for me and the highlight of the book despite only lasting 71 pages. The One Night in Moscow follows this auspicious  beginning and squanders it.  So many chapters primarily concerned with spying and Ransome -- both of which held much less interest and exactly zero emotional investment. 

Part III of three of the novel is aptly titled A Fairytale, Ending and this final narrative held a lot of emotion that had been sorely lacking in the addition before. Though not as mystical or alluring as the beginning of the novel was, it was a solid if somewhat predictable ending for an ultimately uneven read. Marcus Sedgwick is a clever man who writes creative novels; books that are often told in unique and original ways. Sometimes his methodology works better than others, and I am happy that at least this one was a better experience for me than his last.

Series Review: Wayfarers by Becky Chambers

Thursday, October 20, 2016
Technically, these two books are more companions than series, but eh, it's my blog and I do what I want.

Title: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Author: Becky Chambers
Genre: science fiction
Series: Wayfarers #1
Pages: 404
Published: August 2015
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 4.5/5

Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.

But all voyages leave their mark, and even the most ordinary of people have stories worth telling. A young Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she‘s left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war.

Set against a backdrop of curious cultures and distant worlds, this episodic tale weaves together the adventures of nine eclectic characters, each on a journey of their own.

Title: A Closed and Common Orbit
Author: Becky Chambers
Genre: science fiction
Series: Wayfarers #2
Pages: 512
Published: October 20 2016
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 4.5/5
Lovelace was once merely a ship's artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who's determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet introduced readers to the incredible world of Rosemary Harper, a young woman with a restless soul and secrets to keep. When she joined the crew of the Wayfarer, an intergalactic ship, she got more than she bargained for - and learned to live with, and love, her rag-tag collection of crewmates.

A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to Becky Chambers' beloved debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and is perfect for fans of Firefly, Joss Whedon, Mass Effect and Star Wars.


Take note: Becky Chambers has published two excellent, diverse, and just plain fun science fiction novels in the last few years. First with the spaceship quest across galaxies among a ragtag band of characters and species in The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and then planetside, wrestling with existential crises with AI and engineered humans during A Closed and Common Orbit, Chambers has shown an impressive breadth of imagination and creativity in her pair of companion novels. Both books have been entertaining and thoughtful; original in scope and in plot but not without humor and a ship or two.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet does a great job of setting up the world/s the characters occupy and travel among. The many rules and imagined cultures of this imagined future are varied and unpredictable but the author does a great job of disseminating the info without halting the pacing. Chambers' version of future includes multiple non-human aliens who interact (and are often confused/horrified by) humankind in unexpected but interesting ways. A Closed and Common Orbit is a bit less diverse when it comes to characters, aliens, and foreign cultures, but it also uses a nonhuman main character in an effective way to analyze humankind. 

 Societal expectations, gender, identity, and what it means to be human and/or alive are all key themes touched on within Chambers' clever science fiction. Using first Rosemary in TLWtaSAP and then Lovelace and Pepper as main characters is a smart move because of the different backgrounds and exposures each of the three women bring to their unique perspectives. Rosemary's struggle with politics, personal history and gender bias is contrasted with Lovelace's existential dilemma and also with Pepper's harrowing history and continuing quest. Their individual stories are wildly disparate, but each are deftly rendered and thoughtfully explore many issues relevant in modern society (slave labor, cloning, child labor, prejudice and discrimination, environmental waste...etc).

More than anything else, even with the occasionally heavy subject, these two books are original and entertaining to read. Each could be read independent of the other or without knowledge of other's contents, but I wouldn't recommend that. They both offer a ton of humor and are each filled with fantastically developed characters -- of all species and kinds. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet may be more action-oriented than the introspective nature of A Closed and Common Orbit but both are great, fun reads; fantastic new additions to the scifi genre.

Review: A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith

Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Title: A Darkly Beating Heart
Author: Lindsay Smith
Genre: historical fiction, time travel
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Published: expected October 25 2016
Source: ARC from publishers for review
Rating: 3/5

A time-travel story that alternates between modern day and 19th century Japan as one girl confronts the darkness lurking in her soul.

No one knows what to do with Reiko. She is full of hatred. All she can think about is how to best hurt herself and the people closest to her. After a failed suicide attempt, Reiko’s parents send her from their Seattle home to spend the summer with family in Japan to learn to control her emotions. But while visiting Kuramagi, a historic village preserved to reflect the nineteenth-century Edo period, Reiko finds herself slipping back in time into the life of Miyu, a young woman even more bent on revenge than Reiko herself. Reiko loves being Miyu, until she discovers the secret of Kuramagi village, and must face down Miyu’s demons as well as her own.

I liked this historical/time traveling tale well enough (the premise is perfection, let's not lie here), but it's an often confusing narrative with many clarity issues over the course over its pages. The author undoubtedly has a great imagination and creates a good idea for the basic plots of A Darkly Beating Heart, but the execution of the main story is muddled from the outset and is an issue that never really resolves. 

A Darkly Beating Heart has such good bones, but outside of the previously mentioned clarity issues, the story is further hampered by the overall short length of the novel. Coming in at less than 300 pages total, there is a lot of ground to cover and events in the story progress either too quickly or too conveniently for my suspension of disbelief. Reiko's life and situation makes for interesting and compelling reading, but it passes by so quickly that I finished the book still left with questions. 

The main character's timeslip into the Edo period is perhaps the best aspect A Darkly Beating Heart has to offer, though these experiences are also abruptly covered and feel rushed. Reiko's initial confusion and disbelief at her surroundings and new situation soon become an evocative and atmospheric escape into a fascinating culture with hidden dangers. The author is careful to tie the past and the present storylines together, but the modern one was less dynamic in comparison.

There's a lot to like about A Darkly Beating Heart - the diversity, the inclusiveness, the creativity -- but it never crossed into "favorite" territory for me. It was an entertaining read but not a particularly memorable one.


Top Ten Characters I'd Name A Child/Dog/Car After

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday is all thanks to Broke and the Bookish!

This week we are revisiting an old topic.... favorite names from books. I always plan to name pets after my favorite fictional beings so this was an easy and fun topic.

1. Rhaegar -- from A Song of Ice and Fire series
If I ever received a giant dog, I'd name him Rhaegar (if only because I'd never really have a dragon to give this name to like I REALLY want.)

2. Sansa -- from A Song of Ice and Fire series
I also realllly want to name a girl puppy the eldest Stark daughter name. I am a permamember of the #SansaStarkDefenseSquad and it's just a pretty name.  Clever George --- it also means "praise, charm" in Sanskrit. #iseewhatyoudidthere 

3. Aviendha -- from The Wheel of Time series
I have named a couple small electronics after my favorite female WoT character and probably will being doing so again. 

4 & 5. Ginevra/Ginny Hermione-- from the Harry Potter series
My imaginary future girlchild is clearly going to be named Ginevra Hermione because they are the real heroes/MVPs/Champs/BAMFs.

6. Kaz -- from Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom
I haven't yet decided what in my life will be given this moniker but I LOVE that name and it makes me instantly think of Brekker and Inej and Ketterdam and it'd be a great dog name.

7. Whiskeyjack -- from The Malazan Book of the Fallen series
If Ryan was not allergic to cats, I would adopt an older crotchety, seen-it-all cat and name it Whiskeyjack.

8. Alia-- from the Dune series
It's been a while but Alia Atreides was always my favorite female character from Herbert's books (with Chani and Irulan close behind) and Duncan Idaho was my favorite male character. I used to have an iPod named Alia XD

9. Flynn Rider -- from Tangled
So.. my (female) dog is named Flynn because she was supposed to be a boy but then we just loved the name for her. I just have a lot of fun coming up with nicknames that rhyme with Flynn ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

10. Penelope -- from The Odyssey
This is where my dog Penny Pudding (yes her tag says Penelope Pudding) gets her first name. Penelope was the ideal of loyal while her husband was off destroying Troy so it seemed a great name for a loyal dog.

Review: A Song of War by Various

Sunday, October 16, 2016
Title: A Song of War
Authors: Christian Cameron, Libbie Hawker, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Stephanie Thornton, SJA Turney, Russell Whitefield
Genre: historical and mythic fiction, retellings
Series: N/A
Pages: 483
Published: October 18 2016
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4.5/5

Troy: city of gold, gatekeeper of the east, haven of the god-born and the lucky, a city destined to last a thousand years. But the Fates have other plans—the Fates, and a woman named Helen. In the shadow of Troy's gates, all must be reborn in the greatest war of the ancient world: slaves and queens, heroes and cowards, seers and kings . . . and these are their stories.

A young princess and an embittered prince join forces to prevent a fatal elopement.

A tormented seeress challenges the gods themselves to save her city from the impending disaster.

A tragedy-haunted king battles private demons and envious rivals as the siege grinds on.

A captured slave girl seizes the reins of her future as two mighty heroes meet in an epic duel.

A grizzled archer and a desperate Amazon risk their lives to avenge their dead.

A trickster conceives the greatest trick of all.

A goddess' son battles to save the spirit of Troy even as the walls are breached in fire and blood.

Seven authors bring to life the epic tale of the Trojan War: its heroes, its villains, its survivors, its dead. Who will lie forgotten in the embers, and who will rise to shape the bloody dawn of a new age?

Through a wide array of voices and perspectives and several hundred pages, these talented seven authors string together a cohesive and passionate overview of some of the most famous events of the ages. Carefully using some of the most familiar but ignored faces from inside the legendary city of Troy while also giving voice to a few of its relentless enemies, A Song of War deftly re-imagines and reinvents a new iteration of the oft-told story of Helen from the beginning to its end, while still staying true to the heart of the tale. 

Kate Quinn and Stephanie Thornton are two authors who excel at characterization and motivation for both known and new historical personalities, even when they are working with less than 70 pages to do so. The book begins with their contributions (The Apple is first and is followed by The Prophecy) and the POVs of Hellenus, Andromache and Cassandra are given new, believable life under their hands. The strong execution carried throughout A Song of War is laid down in its foundation here. These first two offerings are female-dominated stories, which means they choose to feature narration from characters largely ignored by Homer. Thanks to the skillful maneuvering of Quinn and Thornton, this beginning offers up a plausible and interesting new version of the inception to the famous story.

The middle contributions of this anthology-novel are similarly well-handled and fresh in both nature and choice of narration. Featuring a blend of skirmishes both bloody and political in scope across each Song, these additions are from both new and familiar authors. Russell Whitefield's contribution is a complex narrative that gives a distinct voice and creates some surprising empathy for a war-weary Agamemnon in The Sacrifice. This strong but careful approach to plotting  is continued in the pivotal battle between the hope of Troy, Prince Hector, and the savior of the Achaeans, Achilles, in Christian Cameron's subsequent The Duel. Libbie Hawker's addition of The Bow is a natural continuation of the previous momentum with the tale of Penthesilea and Achilles' end, and is one that manages to evoke new emotions from even the most familiar of scenes. 

A Song of War was never a story that was going to end happily, though not all the names featured were destined to die in Troy's fall. The ending may have been foretold and the body count is high, and yet the two remaining authors keep the emotion invested and the book's energy moving. Vicky Alvear Shecter's The Horse is of course centered on Achaean hero Odysseus, and sets the stage rather neatly for SJA Turney to complete the cycle with The Fall. These two tales are closely intertwined and happen so close together; reading Odysseus' unparalleled success against Diomedes is to see the glory of Troy begin to end. I also have to note that ending the anthology with Aeneas' escape is a clever and appropriate move for the two legends it connects. 

Starting with Pompeii in A Day of Fire and then followed by Boudicca's Rebellion in A Year of Ravens to the fall of Troy here with A Song of War, these historical anthologies have yet to disappoint me. By choosing to showcase opposing sides of a conflict or by characterizing a villain into more than one-note antagonist, they have routinely created believable and new versions of history and legend. Each book is an exercise in providing new interpretations of motivations for actions of famous figures to fit combined storylines and it has continuously succeeded. 

Blog Tour Schedule

Saturday, October 15
Review at Just One More Chapter
Review at Flashlight Commentary

Sunday, October 16
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Monday, October 17
Review at

Tuesday, October 18
Review at A Book Drunkard

Wednesday, October 19
Excerpt at A Literary Vacation

Thursday, October 20
Review at Peeking Between the Pages

Friday, October 21
Review & Excerpt at The Silver Dagger Scriptorium

Saturday, October 22
Review at 100 Pages a Day

Monday, October 24
Review at Unabridged Chick

Tuesday, October 25
Interview at Unabridged Chick

Wednesday, October 26
Review at The Maiden’s Court

Friday, October 28
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Monday, October 31
Review & Excerpt at Book Lovers Paradise

Tuesday, November 1
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Wednesday, November 2
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Thursday, November 3
Review at Jorie Loves a Story

Monday, November 7
Review at A Bookish Affair

Tuesday, November 8
Interview at Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, November 9
Review at Historical Readings & Reviews

Friday, November 11
 Review at Broken Teepee
Spotlight at The Book Tree

Saturday, November 12
 Excerpt at The Reading Queen
Review at The True Book Addict

Two Minute Review: Replica by Lauren Oliver

Saturday, October 15, 2016
Title: Replica
Author: Lauren Oliver
Series: Replica #1
Pages: 544
Published: expected October 19 2016
Source: Book Expo America
Rating: 4/5

Gemma has been in and out of hospitals since she was born. 'A sickly child', her lonely life to date has revolved around her home, school and one best friend, Alice. But when she discovers her father's connection to the top secret Haven research facility, currently hitting the headlines and under siege by religious fanatics, Gemma decides to leave the sanctuary she's always known to find the institute and determine what is going on there and why her father's name seems inextricably linked to it.

Amidst the frenzy outside the institute's walls, Lyra - or number 24 as she is known as at Haven - and a fellow experimental subject known only as 72, manage to escape. Encountering a world they never knew existed outside the walls of their secluded upbringing , they meet Gemma and, as they try to understand Haven's purpose together, they uncover some earth-shattering secrets that will change the lives of both girls forever...

 After a couple years of reading her novels, I've come to realize that I like Lauren Oliver's books so much more when she's writing for teens rather than for adults. Some of this particular YA novel is easily predicted by anyone whose read more than a few, yes, but there's more than what meets the eye to the story being told in Replica. It's a twisty and eventful ride with a surprising variety of characters and turns of event.

It's a clever pair of stories told in a somewhat gimmicky but ultimately inventive manner. There are two key characters in Replica's over 500 pages and the way Oliver chose to write it allows them both equal time and distinct voices to tell their respective versions of events. Some events have ripples on both sides of the novel and it is fascinating to see how two such different people interpret and react to the same event or news.

Replica is the first of a scifi-ish series and while I am not sure how long this particular conceit - both plot-wise and presentation-wise, will last before wearing out, but I am at least interested enough to see what happens next.


Backlist Review: Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare

Thursday, October 13, 2016
Title: Say Yes to the Marquess
Author: Tessa Dare
Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction
Series: Castles Ever After #2
Pages: 384
Published: December 30th, 2014
Source: Borrowed Library
Rating: 4 out of 5

Your presence is requested at romantic Twill Castle for the wedding of Miss Clio Whitmore and . . . and . . . ?

After eight years of waiting for Piers Brandon, the wandering Marquess of Granville, to set a wedding date, Clio Whitmore has had enough. She's inherited a castle, scraped together some pride, and made plans to break her engagement.

Not if Rafe Brandon can help it. A ruthless prizefighter and notorious rake, Rafe is determined that Clio will marry his brother—even if he has to plan the dratted wedding himself.

So how does a hardened fighter cure a reluctant bride's cold feet?

● He starts with flowers. A wedding can't have too many flowers. Or harps. Or cakes.

● He lets her know she'll make a beautiful, desirable bride—and tries not to picture her as his.

● He doesn't kiss her.

● If he kisses her, he definitely doesn't kiss her again.

● When all else fails, he puts her in a stunning gown. And vows not to be nearby when the gown comes off.

● And no matter what—he doesn't fall in disastrous, hopeless love with the one woman he can never call his own.

Trigger warning: this is an ED book.

Ms. Dare's Castles Ever After series, as I said in my minireview of Romancing the Duke, has a phenomenal premise. Rich, well-meaning old man dies and leaves several of his goddaughters honest-to-god CASTLES in his will. Because little girls all want to be princesses, right? And in fact, the main characters are all the kind of women who could really do with fairy tale.

Clio Whitmore has been dubbed Miss Waitmore, as her fiance of eight years is nowhere in sight. Now with her lovely castle in Kent to fix up, Clio decides to break off the engagement to be an independent woman. Problem - the marquess' brother Rafe is determined the marriage must go on. Even if the brutal prizefighter needs to plan the thing himself.

This premise is hilarious. Rafe doesn't know the first thing of planning weddings so he brings along Bruiser, his fight promoter, as a sort of dumber David Tutera. He buys up a whole greenhouse of flowers, every cake in London, and dozens of dresses to throw at Clio until she feels the whole "perfect bride" thing. Except Clio's had that little taste of freedom and she's not throwing it away, even for chocolate.

I loved Clio so much, even though her tragic back story up there in the trigger warning was difficult for me. She is so smart and driven. Not only does she decide to become independent and run the castle on her own, she's turned her lessons on how to be a marchioness into plans to run a brewery - complete with growing hops in the village and aging casks in the dungeon. When Rafe asks if she's breaking off the engagement for someone else, she tell him yes. Herself. Brava, Clio. Also she locks annoying relatives on the other side of a portcullis, so basically I'm planning a spring wedding for the two of us.

Rafe's very alpha and tropey and it worked for me because I thought Clio played off him well, but I understand he won't for others. He's a big mean boxer who doesn't need no woman giving him a hard time; even in the big HEA he's presumptuous of Clio's wants and needs. But there's a deep softness to his character, too. I liked him.

Tessa's doing something for the almost non-existent diversity in the genre. I wish it was more, but I can see and appreciate the effort. The ton are lily white, of course, but there is a minor side character of color, a former boxer/pub owner from Jamaica. He needed more than a handful of lines. Clio's sister is autistic and treated very sensitively by the story. As an allistic person, I can't say how good the representation is, but I did really appreciate the touch.

In all, I found this to be a strong romance with characters who had depths. The plot got a little messy once the marquess returned from the continent and I could have done with a few less pushy monologues from Rafe, but any book which features a good food fight? Pretty darn tasty.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Copyright © 2015 Ageless Pages Reviews. All Rights Reserved.

Amelia Theme by The Lovely Design CO and These Paper Hearts.