Top Ten Things On Our Reading Wishlist

Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Top Ten Tuesday is all thanks to The Broke and the Bookish! This lovely header is thanks to APR's own Dani.

This was a topic earlier this month that I missed due to scheduling conflicts. So here I am two weeks later, lol.

1. More dragons

I always say that if a book has a dragon in it or on it, I want it. And there's just never enough book with fire-breathing flying beasts.

2. Based on/inspired by [historical event/place/person]

As a history nerd person, I love connecting real life to fiction.  ESPECIALLY: non-Western and/or genderbent versions of history. (think: And I Darken - a retelling of Vlad the Impaler but as a young woman.)

3. Group heists

Six of Crows, The Lies of Locke Lamora - these are a few of my favorite things. What do they have in common besides ships and feels? They're cutthroats acting out heists on grand scales. High-stakes, quick action and twists... love it, want more of it.

4. Non Greek/Roman Demigods

Both in a classical sense (like Helen, Hercules, etc.) or in a more updated tale (Percy) --- and preferably focused on other pantheons than the ones usually shown.

5. F/F fantasy

I was so excited for Of Fire and Stars last year .. and womp wooomp. But while that was a wash, I am 100% here for more f/f fantasy. Someone has to publish some here soon, right? RIGHT?!

Dani's Picks: (Jessie stole two of mine!)

6. More YA with relationships that don't work out

I had some problems with A Week of Mondays, but the thing it did best was show that you can love someone once and still break up. It's not all or nothing, love forever or never. This Song Will Save Your Life also did this really well with losing your virginity to a relationship that didn't end up panning out.

7. Flower shop owner/tattoo artist romance

A. Cam‏ (@justabookeater_ on Twitter) posted this on her wishlist the other day and now I NEED IT MORE THAN ANYTHING. It's a popular fan fic trope, but where is my full length romance novel, I ask?

8. Reality show contestants

I have never read a truly satisfying reality show book. I want Masterchef with enemies to friends bonding in the finale. I want The Bachelor where two of the bachelorettes fall in love instead. I want The Amazing Race like For Real, but longer and more actual challenges.

9. Weird hobbies

I feel like every contemporary is about a girl who likes to read and a guy who likes soccer. I'm just saying, what if she also did crew? He went geocaching? Or built model airplanes? Maybe she's really into creating ice cream flavors, like candied fennel cream, and they go to antique malls looking for vulgar salt and pepper shakers. I literally don't care, just something different.

10. My motherfucking Anastasia retelling

I know Jess and Gilly feel me on this.

Review: Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan

Sunday, May 21, 2017
Title: Within the Sanctuary of Wings
Author: Marie Brennan
Genre: fantasy
Series: Memoirs of Lady Trent #5
Pages: 352
Published: April 25 2017
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 4/5

The conclusion to the thrilling memoirs of Lady Isabella Trent and her legacy of dragon evolutionary research and anthropological adventures.

After nearly five decades (and, indeed, the same number of volumes), one might think they were well-acquainted with the Lady Isabella Trent--dragon naturalist, scandalous explorer, and perhaps as infamous for her company and feats of daring as she is famous for her discoveries and additions to the scientific field.

And yet--after her initial adventure in the mountains of Vystrana, and her exploits in the depths of war-torn Eriga, to the high seas aboard The Basilisk, and then to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia--the Lady Trent has captivated hearts along with fierce minds. This concluding volume will finally reveal the truths behind her most notorious adventure--scaling the tallest peak in the world, buried behind the territory of Scirland's enemies--and what she discovered there, within the Sanctuary of Wings.

Within the Sanctuary of Wings is the fifth and final novel in Marie Brennan's anthropological fantasy series about a (usually scandalous, never boring) female dragon naturalist. It's Isabella's most daring adventure and biggest discovery yet -- and that's saying something if you know any of the details of Lady Trent's first four books. Even this far into the series, Brennan has creativity and imagination to keep her stories and characters fresh and interesting. Journeying to all new locales and encountering new dragons to study and learn, Within the Sanctuary of Wings contains all the manners and mayhem we've come to expect while effectively tying up the series' plot elements.

Isabella is a force to be reckoned with, as she has been all her life. Here in the last book chronicling her storied and scandalous career and private life, she is a tad bit wiser, a tad less heedless and reckless, but she is no less intellectually curious or personally ambitious. In fact for the first time and thanks to her new marriage, she is motivated by more than just scientific career goals. Her fictional life is robust with action and scientific experiments; she defied societal expectations when she was first Lady Camherst and never failed to continue to do so through her various elevations and associations. Reading from her perspective is a unique experience every time, but a fully-developed one. The memoirs cover five decades of Lady Trent's unusual experience - from an awkward child to potential bluestocking to scholarly infamy and beyond - so it's easy to invest in her personally, and the secondary characters to a lesser degree. 

While Within the Sanctuary of Wings makes for an undoubtedly fun and entertaining read, it feels a bit short for a concluding volume at only three hundred fifty-odd pages. Some of the story's central plot elements feel a bit.. underdeveloped and rushed in the narrative's drive to wrap up all the loose ends of Isabella's life. The main plot of the book is clever - tying in hints and allusions and glimpses from the previous novels about a central mystery at the heart of the world [the Draconeans are alive?! What?!] - as well as some other unexpected parties, but it felt somewhat unexplored before the ending.

As a whole the Lady Trent books have been wryly funny mixes of Victorian attitudes and a fantasy world. With storylines concerned with everything from smashing patriarchal political complications to uncharted draconic exploration, there's a lot to enjoy about Marie Brennan's final chapter in this smart story.


Ageless Discussions: Beyond Merry Olde England

Friday, May 19, 2017

Not all fantasy books are inspired by real-world events or countries but a lot of the best are. A lot of my favorites admittedly fall into this category. Big SF/F genre names like GRRM tend to draw the best plotlines from real life events, like England's The War of the Roses and the Hundred Years' War between England and France, or Daniel Abraham's fantasy version of WWII in The Dagger and Coin series. I love the hook of real life meets dragons or direwolves. Sebastien de Castell's Greatcoats series takes place in an obvious version of fantasy-France and is another fave. Most of these popular and known books are loosely and noticeably drawn from Europe/England's history.

However, the same locations and inspirations can wear thin, especially when the same tropes are reused over and over. I don't want to keep reading the same versions of the same world; there's no invention or imagination to that, not to mention all the other perspectives and places ignored. Not every fantasy should be recognizable as a version of medieval England. Not all story influences should be drawn from European mythology or folklore. As with anything in life, adding diversity - in characters, mythology, authors you read from--  is the way to go. In my opinion and in my reading experience, fiction is at its best when it expands our views, introduces new ideas and different cultures. I read to stand in someone else's shoes -- and I don't want the same view every time.

In recent years, there has been a noticeable push to publish books that are less white and/or obviously inspired by Europe and its history, as well as authored by people of color and lgbtqia+ people. Despite the fact that Europe has always been more racially-mixed in population than art/media would show, fantasy writers tend to write white, straight male heroes saving fantasy-France over and over - and it can be hard to find a story centered on a nonwhite or nonhetero protagonist. The inclusion of a character of color, or a gay character, is rare and often a) a sidekick or b) a redshirt destined to die or c) an evil one-note villain.

It's a glaring issue in publishing and though more diverse books are being published (to wide acclaim and success!) gaining steam, predominant tropes revert to the WASPM perspective and default. Though I had not been as aware of this as I should have been as a reader, I've been trying to diversify my TBR. As I have learned over the last few years of Twitter, it's always better to go with Own Voices when it comes to other cultures and countries. The best fantasy set in non-European-inspired worlds are those from authors who have experienced or know cultures and heritages other than the predominant Western/European.

Read This, Not That:


Saladin Ahmed
The Throne of the Crescent Moon

Roshani Choski
The Star-Touched Queen, A Crown of Wishes

Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Summer Prince

Sabaa Tahir
An Ember in the Ashes, A Torch Against the Night  

Karen Miller
Empress, The Riven Kingdom, Hammer of God

Rin Chupeco
The Bone Witch

Karuna Riazi
The Gauntlet  

Sarwat Chadda
Ash Mistry & the Savage Fortress, Ash Mistry & the City of Death, Ash Mistry & the World of Darkness

Ken Liu
The Grace of Kings, The Wall of Storms

Labyrinth Lost

Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Certain Dark Things

Sangu Mandanna
The Lost Girl


Zoe Marriott
Shadows on the Moon, Barefoot on the Wind

Jay Kristoff
Stormdancer, Kinslayer, Endsinger

Brian Staveley
The Emperor's Blades, The Providence of Fire, The Last Mortal Bond

Alison Goodman
Eon, Eona 


Fiona McIntosh
Odalisque, Emissary, Goddess

Lian Hearn
Across the Nightingale Floor, Grass for His Pillow, Brilliance of the Moon, The Harsh Cry of the Heron, Heaven's Net is Wide

Jay Lake
Green, Endurance, Kalimpura

Howard Andrew Jones
The Desert of Souls, The Bones of the Old Ones

The best way to get more diverse literature is to support diverse voices. So, a few forthcoming fantasies worthy of a preorder:

The Tiger's Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera (Their Bright Ascendancy #1)
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao (Rise of the Empress #1)
The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana
Assassins of Ghadid by K.A. Doore
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi
The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan (The Khorasan Archives #1)

Do you try to read diversely? Are there some diverse fantasy reccomendations I need to read?

Blog Tour Review: Shattered Warrior by Sharon Shinn

Thursday, May 18, 2017
Title: Shattered Warrior
Author: Sharon Shinn
Illustrator: Molly Knox Ostertag
Genre: post-apocalyptic
Series: Untitled #1
Pages: 256
Published: May 16 2017
Source: from publisher for review
Rating: 3.75/5

Bestselling fantasy author Sharon Shinn delivers a gripping science fiction adventure with a sweeping romance at its heart.

It is ten years after Colleen Cavanaugh's home world was invaded by the Derichets, a tyrannical alien race bent on exploiting the planet's mineral resources.

Most of her family died in the war, and she now lives alone in the city. Aside from her acquaintances at the factory where she toils for the Derichets, Colleen makes a single friend in Jann, a member of the violent group of rebels known as the Chromatti. One day Colleen receives shocking news: her niece Lucy is alive and in need of her help. Together, Colleen, Jann, and Lucy create their own tenuous family.

But Colleen must decide if it's worth risking all of their survival to join a growing underground revolution against the Derichets.

It's strange to consider that just about a year ago I had never read a Sharon Shinn novel and now I seek out anything she's worked on. Graphic novels are somewhat of a new media for me, but Shinn's lively tale of aliens and rebellion paired with Molly Knox Ostertag's unique and sharp art for a quick, entertaining read.

This is the first such graphic novel from an established and prolific author. Though Shinn's experimenting with a new genre, staples and trademarks of her fantasy and romance past are evident in Shattered Warrior's pages. The classic flair for worldbuilding and imagination I expect from this author is evident, though simplified and condensed to fit. I do think her style is a bit hampered by the necessary brevity for dialogue and character development in this type of storytelling. There's just not enough time and/or pages to fully develop the side characters' various personalities or the Derichet antagonists into more than one-note villains. The novel itself is 256 pages and because of that, the plot can skip along easily from plot point to plot point for lack of time to develop it further.

Shattered Warrior is centered around the character of Colleen Cavenaugh, a former heiress who lost much more than her wealth and influence when society fell to alien invaders and war. The loss of her family, friends, and even country has left her a shadow of the person she was before. But her story is a study in character evolution; she is far from static. Colleen grows and changes, makes mistakes through her success and failures. She feels like a real person. And though she may start out shattered, piece by piece Colleen begins fix herself. First she finds her drive to life, then her anger and her bravery return to her. Shattered Warrior is about Colleen fighting for her found family and her world, but first she has to fight her own self-doubt and depression. Her battles over the course of the series' first graphic novel are mental and emotional as well as physical.

Despite the fact I wanted a little more meat to the plot-bone, Shattered Warrior is the first in a series sure to engage and entertain readers. Though the general storyline may not be the most original for scifi, it succeeds on the multiple other strengths present in its pages. Colleen shines the most as the main character, but others in the cast are sure to sink their claws in, emotionally speaking. Shattered Warrior is a quick, clever, enjoyable, and suitably dark look at an Earth invaded and controlled by an alien cat-like species. Molly Knox Ostertag's illustations are bright and interesting - her version of the future is uniquely her own and fun to look at. It's easy and fast to get caught up in the story being told by both Shinn and Ostertag in their first effort together.

Waiting on Wednesday: The Tiger's Daughter

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Tiger's Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

Even gods can be slain….

The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.

Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.

This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach throu
gh time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

B & N | Amazon | Book Depository

Series: Their Bright Ascendancy #1
Publisher: Tor
Expected Publication Date: October 3 2017
Pages: 512

Review: The Truth About Happily Ever After by Karole Cozzo

Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Title: The Truth About Happily Ever After
Author: Karole Cozzo
Genre: contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Published: May 162017
Source: ARC via publisher
Rating: 3.75/5

 Chin up, Princess, or the crown will slip.

A theme park princess must put her life back together after her happily ever after falls apart in this contemporary YA romance from Karole Cozzo, author of How to Keep Rolling After a Fall and How to Say I Love You Out Loud.

Everything was supposed to be perfect. Alyssa has a job she loves, working as Cinderella at her favorite theme park; a fantastic group of friends; and a boyfriend who will no longer be long distance. But as the summer progresses, her prince becomes less charming and more distant, and Alyssa's perfect summer falls apart.

Forced to acknowledge that life is not always a fairy tale, Alyssa starts working to pull her herself back together. Fortunately, she doesn't have to do it alone. With her friend Miller's support, she's determined to prove that she's more than just a pretty princess. And with his help, maybe she's finally ready for something better than dreams. Maybe she's ready for something real.

It seems like Swoon Reads is finally hitting their stride: for the third time this year, I find myself finishing one of their titles with a giant grin on my face. The Truth About Happily Ever After is charming, silly, and fun; it's a pure fluff read but it's one that boasts some great characters in both Alyssa and Miller. The romance between them is as expected as it is sweet but that doesn't detract from the fun and the drama of getting to their fairytale ending.

Though the plot of this is a bit shallow and easily predicted, it's admittedly entertaining to watch everything unfold over the summer at the Enchanted Dominion. Alyssa is a dedicated Princess; she's kind and funny and dorky and pretty earnest -- wholly dedicated to doing service to the image of a Princess. She grows up a lot over the course of a relatively short novel; it all might happen a bit too fast at the end of the book*, but she's an engaging and self-aware person so it works more than it doesn't. 

I had fun with The Truth About Happily Ever After but a couple things stood out for the wrong reasons. I do think some of Alyssa's eating behavior verges on the edge of destructive; I appreciate Miller's concern but even before then the rigorous and rigid attitude Alyssa had toward eating was worrisome. Additionally, one of Miller's comments about "other pretty girls [not being nice]" as a way to compliment Alyssa was unnecessary and also a harmful stereotype. Disappointing to see, especially from a character that was pretty atypically swoonworthy at all other times.

The characters here are a bit older than usually seen in Swoon Reads' books  - they're in college and pledging sororities with fake IDs and love interests have beards -- and I liked the change. To be sure there are some YA cliches in the pages of The Truth About Happily Ever After but it's one of those books that grows on you as you read.

*[however her dressing up as a giant lizard for her big moment was fabulous and hilarious]

Review: The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

Monday, May 15, 2017
Title: The Love Interest
Author: Cale Dietrich
Genre: science fiction, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Published: expected May 16 2017
Source: ARC via publisher
Rating: 3/5

There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

The Love Interest is a pretty readable blend of contemporary and science fiction for YA audiences, but I am not entirely sure that it's good. I had fun reading it at times, but the problems are not negligible and build throughout the nearly four hundred pages. Engaging as it sometimes could be to watch surgically-perfected Caden and Dylan battle murderous robots (literally) and each other (metaphorically), it has to be to noted that the worldbuilding is slim and what is there is nonsensical (how do the people at LIC know what a teen girl/boy is attracted to? Or that they will be geniuses or presidents or Olympic athletes? Or even what gender(s) they are attracted to? Why is hetero the only focus when more and more youth are identifying as LGBTQIA?) or even self-contradictory (Caden says he had no name before the assignment to Juliet but while at LIC he mentions other guys with names like Robert etc?). This is the barely-there-details science fiction kind of story that requires a healthy suspension of disbelief to finish.

Outside of the less than substantial worldbuilding shown for this scifi story, I wanted more depth and emotion from the characters themselves. The basic premise makes it easy to set up star-crossed romances between the various characters, so I was sad to see that Juliet, Caden, and Dylan are all rather broadly and bluntly-drawn. They each felt like the trope they were supposed to be subverting; instead of really being the protagonist of his own story, Caden often felt like a side character. Juliet and Natalie were good additions, as was Trevor, but they too needed more definition and dimension. And while I wanted more from him personally, [it's pretty obvious that Caden is gay and I appreciated that it wasn't a bait-and-switch situation. There's some sneakiness to the relationship but the main romance - the REAL romance, since it's not on order of death --  is between two  teen guys.]

There is some inventiveness to the overall plot and The Love Interest is driven far more by its action and suspense than by its characters.  I am pretty sure most teens are smart enough to see through this and predict not only the twist but the outcome. I liked Caden enough - especially when he wants to stand up for himself and point out that his sexuality is not a plot point for another person - but he's milquetoast. Dylan is burnt milquetoast. Juliet has little on-page time that's not devoted to how she feels about the boys -- so she makes even less of an impression. The Love Interest had an interesting premise and refreshingly diverse romance but never quite met the potential for its plot or its characters.

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