Friday, June 5, 2020

Month in Review: May 2020

Well, friends, I'm really not sure how to wrap up the month of May. It's been a little unreal to see everything that's happened in the last month, and between some of my own personal life issues, COVID, the recent protests, and the general uncertainty in the air these days, I'm sure we're all feeling upset, overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, and, if you're like me, feeling pretty lost about what to do these days. I'd like to keep this wrap-up as positive as can be as I usually do, though. That being said, I do want to take a moment to say that I am here to support the Black Lives Matter movement and I've been taking some time to really think about what things I can do differently to make a change, not only to improve my own understandings, but to maybe help others understand as well. I know that I have privilege as a white woman and I'd like both learn more and use that privilege in a beneficial way. I'm not overly active on my social media these days (maybe one day I'll become active again) so I don't post much there, but I do more frequently post on Tumblr and I've decided to bring back my indie bookstore spotlight posts, but this time focusing on some Black-owned bookstores that we can all hopefully try to make it a point to support from here on out. It's not much, but it's something that I can easily start doing today.

In book related news, despite everything I still somehow managed to have a pretty good reading month overall! My local library is still unfortunately (but understandably) closed and ARC shipping has slowed down a bit it seems, so it's allowed me to really spend some time digging through my backlog of owned books that I've gotten as gifts and from library sales over the years. It's actually been pretty satisfying to actually go through and read some books I've been sitting on for a while, though I am missing being able to request physical books from my library. One of my most anticipated releases, Rule, was finally released and I had such a wonderful time diving back into the world created by Rowenna Miller. I also loved Catherine House, The Unsuitable, and Blood & Beauty! There were only two books that didn't majorly click with me this past month (The Last Neanderthal and The Clan of the Cave Bear), so I'll take that as pretty good overall. :)

In the end, I think it was a pretty good reading month despite the extreme anxiety I've been battling over the past month. June is shaping up to be another anxiety-filled month for me, but I'm really trying to work on calming myself and trying to adapt to changes in my life in the best way I can--and hopefully being able to do so while focusing on reading! I also just started a summer course for my grad program (“Race and Identity in Ancient Greece & Rome”—pretty timely, it seems), so I have a little more work now as well, but hopefully not too much.

How was your reading month? Did you read any great books? Have you read any of the books I read? Let me know, I'd love to chat about any and all the books!

# books read: 13

Sepulchre (Languedoc, #2)Catherine HouseThe Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire, #1)The Girl of Ink and StarsOlive the Lionheart: Lost Love, Imperial Spies, and One Woman's Journey to the Heart of Africa
Sepulchre by Kate Mosse 
Source: Owned | Format: Hardcover

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas 
Source: NetGalley | Format: eARC

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart 
Source: Publisher | Format: Physical ARC

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave 
Source: Owned | Format: Paperback

Olive the Lionheart: Lost Love, Imperial Spies, and One Woman's Journey to the Heart of Africa by Brad Ricca 
Source: Publisher | Format: Physical ARC

The UnsuitableBlood & Beauty: The BorgiasThe Little FriendGhosts of Harvard
The Unsuitable by Molly Pohlig 
Source: NetGalley | Format: eARC

Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant 
Source: Owned | Format: Hardcover

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt 
Source: Owned | Format: Paperback

Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella 
Source: NetGalley | Format: eARC

The Last NeanderthalNight (North, #2)The Clan of the Cave Bear (Earth's Children, #1)Rule (The Unraveled Kingdom, #3)
The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron  
Source: Borrowed | Format: Paperback

Night by Alexandria Warwick  
Source: Author | Format: Physical ARC

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel 
Source: Owned | Format: Hardcover

Rule by Rowenna Miller  
Source: Owned | Format: Paperback

The Mother CodeStealing Thunder (Stealing Thunder, #1)Catherine HouseFire from Heaven (Alexander the Great, #1)The Golden MeanThe UnsuitableRed Queen (The Chronicles of Alice, #2)Blood of Wonderland (Queen of Hearts Saga, #2)Ghosts of Harvard
The Mother Code by Carole Stivers 
Stealing Thunder by Alina Boyden 
Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas 
Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault 
The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon 
The Unsuitable by Molly Pohlig 
Red Queen by Christina Henry 
Blood of Wonderland by Colleen Oakes 
Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella 

(other than reviews)

The Friday Face-Off:
Graphic Novel

Have you read any of these? What books did you read this month? I hope you all had a great month-- comment below and let me know!

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Review: Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Trouble the Saints
Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Publication Date: July 21st, 2020
Hardcover. 352 pages

About Trouble the Saints:

"The dangerous magic of The Night Circus meets the powerful historical exploration of The Underground Railroad in this timely and unsettling novel, set against the darkly glamorous backdrop of New York City at the dawn of WWII. 

Amidst the whir of city life, a girl from Harlem is drawn into the glittering underworld of Manhattan, where she’s hired to use her knives to strike fear amongst its most dangerous denizens. 

But the ghosts from her past are always by her side—and history has appeared on her doorstep to threaten the people she loves most. 

Can one woman ever sacrifice enough to save an entire community? 

Trouble the Saints is a dazzling, daring novel—a magical love story, a compelling chronicle of interracial tension, and an altogether brilliant and deeply American saga."

If you're looking for something new in the fantasy genre, then Alaya Dawn Johnson's Trouble the Saints is probably exactly what you're looking for.

Trouble the Saints is an alternate fantasy that takes place right around the beginning of WWII and focuses on Phyllis, a girl from alternate history-Harlem who wants nothing more than to run from her past life and begin anew. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about this book is how immersive it was. I really felt like I was a part of this world and the way that Johnson sets up the world makes it feel vivid and and alive, though in a sort of noir quiet manner. There's also a plentiful amount of references and word choices that really convey the time period that Johnson is aiming for and made me feel sucked into the setting.

Don't let the comparison to The Night Circus fool you because this book really has nothing to do with it and that's to it's own benefit. I thought The Night Circus was a beautiful story, but Trouble the Saints was beautiful in its own right and doesn't need any comparisons. Although I had some trouble with the execution of the plot and XXX, I never put this book down because I thought the prose was beautiful enough in its own right to keep reading. There's a very noir-style feel to the atmosphere and I think Johnson did an excellent job of conveying this dark, mysterious sense that wasn't overwhelming, but that was constantly present in the background. This book also tackles some really important topics such as sexism, misogyny, race, and others, all of which are vital components of this story and really help to convey some interesting discussions and ideas.

Unfortunately, now we must move to discuss the elements of this book that I didn't like and which ultimately brought the star rating down. I do want to preface this by saying that I completely believe this is a 'it's not the book, it's me' situation in that I can see where it could easily be someone's new favorite read, so keep an open mind. The biggest issue I had was that I found the plot itself fairly boring. I mentioned that the prose was so beautiful that I kept reading, which is true, but the content of that prose just didn't grab me. I found the events that occurred a bit disjointed and there weren't a whole lot of events that made me strongly desire to pick up this book against after putting it down.

Additionally, I didn't really care for any of the characters themselves. Phyllis and the other characters were all interesting enough, but something about the way in which they were written always left me feeling as though I were being held at arm's length from them. In a way, this sort of fit the dark atmosphere that makes me feel like these characters wouldn't want to connect with others, but as a reader, there needs to be something that keeps me hooked. I also didn't care the multi-POV situation in this book, and I really felt like Phyllis should have stayed the sole narrator.

Overall, I've settled on 3.5 stars for Trouble the Saints! I initially gave it three, but honestly, I really like the direction and style Johnson took this book in, and I think it really did play with something new in the fantasy genre. I recommend this one to anyone who likes noir, alternate history, or simply trying new things in fantasy!

*I received an ARC of Trouble the Saints courtesy of Tor in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating or enjoyment of the novel.*

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings, The Book of Dragons edited by Jonathan Strahan, & The Storyteller's Daughter by Victoria McCombs

Can't-Wait is a weekly meme hosted by Wishful Endings that spotlights exciting upcoming releases that we can't wait to be released! This meme is based off of Jill @ Breaking the Spine's Waiting on Wednesday meme.

This week's upcoming book spotlights are: 

Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings
Publication: July 28th, 2020
Hardcover. 176 pages.

"In a small Western Queensland town, a reserved young woman receives a note from one of her vanished brothers--a note that makes question her memories of their disappearance and her father's departure. 

A beguiling story that proves that gothic delights and uncanny family horror can live--and even thrive--under a burning sun, Flyaway introduces readers to Bettina Scott, whose search for the truth throws her into tales of eerie dogs, vanished schools, cursed monsters, and enchanted bottles. Flyaway enchants you with the sly, beautiful darkness of Karen Russell and a world utterly its own."
This sounds so magical and weird--two of my favorite things!

The Book of Dragons
The Book of Dragons edited by Jonathan Strahan
Publication: July 7th, 2020
Harper Voyager
Hardcover. 576 pages.

"Here there be dragons . . .

From China to Europe, Africa to North America, dragons have long captured our imagination in myth and legend. Whether they are rampaging beasts awaiting a brave hero to slay or benevolent sages who have much to teach humanity, dragons are intrinsically connected to stories of creation, adventure, and struggle beloved for generations. 

Bringing together nearly thirty stories and poems from some of the greatest science fiction and fantasy writers working today— Garth Nix, Scott Lynch, R.F. Kuang, Ann Leckie & Rachel Swirsky, Daniel Abraham, Peter S. Beagle, Beth Cato, Zen Cho, C. S. E Cooney, Aliette de Bodard, Kate Elliott, Theodora Goss, Ellen Klages, Ken Liu, Patricia A McKillip, K. J. Parker, Kelly Robson, Michael Swanwick, Jo Walton, Elle Katharine White, Jane Yolen, Kelly Barnhill, Brooke Bolander, Sarah Gailey, and J. Y. Yang—and illustrated by award-nominated artist Rovina Cai with black-and-white line drawings specific to each entry throughout, this extraordinary collection vividly breathes fire and life into one of our most captivating and feared magical creatures as never before and is sure to become a treasured keepsake for fans of fantasy, science fiction, and fairy tales."
I love dragons, so I'm not sure what more I could ask for than an anthology of stories and poems about dragons.

The Storyteller's Daughter
The Storyteller's Daughter by Victoria McCombs
Publication: July 14th, 2020
Parliament House Press
Paperback. 306 pages.
Pre-order: Amazon

"His shadowed face lit by flames, Rumpelstiltskin is my name... 

For as long as anyone can remember, every child in Westfallen has been born with a Gift, and these Gifts defined them. 

Then Cosette is born, Giftless. 

An attempt to hide her misfortune brings her before the King, who entraps her to use her Gift as a pawn in his war. 

Caught in a lie, Cosette desperately searches for a power strong enough to free her. Intrigued by whispers of an old king and a dark curse, she calls upon Rumpelstiltskin and finds him trapped in a magic deeper than she bargained for. Now, Cosette must fight to reclaim her freedom from the King and break Rumpel’s curse. When time runs out, she’ll lose more than her heart. She’ll lose her life."
I love Rumpelstiltskin, so I'm usually pretty down for any stories with him, and this one sounds particularly interesting! I am also so in love with that beautiful cover.

What do you think about these upcoming releases? What are your anticipated upcoming releases?

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Give Off Summer Vibes

This week's topic is:  Books that Give Off Summer Vibes

This is a fun but somewhat tricky topic, largely because I'm not sure I read that many books that people would traditionally think of as having 'summer vibes.' I think when I think of summer vibes, I think of books that are maybe a little more lighthearted, full of adventure, journeys, and explorations, and often have a setting that's either particularly warm, 'island-like,' or full of a lot of traveling to different settings, so that's what my list of recommendations is going to look like!

The House in the Cerulean SeaBalam, Spring

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune is the perfect definition of a story that feels a bit more lighthearted, 'slice-of-life,' and welcoming, perfect for those lazy summer days when you just don't feel like doing much. It does still deal with some more serious topics, but overall I laughed and smiled more while reading this book than I have in a long time--plus, doesn't that cover just make you feel like going on a summer trip?

If you're looking for another somewhat 'slice-of-life' vibe for summer, then you'll want to check out Balam, Spring by Travis M. Riddle! This isn't solely a slice-of-lice story, as there is a decently big plot line at play, but the setting is just so delightful and easy to fall right into, plus this quaint small town setting gives me all the summer vacation relaxation vibes.

IslandiaThe Odyssey

Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright is not necessarily carefree, per se, but I think the adventurous nature at its heart where XXX travels to the land of Islandia to explore a new culture and group of people really fits that adventurous idea that reminds me a summer reading.

What screams 'adventure' more than the The Odyssey by Homer, trans. Emily Wilson? Crazy monsters, witches, rough seas, trips to the Underworld--it's all there!

Peter and the Starcatchers (Peter and the Starcatchers, #1)Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson is a Peter Pan-inspired tale that is of course filled with pirates, ships, and adventures!

Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver by Jill Heinerth is a bit different from the other books on this list--most notably because it is nonfiction--and is about a woman who is, well, a cave diver! This book is all about her life and journey to become a cave diver and her experiences throughout her career. 

This Tender LandThe Sin in the Steel (The Fall of the Gods, #1)

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger is not quite as much of a lighthearted rip-roaring adventure, but it's still very much an odyssey for a group of orphans as they leave behind a hard life and try to find something better. This has some really strong end-of-summer vibes to me, which the cover matches really well, and I think it'd be a great read for the season.

And moving back to adventures with pirates and ships, we have.... The Sin in the Steel by Ryan Van Loan! This one's not out until July, but it's definitely worth the wait! I don't have my review up just yet (I'll post it closer to release!), but just know that there's an awesome female protagonist along with her friend/partner-in-crime and, well, there's never a dull moment. 

Queen of the Conquered (Islands of Blood and Storm, #1)Spin the Dawn (The Blood of Stars, #1)

Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender is not exactly a lighthearted read by any means, really, but it does have some perfectly miserable summer weather and takes place on an island to boot. It's also incredibly compelling and I had a hard time putting it down.

Rounding of this list if Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim, which is about a girl who takes her father's place in a competition to become the imperial tailor and it is full of magic and adventure and travel. 

Have you read any of these? What books do you think give off great summer vibes?

Monday, June 1, 2020

Review: The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso

The Obsidian Tower (Rooks and Ruin, #1)
The Obsidian Tower (Rooks and Ruin #1) by Melissa Caruso
Publication Date: June 2nd, 2020
Paperback. 528 pages

About The Obsidian Tower:

"As the granddaughter of a Witch Lord of Vaskandar, Ryx was destined for power and prestige. But a childhood illness left her with broken magic that drains the life from anything she touches, and Vaskandar has no place for a mage with unusable powers. So Ryx has resigned herself to an isolated life as the warden of Gloamingard, her grandmother's castle. 

At Gloamingard's heart lies a black tower. Sealed by magic, it guards a dangerous secret that has been contained for thousands of years. Until one impetuous decision Ryx makes leaves her with blood on her hands-and unleashes a threat that could doom everything she loves to fall to darkness."

I've been sitting on this review for honestly probably a couple months now because I wanted to post it as close to release date as possible so that I can gush about and praise Caruso's work right on time for it to release.

The Obsidian Tower is a new trilogy that takes place in the the same world as the Sword and Fire trilogy (reviews for all three found in my book review index!) in the land of Vaskander. This is technically created to be a standalone trilogy so there is no necessity to read the Sword and Fire trilogy first, but I would say that if you have the time and ability to, definitely read the first trilogy! It will provide some in-depth and compelling background and world-building that will make reading The Obsidian Tower a much richer experience with greater understanding of how the world and politics of Vaskander and Raverra came to be how they are.

The story revolves around Ryx, a woman who has mostly socially isolated herself from other people due to her dangerous magic that drains the life from anything she touches, which includes not only people and animals, but also things like plants and the natural world. She spends her time living at her grandmother's castle, Gloamingard, home to a magical secret that is hidden in a strictly sealed and guarded tower that has been a part of Ryx's family for millennium. Our story kicks off when something happens to the tower that unleashes an enormous chain of reactions that ends up causing both major political tensions as well as major threats to the entire land of Vaskander.

I loved the main protagonists from Caruso's previous trilogy  set in this world (as well as many of the supporting cast of characters), so I was a little concerned that I might not feel that same connection and love for Ryx, our new protagonist, and the other new characters--but of course, this concern was readily shoved aside as I realized just how much Ryx was going to be a character that I loved and absolutely root for. Ryx carries a good amount of confidence about her in regards to political dealings at the outside of this book, and she's also someone that seems to have less concern for pleasing everyone and sticking to the norms of proper etiquette and the like in serious situation when it is more important to focus on what's actually important. Ryx has a firm hand and set of leadership skills that she knows how to use and which she does employ in attempts to keep things relatively calm (or as much as they can be) after things continue to get crazier and crazier at Gloamingard. I particularly enjoyed how Caruso showcased her many conflicts, both internal and external, that encompassed serious high-stakes political issues as well as issues relating to her family's old magical secrets and her own deadly magic. Following Ryx on this journey was an experience that I couldn't have enjoyed more and that I am so glad I got to be a part of!

In addition to Ryx is an incredible cast of supporting characters that I really enjoyed. Caruso does such a great job of including a diverse cast of personalities and cultures that absolutely bring this book to life. If you love misfit groups that come together to work on a mutual problem--though with occasionally different end goals--and do so with varying degrees of success, but that also uncover many new friendships, enemies, and things about themselves and their work along the way. I loved this group of characters and how all of their unique personalities fit together in just the right ways. There are also some extra characters not directly associated with the main group that I loved and that I hope to see more of in future books.

One of the things I love most about Caruso's books is her strength in creating compelling high-stake political conflicts and discussions among various characters and groups of peoples. There are a lot more components to this book than solely the political aspect, but a lot of this book does deal with Ryx attempting to coordinate with other leaders, soothe tensions, and develop solutions that everyone can agree on--something that becomes extraordinarily difficult as events in this book progress. I found myself almost constantly on the edge of my seat wondering how each scene and critical 'did-that-really-just-happen' moment was going to play out, and I can only give credit to Caruso's deft and magical writing for keeping me so hooked.

I also absolutely love Caruso's world-building! As I mentioned, you don't technically have to the Sword and Fire trilogy before reading this book (though I highly recommend it), so Caruso doesn't skimp on creating an elaborate world that she relays the details of through her narrative and plot, with relatively little info-dump styles of world-building. This is a rich world with a unique magic system, vastly different lands and cultures and peoples, and there always seems to be something to explore within it.

Overall, it's an easy five stars from me! If you haven't read Caruso's work yet, this is an amazing place to start: amazing political intrigue, a fascinating magical system, well-developed and engaging characters that you can't help but connect with, amazing world-building, great friendships, and some truly well-written tension and suspense--what more could you want?

*I received an ARC of The Obsidian Tower courtesy of Orbit  in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating or enjoyment of the novel.*

Friday, May 29, 2020

Anticipated June 2020 Releases!

It's finally time for June releases! June is the first month where it seems publishers kept some release dates and rescheduled spring releases to, so we're starting to get back into being majorly overwhelmed by book releases! I'm extremely excited for a lot of these and I am really enjoying the diverse array of cover styles and colors--maybe it's just me, but I feel like we don't usually see so much variety.

I've been fortunate enough to already read a few of these, and the ones that I have and absolutely recommend are: The Obsidian Tower, We Ride the Storm, Mexican Gothic, and Wonderland! I have an ARC of A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians that I'm hoping to get to soon as well, as I loved Parry's The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, which released last year. And now I'll stop rambling on and we can get to the books!

What books are you most looking forward to? Have you read any of these already!? Let me know!

The Obsidian Tower (Rooks and Ruin, #1)We Ride the Storm (The Reborn Empire, #1)A Declaration of the Rights of MagiciansMexican GothicThe Court of Miracles (Court of Miracles, #1)HoodThe Angel of the CrowsWonderlandThe Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in WaterDevolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch MassacreSisters of Sword and SongSeasons of the Storm (Seasons of the Storm, #1)A Song of Wraiths and Ruin (A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, #1)Goddess in the Machine (Goddess in the Machine, #1)BurnThe Kinder Poison (The Kinder Poison, #1)Forest of Souls (Shamanborn, #1)Red Sky Over HawaiiThe Guest ListHome Before Dark

The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso || June 2nd-- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson || June 23rd -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry || June 23rd -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia || June 30th -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant || June 2nd -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Hood by Jenny Elder Moke || June 9th -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison || June 23rd -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Wonderland by Zoje Stage || June 16th -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho || June 23rd -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Devolution by Max Brooks || June 16th -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Sisters of Sword and Song by Rebecca Ross || June 23rd -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Seasons of the Storm by Elle Cosimano || June 23rd -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown || June 2nd -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Goddess in the Machine by Lora Beth Johnson || June 30th -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Burn by Patrick Ness || June 2nd -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

The Kinder Poison by Natalie Mae || June 16th -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee || June 23rd -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Red Sky Over Hawaii by Sara Ackerman || June 9th -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

The Guest List by Lucy Foley || June 2nd -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager || June 30th -- Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

What are your anticipated June releases?