Thursday, March 21, 2019

Review: To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

To Best the Boys
To Best the Boys by Mary Weber
Thomas Nelson
Publication: March 19th, 2019
Hardcover. 352 pages.

About To Best the Boys:

"Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port receive a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. Every year, the poorer residents look to see that their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope. 

In the province of Caldon, where women are trained in wifely duties and men are encouraged into collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her Mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition. 

With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone’s ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the maze."

To Best the Boys was an unexpected delight that I had such a fun time reading! Going into this book, I knew the premise sounded like something I would love--girls proving themselves against boys, mazes and labyrinths, riddles, etc., all things that I love, but I had no idea if it would be executed as well as I hoped and I'm so glad to be able to say that it was.

As the premise explains, To Best the Boys centers around a mysterious, potentially deadly maze-like competition in which the winner receives a scholarship to attend a highly acclaimed (all male) university. Despite the fact that the main event of this book is the maze competition, there are still many other components--such as class struggles, women's right, and more--that make up the bulk of the story. I loved the creativity and development of the maze and how Weber made everything work together into one cohesive plot.

The characters were really varied throughout the book and I genuinely enjoyed getting to know most of them. Rhen, the protagonist, was particularly promising and endeared me to her almost immediately. I especially liked that she seemed to really know what were and weren't her strengths, as she would readily admit that she wasn't good at things that weren't math or science-related. That type of honesty is refreshing to read, especially when it's a character who is constantly trying to prove themselves. I also loved Rhen best friend, Seleni, largely because of what an honest and loyal friend she was to Rhen throughout every moment. The two friends never gave up on one other and I admired it so much. There were some male characters that drove me crazy in this book with their arrogant attitudes, but I'm pretty sure that they were supposed to so the job was done well. Also, for those wondering: there is some romance in this story, but it is never the main focus and is actually done pretty well in my opinion.

Within the labyrinth competition itself were plenty of puzzles that the characters had to solve, so if you're a reader that likes puzzles you'll love solving them along with the characters. I'll admit that I was slightly disappointed because I thought that the main game portion would be longer and a bit different than it was, but I did still really enjoy it. The only other somewhat disappointing part of this book for me was that one main component related to the game that I think was supposed to be a huge mystery, but it was actually something that I predicted extremely early on and that felt slightly cliche'd.

One of my hands down favorite things was the inclusion and acceptance exemplified between Rhen and her friend Seleni. I loved that Rhen and Seleni were so unfailingly loyal to one another and that although Rhen was portrayed positively as a scientist who doesn't want anything to do with traditional female roles, Seleni was also portrayed positively as a woman who wanted more than anything to take on the role of wife to her future potential husband and have a 'traditional' woman's role--and both were perfectly acceptable and positive! It's so important to me that any and all life choice made by women are accepted because so often books simply show women who reject 'traditional' female roles as being positive, when in reality there are plenty of women who are okay with those and want those roles. I really just wanted to point that out in this review because it's something that really stood out to me and made me happy to see. Celebrating different perspectives and goals is incredibly important. 

To Best the Boys covers a lot of different themes from gender roles to mental issues to class issues and so much more, all wrapped up in an exciting story that kept me engaged the entire time.Overall, I had a really enjoyable time reading this book and look forward to seeing what other works Mary Weber has written!

*I received an ARC of To Best the Boys courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley. This has no effect on my rating.*

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Upon a Burning Throne by Ashok K. Banker & Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker

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 spotlight is:
Upon a Burning Throne (Burnt Empire Saga #1) by Ashok K. Banker
Publication Date: April 16th, 2019
John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin
688 pages

Upon a Burning Throne (Burnt Empire Saga, #1)From Goodreads: 

From international sensation Ashok K. Banker, pioneer of the fantasy genre in India, comes the first book in a ground-breaking, epic fantasy series inspired by the ancient Indian classic, The Mahabharata. 

In a world where demigods and demons walk among mortals, the Emperor of the vast Burnt Empire has died, leaving a turbulent realm without an emperor. Two young princes, Adri and Shvate, are in line to rule, but birthright does not guarantee inheritance: For any successor must sit upon the legendary Burning Throne and pass The Test of Fire. Imbued with dark sorceries, the throne is a crucible—one that incinerates the unworthy. 

Adri and Shvate pass The Test and are declared heirs to the empire… but there is another with a claim to power, another who also survives: a girl from an outlying kingdom. When this girl, whose father is the powerful demonlord Jarsun, is denied her claim by the interim leaders, Jarsun declares war, vowing to tear the Burnt Empire apart—leaving the young princes Adri and Shvate to rule a shattered realm embroiled in rebellion and chaos.... 

Welcome to the Burnt Empire Saga"
Another fantasy inspired by India sounds incredible and I love the premise. That cover completely draws me in as well, plus the fact that it’s inspired by The Mahabharata.

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker
Publication Date: April 9th, 2019
384 pages
Pre-order: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City
From Goodreads: 

A siege is approaching, and the City has little time left to prepare. The people have no food and no weapons, and the enemy has sworn to slaughter them all. 

Their only chance rests with a colonel of engineers - a despised outsider, a genius, a master of military and political strategy with the wrong color skin. He is the City's only hope. 

But nobody, rich or poor, wants to take orders from a jumped-up Milkface. Saving the City from itself might be more difficult than surviving the coming siege."

I'm really curious to see how this entire book plays out. I love this idea of one city having to prepare itself again a siege and all the stress and havoc that could bring--I'm just excited to see how Parker sets this book up!

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


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly book blog meme now hosted by Jana over at The Artsy Reader Girl!

This week's topic is: Spring TBR

As I've mentioned during other TBR-themed Top Ten Tuesday posts, I don't really make set TBRs because I am too much of a mood reader to follow through with a set list of books to read. That being said, I've decided to theme this particular post around books that I've obtained recently and want to read soon. I'll probably list a few that I'm particularly excited for that I don't have at the end, but otherwise I'm only including books that I physically have my hands on because if I listed the books I want to read and don't have... it'd be endless.

Upcoming 2019  releases that I can't wait to read immediately:

Exhalation: StoriesThe Grace YearThe Witch's KindA Time Of Blood (Of Blood and Bone #2)Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City

Exhalation by Ted Chang | Publication: May 7th
This was a recent Goodreads win that I'm so excited to read. I've heard some great things about Ted Chiang's books and I'm always looking to get into more short story collections.

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett | Publication: September 17th
"Girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive."
This book doesn't haven actual sirens in it (that I know of), but it has such incredible siren-esque vibes that I can't wait to see how it goes. I was shocked to win this in a Goodreads giveaway and I can't wait to start.

The Witch's Kind by Louisa Morgan | Publication: March 19th
I still haven't had a chance to read Louisa Morgan's first release, but this one sounds just as interesting--I'm always up for a good witch story.

A Time of Blood by John Gwynne | Publication: April 16th
John Gwynne is an author I both admire as a person and a writer. A Time of Dread was a solid start to a new fantasy series and I've been anticipating the sequel for a while. It takes place after the events of his previous series, The Faithful and the Fallen, which is one I hope to read sometime soon as well!

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker | Publication: April 9th

The Unbound Empire (Swords and Fire #3)Seven Blades in Black (The Grave of Empires #1)Little DarlingsThe Hunting PartyA Wonderful Stroke of Luck

The Unbound Empire (Swords and Fire #3) by Melissa Caruso | Publication: April 25th
I've been enjoying this trilogy so much and I'm both excited and sad to see the end of it!

Seven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes | Publication: April 9th
I've yet to read anything by Sam Sykes, but I've been following him on Twitter for a while and he seems like a really awesome guy. I'm really excited to see what his writing it like!

Little Darlings by Melanie Golding | Publication: April 15th
Changelings, dark fairy tale inspiration... what more could I want?

A Wonderful Stroke of Luck by Ann Beattie | Publication: April 2nd

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley | Publication: February 12th
This one already came out as more of a winter release, but I just recently won a copy in a Goodreads giveaway (hooray!) and I can't wait to check it out!

And... because there are still some upcoming spring releases I can't wait to read (even though I have no idea when I'll have a chance to do so), here are a few of those.....

InspectionMiranda in MilanFinderWestsideTangle's Game

Inspection by Josh Malerman | Publication: April 23rd
I loved Bird Box, didn't love Unbury Carol, but have a feeling Inspection is going to be great. It features some schools with questionable motives and teachings and I'm entirely here for that premise.

Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett  | March 26th
This book is described as "A haunting story that reimagines the consequences of Shakespeare’s The Tempest," which sounds perfect. I can't seem to stop with these Shakespeare-inspired stories. Plus, the cover is incredible.

Finder Suzanne Palmer | April 2nd

Westside by W.M. Akers | May 7th
"A young detective who specializes in “tiny mysteries” finds herself at the center of a massive conspiracy in this beguiling historical fantasy set on Manhattan’s Westside—a peculiar and dangerous neighborhood home to strange magic and stranger residents—that blends the vivid atmosphere of Caleb Carr with the imaginative power of Neil Gaiman." That blurb intrigues me endlessly and I can't wait to read it!

Tangle's Game by Stewart Hotston | May 7th
Tech-based thrillers are hit and miss with me, but I'm pretty interested in the premise for this one. And another great cover!

Are you excited for any of these books? Have you already ready any? Let me know

Monday, March 18, 2019

Middle Grade Mini-Review: Winterhouse by Ben Guterson

Winterhouse (Winterhouse, #1)Winterhouse by Ben Guterson
Henry Holt and Co., 2018
Hardcover. 384 pages.

About Winterhouse:
"An enchanting urban fantasy middle-grade debut―the first book in a trilogy―set in a magical hotel full of secrets. 

Orphan Elizabeth Somers’s malevolent aunt and uncle ship her off to the ominous Winterhouse Hotel, owned by the peculiar Norbridge Falls. Upon arrival, Elizabeth quickly discovers that Winterhouse has many charms―most notably its massive library. It’s not long before she locates a magical book of puzzles that will unlock a mystery involving Norbridge and his sinister family. But the deeper she delves into the hotel’s secrets, the more Elizabeth starts to realize that she is somehow connected to Winterhouse. As fate would have it, Elizabeth is the only person who can break the hotel’s curse and solve the mystery. But will it be at the cost of losing the people she has come to care for, and even Winterhouse itself? Mystery, adventure, and beautiful writing combine in this exciting debut richly set in a hotel full of secrets."

It seemed like it was time to do another mini grade review, so here we are!

LIKES: I had a blast reading Winterhouse. The story takes place in a friendly hotel that ends up being full of clever quirks and surprises and that encompasses everything I love in a middle grade mystery adventure. This book also loves puzzles and riddles, which are all set up in a way that allows the reader to engage and attempt to solve them along with the main characters. The setting is wintry and perfectly cozy, complete with a beautiful, expansive library open to all guests. There are daily activities at the hotel for guests to partake in and all meals are served at set times so that everyone at the hotel can come together and get to know one another.

I found Elizabeth Somers to be a very charismatic and relatable protagonist, one that I feel people of all ages can relate to in different ways. She's very independent, which stands out for someone as young as she is, and I would say that a lot of it is due to the adversity that she has faced so far in life. I also loved the small call outs to some of her favorite books, such as Anne of Green Gables and The Mysterious Benedict Society--I thought that was a really fun and clever way to include other great middle grade books.

There is a wide supporting cast of characters, from the friendly hotel owner, Norbridge Falls, to Elizabeth's new friend, Freddy, and to the mysterious and slightly creepy Marcus and Selena. All of these characters work together to create an atmosphere full of surprises and intrigue. I particularly loved some of the side characters that remained minor, but that still played an important role and provided some strong personality and excitement, such as the two men that work on the same enormous puzzle every time they come, slowly but surely hoping to complete it one day.

DISLIKES: The 'villain' characters were really well drawn, though I would have loved to have a little more in the way of backstory or development to better understand them. I also had a few issues regarding Elizabeth and Freddy's friendship, namely due to how Elizabeth treated him at times, but I think this was meant to show that even Elizabeth has faults and can get caught up in different things. I also found it a little predictable at times, but I don't entirely fault the author for that because I'm quite a bit older than the intended audience, so I am sure that they would not find it as predictable.

Overall, I've given Winterhouse four stars! If you're looking for a cozy yet exciting middle grade with a cast of unique and quirky characters, then definitely check this book out. 

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

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Friday, March 15, 2019

The Friday Face-Off: Shapeshifters

Friday Face Off New
Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme here at Books by Proxy. Join us every Friday as we pit cover against cover, and publisher against publisher, to find the best artwork in our literary universe. You can find a list of upcoming topics at Lynn's Books.

This week's topic is:
15th March – ‘Beware the moon, lads.’ – A cover with a shapeshifter

I found a couple of great options for this topic, but unfrotunately they were all books with only one or two covers to choose from. Eventually I remember Seraphina by Rachel Hartman would be a great option, and since it had plenty of editions available it ended being a good fit for today's topic.

  Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)
2013 HC Penguin || 2012 HC Random House || 2014 Ember

  Serafina: Das Königreich der Drachen (Seraphina, #1)Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)Serafina (Serafina, #1)
2012 German || 2013 Indonesian || 2014 Polish

סרפינה - עם בוא הדרקונים  (Seraphina, #1)Серафина (Seraphina, #1)Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)

2013 Hebrew || 2013 Russian || 2014 Romanian

My choice(s):
This was hard! I love dragons and a lot of these have some great artwork. I'm going with the 2012 Random House edition, but my runner ups are the Indonesian and Polish editions. I love the sketch-like quality of it, the reddish border, and the city buildings with the dragon. 

Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)

Which covers do you like best?

Buy it! Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Review: The Night Before by Wendy Walker

The Night Before
The Night Before by Wendy Walker
St. Martin's Press
Publication: May 14th, 2019
Hardcover. 464 pages.

About The Night Before:

"'Laura Lochner has never been lucky in love. She falls too hard and too fast, always choosing the wrong men. Devastated by the end of her last relationship, she fled her Wall Street job and New York City apartment for her sister’s home in the Connecticut suburb where they both grew up. Though still haunted by the tragedy that’s defined her entire life, Laura is determined to take one more chance on love with a man she’s met on an Internet dating site. 

Rosie Ferro has spent most of her life worrying about her troubled sister. Fearless but fragile, Laura has always walked an emotional tightrope, and Rosie has always been there to catch her. Laura’s return, under mysterious circumstances, has cast a shadow over Rosie’s peaceful life with her husband and young son – a shadow that grows darker as Laura leaves the house for her blind date. 

When Laura does not return home the following morning, Rosie fears the worst. She’s not responding to calls or texts, and she’s left no information about the man she planned to meet. As Rosie begins a desperate search to find her sister, she is not just worried about what this man might have done to Laura. She’s worried about what Laura may have done to him…"

It had been a while since I'd picked up a good thriller, so I figured I'd rectify that and check out Wendy Walker's upcoming release since I enjoyed one of her previous books, All is Not Forgotten. Unfortunately, I'm sorry to report that this book did not live up to my hopes in any way and ended up being quite a disappointment. With thrillers, I like to keep my reviews on the vague side since almost every detail can be an important reveal. That being said, there's not a whole lot within this book that's surprising--the majority of things in this book were fairly predictable, with a few exceptions that I'll get into.

In The Night Before, we follow sisters Laura and Rosie, two women who have led extremely different lives, but who still hold a strong bond with one another. The two women grew up with childhood friends Gabe and Joe, the latter of which is now married to Rosie, and the foursome continue to hang out and spend time with one another as adults, especially since Laura decided to move back to live with Rosie for the time being. The friendship dynamic is fairly normal overall and although there is no present drama that the group deal with, but there is the thriller favorite 'momentous life-changing event that happened during childhood and changed everything' trope at play, which adds an underlying element of drama and suspense as we get to uncover what happened throughout the book.

The first problem I had with this book is that I didn't care about any of the characters. Okay, scratch that: I thought Rosie and Joe's son, Mason, was relatively harmless. He was also a toddler and hardly in the book at all, but you know, he was cute. Laura was...well, Laura has some personal struggles that she's been working through since she was a child, which makes her a somewhat difficult person to get behind. I never judged her for her actions that occurred as a result of her childhood, as I know well how trauma can cause lasting effects, but I was still frustrated with her actions throughout the book--she would blatantly and repeatedly tell herself not to do things, but she still did them. Even when she had a very easy out of the situation. I know we all do things like this in some format, but in Laura's case it was beyond reckless and potentially dangerous. 

Rosie was slightly more interesting than Laura and I appreciated that she took Laura's disappearance seriously from the start, but she's also rather forgettable. Same goes for Joe and Gabe--I'll probably forget everything about them in the next week or so and I really don't have much to say about them other than the fact that Joe seems like a really solid, stand-up guy. And speaking of boring characters, the person who ends up being the 'villain' in all of this was probably one of the most lackluster, utterly predictable, and uninteresting ones I've seen in a while. I'm really not trying to trash this book, but I just had such a hard time with it, especially the characters.

Despite all of the negative things I've mentioned, I will give this book the props it deserves in created one pretty big twist that I didn't actually see coming. It was extremely out of left field to me so it took a second to understand what it meant, but it worked in adding some depth to the thriller aspect of this book. I appreciate the ideas that went into this book, but it didn't execute very well for me.

Overall, I've given The Night Before two stars. I debated lowering it, but I wouldn't say I hated it enough to give it a one star; I can appreciate Walker's attempts to add in some new ideas, but the result ended up being predictable and like something I've read a thousand times already. Most of the early reviews so far are 4+ stars, so perhaps I'm just missing something, but nonetheless I can't say I enjoyed this book that much. I would still pick up another book by Wendy Walker in the future because I know she can write a good book, this just wasn't it. 

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling & The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

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 spotlight is:
The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
Publication Date: April 2nd, 2019
Harper Voyager
352 pages

The Luminous DeadFrom Goodreads: 

A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane. 

Instead, she got Em. 

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . . 

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head. 

But how come she can't shake the feeling she’s being followed?"
This sounds exactly like one of the types of sci-fi that I absolutely love, so I am extremely excited for this book. A mysterious expedition on a new planet, things not going according to plan, some more sinister-sounding events... I'm all in.

The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Publication Date: April 2nd, 2019
Katherine Tegen Books
416 pages
Pre-order: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

The Strangers (Greystone Secrets, #1)
From Goodreads: 

What makes you you

The Greystone kids thought they knew. Chess has always been the protector over his younger siblings, Emma loves math, and Finn does what Finn does best—acting silly and being adored. They’ve been a happy family, just the three of them and their mom. 

But everything changes when reports of three kidnapped children—who share the same first and middle names, ages, and exact birth dates as the Greystone kids—reach the Greystone family. This bizarre coincidence makes them wonder: Who exactly are these strangers? Before Chess, Emma, and Finn can question their mom about it, she takes off on a mysterious work trip. But puzzling clues left behind lead to complex codes, hidden rooms, and a dangerous secret that will turn their world upside down."
Katherine Tegen Books is a publisher that seems to put out a lot of really great middle grade gems, and this book looks like it will be yet another good one! This sounds like it has so many twists and interesting plot points, I can't wait to check it out.

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