Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Hi, everyone! Today I'm pleased as punch to be taking part in the blog tour for Roshani Chokshi's hotly anticipated teen debut, The Star-Touched Queen.

Since her birth, Maya's fate has been maligned by the stars. Her other siblings and the other mothers in her father's harem snubbed her or outright cursed her, telling her they would all be better if she died because of what they say was written in her horoscope. And Maya hates the stars because of it. 

Convinced she will never marry, and happy for it, Maya is surprised to find that her father has decided to use her as a bargaining chip to prevent war. But on the day of her she is to choose her husband, nothing goes according to plan and Maya finds herself wed to a man from a kingdom she's never heard of. He says he wants her to be queen, he wants her for her ideas and her mind, he wants her for her power. But secrets shroud their marriage and the new land she calls home. And as whispers and cries reach out to her from behind locked doors, Maya begins to understand the fate the stars have written for her. 

This book. THIS BOOK! Y'all everyone is raving about this book, so much so that I was actually worried when I started reading - worried that maybe it had been overhyped and that I wouldn't love it as much as everyone else.

That simply was not the case!

The Star-Touched Queen is steeped in Indian folklore and blended with the Hades/Persephone myth. (I was hesitant to include that particular tidbit in my review because I'd gone into the book without reading any real specifics about the plot at all and found myself both pleased and surprised by that element. But it's pretty much all over the internet including the original deal listing for the book so I figured I'd tell you.) I love folklore and will probably never tire of folk/mythology/fairy tale retellings. But coming across one that's unique and includes lore I'm fairly unfamiliar with is refreshing, to say the least.

But that's only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what makes this book so fabulous! In addition to the lore that makes up the bones of the story, Chokshi has built a world that is lush and vibrant and absolutely filled with gorgeous and creepy imagery! It's a world that I wanted to eat, sleep, and breathe well after finishing the book.

Having said all of that (I know, I'm raving - it can't be helped), even the most beautifully built world and wonderfully built narrative are nothing without characters that are equal to their setting. Lest you think that Chokshi may have faltered here, let me set you straight. Maya does live up to the standard. She's stubborn and clever, a rule breaker even from the start. She defies her tutors, turns a mostly deaf ear to the overly loud insults in the harem, and sneaks into places women aren't even supposed to be in order to glean information and learn leadership from her father, the Raja. It all comes in handy as she begins her journey, too. And as her character and will are tested time and time again as the story plays out, her strength never falters.

The Star-Touched Queen is an absolutely phenomenal read, the first of what I hope will be many phenomenal reads from Chokshi!

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

America's Best Breakfasts by Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman

Readers, I'm a breakfast person. But not breakfast for breakfast most of the time. I like breakfast all day! And I love trying recommended breakfast places when we travel. Like the San Diego place with the mammoth biscuits we couldn't even finish, or the food truck breakfast tacos we had on our last trip to Houston... It's always been this way for me: midnight trips to the local 24-hour diner in my college and post-college years were a heaven of fried eggs and gravy fries, Corned Beef Hash with Dill Hollandaise was kind of a life-changing discovery when we found our favorite brunch place after moving to Colorado, and the fabulous Cajun Benedict concoction I had for lunch on my last trip to Lafayette is the stuff of dreams! And I haven't even mentioned some of our other local favorites we take visitors to here.

All that's to say that I think (or thought) America's Best Breakfasts: Favorite Local Recipes from Coast to Coast would be the absolute perfect cookbook for me. In their newest book Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman highlight some of the best breakfasts from around the country and provide readers with the recipes to make them in their very own kitchens. Yum!

But there are two things I don't love about this book. First, the title and premise are a bit misleading. The authors don't highlight ALL of the states. In fact, they hop skip and jump straight from LA, San Francisco, and Portland over to Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, Cleveland, and Ohio with nothing in between. That's a whole lot of states not covered by even one highlighted breakfast spot! Now I don't know the reason for this and (most of you don't know this) considering I once wrote cookbooks that required places to agree to have their submitted recipes printed in a book, it could simply be that the authors intended to highlight ALL of the states and had issues getting recipes. I don't know. But there are sections highlighting places without recipes in the book as well, so that still doesn't explain why so many states aren't represented at all.

My second issue with this book is that in perusing the recipes I noticed a lot of them require quite a bit of prep for multiple components, some of which have to be made a day ahead of time. Now, like I said I'm not hellbent on breakfast for breakfast but when I went to make the "Caramelized Grapefruit with Basil Sugar," for example, I was not prepared to have to let the grapefruit chill for at least an hour before I could eat it. It's broiled grapefruit with sugar! And considering it's got olive oil on it, it was essentially cold, greasy grapefruit...

Not all of the recipes were overly complicated or unappealing, though. The "Bacon, Egg, and Cheese 'Paco'" (a brilliant creation courtesy of the Food on a Roll Truck in Miama) is a breakfast wrapped in a pancake (why did I never think to do this?!). "Marlene Schrager's German Breakfast (For Dinner)" is a tasty and easy scramble as is the slightly more time consuming (only slightly) "Devil's Mess" from Richmond, VA's Millie's Diner.

In spite of my above issues, the variety and types of recipes is actually quite nice. There are omelets, crêpes, donuts, breakfast sandwiches, and even pop tart recipes included. There are a number of regional and ethnic dishes as well - "Pozole" (from San Jalisco of San Francisco), "Koko Moco" with a homemade mushroom gravy (from Koko Head Cafe in Honolulu), "Pho Bo" (courtesy of Dông Phuong in New Orleans), Ingrid Hoffman's "Yuca Buns" and an Avena Breakfast Smoothie, and even a Scrapple recipe from DC's Birch & Barley.

And while the "Morning Glory Muffins" (Panther Coffee and Cindy Kruse's Baked Goods in Miami) may have made me dirty every dish in my kitchen to make them and Lambert's (Austin) "Frito Pie" requires the forethought (and self control) of keeping extra brisket on hand after a BBQ meal, the argument could be made that there is enough variety and enough recipes like Versailles' (Miami) "Tortilla de Papas" and Miss Lily's (New York) "Coconut Pancakes" to appease even someone like me who doesn't want to think about breakfast a day ahead of time.

I do still wish there had been more representation of the other states, though.

Rating: 3.5/5

Per Blogging for Books requirements: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare by M.G. Buehrlen + a Giveaway

Happy Book Birthday to M.G. Buehrlen whose Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare hits shelves today courtesy of Diversion Books.

Note: if you haven't yet read The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare you can check out my review of that here. I have tried my darndest not to include any possible spoilers here for those of you who haven't read that one, but I can't promise I've been totally successful in that. You have been warned. (The Rafflecopter for the giveaway is included in both Alex Wayfare posts.)

Alex only recently learned that she's a Descender, one of very few people able to travel via soulmarks through time. But traveling via soulmark has certain restrictions, restrictions that don't apply to Alex because she's been reincarnated fifty-seven times. While other Descenders can only use any given soulmark once, Alex can travel her own past lives an infinite number of times. 

That's a whammy of a discovery!

But there's more, in her previous life Alex escaped the very people who used her ability towards their own causes for years and has vowed now to use her ability to sabotage their plans. These people will do anything to get Alex back even if it means threatening those closest to her. If Alex is to remain safe and protect her family, she has to keep her Base Life hidden from them. It should be easy considering very few know who she is in her Base Life. Unfortunately, it's beginning to look as though someone on her side may be feeding information to the enemy: each time Alex travels they're there. And now Alex isn't sure who she can trust.

When I finished M.G. Buehrlen's The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare I had SO MANY questions! First and foremost - who is Blue in Base Life?! It's something Alex herself is determined to discover, but as the prologue to the book states:

Some stories are about a boy... Not this story... This story is about death. 

What an ominous beginning, right?

Well it turns out Alex hasn't found out everything about her ability just yet and the newest revelation is one that changes pretty much everything. At least for Alex Wayfare. See Alex's sister is dying and their mother has been working tirelessly to find a cure or treatment that will save her. Not only does Alex want to help, but with her new knowledge she aims to make it her sole goal.

I quite enjoyed these books and the main reason for that (aside from the fact that the story is cool) is Alex. I love Alex as a character! She's grown so much since the beginning of 57 Lives but she's always been unquestionably devoted to her family. Which is great because it makes her that much more lovable. But it's also something that creates tension in the series thanks to the fact that - like most superhero sagas - she's painfully aware that her family are at risk because of her. But what I find really fabulous about these books is the fact that Alex is kind of atypical compared to other well known characters in her situation. In a lot of superhero stories, we find the characters pushing loved ones away in order to keep them safe. Not so in Alex's case!

Friends, on the other hand... Here is where we see Alex struggling the most. She has finally opened up and allowed Jensen to become something of a friend but still doesn't trust his motives. And now she finds she has to wonder if she can trust the few other people she's allowed in as well: Porter, Levi, Micki, and yes, Blue. These are the people who know her secret, the people she can be herself around.

But as I said, there's another whopper of a revelation for Alex to discover here and it's one that forces her to make some tough decisions.

There are still questions left after The Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare and I honestly don't know if we'll see them answered. On the one hand I'm ok with that. The story is the story and the pair of books together stand well on their own. But on the other hand I would definitely love to return to Alex's tale if that's in the author's plans! There's certainly more I'd love to see explored :)

Rating: 4/5

Now, as I mentioned in last week's post for The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare, I do get to offer up one copy of the first Alex Wayfare title courtesy of the publisher. To enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, May 9.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan

Happy Monday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Kemper Donovan's The Decent Proposal.

Richard is a Hollywood producer struggling to make it in a tough industry. Elizabeth is a lawyer whose life revolves around work. Neither of them knows the other, but that's all about to change. 

An anonymous benefactor is willing to pay Richard and Elizabeth half a million dollars each if they are willing to spend two hours together each week for the duration of one year. Nothing is required beyond that - this is a "decent proposal" as Richard dubs it - and they can spend the two hours as they like as long as they spend the two hours together talking. It's a strange request, one that baffles the two, but eventually they agree. After all, who couldn't use half a million dollars? But considering the two are as opposite as two people can get, will they even be able to stand each other long enough to collect their cash?

I was looking forward to a goofy and fun head in Kember Donovan's debut. But as Richard and Elizabeth mix as well as oil and water when they meet, so too was the situation between me and this book.

I found it hard to get drawn into the story. Neither Richard or Elizabeth really appealed to me as characters. Maybe Richard more so than Elizabeth, but still not enough for me to be truly invested in his story.

Elizabeth is a snob. One with a little bit of a chip on her shoulder. And while we do find out why and she does eventually begin to warm to Richard, her internal judgement still rankled. Richard is only marginally better when we meet him. He's a playboy, which is fine (and is one of the key things Elizabeth judges him on in the beginning) and a bachelor with typical bachelor habits (another thing Elizabeth hates) but he's a bit shallow. And yes, those elements and growth are part of the characters' journeys. Unfortunately, if I were to meet either of them out I'd probably not look forward to hanging with them again. Before or after.

And that's what you usually want with a book - or at least with this kind. Characters you want to hang and be friends with. (Though they did win me over briefly when they both agreed Jane Eyre was the way to go and Wide Sargasso Sea was not to either of their liking!)

Part of the problem is that Donovan doesn't seem to ever really round these characters out much. We get plenty of their internal thoughts and even those of their friends, but they seem to be surface material only: minimal and without much depth.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on Kemper Donovan and his work you can follow him on Twitter.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Sunday, April 24, 2016

New Releases 4/26/16

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

The Other Widow by Susan Crawford

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

In Shining Armor by Elliott James

Extreme Prey by John Sandford

The Drowning Girls by Paula Treick DeBoard

The Year We Turned Forty by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

Murder at the 42nd Street Library by Con Lehane

In the Cold Dark Ground by Stuart McBride

Wraith by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens

The Body in the Wardrobe by Katherine Hall Page

Hide Away by Iris Johansen

Fall of Light by Steven Erikson

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Down With the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn

The Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare by M.G. Buehrlen

The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Soldier by Julie Kagawa

The Last Boy and Girl in the World by Siobhan Vivian

New on DVD:
The Driftless Area
Jane Got a Gun
Ride Along 2

Friday, April 22, 2016

The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare by M.G. Buehrlen + a Giveaway

All her life Alex has had visions. They terrify her and embarrass her and she does everything she can to avoid them. But when a vision launches her into 1920s Chicago where she meets a boy named Blue, everything changes. 

Alex is a Descender, a person whose soul has the ability to travel through time. But Alex is special. Alex is what's called a Transcender. Her soul has been reincarnated over and over and over, giving her the ability to travel through her own past lives. As she learns more about her ability and its usefulness, she also learns others are after her for her gifts and for her actions in her past lives. 

Time travel, reincarnation, and a corporation whose motives are questionable and whose founder will to everything he can to get Alex back into his fold or make her pay for leaving... M.G. Buehrlen's debut is an absolute mind bender of a read, that's for sure!

So when we meet Alex she's created a hard shell to protect her from what she basically views as a weird curse. She avoids anything and everything she thinks might trigger a vision - cats, ferris wheels, boats - and she doesn't read fiction or watch movies and TV she deems unsafe. Anything she can think of to keep the visions at bay. But it's made her very closed off. She has no friends.

But she is brilliant when it comes to science, tinkering and creating things that make life easier for those around her. It's her one real escape.

Until she learns the truth about her so-called visions. Given she's experienced them for so long, wishing and begging for them to stop, it's understandable that she'd very quickly adapt to the truth behind them and the revelation about her new ability. And once that happens, the action really begins!

But of course, since this is just the beginning of Alex's story we are left with a LOT Of questions. Questions I am dying to see answered very soon. Fortunately, my wait will be very short indeed because the sequel is hitting shelves next Tuesday. I for one am very much looking forward to the next installment, especially considering where we left off on this debut!

Rating: 4/5

But I can't imagine how torturous the wait has to have been for those of you who may have come to the series when it first launched back in 2014! Agh, you've been waiting so long!

See, M.G. Buehrlen was one of the many authors orphaned after the shuttering of Angry Robot's Strange Chemistry imprint. Which is a shame because there were a lot of really great titles under that imprint. Fortunately, Beuhrlen (and many others) have been snatched from the ruins and given new life with other houses!

The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare and it's very soon to be released sequel, The Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare, have found a home at Diversion Books, who graciously provided me with the opportunity to not only cover both titles BUT to also offer you guys a chance to win a copy of The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare of your very own! And since my review of The Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare may contain some spoilers for those of you who are new to the series, I'm going to include the giveaway on both reviews!

To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, May 9. Open US only and no PO boxes please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Author Spotlight - Susan Meissner and Stars Over Sunset Boulevard

A few months ago I had the pleasure of reviewing two very different Hollywood themed titles - Platinum Doll by Anne Girard, about Jean Harlow, and No Ordinary Life by Suzanne Redfearn, a book about the issues facing child stars and their families. Well right around the same time those two hit shelves, another interesting Hollywood based read hit shelves as well.

Here's a bit about Stars Over Sunset Boulevard from the publisher:

When an iconic hat worn by Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind ends up in Christine McAllister’s vintage clothing boutique by mistake, her efforts to return it to its owner take the reader on a journey to the past.

It’s 1938 and Violet Mayfield sets out to reinvent herself in Los Angeles after her dream of becoming a wife and mother falls apart, landing a job on the film-set of Gone With the Wind. There, she meets enigmatic Audrey Duvall, a once-rising film star who is now a fellow secretary. Audrey’s zest for life and their adventures together among Hollywood’s glitterati enthrall Violet…until each woman’s deepest desires collide.

What Audrey and Violet are willing to risk, for themselves and for each other, to ensure their own happy endings will shape their friendship, and their lives, far into the future.

Who can resist any tale about the glitz and glamour of old Hollywood, right? This one is pretty high on my list right now. 

About the author: Susan Meissner is a multi-published author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include A Fall of Marigolds, named by Booklist’s Top Ten women’s fiction titles for 2014, and The Shape of Mercy, named by Publishers Weekly as one of the 100 Best Novels of 2008. She is also a RITA finalist, and Christy Award winner. 

A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University. Susan is a pastor’s wife and a mother of four young adults. When she's not working on a novel, she writes small group curriculum for her San Diego church. She is also a writing workshop volunteer for Words Alive, a San Diego non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk youth foster a love for reading and writing.

For more about Susan Meissner and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Stars Over Sunset Boulevard is out now from NAL.