Friday, March 31, 2017

Short Fiction Friday: A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman

It's not the first time Amelia has been into James's father's store, but it is the first time he's gotten up the nerve to ask her out. And he's hoping the date he has planned will be a win: his uncle has a canoe and beyond the lake, there's a second secret lake they can explore minus any crowds. 

But as it turns out, there's an even more secret lake beyond that. One that James and Amelia have all to themselves. And in that lake, lying just below the placid surface, is a roof. A roof topping a house that's impeccably preserved under the water. A house James and Amelia have decided to explore...

I love, love, loved Josh Malerman's debut, Bird Box. I've bought it as gifts and recommended the ever living hell out of it. It's that good. And, like everyone else who fell in love with it, I've been waiting for anything and everything Malerman might write next. That includes the upcoming Mad Black Wheel, the quirky short "Ghastle and Yule" - a tale of two warring filmmakers, and the new novella A House at the Bottom of a Lake. Which I was lucky enough to snag for Christmas.

A House at the Bottom of a Lake is an odd one. Stylistically it's got vivid - and incredibly creepy - imagery. It's timeless in the sense that there is no real telling detail about when the story might take place. Which actually adds to the eeriness of the story.

It's something of a quiet tale, luring readers into a story of first love and first dates - those early days when everyone is on their best behavior trying to impress one another and overthinking each and every detail. Will he or she like me? Did I say something stupid? Will we have a second date? A third? It's something almost everyone experiences and is, as such, incredibly relatable.

But as we're drifting into this story alongside James and Amelia, Malerman carefully builds an underlying sense of dread. The discovery of the house is as exciting for us as it is for James and Amelia, but we have the foresight of knowing that something is going to happen. As their obsession with the building grows, we're treated to more and more details of the house with each new exploration. But that sense that something might be waiting - lurking - just around the corner is always there.

It makes for a deliciously tense read in my opinion!

That said, as with Bird Box there is no final explanation. Is the house real? Why has no one discovered it before? Or have they? These questions burn beyond the final page, making A House at the Bottom of a Lake the kind of horror that stays with you long after you finish.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Eggshells by Catriona Lally

Happy Wednesday, y'all! Today I'm part of the TLC blog tour for Catriona Lally's Eggshells.

When Vivian was little, her parents said they thought she was a changeling. Not only that, but they told her they tried to get their real daughter back. 

Out of work for six months, Vivian wanders the streets of Dublin. It's not random, it's planned and she maps her travels. She also visits site and museums, listing butterflies, treasures she discovers on the beach, and other things she sees in her wanderings. Of special interest, signs with missing letters. 

Then one day Vivian decides she'd like to make a friend. Not just any friend - a friend named Penelope. So she makes an advert. Lo and behold, a Penelope answers!

Eggshells is a bit of an odd read. Catriona Lally has a very different and distinct style and voice, creating in Vivian a whimsical character who most definitely lives outside the bounds of what one would consider normal.

Vivian's travels and interactions with others only cement this further. At one point, a man on a bus asks her for money and she hands him lemons. Her logic, the lemons are worth so much and so he only needs to seek out the difference. Needless to say, her lemons are not accepted with gratitude.

In another scene, Vivian has decided to have a blue day and heads to the store to buy appropriate materials. The clerk mistakenly believes it's for a child's birthday and Vivian does nothing to dissuade this idea, instead informing the clerk that yes, she's planning a party for her six year old sons. Who are at home alone. But it's ok because they can't get out of their wheelchairs.

This is a telling scene for a few reasons. First, Vivian definitely doesn't think about the repercussions in taking this farce as far as she does while she's doing it. But she does quickly realize her mistake. So we know that she knows, for example, that leaving six year old wheelchair bound children at home alone is not acceptable. She even goes so far as to wear a disguise later, in case anyone from the store who over heard is nearby.

There's never an explanation about Vivian. Is she simply given to flights of fancy and happy as such. Or is there an actual reason for the way she is. We don't know. There were a few instances where it seemed she might be OCD, mentally repeating "safe" when going to a new shop, for example. But other than those hints, the reader is left to wonder.

I have mentioned before that I lean more towards plot driven rather than character driven novels. A book like Eggshells is the exception. While it is a strange read, following Vivian around on her day to day explorations and such, she is the kind of character who drives a story through her oddness. And so I was curious to see where Vivian would take me next and stuck with her.

In the end I did, however, wish for more plot, more actual happenings, and even more on Vivian's life before the book began.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. And for more on Catriona Lally and her work you can follow her on Twitter.

Purchase Links: Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell

Hi, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Darcey Bell's debut, A Simple Favor.

Stephanie and Emily are friends, as are their sons. And it's not unusual for Emily to occasionally ask Stephanie to pick up her son after school on the rare day when his after school nanny isn't available. After all, the boys are friends and play dates are good for all of them. So there's nothing unusual about Emily asking Stephanie to do the same this time. Until Emily fails to pick her son up. One night, two... Stephanie starts to wonder if she misunderstood the request. But when Emily's husband returns from a trip overseas, it becomes clear nothing about this is normal. 

I find frequently that without planning or knowing it's a possibility I end up reading things back to back that share themes or elements. Not obvious ones, I mean. For example, I might be in the mood for dark crime fiction or unreliable narrators and read a few of those back to back; that's not what I mean. What I mean is the unexpected appearance of the same element that I didn't like in yesterday's book rearing it's head in today's book. Is incest a trendy subject all of the sudden? If so, it really shouldn't be.

Sorry I had to get that out of my system, it had been nagging at me. I will do my very best now to review A Simple Favor without spoilers.

We begin with Stephanie. Her blog to be exact. She's worried and becoming frantic because her best friend has apparently gone missing. And that's the only explanation she has for the fact that a simple favor - picking up Emily's son, Nicky, from school and letting him play with her own son, Miles, for the afternoon - has turned into an overnight sleepover. And another overnight. And another.

It turns out Stephanie may have misunderstood. She reaches out to Emily's husband, who's out of town for business, and is told Emily will be gone for a few days. But, as mentioned above, when Sean returns and Emily is still gone it becomes clear to both of them that this wasn't the planned trip he thought it was.

The police become involved.

The narration shifts, giving readers a chance to see bits of the story from Emily's and Sean's perspectives in addition to Stephanie's. And secrets are revealed.

I liked the way Bell played with persona - the pieces of the characters that are kept personal and the pieces that are doled out to those around them, the edited for public consumption parts if you will. And of course it makes for unreliable narrators and multiple twists in the story.

A Simple Favor has earned quiet a bit of comparisons to some of the more popular unreliable narrator/domestic thriller/psychological suspense tales to be released of late. The comparisons are pretty unavoidable, all things considered, and frankly to even mention them is a bit spoilery. But which I mean A Simple Favor doesn't necessarily stand out as original or unique in the growing trend.

That's not to say that I didn't like A Simple Favor. It was a decent read - good entertainment for an evening at home alone while hubs was teaching. Had it come first, it would have packed a bit more punch. But it didn't. If you're a fan of the trend (as am I) and are looking for more in that same vein, A Simple Favor is a great one to try. If you're looking for something that'll knock your socks off (which I was), this one likely won't do it for you.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. And for more on Darcey Bell and her work you can follow her on Twitter.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

It's a new week, readers! Today I'm part of the TLC blog tour for Amy Engel's latest, The Roanoke Girls.

For sixteen years, Lane dreamed of the house named after her mother's family. Her mother never told her anything about the place where she grew up. Never told Lane anything about her parents. Never told her why she left in the first place or why she avoided any mention of the small Kansas town where she lived before. And then Lane's mom committed suicide. 

At first, it seemed like life at Roanoke would be ok. But then Lane discovered the secret her mother lived with all those years. 

A decade later, Lane's cousin has gone missing and Lane finds herself once again pulled to Roanoke. 

Um. This is a tough one to review. At it's most basic, Amy Engel's writing is great. Her prose reads easily, pulling you into the story from the start with Lane's narration. And I admit I really did like Lane. She's tough and she's clever and her determination to find out what happened to her cousin is admirable.

Chapters alternate between "Then" - Lane's first arrival at Roanoke as a teen, "Now" - her return after learning Allegra has gone missing, and interspersed chapters on the other Roanoke girls going back to Lane's grandfather's sisters.

As Lane's cousin reveals, none of the Roanoke girls lasts long. It didn't take but a few pages for me to draw my own conclusion about what the dark secrets of Roanoke might be. And that suspicion was confirmed shortly thereafter. I was actually a bit disappointed when it turned out I was right - first because it seemed too obvious, or just too easy a choice. Second because had I known from the start that's what the book was about, I likely wouldn't have read it at all.

As I said, the reveal comes early so the why of the Roanoke girls' stories lacks suspense and twists. The only real reveals left concern Allegra's fate, which for some might be enough of a draw. If you're a frequent visitor to the blog, then you know there's not much subject wise that I shy away from and I'm a fan of dark. This one, though, was just too much for me.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Amy Engel and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Purchase Links: Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

Sunday, March 26, 2017

New Releases 3/28/17

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

The Satanic Mechanic by Sally Andrew

Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser

The Fire Child by S. K. Tremayne

Conviction by Julia Dahl

The Night Mark by Tiffany Reisz

It Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

100 Hours by Rachel Vincent

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Just Fly Away by Andrew McCarthy

Dream Forever by Kit Alloway

Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig

New on DVD:
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
A Monster Calls
Why Him?

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
The Dime by Kathleen Kent

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Pre Pub Book Buzz: Three Titles From Putnam

So this week I'm doing something a little different with the pre pub book buzz post - I'm featuring three titles rather than the usual one. Which is not to say that each of these books doesn't deserve their very own highlight post! Rather, I was invited to an event this week that featured all three.

The good folks at Putnam put together a pre pub tour this week for three of their summer authors: Jill Santopolo, Courtney Maum, and Bianca Marais - and the second stop on this tour just happened to be Denver. And I got an invite.

The group included editors, publicists, booksellers, and sales reps, all mingling with the authors over Mexican hors d'oeuvres and drinks. It was a fabulous time and it gave us all the chance to hear a bit about the books from each of the authors too.

And Now I want to share them with you!

First up, Jill Santopolo's The Light We Lost, which is due out in May. Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice. But before she can make her decision, she must start her story—their story—at the very beginning.

Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated—perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York. What follows is a thirteen-year journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, betrayals, and, ultimately, of love. Was it fate that brought them together? Is it choice that has kept them away? Their journey takes Lucy and Gabe continents apart, but never out of each other’s hearts.

The Light We Lost sounds like a heart wrenching read. And a bit nostalgic too (for me anyway) considering we meet the characters in college at the same time I myself was there.

Next up is Courtney Mauam's Touch, which hits shelves in June. Here's the Goodreads synopsis:

Sloane Jacobsen is the most powerful trend forecaster in the world (she was the foreseer of the swipe), and global fashion, lifestyle, and tech companies pay to hear her opinions about the future. Her recent forecasts on the family are unwavering: the world is over-populated, and with unemployment, college costs, and food prices all on the rise, having children is an extravagant indulgence.

So it s no surprise when the tech giant Mammoth hires Sloane to lead their groundbreaking annual conference, celebrating the voluntarily childless. But not far into her contract, Sloane begins to sense the undeniable signs of a movement against electronics that will see people embracing compassion, empathy, and in-personism again. She s struggling with the fact that her predictions are hopelessly out of sync with her employer's mission and that her closest personal relationship is with her self-driving car when her partner, the French neo-sensualist Roman Bellard, reveals that he is about to publish an op-ed on the death of penetrative sex a post-sexual treatise that instantly goes viral. Despite the risks to her professional reputation, Sloane is nevertheless convinced that her instincts are the right ones, and goes on a quest to defend real life human interaction, while finally allowing in the love and connectedness she's long been denying herself.

I'll be honest, this one sounds a bit like a lighter Black Mirror kind of tale. The dangers of technology and all. I'm quite looking forward to it!

And finally, due out in July, is Bianca Marais's debut, Hum If You Don't Know the Words. Here's what Goodreads says:

Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband's death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred . . . until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin s parents are left dead and Beauty s daughter goes missing. 

After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection.

I'm not going to lie, this book sounds amazing! I wish you all could hear Marais talk about the inspiration behind this story! 

Huge thanks to the Putnam team and the authors for putting together this tour and for the invite. I had a wonderful time! I hope you'll all add these titles to you must have lists for this summer and if any of the authors are in your area for book tours, definitely don't miss the chance to see them!!!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins PB Release + Giveaway

You may recall seeing Mark Tompkins's The Last Days of Magic on the blog before, but today I want to revisit that post and let you all know that the paperback is now out in the world! To celebrate, the publisher is letting me give away a copy of said paperback as well as a set of custom tarot cards! Be sure to read through to the end for the Rafflecopter.

Sara Hill always loved the books and fairy tales her grandmother shared with her. What she didn't know was that those tales were steeped in a history and reality that stretched back to the days of Adam and Eve. And that her grandmother had been hiding a secret so dangerous it put them all at risk.

In the earliest days of man, the angels came together with humans in a union unsanctioned by their creator. The beings that were born of that union became the creatures we know today as the Nephilim and their offspring split into varying lines of Sidhe. Many of them made their home in Ireland and the Middle Kingdom, and their presence - along with the goddess Morrigna - on the Emerald Isle kept it protected from its enemies.

But in the late fourteenth century, a schism between the Sidhe led to a revolt against the Morrigna and the death of one of her human aspects. That death was just the start of what would become a battle between the Sidhe, the Celts, and Ireland's own enemies. It was a battle that would lead to the end of magic itself.

Mark Tompkins's debut is an interesting blend of folklore and theology. In his world, the Sidhe are descended from the Nephilim - the offspring of angels and man. This combination is suited to the story considering much of the conflict is between the Church and those who believe in and follow magic.

The story is populated by some of the most fabulous beings in all of fairy tale lore including the well-known gnomes, brownies, and pixies and the possibly lesser known (at least by me) beings in Irish folklore like the fomorians and skeaghshee. And that's just a small taste. Tompkins has seriously combed through the plethora of magical beings and the annals of history to create one of the most unique twists on fae legend and magic I've ever come across!

That said, though, I would haver loved it if the story had been told in more of a linear timeline. The frequent time jumps (back and forth) through history made it hard to keep the various threads of the story straight at times. I found myself getting hooked on one storyline and character only to realize that they may not appear again for quite some time. This is a pretty typical fantasy tendency, switching back and forth through a handful or characters, but the gaps between some of the characters' appearances were sometimes a bit too long and I found myself losing track of their stories. (Blame it on my Swiss cheese brain at least in part.)

What is really cool about The Last Days of Magic, in addition to the beings portrayed, is the way Tompkins twists the actual history to suit his tale. The story is set in the time of Richard II who did indeed invade Ireland and while I'm almost certain that Isabella and her kin were not part of a high coven it is said that Richard's own grip on reality was slipping in his final days...

Mark Tompkins's debut is not an easy read. It's a dense tale packed with history (maybe overpacked) but if you have the patience for a bit of a slower read I think you'll find it's quite fascinating.
And now for the giveaway! To enter to win a copy of the brand new paperback edition and that fabulous tarot deck, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, April 3. Open US only and no PO boxes please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wallflower Blooming and Best Laid Plans by Amy Rivers

Happy Wednesday, readers! I have two reviews for you today as part of the TLC blog tour for Amy Rivers's latest, Best Laid Plans!

Wallflower Blooming and Best Laid Plans are the first two titles in a planned trilogy featuring cousins Val and Gwen. And while you can read them out of order, they do take place consecutively, which means you'll already know some of the events of Wallflower if you read Plans first. So I read them in order :)

Wallflower Blooming is Val's story.

Val has no interest in getting involved in politics. Especially in light of the fact that her own father's business went under when he threw his support behind a local candidate years ago. But when her cousin Gwen decides to run for office in Cambria, Colorado, Val can't say no.

She should have been in the background, quietly running Gwen's PR campaign. But instead, Val finds herself in the spotlight when she falls for a local reclusive, but highly sought after, bachelor. And that's not all, history may be repeating itself when Gwen's competition begins bullying Val's clients. Now with her business at risk and her love life the talk of local gossips, the normally grounded Val is finding it hard to keep it together.

I loved Val! She is so fun. She's focused and driven, but hasn't had much luck in love. Which is why it comes as such a surprise that John Hatfield could possibly be interested in her. As their story progresses, she's equal parts irked and smitten.

Of course work complicates things. Again, she's driven. And her fear of falling into the same trouble that led to her father's business closing begins to affect all aspects of her life. She's the kind of character you want on your side. And the kind of character you want to rally for when the going starts getting rough.

And the same can be said of Gwen! Best Laid Plans follows right on the heels of the events of Wallflower Blooming.

When Gwen won the election for Mayor of Cambria, she figured she was on the fast track to her ultimate goal: becoming the youngest Governor of Colorado. But one year into her term, her plans are starting to go awry. 

First, it appears she's being bullied by certain figures in local government. Then it appears she's picked up a stalker, too. As she tries to juggle mayoral responsibility with her other obligations, it also seems her relationship with Jason could be nearing its end. It'd been rocky already, considering some question the ethics behind the mayor dating one of the city's finance folks, but it becomes worse when Jason bends to pressure and takes another job. One that has him traveling a lot and seemingly getting cozy with a new female coworker. As the uncertainty weighs on Gwen, she begins to wonder if her plans are all for naught. 

Oh, Gwen! The title of her book is quite perfect. Of course one could say that she brings some of it on simply by setting so much stock in her careful plans.

As much as I liked Val's story, I honestly think Gwen's was even better. Or maybe I just identified with Gwen a bit more.

Gwen, like Val, is also driven. And like Val she also hasn't had much luck in love. But unlike Val, Gwen doesn't consider bowing under pressure. Where Val, when faced with a bully who threatens her business, seriously considers bowing out as Gwen's PR manager, Gwen, when faced with an overly zealous city manager, gets snarky. And I loved it!

I should pause to mention the men in these stories, because the books are equally as much theirs. John and Jason each get their own chapters in the respective books, giving readers a chance to see the relationships and happenings from their eyes as well. At times the two seemed a bit too similar for my taste, causing me some confusion at times in remembering which one was paired with which cousin. An argument could be made that because they grew up together and are friends that they are indeed similar, gravitating together as friends do. It didn't detract from the reading, but my Swiss cheese brain did have to do a double take occasionally when they shared a scene.

Together, Rivers's two books make for an easy, breezy pair of fun reads. Each is fairly short, too, so you can literally zip through them back to back.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Amy Rivers and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Goodreads.

Purchase Links: Amazon

If you're local to Colorado, you can also find Amy's books at BookBar and Boulder Bookstore!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Mississippi Blood by Greg Iles

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm kicking off the TLC blog tour for Greg Iles's Mississippi Blood!

For those of you who haven't read the first two books, Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree, you should probably skip this post. Instead, check out one of the previous reviews (depending on whether you've read any of them) and run out to your bookstore!

Penn Cage is suffering and desperate - desperate for vengeance. His girlfriend is dead, as is the reporter who was set on outing Mississippi's Double Eagles. And Penn's father has an undeniable link to the minds behind some of Mississippi's most brutal hate crimes. But that connection still isn't clear. As Dr. Tom Cage awaits trial for the alleged murder of his one time assistant and possible lover, Penn is determined to see the Double Eagles fall and clear his father's name. But the lies and secrets of Mississippi's history run deep and have already claimed so many lives. Will Penn's be next?

Greg Iles's explosive trilogy comes to a close with this final installment. (Note, this trilogy is part of the larger Penn Cage series.)

This trilogy is really an epic - and successful - attempt to fairly and accurately cover what is such a dark piece of southern history. In a recent article in Mississippi Today, Iles speaks to some of the inspiration and drive in telling these stories.

And while it should never be mistaken that this - the tale told throughout the three books - is indeed a story, its roots are definitely in the troubled history of the south. As I mentioned in the Natchez Burning post, Sexton was based on an actual reporter whose mission was one and the same - uncovering crimes that have thus far been swept under the rug.

While it's impossible to write a review of Mississippi Burning without some spoilers of the other two, I definitely don't want to ruin your experience with this third and final piece. Especially since it just released TODAY! I will say that all of the points I made about the previous two - the careful attention to detail, the intricate plotting, the almost ridiculously fast pacing (in a good way) - still apply. And all of the threads and questions of the previous two installments are brought to a satisfactory close.

The characters that have taken us through these tomes - all 2,299 pages - are wonderful. They're rich and flawed, drawn with such depth that they literally leap off the pages. And honestly, they'd have to if you're going to stick with them for that much reading time! (I should mention too that while you're reading those pages, Iles himself spent eight years writing them.) Trust me when I say it's well worth it.

If you haven't read Iles before, you are missing out. If you haven't read any part of the trilogy - then what are you doing still reading this post?! - hit up your local bookstore and buy all of them, or any of them you're missing, today!

And if you're determined to start at Penn's beginning (you can definitely read the trilogy without having read the first few Penn books) here's the full series list for you:

The Quiet Game
Turning Angel
The Devil's Punchbowl
Natchez Burning
The Bone Tree
Mississippi Blood

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Greg Iles you can visit his website here. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Pre Pub Book Buzz: Dear Reader by Mary O'Connell

Books about books, books based on books, retellings of other books... All things that catch my attention! So of course Mary O'Connell's Dear Reader immediately set off my must have radar.

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

For seventeen-year-old Flannery Fields, the only respite from the plaid-skirted mean girls at Sacred Heart High School at is her beloved teacher Miss Sweeney’s AP English class. But when Miss Sweeney doesn't show up to teach Flannery's favorite book, Wuthering Heights, leaving behind her purse, Flannery knows something is wrong.

The police are called, and Flannery gives them everything—except Miss Sweeney's copy of Wuthering Heights. This she holds onto. And good thing she does, because when she opens it, it has somehow transformed into Miss Sweeney's real-time diary. It seems Miss Sweeney is in New York City—and she's in trouble.

So Flannery does something very unFlannery-like: she skips school and sets out for Manhattan, with the book as her guide. But as soon as she arrives, she meets a boy named Heath. Heath is British, on a gap year, incredibly smart—yet he's never heard of Albert Einstein or Anne Frank. In fact, Flannery can't help thinking that he seems to have stepped from the pages of Brontë's novel. Could it be?

With inimitable wit and heart, Mary O'Connell has crafted a love letter to reading, to the books that make us who we are. Dear Reader, charming and heartbreaking, is a novel about finding your people, on the page in the world.

Everything about Dear Reader sounds magnificent and I truly can't wait for a chance to read it!

Dear Reader is due out in May from Flatiron Books.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Short Fiction Friday: Brother's Ruin by Emma Newman

Charlotte Gunn has great talent. Yes, as an illustrator, which is how she makes a secret living. But also as a mage. And while neither is something she wants revealed to even those closest to her, the latter of the two secrets is the one that's most dangerous.

It's 1850 and anyone with a whiff of magic in their blood is required to report to the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. Not only is magic supposed to be used for the betterment of society, rumor has it that a mage without training can turn wild, becoming a danger to themselves and everyone around them. But members of the Royal Society aren't allowed to marry or have careers outside of the Royal Society. If Charlotte were discovered she would lose her fiance and her living.

But it's not Charlotte the Royal Society comes for in the end. It's her brother. And it's his wish, as well as her father's, that he'll test high enough to save their father from debtor's prison. Only Charlotte knows that the debt collectors her father owes have a fate much worse than that in mind.

Brother's Ruin marks the first in Newman's latest series. It's a fun novella and a good introduction to Charlotte and her world, though in this case I actually wish we'd had a full first novel to tear into.

While there's a decent bit of world building and character development for Charlotte as well as those around her, Brother's Ruin never loses the feel of being a prequel or prologue to a longer tale.

It is a fun start to the series, certainly. And, as intended, it left me wanting more. That said, I think I would have been happier with it's follow up in hand for immediate gratification!

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I'm Traveling Alone by Samuel Bjørk + a Giveaway

Good morning, readers! One of my absolute favorite reads of 2016 is out in paperback this week and I get to give away a copy!

Here's my review from last Feb:

Mia is ready to end it all. She's counting down the days, in fact. But her plans go awry when her old boss, Holger Munch, pays her a very important visit.

A six-year-old girl has been found hanging from a tree. The body has been carefully cleaned and dressed, posed with a schoolbag full of books and a sign reading "I'm traveling alone" placed around her neck. Once upon a time, Mia was part of an elite investigative squad whose job was to handle cases exactly like this. But scrutiny on a particularly touchy and personal case caused the squad to be disbanded and its members scattered. In spite of all of that, Mia's skills have never been in doubt and it's her insight the police need now. Unfortunately, Mia can't offer a quick solution or the killer's head on a silver platter. What she can offer is worse: the assurance that this is just the first in what will surely be a string of child murders.

A crime so egregious means even those most staunchly against reuniting Munch's crew have to admit that the squad - including Mia and led by Munch - is their best chance to solve this case and hopefully prevent more death. But can Mia overcome her own personal issues in order to be of any use?

I'm Traveling Alone kicks off what I expect will be a quite exciting new Scandinavian crime series! The plot is twisted and extremely well built, worthy of characters like Mia, Munch, and the others. In fact, while Mia and Munch quickly shoot to the head of the list as possible main characters, Bjørk's debut features the team as a whole (with admittedly heavy focus on Mia and Munch) rather than a true lead character.

It's a fun way to set up such a series because it gives the author a chance to highlight each character's skills.

One downside to this is that Bjørk switches narrators quite frequently, not limiting himself even to the team. Various players and witnesses are introduced throughout the novel to show different aspects of the growing mystery. It's a method that can quite often work against the author and reader, making the story harder to get fully engrossed in. I have to say, however, that in this instance I thought it worked. Each new narrator, rather than taking me out of the story or jarring the narrative, offered a new layer to the overall plot.

I'm Traveling Alone is out in paperback as of yesterday and the follow up, The Owl Always Hunts at Night is due out in June.

To enter to win a copy of your very own, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, March 27. Open US only and no PO boxes please. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Dishing up the Dirt: Recipes for Cooking Through the Seasons by Andrea Bemis

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Andrea Bemis's Dishing Up the Dirt: Recipes for Cooking Through the Seasons.

What began as a joke between Bemis and her then boyfriend (now husband) over a bag of organic blueberries led to a massive life change for the couple: the decision to run a farm of their own and become self-sufficient.

For most this would be an even more difficult decision than it was for these two, Taylor grew up on a 60-acre farm in Massachusetts (the origin of the life changing blueberries). So the two packed up and returned to the Bay State to learn the ropes. Four years later, the couple returned to Oregon where they purchased the land that would become Tumbleweed Farm. And Bemis chronicled every step on her blog, Dishing Up the Dirt!

Which is how the cookbook, Dishing Up the Dirt, was born.

Bemis recaps much of the early years in the intro to the book, recounting the good and the not so good. Bemis herself had no experience farming or really cooking and says it was "Baptism by fire..." But throughout it all, even the difficulties of starting their own farm, they were successful. The goal of the blog (and now book) is to

...offer an honest glimpse into life on our six-acre farm in rural Oregon. It's a story about love, community, farming, and, most important, the food that we grow, eat, and share around the table with family and friends.

And, oh the food!

The book is divided by season, offering up recipes featuring produce at their peak. Because as we've all learned, fruits and vegetables do taste better when they're in season! And while the calendar hasn't technically reached spring, here in Colorado the weather certainly has. With that in mind, and with a fridge already stocked with strawberries, cauliflower, beets, and herbs, I went to town bookmarking recipes to try.

It was a dreary Saturday, our coldest of late considering we've seen abnormally warm weather these past few weeks, so I kicked off the morning with Bemis's Honey Cardamom Latte. Our local Colorado honey blended quite nicely with some (also local) almond butter and the rest of the ingredients to make a cozy and warming start to the morning as I planned the rest of the weekend's meals.

Next up: Strawberry Salsa (remember those strawberries in the fridge, 'cause there were w lot of them), which we ate as a snack while I made lunch on that icky Saturday. The salsa was easy and offered up familiar flavors of cilantro, jalapeño, and red onion, with just a pinch of salt and lime juice. The addition of a bit of honey and the bright sweetness of the strawberries was wonderful. Even my husband, who'd admitted to being leery of strawberries in salsa, enjoyed it so much he complained I was eating more than my fair share without saving some for him!

I did skip ahead to Summer to make Bemis's Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Herbed Butter. They paired nicely with another recipe I'd had planned, making a fairly healthy dinner that still incorporated my favorite carb (potatoes, yum!) for meatless Monday.

Baking is a bit of an issue at high altitude, so I've held off so far on the Honey-Roasted Strawberry Muffins (which sound DIVINE), but the Chocolate Chip & Real Mint Cookies are just too tempting to pass up. These are next in my roster considering I beelined to the store to grab a new bag of flour, semi-sweet chips, and the mint in question! (Which means I also have all the ingredients on hand to make the Strawberry Mint Smoothie that'll be today's breakfast.) And dinner tonight? Penne with Parsley Pesto, White Beans & Parmesan. And I may just have to get over my tahini issues in order to try the Cauliflower Tahini Dip. (I'll admit it, while I love hummus, I hate tahini!) But I've been eyeballing the Simple Cauliflower Soup as an alternative too :)

The best thing about the book so far: I had literally 90% of the ingredients on hand already to try the dishes I've already tried and the ones I still have planned for the next few days. The only thing I had to buy: the mint, the parsley (because the parsley I thought I had turned out to be a third bunch of cilantro!), and the baking stuff for the cookies.

I should note that while Dishing Up the Dirt is not a vegetarian cookbook, the vast majority of the book is veggie forward. In fact, there are just a few meat focused meals in the whole book: Lamb Lettuce Wraps with Mint Yogurt Sauce, Venison Stew, Farmers' Market Burgers with Mustard Green Pesto, Tumbleweed Farm Spaghetti and Meatballs, and Chicken and Chickpea Pesto Summer Salad, just to name a few (actually there are only 2-3 others I didn't mention). And honestly, even though I'm not vegetarian, I'd never turn my nose up at a tasty veggie-focused dish. Considering there are enough of those throughout the book, I wouldn't have complained if this were a 100% vegetarian cookbook.

(There are a fair amount of vegan friendly recipes throughout the book as well.)

Considering the book arrived just Friday evening, I think I've tested enough recipes thus far to put my hearty stamp of approval on this one! The recipes are easy, there are no odd or hard to find ingredients, and the dishes taste fantastic.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Andrea Bemis and Tumblweed Farm you can visit her blog here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Instagram.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Monday, March 13, 2017

Archangel by Margaret Fortune + a Giveaway

Warning: if you haven't read Nova, there will be spoilers ahead!!!

Michael Sorenson never saw himself following in his parents footsteps. He never had aspirations of a military career in mind. But desperate times and all. 

It's been a little over a year since New Sol exploded and the truth about the Tellurian colony on New Earth was exposed. In that time, the spectres have spread throughout the Expanse, infecting colony after colony. Knowledge is power, certainly, but it's limited power in this case considering their enemy is one they cannot see. 

Michael wasted no time at all joining the Guardians in the wake of losing Lia. But before he can even begin moving up in the ranks, he's tapped to join an elite - and secret - R&D post. There, scientists, civilians, and military personnel work together to develop and test weapons they hope will help win the war. But as accidents and mechanical failures begin to plague the facility, Michael stumbles upon evidence of a possible saboteur. What's worse, it seems this person is out to make Michael the scapegoat.  

This is the perfect, action-packed follow up to Margaret Fortune's series kick off, Nova. You don't necessarily have to have read Nova to be able to dive into Archangel, but I do personally recommend it. Michael is still reeling from losing Lia and holds onto a LOT of anger as a result. There is, I feel, pretty ample backstory and call backs to Lia's tale, which means you won't be totally lost if you haven't read it. Of course you are missing the big reveal about the spectres as well as the introduction to this world. Not to mention Michael and Lia!

Where its predecessor took place mostly on New Sol (with a few flashbacks to New Earth), Archangel gives us glimpses into the BROAD expanse of the Celestial Expanse. Michael's missions take him to a few different colonies, one that contains a pretty big surprise too. It gives readers a chance to really see just how massive the world Fortune has created really is. And even when we're not traveling to a different planet or station, there are mentions of just how many have fallen to the spectres to further support that massiveness. The world building is amazing and the continued possibilities for the rest of the series are huge!

As I mentioned, Michael has quite a bit of baggage. Lia's going nova is what changed everything for everyone. She's a hero. But Michael is mired in her loss and blames pretty much everyone for being part of it. He also isn't keen to let anyone know that he not only witnessed the event first hand but that he was an active participant too. He's basically set to explode and the stress of war doesn't help. When you throw in the possibility that someone in R&D, maybe even someone on his own team, is trying to frame him for sabotage... 

Fortune does a fabulous job building the tension of the tale! I love, love, loved everything about it and cannot wait to get my grubby little book junkie hands on the next installment!

Readers, if you're looking for an epic space opera that will suck you in from the very start, this series is definitely for you. And the best thing about it? It's got massive cross over appeal for teens! Yep, while Fortune's series is definitely billed as adult sci-fi, both Nova and Archangel feature kick-ass teenage characters giving their all to defend human civilization from an enemy that's all but invisible and intent on spreading it's nasty ghouls to the furthest reaches of space. 

Archangel is out on shelves now and thanks to the publisher I get to give away a copy to one of you lucky readers! To throw your name in the hat, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, March 27. Open US only and no PO boxes, please. 

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

New Releases 3/14/17

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen

Every Wild Heart by Meg Donohue

Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

Eggshells by Catriona Lally

King's Maid by Lucy Worsley

The End of Oz by Danielle Paige

Hunted by Meagan Spooner

New on DVD:
Collateral Beauty

Friday, March 10, 2017

Short Fiction Friday: Nevertheless, She Persisted

It's Short Fiction Friday! I know, I know. I've been neglecting this theme. It hasn't been at all intentional - I've been reading ahead with this spring's Tor.com novellas!

Today's post is another Tor.com one, but it's a little different. As you may know, Tor.com has a fantastic ever-growing collection of free shorts available online. Some are connected to SFF worlds you may be familiar with, others are complete stand-alone tales. Some are by well-known authors and others are by new and emerging voices. All of them are, I promise you, fantastic!

This week, Tor.com did something a little different. In honor of this year's International Women's Day (this past Wednesday, March 8) Tor.com put together a flash event featuring some of the top women in sci fi and fantasy.

The stories are short - flash is by definition a short story with less than 1,000 words, which means you can finish the entire collection easily in one sitting. The theme is simple, each tale begins with the now famed quote "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless she persisted." The result is a collection of eleven unique and inspiring tales.

Here's the full list with links:

Kameron Hurley: "Our Faces, Radiant Sisters, Our Faces Full of Light!"
Alyssa Wong: "God Product"
Carrie Vaughn: "Alchemy"
Seanan McGuire: "Persephone"
Charlie Jane Anders: "Margot and Rosalind"
Maria Dahvana Headley: "Astronaut"
Nisi Shawl: "More Than Nothing"
Brooke Bolander: "The Last of the Minotaur Wives"
Jo Walton: "The Jump Rope Rhyme"
Amal El-Mohtar: "Anabasis"
Catherine M. Valente: "The Ordinary Woman and the Unquiet Emperor"

Unsurprisingly, Seanan McGuire's "Persephone" was one of my personal favorites. Yeah, yeah. I know I'm a broken record where she's concerned. This story is, though, absolutely phenomenal in my opinion. It's a perfect example of just how much impact so few words can impart.

The same can definitely be said of Charlie Jane Anders's "Margot and Rosalind" and Alyssa Wong's "God Product," the latter of which was oh, so bizarre and sad!

Again, the entire collection is fantastic. You can read more about the series by hitting the image at the top, which will take you to Tor.com's announcement of the project.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Shadow Run by AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller

Nev is on a mission. A top secret mission. For generations, families exposed to shadow, an element unlike any other, have gone mad and died from overexposure. But before that happens, these families' descendants have shown evidence of great power. Power that has to be connected to shadow. The key to everything is learning how and why this happens, and harnessing that power in a way that doesn't kill it's host.

Qole is Nev's target. Captain of the Kaitan Heritage, Qole has flying skills that are unmatched and her ability to find pockets of shadow is uncanny. But just as Nev is about to put his plan into action, he's caught by the crew. Moments later, they're boarded by a third party who also wants to study Qole and her ability. And they're not worried one bit about saving Qole in the process.

Now Qole must rely on her would-be kidnapper, Nev, for help. But how can she trust someone who's lied to her from the beginning?

So of course since this one is touted as Firefly meets Dune, I had to give it a shot. And yeah, it's Dune in as much as shadow is as important to the plot as spice is. Seeing as how I never could finish Dune or really wrap my head around it, I'm happy to say that Shadow Run does not in fact have those aspects in common!

As for Firefly, that's a pretty apt comparison. Other than the fact that the Kaitan is operating legally, the rapport between the crew and the depth of the characters is akin to what we got from the beloved space opera.

Shadow itself is a bit hard to fully comprehend, but it's basically energy on a nuclear level. Rather than cancer, those exposed go mad. And Qole has already lost her parents and an older brother to it. Now all that remains of her family are herself and her brother, Arjan. And while they're literally playing with fire continuing to operate as fishers (those hunting and containing shadow to be traded for profit), they're too good at it not to continue.

Nev is a royal. A prince. But his family's situation is precarious, which is why they've been studying shadow to begin with. And apparently they've got spies feeding information to a competing family. Which means Nev and his family must finish their research first, or lose out on the findings. Nev believes his family's cause is a noble one, but Qole and her crew have long known that royals can't be trusted.

And thus we have an even bigger conflict to the tale than Nev and Qole - can Nev's family indeed be trusted to do the things Nev promises? Will Qole be safe in their hands, and are they really looking out for the greater good?

Only time will tell, readers!

AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller work together seemingly seamlessly in putting this tale together. No hiccups or stutters that would indicate where one author's work ends and another begins. Their world building is amazing, and again those characters! Qole, the youngest and most talented captain, took over the ship at just fourteen; Arjan, four years older, has all the faith in the world in his sister and her talents, but fears his impending doom; Telu, a year younger than Qole and mightily loyal to the ship, she's also an ace hacker; Basra, a genderfluid trader with a knack for getting the best deals (and he's got some secrets!); and even Eton, strong arm and cook, he's the oldest of the crew and has more than a few secrets himself, especially considering his training.

And of course then there's Nev. Nev's world and life are infinitely different from that of Qole, Arjan, and Telu. As he and Qole get to know one another, she inevitably begins to trust him but the rest of the crew are still leery...

Shadow Run is a fantastic ride, y'all! And it's the first in the series, which means we can look forward to more!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Mermaid's Daughter by Ann Claycomb + a Giveaway

Good morning, readers! Today I'm kicking off the TLC blog tour for Ann Claycomb's debut, The Mermaid's Daughter.

I am giving away a copy today, so be sure to enter via the Raffelcopter at the bottom of the post!

Kathleen has been plagued by pain all her life. Shooting, stabbing pains in her feet when she stands and walks, and persistent pain in her mouth so bad that it can incapacitate her. She's seen doctors and mental health professionals, been run through a barrage of tests, and even been committed but no one has ever been able to find the cause or a solution. Strangely, the only alleviation Kathleen has ever had from the pain has come from sea water. 

At twenty-five, Kathleen has already outlived her mother. And her grandmother. Which is why her mental wellbeing is always such a concern given her symptoms. Amazingly, the family history of suicide stretches even further - seven generations to be exact. All the way back to a girl named Fand, a mermaid who struck a bargain with sea witches in order to live on land with the man she loved. A girl whose story you might think you already know. 

Ann Claycomb combines elements Hans Christian Andersen's classic tale and the animated film to bring the story of Fand and her descendants to life. And it's an amazing read!

Kathleen is an opera singer, one who is becoming known for her amazing talent. Her partner, Harry, is an almost equally talented singer and one of the few people who knows of Kathleen's plight. Harry is steadfast in her support and love for Kathleen and is the one who decides that Kathleen needs to return to Ireland to try and find an answer to the troubles that have been plaguing her all her life.

Harry first approaches Kathleen's father, Robin, with the idea. Sadly, Robin has never been able to face returning to the isle of his birth. It was where he met and fell in love with Kathleen's mother. It's also where he lost her. And while he has mostly moved on, his dreams are never free of his lost love. Plus, he believes wholeheartedly that the mission is one of a lover rather than a parent.

The trip reveals some startling truths about Kathleen's lineage. Truths that most people would never believe.

The story is narrated by Robin, Kathleen, and Harry, and interspersed by narrative from the sea witches - a collective of beings who feel they have been misrepresented by the stories. The book also includes a short about Fand and Hans Christian Andersen. Again bringing the story back to the classic. I adored these characters and the wonderful way that Claycomb twisted and reshaped such a familiar story into something new.

Claycomb's debut is a wonderfully enchanting read, evoking a full range of emotions as Kathleen and her ancestors' stories are revealed. As is the case with most fairy tales, The Mermaid's Daughter is at times quite sad. It was also darker than I'd expected - quite haunting in fact. But again, it's absolutely wonderful! A perfect and gorgeous read for anyone who loves the classic!

And now for the giveaway! To enter simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, March 20. Open US only.

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To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Mermaids of Lake Michigan by Suzanne Kamata

Happy Monday, everybody! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Suzanne Kamata's The Mermaids of Lake Michigan.

Elise would much rather spend time  indoors with a good book than anything else. It's a proclivity her once beauty queen mother simply can't understand. So when the neighbor's granddaughter moves in, prompting the neighbor to ask Elise to spend time with her, Elise immediately wants to say no. And yet, something prompts her to change her mind. 

What she discovers is that the neighbor hopes Elise will be a good influence on Chiara. Instead, it's the other way around. And while Chiara is wild and outgoing, her influence on Elise allows the girl to finally come out of her shell and live.

The Mermaids of Lake Michigan is a character-driven coming of age tale set in the midwest in the 70s.

Elise is a great narrator. One who observes rather big occurrences even at a very young age. And so she shares some of these with very little, if any, understanding or judgement. Most of these instances pertain to Elise's mother, who the reader comes to find is actually quite unhappy with her life.

But those instances are like little glimpses through the window's of Elise's tale. The rest, the time spent with Chiara, the fascination with her great-grandmother's stories, and her budding romance, are given the full on treatment as Elise lives through them.

Suzanne Kamata's latest blends just a touch of magic and whimsy throughout, endearing readers even more to Elise as she navigates the troubled waters of young adulthood. It's a short read, but one that packs a punch.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Suzanne Kamata and her work you can visit her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Purchase Links: Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac

A trip to Haiti presents all kinds of possible dangers. First there's the plane ride there, which statistically offers tons of possible dangerous outcomes. Then there's the fact that it's another country. One with a history of earthquakes. And finally there's the fact that Maeve's mother will be there with her new boyfriend while Maeve spends six months living in Vancouver with her dad. 

Maeve's anxiety is a part of her. And sometimes it gets to be too much. Six months with her dad shouldn't be a big deal. But it is. It's six months away from her home, away from her mom. Six months with her dad and his very pregnant wife, who's planning a home birth (which Maeve is all too aware can be rife with complications), and her twin brothers in an apartment that isn't her own. 

But then Maeve meets a girl, and things start to look up. And then Maeve's father falls off the wagon, and things start to look not so up. 

Maeve is compellingly charming at times. But she also becomes a bit too much at times as well. Her penchant for dire statistics is actually one of the endearing qualities, for me anyway. See, I'm kind of a worrier who fixates on worst case scenarios - so I can empathize just a little with Maeve.

But Maeve's awareness of her issue and her coping strategies made it a little hard to get behind her when she started to go over the top with it. And while things with her parents aren't great, she actually does have pretty good support from her stepmother and her little brothers. Her relationship with the latter is actually quite wonderful, but her inability to realize what she has in her stepmother is actually part of Maeve's bigger issue.

Of course, going into the story it's made very clear that Maeve is dealing with something she's not really ready to face head on. Something concerning her best friend, Ruthie. And so, at the heart of it, Maeve is actually, utterly lonely. She's also feeling just a little bit abandoned by the person who knows her best - her mother. And while all teens (and I'm pretty sure it's ALL teens) fight with their parents, her dad breaking his five year sobriety doesn't help one bit.

10 Things I Can See From Here isn't all family drama, but that is a large part of it. In fact, the story really is how Maeve deals with the maelstrom that is her life. One things it's not is a coming out story. Maeve has already decided and pronounced that she likes girls, and she's comfortable with it. But there is a romance aspect to the story. And it's one of the better parts of the book, lifting Maeve out of what could really be six months of despair.

While Maeve is dealing with some heavy issues, Carrie Mac does manage to keep much of the story light. I think readers in search of a contemporary read with a relatable character will find much to enjoy in Maeve and her story.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Valiant by Lesley Livingston

Hey, readers! It's Wednesday!

Today I'm a stop on the official blog tour for Lesley Livingston's latest, The Valiant! Note there is a tour wide giveaway on this one, so be sure to scroll down to the Rafflecopter to enter!!!

Fallon is the daughter of a king. Trained in the art of war, she longs for the day she'll be named part of her father's royal war band. But on the eve she expects the announcement, her life takes a drastic turn. 

Snatched by slavers, Fallon finds herself captive on a ship bound for Rome. When they arrive, she and a fellow slave are chained and forced to fight for the auction audience - sold off as a pair to Julius Caesar's own gladiatrix training school. Now Fallon must fight for her life, her freedom, and the entertainment of the man responsible for the death of Fallon's own beloved sister.

Lesley Livingston's latest is fantastic! Really, really fantastic!

Set in ancient Rome, Fallon is the daughter of the chief of the Cantii tribe of Prydain aka Brittania. She's fierce and brave and hellbent on following in her mother's and sister's footsteps and becoming a warrior in her own right.

Unfortunately, her father has other plans even before she's taken off to Rome. But it all progresses rather quickly, in just a matter of a few pages actually. Livingston's pacing is lightning fast, with never a dull moment or even a chance to really breathe before Fallon finds herself in the thick of trouble - time and again.

Livingston deftly blends history and fantasy to create a realistic setting for Fallon's tale. And the idea that women were gladiators isn't part of the fantasy bit. In fact, Livingston notes that evidence has indeed been found to support the idea of female gladiators in Rome. And Fallon suits the role splendidly.

Fallon isn't alone in her training. Elka makes a wonderful friend and compatriot for our heroine. She also has plenty of foes to face off against - both in the arena and out. And there's even a love interest.

Given how the story began, I wasn't sure how I'd feel about the romance aspect of the tale. I did fear it might take away from the rest of the story. Fortunately I was proven wrong. The romance is set up early, and evolves a bit quickly, but more believably than not.

I have to say The Valiant is really an excellent read and definitely one with great cross-over appeal for both teens and adults - especially those craving something in the historical vein. And I'm super excited to have discovered that there will be a sequel too - Livingston announced just last month that The Defiant is due out next spring!

Rating: 4/5

And now for the giveaway! As mentioned above, this is a tour wide giveaway hosted by the publisher. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before March 13. Open US only, ages 13+.

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