Monday, June 22, 2015


Published by Virago Press, 1999. 472 pgs

*This is my first review since revising my review process. If you'd like to see why I decided to change the format, please click here.*

Nancy Astley is a young woman who grows up working in her parent's Oyster House in 1880's Whitstable- a small harbour town in Kent, England. When her sister Alice begins dating a boy whose Uncle is the Canterbury Palace Manager, the sisters embark on nightly adventures to the Music Hall. Nancy quickly falls in love with the glamor and atmosphere, but mostly attends for the thrilling performances of one Kitty Butler. This is a novel about her coming to terms with her sexuality, dealing with changing family relationships, first love, the highs and lows of show business, and ultimately trying to find happiness after major life setbacks. 

I was looking forward to reading Water's debut novel since completing Fingersmith and loving her writing style and storytelling ability. Waters is great at depicting lesbian characters, and brings nuance and feeling to an area that was lacking in fiction. She also lavishly explains the theater experience and joy of entertainment. I love Victorian settings, and she is masterful at bringing them to life.

I appreciate her openings to this one, she provides basic info on the main character through a series of questions (hypothetically posed to an outsider who might have visited her restaurant when she was young):  "Do you remember the bulging sign that hung above the door, that said that Astley's Oysters, the Best in Kent were to be had within?....Can you recall the chequered cloths?....Were you served by a girl with a rosy cheek, and a saucy manner, and curls?" The author is also great at foreshadowing without giving specifics away: "I should have remembered this, later" or "I could not know soon we would collide, nor how dramatically." I adore her writing.

However, while I was sucked along because of the prose and descriptions, I hated the story. It felt like a cycle of porn, sadness, and desperation. The main character realistically resorts to common destructive behaviors, but never seemed to have redeeming value. I felt little empathy for Nancy and her plight, and thus wanted the story to end. It made me squeamish and often repulsed, which made me feel a bit prudish. I feel I've read rougher content, but the disturbing transformation in this is just jarring. This was simply not my bag, but I'm sure it has it's audience. Waters is immensely gifted, so I will continue with her other works- this was just not my cup of tea in any way.


(Would have been two stars if the writing weren't fantastic!!)

Thursday, June 18, 2015


**I received this e-ARC from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review- all thoughts and opinions are my own**
Published by Harlequin Teen, expected Aug 25, 2015. Hardcover, 384 pgs. 

When I went to Book Expo America this year, I encountered a woman near the restrooms decked out in full Queen regalia. Intrigued, I later realized said lady was Eleanor Herman, signing Advanced Review Copies of Legacy of Kings in the Harlequin teen booth. Unfortunately, I was scheduled to be in lines on both days she was doing signings, so was pleased as punch to receive a Net Galley approval for this title.

Also, I just read a book called The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and it was fabulous, so reading two Eleanor's in a row seemed auspicious.

First in a new series called Blood of Gods and Royals, this Historical Fiction/Fantasy Young Adult novel is a retelling of Alexander the Great. Herman focuses on several sets of characters in different Kingdoms to highlight how Alexander first showed signs of greatness in battle, how his relationships affected his leadership and perceptions, and his coming of age to be one of the most spectacular Conqueror's and Tacticians the world has ever seen.
Goodreads Description

CHARACTERS: The first scene worried me- Kat and Jacob, friends since birth in the small village of Erissa, get gushy immediately. There were "shivers" and "body tingles" in the first few pages. There also seemed to be a good deal of Gale and Katniss throwback from The Hunger Games. Most obviously in Kat's name, the mimicking of "he's not just my dorky childhood friend anymore" sentiments, and finally that both duos are heading to bloody tournaments! Luckily Kat and Jacob get separated for most of the story, so this annoyance went away quickly (but could possibly resume later).

Also, there is a Tyrrhian dwarf named Timaeus. This could have been a strange coincidence, but Game of Thrones is so popular for Tyrion Lannister (also a dwarf!) that I was surprised the author went with this name choice. Call me nitpicky, but similar character traits, as well as extremely similar name association from very current popular shows and books, seems to detract in my humble opinion. Perhaps she was paying homage, or maybe it was unintentional? Not sure.

I liked the strong female characters in Alexander's sister Cynane, Kat with her animal magic, the Persian Zofia, and even the evil but fascinating Olympias. Herman was wonderful in her portrayal of women in this time....the majority having no value besides being sexual playthings or child-bearers for the kingdom. As stated in one section, they often "Lead lives of frustration, boredom, and resentment."

Herman is ambitious with her characters, and this will be conducive to fleshing out the series in the future.

WRITING: The writing is not highly literary, but it suits the story and is incredibly atmospheric- which is a huge requirement for this type of book. My favorite expositions were on the elements of magic and the battle between Gods and Monsters. I was happy she gave reasons and explanations for the magic. When this element is left intentionally vague in other books, like a "you're supposed to reach your own conclusion" situation, it mostly feels (fairly or unfairly) like the author had trouble articulating the magic in the first place. Kudos Herman!!

WORLD BUILDING: I was totally engrossed in this Empire. The historical tidbits felt real, especially the smell of incense in the markets, the descriptions of places in the palace like the Royal Laundry, and the evocative rituals and ancient magics. Very hypnotic!

PACING: The book excels in pacing, particularly the battle scenes. The action moves along appropriately and doesn't feel rushed or overly lengthy. I always felt like I knew who was fighting who, the location and progress of battle, and who was winning. I appreciated the ease of reading these sections. There was good handling of what can often be tedious, violent scenes. War is by nature violent (I know reader, I'm laying down shocking, brand new info here!) but Herman managed well and didn't linger excessively on gruesome details.

PLOT: Political intrigue and battles are not new topics, but my forays into this category are usually the World War II time period variety, so I quite enjoyed my jaunt to 340 B.C. Herman is a Historian and this is evident in the mixture of real facts with the sprinkling of fiction. There was lots of information she had to sift through and I thought it was a job well done in picking and choosing what was relevant to her narrative.

FINAL RATING: 4 STARS. These days I seem to go into Young Adult with trepidation. I'm happy to say I was pleasantly surprised with this story, especially the strength of the last half in setting up for future books. Herman paced her story better than a lot of my recent fantasy reads, the characters were well-crafted, and I liked the period detail and magic.

In Herman's acknowledgements, she makes mention of  how "The most cunningly crafted novels are an easy read, which can lead to the mistaken belief that very little skill is required." While this might seem a touch self-indulgent, I found this to be utterly true in her work. The book felt easy and pleasurable to read, but not because of being simple or watered down- just a capable author handling an epic story. Keep a lookout for this one, I predict it will be popular in the fall. The second installment is already slated for September 2016. I look forward to seeing the buzz and reviews, and will likely continue the series.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Published by Little Brown (division of Hachette Book Group), 2013. Hardcover, 830 pgs.

SUMMARY: I have so many thoughts and feels on this story that I will begin with two of the only less-than-stellar elements of the book:
1. The cover is beyond bleh. For a super large book, the design is critical in attracting attention and if I were in a bookstore (without having heard the buzz and award-winning status), I would have passed it on by. This would be a shame as the author is extremely talented. Unfortunately, judging a book by it's cover is often a reality if the reader hasn't heard anything about the story.
2. The length is daunting. I heard about this on a podcast, bought it as soon as it came out, and even when it won the Man Booker Prize in 2013 still let it languish on my shelves. Thankfully my Booktube friends Yamini from The Skeptical Reader and Elena from Elena Reads Books had the same issue and proposed we finally buddy read it in June. I'm so grateful they did!

This whopper has tons of polarizing reviews on Goodreads and I'd like to offer a helpful tip if you're interested but nervous about starting...GOOD NEWS! If you love the writing style of the first 30 pages, you're in a for a treat as it stays consistent throughout as the mystery deepens. If you find it verbose and stylistically unappealing, stop. Love it or hate it is a strong and general assumption to make, but I really feel like this is a particular type of book to enjoy. We are avid and varied readers, and this reviewer has a "no shame" in not-finishing a book policy. We have too little time in this life to slog through unrequired reading.

The basic rundown-A mining town in New Zealand in 1866. A hermit is found dead in his cottage with a considerable fortune, a prostitute has attempted to commit suicide, and a rich prospector has disappeared....all on the same night in January. Every type of person and shenanigan is involved and it is the hottest of messes. A secret meeting of twelve gentlemen is held in the Crown Hotel a couple weeks after these events to discuss the connections that might bind them to these unfortunate situations. "Men united less by beliefs than shared misgivings."

WRITING: I adored it. Heavily literary, it reads like a Victorian classic. Here's a good litmus test of whether this book would work for you:
"For human temperament was a volatile compound of perception and circumstance; Moody saw now that he no more could have extracted the true Shepard from Nilssen's account of him than he could have extracted the true Nilssen from his portrayal of Shepard." (pg. 392)
If you would prefer the author to have simply said, "Judge people for yourself" this might not be your type of book. I loved her use of language and the themes it let her explore with these flawed characters.

CHARACTERS: Catton can set a scene like nobody's business. She captures the nuances of a person's expression or snippet of dialogue. At the very beginning, Walter Moody meets Thomas Balfour in the lounge and they embark on this weird social dance- using subtle turns of phrases and questions to gleam info from each other without being overt.

The people are often affected, pretentious, and struggling with their version of the truth. It is a deep character study with lots of long, clever observations that feel like soul-bearing confessions. "He seized an idea, only to discard it immediately, if only for the reason that it was no longer novel to him; he started in all directions at once. This was not at all the mark of a fickle temper, but rather, of a temper that is accustomed to enthusiasm of the most genuine and curious sort, and so will accept no form of counterfeit- but it was, nevertheless, something of an impediment to progress." (pg. 82).

PLOT: This interconnected story becomes more and more intricate- and is not your usual straightforward mystery. Astronomy (specifically the stellar and planetary positions) play an important role in the telling . Someone who has knowledge or a keen interest in this subject would appreciate the way this thread was woven into the story perhaps more than I.

PACING: I like how the reader is fed bits and pieces of character and story over time, and you don't get all the information up front. It felt more natural to life, and less info-dumpy all in one place. Granted, this makes for a long book, but everything felt thorough. Around page 340 there is a nice summary of connections that pull the story thus far into focus. I suppose fifty pages or so could have been eliminated for argument's sake, but I'm not sure where.

Whatever side of the fence you're on, it's hard to ignore the author's immense talent in breathing this story into life. I love literary fiction because I enjoy how a skilled writer can take something simple like "walking down the street with a sideways glance", and turn it into a brilliant thought or conjure up some evocative image that makes me see something in a whole new light. This is one of my very favorite things about reading.
Catton is merely thirty, and I'm greatly anticipating her future work!

Sunday, June 7, 2015


 Published by Tor, 2004. Hardcover, 399 pgs.

SUMMARY: Neville Hawthorne is a fine British gentleman who has been thwarted from his archeological ambition of discovering the tomb of Neferankhotep, part of the legendary Buried Pyramid. Aided by a travel journal, and a group which includes a linguist, Sergeant/native guide, and his orphaned niece, Hawthorne is determined to finish a journey that started years before- to satisfy his curiosity and achieve a historical personal goal: "for some evidence that all the great grand things we've been told happened in the past can't be reduced to fossils and mental aberration". 

However, this adventure story is fraught with peril as warnings from a mysterious "Sphinx" and a rival group appear to threaten their findings, and of course, their lives.

WRITING: Reviewing aside, the tiny font made me feel my age as it tested my bad eyesight. I loved the language and snark that Lindskold brought to these stuffy Victorian characters. She also had great storytelling ability in her historical accounts of pharaohs and the ways in which retribution is enacted concerning tomb-raiders.

The dialogue is well written: An example of this is a scene when Jenny, Eddie, and Stephen are camping and have a debate on religion and the important tenets of each. It somehow manages to be informative, funny, and at the same time inoffensive- a difficult balance to strike considering the subject matter.

CHARACTERS: I found this is where the story excelled. I saw negative reviews on Goodreads which stated the characters seemed flat and contrived. I concede the point a little...I think Lindskold provides enough personality and backstory for each without delving too much into past histories and emotions. The main storyline wouldn't support a deep character analysis, as the goal of the book is to take the reader on an Egyptian, Indiana Jones-type magical adventure story.

However, the characters were so grandiose, quirky, and affable that I fell in love with them all the same. I loved the lesser-used physical descriptions of facial hair to lend the characters personality...Lindskold describes mustaches as having "customary exuberance" and "theatrical flourishes". Stephen Holmboe, the linguist, has such an outdated fashion style and bushy side-whiskers and mustache that he resembles "an enormous ambulatory dandelion". Captain Brentworth is given a short description (bottom of pg. 41) that nails his appearance and mannerisms in just a few sentences.

The author also cares about her reader. When Neville exasperates with his "weaker-sex" opinions on females, in waltzes his niece Jenny or Lady Cheshire with a scathing remark to take him down a peg or two. He eventually realizes that all women aren't consumed with the latest fashions or finding a husband, and also won't die from strenuous activity or spicy foods that "could possibly upset one without a strong constitution." It's a long path of redemption for this guy, but he does make strides.

Also, there is a character named Chad Spice. What a fantastic name! Brock from the YouTube channel Let's Read posted a comment to the Goodreads #buriedreadalong group that he immediately envisioned the man from the Old Spice TV commercials.

PACING: My opinion might be colored from my last novel, which was almost 800 pages and quite slow in places. I found this story moved appropriately along with trip preparations and the journey, with most of the action taking place in the last one hundred pages of the story.

PLOT: The basic idea of a quest to find treasure is not a new one, but Lindskold masterfully blends exotic elements and unusual characters to make this a fun adventure. Also, there is some attraction and flirtation, but the story doesn't suffer from unnecessary romances to bog down the narrative.

WORLD BUILDING: The book is so incredibly atmospheric. From the details of camel rides, pyramids, the sweltering desert heat/grittiness of sand, and the colorful bazaars, you are blasted right into the rich locales.

For whatever reason, I enjoyed the first half of the book a bit more than the last half. Even though you don't have to know Egyptian history or mythology, I think that would have been a bonus. The book also switches more toward magical realism near the end, which isn't a surprise since the book is leading you in this direction all along. There is commentary on religious belief, judgement, and the afterlife- "There are many types of kindness, and many types of law, but in the end truth and justice are the bed rock upon which good lives are built." Being a decent person is a great prevailing theme!

I really like Jane Lindskold's writing, and once again Tor Fantasy books have not let me down. This is a great book for those who love history, puzzles, adventure, and sharp writing. Thumbs up from this gal!

Thursday, June 4, 2015


 Published by Daw, 2008, mass market paperback, 772 pgs.

Goodreads Review of Inda (Inda #1)

SUMMARY: It feels good to be doing written reviews after a couple weeks hiatus for the amazing BookExpoAmerica experience! I won't write an in-depth summary of The Fox here since it's a sequel and I don't want to spoil readers for book one. Suffice it to say that Inda is still on the high seas and fighting pirates. Crew changes, battles, and political intrigue still run rampant throughout the various parts of the kingdom as the Venn continue to threaten the waters.

 WRITING: If each book weren't so long, I would definitely have marathoned the series. This is no fault of the writer, rather my lack of time the past couple of months to devote to a large page count series. Smith puts great detail and thought into her work. You can tell that these characters have lived inside her head for quite some time due to the detail provided in their personalities and family connections. At times this seemed a hindrance- as the reader got their bearings on the place and characters in question, more were added and muddled the mix a bit. However, her writing is rich and detailed, if cumbersome at times. She also provides good dialogue on character motivations and what shapes personalities (page 88).

CHARACTERS:  I love the ladies in this series. They are really coming into their own from the shadows. Hadand, Joret, Tdor, and Queen Wisthia are smart and cunning, and Smith delighted this reader with further exploration of their inner turmoil and plans. This novel satisfies certain "comeuppances" that have been brewing for royal characters (male and female) for some time. Since the story is told from an omniscient narrator, we get the perspective of those in power...which is not always an enviable position. I hope I'm being sufficiently cryptic so that you'll pick the book up!

PLOT:  The plot thickens...hahaha. Seriously though. Ramis the Knife, the magic of Norsunder, and the and illusive Sea Dags and Mages add to mysteriousness of the story and battles. A large betrayal by a supposed ally drives the story forward by solidifying a questionable relationship, and creating another course of direction for Inda and his friends.

WORLD-BUILDING: As I mentioned in the writing portion, Smith obviously loves this world due to her painstaking attention to detail and connections throughout the kingdoms of people. Physical descriptions of a region's citizens, occupations, smells of the region, and types of food preferred are normally mentioned for each major area.

PACING: I still had the same trouble with book two as the first one. The slew of names, situations, and house histories often bogged down the action. However, I felt so accomplished when I made the proper connections and finished the story.


Here's the biggest takeaway for me and advice for potential reader's of this series: Don't drive yourself crazy with the details. If you try to memorize everything you will drive yourself bonkers. Think big picture stuff unless you have a freakishly good memory (which sadly, I'm not blessed with). Know 1) who's fighting who, 2) the general location said fighting is occurring, and 3)outcome and implications. I felt more emotionally invested with these characters and the series with the completion of this book...partly because of the massive number of pages I've read, but mostly because I simply enjoy the story more after learning the proper way to read it. If you're looking for a world to get completely immersed in and don't mind a more challenging read, this series will suit the bill nicely.