Best Books I Read In: February (and you should too!)

Best Books list for February! I read a lot this month, but didn’t find as many gems.

thicker than water coverThis was a ’16 debut I was highly anticipating, and I’m pleased to say it floored me. The writing was beautiful and dealt with so many things like grief and guilt and denial. Plus complicated family and sibling relationships that leapt off the page. I’m always impressed with non-linear stories that pull it off, just like this book did. We jump back and forth between Cecelia becoming a dealer and her dealing days to the present where she’s in the midst of a trial for her brother’s death and in treatment. A wonderful, well-executed novel for sure!

Amazon || B&N || Goodreads

 

 

 

symptoms coverI did not expect to love this book as much as I did. I was a little iffy on the voice for the first few chapters because there were some awkward sentences and cliche phrases, but thankfully that didn’t become an issue. Riley’s voice was beautiful, rich, and humorous. I was also concerned this would become a preachy book on the woes of social media, but it wasn’t that, either. Instead this was a complexly drawn (is that a thing?) novel about identity, and I adored it. Riley is gender-fluid, an orientation I’m ashamed to admit I don’t know a lot about. Riley deals with bullying, anxiety, family drama, and a growing internet presence Riley’s not sure how to handle. And through it all this novel never feels dark or like an “issue” book, as they are sometimes called. It’s just a really well told story that touches on timely subjects.

Amazon || B&N || Goodreads

Have you read either of these books? What did you think? What are your favorite recent reads?

Happy Book Birthday, REBEL OF THE SANDS!

downton abbey happy dance feels freaking out

rebel of the sands cover

real life or fantasy

REBEL OF THE SANDS is a special book to me. I love it the way people love the Harry Potter books or Tolkein or Narnia. It was the first fantasy I read that said everything I needed it to, that was everything I needed it to be.

Amani, thank you for being rebellious and selfish and so unabashedly yourself. Thank you for being a feminist. Thank you for kicking major ass. Thank you for the sass. Thank you for feeling lost. Thank you for losing your way. Thank you for finding your way.

Jin, thank you for your perfect face (and chest). Thank you for being a feminist (swoon). Thank you for your loyalty. Thank you for your traitor eyes. Thank you for your devotion–which I guess could be loyalty, but don’t ruin this with logic. Thank you for your Jin-ness which I’m just realizing I don’t really know how to explain without divulging the entire plot.

Shira, thank you for being so unabashedly yourself, no matter how insufferable you can be.  *Shira-stan flag flies*

Shazad, thank you for your epic-nose breaking-badassness. Thank you for taking risks and fighting for what you believe in.

Ahmed, thank you for your ideals. Thank you for your belief in the people you love. Thank you for the rebellion.

Delila, Imin, Bahi, *smothers you all in hugs*

These characters are as precious to me as the Golden Trio or the Fellowship. This world is as beautiful as Hogwarts and Middle Earth, with myths and fairy tales weaved into the narrative and brimming with magic on every page.

The happiest of book birthdays to you, REBEL OF THE SANDS, and my friend, Alwyn Hamilton. You have crafted a magnificent story I have read over and over again with the same levels of enthusiasm each time, and I expect many readers will feel the same.


~ABOUT THE BOOK~

rebel of the sands coverTitle: REBEL OF THE SANDS
Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Pub Date: March 8, 2016 from Viking Books for Young Readers/Penguin/Faber + Faber
Amazon: Buy it!
B&N: Buy it!
Waterstones: Buy it!
Book Depository: Buy it!
Goodreads: Add it to your shelves 
or borrow it from your local library 🙂

Find Alwyn on tour around the US with other Penguin authors!

She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from.

Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him…or that he’d help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.

 

The Tsar’s Guard: THE CROWN’S GAME Soundtrack + Giveaway

Hello and welcome to The Tsar’s Guard Parade!

The Tsar’s Guard are a legion of readers who are super excited for the release of The Crown’s Game. Read on for more info about this amazing book, take a listen to some beautiful instrumentals that remind me of the story, and enter the giveaway! Oh, and if you want to join The Tsar’s Guard, all the info is on Evelyn’s website (linked below!) and you should cause it’s awesome (secret emails!).

CrownsGame hc cAbout the Book:

Title: THE CROWN’S GAME
Author: Evelyn Skye
Release Date: May 17, 2016
Pages: 416
Publisher: Balzer+Bray
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Find it: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love . . . or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear . . . the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

About Evelyn:
Evelyn Skye head shot high res

Evelyn Skye was once offered a job by the C.I.A., she not-so-secretly wishes she was on “So You Think You Can Dance,” and if you challenge her to a pizza-eating contest, she guarantees she will win. When she isn’t writing, Evelyn can be found chasing her daughter on the playground or sitting on the couch, immersed in a good book and eating way too many cookies. THE CROWN’S GAME is her first novel. Evelyn can be found online at http://www.evelynskye.com and on Twitter @EvelynSkyeYA.

Website | Twitter |Facebook | Goodreads | Tumblr | Instagram


 

~The Crown’s Game Soundtrack~

russia tsar's guard russia.jpg

russia tsar's guard russia 2

*Picture this: Dueling magicians whose arena are the streets you take to school and to work, the bridge in the park you walk on a romantic evening stroll with your love, on a mysterious island that appears out of nowhere…

tsar's guard magician

*Picture this: A young girl leaves her village and journeys to the big city with only a token from her loving father. She is alone. She has a mission. She is powerful. And she will not lose.

lightning tsar's guardrussia magic wave tsar's guard

*Picture this: A boy sees a girl battle lightning. This boy soon realizes their fates are entwined in The Crown’s Game. The Crown’s Game can only have one victor.

tsar's guard russia 3.jpg

*Picture this: A young prince is trapped by duty and responsibility. His sister is more suited to the life planned for him. His mother is ill and his father hides dangerous secrets. He longs for a girl he saw best lightning, but destiny is a hard thing to escape.

tsar's guard ball.jpeg

*Picture this: At a masked ball, a prince can finally meet the lightning girl he’s been longing for. Two dueling magicians can finally share a dance.

russia tsar's guard magician 2russian tsar's guard 4

*Picture this: Two young magicians enter a game that can only have one victor. Two young magicians are intrigued by each other anyway.

russia fantasy tsar's guardjpg

*Picture this: A final showdown on a magical island that two magicians have made for each other. 

russia 5 tsar's guard

*Picture this: Two young magicians keep their promise to the Crown’s Game, and a young prince faces his destiny.

russia tsar's guard 6

fallen_crowntsar's guard


Enter the Giveaway! 

1 winner will receive an ARC of THE CROWN’S GAME. International.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

^^^ clicky 🙂
Here’s an image I really loved but wasn’t sure where to use.russia winter tsar's guard


 

tsar's guard banner

Find the complete Tsar’s Guard Parade Schedule at Evelyn Skye’s website!

ARC Review: THE DARKEST CORNERS by Kara Thomas

Holy shit, guys. I don’t even think this is going to be a review, but more like a deluge of feels.

darkest corners cover.jpgTitle: THE DARKEST CORNERS
Author: Kara Thomas
Pub Date: April 19, 2016 from Penguin Random House–Delacorte
B&N: Pre-order it
Amazon: Pre-order it
Goodreads: ADD IT NOW
Launch event at Books of Wonder on April 19!!!!

For fans of Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places and Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars, The Darkest Corners is a psychological thriller about the lies little girls tell, and the deadly truths those lies become.

There are ghosts around every corner in Fayette, Pennsylvania. Tessa left when she was nine and has been trying ever since not to think about it after what happened there that last summer. Memories of things so dark will burn themselves into your mind if you let them.

Callie never left. She moved to another house, so she doesn’t have to walk those same halls, but then Callie always was the stronger one. She can handle staring into the faces of her demons—and if she parties hard enough, maybe one day they’ll disappear for good.
Tessa and Callie have never talked about what they saw that night. After the trial, Callie drifted and Tessa moved, and childhood friends just have a way of losing touch.

But ever since she left, Tessa has had questions. Things have never quite added up. And now she has to go back to Fayette—to Wyatt Stokes, sitting on death row; to Lori Cawley, Callie’s dead cousin; and to the one other person who may be hiding the truth.
Only the closer Tessa gets to the truth, the closer she gets to a killer—and this time, it won’t be so easy to run away.

Thanks to Netgalley for granting me an e-arc.

Firstly, this book is some Courtney Summers level of feels. I was not prepared, nor was I expecting to fall in love with this book. I read the Prep School Confidential series, and thought it was just fine. It didn’t blow me away or anything, so I didn’t particularly have high hopes for this book. Then it got me. It just grabbed me right from the beginning.

This is a story of friendship, a broken friendship, where two girls are ripped apart by a single event and then brought back together because of that event. Tessa and Callie’s relationship is the heart of this book. The other heart is the relationship between Tessa, her sister, and mother. For a book all about violence towards women and the violence women do, this book had beautiful, fleshed out female relationships that never made the violence feel gratuitous or scintillating. This is a book about horrible things happening to women, and also about women living and breathing and making choices.

I could tell you I love Tessa and all the complexities that went into the choices she made as a kid and as a teenager. I could tell you I love how big this world was, full of all kinds of people that played major and minor roles in the mystery. I could tell you this is a story of how the world treats and values girls and women, but these would all just be massive understatements.

This would be one also: I absolutely love this book.

THE DARKEST CORNERS is a story about the people you thought you knew and all the ways you can never truly know someone. Gorgeous writing, tightly plotted, and rich characters make this a standout novel and one of my favorites.  

Cover Thoughts
secrets mouth full of colin
Does she not look like she has lots of SECRETS???

Favorite Quotes [from an ARC so check the final print version]
“The only reason they listened to our story as kids was because they needed it. No was ever really listening to us at all.”

“Nice girls are always the ones who get hurt. It’s like the universe gets some sort of perverse pleasure out of taking out the nice girls one by one, while the whole world watches and gets some perverse pleasure from mourning the loss of yet another nice girl.”

“Then the rest of the world forgot about Fayette, Pennsylvania, and all its dead girls.”

dead-from-the-feels1

Favorite Character
Tessa!!
this is insanity

ps I’ve literally just finished this book and am so far into my book hangover that I can’t do anything else but think about this book and want to yell at everyone about it.

Are you excited for THE DARKEST CORNERS?

ARC Review: INTO THE DIM by Janet B. Taylor

Check out what I thought about INTO THE DIM, which was pitched as a YA Outlander!

into the dim coverTitle: INTO THE DIM
Author: Janet B. Taylor
Pub Date: March 1, 2016 from HMH Books for Young Readers
Amazon: Pre-order!
B&N: Pre-order!
Goodreads: Add it to your shelves

When fragile, sixteen-year-old Hope Walton loses her mom to an earthquake overseas, her secluded world crumbles. Agreeing to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic, but also a member of a secret society of time travelers. Trapped in the twelfth century in the age of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hope has seventy-two hours to rescue her mother and get back to their own time. Along the way, her path collides with that of a mysterious boy who could be vital to her mission . . . or the key to Hope’s undoing. Addictive, romantic, and rich with historical detail, Into the Dim is an Outlander for teens.

Brittany recommended this book to me, so I was super stoked when Edelweiss granted me an e-arc.

Let’s do this review in list form!

The Bad

ugh hook ouat once

*Ummm… the slut shaming was so painful. Cut that shit out.

Examples:
“The redneck boys where I was from preferred girls like my cheerleader cousins. Size two. Blond. Busty. Brainless.”
First of all, stop perpetuating shameful and mean myths about cheerleaders. And blonds. And people who are slim or have big boobs. And also, do size 2 girls have big boobs? Wouldn’t that cause massive back strain?

“But then again, I’m not one of those slutty St. Sebastian girls.”
Umm… Hope, you just got to Scotland. You don’t even know anyone from St. Sebastian. And even if you did, rude and unnecessary.

There was also some ageism thrown in there (“How can someone so old move like that?” “Though you look pretty good for an old gal, I must say.”). It just really made for an unpleasant reading experience whenever it would appear.

*Historical inaccuracies. Rachel, a prominent Jewish character, tells Hope that her family came to England after her people were forced out of France. I was confused by this since in my Intro to Medieval History class we learned that Jews were not expelled from France until the 1300s. Furthermore, the first country to expel Jews was England (in the 1200s) (This book takes place in 1154). I did a little poking around online and found that Philip Augustus of France did expel Jews from his properties in 1182, but that’s still 30 years in the future.

*What makes this inaccuracy more uncomfortable is that Taylor’s England is super Anti-Semitic, which was just as painful to read as the slut shaming and ageism.

Examples:
“It sickens me that our king would allow a Jew to even enter his palace, much less tend to his queen.”
“…wondered what a Jewess had between her legs.”

“Until the Godless Jews are scourged from this land, decent Christian folk are not safe.”
“It’s a Jewess.” She snarled on the last word.
“How is it that you consort with our Hebrew brethren–” his lip curled at that–

It just feels super weird to embrace the anti-semitism, but not accurately reflect the Jewish experience in terms of expulsion. Unless I missed something in my digging and by the 1150s, Jews had been forced out of France. It is true that Henry II treated the Jews better than other monarchs, so in that regard Into the Dim is correct.

*The first third of the book is so slow! I thought there was a lot of stuff that could have been cut to move the plot along faster. Basically Hope gets to the manor and does a lot of wandering around, meets a boy, learns and trains for the trip back in time, there’s a super long flashback/diary entry that I skimmed…

*Speaking of backstory, the one with Hope/Bran takes a long time until she remembers/learns about it, and I found that so annoying. There were so many places she could have pushed him for more information, and she doesn’t. It felt like it was drawn out just for plot’s sake. Later she just hears a name and has an epic flashback which is oh so convenient (which goes along with another point below about not having to work for anything). Along with Hope being slow just for plot, in the midst of a dire escape while one of the main characters is dying, she just stops for a make out session, which screamed of ridiculousness to me. Yes, I was swooning, but um STAKES. You can make out when you get home and find penicillin.

*There was nothing really special about this book that made it stand out from any other YA fantasy. Special snowflake MC who is pretty but doesn’t know it, with 2 guys who are total opposites and mad about her. Sometimes I can overlook these things if they’re done well or with a twist, or something about the writing really grabs me, but not in this case.

*The MC and her friends didn’t have to work for anything. All the historical figures/adults in 1154 are already on someone’s side because they’ve had interaction with the rival time traveling families before. It really took all the anticipation away because the ‘bad guy’ was obviously in league with the bad time travelers and vice versa. I didn’t feel any stakes since everything was pretty much handed to them.

The Good

asfdgh emma

*Bran!! Swoony, funny, adorable Bran.
*Pretty epic backstory between Bran and Hope. I really liked it.
*Doug and Phoebe were SO cute!
*So were Rachel and William!
*Gosh just all the romance in this book!
*Hope being a boss and burning iron bars.
*Calling Collum on his hypocrisy. Great to see self-aware characters!

INTO THE DIM has all the romance of Outlander, but the slut shaming and lack of stakes hurt my overall enjoyment of the novel. 

Cover Thoughts
the royals eleanor bored annoyed eh

Favorite Quote (all quotes from an ARC! Not final.)
“William was cute in a medieval boy-next-door way…”

cutie alert agent carter

Favorite Character
Bran…

oh my god josh hutcherson

Waiting on Wednesday: THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN by Roshani Chokski

I’m so excited about this YA Fantasy!

Waiting on Wednesday Theme: OMG I WANT THIS BOOK NOW

treat yo self parks

the star touched queen coverTitle: The Star-Touched Queen
Author: Roshani Chokski
Pub Date: May 3, 2016 from St. Martin’s Press
Amazon: I’VE ALREADY DONE IT NOW YOU PREORDER TOO
B&N: OR HERE
Goodreads: Your shelves NEED this book

Cursed with a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, sixteen-year-old Maya has only earned the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her world is upheaved when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. But when her wedding takes a fatal turn, Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Yet neither roles are what she expected. As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds friendship and warmth.

But Akaran has its own secrets – thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Beneath Akaran’s magic, Maya begins to suspect her life is in danger. When she ignores Amar’s plea for patience, her discoveries put more than new love at risk – it threatens the balance of all realms, human and Otherworldly.

Now, Maya must confront a secret that spans reincarnated lives and fight her way through the dangerous underbelly of the Otherworld if she wants to protect the people she loves.

The Star-Touched Queen is a lush, beautifully written and vividly imagined fantasy inspired by Indian mythology.

Truth time: I’ve been looking forward to this book since Roshani announced she signed with her agent on Querytracker with a YA Indian Inspired fantasy. I followed her on Twitter right after that and was SO stoked when the deal announcement came. THIS BOOK. I haven’t read it so this is just hypothetical flailing about how amazing I expect it to be.

brb singing about my feelings

I love fantasy, I’m Indian, I’m all for girls finding their voice and power, I love romance, I love secrets, and lush world building, and pretty words, and I kinda love the ‘forced relationship to love’ trope. So I’m convinced this book is made for me.

PLUS THAT COVER. Mega swoon. That has to be one of the most perfect covers ever.

Are you excited for THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN? The only acceptable answer is ‘gcujksvdfghb YES.’

ARC Review: MAP OF FATES (Conspiracy of Us #2) by Maggie Hall

Check out what I thought of the second book in the high stakes CONSPIRACY OF US series!

map of fates coverTitle: Map of Fates
Author: Maggie Hall
Pub Date: March 8, 2016 from Putnam Juvenile
Amazon: Pre-order!!
B&N: Pre-order!!
Goodreads: Add it to your shelves

Two weeks.

That’s how long it took for Avery West’s ordinary life to change forever. In two weeks, she discovered she was heiress to a powerful secret society known as the Circle, learned her mother was taken hostage by the Circle’s enemies, and fell for a boy she’s not allowed to love, just as she found out another was her unwelcome destiny.

Now Avery crosses oceans in private jets to hunt for clues that will uncover the truth about the Circle, setting her mom and herself free before it’s too late. By her side are both the boys: Jack—steady, loyal, and determined to help her even at the expense of his own duty—and Stellan, whose connection to Avery grows stronger by the day, making her question what she believes at every turn.

But at the end of a desperate hunt from the islands of Greece to the red carpet at Cannes comes a discovery that not only changes everything, but could bring the whole world to its knees. And now Avery is forced to face the truth: In the world of the Circle, no one is what they seem.

Thanks to Dahlia Adler for her epic #MapofMates ARC giveaway!

I LOVED MAP OF FATES SO MUCH! I had high expectations for it since I loved book one so much, and it did not disappoint. It was one of my most anticipated sequels, as you know, since I did a Waiting on Wednesday post for it. I’m happy to report the plot did not unfurl the way I expected it to, and that was totally fine.

Here’s some backstory for you about me. When I read The Conspiracy of Us, I was intrigued by that beautiful cover, and the comp title to Ally Carter, who basically made my middle and high school reading life. I was obsessed with Gallagher Girls and Heist Society. Those books were some of my favorites. The last Gallagher Girls book came out my freshman year of college and it was so surreal for me to have started this series pre-high school and be reading the last book as a freshman in college. Anyway! I started Conspiracy of Us, got hooked on page one, but then Avery made some questionable decisions and the plot kind of descended into cliche territory. I kept with it, hoping the magic of page 1 would return, and once Prada happened–around the 80pg mark–I was totally back on board and in it to the end.

With Map of Fates, I was in it from page 1. This book grabbed me and did not stop. Avery had such great growth and dimension to her. I loved seeing new sides to her and seeing how all the madness was affecting her.

map of fates

In Conspiracy I shipped both sides of the love triangle, leaning a little more to Jack, but still open to Stellan. The second installment brought more shipping, and I think I’ve landed firmly in Stellan-land. Oh my gosh. Stellan. He just shines in this book. So there’s one specific scene that just had me dying and someone else might be dying in it too, but I shipped it so hard even though it maybe the most unsexy scene ever. Oh, wait, but then there’s another one with a head injury… and another with alcohol and bar stools. Ah! I just love it ALL.

On the Jack front, his character develops too, but it never feels like we’re learning these things about him to make us ship Avery/Stellan. It feels organic to his character, like we’re peeling back his layers. I just love really good character development.

Luc!! Elodie!! My babies! I love them. When we see Luc for the first time in this book is one of my absolute favorite moments of any book ever. I was laughing so hard I needed to snap a picture of the scene.

Clearly I love the main characters of this series dearly, but I also love the writing. It’s so readable and evocative. All the different countries are well drawn and even the other families of the Circle come to life in their own ways. Map of Fates delves deeper into the twelve bloodlines and I never got bored reading those scenes, like I was waiting until Avery joined up with her friends. I loved meeting all the characters and their worlds.

What about stakes, you ask?? Oh, well let me tell you. The stakes get bigger. Order vs Circle is not so clearly defined anymore and the consequences are far reaching. I mean, they always have been since the Circle basically controls the world, but they feel very grounded in this book.

There was one plot point that happens towards the end that felt a tad sudden. It didn’t have the emotional impact on me it should have because I found it rushed. But it’s a minor issue to me and I suspect it will have an effect on Avery in book 3, so maybe there will be more chance for development there.

The Conspiracy of Us and Map of Fates are super fun novels that define escapism. They’re such a joy to read, packed with excitement, adventure, and scorching romance. I’m so excited for book 3, but sad it’ll be the end of such a wonderful trilogy. I can’t recommend this series more highly! This is something I’ll definitely reread. And they’d make such great movies! Where are you, Hollywood?????

ps These books look great next to cats.

map of fates cat

Cover Thoughts
Think pink!!

Favorite Quote
Look, I want to share with you all the things that made me laugh and/or swoon, but you just need to experience it yourselves. Sorry not sorry.
peter-pan-sorry-not-sorry

Favorite Character
ALL OF THEM. I WILL CUDDLE THEM ALL.
my-babies belle ouat