Book Tour Review: The Shadow Sister by Lucinda Riley

Monday, April 24, 2017
Title: The Shadow Sister
Author: Lucinda Riley
Genre: historical, general fiction
Series: The Seven Sisters #3
Pages: 671
Published: April 18 2017
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 3/5

Travel through the lush English countryside and explore the magnificent estates of the British aristocracy in this next spellbinding love story in The Seven Sisters series by #1 internationally bestselling author Lucinda Riley.

Star D’Apliรจse is at a crossroads in her life after the sudden death of her beloved father—the elusive billionaire, affectionately called Pa Salt by his six daughters, all adopted from across the four corners of the world. He has left each of them a clue to her true heritage, and Star nervously decides to follow hers, which leads her to an antiquarian bookshop in London, and the start of a whole new world.

A hundred years earlier, headstrong and independent Flora MacNichol vows she will never marry. She is happy and secure in her home in England’s picturesque Lake District—just a stone’s throw away from the residence of her childhood idol, Beatrix Potter—when machinations lead her to London, and the home of one of Edwardian society’s most notorious society hostesses, Alice Keppel. Flora is torn between passionate love and her duty to her family, but finds herself a pawn in a larger game. That is, until a meeting with a mysterious gentleman unveils the answers that Flora has been searching for her whole life...

As Star learns more of Flora’s incredible journey, she too goes on a voyage of discovery, finally stepping out of the shadow of her sister and opening herself up to the possibility of love.

The Shadow Sister is the third in the sweeping Seven Sisters series, “soaked in glamour and romance” (Daily Mail) and perfect for fans of Downton Abbey and the novels of Kate Morton.

The third book in the on-going series and the strongest offering yet by a veteran timeslip author, The Shadow Sister is a return to the varied and interconnected lives of the seven daughters of the enigmatic Pa Salt. Imagined as a more modern retelling of the Pleiades, each successive novel has centered on a successive adoptive sister of a large, multicultural family. Recommended for fans of century-spanning plots from authors like Kate Morton, Star D’Apliรจse's current life is intertwined with that of Flora MacNichol, a woman who lived 100 years before and whose story is pivotal to the modern plotline.

Before with The Seven Sisters first eldest sister Maya and then Ally in The Storm Sister got to have their backstories told and now it is the turn of quiet, shy Star to take the center stage. The Shadow Sister is entirely her story, though others leave their mark on both her and the plot's progression. Leaving Atlantis to follow her path and find herself, Star finds a lot more than she could have expected, including the fictional inclusion of Beatrix Potter. Her story is long and winding; Lucinda Riley's style of storytelling lends itself to detail, description, and sometimes repetition. Star is an able main character; despite her flaws she's engaging and likeable. It's easy to invest in her, even if sometimes her decisions are frustrating. Flora is a good complement and foil for Star, but I found her plotline somewhat less compelling. I was interested to see how it would conclude and connect but it was Star that pulled attention.

The various locations shown in the book are another highlight to reading The Shadow Sister -- the bookstore! London! Beatrix Potter's house! The settings for Flora before and for Star now can be both evocative and atmospheric. As I said, Riley is an author that tends to be rather descriptive -- which benefits that pivotal aspect of their stories. On the other hand, there's no denying that The Shadow Sister is a very verbose book. Almost 700 pages is a lot of story to cover and certain elements of the plot can feel overly-drawn out at times. The way the narrative alternates between the past and present is a favorite structure of mine and can be used to showcase new angles to the central story, but some of it feels unnecessary and repetitive here.

Despite the occasional spot of uneven pacing, narrative repetition, or an overly-anticipated plot reveal, The Shadow Sister is a engaging blend of two women's stories of life and love. The "silent sister" of the seven, in this Star finally finds her voice, and Lucinda Riley ends her third novel in a good position to launch the fourth.

Review: The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence by Alyssa Palombo

Saturday, April 22, 2017
Title: The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence
Author: Alyssa Palombo
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Published: expected April 25 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 5/5

A girl as beautiful as Simonetta Cattaneo never wants for marriage proposals in 15th Century Italy, but she jumps at the chance to marry Marco Vespucci. Marco is young, handsome and well-educated. Not to mention he is one of the powerful Medici family’s favored circle.

Even before her marriage with Marco is set, Simonetta is swept up into Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici’s glittering circle of politicians, poets, artists, and philosophers. The men of Florence―most notably the rakish Giuliano de’ Medici―become enthralled with her beauty. That she is educated and an ardent reader of poetry makes her more desirable and fashionable still. But it is her acquaintance with a young painter, Sandro Botticelli, which strikes her heart most. Botticelli immediately invites Simonetta, newly proclaimed the most beautiful woman in Florence, to pose for him. As Simonetta learns to navigate her marriage, her place in Florentine society, and the politics of beauty and desire, she and Botticelli develop a passionate intimacy, one that leads to her immortalization in his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.

The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is a fantastic historical fiction rendition of the rich life of one of Florence's most celebrated women, the educated and vibrant young woman who inspired one of the Renaissance's most renowned artists. Simonetta Cattaneo (later Vespucci) left her mark not only on art and history, but also on the men and women in her life, from the powerful to the poor. Though she is remembered for her early and tragic death as much as for her influence as an artistic muse, in Alyssa Palombo's second novel Simonetta comes vibrantly to life.

Alyssa Palombo's novel retells the daily life and loves of Simonetta through her years in Florence, inventing and substantiating where history is unclear or when necessary to connect the various dots. The careful approach the author took to interpreting the known parts of Simonetta's history with her own inventions to facilitate the plot in The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is both smart and helps create an authentic representation. Her version of Simonetta is a believable product of her times and still understandable and relateable; confined by strictures of society and marriage, Simonetta never ceases demanding respect and her due. With the small amount of choice left to her before and after her wedding, Palombo's slow building of the star-crossed relationship between Boticelli and Simonetta feels like a small window of freedom, rather than a sin.

Though Simonetta is a well-drawn, three-dimensional and the main character, she shares the stage in The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. The city of Florence itself looms large over the story and the characters. Its history and politics, its atmosphere  - all of that is omnipresent and unique and almost tangible. Palombo describes her Italian city-state with detail and a talent for visual imagery; a city on the rise with the ideas of rebirth and art and faith is easy to envision under her pen. The powerful Medici family, ever-associated with Florence and its art, are also key players in many of the dramatic moments of Simonetta's personal life. Both Lorenzo and Giuliano are historically linked to her, as is their associate Sandro Botticelli. The romance between Sandro and Simonetta is emotionally rich and devastating. 

This novel was so good it made me immediately go buy the author's debut about Vivaldi, The Violinist of Venice. With her keen eye for detail, fantastic historical characters, obvious knowledge and research about the time and place and people concerned, Alyssa Palombo is able to faithfully recreate and invigorate the life of a fascinating woman. The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is evocative and entertaining in equal parts; sure to please fans of other Italian-centric historical fiction writers like Sarah Dunant and Marina Fiorato.

April Book Haul

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Godblind by Anna Stephens

 For fans of Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, and Mark Lawrence comes a brutal grimdark fantasy debut of dark gods and violent warriors.

The Mireces worship the bloodthirsty Red Gods. Exiled from Rilpor a thousand years ago, and left to suffer a harsh life in the cold mountains, a new Mireces king now plots an invasion of Rilpor’s thriving cities and fertile earth.

Dom Templeson is a Watcher, a civilian warrior guarding Rilpor’s border. He is also the most powerful seer in generations, plagued with visions and prophecies. His people are devoted followers of the god of light and life, but Dom harbors deep secrets, which threaten to be exposed when Rillirin, an escaped Mireces slave, stumbles broken and bleeding into his village.

Meanwhile, more and more of Rilpor’s most powerful figures are turning to the dark rituals and bloody sacrifices of the Red Gods, including the prince, who plots to wrest the throne from his dying father in the heart of the kingdom. Can Rillirin, with her inside knowledge of the Red Gods and her shocking ties to the Mireces King, help Rilpor win the coming war?

I had been doing pretty well at not buying books... and then Book Outlet had a sale and free shippinh. So that quickly sank me.

The epic order:

The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell
The Island of Excess Love by Francesca Lia Block (Love in the Time of Global Warming #2)
The Red Lily Crown by Elizabeth Loupas
Updraft by Fran Wilde (Bone Universe #1)
Tandem by Anna Jarzab (Many-Worlds #1)
Ember Island by Kimberly Freeman
Falls the Shadow by Stephanie Gaither (Falls the Shadow #1)
Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay (Sarantine Mosaic #1)
Lord of Emperors by Guy Gavriel Kay (Sarantine Mosaic #2)
The Purple Shroud: A Novel of Theodora by Stella Duffy
Echoes of Us by Kat Zhang (Hybrid Chronicles #3)
The Judgement of Caesar by Steven Saylor
Royal Romances: Titillating Tales of Passion and Power in the Palaces of Europe by Leslie Carroll
Up to this Pointe by Jen Longo
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (Akata Witch #1)
Pointe by Brandy Colbert
A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry
Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins
Miss Mayhem by Rachel Hawkins (Rebel Belle #2)
The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
The Girl on the Golden Coin: A Novel of Frances Stuart by Marci Jefferson
The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

 and then I bought some more from the same sale four days later because I am incorrigible:

The Pilgrims by Will Elliott (Pendulum #1)
Shadow by Will Elliott (Pendulum #2)
World's End by Will Elliott (Pendulum #3)
Black Ships by Jo Graham (Numinous World #1)
Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler

Review: Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Title: Spindle Fire
Author: Lexa Hillyer
Genre: fantasy
Series: Spindle Fire #1
Pages: 368
Published: expected April 11 2017
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 4/5

Perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo, Spindle Fire is an enthralling, wholly original reimagining of a classic faerie story.

Half sisters Isabelle and Aurora are polar opposites: Isabelle is the king’s headstrong illegitimate daughter, whose sight was tithed by faeries; Aurora, beautiful and sheltered, was tithed her sense of touch and voice on the same day. Despite their differences, the sisters have always been extremely close.

And then everything changes, with a single drop of Aurora’s blood, a Faerie Queen who is preparing for war, a strange and enchanting dream realm—and a sleep so deep it cannot be broken.

Spindle Fire is a tour-de-force fantasy set in the dwindling, deliciously corrupt world of the fae and featuring two truly unforgettable heroines, from a writer destined to be a major voice in YA.

Another fantasy/fairy tale retelling from HarperTeen, Lexa Hillyer's solid retelling of Sleeping Beauty stands out from its many counterparts due to its scope and ambitious storytelling. Innovative, fun, and far-reaching, this is a great blend of two genres. Told in present tense and closely focused on two very different sets of sisters, Spindle Fire incorporates the familiar parts of the Sleeping Beauty story and pairs them with inventions and adaptations all its own. A unique and creative look at one of our most popular fairy tales, Lexa Hillyer's detailed and original look at the story of Aurora (and now Isabelle) makes for a great series beginning.

Aurora is the crown princess of her country, and Isbe is the bastard elder daughter of their father. The two siblings share the narration of Spindle Fire; each girl's plotline is fresh, engaging, and distinct in both  voice and tone. One sister had her sight tithed to the fae, and the other had touch and voice tithed in return for gifts from the supernatural creatures. Despite their wildly varying circumstances and states in life, the two girls are close, even forming a ASL-like language only they can understand. Their bond is true and authentic despite convention and expectation, but still fraught and complicated. The relationship between the two girls is layered and important; it also provides the drive for most of the plot's progression. After the infamous spindle, Isbe's journey to save her sister at all costs is compelling and believable because we are shown the depth of their love for one another.

Contrasted neatly against the two human sisters' present struggles is the history of two powerful fae sisters named Malfleur and Belcoeur. Their messy past informs the present of Isbe and Aurora's current circumstances; the two opposing narratives are tied together rather cleverly using magic and a spindle. Without venturing too far from the usual path of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, Hillyer manages to create an extensive, intricate history for the two fae and then ties it to Aurora's sleeping curse. The effects of the two sister's deteriorating relationship are widespread; felt even in the world-building and culture of the present world of Isbe and Aurora. Hillyer spends a lot of time in Spindle Fire building or revealing the relationships between her characters and it makes their interactions richer and more meaningful, as shown with first Isbe and Aurora, and then when Malfleur and Belcoeur are involved.

Strong writing, solid worldbuilding, and great characters made Spindle Fire a very fun and fully entertaining read. This story shines the most when it directly concerns the relationship between either pair of sisters. Unlike the complexity shown of those relationships, I found that the various romances being set up for the princesses didn't really work for me. The potential is there for both Isbe and Aurora's love interests to become more shippable in the next book - at least if Hillyer avoids the pitfall of using a tired trope like love triangles.

Spindle Fire is a clever, very enjoyable blend of fantasy and fairy tale; the first in a duology, it makes for an engrossing read that is ably plotted and quickly moving.


Top Ten Books I Have Never Read

Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Top Ten Tuesday is all thanks to The Broke and the Bookish! This lovely header is thanks to APR's own Dani.

This week I've decided to out myself for the books that I have never ever read. Try not to shun me too much, okay?

1. The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner
I actually tried chapter one of book one and was not pulled in.. but I keep seeing it recc'd and I keep buying the sequels... so maybe one day.

2. Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi (Shatter Me #2)
I couldn't I'm sorry, I tried. I made it through 1.5 books of this but Mafi's writing just does not fit with this series and it feels so overblown and purple and not even Kenji was enough. I loved Furthermore, though.

3. Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
I basically KNOW I will love this and yet??? I fail.

4. Unwholly by Neal Shusterman (Unwind #2)
Unwind was big deal to me -- I felt very intensely about that book and still do. I am half scared the rest of the series is going to ruin what that book meant to me.

5. The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
So I love All Things Sanderson, yes. But for some reason I look at this book sitting on my shelf and think, "ehh, maybe later." Maybe it's cause the title makes me think of math?

6. The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh (The Wrath and the Dawn #2)
So I liked but did not love The Wrath and the Dawn. I am also not sure it needed to be a series. So I do own this, and have for months, but I would bet on many more before I start it.

7. Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #11)
I just... can't.

8. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
I bought this because yessss gay wizards but haven't cracked it because the Simon Snow parts were my least favorite of Fangirl.

9. Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey (Heralds of Valdemar #1)
Though I have read a lot of her books (hard not to since she is prolific af), somehow I have missed her most popular and recommended series.

10. The Foundation series by Isaas Asimov
Science fiction staple that I perennially say "I will get to this!" I have never gotten to it. [nerdshame]

Backlist Review: YOLO Juliet by Brett Wright, William Shakespeare

Sunday, April 16, 2017
Title: YOLO Juliet
Author: Brett WrightWilliam Shakespeare
Genre: classics, humor
Series: OMG Shakespeare #1
Pages: 112
Published: May 26th, 2015
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.75/5

Romeo and Juliet, one of the greatest love stories ever told . . . in texts?!
Imagine: What if those star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet had smartphones? A classic is reborn in this fun and funny adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays!

Two families at war.
A boy and a girl in love.
A secret marriage gone oh-so-wrong.

and h8. The classics just got a whole lot more interesting. ;)

tl;dr A Shakespeare play told through its characters texting with emojis, checking in at certain locations, and updating their relationship statuses. The perfect gift for hip theater lovers and teens.

A glossary and cast of characters are included for those who need it. For example: tl;dr means too long; didn’t read.

There's a story in the history fandom that Romeo & Juliet was originally written as a comedy. The tale goes that when Shakespeare originally put on the production, then a satire of the Greek-inspired tragic love stories that were en vogue in Elizabethan times, his patron/the audience/whomever saw the play didn't get it. Instead of laughing at the absurdity of two thirteen-year-olds bringing about the mutual destruction of their families in less than 48-hours, the audience was weeping over our eponymous teens. Shakespeare, biting his thumb at those who didn't appreciate his brilliance, rewrote and expanded the play into what we know now, but left enough snark in that those smart enough to read between the lines would get it. While it's true R&J went through substantial rewrites, of course there's no proof the play was ever meant to be completely humorous. If anything, its status as a tragedy IS the subversion. The first two acts set up a comedy (happy) ending, (think Shakespeare's other instalove plays, Much Ado... and A Midsummer Night's Dream,) before Mercutio's death sends our heroes careening into death and the destruction of their houses.

That's not to say R&J is a super serious story or that it was written for a particularly high minded crowd. The first few acts have a decidedly comedic flair as Willie makes a point to show this feud has reached absurdity, with party crashing and servants passive aggressively starting shit in the street. This is obviously best illustrated by the thumb biting scene which, translated into the modern tongue, proves to be not that deep:

“they can say whatever the hell they want I don’t care I’ll say ‘fuck you’”
“did you just flip the bird at us?”
“I did flip the bird, yeah”
“but did you flip it at US?”
“yo bruh if this starts a fight how easily can I get out of trouble”
“not very”
“So like I flipped the bird but it TOTALLY wasn’t at you”

I definitely see how the "secret comedy" rumor got started.

We as a society have studied Shakespeare for so long that his work has been universally elevated, even the dick jokes and middle fingers. Like Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes , Yolo Juliet is a book that sets out to demystify a subject through comedy. It plays the story big and broad with an absurdist bend, emphasizing the quick nature of the relationship and Romeo's mercurial romantic feelings.

The first two acts work shockingly well. The texts between Benvolio, Mercutio, and Romeo feel like a bunch of bros at a party. Romeo accidentally "checking in" to the Capulet house, leading to Tybalt seeing his status was a really funny way to do that interaction. I DIED at Lady Capulet signing all of her messages. It's such a mom thing.

The fifth act, however, is a complete fail. The texting conceit falls apart when everyone is in the same place. Paris' death is very clunky, one line he tells Romeo if he comes to the tomb they'll fight, the next "#dying ... RIP, me." Plus the Facebook death update had already been used for Tybalt so it felt done. I also hated the last relationship status update and the comments from the living cast. It felt corny.

The book is short - 92 pages devoted to the play. Obviously things are left out. The Queen Mab speech is reduced to two sentences. The "bite my thumb" scene, which seems tailored to the conceit, is also missing. You'll get the broad strokes, but not the nuances. What I'm saying is, don't use this as the SparkNotes for your English paper, unless your teacher has a real sense of humor.

Parts of Yolo Juliet are really funny and I think it's great to look at the classics with a bit of levity. I know the Globe Theater is modernizing a lot of the Bard's works, combining modern costuming and music with diverse sexualities, races, and genders to bring in a new, younger audience. I mean, this is a playwright who, once you realize "no thing" was a double entendre, performed a play called "Much Ado About Vaginas". <i>Yolo Juliet</i> is what he would have wanted.

Emma Rice's 2016 Bollywood-inspired A Midsummer Nights Dream at The Globe Theatre

Ageless Discussions: Recollecting

Friday, April 14, 2017

I've always loved books but I haven't always collected them the way I do now. Lately I have been in the habit of trying to track down hazily-remembered, favorite childhood reads. The ones that I loved, secretively or loudly and were formative in how I approach and appreciate novels even now. The ones I took out from the library and never returned (I'm sorry but Daine and Numair!). Some of these books I've managed to hang onto in the twenty-something years since that first reading (A Royal Pain --- like the Princess Dairies but funnier!), but others have gotten lost: in the various moves of college, in those times later in teenage years when you decide you're "so over" anything younger-you loved.

Sometimes this is an easy process. I can remember the title, the cover, or the author's name. This is how I re-collected most of my childhood collection. I bought the boxed set of the Samantha stories last year, for example.

Other books are harder for me to remember, or just harder to track down a physical copy. In the case of the latter, there is one book (Walk Through Cold Fire - an 80s YA obviously inspired by The Outsiders even to a reader who has never read The Outsiders) that is veeery hard to get nowadays. I knew I had a copy so one afternoon last year was spent by me tearing apart every bookcase, box, cabinet I owned to find my tattered copy -- just to make sure I still had it, could read it when I wanted.*

The worst ones are the books where I can vaguely remember the plotline and but I intensely remember how that book made me feel. I'm left scrambling key words on Google ("a girl named Scottie wants to be a writer but the publisher wants her to pay") , sending out echoes of inquiries into Twitter (a book where a girl gymnast moves to a new school and falls for a boy gymnast! His sister's also a gymnast!) in the hopes that someone out there has had the same thought or has read the same book.

(Those are The Great Mom Swap by Betsey Haynes and Head Over Heels by Lurlene McDaniel.)

The worst is when my memory is good enough to remember things like there was a love interest named Francis... but not the main character's name. I could remember that the main character's cousin had come visiting from California and that a pool (???) and murder were somehow part of the plot. For a couple weeks, I would reword that info and google or Bing the key words.

It ended up being My Crazy Cousin Courtney and its several sequels. I found it by Bing-ing (boy that does not sound as good as "googling") "90s book about a cousin visiting from California" -- and then checked the IMAGES not the links that returned. Or in another case, searching various combinations of "girl moves from California and her dad makes snow shovels." (This was The Year My Parents Ruined My Life by Martha Freeman.) I eventually found it only because after nights of trying to remember more, the name of the town it was set in - Belletoona - surfaced in memory.

I think the reason I have decided to recollect these books is that I can now see a lot of them influenced the kind of reader I became. Clemence McLaren's Inside the Walls of Troy was the first historical fiction novel I remember reading and it made more than a lasting impression. (I loved it so much I forgot to return my friend's copy. I was a terrible child.) To this day, Hector is my first and most beloved book boyfriend. Though it's a light and probably silly read, the sheer happiness that flooded my body when I found My Crazy Cousin Courtney shows how much younger-me loved that book. The title is problematic and now that I am older I know that, but I will be buying this come pay day. I feel I owe it to... myself.

There are still other books from childhood I am trying to find or remember and it's definitely becoming more of a goal for me going forward as a reader.

What about you? Are there any books out there you've searched years for? That you can kinda remember but not really?

Or have you read any of these random novels I attached way too much investment in?

*not available in kindle, and even if it were, NOT THE SAME when I loved my physical copy to the point of having to self-laminate the cover.**

**I taped it with clear tape, okay?

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