Book Review: The Seer by Sonia Orin Lyris

Book Review: The Seer by Sonia Orin LyrisThe Seer by Sonia Orin Lyris
Published by Baen on March 1, 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 656
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads
5 Stars
The debut of a stunning new talent. A poor, young woman rises to the heights of a crumbling empire, where she must speak hard truth to power in order to save a world from chaos.

Everybody Wants Answers. No One Wants the Truth.

The Arunkel empire has stood a thousand years, forged by wealth and conquest, but now rebellion is stirring on the borders and treachery brews in the palace halls. Elsewhere, in a remote mountain village, a young mother sells the prophesies of her sister, Amarta, in order to keep them and her infant child from starving. It's a dangerous game when such revelations draw suspicion and mistrust as often as they earn coin.

Yet Amarta's visions are true. And often not at all what the seeker wishes to hear.

Now in a tapestry of loyalty, intrigue, magic, and gold, Amarta has become the key to a ruler's ambitions. But is she nothing beyond a tool? As Amarta comes into her own as a seer, she realizes she must do more than predict the future. She must create it.

Book Review:

THE SEER is a complete, well developed, dark, realistic, and intriguing fantasy. While I would like another book (I’m greedy!), it was refreshing to get such a story in one volume, rather than having to wait and wait for sequels.

Amarta’s visions provide just enough coin to keep herself, her older sister, and her sister’s son alive. When Innel wakes her in the middle of a night to see his future, Amarta gets an inkling of what she’s capable of, for she helps Innel kill his brother. Innel eventually marries the heir to the realm and becomes one of the most powerful men in Arunkel, all because of Amarta’s vision. And then Amarta’s visions keep her and her family alive, when Innel sends men to hunt her down.

Because of the summary, I expected THE SEER to be all about Amarta, but a big portion of the book focuses on Innel. Once I got into his sections, I didn’t mind that at all, because I really enjoyed the world the author created. Innel is a survivor of the Cohort, where noble children are whittled down to a few survivors, one of whom will marry the king’s daughter. Words, actions, and even appearances matter in Arunkel, and I enjoyed seeing Innel navigate the tricky nobles and the power-hungry king while also keeping his new wife happy. I often complain about the lack of worldbuilding in fantasy novels, but THE SEER had plenty to keep me happy. Yay!

Amarta’s visions were quite interesting. She could use them to save her life, but often only in the moment, as the future is ever changing. When she used her visions for another, I thought the author did a good job of showing how confusing it would be to sort out the tangles and intricacies of an entire kingdom. It reminded me of “if a butterfly flaps its wings…” Her visions, and the way people listened (or didn’t) made me think.

I also want to give a shout out to the author’s version of mages. They were spookily cool. I liked the hints we got of Marisel’s training, as well as seeing her try to do her little bit to help humanity when other mages would only work for the wealthy.

I do feel that the book was a tad long. I could have done with less of Amarta running away from Innel’s hunter. But that was because I wanted to see more of the Amarta we get at the end of THE SEER, which is why I said I’d like another book in this world. The one chapter from Cern’s perspective also made me want to see more from her. For all of the buildup, I feel like the ending came too quickly. But the ending satisfied me, which is another thing I don’t usually say.

Overall, I really enjoyed THE SEER. I finished the book a few days ago, but I’ve found myself thinking about Amarta and Innel and Arunkel, which is rare for me, since I read so many books. THE SEER immersed me in its world and characters and story, and this is a book I’ll enjoy rereading in the future.

Socialize with the author:

Sonia Orin Lyris:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

Book Review: The Rivals of Versailles by Sally ChristieThe Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie
Series: The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy #2
Published by Atria on April 5, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 448
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads
5 Stars
And you thought sisters were a thing to fear. In this compelling follow-up to Sally Christie's clever and absorbing debut, we meet none other than the Marquise de Pompadour, one of the greatest beauties of her generation and the first bourgeois mistress ever to grace the hallowed halls of Versailles.

I write this before her blood is even cold. She is dead, suddenly, from a high fever. The King is inconsolable, but the way is now clear.

The way is now clear.

The year is 1745. Marie-Anne, the youngest of the infamous Nesle sisters and King Louis XV's most beloved mistress, is gone, making room for the next Royal Favorite.

Enter Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a stunningly beautiful girl from the middle classes. Fifteen years prior, a fortune teller had mapped out young Jeanne's destiny: she would become the lover of a king and the most powerful woman in the land. Eventually connections, luck, and a little scheming pave her way to Versailles and into the King's arms.

All too soon, conniving politicians and hopeful beauties seek to replace the bourgeois interloper with a more suitable mistress. As Jeanne, now the Marquise de Pompadour, takes on her many rivals - including a lustful lady-in-waiting; a precocious fourteen-year-old prostitute, and even a cousin of the notorious Nesle sisters - she helps the king give himself over to a life of luxury and depravity. Around them, war rages, discontent grows, and France inches ever closer to the Revolution.

Enigmatic beauty, social climber, actress, trendsetter, patron of the arts, spendthrift, whoremonger, friend, lover, foe. History books may say many things about the famous Marquise de Pompadour, but one thing is clear: for almost twenty years, she ruled France and the King's heart.

Told in Christie's witty and modern style, this second book in the Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the world of eighteenth century Versailles in all its pride, pestilence and glory.

In May, I will be on the blog tour for this book. Remember to stop back for a guest post from author Sally Christie!

Book Review:

Last year, I rather enjoyed THE SISTERS OF VERSAILLES, Sally Christie’s first foray into the women of Louis XV. So I was eager to see what she had in store for Madame de Pompadour. I read THE RIVALS OF VERSAILLES twice, so it’s safe to say I enjoyed it as well!

Between my reads of the book, I actually went back and reread THE SISTERS OF VERSAILLES. It was quite interesting to see the evolution of the king in two books. His initial hesitation at straying from the queen in book one to visiting whorehouses set up by Pompadour in book two.

Because a lot of my reading of that period in French history has centered on Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, I didn’t realize how much Louis XV contributed to the downfall of the monarchy. But after reading THE RIVALS OF VERSAILLES, and seeing how men around the king tried to manipulate the women in his life, to have power over the king through those women, I saw how his behavior and decisions left his grandson a perfect storm.

In the Note from the Author, Sally Christie says that the Marquise de Pompadour was one of the most powerful women of the 18th century. I think the author showed that power quite well, displaying the influence Pompadour had over government decisions, but also the charitable and artistic contributions she made.

Some of the book is written in Pompadour’s point-of-view, but there are also sections from three of her enemies/want-to-be-mistresses. By using those other POVs, the author showed how Pompadour did something incredible: she remained Louis XV’s official mistress without being able to bed him. Pompadour’s evolution was just as interesting as the king’s, as she went from bourgeois to marquise. There’s this scene where her landscaper wants her to move an entire village of people to improve the view, and she does it, because that’s what nobility does.

THE RIVALS OF VERSAILLES is very readable. I like the author’s style. Her writing drew me in, and I felt like I was there, watching events unfold. It was like reading a historical soap opera, but one that had substance along with the fun fluff.

Socialize with the author:

Sally Christie:
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– leeanna

Book Review: America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Book Review: America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura KamoieAmerica's First Daughter by Laura Kamoie, Stephanie Dray
Published by William Morrow on March 1, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 624
Format: eARC
Source: Blog Tour, Edelweiss
Goodreads
5 Stars
In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.

From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.

It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.

Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father's reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.

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america's first daughter by stephanie dray and laura kaomie blog tour

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie. Having enjoyed Stephanie’s work in the past, I was interested in seeing her tackle early American history. The tour is hosted by Inkslinger PR and you can visit all the stops here. After my review, there’s a tour-wide giveaway.

Book Review:

As much as I like historical fiction — which is a lot — I rarely read about American events. I’m much more interested in ancient times and lands, but when I saw Stephanie Dray as one of the authors of AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER, I knew I had to look at the book. I enjoyed Dray’s stories in the collaborative historical fiction books A DAY OF FIRE and A YEAR OF RAVENS, so I was sure that if anyone could get me interested in America’s early days, it would be her.

AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER is the story of Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph, or Patsy, as she was called before her marriage. I knew absolutely nothing about her, and not much about Jefferson other than common facts. Now that I’ve finished AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER, I’m blown away by how much I’ve learned. Not just about Jefferson and Patsy, but about America’s early political troubles, plantation life, slavery, and the role and expectations of women in Colonial America. The authors obviously did an immense amount of research, and they imparted that knowledge without letting it overwhelm the narrative.

The book starts off just after Jefferson’s death, with Patsy taking up what might be the most important task of her life: editing her father’s letters to preserve his image forevermore. In the process of sanitizing his words, she looks back at her entire life, detailing the incidents written of in the letters she burns. One example: the authors do believe Jefferson had a long affair with his slave, Sally Hemings, and that relationship threads through Patsy’s life, her views on it changing as she journeys from teenager to wife to mother. Sally’s predicament, and that of her children with Jefferson, also affect Patsy’s views on slavery.

The book is Patsy’s, but it’s also the story of Jefferson through the eyes of his devoted daughter. Patsy spends her entire life trying to protect and care for her father, sometimes at the expense of her own happiness. Because AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER spans so many years, it’s a great way to see Patsy eventually come into her own, trying to embody her father’s ideals about independence in time where women were essentially the property of their husbands or fathers. It’s also interesting to see Jefferson as a father and man; I could see why Patsy idolized him, but I also wanted to shake some sense into her at times.

AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER is quite long. But I appreciated the length, as it’s the epic saga of a famous family. The authors covered so many episodes of Patsy’s life that I can’t believe they left anything out. But they did, as they explain in the Author’s Note. I do think the beginning of the book, covering Patsy’s childhood, was a bit slow. But once the book got going, the authors hooked my attention, and I devoured the rest of it. I particularly liked the writing style: very readable, but with just enough old fashioned style to help set the historical period. There are a few difficult passages about domestic abuse, but the authors do present an argument for its historical accuracy. Lastly, it’s impossible to know that two people wrote this book, which is always a good thing with co-authored works.

In AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER, the authors breathe life into a little known but very important historical figure. Martha Jefferson Randolph literally was America’s first daughter as she filled the role of first lady for her father. I can’t believe I didn’t know more about her before this book, so I’m grateful to the authors for writing such an engrossing character and interesting me in the history of America’s earliest days.

Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*giveaway is tour-wide

About the authors:

author stephanie draySTEPHANIE DRAY is an award-winning, bestselling and two-time RITA award nominated author of historical women’s fiction. Her critically acclaimed series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into eight different languages and won NJRW’s Golden Leaf. As Stephanie Draven, she is a national bestselling author of genre fiction and American-set historical women’s fiction. She is a frequent panelist and presenter at national writing conventions and lives near the nation’s capital. Before she became a novelist, she was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the stories of women in history to inspire the young women of today.
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Newsletter | America’s First Daughter Website

author laura kamoieLAURA KAMOIE has always been fascinated by the people, stories, and physical presence of the past, which led her to a lifetime of historical and archaeological study and training. She holds a doctoral degree in early American history from The College of William and Mary, published two non-fiction books on early America, and most recently held the position of Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy before transitioning to a full-time career writing genre fiction as the New York Times bestselling author of over twenty books, Laura Kaye. Her debut historical novel, America’s First Daughter, co-authored with Stephanie Dray, allowed her the exciting opportunity to combine her love of history with her passion for storytelling. Laura lives among the colonial charm of Annapolis, Maryland with her husband and two daughters.
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– leeanna

Book Review: Front Lines by Michael Grant

Book Review: Front Lines by Michael GrantFront Lines by Michael Grant
Series: Soldier Girl #1
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on January 26, 2016
Genres: Alternate Universe, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 576
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
5 Stars
1942. World War II. The most terrible war in human history. Millions are dead; millions more are still to die. The Nazis rampage across Europe and eye far-off America.

The green, untested American army is going up against the greatest fighting force ever assembled—the armed forces of Nazi Germany.

But something has changed. A court decision makes females subject to the draft and eligible for service. So in this World War II, women and girls fight, too.

As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, three girls sign up to fight. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman are average girls, girls with dreams and aspirations, at the start of their lives, at the start of their loves. Each has her own reasons for volunteering. Not one expects to see actual combat. Not one expects to be on the front lines.

Rio, Frangie, and Rainy will play their parts in the war to defeat evil and save the human race. They will fear and they will rage; they will suffer and they will inflict suffering; they will hate and they will love. They will fight the greatest war the world has ever known.

New York Times bestselling author Michael Grant has created a masterful alternate history of World War II in Front Lines, the first volume in a groundbreaking series.

Book Review:

FRONT LINES is a brilliantly imagined and wonderfully told alternate history of WWII. A Supreme Court decision has extended the draft to all US citizens regardless of gender. But will men welcome women into their ranks? What does the enemy think?

FRONT LINES is told through the eyes of three very different girls. Rio is the classic all-American small town girl, maybe fighting for her dead sister, maybe for the disatisfaction she feels with the expectation of being a wife and mother. Rainy is Jewish, determined to use her brains in intelligence to do her part to fight Hitler. Frangie is African American, has dreams of being a doctor, but has to deal with racism and sexism while trying to save lives.

The author doesn’t try to sanitize the anti-Semitic, racist, and/or sexist attitudes of the 1940s. All the girls deal with those attitudes, from their fellow soldiers and up the chain, as well as their families and the people around them. I appreciated the honesty, and that the author didn’t stick with just Rio’s perspective for the book.

FRONT LINES is one of those books I just loved. I devoured it. I could have read another 500 pages about Rio, Rainy, and Frangie, as well as America’s first steps into the war. The action takes place in Tunisia, the Battle of Kasserine Pass. Most YA WWII historical fiction is set in Europe, so it was good to see a different area.

The author has a way of drawing you into the book, building on the little things and the experiences the girls undergo, to really ramp things up. The beginning of FRONT LINES is a little slow, but well worth it. I also liked that Grant spent a good amount of time on everyone’s training. I always enjoy that, but I also thought it was a good way to show how some male opinions on women in the forces changed. As well as to show how important friendships were for the girls, as they needed others who understood exactly what they were going through.

Considering how much I loved FRONT LINES, it’s going to be a long, long wait for the next Soldier Girl book!

Socialize with the author:

Michael Grant:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Arena by Holly Jennings

Book Review: Arena by Holly JenningsArena by Holly Jennings
Published by Ace on April 5, 2016
Genres: New Adult, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, NetGalley
Goodreads
5 Stars
A fast-paced and gripping near-future science fiction debut about the gritty world of competitive gaming...

Every week, Kali Ling fights to the death on national TV.
She’s died hundreds of times. And it never gets easier...


The RAGE tournaments—the Virtual Gaming League’s elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a no-holds-barred fight to the digital death. Every bloody kill is broadcast to millions. Every player is a modern gladiator—leading a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses.

And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real.

Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world—until one of her teammates overdoses. Now, she must confront the truth about the tournament. Because it is much more than a game—and even in the real world, not everything is as it seems.

The VGL hides dark secrets. And the only way to change the rules is to fight from the inside...

Book Review:

I’m a long time gamer, so my review of ARENA might be a bit biased. But if you’re a gamer and/or have always wanted to check out the virtual world, this might be the book for you. The idea behind ARENA is super fun, the execution is good, and there are just enough pop culture references to classic games to add to the geeky atmosphere.

Kali Ling is a warrior. Every week she fights to the death in the RAGE tournaments, watched by millions around the world. Move over, football and soccer and basketball. Gamers have taken over as the star athletes in 2054. Games have evolved as well, to the point where gamers plug into pods and play with their entire bodies in an immersive world.

There’s virtual sports, racing, RPGs and more. The RAGE games are a classic example of capture the tower PVP, played by teams of five. This season, Kali is making history — she’s the first female team captain in RAGE. But Kali’s not so sure she’s up to the challenge. She’s dealing with the death of a teammate, melding his replacement into the team, the expectations of the team’s owner and the media, and her own increasing frustration at being a cog in the virtual machine. It’s a lot to juggle, and Kali has to keep the team from losing anymore games while dealing with all of that, because if they lose one more time, they’re out of the tournament.

As a gamer who would love to set foot in World of Warcraft, I loved the idea of Kali and her team playing in virtual reality. Fighting the other team and defending their tower to the death. Death doesn’t kill them in real life, but real life injuries transfer to the game. I especially liked that the gamers had to be skilled in real life at martial arts and weaponry — if you can’t swing a sword in real life, you aren’t killing anyone in the game. It’s logical. The evolution from watching gamers stream on Twitch to watching them play in Super Bowl like matches makes sense, too.

I liked that ARENA detailed a lot of the team’s training and matches. I geek out over that sort of stuff, and I also enjoyed Kali’s efforts at team bonding with classic games like Mario Kart. I could tell the author had really thought about how virtual sports would work, such as regular athletes not being able to cross over successfully, because they don’t have gaming experience. Jennings also considered how celebrity status could impact the gamers, talking about drug abuse, anxiety and depression, and virtual reality addiction. There’s even some dialogue on women in gaming, Kali’s Chinese background, and finding a balance between virtual life and real life.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the romance between Kali and Rooke in ARENA. At least it wasn’t the dreaded insta-love, but something about it just felt a little off. To me, it would have made more sense if they stayed friends, but then I’m usually critical of romances.

Overall, I had a ton of fun reading ARENA. It’s a fun book, with lots of gaming action, but it also delves into a few deeper topics. I believe this is a standalone, but I’d enjoy seeing more of Kali. Based on her journey during ARENA and the ending, I think she has a lot more story to tell.

ARENA’s over 9000!

Socialize with the author:

Holly Jennings:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta SepetysSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Philomel Books on February 2, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
5 Stars
The author of Between Shades of Gray returns to WWII in this epic novel that shines a light on one of the war's most devastating—yet unknown—tragedies.

In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia, and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

Book Review:

I’ve studied World War II for years. I’ve read countless books, both nonfiction and fiction, and watched a lot of documentaries. My undergrad degree is even in history. But somehow, before SALT TO THE SEA, I’d only heard about the Wilhelm Gustloff once.

One mention of such an immense tragedy.

I’m thankful to Ruta Sepetys for writing SALT TO THE SEA. I always enjoy historical fiction that introduces me to something I didn’t know before, which she certainly does. But more than that, the author has such a deft, confident hand that I could sense the amount of research she did and the respect she has for the survivors and victims of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Sepetys doesn’t overwhelm you with her knowledge, but inserts it subtly, weaving it into the backstories, thoughts, and actions of the characters.

SALT TO THE SEA is told through the eyes of four characters. Joana is Lithuanian, a nurse who always wants to help people in need, even if helping them might place herself in danger. Florian is Prussian, a boy with a pack of secrets. Emilia is Polish, a girl on the run from unspeakable horrors. Alfred is German, a member of the Kriegsmarine, and loyal to Hitler’s every thought. By using characters of different nationalities and loyalties, the author is able to show the many sides of Operation Hannibal, when Germany evacuated soldiers and citizens ahead of the Red Army.

The “chapters” in the book are short, often 2-3 pages before hopping to another character. For the first few chapters, this bugged me a bit, as I couldn’t get to know anyone with such short chapters. Then I got used to it and liked the short chapters, because the sparseness was more impactful than overloading me with details would have been.

SALT TO THE SEA is one of those rare books that I’ll be thinking about for a while.

Socialize with the author:

Ruta Sepetys:
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– leeanna

Book Review: House of Rejoicing by Libbie Hawker

Book Review: House of Rejoicing by Libbie HawkerHouse of Rejoicing by Libbie Hawker
Series: The Book of Coming Forth by Day #1
Published by Running Rabbit Press on May 31, 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 369
Format: eBook
Source: Own
Goodreads
5 Stars
House of Rejoicing is Libbie Hawker's long-awaited return to the lush decadence and dark power of ancient Egypt.

In the waning years of Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty, when female power can only come at an unsettling price, four royal women struggle against the shadowy influence of Akhenaten, the infamous heretic Pharaoh. Akhenaten wields control of a strange, emerging religion unlike anything Egypt has seen. His power can’t be denied, but whoever can maintain her grip on the unpredictable Pharaoh will hold all of Egypt in her hands—and better still, will remain mistress of her own fate.

Tiy, once the undisputed might behind the throne, must choose to relinquish her hard-won influence, or manipulate the innocent in order to secure her hold on Akhenaten’s leash. Kiya, an idealistic foreign princess, will win Akhenaten with love—if he’s capable of feeling love at all. The celebrated beauty Nefertiti will use the Pharaoh for her own ends, turning the tables of a deadly political game to free herself from her ambitious father’s grasp. And Sitamun, kept imprisoned as the Pharaoh’s plaything, will defy the gods themselves to save her daughter from a similar fate.

Book Review:

I don’t usually review books I read for pleasure anymore, but I had to review HOUSE OF REJOICING. It’s the start of a new ancient Egyptian historical fiction series set during the Amarna period. AKA when Akhenaten raised the Aten above all other gods.

I’m always looking for good ancient Egyptian historical fiction. I’ve read a lot, but I always come back to Libbie Hawker (previously under the pen name L.M. Ironside). I’ve read her Thutmoside saga 3 times, so I was excited to see her tackle Akhenaten and Nefertiti. I like Hawker’s books because she grounds her stories in what’s known, but then makes educated diversions. I also feel like I’ve travelled back in time, thanks to the plethora of details and scene setting. I never feel like I’m reading about modern characters with an Egyptian window-dressing.

And then we get to the characters. Hawker takes the classic Akhenaten is crazy approach, but in a way that I found scary. Sometimes when authors go for that angle, he’s just laughable in his craziness. But in HOUSE OF REJOICING, Akhenaten is scary-crazy. And the author lays a better foundation for his craziness and focus on the Aten than I’ve read before, by spending a lot of the book on the end of his father’s reign.

HOUSE OF REJOICING is written from the viewpoints of four women. Kiya, a Mitanni princess sent to wed Amunhotep. Tiy, Amunhotep’s Great Wife. Sitamun, Akhenaten’s sister. And Nefertiti, raised by her father to be the next pharoah’s Great Wife. None of these women are fully good or bad; I liked and disliked all for various reasons, and also empathized with all of them. I like the way the author envisioned each of these women. Nefertiti is the ambitious beauty she’s always written as, but here she’s more than that. We see why she supports Akhenaten in his quest to glorify the Aten above all other gods. Partly for her own ambition, but also because she sees how dark the future could be, and that supporting Akhenaten might be the only way to gain any shred of control over him. And so on, with each character.

If you like ancient Egyptian historical fiction, I can’t recommend Libbie Hawker highly enough. I’m already looking forward to my next read of HOUSE OF REJOICING, and to the rest of the series.

Socialize with the author:

Libbie Hawker:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick NessThe Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Published by HarperTeen on October 6, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
5 Stars
What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

Award-winning writer Patrick Ness’s bold and irreverent novel powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

Book Review:

Most of the YA books I’ve read in the past few months have blended together, either just okay or blah, books with a good premise but bad execution, or books that have unrealistic romances (for me) or whatever. I had THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE sitting on my shelf to review, and boy, do I regret not reading it sooner instead of trudging through the sea of blah.

In THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE, there’s some kind of supernatural invasion or trouble going on, but instead of following the Chosen Ones, aka the indie kids, the book is about Mikey and his friends. They’re ordinary. They just want to make it through senior year before something blows up the school. Again.

Each chapter starts off with a short bit about what the indie kids are up to, and those short bits read a lot like the average YA supernatural/paranormal romance. And then it’s back to Mikey and his friends, who are trying to sort out their comparatively mundane (but no less important) problems. Mikey’s dealing with OCD, anxiety, and having a crush on Henna. Mikey’s sister, Mel, is a recovering anorexic, whose past is thrust back in the spotlight now that their mom is running for the US Congress. Mikey and Mel are each other’s rock, and they’re both there for younger sister Meredith, because mom’s busy with politics and dad’s an absent alcoholic.

I connected with every character in THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE. For the first time in a while, I eagerly flipped each page, because I had to know what happened next. Usually I’m not a big fan of contemporary — I need something extra to spice things up — but here, everything was just so real. The book felt authentic to me in a way many YA books don’t. I appreciated the author’s honesty and realism on various subjects: talking about sex, having sex, friends choosing to be family and being there for one another, that hardness you feel when you’re almost an adult but your parents still make decisions for you, anxiety about leaving behind everything you know, etc.

Plus, there are some great talks between Mikey and his psychiatrist, such as taking medication isn’t a failure, and that mental illness isn’t anyone’s fault, and it’s as real as any other medical problem.

Socialize with the author:

Patrick Ness:
Website
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: A Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica’s Rebellion

Book Review: A Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica’s RebellionA Year of Ravens by E. Knight, Kate Quinn, Russell Whitfield, Ruth Downie, S.J.A. Turney, Stephanie Dray, Vicky Alvear Shecter
Published by Knight Media on November 17, 2015
Genres: History
Pages: 440
Format: eARC
Source: Blog Tour
Goodreads
5 Stars
Britannia: land of mist and magic clinging to the western edge of the Roman Empire. A red-haired queen named Boudica led her people in a desperate rebellion against the might of Rome, an epic struggle destined to consume heroes and cowards, young and old, Roman and Celt . . . and these are their stories.

A calculating queen sees the sparks of revolt in a king’s death.

A neglected slave girl seizes her own courage as Boudica calls for war.

An idealistic tribune finds manhood in a brutal baptism of blood and slaughter.

A conflicted warrior hovers between loyalty to tribe and loyalty to Rome.

A death-haunted Druid challenges the gods themselves to ensure victory for his people.

An old champion struggles for everlasting glory in the final battle against the legions.

A fiery princess fights to salvage the pieces of her mother’s dream as the ravens circle.

A novel in seven parts, overlapping stories of warriors and peacemakers, queens and slaves, Romans and Celts who cross paths during Boudica’s epic rebellion. But who will survive to see the dawn of a new Britannia, and who will fall to feed the ravens?

blog tour a year of ravens a novel of boudica's rebellion

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for A YEAR OF RAVENS by Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney, and Russell Whitfield. This is a very unique book, one I enjoyed quite a bit. After my review, there’s a tour-wide giveaway. The blog tour is hosted by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, and you can visit all the stops here.

Book Review:

I’m not a huge fan of short stories. I’d rather read a whole book about the same characters and their stories. But last year, I read A DAY OF FIRE, which showed the last days of Pompeii through six different characters in six different stories. All of the characters interacted in some way, and there were several plotlines that carried through the whole book. I really enjoyed A DAY OF FIRE, and so when I saw several of the same authors (and some new ones) were coming together to write about Boudica, I couldn’t wait to start it.

The beauty of a book like A YEAR OF RAVENS is that if one character’s point of view doesn’t interest you, you can easily skip to the next chapter and see events through someone else’s eyes. I personally enjoyed every section, but the book is written in such a way that you won’t be lost if you don’t like a certain section.

Boudica is someone I’ve always been interested in, but somehow I’ve never read much about her. A YEAR OF RAVENS doesn’t have any sections from her viewpoint, but by seeing her through the eyes of those around her, as well as her enemies, I feel like I got a great idea of the woman she might have been. Because there are so many viewpoints and the book doesn’t focus just on Boudica as a character but the overall rebellion, I also got a great picture of all the events leading up to and during the year of battle.

The viewpoints in the book include:

  • Queen Cartimandua, a client queen who did not revolt against Rome
  • Slave girl Ria, the illegitimate daughter of King Prasutagus of the Iceni
  • Roman Tribune Gnaeus Julius Agricola
  • Andecarus, an Iceni tribesman hostaged to Rome at a young age
  • Druid Yorath, the only druid to survive a Roman massacre; Felix, a Roman soldier captured by Yorath
  • Duro, Boudica’s war chief; Valeria, wife of Britannia’s procurator
  • Sorcha and Keena, Boudica’s daughters

As you can see, there’s something for everyone, and both sides of the story are also represented. I couldn’t pick a favorite character, which is unusual for me. I liked everyone! And I felt for everyone as their circumstances changed, which says something for me, since it usually takes me a lot of page time to get attached. The sections flow almost seamlessly — except for a few areas of expertise, like Russell Whitfield’s knowledge of Roman armies — it’s difficult to tell each section is written by a different author. The smooth continuity of the plotlines and character interactions in A YEAR OF RAVENS make it a very unique, very cool book.

Giveaway:

A Year of Ravens

*giveaway is tour-wide

A Year of Ravens authors:

a year of ravens authors
Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney, & Russell Whitfield
Buy links: Amazon | B&N | iTunes

– leeanna

Book Review: What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

Book Review: What We Left Behind by Robin TalleyWhat We Left Behind by Robin Talley
Published by Harlequin Teen on October 27, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, LGBT, New Adult, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
5 Stars
From the critically acclaimed author of Lies We Tell Ourselves comes an emotional, empowering story of what happens when love isn't enough to conquer all.

Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They've been together forever. They never fight. They're deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college—Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU—they're sure they'll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, their relationship will surely thrive.

The reality of being apart, however, is a lot different than they expected. As Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, falls in with a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.

While Toni worries that Gretchen, who is not trans, just won't understand what is going on, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in Toni's life. As distance and Toni's shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?

Book Review:

Robin Talley’s first book, LIES WE TELL OURSELVES, was one of my favorites of 2014. When I saw she had a new book, one about a genderqueer protagonist, I couldn’t wait to read it. Books are slowly becoming more diverse, but it’s still rare to find one that explores gender identity. Just like the author’s debut, WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND is a book that touched me deeply, made me think a lot, and is one I want everyone to read.

WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND kind of straddles the line between Young Adult and New Adult. Toni and Gretchen are eighteen, just starting their first year of college. That’s an important time for a lot of people, because it’s the first time you’re on your own, with the chance to explore your interests and start to figure out who you really are. I think the author captured the chaos and freedom of that time quite well, when you’re trying new things, juggling old and new friendships, distant parental expectations, and maybe even an ongoing relationship.

I like just about everything in WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND, but a few things stand out. One is the relationship between Toni and Gretchen. Very rarely do YA books show the meat of a relationship — so much of the time, a book is focused on getting the characters together. In WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND, Toni and Gretchen have been a couple for two years. So they’re sure they can handle the distance between Boston and New York City. For a couple that loves each other as much as they do, a few hundred miles is no big deal. Nevermind the fact that Gretchen didn’t tell Toni she applied to NYU, instead of following Toni to Boston. That’s fine, because they don’t fight. But when you don’t fight, and you don’t really talk about the issues that bother you, how well does a relationship work? And when you’re used to being Toni-and-Gretchen, what happens when you’re just Toni or just Gretchen? Does love change, or does it always stay the same?

I really appreciated that the author delved into Toni and Gretchen’s relationship. Both of their perspectives are given, and while the adorable first meeting/hookup scene is included, there’s so much more than that in the book. There’s actual relationship growing pains, and while at first their relationship is perfect, it becomes less perfect when Toni feels unable to talk to Gretchen about all the new life things. How can Gretchen be the perfect girlfriend when it seems like Toni doesn’t want to see her?

The second standout of WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND is Toni’s gender explorations. At the start of the book, Toni identifies as genderqueer. At Harvard, Toni becomes friends with upperclassman who are all over the gender spectrum, which makes Toni think a lot more about where, exactly, Toni belongs. Is Toni gender nonconforming, gender fluid, non-binary, trans? Something else? Toni’s never felt like a girl, but being surrounded by others who know their gender identity, and also having the freedom for the first time ever to explore options, sends Toni on a quest to try everything from different pronouns to chest binding to more. Toni thinks about this a lot, and talks about with the new friends a lot, which resulted in me getting a good introduction and look into all the different labels out there, and why people would identify with/use different ones. Thanks to Toni, I also started thinking a lot more about pronouns, and how they reinforce gender constantly. Here’s a little example — it’s taking a lot of conscious thought to not use “she” or “he” to refer to Toni in this review. For another ah-ha moment, look at how Toni refers to others and how Gretchen refers to Toni in the first ~50 pages.

With Toni’s mad rush to figure everything out, Toni sometimes comes across, as well, somewhat of a jerk. Toni gets super wrapped up in figuring out the perfect pronouns and labels, and also fitting other people into neat little labeled boxes. Toni is often quite judgmental of other people. At first, that bugged me — I wanted to give Toni a good whack — but then I got it. If I wanted to be sure of myself and not constantly trying to figure out what label fit me, I’d probably act the same exact way.

WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND is a book that spoke to me and made me think. I enjoy books like that, especially books that push outside the boundaries of the conventional boy and girl fall in love the end stories.

Upcoming:

In the near future, I’ll have an interview with Robin on the blog, so be sure to check back!

Interview with Robin Talley.

Socialize with the author:

Robin Talley:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna