The Gilded Ones (Deathless #1) by Namina Forna #bookreview #YA #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself. 

This stunning cover immediately caught my attention on NetGalley, but the description really sealed the deal of me requesting it.

Deka comes from a world where a woman’s worth depends on her purity and how well she serves the men in her life.  The most she can hope for is to be a dutiful wife and mother, but never have a voice for herself.  Compare that to the Deka at the end of the book – strong, empowered, and spirited – and you have yourself one magnificent character arc.  How thrilling to watch her realize her worth and know that she mattered.

Deka’s relationships with her blood sisters, her found family, is one of the biggest strengths of this novel.  I especially enjoyed the incredibly strong bond of friendship and loyalty between her and Britta.  Many of their training and fighting scenes reminded me of the female warriors in Wonder Woman.

World-building is complex and detailed, but interwoven into the story – no info dumps here.  Just enough was held back to keep me turning the pages to figure out what was going on with the plot twists.  Pacing was a tad slow for me in the beginning, but the ending comes rather quickly – enough to make me sure there would be a sequel since I had so few pages left, but then think it was a standalone because story lines were neat and tidy when all was said and done.

With unique world-building, a female-heavy cast of characters, and compelling plot, I’ll be continuing with this series.  A remarkable debut novel.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Thanksgiving, #AmWriting, and #AmWatching

Not much to report here, other than we’re still recovering from eating too much. Hope your Thanksgiving was as wonderful as ours. We were fortunate to be able to spend it with family and were thrilled to have our sons with us. I like to try new recipes – sometimes they’re a keeper, other times we’re struggling to choke it down. Without a test run, my youngest son and I made a Bourbon Chocolate-Walnut Pie and it was absolutely a keeper. The only thing we’d change is to add more bourbon next time around. We might have cheated a little by buying a pie crust, but I wasn’t ready to tackle one from scratch.

Did I write during the holiday? That would be a no. But I did get some plot ideas while walking and listening to music, so I don’t feel completely unproductive. I have plans today to dive back into the WIP.

Is anyone watching the new season of The Crown? I’ve enjoyed every season, but this might be my favorite yet since I remember the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. If you haven’t watched this series and you’re looking for something new to binge, I highly recommend it.

Vote, #Giveaway, and Happy Thanksgiving!

So, Subject A36 has been nominated for Best Indie Science Fiction book on Don’t know how that happened, but I’m thrilled. Now I need favors from all of you – please vote for me! There are several different categories, but the direct link to the sci-fi category is HERE. Thanks so much!

If you haven’t registered to win eighteen speculative fiction books, time is running out. Five winners will be chosen randomly on November 30th. Click HERE to enter!

I’m taking the week off to spend with family. The stars aligned, and we’ll have both sons with us for Thanksgiving this year. Wishing you all a safe and happy holiday – see you next week!

These Violent Delights (These Violent Delights #1) by Chloe Gong #bookreview #fantasy #YA

Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

I was never much of a Shakespeare fan, but a retelling of Romeo and Juliet with rival gangs? How can you pass that up?

Roma and Juliette are heirs to rival gangs (White Flowers and Scarlets respectively) caught up in a blood feud in Shanghai. Although on opposite sides, both gangs have common enemies: a monster killing their people and foreign groups (British, Americans, French, and Russians) attempting to take over their land and cities. There’s too much bad blood between the current heads of the families to work together, but Roma and Juliette are intelligent enough to understand cooperation is required to eliminate these common threats. Each (especially Roma) is also trying to prove to their fathers and gang members they’re worthy heirs.

Although they had a brief relationship four years prior, I honestly wasn’t feeling the connection between these two. I liked Roma and admired the fact he wanted to take the White Flowers in a different direction in the future, and his relationship with his sister is adorable. Juliette is a different case entirely for me. Most of the time she comes across as a petulant child too hot-headed to ever be in a position of authority, and her cousins sense it. She tends to shoot first and think later. My favorite characters are easily Roma’s cousin Benedikt and Marshall (he has some killer lines). They support Roma no matter what and stand by him.

This is an action-packed, bloody, gory tale, which I didn’t mind, but other readers may appreciate trigger warnings. Although I enjoyed many aspects of the plot, some didn’t work as well for me, but that’s just personal preference. On the other hand, the diverse cast thrilled me, and I was actually shipping two male characters over Roma and Juliette and hope to see more of them in the sequel.

At over 400 pages, These Violent Delights is a chunk of a read, but an impressive debut (the author is still in college!) with important and timely overall themes.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone by Darlene Foster #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog #MG #mystery

Amanda is delighted to show Leah aaround Alberta during her visit from England. They take in the Calgary Stampede, go on a cattle drive, visit Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, spend time with the dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and explore the crazy Hoodoos.When Amanda finds a stone with a unique mark on it, she doesn’t think it’s important until everyone seems to want it – including a very ornery cowboy. Is this stone worth ruining Leah’s holiday and placing them both in danger? Spend time with Amanda as she explores her own country while attempting to decipher the mysterious writing on the stone and keep it from those determined to take it from her. 

This is my first time ‘meeting’ Amanda and while there are several books in the series, I chose this one because I traveled to Calgary earlier this year and visited some of the places mentioned in the description.

What a delightful story!  Amanda is excited to spend time with her friend, Leah, and show her around during her holiday with Amanda’s family.  I really enjoyed ‘re-visiting’ some of these places with them, while also learning new facts.  Being a dinosaur nerd (I love that great aunt Mary is a paleontologist), I wish we’d been able to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum and see the World’s Biggest Dinosaur – maybe on our next visit.

Amanda is intelligent, feisty, and adventure-loving, and her inquisitive nature soon draws the girls into a mystery which results in some perilous situations.  They run into some pretty unsavory characters while trying to learn more about the markings on the stone.

The author does a wonderful job of blending educational facts with a mystery and adventure that will thrill young (and older!) readers.  These are quick reads I’d highly recommend, and I look forward to traveling with Amanda to more destinations.

Christmas Tree, #YallWrite, and #Giveaway

We put up our Christmas tree yesterday and I’m not embarrassed. We usually put it up the weekend before Thanksgiving because we travel over the holiday, but this year we did it even earlier. Judging by our neighborhood, we’re not the only ones. 2020 has been _____ (choose your own adjective), so if Christmas lights bring joy to folks, I’m all for it. I always said I’d leave my tree up year round if I could get away with it.

I took advantage of the free Y’All Write master classes and author panels over the weekend. Watching Victoria Schwab teach a master class on The Story Corpse – her technique of building a story – was definitely a highlight. I’m such a fan of her work and came out of her class with a list of new ideas. Listening to other well-known authors with plenty of books under their belt talk about how they still deal with writing challenges and self-doubt sure made me feel better. Guess we all have days when we can’t string enough words together to form even one sentence – and if we do, it sounds like crap.

The speculative fiction giveaway is still going on, so if you haven’t entered yet, click HERE to enter and learn more about the featured books. Five random winners will be chosen November 30th!

Magic Dark and Strange by Kelly Powell #bookreview #YA #fantasy

The Bone Witch meets Sherlock Holmes in this thrilling historical fantasy about a girl with the ability to raise the dead who must delve into her city’s dangerous magical underworld to stop a series of murders.

Catherine Daly has an unusual talent. By day she works for a printer. But by night, she awakens the dead for a few precious moments with loved ones seeking a final goodbye. But this magic comes with a price: for every hour that a ghost is brought back, Catherine loses an hour from her own life.

When Catherine is given the unusual task of collecting a timepiece from an old grave, she is sure that the mysterious item must contain some kind of enchantment. So she enlists Guy Nolan, the watchmaker’s son, to help her dig it up. But instead of a timepiece, they find a surprise: the body of a teenage boy. And as they watch, he comes back to life—not as the pale imitation that Catherine can conjure, but as a living, breathing boy. A boy with no memory of his past.

This magic is more powerful than any Catherine has ever encountered, and revealing it brings dangerous enemies. Catherine and Guy must race to unravel the connection between the missing timepiece and the undead boy. For this mysterious magic could mean the difference between life and death—for all of them.

This cover immediately caught my attention, but it was the comp titles and a main character with the ability to raise the dead that made me request this book from NetGalley.

I especially enjoyed the time period and setting of this novel – it has the feel of a Victorian mystery.  The opening scene in the cemetery when Catherine awakens a dead women is absolutely gripping and had me excited to dive into the story.  Then I was disappointed that she never uses her magic again throughout the book.  The magic system isn’t explained, which left me with a lot of questions.  Although it’s mentioned several times in the description, it actually plays a small part in the overall story.

The characters are very charming, and the hints of romance between Catherine and Guy are sweet and accurate for the time period.  I liked how they became friends, bonded over the mystery, and helped Owen find his way.

At slightly over 200 pages, Magic Dark and Strange is a quick read and while I enjoyed this quiet mystery, I feel like a longer book could have offered more twists, higher stakes, and a deeper exploration of the magical system.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

WWW Wednesday: What Am I Reading? #amreading

WWW Wednesday is a meme from Sam at Taking On A World Of Words

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I can’t say I’m currently reading this exactly since I’m starting it today. Streetrat, hacker, cyborgs, conspiracies, and a technocratic government – I’m in!

A rare, searing portrayal of the future of climate change in South Asia. A streetrat turned revolutionary and the disillusioned hacker son of a politician try to take down a ruthlessly technocratic government that sacrifices its poorest citizens to build its utopia.

The South Asian Province is split in two. Uplanders lead luxurious lives inside a climate-controlled biodome, dependent on technology and gene therapy to keep them healthy and youthful forever. Outside, the poor and forgotten scrape by with discarded black-market robotics, a society of poverty-stricken cyborgs struggling to survive in slums threatened by rising sea levels, unbreathable air, and deadly superbugs.

Ashiva works for the Red Hand, an underground network of revolutionaries fighting the government, which is run by a merciless computer algorithm that dictates every citizen’s fate. She’s a smuggler with the best robotic arm and cybernetic enhancements the slums can offer, and her cargo includes the most vulnerable of the city’s abandoned children.

When Ashiva crosses paths with the brilliant hacker Riz-Ali, a privileged Uplander who finds himself embroiled in the Red Hand’s dangerous activities, they uncover a horrifying conspiracy that the government will do anything to bury. From armed guardians kidnapping children to massive robots flattening the slums, to a pandemic that threatens to sweep through the city like wildfire, Ashiva and Riz-Ali will have to put aside their differences in order to fight the system and save the communities they love from destruction.

I just finished this book yesterday. It’s a spinoff of another very popular series which I haven’t read, but I wasn’t confused. The author gave enough backstory that I wasn’t lost, but I still felt as if something was missing. I need to think about this one. The world-building was brilliant!

You may have heard of me…

Robin Goodfellow. Puck. Prankster, joker, raven, fool… King Oberon’s right-hand jester from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The legends are many, but the truth will now be known as never before, as Puck finally tells his own story and faces a threat to the lands of Faery and the human world unlike any before.

With the Iron Queen Meghan Chase and her prince consort, Puck’s longtime rival Ash, and allies old and new by his side, Puck begins a fantastical and dangerous adventure not to be missed or forgotten. 

The first book in this series was a winner for me with its dark, gritty world filled with gangs and assassins, so I’m anxious to see if this final book in the duology is just as compelling.

The stunning action-packed conclusion to The City of Diamond and Steel duology.

Aina Solís has fought her way to the top of criminal ranks in the city of Kosín by wresting control of an assassin empire owned by her old boss, Kohl. She never has to fear losing her home and returning to life on the streets again—except Kohl, the man who tried to ruin her life, will do anything to get his empire back. Aina sets out to kill him before he can kill her.

But Alsane Bautix, the old army general who was banned from his seat in the government after Aina revealed his corruption, is working to take back power by destroying anyone who stands in his way. With a new civil war on the horizon and all their lives at risk, the only way for Aina to protect her home is to join up with the only other criminal more notorious than her: Kohl himself.

As Bautix’s attacks increase, Aina and Kohl work together to stop his incoming weapons shipments and his plans to take back the Tower of Steel. To defeat them both, Aina will resort to betrayal, poison, and a deadly type of magic that hasn’t been used in years.

Through narrow alleys, across train rooftops, and deep in the city’s tunnels, Aina and Kohl will test each other’s strengths and limits, each of them knowing that once Bautix is dead, they’ll still have to face each other. If she manages to kill him, she’ll finally have the freedom she wants—but it might forever mark her as his shadow in a city where only the strongest survive.

The Ravens (The Ravens #1) by Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige #bookreview #YA #urbanfantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

Kappa Rho Nu isn’t your average sorority. Their parties are notorious. Their fundraisers are known for being Westerly College’s most elaborate affairs. But beneath the veil of Greek life and prestige, the sisters of Kappu Rho Nu share a secret: they’re a coven of witches. For Vivi Deveraux, being one of Kappa Rho Nu’s Ravens means getting a chance to redefine herself. For Scarlett Winters, a bonafide Raven and daughter of a legacy Raven, pledge this year means living up to her mother’s impossible expectations of becoming Kappa Rho Nu’s next president. Scarlett knows she’d be the perfect candidate — that is, if she didn’t have one human-sized skeleton in her closet…. When Vivi and Scarlett are paired as big and little for initiation, they find themselves sinking into the sinister world of blood oaths and betrayals. 

Although I’ve always liked college settings in books, it’s been a while since I’ve read one.  With The Ravens involving witches and having such an awesome cover, I couldn’t pass it up.

The whole time I was reading, I kept seeing the witches in American Horror Story Coven – loved that season.  Like Coven, sisterhood is an important theme in this story.  Kappas always put their sisters first and never go against them.  They believe they’re stronger together than individually, something that’s proven true several times over by the end of the novel.  The different types of witches and their magic are explained well, and I enjoyed seeing their varieties of powers.

While I really didn’t care for Scarlett in the beginning, she changed my mind by the end.  Initially she comes off as judgemental, elitist, and kind of a mean girl, especially when it comes to Vivi, but undergoes several changes and easily has the best character arc.  She drives the story.  With Vivi’s flighty mother who packs up and moves them at the drop of a hat, she’s missed stability in her life and has never lived anywhere long enough to make friends.  Being settled at college for four years and joining the Kappas fills those voids.  I would have liked more explanation about how she’s suddenly able to use her power after a lifetime of not knowing she was a witch.

Some of the relationships didn’t feel natural to me.  Scarlett’s relationship with another character that develops near the end feels forced and out of place – it didn’t seem to fit.  And then there’s Vivi, who has a sudden case of insta-love with the first guy who’s nice to her.  The strong friendships between the girls are much more genuine.

While a couple of twists are easy to see coming, there’s still plenty of action, tension, and mystery to engage readers.  The title indicates this is a series, but with no cliffhangers, it felt like a natural ending to me.  If there’s more to come, I’ll definitely pick up the next book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

WP Editor, Writer’s Retreat, Y’All Write, and #GiveAway

So, fun fact. I’d procrastinated for months about learning the new WP editor, which is my own fault. We’d been traveling for the weekend and got home late on a Sunday night in early October, and I needed to prepare the Bad Moon Rising post for the next day. My classic editor was gone. Disappeared. Poof. Son of a %*#$@! I tried everything I could think of to get it back, locate it, beg for it – you get the picture. So that was my baptism into using Gutenberg. I’ve gotten the hang of it now, but hubby said even the neighbors heard my rants.

I mentioned last week I wasn’t doing NaNo, but was participating in a four week virtual writing retreat hosted by authors C.J. Redwine and Mary Weber. It’s been fantastic! Every Tuesday evening we have a virtual workshop and so far we’ve covered ideas, seven plotting methods, building an atmospheric world, authentic dialogue, and character webs. During the week there are writing sprints, prompts, Q&A, etc. I’ve “met” several other writers, one who actually lives in my town. My writing has been more disciplined, and I’m beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel for the first draft. Yay!

For all you YA fans and writers out there, November 13th and 14th is the Y’All Write book festival. It features some amazing authors, and I’ve already registered for nine panels – so that’s my Friday and Saturday. Check out the website HERE.

Just a reminder about the giveaway I’m participating in. Eighteen speculative fiction books spanning loads of subgenres! Five random winners will be chosen November 30th. To enter and learn more about the featured books, click HERE. Good luck!