Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao #bookreview #YA #fantasy #scifi

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

When I saw Pacific Rim mentioned as a comp title for this novel, I jumped on requesting this from NetGalley. The main character sounded like she was ready to stir up some trouble, and I wanted to be around to see what would happen.

I can’t skip commenting on this beautiful cover. Besides being so striking, it does an admirable job of portraying Zetian’s strength and determination. I may be understating it when I say the girl is a force of nature and has maniacal tendencies.

Zetian has been raised her whole life to believe she’s basically a second class citizen and must make sacrifices for men. Although very few survive, she and her older sister volunteer as concubine-pilots so her family can use the death compensation to find Zetian’s brother a suitable wife. A loving family is as far from an apt description as you could get for these people. Zetian rejects these beliefs and has plans of her own to assassinate the pilot responsible for her sister’s death.

When Zetian survives the psychic link with one of the best pilots (after assassinating him), she’s soon paired with Li-Shimin, a death row inmate plucked out of incarceration and forced to be a pilot. He’s a talented pilot, but is feared by the others – the guy doesn’t exactly possess a welcoming personality – but Zetian learns he has many layers to be discovered. After Gao Yizhi, the boy who loves her, comes into the picture again I was sure a dreaded love triangle loomed on the horizon. I was wrong – it’s a polyamorous relationship. It’s the first time I’ve encountered this in a YA book, but it seems a natural development for these three characters and isn’t the primary focus of the story. As partnered pilots, Zetian and Li-Shimin battle the mecha aliens but soon learn they have enemies in their own camp. The cliffhanger at the end was a doozy!

With huge piloted robots that can transform into mythical creatues (seriously, how cool is that?), mind-blowing action scenes, and immersive world-building, I was glued to the pages. The novel also deals with themes of oppression and feminism and gets very dark and brutal at times, but it’s one I highly recommend. This may be one of my favorite reads of the year, and I’ll be at the front of the line waiting impatiently when the sequel releases.

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

The City Beautiful by Aden Polydoros #bookreview #YA #historicalfantasy #LGBTQ #TuesdayBookBlog

Death lurks around every corner in this unforgettable Jewish historical fantasy about a city, a boy, and the shadows of the past that bind them both together.  
 
Chicago, 1893. For Alter Rosen, this is the land of opportunity, and he dreams of the day he’ll have enough money to bring his mother and sisters to America, freeing them from the oppression they face in his native Romania.
 
But when Alter’s best friend, Yakov, becomes the latest victim in a long line of murdered Jewish boys, his dream begins to slip away. While the rest of the city is busy celebrating the World’s Fair, Alter is now living a nightmare: possessed by Yakov’s dybbuk, he is plunged into a world of corruption and deceit, and thrown back into the arms of a dangerous boy from his past. A boy who means more to Alter than anyone knows.
 
Now, with only days to spare until the dybbuk takes over Alter’s body completely, the two boys must race to track down the killer—before the killer claims them next.

Set during the World’s Fair in 1893, this atmospheric, queer Jewish historical fantasy infuses real-life events with a dark murder mystery. I’ve read several of this author’s books, and The City Beautiful was on my list of most anticipated releases this year. It surpassed my expectations.

After tragically losing his father during the journey to America, Alter falls in with the wrong crowd and is soon scraping by robbing others. It’s not something he’s proud of, and after a particularly unsettling experience he leaves his criminal days behind and gets an honest job. He works long, hard hours to save enough money to bring his mother and sisters over from Romania. When his best friend, Yakov is the latest victim in a string of murdered Jewish boys, Alter finds himself in the middle of a mystery not many seem to care about. The police aren’t much help and the newspapers all but dismiss the murders, but he refuses to let his Yakov’s death go ignored and unsolved. With the help of his friends Frankie and Raizel, Alter is determined to discover who’s responsible. Yakov’s dybbuk is equally determined and possesses Alter’s body. Time is of the essence in discovering the identity of the murderer because former friend or not, two souls can’t inhabit one body for long and the possession takes a toll on Alter.

Sadly lacking in knowledge of Judaism, learning more about Jewish customs and traditions was incredibly compelling and enlightening for me. A glossary is included at the end of the book for help with some of the terminology. The author skillfully weaves those customs and traditions along with historic details involving Jewish immigration during that time into the story. He also touches on the racist themes of the World’s Fair and how The White City wasn’t the utopia the organizers portrayed.

This novel is dark and disturbing at times, but it’s also a beautiful story of love, friendship, community, and justice. As a trigger warning, it doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of anti-Semitism and social inequities so be prepared. I can’t wait to see what this author does next – he’s been on my auto-buy list for years.

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

Family, #AmWriting, and #BadMoonRising

Happy Monday! This will be a brief post because we spent the weekend with family in Charlotte. Nieces and nephews we hadn’t seen for quite a while, their kids (one we’d never met), Hubby’s parents, and others. I think the total count came in around 20 people? Lots of food, laughter, catching up, and good times.

Manic work continues on the Subject A36 sequel. I sent all the chapters I’d finished to my beta reader on Thursday, which now leaves me with two chapters to complete and possibly an epilogue. Bits and pieces are coming together in my head, and I’ve been making notes all weekend, so it’s just a matter of transferring it from my jumbled brain to the computer. Sure wish there was some kind of connection – something like in The Matrix, but maybe not with that ugly jack at the base of my neck – where I could think it and it would magically transfer. Have any of you writers ever thought about something like that? Just think of the time you could save and typos you could avoid.

It’s hard to believe, but Bad Moon Rising will be upon us very soon. I’ve been working on questions for this year, and I’ll be posting about signups later this week – probably Friday. Make sure to stop by!

Pride Month Book Recs and #AmWatching

I’m a little late recommending books for Pride Month, but I’ve come across some amazing ones in the past few weeks. You may have seen Blood Like Magic and This Poison Heart on my WWW Wednesday posts, and I reviewed Blood Like Magic last week HERE. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe came highly recommended by friends in my book club, and when I received an ARC of its sequel, I had to backtrack and finally get around to listening to the first. I had to mention The House in the Cerulean Sea again. I can’t say enough about this book. I’d love to find time for a reread.

I can’t believe I forgot to mention I saw A Quiet Place 2 in an actual movie theater a few weeks ago! Hubby had no interest in seeing it, but I have no problem seeing movies by myself. I actually enjoy it. I get there early for a good seat, then read my Kindle until the previews start. It was just as tense and compelling as the first and, being a Cillian Murphy fan, I was anxious to see what his character brought to the story. I was also excited to eat theater popcorn again – with butter, of course. Never even thought about not being able to taste or smell it, so it was kind of a letdown. I’ve noted a slight improvement in my sense of smell lately, so I’m hopeful it’s making a gradual comeback. Then I’ll get more popcorn.

Have a great week!

#BlogTour These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy #bookreview #YA #fantasy

Three Dark Crowns meets Wicked Saints in this queer #ownvoices retelling of “The Firebird,” a Russian folktale, by debut author Alexandra Overy.

When twin heirs are born in Tourin, their fates are decided at a young age. While Izaveta remained at court to learn the skills she’d need as the future queen, Asya was taken away to train with her aunt, the mysterious Firebird, who ensured magic remained balanced in the realm.

But before Asya’s training is completed, the ancient power blooms inside her, which can mean only one thing: the queen is dead, and a new ruler must be crowned.

As the princesses come to understand everything their roles entail, they’ll discover who they can trust, who they can love—and who killed their mother.

I’m not familiar with the Russian folktale The Firebird, but I’ve read a couple other books based on Russian retellings that were incredible.

In this world magic comes with a price. Once a spell is cast, the Firebird collects payment from the caster to maintain balance in the realm. Payment can range from a small amount of blood to loss of life depending on the complexity of the spell. Because of this the Firebird isn’t looked upon kindly.

At a young age it’s determined that Izaveta will be the future queen, while Asya trains to be the next Firebird. Their mother, the queen, teaches Izaveta that most interactions with people at court are usually power plays in disguise. She must constantly strategize and look for hidden meanings. As a result, she trusts no one. Asya’s training requires her to ignore emotion while exacting payment no matter how she feels. Balance must be maintained. It’s a constant struggle and she doubts she has what it takes to do the job. I found it interesting that each sister is envious of the other’s life and quite possibly better suited for it. Izaveta is a tough one to like initially, and she can’t even let her guard down for her twin. Asya is kind-hearted, but feared by most people and considered a monster.

There are a ton of minor characters which means lots of suspects in the death of the twins’ mother. That being said, they felt flat and difficult to distinguish from each other. Pacing is a bit slow out of the gate, but the twists and surprises come soon, and the last thirty percent moves at breakneck speed. I appreciated the pronunciation guide at the end and was surprised I actually said some of the names correctly.

With complex political schemes and maneuvering, this novel will keep you guessing, and the relationship between the sisters is a strong point. I’ll be interested to see where the author takes this story in 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.

THESE FEATHERED FLAMES

By Alexandra Overy

On Sale: April 20, 2021

INKYARD PRESS

YOUNG ADULT FICTION/Fantasy/ Epic/Fairy Tales & Folklore/ Adaptations/Family/Siblings/Romance/LGBTQ+

9781335147967; 1335147969

$19.99 USD

496 pages

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/These-Feathered-Flames/dp/1335147969/ 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/these-feathered-flames-alexandra-overy/1137165080 

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335147967 

Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/These-Feathered-Flames/Alexandra-Overy/9781335147967 

AppleBooks:    https://books.apple.com/lv/book/these-feathered-flames/id1518023051 

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/audiobooks/details/Alexandra_Overy_These_Feathered_Flames?id=AQAAAEBcPkN-DM 

ALEXANDRA OVERY was born in London, England. Ever since she was little she has loved being able to escape into another world through books. She currently lives in Los Angeles, and is completing her MFA in Screenwriting at UCLA. When she’s not working on a new manuscript or procrastinating on doing homework, she can be found obsessing over Netflix shows, or eating all the ice cream she can.

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.alexandraovery.com/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/alexandraovery 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/AllyWritesAndStuff/ 

Facebook: N/A

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19571930.Alexandra_Overy 

Stupid Ideas, Writing Classes, and #AmWatching

How is it Monday again already? Last week was a blur. We’ve had some wonderful spring weather the past few days, but Saturday and Sunday brought gale force winds to our neck of the woods. I’m talking winds that scooted our heavy iron patio furniture across the concrete. So of course hubby and I thought it was an opportune time to replace a couple screens on our screened porch. Honestly, we would have put it off, but one of the screens where Bond sits had ripped away from the frame. It was only a matter of time before escape plans would be made and executed prompting a search and rescue through our large neighborhood. Words that should have been censored were said (we’re glad the little boys next door weren’t outside), hands were cut, and trim was damaged, but all things considered, it could have gone worse.

I’ve mentioned here before about virtual writer’s classes/workshops/retreats I’ve attended hosted by The Writer’s Sanctuary. They just added several new events scheduled throughout the rest of this year. I registered for a class on marketing trends in November. If you’d like to check out their offerings, click HERE.

I think I mentioned the first season of For All Mankind last summer. The second season episodes are dropping weekly (I’m watching them first thing Saturday morning), and I’m enjoying it just as much. I don’t want to say much about it – no spoilers – but this alternate history version of the space race is totally compelling.

Cooking and #AmWatching

Cooking isn’t really in my skill set – I’m the first to admit it. It’s a miracle hubby and I didn’t starve the first year we were married. Since then, my skills have improved, and I’ve learned enough to keep us fed. Still, unless it’s something very basic – spaghetti (jar sauce), chili, tacos, etc. – I have to use a recipe. I’m not one of those people who instinctively knows what a dish needs, although my youngest son is. From an early age, he’s been interested in food and cooking – and he surely didn’t get it from me. My oldest son considers food an energy source and doesn’t venture much out of his comfort zone. I do enjoy subscribing to a couple of cooking magazines and trying new recipes. Some are winners (a peanut butter pie recipe I got from a magazine ad) and others completely inedible (a tragic waste of prime rib). Hubby is kind of a foodie, so we decided to try something new. Every weekend, we’ll take turns choosing a new recipe to try and work on it together. This past weekend, we tried Spaghetti alla Carbonara. We turned on Pandora, opened some wine, and split up the cooking duties. Although the recipe had fantastic reviews, we weren’t that thrilled with it – probably three stars. Since I still can’t taste much or smell at all (two months now – thanks, COVID), I had to rely on hubby’s opinions. If you’re interested in trying it yourself, here’s the LINK We plan to continue this every weekend (unless we’re out of town), so this could become a regular update on Mondays.

I’m a fan of the TV show Supernatural. I haven’t watched all the seasons yet, but I’m working my way through them on Netflix. When I saw Jared Padalecki was starring in a remake of Walker, Texas Ranger, I decided to check it out. Not that I ever watched the original, but I like the actor and figured it’s something hubby and I could watch together (it’s like an act of God to get him interested in anything). While the show’s not going to win any awards, after three episodes, we’ve decided to stick with it. It’s already been renewed for a second season, so it might be around for a while.

Hope you have a great week – stay safe and healthy!

A Peek Into My #BookClub

I’ve mentioned before that I’m in two book clubs. Due to the pandemic, one hasn’t met for nearly a year – I’ve forgotten what book I was even supposed to read for the next meeting. The Pardon My Youth club is through our local library, and we’ve continued our monthly meetings through Zoom. The club focuses on YA books for the young and young at heart (ages range from 20s through 70s). It’s not your standard club where everyone reads the same book – we have monthly categories instead. This month’s assignment was to read a YA book published in 2020. I thought I’d give you a partial list of some of the books selected.

We enjoy having the freedom to choose different books, but occasionally a couple members have coincidentally read the same one and will give joint reviews. Most of us are also friends on Goodreads and the day after book club you’ll see several members adding titles discussed the night before to their TBR lists. Below are our categories for the rest of the year – you can see we’re committed to reading diverse books. I like being able to plan my reads for the rest of the year, and I always try to choose something from my backlist.

  • February Pick Your Poison – Romance vs. Horror (of course I’m choosing horror)
  • March Realistic Fiction Set Anywhere but the US, the UK, or Canada
  • April Books Featuring a Found Family
  • May Books By/About Latinx Folks
  • June Pride Reads
  • July Books Set During the Summer
  • August Books With a Female or Non-Binary BIPOC as the Main Character
  • September Banned Books
  • October Retellings/Reimaginings
  • November Books By/About Indigenous Peoples, First Nations, Peoples, or Native Americans

Maybe I’ve inspired you to create your own book club or ask your library to form one. Our club’s fourth anniversary is coming up in a few months, and most of us have been there from the beginning. In addition to making some wonderful bookish friends, it’s also helped maintain some sanity and continuity for all of us during 2020. Hopefully, my other club will be able to meet again this year – but someone’s going to have to remind me which book to read.

Hope you enjoyed a peek into one of my book clubs. Have a safe and healthy week!

#AmWriting, Workshop, and #AmWatching

The writing progress continues! Planning on sending another couple chapters to my beta today. I keep telling myself the small steps add up – I just need to stick to the plan. Meanwhile, the next book keeps niggling at the back of my mind. I’ve made notes and have some ideas, but haven’t fleshed out the whole story yet. But I will say I’m heading back into the horror/supernatural genre after the A36 sequel.

I just completed a two week writing class entitled Becoming the CEO of Your Creative Life hosted by authors C.J. Redwine and Mary Weber. It involved goal setting, scheduling, vision boards, career crafting and more. I got some really helpful tips about productivity, which I totally need. I’m a total Dory (Finding Nemo) if I don’t have a clear plan for the day. Ironically, my life mantra also comes from Dory – just keep swimming! I just need to remember to swim in the right direction.

Last week I signed up for a free seven day trial of AMC+ so I could watch the second season of A Discovery of Witches. Then I found out only three episodes had been released so far. So now I’ll have to cancel this trial and sign up with someone else when the whole season drops. The two episodes I’ve watched so far seem to be sticking with the book, just like the first season did, so I’m happy about that.

Have a safe and healthy week!

New Series Launch — Dead of Winter: Journey 1, Forlorn Peak

I’m a long time fan of Teagan Riordain Geneviene’s books and blog. She’s known for her whimsical imagination and creativity when fashioning a story around random items named by readers and her UF Atonement, Tennessee series (Lilith!). She has a new release of monthly serial novelettes featuring a blend of fantasy and magic that I can’t wait to dive into!

Teagan's Books

Saturday, January 2, 2021 

(All new video trailer for Journey-1)

Happy New Year, one and all! 

For weeks I’ve been giving hints and making little shout-outs for a new serial/series, but uncertain of when I would be ready.  The day is finally here.  Presenting Dead of Winter: Journey 1, Forlorn Peak!

Dead of Winter: Journey 1, Forlorn PeakDead of Winter: Journey 1, Forlorn Peak

Dead of Winter will be a serial/series available through Amazon. (Maybe other sites as well, for the anti-Amazon among us.  If those sites cooperate, that is.  I have little patience for their shenanigans). 

I call the installments Journeys, because the characters travel across the complex world I built, experiencing new cultures and meeting new people. These journeys will publish approximately monthly.  Length will range from 30 to 60 pages, or so.

Here’s the Blurb

Dead of Winter takes place in a fantasy world that resembles some countries in the past of…

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