Thursday, February 23, 2017

{Review} THE VALIANT by Lesley Livingston

Love fairy tales and mythology?
Fans of mermaids, dragons, unicorns, and other mythical creatures?
Enjoy when a beloved classic tale is retold?
A Twist in the Tail Thursdays features all this and more!
O P E N I N G   L I N E:

  THE STEAM RISING OFF THE backs of the cantering horses faded into the morning fog. Our chariot raced toward the far end of the Forgotten Vale, and Maelgwyn Ironhand--my charioteer, constant companion, and frequent advesary--pulled back on the reins.
  "No!" I shouted. Faster! Make them run faster!"
  Mael didn't bother to spare a glance over his shoulder at me. He knew any argument would be futile. Instead, he gave the ponies their head and let them run. We flew over the ground like ravens diving over a battlefield. The horses snorted and strained, hooves drumming the grassy track and sending mist billowing in our wake.

(pg. 1, US hardcover edition)

“Let me give you a piece of advice...Rome only exists because of slaves. That's how it functions. We are its muscle, its brain, and most of all its secrets. You are now a part of that world. You are what your are, no matter what you once were. But there is power in such a position. Understand that. And learn to use it.”

~THE VALIANT by Lesley Livingston

The first time I heard about THE VALIANT, it was hearing that the book was for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Cinda Williams Chima. If that wasn't enough to instantly intrigue me, the fact that the book is centered around female gladiators and set during the time of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra certainly did!

Fallon is the daughter of a Celtic King whose people have been conquered by the notorious Julius Caesar. Her sister died during the battle her father barely made it out of. Fallon has spent her whole life living in her sister's footsteps and trying to be an amazing warrior. On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is certain that she's about to get everything she's ever dreamed about and step into her role as a member of her father's royal war band. Not only that, but she's finally exchanged confessed feelings with her childhood friend Mael, who wishes to ask her hand in marriage.

Her birthday celebration, however, doesn't go as planned. Rather than being invited to join the royal war band and possibly killed as her sister had been before her, Fallon's father instead announces that she will be Mael's brother. Furious, Fallon swears that she will be the master of her own fate. If Fallon was to be exiled from her destiny to be a great warrior worthy of her Goddess Morrigan, she wouldn't let anything stop her. She decides to leave, knowing Mael will catch up to her, only to stumble across him brawling with his brother over her, a fight that results in his demise. 

Horrified, Fallon flees and is soon captured by slavers and brought to Rome, home of her ancient enemy Julius Caesar. Thankfully, because she is a good warrior, she's sold not to a brothel or rich man looking to pad his house, but to the elite training school that will shape her into a female gladiator. She's thrilled to finally put her battle skills to use, even as she's horrified to be fighting in the name of Julius Caesar. This isn't the future Fallon envisioned for herself when she fled home, but if she wants to, she can still make a name for herself and embrace a new destiny.

This book was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I imagined possible. I definitely see the comparisons to Sarah J. Maas, in particular THRONE OF GLASS. This is more historical fantasy than it is magical fantasy, but both books have main characters who are kick-ass females that know their way around a weapon and aren't afraid to wield their power. Both books have arena-style fighting as well, albeit in very different capacities. The two female leads differ at their core, however: Celana knows she is the best and is a trained assassin, whereas Fallon has the idealistic eyes of a warrior who has never been in battle and has romanticized it. Now that she's in Rome, she's no longer the best, and fighting is harder and more exhausting than she dreamed possible.

The only thing that bothered me about the book is the trope in so many fantasy novels where the story can't get going until the main female character is captured and sold into slavery. Thankfully for Fallon, she is recognized for what she is and winds up where she's best suited, but it could have gone so very, very badly. Plus, even though she's now a gladiatrix, and beginning to love the Sisterhood, she still isn't her own person and must play nice with the man who conquered her people.

The historical aspect of this novel was fun as well. The time period is unique, and I loved seeing snippets where Fallon interacted with Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. Caesar I'd been expecting. Cleopatra, well, I hadn't even considered the possibility, so I loved the surprise of seeing her on page!

Right before THE VALIANT released, Lesley Livingston and Penguin Razorbill announced in Publishers Marketplace that there would be a sequel novel entitled THE DEFIANT. The book releases in 2018 and continues where THE VALIANT left off. THE VALIANT stands on its own and has loose threads that can easily be picked up in a continuation, but can also be read on its own, so readers won't bash their heads in waiting for the next chapter. There's a little romance in THE VALIANT, but it's far from the centerpiece and likelier to be a more central aspect in the sequel. Now that Fallon has fully embraced her Sisterhood, I think there will also be a lot more emphasis on being a gladiatrix and that the book will continue in the captivate, engaging style that made its predecessor hard to put down! 


Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: PG ( Kissing )
Language: --
Violence: PG ( Characters see other characters killed or maimed in fights and invasions.  Nothing is graphic, but this is a story about gladiators and warriors, so violence is inescapable! )
Other:  PG ( Fallon is captured and sold into slavery. Some of the girls are sold to brothels. There is some innuendo and some of the men make sexual comments to the girls. )
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

I LOVE that she's wearing armor (Discussion about how lady armor is always stylish rather than functional not withstanding) and standing in an arena. This immediately makes me sit up and pay attention!

The cover is a little dark, but it only makes the pop of gold in the title that much more striking. And I LOVE the lighting when you look at her against the backdrop of that arena!

Definitely an intriguing image that will get a lot of readers to give it a second look!

O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Lesley Livinston
Release Date: Feb. 14, 2017
Publisher: Razorbill // Penguin
Received: For Review


Princess. Captive. Gladiator.

Fallon is the daughter of a proud Celtic king, the sister of the legendary warrior Sorcha, and the sworn enemy of Julius Caesar.

When Fallon was a child, Caesar’s armies invaded her homeland, and her beloved sister was killed in battle.

Now, on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is eager to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her place in the fearsome Cantii war band. She never gets the chance.

Fallon is captured and sold to an elite training school for female gladiators—owned by none other than Julius Caesar. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon’s family might be her only hope of survival.

Now Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries and deadly fights—in and out of the arena. And perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her forbidden yet irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

{Review+Design Vlog} CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber

O P E N I N G   L I N E:

  IT TOOK SEVEN YEARS TO GET the letter right.

(pg. 1, US hardcover edition)

“What happens beyond this gate may frighten or excite you, but don’t let any of it trick you. We will try to convince you it’s real, but all of it is a performance. A world built of make-believe. So while we want you to get swept away, be careful of being swept too far away. Dreams that come true can be beautiful, but they can also turn into nightmares when people won’t wake up.”

~CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber

One of the most highly buzzed-about books of 2017 has not only just hit shelves, but has already spent two weeks sitting pretty at #2 on the New York Times Best Sellers List!!!  CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber fills in the hole that THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern left behind in my heart and promises readers a breathless, enchanting ride. I've been chasing after a book like this for so long, but every single book that has a TNC comp doesn't live up to my super-high expectations. CARAVAL does. The world swept me away from the very beginning and the characters wormed their way into my heart.

How far would you go to save your sister? Sisters Scarlett and Donatella have grown up with an exacting, demanding father who isn't afraid to punish the sisters in order to keep them in line. Scarlett is desperate to free them both from his tyranny, and feels her upcoming marriage to her unknown betrothed will do that. As a child, she wrote yearly letters to the Master of the Caraval, begging the group to come to her island and perform their magical enchantments. Now, with her impending nuptials a mere week away, the sisters are finally invited to attend Caraval. Now, when there is so much to lose if Scarlett's wedding doesn't go as planned. Donatella, however, isn't about to let this opportunity slip away because Scarlett has grown too cautious and kidnaps her sister. She disappears before Scarlett can find her at Caraval, and suddenly becomes the prize. At Caraval, you can be an active participant or you can watch from the theatre balconies. When Scarlett chooses to play, she has no clue that all of the participants will be tasked with finding Donatella. In a world where you can trust no one, not even yourself because magic lies, what means will Scarlett go to in order to survive and find her sister before time runs out?

This book is so visual, it's breath-taking. You can smell the air, taste the magic, even see the swirls of color the way Scarlett does. I wanted to reach out and touch everything, and wished Caraval was a real place. Although, in some ways, I also didn't, because it's also a very dangerous, heart-breaking place. I haven't been so enamored with a world utterly enchanting me since THE NIGHT CIRCUS, and I fully embraced the experience.

I love that this book is all about sisterly bonds. Not enough books feature this, and it's always endearing when they do. I also like that the love aspect wasn't instantaneous and took a backseat to the novel's plot. I had a rollercoaster of emotions as I read the twists and turns of this novel, and while some hunches played out, others didn't. I was so happy not to have all the surprises figured out from the beginning the way I often do, which heightened my enjoyment of the novel.

It's hard to talk about everything that occurs in CARAVAL without spoilers and instead, I invite you to pick up the book and experience the world for yourself. The journey is beyond your imagination, and you won't want to let go once you hit the end. Thankfully, Garber plans one more book in the series, and you'll know the scope of its direction by the novel's end. I'm already shivering with anticipating just thinking about it!

Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: PG13 ( Kissing. Innuendo about a "very special hug" that will bypass younger readers.  Nothing is graphic or described...or even HAPPENS except as an aside at the very end.  )
Language: -- 
Violence: G ( There is talk of decapitation, but nothing is visually shown. )
Other:  PG ( There is talk about rakes and what may be done in one's free time, but it's all innuendo and nothing happens! )
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

This one is too gorgeous to talk about. 

I need to show you via video!

O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Stephanie Garber
Release Date: January 31, 2017
Publisher: Flatiron Books // Macmillan
Received: For Review
(Video portion via Purchased copy)

Whatever you've heard about Caraval, it doesn't compare to the reality. It's more than just a game or a performance. It's the closest you'll ever find to magic in this world . . . 

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game. 

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over. 

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner. 

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The BEST news so far in 2017 is BOOK RELATED!!!! Have you heard???

Love fairy tales and mythology?
Fans of mermaids, dragons, unicorns, and other mythical creatures?
Enjoy when a beloved classic tale is retold?
A Twist in the Tail Thursdays features all this and more!

Everyone's excitement about the following news was all over social media after the announcement, but if you managed to miss it, well, I'm too excited not to talk about it again, so get ready for the best news I've heard so far in 2017!!!

On Valentine's Day, the Publishing Industry proved it loved readers by giving them a present twelve year's in the making. His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman has finally finished writing THE BOOK OF DUST, and it's going to be a trilogy. The first, still untitled book releases simultaneously in the UK and US on October 19th, 2017.

The first book in the series, THE GOLDEN COMPASS,  was turned into the movie starring Nicole Kidman a decade ago, and the BBC is working on creating a TV series that will begin airing in either late 2017 or sometime in 2018.

Here are a few details from the Publishers Weekly press release:

 "Plot details are under wraps until publication, of course, but in a statement provided by his publishers, Pullman shared that the book is set 10 years before the events of THE GOLDEN COMPASS and centers on Lyra Belacqua, heroine of the His Dark Materials trilogy, a series that has sold more than 17.5 million copies in 40 languages since its debut in 1996. 

Pullman has also coined a new publishing term to describe the forthcoming work. It is neither a prequel nor a sequel nor a standalone. 'In fact, The Book of Dust is.... an equal,' Pullman wrote. 'It doesn’t stand before or after His Dark Materials, but beside it. It’s a different story, but there are settings that readers of His Dark Materials will recognize, and characters they’ve met before. Also, of course, there are some characters who are new to us, including an ordinary boy (a boy we have seen in an earlier part of Lyra’s story, if we were paying attention) who, with Lyra, is caught up in a terrifying adventure that takes him into a new world.'”

Growing up, His Dark Materials was one of my all-time favorite series, surpassed only by The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I read both series again and again. The books shattered and broke me, but also filled my heart and took me away on dangerous, captivating adventures.

My own tattered copies, still cherished and kept on a shelf of honor!!!

Poor tattered books!
(I'll likely have to re-buy these if they come out with a pretty new box set!!!)

When I recently heard that the BBC was going to produce the series for TV, I was extremely excited. They've created some compelling series and have great quality, and I trust them to do a great job. Every couple of months, I've been checking to see if there's been any major news on airdates, etc., because I'm so impatient to fall n love with this story all over again.

I've also been chomping at the bit for a re-read, and just can never work it into my reading schedule. Now, with The Book of Dust on the horizon, I have a really good excuse to dive back into this beloved series!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

{Review} RHYMES WITH CUPID by Anna Humphrey

O P E N I N G   L I N E:

  ACCORDING TO THE ITTY Bitty Pocket Guide (Secrets of the Heart edition), Cupid is the god of love. He's the son of Aprhodite, the goddess of love and beauty, and Ares, the god of war. He's beautiful and mischievous and winged like an angel.
  But at the SouthSide Mall in Middleford, Mained, Cupid was a far, far cry from the golden-haird god that the pocket guide (aisle four, right across from the ceramic clowns) described. He stood on the counter of Goodman's Gifts and Stationary near hte cash register--an overweight battery-powered baby doll with shiny red hearts on his diaper. When you pushed his belly button, he winked a creepy mechanical eye at you and started to sing along to music that came out of a speaker in his butt--the chorus of the classic 1960s Motown hit, "Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance)." And the doll could dance, in a way. You had to give him that.

(pg. 1 US paperback edition)

This review was first posted at ABS on November 25, 2011.

“I picked out a card with a simple red heart on the front, set against a silver backdrop. 'This is the least bad one we have.' I handed it to him and watched him open it.

'It's blank,' he observed.

'Exactly,' I said. 'If you like someone, you should care enough to write your own message. Or at least, that's what I've always thought.'

~Elyse and Patrick, RHYMES WITH CUPID

If you're a fan of contemporary YA romances such as ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins, you'll really enjoy this as well! Anna Humphrey's RHYMES WITH CUPID is exactly what you would expect: A light-hearted, feel-good romance. Every once in a while, it's nice to read something sweet and predictable, and this book is as gooey-good as the ice cream sundae on its cover!

Main character Elyse is a cynic and doesn't believe in love after a relationship that ends badly. She works at a mall gift shop and is forced to promote sappy Valentine's Day cards and singing Cupid dolls. Her co-worker Dina, however, is really into the holiday despite also not having a boyfriend. Dina is emotionally attached to a guy who always blows her off, and Elyse decides to get her over him once and for all. She decides to hook her up with a guy named Patrick who comes into the shop one day looking for a new pen. He's pretty cute and, as luck would have it, he's Elyse's next-door neighbor, too. The only problem? Patrick only has eyes for Elyse...and Elyse might be starting to have second thoughts on pairing him up with Dina, even though the last thing she wants is another relationship.

A book like this one is the reason I often prefer contemporary romances to the paranormal/fantasy insta-love syndrome. I prefer it when relationships grow gradually and bonds build through friendship before blooming into something more. This is one reason I liked ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS so much. I've been trying to replicate the feeling I had when reading that and so far, RHYMES WITH CUPID has come the closest. There are some really great scenes between the two main characters that are completely re-readable. Granted, there are times Elyse annoys me because she's so gung-ho on swearing off love. How can she resist Patrick? He's incredible; I'd totally date a Patrick if he was in my life. I mean, he's such a good guy that he will stay parked in a parking lot to make sure she gets on the bus okay at night even though they don't know one another. Totally sweet, right? At the same time, there are reasons for the things Elyse does and it's commendable that she's willing to sacrifice her own happiness for a friend's. If you're looking for a tasty, sweet read this Valentine's Day, this one might be just what your sweet tooth is looking for!

Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: PG ( Kissing )
Language: G ( Tame words such as "jerkwad" are used. 
Violence: --
Other:  PG13 ( Mention of secondary characters at keg parties with underage drinking and their smoking habits, but not something either main character partakes in. )
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

I honestly think the book covers for this book and PAST PERFECT by Leila Sales (guest post and review HERE) should be flip-flopped. In PAST PERFECT, the main character, Chelsea, and her best friend Fiona are ice cream connoisseurs and the book takes place during the summer. This breezy cover would be perfect, right? RHYMES WITH CUPID, on the other hand, takes place in February. Okay, so maybe a rain jacket is still a little inappropriate, but you could do the same cover with snow. The cover never really jived with PAST PERFECT despite how much I enjoyed it.

That said, the cover is really cute and breezy, easily ear-marked as a light-hearted romance, so it's perfectly suited for its genre!

O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Anna Humphrey
Release Date: Out Dec. 21, 2010
Publisher: Harper Teen
Received: Purchased


Goodman's Gifts & Stationery Store

February 14
Cashier: Elyse

3 boxes of heart-shaped chocolate . . . $12.00
Chocolate is the only good thing about this nauseating holiday.
4 containers of candy hearts . . . $5.00
Ever since my ex cheated on me, I've sworn off love. Too bad my new neighbor Patrick didn't get the memo.
1 Valentine's Day card . . . $4.50
I'm not interested. Although, he is pretty cute. And sweet. And funny.
1 singing Cupid doll (promotional item) . . . $0.00
Stupid Cupid! Point your arrows at someone else. . . .
Subtotal . . . $21.50

It's going to be a complicated Valentine's Day.