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ARC Review: Bone Shard Emperor (The Drowning Empire #2) by Andrea Stewart

Book Cover

Publishing date: November 23, 2021


Andrea Stewart returns with The Bone Shard Emperor, the second installment of this unmissable, action-packed, magic-laced fantasy epic.

The Emperor is Dead. Long live the Emperor.  
Lin Sukai finally sits on the throne she won at so much cost, but her struggles are only just beginning. Her people don’t trust her. Her political alliances are weak. And in the north-east of the Empire, a rebel army of constructs is gathering, its leader determined to take the throne by force.  
Yet an even greater threat is on the horizon, for the Alanga – the powerful magicians of legend – have returned to the Empire. They claim they come in peace, and Lin will need their help in order to defeat the rebels and restore peace.  
But can she trust them?  

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This one was slow to start, which was a surprise after how much I adored Bone Shard Daughter, but then it found its groove and sucked me in and I loved it.

We found out some things that really expanded the world and lore of the first book, while still leaving plenty of questions to be answered in the third. I loved learning more about the mysterious Alanga and I definitely still have a LOT of questions about the Ossana and witstone and the sinking islands.

I also loved that we got a much stronger sense of Jovis and Lin’s personalities and loyalties. They both care so deeply that when they can get on the same page, they’re perfect together.

I had to go back and reread Phalue’s chapters in Bone Shard Daughter when I encountered the first one here because I will admit to have completely forgotten about her (though I vaguely remembered Ranami). Again, in this book we get a much stronger sense of her personality and loyalties.

I also really loved that Mephi and Thrana had such a big role in this book because I love them and they are a joy to read about. They’ve matured, as well, and it was so good to see their bonds with Jovis and Lin strengthening.

I think in the end this book was really about finding yourself and your boundaries and your loyalties and what you will do to protect those you care about. This was a theme with each of the characters, even Nisong, and it was really interesting to explore from opposing sides of a conflict.

There were some big revelations near the end that made me really excited about the third book, so I can’t wait for that.

I also just need to reiterate how intrigued I am by the unique magic system in these books! The bone shard magic is just so cool, and its relationship to Alanga magic makes it even cooler. I can’t wait to learn more.

Overall a fantastic read and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Thanks to NetGalley and Orbit for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

Iloh was an ass. It didn’t take me long to come to that conclusion. Some faces were worn a certain way from one too many smug expressions, their assedness carved into the lines around mouth and eyes. The lines on Iloh’s face were a map leading to only one destination: the capital of asses.

I wanted to sink into the floor, into the floor below that, and then into the cold, wet earth. I was Lin, I was the Emperor and I was an idiot.

ARC Review: Creative Gouache by Ruth Wilshaw

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Publishing date: November 30, 2021


Take your art in a bold new direction—go gouache! In Creative Gouache, artist Ruth Wilshaw shares her step-by-step techniques for creating brilliantly vibrant effects with this easy-to-master medium, a perfect companion for transparent watercolor.

In this comprehensive guide to gouache, you’ll:
Get an overview of essential materials and surfaces.
Learn basic handling and coloring-mixing techniques, including layering, creating blends, and adjusting opacity, plus troubleshooting tips for common challenges, such as dealing with shifts in color and value from wet to dry.
Explore how to paint fun, simple motifs, flowers, butterflies, landscapes, and lettering.
Discover fun gouache techniques, such as adding texture and painting gradients and blends.
Learn how to incorporate other mediums with gouache, including paint pens, colored pencil, and watercolor.
Use what you learn to create inspiring projects such as dimensional artwork, clay décor pieces, and cheerful banners.
See what you can create with gorgeous, wall-to-wall color with Creative Gouache

Perfect for creative beginners, the books in the Art for Modern Makers series take a fun, practical approach to learning about and working with paints and other art mediums to create beautiful DIY projects and crafts.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is an excellent guide to painting with gouache! I’ve used gouache before, but I learned so many techniques and tips here that I am now itching to put to use. The innovative projects have easy step-by-step tutorials and the end results are gorgeous. I had no idea you could do so many things with gouache. I haven’t used mine in years, but now I have to pull them out and try some of these techniques.

I must order a physical copy of this book to use as a reference while painting because there’s no way I can absorb and remember everything laid out so deceptively simply here in one reading.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Quarto Publishing Group – Quarry Books for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: The Chocolate King by Michael Leventhal

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Benjamin loves chocolate. He also knows a lot about it. But one person knows more – his grandfather Marco, otherwise known as the Chocolate King.

Benjamin’s family arrive in France at the beginning of the 17th century, having escaped the Spanish Inquisition. They have nothing but the clothes on their backs and as many cocoa beans as they can carry.

Back in Spain, Benjamin’s grandfather Marco was El Rey de Chocolate, famed for his delicious hot chocolate drink, a recipe he claims he learned from an intrepid Spanish explorer. But now, if the family are to make a living, they must persuade the people of France to fall in love with Marco’s strange mud-coloured concoction. Benjamin is desperate to help, dreaming that he might grow up to wear the Chocolate King crown.

Then, one day, Benjamin causes chaos in the kitchen. Covered head-to-toe in chocolate, he stumbles into the street and straight into the path of the real King – the King of France. Finally, the family get the breakthrough they need, and all of Benjamin’s dreams start to come true.

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Read this one with kiddo (7) and they really enjoyed it. They rated it 4 stars (most likely because to get 5 stars from them it would need to be about baseball). The story is sweet (it is about chocolate after all) and simplifies some heavy historical topics to give a basic understanding of how Benjamin’s grandfather became “The Chocolate King” in France after being forced to leave Spain for being Jewish.

The events that unfold are funny if a bit implausible, and Benjamin is endearing. The king is portrayed in a rather comical fashion which fits with the time period. Overall an enjoyable read that teaches a bit about history and includes information on the history of and process of making chocolate.

The illustrations are sweet and funny and suit the story and the characters. I really like the colors that are used – they give it an old-fashioned feel that makes it seem more authentically historical.

The story is short and rather simple – perhaps simplified a bit too far in an effort to make kids understand it. While my kiddo enjoyed listening to it they don’t seem inclined to read it again. It could have included more historical detail and a bit deeper story to invite rereading and further exploration of the time period.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Pen&Sword, Green Bean Books for providing an e-arc for review.

Audiobook ARC Review: Once Upon a Duke by Erica Ridley

Once Upon a Duke (12 Dukes of Christmas, #1)

Audiobook Publishing Date: November 16, 2021


Due to the terms of an estranged relative’s will, the Duke of Silkridge must revisit the cold, unforgiving mountains where he lost everything he once loved. As soon as he rights his family legacy, he’ll return to London where he belongs. He definitely won’t rekindle the forbidden spark crackling between him and the irresistible spitfire he’d left behind…

Noelle Pratchett is immune to charming rakehells like the arrogant duke. He stole her heart, stole her first kiss, and then stole away one night never to return. Now he’s back—and so are all the old feelings. Noelle knows he won’t stay. But how can she maintain her icy shields when every heated glance melts her to her core?

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve read (and loved) several of the newer books in the 12 Dukes of Christmas series recently, so I jumped at the chance to review an audio version of the first, which I hadn’t yet read. As might be expected, I found it slightly lacking compared to later installments, but it was still very enjoyable.

The town of Cressmouth / Christmas is charming and the inhabitants varied and interesting. I find that one of Erica Ridley’s greatest strengths is creating well-rounded and interesting characters, whether they be the stars of the show or just bit players. With that said, Benjamin and Noelle were a bit less fleshed out than some of her more recent heroes and heroines, and that limited my enjoyment of the story somewhat as I was not able to be as invested in them or their love story.

The plot was good if a bit repetitive, and Benjamin’s reasons for being unable to love Noelle (or anyone) were a bit thin and he held onto them a bit too long. There were some really lovely moments however – like when Benjamin was caring for Tiny Tim – that redeemed him for me and made him more interesting.

The audiobook narration was good. The narrator wasn’t my favorite, and I wasn’t sure about her voice at first, but as the story progressed she grew on me. She did a good job with the different character voices and with portraying their emotions. Once I got used to her, it was a very enjoyable listening experience.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Orange Sky Audio for providing an audio arc for review.

ARC Review: All the Feels by Olivia Dade

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Publishing November 16, 2021


Following Spoiler Alert, Olivia Dade returns with another utterly charming romantic comedy about a devil-may-care actor—who actually cares more than anyone knows—and the no-nonsense woman hired to keep him in line.

Alexander Woodroe has it all. Charm. Sex appeal. Wealth. Fame. A starring role as Cupid on TV’s biggest show, God of the Gates. But the showrunners have wrecked his character, he’s dogged by old demons, and his post-show future remains uncertain. When all that reckless emotion explodes into a bar fight, the tabloids and public agree: his star is falling.

Enter Lauren Clegg, the former ER therapist hired to keep him in line. Compared to her previous work, watching over handsome but impulsive Alex shouldn’t be especially difficult. But the more time they spend together, the harder it gets to keep her professional remove and her heart intact, especially when she discovers the reasons behind his recklessness…not to mention his Cupid fanfiction habit.

When another scandal lands Alex in major hot water and costs Lauren her job, she’ll have to choose between protecting him and offering him what he really wants—her. But he’s determined to keep his improbably short, impossibly stubborn, and extremely endearing minder in his life any way he can. And on a road trip up the California coast together, he intends to show her exactly what a falling star will do to catch the woman he loves: anything at all.

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This was really cute. Some of the plot was rehashed a bit from the first novel, so it didn’t feel quite as strong as a stand-alone, but I loved Alex and Lauren’s dynamic.

Alex is A LOT and he knows it. He has ADHD, is charming and goofy, and constantly, constantly teases Lauren and tries to get her to open up. Lauren knows how to be professional and close herself off so that she’s perfectly blank because she’s taken a lot of abuse in her life. And I loved seeing her let go and let herself be seen.

My favorite moments were when the two of them were alone together, because they could just *be* together and it was so sweet.

The sex wasn’t my thing but I skipped over it and didn’t feel like I missed anything. Aside from some teasing references to it, it was contained in one section so it didn’t overwhelm the plot which I appreciated.

Also my favorite was Alex’s unabashed love of fanfiction tropes. The joy he got when there was only one room at the hotel and it had *only one bed!* His love of the soulmate trope, and the tooth-achingly sweet gesture towards the end, which I won’t spoil but oh, you have to read it.

Overall, sweet and fluffy and charming.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Avon for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

Lauren Clegg might well be the most frustrating human being on the face of this planet, and coming from him, that was a fucking indictment.

Only to find, instead of a frown or weary resignation, an expression of dawning delight. “Let me get this straight.” He braced his hands on the counter and leaned in closer to the clerk. “There’s only… one bed?”

The young man blinked at him. “Yes, sir.”

When Alex pumped his fists in triumph, punching the air, Lauren and the clerk both jumped.

“This is the best day of my fucking life!” he shouted. “Only! One! Bed! My second-favorite trope!”

He swung around to beam at her.

“Do I want to know?”

“He couldn’t help but snicker. “Probably not. But I’ll send you links to my favorite sex pollen fics anyway. I have a few bookmarked.”

“Oh.” her fingers curled against his belly. “I, uh, may not need you to send me the links, then.”

When he tried to move far enough away to see her expression, she clung to him like a limpet. “Lauren Chandra Clegg, have you been looking at my bookmarked fics?”

Her entire body seemed to radiate fresh heat, and she didn’t need to answer out loud.

You have,” he crowed. “You’ve read about pegging and consentacles and–“

Audiobook ARC Review: Gilded by Marissa Meyer


Publishing November 2, 2021


Marissa Meyer, #1 New York Times-bestselling author, returns to the fairytale world with this haunting retelling of Rumpelstiltskin.

Long ago cursed by the god of lies, a poor miller’s daughter has developed a talent for spinning stories that are fantastical and spellbinding and entirely untrue.

Or so everyone believes.

When one of Serilda’s outlandish tales draws the attention of the sinister Erlking and his undead hunters, she finds herself swept away into a grim world where ghouls and phantoms prowl the earth and hollow-eyed ravens track her every move. The king orders Serilda to complete the impossible task of spinning straw into gold, or be killed for telling falsehoods. In her desperation, Serilda unwittingly summons a mysterious boy to her aid. He agrees to help her… for a price. Love isn’t meant to be part of the bargain.

Soon Serilda realizes that there is more than one secret hidden in the castle walls, including an ancient curse that must be broken if she hopes to end the tyranny of the king and his wild hunt forever.

My Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I… don’t quite know how to review this. It started out fabulously. I was SO hooked for the first, oh, 25-35% but then… I just lost interest. I was interested enough to keep listening, but when I put it down it was really hard to make myself pick it up again because I just stopped caring about any of the characters.

The main problem I think is that the story is too long and it really drags from maybe 35-70% and only gets somewhat interesting again toward the end. But… all the “twists” at the end are far too predictable and really I could see the whole thing coming much earlier. I was hoping there would be some surprise twists but…. nope. I’m also vaguely interested in the sequel just to know how it ends but more dreading it because the first should never have been spun out as long as it was and unless they introduce a whole lot of new information there isn’t nearly enough story left for a second book of this length. Really it should have been trimmed down and made into a standalone.

I loved the first part, with Serilda telling stories to the children, but I was never sold on the love story. It was like, “we’ve spent three nights together where I tell stories and he spins straw into gold and now we’re madly in love and can’t keep our hands off one another even though we’re both severely touch starved and really don’t know each other at all.” Like, they’ve hardly even talked to one another. And unfortunately the second half of the book focused rather heavily on the love story. Gild also has about as much personality as a potato, which is glaringly obvious when comparing him to Serilda, who has buckets of personality.

I don’t even need much obvious romance in a book to ship it — a hint here and there is plenty — but you’ve got to give me more to work with than a snatched few hours once a month, hardly any talking, and some frantic making out. A grand love story that is not.

The best moments were with the children and I really wish there had been more time spent with them.

*Thanks to NetGalley and MacMillan Audio for providing an audio arc for review.