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Blog Tour & ARC Review: The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews

Publishing Date: October 11, 2022

Welcome to the Belle of Belgrave Square book tour with Berkley Publishing Group. (This blog tour post is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Synopsis:

A London heiress rides out to the wilds of the English countryside to honor a marriage of convenience with a mysterious and reclusive stranger.

Tall, dark, and dour, the notorious Captain Jasper Blunt was once hailed a military hero, but tales abound of his bastard children and his haunted estate in Yorkshire. What he requires now is a rich wife to ornament his isolated ruin, and he has set his sights on the enchanting Julia Wychwood.
 
For Julia, an incurable romantic cursed with a crippling social anxiety, navigating a London ballroom is absolute torture. The only time Julia feels any degree of confidence is when she’s on her horse. Unfortunately, a young lady can’t spend the whole of her life in the saddle, so Julia makes an impetuous decision to take her future by the reins—she proposes to Captain Blunt.
 
In exchange for her dowry and her hand, Jasper must promise to grant her freedom to do as she pleases. To ride—and to read—as much as she likes without masculine interference. He readily agrees to her conditions, with one provision of his own: Julia is forbidden from going into the tower rooms of his estate and snooping around in his affairs. But the more she learns of the beastly former hero, the more intrigued she becomes….

Author Bio:

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Library JournalPublishers Weekly, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats. Learn more online at mimimatthews.com.

Author Photo by Vicki Hahn 2021

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved this so much. I loved the first as well but I had reservations about it – not so here. Everything about this story was historical romance perfection. I had a smile on my face the entire time I was reading.

The romance was swoony, the characters beautifully written, the struggles and misunderstandings relatable, and the closed-door romance a big plus for me. I also really loved the use of the Bluebeard story – and the way the expectations arising from that were flipped. It was also really well-written – I had no problems at all with the writing like I often do with romances.

The plot felt familiar to me but I think this was a combination of having read the preview at the end of the previous book and also that it just hits every historical romance beat to perfection. This makes it somewhat predictable but isn’t that one of the main selling points of romances? I like that they’re cozy and predictable and follow a familiar pattern. I also am a huge fan of almost all of the tropes used in this book so that probably contributed as well.

The children were adorable in their wildness and reluctance to open up, and also in the sweet way they responded to Julia. Captain Blunt was broody and cold for a reason and as he opened up and showed his true self I couldn’t help but love him. I was SO happy to see Julia learn to stand up for herself and believe in herself and her worth. I also really appreciated seeing her anxiety – I really felt for her because I, too, have extreme anxiety and would generally prefer to be reading a book. Every part of this novel just made me so happy, I was reluctant to put it down and wanted the story to go on forever.

I highly recommend this.

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

Favorite Quotes:

In a novel she was safe. Her throat didn’t close up and her palms didn’t grow damp. She could experience things in a way that didn’t overwhelm her.

The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews

“Laws are made by men and, therefore, fallible. Justice is something greater. Most of us—the poorest and the weakest—won’t see it on this side of the grave. But sometimes, on rare occasions, someone manages to balance the scales. It can be difficult to reconcile it with the law. That doesn’t negate the rightness of it.”

The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews

Non-exclusive Excerpt:

Cossack tossed his head at something in the distance.

Julia’s gloved hands tightened reflexively on the reins. She squinted down the length of the Row at the rider coming toward them. “Easy,” she murmured to Cossack. “It’s just another horse.”

An enormous horse. Bigger and blacker than Cossack himself.

But it wasn’t the horse that made Julia tense in her sidesaddle. It was the gentleman astride him: a stern-faced, battle-scarred ex-military man.

Captain Blunt, the Hero of the Crimea.

Her mouth went dry as he approached. She was half-tempted to bolt. But there was no escaping him. She brought Cossack down to a trot and then to a walk.

She’d met the captain once before. It had been at Lady Arundell’s spring ball. Viscount Ridgeway, a mutual acquaintance of theirs, had introduced him to Julia as a worthy partner. In other circumstances, the interaction might have been the veriest commonplace-a few polite words exchanged and a turn about the polished wood dance floor.

Instead, Julia had gawped at Captain Blunt like a stricken nitwit. Her breath had stopped and her pulse had roared in her ears. Afraid she might faint, she’d fled the ballroom before the introduction had been completed, leaving Captain Blunt standing there, his granite-hewn features frozen in a mask of displeasure.

It had been one of the most mortifying experiences of Julia’s life.

And that was saying something.

For a lady prone to panicking in company, mortifications were a daily occurrence. At the advanced age of two-and-twenty, she’d nearly grown accustomed to them. But even for her, the incident at Lady Arundell’s ball had marked a new low.

No doubt Captain Blunt thought her actions had had something to do with his appearance.

He was powerfully made. Tall, strong, and impossibly broad shouldered. Already a physically intimidating gentleman, he was made even more so by the scar on his face. The deep, gruesome slash bisected his right eyebrow and ran all the way down to his mouth, notching into the flesh of his lip. It gave the impression of a permanent sneer.

Rather ironic that he was hailed as a hero. In looks, there seemed nothing heroic about him. Indeed, he appeared in every way a villain.

“Miss Wychwood.” He removed his beaver hat, inclining his head in a bow. His hair was a lustrous raven black. Cut short to his collar, it was complemented by a pair of similarly short sideburns edging the harsh lines of his jaw. “Good morning.”

She scarcely dared look him in the face. “Good morning.”

He didn’t reply. Not immediately. He was studying her. She could feel the weight of his stare. It set off a storm of butterflies in her stomach.

Ride on, she wanted to say. Please, ride on.

He didn’t ride on. He seemed intent on making her squirm.

She suspected she knew why. She’d never apologized to him for her behavior at the ball. There’d been no opportunity.

Perhaps he wanted her to suffer for embarrassing him?

If that was the case, Julia was resigned to take her medicine. Heaven knew she deserved it.

She forced herself to meet his gaze. The butterflies in her stomach threatened to revolt. Goodness. His eyes were the color of hoarfrost-a gray so cold and stark it sent an icy shiver tracing down the curve of her spine. Every feminine instinct within her rose up in warning. Run, it said. Flee.

But this wasn’t Lady Arundell’s ballroom.

This was Hyde Park. Here in the open air, mounted on Cossack, she wasn’t the same person she was at a ball or a dinner dance. For one thing, she wasn’t alone. She had a partner-and an imposing one, at that. Cossack lent her his strength and his stature. Made her feel nearly as formidable as he was. It’s why she was more confident on horseback.

At least, she’d always been so before.

“How do you do?” she asked.

“Very well.” His voice was deep and commanding, with a growl at the edge of it. A soldier’s voice. The kind that, when necessary, could be heard across a battlefield. “And yourself?”

“I’m enjoying our spell of fine weather,” she said. “It’s excellent for riding.”

He flicked a glance over her habit. Made of faded black wool, it did nothing to emphasize the contours of her figure. Rather the opposite. It obscured her shape, much as the net veil on her short-brimmed riding hat obscured her face. His black brows notched into a frown.

She suppressed a flicker of self-consciousness. Her clothing wasn’t meant to attract attention. It was meant to render her invisible. But it hadn’t-not to him.

The way he looked at her . . . Hades might have regarded Persephone thus before dragging her down to hell to be his unwilling bride.

And everyone knew Captain Blunt was looking for a wife.

If one believed the prevailing rumors, it was the sole reason he’d come to town. He was on the hunt for a vulnerable heiress he could spirit back to his isolated Yorkshire estate. An estate that was said to be haunted.

“You ride often at this time of day?” he asked.

“Whenever I can,” she said. “Cossack is glad for the exercise.”

“You handle him well.”

Some of the tightness in her chest eased at the compliment. “It’s not difficult.” She stroked Cossack’s neck. “He may look imposing, but he’s a lamb underneath. The biggest creatures often are in my experience.”

Captain Blunt’s own mount stamped his gigantic hooves as if in objection to her statement.

She gave the great beast an interested look. He was built like a medieval warhorse, with a broad chest, heavy fetlocks, and a thickly waving mane and tail. “What do you call him?”

“Quintus.”

“And is he-“

“A brute through and through,” Captain Blunt said. “Sometimes, Miss Wychwood, what you see is precisely what you get.”

Excerpted from The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews Copyright © 2022 by Mimi Matthews. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Blog Tour & Arc Review: Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Publishing Date: September 6, 2022

Welcome to the Killers of a Certain Age book tour with Berkley Publishing Group. (This blog tour post is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Synopsis:

Older women often feel invisible, but sometimes that’s their secret weapon.

They’ve spent their lives as the deadliest assassins in a clandestine international organization, but now that they’re sixty years old, four women friends can’t just retire – it’s kill or be killed in this action-packed thriller.

Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie have worked for the Museum, an elite network of assassins, for forty years. Now their talents are considered old-school and no one appreciates what they have to offer in an age that relies more on technology than people skills.

When the foursome is sent on an all-expenses paid vacation to mark their retirement, they are targeted by one of their own. Only the Board, the top-level members of the Museum, can order the termination of field agents, and the women realize they’ve been marked for death.

Now to get out alive they have to turn against their own organization, relying on experience and each other to get the job done, knowing that working together is the secret to their survival. They’re about to teach the Board what it really means to be a woman–and a killer–of a certain age.

Author Bio:

New York Times and USA Today bestselling novelist Deanna Raybourn is a 6th-generation native Texan. She graduated with a double major in English and history from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of one, Raybourn makes her home in Virginia. Her novels have been nominated for numerous awards including two RT Reviewers’ Choice awards, the Agatha, two Dilys Winns, a Last Laugh, three du Mauriers, and most recently the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Novel. She launched a new Victorian mystery series with the 2015 release of A CURIOUS BEGINNING, featuring intrepid butterfly-hunter and amateur sleuth, Veronica Speedwell. Veronica has returned in several more adventures, most recently AN IMPOSSIBLE IMPOSTOR, book seven, which released in early 2022. Deanna’s first contemporary novel, KILLERS OF A CERTAIN AGE, about four female assassins on the cusp of retirement publishes in September 2022.

Author Photo taken from Goodreads

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This book was very good. I wasn’t sure what to expect, having never read a Deanna Raybourn book, and I was pleasantly surprised. The story whizzed along at a good clip, the characters were for the most part well-developed and interesting. The pacing was breathless as they raced against time to carry out heists and murder the men who are trying to murder them.

I came to really appreciate Billie, as it was in her POV for the most part, but I did feel that the other three women blurred together a bit and weren’t as distinct as I would have liked.

I very much approve of the casual inclusion of LGBT+ characters and relationships. That always makes a book feel much more friendly, and it was done so naturally that I barely even registered it.

I also really really appreciate that the main characters were ‘women of a certain age’ and (despite being expert assassins) they felt very authentic. There were many mentions of the plans having to be adapted to their older bodies. Despite it, they still kicked ass. They were competent and capable AND dealing with things like hot flashes and muscles and stamina that weren’t what they once were. It made for such a nice contrast to the usual teenagers/twenty-something protagonists I usually read about.

I wasn’t sure at first if I was going to like it. There were a few issues I had with it:

The placement of the ‘past’ sections was sometimes jarring and I occasionally got confused about where and when they were. I did become more used to this as I went along, but it took me out of the flow of the story on more than one occasion.

The action scenes – which, to be fair, were a large chunk of the book – were just a tad too clinical. They read almost like newspaper reports. I don’t know if this is just a style common to thrillers – I haven’t read many of them. I feel like the simple language and not-flowery writing are a staple of the genre, but I’m not sure about the descriptions of fight scenes. As the book progressed this bothered me less and less, however, so it might have improved or I might have gotten used to it.

One thing that did bother me consistently through the book was that it was a tad vulgar for my tastes. I do appreciate the bluntness with which things not normally talked about are discussed among the women, but there were so many instances of descriptions of sexual harassment from their targets (which they had to put up with with a smile which definitely made the targets unsympathetic very quickly). Even more off-putting to me (and more common within the story) was the way that the (many) murders were described. Not just how they looked, but how they felt, how they sounded, how they smelled… I get that they are assassins and yes, they do kill a lot of people over the course of the book, but I just didn’t want that much familiarity with the deaths.

I did appreciate the very feminist slant to it all, and the way the men’s casual sexism was used to increase support for the women. Also the way that the four of them used the ‘old women are invisible’ idea to their advantage in order to further their schemes.

The story was very compelling and I found it difficult to put down. I would also probably read it again and will definitely be recommending it to others.

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

Favorite Quotes

And every job was a chance to prove Darwin’s simple maxim. Adapt or die. We adapted; they died.

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Three old women, nodding their heads like the witches in Macbeth. I’d known them for two-thirds of my life, those impossible old bitches. And I would save them or die trying.

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Women are every bit as capable of killing as men.

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Blog Tour: Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

Publication Date: August 23, 2022

Welcome to the Love on the Brain book tour with Berkley Publishing Group. (This blog tour post is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Synopsis:

LOVE ON THE BRAIN introduces readers to neuroscientist Bee Königswasser, who lives her life by a simple motto: What would Marie Curie do? If NASA offered her the leading role on a neuroengineering project—a literal dream come true after years scraping by on the crumbs of academia—Marie would accept without hesitation. Duh! But the mother of modern physics never had to co-lead alongside an engineer who also happens to be her archnemesis. Levi Ward made his feelings toward Bee very clear in grad school – he hated her, plain and simple. But when Bee is faced with one career dilemma after the next, it seems the tables may be turning. Perhaps it’s her occipital cortex playing tricks on her, but Bee could swear she can see Levi softening into an ally… or maybe even something more?

Author Bio:

Hazelwood draws on her own experience as a professor of neuroscience to capture the cutthroat world of higher education, both “the agony and the ecstasy” of academia. Hazelwood’s stories are also heavily influenced by pop culture as The Love Hypothesis was originally conceived as Star Wars fanfiction. Her novels are perfect for readers who geek out over rom-coms, and for fans of Emily Henry and Helen Hoang.  

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

What I love most about this book – as I did with the Love Hypothesis – is how faithfully Ali Hazelwood portrays academia and science; specifically, what it’s like to be a woman in STEM. It’s even more prominent in this book, and I immediately feel such a kinship with Bee and the other characters. It’s almost visceral, this sense of belonging. Having attended a predominantly male STEM school it’s all so, SO familiar.

I loved the You’ve Got Mail -esque premise, and greatly enjoyed watching it play out. It is inevitable from the beginning what will happen, but it’s the journey that’s the important part in this story. In such a story, everything hangs on the characters. Her characters feel so real, so very human and alive. And the precision with which she skewers certain types of people in STEM is astonishing. I was wholly invested for every moment of the story.

The sex scenes were decent, I think. Not the best I’ve ever read, perhaps, but then I’m not really a good judge of sex scenes, since I’d honestly prefer it if they all disappeared and tend to skim them. I have a feeling that a lot of people will really like them, and that’s what matters. They were different than a lot of the ones I’ve read before which is something.

It’s clear that Ali Hazelwood is very keen on the small woman/hulking dude dynamic which… is not my thing. But again, I’m pretty sure a lot of people will really enjoy it. I personally appreciated Levi’s sensitivity and wit and general decentness more. Contrary to Bee’s initial impression of him, he’s definitely the sort of guy I would want to get to know. Similarly, I really want to get to know Bee. And Rocio and Kaylee and Reike (even though she’s only present through phone calls). And Lily and Penny… basically everyone. They’re unique and chaotic and quirky and charming and just… the sort of people you would want to know and have in your life.

Sometimes when I’m reading I find that the characters’ struggles aren’t really relevant to me, or sometimes not even plausible. Not the case here. I was with these characters every step of the way and firmly on their team through all their struggles and joys. And that is one of the things I love most about reading romance, and why this became an instant favorite.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

The real villain is love: an unstable isotope, constantly undergoing spontaneous nuclear decay.

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

Levi became my sworn archenemy on a Tuesday in April, in my Ph.D. advisor’s office.

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

Science doesn’t give a shit. Science is reliable in its variability. Science does whatever the fuck it wants. God, I love science.

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

I take off my sandals and push my legs against the dashboard, hoping Levi won’t take offense at my bright yellow nail polish and my incredibly ugly pinkies. I call them the Quasimotoes.

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

I now know more about body decomposition and makeup palettes than I thought I ever would, but I regret nothing. This is almost nice.

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

Rocio rummages in her jeans pocket and offers him an unwrapped, slightly squished red gumball.

“Thank you. This is…” He looks at the gum. “A thing that I now have.”

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

Blog Tour: The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Welcome to my stop on The Drowned Woods book tour with TBR and Beyond Tours. (This blog tour is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Book Info:

TITLE: The Drowned Woods
AUTHOR: Emily Lloyd-Jones
PUBLISHER:
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
RELEASE DATE:
August 16, 2022
GENRES: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis:

A magical, ethereal fantasy from IndieBound bestselling author Emily Lloyd-Jones.

Once upon a time, the kingdoms of Wales were rife with magic and conflict, and eighteen-year-old Mererid “Mer” is well-acquainted with both. She is the last living water diviner and has spent years running from the prince who bound her into his service. Under the prince’s orders, she located the wells of his enemies, and he poisoned them without her knowledge, causing hundreds of deaths. After discovering what he had done, Mer went to great lengths to disappear from his reach. Then Mer’s old handler returns with a proposition: use her powers to bring down the very prince that abused them both.

The best way to do that is to destroy the magical well that keeps the prince’s lands safe. With a motley crew of allies, including a fae-cursed young man, the lady of thieves, and a corgi that may or may not be a spy, Mer may finally be able to steal precious freedom and peace for herself. After all, a person with a knife is one thing…but a person with a cause can topple kingdoms.

The Drowned Woods—set in the same world as The Bone Houses but with a whole new, unforgettable cast of characters—is part heist novel, part dark fairy tale.

Author Bio:

Emily Lloyd-Jones grew up on a vineyard in rural Oregon, where she played in evergreen forests and learned to fear sheep. She has a BA in English from Western Oregon University and a MA in publishing from Rosemont College. She currently resides in Northern California, where she enjoys wandering in redwood forests. Her young adult novels include IllusiveDeceptiveThe Hearts We SoldThe Bone Houses, and the forthcoming The Drowned Woods. Her debut middle grade, Unseen Magic, will release in 2022.

Author Links:

Emily Lloyd-Jones

Blog Tour and Arc Review: One For All by Lillie Lainoff

Welcome to my stop on the One For All book tour with Colored Pages Tours. (This blog tour is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

One For All by Lillie Lainoff

Book Info:

TITLE: One For All
AUTHOR: Lillie Lainoff
PUBLISHER:
Feiwel & Friends
RELEASE DATE:
March 8, 2022
PAGES: 400
GENRES: Young Adult Historical Fantasy

Synopsis:

An OwnVoices, gender-bent retelling of The Three Musketeers, in which a girl with a chronic illness trains as a Musketeer and uncovers secrets, sisterhood, and self-love.

Tania de Batz is most herself with a sword in her hand. Everyone in town thinks her near-constant dizziness makes her weak, nothing but “a sick girl”; even her mother is desperate to marry her off for security. But Tania wants to be strong, independent, a fencer like her father—a former Musketeer and her greatest champion.

Then Papa is brutally, mysteriously murdered. His dying wish? For Tania to attend finishing school. But L’Académie des Mariées, Tania realizes, is no finishing school. It’s a secret training ground for a new kind of Musketeer: women who are socialites on the surface, but strap daggers under their skirts, seduce men into giving up dangerous secrets, and protect France from downfall. And they don’t shy away from a swordfight.

With her newfound sisters at her side, Tania feels for the first time like she has a purpose, like she belongs. But then she meets Étienne, her first target in uncovering a potential assassination plot. He’s kind, charming, and breathlessly attractive—and he might have information about what really happened to her father. Torn between duty and dizzying emotion, Tania will have to lean on her friends, listen to her own body, and decide where her loyalties lie…or risk losing everything she’s ever wanted.

This debut novel is a fierce, whirlwind adventure about the depth of found family, the strength that goes beyond the body, and the determination it takes to fight for what you love.

Author Bio:

Lillie Lainoff received her B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing and distinction within the major from Yale University. She currently is studying for her MA in Creative Writing Prose Fiction at the University of East Anglia.

Her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry has been featured in The LA Review, The Washington Post Outlook, Today’s Parent, via the Disability Visibility Project, Washington City Paper, and The Yale Daily News, amongst other places. She’s received recognition from Glimmer Train and The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and is the 2019 Winner of the LA Review Literary Award for Short Fiction. She was a featured Rooted in Rights disability activist, and is the founder of Disabled Kidlit Writers (FB).

As an undergraduate, Lillie was a member of Yale’s Varsity Fencing team. As a senior, she was one of the first physically disabled athletes to individually qualify for any NCAA Championship event, and helped her team to an end-of-season 10th place ranking by the National Coaches Poll. She still fences competitively and coaches. In 2017, she was named a recipient of the inaugural Spirit of Sport award by the US Fencing Association.

Author Links:

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved this book. I mean, I went into it knowing I would because, genderbent Musketeers? Everything I ever wanted. And I did love it for that, but mostly for Tania. She is such a great MC, not least of which because she lives with debilitating chronic illness AND IS ALSO a great fencer and a Musketeer.

This book does an absolutely amazing job driving home the point that yes, you can be disabled AND competent — AND that competence does not make you any less disabled. This is maybe the only book I’ve read that makes such a clear point of this. Disability does not equal incompetence. Competence does not equal a lack of disability. They can both be true.

Tania’s illness is never far from her. She never takes a breath free of the dizziness, and we never lose sight of her struggles or her determination. Her illness is threaded through every scene, every moment of the story — but it does not define the story, and it does not define her. It does not truly limit her, not in any way that matters or that she and her sisters in arms cannot find a way to overcome.

Aside from that, I love the way Tania and her sisters in arms grow closer and come to trust and rely on one another. I love that they are trained and trusted to go on missions to protect the king, even if they are denied official entry into the Musketeers. I love that they use every means at their disposal to complete their missions — and are also relatable teen girls.

Another thing I absolutely love is that the four girls’ names are clearly related to the original Three Musketeers (and D’artagnan), and that they also share some of the same personality traits as their namesakes. It’s such a clever and subtle nod to the original.

I love how Tania’s father steadfastly believes in her and teaches her to fence despite her mother’s worries and despite her illness. And that his lessons give her tools to combat the dizziness she feels.

I also love the musing about others like her, reduced to begging and being disbelieved. About how there are so many words for disbelief that a girl can be having the physical symptoms she complains of. About how it’s the poor who suffer during a regime change. This book has a lot of really powerful passages that hit hard and don’t shy away from ugly truths. And yet it still manages to be fun and empowering.

Empowering is actually a great word to describe how I feel about this book. As someone with chronic illnesses myself, I really deeply felt Tania’s frustrations and rage at being disbelieved, mocked, treated like a delicate object, not seen. Her journey is uplifting and empowering and I am so glad that I read it. And even more, I’m so glad Lillie Lainoff wrote it, that it will be available to future “sick girls” who secretly yearn to be Musketeers and save themselves for a change.

I also had the chance to listen to the audio arc and I have to say that I wish the narrator had done more justice to this story. She spoke at a reasonable speed but left long pauses between sentences sometimes — maybe between paragraphs? — which made it difficult to pay attention no matter what speed I tried. She also didn’t really distinguish very much between character voices which made it difficult to follow different speakers. She also had a little bit of a monotone quality to her performance which meant my mind tended to wander while listening.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, Recorded Books, Colored Pages Blog Tours, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing an e-arc and audio arc for review.

Favorite Quotes

When was the last time we’d touched when she wasn’t providing support for my wavering legs? When was the last time she’d reached for me and it wasn’t because I needed help?

Now, whenever I had a good day, people were quick to assume I felt better. It was hard enough living with the knowledge that if I felt healthy, it didn’t mean the next day would be the same. Being reminded of that fact by others was a painfully close second.

Men wanted quiet wives, quiet wives with quiet nervous habits. Not even our bad traits, our unconscious traits, belonged to us.

If I’d known the directions, if I could’ve drawn her a map, I would have done it in an instant. I would have ripped up the precious books in my room for paper and used my tears for ink.

This Paris was nothing like the Paris of my hazy dreams.

It was loud and people-full and the smell stuck to the inside of my nose and grime was everywhere and oh, it was beautiful.

We are not the ones who are written into history. We are the ones who ensure history exists to be written.

But the party was still a crashing wave that broke at my ankles, the clash of music against voices, against laughter, against clinking glasses and the susurrus of shoes against marble.

And even though dizziness lingered at the edges of my vision, even though my toes were clenched tight within my slippers, I was gliding across the smooth surface of a stream. It was just a bout without the swords — a bout that I would win.

…all those years of doing my best to pretend nothing was wrong had stitched a permanent mark into my skin.

That’s what Musketeers did. Earned their wounds.

I wasn’t any less dizzy than before, any less sick. But my legs were stronger. They were fighting for me. All the same symptoms, but no fainting.

They may not be the Musketeers I’d imagined. But they were better, because they were mine. And I knew, as I looked at them and saw the cold steely resolve inside me mirrored in their eyes, that I was theirs.

It was just like what Papa told me. Yes, I was dizzy; yes, his body swayed before me like the rocking of a ship; yes, my legs felt as if they’d collapse at any moment. But I knew the rhythm of this bout. It was in my bones, in the throb of my wounded arm, in the beat of my heart.

Being sick meant, at any moment, the people I cared about could decide I wasn’t worth the trouble I put them through.

The entries were tedious. Descriptions of medical theory, the four humors, hypochondria, so many different words and entries for women in pain that wasn’t believed.

“The three of you made me realize that whatever this dizziness is … well, maybe it’s never been the real problem. It’s horrible and it hurts and it makes me feel fragile in a way I never wanted, but it’s not the thing that tears me apart. The problem, the real problem, is the people who decide I’m unworthy because of it.”

“Fight me!” I shouted. “I am not the fragile, breakable thing you’d have me be. I am a Musketeer.”

Blog Tour and Arc Review: Pink, Blue, and You! by Elise Gravel

Welcome to my stop on the Pink, Blue, and You! book tour with TBR and Beyond Tours. (This blog tour is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Book Info:

TITLE: Pink, Blue, and You!
AUTHOR: Elise Gravel
PUBLISHER:
Anne Schwartz Books
RELEASE DATE:
March 8, 2022
GENRES: Children’s Picture Book

Synopsis:

Simple, accessible, and direct, this picture book is perfect for kids and parents or teachers to read together, opening the door to conversations about gender stereotypes and everyone’s right to be their true selves.

Is it okay for boys to cry? Can girls be strong? Should girls and boys be given different toys to play with and different clothes to wear? Should we all feel free to love whoever we choose to love? In this incredibly kid-friendly and easy-to-grasp picture book, author-illustrator Elise Gravel and transgender collaborator Mykaell Blais raise these questions and others relating to gender roles, acceptance, and stereotyping.

With its simple language, colorful illustrations, engaging backmatter that showcases how appropriate male and female fashion has changed through history, and even a poster kids can hang on their wall, here is the ideal tool to help in conversations about a multi-layered and important topic.

Author Bio:

I was born in Montreal in 1977 and I started drawing not very long after I was born. In kindergarten I was popular because I was able to draw princesses with long spiral hair. Then, in high school, the girls would ask me to draw their ideal guy in their diary. I became very good at drawing muscles and hair, which I used later when I illustrated my book The Great Antonio . On the other hand, I am always just as bad when it comes time to use a diary correctly.

Later, I studied graphic design at Cegep and that’s when I understood that I wanted to do illustration. After my first book, the Catalog des Gaspilleurs , I wrote and illustrated about thirty others . One of my books, The Wrench , won the Governor General’s Award in the Illustration category, and since that time I have a big head and I brag all the time.

I live in Montreal with my two daughters, my husband, my cats and a few spiders. I am currently working on various projects in Quebec, English Canada and the United States. My books are translated into a dozen languages. I hope to live a long time so that I can still make lots and lots of books because I still have lots and lots of ideas.

Author Links:

Elise Gravel

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was a really cute book that had a lot of good information in it.

I love the open-ended questions at the beginning of the book. They really get kids thinking about why things are the way they are, why we make these assumptions, and why that’s not really a good thing.

There is a simple and easy-to-understand explanation of what the terms gender identity, sex, and pronouns mean and how to distinguish between them.

There is also great messaging that highlights how unfair it is when people are told what they can and cannot do based on their sex, gender, etc.

The book is full of cute illustrations that are deceptively simple and really show emotion well to make their point. Some of the illustrations, especially the dinosaurs one, are also really funny. The colors used throughout are also very engaging and welcoming.

Kiddo enjoyed this story and was very thoughtful throughout and seemed to be really pondering the questions raised on each page. They even occasionally answered a few of the questions posed aloud.

I would definitely recommend this book as it provides a thoughtful yet easy-to-understand overview of gender, sex, pronouns, and gender stereotypes and discrimination.

*Thanks to TBR and Beyond Tours and Anne Schwartz Books for providing a copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

“When I become extinct, I want to be a toy for BOYS!”

No matter who we are, what we like, how we feel, how we dress, and what our body looks like, we ALL deserve to be loved, protected, and respected.

The good news is that the world is changing. It is easier to be who we really are, and we can find friends and allies who support us.

Can you imagine how free we would feel if things changed even more in the future?

Blog Tour and Giveaway for Bones of Ruin by Sarah Raughley

Welcome to my stop on The Bones of Ruin book tour with Turn The Page Book Tours. (This blog tour is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Book Info:

TITLE: The Bones of Ruin
AUTHOR: Sarah Raughley
PUBLISHER:
Simon Pulse
RELEASE DATE:
September 7, 2021
GENRES: YOUNG ADULT FICTION—Historical, Fantasy
PAGES: 496

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Synopsis:

As an African tightrope dancer in Victorian London, Iris is used to being strange. She is certainly a strange sight for leering British audiences always eager for the spectacle of colonial curiosity. But Iris also has a secret that even “strange” doesn’t capture…​

She cannot die.

Haunted by her unnatural power and with no memories of her past, Iris is obsessed with discovering who she is. But that mission gets more complicated when she meets the dark and alluring Adam Temple, a member of a mysterious order called the Enlightenment Committee. Adam seems to know much more about her than he lets on, and he shares with her a terrifying revelation: the world is ending, and the Committee will decide who lives… and who doesn’t.

To help them choose a leader for the upcoming apocalypse, the Committee is holding the Tournament of Freaks, a macabre competition made up of vicious fighters with fantastical abilities. Adam wants Iris to be his champion, and in return, he promises her the one thing she wants most: the truth about who she really is.

If Iris wants to learn about her shadowy past, she has no choice but to fight. But the further she gets in the grisly tournament, the more she begins to remember—and the more she wonders if the truth is something best left forgotten.

My Review:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I struggled with how to rate this book for pretty much the entire time I read it. Did I love it? Did I hate it? Was it good or great or meh? It’s really rare for me to come across a book that isn’t easy for me to rate. In the end I settled on liking it.

The plot was certainly compelling and interesting. It managed to stay away from a lot of standard YA tropes and plot types which left me constantly guessing. I did feel that towards the end of the book the plot lost some cohesion and several threads were fumbled, but then it was very complex. Really it was handled quite well overall.

The characters were interesting but they fell a bit flat and I wish there had been more character development. Aside from Iris and Max they were all rather static throughout. I also wish we’d seen the side characters more rather than focusing so completely on Iris. That said, it was brilliant to see so many POC and queer characters in a Victorian London setting. We definitely need more of that.

I also love how racism and colonialism and the racial horrors of the enlightenment era were explored. They don’t often play such a large role in YA — or fantasy in general — and they definitely livened things up and increased the stakes. And made the Enlightenment Committee even more vile.

The love…. square? Was excessive, however. I’m not a fan of the love triangle or reverse harem tropes, and when every boy inexplicably falls for the lead girl it gets a bit old. I’m also not sure why Iris seemed so torn between them and couldn’t figure out who she liked? Only one seemed to genuinely care for her with no ulterior motives.

Jacques and Gram were incredibly creepy from the start and just got creepier as the book progressed. I would definitely not want to meet them in a dark alley — or, y’know, anywhere ever. The Fool was also rather creepy and I feel like there’s a lot to him left open to explore in future books. All of the other champions were sympathetic and I would have liked to see more of them teaming up.

I can see how it sets things up for an interesting sequel — especially with that last chapter! Talk about more questions than answers. If anything, there were a few too many questions and parts where the reader is missing vital information for my tastes. I get that things are a mystery to Iris. This could, however, just be me disliking being kept in the dark.

The biggest stumbling block for me was the writing style. I just didn’t jive with it, and I find it incredibly frustrating when I’m into a story but I feel like I’m reading around the words to get to it. It also made it very difficult to get back into the flow of the story whenever I had to take a break. And for a story that was so high-octane –or should have been, what with the high stakes and sheer amount of blood and gore –it dragged a bit. Think the Hunger Games, but slower-paced.

I’m glad I read it, though, and I’ll definitely consider picking up the sequel when it’s out.

*Thanks to Netgalley, Simon Pulse and Turn the Pages Tours for providing me with an e-arc for review.

Author Information:

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Sarah Raughley grew up in Southern Ontario writing stories about freakish little girls with powers because she secretly wanted to be one. She is a huge fangirl of anything from manga to SF/F TV to Japanese Role Playing Games, but she will swear up and down that she was inspired by ~Jane Austin~ at book signings. On top of being a YA Writer, she is currently completing a PhD in English, because the sight of blood makes her queasy (which crossed Medical School off the list).

She is represented by The Bradford Literary Agency.

So far, you can also find her on Twitter, where work ethic goes to die

Giveaway Information:

Up for grabs will be TWO (1) finished copies of The Bones of Ruin by Sarah Raughley. This giveaway will be open to U.S. residents only and will run from August 29th to September 13th at 11:59 PM CST. Two winners will be chosen. To enter, click the link below!

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DISCLAIMER: This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and will run from September 7th to September 18th at 11:59 PM CST. Three winners will be chosen. No giveaway accounts allowed. This giveaway is not affiliated with Instagram.

Blog Tour and ARC Review: The Tigers in the Tower by Julia Golding

Book Info:

The Tigers in the Tower by Julia Golding

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Publishing Date: November 18, 2020

Synopsis:

“A Little Princess – with tigers! Orphan and outcast Sahira Clive is a brave and plucky heroine with a brightly burning heart. I was rooting for her all the way to the end of this thrilling – and thought-provoking – adventure.”Ally Sherrick, award-winning author of Black Powder

Sahira’s family are travelling to England to deliver two majestic Indian tigers to the menagerie in the tower of London.

But tragedy strikes and sickness steals Sahira’s parents from her on the journey. Left alone in London, Sarhira finds herself confined to a miserable and dangerous orphanage. Despite her heartache and the threats she faces, Sahira is determined to carry out her father’s last request – to protect God’s beautiful creatures: her tigers. To do so, Sahira must set out on an adventure and use all her powers of persuasion to engage the help of some new friends along the way.

Can the quest to find her tigers a safe home, lead Sahira to find her own place of hope and belonging in this strange and foreign land?

Book Links:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53126117-the-tigers-in-the-tower

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Tigers-Tower-Julia-Golding/dp/1782643176/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+tigers+in+the+tower+by+julia+golding&qid=1599164629&sr=8-1

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-tigers-in-the-tower-julia-golding/1136853523?ean=9781782643173

Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Tigers-Tower-Julia-Golding/9781782643173?ref=grid-view&qid=1599164528340&sr=1-1

Indigo: https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-tigers-in-the-tower/9781782643173-item.html?ikwid=the+tigers+in+the+tower&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0#algoliaQueryId=86e00d1c6bf8e6b4ccc8047ac1e9b918

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/search/book?keys=The+Tigers+in+the+Tower

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved this story! It reminded me of the Little Princess and the Secret Garden, with characters and misfortunes worthy of a Charles Dickens novel.

Sahira is brave and determined to care for her tigers, even after losing both her parents on the voyage to England and being forced into a harsh orphanage where criminals have the upper hand and the proprietor is greedy and cares nothing for his charges.

She makes friends and braves many challenges on her quest to help her tigers. And she helps many other people along the way, never once backing down or giving in to bullies, no matter how much trouble she lands herself in.

I was rooting for Sahira the whole time, and thoroughly enjoyed reading about her adventures and exploits, and especially her love for the animals. Middle grade readers of all ages will love this adventure that’s full of heart.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Lion Hudson Ltd. for providing an e-arc to review.

About the Author:

Julia Golding is a multi-award winning writer for adults and young adults. She also writes under the pen names of Joss Stirling and Eve Edwards. Born in 1969, she grew up near Epping Forest. She studied English at Cambridge University, then joined the Foreign Office and worked in Poland, before returning to Oxford University to study for a doctorate in literature of the romantic period.  She worked for Oxfam, lobbying on conflict issues, before becoming a full-time writer. Over three-quarter of a million of her books have been sold worldwide in many languages.

Author Links:

Website: http://goldinggateway.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jgoldingauthor

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/juliagolding

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1332.Julia_Golding

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jgoldingauthor

Tour Schedule:https://tbrandbeyondtours.com/2020/09/24/tour-schedule-the-tigers-in-the-tower-by-julia-golding/

ARC Review and Blog Tour: Swamp Thing Twin Branches by Maggie Stiefvater

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I really wasn’t sure about this at first, but I ended up really liking it. The plant-affected animals/people were rather creepy, which I’m sure was the point. I don’t know anything about Swamp Thing (I requested because I’m a longtime fan of Maggie Stiefvater and adore everything she’s written) so I don’t know how much of the backstory is new, but it was a compelling story and I really felt for Alec and his brother. I got Alec’s social isolation and how he understood the plants in his lab more than the people around him. And his jealousy/abandonment feelings toward his twin, who did seem to fit in with the cool kids.

Overall relatable, believable, and compelling. I love what Maggie did with the origin story here. Since it’s Maggie, it’s gorgeous and a little creepy, with just a touch of magic – and weird in the very best way.

Thanks to NetGalley and DC Entertainment for providing an e-arc to review

Here are some teaser images: