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My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

ARC Review: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis(From Goodreads):
Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can't yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much.

Together, they'll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive.


Review:
Just by the description of The Gilded Wolves, by Roshani Chokshi, I knew I would be in for a fun reading experience.  This was a quick, fun book, filled with a glamorous setting, a wonderfully diverse cast, and a group of characters who form a family of thieves. 

What I Liked:
World-Building:
I enjoyed the universe that The Gilded Wolves is set in: late 19th century Paris.  This literally was The Gilded Age, and the setting was rich with the excitement of Paris as the Eiffel Tower was having its debut.

There is also the wonderful hotel L'Eden, where Séverin and his band of thieves live.  It is filled hidden rooms, secret gardens, and workrooms where the group invent and forge items used in their heists.

Diversity:
I love that there is a good mix of characters in this book.  Several characters are people of color, or of mixed heritages.  I liked that this was not just glossed over in the story, but had actual ramifications for the characters.  Enrique, for example, has some Spanish ancestry, but is mainly Filipino.  Because he looks more Spanish, he's not considered a true Filipino.  Yet that is the culture in which he is raised, and so he is constantly trying to prove he belongs among his fellow expats in Paris.

There are also a variety of characters who have various sexual orientations.  There are gay characters, straight characters, and people who are bisexual.  Although it was not explicitly stated, I think Zofia is an asexual character, as well.

There were also two characters, Zofia, and Tristian, who displayed traits of autism.  Sometimes Zofia and Tristian had trouble feeling comfortable among other people.  Sights, smells, and textures could make them anxious, but their friends always looked for ways to make them feel at ease.  They were both valued for what they contributed to the group.

Band of Thieves:
The camaraderie of the characters (and the fact that each had a specialized skill) reminded me of Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo.  This is a compliment, not a criticism.  I loved that each member of the team was equally valued.  I also enjoyed that they each had different relationships between each other.  We all get different things from different friends.  This book wonderfully illustrates this.  

What I Was Mixed About:
Exposition:
The world of The Gilded Wolves is rather complicated, and there were many passages early on used to explain how the mythology of the Houses, forging, the rings, and the Babel fragments work.  I wish the author had sprinkled this more evenly throughout the book, rather than write long passages of this at the beginning of the novel.  It came out rather like a lecture, and slowed down the action.

Puzzles:
This is basically a heist book, with several puzzles that need to be solved in order to reach an artifact.  This is mostly fine, but when characters in books solve complex puzzles, the reader should also be able to solve it with them.  But in this story, the only way to solve many of these problems is if you have arcane, specialized knowledge of math or history.  This was frustrating as a reader.  

What I Didn't Like:
There was one scene that I found utterly ridiculous and a clear rip off of Indiana Jones.  I will not tell you what scene, but when you read it, you will roll your eyes!  This is a small quibble, nothing that would steer me to downgrade the book.


Rating: 




Release Date:  January 15th, 2019

Genre:  YA Historical Fantasy

Author:  Roshani Chokshi

Publisher:  St. Martin's Press

Page Length:  464 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation: A fun book filled with adventure, and a great mix of characters.  Very Entertaining
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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Stacking The Shleves #145 & Sunday Post # 109




I am combining two great blog hops:  Stacking The Shelves (a Saturday feature by Team Tynga's Reviews), and Sunday Post (a Sunday feature by the Caffeinated Book Reviewer).  Both of these features give people a chance to post about what books they received and also an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what others are excited about.  I really enjoy seeing everyone's version of these features!   All book covers are linked to Goodreads, if you want to check them out.  If you enjoy my blog, please consider following me via Bloglovin, Networked Blogs, GFC, or by email subscription.  If you leave a comment and tell me you are a new follower, I will follow you back! 

On The Blog:


Monday:  ARC Review:  The Girl King by Mimi Yu
 
Tuesday:  ARC Review:  The Alchemist's Illusion by Gigi Pandian

Thursday:  ARC Review:  Firestarter by Tara Sim

So many books are coming out this month.  I was fortunate enough to be able to review several books.  Three of them came out this past week.  I especially enjoyed Firestarter, by Tara Sim.  The final book in the Timekeeper steampunk series, is full of intrigue, and romance.

In Real Life:
We are back to work at my school, and the week went by very quickly.  I've been working hard to read several books at once in order to meet all my ARC obligations.  And, of course, many books that I had on hold at the library came to me all at once.

My daughter is almost finished with college applications, and I'm so grateful.  She has already been accepted to a college in Boston!  But it would be great for her to have several choices.  Keeping my fingers crossed.

New Books:
Public Library:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31207017-love-hate-other-filters?ac=1&from_search=truehttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26032887-the-wicked-king

 

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39832183-the-guernsey-literary-and-potato-peel-pie-society?ac=1&from_search=truehttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23197837-the-belles


NetGalley:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35440590-no-country-for-old-gnomes?ac=1&from_search=truehttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36099237-ayesha-at-last?ac=1&from_search=true
 
That's it for this week.  I hope you are all having a lovely 2019.

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

ARC Review: Firestarter by Tara Sim

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25761057-firestarter
Please Note: I received an advance copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
The crew of the Prometheus is intent on taking down the world’s clock towers so that time can run freely. Now captives, Colton, Daphne, and the others have a stark choice: join the Prometheus’s cause, or fight back in any small way they can and face the consequences. But Zavier, leader of the terrorists, has a bigger plan—to bring back the lost god of time.

As new threats emerge, loyalties must shift. No matter where the Prometheus goes—Prague, Austria, India—nowhere is safe, and every second ticks closer toward the eleventh hour. Walking the line between villainy and heroism, each will have to choose what's most important: saving those you love at the expense of the many, or making impossible sacrifices for the sake of a better world.


Review:
I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of the first book in this series, Timekeeper, back in 2016. I fell in love with the fun steampunk style, the diverse characters (especially bi-racial Daphne), the heartbreaking romance, and the suspenseful story.  The final book, Firestarter, continues to deliver all those elements in a sweeping finale.



What I Liked:
Narrative Recap:
Thank you so much, Tara Sim, for recapping the events of the other books!  As a reader, I really appreciate this, as I can never remember what happens in a book that I read over a year ago!  Having said this, if you haven't read the first two books, Timekeeper, and Chainbreaker, you should.  The richness of the characters and story are best appreciated if you have read the other books first.

Steampunk setting:
The universe of this novel is set in Victorian England but is filled with futuristic technology such as automobiles, airships, radios, and automatons.  This makes for a great mix of reality and fantasy.

The roles of women are more modern, as well.  Women have jobs as clock mechanics, wear trousers, and don't need to walk with a male chaperone.  All of these would have been unheard of during the Victorian Era, but because this is a steampunk book, it works.

Diverse Characters:
I love, love, love all the diversity in this book.  There are gay characters, characters from India, and biracial characters, as well.  I love how accepting Danny's parents are of his relationship with Colton.  There is initial shock on their part.  But I think it's realistic, and makes when they accept Danny's choices all the more wonderful.

Daphne is half English and half Indian.  She has very light skin, so most people don't know her heritage right away.  Indians don't consider her a "true" Indian, and British people treat her differently once they know she is not fully British.  I love this because so many people, myself included, find themselves straddled between two cultures.  But this is the first book that explicitly addresses this complex situation.

Romance:
There are two main romances in this book, and both are compelling.  Daphne is attracted to Akesh, an Indian she meets when she visits India.  As she starts to connect with that part of her heritage, Akesh shows her the respect that is her due.  He doesn't try to define her, or push a notion that she is not Indian enough.  In Daphne's position, that is so refreshing!

Danny and Colton have a classic, tragic love story.  Colton is a clock spirit, so he has already lived his life.  As their relationship grows, the inevitable resolution of their situation becomes dire.  If Zavier is successful in freeing time, Colton will disappear.  If he lets another group, the Builders, succeed, a sinister plan will cost many of the clock mechanics their lives.  And if Colton continues on as a clock spirit, what will happen as Danny ages?  Will Colton have to spend eternity alone?





Story:
There are several competing groups that want to change the world order.  Rebels want the British to leave India.  The Builders want to control the clock towers to seize power.  Zavier's group wants to free the time god so that there will not be a need for clock towers and mechanics at all.  All of these groups are vying for supremacy and are willing to do anything to achieve their ends.  This includes acts of terrorism, kidnapping, and torture.  Some of these scenes in this book are brutal in their realism.  But this also makes for a page-turning story.

Overall, this is a worthy third book.  The story was so compelling I wound up staying up reading late into the night.  I cried as people were tortured, and when couples were torn apart.  
Basically, I was enveloped in this world and it's characters.  This is the best kind of reading experience, and I highly recommend this book.



Rating: 



Release Date:  January 15th, 2019

Author:  Tara Sim

Publisher:  Sky Pony Press

Genre:  YA Steampunk Fantasy

Page Length:  488 Pages

Source:  Edelweiss 

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A worthy conclusion to a fun fantasy series.

 
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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

ARC Review: The Alchemist's Illusion by Gigi Pandian

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40201364-the-alchemist-s-illusion
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Centuries-old alchemist Zoe Faust is tired of running from her past. She's finally got her life on track in Portland, Oregon, gardening and cooking in her fixer-upper house with her mischievous best friend, Dorian the gargoyle chef. It seems like the perfect life for Zoe—until she discovers that her old mentor Nicolas Flamel, who she thought had abandoned her, has been imprisoned.
A local artist holds the secret that could lead Zoe to her mentor, but the artist is murdered and the painting containing the hidden clue is stolen. To rescue Nicolas, Zoe and Dorian must explore art forgery, a transformative process that has much in common with alchemy and cooking—but one that proves far more dangerous.
Includes delicious vegan recipes!


Review:
I started reading this series midway, with The Elusive Elixir.  The author, Gigi Pandian, did such a wonderful job of summarizing previous events, that I didn't know this was a series until after I finished the book.  I loved the characters (and the delicious recipes!) immediately.

The Alchemist's Illusion continues to entertain with more Dorian, Zoe, and her skeptical boyfriend, Max.  With its dual storylines, and lots of new characters, this is a worthy addition to this series. 

What I Liked:
Characters:
Zoe, and her circle of friends, are very entertaining.  I loved learning even more about the Gargoyle chef, Dorian, and his quest to become more than a sculpture come to life.  Zoe's policeman boyfriend, Max was appropriately grounded in reality.  It is his spot-on reactions to the magical that anchor the book.  This was both necessary and heartbreaking to read.  Newer characters such as the artist's widow, Perenelle Flamel, and Edward Kelly were complicated and made it hard to know if they were villains or not.  I liked the unpredictability of this.

Food:
A major reason I enjoy this series is for the delectable descriptions of cooking, and food!  Meals are lovingly detailed so the reader is salivating along with the characters.  Plus, there are several yummy looking recipes to be found at the end of the book.

Plot:
The story alternates between present-day Portland, Oregon, and nearly four-hundred years earlier in Prague where we learn the origins of the painting that is the centerpiece of this book.  I liked the two different stories and the fact that it was ambiguous as to who the villain was.  Did Nicolas' wife Perenelle conspire with someone to imprison him?  Who is Edward Kelly?  So many little mysteries to solve!

What I Was Mixed About:
There was one aspect of the plot which I was quite dissatisfied with.  The plot relied heavily on coincidences to move the story along.  At the beginning of the book, Zoe randomly sees a painting in a window that may hold the key to finding her long-lost friend Nicolas.  Considering that this art work was made in Europe hundreds of years ago, how likely is it that it would find its way to present-day Portland, Oregon?  This happens several times throughout the book, which made it hard for me, as a reader, to accept.

Rating: 




Release Date:  January 8th, 2019

Author:  Gigi Pandian

Publisher:  Midnight Ink

Genre:  Mystery Fiction

Page Length:  336 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  An entertaining addition to this series, even with some very convenient plot twists.
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Monday, January 7, 2019

ARC Review: The Girl King by Mimi Yu

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35105833-the-girl-king?ac=1&from_search=true
Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
Sisters Lu and Min have always understood their places as princesses of the Empire. Lu knows she is destined to become the dynasty's first female ruler, while Min is resigned to a life in her shadow. Then their father declares their male cousin Set the heir instead—a betrayal that sends the sisters down two very different paths.

Determined to reclaim her birthright, Lu goes on the run. She needs an ally—and an army—if she is to succeed. Her quest leads her to Nokhai, the last surviving wolf shapeshifter. Nok wants to keep his identity secret, but finds himself forced into an uneasy alliance with the girl whose family killed everyone he ever loved…

Alone in the volatile court, Min's hidden power awakens—a forbidden, deadly magic that could secure Set's reign…or allow Min to claim the throne herself. But there can only be one Emperor, and the sisters' greatest enemy could turn out to be each other.


Review:
This is a story with so many wonderful elements, I eagerly jumped at the chance to review it.  It did not disappoint.  With a world formed around empires and magic, this novel is a page-turner that was really fun.

What I Liked:
World Building:
I really enjoyed the creative world in which this book is set.  There are people who can shapeshift into animals, warriors, royalty, and mythical cities.  I loved the "Inbetween" realm, where a city hides from their aggressive neighbors.  And Min's secret abilities are exciting, and terrifying.  All of these elements were rich details that added to the story.

Characters:
I really liked the strong women in this novel.  Lu has been training her whole life to lead her nation.  When it looks as if she won't get the chance, she doesn't accept this lying down.  She takes action.  The problem for Lu is that she doesn't anticipate how much resistance the men in her society have to the idea of a female ruler.

Min is harder to like.  But she learns through the story to embrace her talents and take control.  I did like that she went from an awkward, self-conscious young teen to an empress who demand respect.

Nok is a scrappy survivor.  He is the last of his people, after Lu's father has all but wiped out anyone who can shapeshift into an animal form.  Nok is also trying to understand his own abilities.  Even though Nok is not the best fighter or charismatic of young men, he knows his own worth and demands respect from Lu.  He will not be intimidated by Lu being a princess.

Set, although a thoroughly abhorrent human being, had a clear motive for his actions.  I liked that he had a backstory that contributed to his actions.  

Romance:
I loved the bittersweet romance between Lu and Nok.  Considering how they were both from different stations, their love story was doomed from the start.  But I loved that Nok accepted Lu for who she really was.  He didn't assume she was a spoiled princess.  Lu also saw Nok as a young man with plenty to offer other than power or position.  I really rooted for them.

Story:
The story follows the power plays among the empire after the king dies.  Will Set become the emperor?  Or will Lu be able to overcome the sexism of her time and become the first girl king?  I love the ceremony of the court, with all its pageantry.  But I also love the everyday people and how they are affected by what the nobility does.

This was a fast-paced story that kept me guessing throughout the novel.


What I Was Mixed About:
Characters:
As much as I loved the strong characters, it took me a while (quite a while, actually) to like anyone in the novel.  Every character had a mean streak.  I suppose characters need to grow through the course of a story.  But I found it difficult to empathize with Lu and Min, in particular, as they both were rather petty and self-centered.  Lu did begin to change by the end of the book, and I loved her growth.  I could not feel such a connection to Min.


Rating:  


Release Date:  January 8th, 2019

Author: Mimi Yu

Publisher:  Bloomsbury YA 

Genre:  YA Fantasy

Page Length:  432 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-book

Recommendation: An imaginative setting with strong characters, this is a fun book.
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Thursday, January 3, 2019

ARC Review: The Winter of The Witch by Katherine Arden

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36621586-the-winter-of-the-witch?ac=1&from_search=true
Please Note:  I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
In the stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, following The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya returns to save Russia and the spirit realm, battling enemies both mortal and magic.

Review:
The Winter of The Witch, by Katherine Arden, encompasses everything I love about fantasy novels:  imaginative world-building, strong characters,  storytelling that uses elements of folktales, and plenty of action sequences to keep those pages turning.  

What I Liked:
World-Building:
A good story begins with a rich universe.  The Winter of The Witch continues to build on the world the author created in the first two books of the series.  On top of the setting of medieval Russia, there many fantastical spirits such as Ded Grib (a mushroom spirit), Lady Midday (a spirit who wanders hayfields causing heatstroke), and Pozhar (a firebird).

One of the most creative aspects of this universe is when Vasya travels on The Midnight Road.  This is a never-ending land of all the midnights the world has ever known, spanning locations, climates, and time itself.  I loved this!!!

Themes:
One of the central themes of this series is the conflict between old and new religions.  As the Christian church is rising in power, people are discouraged from offering tributes to the Chyerti (various spirits found in Russian folklore).  This is causing the Chyerti to fade.   But the Chyerti play a vital role in protecting those who believe in them. 

Vasya believes in both Christianity and the Chyerti.  Her task is to find a way to create acceptance between the two belief systems.

Fully Formed Characters:
Vasya, the main character, is a strong female who bristles against the tight constraints that women are subjected to in her society.  As the series begins, Vasya's choices are to be married off to make babies, or to join a nunnery.  Neither hold any appeal.  

Vasya also has the "Sight".  She can see Chyerti and makes regular offerings to them.  In exchange, she gains protection and learns of dangers to her and her family ahead of time.  

I love Vasya because she is so NOT perfect.  As she is drawn into an ancient conflict between The Bear (the king of Chaos) and Morozko (the king of death), she doesn't always make the right choices.  She also starts to understand that as she uses magic, the power she wields will drive her insane.  Can she do what is needed to save Russia and protect her family?
 

There are no cartoonishly evil or saintly people in this novel. 

             
via GIPHY
As the book progressed, I found myself having empathy for characters such as Father Konstantin (who I originally loathed), and even The Bear.  Both characters do truly dispicable things, yet the author gets inside their heads to show the reader how they became who they are.  To paraphrase Vasya, "I've done good things, and evil things.  But I am neither."  That is what makes these characters so complex.

Russian History & Folklore:
I was delighted to read at the end of the book that many of the plot points in The Winter of the Witch are drawn from actual historical events!  Russian folklore is also woven into the story to include characters such as Baba Yaga, and Lady Midnight.  I loved that the author shows the rich cultural traditions of Russia.

Tension:
This book is definitely a page-turner!  Just when you think Vasya is out of danger, another problem pops up (she just can't get a break!).  Vasya is either running for her life, fighting her way out of a corner, or fighting her urge to go mad with magical power.  There is also tension of the sexual kind as Vasya tries to resist her feelings for The Winter King...
              
via GIPHY


What I Was Mixed About:
Lack Of A Recap:
This is a pet peeve of mine.  When I read a series, I like it when there is a small recap of who the people are with a quick synopsis of what has happened earlier.  I often had to work hard at the beginning of this book to remember who everyone was.  That said, I would highly recommend re-reading the first two books (The Bear and the Nightingale, and The Girl in the Tower), in order to be able to fully enjoy this book. 

Rating: 




Release Date:  January 9th, 2019

Author:  Katherine Arden

Publisher:  Del Rey

Genre:  YA Fantasy

Page Length: 384 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A worthy finish to a wildly creative series.  But read the first two books first.

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Saturday, December 22, 2018

Stacking The Shelves #144 & Sunday Post #108




I am combining two great blog hops:  Stacking The Shelves (a Saturday feature by Team Tynga's Reviews), and Sunday Post (a Sunday feature by the Caffeinated Book Reviewer).  Both of these features give people a chance to post about what books they received and also an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what others are excited about.  I really enjoy seeing everyone's version of these features!   All book covers are linked to Goodreads, if you want to check them out.  If you enjoy my blog, please consider following me via Bloglovin, Networked Blogs, GFC, or by email subscription.  If you leave a comment and tell me you are a new follower, I will follow you back! 

On The Blog:


Tuesday:  ARC Review:  My Almost Flawless Tokyo Dream Life by Rachel Cohn

In Real Life:
This week has been so hectic I can hardly see straight!!!  Working, baking, and those last-minute gifts have made me exhausted.  Usually, we get this week off from school, but for some reason our school break doesn't start until next week.  
All I need to do now is wrap presents, and baking lost of desserts, and I'll be all set for the holidays.

New Books:
Public Library:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13541056-queen-of-air-and-darknesshttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38232379-kingdom-of-the-blind
 Bought:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35794239-hey-kiddo?ac=1&from_search=true
For Review:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35715518-crown-of-feathers?ac=1&from_search=truehttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40879757-the-editor?from_search=true
 I finally have some time to read in the next two weeks!  This is my idea of an ideal vacation.   Have a wonderful holiday season.

 
 
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