Through Chaos by Joshua A. Johnston

About the book:

A singular evil. An unlikely salvation.

Captain Jared Carter and the Navy cruiser Hattan have helped liberate an alien race from the clutches of darkness, but at a terrible cost of lives and ships. While regrouping, they receive word that a shocking fate has befallen the Confederacy during the Hattan’s distant campaign. Jared and his crew face the prospect that their home as they knew it is no more.

Danger now threatens them on two fronts: ahead, in the empire of the Domain, and behind, in the warring factions of the former Confederacy. The Hattan battle fleet must split up in hopes of combating both evils — their separate destinations leading to a singular enemy . . .

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My review:

Let me start by saying this: space opera is not my thing. Sorry, but I’ve just never been able to get into it, despite trying (except Firefly, because it’s shiny). That being said, I loved this book! I know, right?

I didn’t read either of the first two books in the series, but had the opportunity to read Through Chaos and was so impressed. The story was terribly well-crafted, the writing was beautifully crisp, and I found myself sucked into a space opera and not wanting it to end (words I never really imagined myself saying…). Even the battle scenes, normally my least favorite part of space opera, had me flying through pages. 🙂

I’m sure if I had read the initial books in the series, my enjoyment of the story would’ve been even greater. It was very easy to see from this novel that Johnston created a truly complex and highly detailed world-system that is fascinating, but takes a lot of time to build. So, I’d suggest you start at the beginning and work your way through. If the first books are anywhere near as good as Through Chaos (and I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be), the entire series would be a treat to read and get swept away in.

I highly recommend you pick up Joshua A. Johnston’s Chronicles of Sarco and disappear into the void. 🙂

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The Hummingbird Dagger by Cindy Anstey

About the book:

From the author of Suitors and Sabotage comes a suspenseful and enthralling new Regency novel, perfect for readers who like their Jane Austen classics with a side of mystery and murder.

1833. A near-fatal carriage accident has deposited an unconscious young woman on the doorstep of Hardwick Manor and into the care of young Lord James Ellerby. But when she finally awakens, it is with no memory of who she is or where she came from.

Beth, as she calls herself, has no identity; the only clue to her circumstances is a recurring nightmare of a hummingbird, blood dripping from its steel beak.

With the help of James and his sister, Caroline, Beth tries to solve the mystery of her own identity and the appalling events that brought her to their door. But nothing could prepare her for the escalating dangers that threaten her and the Ellerby clan. From the hazardous cliffs of Dorset to the hostile streets of London, Beth will fight to reclaim her past, hunted by a secretive foe with murderous intentions.

Fans of Cindy Anstey’s previous novels won’t want to miss The Hummingbird Dagger, a dark and twisty new offering that blends romance, danger and mystery.

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My review:

I really wanted to love this book. I have always been a huge fan of Regency era literature and historical mysteries, so this should have been right up my alley. Yet, while the story was interesting, the execution made it difficult for me to enjoy reading The Hummingbird Dagger as much as I’d hoped.

My biggest problem with the writing was the head-hopping. The author wrote in a third-person, omniscient style, which is fine when it’s done well. Unfortunately, because she switched perspectives so often without even a page break in between, I ended up feeling very disconnected to the characters and their stories. In the beginning, I tried to make excuses for why the author head-hopped so much – maybe it was because I was reading an ARC that hadn’t been completely formatted or maybe I didn’t notice a marker for the change in perspective. But, no, the head-hopping continued (and at times got worse, changing from paragraph to paragraph) throughout the entire novel.

One can hope that formatting in the published version of the book solves this problem, but I’m not so sure that it will. If you really love Regency era mystery with a dash of romance, give it a go. It was, after all, an interesting plot, even if it was difficult to get swept up in.

Thanks to Swoon Reads and NetGalley for the digital ARC of this novel for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

About the book:

The task is simple:

Don a disguise. Survive the labyrinth. Best the boys.

Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port receive a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. Every year, the poorer residents look to see that their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope.

In the province of Caldon, where women are trained in wifely duties and men are encouraged into collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her Mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition.

With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone’s ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the maze.

Welcome to the labyrinth.

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My review:

What a ride! I both giggled and gasped my way through To Best the Boys. It was loads of fun accompanied by moments of deep truth. Weber built a fascinating, yet familiar world and populated it with smart, snarky characters. And over all of it, she sent the message that girls can be strong, loving, intelligent, and beautiful all at the same time.

Mary Weber is a master a creating strong, yet vulnerable, female protagonists: Nym, Sofi, and now Rhen, are characters girls of all ages can look up to. Rhen shows us that constraints of society can never hold you back when determination and love are allowed to reign in your heart, a lesson that we all need to be reminded of occasionally.

For me, this is Mary Weber’s best since her Storm Siren Trilogy. It’s a book that I want to read again and again to really pick up on all the nuances of language and truth that are packed onto each page. I highly recommend you pick up your own copy, and one for each of the young women you know who could use some positive inspiration.

Many thanks to Thomas Nelson publishers for the copy of this novel for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own!

A Dream Within A Dream Blog Tour

Let’s kick this off by marveling at this gorgeous cover…

About the book:

Invisible to the man she loves, Reeve Lennox fights to reclaim him from a dark world.

As her wedding day nears in Acarsaid, her betrothed Arden offers only his wayward soul and saucy tongue. At night she desperately tries to reach Bran, the young soldier of nightmarish Tenebris who holds her heart. However, her king insists that the realms of Tenebris and Acarsaid must remain separate, lest the evil wizard Rancore brutally conquer all.

But the dark magic of Tenebris defies mere distance. A war is coming, one only Reeve may be able to prevent, if she can reunite her family on opposing sides.

With two kingdoms at stake, Reeve must discover her strength and her family’s legacy before all is lost. Yet righting the wrongs of the past may require the sacrifice of her truest love.

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My review:

How do I put into words just how much I loved this book (and the first book in the duology, All That We See Or Seem), without sounding like a complete dork? I have no idea. But I do know that I absolutely devoured this book, and I had no desire to ever leave the co-worlds of Acarsaid and Tenebris — giant, flesh-eating falcons notwithstanding.

I don’t know how she did it, but Kristina Mahr made me a fan from the first page. Maybe it was her lyrical prose which leant a beautiful rhythm to her words, or the deftly created co-worlds of Acarsaid and Tenebris, or the tension she packed on the pages. Or maybe, just maybe, it was because I wanted Reeve to have the best of both worlds — to have the quiet strength and deep love of Bran, as well as the sultry flattery and broken heart of Arden. Both sides of the love triangle brought out the best in Reeve’s character, and I found myself torn for her sake.

A Dream Within a Dream is a beautiful, fantastic read that I cannot recommend highly enough. If you want to get lost in a magical world, pick this one!

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Keep reading for some Bonus Content (that’s right…bonus!):

First, a brief interview with author Kristina Mahr about her writing process and inspirations. Kristina devotes her days to numbers and her nights to words. She works full-time as an accountant in the suburbs of Chicago, where she lives with her two dogs and two cats, but her true passion is writing. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, and waking up at the crack of dawn every weekend to watch the Premier League.

How did you come up with the idea for A Dream Within A Dream?

My sister had a dream way back in February 2014 about a girl who falls in love with a boy she meets in her dreams, which has always been the core of the Dreamworld Duology. The plot of A Dream Within a Dream specifically came about very naturally, building upon the conflicts and storylines that were set up in All That We See or Seem. I had spent the years since writing the first book pondering what might’ve happened next, so I had many ideas already in mind when I actually sat down to outline and write the sequel.

Which books or authors have influenced you the most?

Maggie Stiefvater and Tahereh Mafi have been my biggest influences in terms of writing. I love their lyrical prose, the way it’s almost poetry. I can flip to almost any page of their books and find a line that is drop-dead gorgeous.

What is your writing process like?

It took me a lot of trial and error to find a process that works for me, but I feel like I’ve got it down now! I like to plan for two-three evenings a week of writing, plus at least part of the weekend. When I sit down to write, I set a minimum word count goal, and then a stretch-goal. (I almost always end up going for the stretch-goal!) Then, I reread what I wrote in the prior writing session, tidy it up a bit, and get back into the story.

I have a beautiful loft upstairs with a desk and a comfy chair and a giant bookcase, but I almost always write while lounging on my couch with a cat wedged between me and my laptop.

What gave you the most difficulty when writing A Dream Within A Dream?

Keeping track of characters! I have so many secondary characters in this book, and I kept losing them as the plot heated up and storylines started colliding. I ended up having to write down where everyone was, even the people who weren’t in a given scene, just to make sure everyone was accounted for.

What is your favorite writing fuel?

I am an iced tea junkie, specifically Diet Raspberry Snapple and Peach Crystal Light.

What made you decide to create a love triangle?

You know, one of my favorite things about the love triangle trope is how it forces the main character to really do a deep-dive into herself, into what she wants/needs, who she truly is. One of the biggest tensions in the story is Reeve feeling as though she’s being torn in two, leading two lives, as she falls further and further into the nightmare world of Tenebris and gets to know its residents. So it made sense to me to have her heart feel torn in two, as well, especially as one of the things she wants most is to fall in love and be loved. Careful what you wish for, Reeve!

What’s your next project?

I am currently ankle-deep in drafting a contemporary young adult novel, which is my first foray away from fantasy! I’m really enjoying it so far, even though I’d never say never to returning to fantasy at some point.

Find out more about Kristina by visiting her on social media:

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And now, if you have yet to read All That We See Or Seem, the first book in the Dreamworld Duology, trust me, you need to. Not only because they really should be read in the right order to help with understanding what’s going on, but also because IT IS AWESOME! So, here’s the cover and blurb to tempt you…

Every night, seventeen-year-old Reeve Lennox finds herself under a noose.

By day she is a lady of Acarsaid’s royal house, daydreaming of adventure and love. But every night in sleep she wanders through a nightmarish city, an invisible witness to the screeches of monsters and the screams of their victims. Her only consolation is Bran, a battle-torn young man with a selfless heart and eyes that reflect the stars.

Yet while Reeve falls deeper into her dreams, in truth she is engaged to Arden, a mercurial nobleman who has long been cured of his belief in love and breathes fire and flattery like other people breathe air.

Torn between two lives, Reeve struggles to remember what’s real. Until night a day collide, with a revelation that threatens all of Acarsaid.

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Seriously, I want to read these books again and again, I so thoroughly enjoyed them. I’d so very highly recommend you grab them for yourself. You can purchase both books through Uncommon Universes Press (including autographed copies!!).

Many, many thanks to Uncommon Universes Press for allowing me to be part of this blog tour and for the copy of the book for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

About the book:

In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.

Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.

Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?

When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.

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My review:

Although I finished reading it a few days ago, I’m still a bit entranced by this book. There was so much I liked about it: the uniqueness of the twist on the story of the twelve dancing princesses; the eerie, atmospheric pacing, filled with complications and revelations that kept me wondering what was really going on; the eclectic group of characters, each integral to the story. The tale was rather fascinating.

My only complaint (though I honestly think that’s too strong a word) is that it was difficult at times for me to figure out how much time had passed. Days in the story sometimes seemed like weeks, and weeks seemed like moments, so that I found myself going back to make sure I hadn’t missed something. But it didn’t detract at all from the overall story.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this read and will definitely read this author again. This is one I will recommend to my friends. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait a bit: House of Salt and Sorrows will be released August 6, 2019.

Many thanks to Random House/Delacorte Press and NetGalley for the advanced copy of this book for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

About the book:

Gold is in my blood, in my breath, even in the flecks in my eyes.

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.

She also has a secret.

Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

The acclaimed Rae Carson begins a sweeping trilogy set in Gold Rush-era America, about a young woman with a powerful and dangerous gift.

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My review:

I have always been fascinated by the Oregon Trail and have deeply respected and admired the strength of the people who braved the trek. Rae Carson has managed to capture both the heartbreak and the triumph of the Oregon Trail, while adding a dramatic twist in her novel Walk on Earth a Stranger, book one of her Gold Seer Trilogy.

I love the concept of a girl who can sense gold that (against her own will) gets caught up in the Gold Rush. But I also appreciated how Carson made this story about so much more than seeking and finding gold. It’s about human determination, the perseverance of the soul, and the ability to find strength in the midst of the most wretched of circumstances. And it is beautifully written.

This book has been out for a few years, but I was just recently introduced to it. A friend mentioned that she stumbled across it and enjoyed it so much she had to get the next two books right away. I’m so glad I took her advice and got my own copy of Walk on Earth and Stranger. I’d recommend you do the same. 🙂

If Wishes Were Curses by Janeen Ippolito

About the book:

So I accidentally killed a shifter. On purpose.

With genie powers I shouldn’t be able to use, thanks to my curse-mark.

In my defense, the damn grizzly was threatening civilians and might have been a vampire as well. Pittsburgh is safer without him. Only the Fae court doesn’t believe my story, and the shifters are out for blood.

Now I’ve lost my job as a romantic investigator, and I’m on death row. My only hope is an oddly outgoing vegetarian vampire lawyer who seems strangely familiar. Too familiar.

Almost like we’ve met before, and this whole thing was a set-up to take us both down.

Wishing won’t get us out of this mess.
But my forbidden wish magic just might.

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My review:

So, anyone who knows me knows that I love the city of Pittsburgh; it’s one of my favorite places to visit, one of my happy places. When I saw that If Wishes Were Curses is an urban fantasy set in the Steel City, I couldn’t wait to read it…and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 🙂

I was captured by the concept: a genie who is banned from being a genie, but still manages to get in plenty of trouble. And Allis is great. She’s feisty, but fragile; determined, but unsure; and loyal, even when she’s been hurt. It ends up being a wonderfully complicated combination of traits, creating a fascinating character arc.

Filled with snarky characters, a great balance of character growth and action, and plenty of references to chipped ham, If Wishes Were Curses kept me wanting to read more. I’m definitely drumming my fingers in impatience for the next Steel City Genie installment. 🙂