Title: The Armored Saint by Myke Cole
Series: The Sacred Throne #1
Published by Tom Doherty Associates
Published: February 20th 2018
“That love is worth it. It is worth any hardship, it is worth illness. It is worth injury. It is worth isolation. It is even worth death. For life without love is only a shadow of life.”
In a world where any act of magic could open a portal to hell, the Order insures that no wizard will live to summon devils, and will kill as many innocent people as they must to prevent that greater horror. After witnessing a horrendous slaughter, the village girl Heloise opposes the Order, and risks bringing their wrath down on herself, her family, and her village.
I didn’t know I wanted to read a strong character-driven fantasy that felt like a mecha Joan of Arc until I picked up Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint. I feel like I’ve said it a million times before, but it’s worth repeating — tor.com puts out the most amazing, entertaining novellas, and I’ve devoured each and every one I’ve gotten my hands on.
In the short 206 pages that starts a trilogy, Myke Cole packs a punch of a story, crafts a detailed and dedicated character journey that absolutely feels as if you’re immersing yourself in a story that could easily fill up hundreds more pages. By the time I was a third of the way through, I was completely emotionally invested in Heloise.
How many feelings can I feel in 200 pages? A LOT, THANKS.
Myke Cole’s skill at writing vivid, heart-stopping action scenes intermixed with the real, heart-felt emotional development and growth of Heloise is some of the strongest I’ve seen in coming-of-age fantasy in a long time. I love novels set in that feudal kingdom sort of world in which there’s an oppressive monarchy and/or religious order, and Heloise being a young woman who does not ascribe to the rigid morals of the Order in a medieval-esque kingdom so reminds me of the common myth of Joan of Arc that a lot of us are familiar with. And I LOVE IT.
“It is a person you love. Not a name. Not a he or a she. A person in all their shining glory. There is a thing in us, Heloise. A seed. It makes us who we are. It is our core. That the thing that we love. It alone exists. It alone is holy. It has no home, no name. It is neither male nor female. It is greater than that.”
I can’t wait for the sequels, and I can’t wait to see where Heloise goes and what devious trouble the Order contrives next.
If you like grimdark fantasy, coming-of-age stories, and straight up fabulous entertainment, check this one out!
Title: Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey
Published by St. Martin's Griffin
Published: August 21st 2018
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Format: Trade Paper
Emma Grace Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes. Brown hair. Missing since June.
Emma Townsend is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.
Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Abandoned by her mother. Kidnapper.Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal--and when a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her, far away from home. But if it's to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?
Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure she wants her daughter back.Amy's life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now she's gone without a trace.
As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But her real mother is at home, waiting for her to return--and the longer the search for Emma continues, Amy is forced to question if she really wants her back.
Emotionally powerful and wire-taut, Not Her Daughter raises the question of what it means to be a mother--and how far someone will go to keep a child safe.
Rea Frey’s Not Her Daughter
is a well-paced domestic thriller in which Sarah Walker, a successful entrepreneur, kidnaps Emma Townsend, a five year old girl. Amy Townsend, Emma’s mother, is worried about her daughter’s disappearance, but she also feels some kind of secret relief in not having to deal with the personality clashes she has with her own daughter. That secret relief Amy felt was one of the most interesting parts of the book for me.
While I felt like I did have to suspend disbelief a little bit while reading this novel, I really enjoyed how this was formatted. Not Her Daughter is divided into the perspectives of Sarah Walker and Amy Townsend, each with subsections of “before,” “during,” and “after.” The way each of these glimpses into the lives and minds of the two women added such depth to the story and kept me turning the pages because I wanted to know how this would be resolved and how everything would turn out in the end.
Some of the issues I had with the novel were the body-shaming and a few logistic issues near the end. I am tired of the trope that the “bad” women are fat and not very pretty, while the protagonist is fit and conventionally attractive. The traveling scenes at the end of the book seemed farfetched in terms of distance and time as neither seemed very clear, and that’s where some of the suspension of disbelief tied in.
However, I did enjoy Frey’s writing. I found it engaging and well-constructed. And I loved the dynamic of Sarah and Emma’s mother/daughter bonding.
Not Her Daughter brings into question what is right and wrong in terms of a young child’s life, and Rea Frey deals with the difficult subjects of abusive and neglectful children, the children of parents who were neglectful, and how each of those circumstances tie together everything a person does in their present and future.
If you enjoy domestic thrillers and are looking for a new writer to add to your reading lists, definitely pick this one up!
Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a complimentary copy to review!
Title: Playing with Matches by Hannah Orenstein
Published by Touchstone
Published: June 26th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Format: Trade Paper
In the tradition of Good in Bed and The Assistants comes a funny and smart comedy about a young matchmaker balancing her messy personal life and the demands of her eccentric clients.
Sasha Goldberg has a lot going for her: a recent journalism degree from NYU, an apartment with her best friend Caroline, and a relationship that would be amazing if her finance-bro boyfriend Jonathan would ever look up from his BlackBerry. But when her dream career falls through, she uses her family’s darkest secret to land a job as a matchmaker for New York City’s elite at the dating service Bliss.
Despite her inexperience, Sasha throws herself into her new career, trolling for catches on Tinder, coaching her clients through rejection, and dishing out dating advice to people twice her age. She sets up a TV exec who wanted kids five years ago, a forty-year-old baseball-loving virgin, and a consultant with a rigorous five-page checklist for her ideal match.
Sasha hopes to find her clients The One, like she did. But when Jonathan betrays her, she spirals out of control—and right into the arms of a writer with a charming Southern drawl, who she had previously set up with one of her clients. He’s strictly off-limits, but with her relationship on the rocks, all bets are off.
Fresh, sweet, and laugh-out-loud funny, Playing with Matches is the addictive story about dating in today’s swipe-heavy society, and a young woman trying to find her own place in the world.
Hannah Orenstein’s Playing With
Matches is a fun romantic comedy following the dating mishaps Sasha Goldberg has while she tries to create the perfect dating experiences as a matchmaker for her clients. It’s a completely perfect summer read. I started following Hannah on Instagram last year when Touchstone first announced her book, and it’s been such a fun experience watching her book go from the earliest bound galleys to the finished product.
I read this book in a handful of sittings, and it was such a joy to read. Hannah’s writing style and voice is fresh and fun, and she plays with a lot of romantic comedy tropes that left me turning the pages. Sasha Goldberg’s voice is both appropriate to her young age and also wise beyond her years, and the character felt real and so well-developed. I felt for her and wanted her to succeed, and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. The other characters in Playing With Matches added such a dynamic to the story. Sasha as a matchmaker who had dating issues of her own made me laugh out loud several times throughout reading the book, and the twists and turns throughout her own dating adventures were entertaining and surprising. I didn’t expect a few of them! It felt like I was reading one of the classic Nora Ephron romantic comedies. I really hope someday to see more feel-good, hopeful, fun romantic comedies with this same feel on the screen soon, and I desperately hope Playing With Matches makes it to the big screen someday because I think it would be so much fun.
If you’re in the mood for some fresh romantic comedy to read this summer, go out and get yourself a copy of Playing With Matches!
Thank you to Touchstone for sending me a free copy of the book for review!
Title: Improvement by Joan Silber
Published by Counterpoint LLC
Published: November 14th 2017
One of our most gifted writers of fiction returns with a bold and piercing novel about a young single mother living in Harlem, her eccentric aunt, and the decisions they make that have unexpected implications for the world around them.
Reyna knows her relationship with Boyd isn't perfect, yet she sees him through a three-month stint at Riker's Island, their bond growing tighter. Kiki, now settled in the East Village after a youth that took her to Turkey and other far off places--and loves--around the world, admires her niece's spirit but worries that motherhood to four-year old Oliver might complicate a difficult situation. Little does she know that Boyd is pulling Reyna into a smuggling scheme, across state lines, violating his probation. When Reyna takes a step back, her small act of resistance sets into motion a tapestry of events that affect the lives of loved ones and strangers around them.
A novel that examines conviction, connection, repayment, and the possibility of generosity in the face of loss, Improvement is as intricately woven together as Kiki's beloved Turkish rugs, as colorful as the tattoos decorating Reyna's body, with narrative twists and turns as surprising and unexpected as the lives all around us. The Boston Globe said -No other writer can make a few small decisions ripple across the globe, and across time, with more subtlety and power, - and Improvement is Silber's most shining achievement.
The cover of Joan Silber’s Improvement
features a carpet that is woven into the connective stories. The novel is written in sparse, well-crafted prose, and connects the stories of six characters through strong, thin threads. I loved the butterfly effect explored in these pages, and Silber seems to know just what to reveal and just what to led the reader consider for themselves in the connected narratives.
I love how the novel itself is structured with an overarching narrative that is split into smaller sections in first- and third-person narration. The stories read almost like standalone stories, and I appreciated that format because each section felt immediate and personal. These stories, including the overarching story, show the masterwork of a literary butterfly effect. Each of the decisions the characters make affect their own lives and the lives of those around them, and we as readers are invited to consider those decisions in tandem with the decisions and the effects those choices have on our own lives.
Joan Silber’s Improvement explores the connective power of love and the changes — no matter how large or small — love brings into our lives. Love improves us if we only let it in.
Thank you to Counterpoint Press for sending me a free copy in exchange for a review!
After thinking about it for a while, I realized that one of the reasons that I’ve felt stuck in posting regularly here on the blog, posting on social media, and even reading was that I’ve been reading a lot of books that don’t always fit with the original idea I had in mind when I started this blog and the corresponding social media accounts. Most of the reviews I post here are of books I enjoy the most and those are often science fiction and fantasy for a range of audiences, but on my social media accounts, I’ve drifted away from my preferred genres a little bit — classics, science fiction, and fantasy.
That led to a redesign and a refocus! I still have some tweaking to do with images and information here on the blog, and I’ll be changing a few things on my social media accounts in the coming days to coordinate with the style here. I also have some reading plans for the next few years that I’ll be posting here along with potential challenges for myself and others to participate in because sometimes it’s more fun to read with other people! I’ll be reading more SFF, posting more about SFF (either in review format or general thoughts about the genres today, both mixed in with some general criticism [because that literary side of my brain never fully shuts off]), and honing in on a clearer blog focus. It’s been a little all over the place for a while, and even if my reading can be all over the place for a while, I want this blog and my social media to have that focus!