Book Review: My Lady Jane by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows

A hilarious alternate historical fiction novel that was just so much fun.

5/5 stars

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synopsis for reviews 2

The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane is about to become the Queen of England

Add it on Goodreads

my thoughts for reviews 1

From page one, this book was hilarious. I have rarely read a book that reveled so completely in being ridiculous. There are references to Shakespeare, The Princess Bride, and the Monty Pythons. (Full disclosure: if you don’t know the source material, this book will be way less funny.) The narrators talk directly to you and sometimes even point out plot holes. I laughed out loud throughout the book.

I loved the alternate historical premise of this book. The authors re-framed the Catholic-Protestant divide under Henry VIII as a conflict between humans that turn into animals (Edians) and those that hate Edians (Verities). From there, they took further liberties with the chronology of history, which the narrators call them out on in a hilarious fashion. Overall, the way that the authors twisted history created a perfect backdrop for the rest of the absurd story. (If you love this time period and will be pained by historical inaccuracies, I don’t blame you, but probably don’t read this one.)

My Lady Jane is told from three perspectives: Lady Jane, the future queen; Edward, Jane’s childhood friend and the dying king she will replace; and G, the cursed aristocrat that will marry Jane as a part of his father’s power grab. I loved that all three perspectives had clear voices and personalities, and that they were all equally important to the story. Also, the switch from perspective to perspective felt natural and never broke up the flow of the story.

I’ll start with Jane. She was bookish and introverted, and she had always known that she would not be important to court life (she was wrong). She got thrust into an arranged marriage, then into a position of power, but all she really wanted was to read. (Relatable.) I loved her optimism and her stubbornness, even if they were frustratingly naive occasionally.

Edward was equal parts infuriating and endearing. Infuriating because he’s a spoiled, sexist prick. Endearing because once the plot knocks him off his feet, he starts to realize just how spoiled and sexist he was, and he grows. He never wanted to be king, and he was surrounded by people that let him have the power without actually doing anything. He hid from responsibility, and in the face of his own mortality, he had to grow up a lot. So while I hated parts of his character, I loved watching him grow into a character that I didn’t hate.

If you’re worried about the sexism, I’ll say two things: 1) the narrators call him out on his sexism, and 2) his voice is not focused on being sexist, so you won’t have it shoved in your face constantly while reading. (If that’s not good enough for you, I don’t blame you.)

G was possibly my favorite character (maybe tied with Jane—I’m indecisive). Cursed to turn into a horse whenever the sun is up, G’s entire life is pretty ridiculous. Still, I loved his a clear, emotional voice. I was able to connect with his character’s frustrations and longings. He was surprisingly down-to-earth and honest, and I loved how those character traits juxtaposed with his horse curse’s humor.

The plot of My Lade Jane was equal parts court intrigue, romance, and rebellion (all of it humorous, of course). Most of the plot consisted of Jane, Edward, and G unwittingly getting caught in a web of power plays and faction rivalries and then trying to survive the mess. The pacing of the plot was just fast enough to keep me reading and to prevent the nearly 500 page book from feeling long, but not so fast that I felt dragged along.

The romance was a large part of the book, but it did not overshadow the political side. Watching Jane and G fall in love was adorable, but it was not the only thing forcing both characters to develop. I appreciated that romance was often used to support and comfort characters, rather than to tear them down. Additionally, Edward’s less-than-perfect love life helped to keep the book from feeling like a rom com.

Still, it would be a lie to say My Lady Jane is not heavily oriented about romance, or to say that the romance never gets cheesy. I let myself get carried away by the story and chose to enjoy the more middle-grade romantic arc, and I had a blast.

I would recommend My Lade Jane to anyone that needs a break from the stress of reality. You have to be able to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ridiculousness of the story. This book gets 5/5 stars for being unabashedly hilarious, not for any deep themes or gorgeous writing. My Lady Jane does not take itself seriously—at all—and if that sounds like fun, then you should definitely pick it up.

Problematic Moments and Trigger Warnings: (A new section where I call out books for problematic moments and alert readers to possible triggers. Please note I am by no means an expert on either, but I will do my best to research the books I review as I write this section. I added this to help readers, but I cannot promise it will be perfect. I am still learning, and any critiques you have will be greatly appreciated. If I missed something in either category, tell me and I’ll edit the review to include it.)

Problematic things: It’s straight and white. There’s no sugar coating it: this is not a diverse story. It’s just not.

Trigger warnings: sexism, violence against people/animals, terminal illness, (recreational) drinking

Top Ten 2016 Releases I Will (Probably) Read in 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

My first TTT of 2017 is a look back at 2016. A ton of incredible books came out that I 100% planned to read…and didn’t. Here are some that I still plan to read (hopefully).

1. Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

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I was so drawn in by the concept of this book, but I was just…never in the mood to actually sit down and read it.

2. This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab


I have been meaning to read more by Schwab forever, and I honestly though 2016 would be my year. Hopefully it will be 2017. 🙂

3. Gemina (Illuminae #2) by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

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I don’t blame myself for not having the emotional courage or energy to read this book. Besides, it has been getting mixed reviews, and I do not want to have my hopes dashed. Still, I have to know what happens next in this amazing series.

4. And I Darken by Kiersten White


I love the idea of this book, and rave reviews have given me hope that it lives up to its potential. I honestly have no excuse for not reading it besides that I never bought it for myself.

5. Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes


This book has been on my radar forever. I keep coming back to it, though I have yet to buy or read it—something I want to fix.

6. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

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My sister just read this book and LOVED IT. I feel ridiculous for not picking it up sooner, but I plan to ASAP.

7. The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi


From everything I’ve heard, this book has incredibly gorgeous prose, which I need more of in my life.

8. P.S. I Like You by Kasie West


Kasie West always surprises me with how she is able to take a flippant premise and create an adorable, sweet, and thought-provoking story. I want to read more of her work, and the synopsis of this one is A+.

9. Blood for Blood (Wolf by Wolf #2) by Ryan Gruadin


Another sequel I held off from to save my emotions. When it came out, I was not ready to read it—but I cannot go an entire year without finishing this ridiculously powerful duology.

10. The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

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This book (for me) came out of nowhere and took over the blogging world. I think it will ruin me emotionally, but sometimes that is worth it.

What 2016 releases did I miss? I always want to increase my TBR, especially with books that might not be on my radar yet!

What books do you plan to read in 2017?

2016 Reading Wrap-Up

With 2016 (finally) coming to an end, I wanted to look back at some of my favorite books of the year. I chose the categories randomly so that I could feature some of my favorite books. There is no distinction between books released in 2016 or from before. Reviews are linked to in the ratings.

Favorite Fantasy

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

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5/5 stars

Favorite Historical Fiction

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

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4.5/5 stars

Honorable Mentions: The Walled City by Ryan Graudin, Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Favorite Contemporary

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

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5/5 stars

Favorite Book From A Genre I Don’t Usually Read

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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4/5 stars

Favorite Reread

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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5/5 stars

Honorable Mention: The Wrath and the Dawn by Rene Ahdieh, The Sweet Far Thing (Gemma Doyle #3) by Libba Bray

Favorite Standalone

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

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4.5/5 stars

Favorite Series

The Starbound Trilogy by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

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4/5 stars

Book I Can’t Believe I Didn’t Read Sooner

His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1) by Naomi Novik

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4.5/5 stars

 Favorite Book That Opened My Eyes

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

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3/5 stars

Favorite Book That Made Me Cry

The Raven King (TRC #4) by Maggie Stiefvater

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5/5 stars

Honorable Mention: Empire of Storms (TOG #5) by Sarah J. Maas, A Court of Mist and Fury (ACO #2) by Sarah J. Maas

Favorite Book That Surprised Me

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

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5/5 stars

What were your favorite books in 2016? Do we share any favorites? Do you have any recommendations for 2017?

Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

A heartwrenching story of four teenagers and their darkest secrets that did a number on my emotions.

4/5 stars

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synopsis for reviews 2

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

Add it on Goodreads

my thoughts for reviews 1

I rarely read historical fiction, but this book was everything I want from the genre rolled into one: strong characters, an emotional plot, and writing that brings the past to life.

Salt to the Sea is an incredibly character-driven book. Told from four different POVs, the book contains four separate stories that slowly weave together. The short chapters ensured that I never got bored with any of the POVs.

Emilia was my favorite character. She is simultaneously extremely young and battle-hardened. Her observation skills were realistic considering her backstory and helped make the rest of the characters more interesting because we got to see them through her inquisitive lens. When we finally discovered the entirety of her backstory, it ripped out my heart and made me love her even more.

Alfred was definitely my least favorite POV. He’s supposed to be annoying and unreliable—and he REALLY succeeds at it. I am both impressed at how well Sepetys was able to craft his character and annoyed by having to be in his head. Still, his character is definitely not what you normally see in YA fiction, and for that, I have to appreciate his character.

The interactions between the characters made this book special, especially because we got to see every interaction from both POVs. Joanna and Florian’s characters slowly develop feelings for each other; thankfully, though, their romance never overwhelms the rest of the plot.

Emilia’s hero-worship of Florian was interesting and refreshing. She does not fall in love with him, but she develops a strong bond with him nonetheless. I thought it was really interesting that even though all of the characters are young adults, there is a clear age divide between Emilia and Florian/Joanna. That age divide made their relationships more complex than they would have been if Sepetys had made them all “peers.”

For most of the book, Emilia, Florian, and Joanna travel together. Though they are working together to get to a port and to flee the Soviets, they never become an intensely loyal Team; they each have their own motivations and fears holding them back. Again, this added realism to the story and was a refreshing break from what I expected, which was them to become a tight-knit group instantaneously.

Though Salt to the Sea is set in WWII, it focuses on aspects of the war that most people do not know about. Each character is from a different area of Europe, bringing four different refugee stories to life. Also, historical events that do not get as much attention—like the Nazi art theft and the Wilhelm Gustloff tragedy—are major parts of the plot. Because of this, the book felt new and enlightening, even though I have read lots of WWII historical fiction.

The ending of this book freaked me out. It was terrifying. Knowing that it actually happened made it even worse. Somehow, I didn’t cry, which still confuses me. Maybe I was just too destroyed emotionally to cry.

My only problem with this book is the pacing. The plot does not have a clear arc; it is really just their journey to the ship, and then what happens on the ship. Because of this, there is no sense of build-up or anticipation dragging you through the plot. Salt to the Sea is almost entirely character-driven, which worked because the characters are so vividly portrayed, but that kept it from been perfectly paced.

I would recommend Salt to the Sea to fans of historical fiction or character-driven novels. It is a truly incredible story that brings the suffering of war to life.

Top Ten Things Books Have Made Me Want to Do

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s topic is Top Ten Things Books Have Made Me Want To Do or Learn About After Reading Them. I really like this topic, but I can’t take it seriously. I don’t read a ton of contemporary books, so I don’t have a lot of “real life” or practical ideas for this topic.

Instead, I’ve chosen to take a more humorous route. Some of these options are possible, some are impossible, some are just ridiculous.

1. Go to a prep school—because of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

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Are you telling me that you don’t want to go to Aglionby Academy after reading the Raven Cycle? It would have to be co-ed, but still.

2. Learn to throw knives—because of Graceling by Kristen Cashore

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Really, every book with a badass protagonist probably involves throwing knives, but Graceling was the first novel like that that I read, so it gets credit for my (slightly troubling) desire to learn how to throw knives at people.

3. Learn to pick locks—because of The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

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A lot of characters pick locks, but none of them do it with quite as much sass as Gen in The Thief.

4. Learn archery—because of The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

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Every scene involving archery and Shazi in TWATD was amazing (and hilarious) to read. I don’t just want to learn archery, I want to be as good as she is.

5. Befriend a dozen beauty queens and learn their deepest secrets—because of Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

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Honestly, who doesn’t want to do this after reading this book?

6. Visit the Night Circus—because of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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Ahh, the first impossible thing on this list. I would hand over my life savings to get to visit the magical world that is the Night Circus.

7. Go to outer space—because of the Starbound trilogy by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

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I loved all of the descriptions of space ships and outer space in the Starbound trilogy. I could do without the forces of evil and freaky hallucinations, though.

8. Ride a water horse—because of The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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I would love to ride one of the water horses that Stiefvater describes in this book, though preferably one like Corr that wouldn’t kill me. I’d also like to meet Sean Kendrick, as long as we’re talking about impossible things.

9. Learn to paint—because of A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

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Feyre’s love of painting was one of the most gorgeous parts of her character in this book. I don’t just want to paint, I want to love it the way that Feyre loves it.

10. Learn to fly planes—because of Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

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All of Wein’s books make me want to learn to fly. The imagery that she uses to describe being a pilot is beautiful and vivid enough to make me forget how often planes crash or people die in her stories.

Do you want to learn/do any of these things? Have you read any of these books? What things are on your list this week?

Book Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

I went into this book with high hopes after having had it recommended to me by tons of people…and it did not live up to my expectations at all.

2/5 stars

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synopsis for reviews 2

Jo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon—like all the girls in her class—she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo secretly dreams of becoming a writer—a newspaper reporter like the trailblazing Nellie Bly.

Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort accidentally shot himself while cleaning his revolver. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun.

The more Jo uncovers about her father’s death, the more her suspicions grow. There are too many secrets. And they all seem to be buried in plain sight. Then she meets Eddie—a young, brash, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. Only now it might be too late to stop.

The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and the truth is the dirtiest part of all.

my thoughts for reviews 1

This book did not work for me, but I never hated it enough to DNF it.

My main problem with this book centers around the main character, Jo—and it’s really frustrating, because on paper, I should have loved her. She was from an old money family that wanted to shove her into a box labeled Good Girl, but she wanted to rebel from that sheltered life to become a journalist (like Nellie Bly…they said about a million times). She was headstrong and spunky and feminist in an era that wanted women to sit down and shut up, and when faced with the murder of her father, she was going to be the one who found his killer, societal norms be damned.

…at least, that’s who she was supposed to be.

In actuality, I found Jo to be naive and annoying. She knew almost nothing about the real world and refused to admit that anyone she knew could have a dark side—while she was investigating a murder. I never fell in love with her spunk; she was rebellious only when no one was watching, and docile in the society she was supposedly revolting from.

Most fundamentally, Jo’s character never struck me as brilliant or journalistic. She was just a girl in over her head trying to get justice for her father…and that would have been okay (really interesting actually) if the author hadn’t spent all her energy trying to convince me otherwise.

Here’s the thing, though. As much as I hated Jo for being clueless, I had to admit that it was at least partially believable. Her entire life had been dedicated to keeping her sheltered and pure, so was it really her fault if she didn’t understand what was going on when people assumed she was a prostitute? Not really—and yet, it was so annoying to read that I ended up hating Jo anyway.

The rest of the characters were very meh. Most of the side characters were one-dimensional, existing to fill a role rather than add nuance or depth to the story. Still, I liked a few of the characters, especially Fay and Oscar.

Eddie, the journalist Jo ropes into helping her investigate her father’s death, suffered similar character flaws. Even once I knew his backstory, he remained a fairly boring character. He never did anything unexpected or revealed a surprising side of himself.

The romance between Eddie and Jo was instalove, pure and simple. Jo would have fallen for the first mildly attractive guy who treated her like a human being…and she did. Eddie was a smart reporter, but there was nothing about him that made him “right” for Jo, and their romance felt more like an inevitable plot device than falling in love.

Of course, Jo was also tied to old money Bram, her presumptive fiance and boring Good Guy. I actually would have liked this story more if the love triangle had been emphasized, but as it was, Jo had two love interests, and I cared about neither.

The writing in These Shallow Graves didn’t work for me. It was very “telly” (instead of “showy”), and a lot of the dialogue felt stilted and awkward. The setting was described well, but there were a lot of details thrown in that struck me as “look at my research” instead of “this adds to the story.”

Finally, the actual mystery in These Shallow Graves was nothing amazing. The plot felt very straightforward, and while Jo might have been shocked when accidental deaths turned out to be murders, I certainly wasn’t.

This book is incredibly long, and unnecessarily so. A faster and shorter plot could have made the mystery feel more exciting, but as it was, each clue was beaten to death before the next one emerged. I think this book could have earned an entire extra star if it wasn’t sooooooooo long.

Still, when the whole mystery was laid out, it was an interesting and layered story. The plot never dragged so much that I gave up on the book. For all its faults, TSG kept me reading.

I would recommend this book to fans of historical fiction set during this era and to people willing to forgive their protagonist for certain faults. It is an interesting look at the time period, but the mystery is not strong enough for me to recommend it as a mystery novel.

Overall, this is a book that rubbed me the wrong way from the very beginning, but I believe that someone with different tastes could really enjoy the story and the characters. 

Top Ten Books Set Outside the US

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

This week’s topic is Books Set Outside the US. I excluded fantasy novels, because I felt like they missed the point of the novel. (Though a few of the books on my list have fantasy elements, their setting is clearly a real place.)

Making this list made me realize how few books I’ve read that are set outside the US (and not in some fantasy land). Most of these are historical novels…I had a really hard time finding contemporary books set in a different country. Any recommendations?

1. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (France)

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Cute and romantic, this book made me want to move to France (and find my own Étienne).

2. Die for Me by Amy Plum (France)

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I read this paranormal novel years ago, and I loved everything about it: the creative paranormal elements, the romance, and of course, the setting.

3. Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein (Ethiopia)

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Black Dove, White Raven tells the heartbreaking but inspiring story of two children growing up in Ethiopia as Mussolini prepares to invade.

4. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (France)

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This book will shatter you into a million pieces. Set in Nazi-occupied France during WWII, this story of a captured Scottish spy made me cry harder than I’ve ever cried in my life…but is also one of the most touching stories of friendship that you’ll ever read.

5. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (Britain)

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I read this book a few years ago, and though it took me a while to get through, the story brought history to life in a compelling way. I can’t wait to read more of Gregory’s work.

6. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (an island somewhere)

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Technically, I have no idea where this book is set, besides it’s on an island somewhere that isn’t America. However, this hilarious story of self-discovery and feminism doesn’t need GPS coordinates to make it amazing.

7. Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin (all across Europe)

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In Wolf by Wolf, the Axis Powers celebrate their victory in WWII with a motorcycle race across the continent. I loved the characters and the ending shocked me (and I need the next book).

8. The Walled City by Ryan Graudin (Hong Kong’s Walled City, loosely)

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I was horrified when I found out that Ryan Graudin had based the setting of this book on a real place. The pure suffering that she depicted made an amazing backdrop for this story, but it is heartbreaking to understand that it was reality for a lot of people.

9. The Philosopher’s Kiss by Peter Prange (France)

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Again, I read this book years ago, but the story has stayed with me. Set in 1747, The Philosopher’s Kiss tells the story of Denis Diderot and the writing of the Encyclopedia, a fascinating and tumultuous period in history.

10. All Fall Down by Ally Carter (Embassy Row, in the Mediterranean)

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Have I mentioned recently that Ally Carter is one of my favorite authors? If I haven’t, I should have, because her books have the perfect balance of levity and seriousness, and I turn to them whenever I need to laugh.

Apparently, I really only read books set in France. Has anyone else realized that?

What books are on your TTT? Have you read any of the books on my list?

Book Review: Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

Oh. My. God. This book grabbed me from the first pages, terrified me, destroyed me, and left me with a story I’ll never forget.

4.5/5 stars

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Goodreads Description

“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them.

“No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs.”

They know the people who enforce them.

“They all decided they’d ride out in their sheets and pay Blue a visit.”

But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

“More than grief, more than anger, there is a need. Someone to blame. Someone to make pay.”

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

my REview

This book absolutely destroyed me. I didn’t know what to expect from it, besides that it was clearly dealing with dark subject matter, but I was not at all prepared for the emotional roller-coaster that this book was.

Out of Darkness is told from the point of view of six people: Naomi, Wash, Beto, Cari, Henry, and the Gang. Each character is given a unique voice and deal with multifaceted issues. Even the younger characters—Beto and Cari—have realistic thoughts, bringing them to life in a way that many depictions of children don’t.

While I expected it to be hard to keep each character’s story straight, it really wasn’t. Every character has such a clear personality that it was not hard to keep track of who was who, and their stories wove together in such a way that the overall plot was always easy to follow.

Out of Darkness begins with a dramatic depiction of rescue workers pulling wounded and dead children out of the wreckage of a school that blew up in 1930s Texas. Then the story backtracks to a year before the explosion, introducing the characters and establishing a separate plot. In this way, the story is not about the explosion, but it is always progressing toward the explosion, adding a heavy sense of doom to an already dark story.

The true plot of Out of Darkness is character-driven, focused on the life of Naomi and her family in an oil-drilling town in Texas. Naomi is Mexican, and her two half-siblings are half-white, half-Mexican, able to pass as white in the town. Naomi finds herself trapped between the white and black worlds of the town, unable to fit in with either culture. Romance, rebellion, racism and sexism all coalesce into a heartbreakingly real story.

Honestly, a lot more things happen in Out of Darkness, but to list them here would be to give away major portions of the plot. Suffice to say that this book is anything but one-dimensional, and it touches on countless societal issues.

The power of this book comes from the writing style. It has been a while since I’ve read a book that honestly shocked me with its prose. It’s hard to quantify what makes Out of Darkness’s writing so gorgeous; it’s not overly poetic or lyrical, but it reads with a rare fluidity. Each of the characters felt real to me, and their struggles captured my heart. I spent the last sixty pages of the book terrified, and the last thirty pages of the book sobbing uncontrollably. To say that this book took over my life while I was reading it would be an understatement.

I would recommend Out of Darkness to anyone who is up for a strikingly honest tale of racism in 1930s America. This book pulls no punches, and it doesn’t apologize for its graphic content—but I’m glad for it. I know I won’t forget this story for a very long time.

Book Review: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

A surprising story of loss and perseverance in a powerful alternate historical setting.

4.5/5 stars

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Goodreads Description

The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule the world. To commemorate their Great Victory over Britain and Russia, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s ball.

Yael, who escaped from a death camp, has one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female victor, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin’s brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move. But as Yael begins to get closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?

My Review

I discovered Ryan Graudin at the beginning of this year when I read The Walled City on a whim and was blown away with the vividness of her writing. When I heard her most recent book was an alternate historical fiction exploring a world were Hitler won WWII, I knew that I had to read it.

Wolf by Wolf did not disappoint.

From the first pages, Yael’s character drew me into the story. She’s a strong protagonist. I know that phrase (“strong” character) has become almost useless at this point, but I need to say it—Yael has lived through a lot, but she’s come out the other side determined to do something about it. I liked that her character wasn’t stuck in the past—she carries her experiences with her, but she also lives very much in the present, ready to change things.

Her tattoos, five wolves snaking up her arm, were one of the most interesting parts of her character. The gave insight both into her personality and into her past, providing an easy connection between the current story and flashbacks to her time in the death camp. Each flashback was written well, with a pacing and length that fit well with the rest of the story; I looked forward to the flashback scenes, instead of getting annoyed at them for breaking up the story (which is usually what happens).

Yael’s skinshifting—essentially the ability to make her body look like any female in the world—was interesting. I liked that even though it sounds like a fantasy element, the psuedo-scientific way that it was introduced (through experimentation in Hitler’s death camps) kept the book solidly in the alternate historical genre. Her abilities don’t dominate the story, but they complement it, adding conflicts to her personality and the plot that kept me reading.

Ryan Graudin’s world building was amazing. Without any scenes that felt weighed-down with exposition, Gruadin created a world that clearly felt like a fascist, dictatorial world. Yes, my prior knowledge of fascism and WWII helped me visualize and understand the politics, but I would have been okay without it. The straightforward way that Graudin created the world allowed me to focus on the story instead of complex details.

I loved the Axis Tour motercycle race concept. Again, Graudin left the premise simple and allowed character conflicts to bring most of the action, though there were definitely some tense, purely race-related moments thrown in. Yael’s fears and frsutrations about the pace of the race, especially when she was struggling, really affected me—I felt like I was the one competing in the race.

The pacing is good, though overall slower and more contemplative than I expected from a book based around a race. There are definitely dramatic scenes, but much of the book focuses on the events that occur on the stops between the legs of the race. Still, I enjoyed the pacing, as it allowed the character development to from to the forefront, instead of every second of the race dominating the story.

Each side character added their own layer to Wolf by Wolf. Some of the most minor characters added some of my favorite scenes, giving certain aspects of the book serious thought-provoking qualities. The fact that Yael was impersonating a racer (Adele) that many of them had met before put extra tension into the plot.

Felix, Adele’s brother, was an interesting character, his family-centric values contrasting sharply with Yael’s ends-justify-the-means mindset. There were times that I found him annoying, though, because he basically only exists to stand in the way of the plot. Yes, it created important conflicts, but it was also kind of frustrating.

Luka, Adele’s competitor and former love interest (though the specifics of that are left vague), was a much more entertaining character than Felix. I loved his interactions with Yael. He wasn’t just a ruthless victor, he was a guy with a broken heart—which Yael had nothing to do with. Watching him bare his soul to a confused Yael was both funny and bittersweet. Luka and Felix forced Yael to confront her own emotions, and I loved watching Yael’s character grow.

Unfortunately, the hints of romance that developed between Yael and Luka didn’t work for me. I needed a few more scenes to prove to me that Yael felt anything serious for him, and certain things that happen ended up confusing me because I didn’t believe in Yael’s emotions. Hopefully, this will be expanded on in the second book and their relationship will win me over, because I honestly love the idea of them as a couple—if it were written better.

Finally, the writing of Wolf by Wolf is gorgeous. I loved the way that Graudin wove in metaphors and symbolism without overpowering the story or feeling out-of-touch with Yael’s character. I absolutely love the title as well. And I CANNOT WAIT for the second book. That ending was ridiculously unexpected!!!

I would recommend this book for anyone who loves alternate historical stories, complex protagonists, great writing, or all of the above.

Book Review: A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

A dark and gripping tale of insanity and murder that kept me enthralled from cover to cover.

5/5 stars

cover a madness so discreet

Goodreads Description

Grace Mae knows madness.

She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.

When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.

In this beautifully twisted historical thriller, Mindy McGinnis, acclaimed author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, explores the fine line between sanity and insanity, good and evil—and the madness that exists in all of us.

My Review

WOW. I’d seen this book floating around the book blogging world and not thought much of it, besides that it had a great title and an amazing cover. I am SO GLAD that I decided to pick this book up because it blew my mind.

AMSD is dark. Set in an insane asylum in the mid/late 1800s (the specific historical time is never made clear), the story explores a variety of abuses that are barbaric to a modern reader. The book captures the horrific ways that society saw insane people; it is impossible not to think about our modern age and realize that some people have carried those prejudices forward.

I loved how perfectly McGinnis shaped the setting—there is very little world-building, she just throws you into the story and works from there. The historical elements really helped create a plot that was unique and moving. It’s honestly hard to describe how perfect the world-building in this book was; I was so absorbed in the story that I forgot that it was historical fiction. (I know that that sounds kind of weird.)

Originally, based on the cover and some parts of the blurb, I’d thought that AMSD would have paranormal elements. It doesn’t, but it made that clear from the beginning. Once I realized that the story’s darkness would come solely from real life scenarios, the story was even more intense.

Grace is an incredible protagonist: damaged but strong, with a love/hate relationship with emotions and a fierce loyalty streak. She starts off the book voiceless, traumatized into silence by the same event that got her pregnant and thrown into the asylum. (Her story was so vivid that at time, I forgot that I was allowed to speak.) Throughout the story, Grace’s character develops a lot, and not always in the positive direction. I loved the complexity of her arc, how I never quite knew if she was healing or getting worse.

I appreciated that McGinnis never beat around the bush about what happened to get Grace pregnant. Though it is never explicitly stated, from early on, characters are able to deduce what happened, keeping the reader in the loop. Grace’s rape is dealt with in a refreshingly straightforward way, with no mystery surrounding it (“well who did it” or “did he actually“) and no hesitation before condemning her rapist. For such dark subject manner, I don’t think I would have been able to read the book if part of the plot had involved dissecting or qualifying Grace’s trauma.

Thornhollow, the doctor that rescues Grace from the Boston asylum, was a fascinating character. Yes, he fits the stereotypical unemotional, Sherlockian mold, but for once, his character does so without being cliche, fake, or annoying to read about. I honestly believed that he saw emotions as pointless and damning, that he saw the world as facts and cause-and-effect only. His morality, especially when related to how he treated mental patients, was gray and murky, but I liked him for it. Also, his insight into what makes insane people crazy—which proves the sanity of a lot of the mental patients—was compelling, and fit well with the overall message of the story.

(Minor spoiler here, just skip this paragraph to avoid it.) I really wanted Thornhollow and Grace to end up together. All of their arguments and late-night wanderings—there was so much passion between them. However, when the book ended and Grace and Thornhollow were still just colleagues, I was okay with it. It is so refreshing to read a story where a male and a female with similar ages spend time together, fight with each other, learn about each other, and don’t fall in love. Allowing their relationship to stay platonic created interesting conflicts and made the sacrifices each of them made for the other more significant.

The other characters were vividly portrayed. Nell and Lizzie, especially, felt real and alive. They could always make me laugh, but they also had their emotional moments, a few of which almost drove me to tears. The dialect that McGinnis used for both of them was easy to read and never got in the way of the story, only enhanced it.

The plot of AMSD centers around Thornhollow teaching Grace about criminal psychology as they track down murderers. From that plot, lots of character-based plot lines branch off—basically my ideal plot set-up. The pacing is quick, but not break-neck, allowing you to enjoy the complexities of the story. There were a lot of heartbreaking moments, including a few moments that actually made me say “NO” out loud. The main mystery (focused on a serial killer) was interesting and unexpected, without being needlessly flashy. The ending broke and healed my heart all at once, leaving me emotionally and morally conflicted in so many ways.

I would recommend AMSD to anyone who is prepared for a dark and emotional roller coaster.