mini review: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
Pub. Date: April 26, 2016
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, St. Martin’s Griffin!)
Summary: Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets — thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most. . .including herself.
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Mythology/Folklore

I’ve been sitting on this review for a while now; every single time I attempt to say something – anything – my mind blanks. Part of me simply wants to say read this book and leave it at that!

Maya lives in a kingdom that swears by horoscopes. Unfortunately, hers foretells a union with Death itself, resulting in a lifetime of snide remarks, terrified looks, and whispers behind her back. With the Raja as her father, Maya’s lived a suitably cushioned, if ostracized, childhood and started to play up her doom-and-gloom future; she’s seen what marriage has done to the women in her father’s harem and Maya would rather not have anything to do with that, thank you very much.

However, with a war rapidly approaching, her father has made the decision to invite several suitors to the palace. These men, royalty from enemy kingdoms, are willing to overlook a Death-centric horoscope in the name of politics. When Maya selects her husband, however, she has no idea what truly awaits.

Maya’s love for her little sister, the wonder of the Night Bazaar, flesh-eating horse demons, glass gardens, the romance…from the very first sentence I was utterly spellbound and completely lost myself to Chokshi’s incredible world and her fantastic characters. Without giving too much away, I have to say The Star-Touched Queen was so breathtakingly beautiful – Chokshi’s writing is nothing short of lyrical and the entire book has a dreamy, fairytale-like quality to it that I couldn’t help but love! At a time when trilogies and series are hotter than hot, this standalone that’s heavily steeped in mythology and folklore was one of my most anticipated releases of 2016 and I’m thrilled to say it did not disappoint! I hate to be so stinkin’ vague but, seriously, get a copy of this book. Now. Roshani Chokshi recently announced she’s working on a companion novel and I for sure will be reading it!

weekly wrap-up: two week edition!

Stephen King tickets went on sale last Sunday and the line was insane! It stretched completely around the block and while people were still in line there were already scalpers walking around ugh. The sale didn’t start until 11am, but the first girl in line had been standing there since 1pm the previous day! Obviously they sold out in just a few hours!

↠ Our farmers market is back and I discovered an awesome local ice cream company! We taste-tested a bunch of flavors including salty goal caramel (made with goat milk,) olive oil, and espresso. But the moment I saw they had a honey peanut butter flavor, I was sold! DELISH ♥

↠ Lately I’ve been on a cooking kick and have been trying out a bunch of vegan recipes! My favorite so far? This AMAZING General Tso’s!! Yeah I don’t think I’ll be buying take-out any time soon :)

↠ Because of the gorgeous weather we’ve been having, Bay and I have been spending a ton of time outside…and she discovered bunnies. They’re now our new favorite thing to chase ha. ALSO because of the gorgeous weather, lots of reading has been done outside, including my yearly reread of Good Omens!

READING REPORT In the last weekly wrap-up I was at 57 books read, 20 written by men, 37 written by women! I’m currently at 63 books read for the year, with 42 written by female authors, 21 written by male authors!

WHAT I FINISHED Since the last wrap-up I’ve finished 6 books: Jennifer Laam’s The Secret Daughter of the Tsar was excellent and full of Romanov goodness! I’m still on a mystery kick and decided to give Laura Lippman’s series a try: The Girl in the Green Raincoat was a short novella clocking in at 160 pages that gave me a great introduction to Tess’s character – this one was especially intriguing because she was on bedrest the entire time and had to somehow solve a murder while under doctor’s orders not to move. After that I leapt into the audio of Hush Hush, the next book in the series. Hush Hush was a book I REALLY wanted to read even before reading Raincoat – years ago a woman left her infant in a car on a summer day and took an insanity plea. Now she’s back in town looking to make a documentary. VERY interesting, right? Turns out I was expecting too much. Although it was enjoyable while it lasted, once it was over, I realized I was glad I was done. The story itself wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be and the narrator’s voice for the three-year-old was AWFUL. (plus Carla Scout is the stupidest name ever.) I fell HARD for Jude Deveraux’s The Girl from Summer Hill, a fun, modern take on Pride & Prejudice! My review for this one goes live soon, so keep your eyes peeled! Jessica Brockmole can do no wrong and her upcoming At the Edge of Summer is my second 5-star read of the year. It was that good, guys. DEFINITELY check back for my review of that one next month! Lastly, I know I’m in the minority, but Saga did nothing for me. Gorgeous artwork, but apart from that…

WHAT I’M READING Like I mentioned above, I’m diving back into Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Love, love, love. One of my all-time favorites! I’m also reading Hannah Dennison’s A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall, the third in her Honeychurch Hall Mystery series. I really enjoyed the first two books and am ecstatic to have these characters back in my life! I’m also listening to A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife – psychological thrillers make my heart sing!

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? After reading The Girl in the Green Raincoat, I had some thoughts on novellas and side stories. Are they something YOU like reading?? I took a break from books to share a recipe: thai cucumber noodle bowl! CRAZY simple and quick and vegan! The Darkest corners by Kara Thomas was a really good YA Thrillers set just outside Pittsburgh! The testimony of two girls send a men to death row, but years later, one of the girls wonders if they locked away the right man. So, so good. Yesterday I shared my thoughts on Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Neuvel. I had a blast with this one and can’t wait for book two!


 

BOUGHT
You by Caroline Kepnes
When a beautiful woman walks into the bookstore where Joe works, he doesn’t think twice before googling the name (Guinevere Beck) on her credit card. Her facebook account is public and she’s constantly tweeting – she’ll be at a particular bar later that night, the perfect ‘chance encounter’ for Joe. Joe slowly becomes more and more obsessed, transforming herself into Beck’s idea of a perfect man and going from stalker to boyfriend. You is said to be super dark and exciting – exactly the kind of story I love! – and with the sequel out, I wanted to get my hands on this one ASAP!

The Girl Without a Name by Sandra Block
A young woman is discovered wandering the streets in a catatonic state. No one steps forward to claim her, no one declared her missing, and when psychiatrist Zoe Goldman decides to uncover the girl’s identity once and more all, she gets far more than she bargained for: someone is determined to ensure the girl has no memory of what happened to her. I legit know nothing about this book apart from the summary, but it looked good and sounds great, so I’m hoping for the best!

FOR REVIEW
The Gutsy Girl by Caroline Paul
Middle Grade + Feminism? SOLD! Flipping through it made me think of Keri Smith’s The Wander Society in that there are doodles and notes and places to write your own thoughts and all kinds of fun bits and bobs! Also, I received the loveliest message with this one. Thank you, Bloomsbury!

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave
I didn’t realize this was out in softcover until it showed up at my door! So many bloggers I know loved this one so I’m beyond excited. A week before her wedding, Georgia discovers a terrible secret her fiance had been keeping from her. She returns home, seeking the comfort of her parents and their vineyard, but things don’t go quite as planned. Thank you, Simon & Schuster!

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda
AAAAHHHHH OMG YES. Ten years ago, Nicolette left home after her best friend disappeared. Now she’s back and events cause the case to be reopened: shortly after Nic returns, a woman pivotal to that night vanishes. This book is told in reverse and is getting some SERIOUS buzz and I cannot wait to start reading!! Thank you, Simon & Schuster!

Wrecked by Maria Padian
Sexual assault on college campuses is very much in the news these days and Wrecked tackles what happens when those involved all have a different story: Richard heard his roommate brag about the cute freshman he hooked up with; Haley was already in bed when her roommate walked in, completely shell-shocked and traumatized. When Jenny accuses Jordan of raping her, the college is thrown headfirst into an investigation that creates two very distinct sides among its students. I’m EXTREMELY curious about this one, especially after some phenomenal early reviews. Also, I’m reminded a little of Wendy Walker’s fantastic All is Not Forgotten. Thank you, Algonquin!

Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt
Set against the Manson murders and the Vietnam War, Cruel Beautiful World tells the story of a young girl who decides to run away with a much older man – and her sister’s decision to uncover the truth. I haven’t read any of Leavitt’s work before, but this one sounded too good to pass up! Thank you, Algonquin!

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine
YESSSSS!! I absolutely devoured Ink and Bone and now the sequel is here! The Library of Alexandria still exists, however, owning books is illegal. Oh, so good. Thank you, NAL!

The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine
“Kate Morton meets Daphne du Maurier” check. A Scottish estate, check. Century-old remains of a murder victim, check. An investigation into the estate’s previous occupants, check. Clearly Ms. Maine wrote this book for me. Thank you, Atria!

Hundred Percent by Karen Romano Young
A Middle Grade novel about a girl’s last year in elementary school and all the changes that brings. ♥ Thank you, Chronicle Books!

mini review: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1) by Sylvain Neuvel
Pub. Date: April 26, 2016
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Del Rey!)
Summary: A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square-shaped hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—the object’s origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top-secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the relic they seek. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and finally figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?
Genre: Sci-Fi, Epistolary

October saw the publication of the wickedly popular Illuminae (which I sadly was NOT a fan of), a guns-blazing space opera told through a series of IMs, e-mails, and surveillance footage. I couldn’t help but compare Sleeping Giants to Illuminae, though I’m pleased to say Giants is much more my cup of tea!

Seventeen years ago Rose received a new bicycle and promptly fell through a hole in the earth…and landed in a giant’s hand. Nearly two decades later, Rose is a physicist and leader of a super elite team sent to uncover the secrets of the hand and hopefully uncover the rest of the body parts. For if there’s a hand, surely there must be an arm, a leg, a torso. What her team doesn’t realize is that they’re walking a very fine line between world peace and total destruction.

I really don’t have a whole lot to say about this one other than I LOVED it! Because of the format – logs, camera footage, interview transcriptions, etc – Sleeping Giants was an extremely quick read and its premise (HELLO, gigantic robots anyone?!) kept me glued to the page. Also, it’s set in Deadwood. Yes, that Deadwood:

It’s a small town built during the gold rush. It was a rowdy place, like in the movies. The last brothels were closed when I was a kid. Our claim to fame, besides a short-lived TV show on HBO, is that the murder of Wild Bill Hickok happened in Deadwood.

As someone who’s not a huge fan of epistolary novels (most likely caused by a pretty awful experience with Dracula) I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying this one so much. Not just enjoying it, but completely loving it to the point where I have no problem whatsoever recommending it AND I’ll be eagerly awaiting the sequel (yes, this is a series!) 2014’s The Supernatural Enhancements also wormed its way into my heart, so perhaps my distaste for the genre solely rests on Dracula? Either way, Sleeping Giants was hugely (ha!) entertaining and smart and had such an intriguing concept that I’m positive it will become a hit.

The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas

The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas
Pub. Date: April 19, 2016
Source: ARC + finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Delacorte!)
Summary: There are ghosts around every corner in Fayette, Pennsylvania. Tessa left when she was nine and has been trying ever since not to think about it after what happened there that last summer. Memories of things so dark will burn themselves into your mind if you let them.

Callie never left. She moved to another house, so she doesn’t have to walk those same halls, but then Callie always was the stronger one. She can handle staring into the faces of her demons—and if she parties hard enough, maybe one day they’ll disappear for good.

Tessa and Callie have never talked about what they saw that night. After the trial, Callie drifted and Tessa moved, and childhood friends just have a way of losing touch. But ever since she left, Tessa has had questions. Things have never quite added up. And now she has to go back to Fayette—to Wyatt Stokes, sitting on death row; to Lori Cawley, Callie’s dead cousin; and to the one other person who may be hiding the truth.

Only the closer Tessa gets to the truth, the closer she gets to a killer—and this time, it won’t be so easy to run away.
Genre: YA, Thriller, Contemporary

To say Thillers are my jam would be one of the biggest understatements of the century. Not only have I been on a serious Thriller kick lately, but I even featured the genre in one of my GoodReads Recommends posts! Sinking into a heart-stopping, suspenseful mystery is my ultimate idea of a good time, so when The Darkest Corners arrived at my door one day, it was all I could do not to put everything else on hold just so I could dive in! (Although I ended up reading this one in February – I rarely read books months in advance, so you should already get an idea of where my thoughts on this one will be heading!)

When Tess and Callie were nine years old, they witnessed something they should have never seen. Callie’s older cousin was dead and it was the girls’ testimony that sent Wyatt Stokes to death row. Once the trial ended and the jury convicted Wyatt, Tessa moved away and the former besties ended up drifting apart.

Now, five years later, Tessa is back in Pennsylvania and she has questions, questions that have been with her all these years. What really happened the night Lori was murdered? Tessa and Callie never actually talked about what they saw that night… did they send an innocent man to prison?

HOLY MOLY THIS ONE IS GOOD. Saying anything would be saying too much and I really don’t want to ruin this book so be prepared for a super vague review – sorry! You’re just going to have to trust me on this one.

To be honest, I was a little hesitant going on – could a Young Adult Thriller actually work? Turns out, yes, yes it most certainly can! I was instantly hooked and the pages were basically a blur I was turning them so quickly! Just like Tessa, I needed answers as to what really went on the night Lori lost her life. Let me warn you though: when Kara Thomas finally gives you those answers…hoo boy. Be prepared.

A huge added bonus for me was that The Darkest Corners is set in Fayette, PA, just outside Pittsburgh. I’m very familiar with the towns and places named – even my hometown (a little north of the city) got a shout-out. I know other readers won’t have that personal connection that I did, but I promise not being from the area doesn’t take away from the story at all – this book could be set halfway around the world and I still would have been captivated.

Again with the vagueness, but I really, really don’t want to spoil anything here! The Darkest Corners is a novel to dive into blind. There were turns I did NOT see coming, excellent character development, a fascinating premise, and a resolution that legit made me gasp. If you’re like me and completely obsessed over Making a Murderer and Serial, you’re going to want to read this one! Kara also wrote the Prep School Confidential series and if it’s half as good as The Darkest Corners I need to get my hands on those books now!

weekend eats: Thai cucumber noodle bowl (vegan!)

Time to mix it up a bit! Today I’m sharing with you a recipe I made earlier in the week that I loved: it’s light and fresh – and SUPER filling. Plus it’s vegan and, because I made a big batch, it was my lunch AND dinner for three days! Matt even had some of the leftovers and, total, I got nine servings out of this one dish!

Adapted from Budget Bytes
Dressing
1/3 c. rice vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt + pepper to taste

Salad
1 12oz. package noodles
2 cucumbers
1 can chickpeas
1/2 c. chopped peanuts

1. Cook noodles per instructions.
2. While noodles are cooking, whisk dressing together and set aside.
3. Peel and slice cucumbers, chop peanuts, and combine with dressing.
4. Once noodles are done, mix everything together and enjoy!

I’ve been on a Thai kick lately and when I saw this recipe I knew it was something I needed to try. Not only it is crazy simple, but it’s delicious and easily customizable!

With the leftovers I noticed the dressing was soaked up (which I expected) so you’ll have to ‘freshen’ it up a bit with more vinegar and oil. Also, I’m a bit of a black pepper fiend and probably sprinkled a bit more than a normal person would. Oops!

Not that I’ve made this dish and have witnessed firsthand 1) how easy/quick it is to make and 2) how much I get out of it, this will for sure become a go-to recipe!

on novellas and side stories

It seems every series these days has companions stories (I’m looking at you, YA) – and, to be honest, I’m not a big fan. Or, at least, I wasn’t. To me, those side stories should be fun bonuses, not required reading. I’ve been burned before by picking up the next book in a series only to be wildly confused (who is that?? when did that happen?? WHAT is going on?!) because events that took place in a companion piece were considered canon.

Last year I received a copy of Django Wexler’s The Shadow of Elysium, a side story in his Shadow Campaigns series. Normally I would have backed away, but I’ve been curious about those books and thought Elysium would be a fun introduction. I’m SO glad I jumped at the chance because this one was great and gave me a good feel for the world and Wexler’s writing and now I’m even more excited to read the books!

That was as far as my foray into side stories went…until this year. For some reason I’ve been hitting them hard – and am shocked to discover how much I’m enjoying them! In January I read The Locked Room Mystery, a super short, 6-page story in Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crime series. To be honest, I read this because I’ve been dying for the third book in the series. The second book, The Fourth Bear, came out in 2006. Ten. Years. No, it wasn’t nearly enough to tide me over, but it was a fun dip back into Fforde’s crazy world and best of all, it featured the characters without introducing anything new or important to the overall series.

Then in February I was on the hunt for a good thriller and gave across Heather Gundenkauf’s Little Lies, a prequel to her novel, Little Mercies. While Little Lies wasn’t the action-packed, heart-stopping story I expected, it was an excellent set-up to her characters and did a great job at setting the tone and scene for Little Mercies.

What’s the point of my rambling? Yesterday I had that urge again, that need to read something quick that would keep me guessing and invested. Enter Tess Monaghan.

The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman
Pub. Date: January 18, 2011
Source: e-book via my library
Summary: Originally serialized in the New York Times, The Girl in the Green Raincoat is now in book form for the very first time—a masterful thriller in the Alfred Hitchcock mode that places a very pregnant, homebound Tess in the center of a murderous puzzle that could cost her her life and the life of her unborn child.
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Novella

The Girl in the Green Raincoat is a 158-page novella, originally serialized in the New York Times, and the perfect reading material for when you want to lose yourself in a mystery. The fun part? Tess, the main character, is on strict orders from her doctor to move as little as possible – how could she possibly solve a mystery while on bedrest?

Every day as she stares out the window, Tess people-watches and, every day, she sees the same woman in the park with her young greyhound. The reason they stick out? They’re both dressed alike in matching green coats. One day, however, the dog frantically runs down the lane as though something is chasing it…and the woman is nowhere to be found. Unable to let it go, Tess enlists the help of her best friend and her boyfriend to do all the heavy lifting. The three (plus Tess’s assistant at her PI firm) slowly unravel the mystery of just who the woman is and, along the way, find out some VERY interesting things. Like how she was wife number 3 and the previous wives (plus a girlfriend) had all died. Suspicious, no?

Because of its length, this isn’t exactly a normal review, but I will say I enjoyed this one immensely. I’ve come across the book multiple times and never really thought too much about it until I was browsing my library’s online catalog and saw it was available. Call it fate, I guess. The most recent book in the series, Hush Hush caught my eye last year (a woman starts her life over after she’s found not guilty by reason of criminal insanity when her two-month-old was locked inside a car on a hot August day; now she’s back in Baltimore to film a documentary and Tess is put on security detail, all the while wondering if the woman really is insane) and The Girl in the Green Raincoat got me up to speed with the series so far and introduced me to the characters. Lippman also has several standalones I’ve been eyeing and I’m excited to say I’m even more interested after having finally read one of her books!

What are YOUR thoughts on side stories? Love them? Hate them?

weekly wrap-up 4/10

SADTIMES IN PITTSBURGH winter is back with a vengeance and this girl isn’t happy. Funnily enough, next week it’s supposed to be near 80 so.

↠ I did the most amazing shopping spree last week and everything arrived earlier this week (you can see two of the dresses here and here) – everything was seriously dirt cheap and I was in heaven. …only to later find out the reason for the sale was because the shop is closing. WHY ME

↠ I discovered a new neighbor next door! Gobble gobble.

↠ Reading report! Last week I was at 55 books read for the year, 35 by female author, 20 by male authors. I’m currently at 57 books read and since both were written by ladies, that means the men are still at 20 and the women bumped up to 37!

WHAT I FINISHED Lily Anderson’s The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You is so stinkin’ adorkable with it’s we-hate-each-other-but-we’re-really-in-love trope and, my goodness, all the fandom geekery! Fun, fun, fun. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the new Sarah Rees Brennan, Tell the Wind and Fire, a novel I DNFed. It’s based on Great Expectations and absolutely nothing happened in the 70 pages I read – it was literally all backstory and infodumps. Super confusing and not at all what I expected from her! :( So bummed out.

WHAT I’M READING It’s all about Jennifer Laam this weekend! I’m thiiis close to the end of The Secret Daughter of the Tsar (and, no surprise, but I’m LOVING it!) and will be jumping into The Tsarina’s Legacy next!

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? Julie McElwain’s A Murder in Time was surprisingly addictive! An FBI agent botches a raid and somehow winds up in 1815 where she’s mistaken for a new maid. There’s a serial killer on the loose and she has to go about solving the case without her 21st century means – super quick and really entertaining! GoodReads Recommends is back! This time I’m highlighting recommendations based on one of my top reads of the year, Black Rabbit Hall! Yesterday I switched things up a bit and turned the blog over to my pup as we unboxed our first BarkBox! ALSO, earlier in the week I was over at The Book Addicts Guide for Brittany’s Book and a Beverage feature!

AND NOW, THE BOOKS!

Flight Patterns by Karen White
No lie, I legit shrieked when I opened this package. I REALLY enjoyed last year’s The Sound of Glass and was thrilled to see she was coming out with a new book. Flight Patterns is about Georgia, an expert on fine china, and how she finds herself returning to the home she left 13 years earlier – a home she swore she’d never see again. I flipped through this one the second I got it and saw the opening chapter is set in the ’40s – YAY DUAL ERAS. ALSO!! Georgia’s grandfather is a beekeeper. I’ve mentioned this a few times but I recently finished my beekeeping course and it’s something I have a huge interest in so this book is SO me. Thank you, NAL!

The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas
A finished hardback of an ARC I received and read back in February. I love me some thrillers and this one takes place just outside Pittsburgh. When tragedy struck, one girl stayed behind and another left. Now, years later, Tessa has returned to discover her former BFF Callie is a completely different person. With Tessa back – and a boy sitting on death row – the girls realize they never discussed just what they saw that night…was the right person caught? The Darkest Corners is a VERY quick read that I enjoyed! Check back soon for my full review! Thank you, Delacorte!

The Blue Bath by Mary Waters-Sayer
Years ago an art studio in Paris had been witness to a short-lived but passionate affair between a young American and an artist. Now Kat is married with a son and living in London. When she attends the opening of an art gallery, she’s shocked to discover her face lining the walls. Though their relationship is long over, Daniel never stopped painting Kat and with his arrival in London, Kat finds herself drawn back to the past. St. Martin’s gets me. Everything about this book calls out to me and I can’t wait to dive in! Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!