The Governess Game (Girl Meets Duke #2)

Title: The Governess Game (Girl Meets Duke #2)

Author: Tessa Dare

Read harder Challenge: Yes, a book of romance by/about a POC (MC is mestiza)

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥♥ /5

“If she possessed any wisp of rationality, she wouldn’t have made such a fool of herself with the Bookshop Rake.”

I can’t exaggerate how much I enjoyed this book. When a Bookshop Rake is introduced on the first page, you’re going to have a good time. Parts were laugh aloud funny, parts tugged every available inch of my heartstrings, and parts were super steamy. Overall, it was a compulsively great read that I finished in a day – but will want to go back to squeeze more goodness out of.

Tessa Dare generally writes exceptionally good historical romance – light, funny, with well-researched components and ladies who both fit into and recognize the constraints of the time period. In the Girl Meets Duke series, readers have been following the BEST group of female friends I have ever had the pleasure to acquaint myself with. In the last book, Emma married the Duke of Ashbury (who was also an amazing character, but I digress). Emma is a lady with a living, and a stutter, and the main character of this book, Alex, is also a woman who is used to making her own way. She sets clocks for a living and is in a bookstore pursuing her favorite hobby, astronomy, when she meets the Bookshop Rake. While she attempts to forget him and their brief encounter, the paths collide again some time later. Of course, sparks fly, and the book is spent figuring out what these two must do in order to end up together. Penelope and Nicola, the last two in the Fearsome Four of Female Friends, are lovely support for Alex as she tries to get it together.

Hilarious and interesting details abound. The hero is in charge of two possibly orphaned wards who do normal ward things like have a daily funeral for a doll – which the Duke, Chase, and Alex must attend, and instead of having class, they learn how to be pirates. Conveniently, Alex was raised on the high seas, so they do receive some expert training in that regard.

So – heartwarming womanly friendship is clutch. The fact that these women are outcasts who love each other conditionally – also clutch. Tessa Dare makes a deliberate choice, in this book as in the previous one, to have a male hero who must make himself deeply vulnerable in order to accept what our heroine offers him. While I preferred Ashbury as a hero (I thought he was funnier), there was something absolutely endearing about Alex’s hero Chase and his messy relationship with his wards and everyone else who happens to care about him. What sets this book apart is, after all, the relationships the characters have with each other, which are vivid, loving, and as complicated as real life. Throw in a pair that the reader knows is Meant To Be Together, and some spicy, spicy loving, and you’ve got a recipe for a compulsively readable romance.

My one question, which may make its way into the final copy of this book, is about astronomy. It plays no small role in this one, and I’d love a little note at the end with some information about astronomy during the time period and what about the events in the book are real and which are imagined. It seems clear Tessa Dare did her research in this regard and I’d love to know more about it!

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The Governess Game (Girl Meets Duke #2)

Confidential Source 96

Title: Confidential Source 96

Author: C.S. 96

Read harder Challenge: Yes, a book of true crime

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

I picked up this book because I was intrigued, but it’s not in my usual wheelhouse. I mean, who isn’t going to be interested in a man who spent “Two Decades as Law Enforcement’s Preeminent Confidential Source”? But I was surprised at just how compulsively page-turning this one is. As a nonfiction, it excels in providing information about a world that I personally didn’t know a lot about while still feeling conversational. It is also strikingly plot-driven for a nonfiction work, which definitely contributed to its readability. Overall, I left this book knowing a lot more about the seedy world of illicit drug sales in the United States, and with a much greater appreciation for the work of “Confidential Source” informants.

I would recommend this book to almost anyone and I could bet they’ll connect with the empathetic voice of “C.S. 96,” as well as learn a lot along the way!

Confidential Source 96

Magpie’s Song

Title: Magpie’s Song

Author: Allison Pang

Read harder Challenge: Yes possibly :); A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author (If steampunk is sci fi!)

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

Guys, this book was going to be two stars.  I swear it was.  It started and my eyes rolled so hard.  But something magical happened, and I was drawn in, and now I’m left feeling upset that I finished it before the obvious sequel is ready.  That’s a good problem to have!

Mags is a Moon Child, member of a downtrodden caste in a steampunk world.  Moon Children are exceptional because they are unable to catch The Rot, a disease that infects the other 2/3 of the book’s population.

Hijinks ensue, one thing leads to another, and Mags finds herself in a conspiracy to overthrow the government (or at least the social structure), she has an automaton dragon that seems to be intelligent life, and everyone keeps looking sideways at her one-of-a-kind mechanical heart that was probably put there by the most famous inventor/scientist of all time.  You know, as one does.  I can’t read that and not want to keep reading, so I don’t think you will either!

This reads a bit like a grittier (but not much grittier) Cinder, which is a good thing.  The world-building’s pretty good, the character development is solid, and I’m invested in Mags and her ragtag group.  The misadventures that happen hit hard, as they should.  No one should be able to change the fate of the world without a few losses.

There are a few moments in the book that made me raise an eyebrow of incredulity, but the piece as a whole works without stressing out my suspension of disbelief too much.  At the end of any book that’s intended to have a sequel, there’s a spectrum of endings that run the gamut between total resolution and total cliffhanger.  My preference is solidly in the middle.  This book ignores my preference and goes for absolute cliffhanger, while I don’t love.

I’d recommend this book for fans of YA fantasy and sci fi, or fans of steampunk.  If you liked Cinder, or the Red Queen series, this would be great for you! It’s different enough to enjoy but gives you a new world to escape into and a new “Strong Female Lead” to love. It climbed its way from 2 to 4 stars, which is hard to do! I really enjoyed this and I’m looking forward to the next one.

Magpie’s Song

All Things Bright and Strange

Title: All Things Bright and Strange

Author: James Markert

Read harder Challenge: Yes; a book about nature

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

Why:

This book is hard to categorize.  There are elements of the gothic (Southern gothic), some magical realism, there is some Lost Generation throwback, there are moments where this book grapples with racism, sexism, homophobia, discrimination and bigotry of all sorts.  Despite all those big concepts, it is a book that is light on its feet and imminently readable. It asks us to consider how, exactly, the collective can continue to push forward and progress without losing the best parts of itself in the process.  Since I think that’s a question worth addressing, I really found value in this book. There is a wry humor to this book (the main character reminds me of a Hemingway character), with a good dash of whimsy, and the language is at times lush and evocative. There are characters to fall in love with, be angry at, and appreciate for the people they are and the choices they make.

 

Ellsworth signs up for the War (that would be WWI to us) as a way to process his grief over losing his wife in a fire.  He comes back damaged, as did many young men. We come to realize that Ellsworth’s life is not one that could simply be explained by the known forces in our world.  As his town struggles to find ways to heal and unite after war, slavery, and in the face of a changing world, they discover a little chapel in the woods. Although not all can see it, this chapel does not live up to its promise of salvation.  Ellsworth and the team he assembles, so very far from perfect, must work together to be their best selves in order to help the town that they love and the people in it.

 

I would recommend this book to: anyone who struggles to accept themself as a result of perceived difference.  Anyone who has wondered about their purpose. The first half is a slow burn as the reader gets to know the characters, but the plot quickly runs downhill starting at about the 50% mark.  I found this book relevant to the current climate, and so someone looking for a way to encapsulate preoccupation about tolerance in a fiction novel would do well to read this one.

 

I received this book free of charge in exchange for my honest opinion.  This did not affect the content of my review.

All Things Bright and Strange

Artemis

Title: Artemis

Author: Andy Weir

Read harder Challenge: Yes; set greater than 5000 miles away from my location

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

Why:

I enjoyed this book for lots of reasons. Andy Weir’s signature humor is on display again in this book, so I found myself entertained. The author didn’t venture too far from the “spacey sciencey” feel of The Martian. In this book, though, we occupy a not-too-distant future where people are living on the moon. I enjoyed, as usual, Weir’s digressions into scientific explanation – you really get the feel that this moon colony is not that much of a stretch. The world-building is really solid. We’re following Jazz, a young lady with less-than-honorable tendencies; not to put too fine a point on it, she’s a smuggler really trying to make ends meet. Throughout the book we’re constantly reminded that something is driving Jazz, and getting to know her makes it clear that it’s not simply love of cash flow that motivates her. As she enters into a lucrative but dangerous deal with a man she has previously smuggled for, she finds she may be in over her head…

I certainly found the plot compelling. This book reads quite a bit younger than The Martian, I think because Jazz is a younger character and we spend a lot of time in her head. There’s a little dash of romance that I thought was cute, but not necessarily masterful. The characters are a little oversaturated – this may just be personal preference, though, because it is in part through this oversaturation that book is so funny.

Overall, this book was fun and interesting but suffered from a lack of villain and the young tone was not as appealing to me as the protagonist of The Martian. I would definitely recommend this book to fans of Andy Weir’s previous book, especially if they are in their 20s or also enjoy a good Young Adult novel here and there. If you like near-future science fiction, space politics, or space mystery, this should be your next read!

Artemis

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance

Title: Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance

Author: Ruth Emmie Lang

Read harder Challenge: Yes; debut novel

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥♥ /5

Why:

This book is delightful and a must-read for many reasons.  Its tone is simple, bittersweet, and wistful – much like the character around whom this tale revolves, it doesn’t lose its sweetness despite some moments of sadness and loss.  The humor is wry and understated, just like I like it. I really enjoyed this book – finishing it in two days was not only a joy, but a compulsion.

 

We first meet Weylyn Grey as an infant, and quickly come to realize how special he is.  While he would hate to be described as “magic,” there are some very hard-to-believe things that happen around him.  As he tries to navigate his unusual life, he forms connections with an unlikely group.  Though the reader is sometimes treated to Weylyn’s point of view, the story is mostly told through the experiences of people whose lives he has touched. If I had to describe this book to someone in one sentence, I’d also feel obligated to add that this story is about wolves and a boy who grows up with wolves and the girl he falls in love with.  Wolves are pack animals, and the idea of the “lone wolf” is kind of a sad myth.  This book in a lot of ways is about the search for a pack, too.  Yeah – it’s hard to explain! There is magical realism in this book, and I loved recurring symbols that added constancy to Weylyn’s life even though it was always changing.

 

I just really loved this book so much! I’m so glad it is out so I can buy it for people for Christmas.  It’s ideal for folks that like to read with a sense of wonder but might be turned off my wizards and epic fantasy.  It’s great to gift folks that you love even when they have a hard time loving themselves.  It’s got some sweet romance, some coming-of-age and finding-yourself, and some humor.  It’s readable, devourable even, and quotable and well-crafted.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance

The List

Title: The List

Author: Patricia Forde

Read harder Challenge: Yes; can be a book about books or a debut novel

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

Why: I hadn’t intended to finish this book today; The Stone Sky (final installment of NK Jemisin’s newest trilogy) came out Tuesday and I was itching to finish.  Alas, I left it at school.  That’s what I get for trying to read a physical book at lunch.  Anyway.  This book is great for fans of Ella Minnow Pea and The Queen of the Tearling series.  Set in a dystopian future, Letta (perhaps a reference to “Letter”) is the apprentice wordsmith for the town of Ark, seemingly the only town to survive the catastrophic disasters that befall humans and wipe out most of their population – referred to as The Melting.  As wordsmith, Letta and her master are responsible for The List, the group of necessary words that make up each citizen’s lexicon.  All other words are banned, as they are unnecessary, and words (of pundits, politicians, newspapers…) had gotten them into this sorry mess in the first place.  Letta is proud of their town and the community that has been built here under the guidance of John Noa (Noa built the Ark…), until a boy stumbles into the shop one day while the master is searching for lost words in the wild, and decides to help him.  She finds out more than she could have imagined about her little town, and the book follows her journey and the decisions she makes along the way.

This book is great for middle schoolers – there’s action, empathetic characters, and a good message.  What I liked most about this book was that the characters were complicated, with messy relationships and pasts, and their actions couldn’t be easily predicted.  What is the value of good intentions?  Are all people as they seem?  Who is responsible for the actions of a collective? Is “by any means necessary” morally reprehensible or…well…necessary?  Young people can tackle all of those questions within the confines of this text.  The world-building and power of description were both good, and I texted my librarian asking her to buy several copies for our middle school library!

The List