ARC Book Review: Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Book: Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Expected Publication Is May 7, 2019 by Thomas Nelson|Expected Number Of Pages: 352

Where I Got It: I received Romanov as an e-ARC from netgalley.com in exchange for a fair and honest review

Series: None

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

From the author of Fawkes comes a magical take on the story of Anastasia Romanov.

The history books say I died.

They don’t know the half of it.

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them . . . and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are either to release the spell and deal with the consequences, or to enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya’s only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction for Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her…

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad…and he’s on the other.

I liked Romanov, but not as much as I wanted to.  After reading Fawkes, I was pretty excited about this one, but I struggled to get through this book.

It’s a little sad, because the idea is really cool.  It’s a different take on the Anastasia story, but the book started off really slow.  It didn’t pick up the her family is executed, and that’s when Romanov got interesting.  That’s where I’m torn, because on the one hand, it took too long, with too many details before things started moving along.

At the same time, having that background did give some insight into what was going at the time.  So while starting right before the execution would have started things off with a bang, I think we also might have missed out on a lot.  Unless Brandes found a way to include in the book, through flashbacks or something.

I really liked how she included magic with history.  I wish we had more about the history of magic in Russia and how it was used.  I had the same issue with her other book, and it’s the execution of the Romanov family plus Anastasia surviving plus magic, sort of like how Fawkes was the Gunpowder plot but with magic.

We all know how people have claimed to be Anastasia over the years, and how two bodies were quite a bit away from the rest of the family, and this book has a really interesting and magical explanation for that.  It’s certainly an interesting way to have Anastasia survive, and I liked how that was included in the story.

Brandes is really good at re-telling history with magic.  While I wanted more details about the magical aspects, and how it exists in this world, I liked that it was just a normal part of Nastya’s world.  I can’t wait to see what else she comes up, and what part of history she’ll re-tell next.

My Rating: 3 stars.  It took a long time for this book to get going, but I did like it, and how she re-told this story.

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Random Ramblings: The What’s Been Going On Edition

So, remember, years ago, when I used to do a monthly recap post called Currently Obsessed With?  They were going pretty strong and then they just sort of stopped, and lately, I’ve been thinking that I should bring that back.  Don’t get me wrong, I love doing the book reviews and those are not going anywhere.  But I’ve been doing my internet link posts, and it’s been nice to talk about something other than books.

An Easter Basket For My Mom

I made my mom an Easter basket!  It was really fun getting some stuff to put in there, and I wanted to get her something for Easter.  I picked up some food from the Honey Baked Ham store, and it was pretty good.  I figured the places that were open would be busy, and it seemed easier than making something.

I also cracked and bought an Instant Pot.  I’ve only used it once, but it makes pretty good taco meat.  For the longest time, I thought it was just a fad, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere.  I think it’ll come in handy during the summer because there is no way I’m turning my oven in my apartment.  Unless I want it to get even more warm than it already is.

If anyone has any good recipes, send them my way.  I’ve found a few recipes that look good, and I also bought Dinner In An Instant and Comfort In An Instant.  I have yet to use them, of course, but I’m looking forward to using it.

I’ve been on a shopping spree lately, especially with clothes.  I hate buying clothes, but some of the clothes I had are starting to fall apart so it was time for some new clothes.  I shared some of the tops I’ve purchased lately in my latest around the internet post, and I am totally that person who will buy the same shirt in every color possible.  I’m really picky about clothes, so when I find something I like, I’ll get in every color because I know it fits well, and it saves me from trying to find other things.

I’ve been on a skincare kick lately, and I don’t know why I try end up using products that aren’t Clinique.  I’m not sure why but my skin also seems to look and feel better when I use it.  I’ve spent quite a bit of time either in Sephora or on their website lately…I love the liquid facial soap in mild, the clarifying lotion 2 and, in a big departure for me, I actually decided to give the dramatically different hydrating jelly a try.  I’ve only been using it for about a week, so I’m going to hold off on opinions on it for now.  I also picked up these wipes when I was in Sephora, and I really like them!  They’re great for when I need to cleanse but don’t feel like doing my whole routine.

I’ve been doing a lot of shopping lately, now that I’m looking this post over!  Clearly, I’ve been shopping a lot lately.

I’ve been crocheting some lately.  I have to take some pictures of what I’ve been working on- blankets, mostly- but I have a hat I’m working on right now.  I have a few projects in mind- blankets, of course, but I was thinking of making some Christmas ornaments as presents, so now would probably be a good time to start on that.

It really sounds like I have a lot of blankets, don’t I?  Okay, there’s 5 that are finished, plus two in progress.  One is made up of granny squares, and I still haven’t finished sewing it together.  One of these days, I will.

Some Art Supplies

I recently subscribed to CreativeBug, and I got some art supplies at Michael’s.  They have some art classes and lettering classes that look really cool, and while I love crochet, I’ve also been wanting to try to something else.  I’m pretty excited, and I’ll try to remember to get some pictures of the stuff I do, so I can share them.  If anyone has good recommendations for art supplies, I’d love to hear them, especially for pens!

I’ve been going to a book club for the last year or so!  It’s hosted by Mysterious Galaxy, which is a local bookstore here in San Diego, and it’s really fun.  It’s been great because I never would have picked up some of the books on my own.  I haven’t loved all of them but that’s how those things go sometimes.

And the last thing I’m going to talk about is YALLWEST!  I’ve been meaning to go ever since I heard about it, but it never seemed to work out.  But this is the year it’s going to happen, and I’m excited.  It’s going to be a long drive since it’s in Santa Monica, but since my mom usually works early on Saturday mornings, I’ll probably head up there after dropping her off.

I think that’s all for today!  I don’t know know how often I’ll be doing these posts- hopefully, I’ll start doing them monthly again but it may be more sporadic.  And I’ll definitely be keeping it as Currently Obsessed With.

Happy Friday!

Around The Internet #12

Hey everyone!  It’s time for another round of around the internet, where I share the cool things I come across.

Happy Thursday!

Book Review: Circle Of Shadows by Evelyn Skye

Book: Circle Of Shadows by Evelyn Skye

Published January 2019 by Balzer + Bray|454 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Circle Of Shadows #1

Genre: YA Fantasy

A thrilling new fantasy series full of magic and betrayal—from Evelyn Skye, New York Times bestselling author of the Crown’s Game series.

Sora can move as silently as a ghost and hurl throwing stars with lethal accuracy. Her gemina, Daemon, can win any physical fight blindfolded and with an arm tied around his back. They are apprentice warriors of the Society of Taigas—marked by the gods to be trained in magic and the fighting arts to protect the kingdom of Kichona.

As their graduation approaches, Sora and Daemon look forward to proving themselves worthy of belonging in the elite group—but in a kingdom free of violence since the Blood Rift Rebellion many years ago, it’s been difficult to make their mark.

So when Sora and Daemon encounter a strange camp of mysterious soldiers while on a standard scouting mission, they decide the only thing to do to help their kingdom is to infiltrate the group. Taking this risk will change Sora’s life forever—and lead her on a mission of deception that may fool everyone she’s ever loved.

Love, spies, and adventure abound as Sora and Daemon unravel a complex web of magic and secrets that might tear them—and the entire kingdom—apart forever.

I was excited about Circle Of Shadows, but it ended up being okay for me.  I wish I liked it more, because it’s a really cool idea, and I really liked The Crown’s Game.

I’m really torn about the world- on the one hand, the world and history is really cool.  But at the same time, I felt like everything was just there, and wasn’t really explained.  The gemina part of the story made no sense, and wasn’t explained.  Were they supposed to be working together or were they supposed to have something a little more romantic?  It was really weird, and I wasn’t sure why everyone was paired off.

There were a lot of little details that could have added to the book.  There were a lot of descriptions I could have done without, and I definitely felt like we didn’t get the details we should have had.  It definitely didn’t have the same appeal as her previous series (though I definitely enjoyed the first one a lot more than it’s sequel).  It just didn’t have the same level of detail or world-building as her other series, and I felt like we were missing out.  To me, it felt like a step backward in terms of the world.

It’s too bad, because I liked the story.  There’s a lot of potential, and I’m sad this book wasn’t for me.  I just had too many questions about the world.  The history of Sora’s world seemed pretty interesting, and there were a few moments in the book where I couldn’t stop reading.  Those were few and far between, and for the most part, I was bored.  There was one moment at the end that was really hard to read, and even though I had the feeling it was coming, it was a little more gruesome than I expected.  If I could have read it peeking through my fingers, I probably would have.

The characters were okay, and no one really stood out to me.  The names stood out, but I think because they were not names I was expecting.  While I’m fine with taking on a new name once you become an apprentice, I also thought the names Skye went with were a little odd.  Fairy and Broomstick?  Spirit and Wolf?  The names seemed like a place-holder or a childhood nickname as opposed to a name bestowed on a magical apprentice.  But that’s just me.

It started off really well, and the interesting, while predictable, was also interesting.  It meandered a lot in the middle, and I got pretty bored.  I probably would have been a lot more interested in the ending if I hadn’t lost interest in the middle.

2 stars.  While I didn’t actively dislike this book, it was still okay.  I wanted different details than the one we got, and I had a hard time getting through it.

Book Review: The Blood Gospel by James Rollins And Rebecca Cantrell

Book: The Blood Gospel by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell

Published August 2013 by Harper|717 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: The Order Of The Sanguines #1

Genre: Adult Thriller

In his first-ever collaboration, New York Times bestselling author James Rollins combines his skill for cutting-edge science and historical mystery with award-winning novelist Rebecca Cantrell’s talent for haunting suspense and sensual atmosphere in a gothic tale about an ancient order and the hunt for a miraculous book known only as . . . The Blood Gospel

An earthquake in Masada, Israel, kills hundreds and reveals a tomb buried in the heart of the mountain. A trio of investigators–Sergeant Jordan Stone, a military forensic expert; Father Rhun Korza, a Vatican priest; and Dr. Erin Granger, a brilliant but disillusioned archaeologist–are sent to explore the macabre discovery, a subterranean temple holding the crucified body of a mummified girl.

But a brutal attack at the site sets the three on the run, thrusting them into a race to recover what was once preserved in the tomb’s sarcophagus: a book rumored to have been written by Christ’s own hand, a tome that is said to hold the secrets to His divinity. The enemy who hounds them is like no other, a force of ancient evil directed by a leader of impossible ambitions and incalculable cunning.

From crumbling tombs to splendorous churches, Erin and her two companions must confront a past that traces back thousands of years, to a time when ungodly beasts hunted the dark spaces of the world, to a moment in history when Christ made a miraculous offer, a pact of salvation for those who were damned for eternity.

Here is a novel that is explosive in its revelation of a secret history. Why do Catholic priests wear pectoral crosses? Why are they sworn to celibacy? Why do the monks hide their countenances under hoods? And why does Catholicism insist that the consecration of wine during Mass results in its transformation to Christ’s own blood? The answers to all go back to a secret sect within the Vatican, one whispered as rumor but whose very existence was painted for all to see by Rembrandt himself, a shadowy order known simply as the Sanguines.

In the end, be warned: some books should never be found, never opened–until now.

I really liked this one!  The Blood Gospel is definitely interesting, and it’s a good read-alike if you like Dan Brown.  Particularly the Da Vinci Code/Robert Langdon books.  But with vampires.

I did like the Sanguines, and how they came to be.  I also liked what Rollins and Cantrell did with history, particularly with Rasputin, and the Romanov family, though we only see Alexei, the son of Csar Nicholas.  Part of me wishes Anastasia had been the one mentioned, because of the stories of how she survived, but we can’t really do anything about that.  I will say that Alexei makes sense, because his hemophilia is how Rasputin ended up with the family in the first place.  Even though this book isn’t about that, part of me wishes we had a lot more detail about how he survived.

One thing I thought was confusing was when we had other perspectives.  We see a descendant of Elizabeth Bathory narrate at times, as well as a young boy who survived the earthquake.  People were referenced in those chapters, and those references were never explained.  They were known simply as He and Him, and I wanted something a lot more clear.  It made things more confusing and muddled than they needed to be.

Another thing I was not sure about was the kid who survived the earthquake.  I’m still not sure how he factors into things, but maybe we’ll see that in the other books?  The chapters that focused on some of these side characters were really strange.  I already mentioned how confusing they were and part of that is because it wasn’t obvious at first when we changed perspective.  I don’t mind multiple narrators or perspectives, but I do mind when it’s not obvious.

But things seemed to get randomly introduced and it wasn’t clear at first how they connected to the overall story.  Some of becomes clear by the end of the book, and while I’m doubtful it will come up again, I hope some of the people and things are explained more.  Again, the vagueness did not work for me at all because you’re trying to figure things out and it made it really confusing.  I hope that doesn’t continue in the other books.

I was definitely intrigued, and I did want to keep reading to see what would happen next.  It takes place over a couple of days, and even though we knew the timeline because dates and times were mentioned, it also seemed like it was happening over a longer period of time.

On a random note, I don’t understand why they couldn’t mention when we changed narrators, but could mention the exact day, time and location for the timeline.

Back to the timeline, though.  Things were definitely moving along, and I really liked the pace of the book.  Though it seemed like a lot, especially over a couple of days, there was never a lull in the action.

3 stars.  I liked The Blood Gospel, and I’m curious to see what happens next.

Book Review: Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz

Book: Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz

Published October 2018 by Starscape Books|288 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

An uplifting middle-grade debut about perseverance against all odds, Marie Miranda Cruz’s debut Everlasting Nora follows the story of a young girl living in the real-life shanty town inside the Philippines’ North Manila Cemetery.

After a family tragedy results in the loss of both father and home, 12-year-old Nora lives with her mother in Manila’s North Cemetery, which is the largest shanty town of its kind in the Philippines today.

When her mother disappears mysteriously one day, Nora is left alone.

With help from her best friend Jojo and the support of his kindhearted grandmother, Nora embarks on a journey riddled with danger in order to find her mom. Along the way she also rediscovers the compassion of the human spirit, the resilience of her community, and everlasting hope in the most unexpected places.

I liked Everlasting Nora!  I really felt for Nora, and she has a lot to deal with.  There’s something very hopeful about this book, and I definitely finished the book feeling like everything was going to work out for Nora and her mom.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to live in a shany town set up in a cemetery.  Even though everyone seems to be living where they have family members buried, I wonder if that’s the case for everyone, and how it works if it’s not a family member and their family comes to visit?

We do see in one or two scenes where they have to move so that they’re not seen at a funeral service.  Granted, it was at a different cemetery than the one Nora lives at but it still highlighted things that Nora possibly had to deal with.  That was an interesting detail, and it made the book seem more real somehow.

She has to rely on others when her mom disappears in order to pay off her gambling debts.  Nora has to help out too, and I felt so sad that she had to leave school when her father died, and they ran out of the money they had after his death.

We see the difference between having money and having nothing and needing to help out by working in order to survive.  It’s not a new concept for middle grade or YA, but I liked the setting of living in a graveyard.  It showed that life is different in other countries, and that everyone is going through something.

I’m glad things got better for Nora, and I hope things continue to work out for Nora and her mom.

3 stars.  I wish I had more to say about Everlasting Nora, but it don’t.  It’s pretty hopeful, and I definitely recommend it.

Around The Internet #11

Hey there!  We’re back with another round of some interesting reads and recipes I’ve come across recently.  Enjoy!

That’s all for today, and I hope you have a great weekend!

Book Review: The Love And Lies Of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan

Book: The Love And Lies Of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan

Published January 2019 by Scholastic Press|336 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.

But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart. Her parents are devastated; being gay may as well be a death sentence in the Bengali community. They immediately whisk Rukhsana off to Bangladesh, where she is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and tradition. Only through reading her grandmother’s old diary is Rukhsana able to gain some much needed perspective.

Rukhsana realizes she must find the courage to fight for her love, but can she do so without losing everyone and everything in her life? 

I really liked The Love And Lies Of Rukhsana Ali!  I wasn’t sure about it at first, but I really liked Rukhsana’s story, and how supportive some of her family and friends were.

Her parents weren’t the most supportive, at least initially, and I think it’s important to note that not of all her family thinks the way they do.  They do come around, though I was sad it took a really big event for them to see things differently.  I felt so much for Rukhsana, and everything she went through.  I hated what her parents did- I know they thought they were helping, and they were definitely more worried about what other people thought.  And even though I am not a fan of what brought them around, it was a wake-up call that they could have lost Rukhsana.

Her friends and her girlfriend were pretty frustrating at times.  They didn’t seem to get how hard it would be for Rukhsana to come out to her parents, and what would happen if they did.  Not everyone is lucky enough to have supportive, caring parents, and it seemed like her friends brushed off what she was telling them.  I don”t think they realized the gravity of what would happen when she came out, and we definitely see what happens when her mom finds out.

I really loved her grandma, her brother, and her cousin.  She had a couple of other people who were really supportive, and it was obvious they cared about her, and what happened to her.  She had some great people in her corner, and she’s lucky to have them in her life.  They definitely encouraged her to hear her parents out after what happened, and I get why she wasn’t willing to talk to them at first.  She did change her mind, but it also seems like they have a long way to go before things are completely better between them.

4 stars.  I really liked this book, and it was a great read.  Her parents were really frustrating at times, and though I don’t agree with how they handled things, they did start to come around.

Audio Book Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray, Narrated by January LaVoy

Book: The Diviners by Libba Bray, Narrated by January LaVoy

Published September 2012 by Listening Library|Length: 18 hours, 14 minutes

Where I Got It: I borrowed the audio book from the library

Series: The Diviners #1

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

SOMETHING DARK AND EVIL HAS AWAKENED…

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries her uncle will discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho is hiding a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened…

I’ve meaning to read this book for a while, and I finally got around to it!  I liked it, and it was great on audio but I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would.

I thought the setting was a great backdrop for the paranormal.  It worked really well, especially with the time period and with the book being set in New York.  While it would have worked in another time period/place, I can’t imagine it being somewhere else.  I don’t know that it would have worked otherwise.

There were times where I ended up getting confused.  We’d be with Evie, and then the book would suddenly switch to someone else.  It took a while to figure out how those other stories were connected to what was going on with Evie.  I think it just didn’t translate well to audio, at least for me.

It was really long, and it took me a while to get through it, so by the time I got to the end, I was fuzzy on what had happened at the beginning.  I was never clear on what Evie could do and what led her to New York, and I’m not sure if it’s because I just didn’t remember what happened or if it was never mentioned.

I’m not sure how I feel about Evie.  I didn’t mind the slang at first, but I did get tired of it by the end.  I feel like if Evie were a real person living right now, she’d have her own reality tv show.  She has this ditzy socialite vibe to her, and she seems pretty self-absorbed, even at the end of the book.  Obviously, some don’t change, which is fine, but maybe there’s hope for Evie.

I did like the narrator, though!  January LaVoy did a great job narrating, and she really brought Evie to life.

3 stars.  I liked The Diviners but I didn’t love it.  I might pick up the next book, but I’m still undecided.

Book Review: Slayer by Kiersten White

Book: Slayer by Kiersten White

Published January 2019 by Simon Pulse|404 pages

Where I Got It: I own the hardcover

Series: Slayer #1

Genre: YA Fantasy

Into every generation a Slayer is born…

Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.

Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.

Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.

As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams…

But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested—because someone she loves might be next.

One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard.

Slayer was a book I was both excited and nervous about.  Excited because I love Kiersten White, and I will read anything she writes.  But I was nervous because I’ve never seen Buffy, and I wasn’t sure if what to expect.  But White is an auto-buy author for me, and I knew I was going to fun and entertaining.

I actually really liked it, and I had no reason to be nervous!  I was sure I would have no idea what was going on, since this is my first introduction to Buffy.  But you don’t need to have seen Buffy in order to know what’s going on, which was really nice.  I think it does reference the show, but she does a great job at explaining what’s going on, and what got us to the events we see in this book.  I definitely want to watch the show now!  If only to see the world White was working from.

There were some things I wasn’t surprised by but I still loved seeing how everything played out.  I’m really curious to see what will happen next.

I loved Nina, and she was really easy to relate to.  I really felt for her with everything going on, and even though I understood where her mom and sister were coming from, I still found myself really hating them at times.  Nina really seemed like an underdog but there were some people who seemed really supportive of her and wanted her to do well.  I kind of wonder what would happen if some things hadn’t happened, and if things would have turned out differently.  I guess we’ll never know, but I’m still looking forward to seeing what’s next for her and everyone else.

4 stars.  I didn’t love Slayer but it was a really fun read.