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What Janine is Reading in February and March 2012

I was really, really lucky in my choices of reading material in February and early March. Five of the nine books I read between the beginning of February and the first day of spring have been books I would grade at B+ or above, which means that they’re recommended (by me) reads. It made me wonder if I’m failing my readership by not being selective enough, but the thing is, I honestly feel those five books have been that good.

The Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh

This is one of Balogh’s most beloved traditional regencies, up there with The Notorious Rake as far as being many Balogh readers’ favorite Balogh. It was recently reissued in a 2-in-1 edition with A Promise of Spring and I took the time to reread and review it. I found that it was even more enjoyable the second time around. What I love about it is the transformation of the hero (and his relatives) from joylessness to joy. Grade: B+/A-

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A Promise of Spring by Mary Balogh

This one, on the other hand, was a disappointment. It started out wonderfully, as a sweet and tender older woman/younger man romance. The heroine had lost a child who happened to be illegitimate in her youth, and the hero’s total acceptance of her was so romantic. If only the book hadn’t gone downhill from there, with kitchen sink plotting, rushed resolutions, and contrivances that made both characters (but especially the hero) seem stupid or inconsistent. Review here. Grade: C-

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Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

I’m so glad this urban fantasy/police procedural was recommended to me. Its hero, Peter Grant, is a new London Metropolitan Police constable who discovers that he has some paranormal abilities. Under the tutelage of an older (who knows how much older?) police inspector/wizard, Peter learns to cast spells and pursues a dangerous supernatural villain who threatens those close to him. Witty, snarky, and immensely entertaining. Review here. Grade: B+

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Fair Game by Patricia Briggs

What a blast I had reading this book. It wasn’t perfect by any means but I was grateful to discover that even three books and one novella into the Alpha and Omega series, my love for Charles and Anna has not faded. I especially loved seeing how strong Anna has grown. Her cleverness shines in this book. I didn’t love the way Charles’ conflict was resolved, but there is something so tender about their relationship, especially considering they are up against violence their own monstrous nature, and I find that so touching. Here’s Josephine’s review. My grade: B+/A-

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

My husband and I recently finished reading this YA fantasy which Jia reviewed a while back (the book was also in DABWAHA). A mystery wrapped in a roller coaster ride, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is poetic and romantic. The more time goes on, the more the book stays with me. I think it’s the kind of novel that can be reread as soon as one finishes it because once the secret at its center is uncovered, it casts the whole book in a new light. I love books that do that. Oh, what the heck. I think I’ll grade this one A-.

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Confessions from an Arranged Marriage by Miranda Neville

This book took a while to really grab me, but once it took off, it became a very emotional story. We recently had a guest post on heroines and shame, but in this book, it’s the hero who carries a shameful secret, one that causes him to pretend an indifference that he does not feel. The journey Blake and his new bride, Minerva, undergo, is bumpy to say the least, but it leads them both to grow into people who can understand and accept one another, and that’s a big part of what love is about. Review here. Grade: B+

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Thunder and Roses by Mary Jo Putney

I saw that Putney’s classic Fallen Angels series has been reissued electronically and since once upon a time it was a favorite series of mine, I decided to revisit it. I’m currently rereading this, book one in the series, and so far, it’s not holding up to my memories of it. It’s never been one of my most favorite Putneys but now I find I have mixed feelings about both the hero and the heroine, as well as their central values conflict over whether sex outside marriage is wrong (her view) or natural and desirable (his) . I still love the strip billiards scene but it isn’t enough to make up for the other problems. Review here. Grade: D

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A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd by Patrick Ness

This was another one I read with my husband. It’s a fantasy about a thirteen year old boy whose mother has cancer. One night a monster comes to visit Conor, and as these visitations continue, the monster tells him stories and insists Conor will have to repay in kind, by telling the true story that terrifies him. The book was inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd, who died of cancer herself before she could write it. This made me feel Scrooge-like for being underwhelmed. My review can be found here. Grade: C+

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Tangle of Need by Nalini Singh

Book #11 in the Psy/Changeling series won’t be out until May 29 but I read the ARC in March in preparation for a joint review Jennie and I have in the works. There are developments on several fronts here, but the central romance is that of Adria (Indigo’s young aunt) and Riaz, both wounded souls. Their relationship is complicated by the fact that Riaz’s wolf has already recognized its mate, and it isn’t Adria. While this wasn’t one of my top favorites in the series, I did very much appreciate that it dared to explore some tough questions about the nature of the mating bond. Joint review with Jennie to come.

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What about you? What have you been reading lately? Have you read any of the books I mention above and if so, what did you think of them? And are you on a hot streak or in a reading slump?

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

20 Comments

  1. Merrian
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 10:16:22

    I know you can’t spoil the new Psy/Changling books but your synopsis has my brain ticking; what happens to the ‘mate’ that Riaz doesn’t recognise? The in depth reflection on the mate bond that has been part of of Hawk & Sienna’s story – what does that set up for us in this story? I re-read “Kiss of Snow” recently and enjoyed it much more than my original read. Now I think I read hurriedly because of my excitement at having it in my hands when it first came out.

    My stand out read this month has been Harper Fox’ m/m “Scrap Metal” set on the Scottish island of Arran on a failing farm. It is about grief, loss and redemption and family and our power to re-make ourselves (or not). The farm is a whole world and a character too. It is just beautiful.

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  2. Angela
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 10:16:37

    I have Ben Aaronovitch and Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Confessions from an Arranged Marriage all on my TBR list. I also have something I bought by Patrick Ness when he was part of the KDD, but it’s sitting, waiting.

    I read Fair Game right after it came out, and I’m really itching to do a re-read of the series because I love Anna and Charles so much.

    I really enjoyed Tangle of Need. It’s not my favorite either, it’s hard to live up to my favorites by Nalini Singh, but I thought it was really well done, and I loved how the conflict between Adria and Riaz was resolved. Add in the various other plot-lines going on and it is up near the top of her stuff for me.

    I’m actually on a really good streak lately. Recently, I finished up Courtney Milan’s Turner Brothers series, which I absolutely loved. Then read Liberating Lacey by Anne Calhoun (thanks to the many recommendations I saw here since it’s come out), Tricked by Kevin Hearne (4th in the Iron Druid series), and All For You by Lynn Kurland which were all really good reads.

    Now I’m kind of nervous about what to pick up next though.

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  3. Tabitha
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 10:52:38

    I have the same questions as Merrian. I can’t wait for the joint review and the book to be released. I love NS psy-changeling series!

    I just started Fair Game yesterday and am loving it…and beating myself for letting it sit so long on the Kindle!

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  4. Janine
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 11:58:43

    @Merrian & @Tabitha: Yeah, I won’t spoil Tangle of Need but I will say the resolution of the Adria/Riaz conflict wasn’t what I expected, and was one of the things I liked best about it.

    @Merrian: Though it wasn’t perfect, Kiss of Snow was my favorite Nalini Singh book. I couldn’t put it down. I’m glad you enjoyed it more on a reread.

    The Harper Fox book sounds lovely.

    @Angela: Wow, you do have a lot of this list on your TBR. What’s the KDD?

    I love Charles and Anna too. I must have read the original “Alpha and Omega” novella eight times. It was so nice to read something new about them and I hope Briggs does more books about them since I haven’t yet gotten tired of these two. And that’s pretty impressive in and of itself, given how I often feel about same-character series.

    Agree with you about the resolution of the conflict in Tangle of Need. It was probably in the middle of the pack between of Singh’s books for me, but I don’t expect authors to top themselves all the time. It’s just that Kiss of Snow and Archangel’s Blade are among my top favorites so before Tangle of Need came out I was waiting to see if the streak of greatness would continue.

    Those all sound like great reads.

    Now I’m kind of nervous about what to pick up next though.

    I encourage you to pick up Daughter of Smoke and Bone since you have it TBR. The only downside of doing so is that you will be anxious for the sequel once you finish it. If you’re in the mood for something lighter, Midnight Riot is also a great book and on your TBR. It’s my second favorite of the books on this list.

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  5. Brie
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 12:37:08

    I think I’m the only one who didn’t like Kiss of Snow that much. Maybe because I was never a fan of Sienna, and also because I felt a bit cheated by the ending (the same happened with Archangel’s Blade, did you read it?). So I’m happy to hear that Tangle of Need doesn’t have a predictable ending. I’m really invested in the world, though, even more than in the individual couples, so even if the main romance isn’t the best, the books are still compelling and interesting. And the idea of a book about shifters actually exploring the mating bond it’s refreshing.

    @Merrian: I bout Scrap Metal on release day but I’m saving it, she has a very distinct voice and I have to be in the right mood to read her books. She writes beautiful and evocative stories, but they are not light reads.

    I just bought my first Patricia Briggs. I decided to read the Alpha and Omega books first because they seem to be more romance-oriented whereas the other series is more UF and less romance, at least as far as I can tell. I’m excited about it, especially now that I’m reading the comments, hopefully I’ll like it.

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  6. Angela
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 12:37:39

    @Janine: KDD = Kindle Daily Deal. Some book (sometimes multiples) that they discount greatly for the day. I think Patrick Ness’ entire trilogy was on there one day.

    I delayed myself reading Charles and Anna for a long time because I didn’t think it could be as good as the Mercy Thompson series. When I finally read it last year, I read them back to back, 3 times over because I loved it so much. I really like how their relationship grows, and how they actually rely on each other.

    I definitely agree with you that Kiss of Snow and Archangel’s Blade are two of my favorite books by Nalini Singh. Tangle of Need was an incredibly satisfying read the first time through, but the second time through I picked up on a lot more of…subtleties that I’d not appreciated the first time through, so I ended up enjoying it a great deal more after that. Waiting a year for the next book might kill me though.

    I might have to do eeny-meanie-miney-moe to figure out which of those two to read next. :)

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  7. Brie
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 12:38:39

    *bought

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  8. JacquiC
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 12:53:19

    I am about 2/3 of the way through the Harper Fox one. Love it, but it is not light. I am also reading The Bloggess’ book, Let’s Pretend it Never Happened, which is a hoot. I have not yet read Patricia Briggs. I’d love to try her but am not sure where to start.

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  9. Janine
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 13:06:21

    @Brie:

    I think I’m the only one who didn’t like Kiss of Snow that much. Maybe because I was never a fan of Sienna, and also because I felt a bit cheated by the ending (the same happened with Archangel’s Blade, did you read it?).

    I loved them both but I don’t see how the endings are similar. I know some readers felt the Archangel’s Blade ending meant that Dmitri hadn’t fallen in love with Honor for who she was, but I didn’t feel that way at all. I just reread it with more attention to that issue and I stand by my original conclusion. I think he protested a lot but his actions (and toward the end, his thoughts too) showed that he loved her with all his heart even before he found out the Ingrede bit.

    So I’m happy to hear that Tangle of Need doesn’t have a predictable ending. I’m really invested in the world, though, even more than in the individual couples, so even if the main romance isn’t the best, the books are still compelling and interesting. And the idea of a book about shifters actually exploring the mating bond it’s refreshing.

    I was very happy with both these aspects of the book too. I had some other issues with the book, but I’ll save those for my discussion with Jennie.

    Brie, re. Alpha and Omega, make sure to start with the novella titled Alpha and Omega and not with the novels. It’s available in e on its own, or in paper in the anthology On the Prowl. Readers who skip it get confused by the beginning of Cry Wolf because that one starts in midstream of the relationship. I envy you for having those books ahead of you!

    @Angela: Thanks for explaining KDD.

    Yeah, Charles and Anna are great. I had usual same character series difficulty with the Mercy series but Charles and Anna are just so romantic that their books carry me right over that hump.

    Interesting that you enjoyed Tangle of Need more the second time. And yeah, the year-long wait for book 12 is going to kill me too.

    ETA: Would love to hear what you end up thinking of Daughter of Smoke and Bone or Midnight Riot, whichever one you read. So please feel welcome to post your thoughts here or at the next “Open Thread for Readers.”

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  10. Janine
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 13:13:04

    @JacquiC: Re. Briggs. If you like your urban fantasy bordering on romance and including the hero’s POV, start with the novella Alpha and Omega. If you like urban fantasy in the heroine’s first person voice alone, start with Moon Called. If you prefer traditional fantasy to urban fantasy, I’ve heard great things from Jane about Dragon Bones.

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  11. Angela
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 13:19:17

    @Janine (I don’t know where the link reply went?): Re: Dmitri in Archangel’s Blade,

    I think he protested a lot but his actions (and toward the end, his thoughts too) showed that he loved her with all his heart even before he found out the Ingrede bit.

    I absolutely agree. In fact one of the things I loved most about that book (not being a huge fan of reincarnation stories) was that Dmitri absolutely loved Honor for herself, shown through his actions, before the Ingrede connection was made – by either of them really.

    Charles and Anna are such an intriguing pair, and their story is so fulfilling, that they can carry me through a lot. I really hope she sees more of them to share with us.

    I’m excited to read your dual review of Tangle of Need.

    @Brie: Re: Kiss of Snow – I’ve always liked Sienna, and liked her for Hawke, so I’m sure that had some bearing on my enjoyment of that book, but I was honestly expecting that ending since I first knew that his mate died while he was a child. So it worked perfectly for me. I have just recently talked a friend of mine, who also isn’t a fan of Sienna or the age difference between her and Hawke, into reading Kiss of Snow and I’m excited and anxious at the same time to see what she thinks of it.

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  12. Susan
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 15:35:17

    I have Scrap Metal in my TBR pile. I’m still recovering from Harper Fox’s Last Line, a very intense book.

    I have to admit that my favorite Briggs books are the Raven (Raven’s Shadow, Raven’s Strike) and Dragon (Dragon Bones, Dragon Blood) duologies. They’re not romances, tho. I usually buy the Mercy Thompson books in HB (real paper!), but I balked this time for Fair Game. Maybe I’m getting frugal in my declining years, but I’m going to try to wait.

    In the past week, I’ve read Heidi Cullinan’s A Private Gentleman, Lord of Scoundrels, Tamara Allen’s If It Ain’t Love (after The Only Gold last week), and Laurenston’s Bear Meets Girl. All great. Then I started Simone St. James’s The Haunting of Maddy Clare but set it aside–I just wasn’t in the right mood at the time. I picked up Kathleen Bacus’s Calamity Jayne instead hoping for a quick, light read, but I’ve been struggling with it–3 days (!!) and I’m only at the 60% mark. I’m gallantly perservering.

    Not sure what’s next, but I have plenty of choices.

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  13. Loosheesh
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 17:51:41

    Every time I hear anything about Fair Game (and it’s always great stuff!) I want to cry! Love Anna and Charles, but I just can’t afford this book at $12.99 (works out to too much in my local currency). I’m hoping (praying!) the price will drop sometime soon – hopefully to $7.99 but even $9.99 would be good. In the meantime, I stay away from reviews, for fear I’ll come across, *gasp*, spoilers ;-)

    I read Kiss of Snow earlier this year and loved it. Before that I’d only read one or two of NS’s Silhouette Desires. I’m hoping to read the series from the beginning but when?? *sigh* My sister was on vacation recently and devoured the whole series and is waiting on Tangle of Need.

    “What I love about it is the transformation of the hero (and his relatives) from joylessness to joy.” – Of course, this line has me wanting to give The Temporary Wife a try :-)

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  14. Las
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 07:55:17

    I loathed the way the mating issue with Sienna/Hawk was handled in KOS (I always figured- that it would happen that way, which is why I was against the pairing since StS), and because of that I was really dreading Adria/Riaz, since I assumed it would be more of the same. I’ll wait until spoilers come out to be sure, but if you’re saying what I think you’re saying, I’m actually looking forward to Tangle of Need now.

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  15. Brie
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 07:57:36

    @Janine: The endings are similar but I had the same feeling about them. Both felt like copouts, Dmitri’s book in particular. They built that beautiful relationship that heals them both and the ending made me feel like the hard work wasn’t necessary because it was destined. But I have always hated that particular plot device so I’m biased. The book wasn’t bad, but the ending didn’t feel up to part with the rest of the book.

    Last night I started Alpha & Omega (novella) and yeah, I see it, it’s very, very good. The pack dynamics is interesting, and so far it looks like the heroine has serious issues to overcome and there’s no “Here baby, I’ll cure you with my mighty peen”. So I’m feeling the love.

    @Angela: I was expecting that ending also, regardless of the heroine. Personally I was happy for him, but it was the easy solution. Something different would have been refreshing and unexpected. I didn’t have a problem with the age difference, in fact, that was one of the pros. I just never liked Sienna, she always rubbed me the wrong way. I hope your friend enjoys the book!

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  16. Angela
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 08:30:56

    @Las: Without getting into real spoilers, I think I can safely say that it’s definitely not more of the same in Tangle of Need.

    @Brie: I understand what you’re saying now. Similarly, I have some friends that don’t like the easiness of the mating bond/fated mates in general (which is a trope that in general I don’t have a problem with). For me, the mating bond between Hawke and Sienna felt like a well-deserved bonus. They’d worked so hard throughout the book to figure out how their relationship was going to work in absense of it. With the pain and acceptance by both of them that it wasn’t going to be there. And they were figuring it out. And I think that with the mating bond it doesn’t make it all easy from there on either, I think that a lot of things will still require a lot of work between them, so it doesn’t feel easy to me.

    There’s definitely not any magic cure in the A&O series for Anna’s issues. The gradual growth and change in her is so well done and great to read.

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  17. Angela
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 08:33:18

    @Loosheesh: I went to see if I could loan Fair Game to you, but then remembered Penguin publishes it and they don’t allow that :(

    I almost envy you the chance to read the Psy/Changeling series for the first time.

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  18. Janine
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 16:07:20

    @Angela: Agreed re. Archangel’s Blade and Tangle of Need. And I’m excited about the joint review of Tangle of Need too. I’ve done joint reviews with Jennie, Sunita and Shuzluva, and I’ve always enjoyed them. There’s something about the conversation form that I find very freeing, and it’s great to hear someone else’s opinion and have a back and forth about the books.

    @Susan: Sounds like a busy reading week. I have not read Briggs’ Raven and Dragon duologies but I really want to. It’s just a matter of making time when most of my reading is of newer books that need reviewing.

    @Loosheesh: So sorry you can’t afford Fair Game. I hope the price comes down. My book budget is very limited these days too so I can really sympathize. Could you get a copy through the library, perhaps?

    The Temporary Wife is really worth reading. I think it’s one of Balogh’s most beloved-by-readers trad regencies, up there with A Precious Jewel and The Notorious Rake.

    @Las: I really don’t want to spoil for anyone so I’ll put it this way:

    SPOILER
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    I think we’re on the same page and yeah, it sounds like you’ll enjoy Tangle of Need more.
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    END OF SPOILER

    @Brie: I see what you mean about Archangel’s Blade. I didn’t mind because I made that connection very early on in the book, I think maybe before Honor and Dmitri even met. It was telegraphed so clearly to me that I didn’t expect anything different from the ending, and I also felt it was a very good thing for Dmitri to learn, since it could give him some peace not just about Ingrede, but also about what happened to Misha and Caterina.

    Re. Alpha and Omega, I think my review of that novella and of Cry Wolf (I reviewed them together) might have gotten more comments than any of my other reviews, and they were all from satisfied readers! I can only think of one person I’ve recommended the series to who was underwhelmed with the novella and didn’t continue with the series for that reason.

    I think Anna’s trauma and Charles’ protectiveness are the underpinnings of that series, along with the moral complexity of Briggs’ world. I love that Anna’s recovery is gradual and sometimes there are setbacks, and I also love the way the characters are almost bewildered by the mating bond initially. It’s probably my favorite fictional treatment of a mating bond for that reason. And of course, Charles’ job as an assassin doesn’t make things easy on them. I could go on and on about those books but I’ll restrain myself. I just envy you for having them ahead of you!

    Interesting that you didn’t like Sienna. She’s my second favorite heroine in the series (my favorite being Mercy), so it’s fascinating to hear that she rubbed you the wrong way.

    @Angela: Re fated mates, I don’t love it when that trope makes everything too easy but when the characters feel overwhelmed by it or when it creates problems (for example the hero has to learn not to be too possessive/protective) as in the A&O series and in some of Singh’s books, I can enjoy it quite a lot. So it all depends on the execution.

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  19. Loosheesh
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 18:33:50

    @Angela: Sweet of you to check, thanks!

    @Janine: Our central library is so limited I never even thought of trying there for a copy but stranger things have happened so I should probably check them out.

    I can’t remember ever reading anything by Mary Balogh so I’m looking forward to trying The Temporary Wife.

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  20. Angela
    May 02, 2012 @ 08:58:45

    I finished Daughter of Smoke and Bone yesterday. Wow. I’m so glad that you urged me to move it up my TBR pile. In the beginning I had a hard time reconciling it as a YA novel, because it just feels more mature than most YA novels I’ve read. Karou and Akiva are great characters, and the mystery surrounding Brimstone pulled me through (though I figured out the other big reveal much earlier and am still not entirely sold on it – sorry for the vagueness, but really trying to avoid spoilers for anyone else). Overall, a really strong book though, and already one of my favorites of the year. I can’t believe I have to wait until November for the next one.

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