Daughter of York by Anne Easter Smith

Here we are again diving into the world of British nobility/royalty. Only this time, it’s better because it’s The War of the Roses. My favorite time period in English history. Brothers betrayed brothers. Uncles betrayed nephews. Husbands betrayed wives. It was a mess that spanned 30 years, four kings and ended one of the largest dynasties in royal history.

This particular book is about Margaret York, sister of Edward IV and takes place just as Edward seizes the throne in place of the mad king Henry VI and his wife Margaret Anjou. Most of this book actually takes place during a relatively peaceful lull in the War of the Roses. Margaret grows up in her big brother’s court learning from her mother, the great Cecily Neville, about how to be a gracious host and fierce diplomat. She falls in love with Anthony Woodville, brother to King Edward’s wife Elizabeth. Then, Margaret is married to Charles Duke of Burgundy and must hide her love for Anthony. She watches the events in England from afar as she cares for her stepdaughter Mary. She watches as her brother Edward loses the throne and gets it back again. She watches her two other brothers George and Richard betray and stand by Edward respectively. All of this while serving England to the best of her ability.

It’s a large book. It took a while to get through. Anne Easter Smith is so detailed in describing the surroundings of the characters. She beautifully describes the palaces Margaret visits, the cities she frequents, and the people around her. I feel like I know royal court personally.

Obviously Anne Easter Smith did not live during the time period so she had to invent some things. The one thing she invents that I though I was going to have a problem with was the dwarf Margaret comes to own. Fortunata was a strange choice of confidante to give Margaret. At first I didn’t like it because I thought Smith made her far too important for an invented character. But as the story wore on, she grew on me. Finally, at Fortunata’s death scene, I found myself bawling like a baby at the loss of the character.

Books like this are hard to criticize because a lot of it actually happened and no one alive today was there to see it. I can’t really be critical of the author without being critical of the events. It was a good story and Anne Easter Smith told it very well.

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Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

She’s done it again. Aveyard has drug me further down the rabbit hole that is this series. She did it with action, politics, and emotion and I can’t get enough.

Mare Barrow is back with the Scarlet Guard. She’s got the brother she thought she lost, the exiled prince, and a heap of guilt on her conscience. She and her team sweep the country finding more people like her and her brother: red-blooded with silver-like abilities. They need to find them before the newly-crowned, deranged King Maven can get to them and kill them, or worse, hand them over to his mother to use as puppets.

In all honesty, you can easily tell that this series is meant for teens. The writing is good, but super angsty. There is also a lot of emphasis on blood. I get it, the classes are separated by blood color, but just tone it down a little. Despite that, I love this series. The story is great and the twists are better.

Bring on the third book!

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A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Another series, another fandom.

There are four Londons. Grey London as we know it. Red London, a world of magic and element control. White London, where death and power reign supreme. And Black London, which has been sealed off to the rest for fear of a dangerous magic within,

Out main character Kell is from Red London. He is Antari, a race of magicians that is nearly extinct. He can travel through the different Londons ans uses the ability to smuggle items between the three. But when he ends up with a mysterious stone (a product of Black London) and a curious girl Lilah (a product of Grey London) he is thrown into a journey to Black London in which, along the way, he must battle the powers of White London.

I’m a sucker for authors that create their own countries, languages, religions, cultures, etc. This book offers it all. I was submersed into a world of magic and danger and I loved every minute of it. Schwab did a wonderful job of creating characters and histories of the worlds she thought up. I love the parallels of the different Londons. How they all sort of have the same layout, but are so so different. I also like how some of the magic in this book only works with blood. It’s definitely not what I’m used to.

I cannot wait to continue the series.

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The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

Nicholas Flamel. When I read the description on the back of the book, it was this name that caught my attention. My Potterhead senses tingled. Unfortunately the book has nothing to do with J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece. Nonetheless I was intrigued.

Nick Flamel and his wife Perry have been alive many millennia thanks to The Book of Abraham the Mage or The Codex. They can make The Elixir of Life, they can turn any metal into gold, and they also have extraordinary powers. They’re also being hunted by Doctor John Dee who wants The Codex for evil reasons. Josh and Sophie Newman wind up helping Flamel and learning that there is a prophecy in the Codex that refers to twins such as themselves. Thus, a book series is born.

The writing is juvenile, but I can’t really be mad at that since I found the book in Teen Fantasy. It managed to keep me reading and that’s what counts. The only real issue I had (along with other critics of the book) was the inconsistencies of Josh and Sophie. One moment they are terrified of the events that they’ve been through and can think of nothing but going home. Next, they tell Flamel that they are ready to fight and are willing to do anything to help him. But again, I can’t really be too critical of the see-saw feelings because Josh and Sophie are supposed to be fifteen years old and, let’s face it, teenagers are inconsistent and unstable beings.

The aspect of the book that I really enjoyed was the prospect of mythical characters and creatures popping up and being real. At one point in the book, Dr. John Dee wields a Sword of Ice, once called Excalibur, and Flamel muses that he thought Artorius (King Arthur) destroyed the sword. Historical objects and people are my thing and we might get to meet more.

So, will I continue the series? Most likely. Will I buy up and read the books with a cult-like fervor? Probably not.  Am I secretly hoping that during the series we meet a friend of Flamel’s named Albus? You best believe.

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Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

Never have I ever read a book that was so in depth about any one subject. If you’ve ever thought about going into the business of wine, you need to read this book (and also be willing to drop everything going on in your life). Bosker took me on a journey that I was not ready for and that I didn’t realize I was craving. She trains for the Certified Sommelier Test like a person whose life depends on passing. Of course, according to the people we meet throughout the book, everyone trains that way.

These people… theses “Somms” are some of the most passionate people on the planet. They talk about this alcoholic beverage as if it has life-changing qualities. And I bought into every single word of it. I fell in love with wine while reading this book, and I still don’t even know that much about it. It made me want to meet Bosker in person and spend a week with her just so she can teach me about wine.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the book though is the scientific outlooks. Bosker met a bunch of doctors whose sole purpose in life was to figure out how our noses work. They helped her better understand the wine she was drinking and train her senses to guess the wine before she tasted it. But Bosker also read studies that put her in doubt about wine having certain characteristics. Studies that proved sometimes we humans can’t tell the difference between a $10 bottle of wine and a $1000 bottle. There were also studies that showed that those of us who can tell the difference between the bottles, think that the $1000 wine is better just because of its price.

Bosker went on to pass the test and become a certified Sommelier. I applaud her dedication and the dedication of everyone and anyone who finds something that they can throw themselves into wholeheartedly. I wish I could find a career that allowed me to read with as much passion as these people drink wine.

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Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Most “coming-of-age” stories are the same. Or at least, fairly similar. Small-town girl moves to a big city. Girl gets a job in which she struggles at first. Girl falls for a boy that is bad for her while conveniently ignoring the boy that is good for her. In the end, the girl’s dreams come true and she ends up with the good guy. Sweetbitter follows that format for the first few steps, but it has the furthest this from a happy ending that I’ve ever read.

The story of Tess is a common one told in a very uncommon way. It felt like reading philosophy. The way the characters spoke to each other felt like it should have been performed on a stage. The really fucked-up relationships between characters made the story very raw. The rampant sex and illicit drug use made it feel like a teen drama. All of this combined into a great story.

My only issue was with the ending (Spoilers). I’m glad Tess leaves the restaurant. I’m glad that nothing is resolved between her and the bad boy. Stuff like that made the ending intriguing. What I didn’t like was that Tess got fucked (literally) by her boss after asking for a promotion. I lost all respect for Tess that I had gained throughout her story. And then she basically gets fired anyway. Maybe that’s what Danler wanted though. Kind of a broken ending for a very broken character.

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Confessions of a Young Nero by Margaret George

When your mom is willing to murder for you, one would think that their reign as the Roman Emperor was fairly secure. Unfortunately for Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, or just Nero, HIS mother was willing to kill her one-and-only son to ensure she was given equal power. How does one survive such a fatal family member? Stay one step ahead and murder mom before she can murder you. It’s super fucked up I know, but that’s how Nero had to live life.

Margaret George perfectly sums up what life was like for a Roman Emperor. Big-ass houses. Raunchy-ass friends. And the constant threat of murder from you family. She portrayed Nero unlike anyone I’ve read before. Mostly I’ve heard that Nero was an incestuous asshole. Stories say he was vindictive, he lusted after his mom, and, at the end, didn’t seem to care that Rome was burning around him. But George finally makes Nero the victim. And after reading this version of Nero, I would have to agree.

First, he was nearly drowned by his lunatic uncle Caligula. Then, he learned that his mother poisoned the only father figure he had ever known. Finally, the cherry on top, that same mother drugged and seduced her son into a seriously gross night. Nero was screwed from the start. There was no hope.

If you think you have some family drama, I urge you to read about Nero. It will make you feel a lot better about your messed up family. IMG_0895

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Rabbit holes. Book series. No difference. Very rarely do I see or hear of a book series and think to myself, “Eh. Sounds kinda boring.” No. Most sound like a one-way trip into a fandom. I’ve been led down three such rabbit holes so far: Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Magicians. And I regret nothing. It seems I have, again, been led down a rabbit hole by Victoria Aveyard; with a tale of a world in which people are divided by the color of their blood.

Those with red blood live poor, humble lives in small villages or urban ghettos. They are powerless. Most are hungry. And those eligible are conscripted to fight in a war that is not theirs to fight. The silver-bloods live lives as nobility and royalty. They have supernatural abilities which makes them ever more powerful than their red counterparts.

The story follows Mare Barrow, a red-blooded girl who discovers that she has silver-like abilities. The silver-blooded royal family tries to pass her off as a long-lost silver princess while trying to fight a rebel group of reds, known as a the Scarlet Guard, who are trying to bring equality to a very divided world. Mare must play along to save her family and best friend, and a prince she begins to fall for.

There is one thing about Aveyard’s writing/story-telling that I can’t decide if I like. That is the speed. Everything in this book happens very fast. It’s less than four hundred pages and there is so much to take in. Lies. Betrayal. Battles. It’s a lot. The small reason I dislike it is because I think that Aveyard could have drawn our certain events a little and still kept it interesting. In other words, I think there could have easily been two books written for the events that happened in only one. The reason the speed is good is because Aveyard has already written three more books and my brain is like, “GOOD GOD WOMAN, HOW MUCH MORE HAPPENS IN THOSE THREE?!?!?!”

So I think it is safe to say I’ve made a new home in Victoria Aveyard’s rabbit hole. Now I have to wonder which parts of the books will be ruined by the movies.

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Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship by Jon Meacham

“Churchill’s attitude toward Roosevelt was one of profound affection and regard.” This quote is from Anthony Montague Brown and it, or some version of it, is repeated several times throughout this book. Interestingly enough, the same is never said about the way Roosevelt felt about his British counterpart. It is for this reason that I have a hard time calling their relationship a “friendship.” It seemed more like unrequited love.

Meacham explains why both men were the way they were. And both explanations are the same age-old tale: daddy issues. Winston Churchill was never able to satisfy his father, so he spent his adult life trying to impress and gain the praises of one of the most powerful men of the century. On the flip side, Roosevelt was spoiled by his parents, so his self-importance made him a hard man to impress, since he felt the better man regardless.

I get it. The psychology explains most of it. And World War II makes up the rest of the explanation. Churchill was desperate. He (and his military) needed help. And Roosevelt was the only man powerful enough to help in the way Churchill needed.

All of that aside, the relationship between the two great men was painfully one-sided. Churchill seemed deeply and sincerely interested in the friendship. He wrote letters, gave gifts, he even traveled to Washington D.C. to see Roosevelt. Roosevelt however, was distant and cold. He was a friend when duty required him be so, but otherwise he considered himself a superior human being, and above needing friends.

There were instances of affection from Roosevelt. Like when he offered his unconditional help to Churchill (and Britain) lost a battle in Tobruk. Or the moment they shared on a rooftop in Marrakech overlooking the city. But he could have just as easily turned on Churchill. Like in Teheran when Roosevelt joined Joseph Stalin in teasing Churchill all night, leading Winston to be jaded by Roosevelt’s kindness.

The relationship between these two larger-than-life men was, and remains, complicated. For me, calling it a “friendship” is a little too optimistic. Whatever they were to each other didn’t matter though. For they were heroes to their countries.

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Sourdough by Robin Sloan

I love books about food. Mostly because I love actual food. But the way people write about it makes it sound like such a magical experience. Robin Sloan is no exception. She did, however, put a more scientific spin on it.

Lois Clary is a robot programmer from Michigan trying to make a living in San Francisco. She befriends two brothers who make food she loves including sourdough bread. When the brothers leave, they gift Lois with their sourdough starter. So begins Lois’ journey in finding herself within the sourdough. Is she a robot programmer? Is she a baker? Turns out she’s both.

In the most basic explanation, the book is a coming-of-age story, but it’s one that I thoroughly enjoyed. Sloan really captured what our generation is like in one beautiful quote: “we are the children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we just want to be sorted.” This quote lingered in my mind through reading the book, resonated with me on an emotional level. Probably due to the fact that I am a huge Potterhead (Ravenclaw thank you very much), but also because of its truth. We want to know where we belong. We want to be told where we need to be. Even if it is an undesirable place.

So, read Sourdough.

Join Lois on her journey.

Go on one of your own.

Love something like some people love bread.

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