Friday, June 30, 2017

The #FridayReads Review (6/30/17)

Welcome to The #FridayReads Review, a regular Friday segment where I share what I've been reading the past week, and what I'm planning to read next! Want to join the Friday fun? Post your own #FridayReads Review and leave the link in the Comments below, or just Comment with what you've been reading!

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter, #5)Hana-Kimi, Vol. 1 (Hana-Kimi, #1)
Currently about 230 pages in. I'd forgotten how rather annoyingly angry Harry is in this one, and how long and somewhat dull the beginning can be before we get to school. Either a little of the sparkle has finally worn off, or I'm just not as in the mood for it as I thought. Still, overall a solid read as always.

Hana-Kimi Series by Hisaya Nakajo (PBK)
Still slowly purging my manga and hit on this 23-volume series. It's a solid and overall pretty fun story, but after diligently reading the first three volumes I've resorted to skimming the rest which can be a Sell Pile indicator - my interest in manga has finally waned some so I may have outgrown this series. Who knows though, I'm still enjoying it despite the skimming - I'll give it the whole series before I decide.

(subject to change with my ever-shifting reading whims)
Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands, #1)
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton (ARC)
Book Group is speedily sneaking up on me again and this is one the titles up for discussion.

So what are you reading this week?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

DNF Review: Starfall (Melissa Landers)

Starfall (Starflight, #2)
Title: Starfall
Series: Starflight #2
Author: Melissa Landers
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: February 7, 2017
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Told: Third Person (Cassia, Kane), Past Tense
Content Rating: Older Teen (Up to Page 64: violence, kissing, mistreatment)
Format Read: Hardcover (library)
Find OnGoodreads
Purchase OnAmazon | B&N | Book Depository

When Princess Cassia Rose fled her home world of Eturia to escape an arranged marriage, she had no idea her sudden departure would spark a war. Now after two years hiding as a ship hand, she is finally returning to her beloved home, but not in the way she imagined. Shackled by bounty hunters, she is violently dragged back to account for her crimes. Her only solace is that the Banshee crew managed to evade capture, including Kane Arric, her best friend...with occasional benefits.

Meanwhile, Kane and the rest of the crew of the Banshee plan a desperate rescue mission. But when they arrive on Eturia, Cassia isn't exactly in need of heroics—she's claimed her birthright as Eturia's queen, but has inherited a war-torn planet simmering with rebellion. Cassia must make alliances, and Kane, the bastard son of a merchant, isn't a choice that will earn her any friends. Kane knows he will never find someone to replace Cassia—and is certain she returns his feelings—but how can he throw away his own promising future waiting on a queen?

When the outer realm is threatened by the dangerous Zhang mafia, Cassia, Kane and the rest of the Banshee crew uncover a horrifying conspiracy that endangers the entire universe. In the face of unspeakable evil, Cassia must confront her own family's complicated legacy on Eturia and decide once and for all who her real family is.

*          *          *

I did not finish this book. I stopped at Chapter 8 (Page 64).

This companion novel picks up about a year after Starflight, this time focusing on Banshee crewmates Cassia and Kane. Although I really wasn't looking forward to their trademark bickering at the forefront, the book opens with them barely speaking to each other and without the bickering I found the dialogue seriously lacking. They are also separated almost immediately, and since the two of them together was what made either of them shine, apart they were rather dull. Especially Kane, although he didn't get much page time in the beginning as he was ignored for quite a few chapters to allow Cassia's story to make rapid progress (that unfortunately skipped over the interesting bits).

I expected Starfall to be a continuance of their Starflight story of adventure on the run, but was sorely disappointed when the run ended several short chapters in and the story instead turned to an overused one of political upheaval and rebellion. (I guess since I loved the first book so much I never really read the summary.) Cassia's common "royal rebel struggling with love of a servant" story just didn't offer anything particularly unique to engage me, and although Kane and the rest of the crew were finally returning to the scene in Chapter 8, and the summary promised a threatening mafia, by then I had lost all interest and couldn't muster enough curiosity to press on, let alone finish.

I will continue to love and highly recommend Starflight (you can read my raving review here), but will sadly be suggesting a pass on this sequel.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

WoW: Murder, Magic, and What We Wore (Kelly Jones)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly blogging event in which one spotlights an upcoming release they are eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore
Title: Murder, Magic, and What We Wore
Author: Kelly Jones
Release Date: September 19, 2017
Publisher: Knopf (Random House)

The year is 1818, the city is London, and 16-year-old Annis Whitworth has just learned that her father is dead and all his money is missing. And so, of course, she decides to become a spy.

Annis always suspected that her father was himself a spy, and following in his footsteps to unmask his killer makes perfect sense. Alas, it does not make sense to England’s current spymasters—not even when Annis reveals that she has the rare magical ability to sew glamours: garments that can disguise the wearer completely.

Well, if the spies are too pigheaded to take on a young woman of quality, then Annis will take them on. And so she crafts a new double life for herself. Miss Annis Whitworth will appear to live a quiet life in a country cottage with her aunt, and Annis-in-disguise as Madame Martine, glamour artist, will open a magical dressmaking shop. That way she can earn a living, maintain her social standing, and, in her spare time, follow the coded clues her father left behind and unmask his killer.

It can’t be any harder than navigating the London social season, can it?

Why I'm Looking Forward To It: Confession: I'm not actually waiting on this one because the wonderful people at Random House sent me an early copy and I devoured it over the weekend. It was such a marvelous and magical read though that I wanted to be sure to put it on everyone's radar as soon as possible, especially fans of Gail Carriger and Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamourist Histories series! If you enjoy Regency fashion, espionage, and alternate history magic, then I highly recommend you add Murder, Magic, and What We Wore to your TBR list at once and be on the lookout for it this September!

So what book are you waiting on?

Friday, June 23, 2017

The #FridayReads Review (6/23/17)

Welcome to The #FridayReads Review, a regular Friday segment where I share what I've been reading the past week, and what I'm planning to read next! Want to join the Friday fun? Post your own #FridayReads Review and leave the link in the Comments below, or just Comment with what you've been reading!

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter, #5)
Itching to read but just couldn't settle on any of the half-dozen books I tried to start, so on with my (apparently year-long) Harry Potter re-read! (Barely remember re-reading the first four so thank goodness for Goodreads to remind me I already had.)

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore
Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones (ARC)
4.5 Stars. A delightfully fun and fashionable alternate Regency mystery with marvelous magic and intriguing espionage for fans of Gail Carriger and the Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal! Review to come.

(subject to change with my ever-shifting reading whims)
The Diabolic (The Diabolic #1)
The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid (ARC)
I'm thinking of doing CampNano next month and if so this book would be the perfect inspiration for the story I'm considering to write.

So what are you reading this week?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

WoW: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares (Krystal Sutherland)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly blogging event in which one spotlights an upcoming release they are eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
Title: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
Author: Krystal Sutherland
Release Date: September 5, 2017
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons BYR

From the author of Our Chemical Hearts comes the hilarious, reality-bending tale of two outsiders facing their greatest fears about life and love one debilitating phobia at a time.

Ever since Esther Solar's grandfather was cursed by Death, everyone in her family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime. Esther's father is agoraphobic and hasn't left the basement in six years, her twin brother can t be in the dark without a light on, and her mother is terrified of bad luck.

The Solars are consumed by their fears and, according to the legend of the curse, destined to die from them. 

Esther doesn't know what her great fear is yet (nor does she want to), a feat achieved by avoiding pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces, and crowds are all off-limits. So are haircuts, spiders, dolls, mirrors and three dozen other phobias she keeps a record of in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares. 

Then Esther is pickpocketed by Jonah Smallwood, an old elementary school classmate. Along with her phone, money and a fruit roll-up she'd been saving, Jonah also steals her list of fears. Despite the theft, Esther and Jonah become friends, and he sets a challenge for them: in an effort to break the curse that has crippled her family, they will meet every Sunday of senior year to work their way through the list, facing one terrifying fear at a time, including one that Esther hadn't counted on: love.

Why I'm Looking Forward To It: This sounds like such fun!! The purple cover intrigued me (cats always catch my eye ;) but it was after reading the summary that I immediately knew this will be just my kind of read. Magical realism ftw!

So what book are you waiting on?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Top Ten Series I've Been Meaning To Start But Haven't

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

Ten Series I've Been Meaning to Start but Haven't

The Burning Sky (The Elemental Trilogy, #1)Steelheart (Reckoners, #1)The Young Elites (The Young Elites, #1)
Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)
Ink and Bone (The Great Library, #1)Cold FuryPassenger (Passenger, #1)
Riders (Riders, #1)Geek Girl (Geek Girl, #1)
  1. The Elemental Trilogy (Sherry Thomas)
  2. Reckoners (Brandon Sanderson)
  3. The Young Elites (Marie Lu)
  4. The Illuminae Files (Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff)
  5. Six of Crows (Leigh Bardugo)
  6. The Great Library (Rachel Caine)
  7. Cold Fury (T.M. Goeglein)
  8. Passenger (Alexandra Bracken)
  9. Riders (Veronica Rossi)
  10. Geek Girl (Holly Smale)

So what series have you been meaning to start but haven't?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Caraval (Stephanie Garber)

Title: Caraval
Series: Caraval, Book 1
Author: Stephanie Garber
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release Date: January 31, 2017
Genre: Young Adult Alternate Fantasy
Told: Third Person Limited (Scarlett), Past Tense
Content Rating: Older Teen (physical abuse by a parent, sensuality, violence, murder, suicide)
Format Read: ARC (publisher)
Find OnGoodreads
Purchase OnAmazon | B&N | Book Depository

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

*          *          *

Review copy provided by publisher for an honest review. Thank you, Flatiron!

In a Sentence: An alternate fantasy with a familiar and interesting world and game but contradictory telling versus showing, a frustrating main character, and a weak sibling bond.

Caraval was one of those books that I really wanted to like, thought I might like, but wasn't too surprised when I didn't.

Writing & Characters: At over 400 pages, Caraval not only was but felt like a really long read with too much uninteresting description and Scarlett overthinking everything. There was also way too much insistent telling that was contradicted by what was actually shown, especially concerning the promised “unbreakable bond between two sisters” the story said it had but I never really saw

Scarlett constantly underestimated and discounted her smarter and stronger younger sister, always assured that she was incapable of taking care of herself or making good decisions and had to be rescued. Not that Tella was always foremost in Scarlett's mind, though. While she was supposed to be focused on finding Tella, Scarlett was constantly distracted by thoughts of her upcoming nuptials, which she swore was about saving them both but was really just about her. And that would've been okay - marrying someone is a big deal, and essentially all about you (well, and the person you're marrying). But the fact that she kept trying to convince herself it was about her and Tella when it really wasn't rubbed me wrong. And Tella was the same way. She said she cared about Scarlett more than anything, that she felt responsible for making sure her sister was happy. But her personality was predominantly selfish and adventurous, and I never really bought any actions contradictory to that. Together, no matter how hard I looked, I just didn't see the strong sisterly bond the book insisted it possessed - two sisters does not an unbreakable bond make.

Romantic Relationships: There were two romantic interests for Scarlett: her unseen fiance, and her mysterious Caraval partner. The outcome of the fiance was no surprise and I'm glad it wasn't, although I was secretly hoping for more of a shock for who it turned out to be. The partner was a heavy case of instalust that did not sit well with me as they were so unbearably physically drawn to each other despite no other attraction and in fact a bit of revulsion and indifference otherwise. Overall both "relationships" disappointed and disturbed me in different ways, but thankfully both ended realistically, which I appreciated.

StoryDespite a promising dark and twisted game concept, for the most part I found Caraval too confusing and way too coincidental. The clues were impossible for me to follow and it was always a surprise when Scarlett somehow found her way, which made it feel as if the game were conforming to her decisions instead of her actually solving anything. (Maybe it was? Hence my confusion.) Since every clue I thought I deciphered turned out to be false, I eventually gave up trying to guess and thereby lost most of my interest in the game itself.

This left only one element of the story to keep me reading: the mystery that was Scarlett's Caraval partner. It kept me interested despite a lot of frustration with Scarlett and an occasionally elevated level of character stupidity that made me put the book down and walk away a few times. But even that mystery eventually grew tiresome as the truth was revealed and then disproved and then revealed and then disproved again until I really couldn't care less who he was anymore and just wanted the mystery over with. The final answer, which wasn't revealed until the last chapter, was a little left field and rather disappointing compared to my guesses, but by then that was no surprise. After all the frustration and dashed promises, the story's end left me feeling a bit gypped but satisfied enough, I guess. I was happy with how one character turned out, but very "whatever" with the rest. 

Setting: The setting was the only aspect of the book that didn't disappoint. The dazzling but unnerving world reminded me of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland while the fun yet sinister game was reminiscent of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. There wasn't nearly enough of the world for me though, and what little teaser snippets there were always left me wanting more that would never come. 

ConclusionAlthough I did enjoy the classically reminiscent world and game, there was way too much uninteresting description, Scarlett was too distracted and overthought everything to the point of frustration, and I never truly felt the sisterly bond. While the mysterious partner was intriguing, after way too many switchbacks I lost interest before the final conclusion, and while the end was for the most part satisfying it left me feeling a bit cheated.

Will I read the next book?: I actually wasn't expecting this to be a series, so despite my problems with Caraval the epilogue did intrigue me. However, while I am a little tempted to read the sequel since it will focus on what was, in this book, a stronger and smarter character, the foreshadowed plot has all the hallmarks of more of the same stupidity-inducing antics that frustrated me in this book and I’m not sure if the world and game are dazzling enough for me to put up with it a second time.

For Fans Of: A.G. Howard's Splintered Series

Scribble Rating
2 of 5 Scribbles

Friday, June 16, 2017

The #FridayReads Review (6/16/17)

Welcome to The #FridayReads Review, a regular Friday segment where I share what I've been reading the past week, and what I'm planning to read next! Want to join the Friday fun? Post your own #FridayReads Review and leave the link in the Comments below, or just Comment with what you've been reading!

Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children, #1)
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (HBK)
Decided to give this short read a try before tackling Starfall - starting it this afternoon!

Starflight (Starflight, #1)Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 24

Starflight by Melissa Landers (ARC/HBK)
5 Stars. Just as good as I my first read last year! You check out my gushing review here.

Kamisama Kiss vol. 24 by Julietta Suzuki (PBK)
4.5 Stars. I cried. I laughed. I foresee using up a box of tissues for the final volume later this year.

(subject to change with my ever-shifting reading whims)
Starfall (Starflight, #2)
Starfall by Melissa Landers (HBK)
Finished my Starflight re-read so on to the companion sequel next! Will have to brave the hardcover, but needs must.

So what are you reading this week?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Paragraph Review: Geekerella (Ashley Poston)

Geekerella: A Fangirl Fairy Tale
Title: Geekerella
Series: standalone
Author: Ashley Poston
Publisher: Quirk Books
Release Date: April 4, 2017
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance
Told: First Person (Elle, Darien), Present Tense
Content Rating: Teen (some language, kissing)
Format Read: Hardcover (publisher)
Find OnGoodreads
Purchase OnAmazon | B&N | Book Depository

Cinderella goes to the con in this fandom-fueled twist on the classic fairy tale.

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad's old costume), Elle's determined to win unless her stepsisters get there first. 

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons before he was famous. Now they re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he's ever wanted, but the Starfieldfandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.

Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom."

*          *          *

Review copy provided by publisher for an honest review. Thank you, Quirk Books!

In a Sentence: A fun and fannish Cinderella retelling with great characters and a sweet romance that no geek should miss.

If you're a geek who enjoys retellings, then you are in for a treat with Geekerella! Partially set at a sci-fi convention and fully focused on fandom, this is a playful reboot about embracing who you are and knowing that you are never alone - especially if you're a geek. With a lighthearted style that still wasn't afraid to get emotional (I teared up a few times), I enjoyed following the story from both Elle and Darien's distinct and quirky point of views as, by way of hasty judgments and bad decisions they nonetheless found their footing and found each other. Elle could be just a bit too dense for me considering her hard-knock life upbringing, but Darien was pure gold with his outside actor facade and inside fanboy. Their "happily ever after" romance was sweet and realistic as they didn't fall for each other right away (always a plus with me), instead slowly getting to know each other through witty texts that were the book's highlight. While I never enjoy the darker Cinderella moments in any retelling, I did thoroughly enjoy Geekerella's modern twists on the classic story (the fairy godmother, the pumpkin carriage) as well as the diverse differences like Cal. Granted the book did have a few minor faults (the plot tended to drive Elle more than her actions drove it, and the voices blended near the end), but overall this was a great story of self-discovery and sci-fi conventions that shouldn't be missed.

Conclusion: While I'm not much for Cinderella angst, I really enjoyed this retelling with its modern twists and focus on fandom culture. Although Elle was a little too insecure for me at times, Darien was adorable and their fairytale ending was sweet. I highly recommend Geekerella for geeks everywhere!

For Fans Of: Cinderella retellings, geek culture

Scribble Rating
4 of 5 Scribbles

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

WoW: An Unkindness of Magicians (Kat Howard)

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly blogging event hosted by Breaking the Spine, in which one spotlights an upcoming release they are eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

An Unkindness of Magicians
Title: An Unkindness of Magicians
Author: Kat Howard
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Publisher: Saga Press

There is a dark secret that is hiding at the heart of New York City and diminishing the city’s magicians’ power in this fantasy thriller by acclaimed author Kat Howard.

In New York City, magic controls everything. But the power of magic is fading. No one knows what is happening, except for Sydney—a new, rare magician with incredible power that has been unmatched in decades, and she may be the only person who is able to stop the darkness that is weakening the magic. But Sydney doesn’t want to help the system, she wants to destroy it.

Sydney comes from the House of Shadows, which controls the magic with the help of sacrifices from magicians.

Why I'm Looking Forward To It: I am always game for a magical NYC story! And this one sounds deliciously sinister.

So what book are you waiting on?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

{Nerd Blast} ROAR (Cora Carmack) Excerpt + Giveaway

Welcome to the Official Nerd Blast for 
Roar by Cora Carmack!

Roar (Stormheart, #1)

Title: Roar
Series: Stormheart #1
Author: Cora Carmack
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication Date: June 13, 2017

In a land ruled and shaped by violent magical storms, power lies with those who control them.

Aurora Pavan comes from one of the oldest Stormling families in existence. Long ago, the ungifted pledged fealty and service to her family in exchange for safe haven, and a kingdom was carved out from the wildlands and sustained by magic capable of repelling the world’s deadliest foes. As the sole heir of Pavan, Aurora’s been groomed to be the perfect queen. She’s intelligent and brave and honorable. But she’s yet to show any trace of the magic she’ll need to protect her people.

To keep her secret and save her crown, Aurora’s mother arranges for her to marry a dark and brooding Stormling prince from another kingdom. At first, the prince seems like the perfect solution to all her problems. He’ll guarantee her spot as the next queen and be the champion her people need to remain safe. But the more secrets Aurora uncovers about him, the more a future with him frightens her. When she dons a disguise and sneaks out of the palace one night to spy on him, she stumbles upon a black market dealing in the very thing she lacks—storm magic. And the people selling it? They’re not Stormlings. They’re storm hunters.

Legend says that her ancestors first gained their magic by facing a storm and stealing part of its essence. And when a handsome young storm hunter reveals he was born without magic, but possesses it now, Aurora realizes there’s a third option for her future besides ruin or marriage. 

She might not have magic now, but she can steal it if she’s brave enough. 

Challenge a tempest. Survive it. And you become its master.

“I am typically not a fantasy reader, but Roar convinced me to read more. Cora Carmack created a beautiful world and I felt like I was transported to Pavan with her vivid descriptions of the city. I was left wanting more and I can't to find out what happens with the rest of her characters.”—Chelsea Riela, New York Public Library 

“In her electrifying YA debut Roar, Cora Carmack creates a stormy fantasy full of adventure featuring a charismatic ensemble cast. Roar introduces YA readers to Cora’s signature talent for balancing authentic characters and a captivating romance, this time set in a striking new world that will sweep readers away.”—Mary HinsonIrving Public Library and Mary Had A Little Book Blog


The Pavanian princess stared at Cassius, her mouth open slightly. When she first walked into this room, Cassius had thought her stunning in her savagery, colder than the depths of winter. Her dress seduced and threatened in equal measure, clinging to her curves and adorned with carved skyfire crystals that jutted from her shoulders and head like the spikes of a warrior’s armor. And yet for all that careful pageantry, it had only taken a compliment to rattle her. She looked very young in that moment, very sweet, which was never a good thing for a potential ruler to be.

She donned an unreadable expression before his curiosity was satisfied, and her lilting voice turned sharp. “Flattery is not necessary. The betrothal has already been set.”

Another blast of that wintery gaze. She had unusual blue-gray eyes—wide and expressive and lovely enough to bring a lesser man to his knees. Her confident demeanor would likely have convinced most, but he had sharpened his instincts in a court little safer than a lion’s den. Tension rode her—something between unease and fear. He gripped her wrist and had the inexplicable urge to drag her somewhere else, anywhere other than the betrothal celebration that waited upstairs with his family. She was a delicate songbird, and his father was a bird of prey. They all were, Cassius included. And he couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before this little bird had her wings clipped.

She tugged her arm out of his grasp, hard. He was tempted to take it back. That was part of his nature … to take. But she fixed him with a harsh glare, and he smiled in response. Perhaps his little bird had talons after all.

Enough. She was not his little bird. A jungle cat does not care for prey, even if he wants it with a hunger stronger than any he has ever known. He pushed his more ruthless instincts aside. That would be his greatest challenge here—fighting the need to seize, command, destroy. Those were the things he was good at. The things he’d been taught since he could walk. With Aurora he would have to coax and flatter and comfort—that was his path to control.

She said, “We should probably go. They’ll be calling for us soon.”

Cassius offered her his elbow, and her body was tense as she curled her hand around it. But before they even took a step, it became clear that the voluminous fabric at the bottom of her dress wouldn’t allow them to easily walk side by side. Cassius took hold of her hand, sliding it off his arm and lacing their fingers together instead. Slowly, he lifted her hand until his lips dragged across her knuckles. The blacks of her eyes expanded, swallowing up that lovely color and adding just a touch of sin to her sweet. She jerked within his grip, trying to pull away. Chuckling low, he put some distance between them, but he did not release her hand.

It took entirely too long to cross the throne room in her elaborate attire. She had to kick the bottom of her dress out before she stepped so that it wasn’t underfoot. Cassius was willing to bet that the dress and the headpiece weighed a third as much as she did or more, but her posture remained rigidly upright and her steps smooth.

By the time they reached the staircase at the back of the throne room, her lips were open and her breathing quick. He was beginning to hate this dress, even if it did cling to her curves rather spectacularly.

“You know,” he said, “I have a knife. I’m tempted to cut off the bottom of that dress so you can walk like the rest of us.”

A smile flitted across her mouth, small at first, then widening into something playful and bright. It called to the darkness in him. “You could try. But you’d likely find that knife at your throat with my mother on the other side of it.”

“Not you?”

“If I had my way, we’d burn it once you cut it off. The headdress too.”

He smiled, and for the first time in a long while it felt almost natural.

“Perhaps we’ll celebrate our wedding with a bonfire.”

Every time he mentioned the wedding, she tensed. It was, of course, already agreed upon and signed in ink, but he had plans that would not succeed if she remained reluctant.

They ascended the first few steps slowly, the beaded fabric of her dress pulled taut around her legs. He wanted to throw her over his shoulder and charge the rest of the way, but he distracted himself with studying his surroundings instead. The hallway they were leaving behind was filled with paintings and statues of the Pavan Stormling ancestors. At the hallway’s end a massive, gold-painted statue of the current queen stood in a decorative alcove. Once upon a time, there might have been altars to the old gods—places to pray for good harvest or fertility or even luck—but those days were long past. Too many years of unbridled destruction and unanswered prayers.

No, Stormlings were the gods now. It was Cassius and the people like him who either answered prayers or ignored them.

“You said you faced a blizzard on your journey, but you did it without an affinity.”

He squeezed the hand he still held. “I did.”

She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, scraping at the white paint that covered her skin. She asked, “Would you tell me about it sometime? The blizzard?”

He angled his head to smile at her again, and she looked away. Shy. So many pieces to her puzzle. “On one condition.”

“Which is?” He had expected her to be like most of the well-born ladies of the court in Locke: sirens with claws and teeth or frightened little mice, made to be gobbled up by this world. Aurora seemed neither vicious nor weak, but she was working so carefully to show him a fa├žade that he could not pinpoint exactly what she was.

He had to know. It was his curse, the reason he thirsted for the thrill of a storm. He had to know how things worked, had to know why. And the girl in front of him was no different. In fact, the need to unravel all her secrets was stronger than he’d ever felt because she would be his. And he had a feeling that conquering her would prove more exhilarating than any storm he had ever defeated.

Rather than giving her his condition, he released her hand and wrapped an arm around the slim circle of her waist. She tried to step back, but her feet tangled in her dress, and she gripped his tunic to stay upright.

There it was. A thread of fear in those eyes. He could have stopped then, but he had little self-control when it came to these things. It was not enough to see a measure of her emotions on her face. He wanted them all. So he pushed a little more. “You might be patient enough to fight with this dress, but I am not. Let me get us to the top of these stairs, and I promise to tell you whatever story you want to hear.”

She jutted her soft chin out and said, “You have a deal.”

The paint had begun to wear away on her lips, revealing rosy skin underneath. Was the rest of her flushed beneath all that powder? He dragged his fingers back and forth over her side, feeling hard ridges beneath the heavy, embellished fabric. “Corset?”

She sucked in a breath, and he knew he had shocked her. Innocent. He collected each morsel of her identity like a scavenger in the jungle. He saw just a sliver of panic before she hid it away and met his gaze.

Brave little bird.

“It will have to be like this.” Before she could change her mind or reason could catch up to his own actions, he bent, winding his arms around her thighs, and lifted. She was tall but slight, and he held her tight against him so that her hips pressed against his chest and her stomach hovered in front of his face. She gasped and braced a hand on his shoulder, reaching up to balance her headdress with the other. He could not see her face like this, but he imagined she was scandalized. He chuckled. “I suppose I should have given you some warning.”

He risked offending her or word getting back to her mother through the guards that followed them. Both of which paled in comparison to the risk of his father hearing of his actions. He was a child, poking at a fish with a stick, rather than reeling it in the way he was supposed to. But he could not seem to help himself.

With some measure of urgency, he started up the stairs. Her body swayed toward him, her beaded dress scraping against his chin. This close, he felt her breathing speed up. The hand on his shoulder migrated to her chest, doing her best to cover the cleavage that was only just above his line of sight.

His instincts said to push again, but this time he reined them in. He kept his head down and quickened his feet. Again, the movement made her sway toward him, harder this time without her hand on his shoulder as a brace. He turned his face to the side, and her belly pressed against his cheek just for a moment before her hand was back at his shoulder, righting her position.

He took the last few steps at a pace that was nearly a jog, and when he reached the top, he looked up at her face. Her mouth was open and soft; he knew by the rise and fall of her body against him that her breaths were ragged, and in her eyes was a gleam. Not fear. Not panic. Not even anger.


He could work with that.

Copyright © 2017 by Cora Carmack

Photo Credit: Matt Tolbert
Cora Carmack is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of New Adult Romance and YA fantasy. Her books have been translated into more than a dozen languages around the world. Cora splits her time between Austin, TXand New York City, and on any given day you might find her typing away at her computer, flying to various cities around the world, or just watching Netflix with her kitty Katniss. But she can always be found on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and her website. Represented by the fabulous Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary.

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