Monday, September 30, 2013

DNF Explanation: Black Spring by Alison Croggon

Read: 60 of 288
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley

I actually like this book. Kind of a lot. It's moody and totally Gothic with creepy dark undertones, an intriguing world, and gorgeous 19th-century-style writing.

So why in the world did I DNF?

Because it's Wuthering Heights, and I've already read Wuthering Heights, and while I loved Wuthering Heights, I wasn't in the mood to re-read it now.

I know Black Spring is a retelling, so obviously there's going to be some similarities between the two, but much of Black Spring was straight up rewriting Wuthering Heights. Scene for scene, practically line for line.

I'm not sure how I feel about that overall (it seems a little bit like a cop out?), but I'm also the kind of reader who likes reading the same story again and again (like Arthurian stories or fairy tale retellings) so I'm not totally opposed as to not read it on those grounds.

I might have stuck it out if the pacing had been faster. It's slow, slow, slow in a way that only classics can be slow. The first thirty or so pages only set up the "story within a story" where the author makes me follow around a random guy who has no bearing on the actual real story just so he can interact with another character who will tell him (and therefore, me) the real story.

Thirty pages. THIRTY PAGES!

That's not slow, it's tedious.

But it was beautifully written, and intriguing, and dark, and filled with lots of little bits that would have totally made me invested in finding out what in the world was going on here with these creepy, mysterious characters, generational strife, and hints at ghostly goodness...

...if I hadn't already read Wuthering Heights. But since I did, I KNOW what all those things are hinting at, and given how close of a retelling Black Spring was proving to be, I didn't think there would be many surprises in store.

So, DNF. For now.

Bottom line

I have every intention of picking up Black Spring at some point. Every once in a while I get the urge to re-read Wuthering Heights, so maybe next time I get that urge I'll pick up Black Spring instead.

I'm not really sure what Black Spring will have to offer that Wuthering Heights doesn't already fulfill (the witch/wizards bits, while awesome in theory, don't seem to be developed all that much), but I'm curious enough to give it a shot.

Curious about my thoughts on Wuthering Heights?

Do you have any questions about Black Spring that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Have you read Black Spring? What did you think about it? 

Looking for another book like this?
You might like

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews/Goodreads.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Interview with Juliet Grey + Giveaway (US)

Please Welcome Juliet Grey!

I haven't talked much about Juliet Grey on Small Review (yet) but she is by far one of my favorite historical fiction authors EVER. I adore her books like crazy (they're chock full of super real people and a bizillion facts), so I'm super stoked to have gotten the opportunity to interview her. If you're at all a Marie Antoinette fan, I highly, highly, highly recommend Juliet Grey's fantastic series. (Just ask my library patrons. I've shoved these books in their hands often enough!)

I hope you all enjoy reading her responses as much as I did. I even made my husband read them (and he totally had context because I've been bothering him with a million "Did you know...?" babbles because I'm reading the third book in the series now).

Also, I *may* have cried a little when I read Juliet's reply to my last question.   

Oh, and in case you're wondering, yes, this post talks about the series as a whole, but there aren't any spoilers. So feel free to read it all even if you haven't read any of the books in the series yet.  

Q: What was your favorite scandal to write about? Can you tell us a little about it and its significance (without giving major spoilers, of course!)?

A: The major scandal that really cemented Marie Antoinette’s character as a villainess in the minds of the French was one that was none of her making and which she had nothing to do with. The various elements of this lengthy sting operation were so remarkable that they fall under the “truth is stranger than fiction” category. When the novelist depicts them based on the facts of the historical record, it’s hard to believe they’re really true!

Yet perhaps many of the events I illustrate in CONFESSIONS OF MARIE ANTOINETTE might not have occurred, were it not for the notorious “Affair of the Diamond Necklace” that played out over the course of two years in 1784-1786. In the second novel in the trilogy, DAYS OF SPLENDOR, DAYS OF SORROW, I depicted this juicy scandal where a con artist and her husband, passing themselves off as members of the nobility, convinced the queen’s distant cousin and arch-nemesis, the Cardinal de Rohan, that she secreted coveted an astronomically expensive diamond necklace and that she had asked him to buy it in her name so that she would not appear to be spending so much while her subjects suffered financial hardships. It was pure invention. Marie Antoinette had turned down an opportunity to purchase the necklace (which had been designed for the late Louis XV’s glamorous mistress Madame du Barry) because she knew that the king, Louis XVI, didn’t have the funds to buy it, and she already had diamonds aplenty. When the queen discovered that her name and reputation had been slandered in this arch-swindle, she insisted that the matter be taken to court and tried by the magistrates, rather than handled internally. It was with the best and most honorable of intentions, but instead of the con artists and the credulous Cardinal being taken to task for their misdeeds, it was Marie Antoinette, innocent of the entire transaction, whose character was publicly dragged through the mud. She was painted as caring only for glittering finery, insensitive to the needs of her people. And when the con artists were found guilty, the people were convinced that their punishments were unjust and it was Marie Antoinette who should have been clapped in irons instead. The Affair of the Diamond Necklace (which could have been a novel in itself—and I did have to cut some of my darlings or the novel would have been 1000 pages!) was a turning point in Marie Antoinette’s life. She could not stem the tide of the terrible press that followed and the savage attack on her character, 99% of which was false. Throughout CONFESSIONS OF MARIE ANTOINETTE, the queen endeavors to regain the love and trust of her subjects that was devastated by the diamond necklace affair.

Q: Marie Antoinette's clothes are a focus of much of the books, with her fashion choices being yet another factor used, unfairly, against her. What is your personal favorite fashion style that Marie Antoinette wears? Can you tell us a little about why you like it best and its significance in history?

A: Ohhh, there are so many! And you are right that each was used against her and each had its significance in history. She was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t, condemned both for dressing opulently, as befitting a queen of France, and for “dressing down,” affecting the minimalist white muslin gaulles  or chemises à la reine of the early and mid-1780s. The gaulles were of such a delicate fabric that the gowns did not last long and frequently needed to be replaced. Consequently, just as she was accused of bankrupting the nation because women had to spend so much to mimic her extravagant silhouettes, she suffered the same accusations with regard to the gaulles, because women had to purchase so many of them. She was derided for looking like a royal mistress during the glamorous 1770s with her outré skirts and three-foot-high “poufs” accessorized with all manner of props, and was equally admonished for looking distinctly unregal—like a dairymaid or as if she were dressed in her undergarments—when she favored the chemises à la reine. Marie Antoinette couldn’t catch a break because the French were predetermined to despise her.

My favorite style is a sort of wild card. Although the queen’s tastes famously changed throughout her reign, it’s the one silhouette she adored all her life and which was more her own taste and less influenced by the ideas of others, particularly her favorite modiste, Rose Bertin: I am partial to the riding habits that Marie Antoinette began wearing as a teen and favored all the way through the 1780s, until the French Revolution made military attire fashionable for the anti-royalist factions. Marie Antoinette’s mother, the hypercritical

Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, often said that the painting that most resembled her daughter and captured her spirit more than any other was one made in 1771 that depicted her in a riding habit, with its fashionable close fitting jacket, which the English call a redingote, and a full, sweeping skirt. Once she came to France, Marie Antoinette use to send to England to have her habits made for her. One thing I love about Marie Antoinette’s riding habits, apart from the fact that they flattered her figure no matter her age, was that they represent her independence. To her mother’s consternation, because she feared it would cause a miscarriage, if she became pregnant, Marie Antoinette insisted on riding on horseback when she was dauphine, in an effort to woo her diffident husband into consummating their marriage, events I depict in the first novel in my trilogy, BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE. No matter the decade, Marie Antoinette was fond of her riding habits. These streamlined silhouettes, free from the fripperies of the 1770s and the fragility of the gaulles of the early 1780s show a side of the dauphine and later queen, that few associate with her—not the ultra-feminine aspect of her character, but the indomitable side. The riding habits are the only fashion that Marie Antoinette favored throughout her life and they project the image of the resilient woman within, the woman we see throughout the final novel in the trilogy, CONFESSIONS OF MARIE ANTOINETTE—the woman who has been there all along, but had to face unspeakable challenges before she was able to tap into her remarkable wellspring of strength.

Q: Your Marie Antoinette trilogy is heavily researched and crammed with facts, but being told from Marie Antoinette's point of view, I imagine there were some pieces of information you discovered that could not be naturally included within this POV. What is one fact you learned about Marie Antoinette or the surrounding history that you'd like readers to know, but weren't able to include in your books?

A:Toward the end of CONFESSIONS OF MARIE ANTOINETTE, the final novel in the trilogy, there was a major fact that I could not include because the parties did not know it at the time! This section of the novel is narrated from Marie Antoinette’s point of view and she knows the truth; but as the author I was prevented from elaborating, by what my some of characters knew and what others could reveal—information that would change everything. I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, although when the parties have been dead for more than 200 years, there are few secrets. But I would like readers to enjoy the narrative as it unfolds. Suffice it to say that most of what Marie Antoinette was accused of in her trial in October 1793 was utter fabrication, intended to smear her character. Some of the lies that were told by the “witnesses” were so damaging and so preposterous that they actually garnered sympathy for the deposed queen. But there was one allegation that was in fact true—yet the Revolutionary Tribunal lacked the documentary proof
to substantiate it. The information reveals just how courageous Marie Antoinette was, how diligent and organized her campaign to free the royal family from the clutches of the Revolution when all other avenues had failed and their friends in France had given up hope or were powerless to aid them. Among the numerous allegations against her was the charge of corresponding with foreign powers—France’s enemies—soliciting their assistance to defend the royal family against the Revolutionaries, encouraging them to invade France. For years, ever since the royal family had been imprisoned in the Tuileries, Marie Antoinette had indeed corresponded with her family in Austria, desperately pleading for them to rescue the Bourbons and to quash the Revolution. Of course the verdict of Marie Antoinette’s trial was a foregone conclusion; however, she maintained her innocence of all charges, despite knowing that she was in fact guilty of the charge of treason. 

Q: Almost from page one, Marie Antoinette's story is a tragedy, filled with trials and tribulations, wrongs and slights against her, the void of childlessness, criticisms from every direction, vicious rumors, and unwarranted blame cast upon her. What do you personally view as the biggest tragedy surrounding Marie Antoinette's story? 

A: You’re right that there were so many tragedies, but Marie Antoinette’s own greatest wish had been to become a mother, and I think that if it had been fulfilled early on, perhaps history might have been altered in the sense that she would not have become such a focus for the hatred, first of the nobility she snubbed, and later of the bourgeoisie and the poorer classes, blamed as the architect of their ills. She would have occupied her time early on with her children, because she intended to follow the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and be a hands-on mother. Instead, she remained unfulfilled, channeling her energies into the pursuits that garnered the censure of her subjects: shopping, high-stakes gambling, and dancing into the wee hours of the morning. In CONFESSIONS OF MARIE ANTOINETTE, as so much is systematically stripped away from her, it’s clear how precious her family is and how important motherhood is to the queen.

Q: If you could write a letter to Marie Antoinette--without attempting to alter history, what would you say to her and at what point in her life would you like her to receive your letter?

                                                                                                                       May, 17, 1770
To Her Royal Highness, Dauphine of France:

Allow me to offer my felicitations on your nuptials to His Royal Highness Louis Auguste. At fourteen years old, you are so young to have so many expectations thrust upon you—the great hopes of the Hapsburg Empire as well as those of the Bourbons to whom your illustrious marriage unites you. If you will indulge a woman over thirty who has seen something of the world, allow me to offer some words of counsel and advice.

Everyone at court wears a public mask. So indeed must you. Although times may often be trying, retain the outward show of sweetness and affability to all, regardless of how they treat you. As the highest woman in the land you have nothing to prove to anyone. Therefore, take the high road when others speak or behave unkindly. Feign a strength you may not yet possess to overcome the stings of falsehoods, gossip, and harsh remarks. If you display nothing but kindness to everyone, you can never become an object of reproach without your critics appearing churlish and unreasonable. Resist all temptations to exact revenge, though they be within your power. You are made of better stuff.

Name everyone your friend and let them see nothing but your modesty, generosity, and courtesy. But do not be so quick to trust their professions of amity, for they may harbor ulterior motives and may in fact wish to discredit you with the king, the court, or with your husband, who, although you may fail to recognize it, is a lamb as lost in the wood as you may feel yourself to be. Those who make an outward show of being your dearest friends may in truth be vipers, waiting for you to embrace them to your breast.

Lastly, though you may not yet be in love with your husband, knowing him as little as you do, court his friendship, for he will be your greatest, and perhaps your only, ally in the years to come. Destiny has yoked the pair of you together, but the prodigious tasks required of you need not become a burden unless you allow the situation to overwhelm you. On the surface you may have little in common. But I urge you to look deeper. Search his heart and plumb the recesses of his soul, for there you will find a most amiable companion. Mock him not for his foibles of temperament and follies of character for there is not a man or woman alive who is perfect, and he will need the support and succor of his wife in trying times.
I pray you heed the words, highness, of one who, like you, was once young and high spirited.
                                Juliet Grey

About Confessions of Marie Antoinette:

Confessions of Marie Antoinette, the riveting and sweeping final novel in Juliet Grey’s trilogy on the life of the legendary French queen, blends rich historical detail with searing drama, bringing to life the early years of the French Revolution and the doomed royal family’s final days.

Versailles, 1789. As the burgeoning rebellion reaches the palace gates, Marie Antoinette finds her privileged and peaceful life swiftly upended by violence. Once her loyal subjects, the people of France now seek to overthrow the crown, placing the heirs of the Bourbon dynasty in mortal peril.

Displaced to the Tuileries Palace in Paris, the royal family is propelled into the heart of the Revolution. There, despite a few staunch allies, they are surrounded by cunning spies and vicious enemies. Yet despite the political and personal threats against her, Marie Antoinette remains above all a devoted wife and mother, standing steadfastly by her husband, Louis XVI, and protecting their young son and daughter. And though the queen and her family try to flee, and she secretly attempts to arrange their rescue from the clutches of the Revolution, they cannot outrun the dangers encircling them, or escape their shocking fate.

Author bio:

Juliet Grey has extensively researched European royal history and is a particular devotee of Marie Antoinette. She and her husband live in Washington DC.

Thank you so much for stopping by, Juliet!

Would you like to win a copy of 
Confessions of Marie Antoinette?

Click HERE to enter for a chance to win 1 of 5 copies!

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: Five winners will each receive a finished copy of Confessions of Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • This giveaway is US only
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • One entry per person
  • I will contact the winners through email and the winners will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on October 1st 2013 

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Spark Unseen Blog Hop, Day 10: Napoleon III Fun Facts

Please Welcome Sharon Cameron!

I am so excited to host Sharon Cameron here on Small Review! Last year I was surprised by how much I loved the first book in her Gothic/steampunk series The Dark Unwinding. Even more surprising was how much I loved the follow up A Spark Unseen even more!

I'll be reviewing A Spark Unseen soon, but until then Sharon has some nifty facts about Napoleon III to share with you today. Napoleon III (and his notorious behavior) play a key role in A Spark Unseen, and being both a lover of history and this series, I am super excited to be able to host this stop on the tour.

Check out Sharon's website for more information about the blog tour!
Stop by J reads YA! for the previous tour stop or head over to Book Brats for the next stop!

Napoleon III Fun Facts

Charles Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, or Emperor Napoleon III, Fun Facts (and this time they really are facts!):

*Charles Louis-Napoléon’s mother, Hortense, was the step-daughter and a great favorite of Napoleon Bonaparte I, who was then Emperor of France. At Napoleon I’s request, Hortense was married to Louis, his brother. The marriage was an unhappy one, and the gossips of the time said that the resulting children of this marriage, including Charles Louis, were not the sons of the Emperor’s brother, but of Napoleon I himself. When asked about his parentage, Charles Louis’s only recorded response was, “I have done my math.” The identity of Napoleon III’s father is still debated among historians.

*Napoleon III was a noted “ladies’ man.” He was rumored to have fathered several illegitimate children during his lifetime, one when he spent a number of months in London with a local actress. There were at least two other children that he quietly supported (without the knowledge of the Empress), along with several mistresses. In 2011 a Napoleon DNA project was begun, attempting to find and identify all the children of the male Bonapartes.

Dashing, huh?

*Before proposing to the Empress Eugenie, Napoleon III asked for the hand of sixteen year old Princess Adelheid, the niece of Queen Victoria. Victoria strongly disapproved, and the princess’s parents therefore refused their consent.

*There were at least two assassination attempts against Napoleon III during his reign as Emperor. One in 1855, and the most infamous attempt in 1858, when an Italian radical threw bombs of his own design at the royal carriage while the Emperor was on his way to the opera. 8 people were killed and 142 wounded, though the Emperor and Empress were unhurt. There was also a “plan of assassination” recorded to have been “broken up” in September of 1854, though the details of this remain shrouded in mystery.

*Perhaps because of the constant threat to his life, Napoleon III was extremely superstitious. He kept a spiritualist in the Tuileries Palace, and regularly held séances there. He believed that his life was being guided by the supernatural spirit of Napoleon I.

*Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon III, died in exile in 1874 after having been ousted from the throne of France by his own people. His son with Eugenie, Prince Louis, born in 1855, died childless just six years later. And though Napoleon III had been both the first elected president and last monarch of France, the rule of the Bonapartes was forever ended.

About A Spark Unseen:

The thrilling sequel to Sharon Cameron’s blockbuster gothic steampunk romance, THE DARK UNWINDING, will captivate readers anew with mystery and intrigue aplenty.

When Katharine Tulman wakes in the middle of the night and accidentally foils a kidnapping attempt on her uncle, she realizes Stranwyne Keep is no longer safe for Uncle Tully and his genius inventions. She flees to Paris, where she hopes to remain undetected and also find the mysterious and handsome Lane, who is suspected to be dead.

But the search for Lane is not easy, and Katharine soon finds herself embroiled in a labyrinth of political intrigue. And with unexpected enemies and allies at every turn, Katharine will have to figure out whom she can trust–if anyone–to protect her uncle from danger once and for all.

Filled with deadly twists, whispering romance, and heart-stopping suspense, this sequel to THE DARK UNWINDING whisks readers off on another thrilling adventure.

Author bio:

Sharon Cameron was awarded the 2009 Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators for her debut novel, The Dark Unwinding. When not writing Sharon can be found thumbing dusty tomes, shooting her longbow, or indulging in her lifelong search for secret passages.

Thank you so much for stopping by, Sharon!

Have you read A Spark Unseen or the first book The Dark Unwinding?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mini Review: The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan

Series: Prequel book 1
Release Date: August 6, 2013
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 416
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Stars: 4
Goodreads Page

I absolutely, amazingly, can't-put-into-words adored the main series The Riyria Revelations, so I was pretty stoked when I started reading The Crown Tower, which is part one of the prequel series.

Did I like it? Oh yes, but how could I not? Michael J. Sullivan would have had to do some pretty terrible things to make me dislike this book.

But did it live up? Eeeeh, yes and no. Sure I liked it, but I didn't love it.

It was kind of like comfort food. Like, hm, anyone ever have Boston Market? Well, if you haven't it's basically a chain restaurant that's a step above fast food, but it's pretty much the fast food interpretation of Thanksgiving dinner. Totally tasty, and even though it's a far cry from grandma's fixings, every bite makes me feel like I'm ten years old and getting ready to dive into Thanksgiving dinner.

The Crown Tower was kind of like Boston Market. It made me feel warm and fuzzy because it made me think of all these happy memories from my time spent reading The Riyria Revelations. I loved seeing Hadrian and Royce meet for the first time. Getting to watch them pull off the infamous Crown Tower heist I had heard so many references to in The Riyia Revelations was this fan's dream come true.

But, it's a far cry from The Riyria Revelations.

The Crown Tower didn't have the action or intrigue that made The Riyria Revelations so beyond awesome. Half the book focused on Gwen's troubles (she's a prostitute turned AWESOME) and while I enjoyed reading her parts and I totally fist-pumped her, I was also kinda bored.

Not like, bored bored. But, antsy? It's just, after coming off of the five star Special Shelf level of amazingness that was The Riyria Revelations, Gwen's little story felt totally lacking in comparison and I wanted to get back to Hadrian and Royce's part of the book (which had more action, even if it was less action than The Riyria Revelations).

Bottom line

I can't recommend this series enough. As an established fan, it was worth reading just to be able to spend time with these characters and "see" the heist I've heard so much about. There wasn't much new information about Hadrian or Royce, but Gwen's part gets fleshed out a lot and it was fun going back to the very beginning and seeing everything unfold now that I know how it all ends.

Even my minor issues with this book are pretty much only because I was comparing them to such a high bar. And, since this is a prequel series, you can read it if you haven't read The Riyria Revelations (and, like Gina from My Precious, maybe you'll enjoy it even more than I did then). 

Looking for another book like this? 

 Click on the pictures to go to Goodreads.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book Review: Midnight Frost by Jennifer Estep

#5 in the Mythos Academy series
Release Date: July 30, 2013
Publisher: K Teen(Kensington)
Pages: 372
Received: ARC from publisher
Stars: 3
Goodreads Page

This is a review for a sequel! Spoilers for the previous books in the series are here! 
Haven't read the first book? Read my review for that book instead.

I need to preface this whole review by saying that I really do like this series. The characters are people I'd want to hang out with, the mythology has grabbed my interest, and the whole series has this vibe for me that's the literary equivalent of putting on a comfy sweater and curling up next to a fireplace.

I love it, and I definitely recommend it.

Things I didn't like

So, that said, now I need to confess that Midnight Frost felt like mostly filler. We have all these big THINGS coming up with Gwen's impending battle against Loki and his forces of evilness and in the last book goddess Nike tasked Gwen and her Scooby Gang with locating all these cool mystical artifacts.

Basically, I was promised quests, nifty magical items to covet, and battles.

And, I didn't really get that.

Instead, Gwen has been doing the artifact hunting between last book and this book and I've been kept totally out of the loop on that. Plus, it didn't sound like she faced all that much peril to acquire them so I didn't even get rousing stories of said off-page adventures.

And, final insult to injury, I only got to hear about one artifact and while it would be kinda handy to have around (I could bring ALL my books with me everywhere), it was used in a somewhat unnecessary way. Totally disappointing.

BUT I did get to go on a quest. Sort of. Except, it was a quest with pretty much no peril and a totally predictable rescue that reminded me of a saccharine My Little Pony plot.

Also, the point of the quest was a complete diversion from the big battle against Loki and his forces of darkness. It was a race for a cure but I never once doubted it would be successful and I couldn't help but feel like I was promised one thing (Loki battles) and given something much less awesome (minion skirmishes).

Added detraction? All this dancing away from the showdown is making the villains seems kinda lame now. Their big plan in Midnight Frost seemed pretty half baked and not at all meeting the bar I've set for this league of evil. Especially considering the bold moves they made in Crimson Frost.

Also, Gwen, my wonderful outcast Gwen is now a total Mary Sue. Can you hear my heart breaking??? I still love her, but it's getting tiresome and boring hearing how everyone else loves her so much and she can charm everyone under the sun.

(There's also this revelation with a new character and I hated it.)

Things I did like

But, that isn't to say there weren't things I liked. Because I did enjoy a lot. And I do plan on reading the next book.

Even though it's annoying now that everyone loves Gwen, I still love her, too. Her romance with Logan left off in a totally annoying point in Crimson Frost with Logan embracing the whole "I can't be around you because I might be dangerous" schtick (can you see my eyes rolling?) and I was so not looking forward to that playing out in Midnight Frost.

Thankfully, Gwen is awesome and she says everything I wanted her to say to Logan. Which is to say, she was her blunt, prickly, cut-to-the-chase self and I loved her for it.  

All of my other favorite characters make an appearance and I still love them just as much as I always have. Vic (Gwen's talking sword) is always a highlight for me and his new relationship with Gwen's puppy is beyond adorable. And, ok, ok, I know I said I didn't like the My Little Pony save, and I stand by that, but it was also kind of adorable, too.

Bottom line

This installment was overall a miss for me, even though I did like it enough to stick with it to the end. It wasn't so much that it was bad, but that this far along in the series I feel like things need to step up more than Midnight Frost managed. Rehashing devices from the previous books isn't cutting it at this point.

Midnight Frost mostly felt like a rehash and digression. Sure it had elements that I liked, but overall it didn't feel like a necessary installment (with the exception of a few important events that will play a role in future books).

I'm still going to read the next book for sure though. I want that battle with Loki. I want to go treasure hunting with Gwen for all those mythological artifacts. I hope I get the chance to do these things, and I hope that chance comes in the next book.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Guest Post: Sonia Gensler + Giveaway Stop

Please Welcome Sonia Gensler!

I am very excited to be able to host Sonia Gensler a second time here on Small Review! The first time we got to chat was during the Historical Fantasy Jubilee and now Sonia's back to tell us a little background for her new book The Dark Between. Based on how much I loved Sonia's debut The Revenant, I'm super excited to try her latest Gothic foray.  

Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Much of the action of The Dark Between takes place within two Cambridge colleges: Summerfield (based on Newnham) and Trinity. The University of Cambridge is over eight hundred years old (see this timeline) and is made up of thirty-one independent colleges, each with its own property, financial holdings, and what some might call “personality.” The oldest college is Peterhouse, the largest and wealthiest is Trinity (which educated many of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research), the friendliest is Homerton, and the sportiest (and possibly snobbiest?) may well be St. John’s.

(Does this remind you of Hogwarts? Well, J.K. Rowling knew how the English tend to divide their more prestigious educational institutions into houses or colleges, and how a student’s affiliation with a particular house might suggest something about his or her social standing, personality, and aspirations.)

It took me a while to understand Cambridge and Oxford’s collegiate system, but my friend Harry, a graduate student at Corpus Christi College, explains it nicely in this quick video (notice lovely King’s College in the background):

Learn more about the personality and amenities of each Cambridge college here, or take this quiz (which will be maddening for most Americans) to see which Cambridge College might suit you best.

In my next post, I’ll talk more about Newnham College, the inspiration for Summerfield in The Dark Between.

About The Dark Between

At the turn of the twentieth century, Spiritualism and séances are all the rage—even in the scholarly town of Cambridge, England. While mediums dupe the grief-stricken, a group of local fringe scientists seeks to bridge the gap to the spirit world by investigating the dark corners of the human mind.
Each running from a shadowed past, Kate, Asher, and Elsie take refuge within the walls of Summerfield College. But their peace is soon shattered by the discovery of a dead body nearby. Is this the work of a flesh-and-blood villain, or is something otherworldly at play? This unlikely trio must illuminate what the scientists have not, and open a window to secrets taken to the grave—or risk joining the spirit world themselves.

The Dark Between, a supernatural romance about the powers that lie in the shadows of the mind, is perfect for fans of Sarah Rees Brennan, Alyxandra Harvey, and Libba Bray.

Author bio:

Sonia Gensler grew up in a small Tennessee town and spent her early adulthood collecting impractical degrees from various Midwestern universities. A former high school English teacher, she now writes full time in Oklahoma and spends summers in England.

Thank you so much for stopping by, Sonia!

Have you read The Dark Between? How about The Revenant?

Here for the giveaway?
My code word is: 


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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Book Review Repost: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron
Release Date: September 1, 2012
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 318
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

A spine-tingling tale of steampunk and spies, intrigue and heart-racing romance!

When Katharine Tulman's inheritance is called into question by the rumor that her eccentric uncle is squandering away the family fortune, she is sent to his estate to have him committed to an asylum. But instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers a genius inventor with his own set of rules, who employs a village of nine hundred people rescued from the workhouses of London.

Katharine is now torn between protecting her own inheritance and preserving the peculiar community she grows to care for deeply. And her choices are made even more complicated by a handsome apprentice, a secretive student, and fears for her own sanity.

As the mysteries of the estate begin to unravel, it is clear that not only is her uncle's world at stake, but also the state of England as Katharine knows it. With twists and turns at every corner, this heart-racing adventure will captivate readers with its intrigue, thrills, and romance.


I never would have read this book

I don't like steampunk. I feel like it's cool to like steampunk and I should pretend that I do, but I really don't like the genre. So I had zero interest in reading The Dark Unwinding and I never would have picked it up if it hadn't been sent to me for review.

But, oh my gosh, I am SO glad Scholastic decided to send me this book because I loved it!

First off, The Dark Unwinding is so not a steampunk book. Or, at least not how *I* think of the genre. There are gadgets and inventions one of the characters creates, but they're not particularly anachronistic and they aren't presented in the "WOW Gadgets!" way that I tend to associate with steampunk. Also, no one wears goggles.

I'd put The Dark Unwinding more firmly into the historical fiction/Gothic fiction categories, which are two genres I DO like very much.

Katharine gets a sleepover party invite!

I feel like it's been forever since I've handed out one of those! From page one I knew I liked Katharine and she only grew on me as the story progressed.

Katharine is living out a pretty terrible life serving as the Cinderella for her money-grubbing aunt (MGA) and her useless cousin. MGA catches wind that Katharine's eccentric uncle (MGA's dead husband's brother, follow me?) is squandering his millions on wacky endeavors.

Of course, this cannot happen because that money is rightfully MGA's dullard son's inheritance! So MGA sends Katharine to Eccentric Uncle's house to check out his activities and get him declared insane so he can be locked up in an insitution and all his money will go to her son. Cue cackling evil laughter!

See, totally Gothic fiction (aka historical soap operas).

So Katherine goes (a month away from MGA? Yes please!) and fully intends to do what she's told because she knows where her bread is buttered (even if it's the equivalent to a barely-there margarine smear). Crazy things ensue and Katharine takes it all in stride. She's brave, steadfast, and refreshingly practical.

I always love a practical main character because otherwise I spend half the book yelling at them for doing stupid things. I never once had to yell at Katharine. Even when I feel in love with the other characters and really wanted to save them from MGA's evil plans, I had to grudgingly admit that Katharine's reasoning was sound. This helped make the situation seem especially dire and I couldn't flip the pages fast enough to find out how Katharine could possibly make things right.

She's not all seriousness though. I loved the little glimpses I got into Katharine's heart. After years of being on the receiving end of MGA's evil step-mother schtick, Katharine has learned to keep her thoughts to herself and just do what needed to be done. But she DOES have thoughts and feelings, and I loved seeing them peek out and explore her new, nicer environment. There were definitely some Warm Happy Family moments that made my heart break into a million awwws.

This is the book I wanted Amber House to be

Not only is Katharine made of awesome, but so is pretty much everyone else. The good guys are charming and heartwarming and even if some of them are a little prickly and hard to like at first, their motivationsa are totally understandable and I think I loved them even more for it in the end.

Also, the hot guy is pretty darn hot. He definitely has his moods, but, hey, I can understand him being a little standoffish to the girl who he thinks is trying to destroy his home. I liked that he didn't fall all head over heels in love with her right away because, I mean, yeah, the girl was trying to destory his home. For once, a guy had priorities ahead of the girl! That was a fantastically refreshing surprise.

But of course he does fall for her, and she falls for him and watching their awkward but geniuine romance unfold was worth about a million aws.

And of course not all the characters are nice. This IS a Gothic book, afterall, and so there must be Gothic villains. I've already mentioned the evil Money Grubbing Aunt (and, oh my gosh, she's like Miss Minchin level evil awesomeness!), but there's another villain and they're awesomely evil, too (but stealth-evil, and so I'm not going to spoil things by revealing their identity). I had so much fun hating these characters!

There's also an autistic character, but unlike Amber House this character is actually realistically autistic (though never overtly identified as such). Normally I don't like "special characters" for the sake of specialness. I wasn't expecting this character's presence at all and I was fully prepared to start my eye-rolling, but instead I was sucked into a full on literary hugfest because I loved them and their role in the story. This character was written in such a way that the autism wasn't at all gimmicky or overdone. The character was just another character. The autism wasn't A THING.

Oh and things also happen

In true Gothic fashion, the plot is twisty with a lot of soap-opera-y surprises. I definitely got a chance to gasp theatrically as each new development was revealed.

Admittedly, though, a lot of the book was kind of slower. It wasn't all shock and awe and a lot of time is spent on Katharine getting to know the various characters and peek out of her shell. Usually I'd get impatient about this, but I was totally absorbed. I loved Katharine and these characters and I loved living in their world.

Bottom line

I am so adding Sharon Cameron to my Authors To Watch list! Sadly this is her first book and so I have no backlog I can dive into while I wait for her next book to come out. I am for sure ordering a copy for my library (once it's rebuilt! *sob*) and handing it to all my Gothic and historical fic-loving teens.

I'm not sure if a sequel is planned or not, but I would definitely read it if Sharon Cameron wrote one. The ending is totally complete and satisfying (in an achingly romantic way), but a small part is left open for more adventures. I want to follow that character as they do what they've set out to do, especially considering the BEYOND AWESOME nature of their mission.

Vague? I know, I'm sorry (I can't spoil the ending of all things!). Suffice it to say, I'm already busy imagining what that character might be up to and crossing my fingers that I get the chance to read all about it.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about The Dark Unwinding that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

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