Wednesday, December 30, 2015

DNF Explanation: Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas

Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas
DNF on page 95 of 233

This book wasn't awful, but it just wasn't good enough to spend more time with it (even with the short page count).

The weak link is the premise. Told from the perspective of Marie Antoinette's assistant reader Agathe-Sidonie, already it's pretty clear that this is going to be a very peripheral perspective. Marie Antoinette was no reader, that's for sure.

Points off already for me because I prefer reading from the perspective of the actual historical figures, not their lackeys (even when done well. See The Winter Palace). But I knew what I was going into.

What I was hoping this perspective could at least give was a good historical recounting of the confusion and fear during those harrowing days and nights after the Storming of the Bastille.

Chantal Thomas does do this. Her account is good, but it is only just good and this falls flat when I've already read great. Reading these scenes just made me want to put down Farewell, My Queen and re-read Juliet Grey's series instead.

Part of this was because I think Juliet Grey did a better job (and of course it's right in the thick of things), but also because Juliet Grey made me care deeply for Marie Antoinette, whereas Chantal Thomas did not make me care at all about Agathe-Sidonie. She's a very insubstantial character who seems to exist in the narrative solely to admire Marie Antoinette (which, granted, she does a very nice job with this, even if it does come off as a bit of a Mrs. Danvers).

The problem with the peripheral character perspective is that Agathe-Sidonie doesn't know all of the interesting things that were happening. She notices the king and queen are upset about something, but she doesn't know why. She hears rumors, but she doesn't know the truth. She sees Marie Antoinette walk past her, but she doesn't know where she's going or where she's been.

While I do see the value in this type of story, it ultimately falls flat because there wasn't much depth to Agathe-Sidonie. If I'm going to experience this story from the outside looking in, then I at least want to feel something for the character I'm following. Instead, Chantal Thomas doesn't seem to care much about Agathe-Sidonie as a person going through this harrowing time. She is only there to wonder and think about how Marie Antoinette must be feeling, and for that, I'd rather just read from Marie Antoinette's perspective.

Plus, I want to KNOW, not float through apathetic guesswork. I think this approach may have been interesting to a point but ultimately boring and frustrating account if I hadn't already known all the things Agathe-Sidonie can only wonder about from the sidelines.


Looking for similar books? You might like:
Click on the cover to go to my review

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Mini Review: The Reign of Henry VIII by David Starkey

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

This is another one of my experimental forays into historical non-fiction, and unfortunately this is another book that takes more of the "academic" approach.

Instead of quotes and historian comparisons, David Starkey's narrative does flow nicely and he does offer his own opinion on what is The Truth (more on that soon). So, that's good.

The reason I'd classify this in the more academic group is because of the structure of the book. Each chapter deals with a different faction or major influence on Henry, but there is only the loosest of timelines followed and huge amounts of information are left out.

That's not a criticism on the book itself, because this is not a 101 level book and so it's assumed the reader already has knowledge of all the major chronological high points. And, for the most part, I did.

So why the problem? Chalk it up to my personal preference. I'm a reader who likes things repeated. I don't like this approach of delving into the details and foregoing the greater context, even if I know the greater context. Yes, the trees are nice, but I want to focus on the details of the trees without losing the context of the forest. I think that makes the details hit harder and the momentum and tension build to greater heights. But, hey, I also prefer novels.

Points for teaching me about the various factions influencing Henry and really driving home the point that the manipulations going on in Henry's court were downright scary! While none of the factions explored were new or surprising, I really liked the deeper look into them and this gave so much more background to the long string of wives (and why they were toppled). I also really liked his treatment of Wolsey.

Still, despite all that, I couldn't help wanting more out of everything. But, that's as much a compliment to David Starkey as it is a complaint.

I've heard David Starkey can be pompous, and I definitely saw why people have lodged that complaint. He injected his own commentary and bias here and there, and while I think it was supposed to come across as smugly funny (oooh look how offensive I can be!) it came across to me as more forced and flat. So, I'm not offended like some other readers, but I'm not impressed by these witticisms either.

Will I read more David Starkey? Well, I own a copy of his biography on Elizabeth I, so I'll at least be giving that a try. Overall, he definitely knows his subject matter very well and while I don't love the way he chose to present it, this approach may in part be due to the nature of this book. He also wrote a mammoth book on Henry's wives, so that may be more what I'm looking for.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

DNF Explanation: Nameless by Lili St. Crow

Received: Library
Read to page 178 of 328

Some books make me feel uncomfortable, and usually I can't put my finger on exactly why, but the feeling is a strong NO THANK YOU. Nameless falls into that category, and without a solid main character to help me through, I DNF-ed.

The world is intriguing with its mobster-like vampire families and unique take on paranormal beings. This is probably why I read as far as I did and I was tempted to read more just so I could figure out exactly what was up with this world.

Because, yeah, it's unique, but it's also seriously vague. Like, dreamworld vague where some pieces are super clear and others are foggy and when you put them together you have something that kinda makes sense but also totally doesn't.

And then there's the characters, which is where that icky vibe comes in for me. Main character Cami is supposed to be a teenager but she reads more like a shy, traumatized little kid. Fine, if not exactly sleepover party material, but that also makes for some weird dynamics with her family and friends.

Her somewhat incestuous relationship with her adoptive brother also skirts my comfort line. Combine the childish mentality, trauma, and clingy relationship she has with her adoptive brother with her lusty incestuous feelings and that starts to enter a realm of which I'm not sure what to make.

By the time I DNF-ed at about the halfway mark the plot had only very, very slowly started to form around Cami as The Chosen One and her brother as the chosen consort and I just could not get on board with Cami—broken five year old minded Cami—as someone capable of ordering a pizza without having an internal meltdown let alone taking on the mantle of some great and powerful leader.

To be fair, I probably would have stuck with this one to the end if I had liked Cami. The world has potential and even though the romance had a degree of eyebrow raising, Lili St. Crow still managed to get some swoon in there. Alas, Cami and I just weren't meshing and by the time I decided to DNF I realized I was hoping some villain would knock her off.

This is book one in a series, and while I'm guessing there's an overarching plot, each book follows a different main character and probably wraps up her individual story by the end of each book. Cami's friends definitely seemed like better characters, so the sequels might be worth checking out. But, of course, I DNF-ed this one, so fair warning I'm just guessing on how it wraps up.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Book Review: The King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby

297 pages
4 out of 5 stars

Catherine Howard is not a Henry VIII wife I've given much thought toward. My initial introductions to her were not very positive, nor did they go into much depth. Basically, Catherine was a fluffy headed wonton who died because she cheated on the king. The end.

Except, when is a person ever that simple?

Well, shame on me for not putting much thought into Catherine beyond that. But, thankfully, Alisa M. Libby decided to look deeper.

The King's Rose follows Catherine's first person perspective starting at the very end of Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves and covers her marriage to the king straight until her death. The chapters are very short and that, combined with the lower page count, make this a pretty quick book to read.

The events aren't all that spectacular or exciting, so readers who aren't historical fiction fans, and in particular historical biographical fiction, will likely be pretty bored with Catherine's story. While there is romance, it is not particularly romantic and definitely not swoony. Also, Catherine has a lot of sex, so this one is much more YA and up. But that's all pretty much a limitation of, you know, historical fact.

Mostly the book focuses on Catherine's feelings, and in this Alisa M. Libby excels. It's easy to judge Catherine's situation from the outside looking in and it's easy to conclude she was stupid and got what she deserved (a sentiment seared into my memory by wife number six in Ann Rinaldi's excellent Nine Days a Queen).

But how would you feel if you were a child, trapped in a marriage you didn't ask for, pressured by your family, forced to sleep with an old man, blackmailed, in love with someone else, desperate for a son, and terrified by the example of four prior wives—two of whom were rejected, one who died in childbirth, and one (your cousin!) who was beheaded?

That's a pretty sucky situation. In The King's Rose, Catherine's emotions are vividly portrayed. I felt consumed by constant fear and desperation and finally, finally I felt like I could understand why Catherine would do what she did. Of course we don't know if that explanation is what actually motivated her, but it makes sense and I imagine even if that wasn't the actual impetus she was probably still feeling those things to some degree.

Bottom line

I'm a big fan of historical biographical fiction, so The King's Rose was a hit with me. I appreciated this closer look at Catherine as a person and I finally feel like I sympathize with her and her situation. Alisa M. Libby humanized Catherine and I now care about her as a person instead of brushing her off as "the silly fifth wife, now moving on." I hope Alisa M. Libby writes more historical fiction.

Looking for another book like this? You might like:

Click on the pictures to go to my reviews/Goodreads

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Book Review: Maid of Wonder by Jennifer McGowan

Maid of Wonder by Jennifer McGowan
Pages: 336
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Released: September 15, 2015
Received: ARC from publisher, via Edelweiss
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The first two books in this series, Maid of Secrets and Maid of Deception, were much better than this book. But, I expected that. 

The first book follows Meg. I like Meg. She's feisty, theatrical, dramatic, and a super spy. The second book follows Beatrice. I like Beatrice. She's a mean girl with heart, and all the sass and sympathy that goes along with that. Both of their romances were swoony with great guys.

This third book follows Sophia. Sophia is a dishrag. She's meek, weak, and oh so boring. Her romance was weird and I still don't get it. Though, for a brief time there in the paranormal beyond world (that I also still don't understand) it was smoldering with potential.

The plot also felt like it wandered all over the place with no purpose. I know things happened, and if I try to recite events I can do it, and some events are actually even great, but I still can't shake this overwhelming feeling of nothing is happening, even though that isn't even true. I think it's just that I didn't care because whatever was happening was happening to Sophia and Sophia is boring.

Bottom line: Chalk this one up to me just disliking Sophia. I'm still excited to read the next book in the series (especially if it's Jane's book, because Jane is badass). 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Mini Reviews: Clean Historical Romances

Lord Fenton's Folly by Josi S. Kilpack
Pages: 336
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Released: October 6, 2015
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I read Lord Fenton's Folly because of two reasons: I like hate-turned-love romances and I'm a big fan of the clean Proper Romance series (Blackmoore, A Heart Revealed).

Alas, I did not love this one as much as the previous two. The characters felt inconsistent and, while likable, they weren't lovable. The plot was also wandering all over the place with reveals that felt haphazardly thrown in and extras that didn't need to be there. This would have been so much nicer if the author had just stuck with the basics of Fenton redeeming himself in society, mending his relationships, and slowly falling in love with Alice.

Bottom line: Overall, nice with a lot of potential that got lost in the disjointed plot. Sometimes simple is better, and the author should have stuck with simple in this case.

Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham
Pages: 287
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Released: August 1, 2009
Received: Libary
Rating: 3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

I picked this one up on impulse because it was short and I really liked Susan Higginbotham's Wars of the Roses book The Queen of Last Hopes.

While The Queen of Last Hopes is primarily a historical novel with a bit of romance, Hugh and Bess is a love story set with a fairly detailed historical backdrop. It was a nice toe-dip for learning about the historical time period and I'm now even more interested in learning about that time (England during the time of Edward III), but I definitely need to seek out more books to get the whole story. But, like I said, this is more of a romance.

What type of romance? Fluffy, sweet, clean, hate-turned-love. Actually, it could fit right in with the Proper Romance series. I liked this book. I laughed, cried, and swooned, though I was never gripped by it. It's a solid Good Book.

Bottom line: I'd grab a cozy sweater, comfortable chair, and crackling fire and give Hugh and Bess a reread.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Book Review: Body and Soul by Stacey Kade

#3 in the Ghost and the Goth series
Received: Library
Pages 316
Released: May 1, 2012
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a review for the third book in the series, but there are NO spoilers!

It's been a really, really long time since I read Queen of the Dead (book 2 in the series), and a really, really, really long time since I read the eponymous first book in the series. Like, it's been years.

Why did I wait so long? I don't know. It certainly wasn't any fault of the series, because I seriously love the hate-turned-love forbidden spectral romance and the ghost busting mysteries in this series.

But, you know how it is, the massive TBR, shifting book priorities, time just kind of slipped by and before I knew it four years had gone by since I last ventured into Alona and Will's world.

When I saw Body and Soul was available through my local library, I groaned, felt guilty, and then figured enough already I needed to get my butt in gear and finally finish off this series.

But, I have a terrible memory and I'm a different reader now than I was four years ago. I was super worried I had waited too long and I just wouldn't enjoy this book like I would have four years ago.

Thankfully, Stacey Kade wrote a finale that packed just as much punch, romance, heart, and humor as the first two books. The first sentence sucked me right back into the story and it was as if no time at all had gone by. I immediately remembered what had happened and I was just as invested in these characters and their story as I was four years ago. Stacey Kade, I'm impressed.

Sleepover party invite x2

Will and Alona are both BFF material characters, but each for very different reasons. Alona can get it done and I can't help but admire her Cordelia-Chase-like panache. Will is a classic misunderstood loner guy with a heart of gold. He's such a nice guy in all the ways that phrase is actually a good thing, but he also has this totally cool, aloof veneer that will make high school girls everywhere swoon.

Add them together, and what do you get? Chemistry. Also, a romance based on a friendship in which they each help one another grow in multiple ways. This is the real meat of the story. Yeah, the romance is swoony, and yeah the action and mysteries are fun, but the character growth is where it's at. Their depth and development make them feel like real people and I think that's a big part of why it was so easy to slip back into their world.

But how does it end??
(still, no spoilers) 

It's always sad to come to the end of a good series (maybe this is why I put off reading the final book for so long?). Without going into any details, rest assured, Stacey Kade delivers a worthy ending.

I laughed, I cried, I clutched my chest in happiness. All the important emotions were evoked and I thoroughly embarrassed myself in new and exciting public places as I responded with lots of verbal outbursts. All signs of a good book. 

Bottom line

I feel like this is an under the radar series because I just don't see much buzz about it on the internet (and, honestly, shame on me too because of that whole four year hiatus thing). I wish that wasn't the case though because this series has so much to offer.

Fans of Anna Dressed in Blood should for sure check out the Ghost and the Goth series. It's very similar in tone and feel, but it doesn't feel like a knock off. It's fresh, fun, and different enough to hold its own in a sea of YA paranormal books. Although, it's no gory or scary like Anna, so it's like Anna for wimps—perfect for me!

What are you waiting for? And best of all, the entire series is published now, so no more waiting! 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tiny Reviews: A City Tossed and Broken and Anna of Byzantium

A City Tossed and Broken by Judy Blundell

Well, that was a surprise! And in a very good way.

I was expecting a MG appropriate historical narrative of the events surrounding the 1906 California earthquake. Horror, fear, people coming together, worry, and, ultimately, a happy ending. I got that.

What I wasn't expecting was the treachery, identity games, treasure, double crosses, and sheer excitement that I ended up also getting.

This rocketed A City Tossed and Broken from the typical "good, but not great" I was expecting to a riveting, edge-of-your-seat experience I can't recommend enough.

ARC from publisher
4 out of 5 stars

Anna of Byzantium by Tracy Barrett

Yikes, Anna! Talk about your family drama. Backstabbing, coups, attempted coups—Anna's family doesn't play around.

Anna is a strong, confident character who is easy to root for (but would probably make an awful sleepover party friend). She reminded me of Isabella in her steadfast determination and "take no prisoners" attitude. This is a good thing and I definitely raged alongside her whenever she was wronged.

Even though there are a few liberties with the historical timeline (probably to make it more MG appropriate) and this tale is definitely told from Anna's extremely biased perspective, this is still a great historical primer. Highly recommended, especially for fans of the Royal Diaries series.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Two Giveaways!

Here’s middle-grade nonfiction that reads like a thriller. With murder, court battles, and sensational newspaper headlines, the story of Lizzie Borden is compulsively readable and perfect for the Common Core.

Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.

In a compelling, linear narrative, Miller takes readers along as she investigates a brutal crime: the August 4, 1892, murders of wealthy and prominent Andrew and Abby Borden. The accused? Mild-mannered and highly respected Lizzie Borden, daughter of Andrew and stepdaughter of Abby. Most of what is known about Lizzie’s arrest and subsequent trial (and acquittal) comes from sensationalized newspaper reports; as Miller sorts fact from fiction, and as a legal battle gets under way, a gripping portrait of a woman and a town emerges.

With inserts featuring period photos and newspaper clippings—and, yes, images from the murder scene—readers will devour this nonfiction book that reads like fiction.


Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished copy of The Borden Murders by Sarah Miller
  • 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 winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on November 30th 

All her life Jessica Drake has dreamed of other worlds, some of them similar to her own, others disturbingly alien. She never shares the details with anyone, save her younger brother Tommy, a compulsive gamer who incorporates some aspects of Jessica’s dreams into his games. But now someone is asking about those dreams...and about her. A strange woman has been watching her house. A visitor to her school attempts to take possession of her dream-inspired artwork.


As she begins to search for answers it becomes clear that whoever is watching her does not want her to learn the truth. One night her house catches on fire, and when the smoke clears she discovers that her brother has been kidnapped. She must figure out what is going on, and quickly, if she and her family are to be safe.

Following clues left behind on Tommy's computer, determined to find her brother and bring him home safely, Jessica and two of her friends are about to embark on a journey that will test their spirits and their courage to the breaking point, as they must leave their own world behind and confront the source of Earth's darkest legends – as well as the terrifying truth of their own secret heritage.


Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished copy of Dreamwalker and Dreamseeker by C.S. Friedman
  • 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 winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on November 30th 

Book Review: Mary Tudor by Anna Whitelock

Own (used copy with a CRACKED spine. WHY do you do this people??!?!)
5 of 5 stars, Special Shelf

My historical non-fiction adventures have been hit or miss, but Anna Whitelock's Mary Tudor biography is solidly in the win column.

See, I'm kind of a bad non-fiction reader. I love history and I love details, but I'm impatient and I get bored easily and long books turn me off. Also, I'm a character girl, so novels usually appeal to me much more.

Which is why Mary Tudor: England's First Queen was such a hit for me. Teeny tiny chapters (2-5 pages!) and a fluid, narrative writing style made this a super fast read, especially for non-fiction weenies like me. I didn't feel bogged down or bored. I didn't feel like I was eating a never ending bowl of pasta. I was just engaged, from start to finish. I ached and sobbed for Mary and was truly invested in her struggles.

Mary is a historical figure on my list of "Historical Figures I Like a Whole Lot" along with Marie Antoinette and Cleopatra. I know, I know, Mary has a pretty bad reputation, but I feel for her. Her childhood was awful, her adulthood tragic, and I think she often gets an unfairly bad rap because of historical propaganda (Elizabeth killed roughly 600 people in one sweep! That's about double Mary's bloody body count). Yes, Mary definitely earned her sobriquet Bloody Mary, but when you compare her to other kings and queens of her time, she's hardly the worst.

Plus, it's not like she just decided, "hey, I think I'll kill some Protestants!" and then went on a giddy murder spree while rubbing her hands together and cackling. While I of course don't condone her actions, there were a lot of political and personal reasons for what she did, and I was glad to see Anna Whitelock address these (though not as thoroughly as I would have liked, but that's more because I'm a beat a dead horse kind of reader with this stuff).

In an age obsessed with girl power, it's also a crying shame that Mary is so overlooked. She was England's first queen! She was a trail blazer who set precedent and laid a powerful example that significantly influenced the choices Elizabeth I made during her own reign. Without Mary's example (to both the good and the bad), the vaunted Virgin Queen's reign likely would have looked very different.

So, obviously I'm completely biased, and I was in good company with Anna Whitelock because I get the impression she likes Mary a whole lot too. This is a sympathetic look, but it's packed with a whole lot of facts to back it up and never feels lecturing. The facts support the bias, as opposed to the bias distorting or cherry picking the facts.

I'm a huge fan of this book, and while I wanted more, I think that's more because I was so invested in the author's writing and such a Mary fan than because of any real lack on Anna Whitelock's part. The book is pretty short and I would have gladly read double this amount, but I don't feel like the book was lacking either. Simply put, when something is good, I always want more of it, and I want more of what Anna Whitelock has to offer.

Looking for a book like this? You might like:

Click on the pictures to go to my reviews/Goodreads

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mini Review: A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee

A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee
#1 in The Agency series
Owned (but no longer!)
1.5 out of 5 stars

I had such high expectations for this series, but it failed pretty much every single one of them.

I didn't get along with main character Mary at all and found her thoroughly dislikable. She made some stupid choices and broke all the wrong rules for all the wrong reasons. There is supposedly another seasoned spy on assignment as well (undercover even from novice Mary) and all I could think of was this better spy facepalming the entire time as Mary runs amok all over her covert ops.

Mary 's also not the nicest person in the world, which really made it hard to take her side, even when I agreed with her. To add insult to injury, her promised hate-turned-love romance fell totally flat for me and was more of an insta-love with feigned bickering and no spark.

Don't even get me started on the side characters who are all horribly one-note. The mystery was the only thing that (just barely) kept my interest, but that isn't saying much and it fell flat in the end. Or, should I say it exploded in comical, cackling improbable villain laughter? 

Worst of all was the historical stuff. I'm totally fine with a fluffy historical mystery that only pays petticoat homage to the time period (that is, historical accuracy sticklers be-gone, we're more focused on a general surface historical feeling), but this book took things too far.

I at least want SOME nods to the rules of the time (i.e. ladies do not go cavorting on the wrong side of town...and if they do, gosh, do it better, Mary!). I especially don't want a main character with modern sensibilities. Authors, if you want your main character to inappropriately and annoyingly spout off 21st century ideals left and right, then do not set your book in historical times. Nothing rips me out of a book and makes me dislike it faster than an anachronistic character on a modern soapbox.

Or anyone one a soapbox, really. I could really do without the soapboxes. Especially when the rantings come off like PSAs for 2nd graders. Show a little more respect for your readers, maybe?


Looking for another book like this? You might like:
 Click on the covers to go to my reviews.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Giveaway (US): The Borden Murders by Sarah Miller

Here’s middle-grade nonfiction that reads like a thriller. With murder, court battles, and sensational newspaper headlines, the story of Lizzie Borden is compulsively readable and perfect for the Common Core.

Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.

In a compelling, linear narrative, Miller takes readers along as she investigates a brutal crime: the August 4, 1892, murders of wealthy and prominent Andrew and Abby Borden. The accused? Mild-mannered and highly respected Lizzie Borden, daughter of Andrew and stepdaughter of Abby. Most of what is known about Lizzie’s arrest and subsequent trial (and acquittal) comes from sensationalized newspaper reports; as Miller sorts fact from fiction, and as a legal battle gets under way, a gripping portrait of a woman and a town emerges.

With inserts featuring period photos and newspaper clippings—and, yes, images from the murder scene—readers will devour this nonfiction book that reads like fiction.


Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished copy of The Borden Murders by Sarah Miller
  • 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 winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on November 30th 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Book Review: Red Girl, Blue Boy by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Pages: 304
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Released: October 20, 2015
Received: ARC from author
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Sometimes I'm in the mood for a cute, fluffy YA romance and that is exactly what Red Girl, Blue Boy gave me. Part of the "If Only" series of standalone romances, this installment focuses on Kat (the Republican candidate's daughter) and Drew (the Democrat candidate's son) and their adorable hate-turned-love-turned-hate-turned love romance.

I was a little worried politics would dominate this book, but Lauren Baratz-Logsted did a stellar job including enough of a political backdrop to make the premise feel relevant, but played it pretty neutral when it came to actual politics. It shouldn't really matter what side of the political spectrum the reader falls on when it comes to enjoying the story.

The chapters alternate between Drew and Kat's first-person narratives and their voices are both distinct and likable. Kat reminded me of Caroline Forbes from The Vampire Diaries or Elle Wood from Legally Blonde. She's an up-beat go-getter who definitely marches to the beat of her own drummer. Her loneliness and disconnect from kids her own age was sad and really made me feel for her. I couldn't help but like her.

Drew was sweet and likable, but I more liked him for how he treated Kat. He was definitely good for her and I was so happy to see him get her and help her out when no one else did. Kat's secret service man was another nice addition and it was sweet seeing the three of them together.

The book isn't perfect, but it fell short in the ways this genre of book always falls short for me. The premise was pretty contrived and unbelievable. The extent of Kat's cluelessness was over the top for the sake of the plot. The staged misunderstandings were obvious and the big save at the end came out of nowhere.

But none of that matters. I don't read these books to scrutinize the plot or character development. I read them to latch onto characters I can enjoy spending a few hours with as I swoon over their will-they-won't-they (they totally will) romance. And for that purpose, Red Girl, Blue Boy definitely delivered.

Looking for something similar? 
Forget books, Red Girl, Blue Boy took me back to my favorite teen romantic comedies: 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Book Review: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

Released: October 6, 2015
Pages: 528
Publisher: Disney Hyperion Books
Received: ARC from the publisher
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I keep calling this The Percy Jackson Book. As in, "I'm reading The Percy Jackson Book" or "I need to write my review for The Percy Jackson Book." Every time I reference Magnus I trip up over his name and do a "Perc-um-Magnus" or a "Percy, I mean whatever-his-name-is," and I'm still doing it even after having spent 528 pages with what's-his-name.

And, I know, this is not a Percy Jackson book. It's a Magnus Chase book.

But, it's totally a Percy Jackson book.

The characters are pretty copy/paste from Percy Jackson, the action follows the same formula, the Gods are typical Percy Jackson gods, and the writing, dialog, and feel are all straight Percy Jackson.

But is that a bad thing? This new series definitely isn't getting any points for originality, but it's a total win if you're looking for more Percy Jackson-ish books. It may be formulaic, but it's a fun formula to follow.

There's a certain comfort in reading a book where you know exactly what to expect in the broad strokes, and that's what The Sword of Summer provides. It's like rereading an old favorite, but not remembering any of the details.

And, yeah, sometimes the formula felt a little forced. The jokes all kind of felt like Rick Riordan was standing there expectantly waiting for me to laugh and pat him on the back for his clever lines. "Did you see that Percy Jackson reference I threw in there?" *elbow jab* "Ha! Did you get that bag lady joke? Totally zany, amiright?" Despite all that, in the middle of my eye-rolls I was laughing. So.

And the pacing? I'm worried Rick Riordan's fame has catapulted him into To Big To Edit territory. This book is huge, and it really doesn't need to be. The majority of the first 160 pages where Percy meets and mingles in Camp Half-Blood, erm, I mean, Magnus hangs out in Valhalla, could have been cut down to about a chapter.

I also could have done without the repetitive remembrances of Magnus's dead mom (that and the pretty-cool -but-not-as-awesome-as-Vic talking sword made me flashback to Mythos Academy), and the entire homeless bit felt beaten to death and not really necessary. The connection to Annabel felt like a real stretch, and while it may prove more relevant in future books, in this one it just felt forced and irrelevant.

This all made it difficult for me to like Magnus (also, that name made it hard). I had trouble connecting with him or even caring what would happen to him. He is also so similar to Percy Jackson that I had a hard time separating Magnus as a character in his own right and not just a mildly annoying Percy Jackson understudy.

Magnus's sidekicks are a different story. Blitz and Hearth went a long way toward making the book for me. They're interesting characters in their own right with backstories, depth, and growth that surpassed that of lead character Magnus. Their humorous moments were also among the best in the book.

I'd be just fine if Magnus and Samirah (his ornery and oh so bland diversity token Muslim Valkyrie sidekick with an incredibly dull side story that should have been edited right out) had just disappeared and let this become the Adventures of Blitz and Hearth. THAT would be an awesome series.

Bottom line

It may seem like I'm knocking The Sword of Summer pretty hard. And I guess I kind of am. It's a rough book that really could have benefited from a lot of editing. It also suffers from a lack of originality and a beta version of Percy Jackson for a main character. Oh, also, no romance.

But, it's still a fun book. I did enjoy it, and I'll probably read the rest of the books eventually (this one ends on a "the story isn't over, but this first part is wrapped up" kind of ending). It even made me decide I should probably pick up the other Rick Riordan series I haven't read yet (I've only read the main Percy Jackson series).

The thing is, I like this formula. I don't love it and I've never been a huge Percy Jackson fan to begin with, but I do like it. It's comforting, light, predictable, and funny, and sometimes that's exactly the kind of book I'm looking for when I want to unwind.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Book Review: A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston

Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is a fairy tale. Basically. What I mean by that is, expect a story but don't expect characters with a whole lot of depth. Go with the flow of magical fuzziness of the story and don't get overly picky and examine every little detail for logic and concrete answers.

The desert atmosphere is palpable—languid and heavy like a hot summer day, but comfortable and easy to sink into like a warm summer night.  The visuals of the story were captivating and kept me coming back for more.

Even though it wasn't hard to figure out what was going to happen (because, fairy tale), I was still invested in watching the story unfold. The pace isn't fast at all and the events are more of a quiet, steady strength and dreamy story weaving type. I found it very easy to put the book down for days at a time, but I also always felt compelled to pick it back up again.

Thankfully, this is a standalone and the ending wrapped things up nicely. This isn't a swoony book and there actually isn't any romance. The focus is entirely on the nameless main character, and she isn't BFF material for me because she's more of a character representation (like a fairy tale) than a fully fleshed out character. I almost felt more of a connection to her sister because she described her sister so often (her sister gets a mini romance). Still, I did like the main character.

There's a lot to think about with this story. There are Messages. Feminism, stylistic writing themes, romance, goodness and evil, relationships, and other weighty topics are explored in ways that were deep without ever being oppressive. You can just read the book as a straight story and enjoy it on that level, or you can look between the explicit story and explore deeper. It's up to the reader, which is how I like Messages to be presented.

Recommended for readers who liked Tiger Lily or Toads and Diamonds. Not really recommended for readers who want lots of action and BFF characters and swoony romance. I usually fall into the latter group, but I appreciated A Thousand Nights enough that I'm glad I read it, even though I probably wouldn't re-read it. I could see this having adult crossover appeal, but probably not middle grade crossover appeal.

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like:

Click on the covers to go to my reviews

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Book Review & Giveaway: Voyagers Project Alpha by D. J. MacHale

Book 1 in the Voyagers series
Pages 224
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Released: September 1, 2015
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Fire up the 1990s nostalgia machine, because the Voyagers series is rife with all the kitsch and cliche of of that decade.

And I say that in the most loving way possible. (Hey, I'm a '90s kid).

So, yeah, expect a painfully politically correct cast with token characters representing a multitude of races and different "walks of life." That's how we rolled in the '90s, and apparently that stilted approach is how we're doing things now. Ok.

Also lifted from the '90s is the laughable premise of "oh the noes we're running out of energy!" I half expected Captain Planet to make an appearance so we could all unite the powers of our elemental rings and save the Earth with our diverse, multi-cultural perspectives.

Oh, and did I mention the wealthy kid genius running the show? With his golden retriever sidekick— the '90s mascot dog of "good" (if the group of bad kids pull out a doberman sidekick I swear I'll die of blissful nostalgia overload).

Ok, have you gotten your eye rolls out of the way? Good. Because though the set up is ridiculous, oftentimes you can have a whole lot of fun with ridiculous and Voyagers: Project Alpha proves that in spades.

This is a short book with tiny chapters and non-stop action. The kid heroes are thrown into situations of heart-pounding peril, crazy alien encounters, dinosaur chases, zany missions, and (scientifically shaky) awesome tech inventions.

This is the kind of book to read for pure fun. It's the book equivalent to a cheesy action movie with blasters and high-speed chases, death-defying stunts and flashy super-human heroes. It's pop rocks and cotton candy: zero nutritional value, but my gosh is it tasty and addictive.

The series should have wide appeal. Kids will probably love the action and adventure of this series, while adults who grew up in the '90s can delight in all the nostalgic tropes. Voyagers: Project Alpha ended on a cliffhanger, but thankfully the next book comes out in November so the wait isn't long.

I may have an eyeroll sprain by the end of this series, but I'm willing to take that risk. The series is fun, and I plan to see it through to the end.

And only in part because I want to see what absurd thing our intrepid cast of diverse child heroes pulls out next.

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished copy of Voyagers: Project Alpha by D. J. MacHale
  • 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 winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on September 30th 

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like:

Click on the picture to go to my review.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

DNF Explanation: The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie

Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Read to page 69 of 449

Here's the thing about mistress books: I'm not really a fan. Mistresses aren't usually very exciting since their main claim to fame generally begins and ends at sleeping with a king. And since that's their thing, the books about them are often pretty romance heavy and not much else.

Plus, yeah, I get that the times were different and all and these marriages weren't all romance and love, but it's hard for me to get behind a home-wreaker. Maybe I've read too many books from the poor queens' perspectives.

So I broke my unofficial No Mistresses rule by requesting this book. Times four, because The Sisters of Versailles is about FOUR mistresses, all sisters (yeah, this family apparently had a lock on the mistress market, at least for a time). But I really wanted to read about this time period and I convinced myself that the cover looked sufficiently historical so I'd probably get a good amount of historical details, right?

I should have known better.

So, yes, I DNF-ed this book in part because it was exactly what I should have known it would be: it's a mistress book. Romance and fluff and not much else. I was sorely disappointed at the lack of historical detail, which I was hoping would at least come through.

But that's not even the main reason I chose to DNF. No, I probably would have stuck it out to the end if it weren't for the fact that I ended up loathing each of the sisters.

One is like an evil step sister from Cinderella, one is bland and silly and easily led to make poor choices, one is barely there, and one is straight up psychopathic (and not in a good way, even if the fire cabinet was kind of nice payback to the evil sister. But, the girl tortures animals!)

This is why I chose to stop reading. Even with the short chapters (max 10 pages), and even with the rotating point of view (done decently enough), and even with the good writing (I really did like this Sally Christie's style), and even with the time period (I'm really interested in reading the just-pre-Marie Antoinette years), I just could not bear the thought of spending any more time with these awful women.

Maybe when Sally Christie finishes with this series she'll write about historical figures I like. I hope so, because I would still give her a shot.

Looking for another book like this?
The one on the left I also disliked and the one on the right I loved

 Click on the covers to go to my reviews

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Book Review: The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall

Book 3 in the Penderwicks series
Pages: 295
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Released: May 10, 2011
Received: Bought
5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf

This is a book for the third book, but there are NO SPOILERS in this review. 
Still worried? Read my review of the first book The Penderwicks instead!

The Penderwick family has a special place in my heart—so much so that I pre-order every book in the series because I know without a doubt that I will love them.

I did that with this book, and then let it sit on my shelf for four years before finally reading it now ("now" being April 2015). A travesty, but also a blessing in disguise because when I started my new job I needed some serious comfort reading, and it doesn't get more comforting than spending time with the Penderwicks.

This installment sees second-oldest Penderwick Skye take on the mantle of OAP (oldest available Penderwick) since Rosamund is on vacation with a friend (and thus not really in this book except in spirit). I found myself really bonding with Skye over her insecurities in living up to expectations and Rosamund's example, and her realization that with OAP-dom comes a degree of responsibility she hadn't appreciated in the past.

Like the previous two books, I'm not sure how middle graders would receive it, but as an adult, I adored it. I particularly appreciate Jeanne Birdsall's ability to truly get into the minds of her characters in an age-appropriate way.

For example, Batty is a young child, and she acts like a young child, interpreting her world through the mindset of a child her age. However, the narrative explains her feelings in a way that wholly captures exactly what she is feeling with an omniscient, adult understanding of those feelings, without infusing the character with wisdom or self-awareness beyond her years.

This approach also helps imbue the book with what I like to call The Marmee Effect: that safe, comforting feeling of being watched over and cared for by an adult who knows everything and can fix anything.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette is just as sweet, heartwarming, steadfast, and soul-satisfying as the previous two books. It serves well as a standalone, but having background knowledge from the prior books is helpful, though not necessary. I'm looking forward to reading, and savoring, the fourth book in the series, recently pre-ordered and sitting now on my shelf.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Book review: The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Book 1 in the School for Good and Evil series
Pages: 496
Publisher: Harper Collins
Received: Library
3 out of 5 stars

This started out pretty well

Ok, so fairy tales? Check. Turning stereotypes on their heads? Check. Romance? Check. Peril? Check. Magical boarding school? Check. Mysterious maybe-good, maybe-evil headmaster? Check. Strong bonds of friendship? Check.

So far so good, right?

The School for Good and Evil has a lot of stuff I really liked. I liked the characters a whole lot. And not just the two main heroines Sophie and Agatha, but also all the side characters. Or, ok, let me clarify, I really liked the side characters on Evil's side. Good? Not so much.

I also liked the magical boarding school with its Hogwarts-ish feel. Exploring the school was fun and attending classes was neat to read even if it didn't advance the plot a whole bunch.

And then

So why three stars? Because everything I liked comes with a big BUT. I liked Agatha and Sophie (especially Sophie), but they were both pretty 2-D characters. I liked the boarding school, but it was pretty flimsy all said and done. The side characters were fun, but they were even less developed than Sophie and Agatha.

Worst of all?

The worst thing was the stereotype flip. I liked the idea of taking the drab, dark, sullen character and putting her into the school for good and then taking the pretty pink princess and putting her in the school for evil. I like theory.

In practice, it didn't entirely work for me. First, it was so obvious, even without the book blurb. It took an eyerollingly slow time to get with the program. Sophie's resistance made sense and was fine (she has always had a single minded desire to be a princess), but Agatha, gah girl, how many times do you need Good's glowing light to shine on you to realize you're good.

The messages were also kind of...offensive? I say that with hesitation because I'm not really one to get offended at every little thing, but it felt like I got suckered into the idea of "Look! Princesses don't have to be beautiful to be good!" but I in fact got a strong reinforcement of the idea that yes in fact good is superficially beautiful and evil is superficially ugly.

And now I'm confused

That was super disappointing, both from a plot sense (I wanted to see a sparkling pink villain) and from a lesson sense. I'm not really sure if my takeaway is supposed to be ugly equals evil and pretty equals good?

Because isn't that exactly the stereotype? What is the point of switching their schools and turning the stereotype on its head if you're just going to circle back around and bolster the stereotype?

There also was a lot of toying around with the idea of Sophie and Agatha's friendship crossing the good/evil boundaries and...I don't know. I was expecting some kind of "true friendship conquers all" kind of thing or a tearing down of the black and white good/evil dynamic or something, but this message was just as contradictory and scattered as the ugly/pretty topic.

Even just describing this is confusing and exhausting.

Bottom line

Ultimately, I enjoyed my time reading The School for Good and Evil a lot. It's long, but it's SO easy to read and the short chapters makes it fly by. It's light, it's fun, and it (granted, inexplicably) kept me entertained. Sophie was especially fun and I think she's probably the main reason I kept reading (particularly when she started embracing evil, with her own fabulous flair).

That said, I would not say this is a particularly good book. It has a lot of weaknesses and it seems to really struggle with coming to terms with what exactly it means to say. This can be especially problematic since it's supposed to be a middle grade book and I'm not sure how the confused messages would be received by a kid that age.

The ending wraps up nicely and it seems like everything will end cleanly, and then it drops in a cliffhanger to bridge into the second book. A book I will not be reading because, while The School for Good and Evil was good enough to finish, it wasn't good enjoy to justify spending any time on the sequels.

So, best advice I can give? Don't expect much. Go in with low expectations. Don't look for a message, and don't try to make sense of what you're reading. Just go with the flow. Enjoy the zany, inconsistent, haphazard, wandering plot and thin characters for what they are. It's light and easy. Take it as such and don't look beyond the surface. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Two Giveaways! (US)

The action is on the page, on your device, and out of this world! This multiplatform series is part sci-fi, part eco-mystery, all action-adventure. And you don't have long to wait -- 6 books are coming all in one year! 
Earth is about to go dark. Without a new power source, life as we know it will be toast. A global competition is under way to determine who will join the secret mission that might just save us all. Project Alpha is a contest of physical challenges, mental puzzles, and political alliances. The battle is fierce, and only four kids will make the cut. The Voyagers will journey to the far reaches of space, collecting unique elements and facing unbelievable dangers. The future of our planet is in the hands of four kids. Sure, they’ll be the best in the world . . . but can they save the world?

Do you have what it takes to be a Voyager? Find out at


Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished copy of Voyagers: Project Alpha by D. J. MacHale
  • 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 winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on September 30th 

In the first hilarious Enchanted Files, Angus is a brownie. No, not the kind you eat! He’s a tiny magical creature that loves to do chores. Angus has just “inherited” a new human girl, Alex. To say that Alex is messy would be an understatement. She’s a total hurricane-like disaster—and she likes it that way, thankyouverymuch! Living with each other isn’t easy but Angus and Alex soon learn there is a curse that binds them. What’s worse, it threatens Alex’s family! Working together, Angus and Alex will set out to break the curse . . . without killing each other first . . . hopefully.
Henry Vestin believed that despite being only a carpenter he could lead Isabelle and their friends to safety. He thought he could defy an emperor and protect Isabelle from harm. He was certain that love and friendship would be enough to survive.

He was wrong.

The Secrets of Neverak follows Henry and his friends after the disastrous battle at the Iron Pass. Horrors await them in strange new lands. Crippled and broken, Henry must rely on his friends more than ever. Allies and foes find them at every turn, but which are friendly and which are deadly? Isabelle, now a slave in Neverak, finds herself surrounded by enemies, uncertain about the fate of her friends, and desperate to escape. The Emperor moves forward with his plans of conquest, spurred on by the Seer's dark prophecy, but he has not forgotten those who defied him.

Return to the world of Atolas, where a blade can extend life or end it, where friendships can topple kingdoms, and where the Path of Light and Shadow is feared by all but a few.


Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished copy of Secrets of Neverak by Jacob Gowans
  • 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 winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on September 30th 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Book Review: Middle Grade Round Up

Appleblossom the Possum by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 3 stars

This is a cute story told from the perspective of a baby possum. The book opens with the birth of Appleblossom and her siblings and then follows them as they learn about the world and eventually learn how to fend for themselves. Appleblossom has a little adventure of her own in the second half, which is amusing and not entirely expected.

There are a few "morals of the story" thrown in, but they, along with the whole plot, feel wandering, directionless, and tacked on. Objectively, the book feels lacking, but in the moment it was a cozy, pleasant read. This should appeal to younger middle grade readers and would also make a good read-aloud bedtime book for younger readers. 

Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon
Book #1 in the Hamster Princess series
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 3 stars

On the surface, this is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but totally turned on its head in a way that was clever and allowed for more princess adventuring. Readers tired of damsels will get a kick out of Harriet, but for me (a reader so totally tired of the anti-damsel trope) the message was pretty heavy-handed.

That aside, the story was entertaining and kept me hooked enough to actually want to find out what would happen next. I guess you'd call this a graphic novel, but with blocks of text interspersed among the images. The illustrations were ok (I'm not a huge fan, especially of the limited color pallet), but I am giving extra points for Harriet's quail (her trusty steed) because he was hilarious and the pictures totally did him justice.

Recommended for fans of the Babymouse series and Shannon Hale's Princess in Black series.

Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville
Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would. It's middle grade, but I was totally invested. The characters and world were fully realized and I would happily read more books about both. Extra points for the scene with the cat and Angus's lovingly derisive descriptions of his dollhouse home. Amusing, heartwarming, imaginative, and engaging, I would definitely purchase and recommend this book, particularly for fans of books like The Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans

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