Wednesday, April 29, 2015

DNF Explanation: Housewitch by Katie Schickel

ARC from publisher
DNF on page 191 of 352

With its Witches of Eastwick (the tv show) meets Practical Magic (the movie) vibe, Housewitch was a book I could have easily liked. And I almost did like it. Or, I did like it, mostly. Kind of.

See? I'm feeling ambivalent here.

Look, in theory, I really liked Housewitch. All of the ingredients are there and the writing is easy and comforting. It's like lounging inside wearing sweats even though it's sunny outside. Fun, soothing, nice.


I read a little over half the book and Allison had only just started to embrace her magic. And when she finally did? Sure, it was fun. But it was fun like lounging around watching infomercials in your sweats is fun. I mean, these witches hold the magical equivalent to Tupperware parties. That's nice, and I kinda actually want my own magical Tupperware party, but it isn't exciting.

I think part of my wishy washy feelings come from Allison herself. She's so meh. I think she's supposed to be easy to relate to and represent "normal" but she just came across as dull. Like the before photos on a shampoo commercial. Hanging out with her was exhausting in the same way lounging around all day in sweats watching infomercials totally destroys all motivation to do....anything.

Dragging things down even more was Allison's kooky aunt and her coven of eccentric magic folk. I think her aunt was supposed to come across as endearing, but to me she came off more like a dirty bag lady who lives in the park talking to squirrels and yelling at you to stay away from her benches. I didn't like being around her and couldn't wait for her scenes to end. Extra points off because she and her fellow witches weren't very nice to Allison.

My favorite parts were when Allison finally embraced her magic and joined the local It Group of witches. I liked hanging out with Allison and co as they made magic beauty masks, soaked in magic spas, and concocted magical "do whatever I want" potions. This was fun. This is why I read magic books.

So I really, really didn't like that sinking feeling in my stomach that these ladies were up to no good. (I could be wrong! Remember, I didn't read to the end to find out!) I didn't want the lesson that using magic for beauty lotions is bad or that you shouldn't cast spells to make you rich. I may sound like a petulant kid or a shallow woman, but, hey, I'm ok with that. I would totally use magic to make myself pretty and rich.

At this point I DNF-ed because a) I wanted to preserve my happy shallow fantasies without moralistic lessons, b) I just wasn't invested enough to read more, and c) I couldn't stomach another scene with the aunt.

Bottom line

I knew this book wasn't going to be more than a 3 star read and I had a big pile of better books waiting to be read. If I were stuck on a plane or on vacation then I would have happily read to the end and enjoyed Housewitch as a decent but forgettable 3 star read. It's a good beach read and if you click with Allison and her aunt, then you'll probably like it even more.

This is an adult book, btw. Allison is a married mother of three and there's enough of that to likely turn off YA only readers.

Looking for another book like this? You might like:

 Click on the covers to go to my reviews.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

DNF Explanation: Stormbird by Conn Iggulden

Stormbird (Wars of the Roses #1) by Conn Iggulden
Library (thank goodness!)
Rating: DNF on page 100 of 385

Review prologue

My husband and I both read a lot, but we rarely read the same books and I've wanted to do a read-along together for a while now.

He read and loved Conn Iggulden's series on Genghis Khan, so I was super excited to see the same author was going to write about a topic I actually want to read about—The Wars of the Roses (sorry Genghis!).

And by super excited, I mean I obsessively stalked multiple library systems for a year trying to get my hands on a copy.

That great day finally arrived and my husband and I sat down together, each with a copy of the book, and began reading. It was adorable.

Then, about an hour into reading, we turned to each other and simultaneously did the hesitant, "Soooo how are you liking it?"

And then we both caved and admitted that we were not liking this one bit.

I'll give this disclaimer: I'm not sure why this book irritated me as much as it did. Sure it had flaws I can point out, but so do other books that admittedly don't bother me like this one does.

The actual review

Surprisingly, Stormbird was not written very well. The sentence structure was pretty simplistic, which made for a very easy read (plus!) but definitely not of the caliber I was expecting. You know how sometimes adult authors try to write for young adult audiences and "dumb down" their writing as a result? That's what this felt like. It didn't feel very historical, either.

It was also so excruciatingly SLOW. I read up to page 100, which is over a quarter of the way through the book, and Henry VI and Margaret hadn't even been married yet! This should have been covered in a chapter or two. (For those less historically inclined, imagine if it had taken over 100 pages to get to the "You're a wizard, Harry!" part. Not good.)

Iggulden fills the pages with so much pointless stuff, and I don't mean historical details. I seriously would have loved accurate historical details. Alas, accuracy doesn't seem to be a priority for Mr. Iggulden. The stuff there is more just random scenes that made me wonder what was the point of reading them. Even worse, most of them follow fictional characters.

When he does write about real people, they're painfully one-note. Richard of York and his wife Cecily are EVIL *insert cackling laugh* I was half expecting Cecily to whip out a dalmatian puppy skin coat to wear to the banquet.

But back to those fictional characters. Conn Iggulden made his favorite fictional character Derry Brewer a total Mary Sue who is SURPRISE! actually THE person responsible for all those Very Important historical events. I really hate historical inaccuracies, but I truly loathe fictional thunder stealing.

Not only does the character get credit for negotiating something Very Big, but in real life this event played a large part in the death of the actual person who is responsible for the negotiation, so attributing it to the fictional Derry Brewer didn't sit right with me.

Not to mention his cringe-worthy interactions with York (a spy of no station is calling the Duke of York Richard and treating him like an unruly cub? And Richard of York is cowering? Seriously??)

Iggulden also makes such a huge deal about his fictional character coming up with this ingenious, never before seen, blow your minds with his awesomeness idea that led to much swirling anticipation and tension that we wrung our hands over for an entire chapter wondering if he'll be able to pull off this novel idea for a...

wait for it...

A proxy wedding!

Seriously?! Proxy weddings were an established thing at the time. Fictional Mr. Brewer gets NO POINTS for that.

I'm also not buying that Derry Brewer could dupe everyone into believing the king of England had traveled to France for a marriage (because, sure, kings were in the habit of doing that sort of thing *eyeroll*) and then pulled a "Psych! Going home now!" move at the last minute (effectively leaving poor Margaret waiting at the alter, because that wouldn't offend anyone) with the paltry excuse of he wasn't feeling well...when in fact he had never actually left England! I'm supposed to believe this is actually a plan? A legit plan? That everyone buys and no one questions the total, obvious lack of a king, entourage, and months of planning?

And that's when I DNF-ed.


Looking for Wars of the Roses books? You might like:
Click on the covers to go to my reviews

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Review: A Heart Revealed by Josi S. Kilpack

ARC from the publisher, via NetGalley
336 pages
4.5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf

I requested this book for review because it is part of the Proper Romance series (standalone clean historical romances) and Blackmoore is also part of that series. Since I loved Blackmoore and I'm desperate for more like it, I hoped A Heart Revealed would be a good bet.

It was!

This is one of those sighing books. You know, the kind where you pause in reading over a scene to sigh in happiness. The kind where you clutch it to your chest after turning the final page and sigh in satisfaction. The kind where you think about little scenes after the fact and sigh with joy.

I was hoping for that, and I was very happy to get it.

What I wasn't expecting at all was the non-romantic sub-plot to grab my attention so strongly. Amber has a fall from grace, but I never in a million years would have guessed these circumstances. They were so different and so horrifying and I was completely sucked into Amber's plight.

Her situation also leads to some serious character changes, and I found myself almost rooting for the situation to get worse and worse (and it does) just so I could see Amber triumph over these hurdles. Another surprise for me was how important the friendship relationship became. I was just as invested in Amber's rocky but blossoming friendship as I was with her romance and her personal journey.

As much as I love reading about romance, I don't typically like it when the entire plot revolves around the romance, so I was both surprised and pleased to find A Heart Revealed stands up well in both the romantic and non-romantic parts. If the romance were completely removed, this story would still stand strongly on its own.

But the romance? Definitely swoony. The reading scene and the tea scene, sigh, sigh, sigh. Those were scenes to savor and reread (and I have). 

So why not a full 5 out of 5 stars? Well, Amber's transformation was a little unbelievable at times, and this is in part because a lot of her personal journey takes place off stage. I wish that part had been fleshed out a bit more, but clearly it didn't affect my enjoyment much.

Bottom line

I'm now a big fan of the Proper Romance series and very interested in reading more. Each book is a standalone story with totally different characters. I wish they were more easily identified in a list somewhere.

(I'm also now super paranoid about my hair, which will make more sense when you read the book.)

Friday, April 10, 2015

DNF Explanation & Giveaway: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

#2 in the Seraphina
ARC from publisher
Read 139 of 608 pages

I wasn't a huge fan of Seraphina, but I liked it enough to want to read the sequel.

Unfortunately, I didn't like the sequel enough to finish it.

I am very much in the minority on this series and I really, really wish I could love it as much as everyone else seems to love it. I think my issues with it are more on the personal side of things and those are usually hard to articulate. But I will try.

Five reasons Shadow Scale is not for me
(kinda spoilery for Seraphina)

1. Seraphina is not slumber party material for me

She seems so dreary and almost contradictory. I think that's in part because she is actually a pretty decent character, but she does not see those good qualities in herself. So her actions show one thing and her self-evaluation says another. 

I can see how that could work as a writing approach, but for me, that way of presenting her characterization isn't pleasurable to read. It makes Seraphina come across as a drag and I can't enjoy her more positive qualities. 

She also spent a good part of Shadow Scale making some stupid decisions and assumptions regarding the other half-dragons. This is her "lesson" in the book, so at least the point is that her decisions aren't correct. That makes it better, but still not fun to read.

2. The writing doesn't work for me

It feels so plodding. Like I'm swimming through honey. Making this Seraphina's "voice" makes her seem like such a bore. For me, I really think I would have enjoyed this more as third person. Though, I imagine that would be hard to do given all the action that takes place inside Seraphina's head.

3. Her garden

It is explained much more in this book, but I just...don't care. I don't care about Jaounella and Seraphina's presentation of her rubs me the wrong way. She's very knee jerk about it all, and that's frustrating to me. It makes Seraphina seem reactionary, unreasonable, and hyper-sensitive. And cowardly.

Since I don't know what happened in the past, all I can do is base my impressions off of the little information Seraphina gives me now, and that isn't enough for me to sympathize with her in this situation.

It just frustrates me and makes me want to tell her to suck it up and face her fears. After all, all I have as evidence is Seraphina successfully beating and containing Jaounella. So how bad can she be? (possibly very bad, but that isn't being communicated well).

4. Characterization

It seems to have suffered a lot in the sequel. In the first book, the side characters were so vivid and full of life. Here, they seem like sketches of themselves. Like we're relying solely on the development of the first book to carry over their characterizations in the sequel. 

As a result, characters I loved in the first book I just don't care about at all in the sequel. I'm so disappointed by this because I adored the character interactions in the first book.

5. I'm not into where this is heading

I read vague spoilers about what happens in the rest of the book and it doesn't really appeal to me. I don't feel invested in the story and what (I now know) will happen. I also don't like the resolution to the romance. 

Bottom line

There are certain authors I instantly click with and it's like they're writing specifically for me. Rachel Hartman is the opposite. There's just something that doesn't click with me.

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished copy of Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • This giveaway is US/CA 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 April 30th 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Small News and Giveaway (US/CA)

Getting Personal

Well, it has been a long time since I've posted anything other than a review or a long overdue Books I Got post. That's mostly because not much has been happening of note, but enough boring every day things have been happening that have been taking my time away from other kinds of posts.

Plus, I think I've found a groove, which has been really nice.

And of course that's why I'm throwing a wrench in the whole thing!

Not really. But kinda.

I've moved again and I'm getting settled in my new home. It's still within Texas, but Texas is HUGE, so it was a fairly far move. I'm now about six hours away from everything I knew and loved, which is both exciting and a little scary!

So, why did I move? New job! Yay! I'm now supervising a library!

I'm so excited to be going back to my library roots because, much as I've loved what I've been doing, I miss the library atmosphere.

I'm looking forward to it, but this means I'll probably be busy in the beginning until I find a new groove. I will still have reviews going up for now since I've scheduled a bunch in advance, but things might slow down a little after that. I'll also be super limited in the review requests I accept (I was going to say I'm not accepting ANY, but who am I kidding?).

And, just in case you missed it, I'm going to re-post about my current giveaway because I love this series so much that I'm going to book pusher it onto all of you every chance I get.

Thanks to Tor I have three finished copies of Icefall by Gillian Philip to give away! Icefall is the fourth and final book in the Rebel Angels series (it's not actually about angels. It's about fairies. But not typical fairies. At all.) I absolutely love this series and can't recommend it enough so I am extra excited to be able to help get these books into new readers' hands.

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: One of three finished copies of Icefall by Gillian Philip
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • This giveaway is US/CA 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 April 30th 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Giveaway: Icefall by Gillian Philip (US/CA)

Thanks to Tor I have three finished copies of Icefall by Gillian Philip to give away! Icefall is the fourth and final book in the Rebel Angels series (it's not actually about angels. It's about fairies. But not typical fairies. At all.)

I absolutely love this series and can't recommend it enough so I am extra excited to be able to help get these books into new readers' hands.

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: One of three finished copies of Icefall by Gillian Philip
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • This giveaway is US/CA 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 April 30th 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Review: Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

#3 in the Memoirs of Lady Trent series
ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
352 pages
4 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf series

There are NO spoilers in this review, but if you're worried, check out my review of the first book A Natural History of Dragons instead!

The series in general (no spoilers)

Ah, there's something so satisfying about a consistent series. I always know what to expect with the Lady Trent books, and thankfully, Voyage of the Basilisk stuck with the same tried and true formula.

Fans of the first two books can rest assured that this third installment is more of the same, and I mean that in a good way. Isabella embarks on another journey to another excitingly untamed part of the world to continue her study of dragons. The first half follows a series of mini adventures and the second half focuses on a local group of people, exposing Isabella to another novel culture.

That may sound formulaic, especially since that same pattern is followed in each book. It is the uniqueness of the adventures that keep this series from feeling stale. Even more enamoring, for me, is the sense of exploration. I'm so fired up following Isabella as she makes new discoveries in her quest to understand dragons.

I thrive on that indescribably invigorating feeling of forming theories, testing them out, finding their flaws, delighting when they're proved right, and, almost even more exciting, turning over the new questions that arise and chasing their answers.

These books wouldn't be half as good if Isabella wasn't narrating them. Her voice is so perfect (though she is certainly not) and I have found a true kindred spirit in her character. I like how she stays true to herself, embracing her passions and quirks, even if they do not conform to the accepted or the norm. She has learned that she can choose to either be happy in life, or unhappy, and she has chosen to be happy.

This voyage in particular

As you've probably gathered, this book sees Isabella on the high seas and the first half of the book takes place almost entirely on board the ship. Even though I like a lot of books that take place on ships, I don't actually like being on fictional ships very much. It's claustrophobic and I hate the feeling of being trapped on a relatively fragile ship with nothing around but a vast ocean holding all manner of dangerous sea creatures. Plus, the food. Barf.

So, I've knocked off a star for that completely personal reason.

Fans of Tom and Natalie will be disappointed because they are not very notable in this book. Natalie especially, since she doesn't even accompany Isabella on her journey. Instead, a new character comes to the forefront and I can't say I'm upset about this new development (though I DO miss Tom. I really liked his growing relationship with Isabella in Tropic of Serpents and I was hoping to spend more time on that in this book). But, this new character is a diverting consolation prize.

Other things I liked (without giving things away): The supremely excellent scene of Isabella and the Great Nostril Grab (and the even greater description of the fictional artistic portrayals of said event), Isabella's on going relationship and her exploration of her feelings with the Jacobs, adding in an archeological exploration (that surprisingly ties back in with the prior books), treasure (!), the wife (what a fun way to address those rumors), and the incorrect theory (because we've all kicked ourselves at some point, and Isabella described all the emotions perfectly).  

Bottom line

Upon finishing the book I had two thoughts:
  1. Gosh, I read that quickly!
  2. When is the next book coming out?
I wish I had savored this book more because now it's finished and I have to wait at least a year (I'm guessing, gah, Goodreads doesn't even have the next book up!) and I really just want to keep reading in this world and with these characters. I didn't mean to read it so fast. I just, I just couldn't stop reading!

So, when is the next book coming out??

Looking for another book like this? You might like:

Click on the covers to go to my review/Goodreads
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