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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