Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Tiny Reviews: Victoria Rebels and Cleopatra VII

Victoria Rebels by Carolyn Meyer

I don't like Queen Victoria. I try, I really do, but I can't stand her. At least, fictional portrayals of her. I only read this book because Carolyn Meyer wrote it.

Victoria certainly had a rough childhood and I totally sympathize for her with that monster of a mother. Given all that, I do understand why she developed the way she did and why she did the things she did. Carolyn Meyer does a great job drawing these connections, too.

And yet, I still don't like her.

Bratty, haughty, bossy, foolish, impulsive, naive, ugh, I can't muster up an ounce of liking for Victoria. I get that evil John was scheming for power when he tried to convince her she wasn't mature or aware enough to be queen. I get it, and I don't like him at all for it.

But, seriously, the guy had a point.

Four stars for Carolyn Meyer (and boy did this book make me appreciate her even more!) because the book is well written and should appeal to Victoria fans or those looking for an introduction, but 2 stars for my actual level of enjoyment because, gah, I really don't like Victoria. 

Library book
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Cleopatra VII by Kristiana Gregory

I've liked Kristiana Gregory's other books in the Royal Diaries series, and while this one is good, I don't know, I just didn't love it as much. Maybe it's because I'm more familiar with Cleopatra?

A large part of my disappointment comes from the loose approach Kristiana Gregory took with history here. Cleopatra meets people and minor events happen here that fall into the "possible but not backed up by history" category.

I'm not hugely bothered because I guess it could have happened, but I really wish she would have stuck with the known events instead. What she did write was nice and engaging and made for a good but not particularly memorable story. I prefer Carolyn Meyer's take on Cleopatra's childhood.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mini Review: Maid of Deception by Jennifer McGowan

Rating: 4 out of 5

I guess you'd call this a sequel to Maid of Secrets, but I'd say it's more of a companion novel and either can be read first. Each book in this series focuses on a different maid of honor in Elizabeth I's court, and Maid of Deception follows Beatrice.

Beatrice is, on the surface, the pretty mean girl of the group who uses her good looks and charms to ferret out secrets for the queen. Meg (the main character in Maid of Secrets) didn't get along with Beatrice very much, but I liked her a whole lot. Jennifer McGowan develops Beatrice's personality well and makes her a character that stands out from the more stereotypical Meg and, for me, made her even more likable.

There's a lot less action in this book as compared to the first (torture! intrigue!) so as far as plot goes the first is stronger. But, I liked Beatrice more and her romance was much more up my alley. So, character girl that I am, I had no trouble staying engaged and I liked this book just as much and possibly even more than the first.

Jennifer McGowan's Maids of Honor series is exactly the type of series I like. It's almost like a comfort read series for me and it's twice now gotten me out of reading slumps. Historical lite, with romance, intrigues, mysteries, political balancing, a tiny touch of paranormal, and likable characters. It's a light series, and despite the high page counts of the books, they're still super fast reads. I can see myself re-reading these books and I'm definitely going to read all of the books as they come out. I just really wish they had different covers.

While this is a series that isn't completely published yet, the nature of the stories (each following a new maid of honor and wrapping up her story) makes it so you can easily read the books as standalones as they are published with no fear of cliffhangers or fading memory.

Looking for another book like this? You might like:

Click on the covers to go to my reviews

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Giveaway (US): The Vanishing Island by Barry Wolverton

Does the Vanishing Island really exist? And if so, what treasure—or terrible secret—was hidden by its disappearance?

It’s 1599, the Age of Discovery in Europe. But for Bren Owen, growing up in the small town of Map on the coast of Britannia has meant anything but adventure. Enticed by the tales sailors have brought through Map’s port, and inspired by the arcane maps his father creates as a cartographer for the cruel and charismatic map mogul named Rand McNally, Bren is convinced that fame and fortune await him elsewhere. That is, until his repeated attempts to run away land him a punishment worse than death—cleaning up the town vomitorium.

It is there that Bren meets a dying sailor, who gives him a strange gift that hides a hidden message. Cracking the code could lead Bren to a fabled lost treasure that could change his life forever, and that of his widowed father. But to get there he will have to tie his fate to a mysterious Dutch admiral obsessed with a Chinese legend about an island that long ago disappeared from any map.

Before long, Bren is in greater danger than he ever imagined, and will need the help of an unusual friend named Mouse to survive. Barry Wolverton’s thrilling adventure spans oceans and cultures, brings together the folklore of East and West, and proves that fortune is always a double-edged sword


Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A signed ARC of The Vanishing Island by Barry Wolverton
  • 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 June 30th 

Blog Tour Site

Blog Tour Schedule: 
6/15/2015 Blue Stocking Thinking        
6/16/2015 The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia
6/17/2015 Small Review                                   
6/18/2015 Maria's Melange               
6/19/2015 Unleashing Readers          
6/19/2015 The Hiding Spot                             ​
6/22/2015 This Kid Reviews Books    
6/23/2015 Mundie Kids                      
6/24/2015 Paige in Training              
6/25/2015 Novel Novice                     

Author Info

Barry Wolverton is the author of Neversink. He has more than fifteen years’ experience creating books, documentary television scripts, and website content for international networks and publishers, including National Geographic,, the Library of Congress, and the Discovery Networks. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee. You can visit him online at

Links for Barry Wolverton: 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Book Review & Giveaway (US): The Disappearance Emily H by Barrie Summy

Released: May 12, 2015
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Pages: 256
Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

There's something about a middle grade mystery that never fails to grab my interest. Add in a dash of the paranormal and I'm sold. The Disappearance of Emily H. takes all those elements and rolls them into one engaging package that held my interest from start to finish.

The mystery surrounds a missing girl (fate unknown) and though Raine's sleuthing is more laid back than breakneck, it was still engaging and the resolution was not obvious from the start.

The paranormal bits were fun and I enjoyed playing around with the idea of "what if I had this ability" but they also felt a little strange in a book that didn't feel like a paranormal book.

All that said, both the mystery and the paranormal elements were good, but just ok for me. Part of that is definitely a target audience thing though.

The real gem of The Disappearance of Emily H. was Raine's friendship with fellow new girl Shirlee and their battle against the mean girls. Their friendship was touching and definitely made me nostalgic for my own middle school friendships (and, while Raine was ok, Shirlee is totally sleepover party material). The scenes with the texting rang so true (and some were very funny!) and, even though they weren't really doing the right thing, I could totally understand and relate with why they were doing it.

I wasn't expecting a totally contemporary friendship to take center stage with elements like mystery and paranormal in the mix, but it was definitely the highlight for me. Middle grade readers will probably enjoy The Disappearance of Emily H. even more, though parents beware, Raine's mother is neglectful and the bad guy is bad enough to upset sensitive readers.

Barrie Summy is the author of the I So Don’t Do mystery series starring thirteen-year-old detective Sherry Holmes Baldwin and the recently released The Disappearance of Emily H. Barrie lives in Southern California with her husband, their four children, two dogs, a veiled chameleon, and a fish. There was once a dwarf hamster, but let’s not go there. Visit her online at

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished copy of The Disappearance of Emily H. by Barrie Summy
  • 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 July 10th 

Thursday, June 4
Ms. Yingling Reads
Fri, June 5
Mon, June 8
Once Upon a Story
Tues, June 9
Read Now, Sleep Later
Wed, June 10
Thurs, June 11
Unleashing Readers
Fri, June 12
Small Review

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Author Letter and Giveaway (US): Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Micah Tuttle believes in magic, even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve. Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other—the Man Who Bends Light.

Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real—and the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather. The only problem is, the Lightbender doesn't want to keep his promise. And now it's up to Micah to get the miracle he came for. Readers will fall in love with CIRCUS MIRANDUS, which celebrates the power of seeing magic in the world.

Dear Readers,

Ages ago I hung a poster in my room with the words “The Circus Opens Summer 2015” in bold letters across the top. At the time, it seemed that Summer 2015 would never come. Now, miraculously, June 2 is here, and Circus Mirandus is springing up in bookshops all over the country.

In the story, those called to Circus Mirandus feel a change in the wind. They hear music on the air, pipes and drums leading them toward magic and hope and heart’s desires. Eventually they find themselves before the gates, standing, as I am now, on the threshold of somewhere both wonderful and unknowable.

As people read the pages into which I’ve poured so much time and self, I wonder what they’ll think of the world I’ve created. I wonder if they will love it as much as I do. It’s an exciting moment, stepping through these gates into a place I’ve imagined but never seen.

Thank you so much for making this journey with me. Thank you for supporting the book. Thank you, most of all, for believing.

Cassie Beasley

About Cassie Beasley:
Cassie Beasley is from rural Georgia, where, when she's not writing, she helps out on the family pecan farm. She earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. CIRCUS MIRANDUS is her first novel.

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A signed hardcover of Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley, an audio sampler, animal crackers, ten bookmarks, and a poster
  • There will be 5 winners
  • 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 June 16th 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tiny Reviews: East & Beauty

East by Edith Pattou

Absolutely awful.

For me.

I need to say "for me" because I'm starting to think I just might not like the original story. East of the Sun, West of the Moon, The Snow Queen, I don't know, there's something about all that trekking through cold, bleak tundras that turns me off. So maybe it's me.

Or maybe it's the book. It's so incredibly long and not much happens at all. The characters are bland, the plot drags, the flashbacks fell short, the side plot did nothing for me, the romance was unemotional, and the villain wasn't that interesting.

It's like everything was blanketed in muffling, dulling heaps of snow. There was just so much book here and so little substance.

The chapters are super short though, so it was easy to speed through East despite the mammoth size. I think that's the only reason I didn't DNF.

Library book
Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Beauty by Nancy Ohlin

Snow White was never my favorite fairy tale either, but it's a princess story, so I'm always at least partially predisposed to liking it. And, overall, I did like this one. With some reservations.

Nancy Ohlin's version was definitely unique, twisting the traditional focus on Snow White's beauty into a story about body image and disordered thinking. This was a much deeper, sadder story than I usually associate with the original tale.

Nancy Ohlin did an excellent job exploring the relationship between the Snow White character and her mother and the disordered thinking and emotional pain between the two. These women are both damaged and ill and while it was very well done, it was also very uncomfortable to read.

Which is my main problem with the book. I don't like issues books, and this is definitely an issues book. Sure it's fantasy and takes place in a fantasy world with magic and potions, but it's really an issues book.

Check it out if you're looking for a short, unique fairy tale retelling like the Once Upon a Time series (particularly the The Rose Bride). Just be prepared for something much weightier and darker.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mini Review: VIII by H. M. Castor

3 out of 5 stars

How many Tudor books are there?

Now how many are written from the perspective of Henry VIII?

VIII is the only book I know of that takes this approach (though if there are others, please share!) and for that alone I'd say it's worth reading.

At least for Tudor fans, because I'm really not sure it stands on its own for the non-Tudor fan. There's a lot of jumping around, and Henry VIII is not the most likable person so I wouldn't really recommend this to readers who aren't already invested in Henry's story.

VIII follows Henry's life from early childhood through death, but significantly more emphasis is placed on his youth. Childhood through Catherine of Aragon takes up more than half the book, Anne Boleyn gets about a quarter, and the remaining four wives share the final quarter.

See a problem? The pacing and plotting of VIII was inconsistent and uneven. This is further exacerbated by pages and pages spent on Henry's early years, primarily focused on jousting, gambling, and other sporting activities. Learning about Henry's interest in jousting is good. Having it repeated over and over without adding anything new to the narrative isn't very good.

A lot of focus is also spent on Henry's visions. This was a nice way of showing Henry's belief in a god-ordained rule and his fears of deviltry (both which had a significant impact on his actions), but I think the author took things too far. I read too many pages about fictional hallucinations and not nearly enough about actual historical events.

On the positive side, H. M. Castor does a nice job providing context and motivations for Henry's actions. The psychological and historical impact of the Wars of the Roses, the rule of his parents, and the death of his brother are all explored to explain his drive for sons and empire building.

Henry's relationships with his mother was particularly well drawn, though I take issue with the way his relationship with Arthur and his father (oh what a one note villain!) was presented. I was hoping VIII would provide me with more of the "why" behind Henry's actions, and H. M. Castor does a pretty good job addressing this.

That said, once you get beyond Henry's early years, you're almost better off watching Showtime's The Tudors. As for depictions of Henry's personality, the show does a better job at displaying the nuances of Henry's character. H. M. Castor's Henry was a little too one note and rarely showed the softer, caring, passionately loving side of Henry that made him such a mercurial terror. 

The most disappointing thing about VIII is how many major historical events are completely omitted or seriously glossed over. Wolsey goes from being alive and in favor, to dead. Ditto Cromwell. Thomas More is barely mentioned. Suddenly Henry is married to Katherine Howard, then all of a sudden she's dead.

Important events like this are told briefly, often after the fact, and in an extremely flippant manner. As a first person narrative, this does help establish Henry's callous personality well, but, as I said, it removes all nuance and distorts his character. His agonizing over his decisions did not come through at all.

Bottom line

Worth the read for Tudor fans for the novelty factor of finally having a book told from Henry's point of view instead of one of his many wives. The chapters are super short (1-4 pages on average), so even though this is a big book (my copy clocked in at 415 pages), it's still a fast read.

I think the best approach to VIII is to look at it as a part of a whole. On its own, VIII stands poorly as a one stop shop exploration of Henry VIII. But, as another book among many to read to explore the Tudor era, it proves a nice addition.

There's a lot of promise here, but I think a heavier hand on the part of the editor and a more nuanced approach to Henry's personality would have done wonders. I'm curious to see what H. M. Castor writes next, but I would check it out of the library first.


Looking for another book like this? You might like:

 Click on the covers to go to my reviews.
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