Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Book Review: Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn

Pages: 342
Publisher: Ace (Penguin)
Released: April 1, 2001
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf

*sigh* How do I describe a book like this? You totally know what I mean to describe, because this is the type of book every reader knows...not genre, not plot, but feel. But, putting that into words is hard.

It's the type of book I want to call "classic" or "timeless" but neither of those are quite right. It's a "quiet" book, without a breakneck plot or even a clear step by step series of events. It's more the type of book where you float in the world, meeting the people, living alongside them, slowly immersing yourself in this state of being that is both new and as familiar as an old favorite sweater.

And then, without making a big fuss, threads start to tie themselves together. The climax appears on the horizon and you realize that, of course, all paths are leading to this final point. The ending was entirely predictable, and really it was more waiting for main character Coriel to catch up with what we've known all along. But it wasn't a frustrating predictability. It was like putting in the final pieces of a puzzle when you've long known what the picture will show, but still feel that firm satisfaction of rightness when the last pieces fall into place.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Book Review: Nightspell by Leah Cypess

Pages: 326
Released: May 12, 2011
Publisher: Harper Collins
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I read the standalone companion novel Mistwood years ago back in 2010, and while I always intended to get around to Nightspell, it took me a really, really long time to finally pick it up (you know how it goes, all these great TBR intentions, and then suddenly six years have flown by!).

I would normally kick myself for waiting so long, but I'm actually glad I did because Nightspell came into my life at just the right time. I had just finished the lack-luster and mildly irritating The Hidden Oracle, which was even more of a disappointment after coming off of the magical Special Shelf book high of A Knight in Shining Armor. I needed a book to make things better again.

Enter Nightspell. I could see how some might describe it as slow, but I found it absorbing in that black hole, suck the world away kind of way. I inhaled the book over the course of two days, which in normal times is impressive for me since I'm not a fast reader, but is extra fast now that it takes me weeks to finish a book this size.

It isn't high action, but it is a creeping mystery set in an world that is as terrifying as it is fascinating. There are three main characters and three kind of main/side characters and each is a mystery themselves. I can't say that I like any of them, but I loved reading about all of them and I felt deeply for all of them.

This is technically a companion novel to Mistwood since they're set in the same world and one of the characters in Mistwood appears in Nightspell. It probably would have been neat if I had remembered the details about this character, but after six years I could barely even remember that this character existed. I don't think that affected my enjoyment at all though, and so I don't think it's necessary to read Mistwood before reading Nightspell.

I know I'm not saying much about the actual story, or even the characters, but that would take away from all the mysteries. Trust me when I say, fans of court fantasy, slow burn plots, world building, and mysteries will find much to like in Nightspell. I'm glad I own a copy, since I'll definitely reread this one.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Book Review: The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

Pages: 218
Received: Library, now own
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf

2016 has been a crazy year. Work has been super busy with a lot of huge projects (including redesigning and opening a library, among other things), I decided to lose my mind and go back to school to pursue another degree, and then of course there's things like all the awful things happening in the world this year, my own family dramas (I swear I can't not think of Carrigan from Casper whenever I hear anything about my soon to be step mother) all the regular normal things in life (sometimes I feel like the world is a revolving door of supermarket trips and laundry. And baking. Thankfully, I've been doing a lot of baking, too).

I'm a very type A, high stress, perfectionist kind of person, so with this type of schedule I really only had one path: death due to stress.

Obviously I'm not really ok with that path, so I had to try to take a different approach to things. A more relaxed, go with the flow kind of approach. 

My reading has definitely reflected that new approach as well. Filled with comfort re-reads, feel-good stories, grab-on-a-whim books, and a whole lot less reading (only 46 books so far this year! Last year was 93! But I'm not stressing about it...), 2016 has been both my worst reading year and my best reading year.

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery falls on the side of "best," and not just for this year, but right up there with best ever in my entire reading life. You know the type of book I'm talking about: book hugging, buying every copy in sight, random sighs and smiles at the thought of different scenes, rereading favorite parts, contemplating naming children and/or pets after the main characters (yeah, even with names like Valancy!), and having to force myself not to spend the rest of 2016 just rereading The Blue Castle over and over.

Dare I say it, but I love Valancy even more than L. M. Montomery's Anne (of Green Gables), and I feel blasphemous even thinking that, but it's true.

Ok, so what is this book even about? The short and sweet sticky-note version is that Valency has a horrible family who she's stuck living with and they run every aspect of her life. It's a misery. Then, Valency goes to the doctor and finds out that she's dying and has only a short while to live. So she decides to shuck off her wallfloweryness and start living for herself.

In doing so, Valency finds empowerment, validation, happiness, tranquility, and love. It is all so, so, so perfect and really is exactly the type of book I needed to read in 2016.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Book Review: Poor Unfortunate Soul by Serena Valentino

Pages: 208
Publisher: Disney
Released: July 26, 2016
Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is a really tiny book with a whole lot of plot packed into it. There's really four stories here: Ursula's past, Ursula's present (the movie), the strange sisters, and the princess. This was good since all the stories were mostly interesting, but also bad because all the stories suffered from "not enough."

Ursula's past was acceptable. I'll buy what the author is selling here, even if it did seem a little far fetched. But, fairy tale, so, yeah, I can accept far fetched in this context.

Ursula's present was entirely underwhelming. Mostly it's just word for word taken from the movie, it's barely there, and when it does go off script it's not very good. Triton is made into a super evil man whose complete cruelty led entirely to Ursula's villainous ways. Even taking into account that this is from Ursula's perspective, this still didn't feel right. This didn't ring true to any of the characters and it lacked the psychological depth and character development needed in a reverse perspective story.

But those other two storylines? To me, those made the book worth reading. There were a lot of references to the first two books in the series, but I didn't get them because 1) I read the first book years and years ago so I don't remember much of anything, and 2) I never read the second book. It was a little annoying not knowing exactly what was being referred to, but it didn't affect my ability to follow the story.

Even still, these side characters were more interesting and I cared more about them than I did about Ursula. The three sisters were annoying, but I didn't get the sense you were supposed to think they weren't annoying. The cat, the princess, the prince, and the nanny were all likable and I wish the book spent more time on them.

Also, there's a big cliffhanger at the end. 

Bottom line

The books in this series seem to be pretty consistent. They're kind of all over the place and written poorly, but despite that, they're also engaging and, overall, I enjoy them. I would definitely check these books out of the library and will continue to follow the series.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Series Review: Grave Witch by Kalayna Price

#1 in the Alex Craft series
Pages: 325
Released: September 21, 2010
Publisher: ROC
Received: Library
Rating: 4 out of 5stars

At this point I've read the first three books in the series and they've all blended together in my memory so this is really more of a review for the series thus far than for any one book in that series.

Paranormal romance/urban fantasy books and me have a weird relationship. In general, I really don't like them. There's this gritty feel to them that just bothers me and I usually feel dragged down by the desperate- but-tough main character and her aloof, mixed-signals love interest.

But every once in a while, I'm in the mood for a book in this genre. I haven't been able to pin point yet what makes some of these books work for me when most of them don't at all, but oh boy, when they work for me, they work for me. I flew through this series and only stopped because the fourth book hadn't been published yet.

So, what do you get with the Alex Craft series? A desperate-but-tough main character, but there's something about her that's endearing. She's tough, but she's not kick-butt-tough. She isn't the kind of badass lady who can take on the world with her giant shoulder chip. She's more subdued and fully aware of her limitations, which made me want to protect her rather than roll my eyes at her.

She also just seems nice. But that's the thing about a lot of the characters in this series: they're just nice (and I mean that in a good way). I like them, I'd hang out with them, and I care about what happens to them. They make me smile (especially Alex's ghost side-kick). This is the biggest thing the series has going for it for me.

But, the other thing that keeps me reading are the mysteries. Each book has a self-contained mystery (usually a murder) and an overarching series mystery, and all the mysteries were well-crafted. Clues were given out at just the right pace and each time I was invested in trying to figure out what was going on.

The magic system was also pretty engaging. I was just as interested in figuring out the world and magic rules and possibilities as I was in figuring out the murder mysteries. Alex knows a lot and sets the stage, so I felt pretty grounded in the world right away, but Alex is also discovering new things about her own magic and the greater magical world and I enjoyed sleuthing with her on this front, too.

The romance is probably the biggest point loss for me since we get the dreaded love triangle. I'm also not a fan of how either of the love interests treats Alex. The set up for why she can't be with them is so contrived and at three books in I'm getting pretty tired of it all. I'd like to see Alex forget about them both and just find herself a nice, stable man without baggage. That said, when things are working out between Alex and her romantic interests, the chemistry is definitely there and I'm convinced she should stay with them.

Bottom line

When I'm looking for something light, engaging, fun, and nice this is a good go-to series.

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

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Book Review: Henry VIII and His Six Wives by Maureen Peters

Pages: 183
Released: 1972, re-released May 16, 2016
Publisher: Endeavour Press
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I think Maureen Peters is going to be a Jean Plaidy kind of author for me: a historical fiction choice that never impresses but always delivers a consistently ok book.

By this point, I'm well familiar with Henry VIII and his six wives, so this version didn't off anything new, which is unsurprising considering it's under 200 pages and spans all six wives.

I wish Maureen Peters had spent more time on each event instead of speeding through them and glossing over major events and blocks of time. When she took a moment to pause, I really enjoyed her writing and her characters came to life. But these pauses were always short lived and gave the book a very unfinished feeling, like she intended to write a much longer novel but ended up publishing a draft outline version instead.

There were a few historical inaccuracies, which were bad enough to elicit eye-rolls but not frequent enough to get me to DNF. I wouldn't worry about them too much since even most Tudor dilettantes will spot them easily and novices would be better served with a different book to introduce them to the Tudors anyway. This one jumps around too much to be all that great for someone who can't fill in the gaps themselves.

I have another Maureen Peters book on my TBR and this one was strong enough, despite its flaws, that I'm looking forward to reading more of her books.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Book Review: A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux

Pages: 400
Released: 1989
Publisher: Atria
Received: Library
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf

I tend to shy away from a lot of adult romance novels because I like my stories with a lot of plot and characterization and a touch of romance. I definitely want that romance there, but I don't want the point of the story to be the romance with a sex scene every third page. I just don't find that super engaging.

So I was kind of hesitant to pick up A Knight in Shining Armor because, well, 1) that title, and 2) everything screams ROMANCE NOVEL (though, albeit, a tamer romance novel...and it is, much tamer). But I kept hearing about how this one was different and worth it and it did have that whole time travel historical thing and so I decided to bite the bullet and just try it already.

And now I have a new Special Shelf book, so that just goes to show that I shouldn't be such a weenie about trying books (I mean, what's the worst thing that will happen? I'll DNF it? Oh the horror!).

Anyway, outside of just saying "If you like the books I like, then give this one a try!" here are a few thoughts on why I liked this book so much:

Dougless. Ok, let's be real, I hate this name. I almost didn't read the book because I hate the main character's name so much. It's the type of name that just pulls me out of the story and I have to actively work at focusing on the plot and not the little voice in my head piping up with "Dougless? SERIOUSLY??" every time I read that name. So, if you're doing the same thing, trust me, I get it. But, by the third chapter I was so hooked that I barely noticed it anymore.

The first chapter. It's AWFUL. I had serious doubts that this book and I were going to be able to get along and I was putting a lot of thought into DNF-ing. I even did put the book down for a month or so because the first chapter was so bad. The thing is though, the first chapter is supposed to be bad. You're supposed to hate it. You're supposed to loathe the characters and what they're doing and how Dougless is responding to it all. Push through it. Trust me.

And a note on how Dougless responds, look, she goes through huge character growth throughout the story. She starts off with awful self-esteem and a warped idea of what she "should" be like. This leads to some cringe-worthy moments because this is a journey for Dougless, and that journey has a lot of bumps in the road. Dougless does things that I wanted to smack her upside the head over. She thinks things that I just want to shake my head and say "Oh, honey" because she's just so, so wrong. But, because Dougless is awesome and relatable and BFF sleepover party worthy, I totally get where she's coming from and I feel for her and root for her. 

The mystery. Ok, the blurb doesn't really hint at this at all beyond a vague "grand adventure that lay before them" and, frankly, given the rest of the blurb I mostly expected this to be the heaving bosoms kind of "grand adventure." I wasn't expecting an engaging murder mystery with sleuthing for clues in both time periods and a bunch of time-travel humorous hijinks. I was totally into the mystery and couldn't flip the pages fast enough.

Which is to say nothing of the other mysteries of will Dougless stay in the past? Will Nicholas stay in the present? Do they have a choice? How does the time travel work? All very engaging.

And, yeah, there is romance. And it's swoony. Nicholas is a worthy hero and a likable character in his own right. I won't say too much about him because, spoilers, but suffice it to say, I liked him.

Plus, they also eat a lot of good food, cruise around to neat historical travel spots, stay in romantic hotels, and go shopping. Because they're rich. Very, very rich. It felt like I was on a posh vacation, and that was just plain fun.

I thought I was going to write a tiny review because I read this book months ago at this point and I didn't think I had much to say by now except LOVE! READ IT! YAY! And all that is very true, but apparently I did have more to say. And could continue talk about A Knight in Shining Armor. But I'll stop here and leave it at this: If you like my other Special Shelf books, then pick this one up, too.

Oh, and I know this book is described as book 15 in a series,but  it can totally be read as a standalone. I haven't read any of the other books and I had no trouble whatsoever. I think this is the kind of "series" that follows a family, but each member gets their own unique, standalone story. 

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