Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review & Giveaway (US/CA): Seraphina by Rachel Hartman


Goodreads
Review copy from publisher
3.5 out of 5 stars

I was told there would be amazing world building

I thought it was pretty good, but nothing special. It's a neat, though not really unique, world where dragons transform into human form and live in a tense alliance with humans. There's all sorts of heavy handed shades of prejudice, fear, and related racial issues. There was a prior war. There is an impending war.

See? None of that is very unique or amazing, so I definitely am not in the camp that hails the world building as something uniquely special.

That said, I liked the world. I could have done with a lighter touch on the "racism is bad" front (this made some characters ring less true—the princess in particular), but overall I liked reading about the less preachy parts of dragon-human interactions. I'm a sucker for the medieval-ish fantasy world with warring kingdoms and pretty princesses, so Seraphina's world was a good fit for me.

My biggest gripe about the world building though is that there are a lot of holes. I understand this is part I of II, but I don't think there should be this many holes. I have a ton of questions, and they're not of the "Just wait, that will be revealed" variety. This is the kind of world that looks really nice at first glance, but does not hold up under scrutiny. 

I was told the writing is beautiful

It is very nice. Even though the book is massive, and even though the plot is slow (very!), and even though I hate both of those things, I still loved reading Seraphina.

The writing totally drew me in and I barely noticed that I had read a lot and not much had actually happened or that I had barely made a dent in the pasta-bowl page count. I was just really enjoying reading.

But, there's also a whole lot of telling going on. I felt like I had a very unclear picture of who Seraphina was as a character until Kiggs was introduced and started telling me. Seraphina felt like one of those wallflower characters: likable and nothing to complain about, but also nothing to remember once the story is over.

Enter Kiggs, and suddenly Seraphina is bold and daring and other This Is A Memorable Character descriptors. And, yeah, he had a point I guess, and I understand he was telling Seraphina as much as he was telling me, but it still felt very forced. The same thing happened with other characters, too (I was reminded frequently of how regally the princess was acting).

I was told the politics were twisty

Yes-ish? A little? I like political fantasy stories, and Seraphina can definitely fall into that category. I'd fit it somewhere in the middle to low end though as far as twisty-ness is concerned. It's no Megan Whalen Turner, that's for sure.

The politics are more straight forward and while there is a dastardly plot, this is not the kind of political book with lots of subtle maneuvering. There's nothing wrong with that, and I enjoyed the story for what it was, but my expectations bar had been set for the latter and so I was a little disappointed.

I was told the romance was swoony

It's slow burn and built on friendship first, which I like. Her romantic interest is a good guy with solid morals and good character development. He's not a charmer or a bad boy. Their romance was very nice and I was happy to see it included in the book. Their conversations were engaging and reminded me of those rare special friendships where you just click with a person.

I loved reading the romance, but I did not swoon. 

I was told the characters were great

This is the shining part of the book for me. I'm a character girl, and I totally connected with these characters. Or, less the actual characters (because I don't feel compelled to start handing out sleepover party invites, even though they were nice) but more the relationships.

Seraphina's relationships with the various characters truly touched me. I almost cried at various points, both in sadness and in pure joy. I looked forward to seeing her in scenes with the different characters, less for plot progression and more just because I liked seeing them together. I think this is what really hooked me, kept me reading, and will keep me coming back for the sequel. 

But, this wasn't entirely solid, either. Characterizations were shifted in order to fit the narrative. People would change or make decisions that just didn't make sense. Why now? Why this way? I guess they could happen that way, but I wasn't convinced and that doubt interfered with my enjoyment and immersion in the story.

Bottom line

Rachel Hartman is an author I'm going to follow. Seraphina is her debut, and in a lot of ways it reads like a debut. There are things that can be improved, and that is to be expected with a debut. But there is also a lot of promise and a strong foundation, and I'm excited to see how she builds on that.

I wish I hadn't been exposed to so much hype for this book. I'm not sure if it would have changed my enjoyment level, but it may have had an effect. Expectations are a powerful factor.  

The ending actually wraps up a lot better than I was expecting it would, but of course there's all that impending doom stuff that will happen in the sequel. I'm pretty sure this is a duology and not a trilogy, and I am extremely happy to hear that. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, and while I don't feel like I need it RIGHT NOW, I am glad I won't have to wait long to find out what happens next.

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Like this book? You might also like: 

http://smallreview.blogspot.com/2014/09/book-review-allies-assassins-by-justin.htmlhttp://smallreview.blogspot.com/2014/05/book-review-death-sworn-by-leah-cypess.html


Click on the covers to go to my reviews


Info for the giveaway:

  • What you can win: A finished copy of Seraphina 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 March 14th 


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Countdown Zero Giveaway (US)


There are places in the world where heroes are born. There are places where brave men and women fight a never-ending battle against evil in order to keep our country and all other countries safe. There are places where the fate of our planet is being decided, even now as we speak, the consequences of which will echo through history.

None of these places are in North Dakota.

Carson Fender, seventh grader and notorious prankster, knows this. He's lived in North Dakota for his entire life, going to the same boring school every day, the same boring movie theater every week, and the same boring state fair every year. Nothing ever changes, and nothing ever happens. That is, until today. Because today a desperate man is going to hand him a package with a dire set of instructions. And that package is going to lead Carson to discover that there's a secret government agency operating in his small, quiet North Dakota hometown.

And that this agency needs his help. -
( description for book 1) Goodreads

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished signed copy of Countdown Zero
  • 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 March 10th 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Review & Giveaway (US): One Witch at a Time by Stacy DeKeyser

Review copy from publisher
4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

One Witch at a Time is a companion novel to Stacy DeKeyser's The Brixen Witch, but it can easily read as a standalone (I haven't read TBW and I didn't feel like I was missing anything).

I'm going to start off this review with my only real gripe: The cover needs to be changed. Main character Rudi is a boy and One Witch at a Time can easily appeal to boys just as much as girls.

But that cover? Total girl cover. Boys are unlikely to pick up this book, and that's a shame. The cover is also super misleading—think it's about two girl witches? Think again! The story has nothing to do with that. It is also written in a classic, timeless tone, which also contrasts with the spunky modern cover.

One Witch at a Time reads like a classic '90s era middle grade book. Think books like The Cay, My Side of the Mountain, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. Staples of English classroom shelves. Books with solid stories and staying power. Books with awards on their covers.

The story itself is a loose twist on the Jack and the Beanstalk tale but with a ton of original elements and characters thrown into the mix. Male and female characters are given equal weight and the camaraderie among them was pleasant to read. Rudi is a good boy with good morals and multiple positive relationships. The story moves at a nice, steady pace—never rushing, but never slow either.

The resolution takes the same steady pace, wrapping up without much fuss but still managing not to feel anticlimactic. I figured out the end very early on, but I don't think this would be a problem for the target audience (younger middle grade).

Bottom line

A solid choice for school libraries and middle grade readers. Remove the awful, misleading dust jacket and be sure to share this one with boys as well as girls. Recommended.




Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished copy of One Witch at a Time and a paperback copy of The Brixen Witch by Stacy DeKeyser
  • 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 February 28th 


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mini Review: Thursdays with the Crown by Jessica Day George

ARC from the publisher, via NetGalley and hard copy
3.5 out of 5 stars
Book 3 in the Castle Glower series

No spoilers! Still worried? Check out my review for the first book Tuesdays at the Castle instead.


This is a Jessica Day George book, which means it's a cute, solid read for its middle grade target audience. It's clean and sweet and touches on all those heartwarming things like friendship and family. The griffin story is complex enough to make it unique and worth following. The core characters are all likable. It's nice.

That's all a given with Jessica Day George. She's a solid bet, and this latest installment in her Castle Glower series doesn't break the mold.

It also doesn't inspire. This could be me being an adult reader, and I definitely think the gap in time between reading this one and its predecessor Wednesdays in the Tower didn't help me any on the engagement front, but Thursdays with the Crown lacked spark.

It felt more like filler, with no real advancements or excitement. Sure, things happened, but they felt like rehashes of things that have already happened or been alluded to (instead of Celie getting a griffin, this time a different character gets one, etc).

I had the same complaint about the third Princess book, which makes me wonder if maybe Jessica Day George should stick with standalones or duologies instead of trilogies and longer series. Unlike the Princess series, the Castle Glower series should be read in order to follow the story.

Still, I doubt the target audience will feel the same oomph deflation I'm feeling and even I will stick with the series to read the final book. Overall, this is a cute series and worth the read.


_________________________________


Looking for the first book in the series? 

http://smallreview.blogspot.com/2011/10/book-review-tuesdays-at-castle-by.html

Click on the cover to go to my review




Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Tiny Reviews: A Reliable Wife and Just a Dog

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick


Wow, well this book was a surprise! So, the back of the book makes it sound like a Gothicy thriller-romance and I had heard some extra juicy details about the lady's intentions that upped my interest to bursting. Plus, that pretty dress on the cover was calling my name.

You know what the blurb didn't prepare me for? Sex. Constant sexual musings with a creepy underlying ick. These weren't nice musings, either. Think more along the lines of creepy back and forth over hellfire and punishment for lusty, sinful desires.

Plus, the characters were pretty awful. 

That's what made me DNF. I then spoiled myself because I was still curious enough about what happened even if I couldn't actually bring myself to read it without getting the grossed out shivers. Based on those spoilers, it looks like I made the right call on the DNF.

Owned (but no longer!)
DNF on page 57
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Just a Dog by Michael Gerard Baur

I was hoping this would be a heartwarming story about a family and their dog. Given that, I was prepared for a sad ending because for some reason books and movies can't feature a dog without doing something horribly sad at the end. I was prepared.

What I wasn't prepared for was all of the other sad and horrible things that happened in every single chapter. A rocky marriage, an attempted kidnapping, and all sorts of other domestic dreariness hovered in the background and put a really dark and adult spin on what I thought was supposed to be an uplifting story.

Plus, this is supposed to be a kid's book, but with all of those adult issues, I wouldn't give this book to kids. Just a Dog left me feeling unsettled and upset, which is definitely the opposite of what I was hoping for with this book.

ARC from the publisher
DNF on page 40 of 190
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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tiny Reviews: And Only to Deceive and Dangerous Deceptions

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

I really wish this book had a different cover. I also wish it had more action, but I still liked it despite these things. Mostly.

Main character Emily was pretty bland, but she wasn't offensive and she didn't hold back the story. She was just kind of there.

Her romances (plural) were both swoony and I fell along with her, but one of them is so very, very sad. Even though I didn't ever really connect with Emily on a BFF level, her romantic entanglements definitely held my attention and their will-they-won't-they was what really kept me turning the pages.

There's an actual mystery, too, but it took a backseat and was never terribly engaging. I did like all the focus on artwork and forgeries, but I could have done with less focus on the Illiad and the beating me over the head repetitions.

Ultimately good enough to finish, and even good enough for me to want to pick up the sequel (at some point, eventually. Probably). But not good enough for me to push the sequel too high up on my TBR.

Library book
Rating: 3 out of 5
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Dangerous Deceptions by Sarah Zettel


Last year I reviewed the first book Palace of Spies and thought it was good, but missing something. I hate to say it, but things have not improved in Dangerous Deceptions.

In the broad strokes, everything is pretty promising: interesting historical setting (in the court of George I), a cadre of ladies in waiting, puppies, court intrigue, deception, and spies.

And yet, it all falls flat. Main character Peggy isn't quite dislikable, but she isn't my favorite person in the world (though her attitude toward the dogs was pretty off-putting). Her romantic interest is a dreaded artist (I rarely ever swoon for artists) and he's a pretty bland one at that.

The mystery bored me and I had to try really hard to care about anything (although I liked that card game scene, even if it didn't entirely make sense). Even the moments of peril and big reveals failed to grab my interest.

So why did I read to the end? And why would I read another sequel (because I probably would)? Oh, I don't know! There's something about this series that does interest me. I can't for the life of me identify what it is, but for some reason I actually do like reading these books. Maybe it's the setting or some of the side characters or the easy writing or the general premise. I don't know!

ARC from the publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 3 out of 5





Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Series Review: The Tradd Street series by Karen White

Side note: I adore these covers

Goodreads
Own #1, Library #2-4
5 out of 5 stars
Special Shelf

I already reviewed the first book and sort of the second, but I ended up adoring this series so much that I really need to gush a little more. The Tradd Street series is, hands down, one of my top favorite series of all time.

Best book friend, EVER

I'll admit, I was a little nervous going into it all. I'm a character girl, and for a long time I wasn't really sure I could warm up to main character Mellie. I mean, she scorned the fully furnished historical house she inherited!? She even scorned the little dog she inherited!

Dogs and historical houses are two things that are near and dear to my heart, so I wasn't convinced I could get behind a main character who didn't appreciate those things.

But, I stuck with it because I sensed there was more to Mellie than her outward prickliness and scorn (anyone who makes organizational spreadsheets wins points with me. Even just saying "organizational spreadsheet" makes me sigh in contentment).

Thankfully I was right and there is FAR more to Mellie than meets the eye. She has reasons for acting the way she does, and I can totally empathize. The more I learned, the more I realized that all those things I thought I wouldn't like about her were actually things that made me like and relate to her more than ever.

Also, I had pretty much fallen in love with every other aspect of the book so I decided to stick with it. It turns out this was the best decision I ever made, because Mellie is a total kindred spirit, bosom friend type of character and she gets ALL my sleepover party invites (she's like the best friend who gets to come early before everyone else arrives and stay later after everyone else has left).

After my initial hesitations, Mellie reminded me a lot of myself and so I really connected with her above and beyond other characters.

Historical mysteries are the BEST mysteries
(also, inheriting old houses with lots and lots of expensive old stuff)

And what about all those other things I loved? First off, there's the historical house, or, really, houses because the series deals with several. Each has its own mystery, ghosts, antiques, and totally absorbing and completely satisfying historical reveal. Plus, I just love "living" in historical houses like this (secret rooms? Back stairways? Antique furniture with History? YES PLEASE!)

Another note on those mysteries? Usually I'll read a book and if the characters are great then I don't care if the mystery is only so-so. Rarely is the mystery as good as the characterization, but Karen White's Tradd Street mysteries stand on their own as worth it.

Think Rebecca or The Thirteenth Tale where the reveal is just as satisfying and unexpected as the journey. LOVED the mysteries! I loved the way the clues with doled out so I could sleuth along with Mellie and Jack but never actually guess the full details. I loved the way the ghosts were scary and sympathetic. I loved the way the final pieces of the mysteries clicked together at the end in that totally satisfying "Ahhh ha!" way like triumphantly putting in the final piece of a puzzle.

I especially liked the mystery in the second book. And the fourth. And of course the first. And the third was really good, too. So, yeah.

Side characters and everything cozy

Reading these books was like wrapping myself in my favorite cozy sweater with a box of chocolates and an unending supply of hugs and comfort. None of the characters are perfect people. They have flaws and vices but their imperfections make them lovable. Ultimately, they're there for each other in ways that made me feel so happy and loved.

There was even this character introduced in the third book that, when she appeared at the end of book 2 I groaned out loud and actually considered leaving books 3 and 4 unread to preserve my happy memories. That's how bad I thought this character was going to be.

So, I am absolutely shocked at how well Karen White made it work. She turned this stereotypically book-killing character into someone I actually loved. I couldn't imagine the series without her and I am so, so, so happy she is there. 

Karen White was also spot on with the Southern setting. Everything rang true and Charleston (both the city and the people) came alive for me.

And, of course, the romance

Talk about your slow burn! This is a total hate-turned-love romance and it takes several books to fully develop and all four to finally, finally come to that satisfying conclusion.

Unlike Mellie, I fell in love with Jack the moment I met him (or, I should say, I admitted to myself that I loved him). Like Mellie, though, I fell more in love with him with every page.

Jack is a funny guy who totally gets Mellie and loves needling her. He teases her quirks in a way that he's totally ripping on her, but you know he also completely loves those things about her. He respects her, but he is also constantly pushing her to break out of her comfort zone and reach for the things she wants but is too afraid to grab. He's completely protective, but he also empowers her.

Ultimately, yes, I love Jack because he's a great character who is great for Mellie. But, really, I love him because in his relationship with Mellie, he is very much like my husband.

Bottom line

I think these books have a ton of merit and will appeal to readers looking for solid ghostly mysteries and feel-good relationships. They stand well and each book is a solid addition to the series (no fillers here!).

For me, they earned an extra special place in my reader heart because the characters resonated so completely with me on a very personal level.

I ached when I finished the series and had no more Tradd Street books to read. There is still a reading void and I am desperate to fill it (so if you know any books that fit the bill, PLEASE let me know!).

Thankfully, the series ended perfectly well with the conclusion of book four and I honestly couldn't ask for a better ending. So if you're looking to start the series but don't like being left dangling in the middle of a story, I'd say go for it.

But, because I'm a greedy reader with a hole in my reading heart, I am so incredibly happy that Karen White will be writing three more books in the series!!

That are coming out starting 2016.

*sigh* This waiting is going to be hard.




_________________________________


Like this book? You might also like: 

http://smallreview.blogspot.com/2014/10/tiny-reviews-restorer-house-on-tradd.html

Click on the covers to go to my reviews
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