Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mini Reviews: Monstrous Beauty and The Seven Tales of Trinket

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

I can't believe I almost DNF'ed this book! Thankfully Gina commented on my Goodreads update and convinced me this was much more than a mermaid book (I don't love mermaid books) with an ending well worth it (and yes, yes it is).

This one is much more plot driven than character driven. Normally I fall on the side of characters, but a story like this one is has me changing my tune. 

Monstrous Beauty is made up of tiny chapters that alternate between the present day and 1873 with a few flashbacks to our modern leading lady's childhood. This format made for very quick reading and the alternating storylines were both mostly equally engaging (hey, I'm partial to historical tales so I give a slight edge to 1873).

I was afraid the modern parts would devolve into cliche YA paranormal romance, which was my primary reason for considering the DNF. While it did fall into this a little, there's an actual paranormal explanation for their feelings so I'm ok with it. Plus, it's a small part of the plot, so that makes it even more tolerable.

One thing I didn't love was the way main character Hester treated those around her, particularly her guy friend. He really should have been edited right out of the story. It's a minor quibble though and didn't stop me from enjoying the story.

It's hard to say much more without dropping major spoilers. Readers (like me) who like those kind of stories that alternate between the present and the past with a modern day character trying to unravel a mystery of the past should definitely add Monstrous Beauty to their list.

Library book
Rating: 4 out of 5

The Seven Tales of Trinket by Shelley Moore Thomas

Ah, now that was a satisfying story. This is another entry into the "story over characters" group, but being fairy tale based that's hardly a surprise or drawback.

There's an overarching story that wraps up well in the final tale, but the narrative focus is more like The Jungle Book, where a series of short stories are strung together to tell the larger story.

The approach worked very well and I was quickly invested in both the main story and the individual tales. Fans of legends and fairy tales will recognize the underlying threads in many of Trinket's adventures, but Shelley Moore Thomas adds enough personal touches to breathe new life into the stories (1000xs THANK YOU for the change to the dog story! I always pretended that is what really happened).

Recommended to readers who appreciate a good tale, regardless of age. This would make a wonderful addition to school libraries and family bedtime reading. Readers who like Plain Kate by Erin Bow should check out this under-appreciated gem (though don't expect quite the same level of heart wrenching depth).

Rating: 4 out of 5

Friday, July 17, 2015

Book Review & Giveaway (US): Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Pre-order links:  Amazon, Barnes & Noble,IndieBound.
Robert can be found on twitter @BeattyAuthor and online at

This book was not at all what I was expecting, and for once that was a very good thing. Ok, so things I thought I'd get:
  • Engaging mystery
  • Exploring the awesome Biltmore Estate
  • Gothic spookiness
And I got all that. The mystery wasn't the biggest draw for me, but that's mostly because I liked so many other things more. It was kind of like, oh look! A secret passage! Oh, right, and kids are missing, too!

I was easily distracted away from the mystery, but chalk that up to my short attention span and lots of other cool plot points. Plus, the climax of the mystery, oh, and that scene in the carriage, and the graveyard, YIKES x10000!

Though, the Gothic spookiness was more paranormal/fantasy spookiness. But, hey, I like paranormal spookiness, especially when it's historical paranormal fantasy, so I quickly got over the less Gothicky feel.

What I wasn't expecting, but thankfully got anyway:
  • An intrepid, wholly likable heroine who totally gets a sleepover party invite
  • A thoroughly heart-swelling, charming, loving relationship between Serafina and her dad
  • A beyond endearing bosom friendship between Serafina and Braeden
  • A secondary paranormal mystery and cool paranormal creatures
  • A loyal dog
  • Mountain lions! (couldn't not think of Benji)
I won't go into details about any of those things, but this would have been a solid 3.5 star enjoyable read and those features bumped it up to 4 stars. The relationships made this such a feel-good book, despite all the dark, creepy, spooky things going on.

The secondary paranormal mystery hooked me even before the missing kids mystery and the conclusions to both were very satisfying. The whole book also had an old-timey feel that really went well with both the relationships and the mysteries.

Bottom line

Highly recommended. Serafina and the Black Cloak stands apart for its unique, engaging story, but it is the characters and their relationships that will make this one stay with me long after I've finished reading it. I loved this as an adult, and middle-grade-Small would have loved this, too.

(And middle-grade-Small would have been swooning all over Braedon and his not-quite-romantic-but-I-totally-would-have-imagined-romantic relationship with Serafina).

Side note: the finished copy is gorgeous! Deckle edges and an old-timey paper coloration with swirling black branch designs. 

I'm kind of 50/50 about book trailers, but the trailer for this book is one of the good ones. I watched it before I started reading (when, honestly, I was still kinda feeling so-so about the book) and it really upped my motivation. Then, when reading the book, I couldn't stop picturing the trailer and it definitely enhanced my reading experience.

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: An ARC, a bookmark, stickers, a pen, and a notebook 
  • 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 31st 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Giveaway (US): Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

I'm really excited about this series, mostly because it sounds all adventurous and, biggest draw, it's about a library. There's something about reading about books that makes me happy. Plus, I can't help live vicariously through the book and make the book's library MY library.

I haven't read Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampire series, but it seems to be pretty well liked. The plot of Ink and Bone makes it sound like a fast-paced dystopian-ish adventure...with spying! And black markets! And...magic? All good things. 

In an exhilarating new series, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine rewrites history, creating a dangerous world where the Great Library of Alexandria has survived the test of time.…

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.

When he inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn.…


Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A copy of Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
  • 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 31st

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
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