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. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Book Review: Disney Villains

Pages: 129
Released: July 12, 2016
Publisher: Disney Editions
Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: a very generous 3 out of 5 stars

Oh, villains. What is it about villains, and Disney villains in particular, that is just so fascinating? I'm not sure the reason, but I can't deny that I do love all things Disney villain, and this book is no exception.

The book is arranged by category of villain, which automatically gets points and interest from me because I'm a categorizing kind of person and so I liked to see which categories Disney chose to create and then which categories they chose to sort their villains into. So, right off the bat I was hooked.

Peppered throughout the book were sub-categories, focusing on everything from villain sidekicks, villain pets, and villain cars. This was an unexpected and wholly delightful addition that added an extra layer of engagement. More points. 

Then they added pictures. Bright, big, bold pictures that further grabbed my attention in a very positive way. This is a coffee table book, so the pages are big, glossy, and thick. Points for visuals!

And yet, only three stars, so the points must come off somewhere, right? Sadly, it's because of the content. Each featured villain gets a blurb, and I was so hoping these blurbs would provide thoughtful commentary about the development, personality, and "type" of villain. And, to be fair, some did.

But most didn't.

Most came with very shallow, blandly written blurbs that offered nothing beyond a very, very surface-level, very minimal description of the villain. I could have written a more in-depth description! I could have provided more thoughtful commentary or personality analysis or description of the villain's unique importance in their story. Surely Disney, the keeper of the character secrets and origin stories and knowledge of all the "whys" behind the characters' creation and development would be able to provide more?

I was very disappointed. It felt like the blurbs were phoned in by a low-level intern who couldn't care less about Disney. There was no magic, no love, no care.

Bottom line

Ok, but I expect better from Disney.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

DNF Explanation: Revel by Maurissa Guibord

Read to page 195 of 352
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Released: February 12, 2013
Received: Library

I wasn't blown away by Maurissa Guibord's debut Warped, but I liked it well enough to give her sophomore novel Revel a try. At this point I think she just might not be the author for me, because while Revel definitely felt more polished, I didn't click with it enough to finish.

In the plus column were the unique mythology and paranormal creatures. The exact nature of the creatures and their history with the islanders is shrouded in mystery (at least, shrouded from main character Delia because the rest of the creepy islanders know all about it). Piecing together this mythology held my interest and is pretty much the only reason I kept reading (the plot is seriously slow).

At least, it held my interest until Delia started getting some answers and those answers left me...turned off. Getting the answers also turned the focus of the plot from unraveling a mystery to getting consumed by romance. I like my books with a touch of romance, but when the romance becomes the focus I start to yawn. Especially when it's insta-love. With a love triangle. And when the romance is more creepy and bland than swoony.

So, DNF. And, looking now and realizing this is a Delacorte book, I'm not really surprised. We don't usually get along.

Looking for another book like this? (But better)
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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Book Review: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

#1 in the Trials of Apollo series
Pages: 379
Released: May 3, 2016
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


That's never a good first association word. But what can I say? It fits. 

Sometimes having a good formula and sticking with it works out. And, sometimes, it doesn't. For me, in the case of Rick Riordan, I think it's time to either find a new shtick or quit while he's, well, we're not even ahead at this point. Maybe just quit beating a dead horse?

My gripes with The Hidden Oracle are the same gripes I had with The Sword of Summer: too much over-writing, too much over-reliance on the formulas of the previous books' plots and characters, shallow side characters, and a plot that chugs along with gasps and wheezes instead of engaging action. It was hard enough getting through the first book (though I liked it more than The Sword of Summer) and I couldn't imagine slogging through an entire five book series. There just isn't enough substance. 

Going back to those side characters, in full disclosure I haven't read the Heroes of Olympus series. Maybe I should have? Maybe I would have cared about them? As it was, I could not care less about any of them. They were hollow nothing characters. They didn't even have enough substance for caricature status. They were just there, and so whatever perilous situations they found themselves in, it was a real chore to even try to muster up an iota of care. 

And did we really need to trot out Percy Jackson again? Even Percy seemed to roll his eyes at his stale cameo.

Oh, and oh my gosh, the villain? No, Surely we can do better than this?

But what about Apollo himself? Overall, I liked Apollo's voice and he is definitely (finally!) distinct from Percy Jackson. His humor was also so, so bad, but instead of grating like it did in The Sword of Summer,  coming from Apollo the awfulness of the humor just added to his character. I'm not sure if that was the intention, but it worked for me. 

I enjoyed Apollo's bravado and how he grappled with humanity and his past. This added depth and entertainment, though it would have hit even harder had I cared about the other characters. Anyway, I'm in the "pros" part of the review, so...

Fans of Riordan's other series will probably continue to find enjoyment in the plot of this new series. It follows the same pattern of sedate adventuring, and even if it hasn't been pulse-pounding since the original series, it's entertaining enough in a lighthearted way. I mean, I did stick with it and finish the book. 

Bottom line

I think it's time Rick Riordan and I parted ways. It was nice for a while there, but I'm bored now and in search of spark, which doesn't seem to be something I'm going to get from a Riordan book at this point. Apollo is what sets this book above his latest offerings and gave me a little hope, but ultimately the total package just isn't enough for me. 

But, readers still enjoying his books will gobble up The Trials of Apollo with enthusiasm. It's more of the same, and while for me that's yawn-inducing, for many others that will be a selling point. 


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Book Review: Red by Liesl Shurtliff

Pages: 256
Released: April 12, 2016
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

It's hard to go wrong with a retelling, especially when you play it safe like Liesl Shurtliff has done. The elements of the original Little Red Riding Hood are cleverly woven into the story, but the original is pretty bare bones and so most of this story takes a wholly original approach.

Red, as a character, is equal parts likable and forgettable. I'm fine with that, because that means I had a nice character to journey with along the story, but once the story was over we effectively parted ways. The side characters were developed similarly: nice and enjoyable during the story, but not memorable.

The plot also followed that same path. It was just enough to keep me engaged, but not quite enough to stick with me after the story was over. I think the target audience will be even more engaged than I was, and the nifty quest-ish stops along the way will probably stick with younger readers more effectively.

Though, there was this one scene along the journey that really has stayed with me. It was creepy, sad, romantic, and terrifying all rolled into one and could easily stand alone as a short story in its own right. For those who have read the book, I'm talking about the memory water scene. While most of the other lessons Red learns along the way are your standard fare coming of age, growing type lessons, this scene provided something meatier and more adult to contemplate.

If Red is any indication, Liesl Shurtliff's series of standalone fairy tale retellings are a solid contribution to the genre that should appeal to the target audience of middle-graders, but also provide something for YA and adult readers. Recommended, especially for fans of authors like E.D. Baker.

Looking for more like this?
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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: The Afterlife Academy by Frank L. Cole

Pages: 288
Released: September 8, 2015
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A good, solid middle-grade book that should appeal equally to boys and girls. I'm already starting off this review pretty paint-by-numbers, but that's kind of because this is a pretty paint-by-numbers book. Which isn't a bad thing. See, here's what you get:
  • Feisty ghost sidekick
  • Shy living boy who geeks out in all the right ways and finds his inner strength and confidence
  • One-note villains who aren't complex, but also don't need to be
  • Steady pacing that isn't breakneck, but isn't slow either
  • Super short chapters
  • Clever, but not overly complex world-building
  • A Big Reveal that isn't super predictable
So, you can see how The Afterlife Academy doesn't really break new ground or stand out in any amazing way. But, it also doesn't stand out in any bad ways, either. The characters, plot, and world were also fleshed out enough to hold the interest of an adult reader. This may sound like damning with faint praise, but I think the exact opposite is the case. This is a dependable book. The kind of book that will deliver a solid, fun story. 

The Afterlife Academy is a good contribution that deserves a spot on gift lists and library shelves. This is a standalone, but it has a solid enough base that I could easily see it going on to become a steadily successful series. Recommended, especially for Rick Riordan fans.

Looking for another book like this? 
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Click on the covers to go to my reviews

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Book Review: In the Shadow of the Crown by Jean Plaidy

Pages: 406
Published: May 18, 2004 (originally 1989)
Publisher: Broadway Books
Received: Own
Rating: 3.5/4 out of 5 stars

Oh Mary. This is not a happy story, though it is one sympathetic to Mary. Plaidy starts the book when Mary is a beloved child and all is more or less well between her parents Katherine and Henry VIII. Anne Boleyn comes on the scene early on though, and of course it's all downhill from there.

In typical Plaidy style, this is pretty much a rundown of events, complete with repetitive phrases, non-fiction-ish narrative, and thinly developed characters. All of which I'm ok with.

I already know this story and have read the events of Mary's life through multiple other books, so I'm not sure at this point how In the Shadow of the Crown would come across to readers unfamiliar with Mary's history. I didn't come across any cringe-worthy inaccuracies and the events seemed pretty balanced with good pacing though, as often seems to be the case, more focus on her pre-queen years.

The queen years were where I was truly gutted and Plaidy broke out of her play-by-play style and actually developed a character for Mary. This part was so hard to read because Mary is so hopeful and in love, and her husband and court are not at all nice to her. Watching her continually make a fool of herself, when all she wanted was someone to finally love her, was painful to read. My heart broke for her as she pinned her hopes on her husband, kingdom, and dreams for a child and then it broke further as she eventually came to terms with the realities of these situations. This part was well done.

Bottom line

Plaidy has proven to be a solid historical fiction choice, and this was one of  her better books. Mostly it's typical Plaidy, but she slowly grows Mary as an individual with the final chapters solidifying Mary as one of Plaidy's more richly drawn historical figures.

Definitely recommended for Mary fans, but also for historical fiction fans in general who don't mind Plaidy's drier style.

Looking for another book like this? 
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Click on the cover to go to my review
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