Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Book Review: The Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz


Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Here's the quick and dirty What to Expect:

  • Short chapters (think 4-8 pages)
  • Lots of repetition (Mal isn't living up to her mother's expectations, Cruella DeVil is mean to her son, Jay steals things, Evie's mom is obsessed with beauty, yada yada, etc, etc)
  • Pretty shallow character development, but clear character tropes and motivations
  • Scant world-building (I'm dying inside because the Disney world is SO prime for references and depth that the world-building could have easily been a reason in itself to read a book like this)
  • Tenuous connection to "canon" Disney (Maleficent, Evil Queen, Jafar, and Beast are NOTHING like their original Disney versions). They're ridiculous and, honestly, I don't like them. Not because they're evil, but because they're just such poorly drawn, over the top exaggerations of the original characters. It's almost like they're making a mockery of the originals, and not in a good way.  
  • A confusing lack of second parents (who are the non-Disney character moms and dads??). This is so minor, but I seriously could not stop wondering about this
  • A few chapters focusing on the "good" realm (hinting to the TV-movie's integration of villains and heroes/princesses)
  • A super boring, repetitive first 2/3rds of the book where nothing happens. This was total "prequel filler"
  • A fun final 1/3rd of the book that wasn't spectacular but it definitely kept me engaged. FINALLY I got to see some references to the Disney movies and some actual plot
  • Characters that grew on me despite their thin development
The Isle of the Lost is less of a book in its own right and more of a slapdash prequel novelization to promote the TV movie, which, really, is usually what happens with such books. They're rarely great books. The writing is usually adequate. The characterizations aren't very deep. But, they're supposed to drum up excitement for the TV/movie they're connected with.

So, in that regard, Isle of the Lost succeeded. I'm now a little more interested in seeing the TV movie than I was before I read the book. Will I actually see the movie? Eh, if it's put in front of me, I'd probably give it a try. I'm less enthused because Disney Original Movies are not what they used to be and the glimpses I've seen of the movie plus the way the original villains are portrayed in the book...well, I'm not really a fan.

But, this novelization did, somehow, make me care about the characters enough to want to spend more time with them. I would probably be even more inclined to pick up another book, especially if it had more of a storyline than this "set up" book.

Readers who like the Goddess Girls and Grimmtastic Girls books may enjoy The Isle of the Lost. There's a similar vibe with the focus on the different characters, their inner feelings, and their relationships (though the world-building is FAR better in the Goddess Girls and Grimmtastic Girls books).

Recommended, with the strong asterisk that this is definitely a prequel novelization.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Review: The Decoy Princess by Dawn Cook

Book 1 in the Princess duology
Pages: 356
Publisher: Ace
Received: Bought
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf
Goodreads

Way back in 2012 I asked you for book recommendations based on my Special Shelf court fantasy favorites (think, Crown Duel, The False Prince, Poison Study, etc). Scarlett recommended The Decoy Princess, and she was fairly confident that I would love it, and she was absolutely right!

Seriously, this book has it all: court intrigue, a totally sleepover-worthy main character, a swoony slow burn romance with a guy who stands on his own as a worthwhile character, a swoony villain who is actually interesting in his own right, peril, fun side characters, chases, magic, horses, murder, impending war between kingdoms, ah this book has everything I love!

Even though the book ends pretty much midway through the overarching story (though not on a big cliffhanger—think The False Prince type of ending), I've been pushing off reading the sequel because I've been wanting to "save it." By this point, though, I really need to re-read the first book before starting in on the second because all the intrigue details are a little fuzzy now.

Which is totally fine because as a Special Shelf book I fully intend to re-read The Decoy Princess until my copy falls apart. It's that kind of love.

The Decoy Princess is written by "Dawn Cook" but really that's just another name used by the dark urban fantasy author Kim Harrison. I've never read anything under her Kim Harrison name, but I'm guessing the tone is very different. The writing style used in The Decoy Princess is extremely reminiscent of my other fantasy favorites Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith and The Conjurer Princess by Vivian Vande Velde. Basically, perfect for me.

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like (all the books mentioned above, and): 

http://smallreview.blogspot.com/2013/06/book-review-riyria-revelations-by.htmlhttp://smallreview.blogspot.com/2011/01/book-review-brightly-woven-by-alexandra.html 

Click on the covers to go to my reviews/Goodreads



Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Giveaway (US): Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville



Introducing The Enchanted Files! Told in diary entries and other “documents,” this magical, modern-day new comedy series by the master of funny fantasy, Bruce Coville is filled with laugh-out-loud humor and heart.
 
In the first hilarious Enchanted Files, Angus is a brownie. No, not the kind you eat! He’s a tiny magical creature that loves to do chores. Angus has just “inherited” a new human girl, Alex. To say that Alex is messy would be an understatement. She’s a total hurricane-like disaster—and she likes it that way, thankyouverymuch! Living with each other isn’t easy but Angus and Alex soon learn there is a curse that binds them. What’s worse, it threatens Alex’s family! Working together, Angus and Alex will set out to break the curse . . . without killing each other first . . . hopefully.


-Goodreads

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished copy of Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville
  • 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 August 31st 


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Book Reviews: Goddess Girls #9-11 by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

Pandora the Curious 
Goddess Girls #9
Received: Review copy from author
3 out of 5 stars

There's something about Pandora that just didn't click with me. Not just in this book, but in the other books where she makes a sidekick appearances. But that's the beauty of this series: different readers will connect with different Goddess Girls, and if you don't like one, no worries! There's plenty more to choose from.

The rest of the story follows the same formula of modernized and cutesy myths, a small crush, and lots of heart. My lack of connection with Pandora made me less invested in all of these features, but they're still solid.



Pheme the Gossip
Goddess Girls #10
Received: Library
5 out of 5 stars

The books that follow Goddess Girls outside of the core four have been somewhat hit and miss (above) with me. Pheme is definitely a hit. Her gossipy nature is shown in both a positive and negative light, allowing Pheme to learn from her mistakes while also embracing her strengths. Her interactions with the core four were entertaining and I definitely aw-ed a number of times. Pheme is total sleepover party material and hope we get more books focusing on her.



Persephone the Brave
Goddess Girls #11
Received: Library
4 out of 5 stars

I liked Persephone's first book, but she and I never made it to full on BFF mode. I still don't think we're there yet, but I connected with her a lot more this time and we would have totally had bonding moments at the lunch table (ugh, that girl, SO get your frustration with her, Persephone!). The myth twisting felt particularly good and I adore the things that happened with her relationship with Hades (no spoilers, but so sweet!). I appreciate the way the authors are handling Persephone's longer-term romance (as compared to the initial crushes) in a way that is both age-appropriate and nuanced.





Bottom line

The Goddess Girls series has stayed strong through 11 books and counting (18 books so far!) and continues to be my go to series for middle grade girls. Birthday gifts, book recommendations, you name it, if there's a middle grade girl somehow related to the conversation I'm having I guarantee I will find a way to work this series into that conversation.

Myths, creative plots, friendship, feelings, and a whole lot of heart—if it's not clear already, I cannot recommend this series strongly enough.



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Book Review: Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George


 #1 in the Silver in the Blood series
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Is it too early to call the Biggest Disappointment of 2015? 

Because Silver in the Blood is the forerunner right now and I'm heartbroken about that.

I love Jessica Day George books, but lately things have been kinda rocky. Is it me? Is it the author? Maybe an editor?

I don't know, but I can't shake the same complaints I had with Princess of the Silver Woods of thin, under-developed characters, flimsy world-building, and an overall unpolished feeling of "should have spent more time at the drawing board."

Structure, basics, and what to expect 

Silver in the Blood uses both letter writing between the two main characters, their diary entries, and third person narrative styles to tell the story. I'm mostly ok with this in theory, but the execution here made me scratch my head and wonder at the point of all those letters/diary entries. They just felt like unnecessary filler and I don't think they added anything to the story that we weren't already getting with the main part of the story.

 Then there's the pacing. It's just...so slow. The blurb tells you straight out about The Claw, The Wing, and The Smoke, as well as their shapeshifter heritage and the big prophecy, etc.

So, while the blurb doesn't quite spill ALL the beans, there's like, only a clarifying bean or two still left in the bag.

Which means I really don't want to spend over 150 pages figuring out the blurb. And having the two main characters deny the very obvious truth, over and over and over again.

Even if the blurb hadn't given everything away, it's still painfully obvious what is going on here and while maybe younger middle graders might not put all the pieces together that quickly, this is not a middle grade book. This is Jessica Day George's foray into "older YA" (there's nudity! and murder! and bad language! and "adult situations!"), and any teen is likely sharp enough to figure out the Big Reveal very early on.

A note on that target age thing 

Ok, so I said this is an older YA book because of content. I could also swear I read something about the author herself warning readers that this was a darker, older-audience book. And, yeah, it kinda is. Thematically.

Tone wise? It's total fluffy Jessica Day George middle grade fare. Down to the plucky oh so cute heroines who magically save the day with streamers and puppies and the cackling cardboard villains who are just big meanies. (None of which is a bad thing, in a middle grade book.)

Except there's the nudity and murder and stuff. Which of course isn't anything new for middle grade books, but it IS something that doesn't really belong with the Jessica Day George middle grade reader crowd. The things in this book might trouble some of my more sensitive younger readers, but the whole package is likely to make the older readers roll their eyes.

So, target audience conundrum, exacerbated by misleading marketing. A librarian's dream come true! Yay!

Back to those characters 

The two main characters are basically very shallow stereotypes of The Flirt and The Shy One, and neither of them are particularly likable (or, again, middle grade appropriate).

Dacia, The Flirt, was kind of reprehensible with the way she led on not one, not two, but THREE guys and then went back and forth between them based on who had the most power, prestige, good looks, wealth, and protection to offer her at any given time. Nice, right? This attitude holds true throughout the entire book.

Lou, The Shy One, wasn't quite as awful as Dacia, but she was nothing to write home about either. Sure, she didn't string guys along. No, instead she used her empowering transformation to...fall in love with an unworthy guy. 

I don't remember the exact translation now, but upon their initial meetings, he basically called her a slut, like, out of the blue, while he was stalking her (he hunts her kind) and engaging in behaviors that scared her and led her to give him some cutesy nickname along the lines of The Bad Man, but he was totally flirting so it's ok now! Or, well, he was actually stalking her family to annihilate their evil, but he noticed she was pretty, so, yeah. She just kind of let that whole Bad One thing go because of charming good looks and stuff.

And this is post-empowerment-Lou!

Both leading ladies engaged in such inexplicable, poor, and disrespectful decisions that I just can't get on board with them.

Why no DNF? Why ANY stars? 

I don't even know. I was hoping for better? My strong history of loving Jessica Day George books?

After the Big Reveal things took a turn for the crazy and, while this wasn't a turn to the crazy good, it was at least a turn away from the mind-numbingly boring first half and to the "oh the hell with it!" zany. At that point I threw my hands up and went with it. It was awful, but at least it was entertaining...ish.

Bottom line 

I'm a slow learner, but at this point I'm starting to absorb a few lessons: Jessica Day George is no longer an auto-buy author. I'm even hesitant to request any books for review (except the final Castle Glower book). Her books are now at cautionary library first level, and they're no longer at the top of my TBR, if they're on it at all anymore.

This is a sad day, but Silver in the Blood turned me off so hard.

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 
http://smallreview.blogspot.com/2012/01/book-review-gathering-storm-by-robin.htmlhttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16059442-a-breath-of-frost?ac=1

Click on the covers to go to my review/Goodreads

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).

Library
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
Goodreads
Pre-order links:  Amazon, Barnes & Noble,IndieBound.
Robert can be found on twitter @BeattyAuthor and online at http://robert-beatty.com/

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 


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