Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Book Review: Conspiracy of Princes by Justin Somper

#2 in the Allies and Assassins series
Pages: 496
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Received: Own
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I'll start out this review by saying I love this series. It's fast-paced, easy to read, filled with peril, and the characters are likable. The first book, Allies and Assassins was a close-in murder mystery ending with high stakes and impending war. I even auto-bought the second book based on the strength of the first (something I rarely do).

A Conspiracy of Princes didn't feel as tight as the first book and there was one particularly juvenile scene that should have been edited right out as it clashed with the tone of the book and didn't serve any purpose. The rest was a mixed bag of lots of fun and kind of meh.

 Jared's mission was less interesting and very contrived (though, still fun enough), and, disappointingly, he definitely wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed. He's the ruler now and yet he left his kingdom in peril as he went off on a quest. I mean, yeah, it was important, but that was a job for someone other than the leader. It was all very Richard the Lionheart-ish, and I've never been a big Richard fan.

But, Asta's adventures at home were awesome and filled with court intrigue and looming war. THIS is why I love these books! The introduction of the villains' perspectives was also enjoyable and upped the feelings of peril. Overall, I'm still very glad I read Conspiracy of Princes and I would definitely read this series to its conclusion

Heads up, the ending is a major cliffhanger and I've heard rumors that the author isn't contracted for a third book. (I'm still dying about that happening to the Killer Unicorn series. Publishers, WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME?!)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Mini Reviews: Two Middle Grade Series Starters

Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas by Jonathan W. Stokes
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sign me up, count me in, whatever it takes I'm invested in this series (why isn't book 2 on Goodreads?!). Addison Cooke is two parts Theodosia and Kat, two parts Indiana Jones, two parts The Mummy and all parts fun. From page one it's a rip-roaring adventure as our intrepid group chase their kidnapped relatives into the heart of South American jungles, mingle undercover at mobster parties, explore ancient booby-trapped tombs, and follow clues on a hunt for buried treasure. This combines with amusing prim and proper quips and Addison always staying cool under fire. Highly recommended.

Half Upon a Time by James Riley
Received: Library
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I read this so long ago (ok, it was January 2015, but that feels like forever ago), and I still don't have much to say about it. It's not a bad book. It's not an amazing book. It's kind of just a book. A very been there, done that kind of fractured fairy tale that doesn't do anything offensive or bad, but doesn't really make its mark in any defining way either. At least, it didn't for me. I had super high expectations for it, so my general feelings toward it are tinged with disappointment. If I hadn't set such high hopes, then I might have enjoyed it more for what it was, which is still just ok, but at least it would have been a happier ok, if that makes sense. I haven't picked up the rest of the series yet and while I wouldn't mind reading the next book, I'm also not dying to jump into it either. Other books are taking priority and I'd say there's 50/50 odds of my finishing this series.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Book Review: The King's General by Daphne du Maurier

Pages: 384
Received: Own
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This is my third du Maurier read (Rebecca, The Frenchman's Creek), not counting short stories, and I think it's just a tiny fraction of a star behind Rebecca, which is high praise.

This is a gigantic book and, really, it's unbalanced. It drags on and on then has fits and starts of action, and it skips around from maybe Gothic to maybe historical fiction to maybe romance and never really decides what it wants to be. By all rights, I should have hated this book.

Except, I loved it. I was enthralled by du Maurier's writing and her characters. Even though most of the characters weren't particularly likable, I couldn't help getting invested in their stories.

Dick is disgustingly weak. Gartred is evil. Richard is probably the worst romantic hero in the world, mostly because he's absolutely detestable as a person even though he is kind to Honor. Honor, at least, is likable, even if I did disagree with a lot of her decisions. I felt at the edge of my seat and the tense character interactions served as the main source of action.

The skips from one style to another also helped keep my interest. The gothic-esque parts were typically du Maurier-chilling, the historical fiction parts (particularly the occupation) were perfectly infuriating in all the right ways, and the simmering hatred between Honor and Gartred was top notch.

Bottom line

It's a strange book, but definitely one that held my attention and lingers with me still. I'm also solidly convinced that Daphne du Maurier is one of my favorite writers.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

DNF Mini Explanations

Beauty and the Clockwork Beast by Nancy Campbell Allen

I don't tend to love steampunk at the best of times (they just feel like they're trying so hard), so this probably wasn't the best book for me. I had hoped that the romance, gothic vibe, and general zaniness promised by several reviewers would balance out the goggles and flying air ships for me. But, alas, no.

The steampunk parts were especially paint-by-numbers and it felt like the author was running down a checklist of requisite items to include in book of this genre without any real heart or care put in. The main character also didn't grab me and I could not see myself liking her much.

Still, I'm intrigued by the promises of romance and silly craziness, so I may try to pick this one up again. 

Eden's Wish by M. Tara Crowl

There's nothing wrong with this book. It's cute, mildly funny, mildly sweet, mildly intriguing, and just all around ok. That's really it. I could finish reading it and I think the experience would be overall pleasant. Nice. Ok.

And not really how I want to spend my reading time right now. I may go back and finish this one when I'm more in the mood. The target audience should enjoy it though.

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.

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