Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Review: A Heart Revealed by Josi S. Kilpack

ARC from the publisher, via NetGalley
336 pages
4.5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf

I requested this book for review because it is part of the Proper Romance series (standalone clean historical romances) and Blackmoore is also part of that series. Since I loved Blackmoore and I'm desperate for more like it, I hoped A Heart Revealed would be a good bet.

It was!

This is one of those sighing books. You know, the kind where you pause in reading over a scene to sigh in happiness. The kind where you clutch it to your chest after turning the final page and sigh in satisfaction. The kind where you think about little scenes after the fact and sigh with joy.

I was hoping for that, and I was very happy to get it.

What I wasn't expecting at all was the non-romantic sub-plot to grab my attention so strongly. Amber has a fall from grace, but I never in a million years would have guessed these circumstances. They were so different and so horrifying and I was completely sucked into Amber's plight.

Her situation also leads to some serious character changes, and I found myself almost rooting for the situation to get worse and worse (and it does) just so I could see Amber triumph over these hurdles. Another surprise for me was how important the friendship relationship became. I was just as invested in Amber's rocky but blossoming friendship as I was with her romance and her personal journey.

As much as I love reading about romance, I don't typically like it when the entire plot revolves around the romance, so I was both surprised and pleased to find A Heart Revealed stands up well in both the romantic and non-romantic parts. If the romance were completely removed, this story would still stand strongly on its own.

But the romance? Definitely swoony. The reading scene and the tea scene, sigh, sigh, sigh. Those were scenes to savor and reread (and I have). 

So why not a full 5 out of 5 stars? Well, Amber's transformation was a little unbelievable at times, and this is in part because a lot of her personal journey takes place off stage. I wish that part had been fleshed out a bit more, but clearly it didn't affect my enjoyment much.

Bottom line

I'm now a big fan of the Proper Romance series and very interested in reading more. Each book is a standalone story with totally different characters. I wish they were more easily identified in a list somewhere.

(I'm also now super paranoid about my hair, which will make more sense when you read the book.)

Friday, April 10, 2015

DNF Explanation & Giveaway: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

#2 in the Seraphina
ARC from publisher
Read 139 of 608 pages

I wasn't a huge fan of Seraphina, but I liked it enough to want to read the sequel.

Unfortunately, I didn't like the sequel enough to finish it.

I am very much in the minority on this series and I really, really wish I could love it as much as everyone else seems to love it. I think my issues with it are more on the personal side of things and those are usually hard to articulate. But I will try.

Five reasons Shadow Scale is not for me
(kinda spoilery for Seraphina)

1. Seraphina is not slumber party material for me

She seems so dreary and almost contradictory. I think that's in part because she is actually a pretty decent character, but she does not see those good qualities in herself. So her actions show one thing and her self-evaluation says another. 

I can see how that could work as a writing approach, but for me, that way of presenting her characterization isn't pleasurable to read. It makes Seraphina come across as a drag and I can't enjoy her more positive qualities. 

She also spent a good part of Shadow Scale making some stupid decisions and assumptions regarding the other half-dragons. This is her "lesson" in the book, so at least the point is that her decisions aren't correct. That makes it better, but still not fun to read.

2. The writing doesn't work for me

It feels so plodding. Like I'm swimming through honey. Making this Seraphina's "voice" makes her seem like such a bore. For me, I really think I would have enjoyed this more as third person. Though, I imagine that would be hard to do given all the action that takes place inside Seraphina's head.

3. Her garden

It is explained much more in this book, but I just...don't care. I don't care about Jaounella and Seraphina's presentation of her rubs me the wrong way. She's very knee jerk about it all, and that's frustrating to me. It makes Seraphina seem reactionary, unreasonable, and hyper-sensitive. And cowardly.

Since I don't know what happened in the past, all I can do is base my impressions off of the little information Seraphina gives me now, and that isn't enough for me to sympathize with her in this situation.

It just frustrates me and makes me want to tell her to suck it up and face her fears. After all, all I have as evidence is Seraphina successfully beating and containing Jaounella. So how bad can she be? (possibly very bad, but that isn't being communicated well).

4. Characterization

It seems to have suffered a lot in the sequel. In the first book, the side characters were so vivid and full of life. Here, they seem like sketches of themselves. Like we're relying solely on the development of the first book to carry over their characterizations in the sequel. 

As a result, characters I loved in the first book I just don't care about at all in the sequel. I'm so disappointed by this because I adored the character interactions in the first book.

5. I'm not into where this is heading

I read vague spoilers about what happens in the rest of the book and it doesn't really appeal to me. I don't feel invested in the story and what (I now know) will happen. I also don't like the resolution to the romance. 

Bottom line

There are certain authors I instantly click with and it's like they're writing specifically for me. Rachel Hartman is the opposite. There's just something that doesn't click with me.

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished copy of Shadow Scale 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 April 30th 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Small News and Giveaway (US/CA)

Getting Personal

Well, it has been a long time since I've posted anything other than a review or a long overdue Books I Got post. That's mostly because not much has been happening of note, but enough boring every day things have been happening that have been taking my time away from other kinds of posts.

Plus, I think I've found a groove, which has been really nice.

And of course that's why I'm throwing a wrench in the whole thing!

Not really. But kinda.

I've moved again and I'm getting settled in my new home. It's still within Texas, but Texas is HUGE, so it was a fairly far move. I'm now about six hours away from everything I knew and loved, which is both exciting and a little scary!

So, why did I move? New job! Yay! I'm now supervising a library!

I'm so excited to be going back to my library roots because, much as I've loved what I've been doing, I miss the library atmosphere.

I'm looking forward to it, but this means I'll probably be busy in the beginning until I find a new groove. I will still have reviews going up for now since I've scheduled a bunch in advance, but things might slow down a little after that. I'll also be super limited in the review requests I accept (I was going to say I'm not accepting ANY, but who am I kidding?).

And, just in case you missed it, I'm going to re-post about my current giveaway because I love this series so much that I'm going to book pusher it onto all of you every chance I get.

Thanks to Tor I have three finished copies of Icefall by Gillian Philip to give away! Icefall is the fourth and final book in the Rebel Angels series (it's not actually about angels. It's about fairies. But not typical fairies. At all.) I absolutely love this series and can't recommend it enough so I am extra excited to be able to help get these books into new readers' hands.

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: One of three finished copies of Icefall by Gillian Philip
  • 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 April 30th 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Giveaway: Icefall by Gillian Philip (US/CA)

Thanks to Tor I have three finished copies of Icefall by Gillian Philip to give away! Icefall is the fourth and final book in the Rebel Angels series (it's not actually about angels. It's about fairies. But not typical fairies. At all.)

I absolutely love this series and can't recommend it enough so I am extra excited to be able to help get these books into new readers' hands.

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: One of three finished copies of Icefall by Gillian Philip
  • 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 April 30th 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Review: Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

#3 in the Memoirs of Lady Trent series
ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
352 pages
4 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf series

There are NO spoilers in this review, but if you're worried, check out my review of the first book A Natural History of Dragons instead!

The series in general (no spoilers)

Ah, there's something so satisfying about a consistent series. I always know what to expect with the Lady Trent books, and thankfully, Voyage of the Basilisk stuck with the same tried and true formula.

Fans of the first two books can rest assured that this third installment is more of the same, and I mean that in a good way. Isabella embarks on another journey to another excitingly untamed part of the world to continue her study of dragons. The first half follows a series of mini adventures and the second half focuses on a local group of people, exposing Isabella to another novel culture.

That may sound formulaic, especially since that same pattern is followed in each book. It is the uniqueness of the adventures that keep this series from feeling stale. Even more enamoring, for me, is the sense of exploration. I'm so fired up following Isabella as she makes new discoveries in her quest to understand dragons.

I thrive on that indescribably invigorating feeling of forming theories, testing them out, finding their flaws, delighting when they're proved right, and, almost even more exciting, turning over the new questions that arise and chasing their answers.

These books wouldn't be half as good if Isabella wasn't narrating them. Her voice is so perfect (though she is certainly not) and I have found a true kindred spirit in her character. I like how she stays true to herself, embracing her passions and quirks, even if they do not conform to the accepted or the norm. She has learned that she can choose to either be happy in life, or unhappy, and she has chosen to be happy.

This voyage in particular

As you've probably gathered, this book sees Isabella on the high seas and the first half of the book takes place almost entirely on board the ship. Even though I like a lot of books that take place on ships, I don't actually like being on fictional ships very much. It's claustrophobic and I hate the feeling of being trapped on a relatively fragile ship with nothing around but a vast ocean holding all manner of dangerous sea creatures. Plus, the food. Barf.

So, I've knocked off a star for that completely personal reason.

Fans of Tom and Natalie will be disappointed because they are not very notable in this book. Natalie especially, since she doesn't even accompany Isabella on her journey. Instead, a new character comes to the forefront and I can't say I'm upset about this new development (though I DO miss Tom. I really liked his growing relationship with Isabella in Tropic of Serpents and I was hoping to spend more time on that in this book). But, this new character is a diverting consolation prize.

Other things I liked (without giving things away): The supremely excellent scene of Isabella and the Great Nostril Grab (and the even greater description of the fictional artistic portrayals of said event), Isabella's on going relationship and her exploration of her feelings with the Jacobs, adding in an archeological exploration (that surprisingly ties back in with the prior books), treasure (!), the wife (what a fun way to address those rumors), and the incorrect theory (because we've all kicked ourselves at some point, and Isabella described all the emotions perfectly).  

Bottom line

Upon finishing the book I had two thoughts:
  1. Gosh, I read that quickly!
  2. When is the next book coming out?
I wish I had savored this book more because now it's finished and I have to wait at least a year (I'm guessing, gah, Goodreads doesn't even have the next book up!) and I really just want to keep reading in this world and with these characters. I didn't mean to read it so fast. I just, I just couldn't stop reading!

So, when is the next book coming out??

Looking for another book like this? You might like:

Click on the covers to go to my review/Goodreads

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Review: Icefall by Gillian Philip

Series: #4 in the Rebel Angels series
Pages: 448
Released: March 24, 2015
Publisher: Tor
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

For new readers: 
Here's what you can expect with the Rebel Angels series  

  • Characters that feel absolutely real. These don't feel like fictional characters at all. It feels like I'm reading an account of real people and real events. Which is, you know, saying something considering they're fairies and all. 
  • Strong emotions. Rage against the villains with the kind hate where your entire being takes part in the visceral hatefest. Inexplicable but all consuming love for the heroes. Elation when things go right for them. Absolute devastation when things don't (which is frequent). These characters go all in with everything, and I was swept up along with them.
  • Stellar world building. There's world building that's interesting because of the creatures or new ideas it brings. There's world building that's fun because it makes you want to live in it. There's world building that's complex because of the depth and scope of the details and rules. Then there's world building that combines all those things and feels absolutely real. Gillian Philip's world is the last type of world and I wouldn't be at all shocked to discover it exists parallel to our own world.

For established readers: 
Here's what you can expect in Icefall 
(Spoilers for newbies!)

  • Major characters die, and it ripped my bleeding heart out. 
  • Dead characters come back (briefly) in an awesome, awesome scene. 
  • A resolution to all the dangling story threads. 
  • A slower, wandering first three-quarters of the book (much like in the other books) but with memorable scenes throughout. 
  • Also, much like the other books, an explosive final quarter that makes the entire book worthwhile. 
  • Sobbing. Of both the happy and sad variety.

Bottom line (NO SPOILERS)

Gillian Philip's Rebel Angels series is a powerhouse from start to finish. Dip your toes into the first book, and if you like that, then you'll like the rest of the books.

By all rights, I should actually hate this series. The books are confusing, the characters can be infuriating, the pacing is all kinds of off, they're all fairies, and none of the rules of conventional storytelling are followed. I should absolutely hate it.

I absolutely love it.

There's something otherworldly and special about these books that defies what should be. I can't fully describe why I recommend them, but I wholeheartedly do.

This is an adult/upper YA fantasy/urban-ish fantasy series.

 Click on the covers to go to my reviews of books 1-3

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Tiny Reviews: Maid of Secrets and A Darkness Strange & Lovely

Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan
#1 in the Maids of Honor series

This is the book I wanted the Palace of Spies series to be. Both series follow a maid of honor/ladies in waiting type of group and involves courtly mysteries and an interesting historical backdrop (with minor appearances by real people). However, of the two, I much prefer the Maids of Honor series.

While the series isn't amazing, it does have likable characters (and nice camaraderie between them) and a mystery that did keep me engaged. It's fun. The stakes felt higher, and I was definitely considering nail-biting during the torture scene. Best endorsement? It grabbed me quickly and got me out of a reading slump.

This is the first in a series, but it ended well enough as a standalone. I didn't feel the need to immediately read the sequel (I read Maid of Secrets in May 2014), but I do intend to read Maid of Deception soon (I actually took it out of the library the day before I was approved for Dangerous Deceptions, the sequel to Palace of Spies, but they were just too similar to read so close together).

Recommended, especially to readers who like light historical mysteries.

4 out of 5 stars

A Darkness Strange and Lovely by Susan Dennard
#2 in the Something Strange and Deadly series

I put off reading this book for a while, because while I liked Something Strange and Deadly well enough, I didn't love it. It was fluffy and fun enough and it moved pretty quickly (which is always a plus), but it lacked pretty hard on the character front.

Those characters only got worse in the sequel, which is why I ultimately DNF-ed. The story of A Darkness Strange and Lovely was good-ish, if kind of slow (halfway through the book and NOTHING  has happened). Still, I was having a pleasant enough time.

But then Eleanor meets this guy Oliver who seems to be a pretty nice guy (if suffering from the same "gosh you're young" personality as Eleanor's love interest). And she proceeds to treat him like absolute, total crap. What gives, Eleanor??

Then she met up with her Spirit Hunter friends (I can't help but inwardly groan every time that cutesy-quirky stereotypical band of do-nothing, lame slayer wannabes come on the page. Harsh, I know, I'm sorry!) and she decides to LIE TO HER FRIENDS. For no good reason (except dragging out contrived drama).

Aaaand, DNF.

DNF on page 150 of 295 (e-book pages. The print book has 400ish pages)

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