Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Book Review: Allies & Assassins by Justin Somper



#1 in the Enemies of the Prince series
Release Date: May 27, 2014
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages:479
Received: Library
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads

A murdered prince, an assassin on the loose, a shady group of advisers, tensions between kingdoms? Yes, Allies and Assassins has all the making of a Small book for sure, and thankfully it lived up to almost every one of my hopes.

But I'm a character girl!
 
I say almost because the characters weren't quite real enough for me. I didn't dislike them, and I did actually like a lot of them, but none are particularly memorable or fleshed out beyond their surface roles. I'm intrigued by a bunch of them, but I never really felt like Justin Somper delved deep enough.

For a character reader like me, that was disappointing, but luckily everything else was so good this is only a minor complaint. Though, there is definitely a good foundation to dig in further and really develop them into fascinating characters. Since this is only part one of a series, I'm thinking this will likely happen across the story.

Trust no one

The mystery is what really hooked me and kept me reading. Information is doled out at a nice even pace, and combined with the shorter chapters I was able to fly through this big book pretty fast.

I had my suspicions early on as to who was behind the murder, and even though I was ultimately right, Justin Somper had me questioning everyone. There were several times where I was fully ready to believe the complete wrong person did it (and for the complete wrong reasons). There were also a few big surprises that I won't spoil now, but I will say my jaw very literally dropped after several totally unexpected twists.

That jacket hints at romance

Look, I'll be honest, I was hoping for a little romance between Jared and Asta. I mean, jacket blurbs can't just write "Asta and Jared take it upon themselves to hunt down his brother's assassin..." and NOT expect me to infer "and each clue they uncover propels them closer to THAT KISS." Am I right?

Apparently Justin Somper didn't get the slow burn romance memo. Asta and Jared are Just Friends.

Oh well. I'm sighing now, but by the end of this series I'm pretty positive I'm going to be clutching the books to my chest in happiness because, despite my frustration now, I think Justin Somper secretly DID get the memo and he's not going to spoil the series by doling out a premature THAT KISS.

And you know what? If that's what ends up happening, then that will be perfect.

Bottom line

This is what I was hoping The Goblin Emperor would be, so I'm happy to have found at least one book to fulfill my desire for a whodunnit within the palace walls kind of story. 

Allies and Assassins was well on its way to reading perfectly fine as, if not a standalone (because, impending war. Yay!) then at least a series start that ends nicely and allows me to wait in peace until the next book is published.

And then those last five pages totally blew any chances I might have had of being able to calmly wait until the next book comes out—which, by the way, is when??? I don't even see a title on Goodreads. How am I supposed to deal if I can't even mark the next book as "Want to Read" on my Goodreads lists??

So, clearly, I'm invested in this series and highly recommend it to fans of court fantasy and intrigue. The cover (is awful, but has good "boy appeal") screams middle grade, but it has crossover appeal to older audiences for sure, and actually touches on some not-so-middle grade subjects (so caution for younger audiences there).
   

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 
________________________________




Looking for another book like this?
You might like:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/263731.The_Decoy_Princess?ac=1http://smallreview.blogspot.com/2012/04/book-review-grave-mercy-by-robin.html
 http://smallreview.blogspot.com/2012/04/book-review-false-prince-by-jennifer.html

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tiny Reviews: The Wild Queen and Wolfsbane

The Wild Queen by Carolyn Meyer

I feel like I become more and more of a fan of Carolyn Meyer with each book I read. None have totally amazed me (though The Bad Queen is by far my favorite) but by this point I've come to look at her historical fiction books as a solid, dependable standby for when I want "good enough to be satisfying" historical fiction.

And The Wild Queen did totally satisfied my desire to read more about Mary, Queen of Scots (have you seen Reign? No? Ah go watch now! It's like Gossip Girl meets historical fiction and it's my latest guilty pleasure. Watching an adult Anne (of Green Gables), I mean, Megan Follows, play the scheming Queen Catherine is totally worth it alone).

Ahem, anyway, Carolyn Meyer's take on Mary is typically Carolyn Meyer-ish. Not shallow but not very deep characterization, surprisingly heavy on the historical detail, and written in a very easy breezy way. This is heavy historical fiction that reads real easy and is perfect if you want the knowledge of a history lesson but none of the snooze or work.  

Purchased
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
_________________________________



Wolfsbane by Gillian Philip (book 3)

Gosh do I love this series. I don't know what it is about it, but Gillian Philip's books are like crack. I can't get enough of them and each installment in this series is unwaveringly solid.

Seth has grown up a lot and is firmly in the "awesome characters to root for" column, which makes it even better that his romance here just overwhelms me with happiness for all parties involved.

Like the previous books, even when there isn't a whole lot going on (and there ARE periods of not a lot of action) I'm still totally absorbed because the characters and world building are so phenomenal. I feel like I'm getting peeks through the veil into the lives of these real people (fairies, whatever. I actually like these fairies).

When the action does pick up though, and boy does it pick up, it's non-stop and equal parts exciting and tear-my-heart-out agonizing. I can't believe some of the things that happen in this book! I also can't believe I have to wait a year to read the conclusion. And I also can't believe it's going to end, because this is the type of series I don't think I'll ever get tired of reading.  

Finished copy & ARC from publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5




Have you read any of these books? 
What did you think of them?


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

DNF Explanation: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison



Read: 170 of 446
Received: Finished copy from publisher
Released: April 1, 2014
Goodreads

I'm not sure if this is a case of "wrong book, wrong time" or if it's a case of "wrong book, wrong reader," but either way I didn't DNF this book because it's a bad book. It's actually a really good book and I very much recommend it if you're looking for the type of fantasy where you can really geek out over language and slow burn political intrigue.

Which kinda sounds like my thing, right? Well, the political intrigue at least. And, yes, I did like it, but it was a little too slow and a little less burn than I'd like. Also, the language really messed me up.

The language really needs to go into the category of world building, and Katherine Addison totally immersed herself in building the Goblin Emperor world. It's palpable and real and the type of world building where you know you're only scratching the surface of this world.

It's also the kind of world building that throws you in and you'd better learn to swim fast because Katerine Addison doesn't help you out at all. In a way this was a pretty neat way to help me identify with the main character because he is also thrown into this court with very little preparation.

Maia and I spent almost every one of the 170 pages I read totally lost and confused. Everything was a flood of bizarre names (with reversed gender indicators) and strict court protocol and covert messages and I think I managed to process about half of them.

It was nice to have Maia right there with me in not knowing who half these people were or what the heck was going on, but it would have been a lot nicer to actually understand what I was reading without so much work.

It wouldn't have been half bad if the characters had more personality and distinguishing features, but as it was I couldn't keep track of them and instead ended up grouping most of the side characters into "types" and blending them all together into one person. Which kinda made it hard to follow the political intrigues.

I don't know if things were happening and I was just missing them, but the plot felt very episodic without ever actually progressing. Maia would meet someone, they'd have a little interaction, rinse and repeat.

I was hoping to have some tense mystery to follow as we tried to track down who murdered the royal family and if they were going to go after Maia next, but that seemed to be a very peripheral, barely addressed side plot.

Mostly I was just stuck inside Maia's head as he chastised himself for blundering in social situations, lamented his inexperience, reflected on his feelings of isolation and anxiety over the whole situation, and appreciated his (very nice) valet.

It was really wonderfully done and definitely felt a strong connection to Maia, but it was also very uncomfortable to read. I'm an anxious person and I often feel like I'm blundering in social situations, so while I totally felt a kindred spirit in Maia, I also felt SO uncomfortable being so smothered by these feelings. I read to get away from these feelings, not further immerse myself in them.

Bottom line

Nicely done, but probably not the right book for me. At least not right now.

________________________________




Friday, August 22, 2014

Evil Fairies Love Hair: Review, Guest Post, Giveaway (US)



Release Date: August 5, 2014
Publisher: Clarion Books
Pages: 320
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads

Okay, so I accepted this book for review because it sounded like a cute middle grade book, and we all know I have a weakness for cute middle grade books. Plus, it looked funny, which I love. And then there's that cover, which makes me want to hug it and pinch its too-adorable-for-words cheeks.

So I figured it'd be solid. But, like most middle grade books, I was fully expecting it to be Good, but not blow-my-mind GREAT.

I wasn't expecting it to keep me up hours after I should have been asleep. I wasn't expecting it to make me delay dinner because I was too absorbed in reading to care about eating. I wasn't expecting to come home and immediately drop everything and go all LEAVE ME ALONE I AM READING

I did kind of expect to not be able to explain to my husband what was going on in the book and actually sound sane. I mean, look at the title. And that little bald fairy doing the "Please sir, may I have some more?" complete with puppy dog eyes. The charm and hilarity of that type of plot aren't the sort of things you can communicate coherently.

Let alone the zany things that happened, which I couldn't have possibly predicted and won't even attempt to describe. I couldn't stop laughing and just when I thought an absurdly funny scene couldn't be topped Mary G. Thompson would pull out another (or a drawing!) and I'd be rolling.

There was never a dull moment, and while part of this is because the action was steadily brisk (though not breakneck), part of it is due to the fact that I've never read a book quite like this.

First off, there's lore. You know I love lore. Especially when it's dolled out in bits and pieces and where each piece is more hilarious and absurd than the last but somehow they all fit together to form a very well developed and totally unique world.

Then there's the characters. I was surprised at how attached to them I felt and how invested I was in them (both in their dilemma and their little romance). I even liked the fairies (though they're definitely evil, as I've said ALL ALONG). 

There's also this whole wish thing that made me spend a ton of hours contemplating what I would pick and if I'd been willing to grow a flock of evil fairies in exchange (I did try to have this conversation with my husband because I love this type of mental exercise, but I think the fairy flock part might have undermined the conversation a little). 

Bottom line

I am shocked at how much I enjoyed Evil Fairies Love Hair. It's definitely making me feel the "must force everyone I know to read this book" urge. I had so much fun with this book.
     

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 
________________________________




Looking for another book like this?
You might like:
http://smallreview.blogspot.com/2012/09/book-review-claws-by-mike-grinti-and.htmlhttp://smallreview.blogspot.com/2012/05/book-review-giveaways-heros-guide-to.html


 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews.

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished copy of Evil Fairies Love Hair by Mary G. Thompson
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • This giveaway is USA 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 September 10th 




Mary G. Thompson was born and raised in Cottage Grove and Eugene, Oregon. She was a practicing attorney for more than seven years, including almost five years in the U.S. Navy, before she moved to New York City to write full time. This is her third novel. Visit her website at marygthompson.com.

My First Book With Illustrations by Mary G. Thompson

Evil Fairies Love Hair marks a huge milestone for me—my first book with illustrations! I knew the book had to have illustrations shortly into writing it, when I had the idea that the fairy directions would have images. So as I was writing, I did some drawings as part of the directions, but they were terrible! I wanted the fairies’ drawings to be a little childish, but mine weren’t even up to five-year-old level! That’s why I was so lucky that Clarion Books found Blake Henry to do the real illustrations for the book. He took the basic ideas that I put into my sketches and really made them come alive. I was so excited when I saw the final versions! Here is an example of my version versus the artist’s:


 Yeah, Blake Henry’s version is a little better than mine! I mean, Hannah and Deacon are not stick figures and have actual bodies! In every instance, the artist was able to capture exactly what I was going for. I’m okay with the fact that art isn’t my biggest strength. I’ll let the professional illustrators do the hard work. I hope readers appreciate it as much as I do!

Mon, Aug 11
Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers   

Tues, Aug 12
The Book Monsters

Wed, Aug 13   
The Children's Book Review

Thurs, Aug 14
Cracking the Cover

Fri, Aug 15
Read Now, Sleep Later

Sat, Aug 16
Beauty and the Bookshelf

Mon Aug 18
Word Spelunking 

Tues, Aug 19
Flashlight Reader  

Wed, Aug 20
The Compulsive Reader

Thurs, Aug 21
The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Fri, Aug 22   
Small Review

Mon, Aug 25
The Hiding Spot
   


Download the free activity and Reader’s Theatre kit at http://marygthompson.com/Mary_G._Thompson/Main.html!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review: The Forbidden Queen by Anne O'Brien



Release Date: March 1, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Pages: 491
Received: Own
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Well, that was disappointing.

Is it Anne O'Brien or Katherine of Valois? I'm not sure which lady is the culprit but I'm guessing both are to blame. "Blame" is probably too harsh a world though, because really this wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't what I was looking for.

What I wanted was Historical fiction, heavy on the historical details. I wanted an engaging Katherine who I could root for and who would come alive off the pages. I wanted to be thrust right in the thick of all of the politics that swirled between the reigns of Henry V (he of Agincourt fame) and Henry VI (the deposed Lancastrian king in the War of the Roses).

What I got instead was a (very) peripheral view of some events and a whole lot of romance. But not even bodice ripping romance. More like pining, longing, talking romance ("Oh I wish he would love me!" "But we cannot act upon our love!" "I'm so lonely, and look at his gleaming chest!"). Which isn't awful, but it did get pretty boring stretched out over 491 pages.

I suspect Anne O'Brien had enough historical fodder at her disposal to flesh out the politics, and I KNOW she could have included more "time and place" type details, but I also know she only had so much to work with having Katherine as her main character.

Katherine is a historical wallpaper character. She's more well known for her "wife of" or "mother of" tags than for anything she actually did (except her choice to become a scandalous "wife of").

What is known tends to paint her as somewhat dim and politically uninvolved. So, while lots of stuff was happening around Katherine, Anne O'Brien is probably pretty spot on in keeping her version largely out of the fracas. I'll buy that and even give points for historical accuracy (even as I detract points for a few choice inaccuracies that still make me cringe), but that doesn't do much for my boredom.

What I did love was Anne O'Brien's interpretation of Katherine as a person. This Katherine wasn't a lady I could admire (she's kind of a wishy washy weakling with a tendency to do dumb things), but I still totally felt for her.

I understood completely why she did the things she did. Anne O'Brien did a marvelous job crafting Katherine's characterization based on her upbringing and later interactions with others. It makes sense that Katherine would feel and think the way she does in this book, which I think is a huge achievement on the part of the author.

That said, Katherine had a sucky life. I sobbed over the situations she found herself in and raged against the way she was treated. When she finally found a man who loved her I was less swept up in the swoony romance of it all and just so, so, so very happy she finally found someone who would care for her.

And the ending? GUTTED me (even though it was historically inaccurate).

Bottom line

I wasn't blown away, but I liked it enough to read more by Anne O'Brien. I have a copy of her book about Anne Neville (wife of Edward of Lancaster and Richard III), so hopefully she focuses more on the politics when given a main character living smack in the middle of the War of the Roses.   

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 
________________________________

Have you read any books about Katherine?


Looking for another book like this?
You might like:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/352453246http://smallreview.blogspot.com/2014/05/book-review-queen-of-last-hopes-by.html

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Giveaway: The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming (US/CA)


Here is the tumultuous, heartrending, true story of the Romanovs—at once an intimate portrait of Russia's last royal family and a gripping account of its undoing. Using captivating photos and compelling first person accounts, award-winning author Candace Fleming (Amelia Lost; The Lincolns) deftly maneuvers between the imperial family’s extravagant lives and the plight of Russia's poor masses, making this an utterly mesmerizing read as well as a perfect resource for meeting Common Core standards.-Goodreads

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished copy of The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming
  • 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 August 20th 





Friday, August 1, 2014

Mini Review: The Fire Wish by Amber Lough



Release Date: July 22, 2014
Publisher: Random House Children's 
Pages: 320
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

This book was exactly what I was hoping it would be: Sweet, fun, engaging, and light. It's an easy, quick read with likable characters.

The narrative switches every other (short) chapter between Zayele and Najwa and I thought this worked really well to both advance the plot and show the story. Their personalities are distinct enough that I rarely needed the chapter headings or even context clues to tell me who was speaking.

There isn't a whole lot of pulse pounding action, but there isn't ever a dull moment either. The storyline was engaging and I kept reading because I wanted to find out what would happen, but also just because I liked spending time in these worlds (the jinni caves! the library!) and with these people. The romances and side characters are predictable, but I found that to be a comforting plus. Zayele and Najwa are very different, but both equally likable.

Goodreads shows this is book one of a series, and while I would definitely read a sequel, I also think the story wraps up well as a standalone.

Bottom line

I love these kinds of solid stories. They're my go-to type of book when I'm looking for something that will make me happy and isn't too taxing. I can see this appealing to a wide audience as it's perfect for Goddess Girls readers looking for something a little older but still engaging enough for adult readers who enjoy middle grade books.

This is author Amber Lough's debut, and I am eagerly anticipating her next book.  


Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 
________________________________




Looking for another book like this?
You might like:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6750586-as-you-wish?from_search=true

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews.


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