Friday, March 29, 2013

Book Review: The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett


The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett
Series: #1 in the Arkwell Academy series
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Publisher: Tor Teen
Pages: 336
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


Summary

From Goodreads: 

Sixteen-year-old Dusty Everhart breaks into houses late at night, but not because she’s a criminal. No, she’s a Nightmare.

Literally.

Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and living in the shadow of her mother’s infamy, is hard enough. But when Dusty sneaks into Eli Booker’s house, things get a whole lot more complicated. He’s hot, which means sitting on his chest and invading his dreams couldn’t get much more embarrassing. But it does. Eli is dreaming of a murder.

Then Eli’s dream comes true.

Now Dusty has to follow the clues—both within Eli’s dreams and out of them—to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what she’s up to and marks her as the next target
.


Review

Thanksgiving turkey

We've already establish how much I like food, so I'm going to go with a food analogy on this one.

When it comes to Thanksgiving, I'm pretty much in food heaven. I'm a sides and dessert kind of girl, so the bulk of my plate space is taken up with things like stuffing (all varieties), mashed potatoes, that awesome sweet potato pie with the marshmallows on top, corn pudding, dinner rolls, string bean casserole, candied apples, roasted potatoes, and so on.

And then, oh the desserts! You see where this is going?

What I don't pay much attention to is the actual turkey. It's not that I don't like turkey, because I definitely do and I always make sure to have a little bit of room on my plate for some, but it just doesn't have the same draw as all those sides and desserts.

It's just, it's plain. It doesn't even look particularly interesting. I mean, when you stick a casserole of super sweet bright orange mashed potatoes topped with gooey marshmallows on the table next to plain old sliced meat, the turkey doesn't really hold up to the comparison. Sides are embellished, sides have surprises, sides have depth and texture and all sorts of things like that. Turkey is plain and predictable. 

Which isn't all bad. Like, come, say, the next day, when the fact that the turkey is leftover and predictable and unadorned suddenly makes it a comfort food.

How The Nightmare Affair is a Thanksgiving turkey

At first I thought the idea of nightmares as paranormal creatures would be so unique and exciting and side-dishably appealing, but I was wrong. Nightmares are interesting, but the development wasn't really there enough to make them fascinating. Sure they were different, in concept, but in execution they don't really hold their own in my mind or have any kind of lasting power.

Neither does the plot. After the first few chapters, it' pretty easy to sketch out a rough outline of everything that is going to happen next. This was less a result of the plot, though, and more a result of the cookie-cutter characters.

I knew exactly what I was getting with The Nightmare Affair because I've read about all these characters before in tons of other books. I know a certain type of character can't possibly be the villain because they're never actually the villain. I know who the villain is because that character is always the villain. I know the love interest and how that will play out, the friendships, the relationships with the teachers, and on and on.

But, like a Thanksgiving turkey, The Nightmare Affair was plain and predictable and definitely lost the majority of my plate space because of it, but I also found it next-day-leftover comforting for those very same reasons.

Old reliable

The Nightmare Affair might not be a unique book, but it does take after a type of book I very much enjoy.

Main character Dusty is lunch table fun (if not sleepover party level), her romantic interest is crushable (if not knee-wobbly swoony), her friend is fist-bumping cool (if not unique, at all), and the villain is easy to dislike in a good way (if not terribly interesting).

This is the kind of book I'd read when I'm looking for something I know I'll enjoy. It's not super fast-paced, but it isn't slow either. The mystery is just engaging enough to keep me reading, though I know I won't get swept up into the world and lose myself for days. It doesn't have that kind of hold on me (like, say, pecan pie). It's more like the kind of book I can float through easily, enjoying myself in that non-taxing, surface way that leaves me satisfied but not wowed.

Basically, it's a solid "good." 

Ack, grizzle


Have you ever eaten turkey that wasn't carved 100% perfectly? So, you're sitting there, happily eating when all of a sudden, crunch, squish, ugh, you bite down on a bit of grizzle. Gross.

That's kind of how I felt with a plot point. Without giving anything away, there's a plot point that integrates a popular staple in mythology and I thought it had no place in this book. It stuck out, didn't work, and was a totally unnecessary addition.

Bottom line

I would read more of Dusty's adventures for sure, especially if they focus more on the paranormal solving-mysteries-through-dream-walking plots instead of the overarching Big Bad (which ties in with the grizzle plot point).

The ending wraps up well enough in that there isn't a big cliffhanger, but the Big Bad is on the loose. It might feel more cliffhangery if I cared more about that, but I don't so I'm perfectly content waiting for book two.

I won't rush out and buy book two, but I will read it eventually. I'll probably wait for a time I'm looking for a comfy read that isn't too mentally or emotionally taxing. Also, I'll get it from the library.



Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 


Do you have any questions about The Nightmare Affair that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!


Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 


Click on the covers to go to my reviews.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

DNF Explanation: Cinders & Sapphires by Leila Rasheed

Did Not Finish Explanation

Received: ARC from publisher
Read pages: 136 of 389

This hurts to write. I mean, not only did I have high hopes for this book, but I even requested it! And now I feel all guilty and sad and like I need to go find some rock to crawl under.

Look, it's not that Cinders & Sapphires is a BAD book. It's a fine book. It's written in a fluffy, straight forward style that makes reading a breeze. It was almost like reading a large type book where I feel like I can award myself "Fast Reader" points because I can fly through a bunch of pages in a really short amount of time. So if you're at all scared off by the large page count, don't be.

I can see readers looking for something light and entertaining devouring Cinders & Sapphires. There will be a large audience for this book, of that I have no doubt.

Except I'm not part of that audience. Ok, I just need to muster up my courage and spit it out already. There are two main reasons I DNF-ed Cinders & Sapphires.

Lay back and think of England, not Oxford

First, this is not a historically accurate book. Ruby and I were talking one night about what makes a historical fiction book something we like and we both agreed that character realism was a must.

If I'm reading about some old timey setting, I don't want the characters spouting off modern ideas that no character in that time period would ever even think about let alone righteously endorse. (*cough*)

So that was strike number one against Cinders & Sapphires. The characters felt entirely too modern in their values, thoughts, and approach to life. If I wanted contemporary characters, then I would read contemporary novels. I can't get lost in a book when I'm being constantly torn out of the time period by anachronisms.

This goes double when the characters are little more than cardboard cutouts with nothing but ridiculously unrealistic thoughts and actions. I didn't even have a believable basis for how the characters' background and experience would ever lead them to act the way they did. They just didn't make any sense.

Don't sell me on Buffy and then give me Dawn

Strike two came about because of comparisons. I know comparisons can be great marketing tools (hey, tell me something is the next Crown Duel and I'll be all over that in a heartbeat), but it can also cause massive eyerolling and lots of disappointment (which is why I pretty much refuse to read anything billed as "The Next Harry Potter" or "The Next Hunger Games").

I've heard Cinders & Sapphires described as Gossip Girl meets Downton Abbey, and, yeah, I totally see that comparison. Except, instead of being "inspired by" or "in the genre of" or some other allusion like that, Cinders & Sapphires reads more like unoriginal fan fiction.

And if you're going to write fan fiction, you'd better offer up something inspired. If we're pulling from Gossip Girl, then the scandals had better be way jucier than those in GG. If we're drawing on Downton Abbey then the sprawling period details need to be just as rich (they're barely even there) and, again, the scandals need to be even more shocking (yawn).

So when Mary (spoiler for Downton Abbey season 1) has such phenomenally fantastic unwedded sex with a Turkish man  leading him to DROP DEAD IN HER DEVIRGINIZING BED, I'm not going to be very impressed with a few forbidden kisses with a boy from India. Even if he is a revolutionary (just like Tom from Downton!)

And the comparisons don't stop there. Most characters and events beg direct comparisons from either source material...and pretty much every trope in the genre. And they fall short in every instance.

I don't want to read a book and think, "Oh look, that's O'Brian, but less devious" or "Oh, that's Thomas (in C&S's case, the "token gay romance"), but without any character nuance" or "That's Chuck, but he's more like a flimsy shadow" or "That's Blair, without any depth, skill, or flair."

If I had never seen Gossip Girl or Downton Abbey, then Cinders & Sapphires might have been more appealing. As it was, I couldn't stop making comparisons, and Cinders & Sapphires never once came out ahead. A better comparison might have been the Luxe series (which left me with similar complaints).

Bottom line

So, definitely for some readers (a lot, if Goodreads is any indication), but not for me.

Do you have any questions about Cinders & Sapphires that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!



Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Book Review: Angelfall by Susan Ee


Angelfall by Susan Ee
Series: #1 in the Penryn and the End of Days series
Release Date: 2012
Publisher: Amazon/Feral Dream
Pages: 283
Received: Bought
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf
Goodreads Page


Summary

From Goodreads:

It's been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister, Penryn, will do anything to get her back. Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel. 

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl. Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. 

Together, they journey toward the angels' stronghold in San Francisco where Penryn will risk everything to rescue her sister, and Raffe will put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again. Ee's debut novel is a promising opener to what looks to be a YA series worth following, one that explores what it means to be human and what it means to be a hero.

Review

Ho-lee-cow

I'm sorry if this review is incomprehensible. It's just. THIS BOOK. It makes me want to bash my keyboard with capslock and bold and italics and underlining and maybe even adding extra colors for emphasis and abuse the exclamation point like a sugar-rushing third grader.

All in a good way. No, make that all in a TOTALLY AMAZING MIND BLOWING EARTH SHATTERING WAY!!!1!!1!!  

Penryn gets ALL my BFF charms

I'm not sure if I'm cool enough to hang with Penryn, but I'm forcing myself on her because she is the awesomest ever AND she's sure to keep me alive during all the post-apocalyptic craziness.

She's tough, realistic, and extremely no-nonsense. I award her all the points in the universe on the simple fact that she knows how to stock up for survival situations. Meaning, she grabs all the good supplies and doesn't pass over the weapons (which, duh, why do characters always leave them behind?? PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO KILL YOU! Arm up ladies!!).

But, she's also down to earth. She's not some hardened unable to relate with warrior woman who never makes mistakes. She's just a smart, normal girl thrown into a sucky situation and trying to make it through alive (as the laugh out loud angel wings scene clearly demonstrates). Also, she's super loyal, which is a trait I definitely want my post-apoc friends to have in spades.

Penryn's life is really crappy

Her mom's not exactly stable and has spent most of Penryn's life babbling about evil demons and engaging in crazy, erratic behaviors that may or may not have led directly to Penryn's little sister's paralyzing injuries. But, hey look, now there really ARE demons (er, angels) flying down from Heaven on a mission to violently obliterate humankind. So, yay mom?

Except, even if she's technically right about the post-apocalyptic dangers, she's still off her rocker. Which is kind of a liability. As is taking care of a wheelchair-bound tween (even a saintly one like Penryn's little sister). So Penryn is basically saddled with navigating a post-apocalyptic world of massive danger with two of the WORST possible survival buddies imaginable.

And you know me. I have zero tolerance for injecting useless characters into post-apoc settings. But not here! And, ok, some of my being ok with this probably comes from the fact that Penryn's sister gets snatched by an evil angel early on and so while she's often on Penryn's mind, she isn't slowing down our odds of survival. Penryn's mom also bows out toward the beginning of the book and appears in odd but convenient ways later on. So, points for all that.

But it's not just the people making her life awful. There's also all those angels killing people and basically turning the world into a post-apocalyptic wasteland of danger and death and suck. But don't worry, it's not depressing. There's too much peril and action and ohmygoshDIDTHATJUSTHAPPEN to be depressing.

Penryn also has great internal commentary and her banter with Raffe is funny, charming, and overall fantastic.

Baby, someone call God 'cause he's missing an angel

Did I say Raffe? Oh dear lord there's Raffe.

Raffe is, well, he's just HOT. He's an angel, but he's not particularly interested in killing Penryn or, really, any people (angels though, he kills the crap out of angels). I'm not sure why yet, and while I'm kind of curious, I also really don't care. Because he's that kind of hot. The kind where he could do horrible things and then smile and say something snarky and I'll melt into a puddle of swoon.

But Raffe doesn't really do horrible things. He might have in the past, we don't know (the man's a mystery, of course), but during his time with Penryn he's pretty much gorgeous, snarky, sarcastic, devoted, protective, badass (what this man can do with a sword!), smart, supportive, and funny. And all that's wrapped up in general rugged manliness.

Also, that past? He has secrets! Secrets I can't talk about. But secrets I SO want to talk about because, eeep!! Intrigue! Politics! Warring factions!

AND, it's slow burn hate turned love! With lots of glorious, snicker and swoon inducing banter. 


Prepare yourself for gore

I'm issuing the Don't Read This In Public warning because Angelfall made me exclaim out loud (very loud) a bunch of times, and that can get kind of weird if you're in public.

There were a lot of "OH MY GOSH" and "That didn't just happen???!?" and "HOW ARE BOOKS LIKE THIS??" and "I've never read anything like this!!" And general exclamations of "THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER. EVER!!" and lots of mentally running around in circles screaming and flailing with excitement and fear and dread and love.

I'm lucky I read the book in a few days (and therefore didn't prolong my embarrassment) because I spent pretty much the entire time uncontrollably flailing my arms and spouting off half-sentences about the amazingness of Angelfall and how everyone should read it and how I'm in awe and similar half-coherent babbling.

And also, "EEEEEEEEWWWWWW"

Because, yeah, just. EW. There are a few things, but this one scene in particular. Oh, but wait, there was also that other scene. Oh, and those things! I don't know that I've ever read anything so horrifying, disgusting, awful, gut-punchingly sad, disturbing, and awesome. The fact that Susan Ee's writing made me feel like I was actually there experiencing everything upped the jaw-dropping gross factor by about a bizillion.

Which is all to say that I was really, really into Angelfall.

Bottom line

I will auto-buy every single book in this series (which, at present is a projected five). Why do I even have to wait? I don't want to wait, and with that cliffhanger ending, I don't know if I CAN wait. I'm not sure what to do with myself except maybe re-read Angelfall and then pace around in circles pulling at my hair and mumbling incoherently.

And, I know I'm all about suggesting people wait until all the books are published if there's a cliffhanger, but, please, don't wait. I need to talk about this book with people. I need to push it on everyone I know. I need to buy it for my library and every other library on the planet. I just. Well, I highly recommend Angelfall.  

Side note: It was Krystle's review plus the five free chapter preview that made me buy Angelfall before I actually read the whole book (and if you know me at all, you know I'm super cheap and almost NEVER do that). Obviously, I'm not regretting that purchase.



Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 



Do you have any questions about Angelfall that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Breannan (+ Giveaway!)



A Natural History of Dragons
Series: Not at present
Release Date: February 4, 2013
Publisher: Tor
Pages: 336
Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


Summary

From Goodreads: 

You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . . .

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.


Review

Best friends FOR LIFE!

I've already extended sleepover party invites to Kat and Theodosia, but both came with the caveat that they're young and I'm old and so there's some creative time travel going on with those invites.

But no time travel is needed for Isabella because she's a grown-up version of those middle grade characters! Isabella is like a Jane Austen heroine, but with the spunk of Kat and the bookish practicality of Theodosia (and by practicality, I mean Theodosia's all, "I'll just need to collect these ingredients so I can create an ancient spell that will repel these cursed mummies. No matter the danger. Oh dear, and I must make sure to do it all in time for the gallery opening. Well, let's begin." See, practical and awesome).

AND Isabella has an undying passion for studying dragons.

Yes, DRAGONS!

Our sleepover party would be filled with non-stop chatter about dragon anatomy and theories of development and habitation and other nerdy topics I love. We'd eat finger sandwiches and stay up late planning our next trek into the wilderness in search of daring adventures and the answers to all our burning scientific questions.

And, yes, I'm totally geeking out about this.

A notation on the narrative style, and other points of interest

This isn't an epistolary novel, but I think fans of epistolary novels will like the narrative style. A Natural History of Dragons is supposed to be Isabella's accounting of her life when she was a much younger girl. She makes frequent comments directly to the reader, noting how she views things differently now (neat observations) or how her editor balked at her including racier subjects (lame interjections).

The result is that the book reads a lot more like a old lady chatting with you directly about her life as a younger girl. So, readers looking for straight action novel-style writing might not like it very much. Normally that would be me (no patience!) but I actually LOVE talking with the grandparent generation and getting swept away into their stories of the past, so I was totally absorbed.

The first half of the book is a lot of non-action and mostly sets the stage of how Isabella got interested in dragons, how she met her husband (sweet, but not entirely swoony), and erm, well, it was basically a zip through of her life Pre-Adventuring. I enjoyed this part a lot, but I can't even entirely explain why considering I fully recognize that it's slower and disappointingly dragon and adventure free. But, I'm chalking my enjoyment up to:

  • Isabella is awesome and I like spending time with her (especially the parts where she talks about loving books)
  • It has all the Jane Austen stuff like Isabella's season and her mom worrying she'll never find a husband
  • It contains the briefly mentioned but seared-into-my-heart sweet story of Isabella and her relationship with her father (the dragon book! Matchmaking! LOVE these scenes)
  • Isabella meets her husband!
  • Oh, and there is an escapade involving boy's clothing, a rifle, and well, it's a fun scene
Hm, well, I guess a lot of stuff does happen. 

The second half of the book

That's where the real adventure begins! There's mystery, romance, action, adventure, murder, intrigue, and SO much more!

This is also where all the secondary characters really come alive and the romance between Isabella and her husband starts to get swoony in a heart-melting way. 

A totally spoilery comment

In Marie's interview, she mentioned a scene that may inspire ranty emails and I would SO send my own ranty email except that I'm sorta kinda holding out hope that there's a sequel and the events that happened, while devastating and sad and gut wrenching, well, might they be clearing the way for a little hate-turned-love romance with a certain Mr. Wilker? 

Maybe?*fingers crossed*


The cliffhanger of doom!!! No, wait, what? This is a standalone??

This always happens. I always lament the fact that authors are so caught up in series that there are never any good old-fashioned standalone novels anymore.

And then I get one in the form of A Natural History of Dragons, and all I can think is WHY IS THERE NO SERIES PLANNED?!

True, it did end just fine as a standalone. And, true, it is very nice to be able to read one book and know I'm getting a complete story. But, but there is SO much more to Isabella's story! And I love her so much and her adventures sound so grand that I really, really want to read more about her life.

So, please?

Bottom line


I had never heard of Marie Brennan before this, but I wasn't even finished with A Natural History of Dragons before I started adding every other book Marie has written to my TBR (and checking to see which were available in my library. Which is none, unfortunately. BUT the library in the next town over has her series about Queen Elizabeth and fairies and I am totally willing to drive over to check those out. Though, I really wish they had her series about witches and dopelgangers, which sounds awesome. Anyone have these? Want to trade?).

Which is all to say, I enjoyed A Natural History of Dragons immensely. 



Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

And, in case you missed this earlier...
Want a chance to win your own copy of A Natural History of Dragons? Thanks to the publisher, I have three copies to offer!



Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: Three people will each win one finished hardcover copy of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan!
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • You must have a US/CA mailing address
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • One entry per person
  • Your address is not required, but including it will help with sending the book out to you sooner
  • 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 March 20th 

Do you have any questions about A Natural History of Dragons that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!


Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 

Click on the covers to go to my reviews.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Author Interview: Marie Brennan + Giveaway! (US/CA)


Please Welcome Marie Brennan!


Marie was nice enough to stop by and answer some of my burning questions about her oeuvre. And what a collection it is! Fairies! Historical fantasy! Dragons! Witches! Doppelgangers! I'm already on a mad hunt to track down more of her books and there isn't a plot that doesn't look right up my alley!  


Website | Blog | Publisher | Twitter | Goodreads

Giveaway!
See below for details

Q: Which one of your characters would you most want to kiss?

A: If I’m being really honest (and my husband isn’t reading this), then Julian, from Lies and Prophecy. A much earlier draft of that book was the first novel I ever finished writing, so it’s not surprising that as love interests go, he’s the one I have the strongest attachment to.


by Todd Lockwood
Q: Which one of your characters would you want to swap BFF charms with?

A: It’s a toss-up between Isabella, the protagonist of A Natural History of Dragons, and Delphia Northwood, one of the secondary characters in A Star Shall Fall. Both of them are very bookish, which makes them near and dear to my heart.

Q: Which one of your characters do you most want to slap or give a verbal tongue lashing to?

A: One of the problems with being a writer is, you have to get into your characters’ heads, which tends to mean you end up sympathizing with them even when they’re being dumb. And then sometimes they go and develop depth on you, totally without warning. Even with a character like Carline -- a minor figure in several of the Onyx Court books -- I want to smack her for being shallow and callous (which she is), but then she comes out with a really telling observation about the way the fae of London relate to mortals, and I have to admit she has a point.

Q: If you were transported into your book, which scene would you most want to reenact?

A: The deployment of the Ephemeral Engine at the end of With Fate Conspire. It would scare the crap out of me if I didn’t know what the result would be, but since I do, that would be a mind-blowingly awesome thing to experience.

Q: Which one of your character’s brains would you want to pick the most?

by Todd Lockwood
A: Jack Ellin, from In Ashes Lie. He’s a very smart man, and also a smart-ass, which means the conversation would be fun as well as enlightening. But I’d want to invite Isabella and Delphia to the party, too, as well as Abd ar-Rashid, an educated and well-traveled genie from the later Onyx Court books.

Q: Which scene do you think will surprise readers the most?

A: Judging by the responses I’ve been getting from readers, the one that settles the fate of a particular character in A Natural History of Dragons. I can’t think how to be more specific without giving spoilers, but let’s just say that if it makes you want to send me a ranty e-mail, then you’ve probably found the right one.

Q: Which scene was the most fun to write?

A: For A Natural History of Dragons, the non-spoilery answer is the first time Isabella and Jacob meet, in the Falchester menagerie. A great deal of what I made up for that scene really laid the groundwork and tone for the novel and the series as a whole.

The spoilery answer is the cavern -- I will say no more.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give your main character?

A: I would tell Isabella to pay attention to the people around her, as well as the natural world. She isn’t the best at reading social cues, nor to anticipating and dealing with the problems they can create.


by Todd Lockwood

Readers should add A Natural History of Dragons to their To Be Read list if they like...

Books about:
     headstrong young ladies, outspoken old ladies, Victorian science, ancient ruins, world travel, and of course dragons.

Books/movies like:
     Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist series, Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate, or The Extraordinary Adventures of Ad√®le Blanc-Sec.

Main characters like:
     Amelia Peabody, from Elizabeth Peters’ historical mysteries, or (from history) the travel writers Isabella Bird and Mary Kingsley.



About A Natural History of Dragons:
Click for larger images!

You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . . .

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

Marie Brennan introduces an enchanting new world in A Natural History of Dragons.

ISBN: 978-0-7653-3196-0
On Sale: February 5, 2013
Available here:
Powells, Walmart Overstock


Author bio:

Marie Brennan is a former academic with a background in archaeology, anthropology, and folklore, which she now puts to rather cockeyed use in writing fantasy. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to many short stories and novellas, she is also the author of A Star Shall Fall and With Fate Conspire (both from Tor Books), as well as Warrior, Witch, Midnight Never Come, In Ashes Lie, and Lies and Prophecy. You can find her online at SwanTower.com.


Thank you so much for stopping by, Marie!

It was probably around, oh, maybe page 200 or so that I put down A Natural History of Dragons last night and vowed not to read another page (that night). Not because it was bad, but because it was SO GOOD and I realized I only had about another two hours worth of reading time left with it. I had to start rationing.

So, what did I do to occupy my time instead? I went straight to Goodreads, of course, and proceeded to (desperately) check out all of Marie's other books and see which I could find in my library. Yes, it's that good!

Oh, and notice all those pictures in my post? Those are only a handful of the awesome full-page illustrations peppered throughout the book! I LOVE books with illustrations! Even better, they really bring to life the images I was already mentally picturing and don't clash at all with how *I* was already picturing the dragons.

Have you read A Natural History of Dragons?
How would you answer these questions?
(Remember, no spoilers please!) 


Want a chance to win your own copy of A Natural History of Dragons? Thanks to the publisher, I have three copies to offer!



Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: Three people will each win one finished hardcover copy of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan!
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • You must have a US/CA mailing address
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • One entry per person
  • Your address is not required, but including it will help with sending the book out to you sooner
  • 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 March 20th 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Book Review: The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen



The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Series: #2 in the Ascendance trilogy
Release Date: August 9, 2011
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 352
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf
Goodreads Page

WARNING!
This is the second book in a trilogy, and while I try to avoid spoilers for the first book, I can't avoid them all.

Worried about spoilers but still curious about this series (as you well should be because it is awesome)? Check out my review of the first book The False Prince instead!

Summary

From Goodreads:

Just weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumors of a coming war are winding their way between the castle walls, and Jaron feels the pressure quietly mounting within Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home again? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom?

Review

Is it as good as the first book?

Well, no.

I know, I'm disappointed too. The False Prince was filled with incredible tension, twists, and this underlying feeling that Sage was always ten steps ahead of me while I knew I was only able to figure out about five of those steps.

The Runaway King didn't have that. The tension I loved so much just wasn't there the same way. The situation was dire, sure, but something was missing.

Also, the pacing was a little off. It was never slow, but it felt uneven. Jaron felt a little lost and less sure, and I think his internal unsteadiness made the book somehow feel a little unsteady as well. I felt like the story took a little time to come into its own (I was able to put it down for a few days and read other books instead), whereas The False Prince was self-assured and gripping from page one.

What did you DO to my Sage?!

But my biggest complaint is Jaron himself. What I liked so much about Sage in The False Prince was his killer combination of sass and skill. He was cocky and incorrigible and his porous brain-to-mouth filter often led to beatings. And while I always like a smart aleck, they need substance to back up their bravado in order to avoid becoming irritating. 

Sage had substance. His mocking comments were satisfying because they were straight up funny, but they also meant something. His goading sarcasm and insults, his irrepressible need to sneak, steal, and lie, they were all subtle manipulations as Sage secretly maneuvered every character until he had them exactly where he wanted them.

Sage had a plan, and his plan always worked (and even when a few wrenches were thrown into his carefully laid plans, he compensated quickly). Sage was funny and irreverent, but he was also deadly serious, skilled, and intelligent. He was Han Solo, but he was also Sherlock Holmes.

Somehow the latter skills were mostly lost in Sage's transformation into Jaron. Jaron is just as cocky, brash, and surly as Sage ever was, but his awesome ability to play mental chess seems to have disappeared. Jaron's plans are all half-cocked and poorly thought out. They're spurred by unfettered emotion and rely on chance and bravado with only a smattering of skill (he's still a masterful thief and swordsman).

The whole book read like an exercise in teaching Jaron humility and the Harry Potter tenet of "friendship will save the day," which is great and all (I love both Harry's friends and Jaron's), but I loved the awe I felt for Sage's near-prescient cleverness in The False Prince and I didn't want to see him knocked down a peg or two. Not to mention the sudden loss of his Sherlockian skills doesn't make much sense.

And, well, Jaron is a little bit of a, oh gosh, dare I say it, he has a touch of the Mary Sue to him. Everyone just loves him SO much and sometimes it felt a little unbelievable. Especially when I'm being beaten over the head with the humility, you-won't-win-without-help stick.

Except, even with all this, *I* still love him just as much as everyone else, so I guess it's really not unbelievable after all.  

Ok, have you reset your expectations bar now?

Because those are the only non-flailing-all-over-myself-with-joy comments I'm going to make.

Are all my favorite characters back?

YES! While most only get an itty bitty amount of page time (Connor, LOVE to hate that man! Mott, Tobias, etc) all DO show up and play an important role.

Imogen also has a ton of important parts in The Runaway King and she is fantastic. She's clever, determined, and she shows that she has what it takes to hold her own in a relationship with Jaron. She's not afraid to roll her eyes at his antics and stubbornness, but she also clearly values and respects him as well. But, more on their relationship later.

The Runaway King also introduces a handful of new characters and they command more focus than the old characters in this installment. Which is fine, because they're all pretty awesome. The love-to-hate villain was nuanced enough but also satisfyingly depraved. There's an adorable boy Jaron takes under his wing who was so charming I actually paid as much attention to him as I did Jaron. A noble and a pirate thief round out the main cast and easily wormed their way into my heart.

But, unsurprisingly, The Runaway King is Jaron's book just as The False Prince was all about Sage. His lines are compulsively quotable and never failed to punch in all the right places. He suffers, he whines, he worries, learns, and grows (that last one's the biggie). He steals the stage in every single scene, and even though the other characters do a good job tugging back the spotlight, the main point of all of them is to provide banter and counterbalance to show off Jaron.

And I love it.

And the plot?

This is not a series stretching book, so let's all breathe a sigh of relief.

The False Prince left off with impending war and hints of internal strife in Jaron's court. The Runaway King ends with impending war, but Jaron has taken significant steps toward addressing the vipers in his own court.

I know I said Jaron's ability to play chess is significantly diminished in this book, and that's true, but it isn't totally gone. By the end of The Runaway King, he's selected and arranged his pieces across the board in bold, daring, and very clever ways that should prove interesting come book three.

Though, none of this happens at court. If you were hoping for a court book, then you're going to be disappointed. Whereas The False Prince took place all in one house like a game of Clue, The Runaway King sprawls across multiple kingdoms with Jaron (as Sage!) infiltrating the enclaves of nobles, thieves, and pirates. All with healthy doses of sword fighting, sneaking, charming, and stealing. This all steadily builds to an explosively awesome final fifty pages of pure WIN.

And, yes, it is as awesome as that all sounds. 

The romance!

This is the best love triangle ever! But no, it's not a love triangle like you're thinking.

Sage fell in love with Imogen in The False Prince and his relationship with her only grows stronger in The Runaway King. Even though I didn't even get one kiss (not even ONE, Ms Nielsen???), every single scene between the two of them was packed to the brim with swoon.

And, of course, it's the best kind of hate-tinged love, tense, bickering, eye-rolling, tons of respect, banter-filled swoon.

Except, Imogen is not the princess to whom Jaron is betrothed. So, yeah. Complications.

Complications which are made even more complicated by the fact that I pretty much adore Amarinda. She's sneaky and smart and courageous in a quiet, steady way. She would be an excellent queen and a wonderful counterpart to Jaron.

Their interactions are not as heated and spark-filled as those between Jaron and Imogen, but they reminded me of the subtle but deep and more mature relationship between the King and Queen of Attolia. I want to see the man Jaron becomes with a woman like Amarinda at his side.

But, but Imogen!

HOW do I choose?!


An explanation about that wonky rating

Look, I pull my ratings out of my gut and my heart, not my brain, so you can't expect them to always make objective sense.

"Special Shelf" means that I adore the book to pieces and want to make it my desert island book and I'll probably have to buy multiple copies because I'll wear them out due to all the re-reading I'll do. These are the books where I'll read my favorite scenes over and over and maybe even daydream about what if scenarios about making the characters real or magically getting sucked into the story myself.

Or they make me sob like a baby, but that's not this type of Special Shelf book. This is solidly the kind where I swoon my heart out and wish I could make Jaron real.

But it's not a perfect book, it didn't live up to my every expectation, and I didn't love it as much as The False Prince. So how can I give it the same star rating as The False Prince?

I can't. But it's still a Special Shelf book. So, there you go.

Bottom line

Fans of The False Prince should be very happy with The Runaway King, despite the differences. Don't expect the same book, but do expect a wonderful book. 

Oh, and that cliffhanger ending? Thanks Jennifer Nielsen. Thanks a lot.

(No, really, thank you! Because you're promising war! And not just any war, but a siege war against unbeatable odds! Which is pretty much everything my fantasy-loving heart could ask for.)

(But also, I so hate you right now because, ack, that cliffhanger! How could you leave me hanging like this when I don't know what will happen to that character?!!?!)

(And by hate, I really mean love, you know.)



Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 



Do you have any questions about The Runaway King that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!


Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 

Click on the covers to go to my reviews.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Saturday Swap and Other Small News (Of YAY!)

On the first Saturday of every month, Ruby from Ruby's Reads hosts an event called Saturday Swap where readers can trade books they don't want anymore for books they do want. Sounds pretty perfect, right?

I've intended to participate in the swap for months, but I'm scattered and have never managed to get my stuff together and put up my post in time (it's not that hard to remember FIRST SATURDAY, but for some reason that concept has been, until now, beyond me).

But no more! I have months and months and months of books to swap that I've dutifully piled in a corner with every intention of swapping. And now, at long last, I've managed to post them. Click on all the pictures to make them larger.



So, if you're interested in swapping for any of these books (and you have a US mailing address), drop me an email at

SmallReview at yahoo dot com 

because I would LOVE to swap with someone!

Most of these are ARCs, and while I do have some ARCs on my ARC wishlist, I also have even more books on my general wishlist and I'm totally open for trades for books I haven't mentioned (you all know my tastes by now!).

And if you want a book from me but don't have anything to swap, then check out the giveaway I have running now!

Also, can I just say EEEEEEEPPPPP! And THANK YOU SO MUCH! To whoever nominated me for



and if you're at all inclined to want to go over to The Bookish Brunette's blog and VOTE, that would be even more awesome. Or just go over and check out her blog and all the other nominees, because they're all well worth checking out.

(but no pressure to vote! There are a lot of awesome blogs on that list and, let's be real, I'm not going to win up against the likes of them. But that's totally ok, because, really, it is an honor just to be nominated. And by honor, I mean, I'm OVER THE MOON FILLED WITH HAPPINESS so, thank you!)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...