Friday, December 28, 2012

Books I Got (8)

So it's been a little while since I've put up one of these, huh? Sorry about that! I lent my camera to my in-laws so they could take pictures of all the hurricane damage in their house for the insurance companies and so I couldn't take pictures. I know, that's really know excuse because the internet does have pictures on it that I could have used (and it's not like I used real live photos every time either).

But, I got a little overwhelmed. And then the more I'd wait, the more books I'd get and then it just sort of snowballed from there. So here's a selection of what I've been finding room for on my shelves for the past, oh, month or so.

For Review

The Fire Horse Girl
by Kay Honeyman

I'm still not sure if this is the right book for me. The description begins with, "A fiery and romantic adventure, perfect for fans of Grace Lin, Kristen Cashore, or Lisa See!" And I am TOTALLY down with "a fiery and romantic adventure" but I have no clue who Grace Lin is, Kristen Cashore and I are on mixed terms, and Lisa See makes me think of boredom. 

Still, it IS historical fiction, the MC sounds like she has sleepover potential, and I am pretty curious to find out about that "betrayal that destroys all her dreams." Plus, a sizzling romance that develops on the journey to America? And they DON'T hit an iceberg and die along the way? Yes, sign me up, please. (Although, Sterling Promise? Really? I'm not sure I can swoon for a guy named Sterling Promise). 

Also, is it just me, or does that cover make it look like this will be a girl-dresses-as-boy kind of book? I don't think that's in the book.

Unsolicited review copy from Scholastic.

Lincoln's Grave Robbers
by Steve Sheinkin

I'm still not clear on whether this is historical fiction or non-fiction, but either way I'm excited. All the librarians and list makers are buzzing over how thrilling and interesting and you have to read this book, and I'm totally sucked into the hype.

I mean, it's about an attempt to steal Lincoln's body! And it's based on real actual truth! 

Unsolicited review copy from Scholastic.

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality
by Elizabeth Eulberg

Contemporary that I'm hoping leans more "romantic comedy" and less "issues book." Given the books the author has already written, I think I'm pretty safe.

Unsolicited review copy from Scholastic.

Prisoner B-3087
by Alan Gratz

At first I was all, "Not another holocaust book!" because grade school pretty much saturated me with holocaust books. But this one really does sound different. Based on a true story, we follow a young boy as he survives ten different concentration camps. I admit, I'm curious.

Unsolicited review copy from Scholastic.

Finding Zasha
by Randi Barrow

Yes, another holocaust book. But what's hooked me about this one is that it seems more like a boy-and-his-dogs survival adventure.

Unsolicited review copy from Scholastic.

by Patrick Matthews

I'm a little confused about the title (is it Powerless or Dragon Run?) but that cover has convinced me that this is a book I need to read. It sounds a little like Ordinary Magic with a kid from a magical land getting ranked with basically no magical powers and forced to run from people who want to kill them. But more adventurous.

Unsolicited review copy from Scholastic.

The Dead and Buried
by Kim Harrington

Kim Harrington of Clarity fame, ghosts, and mystery. How could I NOT want to read this?!

Unsolicited review copy from Scholastic.

More to come soon

What did you get this week? Are you interested in reading any of these books? What did you think of them if you've read them already?


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Book Review: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
Series: #1 in the The Darkest Minds series
Release Date: December 18, 2012
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Pages: 496
Received: ARC from Ruby!
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From me, because the book blurb tells you the entire story:

Horrible disease of unknown everything spreads and kills kids when they reach, surprise surprise, puberty! Those who managed to survive end up developing superpowers. YAY! But they're rounded up and sent to concentration camps where they're sorted into color groups based on the nature of their powers. Less yay.

Ruby, our wishy-washy heroine, is really a majorly dangerous Orange (mind control!) but she has a rare moment of decisive intelligence and uses her power to make her captors think she's a benign Green (codebreaker extraordinaire). When they start to catch on to her deception, she manages to escape with the help of a shady group of rebels!

Soon after, she meets up with a stereotypical but lovable group of motley runaways, including The Smart One, The Cute Shy Kid, and The Hot One. Thus begins a periodically slow but also occasionally rollicking quest to find the Slip Kid, the rumored leader of a superpower utopia who can help them find their families.


Why isn't this the sequel to Brightly Woven?

Ok, I'll admit, right off the bat I was disappointed with The Darkest Minds. And this is totally unfair of me, because I hadn't even possessed a copy of the book yet, let alone read a single word in it.

It's just, I loved Brightly Woven, Alexandra Bracken's first book, so darn much and I've had a hard time accepting the fact that she wrote another book and it 1) isn't a sequel and 2) isn't even a high fantasy.

It's a dystopia, and we all know I have a rocky relationship with that genre.

But, it's Alexandra Bracken! So I was cautious, but my hopes were still pretty darn high. 

So, what kind of dystopia is this anyway?

Not the great kind. But not the bad kind either. It's kind of a middling dystopia with an interesting premise that miraculously focuses neither on romance nor that excruciating, slow, and totally stupid "slow awakening" that takes hundreds of pages to basically say, "duh, this world sucks." So, yay!

Ruby knows from the get-go that her world is messed up (hey, she grew up in a concentration camp). This journey is faster paced than most Book 1 dystopias since Ruby spends the majority of it running away from various bad people out to either harm her or use her for her powers.

The only downside is, despite her awesome superpower, she doesn't actually do a whole lot of fighting back. And the few times she does? It's straight to the fetal position of shock and shame for our hero. So don't expect Buffy.

The good

Alexandra Bracken's world is also sort of a dystopia/post-apocalyptic cross, which upped its awesome points because I love post-apoc stories.

There's a government that sends its children to concentration camps and kills A TON of people because they're super duper evil like that. And, really, let me stress A TON. Dead. This evil government is actually hardcore evil with a body count to match the dystopia genre tag. Bracken's not playing around here.

On top of that, most of the population was convinced that this move was the right thing to do, and the fact that they felt this way actually made sense (unlike some YA dystopias). At this point I was so happy to have a dystopia grounded in plausible reality that I was almost ready to forgive Alexandra Bracken for not spending her every writing moment penning me more Wayland North scenes. Almost.

Even better, most of the book follows main character Ruby (concentration camp escapee) and her rag-tag group of similarly superpowered youths as they travel across the country trying to survive in the post-apocalyptic land while being pursued by multiple groups of baddies all out to get them.

Did you get all that? Here, let me break down the awesome for you:

1) Kids with superpowers! Have I mentioned how much I love this plot point? The superpowers in The Darkest Minds were a little more joy-suck ala Rogue-can't-touch-people-without-killing-them and a little less wish-fulfillment than I'd like, but superpowers are still superpowers and you can never go too wrong by adding them to any plot.

2) Road trip! Another plot point that automatically elevates a storyline. There's even a sort of quest to find a mythical utopia for superpowered kids that can only be located by first finding and then cracking a code, which is pretty much another sentence packed with win right there.

Though I could have done with a cooler road trip vehicle than a minivan. For crying out loud.

Seriously YA authors, what gives? First we get Edward's decidedly uncool "Safety First" Volvo, and now this?! Have you not seen The Omega Man? Mad Max? If I ever find myself cruising around in a post-apocalyptic land, you'd better believe I'll be driving in V8-muscle style.

3) Pursuit. Always gets the heart racing.

4) Multiple groups of baddies. It would have been fine if Alexandra Bracken had created a bad government and left it at that. But multiple groups? That makes A LOT more sense. This world is fractured, so it's totally logical that there would be more than one group with an agenda running around. It could have been SO easy for Alexandra Bracken to have divided her lines across stark good and bad, government versus anti-government and called it a day.

But she didn't, and I love her for it. The development of different groups with their sometimes aligned and sometimes at odds agendas make perfect sense and kept both Ruby and myself on our toes. Who can we trust? Anyone? No one? I'm still not sure where to put my loyalties, if anywhere, but I know I want to find out more about all of them.

And one final good

Chubs. Ah, I love this guy. He's part of Ruby's group of runaways and while he spends a good part of the book annoyed with her, he's a total genius and a softie and I love him.

Fortunately, he's not Ruby's love interest. I know, totally weird thing for me to say, right? But it's true.

He's a great guy and he has great chemistry with Ruby whether they're fighting or friendly, but it's purely on a friend level. And that's where I want it to stay. It's like Anne and Diana or Kirk and Spock (and while some fan fictions might go there, that's just wrong). Their friendships are perfection and I love that an author actually focused on developing a meaningful friendship instead of romance.

But that cliffhanger of an ending? All I'm going to say is that IT BETTER GO MY WAY. 

*cough* and the bad

You knew this wasn't going to be all yays and points. There is a whole star and a half missing here, and unfortunately I have more than a few reasons why.

First off, I read an ARC, and oh lord do I hope the finished version has had a lot more work done to it. Plot holes! Incoherent superpowers! Wandering plot! Shoddy world-building!

A lot of The Darkest Minds was just a hot mess. It felt like a rush-job that was put out there before it was ready. I feel like it makes so much more sense in the author's mind and it's really totally developed and even intricate...but only about 70% made it to paper. I want to read the 100% version, because that would be awesome.

Add to that the flat characters, survival stupidity, and pity party main character, I'm sometimes surprised by how much I actually did like this book.

The ideas were good, and I think I ran with that, even while part of me was sitting there thinking, "wait, what? NO, this is only half-baked!"

And Ruby. Boy, did I want to like her. Sadly, she commits two of my biggest MC pet-peeves. First, she spends the entire (long) book moping in timid indecision, internally whining over how everyone will hate her if they find out the truth about her. Honey, *I* was starting to hate you, and it had nothing to do with your superpower. 

Which leads me to grievous MC sin number two: Superpower squandering. Ruby would rather take the LALAALALA-I'M-NOT-LISTENING approach to her powers instead of actually, you know, using them. I don't read a book about people with superpowers so I can listen to them cry about how woe-is-me they are for having them and ignore their power because it is oh so scary.


Now, fine, Alexandra Bracken at least gives Ruby a pretty legit reason to be afraid of her powers and it did totally tug at my heartstrings and even make me tear up a little, but I really don't care. Superpower squandering is unforgivable.

Ok, let's get down to what's important here


While I'm not sure if this is entirely fair on my part, I have to admit I was disappointed. To be frank, I was gunning for Wayland North Does Post-Apocalyptic Dystopia, and I know that's slightly unrealistic.

I mean, wouldn't it be a source of complaint if Alexandra Bracken basically took the same Brightly Woven characters, gave them modern clothes, and called it a day? Wouldn't that be considered lazy? Uncreative? Yeah, probably. But that's what I wanted. Because I'm still pining for Wayland North.

And Liam? He's no Wayland North.

Liam is nice. In real life, I'd probably love him. He makes a good mental picture, has a hot Southern accent, and he's a total gentleman.

He's also super boring. Where was the swagger? The charm? The, I don't know, personality? Basically, I wanted Han Solo and instead I got Luke Skywalker (though hotter, there's that).

And the other guy? (Yeah, we take an annoying detour down that path). All I can say is UGH BARF NO. From the very beginning.

I don't know if I like being emotionally manipulated like that

There were a few gut-punches thrown in there and I'm still not sure how I feel about them. On one hand, they totally worked. I was crying and mentally screaming, "NO NO NO THAT CAN'T HAPPEN STOP NOW!!" which is a definite mark in the win column.

But, eeeeh, did we need to resort to emotional manipulations? Or, maybe I would have liked them more if the rest of the book felt as raw and spectacular as those scenes. As it was, it felt like I was snoozing through a fog of emotional detachment because, while they were nice enough, I really couldn't have cared less about the characters (Chubs excepted).

And then, BAM suddenly I did!

Or did I? Did I care about them, or was their plight just so emotionally transcendent that I'd have to be darn near inhuman not to feel for them (whoever the heck they are)? I think it's the latter. The events made me think how heartbroken I would feel if *I* were the one going through them, or even just how devastating they were conceptually. But they didn't make me feel for Ruby.

So even while I was reeling from all the emotions and loving the fact that Alexandra Bracken went there and that was awesome and amazing and took The Darkest Minds to that great IMPACT level most YA dystopias lack, it still feels kinda like a cheap shot.

Bottom line

The Darkest Minds is not the book I was hoping it would be. Part of that is my own fault for wanting to make it into something it wasn't (and stubbornly refusing to accept it for what it was).

But even accounting for that, this one seems like it needed to spend more time in development. A little more editing, (A LOT) more coherent world-building, and a MC who isn't so wishy-washy would have gone a long way to making The Darkest Minds one of the rare really good YA dystopias.

But, whatever. It falls short. That's ok. It's still an absorbing read that will likely appeal strongly to dystopia fans. Definitely something I'll be ordering for my library teens (probably too hardcore for tweens...unless they're already reading The Hunger Games), even if it isn't something I'll keep in my own personal library (so, trade?).

Will I read the sequel? Maybe, maybe not. I still haven't decided.  

Also, cliffhanger warning. Total cliffhanger. 

On an unrelated note, I wish they had kept the original title Black is the Color. It's so fresh and original and striking. The Darkest Minds is so bland, been-there-done-that, and lame. Plus, it never fails to make me think of Michelle Pfeiffer bringing the joy of education to dangerous, misunderstood youths. 

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about The Darkest Minds 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.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book Review: Undead by Kirsty McKay

Undead by Kirsty McKay
#1 in the Undead series
Release Date: September 1, 2012
Publisher: The Chicken House (Scholastic)
Pages: 272
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

Out of sight, out of their minds: It's a school-trip splatter fest and completely not cool when the other kids in her class go all braindead on new girl Bobby.

The day of the ski trip, when the bus comes to a stop at a roadside restaurant, everyone gets off and heads in for lunch. Everyone, that is, except Bobby, the new girl, who stays behind with rebel-without-a-clue Smitty.

Then hours pass. Snow piles up. Sun goes down. Bobby and Smitty start to flirt. Start to stress. Till finally they see the other kids stumbling back.

But they've changed. And not in a good way. Straight up, they're zombies. So the wheels on the bus better go round and round freakin' fast, because that's the only thing keeping Bobby and Smitty from becoming their classmates' next meal. It's kill or be killed in these hunger games, heads are gonna roll, and homework is most definitely gonna be late.


Calibrate your expectations

This is not a deep book. At all. It's not swooningly romantic, it's not heart-pounding exciting, and it's not super funny.

What it IS is a light, fun read that's worthy of a few chuckles, has a breezy romance, and held my interest throughout. Undead should be well received, just so long as readers don't set the expectations bar super high.

Also, while I don't normally associate zombie books with good winter reading, Undead's blizzard setting makes it a perfect book to read now. 

Bobby, the girl I thought was a boy

I spent the first chapter or so focusing just as much on whether or not main character Bobby was a boy or a girl as I did on the plot. I don't like narrator gender-ambiguity. It's frustrating and unfortunately pretty indicative of the depth of Bobby's characterization.

On the plus side, Bobby's narration is sufficiently gender-ambiguous that I can totally give Undead to boy readers! So, silver lining?

Back to Bobby. She's likable and has a pretty snarky sense of humor. She's also fairly capable, which is always a plus when reading zombie/survival books. She wasn't exactly Rambo, but she gamely rose to all the decapitating challenges when presented.

Basically, I wouldn't kick her out of my zombie survival group.

But those other characters?

Yeah, none of them are getting invites.

The main guy Smitty was ok, but pretty immature. Not in the, "cute MG level" type of immature, but more in the give girls wedgies and harp on 5th grade level humor kind of immature. So while he was nice and ultimately a decent guy, he was also annoying. Then again, I'm OLD, so what do I know?

There's also the smart character, and while smart characters usually make my auto approve list for zombie/post-apoc catastrophes, this one had me seriously weighing their usefulness versus their irritating personality. At certain points I would have definitely opted to take my chances without that know it all. But, again, not all bad.

And finally, what would a zombie Breakfast Club be without the popular girl? She's entirely stereotypical and there really isn't much else to say about her than that.

Taken all together, the motley group was at times funny and endearing, but also frequently irritating. Though it was a mild irritating, so there's that.

But so what?

The thing is, the characters don't need to be all that great. Do you look for likable characters with incredible depth when watching horror movies? No!

Undead is not supposed to be a deep book and the characters aren't supposed to be super developed or likable (think fairy tale characters). The plot is what's important here, and the plot is pretty decent.

Everything moves at a brisk enough pace and the setting changes often enough that I never got bored with where we were or what we were doing. It was predictable in some regards (obviously Smitty and the MC will fall for each other), but I was surprised several times by the direction the plot took. In a good way.

And even though I didn't love any of the characters, I was attached enough that I cared what happened to them. There were a few times where I was at the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next and if everyone would make it out okay.

Sometimes what did happen next was kind of far fetched verging on ridiculous, but I thought that was part of the charm of Undead. This isn't a book that takes itself seriously, and I had a lot of fun with that.

Bottom line

Undead won't be making it on the top adolescent literature lists anytime soon, but I can already hear the giddy buzz brewing among my tweens (girls AND boys!). I have a feeling this one will get passed around my library and school district through lots of word of mouth.

The zombies are more of the Evil Dead gross but funny variety, so scaredy cats like myself needn't worry. Among my readers, I think this will be more popular with the tweens, but I know at least a handful of teens will also enjoy it.

For myself, I had fun with Undead. I wouldn't rush out to buy it, but I'd check out the sequel or another book by the author if it came into my library system. The ending most definitely leads into a sequel and readers who become attached to the story will probably be pretty desperate to get their hands on the next book. Me? I'm okay waiting, but I'm still curious to find out what happens next.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Undead 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.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Book Review: Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George

Princess of the Silver Woods
#3 in the Princess series
Release Date: December 11, 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
Pages: 336
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

When Petunia, the youngest of King Gregor's twelve dancing daughters, is invited to visit an elderly friend in the neighboring country of Westfalin, she welcomes the change of scenery. But in order to reach Westfalin, Petunia must pass through a forest where strange two-legged wolves are rumored to exist. Wolves intent on redistributing the wealth of the noble citizens who have entered their territory. But the bandit-wolves prove more rakishly handsome than truly dangerous, and it's not until Petunia reaches her destination that she realizes the kindly grandmother she has been summoned to visit is really an enemy bent on restoring an age-old curse.

The stories of Red Riding Hood and Robin Hood get a twist as Petunia and her many sisters take on bandits, grannies, and the new King Under Stone to end their family curse once and for all.


Oh, expectations...

I loved Princess of the Midnight Ball, the first installment in this series, so much that I'm always trying to shove it into some unsuspecting reader's hands. The second book, Princess of Glass was enjoyable, but I didn't love it as much as the first. Still, it's fun and both can be read as standalones, so I'm often recommending both to my tween and teen readers.

Sadly, and after much bated-breath anticipation, I have to come to terms with the fact that Princess of the Silver Woods is the weakest of the bunch for me. I'll still order a copy for my library, but I don't think it will get passed around as much as the other Jessica Day George books I've ordered.

Who do I give this book to?

First, there's the question of age. The two earlier books were sweet and light enough that I can easily give them to middle grade readers. They're also both layered enough that they hold the interest of teen and older readers (particularly the first book centering on eldest sister Rose).

Princess of the Silver Woods reads much younger. I'm not sure many of my teen and older readers would enjoy it as much as they did the earlier installments. I'm thinking I'll be passing this to tweens more often than teens. And as for myself, I was definitely feeling the, "This book is for younger readers and I'm bored now" vibe. (And for the record, I hate that vibe because it makes me feel old.)

The second question is whether or not I should give it to readers who have not read the earlier books in the series. And, ok, it's not much of a question because of course I'll provide the earlier books, if for no other reason than they're good books that should be read. But, is it necessary to read them in order? I'm not so sure it is.

I'm of course coming from the perspective of having read the earlier books, but I think Jessica Day George does a more than adequate job of recapping previous events, especially the events from the first book (and the events from the second book don't have much of an impact on this story). Readers unfamiliar with books one and two shouldn't have much difficulty understanding and enjoying book three.

I might even go so far as to say that readers who haven't read the first book may even enjoy Princess of the Silver Woods more than those who have read the whole series. Which brings me to one of my biggest complaints.

Haven't I already read this book?

In the first book, the King Under Stone is wreaking havoc on the sisters' lives by magically forcing them to travel to his kingdom every night and dance with his sons, to whom the princesses are bethrothed. The princesses fight this evil with the help of a handsome man who falls in love with oldest sister Rose.

In Princess of the Silver Woods, the new King Under Stone is weraking havoc on the sisters' lives by magically forcing them to travel to his kingdom and dance with his brothers, with whom the princesses are expected to have children. The princesses fight this evil with the help of a handsome man who falls in love with youngest sister Petunia.

Notice any similarities? Now, ok, not everything is exactly the same, but it felt way too similar to Princess of the Midnight Ball to really hold my interest. I was expecting a whole new story, not a reworking of a story I had already read.

Other disappointments

The characters felt really under-developed. I had very little idea of what set Petunia apart from her sisters (none of which were particularly distinct) and while Oliver felt a little more defined, his personality didn't seem entirely consistent (he lays down everything to protect his people and then tosses it all away in a second because of love for a girl he just met??)

The only solid character trait I could come up with for Petunia is that she's frustratingly slow when it comes to puzzling things out. Though I would love to attribute that complaint to my super awesome powers of deduction, I don't think I can take credit here. The bad guy was RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER FACE and she kept saying, "Oh no, but they're so nice!" and then not even investigating things (how do you not investigate things?!).

And, I mean, it's not like we needed Nancy Drew to solve this mystery. It was pretty much stated as fact. I'm totally baffled as to why Petunia refused to consider the possibility, let alone actually acknowledge the obvious truth. I didn't like feeling so exasperated with her and I really didn't like reading her repetitive denials throughout the whole book (right up until she did something REALLY dumb, and for an equally incomprehensible reason).

So where did the stars come from?

Because I love Jessica Day George's books. They're just so fluffy and sweet. I may not have been able to tell the sisters apart, but I loved their banter and the way they always supported one another. Her books are easy to read and they make me happy. Jessica Day George is the ultimate comfort read author.

They're like the book equivalent to a puppy. Even when puppies do something bad or are kind of scruffy looking, they're still adorable puppies and I can't help but love them.

Bottom line

Not the strongest book and not something I'll buy for myself. I do think it will be popular enough with my middle grade girls to warrant placing a library order though.

Read it as a standalone or as a part of the series. Skip the middle book or read all three. Just don't expect something BRAND NEW or super deep and Princess of the Silver Woods should still be able to deliver as a quick, fun, sweet comfort read.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Princess of the Silver Woods 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.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Book Review: Duchessina by Carolyn Meyer

Duchessina: A Novel of Catherine de' Medici by Carolyn Meyer
#5 in the Young Royals series
Release Date: June 1, 2007
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Pages: 272
Received: Library
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

Young Catherine de' Medici is the sole heiress to the entire fortune of the wealthy Medici family. But her life is far from luxurious. After a childhood spent locked away behind the walls of a convent, she joins the household of the pope, where at last she can be united with her true love. But, all too soon, that love is replaced with an engagement to a boy who is cold and aloof. It soon becomes clear that Catherine will need all the cunning she can muster to command the respect she deserves as one of France's most powerful queens.


Catherine's boring

She's nice enough, but not in a good way. She's nice the way where I use "nice" to describe an inoffensive person when I can't think of anything else to say about them. Maybe I could also throw in bland and meek? That isn't helping matters, is it?

There just wasn't much to her. I also get the feeling that I don't have a clue what the real Catherine de' Medici was like. Catherine, the historical figure, is described in lots of very NOT nice ways, but there wasn't anything in Duchessina to even hint at any of that.

The plot is dreary

This isn't really Carolyn Meyer's fault. I mean, if she tried to spice things up by deviating from history I'd start complaining about that, so really, I can't hold this against her. Much.

Catherine's childhood is mostly a bunch of moving around from one convent to another. She's cut off from most of the world and, when she finally gets to France, she isn't given any political power (until after the book ends). So, yeah, kind of dull.

I'm not entirely convinced this couldn't have been made more interesting, though. Lots of political stuff was going on around Catherine, and I don't see why it couldn't have been integrated into the story more. I would have liked more details about the wars, battles, conspiracies, strife, and upheaval. Basically, all of the things that caused Catherine to have to move and go into hiding.

Also, her life is sad. Again, not Carolyn Meyer's fault. Catherine's childhood was full of death, failure, abandonment, starvation, and sadness. This was not a particularly uplifting book.

Maybe if I had cared more about Catherine I could have at least gotten into all that sadness. I mean, I went through a Lurlene McDaniel phase in my tween years and I'm a diehard Beaches fan, so it's not like I'm totally opposed to a good cry-fest. But I shed nary a tear for boring Catherine. I just couldn't muster up a care (and to put this in perspective, Carolyn Meyer had me sobbing at the end of her book about Marie Antoinette).

Everything's all uneven

I like a well-plotted book with a clear purpose and progression of events. I don't like slow paced books, but I also don't like unevenly paced books. Duchessina was both.

The slowness comes from the lack of really anything happening. There weren't even a ton of historical factoids to keep me occupied. Nothing propelled me to keep reading other than the fact that the book didn't have many pages and I didn't dislike it enough to stop. Also, I wasn't sure what I wanted to read next.

The uneven pacing is something I've also complained about with the Cleopatra book in this series. As in Cleopatra Confesses, Duchessina focuses on Catherine's childhood and stops just as things are getting good. I guess it is nice having a chance to get to know Catherine's life before she became the great historical figure, but it was frustrating to have Carolyn Meyer hint at Catherine's reputation and then never back up those hints with anything.

I also didn't appreciate the rush at the end. If we're stopping the story at a point other than Catherine's death, then just stop the story, please. Instead, I got a rushed synopsis of Catherine's life from the events at the end of the book up until her death. It was like watching a movie of her life and then getting bored partway through and watching the rest with the fast forward button pressed.

Bottom line

I love the idea of this series, but the reality isn't measuring up to my expectations. I feel like the Young Royals series is getting the, "Oh it's just YA" treatment, which I equate to sloppy stories with weak character development and little regard for accuracy. Young adults demand better, and it would be nice if authors and publishers took note.

So I'll be passing on ordering this one for my library. I did order and highly recommend The Bad Queen about Marie Antoinette, so I won't give up on the Young Royals series just yet!

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Duchessina 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. Heads up, The Queen's Vow is adult fiction.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Discussion & List: The Joy of Book Two

I have a love/hate relationship with series, but today I'm going to focus on the positive and gush about my explosive love for series, particularly book two.

Starting a series is great with all of its first-date suspense, hope, and possibilities. Few things come close to the delicious anticipation of wondering if I'll fall head over heels for this book and open a brand new chapter of awesomeness in my life.

Life was never the same

And then, if the stars align and everything comes together perfectly, then there's the wait for the second book. And, yeah, it's excruciating. But it's also kind of fun because even though I have to wait, I KNOW there will be a big payoff when the time comes due.

Plus, since it's only the second book, so I know I can read the book without all the sadness that comes along with reading the last book in the series when you know it's really The End.

It's like Christmas, or my birthday. Sure they only come once a year, but when they DO come, they're filled with piles of presents and tons of tasty food and general wonderfulness. And the best part is, I know these things are coming. I can rely on that guaranteed happiness, even if I have to wait a whole year for it.

And we get to do this EVERY year!

The second book in a series is often a dangerous thing, fraught with all sorts of peril like series stretching and the introduction of the dreaded Secondary Love Interest. Usually, second books scare the life out of me.

This didn't work out well for anyone

BUT, every rare once in a while a first book is so incredible, so special, so perfect that I KNOW the next book will be nothing short of chocolate fudge levels of perfection.

(Of course I'm still a little afraid I'll experience a crushing blow if the book doesn't live up to my super high expectations, but shhh, I'm pretending that isn't even a fraction of a possibility. Because, I just, I cannot fathom that reality.)

I've had my heart crushed way too many times by book disappointment, so I don't let my heart run wild after just any old book. I'm picky and jaded and I don't want to be hurt again.

 So this is my teeny tiny list of sequels I've allowed myself to throw all caution to the wind and fall madly in love with the mere idea of their existence.

They'd better live up.

Fair warning: There be (tiny) spoilers for the first books here!

The Pirate's Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke
sequel to The Pirate's Curse

The first book hit pretty much all of my marks for a Special Shelf book with its sleepover friend paragon of a main character, sizzling hate-turned-love romance, and heaps of fantasy peril and action. The ending left off with the potential for an even more excitement-filled quest to come, and if the strength of the first book is any indication, The Pirate's Curse is going to set a new high in quest-fantasy.

I'm banking on The Pirate's Wish having all that, and more. Namely, I want more sizzle in the romance. Sure it was pretty close to perfect in the first book, but I felt like Naji was holding out in that department a little. He's a little too closed off and mysterious, so I'm hoping book two sheds a little more light on his, presumably, growing feelings for Ananna.

An 11th hour name change wouldn't hurt, either (I mean, Naji?? I'm still not over it).

The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen
sequel to The False Prince

The idea of basking in Sage's presence is enough for me. I don't even care all that much what he's doing.

But, I'd prefer if he were scheming and manipulating and being cheeky about it all like he was in The False Prince. The blurb gives me hope that there will be a good dose of twistyness mixed with clever plotting and murder (always good for a book, I think).

I like that the blurb makes it sound like Sage has matured and gotten all responsible in The Runaway King (I always love a Capable Guy), but I'm hoping his signature sass hasn't been completely set aside. Also, a little more development of that barely-there distrustful romance would be fantastic. But just a smidgen.

The only thing I'm really not jumping for joy over is the name change. I read the blurb three times thinking, "Who the heck is Jaron?!" before I realized that, oh yeah, that's Sage's real name. But, pfft. He'll always be Sage to me.

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy
sequel to The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

I can't stop recommending The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. Adults, kids, teens, tweens—I've even made the elderly whip out their magnifiers and read that book. My pitch is simple: Do you like to laugh? Well then, do I have a book for you!

I'm expecting nothing less out of Christopher Healy's follow up. The cover and blurb are certainly worthy and I have no doubt the author is up to the task. So, my expectations? Super high. But my fears the book might not fulfill those expectations? Practically zero. I have total confidence, Mr. Healy.

I don't really have doubts or hopes for this sequel. Not like the other books. In this case, I just hope The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle is filled with all of the same characters (and maybe a few new ones, too. Evil villainS? Plural? Yessssss) and that they're acting exactly like themselves. And, ok, maybe it would be cute to see the rearranged couples pair up a little more solidly, but that isn't a requirement at all.

Biggest reason I'm crossing my fingers in hopeful anticipation? I desperately want Bronson Pinchot to record an audiobook version.

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers
sequel to Grave Mercy

I know this book is following different characters from the main duo in Grave Mercy, but I'm kind of okay with that. Don't get me wrong, I loved Ismae and Duvall, but I'm all about the slow burn romance and that ship has sailed for them already. When the romance comes together in book one, all book two usually offers is conflict and third parties. Or sappy, spark-less tru wuv. Either way, no thank you!

So I'm all over the idea of keeping the awesome world of assassin nuns, gods of death, and courtly intrigue but turning the focus on two new love interests. Sybella is even more distrustful and prickly than Ismae, so I'm not expecting any kind of instalove nonsense out of her. In fact, the only instalove I'm pretty certain about is the love I have for Sybella, and I can't wait to get to know her even more.

My only fear? I wasn't IN LOVE with Sybella's soon-to-be-main-squeeze. So, yeah, I'm worried I won't be feeling this romance the way I was with Duvall. But I trust Robin, so I'm not too worried. Plus, I'm sure I'll be plenty distracted with all of the historical fantasy world building and political intrigue.

Also, Sybella. I really have fallen in instalove.

What about you?

What series are you SO in love with that you just KNOW the second book will be complete perfection for you?

Do you have any hopes or fears for them?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Book Review: The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

The Black Cauldron
Pages: 182
Received: Library
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page

Mini Review

Gosh did I want to love this book. It's a classic! Not only that, it's a fantasy classic. And written by one of THE authors every self-respecting fantasy fan is pretty much obligated to have read (this is my first) and loved (I did not).

Does this mean I have to turn in my fantasy-fan card??

I thought it was dull. It was like I was on a blind date set up for me by my boss. I had all this pressure to fall madly in love with The Black Cauldron, and so I tried really, really hard to FORCE myself to get my heart racing over the plot or melting over the characters. Every time I picked up the book I would give myself a little pep talk that THIS would be the time I'd feel that reading spark.

But I failed to spark. Instead, I was contemplating doing laundry when I was reading. Seriously, laundry.

I'm at a total loss as to why this happened.

The plot felt slow even though objectively I know lots of things were happening. There weren't many lulls at all and the action was pretty steady throughout with lots of opportunities for peril. There were battles and double-crosses, fantasy creatures and even questing.

Despite my best efforts, I could not feel any sort of connection to the characters (it was like trying to hug damp cardboard!). Again, I'm not sure why. From a distance they look great. Tragic heroes, complex nemeses, character growth, and even a little romance of my very favorite hate-turned-love slow burn variety!

I should have been all over those characters but I wasn't. You know how something far away can look pretty great, but then when you get up close to it you realize that, whoa, not looking so good after all? The Black Cauldron feels kind of like that. If I step back and think about the events and characters, then I kind of do love it all.

Then when I was up close and actually reading it? Total snooze-fest (and cliched to boot)!

BUT, ok, I'm not sure if I should admit this on such a public forum but, erm, well,

ifeltthesamewayaboutthelordoftherings. (But loved the movie!)

Fine. I'll surrender my fantasy-fan card now.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about The Black Cauldron that I haven't addressed? 

Did I just commit total blasphemy and cause great offense?
Feel free to let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Small News: Hurricane aftermath

I don't usually post many personal details here, but since I did mention being away because of the hurricane, and then I was away for a while, I think it's only fair to give a little update as to what's been going on in my world.

Again, it's VERY good timing that we moved to Texas this year, because otherwise things would not be good for us. As it is, the house we lived in, where my in-laws still live, is in pretty bad shape and their car has been totaled. The first floor was flooded enough to ruin almost everything there, including all the appliances, furniture, walls, and floors, as well as a number of sentimental items.

Almost as saddening is the state of my library! It is currently closed and though it will reopen at some point, there is no definite date at this time. There was flooding and we're not sure yet which, if any, books can be salvaged. My little branch was on higher ground and fared far better than the main branch and the other small branch though, so there is hope!

My library is a part of a great community that has come together to help take care of one another, so I have faith that we will rebuild to be even better than before. I'm  making sure to record all the fantastic new books coming out so that when we do re-open I can bolster the spirits of my teen and tween readers with gorgeous paranormal guys and epic quests, because, seriously, those things make everything better.

Thanks for hanging in there with me during this and all the other hiatuses this year! Reviews are coming soon!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Small News: Hurricane Sandy

Well, I picked a good year to move to Texas!

My hometown in NY is pretty much destroyed and we're still waiting to find out if our house made it through. My in laws are here (on a totally coincidental but well-timed vacation), so at least we know they're safe. We know the bay and the ocean met and surrounded our home, but we don't know if the water came inside. Unfortunately we do know some people whose homes have been swept out to sea or burned.

I'll be a little MIA around here for a little while as we try to figure out what happened and try to contact our family and friends who are still in NY. I hope everyone else who has been affected by the storm is safe! I know some of you live near the affected areas and you are in my thoughts.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Books I got this week (8)

It's been established so clearly that I can't even lie about it: I have no self-control when it comes to books. I acquire them at a much faster rate than I can actually read and review them, but hopefully these posts will help those books get some exposure NOW instead of waiting until I actually manage to find time to, you know, read them.

This post is for the past...well, it's been a while!

I've been super overwhelmed with life lately, so I actually managed to rein in my review requests (since I'm already, erm, swamped with review books through January!)

I'd say I deserve a cookie or something for exercising all this restraint, but, well, you'll see I haven't been all that controlled when it comes to other sources of acquiring books

(and I haven't even included all the adult books I picked up)...

For Review

Crimson Frost
by Jennifer Estep

Release Date: December 24, 2012
Publisher: Kensington
Pages: 384
Goodreads Page

Yay for Mythos Academy! This is the fourth book in the series and I can't wait to see what happens to Gwen next! Doesn't she look fierce on the cover? Well, with the way book three left off, Gwen needs all the fierceness she can muster up!


by Carolyn Meyer

This is part of Carolyn Meyer's Young Royals series of YA biographies of important royal women throughout history. I've already read her book about Cleopatra (Cleopatra Confesses, okay) and Marie Antoinette (The Bad Queen, great!).

This one is about Catherine de' Medici and, sadly, I didn't love it all that much.


Between used bookstores and a library sale, I've been bringing home books at an alarming rate! But, when the most expensive book was only $3.99, how could I not??

A Spy in the House
by Y. S. Lee

I've heard downright awesome things about this historical fiction/mystery series. Main character Mary sounds like someone I'll get along with and her slow burn romance, well, I'd be lying if I said that wasn't a draw!

Does anyone know if this book can be read as a standalone?

Midnight Magic
by Avi

This is one of those books where my sister and I both loved it so much that we'd argue over who actually owned the book. Which is silly considering we lived together and so the book of course resided under the same roof.

Even sillier is the fact that we never entertained the idea of buying a second copy (I think that was somehow considered an impossibility). So, even when I moved and left the book in New York, it was with the understanding that my sister would retain custody of the book.

Until now. She can keep her copy because now I have a copy of my very own!

Fire Study
by Maria V. Snyder

I adored Poison Study, but I've heard Maria V. Snyder's second books aren't as good as her first books so I've been reluctant to continue on with the series.

Is it terrible to say that I bought this book just as much for the beautiful cover (that matched my edition of Poison Study) as I did for actually (maybe) reading it?

Well, it was only a dollar!

Player's Ruse
by Hilari Bell

This is my go-to series for "brothers in arms" cravings. Michael and Fisk are totally different from one another, but that just means I get to satisfy my liking of noble, heroic, good men (Michael) and guys with shady pasts who do sometimes shady things (Fisk). There's always a mystery the friends need to solve that is as engaging as the characters.

I liked the first book a lot, loved the second book, and I'm hoping the third book is just as good. 

What did you get this week? Are you interested in reading any of these books? What did you think of them if you've read them already?


Friday, October 26, 2012

DNF: House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier

Did Not Finish Explanation

Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley 
Read pages: 120 of 352

This is one of those times where I DNF a book and still have every intention of picking it up again soon. The problem was that I was reading this as an e-galley, and I have to read all my e-galleys on my computer. That led me to DNF for two reasons:

First, the pacing of this book is languid. I guess technically I could call it "slow" but that doesn't feel right. The pace is just right for the book and anything faster would have felt rushed and wrong. But, it is not a fast moving plot. It takes a long time for things to happen and there is a lot of showing and telling.

While none of that was the least bit boring, it was difficult to keep my engagement while dealing with the constant "I'm not comfortable" interruption that goes through my head whenever I read on my computer.

Second, a computer is the wrong medium to use for this book. I'd even go so far as to say an e-reader feels wrong. House of Shadows is the kind of book that is too beautiful and the fantasy world too immersive to be juxtaposed against such modern technology. I was enjoying House of Shadows too much to continue sullying my reading exerience with this wrongness.

BUT, what I read was wonderful. Readers who don't mind taking things at a slower pace will be rewarded with a truly enrapturing experience. All of my senses were engaged to the point where I felt like I could smell the air the characters were breathing, feel the things they were touching, and hear the sounds around them. The world building is practically a character in its own right.

Over the pages I read, the third person narrative switched focus between Nemienne, Leilis, and Taudde.

Nemienne is the type of character I tend to love—a little off-beat, but brave and stubborn with her nose always finding its way into a book. She finds herself living with a mage and learning magic. An enchanted cat and labyrinthine home rounded out my experiences with Nemienne, and to my mind it doesn't get much better than that.

Leilis is a sort-of servant at what sounds like a courtesan's guildhouse. I'm not sure what to think of her character yet except that she seems very tragic and I want to know what happened to her to land her in such a position. There's a definite backstory there and I feel like Leilis will turn out to be far more than she ever expected.

Karah, one of Nemienne's sisters becomes a courtesan in the house Leilis serves, and so I got to follow along with her during these sections as well. Karah is so serene, kind, and beautiful and she reminded me a little of Rose in Jessica Day George's Princess of the Midnight Ball (the large number of sisters in both books might have sparked that comparison).

Taudde is the only character I didn't like very much, but I think that's partly because I don't entirely have a handle on him. He's up to something and keeping lots of secrets, but at his core is a festering hurt and that rarely turns out well.

At the time I stopped reading, each character thread felt almost entirely separate from one another and I'm not sure how they will come together. With the exception of Taudde's sections, I quickly fell into the rhythem of each narrative and it almost didn't matter to me what would happen next so long as I could continue spending time with these characters in this world.

Bottom line

Definitely something I'm going to pick up again just as soon as my library gets a copy in. Because of the pacing and level of description and immersion, I think I'm going to need to set aside a large chunk of time to devote to reading House of Shadows. It does not seem like the kind of book where I could get away with reading small snippets at a time without negatively impacting the experience.

I originally picked up House of Shadows after reading Charlotte's excellent review

Recommended for readers who enjoy Sharon Shinn and Juliet Marillier. 

Have you read House of Shadows?
How did you like it?
Have you ever put down a book because the situation you were reading in was not ideal? 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review: My Swordhand is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick

My Swordhand is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick
Release Date: October 9, 2007
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books/Random House
Pages: 200
Received: Library
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

When Tomas and his son Peter settle in Chust as woodcutters, Tomas digs a channel of fast-flowing waters around their hut, so they have their own little island kingdom. Peter doesn't understand why his father has done this, nor why his father carries a long, battered box, whose mysterious contents he is forbidden to know.

But Tomas is a man with a past: a past that is tracking him with deadly intent, and when the dead of Chust begin to rise from their graves, both father and son must face a soulless enemy and a terrifying destiny.


For best results, approach like this...

Different books require different approaches for optimal enjoyment. For My Swordhand is Singing, I recommend taking the "folktale" approach. That is, pretend you are sitting around a campfire on a cold night in Romania and a grizzled old man is telling you a tale of what happened there many years ago.

When listening to this type of story, I don't expect characters of great depth or an intricate plot, but I DO expect a story to keep me entertained. If I'm lucky, such campfire stories send a shiver down my spine and make me jump at the slightest sounds, darting furtive looks over my shoulder while also blushing at my own fear.

My Swordhand is Singing delivered the perfect blend of spooky entertainment. I read it at night and alone, curled up under my bed covers, which is the perfect setting if a campfire is not at hand.

Is it scary?

I've heard others say they were disappointed and not terribly scared, but I'm a wimp so I thought My Swordhand is Singing was a delightfully creepy tale!

The menace builds slowly but steadily, creeping in like frigid winter air curling under a drafty door. Set in medieval Romania, I was constantly aware of how vulnerable these people were with their primitive methods of protection and outrageously dangerous superstitions. Marcus Sedgwick did a fantastic job transporting me into the minds of these people.

The creatures were psychologically terrifying, made all the more so by the fact that everything I knew of them was filtered through primitive medieval eyes. These are not your sparkling vampires looking for romance.

These vampires are the legends that were birthed from a time when menace lurked in the darkness and humans possessed a brutal awareness of their vulnerability. There is no doubt here, these creatures are soulless monsters focused entirely on devouring their prey.

What about the rest of the story?

I said this is like a folktale, and like most folktales, the characters and plot are not incredibly deep. Nor do they need to be.

There are two story threads in addition to the overarching vampire invasion. One dealt with the relationship between Tomas--an aging drunk--and his son Peter. The other focused on Peter and his romantic feelings for two girls.

The threads about Tomas and Peter were a little sluggish, but they did not distract me from the good parts. There is an event surrounding a goose carving that wormed its hooks into my heart and left me in tears. Tomas's struggle for redemption was also touching, if frustratingly, though realistically, imperfect.

The romantic parts were less satisfying, but they did not overwhelm the plot and love triangle phobics need not worry. Both girls also serve a greater purpose, so their presence in the story turned out to be more necessary than I originally thought. I didn't swoon at all, but that's equally because of the expected lack of character depth as it is because I was far too consumed by terror to focus on swoon.

Bottom line

Notice how I posted this review about a week before Halloween? That's not a coincidence. That's my subtle way of saying this would be a GREAT Halloween read because it's short so you can read it in one sitting and it's scary. And a little more than a week before Halloween gives you enough time to get your hands on a copy!

(I realize in saying this that I'm undermining my clever subtlety a little, but we all know I'm really not skilled when it comes to subtlety. I'm an obvious book pusher.)

Marcus Sedgwick is clearly a storyteller. Apparently this is the first book in a series, but I never would have known this without Goodreads as it can be read as a standalone without any problem.

I will definitely check out more of Marcus Sedgwick's books, particularly for those wind-whipping winter nights when I can really get my scare on.

On a totally unrelated note, I love Marcus Sedgwick's signature.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

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

How do you prefer your vampires? Dangerous, or swoony? 
Do you have any recommendations for scary "folktale-like" books?

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 

Click on the covers to go to my reviews and/or Goodreads.
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