Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mini Review: Elizabeth, The Princess Bride by Barry Denenberg

Release Date: April 2003
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 151
Received: Library
Stars: 3
Goodreads Page

Ok, so this book is really two books in one. The first book is the actual story part told in diary format. This part is ok, but pretty uneventful.

Basically, she meets a prince and gets married to him. The whole thing was all, "And then they lived happily ever after" *sigh* *release the doves* Which was nice and all, but in a totally bland way. 

And that's it. Seriously.

Sure there's historical tid-bits and little details and considering I knew nothing about this Elizabeth (or, Sisi, as she was more commonly called), I did learn some things. SOME. Meaning, not much, but a little. But, considering the whole book is only about 101 pages long, that's not too surprising. 

So that other book? That's what makes up the other 50 pages of the 151 total pages. THIS is where things get awesome, starting with the opening line that was a total 180 from where the story left off.

Remember the happily ever after vibe of the diary part? Yeah, the epilogue/historical notes was all like, "SIIIIIKKKEEE!!!!" And then awesomeness ensued. Or, horrible stuff. Or, well, it was awesomely horrific in a staring-at-a-train-wreak kind of way. Because HO-LE-COW Sisi's story has it all: madness, unrequited love (times two), murder, suicides, more murder, revolution, war, and evil step-mothers.

Of course, 50 pages only whet my appetite and I spent the next hour or so after finishing the book scouring the internet for more information about this royal family.

Bottom line

The story itself was ok if bland, but given how quick it was to read, I don't regret the time I spent with it. Points to the book for introducing me to a historical figure I might otherwise not have known about. Though more points to Google for actually teaching me about her.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mini Review: Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl

Release Date: October 2010
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Pages: 368
Received: Library
Stars: 3.5
Goodreads Page

I'm starting to think I don't really love Queen Victoria books. Michaela MacColl's vapid, demanding, and DULL interpretation of Victoria did nothing to change my feelings.

Thankfully, Victoria wasn't the main character (though her frequent page-time knocked off my stars). Liza is the main character, and I liked this riches to rags girl a whole lot more.

Liza doesn't spend much time dwelling on her parents' deaths. I mean, sure, she mentions it and it affects her, as it should, but she doesn't mope. She recognizes the suckiness of her changed situation (from wealthy girl to orphaned maid servant) but she's wonderfully pragmatic about the whole thing and quickly learns how to play her cards to improve her lot. A thousand points to Liza for being the go-getter I wanted to read about.

Fans of Susan Dennard's scrappy Daniel Sheridan will probably swoon for Liza's scrappy paramour Will (bonus points for the name Will!). Their slow burn romance and subtle scheming (with the help of a charming street urchin) was the highlight of the book for me.

As for the history, I'd categorize this somewhere between heavy, super-detailed Historical fiction and the more backdrop-style historical fiction-lite. There's plenty to learn, with many of the big historical players making an appearance. While it definitely feels old-timey historical, Prisoners in the Palace doesn't bombard the reader with Details.

Bottom line

Prisoners in the Palace was a quick, light, fun book with mostly-likable characters and a plot that kept me entertained. Chapters are super short, making it a breeze to fly through, though I kept getting hung up on the third-person narrative voice (this book SO felt like it was written for first person!).

Victoria soured things for me, which is not necessarily any fault of the author but did affect my enjoyment of the book nevertheless. Everything else was all totally enjoyable, but none went above "very good" and definitely not into "OHMYGOSHLOVE" territory.

Looking for another book like this?
You might like: 

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews/Goodreads


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Series Review: Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey

Marie Antoinette trilogy
Release Date: 2011-2013
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pages: 453, 400, and 413
Received: Library (1 & 2), ARC from the publisher (3)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Becoming Marie Antoinette

I used the title of the first book here because it's a fantastic description of what Juliet Grey does with her treatment of Marie Antoinette: her narrative truly becomes Antoinette.

After the first book, which follows Antoinette from about age 11 through to when she was crowned queen, I didn't entirely feel a connection. I learned a whole lot of stuff I didn't know (how often do we get to read about her early childhood before moving to France?), but I didn't feel like I truly knew her yet.

Part of this is because she's pretty young in the first book, and when she finally gets to France, she's bombarded with so much intrigue, etiquette, rules, and stuff that she's almost like a deer caught in the headlights (and understandably so!)

Then I read the second book Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow (from when she's crowned queen to the Storming of the Bastille) quickly followed by the third Confessions of Marie Antoinette (from the beginning of the French Revolution to her death) and suddenly I knew her, and I loved her.

A large span of time is covered and Marie Antoinette grows considerably throughout the trilogy. She changes from an innocent child raised in the relatively relaxed Austrian court, to a kind girl preyed upon and manipulated by the court vipers while dauphine, to a deeply lonely queen desperately seeking happiness, to a woman wise beyond her years and somehow, remarkably, still characterized by warmth and forgiveness.

Marie Antoinette is not a woman like Cleopatra or Elizabeth I. She doesn't wield all that much power and so her direct mark on history is seemingly small (keyword, seemingly). Her greatness does not come from acts of political acumen or martial bravery.

And maybe that's why I love her so much. She's just a woman, and the things she feels, the way she copes, and the hurts she bears strike a chord that make her total kindred spirit material. I may admire Cleopatra, but it's Marie Antoinette who'd get my sleepover party invite.

And I'll just say, as the biggest understatement ever, the Marie Antoinette of popular understanding as a
cotton-headed spendtrift, coddled, oblivious and uncaring to the suffering of her people couldn't be further from the truth.

Seriously. Every time I read about her I want to cry at the injustice of her reputation compared to who she actually was.

History lessons

I read historical fiction because I want to learn both about the people and the historical context that surrounds them. To that end, I cannot rave enough about Juliet Grey's trilogy.

Where do I even begin? Well researched and filled with historical details, Juliet Grey's trilogy transported me so completely that I felt as if I were there living alongside Marie Antoinette. Everything was explored in great detail from fashion to hygiene, etiquette to tradition, food to political events, alliances, and scandals.

But these facts weren't presented as dry, endless little details dropped in without context or purpose. Juliet Grey's presentation of Marie Antoinette's world built upon itself, connecting dots and underscoring how something as seemingly insignificant as a fashion choice could have widespread political ramifications, not just in the immediate, but decades later.

Likewise, her intimate portrait of Antoinette as a person cast a human light on the revolution and the events leading up to it. In understanding Marie Antoinette's life—her personality, experiences, and relationships—I have a much clearer understanding of how the French Revolution came to pass.     

Boredom levels

I was never bored while reading this series. Intrigued, delighted, saddened, excited, swooning, frustrated, enraged, and sobbing, yes, but never bored.

But, I love Historical Fiction, complete with a bold, capital H. I don't want historical fiction lite. I want the details piled on high, just so long as I have a sympathetic, human lead to follow.

Readers looking for historical fiction light on the details will probably be bored stiff. There are a TON of details.

That said, young adult or adult readers looking to learn more about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution who want lots of historical detail will LOVE Juliet Grey's trilogy. 

Bottom line

I adore this series. Juliet Grey is right up there with C. W. Gortner as among my top absolute favorite historical fiction authors. She's an autobuy author and I can't recommend this series enough.

I've read a bunch of books about Marie Antoinette, but Juliet Grey's trilogy is by far the best, most intimate, alive, and accurate fictional portrayal (even better than Carolyn Meyer's The Bad Queen, which I love and made me sob, though it takes some historical liberties).  

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

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

Looking for another book like this?
You might like:

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Mini Review: Delia's Shadow by Jaime Lee Moyer

Release Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Tor 
Pages: 336
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Oh man, I was SO looking forward to this book! There's ghosts and a murder mystery all wrapped up in historical fantasy setting, what could go wrong?

Apparently a bland main character. And a meh romance. And a mushy historical setting (it's early 1900s WWI era but felt more like post-war 1950s Dragnet). But mostly a bland main character. Who did NOTHING with her cool ghost seeing powers (and you know how much I dislike characters who squander their nifty powers).

Delia was nice but I seriously need something more than that to keep my attention. She was just so bland. And to make matters worse her love interest is super in love with her and I couldn't for the life of me figure out what he saw in her.

But oh boy did he see a lot in her. Half the book is told through his third person perspective (alternating with Delia's even more distant first person chapters) and he spends about half of that time telling us how swell he thinks Delia is and how he's totally forgetting about his dead wife and kid after a DECADE of paralyzing mourning.

Which brings me to a personal pet peeve: the dead wife. Maybe I'm just jealous to a fault or overly possessive or I never adequately learned how to share my toys, but I don't like it when my leading lady needs to share the romantic spotlight with the specter of a dead wife. So, personal points off for that.

(And, because Delia can see ghosts, lucky her, she gets to see his dead wife hovering around him. Talk about a swoon killer!)

Although, speaking of talking, Delia's ghosts can't talk to her. Or she can't hear them? I'm not really sure how that worked, but either way it was a contrived mystery stretcher because the girl could have whipped out a ouija board or scribbled down an alphabet or something in order to communicate with her irritatingly ever-present-but-useless ghost that kept following her around.

I mean, if I had a ghost following me, I'd figure out a way to chat. Especially if she was trying to tell me the identity of her killer. A killer who, I might add, just happens to be after Delia now. So, yeah, it was a little frustrating to watch her do absolutely nothing inventive to try to Nancy Drew herself out of this potentially bad situation. 

But, whatever. The rest of the characters were better than Delia and I enjoyed following them around. I liked Gabe's sections a lot better. He's a sexy cop who is a protective family man and made me swoon (albeit a milder swoon because I really wasn't into this romance).

The mystery was also engaging, though it was the kind where the reader has not chance at all of figuring out whodunit because there's just too much information we aren't privy to until it's already revealed. That's not my favorite kind (I like to be able to guess) but this one kept me on my toes enough and definitely delivered in the gore factor, so I was into it.

Bottom line

It was ok. I didn't really click with Delia and the ghost part seemed more gimmicky than an actual asset that would advance the plot. I read it to the end and I did like it, but I feel no need to own this book.

So why three stars and not less? Mostly because it's not a BAD book. It's a nice story. If you're looking for something mild and lite to pass the time between hangover-inducing books, Delia's Shadow is a nice choice. 

I'd say it could appeal to cozy mystery fans because of the sappy character dramas, but the gore was a little more vivid than I'm used to seeing in lite cozy mysteries. (There was also a totally needless death that just annoys me). It's fine for YA readers even though the main characters are adults.

This is a standalone.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

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

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Review: Inhuman by Kat Falls

#1 in the Fetch series
Release Date: September 24, 2013 
Publisher: Scholastic 
Pages: 384
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


From Goodreads:

America has been ravaged by a war that has left the eastern half of the country riddled with mutation. Many of the people there exhibit varying degrees of animal traits. Even the plantlife has gone feral.

Crossing from west to east is supposed to be forbidden, but sometimes it’s necessary. Some enter the Savage Zone to provide humanitarian relief. Sixteen-year-old Lane’s father goes there to retrieve lost artifacts—he is a Fetch. It’s a dangerous life, but rewarding—until he’s caught.

Desperate to save her father, Lane agrees to complete his latest job. That means leaving behind her life of comfort and risking life and limb—and her very DNA—in the Savage Zone. But she’s not alone. In order to complete her objective, Lane strikes a deal with handsome, roguish Rafe. In exchange for his help as a guide, Lane is supposed to sneak him back west. But though Rafe doesn’t exhibit any signs of “manimal” mutation, he’s hardly civilized . . . and he may not be trustworthy.


Lane is a character I can get behind

She's level headed in the face of crises, determined, loyal, and knows how to handle a love triangle in a way that makes me want to invite her over for a sleepover party so we can squee over her choices.

She's also taken a bizillion self-defense and survival classes, so that's good too (even though I started to doubt her actual level of accomplishment in said classes once she gets into the danger zone. She wasn't awful by any stretch, but eh, she was no Penryn).

I also like her even if she is a little dumb and naive sometimes. But she totally has a good excuse! See, Lane's been living in a super sheltered world her whole life where her penchant for nurturing the ugliest, most damaged shelter pets she can find was allowed free rein (not that that's a bad thing, but it gives you an idea of her approach to life).

So, when she finds herself suddenly thrust out of her comfy bubble world and tossed into a disease ravaged post-apocalyptic world filled with horrifically mutated animal-human hybrids who are slowly going insane as the animal strains they've been infected with begin to overtake the remaining human parts of their brains, she does stupid things.

Like want to cuddle and make nice with the murderously insane animal-human hybrids.

Are you face palming? 'Cause I was totally face palming.

But it's ok, because, well, let's just say Kat Falls doesn't coddle her characters (THANK YOU).

About that love triangle

Thankfully plague-infected looney tunes hybrids weren't the only things Lane wanted to cuddle.

Sadly, yes, this is a love triangle book. BUT, luckily the only sad thing about this is that Lane will have to choose between two equally eligible men (though I've clearly made my choice).

First up is the coddled good guy Everson who comes complete with sciency smarts, compassion, a drive to make a positive mark on the world, a non-alpha male protective streak, and a soldier's uniform (hey, they add bonus points).

And then there's Rafe. Swoon. This is the swaggering rugged bad boy with a heart of gold locked up tight behind sarcasm, sass, and a tragic past. Bonus points from me for his storybook history (you'll see) and his heartbreakingly sweet relationship that makes me want to cry NONONONONONO  and yell at Kat Falls (you'll see).

Lane doesn't string either guy along because she's too busy what with being on the run, fighting for her life, evading animal-human hybrids, and trying to find her father in a desperate race against time. So, high stakes and not much time for actual romance. 

So, plot

I don't even know. It was kind of all over the place, but in a good way. Kat Falls kept the action so high that I could barely pause for breath let alone actually think about the plot in any critical way.

I guess the basics aren't hugely original, but the world building was super and I was totally invested in exploring all the horrifying and original things Inhuman had to offer. The hybrids were especially cool, and not just the animal-human hybrids, but the animal-animal hybrids, too.

There's this one, ooh oh and this other one, ok, ok, look, I won't spoil it, but suffice it to say that learning about all these crazy mash ups was totally entertaining in itself (bonus points for the fact that most will kill in horrific ways and are all chasing after our heroes).

The opening of the book was boring and I really disliked it because it made me think of the Uglies series and eh, I don't like that series. The characters seemed so bubble-headed and soft and I was really dreading the dystopian "awakening" phase that I thought would drag out interminably.

But Kat Falls didn't plod me through that tired plot. Granted, the actual explanation given for getting Lane into the danger zone was a little contrived (ok, a lot contrived), but who cares? Not me! And it only took a short chapter or two to get to the good stuff, so stick with it (and, ah, yeah, that means I contemplated putting the book down after a page or two. Oops).

Once I actually got into the post-apocalyptic left-for-dead-but-so-obviously-not-dead-zone things took a distinct turn to the awesome. The whole thing had a very Incarceron feel to it, but with more heart-pounding action.

And the villain is excellent. A perfect mix of gentility and depravity with a lair that is, gah, I can't even! So creepy, twisted, and excellent. And that whole thing with the queens? AWESOME. Every part.

Bottom line

I will definitely be picking up the sequel (aw jeez, it's not even up on Goodreads yet!), and not only because of that KILLER cliffhanger of an ending (HOW COULD YOU KAT FALLS??? You'd best fix this bloody mess you've left my heart in!)

Ahem. So, yeah. This whole book was a whirlwind for me and I'm feeling a little dazed from it all, but I'm also feeling that giddy book rush that leaves me feeling like I just pounded a few Red Bulls and ate a bunch of Pixy Stix, so really, that's not a bad thing.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

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

Looking for another book like this?
You might like:

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Mini Review: Ward Against Darkness by Melanie Card

#2 in the Chronicles of a Reluctant Necromancer series
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Entangled Teen 
Pages: 352
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page

This is a review of a sequel, but you can read it without any spoilers for book one. Mostly because I don't remember a whole lot of what happened in book one.

So, the bad thing about reading books in a series as they come out is that I forget a lot of what happened in the previous book. This is made triply worse when it takes not just one year, but TWO years for the next installment to come out.

By the time Ward Against Darkness decided to make an appearance, I had already forgotten pretty much everything about Ward Against Death. My memory consisted of:

  1. The two main characters were likable opposites in a wary truce with simmering romantic tension (which I liked a lot)
  2. They shared a scene in some underground hideout that was filled with swoony tension (yep, this is one of the few scenes I remember somewhat clearly)
  3. They're on the run. A lot.
  4. Something big and magical happened at the end and it concerns Ward and power and stuff

Aaaand, that's about it.

Ward Against Darkness picks up immediately where things left off in Ward Against Death, but I'm basing this more on context clues than actual memory. Context clues told me I was dumped into something where I should have known exactly what was going on, but memory said, "Nope, I've got nothing for you."

Luckily, I didn't really need my memory. I'm sure it would have helped shed some light on a few details or hints here and there, but overall Ward Against Darkness was totally enjoyable even with my foggy memory.

There's no questing or trekking or running or any of those things I like that happened in the first book, but that was ok. Instead, Ward and Celia find themselves in the position of reluctant "guests" in the home of a seriously creepy evil magic guy who is holding a competition to see who will be his apprentice in villainy.

Ward, being magically inclined, is of course entered (against his will) in this competition and the stakes keep getting raised as Ward and Celia find themselves going from one Oh Crap situation to another. There really isn't a dull moment.

There were all sorts of fun things that kept my interest and made me remember why I enjoyed the first book enough to obsessively check Melanie Card's Goodreads page for two years hoping for this sequel to release already. I wasn't let down.

What sort of fun things? Fake identities, double crosses, murders, untrustworthy alliances, tragic histories, creepy creatures, intriguing villains, inventive magical systems, and an ever growing tension that made me fly through the pages with a white-knuckled grip.

Also? Romance! Kind of. More like romantic tension, because this is a slow burn romance where both sides are clearly over the hate and mistrust part of their feelings now, but neither party realizes the other doesn't still harbor those feelings.

My favorite feature about their romantic feelings is that, while Ward and Celia are total opposites, each character sees value in the other and admires them for their strengths. They make a badass team.

Bottom line

I seriously hope I don't have to wait another two years for the next book. But, if I do, I know I'll wait and read it as soon as it releases. This isn't a series that I'm going to forget about or lose interest in. If anything, my interest grew the longer I had to wait and reading Ward Against Darkness only solidified my commitment to Ward and Celia's story.

On a totally unrelated note, are these covers for real? Can we step it up with the covers, please? This series is a hard sell with covers like that.

Love the punny titles though!

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

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

Looking for another book like this?
You might like:

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Mini Review: Elizabeth (Royal Diaries) by Kathryn Lasky

Part of the Royal Diaries series
Release Date: June 1999
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 240
Received: Library
Stars: 3
Goodreads Page

I would have liked this book a whole lot more if I knew nothing about Elizabeth I (Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII's daughter). Unfortunately, I have read a bunch of books about her and that made me knock off stars (YA readers, try Cate of the Lost Colony, adult readers try The Queen's Handmaiden).

Kathryn Lasky's Elizabeth is downright bubbly at times. She's chipper and cheerful and that's so NOT Elizabeth.

I know this is supposed to be a book about the young Elizabeth, but Elizabeth is noteworthy for being shrewd, calculating, and cautious even when she was young. Some tiny hints of these personality traits are sort of somewhat shown, but I think I was reading more into them because of what I know about Elizabeth.

But, this book isn't entirely without merit. Elizabeth might be off, but there were lots of little details thrown in that kept my interest and even taught me some new things. The basic plot progression also gives a nice overview of Elizabeth's early life. It's for these facts alone that I'm very glad I picked up Elizabeth's Royal Diaries installment.

Except, yeah, this is a diary book, and I don't love that format. I was frustrated by how many times Elizabeth talked about her diary—where she's going to hide it, how she's sorry she neglected it, oh my, someone almost discovered it, and so on. I really don't care about that stuff, especially since none of it is based on historical truth.

Bottom line

This is a good book for a younger reader newly interested in Elizabeth. Think, younger to middle grade readers. Her characterization may be historically off base, but she is approachable for younger readers and that might be a good thing.

Older readers already familiar with Elizabeth and looking for even more might still find something in this book. Given how short the book is (240 pages of diary-style, large font, short chapters writing), I'd say give it a shot.

On a side note, isn't that 2010 reprint cover (green dress) so much nicer than the original? (blue dress)

Looking for another book like this?
You might like: 

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews/Goodreads

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