Friday, November 29, 2013

DNF: The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable

DNF Explanation

Read: 101 of 320
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley

I don't know what it is about icy fairy tales, but they don't seem to work for me. I was hoping The Wolf Princess would break that streak, but no such luck.

It started out ok enough, though it definitely reads as a middle grade book. That could have been fine, if everything else hadn't hit all the wrong marks for me.

First off, the main character Sophie Smith never grabbed me. She's one of those wallflower "normal" types who either instantly grab me as a kindred spirit or bore me to tears. Sophie obviously had the latter effect on me.

Her one defining feature was that she felt an inexplicable connection to Russia, which was strange, had no actual grounding in the story (yet), and made Sophie mildly irritating.

Oh, and did I mention she's an orphan? Usually orphans and me totally get along (Anne Shirley, Annie (, Little Orphan), Harry Potter, Ponyboy, I could go on), but, nope, even that sure bet feature couldn't muster up even an ounce of bosom friendship between us.

Then, the plodding plot. I kept telling myself, "Read until you get to the part where the story actually starts and then decide if you want to DNF" except that part STILL HADN'T HAPPENED by page 101 when I allowed myself to finally stop.

Ok, ok, fine, I guess SOME things had happened. They were just boring. Most of it was filled with boring interactions between Sophie and her two stereotypical friends (Bookish and Beautiful) and even more boring memories and woe is me thoughts from Sophie.

Also, the plot was totally illogical in a weird "what not do to" example for a school sponsored stranger-danger assembly. I mean, really, the premise was absurd.

Bottom line

This is a fairy tale, so the fact that Sophie is pretty one dimensional isn't an auto-killer. Readers less impatient than myself might enjoy The Wolf Princess, especially if the wolf and princess-y parts redeem things (I never got to them). Also, readers more interested in "poignant journeys and a coming of age tale" might like this more than me, who wants "sparkling adventure with a dash of romance!"

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

Have you read The Wolf Princess? What did you think about it? 

Looking for another book like this?
You might like:

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews/Goodreads.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Book Review: Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

#2 in the His Fair Assassin series
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 
Pages: 385
Received: Bought
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


I am super disappointed with Dark Triumph.

Grave Mercy made my Special Shelf and I've loved everything I've ever read by Robin (three Theodosia books, all four of the Nathaniel Fludd books, and GM), so I thought I was safe to buy Dark Triumph before I read it.

Apparently not. 

If I hadn't read Grave Mercy first, I probably would have enjoyed DT more. Most of my complaints come from DT not stacking up to GM in some way. Such as...

WHAT happened to Sybella?!

I first met Sybella in GM and she was a mess. There's no nice way to say it, the girl was wild, crazed, and erratic in that remove-sharp-objects kind of way.

Flash forward to DT, and Sybella is insufferably normal. I guess that made for an easier narrative (lucidity is always a bonus when it comes to first-person narratives!) but I'm disappointed. GM Sybella was so intriguing! She was unpredictable, exciting, and different.  

DT Sybella was effectively Ismae (minus the early trust in the convent) to the point where I had trouble distinguishing their voices. Sure, Sybella talked a big game about being so unstable and worrying that she's BAAAAD. *YAWN* Nothing she did, thought, or said backed up any of these fears. They felt thin and grew real old after hearing them repeated a few times with absolutely no evidence to back them up.

So, I got gypped on experiencing her off-beat narrative that I'd been looking forward to for over a year. Fine. I'll get over it.

What I can't get over is how inconsistent this makes her characterization. Not only is she totally different from the woman present in GM, but her psychological development doesn't make sense within the context of her story. I found out all kinds of backstory on what happened to Sybella, and while that makes perfect sense for the woman I saw in GM, it makes NO sense for Sybella in DT.

Robin LaFevers is more than capable of writing consistent characters with depth and growth across multiple books, so this just feels sloppy.

And the historical background?? The intrigue??

This is going to be a love it or hate it kind of thing, but for me, I LOVED the historical detail in Grave Mercy and I was really looking forward to continuing the story in Dark Triumph.

Anne of Brittany's story is tragic, but it is also filled with danger, deceit, intrigue, secret alliances, and war. All good things, at least in novels. GM touched on all of this, and I was totally caught up in all the court secrets and backstabbing.

So where was the intrigue in DT? Where was anything even remotely historical?? Sure, fine, I got to see Anne for a few brief scenes (in which she was bland and gag-me angelic), and the French were mentioned a time or two, but for all intents and purposes this story could have taken place anywhere.

What does actually happen is just fine, and if it weren't for my GM expectations I probably would have been fine with most of it. Mostly.

DT never really finds its stride though, pacing in fits and starts, dragging in the beginning, then racing with excitement, only to flounder again. Some parts were excellent (on the road, fighting) and others seemed predictably contrived. Overall it lacked a cohesive story progression and so, again, this felt sloppily thrown together. 

Do I even want to get started on the romance?

I'll say this, some parts were perfection. There were a few choice scenes and bits of banter that are totally worth re-reading and the mental images Robin LaFevers created of those two going back to back fighting together against their enemies were fist-pump amazing.

And that's the positive.

The rest of this romance came off like a thin copy of every other insta-love romance that felt especially out of place for someone with a past like Sybella. Beast is unwavering in his love, and yet I'm not convinced why. Sybella clearly thinks he's ugly (she mentions his ugly face more times than a Dalmatian has spots), but outside of a clingy need for acceptance, I don't understand why she loves him either.

Sybella's relationship with her brother, while icky, had MUCH more emotional depth and nuance.   

Bottom line

I could go on, but I'm tired of complaining about a book I still want to be able to love. Dark Triumph was unexpectedly rough. If I had to pick one word to describe it, I'd have to go with "sloppy."

On its own, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more. In comparison to the skill with which Grave Mercy was written and the premise set in that book, I just can't help but feel Dark Triumph falls flat.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

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

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mini Review: Poison Dance by Livia Blackburne

#0.5 in the Midnight Thief series
Publisher: Lion's Quill Press
Pages: 47
Received: review copy from author
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Mini Review

Poison Dance is a novella, and it's a short novella (unlike Bourne), so there's only so much going on.

That said, there's A LOT going on in Poison Dance.

- There's a dancing girl with a secret past and a secret assassination mark for a secret reason

- There's a dead assassins' guild leader and the fallout that brings

- There's a budding romance

- And the world building! I'm gobsmacked by how clear a picture I already have of this world, and how many layers I want to unfold to learn more about it

Then there's the characterization, which is fabulous and deep and detailed. (New book boyfriend? OH YES). Especially when considering the large cast size and how few pages Livia Blackburne had to develop them in.

Bottom line

If this is what Livia Blackburne can do with 47 pages, I cannot wait to see what she does with Midnight Thief. I was already highly, highly anticipating that book (thieves, assassins, vengeance, enemies working together and maybe falling in love), but now that I've read Poison Dance, wow, Midnight Thief is now one of my top most coveted books releasing in 2014!

FYI, Midnight Thief will be published by Disney, so I'm guessing it'll have an appropriately Disney rating. Poison Dance is NOT a Disney rating kinda book. While it's not outright graphic, it's more along the lines of Maria V. Snyder, Robin LaFever's content. So, YA appropriate, but upper YA.

On a totally unrelated note, I love the author's posts on learning how to write in a male voice (brilliantly titled Operation Chest Hair!)

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Poison Dance 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, November 13, 2013

Mini Review: A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron

#2 in the Dark Unwinding series
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Publisher: Scholastic 
Pages: 352
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Mini Review
(no spoilers)

You know how it's harder to write a positive review than a negative review? Yes? No? Well, it is for me. I don't know why, but whenever I dislike a book I have a clear list of reasons why the book did not work for me.

But when I love a book, gah, my brain goes all mushy and all I can come up with is, "I really loved it!" which isn't particularly helpful or reviewy.

That pretty much describes my reaction to A Spark Unseen. I really loved it.

Protagonist Katharine remains one of my absolute favorite book best friends ever. She's pragmatic. I know readers usually exclaim over characters who are bold or tough or strong or funny, (and Katharine is ALL of those things) but my favorite thing about Katharine is that she's pragmatic.

I have all sorts of visions of us sitting on our sleeping bags calmly making lists and organizational charts together, and I am in heaven.

It just so happens that the subject of all of Katharine's meticulous plans is a desperate quest to Paris with the dual purpose of:

  1. Absconding with her autistic uncle before the authorities can snatch him away and use his super genius to make weapons, AND 
  2. Seek out her spy-lover who has gone missing and is presumed dead by all but the ever-devoted Katharine (warning: I teared up, a few times)

Does that sound like a lot? I know, it is. But it's also only scratching the surface of what goes on (more spies, intrigues, double crosses, murders, inventions, society ladies, gossip, swoon!).

Of course that means the book is fast-paced (yay!), but Katharine's practical, orderly nature helps keep things from feeling like a runaway horse ride.

Though, given the twisty nature of the way Katharine finds out stuff (due to the lying and spying and so forth), I highly recommend reading without distractions (or you may have to re-read some sections for them to make sense, like I had to do).

For those who want a ton of historical details, sorry, you're not going to get them. Of course the setting is all properly historical, but there aren't a TON of tiny details about Napoleon III, current events, common fabrics used and food eaten, etc. (though Sharon Cameron definitely knows her stuff).

Which is totally fine, because the historical setting is clearly defined without taking away any focus from the plot. And, yes, I say this as a complete and unabashed history nerd.

And, one final word on the romance: this is how I want it done. Katharine's interactions with the man she loves make me love her even more. I get why they love each other, I appreciate the pacing (slow but determined) and how it motivates Katherine without monopolizing the plot or making her seem silly. And the final declaration scene, aaahh LOVE IT.

Bottom line

As a sequel, it really is important that you pick up The Dark Unwinding first (aside from being lost whenever events reference those previous happenings, you'll totally miss the significance of the hilarious scenes with a certain society gossip). Like the first book, A Spark Unseen ends well and could be seen as complete, but the door is also left open for more.  

Katharine is such a unique voice in YA fiction, and I hope to be able to read more of her adventures. Sharon Cameron strikes a brilliant balance of plot, character, mystery, and history. I am eagerly awaiting her next book, whatever it may be.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about A Spark Unseen 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.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mini Review: The Rose and the Thorn by Michael J. Sullivan

Series: Prequel book 2
Release Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 347
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Stars: 4
Goodreads Page

So, this prequel still wasn't living up to The Riyria Revelations, but it came a lot closer than The Crown Tower. This one had more of the adventure, political intrigue, and heart I was hoping to see in the first prequel but didn't quite get.

Hadrian and Royce have been working together a little longer at this point, so their relationship is closer to what I knew and loved in The Riyria Revelations. 

More characters from the main series are introduced here, and I did love getting to see this "early years" look at them. It gave another layer to these characters who I had already grown to love and care for.

The culmination of events was also even better than I had imagine. Like The Crown Tower, The Rose and the Thorn takes hinted-at events from the main series and fleshes them out, finally telling the "whole story" for events that had until this point been campfire stories of long ago escapades.

While it was a lot of fun seeing these well-known stories acted out, it was even more amusing to read because the full story was even better than my imagination. Royce's actions are both more tender and more awesomely cutthroat than I had surmised. The whole culmination of events was a spectacular moment for Royce. 

Bottom line

I'm less impressed with the prequels than I was with the main series, but part of that is because the bar was set SO high by the main series. There's just more to the main series, though there's also literally more to them being a six book series and so that might account for the difference in depth and scope.

Regardless, I'm still a huge Michael J. Sullivan fan and I hope he continues to write more books about these characters.  

Looking for another book like this? 

 Click on the pictures to go to Goodreads.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Books I Got

So, I've been going on a book buying spree lately, but I haven't actually made one of these posts in a long time. The result? I have well over 30 books to talk about.

A bunch of them are adult historical fiction books. Is there any interest in them? If so, then I'll make another post about them. In the meantime here are the review books I've collected...

This post is for some of the books I've gotten in the past LONG TIME or so.

For Review

Palace of Spies
by Sarah Zettel

Spies! Historical fiction! Palaces! That's enough to grab my attention for sure. Add in court intrigue, a possible murder, impersonations, and (of course) a touch of romance and be still my heart!

Invited and received via NetGalley.

A Spark Unseen
by Sharon Cameron

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first book The Dark Unwinding, so I jumped at the chance when I was approached to participate in a blog tour and review of the sequel.

Though less Gothic-house-exploring as the first book, I think I might actually have enjoyed A Spark Unseen even more! I won't say more now since I'll have a review posting soon, but fans of the first should definitely check out this sequel.

Sorrow's Knot
by Erin Bow

So, this is another one of those high expectations books because I LOVED Erin Bow's first book Plain Kate so, so, so much.

It was dark, lyrical, beautiful, and absolutely tragic with one of the best animal-human friendships I've ever read. I still want to sob just thinking about that book.

But will Sorrow's Knot be as good? I don't know! And I've had three years to agonize over the possibilities and send myself on an emotional roller coaster of hype. Guess I'll find out soon enough!

Requested and received via NetGalley.

These Broken Stars
by Amie Kaufman

Honestly, I'm not much into space books. Star Wars and Star Trek love aside (and it is a massive love), the idea of being cooped up in a space ship with a void of airless death surrounding me is...a little suffocating (this is the main reason I have yet to read the Across the Universe books).

BUT, the idea of a crash landing on a remote planet, two bickering opposites, survival, and peril, well, I'm coming around to this whole space opera thing.
Requested and received via NetGalley.

by Victoria Lamb

Tudors plus witches. Sounds like a recipe for success, doesn't it? 

Well, I'm finding that isn't quite the case. I'll elaborate in my review, but so far I'm a lot more bored with the whole thing than I should be. 

Requested and received via NetGalley.

Daughters of the Nile
by Stephanie Dray

The conclusion to Cleopatra Selene's story! I cannot wait to read this book! I rank the first two books Lily of the Nile and Song of the Nile among my favorite historical fantasy books (with Stephanie Dray's portrayal of Octavian as my FAVORITE fictional portrayal of him ever).

*sigh* Yet another book surrounded by high expectations and hype. Hope it lives up!

ARC from author.

The Wolf Princess
by Cathryn Constable

I think this is a fairy tale retelling, but it could be an original fairy tale. The blurb reminds me a little of The Snow Queen, but I don't see any mention of a guy character (and don't think I'm not a little disappointed by that omission).

I've had poor luck with icy-fairy tales (East, Winter's Child), but I'm really hoping this one will work for me. 

Requested and received via NetGalley.

by Gillian Philip

I read the first book Firebrand and was conflicted enough that I couldn't form my thoughts coherently enough to write a review. The characters were both likable and unlikable and they're all fairies, which I found both worked and didn't work for me.

But the writing was beautiful. Dark and much more adult in tone (think Sharon Shinn) with a world that was intriguing, if not wholly appealing (fairies!). It has scope, though, and I'm very interested in seeing where Gillian Philip is going to take the story next.

And, yeah, the guy on the cover IS a motivating factor. 

Requested and received via NetGalley.

Poison Dance
by Livia Blackburne

Adding "Poison" to the title of anything makes me instantly want it more.

Normally I don't really go for novellas, but this one is a prequel for a series I'm highly anticipating. It's called Midnight Thief, which includes yet another word that make my I WANT drive kick in ("thief").

And then the plots of both books include the words "assassins," "vengeance," "enemies (in the context of reluctant allies)," and "intrigue" and it's all I can do to hold myself together until the July release! Thankfully I now have this novella to tie me over.

Pitched by author.

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?

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