Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tiny Reviews: Enchanted & The Silver Bowl

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

I was really expecting to love this book more than I did. It was perfectly nice and at points I really did enjoy it, but it just wasn't amazing like I was expecting it to be.

The integration of various fairy tales was fun and probably my favorite part of the book. The whole set up of all the different characters and their allusions to fairy tales and unique spins on those stories took up a lot of the pages and was interesting to read.

But, it felt more like a whole lot of description and background and not a whole lot of substance with the here and now story. I'm a reader who loves background stories, so I was mostly ok with this, but every once in a while I'd come up for air and realize I didn't have a cohesive story or characters I could really latch onto and care about. 

There was also a kind of overdone vibe that made me feel bogged down, but I can't pinpoint what it was exactly. That's sort of strange to say because I flew through the book, but it almost felt like I was under a fairy tale spell myself, compulsively reading until I finally finished and could surface again. Usually that's a good thing, but for some reason it felt sort of suffocating.

I'm still interested in reading the sequel, but it's on the back burner for now.

Library book
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Silver Bowl by Diane Stanley

Another one I had high hopes for (not least of which because the sequels have beautiful covers), and another one that let me down. It's very middle grade, which can be fine but in this case made it feel boring and young.

I never fully connected with the main character, though there was nothing particularly wrong with her. The story was interesting, but nothing stood out and made me feel...much of anything.

Probably a good choice for younger readers who like historical fantasy, but it didn't leave enough of an impression on me.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mini Review: A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

Release Date:1981
Pages: 383
Received: Bought
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf

I had an irrational aversion to Eva Ibbotson's books (I though they'd be boring and the high page counts scared me) until Ruby convinced me to read this one with her and just like that, I was a super fan.

This book is just so utterly charming. The good characters are pure and wonderful, but in a way like a fairy tale not like a Mary Sue. The evil characters are straight up evil (though there is still a degree of nuanced depth to their characterizations) it was easy and fun to loathe them. The black and white of the characters made me feel like I had transported back to the comfort of childhood.

Which is not to say that the characters were flat or simplistic. They stand out in my memory, even the tiny asides and little scenes have stuck with me and continue to delight. My conversations with Ruby were of the gasping "Oh my gosh, that scene!" "Totally! And that character! Can you believe what they said?!" "Pupkin!" variety.

As for plot, it reads so fast and easy. There's the sweet sigh-inducing central romance (which could be a Disney princess movie, and that's a very good thing) and all of the side stories swirl around this. Everything builds to create a Downton Abbey-esque atmosphere where you're following a huge cast of characters and they all manage to stand out.

The historical setting frames everything and is surprisingly detailed. It's like a sly historical fiction book—you think you're reading a light fairy tale, but you're actually getting the education of historical fiction with zero work.

Bottom line

It feels strange to describe a book as light and frothy while also substantive and weighty, but Eva Ibbotson has definitely struck that balance. I absolutely adored this book and can't believe I ever doubted Eva Ibbotson. Highly recommended, especially to fans of Downton Abbey and Anne of Green Gables


Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mini Review: The Wars of the Roses by Dan Jones

Release Date: October 14, 2014
 Pages: 416
Received: Finished copy and ARC from publisher via NetGalley 
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf

I devoured this book. I've been on a total War of the Roses kick and Dan Jones's non-fiction offering was my latest obsession. As in, "leave me alone I'm reading" kind of obsession.

I'm usually not a fan of non-fiction books because, much as I want to love them, most of the ones I've tried to read have been long and rambly and boring and totally lacking all the excitement and character development I crave.

And, true, The Wars of the Roses didn't really have stellar character development. Most of the people are distantly described. I got a great idea of WHAT they did, I got a decent idea of WHY they did what they did, but I didn't get much information about how they FELT about it all. Doubly so when it comes to the ladies of the book.

But, after reading The Queen of Last Hopes, The Forbidden Queen, The Tudor Rose, and watching The White Queen, I had enough character development in my head to fill in the blanks here.

The real strength of The Wars of the Roses is the rip roaring plot. It starts with a bang and just does not let up. Which is pretty easy considering the subject matter is pretty much non-stop war, political intrigue, scheming, marriages, battles, switching alliances, and gory death.

A lot of non-fiction books fall into the habit of digressions, and while they do often contain interesting information, the tendency to wander like that is one of the big reasons I'm turned off from a lot of non-fiction books. It makes them feel so rambly and long (and therefore boring even when they shouldn't be).

Dan Jones does not wander. Not once. He relentlessly drives straight through events, hitting all the high points and never wavering off course. The result is a straight forward account of this time period that makes it really easy to follow all the schemes and events.

That also made it near impossible for me to put it down. I was SO engrossed in what was going on, who was going to die next and who was going to wear the crown (even though, by this point in my historical fiction reading, I already knew all the answers).

Bottom line

If you're looking for a clear accounting or primer of the Wars of the Roses, this is the book for you. Dan Jones does a fantastic job laying out events and key players in a way that is easy to follow and utterly engrossing. Having all the events laid out in one, clear narrative really helped tie together all the fictionalized stories I've read (I had a few Ah-HA moments as I connected the characters and events referenced in the different fiction books).

I will for sure check out Dan Jones's first book in this duology (The Plantagenets), though I think I'm going to try to read some historical fiction accounts of those characters first so I can again have a clearly developed picture of the personalities of the key players.     

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tiny Reviews: The Restorer & The House on Tradd Street

The Restorer by Amanda Stevens

I was so reluctant to read this book, but Ruby had been trying to convince me for months and then I saw a copy in the $1 bargain bin and I realized resistance was futile.

And boy am I glad I did! Amelia is a total sleepover party, BFF charm swapping, kindred spirit kind of character. She's a graveyard restorer and while there's definitely an ick factor to the profession (especially when fresh bodies turn up where they don't belong and oh my gosh that crypt scene), but it also shares all the cool historical mysteries stuff that I love about old historical house books.

The fact that she can see ghosts is a blessing and a curse, but I don't blame her at all for being a somewhat reluctant medium. I also don't blame her for being a reluctant romantic partner for one of her choices because, eh, I'm not sold on him (he has dead wife issues), but I totally blame her for not jumping all over her book 2 love interest because he is absolutely perfect for her.

Each book ends with the central mystery solved, but there's an overarching mystery (the dead wife, who so inconveniently haunts her husband) and this isn't finished yet. I read the first book fully expecting to find it meh. Instead, as soon as I finished it I checked out the sequel (which I loved even more) and then the third book. Now I'm impatiently waiting for book four to come out and considering just re-reading book two again while I wait. Definitely recommended.

Purchased #1, library for 2 & 3
Rating: 4 out of 5 for the series overall
This is an adult book

The House on Tradd Street by Karen White

I picked this one up from the $1 bin too and was hoping it would fill the Restorer void for me. Inherited old houses (which are right up there with discovering treasure), ghosts, hidden diamonds, and a generational mystery were enough to make me say YES PLEASE. Prickly Mellie, oh so charming Jack and aw-inducing family moments cinched the deal.

Plus, I have to mention the house again because it's practically a character itself. I thoroughly enjoyed everything about it from the details of the restoration project to snooping through all the drool-worthy antique furniture and old timey stuff. The Tradd Street house is so vividly and lovingly described that it feels real.

I flew through the first book and I'm currently devouring the second. Thankfully I have two more waiting in the wings when I'm done.

Purchased #1, library for #2
Rating: 5 out of 5
This is an adult book

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Book Review: The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson

Release Date: July 8, 2014
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co. 
Pages: 486
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I really, really, really didn't like this book. I feel like there have been a million reviews for The Kiss of Deception lately and I'm so bleurgh about the book overall so I'm going for the bullet points.

Here we go, seven reasons I did not like The Kiss of Deception:

1. LOVE TRIANGLE. This one was especially insufferable. Lia gets to choose between an aimlessly moody prince with a bland personality and a wishy washy assassin who isn't assassiny enough to be cool but is way too assissiny for Lia to actually consider as a romantic partner (unless she's lost her mind, which, well, more on that later). Both choices are awful and shouldn't even be on the table for consideration, yet Lia somehow manages to fall for both of them. Can you hear me face-palming?

2. Lia is not very bright. You know how sometimes authors make their characters do unrealistically stupid things in order to advance the plot? Yeah, The Kiss of Deception is kind of the opposite of that. The plot is incredibly unrealistic in order to accommodate Lia's blinding stupidity. So, Lia's decision to run away from home (that would be, her ROYAL home), shirk her duties (which would be entering into a political alliance through marriage) and play barmaid in a tavern a few towns over? Yeah, no one will look for her, or find her!

SPOILER (except her brother, who finds her pretty fast...and lets her stay there because, um, royal responsibility is for suckers so enjoy shlepping drinks and crushing on the locals?)

3. Three quarters of the (very long) book is spent doing absolutely nothing. Also, incredibly uneven plotting. Where was the editor?

4. Total cliffhanger ending. Don't think I can be manipulated into reading book 2 by dangling all those loose ends in my face. I don't care enough about anything in this book to bother reading the next one, cliffhanger or no cliffhanger.

5. Lia destroyed a priceless historical heirloom. As a lover of history, antiques, and all such things I literally gasped when Lia casually discarded this object in a scene that I think was supposed to make her seem "free spirited" but just made her seem childish.

6. The world building was seriously lacking. Sporadic allusions to political disputes (with no substance), impending war (with no legit cause), and the existence of some kind of magic stuff all set in a generic Medieval-ish village does not constitute proper world building. Inserting vague story excerpts randomly throughout the narrative also does not constitute world building. Even if it's written in italics.

7. Look, I'm totally cool with unreliable narrators, but they have to be done right. When done right, they can completely make a book. There's so much wrong with the way it was done in The Kiss of Deception. It was obvious, but less because there were clues and more because it was handled in an awkward, clunky way. Absolutely nothing changed once it was revealed so I don't really see what the point of it was to begin with.

Bottom line

Awful. Disappointing. Almost enough to make me swear off this author if she hadn't also written the fantastic The Adoration of Jenna Fox.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

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