Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Book Review: Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George

 #1 in the Silver in the Blood series
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Is it too early to call the Biggest Disappointment of 2015? 

Because Silver in the Blood is the forerunner right now and I'm heartbroken about that.

I love Jessica Day George books, but lately things have been kinda rocky. Is it me? Is it the author? Maybe an editor?

I don't know, but I can't shake the same complaints I had with Princess of the Silver Woods of thin, under-developed characters, flimsy world-building, and an overall unpolished feeling of "should have spent more time at the drawing board."

Structure, basics, and what to expect 

Silver in the Blood uses both letter writing between the two main characters, their diary entries, and third person narrative styles to tell the story. I'm mostly ok with this in theory, but the execution here made me scratch my head and wonder at the point of all those letters/diary entries. They just felt like unnecessary filler and I don't think they added anything to the story that we weren't already getting with the main part of the story.

 Then there's the pacing. It's slow. The blurb tells you straight out about The Claw, The Wing, and The Smoke, as well as their shapeshifter heritage and the big prophecy, etc.

So, while the blurb doesn't quite spill ALL the beans, there's like, only a clarifying bean or two still left in the bag.

Which means I really don't want to spend over 150 pages figuring out the blurb. And having the two main characters deny the very obvious truth, over and over and over again.

Even if the blurb hadn't given everything away, it's still painfully obvious what is going on here and while maybe younger middle graders might not put all the pieces together that quickly, this is not a middle grade book. This is Jessica Day George's foray into "older YA" (there's nudity! and murder! and bad language! and "adult situations!"), and any teen is likely sharp enough to figure out the Big Reveal very early on.

A note on that target age thing 

Ok, so I said this is an older YA book because of content. I could also swear I read something about the author herself warning readers that this was a darker, older-audience book. And, yeah, it kinda is. Thematically.

Tone wise? It's total fluffy Jessica Day George middle grade fare. Down to the plucky oh so cute heroines who magically save the day with streamers and puppies and the cackling cardboard villains who are just big meanies. (None of which is a bad thing, in a middle grade book.)

Except there's the nudity and murder and stuff. Which of course isn't anything new for middle grade books, but it IS something that doesn't really belong with the Jessica Day George middle grade reader crowd. The things in this book might trouble some of my more sensitive younger readers, but the whole package is likely to make the older readers roll their eyes.

So, target audience conundrum, exacerbated by misleading marketing. A librarian's dream come true! Yay!

Back to those characters 

The two main characters are basically very shallow stereotypes of The Flirt and The Shy One, and neither of them are particularly likable (or, again, middle grade appropriate).

Dacia, The Flirt, was kind of reprehensible with the way she led on not one, not two, but THREE guys and then went back and forth between them based on who had the most power, prestige, good looks, wealth, and protection to offer her at any given time. Nice, right? This attitude holds true throughout the entire book.

Lou, The Shy One, wasn't quite as awful as Dacia, but she was nothing to write home about either. Sure, she didn't string guys along. No, instead she used her empowering transformation to...fall in love with an unworthy guy. 

I don't remember the exact translation now, but upon their initial meetings, he basically called her a slut, like, out of the blue, while he was stalking her (he hunts her kind) and engaging in behaviors that scared her and led her to give him some cutesy nickname along the lines of The Bad Man, but he was totally flirting so it's ok now! Or, well, he was actually stalking her family to annihilate their evil, but he noticed she was pretty, so, yeah. She just kind of let that whole Bad One thing go because of charming good looks and stuff.

And this is post-empowerment-Lou!

Both leading ladies engaged in such inexplicable, poor, and disrespectful decisions that I just can't get on board with them.

Why no DNF? Why ANY stars? 

I don't even know. I was hoping for better? My strong history of loving Jessica Day George books?

After the Big Reveal things took a turn for the crazy and, while this wasn't a turn to the crazy good, it was at least a turn away from the mind-numbingly boring first half and to the "oh the hell with it!" zany. At that point I threw my hands up and went with it. It was awful, but at least it was entertaining...ish.

Bottom line 

I'm a slow learner, but at this point I'm starting to absorb a few lessons: Jessica Day George is no longer an auto-buy author. I'm even hesitant to request any books for review (except the final Castle Glower book). Her books are now at cautionary library first level, and they're no longer at the top of my TBR, if they're on it at all anymore.

This is a sad day, but Silver in the Blood turned me off so hard.

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like:

Click on the covers to go to my review/Goodreads

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mini Reviews: Monstrous Beauty and The Seven Tales of Trinket

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

I can't believe I almost DNF'ed this book! Thankfully Gina commented on my Goodreads update and convinced me this was much more than a mermaid book (I don't love mermaid books) with an ending well worth it (and yes, yes it is).

This one is much more plot driven than character driven. Normally I fall on the side of characters, but a story like this one is has me changing my tune. 

Monstrous Beauty is made up of tiny chapters that alternate between the present day and 1873 with a few flashbacks to our modern leading lady's childhood. This format made for very quick reading and the alternating storylines were both mostly equally engaging (hey, I'm partial to historical tales so I give a slight edge to 1873).

I was afraid the modern parts would devolve into cliche YA paranormal romance, which was my primary reason for considering the DNF. While it did fall into this a little, there's an actual paranormal explanation for their feelings so I'm ok with it. Plus, it's a small part of the plot, so that makes it even more tolerable.

One thing I didn't love was the way main character Hester treated those around her, particularly her guy friend. He really should have been edited right out of the story. It's a minor quibble though and didn't stop me from enjoying the story.

It's hard to say much more without dropping major spoilers. Readers (like me) who like those kind of stories that alternate between the present and the past with a modern day character trying to unravel a mystery of the past should definitely add Monstrous Beauty to their list.

Library book
Rating: 4 out of 5

The Seven Tales of Trinket by Shelley Moore Thomas

Ah, now that was a satisfying story. This is another entry into the "story over characters" group, but being fairy tale based that's hardly a surprise or drawback.

There's an overarching story that wraps up well in the final tale, but the narrative focus is more like The Jungle Book, where a series of short stories are strung together to tell the larger story.

The approach worked very well and I was quickly invested in both the main story and the individual tales. Fans of legends and fairy tales will recognize the underlying threads in many of Trinket's adventures, but Shelley Moore Thomas adds enough personal touches to breathe new life into the stories (1000xs THANK YOU for the change to the dog story! I always pretended that is what really happened).

Recommended to readers who appreciate a good tale, regardless of age. This would make a wonderful addition to school libraries and family bedtime reading. Readers who like Plain Kate by Erin Bow should check out this under-appreciated gem (though don't expect quite the same level of heart wrenching depth).

Rating: 4 out of 5

Friday, July 17, 2015

Book Review & Giveaway (US): Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Pre-order links:  Amazon, Barnes & Noble,IndieBound.
Robert can be found on twitter @BeattyAuthor and online at

This book was not at all what I was expecting, and for once that was a very good thing. Ok, so things I thought I'd get:
  • Engaging mystery
  • Exploring the awesome Biltmore Estate
  • Gothic spookiness
And I got all that. The mystery wasn't the biggest draw for me, but that's mostly because I liked so many other things more. It was kind of like, oh look! A secret passage! Oh, right, and kids are missing, too!

I was easily distracted away from the mystery, but chalk that up to my short attention span and lots of other cool plot points. Plus, the climax of the mystery, oh, and that scene in the carriage, and the graveyard, YIKES x10000!

Though, the Gothic spookiness was more paranormal/fantasy spookiness. But, hey, I like paranormal spookiness, especially when it's historical paranormal fantasy, so I quickly got over the less Gothicky feel.

What I wasn't expecting, but thankfully got anyway:
  • An intrepid, wholly likable heroine who totally gets a sleepover party invite
  • A thoroughly heart-swelling, charming, loving relationship between Serafina and her dad
  • A beyond endearing bosom friendship between Serafina and Braeden
  • A secondary paranormal mystery and cool paranormal creatures
  • A loyal dog
  • Mountain lions! (couldn't not think of Benji)
I won't go into details about any of those things, but this would have been a solid 3.5 star enjoyable read and those features bumped it up to 4 stars. The relationships made this such a feel-good book, despite all the dark, creepy, spooky things going on.

The secondary paranormal mystery hooked me even before the missing kids mystery and the conclusions to both were very satisfying. The whole book also had an old-timey feel that really went well with both the relationships and the mysteries.

Bottom line

Highly recommended. Serafina and the Black Cloak stands apart for its unique, engaging story, but it is the characters and their relationships that will make this one stay with me long after I've finished reading it. I loved this as an adult, and middle-grade-Small would have loved this, too.

(And middle-grade-Small would have been swooning all over Braedon and his not-quite-romantic-but-I-totally-would-have-imagined-romantic relationship with Serafina).

Side note: the finished copy is gorgeous! Deckle edges and an old-timey paper coloration with swirling black branch designs. 

I'm kind of 50/50 about book trailers, but the trailer for this book is one of the good ones. I watched it before I started reading (when, honestly, I was still kinda feeling so-so about the book) and it really upped my motivation. Then, when reading the book, I couldn't stop picturing the trailer and it definitely enhanced my reading experience.

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: An ARC, a bookmark, stickers, a pen, and a notebook 
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • This giveaway is US only
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • One entry per person
  • I will contact the winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on July 31st 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Giveaway (US): Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

I'm really excited about this series, mostly because it sounds all adventurous and, biggest draw, it's about a library. There's something about reading about books that makes me happy. Plus, I can't help live vicariously through the book and make the book's library MY library.

I haven't read Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampire series, but it seems to be pretty well liked. The plot of Ink and Bone makes it sound like a fast-paced dystopian-ish adventure...with spying! And black markets! And...magic? All good things. 

In an exhilarating new series, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine rewrites history, creating a dangerous world where the Great Library of Alexandria has survived the test of time.…

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.

When he inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn.…


Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A copy of Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • This giveaway is US only
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • One entry per person
  • I will contact the winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on July 31st

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Tiny Reviews: Victoria Rebels and Cleopatra VII

Victoria Rebels by Carolyn Meyer

I don't like Queen Victoria. I try, I really do, but I can't stand her. At least, fictional portrayals of her. I only read this book because Carolyn Meyer wrote it.

Victoria certainly had a rough childhood and I totally sympathize for her with that monster of a mother. Given all that, I do understand why she developed the way she did and why she did the things she did. Carolyn Meyer does a great job drawing these connections, too.

And yet, I still don't like her.

Bratty, haughty, bossy, foolish, impulsive, naive, ugh, I can't muster up an ounce of liking for Victoria. I get that evil John was scheming for power when he tried to convince her she wasn't mature or aware enough to be queen. I get it, and I don't like him at all for it.

But, seriously, the guy had a point.

Four stars for Carolyn Meyer (and boy did this book make me appreciate her even more!) because the book is well written and should appeal to Victoria fans or those looking for an introduction, but 2 stars for my actual level of enjoyment because, gah, I really don't like Victoria. 

Library book
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Cleopatra VII by Kristiana Gregory

I've liked Kristiana Gregory's other books in the Royal Diaries series, and while this one is good, I don't know, I just didn't love it as much. Maybe it's because I'm more familiar with Cleopatra?

A large part of my disappointment comes from the loose approach Kristiana Gregory took with history here. Cleopatra meets people and minor events happen here that fall into the "possible but not backed up by history" category.

I'm not hugely bothered because I guess it could have happened, but I really wish she would have stuck with the known events instead. What she did write was nice and engaging and made for a good but not particularly memorable story. I prefer Carolyn Meyer's take on Cleopatra's childhood.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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