Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mini Review: A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee

A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee
#1 in The Agency series
Owned (but no longer!)
1.5 out of 5 stars

I had such high expectations for this series, but it failed pretty much every single one of them.

I didn't get along with main character Mary at all and found her thoroughly dislikable. She made some stupid choices and broke all the wrong rules for all the wrong reasons. There is supposedly another seasoned spy on assignment as well (undercover even from novice Mary) and all I could think of was this better spy facepalming the entire time as Mary runs amok all over her covert ops.

Mary 's also not the nicest person in the world, which really made it hard to take her side, even when I agreed with her. To add insult to injury, her promised hate-turned-love romance fell totally flat for me and was more of an insta-love with feigned bickering and no spark.

Don't even get me started on the side characters who are all horribly one-note. The mystery was the only thing that (just barely) kept my interest, but that isn't saying much and it fell flat in the end. Or, should I say it exploded in comical, cackling improbable villain laughter? 

Worst of all was the historical stuff. I'm totally fine with a fluffy historical mystery that only pays petticoat homage to the time period (that is, historical accuracy sticklers be-gone, we're more focused on a general surface historical feeling), but this book took things too far.

I at least want SOME nods to the rules of the time (i.e. ladies do not go cavorting on the wrong side of town...and if they do, gosh, do it better, Mary!). I especially don't want a main character with modern sensibilities. Authors, if you want your main character to inappropriately and annoyingly spout off 21st century ideals left and right, then do not set your book in historical times. Nothing rips me out of a book and makes me dislike it faster than an anachronistic character on a modern soapbox.

Or anyone one a soapbox, really. I could really do without the soapboxes. Especially when the rantings come off like PSAs for 2nd graders. Show a little more respect for your readers, maybe?


Looking for another book like this? You might like:
 Click on the covers to go to my reviews.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Giveaway (US): The Borden Murders by Sarah Miller

Here’s middle-grade nonfiction that reads like a thriller. With murder, court battles, and sensational newspaper headlines, the story of Lizzie Borden is compulsively readable and perfect for the Common Core.

Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.

In a compelling, linear narrative, Miller takes readers along as she investigates a brutal crime: the August 4, 1892, murders of wealthy and prominent Andrew and Abby Borden. The accused? Mild-mannered and highly respected Lizzie Borden, daughter of Andrew and stepdaughter of Abby. Most of what is known about Lizzie’s arrest and subsequent trial (and acquittal) comes from sensationalized newspaper reports; as Miller sorts fact from fiction, and as a legal battle gets under way, a gripping portrait of a woman and a town emerges.

With inserts featuring period photos and newspaper clippings—and, yes, images from the murder scene—readers will devour this nonfiction book that reads like fiction.


Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished copy of The Borden Murders by Sarah Miller
  • 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 November 30th 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Book Review: Red Girl, Blue Boy by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Pages: 304
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Released: October 20, 2015
Received: ARC from author
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Sometimes I'm in the mood for a cute, fluffy YA romance and that is exactly what Red Girl, Blue Boy gave me. Part of the "If Only" series of standalone romances, this installment focuses on Kat (the Republican candidate's daughter) and Drew (the Democrat candidate's son) and their adorable hate-turned-love-turned-hate-turned love romance.

I was a little worried politics would dominate this book, but Lauren Baratz-Logsted did a stellar job including enough of a political backdrop to make the premise feel relevant, but played it pretty neutral when it came to actual politics. It shouldn't really matter what side of the political spectrum the reader falls on when it comes to enjoying the story.

The chapters alternate between Drew and Kat's first-person narratives and their voices are both distinct and likable. Kat reminded me of Caroline Forbes from The Vampire Diaries or Elle Wood from Legally Blonde. She's an up-beat go-getter who definitely marches to the beat of her own drummer. Her loneliness and disconnect from kids her own age was sad and really made me feel for her. I couldn't help but like her.

Drew was sweet and likable, but I more liked him for how he treated Kat. He was definitely good for her and I was so happy to see him get her and help her out when no one else did. Kat's secret service man was another nice addition and it was sweet seeing the three of them together.

The book isn't perfect, but it fell short in the ways this genre of book always falls short for me. The premise was pretty contrived and unbelievable. The extent of Kat's cluelessness was over the top for the sake of the plot. The staged misunderstandings were obvious and the big save at the end came out of nowhere.

But none of that matters. I don't read these books to scrutinize the plot or character development. I read them to latch onto characters I can enjoy spending a few hours with as I swoon over their will-they-won't-they (they totally will) romance. And for that purpose, Red Girl, Blue Boy definitely delivered.

Looking for something similar? 
Forget books, Red Girl, Blue Boy took me back to my favorite teen romantic comedies: 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Book Review: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

Released: October 6, 2015
Pages: 528
Publisher: Disney Hyperion Books
Received: ARC from the publisher
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I keep calling this The Percy Jackson Book. As in, "I'm reading The Percy Jackson Book" or "I need to write my review for The Percy Jackson Book." Every time I reference Magnus I trip up over his name and do a "Perc-um-Magnus" or a "Percy, I mean whatever-his-name-is," and I'm still doing it even after having spent 528 pages with what's-his-name.

And, I know, this is not a Percy Jackson book. It's a Magnus Chase book.

But, it's totally a Percy Jackson book.

The characters are pretty copy/paste from Percy Jackson, the action follows the same formula, the Gods are typical Percy Jackson gods, and the writing, dialog, and feel are all straight Percy Jackson.

But is that a bad thing? This new series definitely isn't getting any points for originality, but it's a total win if you're looking for more Percy Jackson-ish books. It may be formulaic, but it's a fun formula to follow.

There's a certain comfort in reading a book where you know exactly what to expect in the broad strokes, and that's what The Sword of Summer provides. It's like rereading an old favorite, but not remembering any of the details.

And, yeah, sometimes the formula felt a little forced. The jokes all kind of felt like Rick Riordan was standing there expectantly waiting for me to laugh and pat him on the back for his clever lines. "Did you see that Percy Jackson reference I threw in there?" *elbow jab* "Ha! Did you get that bag lady joke? Totally zany, amiright?" Despite all that, in the middle of my eye-rolls I was laughing. So.

And the pacing? I'm worried Rick Riordan's fame has catapulted him into To Big To Edit territory. This book is huge, and it really doesn't need to be. The majority of the first 160 pages where Percy meets and mingles in Camp Half-Blood, erm, I mean, Magnus hangs out in Valhalla, could have been cut down to about a chapter.

I also could have done without the repetitive remembrances of Magnus's dead mom (that and the pretty-cool -but-not-as-awesome-as-Vic talking sword made me flashback to Mythos Academy), and the entire homeless bit felt beaten to death and not really necessary. The connection to Annabel felt like a real stretch, and while it may prove more relevant in future books, in this one it just felt forced and irrelevant.

This all made it difficult for me to like Magnus (also, that name made it hard). I had trouble connecting with him or even caring what would happen to him. He is also so similar to Percy Jackson that I had a hard time separating Magnus as a character in his own right and not just a mildly annoying Percy Jackson understudy.

Magnus's sidekicks are a different story. Blitz and Hearth went a long way toward making the book for me. They're interesting characters in their own right with backstories, depth, and growth that surpassed that of lead character Magnus. Their humorous moments were also among the best in the book.

I'd be just fine if Magnus and Samirah (his ornery and oh so bland diversity token Muslim Valkyrie sidekick with an incredibly dull side story that should have been edited right out) had just disappeared and let this become the Adventures of Blitz and Hearth. THAT would be an awesome series.

Bottom line

It may seem like I'm knocking The Sword of Summer pretty hard. And I guess I kind of am. It's a rough book that really could have benefited from a lot of editing. It also suffers from a lack of originality and a beta version of Percy Jackson for a main character. Oh, also, no romance.

But, it's still a fun book. I did enjoy it, and I'll probably read the rest of the books eventually (this one ends on a "the story isn't over, but this first part is wrapped up" kind of ending). It even made me decide I should probably pick up the other Rick Riordan series I haven't read yet (I've only read the main Percy Jackson series).

The thing is, I like this formula. I don't love it and I've never been a huge Percy Jackson fan to begin with, but I do like it. It's comforting, light, predictable, and funny, and sometimes that's exactly the kind of book I'm looking for when I want to unwind.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Book Review: A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston

Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is a fairy tale. Basically. What I mean by that is, expect a story but don't expect characters with a whole lot of depth. Go with the flow of magical fuzziness of the story and don't get overly picky and examine every little detail for logic and concrete answers.

The desert atmosphere is palpable—languid and heavy like a hot summer day, but comfortable and easy to sink into like a warm summer night.  The visuals of the story were captivating and kept me coming back for more.

Even though it wasn't hard to figure out what was going to happen (because, fairy tale), I was still invested in watching the story unfold. The pace isn't fast at all and the events are more of a quiet, steady strength and dreamy story weaving type. I found it very easy to put the book down for days at a time, but I also always felt compelled to pick it back up again.

Thankfully, this is a standalone and the ending wrapped things up nicely. This isn't a swoony book and there actually isn't any romance. The focus is entirely on the nameless main character, and she isn't BFF material for me because she's more of a character representation (like a fairy tale) than a fully fleshed out character. I almost felt more of a connection to her sister because she described her sister so often (her sister gets a mini romance). Still, I did like the main character.

There's a lot to think about with this story. There are Messages. Feminism, stylistic writing themes, romance, goodness and evil, relationships, and other weighty topics are explored in ways that were deep without ever being oppressive. You can just read the book as a straight story and enjoy it on that level, or you can look between the explicit story and explore deeper. It's up to the reader, which is how I like Messages to be presented.

Recommended for readers who liked Tiger Lily or Toads and Diamonds. Not really recommended for readers who want lots of action and BFF characters and swoony romance. I usually fall into the latter group, but I appreciated A Thousand Nights enough that I'm glad I read it, even though I probably wouldn't re-read it. I could see this having adult crossover appeal, but probably not middle grade crossover appeal.

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like:

Click on the covers to go to my reviews
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