Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Mini Reviews: Clean Historical Romances

Lord Fenton's Folly by Josi S. Kilpack
Pages: 336
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Released: October 6, 2015
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I read Lord Fenton's Folly because of two reasons: I like hate-turned-love romances and I'm a big fan of the clean Proper Romance series (Blackmoore, A Heart Revealed).

Alas, I did not love this one as much as the previous two. The characters felt inconsistent and, while likable, they weren't lovable. The plot was also wandering all over the place with reveals that felt haphazardly thrown in and extras that didn't need to be there. This would have been so much nicer if the author had just stuck with the basics of Fenton redeeming himself in society, mending his relationships, and slowly falling in love with Alice.

Bottom line: Overall, nice with a lot of potential that got lost in the disjointed plot. Sometimes simple is better, and the author should have stuck with simple in this case.

Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham
Pages: 287
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Released: August 1, 2009
Received: Libary
Rating: 3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

I picked this one up on impulse because it was short and I really liked Susan Higginbotham's Wars of the Roses book The Queen of Last Hopes.

While The Queen of Last Hopes is primarily a historical novel with a bit of romance, Hugh and Bess is a love story set with a fairly detailed historical backdrop. It was a nice toe-dip for learning about the historical time period and I'm now even more interested in learning about that time (England during the time of Edward III), but I definitely need to seek out more books to get the whole story. But, like I said, this is more of a romance.

What type of romance? Fluffy, sweet, clean, hate-turned-love. Actually, it could fit right in with the Proper Romance series. I liked this book. I laughed, cried, and swooned, though I was never gripped by it. It's a solid Good Book.

Bottom line: I'd grab a cozy sweater, comfortable chair, and crackling fire and give Hugh and Bess a reread.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Book Review: Body and Soul by Stacey Kade

#3 in the Ghost and the Goth series
Received: Library
Pages 316
Released: May 1, 2012
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a review for the third book in the series, but there are NO spoilers!

It's been a really, really long time since I read Queen of the Dead (book 2 in the series), and a really, really, really long time since I read the eponymous first book in the series. Like, it's been years.

Why did I wait so long? I don't know. It certainly wasn't any fault of the series, because I seriously love the hate-turned-love forbidden spectral romance and the ghost busting mysteries in this series.

But, you know how it is, the massive TBR, shifting book priorities, time just kind of slipped by and before I knew it four years had gone by since I last ventured into Alona and Will's world.

When I saw Body and Soul was available through my local library, I groaned, felt guilty, and then figured enough already I needed to get my butt in gear and finally finish off this series.

But, I have a terrible memory and I'm a different reader now than I was four years ago. I was super worried I had waited too long and I just wouldn't enjoy this book like I would have four years ago.

Thankfully, Stacey Kade wrote a finale that packed just as much punch, romance, heart, and humor as the first two books. The first sentence sucked me right back into the story and it was as if no time at all had gone by. I immediately remembered what had happened and I was just as invested in these characters and their story as I was four years ago. Stacey Kade, I'm impressed.

Sleepover party invite x2

Will and Alona are both BFF material characters, but each for very different reasons. Alona can get it done and I can't help but admire her Cordelia-Chase-like panache. Will is a classic misunderstood loner guy with a heart of gold. He's such a nice guy in all the ways that phrase is actually a good thing, but he also has this totally cool, aloof veneer that will make high school girls everywhere swoon.

Add them together, and what do you get? Chemistry. Also, a romance based on a friendship in which they each help one another grow in multiple ways. This is the real meat of the story. Yeah, the romance is swoony, and yeah the action and mysteries are fun, but the character growth is where it's at. Their depth and development make them feel like real people and I think that's a big part of why it was so easy to slip back into their world.

But how does it end??
(still, no spoilers) 

It's always sad to come to the end of a good series (maybe this is why I put off reading the final book for so long?). Without going into any details, rest assured, Stacey Kade delivers a worthy ending.

I laughed, I cried, I clutched my chest in happiness. All the important emotions were evoked and I thoroughly embarrassed myself in new and exciting public places as I responded with lots of verbal outbursts. All signs of a good book. 

Bottom line

I feel like this is an under the radar series because I just don't see much buzz about it on the internet (and, honestly, shame on me too because of that whole four year hiatus thing). I wish that wasn't the case though because this series has so much to offer.

Fans of Anna Dressed in Blood should for sure check out the Ghost and the Goth series. It's very similar in tone and feel, but it doesn't feel like a knock off. It's fresh, fun, and different enough to hold its own in a sea of YA paranormal books. Although, it's no gory or scary like Anna, so it's like Anna for wimps—perfect for me!

What are you waiting for? And best of all, the entire series is published now, so no more waiting! 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tiny Reviews: A City Tossed and Broken and Anna of Byzantium

A City Tossed and Broken by Judy Blundell

Well, that was a surprise! And in a very good way.

I was expecting a MG appropriate historical narrative of the events surrounding the 1906 California earthquake. Horror, fear, people coming together, worry, and, ultimately, a happy ending. I got that.

What I wasn't expecting was the treachery, identity games, treasure, double crosses, and sheer excitement that I ended up also getting.

This rocketed A City Tossed and Broken from the typical "good, but not great" I was expecting to a riveting, edge-of-your-seat experience I can't recommend enough.

ARC from publisher
4 out of 5 stars

Anna of Byzantium by Tracy Barrett

Yikes, Anna! Talk about your family drama. Backstabbing, coups, attempted coups—Anna's family doesn't play around.

Anna is a strong, confident character who is easy to root for (but would probably make an awful sleepover party friend). She reminded me of Isabella in her steadfast determination and "take no prisoners" attitude. This is a good thing and I definitely raged alongside her whenever she was wronged.

Even though there are a few liberties with the historical timeline (probably to make it more MG appropriate) and this tale is definitely told from Anna's extremely biased perspective, this is still a great historical primer. Highly recommended, especially for fans of the Royal Diaries series.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Two Giveaways!

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 

All her life Jessica Drake has dreamed of other worlds, some of them similar to her own, others disturbingly alien. She never shares the details with anyone, save her younger brother Tommy, a compulsive gamer who incorporates some aspects of Jessica’s dreams into his games. But now someone is asking about those dreams...and about her. A strange woman has been watching her house. A visitor to her school attempts to take possession of her dream-inspired artwork.


As she begins to search for answers it becomes clear that whoever is watching her does not want her to learn the truth. One night her house catches on fire, and when the smoke clears she discovers that her brother has been kidnapped. She must figure out what is going on, and quickly, if she and her family are to be safe.

Following clues left behind on Tommy's computer, determined to find her brother and bring him home safely, Jessica and two of her friends are about to embark on a journey that will test their spirits and their courage to the breaking point, as they must leave their own world behind and confront the source of Earth's darkest legends – as well as the terrifying truth of their own secret heritage.


Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished copy of Dreamwalker and Dreamseeker by C.S. Friedman
  • 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 

Book Review: Mary Tudor by Anna Whitelock

Own (used copy with a CRACKED spine. WHY do you do this people??!?!)
5 of 5 stars, Special Shelf

My historical non-fiction adventures have been hit or miss, but Anna Whitelock's Mary Tudor biography is solidly in the win column.

See, I'm kind of a bad non-fiction reader. I love history and I love details, but I'm impatient and I get bored easily and long books turn me off. Also, I'm a character girl, so novels usually appeal to me much more.

Which is why Mary Tudor: England's First Queen was such a hit for me. Teeny tiny chapters (2-5 pages!) and a fluid, narrative writing style made this a super fast read, especially for non-fiction weenies like me. I didn't feel bogged down or bored. I didn't feel like I was eating a never ending bowl of pasta. I was just engaged, from start to finish. I ached and sobbed for Mary and was truly invested in her struggles.

Mary is a historical figure on my list of "Historical Figures I Like a Whole Lot" along with Marie Antoinette and Cleopatra. I know, I know, Mary has a pretty bad reputation, but I feel for her. Her childhood was awful, her adulthood tragic, and I think she often gets an unfairly bad rap because of historical propaganda (Elizabeth killed roughly 600 people in one sweep! That's about double Mary's bloody body count). Yes, Mary definitely earned her sobriquet Bloody Mary, but when you compare her to other kings and queens of her time, she's hardly the worst.

Plus, it's not like she just decided, "hey, I think I'll kill some Protestants!" and then went on a giddy murder spree while rubbing her hands together and cackling. While I of course don't condone her actions, there were a lot of political and personal reasons for what she did, and I was glad to see Anna Whitelock address these (though not as thoroughly as I would have liked, but that's more because I'm a beat a dead horse kind of reader with this stuff).

In an age obsessed with girl power, it's also a crying shame that Mary is so overlooked. She was England's first queen! She was a trail blazer who set precedent and laid a powerful example that significantly influenced the choices Elizabeth I made during her own reign. Without Mary's example (to both the good and the bad), the vaunted Virgin Queen's reign likely would have looked very different.

So, obviously I'm completely biased, and I was in good company with Anna Whitelock because I get the impression she likes Mary a whole lot too. This is a sympathetic look, but it's packed with a whole lot of facts to back it up and never feels lecturing. The facts support the bias, as opposed to the bias distorting or cherry picking the facts.

I'm a huge fan of this book, and while I wanted more, I think that's more because I was so invested in the author's writing and such a Mary fan than because of any real lack on Anna Whitelock's part. The book is pretty short and I would have gladly read double this amount, but I don't feel like the book was lacking either. Simply put, when something is good, I always want more of it, and I want more of what Anna Whitelock has to offer.

Looking for a book like this? You might like:

Click on the pictures to go to my reviews/Goodreads
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