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Book Review: Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

middlegrade

handbookdragonslayersHandbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell
Published May 28th 2013 by HarperCollins
Format: Paper Book
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Magic, Adventure, Self-Acceptance
Goodreads | Amazon

Tilda has never given much thought to dragons, attending instead to her endless duties and wishing herself free of a princess’s responsibilities.

When a greedy cousin steals Tilda’s lands, the young princess goes on the run with two would-be dragon slayers. Before long she is facing down the Wild Hunt, befriending magical horses, and battling flame-spouting dragons. On the adventure of a lifetime, and caught between dreams of freedom and the people who need her, Tilda learns more about dragons—and herself—than she ever imagined.

Merrie Haskell, author of The Princess Curse, presents a magical tale of transformation, danger, and duty, starring a remarkable princess as stubborn as she is brave.

Merrie Haskell’s first book, The Princess Curse, was an excellent middle grade book. So, I was excited when I heard she was publishing another middle grade book, Handbook for Dragon Slayers. Dragons, you say? Yes please! Haskell is known to mix myths and legends into her books and for capable and independent female characters. I was really interested in seeing what Haskell had crafted for us in her new book.

Things I Liked

blackdot First of all, cover love! Haskell’s books always have wonderful covers and I adore this one.

blackdot Secondly, kudos for another capable and independent main female character and this time one that has a physical handicap. Tilda overcomes at lot of obstacles in this book; physical obstacles in the form of her foot, then breaking out of the prison that was her status and truly understanding what she wants. Haskell has a way of writing girls with spirit and determination that I really enjoy. Tilda won’t let anything stand in her way and she fights for what she wants, even if what she wants changes and matures through the book. Even Judith was amazing. She’s strong willed and I love that she snuck off for secret dragon slaying lessons with Parz.

blackdot I thought Tilda’s disability was well handled. Her clubfoot constantly pains her and separates her from others, so much so that her own people scorn her, but Tilda chooses to not let her deformity control her. It does have an influence on her, as she sees herself and how she thinks other people see her, but she strives to not let it define her. I also like how there was no magical fix for her at the end and how she accepts herself just as she is and realizes how important she is to Alder Brook and her friends. It took the loss of their princess to realize how much they really value her and Tilda the same for Alder Brook. There was no magical hand wave to get rid of the unpleasant bits to make Tilda ‘perfect’ and that really made me enjoy the character more.

blackdot Handbook for Dragon Slayers is just the type of adventurous, original middle grade book I adore. The slight love triangle is background to the main plot that includes dragons, evil knights, and magical horses. It’s exciting and you don’t want to put the book down.

Things I Didn’t Like

blackdot The plot is a little wandering in parts and it felt a little scattered. There is a good amount of back and forth that I found a little annoying. It’s not as tight as The Princess Curse was.

blackdot I didn’t recognize the myths Haskell used in Handbook for Dragon Slayers. The metal horses are obviously from some myth but it’s one I’m not readily familiar with the way The Twelve Dancing Princesses and the Persephone myths were in The Princess Curse. It took away some of the shine. I also can’t help but think that the target audience, young children, would be even more confused. They’re not going to have the first clue of what The Wild Hunt is and will probably just think it’s made-up, which is a shame.

blackdot Speaking of The Wild Hunt, Haskell goes through the trouble of making the lead horsewoman intimidating and scary and then does very little with them. The main villain is a power hungry delusional knight who really should know better than to try and entrap the Fey. It never ends well for the human. I was a little disappointed at the end when The Wild Hunt returned and then everything is hand waved away and is now hunky-dory.

The elements of Handbook for Dragon Slayers are practically tailor fit to make me gush. It’s the type of adventure that makes me feel like a kid again, rushing around the backyard with a princess crown and a plastic sword I’d stolen from my older brother. (Yes, I was one of those little girls. I was determined to be both a princess and a knight and no amount of teasing from my brother and his friends would change my mind.) Tilda was the perfect unconventional hero and her journey to self-acceptance was smart and fun. Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell was a good second book and I very much enjoyed it.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

youngadult

madmandaughterThe Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd
Published January 29th 2013 by Balzer + Bray
Format: Paper Book
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Historical Fiction, Sci-fi
Goodreads | Amazon

In the darkest places, even love is deadly.

Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father’s gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.

Accompanied by her father’s handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father’s madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father’s dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it’s too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood.

I assume that you have a least heard of the story of The Island of Doctor Moreau, if not seen the movie or read the original book by H.G. Wells. At this point, the “island full of monsters” plot is a familiar cliché. It’s been pretty well assimilated into our culture. The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd is a retelling of that story only now with added hormonal teenage girl. There is a supernatural twist to the story at the end that was surprising and the characters are well formed and not too annoying but I still found myself with some disappointed feelings as a whole. It comes from my basic annoyance with the main female character in young adult books. I loved The Island of Doctor Moreau and I can’t accept that story being diluted by, I’m sorry to say, some dumb girl running around.

What I Liked

blackdot It’s very well written. There were times where I was on the edge of my seat with suspense and I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough. The tension on the island could have been cut by a knife and the reader really feels that. The horror and gore has quite a punch. When the story gets going, it really goes and it’s intense. (Of course, the problem is when it stops going.)

blackdot I really liked the descriptions of the creatures. The sense of wrongness and creepiness Juliet felt when around them was well portrayed.

blackdot We have some truly awesome secondary characters in this book. My favorites are Alice, who Montgomery sees as a kind-of daughter but whom Alice loves romantically, and Ajax/Jaguar, who personifies the dual nature of human and animal and the nature of humanity and self-awareness.

What I Didn’t Like

blackdot There was the usually period piece nonsense, such as Juliet’s corset being suddenly too tight.

blackdot The book is a little overlong. Most notably, the chapters on the boat sailing to the island and then when Juliet and Edward are running willy-nilly around the island in the dark after Juliet saw her father and Montgomery preforming their experiments in the red shed. The middle part of the book felt a little wandering. Juliet’s inner rambling does not help. The pacing is too slow.

blackdot Love triangle alert. Add one part childhood friend and one part dashing newcomer and mix well. Cue the eye rolling.

blackdot While the supernatural twist at the end was surprising and I have to give kudos for the fact that I didn’t see even a hint of it coming, I felt it upset the overall tone of the book.

I normally love retellings but I felt the introduction of Juliet into The Island of Doctor Moreau was a disservice to the story. In the original book, there is no female main character on the island, let alone the daughter of the infamous doctor. Frankly, the most interesting part to the book was the beginning when Juliet was still in London. The London chapters had a great macabre atmosphere that really pulled me in. Perhaps I just like gothic historical fiction better. It started out great but then got bogged down with a slow plot and being too focused on the romance rather than the action. It takes a lot of skill to write a retelling of a popular story correctly and while I think The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd was a good result, I don’t think it was an improvement.

I’ve taken a glance at the sequel, Her Dark Curiosity, and it looks to be even better than The Madman’s Daughter. I hope that since it looks like the sequel is set in London that we can recapture the macabre and darkly gothic feel that the first few chapters of The Madman’s Daughter had.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Adult books but not erotica. Supposed to be ages 18 and over but I’ve known mature teens to be fine with adult books. Adult books have mature situations, maybe non-graphic sex, and are not meant for young kids.

oceanattheendThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Published June 18th 2013 by William Morrow Books
Format: Paper Books
Length: 181 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Magical Realism
Goodreads | Amazon

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

I can safely say that Neil Gaiman is my favorite living author. His writing is fantastic. His novels always have a wonderful turn of phrase and wit about them and are always somehow deeply magical. Gaiman’s novels are set in this world but it’s this world only if you kind of step a little to the left and squint. Because you can only see magic and the fantastical if you go a little out of focus. So, needless to say, I was very excited when news of a new book from him came out. (And completely bummed that his US signing tour wasn’t coming anywhere near me. Dang it.)

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed when I picked up The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s tiny. At only 178 pages long I was dubious of the book. There was no way a proper story could be told in such a small book, let alone one of Gaiman’s artful and whimsical creations. I was proven wrong. While The Ocean at the End of the Lane is not like most of Gaiman’s other books, it is still a complete story with excellent setting and characters. Gaiman’s greatest skill, I think, is in the creation of his characters. He writes children very well. He writes odd and weird very well. The Hempstock ladies are an example of that. Their oddness is so subtle that you’re not even sure you’re seeing it.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is not the type of story I am used to seeing from Gaiman. This story is small and personal but the more I read the more the book became, not bigger, but denser. It had weight and is undeniably a story for adults and older teens. Gaiman has created something strange and peculiar and lovely here. It is childhood and how a child experiences and deals with several situations. (The loss of family wealth, his Father’s cheating and abuse, the childhood curse of being ‘different’ from other children.) He is a child and doesn’t understand but he has to deal with it just the same. To a seven year old little boy, magic is real and an eleven year old girl is powerful and wise. I was utterly fascinated.

Could a younger person read this? Well, yes. The story is exciting and scary fun. I’d have reservations about a kid reading this because of the scene where the main character’s Father tries to kill him (let’s not mince words here, the Father was trying to drown him no matter how our young narrator sees it). There is also one, tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sexual moment. But I also think that a young teen might not understand some of the underlying meaning. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is about a child’s world and how that world is so different from an adult’s but at the same time it has this deeper tragedy and creepiness that can make a reader uncomfortable. I think that is where the true greatness of this book comes from, along with being a really great story on the surface, and if you can’t understand that then you kind of lose something.

At the end of reading a Gaiman book I always feel this sense of nostalgia and longing for the world he created and the characters I’ve been introduced to. I miss them because it was a world we used to live in, long ago, when we ourselves were children and before we made that horrible decision to grow up. It’s part of the reason why I adore his books so much. My one gripe is that this small book costs $26. I’m sure the fancy paper edging was worth that much. (That was sarcasm.) The Ocean at the End of the Lane joins the host of other Neil Gaiman books that are my favorite.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy

middlegrade

herosguideThe Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy
Published May 1st 2012 by Walden Pond Press
Format: Paper Book
Length: 419 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Adventure, Humor
Goodreads | Amazon

Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You’ve never heard of them, have you? These are the princes who saved Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, respectively, and yet, thanks to those lousy bards who wrote the tales, you likely know them only as Prince Charming. But all of this is about to change.

Rejected by their princesses and cast out of their castles, the princes stumble upon an evil plot that could endanger each of their kingdoms. Now it’s up to them to triumph over their various shortcomings, take on trolls, bandits, dragons, witches, and other assorted terrors, and become the heroes no one ever thought they could be.

Christopher Healy’s Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is a completely original take on the world of fairy tales, the truth about what happens after “happily ever after.” It’s a must-have for middle grade readers who enjoy their fantasy adventures mixed with the humor of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Witty black-and-white drawings by Todd Harris add to the fun.

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy is just the type of middle grade book I adore to pieces. It’s imaginative, original, and makes fun of every fairy tale cliché it can get its hands on. The humor is cheesy and ridiculous while the characters are bumbling but good-hearted. This was exactly the silly, funny book that I wanted to read and I think other readers will have just as much fun with it as I did.

What I Liked

blackdot The Hero’s Guide doesn’t take itself seriously and the cheesy humor and fairy tale mayhem are great. This fractured fairy tale book takes familiar characters, the Prince Charming stock character, and really turns them on their heads. There are jokes and jabs galore aimed at the bumbling princes. Their incompetence is endearing but they are individuals and each prince’s personality is unique.

blackdot I love fairy tale rewrites and The Hero’s Guide uses a lot of different fairy tales. There are a lot of in-jokes and references to other classics written into the story that the observant will catch too.

blackdot The illustrations by Todd Harris were an unexpected additional surprise that added that extra touch. It was nice to see such detailed pictures of our heroes. (Even if Briar Rose, Sleeping Beauty, could be mistaken for Bell from Beauty and the Beast because of the yellow dress.) Snow White was especially amusing with all of her bows.

blackdot There is a hilarious villain who encapsulates every clichéd and eye roll worthy action a fairy tale villain could ever take. The witch Zaubera is almost my favorite character of the whole bunch.

What I Didn’t Like

blackdot There are points where the slapstick humor gets in the way of plot and can become annoying. The book stretches a little overlong.

blackdot Some people might find this too inane and unstructured. You have to be in the mood to be amused and fluffily entertained.

Let’s be honest, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is cute and funny but shouldn’t be taken seriously. Your brain can rest while reading this one and just have a good time with an adventure and some loveable characters. We get to see one author’s take on some important fairy tale characters and seeing the vastly different personalities of the princes is interesting. The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy is a fat, squat brick of a book that I feel could have lost a little weight and been better for it but overall is a hilarious and fun fairy tale read. It breaths some new life into an old favorite.

Thank you for reading!

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Teaser Tuesdays 7/2/13

teaser tuesdays logoTeaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

madmandaughterThe Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

“His explanations continued. Examples, details, complications of his work. They made my throat go dry and my mind whirl. He had really done it.

My father had played God and won. ~ page 236.”

I’m going to assume that everyone at least knows the basic story behind The Island of Doctor Moreau, even if you’ve never seen the movie or read the original book by H.G. Wells. The Madman’s Daughter is an interesting mash-up of that original story as told from Juliet’s POV.

Thank you for reading!

Book Review: The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett

youngadult

nightmareaffairThe Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett
Published March 5th 2013 by Tor Teen
Format: Paper Book
Legnth: 367 pages
Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy, Romance, Mystery
Goodreads | Amazon

Sixteen-year-old Dusty Everhart breaks into houses late at night, but not because she’s a criminal. No, she’s a Nightmare.

Literally.

Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and living in the shadow of her mother’s infamy, is hard enough. But when Dusty sneaks into Eli Booker’s house, things get a whole lot more complicated. He’s hot, which means sitting on his chest and invading his dreams couldn’t get much more embarrassing. But it does. Eli is dreaming of a murder.

Then Eli’s dream comes true.

Now Dusty has to follow the clues—both within Eli’s dreams and out of them—to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what she’s up to and marks her as the next target.

It looks likes the average rating for The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett is about three stars. I find this a bit odd. I know why I have problems with it but my problems are rarely shared by other young adult book readers. Of course, my main problem with The Nightmare Affair, and really most young adult books, is the juvenile and asinine romance. On page 20 there was this line: “Eli pointed at me, his chest muscles flexing in a way that made me want to giggle.” I’ll admit, I nearly put the book down right there and then. That line was almost too much for me to take. But I persevered and finished it. My own rating fell around 3 stars as well, for annoying romance and rather formulaic plot.

What I Liked

blackdot The basic idea. A magical/supernatural creature that feeds on dreams? That is awesome! A whole secret school hiding a whole society of magical/supernatural creatures? That is awesome! I really enjoyed the world building in The Nightmare Affair.

What I Didn’t Like

blackdot The romance. I still cringe just thinking about it. I know there are only so many ways an author can express an interest between characters but – honestly? – when it begins to sound like the symptoms to some disease, you need to reevaluate how you are writing it. I know teen romance is awkward but the girl shouldn’t come off looking like she has mental problems and menopause. (There is medicine for hot flashes, you know!)

blackdot As awesome as the world building and details are, the plot and characters are a bit formulaic. Dusty is the quirky girl whose quirk, her poufy red hair, just adds to her appeal. Eli is the hot bad boy who is really not as bad as he seems. It goes on; there is a love triangle, an outcast best friend, and the main character is a special snowflake among all the snowflakes. Even the bad guy fits within the well-worn young adult plot template. The reader pretty much knows who the bad guy is just because it follows the pattern.

Sometimes I feel like I’m reading the same young adult book over and over again with different characters and settings. I can see why The Nightmare Affair rates three stars for most everyone but books like this usually rate higher with the masses. For me, three stars means the novel was just okay. Not bad but not great either. The world building, nice pacing, and my love for all things magical and mythical save the book from being rated any lower. There is a decent amount to like in The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett. There could be improvements but I will definitely be reading the second book in the series just to see what happens next at Arkwell Academy.

Thank you for reading!

 

Book Review: Allison Hewitt is Trapped by Madeleine Roux

Adult books but not erotica. Supposed to be ages 18 and over but I’ve known mature teens to be fine with adult books. Adult books have mature situations, maybe non-graphic sex, and are not meant for young kids.

allisonhewittAllison Hewitt is Trapped by Madeleine Roux
Published January 18th 2011 by St. Martin’s Griffin
Format: Paper Book
Length: 340 pages
Genre: Zombies, Horror, Post Apocalyptic, Adult
Goodreads | Amazon

“One woman’s story as she blogs – and fights back – the zombie apocalypse”

Allison Hewitt and her five colleagues at the Brooks and Peabody Bookstore are trapped together when the zombie outbreak hits. Allison reaches out for help through her blog, writing on her laptop and utilizing the military’s emergency wireless network (SNET). It may also be her only chance to reach her mother. But as the reality of their situation sinks in, Allison’s blog becomes a harrowing account of her edge-of-the-seat adventures (with some witty sarcasm thrown in) as she and her companions fight their way through ravenous zombies and sometimes even more dangerous humans.

I probably shouldn’t read zombie novels. They apparently give me nightmares, even the slightly humorous zombie novels. Allison Hewitt is Trapped by Madeleine Roux is a novel about the zombie apocalypse as told through one young woman’s eyes. Allison is a normal person and she’s just trying to survive as her world is turned on its head and the dead walk around munching brains. It’s less Resident Evil and more The Walking Dead like. (Neither of which I can watch because I gross out easily.) Allison doesn’t go off in some epic journey to find the source of the zombie infestation and put an end to it. Nope; Allison is just trying to survive and that makes Allison Hewitt is Trapped a relatable read.

What I Liked

blackdot Surprisingly, I liked the format. I’ve ranted about epistolary novels before (I find letters severely limiting and very boring.) but the blog entries read so closely to normal first person POV that it didn’t bother me and the added comments from other survivors were interesting.

blackdot Roux doesn’t pull any punches. People die. People go crazy. People are nasty. People betray each other at the blink of an eye. Allison takes justice into her own hands and her world is very much survival of the fittest. Allison kills people, not just zombies. It can be painful to read sometimes. Society goes to shit very fast.

blackdot Good pacing. We’re given down time so we don’t get fatigued with too much action and zombie killing. The plot moves forward without getting bogged down.

blackdot Good mix of secondary characters that we both love and hate. Not all the ‘good people’ make it and the cast changed through the story so we get a new set of secondary characters with every location shift. We see a lot of different people and see the many different ways in which they react to the zombie apocalypse.

blackdot This may seem stupid to everyone else, but I like how Roux dealt with the sanitary aspects of the end of the world. There is no more running water. Allison and her crew stink and they know it. They have to deal with the not functioning toilets. A lot of other zombie novels gloss over that and I like that Roux didn’t do that. It’s uncomfortable and gross but it’s a part of reality. I like seeing those mundane little details that make the story so much more believable, instead of everyone suddenly no longer needing to pee.

What I Didn’t Like

blackdot I want to punch the guy in the end letter. Way to miss the point, you ass. This is how real people survived and what they had to go through. You have no right to turn your nose up now that you’re safe and can indulge your self-righteous morals after the fact.

blackdot Allison is an adult, in her middle 20’s, and the novel is rated for adults, not YA readers. I don’t know if I’m just too used to reading YA novels, but Allison doesn’t come off as being that old. She sounds like a teen, 18 or possibly 19 years of age. Which makes the so-called romance between her and Colin weird at best and a little gross as worst. It just doesn’t mesh.

blackdot On that note, the whole Colin and Allison romance felt stilted and bland. We’re just told they have feelings for each other but never really see it.

blackdot Also, is every middle aged man going to fall in love with Allison? I know she’s awesome but could we focus here? It’s ridiculous.

blackdot Allison can seem a bit wooden sometimes.

Not a bad zombie novel, all things considered. There is a blurb for the sequel at the end, Sadie Walker is Stranded, that seems even better and I will definitely be reading it, nightmares or not. Allison Hewitt is Trapped was a wild ride and I’m glad I picked it up. I love the cover, the format worked for me, and I liked the characters. It’s rated adult just for violence and other nasty business both zombie and human but I think a mature teen could handle it. A fan of zombie novels should definitely pick it up. Allison Hewitt is Trapped by Madeleine Roux will make a good addition to their collection. Zombie squirrels, everybody. That’s all I’m saying.

Thank you for reading!

Book Review: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

youngadult

etiqueeteespionageEtiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
Published February 5th 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Format: Paper Book
Length: 307 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Steampunk, Spy, Paranormal, Science Fiction, Mystery
Goodreads |Amazon

It’s one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It’s quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School.

Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners—and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, young ladies learn to finish…everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage—in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year’s education.

Set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate, this YA series debut is filled with all the saucy adventure and droll humor Gail Carriger’s legions of fans have come to adore.

It took me a little bit of time to wander my way through Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger. I heard great things about her Parasol Protectorate series and this was my first steampunk novel, so I was excited to read it. My excitement waned after a while and I finished Etiquette & Espionage in fits and spurts. It pained me that I didn’t love this book more. It had all the makings of an awesome novel with an original world (I haven’t read the Parasol Protectorate yet. So this was my first experience in this world.), a healthy dose of paranormal (Vampires! Werewolves! Oh my!), and some really interesting characters. But while it had all the pieces of a great book, is lacked any actual plot to focus on.

There are two things that keep Etiquette & Espionage from being a complete flop; great characters and the humor. All the girls at the finishing school are quirky and interesting. Sophronia, the main character, is spunky but could have had a bit more depth to her. Frankly, I was more interested in the characters she interacted with, like the other girls, teachers, and the sooties, than I was in Sophronia herself. There are great one-liners and fantastic humor. But all the cheeky jokes and turn of phrase wit in the world won’t hide the thin plot and slow moving action in Etiquette & Espionage. The setting gets the most attention, giving us a rich world with the finishing school, but leaving other aspects of the book languishing.

I feel as if I’ve read someone’s first draft and that I’m missing half of the book; the half where something actually happens. At the end there is some action involving the mysterious prototype and what could be some suitable villains but then the book ends before anything really exciting can evolve from it. We’re left with some funny characters and a fantastic world in which nothing much happens. I’m pleased with my first real foray into steampunk. That aspect of Etiquette & Espionage was fantastic but just didn’t have the support of a good plot to make the book really great.

I am intrigued enough that I’ll check out Parasol Protectorate. I loved Carriger’s world building and want to see more. Etiquette & Espionage read more like a middle grade book than a young adult book. The age of the characters and innocent and almost not there nature of the romance lends itself better to younger readers. (Not that that stops any 30 year old women from reading it.) But humor and quirky characters cannot disguise the slow and boring pace or the underdeveloped plot in this book. Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger was great for a steampunk novel but ultimately fell a little flat.

Thank you for reading!

Book Review: The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal

youngadult

falseprincessThe False Princess by Eilis O’Neal
Published January 25th 2011 by EgmontUSA
Format: Paper Book
Length: 319 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Magic, Mystery, Royalty
Goodreads | Amazon

Princess and heir to the throne of Thorvaldor, Nalia’s led a privileged life at court. But everything changes when it’s revealed, just after her sixteenth birthday, that she is a false princess, a stand-in for the real Nalia, who has been hidden away for her protection. Cast out with little more than the clothes on her back, the girl now called Sinda must leave behind the city of Vivaskari, her best friend, Keirnan, and the only life she’s ever known.

Sinda is sent to live with her only surviving relative, an aunt who is a dyer in a distant village. She is a cold, scornful woman with little patience for her newfound niece, and Sinda proves inept at even the simplest tasks. But when Sinda discovers that magic runs through her veins – long-suppressed, dangerous magic that she must learn to control – she realizes that she can never learn to be a simple village girl.

Returning to Vivaskari for answers, Sinda finds her purpose as a wizard scribe, rediscovers the boy who saw her all along, and uncovers a secret that could change the course of Thorvaldor’s history, forever.

I picked up The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal while browsing through the library. It had been on my to be read list for a little while but hadn’t generated a lot of excitement that I could see on the other blogs. I read the blurb and thought the story would be a pretty straight forward ‘finding your place in the world’ novel. There was a nice twist that made the novel a bit more exciting than I expected but otherwise the characters and situation in this book were pretty bland. The main character, Sinda, is too accepting of her fate and simply allows the people she thought were her parents to basically kick her out of her life and send her off to a relative she didn’t even know existed. While I can understand Sinda being in shock at that moment, she’s a bit too much like a doormat to inspire much reaction from the reader.

When Sinda arrives in her aunt’s small village, her situation is more amusing than pitying and the reveal of her magic is predictable. It’s only as she returns to the city that things start looking up, novel-wise. At first, I thought the rest of the plot would be Sinda’s ‘journey to self-acceptance’ that ends with her being best friends with the new princess and generally becoming the most awesome royal advisor ever to the new Nalia. But there is a twist, things start to happen, and Sinda grows a backbone and a personality. The romance is not overwhelming but not very interesting. Best friends since they were little, Sinda and Kiernan of course fall in love with each other. It’s clichéd. Thankfully, it’s not focused on until the point of nausea.

The False Princess is your pretty standard fantasy/ fairy tale novel. It’s got ties to Cinderella and The Prince and Pauper. Everything and everyone is a little bland. I greatly wanted to learn more about Sinda’s birthmother and also more about the queen, who apparently felt something for Sinda even if we’re shown that with only third party information. O’Neal missed a great chance for some angst that would have spiced things up. As it is, Sinda’s numb reaction to everything is a little boring after a while. The False Princess does get a little more interesting near the end, where there is actually action happening, but it’s a little too late to save the book. I liked The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal, the second twist was good, but the majority of the novel was just okay.

Thank you for reading!

Book Review: The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielson

youngadult

runawaykingThe Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielson
Published March 1st 2013 by Scholastic Press
Format: Paper Book
Length: 331 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Pirates, Action
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A kingdom teetering on the brink of destruction. A king gone missing. Who will survive? Find out in the highly anticipated sequel to Jennifer A. Nielsen’s blockbuster THE FALSE PRINCE!

Just weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumors of a coming war are winding their way between the castle walls, and Jaron feels the pressure quietly mounting within Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home again? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom?

The stunning second installment of The Ascendance Trilogy takes readers on a roller-coaster ride of treason and murder, thrills and peril, as they journey with the Runaway King!

I’m really trying to keep up with my series reading. I had trouble getting into The False Prince, the predecessor to this book. I was kind of neutral on the character until the end when we realized how amazing Sage/Joran really was. I was excited for The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielson because clever, almost genius characters give me tingles and I really wanted to see what Sage/Joran would do in this book. I was not disappointed.

There is some debate on whether The Runaway King is better categorized as Middle Grade rather than Young Adult. I say it can be either way. This book has a lot of action, indicative of Middle Grade books, and lacks the nauseating romance that has infected the Young Adult genre. (I’m about one more teenage suck-face fest from rabid insanity. We’re talking clock tower and rifle level of nuts. I’m quickly becoming the blogger that hates Young Adult romance with the fire of a thousand suns.) At the same time, The Runaway King is a little violent for younger readers. I’d probably let a preteen, about 12 years of age or older, read this book but not anyone younger. (Unless they were well-read and mature for their age.)

The Runaway King got a rare rating of 5 stars from me. I felt more comfortable with the book now that I knew what to expect with Sage/Jaron. I could see how he manipulated the situation when he could and could appreciate the parts that were just dumb luck. I feel like not all the secrets were revealed in this book and we will have to wait until the next installment to find out all of Sage/Jaron’s plans. For instance, I’m certain that it was Sage/Jaron that sent the message to Roden to return early and that Sage/Jaron sending the army off to move rocks in the north is really secret training but we’re not expressly told in the novel. I think Sage/Jaron is collecting a chessboard of pieces to fight the war coming in the next book.

What romance there is, is not heavy handed or thrown in our face. Imogen herself is an independent, interesting character. A couple of the secondary characters are a bit cliché, like Fink, and the pirates are a little less deadly and more honorable than one would think from their description. I can’t remember if Gregor was in the first book and his sudden appearance as villain and mastermind evil doer is a bit sudden and confusing. By the end of The Runaway King, Sage/Jaron has gained the love of his people and now his kingdom is tumbling headlong into war. Frankly, I can’t wait for book number three of The Ascendance Trilogy, which we don’t know the publication date or even the name of yet! The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielson is a runaway hit.

Thank you for reading!

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