Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Princess of the Midnight Ball

Princess of the Midnight Ball is a YA fairytale retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Jessica Day George.

After the twelve year war, soldiers are returning from battle to their home country. Galen is one of these. On his journey to find his mother’s sister, the only family he has left, he meets a mysterious elderly woman on the side of the road gives him magical items and declares he will need them soon…

Meanwhile, in the palace, Rose is the eldest princess of twelve and is faced with a problem. Each morning she and her sisters slippers are becoming terribly worn – and no one call tell the king why. The ordinary flood of balls in their father’s kingdom is not the cause…

Instead, Rose and her sisters are being forced to travel deep into the earth to the malicious King Under Stone’s realm where they must dance with his twelve sons. It is a curse. And it is not one with an ending any time soon.

Or ever.

Once Galen becomes a gardener at the palace and learns of the mystery, and its escalating results, he decides that he needs to help. And in order to banish the curse, he’ll probably need to use the items the old lady gave him…

Princess of the Midnight Ball
has a very classic tone, which I heartily enjoyed. It is very faithful to versions of this story we have seen before yet helps to fill in gaps, provide more detail and give us a chance to know and care about the characters.

I truly felt terribly for the princesses! To be forced to dance all night long whether sick, tired, etc. is horrible – but especially for the little ones that are too young to know the dangers of complaining about it. There was definitely suspense there!

Galen is an extremely likable, honorable young soldier that trumps most fairytale princes with his principles, kindness and intentions. We see early on that he and Rose are a perfect match – and happily the author gives that relationship time to grow and cement on more than attraction or the ridiculous “insta-love” fairytales often provide.

Mixing all of this together makes for a solid, fast-paced magical read and a book that I read very quickly. I was satisfied with the end and ready to embark on the next two books from Jessica Day George that are also set in this land and retelling other tales, such as Cinderella and Red Riding Hood.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron is the tenth historical mystery in the Jane Austen Mystery series by Stephanie Barron.

As I said last week regarding Jane and the Barque of Frailty, these are really books best read in order to get the full impact and understanding of relationships and such. However, I believe they could potentially work as stand-alone stories, as well.

When Henry’s adored, animated wife Eliza passes away from illness, Jane and Henry mourn her deeply.

Calling on the recuperative, distracting power of the ocean and sea air, the pair head to Brighton to enjoy the teeming, dazzling resort life favored by so many.

It is not long before Jane’s path crosses with the famous, possibly mad, undeniably magnetic poet and seducer of women: Lord Byron. His reputation is known to Jane, but even she cannot help but be shocked by the circumstances in which she meets him.

So, when a beautiful young girl barely out in society is found murdered and placed in Lord Byron’s bed, there are not many who do not think him capable. Including the shrewd mind of Miss Austen herself.

Yet Jane is not one to call a man guilty based off public opinion alone. Pursuing a private investigation, she seeks to discover if Byron is indeed the wrongdoer or if someone is taking advantage of his poor repute.

Another engrossing mystery! Full of period details, fantastic settings and a clue-finding whodunit, Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron is a great read!

The loss of Eliza is a sad one – and one of my favorite things about this series is that Jane, her family and friends are featured in such a way as to care. Some murder mysteries tend to forget about characters and focus primarily on the mystery – but the Jane Austen Mystery series always takes the time to allow for human emotions and relationships. I love that.

This is a captivating story and deals with a rather sad, creepy murder. The ending felt a little ambiguous but it was still satisfying. I am yet again ready for more Jane outings! Though, this time, I am going to pursue some other titles first and return again in a while.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Jane and the Barque of Frailty

Jane and the Barque of Frailty is the ninth in Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen Mystery series.

I thoroughly recommend reading this fantastically imagined, Regency whodunit series from the beginning. You would want to start with Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor. I’ve been a huge enthusiast of this series from the beginning as a fan of both Jane Austen and mysteries!

It’s 1811 in London and Jane Austen is enjoying a month-long visit with her brother Henry and his lively wife Eliza. She’s awaiting publication of her first novel, Sense and Sensibility and spending her free time socializing during the height of the Season.

When a mysterious, exiled, lovely Russian princess is found dead outside of the abode of a notorious Tory minister, though – even Jane is surprised. The determination of self-murder does not sit right with Jane, and she is happy to investigate further.

What is more surprising, however, is that Jane and Eliza manage to thrust themselves into the case – as suspects! Now Jane must solve the mystery not just for her own curiosity and sense of justice, but to keep herself and Eliza from the noose!

What fun!

It’s been years since I’ve read the first eight books and had hoped to be able to reread the series before I continued on – but I think many busy bibliophiles can agree that this can be a difficult thing to do. So, I finally gave in and read Jane and the Barque of Frailty. Happily, my faint memory of the previous books was sufficient.

I was very quickly pulled back into Jane’s smart first-person narration and observations while following the suspense of murder amidst the polite crowd. Yet again we have an intricate mystery with lovely period details.

Stephanie Barron is a stickler – she follows Jane’s locales based on the remaining letters from Austen’s life. We are often exactly where she was in her real life, at the right time. She also takes hints from the letters, or perhaps rumors of the day, and interweaves them into the fictional aspect of the story. You feel almost as though this could all be possible!

A strong, enjoyable story with serious, dramatic elements and plenty of Austen wit, Jane and the Barque of Frailty was a great mystery that left me prepared for reading more. There are now a total of twelve books in this series and I am on to book ten!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Million Miles Away

A Million Miles Away is a YA contemporary novel by Lara Avery.

High school senior Kelsey’s life changes when her identical twin sister, Michelle, dies in a car accident. Her other half is gone. There’s an emptiness inside of her that she can only see reflected in her parents grief-filled eyes.

When Kelsey accidentally intercepts a broken Skype call from Michelle’s boyfriend Peter, deployed in Afghanistan and unaware of Michelle’s death, he thinks he’s seeing Michelle.

Immediately, Kelsey tries to correct him – but the call is so broken he cannot hear her. Soon she realizes that thinking of Michelle is one of the only things keeping Peter going and she finds the truth stuck in her throat the next time she has an opportunity to tell him.

So, she pretends to be Michelle. Emails, chat, written letters.

Initially she tries to write like Michelle – finds an odd comfort and connection to her twin by identifying with everything that made her who she was.

But it doesn’t take long before pretend becomes real – and Kelsey realizes she is falling for Peter…

A Million Miles Away is an absorbing, engrossing story of grief and loss. I scarfed it down very easily and very fast.

Written with a sensitivity that makes Kelsey immensely empathetic, the author manages to make the decision to not tell Peter the truth understandable. You feel Kelsey’s need to, essentially, bring her sister back to life every time she talks to him. And the sadness that comes with the end of each call, each time she has to face that Michelle is no longer there, is evident.

Though it sounds melodramatic for Kelsey to fall for Peter, it happens in a natural, sweet manner in the novel. I appreciated that though Kelsey has some guilt about falling for her sister’s boyfriend, she primarily knows that her twin would understand. That was rather refreshing.

The true worry is the shame of deceiving Peter. Once it’s done, it’s hard to undo.

Despite my captivation in this quiet, mournful story, I did feel that the secondary characters could have been more drawn. Everybody but Kelsey felt like faceless background characters, with the possible exception of Peter and Kelsey’s parents.

Also, though I felt A Million Miles Away was a lovely, heartfelt romance – I felt the end was a bit rushed and convenient, which was disappointing.

However, A Million Miles Away was an excellent, swift read that was worth every minute!

*I received a free review copy of A Million Miles Away from NOVL. Their generosity did not influence the honesty of this review in any way.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Review Posting Schedule Change

My Dear, Lovely Fellow Bibliophiles:

The time has come to make some changes to how many reviews I post weekly. This has happened before, as any longtime readers knows. I used to post reviews 3 times a week and for a short period I even posted reviews 5 times a week!

Wow - the good ol' days!

However, now I am an adult with a full-time job, which already makes it a struggle to read as much as I used to. Now I am also adding another big time consumer to my life: college classes.

Yes, I am now going to be pursuing higher education!

It's wonderful but also carries with it some sobering realities - I will not have even as much free time as I have now, which has already decreased dramatically from my early years with this blog.

As I do not want to put too much pressure on myself to read when I just may not be able to - only 1 review will post per week at the Bibliophile Support Group for the foreseeable future.

This will be every Wednesday.

This has an impact on authors, publishers and publicists that may reach out to me to review their books, as well. Would I love to read and review every book that is sent to me?

You bet your bottom dollar!

Can I? No - not even close. Already I have huge piles of books that I do not know when I will get to read them. Perhaps in my golden years?

So - if you are an author, publicist or publisher - the only way I can guarantee that I will read and review your book is if you email me first and I confirm it. Otherwise, I may not be able to get to it - or it may take a VERY long time.

I thank you all for your understanding and support.

Hopefully one review a week will still bring to your attention some great novels and fun reading!

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Sin Eater's Daughter

The Sin Eater’s Daughter is a YA fantasy novel by Melinda Salisbury.

Seventeen year-old Twylla is the Goddess embodied. This means she is impervious to poison but by simply touching another, she kills them.

When she was brought to the castle as a young girl, at the time an apprentice to her mother, the Sin Eater, she did not realize that being the Goddess embodied meant being the royal executioner.

She knows now.

Under constant guard to protect others from her divine, lethal touch, Twylla is avoided as much as she is tentatively revered. Even the royal family, including the prince she is betrothed to, shuns her company despite being the only ones immune to her poison.

Her loneliness is permeated only by her guard who has been with her since the beginning. It’s a professional relationship, but she feels that he actually cares for her.

But when he falls ill, Twylla is given a new, young guard. He throws her off balance with easy smiles, a lack of understanding of the boundaries meant to be established with them and a desire to be sociable. Somehow, he sees her as a girl – not a goddess. Not a blunt instrument of death.

It’s intoxicating.

Yet, Twylla knows that entertaining such ideas as friendship breach into treasonous activity in the eyes of the queen. The queen is not one to be trifled with – as someone who not only uses Twylla’s poisonous gift for execution but even crueler, nauseating means.

Is Twylla still up to doing what she must for the kingdom? Or is she falling into a doomed, hopeless love?

This cannot end well…

Wow – I *loved* The Sin Eater’s Daughter.

I mean - I really, really did.

Swiftly, the author creates a world that is twisted, disturbing and fascinating – with the worrying madness of royalty rivaling that of Game of Thrones.

Twylla is in the midst of it, whether she wants to be or not. And her situation is one that is terribly sad – yet she is wonderfully stoic about it. She doesn’t sit around and cry. She knows what she is and has accepted it as much as she can.

Yet she doesn’t like killing. She doesn’t like to be the weapon.

With a good deal of character development, Twylla’s first person narration is absorbing and compelling. I loved her and I loved where the plot went.

And the plot goes crazy!

I won’t say much here because I want it to all be a surprise for you. But I will say this: The Sin Eater’s Daughter is one of the most breathless, suspenseful, intriguing, romantic novels I have read this year.

It weaves together classic fairytales such as The Magic Flute, The Pied Piper and The White Bride and the Black Bride to create an entirely new tale that is epic in emotional scope.

It sounds like there is to be another book – and I am so very relieved!

Truly memorable.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Cake House

The Cake House is a contemporary novel by Latifah Salom.

When Rosaura Douglas’s father shoots himself, her entire life changes.

Suddenly she is living in “The Cake House”, a monstrously pink manor that is nothing like the small apartment she was recently calling home.

She has a step-father that wants to shower money on her with no clear explanation as to where the wealth comes from, and a new step-brother that keeps just as mum.

Soon Rosaura begins to see her father’s ghost – and he always seems to be warning her that her step-father is not to be trusted… That, perhaps, his death was not a suicide…

The Cake House
was odd.

Rosaura was very difficult to try and relate to. First, trying to pin down her age was very difficult – the way she reacts to her father’s death made me initially think she was very young. Once it was revealed that she was thirteen/fourteen I found it a little bizarre. I know people deal with grief differently – but her reaction gave me an impression of definite instability… Her ongoing personality traits did not change my opinion of her.

Also, it was very difficult to try to determine what time period we are in – there are so many references to 80s and 90s music and very little reference to 21st century technology. I am still not absolutely certain, but I do think we’re supposed to be in modern times. Strange.

Anywho! With suspicions regarding the circumstances of her father’s death, a mysterious step-father and step-brother and a seemingly terribly unhappy mother – there was some interesting aspects to the plot. Yet… it never really latched on. It just felt disconnected to me. Not absorbing, not page-turning.

Plus, the ghost aspect was never really elaborated on. Was there a ghost? Was it Rosaura’s consciousness? Does this mean she is suffering from a mental illness? I read the whole book and I cannot really tell you.

Sadly, for me, The Cake House was not satisfying and overall just hard for me to invest in. In fact, it was kind of boring and felt pointless…

But – you know what I am going to say!!! Every book has a fan – and it could be you! Read The Cake House for yourself!

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Moon and More

The Moon and More is a YA contemporary novel by the beloved bestselling author Sarah Dessen.

Emaline is at a precipice – she is going to college once this summer in her beachside small hometown of Colby is over.

This is the time to savor every moment with her parents, sisters, best friends and longtime high school boyfriend, Luke. He’s handsome, nice and there’s a comfortable understanding of each other that comes with being together so many years.

Yet comfortable is losing its appeal.

When one of her family’s rental properties is inhabited by a two-person documentary crew, Emaline meets Theo – a driven, wide-eyed New Yorker that is so very different than anyone she’s ever known in Colby. Theo makes it clear that he thinks Emaline is meant for bigger things than tiny Colby.

Then Emaline’s biological father is also in town with her little brother – and an event that occurred earlier in the year between them is straining their already less than close relationship. But, like Theo, has a vision for Emaline – a vison of Ivy League and getting out of the beachside town.

Both enticed by their ideas of a bigger future for her and the comfortable contentment of the status quo, Emaline finds herself looking for a balance…

My favorite thing about Sarah Dessen is how she takes regular, believable people and portrays regular, believable life events. It’s the quiet elegance of depicting family life, love and friendship that brings me back to her every time.

Here, yet again, we get that in spades.

A fractured relationship with her father, Dessen perfectly shows the mixture of hope, and frustration with that same hope, that wars within Emaline. We see her question the familiarity of her life, while also clinging to it. It’s a subtle, dramatic anguish that is leveled by a character that is not too over the top, self-pitying or immature.

I wouldn’t say The Moon and More sucker punched me quite as much emotionally as some of Dessen’s other novels have – but I am still a huge fan of this book. It’s a slice of life that offers wisdom, seemingly without trying.

Without spoiling anything, I will say that I was very pleased the way it all turned out by the end – and felt it was a refreshing, smart conclusion.

There’s nothing quite like taking a break from the ghosts, werewolves and vampires to dive into something altogether quite similar to our own lives and thoughts – something that breaks our heart but also inspires us – something that faces reality and shows us everything is not Happily Ever After, but everything is not bad either.

That is what The Moon and More is.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Mark of the Thief

Mark of the Thief is a YA historical fantasy adventure novel by Jennifer A. Nielsen.

A slave in the mines of ancient Rome, Nic dreams of freedom for himself and his sister.

Yet, instead, he faces certain death as he is forced to enter the recently located cavern allegedly containing the hidden treasures of Julius Caesar.

Amidst the jewels and gold is an artifact, a bulla, which has extraordinary magical power – something that some Romans would kill for.

Managing to survive the dangerous cavern, Nic is now armed with this bulla and his determination is freedom – however, his possession of this powerful object places him in a conspiracy to overthrow the emperor.

To save Rome, Nic must learn how to use his new powers and figure out who he can trust…

The beginning of Mark of the Thief reminded me of a Roman version of Aladdin. Felt a little familiar, though adding in a griffin to protect the treasure was a bit more fantastical.

I loved Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy, but for whatever sad reason Mark of the Thief did not connect with me. Whereas I always felt in a state of suspense in the Ascendance Trilogy and very invested in the main character, I did not feel the same way with Mark of the Thief.

There’s a lot of action, a lot of running around from place to place and a period of time in a gladiator arena that certainly sparks of excitement – but I just never really felt strongly about any of it.

I wish I could say something different, but Mark of the Thief was, oddly enough, a little boring for me. Nic wasn’t developed enough to be all that likable, nor were the secondary characters, in my opinion.

Hopefully you will have a different experience! I am sure Mark of the Thief will be enjoyed by many!!

For me, I do not think I will read book two.