Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Second Empress

The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon’s Court is a historical fiction novel by Michelle Moran.

Napoleon has decided to divorce his wife Josephine in order to produce an heir. He decides upon the eighteen-year-old Marie-Louise, daughter of the king of Austria.

She has little choice in the matter. To refuse would plunge her country, her beloved family, into war and economic disaster. She does what is honorable as a princess and travels to France to be the second empress of France.

Except for Napoleon’s keen welcome, in which he wants to immediately get started on producing his successor, Marie-Louise finds herself not wanted by many. Napoleon’s sister Pauline is especially frustrated with her brother’s wife – angry that she was not chosen to be his empress instead.

Pauline does not give up easily however, and is determined to see her dream of ruling Egypt like the ancient Pharaoh did. Always there to comfort and support her is Pauline’s Haitian servant Paul – but his sympathy is beginning to run out…

The Second Empress is written from all three viewpoints.

I was excited to read this for two reasons. One, I was absolutely stunned by Michelle Moran’s Madame Tussaud (which made my Stand-Out Books of 2012!) and therefore enthusiastic about her as an author. Second, I’ve always been a sucker for Napoleon and Josephine and had never learned much about his second wife.

Sadly, The Second Empress did not sit well with me.

I understand that Napoleon Bonaparte was not actually Armand Assante – but I’ve always found his personality fascinating. He was, after all, a charismatic genius. Now, one of the things I love about historical fiction is looking at situations and people from different angles – but the way Moran portrayed Napoleon and Marie-Louise was hard for me to swallow.

Every once in a while there’d be letters from Napoleon to Josephine featured - just brimming with heavily romantic, passionate and dramatic feeling – yet we very rarely got to see him in the novel, and practically never in a positive light. Do I doubt that the man had bad moments – perhaps many? No. But I felt that The Second Empress had an opinion, and couldn’t get past that bias.

Even more so, though, was my surprise at the rather lackluster writing. Madame Tussaud was electrifyingly powerful and dynamic – stuffed with gripping history and engrossing, multi-layered characters. In my opinion, that was really missing here.

Then I had issues with the other characters. Marie-Louise seemed to me to be full of herself and sparse when it came to personality. Pauline is extremely selfish and, to me, unlikable and non-sympathetic. Paul was only moderately interesting to me – and to be honest I didn’t understand his purpose in the story since very little seems to be actually known about him.

Finally, I have read about numerous historical inaccuracies in The Second Empress. I’m not saying that this isn’t normal, for dramatic purposes, etc. It happens in historical fiction. But one was not even mentioned by the author in her historical note and has bothered me incessantly. It is that in the book Marie-Louise is in a romantic relationship with Adam Neipperg before she even leaves for France. According to many reports I’ve read, she didn’t even meet him until much later – and he doesn’t sound like the saint he appears in the novel. There’s also conflicting accounts as to whether Marie-Louise actually came to love or at least care for Napoleon by the end, or if she was even such a great person herself.

Essentially, I was disappointed that characters that have so many sides and so many contradictory, unsure history attached to them were written in such a one-sided fashion.

That’s just me though. You might adore it! Do read it if you’re a fan of the era or the writer – I still always believe in deciding for yourself.

As for me, I’m left dying to re-watch the TV miniseries Napoleon and Josephine from 1987 – which, even if not fully accurate, at least gives these characters the benefit of the doubt and makes them feel real. If you haven’t seen it – do!

Monday, January 28, 2013

What Boys Really Want

What Boys Really Want is a YA contemporary humor novel by Pete Hautman.

Lita and Adam have been friends since they were very young – just friends. So, they’d never hide anything from each other.

Right?

Well, Adam doesn’t hide the fact that he’s writing a book – a book about what boys really want. Kind of a self-help guide for girls in his high school. He figures he’ll make all sorts of money. But it’s turning out to be more difficult than he thought – and when he tries to turn to Lita for help, she’s more grumpy than usual.

Lita is the writer. She thinks it’s ridiculous that Adam is writing a book – Adam! Meanwhile her own novel is gathering dust in a drawer. The world has turned upside down.

Not to mention, Adam seems to be getting cozy with Blair – possibly the skankiest girl at school.

She wouldn’t try to break up their fledgling relationship. Or would she?

What Boys Really Want has a lot going on it. It’s a hodge-podge of high school relationships, friendships, ambitions, and teen angst. It’s good-humored and comedic. It was an amiable read.

Adam is likable – kind of reminded me of an older Kevin from Gary Paulsen’s hilarious middle grade Liar, Liar series. He’s tenacious, motivated, and clueless all at the same time.

Lita on the other hand is likable when it comes to her taste in literature (major Jane Austen fan) but otherwise I found her to be petty and quite often mean and moody. Though we see a reason why she’d be irritated with Adam’s writing, I still felt that Lita was unnecessarily standoffish.

Even so, there’s a fun, fast-paced, modern feel here with What Boys Really Want. Lita might hold back that amusing sense here and there, but generally this is a charming and well-done high school tale.

I will say that I don’t care for the cover at all… It has a 90s vibe that doesn’t look current, seem interesting, or appeal to me in any way. Hopefully that won’t turn you off to trying What Boys Really Want, because it is a light, entertaining story.

What Boys Really Want is a romp that involved relationships of every kind, insecurity, and determination with a positive, cheerful outlook!

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow

The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow is a historical fiction novel, the second in the Avenue of Dreams series, by Olivia Newport.

To read Charlotte’s story from the beginning, and not be spoiled as to what happens to Lucy, I strongly recommend that everyone read The Pursuit of Lucy Banning before this novel. Click on the title to read my review.

If you haven’t, there aren’t really spoilers in this review for Lucy at all – but I still believe you’ll get the full impact of Charlotte by reading them in order. Okay? :)

Chicago in 1893 is enamored with the World’s Colombian Exposition.

Charlotte Farrow, however, has her mind focused on one thing: the small boy that she has kept secret from her wealthy employers for almost a year. Her son.

Only visiting him twice a week on her moments of time off has been heart wrenching for Charlotte, and watching as another woman cares for him hurts. But it’s the only thing she can do to keep her job as a ladies/kitchen maid and try to save money. She would not be employed by the Bannings’ if her child was known of.

But when the woman caring for little Henry drops him off while Charlotte’s working and declares that because of an emergency she must leave – Charlotte finds herself having to face coming clean to the family about her son or watching as the Bannings’ decide her son’s fate…

Oh, wow, The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow was even better than The Pursuit of Lucy Banning!

I said it last time and I’ll say it again – the Avenue of Dreams series is PERFECT for fans of Downton Abbey or just those that in general like the upstairs/downstairs dynamic of the turn of the century era. This time around we focus on the working class – and oh what a focus it is!

Olivia Newport has written a mature, in-depth, fascinating peek at the work of a ladies/kitchen maid in 1893. I felt like I was there – it felt so real.

My heart ached so much for Charlotte’s situation – and the circumstances that block her from her baby boy and possible love. I longed for resolution! Very effective, very emotional, very suspenseful and nerve-wracking. Multiple times I felt like crying! Felt as tense and worried as Charlotte!

The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow was impressively believable and smoothly penned. It’s a beautiful, touching, painful, memorable novel that spotlights the strength of a woman, a mother, and God.

If you can’t already tell, I was wowed by Olivia Newport – and I can’t wait for book three! This is what I hope for in inspirational historical fiction/romance!!!

*Available January 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

*I received a copy of The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow from the Baker Publishing Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Iron Hearted Violet

Iron Hearted Violet is a middle grade/YA fairy tale novel by Kelly Barnhill.

Princess Violet has never looked like a Real Princess. Her mismatched eye, lopsided face, blotchy skin, and feral hair would never be commended or gazed upon with admiration. Her wildness and intelligence also can be give way to being less meek and graceful than is expected.

But she is a princess nevertheless.

One day she and her best – and only – friend Demetrius stumble upon a hidden room during their exploration of the palace, they find a book that feels wrong.

Trying to forget they ever found the room or the book, years pass – and Violet always feels a pull from her deep curiosity to know more about it.

Yearning to learn, Violet picks up snatches of a forbidden story of a never-spoken-of evil being called the Nybbas. A story that he is imprisoned in their mirrored-sky world.

Is it more than a story? And what does the last dragon in existence have to do with it?

Violet doesn’t know yet – but she’s determined she will

I thought Iron Hearted Violet was excellent!!!

One small complaint outside the content of the book, that I have to mention, is that the cover and inside illustrations never portray Violet correctly. It’s surprising since Violet’s unattractiveness is such a focal point that the art would never reflect that. Bothersome. In the novel itself it is one of my favorite themes – dealing with not being what is expected, being unsightly to others. So, the drawings kind of messed that up!

Moving on from that, though, I loved the storytelling of Iron Hearted Violet. It was very involving, truly feeling like a new legend or fairytale. It would be a great book to read out loud. The kind of book you can snuggle up to.

The character development felt so easy and convincing in that fable kind of way – I really, really liked it!! Not to mention, the dark depths that the novel dived into with the creepy evil and the effective loss and grief portrayed really made Iron Hearted Violet fresh, witty, scary, moving and magical all at one time.

Plus, I can’t help but adore the fact that this book is appropriate for all ages!! Doesn’t matter how old or young you are – I think you’ll enjoy it! Iron Hearted Violet is clever, intelligent, surprising, and eerie – and really provided a lovely, poetic and complete story.

It’s because it went to those less pleasant, more painful places that it held more weight. But it was still a fairytale through and through – and what’s better than a new fairytale?

*I received a review copy of Iron Hearted Violet from Hachette Book Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Princess Trap

The Princess Trap is a YA contemporary royal intrigue novel by Kirsten Boie.

It’s also the sequel to Boie’s The Princess Plot (my review here), so if you want to read the story in the correct order you’ll want to start with the previous book and avoid this review for possible spoilers.

Final warning of potential spoilers!!

I actually wasn’t a fan of The Princess Plot, sadly. I could see the appeal for younger girls, perhaps. Especially readers that like more of an intrigue/complicated plot in their princess fluff. Since The Princess Trap was mailed out before I realized I was less than enchanted with the first, I decided to give it a shot.

Unfortunately, my opinion wasn’t much altered. Let’s first get a brief synopsis:

Now that Jenna knows she’s a princess in the country of Scandia life should be awesome, right?

Well, no. Instead, she’s having a hard time following all the new palace rules and etiquette that are new to her – plus, the ritzy boarding school she’s attending is populated with Mean Girls.

And the paparazzi seem to always be there to capture her most humiliating moments.

Not awesome.

So, once Jenna’s unrequited crush on Jonas pushes her to the edge, Jenna decides to hightail it outta there.

Her life is not meant to be uninteresting, however.

No surprise, then, that she’s trapped in a scheme to overthrow her uncle, the King.

Oh, the joys of being a newly revealed princess in a nation on the brink of civil war!

The Princess Trap sound jovial and fun – which I believe it will be to some readers. For me, however, it lacked any actual humor or frothy entertainment. A big part of that is that I always felt disconnected to the characters and plots.

I will say, though, that the peer bullying and harshness of her mother that Jenna endures caused my sympathy. I felt really bad about how terribly she was being treated. It also felt a bit unrealistic, though.

The Princess Trap seems overly long, stuffed with political storylines. I believe this would be an excellent book for someone who wants that kind of twist to their modern-day royalty story. Because The Princess Trap is in no way bad, I’d say… Just didn’t gel with my tastes.

In the end, I actually did have to do some skimming of The Princess Trap. I sincerely hope that YOU won’t have to because of your immense interest and enjoyment!!!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Renegade

Renegade is a YA sci-fi romance by J. A. Sounders.

Sixteen-year-old Evelyn Winters is the Daughter of the People in the underwater utopia of Elysium.

Her life is just about perfect.

She was selected among hundreds of children because of her ideal genes – and she’s been trained since the age of three for her role in their society.

But when a Surface Dweller named Gavin Hunter mistakenly makes his way into their underwater paradise – her world is turned upside down.

Evelyn begins to realize that her life is a lie.

Her memories have been modified.

The person she knows as Mother is not what she pretends to be.

Unwilling to leave Gavin to the fate of death, Evelyn plots his escape.

Can Evelyn also leave behind the secluded community that’s been her home all of her life?

Wow – for me Renegade started out really strong and then went into a steep downward spiral. Why? Well…

I loved the enigmatic, mystery-shrouded start with its creepy underwater land of rules and secrets. It felt as though it’d be a story about control vs. free will with a sci-fi twist, almost an altered The Giver type idea.

But as soon as the romance (a.k.a. “help the Surface Dweller escape”) plot kicked in gear, Renegade became a little… less easy to take seriously. Cheesier, I think I’ll put it.

This is for many reasons. One thing that bugged me incessantly, and might not bother you I know, was that this is a futuristic world. Maybe not super far in the future, but at least a few generations, I’d say. Gavin acts so current-day modern that it bothered me. Evelyn talked and acted different (to be expected), but Gavin’s use of phrases like, “That was hot,” felt not only juvenile but too rooted in today. Does that make sense?

Then there was the whole aspect of Evelyn and Gavin’s sexual tension/flirting. Really? There’s a way that this can be done in a life-or-death situation, and there’s a way that it can’t. I hate to say it, but Renegade really went in the latter direction, in my opinion. It felt forced and unnatural in the situation. And kind of annoying.

Now, Renegade was always fast-paced, easy to read, and never boring. There was a chilling surprise in the last third of the book that recalled the earlier promise of the novel. It really was a nice, good, decent story – but, for me, it never lived up to that initial potential.

You might ADORE the whole romantic aspect of Renegade – and if you do, you’ll probably LOVE the book in general. Unfortunately, that whole storyline was its downfall.

Renegade swerved from smart and interesting to ridiculous and cliché, in my opinion. What did you think?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Waiting for Spring

Waiting for Spring is an inspirational historical romance by Amanda Cabot, and the second in the Westward Winds series.

This book can be read as a stand-alone, but I would recommend reading Summer of Promise first just because there are a couple of light spoilers as to how everything turns out in that book in Waiting for Spring. So, it’s up to you. If you’d like to read my review of Summer of Promise, click here.

Charlotte left Fort Laramie after the death of her husband and birth of her baby boy. It had been necessary since her husband’s revealed criminal behavior put herself and her child in danger – so in Cheyenne Charlotte has changed her last name and pieced a new life together.

After a long, hard year Charlotte is doing well with her dress shop. Her son is doing well – but a disability noticed after she left Fort Laramie has her keeping him sheltered.

Barrett Landry has been determined to do well for himself – being a cattle baron is good and fine, but being a political figure helping the people of the state is even better. But all those around him advise him of marrying before getting too serious – someone with connections, no secrets, and a pretty picture on his arm.

Yet his heart keeps pulling him towards Charlotte – but is she keeping her past hidden from him?

Waiting for Spring features an admirable character in Charlotte. My favorite parts of the novel were the scenes between her and her son. Barrett at first seemed preoccupied with his ambitions, he took longer to grow on me – but he did.

Honestly, I felt the plot was a little bland – I wished for something more dynamic, fresher, different. Yet Amanda Cabot has penned a sweet, good-natured and great heroine and a good suspense/romance story in Waiting for Spring.

Unfortunately, the book just never really caught ground for me. I didn’t connect to much besides Charlotte. There was a strong overall feeling of predictability and a bit of frustration from me for the pieces to fall into place as I knew they would.

The romance was pleasant but I actually enjoyed Waiting for Spring less than Summer of Promise. I love the Christian aspect of these inspirational historical romances – but my personal bibliophile tastes tend to need more than a romance story. I didn’t find it here.

You might, though! If you’re interested in seamstress activity in the late 1800s and/or romance, this could be the perfect book for you!!

*Available January 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

*I received a copy of Waiting for Spring from the Baker Publishing Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

The Girls of No Return

The Girls of No Return is a YA contemporary novel by Erin Saldin.

Alice Marshall School for Girls is in Idaho, across miles of wilderness separated by technology and civilization, to help girls that are sent there for a variety of issues.

Sixteen-year-old Lida has a strained relationship with her father, a brusque civility with her stepmother, and a secret.

When she arrives at AMS it’s like being at camp – yet not. She meets Boone, the veteran of the school that “welcomes” the newbies, Jules, whose happy-go-lucky attitude is at odds with their situation, and Gia, whose exotic accent, beauty, and enigmatic personality makes her the mystery on everyone’s mind.

Gia mesmerizes Lida – and when Gia starts to talk to her, befriend her, Lida feels special – particularly sought out.

But there’s a reason they’re all at AMS – and those hidden issues will come out – whether they want them to or not…

The Girls of No Return was an interesting read. And, by the way, I know that sentence is considered by some to be the kiss of death – for me, it’s not. When I say that, I mean that it sparked my interest – but that I was also perplexed as to how I felt about it.

Here, the snippets of epilogue peppered throughout the novel – from an older, future Lida – gives The Girls of No Return an edgy vibe that in the beginning was really lacking in the meat and potatoes of the story. At first I was not riveted by the Idaho school for girls – because that’s all it felt like. I felt like I was in class with them – not exactly what any reader is looking for, I would suspect. I knew the biggest problem was that I needed to get to know Lida better.

However, with time it slowly became more and more emotionally gripping. Erin Salder methodically pulls back the curtain to reveal Lida’s issue and create a sometimes chilling, calmer Girl, Interrupted atmosphere.

With that patience came a sometimes disturbing, increasingly sad and hurtful story that was tough but true. I didn’t always love Lida or her choices, but I did feel for her – and the unexpected, painful The Girls of No Return ended up being rewarding.

A good choice for readers that want to delve into that deeper, darker side of psychological issues – definitely not a light read by any standard. But ultimately a valuable, meaningful book.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Queen of Babble in the Big City

Queen of Babble in the Big City is an adult rom-com of a novel by entertainment-reading extraordinaire Meg Cabot.

It’s also the second in a trilogy. Now, I’m going to be honest here – I’m very behind at finally getting to these. I’m diligent about keeping up with Meg Cabot because she’s been one of my favorites ever since I read The Mediator when I was in my early teens – but a few slipped through the cracks. Those that did were this trilogy and How to Be Popular. I’m still trying to grab a copy of the latter, but I’m happy to AT LONG LAST be reading these three books!

You may have already read them. Probably. But if you haven’t, do avoid this review and instead read my review of the first Queen of Babble here. Thanks!

Assuming only Babble-familiar readers are continuing:

Lizzie Nichols is back in the US – in New York City, to be exact. After a summer that started disastrous and ended heavenly, our chatty star finds herself in another pickle.

Her plans to move in with her best friend Shari have been curtailed by insanely high rents, lack of finding a job despite of her (almost completed) degree, and the fact that Luke has invited her to stay with him in his Fifth Avenue ritzy apartment.

Finding it difficult to say no to the love of her life, Lizzie is determined to not fall into her regular trap. She demands the right to pay rent and have a space of her own for her sewing. With Luke’s agreement and a part-time job as a receptionist that allows her time to work (for free, thanks to her big mouth) in her chosen field at a vintage wedding gown shop – things are looking up.

Except that her chumminess and wild imagination isn’t going to let it stay that way for long…

Obviously I didn’t want to say too much – I never do on sequels. I actually said less than the inside jacket cover, so be warned!

Cabot’s exuberant style immediately puts me in a happy place. The light-hearted, romantic, chick-lit vibe is perfect after a long day of working – relaxing.

Lizzie’s work is fun to follow, but I was surprised how my opinion of Luke changed fairly quickly in Queen of Babble in the Big City. At first I kind of felt like it came out of nowhere, but looking back at the first book I started to realize that Meg Cabot was actually just delving deeper into what was our initial impression. Very good.

The great thing is that despite occasionally getting frustrated with Lizzie, I still always felt I was behind her – and when I started to suspect that something awesome was happening below the surface of the story – well, I started to get super excited. Meg really snuck in a surprise here!!

It’s kind of like watching an blockbuster TV show dramedy that leaves you hanging with a jaw-dropping cliffhanger – actually Queen of Babble in the Big City is EXACTLY like that!

I can’t express how much I loved the twists this book took; the growth in Lizzie’s career and personal life was great, and the romance – wow! Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that the whole romantic aspect of the book went to unexpected places. And, of course, the humor! I don’t know if I’d say that aspect was AS strong as Queen of Babble, but it was there!

Personally, I cannot wait to read the conclusion, Queen of Babble Gets Hitched!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Glamour in Glass

Glamour in Glass is a Regency-period fantasy novel, and the sequel to Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal.

If you haven’t read Shades of Milk and Honey – you definitely don’t want to read anything about Glamour in Glass! It’s just too good to have spoilers!! So, take a look at my review of Shades of Milk and Honey here and go read that (it was on my Stand-Out Books of 2012 list!) – then you will want to read Glamour in Glass!

I’m trusting that if you’re still reading, you’ve already read Shades of Milk and Honey – yes? Okay then:

If you loved, or even just liked, the Jane Austen homage Shades of Milk and Honey and the refreshingly new and fleshed-out magic of glamour it presented, you don’t need me to tell you to read Glamour in Glass really. I’m going to give you only the scantest of details.

After Napoleon abdicates his throne, Jane and Vincent are encouraged to honeymoon outside of England. The newlyweds go to Belgium where tension are still high but Vincent gets to visit with his old instructor in glamour – a brilliant man that sparks Jane’s creative, inventive mind as well.

While there, though, Jane’s new marriage is tested in ways she does not expect. As is her own personal expectations and restrictions.

And as whispers of war increase, Jane realizes that the choices she makes will likely affect her and Vincent’s lives – forever.

It’s a bit of a weak synopsis but I loved it SO MUCH I really didn’t want to give much of anything away!!!

Mary Robinette Kowal’s prose flows beautifully, making usage of the English language like is rarely done anymore. It really is a Jane Austen lover’s dream, in my opinion. I adored the writing, and found it even improved upon from Shades of Milk and Honey!

Jane and Vincent’s relationship is sexy and romantic in a subdued way. Their ups and downs are realistically painful and joyful, stormy and peaceful. It’s a marriage that I am invested in, and as I love both characters I found it to be heartrending and irresistible. There’s a depth there that I really relished.

Add in Kowal’s fantastic intricacies of theoretical and practical glamour, suspenseful intrigue, and a truly intelligent, admirable (yet perfectly not perfect) heroine, I found Glamour in Glass to be even superior to the previous book – I. Loved. It.

You love Mr. Darcy? You’ll love Vincent. He is hot. Yep. ;)

Glamour in Glass is tender, impeccable, awesome, and just outright DAZZLING!!!!

I highly, highly recommend it – and I can’t wait for Without a Summer, the third book in the series to come out!!! I bet you won’t be able to wait, either!

It'll be out in April. Not too long, but not fast enough either!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Trapped

Trapped is a YA disaster thriller novel by Michael Northrop.

Scotty and his best friends Pete and Jason are used to snowy winters – but the snow coming down outside as they go through their high school day is worse than normal. A blizzard is coming, and school is closing early.

But the three decide to stay behind to wait for a ride from a parent, so they can work more on a project.

A decision they’ll never forget.

Scotty and his friends find that there are a total of seven people left in the school – and that no one is coming for them. They can’t. The snow isn’t stopping.

At first, being stuck in a big school with hot Krista and Julia doesn’t seem so bad, but as hours turn to days things start falling apart… it’s getting colder and there seems to be no end in sight.

Survival is slipping through their fingers…

Trapped was a fast, well-done read! Scotty’s narration from the get-go had an ominous, past-tense voice that allows you to know that Trapped is going to have serious consequences, but without letting you know what they’re going to be.

As the snow continued to build the doom and gloom feeling increased – it’s a psychological thriller, effectively scary, and made me feel cold as I read it. Honest. A little shivery!

It’s nerve-wracking with its believability and slowly building tension. I really liked how Northrop showed teens that have sense enough to keep level-headed in a crisis. So often, especially in movies, they become whiny, panicked, or just overall melodramatic. This felt more realistic.

Trapped was exactly what it was meant to be, I felt. Good, solid, disaster thriller read.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Enchantress

The Enchantress is the sixth and final book in the YA fantasy adventure series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott.

Anybody who hasn’t read the first five novels in the series definitely should be leery about reading this review – inevitably it’ll contain some (if very mild) spoilers. So, you’re warned! I’d advise only readers of the series up to this point to continue reading…

If you have read The Alchemyst, The Magician, The Sorceress, The Necromancer, and The Warlock then I don’t think you need too much of a summary of the final book, I think, to want to read it – if just to see how it all turns out. So, this will be sparse.

Basically we start where we left off – the twins of legend, Sophie and Josh Newman, have been transported back in time ten thousand years to before the island of Danu Talis fell. They find themselves confronting two people very familiar to them – and wonder what exactly that means.

Meanwhile, Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel are on their last day of life and plan to use it to damage the machinations of evil as much as they can. In San Francisco they attempt to prevent the monsters housed on Alcatraz from being unleashed on the unsuspecting city.

The final book focuses on the final questions of what the prophecy of the twins means – and if the world will be saved…

By clicking on the links above you’ll see my reviews of each of the previous books.

This is a best-selling series; a lot of readers LOVE it!!! Unhappily, I am just not one of those readers.

I liked The Alchemyst, I really liked The Magician, and then from there it all slid quickly downhill for me.

Never did I feel truly connected to the characters, plots seemed to fall apart or be pieced together in a way that seemed made up as it went along – unfortunately it just started to grate on me.

For me, The Enchantress was really more of the same. I was jaded and hopelessly irritated with the people and storylines – the new suspicious characters made me kinda roll my eyes. Many things went unresolved, in my opinion. Characters made questionable, incomprehensible choices.

Apparently, this series is just not my cup of tea.

Because my disinterest was so clear, it felt pointless and almost impossible to read every word – so I ended up skimming through most of The Enchantress. Because I did want to have a good idea of what was going on – I just knew that it was too late for my mind to be changed too awfully much.

Before I go on – I want to stress that this is my opinion only – if you’ve been a fan of the series so far, there’s a great chance you will LOVE The Enchantress – and if you do, I’m happy for you!!! Please do read it and decide for yourself – as a book lover in general, a bibliophile, I never ever want to dissuade someone from reading. Okay?!?!?!

Anyway, as The Enchantress closed I did see some unexpected twists that could hold a lot of meaning for those that are fans – but sadly I had no emotional bond to anything. Overall, I felt that the book got confused and muddled in its own mythology.

Fantastic idea, excellent covers, but unfortunately an execution that left me cold and disappointed.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on The Enchantress – because, again, we’re all different!!!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Scrivener's Moon

Scrivener’s Moon is the third book in the YA sci-fi/dystopia series Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve.

As it is the third book in a series, if you haven’t read Fever Crumb or A Web of Air – I’d strongly recommend not reading this particular review! Instead, you can click on the corresponding titles to read the reviews of the previous novels. Don’t ruin the surprises!!

Only read on if you’re up-to-date on the Fever Crumb series:

Fever has been brought back to London – and finds it very changed. And all the changes can be linked back to her parents, rational Engineer Dr. Crumb and the last of the Scriven race Wavey Godshawk. Instead of the city centuries upon centuries old, it’s now a place resting on enormous caterpillar treads – almost ready to become a moving, traveling city.

Never totally at home in London even as she grew up there, Fever is now even more ill at ease. Especially after the situation she left behind in the island city of Mayda, where the boy who loved her, Arlo, now believes she betrayed him.

To get away from a London that disturbs her, Fever sets off on a journey to the hazardous wastelands of the north where a rumored black pyramid exists. For the first time in generations it may be accessible – and may hold the secrets to the past, to Ancient technology – including Stalker brains and the Scriven race. She wants that information.

Along the way, she’s caught up in the middle of war and strong distrust – in which she meets warrior girl Cluny whose visions have led her to speak out against the mobile London. It forces Fever to confront what side she’s really on…

I really liked Fever Crumb, and then I loved A Web of Air. Scrivener’s Moon, however, was a bit of a mixed bag for me.

First off, I initially thought this was the last book in a trilogy – but apparently that’s not the case. There may be another book in the series. And unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to reread the two previous books, so I was a little lost at first, trying to remember exactly where Fever’s story left off.

As it continued, though, I began to get caught up. Again I was dumbfounded at the future that Philip Reeve has created with these novels – so unlike anything else I’ve read before in the way of sci-fi or futuristic dystopias. Incredibly intelligent and mature in tone.

Scrivener’s Moon definitely is suspenseful with constant assurances of the stakes as shockingly sad, sudden deaths take place to reiterate the danger. It makes it heartbreaking, stirring, and nerve-wracking.

But I also missed Arlo. I missed the quieter mystery and tension of our time in Mayda in A Web of Air. Scrivener’s Moon felt epic and had tons of twists and turns – and believe-you-me we get some serious psycho’s in the making scenes that wowed me – but…

Well, Fever undergoes some personality changes in this third novel that didn’t sit well with me. Others will disagree, I’m sure, but the new romantic plot and odd new emotions that Fever exhibits felt out of nowhere and discomfited an otherwise smart, edgy story.

I can’t really say more than that without giving stuff away… I liked almost everything in this book, but Fever’s character around halfway in started to morph in a way that seems irreparable – which makes me sad. In fact, Scrivener’s Moon was a pretty gloomy addition to the series plot-wise, as well.

I’d love to hear what you think!

Friday, January 4, 2013

What Happens Next

What Happens Next is a YA contemporary fiction debut by Colleen Clayton.

A gorgeously written and moving novel, a quick synopsis is thus:

Cassidy “Sid” Murphy, with her fiery red curly hair and rounded figure has always stood out in a crowd – meaning teasing and embarrassment. But with her cheerleading and good grades, she gets by – especially with two best friends that she loves hanging out with.

When she goes on ski trip with her friends, a hot college guy named Dax Windsor seems amazed by the hair that she often can’t stand and doesn’t seem to mind the figure that hasn’t attracted any other boy at school – and as much as she hates to admit it, she’s flattered. And when he asks her to ditch her curfew and come to a party - she does.

But Dax isn’t who he says he is. When she wakes up with her head throbbing and a numbness coursing through her body, she’s confused. As it wears off she notices the pain, the blood, the fact that her sweater is inside out, and that a lock of her hair is missing…

It’s horrifying, unsettling, and changes something deep inside her. She can’t seem to get the words out to tell anyone. The fact that she met him, that she fell for his ridiculous act… she can’t get over it. And when she returns home, Sid’s an insomniac – runs late into the night, brushes off her friends, and just can’t seem to function normally anymore.

When Sid drops her college prep classes and replaces it with A/V she finds herself in contact with Corey Livingston – a guy that she, and everyone else, has figured is a heavy stoner and nothing much else. But as she gets to know him she finds that there’s much more to him – and while she’s with him the nightmarish stupor she’s in vanishes to something closer to happiness.

If only her body would stop being her enemy, sleep stop being frightening, and her life stop crumbling around her…

What Happens Next was heartbreakingly beautiful. Right off the bat I’ll say that this is perfect for readers of Sarah Dessen, Sara Zarr, and the like.

Colleen Clayton so perfectly shows us how a horrific incident changes Sid and allows us to see the logic behind each damaging decision she makes – you can see how it would make sense to Sid, and that’s important as you watch a downward spiral. We witness the extraordinarily bleak, painful, but at times, inspiring results.

Broken friendships, hidden agony, slow but profound healing – my heart was being tugged along at every step in the superbly penned journey. What Happens Next is meaningful, touching, and gripping – I was behind Sid always.

And like life, even in the darkest moments there were times that What Happens Next was funny and charming – while still having that underlying tone of despondency and anxiety. I ached for Sid to tell someone, to stop carrying the burden alone.

What Happens Next is stunning, heartfelt, and extremely powerful. It built up to a strong end that stayed with me. You need to read this!

*I received a review copy of What Happens Next from Hachette Book Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Plain Kate

Happy New Year, you zany book loving fanatics!!!

Plain Kate is a YA fantasy novel by Erin Bow.

Plain Kate lives in a rural world that has magic – but magic is met with unease, suspicion, and fear. Believed witches are hunted and burned in the town square.

As a woodcarver’s daughter, Kate learned how to carve before she knew how to do much of anything else. And her immense ability has led some in her town to call her “witch-blade” and suspect her of witchcraft.

When her father’s death becomes one among many in the town, Kate’s world is rocked. She no longer had a home, and she can’t sell her woodworking. Her only friend is her cat, Taggle, who helps to keep her warm at night. She survives off the few kind people in the village.

Right when even harder times fall on the town, however, angry eyes turn to Kate. Their crops are ruined, and a mysterious, thick fog is covering the countryside. It’s not long before Plain Kate realizes she needs to leave town to save her life.

That’s when Linay steps in - a stranger that promises her escape, and a wish, for her shadow. Knowing that if she doesn’t leave soon she knows she’ll be burned she feels it’s a deal she should take, even if she is apprehensive about it… but Kate doesn’t realize how powerful shadows are – and that Linay’s intentions for it are darker than she could imagine…

Plain Kate was astounding!

Erin Bow superbly wove a vibrant fantasy rural setting with a heavy feel of peril and tension, but always lyrically and delicately approached. I felt Kate’s pain when she lost her loving father early on – as Erin quickly helped me to emotionally invest – which caused me to be worried for her and Taggle throughout the entire book!!

The disquieting, suspenseful, nerve-wracking plot involving Kate’s constant danger propels the story well, and her relationship with her cat Taggle is adorable, relatable, and at times seared my heart. Some of the best moments of humor in Plain Kate, which was needed in what was primarily a melancholy, haunting tale filled with grief, were the moments with Taggle. Don’t want to give anything away, but when you read Plain Kate, you’ll know what I mean.

And as it reached its conclusion – OH MY GOSH!!! Plain Kate is a killer!

Since it was right before bed and I knew I needed to go to work the next day, I was trying to be strong – trying so hard not to cry. Even so, my throat got a MAJOR lump and my eyes got all teary.

Wow!!! Plain Kate was a memorable, original, touching, painful, unforgettable fantasy novel!!

Read it, I’d say. Great way to start 2013!