Friday, January 31, 2014

Shadow Grail # 3: Sacrifices

Sacrifices is the third book in the YA paranormal series called Shadow Grail by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill.

To avoid spoilers check out my review of book one, Legacies, here and/or my review of book two, Conspiracies, here.

Since Spirit White’s family died and she was whisked away to the magical school of Oakhurst Academy, her life has become increasingly in danger.

Students vanishing, supernatural forces taking sacrifices, school dances that go horribly wrong – but until now Spirit and her friends have managed, they thought, to hold back the worst of it.

Yet now the enemy, Shadow Knights under the guise of a company called Breakthrough Adventure Systems, is inside the school – supposedly protecting it.

Their regime is cruel with harsh classes that are designed to bend students to their agenda – or make them disappear.

Trying to fight back, Spirit and her friends decide to have Muirin go undercover in Breakthrough. But her act is so good that they’re beginning to worry where Muirin’s loyalties truly lie…

I enjoyed Legacies and Conspiracies, and I enjoyed Sacrifices as well.

And yet…

Sacrifices seems to have a lot of repeating words and phrases. It’s interesting, but kind of needed to pick up the pace, I felt.

I didn’t re-read the first two books before reading Sacrifices, and I don’t know how much that threw me off. I couldn’t remember all the details of the first two books, and maybe that caused the third one to drag more?

Though having paranoia be the focus of this novel is intriguing, it also got tiring to have the constant barrage of, “CAN WE TRUST THEM OR NOT?!?” Especially when most of this vibe is brought about by telling instead of showing.

Also, sadly, the romantic angst wasn’t really working for me either.

Don’t get me wrong – Sacrifices still has its strong points!

It certainly has an air of legitimate danger when death/murder/disappearances are a reality at Oakhurst.

To be totally fair, I feel like once I get a chance to read the final book and re-read all the rest prior, or in quick succession, I might have a better view of the series as a whole.

All in all, I still like the Shadow Grail novels, but didn’t really like this entry in the series in and of itself.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Field of Wacky Inventions

The Field of Wacky Inventions is the third and final book in Patrick Carman’s humorous middle grade series Floors.

To read them in proper order, you would read Floors first (review here), 3 Below second (review here) and then finally The Field of Wacky Inventions. To avoid any (light) spoilers, you might want to avoid this review until you’ve enjoyed those first two books.

Leo and Remi know the wealthy, eccentric, brilliant Mr. Whippet well enough to know that when hoists the entirety of the Whippet Hotel roof off of its attached building (with all three humans and a variety of ducks still upon in) to know that they are in for an adventure.

The true extent of their escapade does not become clear, however, until the roof settles down in the field of wacky inventions – a super-secret location that Merganzer D. Whippet spends his time inventing ridiculously amazing feats of cleverness.

It is here that Mr. Whippet introduces Leo and Remi to the leaders of other hotels he has created – and tells them all that they will have to compete for a prize involving building a whole new, wackier than ever hotel that could lead to excitement and wonder…

…or Leo and Remi’s loss of their beloved Whippet Hotel.

Just as in Floors and 3 Below, there is definitely a sense of Willy Wonka here. And I mean the movies, not the book – as, gulp, I’ve never read it.

Moving on from that shameful bibliophile confession…

The Field of Wacky Inventions is fun, but a little all over the place. It didn’t feel as quirkily mysterious as the first two (especially the first) and moved so fast I sometimes didn’t really know (or care) what was going on.

There was a sense that this third book was less buoyant, less interesting than Floors and 3 Below. Yet, I’m not saying it was bad at all – and I’m sure many middle grade readers will LOVE it.

For me, I just missed the Whippet Hotel and all its crazy inhabitants.

The screwball, silly vibe was still there – but, personally, it didn’t feel as engaging.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Rising

The Rising is a YA supernatural contemporary novel and the FINAL book in an AWESOME dual trilogy; this one entitled Darkness Rising, by Kelley Armstrong.

Okay, since back from the moment I read The Summoning, the first book in the Darkest Powers trilogy, I have LOVED this series, these characters, and this world of supernaturals-within-our-world-being-experiments!!!

So, obviously I don’t want you spoiling the entire experience for yourself by jumping right into this last book! The Rising gives an end to the Darkest Powers series and the Darkness Rising series by uniting the sets of characters. For your reading pleasure, here is the order to read the novels in and links to my reviews (where applicable, as my old computer ate my review of The Reckoning).

Darkest Powers:
Book One: The Summoning
Book Two: The Awakening
Book Three: The Reckoning

Darkness Rising:
Book One: The Gathering
Book Two: The Calling
Book Three: The Rising

I recommend only reading reviews that won’t spoil you. I try to give limited info, but it’s inevitable – so choose wisely! But I will say: you do need to read these books!!! Okay?

My synopsis begins… NOW.

The Rising picks up quickly after The Calling leaves off. Maya and all her friends that grew up with her in the secluded, beautiful Salmon Creek locale are being hunted by the powerful St. Clouds and a rival Cabal now also.

They haven’t had much of a chance to truly absorb all the knowledge that has been thrown at them over the course of the last many days. The fact that they each have previously extinct, now resurrected supernatural powers has taken a backseat to being in a helicopter crash, trying to survive, and being chased.

And now they’re running out of places to hide.

Maya and her best friend Daniel lead the group in the pursuit of a lead – there are other teens that were experimented on with their powers – Project Genesis. Maybe they’ll be able to help them escape.

But as they work on this, Maya is going through her own stuff.

Knowledge that she has a twin brother she never knew of, for one. A fast, but fiery, relationship with fellow skinwalker Rafe, and the ever-burdening fear that the mental instability that Rafe’s sister got after shifting so many times will affect her…

Or already is…

Clearly, I’m a fan of this series, right? Yep. I hope you are too!

Not only was I excited to read The Rising because I have grown to love Maya and her group, but because of the promise of seeing Chloe, Derek and the rest of Project Genesis again! They still remain my favorites - I can’t help it!

Maya’s tough, confident, sarcastic self is awesome. Corey is hysterical. Daniel is an amazing friend. We essentially have a gathering of some excellent characters here.

The Rising gives us revelations GALORE! Twists, paranormal adventure and romance awesomeness await you in this final novel!

Now, I’ll admit that there are a good many dumb, bad-natured humans that just-so-happen to get in the way of some compromising situations – but I won’t complain because it created some thrilling, suspenseful scenes!

I really started to wonder how everything could all get wrapped up in this one book, but somehow she did it! I can’t deny that I’d like more – that it went faster than I wanted. But I was happy!

The Rising is sexy, mysterious, action-packed, often hilarious fun with enough character development and likability to really get invested. It also made my romantic dreams come true!! Yay!!

Clearly, you need to read The Rising.

And I need to read more Kelley Armstrong.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dare to Love Again

Dare to Love Again is a Christian historical romance, and the second book in Julie Lessman’s The Heart of San Francisco series.

Though each book focuses on different characters, and therefore can stand alone, I’d still recommend reading Love at Any Cost first (book one, review here) to avoid spoilers on Cassie and Jamie’s story in Dare to Love Again.

This review will contain nothing about them, though, so you’re safe to read this!

In the summer of 1903, wealthy socialite Allison McClare knows exactly what she wants to be: independent.

After bad engagements that ended in misery and being faced with the fact that men can be terrible liars, Allison doesn’t want to have to rely on them.

Yet, volunteering as a teacher at her mother’s girls’ school on the Barbary Coast stilts this desire a bit. Though she still wants to decline their chauffeured ride home and instead take the cable car alone, Allison begins to realize that there may be true danger in this part of town.

Detective Nick Barone sure keeps telling her so, anywho.

Or, rather, barking it at her.

Insufferable, offensively attractive, and with a temper to match her own, Allison can hardly stand the detective. They butt heads every time they meet.

But when her uncle enlists Nick to teach Allison self-defense, a begrudging friendship begins to develop.

And maybe something deeper.

Has Allison finally met a man that isn’t lying to her?

Julie Lessman definitely stands out as one of the better Christian historical fiction writers. She gives a great sense of the time period in each book I’ve read from her.

Feisty jabs and sparring barbs introduce the characters. I have to say that this particular element, the two leads initially hating each other, can get a bit cliché – but Nick was spicy enough to give a chance to Dare to Love Again.

Despite the familiarity of the male and female heroines that detest each other and constantly argue, I was entertained and engrossed. And I very much like how Lessman’s books delve into a whole family, not just two people.

I will admit that the formula for Dare to Love Again still made me grumble at times, though. For once I’d like it to be the man who is wealthier and stronger in faith…

Or maybe they’re on equal social standing and both already strong in faith?

Not enough problems for a plot? I don’t know – but sadly I struggle with originality in Christian historical fiction sometimes…

But Dare to Love Again is a fun, warm read and a cut above many others.

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

Monday, January 20, 2014

Strands of Bronze and Gold

Strands of Bronze and Gold is a YA retelling of the Bluebeard fairy tale by Jane Nickerson.

As seventeen year old Sophie enters Wyndriven Abbey in 1855 Mississippi, she is awestruck.

Throughout her life she has always received expensive, special trinkets from her godfather Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, but for the first time she has now become his ward – now that her father has died.

It’s an opportunity for her to hopefully help provide for her brothers and sisters, who are at home struggling to look for work and livelihood.

Adjusting to the new lavish lifestyle at Wyndriven Abbey is not so much difficult as hard to believe. Her enigmatic, handsome godfather is generous with his affection and his wealth – when it comes to her.

She cannot deny she is charmed by his charismatic personality and admiration for her.

Yet as time passes… she begins to feel as though the mysteries of the past, the whispers of stories of her godfather and his numerous former wives – all with red hair like hers – are beginning to suffocate her.

Despite the affluence around her and the illusion of being given anything her heart desires, there is an isolation that Sophie is starting to see – and perhaps a trap.

Strands of Bronze and Gold is an atmospheric gothic mystery that crackles with the Southern heat from very early on. There’s a creepy, captivating, and delicately suspenseful air to it.

I’ve seen quite a few mixed reviews on this novel, but I have to say I felt it was truly an effective chiller and a realistic spin on the Bluebeard fairy tale – which in my opinion makes it more frightening.

Occasionally Sophie frustrated me as she forewent her principles or turned a blind eye to signs of her godfather’s less than kind true personality, yet I felt I could understand her position. Desperate to make a better life for her family, she continued to deny what was in front of her, hoping for the best.

Strands of Bronze and Gold was very intriguing – and pretty nerve wracking!

As in many horror/suspense stories, a horrifying turn of events causes one of the most innocent to suffer. I’ll just say that animal lovers go through this pain when reading all too often, and leave it at that.

Truly, this retelling was quite disturbing, reaching an unnerving peak in the last fifty pages that was very well done, I believe. In some ways it seemed to wrap up too quickly, but really I can’t say that Strands of Bronze and Gold was not an effective, scary retelling!

I turned pages with interest and apprehension, which is what needed to happen in a novel such as this. So, I definitely recommend it and find myself interested in future works from Jane Nickerson.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair is the first novel in the adult whimsical fantasy mystery Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde.

Oh my gosh! Have you read this? As a bibliophile it is a MUST!

Picture this: a bizarre alternate version of 1985 Great Britain when the Crimean War is ongoing, time-travel is ordinary, dodo birds are the most popular pet, and literature is taken very seriously.

Thursday Next is a Special Operative in Literary Detection, keeping an eye on counterfeit novels and the like. England believes that falsifying a Byronic verse is punishable by law and brawls are started over whether or not Shakespeare actually wrote all those plays.

But when an original manuscript of a Charles Dickens book is stolen without any kind of video or camera image, Thursday has started her most dangerous investigation yet. Bloodthirsty and loving the horror he causes, this new villain is beginning to commit literary murder!

And now, somehow, he has pulled Jane right out of Jane Eyre and Thursday must stop him before it’s too late and the classic has been destroyed forever!

The Eyre Affair was definitely as awesome as it sounds – actually more so!

The casual time-travel and drastically distinctive noir bookish environment drew me in immediately! Not to mention the wacky yet intelligent humor! Here even names tickled me! Paige Turner? Really?! Love it!

A crazy, homicidal maniac on the loose, top-secret departments of the government, unusual animals that aren’t so unusual and a bevy of locations named after something of a literature manner – who can ask for more?

I found The Eyre Affair to be filled with truly brilliant concepts, names, and a suspenseful, genuine cast that makes you care among the madness! I adored Thursday’s eccentric family, the hard-boiled detection vibe, and the true book-loving feel.

Amidst all the rest, The Eyre Affair was a quirky, fun distraction with a comically terrible villain who is hilarious yet is still creepy, ingenious wordplay, and a mixture of so much astonishing creativity that I was honestly stunned I hadn’t heard of this book before!

Happily, this is a series. Unhappily, that means I need to save up more money. But it is an outstanding, amusingly clever jewel in the sand!!!

Surreal, indeed!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Curtsies & Conspiracies

Curtsies & Conspiracies is the second book in the Finishing School novels, a YA alternate Victorian era steampunk series, by Gail Carriger.

Gail Carriger, I think I may be in love with you.

Okay, wait, too fast? Too much?

My bibliophile buddies, believe you me that this book will probably make you feel the same way.

Because of that, you better read the first book, Etiquette & Espionage, before you read a single line of this review!!! Check out my review of Etiquette & Espionage here.

I’m trusting that those of you continuing have read that first splendid novel and are now ready to be titillated on the second!

(Notice the overuse of exclamation points.)

Sophronia’s first year a Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality has been far more exhilarating than she had anticipated.

Instead of only learning how to properly curtsy, she is also studying the best ways to poison someone.

In other words, espionage – which appears to be her true talent.

When an impromptu testing occurs, Sophronia’s results cause a rift between the other students and her that makes her late-night sneaking around the dirigible school all the more solitary.

Yet she has eavesdropping on teachers, chatting with sooties, and a London trip that smells of conspiracy to occupy her mind.

A conspiracy that could mean calamitous repercussions for lives both human and supernatural.

And she must also figure out a way to fill her dance card!

This is a pretty light synopsis – because, REALLY?!? Do you WANT to know more?!?!?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

If I loved Etiquette & Espionage (and I did) then Curtsies & Conspiracies must be met with the word adore!!!

Gail Carriger spices up this delicious steampunk fare with wittiness and silliness in the best possible ways. It’s a creative and fun adventure with an engaging, hilarious, unique writing style.

Curtsies & Conspiracies
delves us deeper into the mystery and detailed work of this alternative Victorian England full of vampires, werewolves, espionage, and mechanicals. We get fantastic, original characters, potential romances, and pleasing descriptions of gowns and accessories – without ever being too much.

I admit it: I want to go to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality!!!

This is AWESOME steampunk! Delightful spying, laugh out loud humor, Victorian manners, proper etiquette when greeting a vampire – what is not to adore here??? I absolutely love this universe and CANNOT WAIT to read the Parasol Protectorate series (still sitting on my bookshelf)!!!

Curtsies & Conspiracies is clever, romantic, and perfectly complicated!!!

If you haven’t guessed already – I genuinely fancy this book!

And I am counting the days until the third book, Waistcoats & Weaponry!

(Even the mere titles pierce my bibliophile heart with a fit of adulation!)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle is a YA fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones, appropriate for all ages – young and old!

Many of you have probably already read Howl’s Moving Castle, as apparently it is a classic I’d never heard of until a new bookish friend clued me in.

As the eldest of three sisters in the land of Ingary, Sophie knows she’ll never amount to anything. That is just the way it is. Her lot in life. If she were ever to try at anything, she would surely fail.

That’s why when her stepmother sends her second eldest sister to study at a pastry shop and her youngest, the one destined to be the most beautiful and successful per tradition, to apprentice under a female wizard whilst Sophie simply stays in the hat stop they own – she doesn’t mind.

Maybe it’s a bit solitary, but she has one-sided conversations with the hats all day long as she embellishes them in the she believes their personality deserves.

One day, though, her quiet life is disrupted when the feared Witch of the Waste enters the hat shop and, for some reason, wants to take out some frustrations on poor Sophie.

Before she knows it, Sophie has been bespelled into an old lady! Her only hope is to reach the also much feared Wizard Howl who lives in an ever-moving castle and is rumored to eat the hearts of young girls he ensnares.

And so begins Sophie’s adventure…

Howl’s Moving Castle was such fun!!!

Initially, there was a gentle delightfulness that was, I thought at the time and now disagree with, a bit slow. Sophie starts out as a really easygoing character, resigned to her life – practical and taking everything in stride without complaint.

Howl’s Moving Castle became increasingly funny and surprising – and I was becoming more and more charmed. I felt it just kept getting better and better.

I loved the way Sophie’s personality morphed into a feistier, outspoken version of herself once she was transformed into an old woman.

The wordplay, quirkiness, and joyfully eccentric fantasy vibe sparkled as Howl’s Moving Castle went places I didn’t expect, always keeping me on my toes. I was truly enchanted, happy and enthralled in its wittiness and cheerful character development.

Everything tied together in such a way that I urgently need and want a reread!

What a unique breath of fresh air it was! It’s awesome!

Plus, I adore the fact that it could be read by a child (perhaps it’s slightly confusing with its complexities, but it would still be enjoyable and appropriate) or an elderly person. Not to mention everyone in between!

Whimsical entertainment! Now, I want the two companions and to dive into more Diana Wynne Jones!!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Charlie Bone and the Time Twister

Charlie Bone and the Time Twister is a middle grade fantasy novel and the second book in the Children of the Red King series.

To be honest, I do not think this review will hold many, if any, spoilers of the first book Midnight for Charlie Bone – but even so I recommend reading the book and/or review before this review. Here’s a link to my review of Midnight for Charlie Bone.

It’s time for a new term at Bloor’s Academy, the private school Charlie must now attend – because he is Endowed with the ability to hear the conversations of those in photos. He doesn’t want to go, but he knows his paternal grandmother and frightening aunts won’t let home get away with not going.

Not long after arriving in school, a distant relative of Charlie’s – literally distant - named Henry Yewbeam suddenly appears.

From 1916.

The nasty trick is rooted in Ezekiel Bloor, in Charlie’s time a mean old man that has not gotten over his hatred of Henry over the years.

Realizing he must keep his ancestor Henry safe, Charlie wonders if he can figure out a way to send Henry back in time – before it’s too late.

As you might recall from my review of Midnight for Charlie Bone, I was not the biggest fan of the book. It was fine, don’t get me wrong. I think many readers will enjoy this British middle grade fantasy series.

Unfortunately it is just not working for me.

Since I already had a copy of Charlie Bone and the Time Twister, I figured I’d read it and see if it improved on my rather lackluster opinion of book one.

Sadly, it did not. In fact, it cemented my prior position.

The Children of the Red King series, at least in these first two books, seem to be starving for originality and a truly interesting plot. Nothing was suspenseful enough, funny enough, quirky enough, or plain old entertaining enough to hold my interest.

Plus, there was an upsetting scene with a dog.

Not that I will hold that against the book – I accept that occasionally there will be upsetting scenes with animals for literary, realism, and/or effective purposes. But here, it just felt pointless.

The characters don’t stick out to me well; I have a hard time keeping them straight because it just seems like a flurry of names without personality or color.

Admittedly, I started to skim Charlie Bone and the Time Twister. It just appears this series is not for me.

That does not mean it won’t do everything for you that it didn’t do for me, however!!!

Please do give the series a try and see if you find it to be more attention-grabbing than I did – I honestly hope you do!

As for me, I do not plan on continuing with the series.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Dresden Files: Storm Front

Storm Front is the first book in the adult urban fantasy series The Dresden Files by bestselling author Jim Butcher.

Harry Dresden is a wizard. He’s in the book.

No, he’s not advertising to entertain at parties or read your future.

Instead, he offers to use his powers and training to find lost items, investigate paranormal activity, and give advice. After all, the “everyday” world is actually populated with many magical, supernatural things and beings – and they don’t tend to play well with humans. Dresden helps to bridge that gap.

When the Chicago P. D. asks for his assistance with a particularly gruesome case involving what seems to be otherworldly powers – really no other explanation for it – Harry’s first thought is that this is a chance to pay his rent. Business hasn’t been so good lately. So, he agrees.

Yet this case involves some heavy black magic – and that means there’s one nasty, ballsy black mage behind it. One that apparently knows Harry’s after him – and now Harry’s life is becoming more dangerous than ever.

He’d really rather pay his rent than get killed…

Oh my gosh! I am so late to the game on this popular series!

Back in 2007, I believe it was, a TV show came on the SciFi channel (before it was SyFy) called The Dresden Files. It starred Paul Blackthorne and was based fully on this book series. It was awesome! The network didn’t think the audience size was awesome though, so sadly they cancelled it after just 13 episodes.

Episodes that I own on DVD.

Ever since seeing the show, and loving it, I’ve wanted to read the books – but I just hadn’t gotten around to it.

Well, here I am! And it was AWESOME!!!

As is to be expected, there are some differences between the show and the book. Mostly appearance-wise. Personality-wise though, they’re pretty spot on – which is pretty cool of the show, when you think about it.

Ah, humor! Droll, clever, casual references to all kinds of fantasy/paranormal things amidst the urban backdrop of Chicago. Dresden is a lovable, hilarious, but still a to-be-taken-seriously character that you just adore following.

I couldn’t help but continue to picture Paul Blackthorne as Harry. I think he might be perfect – the way he played him on screen comes across the same on the page, to me.

As I read Storm Front I was instantly drawn into this story. It’s a creepy/magicky murder with witty, smart narration and an originality I love. It’s a ton of fun - and entertaining like crazy!

We get various introduced and hinted at secondary characters from cops to faeries to Wardens of the White Council to vampires and MORE. It gives color and extra allure to this already ready-to-be-gobbled-up private detective/wizard tale.

Plus, I can’t help but like that Harry is NOT invincible. It’s refreshing. But he IS awesome. Think I might’ve mentioned that? Yeah, he is.

Finally, BOB!!! Harry’s talking skull advisor/mentor - despite him not taking corporal form in the book – at least not that we’re described – sounds exactly like the TV version. I hope for more of him! He’s hysterical in all his snooty unforgettable-ness!

Really, if you haven’t read Storm Front yet – you need to. The Dresden Files is a series I definitely want to continue!