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Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Ring and the Crown

Written by: Melissa de la Cruz

This novel seems to me similar to a weak cup of unsweetened tea.

The Ring and the Crown follows the lives of several girls in the age of ball gowns and the London season. All have different tales of love and loss, but they all end up entwined in some small way. Each is a prisoner of duty, and each wishes to be rid of the bonds of responsibility to their families.

There are several different characters in this book, and I think the teaser on Amazon gives a good summary, so I won't try to imitate it. The link to the teaser is here.

De La Cruz's intended message of the book was clearly to show how strong women are, especially in the past when they were expected to do what is right by their families at all times. Women were married off for strategic or monetary reasons, and they were seen always as the weaker sex. Their misfortunes and bleak futures were demonstrated well in the novel. Unfortunately, the actual main characters, the women, did not live up to De La Cruz's intended message.

I did not particularly like this book, in fact I found it a bit boring. The stories of the women were not particularly riveting, and the secondary characters were mostly flat and one-sided. The women themselves did not seem strong to me. They seemed in some cases weak, but mostly just silly. I did not think that they acted with very much self respect on the whole, and that instead of emphasizing their right to freedom, they acted rashly and with petulance. They did not strike me as level-headed, diplomatic strategists, instead I was under the impression that they needed to grow up.

The women weren't all off the mark however, in fact there was one character that I did like. The Princess Marie-Victoria was the strongest woman in the book, and she did show a level of diplomacy and resilience in the face of injustice. She was certainly a redeeming character in an otherwise weak crowd of simpering females.

I suppose in the end, De La Cruz did make the point that women have to make many sacrifices and bear many hardships. I understood this well from the book, but it did not ultimately impress me. The women were largely shallow and concerned only with their appearance (except for the Princess). It is never enjoyable to read a book where most of the characters live up to their bad stereotypes.

If you really, really, enjoy princess-y type books, then go ahead and read the book. It is not a bad novel,  I just did not find it particularly impressive.

I do really like the cover art.

2/5 stars. 


Written by: Saundra Mitchell

What else but lobster could you possibly eat while reading this fishy tale?

Willa Dixon is a relatively normal girl. Yes, she is destined to become a Lobster fisher, and yes, she has to work extra hard to balance the dwindling finances for her family, but besides that, she has a boyfriend, a job, and a regular best friend. Her life is tough, but not too unusual. That is, until one night her brother is murdered while Willa watches. The next year is a whirlwind of court cases, accusations, and sacrifices, as Willa is an integral part in putting the killer behind bars. She has to decide between her beloved fishing and her brother's memory, while trying to communicate with her angry father. She has pretty much got her hands full. And then, for some reason she keeps thinking about the abandoned light house near her town, despite the fact that nobody else spares the building a second thought, aside from passing around stories about the Grey Man, the resident spirit in the lighthouse. So when one day a mysterious boat bumps up against the shore right where Willa is sitting, she decides to get in. It takes her right to the lighthouse, where she discovers that the Grey Man might actually be real.

Phew! Okay, so as you can see, there's a lot going on. I liked this book, aside from one thing (which I will get to in a minute). Willa's non-supernatural life was fun to read about. The setting was interesting and unique, and I think Mitchell captured the ambiance of a slightly run-down fishing town very well. I definitely could see how Willa loved her little town and all the people in it. Thankfully, she was not an overly dramatic heroine, as so many are, and Willa was very much like a real girl, which was refreshing. 

The book is written half from Willa's perspective, and half from the Grey Man's, and I thought there voices were each unique and interesting. The Grey Man was slightly more poetic, and balanced well in his narrative was a mixture of desperation and fear for his future. Both voices were compelling. 

There was unfortunately a rather large flaw in the book. Everything up to the climax was engaging and entertaining, and then it just flopped. The final scenes were pretty much out of the blue and not believable enough. Suffice to say, the climax was not lead up to very well. This would not have been such a big problem if the climax itself had been good. But, it wasn't. Like all protagonists, Willa needed to save herself in the end. This was managed only through a ridiculous amount of luck and happenstance. The reader is given zero hints about a loophole in Willa's fate (this sounds a little confusing but there is no other way to describe it without giving away the book) and so I was completely surprised (and not in a good way) about the ending. It was as if the book wasn't fully planned out, so when the ending needed to be written, some unrelated idea was pulled out of a hat and stuck in the last chapter. 

All in all, this book was not bad, and until the ending it was fairly good. But, like all books, the ending is what the reader remembers most, and in this case I wasn't blown away. 

2.5/5 stars

I Become Shadow

by Joe Shine

     Ren Sharpe is living a normal life.  She just started high school and she’s working hard to fit in with the other kids.  Then she gets kidnapped in the middle of the night and taken to a secret facility owned by F.A.T.E. that trains bodyguards.  There’s a satellite that takes pictures fifty years in the future, and it took a picture of her gravestone, indicating she only lived to be fourteen, so they took her for their program.  They also know who is important in fifty years, and it’s their job to protect the world changers.  This is an interesting idea, but I didn’t understand why it was necessary.  If they know the future, wouldn’t they know the world changers aren’t going to be dead?
     After four years of intense training, Ren is assigned to Gareth Young, a student at the University of Texas.  She’s not allowed to actually contact him, but she does.  After all, she’s a student there too, as cover - and all her grades are fixed, so she doesn’t actually have to do any of the work.  They start falling in love, even though Ren still likes someone from her training and is keeping in touch with him.
     This is where things start going downhill.  People attack Gareth, and now Ren can use her training.  I just have no idea why people attacked him.  The explanations were so full of conspiracy theories that I have no idea what was going on for pretty much the second half of the book.  Ren runs around with Gareth, other people run after them, people from F.A.T.E. show up, and that’s about what I understood.  The underlying plot was lost on me.
     Ren’s internal dialogue was a bit different.  I didn’t find it particularly better or worse than the standard, just kind of different.  It worked well with her character, a carefree, think-of-me-what-you-will sort.
     This is a 2.7.  The premise, while interesting, did raise some questions that weren’t addressed at all.  If I were kidnapped and forced to be a bodyguard, I would at least wonder why they didn’t bother try to save me if they knew I was going to die.  I also didn’t really like Ren’s relationship with Gareth, and I didn’t like Gareth that much.  And there was that whole second half that was just confusing.  This is like chewing gum.  At first, there’s some flavor and enough to keep it interesting, but then the flavor goes away and you’re left wondering why you’re chewing a tasteless chewy thing and making your jaw tired.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Returning to Shore

by Corinne Demas

     This is a story about a girl whose mother just got married for the third time, so she is sent to spend the summer with her father while her mother is on her honeymoon.  Her father lives on a small island along Cape Cod and is determined to save a local species of turtles.  Although at first Clare is hesitant and slightly uncomfortable around her father, who she hasn’t seen since she was very small, they grow to like each other by the end.
     Though not particularly fast paced, Clare manages to have enough activity to keep the reader engaged.  It’s a fairly short book, so I didn’t really expect much to happen.  Clare herself is a pretty realistic character.  Her emotions and reactions were fleshed out and they were what I would expect a girl in her situation to feel.  The other characters, however, were lacking.  They were there more for Clare to react to and seemed very flat and more like names floating around the page than actual people.  Even the father, who was a major part of Clare’s internal development, left a lot to be desired.  I wish the book had been a little longer and the other characters and their relationships with Clare had been developed more.  It would have made the book much more poignant, but instead, it was more of a flat read.
     The back cover description hints at a lot more development than was actually in the book.  There was a bunch of personal development for Clare, but the other subplots - the memory lane, her father being the town crazy - hinted at on the back cover are more like caricatures of what’s in the book.  The cover is also more bleak than the story deserves.  It’s serene, but not depressingly so like the cover indicates.  Imagine a blue sky and the girl looking towards the horizon instead of towards the ground.
     It is a 2.85.  It’s not something I would devour, and not something I would reread (though some might, depending on the type of book you like), but it was nice in a quiet, serene sort of way, and I think that some of Clare’s realizations were done really skillfully.  It is a piece of cheese.  Something to be eaten slowly in a relaxed way, but also something that is over pretty quickly.  It is soft, and it’s not a sharp tasting sort of cheese, but a mellow one that you enjoy while it’s there and appreciate what it gives you even though it’s not very filling.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Song of the Quarkbeast

Jasper Fforde

     This is the second book of the Chronicles of Kazam.  Jennifer Strange is acting manager of Kazam Magical Arts Management, which is a company that provides magical services for its customers and manages general magic usage.  The main character, Jennifer Strange, is acting manager of Kazam while the real manager, the Great Zambini, is stuck in some sort of teleporting limbo.
     In this book, Conrad Blix, head of Kazam’s rival iMagic, hatches a plot to gain complete control over general magic management.  Although this is the main storyline, there’s still a lot of other stuff going on, mostly whimsical sorts of things.  There are all sorts of fun little things popping around, like the Transient Moose or the light ball that runs on sarcasm.  The ending ties everything up nicely, and Jennifer manages to pull things together in clever ways.
This is a 4 and like Funfetti cake.  It was fun to read, and there were all sorts of fun little bits stuck around the story.  The plot wasn’t the thickest, but it was engaging.  The book was a good length.  This is a good story for anyone looking for a light, fun read.  And it takes place in the Ununited Kingdoms, which is just fun to say.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Of Metal and Wishes

Written by: Sarah Fine

This book would go nicely with some dark chocolate wrapped in tinfoil.

After Wen's mother dies, Wen is forced to move into a cramped apartment in the local factory with her father. Now, instead of embroidering beautiful fabrics with her mother, it's her duty to stitch injured workers back together under the wing of her unfamiliar father. Despite the strange novelty, Wen adjusts to her new life with little complaint. That is, until the Noors show up at the factory. She meets Melik, an intelligent redhead who often invades her thoughts, and she begins to think that maybe the Noors are not the self-serving pigs the Itanyai (her people) painted them as. As her affection for the boy grows, she must choose between the Itanyai and the newcomers. Oh, and all this while balancing a tedious relationship with the factory's resident ghost boy, whose seemingly well-intentioned "gifts" sometimes cause more trouble than they're worth.

I enjoyed this book a lot! I appreciated the change in culture (so many of our protagonists are white Americans or Europeans); in fact, one of the prominent themes in the book was the difficulty of bridging the culture gap between people. The story was unique, definitely not a vampires-and-werewolves spin-off. The relationship Wen had with her father was intriguing to watch, and seeing how she grows up without the presence of her mother is both heart-wrenching and inspiring. She is an impressive protagonist.

I was drawn in by the relationship between Wen, Melik, her father, Ghost Boy, and general society. How Fine depicted the constraints on young people and woman in Wen's society was engaging and thought-provoking.

However, I do have one critique. I thought that Ghost Boy's realm underneath the factory was a little hard to believe. Yes, he is a master of metals, but the world Wen lives in is not the same as his world. There was just a little too much suspension of disbelief needed to make the story copacetic. Wen lives in a hard reality, and when the factory workers clashed with Ghost Boy, I felt just a tad uncomfortable, almost as if I was watching Dumbledore and Lizzie Bennett face off in a battle of wills. They're both great, but they just don't belong in the same realm.

Despite the one or two inconsistencies, I thought the book was overall pretty good. The writing was not exceptional, but it was still sound. The characters probably won't make you weep and laugh, but they were still relatable. If you are looking for a new book, and you finished your must-read pile, I would recommend this one.

3.6/5 stars!

Love by the Morning Star

Written by: Laura L. Sullivan
This book would be paired nicely with some fresh lemonade and raspberry tarts (it's just such a genial novel, it needs some genial foods).

I LOVED this book. It’s just great. Seriously. Read it. But perhaps before I launch headfirst into telling you why it’s so wonderful, you might want a little background.

Set in the late 1930’s during the second World War, the novel follows Hanna Morganstern, a half-Jewish girl who has to pack up and move away from her beloved cabaret in Germany to stay with distant relations, Lord and Lady Liripip. Hanna expects a certain degree of hostility from her unfamiliar family members, but she does not expect the treatment she is faced with when she arrives. She is unceremoniously directed below stairs and informed that she will be working as a kitchen hand.

Meanwhile, Anna Morgan enters stage left, a prideful, self-centered Aryan working for the Nazi party under the heavy-handed command of her father. She is supposed to be working as a maid so she can spy on the family, but instead is invited to stay in the upstairs chambers and is treated as a welcome guest. She says nothing about the obvious mix-up, reassuring herself that she deserves this life of luxury she has accidentally stepped into. Lord and Lady Liripip are very accommodating; after all, she is family… right?

Hannah and Anna are all mixed up, but neither is willing to run to Lady Liripip and tattle, for their own reasons. When the youngest Liripip, otherwise known as Teddy, enters the picture, the girls both fall a little in love. But no one really knows who is who, and inevitably some unforeseen snags occur.

This tale of love is entertainingly sweet and whimsical, and I invite you to watch the story unfold as you laugh and gasp along with the characters. I felt like I was watching a fast-paced, witty cabaret skit, where each of the characters peeped in through the wrong door at the exact right second. Yes, it’s a little hard to explain. Suffice to say, it was really quite fun. Not often to I laugh out loud to the lines in a book, but in this case I couldn’t resist as I was regaled with the whimsical romanticisms and sharp verbal barbs of the characters.

Even though this is a romance, Anna is not a mooning maiden. She is sharply clever, and has a way with words that is endearing, if over-abundant. Even when felt obliged to throw herself onto her bed and sob over her ill-luck, she was never pitiful, and presently someone would toss a witticism her way to lighten the mood. she does not wallow in desperation, like so many other wide-eyed protagonists.

The atmosphere of the novel is sweet and light, but in such a way that one begins to comprehend the most weighty and frightening realities of WWII. There are two levels to this book, I think; on the surface, it is a spectacle of light and comedy, but underneath there is an earnest profundity to the story. Just like Anna’s father and his shows, the plot seems strictly entertaining on the surface, but holds deeper meaning if observed carefully.

My one warning would be that the novel is written in a very specific style of writing. I love it, but not everyone will (It’s pretty simple, if you like it, you like it, but if you don’t, you don’t). I hope you pick it up even if you don’t feel like taking a chance and give it a read, because if you don’t like the writing style, I promise you’ll know pretty quickly off the bat. It won’t be a waste of time.

Ok, so basically you MUST read this book!

Drum roll please… 5 stars!

5/5 stars!!!!!

Thursday, July 10, 2014


by Lindsay Smith

     Yulia lives in Communist Russia, and her family is hiding from the government.  She is able to see past memories of people and things when she touches them, and she uses this skill to bargain in the black market until the KGB finds her and forces her to work in their program training psychic spies.
     I liked the premise of the book, and it’s different than a lot of books I’ve read.  The writing was fairly fluid, though at times, I wish some events were tied together more fully.  I also would have preferred more training sessions.  Yulia gains psychic powers without the reader really knowing, and that made it slightly confusing, which could have been helped if some of the training sessions were shown instead of mentioned in passing.  Some of the psychic powers were a little inconsistent, which also may have been helped by some training session scenes.
     The characters themselves were pretty consistent, though.  Yulia had understandable motivations, and her actions were in character.  I liked the backdrop, and the other characters were distinct and well developed.
     This is a 3.6.  I liked the idea, and it was fun to read despite a few continuity hitches.  Like oatmeal, it was satisfying enough.  There were patches of brown sugar that were great, but also small bits that weren’t quite cooked and made it so the texture wasn’t quite uniformly good.  But it’s only a couple bits, and there’s enough brown sugar, and the rest of it is just about the right texture that it’s pretty enjoyable.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Kiss of Deception

by Mary E. Pearson

Princess Arabella Celestine Idris Jezelia, more commonly referred to as Lia, is the First Daughter of the House of Morrighan.  This means that she has the gift of knowing, a sort of psychic power.  Or, it should mean she has the gift, but Lia hasn’t seen a sign of it in herself.  This is hardly high on her list of concerns, however, as she plots her escape with her servant Pauline to avoid the arranged marriage to the prince of Dalbreck.  They run to Terravin, a small town some way away from the castle, and they begin an almost idyllic life as barmaids at the local inn.  They are pursued, however, by an assassin from Venda, a neighboring kingdom that wants to undermine both Morrighan and Dalbreck, as well as Lia’s would-be husband, the prince of Dalbreck. The main story is told from Lia’s viewpoint, but there are also chapters from both the assassin’s viewpoint and the prince’s viewpoint.  They enter Lia’s life together while she works at the inn and take on alternate identities, Rafe and Kaden.  The identities are also kept a secret from the reader, however, so there will be chapters from Rafe of Kaden as well as from the assassin and the prince.  The assassin and the prince chapters are used when the character does something very telling that would give away which was which.  Although it’s possible to figure out who is who, it did add a bit of fun to the book.  Overall, however, I disliked having the prince and assassin viewpoints.  It gave the reader a lot information, and the story relied heavily on other elements of the book to keep the reader interested such as, writing style, general plot development, and especially romantic tension.  Although the writing style and general plot were pretty good, the romantic tension brought the book way down for me.  First of all, the assassin falls in love with Lia, who he is supposed to be killing.  The justification for this was really shaky.  I’m not sure there really was justification; it felt more like a plot device than something his character would do and a good example of insta-love.  The prince was pretty much expected to fall in love, and I was okay with his romance.  He was there because he wanted to know who this girl was.  She was daring enough to run away from a life she didn’t want, and as someone who also wasn’t looking forward to the arranged marriage, he was fascinated by her.  Another annoying thing about having Rafe/Kaden and assassin/prince viewpoints was that, to keep the identities hidden, Rafe and Kaden couldn’t be fleshed out too much and acted very similarly.  Unfortunately, they both act like lovestruck men with little thought except for the girl, and oddly, neither one acts (though they do have a few thoughts) as though they mind that Lia is clearly showering both with affection.  This part of the book was really tiresome, and the characters frustrated me.
About two-thirds of the way through, however, Lia finally realizes what her rash decision of running away has caused - mainly, now Dalbreck is mad at Morrighan because her marriage was supposed to cement an alliance between them, and their separation means they are weak before the force of Venda.  This is where it starts to pick up.  The identities of Rafe and Kaden become known, so they get fleshed out, and the world also gets some character.  Lia works to figure out why her gift isn’t manifesting, she travels some, and all the characters start doing more.  In the first part of the book, none of the characters seemed to be doing anything.  Lia, of course, is trying to do nothing, but the others just keep putting things off.  Also, everyone who needs to is able to find Lia and knows who she is even though the point of her running away was to leave the royal life behind.
This is a 2.9.  I can’t quite give it a 3.  The characters bothered me too much even though I liked the concept and the main plot and I really couldn’t stand the romance.  It was like reaching into a box of Valentine’s Day chocolate.  It’s chocolate, so you think you’ll really like it, and I like fantasy and the ideas in this book, but upon biting into it, you discover it has the filling that you usually give away.  For me, that’s coffee or coconut.  It looks so appealing, and it is still chocolate, but that filling is hard to get around.  It might be just right for some people though, so pass the book along.  And it’s Valentine’s Day chocolate because that love triangle is so dominating.
(Also, I don’t think this cover is the one used on published books, but I like it way better than the one with the girl staring off in the distance.)

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