Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Book Review: The Boy, The Bird, and the Coffin Maker by Matilda Woods


Pages: 208
Publisher: Philomel
Released: May 15, 2018
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf
Goodreads

There are some books that are just magical, and this is one of them. Fairy tales can have this effect, if done right, where even though the story is short, the characterization is minimal, and every aspect of the plot doesn't always make perfect sense, there's just a special something that makes the story tug at my heartstrings and stay with me in a meaningful way. I care about the characters from page one in a hugely protective, almost visceral way. I'm invested in their story. The messages hit me in a deeply personal way. The Boy, the Bird, and the Coffin Maker has that magical quality.

It also doesn't hurt that the chapters are super tiny and every page is beautifully illustrated.

Highly recommended.


BOOK DESCRIPTION

Friendship and magical realism sparkle on the page in this heartwarming, delightfully eccentric illustrated middle-grade gem from an extraordinary new literary voice. Perfect for fans of A Snicker of Magic and The Penderwicks.

Alberto lives alone in the town of Allora, where fish fly out of the sea and the houses shine like jewels. He is a coffin maker and widower, spending his quiet days creating the final resting places of Allora's people.

Then one afternoon a magical bird flutters into his garden, and Alberto, lonely inside, welcomes it into his home. And when a kindhearted boy named Tito follows the bird into Alberto's kitchen, a door in the old man's heart cracks open. Tito is lonely too--but he's also scared and searching for a place to hide. Fleeing from danger, he just wants to feel safe for once in his life. Can the boy and the old man learn the power of friendship and escape the shadows of their pasts?

With a tender bond that calls to mind The Girl Who Drank the Moon, charming characters reminiscent of The Penderwicks, and the whimsy of A Snicker of Magic, this is a novel to curl up with, an extraordinary work of magical realism that makes the world feel like a warmer and happier place. Complete with dazzling interior illustrations, a gem from start to finish.


AUTHOR BIO

Matilda Woods (www.matildawoods.com) grew up in the small town of Southern Tablelands, Australia. She graduated from Monash University with a Masters of Social Work. Matilda splits her time between writing middle grade fiction and working as a youth social worker. The Boy, the Bird, and the Coffin Maker is her debut novel. She currently lives in the same small town where she grew up, with her four chickens, three dogs, two cats and one bird.


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Book Review: Freya and the Magic Jewel

Freya and the Magic Jewel by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams
#1 in the Thunder Girls series
Pages: 272
Publisher: Aladdin
Released: May 1, 2018
Received: ARC from author
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I've been a long-time fan of Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams' Goddess Girls series and I've sampled a number of their other series. While I enjoyed their Grimmtastic Girls series, it wasn't quite at Goddess Girls levels and I only toe-dipped in their Heroes in Training series (for a slightly younger audience). That isn't to say the other series aren't good, but rather to say how awesome the Goddess Girls series is.

And now we have the Thunder Girls series, focusing on Norse mythology instead of Greek. I knew I would like these books, but even my expectations were blown away and I adore this series! It's right up there with the best Goddess Girls books and I hope we see just as many books in this series (20+ and counting) because I will read every one of them and hand them out to all my little library patrons.

This first book in the series focuses on Freya as she starts a new school. Coming from a different land, Freya has a tough time settling in and making friends. Homesickness, feeling different, worrying about fitting in, and so on, her feelings are easy to relate to at any age and developed in a realistic way throughout the story. Freya's quest to find her missing necklace added in a dash of adventure.

As in the Goddess Girls series, the world created her is inventive and reading about the magical charms, school, and daily life are highly entertaining, especially if you're a reader who likes world building. It was fun, particularly in this first book, getting to know all the new characters, seeing their personalities unfold, and wondering what parts they'll play in future stories.  

Highly recommended for fans of Goddess Girls, Norse mythology, and sweet books with a happy mix of friendship, inventive mythology adaptations, a smidge of romance, and a big helping of adorableness. Readers who are already fans of Goddess Girls can safely add this series to their auto-buy lists.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book Review: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

Pages: 320
Released: March 6, 2018
Publisher: Penguin
Received: Finished copy from publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads 

I was hoping for a spooky, twisty Gothic thriller and that's exactly what I got. Creeping, menacing supernatural happenings stalk Elsie and the terror builds steadily until the shattering climax and the final, horrifying ending. This is in no way a feel-good book, but it is a fabulous read for chilly winter nights or Halloween.

The story alternates between three different time periods: Elsie after the climax, Elsie leading up to the climax (both in the 1800s), and an older series of events set in the 1600s that provide insight into the supernatural happenings Elsie battles against. All three sections were gripping and the slow unraveling of information was well spun across these sections.

A part of me does wish everything had been explained a little more. In the broad strokes, the story is immersive, gripping, and satisfying. If I start to think more deeply on events, however, I come away with questions and some events that are only tenuously explained. But, really, that doesn't matter and didn't impact my enjoyment at all. I don't mind a little unexplained happenings in supernatural stories, and that does seem to be par for the course in Gothic novels to an extent.

Bottom line

Highly enjoyable. I am looking forward to reading more from Laura Purcell.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Review: The Secrets She Carried by Barbara Davis

Pages: 368
Released: October 1, 2013
Publisher: NAL (Penguin)
Received: Library
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

A dual era mystery with touches of romance and long-hidden family secrets should have been the perfect book, but perhaps suffers in comparison to books I've read previously. The Secrets She Carried had so many elements in common with my beloved Tradd Street series (Southern setting, the gorgeous writer male lead, and the prickly female lead) and I think that worked against it. I couldn't help but compare the two, and Secrets just didn't measure up.

The mystery was extremely predictable, and so the unraveling of it had less desperate "I need to find out what happened!" and a lot more "finally" when it was all revealed. Still, it's a dual era mystery with shades of history and a slower burn romance, so despite my frustrations with the similarities and less-than-inspiring mystery, I did still enjoy it.

As often is the case for me, I liked the historical sections more than the modern sections, though I think in this case part of that had to do with the way each section was written. The modern sections are third-person past-tense, whereas the past sections are first-person present-tense. I wish they had both been first-person past-tense and I think the writing style hindered my immersion and enjoyment. The characterizations in the historical sections were a lot richer and it was easier to become invested in the heroine and loathe the villainess.

Bottom line

I'd give it a solid good. I'll probably find myself picking up another book by this author at some point.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Book Review: My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley


Pages: 372
Publisher: Bloomsbury/Candlewick
Released: February 8, 2018/May 8, 2018
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Here's the thing, I really don't like reading about Queen Victoria. There are certain historical figures I adore and just click with (Marie Antoinette, Mary I, Cleopatra), and others that I have a really hard time getting on board with. Victoria falls solidly in the latter camp. Even Carolyn Meyer couldn't get me to like her.

So Lucy Worsley has done what I had previously believed was impossible and made me actually like Victoria. Or, well, not quiet. But she wrote a book about Victoria that I was able to really like. I still don't like Victoria.

How did she pull it off? In part because of a narrative approach I usually dislike: the "through the eyes of a servant" narration. More points to you, Ms. Worsley. In this case it really worked. Victoria's irritating personality was tempered by the fact that she wasn't the main character and that Miss V is fully aware of how annoying Victoria can be.

And, finally, for the third "usually I hate this, but Lucy Worsley made me like it" thing that happened...well, I can't tell you about it. It would be a spoiler. I'll say there's a historical twist that isn't true, but gosh do I wish it was. I imagine this is something that readers are either going to love or hate. Usually I would hate it because It's Not Real, but I wish it was real so much that I'm giving it a pass.

Anyway, chapters are short, the narrative is easy breezy, and the characters are sufficiently real that I cared about them. Miss V slowly comes to realize and come to terms with the people surrounding her and all their shades of grey. I really enjoyed this aspect and my heart broke for her as the people around her were hurt by the system or orchestrated the system. Miss V's shifting feelings regarding her father, his role, and his character was devastating. 

I appreciated the small details that were added in that gave the story depth and a sense of place and people. I didn't know until after I had finished the book that Lucy Worsley is a historian, and a fun one at that. A ton of her documentaries are available on Youtube and I've since spent many happy hours watching them.



Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Book Review: Two Modern Austen-Inspired Stories

Scones and Sensibility by Lindsay Eland
Pages: 320
Released: December 2009
Publisher: Egmont
Received: Library
Age: Middle Grade
Rating: 3.5/4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I really, really enjoyed this book. It was light, fun, sweet, charming...all those words that describe that kind of book I seek out when I just want something nice to read. There was just enough relationship drama (friendships, family) to make this engaging and touching without being annoying.

Polly's love of all the classic kindred spirit books (think Anne of Green Gables, Jane Austen's hits, etc.) made everything extra endearing and I loved every reference she made to all my own well-worn favorites. Her tendency to ape the social norms and ways of speaking during those times was spot on and definitely one of the things I loved about this book. The fact that she works in a family-owned bakery was icing on the cake (yes, yes, I know, that's a terrible pun but I just couldn't avoid it). Highly recommended, especially if you love books like The Penderwicks, any of the above mentioned classics, Keeping the Castle, or Stephanie Kate Strohm's books.

  
Prada & Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard
Pages: 286
Released: June 2009
Publisher: Razorbill
Received: Library
Age: Young Adult
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I'm mixed on this one. On one hand, the main character was super annoying and could not stop pushing her modern ways of thinking on everyone and then getting hugely offended with them when they held beliefs in line with their time period. The pride, prejudice, and jumping to assumed conclusions that Jane Austen cautioned about in her original story were definitely Lessons to Learn for Callie. She was just behaving so stupidly and rudely, and even if she was ultimately right in some ways, her methods made her wrong, wrong, wrong.  It was painful to watch her blunder around like a bull in a china shop.

And yet, this was still a fun, light time travel story with romance and balls and dresses and endearing friendships and a hint of sweet romance. So. I'm a sucker for all that and despite Callie's groan-inducing moments, overall this was exactly the light, sweet, forgettable-but-enjoyable romp I was hoping it would be.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

DNF Explanation: Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

Pages: 313
Released: January 2, 2018
Publisher: Berkley Books (Penguin Random House)
Received: E-ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
DNF: 31%

Jennifer Ashley is probably better known for her romance novels, but she does branch off occasionally and that's when she piques my interest. My one experience with her was her historical fiction take on Elizabeth I and I was pretty impressed with her storytelling, characterizations, and historical detail. So I had high hopes for Death Below Stairs.

The good? Just like in her Elizabeth book, Jennifer Ashley focuses on a historical craft and brings it wholly to life. In the Elizabeth book it was fashion and sewing, but in Death Below Stairs it's all about the food. The main character serves as the cook in a fancy British house ala Downton Abbey and the descriptions of the dishes she makes are detailed and divine. Honestly, I would have enjoyed the book if it was entirely about the cooking. The Downton Abbey feel of the upstairs, downstairs relationships and the big house was charming and thoroughly enjoyable.

So why the DNF? Mainly two reasons: I didn't like the main character and I didn't like her romance. The character of the main character didn't ring true to me and she was far too Strong Female Character for her own good. In an early scene she boldly sasses the master of the house while standing in defense of one of the servant girls who he occasionally likes to get handsy with. Now, don't get me wrong, she was in the right and the master of the house was very much portrayed as the Villain of the Piece, but it all felt so contrived. She also ran off half-cocked, which is behavior that would be more likely to get her fired than not. Which, a woman in her position would know and therefore not likely behave in such an eye-roll-inducing way. I know these traits are supposed to make us root for her, but it really just made me shake my head at her and find her off-putting and not realistic.

And then there's the romantic lead. He's a scoundrelly guy with Secrets who engages in work that isn't exactly above board. He has a network of spies and secret handshakes and disguises and he felt like such a contrived caricature and I just could not care less about him. He and the main character apparently have a history together, which is hinted at very strongly (which, really, the purpose was to hamfistedly direct the reader to the prequel novella) and yet he keeps so many secrets from her. I imagine this is supposed to make him seem dangerous and mysterious and therefore alluring, but I feel like I'm too old for that crap and I just want him to cut the childish games and be trustworthy, honest, and stable for her.

To be fair, much of this is simply a case of "wrong reader" as opposed to any real flaw in the book. The romantic lead is very much the adult version of the Dickensian street scamp, and that's a character I tend not to like very much.

Anyway, then, underneath all this, there is a murder mystery. I was interested in following this part of the story, but between the unappealing main characters and historically unrealistic vibe, I found it hard to stick with the story.

Bottom line

Readers who click with the main character and romantic lead should find enjoyment with Death Below Stairs. There are a lot of elements here I can get on board with and I want to love this series, but I think it's probably just not for me.




Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Book Reviews: Merrie Haskell

I reread The Princess Curse at the end of 2017 and I remembered how much I loved the book and how I had shunned Merrie Haskell's two follow up books because they weren't the longed-for sequels to The Princess Curse. I know, I make strange reading decisions.

I decided to suck up my disappointment that they weren't sequels and give them a shot in their own right. And now I'm sad that they don't have sequels and that I don't have anymore Merrie Haskell books to read. At this point, she's an auto-buy author for me.

Handbook for Dragon Slayers 
Pages: 336
Released: May 28, 2013
Publisher: Harper Collins
Received: Library
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Let's see...beautiful imagery, a scrappy band of friends, dragons, legends, subtle nods to The Princess Curse and touching lessons learned. Plus, magical horses. And a creepy dash of Blue Beard. There's so much packed into this slim book that it's hard to describe everything and do it justice. Merrie Haskell has a knack for referencing a zillion different stories while creating a story that is wholly her own. The result is a multi-layered treasure hunt and a story with texture and depth. Highly recommended.
 

The Castle Behind Thorns
Pages: 332
Released: May 27, 2014
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Received: Library
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I put this book off because I thought it would be boring. And, granted, it is a slower book. There isn't a ton of action. There's a lot of slow unraveling. The slower pace is a positive thing though and it isn't a boring kind of slow. It's a quiet, peaceful kind of slow. More like Juliet Marillier's Heart's Blood. The characters in this book needed to heal, and that is a process that takes time. The emotional healing of the characters ran parallel with the slow mending of the broken castle and made for a lovely, touching story. A book to sink into, savor, and let it work its slow-burn magic.

 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

DNF Explanations: Path of Fate and Haven

Path of Fate by Diana Pharoah Francis
ARC from NetGalley
Goodreads

I originally added this series to my TBR because it was recommended for readers who like the Firekeeper series by Jane Lindskold. Mostly I'm guessing the link between the two is because they both have human main characters who are able to speak to animals. Maybe there's more of a connection?

What I do know is that the political system of the Firekeeper series is interesting, and the political system in Path of Fate was annoying. Firekeeper's felt like the world was created for the story. Path of Fate feels like the world and story were created for the author to send a thinly veiled message about the real world. And I don't want that. So, DNF.

Haven by Mary Lindsey
Finished copy from publisher
Goodreads

I feel guilty about DNF-ing this book. It came, unexpectedly, with a fancy package filled with confetti, a mug, candy, and other treats. So, in deference to materialism, of which I am always a sucker, I dropped everything and started reading Haven.

Unfortunately, Haven was written a few years too late for me. Had this been written during the Twilight craze, Haven would have been a smash hit. The characters are generally good people and it was easy to care about them. There's a heavy dose of "lost puppy, adoptive loving family" syndrome, and I'm a sucker for that. The paranormal aspects were typical, but in a good way. The teen angst was heavy, including a fairly prominent romance that would have likely had me swooning ten years ago.

Maybe I'm too old for this story. Maybe the Twilight craze is too far in the past. Whatever the reason, Haven seemed like a good book that I have generally positive feelings for and very little interest in actually reading at this point in my life. Readers who are still searching for the next Twilight should definitely check out Haven.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

DNF Explanations: YA and MG


Forever, Again by Victoria Laurie
Released: December 13, 2016
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Received: ARC from publisher
Read 62 of 360 pages
Goodreads

Well, I'm not sure if I'm disappointed I won't be reading more of this book or relieved that I found out now and not after more hours of reading.

I flew through the first 62 pages and I had every intention of finishing the book. I figured it would be a solid 3 or 3.5 star read: good, enjoyable, but nothing spectacular or something I'd reread. Still, I was enjoying the pacing and tension of uncovering the mystery.

And then I came across some low star Goodreads reviews with spoiler tags. And I clicked on them. And...I decided to DNF. The big reveal just seemed disappointing and not something I'd like, which makes the time spent with the book not really worthwhile. I can deal with a meh reveal if the characters and story leading up to that are still engaging and stand on their own, but after 62 pages, my impression of the characters was that they weren't going to become anything more than a vehicle for the mystery.

So, DNF.


The Adventurers Guild by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos
Released: October 3, 2017
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Received: ARC from publisher
Read 6 of 320 pages
Goodreads 

Chalk this one up to wrong book, wrong reader. I had high hopes: cute cover, fun premise, middle-grade adventuring...recipe for success. I didn't expect a writing style that grated on my nerves enough to make me put the book down with only a microscopic smidgen of regret. The characters and story felt stock, the writing serviceable at best, and everything had a very phoned in, paint-by-numbers kind of feel. No heart. Oh well, c'est la vie. Onto the next book!


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Book Review: Another Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn


Pages: 419
Released: June 11, 2013
Publisher: Harper Teen
Received: Own, won
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I've carted this book through three moves and before moving a fourth time I figured it'd be in my back's best interest to decide if this was worth schlepping again.

So is it? Eh, yes and no. I have access to e-copies through the library, and that's enough "ownership" for me. Now that I've read my paper copy, I think I'll trade it in at the local used bookstore for something else.

But that isn't to say I didn't enjoy the book. The premise is so different and engaging. I was hooked over the entire 400+ pages. The chapters are also tiny, which always helps. 

The mystery starts out with trying to figure out what happened to Annaliese, why she disappeared for a year and where she spent that year since her memories of that time are gone. Once that mystery starts unfolding, then another more paranormal mystery takes shape. Then as that mystery starts revealing itself, the mystery of what is Annaliese going to decide to do captured my interest. Each mystery was engaging and flowed seamlessly into one another, which kept the momentum of the overall story up and my interest never flagged.

While that is a lot of stuff and makes up for a good bit of the massive 400+ pages, there's also a lot of people drama mixed in filling up a lot of those pages. The parts with Annaliese's family had me hook, line, and sinker. Probably because I'm a sucker for heart-felt family stuff that feels secure and fluffy and loving. There a fierce love that felt palpable and gut-wrenching and good.

And then there was the romance, and that paled in comparison. It felt tacked on as the Required YA Romance, and while I fully admit I'm the kind of reader who generally wants a touch of romance in everything and whines when it's not there...I could have done without it here. Also, the teenage high school drama (friendship, mean girl, ex-boyfriend, new boyfriend, yada yada) was boring.

Part of me thinks this is because I'm old and not a teenager, and therefore also not the target audience. Part of me thinks it's because those sections were more filler and slowed down and interrupted the paranormal and mystery aspects of the storyline. Part of me thinks they were kinda necessary too though. So, maybe it would have been better if they had been kept in, but trimmed a little.

Bottom line

At one point I was tempted to just give this book away without reading it (cover judged it, still don't like the cover), but I'm glad I didn't do that. I'm glad I read this book. It was different, engaging, and touching. The paranormal bits weren't the typical thing, and I was overall satisfied with them. But, now that the mysteries are over, I'm ok with letting it go.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Book Reviews: Thrifty Time Travelers series by Jonathan Stokes



The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome 
Pages: 127
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Released: January 30, 2018
Received: ARC from the publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads 

Let's see...
  • Fast paced
  • Short chapters
  • Ancient Rome
  • Tons of facts
Yep, this is a perfect book for me. It was no surprise that I loved this book. It really is a nice guide, touching on everything from dress, to technology, inventions, roads, politics, major events, people, places, problems and entertainment. Some things were a little cleaned up (it's hard to do Caligula for middle grade readers without leaving stuff out), but I don't think that gave a skewed impression of anything.

There's some light humor and everything is themed around the "thrifty guide" idea. This book is supposed to be a time travel guide produced in the future where a pretty shady sounding overlord runs the world and sells time travel packages. It's zany, kind of cute, kind of annoying, and easy to ignore if you just want to focus on history.

The book is interspersed with various asides (like pictures showing what you should wear if you want to blend in) that were enjoyable and helped create that "I'll read just one more section" feeling that I love. This was a fun book to introduce kids to ancient Rome, but also fun for me as an adult already familiar with ancient Rome. Recommended. 

*I need to take a moment to rave again about Jonathan Stokes' Addison Cooke series. It's funny, fast, filled with adventure, and just plain fun.


PUBLISHER'S BOOK DESCRIPTION

THRIFTY GUIDE TO ANCIENT ROME
 
Like a middle-grade Magic School Bus, the Thrifty Guides take readers on funny and informative trips to the greatest moments in history!
The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome: A Handbook for Time Travelers is a snappy, informative travel guide that comes in the package with your time machine purchase in the year 2163. It contains information vital to the sensible time traveler:
  •     Where can I find a decent hotel room in ancient Rome for under five sesterces a day? Is horse parking included?
  •     What do I do if I'm attacked by barbarians?
  •     What are my legal options if I'm fed to the lions at the Colosseum?
Designed as a parody of Fodor's, complete with humorous maps, reviews of top attractions (Julius Caesar's assassination is a must-see!), and tips on who to have lunch with (Hannibal, assuming he doesn't kill you). If you had a time travel machine and could take a vacation anywhere in history, this is the only guidebook you would need.



The Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution
Pages: 160
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Released: January 30, 2018
Received: ARC from the publisher
Rating: DNF
Goodreads 

Yikes! Well, there's only so many mistakes and inaccuracies I can take. So, DNF.

PUBLISHER'S BOOK DESCRIPTION

THRIFTY GUIDE TO THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION


Like a middle-grade Magic School Bus, the Thrifty Guides take readers on funny and informative trips to the greatest moments in history!

The Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution: A Handbook for Time Travelers is a snappy, informative travel guide that comes in the package with your time machine purchase in the year 2163. It contains information vital to the sensible time traveler:
  •     Where can I find a decent hotel room in colonial New England? Are credit cards accepted?
  •     How can I join the Boston Tea Party without winding up in a British prison?
  •     What do I do if I'm being shot at by a cannon?
Designed as a parody of Fodor's, complete with humorous maps, reviews of places to stay and top attractions (Don't miss Paul Revere's midnight ride!), and tips on who to have lunch with (Alexander Hamilton, naturally). If you had a time travel machine and could take a vacation anywhere in history, this is the only guidebook you would need.



AUTHOR BIO

Jonathan Stokes (www.jonathanwstokes.com) is a former teacher who is now a rising star as a Hollywood screenwriter. He has written screenplays on assignment for Warner Brothers, Universal, Fox, Paramount, New Line, and Sony/Columbia. Inspired by a childhood love of The Goonies and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Jonathan wrote his first novel, Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas, published by Philomel in 2016. Born in Manhattan, he currently resides in Los Angeles, where he can be found showing off his incredible taste in dishware and impressive 96% accuracy with high fives.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Book Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden


#2 in the Winternight Trilogy
Pages: 363
Publisher: Del Rey
Released: December 5, 2017
Received: ARC from the publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I love it when a sequel lives up to the level of the first book in the series. I adored The Bear and the Nightingale, and while there were a few loose ends, it could have easily ended as a standalone. So, when I heard there was going to be a sequel, I sighed and kind of wished the publisher would leave well enough alone. I was expecting the sequel to be a pale imitation and leave me wishing I too had just left well enough alone and stopped reading after the first book.

Thankfully, my worries were for nothing. The Girl in the Tower has the same magic and storytelling charm and I am so, so glad I picked it up. The same blend of fantasy, folklore, and history that worked so well in the first book continues to work well here. The chapters continue to be on the longish side, but that is also still not a problem for me. I flew through this book and had to force myself to read slower and savor the story. The characters continue to be likable, and while they still aren't hugely deep (fairy tale!), Vasya's storyline allows for more depth of character as we watch her try to come to terms with who she is and what she wants, and does not want, from life. 

Bottom line

Readers who enjoyed the first book should enjoy the sequel just as much. Katherine Arden has a gift for storytelling and her words and tales are enchanting. I cannot wait for the third book.








Friday, January 5, 2018

2018 Library Challenge



Challenge Basics:  

Name: 2018 Snagged at the Library Challenge
Previous Hosts: Geeky Blogger's Book Blog (in 2016)
Starts: January 1, 2018
Ends: December 31, 2018
Eligible Books: Books from my libraries 


Why I'm Interested:  

I recognize that there's a use it or lose it factor to libraries, and while I want to focus some attention on these books, I don't mind if they don't make up the bulk of my reading. Still, I'd like to participate in this challenge to bring some awareness to the books I have available to me through my library.



Books Completed:

5.
4.
3.
2. Queens of England by Norah Lofts
1. The Case of the Counterfeit Criminals by Jordan Stratford (audio)



Books DNF'ed:

2.
1.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

2018 Read My Own Books Challenge


20/12 books


Challenge Basics: 
Name: Read My Own Damn Books Challenge
Previous Hosts: Estella's Revenge
Starts: January 1, 2018
Ends: December 31, 2018
Eligible Books: Books you own prior to 2018.
Levels: I'm going to try to read and/or DNF and get rid of 12 books I own.

Why I'm Interested:  

I seriously have too many books and they keep sitting on my shelves unread. I did this challenge in 2015 and ended up getting rid of almost all the books I read for the challenge, which means I've carted around and found room for all those books that I didn't even end up liking. Before I move again, I need to reevaluate the books I'm bringing with me and make sure they're books I actually want.

Some books I'm considering: 

Anything on my Own-Unread shelf that I acquired prior to 2018.

At the start of 2018, here's where I stand as far as what books I own and what percentage of them I've read:

31% Acquired in 2016
17% Acquired in 2015
32% Acquired in 2014
50% Acquired in 2013
39% Acquired in 2012
75% Acquired in 2010-2011
83% Acquired in 2008-2009
85% Acquired in 2003-2007
96% Acquired in 2002 and earlier


Books Completed:

16. Amy Snow by Tracy Rees (2017)
15. Valley of the Kings by Cecelia Holland (2017)
14. Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier (2017)
13. The Magic Mirror by Susan Hill Long (2017)
12. The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley (2017)
11. The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley (2017)
10. The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley (2017)
9. The Reluctant Queen by Jean Plaidy (2015)
8. Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede (2016)
7. Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard (2017)
6. Penmarric by Susan Howatch (2017)
5. Another Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn (2012)
4. Epitaph for Three Women by Jean Plaidy (2015)
3. The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith (2017)
2. The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome by Jonathan Stokes (2017)
1. My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley (2017)



Books DNF'ed:

4. The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant (2015)
3. The Adventurers Guild by Zack Loran Clark (2017)
2. Forever, Again by Victoria Laurie (2016)
1. The Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution by Jonathan Stokes (2017)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2018 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge


15/15 books

Challenge Basics:  

Name: 2018 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
Hosts: Passages to the Past
Starts: January 1, 2018
Ends: December 31, 2018
Eligible Books: YA and adult historical fiction books. Non-fiction included.
Levels: I am going to try for 15 books

Why I'm Interested:  

Historical Bio: These are the weightier, meatier books that I want to make top priority. They go into detail about actual people and events and I'll learn the most from them. I've thrown in the non-fiction books onto this shelf, too. I've been toe-dipping into non-fiction, and I'd like to continue that toe-dip.

Historical Fantasy: These vary as far as actual historical learning goes. Some have a ton of historical detail, but most just use a historical setting. Some of my favorite books come from this shelf and I don't want to neglect them just because they're not heavy historical fiction.

Historical Lite: These are a lot like the books on my Historical Fantasy shelf, just without the fantasy elements. Usually they're mysteries or romances set with a historical backdrop of varying degrees of detail. They're often easy breezy, fun books and I want to make sure I read them as well.


Books Completed:

Historical Non-Fiction

5.
4.
3.
2. Queens of England by Norah Lofts
1. The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome by Jonathan Stokes

Historical Bio (fiction):

5. Valley of the Kings by Cecelia Holland
4. The Reluctant Queen by Jean Plaidy
3. Penmarric by Susan Howatch
2. Epitaph for Three Women by Jean Plaidy
1. My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley

Historical Fantasy:

2.
1.

Historical Lite:

7. Powder and Patch by Georgette Heyer
6. Amy Snow by Tracy Rees
5. The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
4. Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
3. Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard
2. The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley
1.The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley


DNF:

1.The Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution by Jonathan Stokes

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2018 Re-Read Challenge




Challenge Basics: 

Name: The Re-Read Challenge
Hosts: Belle of the Literati (in 2016)
Starts: January 1, 2018
Ends: December 31, 2018
Eligible Books: Books you've already read.

Why I'm Interested:  

I always feel guilty rereading books, but I also really enjoy rereading my old favorites. Especially when I'm feeling vulnerable to scared or sad or disoriented (which are all feelings that go along with Big New Changes, even when they're good). I also realized how much I like revisiting the books that made me happy. Also, I prefer listening to audiobooks of books I've already read.

So, I've been doing a little rereading last year, and I enjoyed it so much that I plan on continuing that this year.


Some books I'm considering:

My Special Shelf favorites, of course. Also, books I liked enough or am curious enough to re-listen to on audio.

Books Completed:

10.
9.
8.
7.
6.
5.
4.
3.
2.
1. Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde



Monday, January 1, 2018

2018 Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge




Challenge Basics: 

Name: Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge
Hosts: Me!
Starts: January 1, 2018
Ends: December 31, 2018
Goal: 15 books
Eligible Books: Books you acquire in 2018

Why I'm Interested:  

I'm not sure if anyone is actually hosting a challenge like this, but it's a challenge I'm giving myself, again. Last year I read a ton off books I acquired in 2017, and rather than feel bad about neglecting my previously owned books, instead I felt like I was accomplishing something with every new book I acquired and read. And I was!

Every year I participate in the Off the Shelf Challenge where I try to read as many books I own as possible. Downside? Those challenges don't count books you acquire during the challenge year, and I think they should! Sure, I know the goal is to read all those books that have been languishing year after year, but what about preventative measures? I think those should be rewarded, too!

(I feel like a health insurance plan)

So, enter my challenge. I'm going to try to make a dent in the books I get in 2018 and therefore whittle down my mountain of books remaining unread on my shelves in 2019.

Some books I'm considering: 

As many books from my Acquired 2018 shelf as possible. At the end of the year I'll compare how many books I acquired to how many books I've read from that list to see how well I've done. I'd like to shoot for reading/DNF-ing at least 15 books.


Books Completed:

15.
14.
13.
12.
11.
10.
9.
8.
7.
6. Powder and Patch by Georgette Heyer
5. The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
4. Freya and the Magic Jewel by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams
3. Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe by Preston Norton
2. Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell
1. Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell



Books DNF'ed: 

1.


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