Monday, September 29, 2014

REVIEW: Curtsies & Conspiracies: Finishing School Book the Second by Gail Carriger

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Sophronia is enjoying her time at Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy. In addition to learning a proper curtsy, she's also learned how to wield a letter opener to deathly effect. In this second book of the Finishing School series, the school is on the move—a trip to London to witness the very first transcontinental dirigible expedition, with possibly more to it than meets the eye. With Monique's coming out ball on the agenda, the recently botched kidnapping attempt on Dimity, and untoward advances from Viscount Mersey, Sophronia's certainly got her hands full if she's to make it through the school year.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, just as much as the first, if not more so. Ms. Carriger has build a wonderfully detailed steampunk world, abounding with dinghies, airships, gadgets, and mechanicals. Full of action and adventure, this book draws the reader in and doesn't let go. One thing I noted is that these books can easily stand alone if necessary. When a significant event would occur, one that relates to or depends on something that occurred in the previous book, the author neatly summarizes the event to bring the reader up to speed. So though you may have missed out on the excitement of said event the first time around, there's enough information given so a new reader is up to speed on current events, even if they haven't gotten to know the characters quite as well yet.

As I said in my review of Etiquette & Espionage, I love Sophronia's audacious character, and think all the major characters in this book are very well drawn. I'm very much looking forward to Waistcoats & Weaponry, the third book in the series, due to be released in November, but which I luckily have an advance readers copy of waiting right here. :)

Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, September 26, 2014

REVIEW: Etiquette & Espionage: Finishing School Book the First by Gail Carriger

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

When mischievous young Sophronia Temminnick is sent off to Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, she immediately envisions the worst—for she would much rather be climbing and dismantling mechanicals than learning how to be a lady. But coupled with the fine arts of social etiquette, dress, and dance, the girls are also trained in espionage, diversion and intelligence gathering. Insofar as Sophronia had expected to abhor the boarding school, housed in an air dinghy hovering over Dartmoor, she instead finds that she's quite enjoying her time there, thriving in an environment that seems to cater to her shenanigans. Danger ensues as Sophronia commissions some of her new friends in tracking down a mysterious prototype, and meets an odd assortment of gentlemen, flywaymen, and Picklemen along the way.

This was a fantastic read! I quite enjoyed the romp through this fantastical 19th century world, of dirigibles and air dinghies. The writing style was fairly fast paced, slowing down at times when extra description was needed, but otherwise moved along pretty quickly. There were elements of the supernatural as well, though they definitely didn't dominate the story. I loved Sophronia's character, her determination and fearlessness were inspiring. And the little mechanimal Bumbersnoot... awesome!

I've already started on Curtsies & Conspiracies, the second book in the series.

Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, September 22, 2014

REVIEW: The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan

My Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Revelation Dyer is descended from a long matriarchal line of New England witches, each with their own curious power. Revelation's power is that she can vanish into thin air, making her talent as a stage magician quite legendary. When her husband, famed magician Jeremy Maskelyne and the other half of her act, is killed in a freak accident—which turns out to be not quite an accident after all—Reve's life starts to fall apart. On the prompting of her grandmother, whom she fondly calls Nan, she does the only thing she can think of: gathers up her three daughters and returns home, to the small town of Hawley Five Corners, Massachusetts, an area where her ancestral magic runs strong. The little ghost town, residing on the edge of Hawley Forest, and next to it's larger Hawley neighbor, has quite a bit of controversy surrounding it, and it's own rich set of historical legends the locals are reticent to even talk about. But if Reve is to defeat the elusive enemy that's haunting her, she's going to need all the help she can get.

Wow, what an amazing, spectacular, spellbinding story! It gripped me from the moment I picked it up, and though I was excited to hear that there will be more Revelation stories to come, I'm sad I'll have to wait for them. Chrysler Szarlan has got some mad skills with world building and character development, a startling fact considering this is her debut novel. I found myself lost in the story for hours on end, difficult to put down.

This story was both haunting and magical, drawing the reader in with it's flowing prose and vivid descriptions. If I had to give any criticism at all, I'd say it's only that Reve frustrated me at times, with her reluctance to believe what was right in front of her, especially coming from a magical family as she did. I liked that the story took place primarily in Western Massachusetts as well as Las Vegas, both areas I'm familiar with, as I love feeling that connection with place that a story can evoke. I'm definitely looking forward to more!

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Ballantine Books for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

REVIEW: The Undays of Aralias Lyons by K. L. Horvath

My Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Aralias Lyons belongs to an eccentric family of Travelers living in 19th century England. When he meets Clara Heartwell, widowed wife of a famous archeologist, he discovers she holds a significant artifact that allows him to more precisely control time. Together they travel back in time—fighting iron dragons, poisonous marsiders, and clockwork men—in a desperate attempt to save Aralias's son Jack from the mind torture of the evil Simeon Bliss, a heinous megalomaniac with a potent desire for control and power.

This was an engrossing story, the world and its characters within detailed with vivid imagery. I'm a sucker for the Victorian age and the era in which this story takes place, of gears and steam engines and all manner of steampunk that goes along with it. Traveling through time with Aralias allows the reader to experience several different spaces in time, and always the author was full of lush, vivid descriptions that really pulled you into the story. I felt as one with Aralias, living his ever-changing life through his eyes in a whirlwind of time and space.

For all the good things it's got going for it, this book could've used a bit of editing to make the story flow smoother, and for that it lost a star. This wasn't an advance reader copy or uncorrected proof so there's really no excuse for all the grammatical errors I encountered. The improper use of commas—not only lacking in places where needed but also inserted in places where they weren't—would often throw me out of the story and force me to reread sentences or entire paragraphs to understand what the author was trying to communicate. These occurred often enough that I felt it worth the mention, especially since they weren't isolated. Other errors—the use of were instead of we're, or two characters speaking in the same paragraph—continued to unnerve and confuse me and snap me out of this otherwise extraordinary world the author created.

I received this book directly from the author in exchange for an honest review. I attempted to do it justice while pointing out areas I felt it was lacking. I sincerely hope Ms. Korvath considers hiring an editor for future works, because I really liked what she was putting out there, but the transference from words to paper needs to be tweaked a bit to make her story completely transcendent. (Who knows, perhaps she may even decide to edit and release an updated version of this e-book for future readers.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

REVIEW: Faerie Tales from the White Forest Omnibus by Danika Dinsmore

My Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

This omnibus contains the first three books of the Faerie Tales from the White Forest series: Brigitta of the White Forest, The Ruins of Noe, and Ondelle of Grioth. I am reviewing each book separately, and the star rating above is an average of the three.

Brigitta of the White Forest (Book 1) - 6 stars
Brigitta embarks on a bold journey to save her realm from the mysterious curse that has turned all the other faeries to stone. Accompanied by her sister Himalette, the only other who was spared the curse, the two leave the protection of the White Forest to seek help from a faerie banished to Dead Mountain long ago. What ensues is a grand adventure filled with menacing beasts and ominous danger. But with the help of some unlikely allies, the two might just be able to save the day.

The author does a lot of world building in this first volume, and thoughtfully included a lexicon at the end to further elaborate on the intricate details of this magical realm. It's indeed written with a young adult audience in mind, though learning the complexities of an entirely new world may be a bit intimidating to less experienced young readers.

One thing that disappointed me slightly is that I never fully connected with the main characters, even though I liked them well enough. While the author was wonderfully detailed in constructing this beautiful faerie realm, I didn't feel that same depth extended to the characters. Instead I felt more like a comrade traveling alongside them, never really experiencing the wonder of the land through their eyes, or feeling what they felt. Lacking that, I lost a level of intimacy and immersion that I often experience with other fantasy novels. I saw an Amazon reviewer mention a similar sentiment and noted that Ms. Dinsmore comes from a background in script writing, which probably explains this somewhat. In any case, I'm hoping to see the author gain her stride in later volumes and let us live this magical world more fully through her characters.

The Ruins of Noe (Book 2) - 7 stars
The faeries of the White Forest have begun to lose touch with the Ancients—baby faerie are born with eyes of crystal white, and the spirits of the deceased are no longer being dispersed. An ancient prophecy predicts these events, and foretells of the coming of a guiding light, which a single faery would call by name. And so it is that Brigitta recognizes the whisper light, which slipped through the protected perimeter surrounding their realm, and becomes the one referenced in the prophecy. Brigitta and High Priestess Ondelle travel to the valley of Noe, the original home of the Ancients, in order to seek the means to make the elemental balance right again.

I liked this second book a bit better than the first as there was more action and danger. I started to feel a bit more connected to Brigitta too, even though I still feel as if the author is writing from the outside looking in instead of living in her characters' skins more fully—she tends to describe actions and places with a lot of detail but really scrimps on the feelings of the characters. If that characteristic of her writing style was changed, I could easily see this series moving up into 8 or 9 star territory.

Ondelle of Grioth (Book 3) - 8 stars
Brigitta has absorbed HP Ondelle's air energy and is learning to control it, but finds she's now being bombarded with the former High Priestess's memories as well—memories that are speaking to her, leading her to a destiny she does not yet fully understand. With the whole of Faweh still not in balance, several daunting tasks remain if their way of life in the White Forest is to be preserved. With her destiny spread out before her, Brigitta is leading the charge.

I was left with a feeling of awe as I finished this third book in the series. On the one hand, the awe-inspiring wilderness of the terrain thru which Brigitta and her friends traveled—cold and beautiful at times, hot and deadly at others—and the vividness with which the author describes them, makes you feel as if you're traveling right there along with Brigitta and her friends. On the other hand, their most important journey wasn't fully complete at the close of this book, so I was also thinking, "awww must I really wait until Summer of 2015 for the next book to be released?"

I still didn't get into Brigitta's head as much as I'd have liked to, but by now I became used to being more of a traveling companion alongside her rather than feeling like I was seeing this world through her own eyes. The fact that I still give this book 8 stars (or 4 for Amazon/Goodreads) goes to show how great I think the rest of the story is here. I am sure that despite that single shortcoming (which I've pointed out above), this will be one of those books that stays with me for awhile. Certainly, I hope, long enough for me to remember everything by the time I pick up the 4th book next summer.

*I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Sunday, September 07, 2014

REVIEW: The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Seventeen-year-old Olivia Mead is a headstrong young lady living in Portland, Oregon in the year 1900. Women of this period were expected to be silent, docile, and nurturing, without a voice in government or much say at all as to what goes on around them. The suffrage movement is in full swing and Olivia stands firmly on that side of the camp, very much in favor of women's rights, and very much in opposition to her overly domineering father.

Dear old dad—the local dentist who strikes fear in the local community by inflicting pain on his patients with his myriad dental torture devices—decides to have the rebelliousness hypnotized right out of Olivia by Henri Reverie, the intriguing young hypnotist who's recently come to town. But what Henri gives to Olivia isn't necessarily quite what the doctor ordered. Instead he gives her the gift to see the world as it really is, and see people's true natures. Suddenly, Olivia is seeing things she shouldn't—ordinary people who now look like vampires or fiends, women in cages, brilliant lights like halos around certain individuals—and the visions she's having only make her all the more determined to speak her mind.

This was a fascinating story, vividly real and overflowing with the atmosphere of a significant turning point in American history. It really opened my eyes to the suffragist movement taking place during this time as it was a subject I knew very little about, and of which I remembered next to nothing from my high school and college studies. I've discovered that I do much better remembering historical facts—dates, times, location, important people—when said facts have a story surrounding them. Dull, dry facts taken in alone readily vacate my mind, while weaving a story around them allows them to linger. The mind is an amazing thing—the way certain brains only retain knowledge for the long term when taken in in a particular way. I've experienced this over and over again through various other novels that take place during significant periods in time—95% of them have actually been among the best books I've read, current title definitely included.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

REVIEW: The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

My Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Mookie Pearl is a thug—a bald, hulking brute of a man that works for the Organization, the syndicated crime ring that runs New York City. He's a harsh, gruff ruffian, and at first, I thought I wouldn't care for his character at all, but as the story progressed and I got a bit more insight into his character, I found beneath his brash exterior an endearing and admirable set of morals that can't help but endear him to any reader, no matter how rough he is around the edges.

The Organization, in addition to defining territories and providing extra protection to the smaller above ground gangs, is also responsible for controlling the flow of Blue, a trendy, underground pigment-based drug that's tapped from the veins of prehistoric schist found in the Great Below. In addition to increased strength and endurance, Blue gives the user the ability to see the true form of the monsters living among us, hidden in human guise to anyone not riding the Blue Blazes.

The story moves swiftly as we traverse the deep underbelly of the Great Below, running across goblins, ghosts, wraiths, daemons, snake-men, and all sorts of other monsters. But what gets under Mookie's skin most of all is his own teenage daughter Nora—street name Persephone—who decides she wants a piece of the pie and is determined to undermine the Organization, taking her father down with them, while they're at their weakest.

This was an action-packed book, full of monsters, mobsters and plenty of cussing. It's the first in the Mookie Pearl series, with the follow-up, The Hellshound Bride, due to be released at the beginning of 2015. I'm already looking forward to it! :)