What can I say about Midnight Thief that hasn't already been said in pretty much every review I've already read for this book?
Not much. For once, my opinion seems to align with the norm. Hooray! It's nice to be able to join the popular crowd's table once in a while.
I just wish that didn't mean I ended up disliking the book. Because, oh boy, I did NOT like this book.
So, echoing practically everyone, I loved the set up—assassins, thieves, magic, hate-turned-love—basically all the ingredients of a perfect book. And, after reading the prequel novella and loving it, I figured it was a pretty safe bet I'd love Midnight Thief to pieces.
Wrong, wrong, oh so wrong. Sure the ingredients are great, but you can't make a great cake with expired and low-grade ingredients.
(Though, I was just recently fed a sweet potato casserole that was made, unbeknownst to me until AFTER I had consumed a far-too-large portion, with milk that had expired a month ago and miraculously was not spoiled. It was actually the best sweet potato casserole I've had, so I dodged food poisoning and came out ahead, which is completely undermining my analogy here. But, anyway.)
Or, in the case of a book, you can't make a good story with mediocre world building, hollow cliches, weak writing, and (the gravest sin of all) bland, stupid characters.
The final straw for me was when orphan-helping thief (yet righteously pure, can you tell she irritated me?) Kyra joins the assassins' guild because she'll get paid a lot but then rants and gripes about how killing is wrong and all the members of the assassins' guild are evil meanies. Please, I'm picking up a book about thieves and assassins because I want them to be badass thieves and assassins. I don't want Sister Superior (irrationally and hypocritically) raining on my parade for 368 pages.
(So, no, unlike old milk, apparently, there is no hope for books with rotten ingredients.)
There's apparently a twist at around the 3/4 mark that redeems things (to a point, so I hear), but I couldn't bring myself to push through to that point. I DNF-ed a third of the way in and although I keep getting lured in by the siren song of that premise, I'm quickly reminded of all the reasons why I DNF-ed in the first place and the urge to pick it up again is squelched. WANTING this book to be something more than it is just doesn't make it so.
If I were (a lot) younger and hadn't had my expectations bar set super high by the awesome novella, I might have actually liked Midnight Thief. Maybe. At least, more than I did. I probably would have at least finished it.
As it is, nope. Go back to the drawing board, clean up the writing issues, flesh out the world, and develop those characters! Midnight Thief could have been so much more.
Oh gosh, I can't believe the time. Is it, yes, it's 12:36 AM and I really should have gone to sleep already but I've...moreOriginally posted on Small Review
Oh gosh, I can't believe the time. Is it, yes, it's 12:36 AM and I really should have gone to sleep already but I've spent the past hour sobbing and trying to read through tears is a little slower than normal reading. But it was so worth it. This book is perfection. Full review to come.
You ARE the wind beneath my wings!
Ten Tissues on the Beaches Scale of Friendship
At first I really wasn't interested in this book. I mean, the bonds of friendship between two women? Where's the swoon in that? But not everything in life has to revolve around romance, and Code Name Verity is a perfect example of a book that does just fine without a swoony lead (though there is a smidge of romance with one of the women and a secondary guy...and it's very nice).
Now we're going to take a detour down my personal memory lane because this is the only way I know how to describe the friendship in Code Name Verity. Bear with me (or skip ahead).
When I was young I had a best friend and we were tight. At one point my mother remarked that we were like Barbara Hershey and Bette Middler in Beaches. I was the quiet Barbara Hershey character, my friend was a loud attention-grabbing singer. And, of course, just like happens in Beaches, I imagined our friendship spanning all of life's essential events like divorce, failed careers, and terminal heart disease (yes, this corresponded perfectly with my Lurlene McDaniel "Dying of cancer is the epitome of romantic" phase).
Little did my mother realize, but with that simple statement she sparked off my obsessive love with Beaches and the accompanying theme song Wind Beneath My Wings. Seriously, obsessed. I still tear up if I hear that song.
So now I judge the strength of all fictional friendships on the Beaches Scale of Friendship (1-10 Tissues with Ten Tissues being a perfect score of heart-breakingly amazing friendship. For another frame of reference, Anne Shirely and Diana Barry score a perfect 10, too).
Code Name Verity is easily a perfect Ten Tissues, which is saying something because I don't give out a perfect 10 lightly (even Harry, Ron, and Hermione, while very high, don't get a perfect 10). Code Name Verity begs the question, "What would YOU do for someone you loved?" and I wonder if I could do what they did.
Remember that sad ending?
I'm issuing the Do Not Read in Public warning
Ok, I admit it, I'm a tad emotional when it comes to reading. I tend to really get into things. And I cry, easily. But I don't think I've cried this much in a long time. Think Plain Kate kind of crying, but more. Think first pet dying kind of crying.
I cried here and there throughout most of the book, but mostly it was the kind of crying where I get a lump in my throat and kind of choke up a little but can pass it off as allergies just acting up a little and honestly I'm totally fine.
But then I pretty much sobbed straight through the final 50 or so pages. And at that point it was WAY past when I should have gone to sleep so I tried to force myself to fall asleep but instead I ended up crying for about another hour. And then I cried the next day. And then the day after that. Whenever I thought about everything that had happened, particularly THAT SCENE, I just lost it.
So there you go. You've been warned.
It's NOT a kissing book?!
Wait, I don't know if I like this genre
I'm a big historical fiction fan, but usually I don't like reading books set during WWII because they usually focus on one of two things: Hiding Jewish people in attics or women doing really anachronistic stuff (more on THAT later). The first subject is ok, but I think I pretty much got my fill of that in grade school.
Plus there was also the whole lack of romance factor and I was afraid I wouldn't like Verity because the blurb made it sound like she was a rotten traitor. So I wasn't really sure if Code Name Verity was for me.
But forget all that. Code Name Verity is genre transcending. It's like Lolita where, even though the subject matter is a guy who lusts after a little girl, you don't actually have to be into that to appreciate the book. Not that there's pedophilia in Code Name Verity (there isn't), it's just that, this isn't the kind of book where you can look at the blurb and decide whether or not the genre is for you.
Instead, you need to ask yourself if you like books that are powerful, heart-wrenching, and memorable. Books that creep up on you and before you know it they're a part of you. Books that make you feel and books that make you want to drop everything and make sure all your loved ones know how much you care for them. Books with impact. Books that go beyond.
I'm also issuing the Nabokovian Puzzle Prize
The whole first half of the book is written in code! And it's not a super obvious code either (but you can figure out most of it, and no, it's not quite Nabokov, but who is?).
There are red herrings galore and a ton of things are said but they actually mean something different. It was so much fun puzzling through all these bits and trying to discern Verity's true messages amid all of her storytelling and false leads.
There was also one bit that was major foreshadowing and as soon as I remembered it (right before THAT scene), my stomach dropped to the floor because I suddenly knew what was about to happen. That made it about a million times worse and heart breaking (and by worse, I mean awesome storytelling).
After Bilbo has his five hour long birthday, they go on a quest!
Give it time for the slow burn
This is a slow burn book, but the burn is a little hard to see at first. I can see how the beginning might turn readers off because it is slower and the point of it all isn't really clear for a while.
BUT, don't give up. Stick with it and I PROMISE it will all make sense. And once you get to THAT scene, well, you'll see.
Looks will only get you so far, Russell
But is it historically accurate?
I mentioned earlier that I really dislike it when authors put women in historically inaccurate roles, and with a female pilot as one of the main leads and a female spy as the other, I was really worried Elizabeth Wein was going to disappoint me.
But she didn't! She did her research (down to ball point pens!) and thankfully my eye never had to twitch.
Not only are the characters grounded in realistic roles, but I also appreciated that she focused on slightly different things than every other WWII book under the sun. Now, I'll issue another warning here, but really, if you're reading WWII books and if you saw my previous warning about not reading this book in public, well, you should pretty much expect disturbing stuff.
Because WWII? VERY disturbing. Elizabeth Wein doesn't even focus on the more usual WWII disturbing fare like starvation and battle that, as horrifying as they are, have lost a bit of sting due to the fact that we've been so exposed to them. Oh no, she brings the spotlight onto atrocities like torture, Nacht und Nebel and hints at the "scientific experimentation" crimes committed by Mengele and others.
I am absolutely in love with this book! It is firmly on my Special Shelf and as soon as I finished I added more of Elizabeth Wein's books to my TBR, because I need more. I'm such a character girl, and Elizabeth Wein totally delivers when it comes to crafting so-vivid-they-could-be-real characters.
Code Name Verity is also one of those YA books that can easily be read by adults (they may not even realize it's YA). I've already ordered a copy for my library with a particular adult patron in mind, and there's a waiting list of both YA and adult patrons after her (I gush even more about the books I love at work than I do on here, if you can believe it).
Because this is the kind of book I can't help but gush about. I want to buy a million copies and give them to everyone I know. I also made sure my mother and sister both added Code Name Verity to their lists and you'd better believe I'll be book pushering this one on all of you, too.
And why was my review so vague? Because you need to experience this book as it unfolds.
The story starts out with Justina waking up in a ditch with no memory of wha...moreOriginally posted at Small Review.
I almost DNF-ed after the first chapter
The story starts out with Justina waking up in a ditch with no memory of what happened the night before. But she very quickly begins alluding to events from the previous night, so she sort of does remember. And then she does remember. Confusing? Yeah, I was confused, too.
To make it even more confusing, Justina's first person narration started out relating the events in a broken, cryptic, half-explained manner (frequently noting "but I'm getting ahead of myself" and then dropping that train of thought!) and I had NO CLUE what was going on.
I wanted to shake her and tell her to just spit it out already--COHERENTLY! I don't like feeling lost as to what is going on in a story, so the whole first chapter really bugged me. I almost DNF-ed right there.
Like a teen movie
But I WAS intrigued so I kept reading and I'm glad I did. Once Justina gets to the 7-11 and starts telling her story to the cashier, the story picks up and the narrative smooths out a lot. I wasn't confused anymore.
At this point I totally felt like I had been sucked into a teen romantic comedy movie. Even the narrative style (tone and execution) made me think "MOVIE SCRIPT." This is a good thing. I love those kinds of movies, and I loved this book version just as much.
It goes something like this
The book alternates between the present in the 7-11 and the events of the night before.
The 7-11 chapters are short and serve as little interludes where the 7-11 cashier and, later, one of the customers who stays to listen, chime in with their opinions and sympathy. I liked these sections and they made me feel like I was another random person who stopped to listen to Justina tell her crazy story.
I also liked how these chapters provided a frame for the plot to work within. Justina's story can be mapped by the stains on her dress, and each interlude nudged Justina toward explaining how she got every stain, rip, and bruise (and tattoo).
Between each of these interludes is a larger chapter chronicling a part of Justina's prom night. These parts were the meat of the story.
Since I knew Justina ends her night alone, dumped out of a car, and hating the guy she was supposed to be in love with, my curiosity was super high. I read these chapters with rapt attention, trying to piece together the events of her evening and guess how she ended up where she did. It was almost like a mystery, complete with clues, red herrings, and suspects.
Feeling sorry for yourself? Read this book
I decided to pick up Ditched because I was in one of those two-ice-cream-tubs pity party moods. I put on my pajamas, curled up in bed, grabbed a chocolate bar and settled into Justina's tale. It was perfect. Perfect.
Ditched made me smile and laugh out loud. I commiserated with Justina and snacked on junk food right along with her. I groaned out loud as her night went from bad to unbelievably worse. I grinned with fluffy happiness when the most unexpected people came through for her. Ditched was exactly what I was looking for.
After the rocky start, Ditched held my interest completely. The story moved along at a good pace with pieces of the puzzle coming together in each chapter. Ditched is a standalone.
Ditched is Robin Mellom's first book and already I can't wait to see what she writes next. Definitely a good pick if you're looking for a fun romantic comedy. Only drawback is that the guy is absent from the story for a large chunk of the book, but, don't worry, Justina more than makes up for that.
Ok, so here’s the thing: Desi? I didn’t like her all that much in Princess for Hire. She was ok, but her bratty “I’m going to impact the prince...moreRewind
Ok, so here’s the thing: Desi? I didn’t like her all that much in Princess for Hire. She was ok, but her bratty “I’m going to impact the princesses’ lives and consequences be damned!” kick was really starting to bug me. I mean, ok, maybe I’m an old fogey, but I just wanted her to buckle down and listen to her elders because it was only through the grace of author convenience that Desi managed to not only get away with her antics scott free, but she also had the exact desired consequence happen every time when these consequences were so not the likely result.
But, whatever, the story overall was great and the last time I fell this hard for a pink sparkly world was when I begged my parents for Barbie’s Dream House and the My Little Pony castle (I got the Dream House, but no dice on the castle. Freaking Santa. Choose one? What do you think the giant sack is for??)
The world it is a changin’
Ahem, where was I? Oh, right, the pink sparkly world. That world just got even more awesome in The Royal Treatment. I’m talking promotions, and ya know what that means? A gift basket of designer clothes, a royal suite bubble, and makeup that can turn you into Mary Poppins, for starters. How freaking cool is that? I mean, ok, Mary Poppins might seem like a super prim choice, but I would totally rock that carpet bag (do you have any idea how many books I could pack in that thing?)
But that agency has some secrets behind all that glitter and rouge and, you know, I’m totally dying to find out all about those secrets. Unlike Desi, I really don’t care about learning more so I can set right any wrongs. My desire is fueled purely by the urge to snoop and gossip. Have you ever read a gossip magazine and even though a part of you knows you should be doing something more worthwhile with your time, a louder part of you just wants to gush and gasp over celebrity scandals? That’s totally how I feel. Desi can handle the altruism. I just want to vicariously play with magic makeup and learn juicy secrets.
Ok, ok, I’m not totally shallow
Yeah, whatever, I kind of am, but Desi isn’t and her desire to do good deeds was admirable. In the first book I liked her idea of helping the royals, but I really didn’t love her approach. But now? She’s so much better. I would totally let her sit at my lunch table now. She’s still all about the impacting, which, really, it’s a pretty honorable goal, but she’s finally learned to consider the consequences of her actions. Hallelujah! There’s even this one part where she gets to experience a taste of her own medicine from book one. I admit, I may have been delighting in her frustration just a little bit. Ok, ok, I was practically gloating, but it looks like Desi’s learned her lessons now. I’m so proud of her.
Even more win
I can’t not mention Meredith. Meredith is Desi’s agent and she is made of win. She was so cool in the first book and her awesomeness just rose even higher in book two. I guess falling in love really can improve a person. I miss her power suits though. Plus, there was this totally epic snipe-fest between Meredith and a real witch of an agent, aptly named Lilith. Meredith lobbed some blows that would make the cafeteria cry “oooooh you just got owned!” Bottom line: Meredith = Awesome.
The romance kicked up a notch, but it’s still totally PG. Things are of the “Too perfect to be real” variety, but I’m not complaining. It’s cute and sweet and it makes me smile. Who needs reality? We also get to see a lot more of Desi’s regular life and I have to say, I was almost as enthralled with her school play as I was with her princess subbing.
Please let there be another book (soon!)
Like the first book, The Royal Treatment ends neatly. There are a few things left open to be explored in a sequel, but all of the main plot points have been resolved. You really should read Princess for Hire first because events from that book are referenced frequently enough here that it would spoil the first book for you.
I highly recommend this book, especially if you’re looking for something reminiscent of a Disney movie with a light and sweet tone and a cute message. Even though the story wrapped up nicely, I’m dying to read the next book (please, please let there be a next book!) because I want to dive back into the world of princess subbing.
I enjoyed the first book in the series (The Ghost and the Goth, review), so I was super excited when I found out the...moreOriginally posted at Small Review
I enjoyed the first book in the series (The Ghost and the Goth, review), so I was super excited when I found out there was going to be a sequel. The first book ends well as a standalone, but this second book relies enough on the events of the first that you shouldn't read the sequel until after you've read the first book.
The Ghost and the Goth tackled serious issues with a good dose of levity, and that same winning combination is here as well. Alona provides mean-girl snark but still manages to be completely lovable. Will is a lot more sure of himself now and seems to be in the process of taking control of his life again. Both characters grow a lot throughout this book and it is their growth that adds a depth to the series that isn't really hinted at on the covers. It was nice to fall back into the swing of things with this pair. They work so well together; I could happily read many more books featuring them.
...Which brings me to the biggest downside of Queen of the Dead: Alona and Will's relationship. The book opens with the two of them together, tentatively feeling out (literally, though maybe not so tentatively then) a romantic relationship. The first few chapters are absolutely perfect! Wow, who knew PG/PG-13 kissing could be so hot?? Even though they're together, they still maintain a love-hate relationship that sizzles.
The honeymoon ends far too quickly though, and instead of getting a book full of Alona-Will goodness, most of the time they don't even share page time. Huge, teasing disappointment.
Instead, Will spends a lot of time with Mina, a ghost-talker like Will. I understand why Will wants to spend time with Mina--she's a ghost-talker AND she has connections to his father, but, ugh, I so hated her. I bonded majorly with Alona over our shared dislike of Mina.
While Will is being a traitorous meanie (ok, so I'm biased), Alona spends her time getting into trouble. Alona is a strong personality and she can totally stand on her own without Will (can you tell how much I love Alona? She's a BFF character for sure), but boy does she know how to make a mess of things. These parts were fun because she just kept digger her hole deeper and deeper. I enjoyed her scenes a lot more than the Will/Mina scenes.
I should probably mention that the book alternates chapters between Will's perspective and Alona's perspective. Both voices are completely distinct and the dual narration does a really good job in allowing the reader to connect with the characters when they're talking and also see another side of them through each other's eyes. It also helps events move along at a nice pace and teases you to keep reading ahead.
The story itself is good, but I wanted a little more. The first book had more of a mystery than this one. Honestly though, this isn't a series that I read for the plot. I read it because I love the characters and the world of ghost-talkers. We do gain more insight into ghost-talkers in this book, but our understanding is still tantalizingly incomplete. We also learn that Will's dad had a whole lot of secrets that Will is only beginning to uncover.
I'm not sure how I feel about the resolution. It's, well, I can't really say anything without giving away spoilers, but I'm not sure I like it. I trust Stacey, though, so I'm holding out judgement on that until after I see how she handles it in book three.
This one is wrapped up pretty well, so I'm not sure what the blurb is talking about with a "killer cliffhanger." This isn't really a cliffhanger--killer or otherwise. I mean, there's definitely more to Will and Alona's story, but this main story arc is wrapped up just fine. That doesn't mean I'm not still impatiently awaiting the next book, because I so am! If you liked The Ghost and the Goth, then definitely check out Queen of the Dead.