Sometimes I'm in the mood for a cute, fluffy YA romance and that is exactly what Red Girl, Blue Boy gave me. Part of the "If Only" series of standalone romances, this installment focuses on Kat (the Republican candidate's daughter) and Drew (the Democrat candidate's son) and their adorable hate-turned-love-turned-hate-turned love romance.
I was a little worried politics would dominate this book, but Lauren Baratz-Logsted did a stellar job including enough of a political backdrop to make the premise feel relevant, but played it pretty neutral when it came to actual politics. It shouldn't really matter what side of the political spectrum the reader falls on when it comes to enjoying the story.
The chapters alternate between Drew and Kat's first-person narratives and their voices are both distinct and likable. Kat reminded me of Caroline Forbes from The Vampire Diaries or Elle Wood from Legally Blonde. She's an up-beat go-getter who definitely marches to the beat of her own drummer. Her loneliness and disconnect from kids her own age was sad and really made me feel for her. I couldn't help but like her.
Drew was sweet and likable, but I more liked him for how he treated Kat. He was definitely good for her and I was so happy to see him get her and help her out when no one else did. Kat's secret service man was another nice addition and it was sweet seeing the three of them together.
The book isn't perfect, but it fell short in the ways this genre of book always falls short for me. The premise was pretty contrived and unbelievable. The extent of Kat's cluelessness was over the top for the sake of the plot. The staged misunderstandings were obvious and the big save at the end came out of nowhere.
But none of that matters. I don't read these books to scrutinize the plot or character development. I read them to latch onto characters I can enjoy spending a few hours with as I swoon over their will-they-won't-they (they totally will) romance. And for that purpose, Red Girl, Blue Boy definitely delivered.
3.5 stars. Not my favorite maid, but still an enjoyable read. The final 30 pages really ratcheted up my interest and now I wish the next book was abou3.5 stars. Not my favorite maid, but still an enjoyable read. The final 30 pages really ratcheted up my interest and now I wish the next book was about Sophia.
The first book follows Meg. I like Meg. She's feisty, theatrical, dramatic, and a super spy. The second book follows Beatrice. I like Beatrice. She's a mean girl with heart, and all the sass and sympathy that goes along with that. Both of their romances were swoony with great guys.
This third book follows Sophia. Sophia is a dishrag. She's meek, weak, and oh so boring. Her romance was weird and I still don't get it. Though, for a brief time there in the paranormal beyond world (that I also still don't understand) it was smoldering with potential.
The plot also felt like it wandered all over the place with no purpose. I know things happened, and if I try to recite events I can do it, and some events are actually even great, but I still can't shake this overwhelming feeling of nothing is happening, even though that isn't even true. I think it's just that I didn't care because whatever was happening was happening to Sophia and Sophia is boring.
Bottom line: Chalk this one up to me just disliking Sophia. I'm still excited to read the next book in the series (especially if it's Jane's book, because Jane is badass).
The books that follow Goddess Girls outside of the core four have been somewhat hit and miss (above) with me. Pheme iOriginally posted on Small Review
The books that follow Goddess Girls outside of the core four have been somewhat hit and miss (above) with me. Pheme is definitely a hit. Her gossipy nature is shown in both a positive and negative light, allowing Pheme to learn from her mistakes while also embracing her strengths. Her interactions with the core four were entertaining and I definitely aw-ed a number of times. Pheme is total sleepover party material and hope we get more books focusing on her....more
One Witch at a Time is a companion novel to Stacy DeKeyser's The Brixen Witch, but it can easily read as a standalone (I haven't read TBW and I didn't feel like I was missing anything).
I'm going to start off this review with my only real gripe: The cover needs to be changed. Main character Rudi is a boy and One Witch at a Time can easily appeal to boys just as much as girls.
But that cover? Total girl cover. Boys are unlikely to pick up this book, and that's a shame. The cover is also super misleading—think it's about two girl witches? Think again! The story has nothing to do with that. It is also written in a classic, timeless tone, which also contrasts with the spunky modern cover.
One Witch at a Time reads like a classic '90s era middle grade book. Think books like The Cay, My Side of the Mountain, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. Staples of English classroom shelves. Books with solid stories and staying power. Books with awards on their covers.
The story itself is a loose twist on the Jack and the Beanstalk tale but with a ton of original elements and characters thrown into the mix. Male and female characters are given equal weight and the camaraderie among them was pleasant to read. Rudi is a good boy with good morals and multiple positive relationships. The story moves at a nice, steady pace—never rushing, but never slow either.
The resolution takes the same steady pace, wrapping up without much fuss but still managing not to feel anticlimactic. I figured out the end very early on, but I don't think this would be a problem for the target audience (younger middle grade).
A solid choice for school libraries and middle grade readers. Remove the awful, misleading dust jacket and be sure to share this one with boys as well as girls. Recommended.
I picked this one up on impulse because it was short and I really liked Susan Higginbotham's Wars of the Roses book The Queen of Last Hopes.
While The Queen of Last Hopes is primarily a historical novel with a bit of romance, Hugh and Bess is a love story set with a fairly detailed historical backdrop. It was a nice toe-dip for learning about the historical time period and I'm now even more interested in learning about that time (England during the time of Edward III), but I definitely need to seek out more books to get the whole story. But, like I said, this is more of a romance.
What type of romance? Fluffy, sweet, clean, hate-turned-love. Actually, it could fit right in with the Proper Romance series. I liked this book. I laughed, cried, and swooned, though I was never gripped by it. It's a solid Good Book.
Bottom line: I'd grab a cozy sweater, comfortable chair, and crackling fire and give Hugh and Bess a reread.
I guess you'd call this a sequel to Maid of Secrets, but I'd say it's more of a companion novel and either can be read first. Each book in this series focuses on a different maid of honor in Elizabeth I's court, and Maid of Deception follows Beatrice.
Beatrice is, on the surface, the pretty mean girl of the group who uses her good looks and charms to ferret out secrets for the queen. Meg (the main character in Maid of Secrets) didn't get along with Beatrice very much, but I liked her a whole lot. Jennifer McGowan develops Beatrice's personality well and makes her a character that stands out from the more stereotypical Meg and, for me, made her even more likable.
There's a lot less action in this book as compared to the first (torture! intrigue!) so as far as plot goes the first is stronger. But, I liked Beatrice more and her romance was much more up my alley. So, character girl that I am, I had no trouble staying engaged and I liked this book just as much and possibly even more than the first.
Jennifer McGowan's Maids of Honor series is exactly the type of series I like. It's almost like a comfort read series for me and it's twice now gotten me out of reading slumps. Historical lite, with romance, intrigues, mysteries, political balancing, a tiny touch of paranormal, and likable characters. It's a light series, and despite the high page counts of the books, they're still super fast reads. I can see myself re-reading these books and I'm definitely going to read all of the books as they come out. I just really wish they had different covers.
While this is a series that isn't completely published yet, the nature of the stories (each following a new maid of honor and wrapping up her story) makes it so you can easily read the books as standalones as they are published with no fear of cliffhangers or fading memory.
I requested this book for review because it is part of the Proper Romance series (standalone clean historical romances) and Blackmoore is also part of that series. Since I loved Blackmoore and I'm desperate for more like it, I hoped A Heart Revealed would be a good bet.
This is one of those sighing books. You know, the kind where you pause in reading over a scene to sigh in happiness. The kind where you clutch it to your chest after turning the final page and sigh in satisfaction. The kind where you think about little scenes after the fact and sigh with joy.
I was hoping for that, and I was very happy to get it.
What I wasn't expecting at all was the non-romantic sub-plot to grab my attention so strongly. Amber has a fall from grace, but I never in a million years would have guessed these circumstances. They were so different and so horrifying and I was completely sucked into Amber's plight.
Her situation also leads to some serious character changes, and I found myself almost rooting for the situation to get worse and worse (and it does) just so I could see Amber triumph over these hurdles. Another surprise for me was how important the friendship relationship became. I was just as invested in Amber's rocky but blossoming friendship as I was with her romance and her personal journey.
As much as I love reading about romance, I don't typically like it when the entire plot revolves around the romance, so I was both surprised and pleased to find A Heart Revealed stands up well in both the romantic and non-romantic parts. If the romance were completely removed, this story would still stand strongly on its own.
But the romance? Definitely swoony. The reading scene and the tea scene, sigh, sigh, sigh. Those were scenes to savor and reread (and I have).
So why not a full 5 out of 5 stars? Well, Amber's transformation was a little unbelievable at times, and this is in part because a lot of her personal journey takes place off stage. I wish that part had been fleshed out a bit more, but clearly it didn't affect my enjoyment much.
I'm now a big fan of the Proper Romance series and very interested in reading more. Each book is a standalone story with totally different characters. I wish they were more easily identified in a list somewhere.
(I'm also now super paranoid about my hair, which will make more sense when you read the book.)
This is another one of my experimental forays into historical non-fiction, and unfortunately this is another book that takes more of the "academic" approach.
Instead of quotes and historian comparisons, David Starkey's narrative does flow nicely and he does offer his own opinion on what is The Truth (more on that soon). So, that's good.
The reason I'd classify this in the more academic group is because of the structure of the book. Each chapter deals with a different faction or major influence on Henry, but there is only the loosest of timelines followed and huge amounts of information are left out.
That's not a criticism on the book itself, because this is not a 101 level book and so it's assumed the reader already has knowledge of all the major chronological high points. And, for the most part, I did.
So why the problem? Chalk it up to my personal preference. I'm a reader who likes things repeated. I don't like this approach of delving into the details and foregoing the greater context, even if I know the greater context. Yes, the trees are nice, but I want to focus on the details of the trees without losing the context of the forest. I think that makes the details hit harder and the momentum and tension build to greater heights. But, hey, I also prefer novels.
Points for teaching me about the various factions influencing Henry and really driving home the point that the manipulations going on in Henry's court were downright scary! While none of the factions explored were new or surprising, I really liked the deeper look into them and this gave so much more background to the long string of wives (and why they were toppled). I also really liked his treatment of Wolsey.
Still, despite all that, I couldn't help wanting more out of everything. But, that's as much a compliment to David Starkey as it is a complaint.
I've heard David Starkey can be pompous, and I definitely saw why people have lodged that complaint. He injected his own commentary and bias here and there, and while I think it was supposed to come across as smugly funny (oooh look how offensive I can be!) it came across to me as more forced and flat. So, I'm not offended like some other readers, but I'm not impressed by these witticisms either.
Will I read more David Starkey? Well, I own a copy of his biography on Elizabeth I, so I'll at least be giving that a try. Overall, he definitely knows his subject matter very well and while I don't love the way he chose to present it, this approach may in part be due to the nature of this book. He also wrote a mammoth book on Henry's wives, so that may be more what I'm looking for.
I don't have much to say about this book. I read it a while back and then stalled on the review, to the point where I don't really remember all that much. Which, I guess, says a lot in and of itself. As an entry in The Royal Diaries series, this one isn't bad, but it didn't really stand out much either. Given their short length (made even shorter by the diary format and big historical notes section padding out the back end) and overall solid recounting of history, I don't think it's ever a waste of time to read a Royal Diaries book, this one included. That said, I enjoyed Carolyn Meyer's take on Mary in The Wild Queen a lot more. ...more
I've been dipping my toes into historical non-fiction lately, and I'm quickly learning to group these books into two personal categories: Narrative (more or less straight historical recounting) and Academic (themes and lots of quotes from other people). I very much like the first group, but I'm rapidly learning I could do without the latter.
Unfortunately for me, The Woodvilles is more the latter. There was a whole lot of "According to so and so...[insert long quote]" and I found myself skipping over the quotes almost entirely the more I read.
I'd rather do the comparisons between historians myself, at least at this point, and I'd rather the author quietly do their research and then present to me a straight narrative of their findings. I don't really like the whole, "Well, this historian thought this, but it's countered by this other historian with this diary entry we've since found..." And The Woodvilles had a whole lot of that.
There was also a lot of themed chapters that touched on highlights of the Woodvilles' lives, but skipped over a lot of the general historical timeline. This wasn't awful, since the chapters were laid out more or less chronologically, but it did remove some of the oomph of certain moments (like Jacquetta's witchcraft trial).
I also got the impression that there just was not enough known historical fact to really flesh out an entire book, so there was a lot of "probably, maybe, possibly" and a few scenes were repeated far too often (yesh, I get it, the Woodville men were "judged" by the Yorks!)
On the positive side, I did learn some things (though not nearly enough—possible limitation of the subject matter?), and that just further supports my already positive feelings toward Susan Higginbotham. Also, when she's not quoting other people, I really do like her writing style.
Points too for providing a more sympathetic approach to the Woodvilles (though it seemed at times perhaps a little too sympathetic? Especially when there really didn't seem to be enough historical data in some situations to back up either a sympathetic or hostile approach). This last was especially nice to see and makes me even more of a Susan Higginbotham fan given she has also written sympathetically from the Lancastrian side. Yay for balance!
So, will I read more of Susan Higginbotham's fiction? Absolutely! Will I read more of her non-fiction (if she writes more)? Eh, likely not. Or, I'd at least flip through it first to see how many block quotes there are and go from there.
Is it too early to call the Biggest Disappointment of 2015?
Because Silver in the Blood is the forerunner right now anOriginally posted on Small Review
Is it too early to call the Biggest Disappointment of 2015?
Because Silver in the Blood is the forerunner right now and I'm heartbroken about that.
I love Jessica Day George books, but lately things have been kindarocky. Is it me? Is it the author? Maybe an editor?
I don't know, but I can't shake the same complaints I had with Princess of the Silver Woodsof thin, under-developed characters, flimsy world-building, and an overall unpolished feeling of "should have spent more time at the drawing board."
Structure, basics, and what to expect
Silver in the Blood uses both letter writing between the two main characters, their diary entries, and third person narrative styles to tell the story. I'm mostly ok with this in theory, but the execution here made me scratch my head and wonder at the point of all those letters/diary entries. They just felt like unnecessary filler and I don't think they added anything to the story that we weren't already getting with the main part of the story.
Then there's the pacing. It's just...so slow. The blurb tells you straight out about The Claw, The Wing, and The Smoke, as well as their shapeshifter heritage and the big prophecy, etc.
So, while the blurb doesn't quite spill ALL the beans, there's like, only a clarifying bean or two still left in the bag.
Which means I really don't want to spend over 150 pages figuring out the blurb. And having the two main characters deny the very obvious truth, over and over and over again.
Even if the blurb hadn't given everything away, it's still painfully obvious what is going on here and while maybe younger middle graders might not put all the pieces together that quickly, this is not a middle grade book. This is Jessica Day George's foray into "older YA" (there's nudity! and murder! and bad language! and "adult situations!"), and any teen is likely sharp enough to figure out the Big Reveal very early on.
A note on that target age thing
Ok, so I said this is an older YA book because of content. I could also swear I read something about the author herself warning readers that this was a darker, older-audience book. And, yeah, it kinda is. Thematically.
Tone wise? It's total fluffy Jessica Day George middle grade fare. Down to the plucky oh so cute heroines who magically save the day with streamers and puppies and the cackling cardboard villains who are just big meanies. (None of which is a bad thing, in a middle grade book.)
Except there's the nudity and murder and stuff. Which of course isn't anything new for middle grade books, but it IS something that doesn't really belong with the Jessica Day George middle grade reader crowd. The things in this book might trouble some of my more sensitive younger readers, but the whole package is likely to make the older readers roll their eyes.
So, target audience conundrum, exacerbated by misleading marketing. A librarian's dream come true! Yay!
Back to those characters
The two main characters are basically very shallow stereotypes of The Flirt and The Shy One, and neither of them are particularly likable (or, again, middle grade appropriate).
Dacia, The Flirt, was kind of reprehensible with the way she led on not one, not two, but THREE guys and then went back and forth between them based on who had the most power, prestige, good looks, wealth, and protection to offer her at any given time. Nice, right? This attitude holds true throughout the entire book.
Lou, The Shy One, wasn't quite as awful as Dacia, but she was nothing to write home about either. Sure, she didn't string guys along. No, instead she used her empowering transformation to...fall in love with an unworthy guy.
I don't remember the exact translation now, but upon their initial meetings, he basically called her a slut, like, out of the blue, while he was stalking her (he hunts her kind) and engaging in behaviors that scared her and led her to give him some cutesy nickname along the lines of The Bad Man, but he was totally flirting so it's ok now! Or, well, he was actually stalking her family to annihilate their evil, but he noticed she was pretty, so, yeah. She just kind of let that whole Bad One thing go because of charming good looks and stuff.
And this is post-empowerment-Lou!
Both leading ladies engaged in such inexplicable, poor, and disrespectful decisions that I just can't get on board with them.
Why no DNF? Why ANY stars?
I don't even know. I was hoping for better? My strong history of loving Jessica Day George books?
After the Big Reveal things took a turn for the crazy and, while this wasn't a turn to the crazy good, it was at least a turn away from the mind-numbingly boring first half and to the "oh the hell with it!" zany. At that point I threw my hands up and went with it. It was awful, but at least it was entertaining...ish.
I'm a slow learner, but at this point I'm starting to absorb a few lessons: Jessica Day George is no longer an auto-buy author. I'm even hesitant to request any books for review (except the final Castle Glower book). Her books are now at cautionary library first level, and they're no longer at the top of my TBR, if they're on it at all anymore.
This is a sad day, but Silver in the Blood turned me off so hard.
Honestly, I read this book because I'm STILL going through Tradd Street withdrawals and I wanted something to fill thOriginally posted at Small Review
Honestly, I read this book because I'm STILL going through Tradd Street withdrawals and I wanted something to fill that void. So, paranormal element? Check. Light romance? Check. Cozy town? Check. Mystery? Check. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.
Unfortunately, Casting Spells was no Tradd Street.
Nothing about it was BAD, but it really didn't stand out in any way. Thin characters, a barely there mystery, and while there were literal romantic sparks in the book, I felt none of them myself.
The worst really was the poor character development. I could deal with the lackluster mystery if there were good characters, but none of these people had any depth or made me care about them. They were all nice enough, but that's about it.
On the positive side, I liked the setting of the small, wintery Vermont town and the knit shop. I would love to have one of those never-empty yarn baskets.
Bottom line: Good enough to read to the end, but I don't think I'll be picking up the sequel.