Tuesday, July 22, 2014

TTT: Top Ten Characters I Would Want With Me On A Deserted Island

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

List by Danielle

If I'm stuck on a deserted island, I'm going to need a lot of help. I'm probably the least outdoors-y person on this planet, not the least because I'm allergic to grass, mold, dust, pollen, and anything with fur. And I'm not much for the running or jumping or fishing or... Basically, if this was the Hunger Games, I'd find a way to die before my pod opened. So with that in mind, I've picked a top ten roster of dreamy book boys (and girls) who can support me in my time of need. My top ten characters I want with me on a deserted island?

  1. Finnick Odair: Deserted island means water. Water means Finnick. Did you SEE the man in Catching Fire? With the diving and the trident and the sugar cube? I need to cool down. 
  2. Akiva: DoGaM proved that a seraphim is an excellent thing to take on a camping trip. You never have to light a fire, they can fight and hunt, and then there's the whole magic thing. Which reminds me:
  3. Karou: Firstly, Karou and Akiva are a matched set, but more importantly, you never have to worry about death! Scuppies are pretty useless in Prague, but I bet I could find lots of uses for them in the wilderness. And there was that "house" on the beach at the end of DoGaM. <.<   >.>
    Our friend Gilly @ theartofyoungadult.tumblr.com is AMAZING
  4. Ismae: Not only is the star of Grave Mercy immune to poison, she can pass that immunity on to those around her. And she's the daughter of Death, which is something I'd really need on my side.
  5. Captain Thorne: We know the man can successfully navigate the Sahara Desert with Cress, so I have a lot of faith he could navigate a moderate sized island. He's resourceful and he'd at least have great stories. And he's like Flynn Rider mixed with a space pirate, so he can come sit next to me.
  6. Ignifex: He's a demon lord, but the real reason is my mammoth crush. Just being honest.
  7. Yukiko and Buruu: Nothing is getting into our camp with these two around, and Buruu's constant snark will keep spirits up!
  8. Veralidaine Sarrasri: A wild mage who can not only hunt and trap, but transform into animals, communicate with gods, and brings the cutest pet dragon in history? How could she get any better?
  9. Numair Salmalín: My first book boyfriend is one of the most powerful mages in the world, but completely down to earth and not above starting his own fires and sourcing his own food. AND HE AND DIANE ARE PERFECT AND I WANT TO BE WITH THEM AND BE THEIR FRIEND AND 
  10. Owen Wedgwood: Cinnamon and Gunpowder is all about Wedge making amazing gourmet food on deserted islands! Who else to round out our top ten?
Well readers, obviously food is the most important thing in my life, since it's all my list is built on. Are you smarter than me? Would you pick people who can fly you off this dratted island? People who know how to build shelter? Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book Tour Review: The Sweet Spot by Stephanie Evanovich

Title: The Sweet Spot
Author: Stephanie Evanovich
Genre: general fiction, romance novelish
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 3/5

When pro baseball player Chase Walker first meets Amanda at her restaurant, it’s love at first sight. While Amanda can’t help noticing the superstar with the Greek-god-build, he doesn’t have a chance of getting to first—or any other—base with her. A successful entrepreneur who’s built her business from scratch, Amanda doesn’t need a Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet. And a curvy girl who likes to cook and eat isn’t interested in being around the catty, stick-thin herd of females chasing Chase and his teammates.

But Chase isn’t about to strike out. A man who isn’t interested in playing the field, he’s a monogamist who wants an independent woman like Amanda. His hopes rally when she discovers that squeaky-clean Chase has a few sexy and very secret pre-game rituals that turn the smart, headstrong businesswoman on—and into his number one fan.

Then a tabloid discovers the truth and turns their spanking good fun into a late- night punch-line. Is Amanda ready to let loose and swing for the fences? Or will the pressure of Chase’s stardom force them to call it quits?

I can tell you why this book didn't click for me personally  -- it was the characters. Well, mainly one important character. It's a hard kind of novel to enjoy if you aren't a fan of the people directly involved with the plot and I was less than enthused with the male half of the equation. There's a lot to celebrate with Evanovich's second novel -- the body positive focus on Amanda, the female love interest, the relatively healthy family dynamics shown, the easy way you sink into the story -- but it fell apart for me with Chase, Amanda's counterpart.

Chase just isn't the kind of man or love interest I find attractive. He's overbearing and bossy, presumptuous and incredibly arrogant. Granted, Evanovich paints him in smaller strokes than that, but even for all the layers and virtues she gives Mr. Walker, I never liked him or cared about him. And once a reader is divorced from the central romance, it can all feel a bit silly and contrived. At least, that's how I feel about The Sweet Spot. It's a mostly innocuous, bubble gum-type read; one that will entertain for a few hours with its predictable but comfortable plot.

Granted my apathy for Chase won't be the only or expected reaction and my 3/5 is certainly indicative that there's more to like about the story than just Amanda's attitude and her family. It's a broadly entertaining novel, but it just doesn't do anything original enough to become a favorite for me. The characters grow and change, but I still lacked an emotional connection to any part of the story at the end. The Sweet Spot is what it is: a fluffy summer read. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Book Tour Review:The Queen's Exiles by Barbara Kyle

Title: The Queen's Exiles
Author: Barbara Kyle
Genre: historical fiction, romance novelish
Series: Thornleigh #6
Pages: 352
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

1572. Europe is in turmoil. In the Netherlands the streets are red with the blood of those who dare to oppose the brutal Spanish occupation. A vengeful faction of exiled English Catholics is plotting to overthrow Queen Elizabeth and install her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne. But amid the unrest, one resourceful young woman has made a lucrative enterprise ...

Scottish-born Fenella Doorn rules like a queen over a privateer's haven on the Isle of Sark. Her success at salvaging crippled vessels affords her gold and security, and it is on one of these ships that she meets wealthy Baron—and privateer—Adam Thornleigh. Secretly drawn to him, Fenella can’t refuse when Adam enlists her to join him in war-torn Brussels to help find his traitorous wife, Frances—and the children she’s taken from him.

But Fenella’s own bold actions have put a price on her head. Now Adam and Fenella’s lives are in peril as they race across Europe in an attempt to rescue his young ones, defend the crown, and restore the peace that few can remember.

Though the fourth the in series and second Thornleigh novel for me, The Queen's Exiles was a much improved outing for me with this author. The characters and plots that surround Nella and Adam make for more engaged reading, and the romance that makes up the secondary plot is easy to care about and root for with those two involved. I thought the previous novel too concerned with a less-than-charismatic romance but found that far from the case here --- I cared more about the people involved and the romance was handled in a better way. Adam, Fenella, and even Frances make for an exciting and unpredictable story.

Fenella Doorn is a great character and carries whatever portion of the book she is involved with, personally, romantically, tangentially. She's a great complement for a lot of the mainly male cast (exception: Frances); she isn't a traditional female but nor is she an anachronism for the timeline of the story being told The life she has carved out as an independent woman in the 1500's is unconventional but not unbelievable. She's easy to like and respect, and her admiration for Adam is undeniable. It helps that Fenella feels like a new character, only recently introduced into the sprawling legacy and series. The other, more established characters feel weighted down by a history that you really need to read the earlier five novels to fully understand.

The strength of Adam's character is largely due on his devotion to his children, and his overall honor as a man. Everything else is second to him. And while The Queen's Exiles is often a romance as well as a drama, it never loses sight of the real plot or personal goals that motivate the individual characters. Love doesn't always conquer all, and not all endings are happy for the Thornleighs by the time the book is resolved. I loved that the author isn't afraid to be a bit cruel to her well-known and favorite characters -- shown not only by Adam and Fenella, but through the trials Isabel and Carlos face too. 

I wish that the politics angles had been more of a central plot as it was a fascinating time and place to be, or that the ending hadn't been quite so quick, but The Queen's Exiles is an engaging and often exciting historical romance. Well-rounded and well-drawn characters help to make the read personal and memorable.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Two Minute Review: I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan

Title: I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks
Author: Gina Sheridan
Genre: nonfiction
Series: none
Pages: 160
Published: Expected July 31, 2014
Source: publisher via edelweiss
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Straight from the library--the strange and bizarre, ready to be checked out!

From a patron's missing wetsuit to the scent of crab cakes wafting through the stacks, I Work at a Public Library showcases the oddities that have come across Gina Sheridan's circulation desk. Throughout these pages, she catalogs her encounters with local eccentrics as well as the questions that plague her, such as, "What is the standard length of eyebrow hairs?" Whether she's helping someone scan his face onto an online dating site or explaining why the library doesn't have any dragon autobiographies, Sheridan's bizarre tales prove that she's truly seen it all.

Stacked high with hundreds of strange-but-true stories, I Work at a Public Library celebrates librarians and the unforgettable patrons that roam the stacks every day.

Reviewed by Danielle

I used to work at a public library in high school, so believe me when I say every story in this book rings true.

I Work at a Public Library recounts silly questions, baffling encounters, and even the touching stories of working with readers. It's often a frustrating endeavor, but as the last chapter shows, a worthwhile one. Of course, it doesn't generally feel that way when you're cleaning vomit covered sweatshirts out of the stacks.

The best part of Sheridan's book is the way she's organized the stories. I love the idea of using the Dewey Decimal system as the chapter headers. It was cute, made me think of libraries, and separated this book from several similar ones I've read. I also liked the chapter on one patron, Cuckoo Carol. It gave the book a personal connection that I was searching for.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of non-fiction books, (and even more blogs!) with stories from customer service jobs, and these don't really differ much from say the one about the bookstore or the other one about libraries. It's a genre I like, don't get me wrong, but in a few weeks I don't think I'll be able to tell you in which book I read the wetsuit story and which one asked if there was a copy of Tequila Mockingbird available.

I Work at a Public Library is a very short, (I read it in about 90 minutes,) but very funny book that's relatable to anyone who's worked with the public. If you've ever heard "my tax dollars!" in an unironic way, and you've gained enough space from the experience that it's funny now, you're probably going to have a great afternoon with Sheridan's patrons.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review: Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell

Title: Traitor's Blade
Author: Sebastien de Castell
Genre: fantasy
Series: Greatcoats #1
Pages: 384
Published: Expected July 15, 2014
Source: publisher via edelweiss
Rating: 4 out of 5

Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.

Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters. All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission.

But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…

Reviewed by Danielle

I have fallen in love Sebastien de Castell’s writing.

Traitor’s Blade opens with a classic, old-school prologue about duty, honor, and the inherent righteousness of our heroes. And then it drops us in the middle of a scene of said heroes guarding a boudoir as their employer deploys fantasy-Viagra to fuck a prostitute all night long. And with this juxtaposition, I fell hard.

Falcio val Mond was the First Cantor of the Greatcoats, the head of a legendary band of roving magistrates, protecting citizens high and low and defending the King’s justice. Unfortunately, the King lost his head and the Greatcoats lost everything. They’re reviled, loathed even, and knights are just itching for the chance to murder the lot.

Falcio, clinging to his ideals, sets out on his final geasa from the King, a journey to find the King’s Charoites, or jewels. He’s reluctantly joined by his best friends Kest, the greatest mortal swordsman, and Brasti, an archer beyond compare. Guarding caravan leaders may just be beneath their skills. Unfortunately, finding a bunch of hidden jewels in a world that despises you isn’t as easy as it sounds. The trio end up in the center of the political unrest that has followed the King’s death.

This leads to the largest portion of the book, the “Blood Week” in Rijou. Does that sound bad? The city is described as, “from a distance it gleamed. I don’t mean it shimmered, nor did it shine; it gleamed, the gleam of oily skin on a corpse, or the gleam in the eye of a man who fancies he can kill you without consequences.” Yeah, everything’s going to go great for Falcio in there. There’s a lot of action, particularly during this section, and it’s well written. There’s also a lot of humor and wit, something you rarely find in this genre. Even more interesting is Falcio’s obvious depression, bordering on suicidal, which serves as a counterpoint to Brasti’s easy humor and Kest’s stoic honor.

There are three scenes that concern me and kept me from giving the book a higher score. The first is a flashback to Aline, Falcio’s wife, being fridged. This is an unfortunate trope to start with, but when the woman agrees to let herself be raped to save both their lives and their home, rides the villain like a demon, gives him the best sex ever, (despite being raped,) and is then brutally murdered anyway to set the main character on his quest for revenge and redemption? Problematic at best, fucking-gross-Jesus-fuck-why-would-you-DO-that?!? at worst.

The second is Falcio’s night with Ethalia. The consent is questionable, the motivations are thin, and the conclusion felt rushed and out of nowhere. The spiritual cleansing of your main character shouldn’t read like a last minute, obligatory sex scene requested by the publisher.

And the last is the thrilling conclusion. Again, it felt rushed. Without spoiling too much, the acceptance of a new member of the Musketeers was frankly crazy. They pretty much literally went with “a wizard did it” to wave everything away. I’m left with so many questions. Spoilers: Why didn’t the soft candy work on little Aline, but it did on Falcio? Where did the Duchess get a Saint? How did any single thing the Tailor did actually work? Why was the King’s actual freaking plan, “leave a bunch of bastards around the country for after I die”? And WHY DID I FIGURE THAT OUT A HUNDRED PAGES BEFORE FALCIO? 

Traitor’s Blade is a fantastic high fantasy that should appeal to fans of Sanderson or Lynch, which I am and which it does. It does have a bit of a Three Musketeers flavor at points, but it didn’t feel derivative. The twists are engaging and (for the most part) exciting, though somewhat expected. It’s funny and sharp. I was never bored, and I’m extremely excited for the next in the series. I strongly recommend it.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Review: Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

Title: Sinner
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: young adult, supernatural
Series: Wolves of Mercy Falls #4
Pages: 368
Published: expected July 1 2014
Source: I was given this ARC at Book Expo America in exchange for a fair review. This in no way affects my rating or thoughts.
Rating: 5/5

A standalone companion book to the internationally bestselling Shiver Trilogy.

Sinner follows Cole St. Clair, a pivotal character from the bestselling Shiver Trilogy. Everybody thinks they know Cole's story. Stardom. Addiction. Downfall. Disappearance. But only a few people know Cole's darkest secret -- his ability to shift into a wolf. One of these people is Isabel. At one point, they may have even loved each other. But that feels like a lifetime ago. Now Cole is back. Back in the spotlight. Back in the danger zone. Back in Isabel's life. Can this sinner be saved?

I mainlined the entire Mercy Falls series over five days. It was a great experience for me as a reader, and as someone who loves the chance to bask in pretty, unique prose. The first book, Shiver, was definitely the weakest of the lot for me, but author and wordsmith Maggie Stiefvater grows noticeably in her writing skills and storytelling over the course of her werewolf series. It was the rare series that started strong and, seemingly, ended even stronger.

Sinner, the fourth novel, is a clear reflection of that maturity and is the best book of the series.  It's been a few years since Sam and Grace's story was concluded so satisfactorily. But now it's Isabel and Cole St. Clair's turn. Their turn at helming the story is brash and loud and full of quiet moments and beautiful writing. I was a fan of Shiver, loved both Linger and Forever, but this was the first five-star read of the series for me. It was a thoroughly engaging, heart-wrenching, beautifully-imagined and written experience featuring two amazingly well-drawn protagonists who challenge each other, fight, and love so fiercely.

If you're here looking for more story about Sam and Grace, or anything approaching their kind of relationship, or even really for a werewolf book in the vein of the previous novels, Sinner is not the book for you. Of all the series, Sinner is the least concerned with the characters wolfing out/trying to find reasons/a cure, and more with the characters themselves, in all their many faults and virtues. There are still werewolf tendencies and elements to the novel, but Cole and Isabel's main struggle is with themselves or with each other. Their relationship has never been easy, and Stiefvater will run you through an emotional wringer with these two yet again.

When I talk about authors capable of pretty prose, the list I can reference is rather short. Melina Marchetta, Laini Taylor, Franny Billingsley, Leslye Walton.... and Maggie Stiefvater. I've always enjoyed Maggie's style and way of wording things, but there were entire pages of Sinner that I wish I could memorize for how perfectly this author can describe and encapsulate so many feelings so well. This woman can write. She can write beautifully. She can write effectively. And she can do both at the same time. Her prose is one of my favorite things, but this is an author doesn't sacrifice the plot, or pacing, or characterization in order to focus one thing. 

I loved reading from Cole and Isabel's POVs. I had a lot of feelings about their story when I finished, and I suspect those emotional will linger for a long time. While Forever left me feeling like everything was wrapped up and ended, Sinner makes me feel like I can never have enough time or books with these characters.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Review: The Nightingale Girls by Donna Douglas

Title: The Nightingale Girls
Author: Donna Douglas
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Nightingale Nurses #1
Pages: 512
Published: August 16, 2012
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 3 out of 5

Three very different girls sign up as student nurses in January 1936, while England is still mourning the death of George V. Dora is a tough East Ender, driven by ambition, but also desperate to escape her squalid, overcrowded home and her abusive stepfather. Helen is the quiet one, a mystery to her fellow nurses, avoiding fun, gossip and the limelight. In fact she is in the formidable shadow of her overbearing mother, who dominates every aspect of her life. Can a nursing career free Helen at last? The third of our heroines is naughty, rebellious Millie -- aka Lady Camilla -- an aristocrat on the run from her conventional upper class life. She is doomed to clash over and over again with terrifying Sister Hyde and to get into scrape after scrape especially where men are concerned. This utterly delightful novel brings a London pre-war hospital vividly to life.

Reviewed by Danielle

I like Call The Midwives on BBC, so when I received a NetGalley email advertising a historical fiction novel that was supposed to be very similar, I decided to take a chance outside my usual time periods and give it a whirl.

The Nightingale Girls follows three trainee nurses in 1930s London. There’s Dora, the poor-but-hardworking East End girl, accepted to the prestigious Nightingale Teaching Hospital because she reminds the new Matron of herself and her roommates; Millie, the dissatisfied Lady, fleeing her responsibilities for fun and sense-of-purpose; and Helen, the bookish but sad daughter of a powerful hospital trustee. They’re pretty easily recognizable tropes, but due to very varied home lives and tragic pasts, all three are unique to read.

Unfortunately, I wanted nursing and class struggles, similar to the show the publishers are drawing comparisons to. What I got was three 200 page romances. Dora undergoes some teasing and almost fails an exam because she can’t afford a book, but otherwise, her different background doesn’t factor much into the story. Likewise, the book only shows one or two classes and then moves on to using the wards as set dressing. There are patients, some of them are sick, sometimes the girls are required to attend them, but large swathes of the book feature no more nursing than cleaning and making tea.

Instead, each girl is given a romance that takes up the large majority of this very long novel. One falls for a boy from home, one is trapped in a love triangle between a good friend and a baaad boy, and one, the most interesting and consequently best, falls for a patient of a different class. I don’t mind romance, and I was expecting a love interest for each, but it drives too much of the book. The girls claim they don’t want to get married and leave their beloved jobs, but I didn’t find that to be the case based on the narration.

There are a lot of subplots and four or five other POVs that make brief appearances to drive them. The new Matron is too modern and her assistant and the trustees don’t approve. The mean girl has problems at home. One of the love interests has problems at home. Someone knows secrets about someone else. Three teachers knit and have tea. None of it’s bad, in fact it’s good to give villains motivation, but the book is too long by half and these detours frequently pulled away from the little action in the main story.

Still, I like Millie a lot, one romance really gave me the feels, and I’m kind of interested in a modern Matron at a very old-fashioned school. Unfortunately, I’m very against rape as a plot point, particularly child sexual abuse, and it’s deployed liberally in one backstory. I don’t think it was necessary and the resolution where: [the love interest drives the abuser away, without talking to the victims, because his brother overheard them fighting, made me feel scummy. Something about it felt like the victim is his property now, so the abuser left. It’s even more disappointing because the victim had previously displayed some savvy, outsmarting the abuser, and then completely lost her head and couldn’t see that he’d taken a new victim. The character progression felt off.] With the exception of that one plot point, there’s nothing wrong with The Nightingale Girls. It just wasn’t particularly interesting, either.
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