Review: Joyride by Anna Banks

Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Title: Joyride
Author: Anna Banks
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 288
Published: June 2015
Source: received for review from publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

A popular guy and a shy girl with a secret become unlikely accomplices for midnight pranking, and are soon in over their heads—with the law and with each other—in this sparkling standalone from NYT-bestselling author Anna Banks.

It’s been years since Carly Vega’s parents were deported. She lives with her brother, studies hard, and works at a convenience store to contribute to getting her parents back from Mexico.

Arden Moss used to be the star quarterback at school. He dated popular blondes and had fun with his older sister, Amber. But now Amber’s dead, and Arden blames his father, the town sheriff who wouldn’t acknowledge Amber's mental illness. Arden refuses to fulfill whatever his conservative father expects.

All Carly wants is to stay under the radar and do what her family expects. All Arden wants is to NOT do what his family expects. When their paths cross, they each realize they’ve been living according to others. Carly and Arden’s journey toward their true hearts—and one another—is funny, romantic, and sometimes harsh.

I liked this a lot! There were some odd sentences to be found in the narrative, there was the infamous odd shift from 3rd person to first for different characters, the "prank" angle seemed like a flimsy excuse to give the characters a reason to hang out...

But Banks sells this story and these characters. It helps that the light side of the plot is balanced by the darker aspects for both kids. Carly (our first person narrator) struggles with a lot of issues for such a short boook - some that internal: feeling successful, valued, etc., and some of it external: familial, society. Arden (our third-person narrator) has different issues complicating his life - some from the same type of source (family, society) but for different reasons and with different reactions. I wasn't as sold on how much they needed each other after a short time (he didn't even know her before school and 6 weeks in and they're inseparable?) but I liked how they both complemented and challenged one another as the story continued.

I liked that Joyride wasn't afraid to showcase the negative sides of an interracial relationship in a less than progressive area of the US. Just as it is important to show diversity in fiction, it's also important to be honest and real about what that can look like in real life. Not everyone will be okay with interracial dating, sadly, even in 2015. But I looooved that Banks's characters call out the racism and prejudices shown by others. Racism, ableism, and more rear their ugly heads for Carly and Arden to contend with as they try to have fun and live a little.

This is an entertaining contemporary that has depth, humor, and heart. Joyride could be considered escapist fun (ya contemporary! romance! pranks!) except that also manages to make a few pointed statements on culture and society. It felt and read realistically - from the silly to the serious, Anna Banks' contemporary offering is a good fit for fans of The Book of Broken Hearts or The Summer of Chasing Mermaids both by Sarah Ockler. 

Two Minute Review: India Black and the Rajah's Ruby by Carol K. Carr

Sunday, June 28, 2015
Title: India Black and the Rajah's Ruby
Author: Carol K. Carr
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Series: Madame of Espionage #.5
Pages: 30
Published: December 2012
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 4/5

Drawn into intrigue by her lover Philip Barrett, India finds herself being used as a pawn to help him steal a valuable jewel. Turning the tables, she proves that India Black answers to no man, no matter how attractive he may be…

God, I love this series and this character. I'm not usually one to rate a 30-page novella more than three stars, but when it's India Black, with her trademark hilarious wit and sarcasm, how could I not? She's a smart, adventurous, crafty woman and her exploits are never dull. What the ebook lacks in overall page length, it more than makes up for in sheer entertainment. I always have fun with this character, and while there was no French to enjoy this go round, I can always reread the the longer novels while I anticipate the third, due out soon (February 5, 2013!).

Carol K. Carr made a huge fan out of me with her first two, full-length novels about this unique Madame of Lotus House. India Black and the Rajah's Ruby is a short ebook special that explains just how India graduated from bint to madame of her own establishment. It's not much of a novel, but it still manages to carry India's distinct voice and humor ("..I speak the truth. I usually do, unless there's a good reason not to."), as well as twist ending to amuse readers. Fans who ate up the longer books, and even those who have not had the experience of reading the late-chronologically but earlier-published works, will do well to pay the $2.99 for a sneak peak into what made India into the formidable madame she is.

New characters, old habits, smart women and a giant ruby make for a very fast read. India Black and the Rajah's Ruby is a well-designed teaser to whet appetites for Carr's third novel featuring London's most curious madame. Short, simple, and highly enjoyable, all I can do now is sit and wait impatiently for India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy.

Backlist Review: Two Crafty Criminals! by Philip Pullman

Saturday, June 27, 2015
Genre: middle grade, mystery
Series: N/A
Pages: 288 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: May 8, 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

Benny Kaminsky and Thunderbolt Dobney lead a rag-tag gang of neighborhood rowdies. Their territory is the New Cut on London's South Bank—a place bristling with swindlers, bookies, pickpockets, and the occasional policeman. And their aim is to solve crimes.

When counterfeit coins start showing up in their neighborhood, Thunderbolt fears his own father may be behind the crime. But his friends devise a way to trap the real culprit. Then the gang takes on the case of some stolen silver. They have just two clues—a blob of wax, and an unusually long match. But even this slippery thief is unmasked by the determined kids of the New Cut. 

The kids of the New Cut Gang live in that charmed and whimsical world children inhabit until the crush of adulthood and responsibility; adults fall in line with their demands and nothing is impossible for the likes of Benny, Thunderbolt, Bridie and Sharky Boy - not even uncovering dastardly criminals or even meeting the Prince of Wales. Philip Pullman's latest publication might not stand level with the likes of the His Dark Materials trilogy but Two Crafty Criminals will certainly make for a diverting and thoroughly charming entertainment for middle-grade children it is aimed at. 

Two Crafty Criminals is not one novel but rather is a book containing of two entirely different stories set within the New Cut Gang - a constantly shifting alliance of meddlesome and cheeky pre-teens in Victorian London. While both stories are big on fun and short on filler, the first, Thunderbolt's Waxwork, definitely had the advantage of being first and thus, the more original of the two. With characters like the charismatic Benny running the show and the Gang, earnest and kind Thunderbolt, and strict Bridie managing the scene-stealer Sharky Boy, Pullman eases the reader into a light-hearted but clever mystery set in 1894. Benny, especially, he of the big dreams and even bigger schemes, seems drawn entirely from the period pictured ("Foller him everywhere, like a shadder..") but all the kids shown in both are different, with easy to identify personalities (especially the twins! And Sharky Boy). The Gas Fitter's Ball, the second of the two, retains the humor and cheek of the first without sacrificing ingenuity or an entirely new mystery for the Gang to "detect". 

I read this entire book with an amused smile on my day. Even more than ten years removed from the target audience, Pullman's foray into Victorian London sleuthing is nearly pitch-perfect and enjoyable from start to end; only its extreme length makes for any quibbles. I think even the younger, intended readers would appreciate a little more length extended to both stories, populated as they are with such colorful kids and adults. There's an awful lot of imagination  at play within Two Crafty Criminals, and if jailbreaks, robberies, reported hauntings, balls and get-rich-quick schemes in addition to pre-teen Victorian detectives, don't float your boat...well, there's something wrong with you. 

Review: Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

Friday, June 26, 2015
Title: Dumplin'
Author: Julie Murphy
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Published: expected September 15 2015
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 4.5/5

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked . . . until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine— Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Reading Dumplin' is worthwhile for a lot of reasons. It's a fun book. It's funny because Willow is funny and her voice is vibrant. It's authentic, in regards to Willow, and also to her Southern roots and more. It's also honest. Julie Murphy's second novel is full of heart but also sass and sarcasm, uncertainty, and the pains of adolescence. It's about much more than Willow losing weight or dieting. Dumplin' is about love, and acceptance, growing up and sometimes even growing apart. It's a contemporary novel that touches on a lot of themes and does so with genuine warmth and often just the right amount of humor. 

Willow's story isn't typical for most YA audiences. Not only is she a self-proclaimed fat girl but Willow doesn't spend the book's 384 pages trying to lose that weight. Her lifestory isn't just a number on a scale; she is so much more than that and Julie Murphy characterizes her ably and even-handedly. Willow is the main character but she's also far from perfect. She's a good friend most of the time, a good daughter most of the time, etc. What I like most about her though, is that her interests and hobbies aren't limited towards weighing less or hating herself/changing her appearance. Willow is a complex and interesting person with a lot going on over the course of the novel. Even when she does struggle with her appearance, Dumplin' (and Willow) remain body positive.

If the plot in the second half of the book had been less concerned with the town's beauty pageant, I'd be 5-starring this. The first half, with the friendship issues and the family grief mixed with newfound attraction, just worked better for me. This is still 4.5 stars, though. The story at the heart of Dumplin' is wonderful, and about so much more than weight. It's about growing up, growing apart, becoming independent, recognizing your self-worth... etc. The pageant angle ties in pretty well (and does make for a great finale), especially with Willow's mother's arc, but it didn't capitalize on the emotion generated by the less showy plotlines (like Lucy's death, Ellen's family situation) from earlier in the story.

There are also some excellent kissing scenes. The romance is sweet without being saccharine. I also liked the complexity of Willow's romantic life. It's not a love triangle, but neither is Willow's love life a decided thing from the start. Murphy also spends much more time fleshing out the friendships between the teenagers than the romantic relationships. I love reading about positive girl friendships in YA and by and large, Dumplin' features some pretty strong female friendships.

Julie Murphy does an excellent job of showing what a teenage girl like Willow's life could conceivably be like. Dumplin' feels and reads very real from the first chapter. Willowdean has a memorable voice; one that I won't be forgetting. I think a lot of readers will find something of themselves in this book --- maybe not in Willow but in Hannah or Ellen or Millie.

Recc'd for: fans of Robin Brande's Fat Cat or K.A. Barson's 45 Pounds (More or Less). 


Backlist Review: The City's Son by Tom Pollock

Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Title: The City's Son
Author: Tom Pollock
Genre: young-adult, supernatural
Series: The Skyscraper Throne #1
Pages: 480 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: August 2 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 5/5

Expelled from school, betrayed by her best friend and virtually ignored by her dad, who’s never recovered from the death of her mum, Beth Bradley retreats to the sanctuary of the streets, looking for a new home. What she finds is Filius Viae, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London, who opens her eyes to the place she’s never truly seen.

But the hidden London is on the brink of destruction. Reach, the King of the Cranes, is a malign god of demolition, and he wants Filius dead. In the absence of the Lady of the Streets, Filius’ goddess mother, Beth rouses Filius to raise an alleyway army, to reclaim London’s skyscraper throne for the mother he’s never known. Beth has almost forgotten her old life – until her best friend and her father come searching for her, and she must choose between the streets and the life she left behind.

Welcome to a London come alive with voice-eating spiders, mirror-dwelling aristocrats, and talking lights that literally dance upon the streets. A London where Gods and Goddesses walk the roads unnoticed by the normal human population, and fight one another for preeminence and control over their decaying world. Welcome to Tom Pollock's The City's Son, a novel that redefines both the 'urban' and 'fantasy' in the urban fantasy genre; a novel that brings a whole new meaning to the idea of place-as-character. Though the beginning can be hard to understand and uneven, the reward is outstanding. A fast-paced and action-packed novel packed to the brim with unique, strange, and thoroughly charismatic characters, the first novel in the Skyscraper Throne series is a whole lot of win.

Beautifully written and extensively detailed, there is no area of London that Pollock has not re-envisioned and changed -- for the stranger. Through the eyes of the two main characters - human Beth and Son of the Streets Filius Viae, Pollock takes the reader on a thoroughly original and weird (the kind of weird I tend to expect from China Mieville) journey to self-realization, personal power, and more. Though I am not usually a fan of POV shifts from third-person limited to first person during narrator changes, it works here for Beth and the Urchin Prince. Beth is outside the city; Fil is literally part of it and how they spin their inner monologues help to illustrate that point. Both characters have their individual strengths and weaknesses, but it is the feisty, charismatic, damaged, and fully concrete character of Beth that is the strength of this novel.

The characters here are on par with the talent and time spent setting the scene and creating the original plot. Beth is a wholly rounded and concrete girl. She's realistically flawed, even in a book that suspends disbelief so well. She is feisty, and smart, and loyal, if not always right in her judgements. I have a lot of respect for Beth and the character evolution she goes through during this long but easily read novel. Filius is likeable if unknowable - he's as unique a character as this version of London. Part street rat, part teenage boy, and all heart - the relationship between the two matures organically and best of all, slowly.  If I have one issue, I had hoped that Parva's storyline with the teacher would've had a more firm resolution, but she stands strong as a secondary character with motivations and aspirations all her own.

There is just so much creativity and imagination at work in The City's Son, and it can be a lot to take in, especially initially. The author drops the reader into his darkly, dirtily magical world without exposition or infodump.The sheer scope of the world that Pollock has created for his characters to operate in is expansive and all encompassing, from the made-of-trash Gutterglass who operates as a seneschal for the missing Lady of the Streets, to the war between the Sodiumite glass girls and the Blankleit clans, to the train battles between Bahngeists. Like I said, this is an author that brings the city of London to life - literally - it's place as character on a whole new level. 

I loved this novel. Though it is one of the longer books I've read lately, it holds up admirably under the weight of all those pages, and plots, and schemes. With an imagination as big as London itself, Tom Pollock renders a finely-tuned and thoroughly evocative novel aimed for readers of all ages. Fans of urban fantasy should take note and give this weirdly awesome and awesomely weird novel a chance. You won't regret giving The City's Son a chance. I eagerly await he second novel, The Glass Republic -- it definitely can't come out soon enough.

Review: How Zoe Made Her Dreams (Mostly) Come True by Sarah Strohmeyer

Monday, June 22, 2015
Title: How Zoe Made Her Dreams (Mostly) Come True
Author: Sarah Strohmeyer
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Published: expected April 23 2013
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3.5/5

From Sarah Strohmeyer, author of Smart Girls Get What They Want, comes this romantic comedy about one girl's summer job from hell. Think The Devil Wears Prada set in Disney World.

When cousins Zoe and Jess land summer internships at the Fairyland Kingdom theme park, they are sure they've hit the jackpot. With perks like hot Abercrombie-like Prince Charmings and a chance to win the coveted $25,000 Dream & Do grant, what more could a girl want?

Once Zoe arrives, however, she's assigned to serve "The Queen"-Fairyland's boss from hell. From spoon-feeding her evil lapdog caviar, to fetching midnight sleeping tonics, Zoe fears she might not have what it takes to survive the summer, much less win the money.

Soon backstabbing interns, a runaway Cinderella, and cutthroat competition make Zoe's job more like a nightmare than a fairy tale. What will happen when Zoe is forced to choose between serving The Queen and saving the prince of her dreams?

Fun, funny, and charming, How Zoe Made Her Dreams.. is a book of so much fluff, it might just float off a bookshelf. It's a fast and entertaining read, full of surprisingly developed characters, but unfortunately How Zoe Made Her Dreams (Mostly) Come True is just not on the same level as Smart Girls Get What They Want. I liked it, but it just didn't have the same impact as Strohmeyer's first. Zoe struggles with some serious issues, and I might have teared up once or twice when she confronts her issues, but the emotional pulls are few and far between. For ninety percent of the story, this is a fluffy piece, with a silly plot, operated by characters that are pretty generic, if certainly likeable. 

Fans of the author's other books, and epecially Smart Girls Get What They Want will find similarities between the novels, but Zoe ultimately ends up a pale copy of its predecessor. I don't mean to knock the author's newest because I was certainly entertained while reading, but anyone who has read Smart Girls before trying this will find it just not quite as good. A lot of my issues stem from the plot and the setting - the competition among the Princes and Princesses for the grant money comes across as frivolous, and often laughable. It's charming and amusing, but never really sells the competition as a serious plot device. As a result, all the drama and suspicions set up around the Dream & Do failed to make me care about its ultimate winner.

Strohmeyer can certainly write a credible teenage voice, however. Zoe, through all her present struggles and past heartaches, comes across as authentic and consistently real teen girl. Her voice is strong and likeable, and the author's style works well for a silly but fun read. Zoe's relationship with her cousin is another strong point; the two girls have a real bond and love another. It's all too rare to find such real, strong friendships between teen girls in YA, but so far, in each novel, Strohmeyer has taken the time to build such remarkable and meaningful friendships for her female characters. For that alone, this novel is a winner. I wish Zoe had more female friends, maybe made during her time at Fairyland?, but I will not take her relationship with Jess for granted.

For a novel of such fluff, it's heartening how well characterized Zoe (and her love interest) are shown to be. While I loved Gigi, I do think Zoe ends up being the more rounded and dimensional main character. Zoe has a lot of facets to her personality, and amazingly, who she likes doesn't define her or her actions during the novel. The romance might not be as endearing as I thought Gigi's was in Smart Girls, but I have to admit I was rooting for the two kids before the end of the novel. It's a light read, and the love interest is pretty great, but I wasn't overtly involved. I just wanted more substance and depth to the plot. If I'd had that, How Zoe Made Her Dreams (Mostly) Come True could have easily been a four-star read.

If you're looking for a charming fluff read, this is a perfect fit. A "done in one day" read, Strohmeyer's capability for writing YA is evident and lends itself well here in her second YA offering. An amusing plot with a couple twists en route make for a fun few hours spent in the company of this cast of Princes and Princesses and furries. How Zoe Made Her Dreams... may not be the best book of 2013, but it's a great diversion for a few hours of pure fluff.

Backlist Review: Redemption by Veronique Launier

Sunday, June 21, 2015
Title: Redemption
Author: Veronique Launier
Genre: young-adult, supernatural
Series: Hearts of Stone #1
Pages: 360 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected September 8 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2/5

Guillaume: For five hundred years I've existed as a gargoyle. Perched atop an old Montreal church, I've watched idly as humanity wanders by. With the witch Marguerite gone, there is no one left to protect, nothing to care about. I never planned to feel again. But then a girl released me from my stone restraints, allowing me to return as a seventeen-year-old human boy. I must find out all I can about this girl's power . . .

Aude: Getting attacked twice in as many days is strange in itself, but even stranger is the intriguing guy I keep running into. There's something so familiar about him, like a primal drum rhythm from my dreams. But spending time together only raises more questions--about my heritage, a native Mohawk prophecy . . . and an unearthly magic threatening our city...

This was yet another young-adult supernatural tale that started off quite strongly - with several unique elements - and then faltered midway, ending with disappointment and relief that it was over. Much like how I felt reading The Demon Catchers of Milan, Launier's Redemption is a novel that starts off so well and then manages to squander all that potential in favor of the same old same old things seen so often in the in the YA/PNR genre: a stalkerish love interest, a focus on wishy washy romance angles and storylines, a slow-moving plot, and a main character who became so needy I couldn't stand her by the end. For a novel that started out with a bang and unique concepts, it went out with a cliched whimper. I'd rate the first 60ish pages higher than the rest - possibly a 3 or a 3.5, but this novel went downhill fast and a 2/5 rating is the fairest I can be, when looking back at this occasionally fun but ultimately unmemorable novel. By the end, I felt no enthusiasm reading Redemption - it was more like a chore that I had to finish rather than one I wanted to.

My problems with the novel started to rear their head before I was a third of the way through the 360-page book. Things that were working for this novel: unique paranormal beings (Gargoyles! The only other books I've read with them as a fixture are Karen Duvall's Knight's Curse series!),  an unexplored and fresh mythology (Mohawk Native American legends and themes), and a fun, atmospheric location (Montreal!) to go with. Things that were NOT working: the dual narrative that switches too much, the loads of exposition, and the clunky, and often quite cheesy, dialogue between all the characters, romantic or otherwise. The alternating first-person POVs changed so often - occasionally after two or three pages, or even on the same page, that it made for a lot of head-jumping and frustration. It does help a little that the dual narratives sound nothing alike - modern and feisty Aude reads quite differently than the stone-hearted Guillaume, but it's too much too often.

The author can create atmosphere, but her ability is limited elsewhere. The story at the heart of Redemption is nothing new, and the flashbacks interposed are hardly smooth - they're awkward, and jarring to the already-stuttering flow of the narrative, and do little to add to the overall plot of the novel. They came off as either exposition, filler, too short to have any impact, or are just plain annoying. I wanted to care about Aude, Guillaume, his "brothers", the bandmates - but I just couldn't relate to any of them, nor root for them as they fight their way through some truly obvious foreshadowing and clunky dialogue. The flat presentation of the characters, the hackneyed writing and plot, the multitude of convenient plot devices, the lack of subtlety or nuance in any form -- all served to distance me more and more from the novel itself and become more and more critical as the pages slowly kept turning.

Ultimately, Redemption came off as pretty formulaic for all its early promise of originality; cliched, and predictable. A few good ideas, a few funny lines lost in all the cheese, were not enough to keep me a fan of this novel. The series will continue, and I assume will garner its own particular brand of fans, but I am not and will not be one of them. 

Book Tour Review: Mireille by Molly Cochran

Friday, June 19, 2015
Title: Mireille
Author: Molly Cochran
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A

Pages: 573
Published: June 9 2015
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 3/5

Near the end of World War II, seventeen-year-old Mireille de Jouarre flees the home of her stepfather, a Nazi collaborator and abusive drunk. She finds shelter with her childhood friend Stefan, and the two fall deeply in love. But as the fighting escalates, Mireille must escape alone to Paris, where she discovers she’s pregnant and lacking a way to provide for her child.

So begins her new life as l’Ange—the Angel. After an unlikely meeting with a wealthy aristocrat in a Parisian hotel—and her acceptance of his solicitation—Mireille becomes the most celebrated poule in all of France, eliciting huge fees and invitations to exclusive parties. At one of these events, Mireille meets Oliver Jordan, an American womanizer and film producer, and is soon launching a promising film career. As her star rises, Mireille is determined to bury her past. But her success isn’t as carefree and glittery as it seems, and when her daughter’s future is threatened, Mireille must make a deadly decision in a desperate attempt to finally choose her own path.

Sprawling and epic, Molly Cochran's historical fiction novel pivots on the unlikely and lengthy tale of Mireille Orlande de Jouarre. It's dramatic and outlandish, strains credulity and yet somehow, either due to character charisma or through sheer momentum, never strays into "too much" territory. If you liked the dramatic flair and urgency of Jennifer Donnelly's Tea Rose series a few years ago, Mireille is a story much in the same historical vein. Through a few missteps and an engaging plot, Molly Cochran's take on a rags-to-riches story set against some of most dramatic backdrops in history makes for interesting reading.

With her adult novel, Cochran has graduated from her YA roots. Her themes here are darker, her plots less linear and more open to moral ambiguity, her characters more complex. There are a lot of subplots and themes that creep up over the almost six hundred pages of Mireille: Nazism, star crossed love, abuse, prostitution, obsession, teenage pregnancy, control -- to name a few. When I say reading Mireille can strain credulity, I mean this overabundance. With so much going on, so many balls in the air, even with the hundreds of pages Mireille has to work with, not all of it can be pulled o satisfactorily or even injected into the storyline naturally.

Mireille, the main character and nexus that pulls everything together, is capable. Her gifts may verge on the ridiculous (she is the most beautiful, always, no matter what has happened or where she is, etc. etc.) but there is charisma to her as well. You want to root for Mireille as she suffers setback after setback and still just does not give up. Her choices are hard and often not easy, but she's an interesting character and she's unpredictable. She's a survivor, and she demands respect, often on her terms. I can't say I connected with any other character to any degree, or was even as interested in them as I was Mireille (exception: Barbara) which is why I wanted more personality from the secondary cast.

Mireille is a long, detailed, character-driven book, but for the right kind of reader, it is absolutely the right book. If you're drawn to dramatic and exciting plots where women succeed against odds (though not infallibly) Mireille is likely the next book for you. The plot can hinge on either exceedingly lucky or unlikely happenstance, but the merits outweigh the issues for me.

Molly Cochran’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, June 8th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, June 9th: Built By Story
Thursday, June 11th: Kahakai Kitchen
Monday, June 15th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, June 16th: Life is Story
Wednesday, June 17th: 100 Pages a Day
Thursday, June 18th: Book Lovin’ Hippo
Friday, June 19th: Ageless Pages Reviews
Monday, June 22nd: From the TBR Pile
Monday, June 22nd: The World As I See It
Tuesday, June 23rd: A Literary Vacation
Wednesday, June 24th: Bell, Book & Candle
Thursday, June 25th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Friday, June 26th: Thoughts on This ‘n That
Monday, June 29th: The Avid Reader
Tuesday, June 30th: Life By Kristen

Book Tour Review: Return to the Outer Banks House by Diann Ducharme

Title: Return to the Outer Banks House
Author: Diann Ducharme
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Untitled #2
Pages: 418
Published: December 2014
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 3/5

She was the spirited daughter of a North Carolina plantation owner, and he was a poor fisherman who she tutored on the porch of her family's Nags Head cottage. When we last saw Abigail Sinclair and Ben Whimble at the close of "The Outer Banks House," they'd overcome their differences in life stations and defied convention to begin their new life together.

But now it's seven years later, and "Return to the Outer Banks House" finds the couple married and in hard times-riddled by poverty, miscarriages, and weakened family ties. The strong bonds that once held them together have eroded over time, and their marriage threatens to unravel, particularly when relationships from the past and ambitions for the future find their way into the mismatched couple's present predicament.

Can their love survive? Or are the challenges they face insurmountable? "Return to the Outer Banks House" carries readers back to 1875 to answer these questions and explore the ebb and flow of a rocky marriage set against the enchanting North Carolina shoreline. Replete with history, intrigue, and plenty of maritime drama, it's an evocative tale of struggle in the Reconstruction-era South.

Earlier this month, I read Diann Ducharme's debut novel The Outer Banks House (and reviewed it here). A historical fiction novel that focused on the unlikely but interesting tale of a planter's daughter and a poor fisherman in 1860's Nags Head, it was detailed, fresh, and inviting. Diann Ducharme once again returns to those same characters and same place in North Carolina in a further exploration of the lives of Abby and Ben with Return to the Outer Banks House.

Set in the late 1870's both Ben and Abby are featured prominently with alternating POVs like before, but with Return to the Outer Banks House Ducharme gives (a memorable) voice to Eliza Dickens, a former side character from the first book. Eliza's view differs from the others in a lot of important ways and also forms a different side than the one previously known of Ben. She's an interesting character and she adds a lot to both the story and the cast. She can be difficult and unlikeable, but Eliza has personality and a voice.

This book is a bit bleak, I have to admit. A lot of the turns and plotting can be frustrating for anyone who was wholly satisfied with how The Outer Banks House left things at the end. Return to the Outer Banks House does a lot of different things both for and to the characters, usually playing with the theme of love and change as it does, but it can be dispiriting to read for fans. That said, fans who want more time spent with these characters will find hundreds of pages to do so here with the sequel.

The Outer Banks Series Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, May 25
Spotlight & Giveaway at Raven Haired Girl

Tuesday, May 26
Guest Post & Giveaway at Susan Heim on Writing

Wednesday, May 27
Review (Book One) at Back Porchervations

Thursday, May 28
Review (Book One) at In a Minute

Friday, May 29
Interview & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Obsession
Spotlight at The Never-Ending Book

Saturday, May 30
Spotlight at Becky on Books

Sunday, May 31
Review (Book One) at Book Nerd

Monday, June 1
Review (Book Two) at Let them Read Books
Spotlight at I’d So Rather Be Reading

Tuesday, June 2
Review (Book One) at Book Lovers Paradise

Wednesday, June 3
Review (Book Two) at Back Porchervations

Thursday, June 4
Spotlight & Giveaway (Book One) at View from the Birdhouse

Friday, June 5
Review (Book One) at Bibliotica

Sunday, June 7
Review (Book One) at Carole’s Ramblings

Monday, June 8
Review (Book One) at Ageless Pages Reviews
Guest Post at Curling Up With A Good Book

Tuesday, June 9
Review & Giveaway (Book One) at A Literary Vacation

Wednesday, June 10
Review (Both Books) at Unshelfish
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews

Thursday, June 11
Review (Book Two) at Book Lovers Paradise
Interview at Boom Baby Reviews

Friday, June 12
Review (Book Two) at Bibliotica
Spotlight at Caroline Wilson Writes

Sunday, June 14
Review (Book Two) at Carole’s Ramblings

Monday, June 15
Review & Giveaway (Both Books) at Genre Queen

Tuesday, June 16
Interview at Books and Benches
Spotlight at The Lit Bitch

Wednesday, June 17
Review (Both Books) at Luxury Reading

Thursday, June 18
Review (Book One) at Books and Benches
Interview at Layered Pages

Friday, June 19
Review (Book One) at Build a Bookshelf
Review (Book Two) at Ageless Pages Reviews

Backlist Review: The Traitor's Daughter by Paula Brandon

Friday, June 12, 2015
Author: Paula Brandon
Genre: fantasy
Series: The Veiled Isles #1
Pages: 415 (print ARC edition(
Published: October 2011
Source: from publisher via GoodReads FirsReads
Rating: 3.75/5

Here’s the beginning of a lush, epic, wholly original new trilogy that shines with magic, mystery, and captivating drama.
On the Veiled Isles, ominous signs are apparent to those with the talent to read them. The polarity of magic is wavering at its source, heralding a vast upheaval poised to alter the very balance of nature. Blissfully unaware of the cataclysmic events to come, Jianna Belandor, the beautiful, privileged daughter of a powerful Faerlonnish overlord, has only one concern: the journey to meet her prospective husband.  But revolution is stirring as her own conquered people rise up against their oppressors, and Jianna is kidnapped and held captive at a rebel stronghold, insurance against what are perceived as her father’s crimes.

The resistance movement opens Jianna’s eyes―and her heart. Despite her belief in her father’s innocence, she is fascinated by the bold and charming nomadic physician and rebel sympathizer, Falaste Rione—who offers Jianna her only sanctuary in a cold and calculating web of intrigue. As plague and chaos grip the land, Jianna is pushed to the limits of her courage and resourcefulness, while virulent enemies discover that alliance is their only hope to save the human race.

What to do, what to do? First of all, I have to admit I've had this ARC for months - I won it in the First Reads program in 2011 - and just haven't gotten around to reading it. My bad GoodReads, you were right - this is a book for me, even if I'm not quite sure what to do with it. I'm torn about a lot of this fantasy novel - so much so that I couldn't even decide what range of rating I want to assign The Traitor's Daughter for a while after finishing - there's a lot to take in over the 415-page length. 

Pro: excellent, fully original, alien, complex and layered worldbuilding.
Con: very stilted dialogue, constantly weighed down with exposition or repetition
Pro: strong, spirited, conflicted heroine (Jianna)
Con: remote characterization, slightly stereotypical in voice/personality
Pro: a unique and fresh idea as a 'source' (ha) for magic/ the "arcane ability"
Con: the slow-moving first hundred pages before the plot fully kicks in, starting with the three-chapters long introductory infodump
Pro: a greyly moral/complicated character in Aurest Belandor (his "kneeser" ways as opposed to his love and devotion to his daughter)
Con: the overlong and very-articulated abuse of a main, though thoroughly repellant, character
Pro: Overarching themes and unresolved plotlines that lead naturally to the next book (The Ruined City) without overextending the plot of book one
Con: certain aspects of the 'arcane art' can come off as terribly convenient (the "Distant Exchange" and so on)
Pro: it's a fantasy, but the love interest isn't the prince/Magnifico, and nor is the "romance" any sort of focus for the heroine <SPOILER>He's got brains! He's a doctor! </END>

All in all, for a debut novel in a high/dark fantasy series, The Traitor's Daughter is uneven but highly imaginative. Without a doubt I have to credit the author for the scope and breadth of the worldbuilding of this book - it truly is the most impressive aspect of the entire novel. The writing is serviceable, if exposition-heavy but it is the thinly-Italian-influenced history (warring island city-states with languages overly fond of vowels, and the letter "z", the titles of "Magnifico/Magnifica" as form of address to nobility) of the Veiled Isles that intrigued me the most. Author Paula Brandon has a wide an creative vision for her strange land of men and "quasi-men" to inhabit, and once the ball gets rolling, it's fun to join her there. It does take a while, but the payout is rewarding through the twists and turns of Jianna's story,

Don't dismiss this as a mere "romantic fantasy" because that's not at all what this novel is about. This isn't a novel afraid to get dark, gritty and murdery. Though some of the advertising blurbs out there for this advertise "the walking dead" as a selling point, and they do play some (small) part in the events of The Traitor's Daughter, the main horror of the book are the torture scenes. This is a dark fantasy - there's the practical slavery of a "lesser" species, rape is hardly worth mentioning, women are required to be subservient, several characters die or are murdered, others are tortured as a matter of course. Jianna is a serviceable main character and the third person omniscient POV probably does her a substantial bit of favor - she comes of as spoiled and ignorant (the whole city hates her dad and she has no clue? Despite 18 years of living there, and according to Nalio, wandering around town unattended?) - bu it would've been much worse to her impression had it been first person. To her credit, Jianna does gain a tiny shred of perspective through her interactions with Dr. Rione, but there's yards more to go.

I was surprised and impressed by the antagonist of the book - Yvenza. She uses her brain rather than force of arms to maneuver Jianna riiight where she wants her; it's formidable, especially in direct view of how her opponent operates. She's cold, calculating, intelligent and resourceful. I've said it before and it still holds true, a compelling and smart villain is miles better than a obvious and overdone stereotype. If I liked The Traitor's Daughter in spite of its deficiencies and flaws, the same could also be said for my opinion on the Dowager Magnifica. For all her hatred and cunning, she's at least reasoned out in her motivation, understandable at her desire to set right what has been taken from her. If her methods are harsh and cruel, so too is the world that turned on her and the man that did it. Her sons are bit more trope-ish and stereotypical - I didn't feel even a hint of individual presence from Trecchio and Ontartino was pure, unadulterated malevolence without his mother's cool intelligence to balance out his brutishness. Rione, too, for much of the novel is a bit blandly perfect  though he branches out against his patron eventually. Besides the delightfully flawed Aurest and Yvenza, the cast is in much need of individual attention.

I found myself very surprisingly wrapped up in the events of The Traitor's Daughter; several varying theories about the Inhabitants, the sequel and more abound in my head and prove that the good outweighs the bad for this one. I'll be continuing with the Veiled Isles trilogy and can't wait to see what Paula Brandon thinks up next for her sophomore fantasy effort.

Disney Princess Book Tag

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

I found the Disney Princess Tag on Love at First Page and thought it looked really fun! Soudha over at Of Stacks and Cups created it.

Firstly, my three favorite Disney movies:

Mulan - the other two might change depending on my mood/the day but Mulan is forever and always my favorite Disney movie.
Hercules - the soundtrack. The totality of perfection that is Meg.

Snow White: Name your favorite classic

 I am going to go with The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. It's not a hundreds-year old classic, but it is a modern one. It's haunting and sad and so worth a read, despite being required reading in high school.

Cinderella: Name a book that kept you reading well past your bedtime

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I read this novel straight through two times in a row, back to back. Nothing stood in my way, not even sleep. The first time through I was astonished and the second time through I had to revisit all the little hints and subtleties to be found. 

Aurora: Name your favorite classic romance

Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice.

Ariel: Name a book that’s about making sacrifices and fighting for your dreams

Pretty sure any Throne of Glass book is applicable here. See also Cinder.

Belle: Name a book with a smart and independent female character

Karou and Zuze from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. Both are great on their own, but together, they're better.

Jasmine: Name a book with a character who challenged the social conventions of his or her world

Naila from Written in the Stars. It's such a great book and Naila's struggles are vividly shown.

Pocahontas: Name a book whose ending was a roller coaster of emotions

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas. Hot damn did that book's ending set me (and Chaol) on my/our asses.

Mulan: Name a book with a kickass female character

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard. It's been a while since I read these, but Miss Fit was nothing if not badass. See also: Fire from Fire.

Tiana: Name a book featuring a hardworking, self-made character

Joyride by Anna Banks. Carly Vega works for herself and also to bring her parents back over the border. It's not a POV you see much in YA.

Rapunzel: Name a book that features an artist

The Anatomical Shape of a Heart. Bex is not your typical artist (she likes to draw detailed medical illustrations) but her boyfriend Jack is another kind of artist as well.

Merida: Name a book that features a mother-daughter relationship

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. I mean there are a myriad of strong, complicated relationships at the heart of JR, but the one between Tate and Taylor is one of the most pivotal.

Anna and Elsa: Name a book that features a great relationship between siblings

Something Real by Heather Demetrios. It's been over a year since I have read this one, but the bond between Bennie and Bonnie was so real and fully realized that it sticks out in memory.

Book Tour Review: The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley

Tuesday, June 9, 2015
Title: The Seven Sisters
Author: Lucinda Riley
Genre: historical fiction, general fiction
Series: Seven Sisters #1
Pages: 636
Published: May 5 2015
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 3.75/5

Maia D’Apliese and her five sisters gather together at their childhood home, “Atlantis”—a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva—having been told that their beloved father, who adopted them all as babies, has died. Each of them is handed a tantalizing clue to her true heritage—a clue which takes Maia across the world to a crumbling mansion in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Once there, she begins to put together the pieces of her story and its beginnings.

Eighty years earlier in Rio’s Belle Epoque of the 1920s, Izabela Bonifacio’s father has aspirations for his daughter to marry into the aristocracy. Meanwhile, architect Heitor da Silva Costa is devising plans for an enormous statue, to be called Christ the Redeemer, and will soon travel to Paris to find the right sculptor to complete his vision. Izabela—passionate and longing to see the world—convinces her father to allow her to accompany him and his family to Europe before she is married. There, at Paul Landowski’s studio and in the heady, vibrant cafes of Montparnasse, she meets ambitious young sculptor Laurent Brouilly, and knows at once that her life will never be the same again.

In this sweeping, epic tale of love and loss—the first in a unique, spellbinding series of seven novels—Lucinda Riley showcases her storytelling talent like never before.

With the imaginative plot, charismatic characters, and dual-timeline structure, it's easy to see why fans of Kate Morton have discovered a new favorite option with Lucinda Riley's novels. My first foray into Riley's bibliography proved to be a success due to the smart writing, the even pacing, and my inability to put The Seven Sisters down once I had started reading. A loose retelling/reinterpretation of the myth of the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades, the first novel is centered around the oldest sister, Maia and takes readers from Geneva to Rio de Janeiro. 

There are a lot of mysterious characters and histories in Lucinda Riley's latest. Maia's five sisters were each adopted, like she was. None of them know much about their past or where they came from, nor even about the man who adopted them to create his family. As Maia searches for herself -- both in the past and in the present -- Riley fills the story with an excellent secondary cast. Her present family -- the Sisters, Marina, Pa Salt -- are vividly rendered, but still just not quite on the level of Maia, her great-grandmother Bel, and Bel's acquaintance Laurent. In fact, the historical timeline in 1920s Brazil was so vibrant and detailed, it almost overshadowed its more current counterpart of the plot.

The dual narrative timeline is tricky to pull off for some authors, especially if they do not have the characters necessary to make it worth. Happily, I liked this cast a lot. They were interesting, dynamic, and not stagnant or boring. The issue with fleshing out all these people was that sometimes Riley would tell rather than show in her dialogue. I've rarely found that a logical person will say "well I am a logical person, so I am logically talking about [x]" etc. By and large, the novel's characters and dialogue aren't bluntly rendered so it really stuck out in the times that it does happen throughout The Seven Sisters.

For such a long book, The Seven Sisters reads well and easily. There were a few times when the pacing felt slightly off or the narrative spent too long in one particular timeline, but for the most part, The Seven Sisters is a solidly enjoyable, detailed, and fun read.

The Seven Sisters Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, June 1
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Spotlight & Giveaway at A Novel Review

Tuesday, June 2
Review at Just One More Chapter
Spotlight at Let them Read Books

Wednesday, June 3
Review at Always With a Book
Review & Giveaway at 100 Pages a Day

Thursday, June 4
Review at Book Nerd
Review at The Lit Bitch

Saturday, June 6
Interview & Giveaway at Bibliophilia, Please

Sunday, June 7
Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Monday, June 8
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Tuesday, June 9
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Wednesday, June 10
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Thursday, June 11
Review at She is Too Fond of Books

Friday, June 12
Review at A Novel Review
Review at A Literary Vacation
Spotlight & Giveaway at To Read, or Not to Read
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