Review: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby

Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Title: Wonder Show
Genre: young-adult, historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 288 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: March 20, 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, friends and neighbors, allow me to change your lives! Step inside Mosco’s Traveling Wonder Show! You’ve read about them in magazines, these so-called human curiosities, this tribe of misfits—now come and see for yourselves. We’ve got a gent as tall as a tree, a lady with a beard, and don’t miss your chance to see the Wild Albinos of Bora Bora! Ask Madame Doula to peer into your future (only two dollars more if you want to know how you’re going to die).

And between these covers behold the greatest act of our display—Portia Remini, the strangest of the menagerie because she’s a ‘normal’ among the freaks, searching for a new beginning on the bally, far away from McGreavey’s Home for Wayward Girls, where Mister watches and waits. He said he would always find Portia, said she could never leave . . .

Oh, it’s not for the faint of heart folks. If you’re prone to nightmares or you’ve got a weak ticker, you’d best move on. Within these pages lies a tale of abandonment, loss, misfortune for the rich and glory for the poor (and a little murder doesn’t hurt). It’s a story for the ages, but be warned: once you enter the Wonder Show you will never be the same.

I knew pretty early on that I was really going to enjoy this fairly short novel - and I was repeatedly proven right while reading this charming debut. Though Hannah Barnaby and therefore Portia's tale is a bit short on action and long on character (like another recently released circus themed novel...), I was hooked from chapter one and Portia herself. I felt that the final conflict lacked a bit of emotional pull or immediacy but nearly everything else from this look into Mosco's Traveling Wonder Show was pure fun to read. I'm happy to say that Hannah Barnaby emerges from her first novel as a solid and compelling storyteller with a flair for the dramatic and the unique - just like her indomitable lead.

Portia is a flawed but very likeable protagonist; though her story is mostly told in third-person omniscient and occasionally oddly features other first-person perspective important characters, Portia is the strongest, most developed character of the lot. While I truly disliked the shifts between first and third perspectives it's easy to fall into any narrative in the story, be it P's or the Jackal, or Gideon or even Mosco. Portia made me laugh, but mostly and most importantly, Portia made me care about her story; made me invest in her happiness and actively cheer for her success and lament over her losses. Her inquisitive nature and love of words ("Stories came easily to Portia. Lies came even more easily and more often." - p. 13 ARC) endeared her to me rather quickly and her adventures with Aunt Sophie and subsequent misadventures at the McGreavey Home for Wayward Girls only impressed me with her spirit and liveliness.

While the 'freaks' advertised for the Gallery of Human Oddities didn't quite live up to the hype of the synopsis and blurb, I am not disappointed; rather instead, I believe that is the whole point of Wonder Show - that those who society considers freaks are really just people like us, living the hand they are dealt. In fact, the only truly freakish character within the entirety of Wonder Show is The Mister - someone not hidden away and hated on principle but someone trusted with power and the futures of young girls. The other characters, thoguh they don't compel like Portia or creep you out like Mister, each have believable and distinct voices. Like Portia, the population of the Wonder Show is at large on the run from something/time/one they'd like to forget, or change. While no two characters plot was the same  outside of Portia I found the Jackal and the deteriorating Marvel family to be the most accessible. In fact, while I was far from a fan of the weirdly switching POV's used to alternate character inner monologues (not person to person but 3rd omniscient to 1st), I wouldn't have hated an even longer look into those characters.

Though I was expecting to be more involved and invested in the ending, I felt it was solid but very much not the climactic, epic tête-à-tête I had been craving because Mister needed his ass kicked anticipating. And I have to admit that though this is a middle-grade novel, it doesn't read like one and I feel that people of all ages would enjoy the adventures and marvels that make Wonder Show so fun to read in the first place. This is a quick read with a large reward for your minimal efforts; full of charm and adventures, Wonder Show is welll... quite wonderful indeed.

Author Interview: The Sister Queens' Sophie Perinot

Friday, March 23, 2012

I'm very pleased to present my very first author interview for Ageless Pages Reviews and am very happy with how it turned out. I read  (and loved) The Sister Queens so it was a rare pleasure to get to virtually speak with such a talented new author.

1. Both women experience a wide variety of events throughout their lives - wars, regencies, children, affairs - but which do you think of the two were happier with her Queenly lot in life? Eleanor with her doting husband but bad King, or Marguerite with her pious husband and marital problems?

Of course when it comes to something like happy we can never know for sure, especially with people who have been dead more than 700 years, but I personally would say Eleanor was happier. She had considerable political influence in her court, she had personal wealth, she had members of her Savoyard family to support and advise her, and she built an incredibly close nuclear family. If the measure of happiness is being loved and loving in return (and that’s my personal measure) then Eleanor had every reason to be content. Yes, I am doing a little projecting—I know I would rather be Eleanor than Marguerite so I assume she was happy, but I also think we have some historical indicators of the sisters’ relative happiness. I’d like to present two—one for each sister—taken from the ends of their husband’s lives.

Historically we know that Henry’s care for his wife endured to the very end of his days. When he knew he was dying in the autumn of 1272, he once again thought of Eleanor’s future (this time without him), granting her custody of Windsor castle. And it was there – the sight of so many happy memories from their thirty-six years of marriage—that Eleanor went immediately after Henry’s death, to grieve for him and to find a respite from sadness by being with her grandchildren.

In contrast, we have powerful evidence that Marguerite remained angry with Louis even after his death. Almost immediately after Louis perished (on an ill-fated second trip to the Holy Land which Marguerite had opposed) proceedings were begun to canonize him. A committee of clergymen gathered at St. Denis to collect testimony on Louis’s saintliness. All of the royal family and the most important French nobles came forward to testify, but Marguerite steadfastly refused, even when her testimony was solicited by her son the King. If you want evidence of an unhappy married life I would say that qualifies.

2. Was there a particular character you enjoyed the most while writing their perspective? Or one who harder to articulate?

I love both sisters. That is one of the things that made writing this book such a joy. Who I loved the best at any given moment depended on who I was writing.

I think that to write a character in the first-person convincingly (and I hope I’ve done that) you really have to become that person just as an actor becomes a character. So when I was writing Marguerite I was fully immersed in her struggles and found many things I could identify with. Ditto the more outspoken and mercurial Eleanor.

Outside of the sisters themselves, I have a real soft spot for Jean de Joinville. Even though he is never the narrator in the novel I could hear his voice very clearly in my head, and I always looked forward to those portions of the book where he popped up. When he appeared in the garden while Marguerite and Louis were recruiting knights for crusade surprising the Queen I don’t know who was happier to see him Marguerite or me.

3. Who would you say is the better Queen for their time? Unassuming Marguerite who takes a backseat and accedes to the will of her lord and husband easily or the more involved, headstrong Eleanor?

Certainly Marguerite was more beloved by her subjects (who seemed to appreciate her considerably more than her husband did). And, besides being poised, she was capable of strong and determined action—as we see when she moves decisively to ransom Louis in the Holy Land. I wonder what she could have been and could have done had she been accorded more influence at her husband’s court (or subsequently at her son’s).

While Marguerite was revered in France, Eleanor (and her Savoyard uncles) made easy scapegoats for the English Baron’s. These noblemen doubtless resented the Savoyard influence over Henry—influence they would have preferred to wield themselves. I personally think that Henry’s rule would have been even less effective without Eleanor and the other Savoyards, but I don’t think that was recognized at the time. Rather, as you suggest, Eleanor was viewed as “virago” – which meant overbearing or domineering—in her own period. It’s not clear that we would think of her that way now. Probably the words we would use would be “ambitious” and “self-assured.” Or maybe not, the world sometimes still uses some downright unpleasant words to label powerful women who aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

4. I know the Count of Provence had four daughters, why did you choose to focus only on the oldest
two sisters?

The relationship between Marguerite and Eleanor moved me. I am a “big-sister,” and my relationship with own sister defines me and has since the day she came home from the hospital. Marguerite and Eleanor were the closest of the four sisters, despite being separated by the English Channel for long stretches of time, and their relationship of mutual support, tinged with rivalry, really spoke to me.

I wanted my book to examine the early reigns of these important queens (both France and England were major powers at the time), while they were finding their feet in strange lands and establishing roles for themselves as queens, wives and mothers. Therefore, my novel (which, as you know, covers a twenty year period between 1234 and 1254) actually ends before either Sanchia or Beatrice had achieved crowns of their own. So that effectively limited the roles of the younger sisters to supporting players.

5. What decided you on the endpoint of the novel, with the women only halfway through their long

I am not going to lie, book-length entered into my decision. Getting a five-hundred page novel published as a debut author is pretty extraordinary. Getting a thousand page novel published –well, it never would have happened. Given that I couldn’t put the sister’s entire lives into one book, I thought that their reunion after nearly twenty-years of supporting, counseling and consoling each other from opposite sides of the English Channel made an excellent place to end my novel. The Christmas visit of 1254 brought closure to many strands of my story and saw each of my sisters coming to terms with some big issues in her life. The meeting also gave them a chance, in person, to reaffirm their sisterly loyalties. At the same time this gathering of the royal families laid the foundation—with the sister queens’ help—of a lasting understanding between the crowns of France and England, so it was a political milestone as well.

6. Any considerations for returning to these two sister-queens for a follow-up novel down the line?

I would love to do a sequel if there was demand for one. There are plenty of adventures left in life for both Marguerite and Eleanor.


My thanks to Ms. Perinot for taking the time to write such lengthy, considered answers. This is a lovely book and one I heartily recommend to anyone fond of strong women in historical fiction. There are still more stops yet on the book tour for the Sister Queens, so don't miss those as well!

Screaming Good Deals on Nook and Kindle ebooks!

Thursday, March 22, 2012
I don't know how long these awesome prices are going to last, but in the last week I've bought the following for less than $4 each. There are some in here I am tremendously excited about (my first Marchetta! Shades of Milk and Honey is another one I've wanted for a whiile) and some utterly new to me that I couldn't resist (A Madness of Angels), but they're all a great buy.

For Matthew Swift, today is not like any other day. It is the day on which he returns to life.

Two years after his untimely death, Matthew Swift finds himself breathing once again, lying in bed in his London home.

Except that it's no longer his bed, or his home. And the last time this sorcerer was seen alive, an unknown assailant had gouged a hole so deep in his chest that his death was irrefutable...despite his body never being found.

He doesn't have long to mull over his resurrection though, or the changes that have been wrought upon him. His only concern now is vengeance. Vengeance upon his monstrous killer and vengeance upon the one who brought him back.

It should have been a short suspended-animation sleep. But this time Rose wakes up to find her past is long gone-- and her future full of peril.

Rosalinda Fitzroy has been asleep for sixty-two years when she is woken by a kiss. Locked away in the chemically induced slumber of a stasis tube in a forgotten subbasement, sixteen-year-old Rose slept straight through the Dark Times that killed millions and utterly changed the world she knew. Now, her parents and her first love are long gone, and Rose-- hailed upon her awakening as the long-lost heir to an interplanetary empire-- is thrust alone into a future in which she is viewed as either a freak or a threat.

 Desperate to put the past behind her and adapt to her new world, Rose finds herself drawn to the boy who kissed her awake, hoping that he can help her to start fresh. But when a deadly danger jeopardizes her fragile new existence, Rose must face the ghosts of her past with open eyes-- or be left without any future at all.

Another cover because I like it:

The fantasy novel you’ve always wished Jane Austen had written
Shades of Milk and Honey is exactly what we could expect from Jane Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: Pride and Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality.

Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attentions of eligible men, and while Jane’s skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face. When Jane realizes that one of Melody’s suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right—and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta: currently $3.99 for Nook; currently $3.49 for Amazon Kindle

 At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh to save his kingdom. He stands on the rock of the three wonders with his friend Prince Balthazar and Balthazar's cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood to safeguard Lumatere.

But all safety is shattered during the five days of the unspeakable, when the king and queen and their children are brutally murdered in the palace. An impostor seizes the throne, a curse binds all who remain inside Lumatere's walls, and those who escape are left to roam the land as exiles, dying by the thousands in fever camps.

Ten years later, Finnikin is summoned to another rock—to meet Evanjalin, a young novice with a startling claim: Balthazar, heir to the throne of Lumatere, is alive. This arrogant young woman claims she'll lead Finnikin and his mentor, Sir Topher, to the prince. Instead, her leadership points them perilously toward home. Does Finnikin dare believe that Lumatere might one day rise united? Evanjalin is not what she seems, and the startling truth will test Finnikin's faith not only in her but in all he knows to be true about himself and his destiny.

Again, I don't know how long these great deals will last, so grab 'em while you can!

Blog Watch Wednesday!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Reviews Posted:

The Last Song by Eva Wiseman - 2.5/5 stars - historical fiction

Divergent by Veronica Roth - 4/5 stars - dystopia, young-adult

Darkest Knight by Karen Duvall - 3.5/5 stars - supernatural fiction, urban fantasy, pnr

The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker - 3/5 stars - post-apocalyptic, horror, young-adult

Fun Stuff:

Incredibly interesting: this is your brain on fiction.

This is an amazing photo of the Milky Way above a monsoon storm.

Free, customized "Go Away I'm Reading" bookcovers for Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Twilight, etc. I want the Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Hunger Games ones!

Jason Russell, one of the brain behind Invisible Children's "KONY 2012" campaign was caught naked and masturbating in public. Go ahead and say it: Bony 2012!

Coinciding with Russell's news, people in Uganda are not happy with the way IC is presenting their situation. This is a reaction video from Ugandans about the KONY 2012 movement.

TUMBLR OF THE WEEK: Trolling Chris Brown.

Did you know your own ISP is going to be spying on your internet activities come June? Trufax, people. This is our government at work. 

The 15 Best Lines from 50 Shades of Grey. My favorite: "My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves." WTF?

This is the (amazing) story of how a trained dog is keeping a three-year old girl alive, day-to-day.

This is a cool site that lets you explore in detail, famous journeys. Options for travel information include rel journeys (Magellan, Amelia Earhart) as well as literary ones (Pequod from Moby Dick, Jack Kerouac's On The Road, etc.)

Want to know what a black hole sounds like? Well, here you go. There are also whalesounds, stormsounds, and dinosaursounds. The internet is fun!

Sales for HBO's first season DVD set of Game of Thrones has broken records. 350,000 in a week; that's more than Sex and the City, the Sopranos and True Blood!

Shadow and Bone is a Russian-inspired fantasy due out this year (that I LOVED - review out in May!) and the author has posted a video of images that inspired her novel.

25 Kick-Ass TV Heroines. (Go Daenerys and Deb!)

One of my favorite authors, Gail Carriger, has revealed the ARC cover for the first book in her newest Finishing School series, Etiquette and Espionage.

These Game of Thrones posters for season two are gorgeous.

Cracked Weekly Roundup:

Review: The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker

Genre: horror, post-apocalyptic, young-adult
Series: The Other Life #1/ The Weepers #1
Pages: 320 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: February 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

3 years, 1 month, 1 week and 6 days since I’d seen daylight. One-fifth of my life.

Sherry and her family have lived sealed in a bunker in the garden since things went wrong up above. Her grandfather has been in the freezer for the last three months, her parents are at each other’s throats and two minutes ago they ran out of food.

Sherry and her father leave the safety of the bunker and find a devastated and empty LA, smashed to pieces by bombs and haunted by ‘Weepers’ - rabid humans infected with a weaponized rabies virus.

While searching for food in a supermarket, Sherry’s father disappears and Sherry is saved by Joshua, a boy-hunter. He takes her to Safe-haven, a tumble-down vineyard in the hills outside LA, where a handful of other survivors are picking up the pieces of their ‘other lives’. As she falls in love for the first time, Sherry must save her father, stay alive and keep Joshua safe when his desire for vengeance threatens them all

Post-apocalyptic zombie novels are rapidly becoming somewhat of a, unexpected favorite of mine. I'm a swelf-avowed wuss when it comes to scary movies and creepy books, but the recent influx of zombie books had me curious, so I caved. (Also, did you know that there is a weird theory/correlation that when Democrats are elected President, more vampire novels are published and when Republicans are, more zombie novels/movies are created. The articles are a bit dated [except this one], but weird.). I started last year having read none, but that ended with Dark Inside, which despite prevalent opinions among my GoodReads friends, I loved. That was the beginning of my search: I've sought out several zombie post-apocalyptic novels since but none, neither YA or not, have had the appeal and tension that I found so deliciously creepy and involving in Dark Inside. This is a rapidly exapnding subgenre so while I didn't find my reading experience of The Other Life to be particularly revelatory or moving, it was decent. Fair. Not bad. I don't mean to damnwith faint praise but I liked several things about this, and loved none. I could've done without entire subplots (the Sherry/Joshua love connection springs to mind) and would've appreciated a stronger presence from the Weepers mentioned.

Sherry is not a main character to wax philosophically on. I found to be rather one-note and often flat in her narration. The story has an easy rhythm to it, but Sherry herself is not the most original or outstanding main character. Her method of constantly counting as a means of distancing herself emotionally from things, while at first innocuous and understandable (I'd fixate on what I lost too) soon became tiresome and overdone, lacking the impact the author seemed to be trying to impart. The flashbacks to before, to the other life for which the book is named, felt often random in their selection, not really connected to the plot of the book. I get that the author was trying to show the stark dichotomy of Sherry's life before and after, but flashing from a maybe-zombie-rabies cut to Sherry getting grounded? All it did for me was lose any dramatic tension built into the previous scene. I don't have much to say for Sherry herself; she was there, she did her job but I wasn't "wowed" by her. She came off as naive and immature several times and I can only hope she will grow a bit in book number two.

And while I admitted just the previous paragraph that The Other Life does indeed contain a nice rhythm and decent pace, does nearly every single chapter have to end in a cliffhanger? I got tired of that authorial trick years ago, when George R. R. Martin started pulling it in order to avoid actually providing answers and forward momentum, and I don't like it any better here. The Weepers themselves also leave a lot to be desired; they're intelligent. not mindless beasts, which is always much more fun to read about than shambling hunks of corpses. However, they rarely present any form of real threat to the characters. <SPOILER>I mean, does anyone important die? No. Grandpa Edgar and Grandma ClickClick both bite it, but one is offscreen before the book begins and the other dies also not in any kind of dramatic way.<SPOILER> I mean, if I am going to read a book about zombies rabies-infected-mindless-cannibals, I want some tension, I want some fear and I want to believe the threat they pose to the heroes.

I wish some authors would realize that some situations, like maybe when the world is ending due to <SPOILER>man-made variations of rabies</SPOILER>, a romance really isn't necessary or wanted for the characters. We're already supposedly emotionally invested in just seeing this loving desperate family make it alive from the bunker to Safe-Haven to wherever, and with all that, is a romantic drama really an essential addition? And the answer for The Other Life is: no - it's entirely superfluous. Joshua is a nice, smart kid, and while I liked that he was more defined and sure of himself than wishy-washy Sherry ("Oh no! I'm about to be eaten but how can I shoot these poor things that were once just like me?!" over and over) he wasn't a remarkable character. I don't see why he had to be involved with Sherry; I felt no spark, no chemistry between them. It just felt forced, added in just to foment more tension done the line when really, that job should've been done by the zombies waiting to murder and eat everyone.

The book ended rather abruptly and it is a short book, with the plot for book three quite obvious from the last chapters contained and most plotlines left yawning wide open. While I will probably read the inevitable and forthcoming sequel, it's mostly die to the last 30% or so of the book. Some pretty interesting twists were pulled off by the author, to my surprise, and much like Monument 14, jumped this up to a higher rating than expected.

Review: Darkest Knight by Karen Duvall

Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Author: Karen Duvall
Genre: fantasy, supernatural fiction
Series: Knight's Curse #2
Pages: 336 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: March 20 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

"Betray your sisters or your lover. You choose."After the warrior she loves saved her from a murderous gargoyle, Chalice watched helplessly as Aydin turned into a gargoyle himself. Now, free from the curse that enslaved her, Chalice pledges to join her sister knights in The Order of the Hatchet—and do whatever it takes to regain Aydin's humanity…and his love. What she encounters within their hallowed sanctuary is pure intrigue.
Someone—or something—is murdering her sisters in their sleep, provoking fear and suspicion among the order. Meanwhile, Aydin, unable to stay away, starts haunting Chalice's dreams, urging her onward. Ultimately, Chalice will be faced with an agonizing choice—one that will tear away at her newfound identity and force her to choose between duty and desire….

This is the second novel in Duvall's creative series centered around Chalice, a member of an order of knights (The Hatchet Knights) who have been around since the Crusades and mate with the Arelim, the lowest form of angel, to propagate their order.  The same original and quirky ideas for magic present in the first are contained here in second, but I have to say that overall, Ms. Duvall definitely got off on a better foot with this second effort in her UF/PNR offering. While the plot I thought would be the center of Darkest Knight (restoring Aydin back to humanity from his cursed gargoyle form) wasn't at all what this novel was about, I wasn't disappointed. The antagonist created for the events of book two neatly tied in with the mythology and lore of the first and was on the same malevolence level as the previous antagonist, the evil sorcerer-kidnapper Gavin. And while I wasn't as surprised as I could've been at the "reveal" of the Big Bad of the book and the heart of the murders/mystery, I thought it left an interesting possibility for the plot of the sure-to-follow third installment.

I felt tepid and 'mehhh' about the first (Knight's Curse) when I read it last year and a large amount of my dissatisfaction had to do with and centered around the main character Chalice. I liked it well enough, was certainly entertained by it but the knight had a way of frustrating very simple situations, either by not listening or assuming she knew all the answers. Chalice in book two is a bit more aware, a bit more intelligent and a whole lot easier for me to like. I despise when heroines are convinced they shouldn't let allies into their plans because only they can do it, only they know the risk, etc and so on! And while Chalice was like that in the first, I found that her uneasy relationship with guardian-angel Rafe brought out a more mature side to her. While I still didn't wholly invest in Chalice or closely identify with her, I do like several aspects of her personality: her independence, her openness to magic finally, her fighting abilities; I love a heroine that can fight well and Chalice is one those few. Her martial skills complement her prickly personality quite well. One of the few major issues I had with Chalice here in this was her "instructing" the new squires of her order when Chalice has been a knight for less than three months, known of the order for only that long, has never had any formal training herself and there are older, more indoctrinated knights able to do the why pick the newbie who is clueless to teach new members?

What also improved my experience the second time around is the romance of the novel. Or, to be perfectly clear, the lack of stressing the romance and love between Aydin and Chalice. I didn't buy their almost insta-love connection from book one and since they're separated more often in Darkest Knight, I actually got to see them on their own for extended periods of time. They both actually have to work for the relationship (and get over their dumb decisions, like Aydin's particularly stupid rejection in the beginning), and work together to fix Aydin's curse. It brought out another dynamic to their relationship and also helped to flesh out Aydin a bit more independently. I truly like that both people fight and struggle for the other: Aydin wants Chalice just as much as she wants him. Another bonus originality point for this series? Aydin is the swoon-worthy love interest and he is not a typical WASP. Diversity brings a lot to the table and for Aydin especially, it sets him apart from the thousands of UF/PNY love-interests out there. The whole 'gargoyle' thing doesn't hurt, either.

Back to the mythology of Darkest Knight: the world Duvall has created for her novels is a potent one. There are charms, magic, sorcerers, gargoyles, curses, guardian angels and Fallen angels - all with their own conduct, rules and uses. While the lore behind the angels can be confusing sometimes, it is unique and presents an interesting structure for the Hatchet Knights to find mates within. While the charms didn't impress me as much as the creativity shown in the first seems to have waned a tad (except for a pen with ink that makes the writer invisible - not the words being written. That's creative.) with a few exceptions: the "soul-stain" (which reminded me of Lord Denbury's condition in Darker Still), the non-dead non-living "life" of St. Geraldine, the half-sylph half-necromancer exorcist that I picture as an English man who says things like, "My dear chap, I daresay I couldn't possibly...." I also really liked that that the plot of the second book could be found mentioned/hidden within the first; there are references within Knight's Curse that, in hindsight, seem to set up the stage for book two perfectly.

The abrupt ending seemed slightly rushed to me, but definitely did not pull any punches. Characters die, lose their powers, fight and have an all-might brawl that made this quite hard to put down. This is action-packed and though some of the fights seemed redolent of earlier clashes (Evan and Zee, both specifically seemed to pop up for an altercation one too many times - especially Zee!) the pages turn quickly and Chalice's story is amusing for an hour or two. Though I found the uncovering of the Hatchet murderer to be too drawn out and arduous for how obvious it was <SPOILER>(C'mon now guys: who has acted weird and sketchy and arrived just before the murders? Who repeatedly lies and sneaks around, getting into forbidden areas and trinkets? Come on now, it shouldn't take 300 pages!)</SPOILER> Darkest Knight is a fun and enjoyable read. The ending leaves several key plotlines open for a continuing third volume and since this is one of the few series where I've liked the second more than the first, I can guarantee I'll be on the lookout for more from Chalice, Aydin, and my favorite: Ruby.

Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Monday, March 19, 2012
Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: dystopia, young-adult, science fiction
Series: Divergent #1
Pages: 487
Published: May 2011
Source: bought
Rating: 4/5

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her. 

Divergent is a dystopian thriller about a society based around five principles: peace, bravery, knowledge, selflessness, and truth. Every person belongs to one of these factions, which is chosen when they reach adulthood. They go through initiation into their chosen faction and are either accepted or rejected. Normally, their choice is made easy for them: whichever faction they identify with most strongly, as based on their test. But some, called divergent, are able to manipulate their VR simulation- we learn early that they are rare, and they are dangerous. But not for the reasons you might think.

This is the story of Beatrice, a young woman undergoing the trials and tribulations of divergence. Told to keep her true result quiet, she chooses the faction Dauntless- those who value bravery over all else. Coming from Abnegation- the faction of selflessness- she expects to be welcomed into the fold as a new member, but an ugly surprise awaits her. She has to fight, literally and figuratively, her way into the ranks of Dauntless. And along the way, she will discover there is much more to this divergence thing than she could have imagined.

I greatly enjoyed this book. It probably would have been rated a full five if not for the expectations placed upon it. The premise itself was what I found hardest to believe. Five factions, five ways of thought; these are supposed to hold all of human experience? People are far too complex to fall into these kind of circle-shape-goes-in-circle-hole categories. My assumption would be that nearly everyone would be divergent; human action and reaction often depends on the situation presented. Even the most selfish of us can act selfless given the right motivation. Amirite? Having a really scary dystopian landscape where people are forced to identify with ideas far more simplistic than they truly are is a well-known literary tactic. For the purpose of this author's story, the scary factor was almost nil, in the sense that it was more story driven and not concept driven. For me, that meant the story was exciting enough, but not really riveting in the way that mind-fuckers like 1984 are.

That being said, as a YA novel this hit the mark very well. The character of Beatrice, her love interest Four, and the other young adults she has to work with fill the story in a way that speaks of major talent. In comparison with The Hunger Games, (because you knew I'd have to bring that up) the love story is Divergent's strong point. Four and Tris are believable as a couple from the moment they meet, and Four has this sort of brooding, needy sexuality that spices up the narrative nicely.

All in all, a job well done, and I'm definitely looking forward to the next in the series. Recommended.

Two Minute Review: The Last Song by Eva Wiseman

Thursday, March 15, 2012
Author: Eva Wiseman
Genre: historical fiction, young-adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 235 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected April 10 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2.5/5

Spain had been one of the world’s most tolerant societies for eight hundred years, but that way of life was wiped out by the Inquisition. Isabel’s family feels safe from the terrors, torture, and burnings. After all, her father is a respected physician in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Isabel was raised as a Catholic and doesn’t know that her family’s Jewish roots may be a death sentence. When her father is arrested by Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, she makes a desperate plan to save his life – and her own.

When I first came upon Eva Wiseman's novel about 15th century Spain, it sounded like it had everything going for it: an intrepid and conflicted main character, an infamous villain for the ages, an often-ignored but compelling event in history - until I opened the first chapter. What this ended up as was rather superficial story that is too short and too undeveloped to carry any kind of depth or real feeling. I was quickly disillusioned with what was in store for me in this very short young-adult historical novel because my expectations were severely let down by obvious and predictable plotting, little-to-no-characterization and inconsistencies. The Last Song tells the story of fourteen-year-old Isabel, and her family of Converso Catholics in the middle of the Inquistion of Torquemada, and was one I felt rather lukewarm about while reading.

Though this is a novel that cameos visits and appearances from actual historical personages (Ferdinand & Isabel, Torquemada, Isaac Abravanel) in addition to its cast of imaginary people, none of them have life. Torquemada is the architect of all the strife in the book but he is neither distinctive, compelling or charismatic as a villain. Much like Isabel's mother/Isabel's father/Isabel's love interest Yonah (seeing a pattern yet?), he is simply there, wooden and undeveloped. I also had issues with Caterina and Isabel after their husband/father is taken away twice by the holy Inquisition - this will get a bit spoilery so be warned! The family has had a plan in store for SEVENTY PAGES, one prepared for this exact event, and it has to happen twice with weeks before they use their "failproof" plan. I was so frustrated by this obvious cluelessness on behalf of the women that I saw it as a cheap method used to drive the plot forward. Seriously, how do two scared women fighting for their lives and family forget their "Get Out of Torture Free" card/letter?

The plot follows a fairly totally predictable route from the beginning on and never diverges into something greater, more original. Isabel's struggles and problems are no more unique than a thousand historical fiction YA heroines betrothed to someone they loathe with feelings for another, impossible match. It's hard to review a character with so little to recommend or distinguish her, because like I said earlier, Isabel was there. She was serviceable, she did what was required of her for the plot advancement and nothing more. If you erase "Isabel"'s name and input "Luis" "Caterina" or any other, the result would be the same: they played their defined roles and nothing less.

All that aside, I really do like the cover. It does a nice job of hinting at the blood and pain that accompany Torquemada and his familiars wherever they go.

Short-ish Blog Watch Wednesday!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Reviews Posted:

 Fun Stuff:

Several from io9:

This Week in WTF Arizona:
I live in Arizona, this affects me personally and there is almost no media coverage of it. Neither here or on a national level, so please read up and stop this recent trend of misogynist lawmaking.

On a lighter note: I want this alarm clock. It wakes you up with Stephen Fry saying: "It appears to be morning. Very inconvenient, I agree. I believe it is the rotation of the Earth that is to blame, Sir." "I am delighted that you have survived another night." or "I'm afraid that the staff has absconded, Sir, and it is my day off. I trust it would not too onerous, Sir, to make your own exquisitely slices toast and perfectly cooked breakfast?"
Introvert vs. Extrovert Personality Quiz - or ambivert? Yep - it exists but I am not one. I am an extrovert.

This is a rather creative photoshoot that shows seniors looking at a reflection of their younger selves. The first one is my favorite.

Long in the works Ender's Game gets three new cast members.

TUMBLR OF THE WEEK: Least Helpful Reviews.

From Cracked:

Review: Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Title: Dust Girl
Author: Sarah Zettel
Genre: mythic fiction, supernatural fiction, young-adult, historical fiction
Series: The American Fairy Trilogy #1
Pages: 304 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected June 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

This new trilogy will capture the hearts of readers who adore Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle series. 

Callie LeRoux lives in Slow Run, Kansas, helping her mother run their small hotel and trying not to think about the father she's never met. Lately all of her energy is spent battling the constant storms plaguing the Dust Bowl and their effects on her health. Callie is left alone, when her mother goes missing in a dust storm. Her only hope comes from a mysterious man offering a few clues about her destiny and the path she must take to find her parents in "the golden hills of the west" (California). 

Along the way she meets Jack a young hobo boy who is happy to keep her company—there are dangerous, desperate people at every turn. And there's also an otherworldly threat to Callie. Warring fae factions, attached to the creative communities of American society, are very aware of the role this half-mortal, half-fae teenage girl plays in their fate

"An unexpected delight" were the immediate words to pop into my head upon my all-too-soon completion of this historical remake of America in the Dust Bowl - with fairies! Teaching me once again that assumptions are flawed from the outset, both early and often Dust Girl exceeded my expectations. I got a thoroughly developed and humanly flawed heroine, a likeable rogue for a possible love interest, a fresh envisioning of the oft-used Seelie/Unseelie Courts of fae and a very unique background in which all these elements operate: Oklahoma, 1935 right in the grips of the Dust Bowl. From the first page I was taken completely by the story Sarah Zettel has crafted so skillfully and truthfully? I didn't want to end - the potential for awesome shown just in the creativity behind the ideas extends itself as well to the contents of the book.

Calliope referred to as "Callie" and her mom are barely making do in their dying town of Slow Run, Kansas. With a long-gone dad and a struggling mom, Callie is older than her age, mature and self-aware. Her personal evolution progresses right along with her travels to both find her mother and figure out her future - the more Callie sees and understands the more she matures and figures things out independently. She's a smart protagonist and it's easy to root for her with such a sympathetic voice. Callie is also one of the few non-white main characters in YA I've come across lately (Shadows on the Moon's Suzume is the only other I can recall), but thankfully that is not the forefront of her characterization. Callie's mixed race does play a part in the plot of the novel but it by no means defines who she is as a person or character. (I also wish cover more accurately portrayed how Callie is described... )I also appreciate the subtlety in which Callie's race was used as a reminder of the horrendous state of American prejudices without Zettel overdoing it. But what else doesn't define Callie? Her offbeat and thoroughly charming-in-a-rogueish-way love interest, Jack.

Jack is a great addition to the story. He balances out Callie's personality traits with flair, history and wit of his own. I have to admit one of the things I liked best about Jack was that he's not immediately introduced as some swoon-worthy love-interest, nor is his and Callie's connection all about teenage fluctuating hormones. In this very action-packed novel, Jack and Callie make for an unusual but oddly complementary pair. They work well together, despite the occasional bickering (who hasn't been "ready to kill him stone dead" referring to someone they care about?), and I liked them for one another... not that anything progresses to that kind of crux. <spoiler>They are two people used to hiding who they are: Jacob for his religion, Callie because of her multiple hidden heritages. They make sense for one another: they don't have to hide but can freely be themselves.</spoiler>Those looking for a romance-charged YA novel, this is not that book. And I love Dust Girl even more for not going that predictable and inevitably boring route. If anything, what happens between the two main characters is more of an age-appropriate "puppy love" than anything else and it is adorable, and doesn't rely on cheap tricks love triangles to create affecting problems for the two..

The atmosphere/background of the novel is complete and stretches to every aspect of the book. I thoroughly believed I was in the 1930's, and the dialogue reads like how I would expect for an impoverished girl/boy at those times ("I got nothing." "A crazy Eye-Talian", etc.) It feels authentic without patronizing. Zettel also has a unique and charming way with words to paint a vivid but not overdone tapestry of locations throughout Dust Girl. As Callie and Jack move across the dust-covered lands, each different locale springs to life with very tactile but not overly descriptive prose. It's obvious that research has gone into crafting as authentic a representation as possible and Zettel succeeds with flying colors. I also liked the sprinkles of other mythlogies and lore within this tale of fae and fairies: Baya the Coyote familiar to many Native religions, and even Callie's own real name "Calliope" was a player in ancient Greek mythology. These inclusions don't feel odd in the middle of such an America-centric novel, but rather more mesh seamlessly within the larger scope of Zettel's novel of magic. The 'magic' aspect of this could've been expounded upon more (and one of the reasons I rated this a 4 instead of 5 stars is because it wasn't detailed to my satisfaction) but what was there, was serviceable. And creepy. <spoiler>Particularly the Hopper family. I have a fear of grasshoppers (don't judge me! My brother used to hide them in my bed under my covers.) so as soon as Callie figures out what's so odd about the hungry family I got majorly squicked out.</spoiler>

The other main reason why this a 4 star review and not a 5 like I'd love it to, is that the ending leaves a little to be desired. While there are two more novels left to conclude this series, everything seemed a bit too easy and simple at the resolution. It was satisfying in the most part, but I expected more about the fae/magic/the Midnight People. I guess I will just have to be patient and wait for book #2.

Review: The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot

Monday, March 12, 2012
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 528 (paperback ARC version)
Published: March 2012
Source: from publishers for review/book tour
Rating: 5/5

Patient, perfect, and used to being first, Marguerite becomes Queen of France. But Louis IX is a religious zealot who denies himself the love and companionship his wife craves. Can she borrow enough of her sister's boldness to grasp her chance for happiness in a forbidden love?

Passionate, strong-willed, and stubborn, Eleanor becomes Queen of England. Henry III is a good man, but not a good king. Can Eleanor stop competing with her sister and value what she has, or will she let it slip away? 

This is the type of book I am constantly looking for in the historical fiction genre, and rarely seem to stumble across; it's very engaging from the outset, it's lively to read with actualized characters in stead of cardboard historical cutouts, and it's mostly, somewhat accurate. Sophie Perinot may indeed be a first-time author, but you certainly wouldn't know that from reading her debut novel. The Sister Queens tells the captivating and contrasting stories of two proud sisters from Savoy and I was never bored reading about these two fascinating and strong women. This novel is an impressive and lengthy addition to the Tudor-heavy historical fiction genre, and miraculously, one that despite its nearly 530 page length, never bores. I personally read a lot of Tudor-era historical fiction, but this was just the right palate cleanser for all the Howards, Boleyns and Stuarts I usually see re-imagined. Thus, I may not have known as much about or been as familiar with the facts and history of the times the novel takes place during (1234-1255) going into this, but the characters were so vivid and alive that I felt compelled to research the actual personages upon finishing. Ms. Perinot's creation is indelibly her own, but I appreciate the factually-influenced way she presented both her story and her characters.

Marguerite and Eleanor are both sisters and, eventually, Queens, but it is the first bond more than anything that defines them the most. They are each others touchstone, especially once they are separated with Marguerite in France and Eleanor in England. Especially since each country viewed their foreign "Savoyard" Queens as less than appealing, their dependent relationship with the other is realistic and sympathetic. The Sister Queens interjects epistolary (fabricated) letters between the two before every chapter and each missive between the two reinforces just how close these women remained, though separated by years, wars, religion, distance.  The POV shifts back and forth between the two, usually at the chapter breaks. While this could've been easily confusing, the "voices" of each respective Queen is very distinctive and identifiable. I didn't even really notice the use of present-tense for the first few chapters: I just felt that everything in the novel very immediate, in a good way. I could tell when I was reading Eleanor and when I was reading Marguerite before names/places popped up in their thoughts. The relationship between Marguerite and Eleanor, proud daughters of Savoy is the most compelling and emotional of the entire novel: unlike the relationships with their respective husbands, the relationship between the pair is as close to equals as the two can find in their lives. Their is an obvious amount of love between the two, but Perinot early on creatively slides in subtle hints of discord and strife that mar every sisterhood and that will eventually come to affect their bond. 

Eleanor is the younger, covetous and more strident of the two, and my personal favorite of the novel.  She is a woman very concerned with "fairness" and what's right, at least what's right according to her - character traits that will cause her unforeseen problems with both her husband and sister later in life. While I liked the personal evolution that both women undertake during the events of the book, I felt that Eleanor was more personally identifiable for me as a reader. Marguerite, especially as her marriage and happiness in that marriage, waned was more trouble for me to invest within. Perinot's deft foreshadowing on the troublesome piety of Louis IX sets the scene for Marguerite's woes early, but I only cared when she finally took some happiness for herself, rather than sit and pine and wait for her husband to extend some to her. Eleanor grows from an imperious, headstrong girl mostly concerned with what she possesses and controls into a gracious, intelligent queen that is both capable of reigning solely (unheard of at that time in history) and tampering her less-able King and husband's governing impulses.  While neither husband-King of either sister could be rightly termed a "good" king (Henry is very ignorant of the feelings of the populace/Barons that control his country, LouisIX abandons his France for the Holy Land for SEVEN YEARS), both women show their ability to step up and make hard decisions when the menfolk can't seem to get the job done right.

While Eleanor was my self-professed favorite character, I do love a good villain. Blanche of Castile comprises that role for the bulk of the novel for Marguerite, and the "Dragon of Castile" made a malicious and well-mannered antagonist. The tête-à-têtes between Blanche and her daughter-in-law show a different side to the usually meek and accepting Marguerite; the first hints of future independence are shown clearly in her lack of deference to the dowager Queen. While later duties of antagonism were ably handled by her bumbling and ascetic son, Blanche commands attention even when not on the page. Her tussles with her daughter in love over her son/Marguerite's husband illustrate perfectly how alone and powerless Marguerite was in France. Not for her was her sister Eleanor's life of mutual love and respect, which itself was far from typical of the Royal couples of the day. Because of Blanche, Marguerite is a nonentity at the court of which she is Queen. This disparate use of power and control contrasts tidily with the life of Eleanor who schemes and manipulates her own court outright. The difference between the sisters is that Eleanor makes things happen, whereas <spoiler>until Jean</spoiler>and Marguerite is content to sit and wait for things to fall her way

One of the most enjoyable aspects of The Sister Queens is that no matter how convoluted the relationship, how twisted the tale, how unfamiliar the person at Court, Sophie Perinot never talks down to her readers. The tone of condescion from other historical fiction writers is absent entirely from these pages. Events are explained precisely and meticulously, nobles are referred to by their various names without reference to their every title or land (no "Lord Edward Sudbury, 2nd Earl of Westchester-on-the-Green, a Stuart and son of Lord......" type business before a character speaks/etc,) with a clear belief and respect that her readers can ably follow along.

I do wish that more had been shown of Eleanor's "toute seule" reign over England while her husband King Henry III was away. As Eleanor was my favorite and a very capable governor, a view of her directly in charge would've made a good contrast to the usual role she was forced to take. Elanor repeatedly maneuvers her husband into the Royal decisions and decrees which she deems correct before the regency, so a view into her own government would've been interesting to read. I'm also disappointed by the time that the novels ends at - 1255 - when both women have decades of still-tumultuous life ahead of them (Marguerite dies in 1295, Eleanor in 1291). I can't complain about the cut-off point too much or loudly because there is a lot of novel in what is provided (all 500 pages of Court intrigue, betrayals, war, love, uprisings) but I just want more. I want more about these two and their complicated, engrossing relationship from this author.

With her debut novel, Sophie Perinot brings to life, once again, two fascinating woman about whom not much is concretely known. Perinot's Eleanor and Marguerite are not just historical figures reimagined and operating upon the page: they are vibrant, strong, flawed and above all: interesting to read for the entire 528 page length of the book. This is a book that makes me want to read more in the same vein: I've pre-ordered another novel just because it focuses on the four daughters of Savoy who would all marry Kings. This is a book that makes me want another from the author immediately. This is a book that I would love to see spun into a sequel completing the years of the lives of the two main characters. This was a wonderful read and one of my favorites so far this year. This was a wonderful read and one of my favorites so far this year. Move over Tudors, I think I have a new historical royal family obsession.

This  review is part of the Passages to the Past Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour for The Sister Queens. Stop by again on the 23rd of March for an interview with the author, Sophie Perinot. Or, click the link the check out other stops for giveaways, interviews and more reviews!
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