Thursday, January 31, 2013

Classic Double Challenge: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Splintered

 I'm excited about participating in Melissa's Classic Double Challenge over at One Librarian's Book Reviews this year! I'm going to try and do two or three more of these because it's just so much fun to read an original classic and compare it with a modern retelling. First up, Alice in Wonderland and Splintered!

From Goodreads:
Weary of her storybook, one "without pictures or conversations," the young and imaginative Alice follows a hasty hare underground--to come face-to-face with some of the strangest adventures and most fantastic characters in all of literature.

The Ugly Duchess, the Mad Hatter, the weeping Mock Turtle, the diabolical Queen of Hearts, the Cheshire Cat--each more eccentric than the last--could only have come from that master of sublime nonsense, Lewis Carroll.

My Rating: ****

It was weird reading this, because I was so familiar with everything that happened, except it was strangely different than I was expecting. And yep, strange and weird and probably some of the best descriptors for Alice. Seriously, sometimes it was so bizarre I wondered if that's what it would feel like to be on hallucinogens. Alice's adventures are so upside down that they are hard to follow at times. But holy cow the creativity. The poetry! The sheer genius of Lewis Carroll.

I enjoyed it.

It didn't take long to read either, which was nice, plus I'm not sure how much more of that my brain could have handled. I liked that it was also subtle satire on that period's education system, with poems and lessons mixed-up and mocked. I'm glad I can now say that I've read it. I'm not sure what my kids would think of it, though. I'm considering trying it out on them... I'll let you know if I do.

From Goodreads:
Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.
My Rating: ***

Okay. I really liked the way Splintered was connected to the original story of Alice in Wonderland. So clever! I loved the completely tangible connection to the actual book and the person who inspired it and the way that Wonderland turned out to be real. Except horribly, grotesquely MORE.

Just to warn you.... Splintered is creepy and morbid and gross at times. It gets really dark (not totally my style which is partially why it only gets three stars from me). But the way that A.G. Howard took the original elements of the book and reimagined them for her world was genius. Everything is there and everything is the same, but so much scarier.

Then there are the characters. Alyssa was just too much of a wimp for most of the book. She relies so heavily on Jeb for everything and Jeb is so annoyingly protective and over-bearing. Fortunately that changes later on, but it was too little too late for me. Honestly, I liked Morpheus more. He had such an incredible depth to him. All sorts of mixed motives and conflicting actions. He kept it interesting for me.

Splintered is vivid, weird, shocking, magical, and so engrossing. A good read if you're a fan of the original story and can stomach some of the nastier bits.

Content: Just dark, scary, and violent. There's really not much in the way of sex (some innuendo) and foul language.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


From Goodreads:
Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig, along with her brother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors, anxiously awaits news of her father's victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, and a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.
Those charged with protecting the king's children are all suspect, and the siblings must choose their allies wisely. But who can be trusted so far from their father's watchful eye? Can Solveig and her siblings survive the long winter months and expose the traitor before he succeeds in destroying a kingdom?

My Rating: *****

What a fantastic book! Icefall was a bit of a surprise for me - not that I wasn't expecting to like it because I'd heard lots of good things about it, but I wasn't expecting to be so blown away. First off, I loved the Norse mythology. I'm a bit of a mythology nut in general, but I loved, loved, loved the way Norse stories and culture were used in Icefall. The book is magical and exciting. Solveig and her siblings are trapped by the ice and surrounded by people they're not sure they can trust. It's a very exciting premise and so well played-out. I was engrossed and flew through this book, trying to figure out what was going on and how they were going to survive, especially when the traitor began sabotaging supplies.

Solveig is awesome. She goes from feeling like she is the unimportant middle daughter of the king to a person who discovers her own worth and talents. She's incredibly brave at the end. And I especially loved how she was training to be a storyteller and the way each chapter began with a little bit of story told by Solveig.

This is a great book and perfect for winter. Sort of. I got colder every time I sat down to read it. :D Anyway, highly recommended for fans of mythology and well-told stories. Honestly, if I had to name the writer this book reminded me of, it would be Shannon Hale. Icefall had that same poetic tone and the descriptions were so lyrical and magical. Beautiful writing, fantastic, exciting story!

Friday, January 25, 2013


I'm pretty much always moaning about the fact that I never get to meet authors or go to book events. Sometimes I feel so isolated here in Boise because nothing bookish happens around here and I don't know any other Idaho book bloggers. Seriously, if you know one (or if you ARE one!) let me know because I need more bookish friends. And authors never come to Boise. I was totally jealous that last week my mother-in-law just happened to go to an event in Utah where Shannon Hale signed a book for her. You Utahns have all the luck. *sniff*

Whine, whine, whine.

Anyway, I first heard about this YA2U contest on Beth Revis's blog and I didn't think much of it at the time, but today I saw a post about it on my library's website. I went to check out the YA2U website and imagine my complete shock when I saw that BOISE was #1 in the voting so far.


Seriously if Boise wins I am buying all those books (well, I already have half of them but I'll buy the rest) so I can go meet some amazing authors and get them signed. I'm kind of freaking out that it might actually happen.

Beth Revis!!! I adore her Across the Universe series.

Marissa Meyer!! As if Cinder wasn't one of the absolute best books of last year. I'm currently being incredibly impatient for Scarlet.

I'm also excited about Victoria Schwab's The Archived (hello living, breathing library) and Megan Shepherd's The Madman's Daughter (historical fiction retelling of The Island of Dr. Moreau).


Be nice to me. :D If you're a local (and I know I have a few local friends who read this blog), go here and vote for Boise.

I think I'll make that bigger.
 Even if you're not a local. Even if you want YA2U to come to your city, vote for mine instead. :D
I will love you forever.
Or something.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

For Review from NetGalley: Cinders and Sapphires, Scent of Magic, and Rapunzel Untangled

 I'm sort of a shy blogger. Even though I've been going for four years now, I haven't tried very hard to get ARCs from publishers or network much with other bloggers (even though I stalk tons of them and think they're so cool). So - one of my goals this year is to expand this blog more and not be so chicken about commenting when I read a great review. And as for ARCs, though my purpose in blogging isn't to get them (my purpose is that I need an outlet for my obsessive love for reading) I certainly wouldn't complain about free books. Maybe I should try harder. At least I have NetGalley.

NetGalley is awesome.

Thank you to NetGalley, Disney Book Group, Harlequin Limited, and Cedar Fort, Inc. for early access to these titles!

From Goodreads:
One house, two worlds...

Rose Cliffe has never met a young lady like her new mistress. Clever, rich, and beautiful, Ada Averley treats Rose as an equal. And Rose could use a friend. Especially now that she, at barely sixteen, has risen to the position of ladies’ maid. Rose knows she should be grateful to have a place at a house like Somerton. Still, she can’t help but wonder what her life might have been had she been born a lady, like Ada.

For the first time in a decade, the Averleys have returned to Somerton, their majestic ancestral estate. But terrible scandal has followed Ada’s beloved father all the way from India. Now Ada finds herself torn between her own happiness and her family’s honor. Only she has the power to restore the Averley name—but it would mean giving up her one true love . . . someone she could never persuade her father to accept.

Sumptuous and enticing, the first novel in the At Somerton series introduces two worlds, utterly different yet entangled, where ruthless ambition, forbidden attraction, and unspoken dreams are hidden behind dutiful smiles and glittering jewels. All those secrets are waiting . . . at Somerton.

My Rating: ****

It's being billed as the YA Downton Abbey and rightly so. I'm a big Downton fan (yeah, yeah, I know it's nothing more than a dressed-up soap opera) and I really enjoyed Cinders and Sapphires. It has it all: the drama, the scandals, the secrets, the romance, the history... It's a great piece of historical fiction, even if some of the drama was over the top. Some of the big "hidden" reveals were so obvious I was a little irritated. Seriously, if you don't know who Rose's real father is by page two I'll accuse you of being a bit daft.

So the story wasn't incredibly original, but I liked the people enough that this was bumped up to four stars. I was a big lady Ada fan - yay for women's suffrage! Poor girl just wants to go to Oxford, wants to write, wants to do anything but endure the season with all its horrors. And Ravi was an unexpected delight, bringing with him all sorts of interesting history and politics. I love learning about Britain's dynamics with its colonies and I adore India, so that was a big plus for the story.

And Rose was my favorite. A housemaid/lady's maid with hidden musical talent who turns out to be a gifted composer? Yeah. I can't wait to see where her story goes next. And as for the rest of the cast, there are plenty of gems and quite enough nasty characters to get a full range of side stories and get sucked into every aspect of life on the estate.

Overall, lots of fun to read and I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Content: No swearing or violence. The only sexual content is that it's made clear one of the men is sleeping with his valet. Nothing happens on page, but I seriously wish they hadn't gone there. It's feeling very cliche to always have a gay side plot.

Cinders and Sapphires is available now.

Sequel to Touch of Power
 From Goodreads (highlight to read):
As the last Healer in the Fifteen Realms, Avry of Kazan is in a unique position: in the minds of her friends and foes alike, she no longer exists. Despite her need to prevent the megalomanical King Tohon from winning control of the Realms, Avry is also determined to find her sister and repair their estrangement. And she must do it alone, as Kerrick, her partner and sole confident, returns to Alga to summon his country into battle.

Though she should be in hiding, Avry will do whatever she can to support Tohon’s opponents. Including infiltrating a holy army, evading magic sniffers, teaching forest skills to soldiers and figuring out how to stop Tohon’s most horrible creations yet; an army of the walking dead—human and animal alike and nearly impossible to defeat.

War is coming and Avry is alone. Unless she figures out how to do the impossible ... again.

My Rating: ****

Maria V. Snyder is one of my favorite fantasy writers. She always sucks me in and delivers gorgeously magical worlds, wonderful characters, and perfect romance. Some of her books, though, aren't quite as great as her others. Scent of Magic was good, but not a five star read for me.

First off, it bugs me when characters spend all of a first book falling in love, finally get together, and then are immediately torn apart in the sequel. Yeah, I get it. You need tension in a story. But maybe a little more subtlety? Anyway, Avry and Kerrick spend no time together and spend half (or more) of the book believing the other is dead. And I really wanted to see Avry using her awesome healing powers more, but she spends her time in disguise in the military being kind of boring. Kerrick's little personal dramas were not super gripping and overall I was irritated by the constant change in perspective in the storytelling, each time ending in what seemed to be a desperate cliffhanger for the character, which didn't turn out to be all that big a deal anyway.

The story picks up towards the end and I will always be fascinated by the peacy lilys and death lilys and their mysterious powers. I still really liked Avry as a character, but this felt like a middle book (in the worst way) for her and for everyone else. Still, I couldn't put it down and I loved being sucked into one of Maria V. Snyder's great worlds. Here's hoping that the final book will be spectacular!

Scent of Magic is available now.

From Goodreads:
Rapunzel is not your average teenager.

For one thing, she has a serious illness that keeps her inside the mysterious Gothel Mansion. And for another, her hair is 15 feet long. Not to mention that she’s also the key to ultimately saving the world from certain destruction. But then she meets a boy named Fane, who changes all she has ever known, and she decides to risk everything familiar to find out who she really is.

Filled with romance, adventure, and mystery, Rapunzel Untangled is one story you won’t want to put down. Discover the true meaning of love and friendship in this modern twist to the classic fairytale.

My Rating: ***

It's not the most epic of fairy-tale retelllings, but charming enough and I enjoyed reading it. I liked watching Rapunzel discover the outside world and I thought her naivete was well-played without being annoying. I can't say that I loved her relationship with Fane. Plus, if my daughter were reading this I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND she not arrange meetings with people she doesn't know based on their facebook profile and a couple of flirty chats. Rapunzel and Fane's relationship grew on me a bit, but it always felt too "we're so dramatically in love!" for me. It works in a fairy tale (sometimes) but in a contemporary retelling I want something that feels more like the real world. And that was my other problem: the whole novel is so contemporary that when all of a sudden magic is introduced at the end it feels like it doesn't fit. I almost think this would have been stronger if Gothel had turned out to be nothing more than a mentally-unhinged psychopath.

But I read this fast and there were things that were so well done. Hello, setting. Gothel Mansion is perfect and mysterious and full of secrets. When Rapunzel leaves her tower for the first time I was so excited to see what else was in that creepy house and I was not disappointed. And like I said before, watching Rapunzel discover everything from M&Ms to Lord of the Rings to playgrounds was kind of fun.

Recommended for fans of cute, clean, fairy-tale retellings for teens. Kinda like Janette Rallison (except not as funny or brilliant :D).

Rapunzel Untangled will be available February 12th.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

First reads of 2013

I've been in the zone lately, doing major clean-up on my to-read piles and actually getting to my long list of books I own but haven't read yet. It's totally weird for me right now not to have a single book out at the library. I read them all! And though I have about 30 holds right now, nothing is coming my way for a bit since the new releases haven't come out yet. Once they do I'm sure I'll have a flood, but until then I'm enjoying hitting my own shelves.

Here are the first few reads of 2013:

High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It's an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle's hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm.

But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he's there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena's sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom--an impossible union it's up to Jena to stop.

When Cezar's grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can't imagine--tests of trust, strength, and true love.

My Rating: *****

I loved this! It's probably my favorite retelling of Twelve Dancing Princesses yet (and I own two other brilliant ones: Entwined, and Princess of the Midnight Ball). The gorgeous setting (Transylvania) was totally unique for this tale, and everything from the awesome names to the local legends added atmosphere and flair. Yes, there are even hints at vampires, but not at all in a cliche way. I thought Jena was the perfect heroine: strong, feisty, smart, imperfect, lovable. I also liked that instead of twelve sisters (which can be a lot to keep track of in a novel), there were only five girls in Jena's family, each with very individual personalities and stories (can't wait to read the companion novel, Cybele's Secret, a story about one of Jena's sisters). The story had a good pace and the writing was gorgeously descriptive. Magic, danger, enchanted frogs... you want to read this. I promise.

As a child, Coriel Halsing spent many glorious summers at Castle Auburn with her half-sister-and fell in love with a handsome prince who could never be hers. But now that she is a young woman, she begins to see the dark side of this magical place...

My Rating: ****

Okay, that's not much of a blurb, but it's all goodreads had and I'm too lazy to write a better one. Essentially, Corie is the illegitimate daughter of a very important lord. Her father passes away, but her uncle decides that Corie needs to be integrated at court, so she spends every summer at Castle Auburn. I loved this book! Courtly intrigue, an enslaved fairy race, romance, poison, love potions... And one of the coolest things about Corie is that when she's not at Castle Auburn, she spends her time learning to be an herb witch. She makes all sorts of cool potions and medicines in the book. Super cool, and a fabulously entertaining book.

Valancy lives a drab life with her overbearing mother and prying aunt. Then a shocking diagnosis from Dr. Trent prompts her to make a fresh start. For the first time, she does and says exactly what she feels. As she expands her limited horizons, Valancy undergoes a transformation, discovering a new world of love and happiness. One of Lucy Maud Montgomery's only novels intended for an adult audience, The Blue Castle is filled with humour and romance.

My Rating: *****

So, so good. If you loved Anne of Green Gables I highly recommend you try The Blue Castle, one of L.M. Montgomery's few books written for adults. It has all the beautiful writing and scenery and all the super funny scenes you'd expect from her. Oh it was so fun! Okay, I wasn't sold for the first big chunk of the book. Valancy's life is horrible and she is so whiny and feels so sorry for herself - all for good reasons but there's only so much of that I can stand in a character. I was starting to think, "She'd better stop feeling bad for herself and do something about it" when she did. Boy did she ever. Oh my gosh, some of the funniest scenes I've ever read! I was dying at the dinner party when she finally told her family exactly what she thought about them. And so she runs away from home and finds what she's searching for (not without a few complications, though) and Barney... oh Barney. Anyway, it was pure delight reading this. Definitely a new favorite.

Benson Fisher escaped from Maxfield Academy’s deadly rules and brutal gangs.

Or so he thought.

But now Benson is trapped in a different kind of prison: a town filled with hauntingly familiar faces. People from Maxfield he saw die. Friends he was afraid he had killed.

They are all pawns in the school’s twisted experiment, held captive and controlled by an unseen force. As he searches for answers, Benson discovers that Maxfield Academy’s plans are more sinister than anything he imagined—and they may be impossible to stop.

My Rating: ***

Okay, this sequel to Variant wasn't bad, but I had a hard time getting excited about it. The action scenes seemed non-stop (especially toward the end) - kind of reminded me of the Maze Runner series by James Dashner - and I just didn't feel like I understood Benson or connect with him. Which is sad because that's my son's name :D. The story is violent and gruesome, without making me feel horror (as an example, Benson has his flesh cut to the bone often - sometimes multiple times a day - so others can check that he's not a robot, but apparently this doesn't hurt or leave a big old gaping wound?) People die constantly and I feel no emotional connection to them so it doesn't seem to matter. This book also has one of the most pathetic attempts at a love triangle I've ever seen. In fact, I would say that Robison Wells should just not try and write romance at all. His books would be better without them. I just kept thinking, "Why? Why would Benson do that/kiss her/declare love for (that character)."

But the story is interesting with some cool sci-fi twists. There's another big one towards the end of this book that, while not as jaw-dropping as the first book's twist, was still kind of thrilling. I'll be reading the third book after it comes out, but I won't be in a hurry to do it.

To escape a scheme to marry her off to a dishonorable man, Margaret Macy flees London disguised as a housemaid. If she can remain unwed until her next birthday, she will receive an inheritance, and with it, sweet independence. But she never planned on actually working as a servant. And certainly not in the home of Nathaniel and Lewis Upchurch--both former suitors.

As she fumbles through the first real work of her life, Margaret struggles to keep her identity secret when suspicions arise and prying eyes visit Fairbourne Hall. Can she avoid a trap meant to force her from hiding?

Brimming with romance and danger, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall takes readers inside the fascinating belowstairs world of a 19th-century English manor, where appearances can be deceiving.

My Rating: ****

I've been wanting to try another Julie Klassen (since I liked The Apothecary's Daughter) and this one sounded interesting, especially because I've been watching Downton Abbey (which my husband calls "Downtown Alley" - thinks it's nothing better than a soap opera, which I kind of agree with except I enjoy it anyway :D) and I'm into upstairs/downstairs dynamics lately. I love learning more about the lives of servants. This book has a nice story and I always like it when a book can pull off girl in disguise. Margaret definitely grows throughout the book which is good because I immediately disliked her in the beginning. Prissy, spoiled, rich girl. I didn't like Nathaniel or Lewis from the start either. So, kudos to Julie Klassen for making me fall in love with her main characters (and quite a few of the side characters as well). I liked the history of this book too, especially learning exactly what life is like for an under-housemaid. I loved the servant dynamics and politics. Great stuff!

So the romance was predictable (and squeaky clean) and everything ends happily ever after and this is very much a fluff book, but it's exactly what I was in the mood for. One other side note: this is technically Christian fiction, which I don't usually love despite the fact that I'm a very religious person. It always feels heavy-handed and unnatural in books, in my opinion. There's definitely a little bit of that here, but it's not the main emphasis. Characters think about God, pray, and read scriptures on occasion but it wasn't enough to bug me. Recommended for fans of clean Regency romance (like Edenbrooke, except this wasn't quite that good).

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Books I Will (and Won't) Buy in 2013

I'm not going to post much in the way of reading goals this year. My plan is to stick to my usual 100 books or so and to continue reading what I love (YA fantasy/dystopian/contemporary/historical fiction with the occasional children's/adult/classic thrown in). I'm also making it a goal to not just keep up with the new books and sequels I'm excited about (see my sidebar over there on the left for that list) but to reread books I own and love and also to read books I own that I haven't read yet.

That said, there are a few books this year I'm looking forward to most that I will be buying.

 Last book in Beth Revis's trilogy and I can't wait to see it end! I'm frustrated because the covers changed and so this final one won't match my other two covers, but it'll be worth it to find out how it all ends and to have this complete set on my shelves.
 Cinder was so amazing. I'm dying to read this and this cover will look so pretty next to Cinder!
 Another end to another series and knowing Lauren Oliver I'm sure it will be beautiful and heartbreaking. Can't wait to read it and own it. Except I'm not a fan of this cover (or the covers of the other books).
 Ah, The False Prince was so good! Really excited to see where the story goes next. It's a must-buy since I've lent out The False Prince more times than I can count and I'm sure the sequel will be just as popular.
 I hardly need to say anything about this one, right? If you haven't read the first, you're missing out. It's HILARIOUS.
Tuesdays at the Castle was so charming and sweet! I own all of Jessica Day George's books and this one belongs on my shelf. :D
Some others that don't have covers yet:
Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund (I loved For Darkness Shows the Stars!)
The House of Hades by Rick Riordan (Mark of Athena's cliffhanger is STILL killing me)
Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson (I've already reread Edenbrooke twice - this sequel is a must-buy for me)
I tend to only buy books I know I will reread and books I know I'll end up lending out to family, friends, and piano students.
There are plenty of other books that I'm really looking forward to getting from the library, though (and if I'm feeling rich, some of these might just end up being bought as well - in other words, it's highly unlikely that I will buy them this year... :D):
 Sequel to Legend, one of the best dystopians of 2012
 Sequel to Under the Never Sky and can't wait to see where the story goes! Really hoping it doesn't introduce one of those awful secondary love interests...
 Sequel to Everneath. HAVE to find out what happens next!
 Incarnate was a little weird, but I'm fascinated by the premise all the same and will for sure be reading this sequel to see what's next.
 Kiersten White's new series! Will be great, I'm sure.
 Sequel to Partials which was an awesome sci-fi thriller.
 Brandon Mull's third book in his Beyonders series. I wish these were to-buy, but I haven't loved them as much as his Fablehaven books. Still for sure on my to-read.
Sequel to Shadow and Bone which was such an imaginative and creative fantasy. This one's pretty close to getting flipped over to the to-buy list!
And one more without a cover:
The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
Last book in her Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy, and the first two books were amazing. Can't wait for the end and may just buy all three this year. We'll see.
What's on your to-buy list?