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).


melissa @ 1lbr said...

Good for you to get to your own shelves! I don't have much checked out of the library right now, but SO many review books back logged that it seems I never will. I adored Wildwood Dancing - one of my fave retellings.

Katrina said...

That is so funny that Jon calls it "Downtown Alley." Whenever Chris talks about it he calls it "Downtown" and that starts singing that song "downtown."