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.

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