Book Review: Witchfall (The Tudor Witch Trilogy #2) by Victoria Lamb

21 Apr

ImageIn this fast-paced sequel to Witchstruck, Meg Lytton is once again threatened from all sides: court remains dangerous with the Spanish Inquisition sniffing out would-be witches and torturing them, Queen Mary will do anything to sully Lady Elizabeth’s name, and Meg’s relationship with Alejandro has been condemned by the Spanish priests. Not to mention the mysterious dark spirits haunting Hampton Court and Meg’s visions of her old enemy, Marcus Dent. Time is running out, and Meg might not be able to save everyone: Lady Elizabeth. Alejandro. And most of all, herself.

I loved the first book in this series, so when I saw the second on Net Galley I rushed to snatch it up. Thank you so much to the publisher for letting me read it in exchange for a review! Second books in trilogies tend to make me nervous, because they so often act as a bridge between one major event and another–but Witchfall did not disappoint. If anything, I enjoyed it even more than Witchstruck.

What I like most about these books are the historical details that the author weaves in which transport the reader back in time. The way people talk, the way they dress, the straw mattresses they sleep on and the tallow candles they use–everything fits perfectly into Tudor England. It’s difficult to find YA historical novels that get this right, and it’s so refreshing to delve into books that have been well-researched and executed.

The characters were just as enchanting as last time–Lady Elizabeth with her alternating kindness and entitlement, Alejandro with his sweet battle between what he thinks is right and what he loves, and Meg with her determination and loyalty. There are a few new additions this time around–Richard, Master Dee’s apprentice, and Alice Upton, a new lady’s maid (who, by the way, earns the distinction of being the only minor character with my last name I’ve ever run across–unless you count Mrs. Upton in A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones, but her name was only mentioned in passing).

My only complaint about this book is that the ending seemed a bit rushed. The book is only 340 pages long or so, and given the monster books published in YA these days, I felt like this book could have been longer to let the story develop a little better when it came to the end.

I’m not complaining too much, though–this book is well-written and suspenseful. With its elements of history, romance, and fantasy, it’s sure to appeal to anyone. I can’t wait for the final installment.

Book Review: City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster

19 Apr

ImageThe Bhinian Empire’s two-child policy and preference for boys resulted in a huge number of baby girls being abandoned, left for the wolves. The City of a Thousand Dolls was set up to accommodate the foundlings. The girls are split into major houses. They are trained to be nobles, healers, wives, mistresses–and when they are sixteen years of age, people of the Bhinian Empire speak for them at the redeeming. Everyone has a place. Everyone, that is, except Nisha. Belonging to no house, Nisha is threatened with slavery unless she can find out who is behind the mysterious murders plaguing the city. Aided by a clan of cats who Nisha can speak to, Nisha risks everything to solve the crime… even her life.

This book had a lot of potential, but I didn’t feel as though it delivered in full. What it suffered from was too big of a story in too few pages.

City of a Thousand Dolls offers an intricate, unique world that takes a step away from your typical medieval, sword-and-sorcery setting most fantasies take on. There was a strict caste system, “outsiders” living in the forest, the City itself with its divided houses and intriguing social structure. All in all, a fantastic, new, refreshing setting, clearly well-thought-out, but not so clearly executed. Much of the world remained undeveloped. Not enough time was spent looking at all of the details of the City; I had no sense of what the area looked like, or how the houses were arranged, or an in-depth view of the politics involved. Nisha had been living there for ten years and apparently knew it like the back of her hand, but by the end of the book I was still itching to know more–the bad kind of itch that comes from not knowing nearly enough to fully enjoy the story.

Similarly, there were several other places about which we know even less. The Kildi. The Sune. We’re told very little about either of them. Nisha spends all of three pages or so with the Kildi, discovers something quite important about them, and then she’s gone again. The House of Shadows could have been cut entirely, the Mistress of Shadows exchanged for some other character at the end, and I would not have missed anything, so little time was spent with them. Basically: all of this information was more than the book could hold. While everything was interesting enough, each element was not given enough room to develop properly, which made everything lack the details that could have made this book brilliant.

The same is true of the characters. There are an awful lot of them, and none had the chance to shine the way they could have done. Nisha was perhaps the least interesting. By the end of the book, I knew that she liked cats, liked Devan, felt as though she didn’t belong anywhere, and that was about it. I didn’t feel like I knew her at all; she was flat and boring, up until the end. I found some of the other characters slightly more interesting: Tanaya, Sashi, Zann. But once again, they weren’t given the opportunity to shine like I felt they could have, had they been given the time and space they deserved.

The main plot was fast-paced and exciting, but once again, it got bogged down by a few side plots that frustrated me. The side plots didn’t feel seamlessly interwoven; rather, it went something like “Oh, there’s a murder. Here, we’ll figure out what Nisha’s back story is while we forget about the murder. Now there’s another murder.” It got pretty choppy, and I almost gave up in the middle of the book.

That said, I did enjoy the ending immensely. I thought it wrapped up loose ends, and while I’d solved the murder quite early on, a few of my other predictions did not come true–rather, the revelations about a few of the characters were much more interesting than I had hoped. Those last thirty or so pages, plus the overall interesting premise, are enough to make me want to read the sequel. While the book wasn’t perfect, it was unique, and that’s something you don’t come across every day.

Book Review: A Taste of Lightning by Kate Constable

15 Apr

ImageTansy, Skir, and Perrin are forced to flee the city of Arvestel on the backs of a couple of the king’s horses after a rescue attempt gone wrong. Chased by soldiers and an evil witch, the three must return to the Cragonlands or die. Aided by Perrin’s beast chanting and Tansy’s quick thinking, can they outsmart their pursuers?

This is something like a companion novel to the Chanters of Tremaris series. While characters from that series are mentioned, I don’t think it’s necessary to have read those books before reading this one.

I wasn’t a fan of this book, unfortunately. While the world appeared to be well-drawn, and the magic well-thought-out, the characters simply weren’t interesting or well developed. Problem #1 is that both Tansy and Skir read like 12-year-olds, and when you find out they’re 16 it’s a bit of a shock. Plus, the dialogue wasn’t true to form. I did like that Tansy had a bit of an accent, but the others sounded like modern-day teenagers walking around in what was clearly a medieval-like world, and that’s one of my main pet peeves.

Basically, the book just didn’t hold my attention. Without caring about the characters, there’s very little for me in a book. This one just didn’t do it for me.

What I’m Doing Monday

14 Apr

Woops, forgot to do this last week! I fell a little behind last week due to not feeling great toward the end, and I’m behind already today because my husand’s off work and I never get anything done when he’s around. There WAS some Game of Thrones watching though, so there’s that… 

What I’m Writing
Last week, I wrote a series of articles about the origins of the states/provinces/counties/territories of most of the English-speaking countries: United States, Canada, Australia, England, Scotland, and Wales and Northern Ireland. I think I should probably suggest New Zealand and Ireland so they don’t feel left out…

What I’m Reading
The Taste of Lightning by Kate Constable

I also went to the library and stocked up. I’m in another book rut… I keep starting books that end up not interesting me. I feel like I’m getting caught “in-between” genres. YA is losing its appeal with all of its vampires, werewolves, and over-the-top romances; but adult books are boring, with too many characters and too complicated of a plot. I hate thinking when I’m reading. Anyway, here’s a pile of hopefuls I picked up:

Just a Girl by Jane Caro
City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster
The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett
A Novel of Intrigue and Romance by Michaela MacColl (yes, okay, I do know what I just said… but it’s Queen Victoria!)
The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

Camp NaNoWriMo
Is at a virtual stand-still… writing never happens when I’m in a reading-rut. :(

Book Review: Legacy of the Clockwork Key (The Secret Order #1) by Kristin Bailey

11 Apr

ImageWhen a fire destroys Meg’s home, killing both of her parents, all she has left in the world is an old pocket watch she scooped out of the ashes. But soon she learns that the pocket watch is a key, and she starts unlocking a lot of secrets that might have been better kept hidden. There are now murders to solve, someone to bring back from the dead, and a man trying to kill Meg. Can she survive to see her mission through to the end?

The first 40 pages of this book caused me to go to Goodreads and click “want to read” on the two sequels. The whole plot set up was interesting, intriguing, and kept me turning pages. Unfortunately, it spiraled down from there.

While the plot continued to grip me, the characters did not. They felt flat and undeveloped. I didn’t know Meg any better at the end of the book than I did at the beginning, and didn’t like her any better either (considering I thought she was selfish, whiny, naive, entitled, and impulsive at the beginning, she had a lot of room to improve). I honestly didn’t care about any of them, let alone about Meg and Will’s relationship.

You all know I’m not into romance anyway, but done well I can appreciate it–this was not done well. When I see a female lead run into a rugged, brooding male character her age, I know that she is going to get together with him. I do not need to be reminded through her constant blushing, his constant looking at her feet, or a secondary character’s constant eyebrow wiggles and hints. Even more annoying is the main character’s assertion that “She doesn’t love him–does she??” The main character has a lot more important things to think about than romance. Quite frankly, subtlety goes a long way. A bit of mystery and obliviousness on the part of SOMEONE would keep me turning pages, rooting for the relationship to finally happen. If everyone knows it’s already going to happen from page 40, there’s no reason to continue reading.

Apart from that, those first 40 pages were quite well written and put me in the time period–then I felt like the author lost those important threads that tied everything together, and I became more and more disappointed. The plot continued to be interesting, if a bit oversimplified, but it wasn’t enough to keep me entertained. I probably won’t be reaching for the sequels.

Book Review: Lady Thief (Scarlet #2) by A. C. Gaughen

5 Apr

To read my review of the first book in this series, Scarlet, click here.

ImageThe Sheriff of Nottingham is dead, and a new sheriff must take his place. Among the contenders for the position is none other than Gisbourne, Scarlet’s spurned husband, who returns to Sherwood Forest with an ultimatum: Scarlet must live in the castle with him while Prince John is there, or he will make her life a misery when he is nominated sheriff. Ill-advised as this may seem, Scarlet takes him up on it, and ends up suffering one blow after another. Just when it seems things are looking up, the band of thieves finds itself a member short, and Scarlet is once again bent on revenge.

Though I didn’t like this book quite as much as I loved Scarlet, it was still a gripping, engaging read. Much to my surprise, it didn’t suffer from “middle book syndrome” which I’ve found with a lot of trilogies–where the middle book is simply a plodding bridge between the exciting beginning and the ultimate climax. Lady Thief managed to continue the story of Scarlet, picking up the old plot and warping it into a new, equally exciting one.

The main characters are all just as lovable, even with their rough edges, as they were before, and I found the love between Rob and Scarlet a bit easier to take and more believable this time around. I still loved Scarlet’s voice and her struggles to make herself become more “noble” and the strength she found when she found out who she truly was.

My only real complaint is this: the villains seemed too comically evil. They laughed cruelly, threw tantrums, relished in the pain of their victims… and I just didn’t see much of a motive. I prefer villains who, if they are not justified in their villainy in some way, are truly frightening. I just didn’t get that from Gisbourne or Prince John. Whenever they were on the page, they annoyed me more than anything else.

That said, this was still a great book with an ending that will gut you (and someone else). It promises an even better sequel, and I’ll be snatching it up as soon as it comes out (even if it’s only listed as Untitled with no release date yet on Goodreads…)

What I’m Doing Monday

31 Mar

As I mentioned last week, I’m going to copy my friend at Paper, Pen, and No Plan and post “What I’m Doing Monday” each week. I can’t believe it’s already time for another one of these–the days go by so fast!

What I’m Writing

Yeah, so, I didn’t make nearly as much headway last week as I should have done, and as a result I’m going to be short of my quota this month. I really ought to have worked on things this weekend. Oddly enough, I’m going to be short the three articles that I missed in the first week or about which I said, “Oh, it doesn’t matter, I can make them up later.” As you can see… no. This week also starts a brand new month, which means starting fresh with the targets. I’m aiming for extra this month as I’m going to be in the States for three weeks in May, and while I’ll certainly have time to do articles–unlike when we go to Europe in September (which I’ll be preparing for in June, July, and August)–I want to have a stash prepared just in case. So, without further ado, here are the articles I finished last week:

  • The Origin of the Phrase Quitting Cold Turkey
  • Why Some People Are Morning Birds and Others Are Night Owls
  • The Short Life of the U.S. Army’s Camel Corps
  • The Actress Who Played Elaine in Seinfeld is the Daughter of a Billionaire

What I’m Reading
I suppose, technically, it’s still The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman. I barely read anything at all last week. This happens toward the end of each month when I’m stressed about meeting targets! I actually ordered two books last week that I’m looking forward to: Lady Thief by A.C. Gaughen (sequel to Scarlet) and The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen (last in the Ascendance Trilogy). Hopefully those two will be able to get me back on track with reading!

Jodie Llewellyn

The ramblings of an aspiring YA author.

"Yeah. But So What? Everybody's Weird."

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