Soulless

PrintSoulless (The Parasol Protectorate)Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate) by Gail Carriger by Gail Carriger

If you’ve read my reviews for the Finishing School series, author Gail Carriger‘s name may be familiar. This series was written first, but it takes place twenty years or so after the first. There are some connections between the two, but one book in I’d say it’s not essential that you read the other one first.

If I’d never read the other series, I’d likely be much more enthusiastic about this one. As it is though, I preferred that one as it’s aimed at young adults and is much lighter on the romance aspects. This one has more specifics than I sometimes appreciated (it’s not graphic, although there would have been too much for my grandmother. As if she’d have read a book with vampires, werewolves, and all the other fantasy elements of this one to let the romance aspect be the only issue.)

My preference is definitely to be skimpy on the romance details however – let’s keep the plot moving forward, and skip the lovely dovey stuff/other action. Your mileage may vary. 😉

I enjoy the imaginative world Carriger has created, and despite my quibbles, will be reading more in the series. I’d recommend it to any fantasy fans who think it sounds intriguing – it’s a quick and easy read, and won’t require much of a reading investment to find out if it’s a style you enjoy.

But start with Etiquette and Espionage. It’s so much fun, and it does come first chronologically. 🙂

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Fairest

FairestFairest: Levana’s StoryFairest: The Lunar Chronicles: Levana's Story by Marissa Meyer (#3.5 in the Lunar Chronicles series) by Marissa Meyer

I’ve loved Marissa Meyer‘s Lunar Chronicles series, but wasn’t sure how I felt about the addition of this originally unplanned entry to the series.

After reading it, I’m still not sure. While I guess I can somewhat appreciate learning Levana’s backstory a bit, and having something eased the wait until the final book is published, is that enough?

It felt like an added-on book, without the depth that has made the others so unexpectedly enjoyable. How many examples did we need of how awful Levana is? And how much does having this weaker entry tarnish the overall excellence of the series?

What I did like is how you can see the incremental steps that took Levana down the path to becoming the despotic tyrant she is in Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress. There are moments of recognizing that maybe if she’d just NOT done this or that, how different things could have been for her, and for so many others.

While chronologically this book comes first, don’t read it that way. It would diminish the fun and discovery you’ll otherwise have with the others. Plus this is the weakest of them all, and if you start with it you might not be inclined to continue.

Despite my complaints about it, I wasn’t really all that disappointed in it – my expectations were pretty low, so it actually surpassed what I thought it might be. I enjoyed the character of Solstice, and seeing some of the characters we see in the other books. All in all though, this is an entirely skippable entry into the series, and not really worth the reading time.

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Waistcoats and Weaponry

Waistcoats and Weaponry (Finishing School #3) by Gail CarrigerWaistcoats & WeaponryWaistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3) by Gail Carriger by Gail Carriger

Book three was maybe just a tiny bit of a disappointment to me, but saying why veers into spoilers, so I’ll just leave it at some concerns with the direction the plot is heading. And yet I’m still very excited by the series overall, and so perhaps I should leave it at a “reserving judgment” status until the final book releases this fall.

If the cover catches your attention, or you’re curious about a finishing school that doubles as espionage training in an alternative version of England, start with book number one – Curtsies & Conspiracies. It’s utterly ridiculous in a way that had me completely entertained. There are werewolves, vampires, a school in a floating dirigible. There’s a shady group known as “Picklemen.” The servants are mostly mechanized. There’s even a mechanical dog who is frequently disguised as a reticule.

The final book, Manners & MutinyManners & Mutiny (Finishing School #4) by Gail Carriger, is scheduled to publish this November and I am hoping there are no snags or delays with publication. I need to know how everything resolves!

Publisher’s Description:
Class is back in session….

Sophronia continues her second year at finishing school in style–with a steel-bladed fan secreted in the folds of her ball gown, of course. Such a fashionable choice of weapon comes in handy when Sophronia, her best friend Dimity, sweet sootie Soap, and the charming Lord Felix Mersey hijack a suspiciously empty train to return their chum Sidheag to her werewolf pack in Scotland. But when Sophronia discovers they are being trailed by a dirigible of Picklemen and flywaymen, she unearths a plot that threatens to throw all of London into chaos. With her friends in mortal danger, Sophronia must sacrifice what she holds most dear–her freedom..

Book Details

Title: Waistcoats & WeaponryWaistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School) by Gail Carriger
Author: Gail Carriger
Series: Finishing School, #3
Category: Fiction / Fantasy
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

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Seraphina

SeraphinaSeraphinaSeraphina by Rachel Hartman by Rachel Hartman

I want to say that covers don’t sway me when I’m selecting books to read, but that’s not true. I can absolutely fall for a gorgeous cover (although a weak description can make me put the book aside, beautiful cover or not). Seraphina was one where the cover caught my eye and the description sounded appealing enough. Sold! Or, borrowed at least, as this was another library book for me. 🙂

While the book itself doesn’t fully live up to that cover, it’s a solid-enough entry in the fantasy realm that I’ll look for the second book. I want to know what happens with Seraphina, the dragons, the princess and the prince.

What didn’t work so well for me, and kept this from being a YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK RIGHT NOW review? The pacing is a bit slow at times (or at least uneven). There is a big section early in the book where Seraphina is “tending” her “mental garden” that is so boring to read. It ends up mattering, but I mostly skimmed it – I hate reading dream sequences in novels, and this was too much like a dream sequence. Some plot points seemed too obvious. Of course this or that is going to happen, the only question was when or how. And one big inconsistency with the prince annoyed me to no end. It’d be a big spoiler to say what it is though, so if you want to know, highlight the area below:

The prince is sooooo big on full honesty from Seraphina, right? But is he being fully honest with the princess, his fiance? When is he going to mention the little thing he’s got going on with Seraphina?? I know, it’s not a love match or anything, but the princess so far seems pretty awesome and she deserves better than those two and what they’re doing behind her back.

So, to sum up: it shows a lot of promise, but it could have been much better. I’ll look for the second book in the series, but it’s not the highest priority for me. If you’re a die-hard fantasy fan, you may want to try it, but I wouldn’t suggest it for those new to the genre. This won’t convert you.

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Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

EnchantedEnchantedEnchanted by Alethea Kontis by Alethea Kontis

Kontis has written one of my (and my kids) favorite picture books – AlphaOopsAlphaOops!: The Day Z Went First by Alethea Kontis, illustrated by Bob Kolar, so when I discovered that she’d also authored a fairy-tale mashup series, I had to give it a try. EnchantedEnchanted by Alethea Kontis is the first in the series, and the overall vibe of the book is just what I’d have expected based on the picture books she’s produced.

In other words, it’s creative and entertaining, and also crazy and jam-packed with activity. I’m glad I don’t try to give a plot summary in my posts, because I wouldn’t really know how to do this justice. There’s the main character, Sunday (younger sibling to older sisters Monday through Saturday, naturally, as well as two brothers). There’s an enchanted frog. There are fairy godmothers, both a good one and, well, one you don’t want as your fairy godmother. There are spells and, naturally, a lot of enchantment.

There is also a plot line that gets more and more outlandish as Kontis seems to try and include bits of every single fairy tale possible in her story. If you’re reading it in a charitable mood, it may seem whimsical and fun. If you’re not in a charitable mood, it’ll likely seem like a confusing and disjointed jumble. I was entertained by just how much she could throw into one tale, and how many references to other fairy tales I could recognize.

I wasn’t entertained enough to want to read any more however. There are too many other good to great fairy-tale retellings and this one falls a little short for me. Unless I end up hearing that the additional books in the series are better, I’m saving my reading time for other material. I will admit to being sorely tempted however – the covers for HeroHero (The Woodcutter Sisters) by Althea Kontis and DearestDearest (The Woodcutter Sisters) by Althea Kontis are lovely, and some of the reviews make me waver in my decision to pass on them.

Publisher’s Description:
It isn’t easy being the rather overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the other six days of the week. Sunday’s only comfort is writing stories, although what she writes has a terrible tendency to come true.

When Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, the two become friends. Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland—and a man Sunday’s family despises.

The prince returns to his castle, intent on making Sunday fall in love with him as the man he is, not the frog he was. But Sunday is not so easy to woo. How can she feel such a strange, strong attraction for this prince she barely knows? And what twisted secrets lie hidden in his past—and hers?

Book Details

Title: EnchantedEnchanted by Alethea Kontis
Author: Alethea Kontis
Category: Fiction / Fantasy
My Rating: 3 Stars

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

The 13 ClocksThe 13 ClocksThe 13 Clocks by James Thurber by James Thurber

One of the most helpful ways for me to find great books to read is to find someone with similar reading tastes and see what they’ve liked and disliked. It works a lot of the time, but it’s not foolproof. There are times when someone doesn’t like a book I’ve enjoyed, and then there are times when someone likes a book and I find I don’t care for it. At all.

Guess which category The 13 Clocks falls into? Yup, that last one. Despite Catherine’s recommendation, it fell flat for me, and I didn’t even try reading it to my kids. Perhaps when they get a bit older I’ll try it, but it’s hard for me to be enthusiastic about reading to them when I dislike a book.

And yet, I don’t disagree with her comments on it. It does have inventive characters. There is terrific alliteration and use of language. There are definitely bizarre plot twists. It just didn’t work for me, and I quickly sent it back to the library.

Find the book: Print | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda. She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile, and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or the kernels of nuts, or to tear the wings from nightingales.

So begins James Thurber’s sublimely revamped fairy tale, The 13 Clocks, in which a wicked Duke who imagines he has killed time, and the Duke’s beautiful niece, for whom time seems to have run out, both meet their match, courtesy of an enterprising and very handsome prince in disguise. Readers young and old will take pleasure in this tale of love forestalled but ultimately fulfilled, admiring its upstanding hero (”He yearned to find in a far land the princess of his dreams, singing as he went, and possibly slaying a dragon here and there”) and unapologetic villain (”We all have flaws,” the Duke said. “Mine is being wicked”), while wondering at the enigmatic Golux, the mysterious stranger whose unpredictable interventions speed the story to its necessarily happy end.

Book Details

Title: The 13 ClocksThe 13 Clocks by James Thurber
Author: James Thurber
Category: Juvenile Fiction / Fantasy
My Rating: 2.5 Stars

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Curtsies & Conspiricies

Curtsies and ConspiraciesCurtsies & ConspiraciesCurtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School Book 2) by Gail Carriger by Gail Carriger

I feel like I’ve done nothing but gush about this series since discovering it, but it’s just been a lot of fun to read. If you’re not a fantasy fan, I don’t know that this will convert you, however if you are or are perhaps looking to try something new, this series is entertaining and easy to read.

This is obviously a sequel, and you’ll probably enjoy it more if you’ve read the first, Etiquette & Espionage, although it’s not completely essential. Sophronia is appealing, and I loved following along with her escapades. I also liked trying to predict what Carriger was going to come up with next – it can be a bit outlandish at times, but it feels appropriate to the overall story.

If steampunk, a school of espionage disguised as a Victorian finishing school housed in a floating dirigible, and supernatural creatures (werewolves and vampires specifically) don’t sound like they could combine into anything remotely appealing, well, I was surprised too. But they do, and I’m hooked on the series.

As I said in my review of Etiquette & Espionage, these books remind me a bit of the Lunar Chronicles series (Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress so far). No re-imagined fairy tales for this one, but a similar feel. One other big difference is that this series keeps the same main character focus for each book, instead of shifting perspectives. That’s not meant as a criticism of either series, just a comment.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Does one need four fully grown foxgloves for decorating a dinner table for six guests? Or is it six foxgloves to kill four fully grown guests?

Sophronia’s first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality has certainly been rousing! For one thing, finishing school is training her to be a spy (won’t Mumsy be surprised?). Furthermore, Sophronia got mixed up in an intrigue over a stolen device and had a cheese pie thrown at her in a most horrid display of poor manners.

Now, as she sneaks around the dirigible school, eavesdropping on the teachers’ quarters and making clandestine climbs to the ship’s boiler room, she learns that there may be more to a field trip to London than is apparent at first. A conspiracy is afoot–one with dire implications for both supernaturals and humans. Sophronia must rely on her training to discover who is behind the dangerous plot-and survive the London Season with a full dance card.

In this bestselling sequel to New York Times bestselling Etiquette & Espionage, class is back in session with more petticoats and poison, tea trays and treason. Gail’s distinctive voice, signature humor, and lush steampunk setting are sure to be the height of fashion this season.

Book Details

Title: Curtsies & ConspiraciesCurtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School Book 2) by Gail Carriger
Author: Gail Carriger
Category: Fiction / Fantasy
My Rating: 4 Stars

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

A Scholar of Magic

A Scholar of MagicsA Scholar of MagicsA Scholar of Magics (A College of Magics) by Caroline Stevermer by Caroline Stevermer

I had a lot of complaints about Stevermer’s book College of Magics, and yet still wanted to see where the story went so I had to read the follow-up title.

That ended up being not the best reason to read this one though – there is actually very little plot connection between the two books. Jane, a supporting character in the first book (and one of my favorites) plays a very prominent role in this one, and I loved that. The main character from the previous book appears only briefly, and I found I didn’t miss her at all, thanks to Jane and Lambert.

I enjoyed this one more, maybe because I liked the characters more, but maybe because my expectations for what the book would be were more in line with what it actually was. It’s a crazy tale in an alternate England, where magic plays a role but somehow still isn’t the predominant element in the story. [Read more…]

Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

Etiquette and EspionageEtiquette & EspionageEtiquette & Espionage (Finishing School #1) by Gail Carriger by Gail Carriger

Did you like Cinder? Then try this one.

Ok, you want more? I wasn’t expecting that much from Etiquette & Espionage – it could be fun, it could be ridiculous. Turns out it was delightful, in that same “I wasn’t expecting this” mode as Cinder. The tone reminded me of Cinder as well. I liked it so much I immediately wanted to read the next in the series, and was somewhat dismayed to realized I’d done it to myself again – fallen for a series where the final books won’t be published for ages.

If you hate fantasy, this will probably annoy you. It’s a mish-mash of fantasy and steampunk, and if I hadn’t been in the right mood I’m sure it would have seemed ridiculously silly. Instead it was lots of fun.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is the bane of her mother’s existence. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper etiquette at tea–and god forbid anyone see her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. She enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But little do Sophronia or her mother know that this is a school where ingenious young girls learn to finish, all right–but it’s a different kind of finishing. Mademoiselle Geraldine’s certainly trains young ladies in the finer arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but also in the other kinds of finishing: the fine arts of death, diversion, deceit, espionage, and the modern weaponries. Sophronia and her friends are going to have a rousing first year at school.

Book Details

Title: Etiquette & Espionage Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School #1) by Gail Carriger
Author: Gail Carriger
Category: Fiction / Fantasy
My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free from NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Northwood

NorthwoodNorthwoodNorthwood by Brian Falkner by Brian Falkner

The good:
  • It’s got a great beginning, with just enough craziness to let you know that anything might happen here. Plus, her house is made out of balloons.
  • Cecelia is a fun character, and her special ability promised great potential.
  • The pacing is quick and should keep readers’ interest.
  • There are lions and secret passages and an impenetrable forest.
  • The illustrations are fantastic.
The not-so-good
  • Why is her last name Undergarment? She’s not a character who is generally being written for laughs, and I don’t get the reasoning behind using that name.
  • The extreme need to suspend disbelief on a few too many things.
The bad
  • The resolution is rushed rushed rushed.
  • It was all so obvious.
And the acknowledgement:

I’m not the target audience for it, so it’s perhaps unfair to knock it too hard for some things that might not be an issue for that target audience, like that rushed resolution that left some plot points dangling. And the obviousness of several elements. [Read more…]