Thursday, July 30, 2015

REVIEW: Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George

Silver in the Blood
by Jessica Day George
Young Adult
3 1/2 stars

Jessica Day George, you had me at 1890s Romania.
I think the best way to describe this might be The Hunchback Assignments meets Jane Austen. And just that comparison rocks. It has a lot of the same elements of Hunchback Assignments, like the spying and the secret organizations and the time period and the mysterious elements, albeit of a more fantastical nature, but definitely told from a girl's perspective. There's mention of dresses and petticoats, balls and social calls, and of course a nice selection of suitors to choose from. But these are not damsels in distress. Don't make that mistake or else... Well.

Now, I did think that this story had a slow start. For almost the first half of the book, we're tugged along with the main characters on this mystery about their family. I mostly thought it was long because, to the reader, the mystery isn't necessarily that big of a mystery. You figure out the nature of it long before our dual heroines LouLou and Dacia do, so I got a little impatient.
That being said, I really did like this story. A historical fiction. Set in Romania. And you know it's got something to do with you-know-who. The concept is clever and it's a unique twist on a tale that's seen a lot of revisions and retellings.

There are several fantastic characters in here -from Aunt Katarina to our heroines to cousin Radu to our intrepid heroes and the villains that make my skin crawl. Ugh. Like really crawl. *shudder* I loved watching the development of the characters, especially because one of them was unexpected for me, and I enjoyed that twist. I thought both our heroines had great arcs and development; you could practically taste their excitement and despair.

I loved the tone of the writing. We switch between the perspectives of Dacia and LouLou throughout and, like I said, it feels so Jane Austen. The temperament of girls in the time period was nailed. And not just talking about potential suitors and dresses, but in how they handle unexpected situations. With calm and decorum -and of course a cup of tea.

I enjoyed this story -it's very fun- but I would be even more excited to see a sequel. Things end in such a magnificent place that I want to know what happens next. Plus, I only felt I really got to know the characters near the end of the story. This wasn't due to poor writing or characterization at all. Get that idea out of your head. For some characters, we just don't learn their full role or purpose until the climax approaches; with others, like our dual heroines LouLou and Dacia, what they experience is character development. These characters I liked from the get-go, but where they eventually end up I absolutely love. I want more of them. So while this was a good book, and a book I would highly recommend, I think a continuance of it could be even better.

As a caution, there is some mature content in this book -nothing risque, but one of the villains does threaten to force himself on our heroines, so this book is definitely for older readers.

I loved the story and I loved the characters and I really hope I get to see what happens to them, say, a year or two down the road.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Book Haul

It's that time again. Time to show off my new books!

But first, a message for our Corny Joke Monday:

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Doctor who?

 Onward, ho!

If you missed my post last week, I now have NEW BOOKSHELVES! Because I was also painting the wall where the bookshelves were to be placed, and reorganizing my room, and pretty slow at both, I've had a stack of (semi) newly purchased books piling up in the corner stretching back maybe as far as May. So we've got some catching up to do.

The Books:
Stargate Atlantis: Blood Ties by Sonny Whitelaw and Elizabeth Christensen
The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan
The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
Public Enemy Number Two & Three of Diamonds by Anthony Horowitz
The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade
The Horizontal Man by Michael Dahl (x2)
Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel by Eoin Colfer
Hidden Mickey by David W. Smith and Nancy Temple Rodriguez
 Candle Man by Glenn Dakin
The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

Thursday, July 23, 2015

New Bookshelves!!! + Throwback Thursday

I know I haven't been around much lately. It's been a crazy last couple of weeks for me, involving 'home improvement' things, which I don't normally do (and so took me much longer to complete than it probably should have).

Remember that horrible green wall I complain about every now and then? I finally painted it. It's a fantastic calm blue and it just makes me happy every time I look at it. *siiiigh*

This involved moving half of everything I own into the public areas of the house. Oh goody.

I also rearranged my room. There is now twice as much floorspace *gasp* and elbow room at my desk so I don't feel bottled up like a genie *egad!* and a whole bookshelf just to use by my bed *cheers*


And then there are the bookshelves.

The big, deep, sturdy, wonderfully perfect new bookshelves

With room for all my books, with no sagging shelves, with so much more SPACE! And you know what bookshelf space means, don't you?

That's right. Time to buy more books!

It took me a few hours yesterday to get all the books on there. You wouldn't believe it, because these shelves make my collection look so much smaller!

The Forest of Books

They're not fully organized yet, but when they are I'll treat you all to my very first bookshelf tour. ^_^

I'm still putting the room back together, little by little, but this should free up my plate. I promise a book haul and another review for you next week. In the meantime, here's a TBT for you.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

REVIEW: Flunked by Jen Calonita (Fairy Tale Reform School)

Fairy Tale Reform School, bk 1
by Jen Calonita
Juvenile Fiction/Fairy Tale
4 stars

How is it that fairy tale retellings can still be popping up all over the place? Haven't we had enough of those already? The answer is no, because authors like Jen Calonita keep finding ways to make the classics fresh again. Until they can't do that anymore, retellings are here to stay. (And I love it!)

The little twist that makes Flunked so much fun is The Fairy Tale Reform School. Known throughout Enchantasia as the place where all bad kids go, it's run by Princess Ella's not-so-wicked-anymore stepmother, and the faculty includes her two daughters, Snow White's stepmother, a sea witch, and the Big Bad Wolf. When 12-year-old Gillian is caught stealing one times too many, she's sent packing from her family's shoe and into the waiting clutches of these supposedly reformed villains.

Soon, Gilly's suspicions are aroused by odd behavior from the teachers and the occasional gargoyle attack. Mystery starts crawling out of the woodwork as she and her new friend Jax begin investigating the oddities, especially once they learn that the princesses of Enchantasia -and the prey of the faculty's former nefarious activities- are coming to FTRS for a visiting day. Someone is out to harm the princesses, and who can Gilly trust in a school full of former villains?

The idea of a reform school for would-be villains is brilliant. It's so much fun getting to see not only our classic villains, but a band of mischievous juvenile delinquents all in one place.

Gilly has some great character development. Her string of petty thefts that lead to her stay at FTRS are born of necessity. At least, that's what she tells herself. As events push her to examine the lines between 'good' and 'evil', Gilly begins to realize the easy answers aren't always the best. And in a place where would-be villains go to amend their evil ways, Gilly learns what it is to be a hero.

I love Gilly's spunk and sass; it keeps the pages turning and the story upbeat. But I admit my favorite character here was her friend Jax, fellow thief and cocky troublemaker. (It's entirely possible this was born of his striking similarities to Chase Turnleaf, another favorite of mine, since I was just coming off the high of finishing The Ever Afters by Shelby Bach when I started this.)

There are great characters throughout the story, but it really benefits from the inclusion of so many former villains. How many of us love a bad-guy-wants-to-turn-good story? How many more of us obsess over bad guys WE want to turn good? I love seeing the villains used in this new way. It makes the story fun and unique.

Some elements of Flunked were predictable, but it was still a fun romp. A good book for anyone who loves fairy tales, and especially for the younger readers.

There is currently a Goodreads Givewaway for this book, so head over there and see if you can win a copy!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

ARC REVIEW: A Whole New World by Liz Braswell (Twisted Tale, bk 1)

A Whole New World
(Twisted Tale, bk 1)
by Liz Braswell
3/5 stars
Release date: September 1 

I'd like to thank NetGalley and Disney Book Group for sending me an ARC in return for an honest review.

Jafar gets the lamp? A classic story on its head? Officially Disney? I did not hesitate to request this. But I will admit, after the fiasco that was Fairest of All, a retelling of Snow White from the Wicked Queen's point of view that I had major issues with that you can hear all about here, I wasn't sure it would be any good.

The first 5 or 6 chapters are essentially the same as the beginning of the movie, though the author did add in context to beef up the story and connect some of the new dots she injected into the storyline, like hounding in on Princess Jasmine's cluelessness to the plight of the poor and her blossoming determination to basically make Agrabah a utopian society.

Overall, this was a fun story. It's always interesting to see a classic twisted around. For the most part I was entertained. It was very, very different from Aladdin, which was kind of the point, but it wasn't just different in story. The characters developed in different directions, it concentrated a great deal on the politics and social structure of Agrabah, and was a lot more serious than the movie. This is not really intended for kids. The tone is much darker and takes on serious issues. Not quite as many laughs.

Many of the major characters didn't have big roles, like the Carpet and Abu, which I totally understand -it's really hard to write good, non-talking animal sidekicks!- but at the same time, I missed them. The Carpet and Abu were there, mind you, they just weren't there often. Unfortunately, because the Genie is in the hands of Jafar, we also don't get as much as him in the story, either. He still gets in one-liners and Genie-ish jokes on occasion, but he's just not as fun and upbeat. *sad face* The biggest change I noticed is that Jasmine basically became the main character. Aladdin has a big supporting role, but this is all about Jasmine. She's the most important piece in this puzzle, the one who gets things moving. She's the one who starts the revolution, for crying out loud! Instead of Aladdin becoming a prince and stepping into her world, Jasmine is thrown into the ranks of the street rats -introducing us to some fun new and interesting characters- and becomes a heroine.
One of the things I really liked was Rasoul, the captain of the guards. You know who I'm talking about. This guy. This Rasoul is depicted as a lawman determined to uphold the law but also possessing a good amount of empathy. He is referred to as 'a big, stupid rock of morality', a description I just love to bits. His personality clashes drastically with the guy I remember from the movies -who chains Prince Ali Baba and throws him off a cliff at Jafar's behest- but I didn't care. I liked him too much.

I felt Jafar was dealt an injustice in the climax -parts of his downfall really conflicted with his character for me and I feel it cheapened his evilness. He could have had a better -not necessarily demise, but more his reaction when confronted with his downfall. I feel that he had a very ignoble end, and not in a good way.

The writing was mediocre, and the story sometimes...bizarre. I won't lie. There's some weird stuff going down. It's fun to see a Twisted Tale but it also makes you very nostalgic for the original. Don't take this one too seriously; it might destroy your childhood. There were several references to the movie -made mostly in wishful thinking by characters about 'what could have been'- and one off-handed comment about a staff that maybe grants access to an all-powerful oracle, a la Aladdin and the King of Thieves, which I loved growing up.

I give A Whole New World by Liz Braswell 3 out of 5 stars. It could have been better, but it wasn't terrible. (Just bizarre.) It was interesting enough that I would check out future Twisted Tales to see what will happen to other Disney classics.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Amanda & the Star Wars Summer -Episode I

Amanda & the Star Wars Summer

There's this pattern I fall into. I watch a movie, fall in love with it, geek out about it, hop on board the fandom, never seem to have time to rewatch it and instead sort of ruminate on my own idealistic version of it.

I didn't realize just how long it had been since I last watched Star Wars. At least five or six years, which is ridiculous to me. How did time fly by so fast?

But when one has 'ALL THE STAR WARS BOOKS' emblazoned on her reading list, and the release of Episode VII at the end of the year, a girl has got to start out right.

Before I could even bring myself to pop the tape in (that's right, VHS tape), I stood there with A New Hope* in the one hand, and The Phantom Menace in the other. After all, what order does one go about watching the series? My aunt watches the original trilogy first, and then the newer, because this must be the way George Lucas intended.

What about my incessant need to watch things in chronological order? What if I miss something because I didn't watch Episodes I, II, and III first?!

So I decided the only way to watch Star Wars and satisfy everyone is to watch the original trilogy, the newer trilogy, and finish off with the original trilogy again. That way you get the series in order of production, as George Lucas intended, and then chronologically so you can watch the story fully unfold.

I hear that snicker. Do I really think this idealized viewing pattern can be achieved? With how often I can sneak movie time? Well a girl can dream!

Han Shot First

The moment I truly realized how long it had been since my last Star Wars fest was the shootout with Greedo. That isn't really a shootout. Or, at least, it wasn't supposed to be.

I have not actually watched Star Wars since being introduced to the Han Shot First mantra. Nor until now did how realize how irking (and obvious) the cover up was.

I always saw it online -"Oh, yeah, Han shot first. It's a thing."

But actually watching the scene?

"HAN TOTALLY SHOT FIRST! What were they thinking?! Don't mess with the script! Don't change that scene! Han shot first because it totally fits his character and the situation. You want me to believe that Han just sat there while Greedo was two feet away and fired at him? And missed?! GIVE ME THAT T-SHIRT!"

Leia is Actually Super-Awesome

I've been through two big Star Wars phases. The Jedi Knight phase in which the Force and Luke Skywalker had my complete attention, and The Han Solo phase in which the scruffy nerf-herder takes center stage. (Pretty sure this is normal for all female Star Wars fans.)

Incidentally, this time around, I have come to the realization of just how completely awesome Leia is. 

You want a strong female character?
This chick endured torture of the worst kind, was a spy, a politician, *and* a rebel leader.

You're tired of the damsel in distress having to be rescued all the time?
Leia rescued her rescuers after they failed to rescue her.

She had the strategy and calm to secure the Death Star plans when her capture was imminent, she was the only one smart enough to figure out the Imperials were tracking them back to the rebel base, and when Luke tells her to hold his blaster she shoots the bad guys with it.

About those CGI improvements...

In theory, it's a great idea. George Lucas obviously has a great imagination, and the technology of the time hadn't caught up with him. So it makes sense that, as the technology becomes more flexible, he should go in and expound on his original idea. It should be wonderful!

In theory.

But I've decided it's more distracting than anything. There's a certain quality to the original footage, let's call it 'classic'. It's not hi-tech by today's standards, but you know it was hi-tech by that day's standard. It all has the same classic quality, the same authentic feel.

Throw in some ten-year-old CGI improvements and what have you got? Disharmony. Grating opposites. A jerk back to reality. Like the impossibly wild blaster shot from Greedo's gun, I can tell it doesn't belong. It doesn't mesh with the surrounding ambiance of authenticity I'm reveling in, the 'classic' 70's special effects, and it does the one thing a storyteller never wants to do.
It takes me out of the story and reminds me that it's just that, a story.

(On this note, I do need to update from my VHS editions anyway. Any recommendations on which release to get?)

So that's one movie down. I'm reveling in this rediscovered treasure. Books are gathering in piles on my nightstand, audiobooks are weighing down my MP3, and more T-shirts are undoubtedly in my future.

Bring. It. On.

*In my house, the title A New Hope doesn't actually exist. Episode IV doesn't always cut it either. "It wasn't called 'A New Hope' when I saw it," my mother says. "It's Star Wars, the original, the end."

There's more where this came from!
Amanda & the Star Wars Summer

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Giveaway Winner | Ever Afters Blog Party!

I don't know about you, but I'm still recovering from that wild and crazy party we had. Thanks again for everyone who stopped by, especially those of you who came back every day!

As a special bonus, here are #8-10 of my favorite Character Playlist songs. (Who does a Top 7 Countdown, after all? Everyone knows they count those in tens, sheesh.)
But I know the real reason you all showed up today. So here it is: 

The Ever Afters Blog Party winner is...

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congratulations, Mahogany! An email has been sent your way with the details.

Now shoo! Go on, get back to reading Of Enemies and Endings! And when you're finished, you can hit my review video and tell me what you thought about it. (Because I love to hear that kind of stuff. ^_^)

Thanks again for being such a fantastic part of the Blog Party.