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review 2017-05-08 18:31
Review: Flame in the Mist
Flame in the Mist - Renee Ahdieh

I wound up with two review copies of this one. I first put in a Netgalley request which I figured was a long shot, and when I didn’t hear anything back in months, I used some of my Penguin First to Read points to secure a copy when it popped up on their read to review site. And then when I’m half way through the book my Netgalley request was approved. Oh well.

 

I don’t really know what to make of the novel in the end. I gave it a generous 3 stars, but it’s more like two and a half. While I can appreciate the journey of inner strength from the main character, Mariko, I didn’t actually like her all that much. I found the first 100 pages or so incredibly boring. The novel is beautifully written, the scenery is fantastic and the descriptions are vivid and lyrical. The fantasy setting in a Japanese world is fascinating. All marks of a fantasy I should love.

 

But personally, I just could not get into the plot. I found Mariko almost aloof, I didn’t get much of a sense of personality from her at all. I couldn’t connect with her character in a way that would make me as a reader care about what happened to her.

 

That being said, as the novel progressed, the plot did get better and Mariko did show some pretty impressive growth and strength. She’s definitely intelligent and determined, you have to give her that. On the way to her politically arranged marriage her carriage party is attacked by a notorious mercenary group the Black Clan. Mariko survives the attack and doesn’t cower in fear. She’s furious and decides she wants to know the reasons behind. Disguising herself as a boy, she follows the Black Clan and worms her way in.

 

Back in her home province, Mariko’s twin brother Kenshin, is convinced she survived the assassination attempt. Other plots include devious goings on between the Emperor and his Mistress who seems to have some hint at dark dangerous magic and her own political agenda. The Empress who seems quite passive but there’s more to her than meets the eye. The Emperor’s legitimate son (Mariko’s intended) and the illegitimate son with their own squabbles. And while all this is going on Mariko in the guise of a boy is uncovering the inner secrets of the Black Clan.

 

Of course there are lots of plot twists and everyone has secrets of their own. Mariko uncovers some shocking truths about the lands she came from and how her lord father runs them, and must decide where her true loyalties lie. There’s a romance agenda as well for Mariko when the truth about her identity is revealed. There are secrets within the Black Clan itself.

 

The plot did improve as the novel goes on and starts getting more into the twisty secrets, there’s a barest hint of some sort of magic involved, but very little of it is explained. Though it’s enough to make the reader want to know more (or it certainly worked that way for me). While Mariko was a difficult character to warm to, her journey throughout the novel is impressive, even with a kind of predictable romance, I want to know what happens next.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Hodder & Stoughton for approving my request to view the title.

 

Thank you to Penguin First to Read.

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review 2017-04-29 03:43
Book 21/100: Odd and the Frost Giants
Odd and the Frost Giants - Neil Gaiman,Mark Buckingham

This is one of those reviews I've been putting off because I don't have much intelligent to say about this book. It's a fun, warm, and charming read -- a rather sweet take on the Norse gods and one young boy's interactions with them.

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review 2017-04-28 20:40
Review: The Piper's Price
The Piper's Price (The Neverland Wars Book 2) - Audrey Greathouse

eArc review copy provided by author.

 

An enjoyable follow up to the Neverland Wars. Picking up shortly after where the first book left off, Gwen is now back in Neverland with Peter Pan and her beloved sister Rosemary, ready to aid Peter in his quest to find the Pied Piper.

 

There was a lot more action in this second instalment, much more of an actual plot, than focusing on Gwen torn between wanting to hang on to her childhood or be a grown up. While there was certainly a huge issue with Gwen still struggling with this problem, there was nowhere near so much philosophical waxing and waning over it.

 

Peter needs the Piper’s help to formulate a plan that will stop the adults in Reality attacking Neverland. Gwen is sent back into Reality to team up with a now grown up friend of Peter who can help solve the clues to find the means of attracting the Piper’s attention.

 

Tiger Lily makes an appearance in this one, as a grown adult woman, with friends of other adult women who have left Neverland and grown up, but still remember Peter and the allure of Neverland itself. It’s interesting to see how they cope with Gwen’s appearance and her strange requests. Though it pulls Gwen back into reality and a life she’s not sure if she wants to give up or not. The women hold a “book club” and there’s one rather poignant scene where they’re discussing a romance novel, “Tryst on the Thames” and later Gwen finds a copy wants to know what it’s about, she’s old enough to understand, but the lady who comes to her aid, Dawn, says rather bluntly if she’s still flying about with Peter Pan she’s not old enough to be discussing romance novels.

 

Kind of a bitter sweet but apt point to illuminate Gwen’s awkward positon. Gwen finds herself going on a shopping trip and getting a new hairdo and these normal teenage things help give her flying the happy boost. Things that would give a normal girl a happy, not something someone deep in magic and Neverland should be that fussed about. Just more of the awkwardness of a teenager dealing with Neverland.

 

And being back in reality brings Gwen back in touch with her potential love interest from the first book, Jay. I actually really like Jay as a character, he listens to Gwen, he likes her, he doesn’t think she’s nuts when she explains her predicament to him. He’s a nice, decent guy and I can see why Gwen confides in him. I like the way their friendship develops and hints that there could be something more between them, but Gwen of course is torn with her duty to Neverland.

 

Gwen has some interesting friendship developments in this one, bringing her to see the sides of adults who have been to Neverland and grown up, and then the more magical side of friendships with the Lost Children and the fairies and Lasiandra the mermaid.  The Piper himself is quite a dark and creepy character, and something of a jackass. (Though I also quite liked the Piper and the role he played later on in the novel). We also get to see some of the nastier side of the adults in reality and what they’re doing with the magic and beings stolen from Neverland.

 

Lots more action and some great character development on Gwen, though Peter Pan himself…I found him annoying really. An interesting ending, and I’m definitely looking forward to the final part in this trilogy.

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review 2017-04-19 20:41
Book 18/100: Of Mice & Magic by Ursula Vernon
Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic - Ursula Vernon

Just as much fun as Harriet the Invincible.

I recently re-read the 12 Dancing Princess (which this story retells), and was struck by how, even though the story is named for the titular women, all of whom presumably have their own lives, the story really revolves around the guy who creeps on them trying to figure out where they go at night. The story is about him, not the cursed princesses.

In Vernon's version, Harriet stands in for the gardener who saves the day -- so while she still takes center stage, at least a story ostensibly about 12 women doesn't inadvertently end up being about one man. Also, the princesses in the story are given some real "page-time" and personalities and desires of their own, all of which are improvements over the original. Prose is funny and smart and artwork is charming.

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review 2017-04-19 20:35
Book 17/100: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon
Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible - Ursula Vernon

This book was super fun -- a retelling of Sleeping Beauty featuring a sturdy, sassy princess who figures out how to use the curse to her advantage. It's funny and subversive without being heavy-handed, equally suited to be enjoyed by kids or adults. I love that Harriet acts like a REAL 12-year-old (even if she is a hamster :)), and of course, the artwork is exuberant and expressive. Will definitely keep reading this series, and would recommend them as read-alouds, too.

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