Saturday, June 29, 2013

Book Review: Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury

Book: Wrapped
Author: Jennifer Bradbury
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

At seventeen years old, Agnes Wilkins is about to make her debut into Regency London's high society. Most girls would be thrilled. But Agnes prefers reading to parties, languages to flirting, and adventure to social success. It seems she's doomed to get the latter and not the former in all cases.

When her suitor, Lord Showalter (such a catch, her mother insists) throws a mummy-unveiling party, Agnes is looking forward to the chance to brush up against new and exotic worlds, even if she does have to wear a party dress. Then she finds a tiny jackal head in the mummy's wrappings, and suddenly Agnes, who longed for adventure, is catapulted into the middle of one. Egyptian artifacts, international espionage, and the safety of the British Isles are all at stake.

Agnes, of course, is having the time of her life.

When I first heard of this book, the promise of a mix of Regency London and an adventure story straight out of Indiana Jones caught my attention. I'm happy to report that I wasn't disappointed. Although I did get a little impatient with her blindness regarding the identity of the villainous French spy (seriously, how could you not know it was that dude?) I seriously enjoyed this, especially her relationship with British Museum drudge Caedmon. Is it a particularly realistic portrayal of the social mores of Regency London or espionage during the Napoleonic Wars? Nah, but gosh it's fun.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Book Review: Zombie Mommy by M.T. Anderson

Book: Zombie Mommy
Author: M.T. Anderson
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

What ho, chums! Lily Gefelty and her pals are back - in peril, that is. It seems Lily's mom came back from her vacation very different than how she left. It could have something to do with her going to Todberg, a town infested with the undead. Because where else are you going to go on vacation?

There's clearly nothing for it. Lily, Katie, Jasper, and Drgnan must journey to Todberg themselves to investigate. But this time around, they're saddled with Madigan Westlake-Duvet, Katie's snobby cousin from New York City. Still, they're not going to let her intimidating wardrobe and overwhelming nastiness stop them, because nobody's going to save Lily's mom if they don't.

There are some book series that I give up on because it's the same thing over and over again. There are some that I joyfully return to because it's the same thing over and over again. This is one of the latter. I can pretty much count on a Pals in Peril! book to be a kooky romp, with plentiful potshots taken at the tropes and cliches of kids' books past and present.

One of the clearest potshot targets in this one is the Gossip-Girl genre, in the form of Madigan. The jokes come fast and furious - she has an iSquawk, drops brand names like rain, and goes to Snott Academy. That last leads to a joke about snotballs that made me imagine Anderson giggling over his keyboard for days on end as he slowly set it up.

Smart and silly in equal measure, this was just what I needed for a fast and funny read.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Book Review: Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

Book: Enchanted
Author: Alethea Kontis
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

The seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, Sunday is overshadowed by her more extraordinary siblings. But when she meets a talking frog in the forest, he's the first creature who's ever paid attention to just her. Even though he's an amphibian, she tumbles into love.

Then her frog disappears, she learns that she has an extraordinary magical destiny, and the long-missing Prince Rumbold comes back to the kingdom, prompting a three-night/three-ball celebration. But there's more drama afoot. Three royal balls mean more than just three nights of pretty dresses and sparkling jewels. Sunday's lovely and ethereal sister Wednesday will become engaged to the king, a strangely long-living king whose former wives have all died. Sunday will meet the prince and find that she's slipping into love with him, too.

But what about her frog?

While I enjoyed this book and read it straight through, there were so many characters and so many plotlines that I had a hard time keeping hold of them all. I also had a really hard time figuring out where the story was going and who was supposed to be the antagonist until about halfway through. I also had a hard time believing that they could have fallen in love in a couple of talks in the forest. (That being said, I felt more sure of it during the balls, when they connected more strongly.)

I liked Sunday and Rumbold very much. It was also fun to pick out the fairy-tale touches and I think I'll read the sequel, Hero, since this book hints that it's about Sunday's long-lost oldest brother, Jack. I just hope it's a more focused story than this one.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

48-HBC Finish Line!

Hours read (including audiobook): 19:36
Hours blogging: 3:17
Hours networking: 0:54
Total: 23:47

Woohoo! For a 48-hour period in which I had to work eight of those hours, just under 24 hours of reading is not shabby at all. The audiobook certainly helped. I found that I really battled the sleepies on Friday and Saturday nights, but today was much better.

I didn't have any marathon-length books this year, but I also only had a couple that were fast reads. Most sat pretty comfortably in the 250-400 pages range. This helped out because I got a regular rhythm going, particularly today when I could wake up and just hit the books.

I didn't network as much this year. I think a big part of that was because I was out of loop for most of one day. I did miss that, and I hope to do better next year.

With nine books finished, that's at least ninety dollars going to charity. I'll wait a couple of days to count up comments on the blog and see how much the final total is.

 So now I have nine (count 'em!) reviews to schedule throughout my summer, and a reminder that yes, this review-writing stuff is really not that hard when you buckle down to it. A valuable thing to remember, always.

Another great year! Thanks to Ms Yingling for hosting, and everyone who joined in the adventure!

48-HBC Audiobook: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Time: 5:15
Source: Local Library

As I said in my starting line post, I've really been wanting to re-read this book ever since I finished the second in the series. The first time around was back before publication, and I was tearing through it, trying to get a handle on the political machinations and wanting to get to the good stuff between Duval and Ismae. This time around, because I was listening instead of reading, I got to slow down and I saw just how well-drawn the characters were, and how the good stuff was there between Duval and Ismae from the start.

I found it fascinating to see Ismae again. At the very, very beginning, raised with a brutish father and married off to a pig farmer at the age of fourteen, she has nothing and nobody. So her fierce loyalty to the convent and her pride in her own deadly skills are understandable. After all, before she acquired them, what was she?

Speaking of that, her attitude toward death is downright unsettling. I've been using the "assassin nun" as a booktalk hook basically since I read this the first time. But now as I listen, I realize that Beginning-of-the-Book Ismae views murder solely as an exercise of power. She is very casual, almost flippant, in considering murder because someone is being inconvenient. Her first kills are greeted with glee and a sense of accomplishment. Look! I won! Knowing how her views change at the end of the book makes this a more impressive starting place for her.

I've also been considering why I was so thrilled at the love story in this book. Besides my general bias toward romance, I think the answer lies in how Duval sees Ismae as compared to how others do. As a child, Ismae was an annoyance, an unwanted mouth to feed. In the convent, she is being honed as a weapon, like a beautiful knife. Neither setting permits her to be a full person. While in the beginning, he often gets exasperated with her impulsiveness and her black-and-white outlook, I never got the feeling that Duval viewed Ismae as anything less than a person, with strengths and vulnerabilities. Yes, she is an extraordinary killer, but she's also a loyal Breton and an intelligent woman, and the fact that Duval sees all these things in her is what made this romance really swoonworthy for me. You can have your star-destined love and your sparkly vampires, girls, I'll take this one.

48-HBC Book 9: The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee by Tom Angleberger

Time: 46:18
Source: Local Library

I picked this one out because I knew it would be under an hour, leaving me ample blogging time. Also because I knew I would enjoy it mightily.

Capsule Review: "Seriously, how can you have an Origami Yoda book without Dwight? Luckily, that's a question we won't need to answer, because Dwight pops up here and there. Only this time, he's the one who needs help. The third book in this enduringly popular series is still fresh, funny, and realistic."

Well, that's the last book I have! With only about 40 minutes to go, I'm going to rest my eyes by listening to the audiobook for the rest of my time.

48-HBC Book 8: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Time: 1:04:42
Source: Local Library

This one went unexpectedly fast. I am now debating whether to start the shortest book I have or just listen to my audiobook for the next two hours. Hmmmmm.

Capsule review: "The thing that kept drifting across my brain, especially as I got toward the end, was that this was not a romance. It's not the story of Hadley-and-Oliver. It's the story of Hadley, period. (Full stop, if you're reading in the UK.) This is a book about Hadley finally accepting the upheavals of the past couple of years, understanding her parents' imperfections, and still being able to love them. Oliver, for all his swoony quirky cuteness, is a mirror that allows her to see things clearly."

48-HBC Book 7: Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Time: 2:14:34
Source: Local Library

Nom, nom, nom! I started reading this book and eating lunch at the same time. Considering the first scene is a hellhound slaying, that says something about the strength of my stomach. How was the rest of it?

Capsule review: "I'm probably not the first person to make the Buffy comparison, but I'll do so anyway. Combine supernatural beasties, a tough and snarky demon killer, and Ominous Bad Guys, Inc, well, the name of the Slayer is going to be invoked. Does this book stand up to the comparison? Yes, I think so."

I have about four hours left of my allotted 48, and I think I can fit in two more books if I push, and one more if I take it easy. Although I'm doing better right now than I have in past years, I'm going to take it easy.

48-HBC Book 6: Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

Time: 1:29:58
Source: Local Library

My first full book of the day! I've been looking forward to this one. Kindl is one of those authors who simply doesn't write fast enough.

Capsule review: "My only quibble with this book is precisely who the audience is. Though content-wise, I wouldn't mind giving it to a middle-grade reader, I wonder how interested they're going to be in the marriage machinations of a time long ago. The best audience, I'm guessing, will be those kids who already enjoy a light romance.

But for this reader? Touches of Cinderella, Jane Austen, and Georgette Heyer made this book all I hoped it would be."

Some lunch and then back to the TBR shelf!

48-HBC Book 5: The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood

Time: 1:51:00
Source: Local Library

I think yesterday hit me harder than expected. That's what I get for working during the 48-HBC. Ah well. Last night's (and this morning's!) book was the next Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. And what did I think?

Capsule Review: "While stuffed with all the madcapacity (I hereby declare that a word) and tongue-in-cheek asides of the first two, this book felt slower-moving. It could be that I was fairly tired while reading, but still I wish that it had been trimmed down some."

Off to peruse the TBR shelf!

Saturday, June 08, 2013

48-HBC Book 4: Legend by Marie Lu

Time: 1:58:14
Source: Local Library

I seem to crash in the early evening, especially if I've worked that day. I'm letting it happen. I would rather read fewer books with all my attention and energy than read more with only a few working brain cells. Besides, I seem to get a second wind late at night and I'm good for at least one more book. Anyhoo, Legend!

Capsule review: "What I would like to know is why I haven't seen this on the big screen yet. It seems to have all the elements: a star-crossed romance, a cruel dystopian future, lots of pulse-pounding action. It was even, famously, optioned months before publication. So? Guys? What are we waiting for?"

Next up? Networking, a little of the audiobook (Ismae has just met Duval! I forgot how charged that first interaction was), and then I'll see what my TBR shelf holds.

48-HBC Book 3: Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury

Time: 1:50:23
Source: Local Library

This was my work-day book. I read a little last night, a little this morning before going in, and a little during lunch, finally finishing it up after I got home. 

Capsule review: "When I first heard of this book, the promise of a mix of Regency London and an adventure story straight out of Indiana Jones caught my attention. I'm happy to report that I wasn't disappointed. . . . I seriously enjoyed this, especially her relationship with British Museum drudge Caedmon."

Next, some networking, a knitting break and some audiobook, then I think I want to tackle something meaty. I've been going for fun and lightweight and I'm ready to change that up.

Friday, June 07, 2013

48-HBC Book 2: Zombie Mommy by M.T. Anderson

Time: 45:58
Source: Local Library

I don't know whether it was my late-night second wind or my choice of books, but I blew through this one, cackling to myself all the way. The Pals in Peril series is one of my consistent favorites.

Capsule review: "There are some book series that I give up on because it's the same thing over and over again. There are some that I joyfully return to because it's the same thing over and over again. This is one of the latter. I can pretty much count on a Pals in Peril! book to be a kooky romp, with plentiful potshots taken at the tropes and cliches of kids' books past and present."

I picked out a longer one to read next, to ensure that I don't finish it tonight before I fall asleep or tomorrow during my lunch hour. Good night all!

48-HBC Book 1: Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

Time: 2:11:50
Source: Local Library

As always, I worried that I wouldn't be able to focus on my books during the 48-HBC. Something about the onset of Summer Reading just blows my concentration to pieces. And once again, when I make the effort to focus, I can power through my books and find that I enjoy them and think about them deeply enough to write a reasonable review. Probably it helps that my phone was across the room.

So how was this pick, as my first?

Capsule review: "While I enjoyed this book and read it straight through, there were so many characters and so many plotlines that I had a hard time keeping hold of them all. I also had a really hard time figuring out where the story was going and who was supposed to be the antagonist until about halfway through."

Ah well. I think I did pretty well, even if I did crash a little bit after a long day at work and another one tomorrow. I plan to listen to some of my audiobook and start a fairly lightweight and zippy book for my next one.

48-HBC: Starting Line!

Huzzah, it is time again for the 48-Hour Book Challenge! The pizza is in the fridge, the phone is set to vibrate, and the friends are notified that I am AWOL. My official starting time is 7 pm MST, Friday night, which means I have until 7 pm MST, Sunday night to read and blog and tweet as much as I can.

That not-very-good photo you see there is my TBR shelf. As you can tell, it's gotten pretty stuffed of late. The books that have little Post-It flags are there standing in for books I have in electronic format to read on my Nook, because I'm like that. I've been making a point lately of requesting those books from the library that I'm really looking forward to, so I have some energy for this marathon. I also have a few ARCs from NetGalley and other sources.

Last year's capsule reviews worked out so well for me that I plan to do the same thing this year. I'll write a full-length review on each book, because I love how this reminds my blogging muscles how to work. However, I'll save and schedule those posts for later in the summer. During the 48-HBC itself, I'll just post a few lines from the review, plus an update on how I'm doing.

This year, I intend to donate $10 per book finished to my local literacy charity, Make Way for Books. Each comment posted to my blog will add another dollar onto that amount, so don't be shy! You can also cheer me on via Twitter @mosylu. Everything will be hashtagged #48HBC, so check out how other readers are doing.

I have to work tomorrow but I will be reading as hard as I can tonight, and tomorrow when I can. And of course, all day Sunday. I will also be taking full advantage of the audiobook option during my driving and those times when my eyes really need a rest. My first book will be Enchanted by Alethea Kontis and my audiobook will be Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, which I terribly want to re-read since finishing the sequel.

If you want to join in the fun, or just find other blogs that are doing the same thing, hop on over to Ms. Yingling Reads.

Here I go!

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

48-HBC, now with a new Hostess!

Yes, my dears, the 48-Hour Book Challenge is coming! It commences this Friday, June 7, and concludes Sunday night, June 9. How does it work? Select 48 consecutive hours in that period and spend the whole time reading, blogging about what you read, and connecting with other bloggers doing the very same thing.

Meals? That's what Domino's is for. Showers? Eh, you can hold the book out of the spray. Walking the dog? Isn't that why you had kids? Sleep? Well, I guess we all have weaknesses.

I'm looking forward to it. I've been in a slumpy sort of place for about a month with my reading. A lot of books I really felt "meh" about. I prepared for this weekend by requesting and checking out books that I'm really looking forward to, and I'm fairly sure I will like. I've done this for a number of years, and it has always served to relax and energize me, stock up my blog with plenty of reviews during the crazed months of Summer Reading at work, reinforce my ties with the blogging community, and of course, trim down my TBR shelf.

This year, the inestimable Ms. Yingling is hosting it. If you want to participate, please stop in at her blog on Friday morning to sign up!

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Reading Roundup: May 2013

By the Numbers
Teen: 15
Tween: 4
Children: 3

Review Copies: 10
Library: 11

Teen: Dare You To by Katie McGarry
Skater-girl Beth and jock-boy Ryan have nothing in common, so why is they're the only ones who can get through to each other? This novel of two flawed and struggling teens falling in love just made me happy.
Tween: Below by Meg McKinley
Born the day her town drowned under a man-made lake, twelve-year-old Cassie finds herself drawn to that lake and the secrets it holds. With thoughtful and perceptive kid characters and absolutely no hint of romance at any time, this book was just beautifully put together.
Children: Toys Come Home by Emily Jenkins
I just love these short, sweet, quick reads. For being soft toys, the characters are fully fleshed out. This one takes you back to the origins of their sojourn in the Girl's room, including a surprisingly dark episode involving a walrus.

Because I Want To Awards
Red Pen, Please: Maid of Honor by Jennifer McGowan
This novel about covert girl bodyguards/dogsbodies to Queen Elizabeth I felt overstuffed. It seemed like there were about five or six plotlines and maybe twice that many major characters in this book, and not all of them were fleshed out to my satisfaction. I enjoyed it, when I knew what was going on, but I hope that the rest of the series is more focused.
Who Knew?: Wheels of Change by Sue Macy
I never thought about how technology, specifically bicycles, affected the women's movement, but this book opened my eyes. Also pretty fascinating to see the negative reaction to the increasing freedom that bikes afforded.