Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt

Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt is a fun, chick-lit-ish young adult novel.

When Mallory discovers that her boyfriend is cheating with her via the Internet, she decides to swear off technology for a while. That same weekend, while helping her dad clean out her grandmother's house, she discovers a list in an old notebook, created when her grandmother was her age. If there's anything Mallory loves, it's a good list -- and this one, with its early-1960's simplicity, really appeals to her. Wasn't the world a better place when a 16-year-old girl's to-do list included things like running for Pep Squad secretary and sewing her own homecoming dress? (Never mind that her school doesn't even have a pep squad, and Mallory doesn't know the first thing about sewing.) As she continues in her quest for vintage perfection, Mallory discovers that going without technology is a lot more difficult than she bargained for -- and she learns some things about the 60s, and about her grandmother's list, that don't exactly jive with her romanticized ideas about going vintage.

I really enjoyed this story -- it's fluff, but enjoyable, occasionally thought-provoking fluff. The characters and relationships are well-written, and the plot is fun and moves along fairly briskly. Readers who enjoy a light young adult romance should definitely give this a try.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George

Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George is the third (and probably final) book in the series that begins with Princess of the Midnight Ball.

Petunia is the youngest of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, the sisters who had been doomed to dance their nights away in the Kingdom Under Stone until their curse was broken. Now the sisters are free of the spell (though many are sill averse to dancing!). Petunia, however, was still a child when the curse was broken. As she travels through the forest to visit the estate of the Grand Duchess, she is hoping for a little excitement. When a group of rogues known as the Wolves of the Westfalian Woods waylay her coach, however, she may get more excitement than she had anticipated! Nor are her adventures with the Wolves (led by one handsome and surprisingly gentlemanly young man named Oliver) all that happens to Petunia on her visit . . . because the King Under Stone and his brothers are still looking for brides from the daylight world, and he may have found a way to entrap the princesses into visiting his realm once again.

Though this looks like a Red Riding Hood retelling, I thought the Red Riding Hood-esque elements felt a little forced, particularly toward the end of the book. This is more a revisiting of the Dancing Princesses story from the first book in the series -- and while the Dancing Princesses fairy tale is one of my very favorites, I was hoping for something a little fresher. I think this book might have worked better for me if I had reread the first two volumes before jumping into this one, since many of the main characters from those books return in this one. That's not to say that it's not a charming book or a worthwhile read -- I'd just recommend starting at the beginning of the series.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Whatever After: Fairest of All by Sarah Mlynowski

Fairest of All by Sarah Mlynowski is the first book in new fantasy series for middle-grade readers.

When no-nonsense fifth-grader Abby and her little brother Jonah are sucked into the ornate mirror in their basement, they find themselves in the world of fairy tales. They soon stumble across a quaint cottage, just in time to stop a young woman from taking a poisoned apple from an old witch. But what they don't realize at the time is that, by changing Snow White's story, they may have robbed her of her happy ending. Abby is determined to make it right, no matter what that entails -- which is how she, Jonah, and Snow White end up hanging out with the seven dwarfs, climbing trees to avoid Prince Charming, and sneaking around the evil witch's castle. Will they be able to fix Snow White's story . . . and still make it home before their parents start to worry?

This was a cute enough story, but it never really engaged me. I think it's one of those children's books best left to actual children. I'll recommend it to them, but adults looking for fairy tale retellings should probably look elsewhere.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo is an enjoyable contemporary YA story from an Australian author.

Ever since Amelia started working a part-time job at the local supermarket, she's been in love with her coworker Chris. He's sweet and funny and they have great conversations about literature and philosophy and life in general. She knows they would be perfect for each other. The problem? Amelia is 15. . . and Chris is 21.

The story is told from both viewpoints, and does a great job of showcasing each character's complicated feelings about the other. Even with the age difference, you find yourself rooting for them, or wishing that they had met at a point in their lives when a six-year difference would be less of a big deal. Do they find a way to make it work? Well, that would be telling . . .

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Cinders and Sapphires by Leila Rasheed

Cinders & Sapphires by Leila Rasheed is set in the same post-Edwardian era as Downton Abbey (which I adore), and I was hoping for something along those lines. I also expected that there might be a Cinderella-esque quality to the story, going by the title. At first, this book seems to deliver . . .

Lady Ada Averley, her father, and her younger sister Georgiana are returning to England from India, with just the faintest whisper of scandal trailing behind them due to her father's abrupt resignation from his government post. One evening on the return voyage, Lady Ada ventures on deck for a breath of fresh air, and encounters Ravi, a handsome Indian student bound for Oxford. In their brief encounter, the two are instantly attracted to one another (and share a kiss! Scandalous!), but they are bound for different worlds. Though Ada dreams of studying at Oxford, she must begin looking for a suitable match in London's social scene. At Somerton, the Averley family's ancestral home, several surprises await: Lady Ada and Georgiana will soon gain a stepmother, stepsister, and two stepbrothers. Lady Ada carries on a secret correspondence with Ravi, who proves to have radical leanings. And then there's Rose, the housekeeper's daughter, who has just been promoted to the post of ladies' maid, and who has secrets that she herself doesn't know she's hiding. There's plenty of drama both upstairs and down, with a cast of characters as varied (though not as well-written or well-developed) as that of Downton. But then, near the end of the book, one particular plot twist had me going WHAT IS THIS I DON'T EVEN. Ada's father makes a decision to do something that would have engulfed the family in just the sort of scandal they've spent the whole book trying to avoid, except that it doesn't, and his actions are apparently accepted without question by polite society. I've looked at other reviews, and nobody else seems to be bothered by this, so maybe it's just me, but my understanding of societal rules of the period suggest that the ending of the book is massively unrealistic. Then again, this is the first book in a series, so it's possible that the author plans to deal with the fallout in the next book.

So, if it hadn't been for the ending I would have recommended this book to those who, like me, are dreading the Downton Abbey withdrawal that's about to hit USA viewers. As it is, if you are not very picky about accuracy in your historical fiction and just want something that evokes that era, this might be a good book for you (boy, does that sound like I am trying to insult you if you read this book and like it). But I'd love to hear from someone who has read the book and feels that the ending is supportable, because maybe I am blowing it out of proportion. I can tell you that if you are not a Downton Abbey fan you will almost certainly not like this book, as the pacing, the multiplicity of characters, and the scheming and plotting definitely owe a bit to the show.
(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers is another female assassin book.  (It seems like I've read a lot of them in the past few years -- is this a Thing?)

Ismae Rienne is a daughter of Mortain, the god of death, and as such she is an object of fear and loathing to most of the people around her. When she is forced into an abusive arranged marriage, she escapes to a convent of other women who, like her, have been given special gifts by Mortain. At the convent, Ismae is trained in the art of death -- after three years, she can kill a person with sword, knife, crossbow, garrote, poison, or her bare hands. She can see a "marque" on those who are about to die, and for the sisters at the convent, murder is not a crime, but a holy calling. When Ismae is sent out on an assignment to the court of Anne, Duchess of Brittany, she finds that her tasks are not as clear and simple as she expected. Ismae accompanies Gavriel Duval, illegitimate half-brother to the duchess, presumably as his courtesan. Ismae is to discover who is truly supporting Anne, and who is secretly in league with the French. As she is caught up in courtly intrigue, she begins to question the decisions of her superiors at the convent. What will she do if she is instructed to kill someone she desperately wants to keep alive? Does the convent really represent Mortain, or are they serving their own ends?

There are a lot of things to like about this story -- the interesting medieval setting, the slow-burning romance between Ismae and Duval, and the complex political maneuverings of the court and the convent. Moreover, while this book is the first of a series, it wraps up most loose ends neatly, and I believe the next book will feature a different main character. The writing is on the good side of mediocre -- not fantastic, but definitely readable. I'll be on the lookout for the next book in the series.
(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy asks the question, what happened after the fairy tale? Was it really "Happily Ever After" for Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and all of those Princes Charming?

The answer, of course, is "not really." Prince Frederick finds that he's not daring enough for Cinderella, who longs for a life of adventure after her years of drudgery -- Frederick's idea of an adventure involves a picnic basket and cushions. Prince Gustav is humiliated by the fact that Rapunzel saved him when he had been thrown out of the tower and blinded, something his brothers will never let him forget. Prince Liam discovers that Sleeping Beauty is actually quite a brat when she's awake, and that his parents still expect him to marry her because her kingdom is a wealthy one. And while Prince Duncan and Snow White are already happily married, he's sometimes a little too quirky even for her. Over the course of the story, these four princes band together and face down a giant, a dragon, some trolls, a bandit king, and a wicked witch -- learning along the way how to value each other's unique abilities in order to work together.

This is another fun fantasy read, with a lot of slapstick humor and unexpected adventures for the princes -- and, in some cases, their princesses. As an adult reader, I thought the writing had some rough patches, and the whole shebang could have used a little more editing, but I think that young readers who enjoy lighthearted fantasy and aren't put off by thick tomes (this one weighs in at over 400 pages) will absolutely eat it up.
(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)