Friday, April 24, 2020

The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu

Summary from Goodreads:
Two siblings. Two brilliant talents. But only one Mozart.

Born with a gift for music, Nannerl Mozart has just one wish--to be remembered forever. But even as she delights audiences with her masterful playing, she has little hope she'll ever become the acclaimed composer she longs to be. She is a young woman in 18th century Europe, and that means composing is forbidden to her. She will perform only until she reaches a marriageable age--her tyrannical father has made that much clear.

And as Nannerl's hope grows dimmer with each passing year, the talents of her beloved younger brother, Wolfgang, only seem to shine brighter. His brilliance begins to eclipse her own, until one day a mysterious stranger from a magical land appears with an irresistible offer. He has the power to make her wish come true--but his help may cost her everything.

In her first work of historical fiction, #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu spins a lush, lyrically-told story of music, magic, and the unbreakable bond between a brother and sister.
This book was not what I was expecting it to be. I love Marie Lu’s suspenseful dystopias. And while I read the summary for this book before reading it, I was not expecting the beautiful language I received. I guess I thought I’d be reading a high-stakes historical thriller….I don’t know why exactly. It’s just what I’m used to. I was pleasantly surprised here. This was not that.
This book was beautiful and a lot slower. It was a lush, musical fairy tale. It read like a classic fairy tale. It sucks you in. It’s dark and magical. It first reads as a feminist historical fiction novel, the best kind of historical fiction. And just when you think you understand the rhythm of it all, bam…there’s a magical fairy world where the trees are upside down, and brother and sister must complete dark quests like deceiving underwater witches.
There’s also this crazy musical prodigy element to the story. Getting into the heads of two musical prodigies is just fascinating. Watching children make musical masterpieces is just beyond fascinating. I loved watching the brother/sister relationship develop and grow, and I super loved watching them encourage each other. I like the explanation for why people know Mozart just by the last name. I also love that the brother and sister didn’t always get along. Their relationship seemed real. They were competitive, but supportive.
I love all the interwoven historical facts with magical elements. The tidbits of fantasy made the dark realness of things like sickness at that time period easier to read (especially while reading this book during a pandemic…).

The one thing that was kind of missing from this book was romance. In fact, it almost mostly reads as a middle grade book because the main characters are children for most of the novel. There’s a slight romantic element, but it’s mostly nonexistent. However, I guess the characters are teens for the last bit of the story. And then there’s an epilogue at the end (23 years later). So age, and timing is a little strange. But, I guess it makes sense in regards to fairy tales in general. It reads more with the timing of a fairy tale.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book. It’s unlike Marie Lu’s other books. But, I still loved this. It’s more fairy tale than historical fiction. But, I loved the historical fiction elements as well. Learning about musical prodigies was really interesting. I did feel like romance was missing.  But, otherwise, this was a really interesting, magical escape. I give it a 9/10.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

A Good Week in Books (220)

I had a nice book week. I finished one historical fantasy. And I’m half way through a fun contemporary. I received 3 new books for review. Thank you, Macmillan. Never have I been happier to receive new books. I need all the happy book packages I can get right now. I hope everyone is doing well!
The new books:

Late to the Party
by Kelly Quindlen
The Silence of Bones by June Hur
Seven Endless Forests by April Genevieve Tucholke

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Lucky Caller by Emma Mills

Summary from Goodreads:
When Nina decides to take a radio broadcasting class her senior year, she expects it to be a walk in the park. Instead, it’s a complete disaster.

The members of Nina's haphazardly formed radio team have approximately nothing in common. And to maximize the awkwardness her group includes Jamie, a childhood friend she'd hoped to basically avoid for the rest of her life.

The show is a mess, internet rumors threaten to bring the wrath of two fandoms down on their heads, and to top it all off Nina's family is on the brink of some major upheaval.

Everything feels like it's spiraling out of control―but maybe control is overrated?

With the warmth, wit, intimate friendships, and heart-melting romance she brings to all her books, Emma Mills crafts a story about believing in yourself, owning your mistakes, and trusting in human connection in Lucky Caller.
As I mentioned on Goodreads, This wasn't my favorite Emma Mills book. It took me a long time to get into this, and I almost gave up on it twice because of the whole story revolving around a school project trope...which isn't my thing. However, the love story? Totally my thing. It was Jane Austen and Rainbow Rowell and Becky Abertalli at the their best kind of love story. If you're feeling iffy about the beginning of this one, keep going because the love story is worth it. And the school/radio project gets better too.
I feel like I didn’t connect as emotionally to the characters in this Emma Mills book, as I normally would. I didn’t really click with Nina, the main character. Why was she so dead-set on not hosting the show? What was she actually into? Everyone around her seemed to be interested in things, but she seemed to have almost no interests at all…She was kind of boring. Her older sister’s story was kind of boring too (I’ve read/seen it a million times), but at least she had a story, and an interest in something.
I liked all the flashbacks to the fantasy game the sisters used to play. And I liked when the older sisters and Jamie all came together for the younger sister when she needed them. Maybe at times it just felt like the author was trying to do too much? Like if the book is supposed to be all about the radio show, commit to that. Don’t then also have this parent story arc. The whole listening to her mom call into the radio and meet her dad seemed kind of forced and didn’t add to the rest of the story for me.
The part of the story that I loved was the love story. I loved Nina and Jamie’s second chance. I can totally believe something like this happening to a couple because something like this happened to me (minus the reconnecting part). I used to imagine what it would be like if I reconnected with that childhood crush that I messed it up with…I don’t really do that any more. But, I love this trope. I love that these two have this chance. And that everyone around them sees their connection. I love the story about the birthday cake. I love that Jamie dresses up for Nina’s sister. I love that he fell in the pool for the game. I love that they can just talk by looking at each other, and can play stupid hypothetical games. They’re finding each other again after years of separation reminded me a little of Persuasion, and I loved this connection. I also love romances that begin as friendships because so many of mine began that way.
All in all, the radio show/school project plot line wasn’t my favorite. I also never really loved Nina as much as I wanted to. I did love the sisterly flashbacks and the fantasy games they played. And I loved the romance. The romance made my rating for this book much higher than it otherwise would have been. I give it an 8/10.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Kairos by Ulysse Malassagne

Summary from Goodreads:
In Kairos, French graphic novelist Ulysse Malassagne turns the typical damsel-in-distress narrative on its head. With stunning art, epic battle scenes, and unexpected plot twists, Kairos forces you to question where to draw the line between hero and antihero.

Nills and Anaelle are looking forward to their first night in their rustic cabin in the woods. But the couple's idyllic vacation is suddenly thrown into turmoil when a strange flash of light bursts from the fireplace. A portal appears, and out of it spill dragon-like creatures that are armed to the teeth. They grab Anaelle and flee back through the portal, leaving a distraught Nills with a sudden decision: stay behind, or leap through after her?

He leaps. And that's when things get really weird.
This book was a surprise. I wasn’t expecting to get into as much as I did. I read it in one sitting. Most of that is because of how gorgeous the art is. The opening pages are like the opening scenes to My Neighbor Totoro –lush, green, and you know something magical is coming. Unfortunately, most of the magic that comes is nothing like a cute, fluffy forest spirit. It’s dark, violent, and comes attached to war. However, there are dragons.
The book starts off in a sort of romantic context with a couple escaping to a little cabin in the middle of nowhere for what looks like a mini vacation. However when night comes, out of the fireplace, drops a few dragon soldiers who kidnap the girl –whose actually an escaped dragon princess. The dragons come to take her home because she’s the last heir. The girl’s unsuspecting boyfriend follows, in effort to rescue her. He treks through a dragon land, where there’s a rebellion in the works and war in the background. And the longer he’s there, the more dragon-y he becomes, and the more violent/angry too.
The book becomes a bit of a time crunch. Can he find his girlfriend in time before she does something she really doesn’t want to do? (I don’t want to spoil here). It’s violent. There’s lots of fighting. There’s lots of dragons. There’s politics, hierarchies, prisons, and reunions. There’s also a surprising ending. It’s not my favorite kind of fantasy and I’m not sure I really connected with the characters, but the artwork was just so compelling.
I think over time, I could love the princess. But, I’d have to get to know her a bit more. It’s certainly not what I thought it was going to be. And I am curious to see how the series will continue. I definitely want to see more of this artwork. I give this an 8/10.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Pages & Co: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales by Anna James

Summary from Goodreads:
A magical adventure to delight the imagination. The curl-up-on-the-sofa snuggle of a series from a uniquely talented author.

Tilly Pages is a bookwanderer; she can travel inside books, and even talk to the characters she meets there. But Tilly’s powers are put to the test when fairytales start leaking book magic and causing havoc . . .

On a wintery visit to Paris, Tilly and her best friend Oskar bravely bookwander into the land of fairytales to find that characters are getting lost, stories are all mixed-up, and mysterious plot holes are opening without warning. Can Tilly work out who, or what, is behind the chaos so everyone gets their happily-ever-after?

The second enthralling tale in the bestselling PAGES CO series.
I wrote on Goodreads: This is even better than the first book! If you’re looking for a light, magical escape right now, look no further. These books are charming, full of book magic and loaded with adventure.
I picked this book up on my honeymoon in Paris. It’s signed. And I didn’t realize it was a sequel. I ended up traveling all the way back to the same bookstore on the same day for their last copy of book 1. I’m so glad I did. These books are adorable. I thought I hit cuteness overload with book 1. But, I liked this one even more. The first book reminded me a lot of Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. This sequel reminds me more of Into the Woods mixed with Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories. Fairy tales are made to be broken, dissected, and twisted and Anna James does such a great job of it. Some of the humor even reminded me of Shrek.
Tilly and Oskar are developed friends now. I love their level of trust, honesty, and camaraderie. One won’t do something stupid without the other. I also like that the balance of power is more even. It becomes clear that Oscar also has a family of book wanderers. He’s meant for this life too. He doesn’t have to rely on Tilly for all of the fun, and I like that this makes things fairer. He’s not just her sidekick.
At first, I was a little overwhelmed with the politics of the adults. So much was going on at the library. I know I was supposed to feel that way. I was supposed to see things through the lens of a child. But, it made me lose too much focus and almost made me put the book down. I’m glad it didn’t. I loved the Paris adventure. I loved the fairy tale adventures. The gossiping bears, the helpful Jack, the ridiculous princes, the crack in the sky, all of it! I literally never put the book down for a second of the fairy tale parts…or the Paris parts now that I think of it.
There were some plot twists that kept me guessing with the adults too. I liked that the story didn’t really resolve as much as the first one did. This book definitely opened more things up for the rest of the series. I hope there’s more than one book to come after this one. Honestly, the whole book world that is created in these stories is just so fantastic and interesting. Mix in the politics, the limitations, the fictional characters, the magic, the travel, and everything else, and they’re just plain brilliant. I like that the characters aren’t simple either. I actually felt bad for the bad guy in this one. And there’s so many layers to each person here. I can’t wait to read more. I give this one a 10/10.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

A Good Week in Books (219)

I’ve had a nice book week. I received 2 more for review (thanks, Macmillan). I’m finally getting back to a more normal reading routine! Let’s see if I can keep this up. I read one middle grade, one YA, and one graphic novel this week. This was all in a week with 2 migraines, lots of anxiety about the state of the world, and tons of pollen taking over the neighborhood and threatening my sinuses. Maybe I’m getting more accustomed to this socially distanced state of normal?
I’m adjusting to online grocery shopping, Facebook live story times, Facebook live craft videos, Zoom work meetings, Zoom family meetings, Zoom friends meetings, actually having time for uninterrupted professional development webinars, and actually having time overall for uninterrupted things like reading book reviews, working on the website and developing the online summer reading program. Quiet, uninterrupted work time is nice. But also, my kitchen chair is not the best work chair. And I miss people. And going to stores. And restaurants. And my library. But, I’m lucky. I have my health and my job. And this blog. And lots of books to read.  And I keep telling myself this isn’t forever. This isn’t forever.
The new books:

Little Universes by Heather Demetrios
Check Please Book 2: Sticks & Scones by Ngozi Ukazu

Friday, April 3, 2020

Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare

Summary from Goodreads:
Chain of Gold is the first novel in a new trilogy that stars the Shadowhunters of Edwardian London.

Welcome to Edwardian London, a time of electric lights and long shadows, the celebration of artistic beauty and the wild pursuit of pleasure, with demons waiting in the dark. For years there has been peace in the Shadowhunter world. James and Lucie Herondale, children of the famous Will and Tessa, have grown up in an idyll with their loving friends and family, listening to stories of good defeating evil and love conquering all. But everything changes when the Blackthorn and Carstairs families come to London…and so does a remorseless and inescapable plague.

James Herondale longs for a great love, and thinks he has found it in the beautiful, mysterious Grace Blackthorn. Cordelia Carstairs is desperate to become a hero, save her family from ruin, and keep her secret love for James hidden. When disaster strikes the Shadowhunters, James, Cordelia and their friends are plunged into a wild adventure which will reveal dark and incredible powers, and the true cruel price of being a hero…and falling in love.
This wasn’t my favorite Cassandra Clare story. To be honest, I’m not in the best mindset. My brain is in a constant state of worry about the world. And focusing on reading was hard. That being said, Clare has always been one of my favorites and I was relying on her in my time of need. She didn’t quite do it for me with this one.

I was excited to read about Tessa and Will’s children. How special they had to be! I of course liked them. James was haunted like Will was. But, in a different way. He reminded me a lot of Pip from Great Expectations. He had to be inspired from him. His relationship with Grace was too much like Pip and Estella. There was even a Miss Havisham character and a decaying house. And I’m an English major/nerd. I love Charles Dickens. I loved this. This was Great Expectations on supernatural steroids.  Imagine Satis House with real demons and portals. Also each chapter has a literary quote to start it. This book felt the most literary of all of Clare’s novels to date. Characters were quoting Shakespeare and referencing Oscar Wilde. I loved this.
I didn’t like the whole kind of enchantment that James was under. This plot device has been done too many times by Clare before. We all know what it is. I almost spoiled it just now, but on the rare instance someone doesn’t know….I’ll be good. But come on. We’ve been through this with Jace so many times. I almost wish it was just a matter of him truly loving two people. That would be more interesting at this point.
Lucie was interesting too. I liked her almost more than the main character/love interest: Cordelia. Cordelia is badass. Don’t get me wrong. But, she’s almost too good. What are her flaws? Seriously, I can’t find any. She fights for her father, does everything for her new friends, is braver than everyone, kills with a sword, dances better than anyone, and defends her jerkface brother.  Lucie of course is interesting because of her parents, but there’s also just something about her unique personality and I want to know her more. And I guess this is what Clare still excels at: her characters.
However, the rest of the rat pack fell a little flat. The other boys kind of blended together for me. They were already a team with inside jokes, but I didn’t get to see any of that develop. There’s a drunk character, a scientist, and another guy….and I kept mixing them all up. Cordelia’s brother was interesting because he was a total Slytherin jerk, but I also loved him. He was in a love with a man after power in the Clave (aka: someone who’d never come out of the closet). And then Magnus appears! But of course he has to save the day again. I’ve read this plot line too many times too…I almost want to read about him screwing something up, or doing something else to the story.
All in all, there’s a lot of repetition now with the plot. I do still want to know some of these people/characters. Clare wheels you in with these troubled souls and interesting backgrounds for people. I just wish she’d let these people have different adventures and love stories from her other characters. I like this time in history. I love the literary references. I probably will keep reading this series, even though I’m pretty sure I can call exactly how it will end. I give this one a 7/10.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

A Good Week in Books (218)

I’m finding the stress of the world not conducive for reading. My attention span is too short. I did get through one big fantasy book this week. Thank goodness, though it took me a long time. And I’m a good way into a light middle grade book. I’m not sure I could a read a book that isn’t light right now. I am so glad for my health though. It has been super rainy outside. My only time out of the house has mostly been for walks, but with the bad weather and now the pollen, I’m thinking maybe I’ll be reading more? I hope everyone reading this is healthy too. Thank goodness for books!
I received 2 new books for review, courtesy of Macmillan. Both look really cool. Maybe I just need something new to try.
by Ulysse Malassacne
Almost, Maine
by John Cariani