Perfect Series Ending to a Great Series | Manners & Mutiny by Gail Carriger

Manners & MutinyIn the final book of Gail Carriger’s Finishing School¬†series, Sophronia, Dimity, and Agatha gear up for one final adventure before officially finishing. There will be impossible romances, invading Picklemen, and the most wonderful dinner party that, unfortunately, may or may not end in an explosion.

I love this series so much. I’m a fan of Carriger’s in general, but of the three series’ set in this universe, this one is by far my favorite. Sophronia is just such a likable main character! She’s smart and manipulative, but also kind and loyal. She develops wonderfully as a character over the four books and grows up to be someone who I desperately want to be friends with. Carriger has also done a good job developing secondary characters like Dimity, Pillover, and Agatha. My problem with some of Carriger’s other characters is that they seem a little…exaggerated. Luckily, Sophronia just seems like a really normal girl given the circumstances.

This book probably had more action than the first three (or it at least felt like it) and that’s not a bad thing. I really liked getting into Sophronia’s head and seeing all of the skills that she’d been learning at school come into play. It’s kind of hard to explain without spoiling anything,¬†but it was really enjoyable to watch Sophronia strategize. The plot included a couple of twists involving certain characters that I did NOT see coming and they were pleasant surprises. In the end, there wasn’t much else that I was looking for from the plot. There were a few things that were left unresolved, but I feel almost certain that those things will (or have been) addressed in the other series’. I thought this series wrapped up really nicely and (of course) there were a few cameos of characters from Carriger’s other series¬†The Parasol Protectorate.

Overall, this was a very fun book and series altogether. While some of Carriger’s other series’ stray into more “adult” territory, this series is firmly YA and I would recommend it to any pre-teen/teenage girl (or boy for that matter–plenty of action). Sophronia may go down as one of my favorite protagonists of all time.

Overall Rating: 5 (rounded up from 4.5)
Language: None
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild

Just another place I’ll never be able to visit | Caraval by Stephanie Garber

CaravalScarlett has dreamt about attending Caraval ever since her grandmother told her magical stories from the last time Caraval was in town. But now that Scarlett’s arranged marriage is looming, she’s given up on that dream and only wants to make it to her wedding day so that she can get herself and her younger sister, Donatella, away from their abusive father. Unexpectedly, a letter arrives from Caraval’s orchestrater, Legend himself, inviting Scarlett, Tella, and Scarlett’s fianc√© to attend this year’s Caraval performance. Scarlett has already put Caraval behind her, but Tella won’t take no for an answer. They soon find themselves on Legend’s private island with a sailor, Julian, who neither knows much about as they finally enter the world of Caraval. It’s only a game, but what happens when everything starts to feel too real?

My new dream in life is to attend Caraval. I would literally trade 1,000 Hogwarts acceptance letters to attend one week of Caraval. This place sounds amazing. There’s a scavenger type hunt and lots of intrigue and yummy sounding foods. You pay for things with secrets, desires, and truths and you’re only allowed out at night. Talk about atmospheric! I thought the author did a pretty good job describing the scene, but if we’re going to compare it to The Night Circus¬†(which everybody has been) then more definitely could have been done to create the atmosphere and build the world. All of the places that Scarlett goes are pretty well described, but they don’t always make sense in the grand scheme of things. Because of that, it makes elements of the plot feel a little too coincidental throughout the book. While I could visualize specific shops, I had a hard time imagining what Caraval must look like as a whole (even with the map in the front cover).

The plot itself was pretty good. There’s a clear goal, but the journey would get a little fuzzy at times. The clues didn’t always make the most sense to me. I know they were supposed to be kind of obscure, but it didn’t feel clear enough how things were supposed to connect with each other. Again, this made elements of the plot feel super coincidental instead of calculated as I think they were intended to be. Without getting into any spoilers, I felt that the ending was a bit of a let down with how the rest of the plot had been built up. There were too many convenient things that happened which, I felt, cheapened the rest of the story. It was just kind of like, “Oh, this plot point is explained by this thing that was happening but nobody knew about, but trust me it was happening. Boom, plot point solved.” I would have appreciated some loose ends or at least less closure.

The characters were just okay for me. I thought some of the secondary characters were pretty great like Jovan and Aiko, but the main characters themselves weren’t much more developed than the secondary characters. Everybody seemed to be pretty one note with one motivation and one motivation only. Scarlett just wanted to get her sister and go home–she didn’t want to let herself enjoy Caraval at all and for someone who’d been looking forward to it, I didn’t find it genuine that Scarlett didn’t loosen up at all. Tella was just kind of selfish the whole time. There was a small glimpse of her love for Scarlett at the beginning of the book, but those strong feelings never really surfaced in the rest of the book. Julian was just kind of a weird character. I didn’t feel very connected to him and I didn’t feel that the relationship between him and Scarlett was super believable or well-developed. All of a sudden, it was just happening. Honestly, I was rooting for Dante, but Scarlett probably doesn’t deserve him. Legend was kind of a strange character as well. He spends so much time off-screen, so to speak, that I’m not really sure how I feel about him.

Overall, this review kind of makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy the book, but I really did. There were so many things to love about it but I think my expectations were a tad too high. I love scavenger hunts and so I was a little disappointed with how that all worked out and atmospherically, this book can’t really compete with The Night Circus. With that being said, I would definitely recommend this book. You’ll find yourself lost in the world of Caraval and imagining which shops you’d visit first and which foods you’d taste. You’ll ponder whether you would be a player or a watcher (I’d probably play, but I wouldn’t be super competitive about it). I’ll be interested to see how the next book¬†plays out (yeah, I didn’t know this was going to be a duology either).

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Mild
Violence: Heavy. Quite a few scenes with the sisters and their physically abusive father.
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Moderate

A timely book about racism | Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham [ARC]

Dreamland BurningRowan Chase has a dead body on her family’s property.¬†A brief investigation shows that the body was likely dumped there sometime in the 1920’s (almost 100 years ago) and Rowan is determined to figure out the story behind it. William Tillman is just another white teenage boy growing up in Tulsa during the Prohibition. After getting a black man killed for touching a white girl’s hand, Will starts to rethink how he feels about black people. On a Summer night in 1921 all of his new-found convictions are put to the test. While these two characters live in different times, their stories are unquestionably intertwined.

I have some mixed feelings about this book. As a minority myself, I have given a lot of thought about the representation of minorities and race in books (especially YA). I, personally, have a hard time sometimes when¬†white authors write about these subjects as they don’t have the same personal experiences that a non-white person has had (regardless of how much research they’ve put into their book). Instead, I feel that we need more diverse authors to write about the experiences of diverse characters (you can read my whole post here). As far as I can tell from some Googling and website/blog reading, Ms. Latham is white (and I apologize profusely if this is not the case, but I haven’t been able to find anything that would indicate otherwise) so I’m not sure how authentically she can tell the story despite the large amount of research she put into the book. There was one part in particular that had me scratching my head a little. Geneva, the forensic anthropologist, tells Rowan (who is half-black, half-white) that she can tell that the body is most likely black due to facial structure. Rowan then has this internal debate about whether or not she’s offended at these “racist remarks”. Mmmm…maybe it’s just me, but I don’t find that offensive at all. It actually makes sense to me that different races would have different bone structure. My eyes are shaped differently than white people, so why wouldn’t my eye sockets be shaped differently as well? Other than a couple of other things like that, I felt that the author did a good job dealing with such a heavy topic.

So let’s actually get into the book. I thought Latham did a great job creating our two main characters.They were both likable and I think that’s impressive especially for Will as he has some racist tendencies due to the environment that he grew up in. You kind of want to hate him because of what happens in the beginning of the book, but then you just start to feel really sorry for him. He becomes really conflicted and his internal battle seemed pretty genuine to me. Rowan was a firecracker and a fun character as well. Her best friend was interesting but I do question why Latham chose to make him asexual as it didn’t really feel like it had an effect on who he was as a character–it felt more to me like diversity for diversity’s sake (which, again, I’m not a fan of).

I liked that the book had a bit of mystery to it. The book alternates between Rowan and Will so the reader ends up with quite a bit more information than Rowan as she’s trying to figure out whose body is in her backyard. It was fun and interesting for me to see Rowan making incorrect assumptions. Based on the information she has her deductions are quite logical, but we know that she doesn’t have the whole story. The reader is given clues from both the past and the present so I was able to figure out who the body was maybe around the 70% mark–but I think the author meant for us to figure it out at that point. The way the two story lines came together was also interesting and (for the most part) felt natural.

I can’t speak for black people, but as a minority I do appreciate that Latham has chosen to tackle this big topic of race and racism in America. While I think the book would have felt more meaningful if it had been written by a black author, it is apparent that Latham had done an extensive amount of research while she was writing. She doesn’t shy away from painting things as ugly as they were–she’s not pulling any punches here. This book has frank depictions of racism and the kind of cruelty that humans will inflict upon each other. Latham also illustrates the small types of racism that are still around today. Overall, I thought this book was well-done and I would recommend it for mid to older teens.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate. Specifically the n-word is used several times (along with other language), but I did not feel that the author used it excessively in the context of the book.
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild. One brief, non-descriptive scene of attempted rape.

Note: I received this book free from The NOVL in exchange for an honest review.

Great premise, disappointing execution | Gilded Cage by Vic James [ARC]

Gilded CageIn an alternate world, there are those who are Equals and there are those who are not. Equals rule while non-Equals must donate ten years of their lives to working for them. In one of the factory towns, revolution is in the air–but can they really succeed when they’re fighting against people with such immense powers?

First, I think that’s an awful cover. Despite that, I still thought the book’s premise sounded really promising. It sounded like there was going to be some star-crossed lovers, a revolution from the lower class, and a mysteriously powerful, game-changing person. And the book had all of that, but it all just felt so…bland. I didn’t really care about the characters–I feel like I wasn’t given a reason to care about them. Even though we get to see the story from both Abi and Luke’s perspectives, I don’t feel like I know who they are or what they care about or mostly WHY they care about what they do. I mean, obviously they care about their family, but is that their only motivation to do anything? I don’t know how to explain it…I just didn’t feel a connection there.

The romances and general relationships between characters were strange too. Honestly, it feels like the younger sister has been hypnotized or brainwashed or something. We saw no development in her relationship with the eldest brother (though not romantic in nature, still strange and slightly disturbing). The overall plot is hard to discern and may be more fleshed out in future books, but I’m not personally planning on continuing the series. Mostly I just feel confused. I don’t understand how powers work or what they do (but I guess nobody really does). There’s some weird generational explanation for some stuff, which didn’t really make sense and just seemed super random and more confusing.

I’ve seen so much hype around this book, but it seriously let me down. I didn’t hate it, but the story just felt so uninspired and flat. Too much happened with too little explanation. Despite such a great premise, I’m afraid I have to recommend that you give this one a hard pass.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Mild
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Mild

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Love in the Time of Colonial Louisiana | The Mark of the King by Jocelyn Green [GIVEAWAY]

The Mark of the KingThe Mark of the King
by Jocelyn Green
Release Date: January 3, 2017
Genres: Historical Fiction, Christian, Romance

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SYNOPSIS: After being imprisoned and branded for the death of her client, twenty-five-year-old midwife Julianne Chevalier trades her life sentence for exile to the fledgling 1720s French colony of Louisiana, where she hopes to be reunited with her brother, serving there as a soldier. To make the journey, though, women must be married, and Julianne is forced to wed a fellow convict.

When they arrive in New Orleans, there is no news of Benjamin, Julianne’s brother, and searching for answers proves dangerous. What is behind the mystery, and does military officer Marc-Paul Girard know more than he is letting on?

With her dreams of a new life shattered, Julianne must find her way in this dangerous, rugged land, despite never being able to escape the king’s mark on her shoulder that brands her a criminal beyond redemption.

REVIEW: This book kind of surprised me because I didn’t really know much about colonial Louisiana. I felt that the author did a really good job of describing the setting for those of us who are unfamiliar with it–I almost felt like I could walk out my front door and into a humid Louisiana summer. I appreciated that some of the characters and events were real so that if I was interested in learning more, I would be able to.

The characters were all nicely fleshed-out. I could really feel for Julianne throughout the book. She had to go through some really tough things, but she (mostly) kept a really positive attitude and it was obvious that she just wanted to embrace her fresh start and get to work. None of our characters are perfect and we definitely see their flaws, but that just makes them relatable and more likable in my opinion. One thing that I especially appreciated was that this book spanned over a few years so we could see Julianne, her relationships, and the city of New Orleans grow and develop.

The plot was interesting, though a little slow-moving at times. I wasn’t really surprised by any of the plot twists, but I still found reading the book to be enjoyable. I don’t read a ton of Christian Fiction (though I have been reading more since partnering with Litfuse) so it’s still a little hard for me to swallow the Christian storyline at times. It’s not that I don’t like the message (I, myself, am a Christian) but sometimes that part of the story seems a little forced or preachy. It just doesn’t come across as natural as I would hope it to be.

Overall, I really liked this book and I felt that it brought to light an aspect of history that’s often overlooked. I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in learning more about colonial Louisiana or who just likes a good, clean Christian romance.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: None
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate (nothing explicit, just a lot of references to French soldiers spending the night with Native American women)


The Mark of the King Giveaway

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Jocelyn GreenABOUT THE AUTHOR: 
Jocelyn Green inspires faith and courage as the award-winning author of ten books to date, including Wedded to War, a Christy Award finalist in 2013; Widow of Gettysburg; Yankee in Atlanta; and The 5 Love Languages Military Edition, which she coauthored with bestselling author Dr. Gary Chapman. A former military wife herself, her passion for military families informs all of her writing as well as her numerous speaking opportunities. Jocelyn graduated from Taylor University with a BA in English and now lives with her husband and two children in Iowa.

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Note: I received this book free from the author/blog tour in exchange for an honest review.

No Mourners. No Funerals. | Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

The Dregs are just another gang in Ketterdam, but the one thing they have that others don’t is Kaz Brekker. He’s young, but he’s good at what he does. When he’s approached to pull off the most impossible heist, all he can see is the pile of money waiting for him at the end of it. He quickly pulls a talented crew together–the only ones with a glimmer of a chance at success. Can they pull it off? Or will this job prove to be too much–even for Kaz “Dirty Hands” Brekker?

Six of CrowsI LOVE a good heist. Book, movie–whatever. So with that in mind, I thought that I was going to like this book. Turns out that I REALLY liked this book. The characters were all just so complicated and had an enormous amount of depth. I thought that Bardugo did a great job of switching between narrators and between past and present. That way the reader can get into every character’s head and kind of understand what their motivations are. At the same time, even though we’re jumping between characters, we’re not privy to everything that’s going on. There were a couple of twists that had me going, “WHAAAAATT????”.

This book and the plot were giving me serious Mistborn vibes (which isn’t a bad thing) but the thing that I thought Mistborn did better was the timeline. In Mistborn, they take a whole year (if I’m remembering correctly) to pull of their “thing” whereas Kaz and his team take approximately a week before they’re off. I just felt like that seemed less realistic. Another point of “realism” that always bothers me is when we’re supposed to be in a completely different world, but then the characters use our swear words. I don’t know why that bothers me so much. I mean…as far as I’m concerned, the characters are speaking English, so doesn’t it make sense for them to use English swear words? But for some reason it just yanks me out of the story every time.

Another¬†thing that kind of took away from the book for me…I keep harping on this same topic of not having diverse characters for the sake of diversity. I thought Inej being a POC was great and I felt like that characteristic played into who she was as a character and how she had developed throughout her life. That being said, there were a couple of other characters that had a diverse trait that seemed more forced. While I’m not opposed to having LGBT characters in the books that I read, I didn’t feel like it added to who the characters were or had any consequence in their development as people. More, it felt like Bardugo just wanted to neatly pair off the six main characters and this was the easiest way to do that. Sorry, not a fan. Maybe more will be revealed in the second book about how this trait played into character development. We’ll see.

Overall, I thought this book was really fun and I loved seeing another part of the Grisha-verse. After finishing I wished that I could immediately get my hands on the second book (unfortunately, I had to wait until Christmas). It’s on my list now and I’m REALLY hoping to get to it this month! But I also don’t want to read it because I want the story to last forever–it’s quite the dilemma.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate

BLOG TOUR: Iron Cast by Destiny Soria [GIVEAWAY]

Iron CastIron Cast
by Destiny Soria
Release Date: October 11, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fiction

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SYNOPSIS:¬†It‚Äôs Boston, 1919, and the Cast Iron club is packed. On stage, hemopaths‚ÄĒwhose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art‚ÄĒcaptivate their audience. Corinne and Ada have been best friends ever since infamous gangster Johnny Dervish recruited them into his circle. By night they perform for Johnny‚Äôs crowds, and by day they con Boston‚Äôs elite. When a job goes wrong and Ada is imprisoned, they realize how precarious their position is. After she escapes, two of the Cast Iron‚Äôs hires are shot, and Johnny disappears. With the law closing in, Corinne and Ada are forced to hunt for answers, even as betrayal faces them at every turn.

REVIEW:¬†The author starts the book with a note regarding her two main characters. She emphasizes that she really wanted to focus on their relationship as opposed to their individual relationships with the boys they like. I always like a little romance in books, but I really appreciated that the romance wasn’t the sole focus. This book has much more depth to it than that. The thing that I really loved about this book is the interactions between Ada and Corinne. They’re so different and the author does a great job of really portraying them as individuals. Their loyalty to each other is inspiring and I love that the author didn’t have them get into any catty arguments or jealous fights. Their relationship is so much bigger than that.

I loved the atmosphere of this book as well. It’s set in a Boston winter shortly before Prohibition is passed. This book makes Boston seem like this really magical and atmospheric city and I think it was the perfect setting for this story. The magic was also very intriguing to me though I don’t think it was explained very well. What exactly is hemopathy? Why does iron effect hemopaths? And how do they get their powers? What determines what kind of powers they have? Even with all of these questions, I like how wordsmiths and songsmiths have their powers so closely tied to emotion. On the other hand thespians and whatever Saint’s hemopathy is called don’t really seem to tie-in. While I like all of the different skills, it seems like there’s a disconnect. The four “powers” don’t really seem to connect to each other. That being said, they’re all extremely cool.

Overall I really enjoyed this book even though the plot was pretty slow at the beginning. There’s a lot of background and character development that the reader needs to get first, but once the plot really got going, I was hooked. I’m just so intrigued by this world! I don’t know if the author plans on making it a series, but I would love to read another book featuring these characters!

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Mild
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Mild



Destiny SoriaABOUT THE AUTHOR: 
Destiny Soria writes Young Adult fiction. Her debut novel, IRON CAST, will be published by Abrams/Amulet in Fall 2016.

Destiny lives in Birmingham, AL, where she spends her time trying to come up with bios that make her sound kind of cool. She has yet to succeed.

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Note: I received this book free from the author/blog tour in exchange for an honest review.