Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Madame Tussaud's Apprentice

Title: Madame Tussaud's Apprentice
Author: Kathleen Benner Duble
Publisher: Merit Press
Publication Date: August 1, 2014
Source: I received a complimentary copy in exchange for a honest review.

In 1789, with the starving French people on the brink of revolution, orphaned Celie Rosseau, an amazing artist and a very clever thief, runs wild with her protector, Algernon, trying to join the idealistic freedom fighters of Paris. But when she is caught stealing from none other than the king's brother and the lady from the waxworks, Celie must use her drawing talent to buy her own freedom or die for her crimes. Forced to work for Madame Tussaud inside the opulent walls that surround Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Celie is shocked to find that the very people she imagined to be monsters actually treat her with kindness. But the thunder of revolution still rolls outside the gates, and Celie is torn between the cause of the poor and the safety of the rich. When the moment of truth arrives, will she turn on Madame Tussaud or betray the boy she loves? From the hidden garrets of the starving poor to the jeweled halls of Versailles, "Madame Tussaud's Apprentice" is a sweeping story of danger, intrigue, and young love, set against one of the most dramatic moments in history.

I like a bit of historical fiction once in a while, partly because I feel like I'm learning something. This one was set in the French Revolution and focused on the life of Madame Tussaud, of the famous wax museum.

Our heroine is Celie, a young thief. Celie lost her family to the cruelty of the upper classes and definitely has an axe to grind there. At the start of the story, she is homeless in Paris, living in an alley with her friend Algernon and a bunch of other homeless, stealing to survive. However, Celie has a talent for drawing and a photographic memory, which result in her being saved my Manon Tussaud. Celie is obviously good-hearted, despite being a thief. However, she is very impulsive and I thought a bit naive for someone who lived on the streets.

Her best friend and giant crush is Algernon. This is where the story fell down a bit for me. Algernon didn't really appeal to me. I couldn't handle his hot-and-cold attitude towards Celie and sometimes he treated her really awful, mainly out of jealousy.

I enjoyed the historical aspect. I brought back a lot of my French Revolution history, which I haven't taken since high school. I especially appreciated the author's note at the end, explain what was historically accurate and what was changed or added to the story. I also enjoyed the parts where the process of making the wax figures was explained. I love learning how things are created.

Overall, despite my reservations about Algernon, Madame Tussaud's Apprentice was an enjoyable read that let me brush up on my French history.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Throwback Thursday Review: Sabriel

Title: Sabriel
Author: Garth Nix
Series: Abhorsen #1
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: September 30, 1996 (first American edition - Originally published 1995)
Source: Gift.

Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him. She soon finds companions in Mogget, a cat whose aloof manner barely conceals its malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories. As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death—and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own destiny.

With Sabriel, the first installment in the Abhorsen trilogy, Garth Nix exploded onto the fantasy scene as a rising star, in a novel that takes readers to a world where the line between the living and the dead isn't always clear—and sometimes disappears altogether.

I absolutely loved the world building in this one! I started reading this one as part of a read-a-long (which I totally failed at. AGAIN). I read this one a long time ago (junior high?), but I remembered hardly anything, so it was basically like reading a new book.

Sabriel is a likable character. It's really easy to feel for her and see where she's coming from. She knows so little about what she is supposed to do on her quest and her only source of information is a bit questionable and also often prevented from passing along information. She goes through so much and I really wanted her to succeed (the consequences if she does not are dire indeed).

The other characters are interesting as well. There are only two we get to see a lot of: Mogget and Touchstone. I loved Mogget. Probably because I have such a soft spot for animals, especially cats. But also because of the mystery surrounding him. And a few times we get to see another side of Mogget and I personally found it fascinating! Touchstone was just alright for me. He seemed trustworthy and dependable, but he has a lot of guilt, which translates into a I'm-not-worthy attitude that got a little grating.

As I mentioned earlier, I loved the world building in this book. The concept of Death is a tricky one, but I though Garth Nix handled it beautifully! It's really original and captivating and intriguing. The living portion of his world was also great. I loved the bizarre separation of the Old Kingdom and those across the wall and those caught between the two, like Sabriel.

The only thing I didn't love about this one was the romance. I found it to be rather sudden. Not instalove (thank goodness), but it appeared suddenly for me without much build-up. The romance by no means ruined the book, but honestly, I think the book would have been just as good without it. 

Overall, I did really enjoy this one. The world building was some of the best I've read and our heroine definitely did not disappoint. It's always great when a book is just as good the second time through!

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Blog Tour: Tortured Souls

Tortured Souls
The Orion Circle #1

Kimber Leigh Wheaton

YA Paranormal Romance
June 29. 2014
Sea Dragon Press

Amazon * Goodreads

Sometimes Rest in Peace isn't an option.

Kacie Ramsey sees ghosts—and it's ruining her life. Her mother left, her father blames her, and no matter how hard she tries, she can't keep the ghosts away. Now a new power has emerged. Nightly visions of grisly murders and a relentless predator draw her to the brink of insanity.

When the phantom appears at a party, Kacie's longtime crush, Logan, saves her. He invites her to join the Orion Circle, a group of supernatural hunters with chapters in schools all over the country. Through the Circle, Kacie learns to embrace her spiritual powers, and for the first time in her life she feels in control rather than a victim.

But the Foxblood Demon will not give up so easily. A demented serial killer in life who trapped the souls of the thirteen children he murdered, imprisoning them within the walls of his mansion. Now in death, he plots his return while drawing power from the pure souls of the children. He recognizes something in Kacie he's never seen before— a medium powerful enough to provide a vessel for his tainted soul.

Kacie can't ignore the tortured souls of the children crying out to her every night. With Logan at her side, she will fight the Foxblood Demon. But can they banish this powerful phantom, or will Kacie lose not only her body, but her eternal soul to the monster.

About the Author

Kimber Leigh Wheaton is a bestselling YA/NA author with a soft spot for sweet romance. She is married to her soul mate, has a teenage son, and shares her home with three dogs, four cats, and lots of dragons. No, she doesn’t live on a farm, she just loves animals. Kimber Leigh is addicted to romance, videogames, superheroes, villains, and chocolate—not necessarily in that order. (If she has to choose, she’ll take a chocolate covered superhero!) She currently lives in San Antonio, TX but has been somewhat a rolling stone in life, having resided in several different cities and states.

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Closing my locker, I nod and smile at him, trying to hide my anxiety. Why did 

I agree to go to this club meeting? What if they sacrifice goats to some pagan god 

or something? Laughter wells up within at the absurd image of an animal sacrifice 

occurring on the third floor of the Sciences building. Besides, it couldn’t be a goat—it 

would have to be a cat or a fetal pig since that’s what the AP biology class is dissecting 

this year. I guess it could be a crawfish or an earthworm since the regular biology classes 

dissect those.

My laughter finally bubbles out when I picture figures in black robes sacrificing an 

earthworm to their pagan god. I feel Logan’s eyes on me. When I glance at him, he has a 

strange, indecipherable look on his face.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Review: Jex Malone

Title: Jex Malone
Author: C. L. Gaber & V. C. Stanley
Publisher: Merit Press
Publication Date: June 18, 2014
Source: I received a complimentary copy in exchange for a honest review.

A famous case. A missing girl. If they find her, will they be heroes? Or dead?

Bored out of her mind during a summer with her police detective father in Las Vegas, Jessica (aka "Jex") Malone starts doing what she does best--snooping. When she meets three new friends who share her passion for crime, from the geek to the fashionista, suddenly, the stifling desert days don't seem so long.

Her dad is never around, just like when her parents were married. But Jex's crew, the Drew-Ids, take the pledge of eternal secrecy and then get down to the good stuff--digging through the cold-case files in Dad's home office.

One of them, the thirteen-year-old case of Patty Matthews, is still a mystery. Finding Patty, who vanished into thin air, became such an obsession for Jex's father that it destroyed the Malones' marriage. So not only is this a big deal, it's personal.

Jex is determined to find out what really happened, and her excitement is contagious. Soon her friends are all on board and so is the missing girl's brother, the hunky Cooper Matthews.

But as they dig up more and more troubling information--more than the cops ever did--they also get the clear message that someone out there wants to prevent the truth from coming out. That somebody is also prepared to do anything, absolutely anything, to prevent it.

Jex isn't afraid; after all, she's a cop's daughter. But maybe she should be.

Laced with humor, toughness, and real CSI investigation techniques, Jex Malone could be the Nancy Drew for a new generation--but with a chilling twist. These wannabe detectives are on the brink of finding out the fate of poor missing Patty. But will they disappear without a trace, too?

Jex Malone is the latest in a long line of girl detectives (although I think Nat deserves most of the credit). To be 100% honest, I never read Nancy Drew as a kid (I was too busy reading Saddle Club and Pony Pals), but I did find myself enjoying this one.

Let's start with my favourite part of this book: diversity. While our heroine Jex and her new crush Cooper may have both been white, Jex's friends did show some diversity. Deva's parents are Indian, Nat's family is Jamaican and I think Cissy is Latino. So it was nice to see a bit of diversity in YA.

I did have a few issues with this one though. These girls are insane. Lots of the stuff they did made no sense to me at all. There was a lot of sneaking around and withholding of evidence from Jex's dad, who is a police officer. Although I'm sure that evidence would never stand up in court, which Nat should have known if she was as smart as we're led to believe. And the whole thing at the end was beyond silly for these girls. Maybe that's the adult in me talking, but I just couldn't get behind these girl's crazy ideas.

I also wasn't a huge fan of some of the characters. Deva annoyed me with her spoiled-rich-girl thing, Nat was so nosy, especially when she first meets Jex and Cissy just kind of faded into the background most of the time. And Cooper was okay, although I have no idea why he didn't get these girls to leave him alone instead of following them on their crazy plan.

Overall, it was fun to follow these girls on their crazy adventure, as long as I ignore the fact that I had no clue why they were being so crazy. I did guess the ending, although I never know if this is because the ending is obvious or if I am just good at guessing.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Review: A Study in Silks

Title: A Study in Silks
Author: Emma Jane Holloway
Series: The Baskerville Affair #1
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
Source: I received an ecopy in exchange for a honest review.

Evelina Cooper, niece of Sherlock Holmes, is ready for her first London Season - except for a murderer, missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse. In a Victorian era ruled by a ruthless steam baron council, mechanical power is the real monarch, and sorcery the demon enemy of the empire. Evelina has secretly mastered a coveted weapon - magic that can run machines. Should she trust the handsome, clever rake who speeds her breath, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything she would ask?

This book really should have been a home run for me. I love steampunk and Victorian manner and mysteries. But this one fell a bit flat for me and I can't quite put my finger on why. I think it is at least partly because there was so much going on. Steampunk aspects, magic, political intrigue, murder mystery featuring Sherlock Holmes, young woman forced to reconsile her past a future. It was a lot.

I had trouble getting into and staying with this one. I think the pacing was a bit off, as the book felt really long (I guess it was over 500 pages) and didn't really pick up for me until the final third. I think it would have been more manageable (and possibly enjoyable) if we had just followed Evelina, instead of diverting to follow Lord Bancroft or Tobias or Jasper Keating. I think this was mainly done to give readers more information about the mystery, but it made the book very long.

I did like the main character Evelina. She smart and resourceful, but still has some insecurities and vulnerabilities. The rest of the characters were certainly flawed individuals. I really felt for Nick, although he did some things I certainly didn't like. Tobias was an interesting character and I felt for him as well, despite (or because of) his weaknesses.

I wasn't entirely sold on the Sherlock Holmes aspect. As I mentioned before, it felt like too much when combined with steampunk and magic. This might have been a personal preference though, as I tend to favour more streamlined stories.

Overall, I did enjoy Evelina and the enjoyed the final third of the book, once things really got going, but I found a large portion of the book to be a bit of a slog. I think this might be one you have to try for yourself.

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Monday, August 4, 2014

Megan's Giant TBR Challenge: Update #1

So earlier this month I began my Giant TBR Challenge. Here's were I was when I started and where I am at the end of July!

Previous TBR Total = 175
TBR Books read this month = 2
Current TBR Total = 173

Only had a couple weels, since I started this challenge over halfway through July, but managed to read two physical books. Even better, managed not to acquire any new ones! Sof ar so good!