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Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartmann

[ 2 ] May 19, 2015

seraphina book coverReviewed by Rachel Mann

As soon as I saw that Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, was YA fiction about dragons, I thought I’d enjoy it, but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. Seraphina is awesome—it’s engaging, well plotted, and a delightful read.

The book’s heroine Seraphina, a musician, lives in Goredd, a country inhabited by both people and dragons. The dragons, which hang out in human form and are known as saarantrai, or saars, have their own country and government, and they coexist with humans thanks to a treaty. (Goredd is also home to other non-humans, quigutls, which have some dragon-like characteristics.) Each saar always has his or her real dragon form lurking beneath the surface; changing back and forth is limited by bureaucracy but is always a possibility.

While the saars look human, they are identifiable as their real selves through their smell, which is apparent only to other saars, and their silver blood. Another, more subtle giveaway can be their non-human behavior; dragons struggle to understand human emotion, and they’re forbidden from developing feelings toward or about humans. Yet the rules keeping saars and humans from bonding do get broken. For instance, Seraphina’s long-dead mother was a dragon who, as a saar, fell in love with a human, Claude; a situation made worse by the incredible result, in the book’s universe, of a saar becoming pregnant by a human.

After a prologue centered on Seraphina’s birth, the book picks up several years later. By then Seraphina, who has become an exceptional musician, has a place at her country’s court. When the murder of a human royal, Prince Rufus, kickstarts worry about whether dragon-human agreements will hold, Seraphina soon delves into the intrigue surrounding his death. She’s not an official spy, but she’s good at spying, and while she thinks critically of herself for continuously lying to most other characters, her lies—such as those obscuring her dragon-born half—are necessary for her survival.

As the plot races through the suspense of maintaining dragon-human relationships between both individuals and species, other wonderful characters appear: Orma, Seraphina’s maternal uncle and teacher, who also breaks the dragons’ rules about emotion; and members of the royal family, including the third generation’s engaged cousins and future rulers Princess Glisselda, whom Seraphina tutors in music, and Prince Lucian Kiggs, a philosophy reader and Captain of the Guard. Of course, the connection between Lucian and Seraphina gets increasingly more powerful as they try to maintain their individual loyalties to Glisselda – and as Seraphina tries to protect herself – while figuring out what happened to Prince Rufus and why.

Ultimately, I think it’s impossible to recommend Seraphina enough. Even before I was done reading it, I had started wondering about its sequel. I can’t wait to read that, too—and in the meantime, I might have to reread Seraphina right away.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Rachel, who has a Ph.D. in English, is a freelance writer/editor and a voracious reader. You can talk to her about books at http://twitter.com/writehandmann.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Random House. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell by William Klaber

[ 2 ] May 18, 2015

rebellion of miss lucy ann lobdell book coverReviewed by A.D. Cole

Lucy Lobdell longs for self-sufficiency. But in mid-nineteenth-century America, women’s options are limited as far as financial independence. So, in hopes of providing for herself and her daughter, Helen, Lucy sets out on a journey dressed as a man. Taking on the persona of Joseph Lobdell, she begins building a new life and a new reputation for herself. In the course of her adventures, she falls in love with two women and is loved in return.

Author William Klaber lived in the home of Lucy Lobdell and got her story from a neighbor. Beyond that, he claims to have been compelled by her spirit to write this memoir in her voice. The main events of the story are factual, but the voice of Lucy Ann Lobdell comes from Mr. Klaber’s personal inspiration.

What most intrigued me about the jacket synopsis was the mention of Lucy’s struggle with feelings and choices that didn’t yet have a vocabulary. I wish that sense of linguistic frustration had been explored more deeply as I think it would have been deeply connected to Lucy’s ability to find contentment in who she was. Instead, she wrestled with her conflicts and embraced moments of, “I don’t care what the world thinks.” Still, in its portrayal of the very real challenges of a woman passing herself off as a man and falling in love with another woman, Mr. Klaber’s depiction is meticulous and successful.

I chose The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell quite by accident and likely wouldn’t have picked it if I’d read the synopsis properly. But in the end I’m glad I read it. For me, this story was about hearing from a unique voice and exposing myself to a perspective I wouldn’t normally be given. I suppose that’s what all novels are about, ultimately, but this one is a little more blatant about it. Mr. Klaber’s purpose, after all, was to give voice to a person who might otherwise have been lost in the shuffle of history. Lucy’s journey is quite remarkable and the setting is well-researched and portrayed. I recommend this to lovers of historical fiction or LGBT history and fiction.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Macmillan. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight

[ 3 ] May 17, 2015

where they found her book coverReviewed by Sarah Lelonek

Every once in a while, it’s nice to read a standalone novel that can hold its ground among all the series out there. Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight not only held its ground, but it managed to hold my attention, despite the subject matter not being what I am used to. However, I think that the book, while a decent read, could have done more in the suspense and thriller department and cut out some of the endless exposition.

Where They Found Her takes place in the small college town of Ridgedale, New Jersey, where freelance journalist Molly Anderson tries to move past a miscarriage that rocked not only her marriage, but her inner core. When Molly is assigned a homicide with the body being that of a female infant, she is forced to dig up her own past and the dirty secrets of the small town surrounding her.

The story jumps between a lot of different viewpoints. I centered on Molly, because for me, she seemed the most interesting. Also, Molly’s portion of the story always moved the plot along, unlike some of the other women’s viewpoints. While the multiple viewpoints method can work, I felt that in this situation, it left the reader a little overwhelmed. All the stories tied together and it was a little hard to keep them straight.

I did enjoy how McCreight wove a solid plot between her characters; I just wish the story itself didn’t take so long to get going. It took  a good third of the book for me to get really interested in the novel. While the baby was found early on in the story, I didn’t feel a real connection to the characters and plot until much later in the book. While I liked the occasional twists the novel had to offer, I thought it was lacking in the suspense and thriller aspect that could really grab a reader.

All-in-all, Where They Found Her was a solid read. While the story took a while to rev up, I thought the ends justified the means. I would have liked to see less characters and exposition and more action. I think this would have sold the novel from the beginning for me. That being said, I can recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for a decent stand alone. Just be prepared for a longer read than usual.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Sarah Emily Lelonek has a BA in English Literature from Kent State University. She is currently enrolled at Tiffin University in their Master’s of Education program. She enjoys traveling and gaming while on breaks from working on her novel.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperCollins Publishers. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Geek Girl by Holly Smale

[ 2 ] May 16, 2015

geek girl book coverReviewed by Benish Khan

Geek Girl is a read one can easily get lost in; the word “geek” in the title alone was enough to make me want to dive into the story. I liked how entertaining the book was. Harriet Manners is a geek and she calls herself one as well. I think that all bookworms usually do have some geek in them, so I can definitely relate to her character! I loved reading Harriet’s inner dialogue–she’s quirky and witty but can sound quite self-obsessed sometimes. I alternated between really liking her character and feeling irritated with it. Harriet is not vain but she has a bad case of self-pitying that can get pretty bothersome to read about.

Harriet is teased at her high school, however, she’s soon given a life changing opportunity to turn herself from geek to model. I did like that modeling came naturally to her–it’s like her inner goddess came out once she was given the right platform to perform. Geek Girl is a cute novel with some minor romantic undertones. It’s essentially a novel of self-discovery and readers will see Harriet’s character grow as the plot progresses. I do think the book could have been better if there was more depth to the romance.

The concept of Geek Girl was wonderful but overall it was a typical coming of age novel and nothing anything particularly unique. There was nothing extraordinary and it did lack the magic I was looking for. That said, I did like the message that the author was trying to get across to the readers and think the book would appeal to the younger audience.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Benish Khan has her B.A in Psychology and Religion from the University of New York. She’s a psychologist and artist by day, and a bookworm by night. She currently blogs at feministreflections.com.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperCollins Publishers. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Risen II by Krystal Lawrence

[ 1 ] May 15, 2015

risen ii book coverReviewed by Amanda Farmer

When I heard that Risen II was being released I couldn’t wait to read it–I loved the first book, Risen. Risen II is different from the first installment. Francis Barclay has returned but he is not seeking revenge. This time around, he is simply wanting to protect his creation, Lorna. In the first book, he accidentally turned Lorna into a vampire. Lorna is changing and needs to be protected from herself and the town.

Lorna is the daughter of Kurt and Amanda Dale. They have started to notice small oddities about their daughter but they always manage to find ways to explain them away. They are way beyond the state of denial. Lorna knows she is different but doesn’t know that she is a vampire. She just knows that she craves blood and doesn’t mean to hurt people when she drinks from them, until they make her mad. She is a child after all–with temper tantrums and all.

Kurt is up to his adulterous ways as usual and is caught once again by his wife, Amanda, who tries to block it all out and care for their two children. There is a new detective in town, Blaze, who doesn’t care a bit for Kurt, but ends up having to deal with the Dale family more than he thought he would. Everyone in Alder Lake, new and old, has secrets and they are about to find out how connected they are to one another.

When Francis returns from the ashes, he only has a small amount of time to get to Lorna before he literally blows away. I did love how he was dedicated to wanting to help her and protect her. He did all he could in the small amount of time he had. He was even able to bring back Samantha, the vampire dog, that helped with Lorna’s transition.

Overall, I found Risen II to be not as good as the first book. I am not quite sure why I didn’t like it. The story flowed and was well written. Maybe it was that it had a lot of the same plot lines as the first book with Kurt being up to his old ways again and Amanda always in denial. I also thought this story was less chilling and it didn’t grab my attention like Risen did. I had to force myself to continue to read it.

I would recommend this story to those who would like to return to Alder Lake to see what happens next but not to those new to Alder Lake. If do choose to pick up Risen II without reading Risen, you will not be lost as Lawrence does an excellent job of getting the reader up to date on what happened previously.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Meg lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Ryan. Library professional by day, freelance writer by night, Meg writes about life, entertainment and everything in between.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Zondervan. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Poisoned Apples by Christine Heppermann

[ 2 ] May 14, 2015

poisoned apples book coverReviewed by Nina Longfield

In her collection, Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty, Christine Heppermann has an uncanny ability of taking dark, behind closed door secrets, turning them on their head, and presenting them back at the reader as something normal. Poisoned Apples is a collection of fairy tales and nursery rhymes rewritten with modern twisting jabs of reality.

Within her collection, Heppermann challenges the norms of suburban society. These are not tales for the faint of heart; they contain no cartoon caricatures of happily ever after, but are grim rhymes that smack of everyday reality for some. In “Never-Ending Story”, Heppermann delves into the stark, obsessive-compulsive reality of anorexia. Later, in “The First Anorexic”, she displays the intoxicating psyche of self-punishment.

Heppermann returns frequently to the image of the wolf in the woods or in the dark, only the wolf is not always the most frightening creature out there and sometimes the wolf is ourselves. She prods in several poems, such as “A Shape Magazine” and “Blow Your House In”, at media derived images that compel society to fit a certain body shape or else we cannot belong to the group. Yet there are also poems that render a newer uplifting view of what can be, such as a revisit of the miller’s daughter from the Grimm’s Rumpelstiltskin and how the miller’s daughter’s life could be her own if she just said “no” in the poem “Retelling”.

Poisoned Apples is a fascinating collection of visual ideas. It is dark, tantalizing, spooky, rich, and all too real. Hepperman has created a unique collection of raw images that poke and prod at a reader’s tender sentimentality for growing up in an imagined perfect world. Poisoned Apples reminds the reader that some things that appear normal maybe should be looked at again. Her cunning words and razor sharp wit reflect a hyper-reality in which the abnormal and grotesque appear ordinary and familiar.

I chose to read Poisoned Apples because I was intrigued with the concept of rewriting old standards to reflect modern norms in poetic verse. Heppermann’s collection gripped my attention and held on showing me society’s modern norms with a stark freshness. I was not at all disappointed with Heppermann’s Poisoned Apples. This small book yielded a satisfying and provocative read. Heppermann’s poems and images linger on in one’s thoughts and do not easily fade away.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperCollins Publishers. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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