Cinders & Sapphires (At Somerton #1)
By: Leila Rasheed
Release Date: January 22, 2013
Rating: 3 Stars
|Summary: Rose Cliffe has never met a young lady like her new mistress. Clever, rich, and beautiful, Ada Averley treats Rose as an equal. And Rose could use a friend. Especially now that she, at barely sixteen, has risen to the position of ladies’ maid. Rose knows she should be grateful to have a place at a house like Somerton. Still, she can’t help but wonder what her life might have been had she been born a lady, like Ada.
For the first time in a decade, the Averleys have returned to Somerton, their majestic ancestral estate. But terrible scandal has followed Ada’s beloved father all the way from India. Now Ada finds herself torn between her own happiness and her family’s honor. Only she has the power to restore the Averley name—but it would mean giving up her one true love . . . someone she could never persuade her father to accept.
Sumptuous and enticing, the first novel in the At Somerton series introduces two worlds, utterly different yet entangled, where ruthless ambition, forbidden attraction, and unspoken dreams are hidden behind dutiful smiles and glittering jewels. All those secrets are waiting . . . at Somerton.
By almost any measure, Cinders and Sapphires is not a good book. Think Gossip Girl meets Downton Abbey, heavy emphasis on Gossip Girl. In fact, the British period setting is the only aspect even remotely reminiscent of Downton Abbey. Yeah. Total train wreck right there. That said, sometimes a book will be so bad that it’s good, and for me Cinders and Sapphires is such a book – so hilariously over the top terrible that I ended up actually liking it.
wrong right? Basically, this is a book full of manufactured, petty scandals. Lady Ada Averly’s father, Lord Westlake, is forced out of his position as Lieutenant Governor of India because of some undisclosed wrongdoing that casts a cloud of suspicion over her family. Scandal! She kisses some Indian dude on the boat ride back to England and spends the rest of the book alternatively obsessing over him and neurosing about how inappropriate her actions are. Scandal! Upon arriving back at their estate, her father marries some lady because Westlake’s brother who’s been left in charge of Somerton has been mismanaging the finances and they’re almost broke. Scan… ok, that one sounds pretty typical actually. Ada’s new stepbrother is in the closet about his relationship with his valet AND being blackmailed by his former valet with whom he’s also had a relationship. Scandal! Ada’s new lady’s maid, Rose, is actually Westlake’s daughter and Ada’s illegitimate half sister. Scandal! Ada’s stepsister Charlotte desperately wants to marry this lord so she can get this nice title of nobility, except Ada pretends she’s interested in the same poor guy but really just needs an excuse to see that Indian guy again, and… yeah. Scandal!
Of course, the mere fact that the characters are basically just walking from one scandal into the next is only half of it. Cinders and Sapphires tries to be a legitimate book instead of a gossip rag – Leila Rasheed surprisingly tackles both the budding feminism of the day and the growing Indian discontent with British rule, and it’s not half bad done at all. Ada’s storyline about her dreams of going to Oxford and wanting to become an independent woman and Rose’s subplot about her being a talented composer but fearful of ‘rising above her station’ are pretty good tie-ins with the gradual evolution of gender and class perceptions over this period, and Ada’s debates with Indian dude Ravi over the merits and excesses of British rule went much farther than I expected and gave the impression Rasheed knows far more about the subject than I suspected at first blush. And the sharp eyed will pick out rumblings of the First World War in the distance – there’s definitely enough coverage of turn of the last century history that, at times (meaning for two or three paragraphs, half a page max), I almost thought I was reading an actual historical novel.
Unfortunately, reading this book and actively trying to find the historical elements I described above is really about as effective as looking for sober patrons at an Irish pub, because Rasheed went way overboard with the (laughably bad) scandals. I hope I’m not the only one who finds the notion of one kiss on a ship in the night leading to a true love I only have eyes for you type relationship between two star crossed lovers ridiculous, and then to add on top of it a love triangle of first convenience and then they might just actually work is just piling on the cheese. And completely drowns out Ada’s Oxford dreams storyline to boot. As for the others, Rose seems to be relegated to the goody role, while Charlotte gets cast as the evil conniving stepsister, not to mention the subplot with Ada’s stepbrother Sebastian perpetrates every conceivable gay stereotype ever – yes I’m sure what Sebastian goes through could conceivably happen given the social stigma and much worse attached to being gay at the time, but between the way his relationship with Oliver is written, the blackmail, him desperately trying to find a beard, and how the blackmail’s resolved, I don’t know, it’s just so over the top, cartoonish, and not serious at all.
I’m running out of observations at this point, so I guess what I’m saying is that Cinders and Sapphires is a potent combination of ridiculous petty drama and period… I don’t know what to call it, the history’s written with depth but how it’s covered is incredibly shallow. The overall result is a plot that’s admittedly bad… but I liked it.
|The Goddess Inheritance
(Goddess Test #3)
|Me, Him, Them, and It||Caela Carter||Contemporary
|The Trouble with Flirting||Claire LaZebnik||Contemporary
|Dan Wells||Science Fiction
|Jennifer Echols||Romance||GR Link|
(The Darkborn Legacy #1)
|Michael Griffo||Paranormal||GR Link|
|Eleanor & Park||Rainbow Rowell||Romance
Note: Star Crossed by Jennifer Echols is not YA (= usually basis for these lists) but since I make the list and I look forward to that book I reserve the right to include it 😉
Weavers (The Frost Chronicles 3)
By: Kate Avery Ellison
Release Date: January 23, 2013
Rating: 4 Stars
|Summary: Every day, life in the Frost grows increasingly perilous for its inhabitants. The Farther occupation continues, and food is becoming scarce. And Lia Weaver’s family is facing increasing perils, too—Jonn pushes his health to the brink as he works to uncover the secrets of Echlos, and Ivy risks everything to get food for the family. And for the second time, the Weaver family is harboring a fugitive, but Lia doesn’t trust her.Lia has personally braved many struggles—a Farther occupation, family secrets, a heart torn between two men, and Watcher attacks—as she struggles to keep her family safe. But now she will face her greatest challenge and uncover the Frost’s deepest secrets as she completes her most dangerous mission yet for the Thorns.|
At this point, I think I’m resigned to the fact that Frost is a one-of book and none of the sequels will ever be as good. And that’s fine, because the first book of The Frost Chronicles featured a unique combination of elements – setting up a tough heroine in Lia Weaver, creating a harsh winter landscape in the Frost, and having Lia harbor an outsider and fugitive that tests her convictions to the core, a combination that really can’t be repeated. Still, even though I don’t think Frost can’t be topped,Weavers isn’t a bad book by any measure, and while I’ll always prefer Lia’s first story to everything else that’s happened so far, I don’t regret reading and finding out what’s next.
I do think though Weavers is an improvement over the last book, Thorns. The introduction to the Frost and the recap of the events of the previous book are handled a lot better, and while there are new characters as usual as old ones such as Ann and Korr disappear into the mysterious black hole of secret assignments in the enemy capital city, the focus of the plot, discovering the history of the Frost, the origins of Echlos and the Watchers, and exactly what happens to the people who use the portals isn’t a bad one. The plot picks up almost right away with Lia being sent on her mission to use the PLD and all the stuff with the Farther occupation of Lia’s village sort of take a back seat to that, but for those who’s always wondered about exactly what’s up with the mysterious ruins in the middle of the Frost, it’ll all make sense, though I have to say I personally had a pretty good idea of the origins of the Frost and the disappeared ancient civilization while reading the first book. Really, for anyone who’s watched Stargate Atlantis, the whole concept about a society of ancient humans more advanced than the present who disappears and leaves behind a whole trove of technologies will be very familiar, so nothing about what Lia discovers really surprised me, well except the timeline.
All the reveals about the background of the Frost meansWeavers is pretty plot heavy and loses a bit of character development, but like I said, we’ve already established Lia as the tough survivor, and even as she’s going on missions and still worried about her family, about her friend Ann, about Gabe and Adam, well, where do we go with her character from here? And that’s what I mean about Frost being the book that won’t be topped, because Lia was just so compelling in the first book I don’t think any development or exploration of her character in these sequels can really add anything entirely new and different to her character from everything I’ve already known. I want say the other characters pick up some of the slack, and Ivy does at least with her huge turnaround from the first book in one of the few scenes she’s in, but if the biggest reveal by a previous character is another piece of Gabe’s mysterious past that’s really a nonevent, well, yeah this book isn’t really about the present or the future – not when Adam barely appears, Jonn and Everiss are underused, Ann and Korr not at all, the new Thorns agent really added nothing to the plot – all signs point to this book being entirely focused on exploring the past, that’s where all the biggest plot points were.
So yeah, I guess the two things I got out of Weavers is pretty much a confirmation of my theories about the setup from the first book and a somewhat lack of development on the part of many of the characters, Ivy aside. I’m intrigued by all the new stuff brought up by Dr. Borde, but maybe it’s time to pick things up, set up those last few connections, and bring things to a close.
Dualed (Dualed 1)
By: Elsie Chapman
Release Date: February 26, 2013
Rating: 2.5 stars
|Summary: You or your Alt? Only one will survive.
The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.
Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.
Elsie Chapman’s suspenseful YA debut weaves unexpected romance into a novel full of fast-paced action and thought-provoking philosophy. When the story ends, discussions will begin about this future society where every adult is a murderer and every child knows there is another out there who just might be better.
Review: 2.5 stars – I really thought I would love this book. To think somewhere in this world, there’s an alternate version of you that grew up in a different home, had different friends, was a different person and only one of you will survive a showdown. And the first chapter had me hooked with West’s grief over losing her family, her concern for Chord who just received his assignment, their playful banter and the tragedy that just broke my heart.
But that was as far as my loving it went. After that, the book failed to capture my attention, and I had a really hard time focusing on the book. And I’m not sure how to explain it other than it was just eh.
I guess I just didn’t really connect with West. I can understand her pushing Chord away, but I just found myself annoyed with her dramatic antics than doing it for sacrificial reasons. And when she became a striker, I wish I felt more of that desperation to seek a last resort or that feeling she had after her first kill. I wouldn’t say West was a stoic character. I just didn’t think Chapman did a good job showing us her feelings and letting us sympathize with her.
I felt the book had enough action, but it didn’t suck you in, and the showdown with West and her Alt and with Glade just failed to meet my expectations.
I don’t know. The book was good, and I liked it enough, but I just couldn’t get into it as much as I would have liked, and I’m disappointed because I think it had a lot of potential to be great.
|The Different Girl||Gordon Dahlquist||Science Fiction
|The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door||Karen Finneyfrock||Contemporary||GR Link|
|How to Lead A Life Of Crime||Kirsten Miller||Mystery
Wicked Kiss (Nightwatchers #2)
By: Michelle Rowen
Release Date: February 26, 2013
Rating: 4 Stars
|Summary: MY KISS CAN KILL. I used to be ordinary Samantha Day, but that’s changed. Now, after one dark kiss from a dangerous boy, I can steal someone’s soul…or their life. If I give in to the constant hunger inside me, I hurt anyone I kiss. If I don’t…I hurt myself.Bishop is the one whose kiss I crave most, but if I kiss him, I’ll kill him. Then there’s another boy, one I can’t hurt. One whose kiss seems to miraculously quell my hunger. They’re both part of a team of angels and demons that’s joined forces in my city to fight a mysterious rising darkness, an evil that threatens everyone I know and love. I just wonder if I’ll be able to help Bishop-or if I’m just another part of the darkness he’s sworn to destroy….
When angels and demons must work together, something beyond evil is rising…
After reading Wicked Kiss, I stand by everything I said in my review of Dark Kiss. The characters really are generic and the story is absolutely by the books, but there’s just something about Michelle Rowen’s writing that turns what should be an average paranormal romance (read: a substandard book) into a fairly decent reading experience. In fact, I have to say Wicked Kiss is even an improvement over Dark Kiss, something I wasn’t expecting at all.
One of the things I remember saying in my review of Dark Kissthough is something to the effect of the characters didn’t really work for me because ‘I’ve seen [so] many of these triangles where the nice and slightly bookish girl has to choose between the serious hero and the sarcastic antihero [that] I just don’t care anymore – not that I really cared before’ – and then I called out Bishop for being well-meaningly boring and Kraven for being stereotypically sarcastic. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is that Rowen’s expanded on the back story and the conflict between the two, and although the specifics of that conflict should be predictable enough to anyone who’s read the first book, the flashbacks scenes themselves and then Samantha’s reactions to what she’s learned are sufficiently well done to lend an air of credibility to Bishop and Kraven’s relationship. It isn’t much and is completely expected, but still, it works to make these two generic characters, well, more interesting. That, and by now it’s not really a triangle, Kraven’s written more as the sarcastic best friend who might have a shot but really doesn’t, so the entire gimmicky relationship thing between Sam, Bishop, and Kraven which was like six or seventy percent of what made the first book feel so ordinary is really no longer an issue.
I think I also said ‘sidekicks Roth and Zach are more interesting than [Bishop and Kraven]’, and surprisingly, they’re still big parts of the story, despite the loads of (predictable yet effective) character development heaped on Bishop and Kraven. Maybe it’s because, as readers of Rowen’s high fantasy series Falling Kingdoms can attest, she’s not averse to killing off her characters, and an effectively placed death now and then does actually work quite well. Shocking, yes, and I was totally sold. Then again, I wasn’t really sold at first on new angel Cassandra, ostensibly introduced to cause trouble for Samantha but whose storyline ends up being as stereotypically predictable as her character, especially when Sam introduces her with lines like:
I’d known Cassandra the Perky Blonde Angel for an hour now and I was insanely and irrationally resentful of her immediate connection with Bishop.
Cassandra was beautiful, capable, smart and strong – and she could heal injuries with a mere touch. She was an angel, too. They had everything in common with each other.
Irrational or not, I hated her stupid blond guts.
Eh, not cool, but even still it really didn’t matter for me because even though I could tell right away what was going to happen with her character, (the rest of) Rowen’s writing is strong enough that the developments, though no surprise, were still pretty effective when they came – and that goes for Sam’s mean girl nemesis Jordan as well.
My last point in my review of the first book was how the tone and mood in Dark Kiss totally rocked for a dark urban fantasy. I didn’t feel those elements as strongly in Wicked Kiss, but in a way that’s also a good thing, because the upside of not spending so much time building up the Trinity scenery is that the pacing is much better this go around and I really felt like I was learning something new about the mythology of the series in every chapter. Well, except there are really two different villains in the story, so there’s a first climax when I thought the book would be over with about a fifth of the book still to go, and then a second climax later on closer to the end. I’m not sure why we need the second one – seems to me like it was tacked on to give (an open ended) closure to the series in case this ends at two books – but it’s a little distracting to think the book is over and then learn, nope, more stuff happening. Oh, and some obvious things, like the haunted mansion or Seth’s real identity, are telegraphed a little too loudly and sort of ruined the surprise factor.
Still, even if unpredictability has never been either of the twoNightwatchers books’ strong suits, the writing certainly is. Anyone who liked the first book has to come back for this.