Review: The Wishing Thread by Lisa Van Allen

The Wishing Thread

The Wishing Thread by Lisa Van Allen
Read: September 17, 2013
Advance reading copy.

Many thanks to Net-Galley and Random House Publishing (Ballantine) for providing me with this advance reading copy!

Goodreads Book Blurb: The Van Ripper women have been the talk of Tarrytown, New York, for centuries. Some say they’re angels; some say they’re crooks. In their tumbledown “Stitchery,” not far from the stomping grounds of the legendary Headless Horseman, the Van Ripper sisters—Aubrey, Bitty, and Meggie—are said to knit people’s most ardent wishes into beautiful scarves and mittens, granting them health, success, or even a blossoming romance. But for the magic to work, sacrifices must be made—and no one knows that better than the Van Rippers.
When the Stitchery matriarch, Mariah, dies, she leaves the yarn shop to her three nieces. Aubrey, shy and reliable, has dedicated her life to weaving spells for the community, though her sisters have long stayed away. Bitty, pragmatic and persistent, has always been skeptical of magic and wants her children to have a normal, nonmagical life. Meggie, restless and free-spirited, follows her own set of rules. Now, after Mariah’s death forces a reunion, the sisters must reassess the state of their lives even as they decide the fate of the Stitchery. But their relationships with one another—and their beliefs in magic—are put to the test. Will the threads hold?

My Opinion: I really enjoyed this book, as evident by the fact that I read it in its 400 page entirety in one day. It reminded me a lot of Sarah Addison Allen, and I actually thought the two authors might be related.

This book is a delightful romp through Tarrytown, New York steeped in magical realism and knitting. We follow three sisters and are immersed in their relationships with each other and those around them. I really loved how multi-faceted the sisters were, and their relationships reminded me a bit of the sisters in Practical Magic. (The movie. I haven’t read the book yet)

One thing about the characters is that because we spent so much time learning about the different characters, I didn’t feel particularly drawn to any one of the sisters. Another thing plot-wise was that I didn’t find myself caring much about the town council plot line. I wanted to know more about The Stitchery and the sisters.

The prose was well written, but light. I think this really helped the story, since it is such a light and warm story. Pretentious or purple prose would have ruined it beyond repair.

Bottom Line: I feel bad because I read this book long enough ago that I don’t remember everything I loved about it. But I remember that I liked it a lot.

Review: When Stars Die by Amber Skye Forbes

When Stars Die

When Stars Die by Amber Skye Forbes
Read: September 7 – September 9, 2013
Advance reading copy.

Many thanks to Amber Skye Forbes, whom I follow on Tumblr. She provided this review copy in exchange for an honest review. I don’t normally review Amazon-only books, but I did this time, as Amber is something of a friend.

Publication Date: October 22, 2013
Price: $3.99
Format: Amazon e-book

Goodreads Book Blurb:  “Yet, even when stars die, they leave a lasting impact through their light, their diamond brilliance as they scatter their material to form new stars. When people die, they leave the same impact with the footprints they leave on people’s hearts. Even the ones who feel insignificant go out, leaving behind dust that can nourish the world anew.”

Amelia Gareth’s brother is a witch and the only way to save her family from the taint in his blood is to become a professed nun at Cathedral Reims. However, in order to become professed, she must endure trials that all nuns must face.

Surviving these trials is not easy, especially for Amelia, who is being stalked by shadowy beings only she can see. They’re searching for people they can physically touch, because only those they can touch can see them. Amelia soon learns why she is being stalked when she accidentally harms her best friend with fire during the third trial. Fire is a witch’s signature. The shadows are after witches.

Amelia must decide what to do: should she continue on her path to profession knowing there is no redemption, or should she give up on her dream and turn away from Cathedral Reims in order to stop the shadows who plan to destroy everything she loves?

My Opinion: Ok, I really agonized over writing this review. Amber is, as I mentioned, something of a friend. We were following each others’ personal Tumblrs long before she was working on releasing When Stars Die. I read the book, and then I was confronted with a very serious concern. How do you tell a friend that you didn’t like their book?

I offered not to publish the review, but Amber, being an awesome person and very reasonable author, recognized that not all of her reviews would be positive and encouraged me to go ahead. And then I got really sick and in a bit of a blog slump, so I am only NOW writing the review. I am SO sorry it took so long, but here we go.

There wasn’t much that I liked about When Stars Die, unfortunately. I really wanted to like the book, but there were just too many things that rubbed me the wrong way, as a reader.

The few things I did like? The setting was every well flushed out. The world had a very interesting premise, if it was a little religiously heavy-handed for my tastes. Amber’s prose, I found, tended to be a little on the purple side. But there were a few phrases that just shimmered and made me think that with more polish and more writing, the prose could be taken from where it is, which for me was a bit of a hot mess, to something elevated.

And now, the things I didn’t like.

Amelia was not a likeable character for me, at all. Her motives change partway through the book. First she wants to stay at Cathedral Reims for her little brother, but then she wants to stay for herself all of a sudden. It would be an OK shift if it didn’t happen in the span of a page or two.

The other big issue for me was that the style and even some of the phrasing was very modern, yet the book is set in the 1800’s. In that time, they wouldn’t have known what happens to stars when they supernova, or that most of the stars in the night sky are actually dead. They wouldn’t be using matches, which weren’t invented until the mid 1800’s in reality, not to mention when they became used widely.

Adding the above two notes to the general unpolished state of the prose, and I had a hard time finishing the book.

Bottom Line: A really great book in theory, but lacking the polish and execution to take it to the necessary level.

NetGalley Review: A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway

Study in SilksA Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway
Read: August 24 – September 6, 2013
NetGalley Selection.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group/Del Ray for granting me this review copy via NetGalley!

Publication Date: September 24, 2013
ISBN: 9780345537188
Price: $7.99 USD
Format: Mass Market Paperback

Goodreads Book Blurb: Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London’s high society. But there’s a murderer to deal with—not to mention missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse.
 
In a Victorian era ruled by a council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch, and sorcery the demon enemy of the empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest of Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out?
 
But then there’s that murder. As Sherlock’s niece, Evelina should be able to find the answers, but she has a lot to learn. And the first decision she has to make is whether to trust the handsome, clever rake who makes her breath come faster, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything for her if she would only just ask.

My Opinion: I adored this book! It was shades of Soulless by Gail Carriger all over again. But without the paranormal aspect. Evelina is a plucky heroine, though at times she wasn’t entirely likeable.

One thing Holloway got very right in A Study In Silks is the world building. The London ruled by Steam Barons is very interesting, and the magic was quite unique. That alone was enough to leave me salivating for book two (which won’t be out until October!).

I felt like Evelina could have been someone other than Sherlock Holmes’ niece, and that that little piece of frippery was added as an eye-catcher. It worked for me, but in the grand scheme of things, Mr. Holmes plays such a minimal part that it is the literary equivalent of name dropping.

One thing that really didn’t sit well with me was the romantic aspects. I didn’t believe them from either side. They came across as very plot-devicey.

Unfortunately, this was one of those books that I liked so much I am having trouble articulating my opinions…

Bottom Line: A thoroughly enjoyable steampunk/paranormal blend that could have gone lighter on the romance. I urge you to check it out!

NetGalley Review: Dead Letter Office by Kira Snyder

Dead Letter OfficeDead Letter Office by Kira Snyder
Read: August 18 – August 20, 2013
NetGalley Selection

Many thanks to Coliloquy for sending me a review copy of this book via NetGalley!

Published: January 11, 2012
ISBN: 9781937804022
Price: $4.99 USD
Format: E-book

Goodreads Book Blurb: When Celia’s father is killed in Afghanistan, she moves with her mother to New Orleans, the city where her father grew up. Struggling to adjust and haunted by troubling dreams, Celia finds comfort in new friends like Tilly, a practicing witch, and Donovan, the son of police detective. On Halloween, bizarre supernatural occurrences rock the city. Celia meets the mysterious Luc and finds a letter, over a hundred years old, addressed to her.

The paranormal repercussions continue when Celia learns that Luc is the restless spirit of a young man murdered in 1854, only able to assume solid form at night. And then, to her shock, Celia finds that the letter, which describes the suspected murder of a man in 1870, contains uncanny parallels to the present-day death of Abel Sims, a homeless veteran.

With help from Luc, Tilly, and Donovan, Celia races to solve the murder—and the mystery of the letter—using both magical and forensic clues.

This is an Active Fiction title
“Active fiction” is a new type of e-reading experience that allows the reader and the author to interact with each other and the text in new and different ways.

My Opinion: What really piqued my interest about this book was the “active fiction” label. What is this so-called “active fiction”? It sounded really interesting and cutting-edge. Yeah. “Active fiction”? Choose your own adventure. I have nothing against choose your own adventure books, I used to love them as a kid. But it is not a new concept, and I felt really cheated. Not to mention that the way I chose, there were only (I think) three choices to make. So the whole “active fiction” thing fell really flat for me.

The rest of the book was alright, but not stellar. Case in point: I never felt like I wanted to go back and see what I was “missing” with the choices I didn’t make while choosing my adventure. I didn’t read all the choices, as my copy was running out of time.

I am not a fan of love triangles, and Dead Letter Office has one. There were other stereotypes. The father killed in Afghanistan was kind of pointless, from a reader standpoint. The popular girl versus the weird witch was very cliché. While none of it was exceptionally badly written, it was still there, and that was bad enough.

I read this book a while ago, and nothing really stuck with me to today when I am writing the review.

Bottom Line: A mediocre middle-grade choose your own adventure book riddled with cliché.

NetGalley Review: A Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon

A Thousand Perfect ThingsA Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon
Read: August 11 – August 18, 2013
NetGalley selection.

Many thanks to Premier Digital Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book via NetGalley!

Goodreads Book Blurb: In this epic new work, the award-winning Kenyon creates an alternate 19th century with two warring continents on an alternate earth: the scientific Anglica (England) and magical Bharata (India). Emboldened by her grandfather’s final whispered secret of a magical lotus, Tori Harding, a young Victorian woman and aspiring botanist, must journey to Bharata, with its magics, intrigues and ghosts, to claim her fate. There she will face a choice between two suitors and two irreconcilable realms. 

In a magic-infused world of silver tigers, demon birds and enduring gods, as a great native mutiny sweeps up the continent, Tori will find the thing she most desires, less perfect than she had hoped and stranger than she could have dreamed.

My Opinion: Where do I even start with this book? Well, let’s go with the beginning. Everything in Anglica was really cool. I followed it, and I enjoyed it. I like steampunk alternate settings. And the bridge was a really neat idea, though I got tangled in imagining our world as it is. No bridge would connect England and India in our world, as there are continents in between. But apparently not in this world.

This was the second book I read recently that made me wonder about constructed patriarchies. This one, being alternate history, probably had a little less wiggle room, but it still had some. And why is it that every time a woman wants to be her own woman she has to not want to get married? I am married, and I am still my own woman!

However, feminism is one of the lesser things that Kenyon tackles in A Thousand Perfect Things. Once the characters find themselves in Bharata, we are confronted with the heavy subject matter of cultural appropriation, which is rampant in today’s society. While I feel like this book was a decent staging ground for the battle, I found it bogged down the prose at times.

To be completely honest, most of what happened in Bharata was completely confusing to me. I think it got to a point where it was just… silly almost. By the end of the book I was skimming.

Tori was likeable enough in that she knew what she wanted, but I really hated her club foot. It was a crutch, both to make her imperfect and to give her something that needed healing. As someone with disabilities, I found this very unnerving.

Kenyon has a gift for description, and the scenery of A Thousand Perfect Things came alive for me… but that was pretty much it.

Bottom Line: I was lost after the characters left Anglica, and Kenyon began speaking of cultural appropriation and religion. It was too much for me, and bogged down the story.

NetGalley Review: Sideshow of Merit by Nicole Pietsch (Did Not Finish)

Sideshow of MeritSideshow of Merit by Nicole Pietsch
Did not finish.
NetGalley selection.

Many thanks to namelos for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.

Goodreads Book Blurb: You couldn’t call Mount Rosa Hospital a good place to be in 1957, when you were fourteen. But it’s where Tevan George was, and James Rowley too, “convalescing” from tuberculosis. And it’s where both boys were abused by an older boy–although neither of them did much talking about it, then or later. Shut up! That’s what Tevan did. James too, but he never said much about anything anyway. Nine rocky years later, on the run together since they skipped out on a medical checkup at Mount Rosa’s in 1961, Tevan and James emerge early one morning from the ’55 Chevy they’ve been living in and come across Buddy Merit setting up his “Ten in One” sideshow on a fairground in Ontario. They can’t do magic. They can’t foretell the future. They can’t swallow swords. What Tevan and James decide they can do is a stunt they’ve done only in private, in the dark-a stunt that, performed in public for the marks, takes on a life of its own and surprises even the two young men who perform it. In the company of the misfits and reprobates and losers who make up Buddy Merit’s sideshow, Tevan and James act out the central trauma of their lives until they get to a place from which they can’t go forward and they can’t go back.

My Opinion: There are a lot of negative reviews on Goodreads about this book. I hate to add mine to it, but mine will be for a different reason than subject matter.

A lot of people are not keen on the fact that Sideshow of Merit features erotic asphyxiation. Honestly, I have pretty high limits when it comes to literature, and I was willing to see how Pietsch handled the subject matter.

But the book was just so mind-numbingly slow and boring! I made it 80 pages in on a 350 page book, and very little had happened. If it had, it had happened in such a way that I just wanted something else to happen. I wasn’t drawn to the characters, I wasn’t drawn to the plot, and I kept forgetting that Sideshow of Merit was set in Canada.

Bottom Line: I was really disappointed in this book, as it completely failed to keep me engaged.

NetGalley Review: Doors by Daniel Brako

DoorsDoors by Daniel Brako
Read: August 16 – August 17, 2013
NetGalley selection.

Many thanks to Pan Macmillan for sending me this review copy via NetGalley!

Goodreads Book Blurb: David Druas is a successful psychologist, with a thriving practice. When he encounters Hans Werner, a client who sees imaginary doors, life takes a dark and unexpected turn.

After trying to unravel the delusion, David also notices mysterious doors. Scattered throughout the city, they lead to beautiful, terrifying and dangerous new worlds. But are they real?

When Hans Werner is murdered, the evidence identifies David as the killer. Forced to become a fugitive, he struggles to escape the deepening nightmare that threatens to overwhelm him.

As the police close in, it becomes apparent that the doors are concealing a dark and tangled truth. The question is: can David unlock their secrets before his time and sanity run out?

My Opinion: I am really glad this book was so short. We are greeted by the opening chapter reminding us no fewer than three times that the main character is a successful psychologist. Did I mention he is a psychologist? And by the way, he is a psychologist.

The first chapter was promising, with the action kicking off right away, but then things got really weird.

I think the biggest let down for me in Doors is that nothing is ever really explained. It is all just kind of glossed over in favor of action, which I didn’t find all that thrilling.

Unfortunately, the trend with story was also a trend with characters, and I didn’t like any of the characters in Doors.

This was a really short book, so I don’t have much to say.

Bottom Line: I honestly can’t think of any of the people I know who I would recommend this book to. If it sounds intriguing to you, go for it… it isn’t a very long read, so it isn’t a huge investment. But it didn’t do it for me.