The Princess in the Opal Mask

The Princess in the Opal Mask (The Opal Mask, #1)The Princess in the Opal Mask by Jenny Lundquist

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Series: Book one of The Opal Mask
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

There are spoilers, but they are at the bottom and hidden under a read more.

Every Fairy-Tale Ending Has a Price. . .

Orphaned as a child in the crumbling village of Tulan, Elara is determined to learn her true identity, even if it means wielding a dagger. Meanwhile, in Galandria’s royal capital, Princess Wilha stands out as someone to either worship or fear. Though no one knows why the king has always made her conceal her face—including Wilha herself.

When an assassination attempt threatens the peace of neighboring kingdoms, Elara and Wilha are brought face to face . . . with a chance at claiming new identities. However, with dark revelations now surfacing, both girls will need to decide if brighter futures are worth the binding risks.

This is the story of Wilha and Elara, two girls from vastly different social circles who are thrown together seemingly by chance. There’s a lot of drama and political intrigue happening and it never gets too dull.

The point of view changes between Wilha and Elara, and both are equal. There were times that neither one was interesting and times that both had me on the edge of my seat, but never was I completely fed up with one or the other.

One thing I will say about this – that I appreciated as someone who thinks our society values sex far too highly – is that its completely clean. I cannot tell you the last time I read a book that only had one reference to “desire” (I mean, there’s talk about love and marriage, but that’s different).

My biggest complaint with this book is when Wilha describes a half-face mask by saying “it covered my entire face except for my chin, lips, and nose.” It was so grating and such a poor descriptor – if half your face is exposed, it doesn’t cover your “entire face” no ifs, ands, or buts – that I had a hard time trusting many of the descriptions after that. Its a rather petty thing to complain about, but its how I felt nonetheless.

Another annoying thing – although 98% of fantasy books are guilty of this – is the royalty owning too many clothes. Before steam power and cotton it just wasn’t feasible for anyone EVEN THE RICH to own as many clothes as Wilha is seen to have.

Characters

Wilha

I really liked her for the most part. There were times that she was slow to pick up on things or just plain stupid, and she had moments of selfishness, but it all made since. Who wouldn’t make the choices she did if they’d been through everything she has?

Elara

Elara had a problem with listening. She was so caught up in the ‘my life is worse than everyones’ that she failed to see the truth about Wilha. I’m not saying Wilha had it worse, but I am saying they are both very much victims.

Patric

I didn’t really like him either. He’s very judgmental and if he really does care for Wilha as much as he claims he wouldn’t flip out over her being betrothed.

Cordon

He was just plain rude and I didn’t end up liking him. Its nice to see someone who doesn’t feel bound by all their childhood promises (because if we were I would have a very unpleasant maid of honor if I ever get married).

Overall

It was a good book, although it was a total cover buy and sat on my shelf for several years before I read it. I did enjoy it, for the most part, but there were parts that I wasn’t interested in, or things – like the mask and dress issue – that detracted from my enjoyment.

However, if you like fantasy thats a quick, easy read with lots of action and plot I think you’ll like this book. I did enjoy it enough to put the sequel on hold at the library, but not enough to give it a four or a five star review.

Spoilers

Continue reading “The Princess in the Opal Mask”

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Ladies in Waiting

Ladies in WaitingLadies in Waiting by Laura L. Sullivan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA
Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books

There are no spoilers in this review.

Eliza dreams of being a playwright for the king’s theater, where she will be admired for her witty turns of phrase rather than her father’s wealth.

Beth is beautiful as the day but poor as a church mouse, so she must marry well, despite her love for her childhood sweetheart.

Zabby comes to England to further her scientific studies—and ends up saving the life of King Charles II. Soon her friendship with him becomes a dangerous, impossible obsession. Though she knows she should stay away from the young, handsome king, Charles has a new bride, Queen Catherine, and a queen needs ladies in waiting.

And so Zabby, Beth, and Eliza, three Elizabeths from very different walks of life, find themselves at the center of the most scandal-filled court that England has ever seen.

“Harcourt Children’s Books” and I need to sit down and have a discussion about what makes a “children’s book.” Yes I understand that this is historical fiction, but if you’re selling something as Children’s or Teen’s I expect, as a teenager, to be comfortable reading it.

I was not.

Its been a while since I read a book with this much focus on sex and the general disgustingness of the court at the time. Yes, perhaps I should have been expecting it given that its set in the court of King Charles II, one of the most scandalous of English kings, but I didn’t because I thought it was for teens. I believe in freedom of reading, but I did lobby to have this removed from my shelves at my school. Yes you can read whatever you like at school, but there are rules about what can be provided, this is too much. (The issue with banning books is that states that they cannot be in the school at all, even if the student brought it in for person reading).

Putting aside my issues with the definition of “children’s books” aside, it was a pretty decent book. I’m not sure I would call it “realistic” because there were things that happened that I thought “hmm, I’m not sure that could really take place” but other than that it was pretty good and well written (and overall well-researched).

The girls were very diverse, at times too much so. To me it almost seemed as though the author was attempting to put in the most diverse stereotypes of girls at that time that she could, rather than letting them form as unique entities.

Overall

If you’re not bothered by the sex then it may be worth the read. However, for me personally, I would’t recommend this to a friend and I’m going to tell you that there are a lot of better books out there.

Soundless

SoundlessSoundless by Richelle Mead

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Asian Lit
Publisher: Razorbill
Series: N/A

This Review contains no spoilers.

For as long as Fei can remember, no one in her village has been able to hear. Rocky terrain and frequent avalanches make it impossible to leave the village, so Fei and her people are at the mercy of a zipline that carries food up the treacherous cliffs from Beiguo, a mysterious faraway kingdom.

When villagers begin to lose their sight, deliveries from the zipline shrink. Many go hungry. Fei and all the people she loves are plunged into crisis, with nothing to look forward to but darkness and starvation.

One girl hears a call to action…

Until one night, Fei is awoken by a searing noise. Sound becomes her weapon.
She sets out to uncover what’s happened to her and to fight the dangers threatening her village. A handsome miner with a revolutionary spirit accompanies Fei on her quest, bringing with him new risks and the possibility of romance. They embark on a majestic journey from the peak of their jagged mountain village to the valley of Beiguo, where a startling truth will change their lives forever…

And unlocks a power that will save her people.

I picked this up at a used book store after having debated buying it at my local not used bookstore (read: Barnes & Noble) for months, and I will admit I’m glad I waited. It was much cheaper at the used store and wasn’t worth the price it was at the new. I’m not saying it wasn’t a good book, it was a pretty decent book, it just wasn’t as good as I had been expecting, given how much I’ve seen of it.

It should have been a lot longer. Yep, I rarely say this about a book (usually I say “man this dragged on and on and on”, but that was far from the case here). There was so much happening that I barely realized this book covers the span of less than a week, and there were times that I was like, wait, we’re here already? And then there were times that it needed to pick up (did I really need a chapter describing how it feels to climb down a mountain?).

Tiny spoiler in this paragraph maybe? There is a prophesy. I don’t feel as though this is a spoiler, because there is always one in this kind of book, and because it wasn’t handled well at all. It just comes out of no where, and the only people who believe in it are conveniently standing in the room at the time. Then its barely fleshed out at all.

My biggest complaint was the predictability of the whole thing, there were some pretty good attempts at suspense, but none of them were terribly believable, and I couldn’t make myself worry over the outcome. The book did grip me, and it did keep my attention, but it was by no means one of the best things I’ve ever read.

Characters

Fei: She was pretty cool as far as main characters go, and some of her descriptions of what its like to hear for the first time were nothing short of breathtaking. She’s also a fairly interested character that you can get invested into.

The Elders: Every fantasy story has to have some, and they rarely get any characterization and you basically don’t need to bother with being able to tell them apart. This book was no different (it tried to be, it really did.)

Li Wei: Every fantasy has a “long lost/separated/not-allowed-to-marry love interest that the main character has known since childhood, and this book was no exception.

Zhang Jing: Fei’s sister, whom is a major part of her characterization and motivation.

There were a lot of other named characters, but to tell about them would either be a) pointless because they didn’t do anything or  b) give away too much of the plot.

Overall

It was good, but as someone who loves Asia, particularly east Asia and China it was disappointing. The culture was a bit more stereotypical than I usually look for in what I’m reading, and I didn’t really learn anything else about it (which is what I love about reading books set in foreign places).

I was told the publisher rushed the author while she was writing this, and it certainly felt that way while I was reading it. It’s pretty good, and if its your kind of book (or if you love Richelle Mead), I would suggest going ahead and reading it, but otherwise I’d skip it and move onto something else. The good news is, if you do decide to read it, its fairly short, so it won’t take too long.

Untamed

Author: A.G. Howard (website) (blogtag)
Genre: Fantasy, YA, Retelling
Rating: 3 Stars
Splintered Series Reviews: Book One,  Book Two,

There are no spoilers in this review.

Summary Per Goodreads: A post-Ensnared collection of three stories—available in both print and e-versions. Alyssa Gardner went down the rabbit hole and took control of her destiny. She survived the battle for Wonderland and the battle for her heart. In this collection of three novellas, join Alyssa and her family as they look back at their memories of Wonderland.

This review has mild spoilers for the first three books in the Splintered Series, but not for anything from Untamed.

I don’t usually read novellas and the like, but when I heard that this was coming out – just after I finished the books – I couldn’t wait. I even went to the book store almost immediately after the release to pick it up. Then I went home, sat it on my shelf, and forgot about it. So I finally got around to reading it almost two months after the release date.

The whole book retains the odd, whimsical style that we’ve become accustomed to with the Splintered Series and it’s just as good. All too often sequels to popular books or movies – looking at you Aladdin 2 & 3 – aren’t as good as the first, and you go into them expecting the beauty you’ve become accustomed to, and you leave wanting to cry. Unhinged is not like that. Unhinged is every bit as good as the others.

The only odd thing is, that as much as I did love it, I could put it down. While I was reading the series I could barely wait to start the next book, even if it meant running to the bookstore. But with Unhinged I was able to put it down, several times in fact. It might be that my reading interests have changed or that the other options – like Harry Potter and Carry On – were just too tempting. In fact it took me several months to read it.

The Boy in the Web

Alyssa’s mother reminisces about her own time in Wonderland and rescuing the man who would become her husband in The Boy in the Web.

The first short story is The Boy in the Web, told from the POV of Alyssa’s mom as she views her husband’s memories of his childhood. I found it a bit trying, but I won’t deduct points for that because the writing and story telling was great, but it was just that I didn’t get into the characters. I never liked Alyssa’s mom and dad in the other three books (I also never disliked them), and I didn’t find them that interesting now.

The Moth and the Mirror

And Morpheus delves into Jeb’s memories of the events of Splintered in The Moth in the Mirror, available in print for the first time.

This one was interesting, except that I kept forgetting whose POV it was meant to be. Most of it was Jeb’s POV with little to no mention of Morpheus, but then Morpheus would jump in and confuse me.

Six Impossible Things

In Six Impossible Things, Alyssa recalls the most precious moments of her life after Ensnared, and the role magic plays in preserving the happiness of those she loves.

I think this was my favorite of the short stories. It seemed to be the one that kept the most inline with the rest of the series, perhaps because it was originally intended to come at the end of book three (and I’m glad it wasn’t put there, it didn’t seem as though it would belong).

Reading Updates

  • 10/02 marked as: to-read
  • 02/18 marked as: currently-reading
    • page 24
      • 8.0%
      • “Courage paired with folly becomes abandon, which is an honorable trait where I’m from, and should always be rewarded.”
      • Gosh I had missed Morpheus.
    • page 24
      • 8.0%
      • “It doesn’t matter if I’m crazy, as long as the madness helps me survive.”
  • 05/15
    • page 94
      • 32.0%
      • “You’re not too far from the truth, Jeb.”
    • page 120
      • 41.0%
      • Beginning of story three: Six Impossible Things
    • marked as: read

Overall

If you’ve read the rest of the series, then this is a good book for you. If not, then don’t bother, it will just cause more questions than it will solve.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns, #1)The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Series: Book One of Fire and Thorns
Purchase: Book Depository

This review contains no spoilers.

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one.But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.

This really is a great book, and Rachel Carson is clearly a very good author. The storyline and plot show a great deal of promise and certainly kept me entertained, and it dealt with a lot of things that you usually don’t see covered in young adult literature (race and body insecurity as examples).

Elisa is, in a sense, more grown up than a lot of YA heroines, and is put into a lot of situations they usually aren’t: marriage, consummation of a marriage, being a step mother, and dealing with an unfaithful husband.

Characters

Elisa: She’s the main reason I gave this three stars. There were times that I really hated her and that she absolutely drove me up the wall. She is fat and wants to make sure you know it. It’s all she ever thinks about. “Oh I’m sad, I’m gonna go eat and get fatter” and “Oh my husband must hate me I’m fat” and “My step-son has never seen someone as fat as me.” I have nothing against fat people and I think that it’s great that the main character of a book is outside “typical,” but she is just too much.

Alodia: Elisa’s older, ‘perfect’ sister.

King Alejandro de Vega: Elisa’s husband, who married her for the alliance and for her godstone despite already having a son through a previous marriage (his wife died) and a mistress at home.

Overall

I honestly liked this series, I love the idea of it and the story telling. But I really could not stand Elisa. I promise that she’s much better by the later books, and I think its worth it to slog through the first book to get to read the later ones, but

The Aftermath

The AftermathThe Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Random House Canada
Purchase: Book Depository

This review contains no spoilers. Unless you don’t know how WWII ended, that is.

This review is part of my Alphabetical Books Goal.

Hamburg, 1946. Thousands remain displaced in what is now the British Occupied Zone. Charged with overseeing the rebuilding of this devastated city and the de-Nazification of its defeated people, Colonel Lewis Morgan is requisitioned a fine house on the banks of the Elbe, where he will be joined by his grieving wife, Rachael, and only remaining son, Edmund.

But rather than force its owners, a German widower and his traumatized daughter, to leave their home, Lewis insists that the two families live together. In this charged and claustrophobic atmosphere all must confront their true selves as enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal.

This is a very interesting take on the aftermath of history’s most famous war and tells the story of the destruction that took place within the German borders at the end of the war.

The characters were all fairly well written, but for me the biggest enjoyment came from the setting. The characters were nice and they (obviously) supported the setting and made the plot flow, but there were times when I was just mad at all of them and wanted to find new characters to support the story.

Overall

I think the publisher summed it up best: The Aftermath is a stunning novel about our fiercest loyalties, our deepest desires and the transformative power of forgiveness.

I’d reccomend this to anyone who likes historical fiction, WWII history buffs in particular. I think that the context is the most important part of this book, because we have to learn to remember that just because someone is not on our side, or on what we consider the ‘bad side’ they aren’t necessarily a monster. We have to remember that not all the Germans were Nazis and even of those that chose to be many were victims just like everyone else.

Nobody’s Princess

Nobody's Princess (Nobody's Princess, #1)Nobody’s Princess by Esther M. Friesner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Purchase: Book Depository

This review contains no spoilers.

This was published as a part of my Alphabetical Book Goal.

She is beautiful, she is a princess, and Aphrodite is her favorite goddess, but something in Helen of Sparta just itches for more out of life. Not one to count on the gods—or her looks—to take care of her, Helen sets out to get what she wants with steely determination and a sassy attitude. That same attitude makes Helen a few enemies—such as the self-proclaimed “son of Zeus” Theseus—but it also intrigues, charms, and amuses those who become her friends, from the famed huntress Atalanta to the young priestess who is the Oracle of Delphi.

I love anything Greek or Roman. I guess I would fit in well with Renaissance Humanists. It was a well written book and a pretty decent story and if it introduces Helen and the Trojan War to a new generation of readers then I’m all for it. If I had read this as a younger person, or maybe as the middle schooler that this is intended for, I might have enjoyed it more.

My biggest issue with the book was the unbelievability of it. Yes I’d love to imagine Helen as a tom boy, however, given beauty standards of the time and just the amount of work that girls had to go through to maintain themselves, I have a hard time believing that she could have done all of these things. This isn’t even dealing with if her parents would have allowed her to do this or not. So far as I am aware there is no historical basis for Helen’s characterization.

My gripes about the main character aside, there was clearly a lot of research put into this book. Everything that I read was well researched and had a definite basis in face. There were no facts that were wrong and the day-to-day life of the characters was a good snapshot as to how they might really have lived.

Overall

I’d reccomend this for younger readers who are just beginning to be interested in history. They might not be as bothered by Helen as I was, and might be young enough for it to be believable. If you want really solid historical fiction, I’d read something else.

Maybe if the author had decided to tell a story about a random, nameless, Spartan princess I might have liked it more. However, because it was stated to be about Helen of Sparta – the face that sailed a thousand ships – I was expecting something different.