Friday, October 19, 2018

Book Review: The Shapeshifter's Secret by Heather Ostler

The Shapeshifter's Secret
Author: Heather Ostler
Publication: Cedar Fort, Inc (June 12, 2012)

Description: Like any sixteen-year-old, Julia’s used to dealing with problems. From her overprotective father to her absent mother to a teacher who definitely has it in for her. But everything changes when Julia’s reactions become oddly vicious and angry―more animal than human. This action-packed adventure has it all: humor, romance, and a plot that’ll keep you guessing to the very last page.

My Thoughts: I added this book to my TBR mountain in June of 2012. I was attracted by the lovely cover and the paranormal elements. Unfortunately, the cover is the best part of the book.

This story reads like it was written by a dreamy sixteen-year-old girl in her favorite unicorn-covered notebook with a sparkly pen. It is ridiculously unpolished. The characters never came to life for me since they seemed to keep changing and I couldn't understand where their emotions were coming from. The dialog is stilted and the conversations seem to be almost random. They all sound like they're speaking with the same voice. The sixteen-year-old roommate sounds like the doctor Julia goes to see.

The plot has possibilities. A girl finding out that she is a shapeshifter from another world who happens to be a princess is a plot with possibilities. Add in a mother who has left her and gone over to the evil Guild and the possibilities for conflict are there.

However, the plot was poorly executed. Julia's father Lancer has kept her in complete ignorance of her past and her future. When she does find out, which should have been traumatic, she just seems to accept it and go on like things are normal. Even knowing that the Guild and her mother are targeting her for some unknown reason doesn't phase her beyond wanting to offer herself as bait.

And her love interests... First she fixes on Caleb who she first meets when he comes to her school as a new student. Lots of the girls are interested in him by Julie isn't one of them. Then he is introduced to her as her "uncle" Liam's son who she has apparently never met. He does help her get through the portal to Ossai but she gets very angry with him when she finds out that he already has a girlfriend. This seemed pretty strange since she wasn't interested in him earlier in the story. Next, she begins a secret romance with one of her father's soldiers - Terrence. They meet maybe three or four times and they exchange letters but that is apparently enough for them to fall in love.

There are two more books in this series and I am sort of curious about them to see if the author improves her writing, plotting, and character development. I am mostly surprised that this book and its sequels were ever published.

Favorite Quote:
"Is everything all right? Maybe you're just tired, but something tells me that you have a lot of serious mental stress going on."
I bought this one. You can buy your copy here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Book Review: Take the Key and Lock Her Up by Ally Carter

Take the Key and Lock Her Up
Author: Ally Carter
Series: Embassy Row (Book 3)
Publication: Scholastic Inc. (December 27, 2016)

Description: For the past three years, Grace Blakely has been desperate to find out the truth about her mother's murder. She thought it would bring her peace. She thought it would lead her to answers. She thought she could put the past to rest.

But the truth has only made her a target.

And the past?

The only way to put the past to rest is for Grace to kill it once and for all.

My Thoughts: This story begins with Grace on the run with Alexei, Dominic, and her brother Jamie. After a murder attempt that almost succeeded in killing Jamie and attempts on Grace too, they want to get as far away from trouble as they possibly can. But there is no escape from a thousand year old Society or a Royal Family fearful for its throne.

Grace is willing to do anything to keep her brother safe and alive and, besides, she has enough guilt about her mother's death to make it seem right to her to sacrifice herself for her loved ones. Grace would almost prefer to die to relieve her guilt.

Grace finds herself kidnapped by the Prime Minister of Adria, herself a member of that secret Society, and taken to Paris to stand in judgment before the Council of Elders. There she finds a group of powerful women who have such a sharp eye on the future and the big picture that they don't see Grace and Jamie's immediate danger as something that should concern them. While they aren't directly trying to kill her, neither are they willing to do anything to keep her from being killed. Luckily, her friends from Embassy Row are there to be on her side when she escapes from the Society.

They have determined that it is the Royal Family who wants Grace dead because she could force them from power they have held for 200 years. Grace finds it hard to believe that Princess Ann, one of her mother's oldest and best friends, could be the architect of the plan that killed Grace's mother, imprisoned Alexei's mother, and is responsible for the attempts on Jamie and Grace. It must be the King and other members of the royal family.

Grace makes a deal that she will move into the palace and one day marry Ann's son Thomas which will put her children on the throne and solve the problem of the competing rightful heirs. But Grace still wants to solve the riddle of the whereabouts of the deposed royal family - and not just because their DNA will confirm her right to the throne. She wants to know the secret that her mother ultimately died for.

This story was fast-paced, exciting, and filled with bunches of plot twists. Grace was an interesting heroine because she had been so broken and was just beginning to heal from her traumatic past.

Favorite Quote:
"The Society has operated in secret for a thousand years. Four times longer than this" -- she gestures to the land and water that surround us -- "has been a country. Regimes rise. Dictators fall. Wars rage the world over and still we stand. Do you know why, Ms. Blakely?"

"Because I wasn't around to ruin everything?"
"Besides, what I've done I've done for Adria. I've done for peace."

"Yeah. When I hear peace I always think hunt my friends down like rabid dogs."
I bought this one. You can buy your copy here.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Book Review: The Stone Demon by Karen Mahoney

The Stone Demon
Author: Karen Mahoney
Series: Iron Witch, Book 3
Publication: Flux (August 22, 2016)

Description: They say the truth sets you free, but they have no idea how far off base that is. Free? I don’t think so.

After being tricked into opening the doorway to the Demon Realm by Aliette, the Wood Queen, Donna Underwood is faced with a terrible ultimatum from the newly released demon hordes: the alchemists must deliver the Philosopher’s Stone, or the world will be plunged into a devastating modern-day Dark Age.

Donna is sent to London, where she can learn how to recreate the Stone and complete her alchemist’s training. But time is running out. As she faces Demian, the vengeful demon king, Donna realizes the awful truth about collecting the Stone’s elements. And this time, even braving death may not be enough to save the world.

My Thoughts: After being tricked by Aliette into opening the door for the demons to return to Earth, Donna has two days to create the philospher's stone the demon king is demanding or else he'll destroy London and her home town. Donna is pretty much on her own since the alchemist's have said it is an impossible challenge and are gathering forces to fight a war with the demons.

Donna does have some allies. Her best friend Navin may only be a "commoner" but he is smart and loyal. Xan may be busy working with Maker to get wings so that he can fly again but he comes when Donna calls. And Maker, himself, is on Donna's side.

This was an exciting conclusion to the Iron Witch series. It was filled with action, danger and romance.

Favorite Quote:
"Step down, Cathal. There will be no challenges today." She narrowed her eyes at Donna. "I do not know if you are incredibly brave or incredibly foolish, Donna Underwood."

Donna knew the answer to that, but kept her mouth shut. See? she thought. I can be sensible.
I bought this one. You can buy your copy here.

Friday, October 12, 2018

ARC Review: The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stevens

The Guggenheim Mystery
Author: Robin Stevens
Publication: Knopf Books for Young Readers (October 16, 2018)

Description: The adventure that began in Siobhan Dowd's popular and acclaimed novel The London Eye Mystery at long last continues with Ted, Kat, and their cousin Salim investigating a theft at the Guggenheim Museum that's been pinned on Salim's mother!

When Ted and his big sister, Kat, take a trip to New York to visit their cousin Salim and their aunt Gloria, they think they're prepared for big-city adventures. But when a famous painting is stolen from the Guggenheim Museum, where Aunt Gloria works, the surprises begin to mount faster than they could have anticipated. With the police looking at Aunt Gloria as the prime suspect, Ted, Kat, and Salim become sleuthing partners, following a trail of clues across NYC to prove her innocence--and to pinpoint the real thief. Ultimately, it comes down to Ted, whose brain works in its own very unique way, to find the key to the mystery.

My Thoughts: Ted, Kat and Salim solve their second mystery when Salim's mother is accused of stealing an important painting by Kandinsky from her new job at the Guggenheim Museum. Ted, Kat, and their mother are visiting in New York City which is a very stressful thing for Ted. Being autistic, he is better if he can stay in familiar surroundings. He is also concerned that people aren't staying the same. Kat and Salim seem to be communicating from London to New York and leaving him out. He's wondering if Salim is still his friend.

Ted, Kat, Salim, his aunt and his mother are all visiting the Guggenheim Museum on a day when it isn't open and a new exhibition - the first one his Aunt Gloria is in charge of - when smoke fills the museum, the fire alarms go off, the fire department comes, and when the smoke clears it is discovered that the painting is missing. Being Ted, he knows to the minute when each person left the museum. That list of people helps the kids when they begin to try to figure out who is trying to frame his aunt for the theft.

I liked the way Ted thinks and his unique viewpoint on events. I also liked that both Salim and Kat added their own viewpoints on the case. The pace was fast and the story was filled with action as the kids use their subway passes to travel all around New York City pursuing leads and eliminating suspects.

I liked the Author's Note which explains how Robin Stevens came to write this book after the untimely death of Siobhan Dowd who first introduced these characters in THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY and who had contracted for, but not yet begun, the mystery with this title.

Favorite Quote:
"Ted," she said. "I was stupid, and I'm sorry I was cross with you. It's just--look, it's not easy, being part of your family. You don't know it, but you need so much. All the time. Appointments, and lessons, and--things, Ted. And the more things you have, the less there is to go around. And I know you don't mean it, and you can't help it, but sometimes I wish...I wish everything wasn't always about you, all right? When I try to make it about me, I get yelled at. Mum and Dad want me to be sensible all the time, but I can't."

"I can't help being me either, Kat," I said.
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

ARC Review: A Sorrow Fierce and Falling by Jessica Cluess

A Sorrow Fierce and Falling
Author: Jessica Cluess
Series: Kingdom on Fire (Book 3)
Publication: Random House Books for Young Readers (October 16, 2018)

Description: It's time for war.

After suffering terrible losses, Henrietta and Lord Blackwood have led their warriors to Sorrow-Fell, a vast estate where only those invited by a Blackwood may enter--and the ideal place to plan a final assault against the Ancients.

It's time for a wedding.

Henrietta nervously awaits her marriage to Blackwood, but when the ritual to become his bride reveals a dark secret, she realizes that Sorrow-Fell is not a safe haven; it's a trap. Convincing the sorcerers of this, however, is not easy. So with Maria, the true chosen one, and Magnus, the young man who once stole her heart, at her side, Henrietta plots a dangerous journey straight into the enemy's lair. Some will live. Some will die. All will be tested.

In this stunning conclusion to the Kingdom on Fire series, Henrietta must choose between the love from her past, the love from her present, and a love that could define her future. While battles rage, the fate of the kingdom rests on her decision: Will she fall or rise up to become the woman who saves the realm?

It's time for Henrietta to make her stand.

My Thoughts: This is the emotionally intense conclusion to the Kingdom on Fire trilogy. Henrietta Howal, her fiance George, Lord Blackwood, the remaining sorcerers and Queen Victoria have fled to Blackwood's home Shadow-Fell to plot a way to take back England from the Ancients who are overrunning it.

Howal and Lord Blackwood find that they have very different plans for defeating the Ancients and their relationship is tested to the breaking point by all the things are happening. Howal decides to flee Shadow-Fell, taking the Queen with her, and make her vision of the future which includes a consortium of witches, magicians, and sorcerers working together to send the Ancients back home.

This story has epic highs and lows, treachery and deceit, love and fidelity. It was a real emotional roller coaster that had me reading for a bit and then putting the book down to recover. Fans of the first two books of the series won't want to miss this conclusion despite the fact that some favorite characters don't survive the adventure.

Favorite Quote:
"More tricks," Magnus sighed, shaking his head. "So long as he doesn't turn anyone into a talking horse." He paused. "I mean, if he turned someone into a talking horse I'd laugh. Then I'd ride it around a bit. Then dress it in several hats. Then I'd get him to turn it back to a person."

"It worries me that you've put so much thought into this," I said.
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Book Review: The Wood Queen by Karen Mahoney

The Wood Queen
Author: Karen Mahoney
Series: Iron Witch, Book 2
Publication: Flux (August 25, 2016)

Description: "The wood monster is dead. I know this is true because I killed it. And yet my dreams are still full of fear and pain . . ."

To keep her best friend, Navin, from being killed at the hands of vicious wood elves, Donna Underwood stole the elixir of life. Now she’s facing an alchemist tribunal while her mother lies dying, succumbing to the elven curse that shattered her mind.

In desperation, Donna seeks an audience with Aliette, the fierce and manipulative Wood Queen, who offers a deal: if Donna can use her strange and burgeoning powers to help the wood elves, Aliette will free her mother from the curse.

Along with Navin and Xan, the half-fey guy she’s falling for, Donna struggles to unlock the secrets of her iron tattoos in time to save her mother’s life. But some secrets are better left untold.

My Thoughts: The middle book of the Iron Witch trilogy finds Donna on trial for the events of the first book. Oh, they keep saying that it is just a hearing and that there will be a punishment not a sentence but Donna isn't buying it. She'd do the same thing again if circumstances were the same.

Donna is wondering if she wants to be part of the alchemist organization at all. Her aunt has been keeping things from her for years including the mysterious powers that seem to be awakening in her. She doesn't know what the goals of the organization are but she is almost positive that, if they are being guided by Simon Gaunt, she doesn't want any part of them.

She is concerned about her mother who is facing a new medical crisis. When Xan tells her it is an elf curse and the wood queen wants to make a deal, Donna is willing to do anything to free her mother from the curse. Besides opening a door to faerie and sending the wood elves home to keep them from dying sounds like a good thing, doesn't it?

But even good things have unexpected consequences, especially when those who are supposed to educating her, keep major secrets from her.

This was an exciting volume as Donna learns more about her powers and somehow attracts a really creepy new suitor.

Favorite Quote:
Sighing, Donna wondered if she should take the bull by the horns and tell them both about her bargain with Aliette. Tell them at the same time and then make a run for it, perhaps? See how angry they got, and no doubt listen to them make decisions for her about what she should and shouldn't do.

Yeah, that seemed like the perfect plan. 
I bought this one. You can buy your copy here.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Book Review: See How They Run by Ally Carter

See How They Run
Author: Ally Carter
Series: Embassy Row (Book 2)
Publication: Scholastic Press (December 22, 2015)

Description: For the past three years, Grace Blakely has been desperate to find out the truth about her mother’s murder. She thought it would bring her peace. She thought it would lead her to answers. She thought she could put the past to rest.

But the truth has only made her a target.

And the past?

The only way to put the past to rest is for Grace to kill it once and for all.

On Embassy Row, power can make you a victor or a victim; love can turn you into a fool or a fugitive; and family can lead you forward or bury you deep. Trust is a luxury. Death is a very real threat. And a girl like Grace must be very careful about which secrets she brings to light.

My Thoughts: This second Embassy Row novel has Grace trying to cope with her new knowledge and old guilt. Her brother Jamie comes to Adria on a break from West Point because he's so worried about her. He brings along a fellow classmate - John Spencer - who has reasons of his own for wanting to visit Adria.

They go to a party on a nearby island known to be haunted and also known as the place where kids from Embassy Row go to party. Grace has to get away from the group because bonfires and the smell of smoke bring flashbacks of things very painful. She finds Spence at a clearing in the forest outside some ruins. He kisses her which leads Alexei to fight with him. In fact, the fight and Alexei's threats to kill him are captured on many of the phones of other partygoers.

When Spence is found dead the next day with a broken neck, those videos lead the police to think Alexei did the deed. However, Alexei has diplomatic immunity. When his father makes a deal for Alexei to give up his immunity and talk to the police, Grace is sure that is a bad idea. She is determined to clear her friend's name.

Meanwhile, Grace is also learning about secrets that make her a potential member of a society of women that has existed for more than 1000 years. The only thing is, she isn't at all sure that she can trust the society.

This was a fast-paced thriller narrated by Grace who may or may not have mental issues that make those around her, and sometimes Grace herself, question what is real. I can't wait to read the third book in this series.

Favorite Quote:
"So you're a secret society ... of librarians?"

Ms. Chancellor laughs. "Among other things," she says. But in my mind I'm remembering how she held the gun, how calm she was when she fired. "Every army in the world knows that knowledge is power -- information, the world's most lethal weapon. The women keep the secrets, my dear. We have always kept the secrets."
I bought this one Dec. 28, 2016. You can buy your copy here.