Friday, September 30, 2016

All Heart~Mara Dabrishus | Review

Title: All Heart (Stay the Distance #2)
Author: Mara Dabrishus
Genre: YA Contemporary/Sports/Equestrian/Romance
Length: 246 Pages
Release: September 2016
My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Stay the Distance was one of my favorite reads in 2015, so I was eagerly awaiting the release of this sequel. It was only on my kindle for a matter of hours before I started reading, devouring this in hours. And I was not disappointed. 

There are some frustrating things in this novel, so let me go ahead and tell you about that. July was somewhat frustrating, but so realistic. One of the things that drove me the most crazy about her was her inability to communicate, but I think this really only bothered me because it resonates so deeply with me. Communication is definitely not my strong point. There are also certain relationships that were left with more gray areas than I would have liked (but there is another book coming, so I have hopes that will be resolved). July was also slightly more judgemental than I remember from Stay the Distance, but I think that had more to do with the stress she was dealing with from family, school, horses, and friends. Finding a good balance can be difficult in life, so even though this was frustrating, it made sense.

The thing that I continue to praise about Mara is her ability to write horses and actually make me feel like I'm there with them. So often this doesn't come through well in writing, but in these books it's done beautifully. I always feel like I'm there in the moment, working alongside July and everyone else. That, to me, is magic. Horses are one of my absolute favorite things about life and I want to read about them in a way that makes them live for everyone, not just those of us lucky enough to spend every day in their company. Mara makes them live.    

These books are not just horse books though, so never fear. July has a lot going on with her family. A sister who is there but could disappear at any second. A mother who left only to show up expecting to mend what was so thoroughly broken. A father who sees everything but has just as much trouble communicating as July herself. And then the problem of friends. Bri, the best friend she should be rooming with at college instead of ditching to train horses, who is calling her to come to the city. Beck, her maybe-boyfriend who resides in a world far removed from her own. And of course everything converges at once, making this a memorable few months for July. 

If you wanted more after reading Stay the Distance, then All Heart delivers. More horses. More Lighter and Kali. More family drama. More July and Beck. More pain and more growth. A solid follow-up that I would highly recommend. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Complete Self-Publishing Guide~Hank Quense | Review

Title: The Complete Self-Publishing Guide
Author: Hank Quense
Genre: Self Help, Publishing
Release: October 2016
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This collection of self-publishing guides is a very valuable resource for those looking to take this route with their own writing. Quense pulls from his own experience as a self-published author to give the best advice that he can. 

This book deals with a variety of topics including how to budget for your project, resources for finding cover designers, editors, etc., marketing, and many other avenues of the process. The author also includes some of his own writing strategies with outlines and other helpful tidbits on his process. 

Quense is very honest about what to expect from your first (maybe even several) self-published project. Going into the process thinking you are going to make a load of money, quit your job, and write for the rest of your life is not a realistic expectation. It might happen for a few people, but the vast majority will have to publish a lot before they begin actually making money from their projects. This reminder comes up a lot throughout the book, but he also encourages you not to become discouraged. Everything takes hard work. Eventually that work can pay off. 

If you are searching for a guide that will help you through the process of self-publishing your first book, this is a great resource. The advice comes from the atuthor's personal experience doing exactly what you're looking to do. The tone of this is a bit of a challenge at times, reading more like a textbook than a guide, but the information presented is very well done and helpful. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Winter's Heart~Robert Jordan | Review

Title: Winter's Heart (Wheel of Time #9)
Author: Robert Jordan
Genre: High Fantasy
Length: 668 Pages
Release: November 2000
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

This book was back on track as a solid addition to the series. Books seven and eight were both lacking a lot, but this one made up for a lot of that.

There was finally some progression with the main plot of the series, as Rand began working toward cleansing the male half of the True Source. He also worked toward hunting down rogue Asha'man.

And I finally got answers about what was happening with Mat! One of my biggest disappointments with book eight was the fact that Mat's story just disappeared, right in the middle of some very exciting advancements. But here we finally get some answers about what happened to him and what he's doing to get out of it. There are also some answers about The Daughter of the Nine Moons, who Mat is prophesied to marry. I found her character...very interesting.

Also some hints as to what may or may not have happened with Moiraine, if you look closely enough. This is hidden among the chapters that focus on the Chosen and the plots they have to take down Rand and his followers.

This series is full of a bunch of annoying characters (which is one reason I can't love it, they all irk me too much), but Elayne and Morgase are by far my least favorites. Well, Egwene might be somewhere in there. And Faile. Really, Jordan wasn't great at writing men but he was really bad at writing women.

Anyway, this was a solid installment in the series and left me eager to get to book ten. So here's to hoping that it doesn't disappoint me too much!

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Dark Talent~Brandon Sanderson | Review

Title: The Dark Talent (Alcatraz Vs the Evil Librarians #5)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Length: 304 Pages (Hardback)
Release: September 2016
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

This series is extremely fun. It's been a while since I read the first four books in the series, so some of the events leading up to this final installment were a bit fuzzy, but I absolutely loved this. I also really like the new illustrations in these editions.

The Dark Talent has some dark elements that I don't remember being present in the first four novels. Alcatraz has to face some tough consequences for events that happened previously, but his family is there with him along the way.

There is a lot of self exploration for Alcatraz in this installment as he grapples with past events and the fact that he doesn't really know where he fits. He was raised in the Hushlands but found a family in the Free Kingdoms and that's enough to mess with anyone's head. Add to that the fact that he has to infiltrate the Highbrary and prevent his father from gifting everyone with a talent, and you've got an interesting mix.

All of the characters were just as entertaining as ever and I love that Sanderson makes fun of himself through these books. There were some nice references to fantasy novels that were just Sanderson poking fun at himself.

The conclusion to this was a bit grim. There was death and destruction and questions left unanswered. While some might be disappointed by that I found it rather refreshing. Even middle grade novels need a dose of realism at times. And we don't always know the answers. There aren't always great resolutions to every problem. Sometimes you have to face the fact that not everything in life is going to end well. And then there was that note at the very end that opened some interesting possibilities.

Fans of Brandon Sanderson often seem to overlook this series, which is a shame because it really is just as great as his fantasy novels in its own right. It's a fun series for middle graders and adults alike. I would highly recommend the entire series. I laugh out loud every time I read them.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A World Without Princes~Soman Chainani | Review

Title: A World Without Princes (The School for Good and Evil #2)
Author: Soman Chainani
Genre: YA Fairy Tale/Fantasy
Length: 433 Pages
Release: April 2014
My Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

This book was extremely frustrating for me. While I found some of the concepts about fairy tales without princes (or where princes play a different role) interesting, I didn't like how it was executed.

The story was very much a "boys" versus "girls" tale and relied heavily on stereotypes to work. While some of these are somewhat accurate, I found myself very upset with many of them and annoyed that instead of breaking the mold the author just fit his story right in with others like it. And many of the conflicts of the first novel repeat here, but are even more frustrating because the lessons that the characters learned are brushed aside and forgotten.

I also really don't like the fact that one of the girls can do all these terrible things and people hate her, while one of the boys does many of the same things but that's ok because he's a boy and they make mistakes. It was so frustrating to see how much of a double standard there was, even with Agatha, who is my favorite character.

The characters took a turn for the worse in my eyes. Agatha continues to be my favorite, but even she was more frustrating here. Sophie continues to be my least favorite. It doesn't seem like she really learned anything from the events of the first novel. Tedros was still really annoying and I didn't like a lot of the things that were done with his character. Some of the side characters were fun and stayed fairly true to form, but even so, there was nothing that really stood out to me in this installment.

Overall I found this sequel unnecessary. I will be reading the last book very soon and hope to find more of the things that I liked in the first one present in that one. Because this one fell flat, which was disappointing since it had a promising beginning. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Morning Star~Pierce Brown | Review

Title: Morning Star (Red Rising #3)
Author: Pierce Brown
Genre: Dystopian/Science Fiction
Length: 524 Pages
Release: February 2016
My Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

This final installment in the Red Rising trilogy might possibly be my favorite of the three. I really enjoyed it from beginning to end. There are a lot of powerful moments contained within this novel and series as a whole. 

While the writing style is not my favorite, I do feel that Brown was able to connect emotionally with me as a reader. This trilogy as a whole, but this book in particular, felt very similar in tone to fiction surrounding wars like WWI and WWII. A lot of the same struggles with defining what is "right" and what "wrong" were present and I think made the novel much more powerful. My only real complaint about Morning Star is the fact that there is so much swearing and crude humor. This detracted from a lot of the powerful messages that were present, dimming there effect on me. Some of it was understandable in context, but it went to extremes that it really didn't need to. 

The characterization throughout this series was very impressive. Sevro is one of my favorite characters and I loved seeing how much he grew from the start of Red Rising to the end of Morning Star. Darrow himself, who I had a really hard time liking in the beginning, really grew on me and had some excellent development. He started to realize his weaknesses and play more to his strengths, relying on those around him instead of pushing them away. 

Brown has crafted a compelling society within this series and I look forward to reading the spin off series to see if he is able to continue improving his writing and this world. This novel had a satisfactory conclusion and was really touching in regards to certain characters and how their stories were resolved. I was glad to see that redemption is possible within this world. A solid conclusion to an exciting series. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Horses | Monthly Feature

Being an avid horse lover and owner, I've decided that I want to read more horse related books. This could be non-fiction, history, novels, anything where horses play some central role in the story. In order to get myself fully behind this desire to broaden my horse related reading, I've decided that I am going to read at least one horse related book per month and have it as a "Monthly Feature" series here on my blog.

My first horsey read for this feature will be The One Dollar Horse by Lauren St John. I picked up a copy while I was in London earlier this year and have been wanting to give it a read.

After October, things are not yet planned. That's where you all come in!

If you've read any horse related books, no matter the genre, please feel free to suggest them to me. I would love for you to tell me about the horse related books that you've enjoyed. 

Author Requests/Reccommendations
If you're an author and have published a horse related book, please feel free to recommend it to me. I also take review requests, so feel free to check out my guidelines if you're interesting in sending me a copy in exchange for review. I am also open to posting interviews and guests posts here on my blog, so please let me know if that is something you are interested in. 

The Selection Process
I already have several horse books in my possession, so those will automatically go on my list (but not necessarily at the top). Once I have some recommendations, I will select books based on how readily available they are to me. Once I have selected a book it will be moved to my Horse-Feature-TBR shelf on goodreads, so feel free to check there for new books. And of course I will be posting here and on social media about my choices. 

Let the suggestions begin!       

Monday, September 12, 2016

Ella Enchanted~Gail Carson Levine | Review

Title: Ella Enchanted
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retelling
Length: 232 Pages (Paperback)
Release: January 1997
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

I've read this book somewhere between five and ten times and I love it more every time. Ella is a compelling character with all of the flaws that you would expect of someone cursed to be obedient. She also has a great heart and loves those around her.

One great thing about Ella is that she is strong and not afraid of sacrifice. She doesn't want to hurt anyone (herself included), but she would do so to save those she loves and her land.

There is a touch of romance between Ella and Char, the prince of the land. But this relationship is very nicely and slowly developed. The two meet, like each other, become friends. It's not overly done. And their interactions are always hilarious. Ella loves making him laugh and because she's a witty girl, she does so often.

The world of this is very well detailed and imagined for so short a novel. There are various peoples and customs--giants, ogres, elves, gnomes, and fairies among them. Ella interacts with them all, with varied degrees of success.

Ella's stepmother and stepsisters are every bit as repulsive as you would imagine them to be. They are each cruel in their own way. And they care for nothing but money and grandeur. They prey on those weaker than they in an attempt to make themselves stronger.

My advice if you have not yet read this novel: go and do so. If you have any inclination to read a middle grade novel based on Cinderella, then pick this up and give it a try. It can truly be a magical read. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Paper and Fire~Rachel Caine | Review

Title: Paper and Fire (The Great Library #2)
Author: Rachel Caine
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 357 Pages (Hardcover)
Release: July 2016
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

This novel, while enjoyable, was lacking something that made it special to me. It was probably more its own story than the first installment, with fewer similarities to other familiar stories, but it lacked the spark that that first installment had.

The frenemy relationship between Jess and Dario is probably my favorite thing about this series. In this one it leaned more toward friendship, but there were definitely still some hostilities between the two. And watching them play off each other was excellent.

The romance in these can be a bit over the top for my liking. Jess and Morgan had a nice foundation going in the beginning of the first book, but things quickly escalated. And not in a good way. Here there was still all of that forbidden love nonsense. And while I liked some of their moments, I just wish it wasn't done so crazily.

While there were some huge revelations and developments in this book, a lot of it felt rather slow and filler like. I'm sure some of those slower moments will come back to mean something in the future, but at the time they just seemed more like a way to spread the story out than to actually progress the plot. At this point I think spreading out the events of the first novel and cutting out some of this one would have been a better story. I really liked when Jess and all the others were training with Wolfe, so having more of that would have been nice.

As it is, this wasn't a bad installment, I just had hoped for more. I do plan to finish the series when it concludes next year. The ending left a lot of questions unanswered.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Perfect Horse~Elizabeth Letts | Review

Title: The Perfect Horse
Author: Elizabeth Letts
Genre: Nonfiction, History
Length: 384 Pages
Release: August 2016
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

I received a copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

World War II and horses are two of my favorite things to learn about, so when I found out about this book I knew I had to read it. This book catalogs the rescue mission by a group of US soldiers, of a large collection of horses taken by the Nazis during the war. 

I have never read many accounts of horses during WWII, so this was definitely eye opening. Even knowing about all of the horrible things that happen during war, what happens to animals is not presented as often. But with so much destroyed, of course horses (along with other work animals and pets) did not escape the horrors that befell men. 

This book was educational and interesting, for the most part. It gives details about many of the men (American, Polish, German, and Austrian) that were involved in taking care of and rescuing the horses, both before and after the war. And while I loved learning about these people and what they had done--it even brought tears to my eyes a few times--I felt that in some ways it detracted from the story of the horses. Obviously the humans were important and learning about why they each decided to save these horses was inspiring, but the horses didn't get the attention I would have liked. 

Going into this I expected it to be more about the actual mission of rescuing the horses and then what happened to the horses after they were rescued. That, however, is not what I got. There were great details given about the men involved in the mission, but very few of the horses were even mentioned by name. And in the end, when the author was explaining what happened with the men and horses, only two horses were mentioned by name. 

I enjoyed reading about fellow horse lovers and the pain that they endured trying to save the horses that they loved during such dire circumstances. Learning about a piece of history that I had not previously been exposed to was exciting and I enjoyed that aspect of this book. The history of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna was another nice touch, since these horses and men were also involved in this. 

I found the writing style somewhat cumbersome here. The story, while interesting, did not flow extremely well do me. There seemed to be too much jumping around from place to place and person to person within a chapter that I sometimes had a hard time keeping it all straight. Even though the events within a chapter were connected, the transitions could have been smoother. 

Overall this was an interesting read and opened my eyes to some previously unstudied events during WWII. I will definitely be delving more into the lives of some of these men and horses in my future studies. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Serafina and the Black Cloak~Robert Beatty | Review

Title: Serafina and the Black Cloak (Serafina #1)
Author: Robert Beatty
Genre: Middle Grade Historical/Paranormal Fantasy
Length: 293 Pages (Hardcover)
Release: July 2015
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Ever since I heard about this novel when it was first released a year ago, I have been excited to read it. It's set at Biltmore (a large house in the mountains of North Carolina), which is a place I have visited. And the premise sounded very promising. Unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to my expectations. 

While I think that Beatty's writing mechanics are very sound, his style was not one that I loved. I found the characters to be somewhat bland overall. And while I could understand that Serafina would be an easy character for middle graders to relate with, I had a hard time really becoming invested in her story. 

The paranormal/fantasy element in this was not one that I particularly enjoyed. For me it was just taken slightly too far into a mythological tale. Maybe my opinion is impacted by the fact that I was expecting it to be more of a historical read with touches of myth and instead I got that flipped on it's head. I'm not entirely sure. 

The The Man in the Black Cloak was an interesting villain and I found the story of the Black Cloak itself to be rather fascinating. Old myths can be interesting to build stories around. Again, for me it just took things a little too far in certain respects. 

I felt that the ending was a little too clean, even for a middle grade book. There was really no hint at future conflict, which would have made it more dramatic. All of the adults just seemed to accept the story that Serafina and Braeden concoct without pause, which was too unrealistic for me. They just seemed somewhat oblivious and that wasn't an aspect of the story that I enjoyed. 

This was overall an enjoyable read. I just didn't find it particularly riveting. I will be reading the sequel soon, so I'm hoping for improvement as Serafina's adventures continue.   

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Path of Daggers~Robert Jordan | Review

Title: The Path of Daggers (Wheel of Time #8)
Author: Robert Jordan
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 685 Pages (Paperback)
Release: October 1998
My Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Well, what can I say about this book? If you get to this point in the series then you're likely to continue. (Only six more to go!) But this installment doesn't offer much on its own. 

This felt more like 600+ pages of filler than anything else. The last hundred pages or so are really what saved it from being a complete failure in comparison to the others. Those closing scenes offered excitement and intrigue with hints at some very interesting developments in the future. Now the thing to see is if any of them actually happen. 

The one story line from book seven that I was most interested in finding out about never happened. Mat wasn't even in this book! He was barely mentioned. So now I'm waiting to see if book nine will finally shed some light on what's happening with him. There were not that many advancements as far as the major plot goes. Again, there were hints for things to come. Now we just wait and see. 

If you're not a huge fan of high fantasy and feel that it's a need to read this series, then it might not be for you. Give the first couple of books a try if you are at all inclined and see if you want to continue from there. I am enjoying them, although I don't love them. At this point I'm leaning toward the opinion that this would have been a great seven or eight book series. Fourteen seems to be pushing it.